April 19th, 2006

I'll try to avoid my usual love of prose and just get to the details….as of tonight, we have 18 turkey chicks under 4 hens. Temperance has 6 Narragansetts and 2 crossbreeds (we're calling them Palmagansetts, but that's meant to be a joke). Prudence has 8 Narragansetts with as many eggs still underneath her. There are 2 chicks hatched by the Beltsville hen (who has no name yet). One Royal Palm chick was found dead, but with something like 15 eggs under the hen. There is still time to go on the first hatch, but so far so good.
Thirty nine heriloom tomatoes were planted over the weekend at Drew's farm down the road, in the terraced garden. There were also 8 or so white cucumber starts with that. The "red plastic" experiment (red plastic on the ground under the plants, supposedly increases the growth rate and fruit set) is underway on about half the tomatoes. This week the second wave of tomato seedlings will be going. I guess I'm heading for about 80 tomato plants. What am I thinking?? I hope the collective of Arbuckle farm workers likes tomatoes, that's what.  Even for a market garden the tomatoes are getting scary. There are pepper starts on my dining room table but they are coming along very slowly. I am waiting for slightly highter soil temperatures before those go in the ground. Tonight we went to Redwood Barn nursery in Davis and bought 6 hybrids and 4 other heirloom tomatoes, plus some basil seed. I read their sign warning people from planting their tomatoes yet….oh well, we'll see.
The new lemon and orange trees were planted tonight.
We contacted a peafowl breeder in Redding and have made arrangements to purchase some white peachicks in the upcoming months.
Drew gave us 250 lbs of wheat for poultry feed–we are going to try a 25% substitution of wheat into the layer feed for the adult birds and see how that goes.
The fruit orchard is, in my opinion,  a sad state of affairs. The mature peaches look like hell. So does the Wickson plum. The mature nectarine is uninspiring. I don't know what to think, this wet weather has been very hard on everything. Hopefully it will be a good year for…..something.
No potatoes have sprouted yet. The fava beans are doing well in this weather and are about 6" tall now. The artichokes have been exceptional. The asparagus is….growing.
This weekend it will be necessary to mow or otherwise abate the weeds out front. It's a hard job because it is delicate weeding in and among the many, many flowers. I'm hoping to have a bright idea on how to do this with efficiency, hopefully the next three days will provide some inspiration.
Ken is completing work on the large feeder huts he has been building. They are large wooden pods designed to keep sun, rain and wild birds away from the poultry feeders.
We hope everyone had a good Easter with friends and family. We attended an Easter barbecue/picnic hosted by a local farm family, and met some really great people. The food was delicious, and we ate in a large agricultural shop building on account of some rather inclement weather.  Lamb and forklifts….why not?
That's all for now, everyone think sunny thoughts……

April 10, 2006

I knew there was more than usual occurring on the farm when my friend Robert called me to catch up on news yesterday, and when I was asked “what’s been going on?”, nothing but blank fuzz came to mind. This is always a sure sign of mental overload. Hopefully this post will be a better answer to the question than what I came up with for poor Robert.

First off, chicks have started. Our two first Beltsville Small White chicks have hatched. We are so happy about this, since these turkeys and their reproductive habits were the biggest unknown. We expect to see a chick every two days or so for some time, until the hens have all their fertile eggs hatched. All three Narragansett hens are sitting on large nests, and we expect hatching to begin for them in the next 10 days. Ditto with the Royal Palms. This will mean a lot of extra time monitoring the chicks. Once they make it past a month of age it seems to go smoothly, but it’s a lot of watching in the meantime. Because our hens rear their young naturally, we have to do our helping, cleaning and intervening in a way that doesn’t disturb the mothers.

The rain (and the fact that it won’t stop) is causing summer garden problems off my personal scale. Significant amounts of my summer vegetables are going to be grown at Drew’s farm, because he has prepared planting beds with drainage and I don’t. We’re pretty damn lucky to have access to someone else’s garden space. Hopefully the people who certify us for the Farmer’s Market have heard of such an arrangement before. Anyway, last night all the tomato and cucumber starts that were ready were taken to their new home. Tonight it will be time to start the second wave of potted seedlings. More tomatoes, more peppers, and more eggplants. Maybe more cucumbers. I am thus far not having a good time with the tomato and pepper seeds I purchased this year; the germination is slow and less than I am used to.

Recently I accompanied Drew to a business meeting on assorted growing/orchard issues. The result of all this, for me, has been a huge insight into all the orchard practices concerning which I’ve been sloppy, negligent, or outright ignorant. I’ve been lucky enough to receive the first of what will hopefully be a lot of direct schooling about how a healthy orchard works and responds to superior management. Much of this will be applicable to our own, much smaller, endeavors.

And, this is the time of year when every other spare minute I have is concerned with managing our own yard for summer flowers. It is a big goal this year to keep increasing the available flowers on the property. I am working toward having a garden that has sufficient flowers year round to support bees. A LOT of bees. I am working at weed control, seeding, observing the bees themselves, and maintaining a growing mental checklist of what flowers to promote or try out next. 

I have finished with the permanent new plantings for this year (trees) and am working to completely re-enter our orchard map onto Photoshop software. Not including almonds or fruit bearing shrubs, we have more than 50 fruit or nut trees that we’ve planted in our 4 calendar years on the property. Not bad!

April 4, 2006

The Germans have a word for what we are experiencing. Scheissewetter. I think most people out there can puzzle that out just fine. The weather has made for a difficult time, in terms of any kind of real preparations usual to this time of year. The tomato seedlings look really great….on my dining room table. The flower starts look great…..on my dining room table. I still have dozens of vegetables to start. Where to put them? Well, only so much can fit….on my dining room table. We really, really hope that this year is the last one in which we will have to face starting our plants without a greenhouse. This last Sunday I created an artificial crisis of potato planting because I didn't read the instructions for the seed potatoes carefully enough. We did our Irish ancestors proud, out there in the rain planting those taters. While I prefer not having rain to contend with, there is something just great about planting. Take up big scoops of perfectly tilled earth. Plunk in the potato, cut side down, with the little budding eyes staring back at you. Place some soil in the hole. Place a fistful of gourmet compost (better than the last donation from Drew, if possible) on top of that. Move on to the next hole. Repeat two to three hundred times. Run out of room and realize there are STILL MORE POTATOES to plant. I have concluded that garden planning is not my strong point. I'm a lot like the rototiller. Throttle up, and run amok down the rows of soil. I blame some of this on having too many "pots to stir" and not enough time to do an entirely proper job of it. Still, experience is a great teacher, and each year works out better than the last. The yard is beginning to show its colors. About half the tulips are up, and ditto on the daffodils and narcissus. The ranunculus are rapidly turning out to be the best $20 I ever spent. The colors are vivid and the flowers are long lasting and extremely showy. Soon the sweet peas will begin their monthslong display. The first rose bloomed this week, we added 5 or 6 this year. I believe we are nearing at least the 50 rose mark. Can anyone ever have enough roses?