Tag Archive | homesteading

Tomato Rot

Every year we learn new things, and this year is no different.  We have grown tomatoes in the past, but we have never had a problem with tomato rot.  Our garden is not very big, we have very little sun in our yard, as a result we have to plant our crops as close together as possible to save space.  That and I also have a problem throwing away seedlings, I plant everything even when I know I will be planting them too close together.  In the past, that has just caused me to have a garden that looks like a jungle, this year however, I think that me planting the tomato plants to close together has caused the tomatoes to get tomato rot. 

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I dont think that I can take all the blame though, we have had a very unusual spring for this area.  It was cooler than normal with  a lot of rain.  I honestly think that it was a combination of the two, no matter the cause now we had tomato rot and we had to figure out a way to save at least some of our crop.  I planted a couple different types of tomatoes all with a different purpose.  Our sauce tomatoes however, were the ones that were effected the most by the tomato rot, they are also the most expensive to replace if I were to buy them at a farmers market. 
Not knowing much about tomato rot, I did a little research and found that moisture and air flow had something to do with it.  Even though no one really knows the reason for tomato rot.  I decided to try and trim my plants as much as possible to increase air flow at least two feet off the soil.  We trimmed off all suckers as well as any limbs that had not started to produce any tomatoes.  We made sure all the plants were tied up and supported and clipped any limbs that were rubbing another limb.  At first you read that and you think oh, that does not sound like much work at all… well you would be very wrong. It took three adults 2 days to complete this simple task.  In the end I think that it was worth every second of effort.  We still lost some of or crop, but once we trimmed we noticed a drastic improvement.  Was it the act of us trimming or was it the weather warming up and the rain slowing down, I cant answer that, but I am happy to have my sauce tomatoes back and we have continued to produced a close to 10 pounds of tomatoes a week.  Not bad for our little plot of land. 

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End of June Update

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Well things are continuing to grow.  Our tomato plants are 8 feet tall and my garden looks like an over grown jungle.  It is truly a magical thing, to think that a couple of months ago it was just dirt in raised beds, now it is a vegetable wonderland.

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This weekend we harvested 10 cucumbers, 2 pounds of beets, 2 pounds of green beans,  a couple of handfuls of blueberries that never made it in the house and some strawberries that also never made it out of the strawberry patch.  The down side of using children as garden assistants is sometimes they eat more than they bring in the house.  But I would rather have that then children that do not like to help in the garden.  My little girl not only eats all the berries, but also eats green beans and cucumbers fresh from the plants. We are not able to can the beets right now so I am going to boil them, slice them and freeze them.  I would much rather can them, but this works great too.

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Everything is continuing to grow.  The tomato plants are taking over, to the point that I am having to cut them back and pull tomato plants up and transplant them into the aquaponics system.  Our white beans are very close to being harvested, because they are a dry bean I have to pull the whole plant and hang it all to dry.  This was the first year that I planted drying beans and I learned that those should not be planted till much later in the season.  In fact, I have not planted my black beans or red beans yet because I want them to be able to dry on the vine.  The potato plants are starting to turn yellow, I look forward to harvesting fresh potatoes.  That is another thing that I would do differently next year.  I would plant potatoes in waves, so that I would have a more constant supply and have some ready right at the end of the season for the winter.  This is the first year we have planted sweet potatoes and they look great.  It is so much fun learning new things.  The carrots are also almost ready to be harvested, my husband and I always argue about carrots, I always want to pull them up to see how they are doing, and he wants me to leave them in the ground until fall… we will see who wins.

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Now that we have harvested all the beets, I did my second planting in the bed. My husband help me build a pallet trellis for butternut squash to grow up.  Under the pallets, I planted head lettuce, hoping that the shade from the butternut will keep them from bolting in the heat.  I also planted 2 more rows of beans, and a row of chard.  I am just starting to figure out how to do second plantings.  I really need to get better at it.  Every year life gets in the way, but I guess that is what makes it life.  I am looking forward to seeing how this bed turns out, I will post pictures.  Below is a picture of it now.

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In the aquaponics system the fish are growing great.  The new filter that we put in works great for keeping the water clean.  I am so frustrated though because the cabbage moths have found all my cabbage, broccoli, and brussel sprouts. I have been pulling cabbage worms off every day, but they are still doing a fair amount of damage.  With these  plants being the aquaponics system there is very little I can do to get rid of them.  I have thought about netting the plants, but my husband things that we are just going to have to grow these plants under row covers in the fall when the moths are not around.  We are lucky that these are the only major pest that we have in the garden.

This is a very busy time, I am enjoying the fresh veggies and having dirt under my nails.  Keep getting dirty!

 

What’s growing

This spring started off really slow, but is now really getting going.  We are grateful for the warm days, sun and even the rain.  I have friends that make hay, they are not liking the rain, but my tomatoes are loving it.

We expanded out garden this year, but did not add a lot of variety.  We planted a couple different types of potatoes, tomatoes, beans, squash and melons… that pretty much takes up our whole garden.  We do have smaller batches of lettuce, radishes, beets, carrots, cucumbers, strawberries, blueberries, brussel sprouts, and asparagus.  We also have some stuff experimenting with in the aquaponics system.

 

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This is a picture of my little girls fort for the summer.  We are growing lettuce in the middle till the beans get nice and tall.  It is doing really well, my daughter is going to be spending a lot of time in there this summer.

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This is one of my variety of tomato plants, san mazanos tomatoes.  I was able to tie all of the plants up so that they can get the sun and rain that they need.  These plants are really looking good!

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I love this upcycle.  That is a broken window in the middle.  I hung it from the frame of my raised bed and tied my plants up so that they have tons of room to grow.  I have flowers and some small cucumber buds.  I can not tell you how much I love spring.  Those are my tomatoes in the back ground.

 

 

The Downside of Raising Animals

This post might be too graphic for young readers and those with a weak stomach. I will post the cute pictures first!

 

Most days I really enjoy the animals that we raise and they bring me more joy than sadness.  This morning however, was not one of those times.  We have a doe that has been struggling as a mother.  Aurora, we have learned, does not play well with others. For the last six months she has been living in our “Bunny Barn” with the rest of our rabbits.  While in the barn, she was not being a very good momma rabbit.  She would not put her babies in the nest, and she would not cover them up when it was 10 degrees outside.  We lost a lot of babies this winter as the result of this.  All of those babies were dead when we found them, it was sad, but there was not much that we could do.

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So we took the hint, and this spring we moved her out of the Bunny Barn.  This was her last chance to prove that she could be a good momma.  She lives in her own hutch that sits in my garden area, her new set up is in the picture above.   She can see the whole yard, the dogs come and sniff her and the kids can poke at her more than they could in the Bunny Barn.  However, even with all those stresses, she seems very happy in the garden.  She kindled six kits early yesterday morning, she built an amazing nest and she pulled way more hair, than needed in June, to cover them up and keep them toasty.  We were so proud of her.

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When I investigated the kits better to count them and remove any still born, my heart sank!  One of her little kits was born with no skull or skin covering up its brain.  (I put at picture at the very bottom of the post).  I called our amazing, trusty vet, and friend to ask if there was any hope of saving this little one.  Sadly, the answer was no.  Our baby had Encephalocele, this is a congenital birth defect that happens in gestation when there is not proper development of the nervous system.  There was no way this rabbit could live for very long and it would suffer if it did live.  So even though this was the most active kit in the litter, I had to humanly kill it so that it did not suffer anymore.  Our kind vet suggested putting it in a bag and putting it in the freezer, even though it was not the fastest way, it was the most peaceful, the baby would just go to sleep.   The other choice I had was to break its neck and that would have been even more difficult for me to do.

At the end of the day, I am glad that the rest of the litter is still doing well.  I am sad that we lost the one, but it is much better than losing all of them like we did this winter.  I am happy to announce that Aurora is being a much better momma now, she lays in the door way to the nesting area and protects the babies.  She built them an amazing nest, without a nesting box.  I hope that other rabbit people are able to  learn something from this sad story.

 

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Polar Vortex Update

It is so amazing how life can get so busy that we even put off the things that we enjoy.  Blogging is an outlet for me and I thank everyone who humors me by reading my stress relief.  We have been busy with home schooling, snow, rabbits, chickens and life that I have not had a chance to blog.  So I decided to start my Monday off right with a moment to myself, a computer and a cup of coffee.

The Chickens:

The chickens look like they are starting to adjust to the snow. However, if I gave them a type writer like the farm animals had in the children’s book “Click Clack Moo” I think that they would be asking for electric blankets and telling me to make the snow go away.   The snow right outside their coop is starting to get really packed down, so I think it does not make their feet as cold as the fresh snow.  I have been giving them treats of corn and sunflower seeds and they have been willing to leave the coop to come and get them.  I am even surprised that our egg numbers have not gone down too much.  We currently have 12 laying hens and we are getting about 10 eggs a day, I think that is pretty good for 10 degree days.  We have noticed that the chickens have been laying the eggs in different places.  I think it is their way of protesting the cold.  Our 8 younger hens are suppose to start laying any day now.  We did get a very small egg, about the size of a quarter this morning, so maybe they are starting. It will be interesting if the cold weather has any effect on them.

The chickens are also getting creative about finding ways to stay out of the snow.  They are roosting on the top of the door into the chicken coop.  They are roosting on top of the fence around the chicken coop, as well as on top of the chicken coop itself.  It makes me wonder if they know something I don’t know and if we all should be heading for higher ground.

The Rabbits:

We have had an interesting week with rabbits. Again we are not sure if it is the cold or if part of something we deal with as rabbit breeders, this is our first winter with rabbits so we will have to wait till next year to find out. Right now we are just trying to learn as much as possible.

Nala:

Poor Nala has had a stressful week.  On Monday my husband went out to do chores and noticed that she had blood on her front paw.  He brought her in so we could get a closer look and to clean her up.  She split her nail down the middle and damaged the quick.  I trimmed off the parts of the nail that I could and I put corn starch on it to help stop the bleeding.  We held her for a while to make sure the bleeding had stopped before we took her back out to her cage.  Nala was due to kindle on Thursday so we did not want to mess with her very much.  Her toe was much better by evening chores and we started waiting for her to have her babies.  Thursday came and went and she was not acting like she was going to be going into labor anytime soon.   Normally rabbits start carrying straw around in their mouths to make a nest and within 24-36 hours they start pulling their fur out for their nest.  She was not doing anything of these things.  We put the nesting box in her cage anyway, thinking that maybe since she was a first time mom, she might be late showing the normal signs of labor.  Well, by Saturday night when she still had not kindled, we thought that maybe the pregnancy just did not take.  Sunday afternoon I went out and noticed that she had delivered 3 kits and she had started to eat them.  So very sad.  I removed the babies and cleaned up her cage.  She never made her nest and she never pulled her fur.  I don’t know if it was because of the cold or because she was a first time mom.  We will give her another chance and see how she does.  No matter how many dead babies you have to deal with it still breaks your heart.   Below is a picture of her toe, not the babies.

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Prince Charming:

Our main Sr. buck, Charming, who is almost 2 years old, has always had discolored urine.  The urine, even in the summer, is an amber color often.  I know that is common with rabbits so I did not think anything of it.  This week on Thursday when I went into the Bunny Barn I noticed that there was blood under his cage.  I took him out expecting to see a hurt foot like we found in the other rabbit earlier in the week and I did not.  I flipped him over onto his back and noticed that his fur around his penis was stained red and there was some discoloration in the tip of his penis.  I came inside and called the vet.  The vet examined him the next day and said that she believed he had passed a bladder stone.  The cold weather is making their water freeze and she thinks that he has gotten slightly dehydrated and that has caused bladder stones.  We have given him a heated waterer, as well as, going out multiple times during the day to make sure he has fresh water and nothing is frozen.  Since then, we have not seen any more blood and we are going to continue to be monitoring him.

We  have decided that we are glad we did not get a farm this spring like we wanted.  Being here and starting small, we are able to learn so much.  In five years or so when we are in a better position to buy a larger homestead, we will have learned these lessons already a be ahead of the curve.

Stay Warm!

Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Winter in Baltimore is always interesting to say the least.  Five years ago we had something crazy like 50+ inches of snow.  Three years ago it was so warm I could have continued to garden all winter.  Most years we have a nice mix of warm days (50’s) and cold days (20 is the low).  This year we have temps that are all over the place.  Tomorrow the high is going to 4 degrees F.  I don’t mind the cold, but it does make taking care of the “farm” a little more difficult.  I am so glad that we do not have to deal with this for months at a time.  To all my family in the mid-west, I just can’t hang, I am an east coast girl.

Our poor chickens.  Year round we have problems with hawks, so our chicken yard has bird netting over it.  I have to say, I personally HATE bird netting.  It comes un-stapled and falls down and then on mornings when I go out there before my coffee I get clothes lined by the sagging bird netting.  The bird netting is horrible.  This last snow finally defeated the dreadful  bird netting. The problem is that the netting was put up in such a way that I can not clean it up by myself. There is way to many supporting ropes and boards that we used to try and hold this horrible stuff up.  It took the chickens all of 3 minutes to get tangled up in it.  Very frustrating…  So I let the chickens out the roam the yard.  Our whole backyard is fenced in with privacy fence, and if it was not for the hawks I would let them roam everyday.  Today the danger of the netting was worse than the danger of the hawks. Well, at least at the time I thought so.  Their feet were turning white from the wet ground and the cold temps.  I ended up locking them up in their covered area, which is not very big.  They are some mad hens. I hope that when my husband gets home we can remove the netting so that tomorrow they stay in the chicken yard, where there is not as much standing water.

I need to get one more cold weather chicken frustration off my chest, I HATE our heated waterer… this thing in horrible.  My advice is to buy a heated disk that you can set a metal waterer on top of, DO NOT buy the plastic white and red heated waterer. The base never stays on, the chickens trip over the cord and unplug it.  When you fill it water gets spilled everywhere and you end up cold, wet and pissed off.  I would love to save everyone that frustration. That is just my two cents, I would love to hear what you use in freezing temps.  OK rant over!

Chickens in the Snow

Chickens in the Snow you can even see the bird netting hanging down!  Horrible stuff!!

As unprepared as we were with the chickens and cold weather, the bunnies are doing fantastic.  The bunny barn is insulated and has heat lamps over the baby kits on nights when it is below freezing.  The waterers are not freezing and everyone seems happy and warm.

I enjoy having the four seasons in Baltimore. It is nice to look at the snow from the window, while sitting in front of the fire place crocheting.  But I really enjoy being in the garden in the spring, summer and early fall.  I enjoy my chores and harvesting the veggies.  I do not mind the heat and I love being in the garden in the still of the morning as the sun first comes up.  Now that we have taken control of the mosquito problem it is even more enjoyable. I do not like doing chores in the freezing rain and really cold temps.

As winter continues I will continue to dream of warmer days and plan out my garden.  Some days I just sit and look at my seeds, it makes me all warm inside.  The nice thing about living in Baltimore is I know winter is only for a season.  Some places have a much longer winter or constant winter, no thank you hon, I will keep my crazy Baltimore weather, it is not predictable, but I know it is always changing.

Sunday Summary

In the Kitchen:

It is the week of Christmas, every year I plan on giving my family homemade gifts and every year life gets the best of me and I do not do it.  This year I did however make homemade caramel candies.  The only problem with the “gifts” is that my family is eating them faster than I can package them to give away!  So I guess that means I have found a good recipe and hopefully it will make a good gift for our family and friends next year…so if you get some act surprised!  The blog that I found the recipe on I really enjoy and am inspired by it, if you have time check it out!  http://www.willowcreekfarm.wordpress.com

Meat Birds:

I received a Christmas gift early!  As I mentioned last week our meat birds need to processed.  I have been sending emails, making phone calls and asking everyone I know, in order to try and find a processor or someone to let us barrow a plucker.  Well the family that I buy my rabbit feed from was able to get me in contact with another family that processes birds for the 4-H kids.  I tried most of last week to get ahold of this family and when I had not heard from them by Thursday at lunchtime I had just come to the conclusion we were going to be processing these birds on Friday.  When my husband called me during his lunch break on Thursday I told him I still had not heard from the processor and that since he was off on Friday we would just have a processing party.  He then informed me that he had to work on Friday.  We were out of feed, so the birds had already received their last meal, I had two choices; buy feed or do what needed to be done.  Well, I decided it was time for me to put on my big girl panties and process these birds.  I did have some help, a high schooler from our church is a hunter and was willing to come and give me a hand for a couple of hours, but neither of us had ever plucked chickens before and I really wanted roasters.  I spent the rest of Thursday afternoon mentally preparing for what was going to happen on Friday.  I received a phone call at 5:30 Thursday evening from the processor.  He was planning to process our birds Friday morning and I all I had to do was drop them off after 9:00.  I screamed.  Not just a little wahoo scream but a win the lottery scream.  I was so grateful to not have to kill, scald, pluck, gut and package these 23 birds, Merry Christmas too me!

The Rabbits:

Well it has been a sad week and a half.  Of Aurora’s 7 kits only 2 are still alive.  The good news is that they appear to be very fat and happy.  We put a heating lamp directly above the nesting box outside the metal wire cage.  I think the babies were getting too cold, Aurora was not covering them up.  She had pulled her fur, and she made a great nest but she was not covering up the babies. The heat lamps really seemed to help them, it was funny to go into the Bunny Barn and see the babies “sun bathing” on top of the nesting material, most of the time belly up!

Laying Hens:

We have a little red hen that is a Houdini Chicken.  She gets out of the chicken pen everyday.  I know she is not getting out when we go in or out.  I have checked the fence line and there is no holes or cracks.  How is she getting out?  I guess that is a problem we will have to solve this week. 

Something that we are very grateful for is that we have been able to sell our eggs.  We have a couple family that buy from us regularly, and it is nice to be able to make some spending money.  Mostly it just pays for the chicken feed but every little bit helps.

Aquaponics:

I have transplanted some broccoli plants into the aquaponics system, I will keep you posted on how they do through the winter.   Almost everything else has died.  All we have left is a lonely beet plant, it seems to be doing well, but the beet is not getting any bigger.  We are going to leave it in the system just to see what it does.  I was not able to plant seeds this week, there is always the hope for next week, but with it being Christmas I am not optimistic.

Merry Christmas everyone, from our family to yours!

 

Bunny Barn

Our three bunnies had been living in bunnies hutches in the chicken yard.  The bird netting above the chicken yard and lack of storage made our daily chores with the rabbits and the chickens a little frustrating. That bird netting has worked great to keep the hawk from eating our birds, however it has almost decapitated me EVERYDAY.    We had been putting the bedding, feed and hay in the basement.  I knew it would be just a matter of time before we would get mice.   We had been brainstorming about what we were going to do long term, thinking about building a shed. 

On the way home from strawberry picking we stopped by a road side Amish shed place. We just wanted to brain storm and see what was available.  After talking to the salesman we found out that they had used pre-built sheds for very reasonable prices.  We bought a 10 x 12 pre-built shed.  It would be our Bunny Barn. 

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Inside the Bunny Barn we built two level bunny cages on two of the walls.  We have wire cages with a slanted shoot underneath.  The shoot empties into a rain gutter and the gutter empties into buckets that are than emptied into the compost bins.  The Bunny Barn holds eight 3 ft x 3 ft rabbit cages.  The slanted shoots under the cages are built out of plywood and covered with plastic vinyl.  We have learned that the plastic vinyl is not a good idea, we will be replacing it with another material in the future, but the bunnies need to start earning their keep first.  I got the idea for the rabbit cage set up from http://willowcreekfarm.wordpress.com/.  They have a similar set up in their barn. 

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One of the best things about the Bunny Barn is that all of our supplies is not now in one place and close to the rabbits and the chickens where we use it.  It saves so many trips back into the house to get feed or all the other supplies I forget when I try and do my morning chores before my coffee has had time start my brain.

It also makes working with the rabbits in the rain or in the dark a lot more enjoyable. I am able to sit out with them and groom them with out having to worry about the dogs or the crazy bird netting that drove me crazy everyday!

 

 

Busy Summer, Aquaponics part 2

We have had such a busy summer that I have not had a chance to write.  But busy is good sometimes, especially when it involves planting, harvesting, building and other farm activities.  In the last month we have finished the first half of our aquaponics system, finished the bunny barn, harvested and replanted the garden, raised bunnies and started more baby chicks.  I am going to try and write about each one of those things over the next week.  Wish me luck!

First, I wanted to take a moment and think about the people in Colorado.  There is a blog that I follow that is about a homesteading family in the mountains in Colorado.  They have left their homestead, had to find new homes for all their animals, and are told that they can not go back to their house for 6-9 months.  I can not even imagine!  Reading about what they are going through really puts me in my place… I have nothing to complain about!  My house is not perfect, my kids drive me nuts sometimes and there is always work to be done… But praise God I have a house, kids and work.  Please do not become numb to the suffering of others.  If nothing else, it helps us keep our lives in prospective.

OK, I dried my tears and now I am ready to tell you about the great things we have done this summer.  We have finally finished our aquaponics system!  Eventually we would like to have two systems up and running, but we are very excited about the one right now!
For those of you that have no idea what I am talking about let me tell you about my system.  It started with a 275 gallon pallet tank, this is the home for our fish.  We currently have just pond gold fish in there because they are more tolerant of our errors and the learning curve.  In February the gold fish will be replaced with tilapia.

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There is a pipe that the top of the fish tank that overflows into a gravel plant bed.  In the gravel bed we have tomato plants, and beans.  The gravel bed is a flood and drain system.  Meaning just that, it fills up with water and then it empties.  The process repeats itself all the time, keeping the roots of the plants wet.

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When this bed drains it empties into a sump bed or a deep water culture bed.  Currently, this bed just has a couple feeder fish in it to keep up with the mosquito larva.  But normally this bed would have a floating foam raft with lettuce and other greens growing in it.  I will post a picture of that when I have it in the system, right now I am still starting the seeds.  We had a batch of bad seeds and I had to start over, it was very sad.   In the bottom of the sump bed there is a pump that pumps the water back up and into the fish tank… and the process starts all over again.

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Most of you can stop reading here, but for our aquaponics friends I will let you know what supplies we used.

~The bed liner is Dura Skrim 20 WW 6’ x 50’ from Global Plastic Sheeting.

~The pump is ActiveAqua Pump 500 GPH from the Aquaponics Store.

~The net pots for the floating rafter were also from the Aquaponics Store.

~The Grow media is ViaStone from the Home Depot.

~The tank is off craigslist.

~The greenhouse is 12×10 from Harbor Freight.

If you have any specific questions let me know.  We are very happy with it and we look forward to what it is going to do through the winter.

The first weekend in August, Love it!

The weather has been amazing for August, which has been wonderful and has allowed us to be very productive.  

Our bunnies are getting big and it is time to wean them off their mommies. We have turned our unused chicken coop into a bunny nursery.  There is enough room for all 15 of the babies to be able to run and play until they are full grown.  We will be removing the bunnies from their mothers gradually over the next week.  So far it is going great and everyone is enjoying the extra space and room at the water bowl.

The kids picked the rabbits that they are going to be showing for 4H.  These rabbits will get a lot more one on one time than the other rabbits.  We want them to be used to being handled as well as used to noises and other animals.  Everyone in the family is enjoying the extra cuddle time.

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This weekend we also worked on the aquaponics system.  Building it is taking longer than we really wanted it to, we were hoping to have it up and running over a year ago, but the supplies was more expensive than we thought.  We are also struggling with getting ideas from our heads, to paper, and than to final product.  We are learning communication skills that are beneficial to our marriage.  I think the important part is we are still married and still making progress on the system, both wins in my book.  We are now at the plumbing stage, very frustrating, but hoping to take small steps everyday and keep moving closer to our goal.  I will be starting seeds indoors this week for the system, so it needs to be up and running in less than two weeks.  I have confidence that we are that close!

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This weekend I also experimented with making gluten-free pop tarts.  I used the pie crust recipe from my last post and filled them with the jams that I have made this spring and summer.  I baked them at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, until golden. They are amazing.  I can’t wait to bake some cinnamon ones!  It was crazy easy and super tasty.  We have already eaten them all and I need to make another batch.  

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As far as harvesting veggies goes, we are still going strong with peppers.  The tomatoes have slowed down quite a bit and so have the cucumbers.  We had our first ever cantaloup today, it was wonderful.  We should have let it sit on the counter a day to soften even more, but we ate it in one sitting so it must not have been that bad.  

Time for me to go have my tea and relax for the night.  I hope everyone has a great week.