Produce in Full Production
We started picking lots of varieties of delicious heirloom tomatoes, cantaloupe, and watermelon this month! Please come by our farm stand and you can enjoy lots of delicious fresh produce. We even have raspberries out at the stand now, too. The raspberry plants are doing really well -- we are happy that we get to taste test a lot of the varieties now. Apples are on now too so we are making applesauce. Unfortunately our huge apple trees are not quite rehabbed enough yet to sell their apples. We have made lots of progress with weeding this month but aren't quite caught up yet weeding the walking rows between the plastic mulched permanent beds. We are keeping busy harvesting and tending to the large variety of crops we are picking!
Fall Crops Planted
We planted lots of experimental storage tomato plants this month. They are supposed to be picked green and store months on the counter. We are hoping for delicious tomatoes into winter :). We also planted more beets, kale, collards, swiss chard, radish, lettuce, spinach, boo chop, and other cold-loving crops.
Challenges and Lessons Learned
Our first crop of ripe tomatoes had end rot due to inconsistent watering which causes a calcium deficiency. The plants were relying on us irrigating them since they are trellised in plastic with drip trip and cannot receive much nature rain. We have been busy focusing on watering the berry plants and trying to keep up with all the different crops that the tomatoes weren't watered as consistently as they needed. The problem seems to be fixed now and we are harvesting lots of beautiful tomatoes.
Our kale, broccoli, cabbage, and brussels sprouts plants are recently struggling with pressure from an aphid pest. So we will be hoping to combat that right away with spraying natural dish soap and cayenne pepper on them. The dish soap will strip their protective layer off and dehydrate them so they die. So right now we are short on greens as we wait for the new crops to be ready.
Our sweet corn didn't do well this year. We will not be selling it as the ears are very small. We are pretty happy with the two new varieties we tried, so we will grow them again next year. However, the plants didn't do well due to them being planted on some of the worst quality soil we have on our property. The area where they were planted (due to space shortage that had been adequately cleared), is in need of serious soil amendment before we plant there again in order to organically supply enough nutrients for the plants to do well.
Seven beautiful and healthy puppies were born on August 19th to Kona and Nacho. Kona is such a great mom and the puppies are doing really well. Paul was sleeping in the sunroom, where her whelping box and everything is all set up, keeping an eye on her. She went into labor quite quickly this time and wasn't making much noise before the first one was born. Around 7am, Paul took her out to use the restroom, and then they both laid back down on the bed and Paul fell asleep. He woke up about 30 minutes later to find Kona nursing her first born puppy next to him on the bed! He moved them into the whelping box in time for the rest of them to be born. We had quite the chuckle over it.
Chicken Egg Update
The birds are safe and sound and doing well in their fresh pasture we more easily moved them to with their new fencing set up. The young hens have started laying but are slow to get up their production. We hope soon for the numbers to increase so we can restart delivery to all of our previous customers. The youngest birds are growing and we hope they will start laying sometime in October and we will then be able to start our customers on the waiting list.
The many types of vegetables and fruits we grow need tending to regularly. This month we trellised the snap peas, tomatoes, and cucumber plants. We planted a second succession of cucumber and zucchini plants, corn, and other seeds. We have been struggling keeping up with weeding this month especially since we took two weekends off for vacation! So if anyone would like to volunteer some quality garden time, let me know :)
We purchased a new more powerful electric fencer and a different electric fence. We moved the birds to a fresh grown up area to enjoy. Their previous run was tilled and seeded in cover crop. At the end of the month we moved the youngest chicks in with all the older ones- so far everyone is doing well but the stress of the change has caused a decrease in egg production this week. The 6 month old hens have recently started laying eggs as well so hopefully we will be back up to full production soon. This month the ducks started laying eggs as well.
Farm Stand Continues
Shelli continues to operate the farm stand on Wednesdays and Fridays. Check out our Facebook page to see what we have. We no longer have change available as someone stole the entire money container recently at the end of the day :(. If you need change, we are happy to help if we are home! Let us know if you have a suggestion of a better day/time for us to be open so you can come.
The garden work is piling up since we took a couple weekend trips the end of this month. We spent a couple days around Traverse City with Shelli's family. And a long weekend near Pictured Rocks with Paul's family. Everyone needs a break sometime, right?!
Puppies on the Way
Kona is really showing now! We expect puppies to be born on August 21st. In preparation for having the fenced dog run safe and clean for the puppies to play outside, we finished insulating our foundation, stuccoed, painted, filled, pulled and tilled out all the ivy, planted grass, and made a new block patio.
We are now Certified Naturally Grown for our produce and livestock (eggs)!
Our farming practices have not changed, we just added certification for your assurance that we are following organic and sustainable practices. This month our paperwork was completed, we had inspections for both our livestock (chickens and ducks) and produce, and we officially received our certification. For more information about CNG, visit here or the CNG website.
New Berry Plants Arrived
We finished prepping the beds and planted our new raspberry (many varieties), strawberry (2 new varieties), and blackberry plants. They are doing well and putting out new green growth. We finally finished raking and planting 300#s of grass seed in the walking rows and it is starting to grow (yay, more to mow!).
We were a bit behind this year in planting a lot of veggies because we were busy prepping and planting the new berry plants. But, zucchini, melons, winter squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, snap peas, peas, legumes, and more are in and growing; succession planting of greens, beets, and carrots was done. Our second shipment of 10 different varieties of sweet potato plants are in. We keep busy keeping up with weeding.
Farm Stand Finished and Open
Another month of hard work on the farm is complete. And I am only 4 days late of my new goal to write a blog post update on the farm at the end of each month (we took a couple days off this weekend to go to the Red River Gorge for a quick camping/rock climbing trip -- everyone needs some time off, right?!). After months of failing to update the blog, despite my best intentions, I finally decided that monthly is a reasonable goal. If you'd like to see more frequent updates, check our Facebook page for new photos. Writing a blog post just doesn't seem to reach the top of the priority list when strawberries need to be picked or plants arrive that need to be planted.
This month we planted a lot of transplants outside we had started indoors and many vegetable seeds were planted outdoors; transplanted strawberry runners we had planted in little pots last fall to fill the current strawberry plot with plants; weeded and mulched the strawberries; weeded and harvested asparagus; harvested rhubarb; weeded and mulched the existing raspberry and blueberry plants; planted over 100 pounds of potatoes and 100 sweet potato slips; planted flowers; sent soil samples off to be tested; moved the ducks to their new coop and area under the apple trees (hoping they will help with apple pest control).
We had one really cold night in May that ruined some of our strawberry crop for this year. It was cold enough that even though we ran sprinkles all night to protect the blossoms, many still frosted off. Fortunately, we still are getting a pretty good crop, just not as many or as big of berries as it would've been had it not frosted.
Based on our soil test results, we spread ag lime on the new raspberry and strawberry areas to raise the pH of the soil to optimize the soil for our different crops. In preparation for the 1300 raspberry plants and 600 strawberry plants that are set to arrive this week, we have been working hard to prepare the new area where we will plant them. We tilled the soil a few times, formed raised beds, spread compost on the tops of the beds (we ordered two dump truck loads of compost), spread pelletized chicken manure on the tops of the beds for fertilizer, and ran drip tape for irrigation. Next we need to finish hooking up the irrigation and put the plastic row covers on.
We experienced a loss on the farm earlier in the month when a coyote, in daylight, dug under our 8 foot chicken fencing and killed half of our flock of 100 chickens. We always lose a couple birds each spring to predators, but never before have we had such great a massacre. We installed electric fencing as an additional layer of protection in hopes that it helps to deter coyotes in the future. Unfortunately, we had to temporarily suspend egg delivery to half of our customers until July when the younger hens will start laying eggs. We received generous donations and words of encouragement from our loyal egg customers and ordered 50 more chicks which arrived on May 22 in order to build our flock back up and be able to start egg delivery for those families on the waiting list. The chicks are doing well!
In preparation to be able to share our delicious produce with the local community, we are building a farm stand to put on our property this summer. Shelli designed it and is building it (with Paul's advice, of course :)), and hopes to have it finished within the next few weeks to be able to start selling. We are already eating strawberries and many types of greens and herbs from the gardens. Soon, we will have more produce ready and are excited to be able to provide you with local, naturally grown, nutritious food. Stay tuned for details!
For those of you looking for recommendations for dog hygiene products, here's a list of what we have found to be great products that we use for our puppies and dogs.
It's been quiet on the blog but lively around the farm as we prepare for summer. We put a new steel roof on the lean-to (where the chicken coop is) with a couple "skylights" to provide natural sunlight to keep their internal clocks ticking even when they are inside. The chicks and ducks love their roomy coop and outside run area.
Here's a good summary guide of what all those different labels on egg cartons really mean (and don't mean)! We don't feel comfortable with any one of these labels in regards to our health or the chickens and environment. Educate yourself on what your buying and supporting.
The chicks are growing fast (and the ducks even faster)! They're all running around, drinking lots of water, eating like crazy, scratching and making lots of noise. It appears we got one rooster (the solid white chick). Everyone is doing great and we are eager to get them to their outdoor coop soon.
On Friday, we got 10 guinea keets. They will have a separate "home" from the chickens and ducks. We got them because they're supposed to be really great at eating unwanted pests including ticks. Hopefully they will do good as natural integrated pest management for the garden and fruit trees.
We have some plants happily growing in the sunroom and more started in a tent with grow lights and heated mats in the basement. Congrats to whoever can guess correctly what the little plants are in the two flats...
We finished pruning the apple trees today without injury except for Paul's jeans now have a giant rip down the front and rear.
Enjoy the warmer weather this week! A few egg shares are still available so feel free to sign up!
Should I integrate an Arduino or similar microcomputer into my chicken coup automation or just create a completely mechanical system?
If Microcomputing sounds like a good idea which system would work the best? Maybe a combination of Raspberry Pi and Arduino?
Lately, I have been contemplating methods of automating the process of keeping my chickens. I have a couple of specific plans for how to automate the food and water process, both of which are pretty simple, but there are other systems which require a technologically advanced approach. If you like building stuff or enjoy backyard automation, read on!
For watering the chickens, I plan to use a simple 4”PVC Pipe which runs through the wall of my garage (which is a heated space) directly into the adjacent lean-to/chicken coup. Inside the coup, I will simply Put a t and run 2 feet of pipe out each direction. My hope is that even in the winter the water in the coup will stay thawed with the heat of the lamps, the body heat of the chickens, and the heat of the garage wall which is kept year round at about 45 degrees. The waterers that I plan to purchase are these:
These nipple waterers require less than 1 PSI of water pressure, so supplying a regulated constant water pressure of 1 PSI was my initial plan, but I have decided against this option, due to the cost of the pressure regulator. Instead, I will go with a solenoid water valve which can easily be electrically activated for filling the 4”pvc pipe. Each foot of PVC pipe has roughly .65 gal of water, so if I have 8 feet of pipe, that would be a volume of just over 5 gallons, which will last 5 birds probably at least a couple of days even in the heat of summer. The part where I am having a hard time is with some type of a switching mechanism. There are two options that I have considered.
1st Option- a small weighted float connected to a micro switch that will work somewhat like a sump pump valve.
2nd Option- simply run three wires into the water. One at a high point, two down below. When the wires are exposed they will have no resistance between the wires, this input should be able to be calculated simply using the Arduino computer.
Food system, I don’t necessarily want to utilize a special loading system, but I do think that 4” Pvc pipe with an elbow at the end will work good as a food filling system. With that said, I do want these feeders to be capped off most of the time, only opening in the evening for the feed time, around sundown. I also would like to incorporate a photo voltaic sensor into each of the feeders, so presumably, they would allow the computer system to notify me when the food is low, because that would allow light in to the sensor.
From the research I have done, I think that the guillotine style door and rollers will likely be the best apparatus for opening and closing the door. Regardless of whether or not I integrate a microcomputer, I think that a simple photovoltaic switch and automotive window regulator attached to a chord should do the trick for this system. But it would be nice to be able to control these systems and check the status on via Wi-Fi on my smartphone, but, alas one project at a time.
The hardest of all- The chicken location tracker
When chickens get outside in the run, sometimes they can get carried away and not realize that it is time to come in to the coop for their nighttime rest and to get their evening snack. I would hate to have the door on the coop close a chicken or two out of the coop where they are safe from the many coyotes we have roaming our property at night. The only way that I can think to keep track of these birds is via RFID leg bands which are actually readily available. Initially, I thought that the combination of a simple RFID scanner in the doorway would allow you to know that all the chickens are inside. But, just because you have a scan of a bird just before the door were to close doesn’t guarantee that the bird is actually inside. The only method I have come up with which might work is to make their entrance/exit a bit of a tunnel, where the chickens would have to pass through two sensors with which the computer could possibly sort out the location of the bird based on the order of the scan.
I have many other ideas as well… A predator sensor, activating a light and letting me know in the house. Possibly an RFID system to identify birds that are spending most time inside or outside, which could help me to identify birds likely to go broody. Finally, temperature, lights, and moisture control within the same system would be awesome.
If any of you have more ideas, comment below!
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