Wednesday, March 30, 2011

"Peep peeep peep!"

Right after lunch, I sped home. I was on a mission. The post office was holding a very special package for me, and it was one that couldn't wait. (I think Rand the postmaster was happy to see me show up.)

My box of chicks arrived! I was really worried about the cold night we had last night, as the boxes travel like any other mail: Overnight, in a big drafty truck. The hatchery had done a great job covering most of the air holes and putting a layer of thin cardstock over the lid. I could tell it was a lively bunch when I picked up the box, but there is always that moment, as you pull off the tape and you think, oh dear how many will be dead? This time, the answer was NONE! Not a single chick died while in transit. I was very pleasantly surprised. All were starving and thirsty and seemed to be very happy to get out of their box and explore the warm brooder. Last I saw them, they were basking under the heat lamps and moving on to the pile of chick mash (they had temporarily slaked their thirst) and contemplating naps. Now that they are all here and happy, I think that maybe I could use a nap, too.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

It's the Aphid Invasion!

I have no idea where they came from, but they are sucking my pepper seedlings dry. By the time I discovered them (when I said: "hey, what the heck? My plants are all curling and going sideways!"), I had a major infestation going on. I hate aphids. They are horrible. Given that I can't release a bunch of ladybugs in my house to combat them, I am left with twice daily spritzes with insecticidal soap. Derived from neem oil, it says it will kill all sorts of garden pests including the infamous aphid. So far, I can't tell if they are dying in place, or waiting for another nice, warm scenty shower. They are too small to pick off, and seem to lie in wait for emerging seedlings. Then, they converge on them like a white herd of rabid vegetarian vampires, and suck my poor little plantlets dry. Aphids suck, quite literally. The weather has been bright and sunny, and ridiculously cold. I am a bit nervous, as my first batch of chicks (the meat birds) are arriving early this week. Day old chicks do not do well in temperatures in the low teens, during overnight shipping. Here's hoping the postal service exercises some considerate housing of chicks in a warmer area than the outdoor loading dock on Monday or Tuesday night! I've planned the next couple of days to prepare for the imminent arrival of new farm life. This weekend, I strapped on my new respirator mask and cleaned out the chicken shed. I did the fiddly work of hanging and adjusting dual heat lamps, both with 250 watt bulbs, over a thick pile of wood shavings and a pair of outdoor grade thermometers, to start warming up the place (currently, temps seem to be holding steady at about 100 degrees). The new light source seems to be giving the dogs across the cornfield fits. I don't think they stopped barking last night! The end result after a couple hours of labor, is that I now have deluxe brooder accommodations for the fifty or so little birds to call home for the next four or five weeks. I'm hoping by then the weather will have improved, snow will have melted, and I can park half of them out by the back garden in a large chicken tractor to continue to (1) grow to harvest size and (2) help me build a layered chicken poo-and-straw raised bed, 3 feet by 10 feet. Once the chickens are gone, I can move the tractor to an adjacent location, and let the new bed weather for a month. It will be the location for some seriously happy cabbages this summer! The best part is, I'll repeat the process once more in mid-to-late summer, and have a second new raised bed ready for spring planting next season. Nothing like getting your food to work for you.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring & Snow

Today has been a grim weather day: I woke up to a strange, crackling "ping" sound. After panicking that something horrible was happening with my furnace, I realized: Oh, sleet. Now that is something that just makes me want to crawl back under the covers and hide. I hate sleet. I particularly hate the sharp, frozen stinginess of it when it smacks you in the face as you try to go around doing outside chores. I hate how it covers every surface it touches with a rime of cold ice and slippery cold water. The chickens hate it too, mostly because it is driven by wind that forces their feathers up and out of whack. I can't imagine trying to eat with your head down while the wind and ice blows up your ass. The dogs don't seem to care, but then again, I think they are pretty much impervious to weather (aside from thunderstorms).
One of my rabbits has a bad case of wool block. Rabbits groom themselves by licking, and when a long haired angora rabbit grooms herself, she usually swallows wads of hair. That hair gets stuck in her digestive tract, and since rabbits can't barf, it must go down. So, she is one sad rabbit. Last night I got her to eat some lettuce, but this morning, she ignored the fresh leaves I put in her dish. This afternoon, she ate a couple of dried apple slices and a piece of carrot, but she hasn't touched her hay (very abnormal) and she won't even check out the kibble and papaya treats I put in her dish (extremely abnormal). Unfortunately, there isn't a cure for wool block. The rabbit needs to keep eating to keep things moving along the tract, but once the rabbit stops eating, well...I am trying to prepare myself for finding a large, dead bunny in the morning. Poor thing. She may surprise me, and I'll find her mowing through her hay and sucking down water, staring at me with rabbitty nose twitching as if to say "where are my eats, woman?!?"
Between a sick rabbit, cranky chickens, and the smarchy weather beating against my house, I am ready to crawl under the covers until Spring actually arrives.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Porch Flooded

I know it is spring when the sun porch floods. Every year, just when the weather warms up enough to melt some of the snow off the herb garden, it springs a major leak and floods all over. Right now, parts are an inch deep (or more, depending on the divot in the concrete floor). And knowing water, it spreads all over like thin icing. Icing is the correct term, of course, when it gets dark and everything that was liquid refreezes. Then, the soggy sun porch becomes a first-class skating rink. Before I moved here, I never thought: "Gosh, gotta go spread some salt inside the house!" The cats are going to need canoes to get to the litter box before too long.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Bwaak Bwaaak, Chicken Talk

Yesterday was such a fun day. Granted, I think I overdid it a little and I am super tired today (darn pneumonia, anyway), but it was so worth it! It was the first ever Traditional Skills event held at Prairie Farm school. Classes on everything from bee keeping to making cheese to canning and growing food...I wanted to attend them all! However, because I could only pick one class per session, I settled for Meat Canning and Solar Dehydration. Now I have two new projects to tackle---hooray! I taught the chicken portion of "Raising Backyard Chickens and Rabbits". I think it was a success. Anyway, I had fun, and could have used a whole other hour to cover all the bits of important information. Now I am plotting: Do I host a freebie day to show how to make a simple chicken tractor? Or do I host a "come see my chicken brooder" day? It was so exciting to be in a group of 20-25 people, all excited about the same topic: Chickens! Who wouldn't be excited to talk about that???

Anyway, it was a good day. 125 people came to learn and share and be inspired to take back skills that have been "misplaced" for far too long. (The poster is super cute, too!)

Friday, March 4, 2011

A New Favorite Book

Just got this in the mail today, and already I am in love. Chock full of everything from making soap to buying land to raising chickens (who doesn't love a book with chickens referenced in it??) to gardening and food preservation, it is a thick manual of how-to advice. Maybe it isn't the complete end-all resource, but it DOES have information on where to go to find out more about selected topics. I just love a book that admits its limitations, don't you?
In addition to this new treasure tome, I finally picked up a copy of The Chicken Health Handbook. Given the recent, smelly and mysterious death of one of my hens, I thought it would be a good idea to read up on chicken ailments. My girls have been overall very healthy, with minimal pest and disease concerns. I think that is the beauty of having a very small flock. But I did discover that likely, my latest hen died of salmonella (also known as "white diarrhea") but maybe became a staph infection due to irritation of the vent. After reading up, it is possible that my other birds are "carriers", but since it sounds like almost ALL animals (people included) can be carriers of salmonella and staph, I am not going to worry about it. Just don't eat raw eggs, wash your hands, and cook poultry thoroughly. Good advice, all in all.