Saturday, May 28, 2011

Not Cannabalism, but the Curse of the Blue Jay!

Taylor found a blue jay in the chicken coop yesterday, pecking away at one of the eggs.  I don't think we are going to have to quarantine who I thought was the culprit, as it seems to have been a wild predator who obsconded with the yolky goodness.  The blue jay's fate was sealed when it couldn't escape the roost. More to come. 

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Curse of Cannibalism, Galus Galus Domesticus Style

I got home from work today and went out back to see the chickens, water the vegetable starts, feed the bees and collect the eggs.  When I opened up the nest box I was horrifically surprised to find two of the seven eggs pecked into.  The golden yolk was still inside and all of the egg white, but a small portion of the shell had been pecked out.  Everything I have read when it comes to chickens going to way of the Donner Party, in a way, is that it is usually a sign of a vitamin deficiency.  Also, one of our chickens gets into our compost piles and Taylor said he saw her eating some egg shells, another big no-no.  I feel responsible for not creating some sort of cover for the compost, which Taylor will be making this weekend.  I am pretty sure the culprit is Sweet Pea.  Her behavior has been getting more and more aggressive when it comes to food and scratch.  She's not mean aggressive, just passionately persistent.  We checked all the birds individually to see if we could detect any "yolky" signs around their beaks, but we found no signs of foul play, no pun intended.  When we checked Sweet Pea, we found a growth of some sorts on her breast.  Neither one of us are a veterinarian, but she has a mass on one side that is not on the other, and that can't be good.  We are going to wait it out, as I am off to San Diego for the weekend.  If the egg defiling continues, we are going to quarantine Sweet Pea and see if we can administer some behavioral reprogramming, you know, shock therapy, water torture, that sort of thing.  Just kidding of course.  Taylor is reading everything about this behavior right now and we will come up with a plan when I get back.  If you are reading this and have experienced this, please leave a comment on what you suggest.   

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Nirvana? Nope, just the Petaluma Seed Bank.

I walked through the doors of the Petaluma Seed Bank on the corner of East Washington and Petaluma Blvd, and I just had to stop and take it all in.  Instead of bank tellers and bad furniture, the former bank was filled with wonderful non-genetically modified seeds.  It was quite overwhelming, all the amazing and new varieties of vegetables.  Then,  I was totally carried away and may have gone overboard, perhaps:  Berlicum 2 Carrot, Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto Fava Bean, Saint-Esprit à Oeil Rouge Bush Bean, California Blackeye Pea,  Early Wonder Beet, Golden Beet, Marketmore 76 Cucumber, Five Color Silver Beet Chard
Extra Precoce A Grano Violetto Fava BeanBerlicum 2 CarrotSaint-Esprit à Oeil Rouge Bush BeanEnvy Soya BeansCalifornia Blackeye PeaEarly Wonder BeetGolden BeetMarketmore 76 CucumberFive Color Silver Beet

Whatever, there are worse things to purchase on an impulse buy.  My garden is going to be rockin' this summer!

Lunch from the Garden

I have eaten hundreds of bunches of chard in my life.  I heat a pan with a little bit of olive oil, throw the the chard in, lower the heat a bit and then add a little stock to braise the greens.  That's my idea of a perfect side of chard.  In all of the times I have eaten my favorite green, I have never enjoyed it as much as today.  The yellow chard mixed with some beet greens that I pulled are the most tender and most delicious I have ever had the pleasure of ingesting.  Not a single hint of bitterness.  I know I'm easy to please, but these fresh, nutritious and delicious vegetables are making my day.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Lovely Ladybugs

Why am I happy to see ladybugs multiplying every day in my garden?  These lovely little red-bodied babies are eating the aphids that were roosting on my rose bush and all the corn.  Aphids are soft-bodies insects that suck the juices/sap out of plants, and they can reek havoc on your garden.  I was told that I could buy a little box of ladybugs down at my local nursery, but it's better when they come on their own.  And once the ladybugs know where the food source is, more and more come and keep your garden healthy.  So thank you lovely ladybugs, you are welcome in my garden any time!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weekend Work and Play

Taylor had to work until noon on Saturday and then we went to the Giants game.  Sometimes you just have to make sure the birds, bees and garden are taken care of, and then split and enjoy a few hours off the compound.

Sunday was all business.  We woke up, ate a good breakfast, and then got to work.  Taylor is working on tweaking the chicken's gang plank that leads them out of their coop.  I went straight to poop duty, layed down more leaf litter under the coop, weeded the vegetable garden, and installed the second hive box for the first honey bee colony.  Then Taylor and I built the fourth "U" for our composting system.  We will probably build a fifth "U", that way we will never again have any type of kitchen scraps build up, which was a problem we had before.  So all in all, we had a nice balance of work and play this weekend.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Green Eggs and Ham

It has happened, all seven of our chickens are laying eggs.  We were very excited to find that our Tiger-Striped Ameracauna is a pure-bred, as her eggs are green.  Only the pure-bred Ameracauna lay the blue or green eggs, so if we ever want to breed her with a pure-bred Ameracauna rooster, they will produce more little "Easter-Eggers".  Check out the green egg in the picture below; it's a light shade of green, but green it is.  And yes, I plan on eating some ham with that egg tomorrow for breakfast, just so I can say that I've had green eggs and ham.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Rain Barrel Up And Running

Taylor finished the rain barrel on Saturday, and just in time for the little bit of rain showers we got this weekend.  The old wine cask is positioned under the main rain gutter that runs off the roof and is located right around the corner from the shed and garden.  After much "MacGyvering", Taylor had the unit sealed and ready to go.  We received a nice rain on Saturday night and when we went down to check it on Sunday, the barrel had no leaks and was half full!  That's over 30 gallons of water collected; then it rained a little bit more on Sunday night, and I checked it this morning after letting the chickens out, and it's 3/4 full now!  We can finally get our compost tea program up and running.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Thursday To-Do

1)  Celebrate Big Spoon for laying her 100th egg.  I think I'll buy the chickens some corn scratch as a treat.

2)  Load on the second bee boxes (super) onto both colonies.  The little hard workers have filled their first boxes.  I am again going to see if I can locate any eggs or pupa in the cells.  I'm such a beginner, I don't think I know what I'm looking for, but that's not going to stop me from trying.

3)  Chickity-doo-doo duty around the yard and add it to the compost build pile.  Taylor turned the cooking pile three days ago and the temperature is back up to 140 degrees. 

4)  Add more leaf litter in the chicken run.

5)  Minor weeding in the vegetable garden.

6)  Plant new starts for first wave of summer planting.

7)  Water the lemon and avocado tree.  Look into buying a Pink Pearl apple tree for fall planting.

Ok, my coffee is kicking in and my motivation is overflowing.  Have a great day!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Thank Goodness for Worms.....and Their Castings!

Why worms, and what's up with their castings?  If this is a question you are asking yourself right now, it's a good thing you are reading this, because I'm going to tell you why.  First off, the reason I have so many red wigglers living in my compost piles is because I put them there.  After realizing that vermiculture wasn't for me or my lifestyle, I set the worms free to eat the food in my compost piles and leave their casting behind, thus enriching the product that much more.  Worm castings is just another way of saying worm poop, and as the worms digest the kitchen scraps, their castings (poop), enhance the compost anda create a rich fertilizer for your garden.

There Will Be Vegetables!

The garden is growing beautifully, although the recent windy conditions have bent much of the corn and caused many of the pole beans and tomato plants to lay down a bit.  I need to stake the tomato plants with some bamboo I was give to reinforce them until their root structure is more substantial.  I will planting my peppers on Tuesday.  I am super-excited to watch these little lovelies grow.  I will be planting red, orange, and yellow bell peppers in the garden, and cayenne peppers in one of the half wine casks up on the deck outside of the kitchen.  We are trying to get the compost tea project off the ground, but it is proving to be quite a pain in the backside.  Our plants are in need of some nutrients, some food, but we have nothing natural for them.  We are going to attack that project next week.  But for now, the corn, beets, three types of pole beans, carrots, three types of lettuce, and red and gold chard are doing well.  Our cucumbers are struggling as the weather has not been warm enough for them to take off, but I am being patient with them. And all the tomatoes in their containers are taking off and looking fantastic.  Pictures on their way.

Three types of heirloom lettuce
Red and Gold Chard

Three types of heirloom beans climbing their bean poles.

Update on my lovely little chickens

The chickens are doing well, growing every day in front of my eyes.  The latest news is that Isabeau, the smallest of the flock and the bottom level of the pecking order, has taken it upon herself to be the protector of the flock.  This duty includes chasing off every black bird and blue jay that land anywhere near her, and also to chase off the occasional feline passerbyer (poor Jasper).  It has to be one of the funniest things to see, a chicken running full-steam ahead, not quite waddling, but not exactly the most graceful act.  Either way, I love to see my flock roaming free, stopping in an indentation in the ground and taking a dirt bath, scratching and pecking their way through their day.  It really makes me think of the billions of chickens stuck in tiny cages in the egg laying factories, and how they never get to experience the joy of a dirt bath, or hanging out with their flock in the shade.  One more thing to be grateful for, the awareness this adventure is bringing to my life.
Isabeau is a Tiger-Striped Ameracauna.  I think she looks like a hawk, which is why I named her after LadyHawk, the movie.  She will eventually lay green eggs.

The Pretty Protector

Weekend Warriors

Weekend Warrior used to be the term I used when thinking about how I used to get out of my zip code for a few hours on the weekend, taking a break from the home life.  Now that term refers to all the responsibilities I have to tend to on the lil' homestead; honestly, I'm loving it.  Taylor brought home another batch of kitchen scraps for the compost build pile.  We added the bread and apples scraps to the growing pile.  Then we cleaned out all of the leaf litter we throw underneath their coop, which is mixed with much chickity-doo-doo, and added that to the build pile.  When I call this leaf litter "brown material", it is not in reference to the poop, but the yard waste.  Taylor turned the cooking pile into the empty third "U", and we watched as the steam rose into the air.  To call that pile active is the understatement of the year.  Compost, what a wonderful thing to be a part of!

I checked in with the honeybees and they are doing their honeybee thing in full force.  I didn't know that I was suppose to transfer the empty frames from the outside of the hive box to the middle, encouraging the worker bees to fill up each frame.  So I went ahead and did that.  I am feeling a little nervous because the first colony is inhabiting a hive box, called a super, which was given to me from a former backyard beekeeper; he also gave me a bunch of plastic frames.  My trusty beekeeping reference, The Backyard Beekeeper, has informed me that this is a big no-no.  Using equipment that has already housed a bee colony has the potential of passing along any diseases that previous colony suffered from.  So, I removed three of the frames and replaced them with new frames from Bee Kind.  The bees have filled up almost 3/4 of the frames, so I am going to add another super on Tuesday, after I make a quick trip out to my favorite beekeeping supply store, Bee Kind.

One of our hardworkers with full pollen baskets.


The bees have created a huge amount of comb on the bottom of this frame.  It's quite impressive, but I'm not sure if I'm suppose to remove it or not.

The bees from one frame have made a "bee bridge" to the next frame over.  Why do they do this??  I don't know.

All in all, I have no complaints, I am loving the sunshine, and am feeling very blessed and very grateful. Happy Farming!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I caught me an Alice!

While doing some yard work today, I caught Alice in one of the compost bins and was able to catch her.  Out of all of the chickens, I think she dislikes being held the most.  But Taylor and I try to handle the flock as much as possible, so they get used to it when we have to check them, clip their wings, or whatever.  I was able to get a photo of this rare occasion. 

Honeybee Fact of the Day

Honeybee in Spanish is abeja (ah-be-ha).

Hot Compost!

After admitting to my dereliction of compost duties, Taylor and I got the system going full-time.  We spent an hour collecting the yard waste around the property and made sure we had enough "brown" material.  Taylor took the truck last week and brought home the full compost bin from the restaurant he works at.  The full bin was a week's worth of great "green" material;  I am a true believer that the more diverse the kitchen scraps are, the better the compost will be.  Taylor turned the pile two days ago and when I checked the temperature yesterday, it was 165 degrees!!!  The pile is breaking down very quickly and tomorrow, Taylor is bringing home another full compost bin of kitchen scraps, which will start a new 'build' pile. 
Another project that Taylor is heading is making compost tea in an wine cask.  Compost tea is created my steeping the compost in water and then using that "tea" to fertilize our plants and herbs.  More to come on that project. 

That is our hot pile cooking at a steaming 160 degrees!

Coming Soon, Compost Tea
I have to go empty our third 'U' of its compost, fill up the containers with it, and open the space for the turning of the 'hot' pile.  Off to get dirty!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Honeybee Checkup

I checked on the honeybee colonies today and was happy to see all the work they had been completing.  I checked on Colony #1 first.  I removed the lid to the hive box and then the upper cover.  I noticed that the bees were creating honeycomb on the bottom side of the upper cover.  I read that bees will create this "crazy comb" on dead spaces, but if I remove the comb time after time, eventually they will stop building it there and stay to the trays.
Here is the "crazy comb" on the inside of the upper cover.

The bees have only been in the hive for two weeks, but you can already see them filling up the comb with honey.
After I scraped off the "crazy comb", which didn't seem to bother the bees that much, I smoked the bee box and let the bees settle down.  I lifted out the middle tray, which was quite heavy as it was full of comb and honey.  I was surprised that the bees hadn't filled up more of the trays, but I'm in rush.  I bet by the time I check in with the bees next week they will have filled in their first box, called a super.

The second colony has been in their hive box for one week now and they are busy as ever building comb.  I feed both colonies a simple sugar syrup which helps the little pollinators to create their wax glands.  Once they have their glands up and running, they can create they comb and the queen can lay her eggs in the comb.  I have to feed them for 4-6 weeks; at this point, they are going through about a gallon each a week.

Here is the second colony.  You can see the entrance feeder with the sugar solution, which they are sucking down like it's going out of style.  You can also see the bees clustering in the middle three or four trays.  They move outward filling the trays with comb and honey and when they fill them all, I add another bee box (super) above that and they do it all over again.