Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What we're not doing this year

We are not getting day-old chicks this winter. It had become an annual ritual to buy day-old chicks from a hatchery and have them shipped to us in January or February. They had to be shipped that early so they would be big enough for the 4-H Fair in July, but after doing this for four years, we realized there were a number of reasons not to do it.

It is not sustainable for a number of reasons. Buying new chicks every year is like buying new seeds every year -- perhaps worse. George Washington would not have approved. We certainly would not have met his definition of real farmers. Baby chicks are kind of like puppies in a pet store though -- those pictures in the catalogs are so cute, and before you know what's hit you, you've ordered several different varieties.

It is also not sustainable because of the ridiculous amount of energy required to raise chicks in winter. Baby chicks need to be kept at roughly 90-95 degrees for the first week of life, then 85-90 degrees the second week, reducing the temperature by five degrees per week until they are fully feathered. There is a very good reason why chickens stop laying eggs in the dead of winter -- babies would die if they hatched. No mama hen could keep her chicks warm enough when it's below freezing outside. When you don't have a mama hen, you have to use a heat lamp, and a 250-watt heat lamp sucks up a lot of energy when it's on 24 hours a day. So, it's not environmentally sustainable to raise chicks in the winter.

It's not sustainable from a modern economic standpoint because buying new chicks every year is also expensive -- far more expensive than simply buying a bunch of cockerel chicks for meat birds. If you want 100 chicks of specific breeds, it's around $150, which is about $1.50 per bird. Half of them will become layers, and half of them will become roosters, and by extension, dinner. Spending $1.50 on a chicken that will ultimately become dinner is just not smart. After all, he is still going to eat grain for 3 1/2 months, and then he has to be processed. Last year, after Margaret and I dropped off the roosters at the processor, I went to the gas station, and as I was watching the gas pump price go up to $10, $20, $30, $40, I couldn't help but start doing the math, and we realized that those roosters had cost us about $7-8 each, including cost of purchase, then feed, then gas to get them to the processor, then the cost of processing. It was a very depressing day.

It's also cruel to ship baby chicks in the dead of winter. One year, we received a shipment where half of them were dead. I called the hatchery, and they said they'd reship the next week. That turned out to be a bad idea. The next week was even colder, and every single chick was dead on arrival. I called the hatchery again and just asked for a refund. I couldn't stand the thought of attempting to ship more chicks in such terrible weather.

I am completely happy about the decision to not raise any chicks this winter, and in fact, I wonder why it took us four years to figure out that raising chicks in winter is a really bad idea.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Goats and fruit trees

As much as I love my dear goats, I am spittin' mad right now! I was walking past the library window today when my peripheral vision saw something very wrong, and an involuntary scream came from my mouth. I spun around on my toes, nearly hitting my forehead on the window as a string of expletives spewed from my lips. Two goats were in the midst of the apple trees happily gnawing at the bark!

We planted six apple trees and two pear trees when we moved here five years ago, creating a lovely little orchard. This past year, the pear trees and one of the apple trees died due to these two little goats and their friends stripping the bark from them. They have now stripped the bark from the remaining four apple trees. I'm so frustrated! Last summer was the first harvest from the trees, so in addition to having to buy new apple and pear trees, we'll have to wait another four years for a crop of fruit.

These two goats do NOT respect the electric fence, which is how they get into the yard. They just walk right through it as if it's nothing -- perhaps it's a tickley massage to them? I don't find it pleasant at all when I accidentally touch the fence. I don't understand how they can just walk right through it, but perhaps the taste of apple bark is just too delicious to be deterred by something as blah as an electric shock?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The rescue that wasn't

Jonathan came in around 11 a.m. to tell us that the sheep were trapped on a newly formed island. This might sound strange to you if you're new to my blog, but a creek runs through our property, and parts of our pastures flood at least a couple times a year. What we refer to as "the middle pasture" has a particularly bad habit of flooding, and that's where the sheep were grazing when the creek snuck up and surrounded them. The snow has been melting the past couple days, and with 37 degrees and precipitation today, we knew the waters would only get higher as the day progressed. This wasn't the first time we've had to rescue the sheep, so we had a pretty good idea of what needed to be done. Mike and Katherine were going to head out there and herd the sheep through the water before it got any higher. The first picture shows them surveying the situation, trying to figure out the best (most shallow) place to get the sheep to cross the water.

Much to everyone's surprise, as Katherine and Mike walked towards the end of the pasture with the shallowest water, the sheep seemed to know what they were thinking, and they also headed towards that end of the pasture. Then, before any human even attempted to go through the floodwaters, the sheep started running towards us! Maybe since we go through this every few months, the older sheep are getting accustomed to the idea. The younger sheep, of course, just follow the flock blindly. Katherine thinks they came running across the water because they saw her -- "hay girl!"

Now the sheep are back on the top of the hill, where we hope they'll stay!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Lizzie's baby girls

Sorry this is so late. These are Lizzie's babies. They were born a couple days after Christmas. This picture was taken last month when they were about a month old. Most people say that goats will be wild if they are dam raised (raised by mama instead of being bottle-fed by humans), but this line shows the importance of good genetics to personality. We have never had an unfriendly goat come out of Dancy's line, and Dancy is the great grandmother of these little girls! These two are more in-your-face annoying than the bottle babies out there. They are always jumping on us, wanting to be held and petted. We can't decide which one to keep, but we really should sell at least one of them.

Their names are Joy and Hope, named in honor of the Christmas season. Joy was such a happy little kid that the name seemed obvious, and Hope was the tiniest baby we've ever had born here. I really had my doubts that she'd survive, although she seemed healthy, so we were hoping she'd make it. After she was a few days old, Hope seemed like the perfect name for her.

More potting

Just finished putting more seeds in little pots. I planted 10 pots of early Jersey wakefield cabbage. Unlike the round cabbage you find in the supermarket, this type has an elongated shape to it. The picture looks like a very large candle flame. I think that will make it easier to shred for coleslaw. It's kind of funny how most of the vegetables in the supermarket are round, even though there are lots of vegetable varieties that are not round -- like the sausage tomatoes, which I love! There are also several icicle-shaped radishes, which are especially nice for shredding onto salad. Try doing that with a little round radish.

I also started nine pots of pimento seeds, three pots of Serrano peppers, and three pots of ancho san luis peppers, which are a hot variety that is supposedly used for stuffing. I've never grown the latter before, but it sounds delicious! I use the Serrano peppers for a hot sauce similar to one that I grew up eating in southern Texas.

Friday, February 23, 2007

First sprout!

Ten days already? This morning I was complaining in my head that there was something wrong with my planting methods or my soil or my watering methods or ... something! None of my 32 pots of tomato seeds was doing anything. I'd been watering from below (pouring water into the pan where the pots sit, so as not to disturb the seeds by watering on top of the soil), but out of desperation, I poured water ever-so-gently on top of the soil around noon today. Now, only three hours later, I happened to walk past the pots and noticed a tiny sprout emerging from the soil. Woo hoo! Of course, now the mother in me worries that I disturbed the other little seedlings by watering on top of the soil today. Yeah, I'm a little giddy about my little sprout. Interestingly enough, the tomato is First Pick, which I have grown before, and I don't recall being impressed by its punctuality.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Snow day!

It started snowing late last night, and it's still snowing, almost 24 hours later. They were predicting 8 to 12 inches. Due to the unbelievable drifting, however, I have no idea how much we have! There are spots where we can see grass, and there are places where the drifts are four feet high. It will not be fun shoveling the driveway tomorrow. That's where some of the four-foot drifts are located.

Today, I got the urge to make soap and get my tomatoes started in peat pots. I made three batches of soap: a lavender essential oil and wheat germ, a Valencia orange essential oil, and an unscented recipe that I just invented. It includes cocoa butter, shea butter, avocado butter, palm kernel oil, jojoba and several other oils. I'm calling it a "butter bar," and it's definitely for dry skin. A couple years ago, I made a really rich soap with lanolin and shea butter, and it caused my face to break out. I will only use this one for my hands. I think it will be great for my daughters though, because their hands have been getting really dry.

I also started 32 little peat pots with tomato seeds, including green sausage, green zebra, pink grapefruit, white currant, red fig, and several others, for a total of 12 different types. In the past, green zebra and amana orange have been my favorites. The green zebra tomatoes make an outstanding quiche, and the amana orange tomatoes are about a pound each, so they're excellent for freezing, because they are easy to peel, and it's simple to put away a one-pound bag in the freezer quickly. This will be our first year for Cherokee purple, green sausage, cream sausage, pink grapefruit, white currant, and red fig. I know I'll like the sausage tomatoes because their long cylindrical shape makes them great for slicing. I also planted three pots of ground cherries, which are supposed to be great for making pies and jams, just like real cherries, but they are a member of the tomato family and grow in a husk like a tomatillo.

Only three months until we can put everything in the garden. In one month, we can start putting out the cold-weather vegetables like peas. I am so looking forward to spring!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

New year, new plans

I placed my first garden supply order a couple of days ago. I am really excited about the upcoming gardening season. As usual, I'm ordering lots of heirloom seeds. We don't need to buy any soldier beans though because we've been saving those for two years now. The soldier beans we'll plant this year are the grandchildren of beans I bought two years ago. That means they're totally organic seeds, which is exciting.

I placed the order with Landreth's, which is the oldest seed company in the United States, and they still have real human beings answering their phones and taking your order. They were the seed suppliers for George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. I get those two mens' gardens mixed up because I visited them one day apart in 1999, but I do recall that one of them said that a farmer who has to buy seeds more than once isn't really a farmer. They were, of course, big proponents of seed saving. It's funny to think that the concept of seed saving is actually illegal with today's patented seeds. If I receive a catalog that includes even one type of patented seed, I throw it away. I refuse to support a company that supports the idea of owning nature. You know there are patented seeds in the catalog if it includes an affidavit that you have to sign, promising to not save any seeds for future planting. It's hard for me to believe that today's modern commercial farmers fall for that garbage. But they're lured by the promise of big yields and bigger profits. I wonder if any of them have ever sat down to see how much money they'd save by purchasing old-fashioned seeds and saving some to plant next year, rather than having to buy new seeds every year.

Mike doesn't know it yet, but I ordered 100 asparagus roots. He's the head planter around here, and that should keep him busy for an afternoon. Five years ago, we planted a dozen asparagus roots, thinking that within a couple of years, we'd have more than we could eat. Unfortunately, we still get so few that we just pick them and eat them in the yard. We never get enough at one time to cook any. They are the Mary Washington strain, which is an older one. I am ordering the Jersey Knight this time, because it is supposed to be more prolific.

I plan to order more seeds from Jung's, which is a family owned company that's been around for 100 years. They have a centennial heirloom seed collection that I'm buying this year. I'm also excited about their collection of gladiolus. I've been planting glads in my garden for several years now. I love the beautiful cut flowers I get in the middle of summer.

We are going to be experimenting more with isolated garden beds and a permaculture system of growing things. To save seeds from squash plants, they have to be isolated from each other because they will cross pollinate, so if you have a butternut and an acorn squash next to each other, and you save the seeds, who knows what you'll get from those seeds next year! We have four garden areas around the house, and we're going to be planting things under trees and in flower beds, so it's going to look like the Garden of Eden around here if we're successful this year.


Related Posts with Thumbnails