I’m a FarmHER!

Recently I had a friend introduce me to some new people at a party and she said “This is Meredith, she’s a farmer’s wife.” If I was a cartoon, my head would have spun around exorcist style and fire would have shot out of my eyeballs. I know that several of my contemporaries experience similar treatment. We know the things that we do to raise our families, our animals, and our crops. But to the rest of the world, we are invisible. An accessory to the Farmer; the “real” worker. I know people imagine they get up before the sun, feed the animals, do chores, hop on the tractor and do field work all day, and come in well after supper time. And while that may be true for some, there are many more women out there that not only support their husband’s work, but also do a fair bit of farm work themselves.

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I’m here to tell you that I am a Farmer too, I’m a FarmHer! I wake up early (most days before Hubster) get breakfast for my boys and us, then he and I do the morning chores TOGETHER. He goes out and does field work on the tractor while I go take care of our children. We work on large and small projects around the house or barn (And I usually have a baby on my back). We put in the endless feet of fence TOGETHER. For more on the fence, check out my other two fence posts. We suffer the same disappointments and celebrate the same joys that accompany farming TOGETHER.

The US Census Bureau collects a lot of Agricultural statistics that are available here. One of the most important statistics they collect (in my opinion) is the number of farmers that are women. However, the way they count women farmers may need some updating. They count women farmers as any woman that is listed as the sole or majority operator of a farm. These women are significantly in minority accounting for less than 10% of all farmers in this country. But, I reject the idea that because I am in a partnership with a man, that he is the farmer and I am the accessory.

Hubster and I are true partners, in everything (farm work, housework, parenting, bringing home bacon, all of it). It’s truly wonderful and I am so so grateful. And if you tally up “years of experience in farming” Hubster has a few more than I do (but only a few). But especially because, without me, this farm would never have existed. My hard work, long days, blood sweat and tears, and my vision are the foundation of this farm just as much if not more than Hubster.

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So I beg your pardon friend who needs some educating, while it’s true I am technically a farmer’s wife, I am also a FarmHER!!!

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Are you the primary farmer in your family? Even if you contribute support, be proud! Comment below!

Im So Crafty, I Made a Farm!

In 2011, my mom Connie, my husband Dan, and I were struck with a lightning bolt of luck when we found the property that is now our home. It took us almost 2 years of driving all over central Maryland and looking at run down property after run down property, but when we saw what is now BlueLand Farm, we all knew it was perfect.

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Ever wondered what it might be like to build a whole farm up from nothing? Yea, I hadn’t really either, and so when I set out on this adventure I had very little to go on except that it would be a lot of work, and a pretty big chunk of our savings. My only experience with building something like this from scratch is when I watched my parents build their own home when I was 12. Not exactly a lot to go on. And this “farm” was just a field that had had corn and soybeans growing, no buildings, no house, no fences, not even a driveway.

Closing on the property was an adventure in and of itself. The family joke is that it took Dan and I less time to make a baby, than it did to close on this property. There were issues with deed overlap, and issues with extremely old deeds (the last time they had been updated was 1940), and the title company was dragging their feet.

Closing got so involved and Dan spent many nights hunched over PDF copies of Microfiche deeds from the 1920s reading about meets and bounds.  Our real estate agent asked him if he was a property attorney…nope, just a farmer with a lot of motivation to get this done right!!! Buying a new property or house is always stressful, and so I wasn’t surprised or concerned. We persevered and now I can say; all’s well that ends well!

We got a lot of support and advice from local farmers, soil conservation, and anyone else we could think of to ask. So if you are out there in internet-land reading this, THANKS!!!!

When faced with many tasks, I find it best to make a list, just randomly point to something on the list, and start with that. But this time, we decided to be a little more organized. We needed a reliable way to access the property, so we started with a driveway. Our driveway was going to be ⅓ mile long and gravel. We did some adulting and, we got some quotes and settled on a “guy”, henceforth know as Driveway Rick, who ended up doing a great job, we were super happy.

At the same time, we started work on the never-ending project that haunts my dreams now. I call it simply “the fence”. The first phase of “the fence” was relatively painless and did not provide any foreshadowing of the pain that would come later. It did not require a lot of man hours on our part, but we paid the price….literally. It was really ‘spensive ya’ll. It was beautiful, convenient, and FAST. But the downside of it being twice the price of a DIY fence, we could NOT afford to keep THAT up without drying up our money pot too fast.

Plan B, buy the materials and install the fence ourselves. We are not shy and delicate flowers; we are sturdy, rustic, do-it-yourselfers! So we thought, we got this. But almost a year later, it just keeps dragging on and on and it’s one of the hardest things I have ever done (I planned, and executed a 100% DIY wedding for Hubster and I back in *mumble mumble mumble*, ahem, several years ago – this fence was worse then that – maybe because it isn’t quite as fun). We’ve done about 2,000 feet ourselves already, and Hun, it STILL ain’t finished. I can’t, I just can’t talk about the fence any more today. I’ll save that for another day I promise.

But that’s the beginning of our little farm’s story. And the idea is that this blog will take you on a journey through that story, with some sidebars about cooking, sewing, maybe some homeschooling…..who knows where my brain will take us. But hang with me and I promise it won’t be boring!!!

I really fell for that!

Hi friends! We have had an amazing fall!! And I have A LOT to catch you up on! Let’s start at the end of summer. My neighbor (also a homeschool mom) noticed there was a chrysalis hanging on some milkweed on the side of the road on her morning hike with her kids. As luck would have it, we had just had some guest speakers come to our local bee club to talk about raising monarchs. I remembered several important things from this talk that will come in handy later so pay attention. They mentioned that 1 – monarch caterpillars ordered off the internet have trouble migrating, so if you want them to migrate, they need to come from the wild. 2 – only 1 in 10 chrysalis’s will survive in the wild because of predation, but almost all of them will survive in a butterfly tent. 3 – the caterpillars eat milkweed, and pretty much only milkweed. And 4 – sometimes the chrysalis’s fall off the tent and you can just re-attach them with a bit on needle and thread! So the boys walked down the street prepared to dig up some milkweed with a chrysalis on it and what we found was a plant absolutely crawling with monarch caterpillars of all sizes!! We kept the tent our on our front porch, which is well protected from direct wind, but still outside ( I also remember this was somewhat important for them to maintain their drive to migrate).

What took me so long to do this?!? It was super easy and FUN!!! We checked on our caterpillars once a day and cleaned up their droppings. When they were ready, they would crawl up to the top of the tent and make their chrysalis. we ended up with 12 butterflies that emerged!!! We had a few chrysalis’s fall, but we just reattached them as instructed in our bee meeting and they were good as new! Then I found out you can also order stickers to stick on their wings so that when they get to Mexico, researchers can track how far they have migrated!! Ya’ll…I am geeking out!! I will definitely be doing that next year!!!

Just hanging with the monarchs!

Next I want to tell you about the new curriculum we are trying out this year!! We have really been enjoying it and I forsee us using it for many more years. It’s called A Gentle Feast. I’ll leave a link at the bottom here if you’re interested or want to check it out. She has a 2 week trial for free on her website. It’s a Charlotte Mason curriculum that is similar to Ambleside. Julie Ross is the creator of the program and even though you do pay a small amount for access to her resources, you get lifetime access, and there are some really amazing things that she has put together. Her program is easy to follow and easier to stick to!! It’s got a great booklist (that she keeps updated when books go out of print) full of amazing living books and it includes all subjects except for math. We are continuing to use Right Start for math and absolutely loving it!!

Great Books in our new curriculum!

We have also started using menu covers for our morning time!! I found another local mama that makes them! They have a poem, scripture memory, shakespeare sonnet, a hymn, and a folk song! Some of this is included in our Gentle Feast Curriculum so i keep going back and forth if I really need to be buying hers, but it’s so thoughtful and well designed, I can’t help myself!

Our math curriculum we continue to use is Right Start Math. And we love it!! It teaches students to think about math in a different way than any other math I have encountered. And encourages students to “think in numbers”. Their abacus that you use with the program is color coded in such a way that groups of 5 are grouped together. The extensive research put into this program showed that the brain can usually recognize up to 5 objects easily without counting. So the abacus capitalizes on this by allowing students to picture the abacus in their heads and manipulate it in there. Allowing them to do complicated mental math quickly and efficiently.

Ok that was really fancy talk, but here’s the thing…it really works. Even for old dogs! I am getting better at mental math because of teaching my boys the techniques! The other thing that is cool about this program is that there is no ONE right way to do the problem!! WHAT?!?! I know what your thinking…math is cut and dry, black and white, right or wrong. But how many times have you gotten the right answer, but gotten the question wrong because you didn’t show your work, or didn’t find the answer the way the teacher wanted you to? It’s happened to me a lot!! And this curriculum teaches all the techniques, and then asks the student what works best for their individual brains! Perfect! We are all different! Why do we have to do math the same way!?!

In an outside math lesson one day we had an adorable visitor who was attracted to the bright colors of our math manipulatives! Which transitions us nicely into my next topic to catch you up on…..BEES! The girls are doing really well!! And I am so proud of them! They have built up their hive nicely and now its time for winter preparations!!!

We used Oxalic Acid to treat them for mites (a crucial step to have healthy bees going into the long winter) and have been feeding lots and lots of sugar syrup! I have my fingers and toes crossed they will hang in there all winter! If anyone wants an OA demo or step by step, let me know in the comments!!

Also bee related, we helped our friends at Little Leaf Springs Farm rescue a very well established swarm that had made their new home on an open branch! These girls would have certainly not made it through winter out here on their own. Now they are snug and happy in a new box! ready for winter!!

And now your pretty much caught up! We went on some beautiful fall hikes, did some Halloween trick or treating, and a few other fall traditions (like apple picking). Stay tuned in the new year for a homeschooling and farm update! Let me know what else you’d like to hear about in the comments!!!

Its the Most Wonderful Time of the Year – Fair Time, of course!

Why? What were you thinking of? Oh Christmas! Right. Well, not for a farmer. I mean we love Christmas, don’t get me wrong. But our local county Ag Fair is our summer vacation and a chance to show off what we’ve been up to all year, wrapped up into one whirlwind week. My oldest is in our 4-H livestock clover club and even my middle is getting in on the fair action this year.

We enter our livestock including the sheep and goats, as well as veggies, eggs, hay we made, and even a sheepskin! My kids even made some artwork for the indoor building!

It’s a lot of work, but it is so much fun! I’ll be quiet and just let our photos speak for themselves!

Teamwork makes the dream work

Help! I need somebody. Help! Not just anybody. Heee-eee-eee-eeelp! Farming is so hard ya’ll.  Ive said it before and I’ll say it again!  We live this life because we love it. But sometimes, you just need some help! But the good kind, the kind that just knows what they are doing already and you don’t have to explain a million things to.  Ladies and gentlemen, we are not those kinds of helpers. img_9108

Our lovely friends over at Little Leaf Springs Farm were in the middle of their garlic harvest several weeks ago, and we were so excited to help them out!!  Alicia was at the farm digging up garlic by hand all day, while we were on babysitting duty.  Then in the afternoon, she would bring all the garlic over to our house and we would clean and scrub and scrub and clean and sort and grade by size.

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By the end of the week, we were all so exhausted, but we had fun!!  And we had huge boxes of beautiful garlic ready for drying and selling at farmer’s markets this summer!!  What a blessing!

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Maybe this is a good time to talk about how farming is truly a community activity and no one farmer is an island.  What would you do if you neighbor’s cows get loose in your hay field? #askingforafriend #jk # thisactuallyhappenedlastyear. You don’t just call him and say “Hey dude, your cows are in our hay field”. I mean, you do call him, but then after that, you put on your muck boots and you help him round up those cows!!!  And even if they end up smashing up your hay feeder in the process, it’s ok!  Because that is what you do for each other!

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Because sooner or later your Guinea Fowl will get too adventurous and end up way up their driveway and they will round them up and bring them back for you.  You are there for them when it’s all hands on deck, and they will do the same for you.  Because there are some jobs on the farm that you need lots of people for.  Ask my husband about his childhood growing up on a dairy farm and he will surely tell you about all the summers that he and his brother were “loaned” out to the neighbors to help them stack hay in their barn. I can hear him complaining now “We had to ride our bikes 3 miles to their house, work like dogs all day, and then ride our bikes back home to do evening chores at home.  And we never got paid!”.  Don’t be too sad for them though, their parents did an excellent job making sure their kids had lives off the farm and relaxation and play time.

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That is just one of the things that I really love about farming. You BELONG to the community.  It’s such a wonderful gift to belong like that anywhere.  And these people are unlike anyone else on the planet. They are kind, optimistic, hardworking, dark humored, never give up and never surrender people.  I feel like I could break in to song about it “that will give you their shirt and the back to go with it…if you crop should happen to die!!” Ok no seriously. I am lucky to call them my friends.  Which is why were happy to raise our hands and jump in to learn how to clean garlic in the small hours of the morning.

Got any community coming together stories?  Share them in the comments!!!  I love to hear them!

Have you heard the new buzz at the Farm?

**Disclosure -Bee puns are numerous and I’m not ashamed** There is a new buzz at the farm recently! Honey bee hives!!! Honey bees are something I have been wanting to add to the farm for many years but we just haven’t made the plunge. Mostly because of how costly it is to get setup to keep bees.  I have been reading and learning as much as I can about bees, without actually having them for the last 3 years. I priced out hives a dozen times. No matter what I did, I could not get the start up costs down below $450. And that is going super cheap and leaving out a lot of what people would normally buy.  The most expensive part of all this were the actual bees themselves.  in our area, you can pay between $120-$150 for a package of bees and even more for a nucleus colony.  So what’s a girl yearning for some pollination to do? She just waited. Wait, what? you ask. It’s very unusual of me to be patient, I know. But we had so much else going on with the farm, that I allowed it to slip to the back of my priorities.  Until the day that my husband called me from his parents’ house to tell me that there was a swarm of bees in his mom’s peach tree!!!

Oh my goodness, knock me over with a bee brush.  I was so excited….play it cool, bee chill.  Even if you make it up there before they fly off, what are you going to put them in?  My brain is going 17,500 miles per hour as I brainstorm what to do.  My very good friend and fellow farm mom, Alicia, popped into my brain *pop*.  She kept bees, she had a bee suit, she had equipment.  In my head it felt like a big ask to have her drop everything and meet me at my in-laws with all her bee equipment. Maybe she would want to catch them for herself after all, she was the one with all the investment. But when I called her….she was totally game for my adventure and willing to help me get started. (This is when I started to realize that bee people are actually the best)

Dan and his Dad got things ready for us to catch the swarm while we were both still on our way to their house.

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Here’s Alicia, catching the swarm. This is her first time catching a swarm by the way, doesn’t she look like she knows what she is doing? I think so. She did an amazing job of catching all those bees…And she even brought me a small hive to put them in!!!

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When we got home with our bees it was pretty late and we were starting to loose our light, so I don’t have a ton of pictures.  Alicia loaned me her husbands very large bee suit, so I look a little silly in this next one, but more important I want to show you what the hive started out with, it wasn’t the huge set up that I was told I needed to start keeping bees.  I had a bottom board ($20), a medium hive body with 10 frames and foundation ($40-$50), and a feeder. Now there are a couple ways to go for a feeder. You can spend less ($5-$10) on an entrance feeder and risk some robbing of your hive, or you can spend a little more ($20) on a top feeder.  Alicia brought us all of those items so I didn’t need to immediately go out and buy any of them, but even if I had, I would have spent less than $100.

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Notice there is no notched inner cover, no fancy telescoping metal topped outer cover.  This is a genuine redneck hive ya’ll, with no $ $$ for frills like fancy lids.  Now Alicia eventually wanted her stuff back, who wouldn’t, that stuff is expensive! So the next week  I went to town and bought new items to replace her borrowed ones, and I sprung for a migratory lid ($14)

 

Suits are usually quite expensive and can start around $70 ranging all the way up into the $160 range.  I found this suit on eBay for $30.  Shop around, you do NOT have to pay full price for stuff ya’ll. I didn’t buy gloves because, well that was more money, and they honestly make it harder to work in the hive. I was worried about stinging until I realized that the bees have better things to do than sting me, and as long as they don’t sting me in the face or body, I can handle a few stings to the hands.  I picked up a few bee tools at a yard sale a few years ago, so I already had a smoker, hive tool, and frame grabber.  Then I got down to the business of tending my new bees!!

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After two weeks of feeding them, and watching them carefully, I determined that they had no queen 😦 whether she died during hive installation, or she was never in the swarm, who knows, but they were hopelessly queenless at this point. (For those of you that haven’t spent years learning about these fascinating insects, that means they have no queen, and no way to make a queen, ie. eggs laid by a previous queen with which they could feed what would have been a worker bee royal jelly and make that bee become a queen)

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I reached out to our local beekeeping club to see if anyone was selling queens, and some one WAS!!!!  So I bought a local queen for $20 and saved the hive from certain disaster and decline.  HORAAY! Look at her, she’s so BEEautiful (just FYI, the bees all around her are called her retinue, maybe they find her BEEguiling)

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So let’s review what THE MAN tells you what you need v.s. what you ACTUALLY need:

  • THE MAN
    • 5 hive bodies with frames and foundation
    • bottom board
    • queen excluder
    • inner cover
    • outer cover
    • top feeder
    • expensive bee suit
    • bee gloves
    • smoker
    • fancy hive tool
    • frame holder
    • bee brush
    • BEES!!!

TOTAL – at least $450 (probably more)

  • ACTUALLY
    • 1-2 hive bodies to start (add more as needed/budget allows) with frames and foundation
    • bottom board (get the screened ones – they cost the same as the solid ones and they are better for monitoring mites and such)
    • rigged up plywood top or migratory cover
    • DIY top feeder
    • cheap eBay suit
    • work/garden gloves that you already have for free
    • smoker
    • small pry bar from the toolbox in your garage (claim innocence if someone else looks for it and can’t find it because now there are no pry bars, only hive tools)
    • turkey feather or other soft bristle brush that you already own for free
    • Swarm bees for free

TOTAL – $150 (still a lot, but tons better than THE MAN above)

 

 

Homeschool year wrap-up

It’s May, and our homeschool year is coming to an end….or is it? Our family has decided to keep working on reading and math this summer. School doesn’t take up that much of our day (about 2 hours) and the boys have plenty of time to play outside! They help us with farm chores, and we go on outings, just like all other summer families. My oldest is even attending a summer STEM camp this year!!

My middle in anxious to start school like his brother and I need to get him more familiar with his letters. We will be joining a co-op in the fall, and he will be in the combined Kindergarten/Pre-K class, where most students already know their letters. I am planning a bunch of letter games, combined with All About Reading’s Pre-Reading Curriculum.

And we are placing particular focus on intentional habit training and life skills. We have been working on a lot of Charlotte Mason’s habits here and there as part of raising future responsible adults. But this summer, we hope to put some real emphasis on habits of attention, cleanliness, and concentration. We are using “Laying Down the Rails” by Simply Charlotte Mason to guide our habit training.

focus and concentration are needed when cooking scrambled eggs on the hot stove!

I’m also planning some very light Montessori work for my youngest this summer. This summer we are looking forward to the fourth of July and our county’s Agricultural fair in August!

In other news, we have 0/4 front baby teeth left. It’s making me pretty nostalgic for his little baby voice and face.