Seeds! Glorious Seeds

The harshness of this winter has made the sweet smell of a packet of seeds even better.  Finally, March is here and for me that means starting seeds.  I know I am slightly insane, not many people in Baltimore start their seeds this early, but I really like to make sure I get the most out of the growing season.   Some good friends of mine used to run a farm and had a stand at the farmers markets, they always started their seeds on March 1st.  This meant that they had tomatoes before everyone else and had a more profitable growing season.  I know that I am not quite ready for the farmers markets, but I am trying to learn from the best.  So far this spring I have already started 216 seeds. Mostly tomatoes, peppers that will be transplanted into the ground and then also a tray of broccoli, spinach, collards, tomatoes, and lettuce that will be transplanted into the aquaponics system, (if it ever thaws out). 

I am still learning when it comes to gardening, we have been “gardening” for 6 years.  I use the word “gardening” loosely because the first year the only thing we successfully grew was volunteer tomatoes from the compost.  The second year we did better, we had maybe two tomato plants. squash and some beans.  By the third year we were doing much, much better, we had tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, squash, peppers, blueberries, a few carrots and some herbs. This was the year I learned how much damage chickens can do to seedlings. The fourth year, I made sure the seedlings were fenced in, the chickens were fenced out and it was better than the third. Last year, however, was the first year I feel when we really started growing some of our own food.  We had enough for our family as well as enough to give away. This year I would like to do even better than last.  We are hoping to grow enough to support our family as well as enough to sell to another family. 

All that being said, with seed starting there is always a balance.  Heat verses light.  I had some seeds that I started really early in a window with a heating pad.  They sprouted early, but because there was not enough light they grew too tall and stringy and do not look healthy.  The second set I started with a grow light, but I am concerned that they are not warm enough.  The seeds are not sprouting very quickly.  I hope that I can get the balance right and we can have a good start to our growing season. 

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Aquaponics seeds grown in Rockwool

All that matters to me right now is that we are on our way.  I have hope that spring is coming and soon I will have my hands deep in dirt!  For now I have done everything I can do, seeds are ordered and some are planted, potatoes are ordered.  We are building more garden beds when weather allows and we are turning compost.  Those tomatoes and cucumbers warm off the vine are going to taste so wonderful this year. 

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Polar Vortex Update

It is so amazing how life can get so busy that we even put off the things that we enjoy.  Blogging is an outlet for me and I thank everyone who humors me by reading my stress relief.  We have been busy with home schooling, snow, rabbits, chickens and life that I have not had a chance to blog.  So I decided to start my Monday off right with a moment to myself, a computer and a cup of coffee.

The Chickens:

The chickens look like they are starting to adjust to the snow. However, if I gave them a type writer like the farm animals had in the children’s book “Click Clack Moo” I think that they would be asking for electric blankets and telling me to make the snow go away.   The snow right outside their coop is starting to get really packed down, so I think it does not make their feet as cold as the fresh snow.  I have been giving them treats of corn and sunflower seeds and they have been willing to leave the coop to come and get them.  I am even surprised that our egg numbers have not gone down too much.  We currently have 12 laying hens and we are getting about 10 eggs a day, I think that is pretty good for 10 degree days.  We have noticed that the chickens have been laying the eggs in different places.  I think it is their way of protesting the cold.  Our 8 younger hens are suppose to start laying any day now.  We did get a very small egg, about the size of a quarter this morning, so maybe they are starting. It will be interesting if the cold weather has any effect on them.

The chickens are also getting creative about finding ways to stay out of the snow.  They are roosting on the top of the door into the chicken coop.  They are roosting on top of the fence around the chicken coop, as well as on top of the chicken coop itself.  It makes me wonder if they know something I don’t know and if we all should be heading for higher ground.

The Rabbits:

We have had an interesting week with rabbits. Again we are not sure if it is the cold or if part of something we deal with as rabbit breeders, this is our first winter with rabbits so we will have to wait till next year to find out. Right now we are just trying to learn as much as possible.

Nala:

Poor Nala has had a stressful week.  On Monday my husband went out to do chores and noticed that she had blood on her front paw.  He brought her in so we could get a closer look and to clean her up.  She split her nail down the middle and damaged the quick.  I trimmed off the parts of the nail that I could and I put corn starch on it to help stop the bleeding.  We held her for a while to make sure the bleeding had stopped before we took her back out to her cage.  Nala was due to kindle on Thursday so we did not want to mess with her very much.  Her toe was much better by evening chores and we started waiting for her to have her babies.  Thursday came and went and she was not acting like she was going to be going into labor anytime soon.   Normally rabbits start carrying straw around in their mouths to make a nest and within 24-36 hours they start pulling their fur out for their nest.  She was not doing anything of these things.  We put the nesting box in her cage anyway, thinking that maybe since she was a first time mom, she might be late showing the normal signs of labor.  Well, by Saturday night when she still had not kindled, we thought that maybe the pregnancy just did not take.  Sunday afternoon I went out and noticed that she had delivered 3 kits and she had started to eat them.  So very sad.  I removed the babies and cleaned up her cage.  She never made her nest and she never pulled her fur.  I don’t know if it was because of the cold or because she was a first time mom.  We will give her another chance and see how she does.  No matter how many dead babies you have to deal with it still breaks your heart.   Below is a picture of her toe, not the babies.

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Prince Charming:

Our main Sr. buck, Charming, who is almost 2 years old, has always had discolored urine.  The urine, even in the summer, is an amber color often.  I know that is common with rabbits so I did not think anything of it.  This week on Thursday when I went into the Bunny Barn I noticed that there was blood under his cage.  I took him out expecting to see a hurt foot like we found in the other rabbit earlier in the week and I did not.  I flipped him over onto his back and noticed that his fur around his penis was stained red and there was some discoloration in the tip of his penis.  I came inside and called the vet.  The vet examined him the next day and said that she believed he had passed a bladder stone.  The cold weather is making their water freeze and she thinks that he has gotten slightly dehydrated and that has caused bladder stones.  We have given him a heated waterer, as well as, going out multiple times during the day to make sure he has fresh water and nothing is frozen.  Since then, we have not seen any more blood and we are going to continue to be monitoring him.

We  have decided that we are glad we did not get a farm this spring like we wanted.  Being here and starting small, we are able to learn so much.  In five years or so when we are in a better position to buy a larger homestead, we will have learned these lessons already a be ahead of the curve.

Stay Warm!

Winter aquaponics

Like most of the country we woke up to very cold temps. We prepared the chickens, the rabbits, cut firewood, sealed up the house and checked on the garden but we were not prepared in the greenhouse. We had a grow light on thinking that would put off enough heat to keep everything above freezing, well we were wrong. Our main fish tank was fine, the sump and the grow bed was fine, it was the small pvc pipes in the system that froze. 
One of the pvc pipes that froze is the pvc under the bell siphon. This caused the water to back up in the upper grow bed. Luckily my husband caught it in enough time that we did not have any over flow.  He disconnected all the small pvc and brought them inside to defrost. He also used the grill as a temporary great source. We know this is not ideal but it works. In Baltimore we do not have many days with weather like this so I think a temporary solution will work for now. I think some recycled pool noodles will help insulate the small pvc pipes and more grow lights and a small heat source with a thermostat will help. We also have a part of the green house that faces south and does not get much sun. Adding ridged foam insulation for the winter would help as well. There is even insulation that has a foil backing that can reflect the light and heat from the North.
We are glad we have not lost any fish and that the broccoli that is in the system seems perfectly happy. These are lessons learned that will help us improve the system and more forward.

Baby It’s Cold Outside!

Winter in Baltimore is always interesting to say the least.  Five years ago we had something crazy like 50+ inches of snow.  Three years ago it was so warm I could have continued to garden all winter.  Most years we have a nice mix of warm days (50′s) and cold days (20 is the low).  This year we have temps that are all over the place.  Tomorrow the high is going to 4 degrees F.  I don’t mind the cold, but it does make taking care of the “farm” a little more difficult.  I am so glad that we do not have to deal with this for months at a time.  To all my family in the mid-west, I just can’t hang, I am an east coast girl.

Our poor chickens.  Year round we have problems with hawks, so our chicken yard has bird netting over it.  I have to say, I personally HATE bird netting.  It comes un-stapled and falls down and then on mornings when I go out there before my coffee I get clothes lined by the sagging bird netting.  The bird netting is horrible.  This last snow finally defeated the dreadful  bird netting. The problem is that the netting was put up in such a way that I can not clean it up by myself. There is way to many supporting ropes and boards that we used to try and hold this horrible stuff up.  It took the chickens all of 3 minutes to get tangled up in it.  Very frustrating…  So I let the chickens out the roam the yard.  Our whole backyard is fenced in with privacy fence, and if it was not for the hawks I would let them roam everyday.  Today the danger of the netting was worse than the danger of the hawks. Well, at least at the time I thought so.  Their feet were turning white from the wet ground and the cold temps.  I ended up locking them up in their covered area, which is not very big.  They are some mad hens. I hope that when my husband gets home we can remove the netting so that tomorrow they stay in the chicken yard, where there is not as much standing water.

I need to get one more cold weather chicken frustration off my chest, I HATE our heated waterer… this thing in horrible.  My advice is to buy a heated disk that you can set a metal waterer on top of, DO NOT buy the plastic white and red heated waterer. The base never stays on, the chickens trip over the cord and unplug it.  When you fill it water gets spilled everywhere and you end up cold, wet and pissed off.  I would love to save everyone that frustration. That is just my two cents, I would love to hear what you use in freezing temps.  OK rant over!

Chickens in the Snow

Chickens in the Snow you can even see the bird netting hanging down!  Horrible stuff!!

As unprepared as we were with the chickens and cold weather, the bunnies are doing fantastic.  The bunny barn is insulated and has heat lamps over the baby kits on nights when it is below freezing.  The waterers are not freezing and everyone seems happy and warm.

I enjoy having the four seasons in Baltimore. It is nice to look at the snow from the window, while sitting in front of the fire place crocheting.  But I really enjoy being in the garden in the spring, summer and early fall.  I enjoy my chores and harvesting the veggies.  I do not mind the heat and I love being in the garden in the still of the morning as the sun first comes up.  Now that we have taken control of the mosquito problem it is even more enjoyable. I do not like doing chores in the freezing rain and really cold temps.

As winter continues I will continue to dream of warmer days and plan out my garden.  Some days I just sit and look at my seeds, it makes me all warm inside.  The nice thing about living in Baltimore is I know winter is only for a season.  Some places have a much longer winter or constant winter, no thank you hon, I will keep my crazy Baltimore weather, it is not predictable, but I know it is always changing.

New Tomorrow, not only a New Year

It is a time when people are making projections, promises and offering prospective. A new year is a celebration of new beginnings and a fresh start.  The problem with all of these things is that people forget about them in February.  This year I challenge everyone to treat everyday as a new beginning.  Each day is special and each day we get a new start, so tonight I am going to go to bed thankful for today and the people I was able to spend it with.  Tomorrow I am going to wake up trying to be the best me I can be and cherishing the many blessings that I have. 

As I sit here writing this my daughter is being forced to eat because her blood sugar is too low for her to go to bed.  She is not a diabetic, they don’t know what is wrong with her.  Some doctors say it is a metabolic disorder, some say a form of hypoglycemia.  But no one really knows.  We never know what kind of condition she is going to be in when she wakes up in the morning or what her blood sugar is going to be.  A normal range is 80-120.  There are days she wakes up with a blood sugar of 23.  We have been very lucky that she has not slipped into a coma, but the doctors say it is possible.  It gives new meaning to being thankful for everyday. 

In the mornings, I get to go out and take care of the animals.  The magic of life and my many blessings greet me everyday.  We have a barn with rabbits that are growing and changing everyday.  I have a chicken coop that has fresh eggs in it each morning and a group of chickens that excitedly charge the new day.  I am also blessed to have a green house that has plants growing and sprouting.  Some days I do not enjoy these things as much as I should.  Tomorrow I am going to treat these things as the blessings they are.

Every morning I get up and have the amazing blessing of being able to stay home with my kids.  I homeschool my son and am starting to teach my daughter preschool.  It is easy to forget that there are millions of moms or dads that would love to be in my position. There are days when it is tiring and i just need a break.  But tomorrow I am going to try and remember how fast they grow up.  There is going to be a time when they don’t want anything to do with me.  Soon, way too soon, they are going to be grown and the house will be filled with the quite I long for now. 

I hope that your tomorrow is filled with blessings and that you are able to look back on today and smile.  Each morning is a new start and each day is a gift, “that is why it is called the present”, yep, I just quoted Kung Fu Panda! 

 

Sunday Summary

In the Kitchen:

It is the week of Christmas, every year I plan on giving my family homemade gifts and every year life gets the best of me and I do not do it.  This year I did however make homemade caramel candies.  The only problem with the “gifts” is that my family is eating them faster than I can package them to give away!  So I guess that means I have found a good recipe and hopefully it will make a good gift for our family and friends next year…so if you get some act surprised!  The blog that I found the recipe on I really enjoy and am inspired by it, if you have time check it out!  http://www.willowcreekfarm.wordpress.com

Meat Birds:

I received a Christmas gift early!  As I mentioned last week our meat birds need to processed.  I have been sending emails, making phone calls and asking everyone I know, in order to try and find a processor or someone to let us barrow a plucker.  Well the family that I buy my rabbit feed from was able to get me in contact with another family that processes birds for the 4-H kids.  I tried most of last week to get ahold of this family and when I had not heard from them by Thursday at lunchtime I had just come to the conclusion we were going to be processing these birds on Friday.  When my husband called me during his lunch break on Thursday I told him I still had not heard from the processor and that since he was off on Friday we would just have a processing party.  He then informed me that he had to work on Friday.  We were out of feed, so the birds had already received their last meal, I had two choices; buy feed or do what needed to be done.  Well, I decided it was time for me to put on my big girl panties and process these birds.  I did have some help, a high schooler from our church is a hunter and was willing to come and give me a hand for a couple of hours, but neither of us had ever plucked chickens before and I really wanted roasters.  I spent the rest of Thursday afternoon mentally preparing for what was going to happen on Friday.  I received a phone call at 5:30 Thursday evening from the processor.  He was planning to process our birds Friday morning and I all I had to do was drop them off after 9:00.  I screamed.  Not just a little wahoo scream but a win the lottery scream.  I was so grateful to not have to kill, scald, pluck, gut and package these 23 birds, Merry Christmas too me!

The Rabbits:

Well it has been a sad week and a half.  Of Aurora’s 7 kits only 2 are still alive.  The good news is that they appear to be very fat and happy.  We put a heating lamp directly above the nesting box outside the metal wire cage.  I think the babies were getting too cold, Aurora was not covering them up.  She had pulled her fur, and she made a great nest but she was not covering up the babies. The heat lamps really seemed to help them, it was funny to go into the Bunny Barn and see the babies “sun bathing” on top of the nesting material, most of the time belly up!

Laying Hens:

We have a little red hen that is a Houdini Chicken.  She gets out of the chicken pen everyday.  I know she is not getting out when we go in or out.  I have checked the fence line and there is no holes or cracks.  How is she getting out?  I guess that is a problem we will have to solve this week. 

Something that we are very grateful for is that we have been able to sell our eggs.  We have a couple family that buy from us regularly, and it is nice to be able to make some spending money.  Mostly it just pays for the chicken feed but every little bit helps.

Aquaponics:

I have transplanted some broccoli plants into the aquaponics system, I will keep you posted on how they do through the winter.   Almost everything else has died.  All we have left is a lonely beet plant, it seems to be doing well, but the beet is not getting any bigger.  We are going to leave it in the system just to see what it does.  I was not able to plant seeds this week, there is always the hope for next week, but with it being Christmas I am not optimistic.

Merry Christmas everyone, from our family to yours!

 

Catch up

I wrote this a week ago and never hit post.  I have been inspired by another blogger to do weekly updates, so this week you get a two for one deal! 

Weekly update, even though for us this is really a monthly update, maybe even bimonthly update! I know eventually my life will slow down and I will be blogging more, now is just not that time. So let’s catch up

The meat birds…
The meat birds are ready to go to slaughter any day now. We learned a very important lesson, do not plan on having your meat birds slaughtered during deer season. All of the small scale processors in this area are processing deer this time of year. They have no time to process our chickens. The birds that we choose to raise this time around are ready to be processed between 12 and 15 weeks.  They are ready now, if we wait too long the meat will become chewy and we do not want to see all out hard work be for not. If I can not find someone to butcher them this week, we will have a butchering party a get it done in an afternoon. Hopefully that will be this week.

The laying hens.
We have now have 20 hens. Eight of them are not mature enough to start laying yet. We get on average about 11 eggs a day. We have some consistent customers so eggs don’t gather in my refrigerator for very long. We have had some cold weather this week and some snow, the chickens have done pretty well. We have been feeding them some freezer burned veggies (note to self do not use cheap freezer bags) and food scraps to keep them busy.  They also love cracked corn, shelled sunflower seeds and flax.

Our rabbits.
We now have two senior bucks and 2 senior does, all with different blood lines!!! This makes us very happy because that means we can now sell mating trio’s and pairs. We are doing our part to save this amazing breed! We have Jr does that will be ready to breed around Christmas and other Jr does and bucks that are ready to sell. 
Our two senior does both kindled this week. Bella is doing great and had a litter of 7. Aurora who is normally our great mommy did not have a very good week. She kindled 7 kits all together with one being stillborn. Over the last couple days four more kits have died. We have no idea why. It was cold this week but the other mama and babies were in the same barn and did fine. We know some of them got to cold because she removed them from the nest but no idea why she would do that. We are very upset by this and feel like we have failed these poor babies. I hope that it is not something that happens again.

Aquaponics system.
Most of our plants froze. We have since put a light in the greenhouse that keeps everything above freezing. We are hoping to start seeds this week, but with everything else going on, that might just be wishful thinking. This year with the system has been such a learning experience and I honestly am enjoying every minute.

Well that is what is happening on your backyard farm. I hope everyone has a good week and I hope to post again next week.