Tag Archives: Hens

Culling old chickens

So, I know you’re anxious to know about the slab, but that’s for another post. Sorry, you’ll have to wait another day or two.

For now, I want to share with you a task that we had to take care of that had nothing to do with the house build.

You may remember that back in April, we acquired a flock of about 20 old hens from some friends of ours. We were told they were roughly 5 years old. We did not expect many eggs out of them, but for several months during the summer we got about 10-12 eggs out of them every day so we were happy. Then the end of summer came and between the diminished daylight and the molting and the fact that they were old and that they kept eating their eggs, we didn’t get very many eggs out of them. For the last month or two, we’ve only gotten an egg or so a week. Very frustrating. So, we decided it was time for them to go.

Warning: this is a Homesteading blog about homesteaderly things and one of the things we do on this homestead is produce our own meat. The following pictures may not be suitable for all viewers. While I will not be posting “how-to” pics, or ones that are too bloody, some people may not like seeing dead chickens. I respect your decision to click away if you’d rather not see anything objectionable.

For those of you who are ok with that sort of thing, read on.

As I said above, this is not a how-to type post. There are plenty of those out there, and I especially found the one by The Prairie Homestead and the video by Joel Salatin she linked to at the end of her post to be useful.

This is more of a “this is how we spent our day” post. Actually, how we spent a day and a half, even into this evening as the canner is busily boiling away as I type this.

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Hubs was the main chicken dispatcher.

He was also the main feather plucker.

My brother and sis-in-law joined is to help with the task.

Sis-in-law ended up doing most of the cleaning.

Flower Girl was rather eager to help with the whole process.

She thought that the tiny egg yolks we found inside some of the hens were really cool.

One of the hens was obviously still producing some eggs as we found different size yolks.

Nearly 12 year old Princess Girl was not nearly as interested in getting her hands dirty as her little sister, but she did process one chicken completely from catching it in the run to putting the cut-up meat into the jars.

I’m so proud of her. And when she wasn’t helping with the actual processing, she was a great gopher, as we all had dirty hands, she’d be the one to run and get stuff for us.

She also took a lot of these pictures since my hands were perpetually covered in ick or water.

This chicken wing looks like an octopus tentacle!

Since these chickens we’re so old, we knew that their meat would be pretty darn tough.

By canning the meat, it is pressure cooked as it is canned. This high pressure cooking/canning for over an hour makes the meat nice and tender.

And yes, I’m canning after dark.

These are great for use in soups or as chicken salad, etc. And I’m so excited that we were able to put these chickens to good use since they had become useless in the egg production category. It feels great to be able to produce some of our own food again. I’ve missed that since we moved back to Nevada and spent so much of our time building the homestead living systems.

We’ll, that’s it for the day. I’ll update in a day or two about our slab, I promise.

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House update – MORE backfill! (And other stuff)

This was a very productive weekend.

We completed a bunch of the finish work on the well shed.

Including painting the shed floor.

While the paint was drying, we continued backfilling inside the house footers. Once we added another layer of dirt, we couldn’t do much else because the equipment rental shop was out of the compactor we needed, so we had to wait till Monday. So we found another project to work on.

This rather steep hillside is going to be terraced, but needs a set of stairs.

We have a large pile of 5ft railroad ties that were on the property when we bought it. So we set to work cutting them in half.

Princess Girl and I are standing on the tie to steady it while Hubs finishes the cut.

We stopped periodically throughout the weekend to put another coat of paint on the shed floor. Doesn’t it look good?

Then we went back to building the stairs.

Digging in Nevada requires the use of some heavy duty digging tools.

Today, the Hubs took the day off work to help out with the house. And we got all the preliminary backfill filled in and compacted!

The red chicken scratch marks on the ground is my code to see where we were still low. We string a line across the forms (which is slab level) and measured down from the line. Then if put a mark if it was on grade or low. It was not “real” grading marks, I’m sure. But it worked for us.

As my wonderful hubby stated on a Facebook post, it’s been great to be able to work such a productive few days with my best friend. Sad that he goes back to work tomorrow. Happy that he got the day off.

And then tonight as I was closing up the chickens, I found this.

Our first egg from our pullets that hatched this spring! Guess I need to put more bedding in that nest box, eh?

Yeah, it was a good weekend!

How was yours? Did you get lots of work done? Our maybe it was more about relaxation. I’d love to hear from you.

Fostering chicks

So. We live in an off-grid tiny home (ie a 280 square foot camping trailer) and we’re busy building a house. Just the situation and time to bring home 17 baby chicks from the feed store, right?

No? You don’t think so?

I think you’re probably right. But we brought them home anyway. 

You see, we had a plan!

We had two hens go broody, and while we eventually decided that we didn’t want them to hatch any of our own eggs (we don’t want our rooster procreating), the idea of baby chicks had taken hold.

So, we put one of the hens in her own penthouse suite (ie, and old dog crate), and let the other sit in one of the egg laying nests in the main coop.

Broody hen in her kennel

Both hens were sitting on a few golf balls. These make excellent, cheap imitation eggs. 

Our plan was to let them sit on their “eggs” for a few weeks, then buy chicks from the feed store and do a little switcheroo and the hen will think her “eggs” hatched.

Or so the theory goes. 

And I’m here to tell you that it works! 

Kinda.

Here’s our story.

On Wednesday, April 19 we bought 9 chicks (4 Gold Sexlinks, 4 Ameracaunas, and 1 Golden Laced Wyandotte). We gave the chicks to our broody Austra White, “Bluebell” (so named because she has a blue band on her leg) at about 4pm. 

Bluebell and a couple of her new chicks

She was a bit confused at first, and the chicks didn’t know what she was, but within about 10 minutes, all the babies were snuggled up under their new mamma and she was happily clucking away to them.
The next morning, they were all out in the enclosure I set up inside the coop so that they had a bit of space to move around, but would be separated from the rest of the flock. They hung out in this space for a couple days. I figured by using crates, the other hens would be able to get used to the chicks so that by the time I started letting them out into the larger area and even out into the run, there shouldn’t be any problems.

Inside their enclosure inside the coop.

At this point, everything was going so well. I was exstatic that it was working out just as I’d read about. Bluebell was a good mamma. She kept the babies warm when needed, and was even careful how she stepped around them.

Good mamma, keeping her babies warm!

I was excited for Phase 2: more chicks to give to “Roadie”, our other broody hen.
On Friday, April 21, we bought another 8 chicks (4 Welsummers, 2 Barred Rocks, and 2 Delawares.)

We attempted to repeat our success.

And that’s where everything went to pot.

Roadie rejected the chicks! 😞 She kept pecking them away. More on that later.

So now we had 17 chicks and only one mamma hen. I have heard stories of a hen hatching out and caring for a large brood, so I figured we’d try giving the other chicks to Bluebell and hope she could raise them. At least for the night until we got a brooder of some sort set up for some of them.

It worked. Kinda. 

On Saturday morning, I found a chick dead in the nest box. It had been crushed. 😒 Seems 17 was just too many. Go figure.

And a weird thing that morning is that Bluebell was pecking at two of the new chicks. Just the two Barred Rocks. None of the others. So we rescued those two and set up a brooder box for them. And we figured that since we had to do it for two of them, we’d pick out several others and lighten Bluebell’s load. 

So, besides the two Barred Rocks, we grabbed a Welsummer, a Sexlink, the Wyandotte, and one of the Ameracaunas. The Wyandotte and that particular Ameracauna are special to Flower Girl and Princess Girl. 

That left 10 chicks with Bluebell. Five of them are from the older group, and 5 are from the younger group. Two days age difference doesn’t make hardly any difference at all.

And she has been a great mamma. They are just over a week old now and have started roaming outside and even free-ranging with the flock. 

Mamma in the chicken run, babies small enough to free range through the fence. (But they never get too far from mamma!)

The other hens and the rooster leave the chicks alone, even Roadie who is back in with the flock. I have seen Bluebell run off the other hens if she doesn’t want them around, and she gets antsy if the chicks wander too far away from her, especially if they are on the other side of the fence from her!

It is great to have all those little chickies running around! 

I feel kinda bad for the ones in the brood box in our mudroom. They don’t get to run and scratch and play outside like Bluebell’s brood. Maybe I’ll have Flower Girl take them outside tomorrow and set up a little space where they can get some of the same experience. πŸ˜ƒ

Chicks in the brooder box

So, remember when I mentioned that Roadie was pecking at the chicks and Bluebell pecked at only certain ones? I have a theory why that happened.

In Roadie’s kennel crate, I had noticed that mice were getting in to eat her food. Annoying, but I didn’t think to much of it till she started pecking at the chicks. I betcha that she didn’t know the difference between her babies and the pesky mice that would come to eat her out of house and home. And the Barred Rock chicks are black, so maybe Bluebell also thought they were mice since I see evidence of them in the coop from time to time. I dunno. I could be crazy. Roadie could just be a bad mom. And Bluebell could just not like the color black. Either way, I think before I try the kennel again for a broody hen, I’ll have to find a way to solve the mouse problem.

So that is our success story, and our failure. I learned a lot and hope you did, too. 

I’ll write up another post about how we have the brooder set up, and what we did until we got a heat source that would work on our off-grid solar system.

The BEST backyard chicken breeds?

I realized the other day that in our 4+ years of raising chickens, I have never actually researched and chosen specific breeds of chickens for our flock. Mostly this is because we have almost always been given free chickens over the years, and when they are free, you don’t really get to choose. 

I have only bought chicks once, and I basically just got whatever the feed store had that particular day. Back then, I had no idea about chicken breed temperments or egg laying capabilities or anything. The chicks were cute balls of fluff and I didn’t care what they were.

But things are quite a bit different now. I’ve learned a lot more, and we are finally ready to branch out into selling eggs and possibly even breeding our own chickens and eventually raising them for meat (once we’re no longer so focused on building a house, of course). And so even though we have more chickens than we have ever had before (17), we decided it was time to get more! (In case you’ve never been told, chickens are addictive and are a “gateway livestock” animal, or so says this YouTube video I saw years ago. She’s right! 😊)

Of course, this decision was helped by the fact that two of our hens are broody at the moment. We don’t want them to hatch any of our eggs because we don’t want our Silver Phoenix rooster’s genetics. So they are sitting on golf balls. When the time is right, I will get some day-old chicks from the local feed store(s) and that night will switch out the golf balls with chicks and the hens will think the “eggs” hatched and will raise the chicks as her own. 

So the question becomes, “Which breeds should I get?”

I’ve been doing a lot of research and here’s what I’ve come up with.

First of all, when deciding which breeds you want, you need to know what it is you want out of the hens.

For us, it’s primarily eggs. Therefore, any breed that lays less than 200 eggs a year on average are not even being considered.

Also, we like dual purpose breeds. While we don’t have a plan to raise the birds for meat yet we like knowing that our birds will have enough meat on them to make a decent meal if it comes to that. We’re trying to make it our practice here on the homestead that everything serves more than one purpose if possible.

We also like the idea of the heritage breeds, especially the older, established ones. That connection to history is cool. And also, if it’s a true breed and not a hybrid, then when we want to start breeding our own, we can.

They have to be cold hardy. This winter was fairly mild in temps but we can dip down to negative numbers (Fahrenheit) for a few weeks at a time, and I want to make sure our girls can weather the weather just fine. We have a bunch of Leghorns and Leghorn crosses right now, and their large combs did not like even the mild winter we had.

And last but certainly not least, I have to like the breed. There’s gotta be something extra about them to make me consider them. Thus why Rhode Island Reds did not make my list. When I read all over the place that they are an extremely popular bird and “everyone” has them, it immediately makes me not want them. Besides, I think they are kinda boring looking. πŸ™‚

So here’s my list of chickens breeds that I think will be the best ones for us.

Ameraucana hen (image source)

Ameraucana – I have heard varying reports on the number of eggs they lay, but most websites say it is over 200. They are cold hardy, not prone to broodiness, are interesting to look at, and of course, they lay the coolest eggs ever! We have one hen now who has some Ameraucana or Araucana blood in her and I love her blue-green eggs! So while they may not be the most prolific layers, the Ameraucana made it to my list because they are just so darn cool!

Barred Rock hen (image source)

Barred Rock – the Plymouth Barred Rock is an American dual purpose breed that is cold hardy and lays a ton of eggs (up to 300 in ideal conditions!). It is also a beautiful bird. ‘Nuff said.

Speckled Sussex hen

Speckled Sussex – see Barred Rock description (Only they are from England) 😁

Delaware hen (image source)

Delaware – they are good layers (200-250), an American dual purpose breed, cold hardy, and beautiful.

Welsummer hen (image source)

Welsummer – again, a breed I want specifically for the egg color as they lay dark brown eggs. Not quite as dark as the Copper Marans lays, but the Welsummer is cold hardy, where the Marans are not. And the Welsummer is still a decent layer at 200+ eggs per year. They also have the added benefits of being a dual purpose breed that rarely goes broody.

Australorp hens (image source)

Australorp – these “Australian Orpington” chickens are almost last on my list because there’s not a whole lot to recommend them to me other than the fact that they meet nearly all the requirements. They lay 250+ eggs a year, are cold hardy, and a dual purpose heritage breed. But there’s nothing there that makes them “pop” for me. But if that’s all the store had, I’d take ’em! (Heck, if all I could find were Rhodes Island Reds, I’d take them, too, I guess. 😁)

Sexlink hens (image source)

Sexlink – so, if you’re a long time follower of ours, you might remember that in the fall of 2014, just a few months into our Portland Interlude, we were given  6 chicks. Three ended up being roosters and went bye-bye (some with larger consequenses than others). One of the remaining hens was killed by a neighborhood cat (we think). The other two matured into egg laying machines! Those two hens were the offspring of one of two roosters and any number of hens in a mixed flock. But the savy farmer who wanted more egg laying machines would try to figure out which rooster and hen combo produced these two hens. And then reproduce it. And hey, if you could tell at hatching which chicks were boys and which were girls, all the better, right? That right there is what a Sexlink chicken is. Roosters and hens of different breeds are selectively bred together to get an egg laying machine of a hen. And the cool thing about it is that the chicks are colored in such a way that there is a 100% accuracy rate in telling the boys and the girls apart. And that’s what makes the Sexlink hybrids at least somewhat appealing to me. You know  youre getting hens. No surprises. (Most hatcheries have a 90% accuracy rate at sexing the non-sexlink chicks correctly) But, they are not a heritage breed, meaning if you hatch one of their eggs, the chick will not necessarily have any of the good characteristics you are looking for. But the high volume of eggs, and the fact that you know what gender you’re getting means that I won’t discount them outright.

So that’s our plans. We’re looking to get about a dozen chicks for ourselves and about 4 for my parents. I’ll let you know which breeds we actually end up with when we get them.

Do you have chickens? What breeds do you have? Which are your favorites?

Maridy

Daily Life #2 – Chicken Run Repairs

Earlier today I posted a picture on our Facebook page about doing something very homesteaderly today. I think I was inspired by yesterday’s post!

I finally went out and bought the supplies I needed to fix the chicken run roof.

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Yup, some clear corrugated roofing.

When we built the chicken run last year, we put up a cheap tarp to keep an area of the run dry (because it rains here ya know. A lot!). As you can imagine, after a year out in the elements, that tarp was rather worthless.

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So, I prepared my tools, strapped on my belt, and got to work.

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First I cut down the ratty old tarp.

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Then I measured, marked, and cut the plastic roofing.

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While I was working on that, Princess girl was being a great help by removing the nails from some boards I took out down from the chicken run.

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And yes, that is Flower Girl up in that tree. She has just discovered that she can climb it with no help.

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Look at that face!

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Meanwhile, back in the chicken run… I then screwed the cut panels in place, making sure to overlap the edges so that the rain won’t drip through. And, voila! new roof on the chicken run!

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This post is proof that you don’t need a bunch of fancy equipment to get work done around the homestead. My toolbelt is not a fancy or totally expensive one, but it gets the job done, and I’ve had it for years and not even absolutely necessary. The drill I used to screw the panels up is a simple little cordless thing, that we again have had for years. And if I didn’t have it, I could have used a hammer and nails. The only specialty tool I used was the tin snips, but again, I could have just used a sharp knife. I didn’t even have a ladder(because it was too big for the job and I didn’t want to drag it into the muddy, mucky chicken run)! I used a combination of a step stool and a sturdy plastic chair we had in the back yard.

With a little ingenuity and the willingness to get dirty, you can accomplish a lot.

And speaking of getting dirty, I decided that since I was already icky from working in there and because it needed to be done, I would clean out the coop and spruce things up.

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It looks so nice and bright with the clear panels. I’m looking forward to having dry space in the run again.

We already have to take measures to keep their food dry.

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We put their food in a tray to keep it off the soggy ground.

And give them sand to “bathe” in.

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I keep their water out in the open rather than under the cover. This serves two purposes. When I fill it and if they spill it, it doesn’t get the protected area all wet. Also, since it is exposed to the rain, God often fills it up for me. πŸ™‚ By elevating it on a cinder block, the girls don’t fowl it nearly as often (pun intended). πŸ˜‰

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Hubby and I are rather proud of our chicken run and coop. We hardly spent any money to put it together. And I realized that I’ve never really shown it off. The coop itself is a cabinet we bought at the Habitat for Humanity Re-store for $2.50. Yup, two dollars and fifty cents!

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As you can see from the above picture, I cut a hole in the bottom of one of the doors for the chickens to enter. Inside there are a series of levels and ladders and roosts for the hens to sleep.

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There is also a cut out at the middle level where they access the nest box, which is the brown box attached to the side.

We keep the food in a kitchen trash can with a lid. It is the perfect size for a 50lb bag of feed. We also keep a bale of straw wrapped in a tarp under the eve of the house.

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Other than the straw, cabinet, and nails and screws (and now the clear roofing panels) we didn’t spend anything to build our run and coop. It is nearly all recycled materials. Even one of the doors is an old screen door.

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So, now the coop and run are clean and dry once more.

Do you think the hens care?

Nope.

They are over in the compost corner.

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You do what you can with what you have. You start where you are. And nearly everyone, if they’ve got any land at all and it’s legal where they live, could find enough space in their life for a few chickens.

Maridy

“I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121

Happy New Year

I know, I know.

I’m a little late with my holiday greetings. But as I said in my family newsletter (which I just sent out a few days ago), better late than never, right?

I’ve been doing a lot of reflection the past couple of weeks, as is typical this time of year. And also looking toward the future of this year. Are any of you already planning for your spring and summer gardens? Now’s the time to order your seeds and in some cases, get them started indoors.

I just read this online article (How to Pick Your Vegetable Seeds Without Going Crazy) and it’s got me dreaming!

But alas, my biggest decision this year is that I am scaling way back on my plans for our garden. Any when you have a tiny plot anyway, “scaling way back” means that I don’t plan to do much of any gardening this year.

The reason why is actually pretty exciting. We are hoping to be in the process of actually building our house this summer. Which means frequent trips between Oregon and Nevada. And as I learned last year, my garden doesn’t do so well if I’m not around to care for it. Imagine that. πŸ™‚

So, I’ll probably throw some carrot seeds in the ground and call it good. Those were what did the best and we ate the most of last year. And I love that they are frost tolerant and you can leave them in the ground all season and just go out and grab some as you need them.

It kills me not to really be making plans for the garden. But the trade off is worth it as we make progress onΒ our house.

A couple days ago was a fairly mild day here in the Portland area, overcast but dry and not too cold. So I used the opportunity to get outside and do some yard work.

Almost done! And it's a good thing, too, because the debris can is almost full!

Almost done! And it’s a good thing, too, because the debris can is almost full!

I scooped up the walnut leaves and put them in the yard debris can. Yes, we have a compost pile, but not the right set up to cook the toxins out of walnut leaves.

Just after New Years, we had snow here. It was a rare treat for us in the Pacific Northwest. Normally, any time there’s snow here, it’s covered in ice. This was a light, fluffy, “dry” snow. At the beginning of the day it wouldn’t even compact into snowballs. The girls and I spent 3 hours playing outside.

Our back yard looked quite different with a thin layer of snow.

 

And then, that night, a freezing rain came in, covering everything in a layer of ice.

For this girl from the desert, ice storms are pretty magical. It is surreal to see ice coating everything. However, I am glad no one in our family had to go anywhere. One of those times I am thankful that my man works from home.

The hens don't mind a bit of snow.

The hens don’t mind a bit of snow.

We had a bit of sad news recently. One of our hens (“Pepper”) was killed by a predator of some sort. Considering it was during the middle of the day in broad daylight, we think it was one of the many neighborhood cats.

Flower Girl with Pepper this past spring.

Flower Girl with Pepper this past spring.

Now we’re down to three hens, one of which doesn’t lay very many eggs per year and none in the winterΒ (our English Game Hen). The other two, however, have laid fairly steadily this winter (after their molt), even without supplemental lighting (for more information on supplemental light in the chicken coop, see this great article from Jill at The Prairie Homestead). I would love to add to our little backyard flock, but then I think of how much we are hoping to be gone this summer. And I think of transporting them back to Nevada when we do finally go. And I think, three chickens is enough. For now. πŸ™‚

And in the mean time, we’re dreaming. We’re dreaming big!

Maridy

“I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121

Garden update

While we were in Nevada, Dad decided that the big garden was done for the season. This is good news for the chickens.

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They are happily roaming the backyard again.

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Scaredy thinks the garden is her personal dust bath.

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Our small garden is going pretty well. The kale is finally taking off. I’m thinking I might still plant some spinach in the spot that the lettuce was in this spring. But I don’t know.

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The carrots have done well. We have really enjoyed eating those straight out of the garden this year (after a washing, of course!). I don’t think my squash is going to do anything. But you never know. We still have a month or so left of growing season (I know, right?!) Yes, it’s fall season, but on average, we won’t get our first frost for another month or so.

My container garden did not do so well this year. At least not nearly as well as I would have liked.

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The tomato plants were tall and scraggly and only produced a few tomatoes each.

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Nearly all the bean plants and flowers have struggled or flat out died.

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Really, the only thing I can say did half way decent was the jalapeno plant.

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And even then, the only reason I think it did well is because I don’t use jalapenos very often, so it has produced more than enough.

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Oh, and the garlic actually survived. I was shocked to see it growing back after not being watered all summer.

So, nothing did very well in the containers. I’ve been trying to figure out why and I think I have it nailed down.

Neglect.

Yep, that’s right. When a person travels at least one week out of nearly every month, things at home tend to get neglected. Especially since for me, all the days in between are filled with catching up or preparing for next time. Somehow, making sure the plants had the right nutrients, enough water, the proper sunlight as the season change, etc wasn’t high on my list.

Though I was glad to see that the crushed egg shells I put on the tomato plants stopped any more blossom end rot. And I did give them all a compost tea at some point. But it just wasn’t enough, I don’t think. That and maybe I didn’t have big enough containers. Or maybe they got too much sun. Or not enough.

And now here it is, the beginning of October and I really haven’t gotten much out of my plants.

But. They still have fruit on them, and I’m reluctant to give up on them when I know they can survive a while longer.

However, where they were on the deck was getting too shady with the waning season. So I moved them down to a corner of the otherwise barren big garden.

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They still look forlorn and scraggly, but I’m hoping that at least this was they’ll get the sunlight they need to survive for a while longer. Hopefully long enough to get me a few more tomatoes.

Well that’s it for now. How did your garden do this year?

Maridy

“I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121