Snowstorm

We’ve been asked how we are weathering all the snow, and we’re happy to say all is well. Starts are coming along nicely, the greenhouse is standing in spite of all the snow, and somewhere under the new snow, there are little green daffodil shoots! 

Image

December Greenhouse

“tis the season to renovate the greenhouse and prepare it for next season’s crops. We haven’t done anything with it for a month or so since we finally had a hard enough frost to freeze it. But even with the waning daylight hours and cold weather over the last couple of days, it was nice out there for a while. Dad is putting in a bigger, better hydroponic system to grow lettuce, spinach, watercress and what-not. We are lining and will be flooding the trough under the central path. This will help keep the greenhouse from freezing, as the water retains the heat from the day, releasing it in the night slowly.

We also set up a shelf for start trays, as we will begin starting seeds as early as late January. Under that is a series of glass-covered cold-frames. Greenhouses within greenhouses to give us an even earlier start. The greenhouse isn’t heated, although Dad does have a nifty solar exchange system that forces hot air under the beds from the top of the tunnel, heating the soil.

Laying heavy black plastic in the trough.

Thin wall pipes for hydroponics. Water barrels for added mass heat storage under.

Trough. Once it's flooded we can trim the plastic and deck over it.

Installing a shelf for seed trays. Cold frames below it, with in-ground plantings.

Gladiolus corms from last year, they can't freeze, so we lift them and plant them again in the spring.

Dad has a nucleus hive in the greenhouse temporarily, and one of his girls escaped.

Everbearing strawberries planted in-ground. They will start blooming again when it warms up a little.

Bees and Bunnies

Quail waterer in the beehive to feed the bees.

Because it is still rainy – although not cool, at the moment it’s like a sauna out there! I have been feeding the bees sugar water. We use quail waterers to give the hives a solution of one-to-one sugar and water. I did notice that the bees were flying today, which is a good thing, and they aren’t going through the sugar as fast. Today I spoke to our farmer friend who leases them every year and he told me he wants them for his big pumpkin field next month. The bees will increase his yield enough to make our lease fee well worth his while. Beekeepers like the arrangement where they can get honey and get paid for the girl’s works.

Sugar and warm tap water make fine bee food.

This hive has a mason jar with slits in the lid for a feeder.

.

We took a closer look at the baby bunnies today. Michael moved fluff and I took a picture, and we were delighted to find we have six in there. As Michael says, they have wee little ears, and round tummies. Although we never see Mama in with them, she’s obviously feeding them. She’s a first time mother and doing pretty well, considering. They are half New Zealand but they are all black or dark grey.

Fat little baby bunnies! They are so cute!

One of the old apple trees on the edge of the garden.

We have a number of apple trees on the property, but most of them are seedling apples, which usually means the apples are small and very, very tart. We have one tree by the house that actually has sweet apples. They look beautiful in the spring covered with pale pink blossoms. I like to stand under them, inhaling the sweet scent and listening to the bees humming in the flowers. If we pay attention perhaps this fall we can harvest some to make apple jelly with, or to mix into the apple cider. We normally let them go and concentrate on the orchard up at Toad Hall, but they are planning to sell this year.

The greenhouse is filling up with green.

We have much work to do in the greenhouse, it’s only about half-ready for plants, but the tomatoes and herbs in there are doing really well. The decked center path will be lined with plastic and filled with water eventually. Dad says that will hold about 1200 gallons of water and may extend our season to almost year-round with the thermal mass. The little wood stove just visible in the foreground will help with that, too. We may try to grow fish in there, eventually. Long term we want to try a polyculture of fish, crawdads, and plants. Dad plans another trough on the North side of the greenhouse that will be pumped up into gutters full of plants. The fish poo will fertilize the plants. We might not manage it all this year, but most of the infrastructure is in place, I just have to follow Dad’s plans. Along with about a dozen other projects. It’s good, though. The farm is happening, inevitably as the grass grows.

Popovers and Chicks

Popovers with Blueberry Jam

My popovers didn’t “pop” but they still tasted awesome, especially with the blueberry jam that we put up last summer on it. I think next time I will use a metal pan, the silicone muffin tins didn’t work well for this!

Chicks!

The little golden ones are Golden-Pencilled Hamburgs, and the black and white ones are Cuckoo Marans. The Cuckoo Marans will lay deep brown shelled eggs. Once they are laying, with the green egged Aracaunas we already have, and the Hamburg’s brown eggs, we will have very colorful boxes of eggs to sell! Right now they are just gosh-darned cute.

Rhubarb Hatching

Ok, it’s not really hatching, but it’s cool to see that leaf crumpled up in the cup that forms the base of the stem. They will grow like mad now, and by May we will be harvesting rhubarb. I plan to make rhubarb jam soon!

Tomatoes in the Greenhouse!

Finally able to take the starts out to the greenhouse. It’s freezing at night outside, but they will stay warm enough in there, and we’ve got a huge head start on the growing season. We are harvesting lettuce out of the cold frames at the far end of this bed already.

Greenhouse Chickens

The first chickens were about 3-4 years old and not laying well.

Yesterday was a big day here on Stonycroft. We started the day with biscuits at 7, and from there we made a list of everything that needed to be done on the farm, and then set out on errands. Agway first, our local feed and seed store. Rabbit food, chicken food, and pig food for the new piglets we will get today. Bales of potting mix and shavings for the critters. Juliet was with us, and she fell in love with a salmon-pink flowered geranium, so we let her get that, and then I found a strawberry scented geranium… oh, and we bought 60 strawberry plants. After the feed store we continued down into Tilton, the the hardware store on Main Street that still has much of the fixtures and feel that it did a hundred years ago when it was young. Juliet loved exploring and finding all the cool doo-dads.

Once we had returned home I helped Dad offload the feed and bales, while the kids ran the groceries inside and put them away. Once the truck was clear we took the cap back off… when we had put it on that morning I had pulled a muscle in the part of me I sit upon. I grabbed Glady and the two of us ran to the library. Everyone at the house had made book requests, so we wound up with quite a stack. Dad got a couple of bee books put on inter-library loan, as he is finally studying for the Master Beekeeper’s Exam. Juliet had asked for a cookbook, and we found her a gluten-free one. Pippa asked for a book on raising pigs, as they are to be her responsibility. And for Johann I grabbed a book on tractors and one on robots. I found the Omnivore’s Dilemma, and a book on edible landscaping. Glady found a book on drawing cats, to her delight.

Back at the farm I parceled out the books to some very delighted children, taking my find Teaming with Microbes up to Dad, where he was potting up leggy tomato plants and bemoaning the chickens still invading his greenhouse. we talked about what needed to be done, and then I headed out to the greenhouse. I needed to build nestboxes into the chookabagos (chicken tractors by any other name…) so we would have a chance of keeping more eggs from the older flock. They have been eating their eggs. Te original plan was for me to build slanting shelves out of plywood and one by two that were partially outside the coops so we could collect the eggs. I wound up modifying that plan and using a salvaged drawer from an old dresser and the tray from under a decrepit rabbit cage. I also used the jigsaw for the first time. Ours lacks an on/off switch, so Juliet plugged and unplugged on command. Pippa brought me screws and drill bits as needed, and Johann made dirt angels. You know it must be spring when your son is filthy from head to toe. Pippa discovered the loose Ameracauna hens had made a hidden nest, ad we retrieved about nine eggs out of that. All our Ameracaunas lay green eggs, so it was a pretty nest.

By the time I had finished, Dad was in the greenhouse potting the strawberries into hanging baskets. He put two plants in each basket, and we had only bought everbearing strawberries, so they will be very nice indeed in about a month. We plan to sell some at the farmstand, the rest will be for family use. While he was doing that, I realized I had been putting off butchering the spare roosters for too long. We’d gotten about 6 with the first flock of chickens, and then 3 more with the Ameracaunas. We really only want 2, although I think we will wind up keeping 3. So off the the house for my hatchet and knife.

I haven’t done this for about eight years… maybe more than that. It wasn’t difficult to remember how, the only problem was that Johann was insisting on watching. I made him go a suitable distance away, but he watched me do in most of the chickens, without visible signs of trauma. I wasn’t going to make him go in the house, this is a part of farm life. I skin chickens, plucking is too much time and I didn’t have the set-up for it yesterday, anyway. Part of the way through the third chicken Dad brought me a table, as my back was killing me working on a low surface.

Juliet came out to watch me and demand an anatomy lesson. Then Glady came out to join us. They were fascinated with the whole process. Juliet went from “I won’t touch that thing!” to “Ooh, the heart is so smooth like silk.” Glady was chasing her sister with a foot. She wasn’t perturbed by the process at all. Pippa bravely took a look and then fled. I finished the cleaning inside in the sink. While Dad was helping me clean out the gizzards we discovered that one of the chickens had eaten a balloon. It was pretty well ground up. He suggested I take a picture for BalloonHQ, but I declined to share that gross visual.

Finally finished with that whole process, and with 5 chickens tucked in the freezer, I realized that I needed a hot shower badly. Not only did I have blood and guts on me, but my hip was about to give out. Glady and Dad started dinner while I stood under hot water. We had burgers for dinner, sat and watched an episode of CSI while we were doing that, and then out to the last task of the day.

We moved the chicken tractors out of the greenhouse, with some difficulty. They barely fit through the opening in the end of the greenhouse, but we managed. The second one had two hens roosting on the ridgepole, and the  little buggers hung on all the way outside. Dad and I had to laugh… we didn’t know if that was persistence or agility. It took us a while to catch the now loose flock in the greenhouse, but as it was twilight they were ready to roost, and as long as we moved slowly we could catch them fairly easily. Even though we had gotten 6 inches of snow the day before, it was almost fifty degrees yesterday, and the bed on the south side of the greenhouse was snow-free by the time we put the chickens on it. I imagine the hens are enjoying themselves this morning with all that fresh scratch.

We built the chicken tractors (dubbed chookabagos) in the greenhouse.

%d bloggers like this: