Common Garden Woes Part I

As the growing season progresses, the home gardener and large scale grower are often faced with garden pests and even diseases. Often times, we feel as if the battle is never in our favor, and we end up leaving the season feeling defeated.

Red Barn Acres practices organic growing policies, following closely the guidelines set forth by Eliot Coleman, a pioneer in organic growing. We are not USDA Certified Organic nor do we ever intend to become certified (a lot of the USDA guidelines fall below our own personal high standards). We are often asked how to control pests or diseases, and while we’ve been growing our own food for quite some time, there is always something to be learned, especially if we have never dealt with the issue at hand before.

We only use OMRI certified sprays when all other forms of intervention have failed. We manually check our plants for infestations or signs of a looming infestation every few days. We use blue and yellow sticky traps to monitor the pests at hand. We even hand pick pests off of plants, too! Right now, we are dealing with Cucumber Beetles snacking on our plants and produce and have been hand-picking them off the plants and smooshing them or throwing them into a bucket of water.

Below you will find a list of some common pests and the organic solution.

Tomato Hornworm

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The Tomato Hornworm is probably the most common pest in the home garden. Every year it seems like these guys show up and decimate a whole garden of tomato plants in one night. They devour the leaves, stems, and fruit of the tomato plant. I have also seen them on pepper plants, egg plant, and tomatillo plants. It is easy to tell if  your garden has been infested by these little devils by the feces they leave behind (dark brown or black “pebbles” or dark green “pebbles” if they’re recently gorging) on the leaves of your tomato plants.

The good news is, they’re easy to spot and easy to rid from your garden. My go-to plan of attack is to remove them from the plants. I am not a huge fan of the way they feel when I touch them, so I usually just cut the branch off that they are on. My favorite way to get rid of them is to knock them off into a bucket of water. Usually, they hide from the sunlight during the day under the leaves of the plant. I have better luck looking for them at night with a bright flash light.

Tomato plants release a chemical when eaten, and therefore make the worm itself bitter tasting, which the worm uses as its first line of defense against predators. These guys are not tasty snacks to birds, chickens, or other animals. Trust me, my chickens look at them and run away, and I am sure they wonder if I am trying to trick them! Other people stomp on them, creating a green goo in the soil.

The Tomato Hornworm does have some natural predators, like ladybird beetles will feast on the young tiny worms, green lacewig larvae also feast upon the young worms. There are also wasps, braconid wasps to be exact, that will lay its eggs inside the body of the worm and eventually the wasp larvae will eat the tomato worm.

There are a few organic chemicals you can use that are not harmful to the plant, the environment, the soil, or humans. One of those is BT  (Bacillus thuringiensis) which is a naturally occurring bacterium, which is found in the soil and it causes diseases in some insects, especially the leaf consuming worms. BT works by paralyzing the digestive system of the insect that feeds upon the leaf of a treated plant. Another option is spinosad, which contains the bacterium Saccharopolyspora spinosa . It was discovered in 1982 in a Caribbean rum still. Spinosad works as a neurotoxin in many insects. It causes the insect to become overly excited to the point of exhaustion, and finally death. Spinosad should only be sprayed at dusk on a calm evening, after all beneficial insects have left for the day.

As for our farm, we use Spinosad and BT when needed. We spray Spinosad on plants in the brassica family (cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts) to prevent cabbage worms from destroying our plants. We only spray at the beginning of the season when the plants are young and from then on, we monitor the plants for damage. We also use it on our tomato plants when hand picking the worms has made no change in the worm population.

Cabbage Worms

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According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, cabbage worms are the same pests as “imported cabbage worms” . The adult butterflies are often called Cabbage Whites or Small Whites. These guys are commonly found on broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower, kohlrabi and other plants of the brassica family.

There are also cabbage loopers, which look a lot like cabbage worms but do not have legs in the middle of their bodies. They are yellow-green in color. They do the same amount as damage as the cabbage worms and are controlled in the same ways.

The damage the cabbage worm does is usually only cause for concern when the plants are small with not much leave mass. If the plant is closer to adult size, the damage done by cabbage worms usually does not effect the plant.

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Above is a photo of the damage done by cabbage worms (a large infestation it looks like!) Fortunately, there are many organic ways of removing and controlling the worms. One way is to hand pick them off the plants (of course, the insect must meet its demise or it will find its way back).  You can also use yellow sticky traps to attract the butterflies that will lay the eggs on the underside of the plant’s leaves.

Another option is spraying BT or Spinosad, as mentioned above in the Tomato Hornworm section. There is also an old farmer’s anecdote where you dampen the leaves of the plants and sprinkle with corn meal. The worms then eat the cornmeal and the meal swells within their digestive tracts causing them to “explode” and die.

Squash Bugs

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I think that Squash Bugs are probably the WORST pests. These guys do MAJOR damage, and if you do not catch them in the early stages – laying eggs – and those eggs hatch, it just goes down hill from there. Last year, we lost an entire pumpkin crop as well as all our zucchini and melons to these guys. It was NOT pretty. The adult bugs have piercers that they pierce into the plant leaves and stems and suck the juice or liquids from the plants, causing them to turn yellow and brown. Healthy plants may not succumb to the piercing and loss of liquids as much as unhealthy plants, but a large enough infestation can cause some serious devastation.  The photo below shows the beginning signs of a squash bug infestation.

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The adult bugs overwinter under the shelter of plant debris or other materials in the landscape. When it warms in the spring, they fly around looking for places to mate and eventually lay their eggs. Unfortunately, they lay them on the underside of curcubit plants like squash and cucumbers. Adult females usually show up around June and keep laying eggs through the summer.

squash-bugs-2The adult females lay eggs in clusters of about 20. The good news is, you can get the eggs off using some tape, the eggs stick to the tape and come off the plant.  Their eggs are a reddish color and oblong in shape. They are usually laid in between the veins of the leaf, as seen in the photo. They hatch in about 10 days.

 

There are a few ways to manage these pests. One way, like mentioned above, is to remove the eggs. You can also crush the eggs with your fingers. Once the eggs have hatched, you can drop the nymphs into a bucket of soapy water and they’ll meet their maker. You can also do the same thing with the adult squash bugs. If you crush the adults, BEWARE! They release an unpleasant aroma similar to stink bug smell!

When all the options above have failed us or we feel extremely overwhelmed, we use an OMRI certified spray derived from the Chrysanthemum plant called Pyrethrin.

Flea Beetles

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My first experience with flea beetles was last year when I could not figure out how I was getting bit all over. Then I discovered these tiny little black beetles all over, and decided to look them up to see what they were. And they act JUST LIKE fleas! They literally jump high and far like fleas do when they are disturbed and their bites feel and itch just like a flea bite.

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In gardens, the female will lay eggs in clusters in the soil, in the roots, or leaves of many different plants. They initially feed upon the roots and root hairs of the plants, but this does not cause enough damage to be noticeable. They are commonly found on cabbage, cucumbers, turnips, radishes, egg plant, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes, spinach, and melons. The damage that these little beetles cause can be seen in the photo above.

CaptureOne way of managing them is to plant a “trap crop” which means you pretty much give the flea beetles something to eat in hopes that they leave your main crop alone. Trap crops should always be planted before you plan to plant the crops which you plan to keep or sell, to insure that the flea beetles feast on the trap crop. The photo to the right shows a trap crop of mustard greens and the cash crop (the crop you wish to sell or keep for yourself) is broccoli. The mustard greens are keeping the beetles busy while leaving the broccoli alone.

Another way to organically manage the flea beetle is to plant companion plants. Companion plants are usually plants that help benefit the main crop plant by either repelling pests and attracting beneficial insects. Bunching green onions, marigolds, and dill are a few examples of beneficial companion plants for brassicas. They help to repel and deter the flea beetles.

The most common way to keep flee beetles off from your cash crops is to use insect netting. Our farm currently does not have any of this (it was mostly sold out when we wanted to purchase it and it is also slightly expensive). Insect netting is draped over your crops before any sign of pests, and touches the garden soil, and is generally held down by bags of stones or logs, or whatever you have to hold the netting in place. It is most commonly used in large market garden operations.

Some other methods consist of using predatory beneficial insects like praying mantis, parasitic nematodes (live in soil), yellow sticky traps, Pyrethrin spray, and Spinosad spray.

Cucumber Beetles

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In the United States, there are 2 types of cucumber beetles that are quite common. The first, on the left is the Spotted Cucumber Beetle, which is more common on the western and southern parts of the country. The beetle on the right is known as the Striped Cucumber beetle and is very common in the north and eastern states.

The difference between the two is that the Spotted Cucumber Beetle is known to feed on over 200 different plants, including crop plants and non crop plants. The Striped Cucumber Beetle is very keen on cucurbits (cucumbers, pumpkins, etc) and rarely feed on other plants. The Striped Beetle feeds on leaves, stems, and flowers. The Striped beetle lays its eggs near the base of the cucumber plant and then the larvae feed on the roots of the plants. The spotted beetle is more common in the southern states, and will lay its eggs on corn or grasses therefor the larvae are not prone to damaging the roots of cucurbit plants.

The damage done by these beetles happens in a few ways. First, the plants themselves are damaged during feeding, which causes stunted plant growth and slow fruit set. Second, the beetles are generally carriers of bacterial wilt disease. Thirdly, the feeding on the fruits of the plants cause the fruit to not be marketable.

Luckily for us, the beetles have some natural predators that include wolf spiders and ground beetles. I am not a fan of spiders (not one bit!) but I do leave any spiders that are in the garden be. They are doing their job and getting rid of pesky insects. The ground beetles are not often seen, I think they mostly come out at night or when you dig up ground or even when you flip something over that’s been sitting on top of the ground for a while.

Lately, I have been hand picking these little guys off the cucumber plant itself. They like to hide in the blossoms as well as the very new growth at the end of the vine. They suddenly drop off the plant, so make sure you have a bucket or cup or your hand underneath the plant when you go to snatch them. I stick them right on the sticky traps or I smoosh them with my fingers.

You can spray Pyrethrin spray, which is what our last step will be if they get to where we cannot manage them by hand picking them off.

Annnnd It’s JUNE!

Time seems to fly when you’re working having fun. The Farm sure has kept us busy the last few weeks.

Memorial Day Weekend drew a lot of energy out of us, it was soooo hot and humid! We got a lot done, though! The weekend before Memorial Day, we planted about 300 tomato plants, 100 pepper plants, cabbage, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cauliflower and green beans down at our “Secret Garden” with the help of our dear neighbor, who is allowing us to grow on his land. It is a wonderful feeling to work along side your neighbors, the feeling of community is heart warming. I wish that more neighbors and small neighborhoods worked together.

We also planted winter squash, summer squash and pumpkins in the Secret Garden as well. I am excited for the Spaghetti squash, which has become one of my new favorite vessels for pasta sauce (we do not eat wheat or grains, so spaghetti squash is our substitute).

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Our neighbor and our daughter tilling up soil for planting. Funny, my daughter will learn how to drive a tractor before I do!

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My hoop houses got a much needed makeover. My husband was given a stack of old weathered fence panels–we took all the pickets off and cut them to fit the bottoms of the hoop houses. I was originally going to paint them red to go with the Red Barn theme and branding, however, I really grew to like the rustic look of the peeling paint on the fence. We also installed handles and latches on the doors, which is so nice now! No more pinched fingers in the doors!

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We also leveled out the ground in front of the hoop houses. We had 8 yards of limestone delivered this week in front of them. This will be so nice for customers who purchase from our farm stand, it will serve as a parking area. I’m also thinking it will be very nice for next year when I plan to sell vegetable plants (I’m hoping to have my “crap” together more next year, too!) I will show an updated photo of the fronts when it is finished!

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The photo above is from last week (as is the one below). Our tomatoes have grown a TON in the last week or so, and they could be considered GIGANTIC! I am so excited for tomatoes! I can’t wait to taste the first one, and I cannot wait to share with you!

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Everything is so green and very happy and healthy. We have summer squash and zucchini coming on, and soon we will have some for sale! I’d say a few more days and they’ll be coming on in full force.

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The tomato pictured on the left (the long skinny one) is a variety specifically bred for hoop house production. It is a hybrid (a cross between 2 strains) called Tiren. It is a trial variety for me, if it performs well this year, then I will grow it again next year. So far, it has proven its worth. They are setting fruit already, I am just waiting for them to ripen!

The tomato on the right is a Big Beef Steak variety, also a variety specifically bred for the hoop house growing conditions. Hoop House/Green House varieties are often hybrids bred to resist the common diseases that plague heirloom tomatoes. These diseases are often early blight, late blight, tobacco Mosaic virus, etc. Every day, these guys get bigger and bigger!

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We also have had baby turkeys hatching the last few weeks. Unfortunately, a few have passed due to being sat on by their Momma and even their dad. We have been dilligent on checking for new hatches every day and removing them from their moms (something I don’t like doing, but in this case, the benefits outweigh the risks) and putting them in a brooder pen until they grow a little bigger.

33058681_10160528370180438_1525053830662717440_n-e1528472507317.jpgWe also drove all the way to Muskegon (Michigan) to a wonderful goat farm to pick up our new girl, Hazelnut (who is now known as Hazel). She is a Nubian/Nigerian Dwarf cross, which makes her a Mini Nubian. She is so sweet and so amazing! She loves to lean her head on your side and ask for scratches behind the ears. She gives us about a half of a gallon of milk a day! With all our extra milk, we have been making cheese and ice cream a few times a week, plus drinking wonderful raw milk with our meals. I can’t believe how wonderful Hazel has been doing as a First Freshener (first season of milking). I can’t wait to see how well she does in the future!

 

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My daughter and I attended our first farmer’s market in Durand this last Wednesday. The city is constructing a park next to where the market is held, hopefully it won’t take all summer! I split my booth space between my Red Barn Botanicals LLC business and Red Barn Acres. I didn’t have my banner for Red Barn Acres yet, but we had fresh cut herbs and chicken and duck eggs for sale. We sold completely out of eggs and sold a few bunches of herbs, along with some soap and salves! Our booth will fill out further into the season with fresh locally grown veggies!

May Farm Update

Finally. The cold weather has subsided… but that doesn’t leave us without troubles. It seems as though the “April Showers” have now arrived instead of the Flowers commonly associated with May and its warmth. The local farmers are one or two weeks behind on planting, and hopefully we will be blessed with a warmer fall to make up the difference.

We accomplished a lot here at Red Barn Acres Farm, including getting about 200 onions in the ground a few weeks ago. I planted about 130 tomatoes in the south hoop house the last week of April, and they are doing well.

Another 100 or so went into the north hoop house along with cucumbers, 140 pepper plants (including Jalapenos, Bell Peppers of different colors, Ghost Peppers, and Carolina Reapers), luffah, and a couple specialty vining plants that produce small fruit that can be classified as either a melon or a cucumber. I am excited for these!

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The north hoop house tilled up wonderfully and was planted the next day. The smell of freshly tilled soil is one of my favorite smells in the spring. I love feeling it in between my fingers.

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I planted peppers in the rows that run along the sides, as peppers won’t get as tall as anything that vines or even tomatoes.

The cool part about covered culture growing is that you can literally cram as many plants as you want inside. I planted my pepper plants in a criss-cross pattern, 6 inches apart. They’ll use each other as support as they grow. I was able to plant my tomato plants 8 to 10 inches part, since in hoop house growing, most of the leaves are trimmed off below fruit bearing stems.

The vining plants will grow on the cattle-panels shown in the photo above, but I will hang a vegetable netting from the top beam when the plants are ready for it.

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The tomatoes in the south hoop house were trellised. The system I chose to do was using Twine and tomahooks hung from wire from the ceiling. As the tomato vines grow, you twist them around the twine. I took landscape staples and tied the twine to them, then stuck them in the ground so they were nice and tight. This also helps keep the tomato vines from laying on the ground, where disease spreads. It also keeps them upright and it is far more easier to see the fruit and suckers, or any trouble that may need correction.

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The tomato plant above is a Dester beef steak variety. I have never grown them before but am anxious to see how they do for me! They are a pink fruited variety, and come from an Amish lady in Missouri who lives only a few miles away from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. The fruit of the Dester plant can reach up to a pound and a half in weight. I am hoping they turn out to be a wonderful canning tomato.

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Shade cloth was added to the top of each hoop house. This will help keep the heat of the sun from overheating the hoop house. I decided to put it on a couple of weeks early because the sun was actually bleaching and burning some of my tomato plants. Not to mention, it is a little easier on the eyes to have a little shade while working inside. Shade cloth also helps keep temperatures down in the middle of the summer. Believe it or not, even on a 35 degree day, the hoop houses approach 85 degrees in full sun. Shade Cloth also helps keep fruits from burning up in the sun.

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My daughter and I planted a bunch of bee friendly perennial flower plants on the south side of the south hoop house.

Things seem to be going well and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season has in store for us!

 

My Favorite Tomatoes-Profiled.

Ever since I can remember, I have been obsessed with tomatoes. I’m not exactly sure why… however, my Mom often times tells me about how when I was a kid that I would eat so many tomatoes,  I would break out all over my face.

My parents always had a garden. I remember helping plant it…every year around Memorial Day, Dad would till the garden plot and we would plant tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, melons, zuchinni, and some other veggies. There was one time Mom asked me to go pick a few tomatoes to have with dinner and I trudged back up to the house with a whole Radio Flyer wagon full of tomatoes. Needless to say, Mom spent the next day canning them up.

I long all winter for the smell of tomato plants to be in my nose. There is something about the aroma of the tomato plant that just transports me right into the middle of summer, but nothing beats the taste of the very first tomato from the garden.

I have many favorites, and this post will profile them and I’ll explain why I must grow them every year.

Mortgage Lifter

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Photo Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

If you want a large beef steak type of tomato for slicing….this is it. The name “Mortgage Lifter” was registered in 1932 by a man named William Estler, who developed the cultivar in 1922 in Barboursville, West Virginia. However, according to a few sources online, the Mortgage Lifter was actually developed by a man named “Radiator Charlie” Byles in Logan, West Virginia. Sources claim that Byles developed his cultivar in the early 1930’s…. however, let it be known that the two Mortgage Lifters are two different cultivars…one is Mortgage Lifter and the other is Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter”.

Despite the confusion above, Mortgage Lifters are some of the most well-known Depression Era cultivar. They were developed for the nursery plant market and received their name due to how well they sold–they allowed small scale nurseries and farmers to sell enough to recover from debt.

Mortgage Lifters are known for their semi-sweet flavor and their ability to produce fruit weighing up to two pounds. They are very robust plants, and an indeterminate variety. I like to use Mortgage Lifters for eating on burgers, sandwiches, slicing for snacks, canning stewed tomatoes, and also using in salsa. I have had single Mortgage Lifter tomatoes fill a whole quart mason jar.

Cherokee Purple

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Photo Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Another favorite of mine is the Cherokee Purple. A good friend’s Mom grew vegetable starts as a business for a few years (I also had the pleasure of working for her for a few summers!) and she introduced me to my very first different color of tomato.

We can thank a retired chemist named Craig LeHoullier, for the Cherokee Purple. LeHoullier is an avid gardener and a well known tomato expert, he also has one of the country’s largest collections of tomato cultivars. One day in 1990 he opened his mail and found a packet with tomato seeds in it. There was a note from the sender that said she had received them from her neighbor. The neighbor had said that the tomato variety had been in her family for over 100 years and that they were passed down from a Cherokee Indian Tribe.

I love the Cherokee Purple and its hues of dark red, browns, purple and greens. It has a smoky but bright and acidic flavor…one that is absolutely divine (to me, anyway!). It is an indeterminate variety and produces tomatoes that can weigh up to a pound or so.

Brandywine

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Photo Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Brandywine Tomatoes are another one of my heirloom go-tos. They honestly never fail, and they produce some monster fruits, often over a pound. I also love canning with them whether it be salsa, sauce, or just plain canned tomatoes. The origins of the Brandywine are a mystery, although it shows up in Burpee catalogs as far back as 1886. There is also a strain of the cultivar labeled “Brandywine Sudduths’s Strain” which was developed by a farmer named Dorris Sudith, in Ohio, who was able to trace her strain back 80 years. The Sudduth Strain was given to Seed Savers Exchange in 1982. They offer the Sudduth Strain in their catalog, which is the strain we will be planting this year.

Brandywine Tomatoes are known for their superior taste and their giant potato leaves. They are indeterminate.

German Johnson

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Photo Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

If you are a lover of BLTs in the summer…this is your tomato. This heirloom variety productes large, crack resistant fruit that make excellent slices! Back when we ate tons of bread, we lived on BLT’s and we often had to cut the slice in half in order to get the tomato to fit on the bread! Now THAT is a tomato! They have a slightly acidic but rich and creamy tomato flavor. Again, I use these guys for all sorts of canning recipes.

Amish Paste

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Photo Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

Amish Paste tomatoes are honestly my personal go-to for canning sauces. They have a perfect blocky, dense, great tasting, and almost seedless fruit. They are a Roma type of tomato, originating in an Amish community in Wisconsin. History dates the Amish Paste back to the 1870’s! They are also a quick one to grow, taking about 80 days from transplant to fruiting. They are an indeterminate variety and the fruit is usually anywhere from 6 to 12 ounces when ripe.

I love using Amish Paste tomatoes for sauces. I love making our own pizza sauce because store-bought usually contains loads of sugars or some kind of soy based vegetable oil. It doesn’t take long for these guys to cook down and make some nice, thick and tasty sauce! They can also be used for salsa!

San Marzano

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Photo Credit: Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds

The San Marzano tomato was introduced to me by the same lovely lady that brought the Cherokee Purple into my life. These guys are also a paste type of tomato on an indeterminate vine. Compared to a Roma or Amish Paste tomato, the fruit is more elongated and not as round. There is almost NO juice or seeds! The flesh of the fruit is almost sweet and not as acidic tasting as some tomatoes. A plus in my opinion if you want to cook down tomatoes quickly for sauces!

These guys tolerate heat quite well and are often grown in warmer climates and they set fruit in the heat, unlike some heirlooms that will drop their blossoms if they get too hot. They are also longer growing, meaning they produce fruit for quite a while, right up until the very first hard frost.

San Marzano tomatoes originate from the small town of San Marzano sul Sarno, which is near Naples, Italy and were first grown in the volcanic soil surrounding Mount Vesuvius. It is rumored that the very first San Marzano seed arrived in Campania in 1770 as a gift from the Viceroyalty of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples and that it was planted in the soil near San Marzano sul Sarno.

Did you know that San Marzano tomatoes have been designated as the ONLY tomato that can be used for Vera Pizza Napoletana (True Neapolitan Pizza). I love using these with a combination of other paste varieties to make sauce, whether it’s pizza sauce or pasta sauce (not that we eat pasta!).

 

 

 

Rainbow Eggs

I like to think that I am a creative person, and perhaps it is just my OCD or lackthereof…or maybe it was my ignorance. Anyway. When we first started with chickens in 2010 or so, I had only ever heard of brown egg laying chickens. Ya know, the normal run of the mill Rhode Island Red, Isa Brown, Barred Rocks, Brahmas, etc. This was when we bought our chickens from Tractor Supply. I had no idea that you could actually order chickens from an online supplier or catalog!

My eyes grew wide. Blue eggs, pink eggs, green eggs, dark brown eggs, white eggs, cream eggs, light blue eggs….. BOY OH BOY!

We have about 35 laying hens, some are newer and some are older and the older hens (3 to 4 years old)  do not lay as frequently as the newer hens. We are adding in another 40 soon, we are just waiting for them to be big enough to integrate into our flock. We are adding Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, True Whiting Blues, Black Jersey Giants, and Black Australorps.

So here is a little bit about some different types of chickens that we have. Not all the photos of the chickens are my photos, as my hens are way out to pasture in the mud, and I’m not about to trek out there for some less than stellar photos. But the eggs are mine!

 

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Photo Credit: Cackle Hatchery

Black Copper Maran

The Black Copper Maran is considered a rare breed, and originates from France. It is known for its dark brown eggs, almost a chocolate color. In Post War France, the breed became almost extinct. The French Department of Agriculture decided to then start a breeding program to bring the breed back from the brink of extinction. The American Poultry Association classified it as a breed in 2011, so it is fairly new, even though it has been around since the early 1900’s in France. It is classified as a continental large breed of fowl.

received_10160407563225438However, the Black Copper Marans that we have do not lay the rich chocolate brown that the breed standard has set forth, I have also found that with age, the darkness fades. We got 6 of them a few years ago from a local breeder and depending on how selective the breeding is will play a part in how dark the egg is, as well as proper nutrition. Ours have always been a milk chocolate color, despite proper nutrition. It is very hard to find non-diluted Black Copper Maran chickens without forking over your first born. I am still happy with the dark eggs they provide as it allows for a nice display inside the carton. Sometimes, there are dark specks, which is just normal coating.

Welsummer

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Photo Credit: Chickens for Backyards

Do you remember Cornelius, the famous Corn Flakes’ Rooster? He was a Welsumer. Welsummers are a new addition to our flock as of last year. The breed orginates from a small village named Welsum in Holland. It is classified as a continental heavy fowl. They were bred by a farmer in the early 1900s when he wanted to improve the productivity of the local flocks. The breed was recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1991.

 

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The Welsummer remains popular for its dark brown, speckled eggs. They are very pretty birds, having a Partridge Coloring. We have 3 Welsummer hens and find them to be quiet. They are not very broody–meaning they don’t really have the instinct to sit on their eggs. Being broody is a good thing somtimes…in my experience, a broody hen is priceless, as she will sit on any kind of egg to get it to hatch…but she’ll also hide her eggs and how you find them is sometimes explosive… literally. Welsummers have a medium egg production, producing around 250 eggs per year under the perfect conditions.

 

Delaware

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Photo Credit: Countryside Network

This breed gets its namesake from the state of Delaware, where it was developed as the country’s primary meat bird, until the 1940’s when the Cornish Cross was introduced into the market. The Delaware is a white and black colored chicken, often looking much like the Light Brahma. We have 12 Delaware Hens and 3 Delaware Roosters. I am planning on developing my own type of meat bird from Delawares, Rhode Island Reds, and Black Jersey Giants. (I am still waiting on my RIR and Black Jersey Giants to come of age). We originally purchased Delawares because of their meat productivity and their egg producing capabilities. I wanted a bird that developed quickly–Delawares take just 12-16 weeks before laying eggs, where a normal hen takes around 16-25 weeks, depending on the breed.

received_10160407563130438Delawares also fully develop by 12 weeks, making it a great substitute for a meat bird–after all, that was their original purpose before the Cornish Cross.  They do well foraging, unlike Cornish Crosses who spend most of their life sitting at the food bin. Delaware Hens lay a large to jumbo sized light brown egg and are quite productive. They are a very calm bird, but not very friendly. Despite what many people think, I don’t carry my chickens around like babies. I’ve never really had chickens that liked to be touched or petted, but they all do have their own personalities.

Ameraucana

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Photo Credit: Coastal Farm

Not to be confused with the Araucana (from which it descends), the Ameraucana lays blue colored eggs and does not have the inherent breeding problems that the Araucanas seem to face. Our Ameraucana hens lay light blue eggs, which you will find inside your cartons that you purchase from us. We have several Ameraucana hens. Ours seem to have their own set of ideas and philosophies… as they are the ones that tend to squeeze through the pasture fencing and lay eggs in random places and even tear up the gardens with no regard to our prized produce. However, they are quite productive layers, and serve as a dual purpose, cold hardy bird.  They have several color variations. I have one like the one pictured, a darker colored hen, and a light gray hen. The Ameraucana has history that extends back to South America–Chile to be exact, and is noted to have come to exist sometime around the 1920’s.

received_10160407562960438.jpegThe Machupe Indians had two breeds of chickens: the Collonca and Quetero, two very old breeds dating back to the 1500s or even before. Either naturally or by intervention, these two breeds were bred together and the Araucana was brought to existence (the Araucana is a parent bird of the Ameraucana). The Araucana is a very rare bird, and carries a lethal gene which can and will kill a chick inside the shell before it even hatches. This gene is the very gene that gives Araucana’s the tufted ear feathers, if both parents carry the gene, it is a fatal combination. Ameraucanas were bred to retain the blue egg but to abandon the lethal gene of its parents. Ameraucana’s are still considered a rare breed, being a very expensive bird…and often hatcheries and local breeders sell hybrid variations as Americana’s. So be careful when purchasing your birds.

Blue Andalusian

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Photo Credit: Coastal Farm

These birds originated in Andalusa, a province of Spain. However, they are quite popular in the USA and England, having been first imported around 1850. They were developed for the English Show Pens, having been first exhibited as a show bird in 1853. They are a very beautiful bird, having a blue-laced plumage and a graceful and stately stature.  Though the breed standard is slate-gray, they are also known to be black or splash (a mix of the colors). They are known to be flighty and do not do well in confinement, they will become feather pickers if kept inside too small of an area for too long.

 

 

received_10160409099340438.jpegThey were recognized by the American Poultry Association in 1874 and are on the Livestock Conservancy’s Threatened list. Blue Andalusians are not broody birds at all, but lay large white eggs. They are very cold hardy and will lay through the winter. They love to forage and are excellent spotters of predators, making them the most excellent bird for a free range flock. I often times see our  Andalusion hen sitting atop the rail of the grow out pen. Our Blue Andalusian just began to lay her very first eggs. Look for one in your next carton!

Light Brahma

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Photo Credit: Livestock Conservancy

I call these my Granny Chickens. I have a few of them, and they remind me of old ladies hanging around gossiping. I don’t know why… I would have to say they are one of my favorite chickens to own. They are on the larger side, but not bigger than a Black Jersey Giant. There is much speculation about where they originated from, but rumor has it that they were devloped in the USA from the breeding of birds imported from China. They were sent off from a port in Shanghai and were then known as “Shanghai Birds”. Brahmas as we know them today were first exported to England in December of 1852 as a gift for Queen Victoria. George Burnham sent nine “Gray Shanghaes” to her. There are Light and Dark Brahmas, they were the primary meat bird in the UK for nearly 80 years, from the 1850s to the 1930s.

received_10160407562325438.jpegThe Light and Dark Brahmas were adopted by the American Poultry Association in 1874, with a Buff Brahma being included in 1924. The Brahmas also have feathered feet…this is often how I tell my Delaware hens from my Light Brahma hens, as they almost have identical coloration. They are very cold hardy birds, laying through winter and they have even gone broody on me. They are very good producers of large light brown eggs. They are quite, gentle, and easy to handle… the many reasons I call them my Granny Hens.

Olive Egger

received_10160407562855438.jpegOlive Eggers are not technically a breed, they are a hybrid of a blue egg layer and a brown egg layer. There is no real decent photo of one of my olive eggers… actually, honestly, I don’t even know which chickens ARE my olive eggers…but obviously, I have two of them in order to be getting two olive colored eggs a day. Last year, I put a bunch of eggs from my hens into the incubator, not really caring that I had a “barn yard” mix of eggs and whatever hatched would not be true to the breed. I suppose that is how I ended up with olive eggers… My one Black Copper Maran Rooster bred with my Ameraucanas and the end result was hens that lay olive colored eggs. I won’t complain! Their eggs certainly add color to the carton and it goes along with my creative needs.

To say that I am obsessed with my chickens is an understatement. Although, you won’t see me putting them in sweaters (that actually does more harm than good) or giving them a swingset to play on, I do thoroughly enjoy my flock. I love looking out my kitchen window and seeing the pasture dotted with all the different colors. I do like adding in the rare breeds here and there, when I feel my flock needs some updated coloring.

We have many other types of hens, many of them lay plain brown eggs. Here are some of the other types of chickens we have on our farm:

Buff Orpington

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Photo Credit: Murray McMurray Hatchery

Black Cochin

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Photo Credit: Cackle Hatchery

Silver Laced Wyandotte

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Photo Credit: Cackle Hatchery

Gold Laced Wyandottes

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Photo Credit: Cackle Hatchery

Black Australorop

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Photo Credit: Cackle Hatchery

 

White Leghorn (New to our flock, Spring 2018)

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Photo Credit: eFowl

Rhode Island Red (New to our flock, Spring 2018)

 

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Photo Credit: The Happy Chicken Coop

 

True Whiting Green (New to our flock, Spring 2018)

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Photo Credit: Murray McMurray Hatchery

 

Black Jersey Giants (New to our flock, Spring 2018)

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Photo Credit: Murray McMurray Hatchery

Mid April Farm Update

While we recover from a very wet, sloppy and frozen weekend, lots of fun things have been happening. We hope that our readers faired well through this last “winter” storm that passed through over the weekend. We were very prepared for any power outages, and thankfully, none happened for us. We were also prepared for the over abundance of rain and didn’t experience any flooding in our hoop houses, which is a blessing!

 

We finally had enough turkey eggs to put into our incubator. We raise Royal Palm Turkeys, which are a heritage breed.  The history of Royal Palms has been traced back to a breeder by the name of Enoch Carson who lived in Lake Worth, Florida. It is believed that they are named after the city of Royal Palm, Florida which neighbors Lake Worth. The American Poultry Association recognized them as an official breed in 1971, decades after their inception. The wait took so long because their coloring was not constant from generation to generation.

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Even though this is not the best photo of our Tom Turkey (it is after rain), he is pretty big! We estimate him to be about 28 lbs. And he is so friendly!

They are not necessarily bred for their meat, but for their beautiful black and white plumage. Their black bands have almost a metallic sheen to them. We chose Royal Palm turkeys because of their smaller size when fully grown. We did not want a turkey that grew so big that it would not fit into our oven and we wanted a friendly, curious bird. However, they still make for a tasty bird, a Tom dresses out at about 20 pounds, and a hen around 15. Although this is our first season with raising them for meat, we chose them for their juicy and tender meat profile.

We have three Hens that have been consistently laying beautiful eggs. Over the last week or so, we have been collecting their eggs and storing them at room temperature, making sure to move them a few times a day to keep them fertile for the incubator. Our hens are so friendly and often like to have their heads scratched. received_10160401320955438.jpeg

 

I put 16 eggs into the incubator this morning, so around May 15, we should have our first hatches. Sometimes, a few may take a day or two longer. Turkey eggs incubate at 101.5F for about 28 days. On day 24, we remove them from the rotator and lay them on their sides inside the incubator so they can get into position to make their first crack. Also, around day 24, you can begin to hear them inside their shell. We have never hatched turkeys before, but we have hatched duck and chickens in an incubator and it is truly an awesome experience.

(I do know that there are only 14 eggs shown in the photo below. When I went out to collect chicken eggs this afternoon, I stopped at the turkey coop and found two more, and put them in after the photo was taken.)

 

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The incubator remains closed for most of the 28 days, except for candling, which we do to determine which eggs are progressing and which are not.

received_10160401321010438In other areas of the farm, we transplanted our zuchinni and a few squash plants into the south hoop house. It has been trending above freezing in there at night so I figured it was worth a shot. So far, so good. Hopefully, within a few weeks to a month or so, we will have fresh zuchinni. We planted 3 acorn squash plants and 3 butternut squash plants, the varieties we chose were personal-sized squash and were semi-bush type, meanig their vines would not spread all over inside the hoop house.

The white sheets you see laying off to the right side of the plants are called Frost Blankets. They come in different weights, depending on how much heat you’d like to keep in. They work wonders for early plantings out doors, or are useful inside the hoop house (where there is no heat, we just rely on the sun) for nights when it dips below freezing outside. The covering, depending on the weight/thickness, can keep an additional 5 to 10 degrees of warmth on your plants. It is important to remove them in the morning when temperatures allow so, because if it gets too warm inside the hoop house, your plants will fry (notice the dead broccoli and cabbage to the left). Plus, the white covering doesn’t allow a lot of light to get to the plant, and light is very important for growth.

Yesterday, I worked in the same hoop house, prepping the beds for tomatoes. I moved about 6 flats of tomatoes (about 125 plants) out into the hoop house yesterday while the sun was hidden. I put them under frost covering, like the squash. They are fairing quite well, and it seems as if we might actually get to plant them this coming weekend.

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While the outside is miserable, we have a few rows of lettuce mixes, spinach and arugala doing very well. We also have radishes, beets, and carrots growing. Soon, I will plant some more, so there are no lapses in production.

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We also recieved our order of Patterson onions from Johnny’s Select Seeds. We chose this variety for its production and long storage capabilities. It produces a very uniform, round bulb that should keep for about twelve months if cured and stored properly. We were hoping to plant these guys this weekend (that’s why we scheduled the delivery as such) but, due to so much rain, we will just have to wait!

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The garlic that we planted last fall has emerged. Thankfully, the cold doesn’t really change its attitude much.  We planted a few different types of long storing heirloom garlic.

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As you see  in the photo above, we had to fence our garlic… we have a rogue chicken that likes to hop the fence of the garden and scratch my raised beds up…including eating the garlic bulbs and flinging them all over. This is how you work with animals that do not like to listen to the rules…

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Our chickens have also upped production. Our experiment with fermented feed has proved to be a positive one. We are seeing about 24 to 30 eggs a day from 32 laying hens. We are also seeing a reduction in feed consumption. When I make goat cheese, I also add some of the whey to each batch of fermented feed.

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We are (I guess I should say *I* am) excited to announce our return to the Durand Farmer’s Market for the 2018 season. We took the year off last year to focus on our family, fitness, and my Etsy Business. Now that I have a better grasp on the direction in which I aim to take the Red Barn Family of businesses, we will be returning. We will be offering eggs, veggies, plants (if we have extra), and of course, my homemade soaps, salves, and other products. We will also be focusing a lot on our farm, getting our name out there to let people know who we are and what we are about.

It is my personal goal to get our little community more on board with organically farmed produce, eggs, and meat, and show the benefits it has on the community, land, and overall health of humans.

 

Isn’t it easier to buy from the store?

I am often asked, “Why do you do it? Why do you raise animals and grow food when it is so much easier to buy it from the store?”

The short answer: “Because I want to.”

Let me explain some main focus points because the real reason is a multifaceted one.

The CONNECTION:

I think most of the “general” population has lost touch with or where their food comes from. I believe the general population has a decent idea of where and how — at least if they are not blind. The steak, bacon, chicken wings and fish fillets in the grocery store were all a living creature at one point in time. I can’t guarantee that it lived a happy life or that it was humanely harvested–but I can guarantee that it was a life.

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Touching up the broilers we harvested.

By “connection”, I speak in terms of watching my food grow from the very beginning stages to the very end– pats on the head, feedings, making sure the sun always shines for them…making sure the animal is healthy…thanking each and every chicken, duck, and turkey for the life they gave to nourish the lives of my family and I. It means making a connection and forming a trusting relationship with the local farmer who raised our beef or pork. This is also true for vegetables. Planting the seeds and watching it grow and produce fruit, until the day the frost ultimately cuts its life supply.

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Chatting with a rooster.

I think it is extremely important to teach our young the circle of life when it comes to our food — that connection is a powerful one — and I believe that they will have a greater respect for all living creatures once they respect and understand that circle. I think the mass over-producing commercialization of food production has us all out of touch. I also believe that the true farmers who are passionate about the real connection with his or her consumers falls through the cracks and does not recieve the recognition he or she deserves.

I know WHAT’S in my food and HOW it is treated and how it LIVED its life:

I have been told I am an old soul — or that I am just like my Grandma Hall (I take that as a compliment, by the way). My Grandma Hall canned a lot, too. I remember being a little girl and most Saturday afternoons in the fall were filled with my Mom and Grandma blanching tomatoes and stuffing them into jars. I remember the jiggling of the canner as if it were yesterday.

I absolutely LOVE, LOVE, LOVE canning and preserving. Yes, it is a LOT of work – and I mean and EPIC ton of work. We can salsa, tomatoes (stewed, diced), tomato sauces (pasta, plain, pizza), fruit (peaches, apples, apple sauce, apple cider, jams), pickled veggies (banana peppers, jalapenos, pickles). By canning these products, we avoid chemicals, not only because we grow organic, but we don’t use preservatives, unnecessary sugars (did you know most companies add sugar to their products to get you addicted to them and did you know that sugar causes a reaction to more receptors in your brain than cocaine does?)…we also avoid nasty colorants, synthetic flavorings (often labeled as “natural flavors”), soy, and hydrogenated oils.

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Stewed tomatoes, canned and ready for the pantry. The tomatoes on the far left are from a tomato called “Pink Berkely Tie-dye” and are darker in color.

Everything is grown on our small farm (for the most part!) or grown by a trusted source. Every ingredient passes through my fingers and into the pot. This year’s applesauce and apple cider were made from the apples we picked from a neighbor’s house or from our favorite apple tree alongside the road (picked with permission). The twenty some quarts of chicken broth that I canned was made using the roasted carcasses of chickens we had harvested this fall. It makes for some divine soup.

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Making chicken broth using the carcasses from our own homegrown chickens.
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Homemade dill pickle spears.
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One side of our basement full of canned goods
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The bottom shelf is all salsa–one of our favorite things to eat and can!

As for knowing how my food is treated and how it has lived — this goes back to having a connection with your food or farmer. We don’t always have animals born at our farm – some years we do let a hen hatch a clutch of eggs or we incubate some in the house ourselves. We know that the eggs that we eat and sell come from happy and healthy hens. Sometimes we order our broiler chicks from a reputable breeder and they come by special delivery. We know from the day they arrive here until the day they are harvested, their life was not in vain and we made sure each step they took was a happy one. While we do not currently raise any animal other than poultry for consumption, I can attest for those farmers that I know quite well, that do. Every day of every year, no matter the weather, no matter the holiday, their livestock is fed and cared for above and before the farmer’s own needs.

FULFILLMENT

My work never seems to be done — between running my own business, the farm (which is essentially another business), homeschooling and caring for a soon-to-be four year old, and maintaining a household — I am pulled in many different directions day in and day out. Many ask where my fulfillment lies — and I answer “within it all”. The simple fact that I provide for my family in more ways than one is my fulfillment. My heart sings with joy when I walk into the house with a basket full of eggs, or when I pull a roasted chicken out of the oven — knowing that we raised and harvested it ourselves.

The pride I feel within myself for giving our daughter a life full of wonder and curiosity

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Holding a worm she found while digging.

while teaching her respect for animals and how to care for them by watching us do so, is overwhelming. It saddens me to no end that most households do not have the means or the patience to raise a few hens for their own fresh eggs (at one point in time, the government suggested that every household raised their own). The joy and excitement on our daughter’s face as she collects eggs is priceless and the notion that I can give her that — IS my fulfillment.

At the end of the day when I finally sit down on the couch to attempt to catch up on the latest book I am reading, or a recorded TV show, I smile inside. My animals are taken care of, I’ve made meals using ingredients that we have grown, I’ve contributed to the finances (in more ways than just my Etsy Shop — I believe that cooking at home with wholesome ingredients and providing milk, eggs, meat, and canned goods saves us money overall), and I have a happy husband and a thriving daughter.

IT IS IN MY DNA

Ever since I can remember, I found myself longing for a life with animals. I mean, I have had pets– dogs, cats, fish, reptiles, birds, etc. While they showed me love and I loved them in return, I still felt like I needed something more. I begged and begged for a pony or horse, and to no avail– I remained horseless. I see that as a positive now — horses are a TON of work, plus I have friends and neighbors with horses to quench any thirst I may have for horses.

I joined the FFA Chapter at my high school when I was a freshman and remained a very active member until graduation. It was there that my fire was fueled. We studied breeds and different species of livestock. We raised broiler chickens and watched sows give birth to piglets.

Fast forward about 10 years after graduation, I learned that on my Dad’s side of the family tree, I had a great uncle who was a farmer in Tulare, California after moving there from Mancelona, Michigan. He raised a pair of white mules, Nip and Tuck and raised hundreds of chickens for eggs and meat.

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My Great Uncle, Charles Augustus Davis, with his pair of mules, Nip and Tuck.
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Charles at his Chicken Farm in Tulare, California

On my mother’s side of the family, my grandma’s parents raised chickens and turkeys for the local grocery store in Mesick, Michigan. I met some long lost family members on my Mom’s side of the family about a year ago, and learned that there was dairy farming in their family. My new cousins raise pigs for show and meat (some VERY beautiful pigs!).

I feel, now that I am a grown woman–an adult with ambition, I can fill that missing piece in my life–I was meant to do this. And while it does not com easy most days (I’ve dropped an entire basket of eggs, lost a whole quart of milk, watched baby chicks die from who knows what, buried goats, and been pooped on) this is my life and I don’t aim to change it in the near future.

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