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Blog: My Little Farm in Town

Living a rich country life in a small Midwestern town.

Showing 14 posts from May 2010 for this blog.
Frugal Family Fun: Compliments of Your Local Historical Society
Monday, May 31, 2010

I check the events section of my local newspaper every week for frugal things to do as a family. Subscribing to your local newspaper is a good idea. The money saved on even one or two frugal outings can more than pay for the cost of the subscription.

One of our local historical societies offers free lectures and activities regularly. (One that we attended a year or so ago was about cave drawings!)

Last weekend we attended a reenactment and rededication of a local historical site: Fort Blue Mounds. It was built during the time of the Blackhawk War when this area of the state was just being settled. It was abandoned, rediscovered, bought by the state and dedicate, forgotten again, and finally excavated and rededicated (Whew!).

We sat on a beautiful little piece of what was once prairie on a sunny day with a nice breeze and listened to stories of pioneer times told by a historian and reenactors and learned what life was like then. One of the local TV stations filmed the event, and we got to watch them work, too. It was both interesting and entertaining. Keep an eye on your local paper and have some frugal fun. Begonia



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My Little Potato Patch 2: Too Much Mulch?
Saturday, May 29, 2010

I’ve been peeking! I’ve been watering and lifting the mulch every couple of days to see how the potatoes in hay are progressing. I wanted to see if they were growing and if I was watering enough since the south side of my house if such a dry area.

 It turns out that at first I wasn’t watering enough. It was too dry at ground level under the amount of hay mulch you see pictured in my May 3 blog, Experiment: Hay Potatoes and Ruth Stout. The potatoes were just sitting there doing nothing.

I started watering more and underestimated the ability of mulch to keep the ground wet! I found one tater that had rot on its sprouts—bad! I’ve since removed some of the mulch and left enough for the spuds to be in the dark but not so much that they stay too wet.

I checked the bed again today and found it damp but not too wet. The potatoes are sprouting nicely. I’ll add more hay as they grow up through what is mulching them now. Begonia


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My Little Cold Frame 7: Heat Wave and Shade
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chickens aren’t the only living things that need some special care in this heat. My Little Cold Frame is also showing signs of stress. I used to garden for an amazing woman who had an expanse of cold frames that she used (when I knew her) mainly to protect and nurture seedlings of rare varieties of primula. Each frame was fitted with a window screen. The screening provided just enough shade to guard against sun stress.

I chose common garden lattice to protect the plants in my cold frame from too much sun,  because I had it on hand, it is rigid enough to use without attaching to a frame, and easy to store in sections. I found the two pieces I use for the purpose at a garage sale (25 cents each) a couple years ago. I lay the pieces right on top of the frame in place of the window glass. Lettuce and other greens are apt to bolt (flower and form seeds) and become bitter in hot weather, so the cooler I can keep them—the longer I will be enjoying salads from the cold frame.

I also have been watering more often. The south side of my house is not only warmer but also drier than any other side. I sometimes have to water several times time a day during hot weather. I try to harvest first thing in the morning but sometimes break the rule and crisp the cut greens by submerging them in cold water. (I use a salad spinner to get rid of the excess water.)

I’m going to stop writing now and harvest some greens from the frame for supper. We are having chef salads with eggs from our hens and greens from our cold frame.  There’s nothing like a cold supper that doesn’t heat up the house on a hot evening! Begonia


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It's a Scorcher! Chickens and Hot Weather
Monday, May 24, 2010

We went from days in the mid-70°s F and nights in the high 50°s F to 90° F days and mid-70 ° F nights with high humidity. I am watching Lucy closely for signs of heat stress. It hasn’t been that long since she recovered from her cold, and she is still weaker than the others.

 Lucy is the cover girl for heat stress. I notice beaks open on several of the girls, but Lucy is panting and holding out her wings trying to cool herself. I don’t like the look of her, so I decide to give her a break by bringing her just inside the garage for a snack. The garage feels air conditioned, insulated by the house above and cool cement slab below. I leave the door open behind her and let her eat some scratch from a colorful Frisbee toy turned over and used as a plate. After a while her breathing settles down, and I take her back out to the yard.  

 I noticed last night that the girls didn’t all roost on one pole as usual. It was three up on the top perch and two down on the bottom one.  I have installed the clip fan in the house and directed the flow of air downward toward the waterer. It is noticeably cooler there with the air blowing across the water in the font.  I don’t like to create drafts on the hens when they are roosting, but this will circulate the air near them at floor level.  I will also direct air toward the nesting boxes. The fan isn’t strong enough to create a strong draft but is enough to move the air a bit and provide some relief.

The gals prefer to congregate in the yard. The yard is open to the south, but there is always some shade that they can retire to during the day. I keep a second font of cool water in the yard so it is always easy for them to drink without moving around too much. I also note that they have been digging holes in the dirt of the yard, creating cool hollows to lie in. Clever Girls!  I empty the outdoor font in the yard when I renew the cool water so there is always a cool place for them to dig.  

They always have access to the coop if they wish. I keep all the windows and vents open in weather like this, closing the windows only late at night when the temps drop. The peak vents are always open once the weather warms.  There are eave vents along the entire north and south sides of the coop, peak vents to east and west, and windows that open (hinged from the top) to the south and east.  If there is breath of air passing through, this coop will welcome it. The time and effort we put into researching, planning, and building the hen house pays off in the extremes of heat and cold we experience here in the temperate zone (although there doesn’t seem to be anything temperate about this weather)! Stay Cool. Begonia



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Sick Chick: Lucille Catches a Cold
Saturday, May 22, 2010

There is always one problem child in every family. In this case, it is a chicken named Lucy. She greets me every morning with a sharp peck to the hands whenever they get within range. I don’t think she realizes they are attached to me. (I’m afraid Lucy isn’t the sharpest chick in the shed.)

I went out with a treat of banana after a series of rainy cold days. I thought the gals might appreciate one of their favorite treats to brighten the tedium of wet muddy straw and drizzly rain. I noticed Lucy sitting in that wet straw. She attempted to rise twice before she was successful and totally ignored her favorite treat. Later, I found her standing with her beak propped on the water font in the coop. She didn’t approach and peck me when I entered—another bad sign.

I got out my chicken books and tried to diagnose her problem, but there are so many ways for a chicken to be sick and very little direction on what to do about it. Mostly what I got was instructions on how to dispose of the carcass. Chickens aren’t a popular pet bird, so when they fall sick most people don’t notice until they find them dead or cannibalized by the rest of the flock.

Since she seemed congested and I didn’t know what was wrong, I decided to fix her up a cage in the garage with the ceramic reptile light strung above it and a draft shield of cardboard made from a countertop my husband had just installed in the bathroom. I set the modified chinchilla cage on a card table to keep it off the floor and make it easier for me to observe and handle the bird.

After I got her installed in the cage with a chick feeder and waterer, I called a friend who is also a small animal (avian, reptile, and small mammal) vet. He advised keeping her warm, quiet, and with water and food easily available. (This is key with birds because of their high metabolisms.) She was so weak by this time that she couldn’t stand up, and as soon as she warmed up, it was hard to keep her awake long enough to syringe feed her.

I asked if there was any medicine like an antibiotic I could give her.  He said he would check. As a favor to a friend, he came by with a baby scale and some penicillin and syringe, prescribed a dosage, and showed me how to administer it. I offered to pay him for the house call, but he requested payment only in cookies (Snickerdoodles—we have already paid the first installment!)

It was pretty intense care for a couple of days. For a while I felt sure I would lose her. By the third day, the antibiotic was taking effect, she started defecating again, and I no longer had to feed her runny scrambled eggs with a syringe. She began eating cooked squash and egg on her own when we frequently offered it to her. Soon she was eating on her own.

 When she was finally able to stand, I took her outside to forage for bugs, slugs, and worms in the leaf pile I keep for mulch. She still tired easily, so I still kept her separated in her cage in the garage and took her out a couple of times of day for a bug meal.

After a few good high-fat and -protein bug meals, she started eating her dry feed again and knocked over the waterer a few times.  When she tried to rejoin the flock on her own during one of her foraging expeditions outside, on the fourth day, I let her back into the yard. The dominant hen pecked her a few times, and I only left her in until she tired and then put her back in her cage for a nap. Gradually, over the next few days, I integrated her into the flock, but only after she was roosting and “talking” again in her cage in the garage. I was up BEFORE the chickens the first morning she awoke with the others in the coop to be sure there was no rough stuff.

The only normal function she hasn’t resumed is laying eggs—I’ll be watching for that. I continue to medicate her because she was still a bit wheezie yesterday, but this morning she gave me a sure sign of returned good health. She attacked the hand that fed her repeatedly as I weeded and she foraged as if to say, “Sure, you saved my life last week, but what have you done for me lately?” Begonia


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Safety Tip: Safe Way to Store Matches
Thursday, May 20, 2010

I save the glass jars with glass tops that some brands of scented candles come in when I have finished burning the candle. After cleaning out any wax residue with boiling water and wiping with a piece of newspaper or a paper towel, I refill it with boxes and books of matches, pop on the lid, and store it on a high shelf out of reach of children: high and dry!

Any glass jar with a glass or metal lid will do. The idea is that the matches are stored in such a way that they cannot become  a fire hazard.  I like the candle jars because they come in interesting shapes, look nice, and fit well in my cupboards. I got the idea years ago from a friend who had a matchbook collection that he stored in a glass aquarium with a glass lid! Begonia



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Planting Strawberries
Tuesday, May 18, 2010



I’ve thought about growing strawberries, read about growing strawberries, watched other people grow strawberries, and finally—I decided to actually try growing strawberries in our sunny front yard this year.  I knew enough about STRAWBERRIES by that time to choose everbearing  varieties because I wanted a more sustained harvest, the plants are supposed to be smaller, and I wanted them to spread out and hold the slope where I planted them. (I “contour garden” in that part of the front yard, so at least some of them were going to have to be “sidehill” strawberries!)

I turned to my county extension website for detailed culture information for my part of Wisconsin. Most states have this service.  In my county, you can access information on line and download a lot of it for free at .

I planted the strawberries in an area of the yard where I had previously grown tomatoes and peppers, though it is not recommended.  There should be some die-off of one of the varieties I planted that is not winter hardy—Tristar. Perhaps next year  I will plant carrots in that bed!

I have already nipped off the first flowers from the plants as per the package instructions. I am supposed to pinch off the flowers for at least 6 weeks in order for the plant to put its energy into growing leaves and roots rather than setting and developing fruit.

I really don’t know if this adventure in strawberries will bear fruit (groan), but it should be interesting.  Begonia



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Frugal Family Fun: Morel Hunting
Sunday, May 16, 2010

May is morel hunting in our part of the country. When the weather warms and the rains fall, it is time to go to our favorite places and search for the elusive fungi!

The morel is one of the only edible mushrooms that I can identify beyond the shadow of a doubt, besides the big puffballs that we don’t care to eat. You should never pick and eat any mushroom that you haven’t identified without doubt.

We started hunting morels when my daughter became fascinated by fungi. She wanted to go morel hunting, and I remembered seeing one in a nearby county park many years before. I noticed it growing along a hiking trail and filed it away in memory (as I do a lot of things). We went back to that park and started combing the woods in the area where I had seen the original mushroom—and got lucky! Picking morels is like treasure hunting—once you have a little success, you just can’t stop.

People have all sorts of theories about where to find morels. A lot of them must be good because they sell hundreds of pounds of them around here every spring, but we have found them everywhere from grassy campsites to dense woods. I’m just happy when I find them at all! Morel hunters keep their hunting places secret, but we have the advantage of being able to go into the woods during the week when most of the other hunters are driving to work in their SUVs.

During the morel season, we go hunting whenever there has been rain followed by a few warm days. We never have gotten huge quantities but have always had a good time cutting the brush and enjoying the spring ephemeral wild flowers, and especially the orchids, that appear in the woods at the same time as the mushrooms.

We carry our finds home in paper bags and rinse and spin the water and any little bugs away with a salad spinner. (Every kitchen should have one!) Then we put flour, pepper, and garlic salt in a clean paper bag and beat up an egg with a couple tablespoons of water in a shallow bowl. We dip the damp morels in the egg wash and then drop them into the paper bag with the flour mixture and shake to coat. Meanwhile, we have some extra virgin olive oil heating up on the stove. When a crumb of the coating mixture sizzles when dropped into the hot oil, we know that it is time to start frying them. Some folks prefer to cook morels in butter, but we think that it overwhelms their delicate taste. The mushrooms are done when they are golden brown and crisp. We drain them on (yes!) paper towels and eat them as appetizers.

Besides the gas to get to the park and the cost of the electricity to cook them, picking and eating morels is a fun but affordable activity and has become one our family traditions as well. Happy Hunting! Begonia



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Save Big Bucks--Cut Your Own Hair!
Thursday, May 13, 2010

It all started when his dad came home with the hair clipper.

When my husband was a child in the 1950s, it was common for moms or dads to cut their boys’ hair with one of these contraptions.  My husband had a home mown crew cut from the tender age of 8 through junior high school. His dad finally let him grow his hair out when he entered high school, commenting scornfully, “You look like a Beatle!”(Strangely enough, his father never wore a crew cut. He claimed he had too high a forehead!)

I’ll bet every family has a haircut catastrophe story of a distracted or inexperienced parent (or sibling) leaving the guard off and cutting a bald furrow down the center of some poor guy’s head! In our house, it happened one harried Sunday morning to one of my brothers—but I digress!

 When I married my husband 20 years ago, he still was having his hair cut by a professional every four or five weeks to the tune of $20 per visit. That’s roughly $200 a year! That was until our son came home with a heavy-duty, used hair clipper he bought for $10 from his barber. He wanted to use it to trim his beard,  but his dad asked him to try it out by giving him a haircut first! Our boy only did the job once. (He said he was too nervous to do it again!) So my husband cut his own hair with it the next time.  It was a nice, short crew cut and it looked good on him (still does!). My son moved out shortly after that and took his hair clippers with him.

Late one Saturday that summer, I stopped at a moving sale and noticed a long narrow box on a table made out a door and a couple of sawhorses. I always dig in or open boxes at sales, so I naturally opened this one. Nested inside it was a gleaming, mint-condition hair clipper! I squinted at the price, which looked like 25 cents to me and brought it to the woman running the sale along with a pile of other stuff.  She was doubtful about the price of the clipper, but it was someone else’s item that they didn’t want to see again, it was nearly the end of the sale, and she didn’t plan to take anything back into the house.  She said something like, “OK. You can have it for 25 cents.” It was many years ago, but some golden memories never fade!

To make a long story short, I brought the clippers home, and we have been saving money on haircuts ever since. What could you do with an extra $200 this year? Begonia


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Water in the Garden: Wild Birds
Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I have three watering areas in the yard for wild birds: one large composite bath, a terra cotta bowl on the ground, and a smaller cement one under the big spruce tree in the front yard. Each bath is situated in a spot that is sheltered from wind and overhead predators with safe cover nearby—but not so close that ground predators have easy places to hide.

I don’t feed seed and suet all summer. When everything wakes up, I figure the birds should be able to forage on their own. I’ve found that water attracts birds just as surely as food. I have a small heated bird bath that I keep filled and plugged in all winter with a branch in it so the birds can drink without getting their feet wet. The birds use it as well as the deer that visit after dark.

In the summer, I have a lot of bathing activity. The large bath in my shade rock garden area is easily viewed from the dining room window. It attracts crows, grackles, starlings, sparrows of various types, as well as cardinals, blue jays, wrens, robins, mourning doves, indigo buntings, gold finches, rose breasted gross beaks, and purple and house finches. The flowers aren’t the only bright and colorful things in the garden.

Water punctuates my day. When the hot weather arrives, sometimes I have to brush out and refill some or all of the baths several times a day. It is the first thing that I do each morning and often the last thing I do each evening.  It’s not a bad way to spend the summer. Begonia




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Drying Herbs at Home: 2009 AND 2010 Parsley
Sunday, May 09, 2010

I’ve been harvesting parsley for drying on My Little Farm in Town this week! I planted it last year from seed and transplanted it to form a border for my front walk. Last year, I harvested and begged everyone else to harvest it. (See my January 28 blog—Eggs, Parsley, and Barter)   Parsley is the ultimate cut-and-come-again herb. It’s easy to grow enough in your yard to supply your family’s needs for an entire year and save a little on your grocery bill in the process.  It is also an herb that easily makes it through the winter and comes again in the spring! It and chives are the first fresh herbs that I harvest each year.

I’ve been a tad late starting my seeds this year and am a bit short on garden space. So I’ve decided to harvest and dry parsley early and just grow a few plants this season for fresh use. 

Parsley is a biennial. It grows leaves the first year and flowers and goes to seed the second year. It will supply you with plenty of green until about May (in this hemisphere anyway) and then it bolts, and you dig it out and add it to your compost pile if you don’t intend to save seed. 

Parsley is one of the easiest herbs to dry. (Some sources claim that it doesn’t taste good when dried. I can only guess that they dried it at high temperatures, because my parsley always tastes fine.) I harvest when the dew has dried off the plants by breaking or cutting the stems a couple of inches from ground level.  I then cut the leaves from the stems with my trusty kitchen scissors right into my drying trays. I don’t wash them. If a stem is too soiled, I add it to my compost bin.  Parsley doesn’t take long to dry—when it is crunchy, it is done. (Be sure to let your test leaf cool before trying to crumble it.) If you have a simple convection dryer like mine, be sure to rotate the trays every couple of hours. Store the dry parsley in an airtight container in a dark, dry, cool place. If a recipe calls for a tablespoon of fresh parsley,  you can substitute one teaspoon of your dried product.

I picked up my dryers for $5 each at garage sales, but you can often find them at thrift stores or buy them new if you have the funds. I prefer the dryers without fans and thermostats. I mainly dry fruits and vegetables so it is not a problem.  These simple driers are usually cheaper and work just as well for my purposes. Some herbs like basil I prefer to air dry out of the sun (always) because it is so easy to cook them and lose all their volatile oils.

Other ways to dry herbs include  hanging them in a dry, dark place; drying on screen frames outside; and drying on trays (always protected from direct light) in your car, in a gas oven with the pilot light lit, or in an electric oven with the door closed and the light on, or even in the microwave oven!

The moral of the story is—Don’t pull that parsley in the fall. Let it overwinter and feed you for another season! Begonia.


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Feeding the Nectar Eaters: Wild Birds
Tuesday, May 04, 2010

May brings back the Ruby-throated hummingbirds and the Baltimore oriels to My Little Farm In Town. They always return to the spots where they found reliable food and nesting in the previous year. Our willow is what draws the Baltimore oriels to nest in the backyard. The nectar is what draws the hummingbirds, but I feed both species of birds.

When May first rolls around and whatever the weather, I take down the window seed feeder and put up the window nectar feeder for the ruby-throated  hummers. There is a shade garden and flowers planted in big pots on the patio at the back of the house that attract them as well. It is fun to sit at the dining room table and watch them feed and buzz around.  When I’m outside, I can hear them scold and body slam as they compete for spots at the feeder.  They are very feisty little ones.

I usually hear the Baltimore orioles before I see them. They have a lovely song:  They have been nesting in the yard for about four years now. I feed them grape jelly from a red peanut butter jar lid. I put the jelly on something high so the birds have a good view of what is going on around them and so that they can easily locate the food. They are attracted to the red color of the lid and share a lot of jelly with the ants unless I place the lid in the center of a dish of water.  It is especially neat to see them bring their young to the jelly.

Feeding the orioles and hummingbirds is just one of the activities that marks the season here on My Little Farm in Town.  Happy bird watching! Begonia.


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Experiment: Hay Potatoes and Ruth Stout
Monday, May 03, 2010

Experiment: Hay Potatoes and Ruth Stout          

I’ve been reading about growing potatoes in hay. I know people who have done it. I’ve even tired it—and failed! In the last article I read about the method, the guy layered spoiled hay with goat manure in it and potatoes and some dirt in a trench. Since I am sheet mulching a new bed in the front yard, I don’t have a lot of chicken yard hay—partially composted straw and chicken manure—available.  I decided to use some spoiled hay and unscreened compost instead. I figure I can layer on some more organic material as it becomes available.

This way of growing potatoes is not new. Ruth Stout wrote about growing whole gardens this way back in the 1950s and earlier. (There is a video of Ruth in her 90s talking about her life, garden method, and planting potatoes on Youtube: .)

Most of the stuff I am reading now is just repackaged Ruth Stout and her Mulch Gardening Method. She would say, “My Garden Is My Compost Pile!”  Rodale published one of her books in the 1970s entitled The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book, and Cornerstone republished her How to Have a Green Thumb Without an Aching Back at about that time as well. She has a great down-to-earth conversational writing style and a fine sense of humor. I enjoy rereading her work and find myself gardening more like she did every year as my back gets crankier and my gardens get bigger.

Mother Earth Magazine has a nice article on Ruth Stout  you might find interesting.  Here are a few more:   and

I hope you enjoy reading and watching Ruth and perhaps trying out her method this growing season. She was quite a grand gal. I hope I am doing and gardening when I am her age! Begonia



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Garage Saling Again: My Latest Find!
Saturday, May 01, 2010

I went to my first village wide garage sale of the season in a nearby small town. A lot of people pass up this town, but I always find it a good start to “the season.”

This year my favorite find was a Hobart-made K-5 Kitchen Aid heavy-duty mixer with bowl, spatter shield, and dough hook for $25. It cleaned up nicely with some Simple Green spray and a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. It works fine.

My old K-5 pooped out and resisted repair after 14 years of hard service with me—it was well broken in when I purchased it for $70 with multiple attachments. (We are keeping it as a parts machine). I will be selling my stop gap wimpy stand mixer at our next garage sale. 

The new Kitchen Aid mixers are made in China. After some research and reading a number of unfavorable reviews on line, I came to the conclusion that they are inferior to the now discontinued American-made Hobart models.  (Hobart makes heavy duty equipment for commercial bakeries.) Besides, I can’t afford a new Kitchen Aid or anything heavy duty and new anyway!

Needless to say, I was elated to spot this neglected and greasy jewel on the back table among the flotsam and jetsam at a more than reasonable price. I did enquire as to why it was in the garage sale, and the woman, a bit taken aback by my candor, replied, “Well, it’s older and I don’t use it much anymore.” I though fine by me and said, “Sold!”  It turned out to be a good day for both of us. Begonia


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