It’s been unusual. A cooler and wetter spring…a pandemic that kept us a home. Our secret garden has been the beneficiary. Here is a bit of a photo essay on the effects of perfect growing conditions and lots of attention in our Naramata, British Columbia, Canada garden on the summer solstice.
“I am sure there is Magic in everything, only we have not sense enough to get hold of it and make it do things for us.” The Secret Garden
The purples seem more purple this year…
The pinks more pink…
And we’ve had time to sit and enjoy it all unfolding.
With our pals who are allowed in from time to time…
Just outside the garden walls is our raspberry farm just days away from harvest.
The farm has never looked so tidy. One hour-long spray with round-up would have dealt with all the grass and weeds that invaded the rows but we don’t spray or use chemicals so it was a 160-hour job completed over four months. On hands and knees with a garden fork… It should be easier to maintain going forward with minor attention. It looks great but more importantly the raspberry roots now have less competition for nutrients, water and space. It’s going to be a bumper crop.
“I’ve been doing this for a little more than 20 years, ” says Naramatian Tim Skrypiczajko as he shows me around one of the two plots of land he farms on North Naramata Road.
“I learned to garden from some old-school organic farmers, they saved their own seed, so to me it’s always been a part of the process.”
Over the past 50 or so years seed growing has changed dramatically as part of the industrialization of agriculture that resulted in commercial vegetable seed growing becoming specialized and in the hands of a relatively few companies and people. Farmers like Tim are working hard to preserve and maintain unique seedstock suited to particular micro-climates. He quotes John Navazio, the author of The Organic Seed Grower, “The seed was part of their farm and their farm was part of the seed. Each variety that was selected over time to meet the environmental conditions and the farmer’s needs became part of the whole system used on the farm.” That was the way it had always worked and Tim is doing his part to continue that valuable tradition in Naramata.
“I’m a curious person by nature, so I just started to try to grow as many different things as possible. If it was something I’d never heard of before, even better.” Tim started saving seeds and expanding the variety of seeds he grew in earnest. “I would seek out new and different varieties from small seed companies here and there, as well as a few other sources and started to amass a large collection.” His collection grew to the point that he turned his hobby into a business in 2010 and began selling seeds. He has now at the point that the Naramata Seed Company is his primary focus.
“I still treat it like a hobby though. Growing so many different things keeps it interesting. The only part of the business that feels like a real job is the marketing stuff,” he adds.
Tim says his philosophy has always been to work with the farm — it’s soil, climate, topography… and farm in a way that’s suitable for that. “At some point I realized the place where I live is the ideal place to produce seeds so it made sense to focus on that. I feel the plots I farm are the best place in Canada to produce certain kinds of seeds.”
“I discovered that growing and selling seeds is a good way to make a viable income from a couple acres of land, while being able to do most of the work by hand and not having to use lots of machinery, which I like.
“Sometimes I wonder how I ended up doing this, and think that somehow the seeds chose me to be their custodian, not the other way around.”
The Naramata Seed Company’s seeds are open-pollinated, untreated and of course non-GMO and Tim farms using traditional chemical-free farming techniques. He is dedicated to the preservation of genetic diversity and is focused on rare and historic varieties.
Starting your own seeds is easier than you think
Tim says it’s easy to grow plants from seeds and encourages everyone to give it a try. “You will soon realize it’s not as daunting as it seems. There are lots more people who want to try growing from seed all the time.”
A tomato is born
Naramata is a great place to grow anything, he says. North Naramata’s isolation from other farms and gardens reduces the risk of potential cross-pollination he adds.
Growing the company
As for the future, the Naramata Seed Company will soon have an upgraded website making online ordering easy. His goal is to grow the company to the point where he can focus on the growing and seed cleaning and turn the marketing over to someone else.
Slow & Seedy Sunday
Tim is playing a key role in Slow & Seedy Sunday taking place in Naramata February 11 from 11 – 3 at Columbia Hall. The free event hosted by NaramataSlow will include seed and garden-related vendors, a preserve exchange and information on a backyard chicken project. Speakers include James Young, who has obtained farm status on a relatively modest plot of land in the Village, beekeeper Tim Bouwmeester of Desert Flower Honey and Chris Mathison, the owner/operator of the Grist Mill Garden who will talk about seed starting and diversity. Check out the NaramataSlow Facebook page to learn more.
The Baroness is Resting in Peace all right. She is resting…not having any eggs…trying to re-grow some feathers. Having gone through 21 one days of broodiness, with not a nice warm brown egg in sight, she is now post-Henopasual and has decided to go bald…otherwise known as molting vs. melting.
The chicken keeper is the one melting down. During the molt lots of nasty stuff can go down, including and pretty importantly, still no eggs for cakes.
Putting myself in her claws life sucks right now. She has just spent three weeks alone, hardly eating or drinking, fighting with me when I try to remove her from her fake children and now she is loosing her crowning glory, one feather at a time. It’s so much worse when hens loose their hair. Bald is in for men and they boldly own it. Not so much for women…
Molting can also cause bullying. It’s even more sinister than you think. The bullying is not about picking on the hen because she is not looking her best. The bullying is related to cannibalism! New pin feathers growing in have visible blood showing which brings on some survival base instincts. Other chickens want to eat their molting friend and peck them mercilessly.
So, my chicken research says molting is pretty common after a broody hen hatches her chicks. The Baroness bought into this whole hatching thing despite no fertile eggs to sit on or any eggs at all…big time… so it’s not surprising that her changing hormones triggered a molt. It’s also a pretty common time of the year for molting as well. The molt happens not only for aesthetic reasons but also for health reasons. Brand new feathers help trap warm air during the cold winter months better than old feathers.
Now she needs my help in the form of extra protein. One book offers a helpful recipe for Molt Muffins which include oats, sunflower seeds, raisins, coconut milk, peanut butter and…. mealworms. Don’t think I’ll be baking those anytime soon but I will offer her some of the ingredients.
Out of the blue, The Baroness has turned into a maniac. She won’t leave her nest and growls and bites when you try to dislodge her. She is no longer the docile chicken who follows me like a puppy making happy chicken noises.
This new creature has gone broody. Her biological clock has flipped some weird switch and she has stopped laying and is desperately protecting one of Maria’s infertile eggs. When that’s removed she is as hell bent on protecting absolutely nothing and is a fowl in a foul mood.
I now use gloves as I lift her from the nest dodging henpecks. Once out she screams and flaps her feathers indicating her frustration at being ousted from her invisible eggs with their invisible chicks forming in them. She clucks worriedly.
Since a setting hen only takes short breaks to eat and drink a bit and stretch her legs, most broodies get skinny. She is not herself when she is hungry. She is also making life difficult for Maria by hogging the prime egg laying box. Maria waits patiently for her turn and then finally squeezes in and awkwardly gives the Baroness another potential chick to hatch. Oh and I’m down to one egg layer now as broodies don’t offer up poached, fried, scrambled or egg salad. The broodiness is also catching and sweet-tempered Maria may fall prey.
If not for the growling and biting I might feel sorry for her.
The cure includes:
Gloves and courage and picking her up out of the nesting box
Remove Maria’s egg out from under the Baroness pronto
Locking them both out of the coop after Maria has had her morning egg
Inserting a bag of frozen peas or ice cubes under her tummy
Pen the offender in a cage — solitary confinement – with no nesting material
She sees me coming with the gloves and we go at it until she is removed from the box…literally kicking and screaming.
Baroness doesn’t really care if she is laying on an actual egg or not. She has a vivid imagination.
She finds a suitable “nest” pretty much anywhere, fluffs up her feathers and sits ALL DAY in that spot.
The peas melt and are canabalistically and joyfully eaten by Maria. The ice cubes happily turn into nice warm water in a ziplock.
Last resort… solitary… coming up
“I find that gently removing the broody hen from the nest, taking any eggs she is sitting on, and then releasing her at the far end of the run where I have some special treats for everyone, generally works in just a few days,” says Lisa Steele in Fresh Eggs Daily. Clearly she has not encountered The Baroness. We are on day eight of the battle. She has taken to sharpening her beak on any solid object.
So much for “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” The Baroness is haunting my dreams. My Rent the Chicken farmer says I can send her packing and get a replacement if she doesn’t get her act together and give me eggs to make fluffy cakes again. Mmmm…would you do that to a friend with Henopause who becomes ill tempered as she copes with a hormonal issue? Maybe if the friend bites…
The girlies would tell you this tale if they could but their typing is hunt and peck at best and would take far too long. I think the whole event confuses them as well. An aside… Did you know chickens have a great memory and can differentiate between more than 100 human or animal faces. They love to play, they dream (about eating millions of bugs?), they mourn for each other and they feel pain and distress. They also make great moms — they talk to their chicks while still in the egg and turn the eggs about 50 times a day.
A week into chicken husbandry I am still getting up at 6 a.m. to check on them. In my pjs, no coffee on board, I duck into their coop to change the water and hear the run latch gently click shut with me inside.
The run is some distance from the house and the sleeping Handyman who decidedly does not wake up at 6 a.m.
The old weird song lyrics start going through my head…
Oh, dear, what can the matter be Three old ladies locked in the lavatory They were there from Monday to Saturday Nobody knew they were there
I try using a stick to poke through the hardware cloth and lift the latch up.
The first one’s name was Elizabeth Porter She went in to be rid of some overdue water And she stayed there far more than she ought to And nobody knew she was there.
Maria and The Baroness are watching me curiously. (Re side note…they are smarter than you think.) I then try pushing the hardware cloth out, with a fair bit of force, in several spots. The Handyman is really good at building things and the coop is racoon-proof, or so we thought.
The second one’s name was Elizabeth Pomphrey She went in and made herself comfy Then she said: “Girls, I can’t get my bum free.” And nobody knew she was there
After only a week with my new pals we aren’t super comfortable with each other. They are eyeing me suspiciously and making low murmuring sounds. Another aside…Researchers have shown that there are at least 24 different sounds chickens make and maybe as many as 30. While chickens don’t have nearly the vocabulary that us humans have, and their chicken brains don’t allow for abstract and deep conversations, they are still a very vocal and conversational critter.
I finally hit on the solution and break a few zip ties that are securing a set of overlapping panels of the hardware cloth and make my great escape. Coffee!
The last one’s name was Elizabeth Carter She was known as a world renowned farter She went in and played a sonata And nobody knew she was there.
Later that day The Handyman installed a rope gizmo allowing the latch to be opened from the inside as well.
The day after the escape from the coop I woke at 6 to find the nesting box door hanging open. I ran to the coop expecting it to be empty or a scene of indescribable carnage but found the girlies milling about in the run, all feathers accounted for. The new bungee addition makes the coop really racoon proof.
Because chickens are clever creatures, each occupying a different role in the pecking order, keeping them in your backyard gives you a chance to see the individual personalities and quirks. Maria is fascinated by holes of any kind. She is also the boss.
Here she is sorting out the perfect spot for a dustbath. Distracted momentarily, The Baroness steals her spot… not for long. After a dust up Maria reclaims her throne.
The girls and The Handyman
Despite being told I am the chicken lady and in sole charge, I catch The Handyman letting the girls out when he is working on the farm…and he talks to them and makes a special clucking noise. The exercise king, here he is taking them on a little jog…which is funny itself. Something about chickens running cracks me up.
A taste of country life
I love our chickens. Who would have thought it. They are curious, interesting, sweet creatures who demand little and give us eggs daily. I feel good about giving them great food, room to roam and a nice, cruelty-free life.
Hens with Benefits
They give us breakfast in return and lovely fluffy cakes.
This year’s Christmas present is a pair of laying hens from Marie and Ron McGivern’s farm in Kamloops, a coop, feed and some help getting up and running. My RentTheChicken.com pals will be delivered in May and picked up again in October, unless I get so attached I will need to give them a forever home…
Marie has indulgently agreed to let me choose my hens now and says she will band them and help them get used to their new names… Maria and The Baroness. They are such smart feather-brains that they will come when called or when called and a bowl of feed shaken…same, same.
I can’t seem to stop singing wherever I am. And what’s worse, I can’t seem to stop saying things — anything and everything I think and feel.
It will be interesting to see how the two ladies will get along. They will get a trial run paired up together before being delivered Marie says as, “hen pecked and pecking order” are real things. I may be dooming them from the start with their names but without Rooster Georg in the mix they may be OK with some brown paper packages tied up with string, whiskers on kittens, snowflakes that stay on my nose and my lashes…
Somewhere out there is a lady who I think will never be a nun. Auf Wiedersehen, darling.
Maria may never be a nun but a monk is responsible for her breeding. The Chantecler breed was developed in the early 1900’s by Brother Wilfred Chatalain, a monk who resided and worked at the Oka Agricultural Institute in Quebec, my home province. He was in charge of the poultry yards there, and one day gave his visiting father a tour of the facilities. After viewing the various breeds housed at the Institute, his father remarked that there seemed to be no uniquely Canadian breed. That gave Wilfred the idea to create the first Canadian breed of chicken. He decided it would have all the traits necessary for superior winter laying ability and at the same time be a superior meat bird. He worked on his creation from 1908 until 1918 when the first Chantecler was released to the public.The breed is very suitable for colder climates. They have a super small comb so their head literally doesn’t freeze off in winter. They are very good layers, also in winter months, with an average egg production of 200 a year that weigh around 60 grams. The egg colour is pale brown.
The Partridge Chantecler was developed approximately 30 years after the White Chantecler, by Dr J E Wilkinson of Edmonton Alberta, my other home province. Just as Brother Wilfrid made a series of crosses to come up with his “ideal”, so did Dr Wilkinson. Ultimately he came up with a bird that he called the “Albertan”. It is important to note that they actually had nothing at all to do with Brother Wilfrid’s White Chanteclers and that they were essentially completely different breeds. However when Dr Wilkinson submitted his “Partridge Albertan” birds for recognition by the American Poultry Association, they did accept them but then rather arbitrarily renamed them as a Partridge Chantecler, much to his huge disappointment.
Chantecler, Partridge Albertan… both developed in Canada these breeds almost went the way of the dodo but thanks to farmers like Marie and Ron this Canuck breeds are making a come back. It is a friendly breed that is reliable towards it’s fosterer. I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain, I have confidence in confidence alone that I can raise chickens… Helps to have a friendly one I imagine.
Oh Georg, if I had known we were going to have a sing along I would have brought my harmonica.
Black Sex-links are cross-bred chickens whose color at hatching is differentiated by sex, making chick sexing easier. Sex-links can be extremely good egg-layers which often produce 300 eggs a year or more depending on the quality of care and feed. The Baroness is going to be an omelette queen. The color of their eggs vary according to the mix of breeds and blue-green eggs are possible. (How cool would that be?)
Blacks are a cross between a Rhode Island Reg or New Hampshire or rooster and a Barred Rock hen.
You know how Sister Berthe always makes me kiss the floor after we’ve had a disagreement? Well, lately I’ve taken to kissing the floor whenever I see her coming, just to save time.
I may be counting my chickens before the hatch anticipating my May Christmas gift but it feels good to put faces to the names. Next…chicken raising research…so I can solve a problem like Maria…
Who doesn’t love a sale? But how many regrets stem from snapping up a bargain that maybe didn’t fit quite right, didn’t match your decor or really wasn’t needed at all? My rentthechickens will not fall into that category as the Black Friday bargain was an “item” already on this savvy shopper’s list and eggs never go out of style.
My two laying hens, 100 pounds of chicken feed and portable coop will arrive in May from Kamloops’ couple Ron and Marie McGivern’s farm and will be picked back up in October. These rentthechicken.com hens are a perfect way for us newbies to get our feet wet. If we chicken out, no harm, no fowl. Ron and Marie will come and pick them back up.
For about $500 including delivery and pick-up, the hens will lay the equivalent of eight to 14 golden eggs a week…somewhere around $2 an egg. The point is not to save money but to give us the chance to test out a risky purchase before making a commitment to longer term chicken husbandry.
Rentthechicken.com was started by an enterprising couple from Freeport Pennsylvania. “Your chickens will come from our affiliate homesteaders in Kamploops,” says Jenn Tompkins. “We started out thinking we could rent chickens to a few Pittsburgh hipsters and that would be it. We were dead wrong. We now have more than 35 affiliates all over the U.S. and Canada and are renting out more than 1,000 chickens. People are really interested in having their food closer to their tables without a longterm commitment.”
Jenn says the hens will quickly become my pals. It’s all a matter of who feeds them and who brings the yummy table scraps, she says.
What’s in a name?
Downtown Abbey characters like Lady Mary and Edith are trending chicken names, according to Jenn as are Laverne and Shirley with the older demographic. Younger renters are leaning toward characters from Friends or the Big Bang Theory. Charlotte and Mrs. Feathers have made the cut.
Our hens will be named Maria von Trapp and Baroness von Schrader, Maria and Ness for short.
Rentthechicken does away with the four to six months rearing period until the hen is ready to lay and also the risk of ending up with a rooster chick – no eggs, lots of noise.
My farm neighbours will be incredulous at my rental hen scheme but I like the idea of an exit plan, no need to winter-over the girls or deal with “end of life issues”. My ladies will come in their egg-laying prime and Maria and Ness can be rented in following years if we bond or we can adopt them and give them a forever home if we get really brave.
Jenn assures us that two hens won’t make a lot of noise and their portable coop will spread their fertilizer around to help our berry farm. She told a story of a couple of hens that were used as therapy birds for an autistic boy. We all need a little therapy right? Wonder if a therapy session should start with a why did the chicken cross the road joke or would it quickly devolve into the which came first chicken or egg existential question… I wonder if rentthechicken.com could include a sub-business…Rent a Cock to fertilize my hens should we choose to start a brood or How Would You Like Your Eggs incubating service…
Bring on May and Marie and Ness, future blog stars.