Strawberry Fields Update!

In a bare 3 weeks our strawberries have gone from this to this!

LOOK! BABY BERRIES!

Both of our varieties are June/Summer bearing varieties, which means technically we’re supposed to pinch off all those baby berries to make the plants put more growth into the plant itself.

We started, but have a 2 year old and a life with jobs and stuff. We’re hoping to get back to it over the next few evenings. We have yet to actually mulch. We’ve been using the disruption method of weed control by tilling in between the rows. Finding good clean straw is more difficult then I had thought it would be.

Well anyway, lots of other stuff going on. We’re getting ready to transition the chicks to the outdoor area and still working on getting out garden in. Its daylight from 4 to almost 9 and there is still not enough time to get everything done.

Until next time, have a wicked good day!

Update 06222017 – We got the buds all picked off in our lunch break, the day after I published this. Here’s hoping they just go back into vegetative growth and we can put our time to other activities for now.

Until next time, have a wicked good one!

Strawberry Fields Aplenty- well for right now.

 

WE PLANTED STRAWBERRIES!

LOOK! THEY’RE ALREADY GROWING!

We dug out a long trench, lined it with some good garden soil from Maine’s very own Coast Of Maine line, lined them up and down the row and filled them in. We are trying to decide if we want to go the traditional route of straw or if we want to use black garden fabric, as we have a lot of it on hand already.

We planted them over the course of three nights- like literally planted at 8pm and on… at one point I asked for a head lamp for my birthday and not really as a joke.

The third night, Mr Gillis’s cousins, two other MrGilliseseses (??) helped us plant the last 50, and also helped us get some of our pumpkins into the ground.

I’m really excited about this (ok we’re both REALLY EXCITED about this)…. we planted 100 bare root Sparkle(a mid season variety known for its flavor) and 100 bare root Honeoye( a mid/late season type with a long harvest season).

MrGillis even wanted to order another 100 each, because the field was so small once we had them all in, but Johnny’s was already sold out for the season….

So next year, we’re going to go big…. really big. Like 1000 roots big.

For now, I guess we’ll have to be happy planting the Alexandria Strawberry Seeds we bought- this is an Alpine variety which grows double the standard wild berry size.. bonus points for edible flowers!

That’s about that for this one tho.  Until next time, have a wicked good day.

How to raise friendly chickens

Here at Gillis Gardens, we believe in happy, friendly animals. We believe that, with the right care any animal can become easy to handle and some even enjoy it.

So here are my top 5 tips to creating an unbreakable bond with your flock.

Seriously, start young- This is the big one. Just as soon as we get our babies, I inspect and hold for a moment. Then for the next several weeks, I go in and check on them CONSTANTLY. Any time I have an extra couple minutes, I hold my hand in the pen so they get used to my being in close proximity. Bonus point for when the braver ones start perching on your wrist or maybe even fall asleep on you.

Handle(gently) several times a day- even if only for a few seconds. I believe this gets them used to just being picked up. When you want to check out an adult bird, having them just submit to being picked up is a lot easier then trying to catch it.

Spend lots of time talking to them- We have our chicks set up in our storage room, which we have to walk thru to get to our laundry area. This means I get to talk to them, several times a day, without even having to do much else. I sing while I’m doing to laundry, I run thru my list of stuff to do for the day.. Or I just talk aloud. I want them to not only be used to my voice, but recognize it.

Back off if it’s to much for them- don’t stress your babies out. It wont help form a bond. Use the more trusting, social birds to draw out the nervous ones. Once they realize the other birds have nothing to fear, they will come along.

Don’t give up! – especially if its because they aren’t cute fluff butts anymore. They don’t stay like that long and that’s no excuse to treat them any differently.

Our girls are about a month old now, and they are growing like crazy.

These pictures are a week old already

I have several that like to fight for the perch on my hand/wrist and the shy girls cuddle up next to me. I can honestly say, with my arm in the box, they have all fallen asleep. That is trust, in a nutshell folks.

Well, that’s about all for this one. We were up late the last weeks worth of nights planting strawberries and putting up a fence… we also have a garden to plant, a kitchen to finish (lest we forget), and a whole list of other projects. Wish us luck!

Until next time, have a wicked good day.

The chicks are here!

After a long couple of days- we are proud to announce the arrival of 11 new family members!

It was originally supposed to be 15- but our Brahmas were canceled…. then it was supposed to be 13 but the trip was to much for one little polish and one little salmon faverolle. Hoovers Hatchery has been informed and we will be getting refunded.

Also, Because the FedEx plane was late, our girls missed their ride to town by 30 minutes. So MrGillis went on a rescue mission, 170 miles round trip,to ensure they’d get to us in time.

LOOK AT ALL THE CUTENESS! BEHOLD THE FLUFFY BUTTS!

We’re really hoping for no roos, but we’re just glad that we only lost two. So far, Hoovers Hatchery has our business for the future.

Otherwise, we are knee deep in projects because spring in Maine. It goes by fast, which means work while you can.

So, until next time, have a wicked good day.

Update 05/05/2017: we lost the other faverolle overnight- we are now worried that our chicks are infected with coccidiosis – nasty little buggers that are really in all chickens, but some are particularly bad and the little ones can’t fight them off. We now believe that was the reason for the polish’s death, as well instead of just a rough trip.

So far it seems like all the other chicks are doing well, they are eating, drinking, running and napping like normal. We’ve had one tiny case of pasty butt that was taken care of this morning.

We’ve decided that if we notice anymore looking weak we are going to make the 80 mile round trip to the nearest TSC to get Corid. We will update when we have more news.

Chicken Care 101- Spring Cleaning

Here at Gillis Gardens, we are big believers in preventative measures for maintaining good flock health. Part of that is a bi-annual coop cleaning.

As I have mentioned before in my Winterize Your Chickens Blog, we use the deep litter method to help keep our girls home warm in the coldest of Northern Maine winter. This means, come spring, the coop has about 10 inches of compacted, broken down, composted litter that needs to be removed, and replaced with nice new clean  pine shavings.

I used a shovel, a pitch fork and a wheelbarrow.

I had about 5 loads of great “brown” compost for our pile, and made the chickens very happy, I’m sure.

Izzy helped by giving them rocks.

Well, that concludes that. I know, its a short one, but trust me, it’s important to clean your coop. If you can smell something, your flock is breathing that in all night while they sleep. Preventative maintenance is worth every moment.

Otherwise, on the homestead, we are building a few things, so I’m going to call it on this one and move on to the next.

Until next time, have a wicked good day.

Triple Chip Cookie Bars – AKA Death By Blondie

The first time I made these, my husband and I killed the entire  pan in 48 hours, after which he looked at me and said, never make those again.

Here we are two weeks later and not only am did I make them again, I’m going to share my recipe with you guys. (By the way, he looked at me, while devouring another piece of this and said, “Seriously, don’t make these. I don’t want this, but I DO”)

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup room temperature salted butter
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • Chocolate chips
  • Peanut Butter chips
  • Butterscotch Chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat your over to 350.
  2. This is a stiff batter, so I use my kitchen aid. Cream together your butter, vanilla and sugars
  3. Mix in one egg at a time, until all three are well incorporated.
  4. In a separate bowl, make a dry mix out of your flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.
  5. Slowly mix your dry ingredients into your wet mix, and let this go until it is very well mixed together.
  6. Once your batter is complete, add in your chips with a spatula. I use Chocolate, Peanut Butter and Butterscotch to the tune of a cup and a quarter total.
  7. Spread into an ungreased 9 x 13 pan and bake for 30 minutes until the top starts to turn golden brown.
  8. Take it out of the oven, cover the pan in tin foil and bake for an additional 20 minutes or so until it passes the toothpick test.


I would post more pictures, but I was to excited to get this done. So I could eat it.  Priorities.

Lots of projects going on, as per usual. We have a production kitchen to finish, a garden fence to get up, a new chicken run to install, and about a million other things. I have an update blog in the works.

So until next time, have a wicked good evening.

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Homesteading Dreams – Building Cold Frames

Here at Gillis Gardens, we have dreams. Some of them are in laborious progress, such as our production kitchen and rainbow flock of egg laying chickens… others are probably unattainable for years yet(my personal favs being a greenhouse within a wallpini for tropical growing or getting into aquaponics and farming our own tilipia) but we have a lot of them.

We believe in that itself. Having dreams, goals… things that you reach for past what you have or know now. None of ours have to do with being rich, or gaining fame. It’s more about pushing our own limits at what we thought we could accomplish between us and our drive. Maybe that can be a blog for another time. Today we are talking about realizing a dream of ours that we’ve had for some time.

Building Cold Frames.

I know, quite the lofty goal there, but cold frames are important for homesteading for a big reason- it is going to extend our planting season by a few months.

From the renovation on the shed, we have a lot of of old windows, random hardware junk and different sized pieces of wood. What better use for all that stuff, then to pair it with some hay bales and bags of dirt to create THIS:

This is just the first one that we threw together real quick. We put the bales up on their sides, layered some hay in so that there was more insulation between our dirt and the cold ground and put a bag of dirt in. Then mrgillis slit the plastic and lined the sides of the hay bales with the extra. Next, he got fancy and put hinges on the windows for easy open access.

But one cold frame wasn’t good enough. We had a truck full of bales and a “malt beverage” into both of us, and it was almost 70 degrees out in April in Maine. This deserved some celebrating and some work. So we rearranged the bales and ended up with three cold frames.

Mrgillis made a neat brace for the windows too. He’s just that thoughtful. Meanwhile, Izzy and I played.

The Next day, it was up in the 60s again, so we planted salad greens and micro greens, because if it works, eff yeah we have fresh produce in our front yard. And if it doesn’t well it wont be long and it will.


So, to cap it off, we spent about 20 bucks on hay, reused a bunch of old windows and hardware instead of trashing them and have the ability to start growing outside about 5 to 6 weeks earlier then in years past… it also will extend our harvest capabilities well into the fall. It was a quick project and gave us a good reason to be out enjoying the fresh air and beautiful Maine spring day.

In fact, it was so quick and easy that MrGIllis is ready to go get another truckload of bales and make 3 more. I’ll post an update as spring moves along.

Until next time, have a wicked good day!

Update for 04/23/17-


We have 4 cold frames and SPROUTS! Yea!

Update for May 7th 2017

The coldframes are  a rousing success! We have lots of tomatoes, peppers, squash, marigolds, cucumbers, pumpkins, watermelons, leafy greens all sprouting and growing OUTSIDE in MAINE in early friggen MAY.

We are so excited about the possibilities that these cold frames open up for growing fresh food out of season.

Have a wicked good day!

Update 05-29-17 – cold frames are a definite, long lasting success! We have tomatoes and peppers, cukes, pumpkins and a mini salad garden that we’ve been harvesting from for weeks now…. and they are all cold hardened already!

This has been a great first foray into lengthening our grow season, and we’re excited to do this for many years to come. It was great not having to transform a room or closet into a plant nursery for once…. Still lots more to go tho, so until then, have a wicked good day!

Weekend Warriors – Month of March/First Week of April.

(To catch up go here, here, here, and here)

For the last month, I haven’t really been much of a help in the shed renovation. Since mrgillis and I got all the demolition done, our handyguy charlie and the hubby have been in charge while I’ve stayed nice and clean and out of it. I kinda “joked” about how maybe he should do a guest blog, but that isn’t happening. The most I get is him sitting beside me and telling me how it happened. This wont take long, MrGillis is not the most talkative dude around.

So, the big deal news is, the floor has been jacked, leveled and major support has been redone so that the water damage, rot and missing pieces of floor are no more.

Now we have a new nice level floor. With neat support systems like beams and sills and support trees.

We also decided to close back up the “window” that a previous tenant had cut into the wall in between the kitchen and front area. This is because when they cut the “window” they cut thru 3 wall studs that were part of a major load baring wall. It is the number two factor creating the dip in the roof.

So that wall has come down completely and since been rebuilt as a skeleton.

We’ve gotten so far on this place, its almost crazy to be talking about where we’re going to be putting kitchen/bathroom and pantry walls back up, but we are THISCLOSE. All we need to do now is tear down the ceiling, but we are waiting on masks for that. I’m thinking of getting us some ponchos as well.
It was a crazy, intense whirlwind of a month and I’m not sorry to see it go. Spring has officially arrived in my corner of Downeast Maine and the snow is receding fast. We’ve been able to spend time outdoors almost every day for the last week and our daughter is LOVING every second of it. And, quite frankly, so are we.

We have a lot of projects coming up, one of which we are doing today to be blogged about tomorrow, so stay tuned!

And until then, have a wicked good day.

 

The Aftermath- how we are making our chickens safe again.

When tragedy strikes on the homestead, you don’t really get the option to just give up. You still have animals relying on you for their everyday needs. After we lost 10 of our 16 chickens to a bobcat this last friday morning, we knew we needed to make a some big changes in order to protect our survivors and all other future livestock. So we came up with a 5 point plan, a few of which we’ve already started.

1. We have already called the game warden to become aware of our rights in protecting our livestock- First and foremost we have to prove knowledge of what animal we are dealing with. If it was a bobcat, we’re free and clear to shoot to kill if we have to. If its a lynx, we’re looking at trapping and rehoming somewhere VERY far away. This leads directly to-

2. Setting up cameras and motion detector lights to monitor and record all activity. Also, possibly going a bit overboard and buying a new 32 inch tv to watch monitors at all times. And hooking the cameras to our iphone to watch when away as well. BUT we’ve already caught a fox and possibly the bobcat both sniffing around again. It was at night while we were asleep, and the girls were locked up, but STILL.

3. Clean .22 rifle, bb rifle and air rifles- buy ammunition and have mrgillis teach me how to shoot – this is mostly for trying to scare the damn things away first. But if that should fail, we have to protect our animal family. Also, make sure said guns are in safe place, but easily accessible. We have a wall mounted rack on its way.

4. Check out chain link fencing with roof capabilities – find scrap tin roofing and buy clear pvc sheets from Amish. Construct superfence come this spring when the ground is thawed – dig foot deep/6 inch wide trench to lay welded wire in to create below ground barrier, then attach welded wire fence to chain link sections. Put on frame for a roof, do one half of roof in tin and other half in clear pvc sheets so the girls can get some sun or shade when they need it. Also, put henhouse directly on ground to save on fencing around bottom.

5. This spring/summer clear our immediate backyard of all birch, spruce, pine, brush, bushes and leave only beneficial to us trees, maples apples and other wild edibles. This was the plan anyway, but we feel a bigger sense of urgency to make it a priority.

Finally, I have given myself this weekend to be as upset as I need to be. I’ve eaten, drank, smoked, talked and cried my feelings from friday into last night, sunday. Today, is a new day, a new time. We will always love the hens we lost. They were all full of personality, love and most of them were good at cuddling. They gave us eggs, entertainment, a certain sort of stress relief and a sense of “hey we can raise things!” type of pride. Those memories and moments are an integral part to our story- Even the terrible way we lost them. Life is such. Time to focus on the future.

Until next time, have a wicked good day.

 

Sometimes, Homesteading Just Really Sucks.

Like the random march morning when a bobcat comes in and kills half your flock.

oh wait, that was this morning. This fresh new nightmare started around 930am.

We lost some beautiful, smart, lovely egg laying ladies and my heart is really effing throbbing right now.

I want to say, you try to prepare yourself for things like this. We’ve had racoon attacks, one resulting in a death. But this friggen bob cat came in and JUST BROKE THEIR NECKS.

My poor girls. They died for NOTHING. The only solace we take is that most of it was probably quick.

my poor husband that had to call me at work and tell me he could only find 4 living chickens and they were out of the pen at the end of our neighbors driveway. For having to pick up the bodies of chickens we raised from a few days old til now 4 years later. who is now trying to figure out how to take care of the bodies in march, with 3 feet of snow on the ground still.

poor hawk, who was our sickly baby chick from our first flock, that was now fat, robust and going to outlive them all, we joked this very stupid morning. Who was the last chicken standing, that caught my husbands attention so he could stop the thing from doing more damage. That managed to get so much further away then the rest of the girls and could be seen from across the pond and street.

Poor Dawn, Buffy, Hen, Na, Falcon, Pippi, Lucy and Ethel as well, for having to live their last moments in fear.

Poor Scout, who is still missing somewhere out in the woods on our property. Who we have little hope of finding, now that it is snowing again and the bobcat has already been back once. (eta- we found Scout the next morning, several hundred yards away, in a clearing. She was the tenth loss. I’ll spare you the details.)

And my remaining girls, Peatree, BeeBee, Milk, Matilda, Luna and Rocky, for having to be stuck inside a coop where their flockmates were killed. I gave them watermelon rinds, strawberry tops, wheat bread scraps and other treats to help make them feel normal again. But I know, they know what happened. Their little chicken hearts are under some serious stress right now, and science shows, they have feelings like grief and empathy.

Lastly, poor me. I feel so defeated right now. I don’t know if I want to get more chickens  after all this. I, for a moment, made plans to give up having chickens altogether… find a new home for my remaining girls and just focus on plants.

But I can’t. I love owning chickens, even with the heartbreaks of late. The tidal wave of gratitude I felt at finding even 6 of them alive and healthy… I couldn’t give them up.

We are going to make big changes to the fence, we’re going to work extra hard to clear more forest and push back the boundary. We’re going to ensure a safer future for our flock.

But for today, we’re going to tell stories, and remember the girls that we lost today.

In light of this, I’m going to suspend the Chicken Profiler Blog Series I wrote about previously. Maybe later I can sit here and talk about how great all these hens were, but for now, I’d rather talk to my husband about them.

Until next time.