Saturday, May 29, 2010

Life is Full of Surprises

Biggest Speckled Sussex egg ever....NOT!

I've mentioned before how large my Speckled Sussex hens are compared to the other girls, and how very small their eggs are compared to those of the smaller hens. You'd fully expect such a, uh, large girl to lay a fairly large egg. But NO! The SS girls lay the smallest eggs in my flock. They, however, make the most racket, and sing the loudest egg song of all the hens. Silly girls.

Today as I was collecting eggs, I came across the most ginormous egg ever. OK. Not really. It's the smallest egg I've ever seen, other than from a wren or something. And it's a Speckled Sussex egg, no less. I can just imagine the egg song this girl must have warbled upon laying such a giant! It came complete with a butt feather. How adorable!

The colossal Speckled Sussex egg...

I haven't had the heart to crack it open yet, but I imagine there's no yolk inside...and if there were, would this thing even hatch?! Oh, how tiny would that poor little chick be!

Sesame Street game..."which egg doesn't belong?"

Speckled Sussex egg and quarter

Normal "large" Golden Sexlink egg, and the gargantuan Speckled Sussex egg.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Oh Wild Grapes, How Do You Tease Me? Let Me Count The Ways....

Leaves of a domestic grape vine, either a Concord or Niagara

What I thought were infant clusters of wild grapes growing over my Secret Garden by the woods

Number one: you tease me by having a poisonous look-alike. I was so excited a couple weeks ago when I discovered that the "wild grape" vine growing up and over my Secret Garden was absolutely covered with teeny, tiny, wild grapes in hundreds upon hundreds of clusters. Then, I compared the fruit clusters with my Concord grape vine clusters, and the Concords are miles ahead of the "wild grape". And those leaves....the leaves of the "wild grape" look a bit different than "domestic" grape leaves. But hey, these are wild grapes, after all, they're entitled to look a bit different. Then I remembered reading about a fruit that mimics wild grapes and is poisonous. After a quick Internet search, I re-discovered that Common Moonseed (Menispermum canadense) looks a bit like grapes. Upon comparing their leaves to my "wild grapes", I found that, sadly, I have the poisonous Moonseed plant growing over my Secret Garden. I was soooo looking forward to plucking clusters of wild grapes from overhead, and making some wild Concord wine.

Canopy over my shaded Secret Garden is draped with Common Moonseed

Another view of the Secret Garden's canopy with Common Moonseed climbing a drooping wild cherry branch

#2....You're elusive. I know we've got loads of wild grapes growing in our woods, so perhaps I can muster the energy and time and forage for them when they're ripe. We can smell that sweet, grape aroma when we walk in the woods, or down the road by our house on crisp autumn days. And I see the clusters, waaaaaawy up high in the treetops. How on earth am I suppose to get those?!

Perhaps it's a good thing I've got a small vineyard planted, though it's still young and not productive. At least I'll have a source of grapes that I can actually reach and not just a bunch (pun intended) of teasers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

On This Day in May...

Late May is a beautiful time. Well, the entire month of May is beautiful, really. Here are a few things blooming at Cairnwood Cottage on this fine day in May:

Lady Robin Azalea

Marigolds (from the nursery)

This is suppose to be a Paul's Himalayan Musk climbing rose, but I'm not so sure...I didn't think it would be this pink, and it doesn't have the extreme fragrance I was expecting. And it's not climbing too vigorously. It's pretty, none-the-less.

Another view of the alleged Paul's Himalayan Musk as it climbs up the dog yard fence.

And for the first time since I planted it several years ago, my Polish Spirit clematis has climbed into the sour cherry tree and is BLOOMING!

Impatiens, after being watered, in a flower bed under a tree in our front yard.

Don Juan rose is putting on a good show in front of the Rambling Rector rambling rose which climbs up the side of the house.

Don Juan and Rambling Rector roses growing at the entrance to our patio (as seen from the driveway)

I got a start of this iris from someone at a Master Gardener conference...not exactly sure what it's called, but I think it's some type of Siberian iris (?)

Daydream shrub rose

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Creativity. It's a Good Thing.

I'll be the first to admit that I have a problem throwing away perfectly good things. I'm always looking for ways to recycle things; sometimes I'm successful, other times not.

Several weeks ago I bought some replacement Niagara grapes from Lowes since the ones I tried to over-winter in pots didn't make it. At any rate, two grape vines came bound together in a nifty little "gunny sack". What a cute sack! How could I throw something like that away, yet what would I do with it?!

Lightbulb moment! I'll turn it into a planter! I simply lined the interior of the burlap sack with a plastic bag, poked a hole in the bottom and filled it with potting soil, then planted a nifty little viola in it.

Little burlap sack lined with a plastic bag, waiting to be filled with potting soil and viola.

The happy little finished product!

So, what does one do with an empty Baltimore oriole nest that has fallen from the tree? Same thing!

Empty Baltimore Oriole nest

Baltimore Oriole nest turned into a planter

Thursday, May 20, 2010

And They Grow....

They're a mere 4 days old, growing feathers and exploring this big, big world.

Isn't this THE cutest, fatest, fluffiest face you've ever seen? Chick from a Speckled Sussex egg...I'm guessing the daddy is an Ameraucana, judging from the chubby cheeks.

They're four days old and already they're starting to feather out. It simply amazes me how fast a chick can grow. What amazes me even more is the fact that a fully developed chick can crack out of an egg in a mere 21 days. Now that's fast. And miraculous!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Yet More Babies!

New peeps! Speckled Sussex, Ameraucana, and Welsummer (L-R) with proud mama, Chicken Lickin' looking on.

Sunday, May 16 saw the arrival of three more peeps here at Cairnwood Cottage. Chicken Lickin', a Welsummer hen, had been sitting on a clutch of 7 eggs. And for the precise reason that you shouldn't count your chicks before they're hatched, only three hatched. Well, four hatched, but unfortunately the fourth one disappeared somehow....I found a pipped shell about 10 feet from the nest, but no chick in sight. Since the nesting box is inside our closed garage, I'm guessing perhaps a snake made off with the unfortunate peep. I've since snake-proofed the nesting box by closing it off with screen at night while the babes sleep.

The three eggs that Chicken Lickin' hatched were a Welsummer egg, an Ameraucana egg, and a Speckled Sussex egg, the daddy being either an Americauna or the late Welsummer, Ding Dong. I'm anxious to see how these guys will look when they mature. For right now though, I'm just enjoying their cuteness way more than a person should!

First meal. (L-R) Welsummer, Ameraucana, and Speckled Sussex

Chicken Lickin' gives detailed instructions to the peeps for their first drink...

And down the hatch!

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Safe Weed Killer?

Yes. I have a terrible problem with poison ivy here, and really hate the idea of using a toxic weed killer. After a bit of searching, I found a recipe that sounded safe, and amazingly, it actually works! I didn't really think to write about it here until I read my niece's blog where she wrote about using a similar homemade concoction to kill weeds successfully. My recipe is nearly identical to hers, but mine includes the addition of liquid dish soap (hopefully an environmentally safe soap!) which acts as a "sticker".

With poison ivy, you need to spray it while it's still young, otherwise it doesn't work well at all. Some weeds it works great on, others it takes several applications. Don't spray this stuff on plants if there is rain in the forecast as that will just wash it off and you'll have to re-apply.

Here is a before and after photo of a particularly nasty weed that I have to deal with in my garden, and for the life of me I can't remember what it's called just now. I'll look it up tomorrow (hopefully), and make a note of what it is. It smells like mums, so it's not ALL bad, but it spreads like wildfire and is a bear to get rid of.

Moments after homemade weed killer was sprayed on the weeds--they're already starting to droop!

The first photo was taken just a few minutes after I sprayed my homemade weed killer on it. The second photo was taken a couple hours later. Amazing how fast it works! I don't think this actually kills the plant right off the bat, but several sprayings will be in order to eradicate it.

Several hours after weed killer was sprayed. Gotcha!

Here's the recipe:

1 gallon vinegar
1 cup salt
8 drops detergent

mix together and shake until salt dissolves, pour into a sprayer and go to town killing weeds!

This is great to use on our brick patio where little weeds grow up between the bricks. And I can feel good about using something that isn't harming life or the environment.

Friday, May 14, 2010

One Fine Day in May

The sky threatened rain most of the day and thunder could be heard rumbling in the distance, but we didn't get rain until early evening, and then it was nothing to write home about.
The mercury rose to 80 degrees F, and it was humid and buggy the entire time I was working in the garden. Not my favorite conditions for working outside at all.

I got a fair bit accomplished, but not nearly what I had hoped (of course!) I planted some cabbage, kale and spinach in my straw bale garden. I'm curious to see how this gardening technique works; more on that in another entry.

Noticed a juvenile toad sitting on a stone in one of the flower beds as I walked past. He didn't move from that spot for several hours. He's obviously not concerned that he's got spirea flower petals on his back. The stone is probably nice and cool on his tiny belly in the shaded garden on this hot, humid day. And why is it, that toads are seemingly always referred to as males when people talk about them?

Young toad enjoying the shade in one of my flower beds

I then managed to transplant a variety of herbs in my sewer pipe tile herb planter. I'm hoping the chickens that manage to escape the chicken run leave this alone

Herbs growing in tile flower bed border

Chiquita, an Ameraucana hen, helping me with garden chores

Speaking of renegade chickens, here's one that somehow manages to escape in spite of the fact that she's got her wings clipped. Chiquita is "helping" me, as you can see.

English Lavender

I'm trying to be good and get things transplanted as soon as I buy them. I love lavender but never seem to have much luck growing it. So, here's to trying yet again. Once I got the lavender planted, I rustled up the various empty pots and containers to add to the pile of said items beside our garage. Why is it that, in spite of the fact that I'm not scared of snakes and in fact I like snakes, that they still make me jump a mile when I see one when I'm not expecting to? This little garter snake nearly made me jump out of my skin when I went to put the pots on the pile.

Garter snake

Venus, my crippled Welsummer hen, has gone broody. I've got two other Welsummer hens that are broody and I'm trying to break their broodiness; egg production is dropping with all these broody girls! I need no fewer than nine dozen organic eggs a week for my faithful egg customers. A fourth Welsummer is due to hatch out a clutch of eggs in two days. She's down to six eggs in her clutch
; there were seven there just a couple days ago. I'm hoping she's not going to cause me grief like Speck did when her eggs were due to hatch. Anyway, I've decided to let Venus hatch out some eggs...she needs a job. I don't let her in with the rest of the chickens because I'm afraid the roosters will hurt her already hurt back/leg. She seems to get along fine with the hens, but the roosters think she's hot (with a name like Venus, well....) and can't seem to leave her alone the few times she's managed to sneak into the pen.

The five eggs Venus is mothering

Venus has been sitting on these eggs for about four days. I've got them marked lightly with pencil lines so I can tell which eggs are to hatch, and which eggs Chiquita and Maggon lay in there....yes, Chiquita and Maggon know all about this "secret nest" and have been laying eggs in this nest for months. They crowd in there in spite of Venus's protests and scolding, lay an egg (pale blue and green), and leave. It would be disastrous if I couldn't determine which eggs were fresh and which eggs are growing. Venus is such a sweet chicken...I think she'll be an excellent mother. Right now though, she's pretty fierce if you stick you hand in the nest. It's amazing what a few hormones can do to a girl!

Maggon (in rear) crowding a broody Venus

You would look crabby too, if you'd been sitting on a clutch of eggs in one spot for 19 (so far) days

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Plant Label Fail

The problem with those plastic plant labels/tags that come stuck in the pot with the plant is that they have several drawbacks. They fade over time rendering the tag useless as the printing has magically disappeared. Chickens like to eat them. They can blow away. They're rather unsightly.

My hens devoured the portion of this label which tells the plant name. Fortunately I could remember this one: Polish Spirit Clematis.

There is a plus side, however. Lazy folks, such as myself, can just jab the label down into the earth by the transplanted plant, and voila! 'Tis marked! Years later, however, when we want to remember what was that plant I planted there, well, there's no way of telling (see above).

For years I relied on those markers because I really didn't have any other means to mark my plants. My recent chicken acquisition has made me re-think the way I mark my plants because, you see, my chickens simply adore eating those plastic plant labels. I've lost track of countless plants now because the girls have either eaten the entire label, or they've eaten just enough so as to remove the name of the plant, or they've scratched the label out of the ground and the wind has blown it into Oz, or some other obscure place that I can't seem to find.

Aluminum plant labels--a more permanent solution

Enter: aluminum plant labels! Our nurseryman friend gave me a handful of aluminum plant labels with little wires that can be twisted around a stem or branch, and the label stays on the plant for eternity. I defy any chicken to eat these labels!

Newly-planted azalea with its nifty aluminum label (which looks huge, but only because it's in the foreground!)

Now, when I get a new plant, it gets marked immediately so that when I'm old and senile (oh wait, that's NOW!) I'll know what I've got.

Close-up of the aluminum plant label showing how the words get "pressed" into the label with a pen or pencil

A pen or pencil is used to write on the aluminum which etches/scratches the wording right into the label. There's nothing to wear off or fade. Genius. I write the year that I'm planting the plant, where I got it, and of course the plant's name.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Promises, Promises

Nothing says "promise" or "hope" like spring. Spring's hard at work making summer's bounty:

Soon-to-be-ripe "Sparkle" strawberries

Bamboo that I transplanted last year is sending up some new shoots. Bamboo...the first year it sleeps, the second year it creeps, the third year it leaps!


Future chicks: Ameraucana, Welsummer, Speckled Sussex, and Golden Sexlink eggs

Broody Welsummer

Sparkle strawberries after the rain

Dwarf Gray Sugar Snap peas emrging



Blueberries after the rain

Douglas Fir shooting out new growth