Sunday, August 31, 2014

Building a Portable Garden

Building my garden this year was challenging to me for two reasons.

First, this is my first garden! Sure, I always helped my mom garden, but our gardens were never huge. We usually stuck with just some tomatoes and green peppers. This is the first garden that I have grown all myself, so I am still trying to figure out the best ways to do things.

Second, this whole year has been a huge transition for me, having just gotten married. My husband and I have been trying to find a house to buy, as we are renting now. Really anytime now we could move, so when spring rolled around, I was unsure of what to do. Should I plant a big garden, and risk having to leave it behind? Or not plant at all, and not have any juicy, garden fresh tomatoes?

 Neither seemed like a good option, so eventually I made a decision to compromise; I would make a portable garden! Then, if we moved in the middle of the season, I could take my garden with me. Basically, that meant planting most everything in containers.

Most things went in pots as large as I could find, and when I ran out of those I started using five gallon buckets, and when I ran out of those I started using feed sacks from our chicken feed. When I ran out of those I planted the rest in the ground.

Peppers went in buckets.

Sweet potatoes went in feed sacks.

And the dill.
This tomato plant randomly sprouted up in the same bucket as my peppers. This is probably because a rotten tomato got thrown into the compost bin at some point, and then the compost was used in the garden. I call these volunteer plants.
This cantaloupe plant was also a volunteer!

The spaghetti squash, cucumbers, and the tomatoes (not pictured) got planted in pots or buckets. As they got bigger and needed support, I put up a temporary fence next to them made of a section of welded wire fencing and t-posts, and tied them up with baling twine.

After I ran out of containers to plant in, I decided to go ahead and plant the rest of my garden in the ground, even though I might not be able to take it with me, at least I could bring some.

Pictured here are the corn, beans, carrots, and rhubarb.

In this pot I planted mint, but this came up instead. I don't know what happened, but it sure is a cute flower! I looked it up, and I believe it is called torenia.

Overall, the container method works well as long as you have large containers and water everyday, especially in hot weather. It is portable, so I could take my garden with me if I needed to, or just move it to a more sunny part of the yard.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Hatching Chicks with a Broody Hen, Part 3: Setting up a Broody Box

So your hen is broody for sure! Congrats, you're going to have chicks!

Now, there are two different ways that people usually care for a broody. Some people will leave her wherever she decides to make her nest. I have tried this, and it never worked for me. If she makes her nest outside the coop, this is not even a viable option, since she could be exposed to the elements and predators.  If she makes her nest in a nesting box like mine did, other hens will try to lay eggs there as well. You can try marking the eggs that your hen is incubating and removing the ones that the other hens lay, but pencil marks wear off easily and I don't really like the idea of putting marker ink on my eggs since they are porous. There is also the chance that the eggs that the other hens lay in the nesting box with the broody hen could start developing an embryo if you leave them there too long. Unfortunately, what could also happen is that when the other hens force the broody hen off her nest to lay their eggs, she may get confused and go sit on a different nest!

Really, your best option is to separate her from the others. A good way to do this is by making a cozy nest for her inside a dog kennel placed inside the coop. If you don't have a spare dog kennel or can't find one to buy, you can make something similar by framing out a cage with 2x4 boards and chicken wire, or welded wire fencing. If you do this, keep in mind that day old chicks are small enough to squeeze through both of those types of fencing, and you will need to add hardware cloth (a wire mesh with very small holes) to at least the bottom half of the cage. Be sure to add a door!

I call this cage for broody hens the broody box. Inside you will need to put a pile of straw, wood shavings, or your preferred bedding for her nest, a small feeder and waterer. You may or may not want to put some of the bedding inside a bottom of a cardboard box, so that the eggs do not roll out of the nest. Just be sure that if you do that, you make the edge very short, so that the newly hatched chicks can get back to mama if they should wander out of the nest.

New baby chicks, during the first few hours of life, are very uncoordinated, weak, and chill easily. They should remain under mama until they are fluffy, fully alert, cheeping, and walking around. Don't leave any corners in your box, where a clumsy chick could get stuck away from mama, if this happens he could chill and die.
Here is a box I set up for my Black Langshan hen:

Once you have your broody box set up, wait for night. This is very important. The reason why some people choose not to move their broody is because if you disturb her too much, you could cause her to leave the nest permanently. By waiting for night, you can move the broody hen at a time when she is sleepy, and less aware of what you are doing. Chances are, if she is a good broody, and you quietly move her during the night, causing as little disturbance as possible, she won't even realize that she was moved.

When you take her off her nest, be very careful that neither of you bump the eggs. If she is too alarmed when you take her off, she could smash the eggs. Put one hand under her body, letting her legs hang down between your fingers, and use the other hand to hold her wings down to her body. Then hug her snugly against your body. If you do this properly she should struggle very little, if at all, especially if she is accustomed to being held. Put the hen in the nest first, then tuck her eggs under her. If you put the eggs in the nest first, there is a greater chance of them being smashed. 

If all goes well, all you have to do now is keep her food and water filled up, and wait 21 days! Often, eggs hatched by a broody will hatch a day early, so I would mark 20 days from the time she started sitting on your calendar. Here are some cute chicks to keep you going until you have your own!

Happy hatching!

Friday, January 10, 2014

Hatching Chicks With a Broody Hen, Part 2: Is My Biddy Broody?

In order to hatch out chicks without an incubator you must first have a broody hen, unless you happen to be a female and have a strong enough maternal instinct to try hatching chicks in your bra!  So how can you tell if your hen is broody? While she may or may not start getting nauseous in the mornings and craving pickles with ice cream, she will most certainly let you know she wants to start a family!

Many hens will linger for a while in the nesting box if they feel like it for whatever reason. Broody hens, however, will never leave the nest, except to eat, drink, and release the most explosive, vile and fowl-er, I mean foul- smelling poo you have ever seen. Some will not get up at all!

When you try to gather eggs from a hen who is not broody, she may or may not give you a warning squawk, as if to say, "Hey, those are my eggs!" But, if your hen is broody, it will sound more like a violent shriek, hiss, or growl. Her intent is now not just a warning, but a threat. It means, "If you touch my babies, I'll rip your throat with my bare beak! GO AWAY!" If you are foolish enough to try to reach her eggs or touch her, your hand will be viciously attacked. She will puff up her feathers to make herself appear larger and more intimidating. When left alone, she will flatten herself in the box and stare off into space. Some have described it as a concentrated, zen-like expression.

It is a lot easier to get a broody hen if you have the right breed. Over the years, many breeds of egg layers have had the tendency to brood bred out of them. On a commercial egg farm, broodiness is a bad characteristic that is culled, because when a hen goes broody, she stops laying eggs as soon as she has a clutch. She will not resume laying until after her chicks are grown enough to reach independence from her. So, if you want a ton of eggs in as little time as possible, broodiness is a bad thing. Hens that went broody were culled, and the eggs from hens that didn't go broody were artificially incubated to produce a bird that almost never went broody.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule! Sometimes they will go broody no matter what their genetic makeup is, although if they are a breed that does not usually go broody and they do start setting (brooding), they may not be as good of a mother as a breed that usually goes broody. There are good broodies and bad broodies. A bad broody has little function in the flock. Because she is broody, she is not laying eggs, but because she is not a good mama, she may fail to hatch any chicks, or if she does manage to hatch them, she may not know what to do with the chicks once they hatch! Here is my White Leghorn who went broody once(she was not the best broody). 

 On a small farm, having two or three good broody hens is always a good thing. For a while, I did not own an incubator, but I wanted baby chicks very badly, so whenever I had a hen go broody, I would jump for joy!
I still have all five of these chicks hatched by one of my Turkens. They are all beautiful adults now!

Here are some breeds you should look for if you want a broody hen.
Breeds that will consistently brood: Old English Game, Silkie, Cochin.
Breeds that will probably brood: Australorp, Brahmas, Sussex, Shamo, Orpington, Naked Neck/Turken, Modern Game, Langshan, Aseel, Chantecler, Rhode Island Red, Dominique, Dorking.
Breeds that almost never brood: Leghorn, Ancona, Andalusian, Campine, Hamburg, Production Hybrids, Minorca.
This list is not all-inclusive but it will give you a place to start!