Baby Chicks!

Today we brought home twelves baby chickens; eleven hens and one rooster. We added the finishing touches to the brooder and the baby flock moved in. The brooder is an upcycled five foot long, pick-up truck, toolbox. The brooder is black and holds the heat from the heat lamp, it is long enough to allow for some running when the chicks are bigger, it has two access points for easy cleaning, and it is large enough to hold all twelve babies, their feeder and their water. The flock lives in the brooder for about two months.

2016-3-11 Chicks

We initially decided on six hens. My exact words were, “a few, no more than six, hens.” Well, you can see how well that worked out.

We decided to purchase eleven hens because of predation. No matter how careful we are, we will lose some of these birds.  We can hope all we want, but chickens are prey animals and predators are sneaky. Not necessarily smart, but sneaky. The hens are a mix of brown egg laying breeds including Wyandotte and Australorp while the rooster Lanchester is a Leghorn. Z named him after the WWII sub-machine gun to ensure his ability to protect the ladies. Mr. Lanchester is the last line of defense. A good rooster will attack any creature that threatens a hen, or looks good to eat. A bad rooster will harm the hens directly, and a stupid rooster harms through negligence. If dear Lanchester is a negligent or bad rooster he’ll end up on the dinner table. Good, old-fashioned, farm justice in action.

Having a larger flock necessitates larger amenities. The basic plan for a hen-house remains intact with six smaller nesting boxes, but the small-scale chicken tractor had to go. We have instead, converted the unused trampoline into a huge tractor of sorts. The reinforced, chicken wire wrapped, trampoline is not quite as mobile as a smaller tractor, but together we can move it every month. In this way the birds can mow, aerate, de-bug, and fertilize the entire lawn one circle at a time.

If all goes well, they’ll be a pretty flock one day. We’ll keep you posted.

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Seed Setting Day!

In order to jump-start the garden we set two varieties of spinach seeds (Giant Noble and Bloomsdale Longstanding) in little plugs today. When using the square foot gardening method we plant as many plants per square foot as the earth can sustain. Since we continually harvest spinach it does not grow into a large bushy plant and so we place nine sprouts per square foot. All in all we will have 144 spinach plants in 16 square feet.

We use one flat at a time, to set 72 spinach plants. They are on the back porch, out of the wind, right up against the house. These will sprout in about seven days. On the 17th of March the sprouts move out to the garden and we seed 72 additional plugs to transplant on the 27th.

The 8th, 17th, and 27th are all ancient-farmer approved planting days, so sayeth the honorable Farmers’ Almanac. On the 17th the moon sign is Cancer and the 27th the moon sign is Scorpio… Both are water signs just like today.

spinachseeds
Interestingly, the smaller seeds in the first photograph are Giant spinach and the larger seeds are Bloomsdale spinach.

When starting seeds indoors gardeners recommend a “hardening off” period. In the past I have lost plants due to my own impatience with the hardening off time. We decided to keep the seedlings on the open-air back porch this year in order to skip this transitional period. The temperatures on the back porch fluctuate with the outdoors while providing a bit of wind and sun protection until the seeds sprout.

Occasionally, even in March we can get a night or two of freezing temperatures. Luckily, spinach is a cold weather crop that can handle the frost. By staggering the planting dates we are easing the workload and safeguarding the second batch against any pesky last-minute freezes. I’m gambling a little bit here, but with global climate change shifting the seasons I think the spinach will be alright. (Not that I’m a fan of global climate change.) Hopefully, we’re past any freezes for this year. If all goes well, we’ll enjoy spinach salads from April until the too-hot summer months.

Not sure how this garden will grow, but we’ll keep you posted.

Garden Growing with the Moon

A long, long, time ago when people still thought the earth was the center of the universe, farmers noticed that the crops (like the waters) responded to the gravitational pull of the moon. Back in those pre-telescope days the moon was closer to the earth so its effects were more pronounced. The difference between high tide and low tide was greater; the moon’s pull on ground water was greater too. The ancient farmers used this knowledge to create their planting schedules. They determined the best time to plant is when the moon is full or when the moon is new. In addition to this ancient moon observation, pre-electricity farmers maintained theories about the stars, using zodiac signs to further specify their plans.

zodiac planting

Despite our current understanding of the cosmos these old habits stick around. The continued sale of farmer’s almanacs that specify the best days for planting, weeding, harvesting, weaning, butchering, fishing, and more – share zodiac timetables just like farmers have been since long before the printing press.

Not one to flout antiquated traditions (ha ha) the 8th of March is a prime seed setting day. Not only is the moon new, it is also in the zodiac sign of Pisces and we have an eclipse, not that we can see it in our neck of the woods. Our ancestral farmers tell us that Pisces is a water sign (symbolic of flowing energy and emotional depths) and eclipses bring change with them… perfect for changing seeds into plants.

garden

I’ll take some pictures of the planting and of the raised bed so you can see what we start with. Whatever happens, we’ll keep you posted.