Review of our “Slow Food” Thanksgiving

I know that Thanksgiving is over and we are now in December, but I wanted to post some photos of our lovely dinner. While turkey is, of course, the centerpiece, our dinner featured apple and pumpkin pies that were made with homegrown, organic apples and a pumpkin.

Like many of my meals, this was a Slow Food dinner. I belong to Slow Food USA, a group that promotes cooking from scratch with locally and ethically raised food. Can’t get much more local than my own yard!

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This is one of the sugar pumpkins that grew in our new Garden Box of Joyous Anticipation. The apples are from our semi-dwarf Granny Smith apple tree.

To make a pie from a whole pumpkin, cut off the stem, then cut the raw pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds and strings. I use a serrated grapefruit spoon for that task.

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I put some of the seeds on a paper towel to dry. Once they are dry, which takes a couple of weeks, I put the seeds into a labeled ziploc baggie for planting the next summer. 

I bake the pumpkin halves at 350 degrees F for about an hour, or until the pumpkin is fork tender. After it has cooked, I use a soup spoon to scrape out the baked pumpkin, leaving the shell behind. I put the pumpkin through a ricer to mash it up and make sure there are no strings. Then it can be used in any pumpkin pie recipe. One small sugar pumpkin makes one pie.

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Here are the finished pies–a pumpkin pie and a crumb top apple pie, both made from scratch.

Some years we have purchased a heritage breed turkey, one of the old time breeds that can still reproduce naturally. Did you know that today’s big white turkeys are too heavy to reproduce naturally? The females have to be artificially inseminated. They get so big and heavy that they often have orthopedic problems, and have difficulty walking. Those heritage breed turkeys are truly delicious, and are certainly ethical. They are a great Slow Food choice. But they can be pricey, about $189 per 18-20 lb bird. So we don’t do that very often. This is a regular grocery store bird, a modest 12-lb turkey.

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The secret to a perfectly roasted turkey is to put a couple of stalks of celery, half an onion, several leaves of sage and 3/4 C good white wine into the body cavity. Pour some melted butter over the turkey breast and rub it all over. Then grate some Himalayan pink salt over the bird. Pop it into the oven at 325 degrees uncovered until the meat pulls away from the bone on the legs. The broth that forms in the pan is heavenly, and becomes the base for the best turkey gravy ever. Pour the broth into a separate pan, add an appropriate amount of flour and stir constantly until thickened.

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This is how my husband plates the carved turkey. We use rosemary from our herb garden as a garnish . I usually add fresh cranberries for additional garnish, but I used them all in the homemade cranberry sauce this year.

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This is a place setting for our Thanksgiving table. The china was my maternal grandmother’s china. She bought it in the early 1940s, I think, or possibly the late 1930s. We ate Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner on these plates for many, many years at her house. Now I continue the tradition.

The other dishes were stuffing in a casserole, baked yams, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and basalmic vinegar, cauliflower au gratin, and homemade cranberry sauce. Oh my, was it ever delicious.

Even the bones from our turkeys don’t go to waste. Once the meat has gone into an endless number of turkey leftover dishes (esp turkey sandwiches), we turn the carcass into soup. Hope you enjoyed this review of our Thanksgiving dinner.

December 5: Pullet update and seed-saving adventures in Southern California

The year 2016 is drawing to a close. We finally turned on our furnace on Nov. 28. The nights have been getting down into the low 40s pretty regularly. That sent Chicken Little, our oldest hen, into the enclosed nest box to sleep at night. All four chickens had been sleeping on the perches in the coop that are out in the open. But the cold and wind got to the old bird, and into the nest box she went. That left the pullets, Princess Ariel and Princess Aurora, to roost with fat, cranky Dino-peep. They avoid her in the daytime because she is so mean, but they snuggle up next to her at night. She must be warm.

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Chicken Little is in back, Dino-peep is the fat barred rock in front, and Princess Aurora is the lovely black sex-linked pullet on the right. Her comb and wattles are growing out! My girls get fresh organic greens every day, as well as scratch, laying pellets, and sometimes table scraps or mealworms.

A couple of nights ago, it got so cold that Dino-peep joined Chicken Little inside the enclosed nest box area of the coop. That left my two pullets to sleep alone on the perches. Well, they can sleep where they want.

Princess Aurora is reaching puberty. Her wattles are nearly full grown, and her comb is half-grown and turning red. Her voice is changing too, and she sounds like a mature chicken. I expect her to start laying eggs in another week or two.

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Princess Aurora is growing up. How long will it be until she lays her first egg? Two weeks? Three? I can hardly wait.

Princess Ariel, the Ameraucuna, is still growing. At this point, she is my tallest chicken. Her comb and wattles still aren’t very big or very red though. I guess she needs to finish growing up before she starts laying. It sure is fun watching the girls grow up.

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Princess Ariel is rather aloof, and hangs out by herself on the perches a lot. I wish I had another Ameraucuna to keep her company, since birds of a feather do flock together.

I managed to get veggie bed #1 cleared and planted a few weeks ago. I installed transplants of red oak-leaf lettuce, Bright Lights Swiss Chard, and leeks. I also planted baby bok choy, Redhead radishes, komatsuna (a Japanese mustard spinach), and Snowbird peas in the bed. I patiently waited for everything to sprout. Then a rat or squirrel dug up every pea sprout except one and ate them. Curses! Foiled again. I guess I should be grateful that the critter didn’t seem to like radishes, bok choy, or komatsuna.

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Veggie bed #1 has a collard green plant that is going into its third year. Also leeks, cilantro, Red Oak-leaf lettuce, chard, Redhead radishes, Deer Tongue Lettuce, toy choy, and komatsuna. These are Forever Beds from Gardener’s Supply Company.

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Veggie bed #2 has chives, cauliflower, red oak leaf lettuce, laminate kale, mizuna, and a bell pepper that is going to over-winter (I hope).

The basil in the Garden Box of Joyous Anticipation has gone to seed, but I am still able to harvest enough leaves to make pesto. This is the best basil that I have ever grown, so I harvested seeds from it today. They are now drying in the garage. I also collected some seeds from our old dried Deer Tongue Lettuce, and shelled a batch of dried Blue Lake Pole Bean pods to save seeds for planting next summer. Growing heirloom varieties means that you can save seeds from them. Hybrids don’t breed true, so there is no point in saving seeds from them.

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The Garden Box of Joyous Anticipation has green onions, overgrown and collapsing basil, a few radishes, an orange bell pepper that I will let overwinter, a struggling Swiss Chard plant, a volunteer tomato that may or may not survive, a few overgrown radishes, a couple of struggling beets, and arugula galore. It is time to replant this bed with winter veggies. I built this raised garden box from a kit from Gardener’s Supply Company. Love it!

The seed catalogs are beginning to arrive. Hooray, my favorite time of year.

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My 2017 Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Catalog arrived! Best catalog ever.

As I worked on seed management in the garage, I realized that my seed collection has become unwieldy and horribly disorganized. I have no idea what I have anymore, or where I have it. So I brought all of the seeds packets and baggies in from the garage where they had been sitting on a table. I then cataloged them in Excel. Then I dumped the packets back on the table. At least they are now organized in Excel, if not in actual physical space in the garage.

I have printed my list below. If it says Lou Murray, those are heirloom seeds that I saved from my garden. Duplicates are those from different years, or different seed companies. This year, I ordered seeds from Native Seed Search, Territorial Seed Company, Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and Seed Savers Exchange. I also have seeds from Ferry-Morse, Burpee, Botanical interest, Cook’s Garden, and more. As you can clearly see, I have a real problem with seed hoarding. I have left out the year the seed was collected. I figured that was TMI.

I wish I could tell you that this list represents all of my seeds, but it doesn’t. I also have two boxes of seed packets that are older than the group listed here. I think a lot of those have expired and need to be tossed. Well, that is a job for another day. Hope you enjoyed this December update on my southern California garden and chickens.

SEED VARIETY COMPANY or SOURCE
Arugula Lou Murray
Basil Lou Murray
Bean, Arikara Yellow Baker Creek
Bean, Blue Lake, Pole Lou Murray
Bean, Blue Lake, Pole Lou Murray
Bean, Colorado River Bean Native Seed Search
Bean, Contender, Bush Ferry-Morse
Bean, Contender, Bush Lou Murray
Bean, Frijol Chivita Native Seed Search
Bean, Good Mother Stallard, Pole Baker Creek
Bean, Hopi Black Native Seed Search
Bean, Ojo de Cabra Baker Creek
Bean, Sunset Runner Baker Creek
Bean, Taos Red Native Seed Search
Bean, Tepary, Blue Speckled Baker Creek
Beet, Chioggia Botanical Interests
Beet, Chioggia Lou Murray
Beet, Detroit Dark Red Ferry-Morse
Beet, Golden Baker Creek
Beet, Golden Cook’s Garden
Beet, Lutz Green Leaf Cook’s Garden
Bok Choy, Pak Choi, Pechay Burpee
Bok Choy, Toy Choy Botanical Interests
Bok Choy, White Stem Botanical Interests
Cabbage, Brunswick Baker Creek
Cabbage, Tete Noir Baker Creek
Carrot, Red Samurai Territorial
Carrot, Scarlet Nantes Ferry-Morse
Chard, Bright Lights Botanical Interests
Cilantro Baker Creek
Cilantro Lou Murray
Collard Greens, Champion Lou Murray
Corn, Glass Gem Baker Creek
Cucumber, Boothby’s Blonde Slicing Territorial
Cucumber, General Lee Hybrid Slicing Territorial
Cucumber, Marketmore Seeds of Change
Cucumber, Marketmore 76 Ferry-Morse
Cucumber, Straight Eight Ferry-Morse
Kale, Beady’s Camden Dave
Kale, Dward Blue Curled Botanical Interests
Komatsuna (Mustard Spinach) Botanical Interests
Leek, Zermatt Territorial
Lettuce, Black-seeded Simpson Lou Murray
Lettuce, Deer Tongue Lou Murray
Mizuna Native Seed Search
Parsnip, All American Ferry-Morse
Parsnip, Turga Botanical Interests
Pea, Snow, Mammoth Melting Sugar Stover
Pea, Snowbird Burpee
Pea, Sugar Snap Native Seed Search
Pepper, Bell, Giant Marconi Lou Murray
Radish, Easter Egg Botanical Interests
Radish, Easter Egg Lou Murray
Radish, French Breakfast Ferry-Morse
Radish, Malaga Baker Creek
Radish, Misato Rose Baker Creek
Radish, Pink Beauty Baker Creek
Radish, Redhead (Roodkopje) Cook’s Garden
Radish, Redhead (Roodkopje) Territorial
Spinach, Monstrueux de Viroflay Baker Creek
Squash, Summer, Desi Baker Creek
Squash, Summer, Grey Zucchini Ferry-Morse
Squash, Summer, Lebanese White Bush Marrow Baker Creek
Squash, Summer, Saffron Prolific Straightneck Burpee
Squash, Summer, Tatume Baker Creek
Squash, Winter, Acorn Lou Murray
Squash, Winter, a shiny blue pumpkin (Jarradale?) Lou Murray
Squash, Winter, Butternut Lou Murray
Squash, Winter, Butternut Lou Murray
Squash, Winter, Calabaza de las Aguas Native Seed Search
Squash, Winter, Chihuahua Landrace Baker Creek
Squash, Winter, Galeux d’Eysines Baker Creek
Squash, Winter, Guatamala Blue Baker Creek
Squash, Winter, Mayo Blusher Native Seed Search
Squash, Winter, Mayo Blusher Native Seed Search
Squash, Winter, Mayo Cushaw Native Seed Search
Squash, Winter, Mayo Gooseneck Native Seed Search
Squash, Winter, Navajo Cushw Tail Squash Native Seed Search
Squash, Winter, Navajo Gray Hubbard Native Seed Search
Squash, Winter, Pumpkini Lou Murray
Squash, Winter, Red Warty Thing Baker Creek
Squash, Winter, Sugar Pumpkin Lou Murray
Squash, Winter, Upper Ground Sweet Potato Baker Creek
Tomato, Black Vernissage Baker Creek
Turnip, Round Red Baker Creek

 

November 2016 garden and chicken update

Take a gander at this nice basket of pumpkins and butternut squash. All but one of them came from my Garden Box of Joyous Anticipation. The seeds sprouted from the compost that I added and I just let them grow. I was rewarded with 10 lbs of winter squash. Amazing.

Because we are probably going to lose our nectarine trees due to shot-hole borers (see last post), I changed the banner shot from a nectarine blossom to this basket of pumpkins. Well, changing the banner from spring to fall seems reasonable anyway.

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My plan is to make pumpkin pie and pumpkin soup, but the weather isn’t cooperating. We have had temperatures in the 90s here in coastal southern California the last few mid-November days. That just ain’t right, folks. Global warming in action.

Normally, my husband and I try to tough it out until at least Thanksgiving before turning on the furnace. Ha. Looks like that will be no problem this year. Why do we do that? Because global warming is caused by carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The less fuel we burn, the less we contribute to global warming. So even when we do turn the furnace on, we set the thermostat to 68. One of the reasons why I garden and keep chickens is to reduce the distance that my food has to travel to get to us. Travel takes fuel, and that contributes to even more global warming.

You may have noticed that my blog is called “Lou Murray’s Green World.” That is a play on words. My world is green because of my garden, true. And because it is a certified National Wildlife Federation Wildlife Habitat. But I am also green because I am an environmentalist, a newly retired professional biologist. (I finally retired three months ago from the Orange County Conservation Corps, where I had worked for the past 13 years. I figure that at age 73, and recovering from cancer surgery, it was time to retire. But I digress.)

So how am I green? I garden, I compost, I recycle, I reuse, I collect rainwater, and I conserve. Even my choice of holiday greeting cards is green. This year, I purchased some special cards from the National Wildlife Federation. For each card purchased, they provide trees to non-profits, community groups, and governmental entities. Our Christmas card purchase this year will be planting 60 trees! Each tree soaks up carbon dioxide like a sponge. These cards aren’t cheap, but saving the planet was never going to be easy. We all need to “do our bit,” as the Brits say.

But what you are wondering about is probably the chickens, right? Especially my new girls.

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Ariel (the Ameraucuna) is getting bigger. She is supposed to be about five months old now. But I can tell by her small comb and wattles that she isn’t going to start laying as soon as early December. I am still hoping for eggs by late December.

My two pullets, Princess Aurora and Princess Ariel are getting bigger. They have established their social position in my tiny flock and are holding their own with the two big girls, Chicken Little and Dino-peep. Aurora is fitting in nicely, while pretty little Ariel is at the bottom of the pecking order. The two big girls hang together and the two youngsters hang together, but Aurora is brave enough to hang a bit with Chicken Little. They are the same breed, Black Sex-linked (a cross between a Rhode Island Red and a Barred Rock).

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Aurora’s comb and wattle are also still small, but, like with Ariel, they are a bit larger and much redder than they were a month ago.

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This is what a laying hen’s comb and wattle look like. Is it just me, or does Dino-peep (my Barred Rock) look mean? She is an aggressive hen, and pecks me every chance she gets. She is my only hen laying right now, and one laying hen just isn’t enough. Come on, Ariel and Aurora, grow up.

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Chicken Little is my oldest hen. She only lays a few months of the year now. She is still feathering out from her molt. Her comb and wattle are shrunken and not very red, the sign of a non-laying hen. That will change come January. When the days begin to get longer, the estrogen rises in the hens and laying commences. 

Because my cancer surgery in May and the recovery period sapped my energy and set me back a bit, I only got one of my veggie beds planted this year, plus the Garden Box of Joyous Anticipation. Here is the garden box, that I built from a kit from Gardener’s Supply Company.

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This box has been an absolute delight. We got more basil from it than I have ever grown before, plus all of the arugula that we could want. The summer squash were moderately productive, and we even got surprise pumpkins and a butternut from it. The beets and French Breakfast radishes got crowded out, but now that the green beans and pumpkins are gone, the beets and radishes are thriving. 

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The orange bell pepper plant has three peppers ready to harvest. It has taken until the middle of November for them to ripen, but I didn’t plant this box until July.

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Veggie Bed #2 in the backyard is the only one I got planted this summer. It has been giving us lettuce, kale, and mizuna galore. The cauliflower (in shadow) is beginning to head up. This bed may not look like much, but it is quite productive.

I have been working quite slowly on getting Veggie Bed #1 (behind veggie bed #2 in the picture above) ready for fall/winter planting. It has a huge collard green plant in it, and a couple of struggling bell peppers. If the weather ever cools down enough for me to work outdoors, I will get that bed spaded and planted. Maybe this weekend?

My order of cool season crop seeds has arrived from Territorial Seed Company and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. My order of onion seedlings from Dixondale Farms also has arrived, so I need to get the Garden of Infinite Neglect in the front yard weeded and spaded as well as the two beds in back. Much to do here in coastal southern California in the fall, since we garden year round.

Hey, if you enjoyed this post, please leave a comment. Thanks.

The scourge of shot-hole borers

We have been infested with a new invasive non-native pest, and it isn’t pretty. This beetle is killing trees all over southern California.

The nasty little insect has the unglamorous name of polyphagous shot-hole borer. Breaking down the name, “poly” means many and “phagous” means eat. This darn beetle eats/infects almost every kind of tree, it seems.

A female beetle bores into trees, leaving a very tiny hole that is about the size of a period in this post. The female beetle carries a particular fungus (Fusarium sp) into the tree with her to feed her babies. The fungus grows and usually kills the trees whether the beetle was able to reproduce or not. The entry holes then weep sap, which makes it easy for the homeowner or grounds person to detect an infected tree.

The female beetle makes a gallery in the wood of the tree, laying eggs, which hatch into larvae. The males and females mature and mate inside the tree, and only fertilized females leave to infest other trees. They carry a bit of the Fusarium fungus with them, infecting new trees.

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female polyphagous shot-hole borer photographed by Gevork Arakelian, LA County Agricultural Commissioner

This pest came from southeast Asia (probably Vietnam) to Los Angeles about 2003, and has been spreading like wildfire. I live in Orange County, between LA County and San Diego County. All of those red dots are authenticated polyphagous shot-hole borer infestations. San Diego has a different kind of shot-hole borer (blue dots) that is killing trees down there.

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My husband and I live near Huntington Beach Central Park, where many dozens of trees have already been lost and removed. And now we are losing trees in my little orchard, mostly my stone fruit trees.

We have already lost our Santa Rosa plum. It is dead, dead, dead. I think we are going to lose the Panamint nectarine, as it only half leafed out this year, and produced no fruit. The Snow Queen nectarine produced two nectarines this year, but the critters got them both. It is also infected.

My beloved Florida Prince peach tree is fighting back valiantly. It produced a good crop of peaches this year, which had the unfortunate timing of ripening when I was recovering from endometrial cancer surgery in May. I wasn’t able to process all of the peaches, but I did get a few pies and cobblers out of the 2016 crop. Sorry, folks, no pie photos. I was doing good to just be making pies, much less photographing them. It remains to be seen if we will have a 2017 peach crop.

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This is a tiny fraction of the Florida Prince peach crop this year.

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One of many colanders of peaches this spring.

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This shows sap oozing out of multiple holes in our Snow Queen nectarine tree.

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Not sure which of my stone fruit trees this is, possibly our Katy apricot. That space alien blob is sap oozing out.

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These dark stains are on one of our Liquid Amber shade trees. Both are infected, but I think they are going to survive. Sure hope so, since they are pretty big trees, over 30 years old, and provide nice summer shade to our front yard.

From the University of California Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources, we learn the following:

There are several potential outcomes of a beetle attack.

  1. Beetle is repelled with no infection. This has been observed in 20 species of trees. Investigators are trying to figure out what features of the tree might repel the beetle.
  2. Beetle drills into the tree and transmits the fungus, but doesn’t produce offspring. This has been observed in over 50% of the tree species attacked. We don’t know the final outcome of this interaction. Often leakage of xylem fluid is noticed on the trunk and branches. Maybe nothing bad will happen to the tree, but the tree could suffer if the xylem vessels are clogged up, which could cause dieback of branches. Damage could also make the tree more prone to attack from other pest species.
  3. Beetle drills into the tree, fungus infects the tree, and the beetle produces offspring in the tree. This has been seen in about 8% of the tree species attacked, and these species are considered true host of PSHB, and include box elder, coast live oak, and avocado. Some trees seem to suffer mild symptoms like branch die-back, while others are killed outright.

Because this is a fairly new invasive species, scientists are still learning about it. So far, it has been found to infect 303 species of trees. Some pessimists say that there won’t be any trees remaining in southern California, but I have to hope they are wrong.

Sadly, the beetle can and does infect avocado trees. This could have a major economic impact to the avocado industry in southern California. So far, I haven’t seen any signs of infestation on my avocado tree, nor my citrus, apple, or Asian pear trees. My pomegranate and Fuyu persimmon appear unscathed as well. Fingers crossed.

But I have already lost a plum tree, and I expect to lose all of our peach, nectarine and apricot trees as well. This is a big blow to our effort produce food in our tiny yard, as my fruit crop is about half of the poundage of our produce.

For a PowerPoint presentation showing other trees infested with the beetle, see:

 

http://caforestpestcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/07/Polyphagous-Shot-Hole-Borer-update.pdf

Note that the presentation linked above was created in 2008, and the number of tree species known to be susceptible has greatly increased since then.

Adventures in keeping urban chickens

I have been keeping hens for six and a half years now. I started with three adult hens of about one and a half years of age in the spring of 2010. I wanted pullets, but the farmer sold me hens that were pretty much at the end of their best laying years. Caveat emptor.

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My first three hens! Henny Penny (a black sex-linked), Henrietta (black Australorp), and Chicken Little (another black sex-linked) in their coop.

The hens that come to our tiny urban farmlet enjoy a great benefits package of unlimited vacations and retirement. In commercial operations, laying hens are killed after two years when egg production declines. On a real farm, they are killed whenever someone wants a chicken dinner. So I really had no idea how long chickens live. The answer is, “It varies.”

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This is our chicken coop when it was new. I have since added artwork to the exterior, a bench on the inside, and perches for the hens to roost on in case they don’t want to use the roosts inside the nest box. I also added a fenced outdoor run to the left and back, and built a little door for them to go from coop to outdoor run.

Henny Penny, a black sex-linked hen, died suddenly about a year or so after I got her. To replace Henny Penny, I acquired Miss Hilary, a one and a half year old barred rock, from Centennial Farm nearby in Costa Mesa, CA. I got her in 2011 as they were culling their flock. It was the same month that Hurricane Hilary came up the coast from Mexico, hence her name, Miss Hilary. She was a handsome hen, but had a tendency to go broody in the summer and quit laying. So with Chicken Little and Henrietta getting on in years, and Miss Hilary not being a very good layer, I decided to raise three barred rock hens from chicks. I named them Peep, Cheep, and Cluck.

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A new barred rock chick, one of three.

Raising chicks is a nuisance. You need special feed, special feeders for the little ones, and a heat lamp. You also have to house them separately from the big hens or the big ones will peck the little ones to death. And then it turned out that opossums can reach into the cage in which I was raising the little chicks. There went Cluck one night. I was down to two chicks.

Peep and Cheep grew into fine hens. But Cheep got cancer. I know, because I took her to the vet. I was concerned that a two-year-old hen was so sick. I worried about diseases that might be transmissible to humans. I had her euthanized, and paid a bloody fortune for a pathologist report. I was relieved that Cheep didn’t have anything contagious like Mareks disease or avian flu.

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Before we lost Peep, we had five hens. The Black Sex-linked hen is not in the picture, but you can see Henrietta the black Australorp on the right, and Miss Hilary, Peep, and Cheep.

My favorite hen, Henrietta the black Australorp, died, I suspect of old age. So I was down to three hens again: Chicken Little, Miss Hilary, and Peep. Because Peep grew up into a big mean hen that attacks me every chance she gets, I renamed her Dino-peep. She seems to have the personality of a dinosaur more than a domestic fowl.

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Dino-Peep, my barred rock hen that thinks she is a dinosaur.

Then disaster struck. Normally, I close the little door between the fully enclosed coop and the fenced outdoor run at night. The chickens put themselves to bed, going up on perches that I built for them in their coop. Then I go out and close and lock the little door to keep them safe from predators. But one night this summer, I forgot to close the door and a big possum got into the coop and killed poor Miss Hilary. I was down to a mere two hens. Chicken Little is so old that she only lays in the spring now, going dormant the rest of the year. What to do?

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Chicken Little, an old black-sex-linked hen in back, and Dino-peep, a mean barred rock that I raised from a chick, just weren’t giving us enough eggs.

Back to Centennial Farm I went, hoping that they were about to cull their flock. They weren’t. In fact, all they had were four-month-old pullets, but they took pity on me and sold me two. I had no choice of breed, but I lucked out. They sold me a nice little black sex-linked pullet and an Ameracauna that will lay blue eggs.

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We named the white Ameracauna Princess Ariel, and the black one Princess Aurora. The granddaughters love the names.

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The two new girls stick together because the two older hens bully them.

We have had these two sweethearts about three weeks now, and they are finally beginning to get on with the older girls. I fed them separately for the first three weeks, and closed the door between the outdoor run and the enclosed coop for a few hours a day so the little girls could have some time to eat and drink without being harassed and chased. But they seem to have established their pecking order now, and Aurora is bonding especially well with Chicken Little, since they are both black sex-linked hens.

Ariel is quite different, and seems to be the outsider. She has long legs, a long neck, and squawks like a peacock. I just love her.

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Ariel has a sprinkling of black feathers on her neck, with more black on her wings and tail.

 

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Aurora is almost all black, with just a hint of red on her chest.

I am looking forward to when they are six months old (in December) and will begin laying. But first, their combs and wattles need to grow and turn red. It will be fun watching them grow up.

Approaching the Autumnal Equinox

The Autumnal Equinox is next Thursday, September 22. The middle of the month was Sept. 15. Therefore, it is time for fall planting of cool season crops in southern California. It is also time to harvest fall crops.

Oh look, more blackberries. A crop that usually ripens in July, but… global weirding. No, I didn’t weigh this harvest either. I washed them and gulped them down.

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The apples are getting ripe and the night critters are helping themselves to my crop. This is the first year that my semi-dwarf Gala apple tree has produced fruit. But the rats or possums got to these two apples before I did.

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The Asian pears are ripening as well. Some are the size of large marbles and fall off the tree. The rats and possums are devouring the rest. They seem to choose the biggest ones to eat.

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I managed to harvest just barely enough Asian pears for a nice pear tart for the humans of the household.

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Meanwhile, the Garden Box of Endless Fascination is producing green beans! These are Contender bush beans, one of my favorite varieties.

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I managed to get a photo of the surprise acorn squash that is growing in the garden box. It is a surprise because the plant sprouted from a seed in my compost.

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My little pumpkins are slowing their growth. They are now at 13 inches and 10 inches in circumference (not diameter) and just beginning to turn from dark green to… orange, I hope. It looks like they are pie pumpkins, but it will take two of these little guys to make a pie. Good thing there are two of them!

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Other mystery vines are producing their first pumpkins, but I don’t know if there is enough time left in the summer season for them to ripen. We shall see. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. This little guy is just a couple of days old.

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The pumpkin below is what they look like on the day the flower opens. It takes a couple of days to see if the female bud has set fruit.

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The mystery squash is looking more like a butternut than a cushaw at this point. I see tan just barely beginning to appear on it.

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This is my entire butternut harvest from my back garden bed–another volunteer from the compost bin. It weighs just one pound, a tiny little guy.dsc_3418

But I was going to talk about fall planting, not fall harvests. Some people plan their gardens carefully, selecting seed varieties from multiple catalogs and mapping out what is going to go where. My garden is more of a serendipitous happening, hippie style. Feeling in the mood for fall planting, I went to Home Depot and Armstrong Garden Center and bought the following seed packets. My choice, therefore, was limited to what they had in stock.

I got some Toy Choy (baby bok choy), big bok choy, mustard spinach (aka Komasuna, a delightful Asian green), Mammoth Melting Sugar snow peas, and Snowbird snow peas, which is a new variety for me. Neither store had sugar snap peas, unless Oregon Sugar Pod II are snap peas. (I’m old, I forget stuff.)

I got two varieties of parsnips, All American and Turga. I found some seeds for dwarf blue kale and Chioggia beets. All of these are heirlooms, which means that I could save seeds from them if I wanted to. You can’t do that with hybrids because they don’t breed true. Unless, of course, you don’t mind getting something strange from the saved seeds. Remember, you are listening to a gardener who lets completely unknown squash seeds from a compost bin grow in her limited garden space.

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I also bought some transplants because I like instant gardens. But first, one needs to clean up the beds and prepare the soil for planting. So much for instant.

Below is the bed cleared of old foliage. Only an overgrown clump of chives and a miserable bell pepper remained. I will let the bell pepper overwnter and hope it produces a pepper or two next summer. Oh, and I found four tiny garlic sprouts that I planted in the spring from cloves, knowing full well that they need to be planted in the fall. No surprise, the little garlic plants languished.

I removed the soaker hose, dug the bed up, added Sure Start organic fertilizer, hoed that in, and then topped the bed with Miracle Gro Moisture Control fertilizer. OK, so my garden isn’t totally organic. I don’t use pesticides, and I do add a lot of organic amendments to the beds. Usually I would have added my homemade compost, but my husband is the one with the good knees. He can bend down and get it out of the composter, but he was out of town.

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The next morning, this is what my newly planted bed looked like. I strung the bird netting over it after dark (which is when I finished planting), because if the house sparrows and house finches get to the lettuce, it will be gone in a day.

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I divided the big clump of chives into several smaller clumps. I am told that we are supposed to divide the clumps in half every year, but I spread those chives out a lot farther than that. Then I planted nine hybrid cauliflower. What kind of hybrid? Who knows. That is all the label said. And why nine of them? Because it was a 9-pack, not a 6-pack. I don’t think we need nine cauliflowers, but the heads that I grow are usually small, so I think it will be OK.

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I also planted nine Lacinato kale. I don’t need nine kale plants. Oh well, it is what it is.

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The plant below was a surprise. I have never seen purple mizuna in the store before. I have never grown it or eaten it, just the green mizuna, which I really like. It is great in salads, stir-frys and soups. I hope this red variety is as good as the green one.

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I planted two six-packs of lettuce, Red Oakleaf and Red Sails, two of my favorite varieties. The poor little plants below are suffering from transplant shock, but will be fine by tomorrow. I will be planting Black-seeded Simpson and Deer Tongue lettuce in another bed from seed that I saved.

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In case you are wondering why I have lettuce growing in a tomato cage, the cage is merely to hold up the anti-bird netting.

And so my battle continues in my effort to grow food while combatting birds, squirrels, rats, possums, raccoons, disease, drought, insects and random acts of nature due to global weirding.

 

Progress in the Garden Box of Endless Fascination

Time marches on, and my little garden in an elevated box is growing. The basil in the left hand front corner is growing like crazy, and it is time to make another pesto, I see.

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In my last post, I wondered if the female pumpkin flower would set fruit. Yes, it did! Not just one pumpkin, but TWO of them. We aren’t going to starve this winter after all!

The photo below was taken on Sept 12. I can practically see the pumpkins growing.

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These little beauties are putting on about 1-2 inches of circumference a day. As of today, the larger pumpkin is 12 inches in circumference, and the smaller (and younger) one is 9 inches in circumference. In comparison, a mature jack o’lantern or field pumpkin is about 25 inches in circumference, while a little sugar pumpkin for making pie is about 15 inches in circumference. Given what I am likely to have dumped into my compost bin, a pie pumpkin is far more likely. I figure it is some kind of pumpkin-type winter squash, i.e. probably a Cucurbita pepo.

These two pumpkins are on one vine, but I have several other mystery winter squash vines growing out of the box. I was very surprised to find a nice little acorn squash in the box. I don’t seem to have a photo of it, but here is yet another female pumpkin flower on a different vine. I think I have at least three different pumpkin vines that sprouted from the homemade compost that I added to the box, plus two winter squash vines.

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I originally thought that the squash below was a butternut (Cucurbita moschata), but now I have my doubts. I don’t remember butternuts going through such a dark green striped stage before turning tan. This baby seems to have reached its maximum size, about 8 inches long. That seems too small for a green-striped cushaw (Cucurbita mixta). I am pretty sure that I didn’t dump any seeds of a cushaw into the compost bin, but there are definitely butternut seeds in there. At this point, I am just waiting to see if it turns tan. We are going to eat it either way.dsc_3381

The yellow crookneck and yellow straightneck summer squash (also Cucurbita pepo, go figure) are growing like crazy, giving us all the summer squash we want (and more than my husband wants!). Poor guy, I am giving him squash almost every day now, in one form or another. My current favorite dish is quinoa with garbanzo beans or white kidney beans, plus sautéed summer squash and whatever seasonings strike my fancy. This dish really needs chopped parsley or kale added to it for color.dsc_3379

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I am getting really confused about the Latin names of squashes now. According to the New World Encyclopedia (and Purdue University agrees):

C. maxima = Hubbard, Banana, and Buttercup squash

C. mixta = cushaw squash

C. moschata = butternut squash

C. pepo = most pumpkins, acorn squash, spaghetti squash, summer squash (yellow, zucchini, scallop)

Anyway, it looks like we are going to be getting yellow squash for a few more weeks. Hope my husband doesn’t move out. The green beans are going to be ready to pick one of these days. That should keep him at home. He loves green beans.dsc_3370

On to the fruit harvest. I never weigh my strawberry or blackberry harvests. I eat the strawberries right from the planter. There are so few of them that they never make it into the house. Well, this week, I managed to bring in the blackberry crop to photograph. This was it. Two berries! In all fairness, there are some more berries on the vine that are ripening, but not many. They should have been ripe in June, but the vines didn’t even flower until August. Global weirding?

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And that concludes my garden tour for now. I am working on cleaning up my other in-ground raised beds for fall planting, but at my age, that task goes pretty slowly. Good gardening to you!