Monday, March 20, 2017

The tale of a Chick

Peep, peep, peep...just where was that noise coming from. Ralph heard this sad little peeping on his way to the workshop.There in the middle of the yard was a tiny, yellow fluffball, we had not had truly broody hens and this was a surprise. No one wanted her and no one was on any of the nest boxes, but here we had a chick.
 She was tiny, bright yellow and loud. We brought her in the house and set up one of our bio-dome on the plant mats for her to live in. She ate and drank right away and promptly made herself at home in my heart. I always laughed at people who had chickens for pets until I started to raise this one little chick.


She was super feisty and loud, she would jump up and down in the bio-dome to get me to pay attention to her, but she would sit quietly on my lap as I fed her tidbits. She followed us everywhere given half a chance. There was a continual peeping and chirrping when she was awake!



She was not too much trouble, if we went to town or outside we would put her back in the Bio-dome, listen to her complain until we gave her fresh food, then we would sneak out.
However, every now and then we go on Sunday drives to see the country and Ralph has places he would like me to see from his days as a truck driver. One Sunday he wanted to take me to see the Ohio river and cross it into Illinois and Indiana. Now this is a full day trip and I realized we could not leave LLFP [Little lady Fluffy Pants] alone this long, the bio-dome was getting too small. Ralph said we could take her...I thought he was kidding but oh no.


I set up a box with shavings, a dish of food and some water. I grabbed a roll of paper towel and broke the news to "LLFP"! It was really quite ridiculous but what the heck we have never done anything normal so why start now.


She settled in incredibly well and happily perched on Ralph's arm. She would come over and sit on my arm and look out the window, occasionally she would perch on Ralph's shoulder. The trip was very much enjoyed and we saw a lot of beautiful country, shared snacks with our chick and just had a great time.
However, just like any small traveler, child or chick she got tired, really tired, but she tried so hard to keep her eyes open....she failed!



When we got home we put her in the Bio-dome for the night, no fuss, she went right to her favorite corner, rustled down and promptly went to sleep.

As she grew we knew she was never going to be a really big hen but she was going to be feisty hen. She ruled the house and our cat respected her, but they became friends and though, they would never sleep together, could be found together.

LLFP loved it when she was big enough to go outside. We took her with us to the gardens when we were planting and she would stay under the garden cart and eat clover and scratch for bugs.


When we would go back to the house she would run after us and hop up the stairs, marching into the house and looking for her food dish. She was now enjoying both indoor and outdoor life. Getting used to the other chickens and adventuring on her own. She was growing into a sweet hen and still enjoyed visiting me in the morning. She had outgrown the Bio-dome and now perched on the back of an old wing chair we rescued from Goodwill.

Morning often saw her waking before us and coming to the bedroom, hopping on the bed to let us know time was wasting.




She thrived with the outdoor life and rambled everywhere, but every night she would be at the back door, ready to come home for the night. We did have a few issues with the place she waited...yes she flew from the deck to the deck rail, then from the rail to the yard  light. There she would sit until Ralph reached for her and brought her in. Then it was a quick march to her chair.


She did have strange hours for a chicken when winter came along. All the regular chickens would go to bed at dark....LLFP would come in at dark but then would enjoy our company and house light until our bedtime. We think that may have had an influence on her next stage of development.




She had developed into a typical buff hen. The lovely color and fluffy bottom, the sweet and friendly nature [most of the time but she was bossy]. I just loved to see her and was so pleased to watch her grow up.

Then one morning she did not come to the door to be let out for the day, we looked at her chair....


She was tucked in and laying there in a nest she had made. Humn....it seemed she had grown up and yes, she was laying her first egg!


It was a tiny egg and she was very proud of it, her loud clucking scared the cat half to death and even the outside poultry was clucking back!
So all winter, 5 to 6 days a week, we would have one ultra fresh egg. She still loved to go out and every day she would appear on the deck, at the door asking to be let in, she would lay, brag then want out. [Unless it was really cold]. She laid her first egg in November. In Mid January she started to get really crabby. I mean REALLY crabby!

I asked Ralph if she could be going broody as young as she is. He replied...she is a Buff! Sure enough she had raging hormones and decided to set. We let her keep two of her eggs and added more. She was settled in for the duration. Feb 2nd was marked on the Calendar with the 22 to 24th a hatch date.

I fed her boiled eggs, the yolk crumbled up and gave her little drinks of water. She set well, only coming off the eggs for the briefest times.

Feb 23rd we had peeping.....11 chicks were soon hatched, one egg partially pipped but  the chick did not survive. LLFP was beyond proud and so careful!




I have to admit I was really glad we have linoleum flooring. We had a good sized box for the family to begin with, then we turned it on its side when they needed more room. It sat in Ralph's office and the chicks entertained us to no end. We used a small, broad based, cat food dish for chick starter. The chicks could scramble in and eat and LLFP could scratch with out it tipping over. 





They were brave right from the start and ran everywhere. We had to be very careful not to step on them. They soon started to realize how nice and warm the floor was by the stove and we would find the family sprawled out, soaking up heat.

It did not take long before they were far too big to have in the house. Setting up an area in the utility building took no time and soon we moved the family out of the house.

It was suddenly quiet...no skitter of little chick feet, no sound of come to food clucking, no having my ankles attacked if I got too close to the chicks. It had been a very long time since we had a chicken free house. LLFP made the move bravely and now has her rebellious brood rambling all over the yard. She has decided when they are big enough to climb the steps  of the deck she wants to bring them home.

It has been a wonderful adventure with our little lost chick. I hope all her chicks are hens but we know how that goes. There is one little blonde bundle of feathers that I  know is the next generation of LLFP..she is a fierce little thing and just like her mother!

So as I type this I am watching the "Peepster's" as they run across the growing grass and forage, their mother all fluffed up like a basket ball and I miss my house chick. Its wonderful though to see them being real chickens and starting the next generation of our poultry!





Happy Spring and happy adventures ahead with your life and endeavors, God Bless all of you.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

I Need To Buy Some Stock In Red Solo Cups


Well, I’m still an idiot. That old “out of sight, out of mind” is me.

I use plastic cups for seed starting. I usually use Solo, but last year, they were out of Solo. I got Hefty instead. For me, I consider that a big mistake. The Hefty is thinner and more flimsy. The lip is not as strong. The Solo is thicker and more firm. When I pick up a cup with a seedling, the Solo doesn’t collapse. The Hefty collapsed several times, spilling potting soil and seedling. A few choice words, pick everything up, tell myself to never get Hefty again, and go on with my work. 


Last year, I collected my cups and put them on the shelf in the workshop to clean for use this year. Guess what I forgot about. So this spring, I have had to do what I was going to do last fall.

I use the largest cups I can get: usually either 18 ounce or 20 ounce. I use a drill bit, a screwdriver, a knife, or whatever, to put one to three holes in the bottom. The purpose is to get good drainage. This is no beauty contest. It doesn’t have to look great. It just has to work for your new seedlings. Burrs, flaps, whatever, is fine. Just as long as it drains is all that matters. If you tear up a couple of cups before you get the knack, it is no big deal. You’ll get a technique. You’ll make it work.

Once I have holes in the bottom of the cups, I move over to the 15 gallon muck tubs I have. I usually use two muck tubs, for convenience. I fill both muck tubs with potting soil. I now take the cups with holes in the bottom over to the tubs and fill them with potting soil. Note: If the potting soil is dry, I add water and mix by hand until I have a damp (but not wet) potting soil. I fill the cups with the damp potting soil, but leave about 3/8 inch to 1/2 inch space on the top (like in canning). I sit the cups aside. When I have enough cups done (or I run out of space), I stop filling cups (for now). I then take my seeds and plant the cups. Depending on the age of the seed and what it is seed of, I plant what I think is the proper amount of seeds over the top of the potting soil. It is usually at least 2 seeds and may be 6 or 7 seeds. It is my choice and decision to meet the circumstance. It does not necessarily meet what everyone says is the “proper number of seeds per cup”. It is my cup, my seeds, my decision. Then Fiona tears off a strip of Saran Wrap to cover the top of the cup. She pulls it down firm and smooths out the wrinkles. I then put a rubber band over the Saran Wrap and down over the cup to hold the Saran Wrap taunt. This is now a mini greenhouse. I hand the cup to her and she updates the name on the cup (most are reused and already have two or three names on it). 

Solo cups with seedlings and saranwrap covers.


Note: I use two muck tubs so I don’t have to stop and refill a muck tub. When both are empty, I stop and refill both of them. If I don’t use all the soil in the two tubs, I sit them back in the workshop until the next planting session. The potting soil will dry out, but is still good. And it is sitting there ready to use. All I have to do is add water.


Note: From above, we have a bunch of mini greenhouses. We put them in flats on a grow mat. This provides bottom heat (adjustable). Then we TRY to bide our time until the seeds come up. The Saran Wrap makes a nice window to view the seedlings (hopefully they come up). The head space is to give the seedlings room to grow out of the soil. When we see a seedling coming up, we remove the rubber band and Saran Wrap. There may be even more seeds coming up. After a week or so, we cut off all the seedlings (or transplant them) except for the strongest one. 

Solo cups with seedlings hardening off.


Note: What I like about this method is the cup. When you get a plant front the nursery/big box store/whatever, it is in a small “plug” and is root bound. With the cup, I have more time (and potting soil) before the seedling gets root bound. The seedling is healthier and more ready to grow when planted out into the garden because they are not root bound. They don’t have to recover, they just keep growing. No acclimation for them from the cup to the garden.

Draw Back: This method uses up a lot of space compared to a six pack or four pak. But it results in a much better plant. Don’t let the seedlings dry out in the cups!!!

Note: Cups: You can’t have too many! We stack them on top of each other and put them in a box. I have two boxes of cups: one of new cups and one with prior usage cups. The new box has 318 cups (270 still in plastic and 48 loose). Most (if not all) are Hefty. I got all they had last year. My mistake - live and learn. The used cup box was not counted. There are 500 to 700 cups in there. These are the ones I had to wash. Job done now. Should have been done last fall. If a cup splits or gets crushed or something, throw it away. I have plenty of replacements. And the store has more of them. Solo this time! I used Terrior Seeds advice from their Gardening Almanac. I used 9 parts water to one part bleach for cleaning. I then air dry them. 

Burner with washtub of heated water


So, back to me. We have a stand alone propane burner for large Cajun pots. I have a #2 wash tub I put over it. We use this tub for dunking roosters. I bring the water up to 100 degrees F. to 105 degrees F. I put in about 50 cups loosely. I rinse and scrub as necessary. I put them in a muck tub (we have a bunch of these things). I don’t bother rinsing. My hope is that the bleach will kill any bad organism and rinse/dilute as I water the seedlings. I guess I will find out. I’m not expecting any problems. I may even do a rinse later before using them. Anyway, we finished cleaning all the used cups. We used the muck tub to carry them out to the utility trailer. I turned them upside down across the floor of the trailer to let them air dry. 

Spreading cups out to dry. 

Muck tub to carry washed cups

Helpers

 
Supervisor


We use these cups for spring cool weather crops and summer crops and again for fall cool weather crops.

For tomatoes (and anything we can’t get planted before they get root bound), We have 6” x 6” x 8” high pots we got from Greenhouse Megastore. I think they were Belden Seniors. These will hold a tomato for a long time before it gets root bound. We still start the tomatoes in the Solo cups. When the roots are starting to show on the sides fairly heavily, we transplant them to the Seniors. When weather warms up, we pop them out of the Seniors and plant the tomatoes into the garden. It gives them a nice head start. No transplant shock. Expensive on potting soil. We use the good stuff. It is worth it in the long run. Stronger and healthier transplants are the result.

I have potting soil bought last year at the end of the year on closeout. Before long, I am going to have to start filling those cups and putting seeds in them. It is a lot of work, but I am so looking forward to it. Garden dreaming!!! How’s your dreams?

May God give you your dreams.

Ralph and Fiona



PS: Fiona and I were discussing the bleaching of the cups. It is recommended that tap water sit for twenty-four hours to let the chlorine and fluoride gas off. Bleach is a chlorine product. I went and rinsed the cups to get most of the chlorine off of them. That was my mistake. I should have remembered that earlier.
Bio-dome


PPS: I didn't mention the Bio-Domes from Park Seeds. With the cups, the Bio-Domes aren't really necessary. But I DO have them, and I like them. I do still use them. They are just an unnecessary added expense, just nice to work with. They use a plug format. The plugs are an inverted pyramid with a small short hole in the top (base?) of the pyramid. Remember, the tip (point) of the pyramid is down. These plugs drop into a Styrofoam "frame" with holes for the plugs. The styrofoam "frame" plug hole goes all the way through the styrofoam to the water.  The "frame" floats in water. Then you drop a seed or two or three into the hole in the plugs in the "frame" . The styrofoam is floating in the water with the tip of the plug in the water. Therefore, the plugs siphon water up into the plug to moisten the seeds. There is a dome that fits over the tray to hold humidity up. The dome has vent holes to release excess moisture. When the seeds germinate, I remove the dome. The water can have fertilizer added to it for the plants to use. As long as you keep water in the tray, the plugs have water. I put the trays on grow mats for bottom heat. The system I have is an older system. It has two "frames" per tray maximum. There are three sized holes (and corresponding plugs). They are small, medium, and large. I think large is called jumbo. Some such names. The "frames" are the same size. There is just varying size holes. The small holed ones have 60 plugs (120 per tray). The jumbos are 18 plugs (36 per tray). The mediums are somewhere in the middle. I can mix the "frames". I can have one small and one jumbo together in a bio-dome. The jumbos handle larger seeds like pumpkin/squash. Because the plugs are so close together, they will get crowded quickly. I can and have transplanted from the trays to cups. But I can also go from the tray to the Belden Seniors or straight to the garden. Or, to a huge twenty-four inch patio pot. Again, I plant extra seeds, then snip off the weaker seedlings in the plugs.