Thursday, March 31, 2011

March 31

This last week has been incredibly busy.

First of all, last Thursday we got 18 more chickens, bringing our flock to a grand total of 27. Mom and I drove up to New Hampshire and bought them off a guy whose barn burned down. They were cheap, but apparently they were traumatized by the barn fire, and then traumatized again by the hour ride home in cat carrying cases covered by horse blankets in the back of Dave's pickup truck and then traumatized AGAIN by the move into a new coop (chickens are apparently fairly easy to traumatize) and so they haven't laid any eggs so far. I've heard that it can take a month or two for hens to get over trauma and start laying again, so right now we're just waiting and hoping that all this organic hen feed that we're shoveling into their greedy little beaks will pay off. So far they seem to have adjusted well, however, sometimes integrating flocks can be difficult (chickens can be pretty mean to each other) but everyone seems happy and healthy so far.

Sadly, while cleaning the coop out on Sunday I left the window propped open and it seems that one of the chickens got out because Madeline (one of the cairn terriers) didn't come in for dinner on Sunday night, and then Dave's dad Tom found her lording over a mostly devoured chicken carcass on Monday morning. So we're down to 26. 

Madeline Erickson
Deadly Chicken Killer

Dave is home for good! He got back on Friday night, which was just in time because the real work is just beginning. We've spent the last couple of days clearing brush from the edge of our new vegetable field. There have been a lot of big old nasty buckthorn bushes and TONS of tangles of grape and bittersweet vines to contend with, but we've been chipping away at it over the last couple of days and it's starting to look really good. 

Chain sawing


LOTS of brush!

There's a big old stone wall back in the woods that we've been clearing up to (you can see it in the background of the last picture). There are tons of huge rocks that were probably pulled out of this very field when it was farmed in the past. Thank god for good old fashioned hard working New England pioneers!

The plan is to make the whole section along the wall into a road so we can drive tractors and trucks back into the field. 

The cold frames and the greenhouse look great. The real planting starts tomorrow, I can't believe it's April already. I've just been working on really solidifying the planting schedule so we're ready for the busy weeks ahead. 

And lastly, I'm delighted to welcome the newest addition to our team: Angus, my new cairn terrier puppy, born 1/1/11. 

So far he's been doing a lot of this:

But I'm sure he's going to be digging rodents out of our fields in no time!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to Laugh at Winter, Build a Cheap Mini Greenhouse and More

Winter's death rattle. Snowfall: 0 inches. HA!
The greenhouse looking great! All the flowers and herbs have sprouted and are growing like crazy. Once we started planting, however, we realized pretty quickly that, as cute as it is, our little 8' by 16' greenhouse is just not going to be big enough to hold all our new seedlings, especially once things really get going in April and May. So, today Mom and I built three 4' by 4' cold frames. Cold frames are like little greenhouses, built low to the ground, that can be used in a variety of ways. They can grown in directly (while protecting the little seedlings from the cold), they can be used as an overflow space to store trays we can't fit into the greenhouse, and they can also be used as a place to "harden off" young plants outside before putting them into the garden - exposing young plants to the cold before putting them through the shock of transplanting. Our cold frames are each roughly 4' x 4', and can fit 8 standard size planting trays.

My dad cut all the plywood for us. As you can see here, a cold frame base can all be cut from one piece of plywood:

The two top pieces become the sides, and the bottom pieces become the front and back. Here's some pictures of our assembled bases outside the greenhouse.  As you can see, the boxes are slightly angled forward, towards the sun. Both the greenhouse and the cold frames face South. 

My dad cut all the plywood for us and also built the frames for the tops. To finish the tops we simply stretched heavy duty plastic across the frames and stapled it to the wood.

That thin piece of wood across the bottom is designed to be stapled on top of the plastic and hold the whole thing together as tightly as possible. Unfortunately, we didn't have long enough staples, so I'm planning on finishing up the plastic and putting hinges on tomorrow morning. I'll post more pictures of the completed cold frames then. 

In other news, the snow has finally melted enough that we can see what our future vegetable field will look like. I mentioned before that I was worried because I had been hearing more and more about how wet the field we were planning on using could get in the Spring. A visit to the NRCS (National Resources Conservation Service) field office in Westford at the beginning of March confirmed this fact (they have pretty detailed information on soil types and wetland areas throughout Massachusetts). Well everyone was right, the field is really wet. Right now we're dealing with about this much visible water:

Obviously, this puts a little snag in our plans to build a perfect 100' x 200' vegetable field (you may remember this picture from an earlier post:)

While it's a little disappointing that there's a seasonal stream right through the middle of our perfectly rectangular 1/2 acre, this doesn't mean we can't grow at all. Our new plan is to put in two vegetable beds, one on each side of the wet area. We measured it out this last week, and we should be able to squeeze a 80' x 90' rectangle on the side closest to the house, and a 100' x 50' rectangle on the far side. We're also planning on putting in a bridge across the stream at some point so that we can get machinery across (most importantly for tilling). This has been my first lesson in being flexible. I'm sure it won't be my last. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

It's March!

So, good news! Broody chicken rehab in the rabbit hutches worked! I released the two hens back into the coop last Monday morning and they've been acting pretty normal ever since. Here they are, acting pretty normal. 

More good news! We planted our first seeds of Spring today!! My mom and I set up a little grow light A-frame in Dave's wood shop, which is right next to the greenhouse. 

The seeds are all planted in six-cell flats or small plastic pots, and then placed in perforated trays for easy watering. They are also heated from underneath by heating trays and covered by plastic tops so they will stay warm even though it's still cold around here.

As you can see, there's not very much going on yet, but it's exciting! Today, we planted flowers (asters, calendula and sweet peas) as well as cilantro and parsley. These are the plants that require the most germination and indoor growing time before being transplanted outside. It's still pretty early for us to be starting most seedlings, especially since we're not sure when things are going to be able to go into the ground outside yet, but next week it's going to be time to start the leeks and by the beginning of April things will really be getting going. And thanks to a lot of rain, the crusty, dirty snow piles are starting to recede, so it really does feel like Spring might actually be coming...

Until then, however, here's some more pictures of the greenhouse:

The lettuce, swiss chard and kale is all doing great, and we've set up a little workstation with dirt (the mix we used today was half Happy Frog Potting Soil and half peat moss) and an area for planting.