Friday, August 26, 2011

Spinach: two ounces of pure sovereignty

We have grown spinach for the last few year and really enjoy its goodness. I've let them go to seed a few times, but never really got serious about saving seeds. Well, this is my first attempt to be serious--two ounces is probably too serious--and share with those around me. It was difficult to let them dry in the ground. I found myself being a bit impatient? However all seemed to work well. I haven't tested the germination percentage yet, but I hope too in the next few weeks.

I cut and hung the spinach plants before de-seeding and I made a little time laps to show part of the process.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Urban Farmer: Book Smarts

I have a ton of things to post-potato harvest updates, seed saving photos, and fermentation adventures. I will work on putting the posts together, however when the sun is shining the kids and garden take priority.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Garlic: A Years Worth

I recently harvested and processed our first "years worth" crop. We planted 6 varieties with a really good friend with the hope that we would supply 60 heads for his family and 40 for mine. I pulled 20 of our best heads for replanting in a few months, so it will be fun to see the cycle come full circle. We will probably purchase a few more heads at our local garlic festival, however I am really happy with the harvest! I shot a short video of part of the processing--enjoy:)

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cartoon: Urban Farmer--Community Garden?

I've been playing around with this cartoon idea--thank you Commander Mark! The little guy is a character that I've been drawing since I was little. But just recently, I thought, "it would be cool to juxtapose the space guy with farming."

Monday, August 1, 2011

Garden Outlaws

The Green Stink Bug. My oldest daughter found a few in the raspberry rows a few weeks before the fruit came on. We had no clue what it was and decided to leave it be. I wish we would have picked it off right away and saved it while we searched. When we figured out it was probably not the best bug to leave in the berries, we couldn't find it. Needless to say, we have noticed lots of little holes in berries-classic Stink Bugs.

The Small White Cabbage Moth. Theses little fellas have been gonna like crazy on our parsnips, purple cabbage, and broccoli. The caterpillars are easy to spot once your eyes adjust, but the moths are surprisingly difficult to capture.

Help. I have no idea what this guy is. The chickens seemed to like it:)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Yes You Can: a thank you!

I want to publicly thank Ohiofarmgirl for encouraging me when I lost a few birds and for featuring me on her blog. Check it out. The connection has sparked some fun opportunities and I look forward to sharing them on my blog. In late September I will travel with scalder and plucker in tow to a town just North of us to help a family butcher their chickens. Without the Ohio connection, the family and I would have never crossed paths. It is funny how two west coasters need an Ohio transplant to connect:) In all of this, I see the best the Internet has to offer--real relationships, with real people, doing the most honest work: taking care of each other.

It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are. -Wendell Berry

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Potatoes and Weeds

My friend sent me a text message a few days ago, "You know the saying, you can't see the forest for the trees?" I knew what he was saying, "I can't see your taters, for the weeds." so yesterday we loaded up the fam and set out to do some billing and weeding. Little did I know there would be a jungle.

It took us five hours of hand weeding--the trusty hoe could not be used. The girls were interested in helping, but that is where it stopped--they played. The taters were doing great once we got past the jungle.

Weeding is always on the top of my list of things to do, but it seems to get ignored. However once I am doing it, I find it deeply interesting. My mind gets a chance to wander in ways it doesn't usually. The last few big weeding sessions, I've been thinking about how much my vegetables need me and how much I need them. The weeds are a part of that process of needing and cultivating; they aren't the enemy, just part of the caring process. I suppose the weeds keep my "sowing eyes" from getting bigger than my stomach for hoeing.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Garlic Harvest

Garlic is a gateway drug. It is not usually used by itself for long and leads to the growing of many more delicious vegetables.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tater Update

Our friendly neighbors plot is coming along nicely. Our weather has been pretty mild with not a lot of rain. I have only watered once and let nature do the rest--it has rained twice since planting. the Kennebec are really going for it. I need to get over their more often and do a little hoe work. The weeds aren't too bad yet, but a little work now will help save a lot time later. Once they are a bit taller I will mulch around them with straw.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Share Cropping: Tater and Bush Beans

Sharecropper Jon

My friend can't get to his garden this year, so I've become a sharecropper! His plot is about 25 miles from our house, and is a bit of a drive. However, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to try some "larger" scale growing. He used his tiller to re-break the soil and I used my trusty hoe to create seven 80 ft rows. It was good honest work.

I'm hoping to get enough taters from his plot to keep us in the carbs for the winter. I wanted to plant a more diverse patch of the little miracles, but Yellow Finns were the only seed our store had left. I'm liking the idea of planting in more than my own yard. It is not as secure felling, but it opens all sorts of opportunities for building trust and relationships.

Details: four hours of hand hoeing, 38 pounds of Yellow Finn seed, 100 bush bean seeds, in seven 80 ft rows.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Neighborhood Food

My neighbors have been really supportive of our backyard endeavors. They share their kitchen scraps with our hens and now they are sharing a piece of their backyard! I planted three rows of potatoes: Yellow Finn, Makah Ozette, and Kennebec. The Ozette has a great history and it is fun to contribute to its spread--even if it is in a small way.

Details: Three 3 inch deep trenches, 20 feet long. 18 inch spacing between taters in rows 36 inches apart. Organic Kelp Meal in trenches.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Next and To Do Differently

I have a list of things I would like to do differently, however I am trying not to be too hard on myself:) (If you are reading this post, you might want to visit the other posts to get caught up to speed.) I will break it down into to stages.

  • Use pine shaving for bedding. I used hay and it compacted too much and held too much moisture. I suspect that the moisture contributed to the birds I lost.
  • Clean brooder every day. I know this seems obvious, but I thought tossing new hay over their old, soiled bedding would save me time by not having to clean it out.
  • Make sure the waterer does not leak. I had an auto waterer in the brooder and it leaked in one corner. I thought it wouldn't be a big deal, because the birds wouldn't be in there long--wrong.
  • Build a brooder with a bottom that can be scraped clean. I am not sure what will work best, but I have a garage with a concrete room. It might work best. My only concern about it is the cold that radiates from it. I suppose with three inches of shaving on the floor that wouldn't be a problem.
  • Build a more portable tractor. The tractor I built would have worked with more space, however it was so big, I couldn't rotate it enough in our back yard. The manure became too much to manage. I felt like the birds had a lot of room to roam, but I only moved the tractor four times in 30 days--too much poop in one spot!
  • Put the tractor on the side of the house. The smell wasn't too bad and the noise wasn't a problem. However, with a small tractor and new location I figure I will be able to move it every day and it will only visit the same spot twice in 30 days.
  • Make the feeder easier to access. My girls helped a lot with feeding the birds and because the hatch was hard to access there was a lot of spilled feed.
  • Make the waterer easier to access. My auto waterer was not cool. It didn't work well and I suspect it was my fault:) We ended up buying a five gallon waterer, but it was raised off the ground with bricks. If I move the tractor everyday, I need to figure out a way to keep it suspended.
Butcher Day (Probably the easiest part of the whole process--thank you youtube and local resources)
  • Try to coordinate the scalder and plucker with another neighborhood "insurgent." The cost is not bad--25 bucks--but the set up and cleaning is the same for 25 or 100. It could also be a good way to bring more of the neighborhood together.
  • Use different bags for the finished chickens. I knew I should have used other bags, but we had gallon bags in the house--the four pounders fits fine, but the five pound fellas didn't.
Feed and Misc
  • I was happy with the feed and price.
  • Maybe raise more birds. I wonder if I could do 40 if I moved the pen everyday. I don't want to get greedy or do more than my patch of ground can handle, but the work is all the same. I will go out and talk to 5 birds or 40 birds.
  • Welp Hatchery is worth another try. I lost 9 birds. One right away, two were a different breed and got smothered, one died from a heart attack, and the others died from what I am calling a failure to thrive. I know it is not chickenese, but they did not look like the others. The birds that made it to term were, healthy and feisty. They didn't charge shipping, which shaved 24 bucks off of the order.
  • I am sure there is more.

Butcher Day

It was 8 weeks and 1 day after their hatch day that my little flock met the knife and the freezer. In the end I butchered 16 birds in about two hours. Our family has been talking about the butcher day for a long while and our girls were really ready for it. They ran around, helped with catching chickens, and played in the yard.

The Process

The Catch
The birds were sort of hard to catch. I liked that we kept the birds in their normal pen. They were mellow, but used to staying in the pen. They didn't like to leave. We coaxed them out with a bit of feed.

The Cone and Kill
I hung the killing cone and blood bucket from one of our raspberry posts. I also put a piece of cardboard around the killing zone, so the neighbors wouldn't have to watch.

The Scalder
The scalder was rented from the Mason County Conservation District. It was really nice and kept the water between 145 and 147 degrees. We dunked the birds about ten times and checked their readiness by pulling a wing feather.

The Plucker
All I can say is the Featherman plucker is the best thing in the world! It turns a fully feathered bird into a rubber chicken in about a minute.

The Evisceration

I followed the advice from a ton of blogs and YouTube videos. I went easy on the knife and did more tearing. I started with the feet, then the head, made a small incision above the neck, pulled the esophagus and crop free, made a small incision above the vent, tore open the cavity, pulled out the guts, cut around the vent and presto change-o (I didn't save any of the organs, it was another part of the process that was a bit too much for me).

The Chill and Freeze
Once the birds were cleaned, we tossed them in a large rubber made tote to chill. I bought 8 blocks of ice and it seemed to do the trick. All 16 birds fit nicely in it and were chilled really quick. I was surprised how warm they were before the chiller and how tight and firm the birds got once chilled. We stacked the birds on our cleaned butcher table and stuffed them in freezer bags. THE END Just kidding. I am going to do one more post about what I would do differently and what my plans are for the next go round.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Big Move Outside

Chicken tractor

The guys had to get outside. The garage was starting to smell pretty ripe. I would do a few things different about the brooder--make sure the waterer does not leak and use shavings instead of hay. The hay got so matted and refused to dry out. My auto waterer had a small drip that turned into a problem the last week and a half they were in the garage, so we all just roughed it out. I built the tractor from roof tubes were given to me by a local fruit stand owner. Half of it is covered with a tarp and the other half with 1 inch wire. I put a 2 by 8 skirt around it, but forgot to fix the tubes to it, which means I can't move it yet. A great twitter contact, @RFamilyFarm encouraged me to put some draft protection in the tractor, so I used a scrap piece of tin to "fence" off some of the covered section. Check out his site:

They have been outside for almost a week and are doing well. They are eating twice as much and drinking like crazy. I had a heat lamp on during the first two nights-- we were having freezing weather. I suspect the lamp was more for me than the birds. I was so worried I would find them all in little ice cubes:)
They have way more personality than I was expecting. One bird likes to come up to me and look. I have no idea what he is looking for, but I'd like to think it he is trying to buy some time.
I recently reserved the scalder and plucker for May 21st and I am looking forward to seeing the process come full circle. I like chickens and so far I would do this again.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Garage Chickens Video Tour

Here is a quick tour of the garage chickens. They are 16 days old and I am going to move them outside soon.


The heat lamp was just find. We have only lost 3 birds. One died at day 5 and two others at day 10. I think the three died from trying to sleep near the feeder--they were a bit smaller. So that leaves us with 23. They have been going through about 10 gallons of water a week and about four red cup fulls of food a day. I had to expand the brooder to make room for the guys. I took one side off of the box and added another one.

Chicks at Day 4 and my auto waterier:

Expanded Brooder:

Friday, March 25, 2011

Arrival Day

I got a text from my wife, "The post office called the birds are here!" It was perfect timing-I was able to take my lunch break and drive a few miles to the post office to pick of the 25 gentlemen. The chicks came peeping all the way to the counter and were very active. They shipped from Welp Hatchery on the 23rd, just as they promised.

I thought I was all ready for the guys, but my auto watering system has been acting up. The brooder box withstood a five gallon bucket dumping of water when a hole I had taped up failed. I will post some pictures of the system later, but most of the water creeped out of a corner and didn't soak the entire set up. I noticed the leak last night, and tried to patch if before work. The patch was shoddy so, I am currently using a tray for water.

I am using grass hay as bedding and it seems to working pretty good. I am a bit worried about the heat from the lamp, so I am keeping a close eye on it.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Order

It happened. We ordered 25 Cornish Cross males from Welp Hatchery last week. The gentlemen will be here in two weeks. The brooder is half set up and their tractor is half built in my head. I am really excited about the watering system though. I recently purchased and am awaiting in the mail 10 chicken nipples. I will use them to make an automatic water--I bought enough to put an auto watering system in for our layers, too.

On Saturday I am going down to Patriot Farms to get the meat birds feed. I decided to by their feed based on my choices. The local chain store has the cheapest feed (11.25 a bag), Patriot has quality feed (13.25 a bag), and an organic company in Vancouver B.C. has the label (22.00 a bag). I am choosing local and thoughtful.