Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Little chickies' big adventure


Today was a big day at Mucky Boots: the chickies went outside!

This required some planning and preparation, since the chicks are only three weeks old. We needed to keep them warm but not too warm, and safe from anything that might like to eat them, like the resident eagles. Kim has been thinking about this for a while with her builder's thinking cap on, and a couple of days ago we started building a chicken tractor.

I don't know how chicken tractors got their name, but they are a kind of moveable coop for chickens. The idea is that you move the tractor to a different spot of grass every couple of days, giving the chickens the benefit of grass and bugs. In fixed coops, the chicken yard tends to turn into a dust yard, and fresh greens and bugs are good for chickens and result in more nutritious and tastier eggs. Some people just let their chickens roam free, but with a dog, two cats and a resident family of eagles, that isn't an option for us.



We built the tractor for about $60. It is screened with chicken wire on three sides, and has a plywood wall with a hobbit door on the fourth side. Half of it is covered with plastic, to provide more shelter from wind and rain, and half of it is open to the sky. It has a heat lamp to help keep the chickies warm for the next week or two until their feathers are more fully developed, and a waterer and a feeder. Everything a chickie could want.


We finished construction this morning, and by about 11:00 it had warmed up enough we decided it was time to bring the chickies out. They were very hesitant at first, sticking close together and doing a lot of goose-necking. But pretty quickly they started to explore, pecking and scratching at the grass and even catching and eating some bugs - good little chickies!


They're back indoors now, in their plastic crates in the bathroom - sleeping, the last time I checked in on them. Tuckered out after their big adventure.


It will be another week or so until they make the big move out of the house and into the chicken coop. They'll have lots of fun exploring the yard attached to the coop, but we'll continue to use the tractor, too.


I have to say, these little chickies are not at their most attractive these days. Kim says they're at "the dinosaur stage." They remind me of myself when I was thirteen: gawky, big feet, funny hair. I turned out alright, and I expect these chickies will, too.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Er...poppies


Yes, I know I promised the end of all the poppy pictures. But you just had to see the supernatural one that flowered this week. Wow.


The one below is growing right next door to the one shown above - it looks like it has had a nervous breakdown on top of a really bad hair day.


Now that I have broken my promise, here are two more poppies at the other end of the spectrum. No nervous breakdowns here - just simple, cool elegance.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Peas


I'm having a few issues with my peas. You might remember I struggled with mice eating the newly planted seeds - I thought I might not end up with any peas this year. Ha. Ha ha.

There is a chaotic jungle of pea plants in the pea bed. Part of it is my fault and part is the mice's fault. It turns out the mice didn't eat as many of the seeds as I thought they had. So when I planted them for the second (and the third) time, I was creating some trouble for myself. It would have been okay if I had thinned the plants once they started to sprout. But the seedlings were getting nibbled (mice again) and I thought I would keep them all a while longer for insurance. Only I sort of forgot to get around to thinning them until it was too late. Much too late.

So I have way too many plants in the bed, making it hard to spot the peas for picking. The other problem is that I planted three kinds of peas: snow, snap and shelling. Of course I planted them in orderly sections so I would know what was what. But I think the mice did a little shuffling - probably laughing all the while. I'm serious: I know they carried newly planted peas to other locations, because I now have pea plants growing in the oddest places. So I think the mice are responsible for the fact the three types of peas have crossed my carefully planned boundaries and are happily intermingling. That would be okay - I'm not that anally-retentive. But it means I don't know what to pick when.

The snow peas are meant to be picked early, when they are beautifully thin and svelte. The snap peas are meant to be picked when their pods feel plump and juicy. It's the pods that are so tasty - any peas inside are irrelevant. But the shelling pea pods need to be plump, too - only they need to be full of peas, because you don't eat the pod.

So there's a bed full of wildly mixed up pea plants, and I'm staring at what I think is a snow pea. But is it really a snow pea, or is it really a snap or shelling pea that I should leave until it plumps up? If I leave it, I might get a tough, aged snow pea that's not worth eating. On the other hand, what a waste if if I guess it's a snow pea and pick it and it's really a shelling pea.

To complicate things even further, I clearly have something to learn about when to pick shelling peas. I managed to find a pod in the midst of the pea chaos that I was quite confident was a shelling pea pod, and it looked in its prime: plump, firm, just ripe for picking I thought. There it is, in the picture at the top of the post. Here's what it looked like when I opened it up.


Not quite what I was hoping for. You practically need a magnifying glass to see those peas. They were tasty, though.

I did manage to locate, correctly identify and pick a handful of snow peas yesterday, and they wound up in the salad I made for supper: leaves picked from the still growing cabbages (shredded), garlic scapes (sliced), the snow peas (slivered), and green onions (cut up fine), all from the garden. With a dressing made with good mayo, curry powder and lime juice. Yum.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mystery herb


I need some help. Please. I can't identify this herb that is growing in the vegetable garden. There's a lovely, healthy clump of it and at first I thought it was chamomile, until I grew some myself and realized they look very different.


The flowers are about an inch across, and the plant itself is about two feet tall. The leaves taste unpleasantly bitter, so that can't be the part of the plant you use!

Any and all suggestions welcome...

Also flowering in the herb garden is a clump of sage - how lovely!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June glory


My favourite flower, hands down, is the peony. I love how gorgeously blowsy they are, how they bloom with such abandon they need help to stay upright. They give me all the pleasure of an impressionist still life with no artist required. And they make me think of my of my grandmother who grew them in her West Vancouver garden.

Usually it feels like I don't have enough time to appreciate them while they are blooming - after all, June is the second busiest month for a teacher, after September. Now in my post-teaching life, I have had more time to enjoy the peonies in the garden this year - but still not enough time, since they don't last very long. But that makes them even more special.


There are lots of peonies at Mucky Boots, and every day they bloom I thank the gardeners who came before me who put them there. Especially the one who thought to surround them with purple scented geraniums.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Carrots


You may remember that one of my gardening resolutions for the year was to grow better carrots. Last year's carrots were pretty much pathetic: stunted, forked, riddled with black lines. Ick. We ate some, but it wasn't the pleasure it should have been.

Today I turned a corner in my development as a gardener: I pulled the first two carrots from this year's garden and they are perfect! Even though I picked them early, they are long, beautifully tapered, and completely unblemished. Of course now that I write that, an infestation of some weird bug will descend tomorrow and turn them all into the mutant carrots I had last year....

But for now they are wonderful, and I am feeling quite tickled with myself.

The secret? Using row covers from the time I seeded until the greens were about 8 inches high (I would have left the cover on longer, but it was needed elsewhere). And I think planting in a bed where I grew potatoes last year helped, too - all the digging and re-digging and digging again for all the little AWOL potatoes meant the soil was deeply dug and beautifully loose, perfect for growing long, straight carrots.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

We are big chicks...


... and we have wings - and even the start of some tail feathers!


Now that our chicks are a fast-growing reality, instead of just a plan, we have had to hurry up and finish the repairs to the chicken coop - those little fuzzballs are going to outgrow their plastic crates pretty darn quick, and the coop needs to be ready. So we have been unloading all the garden furniture we stored there over the winter, and finding new homes for the other odds and sods we have housed temporarily in the coop. This week we'll scrub out the coop and whitewash it inside.

And remember the new gate Kim built back in March?


Since then Kim built the new gate for the orchard, and another one for our neighbour, and now the chicken gate just doesn't look so good anymore: earnest, sincere and solid, but lacking a touch of whimsy. So while I was weed-whacking out the chicken yard, Kim got busy building, and here's the new gate. Much better!


Thursday, June 17, 2010

First strawberries of the year


And did they ever taste good!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Chicken nursery renos


If you have come to know Kim at all through this blog you'll know she's a builder at heart. Take those builder's instincts and add a newly hatched love for her little chicks, and what do you get? Renovations to the chicken nursery.

The nursery started as a perfectly adequate plastic box with wood shavings in the bottom, a waterer and a feeder. Everything a young chick could ask for. But not good enough for Kim.

She started to worry that the chicks didn't have enough room. So we added a second plastic box, a second waterer and a second feeder, plus a rotating schedule of swap-outs from box to box so the chicks would all continue to be comfortable with each other.

Then she read that chicks need to learn how to perch on a round stick of some kind. Apparently that's how grown birds sleep at night. So she added a roost in each box. The chicks initially viewed it as an obstacle in their path from one side of the box to the other, but some are now getting the hang of it.


Some are even learning to fall asleep on it. These chicks are about to do the beak-first nosedive into the wood shavings we now recognize as chicks' usual way of falling asleep.


The chicks are very active, and flap around a lot, so the last addition was a screened-in lid for each box, to keep the chicks safe where they belong.

So far we can't tell any of these chicks apart except for one. This one is noticeably lighter in colour than the others, bigger in size, and seems to have a different temperament as well: calmer, friendlier, more curious. This little chick has quickly become Kim's favourite, and we have decided that if it turns out to be a little rooster, it will be the one we keep.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Scapes



Toady we had our first real meal of the season from the garden. Not completely, but substantially. It was prompted by the discovery of garlic scapes in the garden.


Scapes are the flower of the garlic plant, and their appearance tells you the garlic is getting close to being ready to harvest. When they curl around in a full circle you can either wear them as bracelets or cook with them. We did both.


We made a frittata with chard and spinach from the garden, seasoned with the sliced scapes, onions and feta, and had it with a salad - also from the garden - decorated with nasturtium petals. Yum.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

More poppies



If I'm not boring you with posts on our chicks, I'm probably boring you with posts on our poppies. So if you've had enough about the Mucky Boots poppy explosion, thank you very much, and want to move on to something else, please feel free.

We've had our challenges in the growing department this year, what with the crappy weather and the deer and the mice and the strange diseases attacking our fruit trees. But for some reason our poppies are really, really happy. And the cavalcade is unending, with lots more to come. The deep red ones are like velvet, and the orangey-red ones I swear would glow in the dark. The pink ones are as frilly as a tutu, and the yellow ones as refreshing as a cool drink on a hot day. And they are big!

So here are a few more photos of Mucky Boots poppies. These may not be the last - there is an entirely different kind of poppy, one I don't even remember from last year, getting ready to bloom. It makes me think the word has spread, and poppies from all over the neighbourhood are coming to join the parade.





Friday, June 11, 2010

First feathers


I promise - I really do - not to write endless posts about our endlessly fascinating chicks, but am I allowed to have at least a few?

The chicks have been very busy eating, pecking, scratching, trying out their little wings, and pooping. Mostly pooping. They poop everywhere: in their water, in their food, and on each other. Kim is in charge of the chickens, so she has been very busy, too, cleaning up the poop in the water, in the food, and on the chicks. Kim being Kim, she has also been devising ways to elevate the water and food dishes above bum height, to keep the poop out.

The little fuzz-balls have been getting more active and feisty every day. When we handle them, as we are supposed to do, they now peep loudly and indignantly, and even try to peck our hands with their little beaks. We have discovered they have an interesting reaction to danger: they instantly freeze, en masse. It's like a game of Statue - all peeping immediately stops and wherever they are, whatever they are doing, they freeze. We discovered that by accident yesterday when something one chick did caused me to laugh out loud. Apparently my laugh is frightening.

As Natalie warned us, they are growing up - fast! They already have their first feathers, on the tips of their wings.

Speaking of wings, I have been trying to keep in mind the fact that - theoretically, at least - we'll be eating some of these chickens in a few months. But somehow the gap between fuzzy little ball of yellow fluff and crispy chicken wings on my plate is just too big to bridge right now. Is there anyone out there who remembers their first time eating a chicken they raised? Any advice for us?

And lastly, here is a slightly wobbly hand-held video of our chicky-babies.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Peep!



We have chicks! Ten beautiful Buff Orpington chicks, home at last.

Today wasn't the day we were expecting them - they were supposed to arrive from the hatchery on Thursday. But we got a call this morning from the local farm store that has been dealing with the hatchery for us, and it wasn't good news. For the third time the hatchery indicated they couldn't fill the order. We were clucking mad! But it forced us to search once again for a local alternative.

We'd gone this route before, without any luck. We knew we needed chicks, not grown hens, because we don't know enough to be able to determine how old an adult bird is. But all the chicks listed on local websites were being snapped up as soon as the ads were posted. Today we got lucky. A woman in our old stomping grounds on the Saanich Peninsula who raises heritage chickens posted an ad this morning for ten Buff Orpington chicks that were hatched yesterday. And about five minutes later we called her up and those chicks were sold - to us! So we hopped in the car and brought them home in a cardboard box.


We weren't quite ready for them, because we'd been planning for Thursday, so as soon as we got home we were putting out fresh shavings, filling food and water containers, and double checking instructions in our chicken books. We took the chicks out of the box one by one, checked for poopy bums (a daily task), dipped their little beaks in water to show them where it was, then settled them on their feet in their new home.


We're in love with these chicks, but boy, do we have a lot to learn. Kim was distraught when she thought one of the chicks had died. It had nose-dived beak-first into the bedding, wings spread out, and its eyes were shut - it looked dead. Turns out it was just sleeping.


The chicks themselves are doing a good job of telling us what they need, at least when it comes to temperature. From how huddled together or spread apart they are in relation to the heat lamp, you can tell whether they're too hot or too cold. We've adjusted the height of the heat lamp at least eight times so far, and I think we've finally got it right.

Chicks!

*&$%!! deer


This is what greeted us yesterday morning when we went out to the orchard. Our newly deer-proof-fenced orchard.

This freshly planted Lapin cherry tree probably doesn't have enough leaves left to photosynthesize sufficient food for the tree to live until next spring. We'll pamper it and care for it and do our best to see it through, but it doesn't look good.

A few of the other trees were munched as well, but none this badly. We are stunned.

Once we got over our immediate shock we made a circuit of the fence line, trying to figure out how a deer could have got in. Our neighbour Nick didn't have any new damage to his trees, so we don't think a deer got in over the fence we share with him. There is one spot at the back where the existing fence sags a bit, leaving a gap between the top of it and the lowest of the three wires we strung. It would take an athletically-gifted jumping deer to thread itself through that gap, but maybe it's possible. So we strung an extra line of wire there and in a few other places we can't imagine a deer getting in, but we were desperate to try everything.

Maybe 7 1/2 feet high just isn't enough?

What I can't figure out is why a deer would go to so much trouble to get into our orchard. After all, we live in the middle of a forest, with lots of tender green things for a deer to eat. And judging from the number of leaves bitten off but lying whole on the ground, the deer didn't even like the taste of our tree that much.

Our neighbour Nick, the source of much helpful farming wisdom, encouraged us to not get too riled up about it. His idea is that you do the best you can, but count on losing things every year, to deer or rabbits or insects or diseases - it's all part of the life. Instead of focusing on the 20% you lose, revel in the 80% you successfully grow.

We're working on it.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

What a difference a day makes



The sun came out yesterday. After I don't know how many consecutive days of rain, the sun finally came out. It shone and shone. Working outside, I was warm, then hot. The sky was blue with just a few wispy white clouds. It was great.

Of course we're back to grey and rainy today, but there you go.

While the sun was shining I went out to the garden to see how the veggies were responding to the unusual warmth. Would they even know what the sun was for?

The first thing I saw was the row of potato buckets. I have been mulching heavily with straw as they grow, and they seem to like it because they're the fastest growing plants in the garden, even without the sun to cheer them on. It's time to add more straw, I think.


I have also been piling straw around the leeks and fennel, to blanch the stems of the leeks and the bulbs of the fennel. These still have a long way to go, but at least they haven't drowned in all the rain.


When I lifted back the row cover I found happy carrots. After growing nothing but strangely shaped and rust-fly damaged carrots last year, this year I am determined to do better. This bunch have been getting the star treatment, with a deeply dug and composted bed, obsessive-complusive weeding, and a row cover to keep the bugs away, and it shows. I even pulled one up just to check, and although it was tiny, it was blemish-free and tasted perfect.


This bed has something of everything in it: cabbages, radishes, spinach, chard and along the edges, beans. I've had a few problems with this bed: the cabbages are happy enough, but everything else has been growing very, very slowly. Either that or dying. The beans have been such a disaster I have recently replanted them, and now the new seedlings are emerging only to be eaten by something. This bed has a long way to go.


On the other hand, the garlic is happy. I keep checking for scapes, but so far no sign of any, which is an indication of how far behind we are, compared with last year.


Another of my gardening resolutions for the year was to take better care of the blueberries, and it seems to be working. Bushes that were almost bare last year are sporting a healthy batch of berries now. We'll have to put up nets soon to protect the bushes inside the vegetable garden from the birds.


And the strawberries are coming along s-l-o-w-l-y. We mulched them with straw as soon as they started to flower, to protect the berries from catching leather mould from the soil, which happened last year. I'll let you know how it works.

According to the weather forecast we're in for at least a few more days of at least showers, if not rain. I'm thinking I might haul out a few bags of the raspberries we froze last year and make jam and pretend it's summer...
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