Old Home Farm


Prince Albert

farm signI love my chickens! I think that is a sentiment most farmers and homesteaders have. I've had chickens all of my life, and they have always been a source of great pleasure and entertainment to me.

When I was small, I remember playing in the back yard making mud pies or building cities with small stones. The chickens were always there, scratching, clucking, and coming over to observe and critique.

Chickens are friendly creatures and curious by nature. They actually make very good companions.

We've had several roosters over the years of various breeds. My favorite seems to be the one we have now. He's a short, stocky little guy I call Prince Albert.

I named him after Daddy's favorite tobacco. I'm not sure what breed he is, as I usually buy chicks for their appearance rather than specific breeding. But Albert is a real treasure.

Albert

Many human husbands could take lessons from my Albert. He is protective, responsible, and loves his flock very much.

All day he struts about the yard, watching the sky for predators and the ground for goodies to feed his girls. If a shadow crosses the ground, Albert is running and crowing and calling the girls up under the trees, or the back porch.

If I throw out food, Albert comes running. He clucks and does a dance until the girls gather around.

Then he stands back while they all have a share. Only when everyone else has eaten, will Albert help himself to what remains. I have even seen him pick up a piece and lay it before one of the girls who has been repeatedly pushed back by more aggressive hens and hasn't yet gotten a bite.

albert and his girls

But that is nothing compared to Albert's sense of duty. One day, shortly after I let some young hens join the flock, Albert brought one up onto the porch where I sat reading.

I have two steps leading down from my back door onto the porch and the hens have made nests there. Its quite nice because I can just step out of my back door and have fresh eggs.

Albert brought one of the new young hens upon the porch, went to the nests, did a little dance and looked at her. She looked back as if to say "So what?" Then Albert climbed into one of the nests, clucked, danced and hopped back out.

The hen looked into the nest, looked at Albert, and waited. Albert repeated the performance, and the little hen climbed into the nest and settled down.

Albert, in turn, settled down on the porch to wait. After a time, she began to cackle and exited leaving a nice brown egg.

Albert followed her off the porch and I returned to my book. But in a few moments, Albert was back with another new hen and again showed her the nest.

This time the hen went right in, and Albert settled down to wait. Eventually, Albert introduced all four of my new little hens to the nests under the steps, and I just sat there in amazement at the intelligence of my rooster.

Gertie in her nest

Albert truly is a Prince among roosters. If only all humans were as intelligent and thoughtful!


All photos belong to the author.

Fall Has Come

farm signOctober is nearly over, and so is the growing season. We have yet to do a fall/winter garden.

We do have plans to set up cold frames and have a go at it. But not this year. So, this last week, we began the 'bedding down' of many things around the farm.

The last of the garden produce was harvested before frost. I had a few banana peppers left on the vines, a couple of fall squash, some large sunflower heads, and the end of the tomato crop. I even had a hand full of strawberries that became my breakfast!

last of garden produce

I put away the Fairy Garden and laid down new ground covering and mulch to keep the ivy and weeds from coming up next year.

fairy garden

I cleaned both chicken houses and lined them with cedar bedding. Cedar not only prevents mites, but it generates it own heat.

It's essential to keeping the chickens warm in winter. And the muck from the chicken houses went to the composter so we can have more good soil for next spring's garden.

cleaning chicken coop

Then we started 'putting the garden to bed.' I always find this time of year a bit depressing.

The days are getting shorter and the garden always looks so sad and worn. We cleaned out all of the dead stuff, either putting it in the composter, feeding it to the pig, or in the case of nightshade plants dumping it into the woods.

removing dead plants

Then we laid down the straw, stacked up tomato cages, re-mulched the paths, and cleaned and stored all tools in the green house.

mulched beds

There is a bright side. I still have carrots, which I will winter over, and I left one fall squash that is still producing tiny squash. We'll see if they make it.

carrots

Now I will 'hibernate' with my books, my writing, my cups of tea, and my dreams for spring when the Fairies come out again and I can start all of my new plants.

desk

Going Retro

farm signWhen one is young, the whole world seems endless and new. Especially today with such advanced technology.

When I was a teenager, we were still anchored to landlines, clothes lines, TV antennas, and record players. Blow driers were the new rage, as well as curling irons — no more pin curls or big plastic rollers for me! I was planning my marriage, and wanted only the newest and best the world had to offer.

Now, being a couple of years shy of 60, I find myself appalled by technology and all the modern world has to offer. Now, much to my own amusement, I find myself going as far 'retro' as I can.

There is a lot to be said for the 'old ways'. Much of what was 'new' in my day is now old, and I find it is still the best, as well as the things of my mother and grandmother.

My grandfather was a blacksmith, but he wasn't a bad carpenter either. He made a lot of their furniture, and one piece I still have is the pie safe he made for granny.

I keep all the old items of hers and some of Mom's in there. One day as I was dusting, I stopped to admire all of these things and it suddenly occurred to me that Granny's porcelain covered cake tin was still useful.

So I hauled it out and baked a pan of brownies. It was wonderful! The brownies baked evenly, and nothing stuck to the pan. So I put away Mom's glass pan and loaf pan, and began to look around for other old useful items.

Of course my beloved cast iron is retro, and is my basic cookware. But then I found another deep porcelain tin with a lid at a flea market that is perfect for lasagna and the lid fits both pans.

cookware

From there I began to dig out or replace items I remembered from my childhood. Mom's flour sifter, soup ladle, the jar marked with measurements she used in stead of a measuring cup, and the baker's coconut tin she used for cutting biscuits and cookies.

I bought a hand grater, potato masher and wooden rolling pin. I found a retro look clock to replace the digital one that gave up the ghost on the stove. I hauled out the sugar bowl and Greg bought me a salt pig like Granny used to have. And I realized my hand mixer I bought back in 1979 (which still works by the way) is also an antique now!

additional items

The sugar bowl reminded me of daddy's favorite coffee cup, which came from the Bruno School cafeteria. Ebay supplied all the extra china I could want to match.

This particular china was manufactured for airplanes, trains, cafeterias and restaurants. It is heavy duty and makes great everyday serving ware, and even goes in the oven.

Out went the old plastic plates from Wal Mart and now I only use my retro china for every meals. I do have a set of china from Guam my Mother-in-law gave me for company and holidays, as well as the china we bought in England.

everyday china

Going Retro not only means putting old items to good use, it is also a way of life for me. Every morning we make a pot of hot tea in my Brown Betty tea pot from England.

I keep my teabags in a tin, and while I now use an electric tea kettle Greg bought me, I still have and occasionally use my stainless steel tea kettle that heats the old fashioned way on the stove top.

tea pot & tin

I love tin cans! I remember as a child seeing rows and rows of them in the pantry filled with all manner of good stuff. Mon threw out her tins when she moved into her new house and bought class canisters.

I have hunted flea markets and replaced many I remember from childhood with a few extras I just like. I use all of my tins and fill them with the appropriate items, or use them for something similar.

retro tins

When we were first married, I had a dish washer. With two small children and a busy life style, it was more convenient and just really 'cool' to be able to fill it up and have a machine do all the hard work.

When we last remodeled, I left the dish washer out. There is only two of us now, and there is just something so satisfying about doing my dishes by hand.

Often I remember standing on a stool beside my mother rinsing the dishes and begging to be allowed to do the actual washing up. We used to have 'rights of passage' as we grew up, and getting to do the washing up was one of them for girls.

dishes by hand

My modern washer and dryer I do love. As much as I enjoy my retro lifestyle, some modern conveniences I could not live without. And yet, one of my favorite chores is hanging laundry out to dry.

It brings such a sense of peace and nostalgia to look out and see the clothes flapping on the line. And nothing can match of the smell of fresh laundry air dried.

That really sums up the reason for going retro. Nostalgia. A feeling of peace and remembering quiet, by gone days when the world was a simpler, kinder and gentler place.

laundry on the line


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Laundry Soap – The Old Fashioned Way

farm signI grew up in the 1960s and '70s on a very self-sufficient farm. We made nearly everything we ate or used, including laundry soap.

As I've said before, Mother did laundry in a wringer washing machine on the front porch in all kinds of weather.

For detergent, she used homemade lye soap grated fine mixed with 20 Mule Team Borax. White clothes were soaked in a wash tub of water with a cup of Clorox, then rinsed and washed with plain borax.

Our laundry was spotless and bright. In the 1970s, as the economy became better, Mom and Dad began to buy more from the store and we began using Ajax laundry detergent.

Over the years, I have used a variety of store bought detergents, but I never quite forgot that homemade powder. As I became older, and detergents became stronger and more perfumed, I developed allergies and began looking for a better alternative.

My daughter gave me a recipe for laundry powder that brought back all of my cherished memories and I gave it a try. Now it is the only detergent I use.

Homemade laundry powder

The ingredients are simple. Arm and Hammer washing soda, 20 Mule Team Borax (I was surprised and pleased to find it is still a staple), Zote (my personal preference) or Fels Naptha bar laundry soap and Oxi Clean.

homemade laundry soap

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups washing soda
  • 2 cups borax
  • 1 5.5oz bar laundry soap finely grated
  • 1 cup Oxi Clean

Directions:

  1. I mix it with my hands to insure it is thoroughly even.
  2. homemade laundry soap

  3. I usually double the recipe and store it in an airtight container. This will last me 6-8 months.
  4. homemade laundry soap

  5. Some people add water and let it set for a couple of days to make more of a liquid, but I like the powder. It lasts longer and reminds me of home and the old ways. And aren't the old ways the best after all?

Photos property of Leah McAllister.

This Old Barn

farm signGrowing up on the farm, my favorite place has always been the barn. I spent many, many hours as a child playing there.

There were bales of hay to climb and hide in. There were barn cats to pet. There were stalls to turn into play houses, jails, and caves.

There was the tack room full of harnesses, bridles, ropes, and our saddles. There were the tools and farm equipment — the tractor, bush hog, combine and plows. And best of all, the smell of grains and hay.

There were two main barns in my life. The cinder block milk barn, and the big wooden barn my father and grandfather built in the 1950s.

Daddy took his earnings from WWII, and the two of them constructed a huge three room barn on the old home place where we are now.

barns

The milk barn sold with the place my father bought across the road when he married my mother and has since been turned into a very nice guest house. But the other barn is still ours, and Greg has carefully repaired and maintained it over the years. In my dinning room hangs a picture Greg painted of the barn in its original state when we had dairy cows.

repairing barn

The barn has become a bit of a museum now since farming is more of a hobby for us than the extra income it was for Daddy. Greg used pallets to replace some of the walls and they have provided shelves to display many of the bits and pieces of the old way of life, and of course all the hub caps Daddy collected.

Greg hung many old tools on the walls as well. It is a vast source of interest to the grandchildren. We took out the tack room, not having horses to ride anymore, but the wall supports are still there, and so is Daddy's lantern he always used.

shed

In the main part of the barn is plenty of room for hay, as well as all of our other odd collections of farm life. Greg is still working on the back wall and when that is done the barn will once more be snug and warm.

barn interior

The lower shed has also been changed. Once it was open with a long trough with head stanchions for all of the milk cows. Now we have two lambing stalls and a hall opening to the main barn.

In the back, though, you can still see the old trough. I spent many house in there watching Daddy milk and playing with the barn cats.

shed

Daddy loved his barns too. He spent a good part of every day there, either working on something, feeding the stock, or just sitting and smoking his pipe.

He found an old metal folding chair somewhere, and that became a fixture in the barn for him to sit and while away the hours, or listen to the rain on the tin roof.

I use the chair for much the same thing now. And every time I sit there and listen to the rain, I think of Daddy and it seems I can almost smell pipe smoke.

chair

And the tradition goes on. My granddaughter discovered the barn as soon as she was big enough to walk, and that is where you can find her most days, playing the same sort of games I did, and spending time with the lambs.

Fore that is what farm life is mostly about. Passing down cherished memories and carrying on traditions. And what a wonderful place to grow up.

barn


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

A Tale of Two Schools

farm signLast weekend I attended an Alumni reunion at my old school. This is a common enough occurrence, but for me it is rather unique.

I am a graduate of a consolidated school. A combination of two schools that not only had great pride in themselves, but were also rivals.

The Bruno school is where I began my education. There had originally been two one room schools in Bruno, one on each side of Hampton creek.

But in 1920, the community decided to combine them into one school and built a large campus of buildings to house the elementary and library, a gymnasium and cafeteria, a building devoted to science, and an agricultural building. Several smaller one room schools were consolidated in as well during the following years.

In 1925, the then boom town of Pyatt, about 10 miles north west of Bruno built their own school campus and a rivalry was born. High School basketball became the major sport of the area, the games drawing large crowds of farm folks looking for an evenings entertainment, especially one featuring their own children.

Concession stands sprung up offering goodies not normally purchased for every day consumption. The coaches were good and the students were talented and communities were brought together for evenings of fun and fellowship.

The Bruno Aggies and the Pyatt Pirates became the best of friends off and the worst of enemies on the court. Playing was intense and each team crowed victory when they won. Both schools sent teams to the state tournament, and both schools saw players go on to college with scholarships.

school

But early in 1970 educators began to get concerned about the schools. A slow decline of students was becoming apparent. While maintenance was a priority with both schools, the buildings had been in use for close onto fifty years and major repairs were beginning to be needed.

Both schools taught two classes to a room, but education was beginning to require that each class have its own room and separate teacher. The state standards were beginning to slip, and the state capitol was beginning to mutter about sending the students to more advanced schools in the county at a considerable bus distance.

So a campaign began to see the two rival schools consolidated into to one large campus. I actually remember being asked to write a letter to Governor Dale Bumpers pleading the case.

Class after class from both schools wrote letters. Parents of the PTA were summoned to meetings. The State Department of Education was consulted.

The communities voted to raise the mill tax to provide funding for the new school. A new location was decided upon located as close to midway between the communities as possible.

Land was gifted for the building. The dirt road linking the two small towns was paved. And in 1972 construction began.

The finished product is a long metal building housing grades K-3, as well as a gymnasium, auditorium, science lab, library, computer lab, and cafeteria. When I was there, we also had a darkroom where we developed our own photos for the school yearbook.

We also had a school newspaper. An Agri building was also built which has been expanded over the years.

While the basketball team sports a new mascot — the Patriot — the FFA club is still known as the "Bruno-Lincoln Chapter of the FFA," because Bruno was the first school in the state to include an agricultural class in its curriculum and the Bruno-Lincoln Chapter is the oldest FFA chapter in the state.

school

The alumni reunion has been going on for several years now, but growth has been slow. Technology is helping to get the word out to all, including alumni from both schools. I was thrilled to find out about it, and saw so many people I hadn't seen for years.

class reunion

One of my best friends who I started school with met me there and we went about visiting. My father was the Bruno bus mechanic and drove nearly every bus route at one time or another.

My best friend's father was a principal of Bruno School. So we found ourselves going about introducing ourselves as "Arvil's daughter" and "Edgar's girl." And everyone we met knew exactly who we were and had stories to tell us about our fathers.

class reunion

Before leaving, I wandered up the long high school hall. My class was the first 8th graders to ever walk this hallway.

So many memories came flooding back. Bells ringing. Scrambling to open lockers and switch books. Snatches of conversations. Passing quick notes between friends and dating couples.

It was a rather tense first year for the school as the rivals had to learn to blend and mesh into one school, one class and one basketball team. It was a bit rocky, but we made it, and by the time I graduated, unity was complete.

long school hallway

And then onto the main hall to take a look at my class. Huge portraits hang there of each class composite. I stood for a long time looking up at the faces, many of which are gone now.

A few feet down from my composite are two more side by side of my children's classes. They are also alumni, sharing a class with many of the children of my classmates.

Out the front doors and to the left is my class 'stone'. The tradition began at Bruno for each graduating class to pour a section of sidewalk and write their class roll in it to be preserved for all time.

class reunion

As I've said, I am very sentimental. I enjoyed my trip down memory lane and am eagerly looking forward to next year.

If you are an alumni of these schools and are reading this, be sure to come next year. You will be amazed at the fun you will have.


Photos property of Leah McAllister.

Pasta Sauce and Pie Filling

farm signI always have more tomatoes than I know what to do with. Every spring, I always say to myself, "I am only going to plant 4 vines." But then you get the little extra plants growing because it is impossible to put just one tomato seed into a peat pot.

I can't bare to throw out a plant. So I carefully re-pot all of the little extras and baby them along telling myself, "I can give all of these away to friends." Then planting time comes and I look at all the vines trying to pick out the best ones, and they all look so strong and healthy and I wind up planting them all. Fifteen plants this year — all loaded with tomatoes.

tomato plants

So, now harvest time is upon us and I am over run with fruit. I fry it green. I eat it ripe with cottage cheese, in sandwiches, just with salt.

I cook it in soups, sauces, quiche. I make salsa and relish.

I give it away to friends. I send it to work with Greg for the break room. And still the lovely ripe bounty keeps coming.

I used to do a lot of canning. But the last few years the jars have not sealed properly. I don't have a pressure canner.

Truth be told, I don't understand how to work them and I am a little afraid of them. All my life I have simply used the water bath to can.

Last year I lost about 20 quarts because they didn't seal properly, so I've given that up. But as my Mom used to say, "There is always more than one way to skin a cat."

This year I have gone to freezing my produce. I set to work and made a huge crockpot of pasta sauce. First, I washed and cut up as many tomatoes as I could fit into the crock.

prepping tomatoes

I googled a sauce recipe different than the one I normally use, then changed it to suit my taste, adding onions and garlic from my garden.

tomato ingredients

In the end I had 10 containers of sauce for the freezer.

pasta sauce

But that still left the green tomatoes. A friend of mine once talked about making a green tomato pie.

So, once again I went to Google and picked out one that suited me, then made my own changes. I tried it out on Greg first to see if it would work, then worked up a batch of fruit and froze eight containers of that.

green tomatoes

Now, I am going to explore green tomato enchilada sauce. I think I see another day putting up sauce in my future. Better buy some more containers.


Photos property of Leah McAllister.







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