This Month On The Farm: July 2018 - Garden Updates (plus a plan!), Kitchen Updates, Answers To A Business Question Many Of You Have Asked Me About, And More!

Oh my.  It was a HOT start to the month.  We had a 6-day stretch of upper 90's to low 100's + full on "oppressive" humidity weather to kick it off.  It was, in one word, miserable.

It's generally been quite a hot and humid summer and you can see it in the garden.  The few times we've been the lucky recipient of rain, thankfully, we've received quite a bit, but it was very inconsistent and partnered with scorching hot temp's during the stretches between rain showers.  There's proof of it in the summer squash with some of the little fruit getting rot as well as in the cukes with deformity on a good handful.

The Garden
Despite the oppressive summer, the garden continues to do well.  We are even still collecting sugar snap peas from our very generous, albeit little, patch!  I can't believe it.  Usually by now they turn hard and lose their sweetness but for some reason it's working out well this year.  The potatoes are about ready to begin harvesting, we've been swimming in green beans the last 2 weeks (hooray for that!), the cukes are ripening slowly, which is ideal, so we are able to keep up with them, and the broccoli is ready to begin harvesting.

I (again) forgot to net the elderberries, so the birds have feasted on a good portion of them.  It will still leave me quite a few to dry now that they are ripe, so for that I'm grateful.  I hope to remember to net them after they flower next year.

Summer squash has had a few issues, but it's looking good and we are harvesting a LOT of tomatoes (stinks now that I'm not eating tomatoes.....).  The peppers are getting big and the little sweets are ripening as if on cue, because I am now out of frozen peppers from last year's garden.  Did I tell you we had some surprise kohlrabi?  I didn't mean to plant the seeds, they must have gotten into my broccoli seed packet by accident.  So, surprise!!  They are delicious.

If you’re just tuning in, this is a brand new ongoing series in which I document each month of our lives in our transition to a simple, homemade life on a modern homestead. We ditched town and moved to the country in 2008 and we blog about both our successful and not-so-successful ventures in homesteading, switching to natural products, and embracing a whole foods lifestyle.  Check out the entire series here.

I have plans to get our garden space fenced in this year so I can grow carrots and cabbage again without rabbits and woodchucks feasting.  It would also be fantastic to get beans from all of the plants rather than seeing half of them eaten (the plants, not the beans) with just stems pointing toward the sky as proof of what could have been.  We just need to do it, regardless of whether or not there is time.  You can always find time if you prioritize and I have declared this the priority for fall.  A little bit of resistance was had but we are now both on the same page.

I am excited.

I am also trying to convince the "handy man" that I need a small greenhouse space.  I would, ideally, like to convert the current garden shed into a bit of a greenhouse for seed starting.  Communication regarding this project has (temporarily) halted.  I'll give it time to roll around in his head before I push.  Again.

I took this photo during our blueberry jam session.  Perhaps you're thinking we are leaving the cupboard doors off for the "open" look?  Ummmm…..nope!  They were removed for painting and I haven't seen them since.  Hoping they return by fall.....
Projects And Such
Projects continue to be on hold until fall.  We've prioritized what we'll be doing as soon as we have a couple of weeks to devote to them.  So, this means the kitchen is still not finished.  The last of the project is to paint the kitchen as well as all of the cabinets.

I've written a bit in our weekly meal plan about excluding nightshades from my diet to try and get ahold of my seasonal allergies.  It's working well. I will try to re-introduce them in another month or so to see if they are a source of inflammation for me or not.  Fingers crossed they are not....

We were able to freeze a LOT of blueberries in July (plus make jam) as well as quite a bit of cauliflower and broccoli.  I'm hoping to freeze green beans, kale, peppers, onions, carrots, and mirepoix this month.  I freeze mirepoix because I start many soups with the mix and it's just so much easier than chopping carrots, onions and celery every single time.

I believe we will try to can tomatoes either this month or next month as well, if we can find a day to do it.  It takes quite a bit of time to process them, so we'll see.  If not, I'll at least oven-dry and/or dehydrate some of the tomatoes and freeze those.  They are great added to sauce later in the year.

The Chickens
So, I've come to the conclusion that we've increased our flock larger than it should be.  Live and learn, right?  It's an interesting balance, trying to do what's right for the homestead and trying to keep up with egg demand.  Our egg customers tell us time and again that ours are the best eggs they've ever eaten.  Even compared to other local eggs.  I have absolutely no idea why - when they are compared to others who free range, but we are thrilled and grateful to hear it.  So, because of this, and because we run out of eggs within 40 minutes of getting to the farmer's market, we decided to continue increasing the flock.

And we were wrong.

It's just too much.  It doesn't feel right, it's not the right blend of breeds (we've got quite an ornery group right now) and it can be overwhelming at times.  So, we'll keep them all until the inevitable happens, and won't add for a couple of years.  This, of course, means we will be feeding a lot of girls and get fewer and fewer eggs (egg production typically peaks at 2 years of age and declines thereafter) for a bit, but we've learned.

We will then, going forward, stick with Plymouth Barred Rocks and Americauna/Aracaunas.  We may have a few buffs, but no other breeds.  We've always had a flock we've bonded very well with and who have, although they are chickens and have pecking orders, etc., have respectfully lived with each other.  This group has some just downright mean and cranky chickens that are dirtier/messier and louder than any of our previous flocks.  The littles, however, we have bonded very well with, which worries me about when we have to combine the two flocks.  I don't want them to lose their sweetness.

The reality is, we don't make any money off of the eggs (because we feed them certified organic feed and still sell the eggs and the same price as non-organic - $4.00/dozen).  So yes, it's our fault, but even if we charged more, we wouldn't make much off of the increase.  We don't have a large enough flock for profit (still), and don't plan to work toward that.  The egg money does, however, pay for all of the chicken's bills (feed, shavings, straw, treats, etc.), and will continue to as the flock decreases (fingers crossed).  We enjoy raising them and are happy we are able to furnish some families with reasonably priced (non-certified) organic eggs.

Emerson (left) and Oliver (right)
Oliver, Emerson & Jack
Oliver had a bit of a difficult month.  He goes through periods of just not feeling well, which means he doesn't want to eat, is a bit cranky and clingy, and is just downright upset.  It's sooooooo difficult because I have no idea how to help him.  This is the part of having pets that I get frustrated with.  I just hate seeing any animal in pain or not feeling well so when I can't fix it, it's incredibly hard.

Both he and Emerson had trips to the vet in July.  Both for eye issues, although on separate weeks and different issues.  Em had a bump at the corner of his eye which, thankfully, went away.  Oliver had what we believe were allergy issues.  Of course!  He's got just about every health issue Frenchie's are known for, so why not allergies too???

And then there's Jack.  He's actually been fairly low-key this month although the periods of thunder we've had (every single week) as well as 2 weeks of fireworks being set off around us are making him a bit gun-shy.  He is such a chicken and so fearful of loud noises.  The poor guy has a lot of pacing time put in this past month.

The Business
We are knee-deep in our 1st busy season of the year (the second starts the beginning of October through New Years).  Summer means we are working 7 days a week to keep up with products as well as attending markets and craft shows.

I have many of you email me and ask about starting a bath & body business yourself.  I figured I would speak to that a bit here because it's such a common question.  Yes, it's certainly a business that anyone can start.  Similar to some other businesses, the largest 2 hurdles are formulating good products and then finding customers who will buy them.  It's, unfortunately, a very saturated market, so you have to figure out how your products are different and advertise that.  We've had many of our customers start (and end) bath & body product businesses of their own.  Many ended because it's expensive.  You've certainly got overhead in products and packaging.  Others have ended because they can't grow their customer base as quick as they'd hoped.  And still others didn't realize how much work it really is to do everything - formulate, make, package, sell, run a website, ship products, keep the books, and so on. And if you decide to sell wholesale, that's a whole other set of "to-do's".

The demands and struggles are not unique to this field, by any means, but because it's "home-based" I think it's looked at as an easier business to get into.  And it can be - as long as you have a realistic view.  If you have a passion for it, are prepared to work for yourself (fully responsible for it and your paycheck) as well as a handful of really good products, you should absolutely consider going into business!

I encourage you to keep the questions coming, ask a handful of people currently working in the field for their thoughts as well, and think about all of the struggles shared with you to ensure you are willing (and able) to have a similar experience.

How was your July on your own homestead?

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Katie C. said...

You can wash and core tomatoes to freeze in baggies. When you thaw them, the skins will slide right off. Coring is easier when they are firm. Can at your convenience.

I like the subway tile.

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Thanks Katie!! A great idea for processing when it's not so hot out. I've done that in the past but I think it changes the flavor of the tomato. Could just be in my head, but they seemed more acidic.... :)

Tara said...

We've recently bought a farm in Washington County, NY, and I have been following your journey and learning so much. I have a small shed, too, which I'd love to add a small greenhouse onto as well, to start seeds. I'll be following this aspect of your homestead very closely!

Staci at Life At Cobble Hill Farm said...

Hi Tara - that's fantastic!! I'm so happy for you! And we are thrilled that you are here. Well I will hope that we both receive a shed makeover into a small greenhouse. :)