My Garden Thief!

Who stole my sunflowers?

You can see one of our Italian honeybees right in the middle of this beautiful sunflower. Sunflowers are so pretty, aren't they?

You can see one of our Italian honeybees right in the middle of this beautiful sunflower. Sunflowers are so pretty, aren’t they?

I had six beautiful large heads of sunflowers growing in my orchard.  The bees were enjoying them, I was enjoying them, and I had the perfect recipe lined up to use the seeds. Then, one night, the largest sunflower disappeared.

Harrumph…  🙁

Well, I never…

Do you see something missing here?

Hmmmm…   something seems to be missing.

Do you see how it looks like the top of the stalk has been chewed off?  That was the first piece of evidence I saw.

who stole my sunflowers 4Then, throughout the orchard in no less than six separate spots, I found piles of cracked seeds. Strange that the thief would move from spot to spot to eat the seeds, but then (of course) there may have been more than one culprit!

It’s a real shame because I have a really neat recipe I couldn’t wait to try out using the sunflower seeds.  I was going to use the honey from my beehive, with ground almond flour from my almond trees, along with chopped toasted almonds, dehydrated apricots and cherries from my orchard.

I was going to use egg whites from my neighbor’s chickens (we will be getting ours next year) and some pine nuts from, well, pine trees!  We are surrounded by Sugar Pines and if we can get to the cones before the squirrels do, the nuts are mighty fine!

I found this recipe many years ago when our homestead was just a dream.   I didn’t write down the name of the book, so I can’t give credit to anyone.  Sorry.  Then, in my shortsightedness I didn’t write down specific amounts either – just ingredients.  What was I thinking? So, this recipe will have to end up as another one of my experiments. Apparently, however, the base of the bar was to be made with frothy egg whites into which almond flour is folded, then poured into the base of a rimmed cookie sheet and baked  for some amount of time. I would assume about 8-10 minutes – just to get it to set.  A mixture of chopped dried fruits, seeds (my missing sunflower seeds), chopped nuts and honey is spread on the base, then baked for another amount of time until done.

Doesn’t that sound good?  The best part is that I will be able to produce every single ingredient called for in these delicious (I think) and nutritious bars!  I may even add pumpkin seeds to the mix.  For a different variety, wouldn’t dried apple and pear chunks be good with toasted walnuts?  Maybe even acorn flour!  Yum.  I can’t wait to try this, but alas, I have no sunflower seeds.

Speaking of squirrels…who stole my sunflowers 8

I think this may have been our thief.  We have lots of them in our trees.  In fact, our neighbor lady (who recently moved) fed them!  I know this isn’t a great picture, but the silly things won’t stay still for a photo!  😉

 

However, this may have been the culprit…

Steller's Jay

Did this Steller’s Jay eat my sunflowers?

The Blue Jays have been hanging around a lot lately.  We have had a terrible drought here in California and it seems our bee waterer may be one of the only sources of water around for all the forest critters to slake their thirst. Sometimes they go through more than a gallon of water every day!

Nonetheless, I would assume the bird would have just landed on the stalk, eaten the seeds and dropped the shells below the plant.  Besides, chewing the entire seed head off the stalk would have been difficult for a Steller’s Jay. Since there are no shells directly below the plant, and Jays don’t have teeth, I don’t think the culprit was the Jay.

Yeah - right outside my window! Sneaky little thief!

Yeah – right outside my window! Sneaky little thief!

The evidence speaks for itself –

Mr and Mrs Squirrel enjoy sunflower seeds!

I am glad that right now I don’t have to feed myself and my family completely on what my dear hubby and I grow and raise here on our fledgling homestead. I would like to be food self-sufficient soon, however, and if TEOTWAWKI happens (as many people think it will) we will need to protect our food sources more carefully.  So, the squirrels gave us a valuable lesson today. (Um – thank you?)  We need to protect our permanent garden much better than we have protected the temporary garden we have set up in our orchard.

If we plan to be self-sufficient when it comes to fruits and vegetables, nuts and herbs, we must build our permanent vegetable garden like a fortress and reinforce our orchard!  The garden will have metal fencing at least 7 feet high (so my tall hubby Ray can walk upright in the garden) with a metal roof (chicken wire?) over the top, and at least 1 foot deep into the ground to prevent tunneling critters.  This should keep out the squirrels and Jays.  It sounds like a lot of work, but I believe at this point it will be an absolute necessity!

Especially after we found jack rabbits in our compost pile!

How do you keep critters out of your vegetables?

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Worm Farm Trouble!

First, let me say, ‘I love my worm farm’.

There.  I said it.  Not something you hear everyday, but for me, it’s true!  I have been getting about 2 quarts of wonderfully composted worm poop mixed with composted vegetable matter every month or so for about a year and a half now. And that doesn’t even account for all the worm compost tea!

Worm farm

This is the vermiculture kit my husband and I gave each other for Christmas.

If you would like to read previous articles about our worm farm, you can read about how we first set it up by clicking HERE, and then another article about how to make worm compost tea by clicking HERE.

VermicultureI kept the worm farm in my kitchen until just recently. “In the kitchen?” you gasp.  Well, yes, that’s the most convenient place to put it.  After all, it is so easy to gather up the apple core or tomato peel right off the cutting board, take a few steps, and plop it into the worm farm.  Believe me, it never smelled!  In fact, when I opened up the worm farm to feed my wriggly little pets, all I smelled was the scent of good soil right after a rain. Seriously!  Except for the time I put in a bit too much plum pulp at once. After a week it had a faint odor of plum wine! 😉

While the worm farm was in my house, the only problem was when I had a small fruit fly infestation.  George took care of that.  George was a daddy-long-leg spider who took up residence in the corner behind the worm farm.  I let him be,and after a couple of weeks his web was absolutely chock full of dead fruit flies.  Good ole’ George.  When the fruit flies were gone I took George outside and set him free.

Yes…    I did. 🙂

Fast forward to a couple of months ago.  We are putting our home on the market and having a worm farm in the kitchen was not something the Real Estate Agent wanted to explain to prospective buyers.  So out to the garage went the worm farm.

That’s when the trouble started.  The first month when I went to harvest my black gold worm poop, I noticed a few ants crawling around on the lid of the worm farm.  As I harvested the bottom most tray, I noticed a few more ants, so I decided to investigate.  In the third tray up – there it was – an ant nest!  Ugh!  There must have been a thousand ants and they were scurrying to grab all those little white eggs.  There were no worms on this level either – just ants and a lot of not decomposed vegetable matter.  Harruumph!

I had to dispose of the contents of the entire tray.  I didn’t want to spray any kind of insecticide because the residue could hurt the worms and ultimately the poison could get into my garden, so I just dumped it into our green waste bin – which was being picked up by our local garbage service the next day.  Then, I put each leg of the worm farm into a plastic cup and poured water in.  That should keep the ants out in the future.Apple Maggots in the Vermiculture Bin

When I decided to harvest some compost for one of my potted plants yesterday, I found another problem – a really icky one – maggots!  Big fat ones! After doing a bit of research on the internet, I found that they are apple maggots. They must have come off the scraps left over when I made my home made pectin.  They were so gross, squishing and munching around in the compost stuff – I could actually hear them!  Eeeewwwww…

The weird thing about it was that the worms were inhabiting the same trays as the maggots!  Apparently they don’t mind each other, but this made getting rid of the maggots a bit more of a chore.  Again, I didn’t want to hurt the worms but I had to somehow get rid of the maggots.  So, I got a pair of my husband’s needle nose pliers and picked them out one by one.trouble with the worm farm

Now – what to do with all those fat apple maggots?  I decided to treat my local feral chickens.  These are chickens that have lived beside the highway in our town for decades.  There used to be a ranch there (now long gone and turned into a shopping center surrounded by fast food restaurants) and over the years the chickens have learned how to fend for themselves.  They run through the parking lot of the grocery store, looking for handouts.  At the Carl’s Jr and Wendy’s restaurants next door, I am sure people throw them french fries and bits of their hamburger buns all the time.  I thought some nice fresh plump maggots would be a healthy alternative!Problems with the worm farm

When I first arrived the chickens were a bit cautious.  They are used to people feeding them, but they are also on the lookout for kids that try to chase them around.  I threw a couple of the maggots out of the plastic bag they were in and a rooster came running up to see what I had to offer.  Then a hen came.  Then another hen.

Nom Nom Nom 😀

Pretty soon I could see that the maggots were a hit!  I loved watching those chickens, chasing each other around with their prize (even though there were plenty more on the ground!), and can’t wait to move up to our future homestead so my husband and I can have some of our own.maggots in my vermiculture

I guess my lesson here is to observe my worm farm more often than once a month when I am harvesting the worm poop compost.  I did read that if I freeze all the vegetable matter I put in – especially fruits – then I shouldn’t have to worry about an infestation like this again.

Is it worth it?  You bet!  My houseplants haven’t looked better and the worm compost tea is like liquid gold for some of my outdoor potted plants!  Besides, I know several feral chickens got some needed protein and I received the joy of watching them!

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Highway Chickens

I don’t have chickens yet.  I can’t wait to get some, but I have to.  It’s not the right time.  Once we move up to our future homestead, that will be the time.  For now, I will continue to enjoy our community’s highway chickens.

Handsome rooster on fence

This rooster seems to be surveying his domain, right next to the highway and a large intersection!

“Highway chickens?” you ask.

Well yes, they are highway chickens.  Who do they belong to?

Everyone in the community.

These are feral chickens that live in the Cal-Trans right-of-way along Highway 99 in Yuba City, CA.  Some roost in the local Raley’s Supermarket parking lot.  Quite a few of them live around Casa Lupe, a locally owned restaurant (mmmmmm… so good), where people love to sit near the windows facing the highway and watch the chickens.  Especially the children.

A hen and two roosters

These two roosters and a hen are obviously teenagers – just getting in their full plumage! They are right by the Cal-Trans right-of-way fence, across from Wendy’s!

Right next door is Carl’s Jr., where I am sure many of the chickens have had a french fry lunch or two, and down the street is Wendy’s.

Momma hen and her chicks

This mother hen and her eight chicks seemed happy and healthy, despite living alongside a busy highway! I’m sure one of momma’s first lessons was not to go into the street!

These chickens have been living along this busy highway, almost in the middle of town, for a very long time.  Apparently, many years ago when there wasn’t even a highway here, there used to be a ranch with a stockyard of sorts in this area.  The ranch and stockyard are long gone, but the chickens remain.  The last estimate given by Sutter County Animal Control Supervisor Cheryl Bohannan of this feral chicken population was that it numbered about 500.

Wierd looking hen

Nice hairdo! I’m not sure what breed this chicken was, she was just hanging out in the parking lot, waiting for a handout!

There have been a few attempts to relocate the chickens as some people thought the chickens deserved a better home, more nutritious food, a dry place to sleep.  Perhaps.  But when observing these chickens you can see they look healthy.  I believe they even look happy, but then what do I know?  When the last lady tried to relocate the chickens she got quite a tongue lashing in the local newspaper through letters to the editor.  Many people wanted the chickens to stay as they have always been, stating that they had been there over 40 years and have become a landmark to the city.

This rooster seemed to be hanging out in the parking lot of a local fast food restaurant for some reason.  Maybe he liked the taste of french fries?

This rooster seemed to be hanging out in the parking lot of a local fast food restaurant for some reason. Maybe he liked the taste of french fries?

Personally, I like to go over and visit the chickens when I have a chance, with a handful of vegetable scraps.  It’s fun to see the momma hens teaching her chicks to scratch under the watchful eye of the daddy rooster!  It’s amazing to see the various colors of the chickens, black with white chests or white tipped wings, yellow buff colors, various shades of browns, grays, reds and oranges.  Some are obviously descendants of Rhode Island Reds and a few look like they may be mostly Buff Orpingtons, but I’m sure that by now most of them have mixed and re-mixed their bloodlines so that there are now Rhode Buff Reds!!

Raley's Landscaping for chickens

This is what is referred to as landscaping for the Raley’s Parking Lot. However, some of the highway chickens call it home.

A question that goes through my mind as I see the myriad of different colors, shapes and markings on the chickens:  how does genetics play into the type of chickens?  I know many of you who have chickens say that you have a few of this and a few of that type, but then only one rooster of another type.  When you allow your hens to hatch chicks; are they then hybrids?  Is it like dog breeds where a poodle and a pug breed to make a puddle?  Or a cocker spaniel and poodle mix – a cockapoo?  (If you can’t tell, I love those names!  LOL)  Since they are feral chickens, I assume survival of the fittest is the key here.  Perhaps the reason why so many of them look like Rhode Island Reds is because that is a hearty breed?

Highway Chicks

The chicks learn how to scratch in the deep duff of the pine trees. I assume they get enough to eat or they wouldn’t be able to have healthy, viable chicks, would they?

Anyway, until I get some “girls” of my own, I will continue to visit the local highway chickens.  They make me laugh.

Shared at:  Strut Your Stuff Saturdays, Show and Tell Saturdays, Simply Natural Saturdays, Homestead Barn Hop, Clever Chicks Blog Hop #33, Make The Scene Monday, Backyard Farming Connection Hop, Frugal Days Sustainable Ways, Wildcrafting Wednesday, Simple Living Wednesday

 

The Seaman Mom
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