Monday, June 29, 2015

Butterflies and Insects of Summer

 

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There is something magnificent about spring turning into summer. Yes, it ushers in the heat, but it is when the butterflies begin to come out and flowers begin blooming. It is the time when the sounds of crickets feel the night air and all sorts of insects begin visiting my garden. You simply have to accept the good bugs with the bad. That is part of nature and maintaining a balance in the garden. A few chew marks are worth accepting if it means protecting the butterflies from fatal pesticides.

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This is the second year of my garden and it expands each year. I have host and nectar plants for the butterflies. The host plants supply a feeding frenzy for butterfly caterpillars and nectar plants provide food for the adult butterflies. A Monarch caterpillar can consume an entire plant so it is better to have “too much” than not enough.

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There are all sorts of bugs that visit my garden. Some familiar and others unknown, but many are welcome in my garden. There is one insect though that I can’t tolerate and that is the Japenese beetle (pictured below). They multiply by the day so in order to avoid pesticides, it requires a daily ritual of picking them off. If you hold soapy water beneath them, you can knock them into it. We just knock them into water and then dump them into the chicken coop. They devour them in a matter of seconds. They say one persons trash is another’s treasure. Well, chicken treat in this case.

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Here is a Japanese beetle on my bee balm.

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A Cosmos flower.

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Zinnia

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A sunflower getting ready to bloom.

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Flies on a carrot flower.

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I’m working on planting hundreds of Milkweeds. I have to replant them yearly since they are tropical. They are fast growing, so I’m planting them while I work on establishing my native Common Milkweed. You can get free Milkweed seeds here. http://livemonarch.org/

Butterfly Book Cover

To learn more about butterflies and how to raise them, you can buy my butterfly book here: https://www.createspace.com/4083202 I recently finished this second edition the end of May. It is available at Create Space and on Amazon.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

SHAPE Eco Farm’s Garden Journey

 

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My garden known as “Elizabeth’s Secret Garden” on SHAPE Eco Farm is bursting with life in elaborate display. Flowers are beginning to bloom and many hours of work are paying off. A garden requires patience and planning, but the great thing is you get to see the “vegetables” of your labor unfold before your very eyes. The important thing is not to give up and use everything as a learning experience.

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My kitchen garden continues to flourish. A fun fact is that if you leave your carrots for a year, they will go to seed! I had lots of baby carrots sprout with zero effort. Well, except for watering. Those carrots sprouted, but only a few that I planted actually sprouted. My carrots and my leeks currently are developing flowers. I’ll have to be surprised of the variety of carrots I had planted. Do make sure you label the varieties you plant!

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My pea plants are looking gorgeous. I love the pinkish purple flowers that are beginning to bloom. These peas were actually chicken forage my dad spread for me as a winter cover crop.

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Cilantro is one of my favorite herbs. I’d use it for pretty much everything (except deserts. lol). It is great in Mexican dishes and in guacamole.

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Nasturtium is a companion for many vegetables. Companion planting involves planting vegetables or herbs together that work as a team to ward off pests. Nasturtium is especially helpful against aphids, squash bugs, and striped pumpkin. You can plant them around tomatoes, cabbage, cucumbers, and fruit trees as a barrier against pests. The herb’s leaves are said to have a peppery taste and can be used in salads. The flowers can also be used in salads.

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Snap dragons are a beautiful flowers that can be perennials in zone 8 or higher. I live in North Carolina and even after a few times of receiving snow they came back! Plants can surprise you. The very ones you figured were goners just might come back. That unfortunately includes invasive species.

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My Common Milkweed for the Monarch butterflies was small a puny last year so I figured they were dead, but then the rhizomes must have spread resulting in even more than last year. Now I know why people call it a weed, but I see it as a treasure since I’m a butterfly raiser.

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My vegetables include kale (pictured above), beans, squash, tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, beets, butternut squash, cabbage, and more to come. I have a plethora of herbs to choose from as well as flowers.

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If you are interested in seeing “Elizabeth’s Secret Garden” on SHAPE Eco Farm is now open and provides educational tours and classes for track out camps, schools, home schoolers, girl scouts, youth groups, preschools, and families. To schedule an event, call Kim Mann at 919-435-4099 or email kim@shapeecofarm.com.

Our event schedule runs from April 1st – mid-November. Go to shapeecofarm.com to learn more about our events.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Start of My Spring Garden

 

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Spring is the time of year that birds begin their spring songs, animals give birth, and the earth sprouts new life. How glad I am to replace my winter jacket with work jeans, a sun hat, and sun glasses. My hands were just itching to get dirty and my finger nails are already stained from the dirt, but I don’t mind. Gone are the days of pretty painted nails. Instead I’ve embraced the quote on one of my favorite shirts that says, “Farm girls ain’t afraid to get dirty.”

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The greenhouse gave me a jump start with gardening. I would be behind schedule without it. It also saved me hundreds of dollars. I see dollar signs when I look at my plant babies. The hardest part is keeping the seed trays moist now that the sun’s penetrating rays have hit. I water sometimes 3 times or more a day, but I just keep my garden vision in mind.

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After just a couple of weeks, my seedlings were already ready to transplant. Squash are fairly quick to get big, but tomatoes and eggplant are my slowest growers. Gardening is part perspiration and the other part patience. If you are too early in the year your hard work will freeze before your eyes literally!

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If you look closely you will see the new green growth coming on my lavender. Many of my herbs came back despite the snow. Even my peppermint is coming back. I had a lot of leaves piled around the plants which was like insulation. Gardening isn’t all about appeal. It is also about being practical and using what you’ve been given.

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Speaking of using what you’ve been given, my parents got two truck loads of mulch for free. Yes, it had twig, pine straw, and even garbage in it, but you can’t beat FREE! My plants don’t seek to mind. I think it is oak mulch with pine mixed in. It really locks in the moisture. I did research and found that oak mulch attracting insects is a myth.

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To show you the lengths I go to for my plant babies… My mom and brother helped me get my seedlings inside when some late cold spells hit.

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Having a ground cover crop was a great idea, but it ended up looking rather weedy. It is technically chicken forage and the chickens indeed like it, but I can’t stand the weedy look. So about three garbage bags later, I’m making head way. The nitrogen fixing pea plants did go in the compost bin so no worries. I was so intense on getting the weeds that I broke the hoe! It was what I call a “baby hoe” anyway. I had to laugh at myself for that. I ended up relieving my stress, but broke the tool in the process. It is really old anyway. Oh, well. Add it to the wish list.

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Cut worms are the critters you don’t want hanging around your garden. The biggest thing is prevention. I saved my toilet paper rolls all winter and I’m recycling them to protect my seedlings. I even used them to stop the bug that was eating my spinach plants. It is so frustrating to lose seedlings you’ve put such effort into.

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Last year the squash borer took the life of my squash. It was painful, but got me into researching. This year, I’m putting aluminum foil around the stem. I hope it works.

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My plants are coming back especially green. They have been acclimatized after the snow and the rough weather they’ve been through. Each week it seems like a new plant appears. The latest surprise was that my Common Milkweed which is the native host plant for the Monarch butterfly came back!

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This posting would be complete without a picture of our chickens. They have a part to play in my garden. We compost their manure to use in the garden. A funny fact is that our rooster is named “Mr. Darcy” after the key character in “Pride and Prejudice.”

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Also, my family has two new baby goats! This is mocha and our other goat is cocoa. I hope you enjoyed the update. I’ll keep you posted on the happening around SHAPE Eco Farm and Elizabeth’s Secret Garden.

My Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Elizabeths-Secret-Garden/200110980006101?ref=hl

SHAPE Eco Farm’s Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/shapeecofarm

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Keep Dogs out Keep Veggies Safe! Guest Blog Post by “Dog Fence DIY”

 

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Electric dog fences are excellent for protecting your beloved pets on your farm or homestead. They can be used to confine your dogs to one area, or they can be used to keep your dogs out of specific areas. For example, you can stop a dog with a digging habit from destroying your garden. You could also protect your chickens or other livestock from dogs with a prey drive. If you have a pond, machinery, or other dangerous areas on your property, you can use an invisible fence to ensure your dogs keep a safe distance.

Traditional fences aren’t always practical, because dogs can dig underneath or jump over them; harsh weather can damage them, leaving your dogs vulnerable to escape; and they can obstruct your own movements over your land. DIY electric fences are excellent alternative to traditional fences, but how much does something so reliable and versatile really cost? Let’s take a closer look at the costs associated with electronic dog fences.

See it all on their website: http://dogfencediy.com/

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Cost of the System

The biggest cost associated with an invisible fence is the initial investment in the system itself. The main power unit, underground wire, and e-collars for your dogs generally come as a bundle, and the total cost can be around $300 and sometimes even less. For an average sized yard, the most recommended fence is the PetSafe YardMax, which costs about $299 and can enclose up to 10 acres of land at a time. You’ll need to do thorough research to determine what system is right for your yard. For example, the Innotek dog fence review will tell you it’s a $339 system that has a 25 acre capacity.

An electronic dog fence typically comes with 500 feet of wire, and you’ll need to purchase additional wire for larger perimeters. Depending on the type of wire, it will cost $22 to $150 for every extra 500 feet. Most systems also come with one e-collar. Each of your dogs will need its own, and extra e-collars usually cost around $100 to $200 depending on type.

There are also wireless electric dog fences. Usually wireless systems are easier and quicker to install, but they have smaller capacities. A system with one-half of an acre to three acres of protection will cost about $300. The more expensive wireless system that can cover up to 25 acres is the Havahart Wireless Custom, and it costs $799. Of course, extra boundary wire would not be needed. Also, some wireless systems only work with up to two e-collars at a time.

Installation Costs

You can save a lot of money on just about anything when you do-it-yourself rather than hire a professional, and it’s especially true for a DIY invisible fence. After you’ve purchased the system, there usually aren’t any additional installation costs. The installation can generally be completed as a weekend project. Wireless systems take very little time to install, because laying the boundary wire for an underground dog fence is the most time consuming part of the process. Clearly larger perimeters will take longer to dig. If you want to rent a trencher to make the digging easier, it will cost about $50 per day and can usually be completed in one day.

Powering the Fence

When considering the cost of an electric dog fence, most people are concerned about the cost of powering the fence. Surprisingly, it does not require a lot of electricity to power an electronic dog fence. On average, invisible fence users can expect their electricity bill to rise by only $1 to $2 per month. If you don’t have an electrical outlet nearby, or if you’d prefer not to use any electricity, you can purchase a solar panel to power your invisible fence instead. Most electric dog fences will require only one solar panel, and it will cost about $100 to purchase it.

Maintenance to Consider

With any major purchase for your homestead or farm, maintenance costs should always be considered. Fortunately, DIY electric dog fences don’t have many maintenance costs associated with them. Because underground dog fences are protected from the elements, they rarely break or get damaged. The most common issue experienced with invisible fences, which is still rare, is a break in the wire, and you can fix it yourself for no additional cost. Your electronic dog fence system will notify you if there are any breaks in the wire so your dogs will not be at an unknown risk of escaping if this does occur.

Most e-collars have rechargeable batteries. Those that don’t, however, will need a replacement battery every two to three months on average. Replacement batteries cost around $10 each. For two dogs, replacement batteries would cost about about $80 per year. This is usually the only ongoing maintenance cost associated with an electric dog fence system.

How Much Can You Save?

Overall, installing a DIY electric dog fence instead of a traditional fence can save you a great deal of money. A traditional fence for an average size yard can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to purchase and get professionally installed. Weather or environmental damage to an above-ground fence can also be expensive to repair. Setting up your own invisible fence can also save you around $1200 compared to hiring a professional invisible fence installer. Professional electric fence companies will also charge at least $100 to fix wire breaks and at least $70 to replace an e-collar battery. On average, the DIY invisible fence cost is about 80 percent less.

If you need to enclose your yard or contain your dogs, a DIY underground dog fence is a great option that won’t break the bank. There are many advantages to an electric dog fence, but of course there are cons to consider as well, such as the fact that the system alone cannot keep other animals out of your yard. It will also take about 15 minutes per day for two weeks to train your dogs to understand their new boundaries. Most dogs respond very well to e-collar training, however. It is nice to know that no matter what your budget is, all the animals on your property can be kept safe or your vegetables out of harms way.

Published in partnership with http://www.dogfencediy.com/. We encourage you to share your experiences with a variety of dog containment systems in the comments section. Commenter's and those who share the post in social media qualify for a drawing of a $50 Amazon gift card!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Nigerian Goat Kids are Born on “One Fine Acre Farm”

 

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Spring is around the corner so that means…. babies! In this case my family got to experience watching Nigerian Dwarf babies (known as kids) as they pranced and jumped around. They were a sight to behold. We did get to hold them which catapulted a discussion of possible goat names. My personal opinion is that we should stick to having a category for the names we choose. We tend to stick with royal names when it comes to our animals, but I think the goats should be named after spices. Ginger, cinnamon, rosemary, and maybe even dill just seems so very appealing when you think about it. I think the name “Cocoa” would even be a good fit for the goat pictured above. With friends we even tossed around the name “Powder Puff” or “Cocoa Puff.” I think we should take a vote for the final decision.

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Two Nigerian Dwarf goats had been birthed on the day of our arrival. The recommended time for breeding Nigerian Dwarfs is either in Fall so they kid in Spring or breed them in Spring so they kid in the fall. You should not breed in the Winter or Summer which would have them kid in the heat or cold. A Nigerian Dwarf doe can have between 1 – 7 kids at a time with twins and triplets being the most common. That is a lot of weight to carry around!

Does generally have easy kidding so there isn’t too much fuss in the process, but being there just in case is a good idea if complications do come up. The gestation period is 145 days for Nigerian Dwarfs. A Doe giving birth up to 10 days before the due date is considered safe. The labor can last about 5 hours and the baby will weigh about 2 – 4 pounds when it is born.  It is necessary for a doe to have a kid if you intend to milk her. If you want to wean the baby wait until it is at least 6 weeks old, but if you are bottle feeding wait 4 – 5 weeks. 

A video of a Doe giving birth: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sZvjK_G8EB0&safe=active

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The goats were taking a pleasant nap until we entered the scene. They were ready to show of their jumping skills once we got all settled in.

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And with a burst of energy he jumps! If you are a bunny enthusiast you probably have heard the term, “binky.” I learned the concept from my brother who cares for our rabbits. When a rabbit binkies, it will jump into the air and twist its head and body in opposite directions before landing on the ground. Some call it the “happy bunny dance.” It is an expression of great joy and a high level of happiness. I discovered that baby goats can binky as well. Below is a video of the baby goats and their binkies are at the end.

 

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As all babies do, the goats starting crying for their mommy.

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After showing off a nap was well deserved for the little fellows.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Urban Living Meets Chicken Raising


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Maybe you’ve heard that raising chickens is only for people out in the country. Well, the goal of my article is to convince you that that is a myth. The laws surrounding raising chickens have succumbed to the winds of change. Plenty of books and articles tackle the topic of raising chickens in urban areas. If you are seriously considering raising chickens in your area check out your local ordinances and laws.  Search ordinances for your city. Here is a link that lists some state laws. http://thecitychicken.com/chickenlaws.html 

With that in mind let’s dive into the joys of raising chickens. There are some things you should consider before diving in. I’ll be sharing pictures from a urban farm from last year’s Coup d’ Tour in the Raleigh area to kick start some ideas.

Read about the chicken coup featured in this blog entry on Chicken D’ Coop’s website.  http://www.tourdcoop.com/coops/2014/19.html

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First thing to consider is if you have the space and materials. This coop has a roosting house and a fenced in play area. The advantage of raising your own chickens is you know that they are receiving proper care and nourishment versus being cooped up in a inhumane living place. Also, think about what your plans for winter will be. How are you going to keep them warm when the heavens pour down a sheet of snow? Our chicken coop is covered with plastic and we even keep a heater in there. As I write my window gives me a view of a winter wonderland and our chickens look to be tolerating the weather.

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To give the chickens more freedom you can create a bigger fenced in area in addition to the coop. Chickens like to hunt down bugs.

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Other things to consider:

1. After figuring out space, think about what you want to feed your chickens. Do you want to feed them just grain? Do you want to feed them vegetable scraps and grain? What quality food will you buy? The cost of the feed often reflects the quality. Paying a little more for good quality will be better in the long run.

2. Next you will need to decide if you want to use antibiotics or not. I’m all for doing things organically, but we had to choose between using antibiotics or possibly losing our chickens. Do your research on diseases and solutions when buying chickens.

3. What in the world are you going to do with all that poop?! Chicken manure is great for gardens, but you are going to need to compost it. Below are pictures of economical ways to do that.

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These composters are attached to stakes making it easier to turn them. Black barrels helps with the hot composting method. We used wood pallets to make our composters. I add leaves to mine to cover the chicken manure and decrease the smell.

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A source of water is important for raising life stock and a maintaining a garden. More than just being important it is crucial. Water = life. No water = no life. It is that simple. Craigslist is a great source for finding barrels and other items that can be recycled.

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Urban farming can be beautiful. Get creative and figure out clever ways to recycle materials. There are plenty of materials you can recycle whether building a coop or decorating your property

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Once you start raising chickens and get into sustainable living, you may find that a dominoes effect takes place. One thing leads to another and soon another animal joins the herd, a garden takes shape, and organic foods stock the refrigerator shelves. Sustainable living takes commitment, but it is a lifestyle that you won’t regret. Taking care of God’s creation shows good stewardship and respect. We only have one earth. Are you ready to take action?