Fridays on the Farm: Summer Smackdown

yard gourds and more

I recently re-read my first (and so far, only) Friday farm update of this year. It was written in April, and it said impressive things like:

  • We’ll heavily mulch the garden for weed control;
  • We’ll rotationally graze the cows;
  • We’ll keep the chickens safe from predators by keeping them in electric poultry netting.

Oh the plans. Oh the hopes. Oh the dreams!

In the midst of the cold winter/early spring, when everything is pretty slow on ye old homestead, it seems like we can take on the world. But then summer gets here and everything goes wild.

The groundhog (aka, whistle pig- our namesake!) gets into the garden and eats all the kale, broccoli, and chard. 

eaten broccoli

And predators eat the chickens.

dead chicken

And the tomatoes need to be staked.


And it’s hot! And you’re tired. And you wonder if you’ve gotten in over your head. And you feel a little (or a lot) defeated.

This, my friends, is the summer smackdown. When summer smacks you back to reality so quick you don’t even know what happened. It’s a real thing, I swear.

And so I present to you, my Friday update on all the smacking that’s been going down around here. I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news, so you’re getting the bad news first.

Bad News:

1. The chickens are dead.

We are officially free range chicken failures.

A little less than a year ago we lost 8 chickens in one night (we got home late and didn’t get the coop closed in time) to a fox. We hoped it might have magically gone away, but it didn’t, and a couple of weeks ago we lost six chickens in one day and we saw the fox! So we locked the chickens in the hoopty coop until we could figure out a way to ensure their safety. I meant to turn on the electric poultry netting that surrounds the coop, but I forgot. And so a racoon dug into the coop and killed all of our chickens. Our beautiful, fat chickens who were just about to start laying.

chicken coop

Effective immediately, all future egg layers at Whistle Pig Hollow will live in an enclosed run (I want to copy this one from Abundant Permaculture) and will be surrounded by electric poultry netting. I will have my own eggs and my chickens will stay alive. End of discussion.

2. The cows are sold.

So, we sold (or are in the process of selling) all of our cows. Technically we’re planning to eat one of them (Nudigate, the bull), but either way, we will no longer have cows for the time being. This summer has taught me that, even when not pregnant or with newborn (my previous excuses), I still won’t make time to milk the cows. And why have dairy cows when you’re not milking them?


I’m a little sad, I must say. I’ve loved learning about cow birth and large animal care, but I’m not too sad because we can get a milk cow later if we decide producing our own milk is worth it to us. Right now it’s just not a priority so we’re letting it go.

Bye bye, Mama Cow, I suppose you’ve served your purpose in my life.

3. The garden has about zero variety.

There’s something about busting your butt almost daily that makes you a little annoyed when all you reliably get from your garden is a couple of tiny cucumbers and maybe one small tomato, if you’re lucky. I know the bounty is yet to come, but really, I could handle getting a little more by now. All I have growing out there now are tomatoes, a few pepper plants, a few melon vines, a couple of okra plants, and some cukes. I am really wishing for the daily greens I’ve had in the past (ahem, whistle pig) and I’m bummed I never got around to planting any herbs.


4. I’m growing flipping ornamental gourds in my front yard.

mini gourd

Considering I haven’t gotten my act together and planted summer or winter squash (yet!), I was super excited when a few volunteer squash plants popped up in various places in our front yard. Except it turns out they are mini ornamental gourds… not an edible variety. This makes total sense because Bridger loved playing with the mini gourds we grew a few years ago, so they must have dropped seeds all over the yard where he plays.

yard gourd

It’s cool though, I plan to craft with them.

Good News:

1. Blackberries


The good news is, the blackberries are lovely this year! Large and juicy and fairly sweet for wild blackberries. We’ve also been pretty consistent about picking them. (And why wouldn’t I be? It’s not like I’ve been milking my cows or weeding my garden… Although I must say, it’s a bit precarious with a wiggling baby strapped to my back– ouch!)


2. The garden is somewhat maintained.

There may not be as much variety as we’ve planted in the past, and it may look like chaos to other people, but to me the garden doesn’t look half bad. Since we didn’t plant the quantity we’ve planted in the past, I’ve been able to [somewhat] maintain the heavy mulching. We scored 60 free straw bales and while back, so I’ve been slowly but surely mulching away.

The tomatoes are staked with individual stakes this year since we planted far fewer plants than in the past. (When we have more plants, we use the Florida weave.)


The Boston pickling cucumbers are growing away, but I’m not getting enough to make large batches of relish like I’d hoped to do. I just started seeds to try out a succession planting in hopes of getting more cukes later into the summer.

cukes 2

And the melon plants are looking lovely! We planted multiple varieties, so who really knows what’s growing.


3. Front yard gardening!

front yard garden

When the volunteer squash plants appeared in our front yard, I realized how much easier it is to have plants growing where I can access them easily. (This is consistent with the permaculture principles I’ve been learning about lately.) I can let the children play right in the front yard while I mulch and weed and plant. Obviously I shall now turn my front yard into a garden. Duh. So far all we’ve put in is a raised bed made from straw bales, but I have big plans for this fall.

staw raised bed

4. We have a raspberry patch!

A friend of mine gave me red and black raspberry canes, so I’m looking forward to having a raspberry patch in the next year or two. How exciting!


And that’s what’s been going on around here as of late. How’s your summer gardening/homesteading going? Have you been smacked down by summer’s craziness?


smackdown Collage

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  1. Thanks for the honest post – you struck a chord with me. I am a “failed” farmer, business man, and man in general lol. Trying things that are new to me and wanting to do them in a way that is true to me typically means they end up being harder than I imagined and the actual failure rate is much higher. It gives me an appreciation for how the current state of farming and commercial enterprise has come to be… In part because people have been trying to curtail the failures.

    To stay positive I need to understand the actual failure rate associated with each new activity. I.e. Free range chickens eaten by fox at my house is 100%. In an electric fence its 0. Then today I found two dead chickens that must have been laid on by the goats they share the current pen with. It’s disappointing, but it’s more about the cycle of life than being about me as a person.

    I try to make it a two step process:
    1. To thine own self be true
    2. The virtue is in the effort rather than the result

    Keep up the hard work, enjoy your berries and gourds and keep teaching your son how to meet failure with grace.

  2. I am so sorry to hear about your chicken flock. My oldest son (who cares for our layers) has always said, “If you have chickens, you are going to lose chickens.”

    It doesn’t make it any easier.

    I too have forgotten to close the chicken door, shut the gate, and fed the raccoon population a chicken buffet. Groan.

    Take heart, there are 2 kinds of farmers:
    1. Folks that have problems
    2. Folks that are going to have problems

    Hang in there!

    sending a hug,

  3. This may be an old post of yours, but, having done what you are doing myself (have farm and kids at the same time, and throw in building your own house for good measure) I have to say that your honesty is refreshing, entertaining, and very, very unusual. Thanks!

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