Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Dahlias & Cress

So a little update on the dahlias and watercress experiments:  The dahlias, seen above, are doing fabulously well.  They are about an inch tall already, and only took four days to germinate.  I think they are quite determined to grow.
As for the watercress, it is quite happy in it's little bog.  The seedlings have stretched to an inch or so tall, and their teeny first leaves are growing larger.  There are masses of them, which is lovely, and at the rate they are growing, it won't be long before they are ready to transfer to their future aerated-bucket homes.  I envision egg and cress sandwiches for tea in the garden this spring

Sunday, March 1, 2015

It Begins...

On Friday morning, a rather large (and amazingly well packed) box arrived.  Inside was a dozen-and-a-half beautifully wrapped and cushioned eggs.  My Swedish Flower Hen eggs!  Every single egg, including the bonus two Cream Legbar eggs, had arrived uncracked, unfrozen and looked beautiful.

After freeing them from their bubble wrap and letting them warm up to room temperature, it was time to fill the automatic egg turner.
Aren't they beautiful?  In 19 days, I'll take them out of the turner and then, three days later, they should start hatching. 
I can hardly wait!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Go, Germination Station!

Check it out--only four days, and my watercress seeds have germinated.  I love my old dead freezer-turned-germination cabinet.  It's a miracle, I tell you.

Also, I apparently am having great success thus far with the 'cress germination rate.  Oh my...there's a lot of them in there, isn't there?  Whee.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Skånsk Blommehöna

I've gotten a few inquiries asking for more details about Swedish Flower Hens, and why I got interested in them, so I thought I'd take some time to share the details of my latest adventure in chickening.  First, some information about the breed.

From Southern Virginia Poultry: "Domestic chickens were introduced to Sweden about 2000 years ago, brought to the country by traders, settlers and even Viking marauders. Today it is unknown what or how many varieties of chickens were brought to Sweden’s shores in those early days, but that unknown mix of birds propagated over the next two-thousand years, developing into what are now considered the country’s native breeds. The Swedish Flower Hen is a landrace breed. This means that the breed developed naturally over hundreds of years. As a Darwinist creation, human intervention and selective breeding never played a role in the development of the breed. Chicks hatched from random pairings of the strongest, hardiest birds in each flock to create a genuinely robust breed of chicken. The Swedish Flower Hen or Skånsk blommehöna, developed in the southern part of Sweden over the last 500 years. As the weather is generally mild in these areas providing favorable conditions for the development of the breed, the Swedish Flower Hen became the largest of Sweden’s native breeds. Farmers considered it a dual purpose chicken, favored for both its ability as an egg layer and for its meat....Named for its colorful, spotted plumage, Skånsk blommehöna literally translates to “bloom hen.” The white-tipped feathers make the birds look like a field of blooming flowers. The base color of the birds can be black, blue-gray, reddish-brown, off-white, red or yellow...the breed began to fade out in the late 1800’s with the introduction of imported chicken breeds bred specifically for high egg production or greater meat yield. By the mid 1900’s, the Swedish Flower Hen was a rarity in the country of its creation"

Fascinating story, isn't it?  They haven't been in the US for too long (Greenfire Farms imported them in 2010) but have gained in popularity steadily.  It's not hard to see why, as they are both beautiful and hardy.  I love the diversity of colors that come naturally to the breed.  The idea of keeping a naturally prone to taking care of themselves chicken is very appealing to me.  With luck, and a sturdy NoCrow collar, I'll have a self-sustaining flock which rears its young, lays plenty of eggs for me with some to share, and provides meat for the table.  It may take a couple of years to get to that level, but it will happen.  I can feel it.

Now, as to how I discovered them.  I believe it was a blog post by Jenna Woginrich where she mentioned getting some really rare, interesting chickens from one of her sponsors, the aforementioned Greenfire Farms.  And being a fan of chickens, I was immediately inspired to follow her links and read more about them, and one thing led to another and I decided that someday, oh yes someday, those Swedish Flower Hens would be mine.  Shortly after that, I randomly met a woman from Springbrook who was starting a flock, and we made a handshake deal on the spot that when she decided to sell hatching eggs I would buy some from her.  Then, there was a divorce (hers), the flock was sold (wah) and sold again, and again, and again, and I continued to try to track them down for the past five years.  I've already mentioned that I found them, only to have them evaporate again a month ago.  

Never let it be said that I lack patience, or persistence.  Those birds will be MINE, dammit.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Great Virtual Marketplace

When it comes to online shopping, it often boils down to a bit of luck and research to find what you want.  When it comes to online shopping for hatching eggs, it can be a scary place.  The interwebs are rife with people dealing in eggs, who aren't exactly selling what they claim to be (consistently, eBay seems to be the worst place for egg buying validity) and tales of woe from people who invested in rather expensive, rare eggs and wound up with traditional barnyard mixtures.  Please don't take this as a diatribe about how awful the egg selling industry is, but man, a few bad apples really does spoil the bushel for the rest of us, don't they?

Luckily, I discovered BackyardChickens, the online joint for chicken information and chicken seller-buyer meet-ups.  After my relatively local handshake deal for my coveted Swedish Flower Hen eggs evaporated, I was lucky enough to find Saskia of Blue House Farm who, thus far, seems absolutely wonderful.  Every email I've sent has been promptly answered, she emailed straight away with the shipping information (the eggsies are coming! the eggsies are coming!), and her reviews are excellent.  A quick browse of the website reveals that those who sell on the site are highly scrutinized by purchasers AND the website gurus, and consumer confidence is quite high.

While shipping eggs in the mail is fraught with concerns (xrays and shipping drops and cold temps, oh my!), it really helps when you can't find a local connection to at least find a reputable online source.  If you're in the market for hatching eggs, I highly recommend visiting BackYardChickens and doing a quick search.  There's so many great breeds of chickens out there, and this seems to be THE spot to get connected with a seller.

(Incidentally, I get no kick-backs from this site, the seller I purchased from, or any affiliates.  I'm just one happy consumer right now.  With luck, my eggs will arrive in good order and then incubation can begin--huzzah!)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Getting Ready for Littles

With my hatching eggs coming later this week, I've got the incubator prewarming.  I learned last year that it does take a little while to reach temperature, and stabilize at the recommended 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit.  The manufacturer directions say 6-8 hours, but I found that it took about 24-ish to really get consistent.  So, it's plugged in and waiting for those eggies to arrive in plenty of time.

One thing that does impair my set-up is that the only place for it is in my "spare room", which is really a glorified hallway.  The bathroom is off it, and runs rather cool, and then the other three entrances all face the doors to the house: one in the kitchen, and one to the back door.  After muttering and dealing with a room that has temperature fluctuations, I've come up with a relatively ingenious plan.
Simple double-folded sheets, hung from tension rods and spring clip rings across the doorways.  Inside the room, I'll be turning on the electric baseboard heater (which I never use except for this purpose) to keep the temperature in the contained area around 65-70 degrees.  While I can't do much about the stairwell rising air to the loft area, I think by covering up the doors and placing a little heater in the room should help a bit.  Ideally, if the room is around 70, the incubator should have an easier time maintaining and keeping the desired temperature...and I should, in turn, get a better hatch rate with healthy little chicks.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Great Cress Experiment

My watercress seeds arrived on time from Fedco Seeds, and I decided it was time to start the Great Experiment.  Once the little plants are established, with healthy roots, I plan to transfer them to an aerated bucket system and grow them in water (which is their preferred medium), but until then, they'll live in rather boggy seed starter mix.  I made use of an old salad mix container (they make perfect little greenhouses) and a dollar store tub, which makes a great little "pond" for my cress starter to live in.

After soaking the seed starter mixture for several hours, making sure it was very saturated, I sowed the very fine seeds.
They are very fine, much like carrot seeds, and I have lots...which is good, because I may just kill some of these off before I have success!  It looked like they had about 80% germination rating on the packet, so I guess its good to have extras in case they don't do so great in that regard, either.
A light layer of vermiculite to hold the seeds in place, and off they went into the Germination Station.
With any luck, in a week or so, I should have little green seedlings started.  God speed, little watercresses!