Friday, April 30, 2010

Robin's Nest

For the second year in a row, Momma Robin has made her nest in the plum tree right outside the sunroom. I'm not sure why she did it again this year. She gets spooked easily with people coming and going (which happens all the time) and I think she even abandoned the eggs last year or lost them to a predator. Yet, she decided to return and try it again in the exact same place. She's been working on it now for about a week.

Yesterday she began sitting on the nest. The Daddy Robin keeps watch from a nearby tree.

Within a couple of hours she had laid her first egg. She took off for a little while but finally came back.

Within another couple of hours, she laid her second egg. WOW! Two in one day. Impressive. She must get hungry after laying an egg because she took off for a while after each one.

Today  I took a look while she was away for a bit, and, low and behold, there was another egg! She's up to 3 now.

She seems to sit on them off and on all day. But at night, she's not there. I read that until they've laid all the eggs for that "clutch" she won't begin sitting on them to heat them up. This helps to ensure they all hatch close to the same time. Usually they lay 4 eggs. Maybe we'll have another one tomorrow. I'll keep you posted.

So many blooms

The other day I visited City Hall. On the way in on each side of the walkway it looked like a violet colored velvet carpet. I don't know what these tiny blooms are, but they were gorgeous.

In our yard, we have shrubs that, for most of the year, just look like regular shrubs. But in the spring for about a month they produce tiny pink flowers that brighten up the yard. The bushes are covered in them and the bees are humming all around them. They don't smell, but they sure are pretty.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

We have our first wattle!

Yep, we have our first wattle. I saw it on Petunia a week or so ago but have had trouble getting a good picture of it. They are constantly on the move. It seemed like it showed up overnight, though I know that isn't the case. The wattle seems to turn a darker shade of red when she's heated up. Very pretty!

As you can see, she's still fearless. She always wants to be out of the coop wandering around and she doesn't mind Cutie being around to keep an eye on things. In this video clip she is insistently chirping for me to let her out. She's really good at catching flying insects so that may have been what she was looking at above my head. Whatever it was, she obviously wanted to get to it!

Red tree in bloom

We have a tree in the backyard that I have always considered annoying. It only has leaves for about 4 months over the summer. In September all the leaves drop off, in what seems like a couple of days, and we have a lovely carpet of red leaves around the pool... and a pile of red leaves IN the pool. It remains bare until May when all the red leaves return.

This spring it caught my eye. Maybe it's the first time I've really stopped to appreciate how beautiful the spring blooms are. Funny, I don't even remember ever seeing blooms on it before. I do remember thinking "when is it going to get leaves again?" It seems to stay naked all year. But it was raining one day and the blooms just seemed to sparkle and, this year, I'm enjoying the blossoms on the tree.

I can't definitively say what this tree is, but, based on my research, think it may be an "Ornamental Plum Tree". It matches the other pictures and description that I found. Why it's called a plum tree, I have no idea. It's never produced fruit. I guess that's why it's called "ornamental".

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The neighbor's English garden

When you have a neighbor like mine, there's really just no need to have your own garden! When I asked her if it was ok to take pictures of her garden she said "I didn't plant any flowers this year, there's hardly anything left"... was she kidding??? And her roses have barely gotten started this year. I'll get pictures once they do.

Baby apples and plums

Our apple and plum trees have started producing fruit. The baby apples are about the size of a ping pong ball. We'll have to put netting over the apple tree soon. These apples aren't very big when they ripen. They'll about double in size.

The baby plums are the size of acorns. I didn't even realize the plum tree had bloomed. Not sure how I missed that.

The local robin has built her nest in the plum tree for the second year in a row. From the picture of her, it looks like she's still working on it. There are no eggs yet and I haven't actually seen her in the nest. I hope she hurries up before the plums start to ripen so we can cover that tree too.

Friday, April 23, 2010

No more chickens on the edge

Since Sunday of this week, I've had to move the chickens off the ledge around the roofline to make sure they stay safe. The first 3 nights I had to move all 4 of them, TWICE ( I moved them the first time before they were in a deep sleep)! The 4th night I only had to move 3. Ingrid decided she didn't want to be moved in the night. The 5th night, I only had to move 2, and I only had to move them ONCE! Last night, only Petunia remained on the ledge. She was stubborn about it. I had to move her twice.

Today I installed the new "ledge abatement system" around the roof edge. After the sun went down and they were all in the henhouse, that's when the noise began! I could here them squawking and cheeping and cackling and wings flapping from the back porch!

Petunia was determined to find space on the ledge that she could hang onto. That was not working out well, hence all the flapping and squawking. Clara and Ruby were not very happy about it either. The kept trying to edge each other out of one specific space on the 4 foot long roost (there's PLENTY of room for all of them). Sweet little Ingrid was on the roost as far away from the other 3 as possible. I put Petunia on the roost and she calmed down for about a minute. Then she started trying to step over and onto Ruby and Clara to try to get to the no-longer-existent ledge! They finally had enough of that and knocked her off the roost.

Petunia shook it off and immediately flew back onto the roost. What ensued can best be described by the first 50 seconds of this Pixar cartoon short video "For the Birds". There was a whole lotta pushing and shoving and jockeying for the best pole position. They finally did settle down, as you can see. Note: Ingrid is still in the exact same position she was when all the hubbub began...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Red glow on the hill

Third night in a row with all the girls on the roof ledge. I tried to get a picture of the red glow and them along the roof ledge. They aren't that great, but I think you'll get a good idea of what it looks like.

I really just can't even imagine how all of them get up there without knocking each other off. As you can see, there is no room on that ledge after they all get positioned.

Rain? What rain?

Today I came home and it had been raining pretty hard and steady all day. I wasn't really sure what to expect. They were all in the henhouse but it was obvious they had been outside because they were pretty wet. I don't think they were in there waiting out the storm, they were just wandering in and out like usual. While I was watching they all marched back outside and resumed normal activities, picking, scratching, hopping up on the roost, and chasing each other around. Rain? What rain?

Monday, April 19, 2010

Zombie Chickens

Funny thing about chickens... they go into a VERY deep sleep. And even though all their little heads pop up and turn around to look at me when I go out late at night to check on them, I don't think they're really awake. They're actually in a zombie-like trance. How do I know this, you ask?? Because I didn't want to leave them all lined up along the edge of the roofline (2 nights in a row now) to be punctured by coyote fangs or some other carnivorous creature, so I opened the door and picked them up one by one and placed them on the roost where they spent the rest of the night.

I left Ingrid till last because she's the squawker. She watched me move each of them one by one and when I picked her up she hardly made a sound or protest (very unlike her, she usually runs to the other side of the house whenever I open the door). They're definitely zombies! Which also tells me they are sitting ducks (chickens) when they're asleep at night, so we have to make sure they're protected from teeth.

Here's a photo of them lined up on the ledge (before the move) from inside the henhouse (Ingrid was on the other side), though not nearly as dramatic as the red glowing image from the outside (wish I had a camera and skill to capture that!) I have no idea how they all get up there without knocking each other down...

Now if they're on the roofline again tonight, I'll assume chickens don't easily forget traumatic events... which means you have to be careful not to traumatize your chickens!
Can't you just imagine what they're thinking after going to sleep on the ledge and waking up on the roost?!? "Hey Ruby, how'd we get over here?" "I don't know, I don't remember a thing after the cloud covered the moon." "Hey Petunia, do you know what happened?" "I think I blacked out. I ate too many earwigs and slugs yesterday."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Chicken Trauma

Sunday, while we were at church, the neighbor's dog, Libby, alerted them to something going on near the coop. Good neighbor Ed came out to see what all the commotion was about. Apparently a garden snake (harmless and actually beneficial) had gotten into the chicken tractor. The girls chased it under the chicken ramp to the henhouse. He was definitely out-numbered! Ed said it managed to slip back out under the pen. Unfortunately, Ed did not take a picture. Bummer.

Later in the evening... another commotion... it was dark so Cutie and I went out to see what that was all about. I could see the hens lined up along the outer edge of the henhouse cheeping very loudly. They don't perch there a night. Closer inspection showed the heat lamp had fallen and only 3 girls in the henhouse. I couldn't find Petunia anywhere! I looked around a bit and thought maybe I was a bad chicken mom and had left her in the run. Nope. Finally, I moved the waterer. There she was, wedged behind the waterer and soaking wet!

My best guess is that when the heat lamp fell, (that was the initial commotion) they all ran like crazy and Petunia went "ostrich" on us trying to stick her head in the corner behind the waterer... it worked, only she couldn't get it out. That's when the others started calling for help. It's good to have friends.

Sunday night after everyone calmed down, the neighbor's dog is barking again. Out to the henhouse I go. Now let me paint a picture for you... it's dark, really dark. The hillside has no lights, except the red heat lamp in the henhouse. So in the vented parts of the roofline you can always see a warm red glow from inside the henhouse... only tonight, you also see the outline of several hens in the roofline opening! Apparently, the trauma of the lamp falling was enough to make them think the roost wasn't safe and they were all lined up around the top edge of the house casting spooky shadows that freaked out the neighbor's dog. Here's a photo of Petunia walking along the roofline ledge during the day (they hop up there when they hear me coming... awwww!)

We have sprinklers!

My sweet husband, Joe, finished hooking up the sprinklers to the garden Saturday. He's so wonderful! I promised him he wouldn't have to do much with the chickens and garden. This was the one thing I did ask for help on.

Although it doesn't look like much right now, I did transfer the seedlings to the garden. I still have a few more to plant in pots in the sunroom and around the yard.

I planted spinach, red leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, broccoli, celery, peas, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumbers, onions, and tomatoes in the garden and green bean seeds in one of the planters. We should have a bounty in a couple of months. YAY!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

1st day in the chicken tractor

I decided to wait until I was outside most of the day to try out the chicken tractor, just in case something didn't work as planned. There are 2 doors to connect the tractor to the henhouse. There is a door that slides up to let them out of the henhouse and a door on the tractor that drops down and acts as a ramp from the henhouse into the tractor. Both can be closed so the units are individually standalone.

So Saturday, I opened both doors and sat at the far end of the chicken tractor with my trusty camera in hand to watch the grand entrance and see who would take the first walk down the ramp.

Chickens are very curious, but also very cautious. My best bet was on Petunia followed closely by Ruby, then Clara. Ruby was the first to check out the opening, but she wouldn't venture out. You can see from the photo, the others quickly came over to see what happened to the wall and what was outside the opening!

It was several minutes and several false starts later before Petunia finally ran down the ramp. She may be small, but she's always been the fearless one! Look at how she has her tail all plumped up and looking so proud.

Clara was not far behind, pushing her way past Ruby who came out immediately after Clara.

Ingrid was the last one out. No surprise there! I guess she figured if something was going to eat them maybe it would be full on 3 chickens and just leave her alone??

Clara kept going in and out and stretching her wings.

It didn't take them long to adjust. They were very happy in the tractor, even taking time to enjoy a double dirt bath.

I worked on the garden all day and Cutie kept watch next to the tractor.

I thought they would go into the henhouse as dusk started to settle in, but they waited until almost dark and all finally headed in to be closed up for the night safe and sound.

Purple grass

The hill on the backyard is covered with grass. We only get grass after the rainy season. This year has been rainy than most, so the hill is covered with lots of grass and wildflowers. It isn't your normal "yard" grass. It's some sort of tall, desert, hill grass. It starts out green with green seed pods that are soft and silky. Then they slowly turn purple. Then they turn brown and become prickly like sand spurs. They stick in your pants, your socks, your dog's fur, your legs, pretty much everything. Even better... after the rains stop (and they will), we'll have to clear the hillside because then the grass becomes a fire hazzard. Normally this has to be done by May 1st to avoid a fine, but the rains haven't stopped yet, so I assume they'll extend the deadline. But for now we have a beautiful hillside.

Neighbors have beautiful gardens

Both of my neighbors have beautiful flower gardens. The wheelbarrow full of pansies is my neighbor, Diane.

The irises and the tall purple flowers are my neighbor, Tori. The tall purple ones are on a a single bush type plant. It is about 6 feet tall. Each of the purple blooms are about 12 inches tall. They don't smell, but they sure are pretty. I think she told me they are from the beach, but I have no idea how she's getting them to grow in our arid conditions.

Roses in bloom

We got our first rose blooms this past week. 2 of our 5 bushes have beautiful blooms. Because the weather is still relatively cool, the first blooms are always HUGE!

My next door neighbor, Tori, probably has close to a hundred rose bushes. They line one side of our yard and she's always so sweet to share them with me. The pink one is from her yard.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Henhouse & Tractor

I finally finished the chicken tractor and positioned in next to the henhouse. It's ready for use. Probably one more week.

I know the whole thing isn't much to look at, but I must say, I'm especially proud of it. The goal was to use as much recycled material as possible. The base of the henhouse is a shipping crate. All of the other wood is recycled either from around the house or from shipping pallets. I did have to buy the hardware cloth, pvc, roofing panels, and couple of misc small items. But other than that, it was either items already on hand or recycled. I think I spent about $150 on the whole chicken house and pen.

I put handles on the sides of the tractor so that it will be easy to move around the hillside and a hardware wire "apron" around all the sides to deter digging predators. I can make adjustments if need be. And ultimately, if it doesn't work, I'll build a more permanent pen. But given the chickens talent for consuming greens, I'm hopeful the tractor will work well and they'll help me keep the plants and grasses under control over at least part of the hill.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Making fertilizer

We may not have eggs yet, but we have LOTS of poo to harvest! The girls are very efficient and consistent about generating an ongoing supply. I'm adding it to the compost bin, spreading it around the yard, and sharing with my neighbor who is very excited about getting all the leftover poo! The hens are all too happy to keep us abundantly supplied...

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Tomato Chase

My chickens LOVE tomatoes! Well, at least two of them do. The first time I dropped a cherry tomato into the pen, Ruby picked it up and started running around in circles with it. She wouldn't put it down, she just kept running and squealing. The others just watched. She obviously knew something the others didn't. Not long after that, Clara joined the chase. Ruby has one in her beak here.
Ruby almost always gets the tomato first. She can spot it in my hand before anyone else.

Now that they're bigger I bring 2 tomatoes out for them. But I still only drop in one at first so they can have fun with the chase! I this clip they both have one in beak and are still proudly carying them around a squawking about it.

In these videos, Petunia got out of the way fast. She's perched up high watching the chase. Ingrid is just trying to stay out of the way. Not an easy task with 2 very excited, tomato-lovin' chickens running around!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Gopher holes

I guess the gophers are REALLY active this year. Every day when I head out to the garden there are more gopher holes. They're all around the outside of the garden. They are the reason we have to line the bottom of the garden with hardware wire. I left my size 8 shoe in the photo so you can tell how big the holes are. Cutie loves to stick her nose in the holes and try to track them. She hasn't found one yet, thankfully.

Chicken feed

The girls are still growing and have adapted to the henhouse without any issue at all. I go out 2-3 times a day to hang fresh greens and wildflowers in their house until it's time to let them out in the run. Whenever I come to the door, they run over and start munching on the bunch of greens even before I can get them hung up!

I still bring them a cup of chicken feed. They alternate between eating the feed and the greens while I'm there. What's so funny is that they have the same food in the henhouse all the time (it's in the container right behind them in the photo) and I see them eating out of it. I'm not really sure what the big attraction with eating out of the cup is, but, as you can see from the photo, they run over to do it. Whatever they don't eat out of the cup I toss into the litter so they have something to scratch around for.

Cherry blossoms and wildflowers

Our cherry tree is full of blossoms. It's several years old and the first time that it's ever bloomed. Hopefully we'll have fresh cherries this year!

The hill behind the house is normally just brown with dry grass. But right now, there are lots of tiny little wildflowers blooming. Most are so small you can only see them if you get up close and personal. They're so small, I don't have a camera that can actually get a good photo of them. The whole bloom on most is about a 1/4 inch in diameter. They range in color from pink to lavendar to yellow. And there's some type of grass that has purple/green seed pods.

This is a photo of the one wildflower I was actually able to photograph. The whole bloom is about 1 inch across. I pick 3-4 flowers to include in the bunch of greens that I give the chickens a couple of times a day. They eat the flowers too. I tried to look up what type of flower this is, but I didn't find an exact match. My guess is it's some type of sage or salvia. But if anyone out there knows what it is, I'd love to know.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

First night... success!

The chickens did fine overnight. No loud squawks and everyone's accounted for this a.m. This is Clara enjoying the roost in the henhouse. I hung some greens on the inside of the door for them. Now whenever I open the door they come running and Petunia gets so excited she flies up to the top rim of the house. Tomorrow is calling for rain, so we'll see how that works out.

Today I cleaned the sunroom so there are no more traces of chickens. It only took 3 hours! Man, do they ever make a dusty mess everywhere. Next I'll work on getting the pots planted. I had hoped to do it today, but didn't expect the cleanup to take that long.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Moving into the henhouse

I finished the henhouse today. I installed the roost last weekend and there were only a few small things left to do... door closures, setup the food and water, enclose the front with hardware wire, and reinforce the edges with additional screws. The tractor is almost finished, but they won't be using that for at least a week. So I have a little more time.

Today was moving day for the hens. It was almost like Petunia could tell it was coming. Everytime I went into the sunroom she flew to the top of the fence to see me. If I stood there long enough, she would fly right into my hand!

When it came time to move them, I put them all in the same box I brought them home in. It was crowded in the box! Have you ever tried to put 4 chickens in an enclosed box?? Not an easy feat. Every time I opened the lid to put one in, another one would try to hop out. They were only in there long enough for me to walk them out to the henhouse. I decided this was the least traumatic way (believe it or not) because when I remove one of them from the other 3, everyone starts screaming. They are very attached to and protective of each other. Given how far the henhouse was from the sunroom, I figured the last one left in the pen would be completely freaking out. So I moved them all at once.

Once outside, I just put the box inside the henhouse and let them out. They took to it right away and immediately started scratching around. Obviously, the trauma was minimal to the hens!

Ruby has definitely bonded!

It took a long time, but I do believe, Ruby has finally bonded to me! Maybe it was the tomatoes... she loves colorful food. Now, whenever I come out, she comes to greet me. And she'll even climb on my hand. If I scoop her up, she just sits in my hand with her feet and wings dangling. She likes to peck at any shiny buttons or pins I might be wearing.

Today, when I picked her up to move her to the henhouse, I have NO idea how she ended up like this in my hand, but she just kept sitting there. I even went to pick up the camera and take a picture... she still just sat there. Very funny.

I highly recommend feeding the hens by hand every day. They always had food in the pen, but I also brought out fresh food and a treat at least once a day. I'm pretty sure that's ultimately what bonded her to me. I'm so glad she finally came around. I was concerned about how mean she was in the beginning... and now she's such a sweetie! I just love her...

Friday, April 2, 2010


I wish I knew what type of chicken Ingrid is. She's just beautiful! She still isn't very friendly. She will cooperate with you handling her once you've got her, but getting her can still be a challenge. She's the most timid of them all and will avoid conflict with the other hens. She tends to wait until they've all eaten and then she'll eat. They don't pick on her at all and she does still sleep with all of them. Anyone have any ideas as to what kind of chicken she may be?? Her feet are a grey-blue color. Maybe I'll be able to tell once she starts laying eggs and I see what color they are.

Photo Shoot - 6 weeks old

It's hard to believe, looking at how much they've changed, that I've only had them one month! Tomorrow, they'll be moving outside to the henhouse. So I had Joe take a few photos of me with them before they go outside. I'm going to miss having them inside and being able to easily handle them.