March 31

This last week has been incred­i­bly busy.

First of all, last Thurs­day we got 18 more chick­ens, bring­ing our flock to a grand total of 27. Mom and I drove up to New Hamp­shire and bought them off a guy whose barn burned down. They were cheap, but appar­ently they were trau­ma­tized by the barn fire, and then trau­ma­tized again by the hour ride home in cat car­ry­ing cases cov­ered by horse blan­kets in the back of Dave’s pickup truck and then trau­ma­tized AGAIN by the move into a new coop (chick­ens are appar­ently fairly easy to trau­ma­tize) and so they haven’t laid any eggs so far. I’ve heard that it can take a month or two for hens to get over trauma and start lay­ing again, so right now we’re just wait­ing and hop­ing that all this organic hen feed that we’re shov­el­ing into their greedy lit­tle beaks will pay off. So far they seem to have adjusted well, how­ever, some­times inte­grat­ing flocks can be dif­fi­cult (chick­ens can be pretty mean to each other) but every­one seems happy and healthy so far.
Sadly, while clean­ing the coop out on Sun­day I left the win­dow propped open and it seems that one of the chick­ens got out because Made­line (one of the cairn ter­ri­ers) didn’t come in for din­ner on Sun­day night, and then Dave’s dad Tom found her lord­ing over a mostly devoured chicken car­cass on Mon­day morn­ing. So we’re down to 26.
Made­line Erick­son
Deadly Chicken Killer
Dave is home for good! He got back on Fri­day night, which was just in time because the real work is just begin­ning. We’ve spent the last cou­ple of days clear­ing brush from the edge of our new veg­etable field. There have been a lot of big old nasty buck­thorn bushes and TONS of tan­gles of grape and bit­ter­sweet vines to con­tend with, but we’ve been chip­ping away at it over the last cou­ple of days and it’s start­ing to look really good.
Chain saw­ing
LOTS of brush!
There’s a big old stone wall back in the woods that we’ve been clear­ing up to (you can see it in the back­ground of the last pic­ture). There are tons of huge rocks that were prob­a­bly pulled out of this very field when it was farmed in the past. Thank god for good old fash­ioned hard work­ing New Eng­land pioneers!
The plan is to make the whole sec­tion along the wall into a road so we can drive trac­tors and trucks back into the field.
The cold frames and the green­house look great. The real plant­ing starts tomor­row, I can’t believe it’s April already. I’ve just been work­ing on really solid­i­fy­ing the plant­ing sched­ule so we’re ready for the busy weeks ahead.
And lastly, I’m delighted to wel­come the newest addi­tion to our team: Angus, my new cairn ter­rier puppy, born 1/1/11.
So far he’s been doing a lot of this:
But I’m sure he’s going to be dig­ging rodents out of our fields in no time!

How to Laugh at Winter, Build a Cheap Mini Greenhouse and More

Winter’s death rat­tle. Snow­fall: 0 inches. HA!

The green­house look­ing great! All the flow­ers and herbs have sprouted and are grow­ing like crazy. Once we started plant­ing, how­ever, we real­ized pretty quickly that, as cute as it is, our lit­tle 8′ by 16′ green­house is just not going to be big enough to hold all our new seedlings, espe­cially once things really get going in April and May. So, today Mom and I built three 4′ by 4′ cold frames. Cold frames are like lit­tle green­houses, built low to the ground, that can be used in a vari­ety of ways. They can grown in directly (while pro­tect­ing the lit­tle seedlings from the cold), they can be used as an over­flow space to store trays we can’t fit into the green­house, and they can also be used as a place to “harden off” young plants out­side before putting them into the gar­den — expos­ing young plants to the cold before putting them through the shock of trans­plant­ing. Our cold frames are each roughly 4′ x 4′, and can fit 8 stan­dard size plant­ing trays.

My dad cut all the ply­wood for us. As you can see here, a cold frame base can all be cut from one piece of plywood:

The two top pieces become the sides, and the bot­tom pieces become the front and back. Here’s some pic­tures of our assem­bled bases out­side the green­house.  As you can see, the boxes are slightly angled for­ward, towards the sun. Both the green­house and the cold frames face South.

My dad cut all the ply­wood for us and also built the frames for the tops. To fin­ish the tops we sim­ply stretched heavy duty plas­tic across the frames and sta­pled it to the wood.

That thin piece of wood across the bot­tom is designed to be sta­pled on top of the plas­tic and hold the whole thing together as tightly as pos­si­ble. Unfor­tu­nately, we didn’t have long enough sta­ples, so I’m plan­ning on fin­ish­ing up the plas­tic and putting hinges on tomor­row morn­ing. I’ll post more pic­tures of the com­pleted cold frames then.
In other news, the snow has finally melted enough that we can see what our future veg­etable field will look like. I men­tioned before that I was wor­ried because I had been hear­ing more and more about how wet the field we were plan­ning on using could get in the Spring. A visit to the NRCS (National Resources Con­ser­va­tion Ser­vice) field office in West­ford at the begin­ning of March con­firmed this fact (they have pretty detailed infor­ma­tion on soil types and wet­land areas through­out Mass­a­chu­setts). Well every­one was right, the field is really wet. Right now we’re deal­ing with about this much vis­i­ble water:
Obvi­ously, this puts a lit­tle snag in our plans to build a per­fect 100′ x 200′ veg­etable field (you may remem­ber this pic­ture from an ear­lier post:)
While it’s a lit­tle dis­ap­point­ing that there’s a sea­sonal stream right through the mid­dle of our per­fectly rec­tan­gu­lar 1/2 acre, this doesn’t mean we can’t grow at all. Our new plan is to put in two veg­etable beds, one on each side of the wet area. We mea­sured it out this last week, and we should be able to squeeze a 80′ x 90′ rec­tan­gle on the side clos­est to the house, and a 100′ x 50′ rec­tan­gle on the far side. We’re also plan­ning on putting in a bridge across the stream at some point so that we can get machin­ery across (most impor­tantly for till­ing). This has been my first les­son in being flex­i­ble. I’m sure it won’t be my last.

It’s March!

So, good news! Broody chicken rehab in the rab­bit hutches worked! I released the two hens back into the coop last Mon­day morn­ing and they’ve been act­ing pretty nor­mal ever since. Here they are, act­ing pretty normal.
More good news! We planted our first seeds of Spring today!! My mom and I set up a lit­tle grow light A-frame in Dave’s wood shop, which is right next to the greenhouse.

The seeds are all planted in six-cell flats or small plas­tic pots, and then placed in per­fo­rated trays for easy water­ing. They are also heated from under­neath by heat­ing trays and cov­ered by plas­tic tops so they will stay warm even though it’s still cold around here.

As you can see, there’s not very much going on yet, but it’s excit­ing! Today, we planted flow­ers (asters, cal­en­dula and sweet peas) as well as cilantro and pars­ley. These are the plants that require the most ger­mi­na­tion and indoor grow­ing time before being trans­planted out­side. It’s still pretty early for us to be start­ing most seedlings, espe­cially since we’re not sure when things are going to be able to go into the ground out­side yet, but next week it’s going to be time to start the leeks and by the begin­ning of April things will really be get­ting going. And thanks to a lot of rain, the crusty, dirty snow piles are start­ing to recede, so it really does feel like Spring might actu­ally be coming…
Until then, how­ever, here’s some more pic­tures of the greenhouse:
The let­tuce, swiss chard and kale is all doing great, and we’ve set up a lit­tle work­sta­tion with dirt (the mix we used today was half Happy Frog Pot­ting Soil and half peat moss) and an area for planting.