Sunday, March 25, 2012

Novice Poultry Owners

That's right, everyone!  We now have chickens.   I've been buying eggs from a co-worker for several years now.   Her husband keeps a few chickens as a hobby and I've got to tell you that if you have never eaten a "home grown" egg, you don't know what you have been missing. 

I've been working on Tom for a couple of years to get some chickens.  He was staunchly against it at first, but I kept pecking away at him.  (No pun intended).  Then several weeks ago, he came in and announced that Atwood's had baby chicks and when did I want to go pick some out!  After I picked myself up of the floor, I stammered that perhaps we'd better do some reading about chickens first.  So, off to the library we went.

Some of the books we read were downright alarming regarding the number of different ailments and parasites chickens can get, not to mention them pecking each other as well as their owners.  So, now, I'm feeling a little worried about our ability to handle this new responsibility.  However, I have a good friend who has chickens and has been mentoring me in all aspects of being a responsible chicken owner.  I won't mention names here, but she reads this blog and will know who I am talking about. 

So, yesterday we went to Atwood's to pick out our chickens.  They must have had 20 different kinds.  We decided to forego the tiny chicks and get some that were a little bigger thinking they would have a better chance of survival in our novice hands.  After reading a pamphlet they had there in the store about the different kinds, we ended up getting 3 New Hampshire Reds and 3 Gold Sex Linked.

Here is what wikipedia says about "sex linked" chickens.  Apparently, they are not a real breed, but a cross.  And, you can tell the sex of the chicken by its color.

New Hampshire Reds descended from Road Island Reds and were developed more for meat than for egg production.  But, apparently, they are still good egg layers and we really didn't have much choice if we wanted chickens that were a little older than the tiny ones.  

So, here's a picture of our little flock.

They are definitely cute.  But, they are very wary of us.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact that they each had a small metal band clamped to their wing when we got them and I had to hold each one of them still while Tom removed the band with a pair of pliers.  But, I think it is more instinctive, rather like baby quail will hold very still when they sense predators nearby.  At any rate, I think as they get older and learn that we bring good things, i.e. food and water, then they will be okay.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sand Plums

Many people are disappointed when they buy a tree from Walmart or Lowe's  or one of the big box stores only to have it perish in the fickle Oklahoma climate.  Many times the trouble is not that the owner did not take care of it, but simply that the type of tree they bought is not well adapted for living in Oklahoma.

Well, I have good news for you.  The Oklahoma Department of Agriculture - Forestry Services Division has a wealth of information on trees that ARE adapted for Oklahoma.   They even offer these trees for sale at very reasonable prices!  Here is a link on their web site listing trees that are proven to do well in Oklahoma.

They also have "packages" you can order.  Last year, we ordered a "Wildlife" package.  It consisted of several different types of trees and shrubs that provide food and cover for birds and other wildlife.  There were several "Sand Plum" trees in the package.  Sand Plums are native to Oklahoma and are more like a shrub than a tree.  They have small fruit that are very tart, but that make excellent jelly.  I even found the following YouTube video of how to make Sand Plum jelly. 

The first couple of minutes consist of some video of Sand Plums growing wild.  The wind is blowing, as it usually does in Oklahoma, during that part of the video and the sound is not very good.  But, if you can fast-forward past that part, then the part of making jelly is well done and informative.

Well, anyway, back to OUR Sand Plums.   We planted them in 2 rows between the front lawn and the garden area.  They should eventually form a dense hedge and hopefully will have fruit at least every other year or two.  This far north we may have trouble with late frosts killing the blossoms.  We'll just have to wait and see.  At any rate, these sand plums are in an area not easily watered.  I think Tom watered them once or twice during last summer's drought.  I was afraid they had all died.  So, I was delighted when I noticed almost all of them had survived and were leafing out. 

Here is a picture of them.

It is difficult to see them very well because they are the same color as the grass which is greening up too.  

I noticed several of them also have flowers.  The flowers are frilly little things.  I had trouble taking a picture of one, but after several tries, I succeeded and here it is.

Sand Plums are also called Chickasaw Plums.  They are drought resistant and flourish in sandy soil or heavy clay.  In southern Oklahoma around Chickasha where Tom grew up, they grow wild in thickets along the roadsides.  He remembers picking them and taking them home for his mother to make jelly with.  So, I made a deal with him.  If he will pick them, I will make jelly with them.  I think I've got the best part of this bargain.  Sand Plum bushes/trees have many short stiff twigs that often end in a spine, so they are a literally pain to pick.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Mini-Greenhouse Fun

We've had our little "mini" greenhouse for about a year and a half.  Here is a picture of it right after we got it.

Our main purpose for getting it is to have a place to house the tomato and pepper plants we grow  for sale at our farmers' market in the spring.  We start them from seed in our basement.  At first they don't take up much room and grow under lights on shelves, like this:

But as we start transplanting them from the little boxes into 4 inch pots, then the space they consume goes up exponentially.  We have several other sets of shelves like this on the other wall of the basement.  After transplanting, we put them on these other shelves for a couple of weeks to give them time to settle.  Then they get moved out to the "mini" greenhouse.

We don't heat this greenhouse until we put the tomato and pepper plants out there in the spring.  Tom moved the first plants out there last week.  So, the fun is just beginning.  Before long we are going to be "busting at the seams"!

So, what do we do with this little greenhouse in the winter?  Well, we don't heat it.  However, there are things that will grow during the winter even without heat.  One of those is lettuce.  During  a bathroom remodel a couple of years ago, Tom saved a bunch of the drawers from an old vanity that was torn out.  He drilled holes in their bottoms and made them into planter boxes, like this.

These pictures were taken in December.   I enjoyed standing inside this little greenhouse on cold winter days and picking a few leaves for a salad for dinner.  But, this phase is now at an end and these planter boxes are being replaced with flats of pepper plants.  Tomato plants will soon follow.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we can find room for all of them!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Our Aerobic Septic System

One thing about living outside the city limits is that you don't normally have access to city sewage treatment, and you have to have a septic system of some sort to handle your sewage.   These come in 2 flavors, Aerobic and Anaerobic.   Anaerobic systems rely on anaerobic bacteria.  These bacteria do not require oxygen to decompose household waste, after which the waste water runs off into a "leach field" which is a series of porous pipes laid into the soil that gradually release the runoff into the soil and environment.  Anaerobic systems are limited to where they can be installed due to space requirements for the leach field and soil conditions that are not conducive to absorbing the run off.

When we moved here to the farm, there was an old anaerobic system in place and we learned very quickly that the clay soil underlying the leach field could not handle much waste water, especially when the ground was saturated with moisture.  So, if it rained much at all, the soil was not able to absorb any waste water and we very often had sewage back up into our ground floor shower!  To say this was repulsive is an understatement.   

So, we started checking into an Aerobic system to handle the waste water.  Aerobic systems rely on aerobic bacteria to decompose the waste.  These bacteria use oxygen to help break down the waste and generally do a much faster, cleaner job of it than anaerobic bacteria.  However, they do require oxygen.  So, air has to be bubbled through the waste water and this requires electricity to run a small air pump.  Here is an above ground picture of our system:

Our system has two underground tanks.  The first tank holds the waste water while the aerobic bacteria do their work.  As the water rises to the top of the first tank it falls over into the second tank.  In doing so, it runs over a stack of chlorine tablets to further purify it.  The water in this second tank is clear and odorless.   There is a sprinkler system connected to the second tank that is set to come on during the middle of the night and sprinkles the water from the second tank onto the grass at the edge of the yard.

All in all, we've been very happy with our aerobic system.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Potting Up Chives

My main focus of our farmers' market endeavor is herbs.  If you use the "search" feature on the left of this page to do a search for "herbs", you will see quite a few entries.  In the summer, I cut the fresh herbs, package them in sandwich bags and sell them at the Market.  In the spring, I grow them from seeds which I transplant into 4-inch pots and sell to customers wanting to start their own herb garden or to plant in flower beds.  

A few weeks ago I started some chives from seed.  I used the same technique that I use to start all our bedding plants.  I describe it in my blog entry titled "Start Your Own Seeds".  Here is a link to it:

This past weekend I decided they were ready to transplant.  This is my potting bench that Tom built for me out in the garage.  It is nothing fancy, but serves its purpose just fine.

Instead of the 4-inch pots that we put our tomato and pepper plants in, I use smaller ones.  They come in squares of 4 together.   These are usually called "plug" pots.  The "plugs" are a little larger than an inch square.  To get the chives out of the little clear box that I start them in, I use a plastic knife (a plastic fork works well too).  I gently pry up a little soil to loosen it so I can get the chives out.

Then I separate the little plants.  Below  you can see a couple of the small chive plants laying to the left of the plastic knife.  I've made the picture extra large so you can see the long roots these little plants have.

I then use the knife to make a hole in the middle of a plug and gently tuck the roots down into the hole pressing the soil back around them.  You can see the chives that have already been transplanted to the right of the knife.

If I were transplanting tomatoes, peppers or basil, I would only put one plant per pot.  However, these chives were so tiny that I put 2 or 3 together.

Chives grow rather slowly.  So, I am hoping these get big enough to sell by the middle of April.  That is only 6 weeks away!   Our outdoor market will start the first weekend in April.  That is not very far off.  It will still be fine to plant them out in the garden until June or so when the weather starts getting hot.  Then, it would be best to put them in a bigger pot and save them until the fall.  Many people do not realize that autumn is a very good time to transplant perennial herbs in the garden.  As long as they have several weeks before frost to settle and grow roots, they will usually go dormant and survive the winter just fine.  Then in the spring they will reemerge from the soil ready to grow anew.