Time for an Update

We are finally making progress on the clean up from last year’s storm damage.  The arbor that had been attached to a raised garden bedstorm damage to arbor 2016 gardens 2 has been re-built – YEA!!

The third of our large garden plots is now established and planted with five rows of potatoes and several of sweet corn.2016 gardens 1  Squash will be planted on the edge so we can train the runners to go up the hill eliminating even more mowing (we hope).

The other two plots have been worked up, one is planted in sunflowers and native corn, while the second is all grass seed for this year’s meat bird pasture.2016 gardens 3With the coop moved into place, we just have to fix the roof (more storm damage) and we’ll be ready to brood chicks next month.

Two years ago we planted 300+ asparagus roots and six apple trees.2014 view This spring we had blossoms on our trees and three or four light harvests from our asparagus bed! Then the temps dropped below freezing a couple of nights.  That took care of any apples and asparagus for this year. 2016 gardens 4  No real harm done and next year should be a bumper crop!

It looks like we will have plenty of raspberries . . . 2016 gardens 5 but we will definitely need to cover them with netting.

There has been no shortage of weeds this year, especially thistles.  We try to pull all the unwanted vegetation, but Mother Nature has cultivated a lovely crop of milk weed for her Monarchs.  2016 gardens 11

They have really flourished around the pond which needs to be rebuilt.2016 gardens 12 We think the display camouflages it nicely.

One area we have neglected to pull weeds in is the closed in run for our little garden chickens.Dotts weed retreat 2  These three bantams have made a path to their little outdoor shelter which is kind of cute, but I’m pretty sure those will be the next weeds to go.Dotts weed retreat 3

Included in all of our storm damage last year was the loss of our gazebo.  Since our patio has absolutely no shade . . .Gazebo prep 1 we purchased another gazebo and were lucky enough to find the same one on sale this spring.  Now we just have to finish planting and we’ll have shade to relax in while enjoying our garden. 2016 gardens 15With a fourth raised bed in place and a fresh load of black dirt, we should have the remainder planted this week, just in time for out young helper to spread the bark mulch.

Recap of the 2015 growing season.

The last of the carrots have been dug, garlic along with spring flower bulbs planted, and the garden toys are tucked away for the winter.  This seams like a good time to sit back and reflect on the busy year we had on this small scale farm operation.

With such good weather in April & May we were able to get into the gardens early and the kitchen garden is always the first up for tilling.Spring tilling 1

Someone once asked me “what’s a kitchen garden?”  For me it is the garden located right outside my kitchen door.  It’s great to have fresh herbs and produce so close at hand.2015-07-23 12.25.28

2014-09-05 17.35.14. . .  and the view of the gardens and small chicken coop from the kitchen really makes my day.

East of the kitchen garden and in front of the big chicken coop run is a plot of grass and weeds.  We decided this area would make a good “chicken garden”.  It was tilled and planted with all sorts of goodies for our layers to forage through in the fall.Spring tilling 2

Over the summer months the layers were pastured out by the old willow that came down in last year’s wind storms.  The iconic willow left such a big and cool looking stump, that we decided it would be a neat place for our fairy door and the chickens to play around on.  willow bush1

This became one of their favorite spots over the summer . . . 2015-09-04 08.58.34that big old stump provides them lots of shade and good cover from hawks.

This was the first year we were able to really map out and plant much of our rotational gardens, giving us a better idea of what we can get out of the allotted space.   Rod planted three successions of sweet corn and we set up our first road side stand.2015-09-06 15.20.51

We really didn’t know what to expect by way of customers and the amount of corn our planting would yield, so decided to just put a sign out on the edge of our property.2015-09-06 15.21.58  We had lots of corn left, I was able to freeze eight dozen ears and the chickens did their part by eating the corn that was too old to sell.  Next year we’ll add a sign out on the highway that should increase sales.

 

Our chickens will also benefit this winter from the harvest of millet and native corn, which was grown in the garden the meat chickens were pastured in last year.  The native corn was so beautiful I took some along to sell at the UFO Art & Craft fair this year.2015-10-31 09.33.29(1)

For the most part, I’d say this was a very successful year for our small scale farm.2015-11-14 14.33.27

  Over the past couple of years we’ve sold our meat chickens and eggs.  It was nice to be able to focus on the sale of our produce by adding sweet corn, potatoes, carrots, and leek.  Next year we should be able to add asparagus to that list.

Mother Nature’s way of increasing our flock.

March started out more like April this year, with warmer temps and a nice snow melt.  We wondered if that was why our flock went through a mild molt.  We’ve experienced the fall molt, which is why it’s nice to brood chicks in early May since they pick up the slack in egg production while the older girls regrow their feathers.  Having pullets start laying in the fall is why we were debating adding more chicks this year.

Mother Nature stepped in twice to help increase the number of RindyBerry layers.  The first was the most interesting . . . a freak snow storm on the 22nd of March that left us with 11.6″ of snow!!March 22nd snow storm 2 YEAH just short of a foot when areas 20 miles north of us got a couple of inches!!  You’re probably wondering what this has to do with increasing our flock.  Well I need to go back a bit to when we first started with our seven laying hens.

The neighbor also had seven hens about the same age ours and both flocks would periodically range together.  Because they had lost some of their old girls (predators and age) they added eight new chicks to their flock last year too.  By this spring they were down to just one of the old girls and sure enough once the winter snow had melted there she was each morning grandmawaiting at the gate for our little bantam wyandottes to be released.  And so it was every morning she came over to hang with her little flock of three “dottes” and at the end of the day went home to her new young flock.

All this changed with the March 22nd snow storm.  The morning started out with a light snow fall which didn’t stop “Miss Kimball” from her daily visit.  When the snow started to come down heavy she joined our “dottes” under their coop for cover.

"dottes" coop in the background

“dottes” coop in the background

As the snow continued on in earnest it became apparent she was here for the night.  The neighbor tried to collect her the next day and twice after – she DID NOT want to go and pecked at him!  Perhaps she just didn’t want to hang with the “young-uns” over in her old coop any longer and decided to retire next door with the “dottes”.grandma and dottes1

She pays rent by laying darned near every day and is such a sweet little bird.  The neighbors called her “grandma” and we do now too. 😉grandma and dottes2

 

 

 

 

 

Mother Nature’s second assist in increasing our flock came by way of a broody hen, which was one of last year’s spring chicks.  We set a dozen eggs under her and she hatched out seven, but one didn’t make it.  Out of the six remaining we are hopeful that four are hens.mama Ausie and babes It’s too early to tell the sex of the chicks. We’ll just have to wait for the crow!

In pursuit of many interests.

We’ve had a busy couple of months.  In January I took on the role of Vice-Chair of the Green County Democratic Party, and have LOTS to learn.  I’m enjoying the challenge but it has taken some of my time from things like perusing Facebook and posting to our blog.

It hasn’t been all politics these last few months.  We recently attended a model train show for information regarding a garden train set up.  Rod would like to run one around the perennial bed in front of the house.  We picked up lots of ideas and a new toy.Train Set 1  He’s starting small and indoors.  The plan is to purchase enough track to eventually put my trunk back where it belongs and snake his “Broadway Express” around items that reside under our stairway.  In fact he has decided it would be fun to paint a sky complete with clouds and sun under the steps.Train Set 2

I had intended to share ideas on how to combat winter boredom in the chicken coop, but as I mentioned time got away from me.  One thing that helped our birds this winter was their sun room, which may not have been pretty but it sure did the trick.  On those bitter cold days (that were sunny) it was almost 40 degrees in that outdoor run.Once the snow was gone we were able to start pulling off the plastic walls and happy chickens began to venture.

  The girls also had a dirt box inside the coop this winter and LOVED it Bathing Box . . . after all who wants to go three or four months without a bath!!  To top off their spa like accommodations they are treated to a regular supply of fodder which is grown in our solarium.Growing fodder 1

Rod starts with a small amount of organic potting soilGrowing fodder 3 then sprinkles a liberal amount of pasture mix.Growing fodder 5

After about five days the trays on the heated mats have sproutedGrowing fodder 9, Growing fodder 10the ones without heat took another four to five days.

Even with all the nice sun and dome covers.Growing fodder 6

The chickens weren’t the only ones to receive fresh grown treats from winter gardening.  Rod potted a couple cherry tomato plants last fall and had success. wintered tomato 1wintered tomato 2 It may not have been a bumper crop, but we had enough for a nice salad and a few other mealswintered tomato 3

There was room in the pot of parsley that was brought in and we had lettuce seed left over.winter lettuce There isn’t much but it’s just right for sandwiches.  And just check out this snap dragon and pansy.wintered snaps wintered pansies

I’m so ready for SPRING!!

Sprouts; not just for salads anymore.

Winter months can be challenging for chicken keepers.  Fresh greenery and bugs are hard to come by.  Boredom sets in when our sweet little chickens begin feeling “all cooped up” and bad things can happen . . . 10822426_326970840821870_1429090211_n as shown in this Far Side cartoon.  In my next few posts I’ll share some ideas that may help your flock beat that winter boredom and ward off those “egg fights”.

Our chickens love their treats, so I welcomed a suggestion by Susan, owner of Cluck the Chicken Store, to sprout grains.  This really requires very little time and few supplies.Sprouts 1

To date I’ve only sprouted wheat, but have read that many types of grain work well for this process.  Regardless of the type of grain you sprout, be sure it is whole grain not cracked or ground.

With colander nested in the bowl, add your grain (about a third full).Sprouts 3

Pour in enough water to liberally cover the grain.  A Layer of grain will float on the surface, lift the colander in and out of the water a couple of times, all but a bit of the chaff settles to the bottom.Sprouts 5Sprouts 4Cover and let set about 24 hours.Sprouts 6The next day dump the water and rinse the grain.

grain slightly plumped after 24 hour soak

grain slightly plumped after 24 hour soak

  Place the colander of grain back into the bowl (without water), cover and allow to drain 24 hours.  Repeat the last step of rinsing and draining your grain 2-3 more times.

I find an easy way to keep mold from forming on my grain, is to dump the grain into my rinsed out bowl (filled with water)Sprouts 8 then strain it through the colander pouring a few more bowls of water over the grain to rinse it well.Sprouts 9  Place the colander of grain back in the bowl and cover.

My colander has a raised base which also helps to prevent mold.  If your colander rests on the bottom of the bowl use a canning jar ring or cookie cutter to lift it off of the bottom.

After a couple of days you will begin to see little white tails sproutingSprouts 11

This bowl of sprouts is now ready for chicken consumption.Sprouts 10 Sprouted grain is also a great addition to the buffet of offerings we feed our wild birds.  Toss some in your ground feeders, the Junco’s and Morning Doves will thank you!

Tis the season for Art & Craft Fairs.

Re-purposing is important to me, and by scouring Craigslist, bargain bins, thrift stores and the occasional yard sale I’ve built up quite a supply of “treasures”.  Now it’s time to put them to use.  In the past I’ve set up at our local art & craft fair.  My display of was sparse since I was working full time. 2013 UFO Craft Show  To fill in the empty table space, I added of a few gift baskets and  magnetic board full of magnets my Mother had made.

Now that I’m retired and spending much of my spare time in the work room I’ve decided to set up at a couple of local events.  Here are some of the projects I’ve been working on.

Decoupage Serving Tray:

After removing the glass and backing from one of several picture frames purchased at UW Swap, a wooden bottom was added.serving tray1 serving tray3

The next step was to incorporate a couple of place mats a friend had given me along with scraps of hand made paper and cupboard door pulls from our local Habitat Re-Store serving tray5 Several coats of satin finish varnish and a cork bottom completes the serving tray.serving tray. adjd

Decoupage Coasters:

Another great find at the Habitat Re-Store, were these stone tiles.coasters 1

They’re just the ticket for coasters made from wall paper sample books (found at a yard sale) and a pack of coasters purchased from Cluck the Chicken Store.coasters 2 coasters 3  A few coats of flat varnish, cork backing and my coasters are complete.coasters 5

Decoupage Wall Decor & Ornaments:

Several mirrors and some ornaments found at yard sales are a great canvas for my decoupage projects. wall decor 1ornaments 1

With the addition of various papers, a few embellishmentsornaments adjd  which include some botanical goodies I’ve gathered and pressed . . .wall decor crpd the yard sale finds are ready to go.

Well I’m almost ready for my second and last craft fair for 2014.  I’ve just finished replenishing my basket of Lavender Dryer Bags.  These were a hot item at the last sale.lavender dryer bags

With some kitchen towels and dish cloths added to the mix,dish cloths and towels the only thing left is to make up a few more note cards . . .note cards another good seller.

Rod made the display for my wall hangings and a handy card rack that spins, so I can have cards on both sides.  An added feature is the drawer in the base, it’s just the ticket for surplus cards.  I just love it!

Fall migration & flock integration.

When we lived in town we attracted a nice variety of birds with our various feeders, small pond, bird baths, and garden.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA East Ave pondEast Ave Garden

Once in a while during the fall migration a hawk would visit the feeders.  I remember looking out the kitchen window in awe of that beautiful bird and feeling badly for the prey . . . Mother Nature at work.

My appreciation of hawks has changed a bit with this year’s migration.  We lost our little Blue Wyandotte to one. 🙁  This was particularly sad since she’s the little hen that hatched a small clutch of eggs a couple of months ago for Susan, owner of Cluck the Chicken Store in Paoli.Blue's babes 2

Hawk migration wasn’t our only issue this fall.  We noticed something big fly by the window and imagine our surprise to see a Blue Heron perched on the bantam’s coop.  I manged to get a picture from inside the solarium before it took off.blue heron  Within a few minutes it returned to our pond, we then realized it had eaten the fish.  It’s too bad we lost the gold fish, but it sure was cool to see such a big and beautiful bird just outside the window.

With our move to the country we are attracting a much larger variety of birds than we would ever have seen in town.  So even with the losses it’s great being in the country!

Remember these little cuties?Fun on the jungle gym roost.

BA pulletWell their big girls now. . .

opps and one boy!

Lil' Red Roo

Lil’ Red Roo

This is only the second time we’ve integrated young chickens into our main flock, and as with last year’s spring hatch, it went incredibly well.

Lil' Red watching over his flock

Lil’ Red watching over his flock

Although, we definitely had a segregation issue when the Delawares realized the hardware cloth that divided the coop was gone.  They made it clear that the front roost was theirs!

Now when we do the evening head count before closing their run they are all intermingled into one big happy flock.roostingWell it can still be a little raucous at bed time, but that’s what it’s like in the chicken world. 😉

Good Friends and Fall Fishing.

After an incredibly busy spring and summer, it was time for our annual fishing trip.  Having missed our spring getaway we decided to leave a few days early and visit friends that now live in Michigan.  To save on some of the driving we took the car ferry across Lake Michigan.SS Badger

When we boarded the ferry it was quite foggy and the choppy water made for an unpleasant voyage for Rod.foggy departure1

It was about 7:30 once we got into port and they’d unloaded the truck from the ferry.arival in MI  After a couple more hours on the road we arrived at our friends house in the woods.  It had been a long day of travel, so it was nice to unwind with a cold beer and good company.  The next morning Don lead Rod and I on a leisurely walk in their woods while Michael made us a delicious breakfast.

We started the afternoon with a stop at the Grocer’s Daughter chocolate shop http://www.grocersdaughter.com/ where we purchased more chocolates adding to the collection we started at a popular old candy shop in Manitowoc.  After all who can resist really good chocolate?? 😉 Our next stop was Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore http://www.sleepingbeardunes.com/

An older gentleman offered to take a picture of the four of us.140911020

Pictures just can’t show how truly awesome these views are.140911015140911013

From the park we travelled north to Leland where we stopped at a coffee roaster.  Not only did we get a good cup of coffee, we purchased a pound of Jamaica Blue Mountain beans . . . oh so smooth, a real treat!!

In Leland we checked out Fishtown.  One of the only working commercial fishing villages in Michigan.  http://www.lelandmi.com/fishtown/

140911028

140911029One of the old shanties housed an artisan tile maker.  Among the many beautiful tiles we found one for behind the stove.kitchen tile We will use fill in tiles from Habitat Re-Store to complete our hanging.  This should prove to be a fun winter project.

The next day we were shown a unique preservation of an old asylum http://www.thevillagetc.com/  It is quite an impressive undertaking.  On the grounds is a brick oven bakery, and Left Foot Charley Winery http://www.leftfootcharley.com/ along with many other little shops and businesses.  We end the day with some local pub fare and say our good-byes as we continue north getting a few more hours drive out of the way before crossing Mackinac Bridge the next morning.

Another full day of driving and we are at our cabin on Thousand Island Lake, one of 15 lakes on the Cisco Lake Chain which is located on the Wisconsin/Michigan border.  The resort we stay at is on the Upper Peninsula (UP) side.  Fishing this year was slow, but we did manage to catch enough to freeze a package.

We did a lot of driving this fall fishing trip, but it was worth seeing our good friends.  As we tap into our jug of Cinnamon Girl cider from Left Foot Charley’s – we think back on our short but fun visit with Don & Michael.

fire and cider 2

Here’s to good times with good friends!

A creative break from farming.

Fall puts me in the mood to work on art and craft projects.  The same holds true for Rod, which is why he planned on spending some time in his new work shop building a cradle for my niece’s first baby, which was due September 14th.  You’ll notice I said “was“.Baby Cradle 1

Rod’s early fall project turned out to be a late summer one as our grandniece decided she was ready to join her parents on July 14th.  Fortunately the roofing crew had just completed the work on our house so he could put his focus on building the cradle.

Because this is an heirloom piece, he opted to purchased three red oak boards from a local mill.Baby Cradle 2 Unlike boards you would pickup at the large lumber yards or home improvement stores, these are rough cut sizes which require additional planing to achieve the exact thickness of board needed.Baby Cradle 3With the planing complete he begins cutting out the pieces.

First cuts are the lengths needed for the two ends.  They are joined and glued, making a board large enough to fit the pattern.Baby Cradle 4Baby Cradle 5

Back to more cutting while the ends dry.

A dado blade is used on the side rails, creating a groove that the spindles, spacers, and base will fit in.Baby Cradle 7

With all the pieces cut out and sanded the assembly can begin.Baby Cradle 10 Oh and yes, each of those spindles and spaces were sanded too . . . that’s a lot of sanding!!

While Rod worked on assembling the basket, I heated up my wood burner and wrote his name and year on the underside of the bottom rail.  I don’t think it turned out too badly considering I haven’t picked up that wood burner in over 25 years.Baby Cradle 11

With the basket complete, he can now finish the assembly.Baby Cradle 12

Baby Cradle 13After several coats of shellack we have a finished product . . .Baby Cradle 14and one content little Kylah Marie.

By the way, the afghan that covers her was made by “yours truly” 😉

Growing grass in a well used chicken run.

 We like to free range our chickens, but once the gardens are planted they need to be corralled. The 16’x40′ run made of re-purposed dog kennel panels is attached to their coop and covered with a large pheasant net which keeps them safe from various predators.  We extend their run with poultry fencing so they can get to fresh grass and bugs, but there are times they need to be confined to just their run which no longer has grass.  I found an idea online for our well used run.

With tools gathered, I began the process of testing out this idea by attaching hardware cloth to a 4’x4′ frame.grass growing frames 1

The next step was to spread a pasture mix, cover it with straw and set my frame.  I placed this test frame in with the newbies since they are not yet able to join the big girls in the pasture.grass growing frames 2

I chose a location under their ladder roost, figuring the extra fertilizer should help it grow.  It wasn’t long and one of the Rohde Island Reds decided to hop up and do her part . . . lol.grass growing frames 3

Two weeks later we have grass!!grass growing frames 8

Since that was a success, I decided to get my equipment set up . . . grass growing frames 4bthen round up more scrap lumber used from re-roofing our house.grass growing frames 4a

With boards cut for three 4’x5′ framesgrass growing frames 4 and assembledgrass growing frames 5  I’m ready to attach the hardware cloth.

Rod’s experience and tools makes the task go smoothly.grass growing frames 6A pneumatic staple gun and larger wire cutter were easier on my hands than the tools I used for the test frame.

Three frames complete and ready for the run.  This time I will cover the seed with potting soil rather than straw.grass growing frames 7

We uncovered the two week old grass and repositioned the frame next to one of the new larger frames.grass growing frames 12Looks like the fresh grass is a hit!

The other two frames were set in the big girls side of the run and we even passed the inspection of our two older Delawares.grass growing frames 13  Mama approved of the job well done and her sister checked to see that her tomato plant was not harmed 😉

This task was completed late yesterday afternoon, so this morning I checked on the newbies to see how their grass held up . . . Frame grass next day 1well that didn’t take long.  Although they did leave a little green.Frame grass next day 2

We may try leaving the frame in place a bit longer, letting the grass grow through the hardware cloth allowing it to become thicker while the chickens graze on the tall growth.  Another thought is to only leave it uncovered for an hour or so, just long enough for the girls to give the grass a good trimming.  Either way, I like this concept.