Big Eyes/Small Mouth Plus a Visit from Bambi.

Black rat snake at Turkey Foot Farm April 15, 2011.

A fun thing about working outside and raising food and animals is the close contact with nature.  So much depends on the weather and the soil and insects – both good and bad and subtle and obvious.  Sometimes the encounters with nature are very obvious and thrilling like finding a bird’s nest or catching a snake.  We are lucky to have a large black rat snake at TFF.  I have seen it three times this year and have handled and measured it.  The rat snake is about 5.5 feet long and looks very healthy.  The first time I saw him he was coming out of the main chicken coop.  The chickens were in a pasture and I just assumed he was drawn to the coop by the presence of birds.  I figured the most he could do was eat an egg and would not tangle with a full-grown chicken.  At the time we had chicks but they were in a brooder in the garage.  The best thing about having a snake around the place is that the snake does a good job of keeping mice and rats at bay.  As you can see from the photo, this is a beautiful snake and we enjoy seeing him from time to time.

About a month after the photo above was taken we moved the feathered-out poults from the brooder to the main coop where they integrated well with a few older poults and a young cockerel.  All was well until two days ago when we found a dead poult.  She was lying on the floor all stretched out in an odd way.  Upon closer inspection we could see that her head and neck were coated with a crusty material which I now believe was dried snake saliva.

This is the poult after being constricted by a black rat snake. The snake tried to eat the bird but could not get past the neck. You can see the ruffled feathers and dried saliva on the neck and head of the poult. The poult is stretched out like that because the snake constricted it before trying to eat it head first.

   So it appears that the snake did decide to have a go at the poults and that the snake’s eyes were bigger than its mouth.  It seems the snake constricted the poult and then tried to eat it head first but gave up when it reached the end of the neck and encountered the wings and breast.  This didn’t bother me as it was one chicken out of 25 and I knew the snake would not come back for more since it is not in the nature of a predator to expend valuable energy on something it can not eat.  This morning we found the snake buried under some litter in the coop and farmer girl caught it and decided to relocate it by taking it to the other side of the farm.  We’ll see if the snake makes it back to the farm yard.

Not all encounters with wildlife are as gruesome as the last one.   A day after finding the dead bird we were paid a visit by one of Bambi’s ilk.  Here is a photo of my mother-in-law with a fawn that was hiding in our back field.  The mother was hiding out of sight.  The stark comparison of new life and recent death is a big part of farm life and food production.

 Updated September 9, 2011.  This summer was extremely hot and dry.  During the last week of August I captured three rat snakes.  One very large one was in the main coop after dark suspended above some full grown hens as if he were considering giving it a try.  I moved him to another area of the farm.  A day later I had some small Cornish X poults inside a wire fence and a different rat snake killed one.  I found the snake and bird just as the snake was starting to try to eat the poult.  Once again the snake had to give up when he got to the birds body.  A few days later a rat snake came in our garage, into the brooder and killed another Cornish X poult.  I found this chain of events somewhat surprising.  I wonder if the extremely hot and dry weather has made hunting difficult for these snakes and if these were acts of desperation on the part of hungry snakes.   Hard to say but it does shoot holes in my theory that snake  predation of poultry is limited to late spring and early summer.

Fawn and mother-in-law in the back pasture.

Spring Greens and Geese

French Breakfast and Cincinnati Market radishes. These are heirloom radishes that were planted on April 1, 2011 and pulled on May 8 (37 days). The long one in my hand is the Cincinnati Market. After topped and pared - they weighed in at 8 oz.

Spring is no time for regrets, but this year I have a few mild regrets.  First,  I wish I had not started my tomatoes indoors so early and I wish I had planted more radishes and mustard greens.  Weather-wise, it’s been one weird spring.  We had frost warnings during the last week of April when it reached down to 34 F at TFF.  Then 10 days later we hit the 90’s.  Add to this the fact that we have had less than an inch of rain in the last three weeks and it’s fair to say that vegetable gardening has been challenging.  “Dry with hugely fluctuating temperature extremes” is how I would classify what is supposed to be the peak spring growing season around Wichita Kansas.  Despite the unconventional weather, we have had some good growing successes at TFF and Coe Farm.  Potatoes are looking great (more on that when we start to harvest) and we have had some decent, though not outstanding, luck with greens and radishes.  I’ll have to reevaluate again in a month or so but so far the top performers in the garden have been the mustard greens and radishes.   I planted two types of heirloom radishes, Cincinnati Market (aka Long Scarlet) and French Breakfast.  Both of these came from Seed Savers Exchange – see link to right.  These  heirloom varieties have been extraordinary and I can’t recommend them highly enough to radish lovers (like me). 

One fun thing about spring farming this spring has been the addition of geese and ducks.  We have a pair of geese and ducks that follow us around like puppies.  It’s fun to take a break with them now and then.  Not sure about their breeds yet but here is a photo of me resting under a tree with one of our geese.

 

Taking a break with our geese and ducks.

Just in Time Chicken Tractor

 
Side view of finished chicken tractor. You can see Sexi Lexi standing in the door of the roost box. You can click on images to see a larger version.

Farmer girl, farmer boy and I just finished the chicken tractor, also called a movable coop, last weekend. It is the newest addition to TFF.  We have a new flock of 14 poults in the brooder who are almost ready to move to the permanent coop so we had to move our rooster and six layers to make room for the new ones.  We moved the layers and the rooster, Sexi Lexi, into the tractor on Sunday.  The plan is that they will spend the rest of their lives living in the tractor when they are not free ranging.  They have spent two nights inside and are doing fine.  The tractor is moved by tilting it up onto wheels mounted at one end.  It’s difficult, but not impossible, to move by yourself.  It helps to have two people.  The lower level is a floorless run that allows the chickens access to dirt, grass, weeds and bugs.  The upper level is the roost that they stay in at night.  The floor of the roost box slides out for easy cleaning and there are two nest boxes with an exterior door for collecting each day’s eggs.  Right now we have 6 hens in there with Lexi and they don’t seem crowded.

Here is the right side view. Lexi is on the outdoor perch. You can also see the rear wheels and the steel pipe we slide into place to lock the door each night.

The coop also boasts a skylight, interior ventilation and easy-access perches both inside and out.

Rear view shows the exterior access to the nest boxes. The visible roof material is corrugated translucent plastic. It sits atop 1/8 inch plywood and there is a hole in the top half to act as a skylight.

Earth Day

 

 

April 22, 2011

Dear Planet Earth,

This is Earth Day.  It’s a day we have set aside to honor you.  While I’m just a speck on your surface and you probably haven’t noticed me I am writing to say how much I appreciate you.  I love your gigantic magnetic field that protects me from the cosmic rays of interstellar space and the solar winds of our nearby star.  I love your thin crust upon which I dwell heated by the mantle beneath and the sun above and covered by sights and wonders that are rare in this universe.  I appreciate all the other life that dwells with me on  your surface and the accumulated riches of minerals, topsoil, fossil fuels, ores and other treasures left here by you and the millions of years of life you have made possible.  Most of all I appreciate your water.  Thank you for gathering it and keeping it here in abundance.  Without it, I would not be here to send this note of thanks.

I apologize for greedily gobbling up too much  of your treasures and spewing their by-products into the thin layer of nitrogen and oxygen you hold in place so I can breathe.  I apologize for the waste and chemicals I have carelessly allowed to pollute your precious water.  I’ll try to do better by you.  I’ll  consume less.  I’ll grow more plants in a responsible way to replenish the oxygen and capture the carbon.  I’ll do all I can to return what I use to your soil in a healthy way that promotes and preserves life for my fellow travelers.  As you know there are almost 7,000,000,000 of my species living on you right now and I think it is fair to say we have not been as good to you as you have been to us.  In fact, you amaze me in your graciousness and resilience.  I only hope we can keep this relationship going for another 10,000 years or so, only a blink to you, but for us it means everything.  

Finally, just know we don’t mean any harm.  We are simple and subject to the same laws of nature as you.  And regardless of how you feel about us please know that every single day we, the denizens of Earth, are all thankful that you are the Earth and you are here.

Love,

Introducing Turkey Foot Farm

In previous posts I mentioned our Derby Home.  This post introduces our new home and describes our expanded farming activities there.  We purchased the property and  home in May 2010.  The property consists of 11 acres and is located just east of Derby Kansas.  We moved in at the end of May and over the past 10 months we have done a number of small farm related improvements and feel it is time to give the new place a name and an introduction.  The name is Turkey Foot Farm or TFF for short.  Turkey Foot has a triple meaning for our farm since we are raising turkeys, have wild turkeys on the property and have pastures with big bluestem grass.  The folk name for big bluestem is Turkey Foot. 

Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) - you can see from the seed heads how big bluestem got its alternate name - turkey foot.

I have listed some of the urban farming features of TFF below with photos. 

1)  360 square feet of raised beds.  The first thing we did at TFF was to construct raised beds using cinder blocks.  The beds were filled with dirt and compost.  The compost was obtained from Evergreen Recycling in Park City Kansas.  A lot of the harvested vegetables described in the previous post “Fall Garden Wrap Up” came from the first of our three beds.  I have included some photos from last summer and from today.

This is one of our 8 x 10 beds. The photo is from last summer when the winter squash plants were getting going. Later these butternut squash plants covered all the grass in this photo.

Three raised beds - this is a shot of our three raised beds looking from the south. The nearest bed is the largest at 25 x 8 and behind it are the two 8 x 10 beds. The red tubs in the forefront are being used to grow potatoes.

 

Asparagus Bed - In addition to our raised beds we have dug or rototilled another 6 or 7 beds. This photo shows our newly emerged "Mary Washington" asparagus. We planted 50 two-year-old crowns about a month previous to this photo. The bed has a good deal of compost worked into it. We expect to harvest asparagus in spring 2013.

2)   A 16 square foot cold frame. 

The cold frame is used to extend the growing season.  This spring we used it to start radishes, spinach, chard, collards and mustard greens.  

Cold Frame - Here is a shot of our 16 sq. ft cold frame on April 14 2011. The windows were removed a few weeks ago and will go back on in the fall. Growing inside is swiss chard, spinach, radishes, collards, arugula and mustard greens. We have been harvesting spinach and radishes for a couple of weeks at this point.

3) A chicken coop with external runs and solar-powered lighting.   This was a pretty big time and money investment.  The chicken coop was built from an existing three-sided shed.  We poured a concrete foundation in one half of the shed, added a front wall and other improvements.  There was no electricity so we installed a solar battery charger and some 12 volt lighting.  So far we have raised 2 dozen Cornish x rock chickens which are now all in our freezer or tummies along with a mixed flock of layers and one rooster that are shown in the photos below.

Chicken Coop. The space inside the coop is divided in half so that two sets of poultry can be separately raised. There is a run on each side and this photo shows the smaller south run. The north run is not visible and is still under construction. So far we have raised over 30 chickens in this coop. On the roof above the wreath you may be able to make out the small solar collector that powers the lights inside.

Here is our current egg-laying flock. They produce 4-6 eggs per day. Most of the eggs are fertile because we have a rooster housed with the hens. He is named Lexi is on the left behind the black chicken. We have incubated some of the eggs and currently have three chicks in a separate brooder in our garage.

4)  A large pile-based composting operation.  I forgot to take a photo of our compost operation but will try to do so later.  It consists of two large (8′  x 8′ x4′) side-by-side bins where we throw kitchen, yard and chicken waste to help us recycle and enrich the soil at TFF.

5)  Web site.  We also established a web site for TFF to help us establish ownership of the name and to provide a place to conduct online commerce should we decide to go in that direction.  The web site can be viewed at:  http://turkeyfootfarm.com/

We are still growing vegetables at the Coe Farm in Wichita and will continue to report on our progress there.

Fall Garden Wrap Up

I’m finally getting around to posting a wrap-up of my fall garden which was quite good, particularly in comparison with my summer garden in 2010.  Here it is February and we are still eating fresh winter squash and Jerusalem artichokes from the fall garden along with frozen beans.  The big hit from the fall garden was the string beans.  They were extremely productive with over 15 lbs of beans harvested from our 8 x 10 raised bed at Turkey Foot Farm.   Just about everything was a big success except our beets and Swiss chard  which got wiped out by a mole that dug a tunnel right down the rows.  It seems the mole was just digging along the row because we watered there and during the drought it was the only place the mole could find water.   The mole also dug through the bean patches but the beans seemed unharmed by the mole’s tunnels.  Below is a table summarizing the planting dates, harvest dates and yield of our fall garden which consisted of two 8 x 10 foot raised beds made from cinderblocks.

Even after giving many of these away, we ended up with 1.5 bushels in our basement. They store well and we ate them right through February and into March. The roasted seeds became a family favorite.

These are a few of the "purple top white globe" variety turnips I grew. They were delicious and I was pulling turnips almost up until christmas. What a wonderful fall crop. This year I plan to plant a whole lot more.

Fall Garden Dinners

The fall garden is looking great!  Last week we had stuffed cabbage.  This is where you hollow out the cabbage and stuff it with a mixture of meat, rice and the grated cabbage heart.  It was delicious.   This cabbage variety is called “Golden Acre Cabbage” and I planted it on June 30.  This was about 70 days to maturity and included a long hot dry spell in August. This weekend (9-19-2010) we picked the first fall beans.  These were a mix of pole beans and bush beans.  They are currently heavily-laden with beans and blossoms but only a handful or so were ready to pick.  We combined the handful of beans with a head of chinese cabbage, or Michihili, and made a delicious light stir fry of onion, tofu, chinese cabbage and green beans.  Delicious and healthy.  The beans are “Blue Lake Bush Beans”  and “Ferry Morse Kentucky Pole Beans” both were planted around July 15 so about 55 days from planting to harvest.  

Cabbage and grated cabbage heart for making “Stuffed Whole Cabbage”

 

Finished product, includes stuffed heart surrounded by stuffed cabbage leaves

 

Stir fried chinese cabbage, beans and tofu. Delicious light summer dining.

  

Chinese cabbage and green beans fresh from the garden.