Monday, May 31, 2010

I belive they can fly

I took the chicks to the greenhouse recently for a little roaming time. They are 2 and 1/2 weeks old now. It was raining so you can hear the sound of the rain in the video below:

"Look how smart we are now!"

Time for a taller box!

By the way, in case you were wondering, Jackie's Secret Garden is still a garden! But I have to admit that I've been spending a lot of time with the chicks. The garden is growing well with only minimal input from me...just sowing some seeds, transplanting, snapping off tomato suckers and tying them up periodically. We've had some nice warm weather the past few days and the summer crops are really starting to take off.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The new coop installed

We picked up the new coop and run in Pacifica on Thursday. It was listed on Craigslist with a title of "ZenHenPen". It cost $525, and the builder told us that he has sold 40 since January. I thought that was quite a lot! It seems that this hobby is gaining speed.

The ZenHenPen is often delivered to the Bay Area, but has gone as far south as San Luis Obispo! Anyway, we installed it today. But first we had to take it apart a little bit to get it thru the gate and into the backyard:

4 screws had to be removed so the coop could be detached from the run. I just love the barn roof style.

Here is the run, showing where the coop will be re-installed.

There is a plexiglass window on one side.

A sliding door with a latch.

This is the ramp that leads up to the coop door, which can be locked.

The vented panel can be removed for easy cleaning. There are 2 wooden bars for roosting inside the coop.

This picture shows the external nesting box, which also has a removable panel. See how I placed wood all around the outside of the coop? Do you think this will stop predators from digging? Many of you suggested I staple either hardware cloth or chicken wire to the bottom. Does this prevent the chickens from being able to scratch?

All that playing made us sleepy!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Will my chickens be safe in this coop?

Calling all chicken raisin' people! Please advise me on the safety of my chickens. They have quickly made the transition from 'livestock' to 'pet'. (Ok, so this happened before I even reached the checkout counter at the feed store :) But I need to know if they will be safe in this coop:

I've heard that raccoons and opossums can dig... Is this true? Will they dig underneath the pressure treated base? If so, what can I do to prevent this?

Thanks in advance for your advice!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Up close and personal with the chicks

Well, one of my chicks got a bit of diarrhea. And I knew which one of the 5 it was because it landed on me right before I was about to leave for work. Bless her heart she couldn't help it and I also noticed dried poo on her rear.

Being the good mother that I am, I worried. Like all good mothers everywhere of many different species.

So I called the feed store where I purchased them and asked for advice. The owner said they had been vaccinated, so it was probably no big deal...especially since the chick was still running around, eating and drinking just like the others. He recommended wiping the dried poo off with a damp paper towel. Ok, so it's not too bad. I can do that.

But just to make sure the guy at the feed store was correct in his chicken diagnosis, I also read some on the interwebs, since that's what I do whenever I have any kind of question. And bless the internet chicken-raisin' people. There posts were very helpful. Even going so far as to post pictures of their chickens' poo to show the large range of "normal". (I'm glad I saw this because, WOW, some of these really do not look normal.)

Ok, now, it's time for chicken butt wiping. There's no 'putting if off til later'. Boy, I really didn't expect to be doing THIS a week ago...or ever, for that matter. It was slightly traumatizing for the both of us, because: guess what? Dried chicken poo attached to booty feathers is hard to get off. Even with professional tools like damp, warm paper towels and toothpicks. But we perservered and finally she was released back to the flock. Thankfully, they didn't pick at her, even though her booty feathers were a little damp and matted. And now, although I'm still keeping a check on chicken booties, I think we're both over it :)

Here she is snuggling with my hunny!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I got chicks!

After some loving encouragement from my amazing husband, I brought home new baby girl chicks on Monday. I've been talking about the possibility of raising hens for some time now. (My sister said it's been almost 4 years since I started talking about chickens!) On Saturday night, I decided to start another round of "should I get chickens?" After a lot of thinking out loud by both of us...well, mostly me, my husband said, "You're getting chickens". "Pick out a coop on Craigslist and buy one. If you decide you don't like it, we'll just sell it or give it away. Don't worry." That was it! I decided to take the plunge.

As it turns out, a man in Pacifica builds coops with attached runs. He sells them on Craigslist - one of our favorite places to shop. So after a few emails to the builder, my husband and I are going up to Pacifica (with the trailer) to pick up my coop on Thursday!

After talking with a friend on Sunday night, I decided to check out the Hacienda Hay and Feed store in Carmel Valley. She said they sell chicks and supplies, so I went down there on Monday morning with a plan of "just looking". I had decided the night before that I should only get 3 hens after I installed the coop and this was just a trip to see if there were any chicks for sale at the feed store.

You may be able to guess where this is going, but when I got down there they had a dozen breeds of 2-week-old baby hens. Several breeds were on my "Good" list, meaning that they were likely to suit my purposes. I wanted standard sized hens that would be friendly (or at least not aggressive), beautiful, and at least average at laying eggs. Well, I ended up bringing home not 3 or 4, but 5 chicks! They were too cute to resist. And the owner gave me one for free. These are the breeds I got: Ameraucana, Barred Rock, Brahma, Buff Orpington, and Welsummer. They are lively little girls and I love hanging out with them.

Here they are in the midst of an intense competition to see who can peck directly into the corner of the box :)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The reality of (some) farm workers

Buying organically and sustainably grown food not only benefits the buyer and the environment, but the farm worker, too. This story in the Monterey Herald details how a well became contaminated with nitrates. It just happens to be a well that migrant farm workers use at a camp in Pescadero. The head-farmer-guy provides living quarters for the field workers, if you can call them "living". And the contaminated well just happens to be 30 feet away from the field that these workers maintain. Do you think this is an organic farm? The story didn't say, so I assume not.

I can't really say that I know about the "reality" of farm workers, because I have no idea. But it doesn't look like a good life, or else there would be plenty of Americans out there tending the fields. When company profit is the only focus, then money trumps quality and the employees suffer.

These people deserve better. It bothers me that they have to "live in the shadows" in such poor conditions. That's why I think it's important to support small, local, organic farms who treat the earth and their employees fairly. For example, Two Small Farms in Watsonville/Hollister. We belonged to their CSA in 2007, before I started growing so much of our produce at home. I can remember when the owners apologized for raising the subscription price. They needed the extra money to give their field hands a pay increase, which I'm sure most of us in the CSA supported wholeheartedly!

I still buy produce from Two Small Farms from time to time. They have a farm stand in Watsonville and sometimes you can order veggies and fruit in bulk. Like last night, I picked up 10 lbs of fava beans and 1 lb of agretti (an Italian salty salad green) from Julia in PG. They will probably have tomatoes and peppers later in the summer. You can sign up for an interesting newsletter on their website.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Good news for bees on the Central Coast

Bee populations seem to be up this year on the Central Coast! In light of all the bad reports we've heard about recent years, this is good news. It's on the local KSBW website. It seems that all the rain and abundant wildflower growth has been good for the bees this spring.

It's too bad that KSBW spins it this way: "The buzz of new swarms is a growing concern for a lot of residents." Geez. Come on people. Who are these panicked residents anyway?

I say, "Go bees!" Ya'll are welcome at my house anytime.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bees that build flower petal nests!

Jerome Rozen/American Museum of Natural History

Check out this story on NPR! These little nests are made by solitary bees. They are so beautiful. And the mama is such a hard worker. Aren't bees grand?!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lemon strawberry sorbet

With the recent warm weather, I was thinking about sorbet. So I went looking for a recipe that wouldn't send me to the store for ingredients. And I found one! Sort of. It's based on Alton Brown's key lime sorbet, but utilizes what I had on hand, which is Meyer lemons and homemade strawberry preserves. I must say, it turned out to be delicious! I really love recipes with only a few ingredients.

Strawberry Lemon Sorbet

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup strawberry preserves
  • 2 Meyer lemons, zested and juiced
  • 4 cups lime flavored club soda or seltzer (I used Hanson's mandarin lime)
  • Kosher salt


Combine sugar, preserves and 1 cup of the soda in a medium saucepan and stir over low heat until sugar and preserves are melted. Add citrus juice and zest. Stir in the remaining soda, move to a clean, lidded container and chill thoroughly, 2 to 3 hours.

Turn mixture in ice cream maker per maker's instructions or until mixture reaches the consistency of a firm slush. Return mixture to lidded container and harden in freezer 1 hour before serving.

If sorbet is to be held frozen for longer than 2 hours, move from freezer to refrigerator for about half an hour before serving. If you'd like a more assertive sorbet, double the amount of citrus zest.

I made cheese! takes less time to make a pound of mozzarella than to bake a cobbler, but most people find the idea of making cheese at home to be preposterous. If the delivery guy happens to come to the door when I'm cutting and draining curd, I feel like a Wiccan.
- Barbara Kingsolver, "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"

Well, I've been thinking about taking the plunge into cheesemaking for quite some time. It's hard to find organic cheese around here...and believe me, I've spent a lot of time looking. We actually do have Cowgirl Creamery's delicious Red Hawk, which has won several regional and national awards. But at $30/lb (!), it's not really an "everyday" kind of cheese.

On the bright side, we do have access to relatively local organic milk by Strauss Family Farms. Their dairy is in west Marin County, north of San Francisco, near Pt. Reyes Station. Strauss whole milk is sold at Whole Foods for $4.19 a half-gallon or $2.59 a quart. So, the other day, when I decided to just go ahead and make cheese, darn it, I bought a quart of this lovely milk (in a glass bottle) and some buttermilk. (Still looking for organic buttermilk). I also needed some cheesecloth and Whole Foods came through on that one, too.

Then I followed these easy directions to make Fromage blanc:

And, you know what? It worked! And you know what else? It's easy! And fun.

According to the cheesemaking experts, Fromage blanc is the easiest cheese to make. And you don't really have to have any special tools. I found out by my after-the-fact-research that if I had stirred in the lemon juice more thoroughly when I first added it, then I would probably have gotten more cheese from the milk. (My whey was a bit cloudy, which I believe indicates that I didn't distribute the acid properly.) And a candy thermometer might have been more accurate than my temperature guessing, which was a complex equation based on bubbling and steam rising.

But, you know, I still got a ball of cheese from this inexpensive exercise. And it was interesting to see it all happen in the pot...curds form in a matter of seconds to minutes. Exciting enough to make me exclaim to my husband, "cheese is happening...cheese is happening!!" (I still don't know why he didn't rush into the kitchen to see this wonder unfold. I found it an order of magnitude more interesting than his motorcycle race...)

To be honest, Fromage blanc in not my favorite cheese variety; we prefer more robust varieties. I really wanted to make organic versions of the cheeses that my husband and I like best...

So, while still riding my "cheese making high", cheese happened, I decided to jump into the deep end and order this cheesemaking kit! Oh yes, in a couple weeks, I'll be making mountains of Farmhouse Cheddar, Gouda, Monterey Jack, Feta, Cottage Cheese, Colby, Parmesan and Ricotta.

Maybe. We'll see. Ok, I'll let you know how it goes...

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

It's not my nature to brag...

...but, my orchids won lots of awards at the show! We had a great Garden Show this year. Here is a picture of the tiniest orchids on display:

And here are some of my winning orchids:

Masdevallia Fraseri

Polystachya ottoniana

Sarcochilus Fitzhart

I really can't believe that I won Best Miniature in the Show:
Masdevallia Winter Blush 'Winter Sunset'

Here's a close up:

I celebrated by buying 4 more plants from the members' sales booth:
Eugongora quinquenervis
Masdevallia barleana
Masdevallia Bella Donna
Stanhopea Love Potion #9 x wardii
(Total cost: only $25)

I sold Degarmoara (Dgma.) Winter Wonderland 'White Fairy', Epicattleya Siam Jade x Fuchs Key Lime AM/AOS, and a division of my Stenoglottis longifolia for about $34 (minus 25% to the society). Plus I traded my large, unknown Pleurothallis for a small Masdevallia Highland Fling.