Friday, May 28, 2010

Pea blossoms, another lettuce harvest, and garden update

The garden is growing beautifully!

I harvested a 1/2 pound of lettuce and at least a cup of spinach over the weekend. I wasn't really sure the spinach would grow out here. It looked a little spindly when I planted it and it seemed to need an enormous amount of water. It didn't start out well in the ground looking more like a vine than a bunch of spinach. So I decided to bury all but the top of the plant. That did it! It took off and started producing big, beautiful deep green leaves.

The peas started to bloom a week or so ago. The blooms remind me of tiny prairie bonnets. Now I can see baby pea pods peeking out from underneath what used to be the blooms. I'm not sure exactly how many pea plants there are, but they are all entwined together. I love their little curly cue tendrils!

The big plants down the center of the top garden photo are my first attempts at growing broccoli. The leaves were getting holes and started to look pretty bad. At first I thought either the rabbits or rats were getting in somewhere, but after I secured the perimeter it continued to happen. I found a slug close by (which Clara enjoyed for breakfast) and assumed that was problem. I put out capfuls of beer but the problem continued to worsen. Almost one entire plant was missing and the other was looking pretty raggedy! Closer inspection showed groups of tiny white eggs here and there on the underside of some of the leaves (you can see in the photo how a big chunk of the leaf is missing).

And then I found it! A couple of tiny green caterpillars! It's hard to believe something so small could do so much damage. Each was no bigger around than a toothpick and no longer than an inch and a half. An internet search shows that they are Cabbage Butterflies. Ruby was happy to gobble up both green monsters. I have since seen a white butterfly near the garden (which I promptly caught and gave to Petunia for her afternoon snack). My broccolis have recovered and are flourishing. I didn't realize that they needed to be staked to keep them off the ground, so their stalks are a little crooked, but they are now staked, worm and egg free, and growing exponentially!

The pots of carrots and beets growing inside the sunroom are doing great! I pulled a carrot the other day to see if it was harvest time yet. They are definitely edible now, but not as big as I'd like them to be. So I'm going to give them a few more weeks before harvesting.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Petunia Beautifying

It's always important to look your best, even if you're a chicken! Petunia is straightening out her feathers and shaking off the dust.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chaparral flowers

The hill behind the house has to be cleared by the end of May every year to at least 100 feet from the house to keep a defensible fire perimeter. Before we cleared the back hill I went out one last time to take photos of all the wildflowers. From a distance, it just looks like a bunch of dried brown grasses, but up close is a different story. I couldn't find names for all of them, but here they are anyway. If you know what the unidentified flowers are, please share with me!

This small purple flower looks like velvet up close. I think it's a mini-snapdragon. This single yellow one is probably some type of poppy.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sleepwalking chicken

Ingrid was minding her own business taking an afternoon nap when one of the other more rambunctious hens stepped on her and woke her up. She promptly got up and started moving around and honking (she doesn't cluck), but her eyes were still closed. She walked all over the pen and even stopped to groom herself... eyes remained closed! The only time she opened her eyes was when I tried to record her sleepwalking!

Dry River in Bloom

Rivers in Southern California don't look like any river I've ever seen. They are dry on the surface and usually full of plants and trees (which means they must not really be dry). I decided to stop on the way home today because there were so many flowers blooming and the sky was so clear and blue. It was a good day for pictures!

The tall white flowering plant is a Yucca plant. We have several near the top of our hill in the back yard, but I had a hard time getting to them to take a picture. Fortunately, this one was conveniently growing on the side of the road. It's between 8 and 10 feet tall!

This view is looking South down river from San Francisquito Canyon. Everything to the right beyond the purple and yellow flowers is growing in the riverbed. Notice all the "little" white flowers in the riverbed. They are all Yucca plants! That should give you some perspective on the size and distance.

Purple thistle were growing all along the bank of the river. This chaparral landscape is definitely not lush and green, but there is beauty in the landscape and the details. You just have to look for it...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mockingbird eggs are no more

Judging from what's going on in our yard, it's nothing short of a miracle that birds have not gone completely extinct. I went out this morning and now the mockingbird nest is completely empty.

The day before that, while I was out at the coop early in the morning; I heard a huge ruckus nearby. Now when that happens near dawn on the back hill, you have to pay attention because you never know if there's a coyote or mountain lion lurking nearby. Immediately, mockingbirds started sounding the alarm and flocking to the tree behind the neighbor's house. And then, out flew a hawk carrying a mockingbird with several other birds valiantly chasing him. The hawk got away and we now have one less mockingbird.

Now with the disappearance of two full nests of eggs and one bird actually being carried off as breakfast, you'd think we might have a shortage of birds in the area. But nothing could be further from the truth.

We have SO many birds in and around our yard. The hummingbirds are back and I'm certain there's at least one nest close by. The Black Phoebes are back, as well as the quail. I've never seen their nests, but I know they are close by too because they are in the yard every day. I even think the Robin has built another nest, this time in the junipers.

One of the birds sings us to sleep every night and there's a whole symphony every morning. Just beautiful!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

First spring lettuce harvest

Today was the first lettuce harvest and it was a good haul! It filled a large Debbie's GreenBag about halfway.

Something has been nibbling holes in my broccoli leaves. I've been inspecting daily to try to figure out what is causing the damage. I assumed it was a rat. A rabbit would have already cleared the row of lettuce which had no holes, until today. But still, only a couple of tiny holes in a leaf or two. Fortunately, I found the slug! Yep, a big fat slug (which Clara, the big chicken, enjoyed immensely). So I visited the neighbor for a bottle of beer. Slugs prefer to climb into a vat of beer than to continue eating my plants. Once in the "vat", they drown there. We'll see if I trap any more or if that was the only culprit.

One serious flower

I was walking through the tall grasses on the back hill, which from a distance just looks like a bunch of tall grass, but found this very unusual looking flowering plant. I've never seen this plant bloom before because whenever I see one of these "weeds" in the yard, I pull it before it can get too big. The bigger it gets, the harder it is to uproot and the spikier the leaves get. Eventually, it gets as sharp as a cactus and you can't touch it. Now I see what happens if you just "let it go". That's one flower I won't be messing with! An internet search shows that it is a "Red Thistle".

I also came across this much less threatening looking flower. I couldn't find the plant that it was attached to, which seems to be a common theme with desert wildflowers. The grasses surrounding them are so tall and prickly it's just not worth rooting around to find the source. An internet search shows that it is a "Golden Star". I think I'll try to collect seeds on this one. I'm not sure I'll try collecting anything on the Red Thistle!

With the rainy season officially over, we now have to clear the back hill. So I'm taking photos of all the different wildflowers I can find before that happens. After we clear it, we won't have flowers again until next spring. Ah, life on the edge of the desert (I think we're technically considered "chaparral").

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Joey & Hailey's Baby Chicks

Technically, they were a Mothers Day gift to Hailey's mom, Lavonne. The gift of perpetual eggs (about a 1/2 dozen a week)! But given Hailey's excitement, she's enjoying them just as much as I'm sure her mom is. There are a total of 8 new babies.

The blonde one is Liesel. The black one is Vespa. So cute!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Turkey Vulture

I was on the phone looking out the window when I saw a shadow move across the hill reminiscent of a pterodactyl. Fortunately, it was just the angle of the sun hitting the side of the hill and the VERY low altitude that this gigantic bird was gliding. My friend, Ray, told me it must be a Turkey Vulture. Sure enough, that's what it was!

My research found that this bird only feeds on dead animals and doesn't get involved in the killing process. That's good news. Perhaps there was a dead animal somewhere nearby. Or maybe it has a nest up on the hill.

His wingspan must have been 5 feet across. He flew back and forth several times before finally landing on the fence behind the chicken coop. He stayed there for a little while, then left without incident. For size reference, the fence is 4 feet high.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Catching Crane Flies

Every year after the rainy season we have an abundance of Crane Flies. They are everywhere in the early morning and especially at dusk. You pretty much have to swat them out of the way to walk out across the back yard. They don't bite and are not very fast at flying so they're pretty easy to catch. They have a short lifespan and most seem to end up floating dead in the pool. I noticed the hens eyeing them excitedly through the pen. The flies are too big to fit through the openings in the pen, so I caught a bunch in a jar and turned them loose in the pen with the video running.

Ruby is the one running and jumping to catch them. Petunia is just picking them straight out of the jar before most of them can even get out! Petunia is quite the hunter.

We have these little black and white birds called Black Phoebes. They look like they're wearing mini tuxedos! They are here all year but most active in the spring and summer. They also enjoy the Crane Flies. You can watch them pick them off the surface of the pool all day.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Orange blossom smell-o-vision

Don't you just WISH there was such a thing as smell-o-vision?? The smell of orange blossoms is one of God's greatest inventions.

I never noticed before that the end of the pistil (sticking out of the center of the blossom) looks like an orange slice. Very cool!

I just harvested and ate the last orange from this tree a week or so ago. It developed blossoms again immediately.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gopher is back

The gopher came back again (click here for the video). The next day the girls filled in his hole! There was a whole-lotta scratchin' going on! I haven't seen him attempt to resurface since then.

Robin's eggs are no more

I went out yesterday morning to check on Robin's nest. It was empty! She had been sitting on it the night before when I went to bed. Now there's not a trace of an egg and I haven't seen Robin again. It's like wild kingdom in our backyard. So sad for Robin :-(  She really needs to pick a much higher and better nesting spot.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mockingbird nest

Last night when I went out to make sure the chickens were cooped up for the night I spooked a bird in the bush right next to the garden gate. This morning I took a look inside bush around the area where the bird flew out. It's a mockingbird nest. Now I come within about 4 inches of where the nest is in this bush several times a day on the way out to the garden and chickens. Why do these birds insist on putting their nest in a highly trafficked area?
I read online that sometimes they have more than one nest. That would explain the two mockingbirds I saw in the front yard today attacking a giant crow. He must have gotten too close to their nest. I haven't found the one in the front yard yet, but I'll look again tomorrow.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Chicken eyelashes

Who knew chickens have eyelashes? Not me. Now don't tell me I am the only one who can see Ruby's eyelashes! Isn't she beautiful... In the sun, her feathers take on a blue-green iridescent hue.

Clara found a gopher

Well, I had seen all the gopher holes, but never a gopher. Tonight when I went to put the girls up for the night, Clara was especially curious about one of the holes. Apparently she and the gopher were checking each other out. Here's a picture of the gopher peering out of his hole. For size reference, the big rock to the left of the hole is about 2 inches across.

Orchids & Orange Stars

From time to time Hailey and Joey bring me flowers. In 2006, they brought me this beautiful orchid. I've never been successful keeping one alive, but was determined to try. Miraculously, every year this orchid has produced beautiful blooms, sometimes twice a year!

A couple of weeks ago, they brought this beautiful Orange Star plant. It's been blooming ever since.

Someone once told me that flowering plants given in love will prosper. Perhaps that's true! It has been in this case.

Encounter with a Mockingbird

When I walked out into the yard yesterday, I must have come pretty close to a Mockingbird nest because this bird started doing a very serious "dance" to let me know he was there!

I stayed within 3 feet of him the whole time. He kept opening and closing his wings and turning around. I took a few photos, looked for the nest, and then left. He was still there. I didn't see a nest or even the beginnings of a nest. But the bush he was next to is VERY dense and difficult to see into. I'll check back later to see if there's a nest in progress.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Roses over the garden wall

Tori's rose garden it looking beautiful. I counted 17 rose bushes on the side of the frontyard that borders my yard. There are even more than that in the backyard. The photos do not do the actual blooms justice, but here are a few photos of her roses anyway.

This varigated, dark pink and white one is my favorite. The blooms are HUGE and smell so fragrant!

This red one has black edges and looks like velvet.