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.
Ingredients for simple baked custard for 12 desserts.
People with hens have to be creative to use all the eggs that their hens produce in the spring. This late winter and spring, I actually had an excess of eggs. And that was when only three hens were laying. While I love giving eggs to people who really appreciate the goodness of fresh eggs, I usually end up giving away the best of the best. Ones that are jumbo and don’t have blemishes. I end up with seconds. Doesn’t make sense. With only three hens, I’ll make an effort to use the eggs myself.
We use our eggs in all kinds of ways. We like egg salad sandwiches, deviled eggs, huevos rancheros, quiche, omelets, poached eggs, and eggs Florentine. I’m going to make a soufflé as soon as I get up the nerve.
Since we needed some comfort food after loosing Tulip, I went back to an old egg recipe for a dessert that turned out to be a hit at a recent potluck: baked custard. People my age have fond memories of Mom (the depression era kind) serving egg custard for dessert. Smooth, creamy, rich, topped with a mound of whipped cream, takes you back to a simpler time, before Ben and Jerry’s and chocolate mousse. This easy-to-make recipe is the basic kind. I didn’t get it off the internet (those were all altered with flavors and additions). This was out my old Better Homes and Garden “New Cookbook”. You remember, the one with the red plaid cover. Anyway, I tripled the recipe for the potluck but the one below is fine for 4 people. Double for 6-8 servings, and enjoy. Beware, some people may want seconds.
2 cups whole milk
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon salt
Ground nutmeg (optional)
Baked custard for 8.
In a medium bowl, lightly beat eggs. Stir in milk, vanilla, and salt. Place one-1 quart casserole or six 6-ounce custard cups in a 13x9x2 inch baking pan on an oven rack. Pour custard mixture among the custard cups. Sprinkle with nutmeg.
Pour boiling water into the pan around the casserole or custard cups to a depth of 1 inch. Bake at 325º until firm and a knife, inserted near center comes out clean. Serve warm or chilled.
To unmold chilled individual custard, first loosen edges with a spatula or knife; slip point of knife down sides to let air in. Invert onto a serving plate. Top with whipped cream if you wish.
Cambria Pines by the Sea is full of gardeners and people come from all around to participate in the Cambria Garden Tour. Cambria has had a garden tour for the past 18 years, but last year the sponsoring group took a break. We were tour deprived last spring! Now it is back in full force with seven gardens to visit, a continental breakfast, gourmet treats at each site, and a wine tasting and raffle finale at the Cambria Nursery to end the day.
This year I worked on the committee to select the gardens. What fun! The four members of the committee visited many of the beautiful gardens in Cambria and chose ones that we thought would inspire gardeners. I don’t want to give all the secrets away but here’s a peek what you’ll see on the tour.
Hold on to your garden hat! This garden is “BIG and BEAUTIFUL”! The Cambria Pines Road estate grounds have been recently renovated with a lush green lawn (rare in Cambria), charming greenhouse, water features, bridges, and creek bed. The rock-walled vegetable garden makes “growing your own” a beautiful experience.
Seaside landscape frames ocean view.
In another location, a simple garden landscape is perched on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific. The landscape provides a foreground for a vast water view. Low-growing, drought tolerant plants like ceanothus and rockrose provide color, and a carpet of dymondia surrounds the rock pavers. There’s a modified Zen garden, an enclosed area for potting and growing grapes, vegetables, and herbs, and a pizza oven in a sheltered area by the front door. A few local classic cars will be on view on the street out front for your enjoyment.
Around the corner, within walking distance of the sea, you’ll visit an enchanting small garden with sweeping hillside views of the Fiscalini Ranch. The greenhouse provides a retreat where the owner nurtures and collects exotic flowers. Clay sculptures and pottery adorn the property.
Above the fog, beyond the wind, you’ll meander through a garden that’s evolved over a generation. There’s a playhouse for grandchildren, a pond, roses, and pathways of brick and stone. Water features abound. Art objects and staghorn ferns decorate corners and fences, and benches and a hammock provide “places to ponder”.
A perfect little greenhouse.
On Lodge Hill you’ll visit a hillside retreat where native and Mediterranean plants thrive in poor soil. A huge native Toyon shade the rhododendrons. You’ll find a dry creekbed, bridge, and sitting area with an overhead structure. Fruit trees and small vegetable beds provide produce for the kitchen. The plants will be labeled to help visitors identify the hardy native plants.
A Japanese inspired front gate, complete with Japanese maples, welcome you at yet another lovely Cambria garden. The guesthouse is “one of a kind”, and the vintage trailer that serves as an art studio is a treasure. Using a bridge, cross the dry creek bed and see lesser-known Australian plants that tolerate summer drought.
A kind of “secret garden” that cannot be seen from the street awaits you at this shady Cambria home. You’ll have to climb the stairs and make your way to the back of the home to find a spacious outdoor living area complete with seating areas, fireplace and stained glass windows. The garden of Mediterranean and semitropical plants covers six lots. A large custom carved Buddha presides over the outdoor space.
Big and Beautiful!
For more information on the Cambria Garden Tour on May 19, visit www.CambriaGardenTour.com or call the ticket hotline at 805 909-0052. All proceeds benefit the Cambria Education Foundation and the New Dawn Montessori.
The complete article on the Cambria Garden Tour (written by Lee Oliphant) will be published in The Cambrian, on May 17th.
There’s a new Sunset Western Garden Book out and I had to buy it. Sunset Western Garden Books and I go way back. When I was young I used to leaf through my mother’s old “First Edition” 1954 publication. I knew nothing about gardening, but in the sandy soils of Orange County, you could put a sunflower seed in the ground and grow a 10-foot behemoth.
Of the newer Sunset Western Garden Books in my library, the 2001 seventh edition was my bible during Master Gardener training. I didn’t think the 2007 edition had enough new material, so I passed on that one. But what gardener can resist the newly released ninth edition?
Here’s my rationale for buying it. This edition is the first to feature plant photos exclusively. Not that I didn’t enjoy the illustrations of the older versions, but a color photo is irresistible. Color is all-important in gardening. The plant encyclopedia of the new 2012 edition has been updated and includes 1,000 more entries. There is a “Gardening, Start to Finish” section for beginning gardeners. Information is based on steps in the creation of a garden rather than in alphabetical order; planning comes first, then planting, growing, and dealing with problems. I like that. There’s a guide for growing vegetables called “What Edibles to Plant When”.
I like the green “tip” boxes included in the plant encyclopedia. They cover subjects entitled “Paw Power”, information on using kangaroo paws in the landscape. They’re entertaining and informational. There is a digital component to the New Sunset Western Garden Book. You get the free mobile edition of the “Plant Finder” for your smartphone. There’s a companion online Plant Finder that lists plants as you browse by color, height, spread and special needs. There is no ebook edition. You can go to the Sunset web site for a video on a topic when you see the little camera icon at the bottom of a page. I’ll admit, sometimes a video is worth a thousand words.
Assortment of Sunset Garden Books to Look At
The Sunset Western Garden Book has improved over the years, but it’s not perfect. For example, why don’t they include the pronunciation of the plant under the titles of the entries in the Plant Encyclopedia rather than in a separate section in the back of the book? Then there are the thin pages that are already rippling in our damp climate.
Like many of my gardening books, The New Sunset Western Garden Book is practical, inspirational and informational. My list of gardening “things to do” grows longer with each page. On days I can’t get the energy up to “dig and plant”, I’ll just sit with my new book and dream. I really don’t need another garden book but this one is hard to resist.
There are several events here in Cambria this weekend that should be of great interest to gardeners and appreciators of the beauty of flowers. At the annual wildflower show in the Vet’s Hall at 1000 Main Street, you’ll find hundreds of freshly picked wildflowers for viewing and smelling (if you dare). Wildflowers are picked before the event from the Monterey County line to the Morro Bay Estuary and from the coastal bluffs to the Santa Lucia Mountains. If you’ve ever wondered what the names of wildflowers are, this is the perfect event for you. Noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 28, and 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. Cost is $3.00.
The 18th annual Faerie Festival, with storytelling with Susan Pendergast, crafts, food, and music is taking place at Heart’s Ease Herb Shop and Gardens at 4101 Burton Drive. Time 11:00-2:00 on Saturday, April 28. Free.
Across the street from Heart’s Ease, on Saturday, April 28, there will be a plant sale at the Cambria Historical Museum on Burton Street. You’ll see maypole dancing at 1:00, 2:00, and 3:00 p.m. and you can buy root beer floats to refresh you.
If you still have energy, take a walk on the Fiscalini Ranch trails overlooking the ocean and breathe the spring air. Delicious!
Tulip, the Ameraucana, also called an Easter Egger because she lays green eggs, has been sick for six months now and passed away yesterday afternoon. She had what is called egg yolk peritonitis, also called “internal laying”. It is something that backyard hen owners struggle with because our hens provide us with eggs but are also our pets and live longer than commercial egg producers so are susceptible to organ malfunction.
Egg peritonitis is the result of an egg yolk initially moving into the abdomen rather than being “captured” by the fimbrae at the top of the oviduct. In a normal egg cycle, the ovary releases a single ovum (yolk) which is picked up by the fimbrae at the top of the oviduct. Birds have only one oviduct. The egg passes down through the oviduct picking up albumin (egg white), the egg membrane, and then the egg shell, before being passed out through the cloaca. The cloaca also has the ureters from the kidneys and the rectum passing urine and feces through the same exit point.
We knew Tulip had problems when she began laying those huge rubber eggs (shell-less eggs) several months ago. She was treated with antibiotics but showed no improvement. Oh, it was hard to watch.
Husband Don and I made a “no vet” agreement when I got the chicks but I broke down and made an appointment to see one. We never got there. Because prognosis for this disease in chickens is poor, I pretty much knew that Tulip would be euthanized. There was the possibility that the vet might suggest major surgery to remove her “egg maker” but I don’t think I would have agreed to that.
Yesterday, she stayed inside the little coop until late morning, then joined the others who were scratching around in the garden. She stretched out on her side, absorbing the sun. When I locked the other hens back in the run, I put Tulip in a little crate in the garden shed with food and water. She lay down, and never got up. By nightfall, she was dead.
We buried Tulip near Rosie who passed away two winters ago. She is no longer in pain but Husband Don and I are sad. I didn’t sleep well last night. Our original flock of six is down to three. Three really wonderful hens that are now over three years old. There will be decisions to make but I’m not in the mood to make them. Loving and caring for animals is both joyful and heartbreaking. I’m experiencing the latter now.