We seem to be waiting in vain for Spring to arrive at the farm. Unlike last year when February felt like April, this year, March and April have felt more like a typical February. We have had more than our fair share of rain but that is not as unusual as our continued low temps and the prediction of a heavy frost and possible snow for tonight. All of this threatens the lovely peach and nectarine trees which are finally in full bloom. I have resisted pulling the straw off of the strawberries even though it is tempting to let them get some sunshine and air circulation. Hoping next week we can uncover and they will start to bloom and produce some great fruit this year.We harvested the asparagus that was first planted last year in the new raised beds and has shown that it is on its way to developing into a future crop for us. It normally takes 3 years to really get any production but we cut the viable stalks today and then covered with plastic to keep the rest from the freeze. Ditto with the colorful rhubarb which we also started last year in the raised beds but we added 4 more mounds this year which are already poking out of the ground…Last year’s stand is further along but the leaf material is more at risk with the impending freeze. We also chose a very cold and rainy day to begin to build our future hoop house. What? Backup a minute…a “what house?”, asks everyone who has been hearing about this newest venture of ours. Think of a hoop house as a green house only using plastic or mesh instead of glass. It is something that a plant nursery uses to get an early start for tender plants OR to protect shade loving plants from severe sun OR to protect late plants from freezing. So, for our future spring, summer, fall and perhaps winter needs, we figured we could really get some good use out of a hoop house to extend our seasons!
We bought all the pieces and parts for ours on line and it has a footprint of 12 feet x 26 feet and is just over eight and a half feet tall. It has a metal frame that we had to build with pipe and it looks rather like a ribbed skeleton right now. We purchased two different covers for it. One is mesh and the other plastic with zippered “doors” as well as flaps for “windows” in order to provide for air circulation when needed. All we did today was build the metal frame with the help of our dear friend, Jon. The package should have warned, “do not try this alone!” Haha!
With poor weather conditions all day long, we started out building sections in the barn where we had the assistance of two heaters. Not pictured: Nancy wearing every layer of sweater, coat, hat and gloves imaginable.When we had two partial halves built, we then moved to the driveway, (using the barn as a wind break) since it would have otherwise been too tall to get out of the barn door. We finally walked the two halves to the field… where we were ultimately able to join them… When the fields have dried out enough, we will move the structure into place, secure it with metal stakes and then pull the cover/s over the top which will also then be secured with rebars. More photos to come!
In the meantime, we have a gang of new baby chicks at the farm that we have also been protecting against the cold! Our current flock will be two years old in June, a time after which their laying habits will begin to wane. So we had to think about some additional flock members to keep us in eggs in the future. Introducing new chickens to an existing flock is a delicate process these days so we decided to choose wisely, ones that would be best for several reasons.
First, they needed to fit into the existing flock with ease. We also evaluated their heat tolerance since we seem more able to control their cold temps than their hot conditions. And lastly, it would be nice to not have to deal with any misidentified cockerels which are young males that turn into aggressive roosters.
Red sex linked chickens were a good answer on all counts so we ordered (months ago!) 6 Cinnamon Queens from the same hatchery we purchased from before. The day we were to pick up our one day old chicks was one of the stormiest days we have had all spring. A 5 hour drive in torrential rain turned into 6.5 hours but we returned unscathed and so did all the newly hatched chicks…plus one! The hatchery had our order ready with a freebie in the box (their insurance policy?) and we were delighted to think of having 7 new chicks for Seven Oaks Farm! We took a few pics at the hatchery that boasts 185 varieties of fowl for sale. There were layers and layers (no pun) of small peeping birds everywhere.But here was our special package of 1 day old chicks ready to go!
They required constant heat of 98-100 degrees for the first week and then each week afterwards, they can tolerate a bit more of a temperature decrease until they reach 6 weeks old. With our crazy cold weather, we enlisted the heater in my workshop plus a special brooder as well as a heat lamp. Needless to say, the first day I checked on them every hour.
The first week they grew exponentially and each day you could see that they were sprouting wings and then tiny sprouts of tail feathers. Since then, they are now more than two weeks old. With as much attention as they required, we decided to add 3 more that were just about the same age. These were pullets (females) that are of the Leghorn breed which lay white eggs and are very productive as well. They are also lofting out of their first container so we have expanded to a larger coop and added screened lids.
We have promised the children of our neighborhood CSA members that they can each name one so they are already thinking hard of fun and appropriate names!
Last but not least, we have been busy beekeepers even before the season got going here as we were invited to share our activities with a classroom of children from Coulter’s preschool, Raintree. The children and their teachers had been studying pollinators and were keenly interested in learning more about bees. Here is how they decorated their classroom door to greet us.We brought lots of props for them to look at and they asked lots of great questions wearing their antennae! We got a lovely thank you note…And even made the school newsletter…Another thing that keeps daily smiles on our faces are Coulter and Willie Ward who are both growing about as fast as the chicks! Promising more updates from the farm soon!