...sometimes even a single feather is enough to fly. (Robert Maclean)


more chicken security

Lately we've been seeing areas around the chicken run that concerned us...
We had seen some holes of burrowing creatures...
(probably chipmunks or voles, but who knows what else could burrow under...!)

We had seen areas that had been scratched at, 
and while the most likely culprits were the chickens themselves, 
just in case it was anything else
we wanted to feel confident about their safety when they're in their run.

Given our predator problems this year, we definitely didn't want to take any chances.

So this weekend, we got to work.
We've wanted to do this for quite some time, 
and thankfully we didn't wait for something awful to happen.

Having been on the other end of the predator cycle,
it feels infinitely better to be proactive
than to have to increase security after the fact!

There are predators that can dig and predators that can burrow,
so the latest project was covering the entire floor of their run 
in 1/2" welded wire mesh, aka "hardware cloth."

It was a big under-taking, but we managed to do it in a day!
Boo got out the shovel, and shoveled out the whole 9' x 16' run.
It was tricky because we had to work around several things, 
like the girls dirt bath "spa"
and several perching posts, a super heavy nesting box, etc.

We did everything in sections. 
When we finished an area, Boo would spread mulch back on it.
so the girls would have something to scratch at,
and mulch looks a whole lot better than a bunch of wire anyway.  

FYI:  this would have been way easier if we had done it when we had built the run!
This area, the dirt spa, was the trickiest, 
but we just wrapped wire around the lower logs and stapled it well,
same on the other side, as well.


It didn't take many tools to do this project.  

Some wire cutters.
A mallet.
A hammer.
A staple gun.
A whole bunch of staples.
And some 6" ground staples to overlap the wire rolls
 and to pin them down securely in the ground.

We were super cautious with the wire and the poky bits 
because we didn't want the girls to hurt their feet on the wire.
(They can get a nasty infection called bumblefoot if their feet get cut).


The girls and Emmaline loved having us in their area all day!
They kept us company and watched us with their typical chicken curiosity.

Emmaline 2.0 has turned out to be a great rooster so far,
and he's a beautiful guy.
We're really happy with him.
He doesn't bother the big girls (because they chase him off!)

And get this -- he doesn't even crow!  
He tried crowing a few mornings over a month ago, 
but I think the big girls didn't like it... and they shushed him right up.

Since then, no more crows.  Not even any attempts.
Knock on some wood, because right now we have a gentle, quiet rooster!
We hope it stays that way!


By the end of the day,
we put everything back together in the run,
and the girls were happy as could be.

And so are we! 

Now we have another layer of protection,
and another level of peace of mind.

The cooler months are going to be upon us before we know it, 
and predators will be more hungry.

The run looks the same as it did this morning on the outside,
but it's so much safer.

   In the winter, the girls will mostly stay in their coop and venture out into the run now and then,
so it's every bit as important to have the run be as safe as the outside perimeter fence.

Commie thanked us for the heightened security,
because she can't bear to lose any more of her babies.
She continues to be such a great Mamma...
She loves those wacky girls of hers!

left to right:  Xena, and Louise "Weezy" and Thelma.


We definitely have the highest security of any chicken keeper we know,
and while some people think it's over the top and crazy,
well, I guess we're just crazy over-the-top ladies.
And that's fine by me.

We have
- very serious double-fencing around the perimeter, 
overlapping the ground and anchored down securely
- aerial netting over the 90'x90' yard
- the now "should-be-dig-proof" fully caged run
- multiple safety latches on every access point of the yard, run, and coop...

All of this work (and expense!) 
for our 15 assorted size hens
and our one quiet little rooster...

That's right.

The only thing we haven't done yet 
is electrify the exterior perimeter to deter climbing and digging from the outside...
And yep, you guessed it... that's next on our dockett!

Not long after we installed the aerial netting,
we saw a fox get into the yard,
and found where it had climbed the fence 
and then ate or clawed through the edge of the aerial netting...
(Granted, this was before we patched some slightly iffy areas in our perimeter fence, too...)

(At any rate, that day the fox came, the girls were all secure inside their run 
because we're now in the habit of not letting them out until at least 9am).
We spotted the fox because the girls started to make a ruckus,
and the fox didn't have time to try to dig his/her way into the run).
By the time I got my .22, the fox was gone.

But that fox break-in certainly didn't make us feel very good,
So it's high time for us to get some serious voltage going around the perimeter
to let the fox family know we mean business.
Because we totally do. 

 Don't mess with these ladies, Foxy Loxy.
Don't even think about it!



COOP DREAMS! ... and chicken whirligigs!


Folks, if you want a crash course in backyard chicken keeping, 
or if you just enjoy chickens and chicken people, 
this weekend you can watch all of season 1 of Coop Dreams (10 episodes!)
for FREE online by clicking here.  

We watched two episodes last night and hope to get through the rest by the end of the weekend.
The series was sponsored by the mill where we get our chicken feed,
(best damn chicken feed ever!)

And some of my favorite chicken bloggers are featured on the series,

Just from the first two episodes we're full of ideas like
how much FUN it would be to start up a local chicken coop tour
ala Tour de Coops!!!

People have art trail tours, wine tours, cheese tours, garden tours...
So why not chicken coop tours???

It'd be a hoot and a half to see the way different people house their hens,
and even experienced chicken keepers would still be bound to learn something new.

If we could have had a tour de coops before we built our first coop,
we might have done things a whooooole lot differently.

And FYI, if you think we're over the top 
some of the chicken ladies have truly outdone us in the decorating department...
We had better get on the ball and make some upgrades.  
(one chicken keeper even has a little chandelier for her girls! - LOL!)

Four and a half years into chicken keeping,
we can still say that the girls give us SO MUCH JOY.
They're fun and funny (yes, sometimes a little bitchy) but still totally endearing.
(Not to mention that they give us the most amazing eggs
and garden fertilizer... !

And they're little feathered roto-tillers if you use them to your advantage!)

Just this morning I was emptying an old compost bin, 
topping off some of our raised garden beds with the good stuff,
and they were great little helpers...
They spread it all around for me,
and mixed it in with the soil!

Thanks girls!

Our latest fun addition to the chicken coop 
was this whirligig chicken-flying-a-helicopter.

Here it is with the wind blowing:

If you can't resist getting one of your own,
you can find them at Plow and Hearth.

Enjoy your weekends, folks!


weekend pleasures in early autumn

Ahhhhhhhhhhh, the weekend.
Wonderful, wonderful weekend!

In summer, the weekends blur together,
but once the school year starts, 
they take on a whole new dimension. 

We did a whole bunch of stuff this weekend... 
I soaked up every minute of it.

I'll share some highlights:

This weekend Boo warmed up the chilly house 
with late-season tomatoes cooking on the stove...

(You can often get a box of utility canning tomatoes at the Farmer's Market...)

I love watching (and smelling!) the pots full of sauce concentrate their flavors.

I think the sides of the pot are like the rock layers along the highway
where you can look at all of the layers going back through time...

I like to walk into the kitchen 
and look at 
all the layers of tomato, boiling
into sweet 
and savory bliss.

I'm trying to cook a little more,
and during the weekend it's nice to have a leisurely time of it.
I tried a recipe from the NY Times my friend Sarah recommended to me.
Chard and sweet corn gratin with gruyere and parmesan.

It was wonderful!!!

especially with some roasted cauliflower...

all those crunchy browned bits

I had fun harvesting the chard and rosemary from our garden
in one of our gathering baskets.

And getting to use eggs from our girls,
(thank you Goldie and Kalinda!)
and milk from Barb and Steve's jersey cows...

 No matter who is doing the cooking,
it always feels so good 
and so right
to have such fresh and wholesome ingredients,
to know where everything came from.

My hard-working little honey finished stacking the wood we got delivered!
Me oh my, what a worker bee, worker Boo!
We put last year's leftover wood, the most seasoned stuff, off to the side to use up first.
I love the way stacked wood looks.
All those wedges and odd shapes,
it's great abstract art.

 I'm super proud of myself for gathering up my courage 
to finally try out the small chainsaw we bought in the summer...

I had to cut up some logs from the property that were too long for our fireplace,
and I did it!  
Sawdust sprays EVERYWHERE!  
Once I got into the groove of feeling like I could be safe with a very scary tool,
it was actually kind of fun!

 We have a pile of scrap wood next to our firewood shed
where despite being relatively crushed and boxed in, 
this rose continues to bloom.

 Resilience is a beautiful thing, eh?

 At the end of each day,
after our nightly chores of feeding the koi in the pond
and tucking the chickens into the coop,
I walk by the Arcosanti bell in the oak tree by the house.

More often than not,
I see my sweet little chickadee friend roosting in there for the night,
his little tail peeking out from underneath the bell. 

He was there last summer,
and off and on throughout the winter,
and he's still with us now.

Oh, I love that little fellow.

It's so important 
to have the weekend
to reconnect in a deeper way with 

with the place 
and the people
and the things 
that sustain us.


p.s. Isn't it wonderful that the weekend 
is only ever a handful of days away!


swingin' chickens

Back during the days of full-time predator lockdown, 
we did everything we could think of 
to make life in the locked run more fun for the girls.  

(Cuz, you know, girls just wanna have fun.)

In one of our backyard flock catalogs 
we had seen a chicken swing advertised before.
At the time I poo-poooed the idea.  
A swing?  
Why would they want to swing?  
And more importantly, why would someone pay good money 
for a plastic chicken swing 
when all you need is a branch and some rope??? 

So with the help of our friend D, 
and Bootsy's knot-tying ingenuity, 
we hobbled together two scrappy swings, 
of different heights for the different size girls. 


Our older hens don't seem especially interested in them,
but those young girls,
the littles and mediums,
with their youthful agility,
some of them really dig it!

By gosh, by golly...  chickens really do like to swing!

So during their lockdown, they had some entertainment
and even now we keep them inside until around 9am.
So while they're waiting for their freedom,
they're secure in their run and they can have a swingin' good time.
Plus they have free access to their swings throughout the day.


Xena, befitting her name, is our most adventurous little girl, 
and she is the most frequent visitor of the swings.   
Her Mamma is usually nearby, watching.

Here's a short video clip.
You can see how she moves her neck to balance herself.
(since she can't hold onto the ropes!)

Xena's a good turn taker.
She doesn't hog the swing all recess like some of the kids on the playground.

She has her fun and then hops off,
gets a drink at the water fountain,
and gets back to her learning-how-to-be-a-big-chicken schedule,
following Mamma around.

Xena likes to keep moving onto the next thing,
always looking around the next corner to see what adventure awaits,
what thing she can hop up on or climb or new patch of soil 
hasn't been scratched.

Her more cautious sisters sometimes look at Xena with envy.
Xena is such a free spirit.

Thelma and Louise are planning an upcoming adventure though.
I just know it.
 Hopefully Louise doesn't have a '66 Thunderbird hiding somewhere.
As long as they don't get in trouble with the law and drive off a cliff,
they can hatch up any adventures their sweet little hearts desire!


2015 garlic harvest

We harvested our garlic crop a few weeks ago.
Unfortunately, many of the new varieties I planted didn't do as well as I had hoped.
 I didn't water during some dry periods when I should have, and that may have impacted yields.
Plus, most of the "new" varieties I trialed were adapted to Oregon climate and soil.
Oh well, c'est la vie!  

It was worth a shot, and it's not a total loss...
I might try to grow a few of these types again. 
But more than anything, 
this year's harvest certainly renewed my appreciation 
for our tried and true variety,
passed to us from our friend Wendy.
(The sumptuous picture above is of her garlic.)

She doesn't remember what variety or varieties she gave to us.
 We should just call it Wendy's Wonder.

It never disappoints.

Wendy's Wonder drying over an old chicken nesting box in the shed.

Other varieties, bundled, strung up with twine, hanging to dry.

Growing so many different varieties of one thing, it's important to keep track. 
I kept the row markers in with the bundles so I knew what was what.


Now if you're ready for some garlic geekery,
I'll take you on a virtual stroll through the varieties we trialed. 

ARTICHOKE types (soft-neck, generally milder):
We trialed Ail de Pays Parne, Beekeeper's Sicilian, Inchelium Red, and Polish White.
(Of the four, Beekeeper's Sicilian did the best, and I might consider trying it another season.)

Ails de Pays Parne was a definite disappointment.  
I planted 1/4 lb and harvested 1/4 lb.  
(That's actually the entire harvest right there in the photo! - geez!)
'Nuff said.
Despite it's lovely French provenance, we won't be growing this one again anytime soon.

Beekeeper's Sicilian, was the best yield of the 4.   
To the right you'll see some bulbils -- they grew on the lower portion of the stalks.  
Some people plant them, but we'll probably just cook with them or pickle them. 
Honestly, if it weren't for the name or the provenance, 
I probably wouldn't bother with this one again.

An abyssmal yield of Inchelium Red, even though it was from local farm stock.

Polish White
Polish white was rather lackluster.  
I planted 8 oz and harvested 12 oz. 

So much for artichoke types!

ASIATIC types:
We trialed Sakura and Singing Falls.

Sakura was more like Sad-kura for us.
Abyssmal yield, and very small cloves.

Singing Falls performed better, but yield was still very low, with relatively small cloves.
I planted 1/2 lb and harvested just over 3/4 of a lb...!
(A good yield would be 4-5x of the weight planted!, so 2+ lbs would have been nice!)

So, Singing Falls doesn't make much sense for us to grow, either...
It's too bad because I love the name and I love the story behind it.
It's no great surprise that Asiatic strains would not thrive here in the Northeast, though.
I should let this one go, too.

CREOLE types 
(originated in the Basque region...they're supposed to store very well and have superb flavor!)
We trialed just one this year, Rose du Lautrec.
We haven't tasted it yet, but it is a knock-out gorgeous garlic.

The bulbs we grew out ended up being rather unusual - 
many of them cleaved and had a clove or two piggy-backing on one or both sides.  
Maybe that had more to do with our soil than the garlic -- who knows.

We'll definitely try this one again next year.

I did a little research and there's a whole big deal about this pink garlic in France.
If you're a true garlic geek, check out the link here to learn more.
There's even a for-real Brotherhood of the Pink Garlic, the Confrérie de l’Ail Rose de Lautrec!
 (Basically, a bunch of dudes in colorful robes and hats extolling the amazingness of this garlic
and protecting it's place in their cultural and culinary history)

Now that I've researched it more, next year
 I'll try to follow all of the preparations that the French traditionally do,
including the drying and cleaning processes and 
their method of scraping the skin back to the last layer to highlight the pink color.
I will baby ma petite rose a little bit more, and see if that helps.

Maybe someday they'll expand the Brotherhood of Pink Garlic 
to include a Sisterhood of Pink Garlic,
but then again, one has to grow it in the Lautrec region, 
because it's protected by an IGP (Protected Geographical Indication - 
like true champagne has to come from the Champagne region, etc.)
So unless we up and move to the medieval region of Lautrec, 
I guess I'd be disqualified from the Sisterhood no matter what.


 Onto another type of garlic.

 GLAZED types (hard-neck) 
(fyi: glazed, marbled, and purple striped varieties 
are supposed to be the most amazing for ROASTING....yum!)

We trialed just one glazed type, Purple Glazer.

I found Purple Glazer to be really lovely.

The cloves were a decent size and the yield was fair.
We might give this one another go.

Marbled (a hard-neck type) 

 Of the marbled types, we trialed Russian Giant.

Okay yield.  Decent cloves, but certainly not giant.  
Overall, nothing that made me go WOW.
Other people get a true giant out of it, but maybe my neglect stunted it.

Porcelains (a hard-neck type)
FYI, porcelains reportedly have the highest concentration of allicin,
the sulfuric / therapeutic component of garlic, so they're worth growing for that alone.

We trialed Music.

 Woah baby! 
Music's amazing cloves really hit a high note! (har har!)
And the yield was really great (about 1.5 lbs!) considering I only planted two bulbs worth,
that isn't too shabby at all!

Purple-Striped ( a hard-neck type)
We trialed Chesnok Red, which also had a similar yield to Music.

I didn't break any of these apart, 
but it looks like the cloves are a good size and they should store well.

 (a hard-neck type, often prized for their robust flavor)

We trialed Carpathian and Russian Red.
Carpathian was so-so.  
I planted half a pound, and got about a pound in yield.

 Russian Red was almost identical in yield.
But the larger heads split, so they probably won't keep as well.
The smaller heads stayed encapsulated better.
Decent clove sizes, though.

(a soft-neck type, widely grown for size / mild flavor / storage ability)

We trialed Nootka Rose.
Compared to pictures I've seen of Nootka Rose, 
ours ended up being very sorry representations of the type.
Normally they're stark white and nearly fist-sized.  
Ours were yellowed and puny. 

Oy vell... Bye-Bye Little Nootka. 


We also trialed an unclassified garlic, called Ver Veist (e.g. Yiddish for "Who Knows?") 
We started with small cloves and they definitely didn't grow out any better.


But last of all,
was best of all,
Wendy's Wonder!

 The cloves on Wendy's garlic are almost unreal.
Bigger than Music overall, but some are comparable.
It makes me wonder actually if Wendy's garlic is related to or derived from Music...
They have a lot in common, making me suspect that Wendy's is a porcelain type.


So, at the end of the day, this is what I'm taking away from our latest adventure with garlic:

- plant as much Wendy's Wonder as possible! 
- give Music, Chesnok Red, and Purple Glazer another fair shot.
- keep trying with Rose du Lautrec, but tend to it better


Unfortunately, our shallot harvest was a complete and total bust.
As in, crop failure.  
I have no idea why.  
They were doing well and then, nothing.  
Dead as a door nail.

There's always next year to try again!