Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Poultry Apocalypse 2015

Every year chicks are ordered. They arrive fairly unscathed despite their journey. This year, unfortunately, that was not so. It seems this is the year of the poultry apocalypse and it isn't pretty.

Admittedly, my order was placed a little later than normal. The busy-ness of our home has me running a bit behind tradition. The confirmation came stating our chicks were shipped, but the pick up call did not. Four days passed before we received a late night call, after postal hours, that the chicks were in. By morning the results were dreadful. Nearly half our birds were DOA. Those that remained didn't last long.

Contact with our hatchery confirmed the error had occurred in transit; the birds seem to have sat in shipping between there place and ours. Rising temperatures and enclosed trucks led them to their fate. Graciously our hatchery re-ordered.

Confirmation came, but the call did not. Again, though one day earlier than the last, our birds were still not here until three days past their scheduled pick up. Again, the results were fatal. With dread and remorse I contacted the hatchery seeking a solution to the mix up. They were on top of the error and eager to resolve as well. Bless them.

As of right now, half the birds we anticipated are alive and seem to be holding their own. We decided to accept credit to the account and not attempt further shipments right now. The hatchery is working to reach out to the postal offices regarding care of live animal transports. It has been a tough season, but it is a blessing to work with a wonderful company.

A few lessons learned:

*stay on top of the anticipated arrival date- it would not have helped this time, since the birds truly were not arriving on time- it does help you prepare

*be open and honest with the post office and your hatchery- both sets of employees were helpful and ready to answer questions.

*know your hatchery- we have a long excellent history with our hatchery and it really helped during this mess.

*accept what you can not change and move on- I hate losing them, but I can't fix it. Focusing on what is truly helps.

*be ready for disaster- have electrolytes, incubators, isolation areas, and even a hair dryer available for emergencies.

The hatchery we have used for many of our homesteading years is Murray McMurray Hatchery; excellent company with very considerate and helpful staff. I highly recommend them.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Finding the End of the Cabbage Harvest- Finally

   Believe it or not, I may have finally reached the end of the incredible cabbage harvest- remember the crazy story about test beds and my husband who seriously hates cabbage. Making one final batch of sauerkraut brought to mind a familiar setting: grandmothers gathered, knives in hand, and a crock so large I could curl up in it. Stroll with me... back to the prairie:

   Down in the garden Grandma has a knife in hand and large buckets to fill; spring cabbage is ready for harvest. Pulling back the large outer leaves, she cuts the large firm heads. My job is to load them into the buckets as she chops them but the fresh spring air and warm sparkling sunshine keep distracting me.
   Back in the big farm kitchen the cabbage heads are washed before the hard cores are cut out. One by one the cabbages are shredded into fine pieces and sprinkled with plenty of fine salt. Worked and wrenched the salty shreds fill bowl after bowl all around the room. Time for the big brown crock to make it's way to the garage....we're making sauerkraut.
   In the coolness of the garage, Grandma fills the large crock with the salty wet cabbage shredded the day before..the wooden 'plate' is set in it's place to weight the cabbage under it's juices. It takes forever for cabbage to become kraut! Yet, as we daily 'churn the kraut' our minds wander to the various things she will make with this tasty treat: kraut and hot dogs, even my favorite sauerkraut pizza!
   Day after day we wait for the kraut to be just right..then packing and canning and setting on the scary basement shelves...just another blessing of this spring's bounty.

   Living in the humid south rarely affords me the laborious task of kraut making. My batches are few and far between since our cabbage season is short and our humidity is high. This year brought a longer cold season, offering the opportunity for hearty cole crops-- well, that and those buried soaker hose test beds.

For those of you asking, no, he doesn't eat sauerkraut either.

Better grow tomatoes in those beds next!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Offerings of Spring


The splitter-splatter of raindrops continue in intermittent cycles outside my window. Here and there a bird offers a song to break the melody. I managed a short walk around the property during a break in the rain to find signs of life; offerings of spring.

The herbal garden has greened up quite nicely with spots of color from daffodils and hyacinths. There in the foliage I spied a few early rose buds hinting at their presence. Soon this area will be filled with colored petals and the fragrance of citrus blossom.
Behind our house the woods are full of honeysuckle underlay with the white bloom of dew berry. Every time the sun pokes out bees scamper for nectar, pollinating to ensure a bountiful harvest is coming.

Tree buds can be seen if you look hard enough. Yesterday saw the first hints of pollen dust on every flat surface. Allergy season is sure to hit soon.

In these moments of transition inspiration can be found, for God has not forgotten. As sure as He will unfurl the leaves, He surely will unfold His plan for me. Such welcome sights offer me a realization: that every aspect of my life- be it home, office, blog, business- be a place of comfort and welcome; a place where we linger a bit, long to stay a while, and seek to come again.

The gloom of clouds may stay longer than desired, yet out of the rain will unfurl the glorious beauty of inspiration.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Breaking Down Compost- the nitty gritty of it

  • 1. A mixture of organic matter, as from leaves and manure, that has decayed or has been digested by organisms, used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients. Webster's dictionary

  • Like any good gardener I have a pile of rotting roughage off in the far corner of my property. Out of respect, we call it a compost bin. There in lies all things foul and stinky: barn muck, stall crud, coop poop, gross egg shells, leaves, moldy hay- you get the picture. In order to become a bit more respectable in the department of garden knowledge, I have taken a few classes on compost.

    Proper compost bears no foul odor, is not compacted, and has a healthy green-to-brown ratio. Not only do leaves, bark, and pine needles go in, but there needs to be a hearty does of veggie debris, grass or yard clippings, and the like. Compost needs to be damp; watered regularly to keep moisture at a proper level. There must be stirring or turning of the bin or pile to encourage heat distribution and adequate break down of debris. Who knew?

    Okay, so I don't have the best practices when it comes to my compost pile- I have never turned it, water only happens when rain comes, and uh, no veggies or grass clippings have ever graced the bin. Whoops! Moving on..

    Compost should be added to gardens areas yearly in colder climates or twice a year in warm, southern climates (mine). Once a season ends, working a hearty helping of compost into the plot replenishes nutrients preparing the soil to support new plantings. Flower beds or beds already planted will benefit from some side dressing or top composting- simply placing a light layer of compost around the base of your plants offers them a nice boost of nutrition.

    Okay, I did get that one right. Our soil is worked over between plantings and often side dressed while plants are in the ground. Compost tea is a great vitamin shot for hearty plants, flowers, and sturdy herbs (don't do it when you are about to harvest and never spray it on lettuce! Think ecoli.)

    The reality is- there is a lot of advice about compost- some is experience based and some is research based. My practice falls somewhere in the middle. The intention of my garden and compost is to do the best I can with what I have and the time I have to do it in. There is always room to improve!

    A few side notes:
    Never add fats or animal protein- that will make a rancid mess and attract unwelcome pests.
    Egg shells are excellent for adding calcium to the mix.
    There are accelerators/activators on the market to hurry up the decomp process.
    Worms are always a welcome sign of healthy compost.


    Monday, March 23, 2015

    Beautiful Sighting

    Luna Moth
    Actias luna (Linaeus, 1758)
    Sometimes called the American Moon Moth
    This beautiful Luna moth rested calmly on our homestead during a long day of intermittent rain. Most we have found have wing spans around 4", yet this one was rather on the small side. I love when the Lunas drift in from the woods during the night attracted by the light over our shop door. Some mornings the side of our barn area is covered with them.
    Identification: Hindwings have long curving tails. Wings are pale green, each with a transparent eyespot. Outer margins are pink in the southern spring brood, yellow in the southern summer brood and in northern populations.
    Wing Span: 2 15/16 - 4 1/8 inches (7.5 - 10.5 cm).
    Life History: Adults are very strong fliers and are attracted to lights. Mating takes place after midnight, and egg-laying begins that evening. Females lay eggs in small groups or singly on both surfaces of host plant leaves. The eggs hatch in about one week and the caterpillars are sedentary and solitary feeders. Leaves and silk are used to spin papery brown cocoons in litter under the host plant.
    Flight: One brood from May-July in the north, two to three broods from March-September in the south.
    Caterpillar Hosts: A variety of trees including white birch (Betula papyrifera), persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), sweet gum (Liquidambar styraciflua), hickories (Carya), walnuts (Juglans), and sumacs (Rhus).
    Adult Food: Adults do not feed.
    Habitat: Deciduous hardwood forests.
    Range: Common. Nova Scotia west to Saskatchewan and eastern North Dakota; south to central Florida, the Gulf Coast, and eastern Texas.
    exert from: