I took new photos of the baby bunnies in a little Easter basket a friend gave me. It was a fun photo shoot. Three bunnies were held by #5 and three were held by #4. They love getting to hold the babies.
One new sprout in the winter sown containers... Now we have a Hearts of Gold cantaloupe!
With the addition of Chamomile and Summer Savory, we now have 70 winter sown jugs!
And more to come... I'm not done planting just yet.
This morning I got three winter sown containers done.
This afternoon Tony brought home two more bags of organic soil for me to finish my winter sowing projects tomorrow.
We got all of the eggs dyed. Some were done the traditional way with the little color tablets in vinegar water, some were done with the rice and food coloring method, and a couple the kids dyed in the water, then dried off to go through the rice to give an interesting mixed look. We got some nice ones along with the standard colors.
This year our oldest two decided they were no longer interested in dying eggs. That's a little sad to know they're growing up so quickly. But the three younger ones really enjoyed the project. And of course this was #5's first year really being able to go hands-on. He broke almost every egg he dyed, but hey, they're all edible so it's OK. He had fun and that's what counts.
Here are photos of some of the more interesting eggs we came up with this year.
You might be asking what this rice and dye idea is. Let me explain. You get a plastic container (Cool Whip or Sherbet containers seemed to work well this year) - even better if it has a lid that fits securely. Put in 3/4 cup rice, and several drops of food coloring. Most standard food coloring boxes come with four (red, yellow, blue, and green) though you can certainly get other colors or mix dye to get different colors. We use four containers, one for each color. The dye absorbs into the rice quickly, so you will have to add more dye every egg or two unless you're really fast. Once you have rice and dye, shake it up really well to disperse the dye throughout the rice. Then add one (dry) hard boiled egg, put the lid on and give it a good shake. You want the egg to feel like it's spinning around the outside edge, not smashing back and forth. If you're a little more coordinated (or working with older kids) the lids aren't needed if your containers are a little deeper - you can just gently shake the container to get the dyed rice and egg to rub against one another. When the egg reaches the amount of color you want, take it out. You may need to add more dye (take the egg out and mix it in the rice before putting the egg back in). if you find that your egg is nearly solid colored, you may have too much dye - give it five minutes with the lid off to dry up a bit before using it again. With a few exceptions, ,most of the eggs coming out of the rice dye containers were dry enough to pick right up without dying fingers (except when Grandma and #4 added waaay too much green dye at once). If you'll be dying in more than one color, just make sure the egg is dry before moving it to another container.
I've found that this method does not permanently stain the plastic containers we use when rinsed with hot water when we are done. And, not to be wasteful, when our project is done, we put all of the rice into one big bowl and rinse it until the water comes out clear.
It looks fantastic at this stage. I wish it stayed that bright and colorful! Last year when we cooked it, it turned brown and looked like fried rice (still tastes like white rice as that's what it is). This year, the rice turned lavender and had colorful spots throughout.
To cook the rice, just put it in your rice cooker and add one cup of water per 2/3 cup of rice you used initially.
I will say that the kids did spill some of the dyed rice while doing this project. It got on the table, the floor, the chair, the counter, and yet amazingly - no stains! The rice absorbs the dye so quickly that really, unless you dump the whole thing upside down, it's hard to make a mess. Sweep or vacuum when you're done, and that's it! Of course it's always wise to put down a layer of old newspaper on your work surface and have an adult or older child there to do the adding of food coloring to prevent spills.
Today we confirmed next Thursday for the home inspection, and the inspector gave us his price (not as expensive as I thought it would be). The real estate agent confirmed that the sellers would be turning on the water and hooking up a propane tank on Monday in preparation for the inspection. Yay! We're making progress!
I felt so productive this morning. I picked up all the dog poop from the front yard. I fed and watered all the bunnies, checked and watered the winter sown containers, replanted the bucket of Blue Hubbard squash the dog had knocked over, refilled the fish tank, fed the cats, picked up the living room, cleared the table off, and swept the hallway - all before noon!
This evening I got #3 and #4 to each fill one moving box with stuff from their bedroom that they wanted to bring with. I got an assortment of books, toys, and clothes, but they seemed happy to start the process. I even got them to write their names and what was in the boxes on the sides of each box!
The kids have rediscovered the DVD collection since I've boxed them up. They've been binge-watching movies for the last two nights. We watched Labyrinth, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, and the first part of Pirates of the Caribbean last night. Tonight they finished Pirates of the Caribbean, then watched The Sorcerer's Apprentice, and are now watching the second Harry Potter movie.
I didn't get to winter sowing today. I guess that's alright. Tony forgot to pick up extra soil too. Tomorrow the girls have the day off of school for Easter break, so maybe one of them will want to help me do some winter sowing containers. When Tony gets off work tomorrow we're planning to head over to my parents' house to dye the eggs for Easter. That should be fun! Last year we played with using rice and food coloring and got some very pretty results. I'm sure there will be photos tomorrow of what we come up with!
I sanitized all of the jugs and containers that have been collecting in the house awaiting my last run on winter sowing. I'd been largely putting it off as the current containers are about all our current space will allow. But now that we are on the cusp of the big move, I've decided to put more containers out. This means we can do more tomatoes, a couple of the neat pumpkins the kids found in the seed stash, more herbs (did I plant summer savory?), and a few other things. I have a total of 26 containers drying in the bathroom. I'm baffled at how much space they take up, and how it didn't seem like they took up so much space when they were here and there around the house. Hopefully tomorrow several will be joining the containers outside. The limiting factor will be the soil. I've got one partially used bag left, and Tony works a 12-hour shift tomorrow so he won't be able to get me more until bedtime.
Today Tony touched base with the home inspector we chose. He said we'll plan for next Thursday for an inspection and that he would do a little research on the property and get back to Tony tomorrow morning. The loan guy called Tony today too and asked for a call back, but Tony worked close, so didn't get to call him. Phone calls will be made tomorrow morning to get things figured out. So many things to do. Tony has this weekend off, the girls have a 4-day weekend, so it seems a good time to start formally packing up. This is such a foreign concept to me, I'm still trying to wrap my brain around putting all of our belongings into boxes, sorted by room, stacking them all into a UHaul, and driving them to the new house to be unpacked.
Tony seems to want to do it all in one run, but I don't think that's going to happen. Especially considering we have a playset and the rabbit barn and all of the rabbits and their cages... That's at least one full load to haul right there. I keep thinking about the logistics of it all. The bigger stuff - book shelves and beds, dressers and chairs, the kitchen table and L-shaped bench seat, the turtle tank (a 55-gallon aquarium with aquaponics set up on top), the 29-gallon fish aquarium, and the stands for both, the computer desks, the shelving units, the vanity (which has no place in the new house, but I don't want to get rid of it either). It seems from the perspective of packing, it would be easier to pack up all the small stuff first and then load up the furniture and big stuff last. But from the perspective of unpacking, it would seem that the big stuff should really be moved in and set up first. This would work if it was all in one load because the last things in would be the first things out of the moving truck... but if it doesn't all fit you end up with a truckload of boxes of stuff that you have to unload to go back to get the big stuff. And this is when my Asperger's really kicks in and I start doing "the hamster wheel" where my mind is going and I don't get anywhere. I really need a written itinerary of everything that needs to be done. We need to pack up the books in order to ready the shelves for moving. We need to lower the water level in the fish and turtle tanks. We need to start packing up the clothes we won't need right away. At what point do I take my framed art off the wall? I mean I don't want to feel like I'm living out of boxes, tripping over them throughout the house as they stack up, but I don't want to put things off too long and be scrambling (though I suspect that's what will happen).
On the plus side, I do intend to use the moving boxes as the base for my Back To Eden garden plans. Enough boxes to move an entire household should be plenty to start a garden I should think. The problem will be having enough compost and manure to fill it all. The rabbits only produce so much, and I doubt Tony will want to spend the time to bag it all up and move it with us... That seems a little silly (from his perspective) though I think it's perfectly reasonable.
Today I also looked up and emailed the beekeepers society for the county we will be moving too. I'm hoping to find a beekeeper willing to provide a hive and maintenance in exchange for a safe chemical-free space for their bees to pollinate. There are several flowers on the property already. The listing photos show a patch of daylilies in the backyard, but when we were there in August the entire front yard was a giant patch of wildflowers and planted flowers that were pretty much taking over the entire yard. I'm not against this and have no plan to mow it. Why ruin what's already a successful flower patch? I wish I'd have snapped a photo of it then, it was beautiful. I'll have to take photos this summer when they all come back. I can only imagine the amazing insect and floral photos I can take with a colorful collection of flowers like that right outside the living room window!
Today the property officially got changed from "for sale" to "active contingent." I keep looking at the listing photos. This place just feels like "home" to me and I'm beyond excited to move in and start the next chapter of our lives. I have so many ideas that my head is spinning. But more than anything, I'm just thrilled to find such a beautiful place. I love the little farm house. I realize it's fairly small for our large family right now, but on a realistic note, #1 is 15, and #2 is 13 - it won't be long until they're both graduating high school and wanting to move out. As quickly as we filled our nest, it will eventually empty too. And once several of the kids have moved on and started their adult lives, the house will remain a manageable size for us over the years. I can't help but feel like this home is where I want to grow old.
Today we talked to the loan guy and he assured us the stipulation on the counter offer is not a problem at all. So we contacted the real estate lady, and she got the paperwork in order while Tony went to the bank to get the earnest money check. He dropped off the check and signed the paperwork. Our agent gave him a list of home inspectors in the area and gave us her recommendation for the top three or four on the list. I did a little research on those top three and we picked one we want to work with. Tony called and left a message this evening. Hopefully we will hear back tomorrow morning and we can get the ball rolling. We have until April 21 to have the home inspection, and we're set to close on May 19th. Here we go!
In other exciting news (though by contrast it doesn't seem as exciting - it really is), some of our winter sown containers are coming up! Above is a photo of the strawberries that are coming back. This is from the Beaver Early strawberry we got from the USDA a couple years ago. Last year we took several of the runners and put them into red off-brand Solo cups so they'd be easier to transplant when we move. Some more seasoned gardeners have told me that they're likely dead since the solo cups offered no protection above ground that the in-ground strawberries get. There are two Solo cups with new leaves coming up so far!
The dill container seems to be doing very well. It has four sprouts so far. Oddly enough, I didn't cover these seeds at all. It doesn't seem to have caused any problems though. Dill sprouts photographed below.
We have three sprouts in the Opal Apple container. Opal apples need a different variety to pollinate, so the apples these produce will not be Opal apples, but a cross of them. I hope they are as sweet and tasty as Opals. Opal apple seedlings photographed below.
While checking my containers out in the yard, one of our new neighbors stopped by to introduce himself and ask about our containers. I got to give him a quick explaination of winter sowing, and learned that he actually went to college for horticulture and landscape design, and works for the local Parks & Rec. We chatted for awhile, and it was actually nice. I usually avoid social interactions like the plague and feel very uncomfortable when men approach me in any manner. Seriously, sales associates, bank tellers, cashiers, friends' boyfriends, coworkers, random strangers... any teenage to adult male sets off some kind of irrational fear response unless I know them well. Oddly enough, in this case it was actually a pleasant transaction. I am not afraid of the new neighbor. In fact, it was nice to meet him and to talk about a mutual love of plants. His name is Scott. If ever he comes upon this blog - Hi Scott! Thank you for the pleasant social interaction today.
We have one single Bartlett Pear seedling starting to come up. Photo above.
There are seven Winter Dream Cauliflower seedlings with two more just below the soil. I'm hoping for the best, but we don't have the best history (me and growing cauliflower). I can't seem to get them to grow long enough to form a head. Last year the rabbit ate them all, but since he's happily living our in the country now, I'm hoping this batch will grow to harvest. Always thinking positively! Cauliflower photo below.
I'm not sure if there are wild rabbits at the new house. It's a beautiful acreage, but it is surrounded by water on three sides, ,and a highway and railroad tracks on the other side. I'm not sure if rabbits or deer would swim across the lake or cross the highway and train tracks to forage the property. I did research all of the bird species noted in the last DNR survey or the lake, none of them should be a problem for the garden. They're all either bug eaters or fish eaters.
There are at least a dozen seedlings in the German Thyme container. I love herbs and given the ability to dehydrate them, they shouldn't go to waste. German Thyme photo above.
I know it's hard to see, but the organic catnip is barely starting to poke up above the soil. They're small but there are several tiny green flecks in there that will become catnip - assuming I can keep the local cats out of it until we can get moved! Catnip photo below.
Just the other day I was talking to my mom. I was worried that none of my tulips had come up yet, but I already have grass and dandelion greens coming up in the yard. Usually the crocus and tulips are the very first things up. Following a severe winter a couple years ago, all of my crocus died out. I've come to love seeing my tulips bloom. They keep me garden happy until my irises start to come up. Last year my mom planted a bunch of bulbs around her new bird bath fountain and said none of hers had come up yet either, and she was really hoping that they weren't all duds. None of them she planted along the side of the house had come up yet either. But a friend of ours posted her hardy perennials coming up in photos on Facebook a week ago. Today I can confirm we have tulips coming up! And yes, I hope to bring them along when we move too. I have to call my mom tomorrow and see if hers have started to come up yet. Though now that she has Loosey (that rabbit that ate all my broccoli and cauliflower last year), I'm not sure what kind of luck she'll have with her gardening endeavors.
And in sad news, Miss Elsa delivered two babies, both dead when I found them this afternoon. One was missing it's bottom half and had a thick yellow pus spilling out of it. There's no way it was born alive. I can only assume that it died before birth and there was some kind of infection. The other baby seemed fully formed, but was pretty flat. If it lived at all, it was a very brief existence. As a result, I've decided to offer her up for sale. She can be found on the Rabbits page, along with a long description of her personality, her needs, and a warning about her inevitable temperament change when she's stressed out by the move (as she did when she stayed at my parents' house after she lost her last litter). On the plus side, she barely pulled fur this time, only creating one giant naked patch around her front legs and chest, exposing her frontmost nipples. What an oddball she is. I will miss her. She's a wonderful girl, she's gone back to being friendly since she's been back. But the reality is that when we move, the rabbits will be a form of income, not pets. So Elsa, being our smallest doe, and having two of her three litters complete losses, must find a new home.
This morning I did a bunch of research on black walnuts. The property we're hoping to buy has several mature black walnut trees. When we visited in August one had some fruits on it. I was surprised to see that they were much bigger than walnuts, and didn't look like walnuts. I quick search that day confirmed that walnuts are actually the inner pit portion inside a husk. Interesting.
Today I did more research. I learned how to harvest, process, and dry black walnuts, options for cracking them, and several different options for removing the husks. It should be noted here that the husks stain anything they come in contact with - so if you step on them, your shoes and possibly your socks and feet will be stained. If you open them with your hands, your hands will turn yellowish green to brown to nearly black. If your gloves have holes in them, or are fabric in a portion, you will get stained. Your clothes will get stained, the area around your workspace will get stained, the space underneath your walnut drying area will get stained. But in every one of the places I looked up how to harvest black walnuts, they all throw the husk away.
My next educational exploration was to look up how to use the black walnut husks to create a dye. It turns out it's pretty simple. Throw some husks into a big pot with enough water to cover them, and boil it for as long as it takes to get to the color and consistency you want. Further boiling down can actually produce ink! I found videos of people using black walnut dye (made from husks) to dye clothing, blankets, fabrics, animal traps, tools, and using it to stain wood products (tables, chairs, desks, other projects, etc.), as well as leathercrafting.
But what struck me as odd is that there was no crossover. The people who collected black walnuts for food discarded the husks as waste. The people who collected the black walnuts for dye or ink would often times boil the whole nut, and would always throw away the walnut itself as a waste product. So I have to wonder, if both uses use one part but not the other, wouldn't it make sense to utilize both parts of the black walnuts? Split the husk from the nut, process the nuts for food, and use the husks for create dye and ink for other projects (or for sale). I can't possibly be the first person to have this thought, but in hours of research, watching dozens of videos, reading through blogs and DIY guides and Pinterest, I didn't find a single mention of both uses at the same time. Is it just the amount of work that goes into it? I mean, it's food and natural camouflage tone dye. It seems to me that homesteaders would have jumped on this long ago.
After my exploration into black walnut uses, I finished processing the Blue Hubbard squash seeds. They look pretty nice for having been tossed out on the front step for half the winter. I did taste a few (the tasty bit inside the seed shell) and they were really delicious. Much tastier than the dry one I tried from the old #2 pumpkin harvest from two years ago. Perhaps it's because they're fresh, or maybe Blue Hubbard just tastes better for seed eating. Either way, I had to cut myself off on seeds to assure I'd have enough to grow more!
Today our real estate agent got back to us. The sellers officially sent us a counter offer. The price is the same, but they made a few little changes. They want us to pay for all inspections (including secondary inspections following needed repairs), they won't pay the difference in tax between homesteaded and not, and they want us to have all of our mortgage paperwork in writing by a set date (one to two weeks prior to closing), with the clause that if we do not, we lose our earnest money deposit and they can walk away from the offer.
So tomorrow morning we have an appointment to talk to our loan guy over the phone. I'm hoping Tony has sent him the amended contract so he has a chance to look it over before he calls. I think this is both reasonable, and doable, especially considering they took our offer, which was pretty low, and they're still willing to pay for needed repairs prior to closing.
Anyway, we're making progress. Tony has tomorrow off, so if we can get this contract and mortgage thing figured out in the morning, we could sign the papers and start calling contractors to set up an inspection right away.
Our little apple seedling is adorable. It already has two true leaves and it's growing quickly. I hope it doesn't outgrow the little plant stand and light before it's warm enough to go outside.
This morning we got an email from our real estate lady. The sellers want to counter a few things, but their agent didn't specify any further. We should know more tomorrow. I'm not sure what that means, since I'm pretty sure we didn't make any demands. I mean, outside of the normal "contingent on financing" and "contingent on successful inspection" that I believe are actually required by law when dealing with a bank to get a loan to buy a house... So now I don't know what to expect. What's new right? I feel pretty lost in this whole home buying experience. I'm hoping it's something simple like don't dig up this one spot where our beloved pet is buried, or promise not to cut down the black walnut trees, but life is rarely that easy. I guess we wait for tomorrow to see what their terms are.
Last year I bought a few sad, sickly little plants from the local nursery in July. It was late in the season (7/19) and they were clearancing all their annuals. Unfortunately, in the humidity of the greenhouse, their squash plants had gotten sick (powdery mildew). So I picked a few assorted leggy squash babies, and the lady actually gave a couple of them to me for free because she said they weren't going to make it anyway. Thinking back on it, I wished I would have offered to take them all off her hands at that point. I didn't expect much since it was late in the season, but I planted them at the far end of the in-ground garden after I took off almost all of the leaves (all that were affected with powdery mildew). Of the five I planted, only one didn't survive (the spaghetti squash), which is pretty amazing considering how they started. Anyway, the blue hubbard plant produced a single squash, and it was so much fun to watch it grow and then turn from green to blue. Unfortunately, it ended up getting a soft spot before I could use it, and rather than throwing it in the trash, I set it outside over winter where it promptly froze. Today I noticed the sad husk of the squash, still languishing on the top step. The inner flesh rotting in on itself while the hard outer shell remained in the original shape, except for the spot it had gone soft, giving it a strange cave like look. I figured I'd save some seeds from it, so I tore it apart and took the seeds out. I'll finish rinsing them tonight. I thought, why not plant some... So I went and got three of the plastic buckets we've used in years prior. Their dirt had composted down to halfway, so I added a shovel full of rabbit manure to each, before filling each bucket to the top with the soil that came out of the potato towers last year (that was 75-90% manure last year that had composted down). In each bucket I added three fresh seeds. I wish them the best of luck. Technically these will be the first seeds we've planted in soil this year (not counting winter sown or the lettuce seeds we just tossed out). Because they're in buckets, hopefully we will be able to bring them with if/when we move. If last year the single plant gave us a single squash, I figure three seeds to a bucket should give better odds of 1-2 plants coming up, and then we should have 3-6 (with up to 9 possible) squash plants, producing the same number of squash. This year we will process them. Probably into puree for future additions to soups or stews, or to make pumpkin pie or something. If anyone has any really amazing recipes for fresh squash and pumpkins, I would love to hear from you! In the meantime, I plan to can or freeze puree for use throughout the year while we wait for the next crop to grow the following year.
No word back from the real estate lady today. Not much else to report.
I'm doing more research on more home-made options for a chicken coop. Things we might be able to do with stuff we already have versus having to go buy tons of lumber or piping or fencing. Turns out that you can make a chicken or rabbit nest box, a chicken feeder, and a chicken waterer with a bucket with different modifications. Well, we have a few extra buckets - to that cuts some costs there. Still needs a lot more thought, and I'm still not sold on chickens, but if push comes to shove and someone were to gift us a few hens as soona s we moved, I could make it work with what I have for $33 in additional supplies (but it would mean giving up one of my rabbit hutches, and using the fencing we bought for the trellis project). Just something to keep in mind.
I made the chicken and rice dish again. This time we did one pan of Thyme Lord Chicken and the other one we called Sage Advice Chicken - they were both delicious. I don't think we will ever make it with paprika again, it's just too tasty with sage, thyme, or basil.
We heard back from the real estate agent today. I guess the original loan pre-approval letter had a part in it about a contingency on selling existing property. We're not sure why that was in there, since we don't own the house we live in and therefore do not need to sell it before buying the house we want. The real estate agent asked the loan officer to rewrite the pre-approval letter to reflect that we do not have a contingency to sell property. She got that updated letter today, then played phone tag with the sellers' agent. Right at the end of the day she made contact with him and gave him the updated pre-approval letter and told him we wanted to keep the loan people we're working with currently. The sellers' agent said he'd take the amended offer back to the sellers and see what they want to do. Our agent said again that the sellers liked the letter I wrote, so that makes me hopeful. I love this property very much, and I would be absolutely honored to live a simple life in a little farm house with a big garden and a happy family.
On our last trip to Costco we found a nice box that had little separators in it. I figured the cats would like it. The photo is blurry because as soon as I open the door they usually come running to get loved on. On top NetherQuartz (white/blue short hair) and Floki (naked calico) are cuddling. In the box is Henry (naked blue and white - winking - the photo woke him from a nap), and Mabel (dilute calico rex in the back corner). And of course our Zombie (medium haired grey calico) photobombing in the lower right corner so you can't really see Mabel. What a group. I love our kitties. They're such sweethearts. And yes, if you've seen this box at your local Costco and realize the size... Yes, our cats are very small. NetherQuartz is double the size of the other cats, but he would probably be considered on the small side of average for a male cat. The other four are just tiny naturally.
Today I cleaned out the front raised bed garden. Last year the beans took over, eventually bending the trellis down in a tangle of vines. Several of the lettuce plants still had seed stalks intact. Since we will be planting the tomatoes in this space (if the other house falls through), I went ahead and sprinkled some of the lettuce seeds throughout the garden. Lettuce can easily grow at the base of tomato plants for a nice cut-and-come-again crop while we wait for tomatoes. And if we do end up moving, we can either leave a nice lettuce garden behind, or dig some up and transplant them into buckets to take with.
Today I planted a "Sprout 'n Grow Greenhouse" from DuneCraft. We have two. I did the strawberry one today. I didn't want to start the "mini-melon" one yet because it could still be another month or two until we can safely put them outside. Strawberries are small and take a while to grow when started from seed (voice of experience). On the good side, this kit was very easy to set up. It comes with a plastic greenhouse, a soil puck, and a packet of seeds. The instructions were straightforward. Add water to the puck, break it up, add the seeds, smooth into the soil, put the lid on, put in a sunny location, and wait. On the downside, the kit came with 18 seeds. Yeah, less than 20 strawberry seeds for the $7-8 price. The official count says the seeds should have 90% germination. I hope so. I put the container under the grow light next to the apple tree seedling. Hopefully I will be updating on the progress of this product, and the melon version from the same company when we get closer to planting time.
With all the excitement about the property we want to buy, my mind has been running wild. I have so many ideas and thoughts. I need to pace myself.
I want to set up a Back-To-Eden style garden. That's where you put down wet cardboard to smother out the grass and weeds underneath, add a bunch of compost, organic materials, natural fertilizer, and leaves, then top it with wood chips (from a local arborist, not the chemical-laden store-bought kind). The idea being that you can smother out the grass and weeds, while providing fertile soil for the plants you want to grow, and the wood chips on top will help maintain moisture, prevent weeds, and eventually break down to become part of the soil. The only maintenance is pulling annuals out at the end of the year and adding fresh wood chips every few years. The bonus to this one is that when using it for permaculture, the upkeep really is minimum. It can also be easily added on to. So we could start with a smaller space in year one, then add to it each summer as we have access to enough compost and rabbit manure to leave an adequate later between cardboard and wood chips. Potentially your garden could get bigger every year as you learn to maintain, harvest, and process more and more produce. I'm all for less weeding, less watering, and more time enjoying the garden!
And in keeping with the idea of going natural, organic, and hand-in-hand with nature, I have ideas about pest control too. How do you keep your garden free of pests? Well, the first step is to make sure you have healthy plants, and I suspect the garden set up I'm planning would take care of that. Even healthy plants do get attacked by pests when there are hungry bugs in the area. Thinking like Mother Nature - how do trees and wildflowers and grass and everything else survive these pests? Well, they employ critters that eat said pests. So how can I make that work in our garden you might ask? I've actually put a lot of thought into this. We've already bought a couple bird houses, some bird feeders, and a bat house. Birds will often eat insects as part of their natural diet, but they're diurnal (awake during the day and asleep at night). So enticing bats into the area with a bat house will double your bug control plan, because bats are naturally nocturnal (awake at night, and sleep during the day). Adding in a large and diverse flower garden near or interspersed with the vegetable garden will promote beneficial insects to come and make their home in the garden as well. Biodiversity is very important. Our current farming methods lean toward monocultures (think the huge fields of nothing but corn as you're driving through the midwest). How is a honey bee supposed to get enough to eat with no diversity? I propose we grow a little of everything, from perennials like tulips, hollyhocks, and daylilies, to annuals like marigolds, cosmos, and zinnias, and wildflowers and even those flowers that we don't really think about. Did you know that creeping Charlie is considered a weed, but the tiny flowers in the very early spring are food for the bees until other plants start to flower? They're actually very important to a healthy ecosystem. So Creeping Charlie, and even a few dandelions are welcome in our garden.
Which brings me to bees. I would love to get a hive and produce honey, but I know that's way out of my realm. I have enough on my plate, and realistically, I won't have the time or energy to learn about and upkeep a bee hive; not to mention the cost of start up! Not willing to give it up altogether (honey bees are fantastic pollinators), I have been considering finding a local beekeeper and offering space on the new property for a few hives... They get a space for their hives that is organic, chemical-free, and bee-friendly, and we get better pollination for our garden. The beekeeper can maintain their own hives, so there's no risk of me messing anything up, and maybe we could get a jar of honey or two every year in exchange. Sounds like a win-win-win to me. Happy beekeeper, happy bees, and happy gardener.
The idea of chickens is still perplexing me. Daughter #1 is still adamant that she wants chickens. We bought a small outdoor dog kennel last year when we took in some extra rabbits. It's something like 4'x4'and 4' tall. I wonder if it would work as a small chicken tractor if we only had 2-3 hens. We could get a rabbit hutch and modify it to be an enclosed hutch for a lot less than building a coop. But in the end, chickens have pretty toxic manure. It burns plants unless it's well composted. Do I really want chickens? Fresh eggs would be nice, but when Tony can sometimes get them from work for 75-cents a dozen, and we now have a contact that will trade our rabbit losses for fresh pasture raised eggs, is it even cost effective?
So I have been researching ducks. They lay more pounds of eggs per animal (that's pounds, not count) than chickens, have a lower mortality than chickens, have a longer working egg production life than chickens, and their manure is like rabbit manure - ready to apply immediately without composting. Indian Runner ducks supposedly do not need open water to survive, which makes winter care much easier. They're also a hardy breed that is OK with being out on the farm in the winter, not cooped up for months. Best yet? Ducks are also a natural garden pest control. They love to eat slugs and bugs and things, and they won't eat your garden up like chickens will. So maybe ducks will be a good segway into chickens later. A duck house is much easier to make than a chicken coop because they don't need roost perches or nest boxes (Indian Runner ducks are said to have no maternal instinct at all). Of course #1 still wants chickens.
As you can see, my mind has been all over the place. I've had several sleepless nights where I've stayed up researching different things. This property would truly be a dream come true. I keep trying to talk myself down from this excitement. Trying to be reasonable. I think about what this property will mean for me. Since I do not intend to move again, this property means an end to certain things I've always admired or wanted. For example, buying this property means I will never have French doors into my kitchen/dining room, or a deck, or a big house for hosting family gatherings, or a walk-in pantry. I would forever be giving up the opportunity to travel and see the world (farmers are pretty well bound to the farm if there are animals involved). I will not have the space for a horse or a cow. Indoor space will be very limited, which means I will likely have to give up my online selling hobby, or at the very least drastically cut down on what I bring home and hold on to while trying to sell it. It means money will be tight for a while, and my projects will have to be set aside to make sure the bills get paid. It will be a struggle for a little while. It means my rescue work will officially be over with no space inside to take animals in. It means no longer getting to do weekly dinners with my family, as we will be too far away. But most of all, it means giving up the safety net. Once we move, we're on our own. If things go wrong - if Tony loses his job, or the car breaks down, we have no fallback anymore. There will not be a place for us to go back to once we leave our current home. And we won't get the financial help we've gotten in the past from Tony's parents once we walk away from our current house. It's a little scary to stand on the edge of this ledge, but I think it's time we spread our wings, take a leap of faith, and learn to fly on our own. In this case, the benefits of moving far outweigh the risks. I know in my heart that we can make this work, and that it could be a beautiful change in our lives. My heart has long yearned for "home" and this property just feels like home. Peace, family, space, privacy, nature. Like a breath of fresh air after a long time in a prison cell.
For now my anxiety is getting the better of me. I'm hoping and praying, and dreaming and planning. The proverbial ball is in the sellers' court now, and we just await a reply. I think if they decline our offer, or if things fall through after the inspection, or before closing... I think I will be absolutely devastated. I'm trying really hard not to get my hopes up so far, but I think it's too late for that.
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Today we got a partial update from the real estate agent. The sellers are OK with the price we offered, they liked our letter, but their agent doesn't like the loan company we're using and has requested we use a local bank. He (their agent) has lost two sales in the last ten days right before close when the lender we're working with suddenly rejected their loans at the last minute. The problem is that the local bank approved us for less than we offered, and was next to impossible to actually get a hold of. The lady at the local bank would not call back, is not available via email, and it wasn't until we told the real estate agent we'd been waiting going on two weeks to hear back from this bank lady that she (the real estate agent - who happens to be friends with the local bank lady) called her and asked her what was going on and only then did she bother to call us back. We don't want to use the local bank.
So we replied to the offer that it had to be "as is" with no additional contingencies. We can't switch to a local bank. That was this morning, and we have heard nothing back since. The property is still listed as "for sale" and we have not been asked to bring in earnest money yet. I am left wondering if we made the right decision. I will probably never forgive myself if we go through all of this and our loan place backs out at the last minute... They're supposedly really good for home loans, but I've found plenty of bad reviews online. I'm going to keep hoping and praying and trying really hard to be patient and wait for this to play out. It feels like forever right now, but a year from now I won't remember this much frustration... Hopefully I'll just be enjoying the new home.
We ate at Costco this evening. I'm against eating out, I think it's a waste of money, but Tony has been sick for over a week now, and honestly the hotdogs and brats are $1.50 and come with a drink... So we can feed all seven of us for $10.50 (or $13.93 if they want pizza at $1.99 each). Or $10 if we just buy one pizza. Today I had a salad. I wasn't feeling the brats and dogs, and pizza is now firmly on my "no list" of foods I can't have. I found a tomato that is heart shaped. It has a crevasse running on both sides (kind of like a tomato butt crack). Of course #4 saw this and immediately asked that we plant it. Then #5 chimed in with asking to save seeds too. So this heart shaped salad tomato came home with us, and I hope to process it for the seeds inside and perhaps it will make cute little heart-shaped tomatoes. Or maybe we'll just get a bunch of salad tomatoes. Either way, it's a nice experiment. We won't be growing them this year unless we get lined up to move before it's too late to start seeds. If we're gardening here, there's no space left for more tomatoes.
For the last several weeks, #4 has found that some of the apples we've bought at Costco have germinated (starting to sprout) seeds inside. We planted one in a cup of soil under the grow light (with the dried up stick that didn't survive from the Christmas swap). After several days it didn't come up, so I thought maybe it had died. I watered the cup one more time and forgot about it for a week or two. Well, in three days it went from poking out of the soil to about 2-inches tall and starting to make first true leaves already! I hope I can keep it alive until it's warm enough outside to bring it out. Just think, in another 15 years or so, this cute little seedling might produce apples for us!
I checked in with the real estate lady this evening. I guess their agent called her and left a message, and she called back and left a message, but they weren't able to connect. The house is still listed as "for sale" and we're moving into day three since the offer. My confidence is faltering.
Add to this that tomorrow I'm supposed to have my pre-op doctor appointment for surgery on Monday... but if we buy a house we can't afford surgery... So I really needed to know right away about this so I could either cancel or go ahead with the surgery. Guess I get to look like a flake tomorrow and call to reschedule another month out (this will be our third postponement of the surgery). I'd like to just cancel it if we're getting a house so I'm not wasting everyone's time. On the other hand it took months of tests and thousands in medical bills for our insurance to agree to pay for part of this surgery, so if we cancel and then the house falls through, I don't know that we can get the insurance to cover it if we try to get back on the surgery schedule later. The truth of the matter is that I would rather live with uterine fibroids in a wonderful property that feels like home, than have surgery and have to stay here another year (or two or three or...) while we wait for another suitable property to come along in our meager price range.
I'm trying hard to remain positive. Whatever happens, we will have to accept it. It's the waiting and not knowing that's got me second guessing myself. This is why we wanted to put the offer in last week, so we'd have an answer before the appointment. But alas, sometimes things just don't line up. Sometimes it feels like we get in a rut of things not lining up for us, so I'm really hoping this works out. But in the end, it's not really our choice any more. I love the property, the kids love the property, it meets all of our criteria, and a lot of our "wish list" too, but now it's in the sellers' hands. All we can do is hope and pray and wait for a response.
The baby bunnies are now 15 days old, and again today the little solid colored one followed me around licking my fingers as I checked all the babies in the nest. What a sweetheart!
Elsa finally grew back most of her fur, but if she was bred back after her last litter before we moved her (which is quite likely considering she was still sharing a cage with Hodor at the time), she'd be due for babies this weekend. There are a few tufts of fur in her nest box today, but it's hard to tell if those are fresh pulled or if they're the remnants of the fur she pulled last month that I added to her box to try to keep her warm. I will check back in with her over the next few days to see if we will be having more Elsa-lings (what the kids call her babies). Fortunately with warmer weather upon us (even with a cold snap coming up) her babies should be fine this time around.
Today #3 told me that for the science fair she has been assigned the Petrified Forest in Arizona as her research project (yes, her school assigns them projects, they can't just pick randomly - this year everyone has to do National Parks). Anyway, I was excited about it, so I jumped on eBay and found a nice piece of petrified wood for sale that is complete with listing what part of the park it came from, what era it's from, and what species of tree it was. Very cool! And it was less than $10 with postage. Hopefully it will help her with her project to have a hands-on example for both herself and her audience (other students and parents) to be able to see and physically touch.
Of course then #4 wanted to know why I wasn't buying her anything for her project... She got the Badlands in South Dakota. I told her I'd been there and I had photos, so she could use unique photos for her project from when I last visited, including pictures of bison, antelope, and of course plenty of scenery. Things other students wouldn't be able to pull up on a Google search (though I'm far from the first person to take the same photos I'm sure). She seems OK with this. It feels good to be able to help them with their projects, even if it's just in little ways.
Tony went in at 8:00am today before work and signed the offer to make everything official. The real estate agent emailed him at 8:44am to let him know the offer had been submitted to the seller's agent. Just after 7pm she texted to let us know that the offer had been forwarded on to the sellers, but because there are three owners and they all work, they (our real estate agent and theirs) anticipate hearing back tomorrow.
Tomorrow the girls have an "early out" day, #2 is on his spring break, and Tony gets off early. We're planning dinner at my parents' house. It would be a joyous celebration if we get good news. Here's hoping!
I try to handle the baby bunnies a little every day. Some days when I have more time, I pick each one up and handle it one-on-one for a while. When I'm short on time I will put my hand in the nest box and make sure I love on each one. I check their weight, make sure they're not thin and they look to be in good health. Today I was a little surprised though. As I moved my hand through the nest box, checking each baby in turn, the little solid colored one kept following my hand and licking my fingers. What a sweetheart!
It's also becoming clear that one of our tricolors is red/black, and the other is fawn/blue. This is quite apparent when they're next to each other (see above).
Today #5 was sitting on my chair at the computer desk when he asked me, "You're going to make bread today, right?" I hadn't planned on it, but it doesn't take much work so I said "Sure, I could make bread today." He replied "Good. Make peanut butter bread." and off he went to play. Well, I've never heard of peanut butter bread before, but I suppose it's worth a try.
So I followed the manual recipe for white bread (used 1-1/2 cups of water) and added 1/2 cup of creamy peanut butter. It actually turned out really good!
The kids are a little torn. #1 loves it, and #3 liked it but wouldn't eat the crust. Tony seemed to like it, and #1 and I ate two slices each. This one will be a recipe we will likely repeat.
After not hearing anything from the real estate agent since Thursday, I emailed her this evening to see what's going on. We gave the green light to put in an offer last Wednesday, and as of Thursday she was still playing phone tag with the loan officer to pin down the loan details and timeline so she would write up the offer. Today I got a hold of her (via email) and she confirmed she still had not made contact with the loan officer, and that we need to come in to sign the offer and bring her the copy of the loan pre-approval that arrived in the mail today. I guess that would have been nice to know up front. Glad I reached out to her though because now we have an appointment tomorrow morning to go see her and sign the offer to officially actually give the offer to the sellers (something I thought had been done last week). She says we should anticipate a response by the end of the day, or within the next few days of making the offer.
In doing a little research online (I like to be prepared) it was suggested that when making an offer significantly below asking price, or making an offer that is "take it or leave it" (both such as our offer) that sometimes it can help to send a "letter to the seller" with the offer. So I wrote one up. Technically I had written one up several weeks ago, but then scrapped the idea. So I pulled up the document, reworded some, removed a few things, added some more stuff. What remains is a single page of heartfelt information on our family, why we love this property, and a few ideas we have for the property (gardening, photographing wildlife, setting up bird houses, feeders, and bat houses, and putting in a small orchard).
As of tomorrow morning when Tony signs the paperwork, all we have left to do is pray they accept the offer. It's been on the market for a long time, it does need repairs, but our best offer is still below market value, as well as below asking price. That said, with spring upon us, I'm worried there may be competing offers. Probably a silly fear since it's been on the market so long. In the meantime I will continue to pray hard, and work on packing our belongings into boxes.
To be honest, I really feel like crying. I can't say I've never wanted anything more; when you face a child in the hospital on the verge of death - buying a house fails in comparison. If you take the health and safety of my kids out of the equation, this is the single most important thing I've wanted in my life. It's heartbreaking that the reality of living the dream and being turned down comes down to financial ability and someone else's opinion of you when you've never met them before. I guess this is where people say "Let go and let God." I'm not overly religious, but in times of need, I do rely strongly on prayer and faith. I've done everything I can to tip the odds in my favor. I've written a letter to the seller, put my heart on my sleeve, we've worked hard to get our finances in order, and I'm trying to make the fundraiser work. Now I just need to sit back and wait for whatever happens to happen. Good or bad, I'm fully committed.
Tony wasn't feeling well today, #2 went off to Grandma's house, and #3 is at a friend's house, I can't eat eggs or cheese... So with just #1, #4, and #5 eating, we went through nearly a dozen and a half eggs today! Whoa! But by all accounts they were delicious. I added some havarti cheese and some bacon crumbles, then cooked them one serving at a time.
We didn't get a lot done today. No news on the house. Bunnies are doing well. It rained lightly for a while today, and I checked on the winter sown containers and added some water to a couple of them that didn't seem to have enough condensation. I'm hoping we see some growth soon!
No April Fool's jokes here. Today I made the best trade. As some may remember we lost two litters last month. They were both born during a bad cold spell and they were all frozen solid when I found them. Anyway, I washed them up and put them in the freezer. Yesterday I posted an ad on Craigslist offering to sell them for $1 each. I got an email this morning from someone who wanted to buy all of them. Great! A couple messages in he asked if I'd be willing to trade for some farm fresh eggs. Sounds good to me. I mean, the bunnies are a loss for me anyway, and they're just taking up space in my freezer... and farm fresh eggs are typically in the $4-$6 range at the farmer's market (or they were last year, but they were always sold out when we got there). He asked how many I wanted, and I told him I would be happy with whatever he thought was a fair trade for eight frozen baby bunnies. Honestly, I was hoping for one dozen, but I figured a half dozen would probably be closer to an equal value. One egg per bunny, right? I'm still grinning from ear to ear as I type this up...
He gave me FIVE dozen! As in 60 eggs! Whoa!! I really think that I'm getting the better half of this deal. So, I noticed he had business cards on each of the containers of eggs. So I'm going to do a big shout out to 5 Star Double R Ranch in Staples, Minnesota. See the card below.
Anyway, I haven't cooked any of the eggs yet, but I'm very excited about this. Next time we have some losses in the freezer I will be calling him up first to see if he wants them! And since the house we're looking at is less than 6 miles from this farm, I will definitely keep them in mind in the future for my egg buying until we get our own set up.
We bought some moving boxes today (still a little boggled at paying for boxes when so many businesses throw them away)... Next project I'm working on is our movie collection. I know we have quite a few we don't want anymore, so we will be paring down the collection. I'm almost done with the movies on the bookshelf now, and I've mostly filled one box with "keep" stuff and my stack of "for sale" is now just over 30. Not bad. My stack of empty cases is alarmingly big... I wonder where I will find all the missing discs! The kids are notoriously bad at putting them back in the cases, but I haven't seen any stacks of DVDs by the TV in a long time, so they must have found somewhere else to put them. I'm sure they will turn up while we clean and pack.
Still no word from the realtor.
Amanda's blog about everything, important and trivial.