Easter is Coming: Need Eggs?

With the longer days and a drier barnyard, the chickens are laying plenty of eggs!

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As we have a mixed flock, we have three different egg colors.  The Leghorns​ lay white eggs, the Rhode Island Reds​ lay brown eggs and Pilgrim, our Barred Rock, lays beige eggs.​

Email us if you’d like to purchase eggs for Easter or other times during the year.  Our flock lives in a converted horse stall in the barn, has a large barnyard to roam and scratch in and eats a varied diet.  The chickens love visitors, especially, those bearing mealworms, so if you’d like to see how the chickens that produce your eggs are living, just email to set up a time to see them.

​No one has “gone broody” (that is, decided to sit on their eggs and hatch out some baby chicks), but Londo has been doing his job, so if I can borrow a friend’s incubator, baby chicks are possible.  Here’s Londo:

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Unlike the laying hens, Londo is an Ameraucana chicken.  Hopefully, he will pass along a blue egg laying gene to his daughers.

Pilgrim, our Lead Hen, was not too fond of Londo when he first came here in November.  However, they seem to have ironed out their differences and are spending quality time together.  Once I have my friend’s incubuator, there won’t be very many beige eggs for sale until I have some Londo daughters!  Here is a photo of Pilgrim:

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We’re looking forward to having several egg-based dishes for Easter this year.  If you’d like Pilgrim and her friends to supply you with eggs, let us know soon — there will be a lull when I put eggs in the incubator, but having little baby chicks will be fun for everyone!​

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Precoce d’Argenteuil Asparagus: 1st Repotting!

When last we left the Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus seedlings, they were ferning out in their Jiffy-7 pellets like this:

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It was time to take them downstairs and put them in newspaper pots so that their roots would have room to branch out.   Here are what they looked like as I repotted them in my basement potting room:​

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It’s too cold in the basement for the seedlings, so I lug the trays back up to the guest room where they are placed under lights.  We adapted the African Violet table I purchased at the local auction for $25 in the late 80s so that we could move the lights up as the plants grow.  So far, they are ferming out, rather than getting taller, so I haven’t moved the lights up yet.

With seedlings, one should always keep the lights just above the top of the plant so that the plant puts its effort into growing a sturdy stem and a robust root system, rather than putting all its energy into growing the stem to reach the light and becoming “leggy.”  A “leggy” plant will have a weak stem that can be blown over in the wind when transplanted outside.
Right now we have 5 trays of asparagus seedlings in newspaper pots, 2 trays in pellets and 1/2 tray still on the heat mat.  Since there is room on the heat mat, I added onion and leek seeds which haven’t germinated yet.  When all the asparagus seeds are off the heat mat, I’ll put this year’s hot and sweet pepper seed on it.

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We are well onto our goal of having 200 Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus ​plants to transplant into the asparagus field in May.  With the heat mat going 24/7 and the African Violet table on 16 hours a day, plus the Eastern sun exposure from the windows, the guest room is warm and comfy — the dogs come running to enjoy napping in the heat when I open the door to work on my computer.

 

 

Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus: Take 2!

All but 17 of the original 156 Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus have germinated and are under the lights.
As we need 200 plants to put in the field in May (and our first pass worked!), today I planted 102 seeds in the pellets and put them on the heat mat.
Take 1 had an 88% germination rate when the packet said to expect a 70% rate.  Hopefully, Take 2, using the same techniques, will achieve a similar outcome.
Here are all the seeds, sitting on the heat mat (no room for Galen, now!)

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Once a good number of these pellets have germinated and are placed under the lights, it will be time to germinate leeks and onions on the heat mat.  Planting season is here!

 

 

Galen Discovers The Heat Mat

We started out with 2 trays of 156 Precoce D’Argenteuil ​​Asparagus on the heat mat.  However, with germination, we now have 1 tray on the heat mat and 2 trays under the lights.
This means that there is extra space on the heat mat until next week when I start the next round of Precoce D’Argenteuil asparagus.
Well, there used to be space on the heat mat. . .

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Last night, Galen discovered that the spot next to the computer is WARM and like most cats in winter, decided that WARM is GOOD.  He’s left the area only to eat (he may only be 8 pounds, but he’s a big eater!).
Meanwhile, here’s what the Precoce D’Argenteuil asparagus seedlings look like after a week or so under the lights:

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These seedlings are healthy, but tiny.  One can see why it’s suggested to start asparagus seed in January so that one has decent sized plants to put out in May.
For the first round of trays, the seedlings took about 14 days to germinate.  The packet suggested a 70% germination rate and so far, we have an 81% germination rate.  Next week’s trays should put us at about 225 seedlings for a goal of 200 seedlings to plant after frost in May.
Galen has the weekend to enjoy the heat mat — Monday, the next round of aparagus seeded trays go on the heat mat and there won’t be room for him!​

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Precoce d’Argenteuil Asparagus Planted!

Asparagus is one of our primary crops, so we’re always thinking about varieties to add.

Precoce d’Argenteuil is a French heirloom asparagus from the 1700s that gets rave reviews on the Internet (just google it!).  It’s pretty (green spears with lavender buds), early bearing and produces thick, delicious spears that taste wonderful steamed.  Since it’s not as productive as the “all male” modern hybrids, it’s only available as seeds, not crowns, which means 3 years, rather than 2 years to a harvestable yield.

Being a farm that showcases heirlooms, I decided to give in to the Internet hype and give this variety a try.  I ordered my seed from here,as most of the reputable US seed companies said their seed was from Italy.

Growing asparagus from seed takes patience (up to 3 weeks to germinate!) and space.  Rather than start the seeds in flats, as I usually do, I instead ordered Jiffy 7 Peat Pellets so that I could place one seed in each pellet, then when that pellet germinated, put it under the grow lights while the other seeds could slumber until they were ready to germinate.  It would also prevent the roots from each seed from entangling with each other.

Here’s how the pellets look when purchased:

 

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Asparagus seed has a hard seed coat so recommendations range from a soak of two hours to 2 days in water before planting.  I gave mine at least two hours to soak while I readied the pellets for planting.  Use enough water to generously cover the seed.

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As a child, I loved Jiffy 7 Peat Pellets because it was so much fun to soak them in water and watch them plump up.  It’s not cost-effective to use them on a large scale unless you are planting perennials with delicate root systems that could be damaged while trying to untangle them, so I hadn’t used the pellets in years.  A friend advised me to use hot water which swells up the pellets in minutes.  (Don’t use cold water — that bucket took 2 1/2 hours to swell up to a usable size!)

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After two hours, both asparagus seed and pellets were ready for planting.  I borrowed my dogs’ tick removal tweezers (which has the handy magnifying glass for finding tick mouth parts embedded in one’s dog) to pluck out an asparagus seed from the cup and plant it about 1/2 an inch into the rehydrated pellet.

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78 pellets fit in a standard plant tray, which I then put on the heat mat.

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I covered the tray with plastic wrap (like most seed savers, most of the household plastic wrap is used for seed germination, rather than food storage!)  I have two trays for a total of 156 aparagus seeds planted

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Now we wait for germination!  I keep my germinating trays next to my computer so I can keep an eye on them during the day and add water or place baby plants under lights as needed.  With bottom heat, the asparagus seeds could germinate in as little as 5 days or as long as 3 weeks.  I’d like to have 200 plants to set out in the Spring, so if this techinque works,  I’ll add another tray once these trays begin germinating.
In just 3 years, we’ll have an interesting (and tasty!) asparagus variety for sale!  Stay tuned to watch these plants grow!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Fence, New Rooster

As we have slowly fixed up the barn, our goals have been for it to be a useful storage place and a shelter for livestock.
Since Hill Creek Farm is primarily a produce farm, the livestock needs to be fenced so that they don’t eat the produce (and plants!) we’re growing to sell.
Over the fall, Chris of Sandy Hill Construction, LLC, who has done most of our outbuilding work had some time, so we had him finish the third bay for goats.
Readers of this blog will remember that we have 8 chickens — which can be destructive enough to produce if they free-range, but nothing is as hungry of fresh, green growth as a few goats (never have just one goat — they are herd animals that need at least one buddy).  So, if we are going to get goats and have them share the barnyard with poultry, we needed a good fence.
Chris did some research and came up with a fence that should keep in chickens, turkeys and goats (the livestock we’d like to house in the barn).  There’s no point in doing a fence multiple times, so in November, Chris and his father, Tom, came out and put together this fence:

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Note that there is no latch on the gate.  It’s held together by chains that wrap around the gate so that escape artist goats (and all goats are escape artists!) can’t undo the latch and help themselves to the herb garden beside the house!
Here’s how the fence looks from the front:

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Experienced goat keepers will note that we’re not completely ready for goats yet.  The oak posts have to dry and get cut even, then a single wire electric fence line will be strung along the top of the fence and stone wall to keep the goats from climbing out and heading for the herb garden, front field, neighbor’s bushes, etc.  Chris will come back and do all that in the Spring, plus we’ll be taking out the random stones in the barnyard and grading it so that heavy rains don’t turn the area into a mud pit.

If you’d like Sandy Hill Construction to fix up your farm outbuildings or build a multi-purpose fence for livestock, you can contact them at  sandyhill_llc AT comcast.net​

However, the fence is sufficient to take down the green fencing outside the second bay where we keep the chickens.  Since we have more space, we could get a rooster so that the most productive of our 8 hens can experience motherhood.

After Pilgrim, our lead chicken, put up a personal ad on various Facebook groups, we found another small farmer here in East Coventry Township ​who had 5 roosters to choose from.  My cousin Ed and I decided we wanted one of the white-spattered ​Ameraucana roosters, so all four of us ran after those two roosters until we caught one.  This is what he looks like:

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Continuing the tradition of naming livestock after characters from the Babylon-5 TV series​, I named him Londo, since the Centauri have multiple wives.

Londo was purchased in August as a chick from the Pughtown Agway​, so at only 4 months, technically, he’s a cockerel, rather than a rooster.  He’s thinking about crowing, but hasn’t done it yet.  He and Original Leghorn​ are becoming friends, but, Pilgrim, a Barred Rock, after a week and a half, is still suspicious of him.​  This is Pilgrim:

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Hopefully, these crazy kids will one day (soon!) fall in love, or at least lust and we’ll have some cute little baby chicks in the Spring.
Meanwhile, Londo has decided to spend his nights on the tallest roost in the coop.  Here he is, keeping an eye on the flock in the morning:

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Chicken politics keeps us all amused, but hopefully, we’ll have our own chicks in 2016 that will lay a variety of colored eggs.  Stay tuned for more chicken photos!