Category Archives: Preparedness

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

Beefing Up Security (Part One)

Almost a week has passed and the loss of our 13 hens to a fox still smarts.

If I’m being completely honest, I am surprised it took this long.

We have been pretty lucky to only have lost one or two to a predator. It was really only a matter of time I suppose.

Still. Did he really have to kill them all?

It is getting to be too late in the year to start a new flock, so we will be taking time to re-evaluate our coop construction and re-think our defensive plan against unwanted visitors.

There are a few sad realizations we have come to as we get ready for winter:

We have no livestock to prepare the kitchen garden.

We relied on the chickens to weed, eat pests and prep the ground for Spring planting. Now we are forced to (gasp) do the work ourselves.

Kitchen garden before chickens have spent 4+ months prepping for the Spring planting.

Kitchen garden after chickens have spent 4+ months prepping for Spring planting.

We will have to buy eggs for at least the next 6 months.

In reality, by the time you factor in the cost of chicken feed, electricity to keep them warm and bedding, we will probably be spending a bit less.

Still…buying eggs.

We won’t only be losing fresh eggs, but also fresh fodder for stories and poems. A tragedy indeed.

So, what can we do to better protect our birds?

We are already doing a few necessary things to protect the flock.

  1. The coop and run are completely enclosed with chicken wire to protect from opportunists like hawks and raccoons.
  2. We keep the chickens highly visible and have a solar powered motion light to deter possible predators.
  3. We collect eggs daily so as not to attract any unwanted visitors

But, as with anything else, there is always room for improvement and there are several precautionary steps we need to step up.

For example, we could do a better job of picking up any food scraps the chickens didn’t eat before nightfall. It should have been obvious to us that food left out in the open can attract more than just chickens.

We could also start to shut the coop door at night to make it more difficult for intruders. The run and ramp to it is “secure” with chicken wire, but that (apparently) did not stop Mr. Fox.

Also, we need to pay more attention to and fix any holes in the fencing that could provide an easy entry into the coop and run.

Another recommendation was to get a rooster. This is not an option as we had several and the crowing got a bit out of control.

But…we could get a guard dog.

A guard dog would provide the same security as a rooster…only better.

A guard dog would scare off any predators…man or beast.

A guard dog would be an excellent addition to the homestead.

Processing

It only took a few days to get ready to process the two roosters we butchered last week. By day three, I was ready.

They had soaked in a saltwater brine for the full three days. Some say to soak them longer, some say just a day. I picked three days only because we went on vacation.

For the dinner, I threw a bird in the slow cooker with apples, onions, carrots, celery, fresh garlic from the garden and a random selection of fresh herbs.

I cooked it on low for 24 hours and then switched to “keep warm” for the afternoon. The aroma that filled the house was mouthwatering.

For the bone broth, I filled a big stockpot with water and dumped a freezer bag full of onion tops, celery and carrot scraps I’d been saving for just such an occasion. I also threw in two whole bulbs of fresh garlic.

I simmered it for a full day. When I went to strain the broth, the chicken fell right off the bone. The boys and I sampled it. It does not taste like store-bought chicken and it is much darker with very, very little fat.

I added the shredded chicken to the crock pot and the veggies went to the chickens. They were happy little hens.

I cooked rice for dinner and spooned the tender chicken and veggies over it.

It was delicious. The apples added a nice sweet flavor and the carrots were perfect. The meat was not dry like it was the last time I tried cooking a fresh bird and the boys each had two helpings.

From two big roosters, we got 6 quarts of bone broth and 3 days worth of meals. I’ll freeze the little that is left over and make enchiladas next week. YUM!

The Raised Beds

We shoveled, wheelbarrowed and transported dirt this weekend from the greenhouse at the neighbors to our yard.

Because the greenhouse is, well, a greenhouse, the crew had to work early mornings and at dusk when the temperatures were not so high and the air was not so still.

Midday on Saturday, before quittin’ time, they brought the raised beds over.

I watched the skid steer lumber over the yard, that first bed in its metal arms and felt giddy.

Even with all the garden space we have, I’m excited about these raised beds. Most of them will go in the greenhouse when it is up, but a few will stay out along the deck holding lettuce, spinach and all the leafy greens.

Once we set up the first bed, I started preparing the soil. I raked in egg shells and vegetable fertilizer and watered it thoroughly.

Once the bed was ready, I planted:

  • 2 rows of kale
  • 1 row of spinach
  • 6 rows of four different varieties of lettuce
  • 1/2 row of lavender
  • 1/2 row of rosemary
  • 1/2 row of basil

I labeled everything, but as I don’t have much luck with labels staying in one spot (ahem…cats and kids), I also drew a map.

The “MG” stands for marigolds. I planted 3 rather sad looking specimens down the center and plan to get a few more to add this week.

I might be a little “off-schedule” with some of the varieties I planted, but it is definitely not too late to start a garden.

Most garden centers have a seed starting schedule specific to your area/zone that is based on the average last frost date.

All those greens, broccolis, cabbages, beans, brussels sprouts and other cool season crops can continue to go in the ground from now through mid-August.

So don’t give up if you think it’s too late to start a garden! Plant now and you’ll have fresh garden veggies for the fall.

Fall gardens are best
For yummy sides and salads
And the taste of sun

Winter Prep

In Winter, most of the garden chores involve cleaning up to prepare for the Spring. Even though the chickens are doing most of that work for us, we still have a few tasks to make sure the soil is soft and ready for planting.

We moved the chickens over yesterday. The girls had done their job tearing up the soil, destroying pests like cabbage worms and squash bugs and fertilizing their first stop in the kitchen garden.

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We covered the spot with a thick layer of straw to keep the soil warm. The ground will freeze, but when the Spring thaw starts, we want to retain as much moisture as we can to keep our soil healthy.

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Since my winter sowing project did not work out well last year, I’m going to try direct sowing the cool season and a few root veggies now.

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If anything comes up before the cold really sets in, I’ll use the upside down milk jug tops I have to insulate the seedlings against the cold.

I also plan to give winter sowing in milk jugs another go this year. Although, with this unseasonably warm December I may have the same problems I had last year.

Other winter chores include pruning and cleaning up weeds around the trees and insulating the perennials against the cold.

We have not had a hard freeze yet, but it is coming soon. In the next few days, I’ll get the rest of this done and sit back and wait for my seed catalogs to start rolling in so I can start planning for 2017.

I’ll plant my winter garden
I’ll hope for it to grow
I’ll watch for little seedlings
Protect them from the snow

I hope the cold won’t kill them
I hope I will succeed
I hope my winter garden
Suppresses summer weeds

Drenched

When I looked out the window this morning, my first thought was that the swales and pond weren’t doing their job.

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Water ran in a small river from the back of our property out to the road. I had flashbacks to the time before we put the swales in and a moat would surround our house whenever it rained.

The chickens squawked and Pecky was crowed angrily, at least it seemed that way to me.

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I couldn’t blame them. I’d be unhappy if my home was filled with water too.

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Ray and I moved them to higher ground and tried our best to appease them with extra food and kitchen scraps.

The older gals were even more flooded but at least they were able to climb up into the coop to stay dry.

All the leghorns have is a tarp.

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After we got them situated and soothed their ruffled and wet feathers, I went out to see what was going on with the swales.

Why weren’t they working the way they should? What had gone wrong?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing had gone wrong. In the wee hours it had started to rain, and by the time we woke up, it had rained over 4 inches.

Our swales were full and our chickens were victims of a good drenching.

The North swale surged into the South swale, just as it should.

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North swale

The South swale was full and streamed into the pond, also full.

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Pond

Then, the water had nowhere to go but out to the road.

Hence, the river.

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Poor Blue didn’t have a tarp. It never dawned on her tiny chicken brain to take cover under a tree or in the little house we have for her in the garden. She just stood eating amaranth and clucking.

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Joe splashed and played in the water, excited by the creek meandering to our road and the giant puddles in the yard.

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He pointed out a colony of ants frantically climbing blades of grass in a desperate attempt to get to dry land. Curious, Joe and I did some googling to learn more about these strange (ant)ics.

Apparently, it’s a survival instinct. The worker ants work together to form a raft or a bridge to get the rest of the colony and queen to safety.

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Our planned lessons for the day were put aside to learn all about floods, storms and other weather events as well as strange ant behaviour.

So we spent a long time looking through weather books and reading about all kinds of storms.

Raining, pouring down
Water swirling ’round
All the hens are soaked
But none of them have croaked

Garden Gnomes

Two gnomes scurry and scuttle around my garden picking broccoli and searching for bugs and caterpillars.

They are fun to watch, fun to listen to and fun to be around. Their constant energy is enough to fuel and reignite my excitement at finding new fruits, fresh eggs and even bugs.

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They are hard workers…constantly on the search for a pest or praying mantis. Armed and ready with bug house, mason jar and bug gun.

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They are quick to find and point out something new or something that they hadn’t seen in one of their many patrols. They enthusiastically make sure everyone sees this new ‘thing’ they found.

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They eagerly race out to the blackberry patch to see who can find the biggest ‘jackpot’ of berries to pick.

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They are thrilled to find a caterpillar and see what kind of butterfly or moth it will turn out to be.

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Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly

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Their curiosity is contagious.

Their enthusiasm is energizing.

Their happiness is heavenly.

They plant seeds of joy everywhere they go.

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A little tiny gnome
Has nature to call home
He sprints and jumps around
In gardens he is found

Perenials vs Annuals

The results are in.

We’ve tallied up the scores.

The winner for best production in 2016 is…perennials! By a long shot.

The kitchen garden was left to its own devices for far too long.

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The broccoli barely produced.

Don’t even get me started on the peppers.

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Granted, the cherry tomatoes are producing well, but we’ve only picked a few ripe tomatoes…most of them are still green.

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On the upside, this may be the year we get brussels sprouts. The heat hasn’t killed the plants and I see little sprouts sprouting.

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The perennials, on the other hand, produced, produced and produced some more.

We are still picking blackberries and we have several gallon and pint bags in our freezer already.

We’ve made blackberry pie, dipped them in Cool Whip and we are going to make blackberry ice cream…and maybe blackberry wine.

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The grapes have doubled their production from last year. I’m not sure what we are going to do with them…but I’m thinking it might be fun to experiment with making our own grape ice wine or maybe blackberry/grape juice.

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The aronia are just about ready to pick and I want to try making some jam this year…or maybe chokecherry wine.

Hmmm. Icewine, blackberry wine, chokecherry wine…there seems to be a common theme.

The mint has gone completely insane. I don’t want it to take over the vineyard but it smells so good and it keeps the weeds down. I need to harvest it and dry to use for tea.

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The hops, despite the beetle attack, are getting big and have popped up everywhere, tangling with the grapes and kiwi.

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The perennials are the clear winners of this year’s production competition. But I can’t really blame the annuals for their failure.

We focused so much on our trees, shrubs and fight with the Japanese beetles that the poor tomatoes, peppers and broccoli were left defenceless.

Next year, I’ll be sure to give them a head start.

Annuals have lost
Perennials take the win
Poor, sad tomatoes

Neglect

We have sorely neglected our kitchen garden.

We’ve let volunteers and weeds go wild. Borage, tomatoes and lamb’s quarters threaten to choke out peppers, carrots, broccoli and brussels sprouts.

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The kids go out almost daily and cut away at the infiltrators and I try to pull thistles out by the root when I think of it. But, like fighting the Japanese beetles, it feels a bit futile.

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Just like every year, I start to feel forlorn about failing to get all the projects we wanted and planned to do done.

  • We didn’t plan well enough to avoid the Japanese beetle takeover.
  • We didn’t pull and/or transplant enough volunteers to prevent the kitchen garden from turning into a jungle.
  • We didn’t take the time to learn more about pruning trees.

And then, just like every year, I look back at the projects we did manage to finish.

We planted 65+ trees.

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We added posts and wires to the vineyard so the kiwi and grapes could continue their upward climb.

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We built a new, bigger run for the 16 chickens we added to our homestead.

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We transplanted sea berries and blackberries from the fedge to the vineyard.

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We built a squash arch.

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We built an herb spiral.

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We discovered we had a rooster.

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We fought Japanese beetles…and lost.

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But, at least we tried and got a few…thousands.

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After thinking of all the projects we did complete and all the goals we did meet, I feel kind of like a superhero, a rockstar…a successful homesteader.

Feeling blue and sad
All the failed plans we had
Until I stop and review
All the things we did do

Next Year

Next year in the garden
Everything will grow
All the plants I’ve started
Every seed I sow

The carrots will be plenty
The tomatoes will not blight
The borage won’t take over
The dill won’t win the fight

I’ll fight off every thistle
I’ll pick off every pest
No cabbage will be ravaged
The beans will be the best

Next year on the homestead
I’ll regroup and I’ll seek
To learn from all these lessons
To fertilize each week

But this year I’m so thankful
For everything that’s grown
From lettuce, herbs and berries
To sweet smiles from my own

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