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Archive for October, 2010

We moved in early May and didn’t get our garden in until late May.  Being in a new micro-climate combined with new “pests” made for an interesting first season.  Our biggest enemy early on were quail, what a bunch of buggers.  Nothing scares off those little sprout nipp’n birds.  Second biggest enemy, ants.  Man, they can wreak havoc like you wouldn’t believe.

But, certain things did amazing this year.  Especially our tomatillos.  The winter squash were doing well until a hard freeze about 6 weeks back.  Tomatoes were hardly worth the fertilizer used this year.  Corn, did pretty well.  Beans, pretty well.  Given how busy we were, how late things got going, it was an interesting year.

So, fast forward to today.  We know we have freezes on the way, and we knew if we were to get what is left out in the garden preserved, we had to harvest this weekend.  Yesterday was occupied with Chet going out and cutting two cords of wood and me with the kids transporting to a birthday party and trying to make Gabe’s Halloween costume in time for his piano recital today.  So, today, while I was trying to finish Gabe’s Halloween costume and after we dropped a crock-pot full of homemade chili at the Silver State Striders Fall Colors Half-Marathon finish line, Chet ventured out to finish harvesting what he could from the garden.

But, today was amazing weather wise.  We’ve had hurricane force winds most of the day here at the house and have had a solid 10 hours of rain, and much of it of epic proportions.  I joked today that perhaps Chet should be out building an ark not harvesting the garden.  However, he was out there in the torrential storm harvesting peppers, tomotillos, potatoes and what not else.  P.S. I got Gabe’s costume substantially completed just before we lost power.

It was awesome.  About two bushels of tomatillos, estimated about 80-100 lbs. of potatoes, half a 5 gallon pail of peppers (is that a peck?), and several summer squash.

Next up this week will be preserving all the harvest.  We need to build some crates to store the potatoes in the basement/cellar.  We’ll pressure can the tomotillos and I’ll probably process the peppers into more jelly.

If we’re going to put the time and energy into a garden to rely upon to sustain the family to some degree, then you have to not let it go to waste.  That means sending the husband out to harvest is the worst weather imaginable.  Okay, seriously, I would have been out there with him if I hadn’t had to sew costumes, but I’m very appreciative of his hard work.

Now comes the continued hard work of preservation, but it’s also very gratifying to see the fruits of your labor literally and figuratively.

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Back in July, we ordered 45 chickens.  20 of them were a variety of laying hens, which I’ll discussing at another point in time.  25 of them were “BBQ Specials” – chickens specifically bred to gain weight for the purpose of feeding you.  And, with our order, the hatchery threw in one “exotic free chick.”

When the chicks arrived, Chet received a panicked phone call from the Post Office.  He had missed the first one or two calls and our voicemail hasn’t been working correctly.  As Chet entered the Post Office he could hear the “peep peep peeps” of the box of chicks.

As you can see, the chicks were all the same size.  But, that quickly changed.  Unfortunately, I didn’t photograph the progression.  All in all, we only lost two baby chicks, one Rhode Island Red laying hen and one meat chicken.

Chet got the coop built and the hen house arranged.  Unfortunately, even though there is a good amount of room for the laying hens, it was and is cramped quarters for all the chickens.  The laying hens are little buggers and began cannibalizing on the meat chickens by pecking at their feathers.

So, we lost a few to cannibalization.  Most of the time, Chet was there to “take care of business.”  However, he was out of town for a week, and let’s just say, the cannibalization would have made a great scene for a slasher movies.  Unfortunately, this poor chicken was still alive, and suffering.  Our neighbors had been over (I asked them to give my car a jump) when this was discovered.  I was asked what I was going to do.  What choice did I have?  I had to put the poor bird out of its misery, so I said to them “well, I have to kill it.”  With that response, they couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Bless the heart of of our son, Gabe, as he wanted to be there with me.  I needed him to not be there, for me, and I needed him to watch after his sister in the house while I to took care of things.  I am proud to say that I am not longer afraid of breaking a chicken’s neck with my bare hands.  Now, is it something that I want to do, gosh no.  But, I can do it – particularly when it’s followed by a shot of tequila, a very large shot of tequila.

So, we “harvested” most of the meat birds a few weeks back.  They were only 6 weeks old, but they averaged 3lbs. a bird.  Not to shabby.  But, the laying hens are horrible little buggers, and the just kept cannibalizing the remaining meat birds.

As of now, we’re done with meat chickens.  Of the 25 we ordered, about 18 of them ended up in the freezer.  Only one died as a chick, so you can do the math on the cannibalization rate.  The fear now is that the laying hens are going to turn on one another or the eggs when they finally start laying.

It’s been an interesting experience this time around.  Our first time around, we started with 9 chicks, 2 turned out to be roosters and were culled from the flock.  One hen met an untimely demise at the well intentioned hands of Gabe.  Only time will tell how many of our laying hens will make it to maturity.  Chet and I are dreading the thought of having to cull out the entire flock and start over, but if that’s what happens, then that’s what happens I suppose.

It’s life and learning on the modern homestead.

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