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May 31, 2012

Almost A Week in Photos: Sunshine and the Broodies

March 9, 2012

The Silkies were broody again. Sunshine was just sick of it.  All day she kept kicking the girls out of the nesting boxes.  She was on broody police duty.  No one was going to sit in those boxes without laying eggs.  I captured her in all her glory as she chased poor Dolly and Autumn out of the boxes.  As you can see, she meant business that day.

I am away for a few days spending time with my sister and her new baby on the West Coast. Please enjoy these photos while I am away.  I can't wait to return and share my adventures with you. 

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

May 30, 2012

Backyard Chickens and Flies

Flies and backyard chickens are never a good combination.  Not only are they a nuisance to you and your flock but they can also lead to some serious problems. There are two types of flies that can affect chickens and they are categorized as biting and non-biting.  The non-biting flies are called filth flies.  Your typical housefly falls into this category.  The biting flies are typically found near water sources.  Biting flies that mostly affect chickens are black flies and biting gnats.  Black flies are also called "buffalo gnats" or "turkey gnats" while the biting gnats go by  "no-see-ums", "sand flies", and "midges".

Filth flies can cause the following trouble in chickens:
They are a nuisance.
They can lead to tapeworm in your flock as your flock ingests them.
They can spread pathogens that cause Exotic New Castle Disease and Caronavirus.
They can spread bacteria including Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. Coli, and Listeria.
They can lead to disputes between neighbors due to excessive fly populations.
They can leave spots on your eggs.

Black Flies/Biting Gnats can cause the following issues:
They can cause anemia/death- if a large swarm is present.
They transmit leucocytozoonosis.
They cause flocks to become restless.
They lead to decrease in your flock's appetite.


Filth Flies:
1.  Keep the coop dry.  Flies love moisture.  Repair any known leaks in and around the coop where rain sneaks inside.
2.  Keep rain water from puddling in the run. Clear drainage areas from being choked by weeds.
2.  Promote good ventilation.  Fly eggs need a moist environment to thrive.  Drying out the coop air, manure and bedding helps to cut down on the number of hatching eggs.
3.  Be sure to clean the coop well when you change the coop's shavings out.  By leaving just a bit of old damp bedding and manure, you are leaving behind hundreds of fly eggs.

Black Flies/Biting Gnats:
1.  Apply fine mesh screens to your chicken coop windows.
2.  Attempt to control larvae in the Spring through the use of pyrethrum.  Pyrethrum is a natural plant based insecticide made from the Chrysanthemum family.  Pyrethrum should not be used after the Springtime.  Flies can become resistant to it when it is used on a long term basis.
3.  Eliminate any stagnant water sources on your property.

1.  Keep coop and run dry.
2.  Try using fly sticky tape ribbons hung in the rafters.  Replace periodically.
3.  Add food grade diateomaceous earth (DE) into the chicken coop bedding/shavings and in the dust bathing areas.  Please wear a mask to prevent breathing in the DE dust. It can cause a chronic lung condition called Silicosis.
4.  Provide fresh clean drinking water daily.
5.  Keep soiled shaving and manure removed from the coop away from where the chickens can access it. This removes the fly eggs and larvae away from the coop.
6.  Clean up food and water spills.  Be sure the litter underneath is dry.
7. Harvest eggs promptly.
8.  Try using a fan to create a gentle breeze.  Flies will avoid wind.
9. Close the coop door at night to prevent flies from coming inside.

To learn more about why flies in and around your coop are bad for chickens, click here to read about flystrike.

Damerow, Gail. The chicken health handbook. Pownal, Vt.: Storey Communications, 1994. Print.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

May 27, 2012

Opening the Hives~One Week Later

It has been one week since I installed the nucs into their new homes.   The entire family has enjoyed watching the hives from the kitchen window.  As we eat breakfast, we watch the bees zipping up into the sky, making literally a "bee line" to pollen locations.  Amazingly, every few seconds bees dart very quickly from the entrance up to the sky like tiny little rockets.  Around the entrance, we see returning bees hovering loaded down with pollen.  There is a traffic jam.  Everyone is waiting to come inside and be unloaded.  As these bees return from foraging, younger bees in the hive wait to unload both pollen and water from the foraging worker bees.  Once unloaded, these bees proceed to dance to tell the bees the location of this freshly harvested pollen.  The dance is based on the sun's location in the sky.  Unloaded and danced out, the bee then quickly makes a bee line out of the hive back to the pollen location.  We are fascinated.

After one week, it is important to check on your bees for a few reasons:

1.  Check to make sure there is brood (babies)
2.  To see if the hive is growing.  Are the bees building out the new frames with wax foundation?
3.  Are there any signs of disease or problems?
4.  Can you visualize the queen or signs of the queen?  Without a queen the colony will struggle or even fail.
5.  Do the feeders need to be refilled?
6.  Do you need to add more room for the bees to live (another deep super)?

Briar receives the second deep.
My friend, Alicia, came over and we opened the hives together.  Instead of smoking the hive, we tried using the Honey B Healthy.  The Honey B Healthy is supposedly better for the bees than the smoking.  When you smoke the bees, instinctually they are driven down into the depths of the hive making it easier for one to manipulate the frames.  However, the bees are lead to believe that there is a fire.  They are down in the hive gorging themselves with honey in the event they must leave the hive and find a new home.  After gorging on honey, it takes the bees a few days to recuperate.  Think Thanksgiving for us.  Those few days are valuable days of foraging that the hive loses.  On the other hand, when you mist the bees with the Honey B Healthy, they are not driven down into the hive.  They are still present on the frames but they are distracted from having to clean their bodies of the sticky Honey B Healthy syrup.  As you work, you can see them busily taking their arms and wiping off their heads and bodies.

We decided to open the smaller, calmer hive.   First we removed the top cover and the feeder.  In order to remove the top cover, I had to break two bridges of comb that the bees had built as ramps from the frames to the feeder.  As delicately as I could, I loosened the bond with the hive tool.  I also had use the hive tool around the inner cover edges as the bees had glued it shut with bee glue called propolis.

Once open, we quickly and methodically examined each frame.  We removed an end one.  The bees had not even begun to build this one out.  I placed it on the ground.  Next we moved on to each frame, one by one.  As we reached the center we visualized brood, capped honey, pollen, new baby bees emerging from their cells and the queen.  However, the bees had only built out about six and a half of the frames in the ten frame deep.  We decided to leave the hive as is and replace the inner cover.  The feeder was still about 3/4 full.  I topped it off with the sugar syrup and closed the hive.

Bees exiting from the hive using the tiny "door" in the inner cover
Next we moved onto the larger hive from the beginning.  This hive was more active last week.  The nuc was heavier and the bees were more curious as to my being there.  Following the same procedure as the last hive, we began our inspection.  This hive was bustling!  We never did spot the queen but evidence of her existence was certainly there.  Nine out of ten frames were built out.  The bees were a plenty.

I knew that this hive had a plastic frame that was part of the nuc.  For some reason, bees don't really care for the plastic frame or it's accompanying plastic foundation.  Often, they build out comb in a funny pattern on it.  Sometimes they don't build it out at all.  There were three places on this plastic foundation where the comb was built incorrectly.  With the hive tool, I gently scraped it off and placed it by the hive entrance.  The bees will remove what they need from this comb and hopefully correctly rebuilt the foundation.

We added the second deep with ten new empty frames and wax foundation for the bees to build upon.  The feeder was almost empty.  It was only 1/4 full so I topped that one off too.  We hid the feeder inside two smaller honey supers and replaced the cover.

Comb removed from the plastic foundation placed at the hive entrance.
As newbees, the entire process of opening the two hives took about an hour.  I am so happy that both of my hives are docile.  Yet, it was fascinating to see two hives right next to each other be so entirely different in size, personality and feel.   Most people name their hives and I had thought about this for a while.  After opening the hives yesterday, the names were clear.  The first hive I have named Willow and the second one I have named Briar.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

May 25, 2012

Tilly's Feat

This morning around 9am I found Tilly sitting in the right nesting box. Sitting in the neighboring nesting boxes were Dolly and Feathers.  Dolly and Feathers are both broody.  I quickly checked beneath all of them for eggs.  There were none, so I went on my errands for the morning.

When I came back around 11am, things were the same.  Tilly was still in the box.  This was so unlike her.  I felt underneath of her and I could feel that her lower abdomen was full.  She needed to lay an egg.  Typically, Tilly takes about twenty minutes to lay her egg.  My heart sank; either she was newly broody, which would be a first for her, or she was having trouble passing this egg.  I prayed she was not egg bound.

One of the projects on my to-do-list for Spring was to reseed the lawn near the chicken coop.  The girls had done a number on it last Fall and it did not grow back like it had in the past.  I needed to spread down a layer of compost and then apply new grass seed.  Today was perfect for this job.  This way, I could monitor what was going on in the coop with Tilly.

Before I started, I went into the house and grabbed a large ripe juicy tomato, a handful of baby carrots, and some over-ripe strawberries.  In the yard, I picked some baby ferns.  The girls love baby ferns!   This would be a test.  As I shouted out to the girls, they all came running except for Tilly.  I could not believe that she stayed behind despite the tomato dangling in the wire treat ball outside the coop door and the rest of the goodies.  Something was not right.

As I spread the compost on top of the existing patchy lawn, I could hear Tilly making noises inside the coop.  The sounds were new to me.  They were high pitched, rolling, and sounded painful.  They were sounds made from exertion.  She must have had an egg stuck.  I decided to continue working and let her be for a little while.  Maybe she would end up passing it without my help.  Please!

Just as I was finishing up and tossed the last grass seed on top of the compost, I heard Tilly's voice behind me. I turned around and she was there.  I squatted down near the run and she came over to me.  She was very vocal and told me her tale.  She looked so cute cocking her head back an forth when I answered her back.  Surely, she seemed to be feeling better.  As she headed over to what was left of the dangling tomato, I headed to the nesting boxes.  I opened up the latch and lifted up the door.  There it was still warm- Tilly's egg.  It was a stout plump brown egg that was a bit wider than usual.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

May 23, 2012

Tour de Coop: Alicia in Monument Beach

I was thrilled to discover that my new friend, Alicia, keeps chickens.  For me, it instantly adds depth to a friendship when I find out that we share common interests.  I first met Alicia this past Winter when I took the beekeeping class.  I loved that we immediately had so many things to talk about and stories to share.  This past weekend, we went together to pick-up our bees, but first, I had to meet her girls.

Alicia keeps two coops, one for the "mean girls" and one for the "nice girls".  The mean girls have very dominant personalities and for a chicken, it takes quite a bit to keep up with this group.  The nice girls are gentle and never worry about being dominant.  They are sweet to all newcomers, including hens that Alicia helps to rescue.  During my visit, both flocks were friendly.  They enjoyed me petting them and I could have easily picked up most of her hens.

Mean girls' residence
Nice girls' residence
The two coops are separated from each other by lovely gardens.  The nice girls' coop was Alicia's original coop that was built as a birthday present for her by her boyfriend.  Soon enough, her love for chickens began and her flock outgrew this smaller coop.  Alicia and her boyfriend constructed the new coop closer to the house.  Working with salvaged lumber and windows, the new coop was born with mostly recycled materials.  However, as new members were added to the flock, it was clear that some sweet girls would do better in a home of their own.  So, she split the flock and they are now happy living separate lives.

The Mean Girl's Coop

Beautiful raised garden beds and lovely seating areas surround the coop making it a lovely spot to sit in the dappled sunshine.  As you prepare to enter the coop, a sweet painting greets you.  It's hard not to smile.

Once inside the coop the front entry is partitioned off with chicken wire.  This serves as a storage area.  A door immediately in front of you, that was recycled from inside their historic home, serves as the point of entry. 

Immediately, I was impressed with all of the beautiful natural light that filled the coop.  The entire back side of the coop's roof is made of clear corrugated roofing.  Alicia tells me that often she finds her girls napping inside the coop just basking in the sunshine.  It is also great on Winter days.  The hens love finding a bit of sunshine when snow is outside on the ground.  Inside the coop, on the wall next to the nesting boxes, the hens have access to small containers of grit and oyster shells.  Their food and water is out in the run.

The nesting boxes are cleverly designed.  They have hinges and locks that twist allowing the entire front of the boxes, roosts and all to lift up for easy cleaning.  Circular entry holes were cut into the fronts of the boxes, to prevent the hens from kicking out the shavings.  The girls were anxious to show me their run.  I soon learned why.

Outside in the run was the most magnificent jungle gym for chickens that I had ever laid my eyes on!  The hens love to play on it all day and it helps them to get high up into the rafters where they enjoy roosting during the day.

Alicia's flock is beautiful and is made up of an assortment of colorful breeds.  She even has a Silver Laced Wyandotte that is probably Dottie Speckle's sister.  You can see her in the background of the second photo below.

Soon enough, it was time to meet the nice girls.

The Nice Girls' Coop

Four sweet hens live at the top of the hill in the nice coop.  They have all the same luxuries in life as the mean girls including a miniature chicken jungle gym.  We were immediately greeted by her sweet Buff Orpington.  Inside the coop we met her broody girl, who according to Alicia, is always sitting on eggs.  We discovered four underneath her when she got up for some meal worm treats.

It was amazing as the energy in this coop up top the hill was very different.  It was laid back as opposed to the high energy that I felt in the other coop.  Personalities seemed well matched in both her flocks.  I love how she was able to create two distinctly different flocks and chicken coops all in the same yard.  This is a great solution to problems that most chicken keepers encounter.

Of course, I could not do this Tour de Coop without sharing you Alicia's beehives.  Here they are sectioned off in between the two coops on the side of her yard.

If you enjoyed this Tour de Coop, click here for more.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

May 22, 2012

Winner: Nesting Box Blend from Treats for Chickens

Thank you so very much to all of you who entered this awesome giveaway from our sponsor, Treats for Chickens. I enjoyed reading through all of your lovely comments.  I was also impressed with all the items that you would like to try.  You even inspired me to try some new ones with my next order!  So, who won?  With some help from one lucky winner was selected at randomly to win a bag of Nesting Box Blend.

robin mcdowell

You are the lucky winner of the Nesting Box Blend!

Please email me at: with your US shipping address 
so we can get that out to you right away.

Thank you again for all of your entries!  Stay tuned for another great giveaway happening soon!

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

May 21, 2012

Installing the Nucs

I woke up early yesterday morning to see how the bees had fared overnight.  They seemed to be spending the morning becoming acquainted with their new home.  I could see plenty of curious bees buzzing around the nuc boxes and hives.  I looked on as some were spiraling up into the air.  They were orienting themselves to their new location.  The sun was shining brightly and temperatures were already in the sixties.  I had to get to work.  Later this morning, I would transfer the bees from the nucs to their new hives.

The first thing that I had to do was make food for the bees.  Our local beekeeper's association recommends feeding Cape Cod bees in the Spring and the Fall as well as any new hives whether they are packages or nucs. Feeding the bees requires a sugar syrup at a 1:1 ratio in the Spring and a 2:1 ratio in the Fall.  The association has also had great results with Honey B Healthy added into the syrup as a supplement.  The kids and I made the syrup.

Honeybee Springtime Syrup
This recipe is the perfect amount to fill one feeder pail.  If you are like me and have two hives, double the recipe.

5 pints of water (10 cups)
5 pounds of sugar
Honey B Healthy (optional-directions per label)

Bring the water to a rolling boil on the stove.
Remove water from heat.
Stir in the sugar.
Mix until all sugar is dissolved.
Cool until room temperature then fill the feeder.

As the syrup was cooling. The kids and I got onto filling our frames with foundation.  Foundation is thin bees wax with tiny support wires running through it.  This is attached into each wooden frame. Adding the foundation serves as a guide to the bees for where we want them to "work".  Our association shared with us a very useful tip.  We use bobby pins on the sides to support the foundation. We needed to fill ten frames for our new hives.

Once the sugar syrup cooled, I filled each feeder.  I gathered up my hive tool, the smoker, the filled frames, the mouse guards made from hardware cloth and suited up.  I was ready.  Some people tend their bees with just a veil.  Some people prefer to wear a light jacket, veil and gloves.  While others wear a full suit.  As I react very badly to insect bites and stings, I did not have an option.  My kids told me that I looked like White Darth Vader.

As the bees were still not accustomed to their new home they were on the guard.  Typically, our association has been misting bees with the Honey B Healthy when they open the hives.  However, I decided to use the smoker.  This was not going to be a typical hive opening.  This was a job that would take some time and stir up the bees.  I had my family watch from afar while my husband graciously offered to take some photos.

First I placed the nuc that I was going to be working with on the ground and opened up the new hive. I added three new frames with the foundation that the kids and I made. Then I methodically transferred each of the 5 frames from the nuc into the hive in the exact same placement as it had been in the nuc. Lastly I added in 2 more new frames with foundation. The nuc will live in the center of the hive and build out.

Using the hive tool to remove a frame
Gently grasping each side of the frame
Placing the frame in the hive
Adding the last two new frames with foundation
Some bees remained in the old nuc box.  I tipped it over and shook the remaining bees onto of new hive's frames.  I replaced the inner cover, inverted the feeder pail and centered it onto the inner cover's opening.  I then added an empty deep to conceal the feeder and replaced the outer cover on top of the hive.  Within no time, I had completed the first hive and then moved onto the second one.  I was gaining confidence.  I opened up the next nuc and got to work.

I followed all the same steps.  This time, I felt more relaxed and enjoyed the transfer process.  Once all the frames were added to the hive. I took a moment to listen.  I could hear plenty of bees buzzing.  Their low pitched buzzing was filling the air and the hive in front of me.  Then, I heard the queen.  She was singing.  Over the low buzzing, I could hear a high pitched melodic song.  It sounded so happy.  I was amazed.  I could not help smiling.  

I added the mouse guards to the entrances.  Then I placed the old nuc boxes in front of the new hives respectively.  It was going to take a while for all the bees to realized where their queen was now residing.  Later that evening, I returned out to the hives and opened up the old nuc boxes.  They were empty except for one or two bees.  I freed those few bees and removed the old nuc boxes.  The transfer was complete.  My new little girls were all safe within their hives.  They will be left alone for a week and then I will open the hive to check on their progress.  If all goes well, I might just get some honey after all this Fall.

Old nuc placed next to new hive entrance

This post is linked up to Homestead Revival's Homestead Barn Hop.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest, Mr. Tilly's Nest

May 20, 2012

Picking Up the New Girls

Yesterday, a friend and I made the 3-plus hour trip to Brewster, New York to pick up our bees.  Finally, the weather had warmed up enough and our bees were ready to come home.  We began our journey after lunch and did not arrive home until after Midnight.  When we arrived in Brewster, we had to wait until 7:30 pm for our bees to come home for the evening.  We were scheduled to pick up five nucs.

Nucs are like little colonies complete with a queen, honey, brood (babies), and an assortment of various worker bees.  The colony has accepted the queen and it is already established.  A nuc hive is inserted into an empty full size hive.  The frames are removed from the nuc and placed in the new hive.  The nuc has now turned into a regular beehive with plenty of room to grow.  In some ways, this is much more appealing than ordering a package.  It also has it's disadvantages too.  In the end, it is all a matter of personal preference.

As we finally met up with the owner of the apiary and got back into the car to drive to where the nucs were located, I could feel something wet against my arm.  Oh for goodness sake, I had forgotten Oyster Cracker's egg from the morning in my pocket.  It had now cracked as I climbed in the seat.  Amazingly, it had survived the past 12 hours unharmed.  I removed my coat and placed it in the back of the SUV.  The sun was quickly setting, as we finished up picking up the 5 nucs, wrapping them in mesh bags, and loading up the car.  We still had a long drive home.  Before, we left, we asked the owner of the apiary if he thought we should wear our veils home.  He said, "No, those mesh bags are like Fort Knox, nothing is getting out of there."  Boy was he wrong.

All the way driving home we could hear the bees buzzing in the back.  It wasn't until about an hour from home that I could feel something crawling up my leg into my jeans.  I tried to ignore it.  Maybe I just had the heebee jeebies.  Oh, no.  It wasn't.  A couple of bees were in my pant leg.  Calmly and rationally, I exited the highway and pulled into a large brightly lit Lowe's parking lot.  I delicately got out of the car and popped the back hatch open with the button up front.  Meanwhile, my friend put on her veil and gloves.  She quickly took a peek at the nucs.  My suspicions were right.  Some bees had escaped and three of the mesh bags were filling with bees.  I had to get my pants off.  So, there we were in the middle of the Lowe's parking lot with my friend gingerly pulling my jeans off.  Within a few moments the mission was accomplished.  I had not been stung, but I was standing in the middle of the Lowe's parking lot in my shirt and underwear.  My pants were full of bees and my coat was full of Oyster Cracker's broken egg.

Thankfully, I had an entire bee suit, so there I was, driving home donning even the veil and gloves. I just wanted to get home.  Around 1am, I pulled into my driveway.  I was exhausted, but I still had more to do.  I grabbed each nuc from the back of my car and placed them each on top of their new hives waiting for them in the yard.  The nucs were buzzing.  I could feel the bees bouncing against the sides of the nuc boxes.  Bees were also filling the mesh bag.  All I could think was, what did I get myself into?  I carefully slid the nucs out of their "Fort Knox" and then I had to do what I feared the worst -  remove the plugs from the nucs to immediately let the bees out.  I took a deep breath, and unplugged them.  Bees began to emerge from the box. Strangely, they wanted nothing to do with me.  I think they were more interested in getting some fresh air.  Not one came after me.

I returned to the car and locked it up.  I removed my bee keeping suit and placed my jacket covered in dry sticky egg in the wash.  I climbed into bed at 1:15am.  Somehow, I could not sleep.  Even though I was exhausted, I could not wait to wake up and say good morning to my new girls, all 40,000 of them.

To Be here for the rest of the story.
The next day,  putting the nucs in the hives

Photo Credit:  Mr. Tilly's Nest

May 18, 2012

Top Ten Easiest Plants to Grow for Your Chickens

One of the things I love about living on Cape Cod is that it is full of avid gardeners.  In the Spring, those gardeners love to have plant sales.  I love going to them, because many of the plants you purchase come from other people's backyards.  They are hardy, prolific and grow well in the areas where we live.  The plant sale that I look the most forward to is run each May by the Thornton Burgess Society.

Thornton Burgess's family was one of the first to settle in Sandwich, Massachusetts in 1637. Thornton Burgess grew up in Sandwich, Massachusetts and became a pioneering naturalist and author. Most of his books were for children based upon the native wildlife that lived around his home.  His most famous book, Old Mother West Wind was first published in 1910 which debuted Peter Cottontail.  Today's plant sale was located in the gardens of the Thornton Burgess Society's Green Briar Nature Center.

For this plant and herb sale it is always imperative that you arrive early on Friday morning. Even though the sale runs through Sunday, it is not uncommon for them to be sold out on Saturday by lunch. Their prices are wonderful and their selection is fantastic. I love picking up rare goodies. I arrived just as it opened.  I scooped up a wagon.

I paused for just a moment to admire a new family of swans.

Within forty five minutes or so, my wagon was full.  I always pick up plants for me and for the chickens.

I checked out, loaded my car and came back to admire the gardens.  I always find them so inspiring.  

Later this Summer, I can't wait to be able to make jam in their old fashioned jam kitchen.

But that would be rushing to Summer.

Top Ten Plants for Chickens
These easy plants are hands down my chickens' favorites
Some I make a point of purchasing and some, Mother Nature provides at no cost.
These are crops that anyone can grow, anywhere across this country, no matter your gardening zone.

1.  Nasturtiums~ an annual herb with edible foliage and flowers.  They love to climb.  My chickens enjoy me planting these outside the perimeter of their run. 

2.  Beet Greens~planted as cooler weathers crops, don't let your beet greens go to waste.  My girls love to gobble these up.  As I harvest the beets, I cut off their leafy tops. I toss some into the run for the girls and the rest I store in the refrigerator in a vase of water like cut flowers to save for the upcoming days.

3.  Broccoli Greens~As you eat the flowers, they love to eat the leaves and tougher stems.  Just be sure they have access to grit.

4. Clover~ Let this favorite grow wild throughout your lawn.  It is a favorite of chickens and bees.

5. Dandelions~ Around here these grow from early Spring to late Fall.  Try digging them up roots and all and tossing them into the run with your flock.  They will love you for it!

6. Carrot Greens~ My girls love to eat the greens from the carrots that I pull from the ground.  I treat extras in the same manner as the beet greens.

7.  Greens-Mustard Greens, Kale, Cabbage, Chard~ Chickens love these vitamin packed greens.  Try planting some mustard greens, kale, chard and lettuce in a planter just for your girls.

8. Grass &Chickweed~If you do not chemically treat your grass, try tossing in some of the clippings after you mow the lawn.  Better yet, let the chickens help you mow the lawn by free-ranging with supervision.

9.  Berries-Strawberries, blueberries, Blackberries~Chickens go crazy for berries.  All these berries too can be planted in containers.  Always plant more than you think.  Fresh berries are sometimes so hard to share with our feathered friends when they taste so refreshing on a hot Summer day.

10. Sunflowers~Plant some beautiful sunflowers.  Harvest the flowers in late Summer and then dry the flowers and seeds.  Store them away for a sweet high protein treat perfect for blustery Winter days.

Chickens also love melons, pumpkins and squash but they do require LOTS of room for growing and can be difficult crops to have success with depending on where you live.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest 

May 16, 2012

Recipe for Happy Rainy Day Chickens

It's started raining here last night.  I love a good rain.  The garden's wake up, recent bursts of pollen from the scrub pines is rinsed from the skies and I get to take time and focus on indoor projects.  The only downfall for me is that I can't spend as much time with my chickens, especially in the torrential types of rain that we have had all last night and today.  So what is a girl to do? I prepare myself and the chickens to make weathering the storm a bit easier.

For me, when I know there is rain in the forecast, I love to keep a fresh bouquet of flowers sitting on the kitchen island.  When the gardens are in Summer bloom, I love snipping dahlias, spider flowers, liatris, hydrangeas, poppies, cone flowers and sedum to create lovely focal points.  Yesterday, I did the next best thing.  On my weekly food shopping at Trader Joe's, I spied one of my favorite flowers, ranunculus, in bouquets.  It was meant to be.  I brought them home and arranged them in a vase.  This would be my cure for the next few days.  Something to glance upon.  Something that makes me smile.  Then I began to focus on the chickens.  I like to make them happy in rainy weather too.

Rainy weather for chickens can equal boredom.  They spend most of the day in the coop and miss the outdoors.  With a few easy measures, I have been able to make these sorts of days more tolerable for the girls.  To the point, where I believe that they do not mind the rain as much.  Don't get me wrong, the chickens don't mind a bit of rain, but in my experiences they do not like to be drenched to the bone.

Recipe for Happy Rainy Day Chickens

Cover the run.  On days, when you know rain is ahead, think about covering the run, or a portion of it, with thick plastic.  I pick up a roll of 6mm plastic that comes in a 25 foot long roll in Home Depot's painting section. The plastic is pretty durable and when covering the run, still allows sunlight to penetrate through to the chickens.    It keeps them nice and dry too.  To cover my A-frame run, I cut the plastic to length.  On both sides of the plastic that runs parallel to the run touching the ground, I staple a 2"x4" board sized the length of the coop.  These boards act as a counter weights and helps to keep this simple tarp from blowing away in the wind.

Promote Dust bathing.  By keeping an area dry in the run or even adding a small tub filled with soil from the run inside the coop, your girls will spend time dust bathing.  It is entertaining for them.  It also helps to keep them clean and parasite free.  I promise you, there might even be a line waiting to use your portable dust bathing bin.

Keep food and water available.  It is a great idea on rainy days, to move the food inside the coop and have a water source too.  Wet food can harbor mold and bacteria.  Why make your flock go outside when they are hungry or thirsty?

Keep them entertained.  Hang a treat ball.  Make a pinata with a head of cabbage, broccoli or cauliflower. Toss in some weeds roots and all from your garden.  They love dandelions!  Have the girls go on a scavenger hunt.  Try tossing tiny little seeds like sesame and poppy into the dry section of the run or coop.  The smaller seeds are more difficult to find adding a bit more time to the scavenging.

Keep puddles from forming in the run.  Stagnant water is tempting for chickens to drink from.  It harbors harmful bacteria and coccidiosis that can make your chickens sick.  Fill any puddles with straw or pine shavings to soak up the water.

Add a mirror.  A shatterproof mirror will keep the chickens wondering just who that beautiful bird is in the mirror.  Chickens recognize each other by the shape of their combs.  Interestingly, they have never seen their  own combs even though their flock members recognize it by heart.  Sometimes, they think they are meeting a new chicken when indeed it is their own reflection.

Keep them dry.  If your chickens do becomes soaked.  Dry them with a towel, especially the Silkie Bantams.  Their feathers are different than those of your traditional chickens.  They tend to "absorb" water.  It is true.  Wet chickens can catch colds.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

May 14, 2012

Giveaway: Nesting Box Blend from Treats for Chickens

Years ago, I had a desire to spoil my pet chickens.  I was looking for a company that specialized in organic chicken treats.  Three years ago, I happened to stumble upon Treats for Chickens one evening while surfing the internet.  Immediately I fell in love with their products, their philosophy and their organic practices.  I placed my first order for their Nesting Box Blend and their organic food grade diatomaceous earth (DE).

The Nesting Box Blend is simply amazing!  The blend smells heavenly and is made from an assortment of dried herbs and flowers.  I like to think of it as aromatherapy for chickens.  It is said to make their egg laying process less stressful and it also keeps mites and lice away from the flock.  Habitually, each time I clean out the nesting boxes, I sprinkle about a tablespoon of the Nesting Box Blend and a teaspoon of DE  into the bottom of each box.  I finish off the boxes with a thick layer of pine shavings.  As I am cleaning the coop the girls know exactly what I am doing. They eagerly anticipate exploring the nesting boxes after they are cleaned.  The best part, is that I swear everyone lays an egg on the day I clean out the coop!  Three years later, I cannot imagine my girls' lives without these two products!

Over the years, I always find myself trying new items from Treats for Chickens to my order.  I have tried and swear by both of their chicken toys.  I love to add a teaspoon of the Cluck and Sea Kelp on top of their weekly plain yogurt treat.  In the heat of summer, my flock loves me to make them refreshing tea in one of their waterers.  I also spoil the girls like crazy in the Winter when they cannot get out and free-range as much.  This past season, they were treated to Meal Worm Delight, Worms and Harvest Flakes and Pumpkin Seed Snacks.  Three years later, I still religiously place my order every few months.

This past month, I was approached by Treats for Chickens to become a sponsor of my website.  To celebrate, we both thought that giving away their famous Nesting Box Blend (4 oz size) would be a fantastic treat for our followers!  I hope you will check them out for yourself.  They are another wonderful example of a small family run business, whose heart is truly in every product they create.

Here is how to enter for your chance to win:

1. You must leave a comment on this blog for entry. Only comments here on this blog post will be
accepted as an entry. Be sure to leave an email address so that we can contact you if you do not have a blog. (1 entry) If you are doing any of the below actions to increase your number of entries, please let us know in your comment. You can earn 5 entries in this amazing giveaway!

2. Visit the Treats for Chickens Facebook page and tell them Tilly sent you. (1 entry)

3. Tell me the product that you would like to try most from Treats for Chickens. (1 entry)

4. Don't miss out on future giveaways. Follow our blog, Tilly's Nest (1 entry) Following options are on the right hand side of this website. Current fans will already qualify for this entry.

5. Follow Tilly's Nest on Facebook. (1 entry)

Good luck!

This contest ends on Sunday, May 20 , 2012 at 11:59 pm East Coast Time.
One winner will be selected at random.  Item ships to US address only.

Photo Credits:  Tilly's Nest

May 13, 2012

Mother's Day

No language can express the power, and beauty, and heroism, and majesty of a mother's love. It shrinks not where man cowers, and grows stronger where man faints, and over wastes of worldly fortunes sends the radiance of its quenchless fidelity like a star.
~Edwin Hubbell Chapin

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

May 11, 2012

Twister for Chickens

In my jammies saying goodnight to Oyster Cracker

These last couple of nights I have desperately been trying to figure out the girl's sleeping arrangements.  They always seem to be mixing it up.  Finally, I am finding all four Silkies sleeping side by side on one roost together.  No one is sleeping in the nesting boxes. It has taken months to achieve this and I find myself feeling like I need to do some sort of celebration dance.  However, the other three who have roosted religiously since they were little are no longer roosting.  Last night was the first night I really decided to investigate just what is going on with their bedtime sleeping arrangement.

As I peered through the open lid of the nesting box, I found Tilly on the roost across from the Silkies.  She was asleep facing the wall.  Directly in front of Tilly were the two Buff Orpingtons laying in the shavings.  All I could see was a big round golden fluffy butt in front of me.   I reached in as far as I could.  I ruffled her tail and tried to get her to move.  She was as still as a statue.  I reached in with my other arm to see if I could gain a few inches in my reach.  It was not working.  They were content.  I began to weigh my options.  I had let them sleep like this for two evenings already.  I did not want them to start this new habit.  I determined I had to try and get them to roost.

I knew that I could not reach the girls through the nesting boxes.  I knew the Silkies were happily sleeping on the roost in front of the large double doors.  I was left with only one option; the pop door leading into the run.  I climbed into the run and opened up the pop door.  I whispered to the girls.  They replied back with sleepy chatter.

With my left arm, I reached in past Tilly's fluffy bottom on the roost and headed straight underneath the non-compliant Buff Orpington.  It was Sunshine.  I gently nudged her upward.  Her head was underneath of Oyster Cracker's bottom.  She was toasty warm, but she probably could have suffocated under all that fluff!  I nudged her upward and she stood.  No sooner, had Tilly stood up on the roost.  Then I saw Oyster Cracker.  Oyster Cracker was peering at me through Tilly's legs!  She looked as though she wore Tilly's butt fluff as a Polish Hen hat.  She cocked her head from side to side.  Sleepily she stared at me as if to say, "What are you doing Mom?"  I felt as though I had suddenly entered a game of Twister with the chickens.  Sunshine had now found herself a place on the perch and I reached in to guide Oyster Cracker out from underneath Tilly.  She is one heavy girl!  I had to reach in with my other hand and guide her to the roost.  Finally, everyone was on the roost.  I waited for a few moments.  No one stirred.

I have no idea how or why the bigger girls ended up in that sleeping arrangement.  Strangely, they all seemed comfortable.  I guess it must be how little kids feel when they play Twister.  They are so limber.  Their bodies can easily place one hand on red, reach over their friend and put another hand on blue while their legs are still on yellow and green.  I for one, find myself achy from just sleeping the wrong way at night.  But I can tell you that I am getting much better at Chicken Twister.  As I write this, I have just returned from locking up the girls for the evening.  I peeked in.  I knew exactly what to do.  I peered in through the pop door.  I confirmed Oyster Cracker's head underneath of Tilly.  I backed out Sunshine.  She climbed on the roost.  I backed out Oyster Cracker.  She climbed on the roost.  They all settled down and this time, I had this game of Chicken Twister down to a science.  Like a well oiled machine, the girls and I performed tonight's round of Chicken Twister to an audience of four fluffy Silkie butts.  Ironically, the Silkies missed all of the action as they were obliviously facing in the wrong direction, happily sleeping wing to wing on their roost.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest

May 10, 2012

Beehive Opening at Long Pasture

This past Sunday afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending my very first hive opening with our local beekeeping association.  Last Winter, I took their beekeeping course and today, I was getting a close up look at two new bee hives started from packages 4 weeks ago.  Hive openings are best when the weather is around 60 degrees, sunny and in the afternoon when most of the bees are out scavenging the area for pollen sources.  Opening the hive is critical, especially after transferring your bees.  This should be done weekly until they have filled out two deep supers (for Winter survival on Cape Cod) and you have added your first shallow super (honey collector).
Photo Credit
When opening the hive, you want to inspect the frames in the supers for a few things:

To see if the queen is alive
To see if they bees are building out frames (adding comb(wax) and filling it with honey, pollen and brood)
To see if there is brood  (babies)
To see if the hive is "growing" at a normal rate
To look for evidence of predators, such as mites or beetles (on the bottom board)
To check the feeders of your bees.  Bees are often fed during the Spring and Fall seasons on Cape Cod with a sugar syrup.

The hive can be calmed by the use of the smoker, but our association is now opting toward spraying them with Honeybee Healthy prior to smoking them. The association has found this to be less disruptive and the bees tend to recover faster from cleaning themselves of the Honeybee Healthy verses recovering from gorging themselves with honey induced by the smoker.

Here are some photos from today as myself and other "newbees" looked on

First the outer cover, inner cover and the feeder (that hides in an empty second deep) are removed and set aside.  These are placed in front of the hive as a reminder to not walk directly in front of the hive.

These hives sit on carpet remnants that are flipped upside down.  As the three hives are located in a grassy pasture at this Audubon Sanctuary, the carpet remant keeps the tall grasses from growing up and blocking the entrance to the hives.

The entrance to the hives were still being used, as we opened the hives.  Here you can see the same 1/2 inch hardware cloth that we use in keeping chickens tucked into the hive opening.  This prevents field mice from entering the hive and setting up a warm cozy home.

The entire openings took about an hour.  We opened two hives.  The third, had overwintered and is struggling this Spring.  We left that one alone.  We inspected all the frames and verified that the queen was indeed laying eggs, honey was present, pollen was stored and the colony was growing.  On one of the colonies, we even added the second deep with frames.

The inspection always goes easier with the assistance of the hive tool.

First an outer frame was pulled as we made our way to each frame in the hive.  As expected there was not much activity yet.  The bees were still building out from the hive center.

When we pulled out a frame from the middle of the deep.  It was covered in bees, honey, pollen and brood.

The queen was spotted walking around.  Do you see her?  She is the larger bee on the frame pictured below.  If you think of a the frame as the face of a clock, she would be around 4 o'clock. Look at her abdomen it is almost solid yellow with very little black.

Soon enough, it was time to leave.  We refilled the sugar feeder and dusted the top deep with about 1 cup of confectioner's sugar to help control for Varroa mites (We found 1 one the IPM board.)  We also set traps for small hive beetles with canola oil.  We reassembled the hives and in no time, the bees went back to business as usual, returning to the hive, loaded down with pollen.

This past Tuesday evening, I was sitting in our monthly association's class listening to a lecture on creating a a garden in our yard where honeybees would thrive.  On the top of the handout, there was a web site address.  As the words were all placed together, at quick glance I read the site as Theme Lissa Garden.  It wasn't until the lecturer mentioned the site in her talk that I had realized I had misread it.  The site is actually The Melissa Garden.  Melissa means honeybee.  Almost 40 years ago, I was named after a honeybee.  

This post is linked up to Homestead Revival's Barn Hop.

Photo Credit:  Tilly's Nest