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.

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Itching to plant

The 2013 gardening season is here.

Oh sure, there is still some snow on the ground, a chill in the air and every square inch of Bramblewood Acres is a boggy, soggy, swampy mess, but no doubt about it, it’s time to get planting.

For the first time ever, I am completely ready for spring planting. I have all my seeds, all my equipment and have even started a garden log. I am ready to GROW!

I have started tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, a variety of herbs, and eggplant. Each one I logged into my book on the date planted, the variety, and the number of plants started. I will log again when they germinate and the date I plant and harvest for each variety.

I’ll be starting several flowers this year, too. So much cheaper to grow your own than buy them already grown.

I even have my garden plan on paper this year, something I’ve never done before. I’ve always been a “yep, this looks like a good spot” kind of gardener. And every year, mid-season when all the plants are big and producing, I realize I planted things WAY TOO CLOSE to each other. I couldn’t get down my tomato rows last year they were so close. This year, that won’t happen. I have everything measured out, the number of plants estimated and beds plotted according to how well each plant “gets along” with another.

Doing this made me realize I need more garden space! So, as soon as I can get out there without sinking up to my hips in boggy, sticky mud, we’ll be moving fence and adding quite a bit more space.

Last year, I had several varieties fail. But, I can’t remember which varieties did well and which did not. I’d prefer not to continue to grow plants that will fail so this season I will be tracking everything, from plant vigor to production. It’s a waste of time, money and precious gardening space to plant varieties that don’t do well. I had too many of some plants (OMG, cherry tomatoes out my ears. I started feeding them to the chickens we had so many!) and not enough of others. We definitely needed more green beans and more spinach.

We lost one ornamental tree and a pear tree during last year’s drought, and I’m hoping to be able to replace both of those and add a couple of apple and plum trees.

I’ll also start an asparagus bed this year. I’ve never grown asparagus before, and I know it’s a long-living plant, but it might be trial and error. I haven’t decided yet where to put the bed, but it’s location is going to have to be well-considered and well-placed due to it’s expected longevity. Close to the house, too. If you place edibles too far from the house (as I did with my strawberries. Huge mistake. Birds, bunnies and squirrels got to them before I could), you tend to forget about them.

So, here’s to a bigger, better, more productive garden this year. I’m off to a good start!

Year-end roundup

We got through the summer, despite the heat and drought. We had to have water hauled out to refill our dry well a few times, but thankfully we saw some rain raise the water table towards the end of summer. Too late to save my squash and melon and bean plants from turning to crispy bits of formerly living things.

I canned what I could: Several quarts of tomatoes, tomato sauce, peaches, rabbit stew and shredded rabbit (mmmm!) and chicken broth. We harvested many huge, tasty, sweet potatoes and a bucketful of late season turnips. The late-season beets did not do well and the late-season spinach did not produce enough to bother with. My garden is currently wintering beneath a layer of rabbit manure mulch and garden leftovers, waiting for the first bite of the tiller to dig in as soon as the ground is warm enough to get out there.

We are in the middle of winter now, and so far, it has been significantly milder than I expected. We’ve had some moisture, not much. We’ve had a few below-freezing days, but not many. I am worried this could be a precursor to a dry, warm spring and another hot, dry summer.

I think I will approach keeping my garden watered a bit differently this year. I learned the hard way that the overhead watering system (a sprinkler) cannot compete with dry, windy conditions and the plants fail. This year, I think I will invest in a good quantity of soaker hose and nestle the hose near the neediest plants. I am also going to reduce the number of tomato varieties this year. We had WAY too many cherry tomatoes and not enough good, meaty canning/eating tomatoes.

The spring seed catalogues have begun arriving and I am drooling and ready to start ordering. But before I do, I need to sit down and design my garden, decide what I’m going to plant and where, maybe try some companion planting this year. I do know that although I thought it was big enough last year, I need to add a few more feet this spring. And cattle panels will make better vining bean supports than strings between posts. For sure.

What are your “must have” veggie plants?

A few things have happened since I last posted (forever ago, I know!)

1. I got married to a good ole farm boy who has no problem doing some of the heavy lifting around here.

2. I somehow managed to acquire two more horses, bringing my herd up to five plus one boarder. Six horses takes a lot more time to care for than three! Just sayin’.

3. We started breeding/raising/butchering rabbits. We are working on perfecting the process so we can make the venture worthwhile. So far the meat we’ve gotten from the rabbits is yummy, but about as pricey as a filet mignon, pound for pound. I’m working on ways to reduce our costs (feeding), otherwise, it’s just not worth it. I would also like to figure out how to market them, and that requires some FDA research. I’m not sure if we can sell them dressed, or live only.

4. There are more than 20 homegrown, free-range chickens in my freezer. I will be doing the chicken-raising venture again! Aside from the initial expense of buying the broiler chicks and feeding them a high-protein diet for the first few weeks of life, the meat and effort was definitely worth the end result.

5. I’m down to only about 20 egg-layers, so much for having enough to sell some of the eggs. We get more than enough eggs to keep us well-fed, but not enough to sell. If I get a good broody hen this spring, I’m going to let her set and see what we get.

Still digging away…

I think we have the raccoon problem solved for now. And all it took was adding a different lock to the chicken yard door. No more fatalities since the additional lock was added and the chicks are all now free-ranging during the day and LOVING it. The adult chickens are still terrorizing the turkey chicks, but, the turkeys are growing fast and I think they’ll be turning that aggression back on the chickens before long. Hoping for peace in the coop sooner rather than later! I’ve never had this problem before and I don’t really know what the issue is. The turkeys and chickens have always gotten along in the past, but for some reason, my adult chickens, really, really don’t like the turkeys this year. They killed one of them early on when it was still fairly small and have bloodied the heads of the remaining chicks. The pecking is lessening as the turkeys get older, so that’s a good sign.

I managed to get the rest of the peppers planted, 17 in all, all of the tomatoes are in (25 plants, egads!) and all of the sweet potato starts are in the ground and looking pretty good (18 of those sweet little things). The peas are looking fabulous, the replanted swiss chard is coming back up and I picked up and got planted two purple cabbages because The Man requested cabbage and I didn’t start any this year. So, those are his I also got all the herbs I started in the ground. If the basil does well this year we will have endless quantities of pesto to make and put up for the winter. Yum!

All I have left to get in are cucumbers, melons, squash, zucchini, beets (a really late start on those!), butter beans and another section of spinach.

I’m hoping (planning) to get it done this weekend, the weather willing! I’ve managed to go through more than half of my compost so I picked up of a couple of bales of straw to cover the garden paths with (weed discouragement and moisture/soil retention). I usually put compost on the paths, not straw, but apparently my garden dreams are bigger than my compost pile this year!

Who needs health class? We have a farm!

We spent part of Saturday and Sunday breeding rabbits.

Down to our last package of rabbit from the last round of breeding, I decided it was probably time to get those bunnies producing. I wasn’t quite sure how well it would go because we needed to “break in” a new, young buck. Last month he showed no interest in the does and didn’t really know what to do, so, nothing got done.

What a difference a month makes! Fudge (a New Zealand/Flemish Giant cross) knew EXACTLY what he was expected to do and hopefully was able to get three of our does successfully bred. Cookie, Misty and Applesauce were bred. Cross your fingers that they took!

Apparently, breeding three does is quite exhausting for a buck. We gave Fudge a couple hours break between breedings just so he could catch his breath as he was quite enthusiastic about the process once he figured it out. We repeated the whole process Sunday, just to increase our chances of pregnant does.

We have four does, but only bred three because the fourth one is being treated for ear mites. Fortunately, the mites are confined to just her right now and I didn’t want to risk passing it on to the buck or any of the other other does. It’s enough of a pain in the butt to treat just one, much less four more.

Kayleigh helped with the whole process, retrieving the does from their hutches and delivering them to Fudge’s house, then pulling them back out and putting them back in their own homes with a big handful of fresh clover as a reward. She’s pretty excited about being a “grandma” to new kits once her doe, Misty, kindles, but understands they aren’t going to be pets. She’s more excited about adding a few more rabbit pelts to her collection with the ultimate goal of making a rabbit pelt blanket.

She watched the breedings, laughing at Fudge when he couldn’t figure out which end was the “proper” end of the doe and encouraging him through the whole process. She knows what’s going on, not just with the rabbits, but with the chickens, too, when the rooster gets particularly randy with the hens. Her reproductive education has been pretty explicit, out here, on the farm.

Which is a darn good thing, in my eyes.