Early October on the farm

Fall is definitely here.  We’ve had lower temps – 50s and 60s.  We got a touch of frost – I saw some on the grass one morning.  But I think my house is in a bit of a microclimate – in our town there was a hard frost at the end of September, where you had to scrape frost off your windows.  We didn’t get that here – I’m only about 12 miles outside of town, but the way our property is situated we sometimes are spared from the frost.  I was worried things would die, so when we got the hard-frost warnings,  I harvested everything in the gardens that was anywhere near being ready.  I didn’t worry about things that can deal with frost, like Kale.  And then nothing happened, my plants that were left out there are all still doing fine.    Here’s a photo tour of how things are looking lately.

Here's what my garden looks like - a tangled mess with not much left for picking.
Here’s what my garden looks like – a tangled mess with not much left for picking.

I’m debating on whether to pick everything out, and cover it all with compost now, or wait and do that all in the spring.  Either way, the soil will have a layer of plants between it and the snow; I’ve read that is better for any mycelium networks (which are very helpful for your plants) – if you leave bare soil any beneficial mycelium that may be there can die, and you are depleting your soil.  That is why people plant cover crops – I don’t really want to do that because we really don’t have time.  Last year, we got snow at the beginning of November. I don’t think a cover crop would have time to sprout and grow.  So I may just use my already-there crops as “cover crops”; then in spring, I’ll pile on compost, and till it all in.  (I’ll still have to pull big stems out, like the old corn and sunflowers).

Our trees are very colorful – they had just started changing last week and then suddenly everything’s orange, red, and yellow (with a touch of green).

Here are some of the trees in our yard.
Here are some of the trees in our yard.
Another picture of those trees.
Another picture of those trees.
Here are the maple trees that we get sap from in the spring.
Here are the maple trees that we get sap from in the spring.

Most of my plants in the garden are on their way out for the winter.  Most of my sunflowers are spent, and have seeds that the chickadees have been enjoying.  I found this one that is a late bloomer.  It’s really tall but it fell over so it’s laying on the ground:

My maybe-last sunflower for the year.
My maybe-last sunflower for the year.

My marigolds are still going strong. They are so pretty, I love the orange color of these:

My marigolds.
My marigolds.

Our apple trees are doing well.  The biggest problem is that most of the good looking apples are way up on the tree.  I’m planning on picking a bunch more this weekend.  I picked a few several weeks ago and made apple butter.  I’m planning on making some more (since it’s delicious) and also drying some apples for snacks.

One of the apple trees.
One of the apple trees.
A closer view of those yummy apples.
A closer view of those yummy apples.

One thing I planted this year, just to try, was Amaranth.  I found out you can cook the seeds up kind of like rice.  I would like to try it but they are not ready yet.  The “flowers” are supposed to drop their seeds – you can test it by running the flowers in your hands, and if the seeds drop into your hand they are ready to pick. Mine are not there yet.  But they look like they are on their way:

Here's one of my Amaranth, it is a good 8-9 feet tall.
Here’s one of my Amaranth, it is a good 8-9 feet tall.
Here is the same plant, I leaned it over so I could get a detail of the flower.
Here is the same plant, I leaned it over so I could get a detail of the flower.

I got my hens some “chicken aprons” – they can wear them and it’s supposed to protect their backs from the roosters’ shenanigans.  I had the roosters separated but it’s getting colder, and I was worried that if the roosters are separate, they can’t actually do their job of protecting the hens.  So they are all together now.  Most of my barer backed ladies are now wearing these aprons:

Here is one of my australorp hens wearing her apron.  It doesn't help here wing "elbows", as you can see here, but her back is protected.
Here is one of my australorp hens wearing her apron. It doesn’t help her wing “elbows”, as you can see here, but her back is protected.

I also thought the aprons would help keep the hens a little warmer this winter.  Some of my hens still have completely bare backs, and I was worried about winter because with no feathers there, they would be too exposed to the cold.  They work pretty well, I do have a few hens that these seem a bit too big for. I ordered some standard size aprons from someone on Amazon.  They do have some smaller ones, I may have to get some of those.  Mine are all “standard” breeds but some are on the smallish side.  I have a barred rock hen that these didn’t fit – it’s like the middle bit of the apron is too wide to fit between her shoulders, so she just kept getting tangled up in it.  I only tried it on her for an hour or two, and then I had to take it off.

My escape artist chicken decided to pose today for me, I got some really nice pictures of her:

Here she is.
Here she is.
Here's another picture.
Here’s another picture.

She doesn’t have a name except “Escape artist” because if anyone gets out, it is usually her.  And she gets out almost every other day.  She must fly out, but then she can’t fly back in for some reason so I have to catch her and put her back in the run.  She sleeps in the rafters of the coop now, and she’s actually gotten one of her friends (my Cornish hen) to sleep up there with her.

Thanks for checking out my Fall farm pics.  I do like fall, but it always leads to winter, which I’m not really looking forward to.

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Keeping farm logs

A giant sunflower
A giant sunflower (grown in 2013 at a previous house).

It’s a good idea to keep records of things.  With our minifarm, we started keeping logs right from the beginning – I got the idea from my aunt and uncle.  They have a huge garden each year, and they keep records of their harvests of each vegetable they grow.  That way they can compare harvests from year to year.

Since 2014 was our first year here, our garden wasn’t that large yet, but I kept a harvest log.  Each time I’d pick something, say zucchini or cucumbers, I’d keep a tally of how many I got.  For this first year I just tracked individual items – for instance, I got 49 tomatoes, and 132 green beans.  Hopefully this next summer I’ll start tracking pounds or bushels or something – I hope to get a lot more beans this year.

Keeping track of harvests can show you where you had problems – either you need to grow more the next year, or there may be something that didn’t do so well and you can decide if you just need to adjust things, or if it just won’t grow in your garden.  For example, I tried to grow Swiss Chard in pots on my front porch.  We didn’t get much chard – there is some afternoon sun that would hit them, but they needed to be watered all the time.  We get a lot of rain here but the rain couldn’t get to them because of the porch overhang.  So next year, I will grow it in a new garden bed I’m planning.  I also grew a few cabbage plants last year.  We like cabbage on occasion, but it’s not my family’s favorite vegetable anyway.  Which is good because cabbage moths laid eggs all over them.  I was picking off cabbage worms from each plant, and they had devastated a few before I realized what was happening.  I fed the cabbage worms to my lizard and the chickens. They all loved them.  And then the cabbages ended up going to the chickens as well since they were pretty gross.  I won’t be growing cabbage this year.  If I grow any of that family, I’ll need to use row covers to keep the moths off and also move them somewhere else in case there are eggs still in the soil.  I noted all this in my garden log.  That way I don’t forget in a few years and then try to grow cabbage (or brocolli or any other brassica) without a plan.

I keep my farm / garden log in a big 3 ring binder.  I put notes about the plants, and about weather, and about different things I wanted to remember about the season. I noted when we got our first hard frost, and I’ll note when we finally get rid of the snow this year.  When I find good articles about farming or gardening that I want to keep I’ll print them and put them in there.  I also have my 2015 garden planned out in there.  I got some graph paper and used that to plan a new garden bed and also to expand the one I used last year.

Another good thing to keep track of with my chickens is their egg production.  I started keeping track from the first egg they laid on October 19th.  We got 338 eggs in 2014.  Just from my 9 hens, in less than 4 months.  Keeping track of eggs can help you realize where you’re breaking even, or if you are actually making a profit from your eggs.  Even if you don’t sell any, you should make a “profit” against your food costs, by not having to buy them at the store anymore.   With our food costs we still made a small “profit.”  Good thing my family loves eggs.  I also note when the eggs are laid in weird spots, or if we have a broody hen, or once when we had a couple of eggs with thin shells.

Keeping a garden or farm log is a smart idea, and helps you keep track of what worked and what didn’t from year to year.