Mosquitoes have always carried diseases, but now disease-carrying mosquitoes are really being hyped in the U.S. We think it’s probably a good thing to take precautions as we always have ever since we can remember. If nothing else, it is really difficult to go to sleep in the summertime when you have a lot of itchy mosquito bites all over your body.

So we try to avoid mosquito bites pretty much whenever we can and we also don’t like using too much of the chemical repellents. In the past, we have tried bracelets that emit a particular pitch which mosquitoes stay away from. We think they worked, oddly enough. We also use citronella candles when camping or just being out in our backyard for an extended period of time.

This year, we wanted to get a concoction of essential oils that would make mosquitoes not like how we smell. We found a mixture of oils that’s supposed to repel mosquitoes called Insect Shield by Plant Therapy.

This product is a mixture of citronella, eucalyptus, cedarwood, lemongrass, lavender, litsea, tea tree, patchouli, and catnip oils. It sounds pretty ominous, but sadly, our mom said it doesn’t work as well as she had hoped. She said that if you’re out in the open and not in a really infested area, it works well, but if you’re working in really bushy areas that are home to mosquitoes, they’ll still bite you. In fact, she thinks that just plain lavender oil works better for her.

Anyway, this oil isn’t just for mosquitoes. It is also supposed to keep black biting flies away and these flies were a real problem last year when we went to the beach. When we go to the beach again this year, at least we’ll have something new to try if the flies show up again. All the commercial DEET products did not faze the flies one bit.

Anyway, I’ve never used the Insect Shield oil, but on a scale from one to ten, our mom would rate the idea a 10, but the actual effectiveness of the product a 4 – at least in our yard. Perhaps we have very aggressive mosquitoes. She also doesn’t really enjoy smelling like a citronella candle and thinks you have to use quite a lot of oil to cover all exposed areas and that gets very expensive very fast. Still, if you aren’t out too much and you want a natural insect repellent, you may want to give this oil a try.

To use, you can put some unscented lotion in the palm of your hand and add several drops of the oil to mix with the lotion. Then apply to your skin.

by John

This year we started our garden very late and when we got around to it, we were scrounging around for some seeds which we forgot to purchase.We also had some extra space in our garden and so were looking around for vegetables to grow which we don’t normally trouble ourselves with.

Our parents have a small business and one of the things they used to sell was Preparedness Seeds distributed by Guardian Survival Gear. These seeds were packed in February 2011 and were packaged for long term storage, but we always wondered if someone would be in trouble if they counted on these seeds germinating or not. Well, this year we found out. We planted their spinach, winter squash, zucchini, swiss chard, beets, pepper, and bush bean seeds and they all came up very,very nicely. If things go well for us, we should have a great harvest and also should be able to save enough seed for next year’s garden. We have already been eating the zucchini which is excellent – it is “Black Beauty”, one of the most common zucchini seeds on the market.

DSCF2036Anyway, we just thought we’d let people know that at least with this company, the preparedness seeds packaged for long-term storage germinated and the plants are doing great. And although we won’t be purchasing these for our use, it is good to know that people who did purchase them will not be let down when they need them.

by John

DSCF2027In the back of our garden, where the chickens always happen to flock, we have around 13-14 mature blueberry bushes. We’ve had them for a long time, and this year we are harvesting a lot more berries than usual.

We have made the rounds in our neighborhood, giving them to friends. We have eaten them by the handfuls. We have made chilled blueberry pie, cooked blueberry pie, and blueberry pancakes. We have frozen over 5 gallons of berries and about 3 gallons of blueberry blip (what we call pie filling). And we are still harvesting them every day.

Today, our mom made some blueberry muffins, which we’re giving the recipe for, and then she’s going to make yet more pie and put away yet more blip. She’ll also make enough blueberry muffins to freeze and have in the months to come. It has been pretty darn nice to have this many berries.

Blueberries are a very easy bush to grow and well worth it. Once they get mature enough, you can really put away enough to last the entire year until they come in again. Birds such as bluejays and catbirds come by and peck some and I’ve seen squirrels in them too, but they don’t really take away much. We have a domestic deer who hangs around our yard and it goes for our corn and doesn’t touch the berries.

While we have gotten a couple of bushes locally, our mom gets her best bushes from a company called Stark Brothers, which mails the bushes to you. There are three bushes that we really like from them: Patriot, Bluejay, and Bluecrop. The Patriot bush grows really big berries about the size of grapes that are good for eating. Bluecrop grows very pretty berries with lighter, tender skins. These berries taste very good and are good to add to dishes where looks count. Bluejay berries are good for making pies and also just eating. We have berries that ripen early, mid, and late so that our blueberry season lasts a good portion of the summer.

As for the care of blueberries, you should prune at least the dead branches off and also take off any straggling, unruly branches. If berries start to grow and then suddenly wither and die when they are just beginning to ripen, that is a fungus which one of our bushes has gotten in the past. All you have to do is mulch the bush in the late fall. That will cover the spores and it won’t happen to the bush the following year.

Here’s our blueberry muffin recipe:


1 stick butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup milk
5 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups flour, not sifted
1 pint fresh berries


Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Mix eggs, milk, and vanilla in a separate bowl. Add liquids alternately with dry ingredients to large bowl. Fold in blueberries and fill muffin tins lined with paper baking cups. Sprinkle a little sugar on top. Bake at 425  degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Yields: 18 large muffins.

Hope this was informative and encouraging for anyone who thinks they’d like to grow their own blueberries!

Around our house live a lot of orange beetles which we believe to be Grapevine Hoplia, but we aren’t sure. These beetles come out of the ground at night and are strongly attracted to light. Since they can be really annoying if you’re trying to work outside at night and you have a light on, we wanted to cut the population. We also don’t like them because they get into our basement in the fall, and we are still finding dead orange beetles down there from last year.

We eventually got a solar brick path light so that we could put it next to the coop with the hope that when it got dark, the orange beetles would be attracted to it and as they flew around it, the chickens would neatly pick them off. Sadly, it didn’t work like that because even though the chickens enjoy eating these beetles when they can find them, they go to bed just before it gets dark enough to turn the solar light on. But the light still works great!

The light is designed so that when it gets dark, the four LED lights go on, but if it’s bright around it the lights turn off and the battery inside can charge up using the solar panel. The lights look very nice, and several of them definitely would be good for lighting a path. They don’t work too well for luring moths and beetles to our chickens, but that’s not really what they’re meant for anyway :)

If you’d like to light a path, click here to buy this product.

by John

It Was Just a Rat Snake

Posted: July 16, 2014 in Articles, Videos

Today we found a snake in our yard. We thought it looked poisonous and were wondering if it was a baby rattlesnake, even though the chances of it being one were practically zero. Then we wondered if it was a water moccasin, but water moccasins have white mouths. This one opened its mouth and the inside was quite pink. We still thought the snake might have been poisonous because of the pattern on its back and the shape of its head. Needless to say, we are not very knowledgeable about snakes.

Anyway, after taking plenty of pictures and filming it, we cut its head off and went inside to find out what it was. After some research, we found out that it actually wasn’t a poisonous snake; it was an immature Black Rat Snake. When rat snakes grow up, they become fully black, but I suppose when they’re younger they have a pattern on them. Rat snakes are very common in our area and when it rains a lot, they come to people’s houses for some reason. One of our neighbors always gets rat snakes in his attic when it rains. Another neighbor runs over them with her tractor when they show up in her yard. We’ve had rat snakes in our yard before – getting into our bird houses – but it’s been awhile since we’ve seen them.

In any case, it’s good that it wasn’t a rattlesnake or anything, because that would mean there would be older ones living around here as well! Hope you enjoy the pictures :)