Saturday, April 19, 2014

Baby Chicks

It has been a while since my last post, but we've been pretty busy and time has gotten away from me.  Everyone told me that would happen when I retired and I guess it is true!

The big news is we have 8 baby chicks.  We only have 3 chickens left from our first bunch of 6 that we bought 2 years ago.   They are grand old ladies now and have slowed down on their egg laying.  So, we decided it was time to add some new life to the flock.  Here is a picture of our new babies right after we got them.

We put them in a large watering tub that we bought during the drought a couple of years ago.  Our intent was to fill it with water for the wildlife.  But, it ended up being a source of entertainment for our grandkids.  (See this post from January 2013:  Ice Engineering )

It is important to protect the chicks from predators.  So, to start out, we set the tub in our greenhouse.   It is also important to provide them with a source of heat early in the spring before they get their real feathers.  So, we have a heat lamp that we turn on for them on cold days and at night.

It is amazing how quickly the chicks grow.  After a few days they began to grow wing feathers, like this.

Now, they are barely 2 weeks old and some of them are already growing tail feathers!

They seem to need a lot of rest because at times they will suddenly fall asleep right in the middle of things.  The first time I noticed this, I thought the chick had died and almost panicked, only to have it jump up and run off when I reached down to touch it!

At other times, they take a "group nap" where everyone goes to sleep at once.

It didn't take them long to discover the food and water.

After developing the wing feathers, they quickly learned to fly.  So, we have had to move them out of the brooder tub into a larger pen that Tom fixed for them in the garage.

 We put cardboard around the perimeter of the pen to keep out drafts of cold air and we put a cover on it because we open the garage door during the day and want to guard against stray cats and other predators.

The chicks seemed a little overwhelmed with all the space in their new home and stayed in a huddle the first couple of days.  But, as they grow larger, they are getting braver and starting to explore the new pen.

 They can stay in this bigger pen for several weeks, but we will eventually have to introduce them to the older chickens.  We'll probably start out by moving this small pen outside and setting it beside the large pen our older chickens are in.  This will allow them to get acquainted through the fence.  I'm hoping there will be no fights and that flock tranquility will result.  I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Deer Cages

From my previous posts, you know that we have fed the deer this past winter and that we have wildlife cameras that capture pictures of the deer and other wildlife that comes around.  In fact, my last post dealing with this subject was 3 weeks ago.

There are pros and cons to feeding the deer.  For one thing, we enjoy the pictures from the wildlife camera and also the rare instances when we see them in the daylight.  However, attracting them onto the property invites them to sample other delicacies on the farm in addition to the food we put out for them.  

Last September we planted several small pine trees that we got for free at the county fair.  Here is a small pine tree that we planted last year.  The deer have eaten the tips off of every branch!

Along with the deer damage and the hard winter we've just come through, I'm not sure this small tree is going to come out this spring.  Notice that we have put some wire around it.  This is to keep the deer from nibbling any more of it.  Unfortunately, we didn't take this precaution until it was too late.  Sort of like closing the barn door after the horses are out!

I wondered what the deer would think of this new development in their environment and focused the camera on the cages to see their reactions.  As you can see below, it did not escape their attention.

Other animals enjoy the deer corn.  Among them are the neighborhood crows, but they don't eat the trees!

Oh, and I wonder who this old guy is?  He must be the one who puts out food for the deer.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Compost Spreader

Last fall we invested in the following piece of equipment.

It was billed as a "manure" spreader, but we bought it to spread compost instead.  Before we got it, the process of spreading compost was quite laborious and involved hauling compost to the field with the truck and then unloading it by hand with a shovel.  This has made our lives a lot easier.

Notice that it hooks on the back of our riding lawnmower.  Tom then uses the tractor to scoop compost into it.

The spreader has paddles that rotate and throw the compost out while it is running.  There is a belt on the floor of the hopper that moves the compost from front to back where the paddles are located.

Here's a picture of it in action.  Tom is using it to spread compost between the rows of tomato trellises.

In another 2 or 3 weeks, we'll set out the tomato plants we have grown from seed.  Then, we'll be waiting in anticipation for those first ripe tomatoes of the season.  My mouth is drooling already!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Chickens Like Cantaloupe

Our composting activities got a big boost last fall when we started getting produce scraps from a couple of the kitchens at Oklahoma State University.  Here's some information on that:

Occasionally, there are vegetables and fruit that are past their prime and no longer suitable for human consumption.  However, sometime these items are just fine for our chickens.  Today, in the scraps there was a cantaloupe and a couple of heads of lettuce that Tom pulled out to give to the chickens.  Here he is cutting the cantaloupe open.

And, here the chickens are feasting on it.

It looks like this after they have pecked on it a while.

And, after they are finished, there is nothing left except a thin shell.  Here's a picture of the cantaloupe half after they have finished with it compared to the other half of the cantaloupe.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Stirrup Hoe

The weather is warmer and now it's time to rid the beds of winter weeds and get them ready to plant.  It would have been best if I had mulched the beds last fall to keep weeds from growing in the first place.  But, alas, I didn't and now I'm faced with the sight below.

What you are looking at is a weed called "henbit".  I even wrote an entry about this weed and another one called "chickweed" last year about this time.

Henbit grows slowly during the winter.  Then in the spring it explodes with new growth and puts out rather pretty purple flowers.  However, pretty or not, it has to be gotten rid of and I've found a tool that makes this job a lot easier.  It's called a "stirrup hoe" and it looks like this.

To use it, you push the flat side back and forth across the surface of the soil.  It cuts the weeds just below the surface of the soil.  It is much easier to use for chores, like this, than a regular hoe.  The only caveat is that it does not work for large weeds or big clumps of grass.  For those, you still need a regular hoe. 

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Deer Behavior and Pictures

As in winters past, we have fed the deer and I want to share some pictures the wildlife camera has taken of them and also make some observations about their behavior.

First, is a picture taken last fall of a deer and fawns.  The fawns were probably born in the spring.

And here's a picture of a small herd that came out and started eating before dark.

Next, is a picture of a deer eating out of the bird feeder that is hanging in a tree just outside our bedroom window. 

And, another deer sneaking food from the birds.

Here are some deer in a snow storm we had one night in January.

We moved the camera around to the other side of the tree and got this picture of a deer looking up at the camera.

I've learned a lot about deer behavior over the course of the last 5 years.  First, I've found that they tend to stay in small herds that are sometimes at odds with other herds.  If one group gets to the feeder first, they will sometimes act aggressively toward another group that comes before they are finished eating.  When this happens, they will lash out with their front legs toward members of the other herd.

I've also found them to be very aware of their surroundings.  For example, I have transplanted several small trees that were coming up in my raised beds to other locations around the farm. You wouldn't think that deer would pay any attention to this.  But, in almost every case, they have nipped the tips out of the trees, as if they noticed the trees were in different places and took a bite to check them out.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

And We are Off and Running - 2014 Garden Underway

This winter has been abnormal for Oklahoma.  We've had wave after wave of freezing precipitation and really cold temperatures since the middle of December.  I'm sure folks up north are used to this, but here in Oklahoma we normally have a fairly mild winter with "maybe" a couple of waves of snow and ice.

Now it is the middle of March and I think we are finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  There have recently been several days of warm weather and we have made good use of them to get ready for this year's garden season.  Tom has especially been busy.  He has set up t-posts and cattle panels that will be used to trellis our tomato plants this year.

We've tried several methods to keep our tomatoes up off the ground and finally settled on this method.  The t-posts and cattle panels are easy to set up and, once the panels are purchased, they can be used for many years.

Tom has also planted some of the onions we ordered.  This is just part of them.  He ran out of time before he got them all planted and has to wait until the weather warms up again.

We have been starting seeds in our basement.  The seeds start out in a row tray like this:

Then when they get big enough, we transplant them into pots, like this:

Eventually, we will run out of room in the basement and will have to move them to our small greenhouse.   

Picture of Green House

Finally, I'm in the process of creating a new raised bed.

I got started on this a couple of months ago when we happened to have a mild day between ice storms.  The bed currently has Fairy Roses in it.  These are somewhat of a domesticated wild rose, but still have plenty of thorns and a rather unruly growth habit.  I have cut the roses back and want to transplant them to another location.    It is a big job and I'm procrastinating getting back to it, but need to get it finished so we'll have more room for tomatoes, peppers, okra and such.

More to come .....