The Plants Survived!

Following up on my earlier post, all the plants survived their first freezing temps.  The National Weather Service put out a frost alert for last night which presented much more detailed information than usual, including news that the wind advisory was no longer in effect and advice to protect delicate plants and bring pets indoors!  I truly felt like they immediately took my feedback to heart.  We’ll see if that holds true for future forecasts.

So all the delicate vegetable plants were covered with plastic sheeting and were well protected last night from the cold air, which had dipped into the mid-20’s before dawn.  And, of course, the hens had hot oatmeal for breakfast this morning.  I just ordered 10 more 2-lb. bags of Bob’s Red Mill organic old fashioned rolled oats (whole) from www.iherb.com.

 

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Freezing Temps This Morning

I checked the garden at 7:45 this morning to find some stiff lettuce, radicchio and broccoli plants, and a check of the thermometer showed 29.1ºF (6 feet above the ground).  I set my soil thermometer on the ground near them and got a reading of 34ºF.  It was useless to cover them, as the high winds at night blow them off.  One particularly strong gust blew the shade cloth off of the aquaponic garden, wooden rod and all, the night before last.

In an attempt to save the freezing plants, I managed to get a trickle of water to go through the ice-filled hose and ran the water all over the delicate plants, filling their dry basins, so that when they thaw they will immediately be able to draw water into their leaves, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll survive, if there’s not too much cell damage already.

I checked the National Weather Service forecast again to see if I missed the freeze warning, but there was no freeze warning for our area, so I sent them feedback about it.  It may not help, but it won’t hurt to let them know they screwed up by predicting lows in the 30’s to 40’s instead of 20’s to 30’s and not putting out a freeze warning here.  The freezing temps they predicted for Christmas morning didn’t occur, either.  It’s so frustrating!

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Holiday Season Update – Dec. 23, 2015

Meet Smokey, the latest addition to our menagerie.

Meet Smokey, the latest addition to our menagerie.

Happy Holidays!  It’s going to be a cold Christmas in Southern California!  By policy, we’ve always stayed home for the holiday to avoid unnecessary traveling.  This year, however, my eldest brother, Mark, and his girlfriend of one year plus, Karen, decided to have a Christmas Eve party at Mark’s house in Julian, which is in the mountains east of San Diego.  So my family of four is traveling tomorrow morning from north L.A.  My youngest sister, Martha, her husband, Brian, his mother, Jeanette, and their two little dogs are leaving today.  They’re renting a house in Julian (in town) for three days, and we’ll stay there tomorrow and tomorrow night and return home on Christmas day.  There is a good chance for a little bit of wet snow to fall in Julian on Christmas morning!

This is predicted to be an El Niño winter.  The first storms of the season brought us brief periods of light rain followed by cold air, and, of course, there’s always the wind that comes before and after each system, sometimes gusting up to 35 mph.  Yesterday a full day of very light rain followed a good rainfall the previous night, so now we’re soaked and I don’t have to be concerned with watering the vegetables for a few days.  The larger plants, broccoli and cabbage, will still be okay after a few days, but the seedlings need more attention in our sandy soil because the top two inches dry out quickly in windy conditions.  Sometimes I swear I can hear the wind sucking the water right out of it!  The temperatures since mid-October have been cooler than normal, and about two weeks ago we had a low of 33ºF.  Lately, the lows have been between 38ºF and 42ºF, with highs in the 50’s and 60’s, but this storm brought another cold air mass, and temperatures will drop at night into the 20’s and 30’s.  I’m hoping it won’t drop to freezing here, but just in case, today I’ll have to work out a way to protect the 18-foot long bed of lettuce plants.

Vegetables in the ground so far include broccoli and cabbage transplants, radishes, turnips, carrots, Swiss chard, baby bok choy, turnip greens, four types of lettuce, endive, radicchio, garlic (102), sweet onions, red onions (trying these for the first time) and scallions.  None of the peas sprouted, and I don’t know why.  I should have planted spinach already, but clients have given me a lot of work with deadlines to meet.  Next week the work will lighten significantly, so spinach will be planted then, along with more lettuce and other greens.  Red potatoes will go in during the first week of January.  I have four celery plants and one romaine lettuce in the aquaponic garden (with 2-1/2 dozen goldfish in the tank).  I’ve given up trying to raise catfish or tilapia because they all die off for reasons I can’t figure out, making it very expensive to use them just for their waste materials.  Our fish supplier wanted $15 each for small catfish this year!

Most of our hens are still molting or just coming out of molt.  Four of the Red Rangers and one Ameraucana are still laying, and two of the older Ameraucanas started laying again yesterday, much to my delight.  My egg customers have been rather disappointed with the relative lack of eggs, and basically line up for the next dozen.  So we are seriously considering adding another two dozen hens to the flock early next spring.  We’ll also raise more Red Rangers for slaughter.  Raising more hens means building another hen house.  They love to free-range during the day, and on the really cold mornings I prepare organic oatmeal with fruit (and sometimes almond pieces) for them.  I set two bowls of hot, creamy oats & fruit out in the yard and they can’t wait to get to it, which is very rewarding for me.

Smokey (pictured above) wandered into our yard a week ago.  There were no reports of him missing from anyone’s home, so we decided to keep him.  Our 15-year old tabby, Tiger, (80+ in cat years) is very put out by this newcomer’s presence.  I’ve talked to him about this kitten and he seems to understand me, so he keeps his distance.  Smokey spends his time indoors for now, which helps.  Time will tell whether Tiger will eventually accept his presence or run him off.  It would be really nice to have a good rodent hunter/killer on the property again (Tiger’s worthless), mostly because gophers have invaded the front yard and gardens.  They seem to be drawn to very dry topsoil because the tunnels won’t cave in very easily, and before long the tunnels are everywhere.

I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful holiday!

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Winter Garden for 2016

It’s been a while since I’ve written about my garden; been too busy with higher priority matters.  So the summer garden has come and gone, lettuce, endive, radicchio, carrot and radish seeds have been planted (some twice) and many have sprouted.  Now it’s time to finish planting the majority of the winter garden.  Dave and Aysen are doing a great job preparing the beds as they have time, but 9 out of 19 beds are still not ready for planting.

Granex Wax onion seeds, the variety best suited to this latitude, were planted on November 4th, and seeds of a variety called Red Burgundy, which I’m trying for the first time and claims to be a 100-day variety, were planted November 9th.

103 garlic cloves were planted today.  Tomorrow kale, turnip greens and pea seeds are slated for planting.  The weather is supposed to be dry and windy, but hopefully the temperatures will stay above 70 long enough to promote germination.

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What’s Going On With These Hens?

Both of these eggs were laid by the same Rhode Island Red, two days apart.

Both of these eggs were laid by the same Rhode Island Red, two days apart.

On May 1st I wrote about the two Rhode Island Reds that stopped laying eggs for only about a week before starting to lay again.  This has become some kind of pattern for them.  They lay eggs for two weeks or so, then take about a week off and start back up, laying eggs with either very soft shells that break in the nest when the hen lays down on it or eggs with very thin, brittle shells that also break, then a few days later turning out eggs that remain whole.  One of these hens is laying normal-size eggs with very light brown shells, while the other is laying jumbo-size eggs with shells that indicate that her shell chamber has either become enlarged or stretches to accommodate the yolk and unusually large amount of albumin she’s producing.  I’m also suspicious that it’s taking two days for her eggs to fully form.  The shell of the egg on the left in the photo above appears to have cracked and “healed” while in the shell chamber, which would logically require that the egg remain in the shell chamber longer than the normal amount of time.

Neither of these hens has shown any sign of molting, and they were hatched in mid-September, 2013, making them 22 months old!  I can’t help but wonder if this is some kind of record.

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Free-ranging Hens

The Golden-laced Wyandotte rooster, free-ranging.

The Golden-laced Wyandotte rooster, free-ranging.

He looks like a fine painting!  Blackie has a somewhat difficult time moving about, but he gets where he needs to go.  He has to use his wings to propel himself along, so he needs a rather lengthy “running” area sometimes.  While in the coop, he tends to stay on the cool, shady side most of the day and night.  I’ve noticed that one or two of the hens will stay near him during some portions of the day.

So what do hens do when they free-range?

They peck at the ground and eat whatever they find useful - small rocks (to grind their food), ants, green leaves and bugs are what they're after.

They peck at the ground and eat whatever they find useful – small rocks (to grind their food), ants, green leaves and bugs are what they’re after.

They look around curiously in case a hen from another flock gets too close.

They look around curiously in case a hen from another flock gets too close.

They make a large hole and take a "dust bath."  Note, however, that one hen is excluded - she's from a different flock than those in the bathing hole.

They make a large hole and take a “dust bath.” Note, however, that one hen is excluded – she’s from a different flock than those in the bathing hole.

They dig into the compost bins to find bugs and worms.

They dig into the compost bins to find bugs and worms.

They wait their turn in the dust bowl.

They wait their turn in the dust bowl.

They start to take their turn in the dust bowl, now that the Red Rangers have wandered over to their coop.

They start to take their turn in the dust bowl, now that the Red Rangers have wandered over to their coop.

They drink from the duck pond.

They drink from the duck pond.

And they avoid the duck when he chases them.

And they avoid the duck when he chases them.

Since the light-bodied birds are capable of flying up onto the fence railing and making themselves targets for the dogs on the other side, we must limit the amount of time the hens are allowed to free-range in the yard to about an hour a day because we have to keep an eye on them most of the time.

The duck has full range of the yard at all times now, and has become more aggressive toward the hens when they’re out in “his territory.”  One day he caused a squabble among two hens next to each other when he sneaked up from behind, pecked one and ran away.  It was hilarious to see such cunning behavior!

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There Will Be Cabbage!

Harvested the first head of Mammoth Red Rock cabbage this season, and it weighed in at 3 lbs. 6 oz.  There are eight small heads continuing to grow.  Enjoy the photos.Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage-2015-1Mammoth Red Rock Cabbage-2015-2

The plant remains in the ground to provide additional small heads of cabbage throughout the summer.

The plant remains in the ground to provide additional small heads of cabbage throughout the summer.

The largest of the "satellite" cabbage heads growing from the plant from which I just harvested the main head.

The largest of the “satellite” cabbage heads growing from the plant from which I just harvested the main head.

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