Meet Aspen!

We have been looking for the perfect farm pup for nearly a year, finding a dog who meets our criteria proved to be more challenging that we had first thought. With chickens to protect, cats to share a home with and acres of farm and forest to manage we need a dog who can be both a working pup, and a house companion- with appitude to be trained and low prey drive.

In 2016 our chickens were attacked by a neighborhood dog and our rooster was badly injured- he pulled through!- fighting off the curious dog. Last year our flock was attacked by a fox, we lost two hens and a rooster in the fray. Living in the forest means there are predators a plenty- fox, coyote, bobcat, fisher, raccoon, bear, skunk, owl, hawk, mountain lion, weasel, dog- we have had them all in the yard.

After visiting every local shelter, talking with rescue groups and breeders we still had no luck. Would we ever find the right pup for the job?

Our answer came last weekend after a trip to Tractor Supply and a look at their classifieds bulletin board. IMG_5524Meet Aspen! Aspen is an 8 week old Australian Shepherd, she learned her name in just a day and has already picked up a few commands in the short week she has been with us. She met the chickens on her third day here and was the perfect guest in the coop.

IMG_5536

This little pup works hard, plays hard and sleeps even harder! Her first night with us she escaped from the kitchen by squeezing under a book shelf and we found her snuggled on the couch. IMG_5596

Finding the right farm dog can certainly take time, but it was worth the wait. Aspen is just what we were searching for- and we are so glad to have her join us at Olsen Farm. The cats don’t quite agree (Yet) IMG_5612IMG_5614

Advertisements

Susan’s Gardens at Olsen Farm

Our Mom, Susan, had a real gift for gardening. She loved birds, butterflies and beneficial insects and planted acres of beautiful gardens around the property at Olsen Farm.

We are very lucky to still have detailed plans and photos of her gardens through the years, so we can look back and see the incredible growth and spread her green thumb has had over the past three decades.

IMG_5443Dad, (Tommy) getting new beds dug and laid out in 1993. Those tiny spruce trees in the center are taller than the house now!

IMG_5445The first flowers were thoughtfully planted with stone paths between. We are still working to reclaim these stone paths from the hearty perennials that have happily spread over the years. 

IMG_5444Olsen Farm farmer, Chris, showing off Mom’s new garden bed layout (and his Little League pride!) in 1993

IMG_5441The farm house in the back was built in the 1790’s and is where our great grandparents lived back in the 1930’s when they immigrated from Norway and founded Olsen Farm

IMG_5440Stunning close-up of rudbeckia and cone flowers- some of Susan’s (and our) favorites! 

IMG_5448Full bloom, Summer at Olsen Farm 1996

Olsen Farm holds so much history for our family. Susan’s amazing gardens are a very important piece of what makes this land such a special place. We have been working to uncover some of the overgrown gardens and bring them back to their glory.

The impact of a well thought out pollinator garden is so much greater than can be expressed through words and photos. Susan really had a gift for color, planting bright flowers to bloom in each season. We know our honey bees (and native pollinators) are thoroughly enjoying all the delicious flowers Susan planted!

 

 

We recently registered Susan’s Gardens on the National Pollinator Garden Network, a part of the Million Pollinator Garden challenge. Please check out their project and register your gardens: http://millionpollinatorgardens.org

The Magic of Silkie Chickens

At Olsen Farm we believe all chickens are special, but there is something especially magical about the silkie breed. Over a year ago we were gifted a few silkie eggs to incubate and once those tiny fluff balls hatched we fell instantly in love.

So, what is it that makes these mini fluffy muppets so special? Here are some unique traits of these sweet little birds:

Silkie hens lay three to four eggs a week. Their eggs are about half the size of a standard chicken egg- but equally as delicious!IMG_2198

Silkies are fibro melanistic, which means they have black skin, black meat and black bones. They were originally bred in Asia and some believe eating their black meat will cure what ails you. While silkies are bred to be both show birds and meat birds, we have yet to eat a silkie because they are just so damned cute!

Three day old silkie chicks- seriously the cutest thing you will ever see. IMG_3110

Silkies have feathered feet, and their feet have five toes- rather than the usual three of standard chickens.

Their feathers remain light and fluffy into adulthood, because of this trait they can become sick or die if they get wet during cold weather. Be sure to keep your silkies dry and warm- they LOVE baths and getting their feathers blow dried! These little fluffs do amazingly well at staying warm during cold weather if their feathers remain dry, they are a winter-hearty breed.

Silkie feathers come in many color variations including black, white, buff (brown/tan), splash (light grey/ black and white mix), blue (dark grey) and partridge (brown mix)

IMG_3627Teen ‘blue’ silkies- this is the awkward phase where their adult plumage is growing in.

Silkie roosters, like most roosters, have larger combs and wattles than hens. They develop these later than standard breeds, and it can be difficult to distinguish a hen from a rooster by looks until they are over six months old and start either laying or crowing. IMG_2802Meet Twister, our ‘splash’ silkie roo

Silkies have a wonderfully gentle temperament and are great for first time chicken keepers. They are calm, tame and very fun to observe. Silkies are also great mothers and will hatch and raise ducks, turkeys, standard chickens- you name it!IMG_2822Even silkie roosters are gentle and calm- they still stand their ground with other roos, but don’t mind being carried around!

 

We have been bringing Maple (below) our sweetest silkie hen, to the local farmer’s market for a few months. Our original thought was that children would love to pet a cute chicken, and it would be a great educational experience for them. What we did not expect was the intense joy and peace meeting a silkie had on the adults at the market. Many residents came to visit Maple each week, bringing her treats, taking photos and snuggling her. Maple became a therapy chicken simply by being her adorable fluffy magicical self. We are so glad to have been able to share our sweet birds with people who needed a little nature medicine. IMG_4547

Silkies are magical birds. They make wonderful pets, are great mama hens and are cute as hell. Plus, they can cure what ails you.

If you are ever having a down day, pet a silkie- they really are the best medicine.

The Kindness of Strangers

It has been a difficult year at Olsen Farm.

In January we lost our father unexpectedly after a short illness. Since then our world has been turned upside down. Trying to manage the sudden death of a loved one is an impossible task. On top of that tremendous loss we are faced with large debts against the land and are at risk of losing our farm and family home. With such urgency focussed on these critical financial pieces there has not been time to properly grieve.

77330421-E9AC-425D-B696-9818BB5657E0-14141-00001AC229551AFD_tmp

From Chris and Kristen’s wedding party last August: Kristen, Chris, Tommy- our father, Aimee and Todd- our sister and brother in law

One piece that has kept us moving forward during this struggle is the kindness of strangers.

Please- don’t get me wrong- we have an incredibly supportive group of family and friends who have been wrapping us in kindness every step of the way. We are thankful to have this base of support, and know that we could not continue fighting for our farm without friends and family there beside us.

 

A group of friends and family came to help dig and prepare beds for planting this Spring- we couldn’t have don it without you guys! 

But the kindness and generosity of complete strangers is something powerful and provides great hope.

In April we started a ‘GoFundMe’ campaign to try and offset the large amount of money we need in order to save the farm (https://www.gofundme.com/please-help-save-olsen-farm?utm_source=internal&utm_medium=email&utm_content=body_photo&utm_campaign=upd_n)

It has not been easy to share our story, and it certainly has not been easy to ask for help- particularly because it involves money. But we had to put it out there. Since we made that leap we have made so many amazing connections by sharing what we are going through. By taking the risk and putting our vulnerability out there we have been able to connect with people all over the country who are going through, or have been through similar circumstances. We have met people who grew up eating eggs from Olsen Farm years ago, and heard amazing stories about what the farm was like then. We have heard memories about our father from his childhood- these pieces have more value than can be put in words.

-Two sisters shared memories of visiting Olsen Farm as children, riding the tractor and feeding the animals with Great Grandpa Olsen.

-A former Berkshire County resident who recently returned to the area found us on Facebook and reached out via email- making a generous donation and becoming one of our best egg customers and Olsen Farm cheerleaders!

-Tradespeople, including a plumber, two electricians and many skilled carpenters have reached out with offers to help repair the farmhouse pro bono after hearing our story.

-An old friend of our father’s shared that there was a tree he and our dad had carved their names in years ago and we were able to hike to that exact spot and find ‘Tommy Wheeler’ carved there in memoriam.

-A young woman beginning to study archeology and her father introduced themselves and generously offered to survey the property, searching for burried history- and treasures.

-Someone made the purchase of a silver spoon from our first yard sale and came to return it after doing some research that night and finding it was a valuable family heirloom. She polished the spoon, wrapped it up and brought it back to us sharing that she thought we should keep it on the farm.

-A gentleman told us his parallel story that he is currently working through similar circumstances while trying to revive his family store after the death of grand parents.

-A couple from Florida, vacationing in the Berkshires, came to the farm this weekend after seeing us in the newspaper and made a generous donation.

Please take a look at the Berkshire Eagle article here: http://www.berkshireeagle.com/stories/lanesborough-couple-on-mission-to-save-family-farm,515057

These moments and stories are what give us strength to push forward with our seemingly impossible task. Once these strangers made the effort to step in to our lives they became part of the Olsen Farm family.

Please, be kind to a stranger. The impact is powerful and lasting. And please, keep reaching out and sharing your stories with us. Your stories give us hope.

Bee Keeping: Filling a New Hive

Bees are truly incredible creatures. They have complex communication and social systems. They are hardworking, intelligent and organized. They pollinate our flowers, fruits, trees and plants. Without their hard work our gardens would not grow. They make delicious honey- a natural antibiotic and delicious vaccine for pollen allergies. We literally could not live without them.

At Olsen Farm we started keeping bees last year because of the importance of supporting pollinators and our drive to practice natural farm and gardening techniques. We have a responsibility to protect native bees by planting healthy gardens- free of chemicals and pesticides, as well as a responsibility to care for our domestic bees like any other pet.

Our colony survived the winter last year but was not able to survive the unfortunate February early thaw and sudden temperature drop. Bees are powerful and delicate, with our quickly changing climate and growing use of toxic pesticides their world is in great danger- and in consequence so is ours.

This year we have added a second hive, and are continuing our hope for the bees and all they share with us.

Here are some photos of the hive-filling process:

 

IMG_3255
Prepping the smoker, dried grass makes great smoke!
IMG_3261
Chris puts on gear to protect his hands, face and arms while filling the hive
IMG_3262
Prying the lid off to remove the queen’s cage
IMG_3263
Removing lid to expose can of sugar water queen’s cage is attached to during travel
IMG_3264
The queen’s cage is attached by a strap that has to be pried off for removal
IMG_3266
Pulling out the can and queen cage
IMG_3267
This can is covered in bees! As soon everything else will be too…
IMG_3269
Detaching the queen’s cage from the can
IMG_3271
Chris gently brushes bees off the outside of the queen’s cage and into the hive box, setting queen’s cage aside for placement later
IMG_3272
Holding the bee package upside down over the brooding box, Chris gets ready to shake them out
IMG_3274
The most exciting step- shaking, or tapping, three pounds of live bees into their new home. No stings to date!
IMG_3279
Chris carefully places the queen’s cage between two frames so the colony can get used to her pheromones and she can be released in a day or so
IMG_3282
Giving the colony some smoke to calm them
IMG_3283
Chris carefully stacks the super on top of the brooder box
IMG_3284
Stacking on the inner narrow lid
IMG_3285
Placing on the hive lid, or outer cover
IMG_3287
Weighing down the lid cover with a cement flat
IMG_3288
We use a ratchet strap to secure our hive boxes together, making it more of a challenge for a bear to break them apart if ever one gets through our electric fence
IMG_3291
Hive one is live!
IMG_3292
Happy bees, already getting to work cleaning up a honey drip in their new home

For the birds: Attracting Orioles

Orioles are beautiful birds with an amazing song and bright, sunny plumage. These stunning birds LOVE sweet blossoms and fruit, particularly oranges.

 

To attract these beauties to your yard you could simply stick orange slices out on posts in the yard, or you can make a decorative treat with sliced oranges with these simple steps.

What you will need:

fresh oranges

sharp knife

2-3 inch twigs

string or twine, cut in 12-15 inch lengths

a skewer or knitting needle (I used a knitting needle)

 

1. Slice oranges in half

2. Cut a few 2-3 inch twig bits

IMG_3317

I used willow twigs because they are plentiful in our yard and are flexible

3. Use a sharp knife to cut a small nick in the center of each twig, as shown below

4. Wrap string or twine around nick in center of each twig and tie securely

5. Use skewer or knitting needle to poke a hole through the center of each orange slice

IMG_3363

6. Push twine or string through hole in orange from bottom to top, so that twig sits and base of orange

IMG_3374

This step is very juicy and sticky, don’t be afraid to get good and messy for the sake of the birds!

7. Hang your finished bird treats in a tree where you can watch the orioles enjoy them! 

IMG_3384

Orioles love the sweet blossoms of apple trees so I decided to hang some orange slices here for an added attraction.

Orioles build incredible hanging basket-like nests. You can cut some lengths of string or twine and lay them on garden fences or branches for these amazing builders to collect for their nests. Enjoy your bird watching!

Beneficial Insects: Praying Mantids for Tick Control

Ticks are a serious problem in Berkshire County. Not a day goes by when we don’t find them on ourselves and our pets and we are always searching for ways to manage these horrible pests without the use of toxic chemicals. Our chickens and guinea fowl offer great tick control but can always use some help in their daunting task- we discovered these little helpers in praying mantids, a beneficial insect and natural predator to ticks and other small insects.

Mantids are native to our area so there is not risk of introducing one invasive species to manage another. Be sure to check your area before purchasing and releasing beneficial insects to be sure there is not risk of introducing invasive species. 

Two years ago we bought a few egg sacks and hatched them in a clear cup. There are about 300 tiny mantids in each egg sack- we bought the egg sacks in late April and they hatched in early June. Hatching times may differ for different geographic areas. These tiny critters sounded like popcorn popping when they hatched and bounced off their container!

1 (2)

Be sure to release the tiny mantids soon after hatching to avoid cannibalism. Praying mantids are carnivorous and do not discriminate from their own species. When releasing mantids you can sprinkle them in the garden, on plants and trees and off ground level. Ants are predators to tiny mantid hatchlings and will take advantage of any babies they find on the ground. 

Mantis babies are itty bitty and a light brown color. They turn the bright green as they mature in order to blend in with the vegetation they hide in.

3

You can keep a mantis or two as pets but they must be separated or they will eat one another. It can be a challenge to catch insects small enough for them to eat, ants will eat baby mantids and should not be offered as a food source. Fruit flies and gnats make a great mantis meal!

A few weeks ago while walking the orchards we found this mantid egg sack wrapped up in some dried tall grass. It was an exciting discovery and proud mantis-parent moment to see that our beneficials were breeding on the property. IMG_9802

You can order praying mantid egg sacks from Arbico Organics, they are a wonderful resource for organic and natural pest control options. Egg sacks can be place directly in the yard to hatch or hatched inside for your viewing pleasure. Make sure your insect nursery container has only tiny air holes- baby mantids are tiny and will escape all over your house if they can! 

 

 

DIY Chicken Saddles, protect your hens from over mating

Chicken trouble: bare backs

Spring is for the birds and the bees- and this means our rooster is working overtime. Sometimes he can get a little carried away with his ‘rooster duties’ and end up pulling feathers from the girl’s backs. Once the other hens see bare skin on their sister’s back they can’t resist pecking and pulling out more feathers.

When a rooster mates a hen he climbs on her back, standing on her wings and holding her neck and back feathers in his beak to get in position for transfer of sperm. Sometimes he pulls out a few feathers during the process. Over mating, or aggressive mating, can lead to hens with bare backs and at risk of further wounds and infection if not cared for. 

We tried using Blu-Kote Antiseptic spray, which we have had success with in the past when chickens had skin exposed,  on our girl’s backs but it did not seem work. What else could we do to protect our chicken’s backs?

The answer- chicken saddles! I searched around and found this article: here  from Mother Earth News including a sewing pattern and instructions and decided to try it out.

What you will need:

A basic understanding of sewing is necessary for this project, I used my sewing machine but saddles could easily be hand sewn as well.

  • machine washable, breathable fabric
  • 1/2 inch elastic
  • sew-on velcro
  • scissors
  • straight pins
  • needle and thread or sewing machine
  • saddle pattern (can be printed from Mother Earth article)

IMG_2973

I chose fabrics that would match the feather patterns of my flock in order to maintain their camouflage while out foraging the yard. While it is cute to have brightly colored and patterned vests for your chickens their feathers are their first line of protection from predators and their safety is a greater priority than their cuteness (although they do look pretty adorable in their feather-tone vests as well!)

Step by step

  1. Print out your saddle pattern from the Mother Earth articleIMG_3069

2. Cut out the paper pattern and pin it to your fabric, fabric should be folded double so you end up with two saddle shapes after cutting.

3. After cutting, unpin the paper pattern and re pin fabric layers with patterned side facing inIMG_2981

4. Cut two strips of 1/2 inch elastic at 7 inches IMG_2979

5. Pin elastic strips to neckline, so that long end of elastic is hidden between pinned layers of the saddle, as shown in photos belowIMG_3001IMG_3011IMG_3023

6. Stitch 1/4 inch seam around the edge of your saddle, leaving a hole (seen on right hand side) unstitched on one sideIMG_3024

7. Using hole left unstitched, turn saddle right side out, like a pillowIMG_3025

8. Sew 1/4 inch seam around outer edge, closing up hole used to turn right side outIMG_3026

9. Cut two pieces of both male and female velcro at 1.5 inches and pin female side to body of saddle and male side to the ends of elasticIMG_3028

10. Stitch elastic in place, fasten velcro and be proud of your beautiful and functional new chicken saddle!IMG_3029

Now it is time to try your saddles on the chickens! Saddles sit with the squared edge against the neck and elastic straps go under each wing to secure at the hen’s armpit.

Here is our Jelly Doughnut modeling her off-white saddle on the grass runway:IMG_3049IMG_3050IMG_3051

Chicken saddles are easy to make and can truly make a difference in the health of your flock. We have had our girls wearing saddles for almost a week now and are already seeing new feather growth returning on their backs.

Saving Olsen Farm: a call for help

In January we lost our father unexpectedly after a short illness. He grew up helping his grand parents take care of the chickens, cows and pigs at Olsen Farm. Those were his fondest memories from childhood, and he always loved to reminisce about what an incredible experience it had been to grow up on this farm. He then built his own home on the family farm lands, where he raised his children with a love for the outdoors- creating his fondest memories from his adult life.

His recent passing is part of what inspired us to make Olsen Farm opened to the public as it once was when he was a child growing up here.

We now live in the house he built back in the 1980’s and recently received scary financial news. Because of debts and outstanding bills against the estate we are in jeopardy of losing our home and the farm. This news has come after the sudden tragedy of losing our dad, and has been an unfair piece that has interrupted our grieving.

One day we hope to raise our own children on this land, and continue the legacy of Olsen Farm. This farm is special. This land is meant to be planted, grazed and harvested. We need your help to ensure the future of Olsen Farm.

 

Below is the link to our GoFundMe campaign, please donate if you are able and share if you are comfortable. Every little bit is one step closer to saving a small, local farm. We truly appreciate your love and support.

http://www.gofundme.com/please-help-save-olsen-farm

 

Thank you all,

 

Chris and Kristen

Starting Seeds, Saving Money

We are always looking for ways to save money, and to live more sustainably. One small step we took this year is to start our seeds using homemade paper pots, rather than buying plastic or peat pots. We purchased a wooden PotMaker from Lehman’s- and used the tag paper our Lehman’s order was shipped in for our first pots! Take a look at our first DIY seed starting experiment:

IMG_2837

The PotMaker is a clever two piece wooden mold that allows you to repurpose newspaper or newsprint and turn it into biodegradable starting pots that can be popped right in the ground. 

Here is how it works:

1. Cut your paper into strips 3.5 inches wide by about 16 inches long. Line one edge of the long side your strip up with the lip of the cylindrical part of your PotMaker, as shown below. FullSizeRender

2. Gently wrap your paper strip around the cylindrical part of the PotMaker until your strip is completely wrapped. Overlapping layers will make your paper pot stronger. At first I wrapped my paper too tightly and the finished pot would not slide off the PotMaker- luckily, you can learn from my mistake! FullSizeRender_1

3. The bottom of your pot should have about an inch of paper overlapping- and should look like this:FullSizeRender

4. Start folding in the bottom paper overlap. I found my pots stayed together best when I made the first fold-in to the left of the seam where the paper roll finishes wrapping around the cylinder, so that the second fold-in would hold in the seam itself. FullSizeRender_1

5. Continue folding in the overlapping paper all the way around the base of your PotMaker.FullSizeRender_2

6. Now comes the fun part! Take your paper wrapped and folded cylindrical handle and press, twist and turn it into the fitted wooden base. Use your muscles! I found pots hold a better and stronger shape when you place the base on a hard surface and press the paper-wrapped top down into it. Unlike what I have shown in the photos below…FullSizeRender_5FullSizeRender_3

7. Gently slide your newly formed paper pot off the cylinder and repeat as many times as pots you desire! FullSizeRenderFullSizeRender_1

 

Congratulations! Your new, biodegradable, FREE paper pots are done- now it is time to plant!

IMG_2969

1. Take your favorite potting soil and fill each paper pot. Gently press soil down to about 1/4 inch from the top of your pot. With the money we saved from not buying plastic or peat pots we were able to invest in better soil for our starters. Today we used 100% Organic VermiSoil and it smelled delightful!IMG_2971

2. Generously pop in you choice of seeds (I always plant 3-5 seeds per starting pot, it is easy to separate later on when they sprout)- today we started sweet and hot peppers, two types of onions and an array of herbs. IMG_2972

4. Cover seeds with 1/4 of soil and gently press down. Add some labels, so you can remember what you have planted! IMG_2835

Don’t forget to water in your freshly planted seeds and set them in a sunny spot to sprout.

The PotMaker has proven to be a great investment so far this year. They are available at Lehman’s if you are feeling inspired to try one out yourself. We will check back in with seed starting updates as our PotMaker paper pots start to sprout!