Friday, October 30, 2015

Why cull? (revisited) 2015

Now that the apple harvest is complete, we can revisit what worked, what didn't, where we were successful, where we could have done better.  With a little less than 100 trees, we have the 'luxury' of examining each tree and identify its strengths and weaknesses.  Some trees produced a lot of large healthy fruit.  Some trees were not as prolific.  Some trees, although culled heavily in Spring, should have had a second culling later in the Summer.  How can we tell?  Why cull at all?
Culling or removing smaller fruitlets at an early stage of development, allows the tree to focus it energy on developing fewer, yet stronger, healthier fruits.  Having too many fruits can also cause stress on a tree which can make it more prone to sickness, difficulty in surviving the winter cold, or even prevent it from fruiting the following year.  How many times have we heard people say: 'My tree produced 100s of apples last year, but this year we were lucky to get a handful!'
As an experiment, last Spring we left a few fruit clusters to develop as they would normally, then compared the results to branches that had been gleaned.   In the above photo you can clearly see the results: the unculled fruit clusters were significantly smaller and frequently misshapen.  The taste was fine however unattractive in appearance.
Some people are put off by fruits that don't look like something out of a picture book.  There are also those folks that will only eat one variety of apple.  Those conversations usually begin with, 'we only eat...'  This is very unfortunate for all of them because they miss out on all the variety and flavors available. 
To broaden your experience, next time you're at the market try this: purchase one of each of a variety of different apples: Jonathan, Empire, Granny Smith, and Fuji is a good selection to start with.  Also select a mild cheese such as Monterey Jack or mozzarella to nibble on between tastes of each slice of apple.  Remember: the purpose is to taste and think about the flavors.  A sweet apple may be good to eat out of the hand, but a slightly tart apple may be better in salads.  There are hundreds of varieties with only a handful available at your local market.  Once you've tasted the first four, select a new grouping and repeat the taste test.  Try not to do more than four, otherwise your taste buds may get a little overwhelmed.  Who knows?  You may discover some new favorites!

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Apple Harvest, next round

You want to taste something amazing?  This morning we harvested our Jonagold apples.  The Jonagold is a cross between the Golden Delicious and the Jonathan apples.  This red apple has the crisp, sweet yet slightly tart flavor that is terrific to eat out of the hand or for caramel apples

For those that like the Honey Crisp but don't like the sky high prices that are usually associated with this specialty apple, the Jonagold may be just the right apple for you!  Try some today!  You may discover a new favorite.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

When to Harvest Apples, 2015

‘So when do you harvest your apples?’  That’s how the conversation started as a neighbor peered over the fence at the slowly ripening fruit.  ­­My Happy Acres offers over a dozen different apple varieties.  Some apples are good for pies.  Some are good for sauce.   Some are delicious to eat right off the tree.  So when do you harvest?
Just as there are different apples for different purposes, there are different harvest times for different apples.  As much as we wish that we could firmly control the growth and development of our trees, there are so many variables that influence fruit development.  We can get a rough estimate based on variety, but still need to check and monitor before picking the fruits.  Rain, heat, humidity, insects, even bird activity can shift harvest dates.  So when do you harvest?  Let me share a tip and a trick with you: ignore the calendar, check your fruit.
Although some folks will tell you that when the apples are red, you should pick the fruit.  Well, what do you do when you have a variety that doesn’t normally turn red?  Jonagold, Fuji, and even some Courtland frequently have fruit that doesn’t turn red but appears green at harvest time. An easy way to determine if your apples are ready to harvest is to select a sample apple from the tree in question and cut it in half to expose the endocarp or seed area of the apple.  
Sansa on left is ready to pick; Cortland on right needs another week or two.
Take a close look at the pips or seeds.  If they are white, light tan, or have white tips, the apples are not ready for harvest.  Our Sansa trees are ready to be picked.  First developed by an international team, the Sansa is a cross between the Gala and Arkane apples giving it a sweet flavor and fine texture. 
These little trees are not particularly attractive, nor very productive. What they lack in looks, they make up for flavor.  Unlike other apples, the Sansa is slow to turn brown when sliced.  This makes the Sansa an excellent choice for salads or slices.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Good stuff at My Happy Arces, August 2015

Late summer is a very busy time on the farm.  The apples are nearing the time to be picked.  The Blackberries are ripening.  The vegetables are at peak, looking good, and tasting like heaven! So let's take a walk:
 Mild, warm days have been perfect for our little orchard.  Although we culled heavily in late Spring, the trees are now heavy with fruit.  If conditions continue to be pleasant, we can safely assume that, come October, we will have a nice variety of apples to offer our customers.
Aren't these beautiful?
Speaking of beautiful, this is the first year we have been able to successfully bring cauliflower to full maturity.  As much as I'd like to say that it's due to the right seeds and careful management, I can only give full credit to following the instructions that were given to me by an elderly farmer I know.  The elderly have a lifetime of experience.  If one is respectful and patient, it's amazing what one can learn.  In this case, I learned why my broccoli and cauliflower bolted or just plain failed to thrive.

Members of the cabbage family are mostly cool weather plants.  They don't like the hot weather.  They don't like getting their roots too warm.  They don't like dry conditions.  His instructions were simple: water in the early morning and shade them when the temps are going over 90f.  That's it?  Water and shade?  No special compost mix/fertilizer/special cauliflower frisky blend?  nope.  keep em watered.  Keep em cool.
Isn't this pretty?  Most of the cauliflower heads are about these size of a soccer ball.  Although they are the color of good cheddar cheese, they still taste like cauliflower yet have a milder flavor than the white variety.  We like them.  It adds a nice splash of color to the salad or vegetable dish.
Summer is a wonderful time to try new things.  When visiting your local farmers' market or farm stand, taste and try new varieties of the foods you love.  Like tomatoes?  Try some low acid yellow tomatoes, or try a new variety of cherry tomato.  Some are sweet.   Some are tart.  Tomatoes come in a variety of colors, not just that slightly washed out red color that grocery store tomatoes all seem to have.  They also come in a variety of flavors.  Try something new today!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Bed bye Not! part 2

oh -- you thought I was kidding???  this is from last night:
what are you doing out here?  waiting for you Momma...

did you know that chickens purr when happy?

There's no room in there.  Can we ride on top?

We're next!  We're next!

Do we get a story?  I think I need another drink of water before Bed bye.
Yes, it's true.  Thirteen chicken hugs, thirteen little pats, thirteen drinks of water, thirteen bedtime stories, and off to bed bye we go.  Keep tellin' ya: never a dull moment.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Further adventures with little chicks or Bed-bye NOT

The warmer weather has been a real plus for moving the baby chicks out to their new chicken tractor.  I should say that the babies aren't little babies any more.  They may be 10 weeks old, but they are fully feathered and ready to take on the world!  The plastic chicken wire fence that defines their play yard is of little consequence as some of the bigger chicks loft themselves into the air like giant awkward bumblebees. 
 Each morning, bright and early, the tractor is opened up allowing the babies to wander out for their chicky adventures.  Fresh water and chicky chow is available inside at all times but outside: the world is their salad bowl.  Everything is new to these little busy bodies.  If someone finds a bug, everyone has to rush over to see what it is.  If someone tastes something delicious (like the bug), everyone wants a bite.  What can I say?  They're better than television.
 Like all our chicken friends that came before, this year's hatchlings are being taught 'Bed bye'.  Put simply, when I tell them 'Bed bye' all the little chickies are to head up the ramp and go to bed.  Well, its worked on everyone that has come before.  Of course we have a little problem with this year's group.
This year I decided to introduce the babies to the great outdoors by taking them on little field trips to the garden.  One-by-one I would scoop them up out of their chicken nursery, place them into a small pet carrier before toting them outside.  This has worked extremely well.  No one fusses about being handled.   They know that I'll keep them safe from anything scary that might come along (larger birds, plastic bags, big trucks rumbling down the road, etc).
At the end of the day, I open the carrier and call 'bed bye'.  Everyone dutifully stops whatever she's doing and ducks into the box.  Easy-peasy.  When they arrive back at the nursery, each little chicky is picked up, given a little lovin's, then put to bed.
When they moved to the chicken tractor, I forgot that merely opening the door was not going to quite do it.  Soon as I put the carrier down, everyone wanted to go into that.  Moving a small pet carrier with 13 little peepers inside is no big deal. 
150617, babies first day out
Now, with only five of the children in the carrier proves a tight fit.  But tight or no, they all wait their turn to go into the box so that one-by-one, they can be lifted out, given a little lovin's from Moma, and tucked into bed.  Bed bye...
It's going to be a long summer...

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Out in the Garden, Beans 2015

It wasn't that long ago that we cleared a spot in the garden and silently planted green and yellow bean seeds into their neat little rows.  Dutifully weeded and watered when necessary, the bean plants have flourished.
We've planted four rows of each type, with each row planted just a few days apart from the previous row.  The reason for doing this was so that we could harvest beans thoughout the season rather than for just a few short weeks.  It's pretty neat seeing the different stages of plant growth.  The lovely purple flowers of the green beans with their tiny bean pods, compliment the delicate white flowers of the yellow bean plants.
It's so nice to be in the garden in the early morning.  The dew misted over the leaves and flowers.  The birds just starting to wake up.  It's a nice reminder of the real reasons why we keep a garden.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Little chicks not so little any more, 2015

As we've been working in the garden, weeding and prepping for fall plantings, the chicks have been spending more and more time outside.  Their playpen has grown from a four by six box to a 70 square foot play area corded off in the garden.  They can run and play and, for the most part, stay out of trouble, safely behind the plastic chicken wire.  In the early morning, Mom scoops up the chicks one-by-one, putting them gently into the carrier, to be toted out to the garden.  They've been growing so fast, that soon the little pet cab will not nearly be big enough to easily accommodate its feisty passengers.
Wow!  This is nice.  did you see all the hay and fluffy stuff in here?  It's like a big nest!
 In order to get them used to the idea of a new means of transportation, we've built a mini-chicken tractor using a much larger tote set on the garden wagon.  Bungee cords hold it securely in place while it goes bumping along.  Right now it is set up to allow the babies to explore and use it for a playhouse.  A bit of carpet glued to a piece of plywood makes a fine, slipfree ramp for little babies to run up and down.
Look how HIGH I am!
The only challenge remaining is little chicks like to try their wings.  Even the smallest can fly surprisingly high once they get it into their little chicky heads that that's where they want to be.  'Lookit me!  I'm an eagle!  Lookit me SOAR!'  In a sudden explosion of feathers and fluff they take to the air, followed by a lot of complaining about being on the other side of the fence and away from the feeder, the water, and all their little friends.  Guess this is why being in the garden is a supervised activity.
We're brave little chickies!  wait a minute...was that a bug?


Monday, July 6, 2015

Puppy love, goat style

Just wanted to say that there is nothing quite as nice as having one of your little goat girls come up to you to give kisses.  Especially on a morning when you don't smell like cookies.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fourth of July party, 2015

Had a melon party at My Happy Acres.
yummy! melon!
I like it when moma holds it for me.  Then I don't get sticky paws.
This is one of the best parts of summer: sharing cool treats with our little friends.  Hope your fourth of July was a happy one!

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Spring slowly turns to Summer, 2015

The chicks are loaded in their carrier and ready for a new day out in the garden.  Provided that the weather stays mild, we'll head out.  Then, while Mom does her weeding, the chicks can explore and, hopefully, stay out of trouble. 
We're not troublesome...

Getting a snack before going outside.
 And weeding needs to be done.  With all the good rain we've had lately, the garden is lush but the weeds have also had a nice deep drink.  As the unwanted seedlings are removed, I drop them into a bucket and tote them out to Chickenland to provide the Ameraucanas with some extra treats.  They get plenty of greens, but everyone knows the stuff in the bucket always tastes so much better!

Don't think of them as weeds.  Think of them as chicken snacks.
Speaking of snacks, I am periodically reminded that we live in the country and all sorts of wild things creep and crawl around us.  Many people have a fear of snakes but I count my blessings that they help keep the mice at bay and help take care of an abundance of frogs this Spring has brought us.
The orchards are doing well this year.  We've carefully culled the apples and other fruit trees to encourage healthy growth of the remaining fruits.  Those trees that are contained within protective fencing, continue to grow tall and strong.  Unfortunately, those trees that are not fenced have been subjected to heavy browsing by our deer population.  This little cherry tree, for example, the day before was full and lush.  It had all the appearances that we would have some nice sweet cherries in a few more weeks.  Last night, the deer came.  In what only took a few minutes, left the little tree nearly leafless.  I don't know if it will ever recover or suffer from the shock causing it to either die or not produce fruit for a few years.
 Culling apples takes a long time.  We have nearly 100 trees.  Each one is carefully reviewed.  Variety and when planted is taken into account.  When an apple tree flowers, each five flower cluster can produce five apples.  If left alone, the tree will attempt to feed each of these fruitlets leading to stress on the developing tree and small uneven apples at harvest time. 
 By removing four of the five smaller fruitlets, the fruit tree focuses its energies on the single fruit and growth of the tree.  This leads to a healthier tree and larger, more uniform apples.

A lot can happen between now and harvest time.  For now we hope and pray for this year's crop.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Babies' First Day out, 2015

Wednesday was such a pretty day that I couldn't let the chance go by to pack the peepers into their carrier and take them out to the garden for awhile.  At this age, 12 days old, they're still pretty easy to handle and can be rounded up without too much difficulty.  I'm not going to get sassy about this.  I know full well that in just a few days, my bakers dozen can go from very attentive to wildly unruly, so their training needs to start now.
That's okay.  We're fine right here.
Training?  That's right.  The first step to happy chickens has been that I've been handling them regularly and talking with them so that they recognize who I am.  Next is to understand basic instructions such as 'no', 'come here', and, of course, 'bed-bye'.
I don't know.  It doesn't look like carpeting...
 After looking over the garden, I decided that one of the unused raised beds was probably the best place introduce the chickies to the big wide world.  Like a big dirt filled playpen, the raised bed had lots of straw to explore, new grass to nibble, and little crawly things to look at.  Once water and snacks were set in place, the carrier was positioned, and the door was opened.
The first half hour was spent standing firmly just inside the doorway or pecking at the back wall of the carrier (we'll tunnel our way back to the house...).  Finally, the combination of curiosity and bravery set in and a couple of chicks stepped out into the world.
Wow!  This is better than the heat lamp!
I could just hear the comments telling me that it would be the boys who would venture out first.  Remember: when Amy and the three musketeers were this size, they were always out front. I suspect that how self assured one is has more to do with how bold your parents were than whether one is a boy or girl. 
When chicks are raised by Mum, they know to stay underneath her for warmth and safety.  Where she goes, they go.  Mum encourages them to explore (sometimes with a well placed foot).  When something scary happens such as a noisy truck goes by or wild birds sing on the wire high overhead, she spreads her wings and fluffs a bit and all the chicks come running.  Instead of wings to huddle under, the chicks have a carrier filled with soft hay and chips. 
After a couple of hours, it was time to go inside for naps.  A big day out for little chickies.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Four Little Princesses

Short and sweet: soon after the girls were taken out to their pasture this morning, a light rain shower began.  Starting as a heavy mist, it turned to light sprinkles, then showers, then back to sprinkles.  The air temperature is still warm so it's not all together unpleasant to be out in it.  Our little goat girls are not that happy about being out in the rain and as soon as it picked up, headed for their playhouse.  The harder the rain came down, the louder they complained.
Around noon, I finally relented.  Slopping down the goat trail, I headed from the barn to their pasture.  "Come on Girls!" I called and they came scampering. 
All was going well until we reached the spot where a tiny stream sent a ribbon of water across the path. 
They came to an abrupt stop and bawled.  "Help!  It's a tidal wave!  It's a flood!"
"It's a tiny bit of water," I countered splashing through it to show them how shallow the puddle was.  "No! No! No! We'll wash away!" they cried, dancing back and forth.  No matter how many times I walked through the puddle to show them that there was nothing to be concerned about, the more they would have nothing of it.
After about ten minutes, brave little Jellybean came scrampering closely followed by Ms Fluffy.
Franny and Dorothy hemmed and hawed as the rains came down harder.  Finally in a burst of bravery, Franny came racing down the path with Dorothy thundering behind.  Jelly, Fluffy and I waited for the twins by the gate leading to the barn.  Soon as they got to the gate, everyone bounced around in gleeful greeting before racing to their stall.  One quick shake, then four little princesses pranced to the doorway to turn and stand watching the rain.
"That was fun!  Can we have a cookie now?  Did you see me Mom?  Did you see how fast I ran?  I ran right over the top of the river!  I coulda washed away but I didn't cause I'm fast!  Did you see me Mom?  Did ya?"
Never a dull moment.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Happy Hatchday 2015

Little chickies are peep-peep-peeping.  So far there are six eggs rocking, one completely hatched, and a few with little windows (and tiny beaks protruding) pecked out.

Tomorrow we should have an incubator full of little fuzzballs.

...and yes, I know, the pictures are a little fuzzy.  It's not easy to get a digital camera to focus through a window without removing the glass.  Keeping the heat in and the babies safe and toasty, I'll just have to live with some grainy photos.  8D

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Growing Asparagus 2015

Several years ago, on a lark, we decided to plant some asparagus.  We purchased five tiny rootlets and carefully followed the instructions to plant them.  The first year, as expected, we got nothing.  The second year, we had enough asparagus to enjoy for several weeks.
Deciding that they were planted in a bad place, we took the garden fork and dug a few up.
Rootlet (before)

Happy asparagus rootball (after)

The asparagus have been transplanted to a nice, safe place in the garden where they'll get lots of fresh compost and regular weeding.  Maybe in a year or two, we'll start getting asparagus again.