Summer Chickens

My backyard hens are doing well in the summer heat, although they get a little pissy in the late afternoons. I've been letting them eat around the edges of my vegetable beds. This adds a healthy dose of kale, mint, and oregano to their diet. Their favorite snack is still a handful of meal worms, though. When it gets over 100 degrees, I usually take a shallow pan of ice to the hens. The ice melts quickly, but the water is cool and refreshing for the ladies. Gladys likes to stand in the water and cool off her feet.










May Garden Report

May is here and I'm so happy for the glorious weather and growing greens! This weekend, our little upcycled coop was featured on an urban coop tour. My favorite description of it came from a neighbor who called it "a steampunk gypsy wagon". Perfect!

The garden is in great shape. The heat of summer is still a ways off and the scattered rain has kept my beds deeply watered and happy. Right now in my garden, I have 6 heirloom tomato varieties, lazy wife pole beans, one pickling cucumber, four different varieties of squash and zucchini, watermelon, cantaloupe, kale, chard, red and yellow onions, basil, mint, oregano, sage, lavender, sunflower, nasturtiums and one lone strawberry plant. I also planted a Jersey Black Apple tree this spring. It won't see fruit for a few years, but it's nice to plan way out in advance. I also have a happy Asian Pear tree and a Meyer Lemon, which is in its first year of bearing fruit!

Here are some photos of my May garden. I'll be transplanting the watermelon elsewhere in the garden this month, because I can already tell its going to take over! I'll keep posting throughout the summer so you can see what thrives and what dies. (Something always dies. I'm a trial and error gardener, so I don't mind when something tanks.)

How is your garden this month? 
What are you growing? 
Are you trying something new? 
What are your old favorites that you always grow? 
I'd love to hear from you in the comments section!








We had a post-coop-tour afterparty and this was the cake!
So cute, right?


Spring Fever

The crispness of early spring has definitely shifted here in Texas to welcome in the humid air and slow breeze of early summer. Everything in my garden is green and growing fast because of recent rains. We're gearing up for a coop tour happening on May first. It's called Peep at the Coops and the tour showcases urban chicken coops. All proceeds benefit a local school garden. So in preparation, I've been cleaning the beds, wiping down the patio furniture and adding some annual color here and there. Here are a few shots of my back yard to end the week. Have a beautiful weekend and I'll see you back here on Monday!












Do you live in Dallas?
Are you interested in attending Peep at the Coops?
Find the information below:




My Favorite Backyard Farm on Instagram

If afternoons on the back patio, chicken in lap and handcrafted Belgium ale in hand, sounds good to you, then let me introduce my friend Deanna - who I met briefly back in school days in Santa Maria, CA. Deanna and her husband are urban homesteaders in Santa Barbara County who share their work on Instagram. Its my favorite feed on the web right now and I thought I'd share it with YOU! (Although, as evidenced by her almost 19K followers, you may already know all about her.)

Deanna and her husband grow veggies, raise hens, can and ferment their harvest, make Kombucha by the batch and build awesome shit in their yard. I'm envious. Not in a cloying grass-is-greener kind of way, but in an inspired get-out-there-and-make-the-world-a-better-place kind of way. Take a look at Deanna's photos below and definitely hop over to her Insta-feed and enjoy!



















Find her on Instagram HERE

February Chicken Report



It's Monday - time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 


This week, Gladys began laying again! It's been a stressful winter for the poor girl. Molting began with a vengeance in late November and all egg laying ceased as the temperatures dropped. Then in January, Gladys witness a bobcat attack that picked off everyone of her flock mates. So the stress of the season and the predator attack really knocked her off her egg laying cycle. But this week, she's back!

We replaced our lost hens with three new ones last month. The girls are happy in their new home and Gladys has been very amenable, showing them around the yard and pointing out all of the good grubs and sand bath locations. She's quite the hostess.

Now that the weather is nice, we're repairing some broken pieces in the coop. Our 100% recycled coop has held up surprisingly well over the past 14 months. Since everything is old and repurposed, it needs to be retooled every once in a while. Plus, we're getting our sweet coop ready for a local coop tour on May 1st. Our girls are going to be local celebrities!

Gladys started laying again!

Left to Right: Olive, Myrtle and Gladys

Pearl is our flock leader.

Repairing some winter damage on the coop.

Radical Homemaking | New Girls on the Block



It's Monday - time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 

Last week, I shared the sad news about our backyard flock. It could have been a coyote or a bobcat. There was no carnage, no bodies or signs of a fight. It was as if our hens had been raptured. So strange. Our sole surviving hen, Gladys, has been nervous and lonely this week. Hens are meant to live in community with other hens, so today I took my family to a local farm, east of Dallas, to select some new coop mates for Gladys.





We selected three 4-month-old hens to join our backyard flock. I really wanted to add some color to our egg supply, so we decided on an Americauna, a Deleware, and a Welsummer. I'm happy to introduce you to our new girls!


Wilma the Welsummer (dark terracotta egg color).

Pearl the Deleware (creamy brown egg color).

Maude the Americauna (blue-green egg color).

Radical Homemaking | Dealing with Loss



It's Monday - time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 



We lost three of our four chickens this week. 
Something grabbed them and dragged them offsite for dinner. 

When I first began to transition my back yard, from a space, then filled with crab grass and ornamental bushes, we talked about whether or not we should have chickens. Plants are one thing - they grow and produce and die - but livestock seemed different. Our chickens would be cooped animals living on a very small plot of land. We'd let them loose in the garden as much as we could allow, but ultimately they were city chickens. We knew there was a real possibility we would loose them to hungry creatures that roam our neighborhood: raccoons, dogs, possum, coyote and even bobcat. But we decided to go for it - we wanted chickens.

Now, almost three years into our radical homemaking adventure, we've lost two of our babies. It's likely a coyote because the chickens are flat-out missing.  It was really difficult to grok the fact of their deaths, but we knew it was a possibility when we entered into this course of action. Of course, I wish they were here, but its also an important lesson for us and for our children to understand how food is made and how nature plays out.

But it's a sad day at our house, indeed. 
We'll miss our sweet girls.






Two Years of Radical Homemaking


It is time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 


Remember back in June of 2013 when I was all fired up about the concept of Radical Homemaking and I wrote THIS? And then a week later, I made a whole bunch of plans for a backyard homestead? Well, I'm really excited to say that I did it. I turned this consumer household around! (There's more I could be doing, sure. But on the whole, it's been a success.)

Every morning, I walk out into my transformed backyard to collect eggs, cut some chard or kale for the daily meals and snip a few a herbs. I'm one of those people (perhaps you can relate) who is plagued by legions of ideas, but only follow through on some. But this big idea has really come to fruition and it's so rewarding.

Today I'm celebrating. The Radical Homemaking project I began over 2 years ago is alive and well and flourishing in my little backyard plot in the middle of Dallas, Texas. I've built and maintained two large raised beds for vegetables. I've started most of my plants from seed. I have a rain water collection system. I have a compost system. I designed a 100% recycled chicken coop and raised a small back yard flock of four from chicks to laying hens. Does it sound like I'm bragging? Well, I am. I'm really proud of myself - especially since I had no real experience with any of these things before embarking on this project. So if you're thinking about doing something like this - I say go for it! Take the plunge and see what happens. To celebrate, let's take a look back at my two year experiment via Instagram.

READ more of my posts on Radical Homemaking HERE.
















Garden Report | Summer's End

The summer heat in Texas is tough on a vegetable garden. But my plants seem to be making an effort in the final throes. I'm still harvesting yellow pear tomatoes, chard, basil, mint, oregano, cantaloupe and lemon cucumbers, but the green beans and other tomato varieties have given up. The chickens, on the other hand, are thriving and churning out those delicious eggs!

Next month, I'll be digging up the ghosts of spring and planting my fall and winter garden. I'll have kale, broccoli, chard and lots of other cold hearty veggies in the garden. How is your garden doing? What does your summer harvest entail? And what are you planning for the fall season?







 






Garden Report | First of June


It's Monday! Time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 



If my garden fails this year, at least I know it will not be due to lack of rain. Sheesh. Texas has been and continues to be in a flood crisis. My heart goes out this week to our brothers and sisters in Hays County, which has been hard hit by the incessant rain.

Yesterday, however, was a nice dry day with minimal mosquitoes and a cool(ish) evening breeze. My family and I took full advantage and spent the last daylight hours tying up tomatoes, re-routing bean vines and feeding bugs to the chickens. I'm still harvesting onions by the armfuls. And while tomatoes are a few weeks away from readiness, the Market Beans are ready for cooking!

What's coming up in your garden?









Chicken Proof Garden Idea

I have a small backyard flock of five hens. They're wonderful. They do all sorts of things to improve my soil, assist in composting, eliminate bugs in my back yard and best of all, they produce eggs. But they also like to dig - like, to China. So I've recently run into some issues with letting my chickens loose in the garden. They uproot tender plants and stomp over flowers and generally don't give a crap about how hard I've worked to make my garden grow.


My back yard.


In desperation, I encircled my raised vegetable beds (pictured above) with chicken wire and hardware cloth. But this quick fix, while effective, is ugly and cumbersome to remove when I need to work in the garden. But today, I happened upon THIS post at VegetableGardener.com. It's a brilliant and attractive fix.






All photos via VegetableGardener.com



Radical Homemaking | Spring Homestead


It's Monday! Time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 


Spring is here. The seedlings have pushed through the soil and large hungry leaves are unfurling everywhere. The chickens are in a regular laying cycle now and I've already had to whack back an influx of ivy from the alleyway - all signs that spring is well underway. 

This weekend, my family was able to spend a whole day outside enjoying the weather while waving away the first crop of mosquitoes. I'm still waiting on a grafted Jersey Black apple tree from Seed Saver's Exchange. But other than that, most of my spring veggies are in the ground. Next week I'll plant a round of giant sunflowers against the back fence. We'll love seeing the huge yellow flowers appear and the chickens will enjoy the seeds. 

Have you been able to get outside and enjoy the beginning of spring? 
Or is it still winter in your neck of the woods?









P.S.
This week, Houzz.com ran a story about my recycled chicken coop.
Check it out HERE and see all of the photos!

New Additions to the Hen House

Hello backyard chicken fans! Today, we're introducing our two newest members of the flock. After our hen Aretha turned out to be a dude, we re-homed him and mourned his empty space on the roost bar. So after a couple of months wondering when and if we should get more chickens, we took the leap!

Meet Billie (a Barred Rock) and Nina (A Buff Orpington). These two girls are only four months old, about 10 weeks younger than our existing hens. We're still in the getting to know you phase, which brings with it lots of chasing and squawking as the ladies establish their pecking order. But it all seems to be going very well so far. Here are the newbies, Billie and Nina:


Nina

Billie


Chicken Coop Finished with 100% Recycled Materials


I know it seems crazy that it would take me so many months to post completed coop photos, but it's been really icy and snowy and wet in Northern Texas until this past week. So without further adieu, here is our 100% recycled chicken coop, designed and built by my friend, and super talented artist James Curvan!

Below is the original drawing I gave to James as he began hunting down all of the recycled wood, tin, hardware and accessories for the coop. The structure is 5 feet deep and 10 feet wide. The coop, which houses the roosting bars and nesting boxes is 3'x5', and is located on the left side of the structure. The floor of the coop was installed as a drawer that pulls out for easy clean up. The entire front side of the coop opens up for easy access to the hens, their food and for cleaning.




Every piece of this coop was found and pieced together by James. He did a brilliant job puzzle-piecing the structure together. The nesting boxes have a drop down drawer so that my children can easily find our eggs. There is also storage below the boxes for feed, bedding and tools. 




The pen is comprised of old frames and screen doors that James backed with chicken wire and hardware cloth. The cupola on top of the roof is open to the coop and provides good ventilation for the birds at night. He also tucked some self-contained bird houses in the top!




One of my favorite parts about the run is that James faced them with interlinking film canisters. James' father-in-law was a producer for an old Dallas-based children's show called Mr. Peppermint. They used to show cartoons on the show and these are the film canisters from those reels! Again - totally brilliant. 




Next week, I'll have more photos for you because they'll be published as part of a coop tour for Houzz.com. So until then, here is a sweet shot of my son, Charlie, socializing with three of our hens.



Spring Weather Has Finally Arrived in Dallas


It's Monday! Time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Want to learn more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 


I didn't have much of a chance to post on the blog last week. I was caring for a sick kid and wrangling family events over the spring break. However, this weekend we finally had a few days of nice spring weather, which gave me a chance to transplant some of my seedlings and direct seed our new raised bed. It felt so good to be outside, to enjoy the cool breeze and to hear our hens drop and egg and announce it's arrival with triumphant clucking. The change in weather makes me feel like something wonderful is coming. I wonder what it is.






The First Egg


It's Monday! Time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Want to learn more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 

It's coming of age week here at La Maison Boheme for our backyard flock. Etta, one of our Rhode Island Reds, laid her first and second egg this weekend! The girls are now 24 weeks old and we're coming out of a pretty cold and icy six week stretch. Spring is eminent and the hens are sensing it's time to lay. We're so excited to start pulling breakfast out of our back yard everyday!





Below is a photo of me with Etta, taken about two months ago.



And just for fun, here are some shots of Gladys, our Golden Laced Wyandotte.
I think she'll be the next to lay. 






Chicks on Ice



Today, we're dusting off the sleet and snow. We're supposed to have a warmer day before temps drop once again and we get a third round of snow. The hens, while a little pissed, seem to be handling the cool weather beautifully. These cold dark days have kept them from producing their first egg, but we're hopeful that things will change when the spring weather arrives.

Do you do anything special to "winterize" your chickens? 


Bye Bye Mr. Rooster


It's Monday! Time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Interested in learning more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 


The backyard chicken project is going very well! We acquired four chicks at the end of September and installed a coop crafted from recycled materials in October. We have four main reasons for keeping backyard chickens:

1) Chicken waste is a great additive to compost and will keep our garden going strong. 

2) I want my children to know where our food comes from and to assist in it's raising and harvesting.

3) My younger son, Charlie, can only eat certain food consistencies because of his stroke and eggs are his main source of protein - up there with dark leafy green smoothies. And since I'll eventually pulling both eggs and greens out of my backyard, I'll be confident in the knowledge that my baby's food isn't full of chemicals and other crap. For a kid recovering from a severe brain injury, he needs his food to be top-notch. (Don't we all?)

4) And finally, chickens are fun.

Unfortunately, nature took its course and we've confirmed that our Barred Rock is indeed a rooster. I had a feeling from early on, but wanted to wait and see. Once those huge saddle feathers came in and he started making some serious noise, I knew it was time to find him a new home. The rooster has gone to another owner and now, our foursome is a threesome for the time being. We're probably going to add another two hens in the spring or summer. Until then, Mavis, Etta (both Rhode Island Reds) and Gladys (a Golden Laced Wyandotte) will rule the roost.

The ladies are not laying yet due mostly to their age and the short winter days, but my entire household is patiently awaiting the big day when we finally see that first egg. The thing I love most about these silly girls is their distinct personalities and their interaction. Watching them is like watching a favorite soap opera. Mavis wouldn't pose for the camera - she's finicky that way. But Etta and Mavis were both happy to play along.


Etta

Gladys

Winter Planning | Seed Savers Exchange


I know it's not Monday, but Thursday is a great day for an impromptu installment of Radical Homemaking. Want to learn more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 

It's that time of year! Seed catalogues are stacking up on my bedside table. My favorite though, is Seed Savers Exchange. This is where I purchased my seed from last season, and that garden was the best ever. The fruit and vegetables were beautiful and plentiful - a happy combination of good organic heirloom seed and home grown compost. I've had my failures, but I am also a learning machine, and this year I have high hopes.




Here is my 2015 garden order:

Heirloom Tomato Varieties:

Greens:
   -  Red Russian Kale

Vegetables:
   - Miniature Chocolate Bell Pepper
   - Yellow of Parma Onion

And just for some fun companion planting:
   - Bells of Ireland (my favorite cut "flower")
   - German Chamomile Organic
   - Ladybird Nasturtium
   
I also have Chiogga Beets, Lemon Cucumber, Basil, Scarlet Carrots, and Yellow Pear Tomato seeds from the 2014 season. And when it comes available, I'll be buying a Jersey Black apple tree graft from Seed Savers Exchange. They have 40 heirloom varieties to sell in the early spring!

On another note, my chickens are 10 weeks old today! The verdict is still out on Aretha, my Barred Rock. She may be a he. We'll see. My favorite (I know know I shouldn't play favorites, but I'm only human) is Etta, one of my two Rhode Island Reds. She is sweet and calm and easy to hold. Here are the birdies:

Etta


Chicken Coop | Near the Finish Line


It's Monday! Time for our weekly installment of Radical Homemaking. Want to learn more about what that means, check out THIS post and THIS post. 


This week was a cold one here in Dallas with temperatures dipping into the mid-20's - highly unusual for this time of year. And for a newly minted chicken keeper, navigating a new coop and eight-week old pullets, the cold was worrisome. Luckily the coop did it's job and the chickens, while a little on the chilly side, were just fine.

I still have a little work to do on the coop. My friend and coop builder, James Curvan, is in the process of fashioning a cupola to go on the top of the coop. Hopefully we'll get that in place in the coming week. On my to-do list? I need to secure the coop perimeter with a little more hardware cloth (just for peace of mind against predators), patch some holes in my tin roof with a little roof tar, and caulk around a drafty window. But in the meantime, let's show you the new coop!




The base of the coop has hardware cloth running under ground about a foot to deter digging from predators. I also installed a large stone border for extra security. We had a little snowfall last night, but it's burning off pretty quickly today.




I was in need of a coop maintenance area, so I created one just to the right of the coop against the fence. The Ikea hooks were unused in a hall closet, so I relocated them out here. I backed the hooks with a length of reclaimed wood. The flagstones on the ground were salvaged from a neighbors patio remodel. This little spot keeps all the chicken bedding, scratch and cleaning tools tidy and easily accessible.






My other project this week was to harvest the rest of my tomatoes and basil before the freeze hit. We'll be eating lots of Italian food in the coming weeks! The arugula, swiss chard and dill took a little hit, but they're still hanging on.



Since this year's garden was so successful, I'm getting greedy. This week, I built a second raised bed. It's a little smaller than the other, but will give me a bit more space in the spring!