Saturday, July 30, 2011

Babies Are Here!!!

I wasn't expecting anything until Sunday, but Friday night as I was feeding the chickens, I thought I heard peeping.  I took an egg from under Abigail and it was pipped!  Two of them were.   I put them back and left her alone, and this morning there are two sweet, yellow Buff Orpington babies!!


Abigail has never been "Henzilla" during this whole process, and although she isn't happy about me taking the babies from under her and 'chuck-chucks' with concern when I do, I was able to pick each one up and get a good look at them.  All their parts are there, in the right order and number, and these two seem robust and healthy. 

I guess I was right all along, when I thought a couple of the eggs were more advanced.  So far she is still  sitting tight on the other two eggs, and much prefers the babies to be under her too.  I have no idea if Abigail has ever been a mom before, but she seems to be doing a good job.

Now I'm off to the Lexington Farmer's Market to meet the folks from  Good Shepherd Sheep Dairy, and taste me some sheep's milk cheese!   

The stork has arrived Wren Cottage.

And now there are three!  By the time I got back from the Farmer's Market, the third Orpington chick had hatched out.   Now to wait and see if the Cochin makes it.  They are so cute!  A couple of them are being adventurous already, coming out from under Mom and checking out their digs.  Abigail does not like that!  She wants them safe and sound under her.

"Hide me under the shadow of your wings."   -   Psalm 17:8 

Friday, July 29, 2011

Strange, but true

Earlier this week, Homeschool on the Croft  blogged about getting sheep ready for an upcoming Agricultural Show.   If you are not familiar with this blog, let me explain that she lives on the Island of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland.  She posts photos of spectacular scenery there, and no, they don't live in a tiny stone cottage with a peat fire.  It's a very nice modern home, built to withstand the near-constant strong wind they have. (she doesn't even spin or knit! gasp!)

Her brother-in-law raises Scottish Blackfaced sheep, and they dye them before showing them!  Several of us asked why, but there hasn't been an answer yet.  If we get one, I suspect it will be something like 'because we've always done it that way,' rather than something practical.  

Not willing to wait for an answer, I went looking on the internet:

I never did find out why they do it, but from what I can tell, is has been a long-standing tradition in Scotland to dye the Blackfaced sheep for shows, usually in shades of yellow, gold and orange.   Now parts of England are taking up the practice, because sheep-rustling has become a big problem, and purple, green, red or aqua sheep uh......kind of stand out if you try to pass them off in a flock of white ones.   

One artistic Scot got particularly inspired ....

Tartan Sheep!!!

Strange, but true......  

Until next time, from Wren Cottage ....... 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Harvesting is Picking Up .....

I harvested my potatoes this weekend.  (I see potato salad in my future)

The nice thing about growing in containers is I didn't have to dig anything - which I understand is a backbreaking job.  I just dumped the containers into the wheelbarrow and sifted through the soil, picking potatoes as I went.  I would guess there is a good 10 to 15 pounds here?  Earlier I harvested enough for at least 3 meals, so.....not too bad.

I like the white ones better for eating, but I didn't get any full-size. It wasn't a fingerling variety, but that's about the size of the biggest ones. I had a bunch more rot in the ground with this variety, even though I was careful when digging for new potatoes to just use my hands, and not a trowel, that could cut or bruise the tubers underground.  

The red ones (Norland, I think) did much better, with some respectable sized - like you would buy in the store.  And plenty of "new potato" size too.  Yum.  They seemed much healthier, even though their foliage was puny.  I'm sure I harvested at the right time, because the biggest reds were beginning to sprout, and a fair number of the whites were going bad.  In other words, I wouldn't have gotten bigger potatoes if I had left them in the ground longer. The foliage was dying back - it was time to harvest.

I will re-use the pots of soil to grow other things for Fall (no nightshade family).  If I can find some leeks, I'm really thinking I'd like to try those.   My onions were a flop again this year - none bigger than a golf ball.  I know it's because I need an 'intermediate' variety for this area, but I can't ever find any.  I e-mailed the local Extension Agent about this and about varieties to grow for Fall, and he gave me some tips.  I will ask the people at Fayette Seed for advice.

I yanked the squash in pots that didn't make it, and planted some eggplant there to replace my failed plants  from the Spring. If they grow well, there should be plenty of time to get something from them.  Blossoms, but still no squash from the behemoth of a plant in the garden.  Need I say I won't be doing squash again in ground or pots?  The best thing I can say is the foliage is shading the soil of the pole beans, maybe helping some in this heat.  The bean vines have shot over the top of my 7-8 foot poles and are cascading down the sides of the plant.  Best of all, I've got bean blossoms!  Can beans be far behind?  

I planted the companions to ward off pests for the beans, and it's working - somewhat.   The foliage about 6 feet up the poles is fine, but the Japanese Beetles are going-to-town right at the top, where the scent or whatever effect of those companion plants is the least.   I don't know that Opal Basil is working at keeping the Hornworm off my tomatoes.   One is eating the top of my Roma tomatoes like crazy, but I haven't found it yet.

Fellow Urban and Small Space Farmers!  How is your garden growing this year?

Harvesting at Wren Cottage ......

Friday, July 22, 2011

All the Chatter....

 ....these days on the homesteading, hobby farm and urban farm blogs I read seems to be about goats.  Urban Farm Magazine had several articles about goats in the new issue that just came out.  (yes, goats in town)  Some folks are blogging about how they make cheese in their own kitchens from their goat's milk and Amy over at  Homestead Revival wondered earlier this week if she should take the plunge and get some Kinder goats to milk for her family.

On Wednesday I was at the Lion's Club Fair here in Lexington, promoting the KY Sheep and Fiber Festival.  Kind of hard to generate enthusiasm for wool when it's 147 degrees!  (OK, so I'm exaggerating, but it felt like it)   Anyway, the featured livestock that evening for the 4-H show was ......goats!   Meat goats, not dairy, so they were less interesting to me.  I like goats, but sheep are my favorite ruminants, so it was it was good news when I was told there that Kentucky now has a Sheep Dairy!

Check these out - Good Shepherd Sheep Dairy ,

They are on Facebook, so I took a look there and one of the first things I saw was a link to the KSFF!   I left a comment about being a sheep & food festival, and they have food from sheep, maybe we can get together?   Mr. Dotson seemed to think that was a very good idea, so who knows, maybe next May you will be able to buy feta and sheep's milk farmer cheese at KSFF from Good Shepherd Sheep Dairy. (???)  In the meantime, they report they will have their first booth at the Lexington Farmer's market on July 30.   

At the Fair Wednesday I met Terry Hutchins, who was interviewed in the first video, (and several other UK AG professors) and he marvelled at how the last time they offered a beginning cheese making workshop, people flocked to it (no pun intended).  It made me wonder - why not a cheese making workshop at KSFF?  What do you think?   Would anyone be interested? 

As for the Lexington Lion's Club Fair  (sigh) they try, I guess, but it's nothing like what I grew up with.  The Fairfield County (Ohio) Fair is a classic, great County Fair.  The Fairgrounds is right in the middle of town, and the house I lived in was less than a block from there.  The Fair is special to anyone from that little town, and even now on Facebook, people I went to high school with many, many years ago speak of it fondly, and even plan trips back there in October, just so they can be there during Fair time. 

Now this is a Fair!!

The big white building you see in the photo below, (taken from the rock outcropping in the photo above - known as Mt. Pleasant) is the Art Hall.  In there are handwork like crochet and quilts, flower displays, photography,  vegetables, baked and canned goods - all to be judged, mind you, and 4-H projects.  It is so old-fashioned, and so terrific. 

There is a half-mile track where they have harness races, tractor and pony pulls, and usually some performers. 

from an old postcard

Off of the upper right corner of the track are all the animal barns.  They have ALL kinds of livestock, and  that was always my favorite part. Even at a tender age, I was drawn to the cows and chickens and sheep.  My sister too - although we were far enough apart in age we never went together. 

Below is the old grandstand (and stables in the background} that are next to the track.  A few years ago the grandstand was damaged in a storm, and some wanted to tear it down. (It's got to be 100+ years old) But a cry went up from local preservationists, who conducted a campaign to raise $100,000 to do the repairs.  Gosh, I love this photo.  I can just feel myself there.

This building sits inside one of the admission gates.  It's a round cattle barn - much more efficient for feeding, milking and mucking out than a rectangular barn with the cows in rows.  It's been there since long before I was born - moved there to preserve it.  Since I moved away, they have moved several old buildings to the Fairgrounds - an old general store, a one-room schoolhouse, etc. - that would have been lost otherwise. 

The Fairgrounds is also the place where I got my very first bunnies - Holly and Ivy. In fact I took the photo above on that day.   Lisa, the breeder, was going to be showing her French Angoras in a rabbit show there, so we agreed to meet so I could pick up the girls.  When the subject of directions came up, I told her no problem, I knew where it was - I mean right down to the exact building where it was!  ha-ha. 

Thanks for indulging me on this little trip down memory lane.    Until next time, from Wren Cottage.......   

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Hatching eggs - progress and setbacks

Last night I candled the eggs that Abigail is sitting on.  It should have been Day 10.  I shouldn't assume everyone knows what candling eggs is, or how it's done.  All sorts of elaborate candlers can be purchased or home-made, but for all intents and purposes, it is a bright light held up to an incubating egg, as much ambient light blocked as possible, in order to see what is going on inside the egg.  I use a small LED flashlight, but since I can't do that and take photos, the ones below were done by someone else.

It's pretty cool, actually. Four eggs had live chicks in them as of last night:  (Should I warn anyone who may be sqeamish that these photos are realistic?   Nah!!) 

Eggs should look like this on Day 10 (photo credit, Backyard Chickens Forum)

The little dark area is the embryo, which curves around like a 'C' - sometimes you see both ends and not the middle, as in the first photo.  What really tips you off is that they move!!!!   They still have plenty of room to swim around inside the shell, so you can see the little head bob and move from side to side, and what looks like they could be wings. 

These are all white eggs, so they can be seen very clearly.  Even though all mine are pale beige, not even brown, they are much harder to see.  I could no longer see veins on mine. They looked more like the last photo above.   

This is Day 11

A couple of my eggs looked like this, like they are more advanced.   ?????

And even like this, and this photo is of a Day 12 embryo! 

But............ a couple of them looked like this.  :(    A shadow where the yolk is, but definitely nothing going on inside.  
photo credit - Ohio State University

One of the eggs (I think a Cochin egg) looked 'clear' from the beginning. I had several marked with question marks, but one I thought was alive now looks like this. Apparently eggs beginning to form, then dying before they fully form and hatch, are common. So, I finally gave up on the 'clear' ones and only put four back under Abigail - a Cochin (Mille Fleur, I think) and three Buff Orpingtons. (there had been a Black Orp egg, but it was one that didn't make it)  So sad, and very hard to give up on, but it was obvious, even to me.

Now I just hope all make it to hatch, and that they're all girls!!!!   

Waiting and hoping at Wren Cottage........


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Victories and Disappointments - A Mid-Summer Review

I candled Abigail's eggs today for the second time, since I couldn't resist candling them the day I got them for a baseline.   Two of the eggs definitely have veins and a chick embryo - one of the Cochin eggs marked "MF"  (Mille Fleur?  Whoo-Hoo!) and one of the buff Orpingtons.    There is no guarantee either will make it to full gestation.  Often eggs, just quit in mid-incubation.  The other Cochin egg looks like a dud - infertile, nothing at all going on in there.   The rest - 4 Orpingtons - I'm not at all sure what I'm seeing.  Either the shell is too dense,  my mini-LED flashlight isn't bright enough, or I have no idea what I'm doing.  It could be any of the above, but I'm leaning heavily on the last one.   I put all the eggs back under Abigail because she was getting agitated, even though I took them out 2 at a time so she wouldn't miss them.  I also think she can count, because she didn't settle down until all 7 were back under her.

There don't seem to be any absolutes to hatching and candling eggs.  As I read Backyard Chicken Forum and other sources, some say don't think about touching the eggs for at least 10 days.  Others say by that time the indicators of a fertile, growing chick can't be seen any more.  I am concerned that the dud  - or the four I  am unsure of - will really go bad, break open under Abigail, and contaminate them all. (that really does happen, under hens and in incubators) I have a question posted on BYC, and I'm waiting for answers. 

On to the garden:
I am still harvesting something nearly every day, but in dribs and drabs.  The  Roma tomatoes are loaded with fruit, but no ripe ones yet. The German Pink tomatoes are big, have had to be tied up, with lots of blossoms, but I don't see 'maters.  There are two volunteer tomato plants that I am waiting to see what variety they turn out to be.  One of the advantages of not using hybrids, is they will 'breed true.'   They will be something I have grown before.

Roma tomatoes

There are lots of peppers on the Jalapeno and Cayenne plants too.  I've dried about a dozen Jalapenos, and plan to grind them to powder - to use like Cayenne powder, when I want a little 'kick,' but not as hot.  The kale and chard, that I thought would bolt or go bitter when hot and/or dry weather came, have not, and are still giving me meal after meal.   I have gotten two generous servings of white potatoes, and one of red from my pots.  It is so much fun to dig around in the pots, pull out a few potatoes, go inside, wash them and put them on to cook!  There is a difference in flavor! 

I don't see any blossoms on the beans yet, but they did go in awfully late.  The pattypan squash at their feet is huge, but I haven't got any squash from it yet.  Some of those leaves are as long as the length of my forearm, from elbow to fingertip!  A little too much nitrogen from the bunny poo - giving lots of foliage but no fruit? 

The oregano is growing a third crop, but I think I will let this one go to seed.  I have plenty, and don't want to stress the plant too much.  The Chervil plant from earlier in the Spring, has been done for a while, but has reseeded itself already, and 2 small plants have come up. 

The squash in pots are a failure, I'm afraid. After losing two or three tries to squash bug last year, this year's squash in pots have had it already.  Too wet, too dry, roots too crowded, who knows, but they are going limp and kicking the bucket after only giving one or two squash each.  I won't repeat this.  Darn!  I really like squash, and would really rather grow it than buy it!   

I'm also bummed at reading that the heat and air flow while dehydrating kale destroys  the Vitamin A and C - the reason kale is such a powerhouse in the first place!  I've been drying it like crazy for a couple of weeks. I'm thinking I may have to plant an autumn garden this year - something I have never done, except garlic - to keep the fresh food coming as long as possible    

 I'm not giving up on dehydrating though, because some nutritional compromises are made no matter what form of preservation is used.  I read Mary Bell's Dehydrator Cookbook  recently.  I liked it, but it kind of showed it's age.  It was written nearly 20 years ago, and a lot of the content had a 'quaint' feel to it - and no photos!    Still, it gave me some ideas for things I would not have thought of dehydrating - shrimp, pickles, watermelon?!?   I tried the shrimp, which turned out great, the pickles were way salty, and I haven't tried the watermelon yet.  She has another book "Food Drying with an Attitude," that seems to be the same text, only with photos added.  (?)  

Until next time from Wren Cottage ...... 

Saturday, July 9, 2011

One potato, two potato........

My eggs are due to arrive today by Priority Mail, but to say I have had trouble with the Post Office and my mail is an understatement.  I know from the tracking number that they did arrive in town, and are supposed to be delivered today......  So while I wait for the mailman, I thought I would write a post to keep my mind off it.

Finally!!  I got some potatoes from my potatoes-in-a-pot!

They are on a saucer, so they aren't as big as they appear - new potatoes, after all

Even though I've got potatoes - how many remains to be seen - I don't know if I will keep on growing them.  They do take up a lot of room, and with no root cellar, if I had a bumper crop, storage would be a problem.   I have all winter to decide. 

A few of the vines were yellowing, so I dug and pulled them out - and found a few potatoes there!  I cooked them up and had them for supper!!  Yum, they were good.  My favorite way to eat potatoes since childhood is boiled, mashed flat on a plate with a fork, with butter, pepper and salt.

Marisa over at Backyard Farming  did a really interesting post on salt yesterday.  It seems all salt is not equal.  One commenter posted a link to an even more interesting article  

His comments that during processing, salt is rendered into a completely different chemical makes sense to me (someone who did not take chemistry in school).  I have high blood pressure, my mother had high blood pressure and her mother had high blood pressure.  I'm supposed to limit my salt intake.....but I love salty things.  I'm not saying if I start using the salt they recommend I can go off my meds, but I will probably try it.   Perhaps, as they theorize, the different chemical makeup will not aggravate my HBP.  Getting all those trace minerals - from a natural source - has to be good.

later....They're here!  The eggs arrived safe and sound, and are resting in a warm place for a few hours (per breeder recommendation) and will go under Abigail this evening.   Let the countdown begin!!  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Gulp! I've gone and done it

I found a breeder on Backyard Chickens who is going to send me some hatching eggs to put under Abigail.  There is a reason for the saying "don't count your chickens before they hatch."  So much could go wrong.  I could end up with nothing, or any chicks that hatch could all. be. males.   Eeeeek! 

The negative taken care of, this is what I may have to look forward to:

Aren't they adorable!!!!  These are chicks from the breeder who is sending me eggs.  She is sending a couple of buffs, and one or two black.......bantam Orpingtons.  

According to  Henderson's Handy Dandy Chicken Chart , Orpingtons  are like Brahmas and Cochins - calm, docile, tolerant of cooping and very broody.  This breeder has both large fowl and bantam Orps and said none of her girls have ever even thought of being broody.  I believe it.   I know enough about animals to know that different lines can have different traits. She hatches all of her eggs in an incubator.  No broodiness sure appealed to me for my 3rd (and 4th?) chicken, and they and their eggs are about the same size as the bantam Cochins. 

Bantam Orps are not that common, and I can't find any around here, so it's also kind of exciting to bring the breed/variety into this area.  If - Lord willing - I have a 100% hatch, I will have to find homes for some of the chicks, since she is sending me more eggs than I can keep.   I can only hope other people find them as desireable as I do.

She also has bantam Cochins that she is using for several color projects.  She is including one of those eggs too.  She will know what it is, but unless she tells me, that one will be a surprise. 

This is a first for me.  I've never had children, not even a cat that had kittens, a dog with puppies, I can't even decide to breed my rabbits, but now I'm going to have chicks - or rather Abigail will.  I've already got the feeder and waterer that I bought for my Cochins and never used.  I feel like I should be out buying diapers and knitting booties.  I will probably be thoroughly obnoxious for the next few weeks, but bear with me, and "think pink!!"    

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Here we go again?

Abigail has only been laying for a month, but for the last 2 or 3 days, she has been doing mostly this:

Yeah, she's definitely got that broody thing going on!  She's not all the way there yet, because she laid an egg today, and let me take it out from under her without too much fuss.  But, she has 'assumed the position,' is no longer going to her roost at night, and not eating much. I try to keep her from going broody (aka 'break' or 'break her up') and still get eggs, or do I let her go broody and put a couple of fertile eggs under her to hatch out?   

I've been wanting 1 or 2 more hens.  The rabbit cages I'm keeping them in are large - plenty big for 2 bantams each, especially the Cochins, that are smaller than Abigail the Brahma.  After the pecking incident last week, maybe Abigail would be willing to share space with a chick she hatched out?   Or she might ...........but we won't think about that

Dolley hasn't started laying yet to take up the slack.

In choosing breeds for my situation - bantams, docile and calm, friendly, tolerating cooping easily, there are about 4 choices:  Brahmas, Cochins, Orpingtons (not at all easy to find) and Wyandottes.  I thought the Wyandottes might be less likely to go broody so frequently as the others, and one of the top breeders of Wyandottes lives about an hour away from me here in KY.  But then I read on the Backyard Chickens Forum, that their girls go broody just as often as the rest.  I have faced the fact that to get the birds I want, I won't get as many eggs. 

Fertile eggs could be shipped to me at a fairly reasonable price, saving me the drive somewhere to buy started pullets.  Definitely a factor as my car gets older and older (like me).  There is even a woman who is part of the CLUCK  group on Facebook ('Coop'erative of Lexington Urban Chicken Keepers)  who said she could provide me with fertile black bantam Cochin eggs, if I decide that's what I want.  The downside is, if I buy a few eggs and they all hatch, of course I may get no girls, and have to re-home a bunch of roosters, and that is not always easy.  At least if they were large fowl they could go into the stew pot!  That is, if I could do that!   

In the garden.....I'm discovering that the squash in pots have to be kept evenly moist - otherwise the squash start to shrivel, and when watered again, they rot (like blossom end rot in tomatoes).    The pole beans have taken off, but no blossoms yet, or on the Pattypan squash planted at their feet.  The Roma tomatoes have lots of green fruit, and the German Pink tomatoes have lots of blossoms and are big enough now they need to be tied up.  The Jalapeno and Cayenne peppers are loving the heat and bearing lots of peppers.   I have tried digging around with my hands in soil around the potatoes, but haven't found anything yet.  If I don't get amy potatoes again this year, that will be the end of that experiment for me.  I could use the deep containers for something else that needs to be hilled up, like leeks perhaps. 

The dehydrator has been going all week, drying chard, kale, peppers, some herbs, and some baby portobella mushrooms I found on sale at the store.   I need to buy more jars!

Here are some gratuitous photos of two of the Mini Rex, because I haven't written about them in a while:  
'Rion is looking good, and is full of personality.  I would like to find a show that's close-ish, where I could take him (and maybe Juliet) mostly to be evaluated. 

I don't know about Juliet.  She was the one that took the longest of all my rabbits to warm up to me, and is still a little skittish.  She has grown into her ears for the most part (she looks more balanced when she is 'posed' and they are thrown over her back) but I think she looks like a jackrabbit - long and lean.  She is still young, but she does not seem to have the depth in her body I've read about. 

On an exciting note, I may have the opportunity to talk to some Vo Ag/4-H kids when schooI starts back up in the fall (actually mid-August here) about raising rabbits in town.  I was told some of them got pretty excited when they found out after KSFF that I raise mine in a townhouse.  They are townies themselves and are looking for livestock they can raise in the city for their 4-H projects. 

I would so love to see rabbits (and wait until I throw in that I have house chickens!) promoted in this area!   

 Until next time, from Wren Cottage ......