Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Pictures and Updates on the Tin Can Garden

 A while back, we moved the plants out from under the  lights and into windows.  The peas went to the front windows, while the onions and tomatoes went to  my son's room, since he is living on base several states away and his windows are free game.

The sugar snap peas are THRIVING! As you can see, we had to extend the climbing strings to the ceiling, and if you look close, you can see our first flower at the top of the vine!

The other variety of peas are not doing as well - we're not sure why.  Daughter said when she grew them last summer, they were also very slow. But they are still growing, so onward and upward!  We plan to get some more sugar snap peas seeds soon and plant a whole bunch - a window full of vines!

The tomatoes and onions are doing well as well - slower growth because it is not ideally warm - you can see the frost there on the window - but they are thriving. The room smells like tomato plants.

More pictures of our snow:

This is the view out the back windows, and this is the youngest dog pining to go out and run, even though he'd been out earlier and had a rousing run around for a couple hours, and had only come back in the house just minutes before this picture was taken!

I was not the only one unhappy about the snow - it caused the chickens some stress, since they did not want to go out in the storm, and we had some egg issues.

Someone clearly had issues with this egg being in their nesting box when they wanted to use it. You can see the peck spot right there.  The egg inside was fine and uncompromised, and we had it as part of our dinner.

 This egg, however - the oddities that can happen with eggs when a chicken is feeling stressed - and clearly one of our New Hampshire Reds was feeling stressed.  Note the very elongated form, and the odd wrinkle at the end.  This egg was also just fine inside. But it is a fine indicator when one or more of your chickens is unhappy.  In this case, they were literally cooped up too long for their liking.

But due to judicious planning and some heavy shoveling on my part early this morning, a large patch of dirt was clear by early afternoon, so they could run outside and peck up some gravel and grit.  One of the hens was so happy to be outside in the sun, she sat down in the muddiest spot of the yard and proceeded to do what we call the "broken chicken act"- where they lay sideways and stretch their wings out to catch the full warmth of the sun.  Of course, when she came back in, she ruffled her feathers and shook, and looked at me all offended, like I'd planned mud to upset her day.

They didn't want to stay out more than an hour, and they seemed happy to come back in, tracking their muddy feet everywhere.

A couple of our local door knockers - they will peck the door when they've been out long enough.

The incidence of feather pulling had stepped up though, during our bouts of snowy days.  They're getting enough protein; I think it's just cooped up syndrome.  I'll be able to pick up the right elastic tomorrow so we can get a jump on those chicken coats!

Oh, I haven't done an egg count lately - today was 6, and we've been pretty steady between 4 and 6 eggs every day, even with the lesser daylight.

Soon, it will be baby chick time at the feed store and we'll be picking up some new girls in hopes of making our flock bigger form the coming year.

Snow Ends, Kind Neighbors and Bosses

The snow on our roof and in our trees
As you may know by now, if you read our Facebook page, we had one large snowstorm, followed by a day of melting, and then a mispredicted snowstorm yesterday of much more than the 1-3 inches the weatherman said.  All told, I believe we ended up with another 6 to 8 inches.

We also live on a steep hill that most of the year is not a problem - until we get this dry light snow that is unbelievably slippery!  So my attempt to get up the hill yesterday was a failure, which led to me high centering on a rather large rock. So as we were stuck there, a neighbor came by and told us that his wife had the tow chain in her car - he'd go get it and come back.  For him, that meant a 40 minute round trip, and giving up some of his free time - he was off to do grocery shopping.  When he got back, I'd gotten most of the snow cleared from around the rock - it was clear the car needed to be jacked up to get the rock clear; it was stuck on the frame.  So he got under that car and jacked it up, pulled the rock out, and stood back to direct me so I could get the car turned around and back down the hill to the bad weather parking lot for the area - the local church. he even followed me and gave me a ride back to the house, saving me over a quarter mile walk.

he did this out of selflessness, expecting nothing in return, and was thrilled when I have him a dozen "homemade" eggs and the offer to come get some any time he likes.

He's not the first neighbor to help us out in the past; in return, we've tried to repay the kindness, and to help out neighbors when they need it.

But that was not the only kindness of this storm.  My boss, knowing the storm conditions, called yesterday evening to make sure I would be able to make my job for tomorrow.  I told her what the situation was, and said I'd walk down at 6 am and if I couldn't get the car out, I'd call immediately.  An hour later, she called back, saying since it was such a short job - a few hours - and we know the highway conditions after a storm, she said she'd be happier if I stayed home and did not risk myself.  That is the first time in a long time I've had a boss who cared more for my well being than getting the job done. I was impressed and awed, and it makes me very happy that I work for a company that sees it's employees as valued assets.

And it gets better.  The church parking lot is itself down a short hill; I left off going down until I knew the lovely bright sunshine of the day had done some work and turned the fluff into a harder, crustier snow I could easily drive on.  So about 1:30 pm, I put on my boots, coat and gloves, grabbed a snow shovel and trekked on down, fully expecting to do some digging. (we'd recleared the driveway earlier, and knew the sun was doing a great job with the melting.)  When I got to the bottom of the hill, I was surprised to find that not only had someone plowed around my car, they'd taken the time to clear all the snow off of it for me!  Some anonymous helper made my afternoon a whole bunch easier!  I threw the shovel in the back, started the car, and easily backed up and drove myself out of the lot, down the street to turn around, and took a good run at our road and made it to the top with only a few fishtails.

This type of stuff restores my faith in people, and in the area.

Many thanks, wonderful neighbors!

Monday, February 25, 2013

During The Storm

These snow pictures were taken in the morning, before we got the full brunt of the storm.  As of 6:15 pm, we had a snow depth of 19 inches - and it is still snowing.  Nope, that's not a chicken coop - that's our tank house for our well.

The snow got deep enough that around noon, we went out to shovel about 1/4 of the driveway so our daughter could park when she got home from work; the kicker was, she couldn't get up the hill!  Our car is still buried - something I don't look forward to in the morning.

About 45 minutes after we expected daughter to be home, she called - her car was stuck in the snow.  Apparently, she'd made a run at our road and almost got to the top of the hill when the car slid sideways across the road.  Well, she managed to get out of that, and went back to the main road to take another run at it.  In turning around, she got sucked into some of the deeper snow on the next road over; no matter what she did, the slope of the road and depth of the snow dragged her further in.  So I suited up and started the 1/4 mile walk down to the main road to see what I could do.

By the time I got to the main road, it was clear she'd just been pushed out and was headed up the main road toward me.  Apparently a neighbor who was home, and one who was passing by stopped to help push her out.  It took two tries, but she got out.  Instead of trying to barrel up our road again, she parked in the church lot at the bottom of the hill - also not plowed, so we'll have to dig her out tomorrow, but safe enough for the night.

The hike back up the hill was a LOT more vigorous than the walk down, let me tell you.  No one can say I didn't get a decent walk in today - nothing like a half mile walk in 25 degree weather and a foot of snow.

Back at the house, the dogs continued their need to go in and out, in and out, in order to play in the snow and eat as much as they could.

Knowing it was the right kind of day, I got chicken soup out of the freezer and started bread.  I made three loaves - plain bread, garlic bread, and cinnamon bread.  However, we ended up not having soup; daughter asked for chili instead, so a pot of homemade chili was whipped up and consumed for dinner.  We've not cut into the cinnamon bread yet, but the others sure looked good and tasted good too.

Of course, finicky girls they are, the chickens did NOT go outside at all today.  I made them some scrambled eggs when I made ours for breakfast, but oddly and unusually, they didn't hardly eat any.  Of course, I gave them the eggs right after they'd gotten a big scoop of oats, so that may have been it.  They didn't refrain from walking in them, however. And they ate their regular food, and devoured the lettuce I brought them later.  I guess the eggs just weren't green enough for their liking today.

And on the egg note - yesterday, I curtained the other nesting box, and today was rewarded with an egg in it! They must like the curtains after all.  And them clumsy me, I knock the egg on the edge of the nesting box as I bring it out.  But it didn't fully break.  I bring it inside, and show everyone how a chunk of shell is missing, but the membrane is thick and what do I do? I drop it again, on the floor. I have skills today for sure. But this egg? Still did not break fully.  I guess I don't need to worry about their calcium levels much.
The offending egg in question - you can see all the cracks, yet the insides are still inside. 

Chili, snow, shoveling, bread, some computer time, some Netflix and a bit of sewing and talking to our son on the phone was pretty much the day around here.

Happy snow day, all.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Calm Before the Storm

A blizzard is due to blow in here in the next couple hours and last through tomorrow, bringing with it at least 10 inches of snow for my area.  Yet today was warm, sunny, utterly pleasant, with the snow from yesterday's storm already melting away.

That, however, made the hill from our house utterly slick, so my trip to the feed store and post office is postponed.  But hey, every day I don't go out is a day I don't spend any money, so that can be a win.  Funny thing is, it's just our small section of the hill that is so slick; the rest of the hill had melted away to dirt.  Ahh well. The Post office will still be there on Monday.

The chickens were most delighted with the weather. The day before, they downright refused to go outside - that evil white stuff was all over the ground AND falling from the sky.  But with today's rapid melting - and drying - they were able to run around the side of the house to a favored scratching site, and to dust up a storm. But with the freedom came a price.

A couple of chickens are still molting, and others have plucked their belly feathers in a misguided attempt to keep their eggs warm - eggs that will never be hatched, because we have no rooster to help make the babies.  I noted that a couple of them looked rather red on the belly - cold chapped skin when the feathers are gone.  So I consulted farming friends - the funny part is they mostly live in Australia - and they said that a thin layer of vaseline would do the trick, just like you do for their combs.

So daughter and I opened the garage, let the chickens out and started to coat these chickens.  We got the first two done and then realized - they'd gone to ground, laying, flapping, rolling in the dirt like they were broken, soaking up the sun.  And rubbing off the vaseline just put on.  So we gave up for a bit; she took the eggs in the house and I cleaned out the coop.  Thorough cleaning offered up by the warm weather, and a curtain over the second nesting box in hopes that they will go back to using it again like they did when we put the first curtain up. (The other day, they came in after a run about outside, and so many decided it was time to lay, that FOUR of them stuffed themselves into the one nesting box at the same time!)

The girls found a small patch of brown grass near the downspout that actually had green sprouts at the base of it, and attacked it like it was an anthill.  No more green grass in that spot!

Clean coop, fresh food, a lowering sun and a growing chill to the air got the chickens to wander back into the garage, which got them scooped up one at a time and their butts coated. The ones who had been caught and coated earlier got a new coat, and we noticed their skin was already looking much better. Several suffered - in their minds - greatly at the indignity of being held firmly and turned upside down while something was rubbed on them.  The horrors!  How mean we are!

They were rewarded a bit later with a bowl of warm cooked kidney beans, which they happily tried to steal from me even as I was putting them in the coop.

We also managed to measure each chicken for their impending coats of doom - otherwise known as chicken saddles, to help keep feather pulling to a minimum.  I don't have the right kind or enough elastic, so they are free from the indignity for yet a few more days.  I decided to make one for each, because you never know who is going to be picked on and why.  Another reason I'll be happy to have spring again; they don't do this when they have more greens and run about time.

Chickens cared for, fence propped up where the wind has blown it sideways, four fallen trees - three of them rather large - dragged around to the wood cutting area on the near side of the house, and the deck shoveled off just in time for the next round.

Daughter has to brave the weather to go to work very early in the morning; hopefully it will not be a real problem.  The rest of us have another day at home, warm and quiet.  Perhaps we'll bake some bread.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

FOLK Journal Challenge: American Ingenuity

One of our followers on Facebook privately sent me a link from Folk Magazine for their Folk Journal Challenge - every week, a different question. I thought, why not? I don't see the appeal of every question, and I don't think I'll address every one they have- my right to pick and chose, right?  But some, like this week, struck me.

"How do you perceive American ingenuity? Where do you see American ingenuity thriving today?"

How do I perceive it? Loaded question to ask an historian, who sees American history full of it, from the first people who came over and attempted to settle - and totally disappeared - to the first fur traders and trappers, the settlers who settled "The West" when the West for them was still far east of the Mississippi.  It was in the people who headed out with just a wagon load of stuff that got lighter and lighter as things were dumped from those wagons as they headed over the mountain passes and couldn't take all that weigh, so when they got to the far end, they made do with makeshift tools and inventions.  Especially here out in the far West, when Plains folks set up a soddy, and to keep the bugs and dirt out of everything, women figured out how to hang fabric along the ceiling beams. It was using bottle bottoms in a frame to make a window so you go some light inside. It was befriending and learning from the local indian tribes and the Mexican settlers - people who had been on the land long before us and knew how to live out here.  It was taking existing technology and making it better, faster, more efficient - and you see that specifically in the gold and silver mining industry all over the west. Everything people did to survive and thrive when getting started here was based in ingenuity.

It was in keeping an open mind and embracing new technology - in the 1880s, the carpet sweeper and the first vacuums - oh, the ease of cleaning the house!!  Improvements on the wood stove, electricity, the railroad,  telephones, cars - each in mind to make our lives easier.  But it didn't stop there, because with each new idea, there was someone else who said "I can do it better" and did.

And now, in our time, when technology has spread so rapidly - in my life alone, we've gone from a black and white console TV and a rotary telephone that hung on the kitchen wall, to a phone/TV/computer/camera all in one combo that fits in your pocket. That you can hold in your hand. How much longer before the tech is like that in the new Total Recall movie, where the tech doesn't just fit in your hand, it IS in your hand?  Not long.

I also see the new ingenuity as taking a step back from all the technology to a reusing/recycling/repairing mindset that we haven't seen since the 1930s and the Great Depression. And World War II, for that matter. All around, we see people stepping back to eat healthier by growing their own gardens, and using their back, front, side yards to do so.(and battling their cities for the right to do so.) We see people raising their own livestock - in the city, in the country and everywhere in between.  Much like it was when my grandparents married; you can barely turn around where I live without another neighbor getting chickens, goats, horses.  Greenhouses are popping up everywhere.

I see it on Etsy, and Shop Delighted, and overseas on Folksy and several other sites.   Handwork has come back.  Knitting, crocheting, embroidery, hand sewing - making your clothes and your kids clothes, much as our mothers and grandmothers did. I see it in the sheer number of yarn shops around the area anymore, and the resurgence of fabric shops.

I see it in a resurgence of home cooking - an attempt to eat better by making your own food.

What's the largest difference here between the ingenuity my grandparents used and ours? This right here.  Blogs. The internet.  Instead of relying on your neighbors and family to know what you need to know, or your local farm extension office, now you can ask literally the world.  Your farm extension office is still here - but you don't have to go there or call them; they too, are on the internet.  I currently talk to people in Australia about farming and growing tips; they're at the height of their season while I await spring.  But they can talk chickens to me and seedlings, and so forth.  The instant sharing of information, patterns, recipes, thoughts.

I see it every day in the social media I use, especially Facebook, where people have pages just like my own, where people actively search out information to share on how to reuse or reinvent the items they already have.  They share stories of their own about how they built or used something in a new way. Or they managed to build something necessary, like a chicken coop, without having to buy any of the parts, merely using recycled materials - much like my own coop. And in sharing this information - me, a non famous nobody in the mountains of Colorado, connects with someone maybe more famous in the farmland of North Carolina, or in the city of Sydney, Australia. My sharing of what I did different with these useless bars of soap, or a bunch of over sized pallets, and showing that I had success makes other people realize that they, too, can have success - and suddenly, we have a world movement of successes. All because I saw what someone else did and shared it, and someone else saw my share and shared it, and so on and so on.

This is our new WORLD ingenuity - using people as the best resource there is.

There's my take.  And here's the link to the blog topic of the week list from Folk Magazine, if you are interested.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Quick, Easy and CHEAP Recipes for Those "Who Knows What's for Dinner?" Days

As homemade Pea Soup slowly cooks behind me, I am reminded of some "toss together" recipes from meals last week.

The first is one I LOVE from my childhood - my mother had it in her cookbook as a cutout from a magazine, an article entitled "The Bride Cooks".  It was such a basic recipe, and was always modified for the size of the cut of meat, that now I offer it up as a generalized recipe.

The recipe calls for the following:

- Flank steak or a thin cut brisket
- Dried Parsley leaves
- Lemon juice - fresh or bottled
- Salt
- Vegetable Oil - you could substitute Olive Oil; I've not tried it that way yet.

In a bowl, mix the following - Note, these are all approximations, adjust to suit you.  For example, if you have salt issues, then lessen the amount of salt.

- 1/2 teaspoon of salt - I measure this by pouring the salt into my palm; a pile about the size of a nickel is about right.
- 2- 3 tablespoons full of Parsley - again, I pour it into my hand.  I then rub it between my hands to bring forth the flavor and to crush it into smaller bits.
- 2-3 tablespoons of oil - use a measuring spoon
-2 tablespoons of lemon juice.

Mix this all up.  Note, it will separate, so you will have to mix it again before applying it.  Salt will not fully dissolve.

Put your cut of meat in a glass pan and using a fork, poke a lot of holes in it.  Note, these cuts of meat are tougher, so this can take effort.  Now, pour or brush the mixture over the meat.  It should look like this:

This cut is a brisket; it has a thick layer of fat on the back size.  Using a brush can help you get more "green" on top in the empty spaces.  Depending on how tough the meat is, you let it soak/marinate accordingly.  I usually do 15 minutes per side.

Next step is to put it on a broiler pan, and cook each side until a nice brown.  When I flip it, I pour more of the mix left in the pan on top.  I do tend to flip it a couple times.  For variation, I did this last piece out of the grill, with the fat side down longer than the top side.  This is a finished piece of meat:

Looks delicious, doesn't it? Right amount of brown and red. Lots of juice comes from this type of cut; you may wish to cut this on a plate with sides.  In our case, the dogs got a treat as I took  bread and soaked the juice up as I cut.  Cut this using a serrated edged knife, like that in the picture, and cut at an angle, as you can also see in the picture. What the marinade doesn't tenderize, the cut helps, and it cuts against the grain and breaks the fibers.

Serve it with whatever you like - my preference? The next day, cold, eaten right out of the bag the leftovers were put in!

Total cost with sides? Brisket cut - $5, Marinade parts - 25 Cents  Noodles - $1, Canned Peaches - 89 cents - Made four meals!

The second recipe came out of things about and no one having a clue what they wanted to eat.  I'd gotten a package of beef Polska Kilbasa - a lovely type of sausage - out of the freezer, planning to do fried potatoes and fried sausage, knowing that is heavy on the fats.  Bleh.  But then, on the far counter, I saw a couple of sweet peppers - a red and a yellow - that daughter had brought home.  It was clear these were use soon or they would be wasted. And a meal was born.

Here's the recipe:

- 2 Sweet peppers/Bell Peppers - any color, up to you.
- One package Beef Polska Kilbasa
- Yellow Onion
- Clove of Garlic
- Olive oil

I sliced the peppers into strips, added a couple of slices of onion, cut in half, to leave the onion is strips as well.  Peeled and chopped the clove of garlic fine, added it to the pan.  Sliced the sausage into rounds, into the pan, and then added a couple tablespoons of olive oil.  In my opinion, the olive oil made this meal. I've made similar with vegetable oil in the past, but the olive oil just lent a flavor not normally found. Even better is Grapeseed Oil - if you can get some, try it.  Amazing.

Saute all of this over a medium heat, stirring frequently like a stir fry, until the onions get translucent, the sausage looks cooked, and the peppers look cooked but not mush.  This will depend on your personal tastes; if you like your veggies to have a snap, throw the sausage in first and let it get cooked, then add the veggies toward the end.

Here it is in the pan, ready to serve:

My husband, who is not a large fan or veggies, has requested we have this again!

Cost?  Peppers - depends, but if you buy them on sale, $2.  Sausage - $2.50 a package.  Onion -79 cents, Garlic - 2-3 cents for the clove, Olive Oil - 3 cents.  A little more expensive than the last meal, but still makes 3-4 servings, depending on how hungry your herd is.

Today, we will eat Pea Soup made form scratch, and some lovely cornbread daughter got for her birthday from a friend who runs his own bakery.  I can't wait!  Enjoy these recipes!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Answering Your Questions: Chickens and Eggshells

HJW has asked:

I'm not raising my own chickens yet, but I've read a bunch of places that you shouldn't let the chickens eat egg or egg shells because they will then associate their eggs with food and eat them before you get a chance, or before they can brood on them to hatch. Is that really a concern? Have you seen any problems with it in your coop?

Good Question!

I personally have never seen this as a problem with my hens.

I think part of  it is in the presentation. We give our girls hard boiled or scrambled eggs on occasion, especially in the winter, when their free ranging source of protein is low, and the cold causes them to burn more energy to keep warm.  When I prepare the eggs, I make sure the scrambled eggs are well broken up, and the hard boiled eggs get smushed and then chopped up with the shell on into smaller bits.  I never present them with a whole cooked egg.  Eggshells get added to their regular food dish, and are crushed up small enough to be bit sized.

Remember, chickens are as trainable as your dog - probably moreso.  If you choose a specific dish to provide them treat foods like eggs, cooked oatmeal, thawed frozen vegetables, etc., in, they will recognize that dish and know it to contain food.  If you also give them this treat at the same time of day every time, that will help them have an expectation.  I use an old, large, shallow clear glass pie plate.  When my girls see that pie plate, they get all excited.  As soon as I set it down, they are all over it, gulping down food faster than the dogs do for meat scraps!

As part of training your chickens, select specific times of day to get the eggs.  Collect them several times a day -  you will learn what times of day your chickens lay; it does appear to vary with the seasons.  In the winter, you want to be collecting several times a day just to avoid frozen eggs.  The chickens seem to learn that the eggs are yours and not theirs.

But have consideration for your chickens as well. I know with mine, and their propensity for all using the same nesting box, it's often very like the women's restroom at a concert - a line waiting for the box, and as one pops out, another pops in.  I do try to show them respect and not reach under the hen in the box for the other eggs; however, if she she's in there for more than half an hour, I will reach in and get the eggs to keep the hen in question from getting broody.  I've been  complained at - that usually means she still needs to lay - and been pecked only once. But I make sure they know the eggs are mine. I do thank them though - never underestimate what animals understand.

The only times I've seen my hens eat uncooked eggs was two occasions - the first is when I accidentally drop one when collecting eggs, and it breaks. At that point, it's a loss to me, but there is nutrients to be had for the chickens.

The other time was in their early egg laying days, when the occasional egg would be laid without a shell. Those eggs are still edible by us; they just lack the protective shell and instead have a thick membrane.  Usually, the one who started eating the egg was the hen who laid it.  I believe this is an instinctual thing; the hens know that this egg could never possibly be fertile, and so is a waste. It is very akin to mammals eating the afterbirth; an extra source of nutrients. These eggs are rare, and mainly happen when the chickens first start laying and their bodies are getting used to the whole process of creating that egg.  However, if you find it in older chickens, it is a sign that they are lacking calcium and it is something you need to remedy as soon as possible.

This all being said,  and while I've never seen it in my girls, some hens and roosters can become cannibalistic in regards to the eggs (as well as other chickens, but that is a topic for another time), breaking all the eggs that are laid, and eating some as well.  This bodes ill if you are planning to raise chicks of your own and allow the hens to hatch their own eggs - the chicken in question becomes a killer.  While you can trim their beaks, this could lead to health issues for that chicken, especially if you allow them to forage.  The best course of action is to cull that chicken.  Sounds uncivil, but remember, chickens are working animals, no matter how you name them, or treat them as pets. The job of my girls is, right now, to produce eggs.  If one of them is destroying the eggs, she has become a detriment to the flock - and us - and would better serve us in the roaster or the stock pot.

Thanks for the question, hope this answer helps, and feel free to ask more at any time!

Household Experiment: Nesting Box Curtains Followup

The curtains went up, and for two days, the hens totally ignored the box that had the curtain on it, laying all their eggs in the open fronted box.

So after those first couple days, I tied back one side of the curtain strips while they were out in the yard to see if that would help. And it did. That very day, Baby got herself right in the box and laid an egg. So the next day, I let down a couple more strips, and then their normal in and out, they knocked the rest of the strips down.

The bonus part is that now BOTH boxes are being used to lay eggs in - and it seems to vary who uses which box.  So you can teach a chicken new tricks!

The feather pulling has decreased as well, but it looks like Poppy is still going to need a coat put on her to discourage her bully.

Ease of Doing- 9 - just took some fabric, nails, hammer and a few minutes.
Time Spent - 9 - quick and easy.
Overall Desired Results Achieved - 10!

This experiment was a success!