Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring.....a look at last year

I cannot wait for Spring.  It is almost here.....almost...... as I wait patiently I have gone through old photos to remind myself what it will be like.  I can now plant seedlings of anything I want so this weekend I planted lots of tomato seeds and broccoli seeds.  I cannot say how many tomato seeds because my husband reads my postings and I'll get another lecture about excessive tomato seed planting (lets just say it's a lot and I'm not done yet as I have a planting schedule so that we have tomatoes all season and especially late season).  

I plan to sell the heirloom tomato plants at the Ag Center the Saturday of Mother's Day weekend so if you know folks who want great variety and unique heirloom tomato plants, I'll be there.  I'm hoping to make enough off the plants so that I'll have paid off the seeds and be allowed to continue my seed buying habits for years to come.  

This is a photo from last year.  Already the picture will look so different.  The small out- buildings down the hill are gone.  This entire hill is 1/3 tilled and planted (peas, snap peas, snowpeas, garlic (14 varieties), onions (5 varieties so far), shallots (4 varieties so far), 80 blueberry bushes, 50 raspberry vines, grape vines and a large compost pile.

The pumpkin crop this year will be even bigger and better than last year.  I think we will have around 25 varieties of pumpkins because I fell in love with them last year and they were so easy to grow.  When you have 5-7 acres for your garden, why not plant lots of pumpkins?  The chickens can always eat them as a last resort.
Yes, pumpkins are included in the CSA-- probably 3 pumpkins a week for 5 weeks.    

This was the spinach, chard, turnips, etc at the end of last season in October.  These veggies will be planted this weekend!!!  I love spinach.  Spinach picked fresh out of the garden lasts 4-6 weeks if not washed.  If you wash it first, it still lasts about 4 weeks and boy is it tasty (and good for you).  

And finally, this little chick is now laying eggs!  The 26 Barred Rocks we got as chicks are laying about 10 eggs a day and soon we should be up to 20-26 eggs a day.  If you are in the egg share CSA, you get first crack at the extra eggs (pun intended).  We know that there will be weeks where you may want a dozen or so more than you signed up for because they are just so darn good.  So rest assured we will not sell them off until members have had the chance to claim them.  In mid-June we should have more than enough for those who just want eggs every so often as we'll then have about 200 more birds laying eggs.  

If you haven't tried the eggs yet, or want to start getting them early, send Mike an email.  We've got a few folks coming to the farm already to get eggs each week.  Some people have told me that the eggs fill you up faster than a store bought eggs and they love the different colors.  I love the colors as well and of course now I want some white eggs, red eggs, etc.....  

The eggs are better for you as well.   Check out this article from Mother Earth News on the benefits of pastured eggs.   Also check out info on Local Harvest.  We belong to the APPPA group (American Pastured Poultry Producers Association) and they have done similar studies showing the same nutritional results.  We were thinking of finding out how to have our eggs tested so we could share our results as well.  We heard from a friend that it is $250 for a test of 1 egg but we have to figure out where the nearest lab is and how to get an egg delivered there.  
For those who read our blog and live too far away from us-- please find a local farm or a farmers market near you.  The eggs are worth the extra effort so find them!!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Rainbow Connection

Why are there so many
Songs about rainbows?

And what's on the other side?

A smashed up chicken tractor, thats what.

So we were minding our own business, planting grapes, raspberries, blackberries, mulching blueberry bushes, you know, gardening. We had just had a nice visit with some neighbors who have three young children and live across the road. These neighbors have chickens also and have a nice organic garden too. We showed them the new lambs, the calves and cows, and the chickens and they went home. A very nice visit. We continued gardening for an hour.

AD then noticed some rumbling and said, "Was that thunder?", "Nah", I says, (use Chicago accent here) "Theres no thunder, its actually probably just some trucks, " I says. Then the skies darkened, and the weather threatened. We started to put spades, tools, and various garden implements away and I got on the tractor to put it away and as I looked up, I noticed...GASP!!!! THE COWS ARE OUT OF THE PASTURE!!!

We had failed to secure the gate after the neighbor visit. Its all my fault. I should have known and double checked it. Ill never make that mistake again.

So AD proceeds to run to head off the cows, I race on the tractor to get some hay bales, (the cows always chase me down when I have a full load of hay) and just then the storm hits. The cows start to race in a circle around me, bucking, kicking, snorting, fire and brimstone sorts of evil cow behavior, and the lightening is flashing, thunder, heavy rain, Frank the border collie racing, following furious commands, all to no avail. The cows are heading for the woods. They somehow stop at the edge of the woods, and I tear in behind them and turn them back. In the rain. In a thunderstorm.

Now, these cows could care less about a border collie. They pay him absolutely no attention. But he is all I have. So I use him. I send him around Come By! He heads clockwise and cuts off the Belties. AWAY TO ME! He heads right and cuts off two stray black and white mamas and one steer. He runs circles around them, in a last ditch, final assault, Bruce Willis Vehicle sort of slap dash fashion. He knows he is beaten. He is climbing Mount Vesuvius looking down behind him at a vibrant Pompeii in the distance. We manage to start the animals back to the open gate where AD beckons with a tractor. She makes a fatal mistake. She heads toward the feeder to put in the hay. The feeder is way up the hill. The cows turn back once again.

This time, there is no stopping them. They take a left and start heading down our driveway. All the way down the driveway. Probably a quarter mile down the driveway. Now, all this time, Im racing to keep up with the cattle, and everytime the see me sprint, they stampede even faster. Calmness begets calmness, but there is no time for calm. They are almost to Cross Section Road. And if they get there, the next stop is Tyrone Road. And then, perhaps 2 miles to Rt. 140. And then its either Taneytown or Westminster and probably a run in with the local sherriff's department who are itching to try out their new riot gear. It doesnt get any uglier than that scenario. HELL BENT FOR LEATHER! WISHING MY GAL WAS BY MY SIDE! MOVE EM ON!




Fortunately, I see a car. A toyota. For a fleeting moment, I think they are going to pass by. But...they stop and go into reverse. And they turn into the driveway. And the start honking. And miraculously, the stampede comes to a halt and the cattle reverse course and its full steam ahead back towards the farm.  Shirley, 80, and Cyrus, 94 have saved our cattle!!!  I wave my thanks and an OK sign and head off back down the driveway, which is a gravel road in the middle of a corn field, with Frank the border collie in hot pursuit. I walk. I aint got it in me at this point.

The cows head back and as they turn the corner down the driveway they start calling for their calves. They head back to the open gate. And they stop. To graze. The damn things are hungry.

I slap and push and prod, and FINALLY, one of the cows heads in to the pasture, and the rest follow. With me pushing them on the behind.

And thats when I notice that the brand new hoop house, chicken tractor that I built on Friday has been tossed like a kite about 50 feet and there is a pile of 50 chickens sitting in the middle of the garden. And the chicken tractor is smashed up. So we spend the next hour chasing down White Rock chickens who are in heaven foraging for worms and the peas we just planted, and picking up the Cornish Cross who are too heavy to move, and putting them back into the chicken tractor which now is in need of some serious damage repair. Its not quite totaled, but its close.

And thats when I notice that Im out of my mind with this hoop house stuff. Im going to switch gears and go to a day range model for raising these broilers. Im going to have some semi permanent range houses built and Ill pull them once a month or so with the tractor to a new paddock. I dont want to deal with anything that blows over in a tiny thunderstorm ever again.

Shirley called us to ask if our cows were ok.  I thanked her profusely and we had a great laugh. Cyrus isnt getting along too well lately, he is 94, but he used to be a hog farmer.  They knew the former owner (before the owner we bought from) and were extra glad to hear we were farming. Of course, Ill be calling them again the next time our cows get out.  They are calm under pressure, Shirley and Cyrus.

And Im getting a beer.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Clarice...the lambs...

Well, two ewes down, two more to go. I walked into the barn to check on the ewes and there was a spotted lamb, brown and white, dried off and hopping around. And two momma ewes bleating. Uh oh. Where is the other lamb. The other lamb was behind one of the posts and both ewes were licking and making noises at the babies. But whose was whose? I sat and watched them for a while before realizing that the bigger ewe was just starting to deliver her twins, and the other ewe had already had hers. I put the mom and twins into a lambing jug and set out to watch the next birth. Emily and Kevin came running and we all watched the next mom push out twin ewe lambs. First the feet, then a nose, then sploosh, done. Emily was grossed out by the amniotic fluid in the bag as it was haning there from the mom. Kevin didnt care. We named the first one Baaaabara. We are still deciding on the second one but Im pushing for Clarice. The second lamb presented backwards, normal for sheep, but since I was there and the mom seemed to be going a whole lot slower with the second lamb, when the feet were 6 or 8 inches out, I helped with a slow quarter turn and a steady pull as the ewe pushed. Easy as pie. Lamb Number 4 slid right out. Clarice, I should say. The ewe lambs are much smaller than the first two ram lambs. I put jackets on the ewe lambs. The rams were too big for the jackets I had. The moms are doing fine. Both are eating and the babies are nursing. Ill have to get up the gumption this weekend to do the castrating with the elastrator band. Another first. Its always much easier the second time.

Plus, Im a guy.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Ducks are FREE!!!!!!

Here are our 12 ducks safe in the electric fencing at the end of December.
On Sunday we had a grand plan- this usually means Mike or I have an idea and we talk about it for 1-2 minutes and then we declare the plan sound and move right into implementation of the plan (total time 10 min or less from idea to implementation).  We decided that it was time to let the ducks be free range.  We bought the ducks because we thought it would be cool to have ducks in our pond and the pond was calling!

These last few photos are a little out of order, but here are the ducks in their new home!

It took a while to convince them to go into the pond.  At one point they jumped in the water and then turned around to head back to the fenced in area.

But after a few tries they finally realized they were in a REALLY BIG tub of water and they splashed around for a few hours.  We will still need to feed them every day and we hope they stay in the middle of the pond when the fox and coyote come around.  But the pond now looks as it should and all is balanced at the Green Akeys Family Farm.  The ducks looked soooooo happy to be in water and we again spent 30-40 minutes watching them.  We do a lot of watching of animals and taking pictures on our farm :)   Feel free to come on over and watch our animals with us--- it's absolutely fascinating.  Did you know that cows take turns 'babysitting' each others calves-- it's amazing to watch-- but that's a story for a different post.

Here is Frank doing his job getting the ducks to the pond.  He's not as gentle with the ducks but with the right coaching he does fine and the ducks get where they need to go.  He absolutely loves to work and herd anything, anywhere, anytime.  
I also have a really hard time when Mike gets to give him commands and I have to watch on the sidelines.  I really love working with Frank and I've been trying to teach him to STAND and a slow, slow approach on the sheep in tight areas rather than his typical fast paced herding.  He does a good job listening to me and it's absolutely addictive.  If we ever decide to let Dot have puppies, I'm keeping one for me..... what's one more dog?

Everyone always asks what's next...

PIGS!!!!  3 pigs to be exact.  We know where we are getting them and now we have a barnyard (as of Monday) maybe I'll be able to convince Mike to get them this weekend?????
After that, we can get the Guardian Livestock dogs, and then maybe 1 dairy cow for fun.......and then some rabbits..... he-he.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Shirley Joe is itching to GO......

Note: events and statements in this blog entry were actual statements made today-- but the order to the story and slight embellishment are taken at the liberty of the author.  

I felt like making the title rhyme.  I love to rhyme and so today is Rhyming Blog day!!!  I encourage everyone to try it.

There once was a rooster named Shirley Joe
Who every day at 5:00am would crow,
Shirley Joe as a chick was so nice and sweet,
But he attacked Margaret this morning so he'll soon be meat.......

Margaret went up to check on the Shirley Joe clan today and she came back saying that Joe wouldn't let her check the nest boxes.  I told her to take the step-in post(long 3-4 foot post) with her and go back but just hold it in front of her for defense.  He stays about 3 feet away when I did that this weekend so I thought I knew best (NOT!) 

So the next thing Mike and I see is Margaret doing some Jedi style maneuvers while Shirley Joe is flying up and attacking her.  Mike of course doesn't sense Margaret's fear and yells "Don't bruise the meat!"  She hurdles over the fence and down to mom and immediately lets the tears flow.  

I leaned over to kiss her check and dry her tears off and whispered in her ear ever so gently,
 "Do you want to eat him?".  
"Yes Mommy.  Can I cut out the guts?"

And here I thought we'd become vegetarians......

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pullet Eggs

What is a pullet egg, you may be asking yourself....
The hen that laid the green egg on the left is a 2 1/2 year old hen. Her eggs are full size.
The egg on the right is really our first official egg from a hen that we raised ourselves from a baby chick. That pullet hen is about 24 weeks old. They start laying cute little eggs for a few weeks (I have no idea how many weeks) and then the eggs slowly get larger.
We set a new record at the farm and got 21 eggs from the 'old flock' and 1 pullet egg from the Shirley Joe clan. 22 eggs in one day!!! Mike is gearing up for the egg selling business. If you are new to the blog, then send Mike a note and he'll get you set up with a sample dozen eggs. It's highly likely you'll be hooked so fair warning. ( and hopefully it doesn't turn into a 60 acre farm project as it did for us...)

I may be posting a picture of Shirley Joe very soon on this site as a goodbye photo. That rooster has attacked me 2 times now. I gave him a stern lecture and explained that if he continues to fly up and attack me, I will have no problem asking Daddy to start up the scalder and eat him for dinner that very day. I don't think I got through to him (he is like a teenage boy right now so he's not really listening). I'm going to give him a few more chances. If not, he's been warned.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

One down, one to go

Mariah had her calf this morning. A black and white heifer calf. She must have been born last night because at 7 this morning she was already all dried off and clean and running alongside mom. Im guesssing around midnight or so. It takes a good 3 or 4 hours of licking at least to clean off those calves. And thats with me only helping a little. It takes days to get the taste out of your mouth though.

Photo to follow later this morning.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Beltie Babies

Here are a few photos to tide you over until I get some more baby photos taken...

Sickening cuteness

Sandy the second calf born

Valerie and Sandy frolicking in the pasture

Valerie staring at the chickens

Clark, the baby bull. (Formerly known as Lucy)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Tomato Seeds!!!!

These 2 pictures make my heart race.  These are my packets of tomato seeds.  I have 180+ varieties of tomatoes- at last count.  The packet in back - The Amish Paste Tomato is my favorite all around tomato.  Fabulous sweet/tangy/fresh flavor, low seeds and just gorgeous. 
I am excited to try the Ramapo Tomato that I've read it's a fabulous 'normal looking tomato' that is just packed full of flavor.   More than 50 varieties are heirloom tomatoes and about 85% are from organic seeds and the others not certified organic are from reputable farms that are small but are dedicated to the preservation of seeds and certain strains of tomatoes.  I have tomato seeds called Dot tomato and Lillian's tomato-- in honor of our new dog and my grandmother. I also got some tomatoes that are supposed to be heart or strawberry shaped (this one is not organic and a hybrid but it just looked so cool that I had to try it).

I've been holding off on planting tomato seeds because they grew so well last year that unfortunately my plants got leggy and I didn't get the volume I should have off of each plant.  I am going to do 2 trays of 600 seedlings this weekend.  If they all do well, then we'll sell them at a farmers market in early May and let others enjoy the wonders of these fabulous tomato varieties.  In 3 weeks I'll then start another 1,200 tomato seedlings.  I think that I'll end up only planting about 600 or so tomato plants (for reference, I planted about 200 plants last year). 

The eggs are also starting to really roll in......15 eggs a day is the new average and we hit 18 eggs 2 days ago.  We won't start officially selling them widely till April/May when the newer birds are also laying but if you'd like to get a dozen or a batch of 18, then email Mike at
A few folks have already accused Mike of being an egg dealer.  He gets you in with a free dozen eggs and then you are hooked and calling for more.  Eat fresh eggs at your own risk.  This is how we started out and it lead to a 60 acre farm and 300+ hens.  My name is Annette and I am an egg addict.....

Monday, March 2, 2009

Soil Blocking

I am using a new method this year for growing transplants for the garden.
This is called a soil blocker.  It has twenty 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch soil blocks.
You push the block into soil.  I used Fort Vee Light from the Vermont Composting Company (not sure on the name of the company and I'll double check that later).  It needs to be pretty moist to work well and I found that it worked even better if I pushed the soil into the compartments with my hands.  You them put the blocker in your tray and push down on the top piece and pull up the block.
The result is that in a regular sized flat you can get 300 (if all are perfect) little pockets to start your seeds.  The benefit is that if you are growing them on top of a seedling heat mat and using lights to aid in germination, it would take you 4-7 trays for the same amount of seedlings with regular sized starters.  The square design also aids in root growth.  The roots grow out instead of in a circle which happens in typical starting systems.  Because the roots also have no boundary, they take root quicker when placed into the next soil block or into the ground.  

I found that the best way to cover the seeds was to put some more dry soil on top of the seeds and then mist the tops with a spray bottle.
Once you've got a germinated seedling, you then use the bigger 2 inch by 2 inch soil blocker and you place the 1/2 transplant into the center of the 2x2 block.  I have not done this step yet, but I'm getting close with my onions that I started last weekend.  At the point that your seeds are germinated, you can then move them to an area that doesn't require a heat mat and you can use a little less direct lighting.  I have to figure out where I am going to put all my 2x2 sections.  I am using the basement right now but I'm going to need to reorganize and clean up the counters as I will need a lot of counter space.  And I mean a lot of counter space- thankfully the basement work area has a really nice setup.  Next year I hope to have a greenhouse so it will make this so much easier, but for this year I'll need to deal and work with what I have.   
Here are some of the onions starting to come up.  I found that the side areas were staying nice and moist but the center blocks were drying up.  I am now misting the center blocks with a spray bottle of water once a day and more of the seeds are germinating.

The entire process for 1 completed tray takes me about 30 minutes at this point but I think the bigger blocks will be a faster process.  I enjoy the quiet work of seed starting-- to me it's very calming.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


We will never intentionally lamb in February or March.
April or May make so much more sense -unless we are missing something that all the other breeders seem to know.

Newborn lambs are fragile creatures in the wind and cold as we are finding.
We lost a lamb ram this morning.  We aren't sure when the momma had her baby-- could have been at 2am while it was snowing or at 5am and it just got cold quickly, but she was way up the hill and we didn't see her till making rounds in the morning and by then it was too late.  

It's also going to be cold the next few days so we moved momma and Wag'n back to the barn and picked out 4 of the ewes that looked the most pregnant and took them up to the barn.  They are not too happy about hanging out in a small area with the goats but it'll have to do till next week when it is warmer.  We know that there are 2 more sheep in the pasture due in 2 weeks and from the flock that we don't know due dates it looks like there are 1-2 more that could be pregnant.  We also created a smaller pasture near the house and the other ewes are going to have to stay in that area as well so we can keep an eye on them.  

This is just all way too much work for Feb/March lambs.  Much better to lamb when the grasses are growing tall and the nights are warm-- April/May/June.  We'll be changing that schedule next year and if we buy any new animals then they need to calve or lamb when its warm.

It was actually just heart breaking today to see that momma going up the hill where she had the lamb and bleeting over and over and calling to her baby in the hopes that he would bleet back.  The other ewes were also mourning for her in a way.  They've never really come close to me when I'm out in the field and a few came over to see me today and 'talk' to me.  It was very strange-- very strange.  So I did what felt right, I went over by the group and I talked to them.  I said how sorry I was and sad as well.  I just hung out and talked to the ewes for 4-5 minutes.  

I wonder if I'll be a vegetarian someday....