Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dead Birds Walkin'

The last of our rotten roos have flown the coop today. They took an early morning ride with Bill to the same place that their brothers went, to a very grateful fellow who was glad to have them for his table. I am especially sad to see Mr. Jeffries go, as he was my little honey, but that jolt of testosterone that came at maturity turned him into a great big meanie, who, along with his brothers, all of a sudden simply lived to harass our hennies. Sorry, my boy, this here farm is partial to the women-folk and that sort of shenanigan doesn't fly.

The parting of these boys means that the last of the bantams that we hatched out in the incubator last spring are all gone, and we didn't get an egg from or get to eat a single one of them ourselves. What a bust that little trial turned out to be.

If you'll forgive a little gallows humor in my moment of reflection, let us review the trials, tribulations and eventual fates of the bantam eggs, formerly known as the dirty dozen.

May 2010- 9 out of 12 eggs hatch within 24 hours after having been fawned over and candled daily for three weeks. A few of the babies had early difficulties, trouble pipping, pasted vent, etc., but all pulled through.

July 2010- Near catastrophe as the brooder's heat lamp gets knocked into the brooder and the pine litter very nearly catches fire, filling the garage with smoke and giving us a good scare.

Multiple foiled escape attempts.

August 2010- The big move. All critters are initially traumatized.

October 2010- Our first baby is lost. Eglantine is hit by a car. The terror twins, Scout and Harold are sent to "freezer camp".

November 2010- Molly disappears one day, during the day. We suspect the neighbor's cat after a pile of feathers are found under the rhododendrons.

December 2010- Bird pox hits us just as the remaining five "babies" are reaching sexual maturity. We're down to one hen and four roosters at this point. Sky the rooster and Charlotte, our last bantam hen, die of the pox. The other three boys are isolated from the laying flock until it is clear that they are healthy.

After being cut loose from quarantine, the boys go completely nuts and start pestering/chasing/injuring our hens non-stop. WAY beyond boys will be boys, more like a hostile takeover. A coop coup, if you will.

Back into separate housing the boys go until today, when they went on their final journey.

What a hot mess this whole experience has been. Wasted time, wasted effort and plenty of wasted money.

Here's a look at the ugly financial aspects of this experiment -

Incubator set up - $100
Dozen Fertile eggs - $5
Brooder pen, lights, bedding, etc. - $60
Food for 6 months- ???
Vet bill for Sky (including having him put to sleep)- $70
Grave stone for Eglantine, our first ever critter to die- $30
Horrifying Total =$265+ for jack squat in terms of food for us.

Besides the monetary dings, we've also had the unfortunate experience of having one of our chickens die practically every way imaginable short of the electric chair - car "accident", predator attack, pox, lethal injection and "guillotine" (if ya know what I mean).

We are by no means desensitized to the tragedy, but seriously, if you can't find something funny somewhere in this mess, then you'll just end up kicking yourself to death over the ridiculous waste of time and money that this whole project was. I know I've learned from it, but still. Mostly I've learned about what NOT to do. Don't mix bantams and standard breeds, don't forgo vaccinations, don't bother with roosters unless they are angels because they're more trouble than they're worth, etcetera, etcetera. Anyway, this chapter is now closed and we're down to six hens that I will be guarding with my life from now on.

I knew that the life of a farm girl wasn't an easy one, but some days it can feel like fighting the tide just isn't worth it. Wild animals, strangers and farm supply stores are all benefiting from my grow-your-own approach, alas I am still buying my eggs and meat from other farmers. I'm going to have to buckle down and turn this mess around come Spring, otherwise I'm going to lose my marbles.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Seeds to Share

As mentioned in a previous post, I've already gone off the deep end a little with my seed ordering this year. The physical manifestation of my unchecked-zeal walloped me over the head when the postman brought me a 5x5 box of seeds instead of my usual small padded envelope. I reluctantly admit it, I may have overbought.

But this overindulgence can be made good. As in, I've got oodles more seeds than my garden will handle, and so I intend to share them. Here's what I've got to offer some of-

~Dill, 'Boquet'
~Summer Squash, 'Early Prolific Straight Neck' (yellow in color)
~Pea, 'Mammoth Melting"
~Pea, 'Lincoln" (aka 'Homesteader')
~Lettuce, 'Red Romaine'
~Lettuce, 'Merveille de Quatre Saisons' (Bibb type)
~Lettuce, 'Cimmaron'
~Lettuce, 'Buttercrunch' (Bibb type)
~Pole Bean, 'Kentucky Wonder'
~Bush Bean, 'Topnotch'
~Celery, 'Golden Self-Blanching'

I may have more to add to my list of offerings, but at the moment I'm being a bit conservative with my seeds because I've already promised to share some with a few of my friends and family. Shoot me an email or leave me a comment with a way to contact you if you are interested in a few free seeds. If you'd like to order larger quantities of these very same seeds, check out Victory Seed Company - they're the best. ;)

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Pox on Our House

This month has been a rough one. It started off with tons of wind and rain and here it is, Christmas Eve, and we have more of the same. No white Christmas here, just a wet one.

Even for Washington state, these past few weeks of rain have been pretty epic. We've had the trifecta of mudslides, floods and trees coming down left and right to usher in the change of season. The quantity of rain was such that the accumulation of water in our bog grew noticeably every day, to the point where I'd actually classify it as a full-on pond now, waterfowl included.

In addition to the deluge, we also had some ups and downs with our critters this month. Gertie finally, without-a-doubt went into heat and was summarily whisked away to meet again with her fellow, Scout. According to Scout's people, there was a whole lot of lovin' going on over their three day rendezvous, making us optimistic that Gertie is good and knocked up this time. If everything took, Gert's kid(s) should be here around the 8th of May, which means I've got a hell of alot of reading and research to do about goat gestation and birth between now and then.

On a much sadder note, we lost two of our chickens to Bird Pox. Sky the rooster fell ill quite suddenly, and was diagnosed with the pox by our vet. The bulk of Sky's illness and discomfort was not directly related to the pox itself, rather the opportunistic bacteria that overtook him in his weakened state. In the end, we put poor Sky to sleep, as he was having a great deal of difficulty breathing and could no longer eat or drink. The following day, Charlotte, our last bantam hen died in the night. She did not have any outward signs of having had the pox, but before burying her, Bill inspected her and palpated her crop, which he found to be swollen - one of the symptoms of bird pox. We were concerned that our remaining three bantams (Snowflake, Sunny & Mr. Jeffries, all roosters) might also be infected, since they were hatched out at home and never immunized, so we isolated them in an impromptu coop made of baby gates, plywood and cardboard. It was ugly, but it worked. We kept them separate from the hens for three days until it was apparent that they were well (if they ever had been unwell at all) and no longer a danger to our girls.

Losing Sky & Charlotte brought us down to nine chickens, which will be further reduced by three this coming week. The aforementioned roosters have finally come of age and practically overnight became holy terrors. They very nearly killed our hennie, Strawberry, by running her off from her flock and pecking and plucking her incessantly. When a cranky roo threatens your laying hens, it's kind of a no-brainer about who has to go. The boys have since gone back into isolation/death row housing and are none too pleased about it. Little do they know what lies ahead...

We debated their fate. Give them to the guy who took Scout & Harold, give them to someone else, or eat them ourselves? The girls surprised both Bill and I by suddenly seeming to be ok with the idea of us harvesting and eating these roos ourselves. I'm not sure that I'm going to be able to eat a critter who I hand raised, but if the rest of the fam can, then I guess that I'll be roasting Snowflake. ;\

Life just keeps getting more strange/complicated/amazing every day.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The 12 Days of Christmas, Boggy Hollow style

I'll spare you the repetitive choruses and just skip to my good/bad/crazy holiday countdown. Things are always nuts around here, but poxed roosters and horny goats have really spiced up my day!

Twelve days of Raining
Eleven Gifts need Wrapping
Ten Dozen Cookies
Nine Rivers Cresting
Eight Knitting Projects
Seven days 'til School's out (Boo)
Six Hens not a-laying
Five Cups of Jooooooooe!
Four Acres Drowning
Three Roosters Sick
Two Cranky Kids
And one very frisky she-Goat in Heeeeeeat!

Happy Holidays, everyone! ;)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Planning the Garden & Ordering Seeds

Is it a sign that I'm getting old and dull when I look forward to this time of year more for placing my seed order than I do for getting gifts?

I am like a kid in a candy store when it comes to seed shopping. For the past few years, I have bought almost exclusively from Victory Seed Company. They have a really nice selection of heirloom, open-pollinated seeds - all of my old standbys and an ever-growing assortment of rare and unusual seeds as well. And, being that we intend to plant a garden roughly four times the size of the one at our last house (with plans to expand it further still in the years to come), well, I may have gone off the deep and a little with my seed purchase. But everything looked so good!

Here's what I've ordered (so far) - P.S. - Don't tell Bill about the "so far" part. ;)

Corn, Yukon Chief
Radish, French Breakfast
Pole Bean, Kentucky Wonder
Beet, Cylindra*
Carrot, Atomic Red
Carrot, Solar Yellow
Carrot, Little Fingers*
Cucumber, Homemade Pickles*
Kale, Russian Red
Lettuce, Merveille de Quatre Saisons*
Lettuce, Little Gem (Butterhead)
Lettuce, Cimmaron
Pea, Lincoln*
Pea, Mammoth Melting
Pumpkin, Cinderella*
Pumpkin, Small Sugar
Squash, Cocozelle*
Squash, Early Prolific
Squash, Burgess Buttercup*
Sunflower, Giant Greystripe
Mammoth Dill*
Daisy, Gloriosa*
Bachelor Buttons
Sunflower, Autumn Beauty*
Thickspike Gayfeather
Job's Tears
*Have grown or at least tried to grow in the past.

Notably absent are the more tender herbs (basil, etc.) and tomatoes which I have tried to start from seed over and over again, only to fail miserably. I will buy them as starts in April or May from my more capable gardening friends at the Farmer's Market. I also have not yet figured out how many and what kind of potato we'll try this year, though the girls are lobbying hard for the blue variety. ;) I've altogether given up on trying to grow my own peppers from seeds or starts, as their growing season is just way too long for Western Washington's unpredictable spring & summer weather.

With this extra large garden space available to us, we've come up with some extra-large goals for our garden. In addition to growing enough food to feed our family, I'm hoping to have enough extra to not only share with friends, family and food bank, but to possibly sell on a small scale at a roadside farm stand, along with our eggs if our hens should ever decide to commence laying them again. We're also hoping to grow a substantial portion of our critters' food, that being the corn and sunflowers, as well as the odd vegetable. Bill also believes that we can get a cutting of hay from the bog and back pasture when it is dry in the summer. I don't know the first thing about growing or cutting hay, but it sure would be nice to not be so dependent on the feed store for it. Especially since the quality of the hay seems to vary so widely from batch to batch.

I'm also excited about growing a small "cutting garden" of ornamental flowers. I have yet to learn what sorts of flowers presently grow in my new yard, but I'm going to supplement them with the likes of bachelor's buttons, dahlias and daisies. I've also chosen a slightly unusual plant called Job's Tears which is an ornamental grass that grows lovely hollow seeds which are used as beads. Cool, huh? :)

And so, the plotting goes on. What other fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers do you grow and recommend? What varieties of fruit and vegetables would you like to see offered for sale at your neighborhood farmer's market or farm stand?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

On a Little Bit of Property

I remember when we first looked over the house and the property here. I thought it was a bit oddly laid out but I thought the same thing about the house as well. Both have come to grow on me. My only true wish is for more and bigger out-buildings, a barn and especially a garage.

Something has grown on me here that I haven't felt since I was a teenager. At night if I take the compost out to the bins behind the red shed or go out to check on the goat I feel at peace. Sometimes its the stars in a clear cold sky or more often than not (now that winter is here) it's the mist rising up from the bog. If it's late at night there are no cars out and you can't even hear the freeway (miles away though it is). At times there is the hooting of owls and I've been startled more than once by a deer who likes to visit the compost bin. Her eyes reflect back blue just as those of the goats do.

I will often stop for a few minutes, turn off my light and smell the roses so to speak. Remember the names of some of the constellations and feel the night around me. In the snow it's especially peaceful.

Yet it's not like when I was growing up in the Bald Hills. There you couldn't hear anything besides the neighbors voices ringing across their pasture at times and the stars were brighter and clearer. You could see the milky way. I felt it too when we visited Dillon Montana years ago and saw whitetails bouncing away from our cabin at dawn.

Here we are now so close to the comfort of our little town, great friends, fishing, mountains and the sound. So to have a little piece of the peace I knew in the hills is a great gift.

This winter there is much to do. The deer fence must be built around the garden patch and a new chicken coop constructed to house multiple flocks away from the predators that keep nibbling away at our birds. I also am thinking about fencing the back acres so that our goats can run far away from their little pen that they periodically escape from now.

These chores will wait until after the holidays... Until then I'll wait, making beer and hard cider for the harder part of winter to come...