Monday, October 29, 2012

When one door closes, another one opens...

For over a decade, John and I raised sheep and goats for their fiber.  As those of you who have followed us over the years know, in 2009 we decided to expand our farm into a commercial venture, but soon found ourselves trying to raise things we thought the public would want.  In doing so, we weren't true to ourselves or our farm.  Too many of those things didn't grow well here, they needed consistent rainfall, different soils, and more intensive management - not an easy task when we also have full time jobs.  Not always growing what we are familiar with led too many times to wasting food we didn't know how to prepare, nor did we ever have enough of what we did like.  Toss in the time needed to tend to livestock management, and it just became too much to handle. 

It was time to start working smarter and not harder!  With that epiphany, our focus changed and we officially closed the farm business earlier this month..  Now we will be farming always with the our TABLE in mind.  The only livestock we'll manage going forward are chickens and  honeybees.  

With the closing of Laingcroft Farm LLC (the business) we needed a new farm name -- Girandole Farm.   If you wish to follow along with us on our new path, feel free to follow along at the new blog .... 

Thank you!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bad Broody!!!

So sad today.   Went out this morning to check on the penned birds and found the two peeps huddled together in the nest crate...dead.   After chasing the Lebar broody off the nest last week, the Leghorn cross decided she was tired of brooding the chicks and slept on the perch with the others last night, leaving the chicks to fend for themselves.  Of course it was only 57 degrees overnight.

Luckily, five more Legbar eggs are going into lockdown in the bator tonight.  I'm definitely not trusting this group again with brooding their own.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

First Legbar Peeps!

Two of the girls in the Legbar breeding pen decided to go broody and hatch some eggs.   They hatched out four but two didn't survive the cooler night temps we've recently experienced.  There are also six more eggs in the bator set to hatch on Monday.  So far they are all still alive. 

This is Legbar, the rooster with two of his ladies.  The hen to the left is a cream legbar, the hen on the bottom a silver leghorn/EE cross.

The leghorn cross is the second broody in this batch.  She lays white eggs which we removed from the nest.

And the cream legbar hen, Lily, puffed up and trying to intimidate the!  She has warned the chicks to take cover, which they did under the Rubbermaid lid in their "play area."

Saturday, August 11, 2012

If only it were the lazy days of summer...

Wow!  Time has certainly flown this year.  So much has occurred since my last post THREE months ago!!!  Culinary classes have been such fun.  I've taken seafood, cooking science, entree salad and summer soup classes already with meat, Moroccan, puff pastry and sugar art classes already registered.   Can't wait!   Tonight we are making fresh tuna steaks with a basil-lemon-olive oil marinade.   The basil was fresh from the garden of course :)   Yummmmmm...

The bees are doing well but we won't have any honey this year.   They have almost finished filling the foundation in the second hive body.  With all the hot, dry weather we've had in July, we've had to feed them pollen patties.    Luckily the past few days have blessed us with rain.  At least they have plenty of water.

Many of the fruits and veggies didn't survive the late June, July droughts.  We are planning to re-organize our water supply system.   Rain barrels will be supplemented by a new cistern.    Flowers did well as you can see.

The figs too are doing well.   Tomorrow I will be making fig preserves.

The chickens are growing well.   This is El Cid, our egg flock rooster, a Euskal Oilak (Basque Chicken.)   Love this breed, they are so friendly and docile.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Third Hive Inspection

Today was sunny and gorgeous, perfect weather for my third hive inspection.   As usual, I was little nervous at first, but it is amazing how "docile" these bees are.  Sure their buzzing increases in volume when I take out a frame full of brood and they all fly up and about, but no one stings.   And the girls are doing fantastic.  They are averaging construction of two frames per week; next Sunday I will need to add more foundation with a second hive body.   Lots of capped brood too - the queen is busy.    Of course the field bees have one main focus, gathering nectar and pollen.   I tried to get a photo but they move too fast so I took a few seconds of video instead.   I was able to stand within a foot of the side of the hive without being bothered.  Loved the last bee in the video; she left the hive so fast she flipped over before takeoff.

I don't know where they go.  I expected they would be all over the wildflower border directly west of the hive, but it seems to be more attractive to butterflies.  I haven't seen many bees in the clover either, but I have seen more than usual.   I left the clover as long as I could, but the grass eventually got too tall to ignore.   We'll see how they like the echinacea when it blooms next.

It was also a perfect day to get the young silkies out on grass.    The two pictured below are from show stock.   I think one is a boy and the other a girl.  I've named the girl "Priscilla" and the boy is "Chardonnay."  Chardonnay is the bigger of the two.

Our mouser had to get in on the act too.   Supervising.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Back to school

We all have those lottery wishes right?  Plans for what we would do with the winnings.  One of the things I've always dreamed of doing was travel to France for cooking school; the real deal, the kind of school that teaches EVERYTHING.  But that was just a dream.  The reality involved reading every book in three libraries and collecting hundreds of cookbooks.  I even went so far as to research "professional" cooking schools nearby (there are none) and considered going back to school full time in the local community college's hospitality degree program.  But who can afford to quit working and go back to school when you have a family to raise and a farm to run too?  So onto a back burner went my dream until that far off someday when (if) I win that lottery or retire.  Well guess what - someday has arrived!

Last week I discovered a program that's been developing quietly over the past decade or so.  Unbeknownst to me, the University of Richmond offers a Culinary Arts program as part of its School of Professional & Continuing Studies.  It's not a degree program but it does have similar guidelines and provides SafeServ certification.  Best of all, the classes are held in the evening, after work.  Here's a link for those interested:  Culinary Arts Program

I'd forgotten how much life is enriched when you have a passion for something.  And let's face it, cooking offers instant gratification unlike waiting years to see how your livestock breeding program progresses or the weeks between sowing and harvesting.    I also learned so much in my first class that I can't wait for the next one.  Of course this means I'll probably be expanding our recipe section on the farm website!

Monday, April 30, 2012

The Bees Be Hived

On Friday night I received the email I've been anticipating and dreading at the same time; the packages of bees were scheduled to arrive on Monday, April 30th at 3:00 p.m. (today).  So I went off to work work with nerves on edge and a plan.  I would take some leave time and head home at noon which should give me plenty of time to get the hive set up, pick up the bees, install them and make it over to the high school to pick up my youngest at 6:00.   Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans...

I need to back track a little bit here.   As those of you who follow this blog know, my hive arrived on Thanksgiving morning with the in-laws.   I opened the boxes, pulled out everything that would need to be stained and sealed then packed the frames with plastic cell foundation back into the box, which was promptly forgotten.  In February I took my class where I ordered one package and one nuc as recommended.  We were told the packages should arrive some time in April and the nucs in May.  Now as you all know, taxes are due on April 15th and for those of us in Virginia, state taxes are due May 1.  Obviously, there was a lot to be done in April.  Swapping the plastic foundation for wax crimp wire foundation went to the bottom of the to do list. 

Now back to today.   I am one of the carpentry challenged so on the way home from work I stopped at Home Depot for wood glue and 5/8" brads to replace those I would inevitably bend or break when I swapped the foundation. Then I remembered we needed milk (and I bet you can see where this is going...) so my one hour commute turned into two hours.   By the time I got home I had exactly one hour to swap eight frames of foundation before I had to pick up the bees.   Then I pulled out the first frame.  Wait a minute, didn't the instructor say there was a little bar you have to pull off?  These frames were completely "solid" with the foundation set in groves.   Short of breaking the frames apart there was no way I could see to remove the plastic foundation.   It is now 2:30.   Maybe one of the guys from the club can tell me how to do it.

I pack the frame and box of crimp wire wax foundation into the car and head over to the pick up point.  This is where I learned things were about to get ugly.  The frames that came with my kit are absolutely the wrong kind to use with the all wax foundation.   Here I am with a three pound box of unhappy bees in my car and I have to find the right frames NOW.    Off to Hertzlers I go with fingers crossed.
Package of unhappy honeybees

As luck would have it, Hertzlers had just received an order of bee supplies.   And I mean JUST.   Everything was still banded and they were checking it in.   Previously they carried Dadant supplies (pre-packaged) but these were bundled in individual parts from Mann Lake.   Did I mention this year is the first time Hertzlers has carried bee supplies?   My luck must have been truly in; another beekeeper was picking up his hives and helped us figure out what parts went with what.  It was now 4:00 and the bees were waiting, impatiently I'm sure.

I managed to prepare three pathetic frames - glue oozed everywhere, I bent about six nails and split two bottom rails before I finally worked out a system for assembly.  There is an art to hold everything in place while also holding a nail and hammering it in place, darn tiny nails!  Lesson learned...tap the nails in enough to hold them in place before assembly so they "self hold."  Yeah, I know you carpentry competent people are saying "Duh," right now.  Anyway, by the time I finished the eighth frame, it was time to head to the high school.   The poor bees were still outside waiting on me. 

Finally - ready, set, go...
Finally, at 7:00 this evening I was able to get the lid on the hive but not without more issues.  The cork on the queen cage wouldn't budge; I had to dig and break apart some of the screening over the candy and place her cage on the slatted bottom board of the hive. I'm still not sure there is even a queen in there - two of the bees in there were dead and I can't tell if one was the queen or not.  At e bees are all swarming unhappily and its starting to get darker (the day is overcast to begin with).  At this point, the bees are buzzing angrily and I just dumped them in the hive, half of them that is.  The other half refused to come out of the package.   I didn't want to keep banging it on the hive as it was distressing those clustered around the queen cage, so I just set it in front of the hive and inserted the feeder.  Hopefully they find their way inside and the feeder doesn't leak all over the place.

In spite of all my clumsy handling, I DIDN'T GET STUNG.  NOT ONCE!  And now I have my first hive of bees in place.  Yay!


Friday, March 23, 2012

Last Hatch for Spring 2012

I've just set the last batch of eggs for the Spring of 2012, all from Virginia breeders.   In twenty one days I hope to see the eggs hatch into Silkies in white and lavender from Dylan's Silkies and Blue/Black/Splash from a hobby breeder in Summerduck, VA.  And let's not forget French Black Copper Marans sired by a Bev Davis rooster from Shady Lane Farm.

From earlier hatches I have several nice cockerels and a trio of Euskal Oliak (Basque Hens) chicks available.    You can see them, along with our bunnies, at the Powhatan Chicken swap at the Tractor Supply store on Route 60, in Powhatan.  One of the pullets is pictured below.

Until then, I hope everyone is able to enjoy the lovely (and HOT!) weather we've been having!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saint Paddy's Day Swap

Had a great time at the Midlothian TSC Chicken swap today.   Found great homes for four of my bunnies and brought home some chickens.

Picked up some nice Delaware Peeps from Nina's Hideaway Farm.  They look great and I can't wait to see how they mature.  From Taby/Harter and Taby/Whitmore lines.

Also picked up a really cute Partridge Showgirl now named 'Vegas.'  Don't know if its a male or female, but it is really cute.

Vegas Closeup
And last, but certainly not least, a Silkie x Sussex (cockerel?) we've named 'Frankie' after Frank Sinatra (Vegas and Frankie...get it?  LOL)

Frankie (in back) and Vegas (in front)

Monday, February 27, 2012

Current Plantings

On the veggie front, mixed lettuce, Russian Red Kale and Tatsoi is started in the greenhouse.  Can't wait for those first succulent greens of spring.    Beets (one for tops, one for root) are also started along with peas.   The asparagus look like they'll be coming up soon too.   MMmmmm! - grilled with a little olive oil, sprinkled with lemon and S&P or perhaps with hollandaise???   Decisions, decisions, decisions.  

Peep Progress

The January hatch is now outside in the coop without heat lamps.  Fully feathered and looking nice.  I think my mystery chick is a cockerel.  The first hatched leghorn cross is probably also a cockerel - judging by the large red pea comb he's sporting; however, his feather pattern is silver hen with patches of white.

The February hatch is in the final stages of feathering.  The two groups of Euskal Oiloa are looking pretty good.  Variety of color and pattern on these birds is simply gorgeous.  I can't wait to see what they look like in a few more weeks.  Based on feather colors it looks like I have about four cockerels with the remainder pullets.  Hopefuly I will know for certain before the TSC Swap in Midlothian on March 10th.

Here is a picture of the older peeps followed by a picture of the peep four days younger.

The Serama are doing well too.  Variety of sizes and colors.  Here is a picture taken last weekend when they were only a week old.  Two tiny and two small.

As for my last hatch, the eggs are at the half way mark.  Only one silkie egg looks like it is developing, the remaining four have separated air sacks and did not develop.  The same thing happened with the Holland eggs.  I am so disappointed but there is a chance I'll be able to find another half dozen Holland eggs this summer.  This breed is so rare right now it is crucial that anyone who can, try to save them.

The Silver Ameraucana, Bearded Buff Laced Polish and Black Langshan eggs are all progressing nicely.   Lockdown in one week.  This will be my last hatch until the chickens reach point of lay in late summer, early autumn or perhaps next spring.

My layer flock chicks from McMurray will arrive at the end of March; then it is a wait until the chicks are old enough (4 months) for the Pullorum and AI tests.     A pair (or trio) of Serama youngsters (6 months more or less) should also arrive sometime in May.  Can't wait!

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Seeds are In

Last night we recieved three inches of wet, heavy snow which's time to start thinking about starting those vegetable seeds.   For the 2012 growing season we will plan Blue Lake snap beans, Green Arrow shelling peas, Tatsoi, Red Russian Kale, Beets for both greens and root, Italian frying peppers, White Wonder and Marketmore 76 cukes, King Sieg leeks and Galeux d'Eysines winter squash.  We've reduced our selection of tomatoes four (unless Ramapo arrives in time) - Tropic, Sophie's Choice, Black Plum (paste tomato) and Japanese Black Truffle.  Also for this year, for the first time, we are planting Okra - Hill Country Heirloom Red and Alabama Red.   As usual we will have a nice variety of basils, including Lime, as well as sunflowers.   Unfortunately we were unable to order our garlic in time so we will not have any this year.

The January hatch is growing well and acclimating to the outdoors with the help of a heat lamp for those really cold nights.  Soon we will be able to figure out which are male and which are female.   Two of the splash Marans do not have leg feathering; they will be for sale - male or female.   The February chicks are growing like gangbusters and just feathering out.  Below is a picture of two chicks hatched on the same date:  a Euskal Oiloa (large) and a tiny Serama.

Our last hatch is four days into set in the incubator.   Unfortunately the Barred Holland eggs do not appear to be developing at all. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

February Hatch Has ARRIVED!

The February hatch has arrived!  Nine Euskal Oiloa peeps, five lavender Ameraucana, two EE mixes and four Serama.   One little Serama almost didn't make it.  He was the last to arrive during the night and when I checked the incubator this morning, I found him upside down and stuck to the mat.  Poor baby!  After carefully moistening the mat to un-stick him, he had trouble finding his feet.   With a little help from a circle of eggs, he learned how to use those legs.  Finally, he is in the brooder with his siblings.   I call him the fourth Musketeer.

First Three Serama chicks hatched 2-10-12

Fourth Musketeer on the far left.

Brooder full of peeps.

"This food is mine, all mine!"

Serama Peep

First hatched Serama - the peep with attitude!
Lavender Ameraucana Day Old Peep
Euskal Oiloa (Basque Hen) Day Old Peep

The January hatch chicks have moved to their new digs too.   The gang loved having all that room to move around.   For some reason they ignored the feeder to scratch in the bedding.  Silly chicks!    Some of them have developed good sized, red colored combs.  I  suspect they are roosters but we'll have to wait and see.  The two clean legged splash marans chicks (I think one is a hen, one a roo) will be available at the first Powhatan TSC Swap meet on March 31st.   See you there!

Clean Legged Splash Marans Pullet

Splash Marans (clean leg cockerel in front) and Silver Leghorn/EE pullets.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Quest for the Perfect Tomato

When January rolls around it's time for the annual search for the tomato of my childhood memories; a big, soft, deep red beauty just bursting with that tangy tomato flavor.  For years I've remembered it as the Rutgers tomato (hybridized in 1934 by Rutgers agricultural college, now University) and every year I've planted seeds only to be disappointed at harvest.  Don't get me wrong, the Rutgers hybrid is a nice tomato, but it isn't quite THE tomato I remember.  So every winter, I pore over the catalog descriptions, study the photos and order a few likely prospects in the heirloom category in hopes of finding a suitable substitute for THE one.  I've found some great tomatoes along the way - Brandywine, Japanese Truffle, Black Krim and Persimmon - but none of them were IT.

I've also tried the local and wildly popular Hanover tomato, but I just don't get it.  Perhaps it is because I'm a Jersey (tomato) girl at heart; the Hanover, while meaty and succulent, doesn't even come close to the best in flavor for me.  The skin is a tad bit tougher than I like too.  I guess that's not a bad thing since we're growing in Powhatan soils, not Hanover soils, which according to enthusiasts is the raison d'etre (le terroir mon cherie! a.k.a. location, location, location) for their tomatoes.  Therefore, I can't really grow true Hanovers anyway.

This year I decided to do a little internet surfing and stumbled on the Jersey Tomato Project .  YES!!!  Ramapo, it has to be Ramapo!  This tomato looks exactly like I remember and the softness of the fruit is even listed as a flaw --- Ha!  Not a flaw in my book!  The clincher?  It was hybridized in 1968 by...drum roll please...Rutgers!  Much to my chagrin, it may not be possible to get seeds this year, but you'd better believe I'm on the waiting list!

Here's to the Jersey Tomato!

Monday, January 16, 2012


The little monsters are growing like weeds.  Today was Marek's vaccination day.  It looks easier to do than it actually is.   The peeps are soooo tiny.

At six days old their wing feathers are starting to come in and I'm getting a hint of how they will look.   The splash marans peeps vary from soft buttercream color to heavier blue penciling. 

Splash Marans peep showing light penciling of wings.

Splash Marans peep with deeper blue in wings.

Leghorn cross with fuzzy cheeks.  I think this may be an EE cross too.

Mystery chick.
The daddy of my mystery chick is a silver duckwing leghorn roo but I have no idea who its momma may be.  I have one black australorp and one gold penciled black hen.   With the copper patch above this chick's eye, I'm leaning toward the gold penciled hen.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Happy Hatch Day

It seemed forever in coming but it eventually did -- Hatch Day.    I started with 34 eggs, set 27, locked down 20 and now I have ten peeps in the brooder.   On the assumption (from internet research) that serama eggs only take 19 days to hatch, I added those three days after the others.  None of them have pipped yet.   Since all of the hatchlings have been moved to the brooder, the incubator is going into another lock down in hopes that the serama eggs will still hatch.  In the meantime, enjoy the pictures!
First pip & zip

Almost there!

Finally made it.  Welcome to the world little chicken.

Fuzzy butts in the brooder.
Silver leghorn cross

I love when they suddenly fall asleep, even standing up.
No, not dead --- just soaking up the rays!

Pretty blue color on this blue splash marans chick.