Friday, March 26, 2010
Well, it sure is Spring, isn't it?
Totoro, my sweet, silly, black silkie chicken, has gone broody. This is no surprise. Silkies are fantastic little mothers, and love nothing more than to raise chicks after chicks after chicks.
It all started early in the morning last weekend. Rich noticed Totoro wasn't in the yard with the other chickens. I thought at first she was just laying. But she was still in the nest around noon. And still there in the afternoon. And still there at night, even after the rest of the flock was roosting. You see, rather than abandoning the egg she'd just laid, like most modern hatchery birds do, Totoro had decided to become a mom. You can see her here, sitting on her egg, as well as everyone else's eggs, keeping them all nice and toasty warm.
Of course, since my chickens' closest experience with being serviced by a real rooster is having me grab their tails and ruff up their feathers a bit (What?! It makes them happy, okay!) Totoro can sit on that nest until my non-existent cows come home (I'm not that far gone yet, people!) and she won't get any chicks.
That is, unless I slip some fertile eggs under her. And I could. Yes, I could. And that would make her happy. Yes. Very Happy. I could use the interwebz, and contact a breeder. For about $25 that breeder could bubble-wrap and double-box and then overnight a handful of "hatching eggs." And then Totoro could hatch them.
And yes, I've already looked. And I've found several breeders with eggs I'd like to try. Breeds I've only ever dreamed of owning. Like little miniature chickens that look proud and aggressive, but are the size of a coke can at full growth. Or puffy lavender colored chickens with fuzzy feet. Or big giant chickens twice the size of my current largest. Or chickens who lay olive green, or chocolate-colored eggs.
But I'm only allowed 6 chickens in Alameda. And I already have 6 chickens. And I love them all. But I want to hatch some eggs. Somebody, stop me! Don't let me run afowl (!) of the law! I must resist the anthropomorphic bittersweetness of this bird vainly trying to hatch a wooden egg. Please! Talk me out of assisting this attempt at procreation.
Or... Better yet, become my accomplice! Who among you wants chickens? Some of you must! Cause if you'll let me, I'll help you order eggs, and we'll let Totoro hatch them out for you. And then I'll send the adorable little fuzzballs home with you, promise. Or I'll keep them until they are teenagers, and handraise them so they are tame and social when they move into their new home in your backyard coop.
Come on. It's Spring! You know you want to...
Monday, March 1, 2010
So, as I am bringing in the last of my winter crop, it's time to review what I learned in my first foray into food growing:
1. If your soil is good, your plants practically raise themselves. Seriously. Just stay on aphid patrol, and your winter veg will flourish.
2. In the winter garden, some things go dormant, (my beets, spinach) showing no growth during the dark months. Don't panic; you'll harvest in spring.
3. One flat of veggies, grown out well, provides a LOT of produce.
4. In the cool damp of a bay area winter, additional irrigation is not necessary.
5. And, finally, if you fall in love with how beautiful your garden looks, you won't harvest your crops at their peak. Remember that the beauty of a veggie garden is transitory, and don't be precious about it...GET YOUR CROPS IN AND HARVESTED.
So, winter over, it's time for the spring season. I'm trying to be reasonable about spring and not bite off more than I can chew. Hmmmm....So far, the whole reasonable thing? Epic Fail.
Operation "More than You can Chew" is already well underway. Seedlings? I have three flats currently sprouting like gangbusters. I have a further 20 packets of seeds or so that are direct sow. Obviously, if I filled my winter garden with 3 direct sows and 1 flat of seedlings, then this quantity of plant matter exceeds the capacity of my current garden space.
So this weekend, I began to prepare more space by digging up more ornamentals. Funny how much less I care about my flowers now than I did in Fall. I'm quickly coming to the opinion that if it doesn't feed me, or feed my animals, or do something beneficial for my garden, then it's a freeloader, and must be removed. Okay, not entirely. I'm still keeping the Irises that remind me of Mom. But everything else? It's either gone, or going, if not this season then next. A well tended veggie garden is easily as beautiful as a perennial flower bed.
I'm also converting Kalin's old sandbox into my lettuce/greens garden. Oh, and then I'm planting raspberries and blueberries in the backyard. And a loquat tree...But really, I'm being reasonable. Sort of...
Monday, February 15, 2010
It happened! It happened!
So the timing of initial egg laying is an individual thing. Some breeds mature earlier than others, but even within a single breed there is often a 6-8 week variation in the start of egg-laying. Two chicks can be from the same brood, the same breed, the same hatching day, and there can still be MONTHS between when each decides to start making eggs.
According to my calculations, my first chicken (Yubaba, the black star sex-link) could, optimistically have started egg laying as early as February 6. Or, it could be another month. But I AM an optimist. Thus, I've been on a frantic egg watch for the last week.
And I had reasons for optimism. Yubaba looked like she was ready to start popping out eggs at any moment. Her wattles and her comb were bright red. Her chicken butt was all fluffy. And she was squatting enticingly at me. The squat is the chicken equivalent of a come-on. Like "Hey, you big sexy rooster, come and geeeeettttt it!" So anyway, I knew the day would be soon. But when?
Then, on Friday afternoon, it finally happened. I was at home taking care of my sick daughter, who thankfully did NOT have appendicitis. I took a break to check on my chickens. And what did I find in the previously ignored egg box but a small, perfect brown egg? I could barely breathe I was so excited.
The best part of the whole thing was the next day. We couldn't reasonably expect another egg on Saturday. Chickens take a while to warm up to everyday laying. But Kalin was excited, so she checked anyway. And found a beautiful BLUE egg. So freaking pretty. Seriously. It was like a giant robin had snuck into the coop and left a little present.
So while all eyes were on Yubaba, with her wattles, and her fluffy butt and her shameless squatting, little Calcifer, the Easter Egger, was sneaking up behind her in the maturation process. And once Yubaba demonstrated the how, she decided to get in on the action herself.
Who will be next? Yakul, easter egger number 2? She's not hip to the squatting yet. But her butt is fluffing. Or maybe it will be everybody's favorite, Lady Yupa. Her wattles are nice and red. Or Kiki. She's tiny but she's got the red going on. Who knows. But in the meantime, it's an extravegganza in the backyard. Woo Hoo!
Friday, January 8, 2010
Those of you who know me in real life know that in addition to my fetish for poultry, I'm also a devotee of bizarre housepets. Our most noteworthy pets at the current moment are a trio of hairless cats: Kemo, the old lady (14), Clarabelle, the petite pink beauty, and Architeuthis, the big black-and-white, overweight, loving bruiser of a male. He's a wrecking ball cat: always in your lap, purring like a frieght train, except of course, when he's knocking things over just to see them fall. (My husband named him after the scientific name for one of the giant squid species. It's a mouthful, but it fits.)
As you can imagine, this trio of predators have been, since day one, VERY interested in project chicken. For a good month they were banished from my office while my babies brooded inside. It was amusing to stand inside the office, and watch the little kittynoses attempt to squeeze under the door. No matter how long I stayed in chickenland, they would keep watch. I'd find all three of them sitting like feline statues waiting for me whenever I left the room.
Once the chickens moved out, the cats began to spend much of their day at the back windows, participating in my family's new favorite sport. We call it "Chicken TV." It involves sitting, sometimes for hours, watching the pecking, and fluffing, and flapping, and clucking, in short, the tiny dramas that make up a busy chicken's existence. All of us watch it, but none so much as Arkie. You can just see the kitty-thought-bubble forming over his head. "YUM!"
It's natural. I get it. My cats are, for all their highly bred, indoor cat hairlessnes, still predators. Those rubber snakes they drag around, and pounce on endlessly are an everpresent reminder of the call of the wild. And yet, despite this knowledge, and the obvious stalking behavior, I got complacent. Cats are inside. Chickens are out. That's that. I should have known that my cats, aesthetically challenged, but smart, would eventually figure out a way to meet the chickens "up close and personal."
And who was it that made the move? None other than our favorite squid boy, Architeuthis. It's obvious to me now that Arkie had been planning his move for some time. We'd been sitting in the living room on a Saturday, watching the chickens frolic in the yard, when, as I often do, I got up to feed them a treat. When I opened the door, Arkie appeared from out of nowhere, neatly slipped between my legs at a full gallop, and zoomed into the yard. It was an impressive display of stealth and cunning. I dropped both handfulls of broccoli, and raced after him, visions of bloody chickens in my head.
I needn't have worried. Chickens are simultaneously very stupid about some things (Just look at the face of a chicken who has accidentally flown up into a tree. Priceless!) and very smart about others. Apparently, Cat Management is one of the "smart areas."
When Arkie reached the yard, all the chickens immediately pivoted to face him. They looked at him with blank, baleful gazes. Arkie blinked nervously and took a tentative step forward. All the chickens, in unison, took a step forward too. Arkie then immediately took a step backwards, glancing at me with panicked eyes as if to say "Help, Mom, help!"
After another moment of mutual staring, Yubaba, the largest and most mature chicken, took another step forward towards the cat. It was just too much for the big predator...Arkie turned tail and ran back to the back door of the house. I let him in, and didn't see him again for several hours.
I think he was hiding.
Smart boy. As a witness, my money was on the Chickens.