Monday, December 19, 2011

December 19th, 2011

Not much to say today, I've just noticed more folks following my blog of late so I wanted to thank them.  To all who have stopped by and want to keep doing so, thank you! Sure it may not be the thousands that came after my write-up in the Seattle Times several years ago, but I like this even better.  Folks not looking for a quick fix, but a sustainable future. 

Speaking of sustainable.  My hens may not give me eggs forever, but whoever thought their egg production would fall off in the winter (moi) was sadly mistaken.  I've had to give away dozens and dozens of eggs just to not feel so bad about not using them.  We don't eat eggs every day, but we do consume our fair share.  But when the girls are giving on average 3 eggs a day it adds up quick. 

I have to thank my wife for stepping up and taking care of the hens all week when I'm at work.  She gathers the eggs, feeds and waters the hens, and gives them that added human contact that they like so much.  And to think hens were completely my idea that I had to wear her down just to let me get them. 

I still do the cleaning.  Speaking of which, this weekend I had to clean out the coop after only a few months.  I'm not sure how, but the bedding almost looked wet.  I'm pretty sure I don't have leaks, though with all the ventilation I'm sure the dew gets in.  That and since the hens have been cooped up almost exclusively since the grass stopped growing, they soil it more.  Not that I'm complaining, the moist nitrogen rich bedding is great for the compost, which is almost full. If only I had some other greens to add to it. Maybe I'll have my wife swing by Starbucks for something other than a Chi Frappochino.  Hehe.

Well folks, that's about it.  My fall garden is not overwintering nicely so I will end up feeding it to the chickens, but at least they'll get something other than organic feed and kitchen scraps.

Take care and stay warm!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

November 19, 2011

I was just sitting here wondering what folks blog about in the off season. Nothing I'd growing in the garden and the overwintering broccoli isn't holding up like I wanted. That said I can feed them to the hens.

They'd like the fresh veg. I haven't been ranging them since the weather turned foul. I tried it a few times and they demolished the grass. It scared me, so, when they get out of the mini-run the arc stays right there. There's no grass there anyway. I feel bad, but they don't seem to mind. I even open the cleanout door when they're in the coop and they don't jump out. Go figure.

Lastly, the weather's turned amazingly foul this week. I've had a regular light bulb in there for the chickens for when the temps drop below freezing. I don't like keeping the hens in light all night, but they manage. The light adds 5 degrees to coop temp.  Anyway, tonight we're getting into to 20s and that's just horrible. So, tonight I'm considering throwing the heat lamp in there. Not sure.

So, I hope you have a garden that either is growing now or was big enough to allow you to put up enough to be eating from your garden still.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

October 22, 2011

Well, I finally cleaned out the chicken coop and changed the bedding.  The girls were glad I did it too.  By girls I include my wife, who had asked me to do it.  She's been pretty much taking care of the hens since I went back to work.  I am away from the house when they need tending to. 

I really think I could have gotten more than 6 months out of the bedding if Fall hadn't arrived.  You see, we've kept them in their coop during the day far more often then when the weather was nice.  They tend to make a much bigger mess of the place when they're cooped up all day (pun intended).

Anyway, I got two wheelbarrows full of used bedding that went on top of my compost pile.  I should really mix it in with some greens to speed up the decomposition, but until I get some more Starbucks coffee grounds, the chicken manure will just have to suffice. 

I used up half a bale of pine shavings in the three nesting boxes and the coop.  My brother picked up a bale for me from the feed store the other day.  I was a bit disappointed that it was a national brand like you see in pet stores in small bricks.  In the past we've purchased local shavings from Washington, just like our organic feed from Bellingham.  The price was the same, but I just feel better using the local bedding.  This will work, but next time I stop in at the store, I'll talk to them to find out what happened to their local source.

Lastly, the chickens haven't been foraging much at all this past week.  The weather's been crappy, the arc is too heavy for my wife to move by herself and the grass just isn't growing.  I'm thinking they'll just be home-bodies this winter, using the area in front of the compost bins as a run whenever we bring them out.  There isn't much grass there anyway, and if they kill it, no biggie.  About the only non-feed they're getting are table scraps and the occasional pear that drops from the spent pear tree.  I won't eat the fruit, but they love it.  They'll get the over-spotted apples when I pick them also.  Boy I wish they liked morning glory! The rose garden is covered in them. /shrug

Enjoy your garden!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

October 9, 2011

Thanks Wishingbee for the kick in the pants to get back here to post.  However, I can't say much is going on in the garden.  It is fall of course, and the summer heat killed all my tomatoes such that I only got a handful of each variety to use.  The good news is that our salads have been marvelous.  We've got lettuce (only Italienshier grew for me this fall, but it's good), spinach, and tomatoes.  If only I'd grown cukes this year, I'd have a perfect salad.  Oh, and I never have timed my salads right with my radishes, they've all gone to seed.  Shame, I do love a good radish.

Anyway, the girls are going strong, giving us 2-4 eggs a day, such that I gave a dozen to my folks and brother, since his chickens for some reason haven't started laying yet.  It's odd since they're the same breeds bought from the same store on the same day.  Very odd indeed.  Of course 5 days after I gave away two dozen eggs I had another dozen to use.  They're delicous but defnitely "large" variety eggs, unlike the extra large we get in the store.  Haven't had an opportunity to bake with them yet, but I'm a bit worried about a recipe calling for 1 extra large egg.  That we don't have. 

I've seen extra large eggs from so-called "Production Reds" that are a cross between production Leghorns and Rhode Island Reds.  According to my wife, they're not very cute, but who knows.  Something to consider next time.  I do like our birds though. They're cute, a bit loud, and friendly.  About the only thing they don't do is use the roost.  Oh well, no biggie.

So, I hope you all have an "EGGstremely" good weekend!

Friday, August 26, 2011

August 26, 2011

Yeah, I know you haven't heard from me in a while.  I've been trying to fit a year into the last month of my summer before I go back to work, even if it's a temporary gig.  So, I've been spending my days playing with my kids and getting the last of the to-do chores done.  Fun over blogging.  I don't feel bad about it.

That said, one of the things on my to-do list was to get the chicken arc ready for layers.  So, last week, I finally got to it as my birds were getting to be 5 months old. 

I started by building a platform with left over plywood and 1x2 scrap from the coop project that I'd been saving for this very reason.  The placement was as high as it needed to be to reach the sides of the triangular arc.

Sure it doesn't look extremely sturdy, but really, how heavy duty does it need to be to be to support a few hens laying eggs?

After that, I decided to use recycled corrugated fiberglass panels from my broken compost cover for the sides.  Not only is it water proof, but it adds more light, which will be good during the winter months.  The door was a bit more tricky as I had no idea what angle my arc was set at, so we resorted to tracing it on the plywood and cutting it out.  I used a left over hinge that was way too big for the application, but I had it.

My brother wanted to use a hook latch for the closure, but I have found eye-hook latches to be pains in the rear over the last few months.  I like barrel bolt latches much better.  Thankfully I had one on hand, so I used it. 

So, as it sits now, it isn't pretty, but it's very functional and not particularly heavy.  Just what the doctor ordered, and if you read yesterday's post, I built it right in time.

It's not finished yet.  I still need to build in a lip to keep nesting material in there, and maybe build some sort of a ramp to let the chickens up there.  I'm thinking of indoor outdoor carpet in the nesting box to help keep the eggs from rolling around when the arc is at an angle, which happens regularly, depending where it is in the yard. 

I also want to replace the rusty chicken wire with some galvanized welded wire, maybe in the inch or two variety, to cover it.  As winter approaches, it may be that the hens are out after dark some days, so I want to make it temporarily predator proof.  I've got my work cut out for me.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

August 25, 2011

It's been five months since I got chickens, so they're five months plus a few days old.  They're definitely hens now, about as full grown as I expect them to get.  They've got combs and waddles like you'd expect from hens.  We had everything we expected, except eggs.  I've been looking daily for a while now, with no luck.  I haven't been concerned as my chickens are much bigger than my brothers (for some unknown reason). Let's just say I've been anxious.

So I guess I wasn't completely surprised, though very elated when I found this while I was putting the chickens away for the evening.

Our first egg!

As you can see by the quarter next to it, it's about 2/3 the size of a regular egg, or about the size of a bantum egg.  Not at all bad for a first attempt, if I may say so.  The shell's a bit rubbery feeling but otherwise it looks like a perfectly good egg.  Not one of those partially formed mishappen eggs you read about.  Maybe it's the fact that I switched to layer feed a few weeks ago, or maybe it's the 8 plus hours of foraging they get to do every day.  Whatever it is, I'm proud of my girls!

And here's the last picture I'll bore you with.  I love how different the egg looks as I rolled it in my palm.


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

August 9, 2011

Well, the girls escaped this morning and I was rudely awakened on my day to sleep in so I could round them up.  Seems my kids didn't do as good a job locking the run doors as it sounded when they helped me put the girls away last night.  I just can't see how they'd get the latch opened if it were properly locked.  If not, a good push would open the doors and I know they're capable of that.

No harm done it seems, they all seemed to be hanging out on the patio or on the grass where they normally are kept in the arc.  They probably want food as they seem to devour everything I give them in seconds.  Well, all their regular food that is.  They've seemed to sour on the cabbage that I chopped up and have kept in the produce drawer in the fridge. 

I keep expecting to see some mis-shappened eggs, but as yet nothing.  I also wonder if I should be baking and grinding up egg shells to supplement calcium right before the whole laying thing starts?

In other random chicken news, I saw the neighbors of some friends of ours using a spray bottle on their chickens to get them to quiet down, so today I tried it out.  It worked like a charm, as they quieted right down and simply shook their feathers to get that nasty water off them.  One of them even clearly liked the taste of it when she moved and got hit in the face by it.  It was humorous and worked well, so I think I've got a new way to keep them quiet...ish.  I expect they'll be their breed-typical loud selves when they lay and I won't stop that unless I get complaints from the neighbors (sure hope not as they agreed to me having them).

Anyway, it's all chickens all the time around this blog of late since my fall garden isn't doing much and my spring garden's all bolted.  I'm still hopeful about the countless flowers on all my tomato plants though.  Maybe tomorrow I'll take some pics of the green tomatoes that are growing on a few plants.

Hope your garden is doing better than mine!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

August 3, 2011

Maybe a short post as an addendum to last night's.  Chickens are crazy!

I think I mentioned that I'm taking care of my brother's flock while they're gone.  I should have mentioned that when I let them out at night (my brother's method to get them into their coop), they mill around for a second, then do their best to get under my feet as I transfer stuff back to the coop and refresh their food (they go in as they want their food that they JUST had access to in their arc, crazy, right?).  So as I'm refreshing their food, they like to jump up next to me and get the first pecks in.  Tonight they even jumped on top of the tray while I was trying to open it to refresh it.  It was then that I realized that his chickens don't like the top part with the holes any more than mine do.  I had it partially off and the one in my arms dug in like there was no tomorrow.  So, I took his top off also.  Sure enough, the girls didn't even let me get out of the way when I opened up their run. In seconds they were all diving into the open tray.  No wonder his birds are a tad smaller than mine. I've had my top off the tray for weeks.  So, long story short, his are people crazy.  They didn't care that a relative stranger was putting them away, just that I had food. ROFL.

Now for my chickens.  I may have mentioned that they're getting more vocal.  But tonight, we heard them from across the street.  I thought either they were trying to lay an egg or something was trying to attack them.  I ran over and they quieted down.  I have no idea what got them riled up, but I sure hope they stop bocking so much, or someone may complain and I'd have to get rid of them.  Wouldn't THAT be horrible?

Anyone knowledgeable in chicken raising know why they all of a sudden got so loud at 4 months?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August 2, 2011

Summer may be waning, but my chickens are getting closer and closer to laying.  They're developing waddles and combs at record paces, just in time to need them as temperatures SOAR into the upper 70s.  That's right, we've had exactly 78 MINUTES of temperatures in the 80s this year, meaning we're way behind our zone for warm temperatures.

This week I've been busy keeping tabs on both mine and my brother's chickens as they're on vacation.  His birds are a bit smaller than mine, but will do anything you ask for food.  Mine are holy terrors when it comes to food and devour it whenever they have any.  Like a fool I keep filling it. Hehe.  These girls are going to eat me out of house and home.  Nearly two 40 pound bags gone in 4 months.  Yikes.

Anyway, I finally fixed this problem with my coop...

You see, I've taken to leaving the pop door down all night to allow the girls access to their mini-run in the morning before I go out to let them into their arc.  So, while I've got hardware cloth around the entire run, this gap at the bottom worries me for small critters that may be able to do the hens harm.  I've been trying to figure out a way to keep them closed. I thought one of those magnet cabinet closure pieces would work, but I didn't want to have it rust in the damp Pacific Northwest weather.  A trip to my local True Value led me to a different type closure that I'm quite happy with.

A bent arrow-shaped piece of medal fits in between those rollers.  I had a devil of a time placing these, as they need a fair amount of overlap to attach them.  Thankfully I convinced my eldest to crawl into the run and mark the best placement for the rollers and arrow piece.  They're not in the same place on the coop, but who cares where they are if they work.

Now it closes like a dream and I can feel safe keeping the pop (chicken) door down all night.

That project down, I also finally threw a hook lock on my arc.  A week ago I actually forgot to get the girls in for the evening, and shortly after dark there was a bocking and pecking at the sliding glass door. They'd got out and came to the only light source, our house.  It wasn't hard getting them in as they don't move in the dark, but I had to keep them from pushing the door of their arc open.  I didn't think they had it in them, but I was wrong.  So, now there's a hook to keep it closed.

Lastly, I'll leave you with a pic of the girls to show how they've grown.  One month left before they start laying (hopefully).

Sunday, July 24, 2011

July 24, 2011

Ah, what a beautiful summer day! Weather's in the upper 70s and the boys and I had a blast.  We rode our bikes til the tires fell off and got to spend time with a really nice neighborhood couple and their two girls that are the same ages as my boys.  After we all got tired riding, we were treated to Otter Pops and watermelon in their back yard.  Can you say yard envy!?  They had at least 100 feet by 50 feet of southern exposure flat back yard.  I just couldn't resist drooling over it and telling them that I could do wonders with their yard. 

I then proceeded to suggest what they could do with their side garden areas.  They were growing a bit of stuff, though mostly weeds (aren't we all).  Of course, they were growing great flowers.  We ended up taking about three beds that could be used to grow food. I explained how they could grow tons in those beds.  I wasn't about to go all Mel on them, but I did talk of intensive gardening and succession planting.  They seemed impressed. I even offered to help how I could. Man, if only I could make money doing this, hehe.

We sure had fun, but talking lettuce to them was a bit of an issue.  The husband is Asian, so I had to change my tune to bok choy and the like.  Came home and looked it up in the "book", only to find Mel's not big on Asian greens.  Best I could find on the internet was 9/SF, which makes sense as they harvest baby bok choy.  They seemed happy that after the initial work outlay, there wouldn't be much work, and also that they could grow tons of fresh veggies.  Best of all the ability to save tons of money on produce costs was a big hit. 

Our last topic of course was compost.  They've got a great spot for it.  Anyone have any good ideas to cheaply keep dogs out of your compost? I don't have that problem.  I thought of a pallet to block it, and of course chicken wire, but what else?

Alas, sorry for yet another post without pictures.  I just don't have the camera with me these days.  What would you grow if you had 150 SF?

Enjoy your garden!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Chickens: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly!

Ah yes, the skinny on being urban, or suburban chicken livestock keepers.  Having done this for exactly four months today, I thought it was high time I shared my experience, mostly from today alone.

I'll start with the Good. Today I had the incredible opportunity to partake upon the Coop of Dreams tour in nearby Everett, WA.  Apparently it's a tradition of backyard chicken keepers there to have a self-directed coop tour, where they open up their yards and flocks to inspection.  I saw it advertised in the paper last week and set out to go with the kids.  We had a blast, so that's the good thing. I got to talk to like minded folks and see what necessity, ingenuity and creativity did for them, and how different it all turned out.  There really are 1,000 ways to raise chickens.  Amazing really.

I also got to see about a dozen different breeds, many I recognized from my own flock, but many I've never seen in real life.  So many happy, healthy chickens of various ages.  Very cool!

Now for the Bad.  I was polite and civil as always, holding my tongue, but spending a bit of time on Backyard will indoctrinate just about everyone to the rule of thumb that says chickens need a minimum of 4 SF per bird for a coop and 10 SF per bird for a daytime run space.  That's what I went off of when building my setup, and my birds seem quite content with it. 

So, when I was going around the the various tour sites, I couldn't help but internally critique their setups.  Every coop was completely different, which was the point of the tour, though in general, folks gave their birds far too little coop space.  The worst offender had one of those A-Frame style portable coops with the siding most of the way down and a run underneath.  However, they had like 10 birds in a 12 SF coop!  No wonder they were squawking up a storm the whole time I was there. I know, chickens are overwhelming raised in cages where they can't stand up or stretch their wings, but come one! 

Only one of the 7 we made it to before the tour time ended impressed me for space.  It was a 10x10 shed for 10 birds, and they free ranged.  Simple but elegant.  I was very impressed.

Finally, the Ugly.  Being a livestock farmer is tough.  No, the 10 minutes a day I spend taking care of my chickens isn't tough at all, except that it HAS to get done.  I can say I'm still not used to it after four months of doing it.  They say it takes 21 days to make a habit.  I beg to differ.  I have yet to master the forethought of looking out at my daily schedule and making sure they chickens get in before dark.  It wouldn't be so bad if I had a predator-proof arc, but I still have chicken wire on it.  Take today for example.  It's a busy summer Saturday.  We've got a packed schedule that requires dividing the forces, meeting up at an amazing party at a dear friend's home in Monroe, about 45 minutes from home.  If I had planned better, I would have had my wife put the girls in their coop and mini-run around 3 PM, forcing them to survive on 8 SF MORE of combined space than their arc allows.  Instead, we were forced to leave the party way before it was over, just when the band was starting, to head home to put the girls away.  Sure, it's not nearly as bad as being parents, but it does require forethought.  Live and learn... my brother didn't put his away either, so I stopped by his house to do the same for him.

I'll leave you with a cool tid-bit I learned today.  Apparently Buff Orpingtons can start laying as early as 4 months, so Buffy will be 4 months next week (she's a week younger than my other girls).  Not only that, but when they start laying, it starts the others to do so as well, so I *could* be getting eggs soon.  Wouldn't that be cool!


Sunday, July 17, 2011

July 17, 2011

I'm afraid there hasn't been much to post about of late.  The weather here has been blah at best.  As one blogger I know has put it, it's great for transplanting plants, but that's a bit too much glass half full for me.  The only thing to germinate in my Fall garden so far has been radishes, which will germinate in any sort of weather.

On the bright side though, my ignored indoor germinated brassicas weren't all a total loss.  My cauliflower were toast, but my broccoli seemed to be hardy enough to survive.  Here's a pic I found on my phone when I was backing it up.  Sorry if the resolution sucks.

Though the cauliflower on the left never bounced back, the broccoli seemed to be ok, even if the leaves do look a bit waxy.

As I had four (five if you include a double sprouter that I missed clipping), and only 4 SF to plant them, I decided to stagger them within the square to give these huge plants as much space to grow as possible. Of course, they haven't grown an inch in the week or two since I planted them.  /sigh  Gotta love this crappy summer weather.

In other news, the rain and warmish temperatures (highs in the upper 60s, lower 70s means grass grows fast around here.  And despite the chickens doing an admirable job of keeping the grass short, I still needed to mow.  I still haven't had to change out the shavings in the coop as they don't spend much time in there and I went 4 inches deep (not quite the Deep Litter Method, but close), but I'm still using the stored shavings from the brooder to layer in with my grass clippings when I compost.

Pretty cool that I made it to the top of my 3 foot tall bin.  I won't be adding quite as much to it in the future as I will be giving some of my grass clippings to the girls in their mini-coop.  I guess they like it a lot and I've got nothing growing in my mini-coop after I leveled it with dirt.  They do love giving themselves dust baths in there though. 

I actually learned about feeding chickens grass clippings from a couple I met at a kids birthday party my eldest was invited to the other day.  While chatting with the parents, I came to find that they lived in a rural-ish area of the Pacific NW and have 10 chickens.  They've had chickens for years.  It was a very good conversation.  Gardening and chickens turn strangers into long-lost friends it seems.  Don't you agree?

Lastly, to end this hodge-podge post, I thought I'd share a pic of how I get the girls in and out of their coop daily, along with a funny story. 

As you can see above, the arc door is opened and moved to within 2 feet of the mini-run, where I've opened one door.  I use both doors to create a tunnel between the arc and coop.  The girls are pretty good about heading from one to another, except my Barred Rock Twinkidink.  However, the other morning she kept going back and forth between the arc and run, so when I finally pulled the arc away to close the door, she and the others made their escape!  Catching one chicken in the yard alone is doable, but catching all four proved very challenging indeed.  As nobody else was out of their PJs yet, I had no help.  Thankfully a friendly guy on told me long ago that he uses his coop cleaning tools (a short-handled rake and scoop) to herd chickens. I only had a rake, but it worked pretty well.  Silly chickens, they just want to free range.  No luck in my yard though.  They get plenty of space and a new area to forage daily.  They'll just have to make due.

So, go ahead and brag about your gardens and how great weather you're having. I can take it.

Enjoy your garden!

Monday, July 11, 2011

July 11, 2011

Wow, it's been a bit since I posted, so I'm throwing one together tonight.  It's going to be brief however, since we're going camping for the first time this season and I won't be around to do anything about my garden for a few days.  Such is life as everything's bolting.

Speaking of everything bolting, today's post is kind of about it.  Since I'm horrible at weeding, we've had massive weeds growing up. Not so much the dandelions, even though we do have some of those, but others I can't name. 

The good news is that these weeds are very popular with the chickens.  Not only do they eat the leaves, but sometimes they'll actually pick apart the stems.  Very cool.  Even cooler is when I pull one out, roots and all, and stick them through an upper portion of the chicken wire in the arc.  It ends up hanging down into the arc and the girls have a blast pecking away at it. I've even seen them jump to reach a higher leaf.  Chicken TV!  Anyway, here's my little guy feeding weeds to the chickens.

You can see  the girls have a field day with the weeds.  If only I could be confident that they'd only eat the weeds if I let them loose in my strawberry patch, where there are weeds growing up along the fence line something fierce.  I've just got to take 15 minutes a day and weed.  It worked in our front yard when I used a weed popper to basically clear our yard of weeds a few years ago.

Fast forwarding to today, I was deep watering the garden for the camping trip bumping up against a 7 foot tall mustard green plant, dropping yellow leaves and who knows what seeds into the fall garden, when I had an idea.  I ripped it out, knocked some of the dirt off the root ball and stuffed it into the chicken coop.  It took up most of the space and the girls went to town!

And here's the girls munching away on it.

It's a good thing they love weeds as they're grass foraging has been curtailed since I finally mowed the back yard.  I hadn't really needed to since they do a pretty good job keeping the grass short.  Frankly I wouldn't have cut it except there are places I just can't put the arc. hehe.

So, what are you doing with all your weeds? Composting them? Putting them in your yard waste? Or feeding them to your chickens? I love comments and will be confirming them while I'm away assuming I get cell service.

Enjoy your garden!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July 5, 2011

I awoke this morning still tired from a very late night of fireworks watching with the family.  In bed I always use my phone to check email, the weather and my blog dashboard.  Today I saw a post by Erica about it being late to start your fall garden.  That news was enough to make me bolt upright and jump out of bed, throw on clothes and head out into the garden.  Thankfully I never replanted after my failed carrot germination this spring, so I had a bed open.  Immediately my mind started racing as to what to plant where.  I knew my broccoli and cauliflower would go in the back in front of the peas which are still going despite the lack of trellis.

Yep, I was shocked and amazed that I had peas when my brother and his horizontal pea trellis doesn't.  Boy were they yummy! By the way, that's just a piece of scrap board I am using to keep the peas from flopping over onto the rest of the garden.

Anyway, I knew my broccoli and califlower needed to be at the back by the peas, so I ran upstairs to grab them.  Little did I realize that this hot weather we've been having had completely drained the water out of the trays and killed the plants.  Crap. I've been keeping these babies alive for months waitng for the right time and now they die.  GRRR. Anyway, I direct sowed 2 rows of brassicas and will hope for the best.  In front of that I planted 4 SF of spinach, 2 each of Space which is my favorite, with one of Bloomsdale Savoy and Tyee.  I overplanted seeds to make sure I get good germination. I don't have time to replant.

I should have said first thing I did was toss about 2 gallons of compost on the 8 SF and mix it losely into the top lair of soil.  When I realized I was planting the whole bed, I asked my boys to fill the 5 gallon bucket I was using to transport it from the compost pile.  That 5 gallons worth finished off augmenting the rest of the bed.

In front of the spinach, I have my row of lettuces.  I planted one SF each of Salad Bowl, Red Sails and Italienshier, my favorites.  I left one SF open for when I steal some arrugula from my brother.  Sorry to say at that point I'd reached basically the end of the bed.  It's my second shortest bed, but the only one open that gets full sun.  In the triangle front of the bed, I threw in a hodge podge of fall crops.  Onions, radishes and beets rounded out my salad garden, with a little space held out for some mache I hope to plant if my brother can spare the seed.  As you can see, I'm hoping to have salads well into winter as I can throw my season extending

This picture is taken from the path between the beds so it's looking back to front with my lone surviving carrot in the middle. I'll harvest it before the other stuff needs the space.  Oh, as you can see, I'm using dollar store popsicle sticks and sharpe markets to label my crops.  They don't last much more than a season, but I got a thousand of them for a buck.

Also, while I was out there, I found my broccoli had finally headed.  The best along looked like this.

This picture was actually from a few days ago. I should have harvested it then.  Today it was a bit looser and I was starting to see some yellow flower-like color in the head.  So I harvested it and had it with fried chicken and gnoochi.  Yum!  Boy don't I wish I had a whole bed of this to preserve for winter use.  Grrr.  This weather's been horrible.  No Spring or Summer to speak of.  Not sure how farmers in our area do it.
Enjoy your garden, I hope you've planted your fall garden by now.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 3, 2011

This post isn't exactly what I'd planned it to be. I've been working on a concept for a bit but it just hasn't come together.  However, going through my pictures I realized I took a fun chicken video that I wanted to share.

So this post will be short as I'm just getting in from a fun pre-4th BBQ at my brother's.  He makes the best burgers on the planet.  He takes the amazing recipe I've used for years (since he shared it with me) and has doctored it further to add home-grown spices galore.  It is so flavorful it's unreal! 

Anyway, I've always said I picked the wrong Buff Orpington.  She's way too aggressive for such a docile breed.  Don't get me wrong, from the way they eat at the food trough or when I put the treat bowl in their ark (left overs and scraps), it's like she's 4th fiddle.

I know I say some harsh things about her in this video, but she is still a sweety... a strong willed one but cute as a button. Just don't pick her up as she fights like mad and tries to get away.  I can't remember how many times I chased her around my garage when she got out of the brooder. hehe.

Otherwise, all the chickens are growing well.  I believe Buffy is the largest bird, barely overtaking Summer for the biggest.  I saw my brother's birds today and his Buff Orpington is one of the smaller birds.  Odd.  Anyway, sorry if the video quality is poor. I tried uploading again from Photobucket and it didn't work, so this came directly from the camera uploaded to Blogger.  Anyway, it's the audio that's important.

Enjoy! And Happy 4th of July to all of you. Stay safe!

Friday, July 1, 2011

July 1, 2011

Man, I feel like this is just another chicken post one after another.  No, it's not a chicken post, but for a while there that's all I had to talk about.  Now it's yet another strawberry post.

Yes, we've been regularly going out to our strawberry/blueberry patch to harvest that day's ready-to-eat strawberries, but today was not about our patch.  A good friend of ours of about 5 years invited us and the boys to go strawberry picking at an organic farm out in Monroe.  Since we really didn't need a flat of strawberries ourselves (the boys have had their fill from the Costco flat we got a few weeks ago and our own harvest), we asked my mother along.  What we really want this year is home made strawberry jam, and this year, we envisioned having it made from fresh-picked organic strawberries!

It was a beautiful 75 degree day with the sun shining and the kids had a ball.  They haven't seen their friends much this year because they're in different schools.  So they played and ate more than they picked, but that's most of the fun of U-pick farms.

Meanwhile, we were serious berry pickers.  Of course I had to sample the merchandise, but mostly I only ate the ones that came off the stem without the top in place.

In the end we left tired and sated, with 18 pounds of organic strawberries.  At my mother's house we proceeded to take the tops off, wash and cut the berries, then sorted them into 6 cup bags.  All in all, we got 5 batches of jam making material, which will deliver 20 pints of jam as needed, fresh frozen for optimum taste.  My mouth is watering just typing this.  Sorry there were no shots of the strawberries, I didn't think of it before we started topping them, then it was so messy that I didn't dare touch anything.

For now, the only evidence of our work is a quart zip lock bag full of the best of the bunch for fresh eating, along with 3 cups of strawberry tops that the girls LOVE!  I had given about 3 cups to my brother as well so he can see just how much chickens like strawberry tops.  The majority of mine are in the fridge for use over time. 

I hope you can enjoy some freshly picked strawberries this season, they're like nothing you'll find in any store, or even at a farmer's market as they lose taste the moment they're picked.

Enjoy your garden!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

June 25, 2011

If it's June in the Pacific Northwest, it must be the start of strawberry season. For a month or so I've watched the flowers bloom and the plants grow strong and healthy.  I've also seen berries form and plump up.  Having grown up with the tiny berry plants, it's good to see that I've got slightly larger varieties.  I have no idea what variety I've got, but June bearing comes to mind. Anyway,  I'm just thrilled to get a harvest this year.  If you recall last year my young boys harvested all the berries one morning before we got up, ripe or otherwise. 

So, you can imagine our thrill to see berries ripening all over my berry bed.

This year, the boys have been sternly warned not to pick any berries without mom or dad around.  So on Logan's last day of school, as a treat we went picking.  Anything that was fully ripe and in danger of being eaten by slugs or birds was harvested.  We got a very good harvest and left several more fairly ripe berries in the garden.

As you can tell the boys had a blast!

I think he looks happier than his brother, don't you?

Over the last few weeks or so, we've been working through a Costco flat of strawberries. In my experience, they've been tough and relatively flavorless.  These babies on the other hand, melted like butter on a hot day when I was cutting the stems off.  The girls didn't seem to have an opinion on which they liked better, Costco's or mine. They devour the tops in one gulp.  We on the other hand, were in heaven eating those perfectly sweet and tart juicy red pouches of goodness.  Makes my mouth water just writing about them. Tomorrow we'll have to harvest more!  And to think we've got close to 100 berries left on the plants in various stages of growth!  That, and the plants continue to send out runners that I train to go where I want. MUAHAHAHAHAHA!  Soon will be blueberry season! Yum!

Now you see why I won't let my girls free range.  Rather they get a new patch of 32 SF of grass every day to forage in.  Not a perfect world, but a nice arranngement over all.

Enjoy your garden!

Friday, June 24, 2011

June 24, 2011

Well, the beginning of the week meant that Father's Day was over and the chicken coop progress could continue.   There were several last minute details to finish up before the hens could go into their new home.  The biggest of which was the hardware cloth needed to be installed on the mini-run.  Three of the four sides were easy, just cut the pieces and install them.  I used half-inch staples rather than my hammer-staples for ease. I sure hope it's secure enough. Thoughts?

If you notice I made sure to let the extra fan out onto the ground. In a perfect world I'd bury the cloth so it would be unnoticeable to all but the digging creature, but I'm ok with it for now.

The three sides went easy enough with my brother's tin snips (boy was cutting the chicken wire with wire cutters insanely slow).  However, construction was required for the front as it would be two gates to let the girls in and out daily.  Constructing them out of 2x2s was fairly easy, the only issue was the fact that during the fall the middle support moved a bit.  Rather than fixing the support beam back in place, I just made one door a quarter inch longer than the other. No big deal.

Taking my brother's advice, I installed the hardware cloth while the doors were on the ground.  It may have been easier to install the wire, but it made installing the hinges more of a pain.

They went on pretty smoothly though I had a bit of a problem with them staying closed, even with the hook and eye attached.

It's possible that I need to increase the distance a hair on the hook. I haven't tried that, but my other thought is to go get some of those magnetic cabinet locks and install them on the doors.  Not sure if they have ones rated for out-door use.  For now this works, but I'm not happy with it.

That same day I took on a number of other projects, in order to get the girls into their coop.

The first was simply installing the cleat to lock the rope in place when the door is closed at night.

The next was not really a coop project per se, but rather one for the ark.  I wanted to get the door installed once and for all.  It took a while to get the sizes right and how to complete the triangle and where to put the hinges.  I actually used a set of hinges planned for the run doors because the T-hinges I had purchased before I ever started building the coop don't work very well on 2x2s.  They hang over the 2x2s on the run door but I put them on the door less opened and don't care.

If you can see, I ended up using a 1x2 on the top to combine them to make sure it cleared the handle.  It was a last minute fix, but works well.  The good news about this door is that I installed it using a paint scraper to set the clearance with the bottom board.  The effect is to have a door that rubs a bit.  The friction is just enough to keep the door closed if chickens push up against it, but not enough to keep me from opening it whenever I want, without an eye hook.  The only problem with it is that the door opens at a 60 degree angle or so, which will never stay open on it's own.

The solution for it right now is simply to keep one of my small bungee cords to keep it open. I'm not happy with it as a long-term solution as the effect is to bend the chicken wire which is rusting at an alarming rate.  On that note, I don't want to us 1/2 inch hardware wire on it.  Sure, I know the chickens don't care if it's rusted, but going in and out of it and moving it around, it's common to scrape yourself on it.  I know it's been a while since I've had a tetanus shot, but my kids have never had one, so it scares me.  Maybe I'll bite the bullet and go with 2 inch cattle wire on it.  Suggestions?

Other small projects I did to the never-ending ark project was to add a platform for the food. Mostly I wanted to be able to move the ark around without removing the food.  Since I didn't have anymore 1x4 material, I went with a scrap piece of 3/8" plywood. I attached it with scrap 2x2s in the opposite corner across from the water platform. It's a bit longer than the food tray, but I decided not to cut it.  I figure I can put a dish of grit or crushed egg shells later down the road.  As you can see, the ark is never done.  The goal is to improve it, not add weight.

As for further improvements, my brother added a roost to his ark, so I threw one in. I'm not thrilled with how badly it blocks off the back half of the ark, so it may not stay.

The girls aren't using the roost yet, but who knows. 

The last project of the evening was a feeder for the coop.  I had already painted a pressure-treated 2x6 but built up the walls with scrap plywood.  It'll work for now as it was getting very late and I wanted to get the chickens in that evening.  After that was done, it was simply a case of nearly emptying a bale of shavings into the coop.

The set-up was finally ready for the girls.  I plan on putting more bedding in the coop, but not until I raise the level of the boards around the chicken door.  Still figuring out the best way to do that.  Some day I plan on doing the deep litter method where you don't change the bedding but once a year, letting it compost in place.  This will have to do for now.

Finally, it was time time to introduce the chickens to their coop.  It was far too late in the evening to put them in the run and let them figure out the ramp, so we simply put them into the coop via the clean-out door.

The only problem with this plan is that the chickens quickly learned they could jump out of the coop the same way they got in. That led to some late night chicken chasing.  In the end I placed them into the coop, unceremoniously by cracking the door and dropping them in.  Not the best idea I'd had.  Oh well, they got in for the night.

And there they stayed all night long.  Doesn't everyone look happy with the chickens in their new home?

So there you have it. The chickens are now into their coop.  YAY!


Monday, June 20, 2011

June 20, 2011

Belated Happy Father's Day to all those dad's out there. Makes me feel glad this post will contain picks of both my dad and one of my kids.  Couldn't ask for a happier coincidence.  Before I start though, I should say that the reason for my silence of late is because Father's Day was celebrated at my house, meaning all the junk my kids left around needed to be picked up and the house scrubbed from floor to ceiling.  Oh yeah, I also had to make up the best burgers in town, but that's another post all-together.

When we left the caped crusaders, the chicken coop was on it's side and all seemed hopeless.  But thanks to community, all is right in the world.  Of course family jumped into action, but with aging parents we needed more muscle.  My brother's best friend has done more for my family than I could ever do in return, but he drove from Monroe for this.  All my good friends were otherwise preoccupied Saturday morning, so I did what any desperate man would do. I begged.  Yep, I went door-to-door trading future eggs for muscle.  Not really, I simply went across the street to the family of my kids' buddy and asked for help.  He was home and told me to come on over when we were ready. 

I had no idea how hard this would be. I could barely wiggle it despite building it as light as possible. My brother could lift an end but who knows if he could move it with his bad knees.  Sorry I don't have any pictures from the righting or moving project. I didn't feel like I should beg help and then stand around and take pictures all morning.

Anyway, we had the two fathers, my brother, his friend, a neighbor and myself to do this.  As there was really only two places to lift (the top corner of the wall by the roof on both sides), my brother and his equally strong friend lifted the coop enough to place a block under the roof line so we could get our hands under it.  Then it was simply all hands on the roof.  My father was on the back to make sure it didn't tip over the other way. In the end, it took an hour to figure out the best way to do it and exactly one minute to right it.  It really was light after all, just awkward and top heavy.  That said, I never want that to happen again. 

Stood up, you could see the damage the fall caused.  Thankfully it was only the fascia board that was mangled by hitting the ground and having the weight of the coop resting on it. I'm not sure if I'll fix it or not.

Once it was up, I let my neighbor go back to his Saturday morning routine, but my brother's friend (who helped install my furnace and new duct work throughout my house a few years ago) stayed to move the beast.  Again theories were thrown around, but in the end, the simplest plan worked best.  They simply threw the wheels on the front of the coop (the bottom of the side wall) facing out, not down.  Then 2x4s were attached to the floor joists on the other side, creating a large wheelbarrow.  Then my brother and his friend each took a handle and I and my father-in-law were in the front to help steer.  It took ten minutes to maneuver the coop into position, and despite very uneven ground, I never felt the coop was going to tip.  In the end the whole process was very easy with all that muscle around.  I am very grateful to the folks that helped. There are eggs in it for them when the girls start producing.  Whew, what a relief.

So, here is the coop in it's final resting place.  I positioned it 2 feet from the neighbor's fence so in case the chickens get back there I can chase them.  It'll also allow for the installation of the hardware cloth in the back, which still needs to be done.

You can see the ruts in the grass where the skids dug in during the move, but who cares, the coop's in place and the grass will grow back.  You can also see how the trees are perfectly trimmed around the coop.  They used to be hanging down so bad I had to duck under them constantly when working with the compost piles. We cut them down to allow for maneuvering the coop into place. I like it much better now that I can move around in there without ducking. 

Speaking of trimming the trees, I forgot to post some pictures of my youngest helping me get the site ready for landing the coop last week.  He's off from school already so it's fun to do daddy and son things without my eldest.  He got that kind of treatment when he was younger, so it's only fair.  Here he is helping to fill the yard waste bin after cutting back the trees and bushes.  I don't compost branches like that because my chipper is on the fritz. Let Cedar Grove compost it. They're better equipped than I to handle those things.

And here he is having a blast jumping down in the 96 gallon bin smashing everything down so we could add more.

His helping made it such a pleasurable experience.  We had a blast!

I hope you enjoyed your weekend.  Time to stop writing and get the chicken coop finished!  But that my friends, is another post.

Friday, June 17, 2011

June 17, 2011

Had a bit of a crisis happen today.  With Father's Day being celebrated at my house this Sunday, today was the day to move the chicken coop off the patio so I could clean up for the festivities.  My brother and father were on hand to help.  We first painstakingly raised the coop up onto 4 bricks per corner in order to lag in my brother's 4x4 with pneumatic tires attached.  This of course took multiple trips across town to my folks place and to our neighborhood True Value. 

All was well after a re-inflation of one tire and we were in the process of lowering it down onto the wheels when disaster struck. 


Thankfully no one was hurt. I was the closest to being under it as I was on the far right removing bricks when it tipped. I stupidly tried to hold it up with my left side and failed. Also thankfully, the only major damage was to what we call the toad stool, which is the concrete seat that got smashed.  It's ok though as we didn't like it anyway.  Now we just have to figure out how to get the rest out of there.  I'm hoping the roof made it ok, it's tough to tell if it racked or not.  Oh, and the toad stool did tear a chunk out of my trellis 2x4 that we'd screwed into the floor joists to give something to lift as we drive it to the final resting place.

Anyway, I'm not really sure why it went. I figure it was several reasons rolled into one perfect storm.  Let's see if I can name them all... The bottom right tire is over too far toward the middle, the front roof is much longer than the back and thus heavier, the pavement is sloping that way, and the jack may have been not perfectly on center when I was raising the coop off the bricks.  Any or all of those things could have caused it.  Safe to say it doesn't matter though, it happened.  And now we have to fix it in a hurry so we can have Father's Day out there.  Heck, I still haven't taken the cover off the BBQ to see if it's ok or not.  Man, there's too much to do.

So, at 10:00 AM tomorrow morning as many big guys as I could arrange will be descending into my backyard to lift it back into place.  Oh, and if you happen to be in the area and want to help, there is the promise of eggs come Fall in return. 

About the only good thing to come out of it is that I got to install the Trex pieces to the bottom boards from the bottom and not the top. Not that it matters much, but it's done.

Wish us luck tomorrow as I've got to get this thing off my patio and hopefully the girls into their coop.  Sheesh!