Sunday, March 28, 2010


It was a long hard weekend and I am missing a good portion of skin off of a few knuckles and have some nice scratches, but the good news is that the hardware cloth/wire mesh is all on the coop! I also was able to get the door built and the mesh on the door. My dad came today to help put the upper section of hardware cloth on which was a huge help - it is pretty hard to hold up a big length of the hardware cloth by yourself while nailing in poultry staples - so I cam really glad he was able to help. After he was gone I finished up the lower wire, my son and daughter helped stain the door (which still needs to be hung) and I back filled around the coop piers. I decided behind the coop by the fence I should put in some pavers to keep it from being a weedy mess since the space is too narrow to mow and would be a bear to weed whip. The limestone pavers and crushed granite I used to fill in between the was left over from a garden project last year and I need one more bag of granite, but I think it is going to look very nice. I have some pavers not too far from this around one side of the house - so at some point I may connect the two areas to try to tie it in and make it look a little more finished.

I did some work on the garden as well, things are doing very nicely and growing really well - I am hopeful that I may start to see florets on the broccoli soon. I did a little weeding and spread a layer of compost around all the plants in the fall veggie bed to add a little more nutrients to the soil to see if I can't kick those veggies into production! I have a lot of yard clean up around the beds to catch up on once the coop is done - but for now I am focusing on the coop and keeping the veggies going - the rest is going to have to wait. Although I did manage to at least mow my front yard Saturday so it doesn't look like I have also taken to growing my own hay!

I have to do some traveling this coming week for work, so other than what I can get done tomorrow night after work I have to wait until the weekend to be able to do any more work on the coop. I am determined to get the exterior siding on the hen house next weekend, but I think I am going to have to call in the reinforcements to get that all done in one weekend. There is still a lot to do after the siding goes on, but I am hopeful that the chicks will move out of the house and into their new house by April 10. I love watching them grow and watching their antics, but the dust in my living room is unreal. I dust one day and three days later there is a layer of dust on everything that makes it look like my house got hit by a dust devil.

I am exhausted and will be happy for a long nights sleep tonight - I am hoping to get the door hung tomorrow evening, but I also have to pack from my trip so I will have to play it by ear. Wish me luck everyone!
Happy gardening!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Wired - but not for sound

Well, not totally wired, but at least it is a start. The hardware cloth is on to the bottom half of the front of the coop. I need to cut out around the door, but figure that I can do that once I finish stapling it down the rest of the way around. So for those of you who haven't built a chicken coop before, I will share that you can't use a staple gun, not even with large staples apparently. You have to buy special "poultry net" staples and hammer them in, so of course they bend and mash and don't all go in straight. For someone as Type "A" as myself bent mashed staples are really annoying, but considering how many of them I have to put in, I am learning to give up on the idea of perfection and go with "its good enough." :) I am hoping that I can finish wiring all the way around the bottom half tomorrow, between swimming lessons and other things planned. Hopefully the top half on Sunday when I have recruited my dad to come help again.

The chicks are still growing and eating like mad and I think I have basically two more weeks max before they outgrow their new larger brooder, so I need to pick up the pace a little on the coop. The picture on the right is Pouf - I think she (he?) is funny with her (for now I will go with her being a hen) big cheek tufts and the little light colored feather "spikes" on the top of her head - almost like little horns!

The spring flowers are starting in the yard which is a nice touch of spring too - the first rose bud is on my roses, the irises are blooming, the salvia (center picture) is blooming (which will hopefully mean hummingbirds soon) and the mountain laurel with its grape candy scented blossoms (picture on the right below) is also adding color to the yard.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The never ending project...

No rain today meant I could do a little more on the coop tonight after work! Yay - trench digging! Seriously - the things that make my day are starting to scare me :)

The plan calls for either a 12 inch deep trench to bury the hardware cloth OR "burying" 12 inches of hardware cloth on the surface by bending it away from the coop at ground level - to help keep out predators. I chose the trench option, but I didn't dig down 12 full inches - more like 6 and I will bend the hardware cloth so it goes out across the bottom of the trench too. Hopefully this works OK. I don't really have the right equipment for digging a 12 inch deep trench. I may look into a post hole digger tomorrow, or I may call it good and start putting on the wire tomorrow night.

I was also able to get dirt into the last bed I put in - I planted some of the overage red peppers in one end and Yukon gold potatoes in the other end. I think I am going to try to add some blackberries along the fence in front later this summer, but it depends how far I can stretch the garden funds :)

The chicks are really amazing me - they grow soooo fast. They are starting to get feathers on their backs and breasts now in addition to their tails and wings. They also eat like machines. I filled the quart jar of food for them last night before I went to bed and before I left for work this morning I had to fill it again - it was nearly empty. By the time I got home tonight it is nearly empty again! I clearly need to get a feeder that holds more than a quart! They still don't really seem to be bonding to us - I am afraid they think Oliver, our cat, is their mother! He sits by the brooder all day and watches the chicks so they are used to him standing guard. I guess that is OK - they know we bring food, I am not sure "lap chickens" are really what we want anyway. I am starting to think Pouf (behind Cadbury in this picture) may be a rooster - how funny would it be to have a rooster named Pouf! :)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Slowly but surely...

It may be hard to see in the picture, but the hardware cloth (1/2 inch mesh wire) is installed in the ceiling of the coop and the other side of the hen house frame is in place. I couldn't have done it without help. My son's best friend came for a play date after school and his dad offered to come by after work and help with the coop when he came to pick up his son. I have to say nailing in poultry staples basically upside down is not an easy thing to do. I am so glad this part is done! I have a lot more wire to put up, but the rest gets nailed in straight ahead instead of overhead so I am hoping it will be easier. Unfortunately I now have to dig a trench around the coop so the lower wire can go down into the ground - but it is supposed to rain the next two days so that means probably no progress again until the weekend. I have said it before but this is both good and bad - bad that I won't make progress but my hands are killing me. Between working on a keyboard all day at work and then all the hammering, painting, drilling, etc. after work - my hands are really really sore. Anybody know where to get a good hand massage? :)

The garden is really getting exciting - I can't wait for things to get big enough to eat! The carrots are all starting to sprout, I saw tiny shoots from the dill and fennel, the potatoes are growing (but I'm pretty sure I didn't plant them with enough space though so the harvest may be pretty limited), and the yellow straight neck squash and cow peas (like black eyed peas) have all sprouted. It is so exciting to know that if you have some good soil, add a few seeds and some water and sun - soon you have all kinds of things sprouting up and growing. A few months of watching them grow and then you get free food! How cool is that? In my book it is pretty darn cool!
Tonight - I actually picked a few leaves off of the lettuces that I planted about a month ago to add to our store bought lettuce for a salad! The leaves were from the outside of the red and green lettuces in the picture on the left (with a potato and some shallots in the foreground), I read that for head lettuces you can harvest the outer leaves and the head will keep growing, so you can take little bits here and there and still keep a growing head of lettuce to harvest later. Of course, there wasn't enough to make a salad on its own - but it was fun to get a little tidbit to add to the salad and feel like we are starting to get some payback for the hard work. I think I may try to grow lettuces under my grow light in the house as the weather gets hotter and they die back outside... certainly worth a try! :)

Time to get myself and my kids to bed - I hope you all are enjoying spring and getting out in your gardens!

Monday, March 22, 2010

We have a roof!

Yes - it took me Sunday afternoon and today after work to get the roof panels on. I had the wrong screws, I had the wrong drill heads, I had split wood that I had to replace and I needed "mending plates" to join the wood into long enough pieces - but VICTORY!! The roof is on. It looks like a metal roof in this picture, but it is actually a clear gray polycarbonate roof (like what they use on greenhouses. I got help putting the roof panels up from my dad - but mostly he held the ladder so I wouldn't break my neck and I did the actual assembly. He also helped me get the right attachment for my drill to drive "hex head" screws - I didn't have the right equipment for that so he made a quick trip to Home depot to get me a set of hex driver attachments for the drill. My dad is in his late seventies and I have to say I don't think there are a lot of men his age that still are as active as he is - and without his help I'm sure the roof would have gone even slower, so thanks Dad!!

The garden is doing well too - I had to cover everything the last My mesculin salad mix is coming up nicely - in a few weeks hopefully I will have baby greens enough to make salad! I think I need to plant more though - these three little rows will probably only make a few salads worth and we eat salad almost daily so I really need tot plant some more lettuces. I'm not sure how long into the season I will be able to keep harvesting lettuce though, it gets pretty hot here and lettuce is a cooler weather veggie but I will see how long I can keep it going.

My peppers that have been under the grow lights in my living room are about ready to go outside too. I am hoping to get them in one night this week if I can. If not they can wait until this weekend. It is supposed to be rainy Wednesday and Thursday - so it would be perfect if I can get them in tomorrow evening.

Tomorrow I am also signing the contract to have the gate put across my driveway which will finally fully enclose my yard and keep the deer from finding my garden. I just hope I can get it in before they find it! Last year everything was growing well and one morning it was all mowed down. Unfortunately, even though I am only two blocks off the main street of my small town, there is a herd of deer that is land-locked into the area. Right now I see them on the property of a local nunnery - so hopefully they will stay there and now venture out and find my garden before the fence goes in!

This weekend I also moved the chicks into a new bigger brooder. It is made out of a large plastic storage box with a top made out of wire. It allowed me to put the water up on a block so they don't get quite as many shavings in the water quite as fast. Now that they have more space, they are trying out their wings and actually able to fly short distances in the brooder. It is amazing how quickly they act like big chickens and not like chicks. They are two weeks old today and they are taking "dust" baths in the shavings, preening and cleaning their feathers and working out who is in charge. Right now I think maybe Pouf is in the lead to be the lead/alpha hen (I don't think you call it an alpha hen - I need to look up the right term - but you get the picture).
The St Patties day party was a lot of fun and even though it reduced my productivity for the weekend, I think it was well worth it - after all - you know what they say about all coop and no play!! ;)

Friday, March 19, 2010

Rafters and Corned Beef!

The last two days have been very busy so I only had a few hours this evening when I was able to work on the coop - but I got another part of it checked off the list! Today was my first time using a Skill Saw and I think I did OK - I was able to make the cuts needed for the rafters - and I only cut into the saw horses once! I have to say Skill Saws really kick up a lot of sawdust. I don't have safety goggles so I just wear my sunglasses - but I would be willing to bet that is the first time someone has worn Prada sunglasses while running a Skill Saw!

I'm having some friends over for my annual St. Patty's Day bash tomorrow - so probably no coop work until Sunday - but I am hoping to get the roofing on and MAYBE some of the wire on - but it all depends on how fit I am for work after a night of Guinness and Irish festivities! In case anyone else is going to make their Irish dinner this weekend - I have a great Corned Beef recipe to share that is adapted from one found in Sunset magazine many years ago.

Recipe (Serves 12):

  • 2 very large sweet onions
  • 8-10 large carrots, peeled
  • 2 heads green cabbage (enough to cut into 6 wedges each)
  • 3 Lbs small (2 in.) thin skinned potatoes - I like red potatoes for this
  • 6-8 Lbs Corned Beef
  • 2 c. malt vinegar
  • 2 large cans Guinness (the kind with the nitrogen cartridge in the can)
  • 1 Tbsp mustard seed
  • 1 Tbsp coriander seed
  • 1/2 Tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 Tbsp dill seed
  • 1/2 Tbsp whole allspice

You will need a very large stock pot - 15-20 quarts. Using a sharp knife cut away as much of the fat on the outside of the corned beef as you can - this keeps the dinner from ending up very greasy. Put the prepared meat into the pot. Coarsely chop up enough carrots and onion to make 1 cup chopped of each and add it to the pot. Add vinegar, Guinness and all the spices to the pot. If the liquid does not cover the meat you can add water to cover - but I personally like to add more vinegar and Guinness - sticking to roughly the same proportions listed above. Cover the pan and put it over high heat (it will take about 20 minutes to come to a boil). Simmer for about 3 hours until the meat is tender.

While it is cooking, cut the cabbage and onion into wedges so that you have at least one wedge per person. Cut the carrots into 3-4 inch long pieces and scrub potatoes. Once meat is tender - add onions, carrots and potatoes to the pot and put the cabbage in on top of everything. Bring back to a boil (about 20 minutes); reduce heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the cabbage and potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork.

Remove everything to a platter, cut the corned beef on the diagonal across the grain and serve with coarse grain or Dijon mustard (some people like both - I prefer coarse grain).

SLAINTE!! (cheers in Irish)
On the chick front they are growing so fast it is hard to keep up! They nearly empty a quart feeder full of food and also a quart of water a day - its really amazing they can eat so much. Of course, some of it gets spilled into the bedding in the brooder, but I think they eat the majority of it. I put the last food in today so I HAVE to go to Tractor Supply tomorrow and get another (bigger) bag than the one I got when they arrived a week and a half ago.
I did some checking on the backyard chicken forum and everyone seems to think the chicks being skittish is still pretty normal - they said we just need to keep at it and do our best to make time to hold each one for a little time each day.
So tomorrow I am off to the farmers market in Leon Springs to check out the produce, then Tractor Supply and then the whirlwind to prep for the party begins. I should have more coop pics by the end of the weekend!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Coop frame up!

Victory!!! I took another hour of vacation time to try to give myself enough time to do some work on the coop tonight and I managed to do quite a lot! I moved the back row of concrete piers, got the frame up and all connected (and the corners are actually square - yes!), and managed to also get the last remnants of limestone chop block into place for yet another small veggie bed.

Yes, my back is tired, and no I don't care - I am thrilled that I was able to get all this done - all on my own!

Now I just need to decide what to plant in the new bed. I still have some Yukon Gold seed potatoes that I need to put somewhere, so maybe those can go in this new bed. I also have been thinking about getting an artichoke plant - those get quite big so that might be better planted on its own. Another option would be something like raspberries which my daughter and I absolutely love, so I need to think about it and figure out what would be best. I still have one other small area out back where I could potentially put another bed, and I have a front fence that has nothing on it that might be great with raspberries growing on it. So I need to think through the space I have left and figure out what's best.
I have a friend who owns a nursery - so maybe I will ask him what he recommends. He also offered to come help me put some siding on the coop for the hen house - and although I am pretty proud for my progress on my own, some help might be good to get things finished. I think in another two or three weeks the chicks are going to need more space, so getting the coop finished sooner rather than later would be great.

The chicks are doing really well - they are getting very bold and don't hesitate to come running for strawberries. They still don't like being picked up - but once they are picked up they settle down. I'm not sure if they will ever like to be picked up; there must be some way to teach them not to mind, but I am not sure how to do it. I may need to ask on the chicken forum to figure out what we aren't doing that we should.

So generally I had a busy evening and now I am off to relax, make myself some dinner, pour another one of those martinis and watch a movie!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Trial and error

Well - I guess when you try something new a little trial and error is expected. Unfortunately my "error" means I have to move the back row of "piers" for the chicken coop. I neglected to take into account the four inches of depth for both the front and back walls, so the foundation piers are several inches off. I am smart enough however to move the back row, instead of the front row, so I have less re-digging to do since the back row is mostly above grade due to the slope of that part of the yard. So although I was extremely proud of myself for managing to get all 7 additional blocks in place and level - I have the back row in the wrong place. So I am a little less proud knowing that I will need to do them over. I took a little time off from work this afternoon to try to get ahead - too bad I have to take a few steps back to undo the misplacement. However, the silver lining is that the back row really requires very little digging so my back will be thrilled!

So more on the silver lining front - the fall veggies are looking great. I ran out of time before the sun went down to get them sprayed with some liquid seaweed fertilizer, but it is supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow (I hear it outside my window right now actually) so maybe that's better saved for a day when it won't all wash away right away. :)

The chicks are doing really well - they are starting to understand that people mean treats, so when we put a hand in the brooder they come running. They still aren't too fond of getting picked up, but we got Milkshake and Cadbury to relax
and just enjoy getting strawberries with no one chasing them!

We also finally came up with a name for the last chick. She is so fluffy and her cheek tufts are so big that they nearly poke her in the eye - so my daughter thought that "Pouf" was a perfect name because she looks like a big pouf of feathers. So we now have Amelia, Pouf, Cadbury and Milkshake. I'm not sure if these are appropriate names for chickens or not - but those are their names none the less. Its amazing how quickly they grow- they are all starting to get real feathers on their wings and everyone except Cadbury (in the pic below with the strawberry) has the start of tail feathers too.

So with rain and a wet muddy yard I am quite certain I cannot move the piers tomorrow - and Wednesday will also probably be too wet - so I am on hold for at least a few days - unless I can work on the roof assembly in the garage - but I'm not going to count on that. Perhaps a day of no building, no digging and no heavy lifting will do me good :)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

More coop progress

This may not look much different from what I posted yesterday - but all the walls were sanded and stained today so they are ready to put together. Of course the time change threw my schedule off a bit - I didn't reset the clock before bed so I woke up and by the time I got breakfast to the kids it was nearly 10:00! I was going to try to assemble the coop today but decided it will be too hard to move assembled. The 10 foot walls are pretty heavy and I need help from the kids to be able to move them. So, I decided it will be better to get the foundation piers ready and then move everything outside and set it up.

I was able to get 3 of the 10 piers into the ground - 7 more to go! But I have one short end wall set of piers in the ground and level which I am happy about. I am hoping to get two more piers each night this week after work, but there are certainly a lot of things going on this week. The kids are home for Spring Break - so I am not sure I will be able to work each night - but who knows - maybe I can get them to help dig holes!

Once the piers are all in place, I need to cut, sand and stain two more 2x4s to go across the top to connect the front and back walls. and then I can move it outside and set it up. Some friends are coming for dinner next Saturday (annual St. Patties day feast - I will post recipes when the time is closer) - so I am hopeful that I can have the coop set up by then. If I have the roof supports started by then they will be able to get a feel for the way it will look which would be great!

The chicks are still doing very well - more strawberries and more chicken rodeo as they stole them back and forth and peeped and ran around like crazy. The kids also had some friends come by today to see the chicks (the friends' parents also brought me a few sanders so the kids could help me with the sanding which was a big help!). Everyone thought they were very cute and so soft and sweet - kids really love them and even grown ups can't help but think they are adorable.
So that brings us to the end of the weekend. It went by too quickly and I wish I had two more days off so I could get the coop up, but the work week calls and honestly my back won't mind the break!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Coop Recupe Martini!

A long hard day today - so I decided the best way to recuperate was with a nice rosemary, lemon and pear martini! This one is great for parties or just to mix for yourself! Love the way the blue flowers from the rosemary look floating on top!

Recipe (serves 2):
1/2 c. chilled vodka
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp pear brandy (also called Poire William - look for the bottle with a whole pear inside - NOT pear Schnapps)
4 Tbsp Rosemary simple syrup

Combine ingredients in a shaker with ice and pour into a chilled martini glass!

To make the rosemary simple syrup combine 1/2 c. sugar, 1/2 c. water and 1 sprig rosemary (about 6 inches long) in a saucepan and bring to a boil, boil until sugar dissolves, remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Remove the rosemary sprig and chill syrup. The rosemary syrup can also be used combined with lemon juice and seltzer water to make a non-alcoholic rosemary lemonade fizz!

So why am I tired and in need of a martini? Well I worked my tail off this morning on the coop! I followed the instructions very carefully and managed to build the main frame of the chicken coop. The front and rear walls are 10 ft long and 6 ft high, and the end walls are 6 ft wide, so the coop will have 60 sq ft of run space. Having the 4 main walls done sounds like I would be nearly done, but unfortunately I'm only about 5 pages into a 25 page set of directions! But I am really proud of myself - I did it all myself - with just a little help from the kids to do some sanding and move the finished walls into the garage to keep them out of the elements until I can get them stained.

I am hoping that tomorrow I can get them all sanded and stained and with luck if I am not too tired I will start work on the roof supports.

So last but not least, a chick update! The babies are all doing well - tonight we hand fed them small pieces of strawberries and you should have seen the hilarity that ensued! They leaped and ran around and chased each other like mad all trying to steal whatever piece of strawberry that someone else had. All this even though there was a whole dish of strawberry pieces - more than enough to go around!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Second garden planted!

More good progress! This evening after work, I was able to move the tomatoes and cucumbers out of my living room and into the larger of the two new garden beds today! The cucumbers were already blooming so hopefully they will take off now that they are into the garden. I'm not sure the tomatoes will do as well as I hoped - they are very tall and spindly - so I will have to keep an eye on them. Worst case I replace them with transplants from the store. I also transplanted the tomatillos transplants and the two tomato transplants I bought - so those are all in the ground!

I still need to get the red peppers into the garden so I left some room for them, but I have almost filled in the rest. In addition to the transplanted plants, I sowed seas for corn, fennel, bush beans, purple cow peas (like black eyed peas), carrots, watermelon, yellow squash, a mesculin mix for salad and dill. I tried carrots once before but the soil was too heavy and I pulled them too soon - so I thought I would try again. Worst case I can pickle them like last time!

In my other garden things are progressing - most of the garlic shoots have come up and I see tiny, tiny grass like sprouts coming up where I planted leeks. I'm very excited about the leeks - I love them in soup ans braised and I can't wait to see if I can grow them successfully! Once they come up I understand that I need to pile dirt up around them so that the base of the leek is buried - this is what keeps that part white. I need to read up more on it to see exactly when I need to do that.

I hit Home Depot at lunch and got all of the coop supplies ordered - they say they will deliver it all tomorrow - hopefully before lunch but we will just have to wait our turn on the delivery schedule. I am excited to start work on it - but a little nervous too. I have built small things on my own (like step stools for the kids) but most things I have built I have had help on - or I assisted and someone else did the main "building" part. Either way in a few more weeks the chicks are going to be ready to move into bigger living quarters! Today I was able to feed them little bits of egg white from my fingers and when I put my hand in now they come running. They don't really like being picked up still, but the kids are determined to solve that!

In this picture my daughter s holding the smaller of the two Easter Egger chicks. Although it looks like her eyes are closed - you just can't see them because she has big tufts of feathers on her cheeks that nearly cover her eyes. This is the brave one - she is always out in front of the gang - the first one to explore and is definitely already trying out her wings - perhaps we need to name her Amelia after Amelia Earhart! The kids think that the yellow chick should be Milkshake - they are sure she will be white - I am betting slightly beige speckled - but we will go with Milkshake regardless. :)

Wish me luck with the building project tomorrow!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Another day

Well I don't have too much new to report today - other than a cold which kept me out of the garden when I got home from work. However, when I got home, I saw signs of spring with the first Iris blooming in my front garden. The sun was starting to set, so I apologize for the bad lighting in the picture, but try to picture it with the sun glistening on the beautiful salmon colored petals and the striking blue-green foliage coming up all around it. Truly a sign of spring and new beginnings!

The chicks are all doing fine and getting stronger and showing personality. The smallest of them all is the bravest - she is one of the Easter Eggers - every time I put my hand into the brooder she runs to the front and pecks at my fingernails. I am not sure if she is protecting everyone or thinks I have treats for her! The others are not quite as brave yet - but when held and softly stroked on their neck and back they close their eyes and relax. So I think they are starting to get used to people. I think they may also be getting used to Oliver (our cat) he loves to watch them (yes they are protected by hardware cloth so he can't get to them).

So on to another day - tomorrow I head to buy coop supplies - they will need to be delivered so they should come Saturday morning so I can start the work! More to come!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Peep peep peep!

The baby chicks arrived today! The one on the left is called a Silver Cuckoo Maran - when she is grown she will lay dark chocolate brown eggs, so we decided that since Easter is nearly here she should be named Cadbury!

The other three (center in the pic below) are all Easter Eggers - but we don't know what colors they will be when they grow up (or which color egg they might end up laying, blue or green or pinkish brown)- so we are still working on names for them - suggestions are welcome!

It has been a busy day - after the chicks arrived and I went to retrieve them from the post office I came home and got them introduced to the brooder. after dipping their beaks in the water and the GroGel (nutrient powder you mix with water - that's the green stuff in the picture above. Once they were settled in I got back to work on my real job. A few hours later the bell rang and it was one of the contractors I asked to give me a bid on putting a gate across the end of my driveway to fully enclose my backyard so that I can keep deer and dogs out and the chickens in (when they get older). That was no sooner done than another truck pulled up - this one loaded down with two cubic yards of garden soil and another 1/2 ton of limestone chop block to finish off some other yard projects that I started last year!

The kids got home from school just before 5 and they went crazy when they saw the chicks were here! They were so excited - they spent the next two hours holding the chicks and petting them and just watching them. By the end of the evening the chicks would just sit on their laps - so cute!! Even Oliver, our cat is adjusting. He watched them all day from different vantage points, but didn't make any aggressive moves. Of course, he will still be separated from them when we aren't home or are sleeping - I'm not taking any chances :)

So it has been quite a day and I am going to relax now with a nice glass of wine to relax while I plan out the frenzy of coop building and garden finishing that needs to go on this coming weekend!

G'night everyone!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Rosemary, but no chicks

Well unfortunately no fuzzy little peepers arrived today - they are still in transit. I talked to the post office and they think they will probably get here in the morning. They said they will call me as soon as they arrive in the building (which they said is typically 5:15am) and I can come pick them up. So I am hoping for a wake-up call from the post office tomorrow! I'm pretty sure the kids will be a little late to school if our little fluff bundles make there way here.

Even with no chicks it was a beautiful day in the hill country today - sunny and mid-70s. In March! Spring and Fall are why I love it here. In my evening garden check today I noticed that I have Red Swiss Chard sprouting up little leaves with bright red stems, the garlic is just starting to poke through the soil and the rosemary has lovely blue flowers. The transplanted cabbages, Brussel sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower are all looking good and finally seem to be growing. I wondering if there might have been too many leaves in the compost which might be making the soil a little to acid (I have read that can happen) - so this weekend I may buy a soil kit to test it and see. Of course a lot depends on the chicks and the coop building plans for the weekend. Soil tests may need to wait :)
So not much new tonight - hopefully more exciting news and pictures tomorrow!

Monday, March 8, 2010


The baby chicks were due to hatch and ship today - which means sometime between now and Thursday four little fuzzy chicks will arrive! That means I have to get ready! I have been reasearching all I can on baby chicks, checking off lists and making sure I have all the right supplies on hand - it reminds me of the nesting period I went through just before I had my children - only this time "nesting" is a little more literal than it was before!

I ordered three Easter Eggers (EEs) and one Silver Cuckoo Maran - all pullets (female chickens for those new to the lingo like me). From what I have read, the EEs will lay either blue, green, pale brown or pale pinkish eggs - each hen only lays one color egg so you never really know what color eggs you will get until they start laying - so hopefully we will get at least a few green and blue layers. Marans lay dark "chocolate" brown eggs - but the pictures I have seen seem to range from typical looking brown eggs to very dark (yup - they are pretty close to milk chocolate) eggs. Eggs are a long way down the road though so we will have to wait and see when the time comes. I have read that hens don't start laying regularly until they reach 24-26 weeks and don't really reach full production until they are 30 weeks old - so we will have to wait until the end of the summer to know what kinds of eggs we will get.

I have a brooder area all set up for the new arrivals and I have my fingers crossed that they make the journey safely so the kids and I can start our journey with them! Fuzzy chick pics coming soon!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

No luck on low cost coop supplies

Well, all I can say is that I tried. I trundled up to Austin to check out the Austin Habitat for Humanity ReStore to see if I might be able to find any of my building supplies for the coop there at a low cost. I did manage to find a screen door spring and some inexpensive linoleum tiles for the floor of the coop, but that doesn't even make a dent in the page and a half of supplies listed in the coop plans. :) Guess Home Depot will be getting my money this time around.

I did however have more luck getting the baby chick supplies - so the weekend was not wasted! I got a galvanized feed tub, some hardware cloth, a brooder light and red bulb, a thermometer, a 1 quart waterer, a 1 quart feeder, chick starter and some stuff called "grow-gel" that the local chicken store recommended to reduce shipment trauma. Its this powdery stuff you mix with water and it expands into this green gel stuff that helps rehydrate the chicks after shipping and it has protein, vitamins, amino acids, fats, carbs and probiotic bacteria - I hope it does the trick and helps the new chicks settle in and recover from the shipping process!

I did not manage to get the fill dirt for the new garden beds - it rained today so the stone and soil store closed shop early. I will call them tomorrow though and see if they can bring it by so I can get that garden going. I found Chocolate Cherry and Green Zebra tomatoes at the grocery store today and some tomatillos too - things I don't have seed for - so I bought them and set them in outside in a shady spot and will put them in the garden hopefully as soon as the dirt arrives! I also have a whole bunch of Yellow Pear, Roma and Brandywine tomatoes, along with Pickling cucumbers and some Marconi red peppers (Italian variety commonly used for roasted red peppers) all growing in my living room under my new seed starting light (pic below). They are getting BIG and need to get outside so I need that dirt!!

Wish me luck with the dirt and coop materials - lots to do in the next few weeks!

Friday, March 5, 2010

The garden expansion

So as I mentioned in my first post, I started by expanding my veggie garden. These are the new gardens - which are next to my original garden (sorry for the less than fabulous picture!).

I used 1 ton of 6x4 limestone chop block of varying lengths. Seriously - its kind of freaky to order a "ton" of anything and actually mean it!
I did it by myself - so ladies - don't think you can't do these things if you are on your own. You absolutely can. I am not big or burly and other than a sore back the next day I am no worse for the wear. Just remember as you stack up the block, don't align the seams or it won't be as stable - so stagger the seams and you should be fine. There is no mortar needed because the total height is only 8 inches and the blocks are wider than they are tall so they don't tip over very easily - especially not once they are full of soil.
The larger of the new beds is 4x12. I decided after a few years of working with my original bed, which was 6x12 ft, that it was too difficult to get to things in the middle without wasted path space. So the new bed is narrower so that I can reach to the center from either side to improve access and reduce wasted space. I think it turned out well if I do say so myself!
The other smaller garden in the corner is going to be an attempt to grow asparagus. I have read that asparagus doesn't like "root competition" so it is best to plant them on their own. I have ordered the asparagus from and will be planting that bed as soon as it arrives.
As a side note, I LOVE - I get all kinds of things there - and they always seem to be high quality (and no I don't work for them and am not affiliated with them in any way).
As you can see, both beds still need soil - I will be having garden soil delivered in the next week and amending that with some composted horse manure that I got from my parents ranch. I am hoping that I will get a nice rich soil that gets everything off to a good start. Over time I will also be adding my own compost from my yard, lawn, kitchen and soon chicken waste. I have composted for a few years but adding the chickens will improve on what I have right now.

Step 1: Take the leap

There are a lot of sites out there that talk about the virtues of backyard farming and "urban homesteading" and I have to say after reading a lot of them, and watching Food, Inc., I decided to give it a shot.

At this point I have started an expansion project on my gardens to expand my growing area, and have ordered baby chicks and will be putting in a backyard chicken coop for eggs. No roosters, no birds for meat - just a few pet chickens that will also provide us with fresh eggs.

I am a single mom of two elementary school age children (one boy and one girl) and we have a house cat named Oliver. I didn't grow up on a farm but I did ride horses when I was young and have had limited exposure to various kinds of livestock. So I am learning as I go and expect to make many mistakes along the way but with luck I will learn from those and get better at this with time. :)

So now to set expectations - I am not expecting to raise all my own food or live off my 1/4 acre, but I do expect to substantially increase the produce I grow vs. buy, stop buying eggs from what I consider to be cruel sources, get my kids engaged in gardening and spend more time outdoors!

I will blog a little each week about my progress and hope to get lots of feedback and ideas for how to expand and still keep it sane ;-)