Monday, January 31, 2011

Chickens Back Online

No, we didn't put wifi in the coop, but all three hens are back to laying. The alpha hen, Mohawk, was the first to start back laying after the winter molt. Cheepers finally came back on line on Sunday, ending a 3+ month drought!

Mohawk laid two soft-shelled eggs in January and so we're still keeping an eye on her just in case. But she's as hungry and "Mohawkish" as ever so that's good.

We're still feeding them lots of leftovers from the fall garden and they go nuts for the chard and spinach.

Next up is to finally get around to adding a pop door to the run so that we can let them out into the yard without having to open the main run door and leave it open all day. We'll have to be sure to make the new door very secure as we don't want to add any weak links in the security.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Rainy Day Photo

Alas, it was a trap. Today was cold and rainy. I stepped outside during a break in the weather and took this photo.

Should be nice weather again later in the week, though.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

It's a Trap!!!!

It happens every year, and even though I know it's going to happen, I fall for it every time. My wife calls it the January Trap.

That's where you go outside (here in the sunny California Bay Area) in January and it looks and feels like spring. So you start doing outdoor chores. Maybe plant some seeds, you know, get all excited about the garden.

And the plants and birds all fall for it too.

But then February comes and the temperature plummets and we remember again that it's only January and we still have another six weeks of cold weather.

Now, I know that people living where they have actual weather probably don't feel much sympathy, but alas...

Today we spent hours in the back yard trimming and sweeping. We fixed/set up/rerouted all the irrigation for this year's garden areas. There's this annoying palm tree that I have to trim about every two months so that it doesn't knock over the fence (again). And cleaning up those giant fronds is never fun (inevitably I get stabbed by the ultra sharp needles near the thick end of the branches). We cleared out the old mint box and got it ready for a new crop. Can't wait!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Woodpecker (finally)

About a year ago we noticed some woodpeckers had moved into a tree in the yard. They're beautiful birds, really, with black and white stripes and the male has a red head. I vowed then to photograph them, and I tried many times over the summer, but I had no luck.

Until now that is. Introducing two Nutall's Woodpeckers living in my back yard (click to enlarge):

That last picture shows the female. She's really shy, and this was the best shot I could get.

Friday, January 21, 2011

In Other News

A friend and I started a "365 photo" project early last year and for a while we really kept it up. See, lots of people say they're going to do one. And lots of people genuinely believe they will. They have a plan, they say.

Well, we knew going in that we'd need something a bit different in order to get us to stick with it for a full year. Our gimmick (not our original idea though, sadly) was to post our pictures together, side by side, every day, without knowing what the other person would be shooting. It was a brilliant idea! A gym-buddy for the camera. (my images are always the ones on the right side of the page)

And we did well for a while. But alas. We pooped out about half way through the year. I mean, Day 173? That's sad!

Of course there's always a good reason for things like this. And while I kept taking photos (I have them saved up through about day 210), it stopped being fun without my friend's participation.

So I'm adding this to my list of things I want to get done this year along with the garden. I want to take more pictures. I still want to finish the 365 days, even if it takes us closer to 600 days to get it done. Some of the combinations were interesting. And we have some ideas for a new direction for the second half of the year.

I've also been posting stuff to flickr the whole time, so it's not like I've completely stopped.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Corny Goals

One of the things we grew last year that we really wanted to focus on again this year is corn. We grew "indian" corn (I really should find out what that's supposed to be called) and some little strawberry popping corn. We planted them in large landscaping pots (those black plastic pots that plants come in when you buy them...) and they grew well. The indian corn didn't pollinate itself much so most of the ears had poorly formed kernels (if any), but the strawberry pop corn ears were great.

We did have an issue with squirrels jumping up and trying to eat them. Also a mouse or two got to them in the early stages.

But this year we want to triple the amount of indian corn we plant. We love making our own cornmeal and would like to make our own cracked corn for the hens. The question is, what's the best way to go about it? Planting it directly in the ground is probably out of the question. So we want to plant more in the large pots. They grew just fine there last time, so it's just a matter of ensuring they pollinate better and that we find a way to keep the rodents away.


Monday, January 17, 2011


Here's what I noticed recently on our little blueberry shrub we just planted late last year.

Are those actual blueberries forming? I'm not positive we've placed the pot where it gets the right amount of sun, but things look to be growing well enough.

Now, if those are actual berries, we'll have to find a way to keep the birds away...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Pile (and some mint)

Weather, family, and work all conspired to put us a little behind on chicken coop/run maintenance. So when we did get out there to do a massive clean out, it was a bit smelly! Our poor neighbors... We did notice an area that was getting wet that did not get wet before so it's a good thing we dove in when we did so we could fix that before it became an issue. We found a couple of beetles in the run. How on earth some beetles could live in there without being gobbled up is beyond me.

We emptied the coop into the run and then raked out the whole run and put all of that into the empty side of the compost bins nearly filling up the side. I put the thermometer in and it read 58F. Checked it again the next day, about 25 hours later and it read nearly 160F! That stuff is baking fast!

And that's a good thing because it smells. Still, I figure we'll have two completely full bins of finished compost in time for the spring garden. The winter garden is really slowing down, finally. We're feeding most of the stuff to the chickens who really love to do their part to help out by munching it all down.

One of the things we hope to do in the early spring is re-do the mint box. We have a 4ft x 7ft planter box in which we've been growing mint for a few years (Mojitos with home grown mint and limes!). This last year the stuff finally really started to get leggy and the tree above it kept dropping branches/leaf litter/etc. Finally we decided to just ignore it and hope it died out and then replace it this year.

Looks like we got our wish. More on that later, once we start actually doing stuff in the yard.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Increase, Improve, Measure

Those are my three goals for this year's garden. And, oddly enough, while "measure" is one of the goals, I don't know that I'll have a really great way of measuring my success at the three goals...


I hope to increase no only the amount of stuff we grow, through extending the season/adding spring and fall crops. I also hope to increase the square feet of garden we plant. One idea is to pull out part of the lawn we put in. Another would be to chop down a tree or two in order to open up more sunlight hours on the patio for potted plants. I'm rooting for the "tear out the lawn" idea myself. We'll never be able to plant squashes/pumpkins/etc. unless we drastically increase the space we have, or reduce the amount of stuff we're trying to grow in that space. I'd rather add more space than give up pumpkins or reduce the other things we're growing. I also hope that we end up getting another fruit tree of some sort up and running. We planted a blueberry bush late last season and it got a few little white blooms on it. We're hoping that's a sign of things to come this year. The artichoke plant (in a pot) was moved and nearly died this year after giving us three or four chokes the year before. I'm really hoping it can get back into the swing of things and start producing again in 2011.


For this one, I hope that we can improve the yield and quality of the crops we do grow. I want to get five or more fully ripe pomegranates, for example. I want to get more potatoes. Et cetera. But not just the food itself. There are many things we could be doing in support of the garden. We should improve the compost system we're using. Improve the irrigation, fertilization. Improve the way we handle pests. We did a lot of things on a "Just in time" scale, where we could have done better if we were better prepared. Less reaction and more pro-action.


We haven't done much in the way of record keeping. We did eventually start to keep a tally of the eggs we receive from our three hens, but we don't track anything else from the garden. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. We could be tracking the amount of lemons and limes we get. When we get them. The amount of vegetables. We can and should also track things like when and what kind and how much fertilizer we add (if any). What kinds of seeds gave what kinds of results. We have never bothered to track costs of things like chicken feed, hay, seeds, etc. We both LOVE data so this is something that I'm hoping we dive into with gusto.