Planning and family time

Grandson #2 is still with us for another week, so last night, we had our daughter, her partner, and their three “kids,” 11 to 18 over for dinner. Daughter and I have a team routine to make empanadas and tostones together, plus I had assembled a large salad of goodies obtained at the Farmer’s Market yesterday morning. My spring lettuce, radishes, carrots, etc. are still in barely sprouting stage as the garden was a bit late getting started this year. I love cooking with her and love having the extras over to visit and eat.

While they were here, granddaughter asked me to again do a garden plan for the 6 four foot square raised beds we added to their yard a few years ago. I have been her garden planner since inception. She has been very dedicated to keeping her garden watered and weeded and her Mom enjoys putting up peppers and tomatoes, dilly beans, and any other extras it produces. After they left, I pulled my binder and realized that I failed to keep a copy of last year’s plan, but her Mom texted me a copy this morning along with the wish list of vegetables to grow. Her plan has been drawn out, scanned, and emailed over so their early veggies can get planted out or seeds sown. Later in the spring, we will likely go together to the local nursery to get her tomato and pepper seedlings, and for me to add a few peppers that I only want one of. The plan to fit on the grid leaves out the paths, but she knows that and has learned my shorthand for filling it in.

I get a kick out of helping the 11 year old to learn to garden. We have been at it now for 4 years.

She also plays in a under 12 co-ed soccer team, so we spent an hour after our daily walk out in the sun by the field watching her team, coached by her Mom in their first game of the season. It was a little chilly and breezy, but standing by the field, some spindle spinning was accomplished. That is my daughter/team coach under by hand on the left. One of those speck on the field is granddaughter.

After having lost 4 hens to the Cooper Hawk this early spring, and having at least 1 who has not resumed laying, the egg supply is providing only enough for daughter’s family, us, and a friend getting a dozen every now and then. There were really too many hens in the coop and 9 seems to be plenty as long as eggs are for personal use and not to sell. The hens are approaching 3 years old and a decision will have to be made come late fall whether to replace them with chicks to be laying by spring. If so, how many. If not, the supply will continue to dwindle as they age out.

We experienced the east end of the storms that raged across the US this past weekend. It rained very heavily on Friday, all day, washing ruts in our very sloped dirt and gravel driveway again. Yesterday the wind kicked up and the gust were strong, reaching up to 60 mph during the late afternoon and overnight. We were fortunate not to have any tornados, hail, or loss of power like thousands in our region. There are some branches down, but as our south neighbor recently cut down the dead Ash trees along our south property line and on his side to install new fencing, I don’t see any trees down.

The rest of the week is very spring like with many April showers to help the seedling grow. On toward the last frost date (still a month off) but the weather prognosticators thinking April will be warmer than usual, so maybe this spring will be an anomaly and we won’t see another frost.

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.