Category Archives: homeschool

Seed Starting, or the Lack Thereof

Last year I did pretty well with regards to starting seeds.  We had lots to get in the ground, and there was an urgency to do so, because we had lots of people to supply with produce.  This year, without lots of people to supply with produce, the urgency hasn’t been there.  Other projects, like the picnic table and benches, have taken priority.  As such, I am planning on buying started tomato, peppers, and basil from a local farm that works with a community garden project near here.  They are all organic and they offer some great varieties so I am not losing out on anything there.  Will it be more expensive?  Absolutely.  But I will get high quality plants, that were started when they needed to be, and I won’t be starting from behind.  I’ll take that as a win, and see if I can regroup next year.  I may try to start some plants that don’t need to be started as early, but no promises.

Last year’s garden actually started in the winter of 2014 with several families joining with us to help us start and grow our garden.  This year it will be just us and one other family.  This is due to family constraints and our location.  We just aren’t located close to any of the families that helped out last year and with young growing families making a 30+ minute drive one way is not something easily figured into a schedule on a regular basis.  I still expect them to be out a time or two(you guys better come out and visit), but not for regular maintenance type stuff.  As such, this year’s garden will be significantly smaller, which makes buying started plants more affordable.

Yesterday morning I was able to take the kids outside for a bit and get some work done.  I started the 5 raspberry plants I bought from the fruit tree guy.  I also got the hardy kiwis in the ground.  I am looking forward to these as they are supposed to be wonderful to eat and are grown very similar to grapes.  Since they need to be trellised like grapes, although a much stronger structure, they were planted in the vineyard.  I also have some asparagus and strawberry plants to start.  I have never grown asparagus, and since I know it takes awhile to get a crop I figure I might as well start now.  I was told I should be able to get a small crop next year, and then have them coming out my ears the following season.  And I fully believe you can never have enough berries of any kind to eat, especially with kids.

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Kiwi
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Kiwi
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Raspberries
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Concolor Fir

And until next time, here are some pictures of the very beginning of spring popping out on the Homestead.

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Lilac
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Pear Blossom
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Pear Tree
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Bush Cherry
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Strawberry
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Plum Tree

Sunday Turkey Day

This past Sunday was butchering day for our turkeys.  As a warning, there will be descriptions of the act of butchering in this post.  Please discontinue reading, or skip those parts, if you aren’t interested in those details.  As has become my habit, I butcher when my good friend Ruth at Firesign Family Farm butchers.  I help her with her butchering and she lets me bring my birds along to be butchered at the same time.

Homestead Boy #2 had been asking for a couple weeks if he could come along and Ruth said it was fine as long as he knew that it would be a several hour long chore.  He hung around for about 45 minutes, watching what was going on and trying to help by herding the turkeys.  After that, he played with another boy who was their with his dad.

Butchering is never something that is fun, it is a necessary task to live the type of life I want to live.  All of these animals have lived a very good life while they have been living, and their death serves the purpose of feeding people and/or supporting a business.  The act of killing them is also done with as much thought to being quick as possible.  There is a huge difference between butchering chickens and turkeys.  Chickens are placed in killing cones, head down, before their necks are slit.  It is not a very hands on endeavor because you can leave them in the cones to bleed out.  Turkeys are a whole different deal altogether.  You wouldn’t think it, but turkeys are quite strong, surprisingly so.  Obviously they don’t fit in killing cones so the procedure is to sit over top of them, pinning them down.  Several times I was almost “bucked” off the turkey by their strength.  To say I was surprised is an understatement.

After the turkeys have been killed, they are put in a scalder, which is more or less a hot water bath for 1-2 minutes.  This loosens the feathers from the turkeys’ skin.  After scalding the feathers are plucked by hand.  The turkeys are too large to use the drum plucker that is used for chickens.  Once plucked they are moved over to the butchering table and then to the ice bath.

It was another experience for our homestead.  I will report back with how the turkey tasted and how we prepared it.  Based on how it went this year, I think we will be raising more turkeys next year.

Not Dead

This post proves I’m not dead. I had been spending a lot of time getting ready for the rodeo. Then I got sick and missed the rodeo. My wife took the kids, she’s amazing. While they were gone I got our classroom ready. School and co-op started. And that is the very short version of what has happened since I posted last.

We did go to the state fair on Labor Day. The kids took advantage of the $1 bottomless chocolate milk deal. Guernsey’s dairy of Northville has the best chocolate milk. I watched a pro shear a sheep, it made me feel bad(not really). Man, can they shear in a hurry. We enjoyed seeing the different cattle. I still like Scottish Highlands and may have to get those as my meat cattle and maybe a Jersey as a milk cow. The Clydesdales are always cool. And the 350 lb ram sheep make me glad we went with a small breed.


  We also went to Greenfield Village with my mom. The weather was great and we almost had the place to ourselves so no lines to ride anything.

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Here are a couple pictures from around the Homestead.
  
  

Vacation, Kayaking, Garden, and other Stuff

We were gone last week on vacation.  It was nice to spend time with family and friends.  The week found us enjoying food(way too much), playing cornhole and Kan Jam, the kids going to four wheeler driving school(where I decided I really want to four wheeler), going to a water park hotel, walking the flea market in Shipshewana, stopping into the animal auction at the flea market, kayaking on the lake, playing boggle, tubing behind the boat, fishing, and all sorts of other fun.

This was the first time we were able to use the new camper.  It performed as expected and the whole family, minus Homestead Boy #1 who wanted to sleep in the bunkhouse, slept in the camper comfortably.  The water-tightness of the camper was tested as we had some thunderstorms, and everything checked out well.  The air conditioner was nice on the hotter days, but unfortunately I didn’t fill up the propane so we could test the furnace on the colder nights(I didn’t think we’d need it).  Overall it was a nice shakedown outing as we get to know our new camper.

Upon returning home I found that the garden had done this…

The tomatoes had really started to ripen.  We have been enjoying them, especially the “Dr. Carolyn” cherry tomatoes.  They are a sweet yellow cherry, that are easy to down by the handful.

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The turkeys really grew the week we were gone as well. The difference between the Tom and the hens is quite obvious. They are slightly eerie to look at as their eyes are all black.


 Before I even knew that there were an abundance of tomatoes I had found a pressure canner on one of the local Facebook sales groups.  A brand new, never uses, Presto 23 quart canner with the canning kit tools with it for $75, which means I got the canner at a $5 discount and the $12 kit essentially for free.  Not a home run of a deal, but I’ll take it.  Now I need to wait for some more tomatoes to ripen when the weather warms back up to give it a try.


The wildflower garden continues to impress me. Much better than looking at septic caps surrounded by grass.


  
  
Other than that, it’s back to the grind.  Getting ready for Labor Day weekend and school to start the following week.

I will leave you with a story I am going to hashtag as #farmworldproblems.  It will hopefully be an ongoing addition to the blog and is my spin off of the hashtag #firstworldproblems.  Problems that aren’t really life shattering, but happen on the farm.

Last night when I got home from basketball it was late, and dark.  As I parked the car in the drive I saw a shadow darting away from one of the chicken pens.  In a desire to protect my livestock, in a very manly way, I rushed into the barn and got a flashlight.  After a little bit of searching I found that a young skunk had scurried under our small utility trailer.  I really didn’t want to get sprayed, but I also didn’t want any chickens to perish.  Staying upwind, in case of a spray, I got a couple rocks and threw them at the top of the trailer trying to encourage the skunk to leave while avoiding alarming him to spray.  He was staying put under the trailer.  At the very least I needed to close up the chicken coop, which was what I was on my way to do in the first place.  But the skunk had placed himself in my way.  Giving him as wide a berth as I could and keeping the flashlight in it’s general direction so I could see if an spray attack was imminent I managed to make it to the coop.  After closing the coop, I knelt down on the ground to look under the trailer.  It was at this point that the sheep decided to welcome me home by “bah”-ing loudly.  I jumped, in a very un-manly way, and resumed my search.  I am ashamed to say the sheep got me jumping one more time before I decided the skunk had run off and I headed for the house.  So the poultry are safe, I remain un-sprayed, but my toughness is in question.

Until next time…

Catching Up, Garden Planting

A lot has been going on here lately.  I helped a friend thin out her raspberry patch by digging out a bunch to add to my patch.  So my red raspberry patch went from about six plants to around 60.  My boys were a big help, especially Homestead Boy #2.  He was out there pretty much the whole time I was planting.  Unfortunately they got planted right before a frost and the nice lush green leaves have started to wilt.  I am going to give them a bit to see if they come back, but right now it doesn’t look promising. If not, I will cut them off a couple inches above ground level and wait for them to grow back.

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All of the raspberry plants
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The wilted raspberry plants already planted

 

After that frost, which should be our last, I started planting warmer weather crops such as tomatoes.  Over the past couple days I, with varying degrees of help from the kids, have planted 122 tomato plants.  That is a lot more than I thought we would have, but who doesn’t love tomatoes?  Most of them were seeds started in the barn, so we will see how they do as this is the first time I have started plants inside.  I also planted 11 green zucchini plants, as well as 8 eggplants.  I got some pumpkin/squash volunteers from a friend that I plan on getting in the ground tomorrow.  We also added two more blueberry bushes.  And, I found our first strawberry of the season.

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Blueberry bush, looks cool right?
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The new blueberries
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The start of the tomato rows
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All the tomatoes planted
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Zucchinis in foreground, everything else in background

 

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Strawberries

 

The only starts I have left inside are zucchinis, melons, and peppers.  The melons and zucchinis may go out soon, but the peppers are still pretty small so I will probably put them out to harden during the day and under the lights at night before planting them in a week or two.

I have to say, the kids have been great helpers.  Most of the time they find their way to the garden to see if they can help, and after helping for a few minutes, get bored and mosey away to doing something else.  Some are able to keep their focus longer than others, but all the help is appreciated.  Even the three year old helped.  But keeping her from walking on the already planted tomatoes became difficult so after letting her dig some holes and plant some tomatoes I convinced her that Mommy might need her help more than me.

With any luck, more of these plants will grow than don’t and we will have an abundance of food this summer and fall.  It has been a lot of work getting the plants in the ground, but it is fun, and hopefully it has a big payoff in the end.

Unbelievably Exciting Morning

Whoa nelly we have had a doozy of a morning!  The craziness started when I went outside to mark where I wanted a load of topsoil dropped.  As I walked past the sheep pen I had to do a double take.  We don’t have a lamb with a white spot on it’s head.  We do now!  Dorothy, our friendliest sheep, had a ram lamb this morning.  He is really cute, white on his head like he is wearing a hat, and white socks on his back legs.  Everything else is black.  He is really cute.

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Later, when the baby was taking his nap, I went out to make sure the roots of all the plants that had arrived yesterday were still damp.  While on my way out, I heard a bird that I didn’t recognize, and it was really loud.  I followed the noise to a tree, where I saw a bird that looked like my quail.  I immediately started running!  When I got to the quail hutch there was only one quail in it.  There were a bunch under the hutch so I ran to grab some nets.  The boys and I were able to catch 6 more so we have seven in the hutch, one in the tree, and one MIA.  During the craziness the three year old woke up the baby.  What had happened was that while I was filling the quail food, the new lamb actually fit through the fence so he was outside the fence.  I ran over to get him and forgot to go back to the quail.  The door to the quail hutch swings down, but it is bent enough that they were able to get out.

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Oh yeah, we got 10 yards of topsoil for potting the fruit.

Road Trip!

In my post about the new lamb being born I mentioned that we had been on a family road trip.  My wife had another conference, and this time is was within driving distance.  Kansas City is a short 11 or so hours from our place, according to the map program on my phone.

We left on Thursday morning.  The plan was to stop someplace short of St. Louis for the night.  We also wanted to find something fun to do on the way.  While we were driving Homestead Mom was researching things we could do.  Springfield, Illinois was in our path and that was the adult home of Abraham Lincoln, now a national park.  So we stopped there mid afternoon and were able to score the last tickets to tour his home.  The tickets are free, but there is always the possibility that they are all spoken for by morning.  We got lucky.  While we were waiting for our tour time, we watched a short movie about Lincoln’s adult life.  I think the older kids enjoyed it.

When the time arrived we met in the Arnold house across the street.  The park ranger gave us some general information about the house and the park and then gave the rules for the tour.  As many of the items are original to the time, or actually Abraham Lincoln’s own items, nothing could be touched.  Except the hand rail going up the stairs.  Backpacks and purses even had to be worn in the front so as not to bump into anything.  My wife and I were concerned, we did have five kids with us which included our then two year old Homestead Girl #2.  There is even an alarm that will sound if you leave the blue carpet that designates the area to walk.  In the end, the kids were great, and they got to learn about Abraham Lincoln.

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The iconic tall hat

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After grabbing drive through we headed on and ended up stopping about 45 minutes short of St. Louis at a hotel with a pool, a necessity with kids.  It was at this point we realized Homestead Boy #1 left his suitcase at home.  The boys had helped pack, and done a very nice job doing so.  Everything that was by the front door to pack had been packed.  Unfortunately Homestead Boy #1 left his suitcase in his room.  Luckily we had packed a day bag with a change of clothes for everyone knowing that we would be spending only one night at the first hotel.  The next morning we hit up the clearance rack at Wally World and we were on the road to St. Louis with a full complement of clothing for all and none the worse for wear(pun intended).

After finding our way around the St. Louis construction we found our way to the old courthouse where you get your tickets to go to the top of the gateway arch, which as it so happens is also a National Park.  At the time, Homestead Boy #3 and Homestead Girl #2 were asleep, and Homestead Boy #1 didn’t have any interest in going to the top of the arch so I took Homestead Boy #2 and Girl #1 and off we walked.  The weather was brisk and the walk was about 3/4 of a mile but they didn’t complain once.  Upon getting in line to enter the building at the bottom of the arch we were informed we would be going through airport style security.  No problem except that I always carry a multitool and a pocket knife, neither of which I was ready to donate to the parks service.  I asked the ranger who had informed us and showed him what I had.  He said that they should be allowable due to their size and since I wasn’t trying to hide anything I should be fine.  True to his word, we passed through security without a problem.  After waiting in line for the tram to the top the doors opened and an extremely small “pod” appeared.  Each pod had five seats and my daughter was going to sit on my lap.  If you are at all claustrophobic, I would not suggest the trip to the top of the arch.  The trip itself took less than two minutes and after walking up some more steep stairs you are greeted by a small hallway with windows on either side.  Again, not for the claustrophobic.  Several minutes of sight seeing and picture taking and we were back down the tram and on our way to the car.

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This is where we waited while my wife got the tickets

 

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Impressive
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The door to the tram
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Mississippi view

 

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Straight down on the Mississippi side
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City view

 

Miracle of miracles, the younger kids had stayed asleep while in the car and we were off to Kansas City.  Kansas City seemed like a very nice mid sized city.  Our hotel was within walking distance of Grand Central Station and several restaurants and attractions including Legoland and Sealife Aquarium.  On Sunday we went to Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.  It was a beautiful church and a beautiful mass.  We also partook of some barbecue at Gates restaurant.  We had hoped to try Jack Stack’s, which was within walking distance, but the wait was always over two hours.  One morning we took the kids to Legoland, which they thoroughly enjoyed.

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Kansas City at night
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Grand Central Station

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The Cathedral

 

 

 

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From behind the altar towards the choir loft. The choir was fantastic
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I thought a picture of this window was appropriate given it was Holy Week
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Mary

 

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These are not the (Lego) droids you are looking for
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Obi Won looks evil in this light
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Lego mural of Yoda
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BBQ at Gates

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Bright and early Tuesday morning we woke the kids up and piled them into the van for the return trip.  Whenever possible we will take a different route to see a new area if it isn’t too out of the way.  I had never been to Iowa, and since it only added 5 minutes, according to our phones, we headed for Des Moines.  The drive was scenic.  I would describe Southwestern Iowa as hill country and I greatly enjoyed both Missouri and Iowa.  That is definitely one great benefit to driving, you actually get to see the land you are traveling through.  When we went to Las Vegas, although the Rockies looked impressive, I know their true magnitude would have been awe inspiring.

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Morning drive

 

Arriving home 11 and a 1/2 hours after we left, which included multiple stops, we were happy to be home. This trip, like our trip this past winter to Texas, reinforced my desire for a bus.  Children’s bladders can’t hold out as long as adults, and no matter how many times to try to get all the kids to go to the bathroom every time you stop, someone always has to go two hours later.  It was a great family vacation.

 

 

Under the Sea

Earlier this week the whole family was able to take a field trip with a homeschool group we are a part of to a new aquarium in the area.  A good time was had by all.  The favorites were the sharks, the seahorses, and one of the underwater sculptures.  It is always fun for the kids to see some of their friends and as an added bonus we got to celebrate Homestead Boy #2’s birthday.  Excuse the pictures, it was lower light and with my iPhone.IMG_5543 IMG_5545 IMG_5544 IMG_5546 IMG_5548 IMG_5559 IMG_5550 IMG_5557 IMG_5556 IMG_5547 IMG_5562 IMG_5563 IMG_5565

 

Busy Weekend, as Always

This past weekend found our family making the trip north to Mount Pleasant.  There was a homeschool basketball state tournament there that they boys were playing in and I was coaching.  Being a ten and under team, we hadn’t had any weekend away tournaments up until this point so it was a good experience for the kids to spend a lot of time with their teammates watching the older kids play basketball.

We were lucky enough to win our age group and be awarded an altogether too large of a trophy.  The kids all played great and it has been so fun coaching them all this year.  Not only did we have my boys as siblings on the team, there was another brother pair so that was also fun.  With boys ranging in age from 7-10 it has been a fun season of watching them grow as boys and as basketball players.  Because of that the end of the season is bittersweet.  The time back from practicing and playing will be nice, but the boys have been making some of their best improvements the last few practices.  I look forward to next season and the challenges and opportunities that it will entail.

Upon getting home Homestead Boy #1 wasn’t feeling well, and Sunday morning found me under the weather as well.  Hoping to kick the cold quickly and get back to normal.  Being sick is never fun.

Catholic Homesteading

This article was posted to The Catholic Gentleman, I enjoyed it so much I thought I should share it.  It is a long read, but well worth the time.

In Praise of Catholic Homesteading