Saturday, July 27, 2013

Other backyard projects

With a month since the last rain, we're spending more and more time working outside -- enjoying the weather and getting more things growing.

Right now the vegetable garden is in full swing. We have taken down the greenhouse and are back to a regular garden plot. Improvements include wooden walkways and more square footage. In various stages of growth are peas, beans, tomatoes, asparagus, potatoes, squashes, herbs, lettuces, kale and other greens, beets, carrots, and more! My favorite lunch these days is a scramble made of veggies that are ready and our eggs. The other day, my 12 year old wrote up a recipe for scramble:


  • 3 kale leaves 
  • 1 tsp of nutritional yeast
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 frying pan 
  • 1 stove 
  • 1 cup of ham
Close your eyes and throw all that random crap in a pan. Cook on high until you set the smoke detector off (that means its done). Put it on a plate then force feed it to your family. Hope you enjoy!

Besides the vegetables, another major project this summer has been the aquaponics system -- it has now been expanded to the deck. The main components of the system are two insulated barrels containing tilapia, a solar heater, and gravel grow bed that acts as a giant filter. Richard has spent many hours configuring these systems. I get to take over when it comes to the gardening part. Plants really thrive in the fish water! I hope I'll be able to grow veggies in this bed through the winter.

After a year and a half of keeping tilapia, we're now on the third generation of fish. We still have some of the original fish for breeding. These are in the tank in the laundry room. We have eaten some of them -- most of the larger fish from the first generation were smoked last fall. I had imagined the fish tanks as being a source of dinner all the time, but I don't actually feel like having fish very often


The newest backyard project has been an expansion of the worm composting operation. We've had a worm compost bin for kitchen scraps for many years, but last year when we had a surplus of "red wigglers", we advertised them on Craigslist and had a surprising response. So -- long story short -- Richard is now breeding them to sell in Spring 2014. The new bins are in the shed. He's hoping to get 100 bins going by Fall! Care involves adding shredded cardboard, scraps from the local produce store, chicken manure, etc. and monitoring moisture. Under good conditions the worms should double in population every 3 months. Between now and Spring, we need to get a website going and figure out packaging.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Older chickens...

It has been four years this month that we've had chickens -- hard to believe. Of the original flock of four hens, we have one left -- Fancypants Johnson. Two of the hens were sold a couple of years ago because they weren't getting along with the younger chickens, and one was given to someone with a farm last year because she started crowing.

Chickens can live as long as 10 years, but the average lifespan is 5 years. After 3 years old they're not very productive egg layers, so on a real farm they're usually replaced by younger chickens before they're 3. 

In the case of Fancypants, she is still productive; probably because she has taken lots of breaks from egglaying. She doesn't lay eggs during the dark months of winter, when she is broody, or when has molted her feathers. But I figure she has laid about 600 eggs in her lifetime! Last week, she started up again after spending 3 months broody with chicks, and she's all of a sudden putting out an egg every day, which I think is amazing at age 4. The downside is that she was very noisy about getting back into it. She had early morning squawking attacks four days in a row, but now has quieted down some -- lucky for her. I was really thinking that if she didn't adjust we would have to make a difficult decision and it was weighing heavily on my mind. She is the most tame of our chickens and the only one that the kids still call by name.
Update: toward the end of July she's back to her old self and is pretty calm and quiet...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Asymetrical chick may be a "gynandromorph"

Gynandromorph chick at 5 weeks
Last week I noticed that one of the 5 week old chicks has different colored feet -- one white, one yellow. Its feathers and waddles were also asymetrical, so last night I decided to look into it on

After posting some information and pictures in their forum, I got feedback that it could be a gynandromorph -- half male / half female. Apparently this can happen if an egg was fertilized by two sperm.  Here are some photos. The left side looks male with a red waddle and thick yellow leg. The right side lacks the waddle and the pale leg is thinner like a hen would have.

I'll post more photos as this one matures when there's more to see!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Free for all in the chicken run

Mother and chicks needed more space so we set up a little area for them in the chicken run. They've got their own nesting box, feeder, and waterer under cover, but they share the run with our two other hens.

One problem with this setup is trying to feed them separately. To prevent illness when they're little, it is common practice to use a medicated chick feed for the first several weeks. However we don't want our laying hens ingesting a bunch of this. (You'd think they wouldn't be interested in this crumbly textured feed, but they seem to love it.) So yesterday I put the feeder in a box that only the chicks can fit into. We'll see how it works out. 

Friday, May 17, 2013

New baby chicks!

We have eggs hatching this weekend! We went and took a peek under the mother hen tonight and several chicks are out! One was just coming out of the shell so we're just letting them be right now. We'll take some photos tomorrow. Update: 7 of 8 eggs have hatched!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

We came home from Spring Break to lots of eggs! Our neighbor who took care of them while we were away put them in cartons for us -- which is too nice because of course we'd like for her to eat them. Anyhow, there were 28 eggs from 3 chickens over 14 days.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

First egg of spring

In December the hens stopped laying eggs for the winter, so we've been buying eggs from the store. This week I saw signs of nest building in the coop and was happy to see an egg this morning. This is the first egg from our Easter Egger that hatched this past June. She still needs a name -- we still call her "the white one". Anyhow I'm so glad that we've got another green egg layer. The other Easter Egger was killed by a raccoon last month.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Raccoon trouble

Last night raccoons got two of our chickens. Richard heard a noise in the middle of the night that he thought was one of our kids having a nightmare. He got up, walked around for a little while in his underwear, and didn't hear anything more. He came back to bed (I was sound asleep) and then heard more noise -- got dressed, went down and looked out back and saw one raccoon on our deck. So he went outside, saw another raccoon escaping from our chicken run, and then found two dead, half-eaten chickens by the coop and feathers all over the place. This is very upsetting and the first time since we got chickens over 3 years ago that we've lost any to predators. The two that got killed are the one that lays green eggs and the little red hen. I do feel like it is my fault in that I had stopped locking the chickens in their coop in the night. The door was open so that they could come out early in the mornings. They have netting over their run, which seems to keep cats and out, but is not raccoon-proof. I had decided that the raccoons around here were too well fed to bother climbing through the netting. The main precaution we have always taken was to not leave food out at night. But this week there were apple cores in the compost out there -- maybe that attracted them? Maybe they are hungrier in the wintertime? Aren't they supposed to be hibernating? Tonight the remaining 3 hens are locked away safe and we've got a trap set. Apparently raccoons keep returning once they've found your coop. The bait that's recommended on the forum for urban raccoons is marshmallows and cat food. Richard was out setting it up at dusk and saw one climbing up the net already (at 6pm !) So we'll see late tonight if we've got one. I'm not sure what we're going to do with it if we do... Update: 2 nights later and no raccoons yet.