The new year brings a new predator to the farm. I had my first owl sighting last night. Coming home in the dark two nights ago I noticed one of the ducks trapped in the poultry netting. I switched the fence off and untangled the duck. Once untangled it quacked off happily to join the others. I thought it was weird but I didn't give it much thought as I locked all the birds into their houses for the night.
Last night I again came home in the dark to another duck stuck in the netting. As I got closer and shown the spot light, I heard it. The unmistakable, 'who who' of the owl, it had killed a chicken. The duck must have given it more of a fight and both the dying duck and the owl were stuck in the netting.
After a quick trip to the house, a few moments later I made sure that owl took its last bird. This was the first time I had seen or even heard an owl up close. While they are very good looking birds, I cant have this owl taking out my birds every night.
Predators are all around the farm waiting to strike at any time, this seems more true during the winter months as food becomes scarce. In this cause I only lost a few birds and I got lucky to be in the right place at the right time and was able to eliminate the predator.
The attack shows me that this owl was going to keep coming back night after night to take bird after bird until it was caught or killed all of my birds. Life and death are both constants on the farm. While you don't ever want to lose any of your animals to predators it will happen. Going forward we will take a deeper look into how we can all protect our animals on the farm.
This time I got lucky to catch this owl in the act. How have you fought back against predators? We would love to hear about your predator issues and way you fixed the problem. As always email us or leave a message in the comments.
As I have mentioned in earlier posts we will be bringing feeder pigs onto the farm this spring. In preparation for them I am diving into everything hog related. I have decided to document it all here and on my youtube channel. Videos will give you a first hand look at what goes on raising feeder pigs from 40 pounds up to just shy of 300 pounds.
I will record the good, the bad, and hopefully the not too ugly moments of being a beginning pig farmer. Look for The Pastured Pig Program (working title) this coming spring!
Between now and then I still have a lot of work. We are still researching breeds and will most certainly go with a mixed breed. We will also make sure that mom was pasture raised as well. Other than that the rest is still to be determined. This winter will be filled with research and visiting local hog farmers. Come spring we will have a clear direction set and a plan in motion!
Stay tuned for more info on the Pastured Pig Program and any other pig related news. If you have any suggestions or comments we would love to hear from you. As always email or leave us a message in the comments section.
Thanks to this years unseasonably warm December I have continued to get stuff done around the farm. In additional to straightening my fences, this past weekend I was blessed to be in the right place at the right time.
I had the good fortune of meeting someone who was giving away some 20 blueberry bushes. Turns out they were selling their land and giving away an existing blueberry patch. The plants are 2-3 years old and most nearly 2 feet tall. Some are in better shape than others but they were free so you won't see me complaining one bit.
I dug up the plants, transported them back to the farm, and planted them in their new location all in one afternoon. After a light watering and some mulch they will be ready for the winter that is sure to come sooner or later.
Because of the transplanting I don't expect these plants to be very productive this coming season. It usually takes a season to get a decent fruit crop after any significant transplanting. As a result I will be pruning them heavily and using the prunings to propagate hardwood cuttings. I hope to get them pruned and cuttings planted this coming weekend.
With any luck I will have a new batch of rooted blueberry plants this spring! What plants have you tried to propagate using hardwood cuttings? I would love for you to share any experiences and feedback with us.
Don't waste your time planting from seed. We have all heard it before, that planting a seed is a 1 in a million shot at producing a good quality fruit. Weather you believe this or not (I tend to think there are two sides to the seed planting story), the Antonovka Apple bucks this completely.
Antonovka Apple seeds grow true to type. Meaning you plant an Antonovka Apple seed, you get a tree that produces Antonovka Apples!
I currently have Antonovka seeds for sale. Antonovka trees are full sized trees reaching 15-20 feet. They are native to Eastern Europe and grow well in USDA zones 4-9. Antonovka is used for cider, dessert, cooking, and fresh eating. The fruit ripens late and will store for some time.
Contact me with you have any interest in planting some out this spring. hunthomesteadfarm at gmail.com They are currently being stratified and will be ready for spring germination!
December is here and before it gets too cold and everything becomes snow covered. It’s time to clean up all those bits and pieces laying around the farm that got left out, blown over, or just plain forgotten.
Item number one on my list is straightening up my fence posts. Years ago my posts and fence went in in a hurry. It was rushed because I planted my first trees and shrubs in my nursery area before any of my fence infrastructure was up. Very soon my local deer and ground hog population found my newly planted future orchard.
It was soon after that first deer sighting that I threw up whatever I had laying around. Cedar trees were used as fence posts and 4 foot vinyl fence was doubled up to make an 8 foot deer barrier. Doing this in an afternoon I knew that mistakes were made and I would soon be replacing the fence. This was okay however because I knew I would be quickly outgrowing my small nursery area.
Well this fall I finally got around to taking down the old 4 foot vinyl fencing and pulling out the posts. I got out my trusty post hole digger and went to work with my shale bar. Digging 3 foot deep post holes is real work but it should stand up better than those 1 ½ foot holes I dug years ago.
The lesson I take away from this is that it always pays to plan. Doing things according to plan those many years ago I would I built the proper fence then and saved the hassle of having to do it over again.
Another lesson learned is that when it comes to farming getting something a little bit bigger than what you think you need is usually a safe bet. That small greenhouse is fine when you are starting out but when your operation expands you might end up kicking yourself for not planning ahead.
What are you cleaning up in your garden or farm this fall and winter? We would love to hear from you. Leave a message in the comments or send us an email.
Pekins are meat birds, however they do lay eggs. Over the summer I was contacted by someone who had bought them as day old ducklings and decided after a few months’ ducks were not there cup of tea. After a little bit of thought I decided to take in a drake and duck pair of 2 month old Pekins.
My plan for the Pekins when I took them in was to over winter them, let them lay a few dozen eggs next spring, incubate, and hatch out the baby Pekin ducklings. Essentially making these birds my breeding stock.
Farm plans are always evolving. And my Pekin duck plan is changing as well. It turns out the duck (yes it's confusing that a female duck is also called a duck) has injured her leg. She has been limping around trying very badly to keep up with her fellow quackers. After a few days she was not getting any better. I decided to keep her in the hoop house in order to make sure she could rest her injured leg and hopefully recuperate.
Unfortunately she hasn’t gotten any better. I will give her a few more days to improve and hopefully she does, however I do now have a revised plan if she doesn’t. If she doesn’t recover shortly the Pekins will be marked for the freezer and one for Christmas dinner.
Time will tell what happens, stay tuned to see what will happen.
Fall is nearly gone, winter, and spring will be here before we know it. This year spring will bring a new animal to our farm: pigs! I am excited and nervous to take on this new enterprise. Although we are just bringing in a few feeder pigs to start I have been trying to prepare for them the best I can.
I recently went to a seminar regarding pig nutrition. It was very informative and I gained a lot of knowledge that will surely help me in the 2016 season with my pigs. As most of you know we are a pasture based farm and this will be true for the pigs we will raise as well. While pigs aren't ruminants like cows and sheep, they can gain quite a bit of their nutrition from a quality pasture.
To provide the pigs with the best possible diet and nutrition I will be growing certain crops specially for them. While I will still be buying in feed from a local Non GMO row crop farmer I will be growing a great deal of my own pigs food. Tree crops and perennials that we were planted years ago will provide some nutrition: apples, pears, Siberian pea shrub, sunchokes, mulberry, and acorns will help supplement the pigs standard ration. Annuals like mangles, rape, sunflowers, pumpkins, and other legumes will also aid in fatting up the pigs.
Next up for our pig enterprise is to find a farmer to source feeder pigs. we will do this while also deciding on which breed or cross of breeds to raise. Keep an eye out for more pig posts coming later this winter!
And if you have any suggestions on pig pasture plantings or pig breeds feel free to email or leave a message in the comments sections!
Over the weekend I took some hardwood elderberry cuttings for propagation. I have a few places where I want to have elderberries going forward so I decided to plant a few elderberry cuttings in each location on the property.
As usual I also put a several in my propagation bed to be transplanted or sold once they root and leaf out this spring. As the fall and winter progresses I will be taking cuttings of other plants. More posts and pictures to follow.
Thanksgiving has come and gone and fall is slowly losing its battle to winter. If you are anything like me you still want fresh, healthy, veggies even in the heart of winter. Impossible you might think, well here are a few ways to grow just that!
A windowsill or two (best if it is southern facing), a pot that will fit on that windowsill (a few solo cups or milk jugs will do), potting soil, seeds, and water.
My kitchen windowsill is southern facing and is wide enough to place a decent sized pot. I like to repurpose gallon milk jugs. By cutting off the top ½ to 2/3 of the milk jug you will make a flat wide base. Wash out the bottom of the milk jug and you are ready to go.
Now that your pot is ready, add your potting soil. Be sure to fill to the top and tamp down to slightly compact the soil. Plant your seeds to the desired depth and water thoroughly until the soil is moist. I chose not to cut drainage holes in the bottom of the jug. If you do the same you will need to be sure to not overwater your plants as too much water can be harmful to your plants. You can put drainage holes in the bottom of the jug by placing several (5-7) knife slits into jug. You can add a plate or tray under your jug to catch any excess water that drains through.
There are many veggies you can plant in your windowsill this winter. I like to grow greens that will come back after repeated harvests. Things like lettuces, spinach, mustards, and kale can be planted densely and harvested multiple times. A normal harvest of one jug will yield enough lettuce to provide my family with 2-4 servings of lettuce. If you enjoy salad you will want to have multiple jugs in various stages of maturity. This will enable to have homegrown greens almost nightly throughout the winter.
Winter gardening outdoors in a northern climate can be difficult but not impossible. Tools to help your winter garden thrive can include: row cover, cold frames, hoop house, and/or greenhouse.
All of these options are bigger projects than your windowsill garden and can require quite a bit of time and/or money to start. To get the most bang for your buck I would suggest the cold frame. Some scrap wood for framing and an old window or two is all you need to build one and get started.
A cold frame is nothing more than a square or rectangular sized micro green house. Use your old windows to guide you with the sizing. The windows will need to cover the top of the box so the glass acts as a greenhouse inside the cold frame. Build the box to fit the windows and you will be in good shape. A hinge and a stick to prop up the window will make managing your cold frame easy.
Since your cold frame is actually outside and in the ground you can plant just about anything, root crops included: carrots, beets, greens, cabbage, even potatoes are fair game in your cold frame. On warm or sunny days you will have to check the temperature inside the cold frame. The temperature can rise quickly on sunny days so be sure to crack the window open as needed.
Regardless of which method you chose growing a garden in the winter will help brighten your day, enjoy homegrown food, and count down the days until spring.
Sunchokes or Jerusalem Artichokes are next up on our Edible November list. They are another perennial that most people don't know about. Sunchokes are an edible tuber and a flower similar to the sunflower, they grow in much of the country and can be used similarly to potatoes.
A few warnings about sunchokes or Jerusalem artichokes: they are commonly known by some people as "fartichokes" and they are vigorous growers. First the inulin affects some who eat large quantities thus the name fartichokes. Pickling them with vinegar takes this problem away.
Sunchokes are a vigorous grower and can spread rapidly. A few sunchoke tubers left to overwinter can turn into a large patch in no time. They are also a wonderful livestock food, chickens and pigs both enjoy sunchokes with no fartichoke effects.