Meet the BYF101 Flock: Essie the Rhode Island Red

PREVIOUSLY: Meet Rosie, the English Orpington

I think if there is any type or breed of chicken that qualifies as iconically all American, it would probably be the Rhode Island Red, and that’s what Essie is.

This is Essie. Isn’t she pretty?


Essie was hatched around the first or second week of February, so she’s only about 24 weeks old. She just started laying her first eggs two weeks ago. Tres exciting! So far she’s laid two to three eggs a week, and they’ve been medium brown and quite a bit smaller than I expect them to be as she grows; she’s still on the small side herself.

As far as her personality goes, she’s not flighty or scared of humans in the least but she’s definitely the least likely of any of our hens to show any interest in actually being held or petted. She doesn’t act fearful or anxious, and she’s not aggressive or anything; she just doesn’t want you to lay hands on her. She’s perfectly happy to enjoy the treats you may have to dole out, but she isn’t going to do any cute tricks in order to get them.

Essie is what’s called a “production” Rhode Island Red hen, meaning that she’s a run of the mill variety chicken not bred to the very specific standard that breeders of heritage Rhode Island Red chickens look for in their hens. Production Reds tend to be lighter colored, smaller, less broody, and lay more eggs, while Heritage Reds are much darker in color, and are larger and heavier.

Heritage Rhode Island Reds, unlike Production Reds are true “dual purpose” birds, meaning that they are good to butcher and eat as well as good for egg production. We have no plans to eat Essie, so her lack of discernible breast meat isn’t an issue.

I’ve Got A Crush On A Modern Farmer

About a month ago I had to run out to our local Tractor Supply store on a Sunday morning because we were out of chicken feed. If you have any sort of backyard farm or garden yourself, and you’ve yet to make it into your own local Tractor Supply store, you’re missing out. It’s like a toy store for would-be farmer types. Plus, I find that the staff there is routinely very, very friendly and nice, and the stores are clean and well-stocked, and they’re open from 9am until 9pm every single day of the week. But, I digress…

I’ll begin again… It was a drizzly Sunday morning earlier this summer, and when I went to feed the chickens, I discovered that we were totally, 100 percent out of chicken feed, so I hopped into the Solid Gold Minivan and zipped up Maynardville Hwy to the closest Tractor Supply store. After I picked up the bag of chicken feed, and was wheeling my cart toward the checkout aisle, I passed the magazine rack when the most arresting magazine cover I’ve seen in years caught my eye. It was the spring 2014 issue of Modern Farmer magazine.

Modern Farmer Magazine

Modern Farmer Magazine – S

I snatched it off the stand and stared at it. As someone who loves beautiful printed things, I was immediately enthralled with the design work of this magazine, which was absolutely gorgeous. The logo and typeface were simple, clean and compellingly memorable.

There was no question that I was buying the magazine along with my chicken feed; I took it home, and I spent the whole morning reading it. The writing, design work and photography on the inside of the magazine were almost as perfect as the cover. Almost, but not quite. I’m just not sure that anything could look as good as that cover did (and still does) to me.

I also did a little research online to figure out where in the world this incredibly smart, elegant little magazine about of all things, farming had come from, and to find out how it had ended up on a magazine rack at a Maynardville, Tennessee chain store on a recent Sunday morning. It turns out that Modern Farmer was really the brainchild of one very observant journalist named Ann Marie Gardner who is now the Editor in Chief, and Ms. Gardner’s idea for start-up publication on a topic nobody might have believed anyone would want to read about was so strong, and her vision was so clear that she was able to attract not only the talent to make the magazine as good as it is in this, it’s first year of operation, but also the money needed to pay for that talent. Pretty amazing.

In fact, Modern Farmer, which has only put out four quarterly issues thus far, has already had the distinction of beating out Vanity Fair for a National Magazine Award (that’s a super big deal in the media world – sort of like winning the Oscar). So the whole story behind this little magazine that could is just as fun to contemplate as the magazine itself is fun to read.

So basically, I have a huge writergrrl crush on Modern Farmer magazine. I want to freelance for them. Or maybe be one of their featured bloggers. Or at least fetch their coffee or run the xerox machine. Something. Just so I can be near those cool farm writer kids. I’m trying to figure out the best way to make my approach. Once I do, I’ll let you know. For now, though, I’m just sitting around waiting for my Summer 2014 issue to arrive in the mail.

Creeping Jenny: Invasive Schminschmasive

My Jenny won’t creep, and it’s really starting to frustrate me. See what I mean?

Creeping Jenny Invasive

My Jenny Won’t Creep

That goldeny green plant you see in the picture – the patchy looking mess there just below the hostas is a groundcover commonly known as “Creeping Jenny,” or more properly as Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’. It’s a very popular groundcover because it’s attractive, and it’s known as fast-growing and adaptable to just about any spot where you put it.

Of course, one girl’s “fast-growing ground cover” makes another guy’s list of “worst gardening mistakes I’ve ever made.” Many people absolutely hate Creeping Jenny because they say that it does more than just fill in the bare patches in their gardens as they want it to do; instead they find that it chokes out everything in sight and starts becoming an invasive nuisance that they regret ever having planted.

I’m not sure what makes Creeping Jenny go all invasive on one gardener while looking like bad hair plugs on a bald man’s head for me, but that’s the situation in which I find myself in late July of this, the second straight year of my attempts to populate this particular garden bed with an underplanting of Creeping Jenny to set off all the other pretty plants I have in the same bed – plants like the hostas that you see in the photo, as well as roses, purple heart, columbine, ornamental grasses,lilies, elephant ear, and other things that are all doing really well in the same bed, meaning that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with the soil or the light or anything like that that would prevent a “grow anywhere” kind of plant from also taking flight in the same space. For some reason, the Creeping Jenny simply will not grow for me, not in an invasive way or any sort of way at all, and I am kind of baffled by this.

I’m not giving up though because I really do love the look of a bed with a lush, well maintained underplanting of Jenny surrounding other ornamentals, and the Jenny trailing up and over the sides of the bed. I find it a really gorgeous ground cover. So I will attempt to be patient. And some day, after an afternoon spent out in the garden sun on my hands and knees, wrestling my “assertive” bed full of Creeping Jenny back into respectable shape, maybe I will re-read this blog post and laugh at my naivete, remembering a time when I wasn’t sure whether Creeping Jenny would ever actually grow for me.

Composting 101: Let Your Chickens Do The Work

Composting really shouldn’t be that difficult. So why is it that so many gardeners – even very skilled gardeners – give up on making their own compost, and instead turn to commercial solutions to provide compost for their gardens?

Well, now that I’ve been working on my own compost heap (I have a large, defined heap – about 3 feet wide by 2 feet tall at this point) for the last year, I can tell you that one major reason that so many home composters give up is that turning compost is a huge pain. Keeping it turned is physically demanding but it’s also just hard to accomplish because the mechanics of it are awkward.

Or at least they were for me until I quit doing it a couple of months ago after I read this article in which one gardener explains that she used to be a failure at making compost but that she has now found the secret to making it without ever lifting her pitchfork to turn it.

What’s here secret, you may wonder? Well, instead of HER turning the compost, now she just lets her chickens do it.

And ever since I discovered this smart chicken-keeping-garden-hack, that’s how I do it too. Here’s Essie, our Rhode Island Red pullet, on top of our compost heap, turning the top layer.

Here are some other good resources on how chickens can help with composting:

From the HenCam blog

From a permaculture project site.

As the first blogger to which I linked notes, letting your chickens handle composting duties means that you will harvest compost two or three times a year instead of every two or three weeks like some super-composters are able to achieve, so it’s not a method for the impatient, but if you can be patient, follow the basic formula and let your chickens have at it, you’ll end up with high quality compost.

Oh, and one more thing about letting your chickens turn your compost for you; it’s highly entertaining to watch six fat hens scratch and peck and dig and cluck all over a large compost heap, slurping up worms and trying to find apple peels. It’s much more entertaining than digging in that same pile with a pitchfork yourself.

Behold! The Armenian Cucumber!

Check out the Armenian Cucumber that my little brother Robert and his wife Nicole just harvested from their Middle Tennessee garden this week. Wowza! I’m definitely planting these next year.


Making this photo even better than it already is is the fact that this single, enormous, Armenian cucumber is thus far the only item that Robert & Nicole’s garden has produced this summer. I’d say that if you’re only going to get one thing from a garden, you could do a lot worse.

Backyard Farm in Progress – Weekend of July 27 2014

Jon replacing the top beam on the swingset.


Moses takes a nap.


Birdie’s on the hunt for worms.


Rosie sometimes looks like she’s wider than she is tall.


My little potted fig tree. I’m pruning it into a single stem tree and away from the three-trunked bushy shape it’s been trying to grow. It’s doing quite nicely, and producing figs already this year.



From this direction, our house looks like it’s sitting in a field of flowers at the moment.


I can’t remember the name of this annual plant that’s done well for me this year. I got two versions of it back in May – a dark purple leafed one and this preppy pink ‘n’ green one. I need to figure out what it is so I can try to overwinter it. (I keep wanting to call it “Eleuthera,” but it turns out that’s an island in the Bahamas where my 18 year old daughter J went for vacation last year…But it’s definitely a word close to that.)



The Teenager trims the hedges.


The 4 year old helps collect eggs from the nest box.


It’s a good thing we like tomatoes around here. We’re loaded down with them. I like these nice, medium sized ones the best; I’ve been eating them like apples lately, straight off the vine.


I Like Y’all Too

Backyard Farmer 101 on FacebookWhen I launched Backyard Farmer 101 in March of this year, I started with just the BYF101 Facebook page – before going live with the actual blog – and as of this last week in July, the BYF101 Facebook page is getting pretty close to 1k likes. Today, the count stands at 911 thumbs up; that’s pretty neat, I think.

If you’re following BYF101 on Facebook already, thanks!. If not, I hope maybe you will consider joining all of us who are already over there. I post quite a bit of stuff there that never makes it to the blog. And thanks to all, for making BYF101‘s first few months so very fun for me. I’m really loving blogging again, which is …fantastic :-)


So Much Vine, So Few Melons

As a beginner veggie gardener, I am puzzled by my melon situation. Or rather, by my LACK of melons situation. As you can see by the photo below, I have plenty of cantaloupe vine growing, and maybe you can even see the healthy-looking yellow flowers on the vine indicating -as far as I know – that there should be melons developing on the vine.

photo 1

But the weird thing is that the vine keeps growing and the flowers keep flowering but no melons seem to be developing. Nothing is dying back. It’s like the whole point of the plant is to produce these yellow flowers rather than to produce fruit. I am baffled.

Off to consult The Google…

An Outdoor Room From Two Directions

I can’t believe how much time all of us are spending in this area of our front porch now that I finally cleared it out and showed it a little love. Before, nobody ever sat on this side of our porch. Now, while the public facing front is still where we all tend to sit as a group, this side “room” is where one or two of us tend to gather to read or talk quietly or work or have a snack. The dog even seems to like this remade side porch sitting area better than he ever did before (and it’s not just because there’s a rug there; there was one there previously and he never wanted to spend any time on it.)

The space just seems to have good sitting karma or something. It’s definitely my favorite workspace in or outside of our house at the moment. Here it is from two perspectives.

Looking In.

photo (3)

And Looking Out.

photo (2)