Feeding Frenzy!

The dried mealworms are technically for adult birds, but we couldn’t resist given these little chicks a special treat.

Feathers and Fluffballs

We’ve had a whirlwind few days with chicks hatching and cheeping day and night.

Seven eggs had hatched fully by the end of Tuesday. It was getting a little crowded in the incubator, so we decided to risk  the 8th egg in order to get the other chicks in their new home, under a heat lamp and with food and water.

The incubator is temperature and humidity controlled to mimic the warmth of a mother hen sitting on her eggs. Once the egg has a pip, a small opening for the chick to work its way out, opening the incubator exposes the egg to dry air.

Drying the pip could make it more difficult for the chick to break through the egg without assistance.

The final egg had pipped before we opened the incubator, so we knew the risks.

After we had settled all of the chicks, we sprayed the sides of the incubator down with water to try and keep the humidity in and put the lid back on…and waited.

In the wee hours, the final egg hatched and a scraggly, wet little chick stumbled into the empty shells on clumsy claws. We let its feathers dry out a bit, before moving it with the others.

The boys and my nieces have named them all…although the names have changed frequently since we moved them.

Here’s the final list…for now.

Yellow Feather
Nita
Cheep Cheep
Sir Hubert McFeatherington
Fluffy
Fin
Cheepy
Flappy

A few of them have a couple gray dots like their father and they all have big feet with feathers on their legs.

This has been an exciting and amazing project for the boys. Joe has been so careful and gentle with the chicks and the eggs. He lets us know when it is time to leave the room so “the chicks can sleep”.

We’ve also learned a lot about the chicken…from anatomy to the lifecycle to how the chicks are able to go a few days without food and water.

I think the best part was when I asked Joe if he wanted to look at a piece of shell under the microscope.

While we were oohing and aahing over the little yellow fluffballs, my niece asked me “what if they are all roosters?”

Hmm. I didn’t consider that eventuality. Didn’t I order all hens? I’m sure Pecky and I talked about it, didn’t we?

Feathers and fluffballs
Yellow chicks with small gray dots
I hope they’re all hens

Video

The New Arrivals

Last night, two of eight chicks hatched. It’s too early to tell what color they will be, but they sure are cute!

The Awakening

Spring is here.

Sleepy plants are slowly waking up, uncertain of the sun and warmth.

Dare they sprout?

Dare they bloom?

Dare they grow?

The boys and I took a walk around the property today hoping to find green leaves and buds blooming.

We weren’t disappointed.

Easter lilies were peeking up through the mulch.

We dug these up at Ray’s grandma’s house and brought them to the homestead a couple of years ago. I didn’t think they’d make it that first year, but they surprised me and have come back stronger every year…putting up with all kinds of abuse from cats, kids and lawn mowers.

Strawberries were spreading under the roses. We missed the main part of the season last year. We were vacationing in the Smokies. But they didn’t go to waste! Ray’s dad got a few gallon bags for the freezer.

The lilac bush I planted several years ago has the more growth on it than it has had in the past two seasons.

The blackberries have buds on every vine. They have been loaded down with the delicious fruit for the past two years. I still have a few gallon bags in my freezer just waiting to be made into jam or cobbler or sauce.

The aronia bushes are all covered in tiny black buds. We have a couple of volunteer runners from this one, so we may try to move those back to the swale.

All three honeyberry bushes have dusky green leaves starting to bloom. I am really hoping we get fruit from at least one of these this year.

There are seaberries everywhere. I counted at least 5 volunteers while we were out scouting the fedge. We’ll need to transplant these to the swales this year too.

And of course, the most exciting awakening…the chicks are hatching. Since this morning, we’ve heard a few cheeps coming from this one. The boys are beyond thrilled. Joe checks on them at least once every 30 minutes.

Spring awakens all
With sunlight and bursts of warmth
Plants, trees, chicks and birds

Seedlings and Starts

Tall, green, springy too
Stretching toward the sun
No longer tiny seedlings
Stout ‘maters every one

Cabbage seedlings, brussel sprouts
Tiny but still strong
Careful when we water them
Stems may get too long

Lettuce? Well, it’s doubtful
This batch will thrive anew
Water both, hope for the best
It grew to fast it’s true

Two lone peppers growing
The smallest seedlings still
Never had much luck with them
I hope this year I will

Gently water, softly breathe
Feed them all with care
Turn them daily to the sun
And say a little prayer

A variety of heirloom tomatoes and two brussel sprout starts. ROCKING IT!

Lettuce is wilty and not looking good, but the cabbage and amaranth are still going strong. The poor broccoli isn’t getting enough sun and got a little too leggy.

The Greenhouse: Labeling

We are finally getting started on transplanting the greenhouse from our neighbor’s pool to our backyard.

We knew it was going to be a big project. I’m not starting as many seeds this year, nor am I planning to order any new trees and shrubs to put in. This project, I’m certain, will take up more than enough of our time this Spring and Summer.

Earlier this week, we trekked over to the neighbor’s to take stock and form a plan.

You know how sometimes a situation can seem like more work in your own head?Yeah, this is not one of those times.

This is going to be an undertaking.

We will have to remove the greenhouse in pieces. Short of inventing a shrink gun, there’s just no way we can transport the whole thing in one piece.

We will be bribing family and friends to come over and help us move all this…stuff. The fridge will be stocked with cold beverages, the steaks will just keep rolling off the grill and cookies will be available at all times.

I will not, I admit, be doing most of the ‘heavy lifting’, but I will be project managing this beast.

The first step is to label the pieces so that when we take them out, we will be able to (ahem) easily put the whole thing back together again.

Then…we will need to slowly move all of the patio pavers from the bottom of the pool to our back yard.

Then…we will need to get a vacuum excavator to pull out all the soil under the patio pavers.

Then…we will need to carefully take the whole thing apart and move it to our backyard.

Finally, we will start the reconstruction process using my sketch and labels as a guide.

Easy, right?

Pruning

Trailing after daddy
An eager little boy
Pruning back the vines
Filled with pride and joy

Watching daddy closely
Wanting to do it right
Puffing up with pride
When daddy says, “That’s right!”

Working til the sun sets
Big to smaller shoulder
Sighing with contentment
Feeling a little older

I see their smiling faces
I hear their laughter too
I smell the dirt and sunshine
I feel humbled anew

This man I hold so dearly
Will take care of us all
These boys I love so fiercely
Will soon grow big and tall

So as that time draws nearer
I’ll relish every day
From working in the sunshine
To all the games we play

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Joe the Bug Hunter: Mysterious Tracks

Joe set down his magnifying glass and rubbed his eyes, sure he wasn’t seeing clearly.

After a few minutes, he picked it up again and looked at the small, worn piece of bark.

They were still there. Tiny, squiggly paths swirling all over the underside of the bark.

What did it mean? What could have made these swirls and whorls?

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Sighing and scratching his chin, Joe carefully put the bark samples in his Bug Collecting Bag, snapped a few pictures of the log he had found them on and headed to his lab to do some research.

After searching his favorite bug blogs and typing a few key phrases in Google, he was still stumped.

He’d found nothing to explain the odd paths he’d discovered.

“What are you up to sweetheart?” his mom asked, poking her head around the door.

“Oh, just trying to figure out what these odd markings are.”

Joe showed her the piece of bark. She ran her fingers over the tiny rivulets, feeling the grooves.

“Hmm. I’ve never seen anything like this before. At least, not on a tree…” she said, her voice trailing off.

Joe shook his head and let out a frustrated sigh.

“Any luck with your research?” she asked in a strained voice.

“Nope. Not yet.”

“Well, you’ll figure it out. You always do.”

His mom quickly left the room, mumbling something about fixing dinner. It was only after he’d put the bark back in his bag and shut his laptop that he realized something was off about his mom’s response.

She seemed almost nervous, or…something. What was it she said after she examined the bark?

I’ve never seen anything like this before…at least, not on a tree…

“What an odd thing to say,” he mused.

Yes, he would figure it out…he always did.

To Be Continued…

Hatching Our Own: Step 1

This week, we will start incubating the fertilized eggs we’ve been collecting.

Pecky and 5 hens have been separated for just 2 weeks. We gave them about a week to get settled and then started to collect the eggs for incubation rather than eating.

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Once we have 12 and I’ve tested the incubator, we will be ready to start the process.

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The incubator I ordered holds 9-12 eggs, automatically turns the eggs and keeps the temperature and humidity at the right spot…at least that is what is advertised. I’ll have to report back on the success.

The boys and I are very excited to get this started. Every time I collect the eggs from “Pecky’s Girls”, they ask if there are baby chicks in them yet.

We’ve talked about the life-cycle of a chicken, but we will delve deeper as we go through the process.

Pecky and his girls
Separated from the flock
A science project

Risking It

The weather has been so nice lately.

Nice enough to spend the morning outside wandering around the homestead.

Nice enough for the boys spend time digging for worms, playing tag and practicing hockey.

Nice enough for me risk it and start sowing seeds in the garden.

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The last frost dates for Central Illinois is somewhere between the 14th and 21st of April so I probably should have waited.

But the soil is ready!

The worms are squirming!

The birds are chirping!

Since everything else on the homestead is confused by this weather, I’m throwing my hat in the ring and taking a chance.

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I planted cabbage, lettuce and carrots. These are cool weather tolerant, so even if it does freeze again, I’ll be able to take measures to protect them from most of the cold.

I hope.

Warm, sunny, breezy
Birds chirping and worms squirming
Did I hear a frog?