The One Who Does the Garden Chores Gets First Pick

After the chicken chores this morning I started watering the garden, when I saw this little red strawberry.  It is nearly impossible to see under the overgrown grape and the sage bush.  I’ve never had much success with strawberries, probably because they are in this bed which is overrun already.  There is one little luscious strawberry that has been produced this year.  I didn’t hesitate when I saw it.  I immediately popped it in my mouth.  It was so sweet and delicious, and a bit crunchy, since I’d forgotten to spray the dirt off it.  Little farm chick came right out and asked if I’d eaten the strawberry.  I had to confess that I had.  She searched in vain for another one, but had no luck.  Luckily I had other garden goodies to share.

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Snow Peas!  I’ve never had much luck with peas.  I usually have planted them too late, or didn’t give them support, but this year they have been very happy.  I usually don’t care for pea pods, but these are pretty good just off the vine.  They are loving their vertical support, and all the rain.  They actually took off when we starting getting some really warm, sunny days.  Little farm chick loves to nibble the sides and then open up the pod.  She thinks the little baby peas inside are just so cute.

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The cherry tree is covered in fruit.  I have yet to have a ripe one though.  Some of them are so close.  Almost every time I look outside there are two to three birds munching happily away at the cherries.  Anyone have ideas on how to keep birds away?  I used to have a fake owl, but I think the neighbor kids may have run off with it. This is what I get for not having a fenced in backyard.

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I’m pretty sure birds may be the culprit for these nibbled radish sprouts as well.  Sigh.  There are some pretty large trees in our neighborhood since all the houses were built in the 1950’s.  I love the trees, and I like birds, but I wish they wouldn’t treat my garden like an all you can eat buffet.

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The marigolds are starting to bloom.  Flowers are a first in my vegetable garden this year.  I am hoping it will not only add beauty but keep bugs away as well.  You can see my tomato plants need some pruning and training if they are going to climb the vertical fencing.  I really need to start feeling better.  Darn zombie cold.

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The amaranth is really taking off, in fact I think I may have a volunteer one a few squares over.  It will be interesting if they try to take over the bed.  I’ve sowed some amaranth in the chicken run and I’m really hoping that it will take off there as well.  With the ground being so compacted though I think we’ll be lucky.  I have seen some little sprouts so maybe it will work.  Here’s hoping.

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Halfway to Eggs

The pullets are about 10 weeks old today.  It amazing how fast they grow.  In about 10 more weeks we may see our first eggs.  Even though I’m still under the weather I took a moment to snap a few pictures of our pretty, feathered girls.

Snow stretching her legs.

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Luna and Cleo.  I love that Cleo’s feathers now have a green sheen.

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Sweet Pea.  She’s the first to run for treats.

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Rose and Zebra.  I love their feather patterns.

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Sometimes it’s the little things

Last year I surprised my husband with a vacation to Seattle, Washington for our 12 year anniversary.  We have very fond memories of Seattle.  Wes and I knew each other in high school, but went our separate ways.  Years later when I was living in Seattle and he was here in Utah I got an email, totally out of the blue, asking how I was.  I was in the middle of a divorce, but we struck up a fast friendship and later began dating, long distance.  Every time he’d fly out to Seattle we’d explore and enjoy every minute together.  We eloped in Seattle just months after we’d began dating.  Everyone thought we were crazy.  We knew we weren’t and blissfully ignored the naysayers. It is the best decision I’ve ever made.

So back to the trip.  As we were re-exploring Seattle, on a whim we took a ferry to Bainbridge Island.  If you ever get a chance to visit you absolutely should.  We walked the streets exploring the little shops, picked up fresh berries at the farmers market, ate  uniquely amazing ice cream and soaked in the local charm.  I fantasized about living on a little plot, raising chickens and basking in the views.  It is such a picturesque place.  While in small shop I found the most amazing signs.  I’d seen them before in farm magazines, but absolutely fell in love with them as they lay before me in all their brightly colored glory.  I tried to choose just the right one to take home.  Wes was worried they would cause a problem to bring home, which thinking back I can’t imagine what airport security would have said, “Um, Mam, you can’t bring this metal farm sign on the plane”.  I sighed and put them back.

When Christmas time rolled around a farm sign was one of the first things on my list. Not just any farm sign though, one from Bainbridge Farm Goods.  Have you seen their signs?  I could spend hours trying to decide which one to buy.

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Wes chose this cute little sign for our coop.  Even though I think it would be better suited on a little farm road, instead of the middle of my run, I love the bright colors, the quirky chickens, and the fun font.  Not long after the run was built I move the sign from the kitchen wall to its new place of honor.  I have a feeling I’ll be picking up more signs.  Sometimes it is the little things that can just make a space magical.

The Escape Door

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When my husband was building the run he put in another door.  It actually allows you to get to a tiny, dark walkway between the garage and our neighbor’s fence.  It is a scary place to walk, and it has old fence poles from previous owners.  I couldn’t imagine why in the world we would need access to that space from the run.  Wes put it in any way, he said just in case we needed access, and I continued to shake my head.

One evening I was doing chicken chores when little farm chick came to join me.  She pulled the door shut from the inside and suddenly I heard a click.  She’d locked us in.  The latch to our main door had totally engaged and we were stuck. I panicked for a bit, but then I remembered that door, the one that I thought had been so silly.  There are times I’m especially grateful for Wes’s ingenuity.

Oh, and I will neither confirm nor deny if I’ve gotten locked in again, while on my own.

Through the Lens of Little Farm Chick

I was doing chicken and garden chores the other night when little chick begged to borrow my camera.  She is 5 and about to start Kindergarten.  She’s my youngest daughter and I sure love her.  I placed the heavy camera around her neck, asked her to be super careful, showed her what button to push, and away she went.  It is fun to see what she captured.

Gotta love fluffy chicken butts.

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Farm chick watering the grapes.  We bought 5 grapes to grow over the fencing and hopefully provide shade for the chickens.

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DSCF8286Elephant Head Amaranth.  A new addition to the garden this year.  It may be foolish to plant in the box since these can be huge, but I am still excited to see them grow. 

DSCF8290Our giant grape vine that we planted years ago.  It gave us 20+ pounds of grapes last year, and is lacking the support it really needs.  These past few years it reaches all the way over to our sage plant for support. 

DSCF8304Chicken play time with our escape door in the background.  That’s a story for another time.

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Scooping the chicken poop while being asked to smile big.  I blame the camera angle for the big butt, not the stress related weight gain.  Do you like the cardboard in the feeder.  Not all designs work as planned.  The chickens thought it would make a great roosting bar.  Silly things.

DSCF8305Green, growing things. The spinach has been very happy this year with all the rain we’ve gotten.  The leaves are larger than my hand.

DSCF8294Little Farm Chick’s chicken, Zebra.  She is by far the biggest out of all the hens.  I love her stripes.

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Last but not least, a Cars play mat I found at a yard sale that little farm chick has fallen in LOVE with.  She makes me be Lightning McQueen whenever I give her a bath.  It is getting really hard to think of race stories that I haven’t told before.

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Chicken Keepers Worry A LOT!

I was all prepared to blog about cute coop and run accessories this evening, until I went out in the run and found some fresh chicken diarrhea (don’t worry, pictures have not been included).  I went into a little bit of a panic.  We figured out the chicken with the problem was Sweet Pea, our Salmon Favorelle hen.

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I sat down and observed she was eating a lot of bindweed.  The greenery all around Sweet Pea in this picture is bindweed.  So far the internet hasn’t been very useful if it is safe for chickens to eat or not.  Some sites say it is mildly toxic, or is a laxative, others say it is fine.  To be safe I ripped out a lot of the noxious weed

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In the process of ripping all that out I found even scarier things, all sorts of assorted hardware.  I was just sick when I saw all of this.  I have gone over the run several times, but missed this stuff in the tangled mess that is bindweed.  We built our coop over an entire year and things clearly were just dropped and left.  After this I was worried about hardware disease.  Problems of course can occur if your chickens eat something like this, and they will sometimes eat anything.

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As I watched Sweet Pea I observed that she was acting normally.  She was still eating and drinking.  She was her usual spunky self for sure. I checked her vent and it was clean. As I have done more research I am pretty certain that the diarrhea was caused because it has been very hot these past two days. When it is hot a chicken can drink more than usual in a short period of time which can lead to loose stools.  I decided to add probiotics to the chickens feed just for some peace of mind. Probiotics can be very useful to a flock.  It won’t help if the chicken has eaten hardware though.

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The girls ate away at the feed without hesitation.  Sweet Pea let me pet her for a little while.  Then she jumped down and pooped, and lo and behold it was entirely normal.

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I worry way too much, but at least I got some nasty stuff out of the run.

Small Space? Not a problem!

So some of you may feel like you can’t garden or have chickens because your space is just too small.  I calculated today how large our property is.  You’ll never believe it but it is only 1/6 of an acre.  No joke!  It is tiny, but it is mine, and I have fallen in love with the improvements we’ve done over the years.  My house is even smaller.  It is an early 1950’s bungalow.  I am sure it was a first time home for a young family.  With the 5 of us space can be tight, but we’ve come to find that being close, physically and emotionally, is a good thing.  Even though our lot is small I’ve loved having the opportunity to grow our own food and raise chickens.  I was going through my mobile photos from the last few gardening seasons and found some gems.

Last year we hade one grapevine.  It went crazy and produced so many grapes!  I taught myself to can from books and videos and made lots of grape jam and grape juice.  It was a bit of a process since the grapes are seeded. My girls were a big help though.  We also ended up with a lot of watermelon, much more than we could eat, so watermelon jam was next!

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Last year I gardened by covering the raised boxes with black plastic and cutting holes for the plants.  A drip line kept things growing well.  It is a very low maintenance way to garden.

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Remember how I said I don’t do usual plants?  I guess I did have some red tomatoes this year, but the zucchini was yellow, the tomatilos were purple, and the cherry tomatoes were yellow and purple.

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At the end of the growing season there are usually a lot of tomatoes left on the vines that haven’t quite ripened.  Instead of lining every surface of my little home with tomatoes and waiting for them to ripen, I made my new favorite, pickled green tomatoes.  They are so good on a sandwich or in egg salad. Yum!

10441462_10203976080058819_4626542990509297049_n  Even if you only live in an apartment there are always pots that can be placed on a porch.  These little peppers were beautiful and gave quite the kick!   They started out purple, but continued to go different colors until they turned fully ripe and red.  I still have some in my freezer and I’ll occasionally pop one in a dish to liven things up.  10435982_10203249345410907_7521646575556459255_n

In any space you can find room to grow a little something for yourself.  You’ll be happy you did!

The Gardening Experiment for the Year

So many of the posts recently have been all about chickens, but my first adventures into homesteading were actually gardening.  There is just something wonderful about being able to go out to your backyard and pick your own food.  Every year I like to try something new.  I entirely shook things up this year and chose a new method of gardening.  I’m doing square foot and vertical gardening.  I tried some vertical gardening with a few of my tomato plants last year and I had some of the biggest tomatoes ever.  DSCF8194

My husband has built me planter boxes over the years and they are the best.  I love being able to control the soil and it helps keep the weeds down a little. With the vertical gardening I got some very heavy-duty T posts from the Tractor Supply store.  I picked up some 2″ by 2″ fencing from the Cal-Ranch store.  It is the same fencing we used on the run.

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The T posts came with metal clips that allow us to simply attach the fencing to the post.

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To separate the boxes into square foot sections I measured around the box and put a screw every foot.  From there it was easy to string the twine and knot it to the screws.  Voila, a grid!

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I actually got a spring garden planted this year.  I have tried a lot of new things this year since there is a lot of room for planting different crops with the square foot method.  You do need to make sure that you are allowing enough space for your crop.  For example, you can only put one tomato plant per square, but you can plant 12 radishes per box.  The tomato really needs a vertical space to climb up so it can stretch out.  Speaking of radishes, I have really come to love them this year.  They grow so quickly.  I used to hate them as a kid, but it is funny how tastes can change, and did you know that radishes cooked are delicious?  They lose their spice and take on a whole new flavor.  I like them cooked with my eggs.

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Currently in the spring garden I have radishes, atomic red carrots, red beets, golden beets, peas, kale and spinach.

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I’ve never had success with peas, but I think I planted them early enough that we might get some. Here’s hoping.

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I planted several summer plants from seed and for weeks they sat on top of my table soaking in the sun.  Peppers, tomatoes, tomatilos, jelly melon, cucumber, butternut, amaranth, watermelon, and marigolds have all been transplanted.  My square foot gardening book said to plant a tomato every square foot.  I’m a little skeptical.  My tomatoes often take over the garden, spilling out of tall tomato cages, weighed down with fruit.  I’m very curious to see how this patch is going to turn out.  My tomatoes are never red.  I have become such a lover of heirloom tomatoes and I often like exotic colors.  This year is no exception.  I have purple, green, orange and other colors in-between.

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The only thing using a tomato cage this year are my tomatilos.  I ended up with a lot of empty spaces despite all my plants so I’m hoping this weekend to plant more beets, radishes, spinach and kale.  Maybe I’ll even get in some more marigolds.

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Removable is Better

The pullets (young hens) spent their entire day out in the run today.  Even when it rained they stayed outside.  They hung out under the coop and the minute the rain stopped they were off pecking and exploring again.  As the evening went on I was very worried I’d have to corral them to bed.  I went out around 8:30 and I was thrilled to see the hens in the coop on their own.  Since the girls spent 3 weeks in the coop before getting a chance to explore full time they really learned where their home is.  They are pretty good to use the roost bar to sleep which is great. It will mean less problems with nest box sleeping.   My first flock I had to train to use the roost bar to sleep.

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I love the design of the roost bar in this coop.  It is fully removable thanks to metal rings and wood dowels.  The dowels slide into the rings and are pretty secure.

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The roost bar can get messy quickly.  Chickens poop a lot, and when they are roosting they still poop.  Luckily my roost bar pops right out and within a few minutes of spraying and scrubbing it is almost as good as new.

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I actually used an exterior grade paint on the roost so it will withstand the sharp claws and scrubbings.  So far so good.

My Amazing Bedframe Door and Poison Panic

The run is pretty much done!  Wahoo!  I am SO excited.  One of my favorite features now is this wonderful door.  My husband incorporated a vintage bedframe to make this beauty.  It probably needs to be painted, which will be my job, but currently I’m enjoying it’s natural beauty.  The door is strong and heavy, which makes me happy.  The door failed on our last run which lead to our flocks demise, so this one has to be predator proof.  It even has two locks.

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Wes also constructed this beauty today, the chicken ladder.  I’ll also need to paint it as well.  One of my favorite things about the ladder is that it is fully removable.  It also hinges up and out of the way if needed.

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It was pretty funny seeing the chickens come out of their chicken door for the first time to check everything out.

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The absolutely loved exploring their big space. We leveled out the run a little.  There are just a few small things left to be done, but they can safely roam now.  Funny enough though I had an absolute moment of panic this evening. See that large prickly weed on the right.  My husband assumed it was milkweed, since it does have a milky fluid when cut.  The hens love it and were nibbling it like crazy.  It is all over the run.  Some of the bigger stalks were pulled because we weren’t sure it was good for them.

DSCF8256After I put the hens to bed I started researching milkweed.  Turns out it is absolutely deadly to chickens.  I suddenly had visions of finding all of my hens stone cold dead in their coop.  I typed frantically trying to find images of milkweed. None of the images matched our weeds.  After more panicked research I found out it is actually Prickly Lettuce and it is great for chickens.  Now I’m wishing I hadn’t pulled any of it.  Hopefully it will spread.  I would have never said that before with a weed. Turns out the bindweed, which I always thought was morning glory, may be mildly toxic though.  I never saw our other hens eat it though.  Fun times!   I am also planning on planting Sunflowers, Amaranth, and Flax.  All in due time.