Sunday, June 29, 2014


The abundance of berries is probably one of the best parts of summer.  My Happy Acres has a wide variety of strawberries.  Although the wild berries were at their peak about a week ago, other domesticated berries are coming into their peak right now.
To ensure that your berries are at their ripened best, buy direct from a local farmer or You Pick.  If not readily available, choose the berries that are uniformly red with no white or green or soft spots.  An unripe berry will not ripen off the plant.  We prefer the dark red varieties for flavor and juiciness.

Preparation: keep berries in a cool place (such as the refrigerator) until ready to use.  Wash and stem when ready to use them (pre-cleaning before refrigeration will cause them to deteriorate within a day or two).  Slice or halve the berries into a bowl.  Sugar to taste.  If you have very fresh, juicy berries you may not need any sugar at all.

Strawberry Shortcake
The cake portion of strawberry shortcake is traditionally a light sponge cake however try a variety of different bases until you find what you like best.  We were delighted with the results when using an almond pound cake.  These are also sometimes available at your local grocery or bakery.  Decide what tastes best.
The cream portion can sometimes turn into a source for debate.  Some people insist on only whipping cream.  Some people like Cool Whip.  We like Whipped Cream Frosting.  By slightly modifying the recipe by using only 1/4 cup powdered sugar, the Whipped Cream enhances the flavor of the berries.  Okay, I hear you.  This is not diet food.  But a little bit goes a long way.  Just one spoonful and you too will be saying, 'Life is good'...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What's new from My Happy Acres: Berries and Beasties

So much has been happening lately, I don't quite know where to begin.  Let's take a walk.

The chicken tractor has been a big hit with the chicks, providing them with a safe place to call home.  There are so many critters out there that would love to call the chicks 'snacks' that I've been very cautious about where the tractor is moved.  I've also been giving a lot of thought to how to expand their yard and still keep them safe from predators (on the ground and from above).  They're finally big enough that most of the local snakes will leave them alone.  The turtles, cats, and raccoons are still a problem.

It's astounding how fast babies grow up.  A month ago, they were little fuzzballs.  Within a week they had their pin feathers.  By the time they reached three weeks old they were flapping about making little chick flight trips around their playpen and the mudroom.  Always curious about what's going on, as soon as they hear the rattle of the doorlatch, they stand ready at the tractor door, poised to come tumbling out to see what new adventure mom has instore for them.

Recently we added four more girls to our farm family.  Big Fluffy, Franny, Dorothy, and little Jellybean are boer goats.  We're hoping that they will be the beginnings of our foundation herd.

This is what I have learned so far: if a goat can get her head into something, she will try to get the rest of herself into it.  Where ever you go, they want to go.  What possibly could be more fun than jumping on top of and jumping off  big stuff (this includes overturned buckets, apple boxes, pallets, goat housing, piles of dirt, big rocks, etc).  Anything can be a toy (this includes everything from the previous list plus frogs hopping across the pasture and any items hanging from the side of the barn or my belt loop).  They're still babies, so we'll need to keep a close watch over them to keep them out of trouble.  (Is it just me or do you notice a theme here?)

Meanwhile, berry time is starting at My Happy Acres.  Wild strawberries are everywhere.  Try as we may, we can't keep ahead of the harvest.  Sweet and delicious, wild berries are the perfect size to sprinkle on one's breakfast cereal.
So far we're seeing a bumper crop of blueberries ripening over on Blueberry hill.  Last fall we took a few minutes out to place rabbit wire around a number of the bushes.  This kept the bunnies and voles at bay.  we are now being rewarded with large clusters of blue/green berries.  These should be ready to pick in about a week, just in time for Fourth of July celebrations.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Turtle time

This is the time of year when the turtles get on the move.  Female snapping turtles are leaving the water and lumbering along roads and pastures looking for a place to deposit her eggs. On the one hand this can be very cool.  Discovering a 30 pound Momma strolling along the fence row can be interesting.  Of course one also needs to bear to mind that snappers can also easily crush a foot bone or snap off annoying fingers.  It's best to watch these from a distance.
By in large, snapping turtles restrict their diets to the items they find around the pond.  Frogs, snakes, eggs,  fish, and dead stuff appears to make up most of their diet.  They will also however snack on baby chicks or ducklings if the opportunity arises.  Although the hoop frame is heavy, these animals have been known to bully their way under or through the mesh to get to a tasty meal.  To keep an inquisitive puppy and the troops of chickens safe, DH used a very long handled flat headed shovel to scoop up Momma turtle, gently plop her into the hay wagon, and take her to the other side of the pasture where she would be able to find a nice spot for her eggs and less threatening to our family.
Momma turtle going for a wagon ride
If you see a turtle in the road, please make an effort to avoid her.  Although their shells look tough, they are not designed to take the weight of a car or truck.  The snapper that we relocated could very easily have been over 20 years old.  They have been known to live as much as 50 years.  Whatever you do, please do not attempt to handle them.  The first picture shows our girl with her head and neck tucked back into her shell.  When threatened, that head and neck will shoot out of that shell like a snake strike, extending out almost as far as the shell is long.  So be careful!
Turtle nest
In about 90 days, we should start seeing baby turtles.  If it's a hot summer, they'll all be girls.  If cool, they'll all be boys.  When you think about global warming, it makes you wonder about the future of these fascinating animals.

To read more about these interesting critters: click here.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Keeping them safe

Talk with any parent about what is necessary to raise kids and the topic of 'keeping them safe' will inevitability come up.  Whether talking about human children or the babies about the farm, one needs to consider the surroundings and what to do to keep them safe.
Like most children, chicks are forever curious about their worlds.  As they scratch and peck, they look to their mom to tell them what is good to eat, what's best to stay away from, and to protect them from day-to-day dangers.  Since we can't watch over them 24x7, we build in safe guards.

The pastures and surrounding grasslands are all pesticide free which limits the worry that someone will eat something bad.  Any questionable weeds are removed by hand before the chicks are released into the run.  A well placed 2x4 acts as both a doorstop and a step, although the babes seem to prefer to burst out of the house in flurry of feathers.  Flying end-over-end, coming to a rolling stop just before the waterer, one somehow expects them to throw up their wings like an Olympic gymnast and shout, 'Ta-DAAA!' when they finally come to a stop.

Plastic chicken wire has been placed over the threshold.  This serves two purposes: put two fingers together.  This is the width of the hole or slot that if left open, a chick will attempt to squeeze into.  If one chick goes, the rest will soon follow after.  This wouldn't be so bad if they had the sense to get themselves out however a chick will sit and call to its mom until it hears her clucky encouragement to back out of the hole.  Since I don't speak fluent chicken, we're at a distinct disadvantage.  Under the circumstances it is sometimes best to screen those temptations than to tempt fate.
The other purpose of the plastic chicken wire is to discourage any would be predators from hiding there.  Everybody loves the taste of chicken.  Unfortunately this includes rats, snakes, turtles, cats, dogs, coyotes, and a long list of birds the live in our area.  A determined predator may not be kept out, however a slightly less determined one will.
The chicken tractor has small access doors on each end which can be locked.  Additionally, the protruding laying boxes have a cover which can be lifted providing access from the outside.  To keep coyotes and other large predators from openning and entering the coop from the laying box flap, a small hook and a very large rock has been added for extra peace of mind.
The little doodles are growing quickly.  More hoops will need to be made until the portable chicken is finally ready for the season.  Stay tuned...

Monday, June 9, 2014

Babies first day out

 Life on the farm is a never ending adventure.  There is really no such thing as down time or idle moments, only brief respites between tasks.  One continuously plans, schedules, and executes.   All that said, that does mean we don't have moments of fun.  This last Winter while biting winds howled, DH built a new chicken tractor for the new members of the family.  Fourteen new chicks arrived in May. 
With the warmer weather, the little troopers are now ready to move from their chick box inside, to their new home outside.  Like a mother watching her children go into the playlot for the first time, the umbrella and chair have been set up close enough to keep an eye on things, yet far enough away for them to brave the big wide world...sort of.

Last fall we bent some pipes to make row covers and hoop houses.  Using a few left over half circles, we attached these to a floating frame.  This frame can easily be moved around from one grassy place to another, providing extra protection to the babies from the beasties that see them as snacks and toys.  While the chicks explore their new home, we keep watch.
What's also nice is that this hoop frame easily joins to the chicken tractor.  As their house is moved from place to place, the frame can also provide a little extra shade and security.  Watching babies grow up is better than TV.

Monday, June 2, 2014

May Flowers or Out in the greenhouse part 2

To get a jump on the growing season, some plants can be started indoors.  After all the danger of frost and cold temps finally pass, the mature seedlings can then be transferred to their garden beds outside.
When walking about the garden center of the local big box store, one will see all sorts of stuff available to help the gardener grow seeds.  Special soils, additives, trays, heat mats, lights, gages, and probes fill aisle after aisle leaving the noice or professional wondering what she gotten herself into.  It doesn't have to be complicated.  Let's get back to keeping it simple.

I love seed catalogs.  They always come when the weather is cold and nasty reminding us that it won't be winter forever.  The hardest part is staying rational/reasonable in planning the new year's garden plot.
With the greenhouse, we were able to get our cucumbers, watermelons, and gourds an early start.  Each of these plants like warm soil to germinate.  When temps were hovering around 40F outside, the greenhouse was a lovely 70F.  As an experiment, we decided not to heat the house but rather let the sun shine in.  Fortunately this year, that was enough to make the little seedlings happy.
Now that the weather is becoming steadily warmer, the little plants are being transferred out to the garden bed..