not archimedes.

31 03 2009

The greenhouse is filled with starts.  In the middle of april tomatoes will be planted there.

Chickens have doubled in population.  We now have all these new chicken types: barred rock, black sexlink, light brahma, and speckled sussex, and golden wynadottes. Our two coops have been consolidated into the newer field coop.

Hops have been trellised using our natural surroundings.  Straight up a tree.

Irrigation is layed out.  Not perfectly, but there is water to the crops.  The crops which we seeded in Febuary, we are now planting.

Now we have a lot of marketing to do to get the CSA shares sold this year.  This upcoming weekend we are setting up shop at the Woodridge Wine release.  To everyone who is going to be out drinking wine in the beautiful Applegate Valley, and at Wooldridge Winery; stop by our booth.  We will be there on Saturday and Sunday.  On Sunday we will also be at the CSA Barn Dance at Hanley Farm in Central Point.

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Post-Ides

18 03 2009

All the chickens have been consolidated in the coop in the field.  No more having to collect eggs from two different places.  Soon we are going to get another 25 pullets to add to this chicken palace after they grow into hens.  Somehow, we managed to lose 3 chickens when combining the two coops.  Well, shit.

The field is looking sandy.  But good nonetheless.  The drip irrigation lines are being laid down in their respective spots.  A flawless irrigation set up this year would be a blessing.  It is only a slightly more educated guess than last year.  It really looks like we could grow stuff well here.

Got some big lights to get a jump on our tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers.  We need to get our tomatillo seeds in the mail soon so we can plant them for transplant.

More drip line action.  More sandy ass soil.

BEAR CRAWL.  Hope she does the crab next!

Also, hailing from the Greater Chicagoland area, Tim has joined our outfit this growing season.  He lives in the garage.  Don’t get us started about the garage.





Slowly Gaining Speed

12 03 2009

I went to another monthly meeting of the League of Women Farmers the other night. This is such an inspiring group; I love when we do farm tours. We went to Whistling Duck Farm, which is one of the longest running, most successful farms around here. Mary and Vince have been hard at work doing what they do since 1992! We wandered through their fields and Mary told us about how they do their cover crops, (which is definitely something we could use some pointers with) and looking down their 500-600 foot rows it dawned on me that we can do this.

In one of the classes I have been in recently, someone said, “It’s not rocket science. It’s just growing vegetables.” Everyone laughed, of course, but this is one of the main reasons I am out here doing this; I had the same thought in Chicago. “It’s not rocket science. How hard can it be?” Then I got out here and found out about water rights and farm insurance and succession planting and the cost of seed and irrigation line and fencing and how hard it is to do what we do without a tractor. There are a lot of impediments involved in the just growing vegetables part, so it is easy to get lost in everything else.

But this time of year is great because all we have to do is start seeds and watch them grow. There are row after row of soil blocks in the greenhouse with little sprouts coming up out of them. It is so awesome to see. We don’t have quite as many as Whistling Duck, but they also have quite a few more acres than we do.

Our neighbor who has an awesome tractor came over and turned over the rest of the field for us to start using for vegetable production and for planting forage for our chickens. Chad planted crimson clover into it to get a head start on all the newly uncovered weed seeds that will germinate quickly.

We moved all of the chickens from the backyard coop to the field coop. This was part of the master plan, but we had to hurry it along because one of the chickens escaped (we aren’t sure how) and the puppies killed it. So rather than let them get used to killing chickens, and us losing all our current layers, we relocated them to the field house. Now we just need to get another CSA membership or two to pay for the portable electric fencing we want to use to pasture them effectively.

Speaking of our lack of CSA memberships, we would like some opinions. Why do you think people aren’t signing up so far this year? It is not just us; a couple of the other women farmers and I were talking about it Tuesday. There is a general shortage of CSA customers across the board. Yes, yes. The economy sucks. But this is food, not designer handbags, as my mom said. What is holding people back from buying into the farms so far this year? Or do we all just need to chill and give people some time?





The Messy Side of Being a Farmer

7 10 2008

Today we did something that I have long wondered if I would have the stomach for. We killed 3 roosters.

Roosters are pretty unnecessary in laying hen production. The hens don’t NEED roosters to lay eggs. They need roosters to lay FERTILE eggs. So when we got the chickens, we tried to get as many females as we could. But, it is impossible for an uneducated person to know the difference between a male and female baby chick. There are people who have the job title “chicken sexer” who go through the batch of chicks and tell the males from females. But they are bound to be wrong sometimes.

We have 2 separate groups of chickens–one in the field (often referred to among ourselves, for some strange reason, as the downstairs chickens), and one in the backyard. So, at max, we need 2 roosters. We had 5. And only 4 of those were from the chicks we bought and raised. The fifth was named Zelda and came to us from Ben’s brother in Portland.

Dan showed up one day to visit with a chicken in a sewing machine box. They keep chickens in their yard in the city, but due to noise ordinance, they can only have a few, and they can’t be noisy. This one was noisy, and they decided to let it come have a nice life in the country where it could be as loud as it wanted. So, Dan showed up with a chicken in a sewing machine box. He said “her” name was Zelda Myrtle and she was just a little talkative. 3 days later, when all we have heard out of this bird is crowing, I decided they gave us a rooster. Everyone assured me, No, no. It is a hen. So, I do some research, dutifully Googling “Do hens ever crow?” It turns out they do sometimes under periods of stress. I give the bird a break, reasoning that 4 hours in a sewing machine box would be stressful to the best of us. When “she” was still crowing 3 weeks later and had taken to mounting the other hens, we knew something was up. I don’t mean this bird crowed a couple times at dawn. I mean this bird crowed every 3 minutes from the first blush of day all the way through til it was pitch black outside. And he attacked us when we went into the coop to get eggs. Full blown throw himself at you with his spurs flying and his wings beating you and his neck feathers as big as he could get them. And as many times as you tell yourself as you are walking up to the coop, “It’s only a chicken. I am MUCH bigger than it.” It still scared the crap out of you…

And for that reason, Zelda was picked as the one of the 2 coop chickens to go. Of the 3 roosters in the field, 2 were Rhode Island Reds and one was an Aracauna. The Aracaunas are much prettier birds, and they are more docile. So the 2 Reds from the field were caught today to be “processed”.

A guy Chad works with volunteered to come over and help us with it. His family used to raise broilers to sell, and he has been helping kill and clean them since he was in grade school. So we trusted him to show us how it is done. The first thing you need to do is set up a bit of a station where everything is going to happen. It helps to have a hose nearby to wash everything down when you are done, and probably do a few rinses along the way. So we set up our large pot of boiling water on a camping stove and we made a work table out of some plywood and sawhorses. And then, or course, you need a butchering block. We found a decent sized old stump and set it in the leaves, and then we went to wrangle chickens.

If you have read this blog for a while, you know our history of chicken wrangling, and today was no exception. We went down to the field, and promptly lost 4 out of the ark, only one of which was a rooster. The other rooster remained in the ark, and we caught him no problem, but the one loose in the field kept us running around for a good hour (all four of us) attempting to corner it. As I write this, there is still a hen loose.

And then came time to kill them. It was less dramatic than I had imagined. Yes, they flop around, the basis of the proverbial “chicken with it’s head cut off”, and yes, it smells weird, but altogether, not so difficult to be around. I would feel worse if I wasn’t going to use them as food, I think. But I will, and so they haven’t given their lives in vain. And they had pretty good lives. We fed them well and often, and kept them safe. And that is all you can hope for with this whole circle of life thing.

So once you chop off their head, it comes time for a plunge into the boiling water to loosen up the feathers. Tracy showed us how to use a propane torch to really loosen up the big quill feathers and singe off the little hairs and everything.

Then he showed us how to gut them. This is the tricky part that requires patience and a sharp knife. There are things inside of a chicken that you don’t want to cut into because they are nasty and can potentially ruin all the meat if they get broken (the gallbladder is one. The chicken version of a colon is another).

It took us longer than I had originally anticipated to go through everything. But in some ways, that is right. You can’t fully honor the animal unless you take the time to do it correctly.

Here are some pictures from the day (nothing too gross, don’t worry!):

Boiling Water Station for easier plucking

Boiling Water Station for easier plucking

The Block

The Block

Blanching

Blanching

Getting ready

Getting ready

De-feathering

De-feathering

Singeing and Pulling Quills

Singeing and Pulling Quills

All three

All three

Ben and the bird

Ben and the bird





Sadie in a pond with goats and chickens

1 10 2008

So it turns out that animals are awesome.  Without delay we have added some sweet new additions to our farm. Animals are an integral part of a small farm.  Besides promoting biodiversity, adding to the closed cycle of land stewardship, they also provide heightened vitality to the entire farming experience and to the purposefulness of the land itself.  We combine animals with plants in a crop rotation to ensure that we are responsibly using our soil.  The feeding practices of our animals will provide nutrients through manure, and with keep the land from being overrun by unwanted plants and pests.

We already have chickens as you know.  They provide us and our customers eggs, and are now producing at about capacity.  Their manure, after composting, is the highest in nutrients and most beneficial for our vegetables.  If the are free ranged a little better, they will also consume bugs and weeds.

Well we just upgraded beyond chickens.  Getting meat rabbits and goats.  Their poop that the rabbits provide us are also extremely nutritious for our plants, and it can be added uncomposted.  It is not a hot manure like most others, and added fresh it will not burn our plants.  We just bred them with the help of some local rabbit fanciers, so we can start producing them for meat production.  These same fanciers will return to show us how to humanely process (kill) the rabbits for meat production.   Killing animals brings food consumption in a full circle.  We are no longer alienated from our food, we are the producers and the consumers.

Then we brought in the goats.  Their names are Blossom and Rodeo.  They are Nubian and Boer breed respectively.  We are using them as lawnmowers.  Damn goats eat anything.  So we are allowing them to do their work.  We are overrun by poison oak and blackberries on our property, and the goats are more than happy to clear these away for us.  Besides water and little shelter they do not need much else to happily co-exist with us.  They are actually very friendly and enjoy being petted.

I am also lining our now dry pond with bentonite clay.  This particular type of clay has properties which allow it seal pond bottoms to minimize water drainage.  Our pond is completely dry now, but the rainy season will be soon upon us.  I just got the clay free because it is  tailings left over from a local ceramic company.  Otherwise it would have cost me like 300 dollars.  Now that I have the clay it needs to go into the pond before it starts raining, otherwise it will be very difficult to work with when the pond begins filling again.

Lastly, Sadie continues to excel at living. Check it out.





Outsmarted by a chicken…

4 05 2008

Last night I was doing my evening rounds before dinner (and then we watched Lars and the Real Girl–if you haven’t seen it, you should. It was awesome.), and noticed that the bigger chickens in the outside coop needed water. So, I pulled the hanging bucket off the string, and went back outside the coop to fill it up. I set it on the ground outside the coop door, pushed the door closed, put the hose into the bucket, and walked over to the house to turn on the faucet. I stood next to the faucet the whole time because I knew the second that I walked back over to the bucket, I would just have to turn back around to turn the faucet off. Once the bucket was full (I saw some water overflowing from the edge), I turned off the water and walked back over to the coop. This is when I saw 4 chickens had pushed the door open and were wandering in the area OUTSIDE their coop–not the fenced in outside area, but in the yard. You see, I didn’t think I needed to latch the door, because why would chickens push open the door? I immediately regretted my oversight. Especially since not one dog, but both dogs were outside in the yard as well. Before they were able to see the chickens, and as calmly as I could, I called out to Kirby who was in the kitchen getting ready to make dinner– “Hey, Kirby, could you give me a hand?” “Yeah!” I hear from inside. She opens the door, and I say, “There is a chicken out. Can you please get the dogs inside?” She calls the dogs, and they go running before they have any idea about the fun they could be having, which makes me breath a small sigh of relief.

BUT–I still have to figure out how to get the chickens back into the coop. They were a little freaked out at tis point and wouldn’t really let me near them. They had made their way around the side of the coop and were on the other side of where the outside run area was, and were trying to fit through the fencing to be with their flock-mates. Kirby had come back outside to help, and had grabbed a handful of weeds to offer as bait to lure them close.

Let me just say, this is one of the MANY times we have had around here thus far where I kind of wish a documentary film crew was around. Granted I would totally be the person chasing around livestock as has happened in countless films and TV shows about the inexperienced city dweller moving to the country, but still. This was worth catching on film. You guys would have paid to see this.

I went around to the end of the run area to try and force them back towards the door, which works until they realize they can go under the coop. This is when I curse the fact that Ben and I decided not to close off this area. With Kirby on one side, and me on the other, they won’t come out, so I backed away and they came out my side and I was able to get them around towards the door. Only to see that another 3 chickens have made their way out in the meantime. I began cursing my stupidity in leaving the door open, because why wouldn’t they rest of the chickens have the same idea the first group did… But I was trying to make it easier to get them back inside. They all veered away from the coop and start to go up the hill, but Kirby cut them off, and they made a beeline towards the coop door. WHEW! All inside…except 2. Who promptly ran around the side of the coop, and under it.

Now what?, I kept thinking to myself. How in the hell do I corral 2 birds in a backyard with almost no boundaries? And I kept being so thankful that the dogs were safely away because I could not have handled dead birds. So, I end up chasing the birds around the coop/run area in it’s entirety a few times, and they kept trying frantically to push themselves through the fence into the run, and Kirby was trying to act as a counterpoint to my movements to sandwich them between us so they could be grabbed, but they kept slipping through. I finally ended up snagging the Rhode Island hen, and carried her back around to the closed (and latched!) door, and then it was just the poor rooster left. A couple more times around the coop, he stayed underneath it for a while with either of us on a side trying to lure/force him out, and then we finally caught him, too.

All in all, I think this whole escapade only took 15-20 minutes, but it felt way longer than that. And now I have learned something else not to do.

These are all the tomatoes I was talking about:

Tomatoes

Our last frost date is approaching very rapidly, so soon these guys will be headed to the real outside within the next couple weeks. This, as you can imagine, means even more work than usual for us. We have to plow under more of the land, amend the soil with compost, fertilizer, and lime, and pull all the obvious weeds out at the very least. Chad may want to subsoil as well. And we have to do enough land to plant tomatoes, peppers, summer and winter squashes, beans, sunflowers, amaranth, and more corn! Yikes…Anyone wanna come out here, like around tomorrow?