Month : June 2012

Chickens Stories from Our Nest

The Egg

Every year for the last eight years, we have had a family of Carolina Wrens, most likely generation after generation, that chose to nest in the flower box right outside the kitchen window.  Last year, they successfully laid two different clutches months apart and raised 9 new babies.  It seemed like a new record.  The year prior, their entire first clutch died, except for one foreign sole survivor; a Cow Bird baby that they raised.  As the adult Carolina Wrens were away from the nest to forage, an opportunistic Cow Bird laid her egg amongst the creamy brown speckled eggs.

I can remember two Springs ago feeling so frustrated that here these two tiny little wrens were feeding a baby Cow Bird twice their adult size.  The fledging baby would sit perched upon chair backs, the lower branches of the Japanese Maple and the rim of the fire pit and call the devoted “parents”.  I watched for weeks as they diligently fed the baby to ensure it’s survival.  Life just didn’t seem fair.

Last year made up for the year of the Cow Bird.  I loved peering out the kitchen window or from the slider which offered views directly into the nest.  From early April through July, the window box was full of life.  The new born babies were the size of bumblebees.  The parents returned multiple times per day with fresh juicy worms pulled from the earth.  The babies would poke their heads out of the tiny nest into the big huge world.  Their mouths would open as I peered into the nest ready to eat, all the while their fuzzy heads bobbed wobbling back and forth as their bodies were yet so small.  Loud peeping would emerge when the parents would return.  Through the screened kitchen window I could hear each baby calling out as if to say, “Feed me.”

Eventually both clutches fledged the nest and I enjoyed seeing the new little ones pipping and popping about the yard learning to fly.  The parents diligently kept tabs on them as they all headed off in sometimes different directions.  As time went on, the babies soon grew up and the nest was empty.  My heart missed them.  I found myself thinking about them and watching them visit the bird feeders as snow fell in Winter.

This past Spring a mated pair returned, refreshed and repaired the nest.  For two weeks, I watched as both the male and female worked together.  One morning, I peered in the nest and found one tiny little egg.  I watched.  The wrens seemed less dedicated.  Something must have been wrong with the egg.  As days, went on they spent more and more time away.  Months have passed and there the egg still sits.  Perfect little roundness, untouched, lifeless.

The parents still return every few days to check on the egg.  Early this morning, they had returned and both peered into the nest.  I can’t help but wonder what goes through their heads.  They are dedicated parents.  Are they hoping that something in the egg will change?  Do they want to reuse the nest?

Like most parents, they must feel a sense of responsibility.  No matter what life brings for them.  They have probably successfully laid a late clutch this Spring in another location.  The babies are now grown and gone.  Yet, they still return to this tiny and lifeless egg.  I am amazed by their curiosity and dedication to this little egg.  For months, I have pondered removing the egg. Yet held off; the wrens and I were all hanging onto a silly bit of hope.

This morning I watched them hop up like clockwork to check on the egg.  It has now been in there for almost 3 months.  Mr. Tilly’s Nest and I decided to remove it.  Sometimes, even birds need a little help from their friends.  Maybe now that the eggs is gone, they may be able to move forward and perhaps lay a second clutch this year in this well used and loved 8 year old nest.

The wren egg next to a Silkie Bantam egg and a Standard egg.


Chickens Stories from Our Nest


Some chicken coops are fancy, with chandeliers, painted murals and classical music piped in to relax hens laying eggs in the nesting boxes.  Some coops are re-purposed from well-loved children’s play houses, old sheds, outhouses, rabbit hutches and the like.  Some are simple with a dirt floor, four walls and just enough protection from the elements. Others fall somewhere in between, with a fresh coat of paint, a window or two and small coop door.  No matter how different the coops, chickens always recognize their home when they are out gallivanting in the yard and like clockwork, return at dusk.  As long as they have full bellies, fresh water, a place to scratch and a small patch of sunshine to lie in, they find happiness.  Dust bathing, eating bugs and watching birds fly overhead become favorite past times.  They cackle with family and enjoy sleeping under the same roof.  I watch them bond together while raising a young clutch of chicks and allowing well-loved family members to grow old in a dignified fashion.
Chickens and new born babies have not a care in the world if they have their health, a loving family, nourishing food and fresh clean air.  People say that chickens aren’t smart and most would say that new born babies are nothing more than cute little pudgy lumps of Freudian Id.  However, I think they are quite brilliant.  They know the first lesson in life, a lesson that so many of us lose sight of and forget as we get older and approach the time make a home of our own.  Depending on our own personal budgets and preferences, we chose what we feel is necessary to be happy.
We seem to forget that home is more than a place.  Home is a feeling.  The most important thing a home can provide is a sense of safety, happiness, love and warmth.  It is where life’s lessons are taught around the kitchen table.  It is a place where you can always return.   It is full of encouragement.   It is a place where people believe in you.  It is a place where your family, the flock, returns day after day and year after year to celebrate living.Chickens have a wonderful sense of home.  Babies have a wonderful sense of home.  Us grown-ups, I guess we need chickens and babies to remind us what truly makes a home a home.

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

Beekeeping Bees Hive Maintainance

Opening the Hives: At One Month

Bees working bits of burr comb removed from between the frames and placed at the entrance

Two weeks ago, my mentor from the local beekeeper’s association came over to visit my hives for the first time.  It was a great experience.  Both hives, Willow and Briar, were growing as expected.  There was beautiful brood, capped honey, pollen and lots of bees.  We even saw the queen in Willow.  It was so nice to hear from my mentor, who has been raising bees since 1989, that everything looked great.  We added on the second deep super to Briar so that it would now match Willow. I had added the second deep super to Willow four days prior.  For a diagram with parts of the hive click here.

Today marked two weeks since I had entered the hives. It was time to inspect them again and to see how they were doing in building out the 10 frames within the new second deeps. Over the past few days it has been sunny, beautiful and very hot. The weather has been optimal for bee viewing. Last night, the kids and I built out the smaller frames for the honey supers, just in case we needed them. I went into the hives at 10 am.

Bees in the Northeast need approximately 60-80 pounds of honey to survive through the Winter. This is roughly equivalent to two full deep supers. Often new beekeepers in the first year, strive to get their bees to completely build out two deeps. It is a great deal of work for the bees. Not only do they have to make beeswax to draw out the foundation on twenty frames, but the queen has to lay lots of eggs, the bees need to collect nectar and pollen, and create honey stores.

Willow was first. Willow has had two deeps on since June 5th. As I removed the outer cover, I found the feeder empty. Bees were still surrounding the opening but it was light as a feather. I removed it and placed it on the ground. Next, I removed the inner cover. The bees were very quiet. They hardly seemed to notice me. In fact, I could barely hear them buzzing. I had never heard the hive this calm or quiet before. I worked methodically and slowly to avoid causing any unnecessary vibrations or jostling that upsets the bees. I had soon discovered that the bees had been very busy! As I inspected each frame I found that eight were fully built out with comb in the second deep super. There were plenty of bees-both workers and drones. Five frames were full of brood and there was capped honey, pollen and nectar in the cells too. I found the queen on the third frame. There she was in the center of the frame and capped brood. As I inspected each frame, I also found it necessary to remove burr comb. Burr comb is comb that does not belong where the bees place it. In this case, they “bridged” the small gaps between the frames in the upper and lower deep with beeswax bridges. With the hive tool, I methodically scraped off this comb and placed it on the bottom board near the hive entrance. The bees will clean this comb of everything useful (see photo above). Within seconds, the comb was covered with worker bees. I finished peeking inside this upper deep and decided to forgo the lower one. Everything was as it should be. In fact, it was time for me to add a honey super to this hive.

Honey supers are about half the height of a regular deep. It is shallower. When full it can hold up to 100 pounds of honey. I decided to forgo the queen excluder. It is an item of huge debate in the beekeeping world. It is not recommended for first year beekeepers by our association. The idea behind the queen excluder is to prevent the queen from going up into the honey super and laying eggs. Worker bees can fit through just fine enabling them to build out the foundations. Without a queen excluder, it is possible that the queen can go up into the honey super and lay eggs. However, the bees will have plenty of work drawing out the new ten frames that are inside the honey super. They may only have enough time this season to draw out the comb or they may fill this super with honey and I might even have to add another! If the queen does lay eggs in the honey super, waiting until Fall to harvest honey should ensure that no more hatching eggs are laid in the honey super. Time will tell.  Once the honey super went onto Willow, it was time to stop feeding them. I removed the empty feeder, added the honey super, replaced the inner cover and the outer cover. The bees hardly knew that I was there. Next it was Briar’s turn.

From the beginning, Briar was my gang buster hive. I placed the second deep on this hive on June 9th, four days later than Willow as it was a tad bit slower. I was very pleased when I opened this hive. In the same fashion as Willow, I entered the hive. The feeder was also empty. I inspected each frame in the upper deep. Six out of the ten frames were built out. Three were covered in brood. There was pollen, capped honey, nectar and plenty of bees. I never did see the queen. This hive too, like Willow was incredibly docile today and I decided that I had seen enough evidence of a thriving hive with a laying queen. Briar did not receive a second deep as I wanted to see at least seven frames completely built out with comb.

So in a week or so, I will open Briar back up and recheck the progress of the bees. This hive might just get a honey super too. It is still early in the season here on Cape Cod. My fingers are crossed that I just might get some honey. I talked to my mentor today. He was surprised with the bees’ progress. From what he tells me, sometimes new hives are like this. He said the real test will come to see if they survive the Winter.

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

This post is linked up to Deborah Jean’s Farm Girl Friday Blog Hop.

Chickens Eggs Stories from Our Nest

Pearly Whites

Silkies are funny little chickens.

Last week, all four Silkies, Dolly, Autumn, Feathers and Fifi were broody.  It doesn’t take much to convince a Silkie that they should be broody.  Clearly this was the trendy thing to do this week.  There they were piled on top of one another inside the nesting boxes.  Toward the end of the week, Tilly decided to join them.  For the past few days, one by one, the Silkies gave up being broody.  It wasn’t as much fun having Tilly there sandwiched between the two boxes overflowing with Silkies.

Tilly has been taking her time to decide if she truly wants to be broody or was just under the weather.  It seems like the old chicken and the egg argument; which came first.  This morning, Tilly was the last one out of the coop.  I watched as they one by one popped out of the coop with a lust for life.  Dolly and Tilly took some coaxing.  I could hear them “talking” to their invisible chicks as I have heard mother hens do.

They all came outside and were enjoying exploring the run.  A pair of robins landed outside the coop.  Tilly ran for them.  Like a watch dog, she chased them away.  They had no business being anywhere near the newly reseeded grass outside the coop.  Life somehow seemed to be returning to normal for Tilly today.

I went inside to finish up with the morning chores and returned about a half hour later to clean the coop.  There, something caught my eye.  Tilly and Fifi had returned to the nesting boxes.  I had to remove them one by one and place them in the run.  I always clean the coop without any chickens inside.  There, I noticed underneath the coop ramp someone had made a nest.  Two pearly little Silkie eggs were laid inside.

The eggs were tinier than usual, due to the Silkies returning to the egg laying process after being broody.  I removed my coop cleaning gloves and gently scooped the still warm eggs up into the cradle of my hand.  I was surprised that Sunshine had not discovered them.  She is ruthless when it comes to discovering eggs that had not been laid by her.  It is amazing to me that she recognizes her own eggs verses those laid by others.

Tilly is quasi-broody.  The Silkies are laying again.  Sunshine did not use the Silkie eggs as kick ball.  Somehow, things are off kilter, but make me feel content.  Life isn’t how one would expect it but somehow, option B turns out to be just as good as option A.

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest


Giveaway: The Anxious Gardener’s Book of Answers

Gardening can be intimidating.  Every single gardener makes mistakes whether we are novices or experts.  We are plagued by insects, plants that sometimes fail to succeed and spring bulbs that never seem to bloom despite beautiful foliage.  Often we are left to troubleshoot things on our own.  We know that next year there will be another growing season, a chance to start fresh.

I was very happy to find that there is a new book on the market for the less experienced gardener that suddenly makes easy practical sense out of mysteries of gardening and helps to troubleshoot and prevent problems from even occurring in the first place.  
Timber Press Publishing is known for their wonderful gardening publications.  The Anxious Gardener’s Book of Answers by Teri Dunn Chace is like a cheat sheet for gardeners.  Don’t be fooled by its compact size.  It includes 24 chapters and over 100 answers for your most common gardening questions.  It is thorough and comprehensive but does not get bogged down with too much scientific information for the recreational gardener. Spanning all four seasons, bulbs, container gardening,  pesticides/chemicals, lawn, roses, shrubs, vines, watering, weeds, soil and composting are all included.  This book can easily be read cover to cover or serve as a reference guide when there is a specific question.  It is wonderful.
Tilly’s Nest is proud to partner with Timber Press in their GPS Campaign over the next couple of months.  The GPS, or Garden Problems Solver, allows readers a chance to ask the experts their own gardening questions.  With each question you ask, you will be entered to win a weekly prize as well as the grand prize-an iPad.  Feel free to submit multiple questions: we know we all have them and the best part is you just might be “rewarded” for your question.  Readers of Tilly’s Nest will get an added bonus.  Leave a comment below to win your very own copy of The Anxious Gardener’s Book of Answers.  

Be sure to follow our blog.  In your comment, leave your name and a means to contact you such as an email address.  This item will ship to US addresses only.  One entry per person.  Contest ends 6.23.12 at 12 midnight EST.

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

Chickens Stories from Our Nest

Chickenless in Seattle

A trip to Seattle is never complete without a trip to Pike Place Market.  This historic landmark since 1907 is known as America’s first Farmer’s Market.  As we walked from end to end, we saw rows upon rows of freshly cut flowers.

Mixed bouquets like this one for $10
Flowers paved the aisles


Poppies bursting with vibrant hues


My favorite…peonies

Fruits, meats and seafood were also abundant.  One vendor in the market is famous for its “flying fish” tossed from one co-worker to another over the counter to be processed after hand picked by the patron.  The energy was palpable and fun.




Did you know that the Market is also the site of the original Starbucks?  The window proudly displays its original unedited logo.


As we sipped our coffees, we enjoyed a little bluegrass music from the musicians outside, The Tallboys.

As we turned around to reenter the market across the street from Starbucks, I found my first evidence of chickens at the market place…farm fresh eggs.

My visit to Seattle, may have been chicken-less, but I sure did find evidence of their existence not too far away.

Photo Credit:  Tilly’s Nest

Chickens Stories from Our Nest

It’s Tough Being Broody: An Update on Tilly

As Tilly and the girls are safely locked up for the night, I find myself here, in front of the computer sitting and feeling very loved from all of your prayers, words of encouragement and compassion for Tilly.  Thank you.

Just like in pregnancies, some are easier and some are more difficult.  Some women carry their babies beautifully through all nine months.  They barely gain any weight.  They seem to be glowing and they have easy deliveries.  I sort of liken this to Dolly, one of our Silkie hens.  Dolly is always broody and she is very good at it.  She has it down to a schedule and she handles it with such ease.  It is just as though her body is meant to handle this natural process.

Then there are others like myself included, who experience more difficult pregnancies.  We have huge amounts of weight gain, reflux, leg cramps, swelling, medical complications and difficult deliveries.   You might say that this is like Tilly.  I don’t think Tilly’s body is happy with her mind’s decision to be broody.

Yesterday, Tilly was clearly under the weather.  She seemed miserable sitting in her nesting box with her head hung low and her spirits dampened.  Late that afternoon, I had removed her from the nesting box and looked her over.  I felt her abdomen for any eggs. I checked for mites and lice.  I examined her crop.  Nothing appeared out of the ordinary, but it is very difficult to remain objective in a situation like this when your heart is involved and your chicken is ill.  Around 4:30pm in the afternoon, I decided to run things by our vet.  We both mutually made the decision to bring Tilly in for an examination the next day.  Of course, weeks prior, I had volunteered for a whale watch at my son’s school scheduled for the morning.

This morning, it was Chicken Grandma to the rescue.  She brought Tilly to the vet early this morning and I participated in seeing Minke and humpback whales with my son.  When we arrived on shore, we raced to the car to pick up Tilly.  The vet and her staff had a chance to examine her and keep her for most of the day under observation.  We knew she was in good hands and our fingers were crossed for good news.

When we arrived, we were met with good news.  Tilly is not egg bound.  Her oil gland is working properly.  She has no mites or lice and her crop seems to be functioning normally.  She is worm free.  Tilly, for now, seems to just be having a difficult time being broody.  When they brought her out to us, we gave her a huge hug.  We were all so happy to be reunited.

It is never easy waiting for motherhood.  I feel badly for her the way it is now; with no fertile eggs, it can never be.  Tomorrow, I have a planned visit to my dear friend’s farm.  I might just see if she has any fertile eggs for Tilly.  Sometimes, it’s the reward that makes these tough times in life worth the difficult journey.

Chickens Stories from Our Nest

Tilly is Sick

Tilly doesn’t feel good.  To begin with, she is not her typical self.  She has been broody for the last week and a half.  Even though she is eating and moving her bowel normally, she just seems so sad.  She is not giddy.  She is not running around telling everyone she is the boss.  Yet the worst part for me is that she has stopped “talking”.  Tilly is my talker.  She talks non-stop.  She narrates her every move.  She tells us a play by play account when she is laying her egg. She carries on long and purposeful conversations with the others.  She talks when she eats and drinks and I even hear her say goodnight at dusk.  Now, she is suddenly quiet.