Monday, April 25, 2011

New Project #2

So I started another new project:

It's hard to tell because of the red heat bulb but those are turkey poults, not chicks. I've had some turkey eggs in the incubator for the last month but something went wrong and they never developed. Luckily, Alex's parents invited me to their house in Palm Dale for Easter and that is just a short drive to Lancaster. It turns out Lancaster is rotten with turkeys. Alex and I went to a ranch that had tons of chicks and ducklings and poults. They even had guinea keets which were tempting but I thought that might be pushing it. Guineas are so loud and I try to be a good neighbor. For some reason the rooster crowing just fades into the background but guineas' calls are designed to be piercing.

I ended up getting to Royal Palm poults:

And two Blue Slate poults:

In the photo at the top the Blue Slates are already a bluish gray color and the Royal Palms are all yellow. I got 4 hoping that at least two will make it to next holiday season.

I drove back from Palm Dale with a bottle of hot water in the box to keep the poults warm and it seemed to work OK but they really cuddled up to the bottle so I'm glad it was a fairly quick trip.

I debated how I was going to raise the poults, if I was going to put them in a brooder or try to get one of the hens to brood them. I always prefer to have a hen raise chicks because then she does all the work and I don't have to worry about it. But in the past the hens have hatched the chicks themselves so they felt attached to the chicks. This time I would be tricking the hen into accepting the poults by sneaking them under her like they just hatched there. I was lucky that the poults I got had just hatched that morning so they were still young enough to go along with the ruse. It was still possible that the hen could reject them though. A hen usually has to be broody for a couple weeks before she'll believe that an egg is hatched. I guess they instinctively know that a chicken egg takes 21 days to hatch. The hen that I wanted to use had only been broody for about a week. She is also very crotchety and a bit aggressive. Her aggressiveness would make her a good mother but only if she accepted the poults as her own, otherwise she might peck them and drive them out of the nest.

When I got home with the poults it was dark, which I hoped would make it easier to get them under the hen. I tried to ease them under her but by the time I got the fourth one in she was agitated and pecking at me. I closed the door and listened to hear if she settled down. It was quiet so I let them be for a while. I checked on them a couple more times before I went to bed and although the hen was always ready to peck my face off there was no sign of the poults so I figured they were firmly tucked under her ruffled feathers.

I had trouble sleeping so it wasn't hard to get up early in the morning to check on them again. Still no sign of the poults but hen seemed even more defensive in the light of day. Here she is puffed up to maximum size with her head twisted around waiting for me to enter striking distance.

You can almost see the fierceness in her eye.

I decided to brave her horny beak and was eventually rewarded by this little fluffy head peaking out. That's one of the Royal Palms.

I went to work but still worried about the poults. It was possible that the hen was just protecting her nest and didn't feel any attachment to the poults. She could just stay on the nest and never take the poults out to eat and drink. She could leave the nest and not return, leaving the poults to die from lack of heat. She could peck them or step on them or do other damage. It made for a long day of worrying and I rushed up the steps when I got home.

The hen was sitting in the dirt of the run with the same angry look on her face. I suspected that the poults were under her but I checked inside the coop just in case. The coop was empty.
I sprinkled some chick starter in front of her and she took a couple big beakfuls of it and made little chirping sounds. As soon as she made the noise the poults darted out from underneath her to see what she was eating. She went on to show them how to drink and then led them back to the little pile of food. All my worrying for nothing.

After that she made a bee-line for the coop and called for the poults to follow her. Unfortunately they couldn't figure out how to get into the coop with her. Maybe they weren't strong enough to jump up.

And then this awful thing happened:

It was hard to watch the little guy getting trampled but I guess these little dramas must get played out repeatedly during the day. I'm sort or glad I'm not around to witness it more.

I made a little dirt ramp thinking that they might be able to get up if there were smaller steps.

The hen decided she had had enough though and came back out and sat on top of the poults. I couldn't get her to budge and they spent the night in the run.

Now that I think of it the last hen spent the first few nights in the run with her chicks. Maybe they were all too small to get back in.

Update 4/27/2011:
The ramp must have worked last night. The hen and poults were all in the coop when I got home from work last night. They came out in the morning though to enjoy a little sunlight:

Update 4/28/11:
The poults are so much more active in just a couple days. They have no problem jump up and down the ramp to get into the coop.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

New Project

I started a new project today:

Bees! Well, no bees yet but I put my hive boxes together. It looks so cute, it actually has a happy face on the front. I still need to paint it and find a place in the yard for it but I'm hoping to get some bees in there soon.

I also had the chance to go visit a nearby beekeeper with some new friends I met at the chicken group

The bee suits are so flattering, and although I was covered from head to toe I still felt a couple spikes of panic when a bee kept head butting me. Everyone else was really calm and relaxed. Maybe that comes with time.

There were 6 different hives here and the beekeeper said that they all have distinct personalities. I didn't realize that bees could be so different. There are lots of swarms in LA right now so once I get set up and put my name of on the list hopefully I can get a nice friendly group of bees.

Update 5/03/11:

I finally got the boxes primed and painted. I just need to make a base for it to sit on and I think I'm ready for bees.

I wanted to pick a golden color so it would blend in a little on the hill when the grass has turned yellow. This color is actually called golden honey. A bit twee but I think it looks nice.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Summerizing the Chicken Run

It was 92 degrees yesterday so I decided to make some changes to the chicken run. I've had plastic covering the run for the past couple months because of all the rain we were getting. Wet chickens and wet chicken runs are no fun.

I just stapled the plastic down through a piece of duct tape. It seemed to work well and gave the chickens more dry space to run around in.

I took the plastic off because I was concerned that it might be trapping heat and restricting the air flow too much.

I replaced it with some shade cloth from my old roof garden. It should allow the air to move through but will cut the intensity of the sunlight.

I left part of it uncovered so I could access the door and also to let some sun in. Chickens like to bask in the sun sometimes. It must give them vitamin D or something. Chickens are pretty good about regulating themselves though so I figure if then need sun they can work out their own basking schedule. In the height of the Summer most of them will be seeking the shadiest spot though. Luckily the coop is on the east side of the sopote tree so by 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon the whole thing is in shade.

My plan was to plant a grape vine over the run that would grow in the summer to provide shade and then lose it's leaves in the winter to let the sun in. I never managed to get the plant in the ground last year though. I'd sort of forgotten about it until I saw it's little tendrils climbing up through the A. desmenttiana and Mangave Macho Mocha.

This is a plant that I got at the Theodore Payne Foundation called Robert's Red. It's a hybrid that is drought tolerant and turns bright red in the fall. It's so pretty that I sort of want to plant it closer to the house. It's grapes are supposed to be more palatable than full natives but it has some of the disease resistance of it's native parent.


I planted some squash seeds a couple weeks ago. I ordered a bunch of powdery mildew resistant varieties. I've had pretty good luck with my squash every year but because of our cold nights they always develop mildew halfway through the season. We'll see how these do. I got some yellow zucchini, a couple of hybrid acorns, a fancy weird pumpkin, and my favorite, butternut. They are all winter squash except for the zucchini but even the zucchinis I've grown have over wintered pretty well.

After two weeks the seedlings are just starting to push their way out.

And this is 3 days later. Yowza!

I planted a lot more than I need hoping that I can give some away. I have a lot more seeds stored in the fridge too. The minimum order for each kind was about 250 seeds and so far I've only used about 10 so if anyone is interested in trying these out let me know.

While I was in the seed planting mood I decided to give these Echium wildpretii seeds a try.

I put two or three seeds in each little container and then covered them with a little more dirt. I had about 60 seeds.

The instructions said to cover them with plastic until they germinate. I kind of want to hide them somewhere where I won't have to see them all the time. I'm dying of anticipation.

This is what they look like when they bloom in their second year:

Wish me luck.

Update 5/03/11:

It's been a couple weeks and the squash are still doing well. They are getting their true leaves now. I have to figure out where I'm going to put them. I'm going to make some self-watering containers but I'd like to choose an out of the way place for them. Most of them are bush varieties and not viney but I don't really know what to expect. The first year I grew butternut the whole front yard was covered in it. The vines must have been 35 feet long. I can't image having ten times that amount.

After two weeks I also found this this morning:

It's one little Wildpretii seedling. See it there by the edge of the pot?

By the time I got home tonight there were 4 move just popping out:

They're still not much to look at but I'm encouraged that they're sprouting. I wasn't sure what to expect and was getting a little discouraged that nothing had popped out. I guess the squash took two weeks too. I'm really going to have to work on my patience if I'm going to wait two years for these to bloom.

More Pruning (2)

So I have a little update on my recent pruning. I had pruned half of the bushes in the front yard hoping that they would come back a little fuller but I was worried about doing the whole run of bushes. I didn't want to spend the whole summer with no screening from the street. That was two and half months ago and the bushes have already sent out a lot of new growth:

Here you can see one of the branches that I cut and the new shoots coming out.

I decided to do the rest of the bushes. The ones that I had left alone hadn't started to send out any new growth so I figured I still had a chance to clean them up.

It looks pretty dense but there are only leaves on the ends of 5 and 6 foot branches. I was afraid that if I let them grow for another year they would be all branch and very little leaf.

I got a new tool that made the job a lot easier. It's like a long one-handled lopper. It extended my reach about 5 feet.

I still had to crawl under the bushes on the downhill side to be able to reach most of the branches. Here's what it looked like when I started:

Half of it was dead stuff that I had to clear out. The fire department will be happy.

Here's where I stopped. I cut about half of it out. I figure that I can do the other half next year after it's filled in a little.

Here's the before again from the top:

And the after:

It feels much better. The old looming branches were looking a little Grey Gardens.

The area that I cut is a little difficult to see in this photo from the street, but it's directly below the palm tree. I would like to have the bushes be much more compact and not cantilevering out over the street.

I also decided to clean up the bushes on the side yard. These grow so fast that it's hard to keep up with them. One day I would like to replace the fence that is slowly sagging into the neighbors yard. I think the bushes have contributed to the degradation of the fence. In strong winds they really whip back and forth and have managed to pull one of the fence posts out of its footing.

It's also covering my wall planters that are hanging from the fence.

It looks so different now. You can see more of the view and the whole yard feels more open.

One day I'll tackle the rest of it but I need to get on a ladder in my neighbor's yard to reach most of it. I might be easier to do once the old fence comes down.

Clearing the Hill

I started clearing the hill last week. It made me a little sad to do it while the grass was still green but I didn't want to leave it until the last minute like I usually do. It was also cool and breezy so it was a perfect time to pull out the weed whacker.

I also needed to clean up some of the trees above the house. I don't know what these are and I think they are pretty ugly but I'm stuck with them for the time being. Some of the branches bent over in our last wind storm and never stood back up so I cut them off.

Once I got started it was hard to stop. I ended up taking off all of the branches below about eight feet. It actually makes them look like trees rather than bushes and opens up the view a little.

One of the things that I don't like about these trees is that they send out new growth at the base of the trunk and then the inner trunks die.

It creates a gnarly candelabra of dead wood. Charming. I cut out all the dead trunks, some of which were 25 feet tall.

After the trees were taken care of you could see the path that leads the other side of the yard. Or, well, you could see where the path used to be. It was now almost totally blocked by the pomegranate bush at the top and jade plants on the bottom.

The pomegranate gets blooms in the spring but I've never seen any fruit on it. This thing would probably benefit from a severe pruning as well but I just don't have it in me right now. Maybe next year.

Now it actually looks like a path again. Kind of romantic.

For now, all it leads to is a giant half dead peach tree and a couple of citrus trees.

I'm hoping one day that I can build a little garden shed hidden under the pepper and walnut trees.

Some critters would prefer that side of the yard remain a secret. I uncovered this sleepy lizard as I was clearing out jade plants. It's much bigger than the Western Fence Lizards I usually see and has more distinctive markings. I'll try to figure out what it is.

I slowly made my way up the hill. The staircase I made last year was almost invisible. It was more like a tiered garden for grass and oxalis.

I tried to leave some of the oxalis because it looks cute when it's in bloom but it will be drying up soon.

The hill above the chicken coop is looking pretty spectacular right now.

I hate to mess it up but if I waited much longer it would have been 90 degrees when I went out to do it.

It looks so ugly now but I left the lupine bushes at the top. They've been getting bigger every year and seem to do better as they get more established. It makes me wonder what blue bonnets would do if I planted some.