Voles in the Garden

Gardening No Comments »

As a gardener I’ve not experienced anything more defeating than having something out of my control ruin my crops. We’ve had disappointments over the years when deer hopped the fence and chomped on the fruit trees, or a late frost killed off some crops. This year we were over run by voles and they slowly and systematically devoured the gardens.

The tell-tale signs started popping up slowing in late spring/early summer. Vole holes are small, about an inch in diameter. They don’t create mounds when they tunnel, and they leave evidence of their above ground trails, which is something moles don’t do.

No big deal, I thought, because vole holes have popped up over the 10 years we’ve gardened here. No harm, no foul. Then I started noticing leaves on my potatoes, and squash turning yellow. Soon, across the garden my lush, thriving caged strawberry plants suddenly had no strawberries and leaves were chewed off. The garden and land between the 3 garden areas looked like swiss cheese.

I first tried some Mole-Max, a castor oil granule that is spread around the affected area. Watering the granules pushes the pungent castor oil smell into the ground, which is supposed to deter the hungry tunnelers. This didn’t have an impact. Iwas promised it’s very effective, so I assumed I wasn’t using enough. Another jug of Mole-max was spread. At the same time the population seemed to boom. What started as a slowly deteriorating garden, was having significant new damage almost over night.

I was forced to harvest my potatoes from my grow bags early, because we were clearly losing the battle. Sure enough I spied the mouse-like critters crawling out of my potato bags when I watered. 3 were dispatched when the unsuspecting voles were uncovered when I moved the grow bags.

Stepping up my defenses I decided to set as many mouse traps as I could scrounge up. 15 dappled the gardens, and every few days I’d have another sprung trap. They’re tricky little things though. Often 4 or 5 traps would be sprung but empty.
Yet another remedy I’d been told was to spread human hair in the garden as they supposedly don’t like our smell. I saved up hair after haircuts and stuffed it into the holes.

It’s July and my garden consists of some sad strawberry plants trying to recover from a major assault and my tomatoes, which miraculously seem to be unscathed.
I think the current death toll is around 7 or 8 voles. Pairing the use of the mole- max, the apparently disgusting smell of human hair, and presumably the shrinking food source (as my garden is nearly dead) the vole activity seems to have dwindled.

Meal Planning for Surgery Prep

Food storage No Comments »

Being the cook  is one of my contributions to our family of 4 with 2 small children. I plan and cook every meal, mostly from scratch, so our family can eat what we feel is best for them. During any given day I spend a couple hours cooking and cleaning up in the kitchen.

Shortly before the recent holiday I went through some medical stuff that ultimately would require a future surgery to treat fully. Thankfully I was told to expect a short recovery of 1-2 weeks and I had the upside of ample time to plan and prepare.

Though my recovery would hopefully be short, I was fully expecting to have about 7 days of discomfort and low to no energy based on what I’ve been told from friends who had similar surgeries. During that time I wanted to make it as easy as possible for my husband to fill in and take over the things that I normally take care of in our home. We knew he’d be picking up everything I couldn’t during this time because of where we live. Family and friends aren’t near by, nor do we have take-out options.

Meal planning to prepare for surgery is easy. Meal plan for each day, create a shopping list, prepare meals and freeze. STICK TO THE PLAN!Meal-planning Read the rest of this entry »

Brooding Coop for Chicks

Animals No Comments »

We wound up with 13 chicks and a very motherly broody hen who needed a safe home. We recently moved Not Blanch into our mudroom, while she was hatching her eggs to get her inside out of the storm, but it didn’t take more than a few days for them to over-stink the room. It’s almost November and is getting colder and wetter by the day. Now that the hatching is complete and everyone has had a few days in a warmer, safe home, we’re ready to get a brooding coop built for the new family to move them back outside.
We feel pretty strongly about not separating mother from her babies, but we just don’t have enough room for them to stay indoors, nor do we feel that would be ideal for them. Plus, Not Blanch, our buff orpington, has proven that she is nothing less than a very dedicated, doting mother. I have great confidence that she will keep them warm, safe, and protected outside, if we provide a coop and run. The reason we are not moving them in with the other adult birds is because I just don’t know how the others will react to the babies, and we don’t want to stress anyone out if it can be avoided. Read the rest of this entry »

Broody hen in cold weather

Animals No Comments »

The eggs have begun hatching! To my inexperienced self this is such a surprise! Our broody hen, Not Blanch, went broody in the beginning of October when temperatures started dipping down in the low 40s from time to time at night. We had a number of cold rainy days, as mentioned in the previous post about Moving a Broody Hen. Not only did it seem to me that the weather was working against our broody buff orpington, we worried that having to move her and her nest would disrupt the process enough to break her of her broodiness.

On day 21 of incubation, the typical time it takes to hatch an egg, I was away at work and expected to get a call that the eggs had begun hatching. We’ve been dodging rain and wind storms since Not Blanch went broody and this was finally expected to be a nice couple of days when the chicks were due. Day 21 came and went and no changes, the same with day 22. I was beginning to expect the worst, with the all the adversity Not Blanch and her eggs had endured, but still tried to remain hopeful that one or two would hatch.

Day 23- another rain storm was on the way. We were gone in the morning and upon returning around lunch time, I was certain I saw a little dark ball in front of our broody hen. It was dark inside the brooding cage and with all the shadows I couldn’t be sure. By the time I retrieved a flashlight, Not Blanch had repositioned and the dark mass was gone.
I checked back a little while later and was so gleefully surprised to see two chicks!

broody-hen-hatching-chicks Read the rest of this entry »

Moving a broody hen

Animals No Comments »

At about the 10 day mark, the forecast took a turn. This weekend should bring a substantial rain storm FINALLY (we’ve been hoping for this all summer). Only now we’re faced with having to move our broody hen, Not Blanch, and her nest. As mentioned in the previous post, she chose a slightly exposed location and one that will guarantee she and her nest get flooded with the 3-8″ of rain we’re expecting this weekend. I stress about the prospect of moving her nest and having her reject her eggs, but know that all of her eggs are doomed if we do nothing.
I decided to relocate her to a large covered dog crate, positioned as close to her original nest as possible. I put a layer of dirt in the bottom of the crate, then straw, and wood chips to fluff it up a bit. I then gathered the dry leaf material she used in her original nest and tried to recreate her masterpiece. This dog crate will serve as her maternity ward or brooding cage.

I had read that the best time to relocate eggs and a broody hen is at night, but decided against that for my own safety. I don’t like to be out working past sundown alone. I made sure Not Blanch, our broody hen, could see me move each egg carefully to its new position. I wore garden gloves because as any good broody hen will do, she pecked and fluffed and complained each time my hand got close to her. I spoke quietly and gently to her as I worked and once her nest was moved, I moved her too, ignoring her protests.

She sat for about 2o minutes, then my heart sank when I saw her pecking around with the rest of the hens. I reminded myself that this was about her usual time to take a break. I checked back a few times and finally saw her trying to make her way back through the maze of odds and ends next to the garage to her nest. I watched her from afar and again my heart sank when she turned around and walked away. She tried a second time and I walked closer to see what she was doing. She seemed to have forgotten that her nest moved.Not Blanch stopped short of the new nest location, where the original nest used to be, then left again. I tried to get her back on the trail by spreading scratch to her eggs but she wasn’t interested and sadly headed back to the general population. I wasn’t ready to give up, so I quickly caught her and placed her back on her nest. Once back on her nest she seemed to be fine.


I was worried that the commotion of the day’s events had broken her broodiness but currently she seems to have picked up where she left off. I put food and water in the brooding crate with her so I could close the door and leave her in there for a while. I’d hate for her to go for her walk on her break tomorrow when I’m away and get lost on her way back.
After checking on her just before bed she is still sitting on her eggs like a good broody hen.


Broody Hen

Animals No Comments »

What we initially thought was a casualty to whatever lurks in the forest turned out to be a broody hen. Our buff orpington, who goes by the name of Not Blanch, was missing during our routine head count at bedtime. best-broody-hen

She was no where to be found in the dark and we went to bed a bit worried but hopeful she’d reappear in the morning. No such luck. Not the next morning either. Read the rest of this entry »

Backyard Chickens

Animals No Comments »

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.


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.


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

Animals No Comments »

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.


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

Gardening No Comments »

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.

Seed-starting-mixSeed-starting-peat-pots Read the rest of this entry »

Homemade Chicken Nuggets

In the Kitchen No Comments »

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Building Raised Garden Beds- Expanding the Garden

Gardening No Comments »

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.


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

Gardening No Comments »

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


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

Gardening No Comments »

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.


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.
Read the rest of this entry »

Mulching the garden with straw

Gardening No Comments »

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.



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.


Read the rest of this entry »

Planting a Vegetable Garden

Gardening No Comments »

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 »