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Confessions of a Chicken Hoarder

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmThis is a difficult blog for me to write but I really believe it will be good for my overall recovery. 

If anyone had told me 10, even five years ago that I would be addicted to chickens, I would have laughed till I cried. 

 

Nelly

Chickens. I had no idea and never even thought about any of the facts I now know about this edible creature. To me chicken was what I bought at the supermarket. I never thought about how chickens were raised commercially, never ever thought about the animals themselves, didn't wonder about what their life was like, their characteristics, I don't think I ever saw a real living chicken until five years ago. 

My first encounter with a chicken was a very aggressive rooster that my niece owned along with a flock of five hens. I don't remember if she warned me in advance about this devil rooster, I only remember asking her if I could take some veggie scraps out to the chickens in her backyard. She said yes and out I went ... alone. In a matter of seconds I was standing there watching a rooster silently running at full speed toward me. A big smile came over my face and for a fleeting moment I remember thinking, "Awww, look he is coming to get veggies from me." 

running 

The next thing I remember is veggies flying through the air, my arms lifting in lightning speed to cover my face and head and a scream coming from a woman who sounded like she was witnessing Godzilla coming at her! I quickly learned that turning and running from a hostile rooster is not wise. I also learned kicking it away is not wise. Each time I tried to escape or deflect this rooster leaping up 4 feet in the air and coming at my face, he got more persistent. 

Finally my niece's boyfriend came to my rescue with a broom. I was pinned up against the house and reaching frantically to find the door knob that was out of my reach. In that moment I felt like I could have been a stand in for Tippi Hedren and the scene in "The Birds" where she is trying to get away from her horrifying feathered attackers!

I finally got into the house and looked at my niece who for some reason was smiling at me. The first words out of my mouth after I got my breath back was," WHY IS HE NOT IN A POT?!!!!" 

For the next two years I had a serious fear of chickens. And, I enjoyed eating chicken with a new gusto. 

roast chicken

In 2011, I finally got my first six chicks. I had a flock. I made sure I got all females. I had read every book I could, joined chicken groups online and asked a million questions. I was a frantic new mother, getting almost zero sleep the first three days my flock was home. I ran if they cheeped too loud, I ran if I didn't hear any cheeping. I was on 24/7 pasty butt check and resisting the temptation to pick them up the first few days was unbearable!

firstflock

Our first year together was amazing! My Girls, which I affectionately titled them, made me laugh, made me "Awww," made me frantic with odd behavior. I had my friend, who is an expert on raising chickens, on speed dial, replacing my husband Don as No. 1 in my speed dial list. 

baby

Suddenly I lost two of my girls to something poisonous while free ranging and another was sick from ingesting the same toxic matter. I remember walking back to the house after burying my second girl and saying out loud, "I can't do this. I'll never get anymore chickens, I can't handle this sadness." 

After four months of having a flock of three and healing from the loss, spring came again and with it, the urge to hear "Cheep, cheep."

Off I went to the feed store, and I ordered not three to replace my lost three. I ordered 10 new chicks. I have since learned this is called "chicken math."

I got my 10 new fluffy butts in March 2013, and the coop was full again. The three big girls took well to the new babies. I was in chicken delight again. My heart was overflowing with chicken antics, cuddles, chasing escapees and lots of gardening just for The Girls. 

newroost

In October of last year, my husband and I were presented with the opportunity to move to our beloved North Carolina where we had lived previously for eight years. In early December, I learned I would not be able to take my flock with me, as I had originally planned and so I had to find a family willing to adopt the entire flock, as I did not want to separate them. Like I said I never knew chickens bonded, with each other and their human owners. So the thought of sending them off in different directions was too hard. 

With the help of a friend, we found a wonderful family who were more than willing to take all 12 of the girls and give them a spoiled, loving, protected home like they knew. My heart broke, but I was so happy and relieved to know they would stay together. 

A couple days later I cleaned out the shed that was a coop for us, because it too could not come with us on the move. There was nothing quite so sad for me as an empty coop, I dreaded opening the door and not seeing the girls or hearing them "buking" Good Morning to me. 

So we moved, and once again I was a broody hen with no babies..........

Coming soon, the next chapter of Confessions Of A Chicken Hoarder. 

Snow Is Our Garden's Friend

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmBack in North Carolina with 4 inches of snow overnight, so thought I would share this blog I wrote last winter while living in the Northeast.

Being a gardener in Massachusetts can be, well, a test of patience for one thing. Having a growing season of only 158 days brings out the creativity, resourcefulness and yes, Good ‘Ole Yankee Ingenuity! SNOW. It is a fact when you live here. Ah, but ever the optimist, as anyone who lives and gardens in Massachusetts has to be, I look for the good in snow.

For one, snow provides insulation that prevents soil temperatures from constantly fluctuating between freezing and thawing. The reason this matters is because these changes cause the water in the soil, and thus the entire mass, to expand and contract. Roots can be damaged, even tossed out of the soil. The same goes for all those fall-planted bulbs.

In addition to preventing frost heave by keeping temperatures below freezing, the snow prevents plants from starting at the wrong time. By the same token, most plants won’t start up in the spring unless they have had exposure to a certain number of days of cold. Snow cover during a prolonged warm spell is a gardener’s dream.

In this regard, it actually can pay great dividends if you pile snow on your garden beds. This is especially so if you are one of those stubborn readers who refuses to apply an insulating cover of mulch over perennials and around trees and shrubs. Remember, we have had winters where we have not had a good snow cover and the frost went down so deep we have had to worry about our pipes, not to mention our plants.

There is something else that happens when it snows: nitrogen is deposited by the snow and absorbed either into the soil food web residing and active at low temperatures or by plants as a result of nitrogen fixation, a microbial activity which, astonishingly enough, can take place even at low temperatures. Even when the soil is frozen, its eventual thaw can result in the absorption of nitrogen.

winter beds

Well, it turns out not only snow, but rain as well, contains nitrogen compounds that were suspended in air as they formed. It is estimated that 2 to 12 pounds of nitrogen are deposited per acre as a result of snow and rain.

No wonder the old wives’ tales called snow “the poor farmer’s fertilizer.”

The first time I was told this about snow and rain, I found it hard to believe. So I decided to experiment. I had two beds of spinach growing that I wanted to carry over through winter to spring. So one of the beds I turned into a hoop house, the other I mulched with fall leaves and let nature do its thing. After a snow and thaw I noticed the spinach in the hoop house was sort of light pale green and tired looking. But, the spinach under the leaves, when I brushed them back was dark green and making new leaves in the center of the plants. To me it was evident that the nitrogen was adding to the plants' health and robust appearance.

Spinach in the snow

So, the snow may be a bother and those long cold days of winter seem to drag on forever. But, remember snow is a gardener's friend and natural fertilizer.

Animals On The Farm

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmHonest Discussion Topic:
Adding Animals To Your Farm.

Are you an impulse animal buyer?

I try to promote careful and caring consideration of taking on animals to any homestead setting. For 10 years I was a gardener/produce farmer. I researched and thought about taking on ANY animal for about five years. I could easily be an impulse animal buyer. I adore animals. That is how I got Teddy twelve years ago.  

Teddy 

But it takes education. I wont take on animals unless I study up on them for a long time to learn all the possible, "what if's," I am not an impulse animal buyer in reality. That is not a fair practice to the animals.

Don't get me wrong, I now know what is involved with chickens and I don't regret getting them at all. I have had a flock of laying hens for just starting year three. Started with 8, then it grew to 12 and next week I will be bringing home 24 little babies. I love having them on my farm. It made what were just gardens, a farm, at least for me. Before I was just growing veggies, but with chickens around, it really feels like a farm.

Nelly 

I have been considering pigs for many years. Partly I have hesitated until I am sure I can truly raise them to eat. Which I will never be sure of until I see my piggie covered in brown sugar and cloves in the oven. My husband Don just wouldn't take to "Honey can you take the dogs out before bed and don't forget to walk Oinkie."

ham 

I know I could never raise my own beef. Cows eyes are so pretty, nope, not gonna happen. See, I am a realist. Now a dairy cow is another subject. That is a definite possibility.  I realize some of you are thinking, "she is just a farmer wannabe." For many of us new generation of homesteaders it has been a process, a transition. For me a city girl whom life's circumstances carried to the country, growing vegetables was such an adventure it took me five years to adapt to doing that.

plants

So I am ready to take the next step. I have ruled out goats, not enough space. Ruled out sheep, after reading a book called Sheep Diseases that thought was fleeting. So pigs and cows are in the running for the next farm animal in my life. Careful consideration must be made and lots of preparation. Expense is another big factor, can I afford to care properly for this animal? Many things to think through. But I am closer to adding a new member to the family or should I say table? Since moving to our new home and having more land, the possibilities are exciting and tempting. 

I had a serious conversation with my Facebook friends who spend time on Itzy Bitzy Farms FB page and, after they shared pros and cons, I made an educated decision about acquiring goats. Not to mention I did a great deal of reading. I would love to have goats but my current homestead is not big enough. So as cute as they are, I will make friends with a goat owner and visit regularly. I will be sure to come back and let you know of any new additions to the homestead. In the meantime....

Share with us your experiences with adding farm animals to your homestead dreams. I would love to hear them and learn more. We can always learn more and new and better ways to live the homestead life. 

Have a wonderful Spring and visit us at our blog too, at www.itzybitzyfarm.com

Happy Homesteading,

Susan

Welcoming Spring A Little Early

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmSpring is just around the corner, but, in the hopes of nudging it in a little sooner, I have started some seeds earlier than usual. Because of this, I have some nice lettuce varieties thriving in the greenhouse. In about another week, I should be able to harvest enough right out of the seed tray to make a nice salad. Granted I don't have my own cukes or tomatoes, but who cares with those sweet tender green leaves staring up at me from the salad plate.

lettuce

We can wait until March or April to start seeds and only grow summer veggies, but WHY???

Start seeds in January. Not warm weather veggies but cold weather veggies, like this Farmers Blend leaf lettuce in the photo above. As you can see by my photos, I simply broadcast sow my lettuce and leafy greens seeds in the tray that I have filled with seed starting soil. Because leaf lettuce and leafy greens do not need space to form heads like romaine lettuce or iceberg, they can be sprinkled over the soil and allowed to grow in the green house until 4 to 6 inches tall. When the night temps have stayed steady above freezing, they can be transplanted into raised beds and allowed to continue growing all spring.

lettuces

This Oak Leaf lettuce is a great leafy lettuce that grows quickly and transplants easily into raised beds. I remove a 2-inch-square clump of seedlings with dirt intact around roots and plant into the raised bed. After they have set their roots, I thin the seedlings by pulling out a few of them, leaving others with some space between them. This gives me another salad of baby greens and the seedlings in the bed grow into large leaf lettuce.

lettucecabbage

Seen here is a leaf cabbage variety called Nero de Toscano. It is my first year growing this variety, and it is so delicious. I tried a baby leaf today and oh, my, gosh! YUM!

I sowed these in cell trays because they do grow into good size plants, but the cabbage is leaf type rather than head type. Its flavor is a sort of cabbage/kale taste but sweeter. This is used in soups, sauteed and mixed with pasta, but I want to use it in salads and make a leaf coleslaw out of it. You would treat this the same as lettuce. Allow to grow to 6 to 8 inches in the greenhouse and then transplant seedlings into your raised bed.

Greens are so healthy and flavorful when homegrown, and they couldn't be easier to raise. The more you pick the more they produce. There are varieties that are suited to cool spring temps and will die off in the heat of summer. There are some varieties that will produce in warmer summer temps if grown in part shade, like Iceberg, Romaine and Buttercrunch. The cold weather lettuces can be sown and grown again in early fall for fall and early winter harvest. So we can have salads almost year round from our own gardens. In winter you can grow lettuces in a small hoop house constructed over a raised bed.

hooplettuce

Other greens that can be grown in similar fashion are spinach, kale, arugula and beet greens. So why wait the long wait for spring? Make spring POP at your house by sowing some hoop house, green house or even windowsill greens.

All of the varieties I have shown here are from my favorite seed company, Botanical Interests. Check their site out and get your leafy greens seeds soon.

Happy Sowing,

Susan

Gardening For The Girls

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmWith our new chicks arriving in early March, it is time to get their gardens ready. Yes, my Girls have their very own gardens. In September of 2013, I wrote and published my first eBook, "Gardening For The Girls." Growing supplemental feed for your flock is not only a great cost saver but it is a wonderful way to add healthy additional feed to your flocks diet, which benefits their health, and the nutritional value of the eggs they lay for us. 

girlsgarden

I lost three hens in my first flock to poisonous plants while free ranging and so now my girls only have secured free ranging in their run or in chicken tunnels made out of fencing. Because this limits the greens available to them, I grow many forms of supplemental feed for the flock and offer it weekly. 

chunnels

Always provide a healthy well balanced high quality poultry feed to your flock in order to provide them with the nutritional balance they need. Growing supplemental treats in the form of greens, vegetables, fruits, nuts and grains is not only of nutritional value but a great entertainment for the flock. Edible flowers and herbs are also wonderful additions to the flocks diet and their coop environment. 

girlsgardennast

One of my girls' favorite veggies is cabbage. They love it when I hang a head from the top of their run and they can peck at it. It looks like a chicken volleyball game. This keeps them occupied and entertained for hours. It provides exercise and green vegetation for them, is great for their diet and the eggs they produce. 

cabbage

Even in the winter I grow greens for the Girls in small hoop houses made over the top of my raised beds. 

You can read more about the many treats and supplemental feed I grow for my flock and the many ways to grow them in my eBook available at Amazon for Kindle. 

Gardening For The Girls

Make some raised beds or gardens or even window boxes right near your flock's coop and give them the many benefits of home raised greens and treats. 

Susan Berry is a horticulturist, homesteader and writer. She owns Itzy Bitzy Farm located in North Carolina, with her husband, Don, their two dogs and a soon-to-be flock of 24 feather babies. Susan also raises and sells organically grown asparagus crowns, raspberry and strawberry plants through her online store. 

Follow their homestead adventures and visit the online store at Itzy Bitzy Farm.

New Adventures

Life on Itzy Bitzy FarmHello Friends,

I have not written in a very long time and I am sorry to have been away for so long.

I believe I have a good reason to share with you all though. 

Itzy Bitzy Farm has moved ... and gotten BIGGER!

In October, my husband Don and I suddenly felt like things were going to change in our lives. Have you ever just sort of had a "knowing" that something was coming or a change was about to happen in your life? We talked one day and sort of half heartedly said we wouldn't mind moving back to North Carolina, where we had lived and farmed for eight years. We had left North Carolina to return to my state of origin in Massachusetts in 2010. We left a big farm of 5 acres, well, big for us suburbanites, and went to a house on 1/4 acre in Southeast Massachusetts. Because of this, I was forced to learn and become expert in raised bed farming. I went from 2 acres of row crops and orchards to 300 square feet consisting of 21 raised beds. It was a harsh change that took adjustment. But it birthed many new skills and opened doors along the way. 

farm

I started holding workshops for urban dwellers and taught them how to accomplish small scale homesteading. 

I began blogging for GRIT and Capper's Farmer and a local publication, Edible South Shore. And I started raising my own flock of laying hens.

But even with these new doors opening I missed the potential that "acreage" offers. And the SNOW was a definite drawback. So after three years, we decided the South was beckoning to us to return. So we returned to our beloved North Carolina. 

It all happened very suddenly and went as quickly as a hen running to the rustling of a sack of scratch!

And here we are, back in North Carolina living in a lovely house with two acres to play on. The prospects are endless and so are the leaves. But where others see leaves, I see compost!

homestead

I managed to dismantle and bring with me my 21 raised beds. They will be for our own veggies. The rest of the land will be used for my plant business. And of course there will be a new chicken coop and greenhouse. 

As the homestead progresses and morphs from a caterpillar to a butterfly, I will share with you the journey and the steps. My primary goal once I learned about growing my own food and becoming more self sustainable, has always been to encourage and inspire others to live a homestead lifestyle in minimal space. 

Stay tuned for the next chapter on our farm. 

Follow Itzy Bitzy Farm on Face Book.

and follow our blog at www.itzybitzyfarm.com.

See you soon,

Susan

Direct Composting

Life on Itzy Bitzy Farm

Composting is a gardener's best friend. When I was growing crops on 2 acres, I had a large compost pile that was enclosed in a three-sided box made out of pallets. I would carry all my raw material to the bin and when composted I would shovel it into a wheelbarrow and take it to my crops. This was a great deal of leg work. Eventually I was composting so much that I had to upgrade to the three bin design so that turning the pile would be easier and be more efficient for the different stages of composting. But this was still a tremendous amount of back breaking labor. 

Now that I am small-scale homesteading, on a 1/4 acre, I don't have the space for a large compost pile and I am always trying to think of ways to save steps. So I came up with my own method that I call Direct Composting. 

directb

Direct Composting is simply composting directly into your gardens or raised beds in my case. When the plants in a particular bed are harvested and I need to pull them out, instead of carrying them to a compost pile and turning the heavy material, I simply dig a trench in the bed and break the spent plants into pieces and lay them, spreading them out, in the trench. I add a little soy bean meal, or poultry grain or bone meal sprinkled on top of the plants then cover it all with the dirt I removed from the trench. The soy bean meal acts as an activator and also fertilizes the soil in the case of bone meal. 

directa

As the soil in the beds gets hot and rain saturates the soil, the plant material breaks down rather quickly. There are also already lots of earthworms in the beds so this process actually feeds them and makes more worms and lots of worm castings directly in your bed.

directcomposting 

Sweet potato plants being direct composted and buried.

In comparison to a compost pile this process seems to work faster and definitely more efficiently. In four weeks, the sweet potato plants that I trenched in this raised bed are completely gone, all but a few of the thick vine stems.

directsweet

About two weeks after I buried the plants, I sowed wheatgrass seed (wheat berries) on top of the soil, lightly raked in and used this to make supplemental feed for my flock of hens. Before a hard freeze I will also turn under what is remaining of the wheatgrass, which will make more organic matter over the winter. 

In my large raised beds I simply use these as a compost bin. I throw plant remains and kitchen vegetable scraps such as potato peels, directly into this bed and then layer with horse manure, coop cleanings and fall leaves. Add some new soil to the top and voila! Over the winter it does its thing and in the spring sow your seeds and get outta the way!

directbigbed

By spring, this bed will be rich, healthy and ready for seed sowing without any additional amendments or fertilizer. Whatever I decide to grow in this bed in the spring will take off with this compost rich soil and mid-way through the spring growing season, I will side dress the plants that will be in here with some aged horse or chicken manure. This is what growing organically is all about. 

Save time, work and money by using direct composting. Your soil, plants and your back will love you for it. 

For more great gardening tips and to purchase organically raised asparagus crowns and raspberry plants, follow Itzy Bitzy Farm's Blog at www.ItzyBitzyFarm.com.







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