Never Fear ~~ just gopher snakes. They are welcome here, where we are plagued by the blasted rodents, that have been known to take down 5′ tall sunflowers and small trees. In the last 26 years, we have seen only a few gopher snakes… about 3 or 4 feet long and very skinny. But in the span of 2 weeks recently, our cats have drawn our attention to HUGE gopher snakes! This one climbed the fence to avoid our cats, who were on both sides. Couldn’t believe it pulled itself up on the fence, and stayed there for quite some time. We think that the first one is bigger than the second one we saw, although it was in the same area. What amazed us was that they climbed so high off the ground, over 12 feet into the trees!
- After working so many years as a programmer, I find it hard to sit in front of a computer when nature beckons me so! I would rather spend my days working the soil, and watching the birds and the bees.
- With Facebook and all of the other social media apps out there these days, it felt like there’s not enough time to post to each in a unique way.
- I find that I post pictures of the same things year after year (e.g., blooming plants, harvest, owls, etc.). Seems like I’m repeating myself (even though the plants are getting bigger and better every year).
I do like that I can search my blog easily to look up recipes, and other specific info, so I’m again promising myself that I will try to take the pictures… and the time to blog more often. Wish me luck!
Happy New Year!
Since allowing our hens to free range resulted in a hawk getting a free chicken dinner, we now keep our girls locked up tight. Chickens are very industrious and will turn their yard into dry bare dirt in no time. I wanted to encourage more biological activity (aka bugs and stuff). So we’ve put in some 2.x 4s topped with wire. Separating the chickens from the ground will build the soil instead of letting it erode. Underneath is compost and grass seed. It’s starting to come up nicely and the girls are keeping it freshly trimmed and fertilized. On the lower level, we’ve added oak leaf mulch (which is abundant around here), to create a nice deep litter level. I tossed some diatomaceous earth and ashes in with the dirt in the corners where they like to take a dust bath to help with mites and fleas. Happy hens lay delicious eggs!
The raised vegetable bed is doing fabulous with all the winter rain. Harvesting this month: Swiss chard, cilantro, lettuce, kale and green onions. Colorful aeoniums are spilling out of the milk can lamp post. A pair of ducks have moved in across the way, enjoying ‘Lake Perkarsky”. This cozy little lake only happens during years with above average rainfall. Such a pretty little red centipede! Found it snuggled up under a piece of driftwood. The chicken shed is being engulfed in succulents.
Last January, we added a new coop behind the chicken shed. It is a nice covered shelter with 2×4 roosts up off the floor. This made room for more chicks and provided an easy way to collect eggs and chicken manure for our compost pile.
The four new hens have just started laying and we obviously need another nest box. The girls were making such a racket trying to share this spot! So I added another hole that opens into the inside cupboard, by cutting a board and adding some trim. Complete with a divider and plastic tub of hay ready to go. The new girls (4 out 6) love the new coop and roost in here every night. But the older hens still like to sleep in the original nest box where we brooded the new chicks last summer. The tarp on the floor catches the chicken manure for the compost pile.They started using the third nest box right away. It’s so easy to collect the eggs from the inside cupboard. Every hen lays a specific size, shape and color, so it’s easy to tell the difference.
The morning sun lights up the lanterns out front.
I like to pot up a six pack or two of coleus every summer – such beautiful colors! Lots and lots of Meyer Lemons on our little tree. Zinnias galore in felt bag planters, where they are safe from deer and gophers. These come in handy as flowers to dress up succulents on the tables of Moss Landing Cafe. Owl feathers can be found almost daily this time of year… barn owl molting season. Our Deodar Cedar trees put out a few cones as usual in early spring. But now there are lots of new small cones too… that’s very weird.
This huge aeonium flower stalk is amazing! Already trimmed off a couple dozen stems of blooms for table vases, and it’s still going strong. Love the way the lower leaves are turning color.Nasturtiums climb over everything with their perky (and also edible) flowers. This cactus used to be a 4″ tall in a pot on my windowsill over 20 years ago. Epiphyllum mixed with burro tail succulents love the shade of this oak tree.
What has caused everything this spring to bloom so above and beyond? The long suffering drought… followed by above normal rain this season? We don’t know, but it’s amazing!
This Epiphyllum (Orchid cactus) has over 50 buds!! We can hardly wait until it’s a huge, hanging mass of flowers. My sweet peas have grown so tall that I have to use a ladder to cut my daily bouquet. I learned to plant sweet pea seeds in mid September when I lived in the hot San Joaquin valley. They sprouted nicely in the warm fall weather to about 6″ tall. Peas handle cold winter temperatures easily, and they start to shoot up by February. You get blooms early, that fizzle later in the hot weather. Now with the cool summers here on the coast, they keep blooming for months!This Echium pininana alba, also known as Echium ‘Snow Tower’ is a rare white form of the Tree Echium. It’s grown over 12 feet tall (so far), and is covered with bees. Totally drought tolerant, this plant doesn’t need any summer watering, and really dresses up the cactus garden. The lupine across the street is putting on a show like never before. Until last year, Popeye the neighborhood horse lived there, and kept everything trimmed to the ground. This property was sold and he had to move next door. Hopefully the new owners like lupine too.
Since we had to move our fence over recently, it seemed like a good time to do something different with this spot on the back side of our chicken shed. So began the chicken coop upgrade project.Plans began for a small attached coop when I came up with the brilliant idea of cutting through the back wall and use the existing shelves for nest boxes. We cut a hole and put up wood strips to cover the cracks in the old shed wall, and added a section of fence on the other side. The ground was leveled and covered with wire, with block walls on both sides. Salvaged wood and fiberglass was used for the next steps.A couple of 2 x 4s with smoothed edges went up for roosts. The floor was covered with straw and we added a ‘dust bath’ tub of wood ash and diatomaceous earth. Hens naturally take dust baths in dry dirt to keep away pests like mites. This tub will stay dry in here during the wet winter.
The shelf worked out beautifully for next boxes, where eggs can be gathered from inside. The large door on the downhill side allows for easy access. The hens are hesitant to use the coop as it’s new and different, but we’re optimistic that they will love it. Then we can more easily introduce new chicks in the future, using our old community nest box as a brooder. We’ll just divide the chicken yard with wire until the chicks are old enough to mix with the older hens.
I just love my greenhouse-workshop! This favorite spot is never too hot or too cold, the cement block base is a thermal mass that keeps the temperature stable. See how it was built here.
The new downspouts and leader heads look really great! Spray painting them copper was an easy way to get the expensive look we were going for. It was so good to hear the rain splashing down them last night. The two downspouts that empty into rain barrels now have a two-way split that will deliver rain to a tank in the front when the barrels are full.
A few weeks ago, one of our two black & white Barred Rock chickens started trying to crow in the morning. Then the other one joined in! Our neighbor verified that one was indeed male, and was growing spurs on his legs. There’s a chance this could happen when buying sexed chicks from the feed store, but it’s our first time in 20+ chicks over the years. Our chicken shed is close to our bedroom, so we don’t want a rooster, and found him a good home.
Meanwhile, the verified female chicken continues to crow every morning (see video). Hopefully when they start laying later this month, she will figure out that she’s not a rooster after all. Update 10/01/15: So much for verified female… the rooster was a late bloomer and was finally getting spurs on his legs. The crowing got to be too much and too loud. He went to a good home where he can be as loud as he wants.
The chicks are about a month old now, with just a little fuzz left, showing through their new feathers. They stick together most of the time and all five made it up onto the ‘big hen’ perch in the corner of their yard. They are getting the hang of putting themselves to bed at night, in the nest box where they were brooded. The shot below was taken through the chicken shed window and shows an interesting reflection… looks like the nest box has a window too!
A couple of weeks ago, our two remaining hens went up for adoption. Our neighbor has several older chickens that are living out their life, being spoiled next door. It’s time to start fresh with some new chicks. This is the the fourth set of baby chicks here and this picture shows the latest Nest Egg Gardens brood on their first day. Three Rhode Island Reds, and two Barred Rocks. In 8 or 9 months, they will start laying brown eggs (the dark shells blend in better when composted). Once you eat eggs that fresh, store bought eggs just don’t compare.
Can’t you just imagine their heavenly fragrance?Â Sweet peas are one of my favorite flowers for that reason. With our mild California winters, it’s best to plant them in mid September. The seedlings get about 6 inches tall before winter and withstand frost easily. Then as soon as it warms up, they shoot right up and start blooming before the summer heat.
This Wisteria floribunda (Japanese Wisteria) is different from the more popular Chinese Wisteria (Wisteria sinensis). Chinese Wisteria blooms before leafout, which puts on quite a show. Japanese Wisteria’s blooms open more gradually… are longer (1 1/2 ft.) and much more fragrant. These vines are not fussy about soil, drought tolerant and need pruning at least twice a year to control size and shape and encourage bloom production. This sturdy arbor was built a few years ago after this vine twisted and brought down the previous arbor, which had posts sunk into the ground.
Last year was the first time in 6 years that barn owls did not raise babies in our nest box. We’re not sure why they didn’t lay eggs last summer. Maybe the drought affected them? Or it was nature’s way of controlling the population? We’ve watched them raise 21 baby owls in 5 years in our box, plus there was another pair that laid eggs in a tree around the corner in 2013. That prompted a neighbor in that area to put up an owl box. There was a lot of owl activity in both of our boxes last year… but no baby owls. This year looks promising. The female has been roosting in the box since February 11th. The male has been feeding her in there, so we think she’s laying eggs. He swoops down from the palm tree every night at sunset… goes inside and they make noises and move around for a minute before he takes off down the canyon to hunt.
More about owls
An amazing program on KQED
These vegetable seedlings are ready to transplant into the raised bed. Lettuce and Swiss chard join kale and other greens. Covered the seedlings on both sides of the peas with lightweight row cover material to help with the transition to outside… protecting from the cold and bugs, while allowing rain to penetrate.
At the extreme North/East corner of the grounds of Nest Egg Gardens, resides a old dilapidated picnic bench, weathered and peeling. Not as popular as it used to be… this high spot, above the chicken shed has a nice sunset view, up over the roof of the homestead. The palm trees provide roosting space for a pair of barn owls, who fly out at dusk and soar up and down the canyon every night.
The new neighbors cut down the bishop pine tree that was growing on the fence line, over the chicken shed. The tree was a shrub 20 years ago, but grew tall fast and has been dumping pine needles on the netting over the chicken yard and in the shed gutters for years. The hens just might miss it this summer when there’s no shade. Wouldn’t be the first time we put up a cover or umbrella for shade.
It’s been a year and a half and Buddy has grown up. He weighs 10 lbs and spends his day patrolling the grounds. He comes in and out of the cat door like he owns the joint, snacking on cat food at all hours. He knows the routine and is right there when it’s time to drink out of the hot tub or go for a walk (he likes to go along). Every time we come home, he is there to meet us in the driveway. He kept the squirrels from eating all the apples last year and dead rats/mice/gophers turn up regularly (at least part of them turn up). Our other cat, Rose, has even accepted him as part of the crew now.