Thursday, October 30, 2008

Garden Fail.

Ok, I suck. I know. Its been months since I updated. There's a very good reason for this though; its called "shame." After a promising start to the season, my poor garden took a turn for the worse. Seriously, photos of my garden from August should be on .

Still, its a good news/bad news sort of thing. The bad news is, my entire yield for the summer was: Three zucchini, two beans, a whole mess of cherry tomatoes, zero cucumbers, and one sollitary pepper. Yep. A sorry haul, huh? The yield wouldn't have kept my chickens going, let along myself and my husband.

The good news is that I pretty much know why everything failed, so I can make adjustments for next year.

1) Blame it on the weather: It ended up being an awful cool summer down on the coast. It never really got above 80 degrees, which didn't make the peppers very happy. They prefer it HOT. I think next year I'll forget sweet peppers in favor of something else, maybe potatoes or something else that likes cooler temps.

2) Lack of bees and butterflies: It turns out that zucchini needs to be pollinated in order to produce fruit. Lord knows those poor plants tried..every morning a couple of beautiful big yellow flowers were as wide-open and inviting as a sorority girl at a kegger. But there just weren't any bees to play the role of frat house pledge. I tried self-pollinating a couple of times, but had to admit that I had NO idea what the male vs. female part of the flower was. Next year I'll let nature handle it and plant some more flowers to make the yard attractive for those little buzzers.

3) Over-crowding: I tried to cram a lot into a small space (the books call it "intensive gardening", I call it "not being able to choose what to grow"). So the poor bush beans got crowded out and shaded over from the zucchini and the tomatoes.

4) Not pruning the tomatoes: This year, instead of intensively pruning the tomato bushes, I decided to let them go natural and "do their thing." Well, "decided" might be too strong an action word. "Sheer laziness" might be a better phrase. As a result, the cherry varieties took over the whole box, sprawling into a messy, disease-wracked pile. They did however, produce many tasty cherry tomatoes, both red and yellow pear varieties. Next year I'll go back to pruning, and try to feed more often.

5) Poor watering. Last year I was able to rely on the sprinklers to do a lot of my watering, but sprinklers really are a poor choice..they get the foliage wet which prompts disease, and they don't water evenly at the roots, which is where plants really need it. So next year I am determined to finally get that drip system into place. It's time.

The one bright note is still the chickens, who continue to produce lovely, organic eggs. I know that as long as they are around, I certainly won't starve.

Thanks ladies.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

June 11, 2008

Finally, some photos! I know, I've been lax in this regard. Weather is finally starting to warm up (hello, its mid-June!)and the tomatoes in particular are loving it. They have exploded and are taking over the planter.

This is not good, because I don't want them to crowd out my zucchini and bush beans! The latter, by the way, are sort of a mystery to me. They shot out of the ground quickly enough, but now seem to be growing verrrry slowly. Perhaps because of the aforementioned crowding.

The cucumbers, alas, didn't make it. I have NO idea what went wrong. Andthe peppers are limping a bit..I think they are waiting for some warmer weather. Temps have been in the mid-70's and I think they really prefer 80's. The zucchini is thriving though!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What a Difference A Week Makes

So, after the disaster of a few weeks ago (hereafter to be memorialized as the Great Chicken Crisis of Aught Eight) I carefully secured the fencing, top and bottom, moved away the wheelbarrow, and strewed pointy devices along the rock wall to discourage chickens from climbing up and launching themselves over the fencing.

I carefully replanted, and so far so good. All I needed was some heat, and over the past weekend, nature complied. BOY did she comply. Daytime temps went from the mid-60's to almost 90 degrees instantly, and the plants responded. I just happened to take some photos last Friday, I'll take some more tonight and post them. The tomatoes shot up about a foot and have several yellow flowers appearing. The zucchini exploded, and all the bean sprouts I planted have taken off.

The slow poke peppers are finally starting to show some good growth too. The only ones not particularly pleased with the heat are the cukes...I may have to rig up some shade for them. I also need to pick up some fish emulsion, as they must be hungry from all that rapid growth!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Disaster Strikes.

Last night I was in the kitchen, making dinner. I was in a pretty good mood, humming, pots boiling, etc. It was a lovely evening, I had let the chickens out to roam the yard and they were happily eating grass and bugs. Or so I thought.

I look up just in time to see ALL FOUR CHICKENS had somehow got around or over my fencing and were just going to town on my poor vegetable garden. I flipped. I ran out the door screaming, "NO! NO! NO! NO!", hurdled OVER the fencing and started picking up chickens and hurling them back over the fence.

Unfortunately, it was too late. I don't think they were in there for very long, but in a short time they had managed to destroy all my newly sprouted beans, the cucumber seedlings and all but one of the zucchini plants, which had been doing SO well.

I was livid. Livid and heartbroken. I know they were just plants, and I guess I can plant more, but I still can't figure out how the chickens got in there, and there is no point planting more until I can build some better fencing to keep them out. Which means more money and another project I didn't feel like taking on.

Roast chicken is sounding mighty good about now.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

A Kind of Magic.

There are few things in life so simple, and yet so incredibly magical and satisfying, as seeing a new green plant come up where once there was only a seed. Its particularly satisfying when you have spent a whole lot of time planting seeds only to have them not come up.

I have to admit, I've not had a whole lot of luck with seeds. I prefer to plant seedlings, which are larger and more tangible and considerably less likely to blow out of your hand by accident. Seeds often tend to be these tiny little barely there units, and I never know how many to plant, where and how deep. Plus, and let's face it, this is a pretty big reason, seeds often have to be planted inside, weeks and weeks before you can put them in the garden. I am nothing if not a "last-minute" sort of girl, and while I realize that planting seedlings is a bit of a cheat, I still feel like at least I am guaranteed some sort of result. Even if its just to watch my poor seedlings die a slow and miserable death.

So when I went out to check on the progress of my newly planted tomato, cucumber and zucchini seedlings and suddenly realized that my bush beans had all of a sudden just popped up, I was overjoyed. It was quite extraordinary: one day there was nothing but a seemingly bare plot of dirt, and the next day there they were! Some were still bent over under the dirt, just about to push their necks up straight and unfurl their first leaves. The more I looked, the more sprouts I saw juuuuuust about to come up. I just stood there for a moment, looking at them and feeling grateful. Each tiny little bowed neck was like an affirmation; of nature and of spring.

I certainly hope to become a more competent gardener, so that it might become more rare for my carefully planted seeds to NOT sprout. I may, in seasons to come, lose some of my wonderment at this incredible transformation.

But I truly, truly hope I don't.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Proof you CAN get carried away.

I know, I know.

On another note, I got a rare "chicken hat trick" the other day.

Monday, April 7, 2008


Built in trellis?? Check.

Built in irrigation system with timer? Check.

Bunny (Chicken??) proof meshing? Check.

Stunning good looks?

CHECK. [droooooooooooooooooooooooool]

Gardening 101.

One of the most educational aspects of learning to garden is learning what the plant part of a vegetable looks like. Unless you grow your own vegetables, you may have NO idea what the leaves of a zucchini plant or a tomato plant or broccoli actually look like.

Now, ideally, you'd plant your veggies in nice neat rows, carefully labeled, so that when things DO start sprouting, you can pretty much figure it out because you have several plants all in a row that look the same. That's how I figured out what broccoli looks like, or the carrots (although carrots are pretty easy, since you can often buy them with the tops still on at the store).

But, let's say you had, oh, chickens. Chickens who, despite your best efforts, get past your barriers and into your garden.

[editor's note: well, "best efforts" is an exaggeration. It was a haphazard effort at best. Just face it, you were outsmarted by a chicken.]

Those said chickens could then scatter your poor seeds all over the place and eat up most of them. Surveying the devastation, you assume its all over; that there's nothing left to sprout. So a few weeks later, when you start to see three or four strong green plants with thick dark green leaves you think, hmm. Did I plant that? Or are they weeds?

You decide to watch it for a few more days, and soon, they look like this:

You stare at the plants for a few minutes. They are sort of haphazardly sprinkled around the raised beds. They are definitely not broccoli. Not any sort of lettuce either..and definitely not carrots.

They have to be a weed. So you give one a good yank. Boy its in there good! But you pull harder, and finally up it comes.

The potato you had shoved into the dirt optimistically several weeks ago, and forgot about. Back then it was in a nice neat row. Drat.

So you shove it back down in the dirt and hope it gives you another chance. Or at least, a couple of baby potatoes before its time to plant the tomatoes.

Assuming, that is, that the chickens don't find it first.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I Have Garden Envy

Well, really its more like building envy. I think I have mentioned before that I am extremely NOT handy-capable. I know first graders that can build more permanent structures with legos and play doh than I can with hundreds of dollars in materials.

So it is with extreme jealousy that I viewed my sister's new garden that her extra handy husband built for her a couple of weeks ago. It's pretty much exactly what I'd eventually like my garden to look like.

And doesn't it look chicken proof???

That little garden elf is my niece, by the way. Isn't she freaking adorable?

It's made of some sturdy bamboo poles (how's that for enviromentally friendly?) screwed together and then wire attached. The boxes are made from 2 x 4s and check out the gravel path!

Now I just need to fly my brother-in-law down for the weekend so he can build me the same thing.

In other news, I finally got the coop painted. It still needs the windows cleaned off and the window box attached, but its getting there. Please ignore the ugly blue tarp for now. I need to come up with a more attractive shade/rain cover.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Spring Done Sprung!

As I surveyed the water drenched mud-pit that is my backyard these days, it occurred to me that I only have a few more weeks to try to squeeze some cool-weather crops out of my garden before its time to plant the summer annuals. SO, I got busy with some more arugula, cilantro and broccoli seeds to see if I can get them into the raised beds before it gets too warm. Since I live near the ocean, I think I've got until about early May.

It's also time to think about the summer crops. Last year I ordered seedlings from Seeds of Change, which is a wonderful, all organic and heritcage seed company that has the most delicious looking catalog. I could (and did) spend hours pouring over photos of exotic looking beans, corn and squashes. Oh to have more space! And time of course. I ended up getting 6 different kinds of tomatoes and sweet peppers as well as some herbs. And while there is no doubt that shipping 12 seedlings is a LOT less carbon waste than the resulting several pounds of produce, ordering online still seems to mitigate some of the gains. It's been niggling at me (I believe I have previously mentioned my addiction to ordering things online).

SO, this year I'm going to try and get seedlings from local sources and see how that goes.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I know, I know.

A recent conversation at my house:

Guest: Wow those are some nice garden beds!

Me: Thanks! I like them. They are made from recycled milk jugs!

Guest: Cool! Are you going to plant anything in them?

Me: ((stomps back into house)).

You see, I've BEEN planting stuff. I've planted cilantro (twice), red lettuce, arugula, onions, broccoli, and carrots. Anything that actually sprouted and grew was just devastated by marauding chickens. They are truly the Godzillas of vegetable gardens. I would put up barrier fences, only to have them hop right over them and go nuts, scratching, digging and eating. Nothing like looking out the kitchen window in the morning, seeing a fuzzy chicken butt in my planters and having to run out in the rain in my work suit going "CHICCCCCCCCCKENNNS! NO!!!"

So until I get a better fence built, NO I will not be planting anything.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Well they're movin' on up! (Movin' on up..)

To this DEELUXE apartment in the sky-y-y...

Well, after months of being crammed into a hutch made for two chickens, my girls finally got a new home!
I spent a lot of time researching, thanks to the folks at, and came up with a design that should work well. Then I hired my carpenter to build it for me. Here it is.

It's got three nest boxes (no more screaming because someone else is using the box!)

And a roost conveniently located near the windows:

I think they like it!

Why didn't I try to build it myself? Well, because I value my marriage. Ramon got started around noon last Sunday, and within a couple of hours had more done than Matt and I could have done in weeks. There would have been hundreds of dollars of ruined materials, several extra trips to Home Depot, tears, recrimination, divorce papers, etc.

As of this writing I have the girls locked into the coop so they have time to settle in and get that it's now "home." But once I let them back out, they not only have the run, but an additional 20 sq feet of extra space under the coop to stretch out in. This is a good thing, because after a couple of weeks of letting them free-range around the yard, I've now decided they really need to be confined. Not only do they dig huge holes on my hillside in search of tasty bugs, but they just poop EVERYWHERE. Seriously, I knew chickens make poop but I was truly stunned as to the sheer volume of this poop. We literally couldn't step outside the kitchen door without stepping in it. So, for now, they will have to make do (no pun intented) with an hour or so of free-ranging in the evenings.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Please Do Not Adjust Your Monitor.

I'm fast learning that chickens aren't like machines..even after calibration, they don't necessarily produce perfectly shaped, evenly-sized eggs. In the past week, the girls have produced some perfect eggs, and some that, well, could most kindly be referred to as "gone awry." Some had soft shells that broke open in the run; some were rough-shelled and almost bleached white. I have started wondering how the farmers at my local farmer's market manage to produce cartons full of so many eggs all shaped exactly the same.

Still, the lack of uniformity is what's so very exciting about this process. Each time we check the nest box, we might find something extraordinary. Last week, I was about to run off to work when I checked the box and found this monster, courtesy of Veronica, I believe:

The egg on the right is actually a jumbo-sized egg: it was 2.5 oz. The monster on the left weighed it at 3 oz. on the nose. To give some perspective, here it is in the carton with the others.

It was indeed, as I suspected, a double-yolker. Very exciting!

On the other end of the spectrum, Gertie gave us this tiny little quail-sized egg, shown below next to a regular-sized egg. Most peculiar.

Tomorrow, Ramon the carpenter is coming to build my new coop. I'm so excited!

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

And then there were two. And three.

I'm a bit behind on the updates. In the past three weeks, Derby the Barred Rock started laying her eggs, and just the other day we finally got our first egg from Veronica, our Black Star. Derby's eggs are a perfectly smooth color of the lightest cream, which makes a lovely comparison to the burnished amber color of Gertie's eggs. They started off very small, as you can see here. Derby's egg is on the left, Gertie's in the middle and an egg from the farmer's market on the right as comparison. As you can see, Gertie's eggs are now as big as the large eggs from the market. Since taking this photo, Derby's eggs have grown considerably and are now almost as large as Gertie's.

Shortly after Derby started laying, Veronica started giving us "the squat," which is the dead giveaway that eggs are on the way. "The squat" is hard to describe, but you know it the moment you see it. You'll go to touch the pullet, and instead of sliding gracefully out from under your hand, she suddenly drops into a crouch, lifting her wings slightly and then freezes. Its as if she is trying to protect a very important and fragile cargo; which I suppose she is. Getting "the squat" from a chicken for the first time is cause for celebration around our household. Whoever spots it first goes dancing inside to tell the other, "Guess what I just got?" (what can I say, we live simple lives). Veronica seemed to take a long time to finally actually lay an egg; she was giving us "the squat" for a full 10 days before finally laying her first, long and skinny egg next to Derby's almost full-size cream egg. Two or three days ago our last pullet, Ginger, finally gave me a squat as well.

I only wish my poor little winter crop was doing as well. So far whatever wasn't ripped out by squirrels was plowed under by Gertie, who kept managing to get in behind my attempts at protective fencing. I have to say though, if you need your soil aerated, chickens are ideal. Gertie managed to scratch up an entire box full of soil and any seeds that were in there. So I now have a perfectly aerated and fluffy, nitrogen rich pile of soil if I decide to try planting something again!

The other bed has fared slightly better and some of the onions I planted have so far survived. The broccoli and the carrots both sprouted quickly, but haven't grown at all. Unfortunately they are not getting enough sun at the moment, as the position of the house relative to the North-South axis is not ideal in wintertime.

The final insult to my poor carrots was my own husband. I sent him out to cut me some greek oregano for a chicken I was roasting. He returned with a fistful of my carrot tops. *sigh*