Chicken & Garden Update

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The garden has been producing green beans like crazy. I’ve canned four batches already, and I’ll be doing another tonight.  Maybe this year will be the year I don’t run out of canned beans before fresh beans are in season.

My frizzle cochin Ophelia (who already raised one batch of babies this year) went broody again, so I gave her some Silver Fresian Seagull eggs. I don’t know a lot about this breed of chicken because they are super rare, but I was won over by the description of the adults having the profile of actual seagulls, and the chicks being the cutest babies ever. I don’t know about the adult profile, but the chicks are truly adorable.

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I gave her a dozen eggs, and it looked like six would hatch. But three of them died as just-born chicks. I’m not sure what happened with two of them, but the third was clearly squashed as it was busy trying to hatch. Ophelia is a big, heavy girl. I’m thinking I’ll keep her for fostering the meat chicks in the future, and leave the more delicate egg hatching business to one of my lighter girls.

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They are a lot more grownup now. They have properly feathered wings and tails now. I need to have a photoshoot with them. They were not in the mood when I tried the other day…and Ophelia was being difficult too. She really doesn’t approve of her children’s pictures being plastered across the internet for everyone to see.  Do they look like seagulls yet?

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Charlotte also hatched eggs this summer, and hers are growing beautifully. They are Cream Legbars, which I wanted particularly for their blue eggs. I got one in the standard color:

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And two surprises – a couple of rare white sports! One is a girl, and the other a future rooster.

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The one in front is, of course, the girl. The other is the cutest little roo I have ever seen. I’m in love with him, folks. If he plays his cards right, I might just attempt to keep him in the flock. I’ve already named him Bertie Wooster, which just suits his personality and makes me laugh every time I say it. The white girl is probably going to be Minerva (Minnie for short), and the brown girl still hasn’t told me what her name should be.

The Naked Neck meat chickens are still around, because apparently they have the whole thing figured out, and are refusing to eat enough to get fat. Skinny little birds, these guys. I think I’m going to have to look into other options for next year.

They are still funny.

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I might still get a few next year, just for the humor and joy they add to the farm.

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A few nights ago, I went to lock them up in their coop. I counted them and counted them, and came up one short. Mom and I looked EVERYWHERE. In the neighbor’s yard, in case it flew over the fence. Under the bushes and up in the trees. I kept expecting to find a sad little scattering of feathers, because I thought something had surely gotten it. But I didn’t even find feathers. Finally, I gave up.

In the morning, it was back in the yard, wandering around like nothing had happened. The next night, it was the same story. One was missing, and couldn’t be found. Finally, though, as I was passing under the grape trellis, I happened to look up.

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There it was, looking down at me. I don’t know how many times I walked underneath this trellis while I was searching. And the whole time…staring down at me….

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These guys. They are so silly.

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I’ve been giving lots of garden tours, so many that I decided I needed to start charging.

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And I’ve been working hard on the summer kitchen! The inside is still quite a ways from being finished, but the outside is looking very pretty….

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New Rabbits!

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Last Sunday, Mom and I drove up by Hamilton to pick up two little 9 week old Rex does. These will be the mothers of my meat rabbits. I chose the Rex as my choice rather than going with New Zealand Whites because as a two-person family, we really don’t need a super high production animal, and with the Rex breed, I can learn to tan hides as well, and have some really lovely furs. This is good, because I believe it’s important to waste as little as possible when a death is involved.

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Blackberry is a “black otter”, a color I didn’t know ever existed until I started looking at Rexes. I’m really pleased to have found her, because I fell completely in love with the color.

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Thistle is a blue, and is so lovely and plush! Unless you’ve petted a Rex, you have no idea of how incredible this fur feels. It’s completely unlike regular rabbit fur.

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They are living together as a colony in the Bunny Barn I built them. It has a thick layer of pea gravel, followed by hardware cloth to keep them digging out (and other critters digging in).

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The inside is spacious, enough room for a hay loft. The roof is a framework of wood, covered in more hardware cloth, with a used billboard tarp to make it waterproof. These tarps are pretty cool, being tremendously cheap as well are being fairly indestructible. You can’t choose what design is printed on it…mine is an advert for an island golf resort!

They have a litter box (which they are already using) because I want to collect their manure for the garden, and a hayrack made from an old magazine rack.

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There is a side door; it will lead eventually into the buck’s quarters. Only the foundation of this section is built so far. The chickens are enjoying peering in through this door to be scandalized by the new neighbors!

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There are big windows in the front, both so I can walk by and see inside, and so the bunnies will be able to jump up on a window ledge and see out themselves.

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They will have a great view of the chicken yard!

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Then, yesterday, we met another breeder in Stanwood and picked up our buck. He’s a bit older, about 6 months, and is a real sweetie.

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I think his name is going to be Sorrel (we name all our rabbits after garden plants.) Until his Bunny Barn wing is completed, he’s got a pretty fab apartment in the Roof Garden quail coop. I moved the white Bobwhite girls out to another coop, cleaned it out, and moved him in.

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He loved it, from the moment I moved him in. Probably, he’d never been out of a wire cage before…and no matter how nice a breeder tries to make a cage, it’s no substitute for a pen with enough room to run and jump and play. I decided a long time ago that if I got meat rabbits, I wouldn’t keep them in wire cages, but in a manner that lets them express their ‘rabbit-ness’ (as Joel Salatin puts it.)

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I put in a litter box for him, too. And if you’re wondering why their food is in/close to their litter box, it’s because rabbits like to poop and eat at the same time. His hay rack is made from the wire bottom of a hanging flower basket.

He likes his ‘nest box’.

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And even though he has all this room, and doesn’t really know us yet, he still is friendly enough to come over and say hello.

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It’ll be quite awhile before the does are ready to breed, but until then, I’m enjoying these little sweeties!

 

 

 

 

 

Garden Beneficials

My garden is entirely organic. Other than a limited use of Sluggo when the slugs get completely out of hand, I don’t use even natural sprays.  And hopefully, I’ll be able to discontinue even the use of Sluggo eventually. I have noticed SUCH a difference in my yard since I stopped trying to control nature.

Things that used to be a problem, like aphids, just really don’t exist for me anymore. I used to have aphids covering my rose buds in spring, now I rarely see any. If you leave the bugs alone, the predator insects will come! I have tons of ladybugs instead. Last year, I planted a lot of currant bushes, and I had little worms eating the leaves. I fed a few to the quail, but otherwise, I left them alone. This year, I saw about two worms…before something swooped in and devoured them. I have never seen such gorgeous currant leaves!

It really bothers me when people’s first reaction to seeing an unfamiliar bug is to kill it. So many posts on my gardening groups are something like: “What is this bug and how do I kill it?” Killing things should not be our first reaction! Just today, I was out by one of my mini ponds, and I saw these gross-looking larvae swimming around in it. They looked like maggots with rat tails…and no joke, when I googled, them, that what they turned out to be named: Rat Tail Maggots! Ick! Kill them!!!!

Not so fast. Turns out they are the larvae of Drone or Hover flies, and they are a very important beneficial bug in the garden. Resembling pretty little bees, these flies are great pollinators, and are one of the top predators of worms, caterpillars, and aphids. I want these guys in my garden. I’m willing to let their gross (but weirdly interesting) larvae live in my pond. So glad I didn’t just dump out the water and kill them.

I also enjoy having non-bug beneficials in my garden…like moles. Yes, moles ARE beneficial!

Contrary to public opinion, they don’t eat your vegetables…or any vegetation at all. They burrow through your soil, improving it while consuming worms and grubs. Having a mole take up residence is usually a sign that you have pretty good soil…and you’ll have even better soil by the time he moves on. Sure, he pushes up little hills of dirt here and there, but that’s no biggie.

The only critter I’m having a problem with right now is baby rabbits. Wild ones, from the field behind me. Once they are grown, they are too large to fit through my fence, but baby rabbits are tiny and squishy and cute. Cute…until they eat every single kohlrabi you plant…and do it over and over, because you think you have covered all the holes, so you plant more, and THOSE vanish overnight too. I have a bunch of scrap wire and wood lining the bottom half of my fence now, but my kohlrabi are safe at last. I don’t mind sharing – but I do want some for myself and my chickens!

It is amazing how useful birds are, too. I do have to cover my sunflower and pea sprouts, but otherwise they leave most things alone. And they eat tremendous amounts of bugs. I see the little nuthatches hanging upside down in my roses, looking for bugs. It’s far more interesting, then simply putting out a feeder…because you get to see birds doing actual bird behavior. I need to get more nest boxes out there! The one in the picture above has been in constant use so far this year. The nesting pair gathers feathers from my chickens to refresh the nest after clutch. Even though it is right above one of my most used paths!

One thing I don’t have…yet…is snakes. I’m working on attracting some, but until then, I make do with $1 plastic ones from Walmart. I place them where I really don’t want birds – with my pea sprouts, my ripening strawberries, etc, and they really do keep the birds from coming too close. Even the chickens stay away!

It seems like every time I go out in the garden, I see some new wildlife activity, and it’s so cool.

In other garden news, I have so much lovely fruit ripening from trees that I planted. This year, my very first espalier apple is producing: Cox’s Orange Pippin, a very old heirloom variety and reputedly one of the best tasting…if not THE best tasting. Apparently the taste depends a lot of which part of the world it’s grown in.  It’s from England originally, and since the Pacific Northwest is basically the exact climate as England, I have hopes it will be amazing here.

Also going crazy are the little peach trees I planted just last year. I can’t believe they are producing at all – much less so bountifully! There are at least two dozen peaches developing.

And since I picked great old varieties with leaf curl resistance, I’m having no problems with no spraying.  One is Indian Free, the other is Charlotte.

A garden is a magical place.

The Little Meats

These guys have been such a pleasure to have around. I don’t know whether it’s the breed (Naked Necks) or just because there are ten of them (plus one future layer) but they are FUN.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve shown you pictures, so I’m putting them in chronological order, so you can see them grow. They still have a ways to go before they have their ‘one bad day’ as Joel Salatin puts it, but until then, they are having a ball.

They are experimenting with the Big Girls’ perch – much to the dismay of the Ellie, my Welsummer who likes to go to bed early.  It’s simply impossible, she says, for a civilized hen to share a perch with such an uncivilized gang of youngsters.

And just look at their necks! Are we sure they aren’t diseased???

The babies love their kefir.

Even the new future egg-layer, our Golden Sexlink. We have named her Matilda, Tilda for short.

She is the sweetest little bird. I have to be very careful not to step on her, because she’s always right at my ankles. I haven’t socialized these meat birds much, because…well, they ARE meat birds. They aren’t scared of me (because I bring the food) but they don’t really want to be touched. Tilda does. Even though she was raised exactly the same, she started approaching me, and wanting affection – or at least extra treats!

They love to sunbathe – they spend more time stretched out in the sun than any chickens I’ve ever raised.

And when they are in the way back part of their yard, and they hear me coming with the fermented grain, it’s like having a little flock of velociraptors. They are fierce, when they run!  Sometimes, it startles me…but always, it makes me laugh. I need to try and get a video of it.  I did get a video of them drinking kefir.

I just took this pic today. Relaxed, happy babies, just hanging out.

And Ellie peeking at them through the grape vines, still convinced there’s something wrong with them…

I have been working on planting the chicken areas with lots of future fruit sources: grapes, mulberry, blackberries, herbs, wolfberry, roses, apples, and many others. It’s really starting to look pretty nice, and the girls appreciate the greenery, even if it’s too soon for fruit.

I have also spread a thick layer of wood chips out here. The chickens are not very fond of them when they are fresh – I don’t know if they don’t like the smell, or the prickliness of all the pine needles and twigs, but it prevents the ground from turning to mud in winter, and bare, dry, cracked earth in summer. Once the chips age a few months, they will be in here, constantly digging through it and finding tons of worms and bugs.

April Garden Improvements

In between building the future rabbit colony housing, I’ve found time to make a few decorative improvements to the garden.  Over the last year, I’ve been adding more and more food-producing trees, shrubs, and plants to the chicken’s yard. And finally, it’s beginning to green out.

They will have blackberries, jostaberries, seaberries, mulberries, apples, currants, grapes, roses, oregon grape, and various other plants and herbs. I’m also working on building them grazing beds, with edible greens underneath.

These two are planted with red clover. once the greens grow up high enough to reach up to the wire, the chickens will be able to pick at them – without being able to kill them by either digging or over-grazing. I need to get more finished, with kale and wheatgrass, and other tasty things.

The south facing stone patio next to our house, while wonderfully warm in early spring, is way too hot at the height of summer. To cool it down a little, I’ve built trellises, and plan to grow green beans up them to provide food and a little shade.

And my personal favorite, that makes me happy every time I see it: a mirror, at the end of one of the garden paths!

It adds the illusion of more space, and more life to the garden. I wish these pictures could fully capture it.

Spring is such a wonderful time of year. Green is such a lovely color, after all that winter….

Chicks!

First time foster mother Ophelia, my frizzle cochin hen, has been doing an excellent job with her new family. Eleven babies would be a handful for anyone, however experienced, and I think she’s sometimes a little frazzled by them…but she hasn’t lost one yet (permanently, at least!)

Ten of her babies are the “little meats” as my mom calls them…our future dinners. They are Naked Necks, a traditional meat breed.

The other is a Golden Sexlink, and we’ll be keeping her as an egg-layer.

We might keep just one of the Naked Necks, too. I’m considering keeping my own breeding flock, and I’d like to test the breed and see how I like them as adults.

I love raising chicks with a broody hen; there is no fussing over temperature and heaters – the chicks just run free whenever they want, ducking in under mama whenever they get chilly. And they spend a surprising amount of time out in the world, even when they are just a few days old. It makes for stronger, healthier hens, I think. Plus, they eat whatever mama eats, which means lots of greens, bugs, and worms.

The other adult hens do not bother them, other than a warning peck if they get into trouble.  But as they grow up, they gradually grow into the flock, without any of the trauma and difficulty of introducing “stranger birds” into an established flock.

And there is nothing more amusing than watching chicks get into mischief. Here they are invading the hens’ food bucket. I came out to do a head count and make sure everyone was ok, and came up missing a few. Here’s where I found them!

Growing a Little Fruit Tree

My gardening life changed the moment I stumbled across a book called “Grow a Little Fruit Tree” by Ann Ralph.  I have a large yard, but it’s still a city yard. I have no room for fruit trees…or so I thought, until I read this book. Now I have 22 fruit trees – and I’ll be adding a few more next year. And this does not include bushes,  like blueberries or gooseberries! (I have many more of those.)

A few of the trees are traditional espalier trees, that I grew from one year-old “whips” (basically a skinny little stick on roots). One of my espalier pears is blooming this year for the first time.

It’s four years old, and I’m hoping for fruit, even though its pollination pear is not blooming this year (it’s a year younger). Maybe a neighbor has a pear I don’t know about? I can hope, right?

My four year old espalier apple is also blooming.

Apple blossoms are so pretty.

I like the art of espalier, even though I’ll probably get more fruit from the “little tree” method. Supposedly, about 100 apples per tree. Given that I currently have seven apple trees, that is a very nice number!

I also have a couple of columnar apples, which are really taking off, and looking quite gorgeous.

I could be pruning them into more of an exacting columnar shape, but I rather like the extra branches.

All of the “little trees” were planted last year, and although I chopped their little trunks off even with my knee immediately after planting them, they have grown immensely.

I have two peaches, both planted together only about a foot apart. This distance helps keep them small, and of course is great for pollination.  Both peaches bloomed this year, so I’m hoping for a few actual peaches!

One of the trees was covered in the brightest pink blossoms possible. I can’t believe I didn’t get a picture of the entire tree in bloom, but here’s a close up the flowers.

I have four plums, and am planning to add a couple more next year.

Two of them produced a handful of flowers, so probably next year I’ll see fruit.

Last year, I planted two sweet cherries.

And this year, two sour cherries. These are hard to see, because they haven’t leafed out yet, and are just sticks in the ground, cut off at knee level.

Can you see them? Look for the blue and yellow tags!

The cutest little tree I have is my Dolgo crabapple.  (Ignore the cardboard, we’re expanding our Back to Eden garden, and are anxiously awaiting a load of wood chips to cover said cardboard!)

Planted last year, it astonished me by producing exactly one little apple. This year, it’s blooming quite well, and I expect to get several more. See how perfectly adorable it is? And see how many branches it’s grown in one year?

I love this method. Basically, I will always keep these trees small enough to reach all the branches while standing with both feet on the ground. No ladders, no picking hooks. I could not recommend Ann Ralph’s book any higher!