Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Quick Thaw

It got up to 51 degrees today!  Bye bye snow, hello lots of mud.  All morning long I could hear sheets of ice sliding off the steep pitch of my metal roof.  It sounds like a car crash every time, but you get used to it after a while. 

It was really nice to see the sunshine come out.  After nearly a month of snow on the ground for the month of December, my cooped up chickens were finally able to get outside and play.

We took a nice stroll around the yard in our rain boots, soaking up some sunshine and checking things out.

Ava scattering scratch for the girls.
The Pied Piper of Chicken Town.

The best part about having no rooster is that the hens readily submit to you. 
They hit the ground with a thump, crouching as you pass by.
It's not as easy as it used to be, but Ava still loves to pick up the chickens.

With so many chickens swarming about, it's hard to step lightly!

I went down to take a look at my bees and was sad to see so many bees lying dead on the ground in front of the entrance.  There were still a few coming and going from the box.  I suspect they got too cold; some died and were tossed out by other workers.  There were a few lying dead out front last year, but not nearly so many.  The instructions that came with my IPM bottom board said to leave out the corrugated sheet year-round, even in the winter (it is primarily used to chart mite counts), but another place online I saw a beek recommend putting it in for winter to help keep things warmer.  We've had a lot of chilling winds already this winter and I think I will be putting the sheet back in afterall to prevent drafts.  I'll be very disappointed if I lose these bees now after having such a good first year.  I am still learning and up until now they've survived my mistakes.  It is supposed to be even warmer tomorrow so I think I'll open the top quickly and give them a new baggie feeder.

I checked on the salad greens I have growing under low tunnels and all is well there.  I will leave this spinach to grow for now.

The radish tops were wilted, but the round roots beneath the surface were perfectly fine.  We've had several nights in the teens, but the tunnels do a great job protecting my winter salad veggies.

We pulled a couple dozen to enjoy in salads this week.

The lettuce is looking good too.  I just bought a bag of lettuce at the store, so I'll let this go a while longer too. 

The snow was hard on my PVC hoops.  A few needed straightened back out.  I think next year I will invest in some electrical metal conduit as mentioned in my Low Tunnel post.

Our enjoyment of this rare and beautiful sunny day was cut short when Ava somehow fell into the bucket of water I had brought down for the chickens.  I was busy collecting eggs when I heard a crash, a splash and a cry.  I think she came into the chicken barn not looking where she was going and simply walked right into the 5 gallon bucket.

Soaked and not happy.

I had to say something silly to get her to look at me!

(Ok Mom, I'm cold and wet.  Stop snapping pictures and let me go inside!)

As we walked back to the house, she bemoaned, "I should have stayed inside!"  No silly, be glad you got to go outside and enjoy the sunshine while you can!

I stripped her down, wrapped her in a warm blankie and nestled her in a recliner to watch some TV while I ran back outside to take water to the chickens...again.

There was a really nice sunset this evening.  I'm so glad to see the snow come off for now.  We'll get some more soon, I'm sure.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chickens Making Snow Angels

This has been my daughter's favorite book lately, "Merry Christmas, Cheeps!"  A very cute book for sure, but I don't think you're going to see my chickens outside making snow angels anytime soon.  Matter of fact, they won't step a foot outside when there's snow on the ground.

We got our first snow on December 1st this year--very early!  It has been a particularly frigid couple of days here lately and the snow on the ground is very powdery and slick.  The wind has been biting and relentless.  I've had the wood stove burning with the damper wide open trying to keep the chill off of the house.  Normally we get too hot and have to open a window, but the wind has been finding it's way in through every available crack and the back side of the house feels a little drafty right now.  Today's high was 17 degrees and overnight it has been running about 7 degrees.  Miserable!  But there are chores that must be done and critters that must be fed, so I bundle up well and brave the cold.

I've been making the chickens a hot mash every evening and delivering it to them just before they go to roost for the night.

My father-in-law used to recommend that I make dough balls of cornmeal and hot pepper flakes to keep them warm and laying.  I don't usually have cornmeal on hand, so I've been making them instant oatmeal every evening and adding serrano hot pepper flakes to it.  I toss in whatever other goodies I can find, usually whatever Ava has rejected from her meals that day:  toast, yougurt, a half-eaten apple, etc.

I serve it to them warm and they all press in to get their fair share.  They don't seem able to taste the hot pepper.  Given all the other weird things they'll eat, it doesn't surprise me.  I wonder just what kind of taste buds chickens do have? 

The old-timers will tell you that the hot peppers will keep them laying through cold weather and will improve their circulation and prevent frostbite to combs and toes.  Makes sense to me.  I get flushed and sweaty too when I eat lots of hot pepper.  (Except chickens don't sweat.)

Keeping the coop cozy and draft-free certainly plays a part.  My chicken coop takes up about 1/3rd of my little barn.  The barn is sided with rough cut lumber and has furring strips run over the cracks between each pair of boards, but still there are a lot of gaps and the wind can get through.

Around November, I make a trip to my local recycling center and pick up several large sections of heavy cardboard.  I use my staple gun to secure it to the south and west facing walls from which our prevailing winds come.  It goes up quickly and easily and really does a great job keeping the coop warm.  Leaving the sheltered side of the coop uncovered allows for good ventilation.  Moisture build up in the coop will cause frostbite and encourage respiratory disease, so you don't want to make it too air-tight.  On bitter days like today, I also close off their chicken door to keep the wind out.  They have no intentions of going out anyway.

I used to use a heated dog water dish to keep their water thawed, but now that I have tripled the size of my flock they require a larger waterer that won't fit down inside of it.  This year, I secured a red heat lamp over the waterer using chain to clamp it to and ran it through the wire hanging loop and backed it all up by securing the electric cord without slack.  There's no chance of it falling down.  I dust it off about once a week.  The cardboard along the walls makes it like a brooder and it works well to keep the water fresh and thawed out.

After being cooped up for a couple days, these girls have started pecking and pulling at the cardboard.  I've never had a flock do that before, but these Black Stars are a little more high-strung.  If it keeps them happy and busy and prevents them from eating each other or their eggs, that's fine with me!  They've been taking the little pieces and lining their nest boxes with them.

Our snowman is enjoying this weather and I think he is the only one.  This is not even the official beginning of winter.  We must really be in for it!

Best Dang Deer Jerky Marinade Ever

This is my own personal recipe for deer jerky and it operates on the principle that more is...well, more!  This recipe is for marinating strips of meat, although I am going to try it out, adding a little bit at a time to ground meat to make snack sticks with a jerky gun now that I have one.  It's a very forgiving recipe, so by all means feel free to taste and tweak.  I have fun omitting and adding different ingredients to get special blends.  This that follows is the basic recipe.

My Original Jerky Blend

  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1/2 tbsp. black pepper
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced (or 1 tbsp. garlic powder)
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 1/4 c. Worcestershire
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/8 c. white or cider vinegar
  • 1/2 c. of Tabasco sauce
  • 2 tsp. liquid smoke
  • 1 tbsp. sorghum molasses
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 3 lbs. venison, cut into 1/4" thick strips

I prefer to use the hindquarters for jerky.  Sometimes I'll toss in a few of the larger pieces from the shoulder.  You could use the tenderloin too, but in this house that is considered a sacrilege. 

I am very particular to say the least and I will remove all large sections of the tough muscle casing (silverskin) because it aggravates me to no end to bite into a piece of jerky that I cannot chew.  You can cut your strips with the grain of the muscle if you like or if you want it just a little easier to chew you can cut against the grain like you would for a steak.  Try to keep all your pieces about the same thickness (about 1/4") so that they will dry uniformly.

Mix all your ingredients together in a separate bowl.  Pour over the meat and mix well.  Cover and marinate in the fridge for 12-24 hours.

Take a wire cooling rack and set it on a cookie sheet that has been lined well with foil.  Lay out your strips.  It's OK if they touch a little, just don't overlap.

Bake in a 200 degree oven for 7-8 hours.  Rotate the trays (if you are doing multiple trays of jerky) top to bottom every couple of hours for even drying.  Halfway through your drying time, flip the strips over.  Alternately, you can use a dehydrator if you have one.  My mom just got me one the other day and I am getting ready to try it out. 

Either way, check on your jerky every so often until you achieve the perfect dryness.  You should be able to bend it, but it should be dry and dark all the way through.  If it is too hard to bend or it cracks, you've gone too long and overcooked it.  Store at room temperature in Ziploc bags or a container with a tight-fitting lid (assuming it hangs around that long.)

I've done a few variations on the recipe above and it's really fun to experiment and see what kind of blends you can come up with.  I have doubled the Tabasco and crushed red pepper for an extra spicy batch which was pretty popular with the guys.  Another favorite version was a sort of teriyaki blend where I omitted the Tabasco and red pepper and added in 1/4 c. of onion powder, 1/4 c. packed brown sugar and increased the molasses to 1/8 c. (sorghum is the best, but regular molasses will work too.)  Sometimes I will toss in a little steak sauce or horseradish if I have it on hand.  Spices like marjoram or rosemary would add a little something special to it too.

Play around with it and have fun.  Taste it before you put it on the meat to see if you want to add anything.  You'd think that with all those different things mixed in there it would be a mess, but it's really good!

I've got one more deer to butcher and I'll probably be done for now.  My dad has been quite the deer slayer this year and sent two extra does our way.  I am getting ready to do up some venison summer sausage next.  I've been keeping really busy (as you can imagine at this time of year).  Oddly enough, I have lots of things to blog about, but I have been really pressed for time.  I'll get you caught up here soon!  I've got some crafty projects coming your way in the near future.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Ground Turkey: Kids, don't try this at home!

I woke up at 6:30am today with high hopes of getting a few things done and off of my mind. 

Thursdays are my favorite day of the week.  I love Thursdays because they are the next best thing to Fridays.  And don't we all know it--Friday is here and gone swiftly and Monday is back in your face again.  So I guess it is the anticipation of Friday that makes Thursday my favorite day.  But I am getting off track...

And much like this post, today was a day that got off track!

First thing this morning, while the wee one was still in bed, I decided I would sit down and finish all of my Christmas shopping online.  Normally, I save a lot of time and aggravation by shopping online because I am not a shopper at heart and I don't enjoy the hunt and I have no desire to step out of my house on Black Friday and brave the malls or the traffic--not for any kind of deal.

I've been so busy this week processing venison and trying to put my house back together after my husband's two-week hunting vacation.  A lot of things have gone by the wayside and I missed Cyber Monday.  I figured if I was going to have time for things to be shipped, I had better get 'er done.  I didn't have much on my list, but somehow I still spent a large part of my morning doing that.

By the way, I found a really nice deal on a Cabela's work jacket to wear when I go out to do my chores in the cold.  Part of what took up most of my morning was trying to get my husband's feedback on whether he would rather have his in cotton duck or canvas (like a Carhartt jacket).

Lunch and a few chores later, I decided it was time to get on with dinner.

I bought a 22-pound turkey on sale at Krogers the week before Thanksgiving.  It was a pretty good deal at 49 cents a pound and since it was limit one, I bought the biggest turkey I could find.

This turkey was supposed to be for Thanksgiving dinner with my husband's family.  My mother-in-law was supposed to work on Thanksgiving, so we were going to get together the day before on Wednesday.  I thought I would try to help out by cooking the turkey, but her schedule got changed around last minute and she did get Thursday off.

Well, the only problem was I had to be at my sister's for Thanksgiving at 2pm and wouldn't be able to stay home and babysit a big turkey.  They require much basting and close observation and I vividly remember one of my Mom's turkeys catching on fire when we were kids.  All of us kids had to run out of the house into the cold until they could get the thing under control, so I wasn't about to leave the turkey home by himself to cook.

So why didn't I take my turkey down to my mother-in-law's and let her roast him, you ask?  I did think of that, but her primary oven wasn't working.  All she could accommodate was a little turkey breast using the mini-oven over in the apartment where my husband and I used to live as newlyweds.

Giant 22-pound turkey was already unthawed so he had to be dealt with.  My husband wanted to know why wouldn't I just put him back in the freezer, but every good housewife knows that you'll ruin your meat by double freezing it!

I don't know about you, but for a family of three (one of which happens to be a picky three-year-old), 21 pounds of leftover turkey is a lot of turkey.  So this is where the catastrophe comes in.  Rather than cook the whole bird and suffer the leftovers, I got the bright idea to bone out the legs, thighs and wings to make my own ground turkey from it.

This is a cautionary tale about the horrors of beastly turkeys.  Believe me when I tell you it was the most disgusting thing I've ever touched.  I naively assumed that all poultry was created equal.  I was not prepared for the greasy, slimy mess that I unleashed when I cut into this turkey.

A few weeks ago we butchered another batch of chickens.  A couple of days ago I butchered two deer and even fleshed a doe hide for tanning.  I did not expect this store-bought turkey to make me feel so icky and squeamish.

He was so heavy and slippery that I could hardly keep ahold of him, but I did finally get the appendages removed and put the breast part into the oven to begin cooking.  I stopped short of removing the backbone because I didn't want to mess with it anymore so my turkey sat up on the roasting tray looking much like a big, melted blob and nothing like the store-bought turkey breasts I've prepared in the past.  (And before you get to poking fun at me, I'll have you know I have cooked a turkey before--and several!)

I set to work taking the remaining dark meat off of the bones.  This quickly got to be exhausting.  I could hardly keep ahold of the slippery legs and wings because of all the weird fat on the bird.  It took forever and I had to try to remove most of the muscle casings and tendon fibers because I knew they would clog up the grinder (a Kitchen Aid with grinder attachment).

After an hour or so I started to worry that the meat was getting too warm.  For fear that I would give my loved ones food poisoning, I opened my kitchen window to the 35-degree December day.  This made my hands cold, which made them even more clumsy along with the turkey grease, so I poked and cut myself a couple of times with the knife.  Not enough to really bleed--just enough to make me angry, so I lit into the turkey with a vengence, determined to get it done. 

With bits of greasy turkey slung all over my shirt, my counters and the wall above my sink, I paused to wonder what kind of gruesome and indiscriminate mechanical process it must take to render the ground turkey that you buy at the store.  I know they wouldn't take the time to cut out the fat and gristle like I do (because I must).  I've eaten a lot of turkey burgers over the past several years and enjoyed them.  Although they are widely regarded as a health food, I am not so sure about that now.  Sorry Jennie-O, I will never look at turkey burgers the same again.

I gave up on the neck meat, the mid-wing and tips.  I decided those would not be wasted if I cooked them up and gave them to the chickens.  I did make stock from them.  By now, my 49-cents per pound mega-turkey was becoming much more expensive by the minute as my precious time and labor increased its value.

I had been so involved in my greasy turkey massacre that I took little note of my daughter playing behind me so quietly.  She asked me for an "orangin" and when I turned around to tell her my hands were too greasy to peel one for her at the moment I couldn't believe the destruction she had wrought and quietly too.

This is just what she did to the kitchen...

I don't know what she did to the dog water to make it green, but they drank it anyway.

Grinding the meat was the easy part.  I ended up with 5 pounds of ground turkey that I mixed with finely crushed Pepperidge Farm herb-seasoned stuffing, salt, pepper and dried onion to make twenty turkey burger patties.  I've lost my appetite for turkey for the time being, but I'm sure that a couple of months from now when I'm over it, they'll taste really good.

Lesson learned; I will never cut up a turkey again as long as I live.

I got nothing else on my list accomplished today.  By the time we had dinner, I was just too tired to go on.

Stick a fork in me--I'm done!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

An egg!

I went out to feed the chickens this afternoon and what did I find?  My first little Black Star pullet egg!  (How's that for fast turn around?)

Soon enough I'll be coming back from the hen house with 2 dozen or more eggs a day.  A little overwhelming when I think of it, but surely I'll be able to find enough customers.  Since the big factory egg recall, most folks have gained a new appreciation for farm-fresh eggs laid by happy, pastured hens.

Storage is not a problem.  My mother-in-law got a new fridge recently and gave me her old one.  I've got it set up in the basement and have been using the extra space to rest processed chickens before packaging to freeze and to hold extra produce that I can't squeeze into my upstairs fridge.

I've been tracking my egg production on a simple spreadsheet for almost a year now.  I've found it helps me spot problems early (like egg-eating).  It also gives me some numbers I'll be able to play with later on. 

I also want to factor in my feed costs, which I am recording with a handy little program called Chicken Trackin' that I came across over on BYC.  Although I got my copy free as a promo, after using it for nearly a year now I feel that the $14.95 for a licensed copy is well worth it.  If you sell your eggs, you need something like this to help you determine if you are pricing them right.  I will be punching some numbers before I put up my Eggs for Sale sign again.

I've made a few mistakes in the management of my flocks over the last three years I have been keeping chickens.  (Putting up with mean roosters longer than necessary has been one of them.)  I got these Black Stars late in the season because I didn't plan well enough and I wanted to wait until I had money in the checkbook for them, rather than putting them on the credit card.  I was afraid that since they were hitting 20 weeks of age during the winter there would be a chance that they would not lay until spring.  That would have ruined me!  I can't believe how often I am filling up the feeder.

I am currently pondering ways that I can reduce my feed costs.  I will definitely be looking for another feed dealer where I can get my feed in bulk, like 1000 pounds at a time.  Thirty-one chickens eat a lot more than you'd think.  I am also planning several additions to my garden that will supplement their feed next summer.

I have a few ideas for articles to write on managing your small flock poultry.  That will be coming up after Christmas when things slow down a little here on my one sunny acre.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Get it in Gear

Finally, I am starting to accumulate some eggs.  My Easter Eggers have gone back to work and are putting out their beautiful blue-green eggs just as regularly as they did before they went into moult.

The Black Stars are getting sleek and fluffy.  They are right at 20 weeks old.  Their combs are filling out and turning a striking shade of red.  This is a good sign!  I should be up to my ears in eggs this time next month.  I sure hope so, because they are eating me out of house and home!

Unfortunately, I must report that Little Boy Blue met his demise today.  He came after Ava again while she was playing, so I immediately stopped what I was was doing (putting up spinach for the freezer), caught him by the legs and brought him to my husband to be promptly dispatched.

In the words of Ruby Thewes, "I despise a flogging rooster".  I LOVE that movie (Cold Mountain).  Quite possibly my favorite movie ever.

So now, all is quiet in the hen house tonight.  I could hear him crowing all day and all night long, even in the deepest, darkest hours before morning.  Perhaps that rooster simply had too much testosterone. 

I suspect now that they have some peace and quiet, the girls will get busy and start laying any day now.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Easy Low Tunnels Extend Your Season

Salad, as fresh as it gets!
Here in USDA Zone 6a today, November 22, I am enjoying a fresh salad from my own garden.  A month from now, closer to Christmas, I will still be picking fresh greens from my garden and saving about $6.00 a week by not purchasing bagged salad greens from the grocery store.  All thanks to a very simple and easy method known as low tunnels, quick hoops or floating row covers.

I built a cold frame one year to grow lettuce throughout the winter.  It worked well, but it took a lot of effort to build, including digging the pit to heat the soil bed passively with manure.  It required a lot of attention to monitor the daytime temperatures and prop open the lid on very hot days and also a great deal of mental fortitude to remember to go back out and close it before bedtime.  A particularly strong wind grabbed my plexiglass lid one day and slammed it up and broke it.  I duct-taped it back together and went on.  Really though, the main issue I had with the cold frame was that it did not give me much room to grow enough things to make it worth my while.

Then I read about low tunnels.  This is the second year I have used them and I am very happy with this set up.  It is mid-November and I am enjoying the tasiest salad greens and radishes; vegetables that are typically grown within a very narrow season.  The spinach I've been able to grow with this method is the sweetest, crunchiest spinach I have ever tasted - so good I can't help but eat it straight from the garden, plain.

Spinach thriving under the protection of a low tunnel.
Given how very easy low tunnels are to construct and how cheaply you can obtain the necessary materials, I don't know why more gardeners aren't using them.

Any of your cold hardy plants can be overwintered in them, such as:
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • kale
  • swiss chard
  • radishes
  • beets
  • carrots
  • bok choy
  • turnips
  • some herbs

Sweet, crispy radishes harvested in late November.
They can also be used to protect an everbearing strawberry bed so you can squeeze a little more fall harvest time out out of them.  You can start most transplants sooner for a jump on the season, such as tomatoes, peppers, squash and melons.  You can start sooner or extend later a crop of broccoli, cabbage or cauliflower while simulaneously protecting them organically from cabbage loopers (by blocking out the moths so they can't lay their eggs.)  Seeds for peas, carrots, beets and also onion sets can be sown in late fall and covered with a low tunnel to urge them to germinate and grow faster and earlier than they are traditionally planted in the spring, giving you a 1-2 month headstart.  There are some subtle variations in the growing methods for all of these, but the basic set up is the same.

Last year was more or less an experiment for me and all that I grew was lettuce.  I planted my lettuce in a regular bed in October and allowed it to germinate and begin growing while the daytime temperatures were still rather warm.  Once the time came to anticipate my first frost, I set up the low tunnel.  My simple low tunnel kept my lettuce safe throughout the entire snowy winter, one of the coldest winters my area had seen in years.

Once spring arrived, I took the cover off and was enjoying fresh lettuce long before any of my regularly planted rows of spring lettuce were large enough to harvest.  Growth enhancement is the biggest benefit of using a low tunnel.

Lettuce growing outside of the low tunnel is puny compared to the lettuce growing within.
The lettuce will only grow when the temperature inside the cover is warmed up enough by the sun.  In the deepest part of winter it is held in stasis, but resumes growing just as soon as the days become more mild.

This year I put more thought into it.  In October, I tilled a long row on the perimeter of my garden and sowed spinach, two varieties of loose leaf lettuce, radishes and turnips.  They germinated in the last 70+ degree days of Indian summer, then I implemented my low tunnels.

I use 5' sections of 3/4" PVC pipe to create the hoops.  I take 18" sections of rebar (narrow enough that the PVC can fit over) and drive them a foot into the ground opposite each other on either side of a narrow row about 3' apart.  I set the rebar in this manner at 5' intervals all along the row.

Then you push one end of the PVC pipe over the stub of rebar and arch it across to the corresponding rebar on the other side and push it down over that rebar stub as well.  Repeat the process all the way down the row. 

Be sure not to forget about your rebar when you go to till next spring.  Remove them all for the sake of your tiller's tines.

Another method of setting the arches is to use 10' sections of PVC pipe and use a spud bar to drive holes into the soil about a foot deep, then push the ends securely into the pre-set holes.

Some people will use 10' sections of 1/2" EMT (galvanized metal electrical conduit) which is also very cheaply obtained from your local hardware store.  It requires a jig and some bending to form the arches, but since it is more rigid, it is easily pushed down into the soil without any need for rebar anchors.  Here is a video demonstrating that method:

I used the 3/4" PVC because I already had a lot of it on hand.  Any of these will work well and all can be salvaged and reused year after year.

This series of arches is then simply covered with 4 or 6 mil clear plastic sheeting and weighted down with rocks along the sides of the tunnel and closing the ends.  A 10' x 25' roll of plastic sheeting will run you about $20.  The plastic will also hold up to several seasons of use.

Rocks weigh down the plastic and keep it in place even through strong winter winds.
Depending on what you are growing and how hot you expect it may get inside of the tunnels, you may need to take a razor knife and cut a series of short vertical slits along the length of the plastic for air circulation.  You don't want the temperature inside the tunnel to exceed 90 degrees.  For a tunnel that is used to overwinter, you would want to leave the plastic intact and just open the ends on unseasonally hot days.  If you were only using your tunnels to protect your brassicas from cabbage loopers, then a fine mesh, lightweight fabric (sold by specialty garden suppliers) would be the way to go.  The fabric will protect from frost, but not hard winter freezes.

One side of the cover can be lifted up to harvest your veggies.  On very cold days, it's best to do this no later than early afternoon.  Pick a mild day to harvest if you can.  You don't want to give away any heat gained from the sun before it goes down for the night.

Lettuce ready for harvesting.
Black plastic can be used for mulching and will also help warm the soil.  That would be especially useful when starting warm weather crops early.

Today I thinned out my spinach and lettuce, leaving about 6" between those that remained so they can get full and leafy.  I also found some chickweed and young dandelion greens to add to my salad.  I had to work quickly and get the cover back on - the chickens think this spinach rocks too!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Little Boy Blue

...has been coming up on my back porch every day to blow his horn. 

He has come by every afternoon lately with his small band of rebel pullets (the few who won't stay inside the chicken-protecting fence.)  He has paraded himself up and down the banister, crowing victoriously, declaring the back porch to be part of his kingdom. 

They stay for about half an hour, peeking at me through the sliding glass door.  I think they are expecting treats, but I can't reward such bad behavior.

To tell the truth, Little Boy Blue very quickly outgrew his name.  He has become a very large, very masculine cockerel at only four and a half months old.

Little Boy Blue is currently on probation.  He tried to flog my 3-year-old daughter a couple weeks ago.  So far he doesn't challenge me.  I've been using these rooster training techniques by Backyard Chickens member "gritsar" and they seem to be working on him.  He is definitely intimidated in my presence.

I have not had good luck with roosters.  They have all been sent to "freezer camp" in the past.  (If you are not overly fond of chicken and dumplings, you might not want to continue reading past this point.)

First there was The Colonel.  Brahmas are supposed to be a very docile breed.  Not Colonel.  I took him to church to meet my summer Creation Club kids and that may have had something to do with his downfall.

The Colonel was also part of my very first batch of chicks.  At the time there were six other cockerels for him to deal with.  I'm sure that didn't help.

I am also embarrassed to admit that I was very afraid of this five pound bird.  He knew he had me whipped from the start.

We sent him and five of the other six cockerels to the pot and I kept the most docile and handsome fella.  His name was Slick.

Last one to the compost pile is a rotten egg!
Slick behaved himself for a very long time.  He made it all the way around to the following spring and I don't know if it was because of seasonal hormones or what, but Slick eventually turned on me too.  Now Slick had spurs by this time, so he had to go in the pot because I couldn't have him hurting my toddler.  He was a Golden Laced Wyandotte and turned out to be very meaty.

The next batch of chicks brought along another Free Mystery Rooster.  He was a Silver Spangled Hamburg and was a very flashy specimen.  I named him Speck.  All I have of Speck is a chick pic.  He didn't make it very far.

Speck was high-strung and nervous right out of the box.  (And by this time, I was clearly resolute that I would not put up with any more mean roosters.)

I've raised meaties before, dispatched spare roosters and culled old layers.  I suppose one of these days I'll have to pony up and be a real farm girl.  I think I could "do the deed", but I don't want to.  As long as my Bright and Shining Farmer is available, I leave that part to him.  Plucking, cleaning, packaging and cooking...those are all part of my job.

So now, Little Boy Blue, I am really hoping we can get you on the right track.  You're a good-looking rooster and I'm gonna give you a chance, just like I did for all the others...

I know roosters have their benefits.  I'd like to have a rooster I can live with so that I can take advantage of those pros. 
  • They are really nice to look at.
  • I love to hear them crow.
  • They look after the ladies' safety and well-being.
  • Their interactions are amusing to watch; how they strut and search out tasty nibbles for the girls, etc.
  • They keep law and order in the coop.
  • Without roosters, there would be no chicks (hatched here on the farm.)
I am going to keep these Black Stars for two years, then I am going to get either straight-run Buckeyes or Black Copper Marans and try my hand at raising my own birds with the ultimate goal of having a sustainable homestead flock.  That will require keeping a couple of roosters around and being able to live in peace with them!

My little girl loves her chickens.  She loves to pick them up and cuddle them.  She loves to gather the eggs and toss them their winter scratch.  Ultimately, I want to be sure that she can enjoy her chickens.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Moving Over to Blogger

I've been kinda dissatisfied with Wordpress for awhile now.  The user interface is nicer, but there have been several things I have wanted to do with my blog that they don't allow (and notably, people who ask about these things in their forum get a curt answer and their thread promptly closed.)

I've also felt for a long time that the readability of my Wordpress blog's theme was very hard on the eyes.  I'd dabbled with a few other themes but still didn't find anything that suited me.  I also wanted my theme to be more personalized, to reflect more of me (without having to pay for an upgrade to use custom CSS, which I don't currently know or have time to learn.)  Not every option was available with all themes and that was annoying me too.

But the final straw was that they do not accommodate Google Follower and many other widely used social widgets are unavailable or limited on Wordpress.

It's going to take me a little while to learn my way around on Blogger, but I am hoping to improve One Sunny Acre's atmosphere and make it look a bit more professional.  Hopefully this will end up being worth the hassle of switching everything over.  Please bear with me!

If you see any broken links or missing pictures, just let me know.  The formatting in a few of my exported posts didn't carry over well.  I've been trying to straighten those out.

Also, if you want to drop me a comment and let me know what you think of the new look, I'd sure appreciate it!  The background is actually a photo taken in my backyard that I digitally stylized in Adobe Photoshop Elements.

So far so good.  I am feeling at home here and have gotten most of my content carried over.  I think it was worth the effort. 

***Update***I've routed my RSS feed through Feedburner which has simplified things and made One Sunny Acre's feed more accessible.  Thanks Joan, for the suggestion!

If you are currently subscribed at the old Wordpress site, be sure to update your feed using the "Subscribe in a Reader" option in the sidebar on the right.

You can also subscribe via email now and that option is also found in the sidebar.

If you've got a link for One Sunny Acre on your blog or website (thank you!!) you'll also need to update that link to reflect the new address --  I'll be keeping the old site up for a few months with a link to redirect.

Free is Good

A couple of projects to work on now that things are slowing down for winter.

I sent my husband on a mission to find a used office desk that he could scrap-pass at work.  His company has a scrap yard/warehouse where employees can get things for free that the company no longer has a use for.  Tools, building supplies, scrap metal, old office chairs, who knows what all is in there (I wish they'd let me in so I could look for myself!)  All you have to do is sign it out.

He hit the jackpot with a bunch of old office equipment they were actively looking to rehome so as to free up a little space.  As with the manure situation, I told him I'll take what I can get.  He brought me 2 metal work tables, 2 big metal desks and a 4 drawer file cabinet--all in great condition, just a few scratches and tiny dings.  I don't believe you could destroy industrial office furniture if you tried.

One of the metal work tables has gone to the basement to serve as a laundry table/place for my husband to lay his hunting stuff/place for my husband take his laptop and hide when he has to do the bills.  The other work table and the larger of the two metal desks will go to the garage for extra workspace and storage.  The file cabinet will also go in the garage for tool storage.

This desk is going to replace the crappy, assemble-it-yourself, wannabe-wood eyesore I bought at Ollie's that I am currently using for a computer desk.  I am going to paint this one a nice forest green to match my kitchen border.  It has lots of drawers, which is the part I am most excited about, to squirrel away all my junk.  I can't abide clutter.  It makes me crazy.

And then there's this thing...

Do you see what I am seeing?

Kitchen storage space!!

I have a decent amount of cabinet space already, but I could really use more.  Right now I have to stack all my pots and pans strategically to get them all to fit (and so I can find them again when I need them.)

I got this antique armoire from my mother-in-law when she was cleaning out her barn.  She brought me a lot of things to put in my yard sale this summer and this was one of them.  She gave $50 for it somewhere.  I put $30 on it and was really surprised it didn't sell.  It's in really good condition structurally.  The veneer on the doors needs a little work where it had pulled up here and there.  I am going to add a couple more shelves to the right-hand side, paint it burgundy, distress it a little and rub a black stain into the sanded areas.  I might do a little decorative painting or stencilling on it to make it cute.  I haven't decided for sure.

I'm going to use it to store all my dry goods in the kitchen (thus freeing up more space for my pots and small appliances) and make a cute little country-prim arrangement on top.  My kitchen needs a more deliberate attempt at decorating and I think this little armoire could be the start of some creative inspiration for me.

I'll post back later with the end results!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What Do These Bees Know?

Well, we didn't get our first frost the other night, but we will most certainly see one this Thursday night--if not a freeze.

When I went outside to do my chores today, I couldn't help but notice the mason bees were everywhere.  They were on every flower, sometimes more than one to a flower, having a big knockdown drag-out trying to get the last bits of pollen and nectar before the flowers are all gone.  I've never seen so many mason bees before!


What do these mason bees know that we don't know?

There were four fighting over this dahlia.  (I did get to enjoy a few more, by the way!)

And four more on this one!  The little bee at the bottom didn't stand a chance against these big guys.


Here's a moth trying to get in on the action...

There were hundreds of them on my morning glories.

Even in the withered ones!

I have always had flowers wherever I lived, but I have only been a serious gardener for about 7 or 8 years now.  Never have I seen them like this.

According to the mason bees, I'd say we're in for another long winter.

Which reminds me, I need to take the honey bees some more sugar-water tomorrow.  My buckwheat is finally ready to bloom, but it will not make it after tomorrow's frost.  The bees did not get the benefit of it, which really bums me out.  I should have either planted it a couple of weeks earlier or perhaps if I had watered it well during this recent dry spell it would have made it in time.

Well, the hornet's nests say we'll have a big, snowy winter.

And the wooly bear caterpillars say we'll have a never-ending winter.  Ha.  (You really can't trust the wooly bears.  They like to play practical jokes.)

In addition to the asian lady beetles swarming against the south-side of my house on these recent warm afternoons, there have also been dozens of dang-blasted wasps trying to get inside.  I am allergic to wasps and don't want to share my living quarters with them this winter.

The spiders have also been bad.  We sprayed for them this year and I have still seen a few in the basement.  Normally we don't like to spray because of the young'n and the doggies, but after my daughter found a giant wolf spider in her bathtub and nearly clobbered herself trying to get out of there in a big, wet, slippery hurry, we decided it was probably a good idea.

So, if the old wives tales have it right, we will have another hard winter this year.  Last year was one of the snowiest winters we've had here in West Virginia that I can recall since I was a kid.

What ill portents have you noticed this fall?  Do you think we're in for it?  Either way, I'm stocking up!