Monday, March 31, 2014

Celebrate Spring by Planting Potatoes

 Early spring is here, and it's time to plant potatoes.  I put mine in a couple of weeks ago, and there's still plenty of time to plant yours.  Purchase seed potatoes, available at garden centers or farm stores, to plant.  Do not use grocery store potatoes, although if you have some sprouting you can plant them; the yield may be less than seed potatoes.  Farmers may spray grocery store potatoes with chemicals to inhibit sprouting.

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Before you plant the seed potatoes, cut them into chunks with an "eye," or sprout, on each piece

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Dig a trench several inches deep, in rows 12 inches apart.  Carefully drop the pieces of seed potato into the ground about 8 inches apart.


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Cover the potatoes with about 3 inches of soil.  Here I'm using my hand plow to fold the dirt over the top of the potatoes.


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To the right is the covered row of potatoes; to the left is the one I'm about to cover.

As the potatoes grow, I'll push the plow down the row and cover the stems of the lengthening plants.  The soil will prompt the plants to form more tubers along the covered stems.  Applying soil to make sure the tubers remain covered is imperative; sunlight causes the potatoes to turn green and bitter.  I have also covered my potatoes with straw, but voles moved into the straw and ate tasty potato snacks all spring.  They do not enjoy having their homes disturbed with the plow.  

Monday, March 3, 2014

My chickens have found new ways to complain about me

At night, chickens have an internal desperation to roost off the ground.  If they can’t find an accommodating roost, they’ll look for one anywhere, including the central branch of a young apple tree which cannot support their weight.   

Because the original roost in my chicken tractor accommodates only about five chickens, I put an additional roost in the chicken tractor when the chickens began roosting in and soiling the nesting boxes.  I do not overbuild things the way my husband does, and the extra roost I built a year or two ago fell over.  I tried to repair it, but one night, recently, as I put them to bed, it was very wobbly, and the roosting chickens made it more unstable.  As I walked away from the chickens after closing their door, I heard an indignant squawking and thrashing of wings, and giggled to myself as I envisioned the roost tipping over while sleepy chickens rode it to the ground.  In the morning, I saw its dilapidated state, and resolved to enlist the help of my father in rebuilding it when my parents visited.

We laid the chicken tractor, which is a bottomless movable pen that I drag to different spots in the yard so the chickens can have fresh ground to explore, on its side.  Chickens are inquisitive creatures, and when we tipped over the house all eight of them began discussing the situation with much chicken dismay.  They circled the house, stepped inside, and pecked at the soles of my father’s shoes as he knelt on the ground to inspect the fallen perch.  They talked about this interruption in their lives with their many chicken voices, clucking, and saying “Hhuummmmm!” and hopped about the area.  Eventually, most of them went off to chase bugs or have a drink of water, but Mr. Cuteypants, my surviving guinea, kept up a constant exclamation of “Pot rack!” “Pot rack!”
My chickens in the garden

Construction projects always take longer than expected, and by the time we recharged the cordless drill, ate lunch, and found all the necessary screws and boards, the chickens’ house had been in disarray for a few hours, and it was time for them to lay eggs.  After a lull of six weeks or so during the early winter when I had to purchase both eggs and chicken feed, my birds have begun laying eggs.  Egg laying is a complex physical and psychological process, and chickens develop preferences about proper egg laying.  They prefer to lay eggs in a dark, quiet, familiar place that is far away from people, other chickens, and electric drills.
 
We removed the nesting boxes and set them on the ground when we tipped over the chicken tractor, but they wanted to lay their eggs inside the chicken tractor, in the normal nest spot.  When we came back from lunch, five chickens were huddled in the back corner of the overturned structure on some hay that fell out of the nesting boxes. 

As we worked on the roosts, the chickens complained about our presence and scolded us.  We had to shoo them out of the way to repair the roost, but they kept returning.  Finally, one chicken, huddled down under three others, laid an egg.  I anticipated the event, and saw the egg just as it emerged from the chicken and lay glistening wet on the straw.  She ran to the water bucket for a drink, and for a snack of some chicken feed. 

One chicken remained, and demanded that we leave.  Her squawking became so loudly insistent, and she was so close to me, that I saw the roof of her mouth; I’ve never had a chicken open her mouth so widely in such an angle that I could see the roof of her mouth.  I knelt beside the chicken tractor, using the cordless drill to insert screws into the wood to hold on the new perch, and my father held the wood in place.  The aggravated chicken became silent for a moment, and then I felt chicken feet on my back.  The distressed bird had jumped onto my back, either for better access to the upward-facing side of the chicken tractor or in agitation, and I stopped my work until my father could remove her. 

We quickly finished the job, righted the chicken tractor, and put the nesting box back inside.  All the chickens, led by the most agitated bird, dashed inside, with a chorus of “HHhhuuumms!” to investigate.  They tried out the nesting boxes, and argued over who was able to use the boxes first.  We left them alone, and that night I found one egg in the nesting box, and chickens snugly perched on the roosts. 
Chickens with the chicken tractor when it was much newer and not dilapidated!


If you are considering starting a flock of chickens, they will be soon or already are available in feed stores.  Get at least four birds.  Chickens need companionship and someone with which to discuss the daily events in their lives, and four will give you extra chickens in case some die.