Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Zen Hen Pens

Graham, the man who made my chicken coop and run, was interviewed by Pacifica Currents recently. He and his daughter talk about the details of raising chickens in the backyard and demonstrate the use of the ZenHenPen. Here is the first of 3 segments on YouTube:



I hope my Buff Orpington will be that sweet when she's grown!



Monday, June 28, 2010

I no longer "rule the roost"

Well, for the last week or so, I've been letting the chicken roam about as they please in the backyard. They are (mostly) unsupervised during the day, though I check on them often. They are now 7 weeks old. I've decided that although I would be crushed if a predator attacked one of them, I'd be even more crushed if they weren't allowed to live their "chicken-lives to the fullest". Each day they wander further and further from their coop...and so does their poop :). But our backyard is fully enclosed in a 6-7 foot fence all the way around, so they can't get too far. At first I was trying to keep them out of the raised beds, but finally I gave up. Eventually, I'll probably buy some movable fencing and section them off in various places around the yard. But for now, they are ruling the roost and backyard for that matter.
They seem to like the partial shade and rolly pollies that are in the raised beds.
Here's (from left to right) Savannah (Welsummer), Buffy (Buff Orpington), and Lucy (Barred Rock). They enjoy eating carrot leaves.

A close up of Buffy (the Buff Orpington). She's the largest so far and is the least interested in me and what I'm doing.

Here is Goldilocks (Ameraucana). She and Savannah like to fly up onto the arm of my chair and hang out from time to time.

Here is Lucy (Barred Rock). She likes to always run up to me and see what I'm doing. She loves treats the most! Sometimes she will fly up onto my knee, but she's not a fan of being held.

This is Bella (Brahma). She the smallest of the flock and is almost solid black, except for a few white spots. She's a curious girl and often does her own thing. She will let me hold her most of the time without squawking.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Cherries!!!

I picked up 18 lbs of cherries from Happy Girl Kitchen yesterday and they are very high quality! I think I might have found 10 cherries that were damaged in the whole box. Not bad at all. So far I've made 1 cherry pie, 2 trays of dried cherries, and 17 jars of preserves in a 10:1 water to honey syrup. I used my new Weck jars that arrived just in time for the cherries. I purchased the jars from Peaceful Valley Farm and they have several sizes - the one in the picture is a smaller "tulip" jar. These Weck jars are BPA-free and prettier than the standard Ball jars that we usually see in the US. I thought they took a little bit more time to process than Ball jars, but all of the 17 that I've done so far sealed just fine. (You can tell that they are sealed when the orange tab points slightly downward.)
The other gadget that made all of this work much easier is my Oxo cherry pitter. I usually think that most gadgets are not worth the space that they take up in the kitchen drawer. But this one is definitely worth it, if you plan on doing a lot of cherries. It was $15 from Bed Bath and Beyond. And, yes, your fingers will look as "dirty" as mine after you've done 10 lbs of cherries :)

But look what you'll have in the end:

Friday, June 18, 2010

Happy last Friday of Spring!

I can feel the summer solstice approaching. After June 21, our day-lengths will gradually get shorter. But for now, at least, it's almost summer!

Happy Girl Kitchen
If you are local, then you might be interested in knowing about Happy Girl Kitchen Co. They are an organic food-preserving, workshop-teaching, bulk produce selling company of sorts. I heard about their food preservation workshops about a year or so ago, but decided that I already knew how to preserve the food I had grown. (Plus they are a little bit expensive for me...$125.) Anyway, I just re-discovered them today. As it turns out, every so often they send out a newsletter and offer produce in bulk. And I just signed up to purchase local, organically grown cherries in bulk - 18 lbs for $65. (Yes, I know that's a LOT of cherries, and, no, I've never preserved cherries before. What have I gotten myself into?) But cherries are awesome. If anybody has preserved cherries before, please let me know your recipe. Otherwise, I'll let you know how it goes.

Wal-Mart
Well, well, well. Maybe Wal-Mart isn't so bad after all. According to a recent story on NPR, they are trying to get local produce into local stores. Good job. Maybe. I've heard of some Wal-Mart deals going sour when the big company tries to control the whole situation and, eventually, the local producer. But maybe there will be more good than bad come out of this.

As a side note on the above-mentioned story:
NPR, what's up with this sentence: "A shotgun rides in the truck beside him." It was randomly placed in the story, off topic, and it makes it seems like you've never even been to the rural South. Maybe you haven't? If so, you would know that every country farmer carries around his shotgun in his truck. It's not newsworthy.

Sorry for the little rant above. That part of the story just seemed elitist and didn't sit well with me.

Wishing everyone a Happy Friday!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Flock Dynamics

I never expected flock dynamics to be so important to my hens. It seems that the "flock" is elevated over the "individual" even though my hens are all different breeds and colors. They are also developing at different rates.

Hey, where my sistas at?

My little Brahma is kind of dreamy and often gets left behind the flock as they move about the yard. One day, while searching diligently for that perfect insect, she ended up separated from the flock. The other 4 chicks were on the opposite side of the compost bin. When the Brahma realized she was "lost" she started chirping loudly. After a few seconds, the Barred Rock ran around the compost bin, let out a few quick chirps, and lead the little Brahma back around the compost bin to the rest of the flock. It was a sweet gesture.

It's cute when one chick stops pecking around long enough to look up and realize she's too far from the flock. If she can see them, she always speeds over to join the group. You'll see it happen 3 times in this video:

It kinda makes me wish that humans were a little more "flock oriented".
video

Monday, June 14, 2010

Harvest Monday: June 14, 2010


It's been a long time, since I've posted anything on Harvest Monday. (Even though I've been harvesting all year.) Mostly I've been getting lots of lettuce, artichokes, broccoli, peas, cilantro, mint, and, now, carrots. Over 2.5 lbs and there are still lots more in the ground. I've been cooking them up in a simple recipe that my husband loves:

Honey Glazed Carrots

Ingredients

  • Salt
  • 1 pound baby carrots or chopped carrots
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Directions

In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add salt and then carrots and cook until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Drain the carrots and add back to pan with butter, honey and lemon juice. Cook until a glaze coats the carrots, 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Commencing tomato formation!


The first tomato to set this year! I was very excited to see this little green tomato, especially since we have had such a cool, rainy spring. It was even more exciting to me since it is a new variety that I'm trying for the first time. It's Costoluto Genovese, a small, fluted Italian variety with lots of flavor. A friend grew it last year and I saved some seed from a couple of her tomatoes, hoping that they would grow at my house. Even though they do really well for my friend, I'm still not sure I'll get very many fruit. See, my friend lives out in the valley where summer temperatures are somewhat warmer. But I have hope. This is very promising.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Chicken bribery

Today, I'll tell a story of 2 bribes.

The first bribe involved two sisters, ages 7 and 9. While the girls' mom was in the hospital, I volunteered to babysit. The girls were very excited to be coming over to my house, especially because they knew about the chicks. They played with the chicks for the entire duration of their stay. Picking them up, naming them, and laughing at their antics. When it was time for me to take them home, they picked some plums off the tree on their way out to the car. A handful of little plums 'for the road'. The youngest girl ran out of plums very quickly and asked her older sister for "just one more...please". The wise older sister said, "I'll give you a plum IF you promise to do everything you can to help me get my own chickens...I mean everything you can think of!" The little one replied a definitive, "Yes!" I found out later that the girls' mom is strongly considering raising some hens, but dad is not on board at this point. After their girls were introduced to my chicks, I think it might be over for dad.

This is the prize that the youngest sister was after...they are sour, since they are not ripe yet, but the girls love them.

The second bribe involves me and the chicks. After seeing videos of other people with happy hens sitting in their laps and following them around, I started to feel left out. Most of the time, when I get near my chicks, they scurry away, just out of reach. In fact, it's getting harder to catch them in the evenings. They still need to spend nights indoors, but the time needed for chicken chasing in increasing everyday. So after a little bit of thought, I came up with a simple plan...bribery. So after work, I bought some chicken treats: mealworms, seed mix, and de-shelled sunflower seeds. I offered these treats to them while holding each one individually, just before bedtime. And guess what? It worked. They are starting to like me more. Ok, maybe they don't like me more, but they seem to be a little more happy about my presence. Ok, ok, they just like the treats that I represent. But that's good enough for me. I'll take it!

Do you like me or the treats? Nevermind. Don't answer that...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The apple tree quandry

When we bought our house about 2 years ago, I was so excited to have a large, old apple tree in the back yard. And later that year I couldn't wait to eat the lime green apples! But, it was not meant to be. Apple worms had destroyed the apples...ALL of them.

So the second year I "protected" them with the paper bags, like they do in Japan. I thought I was really smart for coming up with a safe/natural way to prevent the apple worms' destruction, even though it looked ridiculous. This option turned out to be a lot of work and some of the protective bags fell off in strong wind. But I remained steadfast: "No spray is going in THIS garden!" I waited for the apples to mature and when they did? More than half of them were eaten by the worms, AGAIN. Apparently, they are able to chew thru the bags and/or wiggle underneath the ties. And the taste of the few apples that survived the attack? Only so-so.

Worm food

This year I'm not even going to put the protective bags on. I just don't feel like it's worth the trouble, when I can get great-tasting, organic apples at the farmer's market at fair prices.

Now, I'm thinking about my options. And I'm thinking about the fate of the apple tree. We're considering a rearrangement of the backyard, since my husband wants to build an outbuilding for his motorcycles. And in our latest discussion, the current apple tree location is slated for the relocation of the greenhouse.

The very thought of chopping down the apple tree feels un-American...maybe even un-humane! But the reality is that I have a small backyard and I need to make my space count. If we end up moving the greenhouse to the apple tree spot, I'll probably have to plant another one somewhere else, just for the purpose of being redeemed. Actually, there would probably be space for a nice espaliered apple tree along the fence. But you know what? I'll still have the apple worms, so what's the point? There are other fruit trees/shrubs that I could plant instead of an apple tree that wouldn't be so bothered by pests. Why don't I just do that? Hmm...more raspberries, or blueberries or a fig tree.

The apple blossom scent is the only thing I would miss about the apple tree.

Would you think I was un-American for chopping down the apple tree?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Power-napping chicks and a window of opportunity

video

So the chicks don't really want to hang out with me during the daytime. They don't really mind my presence, but they don't really want me picking them up at that time. I try not to take it personally. Instead, I imagine that it's just more fun for them to be running around outside looking for bugs and discovering all kinds of things. But I've noticed that there is a certain time frame, which I consider to be a window of opportunity, when they are ok with being picked up. And if you have human children, you might be able to guess what time of day I'm talking about. Just before bedtime. Which for chicks is somewhere between 7-9pm, although I hear them wake up at times during the night.

Anyway, when I pick them up in the evening they are usually pretty sweet. It's so cute to see them nod off...it happens so fast! That's what I captured in the video above.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Tomatoes, carrots, and strawberries

These strawberries (Eversweet) are a big hit with any kid who comes over to my house. They are an everbearing variety that I picked up at OSH for $1 on a whim. These 10 plants have produced over 3 lbs so far this year. Although the number is probably somewhat higher in actuality, due to the aforementioned kids :) I'm using the upside-down strawberry crates and wooden/concrete blocks as a place to prop the developing berries upon. Since we've had so much rain this spring, I didn't want them to rot in all the water. I thought about planting them on "hills", like the commercial growers do, but I wasn't sure how to make that happen exactly in a raised bed. This method seems to be working ok. I just prop a couple of berries up when I walk by.

This bed is currently holding beans at the very back, then tomatoes, then tomatillos, then basil, amaranth (from Michelle, for greens), and one Greek oregano plant at the front. Again, I'm using the plastic strawberry crates to keep the birds from damaging young seedlings. The other crop which I squeezed in is carrots - you can see them in a straight row down the center. They were planted like this in February, since I knew that tomatoes and tomatillos would be going in on the edges later in the spring. It's worked out well planting them this way because they will be ready to pull before the tomatoes shade them out.


This bed has (again) beans in the back, then 8 more tomatoes, with a few carrots in the center. I'm also using marigolds around the tomatoes because they are supposed to ward off aphids. This is the second year in a row that I have done this. And although I see a few aphids, they haven't been a problem for me. Maybe it's working?!

Last year I picked the first ripe tomato on July 4. I doubt that it will be so early this year, since we've had such a cool, wet spring. But that's ok, the plants are growing well and we'll have tomatoes at some point this summer. I'm still eating dried tomatoes from last year, so we are definitely not destitute and tomato-less, yet!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dustbathing

The chickens did a little dustbathing today. They are almost 3 weeks old now. I was nervous at first that something might be wrong. The barred rock started dragging her wings and flopping around for a couple of minutes. Then they all started to get the hang of it!

video

I think the Ameraucana is the prettiest right now:

She and the Buff Orpington and the Welsummer are growing the quickest these days. The Barred Rock and especially the Brahma are quite a bit smaller and less feathered out than the others.