Chickens

UH Basic Training: Chicken Keeping 101

Everyone in the household is seemingly well again, so urban homestead boot camp is back in session!

After a garden, when someone mentions “urban homestead” many people think of chickens.  To me, chickens are a bit of the country right here in the city.  They aren’t particularly noisy, they don’t take up much space, and it doesn’t cost much to feed them (ever heard the expression “chicken feed?”).

I have an awful lot to say about backyard chicken keeping.  Enough probably to fill a book.  It’s fun and the eggs are well worth the effort you put in.  In order to keep this post from becoming a novel, here are the down and dirty basics of urban chickens.  I am, of course, not an expert.  We’ve had chickens for five years now.  We’ve encountered a few problems and we’re continually learning as we go.  But if you’re looking at getting birds for the first time, here are some basic guidelines.

The Rules

First off, are chickens allowed where you live?  Check your city ordinances.  There are usually stipulations on the number of birds, the size of area required for them and in some municipalities, there may be a permitting process.  You can sometime skirt your HOA if they only stipulate the number of “pets” allowed and not what kinds.

Last month, The Crunchy Chicken had a guest post about what to do if your neighbors or HOA is not on board with your backyard flock.

Getting your neighbors on board is pretty important.  Luckily, it’s a pretty easy thing to do as well.  All of our neighbors love our hens.  The kids especially.  And the promise of fresh eggs are a great way to build some good will between neighbors.

You might be surprised where chickens actually are allowed.  Highlands Ranch, here in Colorado, for example is chock-full of HOAs, and they totally allow chickens.  So check it out.

This link has lots of city codes listed, but not every city.  A Google search will help if it doesn’t have your city.

The Birds

For most backyard flocks, you’ll want only female chickens.  Roosters are loud and crow all day, making it tough to stay on your neighbors’ good sides.  Plus they’re generally not very friendly.  Despite the fact that everyone wants to ask you how you plan to get eggs without a rooster, you don’t need one.  Without a rooster, all your eggs will be unfertilized and you’ll get to skip the 4:00 AM wake up calls (and at 11:33, and at 3:28, and at 6PM).

You can start your flock by getting chicks, started pullets, or hens.  Chicks are the least expensive, but you will need to raise them indoors under a heat lamp until they have grown all their feathers and can move outside, which will take a few months.  Pullets are female chickens that are less than a year old.  They will cost you more than chicks but you’ll get eggs sooner, since most chickens begin laying around six months old.  Or you can buy grown hens that are already laying.  They will be the most expensive since someone else has fed and housed them for a year with little benefit of getting eggs.  You probably don’t want to buy hens that over two years old if you want many eggs though.  Their peak laying years are the first two (from age 1-3 years).

You can order chicks in the mail or buy individuals at a feed store or from a local farmer.  There is only one site that I know of that will ship chicks in quantities less than 28.  We bought our chicks locally, so I can’t say how they do this.

Pullets and hens can also be bought from local farms, sometimes on craigslist, or at markets or poultry swaps.  Chickens are social, so you’ll probably want at least three or four.

There are lots of breeds of chickens.  If your climate is cold in the winter, you will want a heavy breed that can keep its self warm.  Bantams are miniature chickens and their eggs are about half the size of regular chicken eggs.

The Coop

Your birds need about two square feet apiece inside their hen-house.  It needs to have a roost and they’ll want a place to lay their eggs. The size, shape and style of your house and coop are limitless.  Check out some of these ideas for small backyard coops.

Coops are easy to build yourself if you are the handy type, or small ones can be bought locally or online for a few hundred dollars.  We built our coop ourselves and over the last five years have made only some minor modifications.  (Though I admit I have a few more in mind for this coming year).  I’ve seen people convert dog houses, old sheds and abandoned campers into chicken coops.

The original construction of our coop looked like this:  Coop Construction!

The main things to keep in mind are a place to rest, a place to nest, a place to get shelter and a way to keep predators out.  Many people advise using hardware cloth to keep raccoons out.  We have been successful with simply using chicken wire, which is much less expensive.  Although we’ve had chickens killed by foxes and raccoons, it was never due to a breach in the security of the coop, only due to the negligence of the chicken owners (we forgot to close the coop at night).

A chicken tractor is like a mini coop on wheels with a run attached that can be used to let your hens graze or catch bugs and then moved to a new spot so that they don’t eat the grass down to the dirt.  A great idea if you have the room for it.  Check out some neat ones here.

The Food

Chicken are omnivores.  I always sort of chuckle when I read “vegetarian fed hens” on a carton of eggs.  Now that’s good in commercial eggs, so that you know those poor birds weren’t fed other chickens.  But your chickens will certainly not be vegetarians.  They will eat bugs and worms, and I’ve heard they can catch and kill a mouse.

For the bulk of their diet, however, you’ll want to feed them something.  You can make your own food for them using a mix of grains and seeds.  A quick Google search will lend you many guides and recipes.  Depending on your resources this might be less expensive than buying pre-made food.  For some it is expensive if you’re in a big city far from where the grains are grown, and so it is easier to buy the bagged stuff.

Pre-made choices include conventional, organic, medicated, pellets, crumbles, mash and if you’re lucky, whole grain.  Most backyard flocks don’t need medicated feed, even for chicks.  These feeds are made for large, commercial flocks, where chickens are kept in too-close quarters and make each other sick.  There is no need to dose your flock with antibiotics out of the gate with only three or four or twelve birds.

Pellets, crumbles and mash are different forms of the same feed.  The ingredients in the feed are ground up and then pressed into shape before being packaged.  The shapes are self descriptive.  These are a matter of personal preference since chickens will eat all three.  It comes down to what you prefer and how much the birds waste.  My birds have always flung feed out of the feeder, but if the feed is pellets, they still get eaten off of the ground.  All of these feeds are susceptible to moisture.  If they get wet, they will pretty much disintegrate.  So store it where it will stay dry, and keep a cover on your feeder if it is outdoors.

Conventional chicken feed is the least expensive but carries the risk of chemical pesticides, fertilizers and GMO ingredients.  Since here in the US, they don’t label those things on human food, they certainly won’t on chicken food.  If you want to avoid these (remember, your chicken is making eggs with that food, and you will eat the eggs), you should buy organic.  It can be more expensive than conventional feed, unless you can find a local source.  We have found a local farm co-op that offers us organic, whole grain layer feed for 43 cents/pound.

Your chickens are great garden disposals as well.  They love to eat greens, weeds, kitchen scraps.  I’ve often joked that they are like miniature pigs.  The only things I have not seen our hens devour are potato peels and mushrooms.  Otherwise, they will pick clean a ham bone as quickly as they will hork down mushy strawberries.  They stick their skinny necks through the fence to attack our Swiss chard on a regular basis, and they practically live in the compost pile during the winter.

They will eat eggs.  And if you cook them scrambled eggs, that’s fine.  They don’t identify an egg smashed flat on the ground as the same as an egg they just laid (they are not the brightest creatures).  But be cautious.  If they get a taste for raw eggs, soon they will be plundering their nests and eating more eggs than you.

Crushed eggshells are a good supplement for them to get calcium in their diet (to make strong shells).  You can also offer crushed oyster shell, whey, other dairy products and leafy greens.  They’ll chow down and thank you.

The Work

You know how my site is called The Lazy Homesteader?  Well, it’s because I really don’t like anything that is complicated, hard work, or lots of maintenance.  The main work in caring for chickens, I’ve found, is making sure they have fresh water everyday.  They need it replenished often in hot weather and they need the ice chipped off in the cold.  So every day, they need water.  That I can do, if Rick is helping me.  ;)

Their feeder holds enough food for a few days, so I just check it when I’m giving them water to make sure it’s not empty yet.  And I collect eggs.

Your hens will eventually molt.  This is when  they lose and regrow feathers and take a break from laying, and typically happens in the winter.  The molt is dependent upon hours of daylight,  so if you want eggs year round, they need a light in their house to trick their bodies during the winter.  We’ve found that they don’t need it to keep warm (admittedly we don’t have ice storms here, so I can’t speak to that), but their feathers and group body heat seems to do the job.  We let them take a natural break from laying and don’t provide a light in the winter.

Cleaning the coop is the other main work of keeping chickens.  We use a deep litter method and only clean a couple of times a year.  We’ve found this doesn’t work that well with straw as the coop bedding.  It is great however with leaves or pine shavings.  During the first chicken coop tour, everyone remarked on how nice our coop was – that it didn’t smell at all.  But then one time we decided to try straw.  The coop stunk within the week.  It was a horrible stinky ammonia smell.  And messy.  They straw went everywhere.  A breeze blew it all over the yard.  It was slippery to walk on.  We switched back to dried leaves and pine shavings.  Later this week, I’ll explain the deep littler method in detail.    Others do use straw and change their hens bedding daily.  Still others use sand.  Find what works for you.

That is basically it.  This week, I’ll cover more chicken keeping things in detail.  This is a big topic, and I know this post is pretty general.  It may be elementary for old hands, but hopefully it answers some of the questions first timers might have.

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Categories: Chickens, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , | 12 Comments

The Homestead Resolutions for 2012

I hope you all have enjoyed the holidays so far.  Our family has agreed that this was ones of the best Christmases we’ve had in a long time.  Health-wise, we are in a holding pattern and I’ll keep the blog updated if anything changes on that front.  In the mean time…

The other night, my Hard-Working Hubster looked at me and said, we need to set some goals for the new year.  Yeeah… I’m not so into New Years resolutions, and I sort of figured he was hinting at setting financial goals, which are my least favorite, so I was not really excited about what I figured he was about to say.  But, it turns out that’s not what he meant at all.  He was referring a bit to my 101 in 1001 list and some other personal goals, as well as to some things we’d like to do together.

Something that I’ve been working on in 2011 and really want to continue to work on in 2012 is building community.  I loved that last year our next-door neighbor enlisted our help to put in a garden and then shared his harvest with us.  He’s up for round two this year and I want to keep the momentum going on things like that.  I’d really like to strengthen the community between our neighbors on our block.  I also want to increase community between other friends that live nearby but are further out than our immediate neighborhood.

One thing I really want is to increase our self-sufficiency on the homestead.  I want to grow more food and process our own chickens for meat.  But by “self-sufficiency” I don’t mean by ourselves.  I mean, “not relying on the grocery store.”  And, I really want to make a fun special place for the kids in the garden… something they can look forward to, play in or around, and take care of.

So with those things in mind, here are my top five goals for the Schell Urban Homestead for 2012.

  1. Grow a giant pumpkin.  The neighbor has already volunteered a spot in his yard for this.  We’re scouring seed catalogs for the biggest one we can find.  It’ll be a pet project, but out in his front yard for the whole neighborhood to see and monitor.  And the kids can really get in on this one (I’m hoping).  Maybe in the fall, when it’s time to harvest we can do something cool with the results!  
  2. Grow enough in our own neighborhood gardens to feed ourselves for the summer.  I’d like it to be our own garden in our own yard, but I’ve realized this just isn’t realistic.  We eat a lot of veggies and have a lot of people to feed and not much garden space.  So instead of setting our sights on the impossible, I’m hoping to make it possible between our place, the next-door neighbors and the neighbors across the street.  I think they are all open to this.
  3. Process chickens.  We wanted to do this last year – order meat birds or a straight run of chicks and then process them for the table.  It didn’t work out in 2011, but I’m hoping we can work it out for 2012.  This will include culling any hens that are eating eggs and getting egg production numbers to where they should be.  Yay homegrown protein!
  4. Harvest Honey.  Our bees are still here, doing well, and we’re hoping to get a good harvest this coming year.  We even have a neighborhood contact to help us with the first go-round. 
  5. Start a monthly potluck circle involving neighbors and homegrown or locally raised foods.  I really, really want to do this.  I’ve mentioned it to a few friends here and there, but gotten no real commitments.  I might just have to jump in for it to take off.  ??

What about you?  Any gardening goals for the new year?  Is community a part of the goals you are making?  How do you plan to get others involved?

Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Community, Food, Garden, Top 5, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 11 Comments

Fall at the Homestead

The first day of fall was last week, and we are entering one of the busiest times of the year around here.  Of course it’s harvest time – which means much of our work moves from the garden to the kitchen.  You’ve seen all my posts on jam lately, but I’ve been canning too.  A little over ten quarts of tomatoes so far, and we’re going Sunday to our CSA farm to help pick more toms and to pick and roast green chiles as well.  The tomatoes will also be canned and the chiles peeled and frozen.

I’m glad we had the CSA to fall back on this year as my tomatoes were so sad.  I was actually a bit worried.  It sure is nice to see the pantry shaping up after all.

Lots of Christmas gifts here too.

This coming weekend is the second annual chicken coop tour.  Locals can purchase tickets here or here.  We participated last year as well, and we are excited to show off again this year.  The coop had a couple of improvements this spring and summer and I really wanted everything in place for the tour. Rick bought me two galvanized garbage cans – one for the chicken food and one for finished compost, but when I started harvesting the compost, I had enough to fill both, plus half a wheel-barrow-full that I pawned off on the neighbor (it was a hard sell, trust me).  The chicken food is still in the garage for now, and there are almost two bales of straw under a tarp out there.

The hens seem excited to have straw in the coop for the first time.  We’ve always used dead leaves or pine shavings in their coop, but the “fall” part of the season has yet to happen here and we wanted to coop cleaned up for the tour.  We were hoping for some wood chips to spread over the ground before the tour too, but it looks like we’ll have to go with out.  Despite that, the chicken area looks nice.

The extra straw, not for the coop, will be used to mulch the garlic that we ordered and saved for seed.  I ordered two varieties this year and saved ten bulbs from a third.  We hope to plant around 125 cloves after the first frost hits.  That should yield us enough garlic for the year next year, including some to save for seed in 2012.

A couple of weekends ago, Rick and H put up my clothesline for me.  I was so excited to get the line that Rick’s mom had promised me.  But once we got it home, we actually couldn’t manage to get it into working order.  After fighting with it for a couple of weeks, we ended up buying a new one, and I love it!  I’ve used it everyday, but I’ve realized I need more clothes pins.  The line holds a lot, and C’s diapers (and inserts and wipes) take up all the pins I have.

  

We harvested our concord grapes – one whole bunch!  There would have been two bunches, but I accidentally knocked off the second bunch early on in the summer  when I was trying to get the vine on the trellis.  Not too bad for it being the vine’s first real season – we just planted the cutting last spring.  We hope to use this vine to make a few more cuttings when the pergola is done.

Speaking of the pergola, Rick’s uncle brought us down our first pieces from the mountains.  The posts are here!  We will be setting them on poured concrete footers this fall and we’ll begin laying the patio in the spring.  This was the goal of the tree removal project.  I had hoped to have it done all in one summer, but it really was a huge undertaking to manage on our own.  Not to mention having a baby this summer too.  (There’s that old excuse again!).  ;)

There is a huge amount of beetle-kill pine in our forests here right now (a heart-breaking 4 million acres in Colorado and Wyoming), so we plan to build the whole pergola out of salvaged logs.  Once it’s constructed, we will plant and train grape vines over it.  I am very excited about it, but it’s been slow going.

Fall is also the time when we start filling the freezer back up with meat.  We actually got a good look at the forests this year as we did some prep work for hunting season.  Rick sighted in his rifles at the range up on Highway 40, and we did a little grouse hunting and some fishing.  We were skunked on the grouse, but Henry did catch his first fish!  He let it go so it could grow up a bit.  Nothing was added to the freezer yet, but the trip was great fun anyway, and we’ve ready for big game in a couple of weeks.

So that’s what we’ve been up to lately – I’m hoping the tour participants will give us grace on the yard still being half done.  Oh well, they’re coming to see the coop, right?  ;)

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Chickens, DIY, Garden | Tags: , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Late Summer Snapshot

It’s been almost three weeks since I’ve made it onto the computer.  I’m sure you were wondering if I had some sort of mysterious injury related to a grub hoe and a compost bin.  But I assure you, everything is fine.  The sun has been out, and things have been growing like mad, including both boys and C.  So the blog has been collecting dust!  In the mean time, I’ve been able to get a few things done around here.

We picked cucumbers up at our CSA and put up 48 quarts of pickles.

We got the tree trunk and stump hauled away to a mill.

And we put some 7 pounds of elk meat into the dehydrator to become jerky.

We harvested corn and our first potatoes with the neighbor.

I have to say that harvesting potatoes is one of the funnest things ever – it’s like a treasure hunt!

We ended up with 40 pounds of fingerlings and 50 pounds of Desirre red potatoes!  We will have plenty for seed next year and hopefully enough to store through the winter.

We also have a neighborhood BBQ in the works and have been spreading the hens’ good will via eggs and some extra garden onions.

We are getting ready for some berry picking and peach picking in the next week or two.  I am excited to get some preserves into the pantry as well.  We are going to take a walk tomorrow to the house with the concord grape vine and see if the new family there will share some grapes with us this year like the last tenants there did.  We are bringing some 2010 jam with us to give them as an incentive!

The late summer/early fall is one of the busiest times around our homestead.  Harvests are coming in, the dehydrator is running, and we are trying to see if we can manage to get the yard back in shape in time to participate in the second annual Denver Botanic Gardens chicken coop tour.  If you remember, I made some improvements on the coop this spring with the tour in mind, and last year was a lot of fun, so it’d be really great if we can pull it together in time.   More updated posts in the coming days – I am finally getting back on the ball around here, I think.  ;)

Categories: Canning and Food Preservation, Chickens, Community, DIY, Garden, Independence Days, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Virtual Homestead Tour

Welcome to the Schell Urban Homestead’s end of July virtual garden tour!  I was really excited when Erica at Northwest Edible Life invited me to participate in letting all you Nosy Neighbors peek over our garden fence!

Here’s how the Lazy Homesteader does the Nosy Neighbor Virtual Homestead & Garden Tour:

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The first part of this tour that makes me really excited is that I’m actually documenting what the whole garden is doing at a given point in the summer.  I never remember when we get the first tomato (this week!  A Silver Fir Tree Russian heirloom).  The kohlrabi is a giant variety that Rick’s grandpa brought us from Slovakia.  It will get to be over 8 pounds and will not be woody.  It also keeps great all winter, and it’s starting to bulb up to about baseball size in the last few days of July.  Rick’s parents shared cucumbers with us last week and the week before, but ours have only just begun to flower.

The unexpected thing that I am loving about this tour is the truth of it.  In the pictures of the onions and watermelons, you can see both the weeds I’ve neglected to pull, and the light-colored, hard clay that we grow in here in Colorado.  Normally, I’d make an effort to hide both the weeds and the soil, because the shiny-happy blogger in me wants you to think that my garden is perfectly groomed and full of rich, dark, beautiful loamy soil.  In fact, some people do think that.  Rick’s grandparents even commented this week on how they couldn’t grow something that we could because their soil (about 25 miles from us) is hard clay.  Rick and I burst out laughing.  So here’s the proof.  We don’t have perfect soil.  This is how it looks after eight years of work amending it.  And I’m glad I let it show.

Some of my other favorite highlights from the slideshow (the shiny-happy stuff):

Corn from our neighbor’s garden, actually.  His corn is peeking over our front yard fence.  Well, not peeking, so much as towering.  We are actually sharing our harvests this year, so that is how I’m justifying including crops that belong to someone else in my garden tour.  ;)

The hundreds of tiny cherry tomatoes on H’s plants make me giddy.  And I can’t believe how big those two plants are.  Over six feet high!

The garlic I harvested in the week before C was born is drying in the garage, and the beets I pulled a few days ago are beautiful, although we might have pulled them about a week earlier if we weren’t in new baby mode.

We’re still waiting on the first eggs from the pullets, but we are getting two or three a day still from the older hens.

I was really hoping to include a picture of our raspberries this year, but they suddenly quit producing just last week.  Luckily I found something in the strawberry bed to show you instead!

Be sure to check out the other homesteads and gardens in Erica’s Nosy Neighbor Tour.  Thanks for stopping by!

Categories: Beekeeping, Chickens, Community, Food, Garden, Hugelkultur, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , , | 10 Comments

Colorful Coop

Ah – such a heavy post yesterday.  But I am so grateful for all the encouragement I got from everyone, and not one of you called me a horrible louse for putting my dog to sleep (this was my biggest fear in publishing that post yesterday).  Nor did anyone suggest that I was crazy for wanting to home school.  I can take being called crazy for other things, like unplugging the fridge, because, you know, some things just are a bit out there.  ;)

Lightening (and brightening) things back up today is my newly colorful chicken coop!  — YES!  We finally repainted the chicken coop.  It’s been on the to-do list for a long while now, but the weather has been uncooperative.  The forecast this past weekend was all sunshine, so I went for it.  Of course, the day I painted it, it rained anyway, but thankfully exterior paint dries fast and I think it held up no problem.

Here is the “before”

Coop waiting for a repaint

And here is the “after”

Coop sporting a new paint job and "window."

I don’t think the chickens care, but I like the new look.  I thought with the new nest boxes and the pullets getting ready to join the main flock, an update was in order.  Plus now I can feel all fancy-schmancy if we get to participate in Denver’s chicken coop tour again this year.

I ended up with plenty of left over paint in both colors, so now I’m thinking of what else needs a fresh coat.  Could get crazy around here!

Categories: Chickens | Tags: | 3 Comments

-Chipping Away at the To Do List

As you might have noticed, by my lack of blog posts last week, I have been busy around this place.  We’ve been working diligently at getting the tree in the back yard cut down, the branches chipped, and the gardens set up.  So much so that we’ve actually neglected a few other things around here.  Things like ordering a car seat for baby number three as well as our birth kit.  I’m in my third trimester now, and we have pretty much nothing set up for the baby yet.

Here’s what we have been doing though.  Rick and the neighbor, Doug, got the wood chipper working and made short work of nine of the eleven piles of branches in the yard.  The other two piles were too big to put through the chipper, so they’ll have to wait.

There’s still more of the tree to cut down, but the weather has been uncooperative (too windy) to take down the tallest parts.  Hopefully this week, before the tree leafs out!

After expressing how chicken wire works just fine to protect your flock from predators, we lost two hens to a fox.  Now to our… erm… credit?  shame?  it wasn’t a failure of the chicken wire, so much as a failure to close up the coop at night.  I confess to being a lazy chicken owner, and leaving the coop open much of the time.  The hens put themselves to bed, and Josie, our big mutt, used to really help in keeping predators away.  But this is the first spring we are without her, and I really wasn’t thinking much about it until I found a hen dead one morning last week.  She was headless and we’re pretty sure Rick scared the fox away when he was leaving for work.  Somehow, neither of us heard a commotion in the coop, but it was windy and Rick thought he had heard the kids’ tent blowing around.  Turns out it was probably a chicken scuffle.

We of course cleaned up the mess, and that evening, just around sunset, when Rick went out to close the coop, he found dead hen number two.  It had JUST happened.  The neighbor had scared the fox as they walked by.  We think that the fox might have been coming back for the first hen that it left, and since it was gone, it killed another.  Since we found this one fresh – very very fresh, Rick butchered her up (discarding the part where the fox bit her – just her back) and we made chicken and dumplings.  She was actually our oldest hen, and I don’t think any amount of stewing would have made her legs edible – think really tough chicken jerky.  But we tried at least, and her breast meat was ok, and she made tasty broth.

The good news on the chicken front is we’re pretty sure those were the two hens that were eating eggs, and the older hen really wasn’t laying much at all anymore, so the fox saved us some trouble of getting up the nerve to off them ourselves.  We’ve not had anymore broken or eaten eggs, and our egg numbers are still about what they were, since now we’re getting them all instead of racing to beat the hens.  AND the chicken wire is still doing it’s job, as long as we keep doing ours.

This weekend we spread the wood chips to mulch the garden paths.  Our neighbor watched over the fence.  I know he thinks we’re crazy for going to the effort to mulch the tree instead of just hauling it to the dump, but I’m happy it’s going to good use, and hopefully it’ll work at keeping weeds down between the beds.

Otherwise, we made a trip to the garden center to get our tomato and pepper plants.  I’m excited to try a couple varieties that we’ve not done before.  I spent some time spreading compost in my tomato bed and the plants are hardening off this week to get ready to go to the ground this weekend.  I’m chomping at t he bit to get the summer things in the ground.  Just waiting for the weather to get on board too.

So this week I plan to get a few more things outside organized, but I also am going to try to focus on a few inside projects as well.  Like laundry and getting the baby’s room emptied.  There needs to be a balance, I know. The to-do list seems never ending this spring.  But little by little we seem to be getting items crossed off.

What have you been up to?

Categories: Chickens, Food, Garden | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Catching Up to Life!

I’ve been a bit behind this week, so here’s my attempt at catching the blog up to our lives!  The hens were not laying in the new nest box, so on Friday I reused some pieces of the old nest box and some left over plywood to modify the new box and make it bigger.  It’s now 11×17 and the hens are much happier.  We’ve been collecting eggs left and right again, which makes us all glad.  We do still suspect an egg eater – I’m pretty sure it’s one of the red heads, so we’re working out a way to figure out who is the culprit.  You may see a post about our first-ever adventure into home chicken processing soon.

Saturday  we finally planted the spuds that we ordered in the neighbor’s garden.

We’re all excited about this gardening thing this year – you know the thing where our neighbor is working together with us to grow this (in his newly made bed) and where we plan to share our crops.  He’s been getting as excited as me, and every time someone comes to our house, Rick jokes about me showing off my new vegetable bed as he motions over the fence.  ;)

This is our first time with potatoes and we planted two varieties – La Ratte fingerlings and Dessire red potatoes.  There were some extras that didn’t fit into his bed, so I might try another potato growing system in our back yard as well.

We’ve been enjoying our spinach and I’m so happy about those volunteers that came up early, since we’ve been able to eat from the garden so much earlier this year.  I need to make sure to let the spinach go to seed from now on before we pull it for later crops!  Woohoo!

Sunday’s forecast last weekend was for snow, but there wasn’t any.  In fact it was pretty nice out.  Rick’s been chipping away at the tree project, hacking a limb off here, cutting a branch there.  We’re about to the point where we can no longer go at it alone and we’re going to have to bring in extra help to finish.

Our neighbor did get a chipper for us.  It wasn’t in working order, but he and Rick think they can fix it with just an inexpensive part.  It won’t do the bigger stuff, but most of the smaller branches can go through and it’ll be nice to have around to put the yard waste through before sending it to the compost bins.  And bonus, it was free!

We also visited two garden centers on Sunday.  We picked up seeds for the things we plan on direct seeding (the ones we didn’t order), got some onion sets, and I was a sucker for some savory and basil plants (three varieties!) that I plan on sneaking into our flower beds this year.

I was really tempted to pick up some tomato seedlings, but Rick convinced me to hold off a few weeks more.  I think he knows how good I am not at keeping plants alive indoors.  It’s so close to “when the danger of frost is past” planting, I can almost taste it.  We’re on our last bag of frozen tomatoes from last summer’s garden.  It can’t get here quick enough!

What have you been up to in these last few rainy April days?

On a side note, this here blog was just entered into the Circle of Moms Top 25 Eco-Friendly Mommy Blog contest.  There are only three days left to vote but you can vote everyday.  I’d love a vote from you!  CLICK HERE to vote!
Categories: Chickens, Garden, Independence Days | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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