Thursday, February 25, 2010

seed starting 2010

Seeds stared last month that have been transplanted and moved into our greenhouse.
We had to replace a lot of our seeds this year because so many of our stock are old. I did a lot of research and was much more selective than in previous years. We ordered most of our seeds from Abundant Life Seed and from Territorial Seed. These two companies are owned by the same people and are based here in Oregon (actually in the Wilamette Valley like us). Abundant Life carries a slightly larger variety of OP and organic seeds, but Territorial carries them too. We also ordered a couple of plants that we won't receive until close to our last frost date.
The seeds arrived and it took everything I had not to rush into planting them immediately! We started our seeds near the middle of January. We did this last year as well and as long as we have the greenhouse to move them to when they get big enough, it seems to work well. Our tomato harvest last year started early and ran all summer and into the fall!
This year I planted 5 types of peppers (both sweet and hot), leeks, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and kale. I also planted 5 types of tomatoes from store bought seeds and one type from the seeds I saved from last year. We had a delicious meaty tomato (I don't know the original type since our seedlings got tipped over and mixed up) that did very well for us. I saved some of the seeds last September and then planted them with the purchased seeds in January. So far, they appear to be doing just as well as the 'new' seeds!

Tomato seeds 'saved' from the last sauce batch. I let these 'ferment' or 'mold' in the containers, then I rinsed them and then dried them so that they could be used this year.

All of the seeds get started in our basement. We have a little tray that holds these peat inserts that you soak in water prior to planting. The tray then sits on a heating pad set to 'low' until they sprout. Once we see sprouting, we have a grow light on a timer that keeps them green. When we see the first set of 'real' leaves, they get transplanted (peat core and all) into peat pots and moved to the greenhouse. Lucky for us, the sun is still very low in the sky (if it shines at all), so the tiny seedlings can handle it. As we get closer to summer, we have to be more careful not to fry them! So far, everything is looking good. Out of 50 cells, only two did not sprout, so we are well on our way to having a garden again.

We will start more seeds of more types of veggies as we get closer to our last frost date (May 15th). It is still to early for many varieties. I'll also plant some swiss chard, peas and spinach directly in the garden in the next couple of weeks. I would have done this already except that I still haven't planned out what things will go where yet and I need to get that done first.

I can't wait for the first veggies of 2010!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

More updates!

Plum tree confusion - it's spring, right?? It sure feels like spring.

We've had a couple of spring-like days lately (following an unusually warm winter), so it's forcing us to kind of take stock of where we are and where we plan to go this year. Since my last major update post, we've made some small progress.

We cross-fenced our goat area and moved the goats to the non-muddy side for the winter. Then we reseeded the other side. The warm weather and sun over the past week has finally sprouted the grass and with any luck, it'll keep growing even though winter weather has kind of returned. This new cross fencing basically puts the goat shed on the dividing line between each area, so that when it's time to switch, we just move one cattle panel and the shed will now be accessable from the other side. We also added an overhang to the goat shed. We wanted to do something more permanent, but considering that we are still planning on building a barn, we opted for a quick fix. My husband sunk two 4x4 posts in front of the shed and then we extended a tarp between them and the front of the shed above the door/opening. This gives the goats a little more protection from rain besides just hanging out inside the shed. I'll take pictures this weekend.

Speaking of sheds and a new barn - we've formed a plan. We purchased plans for a saltbox type shed from a book we bought and we are going to build it this spring. This new shed will then house our gardening supplies that are currently in the rundown shed that came with the property. Once we can move everything over, we will shore up the old shed to be housing for meat chickens (assuming we can get all this done in time). This works out really well because the old shed is smack in the middle of our 'orchard' which is great place to range meat birds. Additionally, building this shed from plans by ourselves will give us the practice we need because our ultimate goal is to build our own barn. So far, we haven't found the perfect barn design yet (it needs to be small but versitile), but we have time. We are also talking about how to set up a mini solar PV system (complete with batteries and an inverter) to power the shed/greenhouse and again, as practice so that we can do our own work to power the house one day (or, to at least speak with some experience when we hire someone).

On the animal front: we do plan on raising meat birds eventually. Additionally, we are now raising 5 more laying chickens - any cockrels of which will be meat as well - for eggs. We are painting the new chicken coop (we needed more space) and I will have pictures of that to share this weekend. We are also currently without goat milk. We dried off Sass late this past fall and we did not breed her. When she finally went into estreus when we were around to observe it, we were too late. The local family who had the buck we used last time had already sold him! In some ways, I think this was probably not a bad thing for us. We've been debating switching to a smaller breed (Nigerian Dwarf) goat and this might be our opportunity. I don't know what we'll do with Sass. I know of a couple of local farmers that might be interested in her, so that's a possiblity. We also might just keep her around - we've gotten kind of attached to her. We'll see. It is clear that our property really is better suited to the little goats, particularly if we hope to one day be fully self-sustaining.

Lastly, I received a new camera for my birthday! I'm so excited because I was really getting tired of fighting with my old point and shoot to get even passable photos for this blog. The new one is great - totally automatic or totally manual with tons of options. It's weakness is low light conditions but it does have an on-board flash. It also has a decent video capability, so I will try to capture short clips for the blog when appropriate. I finally got a good sized memory card on order because I'm dying to capture Maggie and Cooper 'fighting' together - it's great fun to watch!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Home improvement gets personal

So yes, it's been ages since I have been consistent with my blogging. Where have I been, you ask? Besides all the work on the farm and around the house (and at the job), I've added one more task to my plate.

While it's not really anything pertaining to homesteading, sustainable living or being green, I've decided to sign up for my first triathlon. I've been an on-again, off-again cyclist for the past 6 years and I've always been somewhat of an athlete, so it's not really that big of a stretch...or so I thought. Turns out, swimming is hard! I find that I am remembering a lot of what I learned or knew as a child in terms of technique, but cardiovascularly, it's a challenge. I'm also not much of a runner. In fact, I have had foot trouble (or shin splints) most of my life and it's the main reason I started biking. I wasn't sure if I'd be able to ramp my running up to the necessary levels without pain, but I have since made a few discoveries that have helped.

My first race is May 8th. I'll be doing a 'sprint' triathlon and this one has a pool swim. I'll be swimming 500 yards, then biking 12.5 miles and then running a 5K. My goal is to get a time that I can be proud of...I have no illusions of winning anything including my age group (which I believe is one of the most competitive ones for women). I'm actually really enjoying the training. It's fun to have 3 sports to train in knowing that I'll have to perform in all three of them this spring. I'm also trying to get in some regular strength training, too. Lastly, I'd still like to drop some weight - but to be perfectly honest, I'm not focusing on it right now. I'm trying to eat well and make good choices, but I cannot bring myself to count calories or points or carbs or anything else, right now.

I'm debating about what will happen for me after this tri. There are others in the area that I am tempted to try. There is another sprint distance one in June that has an open water (lake) swim for which I may sign up. I've also got an Olympic distance try picked out in September that I might do. Olympic distances are typically twice the 'sprint' distances. The one I'm considering has a slightly longer bike ride (30 miles) and a slightly shorter run that is on a trail (5 miles), so it really appeals to me.

I mentioned above that I've found a way to avoid foot pain when I run. That method is to run barefoot. I started by learning the Chi Running technique which is a method of running that uses a midfoot strike (as opposed to a heel strike) and that was working to some degree. I was still running with my highly structured orthotics in my highly stabalizing shoes and to be honest, it was hard to get the right form down. I took off my shoes and tried it barefoot for a few minutes. Wow, what a difference!! The correct form was so much easier! I have been very careful to s l o w l y ramp up the minutes barefoot to allow my feet and calves to adjust to it. As a result, my feet are stronger and the pain is gone. I've also removed the orthtics from my shoes when I do run shod and I'm amazed at how little pain I am experiencing. Knock on wood, this trend will continue. I'm only up to about 3 miles and I'd like to be able to run further, but for now, this is good.

Anyway, that's what has been occupying my non-homesteading time. That and occasionally hanging with good friends or going out with my wonderful husband. Life is good.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The other new additions!

Baby chicks born on the farm!

In January, we decided to expand our flock - literally. We picked out 7 eggs and set them up in our new little incubator. We started with 3 brown, 2 white and one green, but due to a mis-assembled turning disk, we cracked a couple. The final assortment was 4 brown and 2 white which actually suited us well since we like the Rhode Island Red chickens the best and wanted to have more of them. We like the idea of this small incubator because we really don't want to get in over our heads and hatching more than 7 birds at once could get us there!

The 'mini' incubator loaded with 7 eggs.

The first chick was born on Valentine's Day.

Approximately 21 days later, we heard cheeping in my husband's office. We kept the incubator in there because it's the warmest room in our house (small room, many computers). The first bird born on Valentine's Day was one of the white ones. We named her Una.

Una a few hours after birth.

We ended up with 5 new chickens. One died in the shell (not strong enough to get themselves out) and one drowned in the water dish in the brooder the first night after being born. We were worried about that, so next time, we'll create some type of 'staging area' for the birds to rest after the ordeal of hatching. They are just exhausted after birth, but our incubator isn't really big enough for them to rest in it. Clearly the brooder (amongst other already hatched and rested chicks) is too dangerous.

Anyway, they are all doing very well. It was warm and sunny today, so we took them out for a little exploration time and they seemed to really enjoy it.

Chicks learning to 'free range'.

We are trying to be sure to handle these birds more often so that they are friendlier to humans than our current birds. We also find it funny that the 4 brown eggs from Rhode Island Red mom birds are all yellow chicks (normally, Rhode Island Red chicks are brown). I guess the White Leghorn rooster is more dominant in terms of coloring? We can tell them from the one 'pure blood' White Leghorn chick because they all have small black spots on their backs. Odd. We are both really curious as to how they'll look once they get their adult feathers.

Clear view of one of the chick's little black spots identifying it as having a Rhode Island Red mother.

Anyway, it's fun to have babies on the farm again!

Friday, February 19, 2010

New Addition to the Farm

So, 3 and a half months later, I'm finally blogging here again. Ooops.

Anyway, quite a bit has happened in this time frame. It'll take me a few posts to get through it all. Let me start with one of our new family members. Meet Cooper:

This was Cooper the day we picked him up from the shelter.

This is him a few days ago - he's growing like a weed!

Cooper is a shelter kitty. We met him the day after Christmas but had to wait a few days for his surgery. The day we picked him up was the day of our one and only snowstorm this year. For a brief moment, we considered naming him Blizzard or Stormy but opted against it. He was listed as a stray and spent some of the earliest part of his life in a foster home. He must have been well treated because he is a wonderful, loving cat. He's affectionate to humans and much to their discomfort, to dogs. He's smart, he's playful and he happily drinks water out of a bowl and doesn't demand we turn on the faucet for him. So far, he hasn't really ventured outside, but I'm sure that exploring the great outdoors can't be too far into the future as this cat is fearless. It's not really a good trait for a country cat, but we'll keep our fingers crossed.

Cooper and Maggie are great friends. They play all the time. One of these days, I need to take some video of it to share because it's really amusing. Charlie tolerates Cooper, but I don't think he's a big fan. He'll play with him on occasion, but for the most part, just tries to ignore him.

We named him Cooper after one of the characters in our favorite TV comedy. Anyone want to guess which show?