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Blooming-April

• African daisies
• Black-eyed Susan vine
• Daffodils
• California Poppies
• Irises
• Ivy geranium
• Jasmine (pink)
• Spanish lavender
• Nasturtium
• Passion Vine
• Potato vine (white)
• Society garlic
• Sweet Pea Bush

Harvesting-April

• Arugula
• Onion and garlic greens
• Thyme
• Rhubarb

Spiders are Welcome Here

Spider webs among the apple buds.

Spider webs among the apple buds.

Spider web built overnight in a dormant plum tree.

Spider web built overnight in a dormant plum tree.

We have quite a few spiders in our garden since I don’t use pesticides on my plants. They are natural preditors keeping the pest population down. Even when they get into the house, I’m very tolerant of these creepy critters. When they get underfoot, however, I gently return them to the garden where they can munch on flying and crawling insects to their heart’s content.

Certain times of year the webs are covered with pine pollen and can be clearly seen in the morning light. I love looking at the designs each spider variety creates. In the spring, they show off their new abodes. I’m going to start carrying my camera with me when I go out in the morning to see what patterns I can find.

Spiders here along the coast are really quite harmless to humans. The only ones that will bite are the black widow spider. I find them in woodpiles and water valve boxes. I alway wear gloves when I reach into these a damp, dark, widow territories. Their bite is more like a “sting” than a bite, but still to be avoided.

Should you let spiders live and occupy your garden? Yes, yes, yes. They are your friends and allies. The more spiders you have in your garden, the healthier it will be.

Labradoodle Playdate

We had four Australian labradoodles in our garden last week. They are such joyous dogs. Running through the garden, smelling all the animal scents left behind by native visitors. They stood staring through the fencing at the chickens. Yes, I kept the hens locked in. Then they collapsed in exhausting on the deck where we were enjoying a late afternoon glass of wine.

There are a few Australian labradoodles in Cambria from our breeder Elizabeth Ferris in Paso Robles, owner of Country Labradoodles. These are exceptional dogs and are often chosen as service or therapy dogs due to their calm temperament. Our two girls, Tillie and Maddie are bright, easy to train, and exceptional companions. Tillie is a “cafe” chocolate, almost what they call “lavender” and about 45 pounds. Maddie is a black medium-sized at about 35 pounds. They have had beautiful puppies all of them non-shedding.

From left to right: Mattie (at 16 weeks), Chloe, Tillie, and Maddie. All Australian Labradoodles.

From left to right: Mattie (at 16 weeks), Chloe, Tillie, and Maddie. All Australian Labradoodles.

One of the puppies, “Mattie”, a medium chocolate girl, was sold to a couple here in Cambria. She is a only 16 weeks old, a reddish brown with a white blaze on her chest. At last I get to see one of our puppies grow up here. While I’ve stayed in touch with many of the owners of our puppies, none have actually stayed locally. I’m having such fun seeing one actually growing and thriving.

In the pictures below, “Chloe”, a beautiful standard-sized labradoodle was included for the afternoon. What a gentle, fun girl. Chloe vacations regularly in Cambria from Southern California.

Learn more about our Australian Labradoodles here.

Four Australian Labradoodles resting after a playing in the garden.

Four Australian Labradoodles resting after a playing in the garden.

More about A Coop for the Garden

After 6 years, vines are  covering the henhouse and run. These will have to cut back soon.

After 6 years, vines are covering the henhouse and run. These will have to cut back soon.

I found some pictures that may help you with designing a chicken coop that looks good in a garden setting. The chicken coop my husband built six years ago is not perfect but it has served our hens well. It was a little too small for our original six hens but is just about perfect for four. Right now it is housing three healthy hens.

The henhouse has nests that can be accessed from the outside

The henhouse has nests that can be accessed from the outside

I say it is not perfect because, after using it for six years, we know what we’d do differently. First of all, the tiny henhouse is only 4′x 5′. The two nest boxes (14″d x 17w x 15h”) are accessed from the inside and the outside which I like. It’s easy for the grandkids to collect eggs and I don’t have to go inside to gather them.

Building the henhouse.

Building the henhouse.

The inside of the coop with nest boxes on the left.

The inside of the coop with nest boxes on the left.

We thought the small henhouse would be large enough since we live in a temperate climate where the food and water can be outdoors. What we didn’t take into account was the fact that rats come into the run at night and steal the food. We have to cover the food dispenser to keep them away at night. Also, sparrows and tohees help themselves all day long. I just consider it cheap wild birdfood.

Sliding door for chickens allowing them access to run during the day. It is closed at night.

Sliding door for chickens allowing them access to run during the day. It is closed at night.

The roost was only 4′ across for six hens. A tight squeeze but they like cuddling. It also would be nicer to have space for a hen to have chicks. If I had a few more feet, in the back, I could have put in a nestbox and area on the ground for chicks and a mama hen, or a brooder if I wanted to do it myself.

There is a long, narrow, window above the nest boxes that has hardware wire covering it to keep out raccoons.  It doesn’t have a cover. Just open to the air. Great ventilation in this mild climate where it seldom gets below 40 degrees at night, even in the winter. There is an old stained-glassed window on the other side opposite the nests that can be opened if needed.

Pullets discovering their new sliding door to outside.

Pullets discovering their new sliding door to outside.

 

The run, where the hens spend their days is about 8′ x 16′ and more space than what is needed. Giving the hens more space keeps problems in check. They can dustbathe, pick at a bale of alfalfa, sun themselves and eat and drink all day. It has partial sun and shade from an old coastal oak tree. The pen has hardware wire on the lower parts of the sides that go into the ground about 12″. If I were to do it again, I’d put hardware wire up all the way on the sides and top. That would eliminate the rats and wild birds. We covered the wire on the top with lucite panels to keep out the rain.

So many of you have expressed interest in our coop. It certainly looks different than it did when we built it. It’s nearly covered with vines. We’ll be cutting them back soon. I like that it “fits into” the garden but I don’t want it to disappear. It’s much too cute!

First night on their roost before the interior was painted.

First night on their roost before the interior was painted.

Sunset Magazine’s – Savor the Central Coast

Sunset's diplay adI’ve subscribed to Sunset Magazine  since my young “alternative living” days. Long hair, long dresses, a little farm in the hills of the magnificent Marin County. Heavenly…… I still subscribe to Sunset magazine but my lifestyle has changed (a little). There are still chickens running around in the yard but I don’t wear long skirts. Sunset magazine is still practical and down to earth, and it still inspires me to get out and do it. Whatever “it” is.

When we moved from Marin to Cambria 12 years ago Sunset switched my issues from the Northern to the Southern California region. Guess it was the change in zip code. It just wasn’t the same. I wasn’t familiar with the Los Angeles to San Diego area, and not that interested in getting to know it. In addition, the gardening in cool Cambria was actually more similar to San Francisco than Southern California and it was there that I’d become a Master Gardener.  I asked Sunset Magazine if I might receive the Northern California edition and they were happy to oblige.

Now Sunset Magazine has discovered our little corner of paradise. So far I’ve missed “Savor the Central Coast” at Santa Margarita Ranch, but hope to go in the coming year. It will be held September 25 – 28, 2014. Exact dates still to be announced.

You’ll love this if you love the Central Coast. Food Chanel’s “Savor the Central Coast”

Storing Avocados for Later Use

Avocado with sheet of plastic wrap on it.

Avocado with sheet of plastic wrap on it.

Avocados are one of my favorite fruits. The “pear shaped” seed with surrounding “meat” has been nicknamed the “alligator pear” because of the leather-like appearance of its skin. Originally from Mexico and Central America, it grows on the Persea Americana tree that thrives along the central California coast. When picked, avocados can weigh 5 oz. – 2 lbs.

Storing avocados for any length of time can be nearly impossible. When you buy avocados they can be very firm. It may take a week for them to ripen at room temperature in your kitchen. Then whammy! They are too ripe and have turned dark and become bitter in taste. I have found a solution for storing ripened avocados so that you can eat them in daily salads or save them for guacamole when you have the urge.

Ripe avocado wrapped in plastic wrap.

Ripe avocado wrapped in plastic wrap.

Avocados are ripe when they “give” to slight pressure from your fingers. To prepare ripe avocados for storage tear off a piece of plastic wrap about 12” x 12” in size. Wrap the avocados in the wrap.

As you use the avocado, cut sections and peel off the skin. Try to peel it so that the dark green part of the avocado next to skin remains. This contains beneficial nutrients. To store the unused portion, leave the seed in place and put the two halves together. Wrap as you did when the avocado was intact.

Wrapped avocados will last in the refrigerator for about 1-2 weeks. I am no longer hesitant to buy more than one avocado at a time or to take advantage of bulk pricing. Hope this works for you!

 

When partially used, put pieces together and cover with plastic wrap.

When partially use, put pieces together and cover with plastic wrap.

 

Keep wrapped avocadoes in refrigerator

Keep wrapped avocadoes in refridgerator

 

 

 

Website Reorganization-Sorry for the Inconvenience

At a Valentine's garden party.

At a Valentine’s garden party.

 

Dear Friends. I’m in the process of combining my two websites. I’ve been moving pictures and posts from Backyard Hencam to Central Coast Gardening. It will be much easier to put both gardening posts and chicken blogs on one website and I’ll be able to keep them updated more easily.

Please be patient with me as I dive into this technology. You will notice that I have many things to fix as I limp along.

Lee

Cambria’s Water Shortage No Small Deal

Agapanthus "Peter Pan"

Agapanthus “Peter Pan”

We. in Cambria, a little village on the ocean between S.F. and L.A. are experiencing a severe drought. Our water district board, the Cambria Community Services District (CCSD) has prohibited the use of potable (treated) water on our landscapes. Here is the notice we received:

“Effective immediately the CCSD is implementing the following mandatory conservation measures: RESTRICTIONS ON USE OF POTABLE WATER:

1) Outdoor watering of landscaping and gardens with potable water is prohibited. “This prohibition applies regardless of whether or not a particular customer uses less than the monthly use allotment.”(SEE BELOW FOR INFORMATION REAGRDING THE MONTHLY ALLOTMENT) Non-potable water is available free of charge from the CCSD. Customers are welcome to use this non-potable water to water their landscaping. Please contact the CCSD if you are interested in information on rebates for non-potable water tanks.

2) Guests in hotels, motels and other commercial lodging establishments shall be provided the option of not laundering towels and linens daily. The CCSD will provide lodging establishments with free notices to advise guests with this option. Businesses interested in receiving these notices should contact the CCSD immediately at (805) 927-6223 or stop by our office to receive these announcements.

Tea Tree

Tea Tree

3) Washing of vehicles, boats and trailers with potable water is prohibited. Please note that the car wash in Cambria uses reclaimed water.

4) Washing down sidewalks, driveways, streets, walkways, parking lots, windows, buildings, porches, or patios and all other hard surfaced areas by direct hosing or pressure washers with potable water is prohibited.

5) Emptying and refilling swimming pools and commercial spas is prohibited except to prevent structural damage and/or to provide for the public health and safety.

6) Effective February 3, 2014 the public restrooms will be closed until further notice. Our office will provide portable restrooms at both the Cornwall and Center St location.Effective March 1, 2014 the CCSD is also implementing the following mandatory conservation measures:

Stage 3 Water Shortage Emergency Condition has been implemented. This resolution establishes that each residential customer account is allotted 2 units per month (4 units a billing period).

 Customers who do not meet the permanent resident requirements are allocated 4 units a billing period.

 Each residential customer account is allotted two units per month. Customers may request an increase in the allotment of units by completing a Permanent Resident Certification form. This form is enclosed for your convenience, and is also available on our website. (Example…a household of 2 permanent residents will be allocated 8 units per billing period.)

 A five hundred (500) percent surcharge (first violation) shall apply to all water use in excess of customer’s unit allotment.

Sweet Pea Bush

Sweet Pea Bush

 A one thousand (1000) percent surcharge (second violation) shall apply to all water use in excess of customer’s unit allotment.

 Subsequent violations shall be subject to a one thousand (1000) percent surcharge and a discontinuance of service.

 For reference: 1 unit (100 cubic feet) equals 748 gallons. Customers that own a licensed vacation rental may contact the CCSD to request free notices, advising guests of the enhanced water restrictions and provide conservation tips.

The CCSD Board of Directors and staff thank you in advance for your cooperation. If you have any questions we encourage you to contact the Administrative Office at (805) 927-6223.”

Gads, there goes my gardening plans for the coming year. And, without water, there goes my garden!

Success! Peeling Hard-boiled Fresh Eggs

Love those fresh eggs but hate that they’re hard to peel?

Years ago, when we got the first six hens, we had more eggs than we could use. We ate quiche, scrambled eggs, omelets, egg casseroles and hard-cooked eggs. The beautiful eggs had dark golden yolks. Little works of arts. The only drawback was that after being boiled, fresh (meaning less than three weeks old)  hard-cooked eggs were almost impossible to peel. The shell stuck to the whites of the egg and would stay attached as you pulled it off. I learned that what happens to eggs as they sit, either in the refrigerator and at room temperature, is the air evaporates through the porous shell and air gets between the membrane and the shell. When the egg is boiled it causes further separation and space so the shell is easy to remove.

Poke small hole in wide end of egg.

This problem in pealing fresh hard-cooked eggs is a topic on nearly every website I’ve seen on raising chickens. Many friends have sent me solutions but I have not found one to work like this. My sister sent me this information and it actually worked. Thanks Sis!

Michael Friedman, the chef and co-owner of The Red Hen in Washington, D.C. tells us how to cook fresh eggs:

“I take the raw egg, and at the fat end, I poke a very small hole with a pin,” Friedman told Yahoo! Food. “This punctures the thin membrane between the shell and the egg white, making the egg easier to peel once its boiled.”

It also releases the bit of air trapped inside the shell, so the egg is able to fill the entire interior of the shell. The yolk moves to the center of the egg itself, which makes for a prettier presentation if you’re making a dish like deviled eggs.

Boil eggs for five minutes then let sit for 10.

Boil eggs for five minutes then let sit for 10.

 

After you’ve poked a hole in the egg, place in room temperature water. Bring to a gentle boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit in hot water for another 10 minutes. Poor off water and fill bowl with cold water with ice. Let cool. Starting at the big end of the egg, gently remove the egg-shell. The shell removed easily. Notice how the yolk is centered in the picture below.

Perfect hard-boiled fresh eggs. No green. Yolk is centered.

Perfect hard-boiled fresh eggs. No green. Yolk is centered.

 

I will certainly continue to use this method for cooking fresh eggs. It worked better for me than any other I’ve tried. Let me know how it works for you  on your own eggs or those organic fresh eggs that are so wonderfully tasteful!

Four years ago I wrote this article on Backyard Hen Cam on “hard to peel” eggs. I’d tried vinegar, salt, baking soda, etc. This method worked better than any of them.

 

 

Labradoodle pups at three weeks

I can’t stand it! I have to put up pictures of our Australian Labradoodle pups that are now 2 1/2 weeks old. Sweet!

Brown Sugar

IMG_0059

IMG_0060 IMG_0067 IMG_0069 IMG_0076

Babe - a big boy

Babe – a big boy

 

Australian labradoodle puppies are here again!

Meet "Brown Sugar" at 3 days. Eat, sleep, love is her motto.

Meet “Brown Sugar” at 3 days. Eat, sleep, love is her motto.

Some of you who read my blog know that once and in a while I get “off subject” and leave gardening on the back burner. We have two lovable Australian labradoodles that we co-own with a breeder (Country Labradoodles). They bring great joy to our home. We are obligated to the breeder to breed them twice. Matilida “Tillie” gave birth to her second litter on Sunday night. A beautiful litter of seven, three girls and four boys, three carmel-colored, four chocolate.

The whole process of caring for these three-year-old dogs, watching them give birth, and then tend to the puppies, is really a fascinating process. The dogs have gone from puppies themselves to being great mothers. Tillie now knows from another room which puppy is calling, which is hungry, which just needs a lick and some reassurance. During these first few weeks, the humans only need change the bedding once a day, and make sure the mother has plenty of high-quality food, fresh water, and exercise. She does the rest.

Tillie's puppies at 1 week. From top to bottom: Beaux, Babe, Oliver, Tuxedo, India, China Doll, Brown Sugar.

Tillie’s puppies at 1 week. From top to bottom:
Beaux, Babe, Oliver, Tuxedo, India, China Doll, Brown Sugar.

We are handling the wee ones several times each day. We turn them on their backs, tickle their toes and hold them against our necks so they become accustomed to our scent. Their eyes are still sealed shut, and their ears are closed so essentially they are blind and deaf. Within a week, these will open up and they will see the world around them.

At eight weeks we will be searching for new homes for these pups. The breeder helps make a match. A few will be destined to become therapy and service dogs. Three pups from the previous litter are now serving in homes and schools. I’ll be keeping my eyes on ones that show special abilities and testing them for various traits. All those years as an educator is not wasted.

These dogs come from a long line of Australian labrodoodles, multi-generational non-shedders with calm, steady personalities. I feel honored to contribute my energy to these wonderful animals.