Almost 10 Weeks

I can’t believe a month has passed (already?) since I last checked in. The weeks are flying by. Most days my schedule devolves into chaos as I bounce between items on my “to do” list:  establish a vegetable garden, build a predator proof chicken run, unpack all the boxes, build new hives for the expanding apiary, and maintain the gardens and pasture that are already here . . .

However, I think I have finally gotten the upper hand (if we ignore the 18″ tall dandelion patch gone to seed in the front pasture/meadow), and can take a bit of a breather before diving in again.

The vegetable garden is planted with the summer vegetables (minus the giant beds of potatoes and New Mexico chiles that I’ll hopefully grow in future years),

so now I can spend some time working on the rest of the yard before prepping the beds that will be planted with the fall crops.  I still have lots of perennials and shrubs looking for a permanent dirt home, so as soon as the record-setting heat wave is over, I plant to start weeding and expanding the ornamental garden beds.

The 8′ x 16′ chicken run is pretty much complete, although I believe someone was talking about tricking it out with some additional roosts, and a dust bathing area.

The next improvement in Chickenland will be a new coop. I’m planning on building a 6′ x 8′ shed, half for chickens, half for supplies and garden tools. My plan is to start building at the end of August, with the goal of completing it by mid/late September (before the first snowstorm).

In the meantime, I’ve been busy in the workshop building new beehives. I thought I was off the hook for the year, as I ended up combining the colony temporarily housed in a nuc box with my other swarm that lost their queen. However, a few weeks ago, the colony that cast off those swarms back in April started building queen cells again. Before I was able to do a divide, they sent out two swarms. The first swarm was a giant swarm with the existing queen, and the second was a much smaller swarm with a virgin queen.

Fortunately I was able to capture both swarms, so now I have 5 colonies on site.

The large swarm is housed in a new hive I hastily built. They’ve already built comb on 12 bars and have filled much of those with brood. The small swarm is rapidly filling the nuc box which holds 7 bars. No signs of egg laying yet, but there is partial comb on all the bars. I’m debating between building another horizontal topbar hive or trying to super the nuc box with a small top bar box. I have about a week to decide and build.

Four Egg Days

For the past three weeks, several times per week, I find three eggs in the hens’ nest box and one up in the coop. Yes, six year old, “Bigfoot” Ezzie is laying eggs regularly. Since becoming sick, she has occasionally laid an egg or two, but never like this. Despite the less-than-ideal living quarters they’re currently inhabiting, all the hens seem to enjoy the new spread, but especially Ezzie. Whenever I open the coop doors, she leaps into my arms to receive an airlift down onto the grass. I’m a little nervous about a hawk snagging her (the hawks here are impressively large) so she doesn’t get out as much as she’d like, but she does get out most days to peck the dirt, nibble on the grass and take a sunbath. This is a fairly common pose:

Since I don’t have a very good setup for the hens right now, against my better judgement, I’ve been allowing them to free range within the fenced backyard when I’m at home. I will say, their feed consumption has decreased dramatically with all the worms and grubs they are able to scratch up. However, three different neighbors have told me stories of losing their entire flock to coyotes or foxes, so I’m working on building a large, secure run to keep them safe.

Its been slow going, as I’ve been trying to fit the work in between other commitments. Digging to bury the perimeter hardware cloth was the slowest part of the construction, but now that I’ve completed that portion, attaching the framing and wire fencing is going more quickly. When the run is complete, I will move the current mobile coop inside, to keep them safer at night, while I work on building a proper, winter-worthy coop. You know, something that keeps out horizontal snow.

First Things First

I’m checking in quickly via cell phone because my computer is still in pieces on the floor of my new office. Hands down, this was the most disorganized and physically grueling of my household moves. Partially because this is the first time I was moving critters, gardening stuff and a complete garage workshop, but also because we were simultaneously trying to complete home repairs to make sure we were handing off the house to renters in good working condition.
Anyway, by the skin of our teeth, we exited Albuquerque and have started to settle in here in Arvada. The first priority was setting up the beehives. The apiary is a little ad hoc right now, but the bees seem happy. Loading them into our truck camper to get them up here was fun. First off, you’ll notice 3 hives and a nuc box in the above photo. The colony I split sent out 2 swarms with virgin queens the week before the move. Fortunately both swarms clustered nearby, one in my vegetable garden,  the other in my neighbor’s juniper tree. Of course I collected the swarms, so we ended up loading more boxes than we had anticipated. Also, it had been a warm day before the move and the bees bearded on the hive entrances for most of the night. I had to get up in the wee hours of the morning to screen over the entrances, but by the time we loaded the hives, each entrance had collected a small beard of foragers that had been out overnight and were returning first thing. We ended up with quite a large number of loose bees in the camper, which seemed to alarm other motorists. Apparently one passing car passenger held up a sign “bees in truck”.

Unfortunately, I missed that humorous moment as I was driving up with chickens in the back of the Subaru Forester. I was convinced that this was going to be a nightmare, but it ended up being fine. I created a well-lined 3′ x 4′ enclosure in the back of the car complete with the normal feeder and nipple waterer. I draped shade cloth over the whole thing so they’d stay cool and maybe be convinced by the dim light that it was bedtime. Honestly, they were so terrified they just huddled in the corner in a chick pile for most of the 7 hours, although Iris did lay an egg towards the end of the trip. Anyway, the 7 hour, skull-splitting bawking fest I had anticipated did not come to pass. For now, things are still a bit disheveled in chicken-land as I prep to build the predator-proof run. However, the hens are in love with their first lawn-side living experience.

Ready, Set, Go

Welcome to Spring. My apologies for disappearing again. A few weeks after I last posted in November, I was thrown another curve ball when Non-Gardener came home from a trip to California and asked “How do you feel about moving to Denver?” December was spent answering that question. Even though I love living in Albuquerque, and the timing is not great (it would have been nice to enjoy a full year of living with insulation, good windows and solar power), I am a big fan of change (and projects, I guess), so, we are indeed moving to Colorado, although not Denver proper. Our initial intent was to find a property in Denver similar to what we have now: a house just large enough to accommodate two home offices in a walk-able neighborhood with just enough yard for a small vegetable garden and a beehive or two. Unfortunately, January is not a great time of year to look for property, and it soon became clear we were not going to find the holy grail house during our window of opportunity. Instead, we ended up fixating on a house that was almost the complete opposite of what we thought we wanted. A suburban split-level house on a full acre of land that requires a 5 mile drive to get anywhere. Ugh, I hate having to drive all the time, but, did you catch that? An entire acre of land. And it’s zoned for “country estates”, which means livestock is allowed. The neighbors have alpaca and sheep, there are goats further down the road, and there are enough chickens in the hood that my noisy birds won’t stand out. Yes, as it turns out, the chickens are moving to Colorado too.

 And the honeybees.Yeah, I’m not a big fan of trucking bees around the country, but. . . I want to hit the ground running, and the colony that moved into my empty hive last year is tremendous. They’ve been actively foraging for a month already (in early February they were already returning to the hive with pollen) and when I opened the hive this morning for the first time this year, they were already building comb on the last empty bar before the follower board, which means they are currently occupying 20 bars. Yes, they’ve almost filled the hive in March. Of course, they’re also starting to build queen cells. I will be keeping close tabs on them for the next few weeks, and I’m prepping my empty hives to receive splits. Based on my previous experience, it looks like I’ll be splitting the hive in about 10 to 14 days, so the new queen(s) should be hatched and mated before we move in early April. Yes, I know, this sounds totally insane: splitting my hives, so I have more living creatures to move or re-home. On the other hand, opening the hive today and seeing all those healthy bees spill out was a very welcome sight, particularly in the current environment in which good news is a rare commodity. By the way, there is nothing like the hummmbuzzz of a healthy, active bee yard to buoy the mood.

Anyway, despite being a little overwhelmed sorting out the moving logistics, I will try to be a bit more present here in this space. I thought about shutting down Less is More, but the journal has been an invaluable resource for me, and maybe, occasionally, it helps someone else too. And now with a new project on the horizon, I will have a lot of lessons-learned-the-hard-way to share. I’ve been reading and watching videos, and I’m already sketching ideas for the new place. Did you know that Arvada, CO receives an average of 18″ of annual precipitation? Twice the rainfall almost makes up for losing 60 days of frost free growing.

 

Today’s Harvest

Even in a not-so-great-garden year, there’s a lot to glean from the garden the day before the first frost. It’s always a little intimidating facing the beautiful pile of veg. Where to begin? 2016-11-16-11-08-29By the way, its kind of awesome the way, no matter what else is happening, a good dirt hole is all that is needed to make my feathered friends super happy:2016-11-04-16-35-02

Poking My Head Up

Please forgive my long absence. This has been a crazy summer. A few days after my last post in early July, we finally began the final phase of house renovation: new windows and exterior doors, new roof, interior plaster and floor patches, interior paint, exterior insulation, stucco, and solar panels. The project is about 75% complete – the interior work is done, now we’re just waiting for a break in monsoon season so the exterior work can be completed. Fortunately, this time around, the project is not DIY, however, there’s been the chaos that is to be expected when every room of your home is touched by construction. And, to pile on the chaos, in the middle of it all, I underwent a medical procedure and was required to take it easy for the 6 week recovery. We’re just starting to regain a bit of composure and balance, and now that I can lift and dig, I’m starting to work on getting caught up with the garden.

I had to relocate or remove about 25% of my vegetable garden in July, to provide access to the back of our house, so this hasn’t been the most productive year for homegrown vegetables. However, even with the disruption, we’re harvesting a pretty good vegetable supplement every day. Also, this was the first year for a real fruit harvest: 5 pounds of grapes which I converted to raisins, and about 10 pounds of peaches. The last pound or two are still on the tree, but so far I’ve made a small batch of jam, frozen some, baked some into a galette, and eaten quite a few with my morning yogurt and muesli.

As I alluded earlier, we’ve had a somewhat unrelenting monsoon season, which is quite welcome, despite the construction delays. As a result, the yard is quite verdant (a.k.a weedy) and it’s been a good year for spotting garden visitors. This morning, while I worked, there was quite an assortment of birds keeping me company. Besides the usual throng of house sparrows, I spotted a Curved-bill Thrasher: pks_3621A Lesser Goldfinch (his mate was here too):

lesser goldfinch

and, of course, a Roadrunner: pks_3628Oh, and I almost forgot the big news. We have fresh backyard eggs again! Dora started laying a few weeks ago, at the very young age of 20 weeks, and Iris laid her first egg yesterday. Meanwhile, Lemmy is still showing no interest at all in the nest box.

 

Another Random Recap

Once again, the only thing I have to share is the random collection of photos that have collected on my phone. 2016-06-24 19.25.10As you can see, Dora, Lemmy and Iris have become horribly spoiled. Technically, there’s a no chickens on the table rule, however, somehow, it’s suddenly not being enforced. I really need to rectify that situation. This photo was taken last week, when they were 12 weeks old, and you can see they are looking quite grown up. Their voices are changing- no more peeping and squeaking. Instead, there’s lots of croaking while they hone their grown up cluck.

I’m still enjoying the front yard totem: 2016-07-06 10.04.11This time of year, breakfast and lunch are usually enjoyed on the cool, north-facing, front porch, and the popularity of the totem ensures there’s lots of mealtime entertainment. And finally, it’s truly summer. The first small tomatoes started ripening last week.2016-06-24 18.17.04As is typical for the Less is More garden, the pretty pink Nichols Heirloom tomatoes have been the first to ripen, with the Amy’s Apricot and Punta Banda following close behind.

Rough Week

Unfortunately, rather than getting better, Miss Kitty took a turn for the worse over the weekend. Since her symptoms were similar to Bandit’s, in case I had misjudged the situation, I decided I should get a professional assessment. I definitely did not want something infectious to spread through the flock. I brought her in to the clinic this morning, and the vet determined my original guess was the probable cause of the illness. Given the mass in her lower abdomen, she was likely suffering from the effects of internal laying. Since Miss Kitty was pretty bad off – super skinny from not eating and clearly miserable, I decided to have the vet euthanize her. It was expensive, but worth it. Our household was not really up to that particular task so soon after last week’s adventures. It was difficult handing her over this morning. Miss Kitty was a fun hen to have around. 10930928_975537292464183_7734422620743125639_nIn the summer, she would stay up late with us every evening, hanging out on the patio well past dusk. I think she was nervous the hawks would get the humans if she didn’t stand guard.Anyway, everyone is a little melancholy around here. Well, everyone except for Ezzie, who is looking fairly pleased with herself. Who ever would have guessed that Ezzie would end up being the Grand Dame of the flock?

The Most Difficult Part

Ok, I know last week I said I like when things are difficult, but… there’s always a “but”, right? The most difficult part of the backyard Less is More setup is figuring out the right course of action when you have a sick hen. One evening, earlier this week, I realized I hadn’t seen Bandit in a few hours. I found her hiding behind some shrubbery as if she’s was trying to lay an egg, with a stream of white fluid coming from her vent. Definitely not a good sign.  The next morning, she was hanging back and a bit sad looking, so I gave her the standard round of Tx – warm Epsom salt bath and some probiotic treats, etc. I also did a manual inspection of her vent, in case she was egg bound. She was spongy feeling around her bottom, but I couldn’t feel any obvious masses. However, more gross white liquid was ejected during the inspection. Given her long history of soft shell eggs, I was pretty sure I was dealing with an infection due to internal laying, for which there’s no good outcome. However, at-home diagnostics for poultry illnesses is usually guesswork. So, I put her back in the coop and made sure she had water and food nearby. Yesterday morning, she was clearly no better, but not obviously worse, either – hens are so stoic in their suffering. She would eat and drink a bit, but was not pooping on her own. I repeated the previous days treatment and exam with the same, but even grosser, results. I then informed the other member of the household that I felt Bandit was probably terminally ill. We debated on and off during the day, how ill was she and should we euthanize her sooner or later – and could we euthanize her? There was a strong lobby for giving it a bit more time, continuing with what little treatment I could offer. She made it through the night and seemed the about the same this morning, but during her morning exam, when I massaged her abdomen she started to regurgitate liquid very similar to what was coming out the other end, and it was clear she was very, very ill and we needed to end her suffering. As I carried her outsides to get help from my chicken care partner, she started to gasp and, despite my best intentions to do the right thing, I freaked out and handed her off. Fortunately the less-freaking-out-person was able to dispatch her very quickly with a firm pull and twist – really the most humane method to euthanize a suffering hen if you have your wits about you.

Because I still wasn’t totally sure what had happened inside of Miss Bandit, I had full intentions of conducting a necropsy. I laid her out on the workbench and got a good start on prepping to open the abdominal cavity to have a look. Unfortunately, this wasn’t something for which I had prepared, and I was having difficulty following the instructions I was using. In addition, the ancient poultry shears I found in the garage were not nearly sharp enough to do the job. So, I abandoned the task before I completely mucked it up, but I think it is something I think I should learn to do.

Anyway, despite Bandit’s difficult personality (she desperately wanted to be part of the popular crowd, and as a result, could be quite vicious towards other hens, or even wild birds), she will certainly be missed. Four Day Old Silver Laced Wyandotte ChicksimageMeanwhile, I’m still concerned about Miss Kitty’s  health. Her internal issues haven’t cleared up yet, and of course, now she’s also a bit lonely. I will start chaperoning some meet and greets with the young ones, so hopefully she can make some new friends while we work on clearing up whatever is ailing her.

Odds and Ends

I’ve been meaning to post on various topics for the past 10 days, but things are so hectic here I haven’t had a chance to pull out the camera to snap any decent shots. So, instead, here’s an update based on whatever photos I can find on my phone.2016-05-15 10.00.07
2016-05-15 15.59.33

The new coop is finally done enough (I still need to  build the storm hatches and nest boxes) that we could relocate the six-week-old pullets yesterday.  I’ve moved Ezzie in with them and she seems pleased to have the company, although there was a bit of growling and gentle pecking at first. The little ones have no sense of personal space, of course,  and it took her a while to teach them that pecking food debris out of her mutton chops is definitely not allowed. Meanwhile, the two Wyandottes are all out of sorts about the addition. They kvetched non-stop all day yesterday, to the point that someone (not me, of course) may have threatened them with the stew pot.2016-05-15 13.08.56

The garden is very full and starting to produce small bits of new interesting things. The cool weather greens are starting to wilt in the mid-afternoon heat, despite the shade cloth, so it’s time to start pulling the turnips and mustard greens, whether they’re ready or not. Yesterday I pinched off a handful of shallot scapes (I think this is the first time the French Red shallots have sent up bloom stalks) which, along with a bundle of herbs and a handful of fresh fava beans, made a great pesto. I’ve been snagging an occasional snap pea snack, with the shelling peas only about a week away from the first harvest. Also, I took advantage of the grape vines needing a bit of a trim, and used the nice big tender leaves I scavenged for a small batch of dolmas (the veggie version, typically served chilled). I followed Claudia Roden’s recipe from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food and they were, hands down, the best dolmas I’ve eaten, due in part, I think, to the fresh grape leaves.2016-05-15 16.14.05

Finally, here’s a progress shot of the “giant asparagus” from 2 days ago: 2016-05-14 08.54.39Makes the Jack and the Beanstalk story seem totally viable, no?