Monday, March 31, 2008

Clancy "guards" the chicks, circa 2007

I'm cleaning out my computer at work before I retire from my job at UNC on Friday, and found this one from last year. The brooders are updated now with peaked roofs, but that doesn't stop our cats from snooping around every time peeping is heard. When we get a box of hungry peeping chicks in the mail we always look up and suddenly appears Clancy or Niro offering their chick "security" services.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The ever present deer issue

Every farmer and gardener has different methods of dealing with the deer problem but most farmers we know use electric fencing baited with peanut butter. The idea is that the deer will go for the peanut butter, get zapped, and become "trained" not to go near the fence.

We just put the electric charger and fence in this year. In previous years our free-roaming dog Mama would chase the deer enough to keep the crop losses to a minimum. Now at 10 she's still a healthy dog and does her job of herding the cars out of the driveway (video of that someday), but we think she's getting a bit too used to the deer. She does manage to bag an average of 3 possums a year. She got one earlier this year up in the field.

..."Mama! Look! Deer! Look! Down there! Go get 'em!"

We do have this little 1 year old terror though:

Maggie. Cute right? Well, she's insane. And she can't tell deer from chickens. She has plenty of room but for the health of the livestock and area wildlife in general, including bipedal package carriers, we keep her on a 100 ft. run with a long line when we can't keep an eye on her. She still manages to find a carcass here and there (see at 9 oclock). At night when she hears anything she'll let out a mean bark & growl like she's a 100 lb. wolf. That helps keep away deer and other predators, we like to think.

So that's our combination electric fence and canine method of deer prevention. Other farmers we know use the combination electric fence and lead method, which we have yet to employ.

Still though, the deer manage to sneak past our front. We had some strawberries taken - though not many.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

3-day-olds in the brooder

This photo was taken a minute after feeding at 6:30am this morning. Little dudes are crowding around/on top of the feeder. Once a few get full the feeders will be less crowded but constantly attended to by the hungry Cornish Rocks. A few look up at me suspiciously. They are still afraid of me but soon they'll learn that I'm the guy with the feed. Each time we get new chicks (every 2 weeks) a clean layer of pine shavings is applied to the bedding that is kept aerated to ensure a good carbon ratio. Otherwise ammonia will build up and the chicks health will be affected. Once they get out on the pasture and are moved daily we have no need for bedding.

A 250 watt heat lamp keeps them warm on these cold March nights with another late winter this year. We have two going for each brooder at night to ensure they're comfortable. On a warm day like today we'll turn one or both off in the daytime and they can get some sunlight coming through the sides of the peaked brooders.

After two weeks they are ready for the field provided it's warm enough at night. We've had to rig up some more lights in one of our movable pens as a transition from brooder to field because of how cold it's been at night.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

strawberries and garlic

Passive Solar Greenhouse for transplants

We built our passive solar greenhouse this past winter and as you can see we're still putting finishing touches on it. A passive solar greenhouse differs from a standard greenhouse in that you do not have to heat it with an outside source (such as a kerosene heater) during the cold months. It is heated entirely by the sun and water.

A wall facing due south and angled at 55 degrees is covered with a double layer of greenhouse plastic, held on with wiggle wire. A mounted fan between the layers inflates the plastic and keeps it rigid in high winds. The sun's path in the winter is in the Southern sky, so a South-facing wall will get most of the sun's rays during cold months, while taking in less sun during the summer when the sun is directly overhead. At a 55 degree angle at our latitude, the South-facing wall should be perpendicular with the sun's rays on the vernal equinox, March 21.

The North, East and West walls are insulated and covered with plywood. The interior will be painted all white to reflect the sunlight onto the plants. Nine 55 gallon drums filled with water are under the back transplant bench. In the day the water absorbs the heat from the sun and at night uses that stored heat to keep the greenhouse warm. Vents above both doors that we can open and close and a soffet vent along the peak help keep the heat down in the daytime.

With rising energy costs (economic/social/environmental), many are looking toward "alternative" energy sources, which in some cases may be just as if not more harmful . Others are thinking of ways to use less energy or harness solar and wind energy that is already present. Germany is building the " passivhaus " which are houses designed to require no heating or cooling systems.

We live in a small apartment above a garage, that we designed with south-facing windows. We needed something quick and cheap and with storage/workshop capacity, so we couldn't go entirely passive solar, but simply having it south-oriented means that at certain times of year (including now) we need no supplemental heat (maybe an extra blanket at night). When we have to heat it's currently with electric baseboard heating but we are going to get a wood-burning stove, hopefully by next winter, so we can be off the grid in that respect and use fuel from our woods. We get so much wind on our farm that I'm sure a windmill could at least power the refrigerator, and we'd love to be able to sell back energy from solar panels, but the infrastructure for solar and wind is so cost-prohibitive that it's impossible for people at our income level to do. In the science magazines I read there are frequent articles about less expensive solar collectors being developed so hopefully the technology can catch up to the economic realities.

In the meantime I'm wondering about the possibility of a passive solar brooder for our chicks, as we see the electric bill shoot up when we get 4-6 heat lamps going at once.

Monday, March 10, 2008

3 1/2 week old cornish rock chicks

getting some sun on a cool march day

Friday, March 7, 2008

Pictures soon!

We're getting a new digital camera in the mail on Monday so soon we'll have pictures of chickens, the passive solar greenhouse and veggies growing in the field. Stay tuned.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Durham Farmers' Market

We have been accepted into Durham Farmers' Market for this season! We are so psyched. Brian will be selling up there on Saturdays 8am-noon (and probably Wednesdays too, starting in May) and Joann will stay selling at Carrboro.

We have a busy year ahead of us. We're growing triple what we did last year for most of our product - and with some product more than that.

Local food is a whole new way (and old fashioned way) of experiencing food, not just something you choose at the supermarket, not just a fad diet. Once you get into it, there's no turning back. At least that's the way it was for us.

We hope people will give local food time to grow and develop. It's very hard for farmers on a small scale to expand and meet the current demand. And in many cases the customers are foregoing many of the conveniences of the industrial food system. But in place of convenience, you get quality, and we hope quality keeps folks coming back season after season.