About Our Life

     Welcome to our life! My husband and I live in Pennsylvania Dutch Country on approximately four acres of land since the Spring of 2013. I must give my husband credit for finding this place as I was a bit skeptical at first when he suggested it to me, but as we pulled out of the driveway past the old Pennsylvania Barn after meeting our future landlords and taking a tour of the place, I was sold.  This was going to be our future home.  The four acres is part of a larger 64 acre farm; farmed earlier than the American Civil War, which is considered a fairly "young" farm in this part of the country, and sits next to the landlord's main farm up the way on which he raises sheep and cattle. We are surrounded in this region by both small scale homegrown operations and large industrialized farms, and farmers who each have their own unique style of farming, either with the latest and greatest technology, or by using tried and true techniques handed down through generations (or a variety of both).  Then there's us, the anomaly... 

The Two Of Us 

      We're both from what America refers to as the Millennial generation, which just admitting that leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth as the Millennials tend to get a bad rap.  Although we both take on some stereotypical traits of our generation such as a tech-centered lifestyle, we also differ from the generation's other stereotypical traits by having a desire to look back towards previous generations and our ancestors to simplify and better our lives.  As Millennials, in general, we have more debt than our parents' generation (although we have more education) with a less thrilling outlook (to say the least) of ever being able to have a Monday thru Friday, 9 to 5 job and a nice house with a white picket fence, two kids and a dog. The American Dream has died for our generation, so we're forced to "make a life worth living" out of what the Good Lord gave us, and the advantages he, unbeknownst to us, blessed us with.

     Having both graduated from Penn State University in history-based fields — me first with a degree in American Studies with a class concentration of Museum Studies and Public Heritage, and the Mr. the following year with a degree in Secondary Education Social Studies — we both hold an unique perspective of our country's past, which just might have lent itself to embracing our current lifestyle so readily. (The fact that we're both descended from "stubborn Dutchmen" probably helps a bit too.)  Although neither of us work in our intended professions now, the education we received certainly helped us get where we are today.

Looking toward the tenant house from the main house
on the family farm in the 1940s when Pappy was growing
up on his then-father's farm.  Four generations of the
same family have lived on the farm over the years.
     The Mr., the oldest of four children who grew up in the tenant house on his grandparents' farm, is certainly the dreamer and go-getter out of the two of us, and is never afraid of a hard day's work much like his hardworking, farming ancestors. He has a sense of what he wants and the not-always-so-detailed plan to accomplish it, but certainly the drive and ambition to see it through even if he sometimes lacks the necessary element of time to get it all done. Most of the large projects around here are his dreams and doing. Whereas I'm more of a person who says "I'd like a, b, or c," he's the man who can find a way to accomplish the a, b, and c, and add the rest of the alphabet to the list while he's at it.

Looking down the main road through town around 1910
in the community I grew up in.  The young boy is sitting
on the steps of the old mansion house that would become
my father's future store.
     I'm an only child, who grew up in town with buildings nestled so closely together that you could look from your backyard, to the next, and the next, and the next, and so on. It offered tons of other kids to play with in the neighborhood growing up, but it lacked the wide open prairies I loved to read about in Laura Ingalls Wilder's books. As a kid, I loved to cook or bake in the kitchen, work on craft projects, and learn how to sew and crochet, but I absolutely dreaded the dishes, doing laundry, and cleaning the house. I now love to look out across the countryside and dream about all the neat things that could be, but my still iffy feelings towards true housework, and my body's dislike for hot weather often leaves the household and future projects on a bit of a standstill, and me a bit haggard attempting to get it all done.

     To learn a bit more about our own pasts and how we got here, check out my introductory article on the blog: The American Haggard Housewife.

Our Garden 

     This all started with a garden; something we desperately desired as we were looking for an apartment or home to rent, and something the landlord said we could have before we ever signed the lease. It was a pristine hay field when we moved in, and he had given us the go-ahead to make a garden, and each year has allowed us to enlarge it if we desired. (Did I mention how awesome he is?)

The yearly invasion of the Japanese beetles is just one
of many pests that need to be dealt with.
     Although we are surrounded by fields that follow more modernized farming techniques, we try not to let that dissuade our goals for the crops and animals that are raised here, and we do our absolute best to block them from any overspray that may occur from the surrounding fields, and trying to leave at least 30' of "buffer" between us and the modern practices.  Although not always successful, goals must start somewhere.  Our main criteria for the seeds and plants that go into the garden are that they must be GMO-free.  Eventually we may graduate to only organic crops; however, at present we raise a variety of crops from regular, organic and heirloom seeds as our shift towards heirloom and organic continues.  After our first year at failed attempts of applications of organic pesticides, we now don't use any chemicals or pesticides on the plants, organic or otherwise, which leads to nights upon nights of hand picking potato beetles off plants every summer, and early mornings and late evenings of desperate researching trying to find a "safe" way to dissuade the variety of abundant pests that flock to our plants.  Companion planting is certainly key to our garden's success each year, but this is looking back after three seasons of in-ground experience. It wasn't quite like that in 2013.

Plants jammed in to close quarters in 2013.
     Year One: To say plants were packed container tight in our 2013 garden would be an understatement. Having only ever dealt with container gardens in my own past, I can assure you we worked our butts off in that garden the first year after each of us came home from work each day (already exhausted), and it still managed to get away from us. We had no garden or farm equipment, other than a handful of shovels, rakes and hoes, and I didn't really know how much room should be left in walkways between the plants, so even if we had the luxury of a rot-o-tiller, it would have been of no use. Hand weeding a 33' x 66' foot garden, to put it bluntly, sucked. We did, however, get an amazing produce yield out of the 2013 garden, including more tomatoes than we really knew what to do with from our 40 tomato plants, which sealed the deal for a larger garden the following year, "just to allow more space between the rows."

     The first fall, in 2013, we also decided to clear the brush from the center of the old abandoned Upper Garden, which included a berry patch the whole way around the edge, to give us additional planting space the following year. Taming generations of weeds was interesting, to say the least, and tried as we might, the area was still overrun by weeds and especially pokeweed the following year with a few crops planted in between. The Upper Garden has become our struggle each and every year now, to make it into something we can utilize and care for reasonably.  In fact, the Upper Garden is still on the list of things to take care of in 2017, even as a I write this.

Our Upper Garden in 2014 with some crops growing in the weeds.

Some slightly less weedy rows in the 2014 Main Garden.
     Year Two: By 2014, our Main Garden had expanded to 38' x 78', which was a tad larger than our previous year's garden, and our relatives and friends thought we were more than a tad crazier between the two growing seasons. We were determined, to say the least, and our landlord let us borrow his rot-o-tiller for the 2014 season, shipping it back and forth between his garden and ours whenever the other individual needed it. That, along with the help of my cousin from North Carolina who gave up a week of her summer for us, seemed to at least semi-tame the weeds, and we certainly got a decent crop out of the garden once again; still nothing like that first year's though.

We at least learned a few more things in 2015.
     Year Three: Then came 2015: the year we were determined to get a successful sweet corn crop.  (Sigh.  There's always next year.)  Although, our sweet corn wasn't much of a success, and we were just as bound and determined the next year, we did learn quite a few things with our 2015 Main Garden, including the blessing of MULCH!  Mulch, soaker hoses, and the addition of both pine needles for acid-loving plants and broken egg shells for crops that needed a calcium boost, certainly seemed to help, as did our two semi-successful attempts with cover crops.  The biggest lesson of all, for me; however, was laying out squash in rows instead of beds, which allowed for much easier weeding and harvesting during the season!

The Mr. riding a sulky behind the
1951 David Bradley Super Power
     At the end of 2015, it was agreed upon that we would work toward expanding the Main Garden the following year to allow us to have approximately 8,000 square feet of garden space in all.  To help us along in this new en-devour we also added farm equipment of our own: a David Bradley Super Power Walk Behind Garden Tractor! The 1951 tractor, which is complete with sulky, plow, cultivator, disc harrow, spike tooth harrow, and bulldozer/snow plow, is a very welcomed addition that we hoped would make planting and tending the garden a little easier, although my inability to get it started on my own does cause a little bit of trouble.

The new greenhouse made mainly from reclaimed materials,
which helped to keep the costs down.
     Year Four: As 2016 begun there were a lot of changes happening around here including the newly enlarged 82' x 78' Main Garden, and the still semi-tamed roughly-69' x 28' Upper Garden that contains the blackberry, black raspberry and elderberry bushes.  All together these equaled a little over 8,400 square feet of garden space that would keep us on our toes throughout the year.  Along with the gardens, late-2015-to-early-2016 saw the edition of a greenhouse we designed and built with the help of some family members in which to start and house more of our plants.  Although still not 100% complete, the unheated greenhouse is currently in use, and we hope to also plant some fall crops that can be overwintered inside of it as well.

An early summer main garden in 2016.
     The year also finally saw our first successful sweet corn crop, which included an early-season and late-season planting that kept us harvesting sweet corn into October.  A late planting of potatoes dug using the David Bradley, which successfully kept the dreaded Colorado Potato Beetle at bay; however the beetles were replaced by a full-on infestation of Cabbage White in our three rows of cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower.  Additionally, we tried our hand at feed crops for our animals, which included mangelwurzels and sunflowers, as well as an experimental crop of sugar beets and oats for ourselves.

     Keep following along on the blog to see what else we have in store for the garden in 2017.  Updates on our garden's progress throughout the season can be found on Garden Updates.

Our Animals 

"Momma" Buttercup
     We share this place with our sweet little furballs, a clowder of rambunctious, attention-hungry farm cats who came from our beloved Buttercup, a stray that we had taken in our first winter here (in early 2014), and who blessed us with twelve little ones in all. Presently, only five of her children are still with us. Her first litter, pictured on the top, was Blackie (deceased), Crazy Gray (presumed deceased), Gray nicknamed "Gravy" (deceased), Mini Buttercup nicknamed "Minion" (deceased), Skunk (presumed deceased), and Whitey. Her second litter, pictured on the bottom, was Blue Eyes (deceased), Little Gray who's often called "Gray," Purrball nicknamed "Purry" or "Purrtastic" or "Taz" depending on what trouble or good situation he might be getting into, Runt (presumed deceased), Scaredy Cat who we usually just call "Scaredy" (presumed deceased), and Tiger.

     Although there has been many strays attempting to share Buttercup's brood's supper dish (along with a few opossums and skunks), none had stolen our hearts until September of 2016 when another stray came around, who appeared the same week as our sweet Tiger went missing.  Nicknamed "Little One" (deceased), the kitten slowly adapted to life in a busy household with the clowder of adopted siblings.  It loved to be snuggled (on its own terms), chase black walnuts, and race in between your feet during chore time.  Its extra bushy tail has my mother insisting that Pepe Le Pew might be its father. 

Our Plymouth Barred Rock chickens enjoying
some "chicken porridge" and vegetable scraps
during the colder winter months.
     Having an interest in heritage breeds, we added seven rather noisy Plymouth Barred Rock chickens in the Spring of 2015, who live in what I like to call their "Pastured Poultry Palace," although both my husband and father-in-law insist "it's only a chicken coop." Irregardless, they're living in style in a coop and fully-enclosed run that were designed by my husband to keep them safe from not only normal predators, but our farm cats who believe they look like lunch, and constructed by us with the help of some family members.

     As previously mentioned, Plymouth Barred Rocks are a heritage breed chicken.  Developed in America during the mid-nineteenth century, they are a cross of several other breeds.  A good layer of brown eggs even during colder weather, Plymouth Barred Rocks can also be used for meat birds, and were commonly used as broilers through the 1920s.   They thrive in a variety of environments which is why we saw them as a perfect breed for our starter flock.  More information about their breed can be discovered on the Livestock Conservancy's website.

     Pictured to the right is just the main coop and run structure that the early flock started out in. The entire structure, coop and runs is separated into two, to allow us to keep our meat and/or breeding birds separate from our egg layers.  Our particular birds are not vaccinated and antibiotic free.  We feed them GMO-free and GMO-free/organic feed along with produce scraps from the garden (which contains GMO-free plants, grown using organic techniques), and during the winter months we've been adding "chicken porridge" to help with their egg production.  In the winter of 2015-2016, we started experimenting with fodder, and found that our birds favor greens to grains.  Three of the chickens were roos, who all had broken alarm clocks and crow at various points throughout the day, and four of them are hens. In March 2016, the meanest two roosters lived out their lives as meat birds, and we presently have the remaining rooster, who still has a broken alarm clock, and four hens to keep him company.

Two of the Plymouth Barred Rocks on their favorite perch,
which rotates with the pasture. 
     By late-2015, when we started to consider expanding our flock and adding another dual-purpose heritage breed to the mix, we also started to work towards building a more completed run and pasture set-up for the chickens.  Presently, the main run, tunnel run and one pasture with its own perch is completed; the pasture being switched between our Plymouth Barred Rocks and their new neighbors. The pastures, which can be moved to various spots off the tunnel run, also, in some cases, contain "salad bars" where fresh greens are planted in the ground inside a frame and underneath hardware cloth so the chickens can peck at them instead of quickly decimating their pasture.

Who are you?  Our Delawares are always coming to the
edge of the run to see just what you are up to.  
     In the Spring of 2016, the noisiest package we ever received in the mail arrived, containing seventeen balls of fluff.  This dual-purpose heritage breed chicken, the Delaware, dates back to 1940, are good layers of brown eggs, and were commonly used as broilers for the meat industry through the 1950s.  With the edition of the seventeen Delawares as our meat flock, the five Plymouth Barred Rocks became our layer flock.  In February of 2017, we sent eight of our Delaware cockerels to the freezer, keeping eight more of them as a breeding flock.  You can follow our progress with this project in a variety of posts under "Our Chicken Keeping Adventures."

The "Turkey Trailer" will allow for easy movement
of the turkeys to new ground as it can be pulled behind our
pickup truck.  Here it's shown where it was constructed
(in our driveway) before it was relocated to the garden,
where the turkeys will forage on part of the land, while the
chickens forage in a different area of the garden.
     Although, for us, the next logical step was to get pigs (which we still don't have... baby steps), an offer came that we were unable to refuse when my in-laws didn't have a place to keep their two turkeys over winter.  So, in the Fall of 2016, we managed to construct a "Turkey Trailer" for the Bourbon Red turkeys, who came to their new home at our place around four months of age.  It is believed that they are a pair, and if all goes as planned, they will hopefully become a breeding pair in the spring and give us a few little ones.

Settling into their new home.
     Like the other poultry around here, these turkeys are also a heritage breed originating from Bourbon County, Kentucky in the late nineteenth century.  Used as a commercial breed through the 1930s and 1940s, the Bourbon Red Turkey was replaced in the commercial market by broad breasted varieties.  Although, not our first choice for a breed if we would have purchased them ourselves, they were our second choice of breed, and we're happy to have them make their new home with us.  You can keep up with them in posts under "Talkin' Turkey."

Our Home

Seriously, who irons these days?!  I can tell
you my mother specifically bought clothing
that didn't have to be ironed.  Perhaps that
is why my husband had to teach me how
to iron clothing/cloth after we got married!
You can now catch me ironing the placemats
and napkins before company comes over.
     At the center of our lives is our home.  After college I was introduced to Mrs. Lydia M. Child while working at a Colonial American historic site.  She had authored a book entitled The American Frugal Housewife, in the nineteenth century, and I was enamored by it.  It was advice to run your home the good 'ole fashioned way on a limited income!  That was absolutely perfect for two newlyweds with student loans who, unbeknownst to them at the time, were about to be laid off.  So, I decided to put her advice to work for us, and then realized that perhaps it needed a little updating... Apparently things have changed a little bit since 1832.  (Go figure.)  So with some tweaking, I'm still living in her vision, just being a little more haggard than the frugal queen originally intended.

      In her day and age it was the woman's job to take care of the home, but fortunately, this is the twenty-first century, and even though I'm a stay-at-home housewife my husband and I both take care of the home from basic housework, to food preservation, to cooking, to all those dreaded chores I hated as a child.  (Thank goodness my in-laws were such wonderful examples to my husband growing up, and instilled in him that housework was not "just women's work!")

Dry good and root crop storage is off to the left, and the
two deep freezes sit off to the right.
     We do our best to preserve our garden harvest to prolong it for use over multiple seasons, as well as any deer that the husband or some of my in-laws may be lucky enough to get during hunting season.  The first thing into our house when we moved in was a deep freeze.  (No, seriously, I'm being literal.  My mother got here a few hours before the rest of our "moving crew" to make sure the brand new deep freeze was delivered and placed where we wanted it.)  We now have two deep freezes — one for the garden harvest and winter chicken scraps, and one for the hunting harvest, any chickens we butcher, as well as everything else — along with canned good and dry good storage.  Even though we expanded to the second deep freeze in 2015, and added onto both the canned good and dry good storage, we are constantly finding ourselves out of room.  (And, before you ask, yes, we plan to eat it all.)

     Upstairs, we have our supply of bulk goods from spices to baking supplies to rices and beans.  As we try to live with a "Healthy Homestyle" approach (a reworking of recipes that feature good home cooking that won't destroy our waistlines), buying flours, sugars and oats in 25lb. to 50lb. bags certainly helps out!  It also helps if you have the space for such large containers as well, and the microwave cart from the Mr.'s college apartment was quickly converted into a full-on bulk pantry for the larger containers, whereas the bulk herbs and spices, and smaller bulk items, overflow cupboards and glass jars on bookshelves in the kitchen.

Our Way of Life 

     The "simple life" is really not as simple as it seems when you take a good, long look at it.  This seems to be the misnomer of what many people think who cheerfully glance through homesteading, gardening and farming blogs and presume all of us "have it made."  They don't seem to realize that homesteading, gardening and farming is essentially a full-time job, and one that many people do on the side of a job that actually pays the bills.  They also don't see the hours and hours of backbreaking labor clearing land by hand, the nights you fall into bed absolutely exhausted after working at a job outside of the home and then coming home to mow the lawn and tend to the garden and animals, the days you're feeling so ill you don't want to move away from the bed or couch, but need to process produce or it will spoil, the cold mornings when you'd rather stay in your pajamas with a mug of hot chocolate, but know that you have to break the ice up in the animals' water dishes, or the moment you've scratched up enough money to have the rest of the female farm cats spayed, only for all ten farm cats to come down with eye infections from a stray that must be treated before anything else can be done.  Since the Spring of 2013, we've experienced every one of these and more in this life that we lead.

     The incorrect definition of "the simple life" was a misnomer that I was guilty of partially believing too, prior to starting this journey.  I had read enough books about pioneer life, watched enough "House" series on PBS, and studied American history long enough to realize that this wasn't going to be easy, but I never quite understood just how incredibly hard it was going to be, until one day I was kneeling in chicken poop in the middle of an enclosed run installing chicken "salad bars" so they had fresh pickings that they didn't scratch up in a heartbeat, while they were trying desperately to find a way out of the coop I locked them into so I didn't get pecked to death by some overprotective roosters, and it hit me... this is it.  This is our life.  They'll be less and shorter vacations.  They'll be before dawn to after dusk work days.  They'll be moments when you thank the Good Lord for the harvests you preserved to get you through the times when money is a little tighter than you desire.  They'll be the moments when you and your spouse look at each other in the middle of a difficult and frustrating project and proclaim adamantly that "we're absolutely done with all this crap," for a good solid hour, then breathe a few minutes, pick up the shovels and get back to work, side by side, because the garden won't weed itself, the seedlings won't plant themselves, the tomatoes won't stake themselves, the chickens won't build their own coop, the chickens won't gather their own eggs, the... well, you get the idea (there's a lot of those moments).

     But, you know what?  I wouldn't have it any other way.

"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength."  - Philippians 4:12-13 

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