Monday, April 13, 2009


I just picked up our first rabbits! This is a pregnant doe, mixed breed, with 4 babies. She is due May 4. She isn't of the New Zealand breed that I would prefer, but she is still a good size and will get us started. I'll keep her in the hutch until she has her new babies and weans them.

Here is one of the babies from her current litter. These babies are 4 weeks old and will be weaned in another week. They will go in a pen to eat fresh grass and get lots of sunshine and exercise.

Another baby from her litter.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Planting Potatoes

Liam and Hope helped me plant another row of potatoes today. I have 100 lbs. of Red Pontiac and 50 lbs. of Kennebec. I'm planting this bed using the "lazy" or straw method. I tilled the soil to about 6 inches and formed mounds for the rows. Then placed each seed piece on the mound and pressed into the soil about an inch. They should be spaced 12 inches apart, but I spaced them at 6 inches. I will thin around July for an early crop of small potatoes. Then I covered them with 4 inches of straw. Straw promotes healthy plant growth, smothers weeds and protects tubers from turning green in the sunlight. The straw also acts as a mulch to keep the soil moist. Later, as the potato plants emerge, I will add another 4 to 6 inches of straw.

In September, I will begin harvesting clean, soil-free potatoes. I'll pull back the straw, take what I need and carefully replace the straw. After fall frosts when the vines die back, my main potato crop will be ready.

I like the straw method because the potatoes are soil-free, it's easy and no spuds are damaged by digging. I trade a friend eggs for the straw, so it is a very cheap way to grow potatoes.

I also want to build raised beds along the front of our yard where I'm putting this row. So this fall, I'll rake the straw in place, build several raised beds around the straw, and then add leaves. Over the winter, it will decompose and next spring I'll have nice garden soil in the beds, ready for planting.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Review and Beginning

When my wife and I moved to West Virginia 5 years ago to open a Bed & Breakfast, we envisioned one day growing and raising most of our own food for our guests and our family. We've tried many approaches to this goal, and had many successes, and setbacks, along the way. But we have learned a lot about farming in a mountainous environment. We own 16 acres along with our lodge, about 3/4 is wooded and every bit of it is rocky. I've made many compost piles and hauled a lot of manure from neighboring farms and, eventually, from our animals. We relied on the advice of old time farmers and friends, websites, blogs and books. Along the way, we wanted to start a blog, a farming journal, but didn't get to it right away. Now that I'm starting it, I thought a good beginning would be to review what we have tried and what we are starting this year with.

One of the first gardens beds we started was our raised beds for strawberries. These are June bearers and were started in the Fall of '07. Last year they gave us a wonderful crop of the most delicious berries. I plan to expand our strawberry beds and include both everbearers and June bearers.

We also planted sunflowers along the wall, and carrots (Danver Half Longs) in the clay pots

We have started an orchard with 6 apple trees (Wolfriver, Golden Delicious, Yellow Transparent and Red Rome), 3 pear trees (Honeysweet, Moonglow and Delicious), 2 cherry trees (Montmorency and Surecrop Pie), 2 nectarine trees (Royal Giant and Crimson Snow), and 3 peach trees (Redhaven and Delicious). We have 12 Heritage raspberry bushes, 6 thornless blackberries, 12 concord grapes, 6 seedless grapes (various varieties), 20 blueberry bushes (I like blueberries!), rhubarb and asparagus. All of these have been started in the last 2 years and are growing very well. Our biggest concern here is deer damage. I have to cover everything with wire and netting to keep the deer away. Every year I have tried to dwindle the deer population during hunting season, and every year there are more deer than before. The other day, Jorene and I saw 20 deer in the woods behind our house. This year is going to be challenging. I'll keep you posted with our progress.

Last year we also started raising animals. We started with chickens for meat and eggs and hogs. We raised 60 cornish rocs for 7 weeks. When we butchered them I had lost 5, so we were down to 55. We enlisted the aid of some friends to butcher them one day. All 55 chickens were cleaned and packaged for the freezer that day. By the end of the day I didn't mind that we had lost 5 chickens. It was a very long day and I don't think we will butcher that many in one day again. Thankfully our friends are still talking to us after that long day.

We also started 31 hens and 3 roosters. We only wanted 1 rooster, but they are so hard to tell when they are a day old. Today we have 28 hens and the 3 roosters. 3 hens were lost to the extremely cold winter here. This spring we will cull the hens and take out any that aren't laying. As for the roosters, there is 1 Black Australorp rooster whose days are numbered. He is a mean one and has tried to spur me several times. The other 2 (a Silver Laced Wyandot and a Barred Rock) we will keep to try to fertilize some of the hens. Our hens are a mixture of Barred Rocks, Silver Laced Wyandots, Ameraucanas, Black Australorps and Golden Comets.

My greatest joy, and frustration, was in raising 3 pigs. In February, we bought three 8 week old piglets to raise to butcher weight. After several months of very little weight gain and sky rocketing feed prices, we learned that we should give them deworming medicine once a month. We also added a self -feeder for the corn and pig nuggets. I don't know if this is all necessary, I just know that once we made these changes, they gained weight. In addition to the feed, the pigs were given garden and table scraps (vegetables, fruit and leftover breads). I guess what frustrated us the most was the feed prices, which doubled in July from the March prices. In the future I plan to get the pigs later in the year, so we will have more garden and orchard scraps available for free. I also would like to fence in some of our fields for hogs. One field in particular has hickory nut trees, which I gathered the nuts last year for them.

My first year of raising animals has moved me closer to the idea of pasturing our animals. This year we plan to utilize mobile pens for the chickens and rabbits (chicken and rabbit tractors). We also are planning to get turkeys from a friend who is incubating eggs, which we will pasture with mobile fencing. Pasturing offers the animals a greater variety of nutrients in their diet as well as fresh air, sunshine, bugs and exercise while they provide fertilizer to the grasses.