I successfully incubated and raised up 15 new hens this year, and I’ve been waiting and waiting for them to start laying eggs. I have two customers who buy three dozen eggs a week from me, and in an effort to keep them supplied so I don’t lose them as customers in the winter (once the farmers market ends and I don’t have another outlet to sell eggs), I’ve hardly had any eggs for myself these last few months. So it was with real joy that I found my first “pullet” egg on August 9th. I had expected, based on previous experience, to find new eggs sometime around the 19th, so a few of the girls are ahead of schedule.
When young hens first start laying eggs, the eggs are small. Sometimes they are huge and have a double yoke. On rare occasions, they lay one without a shell. Like a teenage girl hitting puberty, it takes a while to get the hormones sorted out. I LOVE the colored “easter egger” eggs, and so am pleased to find that two of my hens have the easter egg gene and are laying army green colored eggs. Small eggs are called “pullet” eggs. Sexed day-old chicks are also called “pullets”. Go figure.
Charlie the turkey has learned how to gobble. He doesn’t do it a lot, but I’m just tickled that he does it at all.
The ducks are hitting puberty, and often can be found trying to mate in the pond, where the poor female is about half drowned by the end of the act. Sheesh. But, by my more recent calculations (I clearly missed something the first time I tried to figure it out) they should start laying eggs sometime around the first of September. Yeah!
They say ducks thrive on routine. What they should tell you is that ducks hate change. It took us weeks, and a physical intervention where we held each one of them in the water (with my husband chanting to them “find your zen, find your zen”) to convince them to go back into our stock tank pond, after something we did freaked them out. We then put up some horse panels on two sides, in anticipation of putting up a tarp to shade it, and they took another two day break before they trusted it again. We’ve held off on the tarp. But they are beautiful, and fun to watch, and spend a lot of time foraging, so don’t eat a lot. Go ducks.
We’ve grazed, mowed, and in some small areas, sprayed our back pasture in an effort to keep the star thistle from going to seed. From what I’ve been reading, it will take us a good three years to exhaust the seed bank enough to not be battling it all the time. Damn. The mowing is quite dusty work, as the pasture isn’t currently irrigated.
I’ve been harvesting like a mad woman. The loaded plum tree is about done. We ate a bunch, I made a batch of jam, I sold quite a few pounds at the farmers market, I’ve thrown hundreds of bird pecked ones to the goats, and am now making a plum wine out of the last of them (blog post with details to follow). They were lovely, and not buggy for the lack of any spraying.
The nectarine tree, which looks like it should die any day given the condition of the main branches, which are missing large portions of bark, broke off 4 loaded branches (which were way too high to prop up – the tree was never pruned properly). I was able to pick quite a few, but they were buggy, and infested with earwigs (God I hate earwigs), and kind of bitter, and overall a bust (though the goats and chickens appreciated them). We’ll take the tree out and plant an apricot or a sour cherry in its place.
Our pear tree also lost a branch, but I was able to harvest the pears off of it and am waiting for them to get ripe (pears are harvested before they get soft, or their “stone cells” fully develop and make eating them kind of like chewing on sand). We’re now thinking it’s a red bartlett. Lots more on the tree. I’m anticipating some perry – a version of hard apple cider, but made with pears, for most of the harvest. Some are a bit buggy. Some are quite small (more food for goats/chickens).
The cantaloupe (Hanna’s Choice variety) pretty much all came ripe at once. Since I was never able to successfully grow melons in Colorado (too cold – too short of a growing season), this is really my first successful attempt. Thankfully, cantaloupe let you know when they are ripe by changing color and releasing from their vine. They are wonderfully flavored, and I sold most all of them at the farmers market on Wednesday.
I harvested one of the Moon and Stars Watermelons last Saturday as well. The verdict…not quite ripe. We ate 1/4 of it and gave the rest to the chickens, who ate it down to the rind. Watermelons have a little curly cue tendril near the fruit, and when this dries out, it is supposed to be ready. But “how” dried out? The end of this one was dry, but not the whole thing. Live and learn.
And corn…another thing I had given up trying to grow in Colorado. The earwigs would eat the silks and prevent the ears from filling out, and the short season and cold nights made it really difficult to get a harvest. So in 20 years of gardening in four states, I think I’ve grown sweet corn maybe twice. Turns out there are lots of varieties, and hybrids of hybrids since I last really researched varieties.
The more recent hybrids are sweeter, and hold better both on the stalk and after harvest before turning starchy. The old fashioned open pollinated varieties had such a short holding period before the sweetness turned to starch that you were told to have the pot of water boiling before you went out to get the ears off the stalks. The variety I grew (purchased as a bit of an impulse buy at a feed store) was an older variety called Peaches and Cream. My inexperience caused me to wait a few days too long to harvest, so while it was good, it wasn’t outstanding. But I did blanch, cut off the cob, and freeze about 20 pounds of it, and pressure canned a few pints, and dried a few pounds as well (never know when the electricity might go out). Yes, I could have sold it at market, but it was a little starchy, and everyone and their brother has corn right now, 4 for $1. So I would have only made about $30, and the product wasn’t as good as I would have liked. So…more for me. It will make lots of great corn chowder this winter.
How NOT to grow potatoes. Plant them really early, before you get your tiller, relying on the disking you had done to prep the soil. Plant really deep. Have a late frost that nips them back to the ground. Let them get completely overrun with grass because you didn’t till/can’t get ahead of it. And then be very sad when instead of getting 10 pounds for every pound you planted, you get about 1/4 of that. But I have enough to save for planting next year, and learned a lot of important lessons. And we’ll have a few for chowder and mashing and whatnot.
So far, I’ve canned apricot/cherry jam, plum jam, blackberry/chokecherry jam, chokecherry jam, chokecherry syrup, cherry syrup, pickle relish, cherry tomato relish, tomatillo salsa, roasted tomatillo/chipotle salsa (future blog post), tomato jam (a first this year…quite good) and apricot BBQ sauce.
I’ve frozen several gallon freezer bags of blackberries and blueberries. And home grown chicken. And roasted tomato sauce (future blog post). And a boat load of corn. And kale/chard/spinach that didn’t sell at market.
In the dehydrator: cayenne and paprika peppers (later used ground), principe tomatoes, blueberries, apricots, corn and basil (I know, it’s better frozen, but I use it in dried herb mixes all the time).
Still to come: pesto, and peaches, for a start. Phew.
Occasionally, I stop and enjoy the sunset before I go back inside and try to figure out what to do with all of the “fill in the blank”: tomatoes, sun spotted bell peppers, ground cherries, eggplant…all of which are sitting on my kitchen counter right now. Baba ganoush (eggplant dip) anyone?
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2012, where we’re miles away from running out of room in the freezer or the pantry, thank goodness, because August is harvest season. It’s been a truly abundant summer!