Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Self-Sustainability Takes Patience....we won't starve

We won't starve!
   Okay, well maybe that's a little over the top but after 28 weeks of waiting two of the five hens are finally laying eggs every day.
The Steel Magnolia gals and supposedly one guy, Drum, came to me on a very cold March morning as tiny little fluffs of fuzz and feet. I can remember saying to myself "how in the world will they survive?"
I don't dare calculate how much money is invested in chick grower feed. They always were a messy little bunch of fluff. It didn't take much to tip over or get into their feed somehow. They were really good at tipping their water over no matter what it weighed. I think there was a Superman vitamin in that feed because they grew by leaps and bounds overnight.
In mid-April they were moved into a small coop that I bought at Tractor Supply. Ha! Like that was going to work. It didn't take Clairee, Weezer, M'Lynn and Truvy plus Drum to outgrow that space. Oh and let us not forget to mention that what I thought was a Shelby was actually Roo 2. Yep, now we had two roosters. A few short weeks after moving them to the small coop we knew we had to give them a bigger home. Too many hawks, foxes and coyotes live in our area so it was going to have to be an enclosed coop with a big pen. Enter the teenagers! Thanks to them and a weekend or so of work we converted a playhouse that I won with a two dollar raffle ticket in 2003 we had us a secure place for the babies to go.
Then about the end of May the impatience set in. I wanted eggs. The gals had a great place that was warm, dry and secure. It was summer time and they were suppose to start laying. Check the chicken care book.  By the way if you are new to raising chickens I highly recommend Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens. There is not a question asked that they don't answer. And according to them I should have eggs in a few weeks. Well, it did take a little longer than a few weeks. The first Monday of August I checked the nesting box as I always do not expecting much. But, look! There it was THE FIRST EGG. The angels sang and Heaven sent down a sunbeam to shine upon the new, freshly laid egg. Cue the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. And every day after that right on schedule one egg was laid.  ONE? Wait, doesn't she have four hens? Uh, yes I do. So? Um, well, the rest seemed to be lagging behind a tad bit. Thinking that possibly two roosters was one too many disturbing the peacefulness of the flock, Roo 2 was dispatched outside the coop. He is doing nicely with this arrangement and it has been more peaceful. That was about two weeks ago. I lamented that the other three hens even knew where the nesting box was. So, being the good chicken mama I was, I took the uninformed into the coop and sat them in the nest thinking it would trigger a laying hormone or something. And so two weeks went on by until this past Sunday. Yes, finally, there were two eggs in the nest. That meant someone got the idea . There are still two hens that haven't laid any eggs yet, but I do have hope that before weather turns chilly and the days get shorter that Weezer and Truvy get the idea to give us some more eggs.  But, with two eggs a day, we won't starve. Self-sustainability does take a little time and patience though.
Michele Brown is the owner of Possum Creek Herb Farm and the mistress of her one acre homestead in southeast TN. When she isn't growing herbs and updating websites, she is coaching her chickens to keep up the good work.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Rainy Days Means Mud

 
 
Rainy Days Means Mud
 
How funny! Here it is Saturday again. I seem to be in a pattern with my blogging. So sorry it has been so long since a post. It has been a tad crazy here on the farm. The Spring weather has been beautiful for the past week. Brillant blue skies, coolish temps and sunny days. Daylight is longer now so some chores can wait until after supper instead of that rushed get it done before dark dash to get it all done. I even had a few minutes to walk through the woods and see what Mother Nature has been doing. The dogwoods, crabapple trees, privet (ugh) and some of the blackberries are in bloom. Ferns are unwinding from their long winter sleep and I am seeing  new patches of Sassafrass and Solomon Seal showing new green. I can really tell we had a wet winter. We are living in a green tunnel of new leaves.
 
The farm is showing some new life this year. Over the years many of the raised beds that the herbs were grown in also known as the tour gardens were removed because there just wasn't enough time in the day to be in the greenhouses, marketing, shipping, doing farmers markets and well, living, to get an acre of gardens weeded to be suitable. So, when the farm closed to the public in 2006 we took out a lot of the beds. Now, instead of a lot of herbs to look at and manage, fruit bushes are going in. Bush Cherries are going in. These bushes grow four feet up and out and provide a midseason harvest of 7-10 lbs of fruit per bush. They are a Montmorency type of cherry which means sour enough for jellies and pies. I am hopeful that there enough harvest to share at markets but that is another year or so down the road. Golden Raspberries are going in where the Ajuga was along the fence next to the barn. No more ornamental plants around here. They must provide something. Whether that is flavoring to a culinary dish, medicinally, or a food such as fruit. I won't take out the Japanese Maple planted fifteen years ago or the Hydrangeas that bloom pink, lavender and blue but it was close. The Elderberry, figs, blueberries, and strawberries are already in and blooming. The deer have been around leaving their hoofprints but so far so good with the nibbling.
 
Business has been crazy good this spring. A late spring in our neck of the woods means local deliveries of wholesale plants came late but it has been very steady for the last several weeks. This is temporary but it has put enough demand on me that I have had to miss a Saturday market now and then. I expect to be back full time before Mother's Day. Last Sunday was Opening Day for the 2013 season of the Chattanooga Market. It is the start of my eighth season and I am right back where I want to be in my favorite spot surrounded by my favorite farmers. Sales were brisk and the crowd was massive. Learned some things last week and am making some simple changes to help me serve everyone faster. It just takes a little bit of time to get back into the swing of things.
 
Being back at the Chattanooga Market meant fresh lettuce from Lee and Gordon's Greens and eggs from the ladies at Sheerlark Farm (and Larry too). There is nothing better than fresh produce and food after a long winter of store bought. Sorry, BiLo and Publix, I won't be in your produce departments for about nine months or so. I am anxious for the CSA to start with Brown Dirt Farm but content myself with looking at the photos of the plants going into the ground up there in Dunlap.
 
There are some things in the works for later this Spring. Research is needed so consulting my massive bookcase is first because I have BOOKS on almost every subject relating to farming, raising food and herbs, chickens and kids. Chickens were just the first installment in this homesteading adventure and the installation of the fruit bushes was second. Much more is to come if this is to be successful. Just hope I don't run out of space.
 
Need a daily fix on what's going on at the farm?  Check out my farm page on Facebook or Twitter. Just find Possum Creek Herb Farm. You can't miss it.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Saturday!

SATURDAY!
 
I can tell by the time between blog posts that spring is almost here and I am getting busier. The schedule is much different as March comes in like a lion (it is so cold here!). No baseball on the schedule for the oldest teen and the youngest is wrapping up his committments with the Rifle team. However, that doesn't give me any time to be lazy. The greenhouses are bursting at the seams with anxious plants ready to head to their forever homes. However, Mr. Winter does not want to loose his grip just yet on us. Postponed several shipments for next week because nighttime temps are way too cold to fling those babies out into the world.
 
Many of you have asked me how our "no process" eating for Lent has been going. I have to say first that it is a very enjoyable process to be unprocessed. Yes, meals take a little longer to prepare then just tossing a box of something into the oven or microwave but the results have been very rewarding. I did actually have a few withdrawal symptoms for lack of a better term the first few days. Unexplained headaches mostly but I did a lot of extra drinking of water and I think that flushed the system enough to ease them.  There are a few things we found that we can't do without. Cheddar cheese, ketchup, mustard, orange juice and peanut butter. The kids were like "but if we eat this we're cheating" and my answer was "I am not making homemade ketchup and mustard."  And I figure that there are so few ingredients in the other items that we aren't doing too badly.
 
I pretty much cook dinner every day and bake bread at least twice a week. Okay, I have to confess right here and right now. That homemade bread eating thing is NOT working for me. I thought the pounds would start coming off when the processed food went away????  Uh, no, in fact I gained two. Yep, it's the bread. That gloriously, straight from the bread machine or oven, bread. So, bread has become a once a week treat for me. Sigh....I know. Sad. 
 
I am finding that by adding fifteen minutes to my time in the kitchen each afternoon that I can have a completely homemade meal on the table within about an hour or even less. Some nights it's as simple as pasta and homemade sauce from last year's tomatoes. Or an egg dish that goes from pan to plate in fifteen minutes. Some nights it a roasted chicken that I can utilize for sandwiches, pot pie or salad the next couple of days. Last night's dinner was potato soup and that was ready in thirty minutes.
 
I did test our taste buds this week just to see if we were truly on our way to "no processed". I had a Marie Calendar's baked ziti and sausage meal in the freezer. I popped it in the oven and served it. I got really strange looks from the kids. They took a serving and tasted it. Nope, they didn't go for it. Neither one of them liked the flavor and complained loudly that they really didn't want to eat it. We tossed it into the garbage and had grilled cheese sandwiches with the last of the bread I baked a day or two before. So, that empties out the freezer of the last of the processed foods. Actually the freezer is looking really empty with the exception of some fish, shrimp, fruits from last summer and a couple of mystery packages of something. Okay, I have to clean out the freezer.
 
So, we aren't starving and one of us has put on a pound or two. We are probably another eight weeks out from the start of our CSA from Brown Dirt Farm. Really looking forward to playing with all the fresh goodies we will receive. Shopping at the grocery store is much different these past few weeks. The cart is only partially full and there aren't many boxes in there either. I still buy Corey's favorite cereal for him. I can't have mutiny on my hands.  I spend more time and money in the produce department and in the chicken section of the meat department since there is still beef in the deep freezer. A quick stop in the dairy and I am out of the store within 20 minutes. And the bill is going down. Not as much as I would like but that's the quantity of produce we are buying. That will start changing as soon as the fresh produce starts coming in late April and early May. People say the produce is priced high at farmers markets but if you do the math and compare what you bought in the winter time at the grocery store, it comes out about even or a tad less from the farmers market. I would rather pay the farmer directly. It's just a good thing.
 
Baby chicks are coming early in the week. Will post photos!

 


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

 
Out with the Junk!

Happy Fat Tuesday! Let the good times roll.....at least for today that is. Each year prior to Lent I make the decision to give up something that is a favorite of mine. Lots of people do it. Some succeed and some don't. I usually give up sweets which has the benefit of letting me drop a few pounds. I am not a very nice person to be around the first week or so, though.

This year though I want to really do SOMETHING important that really makes me (and in turn, the family) get rid of the junk that is called processed foods that invades just about every diet in the country whether we know it or not. We are not huge junk food eaters. We're more "convenience" foods eaters at least once or twice each week. Maybe even more than that when my busy season cranks up which will be here in just a few short weeks. By convenience foods I mean those ever so yummy (insert sarcasm here) Lean Cuisines, Stoffers, Marie Calendar meals that can be popped into the oven or microwave while I am doing paperwork, returning phone calls or emails. Packaged lunch meat, smoke sausage, bacon, sausage patties, bbq, frozen waffles, boxed cereal (this is non-negotiable for the youngest teen)...etc., etc., etc. the list goes on.

What does this all mean? It means that I won't be visiting the middle of the grocery store anymore. Dairy, produce and meat aisles will be it. Oh, except for that one box of cereal for Corey and the bag of pretzels that Jeff has to have. It means using the bread machine every couple of days and learning to cut straight slices of bread. It means roasting a whole chicken for dinner and eating chicken sandwiches for lunch. It means cooking on a daily basis. Or cooking bigger meals and having leftovers later in the week. It means no processed baked goods and getting out those recipes I have been keeping for years if we want a coffee cake. No Oreos, no Doritoes, no frozen pizza.

It might be a little expensive to start because, well, it's winter. Not much in the way of fresh produce other than what the grocery store offers for another month or so. I need to check with my local farmers and see what is available. I might be pleasantly surprised.  I do have local beef in the freezer so that's a money saver and after hearing about what is being found in chicken I don't think the prices being asked for organic chicken will EVER be too much anymore.

This week's grocery list will go something like this.....
Fruit: strawberries (FL berries are in the stores now), blueberries, oranges (squeeze our own juice), squashes, onions, celery, carrots, potatoes, garlic and peppers
Meat: organic chicken 2
Dairy: milk, cream, yogurt, butter, eggs, cheese
Grocery:  olive oil, bread flour, yeast, tea bags, apple cider vinegar, coffee, cereal and pretzels

Ketchup, mustard, pnut butter and salad dressing will stay in the house to keep the peace. I think they will like my homemade salad dressing though once they try it. The one huge thing we're giving up is the Crystal Light drink powders. You know the ones I am talking about! Every flavor under the sun and it makes the water taste SO MUCH BETTER. Well, have you seen what's in that stuff? I can't even pronounce half of the ingredients. So, that means if someone wants something other than milk, tea or water than they'll have to BYOB because it won't be in the house.

I could go on and on about this for a while. Long story short....it will be good for us. It will become the norm for the next six weeks and hopefully from here on out. Now, I hope all the tomatoes I froze and canned last fall don't run out too fast. :)


Friday, January 04, 2013

Let's Begin....Again

Each January it seems that many of us like to start over. Whether it is a new diet, new book, new hair style, new journey or moving to a new part of the country we all like to start again. I was just saying to a friend the other day that I love new calendars. I have three in my house. One for the family located where they supposedly see it, one that works as a planner for the farm and one that acts as a place to jot down appointments and reminders. Probably overdoing it a little but all three are nice, clean, and crisp and most of all, ready to be filled. With all the ways to keep up with appointments in our modern world I still like the simple method of writing down that appointment with an ink pen.

You may be wondering what my little homestead looks like and why in the world am I calling it that in the first place? And if you aren't wondering, please bear with me for a moment. A few years ago it seemed fitting to fling open the gates and have visitors come to see what I had growing in the greenhouse. As time travelled forward it became obvious this just didn't work with our lifestyle. Farmers markets became the normal way of doing local business and it has worked very well for the past seven years. My little homestead consists of our home. Nothing fancy but we like it and it suits our needs well. I grow all of my herbs in three greenhouses that are within walking distance of the house giving me a little exercise each day on my commute to work. There is also a very large two story shed that once was The Herb Barn, the farm's shop back in the day. Now sitting slightly unused but always ready to house whatever I need it to. There is land that surrounds my little homestead with lots of trees. As the years have gone by the trees have become so numerous that they often shade out garden areas. I have had to get very creative as to where I grow the vegetables and herbs we love to eat. Bartering at the farmers markets helps supply us as well. I often grow herbs or provide a much needed herbal tincture in exchange for tomatoes, apples and yummy canned goods.

I have a cozy office where the business is operated from, where articles are written, where blog posts are agonized over, where the bills get paid and where I may just curl up in a chair and read a good book for an hour. Its walls are painted green apple and are showing their age but for now it suits me. The overstuffed bookcase needs a good cleaning and maybe some book recycling but I know that if I start that project I will spend too much valuable time reading the discard pile and not getting work done in the greenhouses.

So, let us begin, here at the homestead. Let us begin the seed starting, the garden planning, the work that is the business of Possum Creek Herb Farm and the journey of another year.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Herbal Homesteading


Elderberry Growing at Possum Creek Herb Farm

Frugally Sustainable Blog Hop! 
Here on the farm thoughts turn to how will we manage during the winter, whether that's financially, emotionally or physically. There are three of us. I have two strapping boys that are growing so tall that the eight foot ceilings are becoming boundaries when these two stretch out. I, on the other hand, am not getting any taller and I wasn't strapping to start with. Health issues in our house fortunately are few. We've had a few scrapes and broken bones, but (knock wood) so far that seems to be it.

I spend a great deal of the late summer and early fall preparing for winter health issues. Colds, flu and just general malaise can run a family down very quickly. In our herbal first aid kit are my "go to" herbs of elderberry, echinacea, ginger, goldenseal, holy basil and spearmint. There are others but like I said, I reach for these herbs first. Most of the time I have a little platoon of tincture soldiers all lined up shoulder to shoulder in the cabinet. They are easy to make and quick to take. The kids have been raised on them and don't find the fact that there may be a cloudy substance in the morning juice very odd at all. Elderberry tincture is well known for its attack on the germs that cause flu. Science is proving what we already knew for years that it will knock down the flu and colds faster than any chemical prescription could.  Echinacea and Goldenseal are often used in tinctures or in capsules because their taste is pretty rooty (tastes like dirt). Again, here we use tinctures. Both of these herbs can be used when the flu and cold is upon you and you just have to get out to do your day's work. I can promise that in a couple of days with those tinctures you won't taste the rooty flavor anymore. Ginger and spearmint are our herbs of choice for stomach issues. Tea is the best way to get these into your system and a nice way to comfort the symptoms.

This year, after much thought and planning, I wanted to share some of what we use here ourselves. While yes the main portion of the farm is devoted to growing herb plants for wholesale and retail many have asked "what else do you do?"  I thought that creating an Herbal CSA (community supported agriculture) was the perfect answer. I am already making what we need for the seasons so why not just make a little more. It is becoming apparent that it was a good idea by the amount of response I am receiving. If you want to see what it is all about please click on the link above and scroll down a little on the page for all the details. Please don't hesitate to email me if you have questions.

We just came through a very long election season and the country has chosen. I feel the need to keep working hard taking care of my family and running my business to the best of my ability. Praying for the best to happen to this country but preparing for whatever comes.  Possum Creek hosts a farm page and its sister page Herbal Homesteading on Facebook. We talk about herbs, of course, but I think delving into preparedness even lightly has become a hot topic.

Michele Brown is the owner of Possum Creek Herb Farm located in southeast TN. She has been in the herb growing business for fifteen years.

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Monday, November 05, 2012

The Love of Herbs....blog hop!


The Love of Herbs....blog hop!
We're on a roll now!  Possum Creek Herb Farm is hosting a Blog Hop all day today. Please feel free to link up with us. It's easy. Just visit Possum Creek's Facebook page often during the day. As each blog hopper writes his or her blog entry for the day, they will put the link on our Facebook page and link back up here with my blog post as well.

The love of herbs started out pretty simply for me over twenty years ago. A small backyard garden (and I mean small) was filled in with whatever herbs I could find locally. Back then it was chive, parsley, sage and maybe a lavender or two. Once I found the few herb companies that were even on the internet back then I would save up a little money and place an order. When we moved from that house in 1996 I dug up over 100 herb plants out of that garden and brought them with us to Soddy Daisy where they lived on the front porch for several months until beds could be built.

What those first few years of growing and playing with the herbs did was give me time to really learn what each herb offered. Back in the early nineties information was found in books and those books were often scarce. The best to learn was to actually find an herbalist, an herb grower, or an herb business owner which around our part of the country was severely lacking. We often travelled to North Carolina stopping at little herb farms along the way. No one was shy in sharing info so notebooks were filled and gardens grew larger. That really was how the farm came into being. The gardens were so full that I had to take cuttings and start sharing (hubby thought it best to be SELLING not sharing) and Possum Creek Herb Farm was born in 1998.

Fast forward (incredibly fast actually) and Possum Creek is an operation that my family can be proud of. We help other herb businesses by providing many of their stock via wholesale, we ship all over the United States through our retail site and here just recently we have started an Herbal CSA (community suuported agriculture) which offers shares of the farm's bounty for either a half of year or an entire year. Please visit our website and click on the Herbal CSA link for more info. This is an important project for us here and we hope you will join us on that journey.

There are many more plans for the farm in the years ahead. There doesn't seem to be a lack of ideas and I often find myself going back to those notebooks from the early nineties and bringing that idea up to date. I guess the sky really is the limit.  

Remember, if you are a blog writer, link this post to your blog and drop the link to your blog on our farm's Facebook page. Keep it rolling.....