Stone Hill Ridge Spring 2016 Update

So thought I would give a quick update on the things going on at the Ridge for Spring 2016.

While we are waiting for the last average frost date to come and go (April 10-15) we have started seeds indoors. The artichokes, tomatoes, and peppers (Carolina Reapers – hot, hot, hot) are well on their way. The squashes, pumpkins, and watermelons have just been started with a few poking out of the soil. The plan is to do a three sisters garden (corn, beans, squash) using the started squash and melon plants. The lettuce has been started outside, but with the cool weather it has had a slow start. There is a small remnant of fall spinach that over wintered and I am hoping it will grow larger. We also tried something new – winter sowing. Google it, but basically you start seeds during the winter in mini greenhouses (soda or milk bottle) and when the weather is appropriate the seeds know what to do. We used only herb seeds since that is also new for us. So far I have seen some sprouting of Thyme, but nothing else.

The rest of the property is getting revved up for spring. Daffodils have bloomed and the red buds are starting. The forest floor and the trees are starting to turn green. The first thing to leaf out is the invasive bush honeysuckle, so we have been pulling as much as we can after any rain or snow melt. The roots are shallow, so it makes them easy to pull. Some day we hope to have goats that will love to eat the stuff after we pull it, but for now we stack it and burn it on non-windy days. While the glade hasn’t really started yet, once it does there will be a day to day parade of wild flowers.

Finally, we once again ordered trees from the conservation department for spring planting. The downside is there are 80 trees/bushes to arrive next week that need planting. Part of the reason we call this Stone Hill Ridge, is there is little possibility of digging a hole more than 2 inches deep that doesn’t hit bedrock. This makes the prospect of digging 80 holes less than appealing. A lot of them are berry bushes (black berry, choke berry, elderberry) and I have been preparing a south facing hill side for the berry patch. By preparing I mean cutting down cedar trees. The plan is to use the cedar trees to create a small wall to hold dirt that we can plant the bushes into instead of digging. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Finally, we purchased some Antonovka Apple seeds. These apples are said to be both cold hardy (like Russia in winter cold hardy) and one of the few known apples to grow true from seeds. This means the resulting tree and fruits will be the same as the original that created the seeds. Apparently this is not true of most apple seeds. The seeds are currently in our extra fridge stratifying and we hope to plant them in small pots for the spring/summer. Then they will get planted permanently this fall on the northern part of the property.

We lost both bee hives over the winter, so there is a package of bees ordered, but won’t arrive until mid-May 🙁 I hope it is not too late in the season, but time will tell and if need be we will be feeding a lot of sugar. Mean time we ordered and installed a swarm trap. We filled it with empty comb from last years hive. We will see how that goes, but our hope is that a feral swarm will over winter better and not require as much intervention on our part. The trap is in a large tree on the edge of glade, the expectation is scout bees will find it as soon as the glade starts blooming and if they swarm they will already now where to find a new home. Funny thing right now is the lemon balm oil that came with the trap as a lure makes my hands smell like I have been cleaning the house with a lemon fresh cleaner of some sort. Just hope the bees like it as well.

Bee Swarm Trap

This bee swarm trap is installed on the edge of the glade.

We have seen a little attrition in the chicken coop. I think I have shared it here, but we lost Kazooster the rooster due to my negligence in locking up the hive one night. So I have been searching for a replacement this spring. No luck, so far all the stores that usually sell chicks have only pullets or mixed sex of the wrong breed. In a week or two I will break down and order some online. The other losses have been due to what we like to call rogue chickens. We allow the birds to free range in the afternoon most days, but there are birds that like to get out earlier, i.e. going rogue. They also are the ones we have to hunt down from a forest roost location and place in the coop at night. When we cant locate them in the dark we sometimes loose one to predators. So we currently have 9 hens and 2 guinea fowl.

Big changes are coming this year. I continue to use the The Livestock Conservancy to guide my livestock choices. The goal this year is to move from a mixed breed rabbitary (mostly new zealand / flemish mixes) to a only pure breed American Blue Rabbits. We recently went to see my daughter in Chicago and just before leaving I found a breeder within 2 hours of her that had rabbits available. So we now have the start of a breeding trio in the form of an American Blue buck. He is 10 weeks old and doing well so far. Now to find him a couple of unrelated girl friends.

American Rabbit - blue

This is our American Blue buck.

We had a historic flood over the winter. Crazy stuff, middle of December we got three days of concentrated heavy rains that didn’t reach the house but we went from a long walk to see the river to having river front property. The silver lining was this flood was about a foot over a 33 year old record, so I am thinking we have at least 30 years before we need to worry again. Seriously it would have to beat this record by about 15 foot before the house would be in danger. The upside it we now have a good idea of where not to build on the property.

Winter projects
We are almost complete with building our two firewood storage units. They are a lot bigger than I thought they would be, but guess you can never have too much firewood on hand. This should have only taken a couple of weekends, but the truck was out of service for a while right in the middle of prime building time and we had no other vehicle to haul wood from the hardware store. So now we are trying to finish them in between other stuff. We will post some pictures once completed.

Final note – we have had our first snake sighting of the year. By that I mean specifically a copper head, which being one of the few poisonous snakes in this area is the only kind I care about. And more specifically only those that come close to the house. So this one being 5 feet off the front porch had to be dealt with swiftly. Not being one for taking a life without purpose, I chose to exempt the poisonous snakes that come to too close to the house. All other snakes, cooper head or not, found on the property are left alone and avoided with due diligence.

Fall 2015 Update

So I wanted to post a quick update on all the things around here as Fall begins.

The hive without a queen seems to have settled in, too new to all this to say who won the three way queen death match since I cant find the queen. There is brood and lots of bees in the hive over a month later. They are bringing in pollen like crazy. We get a late flow, mostly goldenrod per my local bee chapter, that is great for winter reserves. Everyone in the chapter and online it seems says goldenrod honey taste fine, but smells funny so it is hard to sell. They leave it for the bees to overwinter.

The flock remains at 12 (11 hens and 1 kazooster) and 2 guinea fowl. I am considering “getting rid” of the guinea fowl. They are loud, annoying, and beginning to bully my hens. So far my lovely wife keeps me from taking action against them. Everyone is laying well, with 12 layers I get at least 10 eggs a day. Actually it is almost too well, I have 11 dozen in the fridge right now, so time to give some away. I may cook a bunch of them up and feed back to the girls.

I have thinned herd down to winter numbers, i.e. seven. I have kept three of the new three blue eye white (BEW) bunnies to mature over the winter for spring time breeding and sales. I may do one final breeding of the larger meat rabbits next week to be ready to butcher just before winter really sets in.

So no post on this so far because all we have so far is rocks and woods. We recently had 2 yards of top soil delivered and we are clearing a hill in the front yard of trees and rocks to build a garden area. It is a little bit of an experiment. From the bottom of the hill going up, I am building a row of rocks as a mini-stone wall. I back fill that with dirt to use as a garden area. We finally planted the 5 blue berry bushes purchased in the spring into the first row. Behind the planting area I am building a mini-hugelkultur mound to act as a water reserve and a nutrient source that runs down into each garden bed. The main idea is water run off protection. When we get a heavy run the water gushes off the hillside, I am hoping this layout will soak in the water and save the garden beds from erosion. The basic idea on how we are building the hugelkultur row is we have branches and leaves from the trees we cut down to clear the area as a base. To that I am adding grass clippings and waste from cleaning the chicken coop. This is all covered with dirt and wood chips (again from cut trees) to hold it all together. We should end up with 4-5 rows up the hill ready to plant in the spring. Finally the rest of the removed trees is going to fire wood. Waste nothing!

Maple Syrup
Another area I haven’t posted about yet. Last year we collected maple sap and boiled it down to syrup, mmmmmmm. I will be posting all the details and pictures of that process soon. Mean time we are going to make a pass through the woods this weekend to tag the rest of the maple trees. Last year (out first year here) we tapped the ones we could FOR SURE identify since it was winter time and all we could go by was the bark. Our plan this weekend is to mark others now that we can see the leaves and try to make a plan to tap the ones closer to the road for ease of access.

Our property boarders the river. I was originally overly excited since I love to fish. Soon all hope was dashed as we realized our river access was basically a muddy swamp that my wife referrers to as quick-mud. It will suck you and your boots down fast. I think our winter project (last year it was the chicken coop) will be a deck/dock over the mud bank to have better fishing access. I’ll post something if this materializes.

I hope everyone has a great long Labor Day weekend!

Spring time bunnies and blue eyed whites!

I apologize if you came to this post expecting to see bunnies frolicking in my yard.  First and foremost because we don’t really have a yard, but also because the bunnies are from my herd of New Zealand / Flemish / Rex mixes.  I started raising rabbits 3 years ago as a healthy, alternative meat supply.  At the time I was also raising quail in my suburban backyard, but that is another story.

I started with a pair of New Zealand / Flemish mixes that worked out great.  I grew the “herd” from the two up to three does and a buck.  I breed for a couple of litters a year to go easy on the does and as we used the meat.  At that point I started selling my excess to have cash to buy feed and make it a more sustainable operation.  The problem was that I had basically albino bunnies, white with scary red eyes.  The market was a little limited.

One day after spending way too much time online, I ran across blue eyed white bunnies.  They were calling them Sinatra’s.  This is all based on the Vienna gene which is responsible for the blue eyes.  They were unique and people thought they were cute, so began my journey to create a good meat rabbit that was white with blue eyes.  I told myself it was to make they easier to sell, but really it was just for the challenge of doing something like this to add another level of interest to my rabbit hobby.  🙂

So I bought what I thought were three Rex rabbits (1 doe and 2 bucks) that had the Vienna gene from an out of state breeder.  One was a blue eyed white, the other two just had the gene.  It was only after delivery I discovered I had 3 bucks.  Oh well, I had the gene I needed.  So I began a breeding program with my larger meat rabbits does (NZW/Flemish) and the new bucks.  My goal is to get a larger stock than the original Rex’s, but with the awesome smooth soft fur of the original rabbits.  After only a couple rounds (generations) of breeding I have finally a spring 2015 litter with 3 blue eyed whites.  They are only two weeks old so I am waiting patiently to see how big they get and how soft their fur ends up.

Okay enough talk, here of some pictures to ooohhh and aahhh over!  🙂  Sorry a little grainy.

Grey Blue Eye

Little grey blue eyed bunny

All Blue Eye

Little group of blue eyed bunnies

Blue Eyed Whites

Little blue eyed white bunnies