Saturday, December 12, 2009

A Winter's Tale

Even though we are nine days away from the official start of Old Man Winter, he has let us know that he is not to be confined by any old date. He will not be controlled.

My flock of chickens has prepared for his coming by moulting in October to replace the feathers Khan (former rooster, now organically merged with the forest), removed during his lustful moments. I now have a total of 41 hens, and two roosters. They are learning to fluff up their built-in down jackets as they roost for the night. The Cochins have become popular roost partners as they are very fluffy. Last night as I went in to turn off their light and do a head count, one of the Aracaunas actually had her head buried in the poofy feathers of Broody, (Partridge Cochin). It wasn't even that cold! (13 degrees F)

We now have about 5 inches of snow on the ground. It is nice to walk around the fields and woods and see the different sets of tracks in the snow. I am amazed at how busy one squirrel can be!

A flock of sparrows, (English, I believe), has discovered that the Green Barn is a great place to get out of the weather. Bishop the Barn Cat has taken a great interest in hanging out in the barn as well. Hmm, I sense a connection here.

I forgot to bring in the last three pumpkins of the season and they have frozen in the barn. I wonder if I can still salvage some golden puree from them? You know I'm gonna try!

I managed to seal up 27 bottles of home-made vanilla today. Ruth and I will decide to whom we will give a little Holiday cheer. I know, I am going to randomly draw a name from all who comment here and send you a bottle of my vanilla. If you read this boring post, you deserve a chance at something of interest. I will draw a name next Saturday.

As I sit here typing, I am losing the fading light of today and will not get photos if I don't get out there. OK, I just decided that I am going to post a no-photo update today.

Thanks for reading today. I hope you are having a great day.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pumpkin Puree

With the Holidays fast approaching, I wanted to get a little head-start on "pie time."

These are called sugar pumpkins. They are small and easy to work with. Apparently they are one of the best pumpkins to use for baking. I harvested some French pumpkins and will give them a few more weeks before I see how they look inside.

Step 1: wash your pumpkins.

Step 2: cut the pumpkins into smaller pieces for cleaning and cooking. Keep the seeds for baking and also for planting some of the seeds next spring. To preserve for next spring, wash the seeds and let them dry. Place into paper envelopes and store in a canning jar in a cool dark place.

Step 3: Scrape out all the stringy gook. My chickens didn't like the gook.

Step 4: Cook the pumpkin. You can microwave it, steam it, or bake it. I baked it for an hour in Le Creuset pans with lids on. Put 2 cups of water in the pans. Bake at 350F (200C).

Step 5: After washing the seeds, dry them thoroughly. Spread them on a baking sheet, add 3 T melted butter, garlic to taste, 2 T Worcestershire sauce, salt to taste, stir into the seeds. Bake at 275F until golden brown. (about 15 minutes, check and stir often!)

Step 6: After the pumpkin has baked and is cooked, place into a colander and allow to cool so you can peel it.
Step 7: After peeling, puree it by whatever method you prefer. I used a hand mixer and finished it off in the blender. Place the puree into freezer bags. I measured out 1 1/2 cups per bag, as that is how much Ruth needs for her pies.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


Harvesting my own crops is so fulfilling. I love picking things for dinner. We had many meals this year where everything on the table was something from the farm. Grilled chicken, corn on the cob, fried green tomatoes, raw zuchinni, green beans, ripe tomato slices, green onions, pickled beets, chicken and noodles, (store bought flour, homemade noodles), eggs, etc.

I am rather new to gardening and have a much better idea for what I will do this fall and next spring. I ordered garlic and am going to plant it in about two weeks in the pepper bed. I also have loads of composting coop bedding and some "fresh" coop bedding which I will cover all the harvested beds, and till it in a little. This will provide my beds with lots of good organic material and also some good chicken poo. Letting it sit over the winter will allow the "hot" poo to break down into usable fertilizer.

Here are some of the things I am harvesting this year!

Sweet Corn
Wow! This is the "Three Sisters Garden" and I will definitely do this again next year. I need to be more diligent with fertilizer so the cobs will get a little larger. However, the corn was superb. I also harvested many meals of green beans from this bed and there are 6 pumpkins scattered throughout this bed.

I love vine-ripened tomatoes. This is a Pink Brandywine ready to come in for a visit. The tomatoes grew so huge that I had to use fencing instead of stakes or wire cones to keep them upright. This didn't help too well as many branches bent over and pinched themselves to death. (all the brown leaves)

I have two types of pumpkins: Jack O' Lanterns and Cinderella. This is a litlle dude hanging from some corn. I have a feeling it doesn't have enough time to be succcessful.

The interesting markings on this pumpkin were made by free-ranging chickens! The little boogars!

Banana Peppers
I don't know what I was thinking when I planted eight of these plants. We hardly eat them and there are probably over fifty of these waiting for chili or something. What do you recommend?

Boy do we love basil. Ruth makes the best pesto and we faint with the taste of freshly made basil pesto. I have three different kinds and they are flourishing. I took a bouquet of them and surprised my principal with them and the whole school office was rich with the aroma of basil.

Black Peppers
This is a pepper, (not the kind you put in a grinder), which I intended to grow for my daughter's wedding bouquet. However, the Michigan weather didn't cooperate and it is just now (6 weeks late) coming into its own. The leaves are black and the peppers will turn a cherry red. I think they are beautiful, but probably won't grow them again. They need lots of hot weather.

I am trying this out because I thought it sounded like something cool to do. The cobs are all a really nice size, and now I just have to wait for the husks to turn brown. I plan on giving some of this as Xmas gifts.

I planted one zuchinni this year and it just keeps on producing! I must have picked 20 already and there are another 10 getting ready. This is one crop that can make you feel like a successful farmer.

I am thinking about next year and what the garden will produce. If you have something you grew this year and want to recommend, please let me know. I may name the raised bed after you!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

I can't catch you up!

Well, I decided to just post some words today.

I have been busy this summer getting my daughter married off on the farm. Then I jumped back into my routine of spending a lot of time in August getting ready for the new school year. Add to that a new computer and a more complex waay of getting Ruth's photos, and I have fallen off the blog cliff.

I miss all of my blog pals!

Green Barn Update

  • I have 44 hens busily laying eggs and eating grass. You can see from my sidebar the different breed I have. I have opinions about breeds and which ones I would recommend, but you don't want to hear that now.
  • I don't have any roosters now. I am not sure if I will ever have one again, but never say never.
  • I have seven turkeys. I had to butcher one that got injured. After spending two hours doing that job, I am definitely happy to pay the local butcher $7.00 to do that. I have an appointment on November 25 to have the remaining seven "processed."
  • My garden has done a great job! We have been eating lots of sweetcorn, tomatoes, green beans, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, fried green tomatoes and various herbs.
  • I just received my order of garlic bulbs to plant soon. If you live in a cold climate, order your garlic NOW and get it planted around the time of your first frost.
  • My pumpkin production is way down! I have about a dozen pumpkins in various stages and none of them look all that great. Did anyone have good luck with pumpkins this year?
  • I have several piles of chicken coop bedding composting away right now. I am planning on giving them a few more turns and then I will cover all my beds with about six inches of it and till it in for the winter. I would be happy to give you a bushel or two of coop bedding! C'mon out and get it. BYOBB (bring your own bushel baskets)
  • If anyone is planning on a Hawaii cruise between now and next summer, my son is playing his guitar on the Princess cruise! Let me know and I can hook you (or your cute daughter) up with him! ;)
  • I have vanilla still brewing in the cupboard. I ordered cute little amber bottles to put it in. Nice gifts!!
  • Another Green Barn gift (hopefully) will be popcorn. I have about 100 popcorn stalks out there and it looks like a bumper crop! I hope to fill pint jars with it. Stay tuned.
  • Maybe I need to have a November drawing and give some vanilla and popcorn away.
  • I love beets! I grew one row and they went absolutely nuts. I cooked them and canned them and wish I had five rows. No, I won't give this away.

I need to go blog visiting. I hope to see you soon on your blog!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Green Barn Wedding

I am sorry to have left blog world for a few weeks, but I think I am on my way back.

We had a wedding last Saturday. Our daughter married a wonderful young man from Texas. If you have been involved with weddings, you know there are a gazillion details that need to be dealt with and another fifty that you will miss. However, the wedding was beautiful, fun and full of love, family and friends. Despite the rain, ( it started ten minutes before the ceremony and ended about fifteen minutes after the ceremony), we had a grand time.

We wandered around the farm, playing with the chickens and turkeys, sitting around cute tables supported by straw bales, sipping glacier water, home-brewed beer, two buck chuck, and I think there was a clandestine bottle or two of Highland Park going around. Before dinner, we had hors d'oeuvres to nibble on while we chatted and watched the bridal party get all the photos snapped.

We had a lot of help getting ready. You need to go see my wife's blog Synchronizing, to get a better overview.

Bride with papa

I planted a lot of sunflowers around the farm to give it a good old country feeling. These were planted to be the backdrop for the wedding ceremony

The green barn makes a nice backdrop for our family and friends who came to celebrate and witness Lesley's and Brian's vows. People travelled from Idaho, Georgia, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Alaska, New York, Ohio, and of course, Michigan.

The best man at our wedding, (right) back in 1978 smokes a cigar with me at midnight. The bride and groom have been taken away by a pumpkin. It was a grand evening.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Vanilla Extract

I like making stuff. During the winter holidays, we do some baking and always go through lots of vanilla, so after seeing several bloggers make their own, I decided to join the fun.

Vanilla beans come from an orchid. It is originally, like pumpkins, corn and turkeys, a "New World" food. It can be grown in most tropical regions, and is now grown throughout the world. Madagascar has in recent years taken over as the world's production leader.I'm afraid that vanilla bean production is a labor intensive job. It takes many steps to get it to market, including needing nine months on the orchid plant!

I bought 25 Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans. They were soft and pliable.

I carefully split them and then took a butter knife and scraped out as much of the caviar (goo) as I could. I then put the goo and the chopped up pods into one quart canning jars. The next step is to fill the jars with either vodka or rum. I chose vodka. The alcohol extracts the vanilla flavor, and mostly cooks off when you bake.

After pouring in the vodka, I needed to find a nice, dark cupboard in which to store these jars for at least six weeks. I take them out three or four times each day and give them a good shaking. I found a web site that sells four ounce amber jars. Sometime in August, I'll strain the vanilla extract and pour it into the small jars. I luckily have a live-in artist who might be cajoled into coming up with a label for the jars. In the meantime, I will start making my gift list. Hmmmm, who has been naughty this year?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Where Have I Been?

I have been very neglectful of the blog world! I have been a little overwhelmed with the ending of school and all that I have to do for that, as well as the stuff around the farm that has been keeping me hopping.

I am planning on getting back into gear. I need to get caught up with all of my great blogger pals.

I just took 28 chickens to my (my?) Amish butcher up near Gladwin, MI. His wife and children do all of the work with the butchering. I wish I had taken some pics, but I think they wouldn't have liked it so much. The Amish farm has some modern additions, like a big diesel engine that runs a de-feathering device, but for the most part, the Weavers live pretty true to their convictions. They charged me $1.50 per bird to do the complete butchering process. They also cut them up, as many of the birds were too large for the gallon freezer bags.

I have another thirty broilers going to the butcher on June 26. Looks like we'll be making lots of chicken and noodles and chicken salad sandwiches!

I hope they are tender! The six month old roosters I butchered last fall were very tough!

Broody is back at it. Tomorrow is hatch day. I can hear peeping coming from the eggs, so I think we (she) will have some success. I made the mistake of leaving her nest in the coop, and she has gone from the original 8 eggs, to an astounding 38 eggs. I am sure they won't all hatch, but to help Broody with the hatching, another partridge cochin has been sitting alongside her for the past week to make sure the eggs all get good coverage. I don't know what will happen when the eggs hatch. Who will get to be the mom?

I am rambling away here.

My veg garden is starting to look like a garden. Practically everything is up and growing! Some of the seeds I planted didn't germinate, so I will have to make do without some things, mostly squash and chives.

The blackberries are going absolute bonkers. I can't believe how many canes I have and they are all loaded with flowers.

OK, I have to go out and do some chores, but I am going to post this boring thing anyway.

Thanks for reading this far!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Five Weeks Old

New Meat Locker

That sounds really crass! I predator-proofed the middle section of my barn this past week and moved 45 chickens and 7 turkeys in, (all of them about five weeks old). They were a little overwhelmed with all of the space at first, but are now happily nosing around in all of the new corners.

The white birds in the photo below are the cornish X breed. These guys are twice as large as the red broilers I am experimenting with. I have heard that the red broilers are tastier, even though they don't grow as quickly as the cornish chicks. I bought the red broilers from Ideal Poultry, and they are growing well. I am going to try to give them a little outside time and see how they like that. Last fall, I butchered out some extra, (annoying) six month old roosters, and they were as tough as shoe leather. I think the free-ranging gave them a little too much body-building time.

In the photo below, you can see three white turkeys and a bronze at the far right. They are very curious and like to follow me around. I am glad I found a butcher, because I am not enjoying the "processing" part of raising chickens.
The two very dark chickens in the photo are barnevelder hens. They will lay very dark brown eggs, beginning sometime in late August.
This turkey hung around Ruth while she snapped photos.

Don't look closely at the chicken wire! I discovered that I am really bad at getting it straight. After I made that discovery, I started to not care too! So, the coop is secure, but certainly not a mona lisa. (This is a short-term coop anyway!) There, that makes me feel better.

To make the coop look even better, I only had four foot chicken wire, and overlapped it. Then I ran out of chicken wire altogether and didn't feel like buying more, so I cut a section of hardware cloth to fill in the last little opening. I connected them with nylon zip ties. Wow! I'm thinking "coop of the year!"

Poopy eggs
The nice man who gave me the blue slate turkey eggs pictured below reminded me that washing them would be bad for the developing embryos, so I didn't. Aren't they just lovely? That is a nice mixture of mud and poo. I hope THAT isn't bad for the developing embryos too!!
Hatch day is Wednesday, May 20!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Turkeys are a "New World" creature. All of the domesticated turkeys were developed from the original wild North American strain. I find it interesting that most of the domestic turkeys were developed in Europe or Asia and then introduced back to North America as imports. In my research about turkeys, I read that most of the domesticated turkeys are unable to breed on their own. I then saw a "Dirty Jobs" TV episode that showed Mike Rowe artificially inseminating white giant turkeys.

So, imagine my surprise when I found a Craig's List posting with Blue Slate turkey eggs for sale. I contacted the owner and he ended up giving them to me as I am using them with my students. I now have seven turkey chicks in the coop, and 16 Blue Slate Turkey eggs in the incubator. Hatch date is May 20.

If I get a decent hatch rate from these turkey eggs, I will have more turkeys than I planned on having! They will probably not have too much difficulty in finding a Thanksgiving dinner invitation.

I candled several of the eggs last night and they looked like they were doing ok. So, I guess there are some domesticated turkeys that can still do the hokey pokey.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Let's Get This Garden Growing!

I really enjoy thinking about things I want to do. I like it even better when I start doing them. I inherited a plant growing cart, complete with lights and trays. As you can see below, I have it fully stocked with some of the plants/seeds I want to grow this summer. Being rather new to the gardening obsession, I probably am off to a later start than the seasoned pros. I was leery of having the plants get too leggy.

I planted tomatoes, lettuce, pole beans, pumpkins and loads of coleus, ranunculus and sunflowers. I am going to get some other things started in the next week and move things in and out of some cold frames I have in my brain.

Plant Growing Cart

Brandywine Tomatoes

I did a little research on this tomato and discovered that it is one of the tastiest, but also one of the most mysterious. Apparently an Ohio man inherited some seeds from a lady whose family had grown them for almost 80 years, and he is credited as the one who preserved this variety. But there are many varieties of tomatoes that call themselves "Brandywines" and some are excellent and some are not. I hope I have the excellent ones! (duh)

I am looking forward to (my) still-warm-from-the sun, garden-fresh, sliced tomatoes with hot, buttered sweet corn. I might toss in a Wisconsin bratwurst to make it a complete summerfest.

Brandywine Tomato Seedling

A Rose is a Rose

Julie King and Ruth both had the same idea for a name, and I felt like the name Rose was a great fit for this Black Minorcan hen. Julie, if you read this, I am planning on sending you some sort of prize, (if you are interested in receiving some sort of prize, email me with your address!!).


Sunday, April 12, 2009

To List or Not to List

Where does all the time gone?

I am not one who usually makes to-do lists. When I do make them, I often misplace them, or forget that I made them, and then find them a year later and wonder why I took the time to make that list. (Ruth is great at making lists and then actually getting everything accomplished. If you ask her, she'll make you a complete itinerary for two weeks in Paris, complete with walking tours!) However, with that being said, I must get on with making a to-do list for this spring and summer.

First, I need to explain why I feel the need to create a to-do list. Our daughter is getting married on our little farm on August 1st! That is a pretty good reason to get after things in an orderly manner. Secondly, I have some vegetable gardening goals. Third, I have over 100 chickens and turkeys who all need to be cared and planned for.

Hmmm, I am starting to feel a little overwhelmed!

This is where the wedding ceremony will take place. I am planting several hundred sunflowers as an additional backdrop. The Yucca is moving. Any takers?

Wedding to-do list: (not in order of priority, Ruth will do that in a minute)

1) painting: studio roof, corn crib roof, deck rails, trim three outbuildings, stairway in the house
2) plant 2000 sunflowers
3) plant black pepper plants, coleus and other various flowers for decorations and bouquets
4) plant 20 pounds of wildflower seeds
5) lay new linoleum floor in downstairs bathroom
6) talk to neighbors on both sides about parking
7) finalize plans for the specially brewed beer for the reception
8) finish patio between the shed and the studio
9) tidy all the buildings
10) power wash the house
11) refinish the deck
12) scrape and paint the front porch floor and rails

Vegetable Garden List:

1) remove existing grass from proposed veg patch
2) till the ground thoroughly
3) build 6 raised beds
4) fill beds with nice garden soil and compost
5) start seedlings indoors
6) plan and install watering system
7) build fence and three gates
8) remove perennial bed from the "Three Sisters" circle
9) plant seeds
10)construct cold frames
11) plant seedlings at appropriate times
12) etc.

Poultry List:

1) build another brooder
2) prepare the middle barn room as another coop (build 3 doors, three walls, install chicken wire, move two lights, etc.)
3) other things I can't think of right now

What am I doing with over 100 birds?

Original Flock: 25 Hens
1 Rooster (Khan)
Broody's Babies: 7 (hatched on January 13, gendering still incomplete at this time)
Science Project 22 (hatched on February 13, gendering still incomplete)
Red Broilers 30 (freezer date: early June)
White Broilers 15 (ten for nephew, 5 for donation to food bank)
New Pullets 7 (2 aracaunas, 5 welsummers)
Turkeys 7 (3 bronze giants, 4 white giants, Thanksgiving for various families)

Science Fair hatchlings. The white ones are Light Brahmas, Rhode Island Reds and a Black Sex Link, from Eagle Nest Poultry.

Three or four of the as-of-yet non-gendered roosters are destined for new homes, (people have asked me for a rooster or two). All other rooster will head to the Amish butcher sometime in June. So, by mid-June, I will be down to 7 turkeys, 1 rooster, and between 40 and fifty layers.

If you are still reading this, thank you, but I am sorry for the tediousness.

This list will be much more difficult to lose!

My niece holding and adoring Jinx, a red broiler. (no. I didn't tell her!)

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In Their Footsteps

I posted this today at a blog that is written by a co-operative of writers. I discovered this Simple, Green, Frugal site while reading my friend Rhonda's blog. "We all have our own personal blogs but we have joined together with the hope of providing a helpful reference point for those living simply and sustainably."

My wife claims I was a farmer's wife in a previous life. I make artisan breads, I can or freeze everything I grow, I preserve four kinds of jams and jellies, I raise up baby chicks . . . and I love every minute of it.

It might be as mystical as a past life, or it may be as simple as following a trail.

My grandpa (Guy) was born in 1898 on a farm in Pennsylvania, USA. He was one of twelve boys. He decided early on that he wanted to build things, so he did. He worked on some pretty cool buildings in his day, from the tank plant in Warren, Michigan, during WW2 to Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit. During the hardest days of the Great Depression, Guy never forgot his family, and never forgot his farming roots. He would take my 8-year-old father with him, drive out to a local pig farm, buy ten feeder pigs, load them into the trunk of his car, and drive all over Michigan dropping the pigs off at his brothers' farms. In exchange for Guy buying the piglets and grain, he would return later in the year and receive part of the harvest: corn for feeding his city flock of chickens, wheat for grinding into bread, and best of all, several hundred pounds of home grown pork. My father has lots of childhood memories of not only helping out with the butchering, but holding half a hog in the back seat of his dad's Buick all the way home.

My father (Lawrence) carried on the traditions of his father, except for the pigs. He also became a builder. He built department stores, shopping centers and factories all over the American Midwest. As he built stores, at home he built gardens. He was a master gardener and preserver. I have years of memories of my dad peeling and chopping, canning and freezing. Everything from tomatoes to green beans. If he picked it, he canned it. He even had a small flock of chickens, which he skillfully butchered himself. He would share his eggs, meat and vegetables with needy folks at church or in the neighborhood. At the age of 80, Lawrence is still tending a garden in northern Michigan, and among other good deeds, he gives ten bushels of apples each fall to a large family, who wouldn't get fruit otherwise.

The trail I follow is well-marked.

Even though I was mostly raised in cities, I have a strong and undeniable urge to grow my food and preserve it for winter months. Even though I am not a builder of structures, I am a builder of a different sort. (I help build kids in my third grade classroom.) My goals for this year on our small farm include: raising at least sixty meat birds (chickens and turkeys), maintaining a flock of thirty-five layers, and growing a large variety of fruits and vegetables on my five acres. But I hope to do more.

One of my nephews has four children and they have a standing order for ten meat birds whenever I get a batch of chicks. I hope to expand that to other family members. I also have over thirty customers for my farm-fresh eggs, (and I can't keep up with them presently). I am planning on raising twelve turkeys this year. I want to keep a cool-looking pair around to give the farm a "farmy" feeling, but will butcher out the rest to give to family members and friends for their Thanksgiving feast. I also want to give a few turkeys and chickens to some local families. We have a local food cupboard that allows folks in the area to come in and receive food and clothing at no charge, and I plan on furnishing it with as much as I can spare.

I am just getting started on the
farm and welcome any ideas you all may have on how to not just provide for my family, but also give to people who can use a little sharing in my local area.

What part do you play?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Variations in Green

Usually Ruth takes all of my photos, but today, I grabbed her camera and started snapping. I am grateful for her help in processing the photos and getting them ready for posting.

Name Me!

The above photo is of my Black Minorcan hen. She doesn't have a name. If you have a suggestion, please let me know and I will select it from all the entries I receive this week. If I have difficulty deciding, I will let you vote on it next week. This is a really nice hen. She is friendly, let's me pick her up, and best of all, lays a big white egg just about every day. She also has a man-sized comb and red hangy things! (commonly known as wattles, OK, that's not all that common of a word.)

This Week's Theme

I have been challenged to be a much better caretaker of everything around me, from my lovely wife and children, to the things I am accumulating, and to this great planet we live on.

One way I am working on taking care of my share is to produce food right here on our little farm. We have a vegetable garden in the works, and I plan on growing a nice variety of things to eat. If I can keep the wattles out of the raised beds, we should have some measure of success.

Another way is through the raising of hens for eggs, and meat birds for... meat. Earlier in the year I posted about Broody, my Partridge Cochin, and how she hatched out seven chicks in the dead of winter. A few weeks after that, I hatched out 22 "store bought" chicks for a science project at my school. This hatching out of chicks has got me thinking about how I can perpetuate a solid flock that can keep me and my friends in eggs, as well as produce enough meat so I don't ever buy chicken from the store. I wonder if it is possible to manage a flock that will hatch out enough quality chicks to keep the eggs and meat going, without ordering chicks from a hatchery? I am assuming that I will occasionally need to add a rooster to the mix who has good genetic stock to keep my layers of choice "happy." I like the idea that my hens can hatch out their own heirs, and that my flock can take on a life of its own.

These are the chicks Broody hatched out.
I still can't quite tell the hens from the roos.

"Hey Beverly, can you believe this spa? It's so filthy!"
"I know, sweetie, how can all this dirt make me feel so squeaky clean?"

This is a photo of Khan, the father of Broody's brood.

Our lights are going out in a few hours. I hope you all had, or will have, a chance to participate in Earth Hour. The only light I will leave on is the heat lamp for the chicks.

If you are growing vegetables, what are you looking forward to the most? I think I am looking forward to the whole process of gardening. The idea of starting my own seeds, using grow lights, building cold frames, raised beds and mini polytunnels, having a Three Sisters garden and eating veggies that are still warm from the sun are all contributing to me looking forward to spring more than I ever have.

Go Green!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Growing Up

On January 13, 2009, Broody, my Partridge Cochin hen, hatched out 7 chicks. Well, here they are at about ten weeks, getting all grown up. They moved in with the main flock and are merging quite well. They get a quick nip on the back if they hog the goodies, but generally they stick together and sleep in various places. One of them actually snuggles up with the mighty Khan each night.

Another group that I am watching grow up is my third grade class. I have included some of their poems, written after studying "Purple Cow" by Gelett Burgess.

"I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one
But I can tell you anyhow
I'd rather see than be one"

Chickens and children are poetry in real life.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Hybrid Seeds or Heirloom Seeds?

There is a huge debate out there in the gardening world that swirls around seeds and their origins. As you can imagine, there are large groups of supporters on both sides of this argument, and I doubt if there is a clear winner. This is by no means a complete definition of either side of the seed argument, and I'm sure there are tons of details that can be added. Please add some!!

Hybrid Seeds

Hybrid seeds got their start in the 1920's by a man named Henry Wallace, a professor at the University of Iowa, who founded a seed company called The Hi-Bred Corn Company. This company later became Pioneer Hi-Bred Seed Company, a subsidiary of DuPont Chemical Company. Wallace wanted to help out with the food supply and had the idea to create a corn that would grow prolifically and provide an abundance of food for America and the world. It is interesting to note that Wallace later became the Secretary of Agriculture under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Wallace became Vice President under Roosevelt from 1940-1944. Friends in high places? I digress...

Hybrid seeds are created by finding parent plants that have the desired traits for the hybrid seeds and then, they are matched to produce the seeds. Farmers were convinced to buy these seeds in order to produce higher yields, and they did. Before this new "technology" farmers would save enough seeds from their crops to replant their fields the next year. The new hybrids began a cycle forcing farmers to purchase new seeds each year, as they could no longer keep seeds due to the nature of the hybrids.

Not only were farmers buying hybrid seeds, but the nation's gardeners began doing likewise. These varieties were selected for their productivity, their ability to withstand mechanical picking and cross-country shipping, and their tolerance to drought, frost, or pesticides. One of the traits of hybrid seeds is they are "high response" seeds. They require a lot of fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and a great deal of water to achieve their high yields. This is how the chemical companies got involved in the farmyard. If you'll recall, Wallace's seed company is now owned by DuPont Chemical. Another well-known chemical giant, Monsanto, the world's largest hybrid seed company, also is the creator and producer of Roundup, and is the leader in bovine growth hormones.

Heirloom Seeds
People who have a great interest in Heirloom seeds and their plants are attracted to them for many reasons. Some are interested in growing the same plants that were grown for hundreds of years. Some are attracted by the idea of being connected with their forefathers. While others believe that the Heirloom plants are simply natural and lend themselves to organic gardening much better than hybrids. Most of us believe they just taste better!!
Heirloom seeds are also known as "open pollinated" seeds. Unlike hybrids, which are pollinated mechanically and under tightly controlled conditions, heirloom plants produce seeds that mimic the parent plants. Gardeners save seeds from their best plants and store them for the next planting season. Heirloom plants tend to have much more flavor than hybrids, but often have irregular shapes, or don't transport as well. Producers of hybrids have discovered that it is far easier to breed plants for size and shape. Flavor is a mysterious thing! Another aspect of heirloom seeds is that they are dynamic. This means that the plants are able to adapt to their local environment, whereas hybrids are pretty much static.
I was recently reading a magazine called Heirloom Farm and came across an article about William Woys Weaver, author and seed collector. Weaver, an avid gardener, discovered a collection of seeds in baby food jars in his recently deceased grandfather's freezer. He learned that his grandfather collected seeds from his gardens and replanted them into next year's garden. Weaver donated some of these to the collection at Monticello, as well as several collection sites in Europe. Weaver has written a book called Heirloom Vegetable Gardening, and it is on my list of must-get books.
I am planning to grow mostly heirlooms this year and will change over completely next year. I have a gazillion sunflowers to plant, and they are all hybrids. I am going to try to plant some of their seeds and will let you know what develops!!
Farm Update:
Garden Site
This is a photo of the inner circle of the driveway, where I am planting the veg patch. It will be fenced to keep out critters, and I plan on building a series of raised beds. The soil is gravelly and sandy, and the raised beds will allow me to create nice soil on a much smaller and more controlled scale.

Chickens on a Sunny Day!
The Buff Cochin, (Bev), is leading the charge to find some good stuff to scratch around in.
The Great Escape
Steve McQueen would have been proud to see the chickens sprinting past the unsuspecting Bishop, (the barn cat). I kinda have the feeling that not much gets past her, including a group of loud and boisterous chickens heading to a dust bath!
I hope you are having a nice day!
It is somtimes easy to focus on negative things.
Ruth and I are focusing on positive thoughts.
(The photos in this post were taken by Ruth.)