Sunday, November 21, 2010

Creative Problem Solving

As a technologist and an IT engineer at heart, I have developed a real passion for solving problems and figuring out ways to make things efficient.  Farm projects provide a lot of opportunity for this and are a great hobby for keeping these skills sharp.

So here's problem number one.  The builder of our house put the pressure tank for the well and the associated plumbing in a small shed, which we call the pump house.  I think the reason for this was to reduce the Summer humidity in the house by keeping the condensation buildup on the tank in a separate building.

Pump House
Unfortunately, this also means another space that needs to be heated in the winter, which we've done with space heaters and electric pipe warmers, an expensive and risky approach.  Last year I tried just going with the pipe warmers and in the middle of preparing Christmas Eve dinner we had a sudden drop in water pressure.  After some inside troubleshooting I trudged through two feet of snow to find the pump house flooded and water spraying everywhere from a burst pipe because of a failed warmer.  Some quick pipe sweating and dinner was back on track, but the moist warm environment ended up becoming a neon sign for Norway Rats, who proceeded to tear apart the fiberglass insulation throughout the shed.

Problem number two is that we've been pretty lax with our layer chickens and they've gone pretty much rogue.  They've scattered themselves around the property and have taken to sleeping in the trees.  They have also found alternative spots for laying eggs and I haven't been able to track them down, except for stumbling on an occasional nest, which we won't use.  At some point I'll take on capturing the birds and confining them to the portable coop to "train" them to lay in the box, but sometimes it's as easy to start with some fresh chicks.

A while back I found a clutch of eggs in the woods and threw these and a few others in the incubator.  When they hatched, the pump house got cleaned out and the brooder relocated inside.

Blue Pressure Tank & Brooder
The heat lamp needs to be on for the chicks, why not have it do double duty and eliminate the need for the other heaters in the pump house?  So far it's working great and we'll have a fresh batch of layers producing in the Spring.  I wish I had thought of this last year.

Natural Bug Spray

Here's the recipe for the spray I used in the garden and orchard this year.  I combined a few recipes off the internet and composed my own concoction on a torn up scrap of paper, so it's time to document it properly for next year before I lose it.  It seemed to work reasonably well as the bugs didn't pose much of a problem until I stopped using it.  As it was my first year raising bees I was concerned about spraying at all, but when I stopped, the bugs really picked up.

6 Cloves Garlic
1 Onion
1-3 Hot Peppers, depending on size & heat
1 Tbs Liquid Soap
1 Tbs Vinegar
1 Tbs Baking Soda

Mix the Garlic, Pepper & Onion in a food processor with enough water to make a thin slurry.  Transfer the mix to a bowl or 1 quart canning jar and let sit overnight.  The next day, pour through cheesecloth or a fine strainer into 2 gallon sprayer, fill the container to the 2 gallon mark and add the remaining ingredients.  When filling the container, run the water over the vegetable mix to capture more of the flavor.  Give it a good shake and it's ready to use.  

The best time to spray is early morning after the dew has evaporated a bit.  I also spray some in the evenings as that can be a pretty busy time for bugs.  The nice thing about this spray is it makes your garden smell like an Italian kitchen.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Downside of Farming

Most of the time I spend thinking about farming it's about the positive aspects of generating our own food and improving the land.  Things like appreciating superior food quality, the joy of watching livestock antics and the satisfaction of helping to preserve the genetic diversity of critical species.  But the farming experience is certainly filled with it's share of challenges.  It's not too hard to move on after a crappy corn season due to a drought, peas that went from seed to the compost pile from a sudden heat wave, or an epidemic season of squash bugs wiping out the majority of Cucerbits.  And then there are the real problems...

A couple weeks ago I moved the broilers out to pasture.  The hatchery was back ordered this fall, so our chicks arrived about a month after I had originally planned, which pushed the raising period into cool / cold weather. 

Moving Chicks to Pasture
About 10% of the flock died from the cold the first two nights outdoors, but the rest adapted well and really started to put on some weight.  That's a pretty big loss ratio for us, but it's recoverable.  About two weeks later, I went to the coop for morning feeding and all but three birds had been killed by a predator.  By the nature of the kill, my estimation is that one or more weasels dug through the coop and went on a killing spree.  A weasel will go after young poultry and basically kill everything in sight.  They bite the head off a chick, lick the blood pumping out and move on to the next one.  The really disturbing part is they don't eat much and leave the carcasses behind - a total waste.  I'd much rather have a fox in the hen house.   A fox will grab a couple birds and drag them away, but at least they eat what they kill like a respectful hunter.

So that's the end of our fall chicken project.  We're close to finishing the meat we've been keeping from our summer broilers and the next batch won't be ready until May or June, so it's probably back to grocery chicken for a while.  At least I'll get a chance to appreciate what I'm missing in the meantime.