Archive | May 2016

Planting Time


Here are some of the seeds I’ll be planting today.  Just seeing all that lovely produce inspires me to get out there and weed and till!

Currently the garden is little more than a 50 foot square spot of dirt choked with weeds and overgrown with Jerusalem artichokes in one corner.  The area will quickly transform, with my exertions, into a fenced spot of fresh earth marked with rows of newly sown seed.a1The spring has been cool and dry, again.  Chance of frost still exists, but I’m willing to get started now.  Tomorrow’s forecast is rainy, perfect for jump-starting plants.  Next week I will put the tender tomato and pepper seedlings in the ground.

By the first week of June we should be safe from frost.  Yesterday was 86F, with lots of sun.  Today is cloudy and mid-fifties.  The weather is so changeable in Maine in spring that it doesn’t do to take something like last frost dates for granted.

Chick Hatch Tribulations


The second hatch of Ameraucana chicks is safely in the brood boxes.  This time we got 14 healthy babies, a good hatch for me.

Sadly, so many of the 42 eggs in the incubator did not hatch.  Seventeen babies made it from the eggs, 3 died in the first day or so.  Many other eggs pipped or partially hatched then the chicks died.  Some of the babies that do escape the eggs are crippled and I must dispatch them.  I hate culling chicks!

I have been researching why the hatch rate is so poor when the fertility rate is near 100% and have come up with an answer.  It is the incubator.  I’ve been using a Hova-Bator styrofoam unit I purchased new several years ago.  It has a fan to circulate the air and help even warming of the eggs.  It also has an automatic turner.  I bought that one to replace an older still air model by the same manufacturer.  The styrofoam incubators are fairly affordable at around $200 for my current model.  Think I paid $189 about 4 years ago or so.

Last year and this year I sold hatching eggs locally, the same eggs I hatch myself.  Other people using more expensive models achieve 100% hatch rates or close to it with my eggs.  My hatchability is 70% at best, closer to 40% usually.  Technically, I’m only out a couple dozen eggs when the babies die, but it is still heartbreaking to see so many perfectly good chicks going to waste due to poor equipment.

I’m not sure what is going wrong with the incubator to cause this problem right at hatch time.  The chicks that die before completely hatching, I cannot explain.  I believe the crippled chicks become irreparably harmed trying to get loose from the shell.  They injure themselves and have nerve damage.  This is said to occur when conditions are too dry in the hatcher.  That is hard for me to believe since there is the correct amount of water in the  reservoirs and the inside of the view windows are nearly obscured by condensation.  I’ve been able to rule out faulty genetics or other factors that cause crippled chicks due to the success rate of people using better incubators to hatch my eggs.

For the last hatch, I even took the precaution of not opening the incubator at all during the first 24 hours that the chicks are breaking from the eggs.  No heat or moisture escaped.

Sometimes I have wondered if the hatched chicks moving about and knocking into their siblings who haven’t hatched, causing the eggs to roll, are somehow disturbing the process.  But, the year I partitioned the incubator with cardboard to limit movement, the results weren’t better.

So, I’ve decided to take the plunge and invest in a better incubator.  The next step up is in the $500 range.  These models are made of solid plastic and metal and are easily cleaned as opposed to styrofoam with all the pores that can hold bacteria and viruses and requires aggressive sanitation after every hatch.

The more expensive incubators have advanced heating units and better humidity control.  The viewing windows are also much better and they can hold up to 48 eggs as opposed to my current 42 egg capacity.  When you reach the $700 level, the incubators are cabinet models that can accommodate 200 eggs and have separate drawers for incubating and hatching so both these processes can go on at once.  This shortens the time between hatches and increases potential chick yield.

Investing in a better incubator should actually pay for itself in a couple years with increased sales of chicks.

Although I haven’t made a decision yet, I’m leaning toward the Brinsea 40.  This unit can hold 48 chicken eggs and gets very good reviews from users.  There are other choices and I’m still looking.  For certain, the styrofoam incubator has seen its last year of service on our farm.


Found A New Truck


We did it!  We found a truck to replace the ’05 GMC Sierra.  This is a 2013 Chevy Silverado, V6, 4×4, long bed, regular cab with automatic transmission.  The only feature we couldn’t replace was the manual transmission.  Apparently American truck companies no longer make regular cab V6 pickups with standard transmissions.

This white truck has three small dents that must be fixed, but the dealer did agree to help us with the costs.  Overall it was a great buy.

We searched all over New England and found this at a dealer in Vermont.  They drove it 170 miles to us and gave us five days inspection before deciding to buy.  No way were we going to pay the new truck price.  This one cost more than the new truck we bought in 2005.  We are sincerely hoping some sanity returns to the pickup truck industry before we need to buy again in ten years or so.truck2

Truck Search


We have owned this silver GMC Sierra Work Truck since 2005 when it was purchased new.  It is a basic pickup, no frills.  Not even power windows.

The transmission is manual.  It has a V6 engine for gas savings without sacrificing too much power, and four wheel drive on-demand for sticky situations.  Also note that it features a regular cab with seating for 2.5 people and a regular bed that measures 8 feet by 4 feet of usable area on the inside.  You can fit a piece of plywood in there, or carry home a whole pile of plywood or drywall, up to 1/2 ton if necessary. It will also easily haul 30 regular square bales of hay or 1/2 cord of firewood.  This sort of truck was once the industry standard.  It is a real workhorse, as the name implies.  Just the vehicle needed on a farm.

Well, our good old work truck, with an outward appearance as above and less than 50,000 miles on the odometer, is broken.  The frame has rusted so badly that it actually cracked apart this past week.  It is not safe to drive.  The steel that supports the truck, including vital components like the gas tank, is rotted away.  It cannot be repaired without replacing the entire frame.  The end.  Our last GMC pickup, a 1991 model, lasted 14 years.  The frame was solid, and we only traded it because it need a $2000 paint job.  We decided to put the money in a new truck.  The 2005 model cost around $17,000, a reasonable price.

Now it’s time to look for another new truck.  Surprise!  Everything in the truck manufacturing world has changed.  We are not able to find the new vehicle we want, not from any manufacturer selling in America.  It is unbelievable.  And the prices!  New trucks start at $30,000.

Manual transmissions are out.  Guess they are just too hard for most people to drive so there is not enough demand.  Forget that manual transmissions have less parts to replace, cost less and give you infinitely better control over the operation of your vehicle.

Regular cabs are now rare.  New trucks today have extra seating, with at minimum an extended cab to create two very small and uncomfortable perches behind the main seats, right up to crew cabs with full seating for four with four doors, no less.  Why not just get a car??  Truck beds are also rarely available in the normal eight foot length.  They now are standard at 6 feet or 6.5 feet with some as short as 5 feet.  Once again, why not just buy a car?  A five-foot truck bed is pretty useless on a farm.  Can’t get much in there, a dog, maybe.  Certainly not enough hay bales to make a difference.  The new trucks are a bad joke for real working people who need a utility vehicle.

So, if we buy a new truck we have to pay twice what we should for something we don’t want.  Sorry, truck manufacturers, that isn’t going to happen.  We find ourselves on the used vehicle market, a place we avoided in the past due to not wishing to buy other people’s problems.

We are trying to find a late model, low mileage, 4×4 with a regular cab, 8 foot bed and V6 engine. We’ve given up on the manual transmission.  Yesterday I spent several hours online searching nationwide for a truck like this.  Discovered a nice one in Nebraska and one in New Mexico.  This type of truck is truly rarer than hen’s teeth!  I found a total of ONE at a dealer in the State of Maine, down in Rockland.  We took a 1.25 hour ride to the coast and looked at a nice truck with an automatic transmission, over-priced by $4000 based on the best Blue Book rates.  We haggled for a couple hours, but the dealer won’t budge. Probably because he knows how rare his beast is and figures someone will pay the price to take it home.

Today we go to the privately-owned market.  Somewhere near us there has to be a decent truck we can afford and be proud to own.  Our beloved vehicle has value only as parts.  The engine is excellent as are all the other components besides the frame.  So sad.

The GMC dealer told us yesterday that rotting steel frames are a problem for trucks made by many manufacturers between the years 2000-2007.  Aren’t we the lucky ones to have had the misfortune of purchasing a truck when the auto industry decided to use cheap steel or inadequate rustproofing?  For people owning trucks from that time period, there will be no future classics, just junk with rotted frames.  Planned obsolescence forcing buyers to pay double for new toy trucks?  Welcome to the age of throw-away vehicles.


Starring the Star Magnolia

b1Love my little star magnolia tree.  It grew so much last year and has dozens of flowers this spring.  It is as tall as me, five feet seven inches.  I was very concerned last November and December.  The weather was crazy, weeks of spring-like warmth, temps into the 50s some days.  The trees were getting fooled and starting to bud.  The flower buds on my magnolia began swelling.  Then, bam!  The weather changed in early January.  Temperatures dropped to normal, zero F and below.b3  I figured the magnolia blossoms would be ruined.  But, no, when the temperatures finally climbed this spring, after a very chilly March and April, the tree broke into bloom.  Many of the petals have burned tips where the cold did affect them.  But, mostly, the flowers are lovely and smell so nice.  Like white pond lilies.  I sure hope the weather doesn’t get too ridiculous and kill off my favorite flowering tree!b2

Cats and Dogs

a.jpgHere is Cary age 5.5 months hanging with his dog peeps, his best buddy Otto, and Holly.  Otto is 120 lbs, Holly is not far behind.  Cary has been entranced by the dogs since he was old enough to walk over to their area.  There is no fear of these giant creatures who outweigh him thirty times over.  The fact these are gentle giants probably helps.c.jpgHis brother, Kai, while also interested in the dogs, has reservations.  He keeps a distance, trades nose greetings, and flees at any sudden movements.  A rightful response to huge animals.b  So what makes Cary different?  When he visits the dogs his purr is always on full blast.  He strops against their legs and rubs his face on theirs.  Otto will gently place one big paw on the kitten’s back and behave in a way that is almost like patting the kitty.

I think little Cary just has a natural love for everyone, including large, hairy canines and is bold and trusting enough to show it.  Plus, the dogs are kind, caring animals who know how to be careful around those smaller than themselves.


Chloe (1 year old) and Otto