That’s not a garden, that’s a rice paddy!

When it rains, it pours.

Literally! The drought of last year is officially over (I think it was officially over last month), but after last week’s torrential downpour, it is decidedly, without a doubt, over.

In less than 24 hours, 4.11 inches of rain poured down on Bramblewood Acres (and the surrounding counties of course). We had flooding. Mega flooding. The water at the lowest end of one of my pastures was nearly halfway up the fence posts and over the driveway.

We lost more of the pond. The runoff from all of the farm fields around us diverts to Bramblewood Acres and right into our pond.

The muskrats (nasty little critters) managed to weaken the spillway section of the pond dam and it collapsed a few years ago so every heavy rain we get, more of the dam erodes and the pond gets shallower.

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Image from the Bangor Daily News.

Not only does it get more shallow, but that runoff from all the fields also brings with it tons of soil, which has completely changed the landscape of the pond. We are waiting for it to go dry, because once it does, we will hopefully be able to get some earthmovers in to dredge it, deepen it and repair the dam. I think we should just blow the whole damn dam, but, I think the runoff and erosion issue would be even worse with nowhere for the water to really go once it hits our place. Plus, I kind of like having a pond (when it’s a real pond and not just a shallow mosquito bordello like it is now).

The road to our house is under several feet of water and will most likely be that way for at least another week, maybe two. Fortunately, we can still get home, we just have to take a more roundabout route. Of course, I drive home from work on autopilot and forget the road is flooded until I top the last hill leading into the bottoms and see nothing but water spread out before me. Turn around, add another 20 minutes to my commute, curse my faulty memory.

Despite the rain, my garden isn’t looking too shabby. Onions are coming up like crazy, spinach and lettuce has sprouted, too. Wildflowers are starting to pop through and I’m hoping the asparagus isn’t drowning.  I’m glad I haven’t yet put out the tomatoes and  yet because we’ve had a couple of below-freezing nights. Potatoes are waiting to go in, but, I’m not getting much planting done with the earth more soupy than earthy.

I am, however, contemplating planting rice.

Hatching Chicken Eggs: Part Two

Day eight of the new batch of eggs in the incubator and my daughter and I candled them.

Out of 41 eggs, three were not fertilized. Bad roosters! No cookies! Actually, that’s not a bad ratio at all, just not as good a fertilization rate as the last (failed) clutch. We had more questionable eggs this time, too. I don’t know why. Two had the dreaded blood line, one has a tiny crack that I didn’t notice when I put it in the incubator and four don’t look like they are growing. We tossed the unfertilized eggs and the two with blood lines, marked the questionable ones with Xs and all the others we could tell were growing with check marks.

Oddly, the two with blood lines were the two largest eggs in the whole batch. I think they come from the Brahma hens who typically lay super huge eggs. These are beyond Grade A jumbo. These were so big they may have been double, possibly even triple, yolkers. So, if that’s the case, they were bound to fail. I don’t think twin chicks happen.

We tried to take some pictures but they turned out awful. You can’t even tell what the pictures are supposed to show!

Some of the shells were so thick and dark it was hard to see any blood vessels growing in there, but we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt and hoping something is going on inside the shell.

We will candle them again in eight more days just to check on progress and get rid of any that aren’t growing. After that, we just wait. Hatch date is April 28.

Funny thing…our white Aruacana hen (the only white one of that breed I’ve ever had) started setting a clutch of eggs one day after we started the incubator.  She is setting 7, I think, all Aruacana eggs (the green and blue ones). She’s pretty nasty and adamant about not letting any one get their hands near her nest so getting a good count was rather painful. We’ll see how many she hatches out. We’ll probably snag the chicks from her shortly after hatching and keep them inside for a few weeks. The last hen that hatched eggs abandoned caring for them shortly after hatching and they all died.

Meat in the freezer

Yesterday was butchering day at Bramblewood Acres.

It’s never a pleasant task to kill an animal, but it puts humanely raised, clean meat into our freezer and we know exactly how those animals were raised and how they lived.

And we know how they died.

(No photos with this post out of consideration for those who are squeamish.)

We had 11 rabbits to send to freezer camp and butchered and prepared 7 of them. The last four got a reprieve until next weekend because we simply ran out of time. My husband and I have the whole process down to an art. He dispatches them (a .22 to the back of the head, quick and easy.) We tried other methods in the past and have found the .22 the quickest way possible for us and the rabbits never see it coming.

I skin them. My husband doesn’t have the patience to take off the skins with as little damage as possible to the hide and I like to save them as intact as practical. We have about 20 skins in the freezer waiting for tanning and curing. My daughter wants a rabbit skin blanket, so, we are saving them for that project and future skins will either be sold or saved for other projects. The hides are beautiful. Thick, lush fur in an amazing variety of colors. The winter hides are the best.

By the time I’m done skinning (I’m getting faster!), he has prepared a second rabbit for skinning and gets to work cleaning the one I just skinned while I skin the next. Once he’s done with one, into the salted ice water it goes to wait for final preparation.

And so it goes until we are done.

In the past we have either frozen the entire rabbit after cutting it up into quarters or put them all into a pot and cooked down for canning.

I have a confession: I hate bones. I cannot stand bones in my meat (any variety!) and it sets my stomach on edge if my teeth touch a bone while eating. I have to pick all the meat off a bone before I can eat it. Don’t ask why, I don’t know, but, there it is.

This time, we de-boned and filleted the hind hoppers and back and froze them. It took quite a bit more time than just cutting them up and freezing, but I think it will be worth the effort come time to cook.

The remainder of the rabbit (front legs, ribs, the bones from the back and hind hoppers after filleting which still had a bit of meat left on them) went into the stew pot where I cooked it just enough to fall off the bones then picked the meat off in chunks and froze it.

Out of 7 rabbits, we ended up with enough meat for just over 8 meals. Those were some BIG rabbits and there was zero waste (except for the bones).

Tonight some of that rabbit will become rabbit burritos. Yum! It has a similar texture to chicken, but a very different flavor. It’s a milder, sweeter, more tender meat than chicken and anything you can do with chicken, you can do better with rabbit.

Dreaming of chainsaws

Some girls want diamonds. Or new shoes, maybe a new designer bag or some jewelry.

I don’t shop at the mall…instead, I drool at the farm supply store and run my hands longingly over shiny, new power tools and equipment. (yes, I know, it’s an illness.)

This girl is seriously coveting a new chainsaw. And a tractor would be the icing on the cake. But, we’ll start small, I’ll be happy with a chainsaw. I have/had a chainsaw, but, it is a “light duty” model and has not stood up well to the chores we’ve put it through, here, on the farm. It finally gave up the ghost this fall and of course, now that it’s spring, we have a LOT of wood and trees to cut and no chainsaw to cut them with!

Winter was not kind to my trails in the woods and we lost several trees….right across the trails. I have plans for that wood (which involves a natural fence, many climbing rose bushes and a plethora of native wildflowers) and would like to get to work getting it cut and out of the woods before the leaves and poison ivy are in full bloom. Naked woods make the work easier.  Plus, there are a few more trails I’d like to add, and that requires a chainsaw. I COULD use a handsaw, and I’ve resorted to using a handsaw in some cases, but honestly? It’s more work than I’m willing to do!

I’ve managed to plant 24 asparagus crowns and some more lavender and herbs, but, in doing so, I must now face a problem head on. A problem I’ve been able to ignore over the years.

The problem is the chickens. I love my chickens. I love watching them and talking to them and I love the freedom they have at the farm. They keep the bugs in check and keep the horse manure in the pastures manageable. They also hunt mice, snakes, moles and voles, so they are paying for their keep not only in eggs and meat, but in pest control, too.

What I don’t love is their incessant, destructive scratching and dust-bathing in EVERYTHING. And that includes my herb bed. The flowers, I don’t mind so much. But the herbs are tender and we use them and those darn chickens scratch and rip them right out of the ground without a care in the world. So, I have to figure out a way to keep them out without putting up big, ugly, metal chicken wire or mesh. I’m on the hunt for a light, plastic-type netting/fence than can easily be put up around those beds. If I can find what I’m looking for, that will be added to the ever-growing list of projects I must get done.

As the dirt warms

Ahhh, yes. That time of year has finally arrived. I’ve spent the last three weeks chomping at the bit to get out into the gardens and get busy. Now, it’s here and I’m busy! I’ve never been one of those people who can sit still for very long. I can’t barely sit through an entire movie so winter is usually torture for me. I scrub walls and cabinets, ceilings and light fixtures because I cannot just sit and do nothing. Let’s just say, by the time spring rolls around, there isn’t much left to “spring clean” in my house.

Thank goodness for that, though, because if I had to spring clean my house, it wouldn’t get done. I’ve been busy, busy creating new beds, preparing old ones for new plantings and planting. So far, I have carrots, onions, romaine lettuce, a mesclun lettuce mix, spinach and 24 new asparagus crowns in the ground. Doesn’t seem like much, when typed, but in the ground, that’s a lot of space to prep and plant. And, that’s only the veggies. I’ve also prepped and planted three new wildflower beds, a sunflower bed, marigolds, lavender and a hummingbird/butterfly/bee garden. Four more of those left to prep and plant, along with the rest of the veggies. I won’t put tomatoes, peppers or eggplant into the ground for a couple more weeks, but potatoes, beans, summer squash and new herbs will be going in this weekend and early next week.

We started a new clutch of eggs Sunday, and between the new incubator fan and upgraded thermometer/hygrometer I’m hoping we get a hatch this time. We candle for the first time in 6 days then again a week later. Then, cross fingers, eyes and toes and hope for the best! I read that incubating eggs is part art, part science, and I have to agree. Successful momma chickens just rose a few notches in my admiration book!

Sometimes, it’s heartbreaking

None of the eggs hatched. I gave them til Saturday and when I opened the incubator to remove them, the smell was incredible. I’m going to say they died in the shells. I think what may have happened is, since my hatch date was off by a couple of days and the temperature wasn’t high enough, I stopped turning them too soon.

If you stop turning the eggs, the embryos stick to the shell, and if they stick, they can’t move to peck their way out of the shell.

It’s very, very disheartening and disappointing. But, we will try again. I picked up a fan for the incubator yesterday and got a new thermometer with a hygrometer on it to keep close tabs on the humidity AND the temperature. Having a fan to keep the warm air circulating is supposed to increase the hatch rate, too.

It’s heartbreaking to lose any animal, and we’ve lost quite a few. I can’t even tell you how many chickens we’ve lost over the years to predators – hawks, fox, coyote and raccoons – and every loss is hard. Last year, my vegetable garden was a failure, for the most part, some plants never made it to fruiting due to the extreme drought and heat and we had to make a choice: Water the vegetable plants or water the animals. Our well had gone dry, twice, so the garden had to die because we had to go to a very strict water use regimen. There was nothing I could do but watch all my plants, all that work and sweat and time, dry up and die.

Very disheartening.

But, you keep pressing forward. If I gave up after a loss, I might as well pack it up and move to an apartment.

Trying to be self-sustaining is no walk in the park. It’s hard, sweaty, often back-breaking work, it’s time-consuming, and sometimes, heartbreaking and disappointing. But, you learn, you make changes or improvements and you keep moving forward, striving to do better the next time. This is a lifestyle I have chosen and I love it, I love the work and the satisfaction of a job done well.

With every disappointment, every heartbreak, there is always something that keeps me going and reminds me how lucky I am and how wonderful this life I’ve chosen is.

ImageBecause sometimes, there ARE new babies to welcome into the world. One of our does, Pumpkin, had a strong, healthy litter of eight.

And, there are always fresh eggs.ImageWhich means there is always the chance for more chicks.

Family Time

How do you spend a Saturday night as a family?

We sit around the table and clean guns.

Everyone is responsible for cleaning his/her own gun.

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning the WingmasterEven me! We spent a few hours shooting clays (another way to spend quality time as a family), and those firearms were filthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kayleigh concentratesKayleigh really got in there and cleaned hers good. She learned how to remove the whole trigger mechanism and clean it without smashing her fingers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

PreppingWrapping the cleaning rag around the bore rod.

 

 

 

 

 

Cleaning the barrelIt takes some muscle and effort to get that rod shoved into the barrel and clean things good.

Now, we’re ready to go the next time we decide to spend an afternoon shooting clays.