Friday, February 27, 2015

Something's up ... update?

As a follow up on the last outing to pick up feed and some grub, I think I stumbled upon an explanation as to where all the 'shoppers' have gone.  They are staying home and paying for their healthcare extortion fees.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Old books and information

Free vector >> Vector clip art >> Books clip art

With winter making a last hurrah before spring makes its 'official' debut in a few weeks what better time to do research on gardening, livestock, homesteading or just reading a good book. 

Below are a few online book sites for some of those old time books that are no longer in publication or classic reading publications that can be viewed online and, in some cases, downloaded to your computer or reading devices. 

animal, farmer, egg, chicken, farm, vertebrate, work View Large ...For example, I wanted to read The Henwife: Her Own Experience in Her Own Poultry-Yard.   So I went to Forgotten Books, typed in the title and at this link it appears with a choice to download to an app, read online, download a pdf, read on a kindle or add to your library wish list to read later. 

Do some reading now or download and save for later.  There is a lot of good information out there today that may not be available tomorrow.

National Ag Library Digital Collections (USDA farmers bulletins, too)

Forgotten Books

Biodiversity Heritage Library

Online Books Page (does a net search of readable online books... doesn't get them all but does a good job)

Hathitrust Digital Library (can't always download but if you can find the book here you usually can find them on other sites listed)

Google Books

Cornell University

Core Historical Literature of Agriculture

Project Gutenberg

Loyal Books (audio books)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ag Building and Equipment Plans

Just sharing one of my bookmarked links that may be of some use or interest.

The University of Tennessee published their Agricultural Building and Equipment Plan list.  It has plans for greenhouses, various animal handling and housing plans, water storage, bee hives, food storage, dog houses, food storage, sheds, etc.

You may find something worth while to print out.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Greenhouse update

It's been a while since my last post. All the snow is gone, the creeks and streams have subsided a bit and all that is left is mud.  The duck and goose are delighted.  I'm sick of the mud.  My right boot has a hole in it.  Why do boots get holes in them when you need them most?!  I want the snow back but spring appears to be around the corner.  The black birds, robins and doves have come back.  Well, we had one robin that hung around all winter but now his buddies have decided it has warmed up enough to come back, too.

We've been busy with farm taxes these past couple of weeks and now that the taxes have been sent off to the tax man, I can get something productive done.  Tomato and pepper seedlings are ready to be transplanted into grow bags to give them room for their roots to grow.  Then I'll start some more tomatoes and herbs.  Tomatoes are struggling a bit but the peppers are going great.

The best investment we've made for starting seeds early was a temperature controller for the heat mat.  I'm guessing that there was probably a good 95%+ germination rate on the tomatoes and peppers combined.  It has worked very well. I can now set the mat temperature to around 70 degrees whereas if just plugged in it would go upwards around 90 degrees and cook them.  The trays had to be brought in overnight since I have a mouse problem again. The few tomatoes I transplanted were victim to a mouse that nipped off the tops of the tomato seedlings.  So a good cleaning out of the greenhouse is in order .... with all three cats in attendance just in case the dirty bugger shows its face!

The greenhouse had some casualties over the winter.  When we had that Arctic Blast a few months ago, I must've bumped the temperature dial to a lower temp and the plants all received various stages of damage.  All of the citrus trees got zinged.  The blood orange lost some leaves and a couple of small branches split but overall the cold didn't affect it too much.  I did loose all the leaves off the lemon and lime trees.  Both are struggling a bit but they are starting to sprout some new growth.  It will take some time for them to recover.

It appears that most of dragon fruit cacti are a total loss but they have not produced any blooms nor fruit for the past several years.  There was one pot that did not freeze that was next to the aloe that did, so go figure.  I would not consider the dragon fruit an important factor in our food production, but they sure are fun to grow.  I have some cuttings that were in the house so I'll pot them later.

As stated above, I lost part of the aloe plant (important for cuts and burns) and two of the three pepper plants I had overwintered died.  That is one thing we are going to have to consider when we set up a new greenhouse and that is to how to heat it during the colder months.  With a plastic greenhouse, a wood stove would not be very compatible with the surrounding plastic at this time. It is not exactly heat resistant.  So for now it is an electric heater that is placed under a tent like structure so I don't heat the entire greenhouse.

tomatillos 2014

This week I plan on getting the tomato and pepper seedlings transplanted into grow bags to allow them good root growth so I can transplant them later in the garden.  With a short growing season, you need all the advantages you can get.

It is time to work on your gardening plans.  Even if you are sitting in your house waiting for the bad weather to pass it is a perfect time to plan get your garden plans in order.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Coop ventilation

Raising chickens sometimes is a learning curve. Weather changes can add to those challenges.  Compared to last winter it has been fairly mild but it has been more damp than cold.  Not that we didn't have any cold temperatures this go around (remember the Arctic Blast a while back?), but we have had a lot of fog and overcast days.  No sunshine, damp air and cold temperatures can cause problems for your flock and your coop.

For the first time ever in the history of the coop we experienced mold.  Mold can cause respiratory distress or even death in your flock and once detected you should act quickly.  We have never had mold issues in the past so we had to figure out what had changed and how to deal with it.  The ventilation in the coop had been adequate in the past so it was a bit of a mystery as to why we ended up with it in the coop.

When Mr. H designed the coop he made it so it would have good ventilation. Mr. H constructed a cupola in the middle top of the roof and added two floor vents in the front portion of the coop to help draw air up and out.  The coop is raised off the ground and has stones stacked around the sides to keep predators from hiding underneath but not restricting the air flow. Nor do the front door or back doors fit tightly.  The front door is actually an interior door with glass panes and in the winter months we put up an old bed comforter to help insulate the door.

girls and their coop early last year
So nothing really change from the last couple of years except ........ we painted the coop.  The paint must have insulated the coop walls, filling in the gaps in the the plywood making the coop less drafty.  And the number of chickens housed is less than it was last year since the flock is aging. 

Coop before winter.... note the door is still blue
Another side effect that moisture in your coop can cause during winter is frostbite but that's another topic for another time....

Being that it is the middle of winter, completely hosing down the inside of the coop is not an option.  I do not want to greatly increase the moisture already inside the coop but washing the mold is the only way to remove it.  And I did not want to use bleach or any smelly chemical cleaners since we have the late year chicks with a couple of mini-bantam hens inside the coop most of the day.  And the entire flock would be locked in over night for about 14 hours.

After a quick search on the internet what we came up with was a mild cleaner that would tackle the mold.  We filled a bucket with one gallon of hot water, 1 cup powdered Borax and 1 cup white vinegar.  The borax was mixed until it was completely dissolved.  CAUTION MUST BE USED WHEN USING BORAX AROUND ANIMALS AND SMALL CHILDREN who may put it in their mouths or ingest it.  Borax is TOXIC.  Make sure the powder is completely dissolved if you use this solution.  And don't let the bucket sit around where one of them may sample it.  You don't want any of the chickens or other barnyard critters eating the stuff and dying from ingesting it.

Next step was to put on some good dish gloves and grab a couple of old rags.  Rags were dipped in the borax solution and the excess wrung out.  Using the damp rag all the areas affected by the mold were wiped off and the rag was rinsed off in a bucket of clean water and the process repeated.  The solution and rinse buckets had to be refreshed a few times but the end result was worth it.  The mold has been removed and it has not grown back.  I don't recommend doing this late in the evening but try to do it early in the day so it can at least dry out a bit before you put your birds to bed at night.  It does have a slight odor that dissipates after a while.

Come this summer when the temperatures warm up and the coop will be unoccupied for longer hours, we'll remove everything out of the coop, scrub it down completely and then when dried it will get a nice coat of white Kilz paint.  This will not only help in keeping the mold at bay but also help in preventing poultry mites.

We are also planning to add some more ventilation holes above the door and near the peak in the back part of the coop and then screen them with wire mesh to keep rodents from entering the coop.  Don't to really add any heat because of the bedding and the temperature extremes would add additional stress but may have to add some if we can't get the moisture problem sorted out.

For now we will just have to continue to monitor the interior of the coop for any signs of mold, monitor the bedding for any signs of dampness and try to keep the coop as clean and dry as possible.  Right now it will be a challenge to keep the coop dry since all of our snow has melted and we are now graced with mud but at least the evening temperatures are much warmer.  Spring is around the corner.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Something's up

The other day was our big shopping day.  We headed out to pick up feed, household items and some grocery.  Even a a couple of stops at the thrift store and a craft/fabric store.  Nothing special about the trip but I did make some observations while out.

I like to observe the shopping habits of people when we venture out.  Meaning, what are they buying.  And to make a mental note comparing prices from the last trip out.  At Christmas.... well, actually about the week before Thanksgiving.... people became extremely irritable and rude.  And that attitude continued on throughout the holidays.  And as Christmas came closer, people were still shopping and purchasing crap stuff. The parking lots were fairly packed but I would not say that all appeared to be successful shoppers.  It was almost like they were wandering around buying things because they 'had' to since it was going to be Christmas and who the heck wants to show up empty handed or, worse yet, show up with a homemade gift!  (If you're on my list, you're getting homemade! So get over it.) :-)

Now let's jump to my most recent outing.  With the dropping fuel prices do you remember these type of headlines?

Sliding Oil and Gas Prices Give Americans More Money to Spend
(NY Times, Nov 2014)

Pump Prices Prime Economy for Growth - Sharply Lower Gas Costs Promise to Give Boost to Consumer Spending

From what I'd seen on my recent outing I don't think those messages got to the consumer, that we now suddenly have a boat load of cash and we should be spending it.  For example, the parking lot at Walmart was pretty empty.  We easily crossed the thoroughfare without having to make a run for it else get run over.  It is usually a pretty busy place.  The people inside were doing most of their shopping in the grocery part of the store and not spending their dollars on 'stuff'.  There was no one in the prescription line except for the drop off area.  Not many 'shoppers' but people who knew what they were looking for.  And most had shopping lists with them. The majority of carts in the check out lines had practical items and not 'stuff' (like tv's or the tacky Valentines Day garbage that is out now).

All of the stores we went to were in a similar state of affair. Unusually quiet for the end of the month.  I don't like shopping at the beginning or end of the month because of the masses that usually are out during this time, but it sure didn't occur on this trip.
So the pundits assuming that the low fuel prices would stimulate the economy by people spending that extra cash are flat out wrong.  It sure isn't happening here.  People don't have the ability to spend like they once could (like they had that ability within the past several years).  So where is that 'extra cash' going?  Bills? Savings?  Just trying to 'survive'?
Something sure does not feel right.....

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Frosty weather

Been under the weather of late with a lingering cold.  The boys came down with the crud the day before Christmas Eve and it has morphed its way through the family.  And to add to the fun we've been busy with snow/ice/rain/mud and a combo of everything in between.  We've had about two or three days of sunshine since then.  The inversion is hanging on creating some nasty conditions and lots of hoarfrost and ice.  The past week, or so, has reported some terrible car wrecks on the local interstate and side roads.  I'm glad we don't have to commute to work on a daily basis nor do the kids need to take a bus to school.

Hoarfrost is an oddity where it can make objects about the yard appear like they have suddenly developed hair.  But its beauty is deceiving since it really means that conditions are hazardous.  Black ice and very cold conditions exist.  Double layers of socks and clothing.  And with a couple of days of dense fog it sure can grow.  Even the animals had it on their whiskers and fur.


But despite the wintry weather all is not lost.  Most of the seed orders have been made and soon I will be starting seedlings in the greenhouse.  The bags of seed starting soil have been thawed out and are ready to go.  The stores don't have bags of soil out yet so last year I purchased a few extra bags during their end-of-season sale to hold over for the following spring since I was anticipating getting a better jump on starting the plants that need a longer growing season.

But my pre-season gardening adventure won't end with seed starting.  I will also be taking out my diagram of the garden from last year (and the year before) and start a new one for this year, paying attention to crop rotation.  Meaning I won't plant seeds/seedlings from the same family in the same spot.  For example, I won't plant potatoes or peppers where the tomatoes grew last year.  Crop rotation will help prevent disease or pests from re-occurring in your gardens.  The extension office from the University of Wisconsin has a nice little write up on it here.

Even if you don't have a lot of space or think you don't have enough space for a garden, look up container gardening, pallet gardening or small space gardening.  You'll be very surprised what you can grow and there are many varieties of plants and vegetables that don't need loads of space or full sun.  I have grown tomatoes and raspberries successfully in containers.  Many kinds of lettuce and herbs can be grown in containers.  So get online or pull out those FREE seed catalogs and see what kinds of compact plants they have available.  Go to your local library and check out what books they have there on the subject of small space or container gardening.  Spring will be here before you know it.

Oh, and please do remember when you're creating your list of seeds to grow vegetables that you like and take note of what will store well in the conditions you have.  Try to purchase open-pollinated seeds, too, so you can save some after your harvest.  Request your free seed catalogs.  Most seed catalogs will tell you whether that squash is a good keeper or that cucumber is good for making pickles.  Jot down notes and keep those old seed catalogs.  They have a wealth of information in them.  Now is the time to start preparing your outdoor gardens.