A couple of weeks ago, I took the Coops and Crops tour in Anacortes. They give you a map and let you drive around to several chicken-keeping folks and tour their coops and gardens. I was more than a little surprised at two things:
1) Hardly anyone had bothered to build predator-proof cages. Chicken wire is meant to keep chickens in, not predators out. A raccoon will rip through that stuff like it’s gauze, and quite a few people said raccoons were often in their yards. One lady even said that a raccoon had come for four nights in a row and stolen a hen. The fourth hen they managed to save, but her solution? They ‘keep an eye out’. And they buy more hens. I can’t figure out that kind of logic. Even if you don’t care about your hens as pets – why go through all the expense and bother of raising them if you’re just going to feed them to raccoons? Get some hardware cloth and protect your investment!
2) That my hens were so much more healthier-looking, and their feathers were so much more glossy. And it wasn’t just that they were different breeds or ages – several hens were the same age and breed as mine. It must be all the love and snuggles they get from me! 😉 Either that, or it’s the food. We’ve taken our girls off the processed layer food and put them on a mixture of natural grains (in addition to whatever bugs and greens they forage.)
More impressive were the gardens. I’m totally going to get a few dwarf fruit trees and train them into espaliers. I saw the cutest little pear tree….
And I saw a turkey. A turkey hen, kept together with the lady’s chickens! And it lays eggs, which are (according to the owner) way more delicious than chicken eggs. There will be more about turkeys later in this post….
Before the coop tour, we went to the beach for a hour.
It hasn’t been summer until I’ve had my feet in the sand and smelled the salt.
And on the way to the beach, we saw a deer relaxing in someone’s front yard.
I’m lucky enough not to have deer in MY garden, but how brilliantly cool it is to see one just hangin’ out like this. I could almost be jealous, if I didn’t know the devastation deer cause in gardens.
But speaking of garden devastation, my two young pullets (Little Blue and Isabella) got into my fenced vegetable garden – and judging by the very large poo left behind, I think their mother joined them at some point. She was wise enough to make a getaway before anyone could catch her in the act, but they obviously had great fun digging up my fall garden seedlings and trampling through my chard and radishes. Thankfully, they left my brand-new asparagus bed alone! I meant to take pictures of the disaster, but forgot until after I’d cleaned up the mess and replanted new seeds. But here’s what left of a cabbage after hens get into it:
Sigh. At least the other cabbages are fine. I keep hearing authors say chickens can be allowed to free range in gardens year-around, but THIS is what happens to gardens when chickens free-range. It really only works to let them in early in the season to clean out the bugs, and late in the season to clean up the unwanted remains of the vegetables. But they are brilliant at their jobs during those two times!
This garden attack might have been an act of revenge. Isabella and my accidental rooster Freddie were soulmates. The bond they had was obvious, but I can’t keep a rooster in the city. So Freddie went to another coop, where he will be in charge of a flock of feather-footed females.
Isabella is very upset. The first couple of days she wandered the coop yard, looking for him and crying. She has a mournful little voice at the best of times, so it was particularly sad to hear.
But at least Freddie didn’t have to end up in a stew pot!
I gave the girls a few plants of their own in their coop yard. I noticed some Lemon Balm mint had seeded itself in their yard, and they hadn’t eaten it or dug it up. Mint is great for keeping flies away, so I had a brainstorm. I planted several different kinds of mint in corners of their yard.
To protect the plants until the roots get established, I put a few bricks around them. The Girls haven’t touched them, so I think it’s going to be a success. Plus, I noticed when Ellie jumped up on my lap to be petted, that her feathers smelled nicely of Lemon Balm!
The rabbits had some surprising news for us – our two little girls turned into one girl and a boy! So now we’re going to have to get them fixed.
They are such sweet bunnies, though!
In quail news, the babies are all full-grown, and we’re waiting for eggs. I heard the male crow (SO much quieter and more pleasant than a chicken’s crow!) so I think they’re getting really close.
They love their coop.
And so do the plants growing on the roof. Next year, I’ll plant strawberries, but this year it’s squash and watermelons. With all the chicken-manure compost and rabbit droppings, the soil is producing amazing things. I can almost SEE it grow before my eyes.
Look at the photo evidence (these were taken only a few days apart.)
The one above these words and one below were literally taken one day apart.
And two days later, we have this.
The squash leaves are immense!
We have baby squashes!
And volunteer baby tomato seedlings. On the quail roof!
Elsewhere in the garden, I’m letting a few of my favorite spring lettuces go to seed. I’m going to try to save more of my vegetable’s seeds. The plants adapt to your particular garden that way, and you end up with future generations that are perfectly suited to grow under your garden’s conditions.
Lettuce flowers are similar to small dandelions.
My fancy Italian Dandelions, however, surprised me by blooming blue. They are very pretty, and could absolutely masquerade as ornamentals.
Let’s see…what else is gorgeous and/or unusual in my garden right now?
The sweet peas are still going strong.
Love this color combination.
I also think I am going to actually get melons to ripen this year. Miniature ones, which only makes it more sweet. These are Green Gem.
Today, we went to the local fair. I was most interested in seeing the turkeys. I don’t know WHAT it is, but I have always loved turkeys. I had accepted the fact that I couldn’t have one, because I don’t have room for a separate flock, and probably a Tom would be way too big anyway. But one turkey hen, mixed in with the chickens? One of the small breeds? Totally do-able! They say that you shouldn’t keep chickens and turkeys together because the chickens can give the turkeys blackhead (a fatal liver disease.) But from what I’ve been able to discover, blackhead is pretty much extinct, and the odds are not great that my small backyard flock has it. Plus, by the time the turkeys are old enough to put outside with the hens, they are pretty much immune to it anyway. It’s worth taking such a very slight risk, I think. Just look at this sweet turkey girl I met at the fair!
Turkeys are just so friendly and personable. I’m a little bit smitten, I must admit!