Continued Dry and Warm

July 14, 2015

It would appear that summer has arrived here in North Idaho. Of course it officially arrived on June 21st, but the last few weeks we have been experiencing 90 degree temperatures. Normally June can be counted on to be one of the rainiest months of the year. So far, that just isn’t  the case. Our last serious rainfall was May 25th and we had about 10 minutes of rain last week. Yesterday we had a lovely downpour that was dried off the streets in about 20 minutes.

I bring this up because of the Old Farmer’s Almanac. I have been reading it and referring to it for about 15 years. In  the past the OFA has been pretty accurate. But not this year. June 1-9 showed showers and cool north if we go by the Intermountain Map, and showers & cool if we go by the Pacific Northwest map. Both are wrong. In fact, based on what I have noticed from year to year the accuracy is changing. It’s hot and dry out there! So what happened?

The Old Farmer’s Almanac has been around since 1792. That is a long time! The publication has a ton of interesting and useful information, folk lore, customs, cultural information and some fun features. It also has what’s going on astronomically every day of the year. That is my personal favorite. But when it comes to weather, the almanac is only about 80% accurate. While the OFA writes that their weather predictions are based on a highly guarded mathematical formula, most people can arrive at a fairly accurate weather prediction of their own by keeping track of average temperatures & dates, and whether we are in an el nino or el nina cycle. This information can be found on the web. And of course “there is an app for that” giving those with phone access to the web and up to date weather report.

It’s July 14th today and we have finally be gun to cool down from those three weeks of 90 degree temperatures. Because I have so many things in the hopper right now I was late getting my garden in. By late I mean the first week of June. But guess what? This warmer soil, hot temperatures and lots of water are germinating the seeds faster and my garden is responding faster. In fact everything is growing so fast! Even the Autumn Beauty sunflowers have begun to bloom. So beautiful.

The long range forecast for the inland Pacific Northwest is continued drier and less than average moisture well into winter 2015-2016. This may be great for summer activity enthusiasts, but it is bad for farmers, hay farmers, forest conditions, huckleberry pickers, skiers & boarders, and people on a city water meter.

I know these blogs would be much more interesting with images so I will try to get some up soon. In the mean time, enjoy the sunshine, periodic down pours and


February 6, 2015

If January is garden planning month, then February is “put those plans into action” month. 

In January I got out the graph paper and planned my vegetable garden for summer 2015. I was careful to make a plan that rotated crops from the last two years so I can keep pests under control. I have rotated the garden every year for the last seven years. That combined with letting my chickens clean the space of bugs and grubs in both fall and spring, letting the two horses clean up any plant and vegetable leftovers in the fall as well as fertilize the ground, has lead to spectacular success year after year.
Throughout each spring, summer, and fall I build my compost pile and it is a big one. I add chicken and horse manure all spring and summer. It continues to be turned in the heat. In the later fall I add about 5 pick up loads of leaves to the mix as well as grass clippings and usually there is some left over hay in there. It gets rained on and we keep scooping it together with the tractor. What a beautiful sight to see steam rolling off of this pile in the early morning sun. Then, as soon as the tractor can get into the garden we start dumping that compost in place. I usually have about seven large tractor buckets full. The compost gets tilled in and continues to be exposed to the elements. By the end of May, I am ready to plant in the dark brown rich earth. And I never have to use pesticides in the garden.

So while my compost is continuing to cook under the snow, I am in the green house choosing the seeds I want to plant this year and cleaning last years pots of dirt and debris. That job should have been done last fall, but, well….it is a farm.

Once the pots have been cleaned I know what I have for use in either summer long potted plants or how many small pots I have to start seeds in. it is great fun, planning! And before too long it will be time to get back into the garden!

Not everyone has access to the kind of compost, manure, and working animals I do. But that should not stop any of us from insuring the health of our garden. There are too many quality, organic, and /or natural amendment products on the shelves to allow for poor gardens.

nature's Intent         From the Earth

The CO-OP carries a wonderful organic, from the earth fertilizer out of Tonasket, Washington:

Pacific Calcium Nature’s Intent. The calcium based products from this company are taken right from the earth. And this particular type of organic fertilizer for both lawn and gardens is actually less expensive than most organics. It is worth the attention. Take a look:

All Purpose 7-2-4

All Purpose 7-2-4 is often used up to three times per year. It provides a slow release nitrogen that lasts up to three months. It also provides calcium for cell wall and crown development. Applied at 15 lb. per 1000 sq. ft., the 50 lb bag can provide three treatments to a 20′ x 50′ garden through the year at a retail cost of about $35 total! Organic! There just is no reason to spend a fortune fertilizing your yard and garden organically!

Calpril Granulated Limestone

Granulated Limestone is another all purpose. It supplies calcium at 36%. It raises the ph, sweetening the soil, and helps break up clay. This form of calcium is particularly beneficial in reducing Blossom End Rot in tomatoes.   It retails for about $15 / 50 lb.

Rock Phosphate

Rock Phosphate provides phosphate and calcium to the soil which aids in root growth and plant development. Quality of the fruit increases and one will notice that fruits and vegetables grown with organic fertilizers will have much less water content- they are not so prone to rot as common grocery store fruits and vegetables. A grocery store apple will usually develop brown spots and rot. But an organically, home grown apple will just sit on the counter and begin to shrivel. (Yes- we have done the experiments.)  Rock Phosphate retails for about $33 for the 50 lb. bag.

Fish Bone Meal

Fish Bone Meal is exactly what it says and is an alternative to steamed bone meal.  it is 100% Natural and OMRI approved. Fish bone meal is particularly good for the production of bulbs and root crops. It  comes in 50 lb. bags and retails for about $34.00

Granulated Gypsum

Granulated Gypsum is best known for loosening heavy soils. While nutrients are usually present in heavy soils like clay, plant roots cannot penetrate the soil to reach them. Granulated Gypsum , when turned into the soil helps to permeate the ground. It is a natural source of calcium and sulfur. While good for sodic soils, it does not change the ph. Granulated Gypsum application rate is 5lb. / 1000  sq. Ft. The 50 lb. bag Retails for about $17.00

Stop spending a fortune on organic fertilizers for your yard & garden. Get Nature’s Intent At the CO-OP!

Winter on the Farm

The garden is put to bed, the horses have donned their winter coats, the canning is finished and it is time to slow down here in the north Idaho/western Montana area. Well, for some folks. Winter on the farm is a little different.

Those of us who have animals know they require just as much attention in the winter months as in other seasons. Our horses and cattle, goats and sheep must have the proper forage foods and clean, available water as in other seasons.  Sometimes that means dealing with the occasional frozen hose or hydrant.These days most folks have traded in the old faucet/heat tape combo for frost free hydrants. I have used both and frankly, I was thrilled the day we went to all frost free on the farm. My dad was relentless in his water planning. We have frost free hydrants in the barn and the chicken house. And I hate dealing with frozen hoses so much that I unhook and hang them up to drain after each use all winter.

This year my chicken flock was joined by two Pekin ducks. They were the last two left after chick days and I like ducks so I took them. Both turned out to be males which was a bit of a surprise, but even more so, they turned out to be guard ducks. Not only will they engage any dog that intrudes into their territory, they also break up fights between hens and roosters alike. Who knew?

I have had ducks before and overwintered Pekins as well as regular mallards. But Pekins have a habit of turning the area surrounding a  water fountain into a swamp. That is OK during the summer, but in the winter it can make a real mess in the chicken house. So this year I gave them their own open water space. The chicken house already has a sand floor so I just built that up with more course gravel, with small rock as a top layer. The water pan goes on top of that with a heat lamp overhead to keep it from freezing. We are now three weeks into this project and so far, no swamp! It is draining great! The chickens have their own water fountain on the other side of the house.
This year in September we had a garden wide freeze at the farm and it took out the tomatoes as usual. I had been told that I could just pull up those tomato vines and hang them inside the greenhouse and the fruit would continue to ripen. It is true. However, damaged fruit will also continue to rot. So, in the future, I may use this method but will remove any fruit with any freeze damage. But the better way is to hang the vines before they are frosted. I have done that successfully and had ripe tomatoes well into early December.  

Also new this winter is my greenhouse experiment with growing beet greens. When I put my beets in the root cellar I noticed that a couple of them continued to send out leaves. So I planted them in the greenhouse and they are doing great, producing tasty leaves under the grow lights. The beet roots are fairly large, about 4″ at the widest point. I look forward to seeing how long they continue to grow. And I wound up with three very vigorous eggplants. They bloomed in the greenhouse but failed to fruit up. Still, they are healthy right now, just drinking up the sun and growing well. It will be interesting to set them out next summer and see what they do.

Birch Creek Farm is always running an experiment of some sort. We finally won the battle of bare root tree deaths. Birch Creek is on very sandy soil. So without a lot of mulch and extra soil to hold the water, a bare root tree just will not take. So, we started putting bare roots in 5 gallon buckets of dirt from the mulch mountain and leaving them in it all summer to create a decent root ball. We have not lost a new tree in three years. (Note: these buckets DO have drainage holes. Very important.)

As we move into the true winter months we will be keeping an eye on wildlife habits and threats to the farm. I saw an owl in broad daylight the other day and coyotes continue to move ever closer to a unsuspecting meal. As farmers we have to learn to live with the wildlife around us and respect it. So, we will provide a little corn for the turkeys and some suet for the birds. Deer and elk will try to get at the hay and the salt lick.  They have already eaten what cornstalks and pumpkins we had out for decoration. We will likely find a moose in the corral one day and promptly head the other direction. They are interesting but nothing to mess with. And we will continue to enjoy winter on the farm.


July 11, 2014

July 2014 : Dealing with the Broody Hen


Chickens are a staple of the small farm. They “talk” to us. They are where we get the social concept of “the pecking order” (who gets to rule the roost).  They give us eggs, manure for the garden, and a reason to go out and do that final check of the farm each evening when we shut them in for the night.

Anyone who has had a flock of chickens  for any length of time will eventually experience the broody hen.  She is easy to spot: she won’t leave the nest. Period. Or at least it looks that way. In reality she does leave the nest for food and water- just not when people are around. She is nesting and cannot be swayed from this effort.  She will sit there until she produces a chick. This can be a good thing.

New baby chicks can cost anywhere from $2-3 each in the spring time. Once purchased, baby chicks need food and water continually and special chick starter food. They need to be kept warm with a heat lamp during the cooler seasons and sometimes, for no apparent reason, they die. A farmer can be into this project for $50 quicker than you can say “Oh, honey….they are so cute!”

If you have a broody hen and you want to add birds to your flock, let her set. If you have roosters, the eggs she is setting on  are likely fertilized. I would remove her from the rest of the flock to a space with a covered nesting box. If she continues to be broody, giver her 4 eggs you know to be no more than 1 day old. Mark the date down in a notepad and count 21 days – that is the due date. make sure the hen has food and water.  Then go on about your farming business.

On the due date check the hen for babies. You don’t even have to touch her. You will hear the unmistakable sound of “peeping” the moment you enter the room if any have hatched. Baby chicks hatch with the yolk sack still inside which they consume for the first two days. After that, they need food and water so make sure the feeders and waterers are short enough for new chicks to use. The hen will show them how to drink and eat. In fact for this purpose I use a shallow baking pan and just dump some chick starter in it and it doesn’t even have to be medicated.The hen and the chicks will all just jump in there and eat all they want. After about a week, if you can safely turn the hen and babies out into a fenced space/yard, the hen will teach the babies to “scratch” for food. They will follow her around and go under her if they sense any danger. Just FYI: should a snake appear looking for a meal, the hen will make very quick work of it. At the end of the day, the hen and her babies will go back into their space and sleep for the night. You need only shut them in. 

By the time the chicks are 3 -4 weeks of age their mother will have already taught them to roost so be sure and have a bar of wood fixed up off the floor for this purpose. A simple piece of 2″ x 2″ will work fine. If the new family can stay in their space for several months, until the chicks are full grown, this would be the time to introduce them to the rest of the flock. Watch for any chickens who try to hurt the new babies. Sometimes this attacking behavior only lasts until they all get to know each other. However, any repeat offenders go to the butcher. There is no good reason to put up with mean chickens.hen and babies 2014

This early summer, between three hens I have 11 new baby chicks. That is enough to replace any laying hens and odds are some of the chicks are males so they will go to the freezer for winter.

I hope this has helped those of you who are dealing with broody hens. It is easy once you get the hang of it. And really kind of fun! If you have any questions just email Kathy at roundupadvertising@