Ducks in my garden
August 15, 2017
Like most gardeners in temperate climate, we have a lot of slugs roaming around, devouring tender vegetables and flowers. Slug repellents don’t really work, which means the only environment friendly option was, to find a slug eating predator. One of the best (if not the best) creatures that feeds on slugs are ducks. I got several Indian runner duck eggs, bought cheap Chinese made egg incubator an hoped I can make them hatch.
Duck eggs are rather easy to incubate. It takes a bit longer for them to hatch, compared to chickens. Optimal conditions to incubate duck eggs are 37.8°C at 55% to 65% humidity during first 12 days. Then, humidity needs to be increased up to 60-70% until day 24. All that time, eggs need to be turned at least 3 times daily. From day 25, eggs should not be turned and incubator should remain closed. Humidity should stay above 80% and temperature set a bit lower to 37.4°C. At that point, internal pip occurs which means the ducklings break the internal egg membrane and start breathing air from the air cell. When they pip externally – they break through the egg shell, humidity must remain high. If humidity drops, internal membrane can dry out and entangle the small duckling. As it can’t remove the dry rubbery membrane, it usually dies without proper assistance.
I never tried incubating eggs of any kind before and decided to buy cheap-ass incubator without humidity sensors. I had very low expectations and planned on buying ducks when I finally fail with the incubation project. Luckily I didn’t fail. I learned a few lessons during that month. The first one was around day 7, when I threw out an egg that was developing completely OK. It happened that I couldn’t see the embryo properly when I candled the eggs and I decided to make some room for other eggs. Later on, I bought external humidity sensor and tried to get egg cell large enough. I failed with one egg, and got two all the through. The second one hatched on day 30 and had yolk sack infection. Duckling died in a few days. The first one was healthy as young duckling can be.
I bought infrared heater lamp and used an old cardboard box to make a brooder. Since there was only one duckling inside, I didn’t have much issues with droppings and spilled water. I thought I did, at the time, but later I found out what multiple ducklings are capable of. Nasty. I gave it chicken starter feed and any insect I could find around the house in the spring. Young ducklings have extreme appetite and they grow very fast. At the end of second week, it got warm enough for the duckling to go out and roam around freely. It didn’t search for food much and avoided the pond, but it loved being outside. It imprinted on me a lot, so I decided I need to get a few more ducks, so it gets proper feathery company. I bought 3 ducklings that were the same age, but they were all small, had leg issues, missed feathers and shown nutrition deficiencies. I placed them all outside into their duck house, because temperatures outside got cozy enough for them to remain outdoors.
2 of the maltreated ducklings died during first week, both suffocated, because they were not used to have enough food and they never drank water when eating. The third sickly duckling remained alive and started growing insanely fast. It gained a lot of weight as well and started having even more leg related issues. I started giving them more yeast to increase niacin intake (vitamin B3), but it only got worse. Later I figured out it was just gaining size and weight too fast for its legs to keep up. As both ducklings started showing signs that they are males, I needed female ducks. I can always replace one drake with a female if there’s problem when they start mating. The seller of three sickly ducklings offered me 3 replacement ducks (at that point the remaining duckling wasn’t able to walk at all and I was certain it will perish as well). Luckily, all three were females! Now I have five ducks, one beautiful, large drake I incubated, one fat and lazy drake and 3 small lady ducks. Hope they will remain living in harmony when they reach sexual maturity in a month or two.
Borinda fungosa winter damage 2016/2017
May 4, 2017
This winter was quite brutal. Temperatures did not plunge lower than normal, but it got cold enough for the soil to completely freeze down to 0.5m and even deeper. With no snow cover to protect the delicate Borinda leaves, it stood little chance to survive the winter.
During early winter, there was no visible damage on any of my bamboos, even Borinda fungosa (gaolinensis?) fared much better than I expected. But then came a period when we received no snow, only freezing temperatures that remained below freezing even during the day. Combined with cold north eastern winds, soil cooled off considerably and it froze much deeper than usual. It remained frozen for quite some time, even when temperatures rose above freezing.
When temperatures got back to normal and after some “warm” rain, leaves lost their green color and it became evident that bamboo ended up completely top killed. Culms were all noticeably bleached, green culms had the darker green, somewhat watery appearance. At that point, I was sorry I didn’t tarp the bamboo and try my best to protect it. It all seems now, that no protection could have save it this winter – the weather was just too much for a marginal bamboo like Borinda to survive intact.
In early spring, we’ve had a period of extremely warm weather which had awaken all the bamboos, including the badly damaged Borinda fungosa. I have completely removed the dried out culms and I soon noticed a couple of survival shoots, pushing out from the base of dead culms. Until now, there are no regular shoots that would prove that the bamboo is going to recover. I hope there are healthy rhizomes with undamaged rhizome buds below ground. Usually the first shoots appeared around mid May, hopefully they will push out this year as well.
Borinda fungosa I’ve been growing from seed for 6 years somehow managed to thrive in this marginal climate. It got damaged during the winter and didn’t like the heat in the summer, but it managed to grow and upsize into a very decent bamboo. This winter was not typical for us. At least not statistically. It’s sad that the same climate pattern started to repeat itself almost every year. Almost no winter precipitation, cool northern wind and sunny weather can dry out even more winter hardy bamboos. As if the winter was not bad enough, we were recently hit by a nasty late spring freeze. My Borinda doesn’t have the best growing conditions in my garden. It may perish in a year or two even if it survived this winter.
Blueberry seedlings update
April 17, 2017
Two years old seedlings
Two years ago, I have started growing blueberries from seeds. I have collected some of the seeds from large healthy fruits on my old blueberry plants. After stratification, seeds germinated very well and I ended up with many tiny slow growing blueberry seedlings. I have waited two years, before planting them into their final location and I have kept them in a rather small container in peat without any additional fertilizer. They could be a lot happier if i’d give them some food earlier, but they managed to grow anyway. When I planted them into mound of peat outside last year, they immediately started growing large shoots (compared to existing growth). In autumn, it became evident, that most of the seedling set up their first flower buds. Some failed to survive the weight of snow during the winter.
Third growing season
In early spring, the buds started swelling and I noticed they will start even more vigorous than last year. All the 1 year old shoots started leafing out early with nice red colored young leaves. All the shoots were extremely healthy and small seedlings soon began to look like nice little bushes. Some of the shoots have already started flowering. Flowers and leaves seem to be similar to their parent plants, but there is one plant with slightly different flowers. One of the seedlings have flowers which have much smaller opening of the flower. Despite being tighter and possibly harder for the pollinators to pollinate the flowers, there did not seem to be any issues regarding pollination.
I didn’t expect them to start flowering so early, as they are not taller than 30 cm with shoots just a few mm thick. At first, when flower buds opened, flowers appeared to be small and perhaps even a bit distorted with stigma pointing out of developing petals. Later, flowers developed normally and the seedlings started flowering at the same time as their parents. It will be interesting to see their fruits when they ripen. Plant appearance is roughly identical to their parents so I’d guess the fruits will be the same as well.
Moso Shooting 2017
March 25, 2017
After unusually dry winter with almost no snow cover and two months of uninterrupted below freezing temperatures, spring came early. Due to lack of snow cover, soil got frozen down to 50 cm deep. That made me think that Bamboo shooting season will be postponed for quite some time. Fargesia Rufa started late and I believed my Phyllostachys bamboos will also need a bit longer to finally wake up. Moso proved me wrong.
Winter did some damage to the Phyllostachys pubescens ‘Moso’ seedling this year. Not as much as I would have expected, though. Despite being frozen solid, most of the canes survived with moderate leaf loss. North facing side survived almost completely undamaged while southern, more exposed side took quite some damage. Older, smaller culms got defoliated completely this year, which was a surprise to me, because I expected the older and completely hardened culms will have much better chances, compared to young and tall culms. Youngest culms from previous spring were not damaged until the worst cold hit us. Low temperatures around -15°C, sunny and windy weather with soil being completely frozen, managed to burn some of the leaves. I can only guess how they would look like if the soil would remain thawed.
First shoots came early
To my surprise, I have found first Moso shoots on March 25th. That is the earliest Moso shooting date (well actually it’s a tie with season 2014) so far. Until this season, the first to poke out of the soil were always very small shoots that grew on the edges of the grove where I severed the rhizomes. Not this year. The first shoot I saw is already larger than shoots from last year. I accidentally exposed it when I decided to water the bamboo. When I looked a bit closer, I noticed more a bit smaller shoots on the western side of bamboo clump.
Three weeks of warm and sunny weather warmed up the soil and grass started actively growing. It didn’t take long for the first fruit trees to wake up as well. On the very same day when I noticed Moso shoots, apricots opened their flowers. Everything re-started in fast forward mode this year.
At first it didn’t look like there will be any upsize. Shoots were not as large and seemed more juvenile compared to the larger shoots last season. Eventually, they started getting thicker and started showing Moso specific features. It seems that last year, shoots started from deeper down in the soil, because I have added some soil and mulch around the bamboo during the previous year.
As the shoots started growing, it became evident, that there was some upsize, compared to last season. Like last year, there were many small(er) shoots that arrived earlier. I have left all the shoots intact, like in previous years. Smaller shoots can always be pruned off later on during the season, if the grove becomes congested.
In late April, temperature plunged down to -5°C a couple of nights. Late freeze did a lot of damage to most of the fruit trees and completely defoliated walnut trees. We’ve had late freeze like this for two year in a row now – this year it got even worse than last year. The freeze, however, did no damage to the bamboo shoots. They were quite tall already at the time and for a while, I got really worried.
After the cold weather, we’ve had some warm rainy days again. Abundance of rain and mild weather (temperatures around 10°C) made the shoots grow much faster again. At that point it became evident that the number of shoots increased this year. Large shoots emerged throughout the whole grove, not just on the eastern side like in previous season. Majority of the large shoots, though, is still facing East.
I will update this post regularly until the shoots completely leaf out.