Monday, September 18, 2017

I was a guest on Deigo Footer's Permaculture Voices Podcast!

You may listen here.

I enjoy listening to podcasts about gardening, farming, and homeschooling.  I don't want to have on the TV to watch the news, as was my habit before the children became old enough to notice, while I cook supper or do chores around the house because I want them to play, or to at least not be terrified by all the crazy things going on in the world.  I also enjoy listening to podcasts in the car when the children aren't with me.  I educate myself through the efforts of people trying to do things in which I am interested.

So I foundDeigo Footer's Permaculture Voices Podcast, in which he talks about farming as well as about life in general.  I have raised two batches of meat birds for our own consumption, and I am interested in raising more.  He did a podcast on pastured poultry and I was interested in the amount of money a farmer could earn raising birds on pasture, and commented on the podcast.  I told him a bit about my experiences raising chickens, and he invited me to be a guest on the podcast on an episode about small-scale poultry raisers.  So here   it is.

Currently, I have 14 chickens and 5 chicks for eggs.  I am definitely not making anything off the eggs I do have; the eggs are the most expensive ones I have ever eaten!  But chickens are fun.

We live on five acres of land, where about 1 acre is relatively flat and cleared and the rest is in hilly woods, but we plan to start building a home on more land soon.  There is a former pasture of about three acres on this property, and the layout of the land is more conducive to moving chicken tractors.

I'm interested in doing something like this but it would be lighter and easier to move since my children and I would be doing the work.  I will be taking the birds to a local slaughterhouse for processing.  Here is a post about the first time I raised meat birds.

It would be a great part-time job for my children to earn some money and to understand the value of real work.  And it would be fun for me too.  (I know that sounds crazy, but as I told a friend, I really enjoy chickens.)

So here is my debut into podcasting.  I am first, so you can hear me without listening to the entire hour and 40 minutes unless you want to.  I enjoyed listening to everyone and learned a lot.  I say "Ummm" too much, I think....

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Weeds, weeds, weeds!

The weeds have gotten ahead of me this summer.  We have been busy with traveling and taking my children to camps, and keeping up with the toddler precludes vanishing to the garden for hours.  He does enjoy playing in the garden and my older children and husband do watch him for me occasionally.

The main problem (and blessing) I've had this summer has been the rain.  I think I am in something of a microclimate because the weather data I can find from the airport that's about 45 minutes away from here indicates that our rainfall is slightly below normal.  All I can say is that our lawn is a beautiful, soft, swath of green that hasn't been watered at all this year, and the crabgrass is two feet tall in places inside the garden.  The tomatoes and okra did poorly, and mildew has been a problem on the beans.

Here is the partially weeded asparagus bed.

A close-up of unweeded portion of the back of the bed.

Below is a picture of the asparagus bed after I spent two hours weeding it.  Later in the day, I hoed it lightly and fertilized it.  I'll put down some straw to mulch the bed after the weeds in the upper layer of the soil have had time to sprout and I have hoed them down.  

Because I do not have time to pull out all the weeds by hand (if I did, I would not have allowed the garden to become so terribly full of weeds), I have used tarps, black plastic, and whatever else I can find to kill the weeds by covering them and preventing them from seeing the sun.  The dead grass on the right has been covered by a tarp; the grass on the left is enjoying summer.
This is my bed of collards.  I set the plants out as transplants after I repeatedly lightly hoed or tilled the soil to kill the weeds in the upper layer of the soil.  Killing weeds that have barely sprouted is easy.  Organic farmers use the stale seed bed method of planting seeds.  To have a "stale" bed, farmers repeatedly shallowly till the surface of the soil, which kills many seedlings while they are tiny and easy to kill.  Depending on the climate and the time of year, farmers also cover the beds to encourage seeds to sprout so they can be killed.

I have no trouble encouraging seeds to sprout, so I go over the bed with my Earthway Wheel Hoe
to kill the weeds that sprout.  This tool is basically a hoe attached to a wheel, and it's so easy to use that a child, as long as he or she is tall enough to see over the handlebars, could operate it.  You must have relatively rock and weed-free soil, though.  It won't cut through rocks or heavy weed roots.  It works perfectly to eliminate baby seedlings, though, as long as the soil is dry.  If the soil is moist, or rain is expected, weeds will re-sprout.
I try to run over the beds and pathways with this tool, or with any hoe or weeding implement, on the mornings of days when rain is not expected and the afternoon temperatures will rise into the 90s.  Sometimes I run a rake back over the beds to eliminate re-sprouting of the weeds.

After a pleasant morning's work in the garden, I removed three or four wheelbarrow loads of weeds and their seeds.  I do not put them into the compost heap because the seeds would probably sprout eventually.  Instead, I put them in this heap in the edge of the woods where the tree canopy and root system deprives the seeds of the water, nutrients, and light they need to survive.

I have now mulched the asparagus bed with straw, which I hope will hold back the weeds until next year.  I should have mulched the bed last fall, but the obligations of children and other things kept me busy.  I also applied some organic fertilizer to the beds rather heavily in hopes of restoring the nutrients sucked off by all this crabgrass.  

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Baby chicks are enjoying some (well supervised) freedom in the unused cold frame

I have a covering to deter hawk attacks, and I visit them every ten minutes or so while they are outside (which is not long, because they will become chilled) to make sure snakes aren't after them, but they understood dirt and its functions immediately,without the example of a mother hen, and began scratching and dust-bathing as soon as they could.  Here's a video of them having fun.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

We have baby chicks...

...but Mrs. Hen didn't hatch them.  I found another one broken on Sunday, and another one broken yesterday.  The eggs were well past 21 days incubation by then, and after scouring the Internet and asking anyone I could, I determined that the eggs were dead.  I don't know why they died after living long enough to make a fully formed chick with feathers, but I have a few ideas.  

1.  Chicken ineptitude.  Broodiness has been bred out of hens so that they have forgotten all their maternal instincts.   Although this hen sat faithfully on the eggs, perhaps she forgot to turn them enough or forgot to heat and cool them properly.

2.  SC's heat wave.  See number 1.  For the first two weeks, SC's early August weather was relatively cool.  If anyone is reading this who lives in a cool climate, you will think I am insane, but 85 or even 88 degrees F feels rather fall-like.  88 degrees, plus heat from the chicken body, shouldn't exceed 100 degrees or so.  As I understand things, 99 degrees and 60% humidity is ideal for hatching chicken eggs.  Over the past week or so our air temperatures and humidity have gotten near this number.  My chicken house is in direct sun and the nesting boxes have a western exposure, so on hot afternoons I imagine the temperature under the eggs could easily exceed 99 degrees.  A broody who knows what she's doing should be able to regulate the temperature, but maybe my chicken didn't know how.  

So yesterday my girls and I went to Sal's Ol' Timey Feed and Seed in Columbia, near my home, and picked out five Americana chicks.  We had all decided we wanted to have chicks.  I hoped the broody would accept them, but when I presented one to her under very close supervision, after removing her from the nest containing the dead eggs, she wasn't interested.  

Well, she was interested, and she even made some of the "churring" noises mother hens make to the babies, but then she went back to preening her feathers and trying to escape the new enclosure.  
I was afraid to trust her with the babies.  And, I was afraid I couldn't keep them safe in this rickety chicken tractor shack into which I would have had to put them if she wasn't completely invested in caring for them.  So, the chicks are now living on the back screened porch which is, we pray, fortified against snake incursions.

Mrs. Hen and her companion have been banished to the chicken tractor with no access to nests. Without access to nesting material, they should forget about being broody in a week or so.  They spend their time trying to escape the chicken tractor; Mrs. Hen gave me quite a start this morning when I went out to check on her because she had vanished!  There were no signs of a struggle and, most importantly, no feathers (no chicken dies without feathers flying everywhere) and so I found her back in the chicken house sitting on a nest.  She had managed to push the wire aside and escape.  I put her back in the chicken tractor and fixed the hole with zip-ties.

Sal tells me that her Old English Game birds hatch out chicks regularly even in the heat.  Perhaps I will get some of them and try again one day.  We would love to see mama bird and her babies.  Maybe one of these new chicks will turn out to be a rooster and we will have our own fertile eggs.  For now, we will enjoy these babies.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Waiting for baby chicks

This is a video of my chicken sitting on her eggs.

My Buff Orpington chicken has persisted in her delusion that if she sits on eggs long enough, surely they will hatch.  Even though there is no rooster, and even though I removed the eggs every day, she still sat on the nest.  Earlier in the spring I removed a Buff Orpington (I don't know if this is the same Buff Orpington chicken but I suspect that it is) and her co-delusional chicken to another chicken house without access to a nest for a couple of weeks to break the broodiness.  This process worked for a couple of months, but she has been broody for a month or more, I suppose.  I traveled a lot during July and was not certain which chicken was on the nest.

After I realized she was determined to raise some chicks, I remembered a friend's offer of fertile eggs. We have had two roosters.  As my girls say, one of them  was nice and stupid, and the other one was mean and smart.  The nice one met his end defending the ladies against a bobcat, and the mean one died last summer at the end of a hatchet blade.  I had scars on my ankles from his spurs, my girls were scared to go into the chicken pen, and with a baby about to become a toddler I didn't want to risk permanent damage to anyone.  We would like a nice and smart rooster to add to our flock.

My friend gave us a dozen fertile eggs.  In this video you can see and her co-broody.  Originally I planned to split the dozen eggs between the two hens because I believed the Barred Rock was also serious about broodiness.  After I put the eggs under her (watching her carefully and knowing that the ambient air temperature in SC in August is nearly hot enough to brood eggs without a chicken--just kidding, sort of) I realized within a day or less that she was not serious.  She got off the nest, forgot which nest she was supposed to sit on and got onto another nest, sat in the nest backwards, and is generally a mess.

After I saw my Buff Orpington in action, with her constant attention to the eggs and her faithful sitting except for a brief stretch and dust bath in the afternoon, I took the eggs from the Barred Rock and gave them all to the Buff.  One egg broke within the first couple of days.

Another egg broke earlier this week.  Inside the egg was an almost fully-formed chick, complete with feathers.  Although I was sad about the loss of the chick, I was glad to see that things were going okay with some of the eggs.

Earlier in the incubation period I held the eggs up to a flashlight beam and saw the eye spot and some blood vessels developing.  Now I see a dark blob in the eggs.  Eggs without a developing embryo are translucent.  Seeing the eye spots and blood vessels develop within the egg was nearly as exciting as seeing my own babies on ultrasound.  Okay maybe not quite that exciting, but seeing new life is miraculous!  Plus, I don't have to be pregnant to see this life happen

Check out the video of the hen here on YouTube, and, as long as there is no disaster, I hope to share a video of chicks hatching within the next couple of days.  I put them under her on July 29; it takes 21 days for the chicks to hatch, so we expect babies within the next couple of days.  Maybe they will be here for the eclipse; we are in an area of totality and I also hope to share a video of my chickens going to roost in the middle of the day.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

My spring garden 2017

I haven't posted anything in over two years thanks to the arrival of this sweet boy.  I could either spend my newly limited time and energy actually gardening, or writing about gardening, and I chose to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible.  After he learned to walk, spending time outside is his favorite activity.  He loves the chickens, and they, well, tolerate him I guess.

He is fascinated by their eyes and wants to poke at their eyes in the same way he enjoys poking at the eyes of people.
 He does sample the dirt when he goes outside.  He will eventually decide that dirt is inedible, and will gain many immune-system-strengthening microbes in the process.  At least that's what I tell myself, because it's impossible to keep him from eating the dirt.  As long as we keep him out of the fire ants, the electric fence, and don't let him eat chicken poo, I consider our outside time a success.
I've also had to have several serious conversations with my older girls, when I tell them to supervise him, about Why We Can't Leave the Baby Outside Alone Even Though He Doesn't Mind Being Left Alone.  I think they understand!
 Here is an overview of the entire garden.  We haven't had a frost here in about three weeks, and spring is fully committed to remaining.

 Below is one of my asparagus patches, with crimson clover blooming red and blackberries blooming white along the fence.

 Baby bean plants that have survived trampling by the toddler have four sets of leaves.
 Several rows of garlic are happy in their mulch.  I was self-sufficient in garlic for many years, but last year my garlic rotted and I had to purchase new seed garlic.  To the right, above the clover, are leeks.

I'm doing an experiment with cover crops this year.  This is the site of my tomato patch for the summer.  My plan is for the crimson clover and rye grass to die in the heat of summer and to provide a mulch for the tomatoes.  In past years I have spread hay as mulch, which is a time-consuming process, especially in the scale on which I grow tomatoes.  I let the chickens into the clover last week and they have helped trample it.

 To the right are English peas, and to the left rear are Fava beans.  Cilantro flowers in front.
 More beautiful asparagus below the peas.
 Below is a closeup of the Fava beans.  I planted the seeds last fall.
 These are thornless blackberry plants.  I was afraid the buds were killed by the frost, but they are blooming and even forming baby blackberries.  Perhaps the harvest will be as abundant as it was the summer I was pregnant with Luke and I canned 30 pints, or maybe even more, of blackberry jam.
Here is another experiment.  I planted Austrian winter peas in this bed.  Between the rows of peas, I cleared a furrow and sowed Crowder pea and lima bean seeds.  I plan for the beans and peas to grow and for the Austrian winter peas to die back as mulch in the heat of summer.