Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Springfield Farm

Last week, we took a small fieldtrip to Springfield Farm north of Baltimore to purchase some Narragansett hens. Although it was more than an hour drive, the kids had fun once we were there, checking out all the animals, choosing the hens and devouring a pint of cookies and cream ice cream from a local dairy. We were able to choose either one month old or two month old birds and ended up going with two of the older birds both because we'd have a better chance of choosing hens and because they'd be basically the same age as the birds we hatched out at home.

Although we ended up with two males from our hatching, buying two females from another breeder ended up making good sense to broaden genetics for our flock. I had planned on incubating more eggs next spring in order to do this, but the way it worked out saved us a year in the long run. This is a photo, I believe, of the hens' mother whose coloring is very light. In the pen right next to them were several peacocks, which completely captured the girls' hearts. If it weren't for the incredibly loud noise they make, I'd have had two girls begging for some at our home.

While there, we were able to see the breed of pig we're considering for our farm, Tamworths. Known for their flavor, lean meat and ability to do well on pasture. Sam and his dad are really looking forward to raising some feeder pigs for meat, but Jules is set on raising one to keep. Our big research project this year is to learn as much as we can about the Tamworths, so we'll be able to integrate them into our farm. Designing and locating the pen will depend in large part on where we can locate water and where we'd like to locate our fields. Our trip to Springfield gave us some good ideas and some visuals that will help our planning.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Bountiful Harvest

We've been loving garden life again, and eating delicious, naturally grown food is like nothing else. Anyone who's a gardener will understand how incredibly difficult it was for me to leave my gardens when we moved last year. Moving in June meant all my effort would be enjoyed by the new owners while I moved into a home with a clean slate--fun to create, but a whole season of herbs and edibles lost! Bittersweet. Once again, however, we have herbs for flavoring dishes, greens and our very first tomatoes are beginning to ripen, which Jim totally stole for his blog! Those on the blog ring have inspired me to begin taking some pictures of the foods we create--thanks to everyone for being a part of Homesteadin' Unschoolers!

This year has also brought some wonderful expansion as we have more room and more sun for growing our delicacies. I bought some broccoli seedlings, which have come in beautifully, and I've just finished harvesting and freezing several batches after we gorged ourselves on fresh harvests. We've also been able to broaden our tomato repertoire and have enjoyed the "Gold Nugget" cherry tomatoes that have been the first to ripen. I'm looking forward to the grape tomatoes and the sungolds, which are delicious! Our dwarf popcorn has tassled out and is growing, and Sam and I are oh so excited to try our very own popcorn. I have a couple of acorn squash already, and a few more butternuts growing on the vines. I've been diligently picking the flowers off my strawberries, which at first was very difficult, but the plants are growing so nicely now that it's become easier.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Just when I think I have it all figured out...

Okay, so I know I posted earlier about my obsession with determining the sex of my turkeys. As you can see, this guy is pretty much a no brainer. He loves to display and strut and gobble, and his snood is definitely longer than the other turkey's snood. He'll even at times try to step on the other turkey when s/he's laying in the dust. For a while there, I even let all the obsession fall away as I was sure I'd lucked out in this whole grand experiment and ended up with a breeding pair after all. Then doubt once again rears its ugly head.

Here's another photo of the typical behavior--looks like a tom with two hens, doesn't it? Hence my complacency. Within the past day or so, however, the other narri-colored poult seems to have begun a kind of gobble, but only if the tom isn't there. *sigh* I thought, perhaps, too, that I'd actually seen this second poult display when alone, though I couldn't be sure which poult I was actually watching--other than a slight variation in the length and shape of the snood, there are no distinguishing features. Yet another worrisome bit of info, though I've read that it can take another month for their mature coloring to come in.

Here's a pretty good shot of the two of them together, and if you click the photo, it should open a larger version. Cast your vote in the comments section below--tom or hen?
You make the call.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Kitchen Garden

I've been meaning to blog about the kitchen garden for a while now, and we got some good pictures today. This is an overview of the area which is approximately 50'x50'. We fenced it in with goat fencing, which has done a great job keeping out the goats and chickens but not such a great job with the bunnies, who managed to nearly wipe out two sections of beans before we bought two rolls of 2' chicken wire to run around the bottom. This seems to have done the trick, and the beans are attempting a valiant comeback.

I need to scan in a copy of my garden design, so folks can get an idea of the overall layout logic, but until I do that, here's a quick and dirty description. The left-most three sections are permanent planting beds with strawberries and a central row of lavendar in the two outside beds and asparagus ("Jersey King") in the middle bed. I planted four varieties of strawberries: "Jewel" and "Sparkle" in the first bed, and "Tristar" and "Earligirl" in the last bed. To the front of these permanent beds are three more beds that comprise the left half of the kitchen garden. In the center bed, I have (semi) permanent herbs: rosemary, parsley and thyme. In the outer beds, I have tomatoes and basil, pole beans and onions. The closer tomatoes are grapes and cherries, and the farthest are slicing tomatoes.

In the right side of the garden, I have mirroring sections, though the back three beds are not permanent but a part of the 4 part rotation. The center back is the dwarf "Tom Thumb" popcorn that Sam and I planted, and in front of that is the mirror herb garden with cilantro in the back, then dill, then two rows of chives that I just planted because the first batch didn't take. In the front left bed are carrots and beans (the only beans that didn't get eaten to the ground), and behind them to the right are lettuces and peppers with broccolli. In the farthest beds are onions, paste tomatoes, bunny bashed beans and a basil bed that's just recently seeded.

The perimeter of the garden has the several fruit trees that aren't in the yard-scaping somewhere and these are the garden beds with hardwood mulch in the picture. The back has apples ("Liberty," "Enterprise," and "William's Pride") and pears ("Seckel," "Magness" and "Potomac"). The left side has 20 blackberry plants: 7 "Apache," 8 "Arapaho," 5 "Triplecrown." The right side has 20 raspberry plants: 5 "Nova," 5 "Killarney," 5 "Caroline" and 5 "Jewel" black raspberries. The front of the garden showcases 6 table grape vines: 3 "Mars" and 3 "Canadice." In our yard, we've planted a "Stella" sweet cherry, a "Hardy Chicago" fig, a peach tree, and a "Stanley" plum tree, along with 7 blueberry bushes ("Bluecrop," "Jersey Blue," and I can't remember the others) .

We also have other crops planted elsewhere on the property. I have a melon/ squash bed in a hollow of one of the pastures, hoping to maximize water. There I have acorn and butternut squash, watermelon and two kinds of cantaloupes. In Jim's fields, we have two kinds of sweet corn--bicolor and white--and a full size popcorn. He also planted "Yukon Gold" and "Red Nordland" potatoes and two kinds of pumpkins--a jack o'lantern and pie pumpkin for me.