The JARR Farmhouse Revisited

 

What a difference three months can make! For everyone considering, attempting, or winning at urban homesteading, here are some things to consider from “a house of four women who are completely unqualified farmers” but are having a go anyway, sharing inspiration and creative tips for container gardening and other homestead adventures direct from the southern California quarantine.

In April, the planter beds and containers were set up, the soil prepared, and the sowing commenced. See the previous post for our “before” photos. A lot of new skills came into play during May, June, and July, and now it’s time for the summer harvest. Let’s see how the ladies managed.

  1. Remember this lil chick? She was a dude. Four hens came home. One was an imposter and crows now.

    Are we planting flowers or fowls?

    Claudius Maximus Caesar is a lavender orpington. Attitude sold separately.

    Pika is a pheasant cochin, Mochi is a blue leghorn, and Boo is a blue plymouth. They trade manure and eggs for leftover garden produce and bugs. Win, win.

  2. Chickens here require a coop built like a maximum detention facility. Suburbia is no barrier to critters like coons, possums, snakes, weasels, bobcats, coyotes, hawks, skunks, and toddlers, all of whom love to ruin months of hard work in a single night. Build it, and they will come. Search my blog for other stories on chickens.

    Extra points for cuteness. This went inside a larger, chain-link enclosure.

  3. Speaking of extra, the watermelon patch has taken over most of the yard. The first five seeds were planted in April. Nothing happened. They planted another five seeds in May. Nothing sprouted. They bought watermelon seedlings and then it rained. Fifteen watermelon plants later, they could open a corner farm stand and sell melons if they wanted to. For now, they are making friends and influencing people with them. Smart business ladies.

    Summer picnic time!

  4. That one rain is a good reminder about SoCal: we have to water our yards and gardens. We live in a desert. But we are in denial. The spring months were unseasonably cool but by the end of July, the hot spells rolled in. Either way…we have to get out there and water the garden or lose everything. Here you can see the block planter with herbs gone to seed, the shelf planter with greens gone to bunnies (they jump? who knew?) and only part of the rioting watermelon patch.

    Planter mosh pit.

  5. Rows of corn planted along a fence grew to different heights, based precisely on how much sun vs shade they received during the day. Lesson: more sun = taller corn. Taller corn = more ears.

    Growing gold.

  6. The pumpkins fared well, although we are nowhere close to Halloween. Lesson: plant them in the summer for a fall harvest. Also: chunk them into the InstantPot and make homegrown pumpkin pies now because yum.

    Smallish but tasty.

  7. The rest of the garden grew nicely. The cucumbers and peppers are ready. Fresh salad greens came through quickly around the end of May and were afterward left to the bunnies. Late July is when tomatoes are bursting. The butternut squash were delicious.

    Chili pepper poppers, anyone?

    Little cuke cuties!

    Cheery cherry tomatoes!

  8. Last, but not least, we had a peek at the fruit trees in pots. I was a bit skeptical, but here’s proof that you don’t need a yard to harvest trees. These would fit on an apartment balcony.

    Meyer lemon tree. Harvest in winter.

    Mission figs. They will turn a glorious purple later.

How To Hypnotize A Chicken

How are your peeps coming along?

The winner of our Puffy (and Poopless) Peeps Give Away is Mike!

For the rest of you who received a box of real chicks in the mail, here’s a few more things you may want to ruminate on.

20160215_092055

Blondes (Leghorns) and redheads (Rhode Island Reds) are the usual backyard choices for laying hens.

They will start laying small “pullet” eggs around six months old, unless they start crowing, which sounds like a dying carburetor or maybe a moose with the hiccups.

Separate those. They are turning into roosters. Roosters are boys. Boys don’t lay eggs. Boys have cooties and attitudes. They must go.

I once had a hen that crowed though, so pay attention.

She laid an egg in the morning and crowed in the afternoon and the other hens decided she could stick around, but she had to be the one in charge of crossing the road.

Your hen will lay an egg a day for the next three years or so. You will protect it, feed it, water it, admire it, and clean the coop. You will tend the nest boxes every day and remove the eggs as fast as they’re laid so that when the hen returns to the nest and wonders, “That’s weird. I’m pretty sure it was here a minute ago,” she will shrug, go outside to play, and lay a new one in the morning.

Over and over and over.

Unless she’s a naughty hen, or maybe another breed like a Light Brahma or Polish, and decides to get “broody”. Then you have to crowbar her butt off the nest and steal the egg without getting your hand removed by the angry mama.

Who're you calling broody?

Who’re you calling broody?

This hen may get so broody that she decides to start her own nest somewhere you can’t find it, like our Bantams did once – on the roof.

You may discover how Easter Egg Hunts were invented and why.

You may discover, all by yourself because you’re very clever, your own special collection of rotten eggs, in case of emergencies.

Like a zombie attack.

You’re ready.

So when the nest boxes are suddenly empty every day, you have to ask yourself: “Are eggs about to roll off the roof onto my head and cause a zombie apocalypse or are my biddies turning the corner to henopause?”

This is important because you have been getting some amazing eggs. They have more nutrients and better flavor and brighter yolks and sometimes TWO yolks because you have some seriously happy hens. They get to run around and eat bugs. They get to poop on your patio. They like to roost on the swing set and take dust baths in the side yard.

Maybe all the ladies need is a nice massage, maybe a nap.

Yes.

It’s time to learn how to properly hypnotize a chicken.

If Clark Gable can do it*, so can you.

Our model today is a bearded Araucana rooster named Blackbeard. This tough guy keeps his harem on the straight and narrow.

  • Find your chicken. Lure it over with a bread crust. Say “chick, chick, chick”
  • Pick it up like a big cuddly feathery teddy bear
Blackbeard demonstrates how to hold a chicken: by the legs.

Blackbeard demonstrates how to hold a chicken who has attitude: by the legs.

  • It will wiggle. That’s okay. It doesn’t know how much fun it’s about to have
  • Gently lay it on its side, on the ground, like it’s nap time for chickys
  • With your finger, draw a line in the dust, from the chicken’s beak out and away, along it’s line of vision

Wait….what’s that?

  • When the chicken focusses on this line, it will go quiet and limp
Ooooh...it's so pretty....

Ooooh…it’s so pretty….

  • Time the time-outs with your buddies to see whose chook takes the longest nap
  • This, my friends, is how they make boneless chickens

The hens are laughing at me….aren’t they?

*Clark Gable made a black and white movie in 1945, “Adventure”, that was pretty much a bomb. Not even the love scenes were any good. But the man had chicken skills, and I will never see Rhett Butler the same way again.

A Puffy Peep Give Away

Welcome to “Chick Days” and my Puffy Peeps Give Away Drawing!

I’m not discussing my girlfriends, people, I’m discussing the fluffy chicken nuggets that everyone is about to rush out and buy because spring is springing and, darn it all, they’re adorable.

When I was little, my parents kept giant multi-level incubators from which hatched every chick imaginable. I would watch an egg the size of my thumbnail crack open and a tiny button quail puff would wobble around waiting to be rescued from between the egg turners.

So I understand the tractor-beam adorability going on. Been there, done that.

But frankly, I’d stick to the marshmallow variety if I were you.

These little mallows are just as cute and squeezy, but they won’t grow up and poop in the house.

Fine.

Before you go down to the feed store and buy peeps for your peeps, you need to have a brooder and a box ready.

Don’t go crazy and get more than six hens. That’s a heap of hens. My favorite number is three.

Regardless, have a very large box with shavings in the bottom, water and chick mash available, and a Metal Mama brooder.

I’m glad you asked.

Dad has been in the business, as I implied, since always. He makes every animal container you could dream up, and most of his construction is custom.

Think kennels, aviaries, tortoise homes, coops.

He calls it a “Metal Mama” and you need to put it in a corner of your box, not the middle. Chicks regulate their body temperature on their own, so give them options. They stay under the mama’s wings to get warm, and wander out exploring to cool off.

The bulbs used inside the Mama resemble the heat of a 60 watt incandescent, similar to heating elements from a reptile store, and are much cooler than the 150 watt naked bulbs that people mistakenly hang over their poor hot chicks. And there are two, in case one burns out in the middle of the night.

20160215_082936

See?

Your peeps start growing.

During week one, they stick close to their metal mama.

Your kids hang out next to the box 24/7 and name the chickees.

During week two, the chicks pace the entire limits of their box and start having thoughts.

Your kids start thinking about Minecraft and wander off.

Sometime in the middle of week three, you will walk in and find chicks perched on the edge of your cardboard box, pooping on the WRONG side of it and wondering how to break into the fridge.

You holler at the kids, wondering why the chicks are out of water again, and remove the metal mama because these chicks are giving her the stink eye.

It feels familiar.

Week four is liberation time. The fuzz is now feathers. They are becoming tweenagers.

Hopefully you’ve built them a poultry palace with multiple canopy beds, because it’s time for them to move out and get a job.

They will be just fine in the wilds of your coop.

Oh. It’s snowing out there?

Guess they will just have to live at home with you then, leaving dishes in the sink and watching Netflix till all hours.

You should have seen this coming, people.

Let’s stick with marshmallow peeps for today’s drawing, though adorability and my genetics demand otherwise.

Kindly subscribe to my blog or comment in the box below about anything ‘spring chicken’ and I will put you into the drawing for a package of oozy gooey sticky smushy marshmallow peeps.

I think the Postman is the only natural predator for this variety of peep; apparently they send treats to “Singapore”.

So we’ll do our best.

Nine, Ten, a Big Fat Hen

It’s weird. You never see a poster tacked up on a light pole with:

“MISSING! Large Hen. Black and white stripes.
Answers to “Lucky”. Owners heartbroken. REWARD!”

Although I grew up with dogs and rabbits and birds and turtles and guinea pigs, chickens are just obviously the pet of choice.

They are self grooming, cuddly, colorful, and they eat your kitchen scraps and leftovers.

They roost at night. All by themselves.

And they give you eggs for breakfast.

Many times, we’ve had hens in our large backyard, and they roamed free during the day, gobbling up bugs and visiting with the neighbors through the fence. They came running when we called them and followed us around like puppies, begging for treats.

They never went rogue and so long as we remembered to close the henhouse every evening, things were fine.

Our phone did ring at 2am once. The little old lady next door was calling to report that one of our hens was being eaten by a fox…right under her bedroom window.

This was a new one. We’ve had possums and skunks and raccoons and coyotes and weasels in town before. It was almost worth losing a hen to see a fox.

One afternoon I watched out the window as a huge red-tailed hawk swooped down at the hens. It pulled up at the last minute and landed on the ground next to them. The hens and the hawk were the same size, and the hawk realized after several minutes of deep and desperate thought that he would never be able to carry one away.

The stare-down ended when the hawk flew off.

Our hens always did have a little attitude after that.

Cheeky things.

Once in a while, the kids were allowed to dabble in other pets.

We had hamsters that escaped regularly. I didn’t really grudge them their freedom. Less things I had to clean. They would eventually return after a couple of days to their little hamster palaces.

Except the one who set up shop sandwiched between the kitchen countertop and the dishwasher.

It’s startling when you reach to open the dishwasher door and whiskers are sticking out over the handle.

You scream, leap backwards and drop your fine china.

Not pretty.

And exactly why a pet reptile or tarantula will never happen.

My sister was having the same issues with her children; small pets that were fun for a week, then just one more thing to take care of once the kids were bored.

She came by for a visit once and disappeared for ten minutes.

Blending back into the house of kids and chaos with a sneaky smile on her face, she mentioned that they no longer had the two tiny pet mice her kids had picked out a month ago.

“Oh really?” I asked, “Did they escape? You should check your dishwasher.”

She frowned a little as she poured coffee.

“Well,” she replied, “I’m pretty sure we won’t be able to find them.”

She sipped cheerfully then. “On the other hand, you have some really high protein eggs coming in this week.”

Yeah. Eew. Chickens are carnivores.

Glad she didn’t need to get rid of a turtle.

Not Again!

It’s time to Spring Forward. Twice a year we move the clocks, replace the batteries in our smoke detectors, and get our teeth cleaned. Gooood times.

How was your week? Mine’s gotten better since I filled my camelback with espresso.

Everything has been coming at such a fast pace, I fall into bed exhausted each day only to smack the alarm clock across the room the next morning.

I have jet lag and not even a vacation to remember for it.

Every time our wonderful government changes to Daylight Saving Time the chickens and I go on strike. We plan on making hay while the sun shines, and not one minute before it does.

I always thought we invented this lovely little torture device to help out farmers. So originally, I was okay with it. I can put up with some inconvenience if it helps them feed America.

But then I actually pushed a couple of Google buttons, and do you know what? It’s a lie. Turns out, farmers were the biggest opponents of the idea. They have to wait for the dew to dry on crops before they can harvest them, while the market runs on, hours ahead of them.

I won’t be telling my hens about the movie I watched the other day.

It said the mass market for eggs compels some chicken ranchers to keep their hens in artificially lit henhouses on timers. Eggs are produced with greater regularity and business booms because ranchers are outsmarting the finicky creatures. Hens lay eggs during warm daylight hours, and when the sun or the temperature goes down so do they.  What motivates these ladies is a 12-hour-a-day year-round simulated vacation in the Bahamas.  Sounds great until you realize this can only go on for a couple of years before the exhausted things are turned into pot pies.

Believe it or not, cows are not interested in moving their milking times around in the morning just because the dairy moved the clock hands forward an hour. I imagine the dairymen are not going to house their cows in giant artificially lit stadiums, though.

Not so surprisingly, the grilling and golf industries voted two enthusiastic thumbs up, convincing our government to stretch DST from six to our current eight months long.  I suppose they don’t think about where the chicken and beef on those barbecue grills came from?

And if you had a choice between an extra hour of sleep and an extra hour of golf, which would you choose? I know, right?

Research shows our risk of a heart attack surges by 10% on the Monday and Tuesday following our big Spring Forward.

That could be from the alarm clock shrieking into our ears in the dark.

It could stem from our attempt to defeat the jet lag with gallons of caffeine and sugar.

It could come from reading about how the egg industry treats chickens.

But I ask you: Are we going to keep putting up with this nonsense?

When I want to be healthy, wealthy and wise, I’ll let you know.

In the meantime, get off my roost!