Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Farewell, Floyd

We said goodbye to Floyd this morning. Thanks to social media and a network of fellow farmers, we found a home for our silkie rooster. Marissa spent some time with the flock yesterday, and this morning, packed Floyd up in a box and brought him to Jay's friend, Richard's house in Madison.  Richard then drove up to his farm near Wonewoc, Wis. with Floyd.

I'm sorry to see Floyd go, but I'm gad that tomorrow morning we'll hear muffled clucking, but no crowing. We may replace Floyd with another silkie, this time making sure it's a female. Marissa is checking into our options.

 April 9, 2014

 April 27, 2014
June 12, 2014

 Aug. 17, 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

Garden party success

It was an absolute pleasure and delight to participate in my friend Megan's first (and hopefully annual) Summer Garden Party. I've known Megan, also known as The Creative Vegetable Gardener, for several years, and have learned a lot from the classes she's taught around town.

We started at Megan's new home (only been there three months!) where 40 people brought their favorite pot luck brunch dishes. People got to know one another as guests arrived on a perfect summer morning. Megan introduced herself and the three other gardeners, myself, Janet and Brian.

Gardener, friend and blogger Megan Cain.

Megan talked about her garden, what they had done and what they plan to do, and then we drove over to Janet's home which is just a few blocks from our house.

Janet gave us a tour of her front, side and back yards. Janet isn't afraid to try something new, and is an avid perennial food gardener, and has lots of fruit trees and bushes throughout her urban lot.

One of the neatest features in Janet's back is a solar photo-voltaic array that doubles as a shelter, and in the summer, she uses it to dry garlic.

Janet's back yard is a lush canvass of annual and perennial food production. Except for the paths, every square inch is growing something edible or beautiful.

After spending an hour in Janet's corner of paradise, we moved one block over and one block down to Brian's home. Janet told us she "doesn't move dirt" to create what she wants. Brian told us "I move dirt, lots and lots of dirt." He's not afraid to dig and dig until the landscape works for him and the plants he wants to grow.

Brian also keeps bees, is about to erect a permanent greenhouse and is also fond of experimenting. While he's trying to figure out what to do with his front terrace, he's keeping it productive with cover crops such as winter rye.
Brian introducing people in front of his house.

Brian and I both collect coffee grounds from the same cafes on Madison's east side. He piles them in a cool and shady corner of his lot, where red wiggler worms turn it into fantastic compost. Like me, he's still not sure what to do about all those coffee filters.

After spending an hour or so in Brian's yard, we moved one more block over and a few more blocks down to our house. I hurried ahead to greet people as they arrived.

Waiting for guests to arrive. The terrace wild flower and butterfly garden is looking great in its second year.

I gave a tour of the front yard orchard, explaining how we sheet-mulched it and what trees and fruit bushes we are growing.
Showing the side yard and perennial herb garden.
There were only two gardeners with chicken coops on the tour, Megan also had one. As I'm seeing more and more coops here in Madison, I'm now realizing we've build more of a palace than a coop :)

Oh. Boy.

Last week Jay woke up with a start. It didn't take long for me to rise out of a deep sleep.

"What is that sound?" immediately followed by simultaneous thoughts, "Oh oh."

Still in our jammies, we went outside to the coop. The five chickens were milling about in the run, but no one made a sound. Still, it was unmistakable, we heard our first cock-a-doodle-doo. One of those five birds was a rooster.

When we spoke with Matt and Marissa about it, they had heard it too. Marissa said she heard it and asked Matt what kind of animal was "crying" outside. It didn't take long for them to realize what was making the noise.

Saturday morning we didn't hear anything, but Sunday morning it started again.

We went outside but as soon as we arrived the bird quieted down.

Monday morning Jay attempted to get video of it, sneaking his camera around a corner. It was too dark to see who was making the noise and as soon as it saw him, it quieted down. It was as if it knew it wasn't supposed to crow.

By Wednesday, however, he got some video, the proof we needed to know that it was Flora, now known as Floyd, who was making the noise.

Floyd is a Silkie - and we knew the risks when we got him. Silkies can not be gender identified when they are chicks, while the other breeds we have can be gender identified to a 95 percent accuracy.

So now we have a noisy rooster that we have to get rid of. I have a friend who has a friend with a  farm, but we haven't heard if they want the bird.

Do you have a farm? Do you want a Silkie rooster? Let me know - quick. Floyd has to go by end of this weekend!

Flora, now known as Floyd, needs a home.

Friday, July 25, 2014


Community garden

Monday, July 21, 2014

Summer garden party: breakfast and tours of four urban gardens

Summary: this garden party starts with a pot luck breakfast, followed by tours of four vegetable gardens on Madison's east side, including mine!
Saturday, August 16
10am – 2pm 

  • A relaxing and fun morning to connect with other gardeners.
  • Leave the day feeling inspired to go create magic in your own garden.
  • Fun giveaways from The Creative Vegetable Gardener online store at each garden stop!

Schedule for the day:
10-11:30am ~ Potluck in the first front yard garden on the east side of Madison (near Habitat Re-Store). Address will be provide upon registration. Coffee and other breakfast drinks provided, you bring a dish to share, followed by a tour of the first yard.

11:30am – 2pm ~ Drive 10 minutes to another east side neighborhood and tour three gardens within walking distance of each other, INCLUDING MY FRONT AND BACK YARDS.

The gardens feature chickens, a front yard food forest, hugelkultur beds, fences created with old bike wheels, fig trees and other surprises!

I would love to see you join this very cool (it might be hot!) garden tour party!

This event is limited to 25 people. RSVP on the event page here to be put on the guest list.

Chicken phrase of the day: Don't put all your eggs in one basket: Proverb cautioning against committing too many assets until they are in hand.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Bad planning. Big mistake. The conclusion.

Chicken word of the day, Don't count your chickens until they are hatched: proverb cautioning against spending assets until they are in hand.
Earlier, I described the events leading up to a meltdown in the shade of an enormous red maple tree.

We had completed two of four 16' x 5' raised beds. They were beautiful—fourteen inches high, full of sandy loamy soil, begging to be planted and covered with compost. They were also in a lot of deep shade for much of the day.

There were two more beds in the works; they had been tilled, paths dug and the first course of the reinforced sides installed. But Jay and I had the wind knocked out of us when we saw our neighbor's red maple shade our beds at three in the afternoon.

Since that maple wasn't going to go anywhere any time soon, we had to look to the east. On the corner of our property, just over the fence, a large three-trunked hackberry tree shaded our garden in the morning through noon. One of the three trunks we have rights to cut down because it leans right over our property line. But the other two trees that we can't touch cast just as much shadow onto our back yard.

We looked up the owner on the city assessor's site, found their name in the white pages, and I called. The property is a three-unit rental and the owners live in a neighboring city. One of the owners answered the phone and I introduced myself as the backyard neighbor of their property on East Washington.

I explained my desire to garden in the back yard, and that I planned to remove the one trunk. But I offered to remove the other two, at my expense, if they would let me. The woman wanted to talk with her husband first. A few days later they returned my call. They had spoken with the tenants who did not want the tree cut down "to maintain privacy."

Tomatoes and peppers are leggy, but have some flowers and fruit.
Even more depressed, weeks went by with two unfinished beds. However, despite the shade, I planted the two completed beds with tomatoes and peppers. It was a dreamy task despite the shade. The beds are tall, the soil loose, and it was fun to dig those plants in. I figure I'll get a few fruit from each plant, but nothing like the productive plants in my community garden where the plants literally get sun from sun up to sun down

The closer bed is now planted in beets, the further will be planted with lettuce.
I finally decided to do something with the other two beds, either rip them out or finish them and plant something in them. I looked up shade-tolerant annual vegetables and found a decent list - lots of lettuce and peas. We also had this huge pile of gravel in our driveway that was supposed to be for the bed paths, and I had no idea what to do with it.

So while on vacation in early July, I hired someone to help me and we finished the paths and moved all that gravel. The beds look great, and I decided to plant some 60-day beets and see what happens. In the shadiest bed, I'll plant lettuce as the summer cools off.

So thanks to folks who commented on my last post. This is an experiment and we'll see what happens.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Compost bin experiment solves a small problem

Chicken word of the day: Cock-and-bull: a fantastic story that is unbelievable.

Months ago, my friend Angie gave me kraft paper bags of leaves and sticks she collected from her yard this spring. Jay and I also drove by a house in our neighborhood that had leaves in these paper bags and we threw them in the back of my car.

I finally got around to emptying and moving my compost pile last week. I tore open the collection of bagged leaves, and chopped them up with the lawnmower. One of the big advantages of chopping up leaves is they compost much faster than had I left them whole. This pile could be done by the end of autumn. However, the small leaf pieces also fall through the large openings in the sides of the compost bin.

Compost is made up of "green" materials which supply nitrogen, and "brown" materials which provide carbon. Paper is a brown material. So I'm looking at these paper bags and think to myself, "Well, this is brown, why not put it in the compost pile?" Then I got a better idea.

I lined the compost bins with the kraft paper bags. My thought is they will keep the small leaf bits in, and may help keep the pile from drying out. On the other hand, I'm hoping the paper will allow the pile to breathe.

The leaf bits didn't fall out of the bin. Shown here is a layer of coffee grounds that I layered between thick layers of leaf matter. In a couple of weeks I'll turn the pile. I also need to add a few scoops of dirt to inoculate the pile with some good bacteria.