There are two main reasons that you might consider installing a coop curtain on your nesting boxes:
Reduce Egg Breakage - Let's face it. Sometimes eggs get broken. They are laid on top of other eggs. The hen rolls them around after laying, as is her nature. Shells are sometimes weak because the hen is not getting enough calcium into her eggs, due to age or nutrition or both. Chickens who don's see eggs don't seem to go looking for them out of curiosity or out of recalling how tasty they can be. And you don't want to let them get a taste for eggs. If many learn the fine art of breaking eggs from one another, they will likely make a daily mess and ruin a lot of eggs.
Stop Chickens sleeping in nesting boxes A hen who is avoiding bullying or having difficulty finding a spot on the roosting bars, make choose a nesting box for her sleeping quarters. The problem is that sleeping chickens leave droppings behind. The result is dirty and/or stained eggs and messy nesting boxes.
Gives the hens a little privacy and security for that vulnerable moment of laying her egg where her cloaca (aka. vent) is exposed and can be injured by curious or aggressive flockmates.
In all of these instances, we are aided by a great chicken keeper wisdom. "Out of Sight. Out of Mind."
You will need:
A length of dowel cut a couple inches longer on each end than your nesting box will serve as a curtain rod. I used an old broomstick with rubber chair leg caps on the ends to help hold the curtain from sliding off and to keep the rod from sliding out of the hooks.
Note: You can take your dowel to the hardware store to make sure your hooks and caps are the correct size.
Fabric - denim, canvas or other cotton - I used some reclaimed canvas and liked how it is heavier and tends to fall closed on its own - you could double lighter fabric
2 screw hooks to fit your dowel - you should be able to slide your dowel into the hooks
thread, sewing machine, pins or clips
Install a heavy duty screw-in hook, keeping the hook 2" or more from any obstruction or, as in my case (see left) corner.
Make sure that your caps fit snugly on the end of your dowels and the dowels fit in the hooks.
Temporarily hang your curtain rod on the hooks. Add the rubber chair leg caps. If that all works fine, you are ready to measure for your curtain. These are going to be unique to your coop, so take a piece of paper and note the measurements you take.
Now for the WIDTH of the panels. My nesting box has three nests in it. I took three measurements - from the left hook to the center of the first nest box. From the center of the first nesting box to the center of the second nesting box. From the center of the second to the center of the third nesting box and finally from there to the right hook.
Also measure the HEIGHT from the top of the hook to where you want the bottom of the curtain to fall. Leaving it above the litter will keep it cleaner and allow the panels to close even when litter builds up in winter.
Draw patterns for each of your panels, using the height and length measurements you have made. Now add 1/2" to each of the sides and bottom. To the top, add 2" to the top. Draw around the outer lines with a heavy marker from SHEETS of paper, taped as necessary.
Around each panel, press and turn up 1/4" on all sides. Stitch.
Turn up 2" on the top and stitch within 1/8" of the edge, creating a 2" casing for the rod. Double stitch the ends.
Install the curtain panels in the proper order left to right. Hold the rod up before the nesting boxes to confirm that you have the panels laid out properly. Hang the rod on the hooks you previously installed. Add the chair leg caps.
You may wish to use a clothes pin to hold the curtain open. Chickens are notorious for being terrified of new things and this can help them adjust.
I also installed a manure shield (upper left) as the curtain is near the roosting bars. this will keep the litter and the chickens feet cleaner on their way in and out of the nesting boxes. This is a simple scrap of plywood, attached with a couple of screws into the upper horizontal wall support and resting on the lower support which carries the hooks.
The chickens never skipped a beat using their nesting boxes. Each day I closed one of the curtains. I am happy to report that broken eggs are rare now and the nesting boxes stay clean . Success!
This was a very pleasant afternoon sharing a therapeutic horticulture activity with some residents of the Harvest Hill Assisted Living Community. We decorated terra cotta pots with ribbons, talked about plants and the nature of succulents and potted them up to place in their rooms. There was a wonderful diversity of experience with plants and a chatty, relaxed atmosphere.
After the event, I was honored by a request to visit the garden room and exchange some tips regarding the plants in this beautiful, well maintained collection.
Succulents are vulnerable to over watering and need to be allowed to dry out between waterings.
Terra cotta pots are helpful as they naturally allow the escape of excess moisture and the color is warm and lovely in contrast to the green plants.
Handling soil and working with plants has been going on for many thousands of years and we humans evolved with plants. This relationship is soothing to the emotions and energizing to mental processes.
Working with plants with others creates an environment where something to do takes the pressure off knowing what to say, making conversation. Chatting arises naturally. Or being quite feels natural, restful, calming.
This activity could work equally well with all ages, making adjustments for ability and safety (better not to allow that toddler to taste plants or soil, for example). Give it a try and drop us a line to tell us about how it went for you.
After a summer of way too much rain, flooding, road damage where endured damage to their homes and property, the weather seems to have been trying to make it up to us. The days have been warm and very amenable to working outdoors.
The first frost have come and finished off the basil and winter squash plants.
The kale looks great and will keep growing even in these cool fall temperatures. I keep some kale going and protect it from the deer well into late fall/winter. It is a good feeling to brush away the snow to harvest some fresh vegetables.
The beets are fine with some early frosts. The greens will deteriorate as the cold really sets in so consider harvesting them and freezing them for winter greens or green bombs for your smoothies!
The quiet settles in as the song birds have made their way south and even the crows have grown silent. A time of introspection and rest is on the horizon. I feel a twinge of sadness, excitement for all the things I love about winter and the gently whispering promise of spring.
For more tips on fall garden care, check out these articles:
Note: The above was determined to be an ordinary earthworm - sedate and almost sleepy when I lifted it from the soil in my blueberry patch.
Jumping worms have been in the US for quite some time, imported to the US probably on plant roots. However the recent concern has arisen because they seem to be spreading quite rapidly at this time. They resemble the "normal" earthworms and nightcrawlers which we are accustomed to seeing in the garden. It is interesting to note that earthworms are not native either. Because they can be helpful in speeding the decay of humus (decomposing leaves and other plant material) into soil nutrients, we have come to think of them as beneficial.
The difference with jumping worms is that they tend to appear in much greater numbers and have voracious appetites. This can create soil devoid of all nutrition affecting plant growth. These worms are likely to be devastating to the forest landscape here in Vermont as it is dependent on very slow decay which consistently feeds the many native plants and trees. Areas where they have invaded show a lack of low growing plants in forested areas. Some groves, such as hemlock stands, are naturally devoid of low growing plants, so look for a change from the norm.
As a gardener, jumping worms can cause slow growth, plant failure and reduced harvest. They can also destroy the earthworms and nightcrawlers to which we are accustomed.
A first sign of jumping worms can be an unusual texture of the soil, which looks like coffee grounds. This is the worm castings (poop). You would also likely note an absence of bits of decaying matter - bits of grass or other decaying matter that you typically see in your garden.
If you are digging, pulling weeds or harvesting root vegetables and see a worm that is more active than the normal earthworm, you can suspect it is likely a jumping worm. I have developed the habit of picking up any worm and having a look at it before deciding it is benign.
Jumping worms are often present in numbers in an area. Pick the worm(s) up by hand or with your trowel and place in a container. Relax, take your time and have a good look. These worms are not poisonous nor can they hurt you so there is no need to be nervous about handling them. They are pretty good climbers so don't leave them in an open container as they can escape pretty quickly.
When disturbed by a touch, a jumping worm will thrash around. This is the most identifying feature of jumping worms. A regular earthworm may move but with a slower, sedate movement.
Examine the worm closely. On a jumping worm, the clitellum (band of tissue near the head which contains reproductive organs) closely encircles the entire body. In an ordinary earthworm, it is raised and is only on top.
Jumping worms often arrive on plant roots. Purchase bare root plants and grow your own vegetable and flower seedlings if possible.
You can wash potted plant roots in three changes of water but because the eggs are minute, it can be difficult to be sure you have eliminated all of them. Also, the eggs may still be present in the wash water, so your wash water could spread them wherever you dump it. Heat is the only known way to kill the eggs (100 degrees +) for several hours.
Don't buy worms advertised as jumping worms, crazy worms, snake worms, Alabama jumpers for any purpose. When buying worms, ask!
Watch carefully for jumping worms and the coffee grounds texture in any material You are considering for addition to your soil. They love compost, manure, leaf litter and mulch because of the high volume of organic matter.
Solarize bags of potting soil by leaving them in full bright sunlight for 3 days. Temperatures above 100 degrees will kill the worms and eggs.
Solarize compost by laying down a tarp. Place material 4 - 6 inches deep on the tarp. Pull in the edges and add another tarp, tucking the top tarp under the bottom one. Leave for 3 days in full sun.
Solarizing in the garden can be helpful in killing eggs, but the worms likely just leave the area if they find it too hot.
If possible, take photos and video and also photos of the soil where you found them.
Place in a tightly sealed plastic bag and either leave it in the sun or place it in the freezer. Then discard the entire bag in the trash.
Drop them into alcohol, vinegar or water mixed with a squirt of dishsoap.
It won't completely solve the problem, but can help to control the population in that any you kill will not reproduce.
Solarize the area where you found them:
Solarizing probably won't kill adult worms as they will probably just move on to a cooler area. But it will kill eggs. The adults will die over winter.
Solarizing is likely most effective in the spring because the adults will be dead and the eggs unhatched. But solarizing the area can help at any time to reduce the number of eggs.
To solarize the area, cover the area with clear plastic and leave it there in the heat of the sun for 3 weeks.
Upload photos of jumping worms you find to inaturalist.org to help track the invasive species.
Place your herbs in a large bowl of water so the plant material has room to move with ease. If you have a large amount, work in small batches. I like to rinse in one side of the sink and have the strainer of my salad spinner in the other side to catch the herbs as I swish and remove small handfuls.
As we swish the herbs freely in the water, any dirt, insects or other debris are rinsed into the water. Swish and lift small handfuls and transfer them into the strainer basket of the salad spinner.
TIP: If you don't have a salad spinner, you can lay your herbs in a colander to drain and then on a clean bath-sized towel. Pull the corners of the towel together and lightly roll and flip the towel to help to dry the leaves.
Place a single layer of herbs, not touching, on the trays of your dehydrator. For best flavor, dehydrate at 95 - 110 degrees F. Times vary depending on the plant you are working with. My thyme took a few hours, sage twice that long. Herbs are ready when they snap or crumble between your fingers. Each has its own texture.
Sage keeps its shape even when dry, for example. It can be stored in whole leaves or rubbed between thumb and forefinger to crumble it into material similar to what you find in the market. Thyme crumbles easily leaving stems that are better picked out as they don't easily break down in cooking.
Store right away in sealed plastic bags or other airtight containers to prevent mold. Herbs left in the dehydrator will get soft again.
After washing, lay plants out on trays until they are no longer wet from washing. Tie in small bundles, allowing for air flow, and hang until dry. Or lay out on sheet trays until fully dry, turning frequently. A fan can help speed up this process. If humidity is high, it can be difficult to get the herbs to dry completely. Watch for mold.
After washing, finely chop herbs. Put them in containers for use and freeze. Most herbs will freeze into a solid block so I like to freeze them in small amounts. Another solution is to freeze them on a sheet tray and then bag them once frozen.
My favorite method for freezing herbs is to chop them in the food processor and spoon them into an ice cube tray designated for this use (the lingering flavor of basil is not that good in a pitcher of lemonade - ask me how I know) . Once frozen, pop out the cubes and bag them up for long term storage. Then I can toss a cube of basil in a pot of sauce or use several for a batch of pesto.
Savor the flavor all winter long !!
We've just experienced quite a flood here in Vermont! And still most days have a mild to moderate rain shower. The hours for gardening have been brief for weeks and one must optimize them. After a recent rain shower and more in the forecast, I decided to harvest some garden herbs. As the rain came down, I worked indoors to clean and preserve my harvest.
My little herb garden has grown each year and now contains some hearty perennials -
Note the branching growth pattern of this mint (Before). A new shoot emerges above each leaf. You want to clip the stem just above a leaf joint - where the leaf meets the stem (During). What remains are two side shoots which will develop rapidly (After). Many herbs grow this way and benefit from this same type of pruning.
This mint is crowding the horseradish and because of all the recent rain, one of my goals with this harvest is to let the sun in and improve airflow around the plants to help them recover from excessive rainfall. The mint will make a lovely tea, fresh or dried for winter use.
The spots on the horseradish leaves look like Alternaria or Cercospora spot, both are common fungal pathogens affecting horseradish and worsened by wet weather. Horseradish will not be harvested until late October or early November.
Collect your herbs in a towel lined basket or basin and add a fresh towel between types of herbs to make separating them in the kitchen easier. The black spotting on this thyme will be clipped off in the kitchen before washing. As the rain begins to fall, it's time to head to the kitchen to clean and dry the harvest
Now to the kitchen to clean and preserve our herbs!!
Got a boo boo? Try Boo Boo Balm for soothing relief.
Made in Vermont
Decrease use of antibiotics and help your body to heal cuts and abrasion. Bring relief to insect bites. Soften and smooth dry, cracked, itchy, irritated skin.
I have not purchased antibiotic ointment for decades since I first began making this salve and using it to provide temporary relief of itching insect bites and to quiet the discomfort of scrapes, scratches or cuts. Since I began using Boo Boo Balm, I have never had a cut or scrape become infected.
Try it for yourself today!
Here in Central Vermont, the snow is long gone. The nurseries are packed with plants and seeds and you may be wondering if it is time to start planting.
The answer is YES!
Mid April - Some plants do fine at cooler temperatures. You can plant them as soon as the soil can be worked. Here in central Vermont (zone 4b - 5) about mid April. Some of these are beets, carrots, cilantro, dill, leaf and head lettuce, parsnips, peas, arugula, radishes, shallots, spinach, bunching onions and onions from seeds or sets (tiny bulbs).
First of May - you can put out transplants of cruciferous vegetable plants (such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, chinese cabbage, collards, kale, kohlrabi). and continue planting the seeds mentioned above.
Some seeds should not be planted until the danger of frost is past. In my area, that is around June 1. Memorial Day weekend is the traditional time for gardeners in my area. These include planting green beans, dry beans, corn, potatoes, melons, squashes. You can transplant tomatoes, peppers, and other transplants.
There are still plenty of things you can plant during summer, but the above will get you started.
Read your seed packets! When shopping or at home, consult your seed packets. They have lots of helpful information including when to plant.
Note: Get to know your garden! There are variations in these dates. I usually don't put out plants tender to frost on June 1. My farm is located in a little valley and the cold has a tendency to settle in. I wait one week longer and often avoid that one last frost that would destroy my work.
A frost can kill your tender plants. Cool weather after planting can cause your plants to be vulnerable to pathogens and to topple over and die even without a frost. Two years ago, I tried pushing the date back because it had been so warm and I lost 28 tomato plants!! Heat loving plants like tomatoes, pepper and basil will make up for any time lost by waiting that little bit longer.
For your grow zone, consult this USDA Map. Enter your zipcode to reveal your plant hardiness zone. This will help you to determine at the nursery or in seed catalogs which plants will grow successfully in your area.
For your last(and first) frost date, enter your zip code on the National Gardening Association website.
Most of us have come to understand that pollinators are critical for our food supply and without them, we would cease to exist. They are threatened by loss of habitat and loss of food sources. Some pollinators have evolved with and are dependent on a particular plant as a food source for themselves and / or to raise their young.
The beautiful and well-known monarch butterfly is a great example of an insect that has evolved to be supported by a single plant to raise its young. The adult feeds on the nectar of various flowers, spreading pollen as she goes from one to the next. But she must lay her eggs on the underside of a milkweed leaf. The larvae hatch and feed exclusively on the milkweed leaves until they go into their chrysalis form. If there is no milkweed, the monarch has no place to lay her eggs and the larvae have no food.
So it is with many insect species - they need a native plant to survive and that plant needs them.
The honey bee has gained much attention as a pollinator, but is not actually native to the US. In addition, while it is not dependent on a single plant, there are many that it cannot work because of its relatively short proboscis (straw-like tongue). I do not wish to disparage the fuzzy little darlings. I am a beekeeper myself; but they are not the entire, or dare I say, most important, solution to saving the intricate, delicate web of our ecosystem.
How to save the pollinators?
Mow less. Mow at the highest setting. Let dandelion, clover and other plants complete their flowering and seeding process. You can do this by allowing an area of your lawn to just grow for a few weeks.
Skip the herbicides. They are deadly to so many life forms and they create a monoculture that is useless and rather boring.
Remove invasives - they are nearly all imported from Asia and lack the biological controls of their homeland. Without natural predators, they run wild and crowd out natives. Our native pollinators are not evolved to feed from them. Consider removing imported garden plants and consider replacing them with native plants..
Plant more natives in garden areas. Start with a small area of native plants and continue adding more year after year. They will attract and support native pollinators. What should you plant? Do some research on your area. Or, if you are in the northeast… Grab a copy of this great new guide:
Lorraine Johnson, Sheila Colla. A Northern Gardener’s Guide to Native Plants and Pollinators: Creating Habitat in the Northeast, Great Lakes and Upper Midwest (Washington: Island Press, 2023.