Saturday, April 29, 2006

Garden Bones

I finished planting most of the permanent features of the kitchen garden this week. I planted and then replanted 25 asparagus crowns, 100 strawberry plants, 20 blackberry plants and 20 raspberry canes. One of these days I need to post a sketch of the garden, but it's a large square, with a large central path and several smaller paths, which you can kind of see in a previous post.

I haven't yet figured out where to grow my sunflowers, and I have a separate bed in a pasture hollow for the melons and perhaps the squash as well and Jim has a large plot for the sweet corn, pumpkins and potatoes. I purchased a dwarf heirloom popping corn for my garden and all the usual herbs, tomatoes, peppers, greens, beans, etc. will be in there as well.

The blackberries and raspberries each run the whole length of one side. On the back of the garden, I have 3 dwarf apples and 3 dwarf pears that I'm going to try to espalier, and on the front of the garden I have six grape vines growing. I've tried to set the berries far enough inside the goat fencing that the goaties won't be able to nibble them through the fence, and because they're on the outside, I'll be able to put up bird netting relatively easily should I need it.

The blueberries are planted in our yard along the boundary as a hedge plant--seven of them. Those will be much more difficult to net because they're free standing.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dewormed Goats and trimmed hooves

Drunkard Paths and Rock Rakin'--a.k.a. Practicing Potager

Why is it that men seem to get all the big engine-powered toys while women--or should I just say me and stop making sweeping gender generalizations--get to do all the hard work with manual tools? Eh, I should stop complaining--garden building's a way better work out than any nautilus machine! While Jim had fun plowing up my garden and disc-ing it with his 16hp Massey-Ferguson, I get to rake out all the rocks he turned over and create the layout and permanent path structure--all that finishing work that's so fun to conceptualize and so painful to implement.

Unfortunately, we don't have nearly enough leftover brick from the house to create all the walking paths between the beds that I'll need, so my plan is to use the bricks to ouline the paths while I plant grass seed, keeping the seed from entering the garden plots. Once I figured out how many bricks I had, I laid them out in the general design I was hoping to create. What a drunken path I made!

Luckily, I had three handy helpers to measure and set the lines with me to create a straighter path--when they weren't running through the paths playing tag, that is.

The final layout came out pretty cool, and once the seed on this half of the garden germinates, I'll flip all the bricks over to the other half of the garden and do the same all over again. You can kind of see the apples at the back of the garden, the grapes at the front, and the tilled up line down the side for the raspberry plants, which will create a living fence inside the wire one. The key will be setting the fruit plants far enough back from the fence that the goaties can't stick their heads in to munch some tasty treats all the way down to the ground!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Turkey Dreamin'

This year, I began cooking Thanksgiving dinner on Easter, which is to say I set 18 Narragansett turkey eggs in the incubator. Narragansett turkeys are listed as "critical" on the ALBC site and are one of the oldest American breeds, developed in New England during the Colonial period, though they weren't officially recognized until after the 1830s. Abraham Lincoln is reputed to have owned Narragansetts at one time. Heritage breeds like the Narragansett are touted by the Slow Food movement as a delicious choice for Thanksgiving birds, as mentioned in this fun article on the Food Section site.

In preparation for the eggs, which shipped from a small poultry keeper in New York, I borrowed an old hovabator from my neighbor, as I was not eager to repeat my experience with our homemade incubator that used an incandescent bulb as the unregulated heat source. Unfortunately, however, the bottom of the 'bator was pretty chewed up, so Jim retrofitted the heater and thermostat onto my homemade 'bator and voila!

The eggs arrived all in one piece, though shipped eggs are still a bit of a crap-shoot. Until we candle them at around day 5, we won't know whether we have fertile, viable eggs or not. The incubator is doing a great job of holding temperature and staying pretty steady, and having a remote thermometer/ hygrometer is a godsend if you're anal about monitoring the 'bator temps like I am. I can wake up in the middle of the night, click the illuminator and reassure myself that all is well.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Touching the Earth

I've been working in the vegetable garden--raking out rocks, staking out plots, planting seeds, pulling weeds, all that fun stuff.

This week, I've gotten my onions, carrots, lettuce, parsley, lavendar, and chives planted. Jim turned over the blueberry beds with big bags of peat, so those are set. I weeded and mulched the apples and pears and ordered the raspberries, blackberries and strawberries.

I fed the hydrangeas, bulbs and roses with the "tones" as I mulched the flower beds this week. I use the organic "tones" from Espoma, which have been wonderful for me the past several years. The one product I haven't tried because I can't find it locally is the turf tone, which I'd really like to try. At this point, I've pretty much resigned myself to overseeding the lawn in the spring and fall, pulling a few weeds by hand when I feel motivated and embracing, if somewhat half-heartedly, the "wish flowers" that the kids so love--the dreaded dandelion gone to seed.

All in all, a very productive week.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Barn Cat Bonanza

After putting the mama cat down, we brought her kittens inside, and I am now the proud surrogate mama to five barn kittens. I can honestly say that until now I have never before wished for 6 breasts. Evolution rocks! Mama cat did her very best to mother her five kittens despite being a baby still herself, and she gave them the very best start in life they could've gotten--36 to 48 hours of her colostrum. If these babies survive, it will be primarily due to that gift she gave to them.

I went out and purchased a new cat crate for the kittens since our current one was in use by a quarantined hen, a heating pad, several bottles, some KMR formula and a digital kitchen scale. Our set up is working really well other than the whole automatic shut off feature on the heating pad, which causes it to turn off every hour. Apparantly, I completely missed that bonus feature when choosing the pad 'cause it sure wouldn't have been my choice to wake up every hour to switch the durn thing back on. Seven days later, I've now purchased two more wet pads without the bonus auto shut off. Live and learn.

Primo was the first kitty born and the one mama abandoned in the driveway. He hung out with me for about 2 hours the day he was born before he went back to join his littermates. Primo was the first to open his eyes at about 5 days--very early--which leads me to believe that he's gestationally older than the others. He came to us at 3.30 ounces and was the only one not to drop weight initially; he continues to hold his own as the second largest kitten in the litter. He's primarily a tabby with quite a bit of orange around his face, white on his throat, and a couple of black tiger stripes by his eyes.

4/2-- 3.30 oz
4/3-- 3.55 oz
4/4-- 4.00 oz
4/5-- 4.40 oz
4/6-- 4.90 oz
4/7-- 5.10 oz

Tabby is one of the smallest and definitely the whiniest of the bunch and pretty much the runt of the litter. He was dehydrated the first couple of days, but now at one week, he's eating like a champ and eliminating copiously, so I know his hydration is back to normal. He came to us at 3.55 ounces. He's a typical gray tabby with white around his throat line.

4/2-- 3.55 oz
4/3-- 2.95 oz
4/4-- 3.19 oz
4/5-- 3.55 oz
4/6-- 3.95 oz
4/7-- 4.10 oz

Shadow is a sweet little kitty and I think she's the one we found crawling away from her mama in a pool of motor oil. She cleaned up quiet well and is one of my favorites, perhaps because of her challenging start. She came to us at 3.40 ounces, and developed diarrhea and dehydration the first day, possibly due to the richness of the formula feed. I cut the formula to water ratio for about 24 hours, which helped rehydrate her and allow her digestive system to catch up. Shadow is a soft gray tabby with a white necklace--so cute!

4/2-- 3.40 oz
4/3-- 2.80 oz
4/4-- 3.40 oz
4/5-- 3.40 oz
4/6-- 3.80 oz
4/7-- 3.90 oz

Monster got his name because of how much bigger he was than any of his litter mates. He came to us at a whopping 4.05 ounces! He's a sweet little guy who was the first kitten to start purring. He's highly food motivated, and I'll be interested to see how his personality developes. He's a charcoal tabby with very dark skin, which is adorable.

4/2-- 4.05 oz
4/3-- 3.95 oz
4/4-- 4.45 oz
4/5-- 5.05 oz
4/6-- 5.45 oz
4/7-- 5.95 oz

Cally was the last kitten born, and as her name suggests, she's the only calico in the litter. When I changed the bedding Sunday morning, Cally was the kitten whose umbilical cord I found wrapped around her mama's leg, severely cutting into her tail. I was able to separate the cord, and both her umbilicus and tail are healing nicely, though I suspect she'll always have a bit of a kink as a reminder. She came to us at 3.65 ounces and seems to be a very loving kitten.

4/2-- 3.65 oz
4/3-- 3.35 oz
4/4-- 3.90 oz
4/5-- 4.25 oz
4/6-- 4.45 oz
4/7-- 4.95 oz

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Feline Midwifery

Having moved to a farm with a three stall horse barn, we began our quest to acquire a barn cat or two, which proved surprisingly difficult. The humane society adopts only indoor cats and requires a signed contract promising the cat will not be allowed outdoors. So, we ended up with Mr. Buttons, Julia's kitty whom she adores and who wistfully twitches his tail while watching the birds out my bedroom window. He would have made an excellent mouser. But, contracts and commitments, not to mention the heartbreak my daughter would experience if Buttons ended up on the losing end of a collision with one of the vehicles that regularly whips down our road and Buttons is condemned to a lifetime of imprisonment.

When our neighbors' adopted stray showed every sign of being pregnant, we immediately offered to take one or two of her litter and then to have her spayed. The birth began March 31st, a Friday afternoon. When the first kitten arrived, the mama, still a 10 month old kitten herself, didn't quite know what to do. She just kind of walked around dragging the kitten behind her bouncing off the driveway rather than hunkering down somewhere quiet. Once the kitten was out, the mama walked away from him without cleaning him or really even acknowledging him at all. Poor girl just seemed utterly confused.

I took the kitten, cleaned it up and kept it warm for several hours and in the meantime, the mama birthed and cleaned two more kittens. Unfortunately, the spot she chose was a tool shed with pooled motor oil and sharp rototiller tines. We decided to help her along a little, and put her in a large dog kennel where she could be with her kittens in a shallow tupperware container and still have room to move around, have her food and water and a small litter container. Once clean and dry, she happily accepted and nursed the first kitten along with the other two.

The next morning, there were two more kittens and mama was nursing them all. I gave her a little bit of the open can of formula I'd purchased in case I needed to feed the first kitten, and she seemed quite content. We checked on them several times throughout the day, but were reluctant to meddle much further.

When I went in Sunday morning to give them fresh bedding, I discovered the last kitten's umbilical cord wrapped tightly around the mama's leg as the mama walked over to greet me. Much to my chagrin, I also discovered a blood-red mass protruding from the mama's vaginal opening. I was able to tease away the umbilical cord from the kitten and separate her, but her tail was quite lacerated. As I changed the bedding, the mama began straining in her litterbox and the mass grew larger. I immediately feared that it was a prolapsed uterus and guessed it had been exposed to the air for at least 24 hours.

After doing some research and talking with my vet, I confirmed that it was, indeed, a prolapsed uterus, which required immediate surgical intervention--only by now, nearly 36 hours had elapsed and, judging by the smell, it had definitely gone septic. The mama refused all food and drink and just laid down stoically nursing her litter.

Along with our neighbors we made the difficult decision to put the mama cat down late Sunday afternoon, one of the most excruciating decisions I've ever had to make in my life. Losing animals is definitely the down side to country living.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Hens, Pens and Surprises

Every morning when I wake up, I stumble out of bed, turn on the espresso machine, take out the dogs, open up the top of the goat stall and give them a little cracked corn and let the chickens out with the days' scraps.

Finding a dead chicken before I've had my morning coffee is not my preferred way to start the day. Not quite as bad as that birthday morning I woke up to find a dead mouse floating in the toilet, but definitely ranks right up there with the top ten worst ways to wake up without caffeine.

I slipped Tiny, one of my americauna hens, into a Target shopping bag and secured her where she wouldn't risk being disturbed by the dogs or other interested animals. When I went back inside, I promptly sent an email to Val--the friend who got me into these chickens in the first place or as Jim likes to refer to her, "that damn Val," though, let's be honest here, after I made myself that cappuccino. Of course, I absolutely adore Val and value her opinion and experience highly, so she's the first person I call when all these farm fiascos occur, and just as obviously, she always has brilliant and practical suggestions for me, thank goodness!

Val suggested I put Tiny on ice and either send her to a state lab or perform a necropsy myself to determine the cause of death. The next morning, I opted to call the state lab, chickening out on the necropsy (doh! bad pun! "He who would pun would pick a pocket!"). They suggested I bring her on down without so much as a raised eyebrow, at least that's what it sounded like. So, the kids and I drove down to Frederick with a dead chicken in a purple Sam's Club freezer bag and a car-full of styrofoam that I'd been waiting for the opportunity to drive down to the Mail Room in Frederick for reuse instead of refuse.

Serendipity determined that a dead chicken would be the draw to Frederick, Maryland. Who would've guessed that? And, serendipity apparently knows what she's doing because the two places were literally blocks apart.

So, after taking the puppy into the vet to be neutered, the kids and I hopped into the van and headed down to Frederick. The lady at the labs was lovely and kind and, thankfully, not the least bit alarmist, which I admit I was more than a bit afraid of. To be totally honest, I had visions of the state agencies showing up on my doorstop in full hazmat gear to euthenize my whole flock, reminscent of that Outbreak movie with Morgan Freedman, Dustin Hoffman and Rene Russo. I am quite pleased to report that the only alarmism was entirely on my own part.

Prior to embarking on our excursion, however, and after observing my flock the day before for any signs of sweeping disease, I opted to isolate a speckled sussex hen who had a bubbly left eye. Only one eye and not goopy, but her comb was a bit pale and dry, so I isolated her in a cat carrier and told the lab about her symptoms. They agreed isolation was the best strategy until the necropsy.

Turns out that a full pathology report takes about 3-4 weeks, but the vet was kind enough to give me a call with her preliminary findings, considering the second hen I had in quaratine. Tiny, did in fact, literally drop dead off her roost with a ruptured liver tumor, poor girl.

I opted to keep the speckled sussex in solitary confinement for another day just to err on the side of caution, though she showed no signs of respiratory distress and she quite plausibly could have gotten some diatomaceous earth in her eye, which would qualify as a considerable irritant.

After another 24 hours and no further developments, I released the speckled sussex back into the pasture much to her great pleasure and relief as she happily resumed scratching at the compost heap.

Ah yes, just another day on the farm, and just between us, I'm really grateful not to be on the 5:00 news for the first reported American flock with the H591 avian flu.