Mite I interest you in some dust?

The chickens had been laying fairly consistently for weeks when egg production abruptly dropped. We actually had a zero day. 

At first we thought it was just the weather. It’s been very rainy and gloomy. Not enough light. But then we noticed a couple of the birds looking a little raggedy, and upon close inspection we found mites. 

Oh dear. Mites are a part of life with poultry, but under certain conditions they can get out of control and cause serious harm to the birds. Ordinarily, a simple dust bath is all the birds need to control them, but did I mention the rain?

I’ve heard stories of people burning down chicken coops to try to eradicate bad infestations, but luckily in the Pacific Northwest, that’s not necessary. The species of mite we have here can’t live long off the bird, so the coop can be cleaned pretty easily. 

So I filled a shallow Rubbermaid tote with some dirt, sand, and diatomaceous earth. Mixed together it makes a pretty good dust bath. Naturally, the weather got better immediately. Anywho, we started cleaning the coop a little more often and spreading more DE each time. 

It took less than 48 hours for the birds to improve. And now that the ameraucana hens are starting to lay, we are now well back in the green! Speaking of green, at least one of the girls is laying green eggs now!

Asparagus and onions! Eventually. 

Things have been quite busy here at Huckleberry Hills! I’d been meaning to get asparagus crowns for weeks now, but wanted a better deal than I was finding. $1.60 per plant might not seem like a bad deal, but when you’re getting fifty, it adds up quick!

Amazon to the rescue! I was able to get both a green and a purple variety, 25 crowns each, and spend a total of thirty bucks and some change on them! They arrived during the week and I got them planted Saturday. 

Now, we didn’t really have an ideal spot already prepared so I had to make my own. I knew we wanted them near the house, but with the entire plot being sloped, and the front yard being poultry territory, I really didn’t have any options better than under the kitchen and pantry window. Of course, the soil isn’t fantastic there because there’s a steep slope right below it. 

Enter the bunny. Rabbit poop is one of the best fertilizers because it doesn’t need any aging or composting before applying to the garden. So I shoveled out as much as I could, and mixed it in with some garden soil I’d purchased to make my own seedling mix. 

I weeded the spot under the windows and started digging trenches for them. It’s a little more crowded than I’d prefer, but they should be fine. 

Despite some spotty reviews (largely from people who didn’t seem to have a firm grasp of gardening), they were almost all perfect crowns. Some had even broken dormancy and had tiny spears starting! 

Fifty plants, even if some are female, ought to be enough asparagus for the two (three soon!!!) of us, though we won’t get to harvest any until next year. 

After that, I got the red onions in the ground. Between red and yellow, probably a hundred total. Haven’t even gotten the leeks and scallions outside yet. A few are about ready though!

Also got the tomatoes repotted, for the most part. I don’t have nearly enough space for seedling trays, so I got some of them repotted and then just spaced the rest out in their original trays a bit. I’ve definitely determined that I need a better dedicated seedling area, with shelves and more lights. 

The incubator is set up and ready for eggs, just waiting on that silly turkey. The cuckoo maran pullets are spending the days outside and will be moving to the coop by next weekend most likely. 

As much as there is to do lately, it’s super important to not forget to take time for yourself and your loved ones. Saturday we had a family gathering at my mom’s house, and Sunday after planting, the girlfriend and I went to a local park. We really do live in a beautiful place, and I can’t wait to show it to my baby when he or she gets here!

Fancy chicken hatching time!

We’ve got six chickens in the freezer. We’ve got the perfect ratio of rooster to hen for optimal fertilization. We’ve only got three Bielefelder hens and we want more. 

Go go incubator! People my age will get that. We sprung for the egg turner, too. Sure it doubles the price, but with my schedule, we all know I won’t be turning the eggs five times a day. Lady McFarmFace is willing, but she’s got so much going on already, I didn’t want to add a new chore. 

We started setting aside the Bielefelder eggs on Monday. But then the turkey started laying. Now, I’m told Narragansett turkeys are pretty good mothers and she will raise the turklets all by herself. But she will only raise about a dozen at a time. So, brilliant idea. Turkey and chicken eggs can be incubated together, the turkeys just need an extra week. 

So, we will go ahead and eat the Bielefelder eggs we’ve set aside. This week we will collect turkey eggs until next Saturday when we will incubate them. The rest, Diane gets. During the first week of incubation, we will collect Bielefelder eggs again and the following Saturday they go in. So they should all hatch around the same day. 

Now if only I could get her to lay eggs in a nest box instead of the dog house. 

Shifting priorities 

When we first started out here at Huckleberry Hills, before it was even called that, we had some fairly ambitious goals. We still do! However, things change, and the plan for this year has changed quite a bit. 

Sometimes the greatest additions to a homestead or farm are totally unplanned! We call it Sesame Seed for now, because that’s how big it was when we found out! But as Lady McFarmFace gets further along, it gets harder for her to do certain things. 

We still plan on ducks, geese, goats, pigs, and sheep. But probably not this year. The fowl, at most. Instead, the big focus will be on streamlining what we already have. I’ll be constructing a rabbit barn of sorts, and food hoppers that don’t need filling as often and keep food a little higher to deter rodents. The water containers for the poultry and the rabbits will be modified for easier filling, and ill extend the fence around the yard. 

This fall, I’ll do some earth moving to make swales and berms, and then totally replant the entire yard with a forage blend. It’ll be a mix of a horse pasture blend (orchard grass, perennial ryegrass, Kentucky bluegrass, Timothy, and alfalfa) and a poultry forage blend (Dutch white clover, alsike clover, red clover, alfalfa, Austrian winter peas, common flax). With a large enough area, this should significantly decrease the chicken food bill! 

Other projects include some sort of overhead shelter for the birds, and replacing the pellet stove with a wood stove. I’d also like to get started clearing the pasture, though I may not get to fencing it until next year. 

Another thing, Diane has started laying!!! More on that in the next post. 

Winter planting time!

Yeah, you heard me right, all you non gardener folk out there. Planting in the winter. There’s actually quite a few seeds that go in the ground before the last frost date. 

While the peppers and tomatoes chill under the grow lights, the garden bed is starting to get weeds. And, well, that just won’t do. We had a pile of partly decomposed straw from the dog bed, and the rabbits conveniently pile their poo in a corner, so I spread and raked that into the soil. 

The peas and turnips both got neat little rows, but the leafy greens I pretty much just scattered. I like to plant lettuce and spinach densely underneath taller plants like tomatoes. Helps keep the weeds down. 

Speaking of tomatoes, we will be trying the vertical string method this year, so I put a bunch of screws in the fascia under the gutter. The tomatoes will be in two rows, offset, each with a string supporting them upwards. 

My garden plan is pretty dense, and for some reason my careful measurements didn’t work out quite the same once I started planting. So the beans will get tepees off to the sides outside the actual garden bed. 

The alliums are going elsewhere because they don’t play nicely with legumes. I’ll also be growing, for the first time ever, a few grains. I’m very excited about the wheat and barley patches (so far it’s a patch of straw, but trust me. There’s barley under there). They’ll go downslope of the asparagus bed, along with some popcorn, and somewhere in all this, some shelling peas. 

I’ll be expanding the rabbitry, and that will have a sunflower border between it and the driveway. 

Sunflowers, wheat, barley, corn, peas… It’s almost as if I’m planning on making my own animal feed…

Anyway, the plan done and some of the planting as well, it’s quite clear that I need to at least double my garden space. Preferably triple or quadruple. Time to break out that chainsaw soon!