Strawberry Fields Forever?…Not!

There is so much to report on as fall activities have been in full swing here at the farm. First, as a final clean up from the barn project, our contractor came one day recently and removed all the gravel from the front temporary driveway and put it all in place for the new ramp in back next to the barn.

Of course this meant that we had a huge repair on the front lawn that was ideal to rectify with a fall planting of grass. We decided to sod this area to get a jump on it for speedy results. Coulter was delighted to have one more project to watch in progress as the sod trucks arrived for his inspection.IMG_0561.JPGOur favorite arborist Jon Lanaghan, –  answer man to all our questions concerning the orchard and beyond – mustered a crew for this task and did a wonderful job getting all the sod laid in front and had some extra for an area in back as well. An instant carpet of green! IMG_0568.JPGJon and Dave then moved on to the next project which involved removing the crab apple tree stump from one of the front beds, using the tractor for added man power. Jon will help us re-plant this area by procuring a Magnolia tree (to balance the one on the south side of the front bed) in the coming weeks as well as some more Knockout roses to be planted next spring. IMG_0542.jpgIf all that action wasn’t enough, Dave and Jon continued on a mission to start the new strawberry beds for next year’s production. The back story is this: unlike our prolific blueberry plants that will produce berries for the next 40 years, strawberry plants are productive for only about 5 years at most with the best years in the middle of that span. It was just a little bit sad for me to plow under my strawberry bed recently but it was time to replant and go forward. Instead of replanting the bed in the same location (in the end that location was too shady and too wet) we decided to relocate and create raised beds inside the new blueberry enclosure. Jon Lanaghan to the rescue again! He helped us form the structure with 2×6 boards.img_0635img_0640Then Dave and Jon spent a day ferrying compost, topsoil and sand in their trucks to the site. IMG_0654.JPGand filling the forms…IMG_0649.JPGBefore tilling it all in…IMG_0712.JPGIn early October we ordered 400 dry root strawberry plants from Stark Brother’s Nursery to do a fall planting of these beds but we have been struggling to come to terms with the quantities available and have recently learned that this order was on back order! Ugh! In the meantime, they accommodated by selling us (at a very cut rate) 100 plus 4″ pots of a variety of June bearing plants – SureCrop, Jewel, Honeyone and AllStar – that fit the bill for these beds until the dryroot ones are delivered. Dave drove out to Louisiana, MO to pick theses up in his truck on Friday. IMG_0826.JPGSo today we planted the center row (a total of 5 rows per bed) using what we had in hand and despite nearly 2″ of rain last week, will hope the sunny days expected (tomorrow’s prediction is 78 degrees) will help get these rooted! As you can see, I have laid boards across the raised beds in order to keep from stepping in them and compressing the soil.  IMG_0832.JPGOn to other news: the chickens are doing well and will be 17 weeks old tomorrow. They are holding their own with the protein and pecking issues that I dealt with previously. No issues to report on that end but the excitement of egg laying is building! I opened their nest boxes so that they could explore that area of their coop hopefully begin to lay eggs but was a tiny bit deflated by their universal non interest in them. A collective ‘meh’ from the chicks! Haha! After diligently dusting and cleaning the previously blocked boxes, I added this very nice nest base in each box for them to use. IMG_0665 3.jpgI then added the ceramic eggs for them to get the hint that this is the spot for egg laying. IMG_0668.jpgFrom what I can tell so far, no one has investigated any more than a cursory glance. Perhaps they are put off by the fake eggs or just not ready to lay yet. I will soon switch their feed to include egg laying components such as oyster shells so I hope we get some action soon! We are already thinking of egg rich dishes to make, one of which is a pizza from our college days with egg as part of the base called a Ponte Vecchio. More to come on that!

The bees: I’m worried about them and yet hopeful that they will settle in this fall and manage to make it through the winter. The “Boy” hive is doing well as the new queen is laying eggs and the evidence of a healthy brood along with presence of reserves for the winter are a good indication that their well populated hive has a good chance of overwintering. The “Girl” hive, so productive initially, is a bit questionable since it was determined to re-queen itself and kept this initiative up for more weeks than I would have liked. Their determination may have just come to fruition as the last time I looked they had allowed a young queen to emerge and I can only hope she had enough time to get well mated. The eggs laid in October and November are the bees that will take the colony into next spring. I am feeding both hives weekly and every day that is sunny and warm is another day that they are able to fly about and further their purposes. I plan to make an inspection tomorrow and see what the status is in both hives. If there is no egg production from the new queen in the girl hive, I may combine the two to hedge my bets for next year.

Re bees: A quick thank you to cousin Michelle (Brotemarkle clan) for sending an interesting article on bees from their local Virginia newspaper. I’ve been trying to get the link to work here but so far no luck! Bee info always welcome…thanks, Michelle!!!

I have also been able to get some knitting done in the early evenings provided by the fall equinox. Here is my latest Bohus knitted sweater, the famous Blue Shimmer design, which I started during the summer Olympics and look forward to wearing this fall. IMG_0724.jpgCoulter, 18 months old today, is also on the receiving end of knitted goods as I made him a hat with a Polar Bear tassel as an homage to our weekly visits to the zoo where we admire the morning swim of Kali, the polar bear. Here he is modeling it while wearing a sweater I knitted several years ago for little Jack and has been passed along for Cal to wear!

Other fall adventures for him include tractor riding at the Kirkwood farmers’ market… IMG_0558.JPGAnd celebrating with his dad – Coach Jason – as his JBS team garnered runner up in the Volley Ball district finals last week. Whoo hoo! I made a lemon cake for the occasion with a volley ball net as a silly decoration!  Photo Oct 20, 6 45 11 PM.jpg



Citizen Scientist…Aha!

The chickens have been on my mind a lot lately for several reasons and I feel as if I’ve put a good deal of energy – both mentally and physically – into their status recently.

I was waiting for the weather to break a bit in order to add more sand to their run since we had put less in that section than I had originally intended. Their indoor space, aka the coop, had the original sand which was spread to about 3 inches deep on top of a concrete floor that has a sewer drain for periodic cleaning. Shortly after the chicks were given access to their outdoor run, we added a load of sand there on top of the dirt base but had always intended to add more. After experimenting with sand, I see it as the perfect foundation for both the run and the coop provided there are periodic additions of other things such as vines, grasses and sprouts.

In an effort to do a little fall housekeeping, we decided to take the sand from their coop and transfer it to the run and then add all new sand to the coop after a good clean up. So we hauled in another 800 pounds of fresh sand and after a mornings work we felt pretty satisfied. We also decided to put a new hose connection onto their drinking fountain since the original one was an old, recycled hose that had seen better days and was starting to leak on occasion due to the constant pressure.

It was not long after this that I discovered that Buttercup was the possible victim of some pecking. It was difficult to tell whether this hen had started to over-preen herself (often due to boredom) or was being pecked on by others, or both. Either way, I found her to have a small bare patch on the base of her back at her tail which is a typical spot for this type of pecking or over preening to occur. IMG_0199.jpgI put some Vetericyn on it and hoped for the best but the next morning I found it to be a larger area and later that day it was bloodied. This is a cause for immediate isolation. I plucked her (no pun) out of the flock, medicated the wound again and put her into a crate with food and water in my workshop.What to do next? No one else was showing signs of this. Was she lowest on the pecking order? Was this because she is now the only grey colored Easter Egger in the flock and a target? Easter Eggers are also the smallest of the hens we have and that wasn’t going in her favor either. In addition, she has always been a loner, keeping to herself and not one to participate in any of the ‘reindeer games‘.

I had been thinking of getting an additional medication called Blu-Kote that has been around for more than 40 years for use in animal husbandry. “Dr. Naylor’s brand Blu-Kote is a germ-killing, fungicidal wound dressing and healing aid that works to protect animals against common infections and pus-producing bacteria. It penetrates the skin and dries quickly, reducing pus formation and drying up secretions of pox-like lesions.” Yuck, I initially didn’t think I needed this as my answer but one of the reasons that Blu-Kote is successfully used for chickens is that it includes a dye that coats the surface area a deep indigo color (WARNING: it is semi permanent!) and disguises the wounded area by taking the irritated pink or redness flesh color away. Although I wanted to make sure this area of affliction didn’t become infected, I decided to use the spray mostly for the dye aspect of it.

So, after a day in isolation, I prepared to use the medication – by dressing in dark clothes that I didn’t care about getting dyed blue – and successfully sprayed Buttercup’s back with several spritzes of the liquid. After blowing on it a bit to dry, I let her back into the flock and she seemed to try to re-adjust. IMG_0346.jpgOf course the problem with taking any bird from the flock and isolating them for a time means that when re-introduced, they have been demoted in the pecking order which meant I had to keep a really sharp eye out for her safety. While taking time for keenly observing, I happened to notice that any loose feathers that the chicks came upon were being gobbled up by them. Good grief, what was this about? My role as ‘Citizen Scientist’ sent me back to the books for some research on feather eating.

Wouldn’t you know, feather eating can be a sign of protein deficiency in chickens. Aha! Feather eating can also be related to feather pecking since feathers are about 85% protein. Aha! Chicks go thru their first mini molt between the ages of 12 and 16 weeks. Aha! I knew that as the chicks age, their protein requirements change but it turns out I could do a few things to help in this area. Although the internet can be a good resource, I prefer to rely on two profoundly researched books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens and The Chicken Health Handbook  both by the renown author and chicken expert, Gail Damerow.

Gail cautions about adding too much protein to a chicken’s diet and certainly not to add more than 2% at any juncture. She says, “Compared to the protein in grains, animal proteins are rich in the amino acids a chicken needs during a molt.” She lists a bunch of foods and their protein percentages that can be used to supplement their regular diet. Her books introduced me to the common agricultural method (albeit mind blowing in terms of math) of adjusting rations correctly called Pearson’s Square. Run that thru your search engines and see what comes up!  (Seriously, do that and see what I was facing!) Who knew this could get so complicated!!! Here is an example of an explanation for calculating Pearson’s Square for one’s own uses. Aha! Believe me, there is nothing terribly simple about this.

So, I decided that I needed to address the probable protein deficiency incrementally while also addressing the method of delivering the new food. I knew this since whenever I gave treats such as meal worm (50% protein) there was a piggy contest to gobble it up fast and furious so those who got the most were the more aggressive birds and thus, the feed or treats was not equally distributed. I needed a ‘slow release’ method that would allow more of the flock to have equal access to the amount given and I needed to ration it slowly so that the 2% goal was true for all.

What a great excuse to go to the Tractor Supply Store where I knew I could find some of the added protein suggestions from Gail’s list. One of them was black oil sunflower seeds which I found in bulk. Although it is only 14% protein, it could go into my Pearson’s Square equation as an additive to my Start ‘n Grow ration which is 16%.

1027278.jpg I put a cup of this seed into a fairly standard cylindrical bird feeder with holes just big enough to contain the seeds and yet allow them to fall through when pecked at. Here they are giving it a go.

I also added a corn (6% protein) cob holder which I hung nearby for much of the same purpose and to allow for two stations of pecking to take place.

Here is the the combination of both attractions. Notice the sounds of the soft clucking which is music to the ears for all. 

After several days of wringing my hands over the status of the flock I was so pleased to see this copacetic group lounging in their run this afternoon. Buttercup is no longer hiding and has even joined in the fun and is enjoying the security that the group can provide when everything is in balance.IMG_0465 (1).jpg

At least for now! As the chicks approach their 15 week milestone, I am now researching the method and timing of opening their nests boxes (which have been blocked so far) in order to introduce them to their next adventure…egg laying! This is an overwhelming time to be a Citizen Scientist! Ha!

I need to report on the bees but will hold off for that until next time as one hive is still working on a self re-queening effort. My inspection and feeding of both colonies yesterday is keeping me in suspense as to the race to be ready for winter. At this juncture, it may actually be the ‘boy’ hive that is more prepared! More soon.

In the meantime, Coulter keeps us all amused. At 17 months, he is nearly the perfect age as he is fun and funny. He understands so much of what we are saying and his vocabulary is growing exponentially. Here he is in his new Levi jeans…cutest bottom around!

And climbing up on his new, dump truck step stool to wash his hands before lunch!

It is hard to believe he still fits in his swing, but he still loves to climb in and catch the breeze when he can! IMG_0333.jpg Dave had replanted much of the fall crops and is hard at work getting them to flourish now that the rains have lessened. Crossing fingers for a mild fall…updates to come.