Friday, April 3, 2020

Pruning Raspberries And A Word Of Caution

Where do you start when your raspberries look like this?
Get down under them and you can see pretty easily which ones need to go.
It is very clear here, which canes are new and which are old. Green means new, Brown means old.
In the fall I prune my raspberries. When I tell people that, they get very animated about how they don't know what to prune or that they didn't even know raspberries were supposed to be pruned. So I took some pictures this time. It's pretty simple and not too much of a chore especially if you have semi-thorn less berries like our Tulameen variety.
Raspberries at their peak in June.
If you don't want to have your canes fall over when they are heavy with fruit you can also top your canes in the spring at 4.5 to 5 feet. Don't feel bad because it encourages the cane to branch out more which increases the fruit yield .
If you look closely at the dark cane left of center you will see that it has been topped. It compensated by making long side branches for more fruit.
The raspberry bed looks pretty sparse after pruning but it will be very lush by next June.
Raspberries have two types of canes every year. Primocanes, which are the canes that came up as babies while you were picking fruit this summer.
The canes you picked the fruit off of are called floricanes and they have given their raspberries and are now going to turn brown and die.
Next year the primocanes graduate and become floricanes, which bloom (floral) and make berries.
And so on.
You don't have to prune out the old canes but pruning out the old spent canes makes room for sun to come in to the fruiting canes next summer. The more sun they get, the sweeter and yummier the berries are. So to me it's worth it.
If you have everbearing raspberries the process is different. Although I know gardeners who have started mowing down their everbearing varieties in the early spring so they will get one crop in the late summer instead of two small crops in the spring and fall. They would rather have one bearing of fruit than just little dribbles of fruit in the spring and fall.

Now the warning. This is a case of "Do as I say and not as I do" or better, "learn from my mistake".

When you see this:
What do you feel? That's just what I was feeling last summer. So with that gluttonous mood driving me, I dug up several little Tulameen plants from the garden and planted another row near my blueberries. It seemed like the logical place, since the earth was already fluffy, weed free and the drip system was already set up there.

What a  mistake. Don't plant raspberries near blueberries.
They love to send runners all through the sawdust mulch around the blueberries and if you go to pull the raspberry runners out, they rip up the shallow roots of the blueberries. And without completely uprooting the blueberries you can't get all of the raspberry runners out.
What a sad discovery this is for me. I had just gotten my first small crop of blueberries this year and getting rid of the raspberries will surely set the blueberries back a year.
Live and learn.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Grafting Chicks*

*Putting chicks under a hen that is not their natural mother.

O.K. So this post will not be full of fabulous photos because virtually all of it takes place in the dark.

If I owned an infrared camera it would be really fun to take pictures of the process but instead you will need to imagine what I am telling you to do and then ask me questions if I didn't get the point across properly.

There have been several people searching our Reluctant Homesteaders blog and many people asking on other blogs about how to take chicks from somewhere else and put them under another hen. The point being you want the hen to "mother" the chicks, so you won't have to. So I thought I would do a little "how-to" on it.

There are lots of reasons why you would "graft chicks." Perhaps you have a hen who is not a good mother, or you bought some new pullet chicks to revive your egg laying flock, or like us you want to raise meaty chicks without all the hassle and health problems of caged Cornish Cross.

Grafting chicks is pretty straight forward and I have been doing this trick since I was a little kid and my dad before me. It's not very hard and it can save you a lot of hassle and money if you let a hen do the work of raising the chicks. Just think, no more stinky boxes of noisy chicks!
The chicken with 32 legs. She has both forward and reverse gears.
This is my process:

I have very good luck with getting hens to take chicks by waiting until the hens have been sitting for at least a week. It helps if you have a breed that is good at brooding. You can tell if you have a good brood hen if, by throwing her off the nest, you cannot convince her to stay off a nest for more than a few minutes.

I order chicks when I have hens getting broody (or buy them at the feed store if the season is right) The chicks can be up to 5 days old (even a couple days older if the hen is a proven mother, except for Cornish Cross which get HUGE in 5 days).

Heck you can even let your kids, or you, hug and squeeze them for a day, then put them under a hen when you are tired of them. I have put as many as 16 chicks under one hen if she is a proven mom, but I would stop at 10 for the first time if you are not sure.

You need to time the arrival of your chicks properly. It takes 21 days to hatch eggs. As soon as you know your hen is broody, order your chicks to arrive within that window.

While I am awaiting the arrival of my chicks at the post office (I LOVE picking chicks up at the post office- how fun and weird.) about a week in to her broodyness, I pull the eggs out from under the hen at night and replace them with a couple of golf balls.

DO NOT LEAVE EGGS UNDER HER WHEN YOU PUT THE CHICKS UNDER. THE EGGS WILL HATCH MUCH TOO LATE AND SHE WILL LOSE CHICKS. Sometimes you hit it just right, but most of the time it will just cause problems. She will either stay on the nest trying to hatch the eggs and the chicks starve or she will leave the nest with the grafted chicks just as the eggs were about to hatch and leave the freshly hatched chick shivering in the empty nest.

Whether I get the chicks in the mail or at the store, I keep them warm under a light for the first day. I feed them and water them well so they’re fat and sassy.

That night I sneak them under the hen around midnight, after it’s been dark for a while, and take the golf balls out or any old eggs. Keep flashlight use to a minimum. The darker the better. Put chicks, a couple at a time, up under her, palm down so the chicks will not get pecked. Wear long sleeves and be prepared to get pecked yourself. Then just let her take charge.

 If the chicks are older than 3 days (most will be) you can put food and water nearby so the chicks can come out and refresh themselves. Make absolutely sure that the outside entrance to the nest box is easily accessed by a tiny chick. Put stones or build a dirt ramp, just make sure they can get back into the box if they fall or hop out. Or else you will be heartbroken one morning when you find chicks cold and near death, huddled against the door they couldn't get back into. 

The hen may want to stay on the nest for a day or two, let her. You need to let her take her time with the chicks, don't force it. In the next couple days she will decide it's time to get out and about and all will be well.

I have not had a hen reject chicks yet if I do these things. If the hen is not proven to be a good mom it can be a little dicey if you don’t let her sit for at least 2 weeks before you put the chicks under her. That's long enough to make sure she feels grateful when she wakes up the next morning and her “eggs have hatched”. The hen can also be sitting up to 30 days (on golf balls) even though eggs hatch around 21 days, she can't count and will generally keep sitting for much longer, waiting for her golf balls to hatch. This comes in handy if you were slow to order your chicks!

Don’t bother trying to time grafted chicks with a batch of eggs hatching under the same hen. The timing rarely matches and it just ends badly most of the time. The saddest scenario is that the hen will feel all those new chicks under her and take them out into the world while her own eggs are just minutes from hatching. The chicks in the eggs will grow cold and die. That makes me tear up just thinking about it.

I have 4 hens right now with varying ages of chicks. 2 hatched their own and 2 have grafted chicks. They all free range in the same general area and I have had absolutely no problems with fighting or stealing. They have a large area to run in though. The hens avoid each other when the chicks are small and let them mingle as they get older. They are all doting mothers, regardless of their chick's origins.

I have used this method since I was a small child, so I have many success stories. I even once put ducklings under a hen. She loved them as her own but was extremely upset when her "chicks" did not just drink from the pan of water she took them to, but also jumped in and swam around! The hen was incredibly perplexed and kept running around the pan clucking and clucking for them to get out. They ignored her for a few minutes of fun splashing and then dutifully jumped out to follow her away from that dangerous pan of water. Later the hen got used to the swimming. She would just look the other way and pretend it wasn't happening, like a true mother.

I have just started using this method with Meaty chicks though. In the past I had been led to believe that Cornish Cross would not be physically capable of free ranging with a hen, but I found that that is not true. They are very good foragers when raised by a hen, but I do not give free choice food either, which slightly slows their fast growth and so avoids many of their health problems.
I timed this most recent batch of meaty chicks in such a way that they could eat all the dang grasshoppers we have at the end of summer. That’s good free protein!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sprouts and Weeds

It is June, which is the appropriate time for little sprouts to appear. 

Our Littlest Little Friend on his Birthday.

Our Littlest Friend is now our Second Littlest Friend. His little brother has entered the scene a little early but ready to roll.

Our Second Littlest Friend has been helping Buck in the garden by picking strawberries, his little dog too.

With all the hub bub there has been precious little time to weed so I am using my favorite time saving method for weed control and soil improvement. My Patented Plop Method.

 On Halloween of each year we end up with a dozen bails of damp and dirty straw from our families Haunted House. I let it sit out all winter which makes all the seeds in it sprout and rot.

The next Spring I peel off the "leaves" and toss them onto the weed covered garden. The weeds die in a couple of weeks from lack of light.

The whole thing rots into the ground and feeds the worms and improves the soil while effectively stopping anymore weeds from growing.When I plant I just push the mulch slightly to the side and put the seeds in the beautiful fluffy soil. This also protect the seeds from getting dried out at that critical moment. All it takes to kill a seed at the sprouting stage is one hour on a hot afternoon when the top inch of the soil dries out. Especially carrots.

Phoebe's Plop Method
 1) Mow the weeds if you can. If you can't, smash them down on top of each other. This makes them shade each other and impairs their ability to photosynthesis and survive.

2) Lay the wet, heavy flakes of straw tightly on top of the weeds. Try not to leave any gaps where sun can get in. Trim off leaves of the weeds if they are sticking out from the mulch.
This looks like a lot of straw, but it is only 2 bales, for all of this coverage.
3) Stomp on the mulch to make sure all the weeds are in contact with the ground so the worms can get busy and the weeds are thoroughly demoralized.

 4) A few weeks later you can pull the few survivors easily from the fluffy new soil.

5) Toss the weeds onto the grass and then mow it when you get around to it. It disappears and turns into grass fertilizer.

 Voila! Now you have more time for fun!

Friday, April 17, 2015

The Real House

Work continues on the Real House. I had it in my mind to get most of the work done a few months ago, but life doesn't often work that way.

That's OK though, we keep plugging along.

It is not a palace by any means at 850 square feet, but it will be a huge step up for people who have been living in an 8 x 12 Micro House. Eight times bigger.

The final plumbing of fixtures, the kitchen counter (still looking for just the right tile) and the finishing of the bathroom need to be done before we can move in.

Oh, and a little drywall here and there.

And we still have a tarp for roofing.

The tin is here,

but the roof is not ready for it. The weather has not cooperated with our schedule yet. But the tarps are not leaking.

We've finished laying the flooring. I put down radiant barrier under all the flooring and the difference in heat retention in the house is dramatic. I did this as an experiment on the Art Shack and found it to be a true success.

 I have nearly finished the slate hearth, so the downstairs can be heated soon with my Craig's List wood stove.
We have been shoving this stove from room to room so we can work around it for 3 years. Not an easy thing to do, since it weighs 375 pounds.

Our "Black Friday" purchased appliances finally arrived 2 months late because of a Longshoreman strike.
Lots still to be done really. But this is the fun part of doing a house. We finally get to see all our plans and scrounged materials go in place. I am sooo excited!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Egg Dreams



You might remember that last June I hatched dark eggs from my Cuckoo Marans hens, in a very temperamental incubator.
My goal was to increase the occurrence of extra dark eggs from my flock.

Unfortunately we also increased the occurrence of Bobcat visits at the same time that the dark egg chicks were growing up, so I lost all but 4 of the pullets. The Bobcat caught mostly pullets and hardly any of the cockerels, so I ended up with 11 boys and 4 girls. Not the best ratio for egg production!

Because of time constraints (the cockerels were becoming roosters and driving the hens crazy) and illness ( a Yellow Jacket stung me when I reached into our mailbox on a warm day in February...ugh) I just couldn't think about butchering 11 chickens, so I took them to the local auction yard.

 I hadn't been to the auction in a couple of years and had forgotten what fun it can be. Dad came along and kept me company. And helped to catch the rooster that escaped.
People come to the auction from all walks of life. This week, there was a crazy assortment of animals to buy. Bantam roosters, cockatiels, fuzzy rabbits and geese, just to mention a few. It was fun.

I received a check in the mail a week and a half later, $7.80 for each rooster. Not top dollar, but all I had to do was haul them over, put them in cages and receive a check in the mail. And it definitely paid for the food they ate.

Now back to my original subject, dark eggs. To illustrate my (well, my hen's) egg progress, I dug through some old photos. Here they are:

 Cuckoo eggs circa 2011

Cuckoo eggs circa 2013

 Cuckoo eggs circa 2015

The 2014 pullets have finally started to lay their first eggs.

Hooray! I can see real success in the dark egg laying experiment. I am, of course, Eggstatic!
I am going to concentrate on selecting the size of the egg as well as the dark brown color this year, hatching only the very dark brown and large eggs.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Phoebe's Top Ten Homesteading Gadgets


The Top Ten List of My Favorite Homestead Gadgets

Slow Cooker
I'm embarrassed to admit that I did not know the true value of this appliance until last year. One thing held me back- I thought Slow Cookers were for soup. But the reality is that they are little ovens too.
Since then I have made some amazing meals in this unit. Sweet and savory, from bread pudding to Cajun flank steak. And roasted beets are shockingly easy in the Slow Cooker. Wash the beets, rub them with olive oil and put them in on low for 8-10 hours and do not add water. They come out wonderfully sweet and you didn't have to heat a huge oven for three beets.
How can you beat something that let's you put raw things in in the morning, press the appropriate button and at the end of the long work day, dinner is magically ready? All the while using very little energy.
But that is not the end of it's uses. I have used it as an axillary heater when severe cold snaps have overtaken the Homestead and it worked very well. It wasn't balmy in the Oasis trailer by any means, but it made it warm enough to keep my bedside water glass from freezing. In addition I have used it very effectively to dry my (clean) wool socks, while it cooked dinner, while it heated the trailer. Now that is something worth having in a tiny house.

Ask any friend of mine and they will tell you that I sing the praises of the dehumidifier all winter long. If I could attribute a sense of coziness and cleanliness to any one thing in our Tiny House it would be the dehumidifier. It keeps things from feeling damp all the time, which is a real problem in small space living. Humans breath out a LOT of moisture. Add to that, rain soaked jackets, dogs and cooking steam and you have a situation in which mold grows on your windows and dust mites rein supreme (dust mites thrive in moist environments). And your wet work clothes will never dry. A Dehumidifier is worth the footprint for sure.
I have owned several Dehumidifiers and my advice on choosing one is to buy a major name brand and buy one that has simple controls like this one. All the dehumidifiers that I've had die were because of the electronic control boards. Believe me you don't need digital readouts and smooth control panel buttons. The plastic just cracks on the "buttons" anyway. This one is 2 years old and humming right along with daily use. It also has a bucket that is easy to empty without spilling the water and an air filter that is easy to remove and clean.

Espresso Machine
Before the Art Shack, we had no place for this slightly frivolous gadget and instead made our coffee with a Mocha Pot, something I still use when having company for coffee. This may seem a stretch, but the Espresso Machine definitely earns it's keep in my mind and not just because it makes my blessed cappuccino. It provides hot water for tea and pours me a glass of warm water to brush my teeth and wash my face when it is so cold out that the pipes have frozen. Oh, and this one will also dry socks while it is heating water.

Toaster Oven
This little Toaster Oven has been the best little unit I've encountered in a long time. I bought it for Buck when we lost our counter space for both a Toaster and a Toaster Oven.  Buck was sad about losing the real toaster. As a toast lover, he felt the Toaster Oven did not really toast, it just dried out the bread. That Christmas I ran across this little unit. It has a real toaster slot on top and a little oven. The oven works great and although it uses barely more counter space than a toaster, it is big enough for a bread pan. I've made some awesome pumpkin bread and square pizzas in this little oven.

Waterproof Case for Smart Phone
I had to almost ruin my phone by dropping it in the wet grass, for the third time, before I finally got this waterproof case for it. I know that many of my friends feel they don't want their phones to be bigger or uglier but none of that matters because I will tell you that this case is worth it's weight in gold.
A very heavy weight lifted from my shoulders when I got this case onto my phone. I paid $500 for this phone, cash, so to replace it is the very last thing I want to do. Literally, THE DAY I put this case on my phone, I accidentally dropped it in the bath tub. My phone has since survived many drops into mud puddles, wet grass, toilets (2) and many a corner drop onto hard surfaces. It is now 2 years old and still working great.

Blue Tooth LG700
I have had at least five different blue tooth units and this one wins hands down. It has a ten hour in-use battery life. It will hold a charge on standby for days. It vibrates when you get a call so you don't have to keep the ear buds in, you can just put them in when you get a call. It is comfortable to wear for hours, unlike an in-ear blue tooth. It has the best sound quality I've ever experienced for both me and the person I am talking to. When a bad connection or environmental noise makes a call hard to hear, having both ears listening makes a big difference. I love the fact that I can listen to my music in clear stereo, without making everyone else listen to my music. And the ear buds are sound canceling and conveniently hanging around my neck, so I often pop them in when I use the chop saw or to mow just to protect my ears.
LG has since moved on with the 750 but I have read it might not be as good. After a year of wearing this all day, I finally wore it out (you can see the white duct tape on the wires as a final attempt to keep it together) and have, since it's demise, purchased a black knock-off of it on EBay. It works great and only cost $25. I will put duct tape on it now, while it is new, and hope that that will prevent the wire breakage. I am pretty hard on these.

LP Barbecue With Side Burner
Although I really do love my Wedgewood Gas Range at the Art Shack it is a bit overkill to keep the pilot light lit on it and burning fuel when I currently don't have time to cook a big meal here at the Homestead.
I have found instead that this old BBQ has been seeing a lot of use this year. This BBQ was headed for recycling when I brought it up here and put it on the deck. At that time I imagined repairing the rusted out gas burners inside the grill and using it for barbecuing. Instead it has become the regular go to, one burner cooking station of choice.
It holds pots and pans and sundries while providing a great burner for one pan meals. You can fund these rusted out BBQs on Craig's List for next to nothing.

Electric Mattress Pad
If any of these gadgets are a real luxury, it's this one. I can't tell you how fantastic it is to get into a warm bed after working in an unheated space for 12 hours. This one is a gift for a friend.

Pressure Washer 
I think a Pressure Washer is like a magic wand. Things other people would toss in the landfill, I pressure wash and use for another year- tennis shoes, area rugs, coolers, feed buckets, filthy gross mud boots, furniture etc. Every Spring and Fall, I whip out the Karcher and brighten our world.

Wind-up Flashlight
And last but not least is this wind up flashlight. If there is a Bang for the Buck Award it would most certainly go to this little wonder. I have one of these in every building on the Homestead. It comes from the Ikea children's department and it costs $5. I own several and have given several as gifts over the last three years and not a single one has broke. It's a life saver for long winter nights. And I never have to worry about the Little Ones, and not so little ones, using up the batteries. It lights up the night with very few windings and is fodder for endless pepper grinder jokes.
Buck and I would love to hear what your favorite gadgets are!