Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Chicken Problems

Behold what we have been reduced to:

These are boughten eggs. 

We've only had one egg since putting the blinders on the chickens, and that was from Martha, who managed to get hers off within the first 24 hours. Since then, we haven't gotten one, and I'm assuming that having a piece of plastic wedged in your nostrils is so uncomfortable that it's kind of stressing them out.

Or they might be doing a springtime mini-molt:

Abigail always does this, but the others haven't ever stopped laying the spring for a mini-molt — they usually molt in the fall, as the daylight wanes. We may have triggered it by dialing their light back in an effort to ease their supposed stress as well, but who knows at this point.

To recap this week in chickens: Lizzy is still inexplicably hateful towards only me, throwing herself against the walls of the run whenever I pass by. Kirk gets no such treatment, probably because he feeds them. Rachel's butt is still pecked; Sally's is a little better. We took off the blinders (not easy — I gave Sally a little nosebleed). We also put more Bag Balm on Rachel's raw sin to try to deter the pecking, but I'm about to give up on further treatment. 

It's frustrating because, while three-year-old Abigail, Martha, and Sally are off the hook for daily laying, the other three birds are in their first spring and should be in their absolute prime. It's not clear what combination of issues has left them barren, but at this point we're just going to let it go.

And there might be a ray of hope, sort of:

There's evidence of an egg in the nesting box — just a bit of the white, and not even a piece of shell left. Perhaps someone is gobbling them up before we can get to them? It's not like the henhouse is rife with broken eggs, but at least someone laid something fairly recently.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Potato Trenches

Like last year, we’ve decided to continue with the expanded planting of potatoes. That extra bed allows us to have enough to enjoy almost throughout the whole winter — until we have to stop eating them to have enough left to plant in the spring. Last year our purple potatoes didn’t do very well, so we had to order seed potatoes for those. The red and white potatoes, though, lasted really well in storage, and we got them in the ground nice and early (in fact, the leaves just popped up this weekend). The reds and whites are planted in the big box hilling system we used successfully last year.

When the blue ones arrived in the mail, Kirk dug up the last spindly, pathetic cranberries and prepped the bed for potatoes instead. This was no easy task, as the bed was filled with tree roots from the nearby evergreen: 

Kirk was not happy about the prep work, but I’m optimistic that potatoes should do okay despite some leftover root issues. They were often a first crop planted by pioneers to break prairie sod, so a few straggly tree roots shouldn’t be too difficult.

Instead of building a new box to hold in extra mounds of dirt, Kirk planted the blue potatoes in short trenches instead:

The idea here is that you plant the potatoes way down deep in the trench. Then as they grow, you take some of the extra, mounded soil to keep hilling them up. Eventually the tall piles or soil will be on top of the potatoes instead of in the spaces between the rows.

We’ll see how well it works in the fall when we dig up the potatoes. Hopefully we’ll have a good, tall stack of them, because the blue ones are my favorites.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Bees Are Back in Town

This weekend we opened up the hive for the first time since the bees left last fall to get ready for our new package of bees:


As you can see, there’s still a bunch of chewed up wax (though Kirk vacuumed that up off the floor of the hive to give the bees a head start on housekeeping duties). You can also see some of the chewed spots on the comb we pulled out. 

We put the comb with crystalized honey at the front of the hive (as recommended in Top-Bar Beekeeping: Organic Practices for Honeybee Health) and left a blank bar between already drawn comb near the back to help the bees build their new honeycomb nice and straight. We’re hoping that the honey and pollen left in the comb is enough food for the bees until they can settle in and start making new. 

We picked up our bees from Crystal Bee Supply in Peabody on Saturday. They came in a fancy plastic cage this time around:

After we found the queen cage and put her in the hive, Kirk shook the rest of the package out into the hive:

You can see that there are a bunch of bees still out on the bars that Kirk is sweeping into the hive. It’s nice to hear them buzzing again, and it looks like they’re settling in. We’ll open up the hive to check in on the queen and see how things are going with the comb in three days.

In the meantime, I saw several nosing around the perennial border, so it seem like they’re figuring out the lay of the land.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Garlic Problems

Though at the beginning of March the warm winter weather had left the garlic bed in really good shape — green tops popping out everywhere from under the mulch — our recent cold snaps have left it a shambles:

You can see that there are some green tops left on either end. The few that look good are quite strong and healthy:

And the ones that are not? They’re really aren't doing well at all:

Most of the bed is like this, with formerly vigorous shoots all crumpled and dead. 

The other day I poked around to see what the problem is. The (former) leaves pulled right off the clove, rotted:

This could be an issue caused by keeping the mulch on too late into the spring, since it warmed up so much in February and early March — there was a lot of new growth early on. But then as soon as we did finally pull up the mulch, it dropped to very cold temperatures for weeks. This was a lose-lose situation, for sure. 

I dug up one of the apparently dead ones to get a look at what was going on with the clove under the soil:

And I was pretty happy to see new growth starting up! That little shoot is still way below ground, but I’m hoping that a lot more of our garlic is in the same condition, just tucked out of sight (for  now).

It also has a really strong root system:

I planted this back in the same spot, and am hoping that in another week or two we see a bunch of new growth in the garlic bed. These might not ever result in massive heads of garlic now, but even a smaller harvest will be better than nothing!