The Chicken Encyclopedia by Gail Damerow

ChickenEncyclopedia.jpgI grew up a big-city gal, so when I moved to Humboldt County to go to college, I was amazed to find a field of cows just outside the backyard of my apartment complex. Passing by each day, I’d watch them grazing with an odd sense of unreality. Cows! Right there in town! With their fuzzy heads and big wet noses, they charmed me, and all these years later that feeling of awe has never left. So when I moved into my very own home, one of my dearest ambitions was to keep a backyard flock of chickens. I mean, cows were obviously not on, but chickens seemed doable! I could even hear evidence of ducks and chickens in the neighborhood, so I felt in good company as I brought home my first two laying hens. However, after getting them home, I had no clue what to do. Food and water, yes, but do people let them out all day? Would they get along with my cat? Why do they sell oyster shells, and if the chickens like scratch so much, why can’t I just feed them that and make them happy? Then, never having tasted fresh eggs, I was alarmed at the slightest inconsistency in them – differing shapes, yolk colors, occasional spots in them. I had no idea what was normal, and all of my city friends were chuckling about my new adventure and were no help at all! This is where I wish I’d had a partner to get me started in my chicken adventures. Gail Damerow‘s new book The Chicken Encyclopedia is just that kind of guide. While I’d generally think of an encyclopedia as a reference book, the life-like color illustrations in this book kept me rapt, turning pages and learning all of the mysteries of chicken-keeping that I wish I’d known years ago. Did you know you can keep a chicken as an indoor pet? And that you can hypnotize your ladies with a simple series of steps (Damerow shares a whopping seven methods)? There are tips on egg storage (important when you have an abundance of them) and a chart on the things that influence yolk color (blueberry pancakes, of course, are the chief culprit of a greenish scrambled egg). Then, there are the things you might have wished you’d known before you selected your breeds and brought them home. There’s a chart on page 91 which shares the approximate output of droppings for different weight classes of chicken. Had I realized that bantams only create 30 pounds of fresh droppings per year, while my golden sexlinks produce 120 pounds, I would have given much more careful consideration to a nice flock of banties! Whether you’re experienced with keeping hens or just now starting to consider keeping your own backyard flock, The Chicken Encyclopedia’s a great way of learning the odd tips and tricks that you could otherwise learn only from many conversations with more experienced keepers of hens. Want to read it yourself? Storey has offered up a copy of the book to one lucky reader! Leave a comment for your chance to win. I’ll pick a winner at random on Tuesday the 27th. US only. Congrats to our winner, Janetta!  To read more reviews, visit the rest of the people participating in the blog launch party for this book: 3/2 For the Love of Chickens 3/3 Vintage Garden Gal 3/4 The Garden Roof Coop 3/5 Common Weeder 3/6 Chickens in the Road 3/7 Garden Rant 3/8 Fresh Eggs Daily 3/9 My Pet Chicken Blog 3/10 Coop Thoughts 3/11 BoHo Farm and Home 3/12 Happy Chickens Lay Healthy Eggs 3/13 A Charlotte Garden 3/14 Farm Fresh Fun 3/15 The HenCam 3/16 Life on a Southern Farm 3/17 ADozenGirlz, the Chicken Chick™

EZ-Walls Plant Protector Extends the Season and Keeps Chickens Off New Plants

EZ-Wall-wall-of-water-protects-plants-4.jpgWhen I tell people I live in coastal California, they get this delightful image in their heads of sunshine, warmth, and many opportunities to suntan. Unfortunately for my vitamin D quota, I live at the other end of the state. It’s foggy, rainy, and doesn’t get all that warm, even in the middle of summer. You can imagine that getting a jump start on the season is something I’m into. I mean, tomato and basil sandwiches, fresh from the garden, are the best! I’ve been looking into seed-starting lights, grafted vegetables, cold frames, and other gadgets to lengthen my growing season and maybe score some real-live, actual tomatoes up in this joint. One of the simplest solutions I’ve found is this inexpensive portable mini greenhouse, called the EZ-wall. You just place it around a tender plant and fill with water for an immediate way of warming and protecting new starts. It even has a drawstring so you can pull the top shut for extra protection.
EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants (2) EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants (6) EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants (7)
You may have seen a competing brand, the Wall-o-water. That works fine too, but what I like about the EZ-wall is that it’s a lot simpler to fill. You just stick the hose into the top, turn the water on, and fill the whole thing in one go. The other brand needs to have each little section filled one by one, which isn’t as convenient. I also like the drawstring at the top of the EZ-wall brand, which gives me a little more control as to how much protection it provides. The best, unexpected benefit? I’ll leave you to see for yourself: EZ Wall - wall of water protects plants (3) Yep, it’s chicken-proof! I can’t even count how many baby plants my lovely ladies have destroyed with their happy scratching at the soil. But the EZ-walls is made of thick enough plastic that I will be very surprised if they damage it with their occasional curious peck or scratch. Want to try EZ-walls for yourself? They’ve kindly offered to send three readers their very own triple-packs of EZ-walls to get started with. Just leave a comment to win! Three winners chosen at random on Tuesday, March 27th. US only. Congrats to Alison, Erika and Melody, our winners!

Monday Miscellany: The Drunken Botanist, Organic Eggs, Top Perennials, Garden Eyesores, and Free Reading

Misc.pngLots of great discoveries around the web this week!

The Drunken Botanist

photo courtesy Amy StewartFirst up, Amy Stewart launched the website for her new book, The Drunken Botanist. I for one cannot WAIT for the book to drop, but since that’s still a year off, we shall have to console ourselves with the columns she’s been writing for the site. Elegant, botanically-inspired recipes and stories about – what else? Cocktails and spirits. Oh yeah, and plants! Why are you still here reading? Go on over to The Drunken Botanist and check out her new site.

Organic eggs

EsthertheChicken_thumb1-150x150Love eggs? Yeah, me too! Only, after having my own free-range birds, there’s no way I can go back to the insipid pale-yellow yolks of the usual supermarket eggs. My search for real, pastured eggs with bright orange yolks that shows the birds have been eating Real Food (you know, bugs and grass) has been a tiresome one, filled with pretenders (“free-range”, “happy hens”) that are only giving lip service to the idea of treating their hens with any manner of dignity. I’ve found two brands locally that pass the flavor test and are from actual pastured birds who get to squabble and catch flies and generally have a proper good time of things: Vital Farms and Alexandre Kids Farms. No, they’re not cheap ($6-8.50/ dozen), but I would much rather eat fewer good-quality eggs than support places with sad chickens and nutrient-deficient eggs. Anyway, if you want to know which brands are really doing good by their birds, visit The Organic Egg Scorecard.  For bonus points, check out the Organic Dairy Scorecard. I’ve been so relieved to finally KNOW which brands are worth paying for and which are best avoided if you have a commitment to eating fresh, healthy food from well-kept animals.

Top perennials

tassel fern northcoastgardeningErin of The Impatient Gardener, one of my favorite bloggers (seriously, she is so cute I just want to hug her!) asked me and two other bloggers to share our favorite perennial picks. Of course, whenever someone asks me a question like that, I choose to read it as selecting one of my many favorites, because it is completely impossible to choose just one. The funniest thing is that the other two bloggers she asked both chose the same plant! No, I’m not spoiling the surprise – you better just get on over there and read the blog post yourself.

Garden eyesores

garden-upMy latest over at Landscaping Network is about hiding garden eyesores. Every garden has them – those functional but ever-so-unattractive barbecues, air conditioning units, vents and propane tanks. I provide plant suggestions and pro tips for hiding these elements. Extra credit: Check out Garden Up! by Susan Morrison and Rebecca Sweet. The book shares designer tips, extensive plant suggestions, and stealthy secrets for making the most of a small space (and that includes hiding unattractive elements).

Free reads

american gardener magLastly, I made a supercool discovery the other day on The American Gardener website. You can actually read full issues of their magazine online for free! While I am old-fashioned and still love the experience of a paper magazine, this is a great way of discovering whether you might like to subscribe. (I am going to!) Reading a digital mag is a little confusing at first, but just click around to figure out how to navigate – it’s not like you can screw anything up. Hint: the button on the very top left is the one to click to view all the issues available to read online, so once you’re done with the current version you can go back and catch up on what you missed. And if you missed the announcement a while back, Leaf Magazine is also available as a free digital read. It’s a great new magazine for anyone interested in landscape design, so definitely check it out if you haven’t already. Susan Cohan and Rochelle Greayer are the editors, so you know it’s worth your while. That’s it for this week. Have you read anything cool online? Let me know in the comments below!

Monday Miscellany: Birds and Bees Edition

Bumbles.jpgAs a happy chicken-owner myself (except when the ladies happen to lay a 6 A.M. egg and wake me up!), I’m always excited when I find some cool resources that help others learn to keep chickens. Really, they’re great pets, turn table scrapings into eggs and useful manure, and the eggs! Bright orange yolks and a fine flavor. You can’t compare supermarket eggs to them – no, not even the “free-range” kind. As for bees, I’ve always been a fan. In almost 14 years of gardening professionally, I’ve never been stung by a honeybee, bumblebee, or bee of any kind. Yellow jackets and wasps, yes. Bees are sweet, though – they only have one sting on them and while it hurts you, it kills them. Lots of incentive for them to be peaceful! [Read more...]

Backyard Chickens – Five Reasons You MUST Try Them, and Two Reasons Why Not

1. They make charming pets! I love their happy little chortles when they see us, and if you want them to love you forever, a bit of leftover rice or lettuce goes down a treat. They’re great gardening companions, too. Esther, above, likes to stay close when I’m digging so she can have first crack at any worms. It’s a bit hard to dig when she keeps sticking her head in the hole, but then, gardening isn’t supposed to be a race to the finish, is it? 2. I’m growin’ all the snail-attracting plants – Hostas, Dahlias, Lettuce, you name it; not a hole in the leaves. Our girls think snails are the tastiest treat ever, and they crunch them up with great relish. And the ladies help with the weeds by scratching up the weed seedlings! Of course, they also scratch up my re-seeding annuals like love-in-a-mist, but if I don’t have to weed so much I can handle putting a little framework over my baby plants. [Read more...]