Winter care

There are always things on a farmer or homesteaders to do list. Even if you live in the suburbs there are things in the yard and garden that require our ...

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  For someone who likes to garden and raise critters and dig in the dirt, I have to admit second only to fall in my heart is winter. It is ...

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Spring Cleaning Tip

I hope everyone had a lovely spring day yesterday. After a wonderful brunch with friends, followed by a rowdy egg hunt with all the kids, we came home to spend the afternoon puttering about the farm. It’s spring cleaning time, gearing up for the season ahead. One has to take advantage of these warm sunny days, before (dare I say it) winter takes a last hurrah. I’m really hoping mother nature takes a break from those big spring snowstorms we tend to get.

What this afternoon of puttering had me thinking of is all the things that need to get cleaned. And those things that are not so easy to clean, like plastic feeders and waterers. When the weather warms up I retire my metal waterers and heating bases. I pull out the large plastic waterers. The thing about the plastic that I don’t love is the algae growth in them. Especially that rust colored little bugger that refuses to scrub off. Sometimes leaving what appears to be barnacles. And trust me, I don’t let them go long without cleaning. Even so, these things must love our Colorado sunshine because they grow fast and furious.

So what is part of my spring cleaning regimen? Well, it involves vinegar, and lots of it. Basically, I take all my plastic feeders and waterers and soak them in the sun in vinegar. That stuff works wonders and is the only thing I have found to take off the built up rock solid not going to scrub away gunk that grows wild. A few hours and everything just rinses away. I do this for the dog waterers, the chicken and turkey dishes. Everything.

It felt really good to get a fresh start by cleaning everything out. I’m sure the animals appreciate it to. I also love to use vinegar water to clean the windows. Cleaning the windows with vinegar water and newspapers gets them sparkling everytime, and no streaks!

Do you have any wonderful spring cleaning tips for around the farm or the homestead? Leave them in the comments below or email me at Erica@farmingfortcollins.com. Happy cleaning!

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The Pecking Order

259Chickens are cute, and sweet, and fun to watch. When you get them as baby chicks they seem precious and harmless. Funny little creatures roaming around checking out the world with their beaks and toes. Then something happens one day and you realize these sweet feathery puff balls can be brutal. You realize the words “pecking order” have a real world manifestation that isn’t always pretty.

Chickens will establish a pecking order. How can you tell who is at the top? Well, for me it was noticing who kept all their feathers. Those lower on the chain would look a bit ragged in comparison. Maybe even a little thinner.

At it’s worse, chickens will become cannibalistic. It’s not pretty folks. There are many reasons chickens behave in this manner. They tend to school each other with their beaks, or a rooster might cause an injury with its spurs. Once an injury is present, the chickens will begin to peck at the injured area. Once that happens, its likely best to isolate the injured bird. Otherwise they can and will continue to attack the injury, in worst case scenarios ultimately causing death. These cute little hens can be merciless.

308Other reasons for pecking and feather eating can be the result of several environmental factors, and the fact that chickens are attracted to the color red. Feathers are filled with blood and when pulled, well, they bleed. Attracting more aggression from the other hens. Some of the environmental factors to consider are whether or not they have adequate space. Do they have consistent access to food and water, therefore reducing stress? Are they exposed to temperature extremes? Did you introduce new members to the flock, therefore upsetting the balance? Are they bored? Chickens love to peck and explore. If there surroundings cause stress or are not engaging enough, they will begin to peck each other. Hanging food barely within reach, that they need to actively obtain, will assist in engaging them, or distracting them, whichever way you want to look at it. Are they stressed from too much exposure to artificial light in the winter months, causing stress to their system in a time they instinctively relax? It’s crucial to keep an eye out for signs of stress and deter any unacceptable behaviors quickly.

If you are able to let the girls explore, and have a wide range of area, they will be less likely to peck each other, unless of course there is an attractive injury. Free ranging however results in other concerns, such as their safety from predators.

Making sure the hens diet is sufficient will also go a long way in keeping your hens happy and minimizing their irritation. Making sure they have enough protein is important. Otherwise they will look elsewhere, or toward each other, to meet their dietary needs.

Some pecking and feather eating is natural. You will need to be vigilant in order to be proactive when it goes from normal to out of control. Happy chickens are more often healthy chickens, and less work in the long run!

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In the Kitchen

002If you’re here in Northern Colorado today you know what a cold and dreary snowy day it is. Those are my favorites. Why? Because these days are the perfect excuse to get in the kitchen. Whether it’s canning, baking or just preparing a bunch of yummy food for the week ahead, it is one of my favorite and most relaxing things to do.

I come across a lot of people that are daunted by the kitchen. Or they haven’t made the leap they’d like to, to take their skill and experience to the next level.

Ever thought about making cheese? Or ferementing sauerkraut? What to do with all those veggies in your CSA box? Me too. That’s why I am so glad we have so many options on the Front Range to learn how to make and prepare wonderful glorious food.

The Sustainable Living Association offers a series of year-round workshops. So far in their Wise Kitchen series they are offering a basic cheesemaking class, a workshop on cooking with kale, and a fermenting workshop. They offer micro workshops at their annual Sustainable Living Fair as well.

Cooking classes are available at numerous locations, whether you are a beginner or just want to spice up your culinary prowess. Whole Foods has a cooking school. The Cupboard offers cooking classes and demonstrations. Learn seasonal eating at Come Back to the Table. Want to get your kids involved in the kitchen? Foodies Culinary Academy has summer cooking camps for kids. Our own Andrea Karapas of the Scoop Blog Network writes the local blog Serving Up Fort Collins, providing recipies for seasonal and local eating.046

Our local extension office offers lots of information on canning and preparing food. They have a plethora of information online and host a booth at the Larimer County Farmer’s Market in Old Town as well.

Feel like going the distance? Sunrise Ranch Culinary Academy may be the answer. They offer training for budding chefs in farm to table cooking, nutrition and more.

Whatever your current or desired skill level is, there are many local options to expand your learning. Keep your eyes open as more options will be popping up as the season starts.

In the famous words of a fellow foodie, Bon Appetit!

 

 

 

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What’s Missing?

Wednesday evening I went to the Northern Colorado Local Food Cluster kickoff. It wasn’t a party like some of you may have imagined. It was an opportunity to learn about the Cluster and what it is they wish to bring to the table to improve the economic health and vitality of our local food system. Sounds like good stuff right? More than fifty folks from different segments of our community came together to go over the current developments, provide input into the future structure of the organization, and let the steering committee know what’s missing.

When thinking of our food system, and all the little pieces that support it, from the farmers to the processors to the distributors to the retailers and beyond, that is the question. What are the missing pieces to our puzzle here in Northern Colorado? For myself, I tend to have a pretty filled dance card. Getting to a farmer’s market, while on the to do list, isn’t always a possibility. I miss abundant farm stands, and pick your own orchards and fields. Convenience of local food with a direct connection to the farm that grows it. Friends of mine who are value added producers tell me about the difficulty they have in procuring commercial kitchen and production space for a small scale operation. Some of the local ordinances can get in the way, like you can’t have more than x number of food trucks in one location. How do you have a food truck rally promoting local food?

So I ask you, committed locavores and land lovers, if you had a local food system wish list, what would be on it? What’s missing that would add to the vitality to what we already have? What entreprenuerial dream do you hold that lacks resources or support? Where do we need to fill in the gaps to get more local, fresh, nutritious food to you?

Please join me in the conversation. And trust me, I’m a sharer so your feedback will get to the Cluster. Feel free to post your comments here, on the Farming Fort Collins facebook page, or email directly at Erica@farmingfortcollins.com

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Tips for painting your beehive

hiveAnyone else getting bees this season, or any avid long time bee keepers out there? I’m excited to start my first hive. The bees arrive at the end of the month and I picked up my beehive this past week, which was all made in Colorado. Now, to paint it.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind with our weather. Hot sun in the summer and strong dusty wind in the winter. Both these things can wreak havoc on equipment, pens and fences, and of course, bee hives. Too keep a hive from getting too hot, lighter colors that reflect rather than absorb the light are best. If you live in a colder climate, those darker colors will help to keep the hive warm. But with our intense sunshine, the advice I’ve received is keep it light. Personally I am going for pale yellow.

Primer and two coats of exterior paint will help extend the life of the hive with the strong sunshine, winds and dust. In the spring you can see the effects of the elements as things in the yard can have a sandblasted look depending on the intensity and lack of snow cover during this season. Keeping the hive in a protected wind blocked area will also help keep the weathering to a minimum. And, since we live in an area where we can have hail in July, I recommend a metal lid versus a plastic. Last hail storm, everything on my land that was plastic shattered. Keep your bees safe!

Now for the painting. Here are the steps, as they’ve been related to me, to keep a strong home and happy bees.

  • You may like the natural look. Exterior sealers work well. To keep the bees happy, you would want to stay away from oil based. While longer lasting, they have a stronger odor and longer gas off time. Same for oil based primers and paints. While I have read that folks use whatever exterior coverings they have available, water based are usually lower “emission”.
  • Don’t paint the interior! While you want to seal the exterior of the wood from the elements, you want to leave the inside parts natural. Again, minimal bother and irritation to the bees is best. Paint smells.
  • Make sure you prime first. While some paints come mixed with primer, they are much more expensive than using your primer and regular exterior paint (found this out when I went to buy my paint).
  • Make sure your primer layer covers well, not too thick, and is even. Paint the lip of the boxws, but again, not the interior or underside which will be placed on another box.
  • Once the primer dries, make sure to cover with paint in two even, not too thick coats. I stress the not too thick part (as a previous house painter) because you are building layers which seal to each other. Too thick causes problems just like too thin will.
  • Raise the box off the ground so moisture will not be against the boxes or the bottom. Cinder blocks or a built base will work fine and also make it easier to check and tend to the hive.
  • And lastly, don’t introduce the bees too soon after painting. You want any initial fumes to have a chance to off gas first. You also want the paint to cure soundly.
  • As a side note, the beekeeper where I purchased my hive said she found bears like the blue hives. I don’t know this to be certain, but blue is the color of many berries. Could there be a correlation? What is your experience?

I hope these tips helps. Check my instagram account this week for the progress on my own hive. With that, happy beekeeping!! (Send me pics of your hives too!)

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Sorry guys

Still sick and down for the count. I’ll be back on Sunday. Thanks for the well wishes!

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Sick day

I’m going to have to take a sick day today. I’ll have a post for you tomorrow. Enjoy the dreary day!

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Northern Colorado Local Food Cluster Kickoff

Maybe some of you were part of the community held meetings to discuss creating and maintaining a vibrant and resilient food system. Well, kudos to all of you who participated. The result of those meetings is the setting of a shared direction, centered on economic health, to create an organization that will strengthen and support our local food system. The next step is the Northern Colorado Local Food Cluster Kickoff (I know, it’s a mouthful!) on April 9, 2014.

So, here is a call to all farmers, gardeners, educators, economic health professionals, health professionals, business peopple, brewers and bakers, researchers and planners, ranchers and distributors and anyone else who loves food, real food, and wishes to partake in making our community even greater.

This event is brought to you by The Northern Colorado Local Food Cluster and CSU’s Center for Public Deliberation. The meeting, which is free, will be held from 6:00 – 8:00 pm at the Drake Center, 802 West Drake Drive, Fort Collins. The discussion will cover the organizations rules for engagement, potential membership structure and next steps for continuing to raise funds and establish a lean organization.

The leadership team currently consists of the following community members, many of whom you may recognize if you are a member of the food loving tribe.

Kim Barman, CanDo — University of CO Health

Michael Baute, Spring Kite Farm

Lindsay Ex, City of Fort Collins Planning Services

Hill Grimmett

Sam Houghteling,Industry Cluster Coordinator

Chris Hutchinson, Trebuchet Group

Bobbie Kay, CanDo – University of CO Health

Susan Kelly, Food Bank for Larimer County

Michelle Provaznik, Gardens on Spring Creek

Dawn Thilmany, Colorado State University

Don’t forget to register! You can do so HERE !

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Call for help!

cowsOne of my favorite things to do is share information. To connect folks to what they are looking for. As you may guess, writing Farming Fort Collins and the From the Field Newsletter allows me to do this in spades. It’s also wonderful to be able to write about topics that inspire and get people jazzed about getting their hands in the dirt. I am a dirt pusher of the zealous kind. And I couldn’t do this alone. So many folks of the same persuasion share information with me about the local farming scene on a daily basis. We have an awesome little community here.

So far I have a pretty good list of local CSA options (31 and counting). The list of local raw milk dairies is covered. Fruit providers is developing nicely.

Right now I am embarking on a little project and I would like to ask for your assistance. That project is putting together the most comprehensive list of locally raised meat providers available. From the grass fed to the organic, the pasture raised to the just plain local. The easy part of eating local is finding the vegetables. Consistent and varied protein sources on the other hand can be hit or miss.

MH900049885So if you have a place where you get your pasture raised chicken, Thanksgiving turkeys, beef, pork or bison, lamb or any other protein you can think of, send me a comment or drop me a line at Erica@farmingfortcollins.com. I’m looking to have the list completed in time for the second April newsletter, to come out April 15.

In anticipation of your help with this project, I express my thanks. It takes a village!

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Community Gardening

 

Boston Community Garden near Fenway Park

Boston Community Garden near Fenway Park

In big cities, and even college towns I’ve been to, there are community gardens that I have drawn inspiration from. What seems to be the biggest draw is the community part. A group of folks coming together with a shared love of the dirt. I’m diggin’ that.

I hear from so many folks about their own gardening desires. Whether it’s finding their own plot of land and building a farm, turning their yard into an edible landscape or planting herbs in a windowsill, many of us are trying to find our way back to the dirt. To pick something we grew and eat it. To nurture all the many wonderful parts of us, body, mind and soul. Many of those stories include my own predicament. Not having enough time.

Today as my husband and I walk around our farm we continue to add to the laundry list of projects we would like to complete this season. So far we’ve moved the culvert/driveway over the irrigation ditch that runs the whole length of our property. The driveway gets graveled tomorrow and they take out the old culvert. That will allow us to build the pole barn we’re planning and put the front porch on the farmhouse, where the driveway used to hug against the house. The orchard needs irrigation and the old chicken coop needs to be transformed into the turkey coop, along with a serious cleaning. Then, there is the garden. How do we pull it off working fulltime jobs? That is the million dollar question.

That is, it was the question until I started listening to folks in my circle. They want to garden, but don’t have a) the land/yard, b) the expertise, or c) fill in the blank. I have a) land, b) some expertise and c) a place folks like to gather and bring their kids when they need some out of town time. I don’t have a) time. Not to do all the things I want to. Perfect problems to have right? So this year we are trying something a little different at the farm, and I recommend it to all of you who have similar desires and issues.

 

Community Garden in Spring at Grant Farms

Community Garden in Spring at Grant Farms

We are starting a community garden. Several friends/families will be spending some time on the farm weekly to help in the garden. As a result, we all get to share in the bounty. If someone wants to grow something particular, we have the room to accommodate. And, we don’t have to limit variety like they would if they kept the garden to their yard, raised bed or what have you. We will have a schedule of times folks can pick to come out, and as a community we can keep up with the weeding, the watering, the harvesting and even the preserving. It’s pretty exciting. And we get much needed assistance and it gets us closer to our vision of this space, as a place open to our friends and neighbors. Nice!

When we lived in town in a suburb there were plenty of us who gardened. We had discussed planting different things in our little plots that we could share/trade with each other. Had I stayed in town I don’t think it would have been long before we organized a neighborhood garden swap each week. We discussed coordinating fruit tree purchases and edible perrenials to cross pollinate and assist each other with expanding varieties. With the allowance of bees, chickens and now goats, the barter opportunities become endless. In Oakland California one woman, Novella Carpenter of Ghost Town Farm, took over an abandoned lot in her city neighborhood, next door to her apartment, and raised bees, vegetables, chickens, goats and rabbits. (However, she did find herself in a bit of a jam by not checking out certain ordinances in advance. They were eventually corrected. But, big headache.) 

 

Neighbors visiting the chickens

Neighbors visiting the chickens

So, if you have any of the above constraints or abundance, community gardening may be a way to address them. I can picture it evolving into neighborhood harvest suppers and kids having nature’s classrooms in their own backyard. Cool stuff!

If you participate in any community gardening, I’d love to hear your stories! Send them to Erica@farmingfortcollins.com or put them in the comments section below to share. Spring is here. I can feel it!!!

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