Monday, October 21, 2013

RIP Lulu and the Frost Has Come

In hind sight, it was a warning sign that Lulu's eggs were always wonky in shape.  They generally had the overall egg shape, but they were uneven and no eggs were ever remotely the same.  We lost Lulu to Egg Yolk Peritonitis.  It's a condition that can progress fast in some cases and can often be deadly.

The day after I posted the last entry on this blog, I noticed that Lulu had bloody rump with some egg yolk dripping.  I bathed her in warm saline water to remove the yolk and blood to find that she seemed to have a prolapsed cloaca (hemorrhoid of the egg chute).  I looked up as much information as I could find on the internet and followed the emergency care instructions carefully and the cloaca stayed in.  We put her in a separate cage to protect her from possible attack from our other birds although they were not pecking on her.  One weird thing I was noticing was a farting sound frequently coming from Lulu's behind.  It almost sounded as if air she was breathing in was blowing right through her rear.  I couldn't find any info on that anywhere online. :(

The next morning, the prolapse was back and larger although we kept her dark and warm to keep her from laying (and she didn't lay an egg).  I bathed and examined her once again and that was when I noticed that I could feel a spongy chest (generally a sign that fluid buildup is taking place in the lungs), wheezing, and what seemed like a ruptured intestine hanging out next to her prolapsed cloaca.  Things were not looking good for poor Lulu.  Took her to the vet, expecting to hear the worst, and sure enough, we had to put her down.  When a hen has the egg yolk peritonitis, an egg has been broken inside the oviduct, and the yolk, having inflammatory quality out of a shell causes inflammation of the tissues, and seepage into the intestinal tract also allows for bacteria to grow rapidly in the yolk to cause toxic build up in the bloodstream,  fluid buildup ,and subsequent breathing difficulty among other things.  T_T  

Dorito seemed upset for days.  She would come running up to me and vocalize as if to demand to know where I took Lulu to.  She didn't like Fiona from the start and she would boss her around especially near the food or inside the coop.  Fiona is the first to retire when it starts to get dark, but Dorito would later go in and chase her off the roost.  Things went on like this for about 2 weeks.

Frosted mum in sunlight.
Lately though, something changed.  Fiona is finally back laying eggs regularly after molting (hens don't produce eggs during molt), and she's also looking much better with all her feathers in place.  I've noticed that Dorito was no longer pecking or threatening to peck Fiona when they get treats from me.  And they walk and run side by side (with their bodies touching even), and they both sleep on the roost now.  I think Dorito finally got over the loss of Lulu and accepted Fiona as her sister.  After all, there are only two of them now.  I feel very sad.  It will be months before chicks will become available (whether through the original web site where I purchased the first flock or at farm supply stores), and then we'll have to keep them separated until the new flock reach the same size as the older sisters.

We're experiencing a serious drop in egg production. ^^;  I wouldn't mind just looking for a layer hen or two from farms in the area, but I also terribly miss Frigglish and Coco.  They were so tame and friendly.  I miss the contact and connection.  I'm feeling more and more towards waiting till spring and get the chicks to start over.  Use the winter months to build additional space for the possible new chicks.  Fiona is finally letting me pet and eat from my hands, but I still have not held her yet. ^^;  Although both Dorito and Fiona have really warmed up to me in recent weeks.

The first killing frost came last week.  The tender plants were killed overnight.  It was an early frost for our area.  We usually don't get it until late October or beginning of November.  I am still harvesting tomatoes from the dead vines. ^^;  Some of the hardy herbs are still looking good and strong, too.  And my chickens' favorite, broccoli, still have lots of leaves to pluck and feed. ^_^

Frosted Mexican Sunflowers in morning sunlight.  

Frosted marigolds.

Strawberry leaves with frost.

It's always disheartening to see the leaves turning dark and droop after the killing frost.  I'm never prepared for the good-bye to the fresh garden vegetables.  It's always a shock to the system.  Thank goodness for the hardier plants to prolong the harvest season and soften the shock. ^^;

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Meet New Chickens and Photos of Garden

Goodness me!  I didn't realize it's been this long since my last blog entry.  First one since June. XD  I guess I was busy with work all summer long...

Something bad happened in late August.  4 of my chickens went missing without a trace.  I was left with Dorito, the Golden Comet hen only.  Maybe they were taken by wild animals... or somebody stole them... after all, they were pretty tame and used to people because I spent a lot of time with them, feeding, talking to, and handling. T_T  I miss my girls.

Well, it bummed us out to see poor Dorito all alone and sulking/moping in the corner of a backyard for a few days after the others went missing.  I wanted to get her new sisters -- although I knew it wasn't quite the same as "sisters from chickhood".  Still, it's better than a relatively social animal being left alone for the first time in her life.  I started looking at classified ads online and checked the local Craigslist.  After a dozen calls and e-mails, I got a call back from a lady who had a half a dozen 1-year-old laying hens for sale.  Well, the girls were just a week short of their first birthday, so I thought, "This is perfect!".  After talking to her, I also found out that she had some Ameraucana and Easter Eggers who lay green and blue eggs.  (Most of the classified ads only had Buff Orpingtons or roosters.)  We made arrangement shortly afterwards to go visit the farm and pick out the chickens for purchase. :D

She was selling her birds for only $8 each, which is a bargain, really.  The chicks I bought were more than half that, plus the Priority Mail shipping with special packaging costs a lot, although the joy of raising chicks was well worth the cost, I feel.

The only trepidation I had was how the 1-year-old chickens from a large flock (I mean, she had 6 or so for sale, but the rest of the flock was a large family of maybe 50 in her very large coop/run set up.) would warm up to Dorito, and to me and my family, if at all.  I had a faith that these birds are smart enough to associate food with the feeder, so if I spent enough time talking and feeding them various treats (by this, I mean, healthy treats like rolled oats, garden greens, yogurt, etc.), they'd eventually get used to me and be as friendly as the first flock.

Well, it took about 3 weeks before they finally warmed up to me enough to eat greens from my hand and another week to come running to me when I go out the backdoor and when I come through the gate after errands.  I love it!  It's so sweet to see them come running to me.  They may be just wanting food, but they look as sweet as a dog that is so happy to see you. ^_^

Dorito, on the right, is so bossy.  She does look more like a small rooster with her well-developed comb and wattles, and even bumps on the back of her legs where roosters would have spurs.  She used to mount on one of the sisters even. ^^;  One on the left is our new girl, Fiona.

Fiona came to us in early stage of molting.  She also had a big bald spot on her back where she was being mounted by an overzealous rooster frequently. ^^;  The back feathers have grown back, but she is missing all of her pretty black tail feathers.  She is also growing her muffs back.  Once all the feathers are back, she'll be beautiful!  She lays green eggs.

This is Lulu, the blue wheaten Ameraucana.  She is the smallest, but she has established herself as the sidekick of Dorito and number 2 of the flock.  She lays lovely pale blue eggs, but they're always a little bit wonky in shape. XD

Super lush and over-grown!  And protected by chicken wire fencing. XD  The six Square Foot Garden boxes had to be protected from the girls who treat them like the all-you-can-eat buffet.  Every now and then, I see one of the hens looking lost and stuck inside the fenced garden area.  They can fly if they wanted to.  But they don't feel very secure when they're all alone.  It seems that the lone bird does not seem to cause much damage to the crop.  When they find something as a group though, they can eat an entire mature broccoli plant in one feeding frenzy.

The overflowing herb box.  I have chamomile, flat-leaf parsley, basil, dill, thyme, orange mint, and more in this box.  Endless supply for cooking and for making the chicken cook smelling nice and sweet. :D

I got the bird bath for mother's day.  I have been putting some cut plants in there to give bees some place to perch.  All the marigolds are volunteer plants from last season.  I love the way they keep blooming!

From slightly different angle, showing the spring veggies box up front.  The Swiss chard is so productive I have an endless supply for my cooking and the chicken's treat.  They get so much fresh veggies in their diet their eggs have beautiful bright orange yolks.  I should dry some herbs, greens, and tomatoes for winter treats. ^_^

The last photo today is that of my volunteer morning glory vines.  They are so prolific.  We finally had a year with decent amount of rain throughout that leaves are extremely lush and dense.  These vines completely cover a section of the fence.  I love morning glory vines.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Garden Update

Well, it's been hot and dry!  Colorado is experiencing a very dry, hot (and often windy) summer yet again.  We already have a lot of fires going.  One in particular has been devastating...  Luckily, our area is relatively untouched by the fire, just occasional smoke from shifts in wind direction causing hazy skies.

We have started free ranging our chickens.  At first, under strict supervision (because of our cats).  Now that the cats don't show as much interest after nearly being pecked from getting too close, we are now letting them do some free ranging on their own.

For the most part, the girls leave the garden boxes alone.  But the corn box was hit hard one afternoon, and this Summer Veggies Box is showing some damage by the birds.  Look closer at the cauliflower plant.

At first glance, it looks like cabbage worm or grass hopper damage, but no, this is all by our girls within a very short time period while they were unsupervised... T_T   At least, they left the cauliflower head for us. :D  They like Swiss chard, lettuce, anything in the cabbage family (cauliflower and broccoli), and corn!  Our corn plants have been severely set back. T_T

But they leave the Herb Box completely alone.  They seem to not like anything with strong scents.  They don't mess with the tomato plants or the mint plants, either. :)  By the way, the herbs have grown to fairly decent size now.  I can enjoy them in my cooking on a daily basis, which is wonderful!

Here's a look at our dill plant.  Very tall already and flowering.  Chickens leave this plant alone.  I like the way it looks.   Reminds me of fireworks. :)

Banana Pepper plant is showing a baby fruit growing on a not-so-tall plant in my Summer Veggies Box.  I loved the ones I got from our neighbor last year, I decided to grow my own.

Eggplant, a Japanese variety called Ichiban.  It's my favorite.  One of the local nurseries always offer seedlings.  I make my trip out of the way to get them. ^^  Since I didn't have enough for myself last year from a single plant, I planted two this year.

Beefmaster tomato plant is starting to bear fruits.  This plant was slow to get going, so I was worried, but I am now seeing baby fruits.  This year, I am not growing any heirloom tomatoes, although I love them very much.  Last year, they were off to a great start, and they were hit by some disease, and it was heartbreaking to see them slowly die or barely surviving with small fruits on the vine.  I am growing disease-resistant hybrids this time around.  I have three different types in my backyard this year.

Here's another tomato plant.  It was supposed to be "Pink Girl", but judging from the pear-shape of this baby fruit, I'm suspecting either yellow pear or something similar...  Swapped ID tags!

And here's a beautiful globe of onion flowers! :D  I grew this one from seeds (planted last spring).  This one overwintered in the box in the backyard and now has a bloom cluster atop a 3-ft stem.  How it's been surviving the mischievous cats and the high winds is a mystery to me. ^^

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Garden Update

We are now consistently hitting lower to mid 90s for daily high.  With the high temperature, comes explosive growth. :D

Here's a look at the SFG boxes in the backyard.  We now have 6.  I got a bird bath for my birthday to make water available to the bees and other insects that come to the backyard (And to entertain my cats...).

The Spring Veggies Box is overflowing with fresh goodness! :D  The peas in the back are really productive right now, and some of the greens are already bolting.  You can see the yellow flowers of Bok Choy, and pale pink flowers from Radish. ^^;

These pretty yellow flowers belong to Bok Choy.  I guess it's already too warm for them.  They look like rape flowers.  The bees seem to love the flowers though.  I also like the cheerful lemon yellow flowers. :)

And here's a look at the Bee Garden Box.  The Pansy, Snapdragon, and Lobelia I planted fairly early in the season have really taken off and are blooming profusely.  I love the fresh colors! :D  I see different types of bees in this section of the backyard.

A close-up view.  I really should have pulled those "cat deterrent" sticks out.  XD  They're ruining the otherwise lovely view. T_T  I really love the watercolor-like hues!

I put fresh blooms and sprigs of mint in the bird bath to make it look pretty as well as giving bees places to land.  :D

I know this is not a bee, but a wasp, but you get the idea. :)  The insects (bees, wasps, butterflies, lady bugs, flies, etc.) come to drink from the bird bath.  I don't mind wasps at all.  I see them in my garden every season, and they are good pest control (They hunt for caterpillars and carry them away.).

Cornflower (or Bachelor's Buttons) in blue, purple, and lavender.  The deep magenta color is from the Sweet Williams.  The bees love these flowers.

Summer Veggies Box.  Cabbage plants are taking up good amount of space up front.  You can see tomato plants, eggplants, banana pepper, and an ornamental pepper plant.  The overgrown radishes are going crazy in the front as well. ^^;

And this is one of the two newly added boxes.  This one is planted as my Herb Garden (Although I did put a cherry tomato plant in the middle. ^^; ).  I have Sweet Basil, Flat-leaf Parsley, Thyme, Orange Mint, Dill, and Cilantro.  Too small to see just yet are seedlings of Garlic Chives and German Chamomile.  They sprouted up very quickly in this soil mix and are doing very well.   I love having fresh herbs for cooking. :D

The other addition this year is dedicated as a Corn Box.  There's nothing much going on just yet, so I will add the photo of the Corn Box in my next update.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pics from the Garden

We had a nice stormy day yesterday with scattered rain showers and even some lightning and thunder.  Here in the desert west, this kind of weather is rare, and it seems to have a profound psychological effect on people's mood in a good way.  Moisture in the atmosphere is very soothing to us.  And since this region has been in a state of drought for many years now, every bit of precipitation is gratefully received. :)

As promised, I'm posting some photos of the other boxes that I didn't get to take pictures of yesterday (At some point, it was starting to rain a little too hard for me to continue gardening, and eventually got rather cold...).

This box is dedicated to the flowers for insects in our neighborhood.  I have it planted with pansy, lobelia, snapdragon, lavender, bee balm, bachelor's button, pineapple sage, echinacea, Mexican sunflower, Mexican cosmos, and chocolate mint.  Some were planted as seeds, so you don't see them popping up yet.  Bachelor's button plants are getting huge.  They were the volunteer plants from my pots in the porch that I transplanted early in spring.  The snapdragon plants were planted early, but got hit by frost a few times and they are now starting to bloom again. ^^;

This is our 5th SFG box that I just planted yesterday.  Mostly herbs except for the cherry tomato plant in the center.  I have sweet basil, orange mint, flat leaf parsley, dill, cilantro, and thyme.  I've just sown German chamomile and garlic chive seeds this morning.   We have the 6th box in progress, which will be planted with corn.

One of my favorite plants in spring is the pea.  I love the particular green which is slightly grey-ish and the tendrils that add to the delicate look, plus the white flowers that look like bonnets.  I think they are such feminine plants.  The peas straight off the vines are so tender and sweet!

The strawberry box is overflowing with leaves that are much bigger than last year.  These plants are so vigorous and each is loaded with fruits.  They are still blooming a lot, but I got this shot this morning by looking under the leaves.  You can see the small fruits developing. :D

Because it was a nice rainy day yesterday, we had dew drops form on the strawberry's serrated leaf edges this morning.  I took many photos of the sparkly dew drops, but this is my favorite.  These are very small, young leaves (note the lighter green color), and just looked precious with sparkling beads!!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Adding More SFG Boxes

It has been an unusually cold and long winter, followed by drastically different temperatures swinging between killing frost and 80s for some day's highs during most of spring in our area.  This type of spring is very hard on the spring-blooming ornamental trees and bulbs.  I've seen reduced blooms from lilacs and wisterias in my neighborhood, killed or severely delayed performance from red buds, roses, and other plants in general.

Our Spring Veggies SFG box was planted in March (see my previous entry), but some of the seedlings were killed by frost (like Swiss chard and spinach), and had to be started over.  So things were slow to get going. It also pushed back my spring planting for tender annuals.  I'm still in the middle of getting our fifth and sixth boxes filled with soil mix and planted.

Here's a look at the Spring Veggies box.  All green and filled out nicely.  ^^  The peas in the back of the box  is showing some cat-traffic damage. :(   Because the weather has warmed up so fast, my Bok Choy is already bolting. T_T  The salad mix is producing nicely -- enough to give our chickens daily treats as well as give me salads. :D  It's so nice to be able to eat fresh greens again!  Also, the broccoli that comes out in spring is so tender and mild, compared to broccoli that grows in the heat of summer.  Although these four broccoli plants have not produced a large head like we see in grocery stores, it's produced little versions of it, and they are so mild and tender I don't mind the small size. :)

Here's our Summer Veggies box.  This was last year's Corn box, which was later planted with some chrysanthemums and some winter greens.  Two of the chrysanthemum clumps have survived the harsh winter, so they will stay in this box and provide us with some color.  Meanwhile, I've planted some cauliflower plants (the two in the front are doing so much better than the other two behind them -- one of which has already been pulled by me due to what looked like root rot), two hybrid tomato plants, red pepper, two Ichiban egg plants, sweet banana pepper, and an ornamental pepper.  I've decided to stay away from the heirloom tomatoes this year.  I had a very disappointing tomato performance last year due to some disease, so I'm planting disease-resistant varieties this time around.

I read up on the tomato diseases last summer when my plants came down with symptoms.  Some of the articles did mention that there were increased cases of certain diseases that were being spread by the tiny flying insects in dry southwest.  Unfortunately, the increased popularity of heirlooms in home gardens has also inadvertently contributed to this spread.

Something I've also been staying away from growing in my gardens is anything in the squash family.  In my area, there is a problem with those nasty stink bugs.  I've seen plants get completely destroyed by these hard-to-kill (without resorting to nasty chemicals) bugs.  I don't use any type of pesticide on my plants (both ornamental and edibles).  And if I were to battle these stink bugs, I'd be so busy patrolling, removing, and killing them on a daily basis, I'd waste a lot of time which could be spent doing more fun things.  Incidentally, our SFG boxes had "inspired" one of our neighbors last year into growing some veggies of their own in their backyard.  They had three zucchini plants among other things, but these plants were all killed by the stink bugs well before the season's end (Their banana peppers did very well though.).

Here's a look at the Strawberry box. :D  Look how lush it is!  We are really excited about the strawberries this year.  I've had some experience growing them in my childhood and I remembered how well these plants did the second season after planting -- we had berries rotting on the ground because they kept coming faster than a family of four could eat!  I worried about them so much during winter since it was so cold and I had forgotten to give them straw mulch in the fall for protection.  Luckily, they had thick snow covering them for most of winter when it was the coldest.  But during the early spring's unpredictable weather in extremes, they were pretty much exposed except for the couple of nights when freeze warming was issued and I did cover them with tarp.  Under all these leaves, there are a lot of white blossoms and some developing berries.  I can't wait to smell the berries!!!

The following two shots are from our Bee Garden SFG box (last year's Summer Veggies box).  We are planting the entire box with flowers.  Right now, only about half of the box has things growing, but I will post a photo of the entire box soon. :)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Getting Started on the Spring Veggies

I haven't written an entry in a few months about the Square Foot Garden in the backyard during the winter.   This past winter started out mild for a while, but then things turned bitter cold with a nasty inversion that stayed with us for several weeks with temperatures dipping into the negatives, which does not happen very often where I live.  The water in the chicken coop partially froze on some nights even with the heat lamp on.  The snow, once fell, stayed on the ground for weeks on end.  Things were slow to warm up and I simply couldn't imagine I'd be getting ready to plant at the end of February like on an average year.  I've just started seeing daffodils on some people's front yard.  My own daffodils just popped up with a few inches of green showing up above the ground.

With the last day of frost usually being at the very end of April to early May in our area, it's time to put cold hardy veggies outdoors.  Although today was a cold day, it was clear and sunny, so I decided to get the boxes ready for the 2013 gardening season. ^^  (I'm always too depressed at the end of the season to clean the dead growth and debris from the garden so things get picked up in the spring.)

This is what the spring veggies box looks like today.  Except for the four baby broccoli plants to the left, everything green is carried over from the previous year (Sweet Williams, mesclun, and onion).  I had dead leaves all over the box that were cleared out.  I'm expecting to see a lot of volunteer marigold plants since there were four last year and a lot of seeds were dropped. ^^;

I decided to double the Swiss Chard squares, plus increasing the number of plants from 4 to 9 per square, mainly because I ended up picking them continuously once they reached 6 inches or so last year that they never got the chance to grow to full-size to occupy the full space.  I loved eating it myself in various dishes, but the chickens also love greens, so two squares probably won't be quite enough.  I've decided to give Bok Choy a try this year.  It's one of my girls (hens) favorite greens, and like Swiss chard, I love it, too.  We're also hoping to add two more boxes this year - one for flowers and one for herbs.  Other change I'm making this year is putting some veggies together in one square -- like planting radish around broccoli in a single square.  We'll see how this works out in the coming weeks.

We will be making the boxes, plus an extended run for the chickens in the coming months.  I will also continue to plant the existing boxes with warm season vegetables.

The girls are now over 6 months old and producing eggs regularly.  From left, clockwise: Tapioca (all black), Dorito (brown), Frigglish (black & white), Puccini (gold), and Coco (white & tan).  They have discovered cooked oatmeal.  It's one of their favorite treats.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Now All Five Are Laying Eggs

Our first egg was spotted on January 18, 2013.  The girls were 19 weeks and 3 days old, so not quite 5 months old.  Whoever the first layer was, I don't know, but was a regular producer.  She has been giving us 6 eggs every week.

The first egg that I found in the coop.  When I picked it up, it was still warm.  It was so exciting to get a little "present" from one of the girls. :D  The egg was perfectly formed, but when I placed it in the egg holder in my fridge, it looked dwarfed against the store-bought XL eggs. XD

A couple of weeks later, I've collected enough to make some boiled eggs to be turned into Deviled Eggs.  Little did I know...  farm-fresh eggs are hard to peel when boiled!  I found out on the internet.  Generally speaking, older eggs peel more easily. ^^;  I ended up spending 45 minutes trying to peel these guys and was still unsuccessful.  The eggs were looking pretty sad by the time I was done peeling. T_T

Fast forward to Feb. 12, 2013.  My daughter and I went out to the coop where she spotted a weird egg (See the one of the left, middle row, in the pic.).   I was doing something else for the girls, when she yelled out, "There's a deformed egg!".  I didn't quite understand what she meant by 'deformed'.  It turns out that the egg only had a membrane in place of a hard shell...  Weird stuff we had not expected nor was prepared to see.  She said it was like jelly and creepy and refused to touch it. XD  I picked it up carefully.  Surprisingly, it held without falling apart.  I put it against the sun and I could spot a yolk inside.  So, aside from the freakish appearance, it's a 'normal' egg. XD  Later, I looked things up on the internet to find out that when young hens first start laying eggs, sometimes the first few are not quite fully formed and shell-less eggs can result.  Also, if the hens get too much treats and not enough calcium in the form of oyster shells, they can lay weird shell-less eggs as well.  Considering that other hens were laying perfectly normal eggs, we figured that this was one of the other ones just starting to lay. ^^  Sure enough, we did not see any more like this.

Coco, our Easter Egger (Ameraucana), was expected to lay greenish/bluish eggs, so we have been waiting to see the first egg from her eagerly.  She has had two previous 'attempts' where the shells were so flimsy the eggs were crushed either by being stepped on or sat on.  On the third try on Feb. 18, 2013, she successfully laid a pastel green egg with a perfect hard shell. :D  It was still warm when I picked it up.  It's so pretty!  Here in the photo above, you can see the various shades of brown eggs we get from our girls.  Some are darker and larger and rounder than the others.  But they are all from healthy, happy chickens. :D  I think it's now safe to say that we've bought our last carton of eggs from the grocery store.  We are now getting 3 to 4 eggs a day.  Plenty for a family of three.