Monday, May 11, 2009

All Trussed Up

In spite of the rain, the new garage at the Chicken Ranch is taking shape. The foundation and floor was poured a week or so ago; but we had a few days of rain delay. The framing is going quite quickly -- walls late last week, trusses today. The roof sheeting will go down tomorrow and by week's end we should have a finished roof!

This progress is especially pleasing to me in regard to gardening season. I just might be able to get tomatoes in the ground without losing any time. The contractor says the garage may be complete by June 1st. Last year on June 1st I was still planting tomatoes! Our last average day of frost is Friday -- and Mother Nature is taking that to the wire this year...there is a freeze warning for tomorrow night! So I'll be hauling in the Fuschia and Petunia hanging baskets, and the couple of tomato plants that I couldn't resist at Farmer's Market last Saturday.

I really had to temper myself since I'm not sure where the tomatoes are going. I bought four plants - two cherry types for pots; a Sugar Sweetie and a Honey Bunch grape. Both are early and claim to do well in pots. Let me know if you have any experience with these -- they are both new to me.

The other two are a Juliet (a cherry roma type) and a Heinz (sauce/paste). We love the roma types - perfect for grilling and freezing. I've had great success with Juliet in past years; but the Heinz is a new variety for me. I put the cherry's in pots over the weekend (and I'll be hauling those in the house tomorrow too!); and am waiting to plant the others. I still want a couple Orange Blossoms, and an Early Girl or two, but I need to see what develops for garden space!

Finally, we are celebrating a Happy Hatchday this Friday for our Girls. They will be 1 year old. We're having a little party -- champagne of course and a few appetizers (chicken wings and deviled eggs); plus Chicken Kitchen is whipping up a special Hatchday Cake for the Girls --creamy Italian polenta with a cottage cheese icing and cracked corn sprinkles on top -- they are going to love it!

Thursday, April 30, 2009


It's been a busy week at the Chicken Ranch! The construction project is moving right along -- in fact we heard a rumor today that the garage project just might be completed by May 31st. Hey, that's still time to get the tomatoes and peas planted in a raised bed!

This past week they've demo'ed the old shed, dug out the foundation (and we found some very cool old bottles - one from the Coeur d'Alene Bottling Company), poured a foundation; and today, packed gravel in prep for pouring the garage floor. With all this activity, I am happy to say that the tulips have survived! The few that I missed in my mad cutting spree last week are just beginning to bloom; and I still have a couple bunches left in the bucket for fresh flowers this weekend.

Moving to the porch project -- it has been totally removed; as has the front walk and most of the sidewalk around the house (due to the City's requirement to replace the cracked sidewalks on the property -- this was more than we bargained for, since we are required to pay for this; but it's worth it in the long run). The new footings have been poured for the porch and the new walkway and side walks might be in tomorrow.

On to the gardening side of things...I have been waiting for thie "eternal winter" to end. Geez-louise, it has been a cold week! Our family room is looking more and more like a greenhouse with the basil starts, the hydrangeas, two flats of impatients, a couple of coral bells and coleus! I'm looking forward to this weekend's warmer temps so I can get the hydrangeas and coral bells in the ground!

And, I'm on yet another count down...this one is for our Coeur d'Alene Farmer's Market which opens on Saturday, May 9th. We always go on opening day - it's a rite of spring - and it's always cold and rainy. No matter, we'll pick up our favorite tomato plants from our favorite grower (something else to add to the indoor greenhouse for a few weeks), a loaf of wonderful bread for dinner and enjoy a fresh baked cinnamon roll....hmmm, I can hardly wait!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Mighty Claw

The giant claw suddenly appeared over the roof and one mighty bite left a huge, gaping hole in the roof. Wahoo - we're on our way to a new garage!

I did get the chives and the clematis moved and I agonized over what to do with the tulips and the alliums, but then, I came to my senses with the help of a glass of wine. "Look," I said to myself, "you bought these bulbs at Costco in a giant bag -- so just go to Costco this fall and buy more!" Problem solved. So early Wednesday morning, with scissors in hand and a 5 gallon bucket, I proceeded to cut 75, on-the-verge-of-blooming, tulips. I currently have 20 beautiful pink tulips in bloom in the house. The rest are waiting to be given as friendship bouquets. "Nature" will take its course with the bulbs during construction and afterwards I will dig any survivors and relocate.

The Girls have been pretty freaked out by the giant claw just a few feet away, but not enough to stop laying -- we've been getting five eggs a day. Thankfully, the claw has finished its job in the back yard and has moved on the the front yard to tear up the sidewalk and rip the front porch off! Things should be a little calmer, until the framing starts.

It's a mess, but it is temporary and the outcome will be a new garage with an indoor potting area (yippee!) and raised beds that will hopefully out-produce the former plot. In the meantime, I'm going to concentrate on sprucing up the flower gardens and I just bought three hydrangeas from Albertsons (of all places -- $6.99 each -- they are beautiful) to put on the north side yard.

Even with all this disarray, I find tranquilty in seeing my hostas peeking out of the earth, the bleeding hearts leaping out of the ground and mowing the lawn for the first time in 2009 (even if it is to "make-tidy" a place for building supplies).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's Starting!

The project is about to begin -- about two weeks earlier than expected, but hopefully that means it will be done two weeks sooner.

Of course, this has led to a frenzy around the Chicken Ranch. The first order of business was to get the girls (our six beautiful hens) moved to a new, but temporary, location in the yard. As you may recall, the "ranch" is a whopping .16 acres - so our options are limited! With this accomplished last night, I am about to take on the task of up-rooting about 75 tulip and daffodils which are on the verge of blooming. I'm not sure what my success rate will be at this state of growth, but I'm going to give it a try. I guess another option is to leave them, let them be trampled and dig them out in the fall. One issue in doing that is that most are exactly planted where the new, double "garden door" to the garage will be located. Ugh!

I also will be moving my chives (no big deal here - these plants have been in just about every local in the yard and most came from our previous home!); and I have to decide if I want to save the lavender or just put some new plants in later. Oh, and this all has to be done by Thursday (which is tomorrow!).

I have plants in the front yard that also need to be healed in somewhere -- Alliums -- which, like the tulips, are about to bloom and really look great this year! If anyone has suggestions/tips or has ever replanted bulbs as they are blooming -- please let me know!

I'm sure I'll have some dramatic images to share tomorrow as the shed comes down (and we're totally exposed to the alley); the hot tub takes a hike and the garden becomes a giant tractor pit!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Project

The Midtown Chicken Ranch is undertaking two major construction projects this summer! After nearly 5 years of no remodeling/construction we are once again tearing things up - in the back yard, front yard and in the house. The fun starts May 1st.

After several years of hard-selling from Hal, I finally agreed to a proper 2-car garage to replace the 1930's shop/shed in the backyard. The only reason I held out so long is that my veggie garden is located right next to the garage. The upside (besides a real garage), is that instead of a veggie "patch," I will be converting the entire end of the yard into raised beds. I think I will end up with three or four 4x8 beds - which is much more growing space than I currently have. The downside is they may not get planted this year. Naturally that isn't stopping me from gardening; I'm planning to give container gardening a go -- I have to do something with the 75 basil starts I have in the family room!

Here's a picture of the garden last spring with the shop/shed on the left side.

This garage project also will require an up-roosting of The Girls (our 6 beautiful hens). We're giving up the hot tub and moving the coop/pen to the concrete pad in which the tub sat on. At this point we are undecided about leaving the concrete and putting down a rubber stall mat and shavings; or tearing out the concrete and putting the girls back on dirt. Either way their pen will be expanded to give them a little more room run (and will be another project!).

But, that's just half of the project -- we're also tearing off our small front porch and rebuilding a new porch to run the length of the house with a deck above. A small bedroom upstairs will end up with a French door that opens to the new deck. This has been my "pet" project; and I've been holding off on doing any real gardening in our front yard until now. I'm in the planning stages for flower and veggies in front. The house faces west and we have lots of great sun in the afternoon! I'll have my hands full this summer, that is for certain.

Finally, if we're not completely broke, we are adding hardwood floors in the kitchen and a tile floor in the downstairs bath; plus a new bath vanity. I know we'll at least get the bathroom done since we already have the new vanity sitting in storage!

And then we're going to tackle the side yard patio....

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Blogging Basics for Everyone

I have a day job and it has nothing to do with gardening or raising chickens -- darn it! I am the director of marketing for CENTURY 21 Beutler & Associates in Coeur d'Alene. I spend most of my day working on the company's websites, assisting agents with their real estate marketing challenges (many these days!) and keeping up with technology. I've been reading marketing and real estate blogs for about a year now; and while I created my own personal blog last fall, I just started blogging about my favorite past-times a few weeks ago.

One marketing blog that I follow is Web Ink Now, written by David Meerman Scott. David is an author of several books on marketing strategies using blogs and online media. His blog is packed with great information that anyone can benefit from. Scott's post this week titled Me 2.0 and blogging your brand highlighted the new book by David Schwabel and included a link to Schwebel's free e-book called Blogging Your Brand.

I highly recommend you download Schwebel's e-book. It has great tips for blogging beginners through experts; and you are certain to pick up helpful tips to get your blog noticed and out there - not to mention get it spiffed up. I've completed all the "beginner" steps and am now moving to the intermediate catagory. You should also check out Scott's blog for great information and other free e-books -- definitely worth the read. I hope you find this a helpful as I did!

Okay, not much blogging on chickens and gardening today, but that was too good not to share! Let me know what you think and let the David's know too!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Iron Chef of Chicken Kitchen

The Iron Chef of Chicken Kitchen in Action. Whoa girl -- don't fall in!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bucolic Bliss?

I've got a secret to share -- chickens and gardening aren't simpatico. Oh sure, everyone loves the dream of a perfect bucolic setting...a well kept veggie patch with happy hens pecking about, eating all those nasty cabbage worms and mosquitoes. How tranquil. Well, maybe.

Last summer I happily watched my young flock "free-range" about the yard chomping on the lawn and dashing in and out between the lettuces and peas. They seemed so happy and it made me feel so good to see them in the yard. Ahh, this is what it's all about - gardens, chickens, sunshine!

One day I noticed that my rainbow chard was under attack by some type of bug which happened to be taking pretty big bites from the leafy stems -- what could it be? Hmm, you guessed it (especially if you already have chickens). It was not an infestation of beetles, but the flock of voracious Velociraptor's that I was raising in my backyard. I finally caught them - all six, lined up along the row -- feasting. Hello! They are chickens - they love greens - and reds and yellows! They quickly determined what they did and didn't like; most things ended up in the "liked" column.

Thankfully this all came about at the end of the gardening season and things were winding down (as were all my hostas -- an especially tasty treat). During the winter, they came out on occasion and flapped about, but of course there was no plant life uncovered by snow. All was safe until just last week when spring finally arrived in northern Idaho.

Which brings me to my current dilemma: chicken in/garden in; chicken out/garden out. My options are simple -- fence off the garden, go chicken tractor, or leave them in the coop. All three are valid options. The fourth - forget the garden - is not.

The girls so love to "fly the coop" and march about the yard. When they see me coming they press against the wire like convicts waiting to be released from prison -- "oh freedom, an egg for sweet freedom!" I'm a cruel warden these days.

I know there is a happy middle here - I just need to decide which option works best. Until then, I'm keeping my tender hosta sprouts safe from the likes of my domestic Jurassic Park felons!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Hens and Housekeeping

Mother Hen. Every flock has one (animal or human) -- ours happens to be Helen, a Rhode Island Red; who also happens to be a homebody and an extraordinary housekeeper. She was named in memory of my mother - but not for any of those reasons. As a chick Helen was the bossiest - and it just seemed right that she should bear my mother's "given name."

Helen out grew her bossiness when she was no longer the largest of our girls (there's that pecking order!); and became quite the henhouse keeper. While the other girls are out enjoying a romp in the yard, Helen stays nearby the coop - running in and out of the pen and coop making certain everything remains in order.

She's nearly obsessed with what goes on in that coop. The other girls can just forget about any privacy while laying an egg. She's right there with you sister! Checking your progress and happily chiming in with you as you announce your success.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the coop's egg door to find two hens jammed in the 10 inch by 10 inch nest box. Buttercup neatly tucked in on the inside, and Helen, squeezed in, on the outside. A few minutes later I retrieved two fresh eggs. Now that's teamwork!

Helen likes things tidy and I often find a single egg in the middle of the coop floor. I suspect that she has rolled this egg out of the nest and away from the others for a reason that only makes sense to a bird brain. Lately it's been the egg of one of the Barred Rocks. Perhaps this is her way of getting back at the pecking order.

I guess we all have our idiosyncrasies, but she's a good reliable layer and an excellent housekeeper. My Mom would approve.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sweet Basil Starts

In just six short weeks our "last day of frost," May 15 will arrive. I usually don't attempt to put much in the ground before this date with the exception of cool crops; and even then you're taking a chance and will be lucky if anything germinates.

The best way to get a jump on the season is to start seeds indoors. This may sound like a lot of work, but it really couldn't be easier. You don't need fancy lights and trays and soil -- in fact my best success has been a sunny windowsill, recycled "lettuce" boxes and standard potting soil. It's a great way to get a jump on the season and save a couple of bucks by starting your own plants.

I've been starting basil indoors for three years now and have had great sucess. The seedlings are easily transplanted to pots or directly in the garden, and we enjoy fresh basil all summer and pesto all winter.

Here's what you need: plastic lettuce containers and lids (or plastic wrap); potting soil or seed starting mix; and peat pots., You can put the soil directly to the container and not use peat pots. I've done both and found the peat pots work better for transplanting; either way works.

I use seed start mix, but again, my first year I used regular potting soil and everything came up just fine. However, I don't recommend using garden soil.

Just put the soil in the container (or peat pot); dampen the soil (a spray bottle works best for this), poke a small indentation in the soil and drop in a few seeds! Gently cover the hole, spray once more and pop on the container's lid. No lid? Cover with plastic wrap.

After a day or so, I poke a few air holes in the lids and keep the soil moist (condensation will help too). Once the seedlings are up and going, you can take the lid off. Do keep them moist, but don't over water.

You can start taking them outside during the day, after May 15th, to start hardening them off, but don't forget them! Last year I lost a whole batch because I left them outside overnight. It just happened to be the day we got our baby chicks. In all the excitment of the new arrivals I completely forgot my starts and they all froze! Basil is very, very tender.

This year I have 50 peat pots of basil started -- it certainly is less expensive than buying plants at the big box or farmers market. Speaking of FM, you might just see me this year...with basil plants and fresh eggs for sale!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Chicken Kitchen

Our chickens are spoiled. Not that it comes as any surprise -- we happily find another chair to sit in when occupied by one of the cats. But the "girls" really have it good. Everyday they get an extra special treat, prepared especially for them from Chicken Kitchen.

What may seem like lowly fare to some is quite divine dining to a chicken. Take cabbage for instance. By and large people don't eat cabbage unless it is drenched in mayo ala cole slaw; or it happens to be St. Patrick's Day (and then it's really only decoration on the plate). But to a chicken, well it just doesn't get any better -- unless it comes mixed with cracked corn.

The girls happily consume whatever leftovers they are presented with: rice, beans, spaghetti, fruits, veggies - whatever. I've been know to ask friends after a dinner out if they are going to take their "leftovers" home, because the girls would love those refried beans!

It really is "girls gone wild" when they see me coming to the coop with a big plate of rice and left over brussel sprouts. A spirited soccer match usually erupts as someone takes off with a prime sprout.

We are pretty careful about what goes in their beaks -- no meats, no onions, no garlic (who wants onion/garlic flavored eggs?) since we are eating their by-products. And we have debated the feeding of leftover scrambled eggs (which they devoured in 37 seconds). Regardless, I can tell you that they have very well developed palate and a taste for the gourmet!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

It's About Time...

Welcome to the Coeur d'Alene Coop! I'll be sharing my experiences at "urban" chicken farming and gardening on our expansive .16 acre lot in Midtown Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

We've been "chicken farmers" for about 10 months now; getting our girls last May at one day old. We have six beautiful hens - Buttercup (Golden Sex-Link), Flame (Black Sex-Link), Harriett (Australorp), Helen (Rhode Island Red), Henrietta aka Henny (Barred Rock) and Penelope aka Penny (Barred Rock).
Below is a picture of the girls at about 3-4 days old. Their "brooder" consisted of a plastic tub and heat lamp. This worked well for about 3 weeks and then they were ready to move into their new coop.

I chose these breeds specifically for brown eggs, their cold-hardiness and egg production during colder months. So far they have all exceeded my expectations and survived the second snowiest winter in decades!

Our first eggs arrived in early October and before winter set in we were getting 5-6 eggs per day. During the winter months we averaged between 3-4 eggs per day. Now that spring and longer days are approaching, we are back to about 5 per day.

The girls came through the snow and bitter cold very well. We insulated the coop and covered it with a tarp and added a heat lamp for warmth. We also added "disco" rope lights to help simulate daylight. Not sure how effective it was, but I did catch the girls doing the hustle on one snowy night.

If you use a heat lamp, do choose an infrared light. It's not bright -- and that's important as we found out when the girls were crowing at 3 am!

Yes, they do "crow" or cackle when they lay...and it can be quite loud, especially at 3 am.

And finally, the most asked question I get: Don't you need a rooster to get eggs? No, you only need a rooster if you want baby chicks. Eggs happen regardless!
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