Backyard Chickens

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We’d like to introduce our (not so new anymore) flock of chickens. They were a spur of the moment birthday gift to me; stumbled upon a for-sale ad and had chickens in the backyard the next day. I loaded up the kids and drove the hour and 20 minutes to the “chicken lady’s” ranch to investigate and potentially bring some layers and pullets home all the while the “coop” would be made ready. Check out the DIY chicken coop we put together in a couple hours.

backyard-chickens

We wound up bringing 2 laying Rhode Island Reds, and 10 pullets in the following breeds: Rhode Island Red, Barred Plymouth Rock, Leghorn, Buff Orpington, Blue Wyandotte, and some combination of Ameraucana, Araucauna and Easter Eggers. A sweet Austraulorp rooster introduced himself while we picked the girls out and happened to be looking for a home. I was on board for some extra chicken protection, since we planned to free range the girls, so we took him home, too.

black-australorp-rooster

See the fence in the background of the first picture? That was the solution to our quickly dwindling flock of chickens. We lost both layers within the first 2 weeks, as well as 2 pullets to predators. That experience was just a glimpse of what I imagine it feels like to lose a larger investment to predators. You feed and care for livestock, hoping that it will pay off eventually. Instead we gave the local wildlife some pretty tasty meals. Cycle of life, I get it, but not my critters. A fox was witnessed carrying off Betsy (our layer) but we never saw any evidence of the other attacks. For a few weeks our rooster’s fate was in limbo as he was clearly not offering any protection for the hens. After we put the fence up, our nerves calmed a bit, and we decided he could stick around.

 

DIY Chicken Coop

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Our new flock’s chicken coop is a re-purposed 7×2 galvanized steel shed, like this storage shed, that we had picked up for a real bargain 5+ years ago. We had been using it to store some things that could easily be rehomed and agreed this already built shed would make a quick solution for a chicken coop.

storage-shed-chicken-coop

After relocating it, propping it up on some railroad ties to raise it off the ground and giving it a solid floor, we were ready to finish it up for the birds.
We erected a chain link dog run that we weren’t using around the coop, covered it with extra lattice that we had, and secured it with wire.
We added several  small windows around the top of the coop for ventilation by cutting out the window in the steel and securing wire mesh tightly to keep intruders out.

chicken-coop-perches recycled-chicken-nesting-boxes

We hang the water and feeder from the ceiling to reduce the amount of sludge that gets kicked in them.

We plan to eventually get around to sprucing it up a bit, it does look like a prison, but it serves its purpose as a DIY chicken coop and it was no money out of pocket.

Starting Winter Seeds Indoors

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We are in the midst of a thriving summer garden, with 90+ degree days, and patiently awaiting the onset of fall. Among the many enjoyments of fall is the ability to work more comfortably in the garden. Because of the strict schedule the harsh sun (and the children) keeps me on, my working time in the garden is really limited to the short time between dawn and the sun rising up over the trees, which is about the time it takes to get everything watered. In the past, I’ve waited for the cooler days to direct sow our winter crops in the garden. This has worked ok for some crops, but the Brassicas family has always struggled mainly because of poor germination. This year I’m going to try to give these guys a head start by sowing them indoors.

The crops were decided, seeds were ordered, supplies were gathered. We use reusable seed starting trays with humidity domes and peat pots. Everything that I started is about 6 weeks out from transplanting into the garden.

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Homemade Chicken Nuggets

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On my quest to provide wholesome food for my family, while trying to balance busy schedules, I realized that my freezer lacked already cooked, ready to heat and eat, good for you food. I wanted to fill that void with a chicken tender- an actual piece of quality chicken, breaded and cooked, waiting for my panicked hand to grab it with relief that I do, in fact, have something nutritious to feed my family.
I perused the freezer aisles of a few grocery stores and left empty handed. I wanted organic chicken in it’s original state, not mechanically separated and reconstituted, not plumped up with liquids or containing unnatural ingredients. Why was this so hard to find? I gave up on the prospect of finding a ready made option and got cookin’. I should add there was one brand I found that fit my criteria (Van’s, I believe), but was so costly it was not a realistic option.
I like to make a double batch of these breaded chicken tenders to cover dinner the night they’re cooked fresh (with gravy) and plenty to freeze for a few future meals.
You’ll need chicken breasts, flour, seasonings, bread crumbs, 1 egg, milk, and coconut oil.

homemade-chicken-tenders
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Building Raised Garden Beds- Expanding the Garden

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I’ve been busy planning away for the next 2 seasons in the garden. It took very little time to realize that in order to grow the variety of crops we envision we will need more growing space. I’m not surprised we outgrew our small garden so quickly, which is why I allowed for room for expansion when we put the fence up this last spring. To get the most out of the remaining fenced in space the 2 new beds need to be a different shape than the first 3.

raised-bed-garden

The first bed is a two tiered raised bed that I was fortunate enough to be able to piece together with recycled and scrap wood ( I love keeping the cost of projects low). We had some weathered 16 foot douglas fur boards that were begging to be used. The final size of the beds is roughly 5′ by 7′. I cut my douglas fur boards down to size and cut my corner posts out of a scrap 4 x 4 and some tree limbs from trees that came down on the property. The height of the beds was determined by the wood we have available which is 9 inches. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s Happening in the Garden July 18

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While doing some work on the recent bean project, I snapped some pictures of our veggies growing happily in the summer heat.

 

yellow-squash
We’ve been harvesting zucchini and yellow squash for a couple weeks now. We’re just getting into the “squash coming out of our ears” phase. Interestingly, the yellow squash starter we brought home from the local nursery has almost split into 3 clusters, 2 produce yellow squash and the 3rd produces Romanesco zucchini. In addition to that we have 2 zucchini plants. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Crop of Beans

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I decided to give a fall crop of beans a shot since I missed the mark this spring. With the unreliable weather patterns here in the Sierra Nevada mountains, I’m possibly starting a couple weeks too soon. I’m doing succession planting in case I’m too far off with start dates. Plus, if all goes well we’ll have many weeks of yummy bean harvesting come fall.

pole-bean-seeds

These are the 2 varieties I’m planting: Roma II (bush) and Blue Lake (pole). I’ve planted the 2 together before in the spring and the bush bean climbed just as well as the pole bean.
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Mulching the garden with straw

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We’ve always been conscious of our water usage and do our best to conserve water year round. In years of below normal precipitation it is imperative that we cut our usage. There’s a feeling of helplessness when thinking about the worst case scenario of our well running dry. It has happened recently up on our mountain to another family and it certainly makes us grateful for what we’ve got. This summer is expected to be especially harsh. We’re well below average in precipitation totals. California relies heavily on snow pack in the mountains, which is at 0% of normal.
We considered skipping the garden this year to conserve water, but ultimately decided against foregoing the garden as long as we took extra measures to conserve water.
Shortly after planting our vegetable starts, I brought home some straw to mulch the garden with. This was an appropriate task for a larger vehicle, ideally a truck, but I had my little hatchback with me and didn’t want to make a special trip with the jeep. Surprisingly, with the bale cut in half, she fit into the hatchback.

straw-in-trunk

 

We chose to use straw as a mulch for a few reasons: it is inexpensive, easy to spread, organic, won’t tie up nutrients in the soil as it breaks down because it decomposes slowly, keeps weeds down, and keeps the soil moist and cool. Be sure to use straw and not hay as straw has fewer seed heads (fewer weeds). Though I cant speak from experience, I’ve been told if you mulch with a thick enough layer of hay, weeds won’t be a problem.

straw-in-garden-cart

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Planting a Vegetable Garden

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We made a big push to get the garden going before losing too much of the growing season. Our season is pretty short normally with cool nights into early summer and they come back quickly in late summer. Even though day time temperatures get nice and toasty, the cool nights can really delay our garden growth. We spent a lot of time over Memorial Day weekend working on the fence, moving the raised garden beds, building a new bed, prepping the soil, and finally planting our vegetable starters.
I mix a store bought soil booster into the garden beds to replenish nutrients which have been depleted.

garden-soil-and-boostervegetable-starters Read the rest of this entry »

How to move raised garden beds

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Now that the fence is up, it is time to get moving on the garden beds. We had built 2 raised garden beds out of some lumber a couple years ago before the fence went up. After the fence was up, I decided in order to optimize the garden space one of the raised garden beds would need to be repositioned. They were spaced originally much farther than necessary to allow maximum ease and comfort while working in the beds. I now wanted to add another bed and move then closer together.

raised-garden-bed-spacing

I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be to move a raised garden bed which already had soil and had settled into its little space for 3 years, or if I could do this alone. I figured the easiest way to move it would be to dig out the new space I want the bed to sit in which also freed up the soil right next to the raised garden bed. Read the rest of this entry »

Installing a garden fence

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With the start of growing season fast approaching and the back yard area still lacking a fence (it’s a big project), we decided fencing in the orchard and the vegetable garden separately was the only option to get growing this year. This was our first attempt at putting up fencing and I must say I was pretty pleased with myself for sinking the t-posts by myself. We scavenged fence remnants from around the property and were able to repurpose everything. The orchard area was completed first and then we moved onto the vegetable garden.
The plot for the garden is on a slight slope which isnt a big deal, but makes the fence line less than perfect. I first sunk the corner t-posts then spaced the remaining t-posts about 6feet apart on all sides. I’m short so I utilized a lawn chair to get me to the proper height for driving the t-post into the ground with the t-post driver. For a more permanent and sturdy animal fence you would definitely want to go with a heave duty corner post for some strength. As long as a deer doesn’t get tangled in our fence and a bear doesn’t try to climb it, I’m expecting our t-posts to hold up our animal fence just fine.

Pound, pound, pound  and fast forward and the t-posts are in. I recruited help for the next portion because although I’m a scrappy gal, I just couldn’t wrestle the fence alone.

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How to Protect Trees from Sunburn

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With the fruit trees happy in their new home, we are in maintenance mode. The new pear and apple trees have not ever been painted and the few year old cherry and nectarine trees have little of their original coat of sun block remaining.

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Trellising Raspberries

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It has been about 8 weeks since we planted the raspberries. We’ve seen a lot of growth over the last month with the start of spring. All 10 of the canes seem to be doing well, some better than others.

training-new-berry-bushes
With the 6 inches or so of new growth, I decided it is time to begin training these guys.
They aren’t quite tall enough to reach the lattice but there is a bit of forward growth that I want to redirect. Read the rest of this entry »

What’s happening in the garden May 4

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I was out working on a few things this afternoon with my camera in hand and snapped some pictures of our progress thus far this year with our fruit. It is a few days into May and we’ve had a mix of weather since the official start of spring: temperatures as low as mid 30s at night and we’ve reached high 80s a couple afternoons. We also saw a decent amount of rain (hallelujah!) and some snow since spring has sprung.
We’ve got happy trees…they’re finally in the ground after much delay. The time spent in temporary pot homes ranged from 1-4 years (much too long). As you can imagine they didn’t do much growing in their temporary homes and never produced after the first year in a pot. They’ve impressed me with how quickly they’re flourishing in the ground. They still have catching up to do given their ages, but we’re on the right track.

baby-nectarines

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Planting Raspberries on a Trellis

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In early March we had an unusual stretch of warm, beautiful weather. We decided to take advantage of it and got our raspberry babies in the ground.
The plot is a space we were on the fence about for some time. It is prime real estate right off of the deck in the “back yard” and we wanted to use it well. We agreed a permanent crop would live there but debated trying asparagus or artichokes. Raspberries ultimately won the coveted spot because we wanted to utilize the existing lattice, which encloses the under-deck space, as a trellis.

fruit-bed
I haven’t seen much in the way of examples of neat and tidy raspberry trellising. Usually the trellis is more of a cage with the canes trained/trimmed to stay within the confines of the designated grow area.
Our approach is different because we want to train the raspberries to live in an espalier-like shape. I’m not convinced it will work but if it does, it’ll be wonderful! Read the rest of this entry »