Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Crumble? Crumblet? Who knew...

So, here's a thing I learned. I didn't buy "crumble" even though that's what I was told I was getting at the cashier's desk. What I actually bought was "crumblet" which is pelletized mash. (but somehow not actually a pellet food - confused? me too). And apparently my chickens think that crumblet is nothing even remotely related to food. Unless I feed it to them in a pan and add water. Then they think it's the best stuff ever.

I discovered all this because I went to the local TSC and carefully read the feed bags (that's not an option at my local feed store - they keep their stuff in the back and bring it out to you). When I found a picture of true crumble on a bag I realized the difference between the two forms. And I bought a bag to see if it would actually make a difference to the most important part of this equation - the birds.

Ha! Totally made a difference. They like the crumble (larger, natural-looking pieces of food versus a compressed pellet) just fine. As a bonus, they're significantly neater in their eating of it than they were with the mash. So I'm now a crumble convert. I'm not wasting the crumblet though - they still get that as their morning and evening treat in the pan with water.

A win all the way around.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Gorgeous evening

The sunset turned everything red-orange last night. It was simply beautiful.

We've been building and landscaping and generally making the homestead actually become a home for 3 years now. Still lots to do but it's coming along and nights like this remind us that it's all worth it. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

It's morning - hooray!

Heading out the release the chickens each morning I can expect one of two views when I open the door - all of them on the floor, pecking at feed, and lining up at the pop door waiting for it to open; or this one:
Good morning! 
Prepare to launch!
My turn? 
All six do this. Not always - sometimes they sedately hop down the stacked perches instead. But the mornings I'm treated to flight school? I have to think of the movie "Chicken Run"...

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Coop status and a question about chicken feed

When I got the chickens at 8 weeks old, they were still eating chick mash. The feed itself is quite small and almost powdery and there was a lot of waste as they flung it out of the feeder. They're now 10 weeks old and I've transitioned to grower crumble. Which is causing me some concern as they don't seem to be eating it. I mixed the mash and crumble together to start so that it wouldn't be a weird shock to suddenly change the form of their food (I figure I do this with the dog's food when I have to switch it, so it made sense to do it with the chickens too). But I haven't had to refill the feeder in a couple days and they act hungry. At first I figured, well, they'll eat when they're good and ready. And they're not starving - they have access to free range forage all day (greens, crickets, etc) plus I give them mash in a bowl outside the coop each morning - but it's not nearly as much as they were consuming when mash was all they had in the coop feeder (assuming they were actually eating that much and not just decorating the coop floor with it). 

So, any thoughts? I'm not looking to become a chicken chef (ha!) but I do want the darn things to be healthy.

We've been busily working on the coop my friend gave us. It's awesome!

Run roof already off 
Took just one day to get the run off and moved. We kept as much of it together as we could to make it easier to reassemble on our property. Then we spent another two days to take apart the coop and clean up the work site.
Got the compost too
We decided to take the coop apart rather than move it whole. The entire thing was screwed together (with many, many, many screws) so it wasn't too bad to disassemble and this way we could clean it thoroughly and make some changes to the layout.

Now we're rebuilding.

Running extension cords to the site
Figuring out the layout
Platform built and covered with flooring
I flipped the layout to get a southern exposure on the coop and put the run in the shade. We got the platform and three walls built and then had to put everything away while it rained. A lot. We'll get the walls raised and the roof on next then it's on to the run. I've sure the chickens will love having a new place to peck and explore and I'll love having them in a hardware cloth enclosed run. Cooper is doing significantly better leaving them alone, but it'll be a comfort to know there is no way she can dig her way into new pen (hooray for burying hardware cloth!).

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

This week's recipe: Hushpuppies

I have fallen behind in my weekly recipe goal. Which just goes to show that even fun New Years Resolutions are hard to keep. I still love looking through my cookbooks and trying new recipes, but I'm finding it hard to make the resolution fit with my summer meal style. I'm part of a CSA and the most important thing for meal planning is eating up the share before the next pick-up. And since I try to make this our primary grocery budget I'm really reluctant to buy ingredients for a new recipe when I've all these veggies to eat before they go bad. 

This week's share - and my garden is starting to produce as well
I find myself falling back on old favorites that I know use up a lot of veg - lo mein, quiche, raw veggies platters, salads, stir fries, etc. Things that don't have a recipe per se, but that I can easily improvise with whatever ingredients I have on hand. I am having luck with internet searches since I can specify a main ingredient more easily than in a book (and I've actually cooked quite a few new recipes that way, but that wasn't the resolution, now was it?). I did a kohlrabi slaw this way and it was quite yummy and inspired some improvisation with other slaws. 

Improvisation seems to the real summer theme. 

Anyway, this week's recipe was an accompaniment to a fantastic salad - hushpuppies (from BHG cookbook). I was actually just looking for a recipe that would use up some leftover buttermilk and figured this would be good.

I really wish I'd put them on a plate for the photo. Grease, ick.
Unfortunately, they were kind of bland. I remember hushpuppies from my childhood down South and those were flavorful and yummy. These were best described as "meh". I'm sure I could kick them up with cayenne or jalepeno or a dipping sauce, but I doubt I'll bother. Next time I'll just use the buttermilk in pancakes and have garlic bread with the salad.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The garden - July 1

The gardens are doing very well despite the low levels of rain. I'm deep-watering every other day and that seems to be keeping them growing.

My glads are never going to bloom. Really. Basically, I just get neat looking grass. The lavender I planted in here is doing well and I've got several blooms. I'll trim and harvest and hope for more year 2.
My never blooming glads and some lavender
The front flower bed is gorgeous. My pansies are going nuts this year. So are the hostas and foxglove. Not much happening with the black-eyed susan yet, but the plants look healthy so maybe they'll bloom later this month.
These are so pretty from the porch
And I like the height differences - need more of that
The kitchen garden is doing well too. I've got quite a few tomatoes growing and many more blooms. Unfortunately the jalapeño plants are refusing to do anything. I'm going to transplant three of them to the squash garden and see if the increased sun level helps.
Pretty marigolds mixed in with tomatoes
Nasturtiums too 
Tomatoes growing well
Our volunteer sunflower has a stalk about 4 feet high and over an inch thick. So cool. We're finally seeing yellow in the center so we should get a flower head soon.
The lettuce section is loving the far end of the kitchen garden. Enough shade that it's still growing well. The volunteer kale from last year has set seed and I'll be collecting pods to dry for next year's planting.
Lettuce, arugula, kale
The basil is growing like crazy. The cilantro is not. The tall dill in the front put up heads already. I transplanted just a bit from my Dad's garden so it's not for picking this year, but for self-seeding for next. Keep fingers crossed it works.
The squash garden looks pretty good but the plants are really small. The zucchini plants have started to put out flowers but they are only producing male buds - no female buds yet. It may be a good time to make stuffed blossoms. Hmmm, more ricotta to make! The delicata plants look healthy, have buds, but no flowers yet.

Delicate on the end
The chicken garden is doing pretty good too. Not much of the old seed I scattered actually germinated, but some did. I also transplanted some corn. We'll see how that goes.

Corn and peas
Some kind of squash - acorn?
I'm hoping this is watermelon
That's it for the garden update. I've started a compost pile now that I've got chicken manure to add to it. I've actually got two piles - one for bedding/manure and one for veggie compost. I'm letting the chickens work over the veggie pile and I'll add it to the manure pile as it breaks down. By next year I should have some great stuff to add to the soil.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Roundup of weekly recipes - chocolate glaze, oatmeal muffins, and lemon-lime thyme cookies

All of these recipes were very good. The chocolate glaze is really more a ganache (which I consider thicker than just a glaze). This is another King Arthur Flour Bakers Companion recipe (page 396) and it had great depth of flavor and it set up into a thick fudgie layer. I refrigerated some of it and it got so thick I realized that a bit of tweaking would turn it into a really good truffle filling. Gonna have to try that for Christmas.

The oatmeal muffins (KAF, page 71) are described as a fairly healthy, low fat breakfast treat. I added raisins and wish I'd also added pecans. They're actually better stone-cold as that gives the texture a chance to really set (when they were warm they seemed a bit wet). They've lasted three days at room temperature and make a great afternoon snack.

Not sexy, but quite good
The Lemon-lime & thyme cookies are from Joy the Baker cookbook (page 190). A thin sugar cookie with lemon and lime zest combined with fresh thyme from the garden (I actually used lemon-thyme since that's what I grow). Good flavor although I wished the lemon came on a bit stronger. I'm going to up the lemon-thyme to 3 tsp (as opposed to 2) and see what that does. If it's still not enough I'll add some fresh lemon juice (there isn't any in the recipe as written). I've got another lemon cookie recipe that has great lemon flavor but that goes stale almost immediately (really, we don't even bother eating them after day 1). I'm going to see if I can meld the recipes as these are actually better day 2. I froze some of the dough to see how that works out - I'll update when we finally get around to eating them.

Would be great with tea
Update: baked the frozen slices and they came out great. In fact, I think they were better - the extra time allowed the flavors to develop more fully. Am still planning to increase the lemon-thyme amount and definitely think some sanding sugar would add a nice dimensional aspect, but in all, a great recipe and it'll make it into the recipe box.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Into the coop at night

So, the chickens are supposed to head to bed each night in their nice, secure chicken coop. Last evening when I went out there a bit early they were running around like, well, chickens (heads attached fortunately). Wings flapping, legs pumping hard, heads up. Heads up? I hung around in the pen trying to see what they were doing and finally realized they were chasing itty-bitty flying bugs. Hilarious. And surprisingly loud. Not the clucking - the stomping. They sound like they weigh 80 pounds when they run. Thump! Thump! Thump! Really fast. Finally, it got dark enough that they decided to roost and wham! All of them ran for the coop at the same time. Up the step, ruffle the feathers, leap up to the first roost bar, ruffle again, up to the next bar, and then push and shove until they're occupying the smallest possible space on the same bar. I shut and locked the door and they settled right in for the night.

Silly chickens sure make for good evening entertainment.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Say hello to my little friends

I got my chickens! Six New Hampshire Reds, 8 weeks old. I found a local place to get them so didn't have to worry about shipping day-old chicks in late June heat. Nor did I have to worry about driving over an hour with chickens in the back of the car.  They really jump against that box top!

Cooper is already way too interested
We set up the playpen and covered it with the Army woobie for shade. Placed a pan for food and the water jug in there then got to work putting up some fencing around the coop.

So curious as to what these are
The cat is also intensely interested
Once we got the fencing in place around the coop we opened up the playpen and let them come out in their own time. They'd never been outside before but took to it quickly and started pecking at all the plants and dirt. Took about 20 minutes for them to start scratching around.
Loving the sunshine
These things are a total time suck. I got nothing done the afternoon they arrived. Nothing. I put a chair in the pen and just watched them explore and do their chicken-stuff. I've never had chickens and observed several things:
1. They startle and run around for absolutely no reason
2. They flop over and sun their bellies
3. They like it when I'm in the pen - they'll hide under the coop if left alone, but come out and explore if I'm in there.
4. I think I've got two males - they are already posturing and chest bumping
5. Their sense of balance is awful. They kept rolling over when they tried to lay down in the sun. Not on purpose. They'd show their belly, stretch out a leg, and then Whoops! over they'd go, flapping and panicking to get upright.

Cooper is proving to be problematic. We knew she'd be interested - after all, she's an excellent hunter and takes care of pests like chipmunks and rabbits. But we thought she'd calm down after we made it clear the chickens were ours. Nope. She went right through the bird fencing. Fortunately we've trained "leave it" extensively and she backed right off. But if we hadn't been there it would have been ugly.
A calm moment
So we put up another layer of fence. This time welded-wire rather than just screening and that's proven to be effective at keeping her out. We've also done some intense training and she's catching on that she's not allowed to chase around the fence, charge the fence, or do anything else to the fence (and therefore the chickens). I'm confident she'll get it but I don't think we'll ever be able to fully trust her and we'll be sure to reinforce our permanent fencing. 

In the meantime, we've also begun work on moving the permanent coop.  Took a full day to disassemble the run portion and move it to the property. Note that we have not reassembled it yet - that will wait until we get the coop in place.

The new coop and run (pre-move)
Nearly apart
The whole thing is awesome. Very well constructed and since they used screws instead of nails, we didn't have to demo anything to get it apart. We even left the hardware cloth panels on and just rolled the posts together. Whole walls will go up at once. Woo-hoo! We're hoping to move the coop as a unit rather than in pieces but are trying to coordinate all the folks needed to do so. It may turn out to be faster to pull it apart and then reassemble it at the property.  Either way, I expect we'll have it soon!