Friday, October 31, 2008

Hawk! Protecting the chickens.

About a week ago I was outside chatting with neighbors and SWOOP there goes a red-tailed hawk being chased by a bunch of grackles. Uh-oh. I have seen red-tailed hawks in downtown Phoenix before, but we've only had little kestrels in my neighborhood (that I've seen) until now. I thought about what I should do and that I'd better keep an eye out. Well, two days ago I hear a crazy commotion outside like someone just threatened 1000 bird nests and sure enough, I go outside and the sky is crazy with birds going every direction and right above them is my hawk. I move into the chicken pen figuring that would protect the chickens (who were all hiding beneath bougainvillea), when the hawk dives down and lands on a wall about 15 feet away from me. I move towards it and after a few steps it flies off onto the neighbors fence and I eventually get it to fly away. I had no idea they were so brazen.

The babies (now 7 and 5 weeks old) are still in a smaller fully enclosed coop, but the adult chickens are free-rangers inside the pen. I didn't want to confine them to their pen permanently, though I did for the rest of that day, so what should I do? I looked online for large netting, but that area would be very difficult to secure with a net because of several trees and bushes that are quite tall. I then read online about someone who spider-webbed his pen leaving smaller than 6 foot openings and that seemed to deter the hawks, so I grabbed a huge roll of macrame rope someone gave me and started webbing. I hope it works. It looks perfect for halloween back there, but I'm afraid after the holiday, my animal area is more starting to resemble a miniature shanty town. My neighbors undoubtedly think I'm crazy, I'm not sure it will even work, and it looks like crap. I think when our finances get a little more stable, I'm going to start saving up for the materials to build a 20'X 15' fully enclosed chicken aviary.

For several reasons, I hope that comes soon.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Class on keeping chickens at the Tiny Farm and the ducks get a new home :(

Today was an eventful day at the tiny farm.

As you know from previous posts, the ducks were just too loud. We tried a few things, they helped, but not enough to make us good neighbors again, so the ducks had to find a new home. They left tonight for their move to live near chickens in the garden at Mesa Community College. They will be protected and well-cared for, but I was (am) still *very* sad to see them go.
My friend from the farmer's market just got 4 muscovy ducks this last week, and I'm hoping that maybe in the spring we can get some eggs from him and hatch a few. Muscovies aren't cute like the khaki campbells, and they don't lay as many eggs, but they don't quack. It's a trade off.

In better news, through the Phoenix Permaculture Guild, I taught a class on keeping chickens at your house... here at my house. A lot of people turned up and I thought it went well, and I always love talking to people that are also interested in chickens.

In the background of these photos (to my right) you can see the in-progress solar oven, it's just about done, I'll make a detailed post when it's completed and I have temperature statistics. I sat through a very nice man's presentation about water softening to get a $25 home depot gift certificate which, when it comes, will let me get the rest of the parts I need to finish the oven.

In other 'being resourceful' news, the downtown arts district had a harvest festival last night and there were straw bales and pumpkins that were going to be thrown away at the end of the night. We brought home 2 straw bales, which also worked as great seating for my class today, and 9 big pumpkins, which we will eat. Thankfully, the rest of the straw found a home at a community garden instead of the dumpster, so nothing was wasted. :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Our backyard khaki campbells

Marigold, Pinto and Petunia, the cute ducks
The cute ducks 2 seconds later-- quacking
As some of you know, I hatched three khaki campbell ducks in July (I got lucky and hatched a boy and two girls). They were rescue eggs, whose mother had abandoned them. I have to say that watching them hatch was one of the coolest things I'd seen in my life and they were (and are) unbelievably cute.

I kept them in a playpool lined with towels that ended up needing changing twice a day because little ducks like to empty water dishes and poop. That went on for about a month and then they went into the outside cage and eventually graduated to free-reign chicken pen privileges. They ended up getting along with the chickens okay, but the chickens love the ducks' food and the ducks love to make all water into mud. This combined with their loud pre-dawn wake up calls made me think that it just wasn't going to work out. The neighbors didn't complain, I asked if they were bothered, and they said they weren't, but I know they have to just be being nice when they say that. I had posted a request to rehome them on the local permaculture forum and got a few replies, but when it came down to it, I just couldn't let them leave, so at the last minute I had to call the person who was set to come get them and tell him that we'd decided to give it another go. That was embarrassing, and I felt like a jerk. That morning my husband and I moved the duck pool and penned off about 175 square feet of the chicken pen for them to muddy up as they please.

So now I have the mud and food thievery problem solved, but they still have a round of loud quacking at 6am that carries on for about 5 minutes. I really really want to keep these ducks, but I can't imagine what time the quacking will begin in the summer when the sun comes up before 5. The other thing I'm hoping for is that maybe they'll settle in a little as they get older and start laying. Does anyone out there in internet land have any experience with this?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

General updates and chick pics, also a new solar oven build in the works??

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, my husband and I have been a little busy with figuring out where the dollars will come from. He doesn't seem very worried, but I'm the one that does all of our accounting and bill paying, so that's not as reassuring as it sounds. ;)
We finally got all my birthday trees and the free banana tree I got last week into the ground. I've also been busy transpanting some seed starts I had growing on the porch and about 140 onion starts. I'm plagued with those cabbage looper caterpillars so I spend a few minutes every morning picking those little plant eaters off and giving them to the chickens.
I'm still picking okra and eggplant and today I got my first black-eyed peas, which was super-exciting as I'd never grown them before this year, and after my experience earlier this year with the birds eating my bean plants down to the ground, I didn't have high hopes, but they seem to be thriving.

Here are some pictures of the chicks at 3 weeks, they are doing well and still very cute. In these photos they are still segregated from the younger chicks by the screen that's in the pictures. I was a little nervous about just dropping the new ones in with the older ones so I decided to give them some time to get to know one another while the babies got used to being alive. After a week of being separated by the screen, I combined them and everything was just fine. (It probably would have been fine anyway, I just didn't want to risk it) The bigger chicks would be going outside next week, except now that they are mixed in with our surprise chicks which are 2 weeks younger and not ready for outside yet. (It's still in the low 90's most days out here, but at night it goes down to the upper 60's).

Finally, I've got a new solar oven in the works. It will be made of glass and wood-- but plank wood rather than plywood, so there aren't any glues, formaldehyde or other nasty stuff. I've got the body of it completed and it gets up to 200 degrees without any reflectors. I'm hoping to get those built and attached this week. I've been taking step by step photos, so I'll post it all at once when it's all done. It seems crazy and un-smart to build an oven out of wood, but I'm pretty sure it will work out without any spontaneous combustion. Pretty sure.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Rare fruit classes and update

Yesterday was the fall plant sale accompanied by a great selection of FREE classes at our cooperative extension office. A person on the Phoenix Permaculture site posted about this and it couldn't have come at a better time. I didn't feel we had the money to buy any plants, like I'd originally intended, but I knew we had plenty of funds to cover free classes. ;) The ones I took were presented by master gardeners and members of the Arizona Rare Fruit Growers and included: tropical food plants in Phoenix, Grafting, Pomegranates, and Bananas and I ended up with a free tiny avocado tree from the grafting demo and a banana tree from the banana demo. I also got some free seed from the red okra they're growing in the demonstration gardens, which was a variety I planned on buying next year. I hope to pass on some of the information I learned in the coming days.

I came home and my husband and I planted the 6 citrus trees I had bought a week ago with birthday money. We now have 27 or 28 different varieties of fruit trees for a total of around 32 trees on our 1/5 acre lot. That sounds ridiculous, like we must be living in a forest of peach trees, but they really don't take up too much room.

I was so scatterbrained last week, I didn't post many chick updates, so here's a picture I took of Cosmo, our white-crested blue polish, almost a week ago. Tomorrow the groups of chicks will be 3 weeks old and 1 week old and I'll take some new pictures.

Thanks for all the comments and emails about our recent income slash. We're definitely going to try and make lemonade out of the situation. :)