2021 Meat Birds

Sunny Woodlands' meat birds at 5 weeks old

Our meat birds are about 5 weeks old. We have 24 “all heavies” from Murray McMurray Hatchery.

They don’t tell you what they sent, but there’s a list of breeds they are picking from. We have a definite positive ID on the Speckled Sussex, and some good guesses on most of the rest. I had been assuming that the really big one in the front/center was a New Hampshire or a Rhode Island Red, but then I was listening to a video on meat birds on the “Homesteady” YouTube channel, and realized that maybe that one is the “free surprise chick” that came with the order and could be a Freedom Ranger. Those mature more quickly than the heritage breeds and classic crosses like RedStar and Blackstar sex links that were on the list of possible “heavies” we ordered, and that’s exactly what this guy is doing.

We were going to save the biggest one for breeding, but if that one’s a Freedom Ranger, he won’t breed true, and <…doing the math…> he’ll be our Fouth of July BBQ chicken! My goodness, how, um… symbolic!

More about Red Rangers / Freedom Rangers:

“reaching their peak weight of 5-6 lbs in 9 to 11 weeks. These active, robust chicks are suitable for free range, foraging and pasture environments and produce tender, succulent meat with more yellow omega 3 fat and less saturated fat than fast growing breeds.” but also…
“I have found that they don’t range any better than the CC, took more feed and time to raise than the CC.”

The links above are for your enlightenment only, I have no affiliate arrangement with them!

In the unheated greenhouse

Cold-tolerant seed germination chart

It’s mid-March and there’s still almost a foot of snow on the ground. We’ve had some days in the upper 50s this month, but then it dropped back into single digits!

Every year around this time, I take a chance on some cold-tolerant plant seeds. If it works out, I get a little head start on the early spring garden. Otherwise, I just have to start over with those plants.

I keep track each year how the really early stuff goes. The Brassicas that would normally come up in 2 to 4 days can take three weeks…but they come up. Then I have to get them outside so they don’t bolt when the greenhouse temps hit the 80s.

This year, I got a soil thermometer, so I actually know what’s going on when I do these plantings. I was amazed that the soil in the containers in the greenhouse had gotten up to 60°F as of a few days ago. The min/max thermometer said the air wasn’t going below freezing in there from around the 10th to the 12th of March (when the outside lows were in the 20s). But then… the weather went back down to single digits, which brought the greenhouse’s air temp down to 9°F, and the soil temp to about 40°F. Sigh…

This year’s list of seeds planted either in the unheated greenhouse, or in a taped-up milk jug for winter sowing outside:

  • Echinacea Purpura
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Chives
  • Onions, nodding
  • Onions, bunching (old seed, thickly planted_
  • Feverfew (also really old seed)
  • Garlic, wild
  • Spinach, Bloomsdale Long Standing
  • Good King Henry
  • Chives, Garlic
  • Claytonia
  • Lettuce, Kweit
  • Lovage
  • Swiss Chard, Ruby
  • Escarole
  • Lemon Balm
  • Butterflyweed
  • Celery, Amsterdam Seasoning
  • Watercress, English

Added to that list are the mâche seeds I put in the ground back in December, and some older thyme seeds I put in a pot in the house.

Let’s see how they do. The rest of the week is going to be much warmer; we might be done with single digits for the season!

Farm Life: Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and Dumplings

This is the first time I’ve ever made chicken and dumplings. I was inspired by a podcast I’ve been watching a lot of lately, from Roots and Refuge Farm. Jess and her family live in Arkansas, and they just got a foot of snow with that big storm that hit the South. I used her recipe for the dumplings (just putting the herbs in the soup, though, not in the dumplings).

The broth was made last night in the Instant Pot from the bones and giblets of one of our chickens that I butchered three days ago, and included the feet and neck and head. Our dog Trixie, who is not doing well at all, got the chopped-up heart and gizzard for what might end up having been her last meal. She was refusing other food, and water, but gobbled those parts right up.

I used the Instant Pot to cook six diced carrots for 10 minutes of pressure in enough of the strained broth to cover them, then added the rest of the broth, garlic powder, dried basil; oregano and thyme from our farm; previously-frozen dill, pepper, salt, the rest of the chicken meat I roasted last night, and a small chopped onion. I made the dumpling batter while that was coming to a simmer, still in the Instant Pot. I dropped in globs of the dumpling batter, then added some onion greens that I’ve been growing in a south-facing window. At the last minute, I read about adding a flour and milk mixture to thicken up the broth, and did that. This is the best-tasting broth I’ve ever made, possibly even the best soup.

The dumpling recipe, adapted from Jess’s video:
2c flour
a few T of cold butter, cubed
1/2 tsp baking powder
some salt
pulse in food processor or cut butter in manually
add 1 cup milk, mix
(I did those two steps manually to not disturb the dog resting in the kitchen)
should be sticky and stretchy, not a mushy mess
take a glob at a time and drop into the simmering broth
(the dough was too sticky to flatten out as Jess recommended)

Here’s her video, jumping to where she describes how her chicken and dumplings recipe is a hybrid of the Arkansas style she grew up with, and the Indiana style her husband was used to.

2021 Seed Purchases

Starting sprouting peas, grown for their leaves

I’ve placed my first set of plant orders: from Fedco and Prairie Moon. I got these orders in earlier than usual because of the the dramatically-increased demand in 2020. I put more emphasis this year on getting non-hybridized seeds, because we’re still a little nervous about the supply chain holding up. We did more seed-saving in 2020 than I’ve done before: lots of cucurbits, and some lettuces which probably cross-bred. (But hey, we’ll still get lettuce from them!)

Allium seeds (like chives, onions, garlic) don’t last as long as other seeds, so my Prairie Moon order included two native perennial Alliums: nodding onions, and wild garlic. I already have chives and a row of Egyptian onions, which are both perennials and produce a lot of seeds (or top-bulbs, in the case of the Egyptian onions). Many other Allium species are biennials, so it’s rare that I get seeds from those.

There were some seeds I wanted that Fedco just didn’t have, or I knew I could get cheaper locally. I’ll be checking the hardware stores and WalMart for some cheap zucchini seeds, pie pumpkin, Brussels sprouts, and rosemary seeds, plus some more tomato seeds (Roma and Fourth of July). I’ll be buying an orange pepper at the grocery store for its seeds because the small variety I kind of wanted from Fedco was really expensive, and a hybrid, so I couldn’t even justify it to myself by saying I could save the seeds.

If I can’t find what I want at those cheaper stores, we are lucky enough to have a great source for less-common seeds right near us: Gardeners Supply Company. I expect to be getting at least the Malabar Spinach and some edamame seeds from there. Fedco sells edamame normally, but didn’t have any available when I placed my order. Those are delicious when steamed and salted.

FEDCO order:
295A — Blue Coco Organic Pole Bean, 1/2oz — 1 × $2.50 = $2.50
818A — Oregon Giant Snow Pea, 2oz — 1 × $2.50 = $2.50
826B — Oregon Sugar Pod II Snow Pea, 8oz — 1 × $6.00 = $6.00
1226A — National Pickling Cucumber, 1g — 1 × $1.75 = $1.75
1392A — Telegraph Improved European Long-Fruited Cucumber, 1g — 1 × $3.00 = $3.00
1504A — Saffron Yellow Summer Squash, 1/8oz — 1 × $2.00 = $2.00
2558A — Winter Bloomsdale Organic Spinach, 1/4oz — 1 × $2.75 = $2.75
2592A — New Zealand Spinach Specialty Green, 1/4oz — 1 × $2.25 = $2.25
2712A — Black Seeded Simpson Organic Looseleaf Lettuce, 1g — 1 × $2.25 = $2.25
3022A — Arugula, 1/16oz — 1 × $1.75 = $1.75
3159A — Gigante d’Italia Organic Parsley, 1/16oz — 1 × $2.50 = $2.50
3203A — Garland Serrated Chrysanthemum Asian Green, 1/16oz — 1 × $2.25 = $2.25
3335A — Speedia Brussels Sprouts, 0.25g — 1 × $4.50 = $4.50
3443A — Champion Collard, 2g — 1 × $2.00 = $2.00
3465A — Dazzling Blue Organic Dinosaur Kale, 2g — 1 × $3.00 = $3.00
3688A — Rosita Organic Bell-shaped Eggplant, 0.2g — 1 × $3.00 = $3.00
4140A — Amish Paste Organic Paste Tomato, 0.2g — 1 × $2.75 = $2.75
4250A — Sun Gold Small-Fruited Tomato, 20 seeds — 1 × $3.00 = $3.00
4471A — Flowering Thai Basil Organic, 0.5g — 1 × $2.50 = $2.50
4536A — Fernleaf Dill, 0.5g — 1 × $2.50 = $2.50
4592A — Lovage Herb, 0.5g — 1 × $2.25 = $2.25
Total: $57

I REALLY like Oregon Sugar Pod II, and don’t care about growing any other peas (other than “sprouting peas” grown for their leaves, because they do great in a windowbox in the greenhouse really early in the year–see the picture above this post) but I wanted to try the Oregon Giant to see whether it’s as sweet and tender.

Prairie Moon order:
Allium cernuum – Nodding Onion
Allium canadense – Wild Garlic
Asarum canadense – Wild Ginger
Cimicifuga racemosa – Black Cohosh
Total: $12 ($3.oo each)

All of the Prairie Moon seeds I ordered are documented as native to my area: either our home county specifically, or just a county or two away from our farm. They should all do well in shade, too.

Garden put to bed, but still some plants to harvest

Hon Tsai Tai, a mild brassica

So…it’s mid-December. We’ve had hard frosts and snow, and melt and more snow several times, killing off MOST of the garden, but not all. The kale and the Egyptian onions are still thriving and plentiful. There’s still a nice little patch of parsley, and some cilantro that needs to be picked because I doubt it will revive whenever the next warm spell comes. There’s some spinach and chickweed under a “solar plant cone,” which is a season-extender I first read about in the Solar Gardening book by the Poissons.

Parsley, mid-December
Parsley, mid-December

We also still have a small patch of radishes and Hon Tsai Tai under a larger plastic dome. Hon Tsai Tai is like a purple-stemmed, Asian version of Broccoli Rabe, but mild. I picked a sprig of it today, and it’s almost sweet. The frost has removed all of the sharp brassica taste.

Other than those cold-tolerant plants, mulch covers the garden. Under one section of mulch, next to the row of Egyptian onions) there’s a small bed of mâche (Valerianella locusta, a.k.a. corn salad, nut lettuce, field salad, and so on) that I planted at the beginning of this month, hoping for a nice little crop in early spring, when there’s not much else poking out of the ground except dandelion leaves.

Egyptian onions, mid-December
Egyptian onions, mid-December

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Late autumn flowers

chrysanthemum bloom in front of brassicas

There’s an article in the local paper about late-autumn flowering plants. There are still some asters and goldenrod blooming here, but most of it has gone to seed.  Henry Homeyer mentions some late-blooming shrubs. I’ve had Witch Hazel growing elsewhere, and can’t wait to get some here for Sunny Woodlands.

What we do have now is our fall crop of Shungiku, an edible chrysanthemum. So bright and cheery, with beautiful foliage. It makes a beautiful, edible bed border about 20 inches tall.

We’ve also finally got some Jersusalem Artichoke flowers, which didn’t even really start to bud until the weather got chilly.

Jerusalem Artichoke
Jerusalem Artichoke

And then there’s the fall foliage. Now’s the time of year when you can most easily see all the places the invasive burning bush has escaped to! Our Japanese maple is the same brilliant red.

Ode to Brassicas in a Northern Clime

Daikon in fall

Brassicas in a Northern Clime

rule like dinos in another time

if you plant early spring, they’ll bolt to seeds

when you let them go, they displace the weeds

Kale  leaves
Kale leaves

root veg, tight heads, stem, or leaf,

all flower with four-lobed motif

sprouting in days

evolved so many ways

the harvest fills trugs

just watch out for slugs

Patch of kale
Patch of kale

The very cold-tolerant Brassica family can give us Northerners a huge harvest all the way up to Thanksgiving–sometimes even Christmas–without protection.

Also known as cruciferous vegetables for the resemblance of their 4-petaled flowers to a cross. Their seedlings also have four lobes: two on each of the cotyledons, which emerge before the true leaves appear.

They are grown for different edible parts, varying from flowers (broccoli and cauliflower), to roots (radishes and turnips), to leaves or heads of leaves (kale, arugala, bok choi, cabbage, Brussels sprouts), to stems (kohrabi), or both florets and stems (broccoli rabe and hon tsai tai).

Send an email to farm-news@sunnywoodlands.farm to be notified of new posts about our sustainable cool-climate, short-season, technically-in-a-rainforest ramp-up from garden to homestead to farm.

Note: To help fund our farm expansion, Sunnywoodlands.farm has joined the Amazon Associates affiliate advertising program. If you click on a link here that goes to Amazon and make a purchase, you will help us raise funds to support our farm. Thank you!

October gardening

Compost-bin Butternut squash!

About 5 or 6 nights of light frost have hit so far. Not all in a row; there’s been nice weather, even 70°F days in-between. So what’s still growing in our part of New Hampshire?

We covered up the basil to protect it from the first few nights of frost. We processed a lot of it for freezer storage. There should be enough to make Pho all winter and Spring. Then we brought most of the remaining plants into the greenhouse, which still gets up to 90°F at times!

Giant basil, in the greenhouse
Giant basil, in the greenhouse

We’ve been covering up the tomatoes and tomatillos when frost is expected. Their leaves have been taking hits from the light frosts but are still ripening a bit more. Some tomatoes that have started to turn have been brought in to ripen indoors. The volunteer plants are ripening slightly more quickly than the others. The tomatillos continue to get bigger inside their husks as the weather gets cooler.

Tomatillo (the husk starts off way bigger than the fruit inside)

We had already harvested the squash from the new clearing we made this spring because their leaves got hit by frost and the stems shriveled up during an extended period with no rain. But the Butternut squash in the compost bin held out longer and yielded two very large squash. What a great volunteer!

Compost-bin Butternut squash!
Compost-bin Butternut squash!

The Malabar spinach got hit earlier by the frost than the New Zealand Spinach. Both are not true spinach varieties, but heat-loving substitutes. As of mid-October, the NZ spinach is still thriving under a clear dome we use to protect plants during the early and late ends of the growing season.

New Zealand Spinach
New Zealand Spinach

The beets and regular spinach I planted in early August are thriving. I take a leaf to nibble now and then when I’m in the garden.

Fall beet crop
Fall beet crop

We’re getting a great crop of Shungiku, which is an edible chrysanthemum. I use the leaves in stir-fries. I’m leaving one plant to go to seed. The scattered chamomile and Jerusalem Artichoke (a sunflower with edible tubers) are still going strong, too.

Shungiku, loving the cool weather
The Shungiku is loving the cool weather

What’s in your fall garden?

Squash in the Pick-up Truck (2020)

Squash in the pick-up truck

We were expecting a big rain about a week after some light frosts killed all the leaves on the squash except the butternut growing on the compost pile. So we grabbed the ripe ones that remained unpicked and got them into dry storage to cure.

The results confirm our interest in specializing in Blue Hubbard squash in our newly-cleared cucurbit patch. We have until June (2021) to work on the usability and fertility of that area so we can have a field full of large blue alien eggs by the end of next fall!

Also see: Plants we grow and recommend for our climate

Raising Rabbits

Alex with the young male rabbit

We have now embarked on a new farm adventure: raising meat rabbits.

We headed down to Unity, NH on Monday to meet a nice lady who keeps many kinds of animals on her farm: horses, sheep, beef, chickens, and rabbits.

“Pezzi” is the full-grown doe we bought there. She’s a Flemish Giant / California cross, so she’s pretty big. She was bred to a pure New Zealand White male unrelated to her or to the young male we got. I had thought that the lady I got her from would have taken care of that before I arrived, but she put her in the male’s cage when I got there and it happened three times in rapid succession, right in front of me.

Pezzi the breeding doe
Pezzi the breeding doe

The young male is such a cutie. He’s a New Zealand / Flemish cross, with a bit of Cali. The two rabbits are living in separate halves of a 4’x4′ shelter that I’m still putting the finishing touches on.

Young male rabbit
Our young male rabbit

We are making our own hay for the rabbits to supplement their pellet feed, using a regular push-mower and raking it up when it’s dried out. My son is in charge of that. For now, we’re storing it in kitchen-sized garbage bags in the greenhouse. This breeding pair can expect a nice long lifespan; it’s their children that will be providing the meat in the future. With a gestation period of about a month, and a weaning age of about six weeks, we should be able to re-breed her before Halloween (though not with our male, who will still be too young) and harvest the males from the first litter at “fryer” size around mid-January.

I recently was reminded that my great-grandfather raised rabbits. I was asking my mom about what her mother told her about living through the Great Depression, and that was one of the ways they kept food on the table. I hope that things don’t get that bad again, but the economy seems somewhat uncertain now. It was a bit scary when the meat-packing plants had to close down for COVID-19, and localizing food sources seems like the right thing to do–not just for us, but for anyone who can.

This is my first time raising rabbits, so I’m no expert. Here are some of the sources I found helpful, though:

I’ve also been watching a lot of homesteading / small farm videos lately. I’m a fan of Polyface farm’s methods. I’ve been enjoying hearing about and seeing the farms featured in Justin Rhodes’ YouTube channel. Here are a few videos I found helpful or inspiring for embarking on this rabbit-raising adventure:

More to come! Stay tuned, and follow us on Facebook and Instagram with the links below.