Friday, January 7, 2011

Gardening the same patch the second year

This season has already exceeded last season in terms of success in the backyard. With three chickens laying and multiple crops harvested, I am left to reflect on what has made this year so much more bountiful. I have come up with three keys to this success!

A glasshouse. This year I had the glasshouse all through Spring which gave me the chance to get a superb head start with my seedlings. The glasshouse is such an advantage because it eliminates the early frost damage that I'd otherwise have to risk or protect against if I were an early planter. Having a glasshouse almost feels like cheating! I started my season earlier, had an ever ready supply of new seedlings to take the place of harvested crops and also managed to grow some more exotic varieties like eggplant. Delightful.

A warm Summer. Christchurch has had a considerably better Summer so far than last year. It wasn't until quite late last year that I was able to harvest tomatoes, strawberries and others. My corn wasn't quite ready by the time the cold of March started to hit. This year it's been hot ever since mid-Spring, and the Summer has been superb. I harvested strawberries in November, the corn is almost ready and I've cycled through many harvests of radish, carrots, beetroot and lettuce. Perfect.

The benefits of knowing my backyard. This is the contributor that has surprised me the most. In terms of the types of vegetables I've grown, the locations I've put them and the condition of the soil, simply knowing my backyard has increased my productivity hugely. Last year I struggled with my courgettes and a couple of sick looking tomato plants. This year I have lavenders growing happily in those locations, and where the courgettes are they have flourished. I've also managed to produce a lot of my own compost, as well as bringing in a load of mushroom compost as mulch and generally add to the condition of the soil.

So in my opinion, there's a lot to be said for gardening the same patch the second year. Give me a third year and I'll be ready to look into companion planting, crop rotation and more soil-y goodness! Unfortunately it's not to be though, as we're moving to Wellington shortly and the backyard will become the front porch. My next post might be about gardening in pots in severe winds.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Barred Rock Chickens and my New Incubator

I thought it might be time to post some more pictures of the backyard, since things have changed quite a bit since I last wrote.

Here's Alaska, still feeling like she runs the place but in fact keeping a measured distance from actual proceedings.

Here are the barred rock chicks I hatched in my home made incubator recently. They may be oblivious to the fact, but I think these are the guys who actually run the place!

And they're getting pretty friendly, more than happy to approach me when I go out back to see them.

Since I've just auctioned my incubator on trademe, I decided to get this new incubator for my next hatch. She's the one in the foreground, a pekin chick. My plan is destined to fail if this wee chick is a boy...come on wee thing, future generations are relying on you!
It looks like there are only two, but in fact there are three barred rock chicks behind the pekin bantam. These were bought in order to make sure I wasn't left with only one female from my previous hatch. I don't want one lonely barred rock hen. I'm having trouble sexing my barred rock chicks, so I have these to make sure. Plus I traveled during my chicks' early childhood and missed out, so it's good to have a second go at raising them with the leftover medicated feed I bought.

And finally here's Alaska paying me a visit while I'm mothering my chicks. She's acting uninterested here so that she can gain my trust and get a minute alone with the chicks. No, actually she's very good around chickens. I'm glad New Zealand doesn't have the predators they have over in the US. I find my chickens can usually fend off even the meanest looking kitties. I doubt they'd have the same success against a fox or some such.

Thanks for reading my post, now you're up to date on my back yard.

Come again :)

Sexing Barred Rock Chicks

Since my chicks are now five weeks old I figure it's time to try and guess their sex. In New Zealand you can keep roosters in your back yard as long as they don't make any noise. Since I haven't discovered a humane way to keep my boys quiet I won't be able to keep them, so this is an important moment. I often joke that their first crow will be their last, but secretly I'm quite unhappy about the reality of that fact.

I've been going through a phase of believing that I have three boys and only one girl. This is largely based on the fact that one of my chicks looks distinctly different from the rest.

Look at the colour of the chick on the right, "she" is much darker than the other three which look like her friend in the picture there. No, she's not just sitting in a shadow there :) Also, she acts more feminine in my opinion. She's a bit shy, she's a bit more attractive and not as lanky as her boy friends.

So I've read posts on other websites that say you can tell a Barred Rock hen's sex even from their first week based on some distinctive markings. The females have a smaller more distinct yellow dot on their head, and darker trouser fronts. The males have a more smudged dot, with grey trouser fronts. Well looking at my photos I see a lot of smudgy dots which supports our theory that they are mainly boys.

BUT! Since they're a bit older now, there are other indicators starting to appear. One of our chicks is developing a distinctive boy's tail! Once he gets some plumage back there it will be fairly obvious which sex he hails from. Using this marker leads me to believe we have one male and three females, which is what I would have liked to believe from the start and would dearly like to be true!

So I shall wait and see what other signs develop before I draw my final conclusions... wish me luck!

Please leave a comment if you have some information about figuring this thing out that might help me.