Thought I had better explain why I have not been gardening or posting on my garden website. I’ve also ignored the hens a bit. You see, I’ve been helping our lovely labradoodle “Tillie” with her six puppies, born in our bedroom on October 21. The little beauties, three cream-colored and three chocolates have their eyes open now and are toddling, discovering the world around them.
We started out as simply lovers of Australian multi-generation labradoodles, not breeders. We were given two pups from a breeder on the condition that she would be allowed two litters from each of them in payment. This arrangement is termed “guardianship”. The conditions were that the breeder would breed each one of our girls to one of her beautiful studs. We would care for the pregnant girl until time for her to deliver the pups. The drawback we found; we couldn’t bear to give up one of our wonderful dogs while she gave birth and nursed her young. My husband and I decided we would like to do it ourselves. What an experience!
Tillie nurses her newborns.
Our girl Tillie was in the first stages of labor for 12 hours. She searched the garden for a private spot to make her den. She dug holes 3 feet wide and 2 feet deep while we followed her around with a flashlight to be sure she didn’t drop a puppy into them. She panted, she paced. If we sat, down she’d climbed onto us. When we crawled into bed at midnight, she crawled into bed with us. Finally, the last stages of labor began at 7:00 am. We put her in the whelping box that Don had built, and one by one over the next 4 hours, she delivered the most beautiful little chocolate and vanilla packages into her whelping bed.
For three weeks I’ve helped her watch over them. I try to go out into the garden each day to water, to rake, and to continue my fall clean-up. But my mind is on the little pups that will go off to their homes at 8 weeks. I can see their little personalities. I can see their gentleness and sweetness, like their mother, and I can see their fun-loving nature.
Tillie’s first litter.
The breeder does the business transaction for purchasing, but I would be happy to talk to you about the breed and these precious puppies if you are interested. The breeder has some beautiful pups non-shedding that are nearing the weaning age now. Email me for information on our pups and I’ll be happy to put you in contact with our breeder Country Labradoodles.
We call him “Star”
The sun is shining and it is another glorious day in Cambria. Time to get outdoors and see if it is too late to plant some winter greens.
The 2012 Cambria Scarecrow Festival, presented by the Cambria Historical Society, is in full swing. We had our first light rain of the season, the dust has settled, the sun is out, and it is a beautiful sunny day in our little coastal town.
To see the “ladies, gentlemen, and creatures” come anytime during the month of October. The artists of Cambria are displaying their talents and have created colorful displays for the enjoyment of all. Each year this event has grown. This year there are over 300 “scarecrows” on display. Bring your camera and take a walk down Main Street between the East Village and the West Village. Then drive out to the seaside Moonstone Beach Drive. You’ll never think of a “scarecrow” in the same way again.
Below are some of my favorites. Remember these are only several of 300!
A Cambria Gardener. This gal was made by one of the Cambria Garden Club members. She has on some Garden Club handpainted overalls. She looks like she may have a little knee trouble. She loves gardening!
These bicycling “scarecrows” are actually pedaling.
A Cambrian walking her dogs. My friend Leanne made this.
A Cambrian Priest welcoming visitors.
A Cambrian couple waiting for the theatre to open.
Anyone for bridge? These look like friends of mine.
This dancing Elephant Seal moves. Visit their colony while you’re up here.
This one makes me think. Did the lady beat the crow to some eggs?
When I encounter a mishap, I try to learn from it. Most of you who read this blog know that our dear Sweetpea, a barred rock, was attacked by a dog last month. The dog was thankfully not one of our own labradoodles. That would have been even more difficult to endure. The dog that got into our yard, chased the hens, caught Sweetpea, and successfully pulled off feathers and flesh, was a neighbor’s female bull terrier.
Years ago, when I was a young mother and had a milk goat, chickens, ducks, a pony, and baked our own bread, we lost hens due to raccoons breaking and digging into the coup at night. I’ll never forget the sound as a hen was having her head ripped off by a predator. I vowed that if I ever had hens again, I would have a coop that nothing could break into. So dear husband built a cement floored henhouse (where hens are contained at night) and buried hardware wire around the perimeter of the outdoor coop. We used 2″ welded wire for the top and sides of the coup to prevent hawks and foxes, patrolling our area during the day, from helping themselves to fresh chicken breast. This has worked as we haven’t lost a hen to a predator yet.
Then in the spring, I began letting the hens out of the run for a few hours a day while I gardened. I’d put the 2-year-old labradoodles in the house for their late morning nap. Our half-acre is fenced so I felt fairly sure that a fox wouldn’t get in, grab a hen, and escape over a six-foot fence, nor would a hawk bother the girls with people around. What I didn’t anticipate is a neighbor, with her dog off leash, walking by, seeing an open gate (contractors were unloading materials for our garden-room addition) and, doing what dogs do, go hunting in our back yard.
Feathers growing back.
It all happened in a few seconds. The dog saw the chickens, ran full speed, with husband and contractors, in hot pursuit. The dog first grabbed Daisy (the Buff Orpington) and spit her out (guess she was too fluffy). Then she grabbed Sweetpea and ran about 100 feet, put her down on the ground and began ripping and tearing. Shouts and screams did not deter the dog. My husband pried her jaws apart to get the dog to release the hen.
Sweetpea’s wing was broken and pieces of her flesh on her back and under her wing were missing. In the beginning of my “hen project” I made an agreement with my husband that I would not run up vet bills for hens. So far, I’ve been able to treat them at home. I felt I could bind her wing and treat her wounds myself. She probably would have benefited from stitches but I just couldn’t bring myself to sew flesh.We gave Sweetpea antibiotics for a week, changed her dressings daily and kept her wing bound with “vet tape”. With only one wing, her balance was off. The first time she tried to jump up on a bale of hay, she fell on her side and “couldn’t get up”.
I put her in the run for an hour each day so that the girls would stay friendly, and within two weeks, she was back with her pals full time and was able to get up on her four-foot roost at night. We removed her bandage after three weeks and she was able to take a dust bath and lie in the sun. Ahhhhhh……….
What I learned? The hens are never really safe. The reality is that as long as there are predators, there is a danger of a chicken being hurt or killed. You can do all the things you can to safeguard your chickens but mistakes will happen, like a gate being opened as you pass through and a negligent neighbor walking with a dog off leash.
Did I do anything about the incident? Yes, I reported it to our San Luis Obispo County Animal Control. They took a report and recorded it in case of future problems. What I found out is, the owner of the dog is responsible for damage costs (if there are any). On a third incidence, the dog will be classified as vicious. What good will that do? And as far as paying me for the loss of one these pets, what would be adequate payment?
I’ll be as careful with the girls as I can, but, they are old and deserve to have a pleasant life. I want them to follow me around, scratch in the dirt, lie in the sun and just be chickens so I’ll continue letting them our under supervision. That is the best I can do for them.
My garden exploded with color this late summer and I’m out in it every morning. I enjoy the rising temperature as the fog lifts and fades. I want to burst into song and sing John Denver’s “Sunshine on my Shoulders Makes me Happy”. But I don’t. My neighbors may not share my enthusiasm for the morning hours.
The hens join me, clucking and scratching around my feet as they dine on juicy grubs, earwigs, and weed seeds that are exposed. I’m able to let them “free-range” now that the Labradoodles are a mature 2 years of age. The dogs consider the hens curious creatures, but requiring too much effort to chase down, pluck, and debone, when kibbles are so available.
I’ve been patrolling the garden each morning for green-spotted cucumber beetles. I’ve put hundreds of notches in my belt.
We’ve had more than our share of bird visitors this year. Several families of yellow finch nested nearby, along with the usual sparrows, finch, juncos, bushtits, jays, towhees, woodpeckers, crows, and doves. Hummingbirds buzz by my ears letting me know their feeder is empty. Coveys of quail scurry through the garden with little ones in tow. How tiny and vulnerable the chicks are, and how vigilant their parents.
Our sly neighborhood fox has been cruising but we haven’t seen her kits yet this summer. The vultures soar high overhead as the fog lifts, occasionally leaving a “Jackson Pollock” creation on our deck. I hose it off and continue my morning stroll, coffee in hand.
I recently wrote this in my gardening column in The Cambrian. People seemed to enjoy it so I’m sharing it with you.
Enjoying the early morning mist of early August, I think of how much pleasure my Berries ‘N’ Cream rose climber gives us. I see people drive by the house and point toward the arbor that my husband built between the house and the separate garage. They are looking at the lovely climber that has finally reached the cross pieces of the arbor top. Its bright-pink blossoms stand out against the green of the pines in the background. The climber will never stretch across the apex like a Cecil Brunner might, as it only grows to a height of roughly 10 feet. But the color…. oh the color!
Danish rose breeders selected the rose in the 1990’s for its vigorous growth, abundant foliage and unique deep pink and white striped flowers. The rose was originally registered in 1998 as ‘Poulclimb’, part of Poulsen Roser’s Courtyard Rose product collection. In the U.S. ‘Poulclimb’ was given the trademark name of Berries ‘N’ Cream.
The canes of the Berries ‘N’ Cream rose have few thorns and an abundance of deep green, glossy foliage. It would make an excellent fence cover as it has a spreading, climbing habit. It is only faintly fragrant in our cool climate.
The flowers of the Berries ‘N’ Cream open in repeated flushes throughout three seasons from early spring to late summer. The blossoms are bi-colored deep fuchsia pink and white in irregularly striped patterns. They are not recommended for cut flowers because of the multiple clusters of flowers on stem tips. But who needs cut flowers like these in the house when the bouquet of this climbing rose is out there for all to share.
I purchased the Berries ‘N’ Cream several years ago from Bay Laurel Nursery in Atascadero. I have not seen it there since. Perhaps if enough of us would like to order it, they will have it in stock this coming winter.
I’m not very proud of my garden now. We’ve had a lot of company this summer, the gophers have moved in, and we are still constructing a new addition to our house that will be a kind of garden room. Tree leaves are dusty, the tomatoes are diseased, and vegetables are past their prime.
So early this morning, in the mist, I took my camera in search of beauty. And, as usual, I found it. The mophead and lacecap hydrangea are in full bloom, the Shasta daisies are as “high as an elephant’s eye” (opps, that’s corn, isn’t it), roses are still blooming and the garden is full of wildlife and animal activity. I promise to share some of these sights in my garden blog in the next few weeks to honor the summer and natural beauty that surrounds us.
This morning, I was astonished with the delicacy of the lacecap hydrangea cultivars (H. macrophylla var. normalis) that are in full bloom. I have about six of these plants tucked in among some Japanese maples. They receive only morning sun and need shade in hotter climates. Lacecap hydrangea flowers have an inner ring of small, fertile flowers surrounded by an outer ring of large, showy flowers in pink, blue, or white. Growing 4 to 6 feet in height and width, lacecap hydrangea can be used as specimen plants, in mixed borders or in mass plantings.
Lacecap hydrangeas from cuttings from Hearst Castle
I grew these lacecap hydrangeas from cuttings that I got at Hearst Castle. When we first moved to Cambria 10 years ago and lived in a rental while our home was being built, I volunteered at Hearst Castle once a week for a year where I pruned, watered, and got to know the grounds of the fascinating landscape. One of the perks at the end of the day, was taking home (with permission) some cuttings to propagate plants for my own garden. The lacecap hydrangeas are a result of those efforts.
The Hearst Castle is always looking for garden volunteers in the garden. I truly enjoyed my hours spent in the hills overlooking the ocean. If I didn’t have such a large garden of my own to maintain, I’d be up on the mountaintop this very day.
My garden may not have a castle in its center, but the lacecap clones growing outside my bathroom windows are a piece of borrowed beauty from the hilltop ranch.
Hens have had lots of visitors this summer. Granddaughter Brooke loved Daisy!
I’ve neglected my hen blog the last few months. The three remaining hens from my original flock of six are getting older now and getting into much less trouble. I have less to report to their fans. Seems like unless a hen is sick or injured or unless there is some “coop” event, most visitors to this blog are content to just watch the hens and read my message board.
We’ve had a pleasant and somewhat busy summer in our back garden. We trust our Australian labradoodles (who are now over two years old) with the hens, and are able to let them all out together to wander the half-acre terrain that we call our backyard. Daisy, Poppy, and Sweetpea give the dogs a warning glance and a sharp “trill” if they come too close and the “doodles” find them less interesting or perhaps they consider them too much trouble to turn into a snack.
The hens were great layers in the late winter and early spring but are now slowing down to about 2-3 eggs a week. The shells of their eggs are thin and break easily in the nest boxes. This is not good and I have tried giving them oyster shells and their own eggshells but nothing seems to work. Perhaps thin shells are a sign of old age.
I’ve heard of hens living to be 6-8 years old but their laying career should be about 4-5. This means at 3 ½ our dear hens may be at the beginning of the end. I really need to consider getting a couple of pullets to keep my egg production going but we are enjoying the peace and congeniality of these three hens. They seem to like each other and like us too. So for now, the “good old girls” will have the coop to themselves.
Western spotted cucumber beetle about to take a dive.
We have “green spotted ladybugs” in our garden eating leaves and flowers. This is what I first thought when we lived in Marin County (north of San Francisco) and I’d see a few of these a year. But now, living along the central coast, I have hundreds of these pests invading my garden each year, starting in about June! They are not “ladybugs”! They are not beneficial insects. They are BAD BUGS known as the Western Spotted Cucumber Beetle or Diabrotica undecimpunctata. They feed on crops and flowers. They have no predators. Some say that birds eat them but chickens avoid them. They must not be tasty and delicious because my hens will normally eat most everything!
The spotted cucumber beetle is out in force this year due to the mild winter. They feed on leaves and blossoms and lay their eggs in the soil below. The larva look like tiny green worms. If the winter cold doesn’t kill them, they hatch and fly or crawl to the branches above. They can go through several of these cycles each year.
When my two granddaughters were visiting this month I put them to work in the garden. Ages 4 and 7, they like to earn money for doing chores. I offered them a penny for each cucumber beetle they killed. Within 30 minutes I was out a dollar and they had drowned a hundred of the little pests. They repeated the labor the next day and would have every day of their visit if it weren’t for child labor laws and had they not gone off to the Monterey Aquarium and the Forth of July parade in Cayucos to spend their money. Lots of fun-filled days and my cucumber beetles were much diminished!
Now I can’t tell you how to rid your garden entirely of these beetles, but I can tell you how to reduce their numbers. Put soapy water into a small bowl. Wander the garden each morning for 10-15 minutes. The beetles are slow in the morning and will be less inclined to fly away when they see a “giant” hovering over them. Put the bowl beneath him if he tries to drop into the soil below. Knock the bug into the soapy water. He won’t suffer long and you’ll have one less beetle in your garden to deal with. Good luck central coast gardeners. This pest is the price we pay to live in such a beautiful, mild, climate. For more information on decreasing the numbers of cucumber beetles in your garden, see the article in this blog that I wrote in my frustration several years ago.
Maddie posing in front of garden area to be removed.
I’ve been really distracted lately and not gardening as much as in past summers. For one thing, we tore out some of my garden to build a “garden room” or conservatory. We had to remove two 8-year-old liquidamber trees that had reached the height of 10 feet. Too bad, they were just beginning to flourish. I looked into having them transplanted but it was too costly, and not guaranteed to survive the move. Trees are hard to transplant.. The advice I was given, “Just buy some young ones in the largest container you can afford.” Liquidamber grow fast so perhaps I’ll do just that. I do so love the ‘Burgandy’ variety. Glorious in the fall.
Then we spent a couple of days trying to transplant some low-growing rosemary. It appears that none will survive. I thought they might be successfully transplanted because rosemary is easy to start with cuttings. I’ve seen new roots appear within a month. But no such luck this time.
We filled the compost bins and green waste barrels with lavender, yarrow, geranium, a couple of lavatera, penstemon, and pittosporum (along the foundation of the house). I wish I had taken a picture of it “before” as it was really quite pretty. The only picture “before” picture I could find was of Maddie, posing on a cement bench, with my “soon to be destroyed section of garden” in the background. The photo gives you an idea of what was removed.
New garden room construction.
A lot of thought went into the designing of the garden room. Our house is only 8 years old. We designed and built it to suit our lifestyle. You know the story…not too big, not too small. Great for entertaining. Children have “left the nest” so no need for a playroom or lots of bedrooms. Who would have guessed that our family would grow to include two companionable Australian labradoodles and that we would be involved with a breeder in producing two litters of pups from each of them. Alas, we need an indoor-outdoor room with cement floors. One that allows the dogs to come and go. A place to hang our jackets, and a place to take off our boots in wet weather. A pretty room to “sit a spell”. A room for a few plants, a sink, and a view of the garden.
So once again we are involved in construction. But how wonderful it will be when it is finished, with the paths cleared again… with the water system to the garden turned back on…. with the landscaping established…. with it furnished with an armoire for jackets…. with a sink for water…… We’re about half-way there.
“It’s a pepino plant,” she announced. “A sweet cucumber,” My neighbor handed me a tiny 4-inch cutting she had started in a 4” pot. I wasn’t sure how grateful I was but I’m always willing to give a plant a try. It took some research, and a year of growing for me to appreciate this unique little producer.
Pepinos (Solanum muricatum) are native to the temperate Andean areas of Chile and Peru. It is also cultivated in regions of South and Central America, Australia, New Zealand and the U.S..
Pepino means “cucumber” and is also known as “pepino dulce” or “sweet cucumber” or “tree melon”. In reality is not a cucumber or melon but is classified as a berry within the nightshade family (tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants). The plant is a perennial and grows to about 3’ in height and width in our climate (larger in warmer regions). It blossoms here along the coast nearly continuously with pretty purple and white clusters of blooms.
Blossom and Leaves of the Pepino
The “beauty” of the pepino is in its skin and flesh. It’s pale green or golden streaked with purple variegation. When you cut the pepino open its flesh is golden-yellow with a seed cavity like a melon. Its taste is sweet and aromatic and is flavored like a combination of a banana, pear, and cantaloupe.
Pepino peeled and cubed.
The skin of the pepino is edible. If you leave it on the plant too long the skin becomes tough but is easily peeled away. It can be served in salads and paired with lemons, limes, basil, honey, chilies, or coconut. It keeps for days at room temperature on the counter, or it can be stored in the refrigerator.
This unusual plant is a bit of a conversation piece among the ordinary plants in my garden. While it wouldn’t feed a “cast of thousands”, it produces enough pepinos to add flavor to salads or can be served cubed in a little dish, drizzled with honey and a dollop of yogurt.