Eat What You Grow: Tips on Planning a Garden to Feed Your Family

Day 316 of 365

One of the first lessons I learned as a beginning homesteader was that eating what you grow can be more difficult than it seems on the surface. When you are working full time, raising a family, and caring for animals, your days are pretty full, usually too full. Adding harvest to those duties can be a challenge, especially when you are used to eating from a grocery store. I was not at all used to eating from a garden, so there was a learning curve.

We knew we wanted to change the way our family ate, and we knew we didn’t want to waste. We had a pretty good plan for using all of the food, but I didn’t realize how time consuming harvest could be. In the first year or two, some good food went by us. Thankfully, it mostly went to the chickens, but it was hard to waste some of it. Growing your own food will teach you so much about waste. Wasting food feels like a sin once you see the work and water resources that go into growing it.

If you are planning to step up your homesteading game this year and grow more of your own food, I thought I might share some tips about planning at the beginning, using what you harvest, and making the most of what you grow.


1. In your planning, think about what you can grow that you will use for sure. We started with things like green beans, potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes because we were already a lot of these things and buying fresh or frozen from the store. These were staples we knew we could use. So, when you plan, think about what you and your family will really eat. I have some other tips about tricking picky children into eating from the garden if it’s not their preference, but that’s another post.

2. After you decide on what foods you will grow, write these foods down in a notebook. List each food, and make a list of meals or snacks that you can make that will use these foods. In the planning stages, start looking for recipes. Add your favorites to your notebook right now.

3. If you want to grow enough of each food to “put up” to eat the rest of the year, make a plan on how you will put up those foods. We can a little and freeze a lot but hope to can more this coming year now that we finally have a pressure canner. If you plan to can, make sure you have some jars purchased well in advance. I have seen them be pretty much sold out in the stores during harvest season, even before the pandemic. You can also put up food by dehydrating, It’s something we are looking into, and you can do some pretty cool things. If you want to do that, make sure you have all of your supplies in advance. Since we have never dehydrated food, I don’t know if those supplies sell out too, but I promise harvest season is intense enough without worrying about getting supplies. It’s good to be prepared if you are planning to put up food.

4. During the height of harvest, take some days off from work if you can. I have found that it’s easier to spend a couple of full days blanching and freezing carrots or making tomato sauce rather than trying to get all of the materials and tools out and doing it over and over and over again at the end of a day at work. It’s so much better if you make one or two messes instead of six or seven.

5. Finally, just remember it is all a process. You have to be patient with yourself. In the first couple of years, we weren’t prepared for how prolific green beans were. They are quite prolific!

Oh, one more tip! Plant something just for fun that you think you or your family might eat. I wouldn’t plan a lot of different things you aren’t sure about, but it’s good to do something fun and see what you think. It’s a great way to get your kids involved too, who can be great helpers during harvest. Even our grumpy teenager chips in during harvest, and it turns out he likes Kohlrabi.

Hopefully, these tips will be helpful if you are just getting started gardening or putting up food. We now grow at least 60% of our own food, and we are planning to do a little more this coming year. It’s all a process of learning and growing and meeting goals (whatever your goals are) on your own time.

And I hope all of this practical advice doesn’t take the romanticism out of eating what you grow. It’s a magnificent thing to do. The food is so good. The food you eat from your garden tastes worlds better than anything at the grocery store, and as you develop your skills, you will save hundreds to thousands of dollars on your grocery bill.

*I thought it may help to see a list of our usual harvest and how we adjust our eating habits to use what is in the garden. I am leaving things out for sure, but I hope it gives you a general idea of how we make use of the garden harvest.



In May, we start eating salads every single night. They are either sides or the meals. These early salads just have greens, radishes, and cheese, but we eat them every night in May and June. Ron will replant greens in mid summer, and then we will have salads and wrap with the greens and fall vegetables. We also use the rhubarb to make muffins, jams, and pies.


Sugar Pod Peas

In June, we add beets, peas, and Kohlrabi to the salads. I also make stir fries a lot during this time, as well as vegetable lo mien. We eat the sugar pod peas and Kohlrabi as snacks, as well as the strawberries. Oh, how I love the strawberries. We freeze broccoli and cauliflower and some of the strawberries. I also make strawberry jam. I have always made low-sugar recipes, but I am hoping to learn how to use honey this year.


Green Beans

In July, I do a lot of different stir fries. There are some fantastic recipes with beets that I really love. I had no idea how much I loved beets until I had them not pickled. I like pickled beets, but I love them just being their beet-selves. We also start eating potatoes again, which I love. We usually seem to run out of potatoes in May or so, so we go a few months without potatoes. The raspberries are our snacks, and I always make at least one raspberry-peach pie. It’s hard to find good peaches, but I try to every year. The raspberry-peach pie is a special celebration around here.

We also freeze most of the green beans, though we do eat some fresh. I am hoping to can green beans this year. The green beans will feed us all year. We store the potatoes in a large black back in our basement cold room. It’s not as good as a root cellar, but it does fairly well. Just keep the dirt on them, and they will last many months. I also always make raspberry jam.


Bell Peppers
Jalapeño Peppers
Green Beans
Oxheart Carrots (I adore these carrots)

This is the month that really feels like harvest, and it gets a little wild around here. This is the month we put up most of the food we will eat throughout the long winter. With that much freezing and canning and prepping going on, dinner is a little wild. I will make a lot of wraps (I make homemade tortillas with whole grain flour), and we eat those all the time. But we’ll have green beans on the side. Sometimes, we have peppers on the side of that. Sometimes, for dinner, I’m like, “Here is a plate of corn on the cob with tomatoes on the side, and, here, have another tomato. You like tomatoes, right?”

In terms of putting up, we freeze blueberries (a lot of them) and make jam. We make the spaghetti sauce I shared before out of the tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers, and herbs from the garden. We freeze green beans, corn, and carrots and will not buy any of these foods for the rest of the year. The same goes with potatoes and onions.


Bell Peppers
Jalapeño Peppers
Yellowstone Carrots
Scarlet Nantes Carrots

In this last month of harvest, we enjoy the last of the fresh corn and tomatoes, and the pears are especially treasured. I make pear crisp but eat them fresh, of course. We bake the squash and will eat fresh carrots as snacks into October.

We continue to use the tomatoes, peppers, and onions to make sauce. We are hoping to can whole or diced tomatoes this year as well for winter soups. We freeze the carrots and the last of the corn.

An Introduction to Seed Saving

Day 131 of 365

I love seeds. They are this perfect little combination of science and magic, and, of course, they are essential to our lives here on our little farmstead. They can also be expensive. One of the things I have learned to do as a part of our efforts to live self sufficiently is save seeds. There are some seeds I have not yet learned how to save. I have not managed to through the processes of saving tiny carrot seeds or spinach seeds, but some seeds are just so big and easy to save. It just makes good sense to save them. Saving seeds saves money and makes it so we are just a little more self sufficient.

In some states, saving some seeds is actually illegal, which is hard for me to fathom. Thankfully, in most states, it is still fine to save seeds. If you have never saved seeds, I highly recommend starting with the easy ones. So far, I stick to the easy ones and have had good success. I regularly save our green beans, dry beans, corn, tomatoes, and pumpkins.

When you save seeds, you do have to make sure you are not working with hybrid seeds. When you plant hybrid seeds, you can’t be sure what will grow. You really want to work with heirloom seeds. Heirloom seeds are time tested seeds that have been passed down for generations and are non GMO. I also like heirloom seeds because they have been time tested to be good seeds. We have had good fortune with heirloom seeds producing tasty, sturdy food.

Since fall is the time of year to save seeds, I thought I would share the tips I have learned over the years. I hope these tips will be helpful to you. And, if you are a more experienced seed saver and have saved other kinds of seeds, I would love to hear from you in the comments.

photo credit: Engin Akyurt, Unsplash

Green Beans 
To save green bean seeds for next year, just leave several beans on each of your plants to grow big at the end of the season—the more plants, the better the genetic diversity. When the beans are big and lumpy and start to yellow, they are easiest to save. Just shell them and put them in a cool dry place to dry. 

Dry Beans  
Dry beans are the easiest because you are going to get them into shape for saving and storing anyway. After you harvest your beans, make sure you have a cool, dry place for your beans to dry out. Also, make sure you give them enough space. Mold is the enemy here. Once the pods start to feel a little bit dry, you can shell the beans and then spread them out to continue drying. Don’t put them away until the beans are completely dried. As an alternative, instead of picking the beans and then drying, you can also just hang your plants to dry and go from there. 

Squash and Pumpkins 
When you cut open your squash and pumpkins in the fall, simply remove some of the seeds for saving. Wash them to remove strings and such and then let them dry on a towel for about a week. Once they are good and dry, they can be stored in a cool, dry place, just like other seeds. Just be aware, if you have planted multiple types of squash near each other, you may not get pure seeds. Squash seeds, if stored well, can last for several years. 

To save seeds from your favorite tomatoes, all you have to do is choose some tomatoes that are big and strong and squish them up. If you are looking for saving tomato seeds that will be good for several years, you should use the fermentation method. Add water and the squished tomatoes to a glass jar. The water helps the seeds separate from the tomato. Then, place the jar in a warm spot for a few days. You should see a layer of moldy stuff start to form on the top of the mixture. Once you see the mold at the top and seeds at the bottom, you can remove the icky mold and run your mixture through a strainer to keep your seeds. Be sure to clean your seeds well and let them dry on a towel for several days. Then, just store your seeds in a cool dry place like your other seeds.

If you are planning to use your tomato seeds the next year, all you have to is wipe the seeds from your favorite tomatoes onto paper towels. Let them dry for a couple of weeks. Then, you can just fold up the paper towel and store the seeds in the towel in a cool dry place.

Corn is also easy to save. You just have make sure you have heirloom corn seeds. So many corn seeds are hybrids. There is also the issue that hybrid corn is often sweeter and tastier, but heirloom corn seeds still make delicious corn. Plus, you get the benefit of being able to seed save. Just save several ears of corn from your harvest and hang the ears in a cool, dry place to dry. Once they are dried, you can just wiggle the seeds loose and save your seeds for next year. The one issue I had when I first started saving corn seeds is that I didn’t save my seeds from enough different plants, so I wasn’t getting good genetic diversity. Still, even my beginner attempt provided us with corn seeds for three years before we decided to start fresh with new seeds. But it’s best if you can save seeds from at least ten different ears of corn. I had been using three or four.

*A portion of this essay was originally published in Volume I of the Farmer-ish print annual.

Morning Chores, September 7

Day 120 of 365

This morning, I took pictures while Ron and I were out doing our morning chores. I enjoy morning chores most of the time, but I still get busy and forget to admire the beauty around here. These pictures remind me of how lovely it is and how fortunate I am. I hope you enjoy these pictures too.

This us butternut squash from the squash garden. Ron built a prettier fence for the squash garden this summer, and it sure made for the most beautiful picture this morning.
This is the back side of our chicken coop. It needs to be repainted. I have been saying this for two years.
Our sweet ducks!
I just loved this spider web.
Every morning, Ron has to feed all of the baby chickens because I can’t do it. The big chickens run all over me and just go eat the baby food. They mind Ron though. He just has a presence, I guess.
Or the chickens know me far too well.
This is a Gardener’s Sweetheart tomato plant. These tiny tomatoes are the best things ever on homemade pizza.
The one and only Lucy! She’s 8 years old and still going strong. I have a hypothesis about this: She was broody every summer for years. She raised three rounds of babies but was broody two more years after that off and on. I think all her breaks from laying have extended her life. For years, I read farmers say this was a myth, but I am starting to see some research and more farmers (interestingly, mostly female farmers) assert this. If this is indeed the case, my Marshmallow should live forever. She’s broody again! I’ll bet that hen lays about ten eggs per year.
This is our youngest little rooster from this year’s season of babies. There’s something about him I really like. He’s beautiful and a stinker, but there’s something about him.
One of my muppets! Isn’t she adorable?
And, last but not least, the beautiful Piatigorsky. She’s still so sweet I almost can’t believe it.


Day 90 of 365

Tonight, for dinner, we had our usual plate of summer vegetables. While I made quesadillas, Ron was putting together this beautiful platter of vegetables with greens and oranges and purples. When he was finished, the plate looked like a vegetable work of art. In early August, we eat fresh vegetables almost every day, and right now, it’s beets, carrots, kohlrabi, and cucumbers. The cucumbers are magnificent this year!

I am amazed at what all Ron has been able to do in the garden despite the heat and drought. The beets are still delicious despite the heat. Every now and then, one is bitter, but the beet we had for dinner tonight was perfect. And the tomatoes are almost ready. We have had a few sun golds, and they are heaven. I feel super fortunate that the tomatoes are coming so well–and they are coming SO well. I read in the local newspaper that, due to drought, a bunch of the tomatoes across the state have blossom rot. It happens when the plants do not get enough water during the blossom stage.

None of Ron’s tomatoes have blossom rot. In fact, like 1/4 of the garden looks like a beautiful tomato jungle. I am pretty sure there must be 1000 tomatoes out there. He grew 6 or 7 varieties, some heirloom.

On top of this, Ron grew extra seedlings that he didn’t have room for in the garden, so everywhere you look in our property, there’s a random tomato plant. I think there are at least 10 giant plants scattered throughout the property–by the drive way, by the front door, in the flower bed, in the corners of the broccoli and cauliflower garden. It’s fantastic. He can’t let a plant die. It seems wrong to him, as it does to me. I hate when it’s time to thin plants.

But nothing is better than the corn. Fresh, organic corn on the cob is maybe my favorite treat from the garden–and it’s almost time. I was outside with the chickens yesterday and looked up at the garden from far away and just suddenly noticed this epic corn. I am so hopeful.

We lost our blueberries to the birds, though it was a bad year for them anyway. Our raspberries didn’t do super well. Ron planted another round of greens, and only about half of the plants didn’t cook in the sun. It’s been a tough year, but the corn seems to be coming perfectly.

I can’t wait!


I also have to do a quick Ruby update. She’s still living in the garage. I have no idea where she’s laying her eggs now because Juliet, who had gotten VERY bossy, kicked poor Ruby out of her favorite crate for egg laying. There’s another empty crate. Does she use that? No, of course not. That would be too easy.

But Ruby has done the cutest and most interesting thing. She has become an aunt to the babies ditched by Juliet and Kate. They hang out with her and follow her around a bit. The other day, I saw them all dirt bathing in the flower bed. Ron has given up on keeping Ruby out of the flower bed at this point. Now, she’s teaching the youngsters. Somehow, she’s just so quirky and interesting that she can get away with hit. It’s like you just have to let her be who she wants to be.

The Green Beans Are Ready

Day 78 of 365

Sometimes, on our little farm, we get overwhelmed. Today, we are overwhelmed with green beans. “Good problems to have,” we always say. Still, as I am trying to work on the annual, care for chickens, make dinners, parent, and grade papers and Ron is trying to care keep the garden alive morning, noon, and night while also parenting and cooking, it’s difficult to find time to process green beans.

Still, good problems to have.

I love green beans. Green beans are the first thing I ever grew in the garden, and I fell in love with them. They are magical. They are generous. So generous. I mean, you plant one tiny bean, Ron adds water and chicken poop compost and works his magic, and just like that one tiny bean seed turns into 20 or 30 or 40 green beans. How generous is this?

Ron is processing the green beans right now. He just had me come look at the beans drying on the table and the side tables. I think there is enough for our family for the whole winter from this one harvest. And the green beans, generous as they are, will produce at least two or three more harvests of this size. I hope our farm share customers like green beans! I am sure they do. I mean, they are green beans.

They are magical and generous.

I wrote a poem about green beans. It is the first and only poem I have ever written. Maybe, one of these years, I will share it. Maybe. But I feel the fact that the first and only poem I have ever written is about green beans speaks volumes about the respect I have for this fantastic plant.


Also, I have a quick Ruby update. Ruby has turned into the most difficult chicken I have ever seen, and I feel like there’s nothing we can do. When I put her in the coop, people pick on her. So I have to let her run around. Still, she has more and more and more just decided that she’s doing whatever she wants. This includes digging up the flower bed and using it for her dust bath and getting into the mama hens’ crates and trying to sleep there instead of roosting somewhere in the garage. Tonight, I had to drag her out of Juliet’s crate–TWICE! And each time, she screams at me like I have wronged her in a way that is beyond all wrongs. Oh, and when I come outside to check on people, she meets me at the door and demands treats about half the time–and by demand, I mean she screams at me.

I actually have a chicken who is a brat. I have no idea what we’re going to do about her, but she’s so cute and quirky that you just have to give in to her. Today, I was at the kitchen window, and I overheard this conversation:

Ron: Ruby, get out of there! This flower bed is not for you to destroy!

Ruby: loudly complains and argues with Ron

Ron: What are we going to do with you, little chicken?


Day 74 of 365

I have to follow my rule of writing every day, but to those of you who have come to know me through this blog, I need to ask a favor. I have to keep these posts short the next three days because I have to complete the next Farmer-ish print annual by Monday. If I start going on and on about something and you happen to read it, please leave a comment and tell me to get to work on that print annual.

So I will be very brief tonight and then get to work on the print annual at least a little bit more tonight. It’s pretty close and so pretty. I can’t even begin to tell you how good the pieces are. I wish I could write as well as so many people in this book!

Today, I took a picture of my tiny neighbors’ babies, and it shows more than balls of fluff! I took the picture, burned my feet on our wicked hot deck in the process, and then showed Ron my picture.

“Who’s the best wildlife photographer in the world now?” I asked him.

I definitely got some side eye.

But he also had to smile. He loves me extra today. He is overwhelmed with work outside and asked me if I would be able to put up some broccoli and cauliflower in an emergency. It was going bad in the heat. I had to make three batches of raspberry jam from the berries we got yesterday, so I had a bit on my plate too; still, I agreed, but then the broccoli and cauliflower kept coming and coming. This picture was early on in the game.

He kept thanking me and thanking me. It’s hard to keep the garden alive in this heat, and it’s a full-time job for him right now. I am thankful for him right back.

On Being Rich

Day 50 of 365

Today feels like a milestone. I have been writing in this blog every single day for 50 days. Most days, I do not have time to write nearly as much as I would like. I have stories about sneaky chickens, special wild birds, and howling chipmunks, but I realize that summer is a tough time to be writing in a blog. There are baby chickens everywhere, and I somehow had two additional classes I wasn’t anticipating teaching land in my lap a few weeks ago. But, despite these obstacles, I have written something every day, and that counts, right?

Today was farm share day again. It’s normally on Thursdays, but the strawberries were so ripe that we decided we had better do an early farm share day this week. Plus, the sugar pod peas were ready, and we learned a long time ago that, when it’s hot, you have to move quickly on the sugar pod peas.

Today’s farm share included fresh strawberries and strawberry jam. Aren’t they beautiful?

I am marveling at our strawberries. It’s their second year of berries, and I can’t believe how generous these plants are being. It’s the chicken poop compost. Ron read years ago that it is the best fertilizer. I absolutely believe it.

I keep talking about how “rich” we are. We’re so rich we eat fresh strawberries for breakfast. We’re so rich, I made strawberry jam and still had berries left in the blow. We’re so rich, I have made smoothies with fresh strawberries with dinner three nights in a row!

I find it interesting that I measure wealth in strawberries. I also measure wealth in eggs. In December, I am poor, but by late February, I am so rich again! Right now, I am extra rich because we have strawberries AND eggs.

And the raspberries are coming, and the Oxheart carrots are getting bigger, and I am pretty sure the corn will surely be knee-high by the Fourth of July. I am feeling extra grateful of late. Things seem extra good. Even Kate’s baby is starting to thrive.

I am superstitious, so I am knocking on wood as I write these words.

His Garden Grows in Perfect Rows

Day 28 of 365

His garden is so perfect that people think he must use a rototiller. He does not. Everything is done by hand. He disturbs the soil just enough to get the chicken compost from our chickens into the rows where he is planting. And he wastes no space. He’s a master of space usage. I’ve never seen anything like it. I honestly never understood what a fantastic skill it is to have–space usage. I mean, he can load the dishwasher like a magician, but that just annoys me. I feel my way is fine.

But in the garden–in that garden–I have full appreciation for his skill and his perfectionism. I used to help plant more. I still do sometimes, but it’s only after he’s used the string to mark the places for me to plant. One time, I just made my own row, and when the carrots came up with a bit of an s-shape to them, I think it broke his heart a little.

He’s frugal to a fault, if there is such a thing in the garden. He uses every nook and cranny of the garden. He wastes no water. It’s too precious. He waters by hand and aims for deep watering with as little water as possible. Any extra water from the house is saved for the garden. He also plants seeds without the plan to thin them later, so as to not waste the seeds. This seems bold to me, but he just knows the seeds will come up. He talks to them to make sure.

He also plays music for them, classical music. Every day, in the garden, he listens to Bach and Vivaldi and Mozart. So do the plants. I don’t know if it’s the chicken compost, the classical music, or Ron’s magic touch, but every year, whether there is drought or so much rain some of the food starts to rot in the ground, this garden feeds our family.

And this year, we have our first farm shares. It took him years to have the confidence to do it, but I can see that he’s proud to share his work with others. This makes my heart happy. Not only do other families get to share in this delicious, beautiful, organic food, but I can see there is a pride growing in a man beaten down by life early and often.

It’s a kind of miracle to me that this garden, this work of art of a vegetable garden that feeds our family year round, heals. But it does.

And isn’t it lovely?


I have to quickly add a Ruby and Kate update. Ruby has become a fierce mama–like a little too fierce, perhaps–but her babies are very well cared for. Kate is now sitting on an egg that may have to be a miracle egg. I have put three other eggs from our flock under her as of yesterday, which means she may have to have wait another 20 days before she finally gets to be mama. It’s all kind of heartbreaking, but I will feed her well and help her get through this. I believe she deserves to be mama after all that drama. Plus, she looks healthy despite having been broody for over two weeks now. Of course, there is still the miracle egg. I won’t write about it until I check it again in a few days. It’s a long story. Hopefully, it’s a good story. We’ll know soon.

Gardening with Chickens–and Rocks

Day 8 of 365

Because I long for a barn, every now and then, I look at real estate online. I would love to find a place with a barn. Any barn will do, big or small, red or brown. But when I look at real estate prices here in Maine, I find myself feeling thankful for the little plot of land we “own” (really just borrowing from the Maine woods). We have a large, sturdy chicken coop, a duck house, magnificent trees, and a giant deck in our back yard complete with an Eastern Phoebe nest this year. We also have a large organic garden space, and that garden space has come at a price for my husband, making it so we feel really tied to this little patch of earth. 

There was a small garden area when we moved in, full of rocks and deplete of nutrients. Apparently, the owners before us were not organic gardeners, so Ron had much work to do with the soil. Over the years, thanks to the composted chicken poop and straw and fall leaves and cover crops, the soil in our organic garden has become quite magnificent. Ron does not use a rototiller and turns over the soil by hand and shovel. But, also over the years, he has expanded our garden space, also by hand. During this time, I am convinced he has moved a quarry’s worth of rock from the garden. 

It never ends. Each year, he picks up rocks, digs up rocks, and moves boulders with nothing but logs and levers. Sometimes, I help. Sometimes, our son helps. Mostly, this epic undertaking falls to my husband, and I worry about so many years of toil. We joke that he did something in another life to deserve a life of rock moving in this one–Sisyphus, only moving rocks in wheelbarrow instead of rolling one up a hill.

I worried extra this weekend when he was expanding our garden yet again. This time, he was turning over grass in the chicken yard to add more space for a third kind of potatoes. It was hot. To have temps at about 90 degrees in May in Maine is not usual, and in the middle of that heat wave, that poor man hit a large rock “every time my shovel dug in,” he said. 

I was working to plant flowers on the other side of our property, but I would go visit him from time to time, telling stories of my adventures and bringing him water and lemonade. On my visits, I would marvel at both the size and amount of rocks he was moving to make space for more potatoes. 

But he had company. Every time I came to visit, I noticed the same three or four hens were “helping dad.” They know the drill. Under grass and within the rocks lie grubs, and it’s a win-win for everyone. The chickens eat the grubs, and that means fewer beetles in our garden, eating up our harvest. Chickens, while they cannot be trusted with small, delicious plants (one year, our Poe flew over the garden gate and ate a whole row of broccoli plants), chickens play an important role in our gardening cycles. 

Before planting in the spring, chickens do a great job of getting everything ready. We let them in the garden to eat grubs and scratch around in the soil. The chickens are also fantastic gleaners in the fall. They eat the leftover tomatoes and cabbages and will eat bugs then too. In the middle of garden season, sometimes, Ron has let a few hens into the garden for some interim pest control, and that works fairly well. However, you do have to keep an eye on them. In a garden of goodies, chickens are easily distracted from potato bugs. 

We reward our chickens with treats from the garden throughout the spring, summer, and fall, and it’s all just a part of this fantastic symbiotic relationship we have with our chickens. Our chickens give us delicious eggs, and I am so thankful for them. But they do more. The provide pest control, provide us with fertilizer for our garden, and on long days when you are digging through the rocky Maine soil to make room for potatoes, they provide you with some good company. 


And, of course, I have to add a quick Ruby update: She’s doing well. No break today, but she did have some leftover scrambled eggs. Tomorrow, I candle eggs, so stay tuned! 

It’s Weirdly Hot for May in Maine

Day 3 of 365

Ruby is off her nest of eggs right now, and she has just 12 minutes before it makes an hour. I’ve read broody hens can be off their eggs for longer, but an hour is a safe window of time for a break. So, in the middle of writing this, I will have to go check on Ruby. She didn’t take a break at all yesterday, so I know she needs one. Still, I’m hoping she will get back to work soon.

It’s been really hot this week, very hot for May in Maine. Ron has been planting everything early but has been most worried about getting the broccoli and cauliflower going because it will bake in the heat and not produce. It needs our usual cooler temperatures. He did well, he got the plants into the ground, but getting hot this early is a concern. Hopefully, the plants will survive this heat wave.

The heat is hard on our animals too. We have several very old chickens. One is a meat bird, Mary Jane. If she makes it to the first of June, she will be five years old! This is something of a miracle, but she’s very large and very old, and I worry very much about losing her to the heat. Thankfully, our birds have a lot of shade from the many trees on our property, and I take great pains to make sure everyone has access to fresh water and cool treats throughout the summer. Still, a couple of years ago, we lost an older hen to the heat. I try to keep a watchful eye.

Yesterday, my son and I went for a walk on our road, and when we got home, I noticed the chickens looked so hot and dry. Earlier than usual, I went to the shed and got their extra waterer. I gave it a good scrub and put it out for everyone near the dust bath hang out. It was a hit. As soon as I sat it down, several chickens circled the waterer. They still had access to their main waterer, of course, but new is better. They always think this. When I am feeding scraps, I have some hens who will constantly move on to what I am dropping last, even if they are giving up a very good position with very good scraps I dropped earlier. Apparently, these hens do not understand the old saying, “a bird in the hand.” In so many ways, humans are the same.

While I was scrubbing the waterer, I noticed the ducks, who have their own area separate from our chickens. That’s another story in and of itself. We tried to keep our chickens and ducks together, as some farmers do, but it was a hard “no” for us. This meant Ron had to build an entirely new duck area complete with duck house and 1/2 acre fenced area. He’s kind of a miracle, though he doesn’t think so. Anyway, the ducks were watching me closely with the water hose, and one duck in particular, a duck we rehabilitated after she was over-mated at another farm, was making eye contact. Her name is Anna Maria.

I looked at her. She looked at the kiddie pool. I didn’t feel like scrubbing and cleaning their pool, as I needed to go make dinner, and we try to just do the pool clean just once per week to be frugal with water. They have access to large bowls with fresh water every morning, but the pool is pretty big. It hadn’t been a week yet since it’s last clean and fill, but when I looked at her again, she looked at the pool. I got the message.

“Alright, Anna Maria, hang on.”

I scrubbed and filled the pool with the sparkling water made extra beautiful by the fact that the kiddie pool is light blue. The ducks gathered and watched in anticipation. When the pool was filled Antonio, our only male duck, was the first one in. “Come on in, girls, the water’s fine,” he said with the bob of his head. The ladies seemed skeptical.

But after a few minutes, they couldn’t resist, and the girls piled in as well. But not Anna Maria. She waited. I went about my other work, as I knew she would get her turn. Indeed, she did. I came back by a few minutes later, and Anna Maria was in the pool with one other female. They were both ducking down and raising up, letting the cool water run over their heads, and my heart was so happy for Anna Maria. I will have to write more about her soon, but she has been though a lot in her life. Every single time I see her being joyful, I feel like I have done some good in the world.

I feel like I flail around the world most of the time–wanting to do some good, usually feeling helpless. I cannot affect much change in the world. I cannot convince world governments that we need to take action now on climate change, that Maine is too hot in May. I cannot even figure out how to help my children prepare for an ever-changing, more difficult world than I grew up in. I try but feel like a failure at every turn.

But I made Anna Maria’s life better.

And, yesterday, in the sparking water, as the sun shone on her between the trees, I saw a joyful duck, and there, before my eyes, was some good I have done in my life.


While writing this, I had to take a break and check on Ruby. Her hour was up, but she was still off her nest. Much to her dismay, I had to capture her, which is no easy task. Chickens are fast! But when I took her back to her eggs, she went to them immediately. She sat her little self down, adjusted her body to spread over the 8 eggs in her nest, and looked content. I guess she just needed to be reminded. She’s on day 2 of 21. On day 7, I’ll candle the eggs!