Oh winter, I’ll be glad to bid this one goodbye. It started out as a fairly uneventful winter, busy with work and the holidays, but still a pretty good one. We had a near miss with an attempted hawk attack which thankfully the turkeys alerted me to just in time for me to run out and scare the hawk away. The weather had been mild, and it looked like spring was right around the corner. I was thinking of starting my seeds in the greenhouse, and I even spent an afternoon doing some weeding in the garden. Then a few weeks ago things went downhill in a hurry. We’ve got quite a few elderly ladies in our chicken flock, many of our girls are coming up on seven years old this spring, the last survivors of the two dozen chicks we got when we expanded our flock in 2012 after moving to the farm. When the girls come back into laying eggs in the late winter/early spring after taking a few months off from laying eggs, it is unfortunately not all that uncommon for reproductive problems to rear their head at this time of year. Twitchy was the first one that I noticed was unwell. She had lost weight and one day I found her hiding in one of the nest boxes with one of her eyes swollen shut and a bloody comb from being pecked. I isolated her in our small spare coop to heal, and after a couple of days I began to see blood in the coop, a surprising amount and I knew her fate wasn’t good. I treated her for a common parasite known to cause intestinal bleeding, but it didn’t cure the problem. I suspected either she either ate something that she shouldn’t have, or possibly an egg broke inside her, or maybe she had cancer. Whatever it was, it took her quickly and for that at least I am thankful.
After that things settled down again for a bit. We had some cold weather that kept me indoors so I spent some time learning about sourdough starter after acquiring some from a friend. Antonio Bread-eras and I baked some very tasty treats including our new breakfast favorite sourdough pancakes, as well as blueberry muffins, bread, and even pretzels. I finally made time to do the feather wreath project I had been wanting to make for a few years with my ever growing and embarrassingly large feather collection. I packaged seeds that I had saved from last years garden and participated in a seed swap. And of course I was busy as always making soap, including getting a few new pretty floral varieties of soap, lotion bars, and lotions stocked in my web store for Valentine’s Day.
Then a couple of weeks ago I noticed that one of our back deck bantam chickens, Pepa, was acting a bit off. She was breathing heavily at times and just not acting her normal self. After trying to treat her with a couple of over the counter medicines for respiratory ailments with no success, I took her to the vet. Not every chicken at the farm goes to the vet when they get sick, in fact these days it’s rare for me to go to the vet. Over the years I’ve learned which types of things I can cure at home and which things are likely fatal, and in all honesty in those situations, despite the vet’s and my best intentions and best of care you just cannot save them from all too many things. But Pepa was special, and although I wasn’t sure what was wrong, I still felt like she had a chance. After she spent six days at the vet, it became clear that they didn’t know what was wrong and weren’t having any luck treating her. I called to let the vet know that I was going to come in to get her and take her home. At the last minute the vet decided to do an x-ray which revealed that she had egg yolk peritonitis, a fatal condition where a loose egg yolk is floating around in the abdomen causing serious infection with no way to treat it. In Pepa’s case the vet said it looked like she maybe had four eggs that had gotten off track and had broken in her abdomen causing her digestive system to basically shut down. The vet gave me some painkillers for her and said good luck. Of course I immediately burst into tears before I even got back to the car. Less than 24 hours after bringing Pepa home, she was gone.
A couple of days after that, Pepa’s best friend Millie began to go downhill. I had noticed that Millie had been limping a bit and that her appetite wasn’t very good, but I just figured she may be a bit depressed about living with a rambunctious rooster and that she possibly had gotten slightly injured as a result. But then I noticed symptoms of a reproductive problem in Millie. One day her legs stopped working right, and she couldn’t hold herself upright. I moved her into the mudroom in a small crate and cared for her as best I could. At first I tried giving her liquid vitamins, electrolytes and nutrient rich liquid food to boost her strength. But for a pint-sized sick chicken that little lady sure had a lot of fight in her! She didn’t have an appetite, and she absolutely hated being force fed. I didn’t have the heart to fight her, so I let her go. I kept her as comfortable as I could, but in a couple of days she was gone, less than a week after Pepa. The loss of these two sweet little bantams hit me hard. There was just something about their tiny fluffy bodies that held such spunky and larger than life personalities that gave them an extra special place in my heart. In the middle of all of this, on a warm sunny day when the beehives should have been active but weren’t, I opened up both beehives for a quick inspection to discover they both had died. One was a smaller colony that never seemed to really thrive, but the other hive was a strong one, and I’m not sure what the cause of death of that one was. I’ve ordered a new package of bees for April, and we will start again this spring.
I told myself that I wasn’t going to write yet another sad blog, and now I’ve gone and done it anyway. Sorry about that, most days are usually happy ones here on the farm. I guess it’s just these sad days that I feel like I need to write about in order to put them behind me. So now I just want winter and the sadness to go away, and to get back to the warm days of spring, when the air is filled with the promise of things to come and new life on the farm. We’ll be getting a dozen new chicks in the next few weeks, so I’m looking forward to bringing a big dose of joy to the farm soon, and I promise the next post will be a happy one.
We’ve had so much going on at the farm that the end of summer and fall just flew by this year! A big project that has been ongoing for much of the year is the building of a hobby workshop behind our house which my husband is building himself except for the pouring of the concrete foundation which we hired a contractor to do. The photo below is one from several months ago while the building was being framed. The building is now entirely walled in, with doors, windows and a roof. The siding will be going up next, and I’ll be sharing more photos of the progress soon. It will be really exciting to have this new building since I always have multiple projects competing for space in the house during the spring and summer between cleaning and storing garden harvests, canning, sorting and packing eggs, and making products for my soap and lotion business. I’m already looking forward to spreading out in luxury next year in our new 600 square foot space. My husband will also use it for practicing drums, and since it will have a full bathroom, almost fully functional kitchen (minus a stove), and a wood stove I’m sure we’ll use it for other things too.
As is usual with the farm life, we had times of both happiness and sorrow with the chicken and turkey flock. All three of the new silkie chickens that I added to the flock this spring turned out to be roosters, and so I had to move them from the back deck bantam chicken coop down to the turkey yard in order to give the bantam ladies a break from too many roosters. Unfortunately it was only a few days of the silkie roosters being down in the turkey yard before a weasel discovered them and killed one of the white silkies. I should have had a more secure nighttime setup for the silkies, but we had not had any issues with the weasel since the summer before, and I had thought that those days were behind us. After the attack, I began bringing the two remaining silkie roos into the more secure spare chicken coop in the backyard at night, and in the day I would bring them back down to the turkey yard where they had their own separate fenced area to keep them safe from the turkeys while they got used to each other. After a few weeks of this routine, they turkeys accepted that these strange looking little fluff balls were their new roommates and were not to be chased for entertainment, well for the most part that is, which is about as much as you can hope for with turkeys!
As dusk began to fall earlier around Halloween, the weasel struck again, and this time it was my beloved Baby Stardust who we lost. Baby Stardust was one of three baby chicks that I gave to Spaceship Turkey momma to raise last summer. One of Stardust’s siblings died at a few days old, and the other sibling was killed by the weasel as a young chicken last summer. So Stardust lived her life with the turkeys, never learning that she was a chicken and that she should do things like go into the chicken coop at night for her safety. I put Stardust to bed in the coop every night, and on the few nights I was away on vacation we always had a chicken sitter put her in. It must have been close to 500 times that I put her in the coop. Every night before dusk I would go down to the turkey yard, and she would run up to me grumbling in her cute little way, as if to tell me she’d been waiting for me, and I’d pick her up and carry her into the coop, telling her she really should get the hang of this any day now. On the fateful night, we had gone out to dinner and darkness fell before we got home. As soon as we came up the driveway I knew something was wrong because all of the turkeys were huddled on the ground instead of being up on their roost. I’ve only seen them on the ground after dark like this on nights when there’s been a predator attack or on the night right after an attack. Baby was lying dead in the yard, and upon reviewing the video footage from the security camera in the turkey yard, we could tell that it was a weasel that attacked her within the half hour before we got home. It was heartbreaking to lose this one of a kind lady, who had a spunky personality that was larger than life and who lived her life to the fullest among the turkeys.
Back to the happier times at the farm, my favorite turkey lady Pumpkin Pie is doing great after a scare during the summer when she suffered from a serious case of internal egg laying. She spent almost a week at the vet’s office recovering and getting a hormone implant to prevent her from laying eggs. I am thankful for every day that I get to spend with Miss PP after coming so close to losing her. It was a great year in the garden, and with a mild start to fall I was harvesting tomatoes, peppers, squash, and eggplant later than ever before. I planted a few veggies late in the summer for a fall garden which I have long wanted to do but never seem to get around to. I planted a fall crop of potatoes and turnips which both did very well, and it will be nice to have some additional vegetables in storage for roasting through the winter. The fall plantings of broccoli and cauliflower did not mature quick enough to yield anything before the cold weather arrived, so that was a bust. I’ve still got carrots and radishes in the ground which I don’t think matured quite enough either, although I haven’t actually pulled them up to check, so I guess I should go check on them soon and see how they did. But all in all, I’m really happy to know that I can grow two crops of potatoes a year since that’s one of my favorite things to store through the winter.
As we head into winter it’s already time to start dreaming of spring and making plans for adding new chicks to the farm. Many of our chickens will be coming up on seven years old next year! We still have several of the two dozen chickens that we got in 2012 when we got the first batch of chicks for the farm including Twitchy, Squeeky 2, Reina, Buttercup, Jumpy, Other One, and two unnamed speckled Sussex. Most of these older ladies are still doing well, but a few are showing signs of their age and I fear that Twitchy is in her last days or weeks with us. But for the most part it is amazing how well these ladies have aged and I hope that most of them will stay with us a while longer. Our flock matriarch Raquel will be nine years old next March, she is still doing well and keeping everyone in line with her swift beak and keen sense of justice. But these ladies are definitely slowing down in the egg laying department, and most of the rest of our chickens are a few years old too, so we need to add some new chickens to our flock to keep up a steady flow of eggs. I would like to add more chickens in with the turkeys to give the two silkie roosters a few more ladies to keep them occupied, although before doing that I probably need to downsize the turkey flock a bit. We’ve gone from the initial plan of just keeping a tom and two females when we started a few years ago to having 13 turkeys now. They are so charismatic in a bigger flock, and the turkey eggs are so beautiful and fun to collect that I have enjoyed having a big flock of turkey hens too much to sell any of them. But I think I do need to make a few changes next year, and luckily I still have all winter to figure it out.
It’s been a whirlwind of a summer with lots of time spent watering, watering, and more watering due to our record setting heat waves and number of days above 90 degrees this year. There have also been baby chicks and baby turkey poults to take care of as well as the rest of the flock, sorting and collecting eggs to sell, a few chicken and turkey poult injuries to tend to, and I’m sure a few other farm emergencies that I’m forgetting about. But there’s also been time to have some fun this summer, including entering the county and state fair. I missed the county fair last summer due to having too much going on to get entries ready, but this year I made it a priority to enter, and I’m so glad that I did. Two years ago I entered a few canned goods and some of my eggs in the county fair, and I won a few ribbons which was fun. This year I decided to up my game and I entered a ton of stuff, as in 40 things!! I love flower gardening, and I do have a pretty nice flower garden, so I decided to enter about a dozen kinds of my perennial flowers. I also entered a couple of dozen different kinds of agricultural products including vegetables, herbs, eggs, and honey. Jams, jellies, and pickles rounded out my entries. On fair day we went to the floral building first, and when I saw the big rosette Reserve Best of Division ribbon on my ‘Kent’s Beauty’ oregano I started jumping up and down like a schoolgirl. Yup, I did. And I clapped my hands too, and then I jumped up and down some more! I got first, second, and third place ribbons for all of my floral entries except for one. I was off to a good start, and we headed to the agricultural building.
My vegetables, herbs, eggs, and canned goods all did really well, and I’m afraid I had another spell of jumping and hand clapping when I saw that my largest potato entry had won a Reserve Grand Champion rosette ribbon! All in all I came home with 35 ribbons, mostly blues, and a few second and third place ribbons too. They also award small cash prizes for each ribbon, so I came home with $54 in prize money too, not too shabby! I definitely am going to enter the county fair next year, as I think I may just be addicted to the adrenaline rush of those big rosette ribbons!
The state fair was a month later, and I only entered a dozen things because by that time my summer flowers were fading with all of the heat we’d been having, and also the categories are different. The state fair doesn’t have any categories for eggs, I mean come on, what’s more exciting than eggs people, sheesh! I won 9 ribbons at the state fair, none of those big rosette ribbons, but my largest potato did get a blue ribbon which I was super happy about because we have some really great agricultural regions in Oregon, and there were quite a few impressive giant vegetables on display. I didn’t win ribbons for my watermelon jelly or my blueberry-lemon-basil jam which is kind of a mystery because they were mighty fine looking and tasting if I do say so myself. 🙂 When we pick up our exhibits we’ll get the scoring cards so that may answer a few questions. All in all it was a lot of fun, and I’m glad I made time to enter the fairs. Sadly I think the fairs may become a thing of the past in the not too distant future. I’ve heard rumors of low attendance and fewer entrants, and some fairs in the urbanizing parts of the state are even doing away with the 4-H exhibits in the fair due to low participation rates. Times are a changing, but for now I’m gonna enjoy farm living while our county is still rural and the big city is still an hour away.
I’m sure you can tell by now that it’s been a great year in the garden here at the farm. I’ve been putting away as many fruits and veggies for winter as I have time to. There are plenty of pickles, jams and jelly for us and for gifts for friends and family. The freezer is getting full with roasted peppers, roasted tomatoes, and pesto. The pantry is full of potatoes, onions, and garlic. My three sisters corn-beans-squash experimental planting is doing pretty well. We have several ears of corn developing, and each new tassel and baby ear that appears gives me an inexplicable thrill. There’s just something so jaunty about those baby corns with the little floofy bundle of silks on top! I’m growing some different heirloom tomatoes this year from seed swaps I participated in, and we’ve got some gigantic Black Krim tomatoes just starting to ripen that are so fun to harvest. The largest one weighed in at 1 pound 5 ounces (yeah, I’m that weird person who weighs everything, from large vegetables to giant eggs). We’ve been eating some great meals from the garden this year thanks to a new cookbook that I was gifted by a friend who knew I needed some new inspiration for how to use all of our fresh veggies. The cookbook is called Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, and I highly recommend it. I’ve had so much fun in the garden this year that I decided to grow a fall garden too, which is something I don’t usually get around to. So far I’ve got another crop of seed potatoes in the ground, as well as small patches of broccoli, cauliflower, turnips, carrots, radish, collard, and spinach. We do have a marauding rabbit that’s been getting past our vegetable garden fence lately and chowing down on the rhubarb leaves (which I thought was supposed to be toxic so go figure), anyway fingers crossed that it doesn’t run out of rhubarb and turn its attentions to my tiny seedlings! Thanks to those of you that still read blogs out there, 🙂 and I’ll try to be better about posting more regularly now that things are getting a bit less busy at the farm as summer winds down.
Now that warmer spring days are finally here, I’ve been spending more time gardening which is one thing that I really miss in the winter. I see my friends on social media who live in warmer climates gardening all through the winter and getting their spring plants in the ground way before I can plant most things in our climate, and by this time of year I can’t wait to get my hands back into the dirt. I transplanted some of the cool season veggies from the greenhouse into the garden a few weeks ago, and they are now at the stage where every day you can almost see them growing. Every weekend I have been planting more of the raised beds, and it’s finally starting to look like a garden again. Most importantly, my absolute favorite thing to grow – the tomatoes – that were transplanted into larger pots while waiting for warmer temperatures are now almost big enough to be planted out into the garden. I planted seeds for the last batch of the warm season veggies last weekend, including some beautiful bean seeds (Jacob’s cattle gold bean and good mother stallard bean) as well as some black corn and popcorn seeds. These are all new things I’m trying this year that I received in seed swaps that I participated in. I also planted several varieties of flower seeds that I received from trading with friends over the last few months that I’m excited to have in the garden this year including zinnia, cosmos, poppies, coral sage, and a milkweed “Hairy Balls” variety that sounds pretty interesting!
Our six baby chicks that we got a couple of months ago are doing well and growing up fast. They are living in a screened off section of the coop that they will eventually share with Millie and Pepa when they get a big enough that they won’t be picked on too much by Pepa. Millie has already fallen in love with the chicks, so she is allowed to spend much of her day in with the chicks. Millie is a silkie breed of chicken, which is known for being excellent mothers and they are often used to hatch eggs laid by other chickens because of their excellent mothering instincts and their desire to go broody and hatch eggs. For a couple of weeks Millie would watch the baby chicks on the other side of the divider we placed in the coop to keep the chicks separate and safe from the larger chickens. Then one day Millie started making all sorts of cute mother hen sounds toward the chicks and acted like she really wanted to get in with the baby chicks. So I let her in under a watchful eye, and she adopted them pretty much instantly. She calls them over for treats and watches over them just as if she had hatched them herself. Pepa on the other hand is more interested in chasing the chicks than befriending them, so for now Pepa has to stay on the other side of the divider while Millie plays momma hen. I was pleasantly surprised that of the three Mille Fleur d’Uccle chicks we got, only one is a boy and two are girls. They are turning out to be beautiful birds with very sweet dispositions. It’s still too early to tell the sex of the silkie chicks, they are notoriously hard to tell the boys from the girls until four to six months old or until they crow so we still have a couple of months to go before we’ll know how many boys and girls we have.
In turkey news, it wasn’t too long ago that I was wishing that one of our turkey hens would go broody so that I could give her some eggs to hatch. Well it seems like I went from having zero broody turkeys to four broody turkeys in a matter of days! Two turkeys went broody in the small vacant coop that we use for hatching turkeys, so that was perfect. I gave them a dozen eggs to hatch, although several have been broken or rejected over the last two weeks, so now they are currently only sitting on seven eggs. This is actually fine because we don’t really NEED any more turkeys, I just love the experience of watching a momma turkey raise her babies so much that I like to do it every year. Almost immediately after the first two broody turkeys took up residence in the small coop, two other turkeys decided to go broody in the spaceship – which is a repurposed stainless steel dishwasher tub that is a very popular egg laying destination for whatever reason. With the spaceship now occupied I decided to add a new wooden nest box right next to it in the hopes that the non-broody turkeys would have another option for laying their eggs, but do you think it’s been used even once? Nope! Such is the way of turkeys, you can never predict what they will like or what they will do. Which of course is one of the reasons that they are so fun to have on the farm. Unfortunately, Eleanor who has hatched eggs for us in the past and is a great momma decided to go broody in the spaceship which is not big enough to hatch chicks safely so I didn’t give her eggs to hatch this year. We’ll have new turkey mommas this year, which hopefully will work out okay. The breed of turkeys we have is also known for being good mothers, so hopefully on May 19 we will have a new little turkey family.
Ahhh spring, it’s finally here! Although we are still having lots of cool, rainy days, there are plenty of things to be excited about at the farm. I started planting seeds in the greenhouse a couple of months ago, and the cool season veggie starts are finally large enough to start planting outside. So far I’ve planted a few peas, kale, broccoli, spinach, and onions. I have potatoes ready to go outside as well as pac choi, Swiss chard, lettuce, and leeks as soon as we get another decent gardening weather day. I participated in a couple of seed swaps in the last several months, and I received a ton of veggie seeds that I’m excited about. Some are different varieties of things that I usually grow like tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, and some are things that I don’t usually grow but I am going to grow this year since I’ve received so many interesting varieties. Some of the new things I’ll be growing this year include Chinese red meat radish, carrots, cauliflower, several varieties of beans, some new squash varieties, and corn. Of course I’m not sure where I’ll find room to plant everything, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out as I go.
The chicks we got last month are doing well and growing up fast. For the first month they were kept in a brooder in my home office. As they grow up, they start scratching around in the pine shavings more and more, and they kick up a lot of dust. So when I noticed a fine layer of dust suddenly appeared on every surface in the house, and my husband’s asthma started acting up, it was time for the littles to move to the outdoor coop. They made the transition well, and they live in one side of the back deck coop that our grown bantam chickens live in. There is a divider separating the chicks from the grown chickens, so that they can see each other and grow accustomed to each other, but the big chickens cannot pick on the chicks, at least for now. We’ll keep them separated for another month or so until they are close to the same size, and then we will remove the divider and integrate the two age groups.
We had some sad news at the farm a few weeks ago, when we bid farewell to one of the founding members of the 5R Farm flock, my sweet Easter egger Rosie. She would have been eight years old in June. Rosie was shy and sweet, and she always made me smile with her adorable fluffy face. She laid a beautiful green egg that knocked my socks off every time. She had been in a slow decline for several months, and I made the difficult decision to help her cross over to the chicken farm in the sky when I knew in my heart that it was time to let her go. We’ve had a lot of crushing losses over the last several months as our oldest flock members reach the end of a chicken’s natural lifespan. Six to eight years is considered a long life for a chicken, but I’ve had friends with chickens that lived as long as 10 and 14 years. I hope that we will be so lucky with some of our remaining favorite ladies.
The longer days mean that the chickens and turkeys have resumed laying eggs after their winter break from egg laying. It’s so nice to be getting our beautiful mix of light and dark brown and green chicken eggs, and the big beautiful speckled turkey eggs are always especially fun to collect. The turkeys that we hatched last year are now entering their first year of egg laying, and it’s always kind of funny to see where the new layers will lay their eggs. It’s not uncommon to see an egg lying in a random spot on the ground in the turkey yard. One turkey decided to start laying her eggs underneath the chicken coop, and it took me a week or so to spot them. I had to crawl on my belly under the coop and use a hoe to pull them out, but it was worth it for these beautiful eggs. Thankfully, she is not laying regularly under the coop, although I will find an egg under there every once in a while. Collecting turkey eggs can feel like going on a scavenger hunt at times, and I have to look in every possible nook and cranny to be sure I’m finding them all. I’m not sure if my favorite turkey Pumpkin Pie has started laying yet, but if she hasn’t it won’t be long now as I just saw Ringo getting romantic with her a week ago. I can’t believe my little Miss PP is all grown up and is a full grown lady already!
After months of the chickens spending most of their time hunkered down in their coops from the cold and the wind and the rain, they are finally spending more time outside nibbling on grass and hunting for bugs. From late fall through winter, most of the ladies take a vacation from egg laying. I stop selling eggs, and I hoard the eggs that I’ve stashed to get us through the winter. Now with the days starting to get longer, a handful of the ladies are finally starting to lay eggs this year. It will be interesting to see how many eggs the ladies lay per week this year because their egg production drops off as they age, and our flock is rather heavily weighted toward old biddies! Despite trying to add new chicks several times last summer, we only ended up with two new laying hens this spring. One is Pippi, who is on the cover of this post, and the other is Baby Stardust who was raised by Spaceship Turkey Momma last summer. When young hens first start to lay eggs, their eggs are often a bit on the small side, so although these two young ladies are laying pretty green and pink eggs I am saving these to eat ourselves due to their small size. About half of our two dozen hens will be six years old next month. These are the ladies that remain from the two dozen chicks we bought when we first added chickens to the farm, and of course that also means that half of them are no longer with us, having gone up to that chicken farm in the sky from various causes over the years. We also still have two of our original hens from 2010 and the founding members of 5R Farm, Raquel and Rosie. We had a heartbreaking loss at the farm last week when my favorite rooster Ramon passed away. He was a bit off the last couple of weeks, and I found him dead in the coop one morning. So now we’re down to just one rooster, Brown Rooster, and it sure is quiet in the mornings without Ramon and Reuben joining in the morning chorus. Brown Rooster does a good job watching over his ladies, but Ramon was such a fabulous rooster in so many ways that I really am going to miss him. I wish there would have been a way for me to keep Lucky the Rooster that the turkeys hatched last summer, but I just did not have the right housing situation for him at the time so I rehomed him for his own safety.
The turkeys are doing well, and little miss Pumpkin Pie has grown up into a fine young lady. She will probably start laying eggs within the next few weeks along with her turkey sisters, aunts, and momma. We have eight turkey hens this year, so in all likelihood I’ll be selling just as many turkey eggs as chicken eggs this year since our turkeys are younger than most of our chickens and will therefore be laying more eggs per week than many of our chickens. I’m planning to hatch another batch of turkeys this year since it is such a wonderful experience. Although I’d like to add more chickens so that I have more chicken eggs to sell, we probably will hold off on adding more chickens until next year because we have a backyard construction project planned for this year which will likely limit the amount of space we have for the chickens and will involve a lot of large equipment and loud noises, things that don’t really go well with adding new chickens. In preparation for the building project, Sean rented an excavator for a day and dug out four large stumps from the backyard. It was quite exciting, but thankfully when all was said and done there wasn’t too much of a muddy mess and the chickens got some new bare dirt to hunt for bugs in which they found made it all quite worthwhile.
I got the greenhouse cleaned up and started the first seeds of the year – lettuce, spinach, New Zealand spinach, Swiss chard, pac choi, kale, snow peas, broccoli, and some flowers for the bee garden. Every fall I try to save seeds from several of our late blooming flowering plants here at the farm, so that I can add a few more pollinator plants to the garden every year. We’ve got several garden projects planned to help with pest prevention in the veggie garden this year, so as soon as we get a few more sunny days and the soil dries out a bit we need to get started. We need to dig up the strawberry and asparagus bed, line the bottom with hardware cloth to keep the mice and other burrowing rodents out, and replant it. We are also planning to add a low chicken wire fence around the bottom of the electric garden fence in an effort to keep the wild rabbits out this year. I was also hoping to find a spot to add a new raised planting bed for the lettuce and spinach this year that is in partial shade so that I can have better luck growing them later into the summer before they bolt.
While I was waiting out the winter weather I had time to catch up on soap and lotion making and get the online store fully stocked after a successful holiday season. Thank you everyone for your purchases, I appreciate each and every one! I’ve added several new products that I am really excited about. There is a new set of three pretty guest soaps scented with floral fragrances and in the shape of a sunflower, a bee, and a chicken sitting on her nest. I’ve also added three new bar soaps – a new variety of coconut milk soap with ground oatmeal for those of you with dry and sensitive skin, and two new soaps for all of the chicken ladies out there – Cluckin’ Clean and Clean as Cluck. These two soaps have extra scrubbing power and are scented with refreshing essential oils to get you clean and smelling good again. I’ve also added a lotion bar in an adorable bee shape, and lastly a set of three mini lotions scented in lavender, chamomile-bergamot, and our best selling unscented coconut cream (named for the whipped coconut oil it contains). I hope you enjoy these new offerings as much as I enjoyed making them.
I’ve said it many times before, because it’s true. Every time there’s a sad day at the farm, I turn around and there’s something to make me smile again. On Fridays there’s a hashtag called #FunnyFarmerFriday that is a great time to think back on the entertaining events of the week. I thought I’d put together a few of my recent favorite funny photos from my Instagram account, because they’re not always the most photogenic photos so they may not make it into a typical blog post, but they are worthy of sharing nonetheless. Whether it be the cute photo opportunities provided by inquisitive baby chicks with their momma, molting chickens that fall into the so ugly its funny category, the never ending antics of the turkeys and their chicken pasture-mates, or my constant attempts at the perfect farmer selfie, there have been a lot of fun moments on the farm this past year. Whenever I find myself having a bad day, all I need to do is take a break from whatever I’m doing and spend a few minutes with the feathered ladies and gents, and I’m sure to have a smile on my face and a whole new attidtude.
This was our fourth year living at the farm full time, and every year it gets better and better. One of my favorite things about living on the farm is farm babies! We had several turkey and chicken mommas at the farm this year. We had two turkeys go broody at the same time, and I tried a new experiment and gave the turkeys a few chicken eggs to hatch as well as a dozen turkey eggs. They managed to hatch two chickens as well as ten turkey poults, and it was really interesting watching our mixed feather family grow up together (My Two Moms). One of the baby turkeys got rejected by the momma turkeys, and so I raised this turkey poult in the house for a week until she was strong enough to rejoin her turkey family. This little lady imprinted on me, and Pumpkin Pie is the friendliest of all of the turkeys we’ve raised on the farm. She loves to hang out with us and is so very inquisitive. She is also my most cooperative photo model which earned her her very own Flower Child photo shoot.
The repurposed stainless steel dishwasher tub that is in the turkey yard became quite a popular egg laying destination for chickens and turkeys alike, but eventually the turkeys won out and another turkey decided to go broody in the dishwasher tub. I bought three young chicks at the feed store for our third broody turkey, and she raised her chicken chicks in the dishwasher tub for many weeks (Spaceship Turkey Momma). Sadly, only one of the chicks made it to adulthood, and she is named Baby Stardust. She and her momma also known as Starbuck, still hang out together, and Stardust spends much of her days hanging out with the turkeys. Stardust is another of our new favorites here at the farm. Baby Stardust just recently became a woman, and she laid her very first egg on Christmas Eve. We had one more batch of chicks hatched at the farm this summer, this time it was a more traditional chicken momma hatching chicken babies (Surprise Momma). Unfortunately, three of her four babies turned out to be roosters, so despite my efforts to raise up some new laying hens this year, we only ended up with Stardust and one young easter egger hen who should start laying in a month or so.
We had a run of bad luck with predators at the farm this summer, resulting in the loss of one young turkey poult and two young chickens. I never blogged about this because frankly, it was heartbreaking. One of the young chickens that was lost was Stardust’s sister, Sputnick, and for several hours after the attack Spaceship Turkey Momma was also missing, leaving Stardust a temporary orphan without any siblings. Thankfully Spaceship Turkey Momma returned, but the turkey poult that went missing with her on the night of the first attack never returned. Eventually some of our safety adjustments to the turkey yard kept the predator at bay, or perhaps he just moved on, but we did have an exciting night when Lucky the Rooster evaded an attack. Sadly, his sister chicken was not so fortunate. Lucky grew up to think he was a turkey, and he had to be rehomed when his turkey brother and turkey sisters got tired of his would be turkey ways and made it clear that he was not welcome. Lucky further lived up to his name by finding a wonderful home with his own flock on another farm.
It was another productive year In the Garden, despite a slow start to spring and an onslaught of ravenous rabbits, but in the end we managed to have a successful Fall Harvest. Our bee hives had another successful summer, and with three hives now producing honey we have been able to harvest a little more honey each year than the last. I don’t take enough out of the hives to sell, because I believe in leaving enough honey in the hives for the bees to survive on over the winter rather than taking out all of the honey and feeding the hives refined sugar as their winter food source as is the practice of larger scale honey producers. We have enough honey for ourselves and to make special gifts for friends and family, and we are doing our part to help the bees which is the main reason that I got into beekeeping in the first place.
The chickens and turkeys kept us plenty busy this year. It seems like there are always so many chores to be done, and even more so when there are feather babies to tend to and socialize, or injured flock members that need extra care (Sweet Rosie, Rosie and Reuben), but I’m more than happy to do whatever it takes to keep our flock as healthy and happy as it can be because they bring me so much joy. We finally managed to get the back deck coop that our three bantams live in expanded in preparation for adding a bantam rooster to our flock. I sure miss our Little Red Rooster, so hopefully next spring we’ll have a new little man on the farm tending to Millie, Salt and Pepa. On those rare occasions when I’m taking a break from farm chores, you can often find me taking photos of my pretty eggs or else taking photos of my chickens in funny hats! Yes, I’m an unabashed crazy chicken lady, but I’m happy and my chickens are happy and that’s just fine by me.
I cannot believe how this summer has flown by! As much as I wish all of my time could be spent on the farm taking care of the chickens and turkeys, gardening, tending the bees and flower garden, making soap, and putting away the garden bounty for the winter, I actually do have a job, an environmental consulting business that I own and run, that keeps me quite busy most of the year. This year has been exceptionally good for business, which is great, but it has also kept me too busy to keep up on the blog! I promise to regale you with tales of garden bounty, fun times on the farm with the feathered ladies and gents, and also some recent challenges with predators. But for now I’m just going to post some pictures from a photo challenge of seven days of black and white photos on social media that I recently participated in, which got me to thinking about the things that I really do enjoy about living on the farm. I hope you enjoy them, and I promise to catch up with you soon!
One of the things I really enjoy about living on the farm is the change in seasons. After a long cold winter, and many days of mucking about in the rain and mud doing chicken and turkey chores, it is so exciting to have that first feeling that spring is around the corner. Even before the first spring bulbs poke up through the ground, the birds and the bees provide the first signs that spring is in the air.
It is always a thrill to see the bees make their first appearance outside the beehives on the first sunny days in January and February. This past winter was an unusually cold, snowy, and wet winter, and I waited anxiously to see if all of our beehives would make it through until spring. Bees can survive the cold weather we get in the Pacific Northwest just fine. It is the wet weather, and in particular the moisture inside the hive, which poses a greater risk to them than the cold. When I get the hives ready for fall, there are a few things I do to vent moisture from the hives and try to prevent condensation from occurring in the hives. Even though the hives are not very active in the winter, I do check on them after every cold snap and snowstorm to clear snow away from the hive entrance and to clear dead bees away from the bottom of the hive so that the dead bees don’t block the entrance. It is normal for quite a lot of the bees in the hive to die over the winter, and every time I brush the dead bees out from the bottom of the hive there will be several dozen. At times I’ve seen a large pile of dead bees right outside the hive entrance after the bees have done a bit of housekeeping themselves and removed the dead bees from the hive. Even though it’s normal to see a pile of dead bees outside the hive, it does make me worry at times, and so it is with baited breath that I anxiously await the first sighting of bees outside the hive. The bees made their first appearance in mid-January this year, on an unseasonably warm day, and there have been a few other days since then when the bees have also been out. I am happy to report that all three of our hives have survived the winter thus far.
The behavior of the chickens and turkeys provides another clue that spring is around the corner. As the days start getting longer, the chickens start laying eggs again. Many of our ladies are approaching old biddy status, so they are taking a longer vacation from egg laying than they did when they were younger. From early November through January, we were only getting a few eggs a week from the few hens that laid during the winter, but by the end of January many of the ladies were starting to lay again. The chicken yard, which had been pretty quiet during the winter, was now filled with the sounds of the “egg song” as the ladies leave the nest box and announce their proud achievement. Our roosters and Ringo the turkey have begun enthusiastically courting the ladies again thanks to the annual spring rise in hormone levels. The turkey hens should begin laying eggs by March, and soon we will be inundated with their jumbo sized, beautiful cream colored eggs with brown speckles. Turkeys do not have as long of an egg laying season as chickens (which is why turkeys are not used for commercial egg production), but we got approximately 175 eggs from our two turkey hens last year, so we should have our hands full with the eggs from five turkey hens this year. Their eggs are delicious when eaten just as you would eat chicken eggs for breakfast, and they are also great in baking. I am really looking forward to having turkey eggs again, and this year I will also be selling them along with chicken eggs. As the weather allows, I’ve been getting the garden and greenhouse cleaned up and ready for the start of gardening season, which thanks to my birds and bees I know is right around the corner!