New CherryGal.com is here!

My web guy has been telling me for months I had to do this, and being the frugal (i.e., poor) businesswoman that I am, I resisted. And resisted. AND resisted. But finally Google pushed the urgency because they changed their security viewpoint and I was forced to do this “update.” It’s more than an update. Its a totally NEW website, with all sorts of bells and whistles which I am just beginning to learn. But for the moment, it works quite well at processing orders and I am even able to offer a discount if you hurry and purchase $50 or more in CherryGal.com items, you will get $10 off. Just use coupon code at checkout NEWWEB. What could be simpler. Hope you do … this update cost me a LOT! ūüôā

The “new” CherryGal.com is here!

Goodbye Winter … Hello Spring!

Goodbye Winter …

I spent the day yesterday in the garden. It felt so good. Although I saw my first robin weeks ago, it has been below freezing most nights until this week. We finally had a sunny, warm day without strong breezes and a decent rain during the night. So, I took advantage of the soft soil to lift two roses that had succumbed to our cruel whiplash weather winter, and to move two others that I think will do better in their new bed.

It always brings such joy to my heart to see the peonies pushing up through the earth, and the Major Wheeler honeysuckle has fully populated its part of the fence with its red buds ready to open. I take inventory of my perennials and shrubs. My bay laurel, which I harvested a bit too heavily last fall for seedlings and my kitchen, took a hit from our 20 to 80 to 10 to 60’s winter. I pruned the dead branches while my chickie girls bustled around me clucking their concern. Adversity, if it doesn’t kill you, does make you stronger, and my Laurus Nobilis will be fine once the weather settles into Spring.

So much new growth. The girls have been enjoying lush patches of Chickweed for weeks now. My Bee Balm Oswego carpets its area, ready to send up stalks soon. It is one of my absolute favorite May flowers, brilliant full fluffy fragrant red blossoms that attract bees in droves. If I’m able to keep it deadheaded, I get a second, less vigorous but still pretty, blush in August.

I greet my yellow lilac with joy! The flower heads are forming fully and it has suffered no loss to its foliage. It will perfume the girls’ coop soon. My dwarf cherry which I installed in a huge pot at the center of the chicken compound has some buds blooming! My apple tree espaliers are leafing out which means they too have survived! The yellow daffodils are done, but my whites that grace the front of my white house are in full bloom and lovely. The¬†prolific sweet violets are sprinkled everywhere. I love them! The cowslip and red primrose are starting to bloom. And a few surviving Judith Leyster tulips (always such a risk here in NC) are ready to open.

So much to do. Today I’ll move another rose and a small shrub and the hawthorne, which all need better situations. Sometimes when I am rushed or tired I will “park” a plant inappropriately, but now is the best time to give them better quarters. These are the days when I steal time from sleep and other chores to be in the garden. I’ve been sleeping all winter. Now, we will have a beautiful warm Spring. Hello!

 

Lunch Girls!

Jane

Whenever I come out with a plate of “lunch” for the girls, they come running! Here is a typical lunch for them. Using my ulu board and knife (curved to capture and hold anything you chop — really a must for making my chickens’ lunch) I chop everything up pretty good, especially if it is at all stringy like celery (only in moderation).

Starting with the bottom layer: Bok Choy, Collard Greens, Celery, Green Beans, Broccoli, Hard Boiled Egg (shell and all), Ripe Banana, Styrian (hullless) Pumpkin Seeds, Chia Seeds, Old Fashioned Oats (raw – just a sprinkling).

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But the list of potentials for such lunches is very broad and I regularly also include dried meal worms and bread. This meal is in addition to their organic layer feed and scratch. And of course, plenty of clean water. But there are some no no’s — things chickens should never eat — such as avocado, potato, tomato or eggplant leaves, dried beans, apple seeds/core, onion or garlic, rhubarb, anything with caffeine.

My girls are happy, healthy, energetic, and produce gorgeous large organic eggs which help keep ME happy and healthy too!

Happy Chickens, Happy Gardens!

Chickens Make Me Happy

Chickens Make Me Happy

Spring is a time of such intense activity for gardeners that we sometimes forget to stop and smell the roses! Last night I sat in my chair in my chickens’ compound and just enjoyed them – the quiet sounds they make, how they jump up in my lap for attention, how they compete with one another for the choicest little things in the soil, how they steal my blueberry buds (those are getting moved outside the compound soon) and just the gentle feathery goodness of them. It is a meditation that I enjoy at the end of the day. Before I had chickens, I would never have thought of myself as a bird person, let alone a chicken person. I wanted the backyard eggs. But these gals are endearing and there is just no way around it — you start to love them and they become members of your family, each an individual.

My brother-in-law is always sending me great chicken videos and posts, and there is one in particular that I want to direct your attention to: the Facebook page of the Chickens Make me Happy Community with all manner of adorable photos shared by its members. Just scroll through a few of these and you might get a sense of why we chicken people are so passionate about our “flocks.”

On another matter, chickens not only provide eggs, but great fertilizer for your garden. No magic to it – you just collect it and add to your compost pile. And save those eggshells. Rinse them out and dry them, grind them up and add them to your dried used coffee grounds for the best tomato fertilizer you can have! Prevents blossom end rot! I got a used coffee grinder at a yard sale and it is dedicated to this task year round. I dry my grounds on a corner of my seedling heat mat. That way there is no mold and the grounds dry in one day. Happy Gardening!

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Drying the grounds …

Store in a Zip Lock until ready to use

Store in a Zip Lock until ready to use

More on chickweed …

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Chickweed Salvation Salve

A while back, when chickweed was emerging all over my garden, I wrote a post about its many attributes. Some time later I showed a friend a patch of persistently reddened skin that I had tried everything to cure without effect. I had concluded it might be the start of some skin cancer (we gardeners always worry about that). So, armed with my column about chickweed, my friend concocted a simply fabulous Chickweed Salve which I have been using for several days now with some amazing results! It is a beautiful green goo! First, I noticed immediately how incredibly soothing the salve was. And after several days use, the reddening has calmed. The skin is no longer raised. And I am hoping for full “remission” of whatever it was, in time.

So when today a neighbor showed me her little pooch’es “hot spots” which the vet had not been able to heal effectively, and which had developed ugly crusting over, I gave her a bit of the Chickweed Salve and she promised to report back.

I hope my dear friend will respond to this post and provide everyone with this great salve (i.e., salvation) recipe!

Spring Has Sprung .. the grass has riz

VintageSeedsSalzer

I wonder where my schedule is! Seriously, we go from blizzard to Spring pretty darn fast here in the Piedmont NC! It’s been 80+ this week and I am scrambling to get starts in the ground, knowing that we could still experience a late frost. ALL my time is devoted to gardening right now. When I’m not gardening, I’m thinking about it. I am planning what to put in tomorrow, and how best to utilize my shrinking garden. Since I brought my four Buff Orpington beauties into my life, my garden has shrunk substantially. I now can only utilize about half the garden I used to … the girls get the rest, either by design (they need the space) or cuisine (they eat anything edible left open to them). I don’t mind. I have wonderful pop-up garden toppers for my six raised beds, so that is where my strawberries, greens, and other veggies go.

Last year I devised tomato cages that defied my girls long enough to grow the tomatoes tall enough so that they survived and prospered. My dilemma this year is that I need to rotate, and I have little room to do that in. So I am getting creative in the “mixed garden” style. Putting rhubarb among my herb bed (transferred outside the girls’ compound because rhubarb leaves are poisonous); and horseradish next to the roses, which they leave alone.

Everything is greening up now to my delight. My oakleaf hydrangea is leafing out; my much desired Bartzella peony has popped through; my blueberries are loaded with bee-attracting blossoms, despite the girls’ having nipped the bottom branches clean. My dwarf cherry, newly potted, will blossom soon.

Inside, I have had mixed and delayed germination on some old tomato and pepper seeds I wanted to propagate. Because so many of my prior suppliers have been gobbled up by Monsanto, making them undesirable for future supply, I am trying to germinate some old seeds from prior years so that I can offer these wonderful varieties free of GMOs, and organically grown. However, I purchased a new germination system which I do not have complete faith in. I followed the instructions and got about 20% germination. So I threw out the instructions, took off the cover, added some organic fertilization solution, and now things are starting to pop. Thank Goodness! Some Springs you just need to push it!

I hope your Spring is going well. Please blog and let me know how you are faring.

Snakes in the Garden

RoughEarthSnake

I have a deep respect, but not really fear, of snakes. I know some of them can make me very sick, or even kill me, but most of the ones I am likely to encounter in my garden or near my home are harmless. That is why I am troubled by the reaction of many who immediately want to kill any snake they see. So when I walked out my front door this morning and saw two of my cats sitting astride a 12″ rough earth snake, I did not panic. Instead, I googled the appearance for my area (there are some excellent snake identification sites available online) and relaxed.

When I was a kid and we had just moved from the Baltimore suburbs to a country estate surrounded by old fields, woods and a graveyard, we found a beautiful snake near our house and called Mom to come and see. She went bezerk! She got a broom, which was the first thing she could grab, and she whacked it to death. Turns out, even without knowing what she was doing, she was right. That snake was later identified as a copperhead – not a pleasant encounter for anyone, man or beast (and we had a couple of dogs and kittens at the time).

Forward to my move to North Carolina, an antique house that had been neglected by its aging previous owner and whose grass outside stood at a healthy foot when I moved in. My stalwart male cat, Rusty (Trusty Rusty), who thought he had died and gone to heaven in this rural setting, explored the yard to his delight. One day, when we were about 6 days into the move, I saw him engaged in a battle with something near the house. I thought it was a mouse or vole and did not pay much attention. I went into my office, the window of which overlooks the same area, and almost fainted when a 3 foot rat snake waved to me from the ledge outside. I immediately contracted to have the grounds mowed and cleaned up. And since a rat snake is harmless and actually kills copperheads, I didn’t do anything else about it.

But, and this is the lesson, my cat Rusty got deathly ill a couple of days later. From a snake bite, said the vet. Why? Because even non-venomous snakes carry horrible bacteria in their mouths and can inflict a virulent bite that, left unattended, can quickly become septic. With a few days in the hospital, he recovered, but he definitely used up at least one of his lives in that encounter. We were lucky. And so, my dear gardening friends, know your snakes, treat them with respect and let the nice ones live, but should you wind up with a bite — get medical attention immediately.

Also, if you have chickens, even a “harmless” rat snake can be life threatening to them if they are big enough. So that is why you need to keep your yard and garden trimmed, and keep your coop raised off the ground and be watchful!

Chickweed for Chickens and Chicks

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If you are not lucky enough to have this volunteer “weed” popping up in early spring in your garden grow it! It is loaded with saponins that detoxify the human body. Chickweed, also known as chickenwort,¬†is commonly found in many¬†folks’ gardens and is properly considered invasive. Yet, it is a wonderful, nutritious spring tonic that grows quickly and is a good candidate for growing¬†indoors in pots.¬†A low-growing succulent that can spread out into extensive mats, it is a winter annual (I can pull back snow and find it green and juicy underneath) that produces tiny white flowers and fruit pods and slightly fuzzy stems. Flowers and sets seed at the same time. Chickens love it too (hence the name)¬†so you can grow as fodder. I have patches of it all over my garden, and my chicks favorite afternoon treat is a handful pulled fresh.

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It is easy to grow – just broadcast over rich garden soil and keep moist until germination. Quick growing too – you will have a crop in less than a month! For we humans, simply pick, rinse and sprinkle the delicate sprays on your salads or add it to your juicing concoction. Or, dry for addition to any healing salve. It is especially soothing to psoriasis, eczema and poison ivy rash. Chickweed has been a valued medicinal for centuries, used to cure everything from mange, skin disease, bronchitis, arthritis and menstrual pain. But perhaps the historic use that peaks everyone’s interest today is that Chickweed water was an old wives’ remedy for obesity. I do not know if there is any scientific support, or ongoing study of this claim, but scientists are always the last ones to catch up! Right girls?

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RIGHT!

Keep It Clean Ladies!

HensOnly

Interested in backyard chickens? A small flock is easy to maintain. You’ll probably spend more time playing with your girls then tending to them, and they are so entertaining! But there are a few things to keep in mind. Chickens poop (they don’t pee) and they like to scratch and peck, digging up every little germ and bacterium that might inhabit your soil or their straw, or their droppings, or other birds’ droppings. So it is important to keep your ladies and their environs as clean as possible on a very regular basis. Done every few days, it really takes just a few minutes. And following some basic protocols for your own safety is easy and habit-forming.

  • I use disposable gloves and a mask (you can breathe in dehydrated droppings which are still dangerous) when cleaning out the coop, which I do every few days. I also clean up the chicken “yard” of straw and droppings, which are heat composted under a dark tarp before being used in the garden.
  • I use a chlorine solution to clean the girls’ water and food dishes. I use paper plates for their daily treats.
  • I have my chicken clogs in a plastic tray by the back door that leads to the chicken compound. They are the only clogs I wear when tending the chickens.
  • I gather eggs daily (well most of the time) and only wash eggs that might not be perfectly clean when gathered before putting in the fridge, and I use them as soon as possible. Clean eggs keep their “bloom,” which protects the egg from pathogens entering, until ready to use and then are washed before cracking.
  • And, yes, I wash my hands faithfully as soon as I come in the house. Also, my dishwasher sanitizes in case there is any transmission in the kitchen. Finally, because my dogs traverse a section between my back door and chicken compound, which can be muddy when wet weather abounds, I use a chlorine solution to wash my kitchen floors.

Bacterial infections are often more deadly when we live in a sterile environment. My late father, a physician, believed it was important not to over-sanitize life in order to keep your immune system active. I agree with that 100%. I have a healthy gut, which is the foundation for immune function. Also, I haven’t taken antibiotics in years. Ironically, they can be destructive of your immune system because they destroy ALL bacteria, even the healthy ones in your microbiome. When I need a boost I take Berberine, a natural alkaloid found in many plants (any plant that is yellow under the bark such as Nandina, Oregon Grape, Goldenseal and many others. Berberine is anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and immune-enhancing among its many properties. It doesn’t wipe out the good with the bad. There are many Berberine supplements out there — just be sure to use a trusted source.

So don’t be frightened off by scare stories of the health hazards of backyard chickens. Properly cared for, you will find their eggs the healthiest and most delicious you can eat, with enormous benefits for your body and mind, and well worth a little effort!

Avian Flu and Why We Must Worry

ChickenGutbyJasonHolley

An excellent opinion piece in The New York Times by Sonia Shah, author of “Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, From Cholera to Ebola and Beyond” provides a first hand look at Asian poultry markets and tracks how rare mutations of the Avian Flu virus are making their way to America providing the breeding ground for the next global pandemic. This is important reading for everyone, but especially for backyard chicken lovers. There are things we can, and should, do to protect our beloved birds, ourselves, and our communities before it is too late.