Back to Basics: Chickens and Gardens

Blanche with a blackberry-stained beak

Blanche with a blackberry-stained beak

As I prepare again for another quick trip away, I will update you on the state of the chickens and gardens upon my return.  The big news around here is that blackberry season is now in full swing and we’re all taking advantage.  When I let the chickies out to free-range, the roosters all immediately run to the blackberry patch and begin picking berries and calling to the girls.  After the boys hand out a few to any interested parties, the whole flock dives head-first into the brambles and feasts.

molting i guess 005

Once the girls start feeding themselves, they generally ignore the boys, who all continue to call the girls to hand them more berries.

JB picks a blackberry

JB picks a blackberry

They all come away with full tummies and purple beaks and it’s very cute :)

As for eggs, we seem to be getting 6-8 per day most of the time now from our 9 girls.  My neighbors reported that they had days with 4, 6, and 8 eggs throughout our vacation week.  Also, the eggs are now getting larger, which is nice for baking.  When you’re cooking scrambled eggs, it doesn’t matter how big or small the eggs are.  But, when you’re baking a cake, exact amounts are serious business and small eggs could throw the whole thing off.  So, as a learning experiment, I weighed several Grade A Large Organic eggs from the store – weight range: 1 7/8ths ounces to 2 1/8th ounces.  Most are exactly 2.0 ounces.  I also weighed some of my remaining farmers’ market barred rock eggs (I did this weighing several weeks ago and just forgot to report on it here) and they came out the same.  My own pullet eggs, however, were weighing in at 1.5 to 1.75 ounces.  Just shy of a large egg, which is what you need for baking.  It’s tricky to adjust for that difference, lemme tell ya.  Anyway, as of this week, many of my eggs have just started weighing in at 2.0 ounces, so I’m excited.  I will keep you posted on egg sizes as Orpingtons and Marans are both considered heavy breeds and I think they are supposed to lay quite large eggs when they are fully mature.  Easter Eggers are a medium-sized bird and so should lay slightly smaller eggs than the other two breeds.

blanche, looking a bit scruffy

blanche, looking a bit scruffy

Last to report is that a few of my girls are starting to look a bit disheveled, as you can see in the picture of Blanche.  There are two possibilities as to the cause.  Possibility one: they are starting to molt.  Chickens generally go through a molt their first Fall, where they slow down or stop laying and drop all of their feathers in a short period of time and grow in new ones.  I am hoping this is the case.  Even though it is only mid-summer, my chicks were born very early in the year… late Winter, rather than Spring… and so could perhaps already be at the first major molting stage.  Possibility two: they are being overbred by my too-many roosters.  If pullets/hens are mated too often by an overly-zealous rooster or too many roosters, they can have bare patches from where the boys hold on to do the deed.  Since Blanche and Shelley in particular are showing significant amounts of fluff (due to lack of feathers) on their rear ends, it makes me worry a little.  However, the fluff does seem to be showing in other patches around their bodies, so I really hope it’s a molt.  Either way, at least two boys have got to go.  Cori at My Empty Nest Days is still interested in taking Scruff.  We just have to work out the details.

Garden News

baby watermelon

baby watermelon

YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  I HAVE A BABY WATERMELON ON THE VINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Can you tell I’m excited?  I returned from Alaska to find this beautiful baby and I’m so happy I can hardly see straight.  I have tried on multiple occasions in the past to grow melons and I have failed miserably every single time.  Even if this watermelon doesn’t ever mature, this is farther than I’ve ever gotten before… I’ve never even had one set on a plant before… not in California or Washington.  HOORAY!!!!

ambitious tomato plants

ambitious tomato plants

When I left, my tomato plants were just picking up steam after being terribly stunted for weeks on end.  They were maybe 2 feet tall and just starting to set a few fruit.  Upon my return, I found plants as tall as 5 feet and climbing out of the boxes into the other boxes and also out into the weed-filled paths between the boxes.  I guess a zillion-degree heatwave followed by an inch or two of rain, followed by bright sun and temps in the 90s makes for happy tomato plants.

Rose tomatoes

Rose tomatoes

The vines are covered with young fruit and are growing like mad.

san marzanos

san marzanos

The most ambitious of the bunch is the Blondkopfchen.  Just before I left, I stumbled on a blog that said that the Blondkopfchen is the craziest tomato plant the person had ever grown… going every which way.  Well, I found that to be very true.  It sends giant vines off of every part of the plant and sprawls many feet out in every direction.  It is also COVERED in billions of flowers.  I have never seen so many flowers on one tomato plant.  It is unbelivable.

Blondkopfchen flowers

Blondkopfchen flowers

That’s a terrible picture because the sun was really low in the sky and really bright and I took the shot through the bird netting like a dope.  You’ll just have to take my word for it.

Note to Self: 34 Cucumber Plants is Too Much for Two People

equally ambitious cucumber vines

equally ambitious cucumber vines

So, in my attempt to grow several new varieties (new to me… but actually old heirlooms) of cucumber, I may have gotten a little carried away.  Six varieties combined with my inability to thin plants (what if I thin the wrong ones, huh??  did you think of THAT???) has put us in an interesting cucumber situation.  I had about 30 cucumbers in the fridge before I left.  The day I got back I picked 27 more.  Today I picked another 6.  So, tonight I made pickles.  Lots of pickles.  Lots and lots of pickles.  And I still have 8 trillion cucumbers in the fridge.  hmmm….

This is a lesson I should have learned last year… when I learned this: three cucumber plants is too much for two people.  Well, when 3 is too many, surely 34 is the right amount :)  I guess it runs in the family.  Last year, after canning tomatoes and sauce until she barfed, my mom BEGGED everyone she knew to kill her if she planted as many tomatoes again the next year.  That year she had 18 plants.  This year she has 23.  I guess some of us never learn.

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2 thoughts on “Back to Basics: Chickens and Gardens

  1. OMG, you are leaving again?? :(
    Your garden looks FANTASTIC! I’m getting tomatoes and green peppers right now. That is all I planted. But besides that I have a zucchini plant growing out of my compost pile. lol
    I have several guinea pigs. I give them zucchini chunks when I cook some. I guess there were some seeds left in the cage, and viola! Giant zucchini plant. It has a bunch of flowers on it. I’m excited about it cause I was going to plant one, but never got around to it. lol

    Have a safe trip! Don’t be gone so long, your faithful readers miss you. :)

  2. Sounds like a road trip this week-end :D and if I don’t need to insulate I won’t. Why add to my never-ending honey do list. BTW I have a broody buff. I went in the coop on an egg run and tried to get what was under her. She puffed up 3 times her size, her eyes glowed red as her head spun around and she spit fire at me. Ok, slight exaggeration, but not by much. I have never been given such a dirty look by a critter and I never did gets the eggs from her. She was prepared to fight to the death and I wasn’t. yet. Call me on saturday or sunday and let me know what works for you.

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