Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dreaming about sun

No chickens here. Nobody wants to get wet. Weenies.

It's another chilly, dreary, damp day. I can see the mist dropping into the puddles on the driveway. Even the chickens are not impressed. Their door is open but after a quick perusal of the grass and surrounding fields, they beat feet back into the little red coop where it's warm and dry. Hummmmph. I'm not very patient. I know that in just a few short months I'll be longing for a cool, damp day because August will be hot and dry. But right now all I can think of is the taste of warm tomatoes with juices dripping down my arm and the smell of fresh basil and cucumbers. I really hope that we will be able to get into the garden sometime soon. I feel like I'm already behind. It's supposed to be sunny and warmer by Memorial Day. If it does dry up, Monday will be a wonderful day filled with digging, planting and sore muscles. I can't wait.

I have two garden sites this year. My old garden site that I shared with a friend was not available this year so I'm putting food in at my house; the "Home Garden" where the soil is "virgin" soil. I put all of the winter bedding from the chickens and rabbits into this spot and still it needs quite a bit of amending as it's mostly clay. And the "City Garden": a large area of wonderful, friable dirt at a friend's house that has been worked and loved for several years (see post from April 14, 2010). The garden here at my house will have those space loving plants- the three sisters: corn, pole beans and squash. And a few other plants that will go to feed us and our animals: peas, Swiss chard, mangles and sunflowers. The City Garden will have everything else: tomatoes, cabbage, B. sprouts, onions, peppers, potatoes, cauliflower, celery, herbs (cilantro, dill, basil, oregano, thyme, stevia) carrots and of course, more corn.

I just love the names of some of these seeds. They have vivid descriptive titles that set me to dreaming. I ordered corn from Johnny's selected seeds called "Painted Mountain". It's a combination field and ornamental corn. I'm also going to plant a second field corn called "Bloody Butcher". It's considered a heritage breed and as true to it's name will be bright red to mahogany at harvest in late fall. Both corns will be grown and dried in the Home Garden. The stalks and the cobs can (supposedly) be utilized by animals but the chickens weren't too impressed with either last year. Maybe I can offer the stalks to the neighbors for their pigs. (I wish I had a cow. She'd know what to do with corn leaves and stalks. A milk cow would efficiently turn all our grass and corn stalks and other greens not deemed edible by the chickens into wonderful creamy milk......OK, enough of this. The cow will come to this farm when it's time. Not before. It's just not time!)

The Swiss chard is called Bright Lights. I LOVE this chard. I have grown it successfully for many years. True to it's name, the stalks have vivid colors of yellow and orange and red. The leaves are a deep green that just screams "EAT ME, I'M DELICIOUS!!!!" This chard has fed our family for a long time. This year I'm going to grow enough to share with the chickens and rabbits. I'm even going to experiment with drying some if it to use in soups through the winter. I've heard it grows well in the winter under lights too. I haven't tried that yet. Maybe this year?

The pole beans are Kentucky Wonder. This is a wonderful heirloom variety with 7" long pods that are usually stringless (which my kids like) and are great fresh, frozen or canned. It's been a long time family favorite that I haven't grown for a while because of space limitations. But this year I'm going to drag several long, narrow fallen trees from the woods. After trimming any branches that are still attached, I'm going to strap the tops together for a couple of makeshift teepee's. Then I'll plant the bean seeds at the base of these teepee's so we'll have lots of area for those sweet little seeds to grow and bloom and make beans for us to eat. I'm also going to allow them to crawl up the corn like the American Indians used to do.

Next is the squash. Along with "the usual suspects" IE: zucchini and yellow crookneck, the kids and I'll plant pumpkins with names like Valenciano, Howden Biggie, American Tondo, Marina di Chioggoa and Wee-B-Little. Next to these will go winter squash called Waltham butternut, a green acorn squash called Tuffy, and a spaghetti variety called simply Spaghetti. Some of these will be eaten by us and some by the animals. I gave our chickens some leftover pumpkins last winter and they completely ate it down to the hull. I wished I had more pumpkins in January.

I'm not a huge fan of beets, but my mountain boy LOVES them. I've also read the wonders of feeding animals mangles. Mangles are really just a large, (really large) beet. They can reach up to 10 pounds without becoming woody. And the greens are pretty mild even in the heat of late summer. So this year I'm experimenting with a beet that can feed both my family and the animals. I ordered them from Seeds of Change out of New Mexico. They are a yellow, heirloom mangle with a milder, more subtle flavor than red beets. Supposedly you can just throw one of these monsters into the chicken coop whole, and let the chickens eat them as is. I'm not sure about that. They don't seem to impressed with whole apples until they've been quartered. So I'm guessing I'll have to cut the mangles a bit for the chickens to take interest.

Other than Mammoth sunflowers and some field peas, that will be it for the Home Garden. It sounds like a lot. And it is a lot of work. But I relish the effort it takes to grow a garden. It's meaningful work.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

More adventures in producing our own food

This week end (finally!) marks the start of summer gardening. I have tomato starts (about 20 of them!), basil, oregano, thyme, stevia, peppers (Bell and jalapeno), two different colors of cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, celery and Brussels sprouts all begging to be planted in the soil. But whether I actually get to put my starts out this week end is debatable. It all depends on the weather. It was a balmy 36 degrees on my front porch this morning. Though I'm sure the cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower will do fine, the tomatoes, squash and other tenders will have to wait. The rule of thumb around here is that you don't plant tenders until after the snow is off Columbia Mountain. The mountain still has quite a bit of snow on it. So we wait.

The one little broody hen continues her quest to hatch eggs. The number has been reduced to three eggs now as I found two broken in the nest yesterday. She has two weeks to go....if she has any eggs left intact by then. I hope she's successful. She's been very faithful.

The other 12 hens have dutifully kept us in eggs laying 8-10 everyday. A couple of days ago I found a HUGE egg in one of the nesting boxes. It didn't even fit in the egg carton and so had to have it's own place in the 'fridge. I don't want to crack it yet to see what's inside. A double yolk? Triple yolked? It will remain a mystery until we decide that we can't stand the suspense any longer and crack that baby open.

The rabbit kits are thriving. Each of the two does have been wonderful mothers and we've had no loses. All 14 are fat and sassy. The one doe that has not delivered remains without babies. If she still has not kindled by the end of this week, I'm going to take the nesting box out of her cage and try to re breed her. She's very large and has a sweet disposition. I would love to have some babies out of her.

We have reordered the chicks to replace the little guys that arrived dead Monday. We should receive the new baby birds sometime early next week, but NOT over the holiday week end. Hopefully, these chicks will be healthy and happy when they arrive and my youngest boy can get on with the raising of his belated birthday present. The six white, turkey chicks from the feed store are thriving (and smelly!) in their prospective rubber tubs; 2 to a tub, in our basement. The tomato starts seem to really like sharing the space with the turkey chicks as the birds heat up the plant room to a warm 73 degrees. So the plants are growing like crazy!

Today has turned off cool and damp. There's a light mist falling over our whole valley and it makes our pastures look positively juicy. (I can't wait until we have a cow or two to take advantage of these fields. I would love to have a sweet Jersey girl of my very own. I'm embarrassed to admit that I even had a name already picked out for her.) I'm not complaining. I do love it when it rains. The wet weather slows down our lives. And I am grateful. We were supposed to have a couple of baseball games tonight, but I don't think that will happen. (Though I haven't received a call informing me that they have been cancelled.) So hopefully, instead of busy-ness, this night will be a quiet one with all the kids at home playing games or reading or listening to music or watching the basketball play-offs.

I can hear the wind moaning through the open windows on the north side of the house. I think I'll go tuck the farm in early and start supper before they come home from school: scalloped ham and potatoes- red potatoes and onions from last years garden and ham from a whole pork we purchased from a local pork grower. I feel rich. I love these days.

Update 8:30 pm: We did play baseball after all. The weather was misaberable. It rained and rained and the wind blew straight out of the east (this is the only place I have ever lived where the wind blows out of the east. Glacier National Park lies east of our town and sometimes the storms come from the Park, hence easterly winds) and the score was tied at 4 to 4 in overtime. My boys played great. I'm going to bed!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It's been three weeks. I can't believe so much time has passed since I've written anything about our lives. There has been so much activity.....I'm not sure where to start. (Most of my friends would just laugh that I would ever say such a thing.....I talk SO MUCH! How can any words have a chance to back log?!)

So I put on some Frank (Sinatra.....yup, I'm pretty old) and away we go:

Baseball is in full swing and we have 3 boys playing. That means 3-4 evenings a week at the baseball fields and a couple of afternoons and nights during the week end. No games tonight, but we have scouts. We've been absent so much lately because of sports, the scout masters are going to ask us if we are in the right place. Actually, they've been pretty good about sports. Most of the boys in our town are in some sport or another. It's just hard to plan scout activities if the leaders are not sure who will show up. Our family is there about 1/2 the time. But between football-cross country-basketball-baseball-summerleagueswimming we miss quite a bit. The boys don't want to stop attending, so we fit scouting into our lives.

The farm is revving up. We now have two litters of meat rabbit babies. The third doe hasn't kindled yet. Not sure what's going on there. Rabbits are funny. Though she's due to deliver, if she has had a great scare or has experienced a lot of pain (that wasn't pregnancy induced) she could actually absorb the whole litter. I've not had a doe that has done this, but I've heard from other rabbit owners that it's possible. I just have to watch. If she has a tendency to not carry a litter to term, she might have to be taken out of meat production and to go to a family as a pet. That would be too bad. She's really nice big doe and her temperament is sweet. Unlike her sister who is also pretty big but a spaz. We have 14 rabbit babies altogether with another litter on the way.....I hope.

We also have a hen that's decided to start a family! She's setting on 5 eggs and has been since last week. There were initially 10 eggs but 5 were pushed out of the nest, over the span of a couple of days, by other hens trying to lay in the same box. Goofballs. I tried to fix a makeshift door or obstacle so that only the broody hen could come and go. But it didn't work. I'll have to figure out a system to keep the setting hen secluded but not excluded from the flock before the next time....if there is a next time. She's one of the smaller hens but you can't tell it. She gets all her feathers puffed up to cover those eggs. I hope she's successful. It would be really great if she had a new little family of chicks to raise.

Speaking of chicks. My youngest son requested chicks for his birthday this year. He wanted a fancy, feather-footed, bantam breed that he might be able to sell to "city folks" in the fall who might want to have just a couple of small birds in their backyards to lay eggs. It's a pretty good idea. But his birthday is in March and much too cold to think about raising day old chicks (even though we've had turkey babies in our basement for, what, 4 weeks now?) So I put him off promising to order the chicks he really wanted by the first of May to be delivered on Monday, May 24th. Unfortunately, we had a cold snap this past week end and several of the baby bantams didn't make the trip well. We lost 8 of the 10 ordered. Daniel was really disappointed. But the hatchery states they will make good on the 48 hour guarantee so I'll call tomorrow with the total number of chicks lost. We might have a replacement batch as early as next week! The first week of June promises to be sunny and a little warmer. The two little ones that have survived are really doing quite well. They sure are cute.....and little.

The turkey babies are big. Really big. I was feeding them yesterday and could have sworn I hear a little gobble come out of one of them. How did this:

Turn into this:

Aaaaahhhhh! Godzilla turkeys!!!!
These birds are huge!

I used to love on them and snuggle with them and whisper sweet nothings into their ears: "mmmmmm butter, gravy, salt and pepper, cranberry sauce....." Now they are too flappy and fluttery and too big to hold for too long. So I mutter to them from afar, or at least through the old window screen that keeps them from exploring the house pooping on everything while we are asleep. And keeping them safely in their rubber tubs from our rambunctious red puppy that would like nothing better than try a turkey leg on the fly. These guys will go out on pasture in about 2-3 weeks depending on the weather. Domestic turkeys have a reputation for being pretty fragile. I'm just proud we made it this far with all 6 still alive and well and growing! I'll bet they already weigh 3-4 pounds a piece.

School's almost out for the summer and my children are not the only ones counting down the days. I can't wait!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

It rained for all those many days, then last night it snowed. S-N-O-W-E-D!!!!!! We woke up to about 1-2 inches of heavy, wet snow. It wasn't that big of a deal. It's still to early to plant anything in the garden. It's just the psychological- ness of snow in May. Bleck. But it's all gone now and even though the wind is blowing strongly out of the north the sun is shining and the clouds are almost gone.

It's supposed to start raining again tomorrow. I'm not going to think about that.

I saw the coyote yesterday up close to the house nosing around the chicken coop. It was barely light so the chickens and rabbits were still sleeping. That thing was big! It was a little unnerving. I saw the carnivore off and on all day. Then at about 1:30, I saw two unfamiliar dogs chasing it back across the fields into the woods! It was gone! I haven't seen it today so maybe it won't venture back to bother our animals and we won't have to do anything drastic after all! We'll see.

We separated the turkey babies into two tubs. Now they have more room and we will hopefully not have any more picking problems. I found one on top of the tub balancing on the edge tonight. So we placed unused screens from a couple of windows over the top of the tubs to keep the young birds from fluttering out. (We can't have turkey babies running and flapping all over the house. The red puppy will find them and will help herself to turkey McNuggets!) We are almost out of the store bought food so I'll have to make a run to the feed store tomorrow. I was going to make a trip out there anyway to price hay. Our meat does will be kindling in the next couple of weeks and I need to have some warm, dry hay on hand for their nesting boxes. In the meantime, the turkey babies are eating hard boiled eggs from our chickens mixed with whole wheat bread soaking in raw milk. They are very partial to this mixture and clean the feed bowl as fast as I can put it out.

The chickens gave 9 eggs today but I found one with a very rubbery, limp shell that had the contents eaten. Hmmmmm. I guess I might need to increase the calcium in their feed. I'll watch for more signs of weak shells before I change anything. It may have just been a fluke.

The red puppy has been in trouble tonight as she has been barking and jumping on the kids and biting. None of that is tolerated by me so we went outside and had a long walk, then 30 minutes of non- stop fetch. She came into the house so tired that all she could muster was a drink of water and a couple of bites of dinner before she fell onto her dog bed. So no more naughty puppy. I think she was just needing a stretch of exercise after a long day without her family. Now she's happily snoozing in her kennel/ cave. No barking, no whining. Happy.

Since today was one of my work-away-from-home days, I put a couple of quart jars of home made vegetable soup in the crock pot before leaving for school this morning. It's so nice to come home to a warm house that smells like dinner. The soup was pretty good and the kids ate every bit.

Though it's not dark yet, it's almost time for all to go to bed and I can't wait. I'm longing for bed myself. There's nothing that can't wait until tomorrow now that the animals and kids are fed and happy.

Monday, May 3, 2010

It's been raining for about 3 days straight. Not always the hard, driving rain. Sometimes it drizzles quietly and all night long. This is just what we need. Our mountains got very little snow this winter and we might have a bad fire season if our spring rains are sparse. The last few days of rain put us we only 1/2 inch behind for the year. That's pretty good. If it stays cool and wet, we might even miss the grasshopper infestation that is predicted for this part of the country this summer. Boy, I hope so. The grasshoppers were terrible last year. I've never seen such bugs.

I was standing at the kitchen window doing dishes in June, when I noticed what I thought was fluff blowing in the wind from some near-by cotton wood trees. But as I watched, I realized that the fluff was moving with purpose (flying) and was landing on my garden! And on the field grass. And on the porch. And on the window screens. The wind wasn't even blowing! They were grasshoppers of magnitude proportion. You couldn't walk across the lawn or any where outside without a moving, hopping mass of bugs jumping away from you in waves. No going barefoot; it was just too gross to step on those things. Even walking in sandals was iffy because grasshoppers would get stuck between your foot and the inside sole of the shoe, squishing it into you skin. (Bleck) Plus, they have green blood. (I've read accounts from the dust bowl era stating that the 'hoppers were so thick that they'd eat the drying clothes off the line.) So hopefully this cool rain means no grasshoppers.

The turkeys are really getting big. I found one outside the tub today. I think we are going to have to split the group into two tubs and put screens over the top of both allowing for more room and to protect them from jumping out. The little guy that had it's wing picked until bleeding is big. It only has a very small area of a scabbing left on the right wing. I tried to put him in with the rest, but they began picking at the almost healed area. So back into the cardboard hospital he goes. He is bigger than his friends now. I think not having to compete for food has helped him gain some in growth. They all have the very beginnings of tail feathers and most of the wings have filled out. They are going to be big birds.

The plants in the basement continue to grow in their small containers, waiting for true spring. We are expecting a cold front to blow into the area sometime tonight which should drop the temperatures back into the 20's. We are even expecting some snow Wednesday. I didn't tell the kids. I think it's a little disheartening. So we just wait.

The rabbits are content in their cages. It's interesting to note that the does seem to develop a quietness when they are "with bunny". I know that female animals are said to "settle" when they become pregnant. It's true with rabbits. I treat them to several handfuls of dandelion clumps a day through the spring, summer and into fall. They are introduced slowly because the green, juicy leaves and stems are hard on the digestive system all at once especially when the animal has only been eating winter feed for several months. Our yard has an abundance of dandelions. They are all due to kindle in three weeks. I'm glad the coop is cleaned out and ready for new arrivals.

The hens are generously laying 8-10 eggs a day and I got 10 eggs today. The roosters are active and take their husbandly duties very seriously. I just wish one of the ladies would decide to start a family and go broody. I think it would be lovely to have a new clutch of baby chicks.

We haven't seen the coyote for 2 days now. It could be the rain has kept her hiding out in the woods. I don't think I'd go out into the sopping, wet fields if I were a coyote. But I'm not hungry either. She was loosing her winter coat the last time I saw her, with great clumps of grey- brown fur peeling off her sides and chest. I bet she'll wish she had some of that warm, fur back with the oncoming storm. I'm glad our animals are safe and warm and dry in the little red coop. I'm very thankful it's weather proof.

It's getting dark again with another wave of rain clouds obscuring the setting sun. The wind is blasting from the west in great gusts that slam that side of the house. I'm glad that we too live in a sturdy, warm house that is safe and dry. I think I'll have a glass of red wine and fold the mountain of clothes that waits for me.....and dream of baby animals and freshly harvested vegetables.

Update: It's 8:00 pm and the blowing rain has turned to blowing snow. Dang it.

Saturday, May 1, 2010


We woke up to an injured turkey poult yesterday. One of the babies is just a tad smaller than the others. As a matter of fact, the difference is very slight, but the birds must have known. All was fine when we tucked them in for the night. But when we woke, the littlest had an area of his/ her (?) right wing bloodied and a little area bare of feathers. Since there's nothing in the tub but birds, the waters and a food bowl, I'm guessing that they picked at her until there was blood. I've read that birds (chickens, turkeys...) will pick at a smaller bird then pick until there's a bloody area sometimes resulting in death! I'm not sure if this is a "survival-of-the-fittest" thing. Or just a bird thing. Anyway, we moved the little guy into a small box and placed that box in the tub with his friends. The injured bird can see the other birds through a small hole in the cardboard but his is still safe from further attack. It has food and water and still can be warmed from the heat lamp. I have to do some research before we take the next step. I know that it will stay in it's temporary home until there is no sign of injury. But I'm not sure how to keep this from happening again. Maybe they are too crowded already. Or maybe a red bulb in the heat lamp would help camouflage any healing injuries or wounds. I already put a couple of small, orange wiffle balls in the tub to (hopefully) keep them occupied. I stuffed some whole wheat bread into the middle of the ball and they've been playing/ picking at it. These pictures show that the "hospital" takes up a lot of room. But the healthy birds aren't picking at each other. Hmmmm. This little guy represents a little money but big dreams. I really don't' want to loose him to more of the pecking order.

Any poultry people out there have any ideas?