Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Lemons and chickens

Today I did volunteer work for the Master Gardeners, at the Farmers Market. It was foggy and chilly this morning, and I was glad to get home and work in the yard. The chickens came running when they heard me open the back door of the house. I broke a bunch of walnuts for them and they ate with gusto. Later I saw them sitting on the yellow garden wagon, taking a break from being on the cold ground. They stayed there a while and then they all took off and flew/ran to the back garden where they ate various weeds and other plants.

Since I had my camera out, I thought I'd take a photo of the big, yellow lemons growing on our tree in the front yard. They just started turning yellow last week and now the tree is laden with bright yellow, creating a cheery burst of color at the house entrance. So far we have not had a cold enough snap to harm the fruit, and I'm glad about that. One year the cold came early and all the lemons turned black and fell off the tree.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Autumn in the garden

Leaves are dropping off the trees around the yard. Cool weather and brisk winds are helping with the process. Short days make for not too much time spent outdoors, and that time can be a bit chilly.

Today I watched the chickens make their rounds to various locations in the garden. They came out this morning and I gave them walnuts from the trees in the front yard. I crack the nuts with a rock and then toss the pieces around for the chickens to pick through to find the nut meat chunks. Some of them will take pieces of nuts from my fingers. I'll hold out pieces of nuts and they'll look at me, cautiously, and some of them take me up on my offer. Those brave chickens encourage some of the others to try it out. I do the same with bits of fruit, and they'll take it right from my fingers.

Later I went out to rake leaves in the front yard. This was a body-warming exercise. The walnut trees have really started to shed lots of leaves. I rake them up into piles around a few fruit trees and into the plant border along the edge of the road. The piles of leaves act as mulch and they eventually break down and condition the soil. The leaves are free organic matter falling from the sky. What could be better? I don't have to rake them up and put them into a plastic yard waste bin to be taken off the property, and I don't have to buy soil amendments from somewhere else. It is a good use of permaculture principles. I don't worry about the allelopathic properties of the walnut leaves. The plants I have under the trees don't seem to be bothered by living within the root zone of the trees, which also have allelopathic properties.

This evening I picked a bunch of collard leaves to add to a one-pot chicken, potato, onion, and garlic dish. The collards are doing well with the cooler weather, and the chickens seem not to eat the green leaves. The chard is another story. The chickens devour chard, which is fine with me. I'd rather have the chickens eat the chard than the gophers eat it. I have some plants out of their range, so I can eat some if I want. Though tonight we'll eat collards.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Working with reclaimed concrete (aka Urbanite)

I've been wanting to delineate the space in the front yard with a border of sorts. I want to build a dry-stack wall at the back side of the berm that is planted with various plants. I'm not particularly handy in this regard, and so I thought I'd do a test run on a smaller wall. A friend of mine has a pile of broken concrete at his farm, free for the taking so long as I load it. I went over there and picked through for pieces of the stuff I could imagine picking up more than once. I don't want to strain my old herniated disc in the course of this experiment. So my pieces were 8-15 lbs.

I've been thinking about this project for a while, but I hadn't really done much planning, other than knowing I'd cover the grass with cardboard, cover the cardboard with the concrete, and fill in the space with soil and plants. Measuring did not occur - this is only a test.

Space before the wall. Grass invades bed, space is not clearly delineated.
Rough draft.

Close up with herbs planted in between slabs. They will act as mortar once their roots grow.
 I've built this thing and filled it in with soil and plants, and I'll take a look at how it goes for a while. When I think about it, and observe it, for a good while, I'll think about tackling the wall that will be about five times longer. I planted culinary herbs, since the bed is near the kitchen, I moved in some irises that were out of the spotlight, I planted a couple of echinaceas that my neighbor brought over. Good thing too, since a gopher just made a snack of one of the existing echinaceas in that general vicinity.

I've since dug a trench in front of the wall, and turned the sod over, sowed it with daikon, wheat, and fava beans (my favorite fall mix). I've also put in some cuttings of rosemary and some salvias in front of the wall. This will all help to build soil and to create a place for many of those beneficial insects and pleasant hummingbirds I welcome into my yard.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A hail storm

About a week ago, the skies darkened and thunder roared through the sky. When the clouds burst we were pelted with hail of mixed sizes, from pea sized, up to walnut sized hail. All the chickens ran for cover, except the Polish rooster, who was running around the back yard in a frenzy. I grabbed a cardboard box for cover and went out after him. I caught him and put him in the box and put the box in the coop. He screamed and screamed, as roosters tend to do, and when I opened the box in the coop, he was limp. Must be some sort of playing dead, survival technique. Anyway, the hail passed and the chickens were unharmed.

The garden took a good beating. Tomatoes, peppers, chard, collards, pumpkins, and lots of other plants were shredded or dented beyond usefulness.

Hail on the back patio


One of my pomegranate plants has been laden with about a dozen fruit this year, its first year of fruiting, and the fruits have started to get that nice, red color. Then the rain came and I worried about the fruit splitting. Pomegranates and figs both split their fruit when they get too much water timed with ripening fruit. The figs split, and the chickens didn't mind eating those. A couple of the less-red pomegranates split, so I picked them and tasted them. The variety is called Sharp Velvet, and these two fruits are definitely under ripe, yet edible. I don't mind tartness in certain fruit. I am hoping the other fruits get to ripen more before more rain comes, just so I can find out what kind of sweetness this pomegranate can produce.

I think these are the most beautiful fruits around. The garnet sacs surrounding the seeds are jewel-like.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Chicken Show

The chicken show. The small ones.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Small chicks

Just a few of the eight smallest chicks in their straw yard.
The smallest chicks have been out in the small straw yard, sharing it with the bigger chicks. There is some definite territorial enforcement going on, which according to the chicken book is normal and doesn't need refereeing from me. The two groups mostly stick to themselves except when a larger chick decides to show its dominance and go after the smaller ones. A lot of peeping ensues and the small ones run off, herd like, to another side of the enclosure. Mostly it is peaceful co-existence.

The small ones still sleep apart from the larger chicks, just because their secured enclosures don't offer much room for escape for the small ones. And I can wheel the small ones into the garage overnight if it is going to be too cool at night, which I've done the past few nights. Tonight I am leaving them outdoors, under the covered patio, with several layers of row cover and a topping of burlap on their wagon. The air is still tonight.

My neighbor asked me what I'm going to do with all the eggs once the new ones start laying. Partly it depends on the size of the eggs, since the ratio might be two of their eggs to one large egg, and I could use up quite a few in making fresh pasta and such. The d'Uccle egg size is listed as "tiny" and the Cochin egg size is listed as "below average." I don't know how that relates to standard egg sizes, so I will weigh the eggs when they appear and go from there.

I sort of realized that I hadn't really put a ton of thought into what happens if I get a dozen eggs every day, no matter the size. Obviously my friends are willing to help out by accepting eggs from my chickens, but I could still have many eggs to deal with. It is several months off, so I will make a preliminary plan, and see what happens. I'm still not sure all the chicks are females, so that could knock a few eggs out of the mix.

At any rate, they are so much fun to watch at this point, I had no idea chickens could be so endlessly entertaining. I guess fifteen years without television can do that to a person.


Two different types of figs. The purple one is a Mission improved, the stripped ones are Panache. Both are delicious. All the fig trees have been producing this year, the younger ones have made fewer figs than the older trees, but that is to be expected.

I have found that my Polish chickens like figs, so if a scrub jay has hacked on apart and left it on the tree, I'll throw it to the chickens. Also the fallen figs were devoured by the chickens when they were out under the tree.

My oldest fig tree is Conadria and it makes small, greenish yellow-skinned figs with sweet, mellow interiors. They are apparently good drying figs (they'll even dry on the tree, I've read), and I have a tray of them in my solar powered food dehydrator. Hopefully good results will ensue. The dried tomatoes and dried peaches worked beautifully.

I love to eat the figs fresh, right off the tree. During fig season I usually have several figs off the tree throughout the day. They are one of my favorite edibles. They are drought tolerant once established, which is a bonus in our Mediterranean climate. The wild birds also love figs, and this year I tied flashy bird-scare tape to the largest tree, and it has worked better than no tape last year. More figs for me.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

More on the new chicks

Partridge Cochin possibly crossed with d'Uccle
All 13 chicks spent their first night together. In the morning the larger five were picking on the smaller eight, so I separated them, leaving the five in the borrowed growing coop and moving the smalls into my yellow garden wagon. They all seemed much happier being with chicks of their own size. 
Today I rolled out some temporary fencing in a small spot outside my office so the five could get out and scratch and dust in the soil. I opened the fold-down door and they were all out on the ground on their own accord, pretty quickly. I threw in some chick scratch and moved their waterer on the ground and they've been exploring the small patch of garden, under a bamboo plant. After they were clearly comfortable with the space I threw in a couple of biscuits of straw, which they took to immediately, scratching at the sides and climbing around on it. 

It will be a while before the small ones get to go on the ground, but they seem to be doing well in the garden wagon, with a mesh screen on top to keep them in and predators out. I cover the thing with floating row cover at night to protect them from any breeze.

Weather forecast is suggesting thunder and lightening for the next two days, with cooler night temps, so I'll have to make sure the small ones stay warm enough.

It is definitely different having all these chickens that can actually see their surroundings quite well. They are fast too, when going after a fly for example.
The Polish chickens we've had for a year have excellent hearing, but not such great sight on account of their puffy feather heads. It will be several weeks before the five can get put in with the Polish, and them more time still for the small ones to be introduced. It will be an adjustment for not only the chickens, but for the humans too. Good thing both chickens and humans are very adaptable creatures.

Friday, September 9, 2011


My friend got a call about some chicks a woman was looking to send to a new home. Today they showed up.  There were two boxes of them. One group of eight we figured were about 3 weeks old, and one group of five are about five weeks old.
This photo is of the smaller ones.
They are peeping away outside my office door, as dusk falls in their new yard.

Parentage is Mille Fluer or Cochin, or a mixture of the two.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Propagation success

I pruned my pomegranate during the winter. When I found myself with some long pieces of pruned  material I thought I'd stick a branch into the soil and see if it would take. It looked mostly like a dead stick poking out of the ground most of the summer, and I planted all sorts of other things around it. Squash, tomatoes, beans, and some weeds grew there too. It is in a spot I don't get around to very frequently, and today I noticed, beneath the cover of some squash leaves, the stick had sprouted leaves, about 8" high. This has been a good year for various of my propagation projects. The seedling peaches made good fruit, a fig I've nurtured from a cutting finally took off and is fruiting like mad, and it looks like even one of my olive cuttings might have survived. Seeing the pomegranate leaves today made me very happy.

The plant from which I cloned is about three or four years old and is finally fruiting. I will try propagating more of the plant when I prune again this winter. There is a time vs. money trade-off in the process. I have the time to increase my plants in this manner. If I didn't have the time I'd be spending about $25 each for almost any of those trees. More than those two factors, I like the challenge of propagating trees in this way.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Permaculture Teacher Training

I've just been to a week-long permaculture teacher training and retreat in New Mexico. We were 22 students who have all been through the PDC training. Scott Pittman and Larry Santoyo were our teachers. It was a great and intense experience and it has given me much to think about in regard to the directions I want to go in to explore my place in the permaculture community.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Permaculture and Community

Recently I had the luck of finding out that a friendly couple down the road had an organic garden. I've been walking, cycling, and driving past their house for years and through a series of events and correspondence, found myself invited for a visit to the garden.
Community is important in Permaculture and I've struggled somewhat with that portion of my practice. So it was incredibly wonderful to get to know about the organic garden down the road, and the gardener who tends it. Her garden, like ours, is in gopher infested land. She has several raised beds with hardware cloth under them to keep the gophers from accessing her bounty. Her trellises are sturdy wire (cattle panel) supported by stakes. Her tomatoes were tall and well-supported. She waters with what appears to be a drip system. The set-up produces quite an impressive yield. I came away with my bicycle basked filled with trombetta squash, tomatoes of various sorts, and some Asian cucumbers, all grown on trellises. Sharing from the garden seems to be a fairly common trait among my gardener friends and it was great to bring organically grown vegetables home from her garden.

I brought along a container of winter pie pumpkin seeds for her to try growing next year.

When I return from Permaculture teacher training, I plan to invite her over for a visit to my non-linear permaculture jungle garden. By then the pumpkins and squash will likely have taken over most of the front and back gardens.

Tomatoes, squash, and cucumbers from a garden down the road.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Seedling Peaches

The large peach tree in the back yard has been in decline since before we moved here. I made a few years of mistakes in thinning and pruning the tree, causing it to lose a few limbs in the process. This year I thinned the fruit extensively and was able to get a good crop. We had a late rain in July, it rained all day and night, and the weight of the rain on a couple of branches was too much and there was more breakage. The tree still has several good, strong limbs though.
The peaches are delicious and I want to propagate the tree via grafting and have been growing rootstock for that purpose. I tried some bud grafting early this year. My grafting knife was brand new and extremely sharp. Fiddling with those tiny buds and trying to slice the exact shield shape off the rootstock ended up with me having two bloody thumbs and grafts that didn't take. I've decided to try cleft grafting in the next go 'round.
Meanwhile three of the peach seedling trees put on fruit this year. I've tried the fruit from each of them. One of them is completely sweet. One was a little bitter (I think the fruit might have been slightly under ripe) and one only had three fruits, two of which the birds devoured and the third fruit I picked when it had only just softened, and it was pretty tasty.
From the seedlings I'll have good peaches until I can teach myself to get a successful graft going from the old peach tree onto a seedling tree.

Seedling peach. Sweet fruit.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Chickens and the clover patch

My small back yard lawn/pasture has taken hold. It is a mix of grass and clover, with a few various weeds. It took a while for the clover and the grass to get going and I kept the chickens out of the area until it was well enough established to bounce back from their foraging. The area is a small island of green in a mostly bare spot that used to hold a big pile of dead ivy that I'd pulled from the huge amounts of ivy growing in the back yard. Once the ivy pile was truly dead, I used it as a cover for cardboard and newspaper that I used to cover other areas of ivy. The newspaper and cardboard over ivy approached worked quite well. Cutting, pulling, and digging ivy is quite a chore. And with that area bare I decided a small, green meadow/pasture/lawn type space would be nice. And it is nice.
I moved the chicken fencing to allow them access to a portion of the clover lawn/pasture. They moved in to explore and have been eating the clover and grass. I bring them treats from the garden, fallen peaches, seed spikes from salvias - which they peck and scratch at to get to the black seeds, and sometimes a tomato hornworm or a cricket. Egg production has slowed some with the onset of hotter weather.
Rooster in the clover lawn/pasture
The clover has begun flowering and attracts bees and even hummingbirds. The clover takes well to mowing and grows very quickly after. It is fixing nitrogen in a spot that seemed depleted when we got the place, and it is serving wildlife, livestock, and the humans in this system well.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Foxtail millet

In late May I planted the seeds of German Foxtail Millet I'd ordered from Owen at Annapolis Seeds in Nictaux, NS. He keeps a nice blog about things going on at his farm. I am growing the millet so that I can feed it to the chickens once it matures. I'd previously grown pearl millet, which the chickens seemed to enjoy eating right off the plants. Millet is an easy crop to grow, it does not need as much water as maize, and it requires less processing than maize for it to be fed to chickens. The dent corn I've grown and used for chicken scratch has to be put through the grain mill before the chickens can eat it. 

The plants in the foxtail millet stand in the front yard have just started to send out their foxtails, which will eventually extend out of the tops of the plants and hang like fluffy foxtails.
German Foxtail Millet
The stand of millet grows along with some pole and bush beans, which I harvest for dry beans, a few decorative flowers, some soybean plants, several squash plants (which are finally starting their march across the lawn), basil, thyme, melons, cucumbers, and a young almond tree. They all grow together. The pole beans climb the millet stalks.
Seeds forming in bursting patterns.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hot weather and chickens

The weather has finally warmed up and it is now officially hot. We've had a few days above 100 F and several in the high 90s (that's approx 36+ Centigrade).  The chickens do not appreciate the heat. They have feather coats on year-round, and since they are Polish chickens, they also wear rather fancy feather headdresses. So I put the mister on in their yard to help lower the air temperature, and I replenish their water dishes frequently. Still, they pant from the heat. When they go into the coop to roost they're still pretty hot, the coop has been around 80 F at around 8 p.m., when they go in.
I'll leave the door open for an hour or so, and close them up when darkness falls, still they are hot.
Since their coop is off the grid, putting a fan in there is not an easy solution. I wonder if the coop temperature would lower enough if I hang a block of ice from the ceiling. I will try it out.

At any rate, here's a super close-up view of chicken #2, with her mouth open in a pant.

Chicken #2

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Front yard progression

It started with lawn and some foundation shrubs.
Feb 2007
It got a small strip at the road edge for planting, and a ginkgo, pomegranate.
May 2008
Some circles were dug out of the lawn and planted with sunflowers and maize with beans. The first pineapple guava was planted. Sunflowers an hollyhocks at the road edge.
July 2008
A larger excavation, building a berm and basin designed to catch water running off the road. Planted with herbs, more pineapple guavas, lavender, and more.
November 2008

The shrubs started to fill out the space more, and herbs expanded.
April 2009

A rugosa rose blooms in the berm, and various shrubs expand their reach. Volunteer plants started to grow, a fig tree was one.
April 2010

Lots of herbs, blooming shrubs, the pineapple guavas are laden with blossoms this year, calendula rimmed the edge, bamboo, elderberry, lemon balm, lots of lavender and rosemary. Oregano was transplanted there in the winter and has taken hold. It will make a good, year-round groundcover. Thyme is also spreading.
June 2011
Quite a different view of the front yard from across the road now.
June 2011

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

June First - downpour

This time of year usually finds us basking in hot, sunny weather. We're usually irrigating the garden by now, and the warm-weather plants are usually on their way. Usually. This year has been an exceptionally wet spring. Good news is that it ended a three-year drought. Our water reservoirs and snow packs are all looking very well stocked. The trouble is many of us like the hot weather for which this area is known. Some things in the garden will be delayed or diminished. My white peach tree could be counted on for ripe fruit by July 4, but this year that timeline will definitely be delayed. On the other hand, some plants in the garden prefer this weather, especially the raspberries, which have produced quite well so far, and look like they will continue. Having a diversity of plants and microclimates in the garden is important when the weather is not "normal."
June 1, 2011 downpour
Today we had a big downpour, hail mixed with rain, thunder, rainbow. Last week we had all that plus a small tornado or two touching down out in the less populated area.
All this rain means water for the garden. This has become my mantra. Still, we are looking to be outside, sitting under our big shade tree, sipping refreshing beverages, and watching the resident hummingbird work the abutilon blossoms, rather than observing from inside.

At least I know my seeds and seedlings are being watered (some of the seedlings were battered by hail but many have survived). It will be an interesting season.