Monday, April 18, 2011

R.I.P. Rosemary

It appears my rosemary did not survive the winter.  This is not the first rosemary plant I have killed.  I doubt it will be the last.  They simply do not like NJ winters.  It's really just too cold and wet for a Mediterranean plant.  I've tried bringing them into the house for the winter, but they don't seem to like the house, either.

This one was actually two years old.  I had successfully overwintered it on the south side of the porch last year.  It was still alive as of the last snowstorm we had back in January, but at some point it gave up.  We've had some pretty hard freezes since then and without an insulating layer of snow it must have succumbed to the cold.

Good night, sweet rosemary.  You were too beautiful for this Earth.  Or, at least for New Jersey.......

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Chicken Follies

Mama Hen

I posted previously about one of my hens hatching out chicks.  She had been sitting on a clutch of four eggs.  Unfortunately, when I checked on her again, I found that only one of her chicks had hatched out.  Such is nature, sometimes these things happen.  The eggs may not have been fertile, or maybe the chicks had a genetic defect that prevented them from surviving, or maybe they weren't strong enough to get out of their shells.  It doesn't really matter, nature took its course and the strongest, healthiest chick survived.  But I still felt bad for Mama with only one little chickie. 

The Rooster and his Ladies

Plus, I've been wanting to get some new hens for awhile.  Not that I don't like my hens, they're great.  The breed I have is American Gamefowl.  They're tough, smart (for a chicken), good layers and great mothers.  Actually, they're almost too good of mothers and that's a problem.  You see, I have chickens to get eggs.  I like for them to hatch out a few clutches every year for meat and to replace lost hens, but these hens go crazy with brooding!  A hen that's brooding (sitting on eggs or with chicks) isn't laying.  So, when all my hens go broody, I get no eggs.  And my hens love to go broody!

Those good mothering instincts also mean that my hens will take on adoptees.  Seriously, you could give them a rock and they would attempt to be it's mother!  Chickens aren't that bright. 

So, I went to my local feed store to see if they had any chicks.  I wanted a breed with good layers and low mothering instinct.  I ended up buying Golden Comets.  They're a hybrid, a cross between White Rocks and Rhode Island Reds.  They're bred to be layers, but also to make it easy to tell hens from roosters as chicks.  Pullets (female chicks) are reddish-orange, males are white.  I bought six adorably fuzzy little pullets and headed home.

Mama was in the coop with her one little chick.  As soon as she heard me come up with my box full of peeping chicks she ran over.  There's a reason overbearing women are called "mother hens".... my Mama hen illustrates that title perfectly.  She knew exactly what was in that box, and she wanted them! 

I opened the box and placed the chicks on the coop floor.  Mama rushed over and rounded up her new babies, gently herding them over to the nest.  She clucked and fluffed at me, telling me in no uncertain terms to get out and leave her babies alone.  She was in charge now!  I left the happy Mama alone to get her little adoptees squared away.

Mama and adoptees

The next day everyone seemed to be getting along well, so I let them out of the coop.  Unfortunately, I had severely over estimated the intelligence and hardiness of the store bought chicks.  When I went out to check on everybody an hour or so later, I found that three of the new chicks had gotten trapped behind the coop door and were hypothermic.  Chicks can't regulate their body temperature that well, they need to frequently get under their mother to stay warm.  Because these chicks had gotten trapped and couldn't get back to Mama, they had quickly gotten too cold.

I herded Mama back into the coop.  She rounded up her four mobile babies, but the three who had been trapped were stranded.  I scooped them up to give back to Mama, who had gotten back on her nest to protect her babies.

Unfortunately, it was not quite clear to Mama what was happening.  She thought I was attacking her babies.  Every time I tried to get the hypothermic babies back under her, she attacked me.  Chickens may look defenseless and delicate, but I can personally attest to the sharpness of their beaks.  As they say, no good deed goes unpunished!  I eventually managed to get the chicks into the nest, after sustaining many chicken bites to my hands and arms, and beat a hasty retreat out of the coop. 

Don't mess with Mama!

This story has a happy ending.  The stranded chicks warmed up under Mama and are just fine.  I blocked off the part of the coop where they became stranded, so we won't have a repeat of that!

Mama and babies, out and about

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bye Bye, Photinia

We finally made the decision to move the Photinia.  If you recall, they were planted against our garage and just did not fit.


The executive decision was made (and by "executive decision", I mean that we had the backhoe attachment on the tractor and were like "Now what?")... the executive decision was made and they have been relocated.

On the move...

They are now living on the far side of my riding arena, where they can grow and be big and beautiful and not cover the garage.

Happy Photinia

And now for the big question....

Climbing roses, or bush roses?

(I'm partial to climbers, myself)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Soil Testing Results!

Jar 1                                                                                      Jar  2                                                                       Jar 3                                                                             

Well, the results of my soil testing experiment are in and after much careful analysis I've discovered that I have dirt in a jar!  Ha!

Jar 1 is the native, unamended soil.  It settled quite clearly into three distinct layers: sand on the bottom, silt in the middle and clay on top.  I'm actually a little surprised at the amount of clay in there, I wouldn't have guessed we had that much clay in our soil.  It's about a 1:1 mix of clay and sand, though.  I wonder if that's why I was fooled?

Jar 2 is from the veggie garden and appears to just be a mess.  I really can't see any layers at all.  I've been adding finished compost (made of straw, horse and chicken manure, gardening waste and whatever kitchen scraps the chickens and ducks don't eat) to the veggie garden for two years.  So, maybe no layers is a good thing?  Maybe I should have paid more attention in that ecology class I took in college....

Jar 3 is from the horse's pasture.  The horses make many, many daily contributions to the soil out there.  There appears to be much less sand out there, but the other layers are just sort of muddled.  I don't know what that means.

I'll leave it to the experts to analyze.

Head on over to The Great Soil Experiment Meme hosted by Sweet Bean Gardening and check out what smarter people than me have to say about soil testing and their own results!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

Cheap Soil Testing

Sweet Bean Gardening had a great idea for a really cheap (pretty much free!) way to test your soil composition.  Then, she expanded that idea into a meme!  That's pretty darn cool!  If you want to join, head over to her site to get the instructions, then post your results and we can all compare soil.  Fun!

So, how do you cheaply and easily test your soil composition?  Well first you take some dirt and put it in a jar.  Then you add water and salt and shake it all up.  Once it settles, there will be three layers: the top is clay, the middle silt and the bottom is sand.  Easy peasy!  The only question I had was "kosher salt or sea salt?"  I went with sea salt.

Now, being in NJ, which is a coastal peninsula, I already know my soil is pretty sandy.  But I've spent the last two years liberally applying compost to my veggie garden and wanted to see what, if any, improvement I had made.  So, I made two jars.

Jar 1 is from an undeveloped part of the property.  It's just the native soil.  Ironically, it is also the only place where flowers are blooming:

Jar 2 is from my veggie garden. 

Then, just for fun (and since I had a third jar, anyway) I decided to take a sample from the horse pastures.  We don't add finished compost to the pastures, but the horses do make quite a bit of, *ahem*, contributions to the pasture soil.  I wanted to see if their many contributions have made any impact on the soil composition out there. 

Of course, being me, I started my jars later than everyone else and they still haven't settled.  (It's been rainy and cold here.  It even snowed this morning!  Who wants to go out in that to collect dirt?  I've got a good excuse....)

I'll update with the results soon......
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