I Promise to keep this website updated more regularly and to post in the Journal at least once a month! :) I cannot believe how time has flown since I last posted! We have been busy...to catch you up- we were playing catch up and keep up the entire year of 2016. We completed some big projects: built a new water pump house, with a hand pump for emergencies; installed Solar power and will be adding more panels and batteries this year too; built a feed shed; built a small barn in the back of the property near the chicken coops; installed new windows in the old 1902 house; resided the house; and had the old barn rebuilt. We still have painting and finishing touches to complete all over the place!...but we are very excited about the future. We are trying to get all the big projects done before C.A. retires in a few years and we have no money! :) We still have to finish the downstairs bathroom remodel also...but that will wait until Winter. No time for remodeling during the spring or summer...it takes all hands on deck to keep up with it all during the growing season. Planting, mowing and chick-ing has started! See you again soon!
Farm life is always a mix of good and bad. This summer is flying...we have the plastic off the hoophouse, repairing and replacing the 6 mil plastic that will enable us to grow food and protect tender plants all winter. We are on our 3rd hatching of chicks that we bred ourselves, using our best hens and our great Roo. This 3rd group will be meat birds, only living around 10-12 weeks before harvesting for meat. Our first two hatchings will be our new layers and we will keep one Rooster for breeding. The disappointments this season have been our vegetable gardens...we planted late due to all the rain in May, then it went from cold to hot. Just not our year for great veggies. The weeds are thriving though! Another disappointment is our honey harvest. Two years ago we got 150 pounds, last year only 30, this year-none. Nothing has changed except the bees. They seem weaker. I know some bee keepers who are still having some luck, but not us. As we lose hives at off site locations, we will presently not replace them. We will still keep hives at the farm, but can't afford to keep spending monies with no return of "honey money". We will not give up, we still have 8 hives...hopefully things will get better. All we can do it our best! A world without honey bees would be a sad place. Something I am excited about is the direction we are going with our little mini-farm. We will continue to explore growing and selling, culinary and medicinal herbs in 2017. We want to have rows of herbs to cut and sell to local restaurants, as well as inviting customers to our farm next year. We are still trying to figure all this out...looking forward to having time this winter to do so! For now...out to do some weeding and grass mowing...wow! it is hot!
Really behind this year due to 9 inches of rain in May and out of town trips to visit our Kids and Gkids...but really great to see everyone! We all live so far away from each other, so it is wonderful when we get to spend time together! We are still working overtime to get caught up, but we have had to realize that we just can't do some things this season...it is too late for beets, some cut flowers, etc. Time to move on...already thinking of starting seedlings for planting this Fall. We are on our second hatching of chicks to replace aging layers...then will do a third hatching of meat birds to fill the freezer for winter. We want to try hatching naturally with Hens, but it is so easy to hatch with the incubator...you pick the eggs, they incubate for 21 days and hatch on schedule....so convenient. We are using the Brinsea Eco Glo Heat table to warm our new chicks now. You can see pictures on the home page...it uses less electricity, won't burn your coop down or kill your chickens, and the chicks get under it like they would a hen...they love it! After experimenting with different breeds, we have settled on raising Rhode Island Reds. They consistently lay extra large brown eggs and handle cold and hot weather well. They can be a bit agressive, but like the honey bees, we find the more agressive they are, the healthier they are the better at surviving. Nature hates weakness. We have ten healthy hives right now...5 on our property and 5 scattered around Gloucester and Mathews Counties. We expect honey from 5 of them...the others are new and won't give us honey until next year. We didn's get a lot of honey last year...We are hoping for a better harvest this year....some "honey money" would be nice. We will extract the end of July and hopefully have fresh, raw, local honey available at the Farm Stand in August. Well...big storms cancelled the Farm Stand today, so heading out to weed and pot up some seedlings.
After isolating our big Rhode Island Red Rooster with 8 good laying Rhode Island Hens for the past three weeks, we have been collecting eggs to incubate for the past seven days. The eggs have to be large, a good egg shape and dark brown to qualify. We finally have 24 ready to go! We loaded the Brinsea Incubator last night and started the heat, humidity and rocking motion. It will rock for 18 days, then we will take it off the rocking cradle, increase the humidity and the chicks will start "pipping" or hatching on day 21. These will be our new layers...any Roosters will be meat birds for the freezer. This will be the first time I can use my lesson in sexing chicks when they are born. I can't wait!
We had our Solar installation last week...wow! What a feeling to know you can live off-grid. We are especially happy to have our two big freezers (full of meat and frozen veggies) and our Fridge/Freezer protected during a power outage. Now we will have access to water, etc. too. P.E.G. Alternative Energy in Ashland, Va. did a wonderful job at our mini-farm. We have six solar panels, 8 batteries and lots of displays to monitor. I will post their information on the "Naturally Interesting" area of the website. We recommend them highly...we plan on using them again in the future to increase our solar capabilities, hopefully to include the washing machine! :)
Almost April....just got our first package of bees in the mail today. Ordered them quickly to help a struggling hive in Gloucester. I will be getting three more packages in mid April. Beekeeping continues to be a challenge. They are thriving one day, dead the next. Some say there is a virus killing the bees....just what they need! :( Well, never give up, never surrender! All of a sudden...very behind in all farm areas. The whole 5 acres needs mowing too. This time of year you just do the best you can...that is all you can do. Breeding the chickens, soon to select eggs to incubate in the brooder. Preparing bee hives. Starting seeds...flowers, herbs and veggies. I am so late in starting some veggie seeds that I will start the gardens with purchased plants and then use my seedlings as a second planting. Still so wet around here. Went to "Coop Camp" in February for some much needed training....feeling better about how to keep my flock healthy. Going strong with herbs this year, culinary and medicinal. Very excited about this! Well...I am out the door, almost dark, the best time to install bees...got to get those bees settled in their new home. Oh...here are the directions for coloring brown eggs referred to in the picture on the home page. I will try this next year!
You can use regular food coloring. Mix blue and yellow to get the light green. Red and yellow to get a brighter red/orange.
1/2 cup boiling water+1 tsp cider vinegar and about 15 drops of food coloring. I love them. The color looks like paint!
January was a blur of ordering new bees, seeds and supplies. Days spent organizing the farm calendar, cleaning/repairing/replacing equipment and making sure all details are covered before the craziness of Spring begins. We are planning on incubating our own chicks in April instead of purchasing chicks. We are going to raise two batches so that we get enough hens. When you raise your own it seems half of them are always Roosters. Our farm only needs two Roos at a time, so the extras become meat birds for the freezer. We have lost a few hives, so I ordered 4 more to add to our little apiary. We had a blizzard in there somewhere....lost power a few times, but not for long. We actually enjoyed being snowed in for a few days. The dogs loved it, rolling and playing in the snow. The chickens hated it...looking out the coop door, as if to say: I am not going out there! We always shut all the coops up at night when they go to roost to keep the cold wind out. That means you have to go out there before dawn to open the doors. We like the summer when you don't have to do this! The moon sure is pretty at 5am though. The roosters start crowing well before dawn, so the hens seem to appreciate us letting them out early...those roos are loud! It has been a strange winter here so far. Very cold, very warm, very wet. The plants don't seem to know what to do. We are still eating well out of our little hoophouse. We have a large bed of spinach, swiss chard and mixed lettuces growing in the ground inside. I am watering and feeding them with the Ollas. The more i pick em the more they grow. I think they will last the winter. Time to start seeds under the grow lights, even some in the ground. I still need to paint some hive parts and get the honey supers cleaned up so they will be ready to put on the hives when the honey flow starts in early spring. We are sure hoping for lots of honey this year. Last year was a poor honey year. Time to get the Tax information together...Yuk! I would rather clean the big chicken coop than work on taxes!
We do try to live at the pace of nature around here...but, Wow! has nature been moving fast this year! The days fly by and we are running as we try to keep up with all that needs to be done on our little farm before everything freezes hard. Major prioritizing has to occur...with notes kept on how to do it better next year. One note.....no sleep in 2016! :) Just kidding...we do try to keep it in perspective, we do the best we can...that has to be enough. We love this life in spite of all the hard work. Maybe next year: the weeds won't win, the coops will stay clean, the eggs will gather themselves, the bees will make some honey for us to sell, dog food & vet bills won't cause us to go into debt, the website will be kept current and we will get enough sleep. Yeah...we are farm dreaming...I bet you are too! :) Happy Holidays and Happy New Year...we sincerely hope you find some time for simple joy! -C.A. & Jean-
Lots of ups and downs this year, but overall...have learned a lot and made great progress in all areas. Still on a major learning curve with cut flower production...but I am looking forward to next year and preparing beds right now to plant with flower seeds that will germinate in the fall, and be ready to give us an early selection of blooms in early spring 2016. Growing and selling herbs has been such a joy this year! Just smelling them each day makes you feel good. We are enlarging our lavender bed and creating a cut herb production area, so we can sell bags of herbs next year. The farm stand has been a sucess and I think we will continue there through the fall and again in the spring.
Our main disappointment this year is our honey production. We did have 8 new hives that we didn't expect honey from, but planned on getting a good amount of honey from our 4 older hives...40-50 pounds per hive. We have been keeping bees for 18 years now and have always gotten honey to use and sell...after so much work this year with no golden reward just seems so unfair. Each of the 4 hives had Queen issues right at the crucial honey flow time between April and June...they have made enough honey to see them through the winter, but no extra for us. A definite "Crop Failure". To take their honey and feed them non-nutritional sugar water through the winter would just not be right. All of our hives seem healthy...we will help them get through the winter...hopefully 2016 will be a better honey year.
Life is good, Life is natural!
1997 CA&J Farm
Mathews County, Virginia