Sunday, December 28, 2008

Lessons Learned 2008

Many blessings in the garden this year. Although not as productive as the 2007 season, I was also more focused on chickens and work travel during the 2008 season. Now that the chickens are under control, I shall try to be more focused on the gardening aspects again.

Procrastination Kills Plants!

  • Spring planted peas - probably they could have benefited from mulch and a floating row cover, but by garlic harvesting time in early June, they were going like gang busters.
  • Garlic - planted on time in the fall of 2007, mulched and fed and watered at the correct times
  • Fruit trees growing well - bloomed nicely before winter came and froze the buds. No fruits yet, but the trees are maturing nicely and are starting to look like, well, real trees (as opposed to sticks)
  • Sunflowers - planted in basically pure sand. They were stunted, but all grew. Watering enough was a challenge. Planting in trenches, watering deeply and mulching probably will help. As well as some fertilization. Chickens loved the sunflower seeds (what few they got) and loved eating the leaves, too.
  • Chickens - grew well and started laying right on schedule in mid-November.
  • Corn - well, not successful in that people didn't get to eat it, but very successful in that chickens enjoyed the heck out of their corn stalk forest and ate and shredded both the corn, the leaves and the stalks. Going to grow some for them and some for us in 2009.
  • Zucchini - Eight Ball - will grow standard zukes next year, but the protected ones did well. The others were eaten to the ground by the young chickens.
  • Oregano, Rosemary, Lemon Balm - surprise survivors that overwintered from 2007
  • Shredded paper mulch - made mostly of bills and junk mail. Need to do this for the trees this year.
  • Watering the compost pile and keeping it mostly covered - I noticed a seemingly overnight improvement in the speed of the pile decomposing as soon as I started doing that.

Chickens Kill Plants!

    Problems and Challenges
  • Chickens - they are cute and they love scratching around the garden and eating everything green in site. Meaning, anything unprotected got trampled, eaten or trampled and eaten.

    • Zucchini
    • Young tomatoes (they didn't eat them; just trample them as they hunted tomato worms)
    • Bearded irises
    • Strawberry plants

  • Tomatoes - tomatoes plus desert sun equals no fruit setting; fruit setting in Sept won't ripen before the first hard frost
  • Cukes - keep planting these too late, but the flowers are pretty, so not a total loss
  • Didn't plant garlic for 2009 on time; going to be a small harvest this year
  • Sunflowers - wild birds got to the seeds before I was able to feed them to the chickens, so the chickies only got to eat some of the seeds.
  • Beans - too hot for them. Miss one day of watering and they wilt and die when the temps are over 100°F. Mulching and planting in trenches might help. Grasshoppers loved them.
  • Lots of space yet unused. Need to fill it or Nature will fill it with weeds!

The Desert Kills Plants!

    Some Ideas for the 2009 Season
  • Tomatoes - grow in 3 - 5 gallon buckets and haul in and out and grow under lights so that they are well on their way when the last frost is done
  • Make cages for the plants so that the chickens can't get at them - SLW in photo above is showing her disdain for the fencing I used to protect sleeping garlic bulbs!
  • Plant some corn in the chicken run - protect until it is well matured. That will give them shade in the summer and something to play in throughout the fall and into the winter.
  • Shred more paper - it's tough to keep up with, but it works wonderfully as both mulch and chicken bedding
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch and mulch some more
  • Compost more
  • Make manure tea for the trees and plants
  • Implement an automated drip or sprinkler system
  • Plant more hybrid poplar trees along the front - plant in trenches, flood irrigate and mulch and feed well.
  • Plant a few hybrid poplars on the outside of the south and north sides of the chicken run - this will provide shade and wind blocks during the summer. (If I plant them inside the run, the chickens will be able to use the trees to escape from the run!)
  • Plant extra herb and tomato plants so I can give some away
  • Try early maturing, "closer to wild" grape or current tomatoes to see if I can get a harvest this year; protect them when the nights start getting colder
  • Grow enough basil to make pesto

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Counting My Blessings

White RoosterLovely clear, warm (above 40°F, calm day. I let the chickens into the barren winter garden for the afternoon, tossed out some uncooked oatmeal and cracked corn and let them have at it. Spent several hours just puttering around, taking pictures, adding fresh pine bedding to the chicken coop, and generally just whiling away the day doing "not much of anything."
Eggs du jourI suppose that some of the point of raising chickens would be to go out and collect the eggs fresh before breakfast and fry them up on the spot. It was still in the 20's at breakfast time, so we ate yesterday's eggs, and these lovelys sat in the pine shavings for several more hours as the morning thawed out.
Hen in the Herb bed in WinterI have barricaded the bed with the garlic so that it is "Chicken-proof", but I have not done the same to the herb bed. Caught this girl red-handed (or red-headed) among the dried basil stalks, tomato plant trash and flattened down Irises. Hard to believe that 7 months ago, this bed was in full bloom (First Day of June 2008).
Sadie The Chicken HawkShe's my chicken killer. Can't train something like that out of a dog, so we have strong fencing and try and be extra diligent at surveillance. She came to us skiddish, shy, and with her ribs sticking out. Now she is fat, happy, bouncy and full of kisses for everyone. My toddler granddaughter still scares her a little, and after an hour or so of toddler pursuit, Sadie is ready to hide in her bed in the laundry room. Come to think of it, after an hour of toddler pursuit, I am ready to hide in my room, too! Working on one of the carsWell, I can't complain too much about the flock of disabled vehicles that live on our little farm. It keeps the boys amused - and I know where everyone is on Saturday night - at home, warming up by the fire after playing with the cars all afternoon!Fancy-Pant's tailAfter much "Schooling by broom", the PIA rooster seems to be behaving much better now. He has been re-named "Fancy Pants". Here's a closeup of his fancy tail. He better keep behaving, as we have a turkey fryer, now, and he'd fit, no problem!Snow PrintsMany blessings for the New Year!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Battening down the hatches

What a difference a few months makes. Here's a photo from mid-October - nearly done at this point, and ready for winter. Roof is weather-proofed even though we are still five shingles short of having all the roofing on. I guess we're buying a full bundle of shingles to finish it off.

Way too cold for shorts these days - one morning was three degrees last week. My husband forced me to get a warm, hooded, "Carhardt-style" work jacket at Cabellas yesterday. I whined about spending so much money on a jacket... and then I went to play with the chickens this morning, and, ok, so maybe it was worth it! Now I have a heavy jacket and socks. What'll it be next? Snow boots or something?!

Well, it certainly doesn't snow this much where we are. If it did, well, we probably wouldn't be living here! It's pretty, but it isn't fun to drive in, even with 4WD. And it never really snows enough around here for anyone (including me) to actually really learn how to drive in the stuff. Is it summer, yet? Then I can whine about the heat instead of the cold! One nice thing about winter, though - I have lots of time to plan projects for my husband for Spring and Summer next year!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Baby, it's cold outside!

The song, according to Wikipedia, is written by Frank Loesser. In my mind, it is sung by Doris Day and Frank Sinatra, but according to the article, the chart topping version that everyone remembers is actually recorded by Margaret Whiting and Johnny Mercer. Frankie & Doris appear to have never recorded it. No matter - at 14 °, it's cold outside! Chickens were especially appreciative of getting warm water this morning! And the coop is significantly warmer than outside, so if it was 14 in the coop and 55.4° in the house, I shudder to think what the outside temp was!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Oh, no, more Photoshop

Maran Egg by kmom246@yahoo.comThe only thing exciting is the egg hunt and egg counts. Today there were a total of 9. 5 tan from the Silver Laced Wyandottes, 3 dark brown from the Marans and a weird olive colored egg that could have been an odd one from either a Maran or an Easter Egger.
Summer 2008 garlic by kmom246@yahoo.comUsed a bunch of this in some wonderful home made vegetable soup. The other ingredients were store bought, but still, nothing like fresh, hot soup on a cold winter day! The maroonish colored garlic have deep, golden brown cloves with a nice, spicy taste. The taste mellows with cooking, though, so I think my daughter could have tripled (or more) the amount of garlic in the soup! (Ok, so what if I think you can never have enough garlic!)Summer 2008 garlic by kmom246@yahoo.comYes, these are all made from actual digital photos of my 2008 garlic harvest. I'm so desperate for Spring and Summer that I have resorted to "photoshopping" my harvest!This is a still life that I took a few years ago. The lighting wasn't very good and it just didn't quite make it as a photograph. But I think it turned out OK as a photoshopped picture.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Artistic Eggs

These are made from actual photographs of mine. In the case of the eggs, the photo did not really turn out that great. Add a little photoshopping, though, and they look great (at least to me - I'm biased!). Remember, you can click on the picture for a full sized version...

This is from a photo of the Pain In The A... rooster. I think I have this as a non-photoshopped photo somewhere else on this blog. He looks so lovely and pleasant in this photo. If only he were so in real life. Periodic chasing with a broom and letting a toddler hoot and holler at him seems to have made him a little nicer to be around, however.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

More Eggs!

Two more eggs today - another small light brown one and a small dark brown one. Five eggs in two days - here they are compared to a Grade A Large store-bought white egg. I know brown eggs aren't any more nutritious than white ones, but they sure are prettier.
Here are my eggs sitting in what I hope are the last store-bought eggs that I eat in many, many years.

No pictures, but all the girls (except Kick-Start) got their right wing feathers clipped and leg bands. Since Kick-Start can't fly and is easily recognizable, I figured I didn't need to clip her or adorn her with jewelry. The roosters don't really fly and are also easily identifiable, so I didn't clip them or adorn them, either. Hopefully this will stop any more of the girls from flying over the fence and getting themselves eaten. And, hopefully, it will help protect my garden.

On the gardening and I-Can't-Wait-For-Spring front, the first of the seed catalogs came this week. Other than that, I think the rosemary and oregano are the only things showing any green at this moment. I'm not sure why the rosemary is alive - it should have died many, many hard frosts ago. Still, I am delighted that we will have fresh rosemary for the turkey this Thanks Giving.

    Things to do
  • Secure the garlic planting area from chickens
  • Plant garlic
  • Deep water trees as soon as the hoses thaw in the morning to give them the maximum amount of above freezing time to absorb the water
  • Mulch strawberries
  • Mulch herbs (rosemary, oregano, sweet marjoram, lemon balm)
  • Re-dig the watering basins around the trees and put the mulch back in that the chickens have spread all around

First Eggs!

My husband discovered them while I was at work yesterday. Right on schedule - I had estimated Thanks Giving. We actually got 4 eggs, but one of them was cracked and he threw it out. I am guessing that the darker ones are from a Maran and the lighter one from a Silver Laced Wyandotte. If we get a few more this morning, we'll be having scrambled eggs for breakfast!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Another Day In Paradise

Chicken Coop 11082008Although the chickens have been living in the coop for quite some time now, it still isn't totally finished. Sort of like the Winchester Mystery House - there is this urge to "keep building." Son and husband continue to work hard to make sure it is done before the really cold times arrive. You can see the beginning skeleton of the awning that will help provide shade in the summer. What you can't see is that tar paper has gone up on the roof and that the whole south side has been flashed, edged, papered and shingled. The north side is papered - which is a good thing because it actually rained today. See the clouds in the picture - it was pleasantly cool yesterday when those clouds were white. Now those clouds are black and dripping rain. (And slowing down my Internet connection on top of that.)

The Princes Chicken/Rooster/Hen/He/She/It had a tough week last week. Spent a lot of time being beat up by the Roosters. In particular, my other Easter Egger Rooster would make a bee-line for the Chicken and start whacking away at him. Then the other two roosters would join in. We kept the Princess in a dog crate in the coop while I was on travel - with my son making sure it had food and water and some supervised/protected time out of the crate. But my husband seems to have solved the Princess Rooster bashing - he took the instigator and stuffed in in the head rooster's face a few times and after the instigator got beat on a little, he stopped being so mean. Both my husband and I took a broom to the instigator (now known as the PIA Rooster (Pain In the A... Rooster)) and PIA is no longer flying at us, either. Good thing, because the consensus that I've been getting on how to deal with PIA was to roast him. (Ok, a few people said he could become stew, but since he's a young rooster, they felt he could still be quite tender and should be roasted or baked.) I did carry PIA around for a while and discuss these possibilities with him. So far, 3 days now and he seems to have mellowed out quite a bit.

The girls are gaining weight and their hips are broadening. They are definately getting "rounder" in the behind. I believe the same things happened to me when I was ready to hatch out little chickies of my own. And while the Roosters are getting amorous, the Hens are mostly still squawking at them and running away.

Here's a few rare photos of my husband. He is decidedly camera shy. But he was hand feeding some of the chickens so he was trapped - and I got my shot. This photo is taken in the garden as there is not one smidgen of green left in their run.

Here is my husband holding Kick-Start, our lame girl. She knows he will carry her everywhere, so when she sees him coming, she hop-flaps over to him and looks up and waits. She fully expects treats with her transportation and he never disappoints. Here they are in front of the "rescue" apple tree that my husband brought over the Sierra Nevadas for me. It was slated to be bull-dozed to make way for new houses - but instead, it came to live with us in the desert. He's a tough guy, so he blames adopting all the strays on me! Well, ok, so we're both softies - he brings 'em home and I end up taking care of them.

Water has a veneer of ice early in the mornings these days, but the temps usually warm up quickly after sunrise. Still, they appreciate it when I bring them warm water - which is to say "house temperature" water. But the days are coming when the water will be solidly frozen and I will be bringing warm water serveral times daily. Winter adds at least a half hour of hot water hauling to dogs and chickens for my morning chores. It's a PIA, but I am more than happy to pay the price of not living in the suburbs or city.

Here's the Top Dog Rooster. He's actually pretty gentle when not provoked. He can be mean if provoked, though, as the PIA Rooster has discovered. He crows a lot and "talks" to the hens as they go about their business. When he sounds the alarm, everyone mad-dashes to the hen house.

I'm supposed to be planting out garlic, but the weather has not been cooperative and it was much more fun to take photos of chickens yesterday. I'm also supposed to burry the strawberries in shredded paper. I did, at least, throw tomato vine trash on the rosemary, oregano, sweet marjoram and lemon balm, so hopefully all of those will survive the winter.

Semi-home made chicken pot pie
This chicken pot pie is made with store-bought chicken - but I did inform the PIA Rooster that it could easily be made with Fresh PIA Rooster if he could not figure out how to get along! (Yes, I know, those of you who know me well are probably thinking that I did not really make this all by myself, but I did. So see, yes, you can teach an old hen new tricks!)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Chicken Portraits

Remember, you can click on the photo to see a larger version of it.Easter Egger Chicken Well, I think the Princess Chicken turned out to be a rooster after all. It is growing spurs and also does still occasionally crow. The feathers on its neck look more traditionally male than female. On the other hand, it doesn't strut around like the other 3 roosters. In fact, it acts decidedly hen-like, even though its tail has elongated to rooster proportions and it has other "roostery" attributes. Nice example of a classic "rose" comb here - but also note absence of wattles. Could it still be a hen - just a hen with extra testosterone? If it is a rooster, it isn't even really number 4 of 4 - the other 3 roosters don't even treat it like it's a rooster. My friend says that maybe "he" is a San Francisco Princess. In any event, the Prince/Princess is healthy and happy.

Silver Laced Wyandotte Hen Silver Laced Wyandotte Pullet (Hen) - she is puffed out and settled down for the night. Note the small "rose" comb and dark beak. Generally speaking, these are the first ones to come running when I head towards the chicken run with "goodies."
Maran Hen Maran Pullet (Hen) - of the three types of hens in my flock, these are the most aggressive towards other hens. The Top Hen is a Maran and roosts on the ladder, higher up than even the roosters. They don't have true "rose" combs, but have a little "mini-comb." The Maran rooster has a full comb and full wattles. You can see the hen barely has any wattles (the red skin flaps that hang from their cheeks).
Maran Rooster Head Rooster ready for Sleepy Time. He is a Maran rooster and is the "Top Dog" in the chicken coop. Note full comb and wattles. I hope they don't get frost bit this winter.
Easter Egger Rooster "Easter Egger (EEs)" rooster. The EEs were sold as "Ameracaunas," but I am not sure that they are truly such. In any event, this is my prettiest rooster. In fact, he is the prettiest chicken in the whole flock. I am hoping to breed him to the white EEs in the summer. He is 3rd out of four on the hierarchy ladder.
Silver Laced Wyandotte Hen on ladder Speaking of ladders, here is a Silver Laced Wyandotte peaking out from her nightly roost on the ladder.
Easter Egger Hen An Orange/Brown EE Pullet (Hen) - The brown EEs seem to have an attitude issue. The white EEs don't seem to have this problem. Perhaps they are not related to the Orange/Brown ones. This one tends to come up behind me and pick at the rivets in my jeans or painfully pluck at my wedding ring.
Easter Egger Hen
White "EE" Pullet. A bit less agressive than their darker cousins.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Is it Spring yet? And selling eggs...

This photo was taken in mid-April in California. So at least 6 months before anything green even thinks of poking its head up out of the sand here in Nevada.

There are some advantages to winter, though. First off, it isn't so doggoned hot. Of course, that probably means it is freezing cold. We do get a few weeks where it is actually nice, though. Maybe one in April, maybe a few in May, a few in September. If we're lucky, a few in October.

Another advantage of winter is that the winds die down, meaning there is less dust in the air. On a cold, clear November night, you can see stars beyond imagination. Those of you who live your lives in the city miss one of the joys of rural life - turning off all the lights and sitting on the porch with a good dog at your feet and counting stars. In November, there are no blood-thirsty bugs to feast on you at night. I think even if you were a hard-core atheist, at a moment like that, you would be tempted to Believe.

Peas were planted two days before the sub-20°F night. So far, none have peaked up from the ground. Perhaps I was too late in planting them? I was hoping for pea vines for the chickies to munch on in winter, even if we didn't get any peas.

Garlic is here and ready to plant out. My living room smells so yummy with the bulbs waiting for me there - waiting for me to

  • get off my duff
  • build them a cage to protect them from marauding chickens
  • put them in the ground

The basil, of course, died with the first 30°F night, but the oregano keeps on as well as the sweet marjoram. Surprisingly, the rosemary also still survives. The tips are a little frost-killed, but I think if I mulch it well, perhaps it will come back in the Spring. Gardeners, I am sure, are eternal optimists. Even after we are dead and buried, there is always Next Spring.

About selling chicken eggs...

Of course, one must count one's eggs before the chickens actually start laying. It's the way it is done! So even though no one is laying yet... with 25 hens, and 2 of 3 laying an egg every day, we could have 18-20 eggs or so during peak season. That could mean that I have 10 dozen eggs a week to sell at the farmer's market. Enough to beak even in cost of driving expenses and almost a weeks worth of chicken feed. An added bonus is that my granddaughter lives in the same town as the little farmer's market that I would attend. So it would just be another excuse to see her every week. Any eggs that didn't sell I could give to my daughter.

But to really make it worth it from a dollar perspective, I think I would need 100 hens... but that is starting to sound like work. I have to remember, the chickens are for therapy and entertainment, not work! ...and maybe I can sell some garlic, too...

With the idea that I might have a very small egg business, here are some resources I have found...on the other hand, I have not been able to find anything useful on the laws that I need to comply with...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

22°F this morning in the coop

From Left to Right: White & Blakc Ameraucana, Maran Hen, Maran Rooster, back end of a Silver Laced Wyandotte, White Ameraucana (aka The Princess Chicken).

Of course, that was too cold for me to go mucking about in the wane morning light. All of these pictures were taken in the coop in the evening while it was a balmy 34°F.
Closer view of the Maran Hen (left) and Maran Rooster (right). It's difficult to tell in this photo, but the hens are all quite a bit darker in coloring, with little rose combs. The rooster is a lot larger than the hens, and his comb is traditional rooster looking, not rose at all. And, of course, he crows. A lot. And not just at sunrise, but whenever he darn well feels. He crows at me when I enter the coop and startle him, and he crows at my german shepard. I think he just likes to hear himself crow. The other two roosters don't crow nearly as much.
A trio of Silver Laced Wyandotte hens. They have almost no combs. I chose the Marans both for the dark brown eggs that they lay, and also, because, like the Wyandottes, they have small combs. I'm hoping this will help avert frost bite.
Closer view of a Silver Laced Wyandotte hen. Note her red earlobes. She will lay traditional brown eggs (not nearly as dark as the Marans).
Left to Right: Ameraucana rooster, Maran hen, Brown/Orange Ameraucana - all puffed out and mad because I woke her up - two Silver Laced Wyandottes.
Brown/Orange Ameraucana and a Silver Laced Wyandotte - I stuck my finger under the Wyandotte - nice and toasty under the feathers and in her down. Feet all warm, too. They are perched on 2" x 4" boards with the wide side parallel to the floor so they can cover all of their feet when roosting. Supposed to help prevent frostbite on the toesies.
And, of course, no photo shoot could be complete without a photo of The Princess Chicken. Since the roosters have started crowing and growing spurs, she (we still think she is a she) has stopped crowing. She is acting more feminine, too - not nearly as agressive as she used to be. Still, we don't have eggs from her, yet, so she still might be a he. White Ameraucana. Ameraucanas lay blue or green eggs, with the color being specific to the hen (i.e. she will lay all blue or all green eggs, and not a mixture).
Maran hen on top of an 8 ft ladder. She's the top hen and she always wants to roost as high up as possible. I left the ladder in the coop after adjusting the heat lamp (the ladder is far from the lamp) - and now she has taken over. I guess I will have to presure wash and bleach before returning it to my husband!

By the way, the heat lamp doesn't really heat the coop, but it does keep the waterer mostly deiced - meaning that I won't usually have to go chip ice for them in the wee hours before work.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pullet Power

Not sure why teenage female chickens are called "pullets," but they are. So here are the babies as they currently are, as of mid-September, 2008. And, in case you are wondering - yes, that is the same baby chicky watering jar as in their baby video. They have a large watering facility that will easily allow 15 or more chickens to drink at one time - but no, they still prefer drinking from their original water jar.

Monday, September 1, 2008

My Baby Chickie Video

Ok, got some new video editing software that I just had to play with. This video is from the first few days of my chickies' lives. Can you spot the Princess Chicken? From Day One, you can see she stands out from the crowd.

Took me most of the night to figure out how to

  • Use my new Pinnacle Studio video software
  • Find a FREE .MOV to .AVI converter (that actually works well)
  • Create a YouTube account
  • Export video in a format that YouTube liked
  • Upload the video, find it didn't work, recreate, upload again
  • Repeat above a few times

So, no other posts this holiday, probably, but I am proud to share part of the first day's of life of my babies. (Now, where was this technology when I had my human babies?) Anyway, watch out world - I may have found a new calling!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Holiday in the High Desert

Labor Day Weekend is the "Last Hoorah" travel weekend for a lot of people. As a result, I try to stay as far away from roads as possible. In fact, it's usually my favorite holiday to spend at home. By the end of August we are usually having a few days that are under 90*F, and with luck, one or two of them will land on the holiday weekend. Indeed, we are in luck this year, as today it is supposed to be under 80*F, even!

The "rescue" apple tree and my miniature corn field in the NE corner of the garden. The tarp is strung on the fence between the garden and the chicken run to provide shade and a wind block.

So I slept in until 5:30 a.m. this morning, and then met the sunrise with a small stampeed of chickens. The air was crisp and breezy, but not cold and windy, so everyone was hungry and energetic. This young "Easter Egger" doesn't yet have her poofy cheeck feathers, and is maturing quite a bit slower than her flock mates. I suppose in a different flock, she would have been culled long before now, but in a small, home flock like ours, we can afford to keep on a slow grower.
You can see the poofy cheeck feathers on the two "Easter Eggers" here. They are attacking some dried sunflower heads from last year's harvest.
As you can see, the sunflowers were a big hit with the chickies. I hung out in the coop filling water bottles and mixing up more food and such while they squawbled over both the seeds and the right to attack the dried sunflower head.
Another big hit with the chickies are the steps to the coop. Both fun for hopping on and beeing taller than the other chickies, and a great place to chill out under.
As cute as the chickies are, however, their sweetness is just an illusion. Here is some of the destruction that they caused in the corn patch.
And, while Life is determined to go forth in spite of the Desert, the Chickens and Me, only a few corn stalks produced ears. And those that did produced small ears... and most of those were sampled by Chickens.

So now, I think, it must be - Nap Time!