Monday, February 21, 2011

It is only February after all

There has actually be some "farming" activity the past couple of weeks.  I guess it is more like "farming prep", but it reminds me that the cold and snow will eventually end.  Sometime.  In the meantime, winter continues.  More on the farming prep work in a minute.

We had a nice thaw last week though.  The winter of 2010-2011 will be remembered for the never ending snow pack.  Even though we average over 120"of snow each winter, there are usually a few weeks of December or January where the ground is snow free.  Not this winter.  The snow started December 1st and continued right on through.  Thursday, February 17th, was the first day I had seen the grass in over 2 months.  On day one of the thaw, the creek behind the house overflowed into the yard as usual.  Little ol' Peters Creek was not made to hold THAT much snow.  By Friday the water had receded back into the creek banks.  I always wonder about all the rabbits and mice and moles that normally live in the creek's little flood plain and have to scramble for higher ground during snow melt season. They definitely have to adapt to what nature throws their way.

After 3 straight days with temperatures above freezing, we woke up Saturday morning to temps in the mid 20's.  The wind was gusting up near 40mph too.  I guess Mother Nature didn't want us to be too comfortable with any hint of warmth.  The creek which had been flowing freely, now had a thin covering of ice once again.  I love the patterns the ice makes and well, I could just listen to the sound of the water bubbling over the rocks for hours on end.  The three dogs and I did make it out to the woods for a hike though.  We actually spent from 10am to 3pm out and about.  As long as we stayed in the woods protected from the wind, it wasn't too cold, but after 5 hours, the dogs were happy and tired when we got back to the house. 

With the grass showing, the laying hens got to spend a couple days foraging in the yard.  I've heard from other people who have chickens that go out in the snow, but I have never had a chicken that liked the snow.  Maybe it is because our snow is so deep and fluffy that they sink in.   Maybe they would go out more if we had the type of snow that sets up a crust on top.  So on Friday and Saturday when the grass was showing, the hens happily trotted out the front door of the coop into the sunshine.  I'm sure they were wondering if they were ever going to leave the coop again.  It didn't take them very long to start hanging out in their favorite spots like under the pine trees in the front yard.  And when I got back to the house on Saturday, I had a welcoming committee on the front porch.  I am not so thrilled that they seem to like our front porch, but the dogs love the little "presents" the chickens leave behind.  I guess I am not so thrilled with that either.  No matter, there is something very satisfyingly country about having chickens hanging out on the front porch.

On the farming front, winter and spring is sprouting season.  Mike grows a variety of sprouts such as alfalfa, broccoli, garlic chives, peas, clover, corn and beans.  He sells these on the weeks that Mick and Kay go to the Shaker Winter market.  I look at sprouts as a little taste of summer goodness in the middle of winter.  A nice way to add some fresh greenery to your winter diet without having to rely on veggies trucked in from a couple thousand miles away.

Mike has also been busy pouring over seed catalogs and ordering for this year's crop.  Winter and spring is also farm auction season.  So far Mike has bought a front end loader for one of the tractors and about 60 brand new 5 gallon buckets for picking produce. 

My project this past weekend was to get the "brooding pen" in the barn ready for some day old laying chicks scheduled to arrive this week.  Due to our cold weather, I have never started chicks earlier than April.  But I've also never butchered my entire laying flock in the fall before.  I really need to get chicks started so that they will start laying by midsummer.  So this is a total experiment.  I used to start my April chicks in a set-up I had in the basement, but it is so much nicer to just have them in the barn.  But how to maintain 95-100 degrees when the outside temperatures are well below freezing?  Several years back, Mike picked up an electric brooder at an auction for around $20.  I never could get that brooder to keep a 95+ degree temp if the outside temps were cold so I've always just used a 250 watt red light heat lamp. But when Mike bought the brooder, the auction threw in this miscellaneous "hood" that went to something else.  This big clunky hood has been sitting unused in the barn until now.  I am now using it to help reflect and hold in heat from a 250 watt heat lamp.  The test run was today (outside temperature 22 degrees winds gusting over 20mph) and temps under the hood are staying right up near 100 degrees.  Ok baby chicks, your room is ready.

And because it is only February after all, this is how the backyard looked this morning.  About 5 inches of snow overnight.  So much for seeing the grass.