Mama Jane and Baby

It began as an innocent adventure. My top hen, Jane, a real beauty of a Buff Orpington, went “broody,” meaning she created a nest in the bottom of the coop and didn’t leave it (that I could tell) for a couple of days. I became concerned, thinking she might be sick so I crawled in and pulled her out. She was hot! And so were the several eggs she was sitting on. I realized then that Nature had turned Nurture! Since I don’t have a rooster, this was going to be an exercise in frustration for her, and a loss of eggs for me.

I asked Father Henry, who was a chicken person in a former life, and two friends from Church, also chicken knowledgeable, and they agreed on the diagnosis, and also that the best course of action would be to procure some fertilized eggs for her to sit on. So my friends Laura and Alfie provided two, which I foolishly forgot to mark before gently inserting them under Jane’s enormous fluffed up body. (Hens can expand exponentially to cover their eggs – truly amazing!) I marked the calendar for 21 days out and checked every morning. But after a few days, one by one her eggs were either smashed or missing to the point where I realized the two fertilized ones had to be gone. So Laura & Alfie provided another two, this time marked with little red hearts, and we tried again.

It was adorable the way the smallest of Jane’s sisters, Betty, acted as midwife, nesting right behind her and occasionally contributing an egg to Jane’s “project.”

And like clockwork, on the 21st day I peeked inside the coop and asked Jane, “Any babies?” and heard a remarkable “Peep Peep” as Jane stood up to reveal her darling little dark Dominique biddie! Healthy, happy, jumping around, and Jane became a doting, dutiful Mom, immediately teaching her little one how to scratch and peck for food. I removed all the other eggs, but couldn’t find the second heart-marked one and no shells. A mystery to this day. But just in case it might have been a snake, I put a couple ceramic eggs in the coop.

I brought out the chick starter food and everything seemed wonderful! I noticed that Jane stayed inside the coop the first two days, largely ignored by her three sisters. But on the third day, she ventured out with Baby, still hugging the perimeter of the coop or within the blueberry hedge in front of the coop. When I came out to check on them two hours later, Jane was upset and Baby was unable to stand. I didn’t know what the problem was but scooped up Baby and brought it inside.

For 24 hours I fed Baby filtered water from a pet syringe and encouraged it to eat some chick starter mash to no avail. I put it in a box lined with pine shavings under a grow light for warmth. My neighbor, a nurse and former chicken person, came and checked on Baby and got it to stand, however briefly. But its right wing just hung by its side. I brought out some bandaids with a thought to splint her little legs, but changed my mind as she/he gradually grew strong enough to show interest in some tiny seeds and crumble. As night came I decided to put her back with Jane before closing up the coop.

The next morning I brought her back inside. Real progress throughout the day, with Baby eating, drinking and pooping, bouncing and peeping. As night drew near, the Biddie became frantic in its peeping, so I decided that she needed to be with Mom once again. Jane was very relieved to have her baby back.

Morning showed great success as the biddie was back to bouncing around and following Mom in her incessant scratching and pecking. Drinking lustily from the waterer was another very good sign. I got back to my gardening. But I soon heard a squabble in the chicken compound and raced to check on Baby and couldn’t find it! I kept calling and calling, and finally got an answer … “peep peep peep” from the hiding spot between a bale of hay and the coop. I still didn’t know what had caused the ruckus. So I went back to work.

But shortly I realized that there was indeed some jealousy from Jane’s sisters when I heard a second squabbling and rushed into the compound to see the melee of the Three Sisters who had descended on the Biddie! Jane and I shooed them away, but the poor little biddie was now missing a couple of her feathers on her back!

So I quickly constructed a partition in the compound, giving Jane and Baby the coop and a goodly portion of the compound to safely free range in, and sequestering the Three Sisters to the other portion, providing them their own water and crumble. This seems to be working well. As evening comes, I wait for Jane and Baby to get into their nest, and then hand carry the sisters into the upper coop. In the morning I reverse, letting the sisters out and back into their portion of the compound and then letting Jane and Baby out. After a successful couple of days this way, I began to relax.

However, and this is where The Perils of Pauline came to mind, yesterday morning as I was doing some much needed cleanup of the garden outside the coop, I glanced over and saw Jane, but no Baby! When I called out “Where’s Baby?” I heard the familiar “peep peep peep” and then saw to my horror that Baby had managed to squeeze under the chicken wire that is all around the bottom of the cedar fencing of the compound and now sat OUTSIDE the fence. Outside, where I and my dog Lucky stood. The same Lucky who had mangled one of Jane’s sisters two years ago and frightened my bunny Butter to death. I haven’t moved that fast since my 20’s! I screamed at Lucky, “NO” and scooped up Baby, holding it close, put it back with Jane who was waiting anxiously on the other side. I then told Lucky he was a good dog not to have eaten Baby! And got out my staple gun to secure the chicken wire all around.

I will be very grateful if Baby makes it to adulthood. I think Jane will be relieved as well. Here she is in her less harried pre-motherhood days.

— Deborah Phillips, a.k.a. CherryGal

Chickens in Winter

My Sweet Buff Orpingtons enjoying a mid-winter snack of chickweed!

I am so proud of my girls for weathering this brutal winter! First, they had to adapt to increasingly frigid temps, and then when it seemed impossibly cold here, I brought them indoors to my mud room, where for weeks they looked longingly out to their garden (glass door) but enjoyed the heated floor and heater in the room that kept them from freezing even when it dipped below zero as it did at least one night. (Of course, my electricity bill reflects this :() But the 10 x 10 room offered them little in the way of exercise. They did not complain. They took it in stride. But, my goodness, were they ever happy to be released back to their spacious compound and coop, even though nights have dipped below freezing, with rain and even light snow, they are happy. And I am so proud of them. Now that the daylight hours are increasing, they are rewarding my love with beautiful large strong light brown eggs. Thank you girls!

Chickens in the Snow!

Decorate Your Garden

Goddess Head Planter

As the snows swirl and you turn up the electric blanket, do you plan your garden? I do. It is one of my favorite winter pastimes. Not only do I spend hours poring over the dozens of catalogs that arrive daily selecting vegetables, herbs and flowers for my own garden and those of my customers, I think about decorating areas of my garden that might not offer the sunshine or soil needed for growing plants. So I create a different kind of “planting.”

An old cherry tree that long ago succumbed and was cut down, provided a perfect “stand” for a large pot and a beautiful Goddess Head Planter. I will soon be receiving my 2018 supply of these weatherproof concrete beauties in two sizes: Large 10″ and Small 8.5″ . Both make wonderful additions to your garden or gifts.

But don’t stop there. I have an old pole (not sure what it was for originally but it looks like it might have been a utility pole) in my garden in a dark spot where poison ivy and wisteria compete. So I decided to turn it into a Totem Pole, collecting various ceramic face masks that appealed to me.

My Garden Totem Pole

One of my favorite garden decoratives is my Garden Fairy statue. I have fun with her … putting a scarf around her when its cold, for example.

I have chickens. I love my chickens. And they boss me around. So this wonderful small plaque from Carruth Studio seems to capture our relationship perfectly. I placed it on the arbor that borders my girls’ compound.

Chick Chat Plaque

I have other decorative pieces placed throughout my garden. My chicken compound and arbor offer some structure to what can sometimes become an unruly wild mixture of flowers, herbs and vegetables. A memorial plaque for my dear departed yellow fellow Rusty, a mailbox that holds my hand tools, a bird bath. The trick is not to “junk up” your garden with such things, but also to have fun with them.

My garden Mailbox for hand tools

Let me know how YOU decorate your garden!


New 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 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! 🙂

The “new” 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!


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).


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!


Drying the grounds …

Store in a Zip Lock until ready to use

Store in a Zip Lock until ready to use

More on chickweed …


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


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


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!