Tuesday, September 28, 2010

If we only had the sense of geese

This fall when you see geese heading south for the winter... flying along in V formation...you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way. 

As each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in V formation the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range, than if each bird flew on its own.

 People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

 When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone... and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front. If we have as much sense as a goose, we will stay in formation with those who are headed the same way we are.

When the head goose gets tired it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point. It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs...with people or with geese flying south.

 Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed. What do we say when we honk from behind?

 Finally...and this is important...when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshots, and falls out of formation, two other geese fall out with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly or until it dies, and only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with their group.

 If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

Author Unknown

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fall gardening time

I was really pleased with my spring garden, and thanks to that success I am doing one for the fall. Besides my son will love me for all the yummy sandwich veggies and so will the hens. The chickens always get the trimmings, weeds and the final-cleanup.  Final clean-up involves letting them in to eat what's left after we the plants are finished with their yield. Right now the hens are locked out of the garden area. They would love nothing better than to sneak in and eat all the freshly planted seeds. There always is that occasional hen that does sneak in looking for tasty bugs and things she's not supposed to eat. When I do catch her she is ousted faster than she can say cluck, cluck, CLUCK.

I am pleased to say that one of the benefits of living in Texas is the extra-long growing season. The Lone Star State actually has two growing seasons, spring and fall. The extreme heat of summer permits most gardeners to take a break during the hottest months and plant their second vegetable garden in September. So fellow Texans and others living in similar climates make sure and take advantage of the warm weather and learn how to grow a fall vegetable garden.

I always plant in raised bed gardens. Raised bed gardens are the saviors of gardeners with poor soil everywhere. I don't know about you but my soil is as hard as a rock and loaded with clay. The basic idea of a raised bed is that instead of battling against poor soil conditions, you build above ground, where you have absolute control over the soil texture and ingredients.  After I build the frame out of four even lengths of untreated boards nailed together I carefully place layers of newspaper, mulch, compost, hay, and soil like I am making lasagna. The final layer is nice fine soil in which to plant my seeds. The drainage is also excellent in raised beds.

Next it's time to choose what vegetables you wish to grow. Consult a local planting guide, such as the Old Farmers Almanac, and look for the cooperative extension services link or google the internet with specific keywords such as planting a vegetable garden in the fall or the month you are planting.

Next I supplement the existing soil with compost, soil and other goodies that I have been aging such as coffee grounds, compost and chicken poop. Some soils can be quite poor and supplementing with organic soil from the local gardening center will help overcome deficiencies. Prepare the seedbed so that the top surface is raked free of clods, stones and debris. Next plant your carefully selected fall vegetable seeds such as peas, beets, radishes, chard, collards, cauliflower and brocolli. Keep soil moist with frequent watering during germination by using a fine spray nozzle to moisten the soil until water begins to run off. Sprinkle at least daily unless it happens to rain. I also use plenty of organic mulch to keep weeds down, conserve moisture and reduce soil temperature. My choice is hay that I purchase from my neighbor who bales his own. Good luck with your fall garden it is well worth the work.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Its raining cats and dogs, oh! and chickens......

Yesterday we had quite a downpour and it came out of nowhere. One minute I was outside putting fresh straw in the young pullets barn and bingo.... rain. Luckily I had just finished so it was actually perfect timing because these younger chicks needed the straw to keep them warm and dry. As the rain came pounding down I fled to the house and when I got inside it dawned on me there were chickens way out in the field free-ranging and where would they go to stay dry? Under a tree? A tree wouldn't suffice in this heavy downpour. I glanced out a window and to my surprise they went right out in the rain and were getting wet on their own free will, and seemed to enjoy it. I still was not satisfied that they were o.k and did some more investigating. I put on my raincoat and walked outside to the pens where the other chickens were and they were also out in the rain. They had dry houses in which to seek shelter in and chose to be water logged. Well I thought to myself that proves that!. they just like the rain. The  hens were actually digging in the mud for worms. The rain brings all the dirt bugs to the surface. I can't say I blame them because in a chickens world worms are steak. I finally went inside with a peace knowing they were doing what chickens do.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Scream of the Banshee

Buck Wheat, Buck Wheat, Chi, Chi, Chi......the sound of the guinea, you either love them or hate them. I personally could not imagine living without them. These polka-dotted little munchkins run around sporting a face that only a mother could love? Guineas are a great addition to your homestead and are rightfully named the farm yard watch dog, sounding the alarm whenever anything unusual occurs. They will consume large amounts of insects and rarely bother your garden except to cruise through and pick out the bugs.  They are also fairly easy and inexpensive to raise.  Once started, they fend for themselves, living on insects, seeds, and grasses. They control ticks, grasshoppers, spiders, crickets, scorpions, frogs and almost all other insects. They always will alert you to anything unusual.
Here in Texas they are very popular for control of ticks. They also will discourage rodents with their call and will kill and eat mice and small rats.  Here in the country snakes are very common and the Guineas will spot and find snakes and alert me so that I can kill them before they cause any harm. The Guineas themselves will kill snakes also. Other people keep Guineas because they enjoy having them around.  They are very curious and interesting birds, having quite a personality.  Others enjoy having the various colors, especially the new colors that are being developed. 
The incubation period for Guinea eggs is 26 to 28 days.  The eggs may be incubated under broody hens or any reliable incubator.  Follow the instructions.  If nothing is listed for Guineas, follow the instructions for Pheasants or Turkeys.
Start the keets (young guineas) on a good Turkey starter feed (28% to 30% protein).  The high protein makes them grow fast and keeps nutritional deficiency's at bay.  Keep the brooder at 95 degrees the first week.  Reduce 5 degrees per week.  Keep them warm and dry and you won't have any problems with them.  Be sure to keep them safe from other birds and to prevent drafts in the brooder area.  The first water given keets on arrival should be warm to prevent chilling. Make sure they can't get in the water or they will get wet and chill or drown.  Use marbles or rocks to fill the water area so as to make a shallow drinking area.  Also place the feed and water close to the heat source for the first day.
Guineas attacking a frog

Sunday, September 12, 2010

If it had of been a snake it would of bit me

You know that old saying..well if it had of been a rattler I'd be in the emergency room. Several days ago when I opened the compost been I nearly screamed .....there was a HUGE RATTLE snake laying under the lid on the edge just lookin' at me. I dropped the lid really fast and screamed for my son...it looked looked like a rattle snake and I knew I had to find it fast. I kicked over the bin and got a rake and started stirring the contents around and there it was..the huge rattlesnake was actually A TEXAS RAT SNAKE. We caught snakey and put him in a jar and let him go down Country Road 106. Snakes can be very scary due to the fear of the dreaded rattle snake bite and all the gory details involved. I believe snakes have a purpose but they can take it elsewhere. It took me several days to get over the compost bin deal but I'm back to composting and recommend it to all gardeners.

Composting tips
* Basically you want to have approximately 50% “green” materials (wet, fresh) and 50% “brown” (dry).
* You can compost all sorts of things: fruit and veggie trimmings, yard waste, shredded paper towels, mulch/sawdust/shavings, shredded cardboard, newspaper(no colored pages just black and white, lint from your dryer, feathers, etc. You just throw them in the bin and the microbes do the rest. If your bin doesn’t touch the ground you’ll need to throw some soil in it so it has microbes.
* Ideally you need to keep it as moist as a wrung out sponge. I will open the lid when it rains to help out with this. It it hasn't rained for awhile I use the hose.
* I mostly just want to have a great garden turn out so I just toss stuff in and stir it (2-4 times per year). If you want compost more frequently you can stir every 2 weeks or so. You don’t want to stir too often because the compost heats up as part of the mechanism of the bacteria that breaks to food down and the process stops if you stir it too soon and it loses heat.
* Compost bins can attract critters (like ants, other assorted bugs, mice and, apparently, snakes). Always approach your bin with caution.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rainy days are great for cooking

Rainy days are great for cooking

Well it was another rainy day here in Martindale so I decided to cook up a batch of Chili. But not just any Chili, the 15 Bean Salsa Chili that I have perfected over the years. This recipe is guaranteed to make your taste buds do a dance, plus my son really loves it. Last night I put the bag of 15 beans into the crock-pot and rinsed them really well and then let them soak over night. This speeds up the cooking process, which is rather slow in a crock-pot, but its accepted since the crock-pot does such a great job. This morning I boiled the chicken first and then de-boned it. Remember to save the stock because you will need it to boil the beans in. Next drain the water off the beans, add all the rest of the ingredients into a Crock-Pot in the order listed and set on high for the first hour; after that reduce heat to low and continue to cook for 5 to 6 hours. Check for level of liquid occasionally. Add additional stock or water if soup appears too thick for your taste. Check beans for tenderness. If not soft, cook at simmer for another 1/2 hour. Feel free to add a small can of corn and serve with French bread. It is yummy.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Save them egg shells

It sure is great to have fresh eggs, every day for breakfast, rather they be scrambled, fried or boiled. Nothing beats a freshly gathered egg breakfast with whole grain toast and those home fried potatoes. So I asked myself what else could I do with egg shells besides throwing them in my trash or compost...hmm... why not feed them back to my girls? So I did just that I saved the shells, and smashed them on the ground and watched them disappear. My hens come running when I bring them smashed egg shells. Egg shells are a fantastic provider of calcium which is exactly what your laying girls need. If you discover that their shells are becoming soft or not as hearty, crushed oyster shell can also be added to their diet. I always have a 5 pound bag of oyster on hand that I mix into my bin of scratch grains that I feed to my hens as treats. They eat scratch like its candy.

Tip: For you chicken lovers that hatch your own eggs....next time you candle eggs save all the blanks and boil them for the girls. they will thank you by laying more nice eggs the next day. I also give a few to my doggies and my parrots.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Buggy about bugs

When we first moved to our home in the country ticks, fleas, grub worms, grasshoppers, scorpions, and other miscellaneous bugs too many to list were a problem, but not anymore. The guineas, chickens and waterfowl, bless their little hearts, have literally eradicated them from our fields. Chickens are best at eliminating bugs that dwell in the soil. They love to dig and scratch their way through the soil and mulch looking for tasty bug bits. After I dig up the soil in one of the raised beds in the veggie garden and till amendments like compost or manure into the soil, I then turn the chicken girlie girls loose to work their magic. They will spend hours on that one bed, just kicking around mulch and loosening up the soil themselves. The only downside is that they will eat earthworms if they find them. A solution I’ve found is to turn them loose on tilled soil only in the January to March timeframe when the earthworms are apparently deeper in the soil, and thus safe from the chickens.  For the birds these tasty bugs are a big treat, and an excellent source of protein. So I say, go get em’ girls and they do just that.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rain Rain, Come and Stay, come and stay another day!...

Its been very hot this summer with high 90's and even some 100's. Most people love the sun but I'm not so welling to accept it all the time all day long, like I have a choice in the matter.  Its just been too sunny, so when it rained yesterday evening and during the night, I felt joy.  Rain is so beautiful. It is mysterious and just dark enough to evoke feelings, thoughts, and memories.  I have always loved the rain and felt a certain fondness for it. Rather it comes down hard and fast, or light and in a sprinkle, and it is always welcome by me. Rain disturbs just a bit either putting things off balance or into perspective, it depends on how much rain. The plants really desire nitrogen and that's where the rain water comes in. . I see their growth spurts and cannot wait for the next time it rains. I am currently building a rain collection barrel that will catch water off my roof. I will keep you all informed of its progress. The link above is the design that I am using.