Chicken Pictures!

Chicken? What chicken? No chickens here.

You have not heard about or seen my chickens in about a month.  I know that hurts you and I want that hurting to stop.  The doctor recommends chickens pictures.

Let’s see…what should I tell you?

They are still very cute, sweet and fun to play with.  As they get older they don’t like being held as much.  I can still pick them all up but they run from me if they can.  Unless I have treats.

Their personalities are strong.  Snow is flighty and paranoid. Betty is always looking for an adventure.  Goldie is protective.  Peeps is calm and low key about things.  Attila is high energy and plays aggressively.  Speckles is reserved.  Audrey is a little less adventurous then Betty, and the easiest to pet or catch.

They have a run now.  It is about 120 square feet, mostly in shade.  I am not going to post any pictures of all of it right now, because I am still working on making it pretty.   Right now it is safe and functional, but unpleasant looking. I have started painting it and adding things to make it more homey.

I would also like them to have more to forage in there, but I have not figure out how to do that.  If I put down seeds for pasture they will eat the seeds before they are plants.  Maybe a container garden of chicken pasture, that I can bring in and take away as needed? 

Having a run does not mean they are locking in all day.  I am doing a sort of hybrid of penned and free range.  I let them out to run all over the back yard a few hours a day.  They love running around time.  It gives them a chance to forage and play.  The back yard is pretty unmanicured at present so there are tons of interesting things for them. Like plies of leaves to scratch around in, lots of plants to sample, bugs to find and bushes to sleep under.   They love the weed three-seed mercury, which I have in abundance.   They also love food plants, especially artichokes.  Betty does this thing where she tried to stand on the artichoke leaves, then she jumps up and down breaking the leaf.   I don’t know what that is all about.

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Their super growth rate has slowed down.  I no longer look at them and say “Wow, you are 10% bigger today than yesterday”.  They are filling out and their combs are coming in.  They look almost like full grown chickens now.   In a few months they should start laying eggs.

They can’t get enough cheerios. If they can get to the container the cheerios are in they will knock it over and peck at it.  Oh, I can’t forget tomatoes.  They do this weird thing with tomatoes, but no other food.  I call it “tomato chase”.  On of them will pick up the hunk of tomato in her beak and then run around making a high pitched tweeting noise while the other chase her.  Then one of them will catch the first chicken and steal the tomato right out of her beak and then that one runs.  By the time they finally get to eat the tomato it is a mushed dust covered mess.  But they are happy and that is all that matters.  I am actually going to plant a bed of cherry tomatoes in front of their run so they can pick off the fruit to play whenever they want.

They have figured out roosting.  They put themselves up there every night now and mostly don’t sleep on top of each other.

I love my chickens and I am really glad I got them.  Having them has been a bit of work, but the daily chicken theater more than makes up for it. I have a few video of them running around that I should post someplace.  Chickens are so funny, I find myself laughing out loud a them everyday.   If you have never just sat around and watched chicken I highly recommend it.

 

Homestead Food 4

We made this meal on Sunday.   I am a little late blogging about it because I have been super busy with gardening and animal projects. But I figured I should post about this one before I make the next one.

Ingredients:

  • Roasting chicken from GrassRoots Farms (GA, one bought item)
  • Olive oil (Exempt)
  • Smoked Salt (Exempt, Gift from Lori)
  • Bee Balm (Garden)
  • Onion (Garden)
  • Oregano (Garden)
  • Carrots (Garden)
  • Chard (Garden)
  • Blueberry Honey (Exempt, Local)
  • Radishes (Garden)
  • Lettuce (Garden)
  • Butter (Exempt)
  • Strawberries (Garden)

…This meal started with a trip to the farme’rs market on Saturday.  We decided we wanted to have some local meat in this meal and the Decatur Farmer’s market (http://decaturfarmersmarket.com/wordpress/) is a good place to find lots of local foods.   We got several things other than what is in this meal, like goat cheese, milk, and a sunchoke.   We also had delicious falafels for lunch there.   We should go more often.

The chicken was prepared by rubbing it with a mushed up mixture of olive oil, bee balm, oregano and smoked salt and filling the cavity with an onion.  Bee balm is a very good herb that is seldom used in cooking anymore.  The Native Americans used it to flavor meats like poultry and venison, and for good reason.  The flavor is great on meats.  It is a very easy to grow plant,  a good companion to tomatoes, brings all the bees to your yard and has interesting looking flowers.

There is still no end in sight to the chard, but the garden has offered up a few new foods, as you can see – radishes and strawberries.   With the lettuce, radishes, and carrots we made a simple salad.  The chard was sauteed in butter and over cooked.  We finished the meal with a few tart strawberries drizzled in blueberry honey. I picked the strawberries a little early because I wanted them so bad, and even not quite ripe they were delicious and added so much to the meal.   In the next meal there should be lots more, and then pretty soon blackberries.   I wish I had a tree that grew shortcakes!

Flower Power

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When I first started gardening seriously I was not very nice to flowers.   I was in fact almost offended by them, the way I still am with grass.  If I talked about flowers at all it would have been to say they are a waste of space and that only flowers that are beneficial companion plants are allowed in my garden.   I had marigolds and of course anything that made a flower in order to grow the veggie or fruit, and that was about it.   But over time that changed.   I realized that those strawberry flowers and peach blossoms made me happy.  Not just because they were the harbinger of delicious noms to come, but because they were lovely all on their own.

A few years ago I threw a few handfuls of beneficial insect attracting wildflower seeds into a little unused space in the front yard.  My stated reason would have been to get more good helpful insects to increase the food production, but there was more to it than that.  I wanted flowers.  When they came up and I saw the little buds forming I was so excited.  I had no idea what flowers were in the mix.  Would this new one be pink, blue or purple? Would it be a single flower, or a cluster of little ones?  Would it have a nice smell?

I have never been one to be given or go buy cut flowers.  It always seemed like a waste of money, but I admit I like to stop and look at them in the flower part of the store.  Flower arrangements were a decadent thing that I just could not have in my life.  But that all changed as those wildflowers started to bloom.   It was like a magic trick, this one part of my yard was a joy for the senses; a riot of colors and shapes, a busy buzzing blur of bees and butterflies, and a delicate blend of new smells.

That is when I realized flowers are a perfectly reasonable crop for a hard-working homesteader.  They might not feed my tummy, but they feed another part of me that is just as in need of nourishment.

 

Homestead Food 3

So I said I was going to do this every Friday or Sunday.   You might notice that today is Tuesday.   Friday it got put off because a friend wanted to come, but the friend ended up not able to come.  It got put off on Sunday because I just did not want to do it.  And that is a good thing in a way.   The goal of this is to make me sort of understand what it would be like if this was my only food supply, and on Sunday I got a bit of an idea about that.  I ended up having a salad from the garden that day but instead of a full garden/local/community meal I had steak and mashed potatoes.  Because I wanted it and because it is so easy to go to the store and get anything I want.   Had the food in my yard been the only food supply I would have been very unhappy.

There is so little to eat right now, so very little variation.  On Sunday when I put it off I got this crazy idea in my head of doing it Monday and it would be better.  Then on Monday I went out for tacos, about a mile away.  So today I said enough stalling.

The Ingredients:

Omelette:

  • Eggs (Gift from Erik)
  • Salt (Gift from Lori)
  • Chard (Garden)
  • Oil (Exempt)
  • Sauteed Onion (Garden)

Grits:

  • Local Grits (Farmer’s Market, single bought item)
  • Water (Tap)
  • Salt (Gift from Lori)
  • Butter (Exempt)

Peach Chutney (Exempt, canned by us)

  • Local Peaches (picked and processed by us)
  • Raisins
  • Some other fruits (I don’t remember what)
  • A ridiculous amount of vinegar

I did not want eggs and chard again. Temper Tantrum Did Not Want.  This is very similar to what we had last week, but switched around a bit.  When I look out in the garden there are unripe strawberries, little tomato plants, small peaches, tiny blackberries, and 2-inch high corn.  I want those things to be ready and I want to eat them.  I want foods that I like better, like squash, green beans, and black eyed peas.  It is also a little annoying that I can’t just throw in some French bread or beef broth whenever I want.   I have some pretty strong food insecurity issues because of a very poor childhood, and having to eat only what I have is really making me have to deal with those issues.

Knowing I was going to have to eat eggs and chard today has made me so motivated to work harder.  I know I could not do anything about the dinner tonight, but I am sure going to try to have a better one this weekend or next week.  The last few days I have done lots of planting, weeding, and transplanting.

I am also thinking about community more.  I am actually thinking about people I want to invite to dinner;  not just Erik, who did not join us tonight because he fears grits.    I am thinking about joining some meetup groups and actually going to their meetings.  I am thinking about how to be nice to the friends and family I do have so they will please bring me food.  I am thinking about how I can help the people around me survive, and how they can help me survive.  Yes I know that sounds very dramatic.  I am a rather dramatic person.

Another upside to my annoyance at today’s dinner is that I know that my pleasure with each new food as it becomes ready to eat will be even greater than normal.  My mouth is watering thinking about how amazing some fresh strawberries would be right now.  I could deal with more eggs and chard if I could just have a bowl of berries to go with it.

Now with all of that drama out of the way, the meal was actually pretty good.   The egg part of the omelette was delicious and the chard was OK at the beginning.  By the end the chard tasted a bit too bitter to me, and I did not want to keep taking bites of it.  The grits tasted like grits and butter, so there is nothing wrong with that.  The peach chutney was better than I remember it being.  The peach flavor was very bright and fresh; the pepper was just right, giving only a hint of spice, and the vinegar was not quite as overpowering as I remembered it.  The chutney matched well with the omelette.

Garden Update

It officially became spring a few days ago, but my garden had decided it was spring weeks ago. This is the best garden I have ever had this early in the year. I love that I am able to be home right now so that I can work on it everyday. I have so many pictures that I want to share with you that instead of doing a standard post I have made a gallery with captions. You can look at them all at once like you are now or you can click on the first one and use the arrows to see them all.

I can’t explain the joy I get from my garden. It is sort of like feeling proud and powerful, because my years of research, experimentation and manual labor is what you see here. I plan it, plant it and care for it. So just like my stories this 1 acre piece of land is a reality I created, it is about as close as I get to art. If I had done nothing it would just be a plain yard full of scratchy yellowish grass.

I also feel sort of in awe and little when I look at it, because the seeds and elements really do most of the work. Seeds are freaking amazing. The way a little tiny uninteresting thing can grow into food or beautiful flowers. If you have never gardened you really should give it a try. Just a few pots on the patio and you will see what I am talking about. I will refrain form getting all spiritual here. 🙂

My garden makes me feel this weird urge to share too. I am not much of a people person and there are many things in my life that I get great pleasure from that I don’t want other people to join me in. I like to dance alone and read great books without a book club. I sometimes write things I don’t want anyone to read, I knit for myself, hoop for myself and now I even sing for myself. I guess the way I used to feel about singing is the thing most like the sharing feeling I get in my garden. When I feel this huge surge of ecstatic joy I want other people to feel it too. This feeling is much to good for me to keep all to myself.

I also feel peace. Very few actives are as calming as sitting in the sun surrounded by my garden. I am thinking of building a yoga area between the house and the garden beds. There is plenty of room, but I don’t know if my neighbors could handle yet another weird thing from me right now.

Homesteading Food Challenge 2

This past Friday we did our second homesteading/community meal.   Our friend Erik joined us.  Having a guest made it more fun and also gave use an extra ingredients- eggs.  Erik keeps four chickens, so he brought lots of eggs.  Have so many eggs a quiche seemed like the logical choice for dinner.

The Ingredients:

Salad with herb olive oil dressing:

  • Mixed Lettuce (garden),
  • Carrots (garden)
  • Herbs (garden)
  • Olive Oil (Exempt)

Quiche:

Pie Crust:

  • Flour (single store bought ingredient)
  • butter (exempt)
  • water (tap)
  • salt (exempt)

Filling:

  • Eggs (Gift from Erik)
  • Swiss Chard (garden)
  • Onion (garden)
  • Broccoli (garden)
Drink:
  • Water (Tap)
  • Orange Mint (Garden)
Dessert-Pie crust baked with honey:
  • Pie crust (see above)
  • Honey (Gift, from step father)
  • Strawberry Preserves (Local, picked and processed by us)

We all had a lovely evening planning, cooking and eating our meal.  We listening to music, talked about our week and our thoughts.   We also talking about things we wanted to plant, future meals and friends to invite.   Not sure what we are going to eat next week, but I am sure it will be just as much fun to harvest and make.

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Welcome to the Hen House

Last night I put the chicks in their hen house for the first time.   The hen house has been my big project for the last few weeks.  I am pretty new at woodworking, so there was quite a bit of doing, undoing, redoing, but this weekend I was happy with it.  The chickens however were not.

After - New shutters, painting, water proofing, roost, new door, weather proofing, building a ladder and general repairs bring you this.
Before - I think this building was used as a play house and dog house before we moved here.

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We put them in a few hours before sunset so they could get used to it and be comfortable before the scary dark came down.  At first they wandered around a bit.  They tried out the ladder looked in the nesting box and explored.

Slowly moved towards me.  After a while they were happily settled down on and around me.  But since I have no intention of sleeping in the hen house I left before they could get comfy enough to fall asleep.

About an hour later we came back and they were huddled up very unhappy against the door.  So the way we had things was not working.  First we installed their red heat light and tried a few different method for getting them up on the roost.  This mostly ended with them getting angry or scared and trying to roost on me.   I had as many as 4 chickens at a time on my arms and shoulders making it pretty clear they wanted to go home.  At one point Peep got up on my shoulder, put her head by my ear and told me what she thought about the whole thing.   Of course I don’t speak chicken, but I got what they were saying. I have to admit I the thought did cross my mind they maybe they could live in the house forever and we could just learn to deal with it.   But I know that will not work of course.  They will be happier in their hen house and we can’t have 7 full grown chickens in the house.

So then we tried to make it as much like were they lived inside as possible.  We got their pen, put the small feeder and water in it, put the heat lamp in the same place as inside and put them all in there just like we have done ever night in the house.   That did the trick.  They settled down and stopped yelling at me.

After that I was able to go inside.  Not much sleep was to be had by me.  I stayed in a light sleep all night listening out for them.  I know the hen house is pretty secure, but it is hard not to picture predators getting in.

This morning when I went out there were fine, all cuddled up in the pen.   Last time I went out there I made them get out of the pen and showed them a big feeder and water again.  Hopefully they will understand this is home and feel safe there in a few days.   I will visit them often to make sure they are adjusting well.

The next project is to build them a run so that I don’t have to carry them to the working pen every day.  These chickens are starting to get heavy.

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Here are a few cute pictures of some of the chickens.  I find them all to be so pretty and to each have their own personality.  These three are great examples of that.  Atilla is aggressive and weird.  Betty is curious and though the smallest she has the biggest drive for adventure.  Speckles is prim, proper and polite.

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Food Challenge 1

We made our first dinner tonight for our food challenge.  See the last post for details.

These are all the ingredients:

 Salad – three type of lettuce (garden), carrots (garden), Hawaiian salt (gift -Lori)

Main dish – cowpeas (garden, preserved), onion (garden), oregano (garden), thyme (garden), butter (oil exemption), smoked salt (gift -Lori)

Dessert – organic Greek yogurt (single store- bought item exemption), strawberry jam (local, canned by us), blueberry peach syrup (local, canned by us)

Drink – mint (garden), honey (exemption)

We both had fun with it.  We ate at the table and talked instead of watching TV, which was novel. The lettuce was crunchy. The carrots, though small, were super sweet and delicious. Mint tea was refreshing.   The beans were surprisingly good, seeing that they are over a year old, and the salt gave them a hint of smokiness which gave the illusion of meat flavor.  You can’t go wrong with strawberry preserves and Greek yogurt.

Dried beans are amazing. This year we are going to try to put away a lot more beans.  And lots of other things as well.  I am regretting not canning any tomatoes this past year. It would be nice to get a pressure cooker and can things other than jam, tomatoes or pickles.

It was odd to have such a simple meal.  Our dinners are pretty complex on average, with lots of ingredients and several different dishes cooking at once. It was a little weird without pasta or potatoes.   I love carbohydrates, so I miss them anytime they are absent.   I should really try harder to grow potatoes this year.

This meal was also way more healthy than we normally eat.  Much lower fat than normal, since the only fat was less than a tablespoon of butter and the full fat yogurt.  So many different veggies too; I bet we got lots of vitamins and minerals.

For the next one, I hope someone wants to join us.  This would be much more fun with friends, and there would be more food!   I don’t have any worries about next week”s since we have a different sort of dried beans, but after that it will pretty much just be salad.   Next month the salad will start getting better, since radishes and celery should be coming up any day now.

Having this much good fresh and preserved food at the beginning of March makes me feel pretty good about the work we have done in the last few years, and it encourages me to try harder for the future.

Homesteading/Community Food Experiment

We have decided to start a new food challenge.  For one meal a week, we will have a meal of food that we grow or food that I can legitimately say comes from our “people”.

I guess I need to describe this idea first.  I don’t live in an actual community.  I live in a neighborhood, and I give food to my neighbors when they come over to see what crazy thing I am doing.  Last night I let neighborhood kids pet my chickens and I gave them each a carrot.  It is always Halloween at my house. But we are not a community.  I don’t help them with their tasks. They don’t bring me food or offer to help with my tasks.  I don’t know most of their names.  I try to interact like I did yesterday.  But it is sort of hard because we don’t have much in common, most of them don’t want to interact, and I have social interaction issues.

But there is a small group of people who I consider my community.  Close friends that I care about, who I would be happy to help with planting, harvesting or burying the body.   Most of these people are in the Atlanta area, but not all of them.

So here are the rules:

Baseline – All of the major components of the meal have to be from our yard or be grown, raised, or made by people we are friends with.

Examples:

-Anything that is growing in our yard right now.

-Any of our own harvest we have preserved.  We have pickles, dried cowpeas, sunflower seeds, and dried beans.

-Pork from Issa (http://lovelivegrow.com/) and Joshua.  We ordered a pig from them. It will be several months before this part gets added in.  Any other food we buy from actual friends is good too.  I need to make friends with someone who has a milk cow. 🙂

-The eggs our chickens will make, or eggs given to us by a friend.  *cough, cough..Erik*

-Herbs in our yard

-A simple thing a friend grows, processes, or makes and then GIVES to us (not like buying the pork, it has to be a gift).  This could be a loaf of bread –even if it has more outside ingredients than we would be allowed ourselves.   I am trying to simulate what it would be like to be mostly self sufficient in a community.   People in that community could give us things that we don’t have the ability to create.   But this can’t be something like a friend brings us a whole meal, or taking us out to dinner.  It has to be a reasonable farming community item.  Something they could have grown or made themselves.  Examples could be bread, muffins, wine, mead, meats they cured themselves, foods they have grown or raised.

Exceptions:

-Salt. We have no ability to create our own salt.  I guess we could go to the ocean and try to figure it out.  But for now salt from the store is allowed.  I am thinking I will only use salt Lori gave me for Yule, as that would fit with the idea more.

-Oils. At present we don’t grow any oil crops.  We could, and I plan to in the future. But for now olive oil, butter, coconut oil, etc. are all allowed.

-Things we harvested and preserved from local sources.   We have strawberry and blueberry jam from fruit we picked ourselves but did not grow.  We also have peach salsa, peach chutney and some pie filling. But we can’t just go buy something from a farmer’s market.

-Honey. This one is only for now.  Once we have bees, then we will only be allowed our own honey.  But right now I can use local honey or honey my stepfather gives me (He has bees in middle GA. He is kind of like my people, sort of.)

– In each meal there can be one ingredient that does not fit the rules.  Like I could use chicken broth if I want to make a soup.  Or I could add a store-bought meat to something, or local grits.   Whatever the extra ingredient is, it must be explained.  It also should be as local and/or as cruelty-free as possible.   This is one ingredient, not one item.  So for example I can’t bake my normal bread.  The bread I like to make is flour, butter, yeast, milk, eggs and salt.  So that is three ingredients I don’t have – flour, yeast and milk – four if I have to buy eggs.  But if a friend gave me a starter (like sourdough),  then the only thing I would need would be flour for some breads.

I am going to try to make this meal happen around the same time each week. And then post a picture and explanation of the meal.  Any friend who wants to donate is also invited to eat with us.

 

The world I am hoping to weave here is one where I sit down with friends over a meal wrought with our work.   We laugh, talk, and learn a little about each other.   I want to grow a tighter community with people who are passionate about this. I’ll be grateful for the gifts my friends give me and feel good for what I give them.  Eating together is an ancient and beautiful ritual that has been lost in our fast-paced world.  We have so little connection with where our food comes from and there is so much food.  I remember food meaning more to me when I was a child living in pretty serious poverty in coal country.  The venison my father hunted,our garden, the maple syrup we harvested and made all felt so important.

I’m hoping this fosters a sense of urgency about my homestead.  Sometimes I don’t work as hard as I should. Seeds get in late, weeds grow, and bugs run wild.  Food has been lost because I just left it sitting.  A few sparse meals will help. I also think this will increase my own sense of accomplishment about what I do.  The fact that I think I can do this means I must have confidence in my homesteading.

Chicken Tractor

My chicks have been outside during the day since Saturday.  They love having more space to play, being able to stretch their wings and do their weird hop-fly thing.  They are really enjoying all the new foods.  They have no idea that this is work not play!

They are eating the compost crops I put down a few months ago.  The plan is they will mow down all the crops, killing them but leaving the roots intact to help the soil texture.  While they eat they will poo adding more nutrients, and they will mix everything up with their scratching.  Hopefully they will also eat some insects that I don’t want.

The structure is my own design.  I am very proud of it.  Woodworking is something that has always intimidated me.  It seemed expensive, complicated and scary.  So anytime I have needed something made I have asked Jeff, Erik or other friends help me.   But this time I wanted something done right away and I did not want to wait for anyone else.  So I just did it.  I mostly used scrap wood from the garage, thought I did buy a few 1 x 4s and  1 x 2s.  I only used tools I had (miter saw, screw driver, staple gun and a hammer).   It is not fancy, but it is pretty sturdy and will do the job I needed.  Puck (my husband, the guy in the super man pants) helped me put together some of it, but he knows less about woodwork then I do.  So we both learned new skills.

Of course once they were outside Donnie (the black Maine Coon) had to come out too, so he could keep an eye on them.  When I am outside he sits right beside their pen, and when I am inside he stays in the window looking out at them.  His interest in the chicks is so odd.  Last week the leghorn got out of the pen inside while I was giving them water. She ran away from me and hide behind Donnie.  They have almost no fear of him and he seem to have no urge to eat them.

At night I bring the chicks back inside, because I don’t trust this structure to keep them safe and it is not quite warm enough.  The hen house will be done this week and then they will be out of the house full time.  About 8 weeks from babies to living in their own apartment.  They grow up so fast.