A Chicken, a Coyote and Two Baby Bunnies

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Guess what I caught trying to break into the chicken coop last night? A coyote! A couple weeks ago one of our hens disappeared. We searched the orchard and didn’t find a single feather. Our neighbors hadn’t seen her either but one did warn us that a coyote had been hanging around so we figured maybe he got her.

Then a couple days ago we were herding a few of the chickens back to their pen and found a pile of feathers in the neighboring field. Now, having seen the coyote last night, I am sure he must have caught her. Poor thing. We think maybe one of the kids didn’t count them when their coop was locked and she was left out overnight.

Thankfully the coop is coyote proof and as long as we remember to lock up all the chickens at night, their safe.

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On a happier note, we have baby bunnies! I’m not going to get into the hows and whys, but in January we ended up with two rabbits. Brae has been asking for a rabbit for years and since she just had a birthday we decided to keep them. We found out too late that neither was fixed and the girl was preggo! In mid February I went in to check on them and heard tiny squeaks. I found four live babies and one dead one. Two more died over the next couple days due to injury and I think a little neglect on the mom rabbits part. But we have two healthy fluffy baby bunnies that are thriving and happy with their mom in their own separate cage from Dad. Brae is thrilled. Her friends all want one and I’m now getting dirty looks from their parents.

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Just kidding. They all think I’m brave for even trying the whole bunny thing. When I have to help clean the cage I regret it, but when I am holding one of these tiny fluffy creatures and when I see the joy on my daughters face when she holds one I can help but love them.

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The Hen and the Rooster

Earlier this week I went out to gather up the escaped chickens from the orchard and found them down the driveway chattering away with a beautiful black rooster!  This rooster was very interested in my girls and followed us back to the coop.  I didn’t let him in the pen and tried to shoo him away, but he had other ideas and promptly jumped a good 15 ft straight up into the tree that shades the pen.

At first he was a novelty.  He had glossy iridescent black blue feathers and a bright red comb.  But his glamour quickly wore off afterI spent the rest of the day repeatedly chasing him out of the pen and down the road.  We finally came to the realization that he wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  But night was falling and we thought maybe he would go back to his own coop when our girls were put away.

It was not to be.

Tom let the girls out of their coop early the next morning and by the time I got up at around 8:30am and headed out to feed, the rooster had beat the crud out of our favorite hen Betty White.  I found her huddled in a corner of the pen, covered in blood, eye swollen shut, and missing dozens of feathers from the back of her neck.  Our poor hen had been brutally raped by that evil rooster.

I spent the rest of that day tending to Betty’s wounds and chasing the rooster away from the coop, only to have him run straight back.  I even had Chaser, a trained birding dog, out to help chase him away, but that rooster wasn’t fazed.  That evening we went around the neighborhood asking if anyone was missing a rooster and no one was.  Several people knew of him and a few even expressed a bit of hatred toward his tendency to crow at 5am from the road.  We decided that he must be feral or had been dumped by someone who didn’t want him anymore.

The next day he still hadn’t left and the neighbors gathered to discuss what to do with him.  We decided that because of his aggression there was no choice but to end his days.  I felt bad for the rooster, but also felt justified.  Without an owner to claim him he was just going to keep terrorizing the hens and the neighborhood.  We really had no choice.  I promise it was swift and as painless as possible.

Betty has medicine for her eye and will hopefully be as good as new in a week or so.  Fingers crossed.

Feathered Beauties

The chickens have gotten so big!  It seems like only yesterday they were little chicks.  I guess in the same way, this pregnancy has flown by too.  We have about a month left before the flock is old enough to begin laying eggs and a month or so after that I will have a new chick to take care of!  Until then we are having fun watching them cleverly escape the safety of their enclosure and then wander and play until we can herd them back.  We aren’t too worried about something grabbing one.  Chaser keeps most of the critters away during the day.

The chicken’s feathers are mesmerizing, aren’t they? The sun plays across the patterns and colors in an almost hypnotic way.  Like little walking works of art.  I wish I was able to catch it better on camera.

I have been cooking a bunch, but hardly taking any pictures of my food. By the time its ready I am too pooped to photograph it!  Even so, I hope to have a new recipe up this week.

Growing Growing Garden

The garden is moving along beautifully.  We are harvesting a couple tiny sweet strawberries every other day.  I’m picking radishes almost daily as well.  Our daughter loves to eat the peas right off the vine so none have made it back to the kitchen yet.  They go straight from the vine into her mouth.  I love that I don’t have to yell, “STOP!  I have to wash the chemicals off that first!”

I was told that my whole childhood and now I think it sounds disgusting.  I mean, we wont let our kids eat that french fry that drops on the ground, but they can eat fruit sprayed with bug killer, as long as we rinse it first.

Not in my house.  I haven’t gone 100% organic by any means, but I do buy organic when I can, and I grow a lot of my own food organically.  I hope that soon organic food becomes the norm and anything with pesticides is shunned.  We are getting closer.  I have been able to find many organic fruits and vegetables on sale for approximately the same price as non organic ones.  The more that happens the healthier we will all be.

This year I am not going to weigh out my harvest.  I doubt I will have the time or energy to weigh everything with the pregnancy and new baby coming right at the end of harvest season.  I might keep records of how much I preserve, but no promises.  I got most of my transplants and new seeds from the local town hardware and garden store.  They had a beautiful selection of veggie transplants to choose from.  I kept things simple and grabbed a few determinate tomatoes, strawberries, a few herbs, and beans.  Lots of beans, I don’t know what I was thinking planting all those beans.  I have six green bush beans I bought as transplants, then planted 8 purple bean seeds and about 12 yellow bean seeds.  I didn’t expect them all to grow, but they did.  Guess I will be learning to preserve beans this year.

My one “fun plant” is an Italian Tomato Tree.  It’s supposed to grow vines up to 25 ft long and produce three bushels of tomatoes!  I’m planning on growing it along the chain link fence in my backyard.  That way I don’t have to build a massive support for it.

We also have loads of squash, cucumber and zucchini transplants I grew from seed.  If you live in the Sonoma county area and would like a free squash plant send me an email because I have several extras.

The chickens are turning into a brave little horde of bug catchers!  They fly from the coop in the morning without even a glance back at the chicken feed that I am pouring into their bowl.  They are headed for the trees and the feast of bugs and grass that awaits them there.

By evening they have learned to head back to the coop for a safe nights sleep.  Which is a good thing since we have caught a family of raccoons in our backyard every night this week.  Anyone notice the footprints in my garden bed?  Does anyone know what raccoons will do to my veggie garden?  I don’t have much experience with raccoons other than they are mean and steal cat food.

Around the Yard

Have your allergies been bad this year?  Ours are horrible!  I don’t know if it’s the climate in Sonoma County or if this is just a bad pollen year, but we have been suffering big time.  I bought a new allergen hepa filter vacuum  and it has helped a lot already.  I didn’t realize how bad our old vacuum had gotten.  The new vacuum picked up an entire canister worth of dirt just two days after I vacuumed with the old vacuum.  We have all noticed a big improvement in our allergies over the last 24 hours too.  Plus my carpet seems fluffier.

A lot has changed around the yard in the last week.  I harnessed all that second trimester energy into building a huge garden bed out of scrap lumber AND filing it with 6 wheelbarrow loads of dirt.  Although I have to admit it took me two days to do this, with lots of breaks and snacks.  I already plan on putting the beans, cucumbers and tomatoes in that bed, but I am still trying to decide if a squash or zucchini will fit too.  They get so big.  The bed is about 9ft by 3 ft so I have quite a bit of space, but we still have watermelons and cantaloupe to find a home for too!  I know it’s not all going to fit.

Our spring garden in the front yard is growing rapidly and is almost ready for thinning.  We also have had our first strawberry harvest of 2 berries.  They were delicious and I did not share.  I didn’t even tell anyone they were there.  Tee hehe.

The chickies moved into their new home this week.  They are very happy with their new digs.  There are big nesting boxes to cuddle in and perches to hang out on.  There’s a large grazing area protected by an old scrub oak tree and about 2 inches of leaf litter to sift through. They’re in bug heaven.

Don’t they have beautiful colors?  I love CoCo, the brown and white one.  She is going to be gorgeous.  My favorite personality wise is probably Betty White.  She is the white hen.  She is sweet and curious, always the first one to peek out of the hen-house and look around.  My neighbor and I spent a good half hour chatting in their new grazing area watching them peck away at sowbugs, worms and spiders.  We both agreed that it was very relaxing to watch them.  Their repetitive scratching, pecking and happy chirping is meditative, almost hypnotic.  I would bet that watching free range chickens for 30 minutes lowers your blood pressure tremendously, just like owning a cat or dog, except chickens give you eggs.

Whats happening in your garden this week?

 

A New Garden

Thank you for your congratulations about the baby!  We are really excited about this!  Our plan was to have our kids 5 years apart, but when that time came around it just wasn’t the right time for us.  Now, we are settled and not planning to move for at least a year and a half or more. Its time.

Its also time for planting!  This weather has been beautiful!  Its been mostly sunny and close to the 80s.  We even had a little hot weather warning in the weather report.  Saturday afternoon some new friends came by to visit and brought us an 18 pack of fresh eggs, a meat rabbit, and smoked bacon all from their small home farm.  We spent a lovely afternoon talking about their farm, our falcons and everyone’s kids.  We had the smoked bacon and eggs for brunch on Sunday.  They were so full of flavor!

As for the rabbit I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but I’m excited to try.  Tom is the only one who has had rabbit before.  Brae has already informed me that she DOES NOT eat rabbits.  I told her that she has many Italian ancestors who ate rabbits all the time, in fact Tom’s mother ate rabbits at her Sicilian grandmother’s house quite often.  Brae wasn’t swayed whatsoever.  I will let you know how we end up cooking this rabbit and we’ll see if I can get Brae to try it.  Tom is really fighting for fried, but I would rather go with braised.  Any suggestions?

Ok, back to gardening.  I started drawing up plans in January while the bird baths were iced over.  I didn’t think my backyard got much sun so I wrote it off as a no garden area.  Bummer.

In February I tried to decide which plants to grow this season and where they might go.

In March I went through my old seeds and threw most into an empty bed by my house, not expecting much, but hoping anyway.  I also realized that when the sun actually shines it fills half the backyard for most of the day.  Yippee more garden space.

By the beginning of April I had at least one large bed built of free scrap wood, a truckload of soil dumped in the front yard, and my old pea seeds started coming up out of the empty bed by the house.

Now, it’s the last half of April and I feel on track.  The large bed is filled with soil and planted with broccoli, broccoli rabe, spinach, 5 types of lettuce mixes, swiss chard, radishes and carrots. One of the small beds by the house is stuffed with new strawberry plants with more in pots, another has 6 shallot bulbs still underground, and the third is full of peas and waiting for a tomato plant to join them in about a week or two. We have squash, watermelon, and cantaloupe seeds planted in 4 inch pots. There are a few tomato plants that I found on sale as well as three lemon cucumber plants. Has anyone tried lemon cucumber? I am excited to try them this year.

I also have a space marked out in the backyard for two more beds. Wood for one large bed has been scavenged and I am looking for a few more boards for the second bed. Hope to have those completed this week.

Apple trees are blooming all over town now. We have an orchard full of apples and one lonely pear in our backyard. My neighbor told me that the pear tree, even though its small, produces a surprising amount of delicious fruit every year. I can’t wait to try them. I also can’t wait to try the blackberries. Oh the blackberries! We missed the harvest by a month when we moved here. There were only a few late berries left. The back wall of our yard is covered with a massive wild blackberry patch that is in desperate need of TLC. I think so far I am most excited about a summer full of unlimited free blackberries, if I can get back there to pick them!

What are you growing this year? Anything new?

Introducing the Chicks

When we moved to Sonoma county I really hoped that somehow we would be able to have chickens again.  Even though they ate most of my ground vegetables and pounds of tomatoes I still loved watching them scratch the ground for bugs and fight over a pile of greens.  Thankfully, we were lucky enough to move next door to two wonderful families who have been such a blessing the last couple months.  As we got to know each other we all kept talking about chickens and how we all wanted to try them.  So we have decided to do it together.

One Sunday a few weeks ago we all got together and began building this wonderful coop that our neighbor Nick designed.  When finished, it should house all eight chickens comfortably with a small yard for foraging, nesting boxes for eggs and super secure doors with locks so our babes will be safe from the many raccoons and foxes that hunt the orchard at night.  It’s a palace compared to my previous chicken shanty.

We got several different kinds of chicks from the feed store in town including:

  • 2 Ameracunas
  • 2 Barred Rocks
  • 1 Rhode Island Red and 1 Rhode Island White
  • 1 Red Sex Link
  • 1 Spreckled Sussex

They are a little over a month old now and in a few weeks they will be big enough to go in their new coop!

I know my pictures are awful!  Those chicks were far too fast for my iphone camera.  We are still down a computer and I am currently borrowing by dear friend Tina’s extra macbook until we can get a new one.  We have been slammed with a few unexpected financial messes the last couple months that have really put a damper on our new computer and camera plans.  We are staying positive, trying not to lose perspective, and praying for a bright future ahead of us this year.  

Vineyard Trip 2011

I fought back tears as we drove away.  It was so much fun.  Tom is exhausted at night, but thanks his lucky stars every morning when he wakes up to this.

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I think I could live in his working trailer for a long time if I got to live somewhere as beautiful as this.  My days were spent cleaning his work/living place, medicating a sick hawk, cooking for several hungry workers, and blaring my car horn at invading starlings while scaring the crap out of the occasional car full of half drunk wine tasters (not intentionally of course!).  We flew falcons, saved and released a wild Shrike from a sparrow trap, munched on table grapes fresh from the vine, chatted with another falconer about growing up in Ireland, learned to strum on an Irish Banjo, flew kites… need I go on.  One more month and Tom will be home.  All these pictures were taken with my iphone 4.  I didn’t even take my dslr out of the bag.

So beautiful hereWe're grape!View from my trailer on the vineyard

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Heartland of CAWill eventually be $300 a bottle Pinot NoirI love abandoned buildingsGrapes for as far as the eye can seeSunset SilhouetteGrowing flowersTom and ThurgoodCanning Section at Vons SM.jpg

This Vons has the largest canning section I have ever seen!  My local store only has two types of jars and they are nearly impossible to find.

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This was our favorite stop on the way home.  Bubblegum Alley in San Luis Obispo, California.  Brae insisted, apparently Judy Moody has been here.  Yes that is all chewed up gum, 2-4 inches thick down the entire length of both walls.  Yes, it is nasty, but smells a lot better then you think.

*Due to naughty job poachers (yes, seriously) I cannot tell you exactly what vineyard that we are on or where, only that we are somewhere off the 101 freeway from Santa Barbara to Paso Robles.  In August it’s Paradise here.

Our First Egg

Look what I found in the compost pile this morning!  Our first chicken egg!  My excitement at this awesome find is mixed with sadness because this means its time for LadyHawke to go back to the farm she came from.  Her chicks don’t need her anymore and she is ready to move on.

Look what I found in the compost heap a few minutes ago!  Mama laid an egg!

Anything exciting happen to you this weekend?