Friday, August 31, 2012

Purple Plum Harvest

The purple plum tree on my dad's property looks terrible. It hardly ever has any leaves and its branches are dry and brittle, the bark is scaly and the whole thing looks like it is on its last legs. But every year it produces an abundance of the most delicious BIG purple plums. Last year I missed harvesting them - I think between vacations and starting Kindergarten and the blue jays visiting we ended up donating most of the crop back to nature. This year I've been meaning to get out there for over a week and today it finally happened.

That crazy old tree has so many plums on it I am surprised the branches aren't breaking off. I reached up to shake one so the ripe plums would fall off and the entire branch broke off in my hand. I think I got one third of the plums on the tree and have enough for a double batch of jam.

Of course there will have to be plum cobbler, and a plum pie (per the request of my 3 year old - he always wants every fruit turned into a pie). But I must make jam - I can't resist the chance to add to my almost-full jam shelf.

While I was giving the plums their photo shoot, this happened:

Of course, I was happy to share. She snatched a plum off the top of my pretty pile and gobbled it right down. The other chickens got wind of her find right away and all came running, so I had to make off with my pretty plums before they all got eaten. I threw out some of the smaller ones for them, though. It's the least I can do after stealing away all their eggs this morning. :)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fall Garden FAQ's

I don't consider myself an expert on fall gardening, but enough people have asked me questions about it lately that I thought I would post the few things I do know here on the ol' blog.

1.) Is it too late to start a fall garden?
If you live near me, in the California bay area, I'm pretty sure you still have time to plant some fall veggies. You probably don't have time to grow brussels sprouts because they take so long to grow, but other fall veggies still stand a reasonable chance. It stays relatively warm and sunny here until very late in the year, and all that sun gives the seeds a good chance to germinate and grow before the cold winter weather sets in. Last year I got the urge to plant sunflowers LATE in the season - you are supposed to plant them in the spring along with other spring veggies. I took a chance and put my seeds in the ground in early September - and they grew and flowered! All that to say: around here the conditions for growing things are pretty ideal. Give it a try and see how it goes.

2.) OK, so what should I plant?
Your best bet for fall veggies are broccoli, cauliflower (both of which I have not yet successfully grown in the fall, but I've heard they do well so I'm trying them this year), carrots, beets, kale, radish, swiss chard, cabbage, and lettuce. Last year I planted Kale and Swiss Chard and they overwintered, giving us fresh greens through the entire winter. It was awesome!

3.) Should I plant seedlings or just put seeds in the ground?
I garden exclusively with seeds, but this is also a good time to get seedlings at your local nursery. Some plants like broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage, are traditionally sprouted into seedlings before being planted out into the garden. I have never had much luck with seedlings - they usually linger in the garden not growing for a LONG time once I plant them, and are eventually bypassed by any seeds I planted in the dirt next to them. If you have a green thumb, though, the seedlings will give you a head-start on growing time.

This year I planted cauliflower seeds directly in the ground (about 10 days ago) and they have all germinated and are growing quickly. The beet and broccoli seeds I planted 3 weeks ago didn't germinate (maybe it was too hot and dry?) so I replanted them a week ago and now they are sprouting. Yesterday I planted lettuce seeds and have my fingers crossed - lettuce usually likes cooler weather in order to germinate so it may still be too hot. The great thing about gardening with seeds is that it is always easy to try again - just scatter a new batch of seeds if the first ones don't pop up within a couple of weeks.

4.) I'm convinced! So where do I buy some seeds?
My go-to seed store is Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. They sell exclusively open-pollinated seeds which I greatly prefer. They haven't been genetically altered like many commercially-sold seeds you can buy, and there are tons of exotic varieties of vegetables available that are not sold anywhere. You could easily grow vegetables that you would never be able to eat otherwise. This is a great article about the benefits of non-GMO, open pollinated seeds which is definitely worth a read if you are considering growing anything that you plan to eat.

One other thing to bear in mind as you plan your fall garden: club root disease. Club Root is a fungus that lives in your soil that will destroy cole crops (kale, brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) and is almost impossible to get rid of once you have an infestation. The trick to avoiding this dreaded soil condition is to rotate your cole crops. This fall, don't plant any of your cole crops where you grew cole crops in the spring. Also, don't plant any cole crops where you plan to plant cole crops next spring. I planted all my broccoli and cauliflower seeds in former zucchini beds, and plan to grow peas there next spring. From what I've read, rotation is the key.

Hopefully you're feeling inspired to get out in the dirt and grow some yummy veggies for your family this fall. Let me know what you plant and how it's going! And as always, I can use as many gardening tips as you have. :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Quote of the Day

Mom: "Well, were you surprised when Dad picked you up after school instead of me?"

6 year old: "No. I knew he was there right away because he's so tall and has short hair and was wearing those see-through shorts that I can see his underwear through."

Oh dear.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Kindred Spirit

Yesterday as I was standing in line at OSH to buy another set of jam jars, the lovely lady in front of me turned around, caught a glimpse of me, and her eyes lit up. "Making jam?" she asked with a bob of her white-haired head. I told her yes, the purple plum tree was ready to be harvested, at which point her equally lovely husband turned around and asked with great interest "You have fruit trees?" I told him the trees actually belong to my dad, but yes: two apricots, two white plum, one purple plum, an apple and a pear. They looked at each other and smiled.

She told me she has been canning "all her life," and that this year she "put up" peach, apricot, strawberry, and pineapple jam, as well as loads of canned peaches and tomatoes. You know someone is a hard-core preserver when they call it "putting up." We launched into an enthusiastic conversation about the best ways to can (she told me conspiratorially that she has been jamming apricots for years without lemon juice, which is a big no-no, but she has figured out how to do it carefully enough to avoid botulism, and since she's the only one eating it, it doesn't really matter anyways *wink*) and she told me that I should "cold pack" my tomatoes this year.

At one point in our hurried conversation (the line was moving fast at OSH) she said "It sounds silly, but I get the best feeling when I open my pantry and see all those jars and jars of preserves that I made. It makes me feel proud." I assured her that I don't think there is ANYTHING silly about that feeling - I get it myself with each new batch of jam. Then she told me a story about her friend's mother who lived during the depression. She had preserved all of their summer produce - jamming, pickling, and canning everything in order to have food to last through the fall and winter, since there was no money to buy food. Then a tragedy happened: the top wooden shelf holding the glass jars broke and all the contents fell down, taking each lower shelf down with it, until everything was left in a shattered inedible mess on the ground. She said that the family still talks about "the disaster" to this day - it is the stuff of legend: the day the harvest was lost. It made me think about how fortunate I am - I love to preserve the things we grow, and grow the things we eat, but I don't have to do it. If I run out of something I can just buy it at the store. Heck, we can drive through McDonald's if I get real crazy.

Probably the best part of my whole encounter with this woman was immediately realizing in her a kindred spirit. She was just as excited as me about making jam, asked me all the questions I would have asked her, and left with a smile on her face as big as mine. I know a lot of people who have made jam, but this was the first time I've met someone who gets all starry-eyed when thinking about the contents of her pantry. I love that something as simple as picking a bucket-full of plums and cooking them can bond two complete strangers with a 30-year age difference. And the icing on top of it all? I heard her tell her husband that I was "as cute as a button" as they were walking away. Nobody has ever called me cute as a button before. I don't think I will ever forget that woman - even find myself wishing I had come up with a way to see her again, maybe get a few pointers on canning my tomatoes.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Zucchini Madness

It's an old story, really. Late summer and a sudden insurmountable influx of zucchini. No matter how many you eat and give away there are still more. You start carrying huge zucchini around in your purse and car on the off chance you can find someone to foist them on. This is how I find myself. After all my complaints about poorly producing zucchini plants (mine are still turning out a pathetic one zucchini per week) my dad went out of town, leaving me in charge of his garden for a week. That's his garden, in the first picture. Only one of those huge garden beds has zucchini growing in it, but there is absolutely no hope for me. I just can't keep up with them. The first day he was gone I harvested 4 the size of my arm. I lugged them into his house to put them in the fridge and found TEN similarly sized ones already in there! Plus four really big yellow summer squash.

So I've been looking for zucchini recipes. On the off chance you find yourself in the same predicament as me, and are out of people to give your zucchini to, here are a few places to check out. This post from Kalyn's Kitchen has TONS of great zucchini ideas, as well as links to lots more yummy looking recipes. I didn't even have time to check them all out, but I'm pretty excited about these yummy stuffed zucchini bites.

And this zucchini pasta salad by my friend Kristy (of the famous Keepin' it Kind blog - seriously, have you not checked it out yet???) looks absolutely amazing. I'm planning this for tomorrow night. Or morning. Or in an hour or so...

And finally, a zucchini bread that I can eat, which means it is gluten free and candida-friendly. Actually, it is grain-free and calls for a bit of chocolate and natural sweetener, both of which I leave out. Even without those things it tastes delicious, so if you are on a less strict diet than me I'm sure you will find it divine. I have three loaves of this waiting for me in the freezer as we speak.

Man, all this talk about recycling zucchini into food is giving me the itch to cook. Please please share your zucchini recipes with me - I need anything I can get!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cucumber Fail

Oh beautiful little cucumber, all full of promise... too bad I have to rip you out of the ground. That's right - this year I failed when it came to cucumbers. First of all, I planted all my japanese cucumber seeds in the back of a planter bed where they ended up being completely shaded by the much faster-growing zucchini plants. They sprouted, lingered for a while, yellowed, and died. Fortunately, though, I had one nursery-bought (gasp!) cucumber plant that came to me from a friend already sprouted. Now, I have been called a gardening snob, and this is not in any way to due to my skill or the state of my garden. It is because I consider growing anything that I did not personally start from seed to be cheating. I don't impose this standard on other gardeners - just myself. I grow everything from seed, including my tomatoes, which means I NEVER put nursery-bought plants in my garden. If I can't get it to germinate or it doesn't survive being transplanted, I don't grow it. I'm not sure why I do this to myself - my garden would be much more successful if I didn't. For some reason I just enjoy that extra challenge.

Anyways, getting back to the cucumbers. It was a good thing I made an exception to my rule and planted the cheater Orchard Supply cucumber plant. If not for it, I would have zero home-grown cucumbers, which are one of the very best things about a summer garden. I hovered over that first little cucumber multiple times each day, waiting for it to be big enough to eat. And when I finally harvested it, I immediately peeled it and put it in my salad. And it was... BITTER! If you've ever tasted a bitter cucumber you know there isn't anything quite like it. It's this horrible taste that immediately permeates your entire mouth and doesn't go away, even after rinsing with water. Hoping it was a fluke, I recommenced Operation Hover as more cukes grew on the vine.

All of them bitter.

It must be my fault, I decided, so I consulted my best gardening tool: Google. A search for "why are my cucumbers bitter" revealed the truth: my cucumber plant was "stressed." Either because the weather has been shifting from pretty cool to blazing hot, or because I don't water my garden on a predictable schedule, the plant is too stressed out to produce those crunchy sweet flowery cucumbers. And the death knell: "Once a cucumber plant starts producing bitter fruit, it will continue producing bitter fruit. You might as well pull it out and start over." Those are hard words to take, even when they are about a store-bought plant. But today I picked one more cucumber off the vine, hoping against reason it would be sweet. It was the worst one yet. So my solitary cucumber vine is off to the compost pile, to make room for some fall greens. I'll have to wait until next year to grow cucumbers... but for now I can always hope for the generosity of friends. :)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Boys and girls

Today I declared a moratorium on the words "penis" and "balls." I also engaged in a rather lengthy conversation about the best way to kill a bad guy with a coconut. This, of course, proved difficult for my two fellow conversationalists, given the afore-mentioned ban on anatomical words. I also had to explain to a frustrated 6 year old why he could only check out FIVE dinosaur books from the library, repaired a lego battle ship, and gave a rather grizzly presentation to a three year old about why we don't drink the bath water (pretty sure I violated the ban on both words during that).

I also found a little time to go outside and smile at my sunflowers (four of the five I planted have bloomed and are just covered with happy bumble bees. I have big plans for the seeds this year - last year I left the seed heads outside too long and they were moldy by the time I harvested them. Not this year!). Then I made blackberry crumble cookies. No, I can't eat the cookies, but I've been assured they are delicious. I just couldn't let all those big fat blackberries sit out there on the vines waiting for the chickens to pass by. Oh, and last night I painted my toenails sparkly pink. So I guess everything evens out. :)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A gray fox and a chewed up dog

It has been quite an adventure in canines over the last few days. When we returned home on Sunday from an end-of-summer trip to the beach, we found something unusual caught in one of the squirrel traps: a gray fox! Isn't he cute? And no, my husband is not getting ready to hose him down in this picture; he is trying to give him a drink of water. We think that the little guy got himself caught in the night, and we didn't discover him until late afternoon, so he was sitting in the hot sun for a long time with nothing to drink. Even though he was obviously scared and completely wild, he calmed right down when Brett started dripping water into the cage. The fox didn't know how to drink out of the hose (probably not a skill many wild animals pick up), but he did lick it off his paws and the floor of the cage. Then he just sat there looking at us with an expression that obviously meant, "Well, what's next?"

We're pretty sure that this is the guy who tried to make off with our rooster last week, which would explain why the rooster had a fighting chance, since the bird is about the same size as this little fox. And even though he is one of the cutest things EVER, we can't have him prowling around the farm looking for stray chickens. So we drove him way up the road and let him go where he can find animals to eat that don't belong to people.

So, that was the good canine news. The bad news was to do with our other doggy, Thor. While we were gone he got into a fight with something and was definitely on the losing end of things. And when I say "something," I mean something big. Thor is not a small dog, and (**grossness disclaimer**) he has huge chunks of flesh ripped out of his back, neck, bottom, and legs. Of course he was being dog-sat while we were gone, but, like some sort of wild teenager, he always choses our vacation times to escape from the yard and go on promiscuous romps in the middle of the night. My dad reports that this was one such time: Thor was missing from the yard, and when he came home he was in bad shape.

It is very sad seeing our old faithful friend feel too miserable to get up to greet us. He gives it a try, but one of his legs is too sore to stand on, plus he seems to have been pretty demoralized by the whole thing (I'm sure the cone of shame doesn't help). The vet says we just have to continue treating his wounds and wait to see what happens. They are very deep and just absolutely gigantic. The kids think he was attacked by a mountain lion, which wouldn't be impossible since we do have them around here. Brett thinks it was a big dog. All I know is that I have to soak ALL the wounds with salt water three times every day and then spray them with disinfectant that Thor hates because it stings. Here he is having his first "treatment":

Very sad. The kids and I have been praying for him - it might be the first time I've actually prayed for an animal as an adult. But as much as he drives me crazy with his wily ways, he is a good old dog and I hate seeing him in pain. We all miss him wandering around the farm with us and are hoping he will be back to his old self soon rather than lying in the yard crying in pain as he wags his tail at the chickens because he just can't help himself. Poor old Thor.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Healthy Raw Breakfast

About a year ago I found out that I had a severe Candida infection. I'll spare you the gory details, of which there are many, and say that after many unsuccessful treatments by traditional doctors, I ended up taking matters into my own hands. I did extensive research on the disease and found that it is best treated by a very specific diet combined with various natural anti-fungal supplements. I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject, but I have learned a lot over the last year about Candida and how to take care of myself so that my symptoms stay away and I don't feel miserable.

While I have gotten much less sensitive to foods, I am still on a gluten-free, sugar-free, yeast-free, fermented-free diet, which pretty much eliminates all traditional breakfast items. I also try to minimize "animal proteins" in my diet - yes, the girl who raises chickens to eat has to be careful not to eat too much meat. *sigh* Breakfast was one of the biggest hurdles for me as I adjusted to my new lifestyle: I'll eat salads for lunch and dinner until the cows come home, but veggies for breakfast??? That felt a little too hard-core. But I have to say that after over a year of eating this way I actually look forward to my big bowl of steamed zucchini and kale with roasted almonds on top. This diet is one of the reasons I've become so devoted to my garden. Eating so many vegetables has made me very aware of the taste difference between kale I buy at Safeway and kale I grow in my garden and eat minutes after it is picked. The same goes for pretty much every single veggie out there - the freshly grown organic stuff is miles tastier. Plus, I am saving quite a bit of money by growing my vegetables rather than buying them. A single packet of kale seeds, which grows several months worth of kale, costs less than one bunch of organic kale at the supermarket.

Now, I never intended this to be a Candida blog, but I have realized that much of my inspiration to "live off the land" have come because of my journey to get healthy. They are somehow intertwined, and sometimes I can't talk about one without including the other. Before I had Candida, I was not at all interested in cooking. I made recipes that were easy and relatively healthy because that was my job and, well, we had to eat. After Candida, every meal became a challenge and adventure. I realized that if I was going to be able to eat things that actually tasted good and didn't make me sick, I would have to create my own recipes using the foods that I don't react to. Adding to the challenge were my meat-and-potatoes husband and a couple of young kids who would be eating what I cooked. I've learned about vegetables and other foods I never before knew existed: kholrabi, sunchokes, amaranth, adzuki beans, dulse... and I've become someone who actually loves cooking and looks forward to it every day. So I guess in a few small ways, getting sick has been good for me.

All the recipes I post here on the blog are recipes I can eat, unless I specify otherwise. That means that they are gluten free, sugar free, lactose free, yeast free, and fermentation free. As my friend Pamela has said: "If Heather can eat it, I can eat it." And I hope you can eat it too. I know I'm not the only person struggling to find yummy healthy foods to eat, and I'm hoping that I can help inspire you to not only eat some new foods, but to try growing them as well. (I just found this recipe, pictured above, for chia seed porridge, and it is on the menu for this week. Looks super yummy!)

P.S. In case you are wondering, this is the e-book I found to be most helpful in treating my own case of Candida, and this website has been invaluable in my ongoing quest to stay healthy.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Grow what you drink

Q: How many men does it take to bottle the newest batch of beer?
A: As many as you've got. One to do the work, and the rest to stand around and daydream about how delicious it is going to taste.

(A few shots from the latest "beer bottling," which was not quite as exciting as the beer brewing itself, which took all day, required even MORE men and also involved cigars and bbq-ing ribs, chicken, and bat ray which had been caught by a friend. Yes, the men folk take the whole beer experience very seriously around here. I just watch and take pictures. There is much anticipation that the home-grown hops will be ready soon, so we can have a "wet hopping fest," which is not nearly as exciting as it sounds. Just brewing beer with fresh hops rather than dried ones. I don't drink beer but have been told that "wet hopping" produces the best tasting beer. Anywho, now you know.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Farm Stud

See that guy in the picture - the one without ice cream on his face? Yeah, that's my man. I don't often brag about how awesome he is, even though I tell myself every day how blessed I am that I ended up with such a fabulous husband. When you are 18 and in love, you don't ask yourself the big questions about the man proposing marriage to you. I knew I loved him and wanted to go through the adventure of life with him, but I had no idea, nor did I even have enough life under my belt, to consider what kind of man he would be in 12 years. How would he handle losing a job? How would he deal with me being completely immobilized by several pregnancies and having tons of health issues after each birth? How would he treat me when I was so sad about my mom's death that I couldn't even get out of bed? How would he deal with me being a WOMAN and never quite knowing what mood I would be in from day to day? How would he react to me deciding to raise a bunch of crazy chickens when I could barely keep our tiny house clean? The answer, it turns out, is that he would always treat me with more respect and love than I even deserved.

Last night at 4 am he and I awoke to the sounds of "chicken trouble." If you have chickens, you know what I mean; they do not make noises at night unless something is wrong. Always ready for a fight, Brett leaped out of bed and was outside in the pitch dark wearing nothing but his underwear before I even realized what was happening. Right outside our back deck, our largest rooster was engaged in the fight of his life against a coyote. Crazy old rooster - he thinks he is too special to come in at night and has been roosting in various secret places at night rather than allowing us to lock him up somewhere safe. Well, last night he was discovered, and, thanks to Brett's quick reflexes, the coyote was chased off before it got more than a mouthful of rooster tail feathers.

That wasn't the end of it, however. For the next 45 minutes my husband ran around the blackened pasture in his boxers trying to catch that dang rooster in order to put him away somewhere safe. That's some kind of wonderful. I'm pretty sure my husband isn't emotionally attached to that rooster, who is actually a bit more trouble than he's worth. Especially at 4 in the morning. But Brett chased that bird around until the rooster just gave up and stood still, allowing himself to be caught. After a quick check-up to determine he hadn't been hurt, it was off to the coop with him. Needless to say, we didn't get much sleep last night. But Brett still had enough whatever-it-is to get up before 6 and go to the men's Bible study he leads (while the kids and I slept in past 8, by the way). THAT'S a good man. I guess the way to my heart is through my chickens. And since the way to his heart is through delicious baked goods, I've made 4 loaves of zucchini bread this morning. Now he'll be stocked up on his latest favorite treat and I'll feel a little like I repaid him for his night-time rescue. But the greatest thing about it is that I don't need to repay him. And he would do it again in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Winding down

It's our last week of summer vacation and I'm squeezing every last drop out of it. Today we spent the morning playing miniature golf, and the afternoon was spent swimming in the pool with friends. Aside from watering the garden, I did NO chores. And I don't even feel guilty about it (yet). I'm off to scavenge the garden for things to throw into a big chicken salad for dinner. Ah, vacation. I will miss you.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Eat what you grow

Since becoming serious about my garden, I'm tried to follow the adage to Grow What You Eat. Makes sense. If you eat a lot of broccoli, you should plant a lot of broccoli. I do this, though have not had much luck with growing onions, something we probably eat the most of. This season I'm realizing that the reverse of this advice is also true: Eat What You Grow. Maybe that sounds weird, but I am definitely guilty of planting things and leaving them in the ground while I go off and buy my favorite veggies at the farmer's market. I've been doing this with Collard Greens all season. I grew them for the first time ever this year, and they did wonderfully. The only problem was that now I had a bed full of, well, collard greens, and I had no idea what to do with them. Last week while I was making my list of what to buy at the farmer's market, I realized that I did NOT need to buy three bunches of Swiss Chard. What I needed to do was figure out what to do with all those Collards.

I think I was intimidated because I thought I had to involve bacon in the whole collard greens experience, and I am on a diet that does not allow me to eat bacon. So, after a little research, I came up with a simple, and really yummy way to prepare them that my whole family really enjoyed. Plus, it is gluten free, sugar free, and vegan. Let me know if you try it!


2 bunches of Collard Greens
1 Tb coconut oil
2 (or 3 or 4, depending on how much you like it) fresh garlic cloves, crushed
salt and pepper to taste

1.) Fill and large pot with water and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, remove the tough ribs from your greens and give them a rough chop. Place chopped greens in the boiling water and boil uncovered for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove and strain.

2.) Dump the water out of the pot and return to medium heat. Melt the coconut oil in the pot and add the garlic, sauteeing for a minute or so until fragrant. Add the collards and sautee, stirring, until very slightly browned. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3.) Serve as a side dish, or stir into quinoa or mix with white beans and fresh tomatoes.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Garden Inspiration

A few pictures that make me want to get outside and work in the garden...

Next year I plan to plant lots more flowers in the vegetable garden. Not only do they attract pollinators, but they just make the whole thing a thousand times prettier. Our sunflowers are just opening up and every time I look at them I smile.

Doesn't this picture make you excited about harvesting? Something about a basket full of anything that grew outside makes me want to go dig in the dirt. Our apple tree is covered with green apples - I'm hoping we get to harvest some this year before the squirrels get them all.

Have a wonderful weekend - I hope you get to spend some time in your garden!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Things you don't want to hear

There are many things that a mother does not want to hear coming from her kids' lips as they play in the other room. One of them is, "Just hurry up and wipe it off." The other is, "You'd better put your bicycle helmet on before you do that." I have heard both of these blood-chilling sentences today. The first in reference to the WORST possible thing a kid could want to hurriedly wipe off: blood. A friend's blood, no less. In his defense, my son wasn't sure if the blood came from him "punching her in the face," or from "her slamming her face into his chest." Ah, details... The second phrase, the one about the bicycle helmet, came when the boys were outside working on their new fort. They have been very hush-hush about what precipitated this comment, but seeing as the advice came from someone who once told me his baby brother "wasn't doing anything dangerous" as he wielded a machete, I nipped that activity session in the bud REAL fast. Too bad big brother wasn't doling out advice when the 3 year old and his friend drove their toy tractor off a 3 foot cliff, landing it upside down in the sand pit. A bicycle helmet would have come in pretty handy at that point of the day. (Fortunately the two dare-devils escaped with nothing but a few minor scratches, thank God.) They are now plopped safely in front of some cartoons, and I am resting my nerves. I think we might have had enough healthy activity for one day.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Phases of Development

First off, here's a picture of my morning harvest. Eggs for breakfast (along with zucchini bread I baked last night) and plums and blackberries to go with our lunch. So far our fruit-and-meat-off-the-farm goal is coming along nicely.

But this post isn't about fruit and meat, it's about babies. Baby chickens. Below is a picture of the place where Crazy White Hen has chosen to hatch out babies. This is the second time she has nested up in the barn attic, so we weren't taken by surprise. Last time my husband thought there was a monster rat nesting up there and went up with a club, only to find Crazy White Hen sitting indignantly on a nest of eggs under a piece of plywood. When she went missing a few weeks ago, I knew just where to look: the most dangerous stupid place ever to hatch out a brood of helpless baby chicks. Once they hatch out, there is no way to get those babies to food or water, and if they hop so much as three inches into the air, they will fall through the hole to their deaths.

I knew it had been about 3 weeks since she started sitting on her eggs, so I went up to the attic to deliver some water and food just in case. (Before the eggs hatch, Crazy White Hen leaves the nest once per day to get herself the food and water she needs and to take a dust bath. But once the babies hatch she won't leave them, and those little guys need to eat!) Poking my head through the hole is always tricky, since as soon as I do it I am exactly eye-level with where she is nesting and the perfect target for her over-protective beak. This time was no different - I stuck my head through the hole and she immediately puffed up all her feathers and screeched at me, taking a few practice lunges towards my face. But this time I saw that she had hatched out two teensy little "blonde" babies. Aren't they cute?

She was starving and lost all her motherly protectiveness once I put the food and water up there. I could have easily snatched those babies away while she wolfed down chicken scratch. But I didn't, of course. We waited until the sun went down to enact our rescue mission. (Supposedly chickens are more calm when it is dark out, but no chicken remains calm when you grab it bodily away from it's babies.) My husband and brother (both of whom are tall enough to get more than their head through the attic hole) helped me grab the little new family and move them to a much more practical ground-level apartment. The kids and I spent a nice long time this morning cooing at them and watching the babies scamper around on their spindly little legs.

I took a picture of how Crazy White Hen left her nest. There are always a few eggs that don't make it. For whatever reason, we have had about a 30% success rate on eggs hatching out. I'm always kind of sad when I think about the chicks that almost made it, but that's just the way of the chicken world. My husband cleaned up the mess and said he wants to seal it off so she can't get up there to do it again. I want him to leave it open; at least we know where she's nesting. Crazy RED Hen nests in a different mysterious spot every time. Last time (about a month ago) we found her sitting on 6 newly hatched chicks in the lavender bushes. The time before that, she had somehow gotten herself into the garage (that time didn't end well) and the time before that she hatched them in the middle of a tuft of weeds in the pasture.

Here is Crazy Red Hen with her babies - I call them tweens. They look so funny and awkward with their big-girl feathers starting to stick out amongst their baby fuzz. It always reminds me of my 7'th grade school picture - ugly and gangly but with a hint of promise. There are actually three of them, but the third scurried away as I clicked the photo.

So we currently have chickens in all phases of development. There are the newborns, there are the tweens, and there are the "young ladies": the chickens that I bought via mail-order in March who are now full-grown, though not yet laying any eggs. This is Annie, she's my favorite (don't tell the others).

And lastly there is the "Old Guard," the 5 remaining hens from my very first flock of 15. They are two now, and if I was a good economical farm girl, they would be on their way to the stew pot, since I spend much more money feeding them than they do returning the favor with eggs. But I can't do it, I love them too much.

Well, now we are much better acquainted with one another. You don't know a country girl until you know her chickens. Have a wonderful day!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Goals for the week

We're a LONG way from being self-sufficient around here, but both my husband and I want to become increasingly able to provide for ourselves with what we grow, raise, catch, or somehow russle up. So this week my goal is to not buy any meat or fruit, using just what we have around here.

Earlier this year we raised and "harvested" chickens for meat. "Meat birds," as I call them, or "Fryers" as my great-grandma used to call them, are a special breed of bird that is much meatier than your average laying hen. They grow up fast, too, so don't cost very much money to feed during the time you are raising them. I'm sure all my vegan and vegetarian friends are considering removing me from their blog reader list... sorry! We aren't vegetarians around here, and in an effort to raise hormone-free, organic meat that doesn't cost a fortune, this is the solution I came up with. No, I don't love killing the birds, but we feel good about the fact that they have a very nice life while they are with us. Lots of sunshine and fresh air, real food (leaves, grass, snails, you know: the yummy stuff chickens are supposed to eat) and lots of attention from the kids. Despite my warnings to them not to get attached to the meat birds, my kids couldn't help but sit around with those big white chickens and play with them. I was surprised that the kids didn't get upset on "harvest day." They have seen us slaughter chickens before, but I thought that since they had played with these ones they would be sad. However, the kids knew that the birds were destined for the freezer since day one, so they were ok with the whole process. They even get more excited when they know we are eating "one of our chickens" rather than a store-bought one. Plus, they taste better. Much, MUCH better.

SO. This week we will be eating chicken, as well as a couple trout that have been waiting in the freezer since my husband's last fishing trip. As for fruit, blackberries are just coming into their prime. Aside from a few straggly vines creeping into my garden, there is a huge patch of blackberry bushes just up the road. I'm looking forward to walking up there with the boys and our buckets - it's one of my favorite end-of-summer traditions. We also have one tree full of little cherry-sized yellow plums. I'm hoping we have enough to make jam, in addition to whatever my three-year-old fruit monster consumes this week.

Of course, we also have eggs. I always make at least one egg-based dinner per week since that is one thing we always have more than enough of. Probably an egg and kale frittata or something... we'll see. There is some bounty from the garden. To be truthful, I have been disappointed with my garden this year. The zucchini haven't been nearly as productive as they were last year, and my tomatoes aren't ripening. I simply didn't plant enough seeds to grow as many vegetables as we eat. But, there are collard greens and a bit of kale, plus the occasional zucchini. It certainly won't get us through the week in terms of veggies, but we'll do what we can. Either way, we are much more self-sufficient than we were last year, and progress is good. I'd love to hear what you are growing!

Friday, August 3, 2012


How about a little eye candy today? I am in love with succulents, not just because of their soft pastel colors or the fact that they are so cute and little, but because they are pretty much the only house plant that I don't consistently kill.

I recently bought three echiveria and put them in a little black pot on the kitchen hutch and it is my favorite spot in the whole house. Looking at them makes me smile. Of course, the first time I tried growing succulents I killed them because I used regular potting mix to plant them rather than the fast-draining stuff I should have used. Having too much moisture in the soil causes these pretty plants to turn ugly really fast. My friend Jessica grows succulents in vintage tea tins on her windowsill and she has been my succulent doctor, telling me where to get my soil (OSH of course) and what to do when they get too big for their containers (as if that would ever happen - I'm just trying to keep them alive here!).

I love the idea of a vertical succulent garden. If you're feeling brave, the instructions can be found here.

I think this is my favorite succulent idea - a little tiny plant in a tea cup as a party favor and place card. Lovely, practical, and easy. Makes me want to have a party. :)

Some day when I have a bigger house and a yard with a real fence to keep out chickens and cats and raccoons and possums, I will plant a succulent garden in an old fountain. This is so pretty! Until then I'll stick with my one little black pot. If I continue to have success there I might branch out to another one... two might be just enough for me to handle. :)

Thursday, August 2, 2012

First love

Today my three year old informed me that he has a girlfriend. With a completely straight face he let me know that "Papa's blonde araucana is mine girlfriend and I love her." In case you were wondering, an Araucana is a chicken.
I think the technical term for this color is "white," but "blonde" certainly sounds more romantic. *sigh* I'm not sure if I should be excited or concerned.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The real deal

We were with new friends. A woman in my Bible study had taken me up on my invitation to ride with us to the beach. After managing to fit all 4 of our collective car seats in the car, along with sand toys, lounge chairs, blankets, diapers, ice chests, etc. we were ready to go. Her newborn was sleeping peacefully while her 2 year-old raptly absorbed my sons' tales of how wonderful it is to live on a farm. All was smiles and innocent fun. Until my kids got a little too real. I heard it happen - it went something like this:

"And then we play ultimate frisbee with my Uncle Michael on the HUGE lawn and run around and gather eggs, and one of our chickens, the crazy red one, she sat on a bunch of eggs and she hatched out SIX BABY CHICKS in the lavender bush and then we moved them to a safe place so the owls wouldn't eat them and then my mom put a container of water in there for them and three of the baby chicks jumped into it and drowned. My papa found them dead in there and threw them in the garbage." Wah-wah...

That was kind of a mood killer. It made me realize one of the ultimate truths to living on a farm that I have neglected to teach my kids: We don't tell people what it is REALLY like up here.

If you live on a farm you know what I mean. It isn't that you are trying to be deceitful, or that you are trying to make other people jealous by painting a rosy picture of your life, and it isn't that you are embarrassed about what happens on the farm. It is just that most people don't quite have the stomach for the reality of what happens when you put a bunch of animals together in one spot and let them live their lives.

Unfortunately for my friends (and my pride), these "natural animal happenings" always seem to occur when we have guests. There was the time my dad's dog somehow knocked out one of his teeth while chasing a squirrel and left a trail of blood across the entire driveway just as my friend and her two little boys arrived in their nice clean minivan. Not content with grossing them out a little bit, the dog then proceeded to rub his injured mouth all over the side of my dad's white house, leaving a grizzly blood-painting on the siding as our friends stood there gaping in horror. Then there was the time my husband's BOSS came up for dinner. While he was receiving the tour of the property, our dog snatched a gopher straight out of the ground in front of the poor man and crunched down the entire juicy thing, bones and all. And our poor babysitter came up for the first time on the day we discovered a dismembered chicken carcass in the yard, courtesy of the neighboring coyote pack. I've tried various responses to these occurrences in an attempt to ease people's shock and make them see that we are not heathens. None of it works, so I usually end up silently getting the shovel and disposing of whatever has died (while my kids explain to them that no, we do not burry the dead animals: if we did that there would be no room to plant a garden), hosing the rest of the evidence off the driveway, and offering them some cookies or something.

Terrible animal deaths don't happen all the time, and we are not callused to our animals dying. I am actually STILL sad about those poor baby chicks (lesson learned: don't put an open-topped waterer in with baby chicks) and my boys and I have been known to cry together over every lost hen. But the reality is that one gets used to these types of things when living on a farm. We just have to remember that our friends (all of whom live in the suburbs) aren't used to it. I try to ease them into our reality by saying things like "Yes, we used to have six chicks but now we have three. The other three are in heaven." Or "Wow, that rooster sure likes to wrestle with the hens!" or "Hm... I wonder what all that red stuff is? Oh well!" And to be honest, I'm still trying to decide which strategy to take here on this blog. Should I only tell you the cute cuddly stories, or can you stomach the real ones? I promise not to take any pictures of dead animals, but I think it would be good to show what it is really like up here. What do you think? .