Monday, November 2, 2009

Fall planting

For the past couple of weeks I had been working on getting the fall crops in. Our average first frost in Phoenix is usually the first or second week in December so after the ridiculous summer heat, there's a brief season kind of like spring, as well as the root vegetable crops that overwinter with the frosts.

Spinach, Beets and Lettuce Sprouting

As usual I have more things I want to plant than space to plant them. This year we're growing three kinds of peas including a native type, six kinds of beets (my favorite!), several kinds of disgusting radishes (my husband's favorite), lots of different kinds of lettuces, some onions, lots of herbs, broccoli, carrots and a few experimental cold-tolerant tomatoes as well as some huge cherry tomatoes that over-summered. New this year are cabbages (for kraut), leeks, parsnips, turnips and kohlrabi. I've never had turnips or kohlrabi (to my knowledge) and I know the rule is not to plant things you don't like, but I'm afraid I wouldn't ordinarily like them, but I seem to like eating anything I grow, so maybe it's a better way to get me to like something that might otherwise be revolting.

This sounds like a lot more than it is, some of these varieties only get allocated a square foot or two. Our total vegetable gardening space is only about 250-300 square feet, not including the fruit trees.

Here's one of the garden beds about 10 days ago and again yesterday:

I know it's a bit crowded in there. I know when I'm planting that those tiny seeds a probably a little close but I just can't stop myself. Those plants will just have to get a new sense of personal space. I also decided that flowers aren't a total waste of garden space and put in a few. Here's a better shot of a great little snapdragon.

I hope you all are enjoying your fall gardens (if you live in a place that can grow them) or some time off getting ready for the seed catalogs to arrive!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween and birthday. New babies are here!

The weather started to warm up from that harsh cold front just in time to have the doors and windows open on Halloween. This begins the time of year when I am thankful for where I live. The highs are in the mid to upper 80's for the next 7 days and it's perfect out. No panting or shivering animals anywhere. Although we do have 20 new babies that just hatched last night and this morning and would prefer it was closer to 100 degrees. Here they are, Happy Birthday and Halloween to our most recent batch of Coturnix quail babies. Most of these little guys will be sold to help pay for feed and other things I need around the tiny farm. This brings the total of birds hatched here in 2009 to 158.

We celebrated with a batch of pumpkin pancakes, made from a native pumpkin (Mayo Blusher Squash) I picked back in July and just now got around to cooking. MMmm pumpkin eating season has begun!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Grinding corn and mesquite flour

A week or so ago I got out the dried ears of flour corn and the dried honey mesquite bean pods to make flour. You can grind corn with just about anything (grain mill, coffee grinder etc) but mesquite is much trickier. You'll mess up most appliances and mills if you try to grind the pods in them. Once a year a hammer mill is brought from Tucson to Phoenix and you can grind your mesquite and carob pods for a nominal fee but I decided to do it the old fashioned way.
When I was a kid my parents had this metate as yard decoration. When I grew up and got a house, I brought it here for practical use. Here's me grinding some corn:

I had a miserable flour corn crop and my two small mesquite trees were only planted last fall, I still got a cup or so of each kind of flour. I'm really looking forward to next year or maybe 5 years from now when I get lots. There are plenty of mesquite trees to harvest from in the area, but most of those are not the right kind of mesquite and the flour tastes a tiny bit skunky after the initial sweet flavor. The flour made from honey mesquite basically tastes like you ground up some sugary mesquite bbq flavored chips and mixed them with your flour. MMMMMMM!

Tomorrow, a generous member of the rare fruit growers club has offered to give me some dragonfruit cuttings.....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chicken Book is Published!

So many of you know that I had been working with Greg Peterson (of the Urban Farm) on a small pocket guide to keeping chickens called Fowl Play. There are several chicken books out there already, including one with a similar title that came out around the same time, but this is a small what-you-really-need-to-know guide. Easy to refer to with clear information. Here's the Amazon link: Fowl Play: Your Guide to Keeping Chickens in the City
It's neat to have an ISBN number.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Still Here! Fall Planting

Like a lot of blog people, I've been on a bit of a summer recess. Both because it's been 115 all summer and not much has been going on and because I've been really busy in my job as a painter getting ready for shows.

Here is a brief summary of what's happened at the Tiny farm this summer: We had a new batch of Coturnix quail, I sold most of them as babies and had about 17 left, of those 11 were males and I kept 1 male and the 6 females. I'm not sure why we had such a high rate of males this batch. It was probably close to 75%. The muscovy ducks, Daphne and Delilah, got more and more territorial and started attacking everything around. It was very stressful for the chickens and eventually for me when they began running to attack me any time they heard me coming. They're strong birds and broke skin a few times. I think they were mad about my constant nest raiding. They went to a nearby home where there are 9 other Muscovies and no chickens. I think they'll be very happy there and since there are males around, they might get to have ducklings some day. We lost one of our old chickens so now we are down to 6. I try not to buy chicks more frequently than once every 2 years to prevent myself from getting overrun with less productive chickens in the future. It's a strange feeling to have so few birds in the pen.

Now on to the more exciting stuff! Today is significant for two reasons-- one, it is my last day in my 20's... two, because it is the first day of fall planting! Today I'll be planting beets, which I've been waiting for all summer. I bought some new heirlooms so amongst the usual Early Wonder, Detroit Dark Red etc. I'll be planting an albino beet, which is a very sweet white sugar beet from Holland and a beet called Crapaudine (They should have had a naming contest if that was the best they could come up with) which is supposedly a variety that's over 1000 years old. It looks more bark-like but I hear it has amazing flavor.

This week I'll also be planting Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli, Danvers Carrots, Nantes Carrots and St. Valery carrots, Gold Princess Onions, Texas Early Grano Onions and several varieties of radish. Peas, Garlic, Lettuce and Parsnips will go in during the beginning of October once the highs get down below 100 consistently. Fall can't get here soon enough!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


This heat is ridiculous. Hottest July on record. I can't remember the last day that the high was below 112, with most days being 115+. It's going to be 120+ for the next few days. The weather report always seems to be 5 degrees cooler than it is at my house, I put a second thermometer up because I thought maybe the first one was wrong. I went out and did a little tree pruning the other day because it was "only" 110, a beautiful day for yardwork.
It wouldn't be that big of a deal if I could just stay inside in my nearly pleasant 85 degree home, but if the chickens and quail are going to survive (the muscovies have a much higher tolerance for heat) I have to bring them ice for their water baths every few hours. I know those of you in the NW are dealing with 105 temps that must seem out of this world to you with little or no air conditioning, me and my birds sympathize.

Sorry for all the complaining. On a brighter note, the baby quail are doing well and I'm looking forward to replacing some of my crazy/aggressive birds with them in about a month.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Quail hatch #2!

This past weekend we had our second round of quail eggs hatch. These were all from eggs that my quail or my friend's quail laid. They hatched pretty early, days 14 and 15, and a couple on day 16 instead of the usual 17. I think this may have something to do with the fact that the eggs were laid in 100-110 degree weather, that may have given the ones that hatched a jumpstart on the incubation.

We had 39 birds hatch out of 92 eggs set, which is a meager 42% hatch rate, but a lot of the set eggs were old and were stored in far less than ideal conditions, at 85 degrees instead of the recommended 55-65 degrees. Three birds died, two of those were very sickly runts from the beginning and one I think was smothered or trampled the first night. Overall I'm pleased with the results and I'm going to do another hatch or two in the fall.

I am thinking about selling sexed quads (one male, three females) for $17.50 or you can add another female and make it an even $20. The birds would all be 3-4 weeks old. This is much cheaper than you can get them at any feed store around here. This seems like a good deal for the buyer and compensates me for my time, feed and hatching costs. I wonder how many takers I'd find around town.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Produce from June

Here's a shot of some of what's been growing at the tiny farm this summer. This shot was taken in late June, but I'm just now getting to it. The big thing that looks like a melon is actually a squash, the little green things in the lower right are a native passionfruit that is a volunteer in my yard. The jar has sun-dried tomatoes in it dried in the solar dehydrator, I plan on saving 24 cups of sun dried tomatoes for the winter as well as trying to grow some winter tomatoes. I have recently planted: Sub-Arctic Plenty, Stupice, and Siberian tomatoes. Hopefully I'll get closer to my year round tomato goal!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Been awhile! Birds in the heat.

Sorry for my lack of posts. Here's a synopsis of what has been happening at the oven usually known as the Tiny Farm.

It's been ridiculously hot here. This whole week the high is around 115 and the lows are in the low 90's. This means that the birds never get a break. The muscovies were being real troopers until today when they finally started panting and just hanging out next to the water dish in the shade all day and completely giving up on chasing me around, which seems to be their favorite thing to do. I don't know why they don't just get in the water.
The chickens are far less heat tolerant than the ducks and are really miserable. Every morning around 5:30 am (when it's a brisk 94 degrees) I give the birds some cool vegetables (lettuce, melon, cucumbers etc) to get them hydrated and cooled off. The sprinklers come on around 6:30 and get the area under their favorite bushes nice and wet. Around 9:30-10:30 when the temps get to around 105, I put frozen water bottles with no lids, in shallow pans under their bushes so they can drink the cool water or stand in it if they want to. I replace the frozen water bottles around 3 or 3:30 when the temps are about 115 and hose off the bushes they hang out under to make sure it stays damp under there for them. Once they go up to roost at night I hose their feet/roosting bar off, which they don't particularly enjoy, but I think it helps them.

The quail get their water from one regular water bottle and one that was frozen the night before so as it melts it makes nice cool water (until of course it heats up into unpleasant warm water). Instead of filling their dust bathing dish with sand, I fill it with ice a couple of times a day. Like the chickens, they stand in it and drink the cool water. I also put a few ice cubes on some heavy cotton fabric in the cages so it keeps the fabric cool as the ice melts.

As you can see keeping birds in the desert, especially the chickens and non-native quail can be a big pain, luckily it's only this much work when the temps are consistently over 110 for several days in a row. Which is hopefully less than three weeks a year. Even with the extra steps each chicken is laying an average of only one egg a week. (Interestingly, the quail are still laying around 5 each a week.) I know lots of people that don't take quite as many extra measures, but I feel like it's my resposibility to do what I can to make them comfortable since I'm responsible for bringing them to Phoenix.

I also have about 100 coturnix eggs in the incubator due to hatch around July 27th! This will be my first batch of quail eggs to hatch from my own birds, I'm interested to see what kind of hatch rate I get.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Coturnix Quail update

Some of you may remember that I hatched some quail about two months ago. About a week ago they began laying and I'm getting several quail eggs every day. I originally hatched 85, sold all but 17, but then sold even more as I figured out which ones were roosters. A cat killed one and caused another to himself pretty badly, which I ended up putting down and eating--- this was before the chicken butchering, it was much much easier and actually gave me the confidence to get the meat chickens. I had a few hens in one pen that were fine on their own but very aggressive when I put a rooster with them and they nearly killed him. Since I plan on breeding these birds that wasn't going to work, so I sold them too.

I ended up with too few birds so a friend that I had sold about 50 to was kind enough to allow me to buy 3 hens back. So now I'm at 8 quail, with a rooster to hen ratio of one male to 3 females. I plan on keeping one male for every five females and upping my total number of quail to 18. This will give me a dozen+ eggs a day since Coturnix are pretty reliable daily layers. A dozen quail eggs are equal to between 2-3 chicken eggs in volume.

I'm surprised at some of the difficulties I've encountered with raising the quail. Like chickens, they don't always take to being mixed with new birds. With quail though at least you can usually add a hen to a group with no trouble but mixing bigger groups can be tricky and they can be very brutal. Quail can and will kill each other if they don't get along. For these reasons, in addition to the fact that they can be a little more difficult as chicks (because of their tiny size they are prone to drowning in even a small jar lid full of water, sidenote: they also require unmedicated gamebird starter feed-- they need the higher protein) I would say they are leaning between a beginner and intermediate poultry pet.

Even with those downsides Coturnix quail have so many things going in their favor I'd be very quick to recommend them! They are quick maturers and reliable layers. Quail roosters have a very pretty call, that most people would think was a neighborhood songbird-- sounds like "look at meeeeee", so for people wanting to breed birds in the city, quail can be a way to do that (they won't usually sit on their own eggs, you will need to incubate them). The call, while pretty can start up very early in the morning, so you might not want to have a large number of roosters or people will soon be onto you! They require only about one square foot of cage space per bird so apartment dwellers, especially those with a small balcony could have them and get their own fresh eggs. (Apartments are such close living arrangements I would probably skip the rooster here, but that won't diminish your egg supply!) People plagued by HOA regulations could have them too, as it's a small caged bird I believe it falls under "regular pets". They are easier to process than chickens if you are choosing to have some for the meat (the jumbo varieties can reach up to a pound of live weight). There are all different color variations, so if you are interested in genetics, you can do some fun experimenting with different crosses to see what color combinations you get.

My quail pens, bought brand new off of Craigslist for $50 each

It is recommended that you keep them on wire (in cages), this keeps the eggs nice and clean and the birds parasite free. They are great flyers and vulnerable prey so there is no chance of free-ranging them, but I may experiment with tractoring a batch down the road just to see how it goes. The backyard chicken movement really has momentum right now, but I know very few people that keep Coturnix quail, I'm hoping that more people discover them because they're great producers of eggs and meat and such a fun versatile bird.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Processing meat chickens

I was thinking about ordering a dozen or so meat birds this fall, my husband who likes meat far more than I, was pretty much on board. I wanted to do this a part of being more self-sufficient and also feeling like if I was going to eat meat I should have the responsibility of processing my own animals at least once in awhile and really respect how they get to the table. Lucky me was perusing Craig's list and saw that a feed store in town had 8 week old meat birds on sale, 5 for $20. They were not organic, but you couldn't even raise a meat bird conventionally for $4, so we brought them home yesterday morning and this morning we got up at dawn to dress them.

I won't give you details, but it didn't go as smoothly as you would hope. We used a killing cone made out of a very large plastic apple cider vinegar bottle and a very big knife. We opted to go for decapitation instead of bleeding them out or any of the other methods because we thought the chickens would suffer the least this way. Plucking the chickens took us forever (about an hour each), soooo many little pinfeathers. It was so frustrating that we skinned the last three. I was in charge of gutting, which was more nauseating than I was prepared for. (This is coming from someone who loved to draw and paint from cadavers when I used to have the opportunity.)

I thought I would feel proud of myself, or at least like now I earned my right to eat meat, but mostly I just feel sick. I have no desire to eat chicken for a verrry long time. These birds will be vacuum-sealed and frozen and will not go to waste, but it will be awhile. I know most people have better outcomes and feel a great sense of accomplishment, but both of us are leaning more towards being mostly vegetarians and will never butcher chickens again.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Delilah the duck has a surprise!

Well this morning I went out to feed everyone and one of the new ducklings we got was running around, she apparently had dug her way out of the pen and couldn't get back in. After trying to catch her for about 15 minutes (and the other animals "helping") I had to go wake up my husband to help me wrangle her. As soon as we got her back in with her mom I took care of the rest of the birds and thought I heard some cheep cheeps... well there's about 15 nests around our house with baby birds in them... but none of those are in the chicken coop. Here's what I saw:

Roxie gets a little curious

These are from the first round of fertile chicken eggs I got from the friend that has Dazzler, the rooster we had to rehome. We had 6 eggs, one broke, one was clear (infertile) and she got the other four to hatch. Today was only day 20 and these chicks were already nice and fluffy early this morning, so I think they hatched late on day 19. They're really chubby, I think because of the extra humidity that ducks provide. I have read several things about not letting the muscovies brood the baby chicks, one reason being that they sometimes step on and crush the chicks that aren't prepared for giant heavy duck feet, and also because ducks try to introduce their babies to water, which for a chicken chick, doesn't work out so well. So it made me a little sad, and Delilah very angry, but I put the chicks in a brooder.

She still seems to be sitting on the nest, she had a few chicken eggs that are a week old under her (I had no room in the incubator), so she may be trying to hatch those out. I also grabbed a few of the duck eggs from the incubator and gave those to her as well, partly as an I'm-sorry-for-stealing-your-chicks gift. I'll keep a close eye on her and hopefully she'll hatch out a second round that are due in a little less than three weeks (all of the remaining chicken and duck eggs are scheduled to hatch at the same time). If she manages to sit for that whole time it would be a total of just over 6 weeks. That seems like a really long time, but since Muscovy eggs take about 5-5.5 weeks to hatch, it's certainly possible she'll do it.

I counted this morning and I think we have 45 birds here at the tiny farm. Wow.

Four Easter Egger chicks warm in the brooder

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Muscovy Ducklings!

It's the time of year for things to start hatching. The woman whom we got our Muscovies from is moving and can't take her ducks, and the duck had hatched 11 eggs last week. Today they arrived at the tiny farm! We will be finding new homes for most, if not all, of the new ducks. The mama looks so rough because she was outnumbered by males 4 to 1 and they all thought she was pretty. Her feathers have started coming back in, and we'll keep her for at least as long as it takes to get her back into good shape. Look at her blue eyes!

I hope a couple of her babies get her eye color. It's so neat to see all the different color patterns. These ducklings are full brothers and sisters to ours, the father, who died just before the duck started sitting was solid black. He was a great duck who loved to be pet and was very very friendly. His personality seemed to come through a little in our ducks, which let you pet them. I hope this batch gets that as well.

There are few things as cute as ducklings.

Quail pictures at one week

The chicks are a little over 2 weeks now, so I'm behind in the picture posting, I'll do another update in a few days to get you up to speed on their progress.
Out of the 85 that I hatched, I kept 17. One of those was a runt that I helped out of the shell (I know, never do just looked so sad stuck in there), another has a funny bend in the back, nothing serious, I just don't want to breed it, and there's another one of the Jumbos that has weak legs. I have it and the runt in a separate brooder with some additional vitamins (really aimed at the weak leg one, the runt will likely never catch up in size, though it has as much pep as any of the others). These three "non-breeders" will stay separated, if they all turn out to be females, I'll just use them for eggs meant for the table rather than the incubator.

As you can see from the photos, the chicks went from the size of a quarter to the size of chicken chicks in one week!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Quail chicks are hatched!

The eggs in the incubator

They started hatching right on time at the beginning of day 17 and continued through the end of day 18. I can't stress enough how much I enjoy the short incubation of quail chicks. We started with 118 eggs and ended up with 110 going into the final period of incubation. Out of those we hatched 85 baby quail. Because of the large number I couldn't candle all of them, so after the hatch was over and I checked the remaining eggs I realized around 20 infertile/never developed eggs were included in that 110 eggs.

That's rubber drawer-liner on the bottom of the incubator, the quail chicks are so small that their feet could slip through the standard mesh.

I keep the incubator in the pantry as it's the most out of the way place in our very small house. I get so excited (Notice my refraining from using the punny "egg-cited"? You're welcome.) about hatch day that for two nights I slept on the tile floor in the doorway of the kitchen and pantry so I could listen to them hatch and get up every 2 hours and see what was going on. People who incubate will commonly tell you to wait before the entire hatch is over before removing chicks, so you don't mess up the humidity level which can cause birds to not be able to hatch. With quail, at least in this volume, I learned that you can't really do that. They are very aggressive, curious and hungry and after they get mobility figured out, they just run all over the place and peck at the toes of the newly hatching quail (which, to them, look like tiny worms sticking out of the eggs I imagine). So about once every few hours I'd quickly grab all the dried off chicks and move them to the brooder. I felt I could safely do this because my humidity was hovering in the 80% range due to all the wet chicks, so even when I opened the lid it never dipped below 60% (the recommended humidity levels for hatching quail is somewhere around 60-65%). Quail babies also like the temperature a little warmer than baby chickens and ducklings, they seem to prefer the brooder closer to 100 degrees rather than the usual 95. Enough with the statistics, here's more pictures!

Speedy quail chicks in the incubator

It's hard to get over just how small they are. Here's one in my hand, and that's a power-ade bottle cap in the upper left that they're eating out of.

This video illustrates why you want to be the first one to hatch. Actually this chick is relatively lucky the others are just ignoring it instead of pecking at the new shiny thing in the incubator.

I just can't get over how tiny they are. These chicks will be laying eggs themselves in 6-7 weeks!

Edited to add: I forgot to mention that I got eggs mixed from several different color patterns, that's why there are different looking chicks.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Mulberry cobbler

Our neighborhood has about one mulberry tree per house, maybe more. We have 7, two males and 5 females. Four females and a male are still pretty small and not really producing much yet. This time of year is one of my favorites, the weather is still nice and every afternoon I go out on my bike riding around the neighborhood picking mulberries off the trees that are close enough to pick from the street. Most people consider them a nuisance because they make such a mess, and don't even bother to eat any. I figure I'm doing the neighborhood a service by keeping a few hundred (thousand?) berries from falling onto the ground. I always freeze some, but I try and use them up as much as possible, but it gets tricky finding new ways to go through a pound a day. (Next year, maybe mulberry wine). For Easter breakfast I modified a berry cobbler recipe I found on Chiots Run

I thought I had taken a picture of the cobbler, but all I can find is one of the mulberries. So here's an image of the berries I used. A mixture of purple and white mulberries (ripe when white).

Mulberry Cobbler
1 cup of all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons regular sugar
2 Tablespoon of course sugar (I use the sugar in the raw/turbinado stuff)
1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 cup cold butter
1 egg (I use a duck egg mmmm!)
1/4 cup of milk

6 cups fresh mulberries from your neighborhood trees
1/8 cup lemon juice
1 Tablespoon of sugar
1 Tablespoon of cornstarch

For filling: in a saucepan combine the berries, lemon juice, sugar (or honey) and cornstarch and 1/4 cup of water. Let stand for 10 minutes. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly, keep warm.

For topping: in a medium bowl stir together flour, regular sugar, baking powder and cinnamon. Cut in butter till mixture resembles coarse crumbs, set aside.

In a small bowl stir together egg and milk. Add to flour mixture, stirring just to moisten. Transfer filling to a 2 quart baking dish, or large cast iron skillet. Using spoon, drop topping onto small mounds atop filling. Sprinkle course sugar on top.

Bake cobbler in a 400 degree oven for 20-25 minutes or till a wooden toothpick inserted into topping comes out clean. Serve warm.

Next time, I would switch out 1/3 of the mulberries for blackberries or raspberries, because the mulberries are very sweet, but I think it would be more flavorful with some other berries mixed in.

Here is the estimated cost breakdown:
Mulberries, duck eggs, lemon juice: $0 (of course not including the cost of duck food)
Organic flour: $ .20
Organic sugar: $ .05
Organic milk: $ .07
cornstarch: $ .02
Organic Butter: $ .80
Cinnamon: $.02
Baking powder: $ .02

Total ingredients cost: $ 1.18
The tiny farm is sticking it to the man once again. :)

P.S. I am sitting on my hands waiting for these quail. If everything goes right, we should start seeing signs of hatching in 24-36 hours!

Coturnix Quail Hatch, day 12

Happy Easter! My favorite holiday second to my birthday. We started the day with an easter egg hunt (my husband is kind enough to hide eggs for me every year) and I made a mulberry cobbler, which I will post about later.

Several weeks ago I had made the decision to go ahead with raising a few Coturnix quail, for egg and probably meat production. These quail will become fully mature at 6-7 weeks, and begin laying or be ready to process (Live weight will be between 11-15 ounces). The females will lay about 6 eggs a week and though the eggs are much smaller, their feed to egg weight ratio is better than chickens or ducks. I went ahead and ordered 100+ eggs from the internet. While I was MIA from my blog, a package of quail eggs arrived! I had a little postal delay that was frustrating... the eggs made it from Pennsylvania to Phoenix in one day, but it took 4 more days for them to get from the main Phoenix postal depot to my house. Five days in the postal system is not great for eggs and will probably decrease my hatch rate some, but hopefully the extra eggs she sent will make up for those losses.

Opening the box

The best egg packaging ever

Ordering eggs (and chicks) in Phoenix can be very tricky since usually by the time it's warm enough in the places the eggs and chicks come from, it's too hot here to receive them and then in October when it finally cools down below 100, it's already freezing in the places the eggs come from. There are a few hatcheries in warmer climates, but it seems like those places hardly ever carry the breeds I'm interested in. So it was nice that there was agreeable weather on both ends of the shipment. After I got them all unpacked, there was only one broken: 119 out of 120... not bad.

All 120 eggs

One really great thing about hatching this breed of quail is that the incubation period is only 17 days, that's only half the time of the Muscovy ducks! Here are the eggs going into the preheated incubator.

Quail eggs are notoriously difficult to candle (when you shine a bright light into the egg to see what's going on in there) because of their size and their really dark shells. I got a 135 lumen headlamp from Target on clearance for $10 and that seems to be the only light that I own that's bright enough to see anything through a quail egg. Because there are so many eggs to check and you don't want to lose the heat/humidity in your incubator you need to take the entire egg turner out and leave the incubator lid closed while you're candling, and even this way you don't want the eggs to cool down much so 10 minutes is the maximum amount of time I have them out. You won't be able to see much before about day 7 or 8, and you also want to leave the eggs alone during the most critical development stages: the first few and the last few says so I checked about 80 of them on day 8 most of them seemed to be progressing normally, some were clear (infertile) and I pulled 3 cracked eggs and a rotten one. (The rotten one stank, so I needed to be sure and get it out of there before it exploded all over my good eggs). I think the few eggs that cracked got cracked in the egg turner because they were too big and hit the turner trays next to them. I marked the clear eggs and put them back in because some of them are just too difficult to judge and I'd hate to throw out a developing egg because of my own candling incompetence. I'll re-check the marked eggs when I'm taking them out of the turner for the hatch, by that point it will be obvious if anything developed because the whole egg (except for the air cell) will be dark if there's a chick in it or clear if there's nothing.

Now we are at day 12 with 5 days to go. I will take the eggs all out of the automatic turner and lay them on the incubator floor 3 days before hatch. This gives them a chance to get situated and get ready to hatch, but it's also important because hatch times can vary anywhere from 14-19 days and you don't want them to try and hatch while they're still turning. Time to sit on my hands and wait. :)

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Where have I been??

Right now since I'm feeling sick I figured I'd take advantage of my down time to post an update. I've been busy working on paintings for a show I have coming up and that has consumed most of my awake time and will continue to do so for the next couple weeks so posts may be sporadic for a little while longer. Hopefully you're all so busy planting that you don't even notice. :)

The duck eggs are still in the incubator, but this past week we had a serious temperature spike in the incubator that I am pretty sure killed all of the developing ducklings. I'm pretty upset about it, and I'm going to go ahead an leave them in there until their scheduled hatch date (Wednesday the 25th) but I haven't seen any movement in the eggs in several days and they don't appear to be developing. I can't really figure out what would have caused that to happen, but I'm going to be making some adjustments and doing some tests before I put the quail eggs in there next weekend.

Speaking of temperature spikes... the weather has been hovering around 90 for the past few days causing the remaining lettuces and herbs to bolt. I'm not really ready for warm weather yet, luckily it's supposed to dip back into the low 80's next week.

Out of the 50 or so tomatoes I planted, about half of them are doing well. About 5 have already been pulled, and several others seem to just be stunted after I transplanted them, but I'm giving them time to catch up. This is what I expected to happen which was why I planted so many in the first place. We have a few tiny green tomatoes developing, I'm hoping to get my first ripe one before May.

We also have some good news on the duck front, one of our muscovy ducks started laying this week! Not only that, they've begun eating flies. We were starting to think that the whole muscovy fly-eating thing was a trick to sell ducks, but now I've witnessed it several times and it's great entertainment. The ducks run around with their necks fully extended and their heads almost touching the ground snapping their bills like mad. Like chickens, the ducks seem to become more friendly once they begin laying. Now the one that's laying lets me pet her every once in awhile.

I'm off to rest!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Around the tiny farm: The animal pen

Here are just a few photos illustrating what's going on this time of year in the animal pen.

Delilah taking a bath. That water was clean not too long before I took the picture. Ducks have a way of getting water very dirty quickly. This shot is in between splashing like mad, they get everything within a several foot radius very wet, which is why I thought it would be smart to plant the sugar cane on the other side of the fence there. After the ducks take a bath, they hop out and run around the pen full speed with their wings flapping, it's hilarious to me, but I think the chickens would prefer to not have giant ducks zooming at them.

All of the older birds are now laying, the last one to start was Cosmo, the white-crested blue polish last week (at around 24 weeks). We're averaging 6-7 eggs a day between 9 birds that are currently laying. It's gotten noticeably louder, mostly with the "Get out, I want to be in that nestbox" noise, which is not my favorite thing to hear. Here's Pizazz (named after the Gem and the Holograms character), our australorp in one of the boxes. I leave the plastic 'training eggs' in the boxes in the nests even after the chickens begin laying just for fun, also, it can't hurt to remind the chickens...

The compost was in bad need of turning, and I was feeling lazy about doing it, so I opened the little gate to the compost bin and for the past few days the chickens have been doing the work for me. They love it and do a far superior job. Now I'll sift the finished compost into a separate container and shovel the rest back into the bin.

Finally, I decided to build a potato bed in the chicken pen. There isn't any grass in there, so I don't have to worry about sprouts of bermuda popping through the potato patch. The chicken wire has so far kept the chickens away from the sprouting potatoes and the newspaper lining has done a good job of keeping the soil in. For seed potatoes, I just went to the farmers market and got some organic red potatoes, yukon golds and fingerlings. This also gives me a good place to dump dirty water when I'm cleaning the waterers instead of having to haul it around the yard or wasting it.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

New hen!

Rachel's tiny farm got a new hen! Well, in a round-about way I got an old hen back. Remember when the hatchery accidentally shipped my order to me again two weeks after I got the first 26 chicks? Well I was visiting the urban farm the other day, where 10 of those chicks ended up and I commented on how beautiful one of his hens was, and it turns out it was one of the ones he got from me and he gave her to me. I offered to trade him my noisy hen, and what a surprise, he turned her down. For now she's in a pen inside the chicken yard to get accustomed to her new home. She should begin laying any day.

Here is Miss Moneypenny, the new Easter Egger.

I am pleased to get another easter egger, I love those green eggs. I had planned on having three of them originally but you may recall, Dazzler, turned out to be a rooster and got a new home.

I'm trying to get some foliage up around the chicken pen to act as a little bit of a sound buffer, and also to obscure any view of my chickens from the street. So I was pretty excited when tonight a neighbor gave me a stalk of her sugar cane. I cut it into a few pieces and buried it sideways along the chicken fence. It's right next to where the ducks take baths and splash water all over the place. I'm hoping that nitrogen-rich duck water will really boost the sugar cane. I'll let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Candling the Muscovy eggs

Well, we are now on day 14 of 35 with the Muscovy eggs. After candling them, I determined that 2 of the original 15 were infertile and 2 had died early on, so now we're down to 11. Tonight I candled one and could see a little embryo moving around, but unfortunately could not get a picture to turn out. Maybe next time I candle I'll test out the video function on my camera. I did get a picture on day 10 of a viable egg, this vaguely shows the spiderweb of blood vessels that form early on in development (The faint red lines near the top of the egg).

Day 10

It's interesting that different poultry take different amounts of time to hatch. You would think that ducks are ducks and it would all be the same, but all other ducks only take 28 days to hatch and Muscovy ducks take 25% longer at 35 days. Compared with a quail's 16 days, that's an eternity (also seems like eternity for those of us that watch the incubators.)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Warm days ahead

This happens to be my 100th post, I wish it would have coincided with something earth-shattering, like me inventing some easy and safe way to rid your yard of bermuda grass forever... oh well. Our weather has been unseasonably warm and next week we're looking at a couple of days where the temps will be approaching 90. Luckily, I've gotten everything in the ground already with the exception of a couple of tomato plants and one butternut squash. When all is said and done, I will have planted 50 tomato/tomatillo plants! For most people that would mean 500-2500 pounds of tomatoes, I'm shooting for 100 pounds, 250 would be fantastic. Many of these are planted in pots, some are more cool weather varieties and there's several other reasons why I'm fully expecting some casualties early on. There are somewhere around 25 varieties mostly heirlooms, and this was the real reason there are so many. I just couldn't say no to the seed catalog. Thankfully the tiny farm is paying for itself through selling eggs, seedlings, sometimes baby poultry and teaching classes. It's somewhere between a hobby and a job, but since it has it's own bank account (by bank account I mean small envelope with about $30 in it at any given time) no one bothers me about going overboard with seed buying.

Our mild winter means the eggplants and peppers from last season are still doing just fine, they're starting to put on new growth and are just starting to flower.
An eggplant flowering... in February
These should hold me over until my new varieties of pepper and eggplants begin fruiting. I can't wait!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ollas and the neighborhood community

I tried candling the duck eggs last night and they're still just a little early along for me to see anything definite. I'll give it another go this weekend, and show you pictures.
So what else have I been doing? Well, this morning I had my very first root canal. I was sick with terror about it. My doctor prescribed me some sort of anti anxiety pill to take before I went in, that helped a little, then the happy gas came,which helped more and after the shots it was really nothing at all. I couldn't believe it, after all this talk about root canals. It really didn't even hurt. YAY! So Since I was so good, I decided to get myself a special prize. I was still loopy from all the drugs, but I had my neighbor drive me over to Southwest Gardener and I picked up these babies!

My new Ollas

Southwest gardener has a 25% off coupon if you get their mailers, after the discount these four set me back $73.10 total. I had received two as a thank you gift for chick-sitting awhile back and I have loved them and am so happy to be getting more. They will go in my front yard native bed which has no drip system. A way better reward than a trip to the pizza place.

On a somewhat unrelated topic, I feel so grateful to live in the neighborhood I do. Today I came home from the dentist to a hand-written note from a guy down the street, that I had only met once in passing, wanting to learn about chickens. Still loopy from the drugs, I ran (crookedly) to his house and we talked about chickens, I told him I would help him get set-up for them and gave him some squash seeds and a tomato plant for his garden. He is a bike mechanic and volunteered to fix up an old bike we got at a garage sale to return the favor. Awesome. Over the past few weeks there's been a lot of bartering/sharing talk in the neighborhood. I'm sure some of it's because of the economy, but some of it is just people wanting to deal with individuals and business on a smaller and friendlier scale. Off the top of my head I can think of some trading around that's been going on here: food for seedlings, seeds for seeds, tool sharing for fixing tools, fixing things for seeds. This isn't officially bartered, it's more like I fixed a neighbor's sewing machine and a giant bag of oranges magically appeared at our house. It's just a bunch of folks helping out some other folks.

It's a little funny in a central phoenix neighborhood to have 5 people with chickens all on the same street and at least that many with some sort of garden plan and a bunch of us are also experimenting with home-made solar and in all other regards, we couldn't be more different. It's encouraging.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Home-made olive taste test

For those of you that have been reading the blog for awhile, you may remember that I decided to brine my own olives. I picked olives from a neighbor's tree and followed directions I found on the internet. Here's the original post if you care to read it, the olive part along with a promising photo are near the middle/bottom.

How did it go??

Terrible. Yuck. Awful.

I ended up making 5 jars total. 3 of the 5 had mold on the tops, so they were out straight away. I tried one from one of the non-moldy jars and it tasted like salty poison. Poison-y taste aside (perhaps they needed more curing) the salt is so overwhelming that you can't even begin to taste anything remotely olive-like. I think I'm going to find some local folks who have had success making olives before and find out what went wrong. As a side note, my neighbor that tried this experiment at the same time had similar results.

It's disappointing, but at least I didn't NEED these olives. It's always best to practice when you can afford to fail.

Today is day 8 on the Muscovy eggs in the incubator. Tonight I will be candling them to check for fertility. I will do my best to get pictures of anything I see and post them soon.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Free Tomato Seeds, YAY!

Thanks to Susy at Chiot's Run for linking the Free Tomato Seeds offer from WinterSown and enabling me to acquire more tomato seeds, and feed my addiction. They are a non-profit seed-sharing group, to whom I will be donating seed to at the end of this season. If you didn't see it at Susy's blog, here's a link to it. Basically you send an SASE and a list of 6 choices, plus 4 alternates. The varieties are listed as all OP varieties, though I saw one or two that I'm pretty sure are hybrids.
They sent my 6 tomato requests, plus most of my alternates as well as a bonus pack of Field Pumpkin seeds. Basically, it feels like my birthday.

Here's what I got:
Egg Yolk
Cherokee Purple
Sub-Arctic Plenty
Russian Persimmon
Green Pineapple
Field Pumpkin

The Sub-Arctic Plenty and the Stupice are both 50-60 day varieties, and will be added to my year round tomato experiment.

I don't have a picture of my free seeds, so I will leave you with a gratuitous picture of Sparkle, my silver-laced wyandotte, as well as a reminder that I'll be teaching the "Raising Chickens in Your Backyard" class for the Phoenix Permaculture Guild at the farmer's market this weekend for any Phoenicians that might be interested.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chickens, ducks and someone else's lambs

I'm doing a bit of house/animal sitting about 2 hours away from home for a week. Even though both my husband and I work from home, he couldn't come up, because someone had to stay home and take care of our animals and seedlings. He's not thrilled about being on animal and plant duty, but he's a very nice and patient person, so he's doing it without complaining (the tiny farm is called "Rachel's Tiny Farm" not "Rachel and Wes' Tiny farm", for a reason).

Of course the day after I leave we get the first egg from this round of hens, They are 23 weeks old tomorrow, so it's about time. I'm hoping the others follow the Australorp's shining example. I don't think I'll be getting anymore chicks in the fall. Since I don't artificially light my birds, I think they're taking a little longer to start laying because of the short day lengths, but also, they will probably all molt this next winter and I'll get fewer eggs out of them. It seems like when you get your chicks in the spring and they start laying in summer/fall they often skip that first molt and you get a lot more eggs in the winter. That's my observation anyway.

The ducks should also lay soon. During our recent storms the ducks discovered the chicken coop and decided that they prefer sleeping in there instead of the middle of the yard, which I'm happy about. I'm hoping they'll lay in the coop where I can easily find the eggs rather than go off hiding them somewhere. There's more good duck news-- the people whom I got the ducks from are moving and don't want to deal with a new round of ducklings so I am picking up a clutch of Muscovy eggs on my way back into Phoenix next week to incubate. If everything goes well I should have muscovy ducklings available in mid-late March, let me know if you're in the Phoenix area and are interested.
Daphne heading into the coop

The people next to where I'm house-sitting have sheep and it's lambing season, the first day I was here I saw two black lambs that are a couple weeks old and this morning there were some tiny lambs that were about 36 hours old. They are a pretty tame bunch of sheep and they let me get pretty close, unfortunately I didn't bring a camera, so I just got a picture off google to illustrate. ;)

Imagine this times two, and then two more little black lambs

Now I'm scheming as to how I could get myself some sheep... there are a lot of empty houses because of the markets, maybe they could provide grazing rotation.... okay, so sheep are probably out for now. Do any of you have sheep?

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Seedling progress, tomato list

There hasn't been a lot to post about around here, I've been mostly busy painting getting ready for a show I have in May. We've been getting the same weather roller coaster as most of the rest of the country, it was in the 80's last week, lots of trees started blooming and now we're getting tons of rain and frosts. It's times like this that I'm glad that I don't have to depend on my plants as my only source of food.

My seedlings are growing like crazy, I had started them anticipating being able to put them in the ground in late February, but the weather has been so nuts I'm not sure what I'm going to do. Here's a photo of their progress so far. Sorry about it being a horrible blown-out image. It was so bright I couldn't see the display on my camera to know I needed to take a better picture. ;)

There are 150+ seedlings there, mostly tomatoes... here's a full list of the tomatoes I have planted this year:

Tomatillo (not really a tomato... I know)
Besser Tomato
Bicolor cherry tomato
Bloody Butcher tomato
Brown Cherry tomato
Golden Nugget tomato
Green Grape cherry tomato
Green Zebra tomato (this was from saved seed, don't know if it will grow true)
Ivory Egg tomato
Paul Robeson Tomato
Roma Rio Grande tomato
Russian Black Tomato
Siberian tomato
Sugar Lump, AKA Gardener's Delight
Sundrop cherry tomato
Sungold cherry tomato (Hybrid)
Super Sioux tomato
Super Snow White Cherry tomato
Super Sweet 100 (Hybrid)
Sweet Gold Cherry tomato (Hybrid)
Tumbler tomato
White Queen tomato
Yellow Pear tomato

Yikes, that's about 20 more varieties than I planned on planting. :)
I'm still working on the list of varieties I want to try next year, or even this fall for the fast-maturing varieties. I'll post it soon and maybe we can swap!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Bird Netting Tower, Seedling Set-Up

First let me say thanks to the birds for the pecans. Normally the wild birds in our yard are takers. They take my plants, fruit and chicken feed. Today in a rare turn of events a couple of birds gave me pecans. I will explain. Our neighbor has a giant pecan tree in his backyard, which the birds mainly use as a place to rest and poop on his boat while waiting to steal from me. This time of year, they are also picking the pecans, hiding them and occasionally eating them. I don't know if they drop them on purpose as a means to break them open, or if they are just clumsy sometimes, but either way, some birds seem to have taken to grabbing pecans from the neighbor's tree and then eating them (or at least dropping them) from a palm tree in my front yard and the ground around the palm tree is littered with unpecked and unopened pecans. Thank you. This post is for the other birds that just steal.

Here is the tower I built around the newest 4'X 4' garden bed. We have some very sneaky birds around here, and I'm tired of the peas/tomatoes etc getting tangled in the bird netting. I built an 8' tall support around the bed which has bird netting draped over it. (The power lines are really not very close, it just looks that way in the picture.) This should give vines plenty of room to grow without growing through the netting. It looks a little ridiculous now that it's empty but I'm hoping to fill it up soon! It was partially inspired by Paul's trellis support system over at a posse ad esse, which is worth looking at.
The ridiculous tower of birdnetting will hopefully look less ridiculous when it's filled with unpecked produce.

Also, here's a quick picture of the seedling set up. First, the seeds are planted and sprouted in small containers of potting soil on a seedling heat mat on top of the dryer (I set up a fluorescent light fixture up there, just for that purpose). Once they sprout they are transplanted to their own 4" pot and moved to the garage/studio building in the backyard that has more lights set up. This picture is from one of the two and soon to be three light set ups out there. The plastic bags you see are lining those square mesh trays that hold flats of seedlings, they are always leftover at nurseries. It's an easy way to make a very cheap, perfectly-sized, waterproof container so I can water from the bottom rather than splash water all over my delicate new seedlings.

Some new tomatoes and peppers

And finally a random picture of the new ducks, Daphne and Delilah taking a bath.

Now I'm off to design quail cages! ;)