Monday, June 22, 2015

Catastrophe in the coop.

We had 11 baby chicks hatch the other day.  Now we are down to 9.  The mother hen has been doing a fine job taking care of them.  Unfortunately the chicks are too small to make it into the coop.  So the first day or two out they just settled down near the coop.  That wasn't going to work.  I put water and food in the chicken tractor and moved them into there.  That's where they've been staying at night.  They've been going in there on their own. 
There just the slightest gap under that front rail. It's enough for some of the chicks to get under.

The problem with keeping them in the chicken tractor is that several of the chicks (normally 3-4) slip under the front of it in the morning.  When I get out there I find all of the birds pacing back and forth frantically.  The ones inside are trying to get out and the ones outside are trying to get in.  Then I prop up the front of it and everything is fine.

Last night I left the prop there so they could all get out at the same time. When I went out this morning I saw the mother hen in the yard with her chicks following her.  They looked happy.  Then I got to the coop.  I knew something was wrong.  Their waterer and feeder were both outside of the tractor and laying on their sides.  Then I saw feathers everywhere.
The block of wood is still there propping up the tractor and the feeder is not in there.
That pile of brown feathers is from the mother hen's tail.  I don't know what did this.  I'm guessing either an opossum or a fox.  I don't know if a hawk would or could do this. Regardless, I can't leave the tractor propped up like that anymore.

Tonight I go out to lock up the coop and what did I find?  That birdbrained chicken settled down under the coop!  I had to get a broom and my kids.  I nudged her out with the broom, put her in the coop, and closed the doors.  Then I had to shoe the chicks out and have my kids catch them.  It was chaos.  The chicks were chirping like crazy and the mother hen was squawking.  Eventually we caught them all and put them together in the coop.  It took a few minutes for them to quiet down.  They'll be safe in there.  I just hope they decided to go back in there tomorrow.  Catching them every night isn't going to be much fun.

Friday, June 19, 2015

June 2015 Garden Update

The garden is coming along this year even though I've had a couple of setbacks.  I've had a problem with deer, and the heat.
Peas on May 30.
 I didn't pick my peas in time and most of them dried out. 
Peas on June 15.
I tried something new this year.  I have my cucumbers climbing para cord.  It's working really well.
I lost 4 really nice tomato plants to blight.  Luckily I have more plants in other beds.
Tomatoes dead from blight on June 7.
The beans down the side of this bed were doing nicely.
These are the same beans (from a different angle) after the deer got them.
I put out my motion activated water sprinklers after the deer ate the beans. 
This is one of the tomato plants that is doing well.
Peppers and herbs in containers.

My first harvest of beans.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Broody chicken update

Just a few weeks ago I wrote about one of our chickens going broody.  I got a dozen fertilized eggs from a neighbor and put them under her.  She did her job and dutifully sat on them.

On June 15 my wife went out to peek at her and noticed cracked egg shell.
I went out with her later and picked up the hen (who was not happy about that).  The birds had hatched.
When I checked on them the next morning I found 3 unfertilized eggs and some broken shells in the nesting box
 I guess she pushed them out of the nest.  Instead they were sitting in the corner on the floor.
When I got home from work that night the mother hen and 4 of the chicks were on the ground under the coop.  The rest of the chicks were still in the coop.  I had to reach into the coop and get them out. 
They follow her around everywhere and she's been showing them how to be a chicken.  I've seen them out in the yard, but mostly the stay by the coop.  She gets real defensive and puffs up huge whenever anything approaches. 
I managed to get them into the chicken tractor tonight.  I propped up the front of it and they wondered in there.  Then I pulled out the prop.  I think they'll be better off in there.  Last night they slept under the coop and the night before that I had to help them in.  The chicks aren't big enough to get up the ramp and into the coop on their own. 

One of the chicks didn't make it.  It hatched and it's legs moved a little bit, but it never got up and ran around like the others.  On the second day it was cold and stiff.  As luck would have it...  The neighbor I got the fertilized eggs from had some in an incubator.  Two of them were further along than she thought and they hatched!  So she brought them over and we stuck them under this chicken.  It's hard to count them, but we think there are 11.  That math doesn't work out in my mind (9 hatched, 1 died, 2 from the neighbor should be 10).  I don't know.  Maybe there are 10.  Or maybe I stuck 13 eggs under her and 10 hatched.   Whatever, all I know is that there are a lot of them.  Maybe I'll even have enough that they won't all be eaten by hawks.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

An update on the Blueberries

Long ago, back in 2012, I put in some blueberry bushes.  They looked like twigs at the time.
May 2012
They were a lot bigger last year.
July 2014
This year they are doing even better. 
April 2015
When I bought the blueberry plants in 2012 I think I got 3 plants of three different varieties.  I've added two more plants since then.  One of the plants is producing like crazy right now.  The others will follow later.  They're already covered with green berries.  I just need to wait for them to turn blue.
First blueberries of the season.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

A water pump for rain barrels

I like rain barrels.  I've written about several projects that I've done with them.  One of the issues that I have had is moving the water.  All of my rain barrels are plumbed together.  I can transfer water between them by turning valves and letting gravity do the rest.  This takes a long time.  I'm also only able to transfer water down hill.  The 5 barrels I have in my front yard are at the same level, but my barrels in the back yard are lower.

I decided that it was finally time to get a pump.  I've looked at several types but finally decided on an RV pump.  It's the Shurflow 4008-171-E65.  I decided on this pump for a few reasons.  It has a pressure switch built in and shuts off automatically when it reaches 55 PSI.  The other big reason is that it can be run dry.  It can suck a barrel empty and not be harmed.  It's also thermally protected and shuts itself off if it gets too hot. 

There are a few downsides.  It didn't come with a plug.  I had to pick up an appliance cord at Home Depot.  Also, there's no ON/OFF switch.  I haven't found that to be a big deal, but I thought I'd mention it.
Below are the supplies I needed to get the thing ready to go.  A power cord, 1/2 PVC pipe fittings to go from pipe threads to hose threads, and a strainer to catch debris that might otherwise enter the pump.
Wiring the connections was pretty straight forward. 
The pump has male pipe threads.  I couldn't find a 1/2" FPT to MHT fitting so I had to make one from a 1/2" FPT to slip fitting and a slip to MHT fitting.  Normally I don't glue my fittings, but I did for this since it is under pressure.
The next step was to connect to one of the rain barrels in the back yard. 
I ran a hose from the output of the pump to one of the barrels in the front yard using a brass FHTxFHT fitting.
Success!  The pump moved water from the back yard to the front yard.
Next I connected the output of the pump to the manifold on the hose bib at the back of the house.  I turned off the house water.  The house water is 80 PSI.  I'm no expert, but I don't want that kind of pressure running through the pump backwards.  I can't imagine that would be good.

With this setup I was able to verify that the pump does shutoff when high enough pressure is reached.  It's supposed to shut off at 55 PSI, but my gauge looked like it was closer to 48 PSI.  Who knows, maybe the gauge isn't right.  I'm not going to worry about it. 
I connected the input side of the pump to the nearest rain barrel.
I turned the valve on manifold for the sprinkler.  It worked.  I'm able to water my grass with rain water!
I think this is just the beginning.  I have a lot of ideas for projects involving this pump.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Growing grass and improving soil without chemicals.

Long ago I started an experiment that I called "composting in place."  I have poor soil in my back yard and lots of shade.  That along with chickens leads to great difficulty growing grass.

I picked the spot in the picture below for this experiment.  It's low, well shaded, has hard packed soil, and sparse grass. 
March 30, 2013
I started by piling leaves there.  Lots of leaves.  The leaves were more than a foot deep, probably closer to 18 inches.  Then every so often I would throw in some oats.  The chickens would go in to eat the oats and turn over the leaves.  (Chickens love oats.) 
December 21, 2013
Occasionally during the summer months I would bag my grass clippings and dump them in there too.  Then I'd add oats and the chickens would turn in the grass clippings while looking for the oats.  My back yard is sloped.  Heavy rains would cause the partially composted material to go pile up at the edge.  I'd periodically have to get the rake out and move it back. 

July 26, 2014
I tried throwing some seeds down last fall, but they didn't do well.  I'm guess that there wasn't enough sun or that maybe it was still too hot.
September 25, 2014
By December (a year later) the entire area was covered with really great compost.  There were worms all through it.  I put a fence around the area to keep the chickens out.  They had done their job. 
December 31, 2014
In March, after the frost, I put down grass seed and some clover.  I watered the area twice a day.
April 3, 2015
March was a good time to start grass since it was still cool and the leaves weren't in on the trees yet.  This area actually got sunlight.  By April this area had more green than I had ever seen there.
April 18, 2015
By the middle of May everything had really taken off.  By this time the leaves were on the trees causing the yard to be shaded most of the day.  I managed to get this picture during a window when there was sun there.
May 14, 2015
The grass got so tall that I had to mow it!  I'm really happy with how it has turned out.  It's the best looking grass in the yard.
May 23, 2015
I still haven't taken down the fence.  I'm not sure when I'll do that.  I know as soon as I do the chickens will be in there tearing it up.  I might wait until there is snow on the ground. 

I call this composting in place idea successful, but it takes a long time.  Based on the pictures it took 17 months.  I probably starting piling leaves in that spot prior to the December 21 photo.  I wasn't in a hurry though, so I'm not going to complain.  I'm quite happy with the results.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Broody chicken

We had a chicken go broody last Saturday.  She planted herself in the nesting box and I haven't seen her come out since.  My kids said that they've seen her come out a few times for food and water, but she doesn't stay out long.

Last year we got a broody chicken and 5 chicks from a neighbor.  We lost all of the chicks to hawks.  I contacted her again and asked about getting chicks to put under this bird.  She suggested that we just let her hatch fertilized eggs.  That sounded like a good idea to me.  I went picked up a dozen fertilized eggs tonight.  Then I removed the bird from the nest box, put the eggs in, and sat the bird on top of them.  Now I just have wait 3 weeks for them to hatch.