Archive | April 2014

Transplanting Trees and First Daffodils

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The first daffodils opened their blooms today.  With all the cloudy, damp, chilly weather, the spring flowers have been a little slow.  The tips of some of the daffodil leaves turned brown from freezing. This occurred soon after the leaves emerged from the ground during a late cold snap and snow storm a couple weeks ago.

Spring is the best time to transplant most trees.  The plants get a full growing season to establish roots before cold weather hits.  So early in the year, the temperatures are pleasantly cool for strenuous work and there are no biting insects around.

I am working to plant a second stand of trees between our house and the busy road.  We have one hedge of blue spruces about 40 feet tall.  The lower branches are thinning out and don’t provide much privacy.  A second line of evergreens will fill in the lower part, providing us a shield from prying eyes and loud traffic.  Once the trees reach a good size, they will also help prevent vehicles from hitting our house if they leave the road.a3

Balsam fir is a good tree for privacy hedges.  A fast growing tree with spreading limbs thickly covered with needles, balsam provides quick coverage.  Lucky for us, we own many acres of trees and don’t have to buy balsams.  I merely hike out and dig up a few young fir trees.

Most of the balsams I transplant are being saved from certain death.  In our apple orchards, I am frequently unable to mow close to the tree trunks.  Saplings of many tree species establish there and have to be cut by hand.  To obtain great young balsams, I go out in the orchard and remove them roots and all from beneath the limbs of apple trees.a2

To me, the best jobs achieve more than one purpose and so it is with transplanting balsams for a privacy hedge.  The orchard is tended, young balsams get a chance at life and, if we’re lucky, one day soon we will have a nice thick stand of trees between us and the road.

The photo at left is of balsams springing up under our apple trees.   In the photo above, I have set out the transplanted balsams just beyond the state’s right-of-way along the road.  In the foreground are four baby balsams I’ve moved this year.  In the background are two taller balsams that I transplanted three years ago.  The growth is very rapid once the young trees have access to sunlight.  I do worry that some jerk will lop off their heads for Christmas trees.  Extra vigilance at the holidays is required.

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New Kitty–Chloe

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Little lover kitty

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Chloe

For my birthday last week I adopted a sweet little cat from the Humane Society.  Chloe is about 1.5 years old, a black and white tuxedo kitty and an extremely loving girl.  She can’t seem to get close enough.

Now we have three cats.  Toby is 13 and Molly is 14.  Having a young cat in the house has woken them up a little.  Toby was playing tag with her around the scratching post this morning.

Chloe is very smart, and adept at blending in.  She is outgoing but not pushy and became friends with our two older cats in two days.  I’ve never seen a cat be accepted into a household so quickly.  She learned where the food and litter pans are in no time and has been trying to shred the scratching post.

Such a playful and fun little animal, I’m so glad I went to the shelter and found her.

There are still at least forty cats at the Humane Society looking for homes.  I hope other people give shelter cats a chance.  Chloe sure deserved one and we are lucky to have her!

New Angora Rabbit

bun1Welcome to Jade, the newest Phoenix Farm angora rabbit.  Jade is almost two years old and is a pretty sable or black and gray color.  She came from Palermo, Maine.

Jade may be pregnant, an accidental mating with an angora/Rex cross buck, but she seems overdue to me.  She may be having a false pregnancy, very common among rabbits.  Or, her mating date may be later than supposed.  She spends a lot of time on her nest, getting ready for babies.

Jade replaces Mica, my sable doe, who passed away in March at age seven.  A very good old age for a rabbit.  In the background of the top photo is Gem, a fawn colored doe and Jade’s new pal.

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Pruning Pear Trees

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Our four pear trees

We have four pear trees.  Three are Bartlett, one is a red pear, Stark Crimson.  They are badly in need of major pruning.  The trees have grown so high that the best fruit is ten to fifteen feet out of reach.  April is a little late in the season for pruning, but the nights do still get chilly, helping the trees to heal before warm weather arrives.

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Three branches removed on the right side

I have to climb into the tops of the trees with my extending aluminum ladder and cut off the upper third of the tree with a pruning saw. The branches are four to six inches thick at that height.  I can only do three or four branches per day due to a recovering sprained wrist.

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Trusty pruning saw

Here are before and after photos of the tallest Bartlett, the tree most in need of pruning.  I cut three branches off the day before these photos were taken.  The stubs of those branches are visible on the right side near the top of the tree.

The handsaw is deceptively sharp and cuts through a six inch diameter branch in less than five minutes (with rest breaks!)  A dangerous moment arrives as the wood makes a cracking sound and the branch separates from the tree.  All that weight comes crashing down.  A good pruner plans the trajectory of the fall so that the branch doesn’t swing back and knock her in the head or off the ladder.

The tree appears much closer to the desired shape with the tall leaders removed.  Fruit will grow on the long branches loaded with fruiting spurs.  The weight of the fruit pulls the branches downward, nearer to the picking zone.  Now I can enjoy more of my pears plucked from the tree instead of off the ground.

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All the too-long top branches removed


The tree is still too tall and will be cut down another few feet next year. Also still required is a more thorough pruning to thin and to remove weak, dead or intersecting branches. In a couple years these trees will look much better and produce more, as well.

Setting Hatching Eggs

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Today I set 42 Ameraucana chicken hatching eggs to incubate.  If all goes well, in 21 days they will hatch. About half the eggs are from my chickens and half are from two out-of-state breeders.  I purchased the eggs on eBay and had them shipped.  I add new blood to my flock this way.

Shipping hatching eggs is hard on them.  The interior of the egg can be damaged.  Temperatures that are too high or low can kill the embryos.  Sometimes mail is x-rayed and that kills the chicken germ. Yet, I have had luck hatching shipped eggs so my fingers are crossed!

The incubator has a fan to move air and keep the temperature at a steady 99.9 F.  Water is added to reservoirs under the eggs to maintain the proper humidity.  The yellow rack holding the eggs is an automatic turner.  Eggs must be turned every day as they develop so the embryo doesn’t stick to the egg and become malformed.  As long as we don’t have a long power outage, the incubator does a good job for me.  I’ve hatched many chicks with this set-up.egg1

Spring Storm

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Spring looked like it arrived, until today.  The snow was almost all gone, bare ground with robins hopping around.  Then, heavy rain swept through yesterday and early this morning the end of the storm turned to snow.  We have 3″ of white stuff.  My potted hyacinths help remind me spring is still here.

Out in the garden, the  crocuses, hyacinths, daffodils and tulips are just popping their heads up. What a rude surprise for them!  The next few days are supposed to be warm, turning the snow to what farmers call poor man’s fertilizer.  Extra moisture for rapidly re-awakening plants.

Getting Ready To Hatch Eggs

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Hatching Eggs

Time to hatch baby chicks!  I’m collecting eggs from my silver and wheaten Ameraucana chickens to put in the incubator.  I can incubate 42 eggs at once.  Saving eggs to hatch takes a little effort.  The eggs must be handled gently to protect the tiny germ of chicken inside.

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Wheaten hens

I collect several times per day, so the eggs are less likely to get dirty or too warm or cold.  The eggs are marked in pencil with the laying date and parents’ colors.  Hatching eggs must be kept around 50 degrees F.  This temperature will hold the embryo in stasis for about 12 days.  After that the egg is too old to have a good chance of hatching.  The humidity in the storage area must be held at 75% so the inside of the egg doesn’t dry out.

Eggs for hatching should not be turned so the narrow end is up.  This can put too much pressure on the air cell at the top of the broader end of the egg.  If the air cell ruptures, the chick embryo won’t have air to breathe just before hatching and will suffocate.  The eggs have to be kept clean.  Dirty eggs can introduce bacteria and disease into the incubator. Never wash eggs, the protective waxy coating will be stripped away and the egg will lose too much moisture.  Hatching eggs should never be tightly wrapped in plastic as this can also suffocate the embryo.

While the eggs are held until I gather enough to fill the incubator, they must be turned daily and placed at a 45 degree angle.  This prevents the embryo from sticking to the side of the egg.

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Wheaten Ameraucana rooster

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Silver Ameraucana rooster

I have two colors of Ameraucana roosters: silver and wheaten. The silver has three hens.  All his hens are silver, except one appears to have a little wheaten, she has more brown than the others. The wheaten rooster has eight hens.  Four are wheaten or blue wheaten and four are brown red.

This year I am buying some hatching eggs from purebred Ameraucana breeders to introduce new blood into the flock and to *hopefully* improve the blue color of my eggs.  My expensive purchased eggs should arrive next week and will also go in the incubator.  These eggs are shipped through the mail, a tough trip for chick embryos.  The hatch rate is lower for shipped eggs than ones from our farm, but it is still the least costly way to add new blood.

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Wheaten rooster and hen

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Silver rooster and hens