Friday, July 31, 2009

The Turkeys

Since I was successful in keeping my chickens alive, I decided this year to also do some heritage breed turkeys. I was just going to try about 6-10 birds, to see how it went. Originally, I had wanted Bourbon Red turkeys, but as it turns out, I was too late to get any of those. So, my breeder on Saltspring Island suggested Blue Slate. They are also a heritage breed, and a rare breed. They have different colour variations within the breed. I got my first 3 little poults in on July 14. They were 2 days old. Any minute now, I should get the email that says the remaining 7 poults are born, and I can go and visit Saltspring to pick them up. I wanted to visit the breeders' farm, just to see how she sets everything up, and see what more I can learn about raising turkeys!
So far, my first three are doing really well. They are growing like stink, and have already started to fly!
Originally, I was going to raise my chicken and turkey poults together in the same coop. Then, I found out that chickens can possibly carry a blackhead disease, which is lethal to turkeys. All of a sudden, I found myself having to figure out how to build yet ANOTHER coop on a tight budget. I will have a bizillion coops built by the time I am finished here... lol!
I couldn't figure out how to build a coop this time. I didn't have a shack to convert. Luckily, one of my wonderful dog boarding customers dropped by, and we got to chatting, and he offered to come and help me turn the old kid's play fort into a coop for me. In exchange, I would give him a nice, big, juicy turkey when they are ready just before Christmas. I LOVE the barter system! Anyway, Jamie came over and did an amazing job with the coop- built me a roost and everything! So now my little turkeys are all snug in their new house with no danger of contracting the blackhead disease. I still have to build a run for them, but I think I have a couple more weeks to get that done.

The Well

Uh-oh.... problems with the well. The other night, while watering the garden, the water ran out. I've been trying to go really easy on the well, and only water one or two gardens at a time, but even that was too much for it. It replenished itself within about a half-hour, but it still makes me crazy-worry. I am on the verge of harvesting my first tomato, and would really like to be able to keep a few crops going. If we don't get a good, solid rain in the next week or two, I won't be able to sow my fall crop, either. I was really counting on those crops to get me through the winter.

I have future plans on installing a grey water system into the house, and will redirect all my grey water, plus all the rain water from my gutters into a big cistern that I hope to have buried in the yard. Then, I will be able to use that water during these drought times. It was going to be my two-year plan, but I am going to start costing it right away, and will see if there is some way to get it installed next spring. Even if I can just save the rain water for now. I have garbage cans under the downspouts at the moment, catching the rain (when we get it!), but it's not even close to being enough. I use all the water in the cans within 2 or 3 days after a good rain. It JUST barely covers my patio plants. Isn't even close to helping me with the gardens.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

more on the gardens....

So, to make my garden beds, I took a 4 x 10' frame, 10" tall, and layered newspapers or cardboard down underneath, to keep the weeds from coming up. I then put soil (and sometimes manure) in, and basically planted.

Things I learned: #1- put a WAY thicker layer of newspapers and cardboard down. What I did helped, but the really tenacious weeds came through anyway.

#2- when putting landscape fabric down between the beds, make sure you have mulch or something to cover it up instantly, or the fabric gets shot to hell, and the weeds and grass take over everything.

#3- always put a nice, thick, juicy layer of manure under the soil. The more organic material, the better!

I worked really, really hard this spring at putting landscape fabric down between all the beds. My plan is to get bark mulch in for the pathways, and it will make it look pretty, too. Now, I will have to do it all over again. I am posting some pics of my garden today. We are in a drought period, and it is bloody hot. 36 c today. (for you yankees out there, that's 108 F). This is NOT NORMAL for the Island. The weatherman is predicting this extreme heat from here until forever. Maybe it just feels that way. I can't believe I am saying this, but what I wouldn't do for a huge rainfall right now! So, hopefully this helps to explain why my gardens look so sad and dry. And the grass is taking over all over the place. I need a cow to come mow it all down!

The Garden

My garden.... I have such big plans for this part of the property! I spent non-rainy days all winter building 25 4 x 10' garden beds with 2 x 10" lumber. I hand cut all the lumber, as I don't have a skill saw or anything else yet. I planted lots of crops, most of which did not do well due to the cold, crappy spring we had. The dumptruck load of soil I bought was supposed to have compost and chicken manure in it. Well, maybe it did, but the first beds I planted grew like crap. The later beds I planted, when I had access to horse manure, grew astoundingly well. With those beds, I put a layer of manure down, then covered it with soil, then planted. Everything I planted grew gangbusters in those beds. Peas, potatoes, and white onions. Currently, I am working on putting lots and lots of manure into the harvested beds, in preperation for a fall planting. If all goes well, I should be able to do most of that in about 2 weeks time. My constant worry right now is water. I have a shallow well, only 14' deep. I was told it was a good well by the previous owners, but were they watering 25 garden beds in a heat wave? Probably not! Every day, I worry I will run out. I pryed the top off the well the other day. I can see water, but I have no way of knowing how deep it is, or how it is replenished. Does anyone have a really big stick I can poke down there to measure the depth?? lol!

I am planning on putting in another 25 beds this winter. IF I can make enough money to buy another load of soil, and the lumber to make the beds! I would really like to be able to sell at the farmers' markets next year, and make some extra cash.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Where to start?... with the chickens, I guess!!

I did a ton of research before deciding which breed of chickens to get. I had a few prerequisites- they had to be heritage breed, they had to be dual purpose, and I would prefer it if they were on the endangered or critial list according to Rare Breeds Canada. I ended up choosing Dorkings, partly because they are a beautiful bird, dual purpose, they can raise their own young, they have an amazing history (dating back at least 500 years) and the clincher was that they were friendlier and more docile than most breeds. I thought that was a great thing for a first-time chicken raiser! (They still freak me out, though!) Anyway, I recieved my first 18 birds just after I moved in last Sept. I kept them in my office at first with a brooder light. They outgrew their first rubbermaid home in a matter of days. So, I fashioned them a little bit bigger cage with chicken wire. Holy, moly, do those little birds smell in the house! It wasn't long before I was desperate to get them out of the house. First, I had to make them a coop, so the dogs wouldn't get in and eat them! I scrounged as much free materials as I could (remember, I was unemployed, and frugal was the word of the day!) and turned the little shack on the property into a chicken house. I made a double-dutch door with scraps of plywood, but had to purchase some hinges for it. Even though it was getting cold, and the little birds weren't fully feathered yet, they were going OUTSIDE, even if it killed them. Seriously, the smell..... Ugh!

Needless to say, they survived! Success! While the birds were in their little shack, keeping warm, I spent days and days putting in scrounged up fence-posts for a run, and had was even able to scrounge up some wire for the fencing. The birds ended up with a run that is about 900 sq ft. I think I managed to do most of that first coop for about $50 or so.

The birds were growing like crazy. The roosters were starting to fight over the girls. I discovered I had 7 pullets (females) and 11 roosters. So, I got busy making a second coop out of the old little building the previous owners kept pot-bellied pigs in. I was able to scrounge a few more fence posts, but had to resort to purchasing 2 rolls of stucco wire, and a few more fence posts for this coop. This one was expensive... ended up costing me a bit over $200. You would think wire would be cheaper!! As soon as it was up, 10 of the 11 males got moved into it. I kept one male, the biggest one, to service the girls. What a lucky boy! I've named him Bully, because he's always bullying the girls and getting his way with them.

22 weeks after I got the chickens, the 10 males went into the freezer. No, I didn't butcher them myself... I got a local butcher to do them. Not ready for that. Not sure I ever will be.

The hens started laying in Feb/March. The eggs are a white/cream colour, and a medium size. I have really learned to rely on always having fresh eggs around. I eat them for breakfast, use them for baking, and put them into my home-made deer control with garlic to spray on my veggie garden. LOVE having fresh eggs all the time! I have also been selling them for $3 a doz- I won't get rich, but the birds are now paying for their own feed. What could be better than that?!

About a month ago, I invested in a used incubator. My hens were refusing to go broody, and I wanted a larger flock. I need more eggs to sell, I never have enough, and I want some more roasters to go into the freezer for the winter. I tried incubating 24 eggs. Nothing. After 21 days, no babies were born. My sister came to visit, and was braver than I, and broke one open. Turns out, the eggs weren't even fertile. So, either my Bully is shooting blanks, or I am doing something wrong. Just don't know what yet.

So, I bit the bullet, and bought 30 more poults about 2 weeks ago. They are all healthy and thriving. The amazing thing about heritage breeds is the low death rate. When you get hybrid birds, you can always expect you will lose about 10-15% of them in the first few days of their lives. My heritage birds? Out of a total of 48 birds, I have lost none. I admit that I am quite proud of this fact!

Wouldn't you know it... a few days after getting the new hatch of birds, one of my hens goes broody. I let her brood for 5 or 6 days. Then, I start thinking... maybe this hen knows something I don't? So, I took her eggs just yesterday, and put them into the incubator. Maybe something new will happen... you never know. There are 16 eggs in there right now. Will keep you updated! Keep your fingers crossed....

Monday, July 27, 2009


So, I have been on my farm for about 10 months now. Ten of the scariest months of my life. Shortly after plunging in and buying the place, I lost my job. EEEK! Now what? Well, mostly I starved all winter. I wasn't able to find a job that would pay me enough to keep my little farm. So, I decided to start making a living from the farm. I opened my own business, doing dog boarding and doggy day care. Dogs (of which I have 3) are my first love. So, what better than spending my days playing with lots of them? I have also started 25 4x10' raised garden beds, and have plans to put in at least 25 more, with the idea that I can grow extra veggies and sell them at the local farmers' markets. Two days after moving in, I got my first 18 Dorking heritage-breed chickens. These are a dual purpose chicken, and very rare. It is estimated that there are only 100 or so of these birds in all of Canada. More on these later! I have been selling their eggs, and plan on raising more to sell the roasters, as well. Since I was successful in keeping those alive all winter, I have also decided to raise some heritage turkeys. I will be getting 10 poults in, and will keep 2 for my own freezer, and have already pre-sold all the rest. Maybe I should have done more??? Well, I am busy enough for the moment in my first year here!

Flooded Driveway

Flooded Driveway
Too much RAIN!