Category Archives: Haiku

And then there’s the garden…

Now that the holiday whirlwind has passed and the elves have returned to the North Pole, I’m feeling a little exhausted and just a tad uninspired.

But…then there’s the garden and all the planning and excitement of this new season.

There are seeds to buy and start.

There are beds to plan and plant.

There are strategies to determine and execute.

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I absolutely love this time of year. Sure, it’s frigid with temps below zero, but I can curl up with my favorite seed catalogs and dream of planting my Spring, Summer and Fall garden.

The seed catalogs are already starting to come in the mailbox bringing with them excitement and dreams of a lush and productive garden.

I’ll circle and plan to buy millions of seeds and come back down to reality when I see the price tag on said seeds.

Goals for this year:

  • Start and plant seeds early.
  • Prepare for the war with pests. Specifically, you guessed it, Japanese Beetles.
  • Really, really, REALLY create a strategy for keeping up with the weeds.
  • Get that greenhouse going for Spring crops.
  • Order replacement chickens.

First, I will determine what to plant and create my seed starting schedule.

Next, I’ll research battle strategies for dealing with pests and keeping up with the weeds using cardboard, weed block and good old-fashioned elbow grease.

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Third, we’ll make plans to get our greenhouse up and going as soon as possible in early Spring.

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Finally, we’ll research the best, kid-friendly, egg-laying replacements for our flock and find fox, raccoon and opossum repelling tricks to beef up coop security.

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The next two months will definitely not be tedious. We have a garden to plan.

Though winter is cold
Though winds blow and chill the land
We joyfully plan

 

 

 

Beefing Up Security (Part 2)

In researching how to construct, or reconstruct, a safer coop for our next flock of birds, I discovered that we were (perhaps) not as good to our birds as I thought.

We fulfilled and provided almost all of their basic needs.

They had fresh air, clean water, a dust bathing area, lots of fresh grass and insects to forage and enough space. But they didn’t really have a place to flee from predators…or (apparently) much protection against them.

Their coop and run were completely enclosed, but that just meant that if something got in (ie a fox or an opossum), there was no escape for the chickens.

They would have been way to frantic, not to mention way too clueless, to escape the way the predator gained entry.

So where were they to go?

While pondering these concerns and researching what other chicken keepers have done, The Grow Network, a blog where I’ve been a guest contributor, published an article that addresses most, if not ALL of our concerns.

Raising Chickens: Coop Considerations

One of the top concerns we have is (for obvious reasons) protecting our flock from predators.

There are many things the article mentioned the things we are already doing.

The coop is enclosed and raised off the ground and the run and ramp are completely covered with chicken wire.

But, there are also a few things we could be doing to better.

Chicken wire, while fine for keeping the chickens contained, would not protect against a determined dog, fox or raccoon.

Apparently, raccoons as well as small dogs and weasels, could easily tear through the wire.

Using wire mesh or hardware cloth instead of or in addition to chicken wire may be an affordable option.

Another suggestion was to bury wire around the run.

This is not an option for us. We want to have the freedom to move the chickens around the property to help us weed, fertilize and prep for planting.

But, if we cover our chicken wire with the mesh, and also cover the bottom of the run, we would still be able to move the coop around and the chickens would still be able to peck and forage.

This added protection would further deter predators by making it that much more difficult to breach the coop.

We could also cover the ramp with the mesh, which is one of the most vulnerable spots in our set-up.

The use of electric fencing, motion-sensing lights, or even a well-trained livestock guardian dog (LGD) is also an option.

We already use a solar motion detecting light that seems to be doing a pretty good job…at least at night.

While I’m not sure we are ready to get another dog yet, installing an electric fence around the coop and run is one of the precautions we have been considering to beef up security.

Electric fencing sounds so scary, especially to an amateur homesteader and chicken lady with two little boys running around touching everything they see like crazed monkeys.

But…with the proper precautions and training of said crazed monkeys, it would be another layer of protection for the hens.

A simple measure we can take will be to lock the hens in at night. While there are daytime predators like hawks and the occasional confused fox, locking the hens in at night will put the odds in our favor.

We should have been doing this all along. It wouldn’t have stopped the daytime fox from getting the big flock, but it may have protected our last three girls…something I will always wonder about.

Beefing up the coop
Security our main goal
Protecting our hens

PJ the Hen

The boys have named our free-range hen Pecky Jr.

We call her PJ for short.

We pulled her out because the other hens had decided she was the weakest link. They attacked her, bloodied her and I was sure they would soon kill her.

Picture of PJ from August 16, 2017.

She now looks better than all of the other hens of her flock and she is much friendlier.

PJs vicious sisters

No hand pecking. No angry squawks. No vicious glares.

PJ on September 20, 2017

We haven’t done much to ‘domesticate’ her, but she comes running when we come outside and follows at my heels when I check for eggs.

She even eats right out of our hands if we approach her slowly and calmly whisper words of encouragement.

She has her own container of water, and we throw down a cup chicken feed when we are refilling the others.

That may sound mean, but she finds so much to eat in the pasture, yard and garden that we don’t feel the need to leave a dish of food out for her. The other hens eat less feed when they have new ground to peck and PJ’s diet is probably more diverse and nutrient-rich.

The only problem is…we don’t know where she is laying her eggs.

There have been times I thought she was gone. Taken by a coyote or raccoon. But when I head out to the coop to feed and water the chickens she suddenly appears.

I’ve started watching to see where she comes from but the moment I turn my back, she’s at my heels, waiting for scraps. She’s definitely coming from the pasture, so I am sure her eggs are somewhere in the wild grass.

Hopefully, a raccoon or other predator is eating them because I sure don’t want to find them by smell.

That is an experience I hope never to repeat.

Pecky Junior roams
Hoping for a tasty scrap
Circling our heels

 

 

 

Swallowtails

Four black swallowtail caterpillars found their way into Joe’s bughouse a few weeks ago. We fed them from the plant we found them on and watched them grow and grow…and grow!

The biggest one made a chrysalis first followed by two more a few days later. Our teeny tiny guy ate his way steadily through the dill we’d stuffed the house with until, tired from all his munching, he joined the others and made a chrysalis.

A few days ago, the first chrysalis started to wiggle and wobble.

We’ve been watching it off and on, hoping to watch the beautiful swallowtail emerge. We never did get to see them make their chrysalis. We turned our back and poof! it was made.

The chrysalis went from bright green to a faded dull pea green as it shook and twitched.

And then…

Wibble, wobble, twitch
A butterfly breaking free
Emerges and flys

The Big Molt

The new girls are now half again the size of the leghorns and their feathers are fluffy and shine in the sun.

They are truly beautiful birds, and the old ones?

Well, they are looking…pretty bad.

Their feathers are missing, they are pecking at each other and raw red patches of skin are showing.

They’ve become more and more bedraggled over the past couple of weeks. We change their water regularly, keep them in food and clean out their coop so what the heck is going on?

I was sure they were slowly murdering each other.

Ray thought they might be molting.

I liked my explanation better, but I looked up molting anyway.

Bingo. Our leghorns are going through a rather hard molt.

Great patches of feathers are missing. Some of the hens look fuzzy with odd looking new feathers growing through stubby old ones, while others look like they’ve been plucked alive.

During molting, all of the feathers fall and new feathers grow. Feathers are more than 80% protein so growing them takes a lot of energy.

Energy that is normally used to lay eggs.

Our egg production has not gone down that much, but it has dropped from 11-12 a day to 8-9 a day.

In order to balance things out a bit, we are going to start supplementing their diet with extra protein.

They’ll get mealworms, sunflower seeds, fresh herbs and maybe leftover scrambled eggs…maybe.

Few fluffy feathers
Hastily hobbling hens
Bare, bedraggled birds

Little Brown(ish) Eggs

The new girls have started laying eggs!

At first they were tiny and cream colored with titanium shells. Seriously, they took a few good whacks to crack. Crazy enough, every one has had a tiny yolk!

After about a week, they started to get a little bit bigger and the brownish hue deepened into a nice caramel color.

And then today I collected the biggest so far. It’s barely smaller than the behemoths the old hens lay. It’s not as brown as the others have been, but it still has a cream hue.

Old hen egg (left) vs New hen egg (right)

The new girls were pretty proud of themselves and were rewarded with grapes…their favorite.

Little brown(ish) eggs
Growing so slowly in size
Soft and creamy white

Regrowth

We came home from a long weekend and discovered something miraculous.

The kiwi had started to heal and regrow.

It had been ravaged by angry beetles for weeks, but it was coming back. Leaves were sprouting out, healing vines and kicking out the crunchy brown leaves.

The Japanese beetle’s 8-week reign of terror ended. Finally.

We were relieved that the pests had not done any lasting damage to the roots of the kiwi. It would have been depressing to have to cut out all that dead kiwi and start over again.

The grapes and hops are coming back as well, but it is the kiwi I am most impressed with. It had truly suffered and I had my doubts as to whether or not it would survive into next season.

I’ve never been more happy to be wrong.

The kiwi is coming back and we have a plan of attack for next year. A plan that will, with any luck, insure that the Japanese beetles lose the war.

The kiwi returns
To the homestead so bright, green
Leaves dance in the breeze

The Next Wave

Just when the Japanese beetle population starts to dwindle, the next wave of garden pests show up laying eggs on almost every available squash leaf.

Squash bugs.

While I detest squash bugs, I absolutely loathe Japanese beetles. In comparison…these aren’t so bad.

Every day, I eagerly go out to the garden to squish the eggs and vacuum the bugs that have emerged.

The process is more satisfying than drowning beetles. I think it is because I can squish all the eggs on a plant and vacuum most of the bugs.

This year, I am going to try applying neem oil to the leaves in order to deter more egg layers.

I have to be careful not to hit the squash flowers though. I want the bees to continue pollinating so we can have a good crop of watermelon, butternut and pattypan this year.

Squash bugs aren’t the worst
But are really annoying
Squish, vacuum, squish-squash

Operation JBE: Status

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: June 30, 2017

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka Revolting Beasts

Entomoligists:
– Joseph the Bug Hunter (JBH)
– Jacob the Bug Whacker (JBW)
– Issabella the Scout
– Cheyenne the Soldier
– Melissa (Mom)

Report:
Experiment #1: The beetles in the bug house were not as destructive as I thought they would be.
Status: Failed.

Experiment #2: The containers with dead beetles were slightly effective, but by the time we installed them around the perimeter, there were just too many beetles to combat.
Status: Failed.

Experiment #3: We tried a homemade essential oil spray: cedarwood oil with water. We sprayed one row of kiwi and, while there were fewer beetles the next day, there were again too many to combat.
Status: Failed.

Experiment #4: After seeing that they were leaving the chocolate mint completely alone, my niece had the idea of making a “potion” of mint and water. We pulled a bunch of mint and blended it up with water, strained it and loaded up a couple of spray bottles.

The troops were deployed. This time, we sprayed two of the rose bushes, leaving the third as our control.

Again, it worked slightly, but there were just too many to combat.
Status: Failed.

What do we do now? I’m at a loss. Further research will be needed to determine our next steps. Stay tuned.

The Final Experiment

Operation Japanese Beetle Eradication (JBE)
Date: July 2, 2017

Subject of Study:
Japanese beetles aka &#%!@?s

Entomoligists:
– Joseph the Bug Hunter (JBH)
– Jacob the Bug Whacker (JBW)
– Melissa (Mom)

The Final Experiment

While I believe that one or all of the natural methods we tried would have worked to manage the onslaught of the beetles, I also believe that, by the time we tried them, it was too late and there were just too many to combat.

So, I am going to try organic Neem Oil in an effort to stop them from completely obliterating what is left of the vineyard, fedge and our young fruit trees in the swales.

We are also going to spread milky spore over the lawn to kill as many grubs as we can in the hope of hatching fewer beetles next year.

The potential problem with both of these methods is the cost.

Beetles are laying their eggs all over the 5 acres we own for the entire 8 weeks they are here. That means that next year Japanese beetle grubs will be waiting to emerge from the soil as a full-grown army of maniacal demons.   

If we wanted to cover the entire property, we would need a ton of milky spore to have a chance against such an enemy. 

Does this mean we won’t try it? Absolutely not. I will try everything withing my power to destroy my insect enemy, but we need to be vigilant and prepared with the other methods we have tried in order to stop–or at least better manage this blight.

They may have defeated us this year, but my team of entomologists will be back to fight the battle anew next year…armed with new knowledge and better weaponry.

Down but not yet out
We learn from all our failures
And come back swinging