I absolutely love historic colorized photographs. This collection happens to be one of the better online collections I have seen. Do yourself a favor and check it out.
Posted by Steve On February 26, 2015
Posted by Steve On February 24, 2015
As you probably read yesterday, this has been a whopper of a week with bitter cold to winter weather. The ladies are about sick and tired of it. 😀 Even though they can get out into the snow, I don’t see where they have chosen to do so, and I am sure they are ready to change that. Look at the looks they are giving me!
Speaking of the Easter Eggers, they really are either the smarter of the two breeds we have, or they are weaker. Check out how they huddle together at night on cold nights:
That is actually five birds, though it only looks like three or maybe four. There is one totally covered by the others and another partially covered by the others. They are hanging out over by the water dish, which is where I have my heated growing mat that keeps their water from freezing. Silly birds.
I am please with how the birds are doing though. We had temperatures down to -9 F this week and even without heating the coop there was no signs of frostbite. In case you are wondering why I cover my coop, look at the next picture and see the blue around the window near the roosting bar. That is a place where wind would easily blow into the coop and could cause frostbite. I hope to fix that this upcoming spring or summer.
I guess since I have showed two pics of Easter Eggers, I should show at least one of the Rhode Island Reds, well at least they are in the picture. They really are a more aggressive bird, and I think they are just plain tougher. Here they are eating upstairs on a bitter cold day:
One of the “fun” things we have discovered lately is that when we check for eggs late in the evening, someone, we think Blondie, will come peck at our hands. I am not sure if she is playing, getting broodie (haven’t seen her sitting on eggs), or if she is just protecting the nesting box from what seems to be a predator. Who knows, but it makes getting the eggs and adventure. 😀
Speaking of eggs, my assumption was correct, the egg production fell off this week for the Easter Eggers. The totals for the week were 19 Rhode Island Red eggs (a few less than normal) and 10 Easter Eggers eggs (a big drop from last week). In short, the Easter Eggers are proving how much they are daylight dependent when it comes to egg laying.
Speaking of an adventure, I think we may get a couple of more baby chicks in a week or two. The local co-op is supposed to have baby chicks in next week, and if they have any interesting, winter-hardy breeds that are different from the two we have, we may get a couple of new ones. I am thinking perhaps Welsummers. I would like to add a couple of birds, or at least one, a year to keep the egg production somewhat stable. I am not ready to order them though, I don’t think, as that can get expensive. I should know something next weekend or the weekend after.
Posted by Steve On February 23, 2015
Whew! What a week this has been! There isn’t much happening around the homestead, as we received a whopper of a snow this past week, which was followed by another snow, extreme cold temperatures, and then on Friday night into Saturday we had sleet, freezing rain, and rain. As I write this on Saturday morning, I suspect it is a terrible mess outside. There have been reports of folks roofs leaking, flooding due to drains on roads being clogged with snow and ice, and roads that are in treacherous shape. It doesn’t seem like it will get much better today, as I am expecting the temperature to hover right above freezing all day. By the time this post goes live, this will all be old news though, and we will be talking about the blustery cold temperatures Monday will bring us again. I am so ready for spring. 😀
I am sure many of you looked at the pictures I took, mostly of birds, last week. I also took a few around the house of some monster icicles:
I just went out to check on the chickens, and wow it is messy. The rain is melting some of the snow, and water is pooling everywhere. It remains to be seen how this will be at the end of the day.
Oh! I took a few pictures of my winter sowing project!
Even with a slow week around here, it wasn’t without some homesteading excitement though. I received a packet of seeds from Slovenia! These are minerature blue popcorn kernels (seeds). Check out the seeds and the envelope:
I know, I know. I am a bit weird to get so excited over popcorn kernels, but I am excited to incorporate this into my popcorn landrace. Aren’t those stamps cool too‽
Posted by Steve On February 17, 2015
Whew, the cold weather is back again! If you read yesterday’s post, you already know that we have a doozie of a week happening, with a big snowfall yesterday (total of over 8 inches at my home) and some bitter cold temperatures coming. This resulted in us wrapping the coop with a tarp again to protect the birds from the wind that may come in through my less-than-windproof coop.
Speaking of that, my aunt brought up a good question the other day. She can recall growing up not having to do anything special for the chickens in the winter, and I can’t remember my grandpa doing anything special with his henhouse. So why is it I feel I have to? Basically it boils down to this: I am not worried about them surviving the cold. There is plenty of chickens that make it even in -30 degree weather, but you do have to worry about frostbite. My Easter Eggers have no waddles or combs to speak of, so I don’t worry about them, but the Rhode Island Reds have waddles and combs that are a larger and more susceptible to frostbite. They would survive, no doubt, but it is introducing a possible health issue which I don’t want to have to deal with if I can avoid it. The answer is this: keep the wind and moisture down. Fortunately I have good ventilation in my coop, perhaps too much, which is why I choose to insulate it further with a tarp for the bitter cold: to keep the possible drafts in the coop to a minimum. So far our hens haven’t suffered any frostbite that I can see, so I will continue doing this when temperatures are down in the single digits.
Covering the coop this week will probably result in a decrease in the Easter Eggers egg laying. In fact, their egg production has gone down this week, though I think they laid during the middle of the night twice this week, which ended up meaning the eggs broke and hens ate them. That could have added 3-4 more eggs to the list, which would put in more in line with the normal production. This week the totals were as follows: 22 Rhode Island Red eggs and 13 Easter Eggers, an increase of two for the Reds, and a decrease of six for the Easter Eggers.
I was surprised that none of the hens ventured out into the snow yesterday, or at least not that we saw. I did see what might have been footprints in the snow, but it had already snowed enough more that I couldn’t tell for sure. They didn’t stay in the coop either, but they did stay in the part of the chicken run right under their hen house, rather than venturing out into the new northern extension.
I don’t mind a good snow like this once a winter, but I do wish it weren’t accompanied by the terribly cold temperatures. We are now expecting -8 F later this week, which is very cold for our part of the country. So cold, in fact, there are numerous warnings going out to folks in preparation for the possibility of busted pipes. In short, this is not something our infrastructure is really built to handle. Praise God it is just a day or two, right?
Just in case you are interested, I did take some pictures of some of the song birds eating on our deck rail yesterday. I am particularly fond of the Cardinals, how about you?
Posted by Steve On February 16, 2015
Every year about this time I fool myself into thinking spring is right around the corner. We get a few warm days, and for some reason I believe winter is over. Well, it is not! It hit yesterday afternoon (Saturday) with a vengeance, and the temperature dropped several degrees in just a very short period of time. This morning it is bitter cold outside, and they are saying we may get snow tonight! My favorite weather forecaster, Beau Dodson, is saying the snow is very likely, as are some bitter cold temperatures mid week.
We attempted to cover the chicken coop with the tarp yesterday, but the wind was so strong it was merely an exercise in futility.
UPDATE: as of 4:30 AM on Monday morning, we have just over 3″ of snow. We were also able to cover the chicken coop yesterday to keep it a little better insulated. The chickens sure are enjoying having the new extended run though, as it allows them to get out in the sun, even when the rest is covered. We’ll see how they like that today with a big snow. 😀
Speaking of snow, I have long said that we get a real whopper of a snow storm (don’t laugh my New England friends) about every decade. A local weather enthusiast, Jason Darnell, did some research that backs this up. We have only had four single day snowfalls of greater than 8 inches, but look at the spacing:
- December 22, 2004: 14 inches
- February 15, 1993: 7.9 inches (yes, I know this is just under 8 inches, but it was followed 11 days later with another 7.3 inches).
- January 16, 1978: 11 inches
- March 6, 1967: 8 inches
As you can see, other than a 15 year span one time, we get an 8″ or greater snowfall about every decade.
As an interesting addition to this, in 1984 there was a two day snowfall of 8.2 inches and a one day snowfall of 7.1 inches, so we didn’t really skip that decade, we just had a five year snow prior to that. Actually, it looks like prior to 1984 we had a span of bigger snowfalls every five years, with a few interspersed one to three year big snows:
- 1984: one day snow of 7.1 inches and a separate two day snowfall of 8.2 inches
- 1979: three day snowfall of 8 inches
- 1978: 11 inches
- 1975: one day snowfall of 5 inches
- 1970: two day snowfall of 7 inches
- 1967: 8 inches
- 1965: two day snowfall of 7 inches
This week I did get the first round of winter sowing done. Here let me share a little bit about that.
The principle is this: instead of using grow lights and having to harden of your plants, you begin by planting outside in mini-greenhouses. During the winter the varying weather causes the seeds to freeze and thaw, expand and contract, and eventually grow. The mini-greenhouse offers enough protection to keep the plants alive, and also keeps you from having to harden them off, as that happens naturally. It made sense to me, after all, this is more how it happens in nature, yet still might give me a jump on the summer.
So, you begin by collecting as many milk jugs and other plastic bottles as you can. This is a small group I am starting with:
The first thing you have to do is drill some drainage holes in the bottom of the jugs. If not, too much water will stay in them and the seeds may rot before they grow.
Once that is done you need to cut the jugs in half.
Then fill them with potting soil.
Once that was done, I put the jugs back together and moved them outside. I wish I had just finished them on the day I started them, but time did not allow that.
Finally it was time to sow seeds. I just kind of scattered my seeds in the jugs, but I labeled them inside and outside, plus on the bottom, knowing that the sun will fade the labeling sticks.
I then taped the jugs shut with duct tape.
And finally I set them out by my raised garlic beds where they would get good morning sun. Notice all the lids are off. That is to allow the rain to get in the jugs. It also keeps the temperature from getting too high on warm days.
If you want more details, Wintersown.org is the place to go, but this should be enough to give you the general idea. Now let’s watch and see if they grow!
Posted by Steve On February 10, 2015
Whew! This was a big week for the chickens! Saturday was a beautiful day, which could mean only one thing: it was time to get one of the run extensions built!
To give a little history, I have long wanted to build a northern and southern run extension, which when done would triple the run size, allowing the chickens more room to roam when we can’t let them out to play in the yard. Ultimately, I would love to get to a point where these could be moved so we could actually let some grass grow in a spot, move the run on top of it, and let the chickens
decimate eat the grass. 😀 Anyhow, that is a long way off. This weekend was time to build the Northern Run.
First, I had to get the materials. People often laugh at me when they see me leaving the home improvement store with 2x4s heading to my economy car, but let me tell you, this little thing can haul stuff! No, it is not a pickup, which I dearly want, but it it does the trick. Look at my Toyota Matrix loaded up with 20 2x4s and other building materials!
So I decided to build this run much more sturdy than originally planned. My original plans were to make this modular, meaning wall panels that could be easily moved, but I decided that a semi-permanent extension was better. When I say semi-permanent, that doesn’t mean immovable. It just takes at least two strong people, if not four. Here’s the eastern and western walls, which provide the basic strength for the run extension:
It wasn’t long until I had this thing framed up and ready. You can see by the looks of this, it was not light at all! It is 6.5 feet wide by 8 feet long.
One of the main things I wanted in this was a feeding door on top. The original run has doors on the northern and southern side that lift up. While this is fine for letting the birds out to play, it isn’t so convenient when you just want to throw some scraps in there for them to eat, as they quickly run out! It is also a pain when it comes time to change their water or food, as you have to climb into the run, which is under 3 feet tall, to get to the food and water. With a feeding door on top we can now throw scraps in without them getting out, and we can hang the waterer and feeder from the 2×4 next to the door for easy filling. Sadly, I only realized after getting far into the project that I will have to put some sort of roof on this to keep the food from getting wet. Another project for another day.
As mentioned above, we haven’t liked the doors that swing open from the bottom. This is our new door that will open out to the side. MUCH more convenient!
And this is the completed run before we moved it to the coop:
Here it is in place on the northern side of the current run. You can see it effectively doubled the side of the run, giving the girls a lot more area to roam, including the ability to get out in the sun more.
After we installed this, the ladies spent the rest of the afternoon poking around in the new area. I take that as a sign they were happy. 😀
I was a bit worried they may try to roost outside, as it was such a mild day and evening, but apparently the events of the day had them all tuckered out. Nine of the ten are on their roosting pole, while the other is on the other side of the coop hanging out by the watering bowl. Silly bird!
As if this wasn’t enough excitement, the ladies had another increase in egg laying this week. It seems the Easter Eggers are getting back in the swing of things.
The next two projects are chunnels (chicken tunnels – you are going to enjoy this when I get to it!) and the southern run extension. It is going to be a weekend or two (or more!) before I get to those projects though. There are just too many other things to do.
Posted by Steve On February 9, 2015
It has been a busy weekend around the homestead, with the bulk of that time spent building the northern run extension for the chickens. Check back tomorrow for pics and details on that.
It seems that every weekend I have more on my to-do list than there is hours in the day, and this weekend was that way and then some! On Saturday I intended on finishing the run extension, then working on winter sowing (am I ever going to get to this!?), roasting coffee, and the normal weekend chores. I only finished the run extension and roasted coffee though.
It is funny, when I tell folks I roast coffee, the most often think I mean that I grind coffee. They don’t realize I actually roast my own beans. Not only that, I do it in a kind of old-fashioned way – in an iron skillet over a charcoal fire:
No, that is not me stirring the coffee. My lovely wife agreed to hold the pan and stir while I snapped a picture. This week I roasted mostly Brazilian coffee, but this batch happened to be a new one for me: Peruvian. I just finished a cup as I am writing this, and it is a definite keeper. I tend to enjoy the South American coffees best, and in my opinion this Peruvian coffee had that same flavor I enjoy.
Do you realize it is just three months until May? That means it is just three months until my garden will be fully planted, I hope! I know it seems so far out, but it won’t be long until the cooler weather crops are growing. That reminds me – I need to be getting some peas sown! Argh! Maybe next weekend! 😀 No boredom, that is for sure!
Posted by Steve On January 30, 2015
If you know me, it doesn’t surprise you that I tried a new, unusual crop this past year: Cherokee Gourdseed Corn.
This is a traditional southern corn, as it is a longer season corn. In other words, I am not sure the summer would be long enough to grow this very much further north than we are. The books say about 125 days to maturity, and I believe it. It took longer to mature than any corn I grew this year by a considerable amount.
It was a pleasant corn to look at though – the cobbs were nice and fat on the stalks, and they seemed quite hearty. The stalks were stout, with no danger of blowing over.
The kernels are amazing though. As you can see in the picture above, they don’t look crowded on the cobb, but that is because they are so thin and long. They are often said to remind people of old man teeth or horse teeth. Did I just say that old man teeth and horse teeth look similar‽ 😀 No insult meant to all the old men reading this. I didn’t really think of the kernels looking like teeth when I was shelling the cobbs, but now that I look at the picture, they are very similar in features to teeth, aren’t they?
The most interesting thing about this corn was not the kernels though, in my opinion. Instead, it was the ease of shelling. It was almost as simple as placing two hands on the cobb and twisting. In fact, I wish I had videod to show, as it was so amazing.
There aren’t very many gourdseed corns out there: only three or four. This is the Cherokee Gourdseed, and there is a Texas Gourdseed, a Carolina Gourdseed, and I have found some references to a Virginia Gourdseed. I have my seed stock from this Cherokee Gourdseed that I plan on landracing with at least the Texas Gourdseed, of which I also have some seed. I will probably hand pollinate some of each as well to keep the pure strains alive.
Posted by Steve On January 27, 2015
I am not sure I have even seen the chickens except from a distance this week. Praise God for my lovely wife who has mostly taken care of them. It has been a bit of a chaotic week that ended with me feeling a bit under the weather. Thankfully I think that has mostly passed now.
The ladies aren’t feeling under the weather though, it seems. I have been pleasantly shocked to see more of the Easter Eggers’ eggs in the egg cartons this week. Even though the days are still short, perhaps they are itching to start laying again. When I gather eggs I remind them, “I either have egg layers or meat birds, one of the two!” This reminds me of a cute cartoon I saw sometime back:
I decided to validate that they are laying more, and I was wrong! The Rhode Island Reds have had a good week (20 last week, 22 this week), but the Easter Eggers are actually down from last week (9 last week, 8 this week). That being said, they are laying more than they were just two weeks ago (2)
One of the big projects I need to get done is expanding the chicken run. Our birds are fortunate in that we have a decent sized run for them, but they sure do enjoy getting out of the run and stretching their wings. You ought to see these little ladies when they find some new bugs or worms – it is like Christmas morning to them! Of course, expanding the run isn’t going to replace that free time out in the yard, but it sure will help us feel a little better about it when we aren’t home to let them out.
Posted by Steve On January 20, 2015
As mentioned yesterday, this was a big week with the chickens – the annual changing of the litter! (listening for hens everywhere to start cheering) It isn’t quite as gross as it sounds. We use the deep-litter method with our hen house, which means I fill the coop with a very thick layer of oak leaves once a year. During the year the hens poop in it, stir it up, aerate it, tear it up, and cause it to compost. This means you never really have a strong smell, but instead you have soil being built. However, you must change that out periodically, not only for the hens, but for you to have the benefits of it. This past weekend was that time.
Okay, here is what it looked like before we began:
You may notice it was not thick everywhere. That is because of the hole in the floor. The silly ladies knock the leaves down into the bottom of the coop, into the run, over time. I typically then use a pitchfork to move it from the run back to the coop to keep a good thick layer there. I haven’t really stated it yet, but as I understand it, the thick layer is essential to give enough dry brown material to keep the stench down. It is really much like composting.
I first moved all the old chicken litter out of the coop and the run while the ladies were out stretching their wings:
You can see how much compost this created in a year, and this is far better compost than you might get from any store. It is all organic, all homegrown. I know what is in this compost, and I know it is good.
I then took a large pile of leaves that were good and dry, and I move them into the coop and run. I know this looks like it would be uncomfortable for the chickens, and it may be, but it won’t stay this way for long. I happen to think they enjoy it though, digging through all this new material looking for any sort of life (read: bugs) that might be in it. As I said, it won’t stay this way for long though. Soon the leaves will become shred under their constant picking and foraging, and it will pack down. Anyhow, here is what it looks like in the coop:
I also put it in the run because I need plenty of material to add to the coop throughout the year. It is essential to keep a thick layer there. As the litter in the coop runs this, I will scoop some from the run up into the coop. Believe it or not, this will all be smashed down to a thin layer in just a few days.
The only other thing going on with the hens this week is a bit of an upswing in egg product. Last week was eggs, whereas this week we had 29, and 9 of them were Easter Eggers! If we compare that to last week, we see the Rhode Island Reds laid the same amount (20) and the Easter Eggers upped their production by 7 eggs! Go Easter Eggers! It won’t be long until we see those numbers really jumping up. I am very anxious for that.