Friday, September 9, 2016

Watermelon Vines Cover the Desert Floor

Watermelon vines have taken hold in my backyard and I couldn't be more delighted. The fabulous fruit is a personal favorite and to have it growing live in my garden is a sweet event. I'll say this in the dear old southern granny voice, "It just makes ma heart swell!"


Last week's count of established and newly forming fruit numbered over two dozen. The monstrous patch of leaves is covering a former corn bed that is seven feet by seven feet and furrowed like real farm rows. The channels allow for deep watering and saturation to direct moisture to thirsty roots. These wonderful fruits require a lot of water, especially during the very hot months. The melon plants are hearty, cool leafy strings with bulging striped fruits. Their beginnings were just a few seeds in a couple of small pots. What I have now is the equivalent of a mini-jungle.

The flowers are tended neatly by bees and flying nectar loving things. The flowers on the vines are abuzz with bee activity early in the mornings just after sunrise. Attracting these important creatures is key for any successful planting. Once the bees know that you have these sweet flowers they will visit faithfully. Their presence means healthy fruit!

Watermelon Plants - Starter Pots

Recent Garden Tour
Video

Allow me to introduce you to my backyard urban farm. 
Walk along with me and my chickens as we inspect a few things around the garden beds. 
The watermelon patch is highlighted for bragging rights. 




I believe these watermelons are Sugar Babies, but I may be wrong. They look more like the Crimson Sweet watermelons below. There are a wide variety of the fruit vines on the market. Plant them in late April in Nevada and watch the melon magic begin! Watermelons take up a lot of space so be careful where you plant them. The vines will need to stretch 15 to 20 feet all around the planting area. They will climb over and around everything in their path.

Order seeds for your next garden here at Direct Gardening. Most of them are under a dollar for the basics and quite affordable for more exotic varieties. Once these get going, collect the seeds from the melons and save for the future crops. The ideal seeds are the darker, mature ones. They are usually fatter than the rest of the seeds in the fruit. This is true of most seeds in fruit and vegetable varieties. Ask people to be considerate that are eating the fresh melon and spit the seeds in a pre-planned watermelon area so the yard doesn't end up with wandering vines. 


Crimson Sweet Watermelon







Saturday, August 6, 2016

How to Keep Chickens Cool in Blistering Summers

The temperatures in Las Vegas blow in at over 115 during the middle of summer. Keeping a flock of chickens cool and comfortable during these heat spells is an important task. My A-Frame Coop is set up just right now. After the Cornish Rock disaster in May, I made my chicken shelter a top priority.

Interior of A-Frame Chicken Coop - M Burgess - All Rights Reserved
A-Frame Chicken Coop Interior - The Chickens are right at home in their Gypsy camp coop.
I know my coop looks a little ghetto, but it works and below I have shared a few tips and techniques that seem to keep these birds comfortable. A rigid schedule has to be maintained or the hens will not lay eggs out of discomfort.  In the summer time, the coop needs to be cool enough to help the birds keep their body temperatures down. It also needs to be roomy enough for their grazing and pecking needs.


Video: A Visit to the Coop



First: Chickens Need Lots of Shade

The best coops and chicken shelters cast a wide shadow across the space a chicken has to graze in. Combine this with adequate scratch room, the hens will stay where they belong and be cool and cozy during heat waves. 

The shade in our coop area is achieved with a plywood roof, a bamboo screen, and an old dust ruffle with a white center sheet placed over areas that would be sun exposed. In cooler weather, the sheet will be removed. The more shade the better. The coop I managed to build is a bit ghetto and a little gypsy, but it works for the girl's needs.
Ghetto Coop


Ideally, a coop should be entirely secure and invasion proof. Where I live there are no animals that would threaten my chickens so they are able to roam in and out as they like. If you have predatory animals secure hardware mesh down at least a foot surrounding your coop.

In the first image, you can see the roosting bar, the water containers, and a plastic box containing the chicken's feed. The shaded area is large enough to give them room to wander without being right on top of each other. The plaid flannel blocks sun from the west end while the odd white sheet with the dust ruffle reflects the sun off of the top of the coop. Ideally, I would have painted the roof white for the same effect. I am developing this coop as I go and as I see the need to alter it for the health of the birds. 

There is a chicken wire fence running around the exterior of the structure, but I leave it open as of late because the hens climb up to the top of the a-frame roof and leap off into the garden. The roof section is about four feet tall. I'd rather not have them testing their wing capabilities. They only float down so there is a possibility for them to get hurt. Chickens do not fly very well.


Second: Chickens Need a Lot of Water

Water is essential to any living creature's survival. This goes without saying. It is the best way to keep an animal cool during extreme heat. Looking around the internet for ideas on keeping chickens cool, I found a few forum threads that suggested large tubs of water be set around coop areas. They mentioned ice and even mud for allowing the hens a place to cool their feet. 





Houston International 6090
18-Inch by 16-Inch by 9-Inch
Galvanized Oval Tub
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I have all three conditions in the a-frame coop as you can see in the video. The large bins are dumped daily and the girls get a nice little mud puddle to scratch and wade in. They'll wander through it and cool their feet off and in turn cool their body temperatures. The purple tub is just a cool spot. They do not like it as much as they like their galvanized tub. 


Ice Therapy

I save half gallon milk jugs and rinse them as I use up the contents. They are then filled with water to about two inches from the lid area, sealed, and dropped in the deep freezer. They will be solid after about 5 hours. I rotate five or more of these in and out of the compartment as needed. I use four in the outdoor coop and two more large jugs in the small hutch I also keep. I use three five gallon buckets altogether. The ones in the A-Frame are kept with a lid on them so that I can reuse the water. It is usually cool and chills quickly when I change out the jugs. The idea here is to drop the interior temps by a few degrees and make the space more livable. The one in the hutch area is left open so the hens there can have an additional water source.  

Opt for An Air Cooler


I have been told that there are chicken folks that have a real shed for their birds complete with a swamp cooler or an A/C wall unit built right into the shed. I just love that idea, but at this time I cannot build something like that. That is one of those someday projects. I have looked around at different solutions and will invest in a unit such as this Honeywell Evaporative Air Cooler. This is an affordable piece of equipment and can be brought camping or to a beach area. It is something I am considering investing in. 

The cooler will have to be placed in a box of some kind so that it does not collect bird droppings. It will be just the thing we need to deliver a cool area to these precious birds. The more comfortable a hen is the more likely they will produce eggs, even in the wretched months of summer.

Chicken Popsicles 

There was a meme going around Facebook that showed a confetti of fruits and veggies frozen in ice. It looks like a nice snack for keeping chickens cool and entertained. The mix looked like about two cups of goodies to about four cups of water then frozen in a large bowl and removed for pecking. I have not made one of those, yet, but I do offer the hens watermelon occasionally. They are skeptical at first but once they taste it - it disappears fairly quickly.

Keeping Chickens Cool During Summer Heat Waves - Image: M Burgess - All Rights Reserved
Coolest chickie at the bar...

In Conclusion

All in all these measures to keep the hens at a lower temperature seem to have worked well. They are not complaining and they are not stressing. You can tell a chicken is stressed by their heavy panting. If they are overly heated they will spread their wings slightly. This is not a sight I want to see. 

Check your birds twice daily and change out their water at least once during that interval. The fresher the supply, the more they will consume thus keeping their interior hydrated and their body temps down. The one layer I have is continually offering eggs, so I know that I am doing something right here. 

Tell me about your cool tips for keeping chickens comfortable. 

Thank you for visiting!














Saturday, July 16, 2016

Product Review: Portable Rain Barrel

Collapsible Storage Container for Water

Portable Rain Barrel

Water is vital to human survival. We may last only a week without this valuable moisture. To ensure your family has a proper allotment of H2O, stash at least a gallon per person for the emergency storage plan. If you are planning on two weeks of backup water and you have four family members, you will need at least 56 gallons. Increase that by the amount of water needed for washing and that number doubles.
(See H2O - A few dozen healthy reasons to love water!)

Water storage is a high priority with a preparedness plan. While on the search for options on large capacity water storage containers, I ran across this lovely idea and immediately had it shipped. Imagine a portable rain barrel!  The price was affordable and I had to check it out. It was soon put to good use as we had storms moving through the area within the week that it had arrived.

The Portable Rain Barrel holds around 35 gallons of rainwater and it was simple to set up. The zippered top was smooth to close and the only issue I had was the water spigot assembly on the bottom of the unit. That issue was user error. It seems I had forgotten to close the gadget and all the rainwater that would have been held in the barrel freely ran out of the spout. Turn this to off when you assemble the hose attachment. 

The box size surprised me when it arrived. It was no more than a large poster box. I looked at it suspiciously when the postal worker dropped it off to me. No way will this thing hold 35 gallons. I did wait to put it together for about three days. Once I broke it out of the box I realized what a treasure I had found. The container was put to work under the crease on my roof since there are no rain gutters.

The first set up proved to be a little flimsy, but once it held water, the container sat on its own and has ever since. In time, I will empty it for fresh water addition, but for now, I am curious how long it will take to fill up. It has been about six weeks and the barrel is over half full. I am optimistic that the capacity would be overflowing had I thought to make sure the spigot valve was closed.  I can assure you, I will be buying another one in the near future

Read more about the Portable Rain Barrel on Amazon



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