Let the Season Begin

With the strong back and strength of a 16 year old assistant in the form of a Grandson, several farm issues have been addressed in the past 5 days. He fortunately is very amenable to and volunteering to help, in the garden or the kitchen. He is being kept busy and well fed.

On Saturday, we attacked the wire grass that was trying to overtake the spot in the garden where the comfrey grows. The grass was so high, finding the sprouting comfrey was a challenge. We didn’t get it all, but the comfrey has a fighting chance now. When he arrived last week, he and his Dad had purchased a large dog crate to control their two dogs until Son2 left on Wednesday. The dogs left with him, the crate put in their RV that is parked on our farm. The box is going to become a weed barrier above the asparagus bed soon.

Yesterday, after the three of us went to lunch, a walk, and to the local nursery to get raised bed soil for one of the boxes, we drove down and around the south field to see the new welded wire fence and how much clearing/damage the neighbor did installing his fence. We discovered a very long strand of high tensile fence wire with a long strand of barbed wire dragged into our hayfield but still attached to an uprooted shrub in the thicket on the edge of the field. Fortunately we discovered it before the hay got high and before the hay guy got it tangled in his equipment. Grandson and I spent a couple of hours winding the wire, tying it off with cable ties, cutting it where it was entangled in the uprooted shrub. We then walked the perimeter of the field to make sure there was no more of it out in the grass.

It is a mystery to me, how farmer’s even work with that stuff. It is difficult to straighten, impossible to bend, and acts like a stiff Slinky toy.

After we finished there, he helped me move a couple barrows of compost to two beds, and spread the bagged raised bed soil into one.

That bed needs one more barrow of compost and it will be ready to plant. Today we purchased 4 more bags of raised bed soil and 6 bags of composted cow manure for the long bed.

This bed received a barrow of compost yesterday and was planted in peas, radishes, carrots, and spinach today. They should have been planted 3 weeks ago, but it is what it is. The long bed had as much Dead Nettle in it as the square bed behind this one.

This afternoon after planting the bed, the weeding of the long bed was begun and the 4 bags of soil and 4 of the bags of composted cow manure were added to it. I need 5 more bags of soil and the remaining two bags of compost added and it will be ready to plant in early May.

That bed is where the mint was a few years ago, it has never had enough soil that was good enough to plant, so hopefully today’s efforts and the addition of a few more bags of soil and compost will make it a healthy bed.

That last little 4 foot bed is being left alone for now as the bees are loving the Dead Nettle growing in it. It will have to be cleared by Mother’s Day to plant peppers and the bed behind it needs a light weeding, but it was covered in old hay over the winter and is in pretty good shape, though it will get fed with the remaining compost. The new pile has been started with the weeds being pulled. The paths will just be mowed or cut with the string trimmer this year. My shoulder just will scream if I try to take on all of that grass and weed pulling.

It was nice to be out in the 70 degree weather to get the garden underway. The garden plan was revisited as I realized there were seed packets purchased of vegetables not worked into the plan. Hopefully, it will be a successful garden and feed us well this year and into next winter. The garden gets more difficult to deal with each year, but I’m not ready to give up yet.

What’s a Chicken keeper to do?

We got home from an appointment, refill Rx pickup, and walk to find no hens about in the yard. No hens visible in the run, which I have been opening the gate only about 8″ since the Cooper Hawk was in there. The hens can come and go through the crack, but nothing can fly in. Looking in the coop, there were 9 hens fussing about what had happened. The 3 Marans were there, the two Easter eggers and 2 NH reds, but only 2 Buff Orpingtons. The Marans and Buffs are my big girls, very sturdy heavy, but slow hens. That sent me out on a solo search party to determine what had happened, just as it began to rain.

Near the forsythia where they generally hide, there were two piles of black feathers, but all the Marans were accounted for, and a larger pile of yellow feathers that trailed up across the top of the hill the forsythia grows on and under the farthest bush, the remains of the missing Buff. The damage was consistent with hawk attack and meal, so I have lost another hen. I’m down to 9.

At this point, I don’t know what to do. I have lost 4 hens this late winter, early spring and it isn’t even hawk chick season yet. Nine hens is enough to provide the eggs for daughter’s family and us, but not if they are getting picked off about one a week or 10 days.

If I keep them in the covered run, there isn’t enough room for them to do much and they mostly just go back in the coop and one or more of them eat eggs. If I let them free range, my preference, the current loss rate is too high. I haven’t had this kind of loss since the neighbor’s dog, many years ago, used to come down and catch and kill them, even running up and down the run to get one to fly out, but he got rid of that dog. Penning them in electric mesh fence makes them easier targets. Buying more fencing and creating a larger run would give them more space and fresh grass until they scratched it all up, but how would it be covered to keep the hawk from swooping in and cornering one against the fence. For now they are locked up again and will be for a day or two. I guess it was a mistake removing the two young roosters that would at least alert the hens to danger, but I have not been a fan of roosters due to the mating damage and their all day long crowing.

Eight or 9 hens are about the right number for the coop we own, but I don’t want to lose anymore to the hawk. It can feed on rabbits, squirrels, field mice, voles, and groundhogs, it doesn’t need my hens.

We live amidst hayfields with the occasional tree in a rock pile for the hawk to sit in and spy on potential prey. There isn’t a lot of cover near the coop, the fruit trees are too open, there is a cedar cluster they sometimes hide in, but the hiding place of choice is the forsythia bushes and they aren’t leafed out yet. I will fret on it for a while, trying to prize out a solution, but will probably end up letting them free range again and hope the hawk can’t get anymore.

Let the Season Begin

Today is chilly and rainy, the beginning of a cold front that will bring snow to some extent on Sunday and Monday, but it is 8 weeks to our last average frost date, the time to start slow seeds.

Yesterday, the Aerogarden was dismantled, scrubbed, the parts that could go in the dishwasher for more thorough scrubbing done, then left to dry overnight. This morning, it was set up, filled with water and fed, and two each of 3 peppers started in it under it’s lights. Two Jalapenos, two seranos, and two Chocolate Sweet peppers. Once pepper starts are available at the nursery, a ghost and a cayenne will be added.

The self watering seed starter was begun with fresh seed starter mix that is organic and has no peat in it. In my environmental awareness move, peat is eliminated as it is not a quickly renewable resource. The seed starter, placed under the grow light has 2 tomatillos, 4 Amish paste tomatoes, 2 slicers that carry the black gene so produce a darker, purplish/brownish medium size tomato, and 2 common sage plants. The pots with basils, thyme, dill, and lettuces are thriving on a shelf in the south facing fully windowed doors. Hopefully, the parsley in the half barrel in the back will come back up this spring and the rosemary overwintered indoors nicely. There is a lot of oregano in the bed with the fig that will hopefully continue to produce after the snow melts off next week.

In reviewing the seed supply, I remembered two vegetable seed packets purchased earlier that were not accounted for in the garden plan, so that will have to be revisited before digging in the garden can commence. It is almost time to plant spinach, carrots, and peas.

Fortunately, the apple, pear, and peach trees did not bloom before this freeze. Maybe a week of cold will delay their blooming long enough that fruit is still possible.

There is a supply of starter pots that can be filled with seed starter mix in a few more weeks to start the squash and cucumbers in, but they only need about 4 weeks head start. The plastic webbed baskets will be washed out once there are seedlings that need to be hardened off. Some produce I have grown in the past in limited, mostly unsuccessful attempts will not be grown as those products are readily available from local farmers at their farms or the farmer’s market.

As the weather is behaving like winter, it is nice to be planning the summer garden. In late April or early May, two new hives of bees will be introduced, hopefully with greater success than last year. Plans being made, plans begun, hoping for a successful season with vegetables, fruits, eggs, and bees for eventual honey. A busy season ahead, I hope I can stay on top of it.

As the grass is beginning to green up and grow with a vengeance, the riding mower was taken back to the shop to figure out why the blades won’t engage and throw the belt every time it is disengaged when it did work. Less area will be mowed this year and more left for the hay guys.