That title has a nice ring to it, yes? A tad ambitious to commit to a weekly update, I think, given how infrequently I’m able to post this days, but still. Worth a shot? I am actually fine tuning a lot around these parts, so why not my writing flow as well?
I’ll try to keep this update as concise as possible. A lot has gone on over the last few weeks, and I don’t really want to leave anything out since I’m still learning so much. I value the resource of this blog in looking back to see what we have done.
Chickens. Last I shared they were still relatively chick-like and we’d moved them from the bathtub set up into the basement area. Well, I think they outgrew that in about two weeks and were dusty and smelly, so I had to think quick about a solution that would allow them to mature a little more in a protected warm environment and give us time to get the chicken coop situation in order.
Red Ranger broilers, about 3 wks old. In the basement, stinking up the place and starting to fly out of the caged area.
And so, out of necessity, I took it upon myself to design this outdoor brooder using materials we had on hand. It was free, and is still working fairly well. Jeff, love of my life and resident builder-man, even gave me a thumbs up on it. I think we’ll be building variations on this in the years to come, it was so cheap and easy to put together. Basic design came from stuff we had on hand- pallet foundation, topped with old plywood, cattle panel fencing to create the arched top, lined with chicken wire and avian netting to separate the birds and to further predator-proof things. Then we covered the whole thing with plastic and a tarp and called it good. I actually like the design so much that we may fine-tune it to create a few little porta-coops for various things.
It was dark and cool on the night that we finished the intial set up, and so we decided to hook up a heat lamp and test it with this cool thermometer to see how the space held heat over night.
The thermometer is cool. It operates without any electricity, and shows the high and low temps. It’s a good example of the smart lower-impact technology I’ve become interested in.
In the morning everything looked good, so we transferred them in. Below are some photos of them from that first day.
But oh my, they grow so fast. Before we knew it we were feeling the squeeze again. Particularly because the Red Rangers are so big and messy! I’m feeling guilty about keeping them in this set up now! So, the chicken shuffle of 2017 continues. We’ve been working hard on the “big coop” so we can move our older hens and our young hens into a nice permanent coop with a big wooded yard.
See how big these guys are below? Just a handful of weeks and these guys are looking like full grown chickens.
The hens? They are still little, but their feathers have come in nicely and they are ready to move into a better space.
I’m really going to like this new coop. We designed it with enough room for all the birds, but also with space to section off a brooder area and a “crib” for the teenage birds to go in and get all the food and water they need without pressure from the big birds. I’m sure we’ll tweak things as we go, but I’m feeling good about it all for now.
In other chicken related news, Jeff built this amazing chicken tractor to donate to our kids’ school fundraiser/auction. It turned out so well, I wouldn’t be surprised if we make more in the future. So cute!
Ducks. The big news here is that one of our hens is broody! We expect ducklings within the next week. That may have me doing a 2017 duck shuffle, but I don’t really know. So excited to have ducklings again, and even more excited to watch them raised by a mama duck.
A broody duck is a fun thing to watch. She’s sort of chronically agitated. Her feathers are on end and she quacks intensely and always looks on mission. She’s mostly sitting on the eggs, but she does come out for food and water or if she ever gets spooked by us coming around and taking care of things. I tried to get a photo of her on the eggs, but she knew I was there and scurried off. I’m not messing with her too much, I’d rather have her stay comfortable and have her babies than get a good photo.
All of them seem to be keeping watch, too. I have to go in the coop and step over the eggs to gather eggs from the other ducks, and they always eye me through the duck door.
Cooperative. My work out at the cooperative is continuing to flourish. It’s a lot like starting plants (probably my preferred metaphor because of the time of year just now). All you can do is nurture that first start and then you set it all out. pray for some rain, and hope for the best. I do feel like I’m starting to see that plant, one that I babied and fussed over at first, dig into the earth in its own right and flourish without me. It’s very gratifying. We’ve grown to 11 members, all with varying degrees of interest/projects but all super cool smart people that I can learn a lot from. Things are moving and changing and our energies are beginning to compliment the space in a new way. One member has a flock of sheep that she rotates on the pasture there, and she just went through her first lambing season. We all learned so much! It was exciting, too, because she was out of town for a birth and the cooperative members all rallied to support her and the sheep. It’s so great. Plus there are few things as adorable as bouncing baby lambs.
Garden/Micros. The garden is coming along as well. I’ve put lots in the ground, and it’s also never quite what I envision. But I’m coming to a place in all this that feels much more content with whatever actually happens. I’m less and less tied to my own vision, and I think that’s something that came about through lots and lots of cosmic dissonance and disappointment. Not that I’ve been perpetually disappointed or anything- on the contrary. I just find that, when working with something as dynamic as life, you can’t actually reasonably expect anything else. My vision is only a starting point. After all, it’s all in my head, and what I’m working with is mostly *not me*. I feel less and less inclined to manage everything these days. I’m more digging the idea that I am a creative participant. It’s in these subtle but significant shifts in mindset that I think this vocation does its good work on me.
April 5th, first seeds planted.
April 12th, potatoes ready to plant.
The garden is still coming up yet, but so far we’ve got radishes, lettuce, spinach, potatoes, broccoli, onions, leeks, mache, mustards, and parsnips planted. Tomatoes and peppers are still in the greenhouse, but they’ll make their way out over the next couple of weeks.
Jeff watering our potato patch!
I’m also immensely pleased at how I improve in small but significant ways each year. Pictured here is the shade cloth up in the greenhouse *before* it became unbearably hot and sunny. I was very much in the “oh shit, we have to do this NOW!” kind of mode for so long, and I find more and more I’m in the “Oh, let’s do this now before I’m yelling ‘oh shit we have to do this now’…” Some people might not be so thrilled by this kind of a thing, but it’s big stuff around these parts. So many details to remember, so much to care for… I’m aware of tiny victories, you know? Over the past three 90 degree days I found myself looking up at it and thinking “Oh good. You did that already.” Milton and I joked that we are learning less to farm and more to “preempt the *oh shit* moments”.
Frogs in the greenhouse are always a good omen.
Starting lots of crazy winding perennial beds around the place. We’ve got serviceberries, hazelnuts, grapes, walking onions, horseradish, comfrey, mints, gooseberries, cornelian cherries, clove currants, lilac, strawberries… yeah. So far. 🙂
Garlic that I didn’t really have a garden for doing great in the spot I eeked out by the house. Anything you do is better than not at all, they say!
Market started a couple of weeks ago and has been going great. Love seeing all the regulars and talking with people each week. It’s a good outlet after the winter.
Bees. We got two new colonies! Pictured below were our old hive stands that weren’t very sturdy. You also have to make sure that the hives are level and I remember painstakingly working to level these last year. This year? We did a little research and improved our process by so much.
Simple base of cinder blocks and 4x4s. We leveled the 4x4s with shims rather than working to level the ground. It took us about 5 mins versus the hours last time. We get better every year!
There are various things we’re doing differently this year, which I’ll probably have to save for another post since I’m short on time. However, here’s the basic breakdown.
-We don’t want to medicate our hives, so we are strategizing how to raise resilient and well adapted bees that will acclimate to our land and the challenges here.
-We ordered a Russian variety of bee that is more resistant to varroa mites.
-We didn’t use those man made foundations that set a large comb size for the bees, and instead opted to let them make their own comb. This will help them in resisting varroa as well because the comb will be made at a smaller more natural size which helps in their natural grooming of these pests. The downside is that we may have more difficulty in manipulating the hives.
-We don’t plan on looking at the hives much. We will check on things but will be more like passive observers. We aren’t sure how or when we will harvest honey, but I’ll post more as we go about our process there. Last year I harvested lots of honey when my colony died, and that may be what I do this year as well. I am more invested in helping to develop resilient naturally managed bees than I am in harvesting honey right now. No bees no honey, I figure.
Below are pictures of how they came to us at the post office. They didn’t actually come from Russia, but they came from Tennessee. There was one warrior bee that hung on the whole time on the outside!
Warrior bee, hung on all the way from Tennessee.
Bee packaging is interesting! There’s sugar water in this canister.
Queen bee package.
We put the queen package in the bottom of the hive. The bees will eat a sugar plug on one side and free her, which will also help acclimate the bees to her.
Fun. We’ve been really loving the spring here. Redbuds and morels and fresh air.
Asa and I had a quiet morning together the other day and found what Asa called the “motherload”. It started raining on us but we didn’t care.
Back from our rainy mushroom hunt.
Redbuds and violets for making jams.
Kids with a foraged dinner.
The end meal: cheesy toast plus sauteed mushrooms and greens from the woods.