A quick update

Spring has been extremely busy for me, so I haven’t been able to update much. But I thought I’d stop and leave a quick update on how things are on the homestead.

We finally got our wood chips in. It only took nearly three months! The chickens will be glad. We will be moving the bulk of them this weekend. We have a group of friends and family coming in to help us move them. We will be feeding them with an excess of delicious food in exchange for their labor. It looks like most of the woodchips are fir, cherry and maple. They smell lovely!

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The woodchip pile!

The garden itself is doing well. We completed the beds in time for everything to have a very late planting. As such things are a little behind, but the direct-sown seeds are growing strong! We’ve begun to harvest our lettuces, rashes and kale. The peas should be starting to pod soon and the summer plants will be going into the ground as soon as they finish hardening off.

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A blurry shot of our first french breakfast radishes

The worst problem is the tomatoes. The lights I had on them were just too close to the crowded plants in their seed cups and something started to go wrong. The huge root systems they’d developed started to fail and break near the stem, the plants started to collapse and had no room to grow into the lights and leaves began to die rapidly. I just wasn’t doing enough for them.

The majority of them have no been repotted and a few of them have been cloned by planting trimmed branches, but a lot of them have died as well. Some of them are just about recovering… But they really should have gone into the ground ages ago. Now they need to time to recover from my mistakes. Next year I will start them two weeks later. Lesson learned.

I also purchased and tried to hatch out some new wheaten Ameraucana eggs but only ended up with one chick due to various mishaps including poor shipping and a thermometer I was not used to using. A lone chick doesn’t do so well, so we got some pheasant chicks to keep it company while we wait to see if it’s a boy or a girl. They’ve been getting along great in the brooder thus far. The plan is to raise them out for holiday dinners.

And that’s a summation of the homestead right now. We’re trying to get the plants in the ground for the summer now and get the potato towers up and running. Hopefully we’ll have great harvests this year!

Inspiration

Farming and homesteading is inspiring to me. I get so much joy at looking at things running smoothly and properly. I draw a lot of motivation from looking at other people’s goals, aspirations, and the extremely cool things that they do.

Sometimes down the line I loose track of that joy. I loose track of it amidst things like trying to manage animal pedigrees and planting row crops and producing enough to justify that I am a “real” farmer and balancing budgets. It can be easy to loose some of my inspiration in among all of the red tape.

So here’s a little compilation of some nifty things I plan to do this year that are inspiring for me!

Vertical Gardening and Plant Towers

I really like the idea of growing up instead of out. While some vertical gardening (such as hydroponics in a warehouse) strikes me as wildly impractical, a lot of vertical growing can be done in a back yard and drastically increase your growing space. Hanging pots, PVC planters, trellises and the like all make for an increase in growing space without an increase in growing ground. And this year, I intend to do more of that. As the strawberry plants recover, I will thin them and put the new plants in hanging pots. I will also be trying to get some herbs running in a hanging planter made out of re purposed two liters that will hang near my awning at the back of my garage. This year I will be growing UP!

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PVC strawberry planter Photo credit: goodhomedesign

Natural Beekeeping and Honey

This is happening and it’s great! I have my bees on order and my hive is in the basement, just waiting to be assembled! We are going to be keeping bees in a Warre hive. This is a smaller beehive that’s designed with topbars and minimal inspection. Unlike the Langstroth, whose design is based around what bees will tolerate, the Warre hive is based around what bees make when left to their own devices. The size of the boxes are smaller, the empty boxes load onto the bottom of the hive, they build their own comb for the frames, there’s a lot more airflow as well. It mimics a hollow tree more effectively than a Langstroth but gives much lower yields. My hope is that the bees thrive in it!

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Warre bee hive Photo Credit – Thebeespace

Pollinator and Bee Gardening

Pollinators are extremely important to our environment, growing crops, and plant life everywhere. If I’m going to have bees, I better be more aware about providing for these ever important critters. So I will be building bigger, better bee gardens this year with lots of flowers! The goal is going to be to trim up the Magnolia and put some flowers around it out front, as well as re-do some of the landscaping around the house and plant as may bee-friendly and pollinator friendly plants as possible in the next couple of years. It will even include safe water sources for local bees, one of the things they lack (and need) the most. The hope is to provide a pesticide-free buffet for all the local critters who will desperately need it in the coming months and years.

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A bee garden! Photo Credit – helpabee

Purebred Wheaten Ameraucanas

This year, we are going to begin moving out of Easter Eggers and into a purebred flock. Our rooster is a purebred Wheaten Ameraucana and I now have a dozen hatching eggs of the same kind on order. Later in the year (possibly early next year) we will be ordering a dozen more and hatching some of our own. At that point, by next spring we will be running a flock of purebred blue egg laying chickens (possibly with a couple Australorps or Marans for eating-eggs and fun mixes). It will be exciting to finally have purebred birds!

 

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Wheaten Ameraucana Hen (and rooster) Photo Credit – Paradisepoultryandwaterfowl

 

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Quarteracrehome’s “Will” Wheaten Ameraucana rooster

Fully Pedigreed Rex Rabbits

Early this year we invested in a new buck to replace Cassanova, as we have kept two of his daughters (Lady and Sage) and would like to start filling out our pedigrees. So we now have a new buck that came to us through happenstance that is actually Bean’s grandson! We have nicknamed him Porter (as in a Porterhouse steak) and he will be our new herdsire for our rex rabbits, lending his lineage and traceable pedigree to our operation.

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SkinnyAcres Rabitry’s Porter, our new Rex buck

Companion Planting and Interplanting

This year our garden has been planned, planned again, and then planned some more. We are going to have both companion planting and interplanting on the homestead this year. Companion planting is when you plant two plants next to each other (or in alternating rows) that compliment eachother’s growth or deter pests from one another. Interplanting is related and means to grow two plants in the same space that don’t interfere with one-another’s growth. An example of this is growing beans and corn in the same space. The beans fix nitrogen for the corn, and the corn stalk allows the beans to trellis up them. One example that will be in our garden this year is growing radishes pretty much anywhere a slow-growing plant is seeded. Since radishes grow so fast, they can be harvested before they start to compete with their too-close neighbors. We will be growing as many plants this way as possible this year. Gardening is still somewhat a struggle for us, but we’re always trying to get better at it!

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Crops interplanted Photo Credit thrivefarms

And lastly;

Growing Trees!

Quarteracrehome is going to be working with Western Reserve Eco Network (a local grassroots environmental group seeking to promote sustainability, which I happen to be a part of) to grow a whole bunch of trees in empty lots in the city. These will all be either native northeast Ohio trees to help restore native forestland or fruit/nut trees to help feed the low-income urban communities around Cleveland. Some of those trees fruit trees may come tagging along back to the quarter acre. Additionally, I have several branches from my father’s Queen Anne cherry tree attempting to root in my living room. Not to mention that two of the plants that have been on this property for ages are also fruit trees and I just had no idea. So I am excited to be “branch”ing out this year! Ahahah, tree puns.

And that’s about it. Things that are inspiring me to do new stuff this year, and things I’ll be trying out. Fingers crossed that it all works out!

Flowering

Today I went out and got some lovely photos of the early spring blossoms. Warning, this post contains many high-res photos.

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Crocuses of some sort growing alongside our wild garlic

There’s not a whole lot blooming, but there’s some. We’re still a long while away from the violets, dandelions and asters that flood my lawn in late summer and fall.

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One of less than ten dandelions currently in bloom in our lawn

It’s really nice to see all the life starting to creep back into the world, though. And these early flowers can be a lifesaver for bees, especially wild ones.

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Daffodils are considered one of the best early flowers for pollinators.

I even took a few shots of the tree out front of my house. The same one you saw weighed down under snow in my last post. The lovely pink blossoms are just about on their way out. After much digging I have finally identified this mystery tree outside my house as am ornamental plum tree, either a cherry plum or purple leaf plum. Both have edible fruits in the late summer to early fall ideal for making jams. I had NO idea that this was the case, and perhaps I shall have the opportunity to taste them this year. I have my pectin and jelly jars all ready!

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Beautiful pink flowers, already shedding their petals

Also on the list of “things I didn’t know” are these gorgeous pink flowers that produced for me one whole apple last year. I was shocked. When I saw it, I thought it was some sort of bug’s nest hanging on a branch. I have NEVER seen this plant do anything before, but I knew it was in the rose family and given that it never produced a fruit, I assumed it was a rose bush, not a fruit tree. But apparently it’s an APPLE shrub!

apple2Who knew!? Maybe we will get more apples from it some day. I would like to try to graft some branches onto it from other very-early blooming apple trees and see if I can get a real apple crop! I shall be trimming it down aggressively this year, along with the plum tree. They both need a serious pruning.

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Even our Magnolia is in bloom, though it’s flowers aren’t quite so useful. They don’t even feed bees, and the tree is a mess. It’s my least favorite plant on my property.

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It can be hard to photograph in the wind.

Pretty much all of these plants were put in by the people who owned this house before the people who owned this house before us. Apparently they were a couple of old retired ladies who loved to garden. I find myself in need of upping my game. The plants they chose are generally lovely, but I want to grow flowers too! Specifically bee flowers. You may recall some of my previous posts about gardening, especially for bees, wherein I attempted to grow some bee-friendly flowering plants to ultimately end in epic failure as they were dug up by my chickens escaping the confines of their chicken pen.

Well this year, I thought I’d try again. I invested $20 in a mixed shade perennial package from Costco, same as last time. It came with five hostas, five astibles and five crimson star columbines. These are all big bee attractant plants that bloom from early to late summer. And so far, things are going OK.

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My initial investment on day 2

The plants came in plastic bags which I immediately opened, tried to sort them into generally upright positions, and then watered heavily. Recently I repotted them. Since then, the columbines have done squat nothing, they may indeed be dead completely on three of them.

But the astibles and hostas are doing MUCH better!

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The hostas in their new pot this morning

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Two of the astibles, separated and growing nicely.

In addition to these I also purchased a pair of lilac bushes that were similarly sad and pathetic upon arrival. Lilacs are good for butterflies, and sub-par for bees, but they are my favorite flowers, and all pollinators need food, including butterflies.

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Sad lilacs, the day after arrival

They have since perked up significantly and nearly doubled in size.

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Lilacs in their new kitchen-side window home!

And lastly, I also did some homesteading things while I was outside today. I started by pruning and separating some blackberry canes that were starting to overgrow.

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New leaf growth on a blackberry cane

Then I weeded the strawberry bed. The weeds were then tossed right back into the bed, root side up, to produce mulch for the strawberries. It may not look like much but the nine plants we put in last year have multiplied into a couple dozen. Depending on how well they do, some of them might be dug up, washed, and repotted for some vertical gardening I would like to do.

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And with the advent of freshly disturbed mulch, dirt and plant, the chickens attempted to lend a beak to the process.

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Chickens, invading the strawberry bed. The string to designate the area off limits to the dogs means nothing to the chickens.

So they were given a handful of wheat berries that we use to grow fodder on occasion, away from the strawberries, which kept them distracted until nightfall.

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Chickens love snacks

Making today a warm, beautiful, and otherwise rewarding day. I just still wish that the REST of my lawn wasn’t quite a swamp, so I could get right down to gardening. This weather would have been perfect for it!

Seedlings and Frosty Mornings

April 14th is our last average frost date for the year and May 1st our last extreme frost date. The weather has been wacky this year and has lead to several problems. I know that many people who farm tree-based commodities are running on panic mode right now. Our weather has been alternating between extremely warm spells (60’s and 70’s day and night) for two weeks and sudden, aggressive frosts, typically accompanied by several inches of snow. Sap season for maple syrup this year started and ended a month early, and we waved goodbye to most of the US peach crop as they bloomed with the heat and died in the frosts. Bees have been having trouble too. A lot of people are noticing the bees getting very active because of the heat, drawing out comb and eating winter stores to do so, and then when a frost hits they can’t reach their food (or don’t have enough left) and die. It’s a rough sort of spring.

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This was the view outside my bay windows last Thursday. The trees had so much snow on them, they were being pulled to the ground. Normally these flowers are well above the windows. Now it’s in the 70’s.

For me, the effects of the weather have also been substantial. My back lawn is essentially a swamp of sorts. The vast majority of northeast Ohio used to be swampland and wetlands before it was colonized by the English, and the effects of that heavy watershed still holds fast to this area. The alternating weather patterns have also been accompanied by alternating precipitation patterns, and when the water hits the ground in this area, it doesn’t leave until it evaporates into the air. There’s nowhere for it to go. This area is where the water is SUPPOSED to drain off to. As a suburb, we’re trying to get it to drain off even further. It’s not easy.

So preparing the expansion for my garden bed has, all around, been going poorly. Not only is there several inches of mud, but on top of that is inches of standing water. I was trenching (double digging) a new area of my lawn for the garden bed expansion, but I’m afraid that all I did was create a small lagoon in my back yard. I really need to rebuild those irrigation ditches this year to help drain water away.

The massive amount of water, sitting on top of the clay slab that I refer to as my lawn, is a large part of the reason why we garden the way we do. We have to amend the soil if we want to grow our staple diet needs. Clay soil floods, roots have trouble penetrating, and nothing seems to grow well in it at all. The water simply pools and sits on top, and we rely on evaporation not waterflow or absorption to lower our water table. So we build raised beds. Do note, the finished raised bed area from last year (lagoon to the fence) has no standing water. It’s still wet, but not flooded. It works.

(Broccoli and lettuce that should be planted outdoors, but it’s been too wet to
work the soil)

Good soil management plays into this a lot. We rely on fresh/arborists woodchips to play a big part in our gardening. The woodchips serve several purposes. First, they help with water management. They will absorb water when it’s wet, release the water when it’s dry, and also create pathways through the soil for water to travel, unlike the clay which simply stops it. Next, they slowly gather and hold in nitrogen, an essential nutrient for growing plants. At first, fresh wood chips are so busy absorbing nitrogen that they will leech it out of the soil, but in later years they shed the nitrogen in a form that is usable by plants in large quantities. To help mitigate the nitrogen loss, we use the wood chips in our chicken yard first, allowing it to mingle with the nigh-nitrogen content of chicken poop and start to break down. The wood chips also add biomass to the soil, not only through their own organic matter, making the soil looser and more fibrous, but also by feeding tons of microbes, insects, fungi and other things that live in the soil and help plants grow. Using the woodchips in the chicken yard also gives us an extra benefit; our chickens do not smell because their poop is neutralized by the carbon in the wood chips. It’s an extremely natural, effective, and usually inexpensive way of managing an integrated agriculture system.

But this year, the service I used to use to get wood chips delivered ($20 delivery plus $1 a yard) changed hands and is no longer offering that service. so I’ve been struggling with other groups instead. I have tried websites like Chipdrop (which was awful), I have been calling local arborist companies, etc. I have heard a lot of promises that I will get wood chips, but no deliveries yet. It’s been VERY difficult and frustrating.

As a result, it’s frankly too wet to work in my lawn to build the rest of the garden bed. Every step means sinking 2″ into the mud, every push on a wheelbarrow sees it creating ruts 6″ deep, and every shovel full of dirt comes with a flood of water. There have been no woodchips to mitigate the problem and make it manageable. So right now, I’m stuck.

I managed to plant nearly all the seedlings I was planning on for the year, and they’re ready to start hardening off. But I have nowhere to put them yet as I have compost to spread and dirt to dig before they can move into soil.

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My seed starting station in my basement, with tons of green plants, some of which can handle the light frosts outside until may, but not the flooding.

So I wait. And wait. And wait. And maybe someday my wood chips will show up. When they do, there will be a massive party at my house, both figuratively and literally as I invite lots of people over to help move some dozen of yards of wood chips and eat one of the meat chickens and some squash that I raised out last year.

But for now, there’s not much I can do. The wet and unstable weather has me unable to traverse my own lawn, and only time will tell if I get my plants in the ground in a reasonable time frame or not.

Meanwhile… Have some pictures of my chickens, being wonderful and enjoying not being penned in (since we have nothing growing).

A proper update

I’ve been stuck indoors for the past few days with a second degree sunburn plaguing my shoulders. It started as just a normal sunburn. We went to observe some potential lands for the ecovillage, and the cloudy day when it was supposed to rain turned out to be sunny. So my pale skin turned into red skin. Then, the day after that I helped my sister with some minor home repairs and property cleanup. That day I wore sunblock… To no avail. The next day I woke up with shoulders covered in blisters so hot and angry that I could not dress. The pain is still there as the skin started peeling off before the skin underneath was ready, and now it’s like my whole shoulders are covered in a thin scab from being rug burned. It hurts.

This really set me off as we had a village meeting that evening. It really highlighted my frustration with a certain point of sexism in our society, the free the nipple movement. It’s not that I’m immodest and wanna shake my titties in front of guys, it’s a matter of comfort. If it’s extremely hot out or I have something like a second degree burn across my shoulders I shouldn’t have to strap something across my boobs (and sub sequentially, my shoulders lest it fall down) just to make a bunch of guys feel better about their lack of self control. Heat is hot. Burns hurt. These are practical, physical realities for men and women. But women are required to toss some fabric on under these conditions anyhow, and that bugs me in a big way. And while the group I was part of probably wouldn’t have cared much if I went topless, I felt uncomfortable about it anyhow. I ended up just tying some fabric around my chest in a band so it didn’t touch my shoulders… But the whole thing felt dumb.
(Fun fact, men weren’t allowed to show their nips either until the 1930’s. Prior to that, men were required to wear swimsuits that covered their chest for modesty reasons. In fact, in the 1910’s men were required to wear swimsuits that didn’t cling too tightly and may have even been required to wear skirts over their boxers so they weren’t so indecent!)

Because of the burn, I was forbidden the outdoors until I could wear a shirt without flinching again, which was about 3 days. When I came out, I found my garden beds were starting to grow with a gusto…. And so were the weeds. The birds had gotten big seemingly overnight and so had the rabbits. Turns out that being absent from your farm for half a week has big impacts!

So I finally got to go weed my garden and take some photos (my camera is still broken so I borrowed a smart phone) this week. There are some exciting updates on the farmstead itself!

Remember the sad, sad tomatoes?

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Surprisingly, they all made it! Some of them are still a little on the smaller side, and some are still recovering. But there’s a huge patch of tomatoes getting bigger by the day growing in my back yard! I have started pinching suckers and blossoms from them. I’m looking to get a crop that I can harvest for canning instead of having them to eat fresh, so I’d like the plants to get extra big before they start fruiting. (I did leave a few blossoms on one plant so we could have a few to eat.)

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I have some onions that got planted very late, but are starting to grow energetically. The patch looks bare from about 10′ away, but if you get close you can see literally dozens of onion sprouts peeking through! I’ve had to remind my helpers that these are onions, not weeds.

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Somehow the corn made it. But with only two stalks, I’m not sure that they’ll actually pollinate and produce. They were pretty weedy. This whole bed has since been weeded.

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The beans and peas are on the northmost wall of my garden bed, but because my lawn isn’t on a true North South line, they are shaded for a few hours in the morning. They’re still growing robustly despite that and are very thick. They’re starting to shade out weeds growing near by.

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And speaking of shading out weeds…. The kale! The kale is growing so thickly and is producing some strong, healthy leaves! We’ve started to eat the occasional leaf on a sandwich. The weeds are struggling to grow under these crowns!

We have a few other plants not shown. The watermelons are starting to recover and spring back with lots of new growth and the strawberries are flowering again. The zucchini is flowering as well, which means delicious vegetables are right around the corner! We’ve had some very serious issues with blossom end rot in previous years… This year we planted the zucchini with a handful of crushed egg shells in the hole. Hopefully we won’t see those problems again this year. And the more wild plants like the shiso leaf, the mint, the lemon balm, the plantago and the dandelions are doing well… But they are struggling against the other, less beneficial weeds in the lawn like the cats foot. I hate that stuff.

We also have a few new faces on the farm!

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Two leghorns and two australorps came to us from another farm recently. It’s been about a month and they have finished their quarantine period.  We waved goodbye to the old leghorn (who wasn’t laying), our newest chick and our chick from last year to make room for these new birds. They’re all pullets still, under 24 weeks, but the leghorns are already laying strong and their eggs are starting to normalize in size. Soon they will be in the pen with all the other birds.

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We also have seven little chicks from some eggs we stuck under our broody. We set a dozen eggs, but like every hatch, there were some problem chicks that didn’t make it. We may even loose one of the ones we have now. It appears to have some unabsorbed yolk, or a small hernia. We brought it indoors to try to recover. Only time will tell. But six chicks is a nice number to have. And our broody hen, a blue Ameraucana, could not be prouder!

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We had our NPIP certificate renewed last month. NPIP is the National Poultry Improvement Plan. If you read my post about vaccines, you’d know that flock health is a pretty important topic to me. NPIP is a simple test provided at a low cost to check for avian influenza and pullorum typhoid. These are both very serious conditions that threaten flocks nation wide. NPIP certification is easy… A tester comes out to test your flock. You get the pullorum result immediately with a simple blood prick test, and a throat swab goes to a lab to check for bird flu. The tester does all the work, you just hand him your chickens. In a flock of a dozen birds they may test 4 or 5 birds. Then you get a certificate.

If a test comes back positive your flock may get destroyed or permanently quarantined to keep these serious diseases from spreading.

Aside from having an official lab test and government agency reassuring buyers that you have a healthy flock (and are willing to risk the entire flock on that fact), NPIP certification is required to ship birds or hatching eggs to most states. The regulations vary a little, but if you don’t have NPIP it’s illegal to take your bird across state lines or to most poultry shows.

Our tests came back clean which means we’ll be able to offer hatching eggs for sale again! Hooray!

So, a lot of exciting and positive things are happening on the homestead this week, despite my arms screaming in pain whenever I lift them above chest level.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go strap some fabric that will assuredly catch on the dry, painful, cracking skin all across these burns to appease the masses while I travel to get some chick feed.

A small update

My camera’s battery charger is missing and my phone is no longer sending photos to my email. I am quite put-out by this as it means no more good photos taken when I am home on my ownsies. I shall have to rely on Greg’s phone to take nice pictures as mine is not a smart phone. I am also missing my tablet cable which is a bit frustrating.

But my life with gremlins aside, myself and a few others spent Saturday and Sunday moving dirt with a gusto. We double-dug the garden bed, loaded it down with as much compost as we could, stirred in some vermiculite and sand, covered it with cardboard to shade and smother any weed growth from the now-improved soil and piled some wood chips near by for future mulching.

The wood chips came from my parent’s front yard where a pair of massive 50+ foot oak trees sat, fused and entwined at their base. Mom loved that tree and would be turning in her proverbial grave to see that dad had it cut down and the stump ground without a thought on what to do with all of the glorious carbon sealed away in those respectable old trees.

Luckily (through much beration of my father for not even bothering to MENTION to his kids that he was having the tree taken down when he knew I wanted the wood, and through many calls to the tree company) I managed to save some of it. A disappointing fraction of the whole. A few dozen massive logs from the top section of a pair of trees with trunks so large I could not wrap my arms around them and taller than my parents 3-story-house. A slab perhaps large enough to make an end table. And a substantial pile of finely ground wood chips from the huge stumps the trees left behind.

Those wood chips will become part of my garden bed, feeding microbes, worms and plants in turn. Those plants will go on to feed me (or my animals which also go on to feed me). And in some small way I will absorb some of the biological uniqueness of that tree into my own being… Or so some distant romantic part of me would like to believe. The chips will be the carbon to my over-loaded nitrogen heavy compost. They will be a mulch for the top to keep the water in. And a massive amount also went into the chicken pen where it will keep my birds happy and healthy.

What’s especially nice is that they are very fine wood chips, mostly being perhaps similar in size to those you might get if you hit a pencil repeatedly with a hammer. And they’ve been sitting in my driveway, aging, for a few months… Which means that they also are already starting to break down. Indeed, in many ways they look more like dirt than my compost does!

So my garden bed is ready. In a week, the cardboard will come off, the dirt will be raked, the mulch will be spread and the plants will go in the ground. Hooray! It’s a shame that in the meantime, the weather is cold and terrible.

I have been making a mad attempt to harden off my millions of tomatoes. They have been sitting on windowsills outside my few windows that get sun. Tonight it is in the 40’s so I tried to bring at least some of them in. In the process I dropped one of my plastic pots with 5+ seedlings in it off the windowsill and it broke. The tomatoes were damaged and scattered. Some may be salvageable. I replanted them all, so we shall just have to wait and see.

And we cleaned rabbit cages today. Our winter was late and only ended recently. The rabbit bedding builds up a bit in the winter because it often freezes and it’s hard to handle shovels with metal bits when it is 10*F outside. So today all the rabbits got moved into cleaner territories, and we also gave the water bottles a thorough cleaning with soap, hot water and a wee bit of bleach on the insides. One of my NZWs seems to be having some health problems with a back leg. I’m not really sure from what. It could be that she injured it in the cage bars or some other accident. It’s hard to notice because rabbits are often still when they are relaxed, but she hops a bit oddly and has trouble getting off her side. We’ll be keeping a close eye on her but it could mean a cull, which would solidify my desire to move solely into purebred standard Rex in several beautiful colors. I would breed in my remaining NZWs that have shown such robust health for a bit of diversity, and breed them out to be purebred Rex.
The only requirement for purebred animals in the rabbit world is that they meet breed standard for 3 generations. The majority of my rabbits aren’t purebred anyhow since I don’t know their history. To some people, meeting breed standard and breeding true is enough to be considered purebred, which my rabbits do. This method of record keeping actually benefits rabbits on the whole as it means that breeders can easily increase genetic diversity, health and production in different bloodlines. We don’t run into nearly as many pesky health problems from closed herdbooks as other “pure” animals do such as horses and dogs.

It would be a good shift, I think, to move into purebred Rex. I love their furs and NZWs are common enough that I could bring them back easily if I ever wanted them. We shall just have to wait and see.

Vaccines!

Today I thought I’d make a quick post about Mareks in chickens and my thoughts on the Mareks vaccine, when I realized that my thoughts on this subject spread over into my thoughts on vaccines in general. This is a touchy issue for some people. My information is factual, hard science. My opinions and actions are just that. Opinions and personal choices.

So first, some facts about Mareks. You can find most of this info right here in a well thought out article that I do not care to replicate… But here are some of the cliffnotes.

Mareks is a highly contagious and fatal virus with no cure and is not zoonotic or dangerous to other animals in the environment. The chicken version is contained to chickens and it’s really bad in chickens. It lives outside the chicken for a minimum of five months, and possibly years. It kills chickens in a horrible way, with paralysis, tumors, diarrhea, starvation, blindness and breathing issues. The symptoms fade in and out over months and kill very slowly. A chicken typically starts shedding the virus after 10 days post-exposure and shows symptoms after a month, and typically dies shortly thereafter. It can take up to six months before symptoms show after exposure to the disease in certain rare cases, though.

Now here’s some info about the vaccine. The Mareks vaccine works by offering the body something similar to Mareks to target and “learn” to fight it off. What is introduced into the chickens is the “turkey version” of Mareks, which has a similar makeup to the chicken version but can’t infect or be shed by chickens. It must be administered within 36 hours of hatching. The Mareks vaccine is NON STERILE, not to be confuse with terms like live/dead vaccines which is irrelevant. A non sterile vaccine means the vaccine does not prevent the virus from infecting the chicken, stop or slow the shedding of the virus nor cure the virus. It instead means that if the bird develops the virus, its immune system will be able to fight back and not develop the life-threatening symptoms that the virus creates because it already knows that it is a threat. All it stops is the symptoms, NOT the actual disease. A vaccinated bird can still be infected with Mareks. The vaccine used to be considered about 90% effective at stopping symptoms but more recent studies have shown that Mareks is mutating faster than vaccination can keep up with and that number is slowly dropping. In some places it’s now considered less than 80% effective, which is below herd immunity levels.

This last part is very similar to the way some human vaccines work and it’s one small piece of the puzzle of immunology. It’s part of why even if someone is vaccinated they could possibly still catch a disease, and it’s why even if we vaccinated the whole human population for 100 years we may never get rid of contagious diseases because all it takes is one asymptomatic person to spark a whole outbreak. The reality is, we may never show a symptom, but the disease might still be around. It’s why they still suggest vaccines for “eradicated” diseases that we’ve been vaccinating against since the beginning of vaccinations.

That being said, I am pretty firm on my stance. I believe in the power of natural immune systems. They’re incredible, they have the power to fight diseases like crazy and they are also genetic. If you never vaccinate a population of chickens you arrive at two outcomes. Either; A) The population of chickens catches Mareks, it’s super contagious and fatal and they all die; or B) The chickens keep living, either by having built a total natural immunity to the disease or by the disease having run it’s course long ago and no longer having had any prey the disease dies out. It may take a very long time indeed to reach one of these outcomes, but a little dose of selective breeding goes a long way. Animal husbandry is our own little micro eugenics program to breed bigger, faster, better, stronger and more immune chickens. We can also know when a disease is in our flock and eliminate all of the diseases “food” (in this case, chickens) so it dies out before it can spread. That’s what breeding IS. It is deciding who lives, breeds, and dies based on arbitrary traits and goals. Selective breeding IS eugenics.

If you vaccinate a population of chickens against most diseases you have to keep vaccinating them against it forever. This happens in humans sometimes too. We vaccinate against a disease, and maybe it is a sterile immunity, most human vaccines are sterile under the correct circumstances, which means that the immunity prevents the disease from infecting the body and the disease will never shed from the body even if they are exposed to it. Maybe some aren’t and that disease gets passed around asymptomatically forever. Maybe some people have weaker immune systems and what is normally a sterile vaccine is instead one that produces an asymptomatic carrier. Maybe a disease has animal carriers and is hard to eradicate from the environment, like flus. But the Mareks vaccine is NOT sterile EVER. If we vaccinate against Mareks we have to ALWAYS vaccinate against Mareks the way we ALWAYS vaccinate against tetanus. And the reality is that at best the Mareks vaccine works 90% of the time. The same thing goes for avian diseases like Newcastle, which is also carried by wild birds. We have to vaccinate forever, and still expect losses.

So here’s how I see it. I vaccinate myself and my dogs against fatal and common diseases. I don’t vaccinate my livestock unless the vaccine is a sterile vaccine.

By doing this I am guaranteed of one of two things in my birds… A strain of chickens with total immunity to Mareks or a flock that is completely free of Mareks. And what happens if my flock gets Mareks? The same thing that happens if my flock gets bird flu. The whole flock is killed in a comprehensive disease eradication program, all my equipment gets burned or torched and I do not put chickens on that land again for at least one year. Is that harsh? Very! It’s also the reality for people who are monitored for Avian Flu. And because of that, the Avian flu has not been spread across the whole nation killing half of the USAs chickens, possibly infecting and killing people, putting countless farmers out of work and sending the price of chicken meat skyrocketing. It’s about being responsible for the good of everyone.

But there is surprisingly no such program in place for Mareks, Newcastle or other severe and contagious chicken diseases. I’m committing myself to these actions willingly even though it may mean I loose everything for a year or more. I have done this for avian flu by becoming NPIP and I’m doing it for other diseases because I would like to see our birds in the USA either have a natural immunity to Mareks or I’d like to be able to proudly say that my flock is 100% clean. If my birds get sick, I cull them. Your vaccinated birds? Who knows if they carry Mareks or not? Am I going to bring home your supposedly “clean” bird, that acts totally healthy, and it’s secretly a ticking time bomb? I’m really concerned by the idea that 90% of vaccinated birds could be carrying Mareks and nobody would ever know it until my whole flock dies. The best part is that there’s no way (in a flock of all-vaccinated birds) of proving to me that your Mareks vaccinated birds DON’T have Mareks! And that is fine if the vaccine is dirt cheap and I want to vaccinate every single chick I raise out at hatch for the rest of humanity’s existence with no chance of eradicating the disease or growing birds that are immune to it and accepting that at least 10% of our birds die to this disease, and another 10% die to some other disease there’s a vaccine for, etc. But I think we can do better.

The price of such a program is steep, but the prices when it’s not followed are even steeper. There are countless people with their precious backyard flocks of PET chickens that come down with Mareks and they couldn’t imagine culling them, not even to protect the entire rest of the chicken population in the united states. This behavior was the start of a severe Newcastle outbreak in 2002 in California. Official reports state that it was a backyard flock with inadequate health management programs that was the source of the outbreak that spread to commercial flocks, other states, and cost farmers millions of dollars. People’s flocks of pet chickens were seized by government officials for destruction after a state of emergency was declared. All because one person didn’t cull unhealthy birds and report sickness in their flock. If someone moved in next door to me and got chickens, there would be nothing stopping them from putting unhealthy Mareks-laden “vaccinated” birds next to me and I’d never know it until my flock started dying. And if we worked together, agreed to BOTH remove our flocks for a year, and then get healthy birds a year later, we could eliminate Mareks in our neighborhood. Programs like this could eliminate Mareks from the USA entirely in a decade. And it’s simple; if your birds get Mareks, cull them. Follow good sterilization procedure, don’t put birds on that land again for at least a year, and we could see a massive eradication of a disease in a way that we will never see with the non-sterile vaccinations.

Unfortunately, too many people want to cling to their pet chickens. There are topics all over the internet about how to keep disease laden chickens alive, how to fight the government or other chicken facilities that are calling for your flock to be culled, and how to keep your chickens in hiding so that they can’t find your sick birds to kill your sweet little poopsy woopsies that happen to be costing all of the farmers around you lots of money and lives. The refrain of “Why should my vaccinated birds have to die just because you don’t want to vaccinate yours!?” is often heard and sometimes it gets countered with “Why should my healthy birds have to die for your sick ones!?”. People find themselves at an impasse with nobody to enforce or regulate a disease. We COULD do better, but unless there’s a national program for Mareks like the NPIP for avian flu, we can’t because there’s nothing TO enforce. So for now I will continue to cull for health and anyone who buys from me can be guaranteed that they are getting a healthy bird that is 100% Mareks free.

But I vaccinate my dogs and myself. Why? The first reason is because, like I stated earlier, most human vaccines are sterile, which means that even if I am exposed, the disease will not cause me to catch and shed the disease. That means that by vaccinating against the disease we are essentially seeking the natural solution of denying a disease its food source without killing people who get the disease. We are starving the disease out, and someday if every single person is vaccinated consistently for a time, we may actually see the diseases removed from the planet. This cannot happen with vaccines for things like Mareks, Newcastle and tetanus because of outside influences.

And yet I still tell people to get their tetanus shots. I got mine. My dogs have rabies vaccines and not just because of the law. The reason is because chickens are, in a way, disposable. They’re the goldfish of the avian world. You may love them, they may be smart, but ultimately they’re a small bundle of birds worth MAYBE $100 each if you have some extremely rare flock. Most people could find replacement hens for $15 a pop that are younger, healthier and produce more eggs. A year without chickens is not the end of the world. They live and die fast. A 6-month-old chicken is an adult. A 4-year-old hen is old. A 10-year-old hen is probably dead. Most people replace their hens within 3 years. What is one year without your hens? And further more, we raise them for food. No matter how much you love your mouse, chicken or goldfish… Ultimately the species is primarily raised to be eaten by something else.

But my dogs are not disposable. We chat together, they keep me sane, they are wildly sociable and designed by nature to attune themselves to my every request. They give me exercise and joy, they are robust and personable. I have thousands of dollars invested in each dog solely as a companion animal. I expect them to do what jobs they have (the occasional cart to be pulled, guarding my house, herding chickens, or carrying a backpack on a hike, etc) and eventually retire peacefully to my home. They are not disposable, replaceable animals. They may stay with me for 20 years, or a fifth of my whole life on this earth. They are not a $15 animal raised en masse for food that I would likely replace in three years anyhow.

And people fit the “disposable” bill even less so. So yes, I have avoided some vaccines for non-fatal conditions (flu shot is silly IMO) and gotten others for conditions that are more likely to hurt me (tetanus comes to mind, given my work). For me to endorse not getting vaccines for serious conditions for people is like telling someone to treat humans like disposable chickens. The price of seeking factual natural immunity is awfully steep to pay. The price is eugenics. And if you’re supporting nature and natural systems, you can look at chickens to see how much it would take for that to be effective. I’m willing to cull fifteen birds, or even one hundred birds, or a thousand, or a million, to keep a disease from spreading without vaccines. So unless you endorsing mass genocide for a species (which in the case of chickens, I am), you might wanna consider vaccinating. Because that’s how immunity works. Immunity is bred in, not magically obtained. So please, always use sterile vaccines, and you might want to consider non sterile vaccines as well. The one in a million chance of having an allergic reaction is probably worth not requiring genocide for the human race.