Pee-Free Herbs

Isn’t it exciting to discover something cool that you didn’t even know you had? Well, that’s exactly what happened to me last weekend. I found these terra cotta drainage tiles in the shed. They were left behind by the previous owners. Score! When I saw them, my eyes lit up and my brain started humming. I immediately knew how I was going to repurpose them – herb planters!

I enjoy cooking and like to use fresh herbs – rosemary and basil, in particular. I also happen to have three male dogs. You know where this is going, don’t you? Sorry, but I don’t want my sweet little pups watering something I intend to eat. I’m sure my future dinner guests agree. The height of these drainage tiles makes them the perfect solution to pee-free herbs! Even IF my dogs decide to do the Fire Hydrant Shuffle until the “wee” hours of the morning, their fancy dancing won’t affect the herbs. (They are Shih-Tzu’s and would need a ladder.)

Not only are my herbs safe from the dogs, but they are conveniently located in a flower bed just a few feet outside the front door. Can’t wait to see those little herb seeds sprout!

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Chicken Eviction

I see the light at the end of the tunnel! The coop is not 100% complete, but it is ready for the chicks. I still have a few cosmetic details to complete (trim, sealant, a little paint). There’s also the little issue of building their run. I cut the lumber yesterday. Now, I need to assemble it. It should be a fairly quick project, unlike the coop.

The homemade Rubbermaid brooder box was getting a bit cramped and the chicks desperately needed a place of their own. So, I moved them to their new home this morning. They pecked at every surface, clucked, chirped, and explored their new surroundings. I don’t understand chicken talk, but I think they were happy to be out of the blue, plastic bin with the walls that were closing in on them.

Until their run (fenced in play area) is ready, the chicks are scratchin’ it up under the coop. I built a secure, fenced area for them directly below their living space. The hardware cloth enclosing the bottom of the coop is buried and slopes outward from the building. If a fox, raccoon, or other predator tries to dig its way in, it will not get very far. I’ve never seen a fox near my house, but I have a feeling they will come out of hiding once word gets out that there is a new chicken restaurant in the neighborhood! I also poured concrete in the trenches to further deter predators.

The girls were very curious about the hole in the floor and the ramp leading down. They stood at the edge, peeked out, almost fell in a time or two, and even rested near the escape hatch. I was beginning to worry that they wouldn’t understand the concept of jumping onto the ramp. Eventually, Frieda made her move and gracefully dropped herself into the mysterious world beneath the floor. Two others followed about twenty minutes later. The three remaining chickens hung out in the coop and decided that it was as good a place as any. Though, they were curious about what the other three were doing below. It didn’t seem like they were going to venture down on their own, so I gave them a helping hand. I’m curious to see if they will return to the upper part of the coop this evening. Apparently, chickens do this instinctively. We will see.

Okay. I really need to get outside and put the finishing touches on the hen house. I can’t start procrastinating at this stage in the process.

Here’s a little video of the chicks after I first put them in the coop. They’re so big! Can you believe they are only six weeks old?!

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Circular Coop Status

The chicks are now four weeks old, which is also how long I’ve been working on their coop. Of course, I haven’t been working on it eight hours a day, seven days a week. I work from home as a graphic artist, so my first priority is my work. As tempting as it is to skip out of work to finish the coop, I focus on my work first, coop second. Although, they’re calling for rain today, so I might sneak outside for a few hours and work on siding the rest of the coop. I can work inside while it rains. Right?

As you can see in the bottom photo, the coop looks complete. Well, it’s not! Three quarters of the siding is up, which only makes it look like it’s complete. I also have to do the trim work, fence in the bottom, add a ramp, complete interior details, add screens, install a roost, and other things I can’t remember right now. The details are the fun part. I’ll tell you what isn’t fun – cutting (and re-cutting) oddly shaped framing pieces. Cutting the curve with a little jigsaw is no picnic either. It wasn’t the right tool for the job, but it worked. The framing made so much more sense on paper.

I still have some other problem areas that I need to address, but I’m confident that the solutions will come to me. That’s happened several times while building the coop. The first issue was finding the perfect spot for it. I thought it would be in the woods near the house. Because of potentially dangerous trees, I decided to change the location. Nothing seemed right. Then, suddenly, I KNEW exactly where it had to go. Other problems and solutions presented themselves during construction. When a problem comes along, here’s what I do… I plant it in my mind and let it simmer while I work on other things. After a while, the solution comes to me. Sometimes it’s not even close to what I expected. Quite amazing!

Next project…
Build a mobile run! I expect that to be a piece of cake.

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Chicks Day Out

Marcie, Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Frieda, Sally, and Sue Sylvester enjoyed some time outside today. This was their first time out of the brooder (a giant Rubbermaid bin). At first, they didn’t seem to know what to make of walking on grass. It didn’t take long for them to start exploring their new territory though. Based on their happy chirps, I do believe they enjoyed it! There really is a difference between happy and angry chirping.

My dogs, Tucker and Jackson, didn’t quite know what to make of the situation either. They’ve seen the chicks up close, but they’ve never seen them in a setting like this. Tucker barked and growled a little bit, but that didn’t seem to bother the chicks. I sat on the grass and watched the dogs and chicks size each other up. After I was sure that they could hang out in harmony, I worked on the coop for about thirty minutes. The entire time I worked, Tuck and Jack were mesmerized by the chicks. They made excellent chick sitters.

The chicks are growing like crazy and their fluffy down is being replaced by real feathers! In four weeks or less, they will outgrow their brooder and will need to be moved to their outdoor coop. I’m making progress on it and am confident that it will be ready when it’s time to transition them from the brooder to their adult home.

Here’s a short video of the chicks and the dogs…

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Coop Under Construction

I’m very excited to announce that construction of my chicken coop is now underway! I started working on it this weekend and have become quite obsessed with the design and building process. It’s an extremely satisfying project. Plus, it’s kind of cool to know that my chickens will live in something I built with my own hands.

My coop is unusual because it is circular. This poses some unique construction challenges. Oh sure. A rectangular coop would be much easier to build… but it wouldn’t be nearly as stylish. Not only will this coop have style, but it will also be very functional. I had a difficult time digging up circular building design information. So, I had to get creative and make a few things up. My plans are all down on paper, though they do change as I work.

As you can see, the base of the coop is complete. The rectangular section adjoining the circle will be the nesting box area and will be accessible from the outside. The coop will have one curved door and two curved windows. Originally, the door and windows were going to be flat… again, an easier option. I decided that since I was going all out with this coop, the doors and windows needed to fit the theme.

Later today, I will cut a chicken door from the floor that will also serve as a ramp. I am also going to cover the floor with vinyl flooring (for easier cleaning, I hope).

Stay tuned as the coop progresses!

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Chicken Fever

That’s right. I’ve got the fever… chicken fever, that is! After talking big for the past year about getting a few chickens, I finally took the plunge and bought six baby chicks this weekend. It’s “Chick Days” at Tractor Supply, so I took advantage of the promotion. They sell out quickly and the varieties change from week to week. This week, they had a grab bag, it seems:  assorted black pullets, assorted red pullets and Tetra Tint (off-white chickens with some dark markings). They have a minimum purchase of six chicks, so I purchased two of each – black, red and the off-white variety. I can’t wait to see how these mystery breeds develop and mature. Right now, they are cute little fuzz balls. Not looking forward to the gawky, teenage stage though. Chickens that are halfway to adulthood are, well… kind of ugly.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I wanted to have a coop before I brought some little chickies home. Well, that didn’t happen! I’ve been working on my chicken coop plan and hope to start sawing lumber this weekend. In about six weeks, they will need an outdoor home. Time’s a wastin’. No worries. Wait until you see the coop I’m working on!

In the meantime, the baby chicks are safe in their homemade brooder in the basement. They chirp, kick up wood shavings, peck at the thermometer, and eat constantly… when they aren’t napping, that is. Darn! They’re cute.

My pups are a bit apprehensive about these peeping, hopping creatures. My hope is that by the time the chicks mature, they will not be afraid of the dogs and the dogs will not be afraid of them. We’ll see how that works out.

If all goes well, I’ll have farm fresh eggs as early as this fall!

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Cool Coops

It’s spring and I have chicken fever again! Will I start my first flock this year? That’s still up in the air. Before I purchase my pullets, I want to have the coop in place. At first, the chicks will live in a large box in my basement, under a heat lamp. However, they grow up fast and will soon outgrow their childhood abode. Then what?

I’ve priced coops and they seem a bit expensive for what you get. My carpentry skills are decent and I am confident that I can build a better coop for less. It’s just a glorified box, right? Of course, there are important things to consider when building a coop… ventilation, nesting boxes, feed storage, predator proofing, location, etc.

Before I start building, I want to come up with the best design possible. To kick start my imagination, I’ve been perusing the internet for design ideas and discovered a refreshing variety of cool, funky coop designs. Check them out.

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The Joy of Seed Tapes

My least favorite thing about planting my spring garden is sowing microscopic seeds. I’m impatient and end up dropping too many, too close together. If it happens to be windy when I sow, my troubles are magnified. Then, after my seeds sprout, I have to thin them. It breaks my heart to yank perfectly happy seedlings out of the soil. Yet, I know that if I don’t, they will overcrowd and my crop will not thrive. Transplanting the thinned seedlings rarely works and usually ends up in more disappointment.

Ahh… but don’t despair my heavy-handed fellow gardeners. Seed tapes to the rescue! If you’re not familiar with seed tapes, they are long strips of biodegradable paper with perfectly spaced seeds attached to them. Genius! I’ve purchased them in the past and have been thrilled with the results. I would purchase them for all of my tiny seed needs, but the varieties are limited, they are hard to come by and they can be a bit pricey.

This year, I decided to make my own seed tapes, by golly! I used seeds I had on hand, newspaper, and paste made from flour and water. Not only was it a super easy project, but it took less time than it takes to fret over spacing seeds in the soil, thinning them and then mourning their demise.

While you wait for planting time, why not make a few seed tapes? All you need are a few basic supplies that you probably already have on hand. I used newspaper strips for my seed tapes, but you could also use toilet paper, paper towels or any paper that will disintegrate in the soil. Some people use non-toxic glue to attach their seeds. I mixed up a little flour and water and made a paste the consistency of glue. Then, I dipped a toothpick in the paste, picked up a tiny seed with the drop of paste and placed it on the newspaper strip. I spaced the seeds according to the recommended spacing on the seed packets. After the paste dried, I folded the seed tapes and put them in a baggie along with the seed packet. So easy.

When planting time rolls around, I’ll be armed with several varieties of carrot and radish seed tapes. I will simply plant them at the recommended depth, water and wait… no thinning necessary!

If you have kids, this project is a great way to introduce them to gardening. Try radishes, carrots, lettuce, herbs, or flowers. If the seeds are tiny, they are seed tape material! In the case of flowers, you could use larger pieces of paper and create a seed mat.

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Lettuce Weather

It’s January, yet it feels like April. We’ve had an unusually mild winter in South Carolina, which is a bit disturbing. I worry about how this will affect the pest population and fear a very mosquito-ey, pest-filled summer.

On the flip side, it’s kind of nice to sit by an open window in January (!) and hear frogs peeping down by the creek. Aren’t they supposed to be in hibernation? Apparently, they are as confused as I am by this weather.

I’m not complaining (though I would like to see at least one snowfall this winter), because this weather is ideal for the lettuce in my cold frames. We’ve enjoyed many cuttings and look forward to many more. The lettuce absolutely loves the warm days and cool, yet frost-free evenings. I almost don’t need the cold frames for protection. I say this because my spinach and carrots, which are planted outside of the cold frames, are thriving. I planted them outside of the cold frames as an experiment to see how they would do in the winter. Seems that plan has been foiled by Mother Nature.

I’ve also noticed that my daffodils are getting ready to bloom. Whoa! I hope they know what they are doing.

 

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Fishy Tomatoes

Have you ever wondered how herbicides and pesticides kill weeds and pests but miraculously leave crops unharmed? Thanks to genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), farmers are now able to grow crops that are resistant to the same sprays that used to kill them. Pretty amazing, isn’t it? Or is it?

GM foods are created in a laboratory by scientists who take genes from one species and splice them into a food-crop species such as soybeans, corn, sugar beets, cottonseed, and potatoes, to name a few. The genes come from animals, pesticides, and even bacteria and viruses that have never been in the food supply. Yummy.

Some GM crops are manufactured to produce their own pesticides. One of these pesticides, the Bt toxin, not only kills crop-damaging pests, but kills valuable pollinating insects as well. So much for letting nature work things out the way it has for millions of years. And hey! How do you feel about knowing that pesticides are INSIDE the food you eat? Good luck washing the Roundup off your tortilla chip!

Do you know that Americans have been eating genetically modified foods since 1996? In fact, it’s estimated that about 65% of the products available in your local grocery store contain genetically modified ingredients. Many of these foods are processed and use GM corn and soybeans. Don’t worry. They’re probably safe. We’ve been eating them for fifteen years and no one has gotten sick. Right?

GMO’s have never been studied in humans, but have been linked to toxic and allergic reactions in livestock and have damaged virtually every organ in lab animals. Hmm… never studied in humans? Isn’t the widespread use of GMO foods a large scale, unofficial experiment using humans as guinea pigs? Also, allergies have emerged due to the consumption of genetically modified foods. A study in 1998 cited that people who ingested soybeans produced for animal feed, developed a soybean allergy. Even if you don’t eat GM corn or soybeans straight from the field, what happens when you eat animals, or consume byproducts from animals, that have been eating genetically modified food? Does that mean these modified organisms are in everything from cheese to our Thanksgiving turkey? What if these genetically modified plants cross-pollinate with natural crops and their wild neighbors? Will they be forever altered? What happens when the insecticide and pesticide resistant crops are no longer resistant? Will we need to develop Super GMO’s?

Here’s my favorite genetic modification experiment gone awry. It will also explain the title of this post. In 1991, a group of scientists attempted to create a tomato more resistant to frost and cold storage. To conceive this tomato, they inserted a modified gene from a breed of arctic flounder known for its “anti-freeze” properties. Before you throw away those tomatoes you bought from the supermarket the other day, you should know that the experiment was not successful and the quest for a cold-resistant tomato was scrapped. No one has ever purchased a tomato or tomato-based product with fish genes… or have they? Muwahahahaha!

Who’s behind this GMO stuff anyway? The main player is Monsanto. You know… the good folks who introduced Bovine Growth Hormone. Many of their seed products are genetically modified to be resistant to their own agricultural chemicals, Roundup herbicide being one of them. Clever! Monsanto boasts that it is a farmer-friendly company whose goal is to improve lives by creating genetically modified seeds that produce bigger, better crops. To attain this goal, they’ve been buying up other seed companies for years and have now become the industry giant (bully?). I could go on and on about Monsanto, but will let you research that on your own, if you so desire.

The topic of genetically modified foods is extremely controversial, to say the least. Some people see no harm in genetically modified foods, presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama being two of them. Others think GMO’s will lead to the end of the world.

Better safe than sorry, I say. Look at what happened when Japanese Kudzu was introduced to the southern U.S. to control erosion? It is now a huge nuisance that is nearly impossible to control. This is just one example of the disastrous results of humans messing around with eco-systems.

THE MORAL OF THIS POST:
Unless you are willing to suffer the consequences, keep your hands in your pockets.

DAVID versus MONSANTO

This documentary is a MUST SEE for everyone on this planet! It is about a group of farmers who have been bullied and harassed by Monsanto. It’s also about YOU and the food you eat! Please watch this and see what is going on behind the scenes.

 

 

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