Friday, January 27, 2012

Meat chickens - yea!

Last year I wrote about our first venture into raising meat chickens (read about it here). My daughter was grossed out ('70s expression!). Our chicken farmer friend refused to eat any of his flock, disgusted after watching them grow. Nonetheless, we decided to try again, using lessons learned.

This experience was more pleasant, albeit with one disturbing development.

First, we resolved never to raise Cornish Rocks again. They were bred for size, and as their size increased their brain size diminished. At least, that’s our theory. This time we ordered Red broilers, another type of meat chicken. The most important factor in this decision:  they are not white so the poop on their feathers would be camouflaged.

We took delivery of 25 chicks in October, ensuring they would reach maturity in the winter. The last batch suffered terribly in the heat of last May. They finally got so large they couldn’t move – and couldn’t reach water.

Moving Day!
With fewer chicks in the brood pen than last time, there was less fighting, plucking and pooping; we moved them into the chicken yard, a.k.a. Chicken Gitmo, at about two weeks.

This breed is much more appealing. When grown, the chickens were quite pretty. They did not get as large as the white ones, and so were able to move around freely. These were Einsteins compared to the last batch: these chickens knew how to scratch and find the pen at night.

The disgust factor was much lower this time around. Don't discount the importance of this.

Bandy and one of his lay-dies.
However, we had another problem. Our rooster, Bandy Bojangles, matured into a full-grown rooster at about the time the meat roosters did. He and a younger rooster, his son L’il, took to bullying the meat roosters. By processing time, Bandy had killed at least two, injured another, and forced us to send L’il to our neighbor’s chicken farm for his own protection. Bandy, the Godfather of Gitmo.

Due in part to the carnage of the mob wars, we ended up with around 20 birds to dress.

Our middle son helped with the processing of the first batch. I fully intended to help this time, as he was not available. However, once my husband began the unpleasant part (involving the innards – let’s say no more), he gave me a pass. He was afraid I would not be able to eat chicken afterwards. “Well, if you’re sure, honey,” I said, as I edged away from the kitchen. This has damaged my standing as a Pioneer Woman, but I think I can live with that.

So what do we think about home-grown chicken? It is tougher than store-bought meat. We plan to try brining one soon, to see if that tenderizes it.  I cannot tell a taste difference, but Dan says it tastes a little stronger to him, a little wilder than store-bought. (He has a more discerning palate in these matters.) These chickens have much larger drumsticks and smaller breasts – both of which suit our dining style.

Yes, we will continue raising our own meat chickens. Though we may have to bump off the Godfather.  Rub him out. He might end up sleeping with the fishes. But don’t tell him I said so. I’m a little afraid of him.

Favorite spot in the garden:

My favorite spot is right outside my window right now. Part of its charm is the movement of the Lindheimer's muhly (Muhlenbergia lindheimeri), so I've taken a movie to share instead of a static photo.

In case that doesn't work, which is entirely possible, here is that static photo:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Garden Book Review: Perennial Garden Color

Roses and Other Gardening Joys is sponsoring a Garden Book Reviews meme every month on the 20th. This month is the first. I had planned to read a book I received as a birthday present (four months ago!), but that didn’t happen. Instead, children, today we’ll talk about a go-to book on my shelf:  Perennial Garden Color: Perennials, Cottage Gardens, Old Roses, and Companion Plants by William C. Welch.

Dr. Welch is a garden guru from Texas A&M University. My parents-in-law are friends of his, so I regularly receive autographed copies at gift-giving occasions.  This one’s autograph is dated 1997, and I have been referring to it ever since.

Though I cannot grow one, I have a great fondness for cottage gardens. The book begins with a brief overview of the history of cottage gardens, followed by a section outlining the different types of gardens that utilize old and new perennials in a cottage garden style. Next is a section devoted to garden design principals, utilizing – yes, perennials. The fourth chapter offers advice on buying or propagating, planting and growing perennials.

These sections are packed with great garden photos (my favorite part of any garden book). Dr. Welch’s narrative is interesting; he doesn’t get bogged down in plant jargon.

Most of my time with this book is spent in the dictionary portion:  nearly 200 pages listing perennials appropriate for the Texas and gulf South garden. Each entry includes a photo, basic growth information, and a narrative with helpful hints on obtaining and growing each.

So let’s see, I’m planning to add a firebush (Hamelia patens) to my garden this spring. In perusing its entry, I learn that it is drought tolerant, blooms all summer, and is hardy to Zone 9. Its tubular red flowers attract hummingbirds, and it thrives in most any well-drained soil. Its leaves turn bright red in the fall. It freezes to the ground, and returns each year as a 4- to 5-foot mound. In Mexico, where it is native, people make a fermented drink from its berries. It can be propagated by seed or cuttings.  And I’m summarizing – there’s more!

In short, this is a very useful book for those of us gardening in Texas and gulf South. 

Favorite spot in the garden:

My favorite spot is actually in pots on the porch. In fact, these two pots (on either side of the front door) account for 90 percent of my blooms right now. So cheerful!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hope springs eternal.

The weather has been nice on the hill, and when that happens, a gardener’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of new gardens (apologies to Alfred, Lord Tennyson). Several projects are on my list of 2012 objectives. The plan is to publish this list and thereby apply pressure to achieve said objectives.

The parking area is behind me, and the path goes up the right side.
For me, creating new gardens is much more exciting than maintaining old ones. This does not bode well for the condition of my existing flowerbeds, but it’s fact. Right now I am afire with enthusiasm for a new, ambitious undertaking.

I am working on the bones for a rock garden in front of the house. Visitors will pass through this garden on an existing stone path. I’m convinced the bed will take my yard and garden to a new level of sophistication and interest. (This type of thinking undoubtedly signals disaster)

Rock moved carefully by my son, with rain lilies
sprouting from dirt in the crevice.

Currently, I am in the rock selecting, digging, hauling and arranging phase. I roped my oldest son into moving two large rocks; the rest will be smaller. One day, when standing back to gain perspective, I saw that this garden could be expanded into a larger area that would tie in with existing landscaping. This will be so cool! (Cue “uh-ohs” from the audience.)

Even if it doesn’t turn out quite like I envision, I am having great fun working on it.

It will be pretty, it will!
Objective number two is halfway done. Last fall my husband and I laid rock framework for a long-planned bed under the living room window. The bed will be raised nearly two feet and will feature Turk’s cap and a vine of some sort. Two years ago I jumped the gun and bought a water container; the pump to make it tinkle sits on a laundry room shelf. The vine will grow on a rusty  structure that prior tenants used for outdoor showers. Now all we need is dirt - lots of dirt.

Objective number three is the easiest by far. My iris bed is looking oh so lovely right now after fall rains. The plan is to add garden soil and build up the rock border. Weeding is required. Also, my neighbor (thanks, Sheri) gave me a variety of iris bulbs awhile back that are lurking in a box on my porch. By awhile back, I mean several years. My daughter laughed at me when I mentioned these relics. They are most likely dead, but you just never know.

Fourth objective calls for transplanting blue mistflower seedlings to a completed bed that remains barren after seeds failed to sprout in the drought.

All of this is proposed with the understanding that I cannot water at all, as the drought is expected to last through the spring and our well is showing signs of stress.

Ah, hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Early birds seeking worms

We have been inundated with American robins this winter.  They are not unknown visitors to our property. But this year, we've seen scads of them.

Frequently in the last few weeks, we have looked out the window to see a crowd of them getting a drink at a birdbath or busily searching the ground for a delectable dinner morsel (according to Birds of North America, their diet changes by season: primarily soft invertebrates in the spring and summer, primarily berries in the fall and winter). When we walk down to the chicken coop, we often scare up a group that goes winging off through the trees.

"Hey lady, quit taking pictures and fill up this bath, would ya!"

I love their beautiful orange breasts and their gaudy heads, with dark hoods punctuated by white-outlined eyes (nature's eye-liner). I love their social nature. Like many teenagers, they prefer being surrounded by a noisy crowd of friends. They seem to be very wary. I barely tapped the window with my camera lens yesterday and the whole flock fled . . .  and has not returned.

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds has a recording of the robin's cheery song and more information.

We had a crew of robins visit years ago; usually we just see an occasional robin. My bird book says their numbers vary from winter to winter. I’m so happy they’ve decided to hang in our 'hood this year!