Tuesday, December 14, 2010

An EGGcellent Week

Last week was our best egg week so far... 22 eggs! It's the first time all 4 ladies have been laying at the same time. Five days last week the ladies gave us 4 eggs! Very EGGciting!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fall Chickens

The girls are enjoying fall. After Halloween, I got a good deal on pumpkins and picked up 15 from the ranch down the street. They go through one full pumpkin every couple of days. Here Ruby is up front posing for the camera. Ingrid is in the back and Petunia has her head down digging around for something!

With the leaves finally turning and falling, I've been raking our yard as well as the neighbors' yard. Most of it goes into the garden to compost, but the yellow ginkgo biloba leaves are so soft I've been adding them to the hen house. The girls love digging through them and they're ok for them to eat too.

That's Ruby sitting on a nest here, taking care of business. She isn't nesting, she's just leaving an egg for me. Isn't she beautiful?
Finally, the elusive, egg-laying Petunia caught in the act of producing her second egg! If you look closely you can see the white of an egg under her breast on the left side of the photo.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Winterizing the Hen House

Once the overnight temperatures dropped into the upper 30's, I installed a heat lamp in the hen house again. But it just wasn't making much difference on the inside temperature. So I decided to install some "shutters" on the sides of the hen house. That made a BIG difference, nearly 10 degrees warmer with the heat lamp on (that's the pretty red glow).

I'm sure the girls are much happier now, especially given that last night's overnight temperature dropped to 29 degrees!

Monday, November 22, 2010

First Frost

Well, it's confirmed. We had our first frost this week.
The celery and lima beans are still thriving, but the full-sized tomatoes and green beans were frost bitten. The cherry tomatoes were covered in frost, but aside from some frost bitten, blackened leaves, the fruit seems to be fine.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Big Rain

We've had a couple of misty rains so far, but this is the first big rain of the season, maybe even the biggest in the last 10 years.
It rarely rains enough to even run off the roof!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fall Colors

The leaves have finally started to turn colors. Usually all the trees in the neighborhood change at the same time, but this year they seem to be changing in a wave of color.

We only have 3 trees in our yard, but both of my neighbors have lots of beautiful trees. The red tree is in the neighbors yard. The yellow one is the ginkgo biloba in our front yard. It always seems to change color overnight all at once, then drop the leaves over the next week.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Petunia's First Egg... Finally!

I was beginning to think she might just be too mean to lay eggs. But maybe she was so mean because she was the only one who wasn't laying eggs!

She didn't appear to be nesting the days prior to today and I didn't see any other signs of her preparing to lay an egg. I guess after 9 1/2 months she was just ready to get down to business. When I got home today, there it was.
It's the long, thin white one in between Ruby's (white) and Clara's (brown). Ingrid hasn't laid an egg in nearly 6 weeks, so I don't have one for comparison. She's been moseying through her molting session. Hopefully she's almost finished. Thankfully, she's not naked!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Gopher Tracking

Turn around, go back where you came from, and take that camera with you. Can't you see I'm busy tracking a gopher?!

Not long after that, Alice Cat dove into the ivy face first. She still hasn't brought me a gopher. But I'm still hopeful.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Beautiful Celery!

These were started from seed. I wasn't even sure they would make it. As the cooler weather started moving in, I started transplanting them from the open garden into the pots so I could move them inside during freezes. Right now, they are residing on the front porch and thriving.
For the last month, the weather has been swinging from hot and dry to cooler and wet. Nightime temperatures range from 36-45 degrees. There are still a few more celery left in the garden to transplant, but there's still time.

It's hard to believe something so big and beautiful grew from such a tiny seed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Run Coyote, Run!

Over the course of 10 days in mid-September my poor chickens were terrorized 4 different times by a coyote salivating in front of their hen house door. I haven't seen that many coyotes in the 10 years that I've been living in this house! The fact that I was seeing some of them as late as 11:00 in the morning was even more unnerving as they usually don't hang around beyond the early dawn.

Knowing that I was actually SEEING this many of them meant to me that there were probably even more instances where I wasn't seeing them, and that concerned me.

I took to the internet in search of a way to discourage coyotes from coming around. I found this site http://www.runcoyoterun.com/ and ordered the CD. It plays various wildcat sounds at varying volumes and intervals. Since the mountain lion and cougar are the coyote's natural enemy, these sounds are  said to be a natural deterrent.
I ordered one, installed it under a bush right next to the hen house, and put it on continuous play. Don't worry, I warned the neighbors! It can definitely give you a jump start when you're outside at night and one of the loud, random sounds comes on out of the blue!

The first time the chickens heard it they just about beat each other up to see who could get in the hen house first! The next few times weren't as dramatic (except for Ingrid, she's a little skittish). Most of them just froze in place until they were sure it was safe to move. After a few days, it didn't phase them at all.

It has been running 6 weeks now and, while I do hear the coyotes in the distance, I haven't seen another one in my yard! If you're having coyote issues I'd say this product is definitely worth a try.

Greeting the Bobcat

Alice Cat was tracking something in the junipers this morning. As I watched her creep up carefully to the juniper bushes, out jumped a bobcat!! It didn't jump out in attack mode, but seemed to be just as curious as Alice was. Alice quickly trotted off to the side of the house. The bobcat followed for a bit then they both quickly disappeared.

At first I thought it was a baby mountain lion, but a little research seems to indicate that it's a full grown bobcat. It was about twice the size of Alice and looked just like the one in this photo:

We don't see wildcats very often, just 3 in the last 10 years.

Not to worry, Alice was back in time for breakfast and all the chickens are still accounted for!

It's always interesting here at Wild Kingdom!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Fall is upon us

It's been gradually cooling down and then heating back up over the last month. Nighttime temperatures were consistently dropping to the 50's so I started working with Alice to train her into the cat carrier as "home base". I put a heating blanket inside the bottom of the carrier and covered it with a pillow and towel. I only had to coax her in there once or twice before it became "her space".

Last week it was hot, very hot. But the evenings still dropped to the mid-50's.

This week it cooled WAY down. Tuesday night dropped to around 36 degrees. I covered the cat carrier with a comforter to keep the heat in and installed the heat lamp in the hen house for the chickens. It was only below 40 degrees for two nights. It's already starting to warm up again. The cherry tree had already dropped all it's leaves for winter and has now started blooming again like it's spring!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Cleaning the garden & semi-free-ranging

Saturday was a big garden cleanup day. It was time to clear out the tomatoes. Some of the plants were beautiful and green but not producing any fruit. Some of the plants were spent. I pulled most of them out. In the process I found more onions and exposed the beautiful celery plants. I transplanted 4 of the celery plants (I'll post pictures later). The others will have to wait until next weekend.

I found a rogue tomato plant a while back but have had trouble propping it up. I finally untangled it and got it propped up. It's the tall plant in the photo. The stakes only go up to 6 feet, and the tomato plant hangs down several feet. It's still producing an abundance of large cherry tomatoes. I'm harvesting at least a handful a day.

I let the chickens out to roam in the garden while I was working. It's relatively safe since it's completely fenced in and covered in bird netting. They were in hen heaven pulling all the bugs and worms from the rich garden soil, and helping me weed and fertilize, all at the same time!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Corn Harvest

The corn stalks topped out at 6+ feet tall. Most had 2 ears.

I harvested the first batch of 3 full-sized ears at the beginning of October and the last batch of 8 mini ears a week ago.

In all, I harvested about 21 ears. Not all of the ears matured. Some were missing kernels and looked like snaggled teeth! The ears from the last harvest were much smaller, only measuring between 3-4 inches. They all came off the same stalks.

From what I've read, they'll produce better if I plant them in a square plot closer together rather than the two long rows of that I did this time. The missing kernels were because of improper pollination. Next year I'll plant them in closer proximity to each other and see how they do.
Regardless of size, they tasted yummy!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Purple green beans, chard, and oregano

The purple green beans are producing well. I love that the purple beans are so easy to see on the bush. They are a little less crisp than traditional green bean and cook in less time. They still taste great. When I cut the ends off, I was surprised to see the insides were green, even before cooking.

I harvested my first batch of chard and cooked it up. I liked it, but Joe didn't. Oh well!

Finally, the oregano filled out. I harvested an entire basket, dried, and crushed it.

 Best I can tell, all of these should keep producing at least until the first frost.

The lima beans are loaded with pods, but they don't seem to be filling out. I'm not sure what the problem is but it doesn't seem to be deterring the local gopher who likes to take a bite out of every pod on the bush!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bunnies are cute

Of course bunnies are cute, and we have them in abundance on the back hill. But today there was one INSIDE my fenced in garden. Not so cute anymore!
And just how did this critter get into my fenced in garden, you ask?? Well, he's quite ingenious. He just made a doorway for himself. As soon as he saw me he darted directly out the doorway without hesitation. Quite good handiwork if I do say so myself.
While I am impressed with his creativity and know-how, I am still irritated at the damage he and his buddies (who were sure to join him) cause. So far, I've only lost one corn stalk which he chopped down at the base like a lumberjack.

The fencing has now been patched with hardware WIRE. Hopefully that will deter him from further instances of breaking and entering.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

More Garden Harvest and Updates

From a distance it looks like the garden is winding down, but there's actually still a lot of activity going on out there. Here's what's been happening over the past 2 weeks in the garden...

First, I harvested 2 beautiful cantaloupes. Both were a good size and Joe said they were delicious. Amazingly, there were no critter teeth marks on the skins. I'm not sure if the pantyhose slings had anything to do with it or not, but it's possible. These are the only 2 we'll be getting this season. Their vines are already withered and spent. The cantaloupes that were planted inside the greenhouse are still green and leafy, but no fruit. I just don't think there was enough direct sun for them in that location.

The tops of the red onions have finally started to fall over. So as they do, I've been pulling them and laying them out to cure. They vary in size from a couple of inches to 4-5 inches in diameter.

The corn is progressing nicely with 2 ears on nearly every stalk.
One of the things I planted for fall was a purple hulled green been. I only planted 6-8 plants to see how they faired. The plants are very small, barely 12 inches tall. But they are already producing well and the beans are beautiful!

Many of the pink-eyed, purple hull cowpeas were ready for harvest today, so I pulled and shelled them.
There were only 12 pods ready to harvest. They yielded an 1/8 of a cup of peas. That's ok. I only planted ~12-18 plants as a test run this year. I wasn't sure if they would grow in Southern CA since I couldn't find the seeds locally. But they are growing nicely.
I blanched and froze today's harvest and will add the remaining harvest to come as the pods ripen fully. Aren't they beautiful?!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cooper's Hawk

This big bird was surveying the back hill this afternoon while I was outside tending the chickens. He was nice enough to wait for me while I went inside to get the camera. Unfortunately, my camera doesn't zoom enough to get a really clear picture, but you can certainly tell he was a big dude! I'd estimate he sat nearly 2 feet high with a 2-3 foot wingspan. From what I can tell, it appears that he is a Cooper's hawk.

I'm Molting!!!

Clara's head started looking a little strange last week and I wondered if maybe her and Petunia were dukin' it out to see who's really the bossiest hen. They do get puffed up at each other on a regular basis and even more so after Clara came out of her broodiness. But upon closer inspection it appears that Clara is molting. Now it's not just on her head, it's moving down her neck, under her wings, and inside her legs. At times I think she's starting to look like a vulture. You can see all the new little pin feathers coming in.

By the way, Clara is still the boss!

Monday, September 13, 2010

You can't grow watermelons here!

My neighbor scoffed when he found out I was planting watermelons this year. He said they just won't grow here. It was a rough start, but one of the plants finally took off after a couple of months. And then... it appeared! I was amazed at how quickly it grew from day-to-day.

The first photo, it's about the size of a peanut. Four days later, it's the size of my hand!

Six days later, it's still growing fast and getting pretty heavy. After this, the growth seemed to slow down, but it continued to ripen.

I wanted to wait until it was fully ripened to harvest, but when I noticed teeth marks in the rind I figured it was getting close to time to pull it. I decided to wait one more day...

I was very excited to pick my first watermelon! And then the disappointment set in. The missing chunk of melon was not my doing! So much critter damage in one night. As if that weren't bad enough, the melon wasn't nearly ripe. Fortunately, the chickens were happy to pick all the seeds out of it, so all was not lost.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Playing cat and mouse

I'm sure the mouse didn't really think this game was very much fun. He kept inching from one side of the chair to the other. I'm not sure why he didn't just stay in the middle where she couldn't reach him.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Garden Harvest and Update

The last few weeks have been REALLY busy handling the garden and harvest.

Two weeks ago the grapes finally turned that lovely shade of purple and looked like they were ready for harvest. They didn't get as big as they did in previous years, but it didn't occur to me that that could be a problem. Neither did the powdery covering on the grapes. Usually there's a light powdery "bloom" on the grapes that comes off in the wash. Upon closer inspection it became abundantly clear this wasn't bloom, it was powdery mildew (also the culprit in the stunted growth). So here are the 4.5 pounds of grapes that were completely unusable. Bummer.

The tomato brambles have gone wild! It's impossible to keep them off the ground and pruned and it's getting hard to move around the rows in the garden. So far I've harvested about 45 pounds of tomatoes and canned 10 quart jars. Unfortunately, only 30 pounds of it has been usable. The critters mutilated about 15 pounds of my beautiful tomatoes. The good news is, the chickens enjoy the damaged goods so they aren't going to waste. I can tell the plants are getting ready for fall. Some of the leaves are starting to turn brown and dry out and fruit production has leveled off, a definite harbinger of fall.

The cucumbers were doing well until this week. So far I've harvested 7 or 8 cuks averaging about 10 inches in length. A week or so ago, I noticed the aphids had taken up residence on some of the leaves. Now this week there appears to be some sort of fungus on the leaves. I've sprayed with an organic fungicide and insecticide, but the plant isn't looking good.

Both cantaloupes and the one watermelon are still growing. They seem to be close to full size but haven't changed color completely so are not quite ready yet. Unfortunately, the aphids have begun infesting the leaves of these plants too and are past the point of complete eradication. At this point, the spray is just a management technique to hold them down to a minimum.

Tassels appeared on the corn last week and the stalks are approaching 7 feet tall. Several of them already have 2 ears of corn.

Fighting the aphids on the southern peas is a continual struggle. Time will tell who the victor is. The first few lima bean pods have finally appeared.

The purple hull beans have flowered and the pods are starting to develop. I've not grown these before. But they look beautiful and seem to be doing well so far.

We have a dwarf potted lemon tree which seems to have fruited overnight. We'll have fresh lemonade soon!

The celery has made it through the summer heat and are flourishing. I suspect they lasted because I planted them so close to the tomato brambles that, at this point, they are actually under the brambles now. I read that you can dig them up and move them to a pot in the fall to bring inside for the winter. I'm going to give that a try and see how it works.

The onion tops have finally started to fall over and as they do I'm pulling them to begin the drying process.

Lastly, the 3 cherry tomato plants are still going strong. I'm still harvesting 2 handfuls every other day. They are delicious!

The days are getting shorter and shorter, and the nights started cooling off last week dropping into the mid-50's. Fall is on it's way in.