Ups and Downs and Ups of Early Spring...


Well, it's not really early spring anymore, but since it was so cold late into April, it still feels pretty early!  Last week was our last semi-quiet week on the farm, and now we are in full steam mode until the fourth of July.  So far in the field, we have peas, lettuce, spinach, beets, carrots, chard, kale, collards, cabbage, broccoli, radishes, turnips, and tons of greens in the ground.  Waiting their turn in the greenhouse and garage are potatoes, onions, leeks, scallions, shallots, and tons more lettuce, broccoli, and all sorts of greens.  Whew... you can get tired just thinking of it all!  Fortunately, the weather, while a bit dry, is certainly pleasant enough to be working in! Matt laying down anchors for row cover.  Last year we had terrible flea beetle issues in our brassicas, so this year everything's going under row cover!

The finished field... this cover will keep off the bugs and provide a few degrees of cold protection.

The big challenge we faced this week is that the 4 acres of pasture and aisles we so carefully seeded completely failed to germinate, which is weird and quite frustrating.  All the areas in the field that should be coming in nice and green are sad and brown-looking.  This led us to a big rush to track down seed to replant these areas and means we are going to be extra busy during an already busy week.  Let's keep our fingers crossed the seed we are replanting has better luck and we get some rain in the next few weeks so these grasses can get a good start!

Some of the rye that did germinate... it's doing well (and is 4" higher already!).

This also means our chickens won't be grazing inside the electric fence, but will be out in the larger pastures, which gives them a shade less protection than we planned for, so we are working out how to do a bit more fortification.  Fortunately, the hens have really settled into being good outside birds and are grazing and digging up a storm.  We've kept them in the yard to acclimatize these first few weeks, but they are making the big trip out to the back field tomorrow!

The ladies have overcome their initial fear of the sky, sun, and grass, and are loving life now.  More eggs come each day!

Greenhouse seeding is coming along well--we have some pictures below of some of the process.  As of this weekend, the greenhouse was over half empty, but we've repopulated it pretty quickly with more eggplant and peppers, tomatoes, and early fall plantings of leeks, chard, and kale!

Our almost empty greenhouse Sunday.

This afternoon's project--seed 60 flats!  (Mission accomplished!)

Maryellen repotting peppers into larger containers

Carefully lifting by the leaves...

Starting to plant apples!  We are putting in a few trees each year and slowly building towards an orchard.  Look for apples in those 2018 CSA boxes! :)

We had a midnight visitor... anyone recognize the bite marks?  We almost think it was a bunny standing on their hind legs...


Building the Mobile Coop and the Hens Arriving!

We are excited to have animals on the farm this year!  The first arrivals came Tuesday--100 pullets that should start their laying hen careers in the next few weeks.  We are pasturing the birds using a mobile coop and flexinet electric netting (which theoretically keeps predators out). This year we went with nearly full grown birds (rather than raising them from chicks) since we don't really have good indoor facilities to brood baby birds in.  We plan on getting chicks this upcoming fall to brood over winter for next year's addition to the flock.

Matt's been busy building the coop this past week.  We had hoped to use an old hay wagon base, but couldn't find any old bases near us, so we decided to just run it on skids.  The skids work fine and it moves easily with our tractor, but we still would like to get our next coop up on wheels.

Here's a close up of one of the skids (a bolted together 2x12 and 2x8) and the notched 4x4 floor joist.


It's pretty cozy for the number of birds that we have, but we felt like this would work well since it's just a seasonal pasture coop.

Half of the completed base--with skids, floor joists, and cross bracing.

Close up on some of the diagonal bracing.

More bracing!  Since this will be dragged over rough ground, we wanted to make sure the base platform stayed stable.


We needed it to be heavy enough to be stable in the Fenner wind, but light enough to move around easily.  The solid base should anchor it (in combination with some heavy duty anchors for storms), and the greenhouse top has very little weight.

Attaching the frame bents and exterior plywood sheathing (to deter larger predators).


The sides are 3/8" plywood to help deter predators.  We based our plan on this great Blackbird Organics design we found online:  The one change we made was to add the base for better wind resistance and to keep out any digging predators.  We've seen fox, coyote, racoons, random dogs, and mink on the farm, so we wanted to protect our hens as much as we can.

Arlo inspects the finished base.


Here you can see the boxes before the swinging access doors were added.  We have 24 boxes for 100 birds, but can add another row if this seems to be too few.  The openings all have 1/2" hardware fabric stapled over them against mink and weasels.

Adding in the nest boxes (some are different sized since we mostly used scraps of wood).

Door end with hardware fabric added to the openings (to deter the mink we've seen around the farm).


Here's a look at the finished interior.  It's mostly just a place for the hens to sleep and lay eggs, since they will be busy outside eating grass most of the day.  We shortly moved all these waterers up onto blocks so they stay clean.

Roosts ready for the move in day!


This is the transit box Matt built to go get them. We kept it fairly small so that they would be close to each other and not slide around in transit.  It worked really well, and the birds seemed fine upon opening--they were snug and warm despite the icky day!

Coming out of their transit crate (it's compact so that the birds don't slide around or get on top and crush each other!).

Opening up the crate--the hens are not sure about this new home.

Empty transit crate--it was two 12" levels, with each holding 50 birds.


The chickens spent their first afternoon recovering from their busy day in the coop, figuring out things like how to roost and bonding with their new home.

Making friends


Here's a picture of the completed coop.  We used a silver reflective tarp, thinking that would keep things cooler.  In this picture, the rain is keeping the hens from venturing out.  They've been pretty hilarious in the yard as they learn how to run, eat grass and bugs, and discover their wings.

The final shot of tarp roof, with rain curtains over the hardware fabric.  We just need to paint the exposed wood and let the hens settle into their new home and fields!


A few intrepid ladies are venturing out in the rain to check out other food options.  We hope the rain will break soon so the grass starts growing faster for them!  We should have eggs starting in a couple of weeks, once the layers start getting some spring grass!  We'll have more pictures of the hen exploits on our Facebook page (Hartwood Farm).

One of the field feeders Matt is experimenting with.  So far it seems to work well.