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The Pecking Order


Our chickens seem to be quarreling much less than when we first put all eight of them together.

The first two chickens we acquired, Evora and Esprit, were less than thrilled to have six new hens squawking about and eating their food. They constantly pecked at the newcomers, but have since relaxed and excepted their new housemates. They're still in charge, along with the two barred rock hens who also boss the others about freely, but they don't constantly fight anymore.

Taylor and I, however, have developed a sympathy for the two ameraucana chickens, Prius and Spyker, the underdogs of the bunch.


Spyker is the grey one, and Prius is the reddish one in the back.


They don't come out of the coop much (except the one time when Spyker jumped the fence and made a run for it. Luckily Taylor caught her just a few moments later, and we've since re-clipped her wings), and Prius seems to be rather hen-pecked.

As they get more comfortable, the pair make appearances in the run every once in a while, and seem to be eating more. We're hoping, with time, that they'll eventually be just as comfortable as the others.

Taylor's Herb Garden

A few weeks ago, Taylor took a particular interest in herb gardening. He went to the library, checked out a huge stack of books, and started reading. We built the double-decker bed, half of which we've devoted to his pursuit of herbs.



He's purchased quite a few plants (from the fruit and nut festival, as well as local stores), and has also started quite a bit from seed.




On the list of herbs now gracing our garden:


Stevia
Lemon balm
Bee balm
Thyme
Culantro
Cilantro
Chives
Dill
Chocolate mint
Swiss mint
Lemon grass
Chamomile


He's slowly adding more and more, including the echinacea he planted today.

The Backyard Homestead

Sometimes it's difficult to find books on a wide variety of things related to homesteading. Some are too technical, some don't have any "real" information, and many are really outdated. I finally tracked down a copy of The Backyard Homestead from the local library system, and it's a great read.

Such a cute and colorful cover too! Fear not--- it's also full of great information, and there are also plenty of demonstrative images on the inside as well.


The book is basically broken down into vegetable gardening, herb gardening, home-grown grains, meat and dairy, poultry, fruits and nuts, and wild foods like honey and mushrooms.
I'm pretty sure we're going to add this to our home library soon.

Some fruits and nuts


The Sarasota Fruit and Nut Society had a huge sale today.


It was down at the Phillipi Estate park, the land surrounding an old mansion on Phillipi Creek. A bunch of vendors showed up, with a huge variety of different plants. Banana, black sapote, dragon fruit, muscadine grape, and tons more were available.
We purchased about $40 worth of plants including:


Blackberries
Chocolate mint
Swiss mint
Lemon eucalyptus
Cubanelle pepper
Beebalm
Lemongrass



Taylor carrying all of our plants to the checkout counter.



We also were informed of a new farmer's market opening at the estate every Wednesday, which will hopefully bring some more local produce to our little niche.

Strawberries

Florida is famous for its strawberries. I grew up just a few miles away from a pick-your-own called Pappy's Patch in Oviedo.


So many strawberries!


After a shopping trip to the local big-box store, we stumbled upon two cute little strawberry plants. We decided to add them to our little garden.


We're hoping to add a selection of berries to our garden, including some perennial plants as well. Strawberries are a decent start for our little berry patch.

Seymore the Squash

We're slowly seeing vegetables in our garden. A couple days ago, we noticed this teeny squash hiding between the tendrils.



We've named him Seymore, and we're monitoring his progress day by day. He's a Waltham Butternut Squash, and heirloom we purchased from Seedsavers.org.


One of my favorite things about winter squash is how well they store. Once we harvest Seymore, he should stay edible for up to six months without refrigeration or anything. We're also growing spaghetti squash and acorn squash, and have something like two dozen plants going. Hopefully they'll go a long way.

Quite a flock

Today we added another six chickens to our tally.

This is Seleighna and Princess. We decided a chicken would be a perfect birthday present, so we let her have her pick of the new bunch. She chose this beautiful Rhode Island Red.


Taylor and I have taken a particular liking to Royce, our Buff Orpington.

She's absolutely gorgeous, but a touch smaller than the other chickens.


Our two Black Stars, Esprit and Evora, aren't too happy to have new housemates. They're fighting with all of the girls, but I'm sure they'll establish a pecking order soon. Our run is rather full, and we'll have to see how eight chickens work out. If it's too noisy (we're trying desperately to keep the neighbors from noticing our flock), we'll have to get rid of a few.


Seleighna was a bit scared of the chickens at first, but now she runs around and grabs them without a problem.


More pics of the girls to come.

More gorgeous seedlings

So we've finally gotten around to starting more seedlings. We've only got another 8x4 bed, so we're going to expand a bit more before we can fit all of them in, but we're off to a good start.


Some chickpea seedlings. I'm not sure whether or not they'll grow here, but it's always worth experimenting.



We've got quite a variety of things going. Black eye peas, cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes. It's a bit late in the season, but we've heard from other local gardeners that the seasons can be really strange being so far south and near the water, that it's okay to start things this late. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't, and we'll just have to see.

The view from here

The other day, Mr. Dennis decided to clean the roof.



Talk about a busy guy. He's always doing something productive.


Taylor went up with him to help clean the skylights on the roof, and discovered a beautiful view of our gardens from the higher vantage point. He dragged me up there after class just in time for sunset, and it was absolutely beautiful.








It's was really neat to see our garden from another point of view.

Say hello to the ladies

So after browsing Craigslist, we finally tracked down an old farmer out in the boondocks that had a few dozen hens for sale. For eight bucks a pop, we finally added these two lovely girls to our flock.


Our new hens are twelve weeks old, so they won't begin laying eggs for another couple months or so. The all-black chicken is named Evora, and the hen with the brown neck and lighter feet is named Esprit.


They're very attached to eachother, and aren't ever more than a step or two away from eachother. We're hoping to add more to our flock soon!

Getting ready for the newcomers

So the coop is ready for its new inhabitants, but we're still working out a couple of details to make sure the chickens are happy and healthy. We started out by getting some feed (developer and some scratch). We're hoping to start out with older chickens, so we don't have to worry about incubating and feeding young chicks.



Nobody here has ever raised chickens before, so we're a bit unsure about all of the specifics. Most of the books we've read are pretty unclear or really technical about a lot of things, but we're learning slowly. Things are going to get a bit more complicated when we have a bunch of birds of (probably) different ages running around, but we'll sort things out in the end I'm sure. Thankfully we're able to start out with all of this on a small scale, so later on we can know a little bit about everything when we decide to expand.

Our New Coop!

After weeks of work, we finally have completed our new chicken coop. Tons of thanks goes out to Mr. Dennis. Not only did he supply us with a bunch of plywood that he had laying around after another project, and not only did he help financially support this endeavor, and not only did he and Mr. Phils let us take over his backyard with these crazy farming projects, he also spent grueling hours in the humid Florida weather helping build this coop with us. Don't tell anyone, but he was also the mastermind behind the adorable design.



We're hoping to get chickens soon, and we still have a couple more details to add to the coop. We're also planning on painting it--- you can't have a picket fence without it being white washed!

A big investment

Between the chicken coop, raised beds, rabbit pen, seeds, topsoil, and everything else we've purchased for our garden, we've probably used close to a thousand dollars worth of materials (not to discourage anyone that wants to try their hand at gardening or raising animals for food--- there are cheaper ways to do this! We've just decided to experiment with some different methods, like pulling in topsoil from other places, that added to the bill).

After all of this, we're eagerly awaiting something like the fresh salads we got from our last garden.


Things are getting close--- our radishes are nearing harvest time, and we're starting to see itty-bitty baby squash popping up in the beds. After all of this investment, these fresh vegetables are going to be the most appreciated foods we've ever eaten.

Tine and Tay

After a whole month of building, growing and maintaining our garden and rabbits we are all doing very, very well.

Sea of Flax

Tine found a bulk bin of flax seeds in the New College cafeteria last week. What does this mean for our garden? At first - nothing. We just soaked the seeds and attempted to make flax crackers. However, we found that those seemed to grow moldy very, very quickly. Instead we decided to stick the cracker in the garden to see what would happen after we saw Mr. Phils successfully germinate 100% of the seeds we had given him.

After a while we began to see some sprouts and decided to buy more from NCF. We planted these additional seeds next to the wheat in our new bed and...

Our Sea of Flax

Hand Pollination

Due to the fact that we see relatively few bees, insects and other pollinators around the garden, Tine and I decided to hand pollinate some of the female squash flowers we found blooming today. We borrowed a paint brush from Mr. Phils and started pollinating. The larger male flower had already begun to shrivel by the time we made it back to the garden in the late afternoon. However, with any luck our hand pollination will be successful.

The female squash flower.

The larger (albeit shriveled) male squash flower.

Volunteer Squash

When we dug our new long bed we added some of the compost from the house to the aerated soil. Little did we know there were a number of squash seeds in the compost - lots of squash seeds - acorn squash to be exact. After pulling up about two dozen of these little seedlings (some from the bed and some from the compost pile itself) we have left a coupe alone to see what they will do. Tine calls these volunteer squash since they decided to come up all on their own.

One of many volunteer squash

Wheat

Remember that long bed we dug to the right of our four raised beds? We began sowing seeds in it a few days ago - lo and behold a beautiful crop of wheat coming up in just about four days or so! Compared to our timothy hay we have in the sweet corn bed, we may decide to switch to wheat for our home grown rabbit food. So far it has grown much quicker than the timothy hay... we'll see if that continues.

A nice close up of our new bed of wheat.

New Member of the Garden

Tine spotted this little crab spider and its beautiful web near the rabbits today - we thought it made for a nice picture and a quick blog entry.

Hopefully this little guy is keeping some of the pests away from the rabbits and the garden.

Purple Potatoes

Last weekend Cole and Stephanie bought us purple potatoes to try to grow from Jessica's Organic Farm (just a short bike ride down the road from us - a very cool place). We planted them in our double decker bed today and are very excited to see what happens...

Half of a purple potato.

Tine working on one of our twenty potato.

Double Decker Bed

Our Tine-y Garden is rapidly becoming a not-so-Tine-y one. We have added another 4' x 8' bed to our lovely garden. However, this time we have increased the size of half of it (a 4' x 4' area) so that we can plant potatoes which need a deeper bed to root effectively.

The lower half of the new bed will act as the first area of Taylor's new herb garden. More to come on that very soon...

Tiney working in the new double decker bed.

Chicken Coop!

Garden - Check.
Rabbits - Check.

What's next?

Chickens!

Behold the beginning of our new chicken coop:

Mr. Dennis has helped us construct this Category 5 Hurricane-resistant chicken oasis.

The interior of our coop as of yesterday afternoon.
More to come very soon...

Fire Pit

We seem to always be adding to our little garden oasis. Today we dug and quickly put together a small fire pit near the beds and bunnies. With any luck this will be yet another location for us to make some wonderful memories - once the mosquitoes go away...

The new fire pit

New Garden Bed

Cole and Stephanie spent Memorial Day weekend with us in Sarasota and we had a chance to talk to Cole about our garden. After examining our soil we decided to dig a new bed to the right of our four raised beds. This bed is approximately 4' x 18' or 72 sq ft. This new square footage adds to our previous 160 sq ft. for a grand total of 232 sq ft. - not bad for three weeks or so of gardening.

We have not yet planted this new bed but that is going to happen in the very near future. We are looking forward to more lettuce and kale very soon.

New bed increases our garden's square footage by a third even though it currently looks like we buried a pet giraffe...

Bamboo Trellis

Now that our Green Arrow peas have grown to about three inches we have added a bamboo trellis above them so they can continue their upward growth.

Altough we started these peas just a little early for our Florida weather, this particular variety is well acclimated to warmer weather. At the very least we have an interesting little experiment underway to see what will happen...

A new bamboo and yarn trellis for our peas

Knocked Up???

Quite possibly! The past few days have shown a more "stimulated" Toby as he has been going after the girls pretty ragularly. Additionally, we have begun to see Miura pulling out clumps of her hair recently (an excellent sign of rabbit pregancy) and placing them in what looks like a nesting area inside one of the hutches!

In the next day or two we will be going inside the pen to feel both of the girls. With any luck we will find the little marbles we have been hoping for!

WARNING:
This video contains scenes of a mating male and female rabbit.

video

Toby and Miura

Un-Knocked Up

We have yet to see any signs of pregnant rabbits. There are no marbles in either Miura or Girl (an early sign of pregancy in the 31 day gestation period of rabbits). So... what does this mean? At the moment, not much. Although Girl and Miura are both of breeding age (approximately seven months old) Toby is a little on the younger side (six months old). Most male rabbits come to breeding age between six and eight months so Toby still has some time...

Toby and a soon-to-be-pregnant Miura?

However, the good news is we are starting to see the young Toby going after the two females - every once in a while. It's brief and it's not perfect but with a little more time we are confident Toby can get the job done. With any luck it won't be too long before we start seeing our first kits.

Shelby the Snake vs. Wilbur/Templeton the Mouse

After two weeks with Shelby, our corn snake, we have grown to love and hate this amazing little animal. She (assuming she is in fact a she) was rather feisty at first but seemed to calm and relax after a few days. We fed her a small hopper feeder mouse named Alvin after a week with us and then held her a number of days later when she decided to bite both herself and Taylor (hardly painful but rather annoying).

Following this minor event we decided to feed her once more and then return her to the outdoors from whence she came. Below is a video of her final meal with us, again a small feeder mouse named Wilbur and/or Templeton depending on who you ask...

WARNING:
This is a graphic video depicting the demise of a young feeder mouse.

video

Shelby and Wilbur/Templeton

Communal Rabbits

If one follows what most experts have to say on raising rabbits you know that the majority recommend keeping them separate as they are not social animals. Most people keep their rabbits in a 3'x2'x2' structure and only bring them together for breeding purposes (and always the female to the male). However, before we purchased our three breeding rabbits we discovered another school of thought. This approach basically states that with enough space and individual areas for the females to have of their own (i.e. their own hutches) these "unsocial" animals can thrive in a larger group setting.

WIth this in mind we built our 9'x8' rabbit pen (a full 72sq. ft) for Toby, Miura and Girl. Together these three have become very accustomed to one another and seem to be getting along famously. Having said that we are still anxiously waiting for two knocked up bunnies - but that's for another blog...

Toby, Miura, and Girl getting along just fine...

Beautyberry Jam

One of the great things about our backyard is the abundance of natural resources - in this case beautyberries. We collected a large ziplock bag full of beautyberries from a number of trees around the yard and threw in some pomegranate we had purchased a few days earlier. After freezing these for a few days we finally found time to make beautyberry jam.

Taylor crushing beautyberries and pomegranate on the stove.
_________

Tine's Beautyberry Jam
(with her exact ingredient amounts)

1 ziplock bag of beautyberries
1 handful of pomegranate
A few splashes of lemon juice
TONS of sugar

_______

The final product - a large jar of beautyberry and pomegranate jam - lots of sugar, lots of great little seeds, lots of flavor.