New Baby Chicks Have Arrived

I just had to share some pictures of our newest babies.  They are black sexlinks and one golden sexlink.  They are sooo cute.  We just got them yesterday, but they are 10 days old.  Since it has done nothing but rain, 2.75 inches between yesterday and today, they are safe and dry in the garage.  When everything dries out they will go to the outdoor brooder.

I’ll post more pictures as time goes.

 

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Starting My Seedlings

Hooray, it’s time to start your seeds indoors.  Somehow, no matter how tired or busy I am, I seem to be able to muster the energy to start my seeds.  Starting seeds brings visions of a beautiful garden and plates full of tasty veggies.  Last Saturday was a hectic day around here with what seemed like an unending list of chores.  But, in between chores I did get my seeds started.  Even though I have doubled my garden size this year I still do not need 72 of any one variety of tomato, pepper or eggplant.  72 is the number of cells in the commercially available seed trays.  I probably don’t even need 18 plants but I like to make sure I have extras.

 

My cat Maya is inspecting my seed tray. Forgive that it is a bit blurry. Maya doesn’t get to be on my blog much and I thought she deserved the chance.

This year I decided to do things a little different.  In the past I have not had much success with the labeling of my seed trays in order to keep the varieties seperate.  Previously, I have labeled the lid.  But, the seedlings grow and lids come off and the guessing games begins.  Did the lid go on this way or this way?   So a new system was born.

New labeling system.

I painted numbers on the side of the trays and then used my gardening journal to note which seeds correspond to the numbers.  On the ends the trays, I also put a number.  This seems like a simple solution to my problem, not sure why it took me so long to come up with it.  The next thing will be the labeling of the pots when they get up potted.  Which has also been problematic, but that is a problem for another day.

Tomato, pepper, and eggplant seeds started.

One tip I have when starting seeds is to take note of germination rates.  Tomatoes take 7-10 days to germinate, while peppers take 10-14 days.  This is important to know because if you plant multiple varieties per tray, it is best that each tray have seeds with the same germination rates.  Once your seeds germinate it is time to move them under a grow light or outside in a protected area.  Having seedlings in the same tray at different stages of growth makes this more difficult.

 

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Gardening for chickens?

Do you plant your garden according to what your chickens like?  My chicks have eaten all the grass from their section of the yard, or as my dad says, “they turned it into a desert.”   Since they can’t forage for greens, I give them a lot of veggies from the garden.  It’s quickly approaching a year that I have had my chicks and I have noticed they prefer some veggies over others.   When I was sitting down planning out my summer garden the other day, I found myself adding a few extras of the veggies I know my chicks really like.  Then, I heard a voice in my head telling me I had lost my mind.  I mean really, who actually gardens for the chickens?  Well, I guess I do.  🙂

They love their veggies.

Lucky for me, the list of veggies they don’t like is shorter then ones they do like.  Of the summer veggies, they like squash, watermelon, tomatoes (don’t give them too many of these at once), the greens from the potato plants (don’t give them the actual potatoes), but they love, love, love green beans.  Here is a picture from last summer of Holly giving them some beans.  Note, this is before they turned their area into the desert.

Holly giving the chicks beans.

Winter veggies are easier, because they will eat most all of them.  However, they seem to prefer veggies from the Brassicaceae (cabbage/mustard) family.

Carrots tops aren’t their first choice, but they’ll take them.

Hopefully, my chicks will be pleased with my selection of summer veggies.

 

 

 

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Vegetables to plant in February

February is here and I don’t know about you but I’m getting a bit of spring fever.  I have recently added a page, Vegetable Planting Guide, to the site that has the planting guides for all twelve months.  However, I thought I would still make the monthly posts.

Here is the list:

Vegetables to plant in February for zone 8b:

beets
broccoli
cabbage
carrots
cauliflower
celery
chinese cabbage
collards
cucumbers
eggplant
endive/escarole
kale
kohlrabi
lettuce
mustard
onions – bunching
peas, english
peppers
potatoes
radishes
tomatoes
turnips

Now you may be asking, “why are there warm weather crops on this list, when our last frost date isn’t until March”?  The answer is, these vegetables, cucumbers, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes, can be started at this time, but they should not be placed out in the garden, unless you can protect them from frost.

I am hoping to get my seeds started in the next couple of weeks, in the cold frame I have yet to build.  🙂  By starting these veggies now it gives them extra time to produce before the summer heat beats them up.

I’m wondering what varieties of tomatoes and pepper are you choosing this summer?  Have you found a variety that does particularly good for you?  If so please share.  For me, my favorite tomatoes are cherry tomatoes, but I haven’t found a variety that I am completely in love with.  I do hope to plant some large tomato bushes, in hopes of having enough to can.  Last year the best large variety tomato bush I had was a volunteer, so I have no idea what variety it was.  Now, I am so wishing I had saved some seeds from it.

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From Then Till Now

I was looking through my pictures and came upon the pictures from last year.  I can’t believe how different my garden is now.  Who would have guessed one year could bring so much change.  Between the chickens and adding the west garden, I’m not sure which I am more pleased with.   Well, that’s not true, I love my chickens!    Anyhow, I just wanted to share a few pictures with you.  I sure would love to see how your gardens are coming along.  Am I the only crazy gardener?

This picture was taken almost a year ago on March 4, 2012.  I had just added my newest boxes to the garden but the chickens hadn’t yet arrived.

Above are the latest pictures of the east (top) and west (bottom) garden.  I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my dad and mom (she was our cheerleader) for helping me get the potatoes, onions and peas planted when they came to visit last weekend.  Dad even helped get a truckload of mulch.  Nothing like putting your family to work. 🙂  The squirrels have been digging in the garden lately and so I used the raised bed protectors I had previously made to try to stop them.   I only had two covers so the top left bed which is also planted with potatoes is uncovered, but so far so good.  The other beds have not yet been planted.  I hope to get more things planted this weekend.

I just had to add these last two pictures.  The chics were giving me the stink eye the other day, because they thought they deserved more greens from the garden then I had given them.  Then lastly, my baby Kahlo, on her first christmas in 2009.

 

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Gardening 101 – Crop Rotation

I’m sure most of us gardeners have heard someone say, “make sure you rotate your crops.”  What?  Why is crop rotation such a big deal, and does it really matter?  Yes, I think it does matter.  Plants in the same family are genetically similar and share many of the same characteristics.  Because of this, they lend themselves to being susceptible to similar pests, diseases and deplete the soil of many of the same nutrients.

In order to better understand how to rotate crops it’s important to know the different plant families.

Below are the most important families for us gardeners.

Amaryllicaceae (allium/onion family) -onions, garlic, chives, leeks, scallion

Chenapodiaceae  (beetroot/goosefoot family) – beets, spinach, swiss chard

Apiaceae or Umbelliferae (carrot/parsley family) – carrots, parsnip, dill, parsley, cilantro

Brassicaceae (cabbage/mustard family) – horseradish, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi, kale, brussels sprouts, turnips, chinese cabbage, radish, mustard, collards, watercress, bok choi, rutabaga

Curcurbitaceae (cucurbit family)- cucumber, zucchini, summer squash, winter squash, pumpkins, melons, gourds

Fabaceae or Leguminosae (pea/bean family)  – beans, peas, soybean, peanuts, cow peas, lentils, fava bean

Asteraceae or Compositae (daisy/lettuce family) – lettuce, endive, sunflower, artichoke

Solanaceae (potato/nightshade family) –  tomato. potato, pepper (chile and bell) , eggplant, tomatillo

 

Equally important to remember is, each vegetable comes with different nutrient requirements.  They vary from heavy feeders, light feeders, and soil builders.

Heavy feeders are: corn, tomatoes, beets, cabbage family crops (broccoli, Brussels sprout, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, kohlrabi, radish), celery, cucumber, endive, lettuce, parsley, pumpkin, cucumber, squashes, rhubarb, spinach

Light feeders are: root crops (carrot, garlic, leeks, onion, parsnip, potato, rutabaga, shallot, turnip), bulbs, herbs, mustard, pepper, chard

Soil builders are: alfalfa, beans, clover, peas

Don’t let all this information intimidate you.  Let’s just keep it simple.  Divide your garden into four sections.  If your garden is small don’t worry, just divide what you have.  To accomodate for the four rotations we will group  families. You will want to rotate a heavy feeding family, followed by a light feeding family, followed by heavy feeding family, followed by a soil builder.   An example of this would be the potato/nightshade family, followed by an onion family or a beetroot family or a carrot family, followed by lettuce family or a cabbage family or cucurbit family, followed by the pea/bean family.   This is just one suggestion, do what works best for you.  Nowhere is it written that if you do not practice crop rotation your garden will fail.  That being said, when gardening organically, doing all we can to prevent pests, disease, and soil depletion is always in our best interest.

 

 

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Seed Inventory and Organization

It’s that time of year, where all us gardeners are starting to get the spring itch.  Seed catalogs are filling our mail boxes and dreams of beautiful gardens occupy our minds.  The past few weeks had brought on spring like temperatures, and although I know better, I couldn’t help but wonder if this year maybe I could cheat and get a head start on some summer veggies.  But the cold front moved in, and helped to ease the itch, so I decided to occupy myself doing a much needed seed organization and inventory.

I pulled out my handy seed container and discarded any seeds from before 2011.  I didn’t have many of these, so I didn’t feel much guilt in throwing them away.  Although they may have still been good (as they stay in a cool, dark, dry place),  I didn’t want to take the chance.  Of course, my cat Zen thought she could read the years on the packs better then I could.   Sadly, she may be right.  🙂

When I was first starting my gardening venture, I made a database that listed all my seeds and info pertaining to them.  Click here to check it out.  But as with many great things, I haven’t kept up with it and sadly it is not up to date.   I can’t decide if I should just take the time and update this, or if I should find another way of keeping an inventory.  For now I made a list in my gardening journal and will think on it.  Hopefully, this is not another way of saying “do nothing about it.”

The actual organization part of the seeds was much easier.  Previously, I had separated my seeds into warm season, cool season, and herbs.  This just wasn’t working for my anymore.  My seed collection has grown and the seasons tend to melt into one another.  I decided I would separate them alphabetically.  I used some old hanging files that were laying around.  I cut them down and was able to get two out of each one.

I always save those little packs of silica, and throw them in my seed container to help suck up any moisture.  Moisture will ruin seeds in a hurry.

I am pretty pleased with the results, although adding the files has made it a very tight fit.  I think I will use two of these bins, to make more space.  But for now, I am a happy gardener, and can’t wait to get started planting.

 

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How I Care For My Chickens

I thought I would explain how I care for my chickens.  I am not a chicken expert!  The things I do are based mostly upon the suggestions given to me by the couple from whom I initially got my chickens and by trail and error.  I’ve had my chickens for 8 months and they seem to be happy and healthy.

Below is a picture of what the coop and run I inherited looked like.  The run is 12′ x 20′ with hardware cloth dug down about a foot all the way around it.  The run has been filled with bags and bags of leaves upon initial set up with new leaves added whenever I could find them as the months went on.  Once a week I turn the leaves with a pitch fork.  The coop is 4′ x 8′ with the 6 nesting boxes that can be opened from the outside.  In the coop there are perches made out of sanded 2″x2’s” for the hens to roost.

Initial set up

Because we have had so many visits from the black bears, the top of the run is framed out with 2×4’s and then covered with metal panels with 2 inch squares, which is covered by chicken wire, and then topped off with shade cloth.  This seems to be working, the bears walk across the top but do not get in.

Roof of the run

The chickens have constant feed and water available to them.  I am happy with the feeder but hopefully soon I will be changing the waterer to nipple waterers.  I am constantly battling with the one I have.  I made nipple waterers for my brooder earlier this year, click here to check it out. Now I just need to make a larger model for the hens.

 

 

 

 

This winter I have provided supplemental light for the hens so they would continue to produce eggs.  I have two 60 watt lights on a timer.  I change the timer as needed to ensure 15 hours of light.  I have the lights outside the coop, one shining on the coop and the other on the run.  The  one on the run is merely for me to be able to monitor for bears.  The last time the bear came I used my air horn and scared it away.  At this time I have 22 laying hens and get 12 to 16 eggs a day.

This is the light that shines on the run.

I live in the suburbs so my hens are not free range.  When I first got them I would let them out for short periods of time and move them around the yard.  It didn’t take long to realize this was not going to work.  My dog, Kahlo, would try to get them and then would enjoy their dropping once they were moved to a new location.  I decided that Kahlo would have to share her back yard with them.  The chickens get the back portion of the yard and Kahlo the front, with neither party infringing on the others territory.  The hens get to come out of their run and enjoy this area  whenever I am home.  Their area goes back into the woods and measures 50′ x 60′.  When the hens first got their section of the yard, a lot of it was grass.  It took them about  2 1/2  months to destroy this.  I see pictures of other people’s hens living on what looks like nice grass.  But I have not had the same experience.  What grass the hens didn’t consume down to the roots was dug up as they moved their dust bath area from one place to another.  Now they have to be content with getting greens from my garden, which seems to be fine by them.  I did mulch one section of their area but now I think sand is better.  I can clean up the sand area much easier then the mulched.   Below are pictures of what their area was to what it now has become.  Please forgive the fact the bottom picture isn’t merged properly.

 

I have a 3 foot welded wire fence around my gardens and across the back of the chicken area, with just a short little fence across the front.  There are lots of wooded areas around my house, filled with animals who would love a chicken dinner, such as coyotes, black bears, domestic cats and dogs, hawks, and even a florida panther was once spotted in my sub division.  All this to say I am not comfortable allowing them to roam the woods.  Thankfully the hens seem content to stay in their designated area.

The good part about all those many, many bags of leaves I toted to the chicken run is that they turn to compost.  Once a year the coop and run get a deep clean with all materials removed and the coop thoroughly cleaned.  The other day I removed all the now composted leaves out of the run and into my west garden boxes that were waiting to be filled.  I calculated I moved approximately 100 cubic feet of compost out of the run and into the garden.  Now I will be collecting more leaves and refilling the run, and the cycle will begin again.

This is what came out of the run, Beautiful compost!

Garden boxes were all filled.

I think this covers how I take care of the chickens.  I’d love to hear how other take care of their chickens.

Below are some update pictures of the hens.

 

 

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Vegetables to plant in January

I can’t believe how time flies.  Here we are halfway through January and I am finally putting this list out.

The weather here in zone 8b this year has been strange, to say the least.  We have had a few frosts, but overall we have had above average temperatures.  I noticed this morning my easter lilies we starting to grow and many of my other flowers that had been hit by the frost are starting to bud out.  We have gone so long now without a hard freeze I am hoping that we won’t get one.  I know many people fear without a freeze, the following year bugs will be that much worse.  When I was taking my Master Gardener Class, this topic came up, and my instructor said this is not true.  She explained that bugs could bury themselves either in soil or plants to protect themselves from freezing.   Thus, whether or not there is a hard freeze, has no bearing on the bug population.  This makes sense to me, but I do think mosquitoes will be worse.  My thinking is that stagnate water in many people’s yards will not have frozen, allowing mosquitoes to continue to multiply.  If anyone has research to prove any of this, please share.

I seem to have strayed from the topic.  So without further ado:

Vegetables to plant in January for zone 8b:

  • beets
  • broccoli
  • cabbage
  • carrots
  • celery
  • chinese cabbage
  • english peas
  • kale
  • kohirabi
  • leek
  • mustard
  • onions – bunching
  • potatoes
  • radishes
  • turnips

Below is a photo of my east garden today January 13, 2013.  The front bed on the left has brocoli and a few stray mustard plants growing in it.  The front bed on the right hass the chard and mustard, they are coming to their end.  I have been removing the outer leaves but they are almost done.  The second bed on the left has lettuce, beets, and cabbage.  The beets are ready to be picked and the cabbage are forming heads.  The second bed on right has a couple boccoli plants that I was hoping would go to seed and provide me with more seeds.  I’m not sure what variety of broccoli this is as I got the seeds from a stranger at a seed swap.  This broccoli has grown very well for me and is tasty, so I wanted to get more seeds.  I assumed that if I let a couple go to seed that after they bloomed I would get seeds.  I’m happy to say I have seen a few bees on the flowers, but as of yet no seeds.  I’m hoping I just need to be a little more patient.  There are also a few radishes growing down the far outside  right of this bed.  I’m hoping to plant potatoes in this bed so I need the radishes and broccoli to hurry along.  The back bed on the left which is not visible in this photo is not much to behold.  There are carrots and lettuce, both of which are ready to come out.  I had planted more carrot seeds but they have not germinated well, but there are a few tiny plants growing.  The back bed on the right is kind of a hodge podge, which is the way I garden.  But it mainly consists of mustard and radishes.   Mustard has grown very well for me and I like it, which makes it a good vegetable for me.  I still have to finish adding a layer of mulch, but I started with some of the left over I had from when I was mulching the west garden a few weeks ago.

East Garden January 13. 2012

If anyone has suggestions for how to prepare beets, please let me know.  I never liked beets growing up but decided to give them a try as most things taste better when they are home grown.  I did eat some of the leaves as greens and they are delicious, but now I need to eat the actual root and to be honest I am a little intimidated.

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Building of the West Garden

I hope everyone is having a wonderful 2013.

I took a week off between Christmas and New Years to get my west garden ready.  To say the least, I felt that I needed a vacation from my vacation when all was said and done.  But when I am reaping the produce from my garden this upcoming year it will all be worth it.

In my previous Garden Update post I mentioned how I was planning on adding to my garden.  I really wanted to get the hard work done, not only while the weather was work friendly, but also so I would have it ready to plant.  Here is how I spent most of my week off.


Beginning of West Garden installation.

Boxes from reclaimed wood finished. I had to purchase the wood for the three remaining boxes.

Leveling the boxes. This is an important step if you are gardening on a slope like I am. If not done, water could either puddle or run off.

The walkways were mulched with wood chips.


Kahlo protected me as I loaded the mulch into the truck.

Unloading the mulch. It took 3 truck loads.


Paper was laid down on path areas that had grass.


Cardboard was laid in the bottom of the boxes where there was grass. This time I decided to lay cardboard rather than remove the grass. I figured I had enough to do.

Finally finished!!  Now all that is lacking is the filling of the boxes. That will have to wait for another time.

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