Saturday, March 29

The New Girls

A week ago a friend and I brought home 12 peeping chicks from Tractor Supply. We wanted pullets, so the selections available were a galvanized tub of almost all black chicks and a galvanized tub of brown and yellow semi-striped chicks. We took 6 of one and 6 of the other. They were labeled as "assorted pullets" and they were adorable. The black ones are so fluffy that they resemble maine coon kittens.

The others are brown and yellow with various stripe patterns. I can see how each one will be slightly different - one of the black chicks has a reddish brown head that you can only see in a certain light.

9 of these chicks will be added to my flock when they are old enough and the other 3 will be going to my friend to start her first-ever flock. She is the same friend who I assisted in started her first garden a couple years ago and she has been hooked ever since. I start her seeds for her here and the house since she does not have the space or the lighting and now she is branching out to chickens - the gateway farm animal.

Do you think I should warn her?

We have broccoli.......

Friday, March 21

Storms, Sprouts and Shavings

I officially have pepper sprouts in the basement under the warm grow lights and I could not be more pleased. Just to have something green and alive on this 38 degree day gives me such hope for the coming season and that it will, eventually, get here.

Currently I have peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli and cauliflower started and I have yet to see anything green from any of the trays, except for peppers. I did find a few blades of grass growing in one of the trays which a chalk up to some mystery seeds hitching a ride in my seed starting mixture. I let them grow for a few days just so I could have something else green and alive.

This years chicks will be here tomorrow. I am not sure what kind I am getting yet and I wish I could say that it was because I am reviewing every little trait and statistic from many breeds before I make a wise and informed decision. However, the reality is that I am just waiting to see what the Tractor Supply happens to have in stock when I get there tomorrow.

The chick area is set up and I have made some modifications. In past years I have used the metal tank to house the chicks which works fine until they are bigger and then space is at a premium. Last year I went with the extra big make-into-any-shape-you-want baby gate but I put it right on the cement floor with shavings. The shavings went everywhere as the little chicks played and the whole room was a mess. And, when they were big enough, they flew up and perched on the baby gate railing, jumped out and ate my tomato seedlings.

This year I took 2 big plastic pallets and put them against the back wall of the seed room, and into one corner. I put the baby gate up on the edge of the pallets and secured it so it would not get knocked off. Then I put down several thick layers of cardboard and I made sure it went up the sides to keep the shavings contained.

The only thing that is still needed is a top of some sort. I want something light but durable and don't want it to be one big top. I want at least two separate sections to lift up. I am not sure if the top is just going to sit there or if I will make it attached to something along the back wall and I will lift it up like a cold frame top to access the chicks. I am not going to worry about it right now since the little chicks will be staying put in the fenced area for at least a few weeks. Plenty of time for me to figure something out.

I might be keeping those chicks in the basement until they start laying eggs if the weather does not start changing. This picture was taken after 'Vulcan' finally made its way out of western NY. It was hard to tell how much snow we actually got since the wind was blowing it around and creating huge drifts. In some places the yard was bare and you could see the dead grass glazed over with a layer of ice. But in other places, there were drifts of up to 4 feet. On average, we got about 2 feet of snowfall.
I went outside today in the cold trying to pretend it was spring. I had the kids in snow pants and boots to keep warm and they had a ball running around the yard, shaking off the cabin fever. I tried to rake out some garden beds but the leaves were frozen to the ground. We trimmed a few bushes but by that time my heart was just not in it. It is still winter, whether I want it here or not, and the only thing we did that resulted in any accomplishment was to pick up the tons of fallen sticks and tree limbs that littered the yard. I am just happy that the kids think picking up sticks is a fun way to spend an hour.
Tomorrow I will pretend it is spring again when I go to get my chicks and I will sit inside planning out garden and landscape projects, making lists of parts needed, because that is what I do. I make lists and curse the weather and stress over my lack of tomato sprouts. Welcome to a new season: "The season between winter and spring where everything is mud, mud and sometimes frozen mud."

Monday, March 17

Lentils for Chickens

A little bit ago I posted about an idea I found about giving my hens a treat of sprouted lentils as I winter treat. After following the directions I successfully sprouted half a bag of lentils and the chickens gobbled them up like candy on Christmas morning. It felt so nice to be able to offer them a fresh treat in the middle of winters chill. Their main winter treats are bread scraps and carrot peelings and up until this point it has not occurred to me to 'prepare delicacies' for the ladies.

But that is how things seem to be going for me lately. I find myself saying "I never thought of that" quite a bit. And mostly it concerns a subject that should be blatantly obvious.

Here are the instructions as written by Rachel Hurd Anger in the Jan/Feb 2014 issue of Hobby Farm Home:
"First, fill about 20 percent of the canning jar with dry lentils, then secure the cheesecloth over the mouth of the jar with a length of yarn. Cheesecloth makes it easier to wash the lentils without losing any of them down the drain. I rinse the lentils several times just like I wash dry beans, and then fill the jar with water and let the lentils soak overnight.
By morning, the lentils absorb enough water that they take up about half of the jar, leaving enough room for the sprouts to grow into the rest of the jar. I rinse the lentils a few more times, pour out all the water and usually find that a few have already begun to sprout overnight. Then I place the jar upside down on a plate to keep the lentils moist and cover it with a kitchen towel to keep them in the dark.
I leave the sprouting lentils at room temperature for 48 hours, rinsing them three times per day to keep them clean. After a final rinse, finished lentil sprouts store best in the fridge where the chill will slow additional growth and knock out any bitterness. casting out a few handfuls of lentil sprouts can keep cold, bored chickens happily chasing after those little snacks as if they'd sprouted legs."

Sunday, March 16

What Do You Think?

I am a worrier. I worry about a lot of things, a lot of the time. They range from worrying about the amount of water I should give my seed starting trays to the zombie apocalypse and every little thing in between.

Right now I am worrying about housing developments, which, in my book, rank right up there with the zombie apocalypse. A new one went in across the main road from our little road which turned a diamond shaped, yellow 'right turn ahead' warning sign on the main road into a full 'intersection ahead' sign. Who gets to turn right first? Who turns left first? It is like a mini-face off every time I want to turn off of our road onto the main road with the person trying to do the same thing from the other side, coming out of that new development.

And I thought that was bad. (in addition to the chemical grass fertilizer, inefficiently built housing thrown together by the lowest bidder and the natural habitats destroyed in the process).

But now my neighbor is selling.

My next door neighbor who owns many acres that stretch behind our house has decided to put the property on the market. I have no doubt that it will be snatched up by one of those huge developers and the wooded property, the fields, the creek and everything that lives in the will be destroyed.

And I will have strangers with teenage children praying music too loudly looking right in my windows. Instead of looking out the back kitchen window and seeing trees and deer and the flock of wild turkeys, I will see rows of identical faux-wood back decks attached to identical vinyl sided dwellings that have 3 feet of space between them.

That is not how I want to live.

There is one bright side to this in that our neighbor is going to sell us two acres that include two barns so that we will have a slight buffer to whatever monstrosity is dropped on the rest of the acreage. And I guess I should be grateful for that, even though I strongly suspect that it is offered in hopes that we will not make a fuss with the town during open discussion night at the planning board.

So I need to ask, what do you think?

Should I be grateful that we might be getting these two additional acres that would bring us up to a little over 4 acres in total? I mean, some people don't have any acres!

Should I be angry about a possible development in my backyard and the destruction of animals, plant life, ecosystems and open space?

Should we buy these two acres and do our best to turn it into a more sustainable homestead? Food forests, permaculture? Greenhouses? Larger garden areas? Space to experiment with gardening and land management techniques?

But what good would all that do when the developers are saturating the ground with chemical fertilizer just feet away? The creek runs from that property and then through ours. Granted, by the time the creek gets to our property it is hardly more than a trickle, but it is still a major water source for our gardens and property.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 11

And The Tomatoes......

As of last week the tomatoes are started. I spend the most time wringing my hands over this particular plant. I want strong, sturdy seedlings and every season I try to determine when I should start them to allow enough time for a  hardy transplant when the weather cooperates. But not too early since I don't want to nurse 3 foot tomato plants in my basement the second week of April.
In 2010, I started them on Valentines Day. Sprouts on March 10th, and as I can see no other mentions in my gardening journal about tiny transplants or gigantic ones, I can only assume that this might have been a good time to start them.
So why then did I wait until March 30th to start the tomato seeds in 2011? I was pregnant with the little girl at the time so maybe it was because I was behind in most things chore-related. That was a very wet spring and I see a note that the tomatoes, once transplanted, had a slow start.
In 2012 I started them on March 17th. Notes show that I was harvesting sungolds in July so I will chalk that up to a win.
2013 was March 1st. No notes on transplants but the plants did not do well last year. They all died, starting from the bottom - wilting and turning brown.
Given the sporadic starting dates I think it is safe to say that you should start tomato seeds any time between Valentines Day and St. Patrick's Day.
This years selections:
Red and Yellow Pear
Sweetie Cherry
Yellow Perfection
White Tomesol

Sunday, March 9

Looking Forward To.......

I am eagerly awaiting the release of the mini-series based on one of my favorite books - Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. It has everything I love in a good story - history, romance, sword fighting and of course, Scotland.

Between Jamie Fraser and Scrooge McDuck on the little man's current obsession - the Ducktales cartoons - I have the Scottish accent floating all over this house. Now if I could just get Gerard Butler to record the voice for my GPS I would be all set.

Seamus is recovering from a nasty little virus that caused an upper respiratory infection. He had all the symptoms of a cold complete with runny nose and sneezing. He was completely miserable for a couple of days and after a trip to the vet and a shot of antibiotics, he was good as new a few days later.

He still has a residual cough that should dissipate over the next couple of weeks and I am keeping an eye on him. He has been spending a lot of time in his cat bed, especially since I moved it to the top of the chest freezer in the kitchen. From there he can see out the large back window and observe everything that happens at the bird feeder, and most of the back yard in general.

He is not as wild as when we first brought him home from the cow barn, but he is, after all, still a kitten. he loves to play and gets pretty feisty. His claws are in need of another good trim which I am horrible at doing.

But other than the daggers and the occasional cold symptoms, Seamus Harper McKenzie III is turning out to be a wonderful addition to our family.

Friday, March 7

Better Late Than Never

I have been itching to get my hands dirty for months. As recently as a few weeks ago I was spending much too much time on the houseplants and in a complete failure of willpower I began using my new electronic soil tester on the potting soil in the Christmas cactus.
This time of year I forget about all the hours of weeding and toppling tomato plants and all the other things that give me nightmares over the summer months. All I can think about is starting seeds. All that time pouring over seed catalogs, researching soil amendments and surfing the web drooling over pictures of raised beds and drip irrigation has finally driven me over the edge.
So a couple of weekends ago (this is where the better late than never comes in since it took me this long to post about it) I went down into the basement with work clothes and a mission.
First, our basement is an old, unfinished tomb of sorts. It is full of cobwebs and creepy-crawlies and cat littler boxes. The room where I start my seeds, and raise the baby chicks in one that has adequate power and a door that closes tightly - a must to keep cats away from baby chicks. I took the little man down there with me and together we cleared cobwebs and dusted off planting supplies and swept up all the yuck that seems to accumulate in basements.
We ended up with a serviceable seed starting room, and then he wanted to go watch the Magic Schoolbus. No problem. I was ready to play in the dirt.
I wanted to get the peppers and tomatoes started that day so I began by testing all my lights to make sure I would not need to run out to the store for a new bulb. With everything in working order I started by mixing the soil in my cheery-colored home depot bucket: 16 dry quarts on Jiffy Organic seed starter and 4 dry quarts of organic Vermiculite. I considered adding a little Garden Tone but I decided to hold off on fertilizer until after things have sprouted. 

This year I wanted to try a heat mat and since they are astronomically priced for someone on a budget, I just got the one mat and decided to use it for the peppers. This is the first time I have ever used one so I am monitoring the results to see if it might be worth the investment to get a few more for the tomatoes.

For this years peppers I decided on:

Sheepnose Pimento
Sweet Green California Wonder
Hot Cayenne Yellow
Carnival Mix

It just doesn't get any better than a full seeds tray and some packets......

All the peppers are planted and I am waiting for sprouts.....

The setup.....

The Winter That Just Won't End......