Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A weird chicken event

My hens have been laying for several months now.  Their eggs are getting to be a nice size.  And production is up, six on average per day, pretty good for ten hens, in winter, and not a high-production breed.

Today there was a teeny tiny pullet egg on the floor of the Moop.  Somebody just started laying!  And of course she didn't figure out that it is supposed to be laid in a nest.

So cute. 

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's done!

The 2010 greenhouse plant catalog is done!  Got back to it about 6 this morning, finished up at 7:00 tonight, with a few detours for chickens, laundry and keeping the fires going.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

Will it ever stop?

It's snowing again, heavy wet stuff.  For awhile it was ice and rain.  I guess snow is better than that, but I am sure longing for sunshine, and not just to heat the greenhouse.  I need it to cheer me up. 

I worked most of the day on my greenhouse plants catalog.  It makes me forget what is going on outside.  Tomato section is complete, peppers, potatoes and onions are complete.  Herbs are next, and that one is a tough one.  Lots of new entries this year.  Then it's the miscellaneous plants and flowers, and it's done.

Leaf days Thursday night and Friday morning, so Andrew and I will be planting lettuce, kale, chard and cabbage seeds.  The broccoli is already done.  Androo will have to learn to recite "Collards, Broccoli, Cabbage and Kale" before it is time to transplant all of them into the garden.

The wood stoves are both going.  I'm about to put on my flannel pj's and finish watching Driving Miss Daisy.

Hope you are all as snug as a bug in a rug.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Out of chaos will come order

The greenhouse is in a state of flux.  Androo is putting in the hardware cloth barrier all around the inside perimeter of the greenhouse in the hopes that it will at least slow down the influx of rodents that wiped out many of my plants last year.  He is a little over half done, but there is still a pretty good chunk of work to do before it is finished.  In the meantime, tables are sitting helterskelter, wooden pallets are leaning against walls and tables, and there are piles of dirt that will have to be put back into the trenches where the hardware cloth is being installed.

Yesterday was a fruit day on the biodynamic calendar, and that meant getting the first planting of peppers into the seedling trays.  The planets will not wait while we mess around with the hardware cloth, the moon will not sit still in the sky, and they were lined up perfectly for fruiting plants on Friday.  So we planted, and at the end of the day, our objective was met - a little over 900 pepper seeds are in the seedling trays and sitting on the new heating mat that will help them to germinate more quickly. 

But of course that means that the greenhouse is still a mess.  I like neatness and order, even though sometimes it doesn't look like it around here.  I know where everything is, even if the places I find them might seem a little odd.  Right now, I couldn't find my right hand while standing in that greenhouse.  I am longing to get things back in place, to have trays neatly lined up in numerical order, and all of the planting records put into the computer.

In the meantime, I will live with the mess out there and dream of a greenhouse free of mice this year.  It will all be worth it.  :)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I see the light at the end of the tunnel!

Soon the greenhouse will be in full swing.  It is now or never to get the junk off the desks in my office.  The treasurer's duties for the milk association will no longer be mine in a couple of weeks, but I have to get things cleaned up before I pass the baton to Barb, who will be our new treasurer soon.

Yesterday I stayed at it until all of one file was cleaned up.  When shareholders quit, they get their money back after they meet certain requirements, such as turning in their bills of sale.  Sometimes they don't do that and need a little nagging.  I don't have time to nag anyone.  Yesterday I took the time to do so, and hopefully they will all get their paperwork in and get paid and I can close that file.  It is one of those tasks that is time-consuming and doesn't seem particularly rewarding.  But when the last check is sent out, that will be a load off.

Today I need to get the milkers' file cleaned up.  The milkers are paid a fair wage for milking; any dues and assessments are deducted from what is owed, and then they can draw on the account when needed.  Some request checks monthly, others let it ride until the holidays, or until they are going on vacation.  It's about done, and when it is all cleaned up, then Barb will get the whole kit and caboodle.

I'm doing a little painting on some shelving in my living room.  The paint was bought two years ago - now I am finally getting to it.  The paint can is sitting in a warm place, brush is out, papers are laid.  Just need to open the can and get to it today.  It's maybe a three hour job.

By tomorrow, the way should be clear for the greenhouse season.  Androo and I will be planting more seeds, and if the ground will allow, we will work on getting the hardware cloth buried around the inside perimeter of the greenhouse in an effort to keep the critters out.

Really, I do see the light at the end of the tunnel!  I may just take the time to go drumming at Marie's tonight.  Boom boom tika tik boom tika tik . . .

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

New gadgets

Androo, my intern, and I will be planting our first batch of pepper seeds on Friday after 9 am.  That's when the biodynamic calendar turns over to planting "fruit."  Since we eat the fruit of the pepper plant - not the leaf, the root or the flower - then we plant the seeds on a day when the planets and moon are properly aligned to send the energy to the fruit, the part of the plant we will harvest.  For lettuce, we plant our seeds on leaf days.  The onion seeds went in on a root day, and the broccoli seeds on a flower day.

I have been planting by the biodynamic calendar for years, and I am pretty convinced that there is something to it.  I use the Kimberton Hills versions of the calendar.  If you are an avid gardener and would like to try it, you can buy the calendar here:  Stella Natura biodynamic planting calendar  It's full of wonderful essays as well as the planting guide.  And if you are from the South Bend area, there is one calendar left for sale at my booth. 

At the farmers market where I sell my organic plants, my peppers are always behind Mary's.  She has these big beautiful plants that make mine look so pitiful!  Mine are fine, will bear great fruit, but from a marketing standpoint, I felt something had to be done.  For one thing, Mary plants VERY early.  But she has several greenhouses, so she can afford to heat just one to get the plant starts going for all of the greenhouses.  I have one small greenhouse, and I can't heat the whole thing for a few starts.  So this year, we are starting seeds in my atrium, which is on the south side of my house.  Since it is unheated, except for the sunlight (when we get it - not often in February in Indiana) and a little residual heat from the house, I dug out some old gardener's heating mats and put them under the onion seeds that we planted two weeks ago.  But they are not really very good, some old things that my realtor got from someone who was throwing them away when moving.  The onions are germinating, but the peppers will need more than that.

In comes my new gadget.  I bought a new heating mat and a separate thermostat so that I can control the temp.  Seeds from different plants need different germination temperatures, e.g. peppers need 85º, spinach needs 70º.   Both of these are slow to germinate, and the extra help from the mat should improve germination. I can get four seedling trays on it, which is a total of 976 plants.  We will plant the first of the pepper seeds on Friday.  Hopefully, by March 1, when I will fire up the furnace in the greenhouse, they will be tall enough to pot up into the 2" pots, their final resting place until my customers pop them into their gardens.  As soon as they germinate, I can devote the mat to spinach, parsley, lettuces, and of course, tomatoes.

Perhaps this year my pepper plants will hold their own in the looks department with Mary's giant peppers!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Drama, high drama!

I am enjoying a new series on CBS, The Good Wife.  Part of the reason I watch is for the opportunity to see Chris Noth in the role of a disgraced and incarcerated Chicago politician.  I'm a long time fan, and even though he plays the part of a scoundrel, he is still worth looking at.  ;-)

In the usual fashion of TV shows, the drama increases week by week, and last Tuesday's episode fit the mold.  I recorded it, and after watching it a second time, I could see how contrived it was, how many holes there were in the story.  In one scene, two supposedly exhausted lawyers who have been in the office for 24 hours are discussing the case at hand.  The man has a day's growth of beard.  The woman however doesn't have a hair out of place, and her clothes have no wrinkles.  No wrinkles in the guy's wardrobe either.

It brought to mind how exhausted I am pretty much of the time once greenhouse season starts.  My clothes are wrinkled and stained.  My hair is most certainly not in place.  My hands are dark with dirt, cuticles rough, nails beyond getting clean even with a stiff bristled brush.  Now THAT is the picture of exhaustion.  I was wondering what kind of TV series it would make, someone playing me, the accidental farmer, with all of the drama around here.

Tashi would be good for several episodes, including one from last Wednesday.  Unfortunately I let her out without the shock collar, trusting her a bit too much a bit too soon.  I got involved in repairing a water line in the east pasture and was not paying any attention to her.  Suddenly I heard a hen squawking.  There was another merry-go-round - Tashi chasing the chicken in circles in a little spot of woods, ears flapping, tail wagging, big doggy grin on her face, having the time of her life!  I called the magic command, "Leave it!"  Had to call it a second time, but she dropped to the ground.  The rest of the day, she didn't approach a chicken, nor did she go near the Moop.  These are both good signs.  She is aware that what she is doing is not acceptable.  But there is probably another episode coming.  Sigh . . .

And how about the raccoon?  Surely that would make a great episode - the raccoon running slower and slower, me panting harder and harder calling out every now and then, "You are so beautiful," before finally trapping him in a blanket and pitching him over the side of the screen porch.

And finding Jack lying on his side in the pen, unable to get up - do you remember that one?  For the second time in his short life, I thought I would lose him.  And how wonderful to find success by using a laxative on the poor little guy.

And my onion seeds have germinated!  They are sprouting in the atrium here in the house - too soon to be paying to heat the whole greenhouse.  I'm excited. 

So, do you think it would make a prime time show?  Do you think the actor who played my part, sitting exhausted on a kitchen stool deciding what to stuff her face with before falling into bed, would work as well as Christine Baranski, playing high powered attorney Diane Lockhart in spotless and unwrinkled silk blouse leaning against a huge wooden desk on the 50th floor of a downtown Chicago skyscraper?

Probably not.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Winter is still here, no doubt!

It is beautiful tonight, soft snow floating down, near the freezing mark - warm enough that I dashed out to the Moop to close up the girls with no coat, just my hooded sweatshirt.

The chickens are very happy.  I cut into a block of cheese (I thought it felt a little punky while it was aging) and it was moldy - and very stinky, and not in a good Limburger cheese sort of way.  I didn't want to give it to the dogs, since Bear has already suffered a bout of pancreatitis and the cheese is fatty.  I decided to take a bit of it out to the Moop.  Oh, my, did they enjoy it!  Such cackling and discussion over who has the best piece, with much running around from corner to corner with their prizes.

Recently a person wrote me that humans are the only beings on the planet that drink the milk of other species.  I've heard that before and it is one that has always puzzled me.  What are they talking about?  Every critter on this place loves a bit of milk, or the whey when I am making cheese, in tonight's instance, cheese I deem rotten - but the chickens deem a delight.

I am enjoying this evening because tomorrow is not supposed to be very enjoyable - lots of snow, up to 18" over the next two days, 20 to 30 mph winds, four to five foot drifts.  In anticipation of this, my neighbor plowed out my 2,400 foot drive, bless him.  If he waits until all of the snow has fallen, his 25 horse John Deere just ain't gonna make it through the drifts with the plow down.

We will hope that his foresight means that he can make another pass through tomorrow night.  I'm supposed to get chicken feed and minerals for the cows tomorrow morning, but I am pretty sure that isn't going to happen.  Time to hunker down and do "inside" things for a couple of days.  The other stuff can wait.

Hope you are all snug as a bug in a rug this evening, and that you stay warm and dry over the next few days.

Friday, February 5, 2010

How quickly we forget . . .

This morning, I wrote about what a good day yesterday was.  What I forgot is that it wasn't such a good day until about 2:30 pm, at which time I pitched the raccoon over the side of the porch!  How quickly we forget.  Things went swimmingly for the rest of the day.  Androo and I planted the first seeds of the season late in the afternoon, and I had a good sleep last night.  By bedtime, the raccoon was obviously completely out of my mind.

Oh, that I could always remember to let the good push the bad right out of my mind . . .

What makes a good day?

I suppose each of us has our own little bag of goodies that contribute to a good day.  Yesterday was a good day for me.
  • The dry cows, heifers and Sam the bull got moved to the east pastures, which means they will get their own grassy hay and the five cows that are still milking will get the good (and more expensive) stuff.   We may be able to stretch out our remaining hay to last until the pastures green up again.
  • Cameron put up an electrical cord to the calf pen (had to be on posts so the cows could walk under it on way into the barn) so that we could hook up the heater for the calf water tank.  Now none of us has to break the ice out of the water tank for the calves and then haul buckets of hot water to their tank.
  • The chickens all survived another day and they laid four eggs.
  • Androo came over to plant onion seeds.  We plant by the biodynamic calendar, and yesterday was a root day.  Today, his regular day on the job, is a flower day (that means broccoli seeds will get planted today) so he made the extra trip over to take care of the onions.  We used a new type of tray for the onion seeds.  I've never had much luck germinating them, but this year, with the new trays and the new method, we should be growing our own.  We put the three seeding trays in a big metal watering tray, put four greenhouse plant heaters under the tray, then covered it with plastic wrap.  The big tray is in my atrium where I can keep an eye on it.  Every time I think of those little seeds in the potting soil, doing their thing, I smile.  They are the first seeds in this season, and it is a VERY GOOD THING INDEED!
  • I slept nearly eight hours last night, which doesn't happen often for me.  It's probably because every time I roused a bit, I thought about the onion seeds, smiled, and went back to sleep.
  • My wood fires were still hot this morning, in spite of that eight hours of sleep that did not include stumbling down to the family room to add a log or two.  I didn't even rouse long enough to add a small log to the soapstone stove in my bedroom.  That usually means two cold stoves, or at least not enough hot coals left to get the fires going again without kindling and running back and forth between the two until the flames are fanned and bright.  (That's my version of the Stairmaster.)
  • Tashi didn't bother the chickens.
If these things do not comprise a good day, I don't know what does.

I hope you have a good day today.  I'm looking forward to making it two in a row, but if not a good day, then I'll take an ordinary day.  Those work for me.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Another merry-go-round

Well, at least it wasn't the chickens this time.

This morning Ayn Chee and Tashi didn't want to come in from their morning run.  It was obvious that they had some sort of critter cornered.  Ayn Chee, being the wussiest of the two dogs, finally came in.  Tashi, on the other hand, barked and barked and barked AND BARKED!  I finally got her in through a door into my family room on the lower level.  I didn't see anything, but she had been barking towards the enclosed pen they use to do their business when I am not home.  It has an electronic door that opens only for the four pets who wear small magnets on their collars to activate it.  Thank goodness it isn't just a flap door!  I stuck my head out into the pen and there was a huge raccoon cowering in the corner.  He (or she as the case may be) hissed at me.  I slammed the door shut and went upstairs to find a number for animal control.  There is no way out of that pen except through the dog door and the human door, into my store room and then on into the soap workshop and family room.

I went outside to check on the raccoon and saw that it had disappeared.  I assumed that once there were no longer two dogs on the other side of the fence, it felt safe enough to be on its way.

A few hours later, my cat was growling, a low and continuous growl, and her back was arched, hackles up - the perfect stereotype of the Hallowe'en cat, except that she is white, not black.  When I looked out the sliding glass door onto my screen porch off the living room, there was the raccoon.  He must have continued climbing up as he got out of the dog pen - up and onto the second story porch, which is directly over the pen.  I was sure this was simply a matter of guiding the animal over to the hole he used to get in.  Nope, didn't work.  He kept running into the other two screened corners, climbing up the facing around the screens.  I was using the broom to swat him back down and send him on the proper escape route, but time and again, he ran on the diagonal, totally avoiding the corner with the broken screening.  This screen was at floor level and would have provided easy egress.  But no, back and forth he went, with me and the broom chasing him.

I know I shouldn't have, but I finally got heavy gloves and folded a sheet and a blanket into four thicknesses.  Now I tried to capture him with the blanket.  Again, I was on the merry-go-round, clockwise around the table, blanket in hand, then back around the table counter-clockwise, with an occasional side trip into one of the two corners that DIDN'T have a hole in the screening.  I could see he was wearing down, not running as fast, and when he got to the corners he was climbing slower.  Finally, I got the blanket over him AND his head.  I wrapped him tight, but not tight enough to keep his head from popping out.  He bit at the blanket, but I was well protected.  I took him to the spot with the broken screen and sent him on his way.  He half climbed, half fell down the side of the house, and then loped off towards the creek and the woods.

I am still shaking.  I found blood on the sheet, and I'm sorry that I hurt him.  I also know that I took a chance with a wild animal.  I should have called animal control, but I just wanted him OUT OF HERE!  Part of what shook me up was the way he looked at me when he was cornered - his big, soulful eyes drilling directly into mine.  While I chased and panted, I kept saying, "You are so beautiful!"

I hope he does not come back.  I don't think he will, since now he knows a crazy woman lives here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The greenhouse

I'm in the process of buying seeds for my greenhouse operation.  It is very time consuming.  Even though I have a catalog in place, there are always changes.  Last year I ran out of several red tomatoes.  Even though I am enamored of black tomatoes, and yellow ones with swirls of red, and my beautiful Poll Robeson Angollan, that looks like a perfect mahogany ball with a deep ruby interior, my customers, well, not so much. 

Some strains dropped out because there wasn't much demand, others because I got negative feedback, and some because I didn't like what I got in my own garden.  I grow out a minimum of three of each plant, and some of them just didn't cut it.  All of the replacements for those that are discontinued are RED.  I listen to my customers.

In addition, there were a few for which I couldn't find seeds.  Unless it was a perennial favorite, they got dropped.  However, Santa Clara Canner is a wonderful tomato, and I searched all over for it.  I finally found it in a catalog from somewhere in Canada.  I'm still waiting for the seeds, and getting a little nervous that they haven't yet arrived.

I have plenty of basil seeds.  One package contains somewhere between a gazillion and two gazillion seeds, so I'm good to go for several years.  My son is named in my will for those I don't get to in my lifetime.  Pepper seeds, unlike tomato and basil seeds, are not viable over very many years, and most of them are packaged 25 seeds to a packet.  So I had to order a lot of them.  I love hot peppers - love to grow them, look at them, eat them, cook with them and can them.  I gave each of my son's four children a jar of home canned hot peppers for Christmas.  Kate got the hottest ones, and she is delighted with them.

This year an intern will be working here.  Androo wants to learn more about biodynamic and sustainable farming.  He has joined the Walkerton Dairy Herd Association and will begin milking in a couple of weeks.  He wants to learn, but some thing we will be learning together.  I have not done "proper" compost heaps.  Organic standards are very stringent.  Part of it is that I don't have time and part of it is I lack the physical strength.  Androo is doing much research on compost, but I have insisted he keep a copy of the organic standards in view at all times.  If there are any conflicts, the organic standards win out!

I have one more seed order to post, then need to order my onion plants.  That will be one big task behind me.  Oh, and I ordered my chicks for this year.  I will be getting 55 day old chicks on June 3.  Hopefully I have learned enough this year that my losses will be smaller in the coming season.  Tashi is doing great, walked by chickens flying near her when we came in from chores this morning.  She did not even look at them, just looked at me and then walked to the back door.  I think we are making progress.  Now if I could teach Tashi to protect the chickens from the hawks.  There is always a new project awaiting me.