Rooted in Richmond...July in a Small West County Garden

Aug 5, 2011

Here in Richmond, July passed by in a whirl of bees and pollen.  We have settled into our regular “summer” weather pattern here in the El Cerrito/Richmond area- low clouds and fog until midday when the sun beats back the gray and shines until sunset.  This is great for lettuce, greens, and my beans, but at this rate I might have a ripe tomato in October.

But today I don’t want to talk about the same old patterns in my garden; I want to talk about what is new, exciting, and different!  Yep, I want to talk about my chickens.  First of all, you need to know that I adore chickens.  From their cute little noises to their fluffy little bodies, I find them utterly mesmerizing.  And the fact that they will provide us with manure for the yard and eggs for our table is just an added bonus.  So, this year I decided it was time to add chickens to our household menagerie.  We planned and built the chicken coop ourselves, and it only took us two months.  It is the Fort Knox of chicken coops due to my husband’s tendency to overbuild things and my concerns about raccoons.  With the coop done (or should I say done for the moment), we got ready for the next step- baby birds.

We got four precious chicks at Easter and then we just had to sit back and wait to see if any of them were actually roosters.  Luckily, we are about three months in and none of my ladies seem like they are going to start, “Cock-a-doodle-doing.”  I have two Buff Orpingtons named Wilma and Honey-Penny and they are becoming really large birds.  I have one Dominique who is black and white checkered and named, well, Dominique.  She is the cuddliest chicken I have ever known.  The moment I sit down she jumps onto my lap and practically begs to be petted.  Finally, I have an Ameraucana named Gwen who has beautiful brown and black plumage and a silly, puffy beard of feathers.  Yes, she is our bearded lady bird.

Baby chickens
Baby chickens

These four ladies keep me busy.  They eat a lot and then predictably create huge amounts of manure for my yard.  The only problem is that they are not particularly picky about where they place their rich deposits and as a result I spend a lot of time cleaning off decks, patios, stepping stones and the side of walls (don’t ask!)  They also are prodigious bug hunters which is lovely, but it also means that mulch doesn’t stay neatly in place anymore.  Oh, no- chickens have their own vision of garden design and it involves ankle-breaking holes and small mountains of soil and mulch.

But lest you think I am bitter because of the extra work they have created and that maybe, just maybe my fowl love affair is coming to the end, let me assure you nothing is further from the truth.  Have you ever seen a chicken taking a dustbath?  It is guaranteed to make you chuckle.  They look like nothing more than a bunch of feather dusters gone wild.  And I love listening and watching when one of them finds a particularly delectable morsel.  The lucky bird will grab the tasty bite, make a bunch of self-congratulatory noises and then run off- only to be chased en masse by her feathered compatriots.  As a result, our backyard sometimes looks like a race track with chickens running laps on the walkways.

Adolescent Chickens in the Yard

Now we are starting to think about how to ready our chicken coop for the fall and winter.  We want to add some type of roll-up tarping to help keep the exposed run portions dry during winter storms.  We have put in a nesting box, but despite our premature hopes no one has deigned to use it yet.  But we are ready for eggs, oh yes, we are ready.

Tune in next month as I share some of the odder fruits and vegetables I tried to grow this summer.

By Molly Wahl
Posted By - Mistress Gardener