We’re closeted hippie farmers around these parts. We look the Modern Family part – blended with kids galore, house in the ‘burbs, and a ridiculously large SUV, but in our hearts we’re out riding tractors.
Gabe grew up in the country, on land his family has owned for generations. I spent summers on my grandparents’ ranch, adding animal or two every year to the collection I shared with my cousins and siblings. We had rabbits and chickens, goats and sheep, kittens and a dog, and horses. We even had a hinny named Fat Albert. I was surrounded and outnumbered and I loved it.
My love for animals carried straight into adulthood, through fostering feral cats and rescue puppies into the relatively normal home Gabe and I occupy now. Normal until you hit the backyard, that is.
We’ve transformed our backyard into a mini-farm we call Almosta. Get it, Almosta Farm? It’s early yet, so you might need me to ‘splain it to you.
The bunnies are the original occupants of Almosta. Echo, Nutmeg and Cinder are three-year old domestic bunnies, who live outside in their duplex condo rabbit hutch. They are sweet, and shy and love to be petted but fight like the devil if you try to pick them up. We feed them a steady diet of veggie scraps (in addition to their vet-approved pellets and alfalfa hay) and use their manure on the butterfly garden. Circle of life (food, actually).
The chickens arrived last spring. Gabe’s Christmas present to me was a chicken coop of my choosing, and I had such specific requirements that we couldn’t find anything ready-made. Gabe built the hutch by modifying plans from the Garden Coop.
We raised our six chickens by hand. The kids love love loved every minute, from cuddling the chicks in their palms to checking for the first eggs. The hens (no roosters allowed in residential areas in our county) are friendly, come when they’re called, and love to be held. Chicken upkeep is easy – we feed and water them a couple of times a week and collect our organic eggs daily.
We have five varieties of chickens here on Almosta: two Whiting True Blues named Butterscotch and Licorice, one Buff Orpington named Buffy, one Barred Rock named Roxy, a Rhode Island Red named Red, and a Blue Cochin named Cookie.
During the longer days of spring and summer, we get nearly thirty eggs a week. Licorice and Butterscotch lay blue eggs (really), and the rest lay brown eggs. We’re down to about 10 now that winter is here. Freeloading hens.
The last permanent residents of Almosta Farm are the Orchard Mason bees. Orchard Mason bees are great pollinators, and very gentle. They don’t make honey, and aren’t social, so they have nothing to defend or get worked up about. We hatched our first bees from cocoons in the early spring.
Theoretically, those bees would grow, pollinate our garden, and then fill our bee house with cocoons throughout the spring and summer. We’d then overwinter the cocoons in the garage and release the bees in the spring again.
It didn’t work out that way. This year, we had a very late frost and all our baby bees that had been happily buzzing around our garden died. Great kid conversations about preservation and pollination and the inevitability of death ensued. We’ll try again in the spring.
Our farm animals give our kids an understanding of nature and our impact on our environment. They are loosely responsible for care and feeding, and on lazy weekend days, someone is almost always visiting the animals. The hens are great listeners, and always take the kids’ side. For the most part, our animals are pretty low maintenance – bulk feeding and watering and annual vet visits top their needs list. It’s a bit more work for Gabe and I to keep the animals, but nothing that tips our scales into overwhelm (like say, laundry or grocery shopping).
We’re planning to expand the farm in the spring. We’ll build a rain barrel automatic watering system for the chickens, and are contemplating connecting the bunny hutch to the coop. We’ll restart the bee project and replant the garden. So far, Gabe is opposed to turning our playhouse into a barn for a mini horse, but the kids and I are working on him steadily.
Our backyard mini-farm gives our children a common story and background that is unique to our blended family. None of us kept chickens or bees before. We didn’t compost or use organic fertilizer or build chicken coops. All of those activities are new, born of our life together. The farm has been the subject of school reports, Google inquiries, dinner conversation, and kids’ texts to friends (“wanna come over and see our blue eggs?”). It belongs to all of us. Almosta Farm gives our family history.