Thursday, July 28, 2011

Garden Harvest

We are having a spectacular summer here in Sonoma County.  We have stretches of hot weather to help our gardens along, intermixed with days of coastal fog in the morning following by 78 degree sunny afternoons.  The summer coasts along, or shall I say flies along and we are beginning to enjoy the bounty of our garden.

In our back yard we have two pluot trees, a white nectarine tree, two cherry trees, a pomegranate tree, an apple tree, blackberry vines, a raspberry patch, strawberries, rhubarb and blueberry bushes.  As well as a large seasonal vegetable garden.  This year we have tomatoes, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery, summer and winter squash galore, cucumbers, egg plant and peppers.

I love to watch my children wander through the yard, picking whatever appeals to them, often unripe fruit seems suitable.  They are covered in blackberry, strawberry and tomato juice daily.

My daughter prefers to gather her harvest, pull up her chair and sit back and enjoy her bounty.  Sometimes she follows up her garden snack with a little yoga.

All of the blooming vegetable plants have attracted  many humming birds to our yard.  They perch upon the tomato cages and flick out their long tongues.  I love to watch the humming birds and I am enjoying how comfortable they are with us this year.  The vegetable garden is surrounded with flowering herbs, my favorite is Bee Balm.

For a moment we get to sit back and enjoy the beginnings of harvest.  We have forgotten all the work we did in Spring to make it happen and we have not yet begun to experience the craziness of full harvest.  Canning, drying, freezing.  We are in between some busy stages and enjoying it.


I have finally put all of my chickens together and everyone is getting along.  We have a fairly large space, so that makes living together easier.  The chicks, well more like pullets, get chased a little.  But over all every one seems to be getting along.  Whenever I look out at the chicken yard I see my big 4 girls hanging out together and the pullets a safe distance away, in the periphery.

We took baby steps, with our introductions.  My first introduction attempts invoked a ghastly sound of bloody murder from Minnow the lead hen.  She wanted to kill those chicks badly.  Luckily I was smart enough to introduce the chicks safely behind a fence, so the desired killing did not occur.  I kept the babies in their own pen away from view of the big girls for about 3 weeks. They seemed safest there.

I kept taking time to introduce them over and over to the big girls through the fence.  Minnow's bloody scream diminished into an angry, aggressive cackle, wew.  I really did not want to hear the killing scream again, it was rather disturbing.  At one point during these minnie social events it became clear the two lower hens Bolder and Cookie had no issue with the chicks. So I stuck the chicks in with them and pulled out Yoko and Minnow and all was good.  Baby steps.

Second, I built a pen for the chicks inside the chicken run.  So the big and little girls could get used to each other on a daily basis.  The chicks were coming closer to being pullets daily, they seemed big enough to get picked on and avoid death.  The big girls were initially up in arms, making a raucous and running around like crazy. Changing their territory caused a lot of excitement and perhaps a bit of stress.  At least it eliminated the boredom factor from their simple chicken lives for a couple of days.

Of course I had a lot of help from my backyard barnyard children.

Lastly we have a comfortable, content flock with two new additions.

No blood, or dead chickens as can happen when you make additions.  No severe stress to my current flock or the young birds.  Everyone is OK.  Of course there may be some bickering that will happen when the chicks, Elizabeth and Flower get older and feel the need to establish themselves into a higher position in the flock.  I will deal with that as it comes.

Baby steps and giving the chickens time to adapt to the change.  Change is hard for chickens and adding new members even harder.  A little time and patience made for a mild and painless change.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

slugs, snails & two black widows

Gage and I went on a slug and snail hunt a few days ago.  This is an activity that we do often.  The snails in our yard are constantly munching on our garden and the slugs love our strawberries.  So we hunt.  Sometimes we hunt at night when they become active, but we have found greater success in hunting during the day.  Finding their day time hiding spots and doing some massive killing.

I don't like to kill things, particularly snails because they are so darn cute!  But when your garden is decimated year after year, losing so many plants and partially ripe squash that it is hardly worth gardening, you decide that killing is necessary and come to terms with it.  So hunting we went.

Now with our chickens our hunts have taken on an entirely different spin.  We hunt to feed our chickens, give them protein for our eggs.

We found so many snails and slugs and hand fed them to the girls, they were in heaven.   When we moved onto the wine barrels, we had to come up with a new technique.  When we tipped over the wine barrels there were so many slugs and snails I did not feel like picking off all of those slimy bodies and hand feeding them.  So we gathered up Yoko, our best scavenger and brought her over to the wine barrel and let her do the picking.

Yoko went crazy and ate all of the slugs, snails, earwigs and pill bugs - picking each barrel clean of pests.  When we picked up the second barrel there were two black widows hiding out with the slimy slugs.  Lickity-split Yoko ate the spiders and everything else.  One of the black widows was a very large female with an egg sac.

Our little chickens eat our daily scraps, provide nutrient rich manure for our compost/garden, eliminate the slugs and snails in our garden with a vengeance and remove dangerous pests from our yard.  Just for that they are worth their food costs.  Low and behold they provide wonderful, nourishing eggs for my family as well.    I love my chickens!

New additions

We decided to add a few more chickens to our flock.  Four eggs a day simply isn't enough for our family and we love the idea of having more chickens.  Two little girls now call our yard home.  Our dear friend Lynn picked them up from Western Farm Supply when she got 5 chicks for her family.  Lynn needed to get more chicks as all of her chickens were eaten by a raccoon.   Yes, apparently a predator proof chicken coop really is necessary.

Lynn raised our chicks with her own for 6 weeks (thank you Lynn!).  Now we have them.  They are giant Cochins, the ones with the feathered feet.  Gage named them Elizabeth and Flower.  They are growing quickly, but far too small to join our flock.

I have introduced them to the flock slowly with a fence between them, and Minnow our top hen wants to kill them.  I don't mean she wants to peck them or chase them around, she wants to kill them and she has tried.  She puffs up her neck, spreads out her wings and makes a noise that is something between and growl and a scream - ready for the attack.

So, the chicks live in their own pen with a a little coop I borrowed from a friend and neighbor.  When they get a little bigger, around 3 months I will built them a pen inside the current chicken pen for a couple of weeks and then begin introductions with the big girls.  If Minnow is still trying to kill them, she will live in the chick pen on her own for a couple of days or weeks, however long it takes her to chill out.  Then one night all of the chickens will be stuffed into the big coop at night to wake up together and I hope to find a cohesive and friendly flock the following morning.  :)   That is one old-school secret to adding birds to your flock.  Stick the new chickens into the coop at night when everyone is in and roosting.  The theory is they wake up thinking the new chickens are members of the flock and accept them.  This does not work 100% time, particularly if you are adding younger birds. I will let you know how it goes with my flock.  The one thing I do know about roosting birds is they are incredibly docile.  Once a chicken goes to sleep for the night or even as they get ready for sleep they calm down, settle in and let go.  I hope they can keep that calmness first thing in the morning as well.

Adding chickens to your established flock can be rough.  Take your time, be creative and try to understand chicken flock social dynamics and home turf mentality.  Always try to add bird of approximately the same age or size, young chicks added to a flock will most likely be killed.  Lastly keep your fingers crossed.

Beaver Island

We took a wonderful, busy family trip back to the midwest.  I say back, because I am originally from Iowa.  A midwest transport to California.  And I say busy because we were on the move for most of the vacation.  We flew into Milwaukee, where my brother and his two children and my mom picked us up in a large passenger van they had rented in Iowa.  We stayed a night in Milwaukee where I lived for 6 years and enjoyed lake Michigan.  It was however, far too cold to swim.  They were having a very cold, late spring in the midwest

Than off we went north, around lake Michigan.  We drove for 4 hours and made our first stop in Escanaba, MI.  The upper peninsula of Michigan is a truly beautiful place.

After one night we were of through the Upper Peninsula over Mackinaw bridge to the small town of Central Lake, Michigan where my lovely cousin Liz lives.

She has a son, Max who is one day younger than Imogen and she is pregnant with her second baby, due in October.  We rested a night or two with her and than we were off to the main attraction Beaver Island.  The lovely Beaver Island in Lake Michigan.

We woke up early so we could get on the ferry by 7am, with all of our gear, the van and all of those children. The ferry ride is about 3 hours, some of us slept, some just ran around.  It was incredibly cold when you were outside, so we all had to take breaks inside to warm up.

Beaver Island is a mysterious, wonderful place.  A fairly large island that hosts a year round population of 500 and survives on summer tourism.  My aunt once owned a restaurant on the island, where I waitressed for a summer in college and now owns a cabin on Fox lake, one of the small inland lakes on the island.

We stayed on the island for 3 days.  Enjoying the family, kids, water and other amusements of the island.  We fished, we walked among the legions of mosquitoes (they use 25% deet bug repellent) and visited some of the interesting locales in town - like the toy museum.

Than it was time to leave.  There is always a sadness when leaving Beaver Island.  Somehow, in only that short visit I felt connected again, wanting to stay longer.   When my aunt was telling the story about finding the island for the first time, she said that she cried when she left the island.  After that first visit, she was hooked.  I completely understand that feeling, there is a life on the island, something that I am so attracted to.

Despite my sadness, it was time to go.  So we boarded the ferry again, and waved good bye to the beautiful island that housed us for those three short days.  Bye-bye Beaver Island.