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Garden Day, Finally

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Tomorrow is our last average frost date and it seems that we have gone from winter straight to summer, so we aren’t afraid of more cold nights.  After our weekly jaunt in to the Farmers’ Market for salad, asparagus, a bit of meat and some more pepper seedlings, we started on the garden to do list.  First up was removing the remaining 4 pods of the old compost bins.  They were constructed 9 or 10 years ago when the property had been purchased, but the house was only under construction.  My current compost bin is up from the chicken coop and serves me well.  The very large multi-pod bin was necessary when the gardens were just started, filled with composting leaves and horse manure from down the road.  They have served as temporary shelter for cull birds and last year for sweet potatoes, winter squash and pumpkins.  Today we deconstructed it.  SIL knocked it apart with a sledge, Daughter and I knocked nails through the boards and pulled them, dropping them in a bucket for later disposal.  Many of the boards are Chestnut and still sound, so they were stacked with the idea of using them to construct a more permanent meat bird coop.

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While we hammered and pulled, our helpers started on the weeding, to keep them away from the nails.  Unfortunately, SIL missed and swears my middle name must be Vlad as he impaled one of the smaller finishing nails through the sole of this boot and into the instep of his foot.

Once the wood was stacked, we tackled the former grape bed that had not been weeded very well last year and had many large clumps of Bermuda grass growing in it.  While Daughter and I weeded, SIL hauled rocks and put them in the tractor bucket.  Daughter was given her first tractor driving lesson today and by the end of our workday, was driving the tractor alone to dump the buckets of rocks onto one of the dozens of rock piles on the farm.

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The chickens loved having clumps of grass, chickweed, burdock, thistles and other greenery with roots tossed into their run.  They are still penned up, because we still haven’t moved all of the fence to keep them out of the gardens.

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Romeo standing guard.

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Today was a great start on the garden.  When it cools some tonight, I will set the peppers, tomatoes, and tomatillos in the beds prepared for them.  The former raspberry bed still needs further clean up, many volunteers pulled and weeds removed and we will get the beans and other seeds planted.  The barren end of the chicken run will be planted with winter squash, the area where the compost bins stood, we will plant the Seminole Pumpkins.  Until they get large, I will continue weeding the area between where the bins stood and the chicken run.  Sunflowers will be planted along the edge of the garden for their beauty and for the seed for the chickens.

Love this time of year, just wish it wasn’t quite so hot already.

Olio – May 8, 2015

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Olio: a miscellaneous collection of things.

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Hardened off veggie plants waiting for the garden that isn’t ready for them.

The last free range time until we get the fencing up around the garden.  The fluffy critters ate half of the sweet potato plants I put in earlier this week.

The annual spring Turkey dance.  Flocks of 14 or more with the Tom fluffed up with chest puffed out and tail spread like the children’s drawing of a Thanksgiving bird.

Nearly 400 yards of undyed Dorset lamb plied and 200 yards of Coopsworth spun and plied.  I can’t decide whether to dye the Dorset or what to do with it, but the Coopsworth is for me.  A sweater once the huge bag full is all spun, plied and measured.

The first flowers from our garden.

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A nice weekend ahead with plans to deconstruct the compost bins, weed the remaining garden beds and get the seeds and plants in the vegetable beds.

We are half a week from chicks, we hope.  Broody Hen is being a great Mom, I hope she is rewarded for her efforts.

Loving our mountain farm.

What to do when you can’t garden

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I want to get in the garden and get the weeds out, to get the seedlings and remaining seeds in, but it is too soon and too wet and I have a problem with the chickens digging up a couple of beds that I have started.  I covered them with row cover and the spring winds keep blowing it off.  As soon as the cover is off, one or more chickens are in.  I have planted Daikon radishes twice to find them scratched out before they are a couple inches high.

The tomato, tomatillo and pepper seedings are being hardened off with a bit more sun each day and brought back into the house for the night.  We are still 9 days from the last average frost date here when we will put them in the ground, plant the other seeds and start on maintenance until the produce starts coming in.  Many of the locals haven’t even plowed or tilled their gardens yet.

Before we do this, we are going to reduce the chicken runs so they can have more free range time and use the fencing to keep them out of the gardens.

In the mean time, as we have had a couple of days of rain, I have been spinning.  At Hawk’s Nest Retreat, I bought enough if a beautiful Coopsworth 2 way swirl from Debbie Martzell, one of the vendors, to spin then knit myself a sweater.  The beautiful roving has been sitting in a plastic bag waiting for me to get my Etsy shop up and running and to finish spinning some fiber I had started.  I had 8 ounces of undyed creamy white Dorset lamb from the prior Hawk’s Nest Retreat on too many bobbins that were awaiting my jumbo flyer in order to ply them.  That has been plyed and is now awaiting a large skein winder so that I can see how much yarn I actually created, my Niddy Noddy isn’t large enough for the skein I have to create.  Yesterday, I started spinning the Coopsworth.  It is a delight to spin and the color is so lucious.

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My knitting and spinning friends will grin, the color is so me.  Someday, I may venture to other shades, but teal and blue seem to grab me most.

On the chick watch, we are on day 4 for 5 eggs and day 3 for the other 5 eggs and Broody Buffy is being such a good Mom.  She leaves the coop first thing each morning for a bit of food and a drink and goes right back to her nest.  Every evening, as I move her off the nest briefly to check, there are always one or two extra eggs that other hens have laid and she has pushed under her.  The second Ms. Broody hasn’t committed to really being broody yet, so we don’t have two sitting.  I’m still hoping for another brood of 10 before too long.

Funny Birds

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Toward the end of my first year of raising chickens, I decided I wanted a heritage breed with a rooster and culled out all but my two Buff Orpingtons and my Easter Egger and bought more Buffy pullets.  The Easter Egger became the victim of a neighbor’s dog along with a cull and a Buffy pullet, but we carried on with the ones left.  Ultimately, the rooster, Cogburn became too aggressive toward others and finally toward me, so he too was culled and Romeo was obtained from the farmer from whom I had gotten the pullets.  He was a beat up fellow, but has matured and after a molt has turned into a nice looking rooster and so far, fairly docile.

Last fall I raised a separate flock of Rainbow Rangers for fryer/broiler use, but really didn’t want to deal with day old chicks, brooder, heat lamp and the mess, smell and fire hazard anymore.  Son and I discussed whether we could raise just the Buffys and have enough older birds and cockrells raised by the ladies to keep the freezer stocked.  The first Buffy went broody when there were still other breeds in the mix and since I couldn’t identify only the Buffy eggs, I took the eggs each day and finally broke her broodiness.  The next one to go broody was in November and there was no way I was going to even let her try to raise a brood with winter coming on.

This spring, I bought four 8 week old Americaunas to provide some color in our eggs collection, knowing that I will be able to identify them and not let any hatch.

I lost another hen to dogs just a couple of weeks ago and son and I had just about concluded that the Buffy raised meat birds was a failed project.   A few days ago, I realized that there were too many feathers in the coop for this time of year and found a hen sitting a nesting box and “growling” at me when I wanted to collect eggs.  The next day she was there again and so I did a bit of research to see how many eggs to leave under her.  Like other info on the internet, I saw everything from 10 to 16.  Wanting her to actually sit and not abandon the nest, I marked 5 eggs.

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I figured I could sacrifice 5 eggs if she abandoned them but she was still there yesterday, even while I cleaned the coop.  Yesterday, I heard a commotion in the coop and went to check on it to find another hen trying to lay an egg in her box while she was still in it and another 2 trying to occupy another box simultaneously.  There are 6 nesting boxes, but they all seem to want the same two.  Last night, I slipped 5 more marked eggs under her, hoping she can raise 10 chicks.  She is still sitting them and this afternoon, I found two more eggs under her that were removed.  If one more will get broody and I can get her to sit 10 as well, we will replace some of the older hens with pullets, cull the cockrells and succeed in putting about 25 or more birds in the freezer this fall.  These chicks should hatch about the time the Americaunas are old enough to eat layer feed and can be moved in with the hens and the chicken tractor will become the nursery until they are old enough to socialize and I can select who get culled and who stays for the winter.

The Great Circle Wedding Weekend

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Whew, what a weekend.  About 10 days ago, Mountaingdad came down with the symptoms that I had thought were allergies with me and I was mostly over, but as often happens with him, it went straight into bronchitis.  Last Tuesday, he went to the Doctor and came home with meds, lots and lots of meds.  We were scheduled to leave on Thursday and hoped that 36 plus hours on the antibiotic and prednisone that he would be feeling better.  We awoke Thursday and he still was not feeling any better, but we decided to go on anyway and hope for improvement.  We arrived in Northern Virginia to see our daughter in law’s senior exhibition prior to her graduation with a BFA in May.  As they don’t really have room for both of us in their house and because we didn’t want Mountaingdad to expose Son #1’s family to his bug, we returned to the hotel from hell down the street.  By the time we arrived, all he wanted to do was go to bed, so we checked in to the hotel and I took off on the Metro to met DIL at her exhibition to look around.  We had reserved a room with a single queen bed, got a room with two doubles which may have been good since he didn’t sleep much that night.  The heating unit in this room worked this time, thank goodness.

I did get to see the exhibition and we took Son #1 and Grandson #1 out for a quick dinner, got what rest we could and left Friday morning for Norfolk/Virginia Beach to my step sister’s wedding.  We were supposed to stay with our youngest son and his family and again feared exposing them to the bug that wasn’t going away, so we checked into a hotel.  Again, he stayed in bed and I went to visit with son and his family and took them out to dinner.

Saturday dawned and he still wasn’t feeling any better.  I had some goodies for my Dad and Stepmom to help feed their guests and for a brunch they were having this morning, so I left Mountaingdad in the hotel room and had a short visit with my Dad and their houseguests.  Afterward, I got him out long enough to get some lunch, still hoping for the best, but realizing that I was going to have to attend the wedding alone last night.  I dressed and was about to leave, when he revealed that he was feeling very dizzy and heavy in the chest.  Instead of attending the wedding, we ended up spending a couple of hours at a “Doc in the Box” making sure that his bronchitis had not turned into pneumonia.  We returned to the hotel with no change in diagnosis with a whole new regime of meds to try.  The hotel was hosting prom party rooms the first night and high school band competition groups last night, so not much sleep was had.

We left early this morning on minimal sleep to return home so he can rest in his own bed.  Nine hundred miles of travel in 4 days and very little family contact had, but we are home safely with no photos to share.  The new meds we hope will help this time and get him on the road to recovery.

More Wet Stuff

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Our region is under water.  The forecasts have flood warnings, many roads closed, schools today had a 2 hour late start due to the flooding.  The morning dawned beautiful, but the afternoon brought more heavy rain.  You would think that in the mountains that flooding wouldn’t really be a problem, but the rivers and creeks are over their banks, fishing camps and river front yards are under water.

I turned the chooks out this morning to free range and graze on the new grass and emerging bugs.  When daughter and granddaughter came back from taking grandson to the bus stop, the dogs all slipped out.  Lately they have seemed to leave them alone when dogs and chickens were sharing the yard.  For some reason, I looked out to check on them and found our two chasing the chickens and daughter’s Golden Retriever eating one.  I don’t know who actually caught the bird, but I do know that we now have a problem.  The dogs and the chickens aren’t going to be able to be out at the same time again.  One of the dogs realized that opening through the electric fence that had a rope across it wouldn’t hurt them and barged right through.  This required me to move the fence around to create a new opening, narrower and on a different side of the fence.

I had planned on culling a few of the hens later in the summer, but didn’t plan on sharing them with the dogs.  After today’s stress, we only got 4 eggs.  Maybe the one they killed was the one laying weird eggs.  I guess we will see in a day or two.

Since the weather wasn’t good to be out and about much, I made Mozzarella and lasagna noodles and made a homemade vegetarian lasagna for dinner.  I love being able to make the cheese and noodles at home.  I noticed at the Farmers’ Market on Saturday, that I could get raw cow and goat milk for a donation, perhaps I will try raw milk Mozzarella or yogurt.

Soaking Wet

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We had a couple of stellar spring days and took full advantage of it.  One full bed of the garden was cleaned up, peas, Daikon radishes and a few pepper plants (which we may yet have to cover) and Swiss Chard plants we purchased were planted.  We have garlic, onions, kale and turnips up.  There are a few more beds to be cleaned up to plant the tomatoes, beans, cukes and summer squash and once the remaining peppers are large enough, they will also be planted.  The strawberry plants don’t like the rain that we have had.   Sunflowers and winter squash will be planted near the chicken runs.  As the chickens are spending more time free ranging, I am considering reducing their run size and using their well fertilized, run, bare of weeds for more planting.

The spring’s first mowing was done and some of the house plants relocated to the front deck.

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One of the Buffys is having reproductive issues and she is laying very strange eggs.

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The egg on the right is a normal egg.  The two on the left are two of her treasures for the past few days.  All of the girls are at least 14 months old and less than 25 months old, so it shouldn’t be age.  None of her odd eggs are double yolked, but the albumen is very watery and the shells all have cracks that have been calcified over.  Her shells are very thin as well.  If I could figure out which Buffy it is laying them, I would double band her as a potential cull.

The littles are getting braver and are coming out of the tractor more each day, however, today it has rained until I will need a rowboat to get to the coop.  The littles somehow got locked out of their tractor this afternoon and were soaking wet when I went to lock them up.  The Buffys who could get in their coop were also soaked, but they gave us 10 eggs today.

Instead of being outside, today was a day to make chicken feed and granola.  I also did a bit of garage cleanup, still trying to merge extra bicycles and yard toys into the garage and still have room for Mountaingdad to turn the BBH around in there.

We are enjoying the change to spring, the trees and spring flowers blooming, the leafing out of the shrubs and trees; the warming days and nights and the lower electricity bills they will bring; the return of the spring Farmers’ Market and the fresh salads that it brings.

Loving life on our mountain farm.

The Good and the Bad of Spring

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Forsythia blooming, Lilac leaves unfurling.  Frightful and her sisters have found the perches in the chicken tractor and instead of being Frightful, she should be Frightened as they won’t come out and play in the yard.  Apples, Asian Pears and Peaches are blooming.  The Buffys are being generous.  The Maples are all lime green with flowers and oh the pollen.

The dogs are shedding fiercely requiring daily vacuuming.  The garden is going to require some sort of major rework to keep the Buffys and Romeo from scratching up every seedling that is emerging.

I am in a fog.  Though I was never allergic to things growing up, I seem to be developing more and more allergies as I age.  It started about a dozen years ago with my first and major case of poison ivy, followed by more and more serious reactions to paper wasp stings and this year my eyes are gritty and my head stuffed full from the indoor and outdoor spring allergens.

Because of the reactions to stings, our youngest son with funds we fronted has established a bee hive in his yard in Virginia Beach and applied for a grant that will refund part of what was invested and with that he hopes to get a second hive.  He will maintain the hives and we will enjoy our share of the honey they produce.  That is a win/win as far that they and we are concerned.  I wish the hives could be here to benefit our garden and flowers, but it is not a risk I am willing to take with the nearest medical facility at least 20 minutes away.  The same son is a Paramedic and he said that most Doctors won’t prescribe an Epi Pen to seniors due to other risks.  I guess I should visit our Doc and inquire.

Putting By Commences

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Our strawberry plants are first year and we probably won’t see any berries this year and strawberry jam is grandson and son-in-law’s favorite.  When I was in the grocery yesterday, I saw that 16 oz clam shells of organic strawberries were 2 for $5.00.  Not inexpensive, but a really good price for them.  I haven’t found any you pick strawberry fields within an hour drive of us and even if I did, they probably aren’t organic.  I purchased 6 clam shells of strawberries.  It was interesting that they varied in weight from barely 16 ounces to almost 22 ounces.

I pulled down my copy of preserving by the pint and set about to make jam.

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I love the recipe as it has only strawberries and honey with a couple tablespoons of lemon juice.  Since it is pectin free, it requires longer cooking and a broad shallow pan to cook it, so it only makes a couple of half pints per batch.  The rhythm was quickly found, cutting the first batch, adding the honey to sit for 10 minutes and starting cutting the next batch.  While the first batch cooked, the second batch was prepped.  The first batch was cooked and put in clean jars to can.  While it was processing, the second batch was cooking and the third batch was being prepped.  When done, all 12 half pints popped as they sealed, a good sign and now they are sitting to cool on the kitchen counter.

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There will be a blackberry jam making session this summer.  Blueberries and raspberries canned or frozen for muffins and pancakes or cobblers.

All of the canning supplies will be put away now as it will be a couple of months before we need them again, but it is nice to put something on the shelves now instead of using up the last of the supplies from summer past.  Perhaps we will stumble on another deal on strawberries and will put away a few more jars.