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!

New Chicks!

Life on this fallen earth being what it is, for every joyful event, there’s a sad one. Today, we brought home a box of baby chicks…last week one of our original old hens died. Antoinette, our Delaware, who lived up to her French name by loving to eat snails.

She was feisty, and bossy, and the first one into everything new. For the last three years or so, she’d been having trouble with a bit of lameness that I was never able to discover a cause for. It didn’t slow her down much…other than being unable to jump up onto her roost at night.  Her last day, she seemed fine, and it was a perfect day for a hen. She got to help me plant new trees in her yard – lots of tasty bugs and worms! – and later, she sunbathed with her sister. When it started to rain, I waited it out with her in the coop, so she had a lovely long snuggle…one of her favorite things in the world.

And then, in the morning, she was just…gone. Dead, I think, of a heart attack or stroke. She was quite an old girl. She’ll be missed.

But chicks! There is nothing like the happiness of bringing home a box full of babies!

There are ten Naked Neck chicks in there, and one Golden Sexlink. The Sexlink (name still to be chosen) will be joining the flock as a new egglayer. I’ve never had a Sexlink before, preferring the heritage breeds, but I’ve heard they are terrific winter layers – something my heritage breeds are not. This is a test. If she does well, I might keep a couple Sexlinks permanently in the flock.

The Naked Necks are for meat. If I like this breed, I might try keeping a rooster and a few hens so I can produce my own chicks of this breed every year.

The new chicks are being foster-mothered by my grey Cochin, Ophelia.

She was kind enough to go broody for the first time nearly EXACTLY two weeks before the store was stocking Naked Necks.  We just put the babies underneath her, and she took to them instantly. I think she’s going to be a great mother – fingers crossed! It’s good she’s so big and soft and fluffy, since she has eleven babies to care for. The most we’ve ever given a broody before was four. It’s going to be so cute, when she starts taking them out and teaching them how to be chickens!

Mostly Birds, Wild and Tame.

Mom made the fabulous discovery that our local food co-op no longer demands that you sign up to get vegetable scraps from them. Now, they just put whatever they have out in bags, and it’s first-come, first-serve. So far, we’ve gotten three bags. They went through the first bag in a shot, but still have a ways to go on the recent bags!

They even had a bunch of apples and nectarines in there!

Soon, hopefully, there will be lots of veggies to eat in their own run. Last year – and this Spring – I’ve made a point of planting all kinds of fruit bearing trees and bushes in their yard. Today, I put out several wood frames that I will staple wire over, then plant underneath. They’ll be able to eat the wheat grass, clover, kale, etc that I plant, but not get to the roots to dig them up.

They are happy, spoiled chickens. Someone needs to tell them that, so they stop whining at me!

The most exciting news in the chicken world, though, is this:

My frizzle cochin Ophelia has gone broody! This is exactly what I wanted when I chose this breed: a hen that would raise chicks for me early in the year. I have two other girls that are hit-or-miss broodies, but they always go broody late, when all the chicks I want are already gone from the stores.

This year, I’m getting 8-10 Naked Necks to raise for meat, and I really, really, wanted a broody to do all the work for me. Broodies are amazing. And Ophelia is timing it perfectly – almost two weeks to the DAY after she took to her nest and became a hissing, growling fluff of hormones, is the one day when the store is going to stock Naked Neck chicks.

Speaking of hormones, puberty finally struck my sweet little Bobwhite quail, and literally, in one single day, they went from all snuggling together to chasing each other around and trying to commit murder. I’m not even exaggerating on the murder thing – I’ve found quail pecked to death overnight with previous groups. I don’t want it to happen again. So I since I have one pair of snowflake bobwhite quail, I separated those out first into the empty “Display Coop”.

That solved the issue for about an hour. Then one white male started bullying all the others. I separated him out. Peace for almost a day. Then a second male started in with the bullying, so I took him out. I say ‘bullying’ but it was absolute terrorizing! The other quail, which mostly prefer to stay on the ground, were flying up to the very top of the cage and cowering behind the parakeet nest boxes, afraid to move.  It was so sad to see that it made it alot easier on me to butcher the troublemakers. The final two whites (which I suspect are both girls) are finally at peace. They are so happy. They get to stay, although I plan to move them into one of the small coops later this summer, and hatch out some California Valley Quail – you know, the ones with the topknots? I’ve always wanted some of those.

Every batch of quail I hatch all have a single theme for their names – it makes it easier to remember which clutch they came from. The bobwhites are Harry Potter themed. The Snowflake pair are “Buckbeak” and “Bellatrix”. One of the whites is “Luna”. But I’m stuck on a good girl name for the other white.  And suggestions?

The wild birds are checking out my nest boxes (I need to get lots more of those built before next year), the bumblebee queens are out looking for homes, and look! Someone very special moved into my honeysuckle tree! I haven’t caught sight of the resident yet, but I think it’s a positive sign.

This is going to be a very good year.

All Bugs Welcome Here

Started the foundation for the meat rabbit colony coop. This is the part I hate: leveling, putting down wire…all the boring, tedious bits. Before I can finish it, though, and move on to the fun building, I need that one stumpy limb of the old apple tree removed. Thankfully, my uncle has a chainsaw, and is willing to come help me out! He’s coming Weds, so hopefully the weekend will be nice, and I can get some work done here.

While I’m waiting on this, I started designing my “Insect Hotel”.

It’s behind the big roof garden quail coop, so it’s out of the way…yet will be attractive enough to be a cool surprise when you walk around the corner! I’m going to plant a few things in the pots, and around the base of them, and keep building the cinder block and wood platform up higher. Each level will have different things on it: blocks of wood with holes drilled through for mason bees, bundles of straw and reeds, pinecones…basically all the things that bugs like to overwinter in. Beside it, is the rhubard, just starting to show leaves, so that will be quite pretty, I think.

The bottom layer is for any frogs or toads that would care to move in. I’ve put some overturned flower pots underneath, and barricaded it off from the squirrels. There is also a tiny little dish of water – although hopefully later this year I’ll have time to install the larger wildlife pond I have planned. It’s a few feet away, on the other side of the compost.

And look! I found this broken mason block, and was about to throw it away, when I realized it makes a perfect frog house!

Last of all – look at this cool addition to the garden: a little olive tree!

I did not know that any type of olive would ripen in the Pacific NW where I live, but then I discovered this one! It’s called ‘Arbequina’ and is self-fertile. It says it often started bearing the year after planting, which is very exciting. I hope it thrives.

Spring is almost here.

The sorrel is up, and boy do I love this stuff! It’s the earliest edible green for me, and it just sprouts up all on its own. It has a lovely lemon bite to it!

After a long winter hiatus, the chickens have begun to lay eggs again. They have been solely missed. Ophelia the frizzle cochin laid her first egg a few days ago. I knew it was coming, because she had started “crouching” whenever I walked near her. It’s a sure sign when you see that; she’ll be laying in about a week! Ophelia’s eggs are a pretty brown, almost a pink. They are currently spotted with white, but that will stop once she uses up some of the extra calcium she has inside her right now.

I went out to feed the bobwhite quail the other day, and noticed something cute: they are getting on super well with the parakeets. When I threw seed on the ground, the green parakeet came right down with them – she was so unafraid that she actually was walking underneath the quail! Sadly, though I did get a video, I didn’t manage to capture any of the walking underneath action. But it’s still cute.

In other bird news, I purchased a ‘Lovey Dovey’ dove nest from Amazon, and hung it with a little grass stuffed inside. I’m hoping I’ll get a pair of mourning doves to nest.

The weather has been fairly decent the last few days, and I’ve got a lot of cleaning up in the garden accomplished. The summer kitchen area is ready to build in, and I’ve finished the raised beds in front and planted a few plants around. The summer kitchen will be roofed, and I’ll catch rainwater off it, to water the raised beds.

The area where the old duck coop used to be will now become an edible food forest. In the picture below, the first section of rough boards is where I plan to build a raised hot bed for winter growing. In behind, the two boards mark off the site of the future serama chicken coop.

I’ve got a bunch of trees and shrubs coming; the first batch is being delivered Monday. I’m so excited!

I’m so impatient for spring. Every time I go outside, I see more signs of life.

The violets are up.

The moss is growing.

And the roses are alive.

It’s still hard to believe that in about a month, everything will be green and I’ll have baby chicks out in the coop!