Week of April 19

After several years of faithful service, the Original flock of egg layers are getting up there in years. Having reached their fifth year, their laying is down to about a dozen or so eggs a week. While that’s not that bad for the 7-8 remaining hens, it isn’t quite enough to have a surplus to sell or barter. So this is the year that a new flock will be established for eggs. A trip to the feed store resulted in a nice flock of 20 pullet chicks consisting of Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks, and Welsummers which are to lay very dark eggs.

chicks1

Still to be added will be Golden and Silver Laced Wyandottes if they become available. Also being considered will be a small group of meat birds if there’s enough time to prepare for them.

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Week of April 12

even with the warming temperatures and melting snow, growing tomatoes, peppers, and most warm weather crops is a bit of gamble. In order to hedge against a Spring cold snap or early frost, having a hoop house makes growing these more likely. The Hoop House is a simple PVC frame with 6 mil plastic stretched over it. The problem with these temporary Hoop Houses is that the plastic only lasts a season or two at best. So this Spring meant refitting the House with new plastic.

hoophouse1

Once its completed and the sun shines in for a while, it heats up nicely. During the heat of Summer, its necessary to roll up the sides and vent out the excessive heat that builds up. Fortunately, it also heats up the cool Fall weather and so tomatoes and the like have a chance to fully ripen.

In the greenhouse proper, the lettuce seeds that we planted back in late March and finally starting to germinate and in another few weeks will be ready to go out into the garden albeit under cover for a while yet.
lettuce1

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Week of April 5

snowfleas1

With the first warm days of Spring, the snow takes on a dirty look. Upon closer examination, the blackness on the snow starts to move. That’s because the black dots are actually snow fleas of Springtails – tiny insects that come out of the ground with the first warm days.

snowfleas1b

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Late March Update

Much to disappointment, late March has only provided the occasional mild day. Nights have remained below average/normal. At least the major snows have passed by with just an inch or two that was followed by melting. The ground snow on milder days has collapsed to about half, but there is still over ten inches of pack snow. Sunny days have been the best with the new high for the year up to 56 degrees (just once or twice in that range). Overall there have been nearly 40 days below zero so far this year with a couple more not beyond possible.

The slowly warming days are making the greenhouse nice and toasty but still it is much to early to think about starting seeds. While it soars into the 80+ degrees during the day, it also still goes below freezing most nights.

At last it appears that Spring has finally moved north for real and the Mud Season begins. With all of the snow slowly melting frozen puddles and footprints warm in the sun to create muddy paths and patches. However, that is a welcome sight compared to fields of snow! It may appear that April will finally allow this season’s work to begin in earnest.

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Mid- March Update

Hoping not to jinx things, it looks like Spring maybe slowly making it ways into 2014. There were two days in a row of temperatures above 40 degrees and sunshine both days. The bad news is that means the Mud Season is also starting. With all of the snowfall this past Winter, there is lots of melting to come before real Spring Days arrive. There have been a few set-back days and nights when the temperatures again dropped well below freezing, but with the warm days between it is a bit more tolerable. With any degree of luck the Late March update can report that March is exiting like a Lamb and Spring like conditions prevail.

Spring officially got here during this period, but not without Winter sending one last reminder. The “Vulcan” front passed well to the south but there have been a few cooler days and nights below zero yet again. However, once this front passes daytimes will be above freezing and nights just below. That’s good weather for maple tapping which is something in future plans.

The greenhouse is now available and getting warmed up for seedlings. Most of the seeds will be started indoors and moved into the greenhouse once they get established. The Hoop House needs a new cover and that will be coming soon once the temps warm and the winds remain calm. New this year will be a hoop house for the grapes as they aren’t doing well overwinter. Hopefully this will provide enough protect that a crop will develop in a couple of years.

Once the snowpack melts down some more, it will be time to trim up the apple trees. Unfortunately with the past Winter, the deer have gotten a start, but there’s not too much damage. The trucks were all wrapped but the snow is deep enough yet that they haven’t been inspected for damage yet. Because Spring is so cool hand pollination will be in order for whatever blossoms develop. This should be the last year before adequate crops develop so it will be interesting to see how that goes. To assist with pollination, some mason bee houses are going into the orchard this summer. Hand pollination may still be needed, but time will tell.

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Early March Update

The Lion of Winter continued into early March, although it seems like Spring maybe starting to break a bit. The temperatures are still quite lower than the average (by some 10 or more degrees) and most of the snow remains. The little good news is that with the passing of this last snowstorm and Polar Vortex, it is looking a bit better in the not too distant future. Only time will tell if the forecasts are correct.

The most immediate task will be to get the greenhouse and hoop houses dug out of the snow and ready for seed starting. Until Spring is really here, most seeds will need to get a start indoors, but some can’t stay indoors too long. Leggy tomatoes are ok but the brassicas really need full sun to get a good start.

On the livestock front, the chickens are really anxious to get out ranging and laying eggs! The layer flock is in need of some replacements and a few meat birds are planned for this year, However, its a bit early for chicks at this point even though they’ll start off indoors. Its hard to get the timing correct when there’s still snow and freezing temperatures more often than not.

The list of 2014 Projects grows daily and lots of the planning stages are finished. Its now a matter of waiting out the weatherman before much can get done. For example, there are a number of trees to be removed, but last years tree piles need to be taken care of before start – and they are tightly frozen below the snow cover. Its hard to wait, but patience truly is a virtue.

The waiting will be harder after this weekend as that silly Day Light Savings time comes around this Saturday night. Back to the darkness before breakfast for a while.

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February Update

February has not faired any better than January this Winter as snows have continued and the temperature hasn’t gotten much better. We did have a few days above freezing, but the month closed out with another blast of cold air compliments of yet another Polar Vortex. Unfortunately, with the Great Lakes frozen over the affects will be felt a little longer and a little deeper inland.

Normally, February would mean a start to the coming growing season, but not just yet. With the month closing out cold and snowy that may have to wait. Coupled with the weather, a path to the greenhouse will need to be cleared as now was kept open this Winter.
Greenhouse
All of the seeds have been ordered and received at this point. They have been sorted into seeds to start and those for direct planting. The seeds to start are in two bunches – those for Spring and those for Summer. The Summer starts will wait until late April in order to be ready for setting out in Late May or early June. The Spring starts will be seeded in mid March and should be ready as soon as the beds have been prepared. Hopefully that preparation can get started by the middle of March or so.
All the livestock are holding on eagerly awaiting Spring so that they can get out and enjoy the sun. It has been a long Winter indoors for them as well and the level of cabin fever is rising in the barns and coops.

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January Update

January moves the farm homestead into mid-Winter and that means gray, cold, dreary, boring days that grow a little longer. The weather pattern this year has been extreme to say the least. Snow started in November and beyond a few days near freezing, the snow has continued to pile up. Currently there’s around 30 inches on the ground with plowed piles multiple feet high. The better news is that the snow fall has been light and fluffy and so it should melt quickly once the temperature begins to warm. Speaking of temperature, that too has been more extreme than normal. Many nights have been below zero and none above freezing since Winter began. Add to that windy days and the wind chills have been well below zero often.

There have been a few losses in the chicken flocks over Winter of mainly older birds and few younger ones. Conversations with others have told of much worse on other farms, so it hasn’t been too bad. Losses have only had limited impacts on the several breeding projects so everything should remain on track for the coming year.

One event that will have to be dealt with was the collapse of the tent covering the wood pile. While the shell was in need of replacement this year, it was a bit unfortunate that the snow load got away from usually clearing and the top collapsed in. Added to that the shell ripped along the ridge seam and so snow has been falling into the wood storage area. Additionally tarps were used to keep the snow off the wood but makes in more work to move wood into the cabin for heating. That result of this is that a new permanent wood shelter will be added to the growing project list for warmer weather this Spring/Summer. The list of projects didn’t need any additions, but having dry wood over Winter is critical as its the source of heating and emergency cooking during Winter.

Garden planning has proceeded along and the seed/plant orders will be completed soon. The even years are when extra seeds are ordered for immediate use and storage for future growing seasons. That increases the costs a bit, but gives a supply for a few years for testing new varieties. The plans for expanding the fruit orchards – bot trees and soft fruits – makes it a little harder to order for as the preparation has to be don e before the plants arrive. These orders will be put off for a little while longer to give time for the preparation needed.

Lastly, tax time is approaching so gathering up the documents and records has been started. Unfortunately with the new tractor and new pole barn, there’s additional income that will be taxed this year which paid for these items. There are also extra bills this time of the year for vehicle licenses, vehicle insurance and building insurance as well as Winter taxes. This means there’s lots more going out than coming in but hopefully annual planning as accounted for everything and it won’t be a burden.

Once February moves aling, there will be more to post about and so that will mean more to record as the farming/homesteading season ramps up.

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December Recap

The weather pattern this month has been brutal with more snow than usual and much colder temperatures than average. The coldest overnight has been -25 F, daytimes in the teens, and few days of sun. Only one day broken the freezing mark during the entire month. Due to the lack of heating days, the snow that has fallen has remained on the ground. The only consolation has been that the ground has not frozen solid but for the top inch or two. Unlike much of the state, the electricity has stayed on and the wood stove has kept things snug indoors. The animals have faired well with dealing with frozen waterers and cold overnight. Hopefully the new year will improve things.

Late December and into January is the time for planning and goal setting for the coming year. Each year end, previous goals are evaluated and new goals set. Plans need to be made for the animal breeding as well as for the garden and orchards. Timely planning is essential to having a successful year.

Last year was focused on getting breeding stock for the chicken projects. With the bantam cochins, brown reds (both frizzles and smooth) and wheatens were the focus in 2013. Adequate numbers of brown reds were raised so that a number of breeding pens can be set-up that hopefully will produce more brown reds as well as a few lemon blues. The most important wheaten raised was a young cockerel so that a pure wheaten line can be established. In addition a small group of potential black/blue tailed reds will be available to try and breed a breeding pen for 2014. The Mille Fleurs held their own in 2013 and will be in focus next year.

A number of rabbits were produced in 2013, but the market is very soft so only one or two breedings may be planned for 2014. With the inability to get rid of stock limited, it is important to limit the number for next winter!

The garden catalogs continue to arrive and selections for the coming season has started. Near the end of January orders will be completed to include seeds and plants for 2014. Additionally there will be a project to construct a protective enclosure for the grapes, an addition of at least 8 more beds, and a number of fruit and plant cuttings to start. If possible tree plantings will also get a boost this coming year.

Other projects will include a new wood shed to replace the winter damaged tent that was used to store firewood, new entrance areas for the farm, insulating some of the winter quarters, and more land clearing around the homestead.

Details of all the plans, goals, and projects will follow in January.

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November Came and Went

November came and went quickly as other than getting ready for Winter, there isn’t much to do. The pens in the new barn are nearly complete and will be ok until breeding this Spring.

The garden is put to bed and the new cold frame tops are in place. They will be an interesting addition come this growing season. In addition to the frame tops, there will be some work early this Spring with new beds being added, a new hoop house for the grapes and other soft fruits, planting in the old hoop house in its new location and general maintenance on  the paths and beds.

The chickens and rabbits are wintering in their pens and hutches and will await an early Spring hopefully.

Next month (December) is also a slow month with a few early seed and plant catalogs to look through and plans to be made for the coming year.

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