Baby chickens in my shirt

Photo Oct 13, 11 28 18 AM
Baby chickens are so adorable.  I have some in my shirt right now.  Seriously.  I do.  The weather is cooling off with the arrival of fall and the new babies are chilly more often than was the summer batch.

Princesses Buttercup and Butterscotch

Princesses Buttercup and Butterscotch


The summer chicks we brooded in the (unused) fireplace, with lots of hanging outside time during the near-steady warm days.  This batch we are brooding in a large tupperware with an incandescent light, cause they are still tiny and we’d like to use the fireplace.

Photo Oct 13, 9 07 43 AM
The light produces plenty of heat, but when it’s time to ‘socialize’ them, they get chilly outside their brooding box.  So I put them in my shirt.  Mostly the collar of a vest or jacket.  I just traded them off with Scott who lay down on the couch to read the paper.  He has them up against his neck inside a tea towel blanket.

Photo Oct 13, 9 10 23 AM
It’s adorable and sweet.  But I may have created a monster.  It seems like the only time the babies are quiet now is when I put them in my shirt.  Being squished up against my neck inside the collar of my vest is probably a lot like being squished underneath momma hen’s wing.  Besides the heat, it’s probably innately comforting to move with the breathing and pulsing of a larger creature.

Chicken, on my shoulder, makes me haa-ppy...

Chicken, on my shoulder, makes me haa-ppy…

Have any of you created monster chickens or the sweetest pet chickens by socializing them one way or another?

Posted in animal behaviour, baby chickens, chicken behaviour, chickens | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Is it so much to ask?

Frankiedead
Dear humans,
Is it so much to ask that you protect us from the things that go bump in the night? From the beasts with teeth that bite and tear and kill? Is it so much to ask?
Sincerely,
Your chickens

I am saddened to report the unnecessary death of several hens, chicks, and pullets over the year. This summer Little Sister was broody (again). I set her up in the broody box with 3 wee chicks. The door of the broody box did not have a secure latch. Each night I rolled a bowling-ball sized rock in front of it and thought ‘Good enough’. It wasn’t. This summer I also re-vamped the chicken run.  I procrastinated getting the door to the run/coop back up. You see where I am going with this?

OlderHensPerchedAnnotated IMG_2908

Whilst we were away one weekend, our chicken sitter faced two consecutive nights of bloodbath – first in the broody box (Little Sister and her babies), and then in the coop (Baracka, the Best Chicken Ever). We had lost two hens earlier in the summer – one from an unexplained illness (Calamity Jane), the other a suspected overdose to some random poison buried in our compost bin* (Blanca). That left us with a single hen (‘Red’) – the only girl hatched to any of the three broods from 2013. At the bottom of the pecking order, she was the wildest of our chickens. Although she seemed relieved to no longer bear the brunt of all those beaks, she got a bit lonely and decided to go broody – right after we got our next batch of chicks.

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Baby chickens 2014 Take 2. Australorp, Ameraucana, Splash Blue Marans


The new babies were awesome! It had been years since we had raised our own chicks and we had tons of fun brooding in the fireplace, taking them outside when they were small, and then letting them run free range after we’d moved them out to the coop. They had taken to coming to visit me whenever I came out into the yard, eventually sitting with or on me for a bit to preen themselves (or me!). We were really worried that Frankie, the blue splash marans was a boy. These were all ‘sexed’ chicks, but she was big, had a honky voice, and we didn’t have any experience with her breed.

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Pen for supervised outdoor time

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The babies cuddling with Scott

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Jen cuddling with the kids

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Hanging with the pullets

Frankiepreeningme

Frankie preening my hair a week before her demise

Yesterday I gave Red away to a woman who didn’t have enough English to reassure me she wasn’t going to eat her. I decided to give her away because she had never stopped bring broody and was terrorizing the chicks with her bitchy attitude and we wanted to keep the flock small. I vowed not to care, but i regret it now. I was however excited that the babies would get the run of the roost.

Last night we went to a friend’s house before dark. The chickens weren’t in the coop yet so we left them be. When we got home, I nearly tripped over the little Australorp as I came down the walk. What was she doing out? I found our little Ameraucana perched on the chicken tractor. Scott eventually told me to stop looking. He had spotted the trails of white feathers that led to our androgenous Frankie – now a mangled mess left on top of the shed.

Take home lessons? It is unnecessarily cruel to not lock the chickens up at night. So many solutions – herd them in before dark, ask someone to come over at dusk and shut the door, use an automatic chicken door. Despite the 360 days of the year when raccoons do not attack our hens, it is not worth the risk.

*[We had once several years ago put rat poison in a burrow in our compost bin. I had recently emptied the compost bin and moved it to a new location in the chicken run, essentially bringing years of history to the surface].

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Tomato trellis 2014

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Tomato start making its first loop of the twine support

What is the best way to grow tomatoes? The answer will partly depend on the variety grown and partly on the climate, but I think the descriptor ‘vines’ is part of the answer.

Every garden year I challenge myself with the best physical support for tomato vines. I have tried allowing them to sprawl, inverted ring cages, box cages, pruning, and leader support.

This year I will prune my tomato vines to a single leader and train them up a single vertical support.

I used this method in 2009 and it was very successful until the plants grew too heavy for the bamboo frame that I built.

For better support, I am following the method detailed by Ed Smith in The Vegetable Gardeners Bible.

You will need:

  • 2×2 lumber for vertical posts and horizontal supports (preferably cedar)
  • Long nails (I used 3″)
  • Drill with bit equivalent to width of nails
  • A level is useful
  1. Drive a 2×2 into the soil every <8′ along your tomato row [we used 8′ 2x2s pounded down 3′ with a sledgehammer]. Try to keep the post level.
  2. Drill a 1.5″ into the top of each post.
  3. Measure the distance between posts
  4. Determine where the horizontal 2x2s will sit on the posts and where they will overlap
  5. Notch the ends of horizontal supports that will meet atop posts
  6. Drill through the ends of posts where they will sit atop the posts
  7. Insert nails through horizontal supports and secure to posts
  8. Drop a line of twine from the horizontal support and firmly attach to a spike embedded near the base of each tomato plant
  9. As each plant grows, trim the lateral spurs and loop around the twine
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3″ nail inserted into end of horizontal support and top of vertical support

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Detail of overlap between two horizontal supports at a vertical post

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Bad picture of the completed trellis system with twine anchored at base of each plant

UPDATE: The one thing I would change about this trellising method for next year is the twine. The twine I used deteriorated after a month or so, resulting in collapse of the entire plant. I had to advocate for synthetic twine, but next year I will use something stronger.

Posted in DIY, tomatoes, vegetable garden | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Definitely Dead

Dead bees clustered around the Queen on top bar 10 of the Carniolan Hive

Dead bees clustered around the Queen on top bar 10 of the Carniolan Hive

The Carny hive, suspected of demise (and then a spark of hope), is now, finally, dead.

Here is what I found:

Of 23 top bars drawn out with comb, bars 13-19 were heavy with honey. Dead bees littered the floor below bars 3-12. The Queen Bee was found on bar 10, surrounded by her attendants, all eerily still. There was a tight cluster of capped brood next to the Queen, adjacent empty cells with anywhere from 2-6 eggs per cell. Worker bees were found clinging to comb and head-first in cells, most densely around the Queen comb. Many more dead were found layers deep on the hive floor. There was no honey in bars 1-13, only capped brood and some pollen cells.

Did this hive starve to death? Were the honey combs at bars 13-19 just too far from the brood chamber as winter drew to a close? I vaguely recall a recommendation to move honey comb to the front of the hive late in winter. This could be our novice fault. :( It seems reasonable that the cold snap in February could have weakened the hive, killing off the brood we saw on Feb 13, but the Queen kept laying, and while trying to build up their numbers, they starved to death… This was also the hive that suffered an intial setback resulting in loss of its first honey stores. Plus the open window found in December. These could all have played a role…

I have decided to utilize the diagnostic services provided by the APIS Molecular Systematics lab at Washington State University. If I send them up to 1 c. of bees in isopropoyl alcohol, they will check for incidence and prevalence of common diseases, including nosema, varroa mites, and tracheal mites. I will report back on the findings.

In the meantime, tulips are blooming, the Italians are going strong, and spring is (hopefully) here to stay. It is the best time of year, full of hope and promise for the new year.

Posted in bees, spring, top bar hive | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments