Schmidt Homestead

Our new home in Woodburn, IL

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

New Chicken Tractor

Steven finished the chicken tractor last night and we moved the girls into it. It was getting dark, so they were acting kind of nutty (they don’t like to be outside when it’s dark) when we put them in it. It didn’t take long for them to discover the ladder, but they didn’t know to climb straight up. Hazel got on the ladder, went half way up and stopped. Gertrude wanted to go up, so she climbed underneath Hazel, almost knocking her off the ladder. As soon as Gertrude got past Hazel, she stopped. About that time, Hazel decided to go up, so she climbed underneath Gertrude! It was like a game of leapfrog, except that they went under instead of over. We were cracking up! Just a couple of minutes after they made it to the top, they settled onto their roost for the night. I went out to check on them about a half hour later, and it was too dark to see inside their house, but they weren’t making a sound. They were out pecking the ground when we got up this morning.

Monday, July 30, 2007

We had lots of company this weekend. Emily came out Friday afternoon and stayed till last night, our friend Karen came out on Saturday, and Steve’s friend Jared came with his girlfriend on Sunday. We ate well, and Karen and Emily experimented with some of our veggies. I’m acquiring a taste for beets!

We set up a temporary daytime pen for the chickens, and they love pecking at the ground and dustbathing in the dirt. We're beginning to think that both chickens are hens (after a consult with some folks online), so we're going to call the darker one Hazel. Steve got most of the chicken tractor finished – he just has to give them a ramp to get to the second floor and cover the outside in chicken wire.

We tried canning green beans. We used the pressure cooker and followed the instructions, but when the cans came out, some of the water was missing. We’re pretty sure it bubbled out of the jars and into the pressure cooker, but we can’t figure out how to keep it from happening. We had the lids screwed on ‘finger tight’ like the instructions said. The lids still popped like they were supposed to – even though the water only covers about 2/3 of the beans.

Monday, July 23, 2007


It was another big weekend for us! Jeff and Emily came out, and we picked 12 lbs of green beans, 7 lbs of blackberries, and a couple dozen each of squash, cucumbers & beets. We have about 10 watermelons and dozens of cantaloupes growing, and the many green tomatoes are finally starting to turn red. Emily attempted to make blackberry jam last week. I say ‘attempted’ because when we opened a jar, we could barely shove a knife into the ‘fruit roll up like’ congealment. It tasted ok, but was MUCH too stiff. The sweet pickles, on the other hand, are excellent – taste just like the ones from the store. I ate about a half a jar (quart size) by myself.

The big excitement of the weekend came from our next door neighbor, Bob. We ran some errands Saturday morning, and as we were about to pull out of our parking space to head home, Bob pulled up beside us. Steve rolled down his window and said hello. Bob told us that he just left another dozen eggs at our house for us. Then he said “I have two chickens in a cage at my place. I’ll bring them over to you.” WHAT??? As we drove away, I said to Steve “I think he may have been serious.” Steve said “I’m pretty sure he was!” Sure enough, he showed up Sunday morning with two young chickens in a cage! We have chickens!!!

The dogs were initially very excited to have birds so close, but the excitement quickly turned into curiosity. In a very short time, Stacy was sitting beside the cage just watching them. She lay down with them, and every so often she opened one eye to ‘check on’ them. We’re pretty sure she’s looking after them, since her demeanor is not one of curiosity, but more of making sure they’re okay – similar to how she behaved with her pups. Zeus keeps sniffing the cage and pointing at them. He tries to stick his tongue thru the bars to steal the pieces of bread that we gave them. Bob thinks that the lighter one (Gertrude) is a hen, and the darker one (Rusty) is a rooster. We won’t know for sure until they get a little bigger. Emily and I sat for quite a while yesterday watching them and seeing what they would eat. They really like grass, clover, bread and birdseed, and they like to splash around in their water bowl. They constantly make the ‘peeping’ sound that is associated with baby chicks, and every once in a while they let out a full CLUCK!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Emily came out this weekend, and we went back into the blackberries. This time I noticed another huge area of berries, so she and I climbed through the thick brush to get to them. We picked berries until we were dripping with sweat, and we had to go home for a drink. The dogs love blackberries, and they ate any low-hanging berries that they could find – which was a LOT. We barely made a dent in what was there, and we still left with over FIVE POUNDS of berries!!!

In the garden, we picked everything that we could. We have 6+ lbs of green beans and lots of cukes and squash. We took a bag of green beans over to our neighbor, Bob, and traded him for a dozen eggs from his chickens. Later, Bob showed up at our house with his van full (and full is not an exaggeration) of bread from the discount Wonder Bread store. Apparently his horses love bread, so he gets van-loads – LITERALLY – for them. He pawned off as much as he could on Steve, so our freezer is full of hamburger & hot dog buns, Texas Toast & sandwich bread.

We had our first attempt at making pickles yesterday. Emily has canned before, so she gave us some pointers. The recipe said to let them sit at least 24 hours before eating them, but I’m sure the longer they sit, the better they’ll be. We’ll probably try some in the next few days or next weekend.

I picked my one little red tomato, but I haven’t eaten it yet. We’re getting more and more green tomatoes, and it looks like a couple of our bigger green ones will be turning red soon.

Monday, July 9, 2007

We had a very fun weekend. Friday night I was picking blackberries on our fence line when Steve got home from work. He came over to see what I was doing, and when he looked over the fence, he noticed that there were MANY, MANY more blackberries in the field behind the house. We decided to go check it out. He took down a section of fence and we climbed through brush, weeds, goldenrod & blackberries taller than our heads. We were both in shorts, and I was in flip-flops, so we had a difficult time moving without being pricked by the blackberry thorns. When we finally decided to give it up for the evening, we both had blood running down our legs. We picked many more blackberries than we had ever picked on our side of the fence, but there were lots more that we didn’t get to.

We got cleaned up then tried a new pizza place for dinner. After dinner we went to a little movie theater called the Big Red Barn – because it’s in a big red barn! It has new owners (they just opened up last week!), and they’re a couple about our age who live in the barn loft. The movie (Ratatouille) was only $5 per person. We were the only patrons until another couple showed up just before the start time and watched it with us. We enjoyed meeting and talking with the owners, so we’ll definitely go back soon.

Saturday morning we suited up in jeans and boots and headed back into the blackberries. It was much easier to move without the thorns grabbing our legs, and we made it farther into the berries. We stayed for probably an hour, and ended up with a gallon ice cream bucket almost full. It weighed over THREE POUNDS!!! We found a recipe for blackberry ice cream, but I don’t know what we’ll do with the rest of them – maybe try a cobbler. There’s probably four times as many berries still out there, but not ripe yet.

The squash & cucumbers have gone crazy. We’ve picked several more yellow/orange cucumbers. The guys on seem to think that the yellow color is due to over-ripening, rather than cross pollination. I don’t know the real reason, but they don’t taste like much. The small green & white ones taste much better.

We picked up some seasoning to make some pickles, and we got some mason jars and lids. We’ll try to do some pickles this week and see how they turn out.

We’re becoming overwhelmed with green beans. We only have one patch (out of three) that’s really producing so far, and we picked almost three pounds this weekend. When the other two patches catch up, we’ll be swamped. We need to work on some canned green beans for this winter.

We finally put up a trellis for the loofa & birdhouse gourds. It looks pretty ‘white trash’ if you ask me. I hope the vines cover it quickly, as I don’t know how long I can deal with people seeing this on the front of my house! We have a number of little birdhouse gourds growing, but I haven’t seen any loofah yet.

I dug the watermelon out of the weeds this weekend and found that we have several of them growing. The largest one is the size of a baseball.

The cantaloupe vines are spreading and blooming, but I have not yet seen a cantaloupe growing.

Steven finally hooked up our stove to a 100 lb propane tank that he put in the yard. Until now, we’ve used a camping stove on top of the trailer stove with a 20 lb propane tank on the kitchen floor. It was awesome to have a normal stove, and even better to finally have an oven. We made cinnamon rolls Sunday morning, and for the first time, we didn’t have to use the camping oven! I recently read a zucchini bread recipe recently that said you could substitute squash for zucchini. Last night I made ‘squash bread’ and it turned out really good. It’s a similar texture to banana bread, but the flavor is different. I’ve already eaten about half of the loaf, so I may make another one tonight.

We’re going to need some help eating all this food. The fridges are filling up quickly!

Friday, July 6, 2007

We recently had an infestation of Japanese beetles. They completely mutilated three trees in our back yard, which we’re pretty sure are cherry, and they tore up the peach tree pretty bad. We only got one peach this year, but that was due to the late frost, not the beetles. When the beetles moved into the garden, we decided we needed to do something. Steve sprayed everything (including the cherry and peach trees) with Sevin on Wednesday. Hopefully that will keep the beetles away. They had started munching the green bean leaves and some of the corn stalks. We may have to re-treat with Sevin every week or two until we get control of the bugs.

Monday, July 2, 2007

We have peas! I picked two pea pods at lunch and opened them to see if they were ready. They peas are a good size. I ate some, and they’re sweet and very good. It’s going to take MANY pods to make much, but they should be good.

We had a bad valve on the toilet in our bathroom, so Steve worked on getting it fixed. The carpet behind the toilet (yes, we have carpet in our bathroom, and I hate it) had gotten wet and smelled awful, so Steve removed it. He discovered that the floor was made of particle board, and it had sunk more than an inch making the toilet sit at an angle and rock slightly. A simple valve replacement project turned into removing the toilet and replacing the floor. Steve eventually got the project finished, and now we have a working toilet in our bathroom! Now we just have to rip out the rest of the carpet in our bathroom and put down linoleum – but that’s not at the top of our to-do list right now.

Steve has been wanting a canopy for his tractor, so he went by a golf place the other day and asked if they had an old golf cart canopy that he could buy. The guy had one that had recently driven into a garage door that wasn’t totally open, so it had broken the canopy off its braces. They gave it to Steve for $10. It’ll take some patching and some paint, but after ‘Custom Steve’ finishes with it, it’ll be great.

We picked our first squash and beets Saturday and the first green beans yesterday. The blackberries are getting black faster than the birds can eat them, so we got a few this weekend. The gourds and pumpkins are starting to grow. We’ve had several cucumbers, but none of them were very green. Their taste is not as strong as I expected – a little plain. We think that maybe we’re picking them too early, so we’re going to try leaving them out there longer.

We were out in the yard yesterday afternoon, and the horses and sheep next door (at Bob’s place) began to go crazy. The horses were neighing and whinnying and the sheep were bleating. I decided to go over and see what all of the ruckus was about. Bob and his wife had a friend over, and they were bringing the horses out front, one at a time, to show him. The animals that were left in the barns were all excited about the commotion. I went into their barn for the first time and got to see their animals. They have a dozen or so horses, a colt, sheep, a 3-legged lamb, chickens, dogs, and a whole bunch of cats. They had some kittens running around, so we may take one or two to keep in our barn to control mice and moles. Bob asked about our garden. He said “for city folk, you sure do have a green thumb!” I stayed over there almost an hour, and Steve eventually showed up to see why I hadn’t come home. As we were leaving, Bob’s wife walked into one of the barn stalls and says “Here are some eggs!” There were two brown eggs laid in the hay! She gave them to us, and said “have these for dinner,” so we did! We made waffles with bacon and Bob’s eggs. It was a breakfast of champions for supper!