Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Turkey Walkabouts

Just a quick note while we rehydrate from weeding the insane stuff that grows here, it seems like over night!
 I watched our four young turkey poults off and on while we weeded, I have no idea how commercial turkey breeders can have in good conscious raise birds as they do. I know consumer driven demand calls for turkey on demand in huge amounts but the birds were never meant to be housed.

Ours do what we call a walkabout. They start in the morning about 5:30 am...walking quickly, browsing on grass and bugs as they march around the farm. They come back to rest and get water and some scratch but off they go again. From the youngest tiniest baby's to the 'old' guys they must walk 4 or 5 miles a day. Happy and curious, dust bathing in the garden and gobbling at things in the grass. They eat bugs, chase grasshoppers and we think have controlled the Colorado Potato beetles this year.

As we weeded the four poults we had in the house were with us in the garden, over by the tobacco barn, up on the hill by the hay bales and over by the house, peeping happy peeps as they marched.

Happy birds, a joy to watch and a bright spot in our day.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Turkey Update

13....count them if you can see them in the clover. Auntie Momma Turkey, who helped raise chicks last spring, hatched 3 poults for us at Christmas has brought her brood out into the big world.

She had successfully hatched 14, 1 egg did not hatch and 1 poult died. We had put a turkey nest box in the woodshed when the turkey hens were wandering around deciding where to lay. Auntie Momma laid claim to it right away. We did have an incident with a chicken trying to share the nest. A couple of serious pecks from a turkey beak soon made her find a safer place.

Everyday during the hottest part of the afternoon, Auntie Momma made a fast dash to get water, then she ran by the feeder getting some food. She grazed and stretched her wings on the way back to her nest. The entire loop took all of 5 minutes.

So may we present "Turkey's 13"....the up and coming poults at our farm.

Now you ask...no white ones? Royal Palm are hatched pure white, it seems the white is recessive to the brown of the Chocolate Tom "Spike".

Then you say..."Are there black ones too?"

Yes, it seems Lilac, the only slate Turkey we had, was quite the layer. Sadly she decided to make her nest in the woods to the east of the farm and our Amish neighbor's son found her feathers.

Once a turkey hen gets an idea she is incredibly stubborn, we had tried to catch Lilac as she would sneak off to nest, hoping we could find her and lock her up. We had been saving all the turkey eggs and put some under Auntie Momma when she decided to set. We were very happy to see the black poults.

The tiny little things are going to drive Auntie Momma crazy, they do not follow like chicks do they go where they want to. It is a gift though to see them.

A video of them:

Now just one more Photo, I had not been able to get a good photo of the Rooster "Smoke". Today I  managed to snap  one of him as he was on hen lookout. He is the Australorp X Red Comet.

We think  he is a fine boy! Why did we call him smoke? When  he was a just small he had a very distinct gray neck. It has changed a lot as he matured.

God Bless and Keep you

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Bad News First- A Ralph Post

I went out to the barn this morning to take care of the animals. History. We have three barn cats we feed. They are a Mother and her two daughters. We were/are going to get them fixed. Too late. We got twelve kittens from them. Cute as can be! 

The Grandmother, Auntie, and Mother all

take care of them to varying degrees. Some more so than others. The Grandmother and Auntie had combined their flocks for mutual care. The Mother kept hers separate. The Mother moved hers a couple of times.

I took the Grandmother and Auntie’s kittens to the back right of the barn and put them in the cat house. (Fiona says that name is technically correct, but she doesn’t like it.) There are eight of these kittens. They are leaving the nest and are all over the barn.

The Mother moved hers and we haven’t found them or seen them. Most of her kittens are calico. Two stood out. Helmet Head is dark and white with a yellow, round “helmet” between his/her ears. Calico equals female? And then there is Bat Ears! Bat Ears is yellow and white. He has the largest ears and a long tail. Can you say “a room full of rockers”?

We haven’t seen Mother’s kittens in several days. Bat Ears was laying on the ground to the side of bay 2. He was just barely moving. He couldn’t raise his head. He was just barely moving his legs. I finished up chores quickly and came back to the house. I told Fiona I had some good news and some bad news. I told her she was a new Grandmother. Turkey number 2 is hatching. At least two poults are out from under her and appear healthy. Then I told her about Bat Ears.

She has say around here on whether I eat or not and of life and death. (Sometimes, the same thing!) I described my observations on Bat Ears. I told her of how feeble he was. I asked if she wanted me to kill him or did she want to go through the possible heartbreak of trying to save him. She said “You know we’ll have to bring him in to the house?” I told her that I expected so. I told her if she didn’t want to try, to not worry about it, we had eleven more backups. She told me to go get him. She isn’t always successful, but usually is.

I went and got Bat Ears. He was cold to the touch. She opened a can of condensed milk. She wet her finger and put it to his lips. No reaction. She worked it in. After several fingers, he started opening his mouth a little. She switched over to a Q-Tip. Then she had me to start heating towels (and the milk) in the oven to wrap him in. He was opening his mouth a little better. She switched over to a syringe filled with milk (no needle). He started moving a little more. He was raising his head and moving his legs. He still couldn’t stand.

We put a heat lamp over a box and put him in it. She gave him more milk. Eventually, he raised up on his front legs. Shortly after, there was a wobbly stand. We were still keeping him covered under the heat lamp. Several minutes later, he crawled out from under the towel and walked a small amount. Minutes later, he was climbing out of the box.

He is still very weak. He won’t stay under the lamp (too hot? - we had raised it, but he still wanted out of the box). Fiona wrapped him in a towel and took him in to the bedroom. She laid down with him held close. I just checked on them. She pulled the towel back. He was dead to the world, laying flat and all stretched out. Sound asleep? She said he seems to be breathing normally. She just won’t let anything die in peace. She has to save it. And usually does.

We had a black hen hatch seven chicks. She ran them all over the place, usually around the barn and the surrounding grass and hay. About ten days ago, the chicks were alone, no Mother. The chicks were still moving around the familiar areas their Mother had shown them. These were the Super Seven. They continued to sleep in the Trophy Room with the ducks (in their own area behind a sheet of plywood where their Mother had kept them. In the mornings, they come out on their own (under the feet of the ducks - they need to get to be faster, or wait). They head on down to the barn and feed. They spend their day in and around the barn. At night, they bring themselves back to the Trophy Room and bed. All on their own. And we still have all seven. At least for now.

About a week ago, we were giving some chickens a treat. I noticed one black hen with a bad cut. I caught her. There was a three inch cut on her back. Fiona doctored her. We doctored her the next day. And I put her in a crate. The next day, she wasn’t moving. I called Fiona and told her to bring her doctor’s kit. I handed her the chicken and went to do some things. Two or three minutes later, I looked over and Fiona was crying. I asked what was wrong. She said the hen looked up at her, quivered a couple of times and died. She doesn’t save them all. And she takes it hard. Hence, my fears with Bat Ears.

About two or three weeks ago, turkey number one hatched out. We don’t know how many. She was on top of a roll of hay in the loft of the barn. Two had fallen off and died. We don’t know if there were more we didn’t find. We brought her and eight poults down to ground level. The next day, three were under the pickup. We captured them. Mother was gone. The three came in to a box in the house. Two days later, I was mowing weeds in a field. I flushed the hen. She was still alive. I searched around for the poults. I could hear poults in the weeds. I found and captured two. I found one of these about two inches from my foot. I had almost stepped on it. I brought them in and added them to the three. I went back and listened. I could hear poults calling, but couldn’t tell how many. When I would get close, they would move in the weeds and go quiet. It was hide and seek. It got dark. I went back. I could hear peeps from various locations, but couldn’t tell how many and couldn’t get an exact location. I found one and caught it as it was moving in the weeds. I brought it to the house. I went back. Eventually, I found one more and caught it. I kept listening and hunting for them until almost midnight. We think she had five poults out there with her. We got four. They were cold. The next morning, three of the seven we had were dead. They were brought in because the Mother would not go back to her poults.

It appears we have three male and two female poults. We built a pen out under a maple tree for the poults during the day. They love it out there and have really been growing, mostly in the legs. They sure are getting tall. We can’t put them out today. There is severe thunderstorms in the area. This is the same storms that has been killing people. The three toms have gotten out of their box and came in to say “hi” and to talk to me. One of the hens is small for her age and as compared to the others. I call her “Cumquat”. Fiona calls her “Little One”. They sure are talking. Lots of various sounds.

Day before yesterday, there was a ruckus down at the barn. I was in the east garden working. Fiona went down. All the chickens were in the barn and looking down to the south. Fiona looked out and saw something. She went around and down to it. A juvenile Bald Eagle had one of our large hens and couldn’t carry it off. She walked up to within ten feet of it before it flew off. She knows the difference between hawks and eagles. It was definitely an eagle. She said it didn’t have the white head yet, therefore, juvenile. The eagle had hit the head. It was a large hen. The eagle didn’t get his dinner. We had chicken hen for dinner. The meat was unharmed. He had bitten off more than he could fly off with.

These are things you experience on a farm. Not particularly nice or pleasant, but part of life.

We have planted twenty-three rows of corn of various maturity dates. The rows are 60 feet long. If all goes well, we will have lots of canning over an extended period of time. About the first few days of June, we will go back through the corn and plant beans, squash, cucumbers, etc. into the corn rows.  We want clover or such underneath for a cover crop and nitrogen fixing. The north row has onions planted on the outside edge for scallions. Beans will get the center of the row after I hill it.

We are late on getting most things done. We are hoping to recover.

Between the utility building and the west garden, we planted 34 fruit trees. Along with the 8 from last fall, that gives us 42 new fruit trees. And the 3 old apple trees that were already here, we now have 45 fruit trees, if they all live. We have plums, peaches, pears, apples, and cherries. Maybe next year, we’ll add mulberries, apricots, nectarines, and...

And we have planted 8 grape vines, 4 kiwi, 4 figs, 4 goji berries, 9 aronia, 31 asparagus, 7 jostaberry, 7 blackberry, 4 boysenberry, 12 gooseberries, 18 raspberries, 170 strawberries (from Tractor Supply - most were rotten, mushy - we won’t get many plants to survive).

And a neighbor had a patch of raspberries he wasn’t happy with (they were interfering with his blackberries). He was going to plow them under. He said if I wanted them, I could have them. We dug up 42 unnamed raspberry plants and brought them home. A couple may have been blackberry shoots. We planted them. We have had two die. A couple more may die, but most are looking good. We just couldn’t pass up on such a good deal.

Last night, we had a very confused turkey tom. He was roosting on the deck railing. He had his head all twisted around while looking at his tail. He had a lightning bug on his tail and it was turning on and off. He didn’t know what to make of it. And, on “His” tail, no less! Eventually, it flew off, much to his relief.

Ahh. Lightning bugs! We have fields on all four sides. The ones to the east and west are most readily visible. And, ohh, the light show! Any field you look at, there is an explosion of lights! They are on, and then off. They are up in the big oak tree. They are in the yard. They are in the fields. They are on you. They are everywhere. No matter what direction you look, there will be at least fifty lights on in your field of vision. And as one light goes out, another comes on. It is just spectacular! So many lights.

We have our sorrows. But we still have God’s joys! May you have the pleasure and joy of God.

Ralph and Fiona

PS: Bat Ears seems to be holding on to life. He is exhausted after his turmoil. He is sleeping like the baby he is. And there is no holding the poults down. They are exploring. Oh, what are we going to do with all this “wild” life. And the two poult hens have joined the toms under my chair. Even Cumquat. It is between a peep,peep and a whistle.
Turkey baby talk!

Photo parade: 
A Buckeye  x Australorp hen

 A Honeycrisp Apple tree blooming

A tulip Tree Moth  

  Donald and his hens

Ralph working on the mulch layer, a million adjustments.

Austrian Pea Cover Crop

Atticus our Buckeye x Australorpe Rooster

Depression, the second chocolate hen from the Christmas poults

And the very best of all. Three of the chicks LLFP hatched in February, the two gold pullets are her daughters! All 10 of them are just fine and growing really well. They love the old orchard and go there every day early and come back late!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

It's about time

    April vanished. However we are not as far behind as I thought we would be at one point. The new orchard is planted and needs mowing again. The young trees are doing well and we might even get the odd apple. The cherry trees, Bartlett pear and young Santa Rosa Plums were slow to break dormancy but now show signs of leaf.

The spring garden has been providing us with greens, the Broad Windsor Fave beans are looking very good and all the potatoes are up, some still need to be hilled but wet weather has slowed that somewhat.

Three turkey hens went broody, we had a horrible few days when they came due to hatch. The weather was terrible, cold and windy. The turkey hen that had the most success escaped and took her day old poults out into the worst weed patch on the farm. We managed to find five of them in knee high thick weeds and got them inside. The other hen lost 4 of hers, we got three to the house but they were just too chilled and died. We think the other one got stepped on. The third hen is in her box in the woodshed ad should hatch in about two weeks. The back yard has a turkey pen for our five survivors and I am typing this as I turkey sit them.

A hen hatched 7 chicks and took them all over the place, then got attacked by a young rooster and left them quite young. We call them the super 7. they sleep in the trophy room at night and head out to the wilds all day. We see them now and then as they get water or some grain, then out to the deep grass they go.

Three more hens are setting.One is a young hen we call Marylyn, she is a Buff x Australorp and extremely grumpy. We are looking forward to having chicks again. The lawn has been mowed, fenceline weed whacked, Herb garden power harrowed and things look good for the next planting.

No broody ducks yet, but lots of duck romance. The three poults born in December are lovely young turkeys, two Chocolate Hens called Sadness and Depression, the young Black Tom is Mournfull. The are the saddest sounding trio you could imagine but come running as soon as they see us.

The new rooster set has earned their names as well.
Shoeless Joe is still top rooster but he is helped by a fine bunch of new guys. The Donald, a Buff x Australorp.  Henry, a Buckeye x Australorpe. Smoke, our white rooster, he is an Australrope x Red sex link. [our one misfit chick, Peaches and Cream is his mother]. Atticus, a Buckeye x Australorpe who has a select flock of hens, all are dark colored and we are fairly sure Buckeye x Australorpe as well.

So goes it. I am taking photos of everything and will do a photo post very soon.

God bless all of you and be safe.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Rain, Grillo repairs, Fruit trees and a Fresh Egg

We have been busy, it has been an odd spring starting with the fruit trees from last fall blooming in March, way to early and despite blankets we lost the chance of fruit from them. They are doing very well though and have all leaved out. The Keiffer pears are lovely, after looking very tall and spindly, then looking cut off too short after pruning, they now have great leaves and are showing signs of the pretty trees they will become.

The broad beans are up and looking like they are quite happy where we put them, in the house garden, in the area where the corn was last year, the gravel does not seem to bother them.[The old road bed goes through  section of the garden].
 The Blue potatoes we planted out in the west garden are up and look great, we also have a mystery row of potatoes from last year when we simply lost the potatoes to rain and insane weed growth. The scallions will be making their way into omelette's this week and we have just planted all sorts of collards, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

All this was delayed by a trip to Earthtool to get a problem with the Kohler diesel engine on the two wheeled tractor dealt with. The most frustrating thing we have had to go through. The Grillo now is wearing a 13 horsepower gas motor, a Honda. Sadly the kohler diesel with its perfect torque and superb power is not suited to field work. Stationary power sources yes, as in a pump or generator. The dust from farming was playing havoc with the motor. Ralph has found the change good in some ways and frustrating in others. The gas is a very good engine but it simply does not have the torque and power for running the flail mower. The flail mower is a heavy implement and we cut a lot of brush with it. The diesel made light work of it, the gas has to work harder. It does a good job but not quite the same.

The west garden was tilled and furrowed with ease and now it is full of all sorts of things.
FRUIT bushes and canes...we are so excited. Raspberries, Blackberries, Aronia, Goji berries, Gooseberries, Fig trees, Logan Berries, Jostaberries, Strawberries and Blueberries.

The odd shaped corner of field next to the west garden, by the utility building is now sporting the start of our new home orchard.
Bartlett Pears, Montmorency Cherries, Dwarf North Star Cherries, Majestic Peach, Reliance Peach, Red Haven Peach, Yellow Delicious Apples, Red Delicious Apple, Cortland Apple, Honey Crisp, and Jona Mac Apples.
Byron Gold Plums, AU Rosa Plums and I am sure I have forgotten someone.

It is so exciting to walk through the young trees and see our very first potential peaches and plums. There are bees from somewhere and butterflies are flitting about them. The ducks already like laying in the grass around the trees. I have to mow the grass and am looking at a grass mix that will make a uniform pasture to have under our trees.

The Austrian peas Ralph seeded as cover crop are doing amazing things, they have continued to grow and the poultry is still browsing through them. We are leaving them to grow and fix nitrogen along the north section of the west garden, this area will become our fall garden after we work the peas into the soil.

Today we are getting much needed rain, the newly seeded plants will enjoy the cooler temperatures. The poultry is not so happy and as I type I see disgruntled hens staring out of the door of the trophy room. They want to be out gathering bugs and bits!

I should say not all hens are disgruntled. I have a very busy little gold hen at my feet. The House chicks are on their own, they live in the old apple orchard and happily put themslves to bed at night, in their box, in the trophy room. LLFP came home and has started to lay her daily egg in her chair. She rules the house as before and feels relieved to be her own boss.

Now thats about it for our news, all is well and we are looking forward to the next stages of the garden and projects here.

God bless all of you and Have all the blessings at Easter.

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



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.

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. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

An Equipment Overview: The First Year

Ralph here. The first year here has flown by, we are starting spring work. I thought it would be an ideal time to let you know how we have made out with the decision to get a walk-behind tractor.

Grillo 110  Walk-behind Tractor with the Berta Reversible Rotary Plow

I am lazy by nature. I don't like exercise and work. I am 67 (68 in July). I wanted a 4 wheel, riding tractor. But, as I get older, I need to be more active. I believe in "use it or lose it".

My Mother had a small fabric shop back home. A woman came in one day. Her husband came in with her. My Father was in the shop. He and my Father got to talking. They figured out that forty some years before, they used to work together. My Father asked him what he was doing now. He said he was doing nothing but watching TV. He had just retired and did nothing but watch TV. My Father told him that if that was all he was doing, he would be dead in six months. Two months later, his obituary was in the paper.

My earliest memories of Dad's Father, he was in his early 70's. He had two or three horses at all times. He had two to five cows he milked twice a day. He had three to six hogs. He had chickens. He used the horses to grow almost all the food for the animals, for himself and my Grandmother, and a lot of the food we ate. She lived to be 88 and he lived to be 93.

My Mother's Grandmother fell off the back porch and broke her hip in 17 places. She was on the way out to her garden and to feed her chickens. She lived to be 95.

My Mother's Father went into the woods every spring to hunt down "an old she coon" (raccoon). He would steal one of her cubs(pups, or whatever they are called). He would raise it all summer long. In the late fall, nature would call and it would go back into the woods and the wild life, Next spring, he would steal himm another one. At 88, he said he just couldn't do it any more. He lived to be 95.

My Mother's Mother had three gardens and an orchard. She had about ten years worth of food canned. At about 90, they were able to talk her into giving up one of her gardens. She refused to give up the other two gardens or the orchard. She lived to be 95.

My point is: The one guy sat down and died. The others remained active and lived a long, healthy life. There is no guarantee that we will live to see tomorrow. But if we don't do our part to remain active, we WILL shorten our time. We "use it or lose it".

For me, this is the background for my philosophy. To help me to overcome my lazy nature, I decided to get a two-wheeled tractor, A four-wheeled tractor would mean sitting around. Two Wheeled tractor means walking and straining to lift and turn and guide and... For health reasons, I needed to go with the two-wheeled tractor. When I say "health reasons", I mean future health. I mean the ability to walk, to do things, to be active. to have good (or better) health. To have less pain. To be able to move better. I wanted the four-wheeled tractor, but the two-wheeled tractor was a better choice for me. I may not be here tomorrow; but, if I am, I feel I will be in better health and more mobile this way.

And don't let that two-wheeled tractor description put you off. Think of a larger tiller. Yes, you have to work a little more and lift more, but it isn't that bad. Depending on the implement, some of it is almost two finger work. Some of the heavier implements is harder work. Yes, harder, but not that bad. I am 67 and I am talking of running the Grillo for three to four or five hours at a time. It isn't that bad.

 Grillo in use with the power harow

Our place is 15 acres. It is rolling. We have an east garden. It is the kitchen garden. It is about 60' by 90'. We have an herb garden to the west side of the house. It is about 30' by 65'. We have a west garden beyond that. It is for spring and fall cool weather crops. It is about 100' by 150'. It is half spring use, half fall use. Beyond that, at the bottom of the property, is a small flatter spot. It is about 75' by 100'. We may try some wheat and/or oats there. In behind the barn is the south garden. It is about 110' by 200'. It is the summer garden for hot weather crops.

Some of our farm

This sounds like a lot, but this is only for two, maybe three, years use. It is to build up our knowledge of the crops and the area. Then these same areas will still be used, just on a smaller scale and with rotational use. Instead of 75' by 150' for a spring garden, it may be 75' by 30' for a five year rotation. Or 75' by 40' for a four year rotation. Same size, just smaller with rotational use. We are new to this area and climate. We need to learn the cycles here. Also, we need to learn what crops grow best here. And we need to learn what varieties we like best. Hence, the two or three years of experimenting. Last year was a wash out, too much rain, then too dry.

That gives you an idea of our philosophy and layout. Now on to the equipment. We had decided on two-wheeled tractor, but which one. BCS and Grillo are the two main choices. BCS had a five year warranty and the Grillo had a two year warranty when we got ours. I think Grillo has upped theirs now. But, the Grillo had a 35% heavier transmission/drivetrain. Because of that, we went with the Grillo. I was looking at longevity of use. The BCS is just fine. It is just that I preferred the heavier gearbox.

Diesel or gas? I went with the diesel because the engine generally lasts longer. It also gets better fuel economy. It is 11 HP. Depending on what you are doing and the load and the RPM's, you can get 7 to 8 hours on a tank of fuel. Heavier loads at higher RPM's equals lower fuel economy. I generally fuel up when I stop for lunch. Regardless. The diesel is more expensive. Earth Tools has the prices online. If you use it a lot, the diesel will pay for itself.
Size: We had to decide BCS or Grillo. Then we could work on size. The sizes are available in each. There isn't much difference. I talked with Joel (the owner). He asked what I would be using it for. I told him. He said that the 131 I wanted was overkill. He said the 110 was basically the same, just a lighter package and a $1000 cheaper and a better fit for what we wanted. (I think Fiona said 107. The 110 replaced the 107.The 131 was more of a commercial tractor and had fewer implements - the diesel was not available for it.) We got the 110. Joel talked himself out of a $1000. He did the same on implements. He cut himself out of about $3000 on our order. So, BCS or Grillo, I recommend Earth Tools for their honesty. I wanted a heavier and bigger tractor because we would be using it a lot and for heavier tasks. I feel bigger can handle the work without working as hard. Therefore, it will last longer. The diesel was part of the package because of the fuel economy and being able to take the harder work at lower RPM's.
Now, on to implements.

Rotary plow. More versatile, but slower. Basically, for turning the soil. Rocks up to fist size, no problem. Beyond that, no experience. Bottom plow was a concern. I was afraid the tractor would not have enough traction to pull the plow through the clay soils. Also, you would still need to work the turned soil. Not so with the rotary plow. You can plant directly into the turned soil. It does a good job of covering the weeds and leaving you with a loose surface for planting. It can be used for making raised beds or rows (for us: sweet potato rows to plant sweet potato slips into). The rotary plow only does a ten to twelve inch width cut. But then you're done. No tiller or anything really needed. It goes down to about ten or twelve inches. It mixes everything together and spreads it over previous passes. Hence, it raises the center of the field a little. This leaves a small trench around the sides. Next year, go the other way and fill it back in.

Berta Rotary Plow

Berta Reversible Rotary Plow [we have this one]

Tiller: For row and bed workup. The tractor has about a 26" to 28" tread path width. The tiller we got is 30". It covers the tread marks. Drawback: Rows need to be further apart to get between growing crops. We had to make the rows about four to five foot apart. That gave us 2.5 feet plus for the tiller and a foot on each side for tomato, corn, potato, etc. plant roots and vine growth. This is not problem for us. We have the room. Others may not have that luxury.

 Grillo Tiller

Power harrow: This is 90 degrees out from a tiller. A tiller goes top over bottom over top, etc. A power harrow goes around. Front to right to back to left to front, etc.  It is like putting your finger down in the soil and making circles. Around and around in circles. It doesn't turn the soil, it stirs the soil. It doesn't disrupt the soil structure. Drawback: It doesn't bury weeds well like a tiller does. It is used to break the soil surface and disrupt the weed roots during the growing season. It can go down about five inches, but it is used between the rows to only break up the top inch or two. Not very deep. You don't hurt your crop roots as badly, it stunts/kills your weeds, and and it loosens up your soil surface to reduce runoff without disturbing the soil. It has an expanded metal roller in back. Advantage: Broadcast your seeds. Set the power harrow tines to a half inch to an inch. Run down the row or across the field. It will stir the top of the soil and mix in the seeds. The roller will firm (not pack) the soil. I did this with cover crop last fall. Yes, I lost some seed due to too deep soil coverage (or no coverage), but I still had good germination results. I am happy with the results. In preparation for the coming garden, I wanted to break up the garden soil to help it dry out and to kill the cover crop. I used the power harrow. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked. I could have planted into it right then. I did the east garden and herb garden. Cover crop seems to have been killed and the soils seems to be drying better and has less compaction from winter rains. I was skeptical of the power harrow's usefulness. I have been quite pleasantly surprised. NOTE: This item is heavy, about 200 pounds. I bought 50 pounds of counterweights for the front of the Grillo to counter it. Along with the engine, the counterweights help a lot. But, it is still heavy. I am guessing 40 to 50 pounds of lift on the handlebars. It isn't bad. It is workable. But, it is still a workout. Longer rows reduce the need to lift. In the row, it is a breeze. There is hardly any work. The work is on the turns. Again, 30" width to cover the tread marks. But, OH! am I glad I have it! It is really a great help in so many unexpected ways.

Cultivator: Cheap implement. Somewhat like the power harrow. It is for breaking up the soil surface. It has no moving parts. You just drag it along behind the Grillo To break up the soil surface.


Mulch layer: Basically no moving parts. Cheap. Joel has these in two, three, and four foot widths. I don't think they are interchangeable as far as the black plastic mulch. You buy mulch for your set width only. I have two foot because I don't intend to do wide rows/beds. I have the drip irrigation attachment for it so I can lay drip irrigation under the black plastic mulch. My idea is to use it for tomato, cabbage, broccoli, etc. plants and such. It covers the edge of the plastic to hold it down. It reduces moisture evaporation so the plants don't get moisture swings as badly. And it cuts weed competition near the plants.
Plastic Mulch Layer

Flail mower: A neighbor mows the fields for hay, but he can't mow everything. It just isn't economical or safe. Some paddocks just aren't big enough to turn a big tractor in. The flail mower and the drum mower (later) work just fine in these areas. We had some weeds near the garden that were six feet tall with some Johnson Grass in it going seven to eight feet tall. It was fairly thick. The flail mower is fairly heavy, but well balanced. It is about a twenty pound lift. I'm not sure of that weight measurement. I just know that it didn't make much of an impression. I'm just trying to give you an idea. I did have to gear down to first gear and higher RPM's, but it pushed the weeds over and cut them off. A flail mower is a mulching type mower. It cut the weeds up fairly small. The mower has a baffle in it to hold the material in it so it cuts it up finer. The baffle is not required. I removed it. There was so much material in the mower, that it was bogging down. There was no room for the blades to turn. This did not cause a problem. Instead of one to two inch debris, I was getting two to three inch debris, maybe four inch. This from six foot weeds. It was still great for mulch debris. It broke down quickly. Even after removing the baffle, it still would bog down once in a while. I would have to stop and back up and go over it again. When I backed up, it spread it backwards a little and then I could go over it easily. It really wasn't much of a problem. If you aren't interested in quick decomposition, the drum mower will lay it down on the ground. It may then take two or three months to decompose (think windrow). The flail mower decomposes a lot quicker. This can be raked up for garden mulch.

Flail Mowing extreme weed growth
Drum mower: The drum mower has two counter-rotating disks with blades on them. They ride on the ground and cut at about two inch height - not adjustable. At the front, they rotate toward each other. As they cut the grass, they pull it toward the center and lay it down out the back into a windrow. The tractor runs over it (it goes under the center of the tractor). Left laying, it will rot back into the field. Thick windrow means it will take time to rot. We let it lay and dry out. Then we will rake four to six windrows into one windrow. This we will fork (by hand) into our pickup or trailer and take to the barn.It is very nice loose hay. As cut hay, it can be used to mulch in the orchard or garden or... Our poultry keep the yard "cut" down pretty well. About every three or four weeks, we take the drum mower or flail mower to the yard. They both do a great job. There isn't enough of a windrow to worry about with the drum mower. The poultry keep it down, but there is always some higher escapees. These get cut.
 Zanon Disc Mower

Molon Rake: This is five foot (60 inch). It can be used for raking or spreading (tedding). It has a height adjustment. I guess you could take it down to the bottom adjustment and spread soil with it. It actually gets down into the dirt on low settings. After using the drum mower, we use the rake to take two to four windrows from the left side and two to four windrows from the right to a center monster windrow. Actually, the left and right are just pushed into each other. Then we use the pickup or trailer to take it to the barn. If the hay is thick, we might only be able to move two rows because there is so much hay (per side, four total). The flail mower chops everything into small pieces. If you want to use this for garden mulch, run the rake drown to soil level and rake it up. You can de-thatch at the same time. The Grillo is just a pusher on this implement. The rake has two tires up front. There is a steering handle that comes back over the top. This handle is used to steer, not the Grillo. It takes about two minutes to get used to, but it isn't bad. It is the most "fun" to work with. We both like running it.

Molon Rake

Caeb baler: We do NOT have this. $10,000. It makes beautiful 50 pound round bales. Joel sells several of them yearly. Beautiful bales. So "cute". Female thing. Fiona says we don't have this YET.

 Caeb Round Baler

My office is on the east side of the house and the east garden is visible out the window. Where I broke it up with the power harrow, it looks so good and inviting. I want to get out there and plant so badly. It is still hard to believe how good of a job the power harrow does. I will use it to till/cultivate the rest of the cover crops and gardens.

The East garden, with the neighbors barn in the background.

We hope this helps you to understand our process and reasoning. Your path is determined by your needs and desires and situation. We hope this helps you in your decision process. This is not a cheap path. But it is cheaper than a four-wheel tractor. And healthier. And our best to you and to your future.

May God guide you in your process.

Ralph and Fiona