Tuesday, March 31, 2009

First Egg!!

I got my first egg today! Wooo hooo! OK, stop laughing, this is a milestone for me, so let me revel.

The chickens are settling in well. Both mini-chicken houses were used last night, all the food was gone, and the whole flock met me at the gate this morning clamoring for food. Rocky had competition eating from the bowl I held.

Rocky looks different, acts different. He's standing much taller, almost completely erect, and strolls around like a lord among his ladies. I've noticed he stands around a lot watching them scratch and eat, like he's protecting them, as he gives a soft alarm call they all heed when one of the dogs gets nosey.

I kept hearing a chicken squawking earlier and ran out to see what was wrong. One hen (they don't have names yet) was standing outside the newest chicken house just squalling at the top of her lungs. She ran to me when I came in and I swear it was just like a kid coming to complain to mama. I understood immediately. (Yeah, that's weird, but apparently I speak chicken as well as I speak dog) Another hen was in that house, all settled down in one of the nesting boxes, and THIS hen was upset because SHE wanted that box! Too funny. I picked her up and talked to her and the other hen came back out. I set hen number one down and she immediately ran into the house and took over the box.

Those two hens are both claiming the house, although hen number two doesn't make a clatter when hen number one is in there. I just checked and number two was in there, with an egg. So I took it and she refused to leave the house, so she may be going broody, and the other one may be too, or they're just establishing territories and ranking order.

This promises to be a fun and interesting project, with the added bonuses of food and compost for my gardens. Neighbors were already asking me at breakfast this morning what I'll be selling eggs for! Cool!

That's all for now, I'm going to go eat my egg.

Monday, March 30, 2009

New Chickens!!!

I finally found some good chickens to buy, hens already laying. I've been watching Craigslist daily, hoping someone would find they just have too many hens. Sure enough, I saw an add today for Golden Comets, being sold to downsize the flock. I made a quick call and off I went to a small farm south of me. I found a nice place, with chickens, a couple of donkeys, a mule, an assortment of sweet dogs and a gorgeous tabby cat.

Everyone seemed very happy there, and if I had to describe the place in a single word it would be "harmonious". The chickens were pretty tame, and I stayed for a few minutes getting pointers on introducing them to Rocky and what feed they used. I was happy to see the health of these birds and the love they were shown by their owners, just the kind of birds I wanted!
I stopped off at the store on the way home to grab oyster shell and a fresh bag of layer mix to tide me over till I can mix my own. I added a second chicken house to Rocky's pen and scattered fresh food and some greens from the garden, then brought the girls in and turned them loose. Rocky went into rooster mode immediately and chased a couple of them a little before seeming to realize they are all hens, then he settled down to scratch with them and occasionally act studly. All in all he's a pretty well mannered guy, so things calmed down nicely and when I left they were flocking together. Soon I hope to have fresh eggs, so I can finally give some to my brother who has been picking on me for the past year about my "success" as a chicken farmer!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Spring Awakenings

It's almost spring here on Grassy Mountain. This is a time of transition, with weather extremes; one week we celebrate almost record temperatures and can wander around in shirtsleeves, and the next we have ice and snow everywhere!

As I write this we are on day four of a cold rain, but it is most welcomed, as it will help my gardens get off to a good start and will jump start the greening of the mountain.

I've spent the last two weeks alternately hunkered down with the dogs by the wood stove and getting out to hike here and with friends.

I've managed to get all of my gardens ready, cardboarding the disaster of the culinary herb garden, trying to kill the Comfrey there that some fool (read Sam) transplanted last year to a new spot. Of course the Comfrey roots left in the culinary garden thrived after being cut, and I had plants everywhere. Cardboarding and heavily mulching will get rid of them, but unfortunately will also kill my Oregano.

Not to worry though, as I'll be attending the annual Asheville Herb Festival in early May and will replenish my gardens with new young plants. If you're local to this area you should check them out. It's a great source for locally grown herbs and garden plants and seeds, and features many other herbal and hand made products. It's always good to support local growers and businesses, and I enjoy the chance to keep my money local.

This year I will be trying something new for the vegetable garden, as I have such limited space and want to grow more yummy stuff. I'm going to train all my summer squash and zucchini plants up a trellis, and my tomatoes will be moved to upside down buckets hanging from the barn. That way I'll have more room for the other plants. My Jerusalem Artichokes should fare well, as I didn't do a complete harvest last fall. I left a lot of the tubers untouched, so the bed will spread. The 'chokes will become my potato substitute.

I'm also trying something new in my community, and will be holding a FREE "Ask the Herbalist Day" on Tuesdays at the local Switzerland Cafe. This is a great little cafe and General Store run by friends Ann and Lora. If you're in the area please check them out. They have the freshest salads and the best quiche anywhere.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. Every Tuesday at 2 PM I'll be setting up at a table outside and holding court with anyone who comes along. I'll be available for all herb related questions. Folks can bring samples or photos of weeds in their yards for help with identification and a brief talk about the best uses for the plant. General questions about health will be entertained and discussed, and I'll have my herb books, press book, weed of the month handouts, and may even have a plant of the week present for discussion. It's a way I can provide service to my community, and hopefully make new contacts and friends who will then go on to attend a class or herb walk.

Chickens. Well, I have to admit, I stink as a chicken farmer! As I last reported, I ended up with what I thought was two roosters and one hen. But that hen just never would lay any eggs. I checked every day for my first "free range egg" to no avail. Then one day I noticed "her" comb was growing, and "she" was growing some suspicious looking tail feathers to boot. My hen I'd watched so closely was none other than a crossdressing rooster! Great. No eggs. After a time the three began to fight, and my favorite one, the white one I named Rocky was getting the worst of it. I finally butchered the two mean red ones and now have this one pretty white rooster that comes when I call and stands to be petted. But no eggs.

I'll remedy that in April with the addition of several hens purchased from a local hatchery who keeps pullets till they are about ready to begin to lay. No more biddies for me!

I've spent the last few days updating my website, so please do check it out when you get a chance.

And that's all for now folks!