Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hanging Clothes Out On the Line & Chicken Whisperer

Hello from Windmill Farm-Have you seen all the lilacs blooming?  You can just smell their fragrance in the air.
What a glorious spring day we are having here in Gridley.  We have spent the last week or so planting more and more items in our garden and getting the drip systems all hooked up.  We try to keep some general sections the same from year to year, but rotating crops is one added features of being a sustainable farmer.  You never want to leave the same crop in the same location as that one item will deplete the soil of all the nutrients that one plant needs specifically which results in having to add fertilizers.  Because we do move our crops around, the watering needs change which require changing the drip systems or number of drip tapes we need for that crop.  And we have stopped using the black plastic a few years ago for a few reasons: 1) it only lasted a few years and it split into millions of little pieces all over the soil (even though it states it is bio-degradable); 2) I hand weed or use straw for weed control; 3) with the cost of petroleum, the black plastic is terribly expensive.


In the spring and summer, I try and save some $$$ by hanging my clothes out on the line and today is a beautiful day to do it.  In Pinterest, I even have a board called "Laundry" and add some of the most beautiful photos of either old fashions clothes pins; or just laundry blowing in the breeze.  Here are a few of my favorites.

Have you ever heard of a Chicken Whisperer??I received a nice email from Catherina Davidson who works in the poultry division of the Tractor Supply office.  She mentioned a few resources over at Tractor Supply that I did not know about.  They have a site that is called Meet Andy the Chicken Whisper.  He is going to start to do short UTube clips on all aspects of raising and taking care of chickens.  Catherina also mentioned that they have created a sub-category within their website that is similar to a blog, where they provide tips, information, tricks, photos, videos on any subject that has to do with raising backyard chickens.  Check it out here: http://www.tscchickdays.com/.
Frank and I want to wish you all a very Happy Easter.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Dogs & Cats In Our Lives; Chicken Coop Sale at Tractor Supply

looked like this on garage door

Growing up we always had dogs and cats.  My parents had dachshunds for years, not one but two dogs that were inside and outside dogs.  In those days, dogs were considered mostly outside dogs, would NEVER be allowed in the living room and only cats would be allowed on the beds.  My mother was in love with having wood cut outs of dogs on her garage door and wherever we lived, somehow she got someone to cut them out and they would be painted "pink" to match the pink trim on the house.  I mean big cut outs, 2 of them facing each other on our big garage doors!  OMG, doesn't that sound ghastly??  Dachshund silhouettes for a while, like 3'-4' sized, but then she changed them to Scotties.  When we took vacations or little trips, the dog/s would stay home and a neighbor would come over once a day to feed and give water to them .Growing up, my Mother was a clean freak and hated cat hair or dog hair in her house. BUT as my mother was older and lived alone, it would make us all laugh because her cat and dog would be inside, on furniture, on her bed, and I had even seen her cat on the biggest NO NO of all, on the kitchen counter!!!
I have to say, even for about 10 years of our early married life, our dogs were OUTSIDE dogs and came inside in the evening, only allowed on the front tiled area or kitchen/laundry room area.  We lived in the country so our dogs were considered watch dogs and kept the deer away from my gardens.  The cats were allowed in the house and could sleep wherever they wished, but no cat box was in the house, we trained them to go to the door to ask out. 

Maybe it was when one of our old, sweet, outside dogs died and we would get a new one, we softened up the rules.  And then we started to have not just one dog, but two dogs.  Several times in our lives, we even had THREE dogs at the same time. 
When we took trips, if it worked out, the dogs went with us.  If not, we would find a friendly and nice local kennel where we knew they were given very good and loving care.  NEVER left home by themselves!!! How could we have been so mean?  We even paid people to stay at our house to be with our dogs/cats to keep them company.
And now, our dogs come and go into any room of the house that they want, we have the swinging door in the back door.  They can sleep on almost any piece of furniture in the whole house, EXCEPT MY WHITE COUCH!!!  And they never sleep outside at night, they sleep either on their dog beds in our bedroom or on our bed.   The only time they slept outside was when both the dogs got into a skunk and after being washed several times, they had to stay inside the garage. And they are with us most of the time, all the time.
Haven't you changed over the years about how your animals live with you? 
Growing up, to buy a collar or lease, the display was in the very back of the store, near where the fish and they used to sell canaries!!!  Maybe 5-6 to choose from, none had studs or diamonds or were even PINK!!! Hasn't that all changed?  We now have whole stores devoted to dogs and cat collars, clothes, bowls, purses to carry them around; sweaters; treats, special foods, special beds; special toys, heating pads, special seats for the car, Halloween outfits, etc.
       The ultimate thing I saw one day, stopped at a stop sign in Sacramento, a big, burly man was driving and had a tiny chiwawas on his left arm looking out the window and the dog was dressed up in a cowboy outfit, hat, vest and a small set of plastic guns.  I couldn't stop laughing every time I thought about that moment, the dog was all dressed up to go for a drive with his owner to town, in his favorite outfit-a cowboy.
     I just can't believe how many eggs I have been getting lately from my sweet hens. Not sure if they are just loving their new hen house that Frank built or a combination of the warmer weather and better living conditions!!! Whatever it is, I am happy and so are my egg customers. I do need and want to purchase more of the Marin chickens but they are so hard to find.
In case you are still interested in raising your own chicks or thinking about getting a new hen house yourself, my Tractor Supply representative sent me an email that they have extended their Chick Day Celebration at their stores and have a sale-SAVE $50 Chicken WARE Heavy-Duty Chick-N-Hutch, 2-4 Chicken Capacity.   I noticed when I was there last week they still have the necessary items to raise chicks like the heating lights, the chick food and the stock tanks which make excellent container to keep them safe and warm.
they just happen to have a great sellection of dog and cat collars, beds, toys, snacks, food-but not sure if they have a cowboy outfit!!!!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Seed Packages-Good Information to Know

I love old seed boxes that were found in old country store counters and each seed company would provide a box to display their seeds.  The graphics are so beautiful.  Seed packets contain so much information, I thought it worth a discussion from Windmill Farm today.  Although I do purchase most of my seeds from several wholesale places, the information provided on most seed packages that you find in hardware stores or nurseries are worth my time, and your time to read.  Growing produce is constantly changing as science understands more about plants that can help growers to yield the best flower or vegetable or fruit.  There is a great interest by the public about "hybrid" seeds and many groups have sprung up all over the place where they meet, discuss and exchange seeds. I applaud these groups, but for me as a seller of my produce, I have to stick to my reputable organic seed companies and purchase new seeds each year so I know and can be guaranteed a vegetable product from the seeds I purchase.
(H1 is printed in middle)
     I would like to share some of my knowledge about what may be contained on a routine seed package that could help a new gardener or veteran gardener, before the package gets ripped open and the seed put in the ground.  Some terms you may see printed on packages or have heard:

OP – Open Pollinated. This means the plant is a pollinator, will give you seeds next year. Op is what you are looking for if you are a seed saver.
H1 – H1 Hybrid, or, Hybrid 1.
H2, T1 More listings describing Hybrids.
Hybrid and Non Hybrid

In the garden, a hybrid is a plant that has recently been cross pollinated by two or more other strains or varieties. A hybrid plant will yield seeds that can grow but those seeds can grow to be a mix of any and all of the varieties that have been crossed into the mother plant. This makes seed saving of hybrids non-reliable and a less secure method of seed saving.
A non-hybrid, also know as “Open Pollinated” (OP), is a determined strain that has been established for years and that repeatedly continues to give us seeds that will be that same (slightly evolved) variety of plant.
Heirloom : The term heirloom in general refers to things that are older than 50 years in age. As such in the garden, the category of heirloom refers to the variety of seeds that are older than 50 years; a category that encompasses seed varieties that have been around a very long time.
Genetically Modified (GM) : The process of genetically modifying a plant starts by removing some DNA or genetic material from one plant, then that DNA is mixed with a virus that has the ability to penetrate the genetic cells of another plant while carrying the new genetic material. This virus DNA mixture is then inserted into the new plants using something similar to an air gun. The seeds of the new plant are considered genetically modified seeds.

It is not always listed on pack whether a plant variety is a hybrid or an open pollinated non-hybrid. Other ways to find out more about a variety is to look it up online or in reference books. For smartphone users or anyone else who has a handy bar code scanner hanging around you can scan the barcodes on most seed packs and get a link to the product information online:)
Someplace on the package the year in which the seeds should be sowed is given and for best results, don't purchase seeds from prior years as the seeds may be too old to germinate.

More Information on a Seed Pack.
  • Time to Plant by Region
  • Seed Sowing Depth
  • Distance Between Rows
  • Plant Indoors and Transplant, or Plant Directly in the Ground
  • Soil Drainage Needs, Soil Depth Needs
  • Year the Seed was Grown, and or Year Grown For. Most seeds have a four year shelf life, for onions it’s two.
  • But Not Always if a plant is full sun
  • Organic seed is seed that was taken from an organically grown plant.

So now that you have read your packages, found the right spot to plant the seeds, go out and have some fun digging in the dirt.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Now is a Good Time to Plant Potatoes

Having a farm that grows lots of different vegetables and fruits for our CSA members requires a great deal of planning.  Seed catalogs are a great source of information to help me when needed, but my main "tool" in winter and spring is my date calendar.  I keep track of the dates I plant and then go to the dates when the item should be ready to pick. 

This week I am planting potatoes.  If you have never eaten a farm fresh potato, you would be surprised at the difference in flavor.  That is it, they HAVE flavor, you hardly need anything extra on them.  The potato planting information states that they can be planted between January-March, as long as there won't be any extended freezing of the soil.  Right now, I am hoping here in Gridley the hardest frost time is over.  Good grief, today it is supposed to be 80 degrees and it is 03-13-2013!!!  I probably could have planted them in February, but our soil was too wet for Frank to disc the area I wanted planted.
Potatoes are a root vegetable where new potatoes start from the potato itself. They are propagated by planting a part of a potato called a "seed" that has at least 2 eyes on it.  The eye produces a sprout and the new plant emerges and the root of the plant produces new potatoes.  I purchase bags of "seed" potatoes, I cut them up into pieces as long as there is a sprout or the 2 eyes.  They like to be planted in rich and well drained soils and like to be kept moist.
Frank ran the tractor disc and created a row/s of mounded dirt.  The mound itself is where the new potatoes will grow.  If you do not make a mound, then the potatoes will be below the surface, so you will have to dig them up.  It can be done, but I have found that it makes it harder to actually get the potatoes because every time you put in a shovel or hay fork, you can run the risk of cutting through all your new potatoes and the digging is hard digging.
The complete cycle takes around 120-150 days from planting to harvesting.  When the plant first emerges and gets about a foot tall, you need to continue to mount up dirt or straw under the plant.  The plant is a really nice looking bushy plant that will produce white blossoms.  You continue to keep the soil moist and when the plant dies, your new potatoes are ready!! 
I have seen some great new containers for growing them in small back yards and even seen some examples of using black garbage bags.  They are a pretty easy plant that will grow as long as there is good compost, some straw, water and full sun.  I will take some pictures when we dig the ones we planted today up.  I have put it on my calendar that they should be ready middle to end of July.  They will be a nice addition to our CSA produce baskets.


Monday, March 11, 2013

How The Heck are Those Hens Getting Out!!!

Hello from Windmill Farm.  If you have been following our little farm adventures, you will know that Frank built this beautiful new chicken house for my 24 heritage breed hens.  Although Frank is known to say to many how he hates chickens, he did build the new hen house with all their needs in mind.     A few days ago, we went to Tractor Supply to pick up some metal T posts, they are called, to finish up the chicken fencing.  The new fencing has been up but Frank wanted to get the metal posts to add between the wood peeler posts to give it more strength.  We had talked at length when designing the hen house and yard about height of fencing, with the final decision of going 7' tall but burying 1' in the ground so no critters could dig under.  The hens have finally adjusted to having more inside space and huge outside yard space.
   About 4 days ago, the one hen I call Squirrley, was outside the fence when the rest were inside.  She has always been a little odd.  If all the hens wanted to go left, she would go right; if all the hens wanted to go inside, she wanted to stay outside; and if I opened the door into the hen house, she would fly out the door before I could catch her.  So when I saw her outside, I figured she got past me when I fed them in the early morning.  That night, I had to let all of them out before dark, so they ALL, including Squirrley would go back into their safe and protected new house.
  About 2 days ago, while I was working in the back field, I saw two hens on the outside of their yard, in the back field without any gates open.  One was Squirrley and the other was the Marin hen.  Had to do the routine again that night to make sure they all got into their house safe, counted them 1-24, all there.
  Yesterday, I again was out in the back field and I see 4 hens scratching in my newly planted vegetable patch outside their pen, in the back field.  How the heck are they getting out of our full proof fencing!!!  I told Frank there must be a hole in the fence.  He said I didn't count right and they had been out all night.  I walked around the whole fenced in yard, up high and low to see if there was any way they could slip through the fencing.  I looked all around the large gate in the back and the man gate, but the wire was very low and tight.  All I could say is that the chickens are Haudini chickens!!!
  Today, Frank and I were planted potatoes, in the back again.  I heard this loud rattle of the back gate and there was Squirrley, on top of the 6' gate and fence along with her other hen friends, and then they flew off the gate and preceeded to start scratching in my newly planted beds.  So that was how they were getting out, I have never had any problem with them ever flying out, but I guess Squirrley showed some of her friends how to do it and since she got to get out, they wanted to go too.
  Tonight, I just came from their hen house with my scissors. Squirrley and her 3 other friends all got their wings clipped.  Tomorrow should be interesting to see how they attempt to jump the gate.  If it happens any more to any of the other ladies, they all are going to get their wings clipped one, by one.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Stop -See - Smell the Blossoms

  I have been working in the gardens around our house for several weeks, not every single day, but depending on the weather and what else we have going on here at Windmill Farm.  These gardens have to be clipped, weeded, raked and pruned now because once I start planting seriously in my vegetable gardens I rarely have time.  I pruned back all the roses, trimmed my hydrangeas, fertilized the roses with the systemic feed, but most of my time and energy was spent hacking back IVY!!!  I totally hate ivy, but my wonderful husband Frank loves it so it is a marriage/garden compromise.  When I hack away at it, he always comes over to see how much I have cut, worried that I will kill it.  As most of the world knows, you just can't kill ivy and most people hate it like I do.  But it had really taken over the front of our house, in fact one of my ladies who came to our coupon class said she always refers to our house as the ivy house!!!  Not what I would want people to remember when they see our gardens.  Well, at least for a week or so, the front entrance is free of wondering ivy, as I sleep it will be creeping in again.

   Gridley and most of Butte County is ablaze with beautiful pink and white blossoms everyplace.  If you happen to live up in the foothills or outside of our area, it is worth a drive on Hwy 70 and Hwy 99 to see the magic of nature happening.  Our orchard has a wide variety of fruit trees, so each is blooming at different times.  I have pink blossoms from the peach trees; white blossoms from our apricot trees; and the plum and pluot trees are both pink and white.  The cherry trees are getting close, you just see hints of pink on the stems.  Yesterday I just stood in the middle of the orchard and looked up to view nature at its' finest. 
The tulip trees are blooming also.  There are many old farms in our area and some yards have the biggest and most spectacular Magnolia trees that are full of "tulip" flowers, some are as big as a hand.  I have a few that we planted when we moved here that are getting pretty big and I can't help myself to cut a few to bring into the house.
  On a sad note, our Resident Pheasant is gone.  I last saw him February 25th.  It was a terrible windy day, so I thought he wasn't around because it was such a horrible day.  But since then, he is not here.  We so miss him, he was always outside waiting for us to come out and let his lady chickens out or was calling to us from around the farm.  I guess we have been just lucky to have him here as our "pet" for almost 4 years.  I keep telling myself maybe he is out visiting an old girlfriend, one from his own species!!!  He has been gone a few times before, but he has never been gone this long.  He brought us and all the visitors to our farm, great joy to be able to see one up so close, he was so beautiful and was a pretty proud pheasant cruising around the place with his favorite blonds-the Buff Orphington chickens.