Monday, February 28, 2011

The Nuggets Are Here


Saturday as I was setting up my brooder, I had bragged to my husband that we were getting to be old hands at this business of raising chicks.  I had all my supplies clean and ready to go.  I clamped my heat bulb securely to a chain that I had hung from the ceiling in the garage.  It was then a small matter to tape together a cardboard draft shield and fill it with pine shavings.

Email notification was received - my 40 Cornish X chicks were on schedule to arrive Monday morning as planned.  Everything was set up and ready for them.  Check, check and double-check.

I got up at 6:30, got my husband out the door for work, got myself ready, set out some clothes for Ava and decided to do a few dishes as I waited for the Post Office lady to call.

Looking out my kitchen window, I could see dark clouds gathering in the southwest.  The big storm they were calling for was definitely on its way.  We were under a flood watch and a tornado watch, as well as a hail and high wind advisory.

I looked at the clock nervously, hoping they would hurry up and call.  At 7:30am the phone rang and in a few quick minutes I got Ava up and dressed and we hurried out the door.  The wind was starting to pick up.

It is a 15-minute drive to the Post Office and all the way we seemed to be running ahead of the rain clouds, the black skies hovering behind us.

We'd talked about it beforehand and I emphasized that these chickens would be for eating.  The laying hens are for petting.  I told her these chicks would start out as chicken nuggets, then they'd grow and become chicken patties and once they were filled out they'd become chicken potpies, then into the freezer they would go.  That was the best analogy I could come up with for the 3-year-old mind.

Anyway, I had given her a sucker to keep her occupied in the car because she was talking up a storm and the other impending storm was already making my nerves frazzle and I just wasn't in the mood to answer so many questions.  No sooner than I had lifted her out of the car, the wind caught her hair and wrapped it around her sucker.  She began to panic.  I began to panic.

The wind was blowing.  The first rain drops were falling.  The nice Post Office ladies let us in and offered us some water, but with a little bit of pulling I got the dang thing out.

Normally I'll stay and chat a bit, but today I grabbed my chicks and made a run for the car.  We got in just in time.

Being just another few minutes from my dad's farm, I thought I'd go ahead and feed the horse while I was out.  And if we were going to get a tornado, at least I'd not have to worry about it getting me down in the hollow. 

We sat in the car for nearly half an hour as the rain beat down and the lightning cracked over the hilltop.  It let up a little, but not enough to get out of the car in flip flops and wade through the mud so I said "forget it" and turned toward home.

It wasn't raining anymore when we pulled into our driveway, so I got my chicks out and my little chick and headed for the garage to get them set up.

Opening the box, they instantly started peeping and hopping.  They had all arrived safely.  No dead chicks in the bottom of the box, thank goodness.

You take them out, one by one, and dip their beaks in water.  40+ chicks later, I'm starting to feel like a bomb is about to go off.  Words cannot describe the chaos of a peeping box of Cornish X chicks.  They are born voraciously hungry, I think.


As I pulled each one from the packing box, it was like dumping a box of ping pong balls on a concrete floor.  They were everywhere; jumping into their water bowl, pecking, pooping, scratching and bouncing off of each other.  You'll scoot one back to get it out of your way and skit-skit-skit - it is immediately right back in the exact same spot you just shooed it from.

Two had fallen into the water bowl and were mobbed by the others, emerging quite wet.  Not a good thing for a tiny chick.  The brooder just wasn't feeling warm enough to me and the wet ones were shivering.  

A sad, wet chick tries to warm up under the heat lamp.

With tiny, incessant peeps punctuating the air, I scrambled like MacGyver to find something to do the job.  Grabbing a box cutter, a three foot scrap of rope, a dowel rod and a zip-tie I diffused the peeping bomb.  I added another heat lamp and covered the back and sides of the cardboard draft shield with an old blanket and a couple sections of OSB.  All the while, I kept tripping over my 3-year-old who was under my feet like a toy poodle and repeatedly begging to hold a chick.

In less than 15 minutes they had already gunned at least a quart of water.  We gathered pebbles from the driveway and put them in the water bowl to keep any others from taking a swim.

With the chicks finally cozy and happy, the peeping slowed and quieted to a tolerable level. 

Once all the excitement was over and a few chicks had been petted, Ava was completely done and begging to go back inside.  I snapped a few pics for the blog, but with all the drama, they didn't come out all that well.

I got us fed (a late breakfast) and settled into my recliner to watch Sesame Street and recover.  Today was definitely one of those days that make me wonder if I'm ever going to get caught up around here, but as it turned out, a nap was definitely in order.

Tomorrow morning I take my daughter to the dentist.  That should be just as much fun...

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Low Tunnel Update

I harvested the last of my low tunnel winter radishes a couple days ago.  I really enjoyed having fresh radishes on my salads throughout the winter.

One that I pulled up was a real monster.  At first I thought maybe it was a turnip that had somehow been misplaced.

I cut it up and took at little taste.  Yep, definitely a radish.  It was still crispy, but was too hot for me, so I threw it out for the chickens.  The little ones were quite tasty though.

I haven't harvested any of the lettuce or spinach since early December.  They are safe under the tunnel and are alive, but they have gone dormant and there really isn't much to pick right now.  They are beginning to wake up with the milder temperatures we are having, so hopefully soon I can harvest some more.

When it gets warm enough to remove the cover, they will take off (from my experience last year) and I will have nice harvests of leaf lettuce very early, before any newly sown spring lettuce begins to grow.

Our spring tends to be very brief here.  Usually it goes from frozen to sweltering heat pretty quickly.  These low tunnels are working out well to give me a longer harvest period for these cool weather crops.

I am preparing to build a new raised bed that my onions and garlic will be going into this year.  I will cover it with a low tunnel early in the season and do a little experimenting there as I have read that this can help you get larger bulbs.  I will plant a row in the garden as well to use as a control.  We'll see how they do!

Monday, February 21, 2011

My First Beekeepers Association Meeting

Last Saturday I attended my first meeting of the Jackson County Beekeepers Association.  I had a wonderful time!  Now I don't know why I waited so long to join.

It's nice to be in the company of other people who love what you love and I had a lot of fun "talking shop" and made a few friendly contacts.  I did encounter some benefit to waiting a year before joining, which gave me a good frame of reference for understanding what they were talking about!  There is so much to beekeeping...

One of the things that thrilled me most was that the educational presentation "The Dark Side of Beekeeping" focused heavily on selecting for good genetics as opposed to dumping loads of antibiotics and other nasty chemicals on the hive in an effort to limp along with weak bees.  I have to admit that one of my biggest reasons for hesitating to join the association was that I feared I would meet up with a lot of disapproval for natural beekeeping methods.  That was, of course, very presumptuous on my part.

It is highly recommended that all new beekeepers should join up with their local association.  There are many good reasons for this. 

Beekeeping is certainly one hobby that requires a mentor and you learn best by observation (or alternately your mistakes, if you choose to go it alone.)  They are more than happy to help you along and teach you how to do everything from assembling frames to splitting your hives to prevent swarming.

You can also gain access to many benefits such as swarm capture lists, assistance with hive inspections to determine pests and diseases, use of honey extraction equipment that is otherwise too expensive for most people to purchase on their own and discounted rates on equipment when it is purchased in bulk by the club.

Your affiliation with your local bee club gives beekeepers greater representation by strength of numbers and helps to spread positive PR for bees such as the benefits of consuming local honey, awareness of the plight of bees and their threatened survival, encouraging people to be careful in their use of pesticides in gardening and representation in State and Federal government regarding agricultural policies that benefit the bees and their keepers.

I think I may be able to get one of the members to come visit my Summer Creation Club at church.  The kids would just love that.  I've been planning to do a presentation on bees myself, but I think one of these seasoned master beekeepers could do a much better job than I could.  They frequently do visits to schools and other such groups.

One other matter of business that was briefly discussed is the need for updating their website with current information.  The website presently reflects events from 2009.  In my newbie enthusiasm, I volunteered my help with this.  But I don't think they will take me up on that anytime soon, at least not until they know me better and see some commitment on my part.  I believe they would find it much quicker and easier to maintain their web page in a blog format.  This would also make it very convenient to disseminate information to their members via blog subscription and to publicize the club's activities through other social networking mediums such a Facebook and Twitter.

To put this in perspective though, we were the only folks of our age group there, aside from a young Amish family who were a little younger than us (and wouldn't be using the Internet anyway.)  Most of the members were around retirement age, at least those who were present that day.

I am already planning to get my daughter (and any other kids we may have) involved in 4-H.  I would have loved to have been involved in that as a youngster and there is something there for many avenues of interest.  When my children are a little older I want to volunteer to work with our local 4-H group and hope to lend my experience in the areas of beekeeping, poultry, gardening and the home arts.

My husband got a lot out of the beekeepers meeting as well, mostly a greater enthusiasm for my bees.  Right now he is my "mule" and does most of the heavy lifting.  As long as he has his full suit on, he is happy and confident.  He doesn't want to get stung under any circumstances.  He likes to eat the honey though, so I will drag him along.  Ha.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

RIP Sunbeam

Well, I was having a great day today getting so much done outside "spring cleaning" the yard.  I was really on a roll until I found my favorite hen, Sunbeam...or what was left of her, lying dead in the chicken pasture.

WHY do they always go for your favorite chickens first?  :(  She laid such pretty blue eggs.

I think it must have been an opossum.  I had found a smashed mess of eggs in the nest boxes twice last week and suspected it could have been an opossum or else I had a terrible outbreak of egg-eating going on.  Unfortunately I went with the latter assumption and went to work building a new roll-out nest.  If I'd gotten to work patching the holes under the chicken barn, this wouldn't have happened.  So of course, I feel terribly guilty.

I didn't tell little Sweetie Pie and was glad she didn't see it.  She would be devastated.

The chickens had dug out several dusting holes at the back of the chicken barn and the rain had washed out the soil as well.  I had started skirting the building with wire and big rocks last fall, but never got it finished.  Well, it's finished now.  My coop and run are now impenetrable.  I'll keep the run closed and only let them out into their fenced pasture when I am home (at least until I get electric run on the little pasture.) 

Up until now, I'd only lost a couple chickens to loose dogs.  I suppose it could have been a hawk, but it was most likely an opossum.  Nasty opossums.  I am so bummed out.

This was a perfect day otherwise.  Well, that--and I broke an egg in my pocket this afternoon.  You'd think I'd know better by now than to put eggs in my pockets.  Or leave open holes under the coop... ((Sigh))

Friday, February 11, 2011

Homemade Laundry Detergent Makes ¢

clothes line Pictures, Images and Photos
Photo Credit

I am always looking for ways to save money and to avoid going to the store any more than I have to.  A few months ago, I came across a recipe for homemade laundry detergent and decided to give it a try.  I would have done this sooner, but I had trouble finding one of the ingredients (washing soda), but I'll be giving you some tips on that as well.

There are several recipes for laundry detergent out there, mostly similar, but I will cover two versions today:  homemade liquid laundry detergent and homemade powdered laundry detergent.  Neither one is all that difficult to make.  You will find directions in the respective links above.

For the past month I have been using the powdered version and I love how it gets my clothes truly clean.  My only complaint is that it can be a bit dusty when you are scooping it out.  I have sinus trouble anyway, so I plan to make the liquid version next time.  The ingredients for both are pretty much the same.

  • A bar of soap (Fels Naphtha, Ivory, etc.)
  • Washing soda (this is sodium carbonate or soda ash, not baking soda)
  • Borax
  • Essential oil for fragrance (optional for liquid version)

Fels Naphtha is wonderful stuff.  I've used it to wash raw deer hides and was amazed at how it can make even those smell fresh and clean.  It is also good to keep a bar on hand just to rub into stains before laundering.  Fels Naptha no longer contains napthalene (a petroleum byproduct).  I have heard that some people may be allergic to it, but I don't know if that was the old formulation or the current one.  Fels Naphtha works to break down oily residues.  I think it smells great.

Borax is easily found in the laundry aisle.

Now the washing soda, I had a lot of trouble finding that.  Every store clerk I talked to would point me toward baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), which is not the same thing.  I've been told that it is commonly found wherever you buy pool supplies, but I made up my batch of laundry detergent in the winter--no pool supplies to be had.  However, you can convert baking soda into washing soda using simple chemistry.

I bought the 4 lb. box of baking soda that is found in the laundry aisle.  You just dump it out on a cookie sheet and spread it around.  Then bake it in the oven for one hour at 250 degrees.  Simple enough.  The heat acts as a catalyst to break down the sodium bicarbonate into sodium carbonate and gives off carbon dioxide and water vapor. 

Here's the equation, if that sort of thing interests you, as it does me: 
(2) NaHCO3(s) ----> Na2CO3(s) + CO2(g) + H2O(g)

Had I realized this sooner, I could have been saving money on laundry detergent for months now.  I had the Fels Naphtha and the Borax, but couldn't find the washing soda anywhere.

Ok, there are hundreds of websites out there to tell you how to make homemade laundry detergent, but I want to tell you why you should make your own laundry detergent.  1) It does a better job of cleaning than most anything out there; and 2) you will save a lot of money! 

I like those reasons.  A lot.

Here is a price comparison between the powdered version which I made and some of the more popular detergents that you can purchase in the store.  I will try to keep it apples to apples, since there is an endless variety of brand specialties and additives.  I will tell you this though--you won't be needing Oxy Clean, color-safe bleach, heavy fragrances or anything else added to the homemade detergent in order to get the job done.  It just smells purely CLEAN and it gets stains and grease out better than anything else I've used before.

So, by switching from Tide to the homemade liquid detergent, you would save about $67.60 annually.  This is based on an average of 10 loads per week, or 520 loads per year.  (I know, I know...TRY NOT TO THINK ABOUT IT, LADIES!  That's a lot of laundry to fold!)

Funny to note how the Gain Original comes out to the same cost per load as the El Cheapo big-box store brand, even though it is far superior.  The homemade powder version comes out less than half the cost per load of the cheaper detergent and cleans every bit as well as the Tide.

Since I switched to the homemade detergent, I've noticed that even my washing machine smells fresh and clean.  There is no goopy residue left behind.  This is also a low-suds detergent and is ideal for front-loading washing machines.

Initially I wondered if the homemade detergent would be too harsh, but after using it for a month I have not noticed any fading in my cottons or any other problems with my laundry.  The homemade detergent is so effective that you only need 2 tablespoons per load.  Washing soda is alkaline, but it is such a small amount that it does not affect the water's pH much.

It's hard enough for a young couple just starting out, but with inflation going through the roof and the cost of grocery and household items constantly on the rise, this is one more frugal initiative I can take to make our paycheck go a little further.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Snowman Homicide

It was a cold and windy Saturday afternoon.  I stepped outside to get the mail and stumbled upon this disturbing scene:

The Groundhog says he didn't see a thing, but I'm taking it as a sign that
Ol' Man Winter is on his way out.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Brushy Mountain Order

The UPS Man (aka. Santa!) paid me a visit yesterday.  I had placed an order with Brushy Mountain Bee Farm three days ago and it's already here.  Yea!

In addition to a few things I already had, I ordered two more deep hive bodies, two IPM bottom boards and new frames; enough to build three hives total.  Now I am ready for any swarms (or otherwise free bees) that may come my way.  I will see how strong my current hive is in April and may decide to do a split there as well.

So to add to my long to-do list today, I will be assembling the new hive bodies just as soon as I can get out to the hardware store for some nails.  They come precision cut for tightly jointed corners and you need to assemble them within no more than one or two days so that the wood will not have time to warp and make your life difficult.

But the thing I was most excited about is this:

Soap making supplies!
And how cute are these honeybee molds?  This first one is my favorite.  It makes a full-size bar, 4 oz.

This one is smaller and makes a guest soap sized bar, 1.75 oz.  The first thing I plan to use it for is a hard lotion bar.  More info to come on that...

I also got a gallon of 76 degree coconut oil and a pound of refined shea butter (and now I wish I'd gotten another pound or two of that.)  The last ingredients I have left to aquire are olive oil pomace and the lye--which is the most necessary ingredient. 

I have tallow I rendered from a couple fat does we took off my dad's farm last hunting season.  I don't know why, but the deer out there are always very well fed compared to others we harvest elsewhere.

And I have wax I got from my own bees.  There are a lot of things I can do with that:  lotion, soap, candles, lip balm, etc.

I am very eager to get started on this, but today is not looking very promising so far.  Among other things, I have a 3-year-old down with the flu and a hen in Chicken ICU that is needing bumblefoot surgery done.  Maybe I'll at least get around to making a few lotion bars...they are simple and easy.  Lip balms are too.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Curried Chicken Salad

I love curry powder and I'm going to have to find more things to put it on!

This chicken salad is to die for and shockingly good for you too.  Serve it up on flat bread or a whole wheat pita with a little lettuce or sprouts.  Your tummy will be happy!  (And your waistline will be too.)

My Curried Chicken Salad
Prep time:  about 15 minutes,  Makes 18 (1/2 cup) servings

  • 1 lb. diced chicken (rotisserie chicken, chicken breast, or leftover chicken)
  • 1 1/4 c. light mayo
  • 2 c. seedless white grapes, cut in half (or 1 c. raisins or chopped dates)
  • 1 c. red onion, chopped fine
  • 1/2 c. celery, chopped fine
  • 2 tsp. mild curry powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
Combine all and mix well.  (How's that for easy?  :) ) Refrigerate one hour before serving to allow flavor to blend.

Nutritional Info:
(I started using a couple months ago and recently discovered that they will calculate the calories, etc. in your recipes for you.  I jumped for joy when I saw how light and healthy this chicken salad is!)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Winter Scenes

We haven't seen the sunshine much here lately, but when we do, it puts on quite a show this time of year.

I took my daughter trout fishing on a nearby lake last Tuesday.  The water was mostly frozen, except for a few spots where someone had broken up the ice.

The lake is stocked with rainbow trout once a month by the DNR this time of year.  I am hoping to catch enough fish to recompense the cost of my fishing license! 

Ava was really excited at the idea of catching "rainbow fish" using the brightly colored Power Bait.  We were not lucky this day though.

I told her we would eat them if we caught them.  She said no--we would pet them gently and put them back.  I love broiled trout with lemon, sage and butter.  I'm afraid I will not be casting mine back!  She can still pet them though, if she wants.  ;)

This was a bright and beautiful late January sunrise, taken from my front yard.

A feathery seed from my Autumn Clematis hangs on with determination.  The chickens love these and have picked most of them off.

The weather reached nearly 45 degrees last Saturday.  A quick check on my honeybees found them alive and active.  I am hoping they will come through the winter strong enough to do a split this spring.

A few landed on the snow and froze themselves to death.

I am too new to beekeeping to know exactly what they were coming outside for during this break in the weather.  I believe some of the older bees will come out just to die, sacrificing themselves for the good of the colony so as not to use up precious resources.  Some will make short trips out of the hive for the opportunity to relieve themselves.  I checked the landing board for any sign of Nosema.  So far so good.

We were treated to a particularly colorful sunset last Saturday evening.  I happened to stop shovelling snow and look up just in time to catch this one.  This is the view from my back yard.

My father-in-law always got tickled with me this time of year, as I insist that spring is almost here.  But really, it is.  We are on the upswing now.  My glass is half full! 

The buds on the trees are beginning to swell.  It's time to spray the fruit trees with dormant oil and do my pruning.  I saw over a dozen male bluebirds on my curly willow last week too.  It's time to plot out my garden and start a few flats of seeds indoors.  Spring is heading our way... It will be here before you know it, so hang in there and stay warm folks!