Monday, November 10, 2014

The chicken swap.

I wrote recently that our chickens are providing very few eggs.  We get one a day on average.  I was telling this to one of my neighbors and she asked me if I wanted to swap out some chickens.  She'd give me some younger ones for some of my older ones.  That sounded like a good deal to me.  The only issue was determining which birds to part with.  I ran the idea by my kids.  They wanted to keep four and swap out three.

Below are pictures of the three new birds.  My kids have named them, but I don't remember what their names are.  


These birds are quite big.  We're hoping that they're big enough that the hawks will leave them alone.  None of them are laying yet.  I'm guessing that they will be by spring.

It took them a few days to adjust to their new surroundings, but they seem to be doing fine now.  The other birds sure do give them grief.  I find the pecking order thing rather amusing. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

We lost another chicken...

A few days ago my children asked me what I thought we should name the last remaining chick.  We started with five, but only one survived.  So I replied with, "Lucky."  They got a chuckle out of that, but determined that that name was no good.  They wanted to call her Domino because she was black and white. 

Last night I went out to close up the coop.  I did a quick head count and realized that Domino wasn't there.  I looked around the yard and outside the fence, but there was no sign of her.  I went inside and told the family.  My son grabbed a flashlight and went out to look.  It didn't take him long to find a carcass.  I'm not sure how I missed it.

There were feathers everywhere.  I'm assuming that another hawk got it, and boy did it eat well.  There wasn't much left of that bird.

I guess its luck ran out.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

An update on the layer chickens - Fall 2014

I don't write about my chickens frequently.  That's probably because there isn't a lot to tell.  They're easy to take care of.  I lock them up at night and let them out in the morning.  Every 3-4 days I add food to their feeder.  That's pretty much it.
It's infrequent that anything changes.  We added a few birds to the flock in August, but most of them didn't make it.  The good news is that the one remaining chick is doing well.  She's as big as the mother hen now.
The bird in the middle is the last remaining chick.
The other thing that has happened recently is that their egg production has fallen drastically.   There was a time when we had 6 birds that we would get 4-6 eggs per day.  Now we have 8 birds and we're lucky to get 1-2 eggs per day.  Sometimes we get 0. 

Part of that is due to the time of year.  They lay fewer eggs when there is less daylight.  I think the big issue is age.  From what I've read, the prime egg laying age is 6-18 months.  Most of my birds are more than 2 years old.  The new chick isn't old enough to start laying yet, and I don't know the age of the mother hen.  She still sticks close to the chick.  I don't know if she's still playing mother or if they've just formed their own little group.  Regardless, she's not laying.

I'm ready to start culling the older birds.  I'm willing to put them in the freezer, but my children won't let me.  They want to keep them around as pets (which they pretty much are).

My barred Plymouth rock is molting again.  She did this last year.  Looking at the pictures from then I'm guessing she's going to look a lot worse before she looks better.
10-26-2014
She looked good on 9-14-2014.
My Rhode Island Red molted in June.  She looks pretty good now.  She's the only one that still lays eggs reliably.  Most of the eggs we get come from her.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Garden Status for October 2014

I didn't do a lot in the garden this month.  Even with the neglect it's still producing.
Beans from 10-02-2014
The kale is really doing well.  10-15-2014
More kale and beans.  10-15-2014

I have several pepper plants that are still hanging on.  10-15-2014
I guess the key to getting a lot of really nice peppers is ignoring them.  These were all picked on 10-19-2014.
This kale was picked on 10-25-2014.  It hardly made a dent in what was out there.
I have lettuce coming up, but it's nowhere near ready to pick.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Growing grass with chickens (again)

Earlier this month I wrote a post saying that I had stuff growing in my in-place compost.  It didn't last.  Between the chickens and the heavy rain we had last week all of the green is gone.
The rain really made a mess of things.  I raked the area to level it out.  I need something to grow there quick.  I need root structure to hold everything in place.  I threw my 2x4 screened box to the one side.  Then I scattered winter rye over the entire area.  (Winter rye germinates down to something like 35*.) 
It didn't take long for the chickens to find that seed.  In the past I've put up netting to keep them out.  I didn't want to deal with that today.  The deer haven't been bothering my garden this year, so I thought I'd use the scarecrow to keep the chickens away. 

The scarecrow is a motion activated water sprinkler.  It works great!  I wasn't able to get video or pictures, but the few times the chickens have ventured into this area they set the thing off.  The water spraying spooks them and they take off.  Even the dog has avoided going near there. 

I have it on its most sensitive setting.  It went off frequently today.  That's fine.  It's keeping the new seed watered.  The biggest problem I have had with the scarecrow is that it eats batteries.  Having it on the highest sensitivity probably won't help with that.

Friday, October 17, 2014

My favorite outdoor clothing

Back in August I went almost 3 weeks without a post, and I heard from 20% of my readers (sure it was just 2 people, but 20% sounds better).  Anyway, I thought I better post something since I haven't written anything in a while.  There's just one problem.  I don't have a lot going on right now.  So I thought I'd mention some of my favorite clothing to wear outside while doing all of these backyard homesteading projects. 

I used to just wear old cotton T-shirts and jeans shorts.  They were pretty standard "yard clothes."  It gets hot in North Carolina in the summer so I sweat.  The cotton shirts would cling and be very uncomfortable.  I needed something better.  I got out one of the shirts I wear backpacking.  It was a huge improvement.  I love the EMS Techwick T-shirts.  They offer ultra fast wicking and they're quick drying.  They are great to wear outside in the summer (or any time of year really). 
http://www.ems.com/product/index.jsp?productId=23420986
These shirts list for $30-35.  I've never paid that much for one.  They go on sale all the time and frequently they end up on clearance.  I generally get them for $10-15 although I've paid as little as $6.98. 

For pants I've found that I really like the REI Sahara convertible pants.  They're lightweight, water resistant, and if I do get too hot I can turn them into shorts.  They also have a lot of pockets for carrying things.  Some of the pockets even zipper or Velcro shut so you don't have to worry about stuff falling out.
http://www.rei.com/product/861659/rei-sahara-convertible-pants-with-no-sit-zips-mens-30-inseam
I don't pay full price for these either.  They go on sale several times a year for 20% off.  It's hard to get a better discount than that from REI. 
Appalachian Trail near Boiling Springs PA - 2009

If it isn't apparent already, I pretty much like to wear the same stuff I would wear on the trail.  So for my feet there is only one option.  Hiking boots!  I've been wearing hiking boots as my main footwear since I was 15-16 years old.  I love them.  I wear them on the trail, in the yard, to work, to the store, and to church.  Even with all that use, I generally get 3-4 years out of a pair of boots. 

I've tried a lot of different brands of boots over the years, but I have decided that Asolo boots are my favorite and I will be buying them from now on.  I will say right up front, that Asolo boots are not cheap.  They list for $250-300. 
Luckily you can find them on sale from time to time.  I think I paid around $150 for each of my last two pairs.  I got my current pair from sierratradingpost.com.  The pair I got before that came from campmor.com.  The downside to buying boots online is that you can't try them on to see how they fit.  I think that's a risk worth taking given how much money you can save. 

Anyway, I'll have to find something new and interesting to do around here.  That way I'll have something else to write about. 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

In place composting experiment continues

A little less than a year ago I threw shredded leaves all over a low spot in my back yard in hopes that they would compost in place.  I'm pretty pleased with the results so far.  It's clear that a lot of the leaves have broken down.  When I walk through there and kick over the remaining shredded leaves I find earthworms everywhere.  There's a lot of life in and under there.

The question now is, how do I transition this area back into yard?  I'm not sure I have the best answer to that, but I can tell you what I've done so far.  Last month I sorted through my seeds.  I found a lot of carrot seeds that were old.  They got tossed into this area.  I also found turnip and rutabaga seeds that I didn't even know I had.  I threw a bunch of those down too.  Then I threw down some of my cover crop seed, clover, wheat, and hairy vetch.  Now this area is turning green with more life.
I don't know if the combination of what I put down was a good idea or not.  The carrots, turnips and rutabagas are root crops.  I figured they would put down tap roots that would break up the hard soil under this new compost (and provide something to eat).  That's my theory anyway.  I don't know if it'll work.
The cover crops, the wheat, and hairy vetch should grow some root structures to hold the compost in place.  They also provide green material that will die or be cut down to add more compostable material to the area. 
Amazingly enough, the chickens have left this new growth alone.  I haven't seen them in this area at all.  Normally they get into and eat whatever they can.  Maybe fear of being eaten by a hawk is keeping them from venturing too far into the yard.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Granny Smith Apple Tree.

I went to the Farmers Market in Raleigh the other day and found a guy selling Granny Smith apple trees.  Granny Smiths are my favorite apple and I've been looking for a tree for quite some time.  I've never seen them at Lowes or Home Depot.  Anyway, the tree looked nice and it was only $25.  I bought it without any hesitation.  Luckily it fit in the van.
I dug a hole that was slightly bigger than the root ball of the tree.  I probably should've made it bigger.
I put compost in the bottom of the hole, and then removed the tree from the pot and placed it in the hole.  I filled in the remaining space with more compost.
The final step was to install an IrriPan (like I'd done with my previous trees) and then water it.  It'll probably be a few years before I get apples, but that's how it goes.  If I don't put in a tree I'll never get any!

Friday, October 3, 2014

The latests news regarding the new chicks.

We lost another chick today.  We have one left.  My wife heard a commotion outside and went to see what was going on.  She saw the one remaining chick under the deck with the rest of the layers.  The mother hen was have a tantrum by the coop.  We're pretty sure that a hawk got it.

I'm actually kind of glad.  The chick that was taken had a pretty bad scissor beak.  We noticed that the top and bottom of its beak were not aligned when it was about a week old.  It got progressively worse.  I talked to a few people and the consensus I got wasn't good.  It was suggested by two people that I euthanize the bird.  It was noticeably smaller than the other chick.  I think it had a difficult time eating and drinking.  That would have only gotten worse with age. 
The scissor beak bird is the one in the lower right.  This picture was from a few weeks ago and it wasn't much bigger than that today when we lost it.
The last remaining chick is almost as big as the mother hen.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Garden Status for September 2014

This might be one of the last monthly gardening status updates this year.  I did start some Fall garden maintenance the other day.  I still have some more to do.  In terms of harvests, I don't have much left.  I still have some pepper plants and some beans.  I put in some kale, some of which could be harvested, but the rest is going to take a few more weeks.
Peppers - September 14
September 14
Pole beans - September 14
September 14
Peppers - September 17
More beans and the last tomatoes - September 21

Rainbow chard - September 23
Kale and chard - September 25
Mostly empty raised beds - September 27
 I did put down some hairy vetch seeds in some of the beds the same way I did last year.  I haven't seen any of it germinate and sprout yet.  I thought that my seed from last year would still be good.  Maybe it isn't.  If something doesn't appear in the next week or two I'll put more down.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Experimenting with cover crops -- tiller radish

The other day I wrote a post about using cover crops in the back yard to improve soil.  I put down tiller radish and organic wheat.  The wheat grew so fast that I couldn't tell if the tiller radish did anything or not.
I threw more compost on the ground and moved my screened-box-thing over top of it.  This time I planted only tiller radish.  It didn't take long for them to sprout.
September 25.
September 28.
I have no idea at what density I was supposed to plant them.  There appear to be a lot of them in there.  I have no desire to thin them out.  So I'm just wait and see what happens.  I'm hoping they get enough light in this location.  They didn't come with any instructions.  I just have to hope for the best. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fall garden maintenance

A lot of the plants are out of my garden already.  It's a good time to amend the soil before putting in more fall plants (I already have a few kale plants in).
I moved the drip irrigation line out of the way.
It's clear in the picture above that the soil in the raised bed has settled.  It's now several inches lower than when I filled it.  So what do I add to my raised beds?  I add compost, lots and lots of compost.
The hay is from the rabbit hutch.  I dumped the trays from their hutch on top of the compost from my bins.
I used a shovel to move the compost from the wheel barrow to the raised bed.  I didn't want to just dump the whole load in there with no control.  I spread the compost with a rake to get it fairly level and in the corners.
Lots of fresh compost in half the bed.  I'll fill the other half once those beans are gone.
My other raised beds needed additional compost as well.  (I'm not including pictures of all of them.  That would be redundant.)
Before.
After.
I used more than one wheel barrow load of compost per bed which put quite a dent in the compost pile.  I'm not sure that I'm going to have enough to fill all of the raised beds.  I still have a few to do.