Wednesday, April 30, 2014


We finally had a big bonfire the other night. We have wanted to burn some of the huge wood piles we have accumulated around the property. Most of the piles were created when we did the fencing project. The pile we chose to burn first was one that was on the property when we arrived.

There was a county wide burn ban for many months which prevented us having a bonfire. Then the weather was too cold. Or too windy. Or too wet.

So finally the conditions were right and we set the date. We decided to invite a few friends to join us and made an evening of it. We gathered at the house and ate around the back deck. Then around sunset, Guv'nor lit the bonfire. Apparently dousing with diesel is the best way to get it started. We all took our lawn chairs out there and gathered around to watch the flames and sing.

It was the biggest bonfire most of us had seen. It was probably 30-40 feet in diameter to begin with. And the heat was so intense we had to sit about 15-20 yards away. As the fire died down, we inched closer to the flame. Eventually we were able to roast a few marshmallows for s'mores.

Many thanks to Neighbor who came over when he wasn't feeling well with his handy tractor to keep things contained.

I took this photo from the front porch after the bonfire had been burning about 10 minutes.

The fire was about 30 feet in diameter and the flames shot up about as high.

We sat around the fire and watched the flames and sang hymns.

We inched closer as the fire died down.

A few times the flames shot up higher.

Neighbor and his tractor were always close at hand.

A couple days later we were left with dirt and ash.

We had forgotten this burn pile had been started by the Priors and discovered non-burnable items.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Incubator Eggs

We thought we'd try to hatch some of our own eggs. We figure our eggs are well fertilized having two roosters with the six hens. In fact, overly fertilized to the point that our poor little hens are stressed and have lost many feathers. We do plan to fix that problem very soon.

Meanwhile, I found a small incubator online and ordered it. I chose the Brinsea Mini Advance. After sifting through the complicated instructions, I was finally able to program it and put seven eggs in it. I used two day's worth of eggs, six from one day and another from the next. As long as they have not been refrigerated, the fertilized eggs can be collected and saved for 7-10 days before incubating.

The incubator was fully automatic and kept the eggs at a constant 99.5 degrees, rolled them every half hour one way and then the other way, and gave a countdown to hatch day. Incubating period for chickens is 21 days. I started three weeks before I had my mail order chicks due to arrive so that the two sets of chicks could be kept in the brooding pen at the same time.

The instructions recommended "candling" them once a week and also weighing them to make sure they were growing. I candled the eggs by putting them over a flashlight and then traced around the end of the egg that appeared lighter and clearer. The lighter area is an air pocket and as the eggs mature the lighter area gets bigger. The eggs also lose weight at about 1 gram every 2-3 days.

On day 20, we started hearing chirping coming from inside the incubator. This was our first confirmation that there really was something inside the eggs. I did a quick check and could hear sounds from 6 of the 7 eggs.

The chicks started cracking the shells and popping out right on schedule the morning of day 21. Within about 3 hours, six had hatched. The instructions also said not to be in a hurry to open the incubator and take them out. The chicks can survive for 2-3 days inside the incubator, living off nutrients from inside the egg shell. So I waited another day to see if the seventh egg would hatch, but it didn't.

So the next morning, I unplugged the incubator and took it out to the garage and set it down inside the brooding pen. The brown chicks were scared and crowded as far away as possible. The newborn black chicks also clustered together. It was a little like a school playground when a new student arrives.

In less than an hour the two sets of chicks were fully integrated and accepting of each other. It was interesting to see the differences between the two sets of chicks even though only a few days age difference.

The Brinsea Mini Advance incubator can hold 7 chicken eggs.

The incubator was warming to the  programmed 99.5 degrees

Most of the eggs were from April 2nd.

The weights of the eggs ranged from 58g to 64g.

The eggs were laid with the small end towards the outside. Water was in the center.

With the lid on, the temperature and humidity were kept constant.

Egg before incubation
Egg before incubation held over a flashlight.

After one week, most of the egg is dense with a small clear area visible on one end. I traced with a pencil around this area.

The first chick hatched and was waiting for us on Day 21.

This chick is only a few minutes old.

Other eggs began to crack around the air pocket very near the pencil line.

The second chick hatched within a few minutes.

Soon it was difficult to distinguish between chicks and eggs.

I put the incubator down in the brooding pen to open it.

The new chicks huddled together for safety and warmth.

The older chicks were huddled as far away as possible.

Within 30 minutes, the chicks were mixing together and seemed happy.

This is what was left one day after the chicks hatched and with an unpleasant smell.

I cracked open the egg that didn't hatch and found a partially developed chick.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

More Chicks

I ordered more chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery and they arrived yesterday in the mail. I chose a different breed this year. I wanted a variety of colors of the eggs and chose a breed that produces blue and green eggs - often called Easter Eggs. The chicks are a cross between Ameraucana and Araucana and are variations of white to brown. Unlike the Black Australorps last year which are almost identical and hard to distinguish, these are all slightly different.

I had help this year from Groom, who made me a more substantial brooding pen out of tempered hardboard. It is a clever design that I think Bride had seen on Pinterest. Each section slots together to form as large an area as you need. He made me ten sections and I've used nine of them this time. And when I'm finished with it, I can just take it all apart for storage.

I've also been trying to hatch some of our own eggs, but I'll save that for another post.

The chicks arrive in a small cardboard box making lots of noise.

I ordered 15 again this year.

The little chicks fit into the palm of my hand.

I introduced each chick one at a time to the waterer to make sure they got a drink.

The chicks self-regulate their temperature as they move freely under the heat lamp.

It's hard to get a clear photo because the chicks are in perpetual motion.

I put newspaper over the litter for the first day so they wouldn't eat the litter.

The chicks are all trying to crowd around the feed tray.

I cleared a space in the center of the garage under the door opener to suspend the heat lamp.

Each section of the pen slots together to form a 5 foot diameter.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring Planting

I think we've finished with the spring planting. The recommended planting date is after the last freeze. But the weather has been so erratic lately that it was difficult to know when you were having the last one. We just set a new record for the latest frost of the year.

Everything is looking nice and green at the moment, and I am going to try to be diligent and keep it that way.

I planted Red Romaine lettuce in the hydroponic planters.

I also planted some Round green lettuce in the hydroponic planters.

We planted two presidential rose bushes: "Kennedy" and "Lincoln".

We planted two thornless blackberry bushes.

We planted the roses and blackberries along the side of the back deck.

This raised bed has potatoes and tomatoes planted and growing nicely.

The asparagus is beginning to sprout. So far 8 of the 10 plants have sprouted.

The remainder of the raised bed has onions, which are growing nicely.

The potato plants are doing well and are very leafy.

The hydroponics have lettuce, strawberries, tomatoes, and a few herbs.

Guv'nor planted two apple trees at the back: Granny Smith and Mollie's Delicious.

Guv'nor also planted four raspberry canes at the front of the house.