Saturday, October 30, 2010


It has been a busy day today in the egg laying department. All nine (we think) of the hens we got from Ev are now laying, and even though four nest boxes should be plenty, today the hens needed to make a reservation: as soon as one hen gave her "I just laid an egg" call and hopped out of the box the next one settled in for a session. It looks like the total for today is seven eggs, but one seemed a bit different from the others...

Yes, that's one big egg. We weighed it, and it's about 60% bigger than its neighbours. Ouch.

When we cracked it open we found another surprise...

Two yolks! That's one talented (and tired) hen.

For those of you even newer to the egg laying business than we are, here are some answers to questions we have been asked lately.

Q: Do you need a rooster to get eggs?
A: Nope. You only need a rooster if you want baby chicks.

Q: Does each hen get her own nest box?
A: Nope. You need about one box for every four hens.

Q: Does a hen lay an egg every day?
A: Nope. It depends on the age of the hen and the season, but our nine hens should be giving us about six eggs a day.

Q: Are you eating all those eggs?!
A: Nope. We're eating more eggs than we used to, but the plan is to sell the extras. Kim just sold her first dozen.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Maples and friend

I'm still pretty new to this gardening thing, so I know what seems like a revelation to me will be old news to most of you. But please indulge me as I share my current discovery: every week there is something new to amaze us in the garden.

You've stuck with me as I rhapsodized over the crocus, and the tulips, and the poppies. This week it's the maples' turn.

I have been overly preoccupied with getting the hostas cleaned up before they turn into slime - until today when all the Japanese maples let out a collective shout for me to put down my clippers and admire them instead. And oh, how much there is to admire!

And finally, the shrub in the photo below is not a maple, it's a winged euonymous, otherwise known as one of the ugly plants. This is its moment of triumph, when it remembers all the nasty things I said about it when it was naked and flaunts its glorious colour in my face. I deserve that.

Monday, October 25, 2010


For some reason - could be the season, could be the rain, could be the fact I'm avoiding painting more trim - I have been on an organizing and decluttering mission around the house the last week or so. When it came to all the knick-knacks hiding in the dining room buffet and the books double-lining the shelves in the family room I was ruthless, but in my closet I was faced with a dilemma: what do I do with all my work-related clothes?

I don't mean my current work clothes - those would be my dirty pants and holey t-shirts. I mean the work clothes from my former life, the suits and skirts and tailored blouses. I don't want them any more, but what if some day I need them?

I know a thing or two about decluttering, and I know the right thing to do is save a few pieces and pass the rest on to someone who needs them. But I guess a bit more time has to pass before I feel entirely safe doing that. So for now, the clothes stay.

But the pantyhose - all those pairs of pantyhose filling the bottom drawer of my dresser! I have no sentimental attachment to something so uncomfortable, so...unnatural. They can go, but they can't really be passed on to someone else to use. So I have been looking up ways to repurpose them, and here's what I have found.

Pantyhose can be used to store onions: you just cut off a leg, pop an onion in the toe, tie a knot in the hose, add another onion, tie another knot and so on, until the leg is full. The onions get the air circulation they need, the mess of the stray clods of dirt and peeling onion skins is contained, and whenever you need an onion for cooking all you have to do is snip off the bottom one.

Looking at the pictures of my onions, it also seems to me they could be used for Christmas decorations: the sheen of the completely synthetic material of the hose could add a festive touch around the house.

Another solution for old hose: cut them into strips and use them to tie up plants in the garden. They're perfect for this, because they're soft and stretchy enough the plants won't be damaged as they grow.

There's something smugly satisfying to me about taking a symbol of the oppression of my former life and transforming it into a tool for my current one. It's not quite the same as turning swords into plough shares, but I'm tickled all the same.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Today the sun is shining. We're trying really hard to enjoy it because tomorrow the forecast is for rain. And the day after that. And the day after that. Today may be the last unequivocally sunny day of the season.

It reminds me of a song I used to sing to myself a long, long time ago:

Oh, the sky is blue.
And the sun is shining.
And the grass is green.
And I'm happy.

Okay, I wasn't much of a lyricist when I was young, but I think maybe I was on to something.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sweet boy and the evil twin

As well as our two Buff Orpington flocks, we have three Australorps: the inseparable twins, Gertie and Alice, and a cockerel named Hector. Hector is the youngest of all our birds, and easily the sweetest - and the lowest on the totem pole, at least for now. The other birds boss him around and peck him when they can. Fortunately he has long legs and is really good at running away.

When Kim fills the feeders in the morning she has to distract the rest of the flock with food, then put out a special feeder hidden behind a tree for Hector, because the other birds keep chasing him away from the food. We're both suckers for the underdog, and so we just love Hector.

Because he gets picked on, we decided to give him his own small enclosure in the coop at night. He's a smart boy, and when the doors are opened up at night he marches right in, probably happy to be able to stop running for a few hours. He has his own small roost, and his own food and water dishes. Those hours at night are probably the best of his day.

Until we realized the Australorp twins, next lowest in the pecking order, were being shooed off the roosts at night by the Orpington pullets. So we started putting them in with Hector at night. They made themselves right at home, forcing poor Hector to shuffle down to the other end of the roost. He seemed to make the best of it though, sweet boy that he is.

And then last week our original Orpington cockerel Big Boy started picking on one of the pullets in his little flock when we put them to bed at night - he would cruise the floor underneath the roosts and keep her from jumping up to the roost to settle in. We would have just left them to sort it out, except that she seemed very distressed and we were worried that she might hurt herself flapping around so much in an enclosed space. So what did we do? We bunked her in with Hector and the Hens. Hector didn't complain - he just shuffled down the roost a little bit more.

That Orpington hen must really like her new accommodations and be telling all her friends, because last night when Kim was ushering everyone into the coop a second Orpington hen walked right into Hector's enclosure, made herself at home and refused to leave.

Poor Hector. There's not much more space left for him to shuffle to.

On the other hand, our old favourite Red Toe appears to have been replaced by his evil twin. You may remember that Red Toe was Kim's best friend for a while: he would come running every time she got close to the chicken yard, and hop up into her lap for a pat when she sat down for a session of chicken TV. We named him Red Toe because we had painted one toenail red, so we could be sure to keep him from the slaughterhouse - he was the cockerel we were going to keep.

No more...

Now Red Toe is evil. When we get approach the orchard gate (where the three cockerels headed for the stew pot are now living full-time with the chicken tractor) he still comes running, but now it's to bite us.

He is a nasty boy.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Toad lilies

This is supposed to be the time of year when I cut down and pull up everything I've been trying to grow all year, but against all odds there is something blooming instead: toad lilies. And in the most unlikely of places: at the front of the house where we conducted our major landscaping project this spring. That ground was trampled and wheelbarrowed over, big rocks were rolled across it, soil and mulch were dumped on it. We knew the lilies were there and did our best to protect them, but in the end it was just too hard and we thought they had been sacrificed. But now, a few months later, here they are blooming away, holding no grudges at their rough treatment. We're sorry, little lilies, and glad to see you now!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Settling in

The addition of our new flock has meant lots of changes at the Chicken Corral, but everyone seems to be settling in quite well. The ten new birds (nine pullets and one cockerel) are being housed in the largest of the three enclosures in the coop, and they get the run of about half the chicken yard. The cockerel is one enormous bird - we know Ev was breeding in part for size, but holy smokes, that's one big bird! We have named him Pee-wee.

Pee-wee takes his rooster duties quite seriously. He's vigilant about standing guard: looking for overhead predators when the flock is outside, and watching over the two pullets who are laying, when they're laying. He is also starting to make his amorous intentions clear, which the pullets don't seem really thrilled by, but so far he hasn't been too aggressive.

The new pullets are calm and curious, and seem to get on well together. Two of them have started to lay - and I'm not sure if it's just a matter of them being new at it, but it sure seems a long and involved process. Lots of time is spent getting the nest just right, and finding the perfect position on the nest, and clucking just the right cluck before the egg finally materializes.

I got to see the whole show first hand the other day when I was helping Kim with the nest boxes in their half of the coop. We hadn't planned on doing anything with them until Ev told us they would need to be lowered, along with all the roosts, because the birds will be heavy enough to make jumping down potentially harmful. No problem, we thought, at least until we found out the boxes had been nailed to the studs rather than screwed to the studs - which meant that in the process of being levered off the wall, they got a bit demolished.

Since they needed some reconstruction anyway, Kim took the opportunity to redesign them with a hinged top, to make them easier to clean. Here they are: open...

...and shut!

Anyway (this is turning into a long story...) this all meant that two big human beings were tromping around inside the coop while one small pullet was trying to lay an egg. What a determined little thing she was! When her intentions became clear we put an extra set of boxes outside for her, but after a group inspection...

...she decided that humans or no humans, her egg was going to be laid in the coop! So there was Kim, kneeling in the pine shavings trying to get the boxes level, and right beside her was the pullet (now named Eva, which is the closest we could get to Ova without sounding just too weird), nesting and clucking away.

I never thought in a million years I would be someone who knows what a chicken sounds like when it lays an egg.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eating the fall

Even in the second year of our Mucky Boots adventure, it's amazing to me that mid-October we can still be pulling food from the earth to eat, like the golden beets, leeks and carrots that were part of our Thanksgiving meal on the weekend. Maybe that speaks to the fact I was born and raised on the prairies, where by the time mid-October came round (in the pre-global-warming world of my youth) we'd already be trudging through snow drifts bundled in parkas and hats.

Of course not all food is being pulled up from the ground. Some of it is falling down on our heads, from the big chestnut tree near the pond. Or would be, if we were in the right place at the right time (or maybe, given the prickly nature of chestnuts, the wrong place at the right time). The tree gave us a lovely harvest of nuts last fall. It was like looking for treasure: every time I walked past it on the way back to the greenhouse or the vegetable garden I would load up my pockets with the fallen nuts scattered on the path. This year, all I am seeing is this.

Someone (a small furry someone) is beating me to the harvest. Now it's like a contest: who will get the nuts first? So far I've managed to nab three. Three. I'm clearly losing this game...

Monday, October 11, 2010


Yes, that's exactly what you think it is: our first egg.

I should clarify. Not ours, exactly, since we didn't lay it. And not an egg from our original flock. But an egg laid at Mucky Boots all the same.

The new flock we got from Ev is about nine weeks older than our existing flock, and a few of them had just started to lay before we brought them home. So yesterday, their first full day at Mucky Boots, they presented us with two beautiful creamy tan eggs. Yes, we ate them, and yes, they were really, really good.

Good chickie chickies!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

New flock comes home

This is Ev, our new friend from Coombs. We think Ev is wonderful: she's strong and resourceful, knowledgeable and down to earth, and has a great sense of humour to boot. Ev has been a farmer of one kind or another all her life and a research scientist for much of it, and her mission for the last while has been to improve the quality of the Buff Orpington flock on Vancouver Island.

Ever since Victorian times (I have read) Orpingtons have been prized for their fluffiness. Just take a look at this chicken butt, for example. But they were originally intended to be good dual-purpose birds: reliable layers, and still heavy enough to make good eating. Unfortunately, their weight has gone by the wayside as breeders prized fluffiness over meatiness. At fall fairs, for example, separate prizes are given for "beauty" and "utility" (i.e. weight). Which would you rather be known for?

So Ev is using all her research science skills to breed the utility back into the island's Orpington stock. But she can't do it all on her own, and was looking for someone to take over a flock of nine hens and a rooster, to care for them, breed them, provide her with ongoing data about their weight, and sell fertile eggs back to her for her project.

This is where Kim comes into the picture. Kim is a 20-year younger version of Ev: strong and resourceful. Maybe not as knowledgeable yet, but with a thirst for learning. And just as great a sense of humour. Kim convinced Ev she would be the perfect person to take over the flock, and so today we drove an hour-and-a-half up island to Ev's place to pick up the birds.

Ev has over 200 birds, most of them Barred Rocks, ranging freely in a very large fenced area. That presented something of a problem: catching the ten particular birds we were interested in. Fortunately Ev had lots of tricks up her sleeve, and what looked like a re-purposed wiener-roasting stick in her hand for hooking the birds' legs, and in no time we had the birds safely enclosed in two crates in the back of the truck.

Before we left Ev took Kim aside to give her suggestions about how to improve our fencing, and advice about roosts. Our Orpingtons will be heavy enough that they'll need lower than normal roosts. Flying up to the roost hasn't been a problem, but as they get heavier they can hurt their legs jumping down from too great a height. And Ev has very definite opinions about the importance of lots of ventilation in our coop, and wanted to be sure that both our existing flock and the new birds would be safely housed. That's typical of the chicken breeders we have come to know in the last few months: generous and helpful and genuinely interested in the well being of their birds.

When we got home it was getting dark, so we ushered the existing Orpintgon flock (our five pullets and the cockerel we will keep) into their section of the coop, and the Australorp trio (Gertie, Alice and Hector) into theirs, and then carefully unloaded the ten new birds. They weren't sure about it all, and quickly huddled together away from the door, and away from the clucking inspection of the old flock who had all flown up to their roosts to get a better view. Nothing like making the newcomers feel welcome...

Yesterday marked the anniversary of my first blog post: October 8, 2009. That was Kim's 50th birthday, and we spent the day putting a new roof on the wood shed. I'm amazed I've found things to write about every few days since then, and even more amazed other people seem to like reading what I write. I'm grateful for your interest, and so happy to have found friends among you. Thank you for giving me a reason to think more deeply about my days, and to create a record in words and pictures of this Mucky Boots time of my life. I'm glad you are a part of it.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


A day without a nap is like a cupcake without frosting. ~Terri Guillemets

Sure, the leaves are turning colour and falling, and the air is crisp and smells like woodsmoke, but here's another sure sign that autumn has arrived: the daily nap count here at Mucky Boots has about quadrupled.

Cat naps, dog naps, people naps. There's something about the time of year that encourages mid-day snoozes around here. It can't be that we're all short of sleep. After all, the sun is rising later and so are we, and our bedtime is coming earlier. And it's not like we don't have better things to do - there are chicken projects to be completed, a house that's only half renovated, and a garden that is crying out for its fall cleanup. But there's something about an autumn afternoon that is luring us all into dreamland.

Petunia the wild summer huntress has turned into a kitty princess who won't get her feet wet, and can be found napping on just about any soft surface in the house.

William has stopped sleeping under a bush and now snoozes for most of the day on the rocker on the verandah.

Frankie waits until he thinks we're not looking and chooses the bed as the perfect location for his siestas.

Me - well, I like the couch, cocooned in my new impossibly soft blanket.

There's nothing in the world like a really good snooze.

Monday, October 4, 2010

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