Category Archives: Producing Our Own Food

Whether it’s planting a garden, gathering eggs, or butchering our humanely raised animals, we strive to produce it ourselves

2019 Broody Hen Hatch Watch: Day 1

May 19, 2019

You may remember last summer when we tried to have some of our broody hens hatch some eggs for us. (You can read those posts here.)

We tried six times and only ended up with 2 chicks (both roosters, of course!). Sadly, after some research, I think a couple of those failures were from us handling and moving the eggs after day 17, which is when the eggs should be left alone until hatching. So we might had inadvertently cause some of the in-egg deaths. I’m crushed. 😟

But, we are trying again, and we know better this time.

One of our Austra-Whites, Bluebell, went broody last week. She was the mama that raised store bought chicks for us in 2017. Her sister, another Austra-White named Speckles, was the hen who successfully hatched the two chicks last summer.

Our 2018 chicks – a Black Sex-link male, and a Speckled Sussex male who is now one of our breeding roosters.

We never had any success in hatching with the three Welsummers or the Golden-laced Wyandotte who went broody, so when Bluebell decided to be broody again this year, I was happy. I know she is a reliable brooder and a good mama.

So, here we go.

We moved her to the brooder coop nest box, blocked off from the 8 week old chicks who are using the rest of the coop.

Our brooder box setup. Just shut the right door to keep the hen in, and the left one is opened or closed as needed for security or ventilation and to access food and water.

She was sitting on golf balls for a few days in order to adjust to the move before we gave her eggs.

Classic broody hen stink-eye

But after one night she had settled right in. So I figured it was safe to put eggs under her.

The next day (that was yesterday) we swapped out 9 golf balls for a dozen eggs we had been collecting from our breeding group from several days.

I’m pretty sure all the ones on the right are from our Speckled Sussex hen, Lizzie. She lays very light tan eggs, and usually it’s pretty easy to tell hers from the eggs that Feathers lays. But sometimes it wasn’t quite as obvious. Most of the ones on the left are from Feathers who is a Plymoth Barred Rock. They are both in with a Speckled Sussex rooster, Nigel. So Lizzie’s chicks will be pure breed Speckled Sussex. Feathers’ will be Black Sex-links, which means we will be able to tell immediately at hatching if they are male or female. And then there are a couple that I think are from our other Speckled Sussex in our other flock, which means they would also be pure breed. However, they could be from our Black Australorp, or our Golden Laced Wyandotte in that flock as well. In which case, the chicks would just be normal ol’ farmyard hybrids. Nothing special other than the fact that they would probably still lay some great eggs.

Hey, we should come up with a name for our sex-link hybrids. Every hatchery calls theirs something different dependant on the breeds of the parents. Black sex-links are almost always a Rhode Island Red or New Hampshire Red rooster and a Barred Rock hen and the offspring is almost always called a Black Star or Black Rock. Red/Gold sex-links have a much larger variety of breeds as parents, thus have many different “brand” names: Red Star, ISA Brown, Cinnamon Queen, Golden Comet, etc. Hmmmm…, Something to think about.

At any rate, we’ll hopefully have some Speckled Sussex and some sex-link and a couple mystery chicks hatching out in about 3 weeks. I will candle the eggs in about 12 days (I’m not confident in my abilities to candle on day 7) and their projected Hatch Date is June 8th.

I am sooo hoping this works this time. We really want an easy and natural way to replenish our flocks in order to be as sustainable as possible. If we can reliably hatch chicks, we wouldn’t have to purchase new ones, and we could sell some to offset costs.

I’ll keep you updated as we progress.

And this time, no moving of the eggs in the last 4-5 days!

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The Great Potato Experiment of 2019: Days 10 and 15

They are growing!

May 12: Day 10

The first little sprout started looking it’s head through the soil.

I was starting to get a little worried. No signs of life. Would they actually grow from those sprouts I planted or were they too far gone? Had they expended too much energy already just trying to get out of the box and then been shocked by being smothered in the ground?

Well, at least one is growing, so I’m happy.

May 17: Day 15

More growth!

The main bed showing the red potato spouts showing through the soil.

A purple potato sprout. I love that even the leaves start out purple, my favorite color.

I had a couple of the red seed potatoes that didn’t fit into the main bed, so I planted them in some old pots I had. They are growing, too!

I am loving this “experiment”. Not only am I trying something that is essentially new to me, but as I walk through my terraced beds every day to work on the house, I am filled with joy that I have a garden this year.

Yes, it’s tiny and not even fully planted yet, but it’s there. And seeing all the new growth fills a spot in my soul that reminds me how much I love gardening and producing our own food.

Soon I’ll have to share my tomato experiment of this year. 😯

The Great Potato Experiment of 2019: Day 1

I definitely waited way too long to get my seed potatoes in the ground. But I bought them when I had bigger plans for the garden, which I scaled back drastically when we decided it was more prudent for me to be working on the house rather than building and maintaining brand new gardens.

But I already had these seed potatoes. And I am continuing to develop the terraced garden beds as I have time and just have to get in some outside work.

So I finally figured out WHERE I wanted to plant them. And that’s when I discovered they had a headstart on my gardening for the year. (See above picture! 😄) So, I dug some trenches, and threw three potatoes in each, sprouts and all.
We’ll see how it goes. I’ve only grown potatoes once before, years ago, and that was before I learned to cover them up as they grow.

Method: dig 3 foot long trenches 8 inches deep. Lay 3 potatoes with sprouts end-to-end in the trenches. Cover with several inches of soil. As (if?) they grow, when they get to be about 6 inches tall, I’ll cover the bottom 3 inches with soil. I’ll continue doing that until…ummmm, I’m actually not sure when they are ready to harvest. More research is needed, obviously. But for now, at least they are in the ground!

House update: miscellaneous jobs

You know when you have that big project on the horizon that you need/want to start working on, but for whatever reason you can’t yet but there’s a long list of projects to do so you gotta get them taken care of and when you finally do them you realize it actually feels good to be able to cross something off the list and you wonder why you procrastinated so long because, I mean, you’re not working on the “big project” right now anyway?

*Takes a deep breath after that extremely long run-on sentence.* 😉

Yeah, we’ve crossed quite a few need-to-do little projects off the list in the last couple of months since getting the septic finished. Some of them so small, I didn’t even bother to take pictures. But some of them were significant enough that they have made our life so much easier.

Like our garden hose hydrant. We dug a trench (more trenching!) from where our water line crosses the driveway over to where we wanted the hose faucet next to the landscaping rocks.

The trench.

Tee into the water main

Princess Girl got in on the action

The gravel in the bottom of the pit is to aid in drainage since this is a frost-free hydrant. That means that every time the water is shut off, the water that is in the top of the pipe drains out of a small hole at the bottom of the trench so there is no water up in the pipe or faucet to freeze in the winter. We did put in a shut-off valve just in case we ever need to shut the water off to the faucet for any reason, but theoretically, we shouldn’t ever have to use it.

We have water!

And it works like a charm! And made our water situation around here so much easier! Watering the gardens were a breeze with 1700 gallons on tap. Yep, that’s how big our cistern is. We fill it up from the well as needed (every couple of weeks at the end of summer) and it supplies all our outdoor and animal watering needs. Right now it is mid-November and we haven’t gotten any moisture all season long. Great for working outside, not so great for our fruit trees and perennial plants. So we’re still having to water the trees and gardens every once in a while. This hydrant also makes it super easy to re-fill our rain barrels (because, you know, no rain). We use the water in the rain barrels for the animals. Before having the hydrant, we would have to turn on the big generator and well in order to fill barrels, etc. Now, with 1700 gallons of water at our disposal, we only need to fire up the genny and well pump every…actually, we don’t know how long it will take us to go through that much water this time of year. Suffice to say, it will take a while. And since it’s all under ground, it won’t freeze during the winter. Yay!

Another project we were able to check off the list was to move the electrical conduit for the garage. We hired out having the garage built, and we ended up needed to scoot the whole building back a few feet, which means the place where we originally had the conduit coming up was no longer in the correct spot.

New perimeter lines drawn

You can see in the pic above that the conduit was now several feet away from the wall of the garage. So, once the construction crew dug the footers, we came in and extended the conduit so it comes up inside the garage near the wall where our solar power system will be installed.

Electrical conduit extended

Again, not a huge job, but it HAD to get done.

Another small job that made our life so much easier was installing shop lights in the house.

Let there be light!

Now that the days are shorter, we needed light in the house so we can keep on working after the sun goes down.

And speaking of the days being shorter, and therefore colder, we finally got our laundry room door ordered and then installed.

A real door!

We could have had this door in place since January since it’s frame is part of the steel building, not the interior wood frame like all the other doors will be. But last winter and spring we were on hold with the house and the house only had this one wall anyway. And over the summer it wasn’t needed because of the weather. It was only when it got cold enough that we needed to stop the breeze from blowing through the house that we got our butts in gear and got it done.

And yet another small job we got done recently was replacing the rain gutter on our mud room. We had scabbed together something when we first built it, but after two winters it needed to be replaced. So we got a real gutter system. And now we’re set for this winter. And hopefully we’ll get a lot of rain and snow this year. We need it!

Princess Girl is learning all sorts of skills living here on the homestead.

So much nicer than the old system.

And that’s about it for now. As I said, there were plenty of other odd jobs done that I just didn’t document. And in the middle of all that, there was one major project that we worked on over the course of a couple weeks…

The floors!

But that’s a post all on its own. For now I am going to sign off.

I gots things to do!

Broody Hen Saga: Day 14

I candled our hen-incubating eggs on day 7 like everyone says to do. But I just couldn’t tell. They all looked too similar. However, I had a feeling that only half of them were developing. So I figured I’d give it another week or so and try again.

And this time the differences were striking! The 5 eggs (I was right!) that have developing chicks in them, very obviously have something in them.

Day 15, rather obvious

The 5 eggs that never developed (or stopped early) still look like a regular, non-developing eggs when candled. I did notice that several of them had cracks in the shell like the picture below. No telling when that happened, but I’m sure it didn’t help.

Non-viable with cracks in shell

So, out of the 10 eggs that were originally under Summer, only 5 are viable. I sure hope those five actually hatch. One more week to go…

Broody Hen Saga: Day 3

9/1/18

[If you follow us on Instagram or Facebook- @castlerockhomestead – you’ve probably already seen this info, but I put it here for posterity and for those few of you who missed it. 😉]

This is “Summer”. She is a broody hen. That means she wants to sit on eggs and hatch them out into cute little fluff balls. But she is a chicken. And chickens really are kinda dumb. It’s all hormones and instincts that tells her to sit there. Some breeds of hens have a very strong broodiness gene and will be very dedicated to sitting on those eggs. Silkies and Orpingtons come to mind. But Summer is a Welsummer. They are not known to be particularly boody, although all three of our Welsummers went broody this year, and this is the second time for this one.

So, we’re trying again. Summer went broody in the nest box of the main flock coop. So I put a cardboard box in the nest box with some golf balls in it and let her sit on those for a day or two (that way I could take all the real eggs away from her but she would stay broody). Then one night, I moved her, cardboard box and all, to our brooder coop.

Our brooder coop is a small coop that is perfect for raising chicks in, once they hatch, and the nest box works perfect for a broody hen as well.

By blocking it off from the main part of the coop, the hen has enough room to get up and stretch her legs and get a bite to eat or a drink, but nothing to distract her from going back to those eggs.

The other three times we’ve tried to get Welsummers to hatch a clutch of eggs, they tended to get distracted and leave the eggs long enough that the developing eggs got too cold and died. Actually, the last one was in this same setup and was doing great, until the door got left open and she abandoned her eggs.

So here we are, with another broody hen and a new clutch of eggs. I let her sit on the golf balls until I had collected enough of the right eggs from our smaller breeding flock, then one night, out came the golf balls and in went the fertile eggs.

I put 10 eggs under her and the hatch date should be on September 18th. I say “should” because we did have a hen successfully hatch 2 chicks earlier this year and they hatched a day early (both males…of course) .

Hopefully it will be uneventful smooth sailing from here on out. We will candle the eggs in a few days and see which ones are viable. Then we wait.

Landscaping

(Edit: 8/28/18 I wrote this post over three months ago. Today, while looking at my writing app, I see the little word “draft”. I had never published it! Silly me! So without further ado…)

Imagine your house (either the one you currently live in or one you have lived in at some point). Now imagine if all the land surrounding that house was bare ground. Now throw in a bagillion rocks, and a few weeds here and there for good measure. Not a pretty thought, is it? Kinda depressing?

That’s how I feel about the land immediately surrounding our house. Yes, it’s understandable since it is a construction zone. But that doesn’t make me any happier when I look at it.

So, while I was delayed on working on the actual house, I decided to do something about the landscaping.

When the house pad was cut, it left behind a fairly steep hill of barren, rocky soil. But in my mind’s eye, I see beautiful terraces, filled with edible and decorative plants that provide beauty and habitat all year long.

When we had the backhoe last fall, I did the rough (and I do mean rough) cut of the terraces. This spring I have slowly been building the terrace walls.

The stairs were built out of railroad timbers we had on the property. The rocks are all native to within 50 feet of right there!

I completed this triangular section first because that is going to be Pajii’s area and I wanted him to feel like he could plant if he wanted to. Besides, it was the easier section to do!

A friend of ours came by one afternoon to help out with stacking rocks.

The circled rock in the picture below was just one of several 100lb boulders I needed to dig out and move.

All of the whiteish rocks below it are the rocks I piled under it when I levered it up, until I could roll it out of the hole.

In the picture below you can see the completed terraces on the right of the steps, and the not-yet-started hillside to the left. The huge boulders were dug out of the hillside where our well is now. They were placed in such a way as to become part of the landscaping. There are several more that you can’t even see just to the left, and many more that got used as a retaining wall over by where our garage will go.

So I got a bit of the terraces done on the left side of the stairs, and while at the hardware store, succumbed to an impulse buy of a dianthus bush. I just loved the color of the flowers and the fact that they are supposed to bloom from spring all the way till fall!

So, I had to find a place to plant them.

The very first plantings in the terraces. 😄

I also decided to pick up a few more landscaping plants that I know I want. And as the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree was 40 years ago. But seeing as how I’m not (quite) even 40 years old yet, I figure the best time to plant is now.

Lilac

Red Haven peach tree

Double Delight tea rose 🌹

The first bloom on the rose bush

I also bought some annuals to plant in pots around our trailer to pretty things up a bit.

Our fruit trees that we planted last year are doing well. The cherry trees blossomed out in late April and I thought for sure they’d be killed by a frost.

Cherry blossoms with Mason bee 🐝 busy pollinating

And they almost were! We were surprised by a light frost at the very end of April. Not that it’s unusual to freeze that late, but all of the forecasts said we were going to stay above freezing that whole week. But everything seemed to be ok despite the freeze. The next night was supposed to get nearly as cold, so we decided to play it safe.

The apple trees wrapped against the cold look like weird lollipops.

Apple blossoms

Yesterday, I checked on the cherry trees, and lo and behold, they’re loaded!

And last but not least, we bought some native/locally adapted plants from the state nursery and will find places for them to go once the terraces are completed.

For now, we have been busy trying to finish up the septic system. But we’re almost done with that, then I again won’t have anything to do, so I will go back to the terraces.

Now, remember that house you thought about at the beginning of this post? Think of all the bushes and trees and flowers that actually do surround it. Are there any that you’ve ever thought, “If I had been in charge, I would not have planted that”?

Well, guess what. We are in charge of everything that gets planted here on our land. It’s actually rather exciting to be building our land from the ground up. While it is a lot (a lot) of hard work, it’s awesome to be able to make it how we want it and only have to deal with what nature handed us, not what other people thought was a good idea. And so far, with the exception of the dianthus, I’ve put quite a bit of thought into the plants I’ve chosen.

One day, it’s going to be beautiful!