Saturday, March 31, 2012

only child

Updating this story, our novice mom successfully hatched one chick from her clutch of 10 eggs. She was a very diligent setter, but it was not clear that she had mastered the important nuances, such as the need to rotate each egg daily to assure appropriate development of the chicks.

Not to worry, she's a very good post-hatch mom, taking care to protect her chick from the rest of the flock and the other hazards of the big world. The little one is energetic and fearless, keeping mom on her toes constantly. In honor of Leela and Anna, recent visitors from Australia and New Zealand, the little one will be referred to as "chook."

We have high hopes for mom's future endeavors.
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they're back!

We have kingbirds, 8 days ahead of last year's return date.

They must have been tricked into believing the reports of a balmy March and may feel a little bit bait-and-switched by today's intense rain and heavy winds. Maybe they can huddle with the barn swallows, whose numbers seem to be doubling every third day.

The new Kingbird tee-shirts (thank you KCY!) beat the live birds by about two weeks.
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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

a welcome

A vivid sunrise says "welcome to spring" this morning.

And triggers a mental review.

Tomato and pepper seedlings in the greenhouse? Check.

Apple trees blooming? Check.

Bee hives active? Check.

Carrots and beets germinating in the raised beds? Check.

Onions and garlic maturing nicely? Check.

Four or five successive plantings of lettuce in progress? Check.

Hop vines emerging? Check.

Chickens at peak laying? Check.

Wwoofers scheduled? Check.

Weeds under control? Coming ...
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Sunday, March 18, 2012

awakening to water

We awoke this morning to deep water in the slough that arcs through our property. Dry yesterday, the slough filled overnight because our little river, the Cosumnes, was pushed out of its banks by heavy rain in the Sierra over the past few days, filling the series of natural depressions east of the river. Depending on the weathern pattern over the next few months, the slough will either gradually empty and be dry by the first of June, or stay wet through July and August, as it did last year.

This is the latest fill date for the slough in the 20+ years that we've been watching. Last year we had a February fill, but prior to that the slough had always filled within a few days of January 1.

This week's series of storms gave us about an inch and a half of water, greatly improving conditions in the garden but leaving us still at barely above half our seasonal average.
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Monday, March 12, 2012

dawn chorus

We awoke at 5 am yesterday to the chatter of a pair of barn swallows, our first arrivals of the year. They were perhaps overwhelmed by the blank slate of opportunity presented by the walls of our house.

We greet them with mixed emotions. They do indeed make a mess of the walls, decks, and cars, and require vigilance to be deterred from constructing their mud nests in totally inappropriate places (on or above doors, for example). But they also eat large quantities of mosquitoes, which may be why they nest on structures, having been tolerated for generations for doing so. And my garden last week was overrun at times by mosquitoes; I should have known that the swallows were near.

We love the slow rhythms of avian arrivals and departures. I've written of swallows before, here and here. We expect that we'll see the last of the sandhill cranes trickle away this week and soon we'll start looking for the first of the kingbirds.
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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

getting the signals straight

 This partridge cochin bantam hen seems to be responding to the instinct to brood her own chicks. She sits in her nest for days at a stretch in the trance-like state that characterizes broody spells, not reacting to the flash of my camera or to a friendly scratch behind the head.

Finding and following those instincts, and getting it right, must be for a modern hen quite a challenge. For millenia, ever since techniques for artificial large scale hatching of eggs and raising of chicks were devised, the tendency to "go broody" - to shift into chick-production mode - has been deemed an undesirable trait in hens, and selected against. The reason is that the broody hen stops producing eggs and refocuses her energy away from egg-making and toward staying alive (with little or no feed) during the 21-day incubation period. The result is that most modern hens are not broody at all, or will at best claim and protect a nest full of eggs for a few days before getting distracted.

The early masters of articifical incubation were the Egyptians, who in the fifth or sixth century BC developed wood-heated brick structures capable of incubating 10,000 - 15,000 eggs at a time, i.e. at a scale not seen again until in the US in the 1960s. One hypothesis is that large-scale chicken production was driven by the need to feed the masses of laborers who worked to build the pyramids. Later, the Romans devised mobile incubators that would travel with the troops.

Because the various cochin strains of chicken are known for their broody tendencies and competency at raising young naturally, I added a few as chicks to my flock last year. They are just now beginning egg production.

This hen (she probably deserves a name) may or may not turn out to be a successful brooder. About a week into her first stretch of brooding I got curious about how many eggs she was nurturing and reached under to check. To my surprise, there were none - zero. She had the behavior down but had somehow missed the basic point. I removed her from the chicken house to break the broody cycle. When she got in the mode again, about a week later (and a week ago), I gently slipped 10 eggs into her nest. We'll see how well she does this time.

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Saturday, March 3, 2012

otow orchard

 We visited Otow Orchard yesterday, a 40-acre island of sanity amid the affluent sprawl of Granite Bay in Placer County. The farm is run by our friends Tosh and Chris Kuratomi (and Chris' vigorous 96-year old mom), and our visit was long overdue. Tosh and Chris grow dozens of types and varieties of fruit, mostly old varieties. The farm was launched in 1914 by Chris' grandfather and many of the producing trees date from the initial plantings.

The farm's fruit-stand sells fruits and vegetables in season, with something offered all year. Stop by if you're going anywhere near Granite Bay. It's a tranquil and beautiful place.

We leave with a few hoshigaki. A specialty of the farm, hoshigaki (photo below) are hachiya (or similar) persimmon that are peeled and dried. The flavor is a dense, concentrated essence of persimmon.

More photos (courtesy of Ms Kingbird) are here.