Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Life Springs Forth

My tomato seedlings have been up for several days already! My peppers are now starting to sprout. I am already excited about eating that first juicy tomato! Grow little seedlings grow! 

Some of the other plants enjoying the grow light and providing habitat for my tree frogs who live in my kitchen. Some of those are grapefruit and lemon tree seedlings that I hope to use as rootstock soon.  

A few of the beautiful carrots that Keegan pulled from the garden for me. 
My sweet babies have begun to hatch! Last night I had 4 hatched out when I got home from work. By this morning there were 3 more to add to the fluffy butts that are in the brooder.I had to help one hatch this morning because the membrane had dried and trapped it inside the shell. I left him in the brooder to dry and get some rest and am hoping that he will be happy and healthy when I get home from work this evening.

They are so sleepy but are already trying to eat and drink. They have Quick Chick in their water to get them started off well from the beginning. They also have their chick starter crumbles but seem to enjoy sleeping on them more than eating them most of the time.


When they wake for a few minutes they peck around at their food. It is really amazing how much those little things eat once they get the hang of it.

Oh, how I love having sweet fluffy little babies!

The cool weather is still coming and going. It has been in the 70's for a few days and we have been sleeping with the window open at night for several nights but today it is cool and supposed to get below freezing tonight. I still feel spring coming. The blueberry bushes are budding up, seedlings are sprouting, and babies are hatching. I love Spring!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valentine's Day!

I've never been much of a fan of the holiday, but have been enjoying the glorious sunshine after the cold dreary weather we have been having here. It makes me wish that I were outside in the garden or doing some chores that sorely need to be done. Alas, I am at work and can only enjoy the sunshine and fresh air streaming through the door I propped open near my desk.

We have been having unusually cold weather which has even brought sleet, ice, and snow on a couple of occasions over the last month or so.That is not normal for the deep south! I love the snow and have lived with very cold winters for most of my life, but this is different. This area isn't prepared for weather like this. We have no salt trucks or snow plows. Everything here is built to better deal with severe heat and hurricanes. There was no thought to cold weather issues... because we really don't have any most of the time.

Even myself, when building my coops, thought nothing about cold weather. If I had been back home where I grew up I would have made sure they could withstand the weight of snow, keep cold winds out, and were well insulated to keep the birds warm. Instead, I built them to give enough during high wind so as not to fall over when we have tropical storms. I made sure that they were shaded but allowed plenty of air flow so the birds didn't roast in the hot summers. All thought was given to keep them cool, not to keep them from freezing their beaks off!

Thankfully, all of the animals are doing well. The chickens have the sturdiest coop and have been keeping pretty warm. I use deep mulch in the winter anyway, so they have a little added heat. I sealed the windows with feed bags to keep out the wind and they seem perfectly happy. The turkeys live in what is pretty much a wind tunnel. Which works perfectly most of the time! I have put up extra tarps to try to channel wind away from them and have been keeping deep mulch in the run. The guineas have had it the hardest because they roost high up in a leaf-bare tree. They don't seem to be bothered one bit by the cold though. I have been feeding all of them more often than usual and making sure they have warm water available on super cold days. The extra calories seem to get their body temp up. They have also been getting a treat of feed mixed with hot water and fruit/berries and turned into an "oatmeal" type dish. The chickens LOVE it! The turkeys and guineas don't seem to get the concept of treats.

I haven't gotten anything planted in my garden yet because of the low temperatures lately. I am getting behind though! I need to get some cool weather crops started soon. Maybe on my next day off. I have made some progress though! I got some of my indoor seeds planted last night! I always get so excited when I start my first seeds. Especially my tomatoes and peppers, which is what I started last night. It is almost like a promise that full fledged gardening, sunshine, and warm weather are coming soon.

This year I started my seeds in Jiffy Seed Germinating mix because I had problems with the Miracle-Gro potting mix that I used last year. It caused mold, mildew, and gnat problems that I had never had before. Many of my little seedlings didn't make it as a result. I also used the little paper bathroom cups this year instead of the big plastic solo cups that I used last year. I still plan to use those ( I saved them from last year) when I transplant, but it seems smarter to start off smaller and then size up since I have limited room. When I transplant I will probably use the Miracle-gro potting mix since the plants will be larger and stronger and better able to withstand any issues.

The tomatoes are always my favorite. I poured over catalogs trying to choose which kinds I wanted. I went with my favorites: Cherokee Purple, Pink Brandywine, and Amish Paste. I also added a new one. Keegan loves eating the small tomatoes right off of the vine so I got him some Egg Yolk tomatoes which are small and yellow and look like, you guessed it! Egg Yolks. They are supposed to be sweet and tangy. We shall see. I planted approximately 10 each of the pink and yellow tomatoes, 15 of the purple, and 25 of the paste. Also planted were 7 egg plant, 13 pepperoncini peppers, 15 jalapeno peppers, and 25 bell peppers. The last 4 cups I had left over were filled with oregano seeds. None of the ones I planted last year came up but I am hoping with the soil change it will do better this year.

Now for the watching and waiting for my little seedlings to break the surface begins. You would think that after hatching as many eggs and planting as many seeds as I have that it would get old, but I feel like an expectant parent every time. What's more, I love it! The excitement is just beginning.

Hope you all had a beautiful Valentine's Day too!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Here's to 2014!

It has been a few months! Blogging has just been off of my radar for a while. I hope to remedy that and what better time to start than when I am starting to get spring fever? We shall see. I tend to stay more caught up with blogging when things are really busy around here, which it hasn't been recently.

That isn't to say that nothing has been going on or changing on Sunflower Hill.

The garden is closed down for the year, with the exception of some carrots still in the ground, but will be back up and going very soon! It is past time to start seedlings already!

The guineas free range full-time now. They bully the turkeys terribly so they had to be booted out of the turkey coop. They are still bullies when the turkeys are free ranging, but it helps the rest of the time. The guineas now sleep high up in a couple of trees that are located in a triangle between the turkey coop, chicken coop, and pig area. They are pretty safe there, especially guarded by the dogs all night. They also help protect the other birds. All are still accounted for and are healthy and LOUD! One thing is for sure... Nothing will enter our yard without the warning sirens going off.

The turkey population here at the homestead dropped by almost half right before Thanksgiving. A pair of black babies and a Bourbon hen found new homes. One turkey was sold for Thanksgiving dinner to a wonderful native american lady and her family who wanted to thank the spirit of the turkey before humanly processing it. Three others were processed here at the Homestead for Thanksgiving and Christmas. They were wonderful! We are blessed. We now have 6 turkeys. A Blue Slate trio (Yellow, Tallow, and Sari) and a Bourbon Red trio (Franklin, Tabby, and Terra). A new Bourbon tom, named Franklin, has joined the main flock. He is very curious (even by turkey standards), has to be in the middle of everything, and basically resembles a rambunctious teenage boy in every way. He is sweet and we are enjoying him. I am especially enjoying that I am not moving hoop tractors everyday anymore! I will soon forget how much work it was. I am already anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first turkey eggs of the year.

The tractors have been retired for the year but I expect to get them back out soon. Yes... despite being exhausted from working such long hours (tax season) and being sick lately, I have again been struck by chick fever! The incubator has been put back into action and is currently filled with two dozen Speckled Sussex chicken eggs. I have had roos of this breed in the past and loved them so I bought hatching eggs from a friend of mine. Unfortunately, the day after they were set the temperature here dropped and so did the incubator temperature without heat on in the house. It wasn't a huge drop. Just to 95F or so, and I don't think it was for very long but it was severe enough to have potentially killed the embryos. I am anxiously awaiting candling day!

The reason for the breed switch is because we no longer have most of our Buff Orpingtons. Our puppy, Luna, managed to take out all but 3 hens, including our head rooster, Jack. She is such a super sweet girl but she just couldn't manage to keep from playing with the chickens... to death. No harm appeared to be meant, but regardless, she was no longer able to be trusted with chickens. She was tied to a run line during the day and let loose at night to get her energy out for a while, but she soon learned how to free herself from the chain. She has since had to be rehomed. I really hate that, but living her life tied up was not fair to her and putting the lives of my birds in danger constantly wasn't fair to them. We sorely miss Luna, as well as Jack and his girls.

The other chickens are doing well, although not laying well at all. I think that some of them must be laying somewhere else but I have yet to find where. We are still way over our ratio of roos but I just don't know what to do with the 3 silkie roosters that we ended up with. The other rooster, Red, is one of the little ones I hatched out in the soup pot. He is so big, goofy, and sweet, that he has just managed to stick around so far. We shall see what happens later I guess. Hopefully the remaining hens will begin laying better soon.

Our pigs are no longer with us, but are rather, in my in-laws' deep freezers down the road along with a cow they had processed at the same time. One was processed right before Thanksgiving and the other two went to the butchers in early January. I had planned on processing them myself but my father in-law managed to convince me otherwise. The butcher shop is a very small family business and does a good job in a humane way. The pork is AMAZING! I never want to eat store bought pork again! I guess happy animals really do make much better finished products. I wasn't sure I could part with the pigs in the end and even though I was ready for a break, tears were shed when they left us. By me, at least. They didn't seem to care, being more interested in the feed and fresh eggs in the back of the trailer we used to haul them. It was made much easier by the sweet cutie baby pigs turning into giant monster pigs that tried to knock me over and bite my legs every time I got near them and were FOREVER ripping the hose off their waterer and flooding the pasture. I couldn't even get on their side of the fence most of the time without them running toward me full speed and threatening bodily harm. Especially when there was food involved. They fought with each other and anyone close to them was likely to get hurt. I know that most of the time they didn't mean to be mean, but those were some really big pigs and it wouldn't take much to hurt someone! I loved having pigs but pigs that size can be dangerous and I was not-so-secretly ready for them to go. I do look forward to having them again, though. We are already planning to get new babies in April, so we have them when the garden is in full production and canning is producing a lot of waste.

Here's to a brand new year! I hope it is as magical and blessed as the last! Things are not always sunshine and roses on a farmstead but it is an amazing life full of blessings, all the same. I'm looking forward to another beautiful year on Sunflower Hill!