Urban Homesteading on a Small City Lot: March 2014

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Hens Are As Excited About Spring As I Am

The chickens are laying, full speed ahead:

Right now I have 2 1/2 dozen eggs, and I have been sharing them with a friend and making scrambled and boiled eggs and baking cakes and pancakes galore. I get 4 eggs on most days.  That's an egg per chicken almost every day.  That is very good. I recommend this breed to anyone who asks.

The chickens made it though the winter just fine. The worst part of it was that the chicken coup was wet and messy rather than dry and sandy, and the chickens couldn't dust bathe not matter how clean I kept the coup.  The heated waterer worked well.  They did seem to get a bit stir crazy when I didn't let them out for a while.  They seemed to like to get out and explore even when it was snowy.

Now that things are greening up they love to go out to their daytime tractor that gets moved around the grass in the front yard.  They thatch and mow the grass pretty efficiently, and don't damage the lawn unless you leave them in one place too long. I have learned the hard way they can not be trusted to roam around free in the yard when there are seeds or seedling to dig up or tasty plants to eat. I love them, but they do know how to get into trouble if you let them.

I also have a neighbor's cat that is a little too interested in the chickens.  I don't know if he would really hurt them, but I don't completely trust him alone with them. His name is Billy, and he is a lover, but I've heard he loves to eat the little birds. He might look at my chickens and think, "those sure are the fattest, tastiest house sparrows I have ever seen.  Now to sneak up behind one while it has wandered off alone."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Said It Was a Jungle Before? What Is It Now?

Okay, I admit it.  I am horrible about starting projects like this blog and not finishing them. I left off blogging about my jungle of a garden last year in June.  Obviously, there was a lot more story to tell.  I just didn't get around to telling it.  This post was left in draft stage with just the pictures imported in August. They were taken August 12th. You can see that the jungle just got more amazingly huge as the months went on.  August and September last year were the hottest driest weeks I've ever had to nurse a garden through.  Every day was over 85, with over half the days in the upper 90's. The more sensitive plants were not happy about it.  The runner and pole beans, pretty much shut down. No matter how much I kept them watered, they wouldn't flower of set any beans. Many leaves on the afternoon sunny side even got fried in the hot sun. (see below)

You might notice in the above picture the squash vines have wilted.  This is mostly due to the squash bug feeding, but I am sure the heat didn't help.

The beans that I planted around the chicken coup did help the chickens to stay cool, and some of them actually made beans in the shade of the coup.

All of the pumpkin plants died.  I had the most overwhelming infestation of squash bugs you can imagine.  I am also wondering if they carry a disease. I read a journal article about yellow vine wilt, a plant disease that is carried by squash bugs, and is fatal to pumpkin plants. It has not been documented in our state.  I read it too late to be able to send them a sample of my vines. I don't think I will plant pumpkins this year. They take a lot of room and work, so if they are going to die like that, it really isn't worth it. The butternut squash and the unknown hybrid F2 revert shown below didn't succumb to the disease, and did make a few smallish fruit, despite the squash bugs.

The mammoth sunflowers did reach 12 feet.  Some of them fell over.  I think that is because I plated them underneath the roof overhang and they had to lean out to get the sun. Some of them just got too heavy on the top to be able to hold that slanted orientation. Despite the constant occupation of the flowers by longhorn bees, about half of the sunflower seeds were empty when it came time to shell and eat them.  That was kind of disappointing.  The seeds that weren't empty were large and delicious.

The sunflowers did shade Molly's windows pretty well, but I think this year I will plant the runner and pole beans here on strings connected to the eaves.  It seams like a good cool shadier place for them during the hottest days and they should grow thicker and provide better shade.

The strawberries didn't produce much in their first year, but next year they will make loads, hopefully.

You can just scroll down through the rest of the pictures....

Mostly Peppers

Rosa Blanc Eggplant - I am not a big fan.

Hansel Eggplant - Awesome!

Gourds and cucumber
We did end up getting several dried gourds.  They have just finished curing and Molly is looking forward to crafting some bird houses, water bottles and pots out of them.

We did end up getting quite a few cucumbers despite the fact that I crowded and shaded them pretty bad.

The nasturtiums and marigolds really got big, too big.

I planted too many tomatoes, but it didn't matter because they were a huge disappointment:

It was very hard to keep them consistently moist like they like, so many of them got end rot.

The rest of them were fed upon by stink bugs like this one above

and this one.

Pretty soon the tomatoes looked like this. Gross! You can't see the inside of the tomato, but each of those marks on the outside means there is a white pea-sized tough mass on the inside.  The taste is bitter and the skin is tough. Just not yummy at all.

I did get enough good tomatoes to can 14 quarts and 7 pints, but with the number of plants I planted it should have been much more.  I will only plant a few tomatoes this year and I will mulch them heavily.  I have also installed soaker house systems to make the watering more convenient and therefore more frequent and regular. It is bad to grow tomatoes, peppers or potatoes in the same place you did the year before.  That doesn't leave me many options for this year.  I will have to do a better job planning for rotations this year.

RIP poor little comise pear tree.  For some reason, it died over the winter this winter.  It gave me three pears last year and some grafting experience. I will not be replacing it this year.

The rhubarb did recover after the ants and earwigs were removed, and I look forward to being able to harvest it this year when the strawberries are ripe for strawberry rhubarb squares and Rhubarb pie. Yum.

Here is a picture of the last double yolker I got from my girls. They quit laying in November for about four weeks while they molted.  I got a bit worried when it was daytime highs of 18 degrees Fahrenheit and they were molting with some bald spots, so I knitted them some sweaters.  What a comedy that was.  They hated them and promptly got out of them, or mostly out of them after I had to struggle to get them on.  I settled for rubbing coconut oil on their combs, feet and exposed skin regularly.  They started laying slowly in December and then were up to full speed, about one egg per chicken per day, by the middle of February.