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.