Something Bugging You?

Last year, our backyard was filled with mosquitoes and other biting insects.  I often thought that there had to be something we could do to reduce the bug population and bug bites without using some sort of insecticide.  I may have finally found an answer.

Recently, there have been a multitude of articles and blogs about how to deter mosquitoes, either with bug sprays or certain varieties of flowers, herbs and other plantings.  Personally, I would rather go with the more natural method of planting things.  There is a perfect location in our backyard to do just that.

Here are some of the plants that may help with your bug problem:

Ageratum Garlic Pineapple weed
Basil Lavender Pitcher Plant
Cadago Tree Lemon Balm Rosemary
Catmint Lemon Grass Scented Geranium
Catnip Lemon Thyme Snowbrush
Cedars Lemon Verbena Stone Root
Chrysanthemums Marigolds Sweet Fern
Citronella grass Mexican Marigold Tansy
Citrosum Neem Tea Tree
Clove Nodding Onion Vanilla Leaf
Eucalyptus Pennyroyal Wild Bergamot
Floss Flower Peppermint Wormwood

Check out this site for more information on how and where these beauties grow best.  Some of them may do better than others in your area.

We are going to try Marigolds, Catnip, Basil, Chrysanthemums, Rosemary, Peppermint, Lavender and Garlic.  By the end of summer, I’ll have plenty of “research” completed in this war against biting insects!

Mower Maintenance Mania

We’ve all heard that old saying “The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence,” and that is so true!  When it comes to lawn care, not all things are created equal.  But it is possible to level the playing field with regular maintenance.

If you have a zero turn mower like us, you know how much work it saves you.  Mowing a one acre homestead with a push mower would take all day, but with the zero turn it only takes about an hour.  So we treat the zero turn with the love and respect it deserves through mower maintenance mania.

To keep this machine fine tuned and working hard for us, there are certain things that CleaningTheDeckwe do regularly.  Now, this isn’t the fun part but it keeps us rolling all year long! Sharpening blades, cleaning the deck, changing the oil and filter, changing the air filter and, of course, keeping the gas tank full are the very basics required for any riding mower.

Sharpening blades requires certain specifications be followed.  What type of mower you have will determine exactly how to sharpen those blades so be sure to read your manual for the details. Sharp blades and a clean deck will prevent the lawn from looking like a hay field after mowing and can save you gas.

Our zero turn is worth its weight in gold so we are vigilant about changing the oil and filter and checking the air filter.  This helps extend the life of the mower and reduces major mechanical issues to near zero. Be sure to check with your local Woods dealer about recycling that used oil.

Well, I’m off to mow the grass and play in the yard.  See you next time!

Here comes the bride… with a rake!

For the second time, we are hosting a wedding on our farm. Sharing our place with friends who are tying the knot is an honor… and a lot of hard work…. but mostly an honor! To share the load, we let the bride and the family worry about the ceremony and reception details while we focus on getting the farm in “showplace condition.”

When we hosted the wedding of Dan and Sarah Clark in 2014, we had all summer to prepare since the nuptials were in September. That year, in early spring, I hired our friend Kelsey to help with cleaning up from winter, building new flower beds, planting perennials, and mulching trees. Kelsey supervised the planting of new trees, experimented with landscape design, and entertained Bob the Dog with endless games of fetch (yes, playing with Bob is an approved work time activity).

By the end of September, our farm was ready for guests!

Now we’re getting ready for another wedding: Dan’s brother Tommy and his bride, Emily. The same planning crew is well on their way in creating details and decor for the June event. And this time, with fewer months to prepare, we called in the bride and group and a troop of family and friends to help with grounds maintenance. After a day of raking, shoveling, burning, grinding, sowing, sweeping, mowing, and more, we all relaxed with a few cold ones, a prime rib dinner, and that gratifying “sense of a job well done.”

2016-04-17 18.25.51

We’re now a month out from the June wedding and plans, preparations and pre-parties are in full-swing. Time is running out for getting the farm in “showplace condition.” I may need to call the butcher to cut another prime rib and the bride to bring over her rake.

Morel Heaven!

Here in Northern Illinois, Morel mushrooms are starting to pop. We found these beauties inmorels
the woods just a few miles from home. Enough for a couple of meals and they were delicious!

Everyone likes to share their theories on how to find these elusive delights and the most delicious recipes. During the height of season, talk can be heard every which way you turn.

Experts say they can be found around certain trees, when the temperature outside is getting warmer and when the soil is above 60 degrees. If you’ve been hunting Morels for a while now, you know these tidbits are true, to a point. But, morels can be found in places you wouldn’t normally expect as well. My point: never give up the hunt! They can be right around the corner, just keep looking.

Interested in seeing where Morels have been found so far this year? Check out this map.

For more information on finding your own secret supply of Morels, visit Field & Stream’s website.

Springtime is Asparagustime!

Along with the tulips, daffodils, and crocus, the early days of spring bring life to the asparagus patch. We started our asparagus patch around five years ago, nestled in the corner next to the barn and the green house. This year, we should get enough asparagus asparagusPatchfor several meals. Picking every couple of days is essential so they can be picked at the optimal moment. Pick them too early and they haven’t grown quite enough, wait too late to pick them and they will start to open up.

We’ve planted asparagus by roots and by seed, but always seem to have better luck with seeds. Seeds are cheaper than roots and can be found at our favorite home and garden center. The only problem with planting asparagus by seed is that you have to wait a few years to get enough to make a meal, but it will produce for years to come so it is definitely worth the wait!

This year, we will add more of the Jersey variety that we started by seed several weeks ago. Eventually, our asparagus patch will cover a 15 x 120 foot area with baby asparagusJersey and Purple Passion varieties. The Jersey has more flavor, but I wanted a little Purple Passion for color.

Conventional gardening wisdom would have you believe that it is necessary to keep your asparagus patch free of weeds and grass, but we buck that notion. Before the asparagus begins to pop up, we mow the patch down really short, then wait for the magic to happen. When we first start to pick the asparagus it is taller than the grass. As the season goes on, the grass will catch up to the asparagus but by then we have what I like to call “asparagus eye.” We see it no matter how tall the grass gets!

Whether you’re growing it yourself or buying it from a local farmer (always seems fresher than store-bought), a great (and simple) way to cook asparagus is by placing it in aluminum foil, pouring a little bit of olive oil on it with some salt and pepper and cooking it on the grill until it is tender. Absolutely delicious!

The beginning of the end of another Illinois turkey season

In the turkey blind - that's a decoy!

In the turkey blind – that’s a decoy!

2016-04-23 06.29.19

The ones that got away.

This is the last week of Spring Turkey Hunting Season in Illinois. As a landowner, I have the privilege of hunting all five seasons — an entire five weeks to bundle up in camouflage, sit in the pre-dawn woods, and wait for toms to appear. Actually, in all my years of hunting, I’ve never needed five weeks, I’ve barely needed more than an hour.

Since “restocking” wild turkeys throughout Illinois (an initiative that spanned from the 1970’s to 2003), the critters have been abundant on our farms. Because they are so abundant, a successful hunt is simply a matter of scouting in the evening and then the next morning, following a modified version of advice from hockey’s Wayne Gretzky: “skate to where the puck is going to be.” Yep, it’s that easy, “hunt where the bird is going to be.”

Using this advice, again this year, I brought down a 23.4 lb tom and had two beautiful packages of turkey breasts in the freezer in time to make an 8:00am appointment in town. And thus ends another season of spring turkey hunting.

AKL

On The Fence

A few years ago, we put in a split rail fence on one side of the driveway.  I spent most of that summer fussing over the landscaping along that fence line, planting flowers and edibles that would bloom throughout the growing season.
fence
The post holes were dug by hand, which is why we were on the fence (pun intended) about putting the fence up on the other side of the driveway that summer.  But, the time has come to complete this project and the weather is finally going to allow us to get busy. Unfortunately, the new fence will be dug by hand as well.  I keep telling my husband its good exercise.  🙂

After the fence is up, I’ll plant more flowers and edibles.  But first, we will put down some fabric to keep the weeds and grass at bay.  Last year, we planted hops vines in this area, so I’ll add flowering bulbs here with the intention of having some color most of the year along this part of the fence.  There will be a variety of lilies, some bleeding hearts and Hostas (because some of the area will be shady most of the day).  By the end of this weekend, the mulch will be added and I’ll be sitting on the porch enjoying the view of our completed project!

Chirp Chirp

The local Tractor Supply in our hometown sells chicks every spring.  A few weeks ago, we bought a dozen of them.  They were chirping and dancing around in their little box, anxiously awaiting their new home.Chicks

 

Sadly, we lost one chick within the first three days so now we are down to eleven.  The rest of them were looking healthy and growing fast. Food and water are provided for 12 hours and then removed for 12 hours because these creatures will eat themselves to death if you’re not careful. We can’t let that happen!

They spent the first few weeks in an old cart that we covered with chicken wire. We chicksHalfWayadded a heat lamp for those chilly spring nights and put some pine shavings in the bottom of the cart so they were comfortable and warm.

Last weekend, the chicks moved to a larger home.  The idea for this movable outdoor area came from… It’s a great way to allow the fast growing chickens to enjoy fresh grass and all
the bugs they can eat. The yard gets a little extra fertilizer too.

In about three weeks, they will be full grown chickens and it will be time to prep them for the freezer.  That will make 11 meals in the freezer and we’ll start the process all over again in a few weeks.

Until then, we’ll enjoy our farm fresh eggs that we’ve been lucky enough to have for about the past five years.

eggs