Category Archives: Chickens

Welsummer and Ameraucana Chicks Join the Flock

The somewhat frumpy, but utterly endearing Ameraucana is in the foreground, with the sleek Welsummer peering from behind.

The somewhat frumpy, but utterly endearing Ameraucana is in the foreground, with the sleek Welsummer peering from behind.

We’ve done it again! Two years after picking out our first backyard chickens, we brought home two new chicks this week. Of course, they’re just as stinky and ridiculous and adorable as the first batch.

As yet unnamed, the Welsummer appears to have clambered to the top of the pecking order and gave the Ameraucana a few sharp baby-pecks last night. For her part, the Ameraucana seems to be following in our Barred Rock’s footsteps; she is an eating machine!

We chose the breeds for a variety of reasons. For one thing, they were available this week at the feed store. Since we only wanted two, there is no way for us to order chicks through the mail, so the semi-local feed and fuel store is our go-to place for chicks.

In addition, as shallow as it sounds, we were drawn to these breeds’ egg colors. Welsummers lay dark brown eggs with speckles. Ameraucanas are known for their blue/green eggs.  As extremely small scale ‘chicken farmers,’ we have always enjoyed being able to tell the Barred Rock’s brown eggs from the Barred Leghorn’s white ones. With these new birds, we will maintain our ability to keep tabs on who’s slacking in the henhouse.

We also considered laying rates. From our rather limited research, it seems Welsummers lay about 160-180 eggs per year, while Ameraucanas lay in the range of 250-280 eggs per year. Unfortunately, we’ve only recently begun keeping proper records of egg-laying for the chickens we have now. Supposedly, Barred Rocks lay 250-300 eggs per year, while Leghorns (not sure about Barred Leghorns) lay in the range of 300-330 eggs per year. These days, just beginning their third year, both Luma and Petunia are laying about four eggs a week.

The Welsummer had better lay beautiful eggs and be fabulously healthy to earn her keep!

January Garden Harvest

January was by far our best garden record keeping month on record. Kelly was a terrific sport, and together we faithfully weighed and recorded every fruit, vegetable, and herb that came in from the winter garden (right on down to 1/32 lb. cilantro harvests, I might add). May we keep this level of disciplined record keeping through the next eleven months, and may we find less tedious and time-intensive ways to do it meaningfully.

Maybe in February I’ll come up with an aesthetically pleasing table to show off the totals and tally the monetary savings, but for now, without further ado…

January harvest totals

  • Eggs: 6 (a sore point, for sure. The Barred Rock is still molting, and the Barred Leghorn mysteriously quit after the first week of January)
  • Cilantro: .91 lbs
  • Kale ‘Winterbor’, ‘Nero di Toscano’, and ‘Wild Kale Blend’: 1.03 lbs
  • Parsley: .5 lbs
  • Mustard ‘Ruby Streaks’: 1.88 lbs
  • Broccoli ‘Umpqua’: 2.06 lbs
  • Lettuce ‘Heirloom Garden Blend’: 1.13 lbs
  • Mustard ‘Tah Tsoi’: .19 lbs
  • Spinach ‘Donkey’: .81 lbs
  • Spring onion ‘Purplette’: .41 lbs
  • Cabbage ‘Parel’: 7 lbs
  • Navel oranges: .5 lbs
  • Lime ‘Bearrs’: 2.75 lbs
  • Chard ‘Rainbow’ and ‘Fordham Hook’: .25 lbs
  • Leeks ‘King Lear’: 1.75 lbs
  • Cauliflower ‘Snow Crown’: 5 lbs

January total: 26.17 lbs

'Parel', our favorite small cabbage. With our switch next season to all open pollinated varieties, we will have to find a replacement for this great cabbage.

‘Parel’, our favorite small cabbage. With our switch next season to all open pollinated varieties, we will have to find a replacement for this great hybrid cabbage.

2014 Garden Resolution #1: Improved Garden Record Keeping

Happy New Year to gardeners and gardens everywhere! I have two gardening resolutions for 2014. First: improved record keeping.

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Keeping garden records

This year, I aim to faithfully record all of our planting and harvesting, as well as calculate the approximate monetary value of the harvest. The idea of keeping gardening records delights me (no, really, I’m weird like that). Unfortunately, despite my best intentions over the years, our garden records remain mediocre at best.

As I explained in a garden record keeping post almost two years ago, we (usually) keep track of our planting and harvesting using a binder method I developed after interning on a small organic farm/CSA. In theory, these records are quite detailed, including date sown, vegetable variety, quantity sown (and age of seeds), number of plants to emerge, the bed in which they are planted, transplant date, units harvested/pounds harvested, date of harvest, and a section for additional notes. Ha!

Many other food gardeners and small-scale farmers make a point of keeping careful records and tallying money saved. Their blogs inspire me toward better self-discipline, and I am grateful to them for reminding me that really good record keeping is not only ideal, but also possible. Thomahaak Family Farm keeps fabulous records of produce harvested (right down to herbs weighing fractions of a pound).  I appreciate Dog Island Farm’s tally of both farm savings and expenditures. Starving off the Land has gone so far as calculating calories harvested, setting goals for the percentage of household caloric need met by first-hand food.

Recording small harvests

Aside from lack of consistency in actually writing things down, one of the most challenging aspects of garden record keeping for me is the fact that we often harvest very small quantities of veggies and herbs. If, as occurred yesterday morning, I wander outside in my pajamas to pick a few sprigs of parsley, a small bunch of cilantro, and about five leaves of kale to throw into a smoothie, how do I effectively and efficiently record this?

It was January 1st; my resolve was brand new, and I had nowhere to rush off to. Under Kelly’s skeptical eye, I got down the small kitchen scale and attempted to weigh the bounty. The parsley and cilantro each weighed in at approximately 1/32 lb. The kale was more like 1/16 lb. That’s if I trust my scale—an old, non-digital thrift store find.

Kelly pointed out that she doesn’t see how keeping these kinds of records actually benefit our gardening efforts. She also informed me that she was not prepared to follow my example. She suggested that employing a rougher estimate of our planting and consumption habits still allows us to adjust future planting accordingly, without going off our gourds trying to weigh every sprig of parsley.

I see her point.

Still, I am moved to redouble my record keeping efforts and to experiment with how to do this in a sustainable and useful manner.

Keeping records for smarter gardening

I would argue that good garden records make for smarter gardening. It’s easy to implement changes in the garden when you have the facts in front of you. We have adjusted the varieties of onions we grow based on our yearly yield. This is possible because we weigh the harvest every spring and compare varieties. If we tally money saved on produce grown at home, we can make smarter choices about how to prioritize space in our veggie gardening beds.

Record keeping can also serve as justification to ourselves for how we allocate our time and resources. I grow food for many reasons—not all of them rational. But record keeping can illustrate the good, solid, sensible reasons to grow food. It can provide us with data and supportive evidence for the difference our gardening efforts make in our diet and budget.

I can promise right now that this year’s records won’t be perfect, but I will experiment to improve our system and our consistency. In the first two days of the new year, I’ve started jotting records on our 2014 calendar. I think this method will be especially useful for tracking eggs—an almost daily harvest. I am also considering creating standardized measurements for certain common small harvests. For example, knowing the weight of the small bunches of cilantro, parsley, and kale I add to our smoothies, I may record these harvests as ‘small bunch cilantro,’ rather than weighing each bunch.

How do you keep your garden records? And why do you keep them (or not!)?

First Frost of the Season

Finally, some seasonally appropriate weather! Early this morning, the brassicas were frosted white. I went out to remove the various traps (still baited and unsprung) from the mysteriously no longer rat-proof chicken run. I could hear the girls murmuring in their nest box, but they weren’t eager to come out into the icy chill.

If you garden in California, you can find average first and last frost dates for your area in this freeze/frost occurrence data from the National Climatic Data Center. For other states, go straight to NCDC’s home page and navigate to data for your area.

Brassicas covered in frost.

Frosty brassicas at dawn (tucked in under a cozy layer of leaf mulch).

Does The Deep Litter Method Really Work? A Report One and a Half Years In

We decided early on to use the “deep litter method” in our chicken coop. We didn’t want to spend our time scraping chicken poop off a hardpan dirt floor. The girls have seemed to enjoy their straw floor (though they’re terrified when we move the straw around), and we sprinkle in more whenever things start to smell. It really hasn’t smelled, and we feel our deep litter experiment has been a great success.

Though people generally do a thorough cleaning once a year in deep litter chicken coops, late May (the anniversary of the chicken’s coop move-in) came and went, and we just didn’t get around to it. We are really busy and kind of lazy, so if something doesn’t obviously need doing, we don’t always get around to it.

Yesterday I had a positively heavenly day of poking around in the garden—the first such day in months. For most of the day, it was ADD gardening: I wandered around pulling weeds as they caught my eye, sweeping paths, and lying down between beds to watch the sky and enjoy the unseasonable warmth.

In the late afternoon, I realized I should apply myself toward mucking out the coop. An hour and a half and seven full wheelbarrows later, I was hungry, cranky, sorry for myself, and finished cleaning the coop.

Rather than refill with fresh straw, Kelly and I took advantage of a bin of newly raked leaves, provided by our fabulous neighbors. We are excited to try this straw alternative for several reasons. First, leaves are free; second, they bring more insect life into the coop for the girls to enjoy; and third, these leaves are organic. We have yet to find organic straw, and shudder to think what herbicides the girls (and the soil) are exposed to.

Here’s to another year of deep litter!

Petunia--always one to keep us in line.

Petunia–always one to keep us in line.

I raked up the old straw and carted across the garden in a wheelbarrow.

I raked up the old straw and carted across the garden in a wheelbarrow.

 

As the coop looked when I'd finished raking. The chickens were so flustered by the raking process that Kelly took them out for a supervised walk in the garden.

As the coop looked when I’d finished raking. The chickens were so flustered by the raking process that Kelly took them out for a supervised walk in the garden.

 

The girls explore their new turf. We will see how the leaves perform compared with he straw.

The girls explore their new turf. We will see how the leaves perform compared with he straw.

Easter in the Garden

An Easter bouquet for the chickens.

An Easter bouquet for the chickens.

Our Easter egg.

Our Easter egg, courtesy of Luma.

In view of our misbehaving creatures, Matt's new planting is now 'fenced'.

In view of our curious creatures, chickens and cat alike, Matt’s new planting is now ‘fenced.’

 

We began harvesting suckers today to use in weaving a small fence (and possibly a rocking chair(!). The girls were eager to help, and all went well until Luma managed to wedge her body between two fence slats. It looked grim at first, but Kelly was able to extricate her without sawing away any wood.

We began harvesting suckers today to use in weaving a small fence–and possibly a rocking chair(!). The girls were eager to help, and all went well until Luma managed to wedge her body between two fence slats. It looked grim at first, but Kelly was able to extricate her without sawing away any wood.

Pudy surveys the newly harvested poles. She is not a fan of change.

Pudy surveys the newly harvested poles. She is not a fan of change.

 

 

Overall Gardener Takes to Twitter

Overall Gardener on Twitter??! Ack. I love to garden, and I love to write, but technology and social media are not really my strong suits. So it was with trepidation a year ago that I signed up for a Twitter account for the Overall Gardener blog. I believe I posted one tweet right away, before letting the account sit idly for over a year. What’s Twitter good for, anyway? I’m still not quite sure.

Clearly, I’m not doing a great job of selling you on my brilliant gardening tweets, but if you are brave of heart and not easily bored, stop by. I even figured out how to include a nifty button on the right-hand side of the blog which you can click in order to “follow” my tweets. And better yet, drop me a line and point me in the right direction. Until then, I will be roughing it alone with the handle, @OverallGardener. Yikes, I never thought it would come to this.

Happy Birthday to the Girls

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since we brought home four fluffy chicks.  A lung infection, an oviduct infection, a passel of eggs, and two roosters later, the pullets are graduating to hens.

We remain thoroughly and hopelessly in love with Petunia and Luma. Though I’ve made no official calculations, I can confidently say that keeping garden chickens has not been cost effective, but it has certainly enriched our lives and provided us with a (somewhat) consistent and bountiful supply of fresh organic eggs.

The girls never molted in the fall, and they never really stopped laying, aside from the week Luma took off at the beginning of October. Again without calculations in hand, I would say that Petunia, the Barred Leghorn, lays overall more consistently than Luma, the Barred Rock. That said, my main question is how well they will lay in years to come and how healthy they will be.

On an entertainment note, the girls decided in January that they were definitely above Pudy in the hierarchy of critters. They chase her down on sight and generally bully her to the point that she now hides whenever they are roaming the garden. I figure it’s indirect payback for all the times she has picked on wild birds.

Nothing quite compares to the deep bliss of a dust bath!

Nothing quite compares to the deep bliss of a dust bath!

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Petunia is our sweet, sensitive one. She never misses a chance to fly up to your shoulder ‘just because’, and she always wants to be part of the action.

 

Luma can't be bothered with human concerns, unless there's food involved!

Luma can’t be bothered with human concerns, unless there’s food involved! She is quite content to spend long periods alone scratching for bugs.

Yuletide Gardening (The First Sunny Day)

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Petunia is at it again!

The bees are enjoying Oxalis, even as we make yet another half-hearted effort to rid the garden of it.

The bees are enjoying Oxalis, even as we make yet another half-hearted effort to rid the garden of it.

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Winter greens, protected by Kelly's 'chicken-proof' fencing.

Winter greens, protected by Kelly’s ‘chicken-proof’ fencing.

Garlic, onions, leeks, elephant garlic.

Garlic, onions, leeks, elephant garlic.

 

 

Chickens Riding Piggyback

No, this was not staged!

 

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