Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Ocean Springs Farmer's Market

     This Spring we are encouraging everyone to take control of your own food supply. You can begin by planting your own garden. Any size area will do. If you live in an apartment, try planting in pots. Gardening is an easy way to bring the family together. It will move your kids from in front of the video games out into the fresh air. Healthy, healthy!
     In this modern age, you will probably not be able to grow every food you'd like to eat. That's okay because there are many farmers like us in the local farmers markets all over the coast that love to grow and sell their produce.
     We've begun planting our Spring/Summer garden and should have some produce by May. The squash and tomatoes are already showing their blossoms.
     Be sure to visit at the Ocean Springs Farmers market near the old train depot on Saturdays from 9 am - 1 pm. See you there!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Chicken Mini-Tractor

We began researching the idea of using chicken tractors because our little flock had outgrown the original chicken coop. Joel Salatin, as well as many in the backyard chicken forums, recommended using chicken tractors. The whole concept seemed to be just what we were looking for: Give chickens fresh pasture to graze on as well as efficient poop management. We should be able to use these to raise our chicks to laying hens before moving them to permanent quarters. The chicks will be adults before our first freeze in mid-November so no winterizing will be necessary.

The design above is our first mini-tractor. 2x4's along the bottom edge are 6' long by 5' wide (5' board is cut to 57"). Corner braces are 1x4's cut at 45 angle and 14" along the top. Use a speed square to put these in. Use nails and screws of appropriate length on all fastened edges. The doorway is made with 1x4's 31" across the top and 41" tall. The 1/2" electrical conduit is 10' long and bent with a hoop bender. The conduit on the top has been cut down to 7' to provide an easy handle for moving the chicken tractor. I used pipe clamps to fasten the cross member to the hoops and pipe straps to fasten the conduit to the 2x4's and one pipe strap to fasten the top of the door frame to the 1x4. Self-tapping screws hold the conduit to the pipe straps. The wire is 2x4x36"x50'; you'll only use about 30' to do this job. Tack the wire in with small fence staples and a hammer.

Next, add a door. We built this from 1X2's and metal corner braces. Make sure it is 36" tall from the middle of the boards so that you can use only one piece of wire to cover it. Use the same small staples to secure the wire. Notice the 2X2 roost inside the chicken tractor. Be sure to add that before securing the tarp. Use the small fence staples tapped into each end to hold it in the proper location.

Make a little hatch in the back out of the wire so that you can easily add food and water. Make a small latch out of left-over wire. The food pail is held upright with a length of string trimmer line and a spring clip. This keeps the chickens from knocking it over. Also notice the zip ties that hold the tarp in place. The 8'X10' tarp has been doubled over to cover 4'X10'. The front of the tarp is held with bungees (the kind with the little ball) secured to the bottom board. Buy the thickest, best-made tarp you can afford.

Chicken tractor in our newly established orchard.

Happy chickens (3 month old pullets) get fresh grass every day and don't have to stand around in there own poop.

Use any old discarded beverage bottle as a water bottle. Drill a small hole in the bottom to allow a wire hook to hang from the tractor roof. You can make your own hook from surplus fence wire. I bought chicken nipples to fit into the bottle caps. These are easy to fit with a drill and bit. Try to find the largest water bottle possible so that your chickens have a fresh supply. These are small bottles so I am using two of them.

I'm moving these chicken tractors twice a day on bad grass and once a day on good grass. I believe that Salatin's idea is to allow the chickens to use up 30% of the grass before moving on. You'll need to adjust the number of chickens and time between moves so that they are beneficial to your pasture. Currently I've got about 12 pullets per tractor based on feeding and watering once per day. That count will decrease as they get larger.

This method has been modified. See pic below.

I use a 6' length of PVC pipe to move these tractors. Just raise one end and tap the pipe under with your toe. Go to the other end and push the tractor. Sometimes it rolls and other times it just slides on top of the pipe. Be careful not to roll it on top of the chickens' legs. If there is a way to get their legs caught up in this thing they will find it! A little patience goes a long way here.

Chicken tractor predator protection!

7/24/2013 update: I forgot to mention how our chickens are protected in these chicken tractors. Meet Hanna and Sadie. Our Great Pyrenees farm dogs protect the chickens as well as all other parts of the farm.

Use two 20" sections of 1 1/2" PVC pipe to roll the chicken tractor.

8/1/2013 update: The 6' length of PVC pipe was still running over their legs too many times. I cut two 20" sections of 1 1/2" PVC to use on each side that seems to work much better. It's also easier to remove after rolling the tractor.

Next up: we'll be building larger chicken tractors with wheels and layer boxes to permanently house adult hens.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Garlic Harvest 2013

We harvested the last of our elephant garlic this past weekend. Most of this was garlic that was grown from bulbs that we harvested the previous season. It was planted outside the high tunnels. We'll sell a little but most likely save most of it for next year's seed and use some for cooking.

Last of the garlic to be harvested this season.

The two photos below show the transition the garlic makes during its final week.

One week before harvest.

Day of harvest. This was planted in October 2012 on the east side of high tunnel #1. The drip irrigation was off during most of the winter months.

These bulbs will be hung to dry in one of the greenhouses for a couple of weeks before we separate all of it into this season's sellable bulbs and next season's seed.

Basket full of harvested garlic, including one rogue green onion for tonight's dinner.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Pollinating Squash

Squash is one of the easiest and fastest vegetables to grow. There are many different varieties to choose from. Early in the season we transplant these to our high tunnels so that we can eat and sell squash by late April.

Squash plant with male flowers.
Squash is one of the earliest vegetable plants to bloom.

During the first part of the season natural pollinators may be somewhat scarce.

Squash plants produce both male and female flowers. To produce a squash vegetable, female flowers must be pollinated by a male flower pollen.

Hand pollinating squash.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Summer Harvest

This Summer our vegetable harvest has been "off-the-chart".  Between the adequate rainfall and honey bees pollinating everything the vegetables have begun to explode. Pat is picking twice a day and taking them out to the farmers market twice per week.

This is a sampling of the vegetables Pat is taking to the Gulfport farmers market. There is more in the front of the truck. She had 13 baskets of tomatoes.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Catnip & Squash Bugs

We've planted catnip and it grows shrub-like throughout the gardens on PJ Farm. Fortunately, according to Golden Harvest Organics, catnip deters squash bugs and flea beetles as well as a few other pests. We're testing it early this year to see if it will keep the squash bugs from moving into the squash plants. We'll try the tea method later when the flea beetles start attacking the eggplant. I'll update this post when we learn more.

Shrub-like catnip in our organic gardens.

Tub full of catnip cuttings destined for the squash plants.

We cut some of the catnip back and spread it among the squash plants near the root zone to deter the squash bugs from settling in.

Catnip spread along the roots of squash plant.
Aug 11, 2013 Update: This was our best squash season ever. The squash bugs seemed to leave the plants alone that we layered with catnip. The catnip started going to seed in the hottest part of the summer so we stopped cutting on it but the effects seemed to linger. We should have lots of volunteer catnip so I'll repeat this again next season and update this page.

Garlic Harvest

We began harvesting some of the garlic this weekend. The lower leaves were turning yellow on some of the plants and many of the smaller ones had completely turned brown.

Some of the leaves on these garlic have turned yellow.

Harvested garlic plants. That's an onion on the far right side.
These will have to be dried for a couple of weeks before we can take them to market. We'll pick the best looking and largest bulbs to replant in October.