Monday, December 31, 2012

Graffiti Adds Color to the Garden

In the blandish, brown of the winter landscape, the vegetable garden provides many shades of green and sometimes a little something extra.

This year I'm growing that something extra in a purple cauliflower called Graffiti.  Look at this fabulous color.

I bet Graffiti will look beautiful on a plate, since it retains it's purple color when cooked.  Graffiti tastes like regular cauliflower, but with the added bonus of powerful antioxidants that come with purple vegetables. The heads seem a little smaller than the traditional white, so I'm giving this one more time to grow.

The traditional white cauliflower shown below is ready for harvest.  The unseasonably warm weather we were experiencing only a few weeks ago wreaks havoc on cool season vegetables causing them to bolt prematurely.  This cauliflower is a big improvement over my first two harvests which were not nearly as attractive as this specimen.

The warm temperatures of early December caused mixed results with broccoli this year.  Some broccoli heads flowered prematurely like the one pictured below.  The pretty little yellow flowers are favorites with the bees.  At the end of the season, I'll let the broccoli flower for them, but it's a little too early for flowers at this point.

Some of my broccoli plants produced the largest heads I've ever pulled out of my garden.  In the picture below the primary head has already been harvested, but the side shoots of this plant are as big as the primary heads on other plants.  That means more yummy broccoli for soups, roasting and maybe some slaw.

I thought I was on my way to wonderful stand of carrots this year, but apparently some other creature thought the carrots looked pretty good as well.  I'm guessing this is the work of a no good, wascally wabbit.  Whatever ate my carrots also ate my celery plants along with some other choice produce along the edges of beds on the western side of my garden.  Hmmm, I wonder what goes good with rabbit stew?

The Brussels Sprouts are coming along nicely.  I should be harvesting some sprouts next month. 

When little else in the landscape is adding new growth, it's a joy to see new shoots like the ones on this Dinosaur Kale.

The Red Russian Kale is not as vigorous as the Dinosaur Kale, but it's purple veins and oak leaf-like foliage are a pretty addition to the garden.

These last couple of years I've gotten into the habit of growing extra produce for "the girls".  Chard, kale and cabbage are the menu today.  Adding winter greens to their diet improves the quality of their eggs and they really seem to enjoy the treat.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Bird Feeder

My chickens have provided me with many hours of simple, at home entertainment.  When things get a little humdrum for me and the chicklets, we make our own fun.  Chicken fun usually involves something to eat, whether it's chard or watermelon, worms or grubs.  My girls are always willing to focus on the prize.

Grasshoppers are a favorite treat.  Now you see it! Now you don't!

Chickens are naturally inquisitive, but at the same time very cautious and suspicious of anything new.  That's what makes them so interesting and fun to watch.  There's nothing funnier than watching a chicken who thinks a watermelon rind is out to get them.  I've seen it.  It totally happened.

Cocoa, who is pictured below, is a nearly 3 year old Cuckoo Maran, who stills lays an occasional egg or two.  She is an accomplished feather puppy of the first degree.  She will come running when called, insists on digging in my garden beds, and is not ashamed to beg for a treat.

I recently carved a leftover pumpkin to provide some chicken fun and entertainment on a sunny Sunday afternoon.  I carved large feeder windows in the pumpkin to provide the chickens with space to peck at the interior flesh.  Then, I sat back to see what the chickens would think of this edible, orange wonder.  

Cocoa, of course, was the first to investigate a new potential source of food.  The other girls stood off to side clucking like a bunch of hens waiting to see if Cocoa survived the pumpkin encounter.

And, then there were two, as Snowflake joins Cocoa to check out the orange newcomer.  Snowflake is an Ameraucana and a relative newcomer herself.  We purchased Snowflake when she was 4 months old.  She is now 7 months old and has recently started laying beautiful green eggs.  She has already laid a couple of double yolkers and is quickly becoming a flock favorite.

Snowflake appears to be staring down the pumpkin.  If I could read her mind, I would imagine she's saying, "You want me to stick my head in that little window.  I don't think so!"

Snowflake turned her beak up at the pumpkin.  I guess I'm going to have to make the pumpkin game a little more interesting to entice Snowflake.

I laid out the carved  pumpkin pieces and I immediately had a taker.  This is Speedy G.  Named for the fact that she escaped when I first brought her to her new home.  Speedy G led me on a merry chase.  I think the only reason she came back was her close relationship with Snowflake.  Like Snowflake, Speedy G is also an Ameraucana.  The two of them came from the same pen at the breeder and they are as inseparable as the bobbsey twins.

Blue, a beautiful Blue Maran, takes her turn inspecting the orange menace.  Blue and her sister, Belle, lay the darkest brown eggs you will ever see.  They are spectacular especially when seen next to the green Ameraucana eggs.

Always watchful, especially when eating, Belle and Snowflake have the cleanest little fuzz butts in town.

The pumpkin bird feeder experiment was entertaining and good for a few laughs, but it wasn't until I filled the pumpkin with sunflower seeds that the chickens got really excited.  I guess if you want a chicken to stick it's head into a little hole, you have to offer something a little more enticing than pumpkin guts.  Lesson learned.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Christmas Fun with Burlap

Burlap is a staple in the garden.  It can be used to shade seedlings, to line wire baskets, to keep seeds moist during germination, to bind the root ball of a plant during relocation, and for erosion control. That's just a few ideas that come to mind.  If you can think of more, please leave me a comment with your favorite uses for burlap.  I'd love to hear from you.

I've used burlap in the garden for years, but I never thought of using it to decorate until now.  I was quite surprised to discover that burlap makes a wonderful material for all sorts of Christmas crafts and decorations.  Using actual garden center burlap will work, but if the smell bothers you, look for lower odor versions of burlap cloth and ribbon at your local craft or fabric store.  

Burlap can be elevated from it's utilitarian purposes and become a thing of beauty.  I was inspired to decorate with burlap this year when I purchased this lovely burlap table runner made by a local artist at Little Flower Linen.  The lace finished ends are a great idea and I plan to use it all year round.

To decorate with burlap, you just need to get a little crafty.  The web is full of wonderful ideas, so after checking out many of the ideas on Pinterest, I decided to try my hand at some burlap crafts of my own.

I found some instructions for burlap garland, and once I figured out how to make it, I had a blast trying to figure out different things to do with it.  One of the things I made was a burlap wreath.  I was totally amazed at how easy this was to construct.  I used wide burlap ribbon, jute twine, a metal wreath form, some scissors and a large sewing needle. 

Using a simple in and out straight stitch, I sewed right down the middle of the burlap ribbon.

I used the stitching to pull and gather the fabric into a ruffle.  I secured the ruffled fabric to the wire wreath frame by hand sewing it with more jute twine.  If you don't sew, here's another no sew wreath project I found on the web that uses the same burlap ribbon.

I added a few gold balls, butterflies and satin ribbon to the finished product.

The butterflies are my favorites.  Those little guys are clip-ons I bought at Michaels.  How cool is that?

The wreath became the focal point of my kitchen window.

I even added little bells and pine cones to finish the ends of the window garland.

And then, I went a little burlap crazy... 

I used plain burlap strips tied with jute and decorated with ball garland on the doors, 

and more burlap garlands to add a festive touch to the windows.

It took a lot of burlap garland to decorate the tree, but it's the perfect country touch to accent my little chickens and other birds.

Here's one final project using some Burford Holly trimmed from a shrub in my front yard.  I combined the greenery with some faux berries and some small burlap ribbon tied in a bow.  This little project took about 15 minutes including the shrub pruning.

I hope I've inspired you to include a little burlap in your Christmas decorating this year.  

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Keeping Warm with a Fire Pit

A fire pit is just the thing for the cooler weather ahead.  If you want to build one in a jiff, try using manufactured stone.  This type of stone doesn't required mortar, instead the stones are held together with masonry adhesive.  The stones stack very easily.  Just be sure to get the first level of stones perfectly level.

Our fire pit is 8 feet in diameter with an additional ring of decomposed granite surrounding the fire pit for seating.  This fire pit is a little bigger than standard, but our fire pit will serve double duty for burning brush when the need arises.

The stone I selected is called rumblestone in the color cafe.  I really like the pattern of the trapezoid stones with the standard pavers turned on edge.

These stones were intended for building a smaller fire pit, so the gaps are wider than they would be if the circle was tighter.  This is okay, because the cracks will allow plenty of air intake for the fire.

I wanted to add a capstone to cover the large gaps and create a nice surface for sitting, but the manufacturer does not make a cap for this particular stone.  I planned to used a natural stone, then, my husband found this capstone in the color latte.  After searching high and low for something that would coordinate well with cafe, I thought it was just a little cute that it turned out to be latte.  

The latte capstones come in a rectangular shape.  The stones have to be cut into trapezoidal shapes and pieced together to form a tight circle.  A circular saw with a masonry blade is all that is needed to make the necessary cuts.

The next step in the project was to add the outer ring to hold in the decomposed granite.  To prep the area two inches of top soil were removed and the stones were carefully leveled.  

The fire pit and the completed ring are prepped and ready for the decomposed granite.

The decomposed granite is a good finishing touch to improve drainage and create a clean look.  Once it gets packed down, it will make a nice patio surface for some comfy chairs.  Bring on the smores!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Checking in at the Chick Inn

The Chick Inn has expanded, and it's bigger and better than ever.

Our chicken coop is a prominent feature of our backyard landscape.  The coop sits almost in the center of our backyard and is easily viewed from the house and all the backyard seating areas.  I wanted the coop to blend with the surrounding woodlands, so I selected paint colors that mimic those found in the nearby post oaks.

The original coop is an 8 X 12 foot structure with a high roof and open floor plan to keep the space cool in the summer.  The expansion consists of an additional 12 X 24 foot space that we added to the back.  From the front, the change is hardly noticeable.

A side view of the addition, shows the open run area and entry door. The run is accessible to both the original coop and the smaller coop at the back.  All of the walls and the roof have been made predator proof with 1/2 inch welded wire secured with screws and fender washers.  The white limestone block and river rock foundation have been continued around the building to discourage digging predators.

The roofed portion at the back is a smaller coop and run combination.   Green shade cloth is currently protecting the western exposure.  Additionally, I've planted a weeping bamboo and some fruit trees for protection in this back area.  The weeping bamboo was purchased recently at Vivero Gardens.   

We've had a lot of trees die off due to the drought and the area is now very exposed to sun.  Next summer, I will need to evaluate the area and add additional shade cloth on the south facing wall, which is currently open.  

The smaller coop/run is a 6 X 12 foot structure designed for Pansy and her babies.  The space can accommodate chicks from babyhood through grow-out.  They can safely live here until they are ready to be merged with the existing flock.  This will not happen until they can defend themselves and fight for a spot in the pecking order, which happens at about 4-5 months.

I know it's just a chicken coop, but that solid wall is screaming out for some art work.  I was initially thinking of painting a mural, but honestly, I'll never have time with all my other projects.  I think some simple outdoor wall hangings and maybe a window would be a huge improvement.

This interior view of the small coop, we call the baby bungalow, shows multiple chicken ladders designed to accommodate chicks of different ages.  Pansy started training the chicks to roost on the ladder style roost at about 6 weeks.  Prior to that they roosted on the floor in a protected area I created with a milk crate and some hay.  

Pansy, who is an excellent forager, has been doing a great job of showing her babies how to scratch and find food.  You can tell when they've found something good because the babies make a very high pitched, excited peeping noise.  

One day I heard the babies sounding a little more excited than usual and I knew they must have found something good.  Curious, I headed over to where they were, but my walk soon turned into a run when I heard Pansy make a loud, shrill warning noise.  The babies had found a coral snake.

Red and black, friend of Jack, red and yeller, kill a feller... apparently, even chickens know the rhyme.  This little guy is lethal, so he's collected into a bucket and taken to the far backside of our property.  It's good to know Pansy is teaching her babies such valuable lessons.