Pictures with captions

 

Our garage-farm-office with self-serve-egg-refrigerator
The green­house and cold-frames in full swing!
The kitchen gar­den being built (we’re going to use it to grow let­tuce, arugula, beets and some other small crops until the big fields are ready to plant)
Frame for the chicken “trac­tor” being built

New Meat Bird Chicks!!!

Cor­nish X Rocks born April 16, 2011

This lit­tle guy has a bum leg so we’ve put him in his own apart­ment so he’ll be safe from all the other chicks run­ning over him and peck­ing at him, and so he doesn’t have to com­pete for water or food.
We decided to give him a wall of car­pen­ter clothe, how­ever, so he could still see every­one and wouldn’t be too lonely. He seems to been eat­ing and drink­ing water, and we’re hop­ing that with time his leg will get stronger.

Welcome Back Wilbur!

Where to begin…?

Although we haven’t quite eked past the last pro­jected frost date (around May 1st in East­ern MA), it feels like it’s offi­cially Spring. There’s green grass, buds com­ing out on the trees, Kimball’s farm ice cream stand is open for the sea­son, and Wilbur, the Viet­namese pot-belly pig (not for eat­ing, although he does sound like he would be deli­cious in a spring roll) has emerged from his den in the back of the barn and I can see him graz­ing in the fields from my win­dow — which is open by the way. I seem to have got­ten in the habit of always start­ing my posts with a com­ment on the weather, but it’s pretty much all we’ve been think­ing about around here. When’s it going to be dry enough to till the field? Is it warm enough to open up the green­house? Is it still too cold for us to buy meat bird chicks and put them out to pas­ture? Every deci­sion we make requires input from Mother Nature. 

Bio­dy­namic Sow­ing and Plant­ing Calendar

There are some that argue that when tak­ing cues from our envi­ron­ment we should be pay­ing atten­tion to more than just the local weather report. I’ve been read­ing a lit­tle bit about bio­dy­namic agri­cul­ture, which is an organic method of farm­ing that empha­sizes how inter­de­pen­dent the plants, ani­mals and soil on a farm are. Like many forms of organic agri­cul­ture, bio­dy­namic farm­ing is about cre­at­ing farms that are closed loops. This bal­ance is made pos­si­ble through the inte­gra­tion of crops and live­stock, the recy­cling of nutri­ents, and the main­te­nance of soil — no out­side assis­tance or pes­ti­cides nec­es­sary. 


In addi­tion, bio­dy­namic farm­ing also con­sid­ers that there are astro­log­i­cal impacts on agri­cul­ture. Most of these impacts are exerted by the moon as it passes through the twelve con­stel­la­tions of the zodiac. Maria Thun (and now her son Matthias) are the author­i­ties on bio­dy­namic astrol­ogy, and have been releas­ing their Bio­dy­namic Sow­ing and Plant­ing Cal­en­dar every year for almost a half a cen­tury. In her most recent cal­en­dar she writes:


“In its 27-day orbit round the Earth the Moon passes through the con­stel­la­tions of the zodiac and trans­mits forces to the Earth which affect the four ele­ments: earth, light (air) water and warmth (fire). They in turn affect the four parts of the plant: the roots, the flower, the leaves and the fruit or seeds. The health and growth of the plant can there­fore be stim­u­lated by sow­ing, cul­ti­vat­ing and har­vest­ing it in tune with the cycles of the Moon.”
pg 10


The cal­en­dar lists the parts of the plant enhanced by the moon and the plan­ets each day. So for exam­ple today, April 14th, the con­stel­la­tion of the moon is Leo and the cor­re­spond­ing ele­ment is heat, so today is a good day for seed­ing veg­eta­bles that pro­duce fruits. There­fore, when I do my plant­ing this after­noon I’m going to seed sum­mer squash and toma­toes. I’ve been try­ing to stick as closely to the cal­en­dar as pos­si­ble, allow­ing for the fact that some­times due to tim­ing and suc­ces­sions I’m going to have to plant a root veg­etable on a leaf day. Many farm­ers that I’ve talked to, even though who claim that they are more con­ven­tional , have said that they’ve noticed huge improve­ments in the qual­ity and yield of their pro­duce when they’ve used the bio­dy­namic cal­en­dar. I guess I’ll just have to see for myself. 


Ready­ing the field


We’ve spent the major­ity of our time these last few weeks get­ting the field ready to be planted. This has involved a lot of brush clear­ing and burn­ing. We had about 10 brush piles on the field, all of which needed to be removed before the first till­ing next week. 


 It was hot and smokey work, but thanks to lots of help from fam­ily we man­aged to get it all done in a cou­ple of days. 

Our soil test indi­cated that we had great soil with a ton of organic mat­ter, but there are some things that it deter­mined we were lack­ing. My mom has been tak­ing a nutri­ent den­sity course with the North­east Organic Farm­ing Asso­ci­a­tion. The NOFA web­site defines “Nutri­ent den­sity [as] a qual­ity goal that is actively sought after in the bio­log­i­cal approach to farm­ing. It refers the nutri­tional con­tent per vol­ume of food we eat.” It seems obvi­ous, but the idea is that the more rich and bal­anced the nutri­ents in our soil are, the health­ier the soil will be, and the more nutri­tious and deli­cious the veg­eta­bles grown in our soil will be as well. Nutri­ent den­sity is a lit­tle bit of a tricky sub­ject, and I don’t yet under­stand it wholy myself, but suf­fice to say we have been col­lect­ing the ele­ments that our soil is lack­ing and we are plan­ning on spread­ing them on the field this week­end before the first till. Hope­fully, these addi­tives will make our soil and our veg­eta­bles health­ier — and, nat­u­rally, those of us eat­ing them health­ier as well. I’ll write more on this later but, if you’re inter­ested in read­ing more now, NOFA has a lot of good infor­ma­tion on their web­site: http://www.nofamass.org/reference/nutrientdensity.php.

Chick­ens

Our chick­ens have been set­tling in nicely and been pro­duc­ing eggs like crazy. After the ini­tial trauma of mov­ing to Mass­a­chu­setts (and the lin­ger­ing trauma of their barn burn­ing down), the new ladies from New Hamp­shire seem to have decided that they’re happy enough to start lay­ing again. In addi­tion, we man­aged to snag another 7 chick­ens from a woman in Con­cord who was mov­ing, and so now our flock is up to 33 birds! 

We had been feed­ing them plain organic feed, but one of the guys from Erickson’s Grain Mill in Acton rec­om­mended that we try organic soy-free feed. The jury’s still out on whether or not soy-free food is bet­ter (espe­cially if it’s already organic and not genet­i­cally mod­i­fied — as most con­ven­tional soy in ani­mal feed is), but there are many argu­ments in favor of soy-free, the best being that it makes our eggs safe for those aller­gic to soy. We were con­vinced as soon as we opened the bag, how­ever, and saw how much bet­ter the feed looked! Finally, food that didn’t just look like lit­tle homoge­nous turds, but instead clearly con­tained pieces of dried corn, grains and all kinds of dif­fer­ent good look­ing stuff! In addi­tion, the chick­ens seem to love it and they’ve been lay­ing like mad since we changed them over. Unfor­tu­nately, they love it a lit­tle too much, we went through a 50 lb bag in less than a week. In order to reduce the amont of money we have to spend on feed, and there­fore keep the price of our eggs rea­son­able, we’ve started sup­ple­ment­ing left-over pro­duce that we get from dif­fer­ent restau­rants and super­mar­kets in the area that oth­er­wise would be throw­ing it away. Now our chick­ens are feast­ing on apples, greens and bananas every morn­ing in addi­tion to their deli­cious new feed, and they seem pretty happy about it. 

Chicken break­fast time!
Pigs

One more piece of excit­ing news: we drove up to New Hamp­shire last week­end and vis­ited our piglets! We’re plan­ning on bring­ing them home in the begin­ning of May. 
This is the lit­ter that (most likely) con­tains the
piglets com­ing home with us in May


Look­ing out my win­dow, I feel a lit­tle jeal­ous of Wilbur who is leisurely enjoy­ing the spring­time. But it feels good to wake up in the morn­ing know­ing that, for most of the day at least, I’ll be out there with him, the sun on my back, even if I am drag­ging brush instead of wad­dling and grazing. 


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.
WANTED
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
Drag­ging
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!

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.

A (Kind-Of) Quick Update on Brooding Chickens

SO, I men­tioned yes­ter­day that I went down to the coop and noticed that one of the chick­ens was broody. A broody hen has decided to sit on her eggs with the pur­pose of hatch­ing them. That would be great if we wanted chicks and had a bunch of fer­tile eggs to hatch, but in this case the hen was just intent on sit­ting on her nest no mat­ter what. Brood­i­ness can be a prob­lem because often broody hens who have no chance of hatch­ing any eggs will sit on their nests until they starve and dehy­drate to death, and often it’s brought on by long days (I have a bad feel­ing that the heat lamp I put into the coop to keep them warm on freez­ing Feb­ru­ary nights might be to blame). We had been try­ing to remove her from the nest and take the eggs out from under her, but she was being stub­born, and a cou­ple times I caught her sit­ting on noth­ing (and once an egg shaped piece of hard chicken poop). This morn­ing I went down to the coop and found this:



It’s hard to tell what’s going on here, but there’s four chick­ens in that lay­ing box. The first hen was still refus­ing to budge and another had joined her (brood­i­ness can be con­ta­gious). Two other chick­ens were attempt­ing to mus­cle their way in to lay some eggs and they were all get­ting pretty angry and peck­ing each other. 


So I did a lit­tle research and found that some­times it’s pos­si­ble to dis­suade a broody hen by sim­ply block­ing off the lay­ing boxes and get­ting her away from the nest. So we put all the chick­ens out­side and blocked off the boxes. 



It didn’t work…an hour later they had man­aged to squeeze inside and there were four of them stuffed in behind the wood! Some­one had laid an egg and some­one else had bro­ken it and now they were all eat­ing it. Insan­ity. 


I tight­ened the gaps between the boards on the boxes, but the two hens just ended up set­tling down on the floor all puffed up and broody look­ing. A bunch of the sources I found online said that the best way to break brood­i­ness is to remove the chick­ens entirely and put them some­where totally unlike a nest­ing box. Ide­ally, this means a wire-bottomed cage off the floor with nowhere to bed down and a lit­tle cold air cir­cu­la­tion under­neath their bot­toms (cur­ing brood­i­ness is all about cool­ing off the chicken’s bot­tom). I tried to brain­storm some options — the green­house, an empty horse stall, a dog crate — but none of them seemed right. Then I remem­bered the old empty rab­bit hutches that are sit­ting in the barn. 


And so I packed them up in a cat car­ry­ing case and brought them upstairs. The first broody hen is totally in blissed-out-dreaming-of-motherhood-mode (I can sym­pa­thize, I get the same way when I start think­ing about my new birth­day puppy, Angus, that I’m get­ting in March) and doesn’t even seem to care what I do with her. The sec­ond hen put up a lit­tle fight, but I’m stronger than a chicken. 



There they are! I gave them some food and water and put down some hay on the floor in an attempt to con­trol the mess. Here’s hop­ing their bums cool off soon!

Planning for Vegetables and Pictures of Chickens

The seeds are arriv­ing and slowly pil­ing up in the cor­ner of my room. Mean­while, I’ve been try­ing to fig­ure out what to do with them. In order to orga­nize the infor­ma­tion about each plant and get ready to make a full plant­ing sched­ule I’ve been putting together spread­sheets. I have a page for each veg­etable and then I list all the vari­eties sep­a­rately. Then, using the Johnny’s cat­a­log, the Cor­nell Coop­er­a­tive Exten­sion web­site and Coleman’s The New Organic Grower, as well as a cou­ple of other sources, I’ve been com­pil­ing impor­tant grow­ing information. 
First of all, I have to fig­ure out what veg­eta­bles I’m going to start inside and then trans­plant, and what veg­eta­bles I’m going to seed directly into the gar­den. Some veg­etable plants really have to be started inside, like the bras­si­cas (cau­li­flower, broc­coli, brus­sel sprouts and cab­bage) and night­shades (toma­toes, egg­plants, pep­pers). Luck­ily, the woman who owned Dave’s par­ents house before them had a cut flower busi­ness, and so she built a small green­house off the garage. 
The green­house, the wind­mill and the sun this morning
The green­house really warms up dur­ing the day. Even in the mid­dle of the win­ter I often have to open a win­dow to stop the tem­per­a­ture inside from sky­rock­et­ing past 90 degrees F
So far I’ve just been grow­ing let­tuce, kale, swiss chard and bak choy in the green­house. Dave built me some tables and boxes, about 6″ deep and of var­i­ous sizes, and I was able to grow a fair amount of small, yet deli­cious, greens over the win­ter. This week how­ever, I’m going to be pulling all the soil and the boxes out of there so we can start fresh with our new pot­ting soil and trans­plants for the Spring. 
Next, I have to deter­mine whether or not I’m going to be suc­ces­sion seed­ing the veg­eta­bles and, if so, how many times. For exam­ple, I’m grow­ing 100′ (one row) of a vari­ety of car­rots called Scar­let Nantes. These car­rots will grow from May 1st to July 15th, which is about 12 weeks. Dur­ing those 12 weeks I’m going to want to be plant­ing new seeds directly into the gar­den (car­rots are dif­fi­cult to trans­plant on account of their roots becom­ing irreg­u­lar, plus they grow pretty quickly) every 3 weeks to ensure that I have a con­sis­tent sup­ply of new growth. This means that I’m going to be doing at least 4 plant­i­ngs, and so there­fore each plant­ing will involve seed­ing 25′ of the garden. 
This is all get­ting bor­ing so I’ll just show an example. 
Each veg­etable has it’s own sheet. After I’m done with the sheets I’m going to lay it all out on a MASTER cal­en­dar so I know exactly when I’m going to be plant­ing every­thing, and how. Pretty excit­ing, right?
Mean­while, there are a lot of other things to think about. Right now, I’m wor­ried because we keep hear­ing more and more about how wet the land we’re plan­ning on plant­ing on is. We haven’t really looked at it crit­i­cally with­out the snow and so we’re not sure what to expect. The mois­ture could be an issue because we have to wait for the area to dry off in the Spring before we can even till the land, and with all the snow out­side right now it doesn’t seem like it’s ever going to be dry. All this prob­a­bly means that we’re going to get a late start this year, and are going to have to rely heav­ily on transplants.
Right past those trees and under all that snow is the site of our future veg­etable garden
Alright, enough about the gar­den. Here’s some pic­tures of chickens!
This is the chicken coop for layers
Their yard. I put down some hay so they can come out and walk around on the snow which they seem to love until they get too cold
And here they are!
Lay­ing boxes
Right now we have 9 lay­ing hens and we’re plan­ning on bump­ing up the num­ber to 30 this Spring, which is about as many as we can fit in this chicken coop while still mak­ing sure they all have enough space. That’s going to involve build­ing a cou­ple more lay­ing boxes, although right now they all insist on using the box all the way to the right, and have kicked all the hay out of the other two. 
The hen in the lay­ing box in this pic­ture appears to have gone broody in the last cou­ple of days, which means that she’s become intent on sit­ting on her eggs day in and day out, even if it means that she doesn’t eat or drink. This is also a prob­lem because our deli­cious eggs are going bad under­neath her. I’ve been read­ing about sev­eral ways to cure brood­i­ness, every­thing from dip­ping their stom­ach in cold water (I don’t think that’s a good idea in the mid­dle of Win­ter) to putting them in a cage by them­selves up off the ground and away from the nest. I’ll report back later on how this prob­lem pro­gresses and how we man­age to solve it. If any­one has any ideas, let me know.