Baby chicks!




We picked up six baby chicks on Saturday. These are supposed to be females and will get some new blood into our laying flock.

Trying a couple of new breeds as well.

2 Barred Rocks (we have one barred rock and she is the nicest hen we have and the only one remaining of our original four)

2 New Hampshire Reds

1 Buff Orpington

1 Silver-laced Wyandotte (we have a golden-laced and she is really pretty)

2017 Growing Season Awakens

Not much of a winter so far here in Vermont. A bit more snow than where we used to live in Chicago, who just had the first January and February with no measurable snow for the first time in a long time. But still a fairly mild winter. It’s been brutally cold the last few days though, so winter is not done yet.

Anyway, seed starting is well underway. Still trying to fine tune my basement seed starting setup, which in this case mainly means adding a few more lights. Otherwise I’m pretty happy with my current setup. Starting a few things a bit earlier than last year now that I have a better understanding of when and how the greenhouse plays into the mix. Basically thinking I can get even bigger and better starts than last year and potentially get stuff into the ground sooner.

This year we are going to experiment with going no-till for a bunch of reasons. After research and talking to some people who know more than me, I would just like to get away from using the tiller for anything except maybe establishing new plots. Tilling does a major destruction on soil structure and biology and basically stirs up a bunch of your nitrogen to the surface where you basically lose most of it. The other thing we’ve found is that we end up fighting weeds in the aisles by mid-summer, which is both a waste of time and takes energy away from the plants we want. Makes more sense to develop a deep mulch structure and use carbon (newspaper, cardboard) between the rows. Eventually you get a much richer, deeper soil structure with a lot of bio-diversity plus help from the mycorrhiza fungi network and the soil structure makes it much easier to pull the weeds that do germinate. That’s the theory anyway and we’re going to experiment with it. What we are doing now is too much work and we aren’t building soil fertility as fast as we want, so time to shake things up.

In other news, our lazy chickens (and one of the ducks) just FINALLY started laying again after taking a break since mid-December. And not all of them have started yet. That’s a lot of freeloading. Fine with them having a month or so break, but this has been too long. That being said, our youngest birds are about 2 years old, so not that surprising that egg production is slowing. We’re going to add some new hens to the mix this spring.

Before long it will be time to start putting cold hardy seeds in the ground, like lettuce, carrots, brassicas and peas. And maybe even some potatoes if we can get into the ground. The long range forecast isn’t showing a lot of frost after the end of March, so it will be interesting to see if we can get an earlier start this year. In Vermont every day helps.

First hatch

This spring we decided to try to hatch some of our own eggs since it turned out we had a rooster. Looks like we’ll end up with 9 chicks out of 16 eggs, which isn’t too bad. We might have gotten a couple more, but we had a power outage of all times right on hatch day. It was only for about 40 minutes, so I think the humidity stayed okay, but the temp might have dropped a bit too much. Can’t tell for sure. Could also be those chicks just weren’t viable to begin with.

What I didn’t realize with our Cuckoo Maran rooster is that all the chicks will have some bar/cuckoo patterning, so it’s going to be very hard to tell them apart. Hopefully as they get older and get their true feathers, there will be some distinctions. But we definitely didn’t get any of the stereotypical fuzzy yellow chicks. I still think they are really cool looking though.


We are hoping to get at least one or two “Olive Egger” hens out of this, since we crossed the Maran (which has dark brown eggs) with our three blue egg layers (two Araucana, 1 Lavender Ameraucana). That cross should give us some type of dark green egg.

As far as the roosters, we’ll probably throw them out on pasture and then they will be headed for freezer vacation. In the meantime I need to learn how to butcher my own chickens from someone around here.

Finally getting some eggs

After a long winter with little egg production, things are finally looking up. Some of our new hens never came “online” last fall and ended up waiting until this year. But since Wednesday morning, we’ve gotten 17 eggs including 2 already today. That’s from 9 hens. Based on the color of the eggs, it looks like at least 6 hens are laying some of the time.


2014 Year in Review

Well, between keeping up with all the projects and having a new baby, this blog has taken a bit of a hit. So this post won’t be too lengthy, but wanted to do a quick bullet point list of stuff we managed to accomplish this year.

  • Poultry
    • Built a brand new chicken coop based on Fresh Air Poultry Houses, large enough for 15 chickens or so.
    • Lost one of our original hens, but picked up 6 new ones.
    • Got our first blue eggs.
    • One of the 6 new “hens” turned out to be a rooster (the Cuckoo Maran). He is still on probation until we determine if he’s going to be nice and helpful or a pain.
    • Built a duck coop and planned to get ducks, but that didn’t happen this year. Hopefully next year.
    • Set up solar for the new coop, which I still hope to blog about at some point. It’s struggling a bit now with the limited daylight and snow/ice, but I think overall will work well for lighting. Would eventually like an automatic door as well.
  • Gardening
    • Put in 2 brand new garden plots. They did okay considering it was the first year, although we still have a lot of soil consistency and wetness issues to work on.
    • Started 4 blueberry bushes, 25 asparagus crowns (of which about half made it) and 75 strawberry plants (3 different varieties of 25 each).
    • Had some luck for the first time with the following this year
      • Melons
      • Pumpkins
      • Leeks
      • Eggplant
      • Gourds
      • Popcorn
      • Sweet peppers
    • Standouts included
      • Potatoes (despite web conditions and compacted soil)
      • Brassicas (broccoli, cabbage)
      • Some of the tomatoes
      • Soybeans
      • Flowers – we had decent luck with various flowers this year, including sunflowers, that we’ve struggled with before.
      • Peppers, although I always want more variety and quantity
    • Still can’t seem to get Brussels Sprouts to work.
    • Our cucumbers and squashes mostly succumbed to a vicious onslaught of insects. Need to do a bit more row cover and other stuff next year.
  • Landscape and other property work
    • Got a riding mower and shed to store it in.
    • Planted 4 apples trees.
    • Had a full landscape design done that we are really excited about implementing over the next 5-10 years.
    • Built 2 bay compost bin

Lots of plans for next year that I may get into in another post. Soon it will be time to buy and start seeds. By the way, if you are thinking about seeds, don’t forget about my new site and tell your friends. It allows you to compare prices and see varieties carried by 13 of my favorite non-GMO seed companies, including lots of heirloom, organic and open-pollinated varieties.

Spring projects

After a long winter, it’s finally trying to become spring in Vermont.  I ended the winter and started spring with a laundry list of projects, since this will be our first spring on the new property. Fortunately we have a rather large unfinished basement, so I was able to set up a workbench down there and have some room to put together some things.


We decided we want a few ducks and while some people have good luck just keeping chickens and ducks together, I would prefer not to do that.  Ducks are a lot messier from a water perspective than chickens, so I decided to build a simple coop for ducks.  We hope to get a few sometime this summer. It’s a pretty basic little shed-type structure.


It’s mostly there except I do want to paint it and still need to do some predator proofing.

We’ve had our 4 chickens for a couple of years now and have decided we need a few more to really keep us in eggs.  The coop I built has worked well, but it is really maxed out at 4 hens. So I decided to build a small version of one of the open air concepts from Fresh-Air Poultry Houses: The Classic Guide to Open-Front Chicken Coops for Healthier Poultry.  This coop should hold up to about 12-15 hens, although we’ll probably just move up to 8 or so initially.  I’ve been building the stud walls in the basement and I’m starting to put it together outside now that the weather is getting nicer.  Here’s where that is at right now.  The design is interesting and will make more sense when you can see the whole picture.


Another smaller project is a simple bed for Ezra.  He’s not quite ready for one yet, but it won’t be long.  I decided to use these easy plans from Ana White, who has a lot of great DIY furniture ideas on her site.  The finish is going to be this interesting idea I’ve seen a number of folks mention online, which involves using steel wool partially dissolved in vinegar.  This basically reacts with the tannins in the wood, giving you kind of a distressed, old furniture look which gives 2×4 dimensional lumber more character than you would expect.  I’ll finish it with tung oil mixed with citrus solvent, which is another cool more natural way to finish stuff.  Interesting to see how it turns out.  Here’s the headboard without the finish.


More pics of this stuff when they are finished.

In additional to these projects, we’re also trying to prep 2 fairly large plots, one for vegetable garden and one for more perennial-type items, such as strawberries, blueberries, asparagus and rhubarb.  Our property is extremely wet, with a couple of fairly consistent flows of water running through several sections of the property.  When we had our first big snow melt, it actually started washing out our lane and we had to get some emergency repairs done.  So it’s been a bit frustrating waiting for things to dry up since I also need to put up a clothesline and would like to build Ezra a sandbox.  And of course all the things we want to plant.  Fortunately we do have 3 raised beds going now, so we can get some things planted and we’ll just have to get a late start on some things this year.  There is only so much you can do the first year.

Chickens in the snow

chickens in the snow


The chickens have enjoyed pecking around in an inch or two of snow, but this latest storm seems to have them a bit confused and tentative.  No wonder, a couple of feet is a lot more snow.  It’s fun to see their different colors contrasted against the snow though.

First egg

I was cleaning out the coop yesterday and found our first egg. Unfortunately it wasn’t usable because it had been there a bit and gotten cracked. I was expecting it to be a few more weeks, but our oldest hen Willow was showing signs, such as squatting down when you put your hand near her. So I’m not too surprised.

She laid it in the nest, so that’s good. The bad is the girls also think the nest is their sleeping quarters at night. The “nest” is just a wooden box that sits inside the coop, so we can’t close it up at night or anything. I guess I could try turning it around backwards at night and then right side out in the morning, but that might just confuse them. Probably not going to worry about it unless it starts to become a big issue. Biggest problem is keeping the shavings clean in there, so I’ll probably have to refresh that daily.

But the important thing is we are on our way to getting our own eggs, so that’s pretty cool.

Who needs a TV (when you’ve got chickens)

For quite awhile now, getting some backyard laying hens has been on our list of things to do.  We even thought about doing it in Chicago and it was allowed, but we just didn’t have the room. As I mentioned in my previous post, I was finally able to complete the chicken coop and so on Father’s Day we ended up heading out to a “chicken swap”.  We joined the Vermont Bird Fanciers group and they put on a number of swaps throughout the year.  It’s not just a swap, it’s really more of a place to buy all kinds of poultry, rabbits and other animals. In addition to chickens, we saw a number of different types of rabbits, geese, ducks, pigeons and guineas.

We ended up finding one vendor with a good variety of the breeds we were interested in and they raise them organically for the most part, so it was a good fit. We weren’t sure there would be a good selection, but actually it was pretty good. Since we originally wanted to start in the spring, I was looking for either pullets or perhaps hens that were already laying. There were plenty of pullets available and the ones we bought should be laying sometime this fall if all goes well.

I’m sure this isn’t original with us, but we decided to name the girls after characters from the Buffyverse.  So without further ado, introducing:

Buffy (Buff Orpington) – I’m sure we aren’t the first to do that.


Willow (Golden Comet) – type of Red Sexlink (typically a cross of a Rhode Island Red rooster and a white hen)


Drusilla (Black Star) – type of Black Sexlink (typically a cross of Rhode Island Red rooster and Barred Rock hen)


Faith (Barred Rock)


Faith is the most curious and/or dumbest, depending on any given minute. She is the most personable hen and is very friendly, although she throws a fit when she is held. We think she may end up as the alpha hen, but not sure yet.

These hens pretty much immediately started foraging, scratching and generally acting like chickens should.  We put up some poultry netting (without power for now) and let them run around the yard and garden.  They figured out how to crawl through that almost right away, but once they are bigger it will be a bit harder.  They have already taken to exploring the garden and we are hoping to make them our bug catchers. After already bribing them with hand-picked slugs and other goodies, they seem to be getting the idea pretty quickly.

We’ve now had them about 5 weeks and they seem to be settling in just fine.  They are growing like crazy and love helping us with our Japanese beetle issues.  They are certainly a source of endless amusement and make weeding a lot more enjoyable.

Woodshop 101

When we first starting thinking about getting some land and possibly farming, one of the things I quickly realized is the importance of knowing how to do things for yourself.  A farmer needs to be a bit of a jack of all trades.  Honestly, knowing how to get around on a computer is a relatively minor one of those trades.  So I’ve been slowly trying to learn how to do some practical things for myself and one of those things is light carpentry and woodworking.

I didn’t get much opportunity to do that in Chicago.  There just wasn’t enough room for a shop or lots of tools or much to really work on in a small condo.  I was able to help a few friends with some remodeling here and there, which helped a bit.  Once we got the house in Bristol and I had the possibility of actually having a small shop again, I started to think about what kinds of things I could start with.

I decided to do two projects. Instead of buying a wheelbarrow or a cart, I would build one. And I would try to build a small chicken coop for a backyard flock.  I already had a good idea of what kind of cart I wanted to build, Herrick Kimball’s “Whizbang Garden Cart”.  Mr. Kimball has several great blogs about agrarian life and various DIY projects.  I discovered him over the course of various research I was doing into all things farm-related while in Chicago. 


This cart is modeled after the “Garden Way” carts that were popular for years in New England, but it’s made out of simple materials and a fairly easy starter project for a beginner like me.



Figuring out what kind of coop I wanted to build turned out to be a bit harder than I expected.  I even bought a couple of books specifically about coop designs and plans, but nothing was quite what I was looking for.  Many of the plans would be great if I wanted to build something permanent or I was going to get 10-20 chickens or more.  The smaller coops were too simple and would require fencing in a large run or they simply weren’t robust enough to keep chickens in through the winter.  So I kept looking.  I can’t remember where I finally found the plans I ended up using.  I believe it was through the Backyard Chickens web site.  I decided to go with the plans from


They have both a small coop design for 3-4 chickens and a larger design.  I like both of them a lot and may end up building the bigger plan at some point as well.  These plans weren’t free, but they were reasonable given the quality and attention to detail in the plans as well as the thoughtful design.  They are once again very step by step and don’t assume a lot of advanced carpentry knowledge.  There are even nice general carpentry tips thrown in along the way.


I won’t go into all the boring details of building these, but I certainly did learn a lot.  It’s amazing how much you can learn just from simple projects. A few things I did for the first time or learned about include:

  • using a circular saw
  • doing long cuts of plywood with a circular saw
  • angle cuts (I still suck at these)
  • more about using a drill (pilot holes, using spade bits, drilling holes in metal, running to the hardware store “one more time” to get a bit size I didn’t have Smile )
  • very basic framing
  • different ways of checking for square
  • ways to put things together and connect things when working alone
  • installing polycarbonate roofing panels


These projects probably took me about 10 times longer than any reasonably competent carpenter, but it was still very satisfying for me to see these projects through and be able to enjoy the end result.  I’m also thankful for helpful lumber yard, hardware and metal shop folks who were willing to assist and answer beginner’s questions, as well as my carpenter friends here in Vermont who offered tips, loaned me tools and did some table saw cuts for me.

Now just need some chickens, which we are hoping to remedy tomorrow…