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!