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You’ve all heard of the crazy cat lady who owns way more cats than any sane person would ever dream of? Yes. Well, I’m allergic to cats, so I have a feeling I’m going to become that crazy chicken lady. Today, our little flock showed up in the mail. I’m thrilled!

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I ordered a straight run of 25 Black Jersey Giant chickens. They are all of the black chicks. They are good dual-purpose chickens, laying about 260 eggs a year on average and getting 10-13 pounds at maturity. They’re BIG chickens! I also ordered 15 straight-run hatchery choice guinea keets. They are the brownish striped and buff colored ones. I’m pretty sure they sent me half and half of Royal Purple and Lavender. Two keets died in transit, and one of the survivors is a bit crippled – he’s got one lame eye and two curled feet. He’s a trooper, though. I splayed his toes and taped them in place, and he’s zooming around eating and drinking like the others. Why were his toes curled? I have no idea. It could have been some trauma he suffered during shipping, trouble during hatching/incubating, or it could be a vitamin B2 deficiency. In any case, the treatment is the same – splint the toes straight with whatever you can, and keep the splint on until the bones have set right. It takes 1-3 days in most cases, and doesn’t hurt the chick at all. Like I said, he’s running around with his taped feet just fine.

For those of you not familiar with ordering chickens, you can either order pullets and cockerels (girls and boys) or what they call a straight run, which is a random mix of sexes usually working out to about half and half. I counted at least four little roosters as I was playing with them. I wasn’t thinking, or I would have checked each one as I took it out of the box. Oops. Some hatcheries also do what is called hatchery choice, which is when they take whatever breeds they have on hand and mix them up to complete an order. This is a great way to get discounted chicks, as it uses up their “leftovers.” With the guineas, I wasn’t very concerned about which breed to get – they’re all hell on ticks. With chickens, however, I plan on breeding my own flock, so I only want one breed.

This is my fourth or fifth time now starting chicks, so I like to think I have most of the kinks worked out. Usually I use a big plastic tote as a brooder, but with 40 chicks, it was a tight squeeze. Instead, I converted the bottom shelf of my grow shelf in the living room. Pretty fancy, eh?

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To line the bottom of the brooder, I have come to trust towels more than anything else. I tried newspaper, but ended up with several chickens in need of hobbling due to splayed leg from the slippery surface – never going to try that again. I tried pine chips, but holy man what a mess! And it made my allergies go nuts. I tried straw… messy again, and the chicks had a hard time mashing it down enough to make walking easy. I tried regular towels, and the chicks’ toes got caught in the loops making walking a difficult proposition. The last couple times I’ve brooded chicks, I’ve used extremely worn towels or flour sack towels. There are no loops to catch toes, and it’s a snap to clean. I change the towels out for fresh ones once a day. The dirty ones get shaken outside, stuffed in a pre-soak bucket, then washed at my next earliest convenience. Kind of like cloth diapers. I like this method because I’m not wasting anything and it gives the chicks a perfect surface to walk on. If I didn’t have flour sacks or old worn out towels, I might use paper towels layered on the bottom instead.

These birds are so darn cute. I wish everyone could experience raising chicks in their living room just once. It’s magical watching them learn how to eat, drink, preen, run, and explore. They’re constantly stumbling over their own clumsy feet, falling asleep standing up and toppling over like drunkards, and plowing into each other in their eagerness to get to that very interesting spot two inches away. I watched them all fight over pecking at a single dot of sunlight on their floor for a good ten minutes. They are dumb as rocks, but so stinking cute!

I’m a feather Mama again. It feels good. 🙂

 

It’s been a good few days. I sold out of just about every type of hot and sweet pepper I had extra of at yesterday’s farmer’s market. The only one that didn’t sell well was the Cubanelle pepper, which is okay because I can use the extra fruit from those to make a bumper crop of pepper jelly this fall. Pepper jelly, salsa, and strawberry jam are always a high-demand item in our families around Christmas time. The mean people didn’t bother me at all at the market. They each walked by a few times looking at my table, but neither of them met my eyes nor returned my smile. Oh well. I guess I’d be kind of embarrassed about my behavior if I was them, too. I’m content that the yelling has stopped at least. Now if only they’d stop cyber-bullying me on my blog. Yep, got another love note yesterday. Rolling my eyes.

The garden is coming along nicely. I got all of the four types of cabbage planted, started planting celery, and my husband helped me begin hanging the fencing along the posts. When I got back from the sale yesterday, my husband had finished the second raised bed. As he was finishing filling the second raised bed, the axle on our little trailer bent completely. I suggest that anyone looking for a good utility trailer to pull behind their mower or four-wheeler does NOT go to Menard’s. It was that black and yellow trailer in the previous pictures of the garden – total crap. We never had it more than 2/3rds full, but it still couldn’t handle that. We took it back and got a complete refund. Maybe this week I’ll head to Green Bay to Fleet Farm to get a better one. Unless anyone has a better local place? I’m open to suggestions.

I planted the last 50 strawberries, then was able to get the last of the soft fruits in the patch. We have four elderberries, four currants, two gooseberries, three cranberries, two aronia berries, and two green seedless grapes in there. Someday soon I’ll rent a wood chipper and get it all mulched in well. I don’t feel like dealing with constantly weeding that big area or having to weed whack grass around the plants.

The plan for today was to finish tilling up to the end of the raised beds, then get the rest of the celery, eggplants, and peppers planted. We’ll see if I get that far. This cold I have is kicking my butt today. I had to do my nebulizer machine to get the gunk in my chest broken up and help me breathe better. Now I’m dizzy and my ear is all plugged. I got so dizzy a few minutes ago that my husband had to run me a trash can because I got pukey. I hate being sick. It’s holding up my plans for the day. My husband and older son got this and sniffled for a day. Then they were over it. My immune system sucks.

My husband has been keeping busy helping me outside and doing his own projects in the house. He finished getting our gutters and drain pipe up on the outside the other day. He also did the kitchen window that I kept procrastinating on. As I type, he’s installing the sliding door and trim for the bathroom. We originally had a normal hinged door, but we mis-measured and it ended up hitting the toilet on the swing inward. I kept the hinged door, but turned it so it opened into the hall. Now he’s taking the hinged door and putting it in the opening going to the basement stairs, and he’ll install a barn-style sliding door on the bathroom that won’t take up half the hall when it’s opened. Thanks, hun!

I’ll take pictures of the window and doors later when I’m feeling better. I’m stuck in bed until this dizzy pukey thing passes. Grr.

In the meantime, how about some pictures of my plants?

Flower bud on a Ping Tung eggplant. Check out the thorns!

Flower bud on a Ping Tung eggplant. Check out the thorns!

Open flower on a Ping Tung eggplant.

Open flower on a Ping Tung eggplant.

A baby Pepperoncini pepper.

A baby Pepperoncini pepper.

Hope y’all have a beautiful weekend!

 

Today I planted around 300 white onions of two different varieties – Stuttgarter and Bianca di Maggio. I still have a lot left. I’m getting 7-20 onions from each cell, and I planted 18 cells in each of the 6 onion varieties. Holy moly. I have a feeling I’ll be selling or giving away more than a few.

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I also planted out 19 cauliflowers and 6 broccoli. There’s a bit of room left at the end of that row, so I’m thinking I’ll get some beet seeds going there. So, starting at the left, we have four rows of potatoes, one row of onions, one row of cauliflower/broccoli/beets, and the next row will be more onions. If I have time today I’ll start tilling up the cabbage patch so I can get those in soon. I still have a lot of extra cabbage plants to get rid of. Hoping I can sell them all off at the next farmer’s market. I don’t have room for all those cabbages.

After I was done planting all of that, I started making some tomato cages out of concrete reinforcing mesh that my husband picked up for me from Menard’s. These cages are going to be sturdy and tall enough for even the most vigorous growing tomatoes. The rolls of mesh are 5′ tall by 150′ long. I cut them every 9 squares, or 4.5′. Then I finagle the cut ends around the edge of the other side to make a tube and push on it until it’s circular. It only takes a couple minutes to make each one, but it’s playing hell on my fingers with all of the pulling and twisting. My husband got three rolls, but I think we’ll only need two. If we don’t need the last one, I can either return it or make more cages and sell them. What do you think? Would people buy these tomato cages versus the crappy ones at the stores?

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As I was working on those, the FedEx truck came barreling up our driveway. I think he was used to coming in the winter time when you’ve really gotta give it some gas to make it up all the ice. The driver got out and handed me a box from Stark Bros Nursery. Yay! This is only the first shipment of plants, but it was the one I was looking forward to the most – strawberries! I got 50 each of Earliglo, Eversweet, and Surecrop to make 150 plants total. They fit perfectly in the raised bed I built with enough room to spare for my chives and a sweet little guard turtle.

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I also got two aronia berry plants and three American cranberry plants in the box, but I’m going to wait to plant those until the rest of my shipment comes in, hopefully tomorrow. I want to be able to lay everything out just right in the soft fruit patch. I’m going to have my own soft fruit patch! I’m still stunned every day at how many of our dreams are finally coming true thanks to our hard work and perseverance. We’ve worked a decade to pay off our debt, buy our land, build out house, and make it into a homestead. It’s finally all coming together, and it feels so good! If you are on a similar journey, good luck. You CAN accomplish anything if you put your mind to it.

I came inside to take a break to share all of our progress with y’all and to escape the ticks and mosquitoes. Yikes, are there a lot of them out! I can’t wait for my guinea keets to arrive in a week so I can get them out on bug patrol ASAP! Now I suppose I should get back out to finish up some more tomato cages and maybe till some more if I have time.  Toodles!

This morning we began the day by pacing out the greenhouse. I think we’ve decided on 30’x8′, with a 10′ wall in the back and a 3′ wall in the front. There will be room for 2′ deep shelving along 25′ of the front and back. The extra 5′ on the end will be the entrance. Our excavator gave us a very reasonable quote to dig it all out, and my husband estimated all of the concrete. In all, it will cost us about $1500 to get dug out and framed in concrete walls. After that, we’ll probably use plastic and improvised wood framing the first year. We’ll eventually look into something more sturdy and permanent like used patio doors, windows, or plastic panels.

After we got the stakes in the ground for that and tried starting to dig it ourselves (Haha! Yeah… it’s all rock and clay. Not gonna happen.), we decided to work in the garden. We finished filling the raised bed using topsoil from the grassy area at the bottom of our hill. The soil is BEAUTIFUL down there. Little to no rocks, and it’s just black about a foot down. Below that is red sand, which mixed in to make a very nice planting soil for the raised bed. It took 10 trailer loads to fill this behemoth raised bed.

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With that done, I asked my husband to help me by digging out a few large rocks I ran into with the tiller in the vegetable patch. The first one was head-sized, so I figured the others would be easy. A couple hours later, my husband pulls this out with the truck and some tow cable.

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It was so big we couldn’t easily get rid of it, so I asked him to put it in the island of our circle driveway. It looks nice there, I think. The boys are having fun climbing it, and I’m sure I’ll have fun planting flowers all around it once I get rid of the perennials I dumped there last year.

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The boys finally joined us in the garden as I was rowing up the potato section of the garden. We got two little rows of red potatoes and two rows of russets in. I have extra seed potatoes that I’ll probably give away or sell at the market. Any takers? One 5 pound bag of each.

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You can see just beyond the tilled section a tree on it’s side. My husband yanked that out after he pulled the big boulder. Thanks, hun!

We have lots of projects yet before summer truly gets here. We have to paint the house, get the welded wire fence and gates up around the garden, and finish tilling the rest of the vegetable patch. Our soft fruits should get here next week. I’m so glad we didn’t procrastinate on that raised bed! That was a lot of work.

Hope y’all had a great weekend!

Today was my fourth time selling at the local farmer’s market. I continue to make the same amount of money every week no matter how low I make my prices, so I’m thinking that I must be doing something right. Every week I meet more people who are into gardening, canning, or something else related to a country life. It’s so refreshing! Seeing them walk off with bags full of my plants and a smile on their face is priceless. It makes me very happy to be able to provide a bigger, better selection of heirloom plants than other local stores. And because I ask so little for my plants, they are able to buy more plants and a wider variety of them than if they had gone to a store.

Yep. It makes me happy. But it also makes some people really… really… REALLY upset. A man and woman who just started selling plants at this market took it in turns to each come up to me several times today to harass me for outselling them. My plants are superior to theirs and I was undercutting their prices by a large margin. Between that and my bubbly personality, I grated on their nerves enough that they felt it necessary to repeatedly come up and yell at me. Yes. Yell. They yelled whether or not I had customers standing nearby. They yelled in front of other vendors, who sat there looking appalled at first and began standing up for me near the end of the day. They went to the couple in charge of running the market and complained, for all the good it did them – the woman who runs it came over to have a chat with me and we both rolled our eyes, chuckled a bit about sour grapes, then had a good conversation about cows and chickens. They complained to other vendors, and even tried saying that the other vendors were mad at me too. Then the other vendors came up and had good conversations with me and walked away smiling. No one else seemed mad. They were all really nice.

I knew I was going to have a problem with these people before the market even started. You see, this is the same man who came up to me two sales ago upset that I was selling for so low. This man has a very hard time keeping his tongue civil and making new friends. I kind of feel bad for the guy. I’ve been nothing but friendly to him and the woman with him. I tried to engage them each in pleasant conversation. I haven’t once raised my voice or argued with them. Yet they persisted. I shrug them off when other vendors bring them up. I have no dog in the fight that is this man’s life. Why should I let his unhappiness unsettle mine? At one point, I even offered to sell my entire stock to him so that he could turn around and mark it up to his prices. He stalked off and came right back a half hour later with more vitriol. His loss. I have nice plants. People want them. I sold more than half of my table today, with barely time between customers to take a breather.

I don’t know what to do about these people except to continue on as my happy-go-lucky, bubbly self and hope they get over it. I’m not raising my prices. I still have this insane belief that gardening should be available to everyone, regardless of financial circumstances. Hell, if someone told me they really wanted to garden but couldn’t afford plants, I’d GIVE them the plants. Free. I have enough to spare. I have already given away several flats of plants to friends and family because gardening is fun and I like to see other people getting involved in growing their own food. I refuse to feel guilty for the happiness I get from growing, selling, and giving plants to others. It’s a great hobby. It’s rewarding. I’m not going to stop doing something I enjoy so much because it twists some people’s panties. In fact – I’m stubborn enough to use that as a reason to be even more wonderful to other people. I mean, with people like those fuddy duddies in the world, a little extra kindness can really go a long way. Right?

I want to make an anonymous shout-out to the other vendors who were just as appalled as I was by this man and woman today. Thank you to the ones who stood up for me against them.Your actions meant a lot to me. You’ll probably never be rid of me after this, because y’all are pretty great. I might even make a business out of this in the future, since apparently I have a green thumb AND good enough financial sense to bring my product to the market at a quarter the price of other vendors and still be able to make a profit. As a matter of fact, we had our excavator friend out today to give us a quote for digging out a walipini greenhouse in our southern hill. My husband is busy finalizing the drawings for it. In the morning we’re going out to pace it out and drive some stakes. Next spring I might have a lot more plants to sell, and I’ll have low prices again because we won’t be paying as much for electricity! I’m excited to have so much space. I think my husband is excited about getting all these plants out of the house. Hehe.

Cheers to new friends, and to the sour grapes that make new friends all the sweeter!

May 2014
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