Monday, January 27, 2014

The Unseasonable Cold

I suppose we are paying for our mild winter last year, but gosh am I glad I didn't experiment with any fall fruit tree planting at our homestead this past November.  This winter is cold!  Very cold for our area!  So what is going on when temps are dipping down to 10 below zero at nights?  Is anything growing?  Is anything alive at all?

Here is a late January, below zero status update for Garden Dreams Urban Farm & Nursery:

Under row cover kale, lettuce and arugula are killed back to the stalk or growing tip, but the plants are still alive and should regrow in spring.  Kale was holding up well until I stripped all leaves for the chickens.

Mache is growing fine without any protection at all.  Mache is a hardy salad green that grows in rosettes.  It is mild and I think tastes a little like spinach.  The chickens prefer kale, those little prisses.

All 4 beehives are alive, though 2 hives have bee clusters at the top of the hive.  I am feeding them bee candy (hard sugar candy I make) in case it is too cold for them to move a few inches to the left or right, where I see they still have honey but may not be able to access it.  I am keeping the tops of the hives slightly propped up and the bottom board screens open for ventilation.  Last year I had some mold grow over winter, as the bee yard location is fairly shaded in the winter.  The bees cleaned it up immediately as soon as I increased ventilation. 

Winter ventilation:  The hole is a notch in the inner cover.  The outer cover is propped up so air and moisture can flow up and out through the hole.  Otherwise, moisture could condense inside the hive and rain back down on the bees, chilling them.
The chickens look miserable when nights are below zero and days stay in the single digits but they have no cold damage on their feet or combs as of yet and they are still enthusiastic about anything green I have for them to eat.  The formula for really cold nights is:  1) Throw down cracked corn around 4 pm so they run around and scratch for it, filling up with carbs for the night and getting a little exercise.  Part of their run is enclosed in plastic sheeting as a wind break as they love to be out there, even when it is in the teens like it was today. 2) If their waterer needs a fill-up I use warm water.  3) I leave ventilation open (pop door and roof vent) with no drafts blowing directly on them while they sleep 4) I don't use heat.  Some folks do and some don't, but I'm trying to no-heat approach.  If you regularly heat your coop as soon as the temperatures drop, your chickens don't feather out as fully with a winter coat of feathers.  Then, what if your power goes out or the bulb burns out on your heat lamp during an extremely cold night?  The birds will be unready to handle the cold.  Also, extended use of heat lamps in a wooden coop over bedding seems like a fire hazard.  I'm still learning, so I'll report back how all the birds do.  I didn't make those winter chicken tips up on my own, I learned them all from old-time chicken raisers.

Chicken foraging

Hmmm.  Feral cats seem to be patrolling the garden.  I can tell by their snowy paw print trails.  There are lots of nooks for them to sleep in, and although they are a nuisance sometimes, there isn't a rodent to speak of around to try to move in on the chicken feed.  The feed bags in the storage shed are another issue.  Those have to be in trash bins as no cats can get in the shed but mice can!

As for the homestead, we don't have anything planted yet beside berries and no critters yet, so nothing is growing under snow cover.  If we can get through the negative 6 tonight with no pipes freezing, I'll be happy.  Our bathtub faucet will be left on a trickle.  Don't ask me how I know we should do that when it dips below zero.  Stay warm, all.

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