Monthly Archives: April 2012

Escape of the Chicks

I have two kinds of chicken tractor.  One is set up like a wheelbarrow and the other is just a box.  My husband and I go out and lift the box just slightly and move it a few feet once in a while.  It’s needs a new top for easier cleaning and access and we don’t keep chickens in it year round.  Right now it has the group I am raising to replace my current layers and the chickens we are selling or belong already to neighbors.

This week when we went to move the coop, a couple of the smart ones (yes, I know chickens are incredibly dumb, but these are smart for even chickens) decided to squeeze out underneath while we were lifting it.  The rest saw them do it and all decided to try in all directions.  We couldn’t just drop the coop and risk killing the ones currently underneath, so they all got out.  Chickens were running in every direction!  Then they had no idea what to do.  It didn’t take long before they got their bearings and started foraging all over the yard.  They were ecstatic.

I was out working so I decided to just let them roam for a bit.  At supper time I filled up their feeder and thought this is when they will all go in and I can shut the door, but they outsmarted me.  They went in groups and never all went in at the same time.  I decided at dark they would probably return.  My older chickens do.  All I have to do at night is shut the door for them.  Alas, I went out and not a single chick was in the coop.

I retrieved a flashlight and put the dog in the house because the poor guy can’t resist the little ones.  He knows he will be in big trouble if he kills yet another big chicken, but you could see the slobber dripping out of his mouth while he pointed and barely resisted the urge to snatch one up.  Poor guy.  It was like taking a kid to a candy  store and making them eat broccoli.    I searched for the chickens and saw them under the quince and the kid’s slide.  I thought I could shoo them towards the coop but they weren’t budging.  I decided to just start grabbing them from under the slide since that was easier than thorny quince and it was going along pretty smoothly.  I took one at a time and counted them to make sure I had them all.  I kid you not, it was like a clown car under there.  I kept pulling and pulling and it was a never-ending supply of chickens.  At one point I was crouched down and placing one in the coop and looked up and one was standing and inch from my head.  I have no idea where she came from.  She was one of the black minorcas which are difficult if not impossible to find in the dark.  Black chickens with black legs.  I have to think she had roosted in the apple tree above the coop.

I got to the last chicken under the slide and thought I was one short.  I thought back to how many we ordered and tried to remember how many died because they mailed them on the weekend (which will prevent me from ordering from them again).  I have been telling people I have a certain amount, but that night I decided I had been telling people one more than I thought.  It was late and way past my bedtime so I went to bed after shutting them all in.  The next morning about 10 am another black minorca transported to in front of me wanting to go back into the coop.  She was completely upset at having spent the night outside and very hungry.  After some effort, I corralled her into the coop and fed them and shut the pop door.  I turned around to go into the house and heard the beautiful little makeshift crow of an adolescent rooster trying out his voice for the first time.  Sigh.  The funny little thing hasn’t gotten out a good crow yet, but he is really trying.  I’m pretty sure he’s one of the Derbyshire Red Caps.  He’s not anywhere big enough to eat yet and with such a scrappy little personality I’m not sure what to do with him.  I have to say he’s a beautiful little bird though.  What a shame.

King Oyster Mushroom and Asparagus Quiche

One of my favorite mushrooms to get at the store is the King Oyster Mushroom.  They are all sorts of wonderful and I use them in everything.  I like them in omelets especially.  So today with my abundance of eggs and some beautiful Asparagus I found I decided to whip up another variation on quiche.

When we get back on our feet again, I hope to order this kit and try growing these myself, but they are ridiculously cheap here in my neighborhood.  It would probably be more expensive for me to grow them myself and I’m not sure it will alter the taste that much like with veggies.  Currently, I have some regular oyster mushrooms going in the kitchen and they are pretty good, but the pink oyster mushrooms are my favorite of all the oysters.  Sadly, this year the place I order from was sold out.

I’ve added in sun dried tomatoes to this.  It’s killing me watching my little tomatoes and knowing it’s going to be a while yet before I get any fresh ones.  Last year I had a moment and ran out of canning jars so I dried all my Roma tomatoes instead of canning them like I usually do.  I have literally a TON of dried tomatoes and it isn’t something I think to put in recipes so I’m working on getting that into my regular cooking repertoire.  The thing that hangs me up is keeping the oil in the fridge stocked with dried tomatoes I’ve softened in a equal parts boiling water vinegar solution.

King Oyster Mushroom and Asparagus Quiche

  • 1 King Oyster Mushroom (they are huge!), chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 C Sun-dried Tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch Asparagus
  • 1/4 tsp White Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Lemon Peel
  • 5 Eggs
  • 1 C Milk
  • 1 C crumbled Feta
  • 1/2 C shredded Muenster Cheese
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp Ginger
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 1 Pie Crust

Turn oven to broil.  Wash and clean Asparagus and lay out on lined pan.  Drizzle olive oil on top and sprinkle with white pepper and lemon peel.  Broil for 3 minutes.  Chop and set aside.

In skillet, pour oil off asparagus and add crushed garlic and mushrooms.   Saute until mushrooms are soft.

In bowl, whisk eggs, milk, and cheeses.  Add remaining ingredients, vegetables, and mushrooms.  Pour into pie crust and bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.

Potato Upkeep

About a month ago I planted potatoes.  The weather has been very mild so they are ready for the next step.

When the potatoes are 9-12 inches high, they are ready for a good thick layer of mulch.  I use straw, it’s easy and inexpensive in this area.  My brother uses horse manure and sawdust.

Loosen up the bail and pile it on until about 3 inches show out the top.  This is why I like using rows instead of a hexagonal layout, it’s just easier for me.  These two rows took seven bails of straw.

Here you can see one bed that is finished and one that isn’t.  The cats across the street love this so I just check it occasionally to make sure they haven’t thrown it everywhere and straighten it up if they have.

Here they are both completed.  They make the rest of the garden look pretty puny at this point.  The corn is only 6 ” high and most of the plants are still in the greenhouse waiting to get some size to them before going out into the garden.  We are slowly working our way across the garden adding in compost and manure.  This ground is so full of building debris, even that isn’t going to help as much as it should, it’s pretty weak ground still.  Next year it should be beautiful though.

Every time the potatoes get about a foot higher than the mulch, add more until they start flowering.  After they start to flower, they can be left to grow until they start to die back.

See also:  Potato Planting Time

Red Cap Chickens and the Whole New Lot of Them

I am raising chickens for a few people and was surprised one day while counting each breed to make sure they were all there that one of the combs was looking incredibly funny.  We have Lakenvelters, Turkens, White  Cochins, Black Minorcas, White Rocks, and Red Caps.  So, the white cochins belong to my next door neighbor and will move as soon as their coop is up.  The Red Caps belong to my dear friend Heather and will move as soon as THEIR coop is up.  We are selling some of the rest.  I had a hard time last spring getting them raised so I thought there would be attrition, but so far we have had none other than the hatchery we used mailing them on the weekend.  Not cool.  Not cool at all.

The first thing I noticed while they were still in the house was that the Red Caps are really loud as baby chicks.  REALLY LOUD.  Fortunately, baby chicks are too cute to be annoying and Red Cap chicks have a pattern on them that is even cuter than most to me.   They are also more wild than the rest.  Turkens are the hippy chicks of the bunch.  Very laid back.  While I’m transplanting, any worms I find in the soil mix I take over and give to the chicks.  The Turkens know what I’m doing, but they won’t fight for it.  The White Rocks see me coming and are the first to the drop zone.  They seem to be the most clever of the bunch.  The Cochins are in as soon as they can but the Rocks are twice their size.  They are a little more cautious so they don’t get trampled.

Every time I feed them I try to check the ones that already belong to other people for health issues and general appearance.  I don’t want to hand off any pecked chickens or deformed chickens either.   I live in fear of egg binding, but they are a little young yet to worry about that.  One of the Red Caps had a wider comb than the rest and I started to get worried.  I was thinking to myself, I have no idea what these chickens are supposed to look like, is that CANCER?????  The things I think of crack me up, so I came inside and actually looked them up for the first time and lo, and behold, they are a rose comb breed!  They are apparently wonderful foragers, but not great for confinement.  Hopefully, no one reading this is keeping chickens in a little two foot square cage anyway.  I read somewhere that their meat stays more tender than other breeds as they age so they make a better table bird than most after retired from laying.  They certainly are spirited.

When Heather first ordered them, I thought, “Why would you want a chicken named after a murderous sprite?”  I didn’t tell her, because my nerd knowledge of such things sometimes embarrasses me.  Seeing the rose comb and it’s similarity to a gnome hat though makes it make more sense in my brain.  Probably just a visual thing and not really because they are murderous chickens.  Also, I have no idea why those chickens were named that, may have nothing to do with fairies what so ever.

Here she is with her beautifully forming comb.  Right behind her is one of my new turkens and behind them are the lankenvelters.   Sorry about the focus, I’m using my cell this week to take pictures.

My brother has converted me to nipple watering the chickens.  That is what you see with the PVC pipe in the picture.  On top of the chicken tractor, there is a five gallon bucket that feeds into the pipes.  Very easy to maintain and there is always clean water for the chickens.  The chickens like to sit on them and swing.  We have them wired up and raise them higher as the chickens grow.  We did not get the nipples from the link above.  My brother bought them in bulk and handed me two tubes with the nipples in them.  He’s an awfully awesome sibling to have.  He also writes a very interesting blog on sustainable farming, check it out.  He comes up with different solutions and different ideas for making the most of his 20 acres.  He also works full time and manages to keep it all going.

The red one is another of my turkens.  I worked an information booth yesterday at an Earth Day event in Kirkwood, MO for the Sustainable Backyard Tour I help organize.  We shared a booth with Living Green and a chicken keeper from Kirkwood who unfortunately I don’t have contact information for.  I will correct that.  He had his chicken “Mizzou” on the table.  She is an Easter Egger chicken and had a green egg there in the cage for people to see.  What a hit with the kids!  Back behind us he had a collection of other breeds for people to see.  One Buff Orpington named “Buffy” figured out early in the day how to escape the enclosure and spent the day being held by either Bill, her owner, or myself.  I should have brought some of my hideous little guys for people to see.   Really, I think Turkens are the best for city living.  But I’m not one to judge a chicken on looks I guess.  It was a fantastic day.  I’m so grateful to have been a part of that and meet such wonderful people.  It’s a really nice little Farmer’s Market out there and next to the train station so it’s a great place to go if you have kids.

Peach Trees

The last two weeks I have been thinning the fruit on the peach tree.  It’s really difficult for me not to be greedy and leave all those lovely little peaches on the tree, but it’s not worth the risk.  Last year was the first year this particular tree really set fruit and I didn’t think about it and ended up pinned to the chicken coop under half a tree with my favorite rooster fluttering about trying to save me.  The trees have the ability to set much more fruit than their wood can bear.  My husbands grandmother always said to pinch off one out of every three.  The idea is to give them enough room to grow and to reduce the weight on the tree.  There are advanced ways to optimize market price and crop using this, but I’m writing a backyard blog and that can be a drawn out dry topic that doesn’t really help hobby growers.

Some people pinch the flower buds ahead of the bloom, I wait until fruit sets.  There is an argument that this can reduce the amount of fruit that sets next year, but I haven’t found it to be a problem.  My rationale is that the weather here is highly volatile.  If I pinch the blooms and we get a frost (which we almost always do), the frost may kill off more of my remaining blooms than I want.  If I wait until fruit sets, I generally don’t have to worry about the frost any more.  This year is an anomaly and the fruit set very, very heavy.  I have read that you don’t want to wait more than 60 days from flowering to finish pinching the fruit.  If I wait that long, I’ve forgotten and it’s not going to get done.

before thinning, example 1

After thinning, example 1

I thinned them pretty hard this year.  I probably did three out of four since we didn’t have a frost in my yard to knock off the blooms.  We had a cool enough spell it bit the pear tree, but not the peaches.

Now, I didn’t take it down to the amount I would like to eat or process because I’m going to loose about a third to birds and a few more to tarnish beetles.  I had some problems with the tarnish beetles last year, and suspect with the mild winter I will again.  Here’s to hoping the chickens are getting them.  This year’s flock is much more interested in foraging than last year’s was.  They were all too young.

Tarnish beetle control might be an interesting thing to touch on.  I picked them off and killed them last year as soon as I saw them.  I also have fed birds to the point where there is a ton of birds in my yard all the time, including a hawk that checks for vulnerable chickens early in the morning.  Rodale’s “Garden Problem Solver” suggests sticky traps, pyrethrum, rotenone, or sabadilla for control. (Today you can get one for 50 cents on Amazon!)  I’m on the fence about even organic chemicals for the most part, so I tend not to use them unless it’s really bad.    White sticky boards seem to be the thing to use.  You can take white poster board and coat it with sticky glue as an inexpensive solution.  I wonder if the mouse traps would work since they are white and sticky.  I would watch these and make sure that you aren’t catching beneficial insects.  As always, keeping your garden clean goes a long, long way for control also.

Even though I’ve thinned this so hard, I still have branches touching the ground all ready.  I have to think on that.  Makes it hard to mow the grass.  After a year of chickens in the orchard area though, I’ve been surprised to see what weeds are growing back there.  We hate mowing grass and have been discussing just mulching the backyard instead of trying to have any lawn.  It would entertain the chickens more anyway.  We’ve never had grass back there to begin with and were using the chickens to build soil for a year before planting grass seed.  I even have the bag of seed ready to go.  But look what the orchard is full of, lol…

The orchard area weeds.

I believe it’s wheat!  I’m not even aware of feeding the chickens any wheat, but there you go.  I feed them oats and varied layer feeds depending upon what I can get, but most of that is ground in some way.   Which ever feed this was must not have ground the wheat.  (I bet Chism Heritage Farm will post in the notes and remind me about the wheat I fed them that I’ve totally forgotten about and should probably be feeding them.) They are kind of pretty and I’m inclined to leave them.  It does make the yard look like a mess though and we will be doing some filming in a couple of weeks so I need to make a decision.  I’m inclined to put in mulch, my husband has already torn out a bunch of the wheat where he was trying to level out a weird place in the yard.