Tag Archives: meat rabbits

A spring in our step

A few signs of spring, and the beginning of the growing season:

Here is our newest doe Cookie, daughter of Snacks:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd here are a few of her babies, all black and brown:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn spite of my lack of farm, I have started my onions at least.  I think these are Red Long of Tropea….

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI built a couple of 24″x48″ heat mats out of 1×2, plywood and incandescent rope christmas lights.  Economical (about a third of the cost of similar sized heat mats).  For seed starting in the basement they work great, in my tiny drafty greenhouse they need a little supplemental insulation or cover (I use plastic draped over the table) to stay warm in weather like we are having today (39 degrees and rainy).  Here is a link on how to build them (one edit:  I’d cut the 1×2′s to 44″, not 40″).  The downside of these is monitoring, they are not on any kind of thermostat, so the ones in the greenhouse will have to be monitored on warm sunny days.  Or I can put them on a timer once things start to warm up.

Unlike today, yesterday was beautiful, and the bees were flying.  I lost one hive this winter, but the other two look good!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is the warre colony, they are on year 4!  But I shouldn’t speak too soon, we are not out of the woods yet.  I never really relax in spring until the maples bloom, but so far everyone has plenty of stores.

Hope your bees and seeds and babies are doing well!

Bee Season

The grass is growing, the bees are flying, the trees are budding, the spring chinook are in the river, and that all spells one thing to this beekeeper.  Swarm season!  I plan to stash a couple of swarm traps out at the little farm-to-be this week (which is late!  I should have them up already!).  The earliest swarm I have heard of around here was on Easter Sunday, and that is next weekend!

For those of you new to beekeeping, swarm catching is a great way to expand your apiary.  It is also good to know how to catch your own bees if/when they swarm.  If you have never done it before, go with an experienced beekeeper once or twice to see how it is done.  I often teach a swarm catching class this time of year, but thought I would post for the world at large my swarm kit and some good basic recommendations for the would bee swarm catcher.  All of this is common sense information, but good to refer to when bee fever is in full swing.  A few good questions at the start can save you a lot of time and gas money.bees closeup

BE AN AMBASSADOR FOR THE BEES

  1. Be courteous, calm, confident, and prepared to answer a lot of questions about bees.
  2. Don’t get in over your head.
  3. Don’t commit to removing the bees unless you are absolutely sure you can, and don’t feel obligated to put yourself in unnecessary danger.  You are a volunteer, not a superhero. Tell people you will do your best, but make sure they know that you can’t fly, for example, and that those bees 40 feet up in a tree really pose no threat to anyone.  Use phrases like “I will check it out and remove them if I can” instead of “I will take care of those bees for you”.
  4. Save yourself a lot of unnecessary driving around by asking a lot of questions before you go (see below).  Ask the property owner to call you if the bees leave before you arrive.
  5. Make sure the relationship is clear.  There are some kooks out there that want to charge You for removing their bees for them.  If people offer money I often suggest they make a donation to Zenger Farm  or the Xerces Society if they want to help bees.  Or you can accept it to cover some of your costs….
  6. Carry some printed information to hand out to people if they want it.  Make sure your contact info is on there, as other swarms may occur in the same area (or you might have left something behind!).

SWARM KIT

 

  1. Ventilated cardboard box or spare hive body.  Make sure it has a bottom, lid, and an entrance/exit that you can seal up for transport!  I use #8 (1/8th inch) hardware cloth and duct tape to seal the entrance….make sure the bees get plenty of air!
  2. Protective clothing:  I use a Tyvek suit tucked into boots, gloves, and veil.
  3. 1/1 sugar syrup spray in a spray bottle.  Mine usually has a few drops of lemongrass and mint essential oil.
  4. Ladder
  5. White sheet (lay this under the swarm and the swarm box to prevent bees from getting lost in the grass and stepped on)
  6. Time.  The process can take an hour or two, not including travel.
  7. Bee Brush, dust pan, sheetrock knife (this is less annoying to the bees than a brush if used gently).
  8. Duct tape (for sealing up box/hive body for transport).

    Swarm in my apple tree

    Swarm in my apple tree

Non essentials that are nice to have:

9.  Benadryl and Epinephrine just in case….

10. Loppers/pruners/pruning saw.

11. Long handled broom.

12. Bait for the box:  lemongrass essential oil, old brood comb.

13. Assistant (if possible).

14. Referral Cards and Information handouts, these bees may swarm again!

15. Cell phone.

16. Bee Vac/extension pole with bucket or net/other tricky high swarm gear

QUESTIONS TO ASK BEFORE YOU GO

  1. Sure they are honeybees?  (not wasps, not bumblebees?)
  2. Sure they are swarming? (in a clump in a tree or on a fence etc, not an established colony in some cavity).
  3. How large is the swarm clump?  (if they are the size of a lemon, it may not be worth your time, if they are the size of a soccer ball then…Bonanza!).
  4. How far off the ground?  (people are terrible at judging this, but if it sounds like you need wings then don’t go unless they have a cherry picker to loan you).
  5. How long have they been there?  Minutes?  Hours? Days?  (This question will often sort out the swarms from the structural removals and established colonies in bee trees)
  6. Location:  Street address, contact person’s phone number, description of exact location (“in the apple tree in the front yard right at eye level”) if the property owner cannot meet you there.

Don’t forget to ask that they call you back if the bees leave before you get there!

This information is only partial, I would take a class or at least have a good handle on bee behavior and the biology behind swarming, and go with someone who has experience a few times if possible.  I am currently reading the book Honeybee Democracy by Thomas Seeley, which I would say is a must read for anyone wanting to set up swarm traps or bait hives.  Here is another excellent reference on catching swarms (and I think Matt has now caught more than anyone I know!) from the Beethinking Website.

And finally, of course, you must be fashionable when catching swarms.  Diamonds are perhaps a bit much, but pearls (and cowgirl boots!) go with any occasion.

bee fashionistas

In other news:  the cart is finished, it turned out great and is currently being tested out at Square Peg Farm.  I will post about that soon…like when I relocate my camera.  Also, we got our first batch of baby bunnies last week!  So far I have counted seven, but they should be out and hopping about in a few days.  Happy bee chasing!

the gift of anticipation

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.

A. A. Milne

It is almost March, and western Oregon, bless it, brings spring early.  I can smell it, even before the viola odorata blooms in my local park.  Here are a few things I am already enjoying, by looking forward to them:

Giving this old barn and pasture some critters to shelter and feed (well patrolled by Sancho).

sancho patrols the barn

A new batch of baby bunnies (Momma buns had her first date of 2013 two weeks ago…Snacks is next.) In a month I should be enjoying views like this:

white bunnies

Purple peas are germinating in the greenhouse, soon to be planted in the garden.

purple peas

And, I bought a spring form pan!  I literally have never owned one.  Looking forward to lots of tasty tarts in future.  This is my first ever cheesecake.  It was lemon, and excellent. (Apologies for the terrible flash photo).

cheesecake

Spring is just around the corner!  Hope you are enjoying the anticipation as much as I am…..cheers!

Hello Hello

pretty washington county

pretty washington county

 

So, turns out looking for property can be pretty stressful and distracting….who knew?  We are meeting with some sellers this very afternoon about a property that is pretty unique….if the meeting goes well I promise to post more details, I just want to save you all the roller coaster ride of hopes lifted, hopes dashed.  The real estate market has slowed for the holidays, so not much new will come on the market until after the new year I am guessing.  Stay tuned….hopefully we will be out of the hunt by then :).

In other updates…since my last posting in October (yikes!  Where have I been?) Momma’s kits have grown up and will be harvested this week.  Snacks had 8 babies, one of which didn’t make it, but the other seven are in the three week old super adorable stage and are healthy and hoppy.  Two are darker shades of silvery brown, a really unique and beautiful coloring similar to their mama’s, but with black points instead of tan, and more of the silver coloring of Snacks’ Champagne D’argent heritage.  She will have raised 17 kits to Momma’s 20 for the year.

The garden is soggy and sad, but still producing some arugula and other greens, though I am not picking much now as growth has slowed to almost nothing.  Once the days start to lengthen in January and Feb we should be back in some salads from the cloches.  Cover crops all look good, and I also expect them to take off once the days start to lengthen.  The bees are tucked in their hives for the winter, taking cleansing flights and hanging out on the landing board when weather permits.  We still haven’t had a real hard frost in Portland yet, so there are unbelievably still some yellow jackets about, and the Dahlias and asparagus ferns have not yet died back.

I wish everyone the happiest and healthiest of holidays!  Here is my eggnog recipe, in the spirit of the season.

This serves 10-12.  Make sure you have a generous punch bowl to serve it in, as it triples in volume to about a gallon and a half.

12 dozen eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

6 cups whole milk

2 cups cream

2 cups bourbon

3/4 cup brandy

2 tsp nutmeg

Separate the yolks from the eggs, and beat the yolks and sugar together in a stand mixer for about 10 minutes until the consistency of butter.  S-l-o-w-l-y mix in the bourbon and the brandy.  Put in the fridge to chill.  About a half hour before you plan to serve, stir in the milk and the nutmeg.  Put the egg whites in the stand mixer and beat until stiff peaks form.  Fold into nog.  Put heavy cream in stand mixer and beat until peaks form.  Fold into nog.  Serve immediately garnished with freshly grated nutmeg on top.

Ho Ho Ho!

Heartbreak, and updates.

Wow, I really thought we had found the farm and was hoping this would be The Post…..then the deal started getting weird and then it fell through.  Looking for property is  just like dating.  You are initially attracted, and see the potential.  You get a little closer and see the flaws, and second guess.  Then at some point you either don’t call back or you start to fall in love and jump in.  If you do jump in and get rebuffed….Ouch!  Most likely we dodged a bullet, the sellers were suddenly in a big hurry to sell the place, so who knows if there were outstanding liens, or the house was about to fall down (didn’t look like it to me, and I used to carpenter), or a LNG line is aimed down the driveway, or they just got a better offer and handled it poorly.  Anyway, we are back in the hunt.  It definitely feels like the market is warming up, which is not reducing my desire to find it any, but the good news is that means it will be easier to sell the house in town. I learned quite a bit in a short time about what it might take to transfer Points of Diversion (ie get the irrigation right applied to the well on property from the well off property), finding well logs, and what to expect and what the pitfalls might be if the seller offers to carry the note on a property, and who I might use as a real estate lawyer/pump service/well driller if I might need one.  Mainly, it was a good reminder not to panic if things start to go south or the deal starts to smell rotten.  With any transaction, you have to be able to walk away.   It will be interesting to see if the property comes back on the market, or actually sells.  Kudos to my husband, who is as disappointed as I am, for helping me keep my head and being willing to talk things through on short notice in the middle of a busy work day.  Ugh.  I do hate Drama.

 

On to happier stuff:  The garden is mostly put to bed and cover crops are in, though I am waiting for a frost to dig up the Dahlia bulbs.  I also need to put the cloches on the beds of greens and radishes.  The rains have come at last, but possibly too late for much of any mushroom hunting.  Fall break was last week and that is my usual Chanterelle picking window, and I spent it chasing farm rainbows and talking to county Watermasters.  We will have to check the Bolete patch, see if anything is doing there.  Davey went salmon fishing for the weekend in Tillamook, landed a gorgeous 16 pound hen and 12 giant Dungeness Crab (!!).  We have been pretty crabby the last few days, with Crab for dinner on Sunday, Salmon with Crab hors d’oevres on Monday to celebrate our farm joy when we thought we had an accepted offer, and Crabbit deluxe last night to soothe our farm woes.  Dungeness may be replacing Rock Lobster in my heart as Preferred Crustacean (sorry Mom!  But when in Rome….).

On the Bunny front, Momma had her last batch of kits for the year, 5 adorable fuzzballs. 2 black, 2 spotty, and one Blanc de Hotot.  The black ones have adorable little white stars on their foreheads.  She is a good producer, this makes 20 kits for the year!

Snacks was also (finally!) mated for the last time, and should be due in about 3 weeks.  I have converted a pet carrier into the Dating Cage, and it works great.  She hopped right in, I left her in the Buck’s cage in her carrier for a few hours to get reacquainted, and then let her out for about 10 minutes.  The bunnies had their fun, then I brought back the carrier, she hopped right in, and back to the home cage she went, no muss, no fuss.  And no scratches on my arms, either.  I didn’t really want to wait this long to breed her again but she was pretty thin after the last big batch of kits….so I fed her up for a couple of additional weeks to get her back in condition.  We will see if she kindles, and if so how many.  She is the nicer rabbit, but this year so far has only produced 10 kits.  She typically cranks out 8 or 10 per kindle in high season (late spring and summer), she may take another break with a small batch this fall, we will see how she compares with Momma when all the chips are in.  Cute and sweet as Snacks is, I may have to use Momma’s offspring for future breeders over hers if we do ever expand the bunny operation.  Although really I should also weigh all the fryers before I make any final judgements.
I can tell winter is really on its way, the gas fire place is the first place I go to warm up when I get home and I have a new gallon carboy bubbling away on top of the fridge.  This time it is fermenting hard cider from the home tree.  Happy almost Halloween!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fall is the time for apples

you can guess how long an apple tart lasts around my house

We had a great crop of apples this year, in spite of the long wet spring.  A lot of trees in the neighborhood got pretty scabby, and I had my first instance of fire blight that I have ever seen (in my vast 12 year experience with two apple trees).  In spite of the disease pressure, the intense insect pressure (my neighborhood was formerly an orchard, and there are a LOT of old untended fruit and nut trees) and the cold spring we had a perfect weather window for pollination.  The Prima apple, which has a tendency to bear biannually anyway, was loaded with fruit, and I thinned it 3 times.  I still can’t make use of all the apples unfortunately, in spite of canning applesauce, freezing slices for future pies, and pressing 100 pounds for cider, I still have ground up 6 five gallon buckets worth of windfalls.  The bunnies get apples every three days or so, and so did the chicken until I “passed the salt” last week to Square Peg Farm.  It makes me wish we had a pig to finish.  The Prima is a very disease resistant early-midseason (early Sept) apple that makes fair to middlin’ pie, sauce and cider.  It is ok to eat out of hand, but nothing special, and it doesn’t keep for very long.  My other apple is a mid season (mid-late September-early October) called Fall Russet.  It is supposed to be an excellent eating and cider apple, though this is the first year it has borne any kind of harvest.  The apple is small, homely, with a rough potato like skin, and it browns almost immediately upon cutting, but it tastes beautiful (which is why I planted this variety in the first place).

Fall Russet apple

This tree is more susceptible to scab and other apple plagues, and my insect pressure is so high it is hard to keep apples for any length of time unless they have been footied to keep the apple maggots out or chilled to keep the bugs dormant.  I footied a few, we will see how they do.

Fall russet with footie

Of all the things I have tried to grow using organic methods, I have to say apples are far and away the hardest.  The list of viruses, fungal infections and pests for this fruit are legion.  It doesn’t help that there are a hundred trees within a few blocks that are acting as annual breeding sites for all of these pests….it is almost pointless for me to try to trap, spray, and keep my mini orchard free of windfalls.

sorry this is blurry but you get the picture. The apple on the left was ‘footied’, the apple on the right was not.

The next generation only has to fly a few hundred feet to find my trees.  That said, I love apples with all my heart, and can’t wait to plant a pie, winter keeper and cider-focused orchard!  We keep visualizing our little farm….and are going to a big harvest party this weekend where we will spread the word about our quest to 150-plus fellow revelers.  I will try to harvest the russets this weekend, and maybe press some more cider (and make my husband some birthday pie).  The Comice pear also bore a small harvest, but the tree has gotten so tall and out of hand (I have not kept up on pruning it like the apples) that most of the fruit is out of reach of my pickin’ pole.  For some reason, the bugs don’t really bother this winter pear, which is another reason to love it.
And now…bunny pics.

a good indicator of pregnitude….a well stuffed bunny nest

Snack’s last batch of kits growing quickly!

Bunny Love

Hello everyone!  Sorry I have been offline, I spent the summer looking at farms and taking as many trips as I could afford, as next year I hope to have my nose to the farm grindstone during the growing season.  Got in a great trip on the Rogue river again, and a beautiful long weekend sea kayak trip on the lower Columbia….my two favorite rivers in Oregon.  Haven’t found the farm yet….possibly because I was also doing stuff like this:

my old stamping ground, a rubber raft on the Rogue River

I thought I would do a post on breeding rabbits.  One would think that breeding rabbits is a no brainer, and mostly it is, but rabbits like every other creature have their cycles and their preferences.  Rabbit fertility is keyed into day length, and they are hard to breed when the days are short unless you have them under artificial lighting (which we don’t).  Our goal is breed our does 3 times a year:  the gestation period is 31 days and we wean and harvest the baby bunnies at 58-60 days and then mate the does again, so 9 months out of 12 our girls are working, with a three month break in the dark of the year.  We usually start breeding in February or March.

Rabbits ovulate after mating, so my theory is the less stressful the mating, the more likely the breeding will be successful and the litter of good size. We have two breeding does and one buck, and everyone lives in their own cage.  When it is time to breed we will put the doe in the “date cage”, a smaller cage that we attach to the side of the buck’s enclosure.  The bunnies can visit and touch noses but not get to each other.  We leave the doe in the date cage for 2 days, which gives her time to get in the mood and the buck time to work on his pick up lines.  After two days when the doe is showing some interest we will put her in with the buck for about 15 minutes.  This procedure has made a big difference for our one Momma bunny, who really does not care for the buck at all.  Before the date cage, we would have to hold her down to be mated, which wasn’t fun for anyone.  Now, she will lie down for the buck, but as soon as she feels she has been successfully mated Momma bunny starts chasing and biting poor Poppa buns, and we put her back in her own cage.  Snacks the brown doe has always liked the buck, and she will engage in all kinds of trampy and seductive bunny behavior in the date cage when she is in the mood (this mostly involves stretching out like a playboy bunny in front of him showing him her belly and rubbing her chin on everything).  Once the rabbits are mated, the does usually lie down and “pant” for 45 minutes or so after-wards, I always take this as a good sign….hopefully it means they are ovulating.

A pregnant doe can be a very touchy rabbit, you want to keep them out of sight of the buck and reduce stress as much as possible.  Every bun is different….my books all recommend giving the does a nest box at 28 days, but I like to give the does a bunny box as soon as they are bred.  Snacks will start nesting within two days of being bred, another sign that she is successfully mated.  Momma likes to keep me guessing for two weeks usually, before she seriously starts carting hay around.

sure sign of a pregnant bunny, a mouthful of hay and a crazed look in the eye

If they do end up using the bunny box as a litter box, I just change it out at day 28 for a clean one.  In my experience once the girls have had a litter or two they know what the box is for. There are plans for simple rabbit nest boxes online, if you have an especially large rabbit you may need to scale them up.  Snacks for example, is a gloriously large girl, and has a special box to accommodate her size.  This go round she was quiet until 8 days bred, and then spent about a week building and perfecting her bunny nest.  We try to mate the rabbits fairly early in the morning, this usually leads to a night time or early morning kindling.  Right before or even during kindling, the doe will pull fur from her chin, chest and sides and line the bunny nest, making a very soft and warm resting place for her kits.  Snacks had 8 kits in July, including two brown spotted ones that are especially adorable.  Momma’s june kits are ready for harvest, we are just waiting for a break in the heat.

When the kits are about 16 days old, their eyes are open and they are just starting to hop in and out of the bunny box on their own.  I swap the bunny box for a clean one at about two weeks, and that is often when I get a first full count of the babies (before then I just check to make sure everyone is moving and alive).   In the next week the babies will be everywhere and into everything, this really is their most adorable stage.

I feed my bunnies an organic commercial feed that is fairly high protein (17%), and the does get all they can eat when pregnant and nursing.  A doe nursing 9 kits will eat quite a bit…and 9 kits at 6-8 weeks old will plow through the kibble.  The rabbits also have free choice timothy hay at all times, and I will feed them greens, rose and berry cuttings, orchard prunings, vegetable trimmings, grass, root vegetables, windfall apples and fresh alfalfa once or twice a day when available.  The kits will start nibbling at the green stuff as early as two weeks, as well as the timothy and the pellets.  I have not yet (knock on wood) had any issues with baby bunny diarrhea, though I have read it can be an issue when the bunnies are transitioning to solid food.  I check on the bunnies food and water twice a day.  When the kits are new this is especially important, as sometimes a kit (or three) will hang on to a nipple and get dragged out of the nest box before it is big enough to hop back in.  It is up to you to get those kits back into the warm bunny nest with their litter mates.  Typically does only nurse once a day, and they won’t nurse a kit that is out and about on its own.  I spot clean the cages weekly, and do a big muck out as needed or when the babies are harvested and mom is transferred to the ‘date cage’.

Future plans include trying a more communal/social living arrangement at least for the does, as bunnies are fairly social animals and enjoy the company of other rabbits.  I would also love to get the rabbits out on pasture, to get the adults more fresh food, exercise and an improved quality of life.  Our bunnies have large cages, and very stress free lives, but I can’t help but feel the chickens have a better deal, as they get to get out and run around for a few hours every day.  The other goal would be to reduce or get rid of the commercial feed altogether, as that is my greatest cost.  I know pet rabbits can easily live on vegetables and hay with no feed at all, but to come up with a good diet that can support production meat does from food that all comes from the farm…..

Another option will be to mix my own feed:  one recipe I have seen is 6 quarts oats to 1 quart each corn, sunflower seeds, wheat, and barley, if I can find all of those ingredients in bulk and organic (or grow my own…oats are easy to grow but hard to clean without equipment, but I could certainly grow the corn, wheat, and sunflower seeds).  I should be able to grow timothy hay and alfalfa (with irrigation) as well.  I would also like to pasture the rabbits, which should reduce their feed needs considerably, although it will probably slow their growth rate.  That would up my labor costs some, but if I could raise the youngstock almost exclusively on pasture, that would be well worth an extra couple weeks of hauling cages or fencing.
Pictures to follow….we should mate Momma bunny this weekend so I will try to document the date cage set up.
Also, Portland’s Tour De Hives is this saturday!  Buy your tickets, get on your bikes and visit the bees!  I will try to have some home brewed mead chilled to sample if you are out North Portland way.

swarm season begins

We finally had a break in the weather, which coincided with some sure signs of swarm season:

The bees won’t raise a new queen unless they have drones.  She won’t get fertilized on her mating flight if there are no boys hanging around the Drone Congregation Zone. Looking into the TBH/Warre mutant hive I saw fully formed drones on the combs and this weekend it was nice enough that the boys were out flying.  The big fat incoming bee with the long legs is a drone, as is the one that is head down ready to launch from the entrance.

Image

Seeing this, and that the bees were starting to expand well into the horizontal section of the hive, I added a second warre ‘super’ (the new bright looking box) to give the bees more room.  This may postpone swarming for a while, if not prevent it, by giving the workers plenty to do and the queen more room to lay.  I didn’t see any queen cells when I clamshelled the box, so hopefully they are not overcrowded yet.

The apple trees are at the pink bud stage (forgive this blurry photo), cherries and bradford pears are in full bloom, and the maples are also just starting.  I never noticed a maple tree flower until I started keeping honey bees, they are fairly inconspicuous.  I usually breathe a sigh of relief when they bloom, as I figure my hives have safely overwintered and there is now enough forage about for the bees to access easily, as there are maples everywhere and they are a significant nectar source.  I think much of the new wax combs of spring are made with maple nectar at least around here.

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The temps were in the high 60′s, the rule of thumb is the queen won’t fly below about 68 degrees.  Sure enough, the one dead out hive I had this year (one of the Warre’s out at Big Table Farm) had a swarm move in on Easter morning.  Thank you Easter bunny!  My friend Matt also had his first swarm call of the season on Easter as well.

Speaking of easter bunnies, Snacks kindled last week.  In the past she has been the big litter bunny, this year she decided to start off the breeding season in a low key way, with just two.  This is what a bunny nest looks like, she pulls fur from her double chin and her belly to keep the babies snug and warm (this also makes it easier for the kits to nurse):

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I think both of these bunnies will be black, I will take pics of them when they are fully furred and hopping out of the box on their own next week.  They are waaaay down in there, snug as snug can be.

The other kits are growing like weeds, they eat about 25# of feed a week right now, plus hay and grass and garden vegetables.  Momma is still nursing them, she looks like she is being mauled by a gang of teenagers when she does.

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Happy Easter, Happy Spring!

Sunny window

At this time of year, any sun break that lasts more than 5 minutes brings us all outside.

Bees are flying and collecting pollen.

The bunnies are growing.

Dogs are paging for bellyrubs.  Or just basking.

Tomatoes are up, and have been moved to the greenhouse, where they are getting seriously hardened off (we have had snow, hail, and unseasonably low temps in the last week).

And I got the peas planted, not quite on President’s Day, but close enough.  I do love the ease of planting peas in soil blocks, I just dig a trench the depth of the blocks and pop them in and cover.  The 2″ spacing is just about right for peas.  I use 4×4 concrete reinforcement mesh for trellis (also for low tunnels, just cover with plastic or reemay and stake down).

Hope you have a sunny day wherever you are!

soil blocking

I posted about soil blocking last year, but it is that time again!  In the name of reducing plastic here are some photos of the process.  The mix is a ratio of potting soil, peat moss, compost, sand, and a dash of lime.  Roughly a ratio (in order mentioned) 5-3-2-1 plus a dash of lime. I eyeball it, and I have a recipe written down somewhere, these numbers may not be fabulously accurate.  You will have to experiment depending on your materials.  There are several good websites on this topic, here’s one.  Here’s another.  Worm castings are also an excellent addition.

the wheel barrow is an excellent mixing receptacle

The potting soil is the least expensive and easiest component to acquire, you just want to make sure it isn’t too coarse.  You need a pretty fine texture to make good blocks that hold together.  The peat moss is for lightness and water retention.  Compost adds slow release nutrient, if it is home compost I would screen it well and make sure it is fully rotted and broken down.  The sand (or perlite) lightens the soil, the dash of lime balances out the acidity of the peat moss.  You are compressing two or three times the amount of material into a soil block that you would put into a seeding tray, so the sand or perlite is key for enabling the block to take up water easily even though the block is so dense.   I add warm water to the mix, for some reason peat moss absorbs warm water more readily than cold.  Plus it is more pleasant to mix.  You want the consistency to resemble cooked oatmeal, so considerably wetter than what I typically put into seedling trays.  If cold water is all you have, mix and let stand for a few hours before blocking.  Once the material is mixed, dip your blocker into a bucket of water and shove and twist it into the mix until all the cells are stuffed full.  Scrape the excess off on the edge of your container and then block into your tray.  I use a capillary mat (the felty stuff under the blocks) but I think you can get away without one.

Finally, you want to space the blocks out so they don’t touch, this way your plants will air prune their roots instead of growing into each other.  I will repot these tomatoes into quart containers (I often use old yogurt containers or sawed off milk cartons) before transplanting out, as they have to be pampered and kept warm until May.  Most other things I start in blocks go straight into the garden.  Here is a shot of a homemade block tweezer (those of you who carpenter, another excellent use of the shim).

And here are the block tweezers in use:

At the moment I only have the 2″ 4 cell blocker, they make a bigger stand up version for large scale production, and you can make blocks in several sizes.  This is a good general size for most of my needs.

Then the blocks are seeded up and go to the germination stand in the basement:

I have also tried my hand at making yogurt, as I just got a gallon of Amazing milk from Charlotte at Champoeg Creamery.  Yogurt keeps longer, and I eat it for breakfast most weekdays, so it is a good way for me to use up a gallon of milk without having any of it go bad.  Charlotte handles her milk meticulously, so it usually keeps for a couple of weeks.  We also made a fantastic gratin for dinner the other day.  This is a completely different beast than homogenized milk.  Anyway, here is everything you need for making yogurt:

That’s it.  A quart of milk, (this should work with store bought milk too), a tablespoon of live culture yogurt, a small cooler, a heavy saucepan, a thermometer (optional really), and some extra jars.

Heat the milk to 180 degrees, stirring occasionally (ie scald the milk, by heating until fine bubbles form around the edges of the pan and it is just too hot to touch).  Then let cool to 140 (just warm enough to dip a clean finger in comfortably) and stir in the tablespoon of yogurt.  While the milk is heating, boil a kettle of water and pour the boiling water into a small cooler to preheat.  Fill the jar you are going to make the yogurt in with hot water from the tap to preheat.  Once the milk has cooled to the point where you can add the yogurt dump the hot water out of the cooler and pour the milk mixture into your preheated quart jar and seal with a clean lid.  Fill your other quart jars with hot water from the tap (not too hot to touch), put lids on those and place them in the cooler as well.  You can wrap your yogurt jar in a clean dish towel if you like.  Put the lid on the cooler and place in a warm area where it won’t be disturbed for 8-12 hours.  Voila, delicious yogurt is yours, and it will keep in the fridge for weeks.  Starting with a fabulous product like Charlotte’s milk produces a homemade yogurt that really is miles above anything you can find at the store.  Truly nectar of the gods.

I cannot tell you how delicious this is. You have to try it for yourself.

And now, because you have been so good, baby bunnies:

There are seven bunnies in there. Really!

good momma

cheers!