Thursday, 23 May 2013

A chick by any other name is still cute as hell... (continued)

Part Deux:

The winning chicken breeds are as follows: (mostly bought for egg colour)
  • White Chantacler - Canadian breed, winter hardy, our only white chickens.
  • Black Copper Marans - Good breed from Europe, super dark brown/red eggs. 
  • Amaracauna - Couple different colourings of this breed, but all lay blue eggs.
  • Malines - Suppose to be a great tasting bird, bought mostly on a whim. 
  • Euskal Oiloa - Super friendly bird, there for the kids and wife to play with. 
  • Mystery Green and Blue Egg layers (aka Easter Eggers)- lays blue or green eggs.
  • Olive Layers - Lays dark green egg. 
So what did I take away from this experience?
  1. It's a good move to set up presales unless you are getting there at 4am like a lunatic. Frankly I don't know what I may have missed due to people selling out early and high tailing out of there.
  2. Look closely at what you buy and ensure freshness.
  3. Many of the people at these swaps shouldn't be breeding with each other never mind eggs. Buyer beware, go with your gut.
  4. The swaps happen both in spring and fall, but if nothing else you can set up connections to get eggs off the swap circuit. 
  5. Park far away for a quick exit. Some looked like they got boxed in until 3 people moved their trucks. 
  6. Bring llama treats.   
Egg army ready for world domination

 Step 3: Time to turn up the heat...

A couple days prior to the swap I fired up the incubator to get it set to the right temp to hit the ground running. I'm glad I did because it took a couple days to get things just right. 99 deg is what the goal temp is with a humidity of about 60-65 percent. An impossible calculation if you don't have the right instruments.

We set it up in the office on the floor where the temperature stays stable and there are no breezes. Ultimately I should have put it on a desk but paranoia initially started it on the floor and it stayed there. As soon as I got home, I put the eggs into the office for a couple hours to settle at room temp and started to decide which eggs won't make the cut. 48 eggs and 41 spaces, really the turner holds 42 but one of the spots looked a little dangerously close to turner motor so we left it at 41. The choice was decided based on cost of eggs, colour of eggs and purity of the breed. We ended up posting an ad on craigslist to give away the others to a nice hippie woman. If she was wearing a tank there'd be armpit hair for sure, but none the less she was nice and promised to slip us a couple chicks in the future if we want it. I didnt have the heart to just toss them. I'm a softy like that...

So the winning eggs are in their spots, turner is plugged in and the temps are all right. There's no going back now, and with a total investment of 200$ we're in good shape. For the next 18 days tho, it's a case of hurry up and wait. Over the next 2 and a half weeks it was uneventful except for a power outage which happened while I was an hour away. D's mother called me up all frantic about the power knowing what it meant to the chicks. I was too far and had to call a buddy to swing by the house to make sure it wasn't a breaker and to possibly transport the chicks to an electrical source. If the temperature goes too far above or below 99 deg for too long, you can kiss your eggs goodbye. After all that work it would have been a bad scene if we lost them. Luckily it was short lived and the heat wasn't off for very long. 

On the 18th day it time to get the eggs into lock down for the next 3 days. At day 18 you:
  1. Remove eggs from turner and remove turner from incubator
  2. Replace eggs on their sides with small end pointing kinda downward. 
  3. Raise humidity to 75% by filling most or all of the water traps the incubator has.
  4. Try to make eggs not touch one another, which was hard with 41 eggs. 
  5. Replace lid to incubator and don't touch it for 3 days. I ended up having to add water once or twice but I found a way with a straw to feed water through a vent hole.
At the end of the 2nd of 3 days we had a couple eggs wobbling back n forth periodically and eventually our first 'pip' (a small break in the eggs caused by the chicks beak) It was a great site to see considering I assumed something messed up along the way and we'd have maybe 1 hatch. I'd be happy if 5 made it honestly. Your instinct is to help but for so many reasons you can't. A few hours later (midnight) while doing a quick check we had our first hatch. I was excited and woke D with a quick iPhone pic of it, she was dazed but happy. (99% of pics on this blog are all iPhone) D woke me the next morning on her way to work to let me know 3 more had hatched. More revenge than information I'd guess....

I must admit I spent more time than I'm proud of bent over the incubator talking to the eggs encouragingly and tapping the outside. Midway through that day we had 10 chicks and by dinner time we had 15. This is where things started getting tricky and there are 2 schools of thought here regarding the lockdown period. Some say you can't open it no matter what for 3 days, after that period there may be more over the next day or two but most likely your set. Others say it's ok to open the lid quickly to do what you need to and get out. It's tricky because at 15 chicks hatched the incubator started getting a little crowded. Some at this point are now dry, which takes a few hours. Some are still wet and meandering around drunkenly and some are in partway through hatching in varying degrees. Chicks can stay in an incubator for 48 hrs+ feeding off an internal yoke sack so they don't have to be rushed out. The hatched ones are bumping around and knocking not only each other but the eggs around them and causing what I deem to be 'problems'.

I went with the school of get in and get out, but make sure the temp and humidity get back up quickly. A couple times I popped open the lid and grabbed out the dry chicks. In retrospect it may have not been a good move, but the number of chicks I had in there warranted it. It's not unlike when you know your dryer can fit 10 towels but when there's 7 it does a better job. The hatching chicks are fighting the shell, but more importantly, the membrane holding them in, and when that dries out, they're in trouble. There were a couple cases of chicks stuck in their shells, some made it, some didn't. There is a tang of guilt as to whether better planning would have avoided that.
Our new watchdogs: Thor and Whitey
In the end, we had 28 of 41 eggs hatch, 2 had passed away midway through coming out, and the rest stayed as coloured eggs silently yearning to chase bugs. We lost one a couple days later which was one I ended up trying to help finish hatching but obviously shouldn't have. Mother nature has a way to pick the ones that should make it, but did my messing with the lid cause this or any others to not hatch?

What I'd do next time:
  • Start with less eggs. 41 made it too crowded, maybe at 25-30 there'd me more room for patience.  
  • Not open the lid til the eggs were basically done hatching.
  • If you do feel it necessary to intervene, just have a little sugar water there to feed the little beaks for a burst of energy. 
  • Prepare not only for a little heartache but the unusual smell as well... wish the office had a little more circulation.
  • Once the lockdown starts, don't block any vent holes trying to conserve humidity. 
  • Make sure you have backup plans for a power outage situation. 
After all the dust settled and we cleaned the gear I have to say it was a great experience. We learned a lot and ended up with more then we expected and they all seem healthy. In fact I would do it again, probably next year. It is one of those moments you feel all warm inside and really feel, even for a moment, like we are legitimate farmers. But most of all, I can't wait to share this with our kids.

Now all that's left is figuring out which is which. They mixed together as they hatched and not only do I not know male from female but the game to figure out the breeds is on now too. I'm going to post some picks on the chicken sites and hope they can help, they always do...

Life Lesson # 922 - Don't count your eggs before they are hatched. This is true literally and figuratively...



A chick by any other name is still cute as hell...

If someone told me 20 years ago that one day I'd gladly be spending the first long weekend of the summer huddled over a bunch of incubating eggs, I would have punched him. However, that is exactly what happened, and that Bizzarro like change of events began not too long ago... (cue flashback special effects)

One of the things D and I discussed when we first decided to make the jump to the green acres lifestyle was raising chickens. As always I thought big, at that point in time I assured her it would be about 10 chickens in a small coop. A general rule I've learned in our short marriage is this: In any marriage, to psych your significant other up for something, you half it at first and then let it grow organically. So once the seed was planted for that one, I set to reading my plethora of books on the subject and joined a couple websites.
  1. A great one for our geographic location was Poultry Swap Ontario 
  2. A very informative yet USA based site Backyard Chickens     
 As usual it's mostly about the message boards whose members are very educated and more than helpful with information, even if it has been asked a hundred times already. The Backyard Chickens site even has a little education section for all the basics. Priceless.

The original plan was to purchase a few day old chicks from a couple places and get them into a brooder, then out to a mansion like coop to start laying. At some point along the road, about 2 months ago, I had the eureka to hatch our own eggs. As mentioned in the last episode, it was about price/chick, health of the chick, the variety available, and of course the experience. If we are doing this, let jump in with both feet. Little did I know...

Step 1 - A Cook is limited by his gear!

Incubator hard at work
So the first step is to buy an incubator. Gotta have some place to cook these little devils and get them out into the world. There are various places to buy them and various suppliers of anything from a desktop model to one the size of a fridge which does 1000 eggs. We settled on the Hovabator basic model from a guy on Ebay. (A family member was visiting the USA so we had it shipped there and they brought it back. Saving shipping and customs) It holds up to 42 eggs and you can get some basic extras for it to make life a lot easier. These extras made all the difference so if you are planning on giving the egg hatching a try, trust me on this one.

The entire package cost us about 120$ US and included:
  • The Incubator - Hovabator basic model, mostly Styrofoam and a footprint equal to a laptop.  
  • A Digital Thermometer/Hydrometer: Very important extra because the included thermometer is about as lame as extras get, and the moisture meter aspect is key for maintaining humidity at different levels.  
  • An Egg Turner: The most import extra you can get for this endeavour. Normally, for those who are crazy, you literally have to turn the egg over 3 times a day for 18 days to ensure the eggs hatch properly. Something to do with preventing sticking to the egg. They have a whole system of marking each side with an X or O and that keeps track. The egg turner does it all for you. Put the eggs in small end down, plug it in and walk away...  
  •  A Computer Fan: You hard wire and attach it inside the incubator to keep air circulating. (takes 5 mins) Keeps temps even and help to dry off the chicks once they hatch.
This combination is all we needed to turn our place into a hatchapalooza festival. Oh, but first we have to get the eggs...

Step 2 -  Gotta fill'em with something...

If you visit either of the aforementioned websites they have sales areas for people to buy and sell various types of poultry: eggs, chicks, full grown layers/roosters, ducks and even geese or pheasants. It was here while poking around I found out about a 'Fir and Fowl' swap happening out in ultra-farmland a couple weeks from then. I would have been able to get eggs (craigslist, chicken sites) here and there from different places, with me driving back and forth or, I could head to one place and get a large variety from all over the area.

At first the idea was to just head out to this little town and probably see like 15 or 20 pickup trucks with chickens at various stages. Like a mini farmer tailgate party where they sell live chickens not cooked ones. Anyway, before heading up I thought it might be a good move to have some sales prebooked to pick up there. I sent messages to a few people on the site and had it set to hold them for us to pickup. It was a very nice thing for these people to do considering I may not show/be lost or any number of things which would leave them with eggs unsold.

Again, things got a little out of hand and I ended up pre-booking basically all the free spots I had eggs for. Actually, we were only going for about 10 chickens so we are way over the top now. I justified it to myself by thinking, 'ok, usually they say you get about 75-80% hatch rate (less for us being newbies) and from that, if we're lucky, 50% of those will be roosters (which you only need 1 or 2 of). So once everything washes out we'll maybe lose a couple to the circle of life and we'll be just about right. We also can trade/sell and/or eat any extras we have. The problem being, it'll stop us being able to pickup new eggs there unless I wanted to try to sell or toss any overage. In the end I was glad I did pre-book.    

I started reading that people begin poking around at like 4 am at this swap with flashlights. These are the hardcore chicken heads who are coming for something specific or rare. As it turned out the place for the swap was 2 hours from our house, so there is no way I was making it that early and frankly we decided that I should go solo, which I am also just as happy to do. I'll be the first to admit I'm a bad person to shop with and finding/meandering around a place I've never been to, could frustrate anyone with me. I'll circle a place a couple times just to take it all in, and then zig zag back and forth getting the best of what we need. Sometimes changing my mind and going back for something else. Even worse I'll just stand at a busy table for a while, looking at the merchandise and people watching.

Poultry Flea Market / DNA Boggle capital
So I leave at 6 am and most people I'm meeting are expecting me about 9. I've got time to get lost or doddle if I want, scope out the competition and see if anything else of higher interest is available. The ride is uneventful and when I pull into the small town the swap was easy to find. When I say it was packed to the brim with people and trucks, it would be an understatement. It was a standard football field and racetrack at a high school, with trucks of all sizes side by side around both sides of the track, plus any other place where a truck could park, there was one. Even the parking lots were full with sellers. I had to park almost a km away, and was happy I wasn't getting anything big. Carrying a couple boxes of fragile eggs was bad enough.

They sold every kind of feathered foul you can think of, eggs and live ones. Plus they had snakes, pigs, puppies and I think I saw a llama. Few chicken waterers and accessories here and there, nothing mind shattering. However there were tons of people, and in some spots it was shoulder to shoulder. In the middle of nowhere? This swap probably quadruples the towns population for a few hours. The point of this story is that all the good eggs we would want to get our hands on were nowhere to be found. Many signs with crossed out listings peppered the lane ways and by 9am the stuff was basically gonzo. Hence why we read people are snooping around at 4 am.

Regardless, we had our sales set up and the transactions went smooth enough. One person was a sweet woman from the far south west and she traded me a dozen eggs for some seeds I had brought with me. (Thanks seed swap) The only negative I would take with me was one of the sellers eggs were a little different colour than his listing pics, and his eggs were a little dated. Not to mention they were expensive. As a rule you want your eggs to be 7 days or younger for maximum hatching. A couple of his were hitting the 7 day mark but I didn't notice it till I got back home. (he penciled the date they were laid on them) I ended up getting out of there about 12:30 with 48 eggs in hand and a big bag of pine shavings I know we'd need at some point. I could have gotten more things but this trip was as much recon as anything.

To be continued....

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Life's just an hourglass glued to a table...

I cant believe how quickly time passed this last month. Everyday I think about this blog and then a nano second later I'm deflected onto one of the plethora of tasks left to do. I miss the days of condo living a little, but that too disappears a nano second later.

Meanwhile back at the farm... the in-law suite is basically completed and by that I mean it's barely livable. Floors are down, half of the trim is done, walls are painted but waiting for final coat. The kitchen cabs are in but no counter top and the bathroom has nothing but tile floor, a shower base and a toilet which I am convinced is leaking a little into an open space above the garage I can't get my eyes onto. D's mom moved in 4 days ago and has been very nice about the whole thing and she's using our facilities until I'm done. She's almost walked in on me changing twice, which I'm not sure was all accident... she's french so you never know. The fact is it will be done within a couple days, except for the granite counter on order but I'll toss in a temp one and then bolt the door on our side... with 4 locks...

I completed the seeding room in the garage. It ended up being a 6 x 12 room which I insulated and boarded with OSB board inside for mounting things and drywall outside for insulation and aesthetics. There are supports for hanging 6 adjustable lighting systems and waist high tables surrounding the whole area. (I'm 6'1" so my waist is not the same as most) Currently there are 150  2 week old tomato/pepper seedlings growing at a toasty 70-75 degrees and all seems to be going well. The details on this will follow soon in another edition of Jack of all Trades...

The chicken factory has taken an unexpected turn. Another late night ill fated eureka of mine now has us hatching our own eggs rather then buying day old chicks as previously planned. Not 100% sure this was a good plan, but after my mom picked us up a package while on vacation in Florida, we now are proud owners of our very own incubator. Retrospectively the reasoning is this:
  1. Hatching eggs cost considerably less than a chick. 
  2. You never know what cooties or critters a day/week old chick may have.
  3. It's easier to get your hands on eggs vs chicks unless the farmer lives close. You can't ship a chick for the most part.
  4. The variety available of hatching eggs seems to be higher, if that makes sense. 
  5. The idea of watching eggs hatch seemed intriguing. We'll be exposed to enough death on the farm I'm sure so watching the start of life seemed like a nice trade off.
  6. Having time to hatch the eggs, gives me time to finish the coop and baby chick pen.     
 We're heading to a chicken swap next weekend in the middle of red neck Ontario. After getting my head hooked on going, I realized it was 2 hours away and started at 6 am, but the tunnel vision has got me so away I go. Pretty sure D will bail last minute, which is ok, I prefer shopping solo. To make sure we don't come home empty handed I have a few farmers bringing us some hatching eggs. We will shop around there, get a handful of other varieties and then run for the border before the banjos begin and a huge guy asks me if I can squeal like a pig...  this also is a 'to be continued'... 

Life Lesson #199 - Make sure at the end of your life you look back thinking "I'm glad I did" and not "I wish I had"

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

One can count the seeds in an apple etc etc...

Part Deux


Seeds worth trading for...
The seed swap site we used the most was The Garden Web  They have a forum section with seed and plant swaps, even a specific area for Canucks. However I found most from the USA were more then happy to trade with us and shipping/customs was no problem at all. This is where the diversity of our seeds really went haywire. People are posting all the time things they are looking for or have to trade. The key is to have one or two seeds people will find unique, luckily I grew and harvested seeds from last years patio garden, the Chinese 5 Colour Pepper and an heirloom tomato seed. I put up my list and then went hunting for others who had long lists of interesting seeds. Struck up a friendly conversation via email and a trade was established. I then sit back and wait to see what they send, and those in the garden world are definitely happy to share. Ultimately they don't want to see the seeds go to waste, but the fact we are just starting out and included our personal story info in our bio and emails certainly helped with the generosity factor. I'd set up a trade for 3 kinds of seeds and sometimes people send like 6 or even 10 kinds. It was great, like a mini Christmas every day the mail arrived.

There were two people specifically who were generous above and beyond. One was a guy who grows tomatoes. I read a few blogs about certain kinds of tomatoes and starting a hunt to find some seeds. I sent and email to a guy who seemed to be a guru in the field and he was more than happy to help us out. He ended up sending us like 10 varieties, all with nothing from us in terms of a trade or postage and more importantly, he sent us two strains which he himself created and named just this year. One named for his wife which I cant wait to check out. Doubt I'll tell D about that one or I'll be knee deep in veggie genes trying to make a Danni Squash.

5 Colour Twilight Zone
The next guy, we'll call him Greg. I think he took it on himself to get us in the right direction with a head start many may be envious of. All with barely more then a couple emails with our story and a request for a few top bean choices. This guy was the bean guru as far as I could tell and after we chatted a little he told me to hang tight and he'd send up a little package. Couple weeks later a bubble envelop arrives the size of a grapefruit. When I opened the package it literally burst out onto the table and we both actually said a vulgar version of "WOW!!" In the package was 83 different kinds of snap and dry beans, 8 kinds of tomatoes and probably 20 kinds of watermelon, squash or pumkins. With 5-10 seeds of each variety, all labeled and many with his personal notes pointing out his favs, or little tips. It was amazing really, and a moment that at some point in the future I may Pay it Forward to someone else deserving.

By the way, one of the bean seeds was suppose to be on the Mayflower back in the day and the strain has been kept 'pure' since then.  If nothing else, we can grow one or two plants of the most rare or desirable plants and sell/trade the seeds in the future years. We do value the benefit of heritage seed saving and being anti GMO, so we will do our part.

Something of note to keep your eye out for when checking the seed swapping sites are either;
  1. 'Round Robin Exchange' where you mail in 10 packs each of 1 - 5 kinds of seeds to a 'Host', the Host takes your seeds and 10 or 20 other people's who have done the same, then splits them up for all those who participated. You wait patiently and they send you back a package with an interesting mix of seeds. We've joined two so far and just got one back which was exclusively peppers. The number of seeds you get back is usually a direct correlation to how many you send in.  
  2. 'Seed Trains' this is where one person takes a box and starts with a few varieties of seeds. People sign up to be a stop on the train and you mail the package to the next person on the list. When it stops at you, you sort through what you want, add a little to replenish your bounty and mail it on to the next person. We are just waiting for now coming from out west. We found this one on The Hot Pepper , again in the forums section. Wish I liked hot peppers more... 
Small portion of the bible...
Keep in mind, when you get seeds from a swap or train, technically you never know what your getting. Might be old, cross pollinated or just the wrong seed. So as they said in the 70's, swapper beware.

I won't bother to get specific with what seeds we have moving into this year, but I will share some overall numbers. Most likely a majority, if not all, will have at least 1 seed planted to test and preserve, but as usual the reality may be different. Some of course will have multiple planted.

Final Seed Tally 
    • Tomatoes: 55 varieties - small to beefsteak, yellow to black
    • Beets: 7 varieties - Striped, yellow and a few variations on the standard red
    • Peas: 12 varieties - Not much to say about peas frankly
    • Broccoli: 5 varieties - Purple heads, some Italian that branches out and an early sprouter 
    • Cauliflower: 3 varieties - Super white, a purple and one which is suppose to taste like heaven
    • Cucumbers: 10 varieties - Pickling, slicing and a few which may question my manhood
    • Lettuce: 15 varieties - These include spinach, romaines, various heads and loose leafs
    • Peppers: 45 varieties - Uber spicy, super sweet with every colour and size known
    • Carrots: 9 varieties - Rainbow of colours but mainly on the larger size. No minis here
    • Beans: 115 varieties - Snaps, dry, rare and some worth 2$/seed. We'll focus on the larger ones 
    • Melons: 35 varieties - Pumpkins, squash, melons & watermelons. Anything you could ask for
    • Potatoes: 10 varieties - Early, mid and late season, mostly large with focus on long storage
    • Sweet potatoes: 6 varieties - Testing the waters, most are early season varieties for our climate
    • Asparagus: 4 varieties - Green and purple with half being a male only high producing strains
    • Garlic: 7 varieties - From all over the world, mild to pungent. Looking forward to this one.
    • Misc: 29 varieties: Corn, celery, onions, kohlrabi, brussel sprouts, radish etc etc
    What do you mean that's too many? D wanted me to try mushrooms too... Anyway, I have everything laid out in a computer file and with the help of the software mentioned previously, it should be smooth sailing. This is one of those examples, I hope, where spending some extra time now will make future years less stressful and productive. I'll let you know... 

    Finally, what we did with the seeds was to preserve them not only for safety from natural disasters but also for ease of identification. When the seeds first started coming in I knew the small envelopes they usually come in would be hard to maintain, difficult to sort through and ultimately a recipe for mix-ups and seed errors. To eliminate these pesky issues I went to a friend who has a company shipping Chia Seeds coast to coast. If you don't know Chia seeds, I'll give him a free plug: Chia Seeds

    The Larry, Moe and Curly of seed safety
    Anyway, to carry the seeds around they have a small hinge top air tight container and I grabbed a hundred of these and proceeded to place each type of seed in one. If the seed was bought commercially I'd actually tape the label or pertinent information on it, to the container. If it was a swap or direct trade seeds I make a label myself or tape the label they included to it.  I recently found mini versions of these at the dollar store, 6 or 8 in a pack and perfect for small seeds, or those of only a few. They can seem to get lost when you only have 5 tomato seeds in a 'large' container. After buying a cheap tool box, the Seed Bank Project is in full effect and frankly I enjoy bringing it out to bore people with. Most people's eyes haze over if I do, but we'll see this fall what they think...       

    Seed Bank vault rare opening...
    All in all I am happy with the overall outlook. Total cost to us so far is about $500 which includes the seeds, the potatoes, asparagus crowns and a few different trees and fruit bearing bushes. In the next month or two we will buy a bunch more fruit trees for the back plot and then that's it for this year. If we can grow some good seeds worth saving and selling, next year will be much easier. Worse case scenario, we can always eat Cooper...

    I'll see you sooner then you think...

    Life Lesson # 559b - People, like seeds, need good companionship. Be near those who will help you flourish and bloom. Otherwise you might as well plant yourself under a black walnut tree, alone...

    Monday, 18 March 2013

    One can count the seeds in an apple, but only Mother Nature can count the number of apples in a seed...

    Part 1

    (This ones was a doozy but we split it into a two parter)

    Do birds have snow shovels?...
    At last, spring is upon us and honestly it couldn't come quick enough. Now however, is when we have to put up or shut up. It's coming at us like a boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but we knew what we were signing up for, and in many ways I look forward to days of true progress. I'm pretty much planned out.

    The last month or so I have been spending a chunk of my spare time gathering seeds for the coming year. They ended up coming from an interesting mix of places and if you get anything from this specific episode it would be about the seeds.
    • First of all, we decided to not focus on one specific fruit or veggie in any category. This year we will grow as many different varieties of fruits/veggies as we can. Not only to judge what we'd like to focus on, but also to save the seeds moving forward so we won't have to buy many commercially. 
    • Next, I decided to organize and safely preserve all the seeds we got to ensure longevity and protection in case of natural disaster or Cooper attack. Our own Seed Bank Project.
    • Finally, where we got our seeds from varied more than we thought it would. I always assumed you look seeds up in a catalog, order them and wait patiently in the bushes while the postal worker does their business with the snail mail.          
    Now that the dust has settled, I think, as usual, my tunnel vision got me a little crazy with the seed collecting. Why? While D and I were attending a seed saving show last month, I pulled out my list to ensure we didn't duplicate and the person behind the counter yelped "Woah!! Are those all your seeds?!?!" D cleared her throat subtly. When you know nothing about seeds and growing, every description you read seems like one you'd like to try. Yesterday at a seed place we were getting herb seeds for her garden and she actually said in a firm tone, "OK, enough with the bean seeds".

    We bought almost exclusively from Canadian retailers with a few packs coming from companies in the USA I couldn't resist. A minor deciding factor was any coupon code I could locate online at that time, usually free shipping or $X off $XX worth of order. Overall everything came in swiftly, except for the living plants, bulbs and tubers (potatoes) which ship once frost has passed. The final retailer tally and my 2 cents worth are as follows:
    1. Veseys Seeds  A Canadian company with a good reputation and decent prices. Bought seeds, a few potatoes and sweet potatoes to test them out.
    2. TT Seeds  Canadian, good prices and quick shipping. Bought seeds, asparagus and a few small tools.
    3. Mapple Farm   Canadian and mostly known for their sweet potatoes. I actually had these guys on my hotbar watching and waiting for their 2013 to go on sale. We weren't missing out on our choices. Also bought asparagus, and a unique kind of tomato which is suppose to store over winter.
    4. Eagle Creek Farms East Coast Canadian and exclusively sells seed potatoes. Good variety and decent customer service. We ended up getting 7 different kinds to test the waters.
    5. Park Seeds - The only USA company we ordered from, they had great prices on a couple specific seeds I couldn't resist. Fast shipping and good selection. Minus 1 point for being Yankees tho... 
    6. Henry Fields Canadian website I found out later they may ship from the USA. Not sure I like the rouse but we'll see. Initially I wanted to order one type of potato D was on me about and ended getting sucked into a bunch of fruit and nut trees. Good prices, good selection and decent coupon codes floating around.
    7. Seeds of Diversity Canadian seed preservation 'charity' organization. Pay a membership fee and get access to heirloom seed growers. Bought some seeds more to test it out and support the cause than anything. Overall not sure how I feel about the seeds received, they sure dont kill themselves with the quantities.
    8. Ontario Seed Company (OSC)  Local seed company with good variety, good prices, fast shipping and they have the option for larger quantity discounts. IE 1 pak or 1/4 oz or 1/2 oz etc. 
    9. Richters Herbs Local seed company known mostly for their herbs and medicinal plants. Large greenhouse and friendly staff. Seed prices aren't cheap but the variety is pretty overwhelming.    
    Now that I see this list it's a little much, but the buying was peppered over a month or so if that means anything. In the end, one was just as good as another for different reasons. No one stiffed us in any major way, many of the retailers have some sort of guarantee which is reassuring. (We cancelled an order from West Coast Seeds due to slow order shipping and substandard customer service.) We'll monitor how the seeds turn out and that will narrow our choices down for next year if we choose to buy again.

    Nice to look at but hard to conquer... 
    An alternate source for seeds for you to consider, which we stumbled on, is now your new favourite term: Seed Swap. No, not a fertility clinic after hours party, but a place where gardeners hook up to exchange their seeds. Actually not that different when you think about it. The beauty of the internet is you can do it from your couch while eating licorice. You can find swaps at brick and mortar events, but there are a couple websites out there that I have found very useful. Obviously there are more, but most seem to have 4 posts since 2007, or require me to crack my college botany book in order to list the seeds by genus and phylum. I have zero patience and like to get in and out quick. (insert joke here)

    Life Lesson #559a - Patience comes to those who wait...

                                                                    To Be Continued.....

    Friday, 15 February 2013

    A little older now, but still runnin' against the wind...

    Unlocks from the Outside Only
    It's been a little while since our last post, partially due to a mountain of things going on, and partially because I didn't want to blog for the sake of blogging. I'd kind of felt like it was starting to become a babble fest and no one wants that. So thanks for hanging in there, I hope your winter has been a warm and cuddly one, regardless of the weather outside.

    Things have been motoring along at the Keltic Kreek home front. The new entrance has been installed for the in-law suite and most of the flooring torn out. Next move is to tear out the bathroom to prep for an entirely new one and begin the task of plumbing for the kitchen. One of the guys I've made buddies with at the weekly poker game is a plumber, so it should be no big deal. Most of it I can do but if you can stand on the shoulders of geniuses, why wouldn't you?

    Rack to Torture Garlic
    The shop is taking shape. This is a separate building we have on site, with a hydraulic lift and tons of space inside, it's like 40 x 80 or so. I'm going to build a seedling room inside to start some of the veggies, a carpenters section for renos/building projects and a large portion for farm stuff... the 'stuff' to be determined as time goes on. The goal is to let it develop organically, and so far the first farm project is a drying rack for garlic and onions. Again with a tree hugging maneuver, it's made from a metal futon frame I drove past on the way home from a seed buying mission. Saw it in a snowbank and pulled over to scoop it. No, there wasn't a blanket or pillow with it, the homeless couple had moved out already. My detective skills, based on the other garbage out there, says it was a tenant who did a midnight move and the owners of the house were recklessly tossing out all the furniture. There was a desk chair and other items, but frankly who needs small town bedbugs. The side rails of the frame are now shelves above the dry rack, and the rack will swing out from the wall when needed and tuck away when the dance cave opens, or not in use...

    Hmm... Shovel or Snowblower
    The weather has not been friendly this year. We moved from a small condo downtown, where everything was taken care of by hired help and by chance, old man winter was on vacation for a couple years. Well, he came back and wanted to remind us he is still in charge. I'm one of those wierdos that actually enjoys shoveling snow, but this year is pushing it. Our area to shovel last year was 7 steps and a 6 x 12 patio on the roof. Now it's a driveway that fits 20 cars, a 1000sq ft deck and a meandering path leading from the house to the shop. Not to mention now we are a couple degrees further north and have gone from 1/2 inch of snow all last year, to probably 36 inches so far, the last big one was 18 inches in 1 day. I know there are Eskimos that deal with more but that's their problem. We've been lucky with great neighbours who have helped out a bit until we get some machines. Perhaps I should say I've been lucky, I do 99% of the snow work and would have keeled over in a  snowbank left until spring thaw came.  It's about 36 days until spring and no one is looking forward to it more than this guy right here...
    Sentinel Cooper

    Cooper is still alive... for now...

    Life Lesson #118: Take a good honest look around you. You are the sum of your 5 closest friends, so if you're not impressed with that you see, make a change... 


    Tuesday, 25 December 2012

    The young know the rules, but the old know the exceptions...

    Every so often I am hit with a eureka moment. There is a term for it, like a shower spark or whatever, but essentially it is a theory that a certain part of your brain can kick into high gear when you are predisposed with something else ie in the shower or driving a long distance. I am cursed with these all the time and I say cursed because I have forgotten more profound ideas and theories than I'd like to admit. Mostly because I don't write them down and by the time I get to the blog it's been replaced with day to day clutter, either way it's frustrating. Every so often I'll remember one and try to casually slip it in but if I could remember them, my blog would be way more enlightening. You'll have to make due with my inane babble until I can get a tape recorder that floats around my head.

    Anyway, it's Christmas day and we are relaxing after a couple days of whirlwind family visits. D and I decided to host this year for a few reasons. My side of the family has no real room for formal visits, her brother is hunting photo ops in Africa while on a not deserved/overpriced honeymoon, and except for her mother, all her family lives in Quebec. We are happy to do it honestly. I'm not a fan of driving long distances, I prefer to be in my comfort zone and frankly we have the room. Everything went without a hitch, everyone was on time, no one aired their festering grievances and there were plenty of cookies. All in all it was a classic old school xmas dinner and I must admit, one of the best holiday meals I have ever eaten. D really went above and beyond and worked her a$$ off. How she can work a fulltime corporate job and even have the inclination to pull a meal stream like that one is amazing and solidifies reason # 344 why I married her. I'll thank her with a foot rub later.

    The farm is prepped and ready for next season, Phase 1 is complete. We were hit with a week of very warm weather and after a patented eureka moment, I was able to finalize a plan of attack, finagle my cousin into coming over to clear the rest of the Montego plot and move around some top soil. The neighbour had helped a lot previously but some key things were still nagging me.
    • How to get the soil back to real growing potential without wasting so much money and time on rehab. 
    • Where to get the soil from to even get the grading back to normal.
    • How much real workable space will we have considering the hazardous waste and trees.
    • How will be spread the soil without damaging the substrate and using up too much favour credit. 
    Auditioning for scarecrow job on next years plot
     The final resolution is to clear and grade the first plot, which finally grew to a mere 100ft x 60ft. All the good clean top soil, which was left over from a parking pad the previous owner created nearby, would be moved to the side until needed next spring. The base now is a relatively clean spot lacking in an overabundance of healthy nutrients but good grading and tons of natural sunlight.

    Our move for the space next year is to build small plots within this larger one. 3 ft by 15 ft each which will be perimeter lined with landscape/interlock stones and useful pieces left on site or skids of over stock stone my uncle's business can't use. An ultimate example in reduce reuse recycle, the hippies would be happy. The stones will surround each plot essentially just to keep in the dirt we'll be adding, in turn creating a pseudo raised bed style. Between each plot will be 2 - 3ft wide walkways topped with soy ink based newspapers/cardboard covered with hay we snagged from some locals. Each plot will then be filled with the rich topsoil we have piled in the corners and then a few inches of this GardenMax super soil a local garden company sells. At that point we will adapt each plot to what we need in terms of pH levels, porosity etc. From then on, those plots will stay there and just be rejuvenated each season in whatever way works best. In total there may be approximately 40-50 plots, but we'll see...

    Not sure how the future plots (adjacent to Montego) will be done, but we aren't a huge fan of the row style of farming so if this works we may just buckle down and do the mini plot style for each addition, then just maintain them. Now that the snow has set in and land manipulation is at a stand still this will be an ultimate too be continued/stay tuned. The GardenProPlanner App discussed previously is on sale for $9.99 and worth every penny. The final seed details will be added at a later post. A friends uncle sent us a care package full of some pretty interesting seeds to mess around with. Some including, I think, a few psychotropic cactus seeds from the peyote lose your mind genus family. But you didn't hear that from me... 

    Cooper at 16 weeks
    Cooper update coming next blog but I will say this, which you can add to my Eureka File (EF): I am positive, not unlike greeting card/chocolate companies creating holidays like St.Valentines Day, there is a conspiracy to be uncovered where paper towel companies are perpetuating the idea of people adopting puppies... you heard it here first...

    Finally, from our family here at Homestead U and Keltic Kreek Farm, we want to wish you a safe and happy (insert holiday here). May your best days of 2012 be your worst of 2013. We hope to share another year of progress and please feel free just to leave a hello below to let us know if/who  someone out there is sharing our trials and triumphs up to now.
    (D and I have a bet as an over/under as to # of replies) 

    Life Lesson #701: Best Xmas movies to watch Xmas day in order:

    1. Christmas Vacation   
    2. A Christmas Story
    3. Scrooged
    4. Elf
    5. Die Hard
    6. Gremlins
    7. It's a Wonderful Life