May 2010 Archives

Kitchen Garden Notes: May 18, 2010

another pink moss 2.jpgThe moss rose Gloire de Mousseux is in full bloom.  I didn't prune any of the roses this winter so they're a riot of tangles.  This one gets very tall.  I'm pleased it didn't ball up in the spring rain.

arnica macro 2.jpgThe arnica has just started blooming and I have promised myself not to miss out on harvesting it this year.  I got lots of blooms last year and never managed to get them.  They trickle in for a while then bust out in full flower mode and then are suddenly done.  I'm determined to make an arnica salve from my own plants this year.

favas 2.jpgThe favas are beginning to set flowers.  I wish they'd had a chance to get taller first but I planted them late in the season.  Still, I can't complain about getting such a great germination rate for this bed I planted.  Almost all of the seeds came up.

pea tangle 2.jpgThe peas are very busy vining up.  I have a perennial problem of not providing support before it's too late.  This variety is semi-self supporting.  We'll see what happens.  No blossoms yet.

comfrey 2.jpgThe comfrey plants my friends John and Jin brought me from their own garden were looking dreary for a while but they are definitely digging in and I have a feeling they'll fill out their raised bed well given the chance.  I've been wanting to establish a comfrey bed for ages.  Comfrey is brilliant in a healing salve, chickens love to eat it, and it's also a great additive to the compost bin. 

*Note: as someone has pointed out, this is NOT comfrey.  Comfrey has bell shaped flowers.  I had not yet bothered to verify it's identity and simply took it for what my friends believed it to be.  If anyone can tell me what it is, I would love some help identifying it.  It isn't borage but may very well be in the Boraginaceae family- those flowers look a lot like forget-me-nots  but the foliage on the plant is a lot more like borage or comfrey.  At the base the leaves are quite large and form a big clump.  Anyone know? 

Frost peach 2.jpgOf the three peach trees this is by far the healthiest.  It's "Frost" and seems to be much less inclined to succumb to peach leaf curl.  It has a few peaches that might not drop.  Fingers crossed!

shallot 2.jpgI took the picture before I weeded.  I let this bed go nuts with weeds but when I was out there yesterday I started pulling them out and saw that most of my shallots had successfully come up.  Only a couple of rotters.  Now that I've cleared the weeds they should do even better.  They're planted in a bed with strawberries.

quincelet 2.jpgThe quince tree has really taken off this year and there are quite a few fruits swelling on it.  I'll have to keep an eye out because the branches are still thin and might not support too much fruit.  Often a young tree will drop most of its fruit so I'll just have to keep my eye on it.

Apothecary Rose 2.jpgThis is my Apothecary's Rose that my good friend Nicole gave me from her own garden.  She gave me several own root pots of them and most of them have survived.  This is one of the earliest cultivated roses and was used (as the name suggests) for medicinal purposes.  It's a once bloomer that is supposed to set hips really well.  I'm pleased to see so many blossoms in this first year in the ground of my garden.

potatoes and thyme 2.jpg
This is my potato bed with most of my thyme plants.  I missed the opportunity to get an early crop of thyme for drying.  I don't personally like drying and using stems that have flowered.  However, if your thyme is like mine and you'd like to get a good harvest in a month or so, I suggested giving them a trim now.  I plan to do that for mine in the next couple of days.  I used thyme more than any other garden herb.

The potatoes need mulching but I haven't got a way to get a big bale of hay to our house right now.  So they'll just have to wait.

I also managed to get planted seven artichoke plants: 5 Violetta and 2 Green Globe.  I put them in a raised bed that's 8' x 4' which if the artichokes grow well will barely be able to contain them.  I didn't have another spot prepared for them and needed to get them dug in so it'll have to do.  I can always transplant them later if need be.

I bought, but haven't planted, 6 tomatoes: Caspian Pink, Green Zebra, Black From Tula, Pruden's Purple, Sun Gold, and Striped German. 

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Proper Heating For Chicks

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And what to do if you overheat one.

Mo collapsed 2.jpg
Chicks have very specific heating requirements.  When they are allowed to hatch with their mother they spend most of their time nestled under her where they are warmed by down.  As they age they'll venture out more and more.  When they first hatch they aren't able to regulate their own body heat.  So if you are raising chicks from a feed store, without a mother hen, it's important to simulate the heat they require.  For this you will need a heating lamp. 

The general guidelines are this:

  • For the first week of a chick's life the warmest spot in its box (or tub) should be at 95 degrees.  The box should be large enough that they can get out of the heat for breaks, to cool down.
  • Each week you should lower the general temperature by 5 degrees.
  • The best way to monitor the heat level is with a thermometer which should be placed to the side rather than directly underneath the lamp for a more accurate reading. 
However, if you don't have a thermometer you should do the following:

Start off with the heat lamp about 28" from the bottom of the area in which you are keeping your chicks.  Measure it with an actual ruler.

  • Keep a fairly close watch on the chicks to see where they spend most of their time.  If they remain constantly huddled right under the lamp, then there isn't adequate overall heat and you should lower the lamp by one or two inches. 

  • If the chicks are huddled as far away from the heat of the lamp as possible, then it's too low and should be raised by one or two inches.
  • In an ideally heated environment your chicks will be scattered throughout their quarters feeling comfortable enough to explore all corners.

What to do if you overheat a chick:

Last weekend we discovered one of our chicks collapsed.  In fact, we were sure she was dead because she seemed sunken, she wasn't moving, she was limp, and her eyes were closed.  While we were sadly trying to figure out where we would bury her, a sad office to perform on a mother's day, Philip jumped out of his skin when he felt her move a tiny bit.  She still seemed lifeless but he'd felt the tiniest movement of breathing. 

When chicks are tiny they are fairly fragile so we really had no hope that she would make it.  I took her with me into the house, wrapped her in a dry washcloth, planning to simply hold her until she died.  Thinking she would be more comfortable if kept warm, I proceeded to wrap her in a heating pad. 

Her beak started opening and closing very slowly, which seemed hopeful so I ran to get her some water to see if she'd drink and once I dunked her beak a couple of times and saw her throat make a swallowing motion, I ran to call the farm store for advice.  The first thing John the chicken man asked me was how low my heat lamp was.  He said it sounded like the chick was overheated. 

I measured how low my heat lamp was and discovered that I had it at 12" above the litter which was way too low!  I was really worried about not keeping the chicks warm enough and because I couldn't find my thermometer I was overcompensating.  In effect, I had cooked my littlest chick. 

On discovering that Mo was dying of heat exhaustion, I immediately removed her from the warmth of the heating pad and continued to force her to drink tiny droplets of water.  While the odds were clearly against her, when I heard her peep for the first time that morning I knew she had a chance. 

If this ever happens to you I would like to offer the following suggestions on how to revive a heat exhausted chick:

  • Remove the chick from the source of the heat immediately and if you have other chicks then adjust the heat lamp so that the other chicks are out of danger.
  • Don't bury a chick immediately on finding them collapsed.  With a large chicken it's easy to tell when they've stopped breathing.  One week old chicks are so small it isn't easy to tell.  Try the following tips before giving up.
  • Fill a very small cup (I used a demitasse) with cold water.  Gently dip the chick's beak into it being careful not to submerge their nostrils which are about halfway up their beaks.  Wait a couple of minutes before trying again.
  • If the chick's throat swallows the droplets of water, then she's still got a chance.  Keep doing this for a half an hour or so.
  • If your chick, at this point, starts showing stronger signs of life, I suggest adding a pinch or two of sugar to the water.  This can help give the chick added energy to help revive her.
It took Mo 1 hour before peeping. It took her 2 hours before she started trying to sit up and opened her eyes again.  It took fully four hours after we found her for her to stand up on her own again.  It took five hours for her to start eating scratch again and walking around.

  • Whenever you have an injured or sick bird it is imperative that you remove them from the rest of their flock.  Birds are not kind to injured flock members.  So if you are nursing a small chick back from heat exhaustion, you need to create a separate space for them to recover in.  We put her in a very small box with some food and some litter and set that near the heat lamp in the bigger box where the other chicks were, being careful not to put her directly under the lamp.
  • During the time she was in the separate box I gave her frequent drinks of water by hand because  I couldn't fit a watering dispenser in the little box.  Chickens are thirsty birds, making sure they have fresh cool water is very important. 
  • When I reintroduced her to the rest of the chicks I kept a close eye on them to be sure she wasn't being picked on dangerously.  I didn't consider her safe until I'd spent some time with them to watch the other chicks.
We were very lucky.  I know that in a similar scenario we very well might have lost her.  John the chicken guy advised me to get a replacement chick just in case, and we did that.  But I'm happy to say that Mo, a week after her near death experience, has continued to prosper and it seems she's going to make it.


Other articles on raising chickens:

Caring For Chicks: The First Six Weeks

Choosing Chicken Breeds For Backyard Flocks
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Backyard Flock: meet the new chicks

Our flock of hens is down to three and they are four years old now which means they're middle aged and though ours are all still laying very well, we wanted to add to our flock so that as our older hens slow down their laying we'll still have plenty of eggs.  So we brought our new flock home and here they are:

Anna portrait 2.jpgWe've had ameraucanas before and love them.  Not just for the colorful eggs they lay but because they're cool looking and our experience is that they have great personalities.  We have never had a pale one, which in some places are referred to as lavender Ameraucanas*. 

Bungie portrait 2.jpgThe naming of new chicks is a very important ritual.  You can name your chickens anything you want but there is a strong trend towards giving them antiquated women's names like Doris, Flora, or Dottie.  I like this trend but my son and husband feel no need to name them according to anyone's tradition.  I originally let Max (my son) name two of them and was going to let Philip name two of them as well but had to revoke his naming rights after he named our littlest chick.  We originally meant only to get 6 chicks.  We ended up with one extra because we almost lost our Speckled Sussex and the farm store suggested  a back up bird

Anyway, the naming frenzy got out of control and here are some of the names brainstormed between my guys:  Doo-boy, Carlito, Boo-doy, Leroy, Larry, Carl, Bouffant, Curly, Spikey, Lemon-boy, Turd (what is it with 9 year old boys?!), Jumpy-jump, and Blackie. 

Curly-sue portrait 2.jpgI'm willing to bet that no one can guess who named which birds.  Naturally if you're a farmer who has more than a small flock you don't indulge in the great chick naming event.  It's too bad, I must say it adds some lively fun to family life and my kid is much more interested in chicks he gets to take part in naming than chicks he doesn't.  It becomes more personal to him.  Naming is not recommended for those birds being raised for meat.  We raise ours for the eggs, the manure, and the pleasure of having them around.

Dimity-Jane second p 2.jpgWe have a favorite Looney Tunes cartoon which I think is called "The Stranger" and is about a chick who is adopted by a mother duck who tries to raise the chick with her own ducklings.  The animators did an amazing job of capturing the distinctive way chicks have of moving.  If you haven't seen that cartoon I suggest trying to get your hands on it.  (We have it on a disc of a cartoon collection.) 

Bob portrait2.jpgBob is difficult to photograph.  She's not very cooperative and her head being so dark adds another challenge.  We've never had Australorpes so we're pretty excited to have two of them.  Of course, any or all of these chicks could turn out to be a rooster, in which case we'd have to sell them back to the farm store.  Hopefully we'll end up with at least one Black Australorp. 

Drusilla portrait 2 .jpgI'm curious to see how different Bob and Drusilla will turn out.  Drusilla has a lot more yellow on her but I thought the grown Australorps are all black.

Mohawk portrait 2.jpgThis is Mohawk who had a very stressful weekend during which she very nearly signed off after becoming cooked by the heat lamp.  My next chicken post will give some tips about reviving chicks that have collapsed from overheating.  It is amazing that she made it.  She's still a little ruffled looking but she's completely recovered. 

Mo 2.jpgTaking pictures of the chicks in their box is hard.  The lighting is tough on the pictures.  This is Mohawk just after making her full recovery. 

Unceremonious 2.jpg
Drusilla being manhandled by me.  Chicks don't naturally like being picked up.  Unfortunately for them there isn't an animal on earth that wouldn't like to sink its teeth into a baby chick, humans being no exception other than their willingness to plump them up first.  The birds know their position and are therefore suitably skittish around anything not them.  We make a practice of handling our chicks a great deal.  They run, they scuffle, they peep, but in the end they will be forced to suffer our gentle assaults.  Over time they become used to our voices; learn that we are the strange beings who bring treats like snails and greens and best of all in the entire world...watermelon, and will come running when they hear us. 

*Only pure bred Ameraucanas are called "Araucanas".  Ours are not pure bred.  The kind we got is an Ameraucana or sometimes they're referred to as "Easter Eggers". 

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