April 29, 2005

Today provided a Marketing Educational Experience. For weeks now we’ve been trying to move our eggs, advertising with fliers around campus. No real luck. But as of today, I have six dozen eggs to distribute Monday. Wonderful! But it all came about in ways unanticipated. I tried, when I made the fliers, to think about what would appeal to others. Our eggs are fresh (good), no antibiotics (good), really large (good), and the chickens are happy (good). Well that was just great, but 3 dozen of the eggs were wanted by a mom who likes small bantam eggs for her daughter (the same eggs we feed to the peafowl because they are small and useless in our eyes) and a man who wants eggs for his broody hen and doesn’t care if FrankenChick hatches out (A silkie hen and a white leghorn rooster? ick). It all goes to show that whatever you think other people want, you are half wrong, and other people don’t think like you. No wonder it’s important to do a business plan…..
In other news, talk is turning to pigs. A piggy or two to raise for meat. They apparently have a short rearing time, and go to slaughter at 5-6 months. Maybe Bacon and Pork Chop will be on next year’s calendar….stay tuned. This weekend we have uninterrupted time to work….that never happens….so hopefully we’ll use the time well 🙂

April 28, 2005

Checked on the chicks this morning, no visible activity but lots of peeps were heard emanating from under Beautiful. It’s been coldish from a minor weather front, so hopefully they are getting out here and there to eat. The one found dead was checked at work, and it showed good yolk absorption but congested lungs (and no particular leads). I hope this is nothing infectious since that would just be no good at all. The regimen used at home is good for the birds until anything contagious comes along, and then it’s trouble. Likely I will never have more than 50 turkeys, just to minimize stress and therefore disease risk.
The transplanted artichoke was noted to have survived–barely. Lesson learned: they don’t like their roots disturbed. The big ‘choke that survived the gopher attack is plugging along–barely. Next time I put ‘chokes in the ground, they go in wire planting baskets. I am sick of gophers getting the plants just when they are setting their produce!
Ken has almost finished the grape arbor, it looks fantastic. Hard to believe, we have almost completed a project! Next the decorative gate will be finished. I have decided on extremely saturated colors of purple, orange and yellow for the paint (bug surprise). I’m sure it’ll look bright and cheerful, and set off the flowers I plan on putting out front. Tomorrow is Friday, I am thinking about getting more hay for the weekend but I guess I can do without it. Yesterday we got 100 lb Layena, 50 lb Turkey Starter, 50 lb Scratch Grain, and 50 lb oyster shell. That should take care of the birds for, oh, a few weeks. Wish they’d eat more grass!

April 27, 2005

This weekend added up to TurkeyGate. Two of last year’s hens were sitting on eggs, we knew that. They were set up in a dog-loo on straw, very nice and cozy, and had happily brooded for weeks. They were erratic at starting to set on the eggs, so we didn’t have a starting date but knew it was probably close. Unrelated, on Saturday morning after weeks of wishywashing, I thought "dammit, I AM ordering those Narragansett eggs". $50 for a dozen eggs, Narragansetts are another beautiful black and white breed, the predecessor to the bronze and critically rare. Described as even tempered stay-at-homes with toms reaching 30 pounds, they sounded wonderful, and I wanted some. I ordered away. Not 3 hours later I went outside to find dingbat hens with panicking little day-old chicks running in the yard-not good. I got them re-settled (I thought) and made efforts to not disturb them. This was the big mistake–later in the day I found a dead chick, an near dead chick, and panicky chicks. That did it, make a quick brooder out of a box and a heat lamp, get the leating pad out, get the poor thing warm. They pulled through and got toasty. There is something too sad about seeing a shivering little bird peeping its head off. It strikes right at whatever molecules of parental instinct anyone has….stress, stress, stress. By night they were doing better, except they were trying to pack at each other’s eyes! Ick! Stop that! Ack! Read read read, try a red light. Where the hell is the red floodlamp? Wander around the shop, finally find it, hook it up. Better but still pecking. Attempt to watch movie while guiltily checking on chicks every hour.
The following morning, I went outside. Two more hatched, one was almost dead trampled in the dirt. Get chicks inside, warm them up, go outside with basket, remove eggs from rotten mothers and take eggs into incubator. One poor egg had started to hatch but no movement now…wait and see. In a moment of despair the light bulb went off–would another turkey hen adopt chicks that weren’t her own? One way to find out. Beautiful was injured over the winter, and has lived in a seperate pen ever since. She walks with a limp that is likely permanent, but has otherwise stabilized. She had been acting broody. I popped the chicks underneath her and she took them. She seemed to want them and was being mother hen again. Thank the stars for this, because they do so much better when raised by a hen. Except that, beautiful was going to sit on my Narragansett eggs. I’m gonna cross that bridge when the eggs come.
Sweet peas are everywhere this week, scarlet and wine and pink and white and purples and violets and lilacs and a couple other shades too, every one of them a perfume factory. It is wonderful beyone my imaginings, and it’s exciting. I can have area after area like this on the property. I learned that if the seeds are thrown down in September/October that the plants will grow just right, and come roaring into spring with well developed root systems. Who writes that crap on the seed packets, anyway? Half of my garden learning has added up to realizing that most of the instructions are just plain wrong, at least for USDA Zone 9 growing.
All the wildflowers are up now, too. Poppies everywhere, flax, yarrow, and the pink stuff I still can’t figure out the name of. I can spread that every year, too. I bought a quarter pound of valley wildflower seed, that’s a fall project. Seeds are great. Once you have them, who needs to buy more?
The replacement dahlias came, 24 of them. Rototilled a ditch, chicken wire over that, a little more dirt, then the tubers, more dirt and straw. This time, they are planted in March and not May…if they all come up, it will be a spectacular display.
Some eggplants and peppers in, with diatomacoeus earth on top for slugs and earwigs. That worked so-so. As soon as I say damage I upgraded to beer bait and sevin dust. Sevin is the only garden pesticide I’ll use, and only when the plants are tender seedlings. It’s the only chance they have against a ravenous earwig population, and when you spend weeks raising heirloom seedlings, it’s hard to just lose them all to bugs. Lotsa slugs drowning away in that Bud Light (which is all I think that brand is good for anyway…)
The roses in the circle garden are making the first appearance. These are on their own rootstock, a new adventure for me. I fertilized and inspected them. There was some amount of random, inexplicable die-back on some shoots. I pruned all that out, removed any straggler weeds, and added the fertilizer. The blossoms are small right now but every bit as fragranced as the glossy promo material claimed–whoa. I only can’t help notice that in the middle of all these lilac roses, one looks kinda orange. Wonder if someone messed up the plant tag on that one….to be announced.
I cancelled the strawberry order for the year. There was a crop problem due to heavy rains in the middle states, and the ship date was set for mid-June to early July. Stupid, since as the customer representative said "you guys are picking strawberries in February out there." Yeah, that sums it up. It’s better this way, I already have too much to do and I can use the time to do proper soil preparation (for a change).
Straw, straw, straw, I am on about my 20th bale of wheat straw. Straw everywhere=no weeds. Can’t have too much, really. The last round-up (I hope) for the front acreage was sprayed over the weekend, and next comes gobs of straw to smother out any up and coming hopeful weeds. This should give is a realtively weed-free garden, which in summer is the difference between success and failure.
I read an article about some farmers near Sacramento, they plant 10 tomato varieties at 1,000 tomatoes per variety. I wonder if I will ever get there, it’s hard to imagine that magnitude. Do I even want to get there?! It’s all such a learning process. But from where I stand, I cal already see that farming is like building a house. You don’t worry about the color of the roof tiles when you’re still framing out the walls…you get there when you get there.

April 15th, 2005

Greetings to all. It has officially been spring for about 3 weeks now, but the plants tend to not pay attention to calendars. This is the time of year when everything feels exciting—you look around to see just how pretty it is already, and you allow yourself the occasional thought of what it’s going to look like once summer comes. Right now the tulips and the spring bulbs are all but gone (after a magnificent display), giving way to a wall of heirloom sweet peas and rose after rose in rainbow colors. We have many climbing roses, and nothing rivals their grand entrance. Iris, astilbe, poppies, yarrow….each day something else has started blooming. We haven’t really gone anywhere since January, since this is seedling time. Our dining room table is covered by a “plant brooder” with our heirloom vegetable seedlings growing underneath, 16 hours of artificial light a day. Every plant pot gets about 2 tbsp of water every day. A little too dry, and they’re all dead. A little too wet, and they’re all dead from fungus rot. Fingerling artichokes vie with eggplant, pepper and tomato for room. Multicolor Swiss chard is almost ready for planting, while the special Italian zucchinis put forth their first true leaves. This year, two really helpful things happened. The first was the aforementioned light fixture. Remember last year, how I tried to start seeds in the cute little electric greenhouse and then I set the sprouts in a sunny windowsill? It was a disaster. A friend gave us a light fixture, and Ken built a simple frame so that the light ballast can be easily raised or lowered. I read that fluorescent bulbs supply most of the light spectrum plants need, so we decided to try it. I’m sure it would be even better with those really pricey full-spectrum bulbs, but Mostly Good is a big step from All Bad. The other great thing was the purchase of some “Natural Beginnings” seed starting medium from Gardens Alive!, a vendor of overpriced organic garden elixirs. I only buy stuff when I have significant coupons and discounts lined up. This year I bought a soil-less product which is made of coir (the short fibers of coconut) with some other witches’ brew items mixed in. The claim was that I would get spectacularly quick germination and super strong seedlings. I would say I am 90% impressed, which is a lot. The seeds did germinate quickly. But what is more important, none of them died from the dreaded “damp-off” that destroyed batch after batch of last year’s attempts. Every seedling has multiple amounts of true leaves. Mostly, they look robust and healthy. I also used sterile water since I have easy access to that. Not adding germs seemed like a good idea. But enough about the seedlings. For our avian friends, it’s springtime, and it’s quite loud around our house. To phrase it delicately, all the males are extremely occupied. Gobbling. Shrieking. Desperate for “bird nookie”. Galahad the peacock has frustrations. Mopsy is young, and so far uninterested in Galahad’s overtures; or those of the occasionally visiting peacock we have named Lancelot. He has taken to commemorating every passing car, trailer, truck and garden cart with that special vocalization that can be heard from 2 miles away. He’s so desperate he has begun displaying his tail fan to cats and inanimate objects. We sold two of the Royal Palms, and the remainder are busy sitting on the eggs which will become our main flock. I am also pondering whether or not to send for eggs for Narragansett turkeys, which are even rarer than the Royal Palms. They are equally good looking and likely would be better eating (more weight=better bar-b-que!). We obtained our Certified Farmer’s Certificate (how’s that for a mouthful?) in order to sell at local Farmer’s Markets. Apparently we broke the county record on account of the ten pages of different produce items we raise. I am looking forward to trying the farmer’s market. It’s hard to decide what to try to sell, but the obvious choices would be the monster blackberries, the eggs, flowers, and last year’s little gourds. We will be purchasing some berry baskets from a supplier (600 for $35, what a deal) and we’ll see how it goes. The berries are just flowering now. Meanwhile, egg sales are plodding along. So far, so good, since we are drowning in eggs. We routinely have over 150 sitting in flats, and no amount of quiche baking can keep up (side note for the health-conscious: we found a quiche recipe that uses milk not cream, and it even tastes good). I must say, our customers are getting a good deal. All the freshest ones go for sale, and most of the eggs are so huge that I have trouble closing the cartons. All the trees have set fruit, and this weekend will be time to thin all of the branches. The annual ant-deterrent challenge has begun. This year’s idea was to use wax paper around the trunk, with vet wrap (light, stretchy, mildly adhesive bandage material) over that and tanglefoot on top. The trees look so cute with their red and blue bandages of Sticky Ant Death. We actually have a cherry crop and a greengage crop, if we can outwit the birds. We have discovered a need, though. We have to take up beekeeping. We’re not even sure we care about honey, but we need the pollination. So it’s time to work on acquiring hives. Right after we learn more about bees, than that they fly and sting…. So for the weekend, -Fertilize roses (all 40 of them) -Mow grass -Till strawberry patch (and a few other patches) -Transplant chard -Sow late spring flower seeds -Run all irrigation lines to check for winter damage -Clean and feed poultry -Shell almonds for Phyllis, our most long-suffering customer -Start eggplant and stuffing tomato seeds -Spray for weeds if no wind -Burn weeds if not too windy -Finish weeding around willow tree -Fertilize citrus tree -Transplant bay-leaf little tree -Put diatomaceous earth around lettuce, peas, chard -Weed and mulch hostas -Tie more baling twine to support berry vines -Weed and hill up asparagus -Fill planter box and transplant artichokes -Add gravel to large pathway -Spread pre-emergent on pathway -Disc perimeter of field for burning -Transplant more larkspur Anyone feel like helping?