Monday, June 30, 2014

Garden Status for June 2014

The garden really starting to produce now. 
June 12 harvest.

Slicing cucumbers on June 21.
June 22 harvest
The two quarts are refrigerator pickles and the pints are fermented pickles.  My wife made both on June 26.

Tomatoes picked June 27.  I canned these.  See the picture below.
I canned 5 pints of tomatoes on June 27.
I picked and canned every red tomato I could find on the 27th.  On the 30th the plants were full of red tomatoes.
June 30
Pickling cucumbers.
The peas are done.  What's left on there will be saved for seed for next year.

Pie pumpkin.  I've never grown pumpkin before.  It appears to be doing well.
I have several ears of corn with more one the way.  I didn't plant the cucumbers here.  They showed up on their own.
Zucchini.  June 30
I have a lot of beans out there that need to be picked.  This one was on its own so it was easier to photograph.
June 30.
I didn't get pictures of the pepper plants.  They're doing OK.  I expect them to produce more later in the year.  My tomatillos aren't doing nearly as well as they have in past years.  I have a little bit of my late lettuce left, but it's on the bitter side.  The lettuce I planted earlier got very bitter so I took it out and gave it to the chickens.

We've been eating a lot of this stuff with meals.  I've also been taking salad to work for lunch several times a week.  When I've had extra I've given it away to neighbors and co-workers.  This is my favorite time of year. I just love summer.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Front yard hugelkultur status

I've noticed that I sometimes write blog posts and then fail to followup with the results.  I need to get better about that. 

Anyway, long ago I attempted to put a hugelkultur bed in my front yard.  I haven't been overwhelmed with the results.  You can see the difference in the two pictures below. 

It's been nearly two years since I put this in.  Since then I've added 4-6 wheelbarrow loads of compost.  I added rabbit manure.  I added more compost and planted hairy vetch and rye grass in hopes that the root system that developed would hold everything in place.  The rye grass grew to be a foot tall.  I cut it down and left it in place as mulch. 
September 2012
June 2014
I made a few attempts at growing beans, kale, and even onions here.  None of it worked real well.  I think I have at least two problems.  The first is that this area doesn't get a lot of sun.  The second is that I don't think I've sufficiently covered the wood.  The third would be that there's only 3-4" of soil on top of the wood. 

I pulled back the top layer of mulch the other night and found that a lot of the buried wood was exposed.  The areas that were exposed appeared to be dry and not rotting.  The areas that were covered did show signs of rot.  (I have to say that the soil here is beautiful.)
Closeup of exposed wood.  The bottom is damp and the top is dry.
I pulled out three of the logs near the end.  Two of them had a fair amount of rot and the third did not.
I have a guess as to what happened. When I dumped the compost on top of the wood a lot of it fell off to the sides.  That's fine.  The wood needs to be covered.  At one time it did cover the wood, but it eventually settled.  I would need to make it much deeper to keep that from happening again, and I don't think I have enough compost for that.  I'm thinking that I might just remove the wood core and leave the beautiful new soil behind. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Compost Status

It's been a while since I've posted an update on my compost bins. Every month I move the pile from one bin to the other.  While I was doing that the other day I got some pictures.
I filled the bin to the top with leaves and other material last fall.  It's broken down and compacted so much that the bin is only half full now.
I checked the temperature and it was at 120*.  It was higher the last time I checked.  I might not have the right mix of greens and browns in there.
Here's the pile after it was moved to the other side.
I should probably turn the pile more frequently, but it's a lot of work.  This stuff has been in there for the better part of a year and still has a long way to go.  It should be ready in the fall.  I plan to use it in my raised beds once the growing season is over.  The beds settle over time so some of them have low spots.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Backyard Broilers -- Round 2: The Results

The remaining 8 broilers graduated yesterday.  I started with the first one at 8:00.  One of my buddies and his son arrived at 10:00 to help.  We finished right around 2:00. 

I let the birds sit in coolers with ice over night and put them in heat shrink bags this afternoon.
This was the biggest bird of the entire group.  6 lbs. 7.2 oz.

I've listed my expenses in the table below.  I have to note that while I was away last week I ran out of feed.  One neighbor brought some more over and the different neighbor picked up another 50 lb. bag.  I have no idea how much the birds ate during that time.  Therefore, I can't say exactly how much feed it took to get them to their finish weight or what the exact cost was.  (I have great neighbors by the way.) 

Description Cost
15 Cornish Cross Chicks $24.00
100 lbs. Purina Start and Grow feed $29.98
Vitamin packets $2.99
200 lbs. Soy Free Organic feed $144.00
50 lbs. Purina Layer feed $17.00*

Total Cost: $217.97
* I ran out of soy-free feed and had to use a partial bag of feed that I had for my layers. Since it was partially used I probably shouldn't add the entire $17 to my costs.  But it's also the case that my layers were eating the soy-free feed.  So that $144.00 didn't go entirely to feeding the broilers. 

I've listed the weights of my processed birds below. 
Bird Date Weight
Bird 1May 314 lbs. 7.2 oz
Bird 2May 314 lbs. 15.8 oz
Bird 3May 314 lbs. 7.6 oz
Bird 4May 314 lbs. 6 oz
Bird 5May 314 lbs. 8 oz
Bird 6May 314 lbs. 14.8 oz
Bird 7June 34 lbs. 5 oz
Bird 8June 146 lbs. 7.3 oz
Bird 9June 146 lbs. 0.3 oz
Bird 10June 146 lbs. 6.1 oz
Bird 11June 146 lbs. 1.9 oz
Bird 12June 145 lbs. 10.9 oz
Bird 13June 146 lbs. 2.2 oz
Bird 14June 145 lbs. 15.8 oz
Bird 15June 145 lbs. 10.1 oz

Total: 80.4375 lbs. (80 lbs. 7 oz.)

Cost per pound: $217.97 / 80.4375 = $2.71

I'm real pleased with the cost / pound.  I raised 11 Freedom Rangers last year and ended up with 44 lbs. of meat at a cost of $3.45/lb.  The 15 Cornish Cross birds I did this year yielded almost twice as much meat at a lower cost / pound. 

It's pretty clear from the results that letting the birds go an extra two weeks allowed them to gain a lot more weight.  I have to wonder though what the cost/pound would have been had I done all of them at 8 weeks and if the additional meat is worth the additional cost of feed.  I can't really answer that with the information I have.

I'm very pleased with the results.  From the information above I'd say that the Cornish Cross is the definite winner over the Freedom Ranger.  What I haven't mentioned so far is the mortality rate.  At the beginning I ordered 50 chicks. Those birds were split up among 5 families.  I kept 15 for myself and didn't lose a single one.  I've heard from some of the other families, and know of at least 7 birds that didn't make it to the freezer.  I think one may have been taken by a predator.  The others just died.  Anyway, 7 out of 50 birds equals a 15% loss.  I've heard that the Cornish Cross can have health issues so I don't think this is unexpected.  What is hard to explain is how one family lost 4 of 6 birds and another lost 3 out of 10.  When you look at those percentages the losses are much bigger.  They were all raised in different conditions so it's hard to say what happened, but I feel like I need to throw it out there.

(Updated June 16)
After I initially posted this last night it occurred to me that the cost per pound comparison between the Cornish Cross and the Freedom Rangers is even more drastic than I first thought.  Last year I raised the Freedom Ranger birds entirely on cheap Purina feed.  About 50% of the feed I used for the Cornish Cross birds was expensive non-GMO soy-free organic feed and they still ended up having a lower cost per pound! 

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Backyard Broilers -- Round 2: Week 10

I didn't plan on having these birds around this long.  They were supposed to go in the freezer between 8 and 9 weeks.  That didn't work out.  I was out of town for the past week so I didn't get to process the rest of the birds.  Luckily my neighbors were kind enough to feed and water them (and the rabbits).
Since I wasn't here I don't have much more to add.
 It'll be really interesting to see how much more they weigh after an extra two weeks.  They look huge!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Backyard Broilers -- Round 2: Week 9

The first batch of birds went in the freezer last Saturday. 
The broilers are enjoying some time in the yard.
I used the same setup that I used last year.  I used a cone over a bucket for dispatching the birds. 
Then I scalded them in hot water that I kept between 140-150*.  I bought a two burner hot plate to keep the water at the right temperature. 
Plucking the feathers is still the most time consuming part of the process.  I didn't time how long it took each bird, but I time one at 42 minutes.  

After the birds were plucked and gutted they went into a cooler of ice water. 
I processed 6 of my birds and a buddy brought 7 of his birds.  It took us about 8.5 hours to process all 13 birds.  It was a long day.

The remaining birds have a lot more room around the feeder now.

On Monday night I went out to check on the birds.  I found one sitting 10 ft. away from their tractor.  So I picked it up and put it inside.  When I let them out Tuesday morning that bird didn't move.  Then I noticed feathers everywhere.  The other birds must have been picking on her.
She appeared to be lame.  I don't know what was wrong, but she wouldn't walk or even stand.  I took her out of the tractor, sat the waterer in front of her and left for work.
When I got home that night I found her about 4 ft from where I had left her.  She still wouldn't stand or walk.  Otherwise she seemed fine.  I picked her and examined her.  He legs looked fine.  They didn't appear to be broken.  I really don't know what was wrong.

Rather than see her suffer I decided to put her in the freezer.  During the process I found something that I don't remember seeing before.  It was a clear-ish jelly like sack.  It looked like the beginning of an egg.  I thought it took 20 weeks or so before a chicken will lay.  Although I don't know for certain that it actually was an egg...
I've been impressed with the size of these birds.  The smallest one was 4 lbs. 5 oz and the biggest was 4 lbs. 15 oz.  The rest were right around 4.5 lbs.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Garden Status for May 2014

What a difference a month makes.
The peas are almost to the top of trellis.

The leaf lettuce has gotten out of control.  I need to eat more salad.

Tomatoes are growing tall and the squash is doing OK.

These squash were planted two weeks prior to the ones in the picture above.  They have flowers already.

Roma tomatoes.

Corn (and out of control kale).

The cucumbers have flowers.

Wide view of the entire garden.
The drip irrigation continues to work well.  Other than tying up tomatoes there isn't a lot for me to do at this point.