Monday, February 28, 2011

Want to know just how noisy hens can get sometimes?

For the most part hens are very quiet and make a low sweet contented cluck cluck. They also make a sort of song (or noise depending on how you look at it, lol) when they have laid an egg, though I have seen them make this same song if you will even when they haven't laid an egg. When they see you coming with food they often "talk" all excitedly about what goodies you've brought them. Some are just more vocal then others, like my Emma. But sometimes they can really and I do mean REALLY make some dreadfully loud noises. Usually one starts and others join in and it is loud! This is one reason I suggest NOT getting chickens if you are not allowed to have them. They are not quiet all the time and it only takes one upset neighbor to turn you in if they know you're not supposed to have them.
It is actually much much louder in person! I have had several of them go on like this for an hour! This time it all started with several fighting for the same next box even though I had 3 other available. Two fighting for a spot behind the door even! Crazy chickens! There are quieter breeds of which Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks are not part of. They are very vocal hens. The Easter Eggers (Amerucana mix) are pretty quiet docile hens. The one in the nest box kept getting bullied out of her box by the Emma the Barred Rock standin next to her. I love most of there noises but when they start in like this they really drive me crazy! The only way to finally shut them up after an hour of carrying on was to throw some scratch in the run and most of them flew out and happily and quietly ate it then settled down after awhile back to there peaceful and contented state and the others to lay their eggs in peace.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Laying the foundation

Sketch of the front foundation plantings

 As my dear friend suggested I have made a sketch showing the lay out of the plants I have already planted and are planning on planting. The right side is shown in the post below while the left is yet to be completed also shown below.  I have chosen these plants for several reasons: fairly carefree (a little pruning and fertilizer), year round color, and scent.

 On the right side I have chosen pink knockout roses. These are about the easiest roses to care for and they really put on a show of color from spring through fall. They can grow large here in the south if you let them but are so easy to keep pruned to the height you want. Between those I have 'Becky' shasta daisies. I love this flower and have several large clumps around my garden. They multiply quickly without getting out of control. Long bloom time. 'Becky' is the best choice for the south because it stands up really well in the humidity. I have other shasta daisies that droop their petals and leaves but not so with 'Becky'. It is also pretty drought tolerant while other must be constantly watered. Then in front of the roses I have nepta 'Walkers Low'. This has a wonderful spreading graceful habit. It spills onto the walkway and has a wonderful fragrance. It's lovely gray blue foliage and lavender flowers bloom summer into fall, also drought tolerate. I look forward to posting pictures when all are in bloom this year to show you. All three of these colors look great together and you have constant color for most of the year instead of boring green shrubs all year.

 For the left side, I chose tea olives, white azaleas, low compact gardenias, and daylily 'Happy Returns' as well as annuals around the fountain. Tea olives have the most wonderful delicious sweet scent like orange blossoms and jasmine that wafts in the air. The flowers are very tiny and most people can't believe that such a strong scent can come from such tiny little flowers. They grow in all parts of South Carolina. They are dense evergreen shrubs that have slow to moderate growth. I wanted some evergreen shrubs on the left side for winter interest. So I am also planting a few white flowering azaleas. These are evergreen as well, display flowers in spring, require a little acid fertilizer after they have flowered and pruning only if wanting to keep a certain size. The low compact gardenias have more of a spreading habit but stay compact. Again these are evergreen for year round color and have wonderful fragrant white flowers. Perfect planted near windows, entries, or patios to enjoy the fragrance. All these plants will be planted in the same bed. The azaleas and gardenias are acid loving plants that are perfect for each other (tea olives are not picky about soil but grow best in a soil with lots of organic matter).  I chose white flowering plants as well to balance out the white shasta daisies on the right side of the house. I also have white trim and like the fact that the white also ties into the house. The azaleas give me white flowers in the spring where the gardenias flower in the summer. Planted already in this bed are the 'Happy Returns' daylilies. They too are carefree, drought tolerate, and long bloom time. I like 'Happy Returns' color as it is more a pale yellow rather than the yellow orange of the popular 'Stella Dora' and they are fragrant. Around the fountain I plan to plant annuals that won't cover the fountain but will give me lots of color right by the entrance to the house.

 Something to keep in mind when choosing plants for a foundation area. Compatibility, growing conditions (light, soil), year round interest as it will always be seen since most people enter through the front door and usually it faces the road, and height. I have often seen shrubs that are too large, planted in front of windows and covering them or trees planted too close to the foundation. Always keep in mind the mature size both height and width of your plants and plant accordingly unless you plan to prune.

 I will post a follow up with pictures showing the step by step process.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Spring seems to have come early for the south and I am not complaining!

violas from last spring
It may still be February but it feels like spring here. We had at least 3 weeks of upper 60's to mid 70's!! Sorry to rub it in to those still dealing with snow! I am taking full advantage of this time to get as much done as I can outside as I have a very busy schedule now till June. I only hope winter doesn't decide to come back! The grass is really greening up now...yay, no more ugly brown to look at! I bought me some more dianthus (a new favorite plant of mine, they survive the winter here and bloom all summer in full sun and are so colorful) to plant this past weekend along with some violas and pansies.


The roses are really leafing out now and I have been very busy for days pruning and retying my climbing roses. Which speaking of, here is a tip in case you never heard of it before...I was using that green plastic stretchy stuff that comes in a roll but found it stands out like a sore thumb and looked hideous. So I got out some old nylon stockings and cut 1" thick strips off then cut that in half to make some ties. So much better looking, blends nicely! By the way thank you Connie from Hartwood Roses for recommending those yellow gloves (can't remember the name), they work great! I must admit though that this is really the first year I have really pruned any of my roses. For one they were still too young to do anything but prune off any dead or damaged canes or tips. Plus remember that most old garden roses do not like a heavy pruning and should be fairly light anyhow, removing dead/damaged canes, spent canes, crossing canes or to remove twiggy growth. Do not prune hard like a hybrid tea except perhaps in severe cases, they will not be happy. My climbing roses were a different story, they were now ready for the laterals (those canes coming off the main canes that usually come straight up from the ground) to be pruned back to about 6-12" to really give me a good show this spring. That was hard for me to do as I am so afraid of ruining the shape of the rose but I have watched some great videos on doing it and went for it the best I could. We shall see what happens. I am told that roses are very forgiving so lets hope they forgive me! I also got some Black Kow to top dress them which I do every spring and fall if I can.

 Some of the roses I ordered have come in and are now waiting on me to get my butt in gear and get their new home finished so they can move in. Still waiting on 4 more. I also have been busy transplanting and moving plants around. This is something that for whatever reason I just hate doing. I don't know why but I just don't like doing it. Mostly what I was either transplanting or digging up and giving away were Black-eyed Susans. I have a love hate relationship with these plants. They are terrific plants as they are not picky at all, drought tolerant and bloom summer into fall...the down side depending on how you look at it is they reseed everywhere! Good in one way as they give you new plants without having to pay for them bad because they will reseed in places you don't want and there roots take hold like cement and are tough little boogers to dig up.

Here's the right side before the nepta was added and before the daisies were blooming

 I have a bad habit of starting to many projects at one time. Anyone else do that?? I get so annoyed at myself but every year I start a new project adding to the half a dozen I still haven't finished. Well I have family coming for a visit here really soon and I would like them all done before isn't going to happen but I will try anyway! So now that the roses have been dealt with and the sand shoveled into the run I am now focusing on trying to at least get the project done in the front of the house which I started this winter. In front of my house the builders had planted some puny salmon pink azaleas. For the last 5 years I have been wanting to change that. Well 2 years ago I worked on the right side of the house, dug it all up got rid of the azaleas and planted pink knockout roses, between those 'Becky' shasta daisies, along with some nepta. Love it! Color all summer into fall and all that needs to be done is a little deadheading. 
 So this year I started on the left side. Now I have a patch of bare dirt that is awaiting a tea olive, some larger white azaleas , some low compact gardenias, and the pretty little water fountain my husband bought for my birthday. Before I plant anything though I want to spray it with a weed and grass killer because that bed was once choked by centipede grass and some weird tuberous weed that no matter what I have done in the past it will not go away. So this is my chance to finally get rid of both once and for all! I hope! That is one project I do hope to get done before company comes as it is not very attractive in its current state.

Here's the the left side waiting to be finished

 So that is what I have been busy doing for the last couple weeks or so and will continue plugging away at little by little. The two big projects I hope to get done are the front foundation area and the long bed along the backyard privacy fence for the roses that came and are coming. If I can at least get those done this spring or at least the end of this year I will be happy. That will finally be a check off on my long list of unfinished projects!! So for those in the south that are lucky enough to be enjoying this spring like weather what projects have you been up too?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

When you got to go you got to go!

                                                             Lay an egg that is!
I found this blue egg last week when cleaning up around my hydrangeas. That is an egg from Patience one of my Easter Eggers (the other Prudence was brooding so it had to be her). Here she is...

The coop is only about 10 yards away but I guess she was too busy pecking and scratching around for bugs that she didn't feel like walking back across the yard to lay it in the nest box. I threw the egg away because I wasn't sure just how long it had been there. I don't let them out of the run everyday so it could have been there a week or more before I discovered it. This does bring up a good question though. If I let my hens free range will they lay in the nest boxes? The answer to that is yes and no. Chickens are creatures of habit for the most part. My hens are in there enclosed run for 90% of the time. They have a large spacious run and have plenty of room to run around without being on top of each other. I feed them scraps and weeds and give them a scoop of scratch (cracked corn and grains) everyday. So for them the coop is right there and when the need to lay comes they hop right into a box and lay. This is there normal routine everyday so when I do let them out and they need to lay an egg they will still go back to the coop and lay there egg. Normaly anyway! However, hens who free range for 90% of the time are not used to being confined to their coop and nest box area. Often what happens is like what happened to Patience she's away from the coop busy looking for bugs and will decide to just scratch out a nest in the ground or leaf litter and lay her eggs in the woods or under a bush or something like that. That then becomes there habit and will often even use the same spot. You still may have some who will go back to the coop to lay her egg but you will also have many hens who choose to lay them in an area like Patience did and you may or may not find them. I have a friend who has a large flock of mixed chickens who she would let free range. Her home is surrounded by woods and that is where the chickens would often go looking for food. She told me she started getting fewer eggs. Well it wasn't that her hens had stopped laying but that most of them were not coming back to the coop to lay them and eggs were being wasted in the woods because she couldn't find them. She eventually stopped letting them free range and started getting eggs again as they had no choice now but to lay them in the nest box.

 There are some tricks you can try to get you free range hens to lay in the nest boxes. Most hens will lay sometime in the morning to early afternoon. You can either try to keep them in the run till then and then let them out to free range hoping that most of them will have laid before you let them out. You can also try keeping your hens in the run for a period of time hoping that it will become a habit to lay in the boxes and then let them start free ranging  and hope that they will come back to the coop to lay. Another thing you could try is to set our nest boxes in an area you know they like to go to, say the edge of the woods or something, and hope they will come to lay them there. Chickens like a quite safe place to lay there eggs so this may attract them. Or you could just hunt for them like an Easter egg hunt everyday and then guess as to whether they are fresh or not! I prefer to keep mine in a run where I know they are safe from predators and where they can lay there eggs where they belong.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Sand, pine shavings, or even dirt for the chicken coop/ one better than the other?

Is one better than the other? Well if you are asking ME ,yes, however I am sure there are plenty of other people who would argue differently. But since this is my blog and I'm asking the question..I'll tell you why I think that one is better than the other. Again, I am going off my results based on where I live and what I've tried, your results may be different.

 For the first 3 years I had my chickens I used pine shavings in the coop and had a dirt run. It only took me a year to have both drive me crazy! For me a large part of my frustration was the fact the shavings were forever spilling out into the dirt run making everything messy and hard to keep the run clean. The shavings mixed in with the dirt which was often soft and freshly turned up due to the girls taking dust baths. Then I found it difficult to clean the poop out of the coop without removing too much shavings. As a result I would end up removing most of the shavings and replacing it with new shavings. I also did not like the sound of deep litter method or whatever you call it. Adding more shavings on top of the poo just didn't sound clean, or smell good and it just sounded plain gross! So I would end up having to buy large bags of pine shavings. It was just a pain in the rear anyway you slice it and I was sick of it. Again this is me we are talking about here. I wanted a solution but didn't know what to do. So I stuck it out and dealt with it. The other thing I would get frustrated with was the dirt run. Reason being chickens like to dig nice large holes with which to take dust baths. What happens is they don't just make one but many. The dirt in the rest of the run becomes hard and compact and the dirt in the holes gets dispersed around the run and hardened and now you have holes everywhere and no dirt to rake back into the holes. Then it rains, and it rains, and now you have tons of mud holes. The chickens, though they have nice fresh clean water in the coop to drink, decide they like the nasty dirty muddy water instead. Just not good!

 So a year ago we decided to get more chickens and in doing so the small coop would have to get larger. So since it would be built from scratch I wanted to change some things that didn't work for me and see how I could make the new coop and run better and work for years to come. I did some research and came across an article about using sand in both the coop and the run. Hmmm, interesting! The sand they were talking about was a coarse river type sand, more small pebbles then fine sand. Something I can't get here. However I read some folks saying they used construction grade sand from their local landscape/dirt yard because they too couldn't get the coarser sand. So I thought great I will give it a try. So I lined the new coop floor with 2 layers of very thick plastic the kind that come in huge rolls in the paint section. I bought the thickest one they had. I doubled it and stapled it up 3" from the floor all the way around then put the plywood on top of that for the wall. Bought a half yard enough to fill the back of our pick up and shoveled 3/4 of it into the 8x10' coop. Started it in the run but ran out (on my list of things to finish this week or next!). I have now had the sand a full year and let me tell you what a difference it has made!! I love the sand!

 Reasons why I think sand is the best way to go...It is super fast and easy to clean. Most of the poop is under the roost (chickens sure make a lot of poop at night!) with some scattered here and there in the rest of the coop. I bought myself a kitty little scoop and a 5 gal. bucket and once a week I sift it out like a cat litter box. The poop sits right on top for the most part, the sand dries it out, and it scoops right up. Takes me 5-10 minutes to clean out the coop. Now because I am sifting the poop out I am hardly removing any actual sand so after a year I may need to only replace about a bag of sand worth and that is it. No waste! The poop goes into the compost to be added to the garden. Because the sand really helps to dry the poop (sorry to keep using this word but I don't know how else to put it) it actually cuts down on the oder big time! Shaving used to get wet and smell but not with sand. If can build up a little ammonia at times but just get a bag of stall lime (it is extremely important to get the right lime which is the kind used in horse stalls and not the kind for your garden!) and spread it around the coop mainly under where they roost for the night. This "sweetens" it and greatly cuts any ammonia smell. Another good thing to use is diatomaceous earth (food grade if you can get it, look for it in your local feed & seed if they don't have it ask if they can get it) it should be spread around in the coop, run and even nest boxes. This will kill any fleas, mites or other soft bodied critter because though it is super soft to you to those little bugs it acts like sharp glass cutting them up and killing them. You can even mix a little in the chickens feed too to help with internal parasites. Another thing with sand is the chickens really seem to love it as well. I think in the shade of the coop it is cool to them in summer. They spend a great deal of time in there coop in the hottest months laying in the cool sand. When is is raining for several days and they can't get outside to take a dust bath they will do so in the sand of the coop. They couldn't do that with shavings.

Sand in the run is also equally good. It drains far better than dirt does. It doesn't get compact like dirt does and that is good because as I said earlier chickens love to dig out big holes and trenches to bathe in and then you are left with holes and the dirt around gets hard so you can't rake it back. Sand allows then to scratch about and take dust baths without leaving giant holes which turn into mud holes when it rains. The sand can easily be raked back into place. Also just like in the coop the poop dries out in the sand and for the most part just dissipates but if you do need to rake it out it is very easy to do. I just love it and I think you should give it a try. My sister adopted 3 chickens and she too was tired of the shaving making a mess and being difficult to clean. She made the switch and says she too is happy she did. I really think you would never go back!
*I want to post some pics but right now everything is so ugly out so I will wait till spring to post some pictures for you to see.

Thursday, February 10, 2011 of God's best fertilizers

It always amazes me how a good rain brings life to a garden. Watering from a hose just does not give you the same results. I went outside the other day after a couple days of steady rain to stroll the garden. I was thrilled to finally see some green! Yay! It may still only be February but signs of spring have arrived! The grass is greening...which also means weeds are sprouting...seedlings of larkspur are popping up...roses are starting to leaf out! I mean it wasn't there before the rain, the rain brought it about. In the summer I can water and water and all it does it keep everything alive but a good rain can bring about a new rose cane at least a foot long just overnight!  It is about this time when I start regularly making rounds about the garden beds checking for new signs of life. I gently lift up the pine straw mulch and see what new seedling have emerged or what plants have made it for another year. I stand and stare at the yard planning in my head what I would like to plant and where. I really think my neighbors must think I'm nuts! I can hear them talking to their spouse saying,"There she goes again walking around the yard lifting mulch and then just standing there staring. What on earth is she doing?" Ha! That's ok, I know I'm not nuts...well maybe just a little! Went to Home Depot to get paint to finally do those "indoor" projects I talked about before since I still can't do a whole lot of "outdoor" projects. Well before I make it in the door my heart starts skipping a beat! Flowers!! If my ground wasn't so wet I would have bought a flat of pansies...darn that wet ground! So I got the paint and painted my sons room FINALLY! He's happy and I'm happy to finally get it done. It is almost time to get my hands dirty once again...