Egg production on our urban “farmlet” over time

Aw, who else graphs out the egg production of their chicken flock? Only an uber-nerd would do that. Guilty as charged!

I keep a tiny flock of chickens in our tiny southern California yard. Our entire yard is 4,500 sq ft, with house, 3-car garage, driveway and sidewalk occupying most of the land. I have a license from the city to keep up to 6 chickens. I have never had that many at one time, though. Three or four chickens is the right number for us. I try to replace chickens as they leave us through attrition–they die from old age, disease, or predators–to keep my egg production at around 350-500 eggs a year.

Back in early 2010, I got three adult hens from a farmer in San Diego. Over time, I acquired three more from Centennial Farm in Orange County, and I raised two from day-old chicks. So I have had a total of eight chickens.

2016–279 EGGS

Here is an Excel chart showing our 2016 egg production.

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The vertical axis is number of eggs that we got per month. The horizontal axis is the number of the month, where 1 = Jan., 2 = Feb., etc. Series 1 is # of eggs. The table just below the month # is the number of eggs produced that month. For example, we produced 54 eggs in April, the 4th month.

As you can see, production peaked for us in April, held fairly steady in May, then dropped off sharply after August, when we lost Miss Hillary to a marauding opossum. That left me with 4-yr-old Dino-Peep (a Barred Rock) and 7-yr-old Chicken Little(a Black Sex-linked cross), who isn’t laying much. I think she laid only in April and May this year. Egg production stopped after November because Dino-peep, my only laying hen, went into molt. Unless Princess Aurora (my new Black Sex-linked pullet) goes “on-line” in the remaining two weeks of December, this will be it for egg production for 2016, a paltry 279 eggs.

2015–466 EGGS

Compare 2016, above, to egg production in 2015, below. In 2015, I had Chicken Little, Miss Hillary (a Barred Rock), Dino-Peep, and Cheep (another Barred Rock), four laying hens. Both Dino-peep and Cheep were still in their prime, but we lost Cheep in June.

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In 2015, instead of egg production peaking in April-May as it did in 2016, it peaked sharply in May, falling off rapidly in June when Cheep died of cancer. (I know, because I had her necropsied by a veterinary pathologist. I didn’t think a 3-year-old chicken should have died. Turns out that it is common for chickens to get cancer after the age of two.)

Total egg production in 2015, with four chickens for the first half of the year and three the rest of the year, was 466. We gave away a lot of eggs that spring. This helps me adjust my production goals. I think 450 eggs is a good number to shoot for, with a minimum of 350. Our production in 2016 didn’t meet our needs, even using frozen eggs, and I had to buy eggs when we had company.

2014–530 EGGS

We got 530 eggs in 2014, but I don’t seem to have saved data on how many we got each month. We seem to have harvested 86 lbs of fruit and 167 lbs of vegetables that year for a total of 253 lbs of produce. I still haven’t logged my harvests from 2015 or 2016 into Excel.

2013–770 EGGS

In 2013, Dino-peep and Cheep were new hens in their prime. We also had Miss Hillary and Chicken Little. We got a whopping 770 eggs that year. We were awash in eggs. Again, I didn’t save the monthly data.

I harvested 92 lbs of fruit and 74 lbs of vegetables, for a total of 166 lbs of produce.

2012–320 EGGS

I saved monthly egg production data from 2012, and logged it into Excel. Assuming that production was actually zero in November and December (versus me just forgetting to complete my annual log), we got a modest 320 eggs in 2012.

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March, April and May were peak months, with (presumably) no eggs in November or December. The birds tend to molt in the winter, and egg production ceases then, so it is logical that we got no eggs versus me just forgetting to complete my annual log. Also, egg production slacks off with decreasing day length. This is why I freeze eggs during the surplus months of April-June, so we can have some during the slow period in winter. I suspect that this is the year that I raised Peep, Cheep, and Cluck (who got eaten as a chick) from day-old chicks. My laying hens would have been Miss Hillary, Chicken Little, and Henrietta.

We got 73 lbs of fruit and 292 lbs of vegetables in 2012, for a total of 365 lbs of produce. I must have had my plot at the community garden that year.

2011–313 EGGS

2011-egg-production

I have no explanation for why production went down in March. Egg production peaked in May, and dipped sharply in June, with a slight rebound in July, then a long slide into non-production. Our egg production total for 2011 was a modest 313 eggs. This was the year I acquired Miss Hillary as a 2-yr-old hen. I named her after a hurricane that came up from Mexico that year. She went broody on me almost immediately, so we got few eggs from her. In fact, she went broody most summers and was never a very good layer. If I had a real farm, she would have gone into the stewpot. But our lucky hens enjoy unlimited vacation and retirement benefits.

We harvested 46 lbs of fruit and 187 lbs of vegetables that year. My fruit trees were still fairly young.

2010–463 EGGS

I acquired my first three hens from a farmer in San Diego in February, 2010. Henrietta, a Black Australorp, and my favorite hen. She would let us pick her up and pet her. She traveled to my husband’s bird class a couple of times to demonstrate feathers. Henny Penny was a Black-sex-linked hen. They were hatched in 2008, and are both gone now. We lost Henny Penny fairly soon after getting her, sometime in 2011, and replaced her with Miss Hillary, a Barred Rock.

Chicken Little (a Black Sex-linked), was a mere pullet when I got her, hatched in 2009. Chicken Little is still with us, and still laying, but only in the spring.

2010-egg-production

What the heck was going on in June to result in that big drop in production? Did we go on vacation and not log in the eggs? Probably. We have people come take care of our chickens while we are gone and they don’t always let us know how many eggs they got. That is my best explanation.

BACK to the PRESENT

 

Now we have four hens: six-yr-old Chicken Little (a Black Sex-linked), a nasty-tempered Barred Rock named Dino-peep, and the two new girls, Princess Aurora (another Black Sex-linked), and aloof Princess Ariel (a white and black Ameraucuna). Could we be looking at another 700+ egg year? Maybe it is bad luck to count your eggs before they are laid.

Putting all of that data together, we get a total of 3,141 eggs produced to date over seven years. Not too shabby. Here is what it looks like graphed out.

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This is an average of about 450 eggs a year. Hope you enjoyed this nerdy review of our egg production over time. It was a valuable review for me, and helped me to adjust my expectations.

 

 

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Fall foliage and flowers in December, but no eggs.

December is an odd time in coastal southern California. We have autumn foliage on the trees, and our winter flowers are in bloom. It makes for an odd juxtaposition.

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Our Liquid Amber (aka Sweet Gum) trees are in colorful splendor, even though the sky was cloudy and gray today.

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Soon the leaves will fall. Then we rake them up and put them in plastic trash bags for later use in the compost bins. We compost 15-20 big bags of leaves a year, preventing them from going to the landfill. It is part of our green life-style.

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Our yard flowers are hardly at peak bloom in December, but we do have quite a few of them scattered here and there. This is an Osteospermum, aka Freeway Daisy.

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Gazania are a drought-tolerant flower that blooms year-round, peaking in the summer.

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Due to the drought, our little pond in the front yard is dry. I keep water in the fountain at the upper right to provide water for the lizards and birds.

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The lavender plant is coming into nice bloom now. I dried some blossoms once to make lavender sugar, but decided that I didn’t care much for the taste. 

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Mexican Sage provides a bit of nectar for hummingbirds.

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Geraniums bloom year-round here.

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Mother of Thousands blooms on 4 ft tall stalks. It self-sows like crazy, hence the name. We have a lot of these plants now. The hummingbirds like them.

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These little flowers are in my hummingbird, bee and butterfly garden. They are called Brachyostoma, I think, a genus name.

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Yarrow is native to California, a good plant for the pollinator garden.

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Irises bloom mainly in March and November here, but mine are lingering into December this year.

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This is my Garden of Perpetual Responsibility. It always needs weeding. I have artichokes, a Fuyu Persimmon tree and a semi-dwarf Gala Apple tree, as well as the pollinator garden. The boxes next to it have Redhead Radishes that I hope will bloom and go to seed so I can save the seeds. I also have strawberries in boxes, plus green onions in bowls.

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Another crop of Amish Deer-tongue Lettuce has self-seeded and is up and growing. I can see that I will need to do some thinning soon. This is a very tasty lettuce.

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The Garden Box of Joyous Anticipation needs to be replanted. The bell pepper yielded its last pepper this week. The basil has about one or two more batches of pesto left to be made. The arugula is too strong and bitter for us now, but is still good for the chickens. This has been a very productive component of my garden the past four months.

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Our Bloodflower Milkweed has provided food for a LOT of Monarch butterflies and caterpillars. But in December, we have no caterpillars.

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I can never remember the name of these pretty little orchids. They bloom year-round.

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I grow Allysum as a ground cover. Beneficial insects such as Hover Flies like it.

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Paperwhite Narcissus  are definitely seasonal, and this is their season. They just pop up out of the ground and bloom year after year from December into March.

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Jade is a drought-tolerant plant that blooms in December and January.

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These marigolds were a surprise. When the marigolds in my veggie beds were spent at the end of summer, I just tossed the seed heads outside of the raised bed on the ground. Viola, I got more marigolds! In December!!! Crazy.

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Nasturtiums self-seed in my yard. This is just about the first Nasturtium bloom of spring. They will bloom into June.

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Is this the first rose of summer or the last rose of the fall? Who can tell?

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Our rosemary bush blooms year-round. The bees love it.

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Here are some flower buds on our dwarf Eureka Lemon tree. The Valencia Orange just finished blooming and has set fruit. The oranges are ripening on the Navel Orange. It will bloom later. The lime, it seems, is always blooming and producing fruit. Love that tree.

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Here is a chicken update. Princess Aurora (on the far left) should start laying very soon as her comb and wattles seem grown and bright red now. Behind her, Chicken Little has finished her molt and her comb and wattles are red again. She may lay a few eggs this spring, but she is pretty old. Princess Aurora (the white Ameraucuna) is still a pullet, and not ready to lay yet, even though she is supposedly the same age as Aurora. Dino-peep, the Barred Rock on the right, has gone into molt and stopped laying.

Now that it is December and Dino-peep is molting, we are getting no eggs. We are now relying on eggs that we froze during the surplus of last May. I like to get 450 – 550 eggs a year, but this year we got a mere 290 eggs from three hens. Most of those were from Dino-peep. Poor Miss Hillary was eaten by an opossum in August, dropping us down to two hens, and that certainly affected egg production.

Here is hoping for a more productive 2017! With two young hens, that shouldn’t be a problem. I expect the new girls to lay 250-300 eggs each. Chicken Little is a senior citizen and I don’t expect more than a couple of dozen eggs from her. Who can tell with Dino-peep. She is a nasty bird, but a really good layer. She might be able to produce 150-200  eggs.

I hope that these cheerful flower pictures lifted the spirits of those of you who are snowed in until mid-March.

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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.

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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

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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