Tuesday, September 28, 2010

My Current Obsession (its a book)

For my birthday last month, I received some money as a gift. As usual, that money was spent on a book. I am enjoying the above book for a few reasons. My favorite part of the book, I think, are the beautiful pictures. Really, they inspire you to try things for yourself. I also love that there is a little bit about almost anything and everything associated with growing or raising your own food and caring for your home. I've really enjoyed the tips on building automatic watering systems into your garden using rain barrels. I'm going to think on that one a bit and see if I can't start taking steps to make it happen by next spring/ summer.

Are you enjoying a book or books right now?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Little Cabin/ Garden Update

I'm sitting here this morning with all of the windows open, listening to the sounds chickens make when they are busy laying eggs. The trees have been losing their leaves for weeks, though our temps have been in the 70's at night and 90's during the day. It may have looked like fall around here, but it has not felt like it, at least not until this morning when we woke up to a lovely 51 degrees :) Fall makes me happy.

This is the path to the pond on our property. In the summer, it was so dark on this path that it looked like evening all the time. With the leaves falling, we are starting to see the sun again.

We've been keeping the chickens inside their run instead of letting them run around in the woods and yard. Trying to grow a garden with them running around was futile. Even with netting and fencing, they still managed to eat most of my seedlings, and what they did not eat, the dog would dig up, so this summer did not boast much of a harvest. After losing two plantings of my fall garden, I finally have something to show for my efforts.

The small plants in this photo are some kale I just planted. The larger plant in the foreground is ginger that I planted from a sprouted ginger root I had for cooking. It is about 3 inches tall right now. Its really fun to get free plants from the kitchen :)Here are a few of our broccoli plants. We have nine, which will not be enough to supply us with broccoli for even a few weeks (we go through tons of broccoli here), but still, it is worth the effort of planting some.

Here is our "spring mix" lettuce that is just coming up. I have lost count of how many times I replanted this as the chickens would eat this up as soon as it sprouted. We like to harvest a few leaves from each plant every day to make a salad. That way, they just keep growing all season. These usually are ready to start harvesting by about 3-4 weeks old. We've got about 2-3 weeks to go.

Here is our romaine. I think we have 12 plants. They are growing nicely and I am hoping we will be able to start using some of them as baby lettuce soon.

We have not had measurable rain in over 6 weeks. The garden is surviving because it is small enough for me to keep up with watering. The rest of the yard is not doing as well. Most of the grass is brown and the trees that still have leaves are looking pretty thirsty. We had about 15 minutes of rain yesterday, but it was definitely not enough to make any difference. Hoping for a little bit more soon.

I think that this week I will pull up the rest of the basil and either dry it or make one last pesto with the harvest. In its place, I think I will plant some of the sprouting potatoes that are in my house waiting for a place to grow. Potatoes grow pretty well here during fall and even winter, if they are kept in a warm-ish area and get enough light.

We have a very small area with cut hay that we have slowly been raking and bringing in. Right now, all that we have 'harvested" is in the chicken coop, but I am hoping to get a little put away for later when the pen needs to be refilled.

We also built the girls two more laying boxes and they are putting them all to good use. When they first started laying we were getting about 4 eggs per day, on average. They have slowly increased their numbers and are now averaging about 8 per day. Not only are they laying more, but their eggs are getting bigger.

The middle egg was laid last Wednesday and the other two were laid on Saturday ( you can see the date I wrote on the green/ blue one-I date the eggs as I bring them in so that I can be sure to use the oldest ones first-learned that from my friend Kathleen ). At first they all looked like that little bitty one, but now most of them are like the big ones and we only get one or two of the little ones per day.

At this point in my pregnancy, I am still feeling really great and have lots of energy, so I am hoping to get some more of our projects done in the next few weeks. We are hoping to build some beds to help with erosion where our yard does not get enough light and water for the grass to grow. I am also hoping to chop down some more small trees and cut them into firewood (not only is it great exercise for me but the boys love this chore and will happily help with it for hours at a time). We are also hoping to get some limestone put down in the driveway/ parking area so that when the rain starts up again, we are not walking through mud to get to the house.

Inside the house, I am hoping to get the school room back into shape - it has become the school room/ dumping ground for anything that does not have a home. I also hope to organize the pantry.

What is going on over at your place?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Hens are Finally Earning Their Keep :)

This morning, we were running late for church, so while I was inside helping the boys to get ready, Bryan went out to feed and water the chickens. He returned quicker than usual, looking like the Cheshire cat, then pulled 3 eggs out of his pocket :) Our FIRST EGGS!! This afternoon, when I went to fill their water, there were two more :) Five eggs on day one!! Those girls sure do copy each other, lol. Having chickens just became even more fun.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yard Advice Needed, Please

As I've mentioned many times before, we live in the woods. Our yard does not get much sunlight. Things do not grow well here except for trees. We also live on top of a hill with many ravines all leading to the streams or creeks on our property. Erosion is an issue for us. And some of the erosion is happening pretty close to the house. Now, add a very active dog and a bunch of chickens who love to eat grass and scratch around, and we are beginning to worry that all of the dying grass may make erosion a bigger problem than it is currently.

We have tried miracle grow on the bare spots (didn't help at all). We are also running the sprinkler sometimes as we have not had rain for a few weeks. And we have decided to keep the chickens in the coop for the next 7 days, then only letting them out every other day (hoping this will allow the grass time to recover between chicken feasts).

We've talked about putting in planting beds instead of grass in those areas that seem to die off easily, though they would have to be fenced in to keep out the dog and chickens and hubby is not really crazy about fences all over. We've also talked about compost and St. Augustine plugs with a fence around them only until they are established. Perhaps even hostas or other shade loving plants, though if the chickens will eat hostas, then we will just end up back in the same place we started.

Anyone have any experience with erosion and planting to prevent erosion in shady areas with lots of animals all working against you? Or, if not, do you still have opinions or suggestions?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Looking Your Food In The Eyes - Part Deux

Well, we did it. We "harvested" meat for the first time. I did NOT cry like I thought I would. It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but it definitely was not "fun" nor is it something I want to do often.

The hardest part, outside of the actual taking of life was plucking the feathers. Sheesh, but there are a lot of feathers. Since we were doing it all by hand, it took quite a long time - I'd say 20 minutes or so just on the feathers and we were squatting that whole time - because after the initial feather removing, we had to remove the "leftover" feathers one at a time. These were mostly pin feathers, so they were hard to reach and took time to remove. If we ever decide to do it en masse, I think we will try to rent or borrow one of those feather plucking "machines". It really was challenging. Also, if we decide to do it again en masse, we will need a better set up. We really were not rigged for it and we did not have any tables or chairs. Basically, we had a camping stove for the hot water and a #3 tub and some rope. We stood or squatted for everything. I think sitting would make it easier to do more than one. We spent over an hour and only managed to butcher one (the one who had begun "attacking" us) and I was exhausted by the end.

I also think that if we ever decide to raise lots of meat birds, I think we'll raise Cornish X instead of heritage birds (if we have the option). For the effort, it would be nice to have a bigger finished product. This guy was 5 months old and huge, yet he only dressed out at about 3 lbs, including bones.

Boy do I have a new appreciation for my poultry farmer :)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Looking Your Food In The Eyes

I've known for some time that I wanted to raise both laying hens and meat birds. About 5 years ago,we began buying pasture raised poultry from a farmer who grew the chickens naturally and treated them humanely. This kind of poultry is expensive (depending upon the farmer, it can be up to 4 times more than grocery store chickens) but it was something I knew we needed to do for our family for several reasons.

First, pastured poultry is better for you. Our bodies require EFA's (essential fatty acids) such as Omega 3 & Omega 6 in order to survive (that's why they are essential) and we need them in an approximate 1:1 ratio in order to maintain our health and avoid chronic diseases. The standard American diet of processed food contains a large amount of Omega 6 (found in abundance in all corn and soy products) but very little Omega 3. Pastured meat and dairy products from pastured animals contains a nice balance of the two EFA's. It seems that animals that eat lots of green grass have the right balance of Omega 3 & Omega 6. This is one of the reasons we go to the extra trouble and cost of seeking out locally raised chicken, beef and eggs. Knowing the farmer allows us to know how the food was raised, thereby knowing what is in our food, so to speak.

Second, pastured meat and eggs taste better - a lot better. In fact, even 5 years after we started buying pastured chicken and beef, I am still blown away by the taste difference. The difference between conventionally raised, factory farmed chicken and pastured chicken is literally equivalent to the difference between pale watery store bought tomatoes (in January) and garden fresh tomatoes in July- no contest!! And even though these meats cost more than grocery store meats, our food bill did not go up much when we started eating them because between the amazing taste and added nutrition, I find we need to eat less of it to feel satisfied. Meat has become part of the meal, not the main focal point.

Between the health benefits and the taste benefits, there are reasons enough to make the switch to locally raised pastured meat, but there are still more reasons we made the switch and keep seeking it out. One of those reasons is that buying locally from farmers you know helps out the community you live in. Buying from the farmer, instead of the grocery store means that not only does your farmer get to make a decent profit for their work (hard work, I might add), but it also means that they will get to keep doing that work year after year and thus supplying your community with healthy food.

But the other side of the coin is that we want to avoid factory farmed meat both because of its toxic environmental impact and because of the conditions the animals live it. I won't rehash details of what its like for these animals for their short lives, but you can read about it in The Omnivore's Dilemma or watch Food, Inc to get a good idea. Its not a pretty picture. But of course, even after reading about it or seeing film, I still didn't fully understand just how poorly these animals were treated. Then we moved to our new home, which is about 30 minutes from a poultry processing plant. We don't travel in that direction often, but we do have to go out that way sometimes and we've seen the trucks carrying the chickens in for processing. It really is shocking and puts a whole different spin on those pretty rotisserie chickens.

So, we buy our poultry from farmers who raise them on green pasture and allow them to live the way chickens want to live - foraging for at least some of their food. I know first hand that chickens want to live this way because our chickens call to us and practically ask to be let out into the woods to forage. They run around in the fresh air and sunshine eating grass and leaves, bugs and even sometimes small reptiles like lizards or toads (I've seen it with my own eyes, otherwise, I'd never believe it, lol). It really is something to see.

Our hens and roosters are 5 months old now and hopefully the girls will start laying eggs soon. As mentioned in other posts, the guys are getting pretty amorous, so I'm hoping it wont' be long before we start to see some reward for our efforts at chicken raising. But, the guys are not only getting amorous, they are also getting pretty aggressive, at least some of them are, and not only with the hens, but also with us. After one of them came at me with wings spread and clawed feet bared, well, I just know that I am not allowing that around my kids. So, we set their date with destiny. The two aggressive roosters are moving on Saturday - one to the Bar-B-Que and one to the freezer.

Yeah, I am a little nervous. I will probably cry. I am glad someone who knows what they are doing will be here to help with the "hard" parts. But I also know, deep down, that this is right. These roosters have had a good life - better than most chickens and much, much better than most roosters who do not live more than a day or two in factory farm settings (google it - pretty disturbing). And I know that my family does not take lightly the raising or the eating of meat, so, over all, I feel good about it. Wish us luck.

Disclaimer: These are the rambling thoughts of a very pregnant woman at 5:30 am. Please don't just take my word for any of this - do your own research. The above mentioned book/ DVD as well as the book Nourishing Traditions are great places to start.