“Now say to yourself five times, and believe it…
“”This is March. The main thing to do in March is to don’t.
I don’t dare do much in my garden..
because I know this old fellow March; he fools me every time.”
~ Alfred Carl Hottes, BHG garden editor, 1933
Come March, when the world is blooming, the days are stretching, and the sun is once again warming the earth, it is hard to resist the siren-call of brightly-colored flowers and vegetable starts filling every garden section of every store. But our average last frost date here in the central Willamette Valley is still a month out (April 23). Yes, the daytimes temps can be 65, but this morning during this first week of April it was 32. We must resist. It is not tomato time… yet! The main thing to do in the garden in March is to don’t.
Two things that can be planted in early March are peas and radishes, and the girls helped me get those in the ground. We waited and waited for our peas to sprout and only a couple did (though we planted a 30 foot row). So either my seeds were too old or birds are snatching the new, tender shoots. I just bought new seeds and attempted a re-plant. Sadly, now we’re three weeks behind where we’d hoped to be with peas. Radishes are looking great though!
For the first time ever I decided to attempt to grow all my starts from seed. I always direct-sow some seeds (corn, green beans, carrots, beets, etc.) into my garden in June but buy all my tomatoes, pumpkins, and squash as starts. For Christmas Caleb bought me all the paraphernalia for beginning seeds indoors, including a grow-light. I spent hours combing through Territorial Seed Company’s catalog and website and bought all the seeds I will need for the year, both the basics (San Marzano tomatoes and zucchini) and some fun, impractical, new things to try (popping corn and Baby Boo pumpkins). Even though each seed packet has more seeds than I can possibly use, they last from between 2 and 4 years so I actually should have most of the seeds I’ll need for next year also.
I was amazed how quickly the seeds germinated in our warm basement mechanical room.
Now they are growing tall and strong in my dining room bay-window. I’m not even sure I’ll need to use my grow-light.
In 2019 we raised heritage-breed turkeys for the first time and and were very disappointed in their growth. After six months, their after-butcher weight was only about 8 pounds for hens and 12 pounds for toms. So much time and expense for so little meat. In 2020 we switched to commercial broad-breasted turkeys. Trying to get a butcher date during COVID, when everyone decided to try their hand at raising meat, was crazy. We ended up butchering them at five months, about a month later than we should have, and they were BIG. After-butcher, two of the toms were 40 pounds and two were 35 pounds!!! And then the governor cancelled Thanksgiving. It turns out it wasn’t the most prodigious year to raise enormous turkeys. Hence, 200 pounds of turkey meat filled my freezer.
Nearly two years later, and we are about to get turkey poults again, so I requested Caleb deal with the last Big-Boy hanging out in the bottom of the freezer. It is a week-long process of thawing, brining, sawing in half, cutting out the breasts, smoking the body, shredding, smoking the breasts, slicing with a meat slicer… but he did it for me, and we have plenty of shredded and sliced turkey to last a good while.
40 pound turkeys are just obscene. I feel like this picture should have a graphic warning on it. This year we are going to promptly book our butcher date the day we bring our poults home.
People often think of us when they need to re-home chickens (and I don’t hate it). Last summer we took in 5 Portland backyard chickens. A friend arrived at our Christmas open house with a bully chicken in a cat carrier (with a bow on it). Merry Christmas to us. This month we took in three chickens that needed new homes. Two of them are salmon favorelles, a new-to-me-breed, and they are gorgeous. The other hen is an olive-egger. I’m always happy to collect green eggs! They had been doted on, are very friendly, and promptly laid eggs their first day. Welcome to Good Gifts Farm, ladies.
We buy our chicken feed from a farm in Philomouth, a 45 minute drive from us. Chris mills everything on sight, and it is GMO, corn, and soy-free. The price is competitive and the feed is so hearty and nutritious that our hens work through it much slower than the Purina-junk from the farm store. In anticipation of getting our meat chickens, new layer chicks, and turkey poults in April, I stocked up on both layer and grower feed, purchasing 1500 pounds. Chris was lamenting supply-chain issues and rising costs that are making his business very difficult. He has had to scale back his production by half and let his employee go. I had heard, and he confirmed, that many people are foregoing raising meat this year because of the exorbitant cost of feed. I could tell he was discouraged and I felt discouraged myself, but grateful that I purchased our feed early (and the day before he had to raise his prices again), as he expects to run out of materials mid-summer.
The real reason you’re all still reading… how is Lucky doing?? Lucky is six weeks old and he is a funny little hairy, bow-legged thing. I spent all of March feeding him 3-4 times a day, but now we are down to just a morning and evening feeding. He follows his mama around the pasture all day long attempting to steal a drink from her, and I think he must be occasionally successful because I do see his tail wagging and the amount I’m feeding him would not be enough to keep him growing the way he is. I’m grateful he’s been able to be a bottle-baby that has retained his sheep relationships as well.
Caleb built a creep feeder which is just big enough to allow the lambs to enter, but not their moms. This enables the lambs to eat grain without their mamas devouring it. Lucky watches the other lambs closely to figure out what he should be doing. After a few days of observing them entering the feeder and eating grain, he decided to try it himself. I was very pleased because this is what needs to happen for me to wean him.
The learning curve has been intense with this batch of lambs. Lucky’s white sister, Sugar, who was the biggest, most-vigorous of the triplets, suddenly started having trouble using her back legs, difficulty nursing, and was crying constantly. I was at a loss, but Caleb eventually mused that perhaps she was crying because she was hungry. I took a bottle out to her and she gulped it down in 30 seconds flat, in a way that Lucky never had. My internet research said it was clearly White Muscle Disease, which is a fatal selenium deficiency that can be reversed if treated quickly. Lucky had received a BoSe (selenium and Vitamin E) shot at the vet, and I had purchased enough to dose our whole flock. We just hadn’t gotten around to it and, and as we’ve never had issues before, I wasn’t in a hurry. I felt absolutely sick when I realized I might lose this beautiful, previously-strong lamb because I had not given her the vitamins that we had sitting in our house. However, within 24 hours after receiving a dose of BoSe, she was back to normal. I have learned SO much about lambs this year.
Life is picking up its pace as new life abounds. Walking outside on a brisk spring morning with the sun streaming low through our enormous Douglas firs, the birds waking from their long-winter silence, and the sheep grazing peacefully on tender new grass reminds me that resurrection is at hand. Spring is here.
Now the Spring is waking
Very shy as yet,
Busing mending, making
Grass and violet,
Frowsy Winter’s over;
See the budding lane!
Go and meet your lover
Spring is here again!
Every day is longer
Than the day before
Lambs are whiter, stronger,
Birds sing more and more;
Woods are less than shady,
Griefs are more than vain-
Go and kiss your lady;
Spring is here again!