Some Cool Chicks

chickens

It’s been hot around here (David Bowie is panting). So this is how we keep our girls cool. A kiddie pool filled with muddy water. The trick is the mud. They refused to stand in it when it was just water. All of them loiter around the pool during the hottest part of the day taking turns dipping their toes in the cooling mud.

A Garden for the Birds (and the Bees) Part 1

This picture makes me sad. It makes me sad because it no longer looks like this. We had a brilliant plan to redo the garden. We pulled everything out to make room for new plants. And then we moved the chickens.

And now it looks like this. And I hate it. I’m the mechanic with the crappy car that doesn’t run. For reals. This is the plan view:

Dirt and birds. That’s what I’ve got. And the trees are a bit bigger now. There are only a few token shrubs left, some of which look better than others. We don’t even have any weeds. Have I mentioned how good chickens are at weeding? This is just a portion of our yard, our “entertaining” area where we can seat a lot of people. The patio is actually more square footage than our house to give you an idea. The trees moving from upper left, across and then down to lower right are: Arkansas Black apple, Manzanillo olive, Arbequina olive, random orange tree, pomegranate, Karp’s Sweet quince, Johnny Appleseed Apple, Illinois Everbearing mulberry, Indian Free peach, Jubileum plum. The gate to the right of the chicken run has actually been removed so that the birds have access to the large orchard area near the garden. I’m not so concerned with that area right now as I just want to focus on this main part of the yard. The first area that people see when they enter our backyard.

A couple of months ago I was sent a book to review. I was so excited to get this book as it was EXACTLY what I needed to inspire me to get moving on the garden. Free Range Chicken Gardens: How to Create a Beautiful, Chicken-Friendly Yard  by fellow designer Jessi Bloom was going to be my garden savior.

This is definitely a book you can judge by it’s cover. It’s got beautiful photos – full page photos – throughout with tons of information including basic chicken care, how to build a coop using different materials (plus the pros, cons, availability and relative expense of those materials), and of course what plants you can and cannot use around chickens. It also features different chicken gardens throughout the book which is great. I like seeing what other people are doing with their gardens.

As designers we take a lot of inspiration from what other designers do. We don’t copy but we are inspired by different ideas and then change them to make them our own. Our book shelves are lined with relevant topic books that we go through and tag the ideas that we like for each project. Then we work on bringing all the things we like together into a design that flows. This book is perfect to add to my shelf because it deals with a lot of plants I don’t normally use – perennials. I work mostly on large projects where we need bulletproof plants that don’t die back every year so my experience using perennials is a bit limited.

Next week I’ll unveil the plan I have for the backyard along with a plant list that will use chicken-friendly plants. I’ll also be incorporating bee-friendly, edible and medicinal plants as well. A following post after that will be the project of putting the plants in (though this might be over a few weeks because I’ll need to source them through wholesale nurseries. I’m really looking forward to this project.

 

10 Repurposed (Free or Cheap) Things You Should Have

I was puttering around in the yard when I realized that we sure have a lot of random crap around our yard. I guess you can’t call it crap because it’s all really, really useful stuff. None of these items’ primary use is for gardening or livestock keeping but here we are using them all the time. So here’s my list of items that you should keep around if you are an avid gardener or own livestock.

5 Gallon Buckets

I honestly don’t know how I ever got through life without 5 gallon buckets. The food grade ones are awesome for storing food of course, though you need to take care to keep rodents out, but even the non-food grade ones are indispensable. I use them to mix potting soil, tools, irrigation supplies and pipe, and garden supplies. I also use them for harvesting larger amounts that my basket can’t handle (like the 70lbs of apricots we harvested this past weekend) and for collecting weeds in when I’m weeding. You can upend a bucket over a tender plant overnight if you’re suspecting a frost (just remember to remove it in the morning). We also cut them down, hook up a float and use them as automatic waterers (a very wise goat breeder told me that goats prefer to drink out of white buckets). You can even use them to make self watering planters!

Burlap Bags

These are the big bags that they ship coffee beans in. You can ask your local coffee roaster if they have any they can give you or sometimes the dump has pallets of them. We use them as weedblock (doesn’t work very well for bindweed or Bermuda grass though) and in our mushroom garden to keep logs moist. For events we use them as rustic table cloths but when we’re home they are useful for anything we need fabric for outside use. With the animals it works well for insulation on cold nights and for calming animals in distress when we have to isolate them. We also use it to help keep the chickens from sleeping in their nest boxes at night (in picture). By nailing one edge above the nest boxes and attaching a heavy bar to the opposite edge we can roll it up in the morning and bring it back down in the evening when everyone is done laying. Helps keep the boxes nice and clean because the girls can’t sleep in the boxes. Additionally you can use them as temporary planters by setting them upright filled with soil. The jury is still out though on whether they are good for potatoes.

Electrical Conduit

This is probably one of the most useful items we have around here. Tom works for an electrical wholesaler and so any bent pieces they receive he squirrels away until he has enough to bring home. We use it for making trellises for climbing veggies. When making trellises  you lash together two pipes (pound them into the ground some) on each end of the bed and then stabilize them with a pipe running through the crook made by the ends. Lash it all together and it should be pretty stable. Then we use line to run back and forth or up and down depending on what we’re planting. Beans and other twining veggies get a vertical trellis while grasping vines like peas, cukes and squash, get a horizontal trellis. Polyester line works well but we like to use the lines off of hay bales because they are stronger and last longer. Electrical conduit also works well for fence posts. When it involves keeping chickens out they are too thin for the chickens to jump up onto. We use it as the “rails” in our feed mangers for the goats and we even used it for building the chicken run. It is strong enough to support the wire that covers the run and was easily attached to the posts with pipe straps.

Stucco Wire

Similar to chicken wire, stucco wire is cheaper and stronger (after all, it has to hold the weight of stucco to a buildings). We primarily use it for temporary fencing and of course for poultry housing. It’s also good to wrap around newly planted plants to keep critters from digging them up. We use it in planters to keep the squirrels out and then we also tie scare tape to it to keep the birds away from by blueberries. It’s useful to use to for impromptu compost bins by wiring it into a circle because it allows for lots of airflow. It’s also a cheaper alternative to hardware cloth under raised beds to keep gophers out and also as cages under new trees and shrubs that you may plant to also keep gophers away.

Concrete Reinforcement Fabric

By far the BEST tomato cages available are the ones you make at home from a wire mesh meant for pouring concrete slabs. The spacing between the wire is perfect for reaching your hand through to pick even the biggest tomato but it’s also strong enough not to collapse under even the largest plant. We also use this mesh for tomatillos and you can make nice arbors with them. We’ve had ours for well over 5 years with no issues. At the end of the season you can open them back up and lay them flat or stack them in an out of the way place, which is what we do. There’s also an option to cut them into four pieces of equal size and then wire them into square cages which can lay flat for storage.

It also works well for potato towers because it’s strong enough to hold hay, soil and lots of potatoes!

Concrete Pavers or Bricks

We put in a patio in our backyard and ended up with a whole bunch of leftover pavers. People are always trying to offload extra brick and pavers on Craigslist and Freecycle so they are fairly easy to obtain. They can be used as small stepping stones through the garden if you don’t want to put down a path and just want something temporary. We also use them whenever we need a hard, level surface such as under water buckets. They are great for keeping wood and metal off of the ground as well. While galvanized metal is rust resistant it isn’t rust proof so we like to keep our metal pails on the pavers to reduce their contact with moisture from the soil. I also find them helpful protect our irrigation system, particularly where the risers come out of the ground. We stack them around the risers so that we don’t trip on them (makes them more visible) and also to keep us from damaging the rises with tools or wheelbarrows.

XL Wire Dog Grate

If you have livestock this is a must-have item. We have two of them plus a wire pen and all of them are in constant use around here. For rabbits they work well as temporary pens when you’re cleaning out hutches or just want to give them some time in the grass to play. We use the pen most often for this because it’s large enough to let them romp around. If you have chickens (same for turkeys and ducks) they are great for brooding chicks in. Unlike plastic dog crates, the wire ones have a removable bottom tray so you can get those chicks on the dirt as soon as possible. Plus this eliminates a slick footing which can cause splay leg in your chicks. They are also great for isolating a hen if she’s injured or broody, without separating her from her flock which is much less stressful. For goats it’s perfect for keeping the kids off of mom at night if you’re milking her in the morning. They sleep comfortably while still in full view of mom. I also use the crate for transporting the goats to the vet or breeder. It’s large enough for two dwarf goats to move around plus water and food.

Concrete Christy Boxes

These are the those boxes you see set flush in the sidewalk that have a concrete cover over them that usually says something like “Electrical” or “Water Meter.” They come in all different sizes from several feet long to 9″ rounds. The larger ones are the most useful for us as they make great deep raised beds in small spaces. The bonus is that they are concrete so they don’t disintegrate over time. They are also small enough to move around.

Old Recycle Bins

Remember back in the day when the recycle bins were just a small crate that you carried out to the curb? When we moved into our house we found over half a dozen of these boxes in our backyard. They’ve turned out to be extremely useful to us. We use the majority of them as storage bins for garden and irrigation supplies. We use them when weeding large areas because they are great for storing a lot of weeds between dumping. Flip them over and use them as a garden seat. We keep them out in the goat yard to either sit on or let the kids play on or in. I can also foresee making nest boxes out of them in the chicken house. Because they already have drainage holes in the bottom they can work as movable planters. Drill large holes in the sides, fill up with coffee grounds and grow oyster mushrooms in them as well. The uses are endless with these.

Pallets

The ubiquitous pallet can be had for free from many places. Tom’s work can’t get rid of them fast enough and has stacks of them in their yard waiting to find a new home. Pallets have been getting a lot of attention lately for their usefulness in the garden. From making vertical garden walls to temporary beds for lettuces they have a multitude of uses. We use them for a lot of things here. We built Turkey Town almost entirely out of pallets and burlap. We store our hay on them and we made a hive stand with one. We used them to make our potato bins, which we’re hoping increased yield this year. The uses of pallets are only limited to your imagination.

Book Review & Giveaway – A Chicken in Every Yard

*Update: Susan is our giveaway winner! Look for an email from us to get your address.

The Review

I rarely ever read a “reference book” all the way through. Actually I have never read a reference book all the way through (not even my college textbooks). That was until I got my paws on A Chicken in Every Yard by Robert and Hannah Litt, owners of the Urban Farm Store in Portland, Oregon. It was an easy and quick read while containing quite a bit of information. It is a great primer for those that are planning on getting some backyard chickens. It’s also got some good information if you have chickens including a health section that goes over the most common ailments that your chickens might suffer.

It goes over various topics including some of the more popular breeds of chickens, brooding chicks (more on that below), litter management, feeding, predators, clipping wings and introducing new birds. A Chicken in Every Yard even includes simple plans for building a basic chicken coop. It discusses various options for runs that will effectively keep your chickens safe and happy. It breaks down how much time per day you’ll need to work at keeping chickens depending on what management system you’re using.The most interesting chapter, to me at least, was about eggs. I never realized there were so many different parts to an egg. It’s also got some delicious looking recipes that utilize those tasty homegrown eggs.

Because there are as many management styles as there are chicken owners, there are some things that they recommend that I personally don’t follow. Their recommendations include the use of medicated feed which is definitely an option but I wish they would have discussed other management techniques such as brooding without the need for medication. The one great thing they offer in their chapter on chicks is a checklist of all the supplies you will need if bringing home chicks.

This book is targeted towards those that will be keeping chickens as “pets with benefits.” If you want a book that also covers chickens for meat this wouldn’t be the book for you as they are clear in the very beginning that they will not be discussing using chickens for meat – even retired chickens. And this is really the only source of contention that I do have with this book. They don’t push the issue in regards to what to do if you end up with a rooster (while not likely with sexed pullets it’s still a possibility that people need to think about) and they “highly recommend” sending retired hens to farm sanctuaries if people don’t want to keep them past their egg laying years which I find very irresponsible. I always tell people that there are only two choices when you have chickens. They are either a pet or they are dinner. But don’t let this turn you off from the book because otherwise it’s quite good and if you are new to chickens you’ll be successful if you follow their recommendations (even if there are other ways to do things).

The Giveaway

If you would like a chance to win this book please leave a comment with your beginning chicken keeping questions. For extra entries you can like us on Facebook for one entry and get another entry if you share this post on Facebook and/or Twitter (that’s 3 extra entries). Just leave a comment here that you’ve liked us (even if you already do) and/or shared this post.

The giveaway will go until midnight on Friday, June 22nd and I’ll announce the winner on Saturday, June 23rd. Unfortunately I have to limit it to residents of the U.S.

Meet Your Farmer – Castle Rock Farm

Our meet your farmer posts feature a small family farm that we feel exemplifies the type of food system we all need to support. They show passion and dedication to raising and growing food sustainably.

Andy & Sarah

Not all sustainable farmers sell food.

This month post is on Castle Rock Farm in Vacaville, California owned by Sarah Hawkins and Andy Pestana. Castle Rock Farm is well known for their high quality Nigerian Dwarf Goats and it’s where our girl Sedona is from.

But Castle Rock Farm is so much more than just Nigerian Dwarf Goats.

The Birthing Clip

When we pulled up there was a family there and on the grass were two very happy kids, of the four legged persuasion, bouncing around like popcorn. They really don’t get any cuter than that and I was starting to miss having kids around here. The family scooped them up and got in their car and left. Over on the stanchion stood a very pregnant doe who was getting a birthing clip from Andy. The clip is to help streamline the doe and keep all the goop from getting stuck in her fur when she kids. It also allows you to monitor the changes in her body that occur right before kidding.

The Bee Garden

Our tour began with the bees which were nestled back amongst the oak trees. The bees provide not only honey for the farm but also beeswax and propolis for Sarah’s main business, English Hills Soap Company – soaps and skin care products that utilize the goat milk that her goats provide. She’s currently working on rebranding to English Hills Naturals to include some new products. I’m a HUGE fan of handmade skin care products. They don’t contain all the chemicals that the drugstore stuff has and they are generally much easier on your skin and hair.

Surrounding her hives she has a California native garden, which is another passion she has. It was so much fun talking plants with her. It’s not something I get to do very often with people outside of my field. Their mission for the property is to only grow natives or edibles. Both of which open up more income possibilities. Sarah is also starting a native plant nursery and even possibly selling herbs and tea in the future.

One of the many birdhouses

Walking around the property we got to see the buffer she is creating around the edge with native trees and shrubs. There’s the greenhouse that contains cans and cans of native plants inside and out and a small fruit orchard. While caring for and revitalizing  the flora on their property, the are also providing homes for the local fauna as well, including multiple birdhouses.

Lazy Goats

Of course the goats have the biggest part at Castle Rock Farm. It was a beautiful warm afternoon between rainstorms when we were there and most of the goats were lazily laying in the shade for their siesta. The ones that weren’t sleeping were chasing each other and one doe was teasing the bucks on the other side of the fence. The blubbering was some of the best I’ve heard. There was even a “la la la la la” from one of the bucks (I think it was CRF Tanzanite).

A very pregnant Infinity

Seeing some of the pregnant does made me start to question Sedona’s status. She only had about 5 weeks left of her pregnancy and didn’t look pregnant at all while some of the does that weren’t that far were huge. After talking with Sarah and Andy separately about it, I felt reassured that she was pregnant (and now it’s quite clear). We talked a lot about goat health in general and I learned a lot from them.

It was fantastic spending most of the day out there. Before we knew it we realized we had to run. They were very gracious hosts and we thank them for being so generous with their time and knowledge. I meant to buy some of her products while we were there. I’ll just have to make sure I pick some up the next time we go over there.

If you’re interested in checking out what their skin care products, you can find them online or at the Davis Farmers Market. They may possibly also be at the Vacaville and Napa Farmers market in the future.

Guest Post – Defending Your Flock from the HOA

With chickens becoming more and more popular some people are running into problems with their HOA bylaws. Most of the time the problems stem from lack of knowledge about chickens that is spread through misinformation. Chickens are not any noisier, stinkier, or more likely to spread disease than the family dog. I personally don’t live in HOA so today’s post is from Shannon who recently had to defend her hens from her HOA. She has some great advice that might help you if you are having a problem with your HOA.

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Recently, I had the unfortunate experience of having to defend my dear chickens at my neighborhood Homeowners Association (HOA) Board meeting. After numerous complaints from a single neighbor, my husband and I had to attend a hearing in which the fate of our chickens was in the hands of 3 unknown Board Members. Though I won’t go into about the actual specifics about my case (that’s a different post), I did realize I had a new wealth of information to share with other folks who may be up against a similar threat. Here are a few tips to help you navigate through the murky waters of HOA rules.

Tip # 1: Do your research
This may sound pretty obvious, but knowing the rules is the most important part of building a case for your chickens. Read your CCRs carefully. Don’t just pay attention to the rules about animals, think beyond the box. Have some knowledge in your back pocket.
What are the proper channels one should take when filing a complaint against a neighbor? In our case, the HOA encourages neighbors to resolve issues on their own. Our neighbor never contacted us with her concerns about the noise our chickens made. Knowing that the HOA encourages neighbors to deal with issues on their own shows that she a) doesn’t know the rules, and b)if she knew them, she didn’t act upon them.
Find out what the proper dispute resolution sequence is (for my HOA, it was having a hearing, then mediation, then arbitration). It’s good to know what steps you’ll need to take in case they deny your case.
Are there height/dimension limits to any coops built in your yard? Do they need to be a certain distance from your neighbors’ houses? This is important to know. For example, if our coop was another 2 feet taller, we would have had to get approval from the HOA to build it.
How much authority does the Board really have? In our case, the Board had the final say on issues – meaning one cannot get a measure put on a ballot for the neighborhood to vote on. Some HOA’s allow members to gather enough signatures to get something on the ballot (how democratic!) This is worth looking into just in case the Board decides against you – you could still get a petition going and leave the vote to the masses.
Get your city and/or county’s municipal code, and be sure to include it with your materials. Many CCR’s defer to the municipal code (be sure you don’t have more chickens than you are allowed!) Thankfully for us, our city doesn’t have a restriction on the number of hens you can keep for non-commercial purposes.
If your HOA is run by a management company, get to know the person that works with your Board. If they are friendly, use their knowledge of the CCRs to help build your case. This proved to be a great resource for me – I was told there was a 1987 CCR that prohibited poultry in our neighborhood (which changed in 2007). I never would have known that if I hadn’t *gently* prodded my contact.

Tip #2: Get the support of your neighbors
I can’t stress this one enough. Thankfully in our neighborhood, everyone loves our chickens. It was really easy to pass a document around for their signature, stating that they did not believe our chickens were loud or a nuisance to the neighborhood. If you do get people to sign a document, be sure to include specific language related to the CCR’s. I used “loud” and “nuisance” because there is a rule against loud animals that are a nuisance. This allowed the Board to compare the CCRs with the support signatures apples for apples. Once you get those signatures, create a graphic that shows your house in relation to all that signed your petition. This is a great way of visually showing those who support you in your neighborhood. Finally, if you’ve got great neighbors like mine, you’ll have them come as your posse to the Board meeting. I had 5 adult neighbors (and 1 child) attend the meeting and speak in support of our chickens. Hearing this from others really showed the good impact our flock was making in the neighborhood. (Note: a carton of eggs is a great way to show your thanks)

Tip #3: What have other Associations done?
Google “HOA and Chickens” or any combination of “chickens”, “HOA”, and “CCRs”. You’ll be amazed at what you find. Backyard chicken has a few great forums with information from other chicken owners and their experiences with HOAs. I found a few promising articles and presented this information to the Board. I think it’s important to highlight that people all over the country have chickens, and there are many different ways of accommodating them in a HOA (whether that means restricting the number of chickens, or how the decision to allow chickens is made).

Tip #4: Are you willing to compromise?
On a personal note, this was the hardest part for me to come to terms with. If the Board votes no more chickens – are you ready to go to the next level (i.e. court) to keep them? Are you willing to give up a few hens to keep the neighbor(s) happy? After taking everything into consideration, I decided to pair my flock down from 6 to 3. Sure, I miss the extra eggs and the sound of a happy coop. But, because I showed the Board that I was willing to compromise, they agreed to let me keep my remaining girls. In the end – totally worth it.

Go to the meeting with confidence and your head held high – after all, you are a steward of this uncharted urban chicken-raising territory!

Bitches be CRAAAAZY

Our female dog spazzing out with the sprinkler

No, I’m not going to talk about my nutso dog.

Instead I’m going to share my experience at the Oakland Urban Ag meeting last night. I’m not going to be nice for once and I’m definitely going to call shit out, so consider yourself warned. And for the record, I’m now allowing anonymous comments, though they are moderated so if you’re going to be shitty, I’ll read them, I may post them, I may even respond to them, but I won’t make any guarantees.

Let the crazy begin.

Surprisingly it wasn’t that bad, but the parts that were bad were REALLY bad. OK, more like REALLY entertaining with a strong dose of offensive.

The more well-known animal rights activists that we knew would be there were easy to spot because they all sat in the front row together. They were all dressed very nicely, even professionally. The main group didn’t shout anyone down and seemed rather engaging – though I personally didn’t chat with them, Kitty did have a conversation with one of them that appeared to be very civil.

On the periphery, however, things were quite different. One woman, I didn’t catch her name, was probably one of the most offensive people I’ve ever had the unfortunate circumstance to stand next to. First, she brought this poor rabbit with her. The room was packed and noisy and stressful for even me. I can’t imagine bringing an animal with me, let along a rabbit that is wired to be predated by everything. She clearly brought that poor animal to use for her own personal agenda. Flat out it shouldn’t have been there.

The rabbit was a small lop that had obviously been handled quite a bit. It was supposedly from a recent “meat” rabbit seizure in Oakland. I use the quotes because I’m not convinced it was raised for meat due to the circumstances surrounding the seizure, the breed of rabbit and also by what this woman had to say. It was so over the top and offensive that it’s hard to take her word on anything.

She had two arguments.

She said to put the words “Golden Retriever” in front of any statement we make about eating any type of animal. First off, I’m not particularly fond of Golden Retrievers and all I could think of was “that would make me vomit up a hairball that would put my cats to shame.” That said, I don’t have any issue with people eating a Golden Retriever or any other breed of dog as long as it’s humanely raised and slaughtered. I personally wouldn’t eat a dog, or a horse, or a cat, or a… because it wasn’t part of the culture I grew up in, but if someone was raised with that, knock yourself the fuck out. As long as it’s humane of course. 

Her other argument? Apparently Glen Close in Fatal Attraction boiled a pet rabbit alive. I haven’t seen the movie so forgive me. Well, this woman then goes on to say that those of us that raise rabbits for meat also boil bunnies alive. I’m going to let you sit with that for a bit.

We.
Boil.
Bunnies.
Alive.

Is this woman for real? So because of this ridiculous and incredibly offensive statement I totally rolled my eyes which then brought on another woman to start yelling at me for rolling my eyes. Wow. Just. Wow. I did get a good laugh about it later telling other rabbit raising friends though.

It wasn’t until later though that she really made me angry. She went up to a woman she didn’t even know and told her “You need to lose weight, you eat too many rabbits.”  Then when the woman said that was offensive she said “Stop harassing me or I’m going to call the cops.” Oh, she is lucky she didn’t say that to me. I probably would have decked her. Or at least said “I’ve recently lost 20 lbs because I started eating rabbits (which is true by the way).” Yeah, that’s probably what I would have done just to see the look of horror on her face.

My favorite part though was the woman with balls big enough to stand next to my monster-of-a-man husband and say “slaughtering animals makes people violent” and then when he asked her to say that again she repeated it! Good for her! But wait…he slaughters animals. If slaughtering animals made people violent shouldn’t she be scared of him becoming violent? I’m confused.

There were of course other confrontations between animal activists and other urban farmers, but those are their stories to tell.

The city did a really good job of keeping it neutral and I applaud them for that. I hope regulations that are fair for everyone are created.

One important thing I did learn though…we need to make some damn t shirts with our logo on them!

Out Among the Bees

The weekend before last we got our first package of bees. We chose to go with Carniolans our first go because they are said to be more docile. The queen package didn’t have candy in it, just a cork so we chose to just leave her in the cage for several days to make sure the workers would accept her. On Tuesday I removed the cork and released the queen. She scurried out quickly and disappeared. I closed up the hive and let them do their thing.

Yesterday we decided it was time to check on them again. We wanted to check their progress and make sure the queen was accepted and that she was laying eggs. The Carniolans are indeed very docile. They didn’t mind us at all, however, we made sure not to be too disruptive and to move slowly, deliberately and treat them with respect – no smashed bees here.

Gap between frames. The frames were all pushed together when I last was in the hive.

There was a tiny amount of brace comb, which we easily removed. I was dismayed to find some of our frames had been moved apart from the rest opening us up to a whole mess of problems with burr comb. When I released the queen I had made sure that all the frames were against each other tightly. I have my suspicions as to what happened.

The queen was very easy to find. She’s nearly black and was marked with a white dot. We checked all the frames and were happy to see a bit of capped honey, nectar and pollen stores along with eggs!

 The green arrow is pointing to a cell filled with nectar. The red arrow is pointing to an egg (they look like miniature grains of rice) and the blue arrow is pointing at pollen. The photo isn’t the best but you should be able to click on it to enlarge it.

We’ll check next week sometime to see what kind of brood we’ve got.


We Got Our Pig

It was a mighty pig.

We decided finally to not actually raise one because we didn’t want to anger our neighbors. They already put up with enough from us. I don’t think there are enough eggs in the world to make them OK with us raising hogs here.

So instead we took a trip out to an organic dairy farm out in Petaluma. You’re probably wondering what an organic dairy has to do with hogs. Well, it turns out a farmer that raises dairy cows for Clover Stornetta has some side projects including a raw goat cheese making operation and raising hogs. Raising hogs on organic grain and milk.

I would have preferred pastured hogs, but beggars can’t be choosers and these hogs were a fantastic price. Let me just say, for the record, that we can’t estimate a hog’s weight to save our lives. I’ll blame not spending enough time around them to actually know. The last hog we bought live we thought was around 100lbs live weight. Turns out we were about 50lbs off. The hog we chose at the organic dairy we though was probably around 250lbs live weight. We totally missed the mark. The hang weight ended up being 287lbs. The ham we are looking to cure and hot smoke for April’s Charcutepalooza challenge weighs 27lbs!

I was kind of bummed that we didn’t get a lot of what we wanted from the hog. The butcher didn’t give us the fatback, leaf lard, feet or jowls. Next time we’ll know to specify exactly what we want prior to the slaughter rather than after, when many of the things we wanted were discarded before we could request them.

Next time I want to be more involved in the butchering so I can make sure we get all the parts we want.

Weekend Chores – Cancelled due to Rain

It’s Saturday morning and this weekend has already been nuts. It’s been raining heavier than it ever has since we’ve lived here. Bonus is that it’s supposed to continue the rest of the week. The bad news is that our neighbor behind us is the lowest spot on the block and our yard, namely the livestock yard, is on that flow line and it’s all backing up…under the barn.

The entrance to the barn is ankle deep muck

Remember the mucky post? Yeah, that was nothing. Last night our yard, from the rabbit cages (about halfway from our back door to the livestock barn) down was ankle deep in water. Mud and water.

We spent last night trying to keep everyone dry. Because it was dark and pouring we did the best we could. We put the bottom tray from our XL dog crate down on top of the sopping wet hay, covered it with feed bags (turning out to indispensable) and then piled a bunch of hay on top of that. Bella and the kids stayed dry throughout the night. Daisy has a wire spool she sleeps on so we didn’t have to do too much for her. The chicks’ brooder was flooded though. So we added boards to it so they could at least get up out of the water. Such a mess!

Early this morning (it was still dark out) we opened up our old plastic doghouse and put it in with Bella and the kids. We filled the halves up with hay so they’ll have additional dry places for them to bed down. 

We did give chicks to our broody girl, so let’s hope she is a good mom. One did get out last night and ended up with the goats so I’m a little worried about that one, but this morning it was fine, snuggled into mom’s feathers.

Today I’m going to be hosting a cold process soap making class taught by our intern, Brandy. Not sure how we’re going to do this with the rain, but we’ll figure it out.

There are so many things we need to plant right now and can’t because of the rain. Next weekend is our last average frost date and I’m hoping the rain stops by then but who knows?