Monday, May 25, 2009

Make That Two...

Wow! A couple of hours later my wife went out to show the girls how to check for eggs, and Presto! Not to be outdone, Mohawk had laid one of her own! It's nearly identical to the egg that Mathilda laid. I realize it shouldn't be too crazy to have two chicks born and raised together to have their first eggs arrive on the same day, but we still thought it was pretty neat.

Poor CheepersV, she has no idea what all the fuss is about!

Our First Egg!

Yes! Our first egg!

I went out to feed the chickens this morning and noticed that only two of the birds were out of the coop. Of course, my first thought was that the third was somehow sick or injured, especially with all the noise it was making. So I poked my head in and it (she!) seemed to be fine, but... Wait! She was looking in the egg box!

I went around to the egg door and voila! Our first egg!

That's a AAA battery in the picture above, so it's a fairly small egg, but that's to be expected.

The hen that laid it was named Math due to the "plus sign" white spot on its head when it was a wee chick. Now that we're positive it's a hen, we'll start calling it Mathilda. (Mohawk and CheepersV, assuming they're hens, will retain their current names)

This all comes a bit less than 5 months after Mathilda and Mohawk hatched (around 1/1/09). We weren't quite expecting the egg laying to start yet, which is a shame because it would have been great to have our daughters find the first egg (they didn't want to get up this morning, so...).


Note to sleepy-head daughters: Ha ha!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Side (patio) Project

The girls and I spent a few hours yesterday fixing up this barren little strip of dirt along the fence next to our patio. It would have been nice to plant some kind of flowers or ground cover there, but it's just not really a good location for plants. The girls loved this project because they got to go to the garden center place and help get the rocks. They climbed up to the top of the giant pile and began slowly choosing each rock.

After the 30th "Oooh, daddy, look at this one!" I managed to convince them that we should just fill the sacks as quickly as possible and then go home.

Here we are in progress:

And then finished, with our silly potted avocado tree way back in the corner. The trunk is shaped like a helix and it's really only still alive because we raised it from a pup (er, pit). I don't think we have the right soil/conditions/etc. for it to ever try to actually make avocados, so for now it's just there taking up space/water:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Composting Hay

Our compost pile was giving us a hard time recently. I had completely cleaned out the left side of our two-bin setup and we started over using hay from the chickens' run/coop as the "brown" ingredient and some kitchen scraps and lawn clippings for the "greens."

That last paragraph may have led one to believe I actually know what I'm doing when it comes to composting, but let me assure you. I do not.

My general philosophy is to just pile in whatever is sitting around, stir it once in a while and then months later, magically, there's compost (and lots of little fruit flies and some pill bugs...). I don't think the compost pile has ever gotten over 115F but still, it's worked slowly but consistently ever since we started composting 7 or 8 years ago.

Which brings us back to this latest pile. It sat in the bin for two weeks, refusing to warm up. I added blood meal and sprinkled some water in there. Still no luck.

I sought help and guidance. @plangarden on twitter had been posting about their compost pile reaching over 150F and offered some sage advice about moisture/etc. My neighbor also has chickens and also composts using the hay. He borrowed a compost shredder and was using that to great success; however, I want our compost pile to not require electricity and spending time shredding hay seems... Well let's just that task falls below my laziness threshold.

Still, with the new lawn adding more and more clippings and with the chickens contributing generously (and one might say a bit TOO enthusiastically) their own ingredient perseverance paid off.

Yes, the compost pile got up over 100 degrees and stayed there for a day. A huge success! Tragically, the compost thermometer was casualty of the process as someone managed to hit it with the pitchfork (I'm not going to mention any names, but it rhymes with 'by near knife').

I felt the compost yesterday and it was still fairly warm so I'm calling this one a success. The hay is finally starting to break down but it's taking a long time. I also need to go pick up a new compost thermometer.


The guy at Home Depot actually looked confused when I asked if they carried compost thermometers. Looks like I'll need to try another store...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My How They've Grown!

Here's a picture of our three Barred Rocks, "enjoying" their new, somewhat smaller free range area in the backyard. We put up some lightweight netting to restrict their roaming. The good thing is that the netting is extremely easy to move around, and so the area can be reconfigured in just a minute or two.

The smaller bird (furthest away) is CheepersV, who you might remember was the replacement chicken who came in a few weeks later than the other chicks. She's growing so quickly...

And you can really see the faces of the other chickens now.

Eggs any day now... ;)

Thursday, May 7, 2009


I've been interviewing recently for an internal job here. This would be a step up, career-wise, and thus would entail some additional responsibility. Because of this, the interviews have been with folks a bit higher up on the food chain, so to speak. I'm taking these opportunities to ask my interviewers the following question:

"What one piece of advice or thing to remember would you give regarding managing managers?"

- My first interviewer said something like: Trust your managers. Everyone has a different style. Realize that more than one way will work. Let the results speak and try not to force your way/method/solution on them.

- The second: Remember, these are people. People are messy/complicated and while you may have everything perfectly lined up on your paper/project/plan, once you insert human beings, things go random, quickly.


- The third: You don't get to do any individual contributing any more. You have to give it up and concentrate on the rest of your job. It will be hard to give it up and you might try to hold on, but you're just micromanaging and getting in the way.

- The fourth: You're giving up the keys to the kingdom, you have to trust them to do their jobs and you can't go and meddle directly with the ICs. Trust is key, that and being willing to give up a layer of control.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Ever since we planted our first garden in our back yard 8 years ago, we've been at war. We've been at war with the squirrels and birds, natures vandals out there digging up plants, chomping the vegetables, and generally being pests. Now, I know lots of people think that squirrels are cute or that they somehow provide a vital tree planting service, or that their twitchy bushy tails don't harbor all sorts of scary and deadly parasites. But no. They're evil. We caged our garden (which is good because the chickens would be even worse than the squirrels, but at least they'll lay eggs, I'm just sayin') to keep the vermin at bay. Hah, of course Nature, always having the last laugh, sent tons of wasps to gnaw on the cage, using its wood to make their pulpy mud nests under my eaves. But that's another story.

So, now that we have our chickens out there running around, I wondered if maybe we'd have fewer squirrels or birds (particularly the scrub jays). Well:

As you can see, the scrub jays are still around. In fact, a pair of them completely dismantled the liner on one of our hanging planters (it was some kind of fiber) and probably used it to build a nest in which they'll make sweet sweet scrub jay love and then yet another generation of airborne antics will ensue.

In fact, it's quite possible that I never noticed how many birds were there before but I swear there are more in our yard now than ever.

Birds sighted in our yard:

Scrub Jay
Morning Dove
Humming bird
Barred Rock Chicken :)

And those are just the ones I know. The parenthesis indicate birds that I don't know the specific type for. Example, was it a red tailed hawk? A pair of barn owls? I don't know. We only saw the owls once, at night, and they didn't stop to hang out. We also saw some larger birds (crows?) chasing away a hawk. Also, there are ton of little brown-ish generic birds back there twittering away like social media marketing consultants.

Through it all, our chickens seem fairly unfazed. Sure, they will duck or run when a large bird flies overhead, and I've seen the more aggressive of the three birds attempt to chase away one of the scrub jays, but for the most part, they're just in to hanging out.

Friday, May 1, 2009


Ok, so here's the "after" photo of the lawn.

Everyone loves it: the kids, the chickens, the wife.

Of course, the after photo looks NOTHING like my photoshopped concept art. And I must admit I'm a bit torn because I feel bit of green-guilt at not removing at least of the lawn. In order to make it up, though, we plan on removing most of the larger lawn in our front yard (which was here when we moved in, and has seen much better days) and replacing it with some kind of xeriscaping. Hopefully that will come closer to evening things out.

In the mean time, we'll use bamboo stakes and bird netting to keep the chickens on their "side" of the yard so we'll have some poo-free zones for us bipeds.

We ran into a bit of a problem with the sprinklers, though. The landscaper wanted to install a timer, and we agreed that would be groovy, but we didn't have a convenient place from which to run electricity near by. So, unknowingly, I said to just go ahead and install the valves and that we'd get the electricity figured out soon and then have him back out to hook it up then.

The problem, though, is that apparently the sprinkler valves leak if they're not hooked up to the timer. In other words, if we used the electric/timered valves manually, they'd leak a bit while they were running. Eventually we decided to just run an extension cord so we could use the timer now and not have to deal with a leak right by the house.

Sure enough, once he hooked up the timer, the leak stopped and things are golden. Will have to get the wiring sorted out into a more permanent configuration though.