Monday, May 28, 2018

Landscaping and Gardening on a Budget

It's time to work in the garden and there isn't a better way to spend the day... until it gets too hot, anyway. Chris has the main vegetable/flower garden in hand and it's looking better than ever this year. We have dozens of buds on the rose bushes and almost as many on our columbine. We've been adding arugula to our salads and juices already. Arugula grows so well and will come back every year, too. Kale is coming up quickly as is our lettuce, and the seedlings are doing well. 

Our budget for gardening, landscaping, and such is essentially non-existent, but it's amazing what can be done without spending a lot of money. We've been fortunate to get free seeds and seedlings from Denver Urban Gardens this year. I added the link because I suspect many families who would easily qualify don't know about the program. 

In our attempts to tame the rest of the back yard, we've started adding some easy care gardens which will thrive even in our hot, dry summers. Sedum comes in many varieties and will grow almost anywhere. To fill in the new garden beds, we can simply dig up small bunches of what is already growing well in other beds. Hen and chicks, ornamental strawberries, speedwell, thyme, and other ground covers should fill in the gardens and, if all goes well, we can thin them out in a year or two and have more to plant in other spaces of the yard. 

We started on this last summer and our first garden is doing well. Two more are in the works. The landscaping materials have come via Craig's list and - from their FREE lists. This is when we realize how many very generous people we have in our community. Granted, maybe it's easier to give away some extra landscaping stones rather than try and sell them, but it's still a nice thing to do. We try to do the same when we have something extra.

Two years ago, someone close by had topsoil to give away. We drove over for numerous pickup loads and the grandkids enjoyed helping out, too.

Last summer we made a pathway. I hadn't found the supply of bricks at that point, so the pathway was made with various odd chunks of broken concrete. Not the easiest thing to work with and the pathway is rather... rustic, but on the plus side, those chunks of concrete aren't going anywhere. It was mid summer by the time I picked up 200 brand new bricks from a house in Westminster. We wanted a patio and I knew 200 bricks wouldn't be enough, but I got them anyway. I knew we would use them.

A few weeks later, there was another ad for free bricks, this time from the renovation of an old 1888 home in Globeville. The man who owned the home took one look at our small pickup and he started loading up his huge truck with bricks, too. He not only gave us the bricks, but he made two trips to deliver them for free. I gave him eggs, fresh garden lettuce, kale, and arugula in return. Now we have a pile of over 600 old bricks in addition to the 200 new ones and about a dozen or so large retaining wall bricks. Time to get to work.

I admit, I went a little crazy on the free stuff. Chris finally gently suggested we had enough landscaping rocks and bricks to last us for any number of projects. Sadly, I had to agree. That was last summer, though, and yesterday I picked up some bricks which had been cut at various angles. The small garden cart they were in was also part of the free deal. I'll use them because this year we're putting in a patio.

The small brick pathway by the porch and the new brick porch by my studio have been our practice projects. We've already begun clearing the space for the patio, with the help of our grandchildren. They're moving across to Maine in a week so we all enjoyed spending the time and working together. Here's the new garden bed they helped with today. 

Somebody else is excited about the garden! 


*Just as I was finishing up this article, the thunder and lightening started and it began to hail. We can never take anything for granted in our gardens here in Colorado. I think we got lucky this time. Our plants look undamaged.

oh, hail

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Cannibals, Golf Balls, and Mustard Eggs

We were naive when it came to keeping animals, almost as naive as we were about having children. This didn't mean we thought it would be easy, we just knew we'd be up to the challenge. It would be fun.

Nobody told warned us that chickens are cannibals. We learned it quickly enough, as soon as one hen cut herself on a sharp bit of fencing. We rescued her in time, but just. A feeding frenzy had begun to form around her.

Nobody warned us that chickens sometimes eat the eggs, too. Once they start, it's a hard habit to break, and ours started this summer. Finding an eaten egg now and then is frustrating enough, but to find only one whole egg in a nest of egg shells and sticky remains is maddening. It's not like we're not feeding them enough already!

It became a crisis the other day when I watched one hen pull another one off her nest so she could peck open the egg. I swore. Loudly. I chased all the chickens out of the chicken house and went in and swore some more. My husband decided it was time to consult the experts and get some advice. He googled it. These suggestions are supposed to work because, as everyone knows, chickens are really stupid.

We tried putting golf balls in the nesting boxes. The idea is, if they peck at the golf balls, they don't get anywhere and don't get the reward of eating an egg. It didn't work. Seems our hens figured out the difference between an egg and a golf ball and started their own golf tournament in the chicken yard. Smart asses.

We then blew out a few eggs and filled them with mustard. We let the hens peck them open. Supposedly, hens do not like mustard and this would clearly teach them to avoid eating eggs. However, the hens quickly figured out which eggs were stuffed with mustard, ate the other ones, and offered the mustard eggs for sale on Craig's list as a delicacy.

It was suggested that the hens might need more protein in their diet. I was wondering why they wanted to read the back of the chicken food bag. The advice given on the internet was to feed them some cat food. This will give them the protein they are lacking and they will not need to eat their eggs. They love the cat food. They like it even more with eggs.

The last suggestion was to eat the chicken who are eating the eggs. This would be hard to do. Literally. Ever butcher and clean a chicken and get it ready to eat? It's gross, smelly, and makes you want to become a vegetarian or at least continue buying chicken already packaged and ready to cook. Besides, we have chickens so we can get eggs. If we eat the chickens, we wouldn't get eggs.

We have one more thing to try. A YouTube video shows how to make nesting boxes with painting trays - you know, the trays where you pour the paint when you're using a roller. A 5" wide board was placed on the back side of the tray and this was further blocked off by a wall. The idea is:

Chicken lays an egg. Egg rolls down the tray and through a slot just big enough for eggs and into the deep end of the paint tray where they are kept out of beak's reach. Theoretically, this should work. It means spending the next few weeks trying to figure out how to build the new nesting boxes, but if it works, it'll be worth it.

Maybe. I won't count my eggs yet.