Friday, April 27, 2012

Growing the Girls - My First Year with Backyard Chickens

by Sarah Renfro, Business Manager at Renee's Garden
The last year has seen 4 new additions to the family – my flock of backyard chickens. We decided to get chickens last winter after hearing so much about how delicious (and nutritious) home grown eggs are and admiring a friend’s large flock.
Last March the baby chicks arrived at our local feed store. We selected 4 different breeds of 3 day old chicks so we would have a variety of colors and egg shapes to enjoy. It has been interesting and fun to watch the baby chicks grow and mature into beautiful hens with distinct personalities and a definite pecking order! 
Our flock includes:
Speck (Speckled Sussex) – multi-colored, the most vocal and fearless. The leader of the pack.
Buffy (Buff Orpington) – yellow and fluffy. Gentle and friendly, a follower.
Rhoda (Rhode Island Red) – reddish brown. Very curious, she sometimes challenges Speck for the lead.
Blackie (Astrolorpe) – iridescent black. A bit aloof and always at the back of the pack.

We kept our chicks inside in a large cardboard box with heat lamps until the weather warmed up outside and the coop was ready. Each day we made sure to visit the chicks, picking them up and allowing our dog to see and sniff them so the chickens would be comfortable with us and the dog learned that these fluff balls were not for eating!

Although there are numerous chicken coop designs available online, we decided to buy a premade coop kit and modify it slightly to add on a larger chicken run. This was a do-able weekend project for my husband with the “help” of my toddler son.

After the girls moved into their new home we waited several weeks before allowing them to roam free around the backyard. I was nervous the first time the dog and the chickens were together in the same space but Rex seemed to know not to chase them - he happily trots along with the hens, sniffing the scratched up ground.

The chickens have access to their organic layer feed and fresh water at all times. We also supplement their diet with a daily bowl of food scraps - everything from carrot peels to bread crusts to greens. Basically any food scraps that can be composted, plus food that can't such as meat and dairy, can be fed to the chickens. There are certain things that they do not eat and we end up raking up and adding to the compost pile when cleaning the coop: onion/garlic skins and avocado or melon rinds and tough, woody stems. We do not feed them egg shells or leftover eggs.

Our girls began laying eggs reliably after about 6 months. It really is true that the eggs are tastier! The yolks are firm and are an amazing bright yellow color. It is always exciting to open up the coop and collect the fresh, still warm eggs. My son loves to know which chicken’s eggs are in his omelet (a regular menu item for breakfast, lunch and dinner)!

Now there are a few things that no one told us about keeping chickens:

Chickens are messy! Our freshly applied bark mulch stayed neatly on top of our flower beds for about one hour. As soon as the chickens got across the yard, the mulch started flying as they scratched it into the grass. So much for a tidy yard!

Dogs (at least my dog) love to eat chicken poop. Yes, this is very gross and it does cause intestinal distress. Yuck is all I can say about this.

Chickens can be loud (even hens). We always know when one of the girls is laying an egg due to the loud squawking coming from the nesting boxes.

Chickens can be pushy. My son has learned to hold any food high above his head when the chickens are around because they will try to take it out of his hand! Speck has walked right through the open door into the house in search of food. And watch out when carrying the bowl of food scraps – my girls will try to fly up to the bowl to start digging in.

Keeping chickens has been a very rewarding experience. I appreciate their beauty, intelligence and the daily gift of eggs. They are fun to watch and relatively simple to care for. Now we are searching for a bigger coop so we can add more hens to the flock!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Exploring the SF Flower & Garden Show

By Laura Schaub, Marketing Manager
I’m an old friend of the San Francisco Flower & Garden Show; for the last ten years I’ve been a part of it in one way or another (it’s possible that I’ve never had to buy a ticket). First it was as a horticulture and design student, then as a display garden creator, and every year in between doing booth duty for various professional organizations. For the last three years I’ve also been the Social Media voice for the show, so yes, you could say we’re close…
Laura at the 2005 SF Garden Show
For me, as an avid gardener, landscape designer, plant geek, information junkie and social butterfly, the show is the place to see and be seen at the end of March. I like that it has become the ideal meeting spot for online friends from all over the country.

Being behind the scenes from concept to tear down every year has been a particular privilege, and I have great respect for the amount of work that goes into creating an event of this size and complexity. Renee has asked me to share my thoughts on this year’s Show, so here they are!
The Show Gardens are what make a Garden Show different from a Home & Garden Show. Up to 20 full-size gardens are custom designed and built by an elite group of designers, contractors, artists and students; and no two Shows are EVER alike.
Some gardens are practical, some are fanciful, and all combine to make a lovely village that exists for just a week. With luck they will live on (in whole or part) in private and public gardens, schools and parks for years to come. These are the handful of gardens that I found particularly noteworthy this year.
I was very impressed by first-time creator Brent Sumner and the Darjit team. Their "Dragon Garden" was unique, passionate and a great interpretation of our Gardens for a Green Earth theme, as it was made entirely of cultural waste, including the special sculpting compound called (you guessed it) Darjit that was used to make the Dragon and other garden elements. It not only won a Gold Medal, but also the People’s Choice Award.
Grass Guru John Greenlee and designer Mike Boss created a lot of buzz with Savanna! winning a Gold Medal, the Pacific Horticulture Magazine award, and the Golden Gate Cup for Best in Show. 

What I liked about this deceptively simple garden (a meandering stroll through a waving, textural wonderland) was how it succeeded in transporting you, if just for a moment, to “somewhere else.” Not easy in a cavernous, indoor space, but its sophisticated sight lines, a primitive soundtrack and strategically placed shiny objects (cool sculptures by Berkeley artist Marcia Donohue) worked their magic.

Another great thing about this garden was that all the plants were raffled off to benefit the San Francisco Botanical Society.
Dynamic Reflection
I’m a big fan of the distinctive stacked walls made by Andrea Hurd of Mariposing Gardening and Design, this year they were front and center in the Gold Medal garden she created with French's Waterscapes. I love the way she incorporates sculpture, pottery and even seat-size boulders into them. She trained over 40 volunteers at public stone-laying workshops this spring, and they turned out to help her build this garden.
La Vie en Vert
As a landscape designer, I look at details that others might not. My basic definition of design is “harmoniously arranging objects in space” and this Gold-Medal garden by Outdoor Environments does this so well; looking at those clean steps, neat walls, interesting plants and stylish details is so satisfying.
This small but intricate garden designed by McKenna Landscapes triggered my “ooh, I wish I had thought of that” reflex many times; such a satisfying combination of outdoor living spaces with so many thoughtful details, like this combination water feature/coffee table.

Next year's show is March 20-24 at the San Mateo Event Center. Maybe I'll see you there!

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