Mason Bees Post #2

Mason Bee Post #2

My first year’s experience with mason bees has been very interesting so far.   Within a week or so after I put them outside in their houses, the weather began to get very warm and dry, and before I knew it I was seeing a few bees flying in and out of the tubes.  It was an unusually dry and warm April, so the ones that survived were lucky to have wonderful weather in which to go about their business.  When they hatched they had plenty of food waiting for them in my garden, especially in the freshly opened buds of the plum trees right next to the shed.  I placed a bucket of muddy dirt nearby as well just to make sure there was wet earth for them to use to seal their tubes.  Considering the extremely dry conditions I don’t know where they would have found the mud otherwise.

 

The five weeks went by so quickly that I was confused when I wasn’t seeing anymore bees and only 6 tubes had been sealed.  I thought maybe they had died or been eaten by predators, but apparently the season was already over, and they were done.  Out of the 20 mason bees I had bought, 3 of the cocoons never hatched, and I have to admit I was a bit disappointed that the remaining 17 bees only managed to fill 6 of the tubes.  The mason bee house that I bought from Down to Earth is the only one that the bees used, so now I know that next year I do not need two bee houses side by side if I only have 20 bees.  It’s clear to me now that I should probably have at least 40 bees.  Hopefully, I will get many more of my own bees to add to the colony next year.

 

Since no bees used the bee house with the parchment paper tubes, I don’t think I want to use that method next year.   I will buy the thicker tubes instead and definitely place the house in another area of the yard closer to the front where I have some fruit trees.  I am very curious as to why the bees preferred the one house over the other.  Was it the bright colors?  Did the bees in the colored house hatch first and attract the other bees over to them?  A little more research is in order here.

 

Since it’s been about two weeks of no activity, I decided to take the bee house down.  The temperatures were just getting too warm, and I needed to get the house in a shadier spot where it will stay cooler until fall while the bees are developing.  When I opened the top attic area to remove the little box of hatched cocoons, I was shocked to see that a wasp was building a nest in there!  I managed to gently knock it out of there so I could get out the cocoons to take a look.  Two of the cocoons had not hatched, and the big one must have been a female.   After screwing the attic cover back on I put some Dab in the hole to keep any more wasps from making a nest in there.  I hung the bee house up on the north side of my garage shed, so that should be a pretty cool and protected place for now.

 

In my next post on Mason Bees it will be fall, and I’ll be ready for the next step which will involve removing the fully developed cocoons from the tubes and placing them in the refrigerator for their winter hibernation.    I sure hope I get a lot more mason bees next year because obviously 20 wasn’t enough!

 

Ending on a positive note, I have noticed a lot more honey bees in my yard this spring.  It is likely due to the incredibly warm and dry weather we’ve been having this year in addition to all the fruit trees and blooming plants I now have in my yard.  It certainly makes me feel hopeful to see all those bees buzzing around.  GO BEES!!!

Mason Bees Post #1

Mason Bees

The time has come to embark on a new adventure in the garden, and that adventure is… Mason Bees!

I’m starting two new projects this year, and this one is the easier of the two.  The other project I am preparing for will be growing medicinal herbs which will require quite a bit of study and planning.  Fortunately, housing and managing mason bees in the garden is not at all complicated, time consuming or expensive, and yet the benefits are hopefully going to be great, because I should get better pollination, and therefore more fruit!

I’ve wanted to learn more about bees for quite sometime now, and I have wanted to attract more bees to my garden for pollination, but setting up and managing an actual honey bee hive was something that seemed too work intensive and too costly for me at this time.  Maybe later.  Mason bees are ideal for my situation not only because they are easy to set up and manage, but they are better pollinators than honey bees, and they don’t even sting!

At the Holiday Market this last year I bought this simple hive you see in the first photo.   I liked the price, $35.00, and I liked the simple, rustic design.  It is a good size for the side of my shed, and the back opens up for easy cleaning of the channels at the end of the season.  I will probably buy a couple more mason bee houses later, and I’ll set up one closer to the front side of my house since I have fruit trees out front as well.  When I do get the other bee houses, I’m thinking of buying one of the houses made by the kids at Mc Cornack Elementary School who do the Mason Bee Project.  These kids make and decorate the bee houses and then will also clean and sanitize them at the end of the season for you if you want.  At Down to Earth, in Eugene, they have a wonderful display of mason bee houses along with books, supplies and whatever you need to get started with your own mason bees.

I bought my first ten mason bee cocoons, 4 female and 6 males, from The Backyard Farmer in Eugene near 5th & Lincoln for 14.00.  You can also find them at Down to Earth near 5th & Charnelton.  They’re from Crown Bees headquartered in Woodinville, WA.  You can sign up for free Bee-Mails that will give you tips on when to do what at www.crownbees.com.   You can get them on Facebook too.  I’m keeping the cocoon box inside my refrigerator in the lower crisper drawer until the daytime temperatures reach 53 degrees outside.  I also want to spray my fruit trees one last time before they start to bloom out, and I don’t want the bees to have to deal with the chemicals from the spray, even if it is just copper spray.

If I had known more about mason bees before I bought my bee house, I probably would have just made a simple box and then bought the individual tubes, which are just 10 cents a piece, to stack inside.  The tubes are easy to remove and unravel at the end of the season when it’s time to take out the larvae to store over the winter, but since I already bought the bee house that I now have, I decided to do what was suggested and use parchment paper to make tubes.  It’s certainly cheap, and hopefully it will be easily removable from the channels later.   The photos show how I rolled up the little parchment papers and stuck them inside the channels.    I’ll just wait until the weather warms to 53 degrees so I can set the cocoons out and wait for the bees to come out.  I’m a little nervous that they won’t find their way to their nesting tubes, but we’ll see how it goes.  I may go get another bee house this weekend.  In the meantime, I’ll be reading up more on mason bees and looking forward to the experience.

The last photo of the bee on a sunflower was taken at the end of last summer.  It shows how much pollen these little critters can pack onto their little bodies.  Make sure to click on the photo to get the enlarged view.  What fascinating creatures!

Some of the websites I found online that were really informative were the following:

http://www.parentmap.com/article/keeping-mason-bees-10-expert-tips-for-families
Real good article

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Usdq7R2wQMY&NR=1&feature=endscreen

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=He3Nuy1FSqY

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&v=QKRKeoUNeJg&feature=endscreen
How to make a mason bee house.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=lBVBvThVzXw
How to make a mason bee solitary habitat from reeds.

 

 

 

 

Chickens Gone Wild!

Chickens Gone Wild!

Not everyone appreciates having chickens living next door.  If you’re inclined to let your chickens run wild around your property, they will more than likely begin to roam into your neighbors’ yards, and then you should be prepared for some back lash.  Not everybody is as fond and forgiving of chickens as chicken owners themselves.  Let’s face it, who wants chickens pooping on their driveways, porches, decks, walkways and grass.  Not to mention the aggravation of chickens scratching around in one’s flower beds and messing up the landscaping.  Being a good neighbor means treating others the way you want to be treated whether it pertains to animal behaviors, or human.

If you’re a chicken owner there are quite a few rules of etiquette to follow if you don’t want to upset your neighbors.  One thing we chicken owners don’t want to do is to incite angry and negative responses from the public about our backyard chickens and other farm animals within the city limits.  If we want understanding and acceptance from the non chicken loving public and city councils about our farming activities in urban areas, then we need to be responsible and vigilant about how we care for and manage our chickens.   If we don’t, then we could get our rights taken away to have chickens and other backyard farm animals on our property.  Of course if that ever happened in our town, there would probably be a chicken rebellion, and I would be at the front and center of it!  In my opinion, chickens are much less offensive than dogs, cats and many humans I have lived near in terms of noise, smell, lack of sanitation and messes!

If you own chickens, some of the typical comments one might hear from neighbors would be the following:

  1. Your chickens are sure noisy!
  2. What’s that smell coming from your yard?
  3. Did I hear a rooster crowing in your back yard the other day?
  4. Is this your chicken? I heard you were the chicken lady. (The words of a man on my porch one rainy evening as he stood there holding a wet hen in his arms that he’d chased down).
  5. Are those your chickens running around?  I’m afraid they’re gonna get run over.
  6. Text from a friend:  your chickens are out near the street again.  Looks like you may be having chicken for dinner tonight!
  7. Could you keep your chickens in your own yard, please?  Or in my own neighbor’s words, “You know I love you Jan, but…  I don’t know about those chickens of yours… (my chickens were pooping on his driveway and scratching in his flower beds).
  8. And the one response you don’t want to get is from the City of Springfield Police Department stating the following:

WARNING TO THE CHICKEN(S) OWNER/KEEPER AT: ___________

This is a courtesy letter to you the chicken owner, advising you that a verbal complaint was made against your chickens for being at ______________ (no name specified, of course).  If the violations of Springfield City Ordinance 5.418 continue, formal complaints could be signed and a citation issued.  Your chickens need to be confined to your property and are not allowed to roam onto any other properties.

If you have any questions regarding this complaint or other animal control matters please contact me at (541) 726-3634 Monday through Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.

Sincerely,

Officer Brian Austin
Springfield Police/Animal Control


Springfield City Ordinances

On the City of Springfield website under Chapter 5 Public Protection you can find some of the ordinances pertaining to chickens and animals in our city.

http://www.qcode.us/codes/springfield/

After clicking on Chapter 5 Public Protection you will see a menu of options that will take you to the ordinances. Click on Control of Dogs and other Animals, then click on Lot size and Numbers of Farm Animals Permitted.  Another menu option appears with General, Fowl and Poultry, Rabbits, Bees, etc…   If you click on General, it will tell you about the penalties.  I was shocked to see that some of the offenses specified may include a fine not exceeding $720.00!  Hummm… don’t get me started on that one!!!

Below is a PDF from Eugene called Backyard Chickens 101 that is worth reading. It also outlines what Eugene’s ordinances are related to chickens:

http://02c9d6e.netsolhost.com/archive_docs/backyard_chickens.pdf

I like some of the comments made about how to keep neighbors happy:

  1. Keep a clean coop so manure doesn’t build up, chicken feed doesn’t attract rodents, and odor doesn’t disturb the neighbors.
  2. Even docile laying hens can squawk loudly to get out of the coop first thing in the morning or after they’ve just laid an egg, so set the alarm early and let them out before they wake the neighbors.
  3. Talk to your neighbors; bring them fresh eggs and garden produce, share with them your chicken pleasures and pretty soon they’ll be your advocate too!

An interesting side note that I wasn’t aware of is that the minimum number of chickens for a stable social hierarchy (pecking order) is three.  So if you aren’t allow at least three hens, then you may have some social problems to deal with!  Of course, everyone should know that roosters are not allowed in the city for obvious reasons.  In Springfield, they are allowed up to 6 months old.

Initially, I was a bit upset about getting the warning from the city, but now I’m glad I did because it gave me the experience I needed to share this information with the reader, AND it got my butt in gear so that I finally put up a temporary fence to keep my chickens in the backyard.  I often worried about them going out into the busy street or that a big dog might chase them down and attack them! Now I have more piece of mind knowing that they are safe and my neighbors are not unhappy with me and my hens anymore!

2012 In Review

2012 In Review

If time really is speeding up, then 2012 was certainly a testament to that for me!  I can’t remember a year that breezed by that quickly, yet thank goodness I still managed to pack in a lot of activities and projects that made it feel like a productive year.  I can’t complain.  Although life’s hardships, tragedies, natural disasters and economic conditions here and around the globe cause misery for many and keep the stress levels high for most people on the planet, I thank God for the blessings of good health and work that allow me to live in my world relatively sane and comfortable… so far.   I am full of gratitude and do not take any of the good things in my life for granted.  Everything can change in an instant!  My prayer always is that love, forgiveness and peace will manifest themselves in the hearts of all God’s children, and that we will all try harder to heal our world and make it a better and safer place for everyone.

I haven’t posted a journal entry for quite some time now because I got side tracked doing some remodelling on my house.  Since September I’ve painted the outside of my house, the entire inside except for the two bedrooms, had the porch rebuilt, replaced two doors,  laid down new carpet, vinyl & floorboards, and my bathroom got a complete face lift with all new EVERYTHING!  After water started spurting out from the wall above my shower head, I figured it couldn’t wait any longer!  It was intense work and required putting many other activities on hold for a while until everything got done, but it did get done and just in time for Christmas!  It feels almost like I’m living in a new home now, and I love it!  Now I just have to demolish the back deck and will hopefully get a new deck built in March, just in time for springtime gardening.  I can’t wait to be sitting outside on my new back deck this next summer with a glass of wine after a long day of working in the garden!

When I look back on 2012, I can feel very satisfied with all that I accomplished in the garden and how much I learned.  After the Black Locusts came down and the logs were cleared out it was a long overdue opportunity for me to make many changes in my backyard landscape.  Everything changed when the garden was exposed to more sunlight, and the flowers in particular flourished and grew to new heights.  Some of the sunflowers were probably ten feet high and the giant Delphiniums were almost eight feet. The highlights of the year were probably the new green house, learning to propagate successfully, expanding the growing areas, building the hay & tool shed on my own, finishing eight more feet of brick pathway, successfully transitioning my two new chicks into the existing flock, planting new plum and cherry trees in my back yard, saving more seed varieties, and growing new varieties of vegetables and fruit this year.

The new varieties I had the most success with were the winter quash varieties, the kale, and the dry bush beans.  My raspberries were the greatest surprise, and I have to say that they gave me the most satisfaction of anything else in my garden.  The asparagus also seemed to do very well the first year.  It should be eatable next season. The celery got planted too late but hopefully will produce stalks this year. The ochre, turnips & rutabagas were problematic.  It probably isn’t possible to grow ochre in this climate anyway, and I will plant the turnips and rutabagas in another part of the garden next summer where the soil doesn’t get so hot and dry.  I will plant them later as well so that they will mature in the fall like the carrots and parsnips.   The cucumbers always do well, and I decided as pretty as the lemon cucumbers are, I still prefer the Cypress cucumbers to any others.  The watermelon didn’t do well, but the cantaloupe did okay, even though they never grew very large.

My cold storage of the winter squashes is going well so far. It’s January now, and they are doing fine outside in plastic bins filled with straw underneath a tarp.  I didn’t have enough time and energy to build the storage shed I wanted on the side of my house, but it will be my next outdoor building project this next summer.  For the time being, I need to figure out which recipes I want to try with my winter squashes.   I got a great harvest of red and yellow onions earlier, but I let some of them get wet so they started to mold under the tarp, and I had to throw some out.  I still have quite a few left that are now stored indoors to ensure that they remain dry and warmer.  I’ll be much more careful next year.  My leek are still in the ground and I pull them up as needed.  So are my carrots and parsnips.

My potatoes did great, but my sweet potatoes didn’t.  I think they needed more sun exposure, so I’ll plant them elsewhere this year.  My cabbages and broccoli did great, but not the cauliflower. The Brusselsprouts didn’t form tight enough sprouts, and I was too busy to try to harvest the best ones during the fall before they expanded into loose little cabbages on the stalks.  I figure that nothing ever really gets wasted though.  My chickens are enjoying them now, and whatever doesn’t get used will always go into the compost or remain on top of the soil for good mulch.

The strawberries never produced what I had hoped, but the raspberries more than made up for them, and I was able to eat practically a handful every day for over two months.  I didn’t expect my Boysenberries to produce anything the first year, but hopefully this coming season they will do better.  My blackberries did great, but I didn’t make the time to pick them for jam or freezing.  We had another great year for blueberries, and I froze what I didn’t gobble up and give away.

All the eggplant varieties did okay where I planted them, but I just wasn’t in the mood to do much with them and only used a few in cooking.  I think they would have done better had they been in a sunnier location. After the late start with tomatoes and hot peppers, everything finally matured enough by late September so that I could make plenty of salsa to freeze.  My bell peppers didn’t do so well for some reason.  I got some good ones, but most were pretty scrawny.  I really think it’s the soil condition.  I will bring in tons more manure next season and mulch even more.   Thanks goodness for that long Indian summer, but not getting rain for over three months really felt strange, and it was hard to keep everything moist.

My pears, as I already mentioned in a previous post, did horrible after the cold and wet spring, as did many of the pears in the Willamette Valley, but the apples did great! At least I managed to get two pears from my Anjou, two from my Bartlett, and three from my Flemish Beauty. I also got two really nice pears from my Asian pear tree, and it was just the first year!  The Flemish Beauty and Asian pear tree didn’t seem to suffer from the cold, wet springtime conditions like the other pear trees.   The fruit tree that surprised me the most was my miniature nectarine.   It produced about a dozen nectarines.  They weren’t very big or pretty, but they were not diseases and tasted fantastic!  All the spraying I did probably paid off.  The peaches were a disaster as usual.  I am going to pull out the scrawny peach tree in the middle this year and will give the remaining two one more chance to produce.  I will make the effort to spray them several times instead of just one and see what happens.   If they can’t pull it together then out they will come.   I need that space for something that will produce.  The three variety cherry tree way in the back corner generally produces some good cherries, but the birds always end up getting them.  Next season I’ll try hanging some little objects from the branches to see if that helps keep the birds away.  The Concord grapes and Himrod grapes produced in abundance, so the chickens and I were very pleased, and I also managed to make 8 quarts of juice from the Concords which I froze.

I managed to can a few more things this fall as well.  I got enough apples from a friend to make plenty of applesauce, but ended up buying pears, peaches and cherries for additional canning.  I canned pickled beets also, and 24 jars of tuna at a friend’s house.  Once you taste real tuna canned in jars you can never fully appreciate the store bought canned tuna. 

One of the funnest new things I did, and most satisfying in the herb and spice department, was drying out my Hungarian paprika peppers and the Cayenne peppers and then grinding them into powder.  I never expected it to be so easy, and next year I will definitely plant more of both varieties to use in cooking since I use so much of those particular spices.

It’s barely been three months since the official end of fall, and we still haven’t really had a cold winter yet, but temperatures have dropped into the freezing zones this week, so that may finally trigger the roses and other plants to stop shooting up little blossoms here and there and take a break.  Sure enough, when I look outside I see that my hardy Fuchsia is now drooping and ready to go into hibernation.   For me, that is the true sign that winter has arrived.   I am already excited about spring 2013, and I’m looking forward to starting in on my new projects.  Time to make a list!!!

Hens Eating Their Own Eggs – Part Two

Hens Eating Their Own Eggs – Part Two

My hens are no longer eating their own eggs.   In the previous post on Hens Eating Their Eggs Again I outlined the steps I would take to prevent this carnivorous practice that my hens began to engage in.  It started after I had to lock them into the chicken area in the back during the growing season to keep them out of my vegetables and flowers beds.  So what have I discovered?

What I have found works the best for me is….. drum roll….  Gather the eggs early enough in the day before the hens become interested in them!  This one step will prevent 99% of the eggs from being cracked open and eaten.  This solution, however, works for me only because I don’t go to work until later in the day, and I have the time to go out to the coop a couple times before noon.   Unfortunately, this solution wouldn’t work for people who have to leave for work in the morning.   I know that some nesting beds can be designed to allow the eggs to tumble down into a protected area that the hens can’t access, but if you don’t have that particular design in your nesting beds, then what do you do?  Maybe try the hot mustard method and add a few wooden eggs to the beds?

For me the addition of the wooden eggs and golf balls didn’t help.  The hens still managed to tell them apart and pecked at their own eggs anyway.  Another thing I am doing in the morning is giving the chickens some vegetation from my garden to distract them and give them more nutrition now that the grass is so dry.  They love leaves from cabbage, kale, chard, lettuce, Brussels sprouts and anything juicy.  Other favorites are cucumbers, over sized zucchini,  melons, and really just anything they can peck at easily.  For a while there I was feeding them the sweet peas straight out of the pods, and they definitely love me for those treats!  They also love the blackberries growing in their area, but it sure does make their poop black, and I am hoping that the seeds in the poop don’t germinate into new blackberries throughout the yard.

After going through this experience, I have come to understand my chickens better.  As I previously suspected, they were going back up into the hens house nesting beds to peck at their eggs not because they needed more to eat, or more calcium in their diet, but because they had nothing better to do.  When they were allowed to wander around the entire backyard, they would lay their eggs and then they couldn’t wait to get out to continue foraging for worms and bugs.  The smaller area just simply doesn’t provide enough worms, bugs and variety.  I feel bad for my hens that they have to be in jail during the growing season, but such is the life for urban chickens.  Once they get to go out into the larger yard again, they’ll quickly forget.

In the meantime, they are taunted by the younger hens who still get to wander around the larger yard.  Two hens seem to be the perfect number of chickens to allow in my yard without risking destruction to my vegetable and flower beds.   I probably won’t be clipping their wings as long as they can continue to jump over the fence and get back into their coop in the evenings.    Since the new hens are still being somewhat rejected and bullied by the older hens, I feel like they deserve the advantage of freedom to wander around my yard.

One thing for sure, I don’t want my older hens passing on bad habits to the younger ones.   I’m still wondering how it will go when the new hens start to lay their own eggs which will probably be sometime in late September.   Will the older hens respect their right to sit in the boxes?  If they continue to crack open eggs when they get the chance, will the new hens also start doing it?  It’s another observation waiting to be made in the life and times of urban chickens.

Introducing Chicks to the Flock

Introducing New Chicks to the Existing Flock

Not everyone has the options available to them to introduce new chicks to their existing urban flock in a way that will minimize bullying and henpecking by the older hens.  Fortunately, the method I used couldn’t have been more successful.  After what I had heard and read about, I expected the worst, and because of that I kept putting off the introduction.  Finally, when my two new chicks were about eleven weeks old I decided I couldn’t put it off any longer.   Before I put them into the back area with the older hens, however, I let them roam around my backyard freely. They would always head back to the rabbit hutch (now re- christened as the transitional chick hutch),  where they would snuggle up together for the night.  For several weeks they wandered around, and the older hens could see them through the wire fence.  They were a little curious and a bit vexed at seeing that the other chickens got to be outside in the yard while they were still cooped up.  I suspect that this slow introduction helped the older hens accept the existence of the new chickens, so when I finally put them into the back area with the older hens they practically ignored them.  After a couple days of allowing them in there to explore the new area during the day, I was then ready to make them stay in the hen house for the night.

I was still nervous about what would happen in the evening when it was time to roost.  I didn’t know what to expect.  To my amazement, it went without a hitch.  The older hens did their usual slow ascent up the ladder into the nesting boxes.  Then I took the younger hens and placed them inside the hen house and barred the entrance so they couldn’t come out.  It was dusk at this point in time, but since a lot of light was still filtering in from the skyline and my neighbor’s lights, I decided to try to darken it in the hen house to sooth the chickens, so I covered the window.   I left the rest up to nature and hoped for the best.

My hens usually descend the ladder at daybreak, so I got up early the next morning to open up the entrance.  The older hens descended and the two new chicks waited until the others were out of the coop before they too descended.  It’s interesting to see how the smaller chicks just naturally respect the dominant positions of the older hens.  They know instinctively that they had better keep their distance. Throughout the rest of the day, they were basically ignored for the most part, and only occasionally did the other hens bother to assert their dominance and protect their territory a few times when they felt it was necessary.  That happened, and still happens, mainly when they want to eat some grain and the new hens are in their way, or if they wander too close.  The new hens quickly learned to just simply stay out of their way.  It was that simple.

From that first night onward, the younger hens head up the ladder first and perch themselves on the roosting pole before the older hens start their ascent. Somehow they had established this contract from the beginning as one of the rules of hierarchy to be respected. The new hens seem very content to roost on the pole together while the older hens continue to lie in the boxes as they’ve always done.  Never once has there been an issue that I’m aware of.  Of course I’m not in there at night, so I don’t know for sure what’s going on, but since it’s so silent in there, they must all be pretty comfortable with each other.  Now, four weeks later, even though they’re not completely bonded with the older hens, they coexist just fine.   I won’t be cutting their wings for now since they don’t do that much damage to my beds.  I’m also wondering what will happen in the hen house if I clip their wings when they’re bigger.  Will they still have the agility to jump up on the pole to roost?  Currently, they are still easily flying up over the fence every day to cruise the outer yard and then flying back and forth over the fence throughout the day whenever they feel like it.

I couldn’t be more proud of my little diverse family of chickens for getting along so well.  If the world could live together that peacefully then what a wonderful world it would be!

 

Summer Garden 2012 Part Three

Summer Garden 2012 Part Three

This is the third part in my series of posts describing the progression of my garden areas from the first spring planting to harvest time during the 2012 growing season.   As of August 1st, you can see by the photos that after two – three months my garden is exploding with growth.  Considering that I got the cool weather vegetables in by May 1st and almost everything else in the ground by the first week in June,  then things are maturing quite well.  Still, by August 1st we are not at the point when everything is eatable yet.  I’m sure the cool and rainy June weather delayed some things, not to mention that there were so few bees around in June to pollinate.

So far,  I’ve been enjoying my berries, radishes, onions, green onions, potatoes, and of course the kale, Swiss chard, spinach, lettuces, broccoli, zucchini, crookneck, a couple millionaire eggplant, and most of the fava beans. Some of the favas I made hummus with, and the rest I sautéed with green onions and garlic in coconut oil. Yummy! I forgot that I wanted to get save some beans to plant next year, so hopefully the ones that are left on the stalks will mature enough at this late date to provide a few.   I did pull a few turnips to get them thinned out as well, and my Boston pickling cucumbers were ready to start canning in small quantities by the 1st.  I was able to eat some of the biggest ones that weren’t bitter while I eagerly waited for the Cypress and lemon cucumbers to mature.

I’ve been stuffing mouthfuls of blueberries and raspberries into my mouth almost on a daily basis since June & early July, and I am amazed at how great the blueberry yield was again this year.  That was likely due to our wet spring & early summer rains.  My cilantro and dill have already finished their cycles, and soon I will be pulling them up to harvest their seed.  The onions were ready to pull well before the end of July.   I’ll leave most of the potatoes in the beds to store until well into November.  This year I am going to cover the beds with a tarp when it starts to rain to keep the beds dry.

The dried bush beans are well on their way to being ready to start harvesting as the pods dry out.  I’ve already started shelling the beans from the dried out pods of the King of Early bush beans.  The name definitely reflects the character of these beans since they are indeed maturing and drying out faster than the other varieties.

What I have been waiting the most impatiently for are my tomatoes!  It seems like it took forever for them to start turning, but they finally started to turn the second week in August!  My bell peppers and larger hot pepper varieties such as the Poblanos, Carmen & Anaheim, are ready to start harvesting little by little as they get larger, but the small cayenne, jalapeno & Thai aren’t producing yet even though they are loaded with blossoms.  I’ll want them when I start to make my salsa later in the month, and early in September, so hopefully they’ll get a move on soon.  One thing I learned about the small hot peppers; it takes forever for them to propagate, so next year I will definitely get them going much sooner.  And of course I started the tomatoes way too late, but even the two larger Celebrity tomatoes I bought from the store didn’t start turning until just recently, so maybe this is just a late year because of the cool and rainy June month.  Let’s hope the summer gets extended with a nice September.

One important thing I’ve learned about squash this year, is that some of the vines are the contained types, like zucchini, crookneck, spaghetti squash, golden table acorn, and acorn table queen bush, while other are huge crawlers.  Some,  like the Burgess Buttercup, spread their vines out 10 feet and more!  The Waltham Butternut I’m discovering not only needs a lot of crawl space, but I will know next time to not plant the butternut on the side of my garage.  Not only is there not quite enough room for it to spread its vines, it gets too hot there, and the butternut leaves tend to wilt in the heat.  None of the other squashed are doing this.  I didn’t understand how much moisture the butternut needed, and I think it would do much better in an area where there is more access to cooling breezes when it gets real hot.   Next year it will definitely go in the back with the other crawlers where the breezes stream through better.

Discoveries like these are what excite me as a small backyard grower who considers herself a novice even 12 years into it.  One can always read carefully before growing everything to try and avoid all mistakes, but there’s something to be said for trial and error learning if cost savings isn’t an issue.  Obviously, I can’t eat all the food I grow, but what I can’t eat I either feed to my chickens, give away or throw into the compost pile.  The funnest part for me is learning about growing at all stages,  about enriching and maintaining good soil, experimenting, and figuring out what and where things grow best in my particular garden with its unique micro climate and soil.   In some ways I feel like I’m the mother goddess of my garden who is trying to create a harmonious garden family where all the plants and animals and bees and bugs and microorganisms live together in a symbiotic and happy world where we all work together to create beauty and food and nourishment for the planet and our bodies.  Kind of like I envision heaven, I guess.  It’s a blessing to be a part of nature this way, and my role as steward of my little world is one I take very seriously, and I am so grateful for the joy and peace it brings me.  When everything is flourishing and healthy I feel like a good mother, but on the flip side when things don’t grow well or diseases and pests threaten my garden, then it makes me feel like a failed parent.  I wonder if anyone else feels this way.

First Video Tour of My Garden Summer 2012

This is my first attempt at posting a video tour of my garden on You Tube.  One of the reasons it’s taken so long to get anything up is because I kept thinking I needed to do it with my video camera and then make sure and edit it to perfection.  I finally realized that if I was going to aspire to that kind of high standard it would never get done, so this is a video taken with my cheap little Cool Pix.  I finally figured out how to upload videos to You Tube today, which was a breeze, so this is the final result.

In the future I will be careful to only post short 3 – 5 minute videos that cover specific topics, but this first time I wanted to show a view of the garden that would give a more comprehensive view of the layout.  The quality isn’t that great, but it’s good enough.  It’s about a 25 minute tour, but that’s about what it takes to show almost everything.   I’m proud of myself that I didn’t continually repeat myself, and I actually remembered the names of almost everything that I was describing.  I forgot the name of the Flemish Beauty pear tree, but now you know!    So if you’re interested in seeing my garden and getting some good ideas, click on the following link and enjoy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31EjjSJJQWY&feature=youtu.be

 

 

 

 

Spring Planting 2012 Part Two

Spring Planting 2012 Part Two

These photos show the vegetable beds a few weeks later during the 1st week of July.  After some very rainy but warm weather some very quick growth has set in.  I love the period of June in early summer when it warms up but keeps raining here in the Willamette Valley.  After that first month when no growth happens, all of a sudden the plants explode with growth.  It’s like you can practically see the plants growing if you stand there long enough.  It’s wonderful!

It’s fun to be creative in the garden and try to construct different things to add some interesting ornamentation that is also practical.  I took some of the leftover wood from my broken down arbor and rotten gothic fence posts and built a little trellis for my climbing cucumbers. It worked out great!

Where my largest Black Locust tree stood, I paid homage to it by keeping a few of the pieces and making myself a little sitting area with some shade from the parasol.  A little tacky maybe, but fun for now.

It took about 9 bales of straw to cover most of the beds.  I’ve covered everything with straw to give the beds some good mulch that will help keep moisture in and reduce the need for watering so often over the next two hot months of summer.   I’m hoping we don’t get that horrible heat wave happening  in other parts of the country right now, but the temperatures will be close to 90 degrees this next week.  I haven’t fully converted to the Ruth Stout method  yet, but this year I plan to really commit and no longer rota till the ground level vegetable beds.  I’ll continue to till the raised beds however, since the areas where I plant the parsnips, carrots and other root vegetables need a looser soil that goes deeper to allow for the longer carrot and parsnip roots to grow downward.

The reason I hadn’t converted over to the Ruth Stout method yet is because I wasn’t at that stage where my beds and soil were in the kind of shape I wanted them to be.  Now that the Black Locusts are gone and all the beds and growing areas are pretty much established for the future, I think now the time is right.  I will not throw anymore of my vegetable matter into the compost (not talking about my kitchen scraps), rather I will leave it all on the garden beds where they fall.  I will cover everything this fall with leaves, and next spring I’ll add hay, not straw.  Ruth Stout used hay because she thought it was more nutritious. When planting time comes I’ll hoe up narrow rows only where I will plant my seeds and starts after I add some manure, and then let nature takes its course.

Who Needs a Compost Pile?

In the book “The Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book by Ruth Stout and Richard Clemence, Ruth said that she didn’t feel a need to have a compost pile because she just threw everything onto her garden, but the reason I still want to keep a compost pile going is because I love the concentration of worms that you can get from them.  I don’t really see a need to grow red wigglers in a plastic container when you can get so many of them and other worms in a good compost pile.  The natural vermiculture method that a friend of mine showed me seems to me to be the easiest and most sensible way to get worms going in areas where you want extra worm poop and more microbial growth, especially in your raised beds.

Dig two deep holes about a foot or two in diameter at each end of the bed and one in the middle.  Dig all the way down to ground level.  Fill up the holes halfway with the compost full of worms.  Cover with some grass clippings, and then cover back up with the existing soil.  Voila!  You have several worm colonies ready to go to work in your raised bed, enriching your soil and keeping it loose and nutritious.

Just google Ruth Stout to get plenty of good articles on her and suggestions for books at Amazon.com. Here’s a real quick pdf on Ruth Stout and her method that’s easy to print out:

http://frederick.umd.edu/files/MGArticle-NoDig-NoWorkRuthStoutGardeningGadflybyJoanneBrown4-16-07.pdf

If you want a really in-depth instructional guide to vermicomposting and vermiculture, I don’t think you can beat this one:

http://www.organicagcentre.ca/docs/vermiculture_farmersmanual_gm.pdf

Hens Eating Their Eggs Again!

Hens Eating Their Eggs Again!
Chicken behaviour is still a mystery to me in many ways.  My hens weren’t pecking at their eggs until I fenced them in and wouldn’t allow them to roam the other areas of my yard anymore because of spring planting.  I’m wondering if they were missing the protein and other minerals like calcium that they were getting from the yard and maybe that triggered a nutritional craving or something that compelled them to seek out more minerals.  Probably not though, because they still have a large grassy area to roam with plenty of dirt, and I know they get a good enough variety of nutrients from their feed, worms and insects that they’re still finding in their enclosed area.  More than anything, I think that they might be bored and discontent being in a more restricted area.

I think what happened is that an egg cracked on its own initially, and t

hat’s how one of the hens got her first taste of it.  Had I been better about going out earlier in the day to gather the eggs then I could have possibly prevented it.  Too many eggs rubbing against each other can cause cracks in the egg with a softer shell.  What I find interesting though is that they will poke at the egg and only leave a hole most of the time without finishing it off.  What’s with that?

One friend said I might try putting Tabasco Sauce on the eggs, but when I took out a pecked egg yesterday and put it on the ground with a liberal amount of Tabasco in and on it, it didn’t detour the hens at all.   Without further hesitation, I decided to do the most intelligent thing and that was to google “chickens eating their own eggs”.  Here’s what I found on the following websites:

http://www.wikihow.com/Keep-Chickens-from-Eating-Their-Own-Eggs

http://msucares.com/poultry/management/poultry_eat_eggs.html

 

Based on my google research,  I decided to take the following steps to prevent further egg pecking:

  1. I immediately went out and placed two golf balls into each nesting box.  I also happened to have a wooden egg that I could put in one box.
  2. I will also go out sooner in the day, before noon, to get the eggs so the hens won’t have the time or interest to start pecking at them yet.  I did that this morning before noon and three eggs were still in tack.  In general, I’ll try to go out more frequently.
  3.  Even though the eggs seem hard enough to me, I’ll take additional steps to try and harden them further.   Someone told me that Flax Seed can help keep the eggshells harder, so I’ll try that, as well as the Oyster Shells to add more calcium to the hens’ diet.  I may add more nutrients to their feed later, but that’s an additional expense that I wouldn’t be happy about.
  4. I’ll look for some English Mustard and try that out when the hen(s) do their egg pecking.
  5. I’ll make sure to keep more straw in the nesting boxes to cushion the eggs more.
  6. I will absolutely not feed my hens the broken eggs.  I learned that after my first experience with my carnivorous Road Island Reds.  Once I started throwing the broken eggs onto the ground for them to continue devouring, that just gave them a taste for their own eggs and it only got worse.  Within a very short time I was barely getting a couple eggs a day from over 6 hens because they were eating them almost immediately upon laying.  Well, the Racoons took care of those hens, as I described in the earlier post.

I’m pretty sure that if I allowed my chickens to roam my big yard again that they would be too busy to go pecking at their eggs, but that’s not an option until after the harvest, and winter sets in again, so I’ll have to try the other methods to prevent the hens from eating their eggs.

If all the above fail, and it gets worse, then I will try to find out which hen(s) are the culprits and eliminate them.  Hopefully that won’t happen, because I really love these hens, but I’m also a practical person, and if my hens don’t pay for themselves, they have to go.  That’s just the way it is.

This entry didn’t get posted when I meant to post it a couple months ago, but better late than never.  Stay tuned, though.  In an upcoming post I’ll write about my observations these last couple months and my conclusions about the egg eating.