Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Small Measures

I recently found a kindred spirit/blogger, Ashley English, and her blog, Small Measure. It is right up my alley and is super inspiring. Her new book, Keeping Chickens, is on my wish list. It was actually my girl, Radhi, that made it happen when she tried to win me a free copy of Ashley's chicken book in a contest on Design Sponge. This might be old news to you, but if you haven't seen her blog, check it out! I'm really excited about my new find!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

City Goats

It was Seattle Tilth that made me aware of city goats, first on the chicken coop tour and then at their display at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show. If you have a big enough lot, you can actually keep a mini-goat in the city. They have a class called City Goats 101, which will tell you all about it.

I do not plan on getting goats. I'm still trying to get Jake to support my bee hive idea. But I do think they're adorable. And they're also pretty efficient weeders – you can actually rent goats to nibble away at your unwanted vegetation.

So to satiate my goat desires, Jake, who knows me so well, bought me a (metal) goat for my birthday. As I mentioned before when I wrote about the metal rooster I bought for my garden, I love rusty, metal garden art! So now, we have this amazing white, metal goat grazing under my Japanese Maple in the front yard. Jake joked that this substitution for the real thing went over so well, he should look into buying me a metal beehive. I don't think that will have the same effect. Sorry, Jake!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

And on that farm she had a dog...

The chicks have been getting their first taste of sunshine lately. Not for long periods of time – just short outings right now. Beans was allowed to join in on the fun this time. I think he's still not sure what to make of them.

He was very gentle, but pretty cautious. When they got too close, he slowly inched away. The chicks were confident as could be. They had no qualms about walking right up to him – beak to nose. And he never even got a pecked!

I did have to step in when he tried to roll over on top of them. I think he was starting to feel a little too comfortable at that point. The chicks are just a little too similar to some squeaky toys of his.

Besides the fact that my chicks starting running around inside the cloche with the new tomatillo and tomato starts I just planted, their introduction to the backyard and our family dog was a success. The chicks are getting bigger by the day and I get the sense that they are just itching to get back out there. Just three more weeks to go!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Taking stock

This week has been a hectic one for me. So rather than rush around my garden today, trying to accomplish a million different tasks, I decided to walk around with my camera to take stock of what's been happening in my little urban oasis since spring arrived.

The lettuce and spinach bed that I planted under a cloche on February 20 is ready for its first harvest! It won't be the biggest salad of the season, but it will be delicious. I can't wait to eat super fresh spring salads again! Isn't that speckled lettuce from Territorial's Cascade Harvest lettuce mix the best?

And my peas sprouted! I planted pea seeds in February with the lettuce, but they never germinated. I think they were too old. I probably should have taken Willi's advice and tested my seeds for viability. I bought a new pack and sowed some pea seeds (Territorial's Super Sugar Snap) again on March 25. And this week, they finally sprouted. Looks like we may have snap peas this spring after all!

The rhubarb (those big leaves in the middle of this bed), which I thought had died, came back with a vengeance. My raspberry canes are vibrant green and thriving. And those little green shoots that look like onions are just a few of the heads of garlic I planted around the yard last fall. They've overwintered and are just about ready to harvest. This is my first time planting garlic, so I can't wait to see how it turns out!

Last, but not least, this bareroot peony 'Shirley Temple' that I planted in the fall survived and is actually growing! I really don't know a thing about peonies besides the fact that I love when they make an appearance on fabric and think they're beautiful in Pike Place Market bouquets. But this fall, I got carried away ordering seeds for my winter garden and ordered a bareroot peony too. Truth be told, I actually planted two, but only this one survived. So this afternoon, when I realized how big it had gotten, it literally stopped me in my tracks. I just can't believe it's working!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Since I started raising chicks in my bathtub, the water situation has been a problem. If you recall from one of my first chick posts, the water started drying up over night. That led me back to the feed store to purchase a larger, gallon-sized waterer. This was a little overkill for three small chicks, but I wasn't going to risk waking up one morning to three dehydrated chicks.

Once I switched to the large waterer, they didn't run out of water anymore, but it created a whole new set of problems. First, there was the balance problem. One large waterer plus a cardboard box plus a slightly concave surface (think of your bathtub floor) plus feisty, energetic chicks that jump all around and on top of it equals water leakage and soggy cardboard. So, I had to solve that fun equation by rummaging around in the garage to find an old board that I could put on the floor of the brooder. That mostly solved the balance problem, but the water challenges continued.

The second problem I faced was chicken scratching. Chicks and chickens naturally scratch at the floor with their feet and peck at the ground – like they're looking for worms. I found this fascinating when I was observing my day old chicks displaying this instinctual behavior. The only problem is that when you've got chickens in a confined space, eating and drinking from a feeder and waterer, that scratching and pecking can create quite a mess. I knew about this and was planning on suspending the adult feeder and waterer in the run that we're building outside. But for some reason, I didn't think I would be having to deal with this issue until then. I was wrong. Here's how most of last week went: I'd take the chicks out of the brooder, clean up all the old bedding and droppings, put down fresh newspaper and shavings, put the chicks back in, and then before I knew it, I'd have to deal with shredded and soaked newspaper and shavings from the frenzied chicken scratching. Not only that, there would be so many shavings in the water trough, I'd have to clean and refill it again too. I read in my books that chicks can catch colds and diseases from wet shavings, so I knew I had to deal with it quickly. After getting to the point where it felt like I was cleaning the brooder every ten minutes, I decided to start looking for some solutions.

That brings us to the ch-ch-changes I made to the brooder, which are turning out to be amazing fixes. I started by putting the waterer on top of two cement pavers that I had in the basement. I started with one, but found that Lucy could still scratch water out of it at that height, so I added one more. It turned out to be the perfect height for them to stand comfortably at the waterer and drink with ease. The ultimate test was watching them scratch the shavings around the feeder – only a few ended up in the waterer!

The second change I made was to make a cone out of paper to slip on top of the waterer to keep the chicks from roosting on top of it. Although I found it quite charming for the girls to jump up to get a closer look whenever I came into the bathroom, it created more work for me. Their droppings would get into the water and then I'd have to clean the waterer up again. I made an anti-roosting paper cone for the feeder too, for the same reason.

Finally, to save money on all the feed that I was losing as my chicks scratched it into the old shavings that I would ultimately clean up and throw away, I placed the feeder on top of an old terra cotta flower pot saucer, which I flipped upside down.

These changes were so simple and didn't cost a thing since I used found items, but man, have they improved my chicken-raising way of life! I don't mean to sound overdramatic, but all the brooder cleaning (Come on, two to three times a day?!) was getting to be a bit much. I can't tell you how many times I have gone into the bathroom since I made the changes, expecting to find a huge, waterer mess to clean up. But now, all I find are my fast-growing chicks!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

City Chicks: Week 3

Remember Ethel? The cute, little blond Buff Orpington in the picture above?

This is her now, at three weeks old. Little adult feathers are quickly replacing baby fluff. Ethel has a really cool temperament – just a little more laid back than the other girls. Well, she made a big developmental leap this week - she learned to perch!

At the risk of sounding like a crazy chicken lady, we were super excited about this achievement. Jake and I both happened to be in the bathroom, watching the chicks, when she made the leap. It has so precious to see her little talons awkwardly griping the perch while flapping her wings to avoid losing her balance. It's not too often that you get to witness a bird so young it doesn't know how to perch with confidence.

Before I put the new wood dowel perch in, Lucy and Penny would jump on top of the feeder and waterer. It's really pretty endearing since they always seem to do so when someone comes into the bathroom, like they want a closer look. The only problem was that they would leave poor little Ethel behind. She would walk around the brooder making loud, lonely peeps (of course, I'm projecting my human emotions on to her). So, mama hen (a.k.a crazy chicken lady) came to the rescue and installed a new and more elevated perch.

Now, we often find all three of them roosting together. I guess birds of a feather really do flock together.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Garden Gem: Great Plant Picks

If you haven't heard of Great Plant Picks yet, I'm here to tell you about this fantastic resource! It is a list of plants that work great in maritime northwest gardens. They provide you with beautiful pictures and information about the plants' sun needs, growing habits, and hardiness. I used this resource to do some research before buying some plants for the beds that were recently exposed when I tore out the ivy and put in a new front fence. The plant lists I printed out were actually my saving grace when I was at the nursery because they kept me focused on my agenda... sort of. Did I mention I have no will power when I'm at a nursery?

I chose the striking Hosta 'Sum and Substance' for under my Japanese maple. It just doesn't get enough sun for the lawn and moss is taking over, but I think the hostas will love the shady space.

I also planted some accent grasses, Acorus gramineus 'Ogon' (Golden Variegated Sweet Flag). It has beautiful yellow-green blades that contrast with the Blue Oat grass I plant everywhere. I just can't get enough of the decorative grasses!
*Pictures courtesy of

Monday, April 5, 2010

What's the point?

A few weeks ago, Jake brought home a book by James McWilliams called Just Food: Where Locavores Get it Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. Just reading the title, my first reaction was to get defensive, almost offended that Jake checked it out from the library. He made a valid point though that it's good to look at both sides of an argument and that it might be interesting to see what the "other side" is saying. That's one of the things I love about the debates I always get into with Jake (don't tell him I said that) – it challenges me to really understand and justify my convictions.

I haven't actually read the book yet, but what I understand from my heated discussions with Jake is that according to the author, it actually may be better for the environment to ship large quantities of food across the globe than it is to eat food that travels fewer miles. It is more efficient to import a ton of blueberries from Argentina than it is to get them from a farm several miles away when we're looking at the ratio of fuel to blueberries. The book also states that relying on local food sources and small farms is not sustainable since they cannot support the food demands of our large population the way industrial agriculture does. The glaring message I was hearing was, "Listen, locavores. Eating locally isn't all it's cracked up to be."

I have to admit that at first, I felt a bit defeated. Turns out, not eating locally is better for your carbon footprint and all this time, I thought I was going green. At the height of my over-dramatic reaction, I said to Jake, exasperated, "So, what's the point?" And he aptly deflected the question back to me, "So, what is the point?" And this is what I told him.

I eat locally because it completely changed the way I see food. Before I became a locavore, I saw food the way most supermarkets present it – a price. I never once stopped to think of where that food came from or if it was in season. I like to know how my food was grown and how the animals were treated. Large-scale food producers may be more efficient, but they are much less transparent to the average consumer.

I eat locally because knowing where the food came from helped me get more in tune with nature. When I see a non-tropical food, one that could be grown in the Northwest, from the Southern Hemisphere, I know it's probably not in season.

I eat locally because buying produce from the farmers' market, as any good locavore would do, has given me an education. What's selling is what's in season. And what's in season in December, for example, forces you to expand your culinary horizons. After all, you just don't come across kohlrabi and Jerusalem artichokes everyday. Not only that, my farmers' market inspires a sense of community – people who value local farmers and delicious fruits and vegetables that were not engineered or grown just to be transported.

I eat locally because it supports my local economy. I love this state and I want it to thrive. If a food can be grown in the Northwest, I want to eat it from the Northwest when it's naturally intended to be eaten. Maybe we can get blueberries from Argentina in the winter, but as I discovered this summer, nothing tastes better than the beautiful fresh ones you pick right off the bush. The fact that it has inspired me to transform my yard into my own local food source goes without saying.

While being a locavore may not have reduced my carbon footprint, it has made me more aware of the choices I make everyday. I may never know what effects my new green lifestyle has on the environment, but I can say for certain that it has definitely had a positive impact on my life.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The chick antics continue!

The girls are growing up so fast! It seems like just yesterday they were little balls of fluff and now they're transforming before my eyes.The temperature in my bathtub brooder is now 80 degrees – it started out around 95 when they were just a few days old. Lowering the temperature by five degrees each week helps them start to grow their little adult feathers, which is what chickens use to keep themselves warm. Lucy's filling out the fastest.

The chicken antics continue! Lucy and Penny think it's great to jump on top of the feeder and waterer when I come in. They especially love to fly back down towards calm little Ethel, in a dive bomb-type fashion. One morning this week, she made the leap from the waterer to the side of the cardboard box. So, they got a new addition to their brooder – a chicken wire ceiling. It makes it a bit more difficult to clean and change their water, but chasing chicks around my bathroom sounds like a more challenging task.

I read in one of my books that I might give the chicks a worm as a special treat and that they would act like they were dying of ecstasy. But what it failed to mention is that you better have one for each of them. My innocent gesture created a riot! I dropped one into the brooder and it took only a few seconds for Lucy to realize that it was worth picking up. Then, Penny proceeded to chase her around the brooder like crazy, vying to get some of the goods. I ran outside to get another, but when I dropped it in the brooder, Ethel scored the worm since she hadn't caught on that she should be chasing after Lucy. In the end, they all got their first taste of a worm and it was clear that they'd love to peck around for more.

On another note, when reading the new post on Garden Rant, one of the many garden blogs I follow, I discovered the Mouse and Trowel awards for garden blogging. I love it! What a great way to celebrate the craft! Gardening can be a somewhat solitary activity, which is something I really value about the hobby since it's such a contrast to my job. But while I love the blissful quiet and time alone, I really enjoy commiserating and learning with other gardeners. I feel like I know the gardeners who write the blogs that I follow. The more posts I write and the more blogs I follow, the more inspired I am to keep writing and experimenting in my garden. So, here's my shout out to the creator of the Mouse and Trowel awards, garden blogger and writer Colleen Vanderlinden, for creating a forum that celebrates garden bloggers and shows them some love!