Friday, July 3, 2015

A young man is emerging!

Our wonder-full young man has entered the tween era!

He is energetic, active, cuddly & sweet.
He has an ear for music & voices - he can name tons of radio songs &/or artists, 
other songs that they sing, or movies they sing in! He picks voice actors in animated movies too!
He loves to sing, but won't do it for a crowd.
He loves all things Minion, LEGO, & Big Hero 6.
He (finally) loves to ride his bike.

He loves his sister ... most days!

He gets himself into a good bit of this! 

S'more Birthday treats were requested ... 

Sparkly fun is an annual birthday tradition for this July-born boy! 

New construction challenges met with Meccano ...

Party time! K & his best friend T had a night at Chuck-E-Cheese's playing video games!!

I love you K-man!!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Cheep, Cheep from some different peeps!!

So it all started with my beautiful Marigold (RIRxSL) who at only 7 months old, and laying for barely a month, decided to go broody on me. After 2-3 attempts to "break" her broodiness, I decided to let her go. A co-worker told me she had an abundance of QUAIL eggs, so I asked if she would be willing to give me some for Marigold to try and hatch. I have no shortage of fertile chicken eggs, but I also have two other broody hens set to incubate 10 eggs between them.

So on June 1, we put eight tiny quail eggs under Marigold, in a plastic washtub, in her coop shared with 3 other hens. NOTE: The large white eggs are fake chicken eggs, for size comparison, and also kept with the others as a buffer from the full weight of chicken, versus a quail hen. My co-worker told me 30 days to incubate. 

Anticipated hatch date of June 30.

So here is the lovey Marigold, settling in for her first incubation/hatch.

Over the first couple of weeks, I had to keep taking other eggs out of her box. I think when she was on her daily break, one of the other hens was laying her eggs in there (despite having their own next box.) Unfortunately, some of the quail eggs were broken with the extra traffic (or jealousy) and we were down to four.

A week ago (around 21 days) my co-worker told me her (incubator) quail eggs were hatching (around 21 days!) Yikes! I moved Marigold to personal quarters in our basement on June 20.

This morning (June 25), as the past few mornings, I went downstairs and greeted her and listened carefully for any extra sounds ... SILENCE. I turned the lamp on and went out to feed the other hens. When I came back in I heard faint peeps ... could it be??!!

Before I knew it a teeny-tiny little chick emerged from under her, then a second one!

OH. MY. GOSH. CUTENESS. !! These adorable little peeps came out of eggs that are barely an inch or so long, so they are soooo tiny! Marigold is a Mama!! Hopefully two more to hatch.

Had to get my daughter to day camp, and myself to an appointment ... do you know how hard it is to leave adorable, teeny, tiny peeps?

Later this morning when I came home I checked in on Marigold and her babies. It was very quiet, but I started calling out to them and heard them under her ... after a bit out they came, one ... two ... and THREE!! The third chick still quite sleek/slick looking - so likely hatched this morning!

Here's "EENY" !!

Here's "MEENY"

There's a newly hatched "MINY"
And we're waiting for one "MO"!!

Chick Therapy. It's CHEEP (I so had to go there!) and it's effective! And I really needed it after the stress of losing my entire set of keys, with my collection of shopping tags, and two USB drives a couple days ago. Chicks ... chill... relax... repeat as needed!

And for size comparison to a chicken-chick, check this out ...

Pharoah, a brother of Marigold, hatched last September

One last pic of EENY & MEENY before I get back to work!

UPDATE: We have four out of four!

And we have one "MO"!!

Marigold in her private brooder box ... her food/water is upper left in front of her,
and I set up two bottle caps (lower right) with food water for the chicks to discover.
The extra water bottle with a nipple is overkill right now.

Monday, June 15, 2015

News from the Peeps - Week 18 - Laying!

The girls enjoy some free ranging time in the yard
G'day Third Graders!

Guess who's laying eggs?? Yes, your little chickies are all grown up and some of us have officially graduated to "HEN" status! Check it out ...

One of these eggs is not like the other ones ...
The white eggs are from us!! Aren't they beautiful?! The brown egg (from the other hens) is here for size comparison ... it is a "large" egg. The smaller white eggs (about 1.5 inches long) are what we call "pullet eggs," the first eggs that a pullet starts to lay (and thus she become a "hen") Within a day or two however, the eggs we lay are larger (the bigger white egg) and within a week or two will be close to the size of the brown egg!

Can you guess which one of us might have laid the egg? Yep, Henrietta on the left there ... her bright red comb and wattle are good indicators that she is ready to lay eggs. The girl on the left might have a week or two yet to go. Even though we were all hatched the same week, we develop individually as you can see. Maybe Henrietta got to the food quicker than the other one?!

The girls check out the "compost corral"
We've had a few opportunities to free range in the yard in the past couple of weeks. One of our favorite places to scratch around is the "compost corral" ... a big pile of compost and mulch (surrounded by straw bales so we don't make such a mess of it) and buried treasure!! Buried treasure you ask? You bet! There's all kinds of goodies in here, like food scraps, bugs, big fat worms, insect larvae, grass clippings ... it's a chicken buffet!! And when we get the compost all pooped in, scratched around and broken down ... it will make some great, nourishing topsoil for the garden!

Chicken "salad bar"
After some time in the compost pile, we then browse the chicken salad bar for our leafy greens and seeds, and more bugs! This is the life a chicken is supposed to have! It is sad to think of the millions of chickens who live in sheds and cages, with no sunlight, no compost, no dust bath, and no salad bar :(

Egg-u-cation: Because we get to live the life that a chicken is supposed to live, our eggs are much healthier than most of the eggs you'll buy in the store — higher in protein, lower in fat and cholesterol, and higher in vital micro-nutrients like Omega 3's. Eggs are the most easily digestible, and one of the healthiest, forms of protein you can eat! And you can do so much with them: scrambled, fried, poached, boiled, souffle, quiche, baked, egg salad, devilled eggs, meringue, french toast, milkshakes, mayonnaise ... and so much more. Y.U.M.!

Thanks for doing such a great job at studying embryology, incubating us and hatching us! It was so fun to visit with you as we grew. I hope you have enjoyed our adventure together!

Cluck, cluck from your peeps!!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

My baby girl is ten!

My baby girl is ten! Where have the years gone?!

She is smart, sensitive, caring & compassionate. She loves to swim, cook, craft, & sing.
She is self-driven, works hard, & something of a perfectionist (when she chooses!)
She has a great belly laugh when you get her going!
She is strong-willed, occasionally defiant, but quick to apologize & forgive.
She is a force to be reckoned with!

In honor of reaching this double-digit milestone,
we had a Girls Glamor Party to celebrate! 

Four of her best friends (H, K, F & M) joined us for an afternoon of nail-painting & photography fun, with lots of yummy treats thrown in.

Professional nail painting ...

Glamour photos ... 

Do you remember the era of the "United Colors of Benetton"?? (They still exist!) ... 
These spectacular kids would make a great poster for them!

T's best friends from school, swimming, & life ... a beautiful bunch of girls — inside and out!

This year's birthday dessert ... cream puffs & strawberries ... Y.U.M. 

The girls enjoyed a healthy assortment of tasty birthday treats!

I love you sweet T!!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Gardening - an ongoing, lifelong experiment

Chinese lettuce in a Square Foot Garden
I think I was born in a cabbage patch. As a kid I had a naturally green thumb, growing whatever I could, in whatever dirt and container I could find. Mostly by instinct, a lot by experimentation. I loved to be in the garden and in nature, more than I liked to be with people. I also loved to watch my Papa (grandad) work in his vegetable garden, and to eat the magnificent fruits of his labors prepared so lovingly by my Nana. His pristine garden was off limits to this curious & budding young gardener, but I observed and took mental notes, and stored them away for many years. Papa also taught me the basics of seed saving.

Many moons later, I studied Horticulture. I did a four-year apprenticeship in Horticultural Trade Studies — ornamental gardening to be more precise — with some extra night schooling in my last year to get an Advanced Certificate. I may still have the written notes! Then I spent a year in Canada on an agricultural exchange program, dabbling in vegetable gardening, poultry keeping, and even a stint on a bison ranch!

Our Chrysanthemums feed a host of bees, wasps and other vital pollinators
Then for the better part of the last 20 years I have pursued other interests ... photography, travel, youth and camping ministries, outdoor recreation, multi-media and communications, marriage, family ...

And now on the other side of the planet (Pennsylvania) to where I started (Australia), I find myself being drawn back to my first passion - that of gardening. And roping my family in with me! But now it is functional more than ornamental. We want to feed our family. We want to feed our chickens (and future livestock?) We want to improve the soil. We want to attract beneficial insects & pollinators. We want to be good stewards of the plot of earth God has entrusted to us. We want our garden to be as natural and organic — and as easy to maintain — as possible. And we want to leave a legacy for future generations.

We eat salads three to four times a week in Spring & early summer, then again late summer through late fall until the first frosts. Hardier greens like kale & spinach will withstand some light frosts and can be overwintered in a cold frame or greenhouse.
Having travelled half the world, I have encountered a significant variety of gardening environments & methods. And I have made many observations along the way. I have also continued to learn a great deal in the midst of my other pursuits, especially in this wonderful digital age. And now I find myself returning to my roots (you knew it was coming!) combining myriad experiences, knowledge, methods, and some common sense. And I am still experimenting!

One major adaptation was switching from two-season gardening (cool & hot in Australia) to four-season gardening (everything from 20 below to hot and humid - Zone 6-7, North America)

A few years ago I discovered Square Foot Gardening (SFG). Check it out here: After a couple years of poor results from "row" gardening this looked appealing, especially in our small veggie garden space (20ftx20ft.) Being the cheapskates we are, we obtained whatever free soil/compost we could - free compost from our township, leaves from autumn drop, our own kitchen/yard-waste- composted, recycled potting soil from dead potted plants. Each garden bed had a different soil mix! Funny thing is, I only thought to mulch (also free from township) the paths between the garden beds (a sad testament to my years of study and common sense.)

Early years of Square Foot Gardening. Different soil in each box - white specks are either eggshells or perlite/polystyrene beads. Pathways heavily mulched. Decent yields.
My observations from the first couple years of Square Foot Gardening:
  • Pure township compost (made with leaves) dried out very quickly
  • Pure home-made compost (all fruit/veg scraps & eggshells, lawn clippings and yard waste) dried out rapidly too, but it also grew LOTS of "rogue" veggies (like squash and tomatoes) that never really produced well. Critters loved to dig in it for "leftovers" too.
  • Recycled potting mix (with slow release fertilizer beads, perlite, vermiculite and {cringe} polystyrene beads) was added to the other composts for drainage — perhaps too much?
  • The strawberries spread themselves to the mulched paths and grew better and prolifically there. Were they trying to tell me something?!
  • Most of these soils were somewhat sterile and void of nutrients. The plants grew, but definitely not to their full potential.
  • We had to water the garden a LOT (couple times a week) - too much for my liking.
  • Despite all the soil & water issues, we got a better yield and the gardens were easier to maintain. Weeding was a breeze because the soil was not compacted.
2014 4'x4' SFG bed filled with homemade compost, and planted with lettuce, mustard greens, kale and onions.
The same bed a month later! Those mustard greens (bright green) got HUGE - quickly!! They needed lots of water.
Last year I tried my hand at straw-bale gardening. Though the melons and zucchini got off to a great start, fed with liquid manure fertilizer, they ended up in almost all-day shade and then got mildew and/or attacked by squash bugs. The silver lining on that cloud was the wonderful mulch those bales provided this year! I think I'll try it again in some sunny spots this year.

2014: Honeydew melons off to a great start in a straw bale, but the continual shade reduced flowers & pollinators & mildew took over in the end :(
In the past year, after watching far too many documentaries about our {failing, toxic, destructive...} food supply system, and the trend toward local food sourcing and small-scale farming, I started spending more time researching "the latest" gardening methods ... discovering permaculture (, sustainable gardening, Back to Eden gardening (, and other such techniques that when you dig deeper (!) you discover are really old-fashioned, time-tested, "nature's way" of growing anything, preserving this precious planet, and feeding ourselves the healthiest food imaginable!

One recurring suggestion that could not be overstated was MULCH

The benefits of mulch are myriad. 
  • Mulch conserves water
  • Mulch breaks down to build topsoil and provide nutrients
  • Mulch helps retain soil nutrients & provides a buffer when concentrated nutrients/fertilizer are applied
  • Mulch protects & provides habitat for important & vital soil organisms like worms & fungi
  • Mulch prevents soil compaction when you are walking around in your garden
  • {Now think of these in the context of a healthy forest floor!}
So this year we have applied mulch - everywhere we could, but primarily on the Squares & open veggie gardens and around our fruit trees. The ornamental gardens came second. I even mulched potted plants as much as I could! Leaf mulch, aged straw bales, chipped up garden waste, free township wood mulch, and composted/aged deep litter from our chicken coops (pine shavings and chicken manure.) 

My observations in the first month of intentional mulching:
  • All plants that are mulched are thriving
  • Mulched plants are bigger and healthier looking than unmulched counterparts
  • The soil underneath is retaining moisture and we are watering less
  • Mulched plants have fewer pests & diseases
  • {All that noticed in just a month!}
2015: SFG so far (May) with beginnings of Back to Eden row at left. All beds mulched and off to a GREAT start!
We also expanded our chicken flock from 4 birds in 2013 to nearly 70 birds this year! Note that 24 are headed for "freezer camp" in a month, and I hope to sell a dozen or more pullets (almost-laying hens) :)

But more importantly we started utilizing our chickens for more than just eggs:
  • Their manure a.k.a. "Black Gold" can be used to activate compost piles with beneficial microbials, adds nitrogen to balance carbon-rich compost materials, and can be made into liquid fertilizer and fertilizer tea.
  • Their their natural instincts to dig & scratch, turning & breaking down compost piles, lightly digging & turning compost & mulch into topsoil layers (who needs a rake and a hoe?!)
  • Their "pesticide genes" — they eat weeds and bugs & larvae folks! They seem to instinctively avoid the beneficial insects too. They'll clean out our veggie gardens between plantings/seasons. 
  • This winter I hope to use them to "manage" & passively heat a greenhouse!
Our girls love digging through this pile of composting leaves for bugs, worms and insect larvae
We are also being more intentional about planting for pollinators. Pennsylvania experienced a 60% decline in bee populations over the last year! I blame the abundant and widespread use of herbicides and pesticides (even in backyards). So we are going to propagate and plant as many pollinator-friendly native & zone-appropriate perennials as we can. Butterfly Bush, Cone Flower, Black Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Marigolds, Calendula, Rose of Sharon, Heliopsis, Money Plant (if only it grew the real kind!) ... many of them with edible flowers and foliage for the chickens too! And weeds are our friends (except in my ornamental & veggie beds) ... Our lawn is more weeds than grass, but it is a gourmet-salad-bar for the chickens! And we could even consume some of them ourselves!! Dandelion tea anyone?!

Our lawn is more weeds than grass — a gourmet salad bar for chickens!
Rudbeckia (Black Eyed Susan)
Cone Flower
Did I mention we bought 4.7 acres a couple years ago? To get away from our one-eighth acre suburban "jail." Our piece of heaven-on-earth is begging to be turned into a sustainable, permaculture homestead. A work in SLOW progress. Building the new house is a more formidable and costly task than we anticipated. But we only live 2 miles away, so we are slowly starting the gardening part. Most of the chickens live there and are working and improving the soil for us!

Now to figure out how to protect our flocks and gardens from deer, groundhogs, rabbits, skunks, weasels, foxes, raccoons and other pests! But that's another post for another day!

Stay tuned for updates on this year's gardening experiments!