up-potting tomato seedlings

Spring tiptoes through my world, trying to slip in unannounced. But no dice, buddy. I hear you. I see the hyacinths and crocus flowers sneaking up under the dead leaves and I hear the geese (who are really bad at tiptoeing) circling the pond.

It’s refreshing to feel winter dying, gasping and wheezing, and it puts me in a great mood.

Time to up-pot the early tomato plants. My rule of thumb for tomato seedlings is to grow twice as many of each variety as I’ll actually plant. One for dropping on the floor and one for the planting hole.

I use cut-off half gallon milk jugs as my final tomato seedling pots. Lots of nice vertical room without taking up as much shelf space as gallon jugs would.

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Sometime after the seedlings develop their first set of true leaves, it’s time to fill the jugs mostly full of growing medium, leaving space for burying most of the tomato plant stem. New roots form along the buried stems, helping to grow sturdy plants.

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The original 4″ pots each contain a couple of plants, and I note the strongest from each. The pots get gently tipped upside down, with my fingers cradling the top of the soil, being careful not to crush the little seedlings as the rootball comes free. I put the strongest seedling in its new home and fill the rest of the milk jug with growing medium right up to the leaves.

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Then back under lights, just a couple of inches between the light bulbs and the tops of the plants, with a small fan running periodically to toughen them up.

These particular tomatoes will go into the garden early under a double layer of insulation. They’ve done surprisingly well in the past, but I’m always prepared to lose them to the cold.

As for Spring, I needed some more soil time, so out came the tiller and under went the rest of the cover crop. There’s a small area that I’m going to let sit covered in leaves as a no-till experiment.

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And the chickies went out to their permanent home this morning. It’s been a while since I started chicks, and I wasn’t very knowledgable about it even then. I just wanted to be sure my 250 W light would keep them warm enough in near-freezing outside temps. A quick search, a reliable source, I think we’re good:

The rule of thumb for overhead heat-lamp brooders is that one 250-watt heat lamp can handle 75 chicks at 50 degrees. If temperatures are lower than that, subtract one chick for every degree below 50 . For example, 20 below zero is 70 degrees lower than 50, so you would be able to brood five chicks (75 – 70 = 5) per heat lamp.

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What plans?

The plan was to finish up the chicken pen and then paint the poopable surfaces in the coop.

The plan was to let things settle, pick up some chicks this weekend and then move them into their new quarters.

The reality was that I ran out of lathe screws for putting up the fencing.

The reality was that the local hardware doesn’t carry them.

The reality was that my daughter got sick and we were suddenly in charge of our granddaughter.

The reality was that my wife said “Wouldn’t it be nice if we could get chicks for Easter while Lily was here?”

The reality is that I’m impulsive, and we have an old pen and all of our chick supplies and a granddaughter.

So here they are, in our house, waiting for the paint to dry.

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The only breed Tractor Supply had on hand was Isa Browns. Never heard of them before, and I had envisioned picking only cool old heirloom breeds.  These are Rhode Island Red and Rhode Island White crosses of some kind.

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I’m not complaining. From what I was told, and from what I’ve since read, Isa Browns are hardy, personable and great brown egg layers.

But the plans. The plans.

Plans are for suckers.

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chicken pen blahblahblah

Some of you were nice enough to comment that you didn’t mind all the chicken coop construction posts. Thanks for that. It won’t be much longer.

Yesterday was devoted to covering the top of the pen and most of the rest of the sides with wire. Just the door and two small wall panels to finish.

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Like most things in life, you can never be sure that what you do will turn out like you expect. Who knows how devious and determined some of the chicken-slurping creatures around here can be? I know they’re pretty smart and pretty strong. I’ve tugged and pushed and scratched at every corner of the pen and coop, and I’m pretty confident.

But I don’t have claws and the scent of live flesh doesn’t send me into a frenzy.

where did the garden blog go?

What ever happened to my garden blog? It’s turned into a chicken pen blog, and for that I apologize. Unfortunately I’m semi-retired and have a lot of time to waste putzing with things that interest me, and gardens just don’t do much interesting when the ground’s frozen.

Seeing as I’m pretending to be a garden blogger, here’s that experimental pepper that I pruned spitting out new growth…

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No surprise. I’m curious to see whether the plant actually bushes out, and then of course whether it bears well. So conclusions are a few months out.

And now the all too familiar pen picture. Attaching fence this way is repetitive work. And I’m ver-ry slowwwww. I suspect a carpenter worth his salt would have had this whole pen done in a weekend, maybe even a day. But if he was that good he wouldn’t be learning as much as I am.

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the weakest link

There’s been a little voice bopping around inside my head. Not intrusive, but subtle, every time I work on the chicken coop. I brushed it aside for more than a week.

The coop is meant to be a fortress against other creatures that want to enjoy the future chickens too much. I put myself at creature-level, looked at every inch of the coop. I believe it’s safe.

But the run…looking at the run activated the voice. “A chain breaks at the weakest link. Nature doesn’t care how strong you THINK a chicken run is. The weakest link.”

I was kind of smug about the idea of using up old bricks underneath the pen fence. But there was still a hint of wishful thinking there.

Then my friend Julie (who has a great blog and knows a lot about chickens and gardens) mentioned that she’d tried the brick thing too, but varmints worked their way under it. So that sat in the recesses of my brain until today.

It’s easy to say I don’t worry much about critters breaking into the pen, because the chickens will be safe in their coop at night. But what if some evening I’m preoccupied with an episode of ‘I Love Lucy’ and forget to close the coop door?

I quit raising chickens because a possum and her babies had chicken dinner on me 20-some years ago. If I’m doing this again, there’s no place for pretty secure. There’s only a place for secure. What are a couple more hours doing something that I like anyway?

So I rustled up some chicken wire that’s been rolled up in the barn waiting for its moment in the sun and dug a trench around the pen. Took off the top layer of bricks (yes they were just sitting there, hoping not to be moved by curious raccoon fingers), stapled the wire to the base of the pen, and buried it.

It’s a very good feeling. The second layer of bricks will probably go back on top of the wire too, just because I can and they’re there. And now if something breaks in, I’ll know we have Chupacabras in the woods.

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turning under an old leaf

The smell of Spring soil. Finally.

After an early morning snow, it all melted and I decided to go for it. With our loamy sand, there’s never been a problem tilling early. I’ve had clay too, a long time ago, and that would just turn into brick if I tilled too soon. The soil turned over nice and black and dirty.IMG_4438

So some of the cover crop is turned under and doing its final work of decomposing. It’ll need at least a few weeks of cooking before it’s ready to plant. Sure is nice to see that patch of black again.

The chicken pen got four bags-full of shredded fall leaves (yeah, you really never have enough by summer). Might as well let the chickens shred them more and mix in some fertilizer.

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I added a small side door to the coop for navigating the chickens into a yet-to-be-made chicken tractor.

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And I was notified that the Black Jack No. 57 rubberized coating that I ordered for painting the coop floor was cancelled because it was out of stock. After I waited two weeks for it. Dorks. I just shrugged and bought some paint. But it won’t be warm enough for painting till next week. Oh well. I’ll twiddle my thumbs and wait.

the chicken pen door is mine

I want to get out and turn under the cover crop, but nature has other thoughts. Rain today, snow tomorrow. Just be Spring, will you? Oh yeah, that is Spring.

In the meantime the chicken pen gets all the attention. And finally, after a lifetime of battles with constructing stuff that didn’t like the way I worked, I’ve conquered A DOOR. It took me all morning. Literally 4 hours to construct a stinkin door. But it fit. And it works.

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working in the warm, dry house while my wife’s not there to see it

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kneel before me, sniveling door

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the new ramp

Learning things later in life, whether in gardening or construction, is way more rewarding than learning things when you’re young. It’s just more amazing. Paying attention to details makes a big difference. When I was young and busy, it was easier to plunge ahead and hope things worked. Hardly ever.

So I pat myself on the back for this. It’s not perfect, but it’s very good. At least for me.

Next up, the fencing.