Spring is here, it’s busy on the homestead, but it’s time for growth! My New Year’s Resolutions were to focus on the garden and chicken flock. I have been doing well so far, having planted a few hundred seeds and started hatching Dominique eggs. Last year was tough on the garden, between too much rain and the wildlife eating anything that started to grow, while the chicken flock was mostly taken out by foxes. Here’s to a more productive year!
In January I sat down and ordered seeds, more than I needed, but it’s so hard to choose just a few varieties! I ordered organic seeds through Johnny’s Selected Seeds, which is a 100% employee owned company. They have been around for 45 years and produce safe, non-genetically modified seeds. I have had great luck with them in the past, and will continue to purchase seeds from them. I ended up purchasing tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, kale, squash, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, microgreens, leeks, strawberries, spinach, broccoli, watermelon and who knows what else. The strawberry plants are set to arrive the end of March.
I grouped all the seed packets together by which to start inside or outside and when to start them. February was the time for leeks and onions, so I grabbed my seeds and went at it! I tried out some seeds from 2017, and no luck, although I did end up with 24 starts of each from my purchase this year. I bought my seedling trays through Greenhouse Megastore, which has excellent prices for bulk orders, and I use Burpee Organic Seedling soil that was on sale for half price at the local Tractor Supply. It’s a soft soil, which provides a lot of moisture drainage and space for roots to grow.
The seedlings are about 2 inches tall at this point, and will soon move to the greenhouse if the weather continues to warm. Monday I started some more seeds, so now I really have the gardening bug! Kale, cabbage, beets, onions, and tomatoes were planted, though now I realize I need more grow lights. Today we will till the garden once more and then plant seed potatoes. I found the seed potatoes at the local Rural King for $0.49/lb, which is a great deal. They aren’t organic, as I couldn’t find anywhere that had organic seed potatoes that were in stock.
Last year I purchased a large cabinet incubator from my chicken mentor. The incubator holds 180 eggs, controls humidity and temperature, and gently rocks the eggs back and forth to simulate movement of the eggs under the hen. Dominique hens aren’t particularly broody, so they don’t naturally hatch out their own nest too often. It’s a shame, since they are a threatened species. To combat this, incubators are used to hatch out chicks to help restore the declining breed. On 3/14, nine chicks hatched from the 13 eggs that went into the incubator on 2/22. The incubation period for a chicken is around 21 days, and this gave me enough time to use my tax return to buy four large 2ft x 4ft metal troughs and more heat lamps. The chicks have been out in the garage in the new set up and have been doing very well considering the chilly weather that popped up. A thermometer under the heat lamp has read around 100°F and keeps the chicks warm during the night.
The plan with the incubator is to collect eggs for two weeks and then start the process. Our next batch of eggs should hatch around 3/28, and the current batch of eggs will go in on 3/21 and hatch around 4/11. There have also been some guinea fowl eggs lately, so they will hatch 4/18 since their incubation period is 28 days.
Another addition to the farm will be 25 Grey Ranger meat chickens. They are a cross between Barred Rock and Sussex chickens and have been selected for more meat and faster growth. These birds grow slower than your typical Cornish cross that are found in the grocery aisle, but will grow faster than the heritage breeds. It would be a neat idea to cross the Grey Rangers with some Dominiques to produce a slower growing, thriftier meat bird that has excellent foraging abilities. That’ll maybe be a project this summer, so we will see!
There are more plans as the weather warms and the sun stays out longer. The garden will continue to be tilled and shaped into a space we’re happy with, we will fence the garden with pallets and a bigger plan of mine is to fence the yard with pallets to allow for more pasture space. Chris plans to get further into his Bourbon Red turkey program, but right now we are on the hunt for a tom. We ended up with an 8 year old tom, but he is unfortunately very blind! He is slowly figuring his way around, but after having ended up in the creek, he stays in the fenced pasture now.