Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The wings are outta control

Yea, I know, you're tired of hearing about the chickens. But I'm not! So, we're going to celebrate their two-week birthday today with more pictures. Because you do not understand how crazy fast their wing and tail feathers have grown, and I know you require photographic evidence.

Funny story: Gravel managed to slip into the bedroom where the brooder is set up yesterday and just couldn't quite grasp the concept of keeping birds (birds!) in the house. I'm sure he would get all Sylvester on them if left alone for even a minute, but he was actually just totally perplexed and surprised that we would be so nice as to keep his favorite treat alive in a box in the house for him to gleefully pick from whenever given the chance. Unfortunately for him, this is not the case, and the brooder room remains off limits to some certain kitties until the chickies are big enough to defend themselves.

"We are not your lunch, Gravel."

Yes, that is the chicken strut.

McNugget is starting to look a bit chubby.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Another Vegetable Bed + Composting

Despite entertaining our dear friends visiting from Oregon all weekend, I managed to get some yard work done yesterday after they left and am sore, sunburned, and happily tired today from all my busyness.

A long time ago, there used to be a brick chimney that connected to a fireplace in the living room of our house, but it collapsed during the '89 earthquake (or maybe it was when the tree fell through the house - I can never remember). The bricks were never really cleaned up, and I have found many throughout the years scattered throughout the property. Some were put to use by husband's parents in the form of borders in the yard (in addition using to random pieces of wood that were mostly completely rotted through), but at one point a few weekends ago, I decided to tear them all out and start over with a clean slate in the front yard.

I needed a place to transplant my butter lettuce and chive seedlings and hadn't really figured out where to put another raised bed in the backyard, so I figured I might as well built one in the front yard instead in an effort to keep myself motivated to work in both yards. The front yard tends to get neglected because I'm all about soaking up the spring and summer sun, and it's not as sunny as the backyard.

I think I will be able to fit three raised beds comfortably in the front yard and then will add bark mulch or maybe some pea gravel around them as well as some random ornamental plantings eventually. Hopefully, it will be sunny enough; if not, I'll need to rethink my plan for this area.

The butter lettuce is on the back half of the bed, and the chives are at the front.

Trouble kept me company for a while.

Last summer, I attended a free composting workshop sponsored by the county. Once you've completed the workshop, they give you a free Smith & Hawken Biostack composting bin! Unfortunately, I didn't know where to put it and didn't have the yard in any kind of shape that I wanted it to be in, so it sat out on the deck up until last weekend, when husband and I finally put it together.

The Biostack.

Future compost.

We had tried to make a compost bin out of a Rubbermaid garbage can many many moons ago, but we didn't really do it right, and it ended up being a big rotting mess. So we put the lid on it and forgot about it. Six years later, I opened it up and found some crazy rich humus soil in there, so after I finally finished cleaning up the brush pile (that has been sitting there for 2+ years), I dumped it in the spot where the brush pile was and where I plan to build some more vegetable beds.

No more brush pile!

Of course, the dogs had to check it out.

Despite the fact that I used plain ol' top soil and didn't add any fertilizer or amendment to my first vegetable bed, everything seems to be growing quite nicely. I did buy some Foxfarm plant food made specifically for vegetables, so next weekend, I plan to give the seedlings a much-needed boost.




The carrots are camera shy and just starting to poke through, so I didn't bother with pictures of them. More tales of amazing backyard transformation tomorrow!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Food Growing Aspirations

Let's start out today's adventure with me being perfectly honest with you: I have a black thumb. I have gone through endless houseplants, only to end up buying more because I'll get all motivated when I see pretty plants and think to myself, "Self, you can make that plant grow and you know it." And then it dies. I've managed to grow a few tomato and pepper plants before, but my former housemate was the primary caregiver, so I really can't take too much credit for those. So, I figured I would never have the perseverance or inspiration even to try my hand at vegetable gardening.

I have always wanted to have a nice backyard but have been stumped as to where to begin in the overhaul process since the forest insists on constantly trying to take it back whenever I attempt to get things under control. I knew I wanted something modern and clean and easy to maintain - definitely not an old English rose garden or something froofy like that. I'm also ridiculously cheap and want to do things myself because someday I fantasize about owning a farm but know that if I'm ever going to get there, I first need to conquer my backyard.

What I would like my backyard to look like someday
(original drawing circa 2002 - click for larger view).

doodle: backyard

It was in January that I made an amazing discovery: BARK MULCH. Now, in and of itself, bark mulch is nothing special, but it is the hiding properties of this wonderful recycled product that send my heart aflutter. I spread it all over my backyard and it instantly transformed it into an un-muddy, pleasant-to-walk-around-on, easy-to-scoop-poop-on oasis. Even more, importantly, it INSPIRED me to do more more more in my yard and I finally realized that I don't want landscaping - I want something that produces something in return for all my hard work. VEGETABLES. When it comes right down to it, bark mulch is the reason for and first step in my backyard homesteading pursuit.

Since that eye-opening day in January, I have built and planted a raised vegetable bed with cool-weather veggies, started warm-weather veggies indoors, built a chicken barrow, brought home baby chicks, started whittling down the burn/brush pile in the backyard (and got to use my new chainsaw/tree limber courtesy of my Pops), set up my composting bin, scooped poop on a weekly basis (something I would always procrastinate on because it friggin SUCKS), and started the long process of natural (aka, by hand) weed eradication. Future plans include building a hoop-house style greenhouse (very similar to the chicken barrow), more vegetable beds, a simple, handmade fountain, making hypertufa planters, and a bunch of other ideas that I have bookmarked but am too lazy to provide links to right now.

Another source of inspiration for me is Jan Nelson at The Plantworks Nursery in Ben Lomond. She writes a weekly column on gardening in the Press Banner, and a recent article of hers outlined the correct planting times for various vegetables in our microclimate. I decided to send her an email asking her opinion on my plans to grow vegetables as well as advice on a few inexpensive, easy-care ornamental plants to round out the garden landscape. She emailed me back with a wealth of information and invited me to come see her personally at her nursery. What a gal!

Additionally, I made friends with two of the guys that work at Central Home Supply in Scotts Valley, so it's less intimidating now to go in there and ask their advice on landscaping materials or what I should do next in my transformation plans.

My pride and joy.

Future delicious chives.

Butter lettuce.

That's all for today, folks, and I have the day off tomorrow, but come Monday, I know you will be waiting with bated breath for the latest progression in my backyard transformation. Carry on!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Four Baby Chicks

I could pretty much sit around all day long and watch baby chicks do their thing. They are incredibly dumb in terms of animal intelligence, but their kooky antics and distinct personalities have captured my heart in ways I never imagined (insert "aww" here).

Prior to tail and wing feather sprouting.

When first embarking on this adventure, I was open to the idea of raising them to be both "layers" and "broilers" - I'm sure you can figure out what that means. Eat their eggs and then eat them when they stop laying eggs. But no, I now know that I am incapable of eating these silly creatures. I may swear off chicken altogether again - what can I say! I'm a big softie.

Bugs. We want bugs.

My goal is to take pictures of them everyday in an effort to document their crazy growth, and well, because you just can't have enough pictures of cute baby chickens.

I brought them home on Thursday, March 19th. I took a late lunch break at work and picked them up from the hardware store along with all the items necessary to brood them indoors: starter feed, waterer, heat lamp, and pine bedding. Unfortunately, my boss didn't want me to have them in the office because he had an afternoon meeting - I couldn't understand this at first and thought he was being lame, but then after thinking about it, I don't think I'd want my nutty employee to be bringing farm animals to work either, so I gave him a break.

So, I decided to set them up in a cardboard box outside next to the small shed we have on the side of our building. After getting them settled, I would go check on them every 15 minutes or so. After about 45 minutes, I went to check on them only to discover a wretched Stellar Jay IN THE BOX TRYING TO FLY OFF WITH ONE OF MY CHICKS. I screamed and yelled and it instantly dropped who we now know as McNugget, fortunately not injuring her, but holy cow, making me feel like the WORST MOTHER ON THE PLANET. At that very moment, husband calls while I'm frantically trying to make sure everyone still has all their eyeballs and feathers - I'm hysterical, so he offers to come by and pick them up for me since I'm obviously not going to get any friggin work done for the rest of the day.


Trixie, Egg Carton (aka Box), Peep, and McNugget are all now quite accustomed to their new home and are making great strides in the world of chicken maturation. Their wings have grown over an inch in the last seven days, and their tail feathers popped out two days ago. I found an ant on the floor the other day and mistakenly gave it to one of the girls and have now created four monsters that demand bugs all day long. I have awoken their killer instincts.

This is actually a pig, not a chicken - don't let her fool you.

We have moved up the ranks in terms of dwellings three times now: their original home was a file box, then they moved into a large rubbermaid tub, and yesterday, they got some new digs in the form of a GIANT moving box. They are demanding little buggers. They throw their food everywhere, are total pigs, and toss their bedding in their waterer just so that they can watch me clean it out again. I think they find it amusing.

Rocking the new tail and wing feathers.

Since I didn't get a very good start in the poultry mothering arena, Blue has decided to step in and take over for me.

"You better behave yourself, Trixie", Blue says.

Barker took one look at the girls and then took a nap. The cats will be introduced when the chicks have fully developed beaks and claws and are moved into the barrow.

Husband and Peep. Makes my day.

Tomorrow, I will introduce you to my other new youngins: my vegetable sprouts. O happy day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Chicken Barrow

One of the first projects of the many I have planned to turn my backyard into the homesteading oasis of my dreams is to construct housing for four very lucky chickens. I researched chicken coops extensively before deciding on a mobile design, oftentimes referred to as a chicken tractor. We decided to call it a chicken barrow, because it's kinda like a wheelbarrow, and then I can say that I'm all original like that.

Chicken barrows are intended to be periodically moved about your yard, allowing the chickies to scratch and peck and do everything chickens love to do while eating nasty bugs and tilling your earth for you. Like goats (future plans - totally serious about this), they do all the work for you! Raised vegetable beds can be built, and you simply move the tractor over them at the end of the growing season, and the chickens go to work. I mean, how awesome is that.

In an effort to get some free labor, I enlisted the help of some girlfriends as well as my carpenter husband to help me construct my chicken barrow based on this fine fella's design, with a few modifications of my own of course. I was so proud of how this contraption turned out that I wrote an Instructable for it. Instructables are awesome if you've never been to the site before.

A few things still need to be added: wheels, a nesting box, and two handles plus a door needs to be cut out. I bought hinges as well as padlocks to keep out grabby raccoon hands.

Husband is smart like that and helped us make a template.
All ready to cut out with the jigsaw...

Blue had to make sure it was safe for the chickies.
Blue thinks it should be a dog tractor!

Ta Da!
Then we added 1" chicken wire over the welded wire. Ta da!

Stay tuned because tomorrow, you get to meet the four baby chicks!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Hi There

This blog is my attempt to document my adventures in backyard homesteading. I was really surprised that backyardhomesteading.blogspot.com hadn't already been snatched up because there is apparently a very strong movement out there toward suburban homesteading (and lots of people who blog about it). I'm not exactly in the suburbs, but I don't have much land either, so the backyard credo seems to be a natural fit.

There are many cleverly written blogs out there that I like to read covering all sorts of topics (the majority of which are homestead/gardening/animal husbandry related) because they make me laugh with humorous writing and well thought out posts. This blog is not an attempt to join the ranks. I have tried my hand at humorous blog writing, and I totally suck at it, so I'm not going to try to be witty or engaging. There will, however, be many, many pictures of my adventures because that is really what I do best. See, I like to write, but then I'll read old stuff that I've written and think it sounds really dumb and why did I write something so lame like that. Pictures are where it's at for me.

So please enjoy my escapades in trying to become a bit more self-reliant, even if that only means not buying eggs from the store anymore and maybe being able to grow some herbs.

So stay tuned, dear reader! It should be a wild ride, and maybe I'll even get some chuckles out of you. But that's not my goal, just so you know. I'm not sure what my goal is - I think it is mostly to post pictures and perhaps inspire others with my silly antics. Have fun!

This is me. And my better half who supports all my wannabe homesteading shenanigans.