Sunday, August 16, 2015

New Nest Box

Our youngest chickens have started laying eggs.  They are so much smaller than the older chicken eggs.  It is pretty amusing!

The first of these eggs we found was not in a nest box.  It was out in the grass.  Then we found one on the floor of the coop.  Obviously, these young ladies were new to this and needed to learn what the nest boxes were for.  So, I caught each one separately and stuck them in one of the nest boxes to give them a chance to look around and, hopefully, figure out the appropriate place to lay an egg.

However, the next day, I found yet another egg on the floor of the coop.  Then, I noticed that all the nest boxes were in use by the older chickens.  Hmmmm.  Could it be that we needed another nest box to accommodate everyone?  Tom built the first set of nest boxes, but  we truly do not have room for another set that big.  We hardly have room for even one additional nest box.  Plus, it is a busy time in the garden and I didn't want Tom to feel he had to spend a lot of time building a new nest box.

I had seen already-built nest boxes somewhere and decided to go "nest shopping".  I found one at our local Atwoods farm store.  It is made of plastic and will be easy to keep clean.  It was also easy to install with only 4 screws required.  Here it is.

As soon as it was installed, I went through the routine again of picking each young chicken up and putting her in the new nest.   I was rewarded the next day with this.

So far the only eggs I have found in it are little eggs laid by the young girls.  I think perhaps it is too small for the Rhode Island Red chickens' liking.  They are a large, heavy breed and the opening to this new nest box is a little smaller.  So, I really do not expect them to use it.  However, that is okay.  It is just perfect for the young chickens and they will have their own special box.

Saturday, August 8, 2015


A few weeks ago I posted a picture on our Windy Acres Facebook page about our new arrivals, a pair of peafowl.  A peacock and a peahen to be specific.  

The peacock is on the right.  He has a longer tail, but has yet to develop his full plumage because he is only a year old.  They do not get their full set of tail feathers until they are 3 years old.

These were a gift from my middle child who decided we could not have 5 acres without a peacock to go with it.  We had to build a shelter for them and were told we should keep them penned up for several months until they were used to the place and knew they could come back here to find food.

They were both rather wild when we got them from the breeder, having been raised in large pens with lots of other peafowl where they were often chased down and captured with large nets when a buyer came to purchase one of them.  This wildness caused them to become frantic and fly around the enclosure in a panic when we went in to give them food or water.  And, unfortunately, after about a week, the female escaped when she flew against the door while Tom was in there to take care of a spilled food container.  She flew over the fence and into the tall Johnson grass on our neighbor's property.

We were both just sick about it and, although Tom went to look for her, it was a hopeless endeavor.  There is a creek with some tall trees beyond the grass and there is no telling where she might have gone.  We left food outside the pen, hoping she would come back to eat, but that did not happen and we have not seen anything of her since.

There is a silver lining to this story, though.  With the female gone, the peacock has settled down considerably.  She was definitely the wilder of the two and got agitated at the slightest thing.  The male has tamed down so much, in fact, that I can now enter his pen without him getting agitated at all.  Isn't he a beautiful boy?  He is an India Blue Pied.  The regular India Blues do not have the white feathers.

We bounced several names back and forth.  We agreed his name should start with a "P".  I was all for calling him Pete, after the OSU mascot Pistol Pete.  But, Tom felt he should have an Indian name, like Piscine, the name of the boy in the book Life of Pi.  In the end, we decided to call him "Petey Pi".

Although you can't see it, the front of the shed is covered with chicken wire.  It serves two purposes, one to keep him in, but also to keep predators out.  Believe it or not, peafowl, as large as they are, can fall prey to raccoon, coyotes and owls.  In Petey Pi's case, he is more susceptible to predators at night because of his white feathers.

As soon as we can, we plan to build an outside enclosure attached to the shed to allow him outside access during the day.  Later this year, we hope we will be able to let him out to free-range.  The only problem with that is he will undoubtedly stray over to our neighbors, too.  So, we'll have to see how that works out before we make it permanent.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Garden Disaster

In January of 2012, I wrote a blog entry about the severe drought we were having here in Oklahoma.  

Later that spring, the rains came and we were officially out of the drought for several months.  But, the rains stopped and the drought again crept into our part of the state so that by January of 2013 we were back in a severe drought.

During those dry times, we struggled to keep the garden alive and producing.  I dreamed of rain and lakes and rivers full of water.  Well, my dreams became a reality this spring when Oklahoma received record-making rainfall.  Here's a Mesonet map of the rainfall totals that have fallen in the state in the past 90 days.

 Unfortunately, this has caused more problems for us than the drought.  It was so wet for so long that we didn't get our crops planted in a timely manner.  Many of our potatoes rotted in the ground.  And, worst of all for me personally, the raised beds that I normally take care of got overtaken by weeds.  Here is an embarrassing picture of what it looks like.

Normally, I would have mulched the beds with leaves before the weeds got such a foothold, but this spring it was wet and muddy and I just didn't get it done.  Now, the weather is hot and humid and I've found that I cannot handle the heat this summer, so I've sort of given up for now.  Maybe I'll try a fall garden.  As Scarlet O'Hara would say "Tomorrow is another day!"

I am trying to be optimistic and put a positive spin on this whole deal.  I planted some Mexican Sunflowers that are beautiful, towering above the weeds and holding their own.

If you look closely, they are covered with butterflies and bumblebees..

I also have a lot of Thai Basil that came up volunteer from plants I planted last year.  Although, I don't use this herb much, I like to grow it for the pretty purple flower stalks it produces.

So, all is not lost and life goes on.  That is the nice thing about gardening, tomorrow is another day!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Chicken Feed

We've owned chickens for 4 years and have come a long way.  We certainly were novices when we started out.  Even the basic information on what to feed them was foreign to us.  Fortunately, our local Atwoods store, where we bought our first chicks, makes things easy for new chicken owners by providing a basic starter kit that includes a little feeder, waterer, heat lamp and a bag of chick feed.  So, home we came with our new babies and got them all set up to start life in grand style.

Reality, however, set in a few weeks later when they outgrew their brooder and we had to improvise a bigger pen for them until we could get their permanent home ready.  By the time we got their coop ready, they were looking more like mature chickens than baby chicks, and we realized we could not feed them chick feed forever.  So, back to Atwoods we went to look at the alternatives.  As it turns, out there are a variety of poultry feeds and it can be somewhat confusing.  So, here's the low-down on what we have learned.

Below is a picture of the kinds of feeds we currently have on hand.

The bowl on the left contains an all purpose "growth" formula.  It contains high protein and can be fed to all poultry regardless of their age.  The middle bowl contains "layer" formula.  It is lower in protein, but high in calcium and is meant for mature hens who are actively laying eggs.  The calcium helps make the eggshells strong.  Layer formula should not be fed to young chickens, as they are actively growing and need more protein than it contains.

When introducing young chickens who are not as yet laying (these are called pullets) into a flock of older hens, you can feed the entire flock the growth formula until the pullets begin to lay eggs.  Then, switch them all over to layer formula.  It is a good idea to put out some calcium in the form of ground up oyster shells while you have the flock on growth formula to give the laying hens the calcium they need for strong eggshells.

The last bowl contains "scratch" feed.  This is a mixture of several grains, such as cracked corn and millet.  It should only be used as a treat because it does not contain enough protein.  I keep it in a kitty litter bucket in the shed next to their coop and give them a couple of handfuls each day.  They have learned to recognize that bucket and get all excited when I bring it out.

Once the bucket is open, they can hardly wait to get at it.

 I normally just throw the scratch feed out on the ground and let them peck it up off the ground.  They love it.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Organizing the Chicken Coop

I had a brilliant idea last week.  It involved devising a way to make our chicken coop a little more organized.  First of all, our chicken coop is very small, just 6 feet by 11 feet.  Inside the coop we have 3 nest boxes and the waterer on one of the long sides, 2 roost bars along short end opposite the door and the feeder opposite the nest boxes.  So, it is pretty crowded in there. 

I like to provide the girls with grit and a calcium source.  The grit helps them digest their food and the calcium helps keep their eggshells strong.  The calcium source is either oyster shell or crushed up eggshells.  Until last week, I put the grit and calcium source in clay flower pot saucers which I set on the coop floor.  The drawback to this is the chickens either scratch out the contents, or they step on the saucers, turn them over and spill most of the contents. 

Last week I was trying to figure out a way to keep the saucers from turning over.  I tried setting a brick on them.  This kept the saucers from being upended, but the chickens still scratched the contents out onto the floor.  So, I was thinking if perhaps I built a low shelf up off the floor, then it might keep them from scratching the grit and calcium out.  One idea led to another and here is what I came up with.

This shelf is just big enough to hold 2 saucers.  They are held in place by a couple of "hooks" made from 2X4 pieces.  Here's a closer look at how the hooks work.

The saucer lip fits under the hook to keep it from being tipped over and the shelf is low enough the chickens have no trouble reaching the saucers.  Also, being up off the floor keeps the contents from being scratched out, as well as keeps the saucers from picking up debris from the floor.

This was a simple project using materials we already had on-hand and it does not take up much space in our already crowded coop.  However, I have to admit that I only came up with the idea, but enlisted Tom's help with cutting the board and hooks.  I'm a little squeamish about using power saws.  They give me the creeps.  But, don't you agree it was a brilliant idea!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Smart Pots

I am a dedicated fan of the program Oklahoma Gardening on our local PBS station OETA.  In fact, ninety percent of the programs I watch are on that station, but that is beside the point.  A few months ago, I watched a segment where they were using "Smart Pots".  These are produced by an Oklahoma wholesale company.  Here's a link to their website.

These are soft-sided fabric containers that can be used to grow a wide range of fruits, vegetables and ornamental plants.   Technically, they are called "aeration bags".  The cloth provides aeration to the roots to encourage healthy growth. I decided to give these a try and ordered two of them.  Here is one of them filled with potting soil.

The fabric sides encourage roots to "air prune" or branch when they encounter the edge of the container.  This prevents roots from circling around the container.   The smart pot stays cooler than many other containers because it is breathable and able to release heat through the fabric.

Smart Pots are being extensively used by a Canadian non-profit organization that spreads awareness of urban agriculture.  One of their prominent demonstration sites is located at Quebec’s National Assembly.  This site showcases edible gardens in 200 square feet of bed space using Smart Pots.

I planted a parsley plant in one of the pots I purchased.

I have trouble getting parsley to produce well in our hot Oklahoma summers.  I'm hoping that using this Smart Pot will help with that.  

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Preserving Garden Goodness - Zucchini

Summer is here, along with zucchini season!  Zucchini is such a versatile summer squash and can be used in so many different ways.   However, it is also very prolific and sometimes you get an oversupply.  You hear jokes about folks sneaking around at night leaving bags of zucchini on their neighbor's doorstep.  This blog article gives you an option to that.

First, trim the ends off the zucchini and shred it, either using a food processor or by hand.  Being the lazy person I am, I used my food processor.

Next, measure the shredded zucchini into one-cup portions.

Place each portion in a sandwich bag.

Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can with your hand.

Fold the bag over and squeeze more air out of the bag.  Then, place the folded sandwich bag inside a freezer bag, like this.  You can put several sandwich bags of zucchini in each freezer bag.  Label and date the package and freeze.

There are lots of recipes for using grated zucchini.  A quick search of the internet revealed squash patty recipes, Julia Child's zucchini sauteed with butter and shallots recipe, scrambled eggs with zucchini, a whole plethora of recipes on Pinterest and, of course, zucchini bread, zucchini cake and zucchini cookies!

So, don't let zucchini season get you down.  You don't have to sneak around in the dark leaving your extra zucchini on your neighbor's doorstep.  You now have an option that will allow you to enjoy your zucchini all year long.