Weekly Recap/Observations – September 19, 2014

Another 2 weeks have flown by!

-I’ve been reading “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” by Barbara Kingsolver. Every day that I read a chapter on my commute I come home reinvigorated and excited to harvest something from our yard.

-I have now harvested and frozen over a gallon of blackberries from our property. They’re starting to fade now so I’m not sure how many more I’ll be able to grab, but I’m hoping for one more decent harvest this weekend.

-Our tomatoes are ripening! This may be the first year where we’ve had more than just cherry tomatoes ripen. We’ve been using our homegrown tomatoes as much as we can.

-I’ve also been reading up on ways to ripen tomatoes indoors as the weather starts to get cooler. Our hope is certainly to can red tomatoes and not just green tomato salsa this year.

-A few of our tomatoes were coming off the vine with their end all black and shriveled up. After some quick googling it looks like they’re suffering from blossom end rot. The solution seems to be adding calcium to the soil. Luckily we already purchase oyster shells for the chickens so we’ll start incorporating a sprinkling on the garden as well and hopefully it won’t be an ongoing issue.

-We’ve also been successful with peppers. We have jalapenos, habaneros, and dragon peppers all doing quite well. When I originally planted them I placed old bricks around their bases as a way to keep in heat; I’d like to think that’s contributed to their success!

-A friend at work had extra plums so I dehydrated them at the same time I did some of our cherry tomatoes as well as the ground cherries. I’m not sure the ground cherries were worth it. They’re so small and, of course, shriveled up even smaller. The cherry tomatoes worked well and I can see that being something I do again. And the plums were great! The plums definitely took awhile – probably 20 hours or so.

-The older guinea has started  to spend more time with the other guineas. Although she hasn’t totally given up her role with Penny and the chicks, there’s definitely a pull to the ones that are more like her!

-Speaking of Penny, she’s left her chicks to roost on their own at night. All 5 (or 6 with the guinea) had been crowding into one of the nest boxes at night. However, the other day Penny was back on the roosts that Ryan built and it was just her chicks in the nest box. They still stay close-ish during the day but there’s a definite weaning process going on.

-Trace and Ryan built small enclosures for the chick food. The adults shouldn’t have the chick food, plus it’s more expensive, so  the enclosures have openings that are too small for the adults but the chicks and guineas can slip in and out without a problem and have started putting the starter food in there.

-After some experimentation we’ve gone back to the store-bought chick and chicken food, at least for now. Without more research and a source for buying in bulk, trying to feed them whole grains was just too expensive. It’s definitely something we’d like to do in the long run.

-We got off schedule a bit with the goats so we’ve been extending their stay in each area until we can get back to where we’re moving them on the weekend. We’re on schedule to move them tomorrow which should have us back to a good routine.

-We were able to run more hot wire around the yard – we’ve now got probably 60% of the perimeter electrified. While this hasn’t completely stopped the dogs from getting out it has definitely cut down on how frequently we find them out. In addition, now they can only get out on the back 1/2 so there’s much less chasing of motorcycles, children and other dogs.

-This weekend we hope to figure out what we’ll be planting this fall. I’m planning on garlic and have been reading about other plants that overwinter well here in Western Washington. In addition, we’ll be planting some cover crops to help the soil retain nutrients.

-Finally, Trace and I had a couple of “field trips”. First we visited a local brewery – M T Head Brewing. Not only were we looking to develop more community and support a local business but we were also hoping they might have spent grain we could take for the chickens. While they already had a pig farmer who took their grain, we enjoyed trying their beers and chatting about brewing and the history behind beer. A couple of days later we went to the Washington State Fair. We, of course, had to admire all the animals. We were there for the rabbit show as well as the dairy goat show so we got to see “our people”. It wouldn’t be the fair without a ride on the wooden coaster – now an annual tradition that I look forward to each year, just remember to hold onto your hat!

Weekly Recap/Observations – September 5, 2014

-In an effort to be better about “putting up” our harvest I froze some of our zucchini.

-I also picked more wild blackberries from our property and froze them for future use (by the way, those wild blackberry thorns are MEAN!).

-I’m hoping to dehydrate our ground cherries and possibly our cherry tomatoes this weekend.

-We also made pasta salad w/ garden pickings – ground cherries, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, herbs – boy was it tasty!

-Trace built two more rabbit cages for growing out litters – we’ve found they gain weight better if we remove them from mom at about 6 weeks.

-Clover’s litter is getting bigger and, unusually, she has two jet black babies and seven of the normal grey color. She was bred to Winston – her father – so I wonder if it’s a recessive gene showing up.

-Penny’s chicks are growing real feathers and coming into their colors – we have two gold/caramel chicks, one black and one while with black speckles.

-The large guinea has taken to hanging out with Penny and her chicks. She seems to have adopted a sort of nanny role.

-White Penny (aka Penny #2), now known as Nickel, hatched three chicks the other day. She left the nest only a day after the third chick was hatched – unfortunately that chick didn’t make it through the first day/night. We cracked the remaining unhatched 6 eggs – 3 were fertilized, 3 were not; this gives us a 66%(ish) fertilization rate.

-I did some reading in an old (from 1905) poultry book and it’s recommended you remove the first hatched chicks for a day or so and keep them “in a basket by the fire” until the rest of the eggs hatch and then return them to the nest. I could see how doing that would keep the hen on the nest longer and give the rest of the eggs a chance to hatch.

-We’ve been exploring options for feeding our chickens something we can mix ourselves instead of the store-bought pellets. This would be good from a sustainability perspective. In addition, since we’re allowing the hens to raise their chicks we struggle to give the chicks their food (high in protein, low in calcium) and the adults their food (medium protein, high in calcium) without the chicks and adults crossing over. I’ve been reading posts of others who feed their chickens a whole grain diet to figure out our best option (here and here and here). The trick will be finding bulk grains cheaper than the feed store pellet food.

-Trace pulled more mulch out from under the rabbit cages and spread it on the garden. He also pulled the straw from under the chicken roots and started a new compost pile in the front yard (where the chickens won’t pull it apart).

-Trace and I put chicken wire above new cages so that the poor baby rabbits didn’t get chicken poop on them.

-We lost two hens over the course of the two weeks – our Rhode Island White and one of our Americanas. My best guess is bluecomb was the culprit but it’s hard to know for sure.

-We’re now down to only 19 hens and 5 roosters. Luckily we have chicks

-Michael (our black & white rooster) was limping badly for a couple of days but seems to have recovered.

-The poor dogs are covered in fleas – I went ahead and bought , chemical flea treatment, as much as I would prefer to have a more natural solution, the chemical stuff seems to work better once the fleas have taken hold. Maybe next year I can work on more natural preventative measures.

-The goats continue to enjoy the day they are moved – this week it wasn’t until Wednesday – THAT was their Best.Day.Ever.

(Just a quick note – we’re not that productive in a week – this covers the last TWO weeks in our world!)