I swear we’re actually doing work on the house

I realize I haven’t really posted much this year, and the few posts I’ve put up have focused on the chickens and/or the garden. But I swear we’re actually doing work on the house, too! It’s just that a lot of it has been rather unglamourous.

We now have a functioning toilet in the downstairs (which means we can both poop at the same time!), plus a laundry sink with running water and a washer/dryer hookup. There is a real sub-floor above the crawl space, and the workshop has been moved down there for the time being. We now have a hard-wired smoke alarm in every room upstairs, meaning our house finally meets (actually, exceeds) code standards. There’s been framing finalization and door-hanging, and the beginning of finish work is approaching in some places. But we still have a long way to go, of course.

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Three Eggs!

Hattie laid her first egg today, at 24 weeks and 4 days of age. This means all three hens are laying now! Clockwise, starting from left, are today’s eggs from Mathilda, Little Jerry Seinfeld, and Hattie:

We’ve been keeping up with the egg production so far, only giving away one dozen to a friend who chicken-sat for us while we were on vacation, but with three eggs a day it may start to feel a bit like Lucy and Ethel in the chocolate factory

And now, in case you’ve been missing them, some pictures of the chicky birds:

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The Last Two Months (that’s, like, 5 chicken-years)

What with starting a new job and trying to finish the chicken coop and blah blah blah…anyway, here’s an update.

Sometime in late April, the chicks began escaping from their brooder. They were getting tall enough that it seemed cruel to keep the lid on, because they couldn’t extend their necks all the way, so we started leaving the lid off. This worked well most of the time, but when it was getting dark in the evenings, the chicks would start “sundowning,” or going a little crazy (see photo at left). They sought both light and our company, which was sweet at times but also a little terrifying. One night Hattie flew into the kitchen while Aaron and I were cooking dinner. A few days later, Aaron and his parents came home to find this:

Chickens on the furniture! And chicken poop, too! These things needed to move outside, and quickly!

Work had already begun, but clearly the process needed to be expedited. Seen below is the foundation for the coop, made from stones we dug out of the crawlspace. Around the perimeter, just inside the stones, is a layer of 1/2-inch hardware cloth buried twelve inches deep to keep out digging predators.

As the chicks got bigger (and the weather got warmer), we started letting them go outside more frequently whenever we were there to supervise. This was partially for their own benefit–the brooder was beginning to seem a little crowded–and partially for ours–I was tired of them perching on the edge of the brooder and pooping outside of it. In the pictures below, the chicks are approximately one month old and have entered what I affectionately like to call their awkward stage.

It was also around this time that I heard the first “cluck.” The chicks were still predominantly “cheep”ing at this point, but every so often there would be a cluck–very exciting!

Here, Aaron came home over lunch to do some framing:

We decided to give the coop a green roof because (A) we didn’t want to lose 30 square feet of yard and (B) it would help insulate the coop and (C) green roofs are awesome! The whole roof slopes about an inch toward the front, and Aaron rigged up some kind of drainage system out of parts he bought at the hardware store and then modified. The whole thing is lined with 6-mil pond liner, topped with a layer of coarse pea gravel, then filter fabric (as seen below).

On top of the filter fabric, we put a lightweight planting medium composed of a horse manure compost mix, perlite, and peat moss. We then planted the whole thing with petunias. A mass planting of petunias is pretty boring, but we had so many coming up from seed elsewhere that it was just too economical to pass up. The coop is mostly done, but we still have to finish the egg boxes before they start laying.

They’ve been out there for about three weeks now, and they seem to enjoy it. We left their brooder inside the coop for the first week or so, in order for them to have some familiarity. For the first few days, we had to pick them up and move them into the coop for the night, but they eventually figured it out and come down on their own every morning and put themselves to bed at night. The whole run is secured from predators (so far, at least), so the chickens can be on their own schedule and Aaron and I can sleep in. And a good thing, because when I leave for work at 6:30 in the mornings, they’re already out in the run.

And of course, they still get to free range whenever we’re hanging out in the backyard, which is pretty much all the time.

I’m excited for them to start laying eggs for us, but I’ll miss when they were babies, tiny and sweet:

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2012: The year my annuals became perennials

I thought petunias were annuals, but apparently I was mistaken, as three of mine have come back. I hadn’t gotten around to emptying last year’s planter boxes yet, and this mild winter has rewarded my procrastination!

And our little vegetable seed starters are doing fine. I procrastinated on transplanting these, too, and it’s a good thing because the temperature dipped down to 30°F last night and there was frost this morning. The seedlings, still in their little cups on a tray, were easy to move inside for the night. (The petunias, fortunately, appear healthy and happy in their little planter boxes despite last night’s cold temperatures.)

I recently got some seed starting inspiration from Offbeat Home, one of my favorite websites ever. I’m not sure if the eggshells (as seen above) will work or not–I used a toothpick to poke drainage holes in the bottoms, but this was only after I accidentally flooded the seeds with water and then let them sit in damp puddles overnight while I fretted about what to do. I’ll have to wait and see how those eggshell seeds turn out. But the idea to use toilet paper rolls? Genius! I planted some pumpkin and winter squash seeds in the empty rolls, placed them under the chicks’ heat lamp (because germination for both of these crops is best achieved when the soil is 85-95°F), and in only two days had 100% germination! The packages estimated the germination at 7-14 days, so I’m feeling pretty awesome about my horticultural prowess right now.

The garden might end up being a little too ambitious this year with all these vegetables I plan on growing, but I’m pretty excited about it right now. I think part of the reason we’ve lost interest in the past was the lack of variety: tomatoes, peppers, and basil have been our main crops, with an occasional zucchini or salad green. But this year! This year we’re trying all kinds of plants, with the usual tomatoes and peppers but also squash (winter and summer), all kinds of greens, some beans and peas (which have always seemed really intimidating to me for some reason), beets, onions, carrots, and on and on. And herbs! Bajillions of herbs! Oh I am so excited!

Aaron built us some awesome raised beds, which don’t look like much right now, but will soon hold the bounty of awesomeness that I plan to eat all summer.

Oh! And the ornamental onions are flowering!

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The Chicks are Growing Quickly!

It happened seemingly overnight: I put baby chicks to bed, and woke up the next morning to find miniature chickens! They’re getting all feathery, and they appear to have doubled in size! (They’ve averaged a 75% weight increase since we got them, but who’s counting?)

Here they are on the 2nd day we had them, approximately 11 days old, all cute and tiny. I swear they looked just like this when I went to bed yesterday night:

And here they are today, at approximately 17 days:

Hattie, our Buff Orpington, is the calmest and easiest to photograph (she’ll just sit in your hand and hold still–what a sweetie!):

Mathilda, our Plymouth Rock, was pretty shy at first but is coming around to us:

and Little Jerry Seinfeld, our Golden Comet, who is the most inquisitive. Here she is pecking at one of my freckles:

(In fact, while I was attempting to photograph Little Jerry, she walked right up my arm to my shoulder and looked directly at my left eye like she was going to peck it! Fortunately she just turned around and walked back down my arm.)

So needless to say, we are expediting the coop construction. This was all part of my master plan, of course–if I’d waited to get chicks until the coop was built, I never would have gotten chicks!

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Chicks Settling In

The chicks didn’t really do much on their first day–I think they were freaked out by the move. Yesterday and today, their antics have been much more entertaining. They’ve been running around the cage and flapping their wings and sparring. And at one point one of the yellow one’s heads broke the plane of the top of the brooder–we quickly made a cover out of some scrap hardware cloth! Aaron also made a little roosting bar, even though they don’t really need it yet, because they’ve been climbing up to perch on top of the thermometer.

They also do cute things like shimmy around in the pine bedding and yawn when they wake up from naps:

They also poop. A lot. I’ve been scooping it out with a plastic spoon. And two of them, the Plymouth Rock and the Golden Comet (whom we’ve named Little Jerry Seinfeld) had pasty bottoms–I had to use cotton balls dipped in warm water to gently (and slowly) soak the dried poop off. Nothing was plugged up, but I didn’t want their little chick butts to become occluded because they can die if that happens. So, aided by this video and helpful information, I dabbed with warm water until their little chicken vents, as they’re called, were winking at me.

Yesterday I gave them some yogurt mixed in with their chick feed (which is NOT the same as chicken feed), and today a few teeny pieces of hard-boiled egg. It sounds creepy and cannibalistic, I know, but apparently this is good for their little digestive tracts. Since then, I haven’t seen any more diarrhea, so I think they’re in good shape.

Okay, okay, all that about chick poop was kind of gross. Here are some cute videos to balance it out.

The Plymouth Rock attempts to perch on the thermometer:

And here are some general chick antics. It’s difficult to get good videos (or photos!) of them, because even the noise of my camera turning on seems to distract them from what they’re doing. I have several videos of the chicks standing still and just looking at the camera, seemingly forgetting that they were eagerly playing just moments before!

Aaron likes to pretend he was surprised when I brought them home, but he got me a very handy book, Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, for Christmas, so I think he is actually pretty excited about the chicks.

And how is Carmen reacting? Well, when they’re sleeping, she ignores them. When they’re active and peeping, she whines a lot. And when they’re out of the cage, I think she’s afraid of them.

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Flowers and Cuteness

A few more flowers have started blooming around here, including the serviceberries, some more daffodils, and the burgundy tulips. And we even had a banana pepper seed come up, which means the red lettuce is the only one still holding out. Plus, the clematis has grown up over the fence, and the onions will be in flower soon (months in advance, I may add).

But the real excitement here at the house, or urban farm as we should maybe start calling it, are the three baby chicks I brought home yesterday! One Plymouth Rock, one Buff Orpington, and one Golden Comet, each about ten days old.

These chicks were sexed, meaning they are 90-95% likely to be female (roosters are illegal here in town). They cost a little more ($3 a piece) than straight run chicks (chicks that haven’t been separated into males and females), but I certainly do not want to have to find a home for a rooster once he starts crowing. All are supposed to be good for laying, and the Buff Orpington and Plymouth Rock are actual chicken breeds. The Golden Comet is a sex-link hybrid that was developed so the males and females could be easily distinguished upon hatching.

They pretty much just hop around and scratch in their pine bedding and eat their chick starter feed and peep occasionally. But then sometimes they fall asleep in a pile, and it’s all kinds of cute.

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Berry Bushes and Busybodies

We planted some berry bushes! Four raspberries (‘Brandywine’, ‘Cumberland’, ‘Heritage’, and ‘Logan’) and three blueberries (‘Bluecrop’, ‘Earliblue’, and ‘Jersey’). This bed also has some Virginia creeper that we planted last summer in hopes that it would 1. cover our ugly white vinyl siding and 2. offer shade from the hot summer sun while allowing the winter sun to warm the house after the plant loses its leaves (hooray deciduous vines!).

A few people have seen me out there watering and asked what’s growing, and I’ve told them all to help themselves to the berries should they see any this summer. The response has been mostly positive, except for a neighborhood pastor who followed up a warning of “raspberries will take over everything” with a question of “are you sure you want that vine on your house?” and then had the nerve to proselytize me! If I didn’t already think church was mainly a place for nosy people to mind each other’s business, I certainly do now!

While I’m less than receptive to coerced church attendance, he does have a point about the plants. Yes, raspberries and Virginia creeper will take over–that’s exactly why I planted them. It’s a narrow urban bed with hot sun and frequent trampling by neighborhood children/dogs and salt spray from the city’s snow crews in winter. That, and it tends to collect cigarette butts and fast food wrappers. It needs tough plants!

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This Week in the Garden

These baby plants are making me hungry for fresh garden produce, but that’s still a ways off…

Quite a few seed starters have come up since last week. We now have

  • herbs: basil, borage, chives, cilantro, creeping thyme, sage, and tarragon
  • leaf vegetables: arugula, cress, mustard greens, and rainbow chard (lettuce, why haven’t you sprouted yet?)
  • edible ornamentals: nasturtium, love-lies-bleeding
  • and just for fun: columbine, pinks, and zinnia

I’m really excited about the edible ornamentals–here is a way to have pretty flowers in the backyard while simultaneously producing food AND increasing the diversity of my diet! Pretty much the coolest thing ever. I plan on expanding on edible ornamentals and edible landscaping in the garden this year. In fact, I recently found out that bee-balm or Monarda is also known as bergamot and can be used to make tea! Plus the bees love it, so it’s all around a good plant for the garden.

There has also been a lot of activity with the strictly ornamental plants, which aren’t as useful for my appetite, but which are hopefully keeping the early season bees satisfied. Two of the phlox plants are flowering, while the rest show signs of flowers coming soon. Our first tulips came up. And we have another daffodil! (I’m thinking of sitting in a rockingchair in the driveway with a shotgun to protect it.)

I’m also pretty excited about the ornamental onions and a different variety of tulips sending up happy balls of soon-to-be floral awesomeness. And inside the house, the Christmas cactus started blooming, so I moved it outside to serve as bee food.

Also, the hostas are coming back!

I was worried they’d died, but here they are! Yay for tidings of the coming growing season!

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Purging in the Bathroom

March Madness starts today, and despite having filled out a bracket, I’m just not that interested in sitting down all day to watch basketball. Don’t get me wrong, the first round of the NCAA tournament makes for two of the most fun days of the year and I usually can’t wait, but it’s been so unseasonably warm that I would much rather be outside with the dog, pruning and planting and maybe squeezing in a quick 5-mile run. I’m not sure when being productive started to sound like more fun than drinking beer and sitting on my ass watching basketball for twelve straight hours, but sometime between last year and this year, it happened. I fear I am becoming a puritan.

Anyway, I woke up early today to hopefully squeeze in some productivity before the basketball begins and decided to purge the bathroom. The bathroom is full of crap that we don’t use, all tucked into the medicine cabinet so tightly that it is impossible to tell what is even there, let alone use it. Our house is pretty lacking in storage anyway, so I decided that all the crap must go.

I normally hate to waste anything and therefore cling to things for years, partly because I’m cheap, and partly because most things can be reused/repurposed rather than thrown away (even recycling takes energy). But I purged, and it felt great!

Things I got rid of:

  • an old hairdryer: it was so old and so inefficient that I wouldn’t give it away lest the recipient take offense.
  • mouthwash: the human body has what is called normal flora, good bacteria that live on our skin and in our orifices that keep us healthy and fight off pathogens (infectious bacteria). Why would I want to use an antiseptic mouthwash to kill my normal flora? (And don’t even get me started on the American public’s dangerous overuse of antibacterial hand soap!)
  • expired medications: We have medications that expired years ago–they need to go. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT okay to flush unused medications down the toilet. I’ll save them for the annual hazardous waste collection day here in town.
  • lotion: we had about a dozen bottles that were close to empty that for some reason we had been saving. I’ll consider them empty and be done with them!
  • Aaron’s old electric razor (with permission, of course)
  • makeup: I don’t even wear makeup most of the time, so why did I have so much of it? Most of it had been accumulating since college or maybe even high school.
  • miscellaneous other junk: hair ties that have lost their elasticity, old contact lens cases, other crap. I may have accidentally thrown out Aaron’s contact lenses in his current case–oops!–but hey, you’ve got to be ruthless when you’re overcoming pack-rat tendencies.

There are now three boxes outside the bathroom for rarely-used items. The first, at left, contains extras of all the stuff we use in the bathroom, like shampoo and toothpaste and deodorant. The second, in the middle, contains rarely used grooming tools like the hairdryer, curling iron, and various hair products. The third, at right, contains the “medicine cabinet” with first aid items and medications (I labeled the tops with the drug names and expiration dates so they would be easier to find).

Here is my makeup post-purge, down from one box stuffed with crap and two overflowing ceramic bowls to a somewhat-organized box and one neatly contained ceramic bowl. The little bowl contains mascara (which I use approximately three times per month) and some eyeshadow and lipstick which I might wear once or twice during the spring. All the dark winter colors and bright summer colors are in the box, as are the things I almost never use, like foundation and blush and all that crap. I would get rid of it entirely, but it’s nice to have on hand if I’m going somewhere where I also have to dry my hair, like a funeral. Actually, I wouldn’t wear that much makeup to a funeral… maybe a costume party?

I threw out a bunch of pretty lipglosses because, pretty as they were, they make my lips feel sticky and gross; they were no fun to wear. It also makes no sense for me to have nail polish, since I cannot go more than three hours without chipping it anyway (maybe I should invest in some garden gloves?). I also tossed approximately ten mascaras that I wasn’t wild about, plus some garish eyeshadow and some face powder. I didn’t wear any of it anyway.

Our things are now easier to find, and the things we actually use frequently are now in the bathroom while the rest are in nice little boxes right outside the door. It’s now possible to know what we have (quite a bit of lotion, for example) and what we need to replenish (aspirin and sunscreen). Yay organizing!

I suppose now I can go watch some basketball…

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