I suck at updating the blog this summer. I’ve chronicled the garden growing, the chicks hatching, and all the little nuances of our homestead life on facebook, but my blog… nope. I’ve thought so many times, “I should sit down and write,” but then I see something else that needs done and my ideas get shelved.
I’m here now. And I want to tell you a few things I’ve learned this summer.
We had 6 babies hatch from 3 of the mamas. Only one egg had a chick in it that didn’t survive the hatch. The fourth was diligent about sitting, but her eggs were empty. A family friend took 42 eggs and was able to successfully hatch 16. The rest of the eggs were empty, except for one that couldn’t make it out of the egg in time. I was extremely pleased with the results. 22 chicks when I honestly didn’t expect even one.
So we picked up the incubator hatched chicks and that night gave each of the mamas four babies. They all immediately took to the chicks, cooing at them and teaching them patiently how to eat and drink. Wow! That was easy! Their naturally hatched siblings welcomed them into their snuggle circles, and all seemed well. Four days later I noticed the mama hen that couldn’t hatch any of her own eggs was going around with a chip on her shoulder. No… wait. That’s too mild. She was in full-on bitch mode. She was indiscriminately walking around and attacking any chick she got close to. It was like a switch was flipped. Gentle mama was gone. I caught her and threw her in with the rest of the flock in the run.
The next day, three chicks were dead. There were no marks on their bodies. They just… died. I removed their little corpses from the coop and went about my day, pondering over what could have caused it. That night, I found another dead. In my mind, I can only come up with two reasons for their deaths. 1 – Disease. These chicks, unfortunately, aren’t vaccinated. Even though I gave them medicated feed for the first week and a half of their lives, they still could have caught just about anything from the litter they run around on. 2 – The bitch mama could have pecked them too hard or too much. She might have damaged something and caused them each a slow death.
Today, two days later, I noticed another mama’s switch had flipped. She was sweet as can be with her four babies, but the other fourteen were fair game. I saw her stalk and pounce on one of the smallest chicks, grabbing it by the head and shaking it like a dog shakes a rope. I threw open the door and was so quick to grab her I don’t think she even saw me coming. She got the walk of shame hanging upside down by her feet out to the run to join the rest of the flock.
Now there are two mothers left. I sat there in the door for twenty minutes watching them interact with the newly motherless chicks. These two last mamas seem okay. They haven’t once gone after the chicks – any of them. They are constantly making reassuring clucks and nudging any chick close to them toward the food or water. They seem alright. But now I’m worried. Is this a common thing for hens? Do they just go crazy once the chicks hit a certain age? Should I separate all of the hens from the chicks and just let the chicks do their own thing until they can join the flock?
If you have any idea, please leave a comment. This is our first year with hens rearing the chicks instead of us, and I’m not afraid to admit that I’m clueless.
On the gardening front, things are going much better this year than last. I’m actually going to get some root crops besides potatoes! Yesterday I harvested some carrots and beets to thin them out and give the rest ample room to expand. Last year our biggest carrot was the diameter of a pencil and only 2″ long. This year, the thinnings alone are bigger than my fingers. Yay! As you can see in one of the pictures below, the pumpkins are plowing right over and through the carrot patch. Oh well. We should still get way more than we need.
The pumpkins, melons, and squash are a couple more victories. Last year – none. This year, there are already a few pumpkins and melons bigger than my head. There are dozens of smaller ones. I’m crossing my fingers for a long hind-end of summer so they all have time to ripen. I got six or seven zucchini from three plants, then the plants decided they were done and started shriveling. I’m guessing lack of nutrients. Our soil still sucks, but at least it sucks a little bit less than last year.
Tomatoes and peppers, as always, are my best performers. Even in our poor soil, 90% of the plants are able to squeeze out a few healthy fruits. This year I tried something new and put a handful of crushed egg shells in the soil as I transplanted. It seemed to do a lot to prevent blossom end rot, though I still have a few plants that I’ve had to give additional doses to.
I planted a lot more herbs and flowers this year, not only to take up space to make less weeding for me, but to give pollinators an array of visual draws. And… they smell nice. I’ve discovered that petunias do AWESOME in the ground, but are needy assholes in hanging baskets. I found that mugwort and soup celery go gangbusters and overgrow anything you plant near them. I also learned that marigolds bloom a lot more when they are kept neatly deadheaded. Some flowers, like shasta daisies, made a whole lot of green growth, but didn’t flower once. Maybe I’ll luck out and they’ll be perennial and next year I’ll get flowers. I do love me some shasta daisies.
I still haven’t figured out the secrets to growing good greens, cauliflower, and broccoli. But I’m getting closer! This year I at least got cauliflower heads, even though they turned black with some sort of mold. The broccoli made larger than normal heads, but is getting sunscalded before I can pick it. Someday I’ll get these things right, but I’m content with progress for now.
Wait… you don’t want to hear about this? You want to see it? Ok. Enjoy pictures of my successes and failures!
So that’s it for our summer so far. No news on the greenhouse, other than we’re currently paying down bills and saving up for the down payment. We should easily have the down payment within a year – we just hope the greenhouse stays on the market that long! If they do sell it before we can get the money, well… at least we’ll have some spare change to build our own greenhouses here and build a garage/workshop, porch, and maybe even a barn. Stay tuned to see what happens.