Monday, May 26, 2008

Kiwi coop!

Here it is, the new combination hardy kiwi arbor and chicken coop, both inside and out.  Yes, that is an antique stained glass window.  Although it is there for my benefit (it makes to coop more of an asset to the landscape than it might otherwise be, and is beautiful to look at when cleaning out the coop liter), it also allows in light that the chickens need to be healthy and to lay well.  The overall run is 9 feet long by three feet wide, and the elevated coop covers an area 5 feet by 3 feet.  There are two nesting boxes (although they usually all lay in the same box) and a nice little egg door that allows us to collect eggs from the outside.  The entire coop has a metal roof and is fenced with 1/2 inch hardware cloth from 12 inches underground up to the 6 foot roof area.  One end of the run has a full sized door so we can walk in to rake out old straw or to add fresh water.  

The tiny kiwi plants you see at the base of the arbor posts just went into the ground this weekend.  I have great hopes for them, but did just find out that, apparently, kiwi leaves are delicious treats for hens.  The poor male kiwi was stripped of all it's leaves within a few seconds of letting the hens out of the pen today.  The squash continue to grow, the sugar snap peas are shutting down, and the tomatoes are in flower.  

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Not babies anymore; fertilizing; first squash

Here is a photo of the first, tiny zucchini squash of the year.  Some folks pick the squash, with blossom, at this stage to cook and eat.  I'm going to wait for the bigger prize.  Squash grow very fast, so unless we have a problem from one of the many insects who feast on squash, I may be harvesting this one this week.    You may note that the squash plant, like the green beans, are too yellow.  I think that the plants here are suffering from the combination of low pH (I have limed the bed, but it has not yet taken full effect) and the use of nitrogen by the soil  microorganisms as they break down all the uncomposted organic matter I added to this bed.  I couldn't apply a second round of blood meal, as the dog liked the smell way too much, and jumped up into and began digging in the bed.  So, to help the plants while this bed becomes more stable, I added about 2 cups of an 8-8-8 fertilizer, scuffed it into the soil, and then watered it well.  I kept the fertilizer away from the very base of the plants to avoid any fertilizer burn.  
Here are the chicklets, not so small any more.  The big fluffy thing is our dog's tail.  Bunnie is the big one, with the bright gold striping.  Lena is the little black one that still looks more like a song bird than a chicken.  Expresso is the striped one with the gray (called blue in chickens) undertone.  Expresso came from the elementary school 4H embryology hatch.  We won't know for a few more weeks who, if anyone, in this bunch is a hen.  I'm getting worried, as combs are starting to show pink, and early coloring in the comb is supposed to be the sign of a rooster.  I'll let you know who crows.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Too many pears; pineapple guava flowers

Look at all the beautiful young fruit on the pear tree.  This is one of the hardest things for me to do:  thin healthy, perfect fruit when too many have successfully established themselves on the branches.  Last year I had a branch snap off because the weight of the pears was just too much.  Even though I know it is best to just go ahead and cut off at least half of these, I am so afraid that, as soon as I do, birds, bugs, or storms will take the others, leaving me wondering if I would still have a crop were it not for the thinning. . . 
Those amazing flowers on the plant with the dark, glossy leaves:  pineapple guava!  This is the first time they have flowered in my yard, and I am so pleased.  The flowers are spectacular to look at, with thick, fleshy petals and wonderful colors.  I hope they set a few fruit - although I will have to learn how to use/eat the fruit if they do.
Pauline laid her third double yolk egg today.  She clearly is looking for praise and attention!  The baby chicks have moved to the mini coop and the ladies/hens have moved to the new kiwi coop.  Everyone seems quite happy.  The chicks (there now are three, as we added one from the elementary school hatch - I want to be sure we have at least one hen) are hysterical, flying back and forth in the coop, challenging one another in mid air.  Too, too funny to watch.  
Tonight for dinner we will have both a beautiful mixed greens salad and sugar snap peas from the garden, and my first basil harvest to give a fresh seasoning to pasta.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Coming new to the garden

I don't have a photo today, but wanted to post a garden update. Everything is growing strong, except my pole beans , which are pale and scraggly. I am not sure what the problem is. I imagine that this bed has no nitrogen fixing bacteria to colonize the bean roots, but the fertilizer in the bed should make up for that. (Did you know that beans develop a relationship with special bacteria that form nitrogen "fixing" nodules on the beans roots? In the nodules the nitrogen is put into a form available to the plants.) The tomato crop has especially heavy main stems and sturdy leaves (a real plus in this past weekend's massive winds). Oh, and the orangequat now is covered with blossoms (not just one or two as it was a few weeks ago). I am very, very excited about possibly harvesting citrus in my yard.

The big news: Some new additions to the garden have arrived, and will be planted this week. I have 2 muscadine grape vines, 2 varieties of hardy kiwi (tiny, grape sized kiwi that you eat skin and all), a pomegranate bush, and a plum (a risk, I know, in our environment). The best part is the combination kiwi arbor and new chicken coop that was just completed this weekend! Photos to come as all these new fruits are added to the landscape.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Bee string, greenhouse lizard, Lou update

I don't know what the bees were doing here.  They will hold onto one another in strings like this when they are "measuring" inside the hive, but these were on the front of the hive in the early morning.  It is so fascinating to watch them, and they seem to have so many complex interactions with one another.  They all are working in a frenzy right now.  I need to open the hives soon to see if there is any honey being collected and to make sure all is well in the brood boxes.  The second photo is not from my yard, but is a picture I snapped with my cell phone this week in a local greenhouse.   The green lizard on the red and white flower was just too good to pass up, even though I did not get the lizard himself in the clearest focus.  For those of you who have been wondering:  Lou seems to have gotten over whatever led her to be ill earlier this week.  She was only sick for one afternoon, then was back to her old self.  The newest chicken issue at our house:  they have found the steps up to the back porch, and like to roost there.  I don't want chickens on my steps or porch.  Hmmmmm.  I will have to figure how to break this habit quickly.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Snap peas and mixed vegetables; sick chicken

The vegetable gardens have taken off this week.  The sugar snap peas are almost 5 feet tall, and are covered with blossoms and young peas.  We will be harvesting sugar snap peas in the next few days; I can't wait.  The other photo shows how I like to mix things up in my planting bed.  You see a tomato, hot pepper, basil plant and marigold adjacent to one another.  I like to mix things together both for looks, and in hopes it may help keep pest populations reduced.  I do still have 8 tomato plants right down the middle of the bed, 5 different varieties.  I put them a bit too close together this year, just because I couldn't stand not to plant them all.  (I also have tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and fingerling potatoes in one of the front yard flower beds.)  I had to add lime to one of my beds this week, as my soil test results showed a very low pH (probably from all the peat used as organic matter in the bed).  Today I also gave everything a drink of fish emulsion fertilizer ( 1 tablespoon in a gallon of water).  It gives a great, slow release boost.    
Bee update:  Loretta's hive swarmed this week.  I gave the swarm to a friend, as I do not need another hive of bees.  All three remaining hives are working hard.  
One last item:  we may have a sick chicken.  Lou was sluggish this afternoon, and within an hour laid one, and then another, soft shelled egg.  This was after laying her regular egg this morning with the other ladies.  She now seems back to normal, eating, drinking, and scratching.  We have our fingers crossed that she is ok, but are trying to find out what would have caused her earlier problems.  It was scary when she seemed so ill; I would hate to lose her (and possibly have an infection that could spread to the others).  The two chicklets (Lena and Bunnie) are doing well.  They already have wing feathers coming in.  I imagine they will be pretty irritated about their names if they are roosters, but I am really hoping they are hens.