Down Home Digest January 26, 2018
It’s been sometime since I gave an update on what’s happening here at Hunny-Bunny Farm. Well, the winter of 2017-18 has come on like gang-busters. Here in New England we had a white Christmas and very frigid temperatures followed on its heels. We had no letup until the second week in January when temps soared to 48 º F. for about 36 hours. Then back in the deep freeze. It reminded me of winters when I was a boy.
Subsequently, we had an additional reprieve from Ol’ Man Winter’s freezer and reached the mid-fifties Fahrenheit mark. This was the proverbial January thaw.
Meantime, the unseasonably cold weather has put a strain on propane supplies and I found myself heading off for refills about every 4 – 5 days. A little known fact about propane is that in addition to the usual byproduct of carbon dioxide it also produces water. This creates its own problems among them is that water can build up in the heater causing automatic shutdown, which is what happened to me. In the greenhouse and the aviary / rabbitry the heaters have been shutting down at the most critical times. In fact, the first shutdown occurred on a -12ºF overnight. Yikes, both thermometers in the greenhouse showed below freezing but neither the fish tank nor the plants with one or two exceptions showed any signs of long term damage. Obviously, the thermometers are not calibrated, therefore, they are inaccurate concerning freezing; however, the temps were likely below the 40ºF. mark, and just above freezing.
The effect in the aviary / rabbitry is a little different. The livestock’s water froze solid so this necessitated twice daily watering. While the rabbits are not affected by cold, even in the most frigid temps, all the published data indicates that quail should not go below 40ºF lest they die. So when I entered the aviary / rabbitry on that negative temp morning I expected the quail to be dead. To my astonishment not only were they quite happy, though all fluffed-out, they had lain several eggs which were now frozen.
[Aside: I’ve always thought there was a dearth of factual information on quail published …and this experience proves it. So bad is the available info on quail they I’ve consolidated my notes based on my experience of the past 10 years into a booklet. However, publishing it is quite expensive.]
Meantime, I’ve replaced the Mr. Heater units with spares units and have once again cleaned and refurbished these as needed. Hopefully this will get us through the remaining… ugh… 9 more weeks of winter. Hey, anybody want to contribute to a fund to pay off Punxatawny Phil to predict a short winter? Suffering under Ol’ Man Winter is the pits, ain’t it?
As it turns out after cleaning and servicing the heaters the fault was not in the heaters but in the propane tank valve. The prolonged below 0ºF temps froze the valves and this carried forward until the January thaw of last week. Finally, heaters and tanks are operating as expected.
In the Aviary…
Meantime, in late November, 2017 I received a new incubator and decided to give it a shot to hatch some quail. I knew it was risky going into winter, but I was spoiled by a relatively mild winter of 2017 so I took a chance. Of the 15 eggs incubated I had 9 peeps, as the grand-kids call them. That’s a hatch rate of 60% not bad for a new device. One of the chicks had a deformity as he was hatched 3 days after the main group and the needed humidity was low. It takes 17 – 19 days to hatch quail and I was surprised by the hatch rate; so I had 8 chicks, (growing by the minute in a twenty gallon fish tank). Initially, the tank was great for them, but when they reached a month old the tank was wall-to-wall quail. In fact, their growth rate was so fast that even now at 5 weeks I can distinguish males from females. Needless to say, this past week they were relocated into the aviary / rabbitry to increase my flock. I will leave the heater on until February 1 since they are fully feathered I don’t anticipate a problem in turning down the heater at that time and using a simple 60W light bulb to keep them comfortable. With all the quail bodies plus eleven rabbits they will all be as snug as a bug in a rug.
In the Henhouse…
Things are moving right along and the hen that went broody in early September, 2017 had 2 chicks one was a rooster …so is no longer with us, but the remaining chick / hen is nearing 6 months and should start laying just in time for spring. Speaking of egg laying our hens ceased laying in October, 2017 due to the waning light. Conversely, with the winter solstice they have resumed laying, it’s uncanny really because they recommenced laying the day after the solstice and have been laying since. Clearly the hand of God is seen in nature and the more one works with nature, as in a homestead, the more one can see it. Perhaps the reason so many folks are atheist or agnostics is because our society has removed itself from contact with the land, animals and nature. Rural and agrarian life can rekindle belief in God if one is observant and willing to plunge their hands within God’s good earth. Such renewal of spirit is reason enough to abandon the cities and move to the country.
In the Rabbitry…
Because of the water by-product of the propane heaters and the nature of the plastic shed the moisture build-up has caused premature rusting of the cages and other equipment. Now that I’ve determined that the quail don’t need supplemental heating as the predominant literature advises, I will repair or replace all cages, feeders, etc. as needed. Meantime, I will plan on a major cleanup and disinfecting of the aviary / rabbitry shed in March, 2018. Meantime, next month is the beginning of the productive season so the mating schedule will begin. This will assure that young will be available in March, with first harvest in May. It is imperative to have a viable mating / kindling / harvesting schedule to assure meat throughout the upcoming year’s larder. Between the rabbits and the quail we can be sure of not only adequate home produced protein, but also, meat variety.
In the Apiary…
That is the bee yard; it has just been too frigid to open the hives even for a brief check. In October I checked the two remaining Langstroth hives and found that one was definitely defunct; while the other seemed weakened which was surprising since they went into late summer and fall with adequate stores and I also gave them supplements of fondant and pollen. The late January thaw manifested the top-bar hive had not only survived but prospered with a large number of bees clearing themselves of fecal matter and hive debris. That said, however, historically, at least in my case, the end of February / early March is the critical period when my hives fail. I will start feeding both fondant and pollen continuously beginning February 1, 2018 as weather permits. Meantime, I’ve ordered three more 3# packages of bees. They are a newly developed strain called, Saskatraz. They were developed by a consortium of beekeepers, geneticists, and other scientists to make them resistant to varroa and tracheal mites, as well as, the viruses they bring. Additionally, they are Northern bred and raised and therefore more likely to survive Northern winters. Finally, they are docile and good honey producers. This upcoming year will be the trial for this newcomer bee strain.
In the Orchard…
The last chance to trim and prune the fruit trees for summer growth is late January / very early February, so I will begin to do just that starting next week. BTW, a useful by-product of these trimmings are the twigs gleaned being given to the rabbits. it is a treat the rabbits find delightful but it is also needed to help trim their ever-growing teeth. Such tidbits will last well into spring when other fresh delights from the new growths of meadow, field and garden will be available.
In the Greenhouse…
The time is ripe to start preparing the greenhouse for my garden seedlings in March, 2018. This entails picking through the plants within and finding those that didn’t survive and tossing them. It also means cleaning and disinfecting the many seed trays and getting some new potting soil. Here in New England the optimal time for starting seeds is late March of each year. This ensures that seedlings will be at the proper stage for garden planting in late May after the final frost.
This year’s wines are now in the processing stage. The Spanish Tempranillo and the Pink Pinot Gris were started in early January, 2018 and the Cabernet Sauvignon was started just yesterday. In addition, I will start Chardonnay in February, 2018, as well as, my brewed Scottish Ale …when the next snowfall comes. I like to brew my beers on the coal / wood stove during a winter storm so that I can bury my brewed must in a snowbank for rapid cooling in order to pitch the yeast with little fear of strange yeast from the atmosphere entering in.
So as you can see, while most people without in-depth gardening experience think that January is a time of sitting back with seed catalogs and engaging in verdant pipe-dreams, to those in the know it is a time of intense preparation. As the adage states: the early bird that catches the worm and it is aptly applied to a small-holding homestead. Key to this is planning and judicious implementing of said plans. This will go a long way in supplementing the food needs for the family for the upcoming year.
Richard of Danbury, D. S. G.