Oh, Pollyanna!

The first couple of weeks of September were pretty darn wet in our neck of the woods. I think we recorded at least 6 inches of rain over a 9 day period so we are shaking our collective heads at the future of the fall planting. Dave wonders aloud whether the neighbors will be curious about all the new veggies they could see sprouting in their yards since he is assuming the recent heavy rains have sucked many of his dear seeds away and that they are now somewhere “down river”!

Once again, faced with weather circumstances beyond our control such as this, we are always thankful that unlike our distant relatives, we have a built-in resiliency to the adverse weather conditions. We do not starve nor suffer from a financial crisis when things don’t work out as we had hoped. The reality of having at least 3 groceries within a mile of us means that we don’t lack for other available food sources. That said, it is still discouraging to be thwarted by the weather but what can you do? We move on to the next pressing task.

What would Pollyanna do? (Younger readers may ask who is that? Here is a link to explain.) Despite the drowning of some plants or seeds, we try to keep in mind the plants that really love the water! For instance, the young orchard trees and blueberry plants are delighted with the extra water and our peppers are multiplying like crazy late in the season as today’s harvest suggests. IMG_0168.jpgThese peppers joined the others from recent picking so this afternoon while Coulter was napping I took all out of the fridge, washed up the lot of them and started the easy freezing process. ‘Easy’ since peppers are one of the only veggies that do not require blanching! Here they are drying off after their bath. IMG_0184.jpgFirst, I froze 3 quarts full of the whole jalapenos in freezer bags which is super easy so I can grab them out of the freezer one or two at a time as needed and reseal. I cored and sliced up the rest and I used my Vac ‘n Seal to make individual, serving sized pouches. Eighteen nice sized pouches were then signed, sealed and delivered to the basement freezer! Good news for winter pizzas and the like!IMG_0189.jpgThere is no stopping the herbs such as basil so we are making pesto right and left (yummy) as well as rooting whatever unused cuttings into into new plants.   IMG_0170.jpgIf elephant ears are any indication, this plant is happy as can be with the extra rain and I can only hope the scale of the hose reel behind is an indication of size! IMG_0171.jpgI’m also doing the needed research on our Chicago Fig tree which has lived happily potted on the terrace all summer. maxresdefaultIt out grew the first pot so it graduated to a larger one and produced one glorious, tasty fruit. I’m greedy and I want more next year but I found out that this cultivar is only safe in planting zone 7. (Yes, there is a portion of Missouri that is clearly zoned as 7a and 7b so that must be why Stark Brothers felt safe to sell these in state.) Our region has moved in recent years from 6 to then 6A and on to 6B which is approaching 7 but until this tree gets better established, I think I will do my best to protect it this winter.  I will re-pot to a larger container and put it safely  in a more temperate area of the barn to over winter. Here is the link to instructions for this from Stark Brothers if anyone is interested.

In the meantime, the chickens are now 12.5 weeks old and approaching their adult size. Everyone who stops in to see them is amazed by their growth which is hard for me to see on a day to day basis other than by noting their food intake (gobble, gobble!) and other behaviors that indicate their maturation. They have not been overly enthusiastic about their chicken swing so I decided to encourage a little usage by setting one of the Buff Orpingtons on the swing to see what they thought. Frankly, not a huge endorsement so far.IMG_4618.jpgI must admit, they are quite spoiled as the goodies from a recent visit to the nearby Tractor Supply Store in High Ridge, MO will attest! Pictured below are treats which I will distribute sparingly in the popular Chicken Ball (yellow orb) to fight coop boredom. Fill it with treats and let them peck away as the goodies fall out!IMG_4591.jpgHere is the treat ball, filled with Harvest Delight in action.

A couple of days later I introduced the Hot Cake treat on a chain which they found to be quite entertaining. I could only let them peck at this for about 15 minutes at a time and then would raise it out of their reach until next time using the handy carabiners on the chain. 

Also new to the coop is a product called PDZ that was highly recommended by other chicken owners and is sprinkled in the sand to help absorb the ammonia from the coop poop. PDZ is sold by a company called Manna Pro and is described in the literature as such: “Sweet PDZ is safe and gentle to use. It is an inert mineral, with unique chemistry that actually adsorbs moisture and selective gases, such as ammonia. Sweet PDZ (aka zeolite) is a naturally-occurring mineral created from volcanic activity, which captures, neutralizes and eliminates harmful ammonia and odors while absorbing more than half its weight in moisture.” It is touted in many of the chicken forums I read but the on line price (as well as crazy shipping cost for a 25lbs bag) kept me from purchasing until I found it locally at the Tractor Supply store for nearly half the cost. I’m still evaluating but so far so good.

Image result for PDZOkay, okay…I found some extra goodies at the Tractor Supply store…some construction vehicle boots for Coulter! IMG_4590.jpgHere he is evaluating them. And then trying them on for size.

He also spent some time with us at the local Kirkwood  Green Tree Festival last weekend. He wisely considered the consequences of getting too close at the petting zoo area which included goats, sheep, mini cows and even camels! IMG_0145.jpgHe liked the baby pigs a bit better, cautiously feeding them…perhaps more his size? IMG_0026.jpgHe may be most comfortable with his new rocking chair in his nursery at the farm. It has all his favorite planes and helicopters! IMG_0248.jpgMy very favorite recent moment of excitement was receiving my personalized copy (the author wrote a lovely note to me) of the recently published knitting book by the fabulous designer and knitting author, Janine Bajus, aka Feralknitter. I was one of Janine’s knitting students whom she chose to include in her new book about Fair Isle knitting entitled, The Joy of Color.  The book is amazing and I’m so flattered to have been included in this publication. I could have sworn that I posted the sweater I designed, knitted and wrote the pattern for several years ago as part of my Master Handknitting certificate program, but I don’t see it in the archives. Here is just one of the pics she included in a two page spread in her book. What would Pollyanna say about this?IMG_1727.jpg

Boys and Girls…Cockerels and Pullets

Labor Day greetings! We have been working so hard lately that we wish we had the day off but there is no such thing this time of year at the farm! Not much time to write but that’s because there has been so much activity here lately.

The new rear property fence is now installed save for the 16 foot wide double gate which was supposed to be here 2 weeks ago but hasn’t yet appeared. We have a temp gate in place but have continued to have deer frustration during the installation since we were widely vulnerable each night during this process. The recent deer census in our area is crazy…43 deer per acre (translating to more than 215 here at the farm alone!!!) which is nearly double the number in the last 9 years and unacceptable for them as well. No zoo would be allowed to house that ratio of deer. Keeping them out is now our main goal!IMG_4469.jpg

Despite the depressing deer news, Dave has tilled up 2/3 of the summer fields and is in the process of planting the fall season. Today he worked on putting together a new Mantis brand rototiller for smaller areas. The new barn was a nice place to do this!IMG_4558.jpg

With most of the summer crop volume in the rear view mirror, my processing demands are diminishing. The cukes (341 plus pounds YTD) are done and so is my pickle making! After putting up a mixture of sweets, dills and sours in 265 pints and 52 quarts, I’m all pickled out! Wouldn’t you know, the jalapeno peppers that we love to add to the sweet pickle jars are still coming in strong. I froze these today to use throughout the winter. IMG_4560.jpgWe also harvested the summer Brussels sprouts and are ready to plant the fall crop which is much tastier since these plants prefer the cold weather, including light frosts. Boy these are yummy when roasted!IMG_4310.jpgHere are the eggplants I’ve breaded for roasting today to freeze for future use…about to hit the oven in this photo.IMG_4562.jpg

The chicks are 10 weeks old today and growing like weeds…so much so that everyone keeps asking if we have eggs yet since they appear to be nearly full grown. IMG_4551.jpgThe answer is ‘no’! Most breeds of chickens don’t start laying until they range from 20-28 weeks but we have one variety, Cinnamon Queen, that starts laying at 18 weeks. The Easter Eggers will start around 21 weeks so we have some time yet for the girls to be teenagers first. Can you see the yellow chicken swing I recently installed for their entertainment in the photo above? They continue to love the greens I add each day and have fun playing on the rungs of this old wooden ladder. IMG_4405.jpgWe had our first medical emergency in the flock but I think I was prepared. Petunia, one of our dear Easter Eggers, had a bleeding tail feather shaft last week. I’m not sure how this happened, but once there is blood in the coop, the other chicks peck at it and the only thing to do is to isolate the bird and medicate until healed. Don’t look if your stomach is weak but here it is after a bit of clean up. IMG_4316I knew to put Vetericyn on it and had pre-ordered this from a vet med supply house. IMG_4323.jpgIt helped almost immediately but I also put a back apron on her so that she and others could not peck at the area. IMG_4345.jpgThis apron fit over her wings and was relatively easy to install but took me a couple of minutes to get it adjusted just right. I bought the pink one for breast cancer awareness…the irony of this is coming later! IMG_4375.jpgPetunia wore it with pride!IMG_4382.jpgAnd was still able to loft up to the night time roost with the others with no problems. IMG_4418.jpg

That brings me to a touchy subject that I’ve avoided addressing on the blog but have personally come to terms with in recent weeks and finally thought it was time to share. Plain and simple, I discovered we had some R.O.O.S.T.E.R.S in the mix of chix at the farm! Yes, despite the fact that I had made an order for all female chicks, the vent sexing (professional rear end inspection that separates the sexes) that is done within hours of hatching is known to be only 90-95% accurate. Arg! I think this is why the hatchery throws in a couple of extra babies as they did for me.

I started to be suspicious one morning when I heard what sounded like a tweener chick trying to voice an early morning announcement of some sort. Funny, but was it partly a croak or perhaps a clearing of throat? It sounded like “ooh-ra-doo-ra-doo”…in other words, cockerel baby talk. (FYI, young female chicks are called pullets and a young males are cockerels.)  The physical appearances of developing combs and waddles (both sexes have a set of each but they do appear different depending on the breed and stage of development) were also starting to become more and more apparent. My daily obsessive review of the chicks sent me to on-line forums with masses of photos for identification purposes. There is even a site for posting pics that offer identification assessments. The youthful crowing was also coming from the most colorful of the gang which is another indication of cockerels. Suspicions were verified…I did not have an entire flock of girls as I had wanted!

So, here is the rub. Roosters are typically the most aggressive individuals in the flock which was not part of the personality profile we were going for since we had purposely selected the most docile of chickens breeds for our purposes. Although I knew that our area does not prohibit us from housing rooster/s, the fact of the matter is that the acceptable ratio of rooster to hen in a single flock is 1-10. If I had had one cockerel out of the total 21 that would not have killed the deal. But wouldn’t you know, we had more than one in our mix. In fact we had four which is greater than the percent of error from the hatchery statistics than I had expected and a greater acceptable flock ratio as well. Arg!

So what is one to do? It hardly mattered that I didn’t want any aggressors in the mix nor that I wasn’t interested in hatching future batches of chicks from fertilized eggs. No matter what my end goals were, I just had too many males unless I was wanting to cull the young roosters for Sunday dinners as I had watched both my grandmothers do. So most if not all had to go…and go somewhere soon. Lucky me. Kate helped spread the word and lo and behold, one of her colleagues in the science department at JBS was interested in adopting some cockerels. He had kept chickens in the past and showed up two weekends ago with his young sons and took some cockerels to his coop.

So, now the coop is relatively peaceful and less complicated since the pecking order is more straightforward with just hens. And, the irony revealed – Petunia, aka the cockerel Phineas, is now happily running around the all male flock somewhere in O’Fallon, Missouri.

The intrigue of the sexes continues to dominate the farm (I can’t get a break!) as I recently introduced a new queen in the ‘girl’ beehive. A couple of weeks ago it became apparent that the original queen that was so productive in that colony either swarmed off or befell some other fate, leaving a thriving group of bees in need of a queen. I located one locally that is called an “ankle biter” since this strain is known to bite the mites that infect their colonies. Yay! Whatever it takes! Bite away! I put her into the hive late Wednesday and then pulled the cork on the cage separation 3 days later. Crossing fingers that this is a good take for the bees!

We had the pleasure of hosting little Coulter for most of the Labor Day weekend while his parents were in DC for a wedding. Aren’t they a cute young couple!IMG_4369.jpgWe, on the other hand, had so much fun here with their little one as our guest…IMG_4306.jpgIn the pool on the terrace….IMG_4542.jpgAnd at the Magic House grocery carefully selecting fruits for his basket…IMG_4436.jpgAnd a simple tub bath at the end of the day! IMG_4512.jpgNight, night!