The Yardstead - Farm Your Yard!

Well according to the groundhog we will have 6 more weeks of winter.  We can't express our disappointment enough.  Here at the yardstead, we have spring fever and really want to get some vegetables planted.  We know there are still lots of vegetables we can plant...but we (mostly Kathleen) can't wait to get the tomatos, squash, corn, zuchinni, and gourds in the ground!  I did get sugar snap peas (about a 25 foot row) planted this weekend.  Here in North Florida we put our potatoes in the ground around Valentine's day.  So these little things will have to hold us over for a few more weeks.  I will just have to settle for starting some seeds indoors and patiently waiting for the last frost.  We are trying two new gourds (new for us) this year.  Apple gourds and large Speckled Swans.  The North Florida Research and Education Center in Quincy had a very large field of gourds planted last year.  We were lucky enough to get one apple and one speckled swan to take home and admire.  Of course, we now have to try these at home on the fence row.  We will also be trying our new winter melon seeds.  These will also be planted on the fence row as soon as it warms up.

Like the rest of the country we have seen colder than normal temps this winter.  We've had several hard freezes.  Our bamboo plants have suffered a bit.  We are really looking forward to the spring to see how quickly they recover.

Our ducks are sitting on a heaping nest of eggs.  We really hope this turns into a heaping pile of ducklings.  If so, we will post lots of pictures.  The chickens have weathered the winter well enough.  A few still managed to lay eggs through the colder periods and we have not had to buy any eggs this winter.  We have two new roosters given to us by friends.  Really pretty roosters and I will get some pictures of those in the gallery soon.  I need to compare there pictures online to other roosters and try to figure out what breed they are.  If anyone sees the pictures and recognizes them...please feel free to post the name in the forum!

More updates and pictures to come as the weather warms.

 We have been raising turkeys here at the Yardstead since about the middle of May.  They are just over 6 months old now and fully grown.  We got them as 3 day old poults and raised them in with our chickens.  This is the first time we have kept turkeys and it's been really easy and a lot of fun.
We bought three baby turkeys called poults from our local feed store.  We kept them inside in a box for a couple of weeks.  The poults looked very similar to baby chickens but were slightly larger.  After a couple of weeks we moved the poults out to our chicken pen and put them in a small holding pen to protect them from the hens.   Turkey do well on chicken feed and we fed the baby turkeys layer crumbles. 
We have been raising chickens for years and the baby chicks always did a fair job of looking out for their selves.  Our baby chicks have a small shelter they instinctively use when the weather is bad.  We expected that the turkeys would do the same.  One night after the poults had been living outside for a couple of weeks, we had a hard rain.  It stopped raining a little after dark and I went outside to the chicken pen to check on the birds.  I shined the light on the holding pen and all three turkey were laying on the ground soaking wet.  I rushed them inside and Kathleen.....

We had a really nice Thanksgiving at the Yardstead.  We killed and prepared one of the turkeys we have been raising and it was delicious.  We have been rasing turkeys since May.  We purchased the poults (baby turkeys) at three days old from our local feed store.  We chose a hen for Thanksgiving and she weighed 20lbs live.  After being dressed out the turkey weighed 15lbs.  We killed and dressed the turkey on Thursday morning.  It took about an hour to have the turkey ready for cooking.  We cooked the turkey in a deep fryer and it turned out great.  We have another turkey we plan to cook for Christmas. 
I think we will definitely plan on getting more poults next year.  We only got three poults this year, since we had never raised turkeys before, but we may get a few more next year.  Overall the raising of the turkeys was fairly simple.  They were raised in our chicken pen along side the chickens and were fed with the chickens also.  They did well on the chicken feed and grew fast.

Each day as I drink coffee and watch the news, I am reminded why it is so important to have some self reliant habits.  It seems (and I'm not trying to be an alarmist) that the economy is really in that recession we've been in denial about.  Maybe...we are going into a depression.  No time like the present to start growing a few vegetables and keeping a few yard birds.

I just wanted to let our readers know that I am researching net making, and solar ovens.  I will hopefully get back to you with an article soon.  I'd like to have some photos of my trial and error with both soon.  So keep checking back and I promise to get it together shortly.

Now is the time to plant edible bulbs such as onions, garlic and shallots.  Get your bulbs planted now and you should have a delicious harvest early next summer.  There is a wide variety of edible bulbs available today from all over the world.  Have a look at garlic bulbs in any seed catalog and you will probably be amazed at the varieties available.  We have been planting garlic and onions here at the yardstead for the last several years with greta success.  We typically get the bulbs in the ground in early October and begin harvesting onions in late spring or early summer.  After planting we do very little in the way of maintenance over the winter.  We usually plant 1 row in the garden half with onions and half with garlic, and harvest enough to last throughout the year.  This year we plan on planting shallots as well, for a little variety.
Onions sets should be planted while they are still fresh and green.  If you order onion sets from a seed catalog they will probably arive fresh and green.  If you pick out onion sets at a local store.  Avoid onion sets that are browning or dried out, as this can cause poor growth or early seed formation called bolting which can affect the taste of your onions.  Onions do best in a soil pH between 6.5 and 7.  Test your soil pH and add lime if it is too acidic.  Plant individual onion bulbs about 3 or 4 inches apart and about 1 inch deep.   If you like fresh green onions, plant extra onions for early harvest.
Garlic should also be planted 3 to 4 inches apart and about 1 inch deep.  Seperated the garlic bulbs into cloves and plant the largest bulbs.  Discard or eat the smaller cloves because they usually produce smaller bulbs than the larger cloves.  Garlic requires some cold weather exposure to grow properly so be sure to get them in teh ground before the cold weather sets in.
Shallots are usually pretty expensive at the grocery store.  They have a mild garlic flavor and are excellent for cooking.  Seperate the cloves and plant them the same way as garlic but don't discard the small cloves.  Plant the small shallot cloves as well as the large ones.  They should all produce hardy tasty plants.
Garlic and shallots should be harvested as the stalks brown and fall over.  Onions can be harvested a little sooner or left in the ground until the tops dry and fall over.  If you don't have room for a regular garden, all of these bulbs will do well in containers.  You can also mix garlic, onion or shallot bulbs in with your flowers or other landscape plants.  Get them in the ground now and when summer rolls around you will be glad you did! 

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