All posts by Selka

I'm a Canadian woman living in an off-grid tiny house on a small organic orchard farm in Nova Scotia, always aspiring to a "better"- more conscious, ecological, and organic- life. I blog to keep my family and friends up to date; to share things I've learned and discovered with difficulty so that hopefully, it will help others who internet research to proceed with less difficulty; to maintain a practice of writing; and to create an illustrated journal of the arc of my life. I try to post every second day. I write about my garden, my travels, Iceland, my chickens, dog, bees and other pets, books I read, and stuff that I build and make. My husband is passionate about bicycling and he sometimes pipes up with stories about bikes and bicycling. Sometimes I swear. You can follow on Facebook too, but all I ever do there is put up my blog posts.

The time of the fledglings

In addition to the local young woodpecker, who continues to flop around the house with no fear and seems to never get more than five feet off the ground, I found this little guy on our path.

I surprised the whole family, I suppose, as there were three full size robins flapping around in the trees, panicking and screeching.  The chick, size of a guinea chick, let me walk right up.

It doesn´t seem to have a lot of lift.  It seemed a big achievement to make it up on the stick pile, and then it flap flap flap! Coasted down into the field.  I wonder if this is the first day out of the nest. 

 

 

Meanwhile, back in the livestock zone:

It´s a pig´s life.  The pigs are happy to lounge in the shade. 

The Oreo mom insists on being inside the pig fence.  She´s mastered jumping up and through, where the holes in the fence are bigger, while the babies flow right through.

She´s out there now, smack in the middle of pigland.  She found a shady spot she likes.

I guess the pigs have proved that they won´t hurt her or her chicks.  At least she´s not worried.  They are 15´away sleeping off a big meal of milk  in the pig house.

Now I can´t electrify the fence if she´s making a habit of this.  Which is ok.  The fence is off more often than on these days.  The pigs and I have an agreement.  If I meet all their needs, they are perfectly content to stay in the fence.  Which means they are really in charge.  They´re simple girls, though.  They want shade, water – poured in the bowl and over their heads, variety, food before they get too hungry, and sometimes a scratch.

Funny how the birds make decisions.  Or is it the chicks?  Oreo mom has been all independent and  furtive, always hiding in shrubs and drifting out into the pasture, towards the pigs where only  the guineas roam, while Blondie mom has went her way the opposite direction and rejoined the Colonel´s main tribe.  Hey, I had some chicks!

Tomatoes already?!

I haven’t even gotten everything into my garden yet, and tomatoes are already forming in the greenhouse.  I’ve also canned a round of rhubarb.  I think it’s not good when the harvest starts before the planting is done.  Better…next…year.

In the meantime, my greenhouse companions, the Blondies, are joyously scritching around in the heavy mulch, until it gets too hot and I kick them outside for the day.

One chick decided to have a dust bath.  Very funny – a chick the size of a tennis ball taking a dust bath.  Really into it.  I’ve not seen a little chick dust bathe before.

They’re getting their wing feathers and little stubby tails.

A pile of snakes sunning in the pile of straw.

The walnut tree roosters

The funniest thing about the arrival of the Brahmas is the reaction of the Silkie roosters – the two “exiles” as I call them, since they don´t interact with the main tribe and mostly hide in the coop.  Or did, until the Brahmas came.

I think they feel they´ve gone to heaven since the Brahmas arrived.  The second night they were sandwiched between the big pillowy ladies.  I  haven´t been this comfortable since I was a chick. 

And ever since they´re really coming out of their shell.  No more hiding in the coop.  They hang all day in the shrub with the Brahmas, who really just lie around.

The big sign of transformation is that they are starting to crow!  It´s not pretty (whoa, is there a rooster gargling over there?).  That means they are feeling very good about themselves.  Looks like some new copper tail feathers are coming in too.  I’m glad they’re so happy.

They don’t mate the big girls (larger than they are).  They seem perfectly content to snuggle.

Good looking guys.

I call them the walnut tree tribe – the mixed bunch of chickens who have decided they live in the small coop under the walnut.  They are a distinct group now.  Mom and the Oreos, the two roos, and the Brahmas.  They interact surprisingly little with the Silkies who moved into the big coop, who live just at the other end of the greenhouse.  The guineas and layer hens freely visit either tribe, and a couple of layers drop off eggs in the small coop.

What, were you born in a box?

A chicken in a box in the greenhouse? Nothing new there!

That’s where all the chicks and moms get put, at night, when they are put to bed from the chickery.

Thing is, I didn´t put her in there! 

I think, maybe once, this mom and the Blondies  got put to bed in the box.  As soon as I put the chickery outside, it started raining, so I turned them loose in the greenhouse, which they love, for the rain days.

But here they are, as dusk falls, all in the box.   This is where we sleep.

I wish I could have seen how that went down.  OK, kids, time to get in the box! That´s quite a jump.

And then, in the morning, they´re all out of the box and back to work!

To the tomato forest!

They love the tomato forest. So much mulch to kick around.

I turfed them all out into the big world, though, because it was too hot in the greenhouse.  Even though they were all hiding under a squash leaf.

They got readmitted late afternoon, and tonight, they´re all back in the box!

Oreo update

The Oreos are practically grownup now, or at least think they are.

First, they graduated to the chickery, as all chicks do at about three days old.  That means a nightly grab and go from the chickery to a box in the greenhouse for the night. 

So cute, with their little wing feathers coming in.  One is turning grey quite rapidly.

Chicken selfie – Mom under one arm with a handful of chicks.

Look at those beautiful little wings!

Into the box.

I throw a lid over them for the night and first thing in the morning, it´s an aerial transport back outside to the chickery.

Then the rains came.

I figured that the stuff growing in the greenhouse was big enough to not be threatened by one tiny hen and two chicks, so instead of bringing the chickery into the greenhouse, I just turned the three of them loose inside.

Oh, what good times.

I had a good time working in the greenhouse with my feathered company.  Non stop clucking and peeping.  The chicks just tweet tweet constantly.  

Mom was quite fond of settling down on the edge of the wall like this, and I knew how the water level had been known to come up and pool in the greenhouse in heavy rains like this.

In the dark I went out with a light, planning to set them on high ground or in a box.  I found mom and chicks not tucked against the wall, but on the very top of a mountain of straw, her personal Ararat.  She´s no dummy.

The chicks got three whole days in the greenhouse, rummaging around in the straw, tugging on tomato plants, and scampering along the wooden baseboards.

And then, suddenly, they integrated themselves into the greater chicken society.

Luckily, I was outside with them when it happened.  As usual, I glanced over, checking for both chicks, and there was only one chick!  Mom was pacing against the wall of the greenhouse, starting to get distressed.  Where´s the other chick!!?

(Music of doom):

 

The chipmunk hole!

I went outside.  There was the chick, walking up and down the path on the wrong side of the greenhouse wall!

I tried to catch it.

The chick quite smartly scurried into the shrubbery.  Well then, it´s time to be outside, I guess.

Then I tried to catch Mom.  Phew!  That failed miserably, so I caught the other chick instead and introduced it to the shrubbery where it scurried off to join its sibling.

Mom I had to chase and coax until she hopped out the door on her own, where the lovesick roosters were waiting for her, and she ran off into the wrong set of shrubs.  I did some more chasing, until she went into the same clump the chicks were last seen in.

Good. I peered into the bushes looking for the happy family.  I could see her, but not the chicks!  I eventually found them – they were perched up off the ground on bent branches, already pretending to be real birds.

At night I opened the door of the greenhouse and Mom came around and hopped back in.  This is where we spend the night.  The third night I came to let her into the greenhouse and…. just one chick hanging around underneath the coop.

A: Wow! That´s got to be a first, a hen deciding to go to bed in a different place than the night before! Not only that, a coop she hasn´t slept in for months, in a new location.

B: Here we go again with the nightly chicks left outside drill – but I was wrong!  As soon as I came around the loose chick started distress peeping, and mom popped outside immediately, bristling.   What´s going on out here!? The second chick popped out behind her. I hid behind a bush to watch. Both chicks gathered up again, she coached them up the ramp together (!!!!).  WOW!

Never before!  First night!  On her own initiative! She deserves a good chicken mom medal!

And I was worried she was a little inbred, with her head puff not as puffy as the others.  They´re actually getting smarter!

Now the Oreos are right independent.  Mom opted to sleep in the small coop with the Brahma hens.  She takes the nest box at night with the chicks.

(There´s jean jacket hen) – when it rains I have to make a few rain tents for everyone. 

Mom and the Oreos are rather wild these days.  Hard to catch on camera.  I get distance sightings.

Under the rain tent

So far so good.

They´re often off on their own, in the pasture, roaming rather farther than the other hens tend to.

Once I found the Oreos inside the pig zone, Mom running up and down on the outside of the electric fence.  The chicks had just slipped through it.

She wasn´t alone!  One of the guinea cocks was pacing back and forth right next to her,  for all the world also worried about the chicks (!?!).  I was aghast, of course, at the situation, but the chicks popped right back through the fence when I came on the scene, and the guinea quickly resumed ignoring them all.  Different species.

The pigs are so big these days

Next time Mom was on the inside, chicks outside, I don´t know how she did that, and as I approached, so did the pigs.  Terrified, she plunged through the fence, tangling her leg in it and shrieking.  The pigs came up – I was totally worried that they would harm her, but they only nosed her, curious grunting, as I untangled her to run off again.

The Oreos are already getting up on their own in the morning, coming out before Mom, and running off from her.  They stick to each other like glue, though.

Wild jungle chicks:

Peep peep!

Three new blondies!  This Silkie hen hatched out three of three “cuckoo eggs” – full sized Ameracauna eggs. 

These three, unlike the last two (Oreos), while also Ameracunas, happen to be blondes!

That´s time-for-a-nap behavior.  Burrowing in.

Gone to bed.

This hen also molted before going broody, but didn’t regrow during her confinement.

I haven´t had little yellow chicks for a long long time!

The Gamechanger

We can´t have a proper screen door because the door swings out.  Alas.   But last fall we ordered one of these walk-through screen doors, with a strip of magnets that close behind you.  For $7, why not?  That´s a reasonable risk.

When the blackflies came out, out came the screen door.

AMAZing!

Best $7 ever spent!  We hung it upside down – took two days to figure that out – that´s what ignoring the instructions will get you.

It works SO well.  Clackity clack – it closes itself up behind you, like magic.

Sometimes it sounds vaguely like applause.

Unexpected passenger

Things I didn´t expect to happen today:

I stopped by a friend’s, for something entirely unrelated to raccoons, and he mentions “You want a raccoon?”  I hadn’t noticed the live trap  sitting there with a miserable raccoon balled up in it.

The next thing I knew I´d volunteered to take the raccoon away, since he couldn´t at the moment.  We stowed the cage on the back seat of my car and I left.

People who have dogs (or kids?) are used to being aware of the living thing in the back seat, breathing and skritching.  For me it´s a novelty.  I like transporting birds in boxes, listening hard for their movements and purring.

As soon as we pulled away, this so far mild mannered raccoon went on an escape offensive, resuming the determined attempts to dig out that she had been obviously working it since being trapped.

There was a huge racket in the back seat as the captive clawed and scratched at the cardboard box around the cage.  Sounded like she was trying to punch her way out.

I took the little raccoon far away from any human habitations (far, I promise), set the cage out on the ground, and opened the door.  Facing the opposite way, the raccoon continued to stare mournfully at me.

Obviously he was convinced that he was about to die, at every moment.

She spent quite a while watching me before relaxing enough to go “back to work”,  and when she turned around, zoom!  That raccoon ran.  I didn´t even get a picture of the great escape.

Unexpected raccoon rehoming.  Luckily I didn´t have any packrat-style adventures.

The sprinting chicken

Chickens are funny and eccentric when they are left to “organize themselves”.

Every morning when we open the layer coop, one hen is waiting in the blocks.  There´s some jostling for pole position. If she´s on form, she´ll be the first down the ramp.

Then the human coop-opener heads for the Silkie coop at the other end of the greenhouse.  Inevitably, this hen passes us on the way, legging it in the same direction at a flat out run.  Racetrack chicken. 

Get to the other coop and she´s pacing anxiously underneath it, looking up and twitching her tail.  I´m holding in an egg here!  Open up.

The second we drop that ramp, she´s up it, barging through the Silkies inside that were planning to come down, leaving a clamour of miffed squawks in her wake.

I´ve got an egg to lay!  Coming through.    Make way!

Every day.  She´s decided that she lays eggs in the other coop, first thing in the morning.  Don´t get in her way.

Is she or isn’t she?

The guinea hen was sitting on her eggs!  But was she setting?  Or just laying an egg?

If it´s the former, there might be a couple chicks in there, because of the hen who lays in there (cuckoo, cuckoo!)

The two boys were on the roof, raising hell.  Screaming in a way that drew me to check if anything was wrong.  Crazy raise-the-roof-alarm yelling.

She´s sitting on eggs! She´s sitting on eggs! She´s sitting on eggs! Sitting on eggs! On eggs!  On eggs!  ON EGGS! EGGS! EGGS!

Really, all the yelling about it seems maladaptive.

There she is in there, sitting on some eggs.

(She wasn´t setting, just laying one, probably).

Good, I need time to put a chick fence on the door.  I didn´t think that through – a coop five feet off the ground – what if she hatches her chicks in there?  They´ll fall out.  I´ll have to block them in for a few days until they can do a controlled landing/flutter.

Granny and Grampy having a moment

I was lucky to see and capture Granny and the Colonel sharing an affectionate moment.

These two are the last remaining of my original Silkies that arrived in 2014.  Presumably they are the same age.  They could easily be 5 or more years old now. 

They were just standing in the shade together for a few minutes, while the other Silkies dust bathed on the other side of the tree.

Granny even offered a little grooming.

Adorable!

Granny is doing extremely well.  I thought she was on her way out a while ago, but since the hens all moved outside for the summer, she´s been toddling around with the best of them.  I think she can´t see as sharp; she doesn´t bounce out of the way like the others and you have to not step on her.

What is the appeal of these hay sacks?

When I finished planting the rest of the greenhouse, I had to move out the assorted boxes and junk that have accumulated in there.

These are the sacks of hay and poop that I bag when I clean out the hen coops, on their way to being carted to the garden for mulch.

For some reason, the hens are always fascinated by these bags, jumping on them and scratching in the top.

Jacques the rooster, the weirdo, squeezed himself in between the bags, and then got himself stuck. 

Putting gutter on the Greenhouse

This has got to be a crazy people idea:  Cover a whole bunch of plants with a plastic roof, that keeps the rain out, and then, pump water in to them.  Or in my case, carry water.  When you think about that, it just doesn´t make sense.

Last year I emptied a well into my greenhouse, by hand (off-grid), and it could have happily absorbed two more wells worth.

This can´t go on, I thought (dreading another summer of schlepping water).

So, I figured out how to put eavestrough on a greenhouse, to catch the water, to put it back into the greenhouse.  Slightly less crazy.  Easier than taking the skin off every time it rains, which honestly would be my first choice, if it were practical. Until they invent one-way 5 mil plastic.

I doubt I´m the first to think this up , but I didn´t google it because I preferred to figure it out for myself (go ahead and google it now).  I didn´t want to know how other people´ve done it.   Much as that might have made it easier or faster. This is how I did.

First unsecure the bottom of the long side of plastic and undo the wiggle wire up the side.

In my case I redid all the wiggle wire on the side/gables in order to take a layer of plastic off.  In my style of off-grid, I´ve got no business having an inflated greenhouse.  Although I made it work, it just never made sense.  Most of the time it wasn´t inflated.  Now I´m saving the second layer of plastic for when my greenhouse needs its next skin. 

Essentially I installed a lip part way up the wall, creating a drip edge to catch the water from.

I ripped 2x4s (all rough cut for me) with a bevel and screwed them on to the top of a 1×6.  2″ screws, from the 1×6 side into the beveled strip. I did this in advance- measuring the overall length, so that I could lift each piece into place.

I cut through the exposed wiggle wire track on the side- only had to remove one screw, and cut out a four inch gap.

It´s four inches because the top track comes down over the 2×2

That bottom piece of track gets screwed into the rib again

When I measured each end, I made a four-inch overall drop.  35″ inches from the base on one end, 39″ at the other end.

So I lifted my prepared 1×6 piece into place, propped it up to attach the end, and then secured it, and its mates, to the ribs of the greenhouse with plumbing strap, eyeballing for  a nice straight line.

Plumbing strap is a bit hokey; I´ll get some of the proper brackets next time one of us in the area is ordering greenhouse parts.

My three pieces of 1×6 (36´overall greenhouse) were set up to overlap, so that on install, I could attach them.  Then I didn´t have to think about where the ribs landed.

How it looks from the inside.

That´s the bulk of the work- the wood.

Back to the outside, I put 1×4 strapping under the drip ledge and screwed that down.  I chose 1×4 to have 4″ of surface to mount the gutter on, and to have some room to play with the slope. Hence 1×6 behind the plastic.

This tightened up the skin quite nicely.  The wiggle wire goes back in now too.

Then the base securing goes back in:

The addition for gutter uses up about 2″ more of the plastic, but if you have less than 2″ of plastic at the base, you´ve got bigger problems (unless you trimmed it, oh well).

When I built this, I dug a shallow ditch and buried a strip of hardware cloth against the base.  Some squirrels and chipmunks have dug around my barrier, but it´s holding up very well.  I haven´t seen that since I built it.

Install the gutter, and voila!

I used vinyl gutter with brackets that you can lift off of their little mounting hook.  I´ll definitely be removing the gutter before any snow comes!

The greenhouse has never looked so good, now the plastic is more taut.

I´ve got two downspouts (with two elbows each side), to direct water into a stock tank, with has a threaded plug, which with a pipe-hose adapter I can put a garden hose on, and then put the water back into the greenhouse.  The guineas are inspecting.

Doesn´t that look good?  I thought so too.

I felt good and smug for about two hours until the rain came.  I´d been racing the forecast, determined to catch all the mm that were on the way.

I got up in the night to go check on everything.

The water was running the wrong way!  That is, what little water it was catching.  Slope could be fixed (I do need the 4″ of the 1×4  to play with), but there was a bigger problem- the water coming down the plastic wall was turning the corner of the lip, following back (as water does) and soaking into the 1×4, not falling in the gutter.  I should have seen that coming.  I should have seen that coming.

I stayed awake for at least an hour until I could figure out how to fix it.  Not simple, but it should work.

The only way was to take off that ripped 2×2 and change the angle on it.

This time the base didn´t have to come off, just the gutter, and the 1×4, and the wiggle wire on the ends.

Significant wrinkle- on the inside, I was using 2″ screws for the plumbing strap, through the 1×6 into the 2×2, for strength.  But now the 2×2 had to come off.  All 13 ribs!

Clamps came in handy, I backed out the screws, and I marked the wood against each rib.  I took the opportunity to adjust it all for more slope while I was reinstalling.

Also because I didn´t undo the bottom (the better to keep curious chickens out), once I got all the 2x2s detached, I had to pass them out the end.  And back in.

I put them all through the table saw again and put a bevel on the second side, creating an acute angle for the drip edge.

Slid them back under the plastic and reinstalled.

Now the business edge is sharp and angled down.

Waited for rain, now with less confidence.  Still didn´t work.

These pictures don´t quite show it.  There is a full inch of overhang on that lip, and then the gutter mounting holds the gutter out 1/4″, so there is 3/4″ of lip hanging over the gutter.  Not enough.

The water comes down, turns the corner and travels for about 1/2″, now neatly dripping on the back edge of the eavestrough, or  right behind it. Don´t underestimate the power of surface tension.

One more tackle.  I thought about cutting ditches in the wood to recess the gutter mounting into, to suck the gutter right against the wood, but opted instead to screw on a strip of aluminum flat flashing, to kick the water farther out into the middle of the gutter.

Success!

Totally works.

Adding the flashing was the easiest part of all; took, like a blink.  I got a roll of 6″ flat stock, cut it in half lengthwise (to 3″ wide), and I meant to put a bend in it and screw it into the 1×4, but instead I left it flat, and in one length, and tucked it between the plastic lip and the top of the 1×4, and put in just a few screws, pointed up, into the twice-ripped 2×2 component.

My conclusion is that this is pretty ideal, and despite having made it up along the way, I wouldn´t do it over differently (except putting two angles on the 2×2 on the first pass- definitely do that).  It´s usually much more straightforward to cut the wood right in the first place.

With the wood alone, it would be next to impossible to get enough lip protruding to shed water well – wood is heavy and that would get too bulky to hang off the greenhouse ribs.  The flashing is essential, and the 2×2 is perfect for adding it to.

Cost of about $400CA for gutter, wood, and flashing.

 

 

 

 

 

Outdoor Adventure Silkies

 No one expresses the joy of summer quite like the Silkies.  They sunbathe hard. 

 A bunch of white snowballs wriggling in the dirt or spread out flat like they´ve deflated.

Or for variety, going for a hike.

Sometimes the red hens get right  in there too for a bath.

What I wonder is, songbirds take exuberant baths in puddles all the time.  Chickens are birds.  Why don´t they like the water?

The biggest Silkie news is that the oil of oregano treatment is totally the cure for Scaly Leg Mite! So exciting!  I´ve got a few drops of oil of oregano in a bottle, and I shake that vigorously, and pour some of the mix in their water dish, not even every day, just enough to get a bit of a rainbow on their water.  Their legs and feet are obviously so much better, although I haven´t been doing Vaseline treatments.   Just the oil of oregano, or OOO, as I call it.  I´ve got plenty around for human health; now recommended for chicken feet health.  The layer hens have entirely cleared up – their feet look so good now, and I´m sure the Brahmas will respond too.

Another hen is boxed, with more pretty blue eggs.  Broody 2, 2017.  I have a special variety of hairless chicken that seems to go broody first.  I don´t know if broodiness goes with molting or not – do they need the long break of setting to reset themselves and regrow after a molt?

Hens are usually pleased to go in the box, and get their private trough.  This one is just attacking the food.  I of course provide a buffet during their confinement; in the wild they would be able to pop out for a snack when they got peckish but not so in the box.

There is an important rule though: Thou shalt know the difference between sloth and broodiness.

They might be doing this:

They might be in there all day.  They might slam their wings down and growl if you try to take eggs, but they may not be broody.  They might be laying an egg, or just thinking about it.

I was impatient to set someone on eggs and boxed one I thought was broody – she was NOT.  She was pleased at first with the snack, but upon finding herself trapped, she loudly registered her outrage, drawing the Colonel to pace at the screen door,  and effected a dramatic eruption out of the box, after kicking all the eggs around.  A broody will be thrilled to have eggs, and keep them in a tidy group.

So I´m waiting for one to turn.  They´re just having too much fun outdoors right now to think about motherhood.

The green mist

I´ve been waiting for this.  Our wonderful neighbour came back and gave the field another pass with the tiller, and brought his hand seeder too (which I loved!).

Now the green mist has appeared on the ground.  In this case the early spears are oats, which were supposed to be planted sparsely, for a shade cover.

If you look directly at it, there´s hardly any green to be seen. 

The before picture.

I knew, any day, there would be a dust of green across it, and indeed, it came nearly overnight.

I was casting seed by hand too, and it appears I have a heavy one.  One might notice in the top photo there is a distinct strip of thicker oats.  It´s almost strangely straight edged.   Oh well.

Opening the hive

May 13

I got my first chance to get into the hive.  We´ve had a warm, early spring, so I’ve been feeding them, and anxious for the right warm day to come, so I can give them the third super.  They´ve been unwrapped since the end of April, but this is the first time I´m going to the bottom of the hive, and the inner lid is coming off.

 

 

Phew, a chance to dump/brush all that scrap straw off the inner cover.

 

Since I´m going right to the bottom of the hive today, I´m wearing my bee suit.  They might get testy before I get done (They didn´t.  My bees are so laid-back).

The hive´s doing very well.  Saw the queen – she´s so huge.  Two queen cells, so they´re up to something, but I don´t think division.  They might be replacing her, as there was caped brood but no brood less than a week old.  I´m leaving that alone.  Still, or already, a few solid frames of honey.

It get´s a bit out of hand with all the frames, and spare supers, etc, planning how I´m going to shuffle and redistribute frames.

I´m also happy to get these original plastic frames that the nuc came with up to the top super, so I can take them out this year.

Mostly my bees have been well behaved, only a little bit of bulging honey frames.  A couple of burr combs full of honey that I had to break, and honey dripped all over- that keeps them occupied. 

Putting it back together now.  

The bee lounge cleaned off, with their ongoing art installation, now with new burr comb t play with.

Three stories tall now.  No stings, no crushed bees.  A good hive opening.  I didn´t even get thumped on the head.

Moving the Oinkers

The first thing you´ll notice is how they´ve grown!  The pigs got BIG, just like that.  Just, one day, they couldn´t be called pig-lets anymore.

They still enjoy a good sprint, they´re just…big.  Growing fast.

We´ve been shifting them along with their sheep/chicken fence.

It´s very gratifying to see them start rummaging joyously in whatever´s new and green.  It won´t be green for long.

It was hot day, so I couldn´t cut them off from their latest wallow.  I put a loop in the fence to contain their latest dig.  We´ll just have to accept that they´re going to dig a crater at every stop.

This one is quite large.  Quite deep.  Almost square.  The perfect size for one pig.

A little bit awkward to climb out of.

Until another pig comes along.

 

Can I get in there now?

Surprisingly, they both kind of fit.

This is just before they had a big fight, one with no winner, that looked like two water balloons trying to escape from a taco shell.  There isn´t room to wrestle in the wallow.

On the other side of the fence, the chickens wasted no time moving  in where the pigs had been, checking out the pig pallet.

Playing queen of the haystack.

And doing some wallowing of their own.

Unwrapping the bees

April 28

I have woodenware now for another hive.  This year I want to get a second nuc, and still be prepared in case hive #1 splits.  This will step me up to a different league of beekeeping.  A not-yet-serious, but not-quite-casual league.  Bees take quite a bit of time and work, more than is immediately apparent, and I´ll notice the difference if I double them.

I was in the apiculture supplier´s retail space, waiting for my order to be gathered up, when the cashier commented to me “That´s so nice, that you still use wood and wax”.

As in, “Isn´t that quaint”.

I was actually startled.  I had been marveling at the towers of styrofoam prefab hives, but when she said that, I was hit by how now wood is the exception.  That´s why they have to dig it out of the back room.  Everything is plastic.  Plastic frames, plastic foundation, plastic hive parts now.  No assembly, nails, or skill required.

Someone rolled through a minute later inspecting my growing pile of un-assembled woodenware and thoughtfully told his partner that that wood would “probably be nicer, for when you have to burn them”.

Yeah!! On the awful occasion that you have to bonfire hives because of disease, YES, it might be “nicer” to torch wood and wax and wire than 40 pounds of plastic and extruded polystyrene!

This left me thinking:

  1. What is the world coming to?
  2. What about when the plastic runs out?
  3. How awful for the BEES!

If it´s bad for us to drink out of plastic water bottles and live with off-gassing carpet, are the bees supposed to be unaffected in a 100% plastic house, growing from larvae on a plastic bed, living in a plastic box sitting in the sun?

I unwrapped the hive a few days early.  Hot weather.  By all signs, they wintered well and are thriving.

i ripped the tarpaper off the front, and the styrofoam insulation, and scooped most of the straw out of the bee lounge.

There was a moisture breach and quite a bit of mold on the front corner of the bee lounge (aka eke), but I guess that´s what it´s there for – there doesn´t seem to be water or mold incursion past the inner cover.

The bees are polishing off syrup jars quite rapidly already.

Planting in the greenhouse

This is from a month ago, May 1, but I  was so demoralized by how the day ended that I didn’t finish posting.  Until now.

The chickens no longer live in the greenhouse, and it’s time for the green things to go in.  I got in there with the broadfork, breaking up the rows.  Tomatoes first, against the north wall.

After having all the birds wintering in the “chicken dome”, the soil looks, well, awful.  It looks compacted and desiccated.  It would have fooled me.  But that´s not the case. 

The top quarter inch or so is dry, and compacted.  When I crack it with the broadfork, that top crust breaks up in scales, and right underneath, the ground is wet as anything, no harder than anywhere outside where chickens haven´t been trampling, and so very full of worms.

Worms everywhere.

Really big worms.

 

So the hens got very excited.  They were following right on my fork, poking their heads down into the holes to fish out worms, and vigorously scratching up the flakes of crust.  They were feasting.

Until I decided they were being a little too hard on the worms, who didn´t have a fair chance, and I evicted the chickens.

I hung up a sheet of row cover (if there´s anything else around I use for so many things it wasn´t intended for, I don´t know) the length of the greenhouse to wall off the side I was working on from the side I wasn´t going to get to today.  The birds can play on that side.

I let one chicken stay with me – my favorite low chicken. 

She can use some extra worms.  She was actually perturbed at being alone with the others on the other side of the cloth (they could see each other through it), but she was consoled by the worms.

You see, it was a rainy day.  A drizzly morning, forecasted to be a thundering downpour day, so I didn´t have the heart to shut my birds out of the greenhouse to crowd, disgruntled and soggy, under their coops.

The guinea´s thinking about it  Looks drier in there.

As it got wetter, the birds steadily found their way into the vast shelter of the greenhouse. 

Inside, I kept working, attended by low chicken, while the rain drummed on the plastic and the birds all trickled in, chirruping and shaking off, pleased to be let back into the greenhouse.

 

 

 

It was really very cool to spend all day with my birds.  It´s nice to listen to them chat, complain, brag;  I could peek over and see what they´re up to.

They´re always doing something funny: piling up on the hay sacks, trying to have a bath in the roots of the fig tree (naughty!)

Planting the tomatoes out is a big day.

From past experience, I just break up the ground a bit with the broadfork, and plant directly into the ground as is. No turning! After I drew the rows with the broadfork, it was time to plug tomatoes.

Here´s where I found out how well my newspaper pots made out: the answer- excellently.

I tore off the top ring where I had written in Sharpie the kind of tomato, and left that by or around the plant as a marker.  Then I tore off the rest of the paper and was left holding a tall root ball.

On the other side of the wall, the chickens had the time of their life shredding all that scrap newspaper that I´d put in a box, and littering it all over the room, the scamps.

Chickens, I´ve observed, spend a lot of time lounging.  Most of the afternoon is devoted to sunbathing, dirt bathing, combing their feathers, or napping.  On this rain day, they were piled up, murmuring, dropping their heads for a nap or settling right down into sleep pancakes.  Others would be active, picking at something – they never all fall asleep at once, but it seems like someone´s always contentedly napping in the afternoon.

 

At the end of the day, tired, with 70 tomatoes and a few pepper plants planted, I turned in.  It was still pouring rain and the chickens were awake, so I just them in the greenhouse.  There´d been no attempts on the wall, or breaches, so I was confident.

I was working on this post, before going out to close them up.  There had also been a surge in squawking I was wondering about. …

Disaster!  Carnage!

The wall was breached- one end down, and every single tomato plant was defoliated- not a leaf left!  Just a roomful of puny green stems.  A couple of hens not gone to bed yet, finishing off the devastation.  Next time you can get wet, you ingrates!

Before I went to bed I planted some more tomato seeds, but to say it was a major loss is a major understatement.  I had some spare plants, but not an entire spare crop.  I was NOT HAPPY.  Completely defeated, more like.

As it turned out, despite the significant trauma of being beheaded, the same day as transplanted, almost all the tomatoes survived.  Only five were broken off by the hens and therefore terminated.

It was a definite setback, but in the next couple weeks they regrew some awkward leaves, and then left that early bad memory behind.  Now you wouldn´t know it had ever happened, although they might be a week or two behind where they might have been.

Tomatoes today:

 

 

 

 

The tick horror show

Wood ticks lie in wait everywhere.

On the chickery

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the handles of buckets and baskets

 

 

 

And especially near the garden

 

This picture is worth taking a really long, close look at. How many ticks?
This is a zoom in. Less than 35, you’re not seeing them all

 

This was a bad tick day.  I had ticks all over me all day, and I thought I should have kept count.  I probably had 30 ticks on me today. 

So the next day I did count.  It was not as bad a tick day as the previous day, but I carefully counted all the ticks I pulled off of my clothes and self:

Forty-four (!).

And on my garden gate. I’m going to have to touch that.
This is what happens when I pick up a bucket or basket like that. They swarm enthusiastically up my hand!  Gross.

 

Grass for the Oreos

It was supposed to be a nice day, so Mom and the Oreos (Thanks for naming them, Mom) got to move outside!   I transplanted the chickery from the arid hard packed environment of the greenhouse, where they spent a couple days, to the outdoors it was designed for.

Mom was so excited about grass – I can believe it- she was broody for so long she´d probably forgotten about grass – that when I lowered her into place she didn´t take a single step, just started gobbling grass where I set her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then the roosters came.  The two remaining “exile” roosters, that stay apart from the main flock, and continue to sleep in the small coop, alone (I´m waiting for an opportunity to rehome them), lost no time discovering the new mama.

They made fools of themselves staring longingly through the mesh and giving some dancing performances.

Someday, she will be mine

I don´t get it myself, but she´s always been very popular.

 

They were resoundingly ignored by the object of their attention, but hovered around devotedly all day

Will it rain or won´t it?  Foggy, misty day – the chickery gets a rain cape.

When evening fell and mama settled down for the night, she and the Oreos got airlifted into a bucket to go in the warmer greenhouse for the night. 

She was not impressed.  I´ve never used a bucket before.  The bucket is not very roomy, but it was handy (I got her a box tonight).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guinea house finally outside

The guineas are out.  I had to tip their house over and drag it out to fit it out the greenhouse door.

The birds adjusted well.  No problems finding it.

They piled up on the roof per usual, two of them utilizing the perches.

Surely they´ll go in the house when it rains?

No, no they won´t.

They huddle grimly on the top of the house in the wind and rain, only one hen perching up against the entrance, somewhat sheltered by the overhang of the roof.

What a bunch.

Guinea eggs!?

I was working in the greenhouse and a hen started making a big commotion BaBWOCK!  BaBWOCK!! (etc-)

I looked out just in time to see a red hen (chicken) on the perch of the high rise guinea house, just before she took off.  She was most likely shrieking about her imminent long flight, like she was on the high dive board.

I turned back to work, and then it occurred to me – What was she doing up there?  Could she be laying eggs in the guinea house?!

I got a step ladder, climbed up to see, and sure enough, she WAS laying in the guinea house.  For a few days.  Well THAT helps explain the loss in egg production I was troubled by.

But hark.  She´s not the only one laying in there!  There are lovely pale brown pointy guinea eggs in there too!  What a sweet little nest.

Cool.  Guinea eggs!  She´s not laying in the woods after all.

Nice to know at least the guinea hen knows how to go inside her coop, even if she does sleep outside no matter the weather.

As for the chicken hen, what a cuckoo!

 

Brahma babes and Oreo chicks

There they are!  The four beautiful new hens!

They´re installed in the Silkie coop, which although it´s made for much smaller tenants, is very roomy right now, since the Silkies made a mass migration into the other coop with the big girls.

Oh, hello!

They´re so relaxed, laid back.  They came strolling out, carefully but unconcerned.

They seemed quite pleased with the grass.

So beautiful.

They´re huge!  Big, cushy birds, like if a couch was a chicken.  We carried them over from the driveway in the evening, one under each arm.  HW´s nodded off on the walk.  We put them in the coop with the two remaining Silkie roosters, who must have been pleased.

In the greenhouse, the chicks are rocking the chickery with their stepmom.

They´re just too cute, with little white bibs and butts.

Trying to crawl under for a warming.

I offended her, obviously.  That´s the angry mom face.  And stance.

One egg didn´t hatch. Two out of three ain´t bad.

Mom is looking much better.  Her confinement allowed her to re grow her back and head feathers, so she´s less funny looking.

HW hasn´t stopped laughing at how big they are, compared to “Mom”.  They can stand up while wrapped in a wing, and pop up to eye level with her.  They´re not going to fit under her for very long.

 

A little nap.

Surprise! Additions to the family

I came home from work to find two new little black chicks bouncing around the box with (step-)Mom!  They´re already done?  Time flies!

I came back later with a camera and it was a different story.  Nothing to see here.  The chicks were stowed.  She has one more egg too.

Mom´s looking good.  She´s had time to regrow her feathers during her confinement.

I had to coax and poke and weather firm chicken growling to get a peek at a chick.  Oh!  There´s a little head.

There´s one!

They are as big and as lively as a week-old Silkie chick (these are Ameracaunas- they´re going to grow up to have cheeks!)

Time to break out the chickery:)

Also this evening I unexpectedly took receipt of four gorgeous Brahma hens.  They are large, and serene, and sweet!  So lovely.  They were taken directly to bed, and we´ll get to see them tomorrow:)

 

 

Spring

Gosh, it´s been too long – I´ve been so busy!  It´s garden and greenhouse time – very busy.  Everyone is well, the piglets are no longer -lets, just pigs, the bees are busy, the hens are entertaining and entertained.  I have lots to share…but for now, a glimpse:

The bunnies are grazing in the field alongside the hens and robins.  They are almost all brown- some have tufts of white fur that haven´t fallen out yet, making them distinguishable.  There´s always a rabbit around with a frond of greenery hanging out of its mouth.  Low-speed chases happen – I suspect they are mating chases.

 

Sometimes I accidentally count the bunnies in with the guinea fowl.

The guineas stick closer to home than I initially expected.

And traveling as a pack, which I love.  They´re all friends.

They can really get into a good dust bath too.

The dust bath is the most popular activity of the season, now that there are warm sunny days to laze around in and  wile away the hours sticking a leg out awkwardly…

This is the guinea spot in the woods, right by our path.  I suspect she´s laying her eggs here.  Can you see all three?

This is the hen who thinks she´s a Silkie, always hangin´ with the fluffballs.

The Silkie tribe is becoming adventuresome (safety in numbers?), and every day venture a little farther into the woods to skritch in the leaves, or come a few feet farther down the path to the house.

Led by their intrepid leader, the Colonel:

The bees are full team ahead hauling in pollen. (I meant “steam”, but that makes more sense)

Returning a soggy bee to the hive, incoming bees use my hand for a landing strip.

Finally finished the Guinea house

There can no longer be more procrastinating;  the guinea house has to be moved out of the greenhouse, so I have to finish it.  It needs a roof.

The guineas have been faithfully roosting on top of it since I built it, and I gave up completely on plan A of training the birds to go in at night.  For them, there is no in, only the highest possible perching point.

Well, that´s over now.  I put a roof on it.  I made an extra door perch, so they hopefully they will learn to creep into the house from the perch.

I had some help from carpenter chicken:

I´m totally helping.  Can I poop on this for you?

Can´t put things down for a second.

Then, dusk fell, and the guineas came home to find that their house had been reno´d while they were gone.  Extreme Makeover:  Guinea Coop.

 

 

They went straight to the top; sat on the roof.

I hope they decide a roof is a pretty great idea once they are outside, and it rains.