What I Learned From My Garden This Year:

It was a pretty good year in the garden despite the fact that we went on a couple of trips during the growing season. I as usual, learned from my gardening experience and here are some of the things I will do differently next year:

  • Stick to the basics.  This year I planted Japanese Pickling Melons, Okra and Sesame.  I am embarrassed to say that I never even harvested the sesame seeds (who has time to open all those little pods and toast the seeds?)  I let the most of the Okra get too big and tough to eat, and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the melon. Next year I will sample unusual items at restaurants or markets and leave garden space to what I know.
  • Grow what we eat.  We love green beans and could almost eat them every day. They freeze well too. We also love peppers and tomatoes.  On the other hand, I am the only one in the house that eats eggplant or squash. Next year I will concentrate on planting green beans, peppers, and tomatoes and treat myself to eggplant, squash and such from the Farmers’ market when the mood strikes.
  • Don’t waste space on cheap stuff. We love cabbage but it takes up lots of space in the garden and the bugs love it too. It is super cheap to buy so why not use the garden space for sweet bell peppers that I can let ripen to red and not have to pay a premium price for them at the store?!
  • More flowers!  I love flowers and would love to be able to snip weekly bouquets for inside. Next year I plan to surround my veggie garden with flowers. They will be inside the bunny proof fence, beautiful to look at and plentiful enough to get lots of bouquets for ourselves, family and friends. The bees will love them too!
  • Grow herbs closer to the house. It just makes sense to not have to go far to snip herbs when cooking. I may grow my herbs in pots on the deck next year.

I spent much of our lovely November doing a bit of yard clean up, bringing in yard art and house plants, and pretty much enjoying the last nice days of fall. Since we were finished harvesting I left the garden gate open so the girls could free range in there. They were pretty happy to get to scratch around and sample yummies in what was previously ‘off limits’ territory.

 
I am throwing kitchen scraps as well as raked leaves directly in the garden to decompose.

 
I decided to use ‘free mulch’ from Mother Nature – aka fallen leaves around trees and shrubs and in the flower beds.  I was hoping for a bit of rain to weigh them down so they wouldn’t blow away and I got it.

 

 Now the work is done and the days are cold and short. I keep warm and happy planning next year’s garden!

What did you do to put your garden to ‘sleep’ and what are you planning for next year?

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Backyard Chickens – Pets or Livestock?

In other words, should we eat them?

When they stop laying that is.

henopause

This is a discussion my husband and I were having the other day.

I know ‘real’ farmers would not hesitate to get rid of any chickens that are past laying age.  Feeding them costs money, there is only space for so many and so they must earn their keep by being productive.

It isn’t as if we don’t already eat chicken.  We do.  So isn’t it a bit hypocritical to balk at killing and eating our own chickens yet be ok with some other chicken being raised in deplorable conditions and then killed for our dinner?  At least our chickens will be happy until the day they die AND we will also know what they ate.

Wouldn’t it be better to eat our chickens knowing they lived and died humanely?  They were happy up until the end?  They will be spared getting old and sick?

They wont know what is going on.

  They don’t think about such things do they?

But we do.

We think about it and overthink about it.

  Could we do it?  Well not actually ‘do’ it.  In an open, urban backyard in plain sight of neighbors there will be no killing, plucking or other processing going on.

The birds will simply go to ‘freezer camp’  as they say.   There are farmers in the area who will do the ‘processing’ for a reasonable price.

chicken in the pot

Another backyard chicken owner who has no qualms about ‘culling’ non-productive hens says they wait a month or so before serving one of their own to put a little distance between them.  Whatever gets you through the day I guess.

Oh come on now – that chicken you eat is a DEAD, formerly ALIVE chicken you know.

chk dinner

  Unless you are a vegetarian don’t go getting all righteous on me!

Well the difference is that it would be Brewster, Martha, Sally and Riot.

chickensinrun

Our beautiful and first girls.  They are so special.   We love them.

chk love

But it is the way of farm life.  If my 4 older gals are not laying this summer a decision will need to be made.  I imagine we would pack them up in a tote, give them a special treat of mealworms and dried cranberries and drive them to their destiny.

Well maybe I need to think on this a bit more.  People don’t eat their pets.

Are my chickens pets or livestock?

 

Finding a Chicken Sitter.

Any trip that involves overnight also brings the need for a ‘chicken sitter’.

leaving-on-a-trip

Neighbors make good chickens sitters as do responsible young people.

 Last year I had a former coworker, Elizabeth and her two young teens, Peter and Grace watch my chickens during our LOTO trip. They were considering getting chickens of their own, and watching mine showed them how easy and fun it really is. Elizabeth’s husband Tom was surprisingly smitten by my gals (just like my husband!).

They now have 4 lovely hens of their own.

Eliz1

The fact that they are busy with their own chickens, but more so that they will be in England, (lucky ducks),  had me looking for a new chicken sitter this year.

flag

Luck-Duck

I asked my neighbor Roxanne and she was delighted.

002

Since she will also be taking care of my dogs there is payment involved but the fresh eggs are a nice perk.

It is a good idea to have your sitter over to meet the gals and become familiar with the routine. It is not enough to just tell them or show them, it is best to actually have a ‘run through’ and let them practice filling the food and water, work the latches, handle the birds, gather eggs, etc. Remind them that they will be stepping in chicken poop and to dress accordingly!

Speaking of chicken poop – this is a great article from the Chicken Chick!

Since our trip is short enough there is no coop cleaning involved.

clean

For a longer trip your sitter should know how to clean out the coop and run, replace bedding and where to put used bedding.

compost-new-pile1

Follow up your ‘run through’ with detailed written instructions and include what to do for a sick or injured bird.  I don’t need to say that you should leave your contact phone number but it is probably a good idea to leave the number of a person who is familiar with chickens if your sitter is not, as well as your vet if you use one.

list

If you don’t have a separate coop where a sick or injured bird can be quarantined, section off a portion of your coop or provide a dog crate just in case.

cage

 

Being the semi-OC person that I am I will probably text Roxanne at least twice a day as a ‘reminder’ and to check in. I am actually pretty easy with my requirements but my two biggest fears are that they will run our of water, and that they will not be secured at dusk.

lock

If those two things are accomplished each day/evening they can survive a few days with a dirty coop, running out of food (they have probably spilled a life time supply in the coop bedding anyway) or not being let out in a timely manner.

feed me

I wonder if they will miss me?

sadorp

How to you prepare for a trip away from your chickens?

Introducing the Gals!

I write about them a lot but I don’t think you were ever formally introduced.

 

Brewster                                                                                                    Brewondeck

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Brewster is a Buff Orpington.  She is one of our original 2 chicks and lives up to the Orpigton reputation of being tame and friendly.  She is our friendliest hen and loves to be picked up and held.  She will eat out of your hand but watch out – she will get distracted by your jewelry and peck at it.  When we throw treats into the pen Brewster is first to grab the tastiest morsel and run with it.  I say that she is part Bald Eagle because she has such an ‘Eagle Eye’ for goodies!

 

Riot

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Riot

 

We got Riot the same time we got Brewster and she is a Black Sex Link which means any chicks from the hatch that are black are guaranteed female.  She is a cross between a Rhode Island Red and some other breed which I forget.  She was an adorable black chick but grew up to have lovely red feathers on her neck.  If she catches the light just right her black feathers have a green iridescent sheen to them. She is our largest bird and is also very friendly.

 

Martha                                                                                                      coop 023

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Martha is an Ameraucana and I got her because of the blue eggs she lays.

blue egg

She looked like a little chipmunk when she was a chick.  She is curious and flighty and before we clipped her wings she would constantly escape the pen.

 

 

Sally

coop 025

Sally is a Bared Plymouth Rock and we got her when we got Martha.  When Barred Rocks are chicks they are black with white bottoms – like a little fuzzy diaper!  She is now a beautiful black and white hen, very plump although when young she hardly grew and took forever to get full sized.  We were a bit worried about her at first.  She is our shyest gal and probably the lowest of the ‘pecking’ order of our original 4 gals.  She is making up for it by being bossy to the 2 newest gals.

Snowball and Pearl                                                     1chicks

newOrps

Snowball and Pearl are our White Orpington girls that we got as day old chicks this year.  They have orange ink on their heads in the pic so we could tell them from other chicks my friend ordered that were in the same shipment.   We thought white chicks would look good in our flock and we liked the Orpington personality.  I can hardly tell the two apart anymore except for the fact that Snowball has yellow feet and Pearl’s feet are bluish white.

 

I love my flock, they are not just livestock to me, they are pets.  Pets with benefits!

pet chicken

People ask me what I will do when the older girls stop laying.  Will I eat them?  I have no problem with people who put their older non-productive hens in the soup pot.  They have had good lives and it is just being practical.

stew

It is just not something I care to do.  First of all since we live in the city and our yard is open to the neighbors’ view,  there will be no slaughtering done here and it doesn’t seem economical to send them out for ‘processing’.  I know I couldn’t eat one of our gals and  I don’t think my husband could either.

The plan is for them to remain as pets in their ‘golden years’.    Between predators, illness, accidents and who knows what, it may not be in the cards for them to make it to old age.  But if we are lucky enough that our gals live to a nice old chicken age, they will live and die in comfort and LOVED!

chicken love

My total flock size will probably never exceed a dozen because of the size of my yard, my coops  and the amount of chicken poop I can handle for my garden.  My plan is to add about 2 new chicks every other year. This way I hope to always have at least a couple in prime laying age.  (Yep you may have noticed that I already broke this rule by getting chicks this year).

Tell me about your flock.  How many chickens do you have or plan to get?  Are you in the city or country?  I would love to see a pic of your chicks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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