Month: December 2014

The Chicken Chronicles

The little lady layers are ready for winter to be over!  It has been shocking to me to see the tremendous difference in their egg production now and just a few months ago.  There were days we were getting eight or nine eggs a day back when it was warmer, and now we consider ourselves fortunate if we get four in a day, and those are almost exclusively eggs from the Rhode Island Reds.  It is somewhat rare to get an egg from the Easter Eggers right now, and it is very rare for more than one to show up.  This is the reason we added the Rhode Island Reds to the flock though – they are egg laying machines.

One of the issues the Easter Eggers are having is that some of them are molting.  It may be that all of them are molting, but two of them are showing it more.  In fact, one reminds me of a little Indian boy with one tall feather sticking up from its tail.  We have added some more protein and fat to their diet, which is a good idea in winter anyhow, but it also seems that it helps hens through the molting process.

I had someone ask a week or two ago if it was normal for a hen to molt in the winter.  I didn’t know the answer, and it seemed illogical to me, but after researching it I found that it is not unusual at all.  I am supposing they stay closer to their sisters during this time to keep a little warmer.

One other thing we have learned is the importance of an insulated coop.  Just this morning I noticed a container of water outside the coop was frozen, but one inside the run, just under the coop was not.  The run is not even really insulated, but it does have wind breakers on two sides.  It seems that those wind breakers made enough of a difference that it was able to keep the water from freezing.  Amazing, really.

One thing we are finding is commonly recommended for the hens in the winter is black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS).  I have added this to my list of things to grow next year, as I sure would love to be able to feed the chickens as much as possible from the garden.  That reminds me, I am also growing a considerable amount more greens (kale, lettuce, chard), brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage), squash and beets to help feed the ladies more from the garden.

Happenings Around the Homestead

Wow!  I logged in today and noticed it has been nearly a month without a post!  Needless to say, the last month has been very close to chaotic continually, and what little time I have had has been spent on living, not writing about living.  🙂

Despite the chaos, I have had a pretty productive month or so around the homestead, mostly in planning for the upcoming gardening year.  By next week I should be able to share the plans for my garden for 2015, which will be a very different garden than any I have planted before.  You have already read of the Back-to-Eden style gardening change that has been made, but I am also planning on a much wider use of companion planting this year in order to get the most out of the garden.  More to come on this soon.

I was pleased this Christmas to get a few new yard tools that I have been wanting, including a pole pruner, a pruning saw, and pruning shears.  The pole pruner is the only one of the three I have used yet, and it did great.  We have a couple of pecan trees on our property, and one of those has branches that stick out above the power lines coming into our house.  Twice since we have lived here those branches have caused and issue with our power after a winter storm and both times cost a considerable amount of money to fix.  I was able to safely trim the branches back for the most part where they didn’t extend over the power lines.  There is still one troublesome branch that is just a bit too high for me, but I may try to trim it back using a ladder on a warmer day.

The other pruning tools have a more interesting purpose.  I plan on pruning back my three fruit trees this year: two apple trees and a cherry tree.  I have been learning quite a bit about pruning, and I think I am ready to give it a shot.  More to come on this as well.

Finally, I have been blessed to already receive numerous seeds for the next growing cycle.  Today I am hoping to take some macro photographs of the seeds to share their amazing beauty with you.  Who would have thought a seed could be beautiful?  Just wait and see!

Oh, did I already say finally?  Hmm – I have one more thing.  😀  First, let me begin by thanking those who saved babyfood/small jars for me.  They have come in so handy.  Several of you have asked what I am using them for.  I grow popcorn, and I selectively save the seed from the popcorn in order to grow better popcorn next year.  In order to do this faster and better, I need a controlled environment for the popcorn so that I can ensure all the corn has the same moisture ratio.  Moisture is a key component of popcorn’s popping ability, and if I am going to truly save the best each year, I need to be sure the moisture is the same during the popping trials, which commence soon.  So, here is a picture of the filled jars:

Jars filled with unpopped popcorn.

Popcorn Jars

Even though I have enough of these for this year, I still need about 300 more jars, so if you or someone you know is feeding a baby babyfood, I would love to have the jars.  Even better are pimento jars or any other jar that holds about 4-6 ounces.  Bigger or smaller also work, but I don’t want anything larger than a half-pint.

The Chicken Chronicles

After yesterday’s post on the BIG weekend, I am sure you know the chickens had an eventful weekend too.  The poor ladies started out pretty scared of all the work that was going on, even staying upstairs in the coop for a while.  After they got used to the front-end loader, they began venturing downstairs, and were as exuberant as ever to get out and run around.  They curiously watched to try to figure out what was going on, but in the end, all they cared about was finding treats amount the wood chips.  😀

The laying is still slow, as I am sure it will be until the days start getting longer, though the Rhode Island Reds are real troopers.  The four of them laid 24 eggs this week, whereas the six Easter Eggers only laid 8 eggs.  This was the whole reason added the Rhode Island Reds to the flock though, as they should continue laying most all winter.

Charity noticed a problem below the coop though.  It seems the ladies are thinking the insulation foamboard I put there is for their dining pleasure.  SIGH.  I don’t think I will work on that today, but sometime I will have to cut it out where it is not within their reach.

One of the next big projects I have it to get a portable chicken run built, so I can actually let them stay out in the yard for extended periods of time without someone watching them.  Ideally, this would allow me to let the work the unplanted garden areas as well, with the chickens aerating and fertilizing the soil while they have fun.  I am thinking of building something out of cattle panels, but I need to work on this more.

There’s never a shortage of things to do, is there?


Happenings Around the Homestead – A BIG Week!

Wow!  What a week this has been around the homestead!  We finally began the project of spreading the woodchips for Project Eden, our Back to Eden garden.  What a project this has been too!  Let me start with a little history:

  • Sometime between 12-18 months ago I first encountered the Back to Eden film.
  • Being unable to find woodchips in time for this past year’s garden, I covered in oak leaves.
  • Though the garden did well, I didn’t fertilize, and it showed.  This seems to be essential for good production on year #1.
  • This year I wanted to expand the garden, and began making plans to do so.
  • We encountered a company doing a lot of wood cutting and chipping around power lines in our area.  After approaching them about two months ago, they began dumping chips in our yard.
  • We arranged to have a mini front-end-loader to be delivered for our use over Thanksgiving weekend.
  • We finally received enough chips to do our garden the day before Thanksgiving.
  • We marked out the garden space, a 84 foot x 65 foot garden, which is about 10 foot shorter than I had expected, but still a respectable garden area.
  • We spread a very thick layer of oak leaves over most of the garden, a commodity we have in abundance.
  • We started spreading the chips and covered about half of the garden on the day after Thanksgiving.
  • We spread the rest of the chips on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

I thought a few pictures and even a couple of timelapse videos might be nice to document the process better.  Here are some pictures of all the wood chips.  Crazy, isn’t it?

Some of our woodchips

Some of our woodchips

Some of our woodchips.

Some of our woodchips.

Some of our woodchips.

Some of our woodchips.

And here are a couple of time lapse videos showing our work:


So, even though we are just a few days into this, I already have a few lessons learned:

  1. A 5400 square foot garden is HUGE.  😀  Don’t expect the laying of those chips to go fast, even with a machine.
  2. The laying of newspaper on the base layer may be essential, but don’t think you are going to do this with even a slight breeze.  Three of us totally failed at this.
  3. Wood chips begin decomposing faster than you think.  Our two most fresh piles look considerably different than the one from even a couple of weeks ago.

We also expected to dig out a stump in the middle of the garden area, and were quickly reminded how strong the stump that came from a mature oak tree is.  Wow!  Seriously, we couldn’t even budge this thing.

I want to give a special shout out to a couple of my friends, one who loaned the front-end loader and one who delivered it.  Thanks guys!  I also want to say how thankful I am for my two youngest sons who worked tirelessly helping me on this project for two days.  I couldn’t have done this without them.