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Showing posts from March, 2012

Henhouse Construction

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... I want to thank everyone who suggested bribing our chickens with oatmeal. This is the first "treat" they've found tempting. I'm glad Robb and I had worked with birds in the past, because it prepared us for their panicky behavior. Our poor chickens. They are so terrified of us. They all cram into a cowering heap, behind their feeder, and try to bury themselves in the corner of their brooder box. It's a pathetic spectacle. Robb has continued working on our chicken coop . He's added the nest boxes, on the left of the structure. They'll have a hinged top, so that we can collect eggs without having to crawl inside the henhouse. You can see some spare hive-boxes, piled inside the henhouse. We're planning on splitting up several of our colonies of bees, and housing them with friends. One colony will go to Allie, who lost her bees when one of her neighbors sprayed her hive with insecticide . She's located a more secluded spot in her

Spring Chickens

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I think our chickens hate us. We are scary monsters who swoop in on them and carry them away from their friends. To the mind of any sensible chicken, Robb and I are Meanies . It has been fascinating to see them develop. We've had them for a week, and I think they're ten days old. (Hatched on a Monday, shipped on Tuesday, delivered on Wednesday.) When they first arrived, only the tiniest one had any hint of adult wing feathers. The others were just balls of fluff. Gradually, their wings are growing in. Three of our chicks went directly from fuzz to feather, but the brunette had some sort of sheath surrounding her newly sprouted wing feathers. You can see this on the right side of the photograph. We haven't named the chickens, but we've given them unofficial nicknames. This one is the Bantam Menace. She's five days old in this photo. I could not photograph her today, because she was convinced I was going to kill her. She's starting to sprout

Locally Collected Natural Dyes

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... Earlier this winter I asked blog reading friends if they had any access to dye-plants , and I really scored on pomegranates! John and Diane gave me a huge box of pomegranates from their own trees. Robb and I feasted on the fruits, and we shared them with my co-workers. We all improved our pomegranate-peeling skills. And I stashed all the skins in my freezer. Then a couple of weeks back I was over at Allie 's house, and she said that I could help myself to the dried out pomegranate husks under her tree. I loaded up a couple of grocery bags full. This past weekend, I chopped up these various skins, with the goal of turning them into dye. The frozen skins were nice and clean, while the dried skins were full of mold and not a few spiders. I decided to test the two types of skins, to see if there were any differences. I used a pound of skins in each dyepot . The dried skins were unsurprisingly much denser. When I boiled the two pots, the dried skins exuded a

Oh The Cuteness! The Unbearable Cuteness!

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... My brain almost cannot handle the adorableness of three-day-old baby chicks. I believe that this little penguin is our Silver Cuckoo Marans. She'll lay dark brown eggs. We set a fluffy feather duster in the brooder box, as a sort of fake mommy, and this little girl seems to enjoy that the most of the other chicks. We often find her snuggling in the feathers. She seems to be a bit of a loner. We think this chick might be one of our Easter Eggers. She's usually in the middle of the flock. This is our largest chick. We think that she's the Silver Laced Wyandotte, our glamor chicken. There's quite a size discrepancy between the chicks. Our smallest chicken is also our feistiest. She's generally running around like a maniac, and is the one most likely to be pecking another chicken. She's a little spitfire. Three days old, and she's already trying to rule the roost. Chicken owners, do you agree with our identifications?

Chicks!

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... You'll excuse our distraction; our baby chicks have arrived. They're cute and fluffy, and full of energy. We've got them safely ensconced in our garage, where they're peeping and exploring their little world. We have four chicks: two easter eggers, a silver laced wyandotte, and a cuckoo marans. I know that this has been going on for years and years, but it still strikes me as completely insane to send newborn animals through the mail.

The Sun and the Wind

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We've had a very strange on-again off-again winter and spring. But despite what the weather does, the days continue to get longer. Yesterday was the first time this year that we noticed the late afternoon light reaching our living room. We get glorious golden late-afternoon light. It lasts just a moment, and we love it. The wobbly old glass in our windows adds to the beauty. The walls look like they're underwater. It's time to take a fresh look at what's on the mantel. I took most of the indoor orchids outside, and then a huge windstorm blew in, and several pots were smashed. Damn. The indoor crockery is firmly attached with "museum wax" because we live in earthquake country, so shifting things around takes some doing. This isn't a particularly good photograph (neither are, honestly) but it shows the progress on my hand-spinning. I've almost finished with Ziggy, the fleece I've been messing around with for an absurdly long time. Z

At the Watering Hole

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... One of the things new beekeepers are advised to do is provide their bees with a source of water. (My sister will laugh at this, because she knows I'm a wee bit obsessed with providing water for stray animals.) The thinking goes like this: if you give the bees water, they won't go hunting for other sources and end up antagonizing the neighbors by drinking out of their swimming pools or dogs' water dishes. I bought a water barrel back in June of 2011, but the bees never noticed it. The cats loved to drink out of it, and of course, it came with an assortment of dead widow spiders. Finally, about two weeks ago, the bees found the water. Even though it has been raining (finally!) for days and days, there are typically about a dozen bees drinking from the barrel. I'm wondering what's going to happen when the cats need a drink?

Chicken Bungaloo

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Our newly-hatched chicks will arrive next week and we're still at work on the home they'll move into this summer. I've been designing and planning this coop for almost a year now. So I've had lots of time to figure out the (for me) most important part of its construction: The workflow . I opted for the kit approach. I carefully drafted the whole thing, cut, labelled and stockpiled each piece and then timed out the two-person jobs to fall on the weekends when Lisa was available. This modular construction approach allowed us to paint each piece and then assemble it a bit at a time. It's very satisfying to watch it grow: like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. The rain has stopped work for now. But I did manage to get roof on it before the bad weather and even put a "topping off" branch up for good luck. Here's how it stands now. And here's what it will hopefully look like when we're through.

Warning! This Post Contains Graphic Images!

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... And by "graphic" I mean, of course, "like drawing or printmaking" and not what you obviously thought I did, you perv. I went to Safari West with Allie and her friend Doug. I'll write about this later, when I make time to sift through the photos, and collect my thoughts.

Budding Grafts

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... I cannot express how excited I am to see this. The scions that I grafted onto our "volunteer" plum tree are flourishing. Who suspected that twigs wrapped in plastic could bring me so much joy? Having learned from last year's mistakes, and used significantly more grafting film. My scions did not dry out as badly as they did last spring, and thus far I've had a much higher success rate on my grafts. I find this thrilling. What can I say? I'm easy. Give me a glorious spring-like day, and the promise of new growth, and I'm happy as can be. These flowers are on one of last year's grafts. This one weedy little plum tree may produce over a dozen varieties of fruit, if all goes well.

Coop Work

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... We had beautiful weather this Saturday, so work on the chicken coop continued. We're using one hundred and six year old lumber. Robb has much of that wood cut, and so today we worked on prepping and painting the wood. Our tiny yard looked like a bit of an explosion by the end of the day. Smog supervised the painting. While Cardigan inspected the spackling.

March Garden

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... We've never grown fava beans before, but I picked some up last fall at the Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley. The plants are lush and tall, and covered in interesting blooms. The hummingbirds and bees visit them with some regularity, but actual beans are very slow in forming. Our plum tree is blooming, and a usual, the bees seem to be ignoring it. Every spring, I despair about pollination , and every summer we end up with more plums than we quite know what to do with. Even more excitingly, the grafts from last spring are blooming , as are many of this year's grafts! I'm not sure if the physical grafts will be strong enough to support the weight of fruit. I think I'm going to leave things alone, because the plum tree is very good at dropping unsupported fruit. Our bees are going crazy. The QEII hive is lagging somewhat, but I think that's only in contrast to the insane business over at the Gloriana and Magnolia hives. The pluot tree is covered in blo

You're Invited to our Egg-Stravaganza!

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... Won't you join us for our somewhat-annual Egg-Stravaganza? Learn to decorate Ukrainian-style Easter Eggs! Drink Beer (unless you're a kid)! Hang out with our friends! At 1pm, on Sunday April 1st, we'll be hosting this always-fun party at Berkeley Rep's Scenic Studios, located in North Berkeley at 1111 8th Street. This impressive-looking traditional artform is remarkably easy to learn. My approach emphasizes experimentation, and a bit of chaos. Even if you think there's not an artistic bone in your body, I'll bet you could learn something and have a good time. Let us know if you think you can come.