Planing, dreaming, experimenting and incubating, thats what we do in January

January is a a great time to start contemplating plans and new projects for the approaching growing season. Even here in the temperate Pacific Northwest, January tends to be cold, dark and mostly wet. These conditions makes it easy to forget that the first of the seedlings will need to be ready to transplant in less then two months.

These dark months are a great time to make plans and think up knew projects for the rapidly approaching growing season. For the last two years, we have really tried to practice this advice, and it has really paid off. Last year we were able to produce all of our own starts from seed, and even sell a good number of the extras to our neighbors, which turned out to be a ton of fun!

All that being said, this January has been incredibly mild here in western Washington state. The average last frost date at the Homestead is March 13th, and in years past that has been fairly accurate. February is typically the coldest month, and we occasionally get frost and even snow in early March. However, our crocuses started to poke through the mulch beginning the third weekend of January (last weekend, as of this writing). With that in mind, we have officially started our 2018 gardening season!

We begin this year with a germination experiment. I planted five of each of the seeds I saved from last season, filling up two 1020 trays. I am curious to see if any of them sprout.  The results of this little experiment will further dictate what seeds we will need to buy for the growing season.  I am very hopeful, if these seeds germinate, we can have our open house/start sale without investing too many additional resources.

We finally fired up the incubator, a Hovabator and egg turner that we bartered for last year, and collected some quail eggs.  We assumed they are fertile since our quail rooster is cohabited with the hens.  We read that eggs can be kept at 60 degrees F for up to 7 days for collection.  We did just that and on day 7 placed all of our eggs into the incubator.  As per usual, we did a bunch of research on perfect incubating conditions and were rather underwhelmed.  For some reason, all information on humidity in the incubator is very vague. We found that the temperature for the incubator should be set to 100-102 degrees F. Humidity conditions were the hardest to find.  I even purchased Storey’s Guide to Raising Quail and other Game birds and they too, said nothing in regard humidity.  Some sources suggested 25-35%, others said dry incubation and others just said it was not important.  So we chose to go with the popular answer of dry incubating.  After a few days of fiddling with the thermostat, our Hovabator stabilized at about 101 F along with 16% humidity. We are excited to see what is to come on February 1 and 2.

More exciting news–the chickens are starting to lay! We have been getting humongous eggs.  The biggest egg in the picture below was a double yolker–our first!  Its good to see the nesting boxes being used again.

We transitioned our fall chicks with the main flock.  The transition went well and now everyone is a happy family.

Introducing new chickens to the flock meant that some of our five year old, none productive egg layers had to move on.  They moved on to the freezer farm.  It was my first time helping Paul.  I plucked my first chicken and it was pretty easy.  It made me appreciate my meals a lot more.  During the harvesting, we take the opportunity to inspect the birds and we are happy to report that birds are mite free and their organs look very healthy.  Our birds are healthy and that makes us happy!

February is just around the corner and we are looking forward to what it has to offer.  Thanks for reading.   You can find daily updates for our homestead on our Facebook page

We went back to Eden!

A year or two ago (we have four kids so time is a little fuzzy at times), Paul and I watched a documentary Back To Eden. It is about Paul Gautsci and his method of vegetable gardening. He uses wood chips everywhere as mulch and is known to be the man who doesn’t water his garden, in Sequim Washington.  That’s pretty significant, as Sequim is known to be the driest part of western Washington State!

From June to October, it’s possible to get a tour of his farm and ask him questions. As part of Paul’s birthday present, he and I went to Sequim. Some babysitting fell through at the last moment, so the boys came with us. The trip was fun but kids weren’t allowed on the farm/homestead, so we had to take turns while the boys played in the van.

Paul got to listen to fruit tree pruning and some gardening and I was there for the vegetable gardening and some chicken talk. Overall, the trip was a success and we had fun learning from someone we admired.

Here are some pics of his amazing garden. Everything is so lush and beautiful.  We visited the farm in July 2017 and I am just writing this up.  Better late than never! Looking at these pictures now when its gloomy and rainy really makes me nostalgic for spring. This week, I will start testing the seeds we preserved. In February, we will dust off the grow lights and get the soil blockers out and begin the growing season.

There are so many strawberries in his garden, that he and his family can not possibly eat all of them…his chickens get a good portion of them–no wonder they looked so happy!
It was 92 degrees outside and the lettuces were out in full sun…NOT bolting. I was in awe!
Paul doesn’t supplement his chickens with chicken feed, he grows Holland greens for them. They are super hardy and grow well into the winter.
This picture was taken late July in 92 degrees heat–this is asparagus. Usually this is known to be an early late spring-early summer vegetable. Ever since we implemented Paul’s mulch theory in our garden, we too get asparagus late into June and even in August.
Holland greens for the chickens
Rows of luscious lettuce and kale–this is also chicken feed when its past its prime. I would love to be a chicken on Paul Gautci’s homestead.
Paul’s wife is a local midwife and uses a lot of herbs from the garden in her practice.
A little shed with mason bee housing.
He made a comment, that he gets so many apples (no way he can consume all) that he actually asks God for a smaller bounty–everyone who was there, all agreed, we wished we were in his apple bounty shoes.
Full picture of the fig tree is below, but all the branches looked like this–covered in fruit!
All the extra produce, garden clippings and food scraps get fed to the chickens and in return, they produce amazing rich compost-soil for the garden. They definitely have a happy healthy symbiotic relationship.
Paul prunes all of his trees in this unusual way. He says after the first couple of years of training, they are extremely easy to keep in this manner. He demonstrated maintenance pruning, by rubbing off a new bud that was going to send of a shoot, using only his fingers. Harvesting is even easier, because all the fruit is about waist level.

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