Fancy Fencing for Feathered Friends

The 18″ high fencing we’d been using to keep our 4 chickens in their designated 300 square foot area had been falling short for quite some time.  The Silkies had figured out how to squeeze through and Henrietta could just give a little hop and just roam free all through the yard, which is not a good thing.  I decided I’d had enough of chasing chickens around the yard when I came home from the store, so I did a little research and found this blog post from Sunny Simple Life and knew it was just what I had in mind.  Something nice looking, blends well with the garden and is functional.

Before (morning dirt bath under the Double Delight Nectarine):

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After:

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I purchased it at Lowe’s and it took about 2 hours to install with metal posts that hammer into the ground.  The fencing slides onto the posts and then links together to the panel next to it.  In order to still have access into their space, we left one panel un-linked, sawed off the metal post at the bottom of the panel to prevent drag and then turned around the next panel and continued along.

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I love the leaf design.  Now I know the chickens aren’t causing mischief in the rest of the yard, which makes me an even happier chicken owner.

And a couple fun veggies:

White heirloom cuke

White heirloom cuke

My first butternut squash!

My first butternut squash!

Unlikely Friends

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DSCN0528I’ve known for a while now that we have a new (ah-hem) resident in and out of our yard but today was a first.  Our hens and the squirrel seemed to be getting along and were munching alongside each other on the grass for a few minutes.  They were almost hanging out like old friends, neither one too concerned about the other.

And while there are a few holes under our fence now and a couple cherry tomatoes missing, I really haven’t had too much of a problem with the fuzzy guy (or gal).  My large red tomatoes and peaches have been left untouched.  I’m hoping that we may be able to peaceably co-exist ( you can always hope, right?) without having to take drastic measures.

Mohawk Chicken

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It’s been a hair-raising morning with extremely rare San Diego summer rain.  Our Silkies appreciate a nice rainy day, particularly because it gives them a chic hairstyle (note the dyed tips), but also because it allows them to see better!

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DSCN0439It’s hard not to smile at these silly hens as they cruise the yard and visit the back door to see if any scraps will get tossed their way.  Yesterday our Ameraucana, Henrietta (seen above in the background), walked through the open back door and was caught hanging out in the dining room!

The Resurrected Garden

I’ve been away from the garden both mentally and physically.  We all need a break sometimes.  The root-knot nematodes forced a self-imposed retreat from all things edible in half of my plot space.  The soil had to be covered with plastic sheeting for 6 weeks (solarization).  It was good timing, to be honest, because I never plan on not being an edible gardener.  And truly absence has made my heart grow fonder.

I’d waited a tad too long to harvest this broccoli from the raised bed. I decided to let it flower with all it’s might and instead enjoyed it each day from my kitchen window.

The other functioning half of my edible space has been growing a bountiful crop of arugula, among other cool season things. I am absolutely in love! It germinates at near 100% and grows with such ease. Plus the rabbits, rats and mice don’t care for it. It continues to produce new leaves when only the outer ones are harvested. A perfect addition to any salad with it’s peppery flavor.

Arugula in the sun.

Various varieties of beets, lettuce and broccoli have now been sowed in the unveiled root-knot nematode plot. Only time will tell if this problem has been put to bed.  Fingers crossed!

And the bananas are still green. We are experiencing a bit of a heat wave in Southern CA and I’m waiting until the temps cool to harvest them and see if they will ripen indoors.

A second trunk has produced as well!

Our flock of hens changed this fall.  Having 5 Silkies and 1 new Americauna, it wasn’t the number that forced my hand, is was the noise.  I’d known for some time that two of the Silkies in particular were, ahem, more vocal than the rest.  Out of consideration for our suburban neighbors (who never to this day complained), we re-homed the out-spoken duo.  Honestly it was mostly for my sanity as well, because over the summer I felt myself going outside to calm them, give them treats as a means of distraction, etc. quite often while I was home.  And I don’t like thinking about what was transpiring while I was away.  Of course they still free ranged daily, but when I had them restricted in the area surrounding their coop for safety when I can’t keep watch, they’d let me know they weren’t happy.  And, well, even chickens know that the grass is greener.

Alas, our two girls went to a fantastic home in a rural community only 20 minutes from here where they have 4 acres of green grass to roam ALL DAY….along with 45 other chickens.  I found this chicken lover through the friend who has given me our hens.  I would only let them go if I was confident that they would be treated well and have a happy, free range life.  And they do.

Silkie Close-Call

I’ve recently created an enclosed area of our yard for the Silkies to roam around and peck in most days of the week.  It immediately surrounds their coop and is about an 8′ x 6′ area.  I used some nice, 24″ high decorative metal fencing that is pleasing to the eye and very effective in keeping them contained.  Yet it’s still low enough for my daughter to easily step over to spend her happy afternoons with her hen sisters.

I made this decision primarily based on the dwindling appearance of my bountiful backyard.  The continuous scratching at the grass while looking for bugs and such was taking it’s toll, as were the numerous dirt bath locations.  Not to mention the poo everywhere, including our patio.

Now to the dramatic part: Living in the suburbs of Southern CA has it’s plusses in regards to keeping backyard chickens.  One of the most significant ones in my eyes is that there are fewer large animals to worry about.  So far, I haven’t had any close calls with hawks or coyotes, but what you may not realize or appreciate is that the biggest threat to your flock may be living next door.

A few days ago I’d decided to let out three of my hens to roam the entire yard.  They still do this 1 or 2 times a week.  The other 2 were in the nesting box.  Soon a wood chipper whirrs up across the street to demolish a poor cypress that has been cut down.  The 3 silkies start panicking at the noise and quickly manage to find their way to the furthest most point in my fenced yard, up a steep slope.  Directly on the other side of this fence lives a pit bull.  I’ve been well aware of this dog, even to the point of her jumping over the 5 foot fence when she saw my hens out about 4 months ago.  I had a long talk with the owner about it and he assured me of her sweetness (her name is Bella, after all) and that she couldn’t hurt a fly.  He put up some pretty flimsy chicken wire at the top of the fence and it seemed to be effective.  I never saw the dog peek over again and honestly hardly ever heard her.  Back to a few days ago: I’m holding three chickens walking down the slope to place them back in greener pastures.  I’m about 15 feet from the coop when I see Bella’s face watching me over the fence.  My daughter was standing next to the coop and before I could say “eggs” the dog was over the fence and a foot from my heels.  This pit bull who supposedly wouldn’t hurt a fly looked ready to prepare herself a chicken dinner.  Dogs have instincts that sometimes cannot be anticipated.  I scrambled to get the 3 hens locked inside their coop and one even fell from my grasp.  Luckily Bella stayed just outside our enclosed area and my yelling helped keep her a few feet away.  She was growling, staring at the hens and looked ready to pounce.  I got them locked up and I whisked my daughter inside.  Things could have gotten ugly and I’m so thankful that all were safe.  My dog-loving neighbor came over, leashed the coop-circling dog and helped me bring her back home.  The owner assured me they would put up an electric fence, but did not tell me when.

Bella’s owner are renting their house and I happen to know who the owners are. I contacted them about the incident and apparently the lease states that they are not to have any pets.  Looks like something is about the happen.

My concern is the safety and security of my daughter and animals.  I need to feel confident that letting my daughter or hens in the backyard on their own for a few minutes is perfectly safe.  And that’s that.

Silkie Sisters

My three year old daughter refers to our Silkies as her sisters and loves to pick them up (under close supervision!). Not once have they gotten flustered. On the contrary, they seem to genuinely enjoy being held and are very patient with her. Their dispositions are so calm, cuddly and friendly.  Their fluffy, soft feathers feel more like a rabbit than a chicken. My aunt says each time she sees them, she thinks of Phyllis Diller!

Feathery bonding.

Feathery bonding.

Happy Harvest

The girls came right up to the back door the other door to say hello. I think they saw me bring in some tomatoes from the garden and they were saying, "Tomatoes are our favorite! Where's ours?" They are so sweet and really have become our little buddies.

Here we have the last bit of lemon cucumbers, one lonely beet and some tomatoes. Notice my cat's tail poking out under my left hand? She is so docile and nonchalant around the silkies and they don't mind her either!

Lettuce, lettuce! It seems we have salad about every other night these days, which is a wonderful side effect of having your own garden. Sometimes you're forced to eat healthier for the sake of ripe veggies. The sugar snap peas are reaching to the heavens and have started to ripen. Here's a few that made it in the house instead of a garden snack!

I have two bell pepper plants, each of which only produced one large pepper.  Just when I thought they were dunzo, the plants have greened up and are about to flower again.  Not sure if this is normal for a bell (my first time with them, too!) but if I can get a couple more out of them, I would be grateful!  I have a feeling that the few nights of frost in the winter will probably prematurely interrupt their plan, but we’ll give it a shot.

Happy Harvesting!

The King Kong of Hornworms

The. Biggest. Hornworm. Ever.

This morning as I was harvesting some cherry tomatoes and green beans, I decided to walk behind the veggies to get a better reach on the beans.  I immediately noticed huge hornworm poo on my cherry tomato.  I saw this monster right away.  Thankfully my daughter was not with me because I said some choice words!  This one is by far the biggest sucker I’ve ever laid eyes on.  It had eaten the new growth of the main shoot.  I hate to think of what damage it could have done left on my tomato for the rest of the day!  It could have been worse.  Just keep saying that and it’ll be okay!

I thought I'd include my hand for scale (but definitely not too close!). He's living here in the yard waste until my husband and I can drop him off in a new home later today (ie: somewhere in the brush far away from our garden). I've never had so many heebee geebees. I thought about feeding it to my little silkies and then I had an old movie scene play in my mind like King Kong of the hornworm eating my chickens!

Urban Homesteading

For years my mom tried and tried to teach me how to cook and bake.  On the occasions when I would agree to lend a hand, my interest quickly waned.  Looking back now, I suppose I lacked motivation.  Even up until a year ago, cooking was a bit of a chore, feeling low on inspiration and knowledge.  As my daughter has gotten a little older (now 3), and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom, I’ve had more time to devote to experimenting in the kitchen.  Something has clicked in me.  Maybe it was after I realized that I really could make a mean steak and chocolate pecan pie.  The reaction from my friends, family and primarily my husband has supplied me with plenty of motivation.  Most anyone can follow a recipe, right?  And now I’m just starting to delve into creating my own dishes, which is something I could have never dreamed of.  I feel a certain peace and comfort in providing my family with delicious meals, now with the help of organic vegetables and eggs (hopefully soon!) from our very backyard.

I read an article called, “Are you an Urban Homesteader” in a fabulous blog called Kitchenreport.  It’s written by a woman living in Boston who talks all things food, cooking and travel.  This article struck a chord with me.  Growing my own food reminds me of many years ago when it was the norm, rather than the exception, for families to grow food from seed in their backyard and collected morning eggs from the hen house.  In the big city suburbs where I live today, I enjoy being a unique trendsetter in my neighborhood of lush, grassy Mediterranean landscaping that gives zero back.  I’ve read that urban homesteading is on the rise and I’m proud to be associated with the movement.

Can those of us who enjoy elements of city life AND country life really have it all?  I’ve realized over the process of converting part of my backyard to house a chicken coop and vegetable garden that part of me is a country girl.  I’m born and raised in the county where I live now (San Diego).  Never been camping.  Never milked a cow.  Part of me enjoys the activity and excitement of a city and another part loves the self-sufficiency and peace from having my own veggies/fruits and eggs.  I guess you can have it all!