Friday, October 21, 2011

Agave Potatorum Bloom

My little agave's bloom spike finally has flowers on it. I was waiting to see what color they were to make a determination what species it is. The blooms look light green to me as opposed to bright yellow, so I think it's potatorum.


The eggs that I put in the incubator a while back went into lock down this morning. That means that I took them out of the egg turner and I won't open the incubator again until the chicks hatch.

The turner has a little electric motor and a gear that turns the eggs back and forth so the chicks don't get stuck in the same place. With out the turner I would have to turn them by hand twice a day. A mother hen would also shift the eggs periodically throughout the day.

Out of the 20 eggs that I put in the incubator there are only 9 still in there. These two won't be going back in. I think they were cracked during shipping. The cracks allow bacteria to enter and turn the eggs rotten.

Rotten egg comes bubbling out of the crack. This egg was stuck to the turner. It smells about as bad as you would expect.

This egg had just a pin hole with egg coming out but it was enough to turn the egg.

The other thing you do at lock down is add water to increase the humidity inside the incubator. This will keep the chicks from drying out as they hatch. If it's too dry their fluff could stick to the eggs and they won't be able to hatch. I also add a wet sponge which helps add humidity. You can see the condensation forming on the window. It disappeared after a few minutes.

I added a little computer fan to the inside. The fan helps to even out the temperature inside the incubator so every part is the same. When it gets closer to the time for the hatch I'll turn the fan off. It could also dry a chick out.

I'm not sure how many chicks to expect. There is definitely something developing in 7 or 8 of them but you never know what you're going to end up with. As long as I get a decent cockerel out of this batch I'll be able to breed more next summer with the three pullets that I got from Dare 2 Dream Farm.

Chicken Run Repair

I had hoped to finish the run today but I spent a lot of time painting the bottom panels. I had to prime them and then apply two coats of paint. I tried out a shade of blue I'm considering for the house. It looks alarmingly royal while it's wet but it should darken to a more flinty color as it dries.

I thought that I had enough plywood to cut all the pieces but I didn't so I also cut up this old door that used to be my back door. It's been leaning up against the back of the house forever so I'm glad to finally make use of it.

I got the door of the run done as the sun went down. Doors always take me forever because I end up fiddling with them to make them fit openings that aren't quite square. This one feels reassuringly solid.

If you missed the supervisor in the last shot, here's a close up.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Coop Anticipation

I'm so excited to work on the chicken coop tomorrow that I want to rush home and go to bed like it was Christmas Eve so that tomorrow morning will come sooner.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Shaw's Agave

When it rains it pours. I just wrote about seeing some Agave shawii growing in San Diego and then finding a little potted one for sale at Theodor Payne. This week my friend Sean asked me if I wanted some mature agaves that were removed from the Aquarium of the Pacific to make way for their new penguin exhibit.

He wasn't sure what they were but sent the picture below. I'm not sure either, but they look an awful lot like A. shawii. From the photo I thought they were about a couple feet across but when I saw them in person they seemed huge. I brought Alex thinking the two of us could lift one but I couldn't even budge it.

Luckily, Sean arranged to have someone forklift them into my truck.

Three of them totally filled the bed of the truck. It was overwhelming and awesome. The plants are beat up from being moved around so much but they should bounce back in a couple years. There are already new offsets coming out, so even if these are stressed into blooming I should get some pups to spread around.

Now I just have to figure out how to get them out of the truck and up the hill. Alex thinks we should drive the truck up the dirt road to the top of the hill and then drag them down. That sounds a lot easier than carrying them all the way up.

While we were at the Aquarium we also got to meet Parker the sea lion.

And by "meet" I mean shake flippers with and get kissed by.

I've shaken a sea lion's flipper before but this was my first kiss (and Alex's). It was surprisingly long and gentle. And offered in exchange for a fish.

Both Parker and the agaves were worth the visit to Long Beach. Thanks Sean!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Chicken Run Repair

I started repairing the run on the chicken coop.

Even without the damage done by the dog it was looking pretty worn. The bottom was enclosed by plywood panels that used to make up a fence around my house. The fence was horrible but I got 3 years worth of use out of these pieces.

They were pretty rotten and the layers were starting to separate so they came out pretty easily.

My plan was to just lift the downhill side until it was level and brace it with new studs at the bottom. I was hoping to reuse as much of the structure and mesh as possible. It didn't work out. It was too hard to lift and a couple of the rafters had come loose from the dog jumping on it.

I ended up taking every thing apart and rebuilding it. I was able to reuse the rafters and ridge beam so it didn't take much cutting to get to this point. Even though it's not the same style as the turkey coop roof, the two structures have much more in common now and seem like a family. Making the run roof level also makes it much more capacious inside. I can stand and move around pretty comfortably. In the old one I had to hunch and crawl, which means that I didn't go in very often.

Yesterday I added the vertical studs.

And today I started putting the mesh on.

I decided to use the same 2"x4" welded mesh that I used on the turkey coop. Not only will it match but I figured it would hurt a dog to walk on it.

It's stapled and then a rail is screwed down on top of it. I'm hoping that there is enough overlap of the mesh that it won't pull out like the hardware cloth did if something jumps on it. Fancy doesn't weigh enough to really put it to the test.

I had to modify my ladder a little to make it stable on the hill. It felt as crazy at it looks. Hopefully I won't have to climb up there again.

I need to get more mesh so I can cover the ends and make a door.

It's a little hard to see below, but those are dogprints on the 2x4. This is right where the dog climbed up to get in the coop. I'm assuming it's the same dog because on Tuesday he got through the fence around my house and chased Fancy off the porch. The dog seemed surprised to see me and high-tailed it up the hill.

Hopefully the new run will be enough to keep him out since his owner is either unwilling or unable to keep his dog contained.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Chicken Run Repair Helper

Fancy is a companionable cat. He came up to hang out with me as I was working on the chicken run and treated the run framing as a jungle gym. It was also a good vantage to have a staring contest with the turkeys. Fancy was pretending disinterest but they were clearly fascinated by him.

Fancy also turned his disinterested gaze on me as if to ask "what's taking you so long?" Although maybe that was just the dialogue in my own head.

Turkey Dance

I spent some time with the turkeys last weekend as I worked on the roof of the turkey coop and the run of the chicken coop. I normally only see them for a few minutes in the morning, so it was fun to watch their antics. The Turkeys will be 6 months old on October 24th and the toms have been putting on a show. The Blue Slate tom has recently decided that he's the boss and has been trying to dominate the Royal Palm tom, who is much bigger.

It's all rather dignified compared to chicken fights which are usually accompanied by squawking, flapping and dust storms.

There was one mild kurfuffle in the last video, but even that seemed more like the Royal Palm just tripped on his big feet.

For months I thought that I had 3 toms and 1 hen, but I have since revised that to 2 toms and 2 hens. The Blue Slate hen fooled me for awhile because her snood and dewlap where more developed than the other female.

I'm throwing around some new vocabulary words I learn at Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine. I finally know what a snood is. Its that thing I've been calling a bealy bobber. The Blue Slate tom's snood is engorged with blood in these videos and hangs down over his beak.

This is from a Texas P&W article titled "Know Your Turkey Parts"
I have been remiss until now.
  1. Spurs

    Both sexes have spurs, although on females, the keratinized appendages are no more than small buttons protruding from the back of the leg a few inches above the foot. On males, spurs serve as a way to fend off other males when they spar for dominance when gathering a harem of hens. Spurs grow at the rate of about 1/4 to 1/2 inch a year and usually top off at about an inch and a half at 4 years of age.

  2. Fan

    A turkey’s fan is a prominent feature you’ll see when a tom struts. Made up of 18 tail feathers 12 to 15 inches long, toms display the fans to attract females during the breeding season. In juvenile males (also known as jakes), the middle tail feathers are longer than the rest of the tail feathers, but adult males have tail feathers uniform in length.

    The tail feathers that make up the fan also aid in identifying the subspecies of turkey. On eastern wild turkeys, brown tips the tail feathers while the tips of Rio Grande turkeys’ tails are buff-colored.

  3. Beard

    Hanging down anywhere from an inch to more than 10 inches from a tom’s chest, the beard is actually a modified feather, even though it appears to be part of the turkey’s skin. The beard is coarse like a horse tail and grows three to five inches a year. A three-year-old bird would possibly have a nine-inch beard, and beards over 11 inches are rare.

  4. Snood

    The snood is a fleshy appendage that attaches just above the beak. When the tom relaxes, the snood is short — maybe half an inch long. When the tom struts, the snood engorges with blood and extends to hang down over the beak. According to the National Wild Turkey Federation, the snood has no known function.

  5. Caruncles

    On both the sexes, the caruncles are fleshy, bulbous bumps that grow over the head and neck. Even though they are less pronounced on females, the caruncles on a male turkey grow large and are especially pronounced on the lower portion of the neck. Usually pale in color, the caruncles engorge with blood and turn to bright red when the turkey struts or becomes aggressive.

  6. Dewlap

    Connecting the neck to the head just under the beak, the dewlap is present on both males and females but is more prominent on males. Like the caruncles and snood, the dewlap turns bright red when the tom gets excited.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Permaculture Embassador

Alex has slowly been wooing a stray cat, Little Prince and Fox style. He was skittish at first, but once food was involved he couldn't pretend to be aloof anymore.

He also proved defenseless against stick waved in front of his face.

It wasn't long before he was in the house.

Then he was judging me from outside the window when I wouldn't let him in.

Although that doesn't happen very often.

He sleeps in a bed as if he was born to it.

A couch is acceptable too.

I'm happy to let him relax. He's been working hard. I'm going to assume that he killed this rat up in the chicken coop. I've been leaving the coop open since it's empty, hoping that the cat would prowl around in there and scare them away. I think it's working. I haven't seen or heard any in a while.

In the beginning I didn't really have anything against the rats. I think that they were just living up on the hill and became opportunists when the chicken food arrived. I wouldn't have begrudged them a little food but they make such a mess. They go to the bathroom everywhere and shred everything that isn't too hard for them to chew. It seems worth it to have a four footed deterrent around. The cat is like organic vermicide, like a silent cog in the permaculture machine.

We call him Fancy Face. He has a rather unfortunate arrangement of features. One eye is a little squinty and the vet says he has a cleft lip. I thought he had just been in a rumble and had his lip torn but he doesn't seem to mind it, even when his tongue and tooth stick out. As long as he can pounce effectively that's all I care about. OK, maybe I like it when he sits on my lap and purrs too.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

San Diego

Alex was in a bike race in San Diego on Sunday so we went down a couple days early to hang out. On Saturday we went to Balboa Park to check out the gardens. The Botanical House was fun because it was full of plants that I've never grown. It was shady and cool inside.

There were a few extreme verigated plants like this Ficus aspera, or Clown Fig.

The internet describes it as a house plant but this one is about 20 feet tall. It's fruit were like little striped beach balls and the leaves were a really sharp white and green.

Another was this Monstera deliciosa. I've never seen a varigated form of this plant but I've always loved the big leaves with their splits and perforations. I also love how it climbs walls and gets huge. Seeing these plants made me fantasize about a conservatory attached to the house where I could grow more tropical plants.

There was also a Begonia show going on. I don't know anything about Begonias but it was interesting to see that the patterning on the leaves extends down to the stems.

There is a nice desert garden that has some well established specimens. I might need to find place for one of these platter shaped Opuntias. I'm not sure what kind this is but it looks pretty formidable.

I want to think that this is Agave potatorum. It's bigger than mine, but mine was in a pot.

I was also drawn to this smooth leaved agave. It was as tall as me.

I thought this plant was a yucca but there were a couple more nearby that had agave-like bloom spikes.

They even had a couple of big clumps of bulbils growing on the spike. I thought maybe I could break off a couple to try to propagate them at home. I wouldn't normally do this without permission, but all of the bulbils on the more advanced spike were brown and withered, so it seemed unlikely that any caretakers were going to harvest the green ones. I figured taking one or two wouldn't hurt.

Unfortunately the whole clump broke off (um, whoops).

We also went to Point Loma near where Alex used to be stationed. It has a little museum about the first lighthouse that was built there.

The lighthouse was cute and all, but I was more interested in the agaves that were growing on the sandy cliffs. There were large clumps formed of almost columnar plants that radiated out of a common center.

They had really robust, short fat bloom spikes. This one was 4 or 5 inches in diameter.

It only took a quick search of "Point Loma Agave" to learn that it is called Shaw's Agave. San Marcos Growers says that it is endangered and rare in Southern California but more common further south.

Just by coincidence, I went to the Theodore Payne Fall sale this weekend. They had one Agave shawii left. It's rare that I have my wishes fulfilled so immediately.