Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Triplets in January!

Okay, so I'll go back to December 23. That's the day that Sylvie decided to be a broody hen.
Sylvie is on the left and Lady Grey is on the right. Eventually they decided to co-mother, and they went broody together.
If fertilized eggs began being set on December 23, they should hatch 21 days later, or on January 13, the day of my daddy's funeral. Needless to say, I was long gone to West Virginia by that time, and baby chicks were the last thing on my mind.

Honestly, I didn't think any of the eggs were fertilized. I hadn't seen either Bernie or Arthur pay any attention to their hens of late. I was willing to have Sylvie (and later Lady Grey) set on eggs because I wanted them to be broody. I wanted broody hens in April. I figured when I came home after the funeral, I'd take them off those tired, old eggs, and we'd call ourselves done.

I returned from West Virginia yesterday evening. Adam had lifted both hens from the nesting box on Monday, and seen 4 eggs. I found one of the eggs rejected (one of Ethel's eggs from the other flock). So on Monday morning, there were 3 green eggs under those hens.

The green egg above is Autumn Hen's egg. I put some of hers under the 2 broody hens.

In the end, the broody silkie hens rejected their own eggs because they weren't fertilized. But Autumn's eggs were kept and set upon because Autumn is Rooster Arthur's favorite hen -- so her eggs are fertilized!

This morning, quite unsuspecting, I found three baby chicks in the coop, peeking under their two broody mamas!
 Can you see the little one? The mamas are very protective. Sylvie pecked my hand.
 There are three of them, all black, like their daddy. They were not there on Monday, so they were born sometime Tuesday, January 16. 

I am thrilled, of course! I did not expect chicks this time of year, from such a young roo and young hens. With two mamas, the chicks have a good chance of survival against cold, and they take care of all the instructions - how to eat, how to drink, where to hide. Arthur went in today to see his babies. He seemed pleased.

For the first time, I've had success in increasing my flock - finally!


Saturday, December 30, 2017

Thank You, Canada!

Here comes the Arctic blast! Are we ready?
*Put straw in new chicken coop for insulation and to eliminate drafts
*Build door on farm dogs' barn bay
*Install heater in farm dogs' barn bay
*Cover eucalyptus tree with hoop house plastic
*Give Sylvie more straw under her broody eggs
*Close off spare rooms in the house and crank up those space heaters!

Yessiree, the cold air is acomin'! Monday night's low will be 16 degrees, but it will feel like 7 degrees. I know that's nothing unusual to some of you tough Northerners, but to us wimpy Southerners, that's bone-chillin', teeth-chatterin', move-me-to-Arizona weather!

On the front porch greenhouse, I eat a little cherry tomato nearly every day. My 3 tomato plants are quite happy.
I zoomed in to photograph this female cardinal outside my window.
 Then Adam hung two bird feeders there, so I can see the birds better, take their pictures, and perhaps include them in future stories.
 Isn't he sweet? All I did was say something about watching birds, and boom! Two bird feeders appear.
The cold weather gives Beau some staticky hair.
 I started my Winter Journal. I tried stitching a snowflake on it, but I'm not quite sure it's a snowflake ....
 I painted this mouse, just for practice. My new story is about a mouse family.
 Speaking of stories, I mailed out three copies of the Punkin story today! I'm so, so excited. I now have 13 copies promised to friends. It's just so fun to share one's creative pursuits.

 

 

Finally, I'm weaving again. I warped in a selection of gray/blues and deep reds, with some sparkly yarn thrown in. The weft is a smoky blue. The photos don't do it justice -- this one was a surprise. I pick out yarns, and I load the loom, and I begin weaving ... and that's when I find out if my selections were mediocre or magical. This one is magical for some reason. It is brighter, sparklier, and more rustic than the photos.

Well, stay warm out there, folks. This next week promises to be a doozy. We will be inside, eating soup, thrusting our toes toward the heaters, and going a little stir-crazy. Cheerio!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Sylvie Goes Broody!!

 We are excited on the farm. Sylvie Hen (on the left) appears to be BROODY! I've never had a broody hen before, but I'm hopeful she will stay on those eggs and we may ... we may ... have some baby chicks! Here's Sylvie's tail feathers from behind:
 In this particular coop/run are Arthur the Roo (who was rather aggressive with me today), Lady Grey (who is darker), and Sylvie.
 The other hen there is Autumn.
Sylvie has wanted to sit on some eggs for several days. Today she wouldn't get off. Autumn and Lady Grey will go in the box and lay eggs, and Sylvie will snuggle them under her feathers and sit on them too.
When Arthur got aggressive today (perhaps because he had a broody wife?), I kicked him a bit across the chicken yard. One must be assertive with a roo. I also put food and water right next to Sylvie so she feels free to stay on those eggs!

One day last week I got these four eggs. The green one is Autumn's. The two larger brown ones are the silkies' eggs. And that teeny-tiny egg? It was the very first egg that Ethel laid, after her molt. It's so ridiculous! 
 Ethel and Punkin are quite unpredictable in their laying now, but I feel more certain their eggs are fertilized. So I might sneak their eggs under Sylvie to be hatched. Could be fun!

Here were my feet a few days ago.
 We've had some sunny days, and the ground feels great on my feet. I enjoy walking around the herb gardens, removing dead annuals, weeding, and otherwise tidying up the beds.
I'm still processing my loofahs for sale at the market. They have sold well for only $1 each.
 Adam made this fine set of concrete leaves to sell to the coffee vendor at our market - we swapped in part for a 5 lb. bag of whole bean Carolina Pecan coffee -- yummy!
 Here are Arthur and Autumn, enjoying a dust bath together one day. She's his favorite hen. I do hope we can successfully temper his aggression, because without him there will be no little chicks.
 This past week Adam finished clearing the orchard and began the next big project: clearing the fence line.

He overdid it a bit, and wrenched out his right shoulder. It's a bad shoulder and needs rotator cuff surgery at some point. He'll take it easy on the fence clearing for a while. He had his two burn barrels ready. Swinging the machete is what did him in.
I do enjoy balmy days in early winter, here in the South. They are a blessing. Our front porch, wrapped in plastic sheeting and quite toasty in the afternoon, warms the house.
Today I cleaned all the dead basil bushes from two beds, removed the last tomato plant, stripped the loofah vines from their fence, and dug out the overabundance of oregano in the herb bed. It was quite satisfying. Adam is cooking and baking for our Christmas visitors: Julia and Anna and Anna's boyfriend, Gramm.
 Gramm is delightful and a wonderful conversationalist. Don't they look happy?
Julia is a master of face-making, so we don't even let it bother us anymore, haha!
She's just teasing :)

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Eggs in the Orchard

Chickens keep you guessing, oh yes, they do! My year-and-a-half old hens (Ethel and Punkin) molted this fall. Feathers everywhere! And the feathers still attached looked like their owners had been pulled through a brier patch backwards. Quite unkempt.

Ethel and Punkin laid eggs faithfully for a year. Mature hens stop laying while they molt. They also stop laying in cold weather. So it was no surprise to me when they stopped laying sometime in October; I haven't had an egg from them since. Their feathers grew back; their combs brightened again. Bernie started stomping at them again ... I figured they would lay again soon.

Bernie, Ethel, and Punkin have the run of the entire orchard. They are spoiled birds.
The back of the orchard is still a jungle. This morning Adam decided to use the sunshine and warmer temps for clearing out the back of the orchard. I'd hunted there for a hidden clutch of eggs, knowing that some hens will randomly begin laying in a hidden spot. I have a friend whose hens laid about 40 eggs in a flower pot in the top shelf in her garage, before she found them!
See that jungle back there? Adam had already been clearing when I took this shot. He came inside to beckon me with my camera. He found the eggs.
 Nine eggs, all Punkin's. She's been laying daily for a week and a half. Naughty girl!
I gathered them in my coat pocket and took them inside. Then I tested to discern if they were still good. These eggs were much fresher still than any grocery eggs, which are stored for many weeks before arriving on the shelves there. To check an egg's freshness, put it in a bowl of water. If it sits on its side on the bottom of the bowl, it's very fresh. If it sits on its end on the bottom, it's fresh enough to eat. If it floats, IT'S BAD. Throw it away.
All Punkin's eggs were very fresh! I thought they would be -- it's been quite cool, and the eggs were in the shade. I scored 9 eggs from my orchard! How many women can say that?
 Adam decorated the front of the house for Christmas. The porch/greenhouse is doing well again. I dug three volunteer cherry tomato plants from the garden weeks ago. They are growing and even ripening fruit, on the front porch.
 

I'm not sure how well they will do out there, considering it regularly gets to 40 degrees at night. But I had basil last year throughout the winter. We shall see!

Oh -- I nearly forgot! I just went to check on the chickens, and Punkin took the hint! I found a huge green egg in the laying box in the coop. Yay! Now, I just have to discover where in the world Ethel has been laying her eggs for the past two weeks. As I said, chickens will keep you guessing!

Friday, December 1, 2017

Fire on the Farm!!!

I was gone Thursday afternoon, singing at a nursing home with a friend, and when I came home I noticed smoke coming from the far back corner of the property. "Adam," I said, "There's a fire next door!" Adam had called our one-and-only neighbor, who was on his way lickety-split from work.

Still, a fire is an exciting thing, and even though Adam had checked it moments ago, I decided to traipse across the field to see the fire in the neighbor's yard ... only it was no longer in the neighbor's yard. The wind had blown it into our field!

Adam called the fire department because it was spreading quite quickly. I dashed back to the barn for some shovels, and Adam and I got the fire's edges under control by smothering it with shovels. The photos below are after the shoveling had conquered the fire. I don't take photos when a fire is spreading on the farm :)
 It took only a few minutes for the fire to jump through the fence and across this area. We were so, so thankful that this field had recently been mown quite short. Otherwise, the fire would have been quite out-of-hand.
 The farm dogs were quite interested in the fire and insisted on walking across the smokey area. I was worried about their paw pads, but they were unfazed by it.
 Adam doused the fence posts, which kept smoldering.
 Adam may be on this side of 50, but he can still climb over a fence if needed!
 In the end, it was not a big deal, and I'm thankful we were home. And the nice guys on the fire engine said it counted as a little bit of training.


 

Still a few tomatoes from one bush.

My two silkie chickens are getting so plump! My chicken-lady-friend said she thinks the larger of the two is a roo. (It's very difficult to tell sex with silkie chickens.) But from above, you can certainly see the difference in size.
 

And one of them has started laying! Hooray! Now I'm getting two eggs a day ... phew!

I put my onions to bed.
 I stripped lots of dry basil blooms from their stalks and sprinkled them in an empty bed, covering it with straw. 
Will they come up in the spring? Earlier? I have lots of them left, see? And I'm keeping some inside too. Since basil grows so well here, and lettuces have been a challenge, we're thinking of having more basil salads next summer.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Pulling Out the Space Heaters, and Making FROG Jam

The leaves are falling fast and the sun lies to the south. It's nearly December.
My basil plants are dry as a bone. It's time to harvest some seeds from them.
Basil seeds are tiny and black. After cutting the dry stalks, I rub the flowers roughly between my hands to loosen the seeds. They drop through a sieve into a bowl.
I enjoy saving seeds. Seeds generally should be kept in the freezer or frig, not in a warm place.

Recently I heard a strange noise outside, next to the house. It sounded like someone was out there breaking sticks. Pop!! Pop, pop!!
We couldn't discern its source then, but yesterday I heard it again and traced it ... here:
Our central heat/AC unit was running,  but the fan wasn't turning. It was making that noise. Honestly, Adam and I have talked before about the certain death of our heat/AC unit, which was installed in 1996. Last night we tried our plan: heating with small oil heaters like this:
We have three small DeLonghi oil heaters that plug in the wall, plus one small DeLonghi electric heater. Our house is small (1100 square feet), and we can close off two rooms. Last night this arrangement worked fine, but it only went down to 40 degrees. The space heaters were set low, and we only used two of them.

Where we live, winters are mild but summers are severe. We will buy two window AC units before summer arrives and see how things go from there. We hope to save a good bit of money not using the old, non-economical central unit.

I made Henny Penny's F.R.O.G. jam!!
This is actually Henny's sister's recipe, I believe. No frogs were injured in the making of this jam, haha!
I'm so glad I had a bag of our figs in the freezer from last summer. Here's the recipe as I followed it:
F.R.O.G. Jam
6 cups chopped figs (I had a bit less.)
3 cups frozen raspberries
(I added some frozen strawberries to make up for
a lack of raspberries.)
5 cups sugar
zest from one orange
juice from one orange
3 tsp. finely grated ginger root
(I should have used more.)

Combine all ingredients in a heavy non-aluminum pot and bring to a boil over medium/med. high heat. Stir often and cook like this for 45 minutes, until jam thickens and turns darker.
Process in sterilized jars in whatever method
you're accustomed to.
Makes 4 pints.

It's a yummy jam. I think next time I'll use all strawberries, which I prefer to raspberries, plus they're easier to find frozen in their own bag. And more ginger. I'm so very excited to have a use for my figs, rather than just fig preservers, which neither of us like.

Look what Adam made for me!
That's a hackle. Didn't he do a nice job, especially on that wooden base? It works well. My problem is not my spinning tools; my problem is a lack of experience and skill. So now I need to get after it and learn HOW to spin. I tried a little:
I can tell it's over spun, and all different thicknesses. But it's a beginning!

Adam bought a bag of mixed beans at the store to make this for lunch:
Warm and bubbly. Winter comfort food.

Life on the farm is quiet, beautiful, peaceful. The chickens and dogs are happy. The sunlight slants across the pasture and through the trees, and I can hardly get enough of standing there, watching.

We should probably be doing more with our garden in the winter, as some of you are doing. Maybe another year. I've put my onion bed under some straw. Soon all these bedraggled plants will disappear back into the soil for the winter, and go to sleep.