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The Joy of Chickens

My Hollywood Girls, Louise, Julia, and J.Lo in the Garden In the photo above are my beloved hens, Louise, Julia, and J.Lo, named after the posh Hollywood crowd. Believe me, besides being pretty, they have attitude, too.

If you have the space, and are properly zoned to have chickens in your backyard or property, I would highly recommend jumping into the world of chickens. Chickens are so much fun, and relatively easy to take care of, and require just a few basics.

Chickens need protection.  They need a protection in the form of a building, pen, or coop, from extreme temperatures, winds, and drafts. They also need protection from elements that might harm them such as neighbor's dogs, hawks, coyotes, etc. Place straw or pine shavings on the floor, and keep clean. Ideally, it is nice to have a place of protection at night time and for extreme weather conditions, as well as an outdoor protected pen where they can be active.

Chickens need a source of water and feed at all times. Chickens need to eat constantly, and require "laying mash" in their egg-laying years. In fact, when I open up my chickens in the morning, and stir up their feed bucket, every morning is like Thanksgiving to them...they can't wait to get to the feed bucket after a night's sleep.  Every day I give my chickens a fresh treat consisting of greens, fresh fruit, or some type of vegetable. A fresh, clean water source is important for chickens to have at all times. I have two for mine, one that is inside their house, and one for their outside pen.

Chickens like a nesting box for laying eggs.  Chickens start laying their first egg at about six months old. Their egg production can be described like a "bell-shaped curve". Initially, once they start laying, they will lay an egg every 24 hours, or an egg a day. They will lay at that rate for their first 1-2 years, and they will gradually taper off, to the point where they do not lay any eggs. You can build a row of nesting boxes inside their chicken coop. It is an open square shape box, where straw or pine shavings is placed for bedding, and where the hen can go and quietly lay her egg. It is really quite an incredible process. Chickens naturally molt about once a year. Call it a vacation, or time of rest in sync usually with the decreasing day length. Do not be alarmed, they will lose their feathers, stop laying for a few weeks time, and then begin to grow back beautiful new feathers, and commence with the business of laying eggs once again. Fresh eggs are so beautiful and taste incredible. They are literally golden eggs.

Chickens like a roosting bar, 24-30 inches off of the ground to sleep at night. This bar assimilates a tree branch. They feel protected, and want to be off of the ground to sleep. I have a manure box with quarter inch wiring directly under the roosting bar, which catches most of their manure from the night before. Some people clean it once a week or less, but I collect their manure every morning, and put it in my compost pile. I like to avoid any problems like excess flies and odor that a build up of manure might cause.

A hen does not need a rooster to lay eggs. A hen does need a rooster if you are planning on having fertilized eggs, and eventually chicks for your flock. Baby chicks especially need to be kept warm and protected. Roosters introduce a whole different element to your flock, noise, and often they exhibit aggressive behavior protecting their hens. You might do yourself, and your neighbors a favor, and start with a flock of hens only.

Chickens are fun, social, and with individual personalities. Don't get just one chicken. They are social, so start off with at least 2-3 chickens. You can bet there will be a pecking order established within your flock, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Chickens love to explore, and are curious about everything. They love gardens, and will be a faithful garden companion. They respond to kindness, a routine, and familiarity of people feeding and caring for them. If you plan on going on vacation, etc., make sure you have someone reliable to watch and care for your chickens, just like you would do for your other pets.

If you have been thinking of getting chickens, spring into summer is your best time. Your local feed stores might carry a nice variety of "pullets", young laying hens, for you to choose from. There are certainly a wide variety of breeds available for the chicken enthusiast. I like brown eggs, and have found the heavy breed chickens, such as the Buff Orpingtons, and the Australian Black Australorps to be great egg producers, and "people" chickens. A fabulous website and place for information on different breeds and mail order of "specialized fowl" is

I can not say enough about the "joy of chickens", you must experience them for yourself.

Cake Styling Basics

Add Flair to Your Cakes Cakes are a symbol of celebration. We make cakes for celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, a New Year's day, and many more joyous events in our lives. It is fun to add a little personal style to your cake to make it that much more special.

In your shopping adventures look for cake stands that have a little character. If a cake stand has an edge that lends itself to a beautiful ribbon, you can find wonderful and colorful ribbons to thread around your cake stand. I have seen milk glass* cake stands with lots of panache, and lace edges for decoration. I especially like ribbons that have words on it such as, "Happy Birthday", "Enjoy the Little Things", or Lemon Meringue. Whatever you do, be sure and match your ribbon to the season and occasion of your cake.

For instance, if you are making a Halloween Cake, thread an orange ribbon with black polka dots around your cake. If you are having a Fourth of July celebration, why not dress up your cake stand with a ribbon with red, white, and blue stars and stripes. In the above photo, for the holidays this year, I used a festive red and green "Happy Holidays" ribbon.

Cake stands come in many different materials, forms, shapes, and sizes. Use your imagination. All you need is a level surface to hold your size cake, and stability for cutting slices. Use a doily, or anything decorative, and food safe to make a nice setting for placing your cake on.

Don't forget a wonderful garnish for your cake. Take your cue from the recipe you are following. Garnish either on top of your cake, sometimes along the sides, or along the bottom edge of your cake. While a garnish is important, remember "less is more", works best for a cake. You want your finished cake to be visually appealing as well as attractive to eat.

If it is winter or holiday time, confectioners sugar, white icing, and coconut flakes look like snow. Always try and use an icing or some sort of garnish on your cake. It will create a "finished appearance". Chopped nuts, candy, edible flowers, snipped herb tips, and even fruit are nice to use as garnish. You can even decorate with colored icings to create different textures, patterns, and custom looks.

Your friends and family will certainly appreciate your added flair to your home baked cakes. Who knows, you might even peak curiosity from the four-legged members in your family, too.

Happy New Year! Wishing you all the best in 2009!

-Glossary- *Milk glass: Semi-translucent glass whitened by the addition of various ingredients. Popular in glassware in previous decades.

Creative Repurposing

Over Zealous Blooming Leek Creative Repurposing Makes for Great Vintage Garden Accessory Ideas

1. Search for wonderful vintage iron bed frame ends, and secure them in your garden as a support for a heirloom tomatoes, climbing beans, or an over zealous blooming leek.

2. An old rusty pail is perfect for forcing rhubarb. Remove the bottom of the pail, place widest end in the ground around a bare root rhubarb plant. As plant grows and matures, rhubarb stalks stretch for the light, growing long straight stalks that are off of the ground.

3. Secure an upright vintage apple picker tool in your garden. Plant a flowering vine such as a clematis at the base of it, and turn the top-cupped portion into a small bird feeder.

4. A child's size vintage iron bed frame end, turned upside down and hinged on one side makes for an interesting gate and entrance to your garden.

5. Plant an old metal oil funnel with something small such as succulents, violas, and place in an old single bedspring for a holder.

6. Use a vintage carpenter's tool tote, with different compartments as your seed organizer. Keep in a dry place.

7. Find a vintage garden gate or vintage sheet of decorative wire, and hang horizontally from the ceiling of your tool, potting, or storage shed, and use for drying your favorite herbs or flowers.

8. An old iron pulley wheel, or vintage ice tongs create an interesting way to hang a flowering basket of color, such as salmon-colored trailing geraniums.

9. A vintage horse muzzle can be transformed into a splash of color, when lined with moss, potting soil added, and planted with your favorite lobelia.

10. Long-handled vintage garden tools, secured together with wire, can be shaped into a distinctive and whimsical archway for your garden or favorite pathway. Plant with purple runner beans or your favorite morning glory.

11. Vintage plant stands make interesting and perfect gazing ball pedestals in your garden.

12. Find a beautiful vintage garden tool with character and patina, mount it to the door of your chicken coop, or potting shed, and use as a handle.

Holiday Green

Going Green This Holiday Season This year I wanted to buy a live "green" tree for our holiday season. I thought it would be wonderful to have a live tree in the living room for the holidays. I could nurture and care for this tree throughout the year, and bring it inside in December, for an intimate few weeks. There is something so special about having a live tree inside your home. This evergreen beauty exudes the holiday season. Just look at the captivating shadows it leaves on a wall, in the photo.

I stumbled across this potted Oriental Spruce, Picea orientalis "Atrovirens" grown by the wholesale nursery brand, Monrovia, at Green Gardens Nursery, 4910 Cass St., San Diego, CA, 92109, Pacific Beach area, (858) 483-7546. This is truly a wonderful little nursery chock full of unusual plants for the holiday season, and throughout the year. You can find unusual tabletop topiaries, live christmas trees, hollies, garlands, and much more to accent your home and garden.

This beautiful Oriental Spruce reminds me of the Noble Fir tree in appearance. It is a slow grower, and ideal for keeping in a pot or container outside throughout the year, and bringing inside for a few weeks. It has dark green shiny needles, and grows in a pyramidal form which is fully branched to the base. It likes to be watered regularly when the top 3" of soil is dry. Be aware, however, if you ever plant this tree in the ground with optimum growing conditions it can reach 60-80 feet high and 20-30 feet wide. It does best in zones 2-8.

The Oriental Spruce came in a 3.6 gallon sized pot. I took it home and transplanted it into a slightly larger container that drained and had a saucer. Before transferring it to it's new container I did a little preparation. This Oriental Spruce was incredibly root bound, so I loosened the roots a bit, scored the entire root ball, and gave it a good drink letting it soak in a tub of water. I placed my newly potted spruce into a beautiful copper patina bucket to bring inside. The Oriental Spruce is so pretty, I am going to decorate simply with a single strand of tiny white lights. It needs nothing else.

Buying a live ornamental tree such as the Oriental Spruce is an investment, at least 2-3 times more expensive than a cut tree, maybe more depending on the tree. It is a worthwhile investment. One, you have a year-round tree. Two, you have an exceptional tree for the holidays. Three, you are being green, and kind to the environment. After the holidays, you don't have to dispose of it, recycling it with the garbage. Live trees are generally smaller in size, than cut Christmas trees. This Oriental Spruce will fit beautifully in our living room, and it won't be out of scale in size either.

The beauty of this tree and it's simplicity, reminds me to embrace "the spirit of the holidays", and seek other ways to be holiday green this season.

Potted Vintage Chicken Feeder

Lotus Trailing Plant Potted in Vintage Chicken Feeder My mom who is a Master Gardener in Missouri, during her last visit here introduced me to the perennial, Lotus Maculatus, Gold Flash. It is a great trailing plant for a pot or even ground cover. It has dense green foliage and large beak-shaped yellow orange flowers. It also comes in a bright orange-red colored version called Amazon Sunset. The Lotus averages 3-6" high and 36-72" wide (trailing). It will do well in full sun or partial shade. It likes regular water, in fact I water it every day, when I am tending to my chickens. There are two more species of Lotus, Berthelotii (Parrot's Beak) and Corniculatus (Bird's Foot Trefoil). Zones vary by species.

This particular Lotus Gold Flash was planted within a draining pot, that fits within the rim of the vintage tall chicken feeder. Vintage chicken feeders are so much fun to pot up, and have so much character. One can usually find them for a reasonable price, the more rust the better the character, and they look great potted. This is a very tall chicken feeder, the only one I have ever seen, that a dear friend and fellow chicken aficionado gave me.

In time, the Lotus Gold Flash has beautifully cascaded over the top. In the shallow bottom rim, where chickens would normally be pecking for feed, I have planted Echeveria perennial succulents around the base. Echeveria require less water than the Lotus, and also planted in a shallow rim will stay on the dry side. The colors of the Lotus foliage and the Echeveria mirror each other nicely. These two plant types are a great complement to the tall chicken feeder. My little vintage hen statuary likes her potted vintage chicken feeder so much, she is staying close by.

Knock-Out Kumquats

Colorful Kumquats I call them knock-out kumquats because they pack a 1-2-3 punch!  Kumquats are delightful to eat, are the most ornamental of all citrus trees in your garden, and are known for their decorative quality as a garnish or an addition to a pretty table decoration, especially around the holidays.

1) Kumquats taste as good as they look. The name kumquat, means "gold citrus fruit" in Cantonese. Part of the citrus family, their fruit is a bright orange, oval in shape, and about the size of a really large grape. The fruit is eaten whole, peel and all. To add even more charm to this golden fruit, the skin is the sweet part and the flesh is the tart. Kumquats can be used easily in sweet and savory recipes alike. They are wonderful in salads, chutneys and dressings over grilled meats, relish, candied sweets, and sweet breads.

2) Kumquat season is November to May, perfect timing to use as garnish around your oven- roasted turkey. They have a deep green foliage, which provides a striking contrast to their bright orange fruit. Trim small branches of leaves and fruit off of your tree. These small branches actually remind me of a laurel wreath. Decorative ideas are as easy as creating a candle and leaves combination across your fireplace mantle, mix with whole nuts, dried gourds, minature white and Jack Be Little pumpkins* in a pretty tabletop decoration, or as a wreath around your holiday dish. Your eye naturally gravitates to these beautiful small fruit and contrasting leaves.

3) Besides the fruit, the kumquat tree is striking in a garden. It has large, fragrant white blossoms, beautiful bright orange fruit, and the dark evergreen foliage. These trees are a knock-out in container pots on a sunny patio, or as topiaries, my favorite, framing an entrance. There are three kumquat varieties for the home gardener, Meiwa, Nagami, and Fukushu. The Nagami is the most common and popular. The average height for these trees is fifteen feet, and four to five feet for the dwarf. Kumquats like full sun, and moderate watering once established. Kumquats are the one of the most cold hardy of the citrus. Local nurseries should have kumquat trees in stock, or they can be ordered for you, this time of year.

Glossary *Jack Be Little Pumpkin, a delightful minature pumpkin perfect for decorations and lots of fun for children.

"Early Amethyst" Beautyberry

"Early Amethyst" Beautyberry Approaching winter, it is hard to find plants that are beautiful and blooming in your garden. If you live in zone 5-9, I would suggest planting an "Early Amethyst" Beautyberry, Callicarpa bodnieri giraldii. It is a stunning deciduous shrub, that blooms tiny pink flowers in the summer, and beautiful tight clusters of violet fruit along it's arching branches in the winter.

"Early Amethyst" Beautyberry usually grows in an upright fashion to 3-4', but can reach 6' high and 6' wide. It is a very graceful willowy plant which seems to dance in the light, and when coaxed by a subtle breeze. It prefers sun or light shade with regular watering. It's bloom and fruit occur in the current season's growth, so best to prune back by about 1/3 in late winter. It's violet-colored berries which appear in fall and winter can benefit from fertilizing this shrub monthly, during the spring and summer.

As seen in this photo, I have just placed fresh mulch down around the base of my "Early Amethyst" Beautyberry, but I intend to plant a companion ground cover or low flowering perennial to add to it's drama. "Early Amethyst" Beautyberry is excellent for cutting and in flower arrangements.

Callicarpa bodnieri, Beautyberry is a native of western and central China. The species is named after Emile Marie Bodinier (1842-1901), a French missionary in China who was first to collect this shrub for introduction to Europe.

In your quest for more information on this stunning shrub, you might notice there are other species listed, American, Purple, and Japanese which have slightly different characteristics and optimal growing zones.

Initially, I was unfamiliar with the "Early Amethyst" Beautyberry and bought only one shrub, now I wish I had bought several. It is a very easy shrub to care for and it is so stunning, it always catches my eye when I am in my garden. My local source, Tom Piergrossi, said he might have more "Early Amethyst" Beautyberry available this coming spring 2009, www.tompiergrossi.con

Apple Gourds

    Apple Gourds

    One of my favorite gourds is the Apple Gourd. It's as if they have an "Alice in Wonderland" persona. They have a wonderful "apple" shape, and are just a great size, 5-9" tall, 15-20" in circumference for fall decorating. When they dry they are a beautiful toffee color. They fit easily into a table centerpiece or an outdoor cart, and blend well with other gourds and pumpkins of autumn hues. I first saw these gourds on my travels in the South, but occasionally see them dried for sale in California.

    This year I decided to grow Apple Gourds for the first time. I sacrificed one of my beautiful dried gourds, splitting it open hoping there would be many seeds. I was rewarded with an abundance of seeds. Apple Gourds need space to grow like pumpkins, and can even be coaxed up a trellis for a neat effect.

    In June, in a warm and sunny spot, I mulched and prepared several mounds or hills, and planted 5 to 6 seeds per hill, thinning to the 3 strongest once they started growing. I made sure they had adequate water. While the vines grew, beautiful dainty white flowers begin to appear and announced the beginning of the Apple Gourds. It took about 120 days for the Apple Gourds to mature. And guess what, they were a beautiful dappled green! They were also very heavy and full of water at this point. It will take them 5-6 months to dry and turn that beautiful toffee color. Be patient, and keep them in a dry place with air circulation. Once dried properly your Apple Gourds will last for years.

    For more information on Apple Gourds, and purchasing seeds go to, Burpee Seeds, Apple Gourds.