Tuesday, April 29, 2008

baby chicks

This morning when I fed the chickens, mama hen hopped off her peeping nest to eat.  I took advantage of this moment to move all the chicks & unhatched eggs to a new location on the floor, separated from the other hens by netting.  With a little chick waterer & feeder.She now has 6 chicks, all yellow/tan-ish in color, some with black stripes on their backs!  I wonder if that fancy rooster I saw at the farm I got the eggs from was the father?  I have no idea what breed he was.  We'll just have to see how they feather out!  They all look really healthy & are walking around, eating & drinking too.  Mama hen keeps them tucked under her wings most of the time, nudging them in sometimes.  In the picture below, she has moved her nest-spot to the corner (feels more protected I guess), and is gently rolling each of the unhatched eggs underneath her.  This was amazing to watch.

She really is shaping up to be a great mother.  It's curious how this instinct is mostly bred out of chickens, so that they just leave their eggs every day & continue about their lives, without giving a thought to reproduction.  But some of these old heritage breeds retain their "broodiness" more than others I guess.  Another black hen has started sitting all day in her nest box & defending it with squawks & pecks.  I may aquire some fertile eggs for her too.  This is so fun!

You may ask, aren't I working on a vegetable farm?  Well, yes, but it's raining!  We got some things done today-- cleaned out the van, and when the weather cleared a bit, we put in new irrigation boxes around the valves.  And I weeded the peas a little.  We covered up the onions with Remay because it's expected to freeze the next two nights.  Maybe the last frost?

And another exciting addition to farm life:  the first asparagus!  Delicious.

Monday, April 28, 2008

hatch day!

It's raining, finally.  We got about 3/4" today!  The plants in the ground are looking really pleased.  It might be a while before the rest of the plants get in the ground though... everything being so wet & muddy.  This is the give-and-take of working with the forces of nature.

The weekend was relaxing & sunny, though.  I spent a little more time down at Clermont, at the Sheep & Wool Festival.  I learned how you take the raw fleece after you shear a sheep, "card" it with these hairbrush-thingees into "roving", then you spin it into yarn on a spinning wheel!  Of course you have to get the burs out & wash some of the lanolin out & maybe dye it too.Look at the leaves on this buckeye!  Summer is here already!

I also had a visitor to the farm, who enjoyed chasing chickens & "driving" the big green tractor.

And... the chicks started hatching today!  I felt underneath the mama hen this morning & instead of just the warm eggs, there was a pair of little feet & something fuzzy & moving.  If I stood really still for a while I could hear peeping, and the hen would answer with low clucks.  Later on this afternoon I felt at least 4 chicks, and even felt an egg with cracks on it, in the process of hatching!  More pictures to come, I promise.

Tomorrow I will move mom & babies to a separate section of the henhouse, with chick feed, a chick-safe waterer (so they don't drown).  This will be a big move for them, and a real test to see how protective of a mama she is!

Friday, April 25, 2008

appropriate technology?

Farmer Dave has always grown specific types of veggies in 50-cell trays, and the rootballs on these happen to not fit so perfectly into the new transplanter. Maybe next year he will only grow in the 128-cell kind, to make the transplanting easier. But in the meantime, we have a thousand large-cell broccoli & cabbage seedlings ready to go in the ground! So we'll have to do it the old-fashioned way. First, we rototill.

Then we mark the beds. I am learning to drive straight on this thing!

Then we go along the bed with the trays of plants, and drop each one at 1-foot intervals, with 2 rows per bed. The bed-marker makes this really easy & exact.

Then we get down on our knees (or bend over) and tuck them into the ground. Thankfully we had 3 volunteers helping us plant them! Including a 2-yr-old, who kept pointing at the dropped plants & exclaiming, "poor little guy!" It was pretty hot out, and I really felt for them, their roots exposed and all.
But we got them all in, and turned the irrigation on!

We also planted potatoes today. 1,000 pounds of potatoes. I don't have any pictures because we worked really fast & efficiently. A summary: we had plowed the field a week or two ago, then Dave disced it, & the rye grass was pretty much dead. So I went in with a shovel-like blade on the back of the new tractor (YES I drove the new tractor!) & made furrows in the middle of each bed. Then we dropped potatoes into the furrows, at a spacing of 8", 12" for the big spuds. Lots of varieties-- reds, yellows, blues. Usually Dave does this by hand, carrying a bucket along & throwing them into the furrow. But we thought maybe we could save our backs & time if we hooked up a cart to the back of a tractor & sat on it with buckets of potatoes, & threw them in as we rode over the field. All in all, perhaps it wasn't faster, perhaps it saved our backs a little, but we used a lot of diesel. And it was pretty noisy. Dave flew over the furrows with the fertilizer spreader, dumping some nitrogen in there (potatoes are heavy feeders). And then we go in with some more shovel-blades & cover up the potatoes, making little "hills" in each row. Lots of work. Seems like we always work overtime on Fridays. And Nick made his train into the city, although sweaty, dirt-covered, & exhausted.

I'm getting ready for a nice weekend on the farm, getting ready for my sheep to come! Here's the electronet fencing I'll be using. It will tie into the existing deer fence that Dave has up around each field.

Here's this nice place I cleaned out for them in the barn:

Now I need to fill it with straw, and get some hay, grain, salt, & minerals for them.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

the grass is growing!

What did we do today? A little of everything. We irrigated the onions & peas, carrying pipes in from other fields. We took out the 2 riding lawn mowers & got them ready for the season... Nick made a run to the store for oil, filters, & parts. I planted more lettuce & onions in the greenhouse, and even some zinnias for the flower garden. We worked on the transplanter a little, tightening bolts. We covered up the rows we seeded yesterday with Reemay to prevent flea beetles. I sharpened the blades for the mowers with the hand grinder-- those rocks really do a number on them... Dave warned us to try not to run over rocks with the mower. Oh, rocks.

After work, Nick took the mower out for a joyride around the farm. It was a wonderfully pleasant evening. I cleaned out a room in the barn for my sheep to live at night. I'll have to put them in there every night so that the coyotes aren't tempted. And then bring them out in the morning to a fresh piece of grass! A few more things to get in order, then I'm ready for them to arrive!

So, by the way, I've decided against raising meat lambs this year. I basically chickened out. Thinking about how cute those little ones are, and how I'll be spending a lot of time with them over the summer, I figured it would be really traumatic to send them to the slaughterhouse in the fall. I don't have anything against raising & eating meat, I just am not sure that's my main goal in this sheep project.

So I'm probably going to get a few full-grown ewes (mamas) from this woman, pasture them on the lawn & cover crops here, then give them back to her when I leave in the fall, when it's time for them to live in a barn for the winter. That way she will be sort of a mentor, peripherally involved, and I am free to name them & know they will live nice long lives. I can't wait for them to get here!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

a learning curve

So after all the gentle loving care that goes into raising these tiny seedlings in the greenhouse & watering them carefully every day, we fling them up on these tray-holders on the back of tractor & put them at the mercy of the transplanter.

First we used Dave's new wooden punch-tool to loosen up the cells, to make them easier to pull out. Then from these seats we can yank them out, & drop them into these spinning carousel things that put them right into the ground for us! No bending over!

And Judy dropped by to volunteer! We are incredibly thankful for her help all day, as it allowed us to fill all three of the seats, with Dave driving the tractor.

First we did a test-run with some extra chinese cabbage. We had a lot of adjusting of bolts to do, raising & lowering different parts to get the depth right & the plants seated nicely in the ground.

Then we planted kohlrabi & lettuce! About 5,000 plants!

I even got to drive the new tractor a little! It's pretty hard to keep perfectly straight when the wheels are so huge you can't hardly see where they touch the soil. But it definitely is a smooth ride with a lot of power.

Okay, so the machine wasn't totally perfect, and we had to go back through the row & correct some plants--- some were buried, some were sideways, and some got bunched up because a rock got in the way. But there was a lot of us & it didn't take long.

The scallions went in really well, we hardly had any corrections to make on them.

And finally, we watered everything in. It was in the 80's today, pretty warm for mid-April. I was thirsty & I could empathise with the lettuce on the verge of wilting. But I think it will perk up by the morning, and start sending down those roots.

We also seeded 2 or 3 rows of greens & watered those in as well. We accomplished quite a lot today, and I think about how nice it will be to eat a fresh salad sometime soon, and about all the people who will share & appreciate in this bounty.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

machinery for efficiency

Today we put the new transplanter together. Once we get this thing rolling, it will help us plant a lot faster & keep our backs from hurting. But it sure is a lot of work to assemble, and the instruction manual was so vague! Here's a synopsis of the day:

Meanwhile, the chickens were up to no good as usual:

Nice place for a little nap, eh? Help! How do I get down?

Okay, I put her up there for the last picture.

I got in a little bit of tractor work myself, plowing up 8 rows of field W2. The plow is really fun to use. You start with a field of thick grass & you end up with lines of hills 2' wide. It basically flips the sod (rye grass) over on top of itself so it will rot there & die. Then you go over it with the disc or rototiller & make it all nice & ready for your plants!

Monday, April 21, 2008

back to work!

It feels good to be back to work. I love my job. Dave, Nick, & I walked the farm this morning discussing where the fields & crops were at, and what needs to be done. There's a lot of weeds coming up! (Also things we planted!) Look at those beautiful peas coming up through the rocks.

The rye in the picture above was planted at the end of last summer. It is now 16" tall and growing inches overnight I swear! The rye in the picture below was planted by Nick & I a few weeks ago.
Who spread this compost so evenly & thoroughly?

Because I was not up for tractor work yet (still recovering), I spent the day in the greenhouse, seeding tomatoes, escarole, & fennel, and potting up eggplant seedlings. Also watering a LOT since it was sunny & 72 degrees (that means really hot in the greenhouse)!
Nick started mastering the cultivator... a real skill, involving driving so straight that you hit all the weeds, but miss all 3 rows of plants. Driving a big machine and being able to control it within 1/4". Nice job on this garlic, Nick.

Dave rototilled more beds all day so that we'll have something to plant into the rest of the week! And we sure do have a lot to plant! Check out these tables of almost-ready-for-the-field plants!

Getting hungry yet? That last one is a lettuce variety called "Mottistone"... really pretty.
And the summer squash has peeked it's head up! The first glimpse of summer.

My soil blocks are looking good! Purple cabbage & purple cauliflower! I can't wait to make pink sauerkraut.The first fruit of the season... Rhubarb. And another large-leafed creature, Burdock! This is another really yummy wild edible plant. Burdock root is popular in Japanese cooking & is really good for you. Sources say to dig it up in the fall, so I may have to wait on this one...

This tree is the first to bloom on the farm, Farmer Dave's favorite. He called it Shadbush, but it can also be called Serviceberry, Juneberry, or Amelanchier.