03 May 2008

Spinach Fortress: Don't Laugh -- It worked!

The spinach seemed to draw the bunnies as well as the guinea hens (see "Guineas Under House Arrest" below...) so out of desperation one day I put up this stick fence around the spinach and pea bed. You can't see the peas because the guineas had munched them to the ground when the rabbits weren't doing the same. It worked! With the guineas secure in their pen, the fence keeps the bunnies at bay. I think it's kind of cute, so I left it.

We've had several spinach salads out of this bed already. It's spring planted so it's just now getting going really well. Year before last I planted fall spinach and overwintered it -- now THAT's the way to have big delicious spinach really really early! I hope to remember to do it again this fall.

New Grosbeak Visitor

New Grosbeak Visitor, originally uploaded by Gardener At Larrapin.

I mentioned that we've had lots more birds this year since we've put "backyard habitat" practices into place. This is a new visitor. Look at that cheeky posture and the rakish red scarf! Welcome to Larrapin Garden friend!

Cherry Blossoms Falling Beautifully

This was from a week or so ago - an ornamental cherry that drops its blossoms in sheets of pink. They are even lovely on the ground.

What was particularly funny (though impossible to photograph) was the sight of the young male roadrunner dashing about with a fat cherry blossom in his beak instead of his usual stick (he's building nests everywhere) or dead lizard!

30 April 2008

Larrapin gets certified!

Guinea fowl problems notwithstanding, Larrapin got certified as Backyard Wildlife Habitat this Spring.

It's a fun program through the National Wildlife Federation that helps you evaluate your site for wildlife-friendly plants, practices and features such as food, shelter, nectar, water, etc. As of last year, we've focused on adding trees and shrubs that attract wildlife, maintaining consistent and varied bird feeding stations, sticking to organic practices, letting part (ok, most) of the lawn grow longer, providing water basins and bird baths around the place.... and so on. And WOW, has it paid off!

This year we've seen more birds and critters than ever. The birds have been amazing: summer tanagers, indigo buntings, grosbeaks, every woodpecker listed for our area, finches, robins, you name it. We've added about a half-dozen to our list of species sighted at Larrapin.

We're just getting started on this edible landscaping idea. (Larrapin Garden extends that theme to edible to many birds and critters in addition to ourselves...) It's amazing. I've combined my study of wildlife gardening with a new interest in permaculture principles and my head is just about to explode with new ideas and plans for Larrapin.

Guineas Under House Arrest

10 great iPhotos, originally uploaded by Leigh At Larrapin.

Before we got the guineas, I read up as to whether they would harm the garden and several references gave them good marks, compared to chickens, anyway. I should have thought carefully about that comparision!

The chickens, previously free range, are now pastured-poulty in the large pen built for emus by the previous owner. If allowed to roam they head directly (at a great rate of speed and with great determination) to the deep mulch I've carefully built in my garden and around the trees we've planted. They scratch like heck to get at all the lovely earthworms and buggies under that deep blanket, leaving nothing but scattered mulch and scratch holes. In the pen they went.

But oh, the guineas were supposed to be focused on bug-eating, particularly ticks, and only lightly muss the garden, if at all. Wrong. I should have entered "guineas are eating my garden" into the search engines as I did recently to find the scads of entries. Turns out they like new, small shoots (peas are their favorites, according to my recent eyewitness research) and their other favorites are RIPE TOMATOES.

I immediately knew the guineas were going in the pen. Not only do I kind of specialize in heirloom tomatoes in my garden, but my neighbor is the tomato king of our hilltop. This will never work. In fact, most of those entries online were complaints about neighbors' guineas and how to control them. (Like the homestead squirrel control ideas online, "eat them" comes up often...) I do not want to be the kind of neighbors we once had at another home, in fact I had a kind of spasm just thinking we might be like them. So it was time for a guinea rodeo in the chicken house come nightfall.

Guineas can fly very well, but the 6ft poultry pasture fence would keep them in if I clipped their wingfeathers. Which I did, after dark I grabbed them one by one with a crocheted throw (sorry) that my dog sleeps on. It was the perfect weight and texture to grab a chicken sized bird who nonetheless fights likes the dickens and will peck and claw and squawk at ear-splitting range during the process.... Wing feathers were trimmed without bloodshed, theirs or mine.

So I've bought the time, till the feathers grow out, of whether to keep them to let them out strategically in the evening (they don't go so far just before dusk - unlike their distant wanderings in the daylight) to nibble on bugs or just take them to the poultry auction when their feathers grow out... (Guineas fetch up to $7 each around here due to their tick and bug and grasshopper eating talents on farms and homesteads...for those who don't have unfenced gardens or good neighbors with unfenced gardens I guess...)

Unlike the chickens, who still do their job of laying eggs, breaking up tough oak leaves for mulching, and donating great fertilizer for heating up my compost pile even while they are in their pasture -- the guineas main job is out on the grounds and they aren't much use in the pen. Hmmm. Will have to ponder all this....

Next poultry experiment for garden-friendly bug control for 2009: DUCKS!

My bucket farm

My bucket farm.., originally uploaded by Leigh At Larrapin.

While this picture was about two weeks ago and a tremendous amount of greening and growing has taken place since then, we still had a late frost here at Larrapin two nights ago. You'd never know it from the sunny 70 degrees we had yesterday... It was very light, but it was the fourth or fifth time this month I had to haul out all the buckets on the premises and cover stuff in the garden. This bed is cabbage and broccoli, which probably would have been just fine, but they are so pretty I didn't want to take a chance. Some of my potatoes got zapped and are just now, slowly, regrowing. (I forgot to cover those, since my mind was on my pet plants...) The night before this picture was taken, I noticed my neighbor, a great gardener, had every bucket on his place in use, so our road could have been named Bucket Farm Drive...