Thursday, June 30, 2011

What's Up, Pussy Cat?


Shelter cat lands on all four paws (and OMG, check out the flowers blooming my garden!)

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you've read about my passion for rescuing shelter animals.  Most of what I do, I do without ever leaving my living room.  I'm over at The Green Phone Booth today telling the story of how I started saving lives with a few key strokes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Seed Full of Promise

It was a cold day in March when the boys and I poked knobby seeds into the ground.  Mine spaced exactly according to the seed packet directions.  The seeds the boys planted grouped in a mad pile that would grow into a profusion of young leaves.  


No matter how we planted them though, they grew.  The peas are ready for harvest and are slowly succumbing to powdery mildew.  Just in time!  It happens the same every year.  The cilantro has bolted and the lettuce behind it.  In another week or two, I'll empty out the bed and put in basil and some fall greens.  


The tomatoes have overgrown their cages, groping over their edges and across the raised beds.  Inside, they hide small green jewels.  Round and hard.  But honestly, ripen darn it!  I'm ready for bruscetta and salsa and streetwalker stew.  I'm ready for sun-warmed cherry tomatoes and hulking slices of heirlooms between CSA goat cheese and bread.


Meanwhile the pollinator garden - read, pretty flower garden - is doing its job.  Bringing lots of bees into the yard so that they'll be there waiting and ready whenever the darn squash (winter and summer) gets around to blooming!!


The zinnias and sunflowers are getting ready to bloom.  I couldn't resist this photo of a zinnia by the apple tree - just waiting to pop.


The best part of my garden - everything pictured but the tomatoes were once just tiny seeds full of promise.  Now, I'm just waiting for the promise to come true . . .

Please join the Facebook page to watch the seeds grow in between posts.


 This is my submission for Tuesday Garden Party, hosted at An Oregon Cottage.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The $100 Egg

"You are so lucky to get all those eggs for free!"

I get that comment just about every time someone learns that we keep backyard hens.  Yes, we are lucky.  To have chickens.  Eggs for free? Not so much.

You see, keeping backyard chickens isn't cheap.


There's the coop.  The chickens (or chicks) themselves.  Plus, the ones that were roosters or died or . . .  The chicken feed.  The feeder and waterer.  And probably the feeder and waterer you tried that didn't work.  The brooder, heat lamp, feeder and waterer you used when they were chicks.  Whatever you're using on the floor of the henhouse and the run, if you are using something in the run.  The scratch or sunflower seeds which you probably give because you are a softie.  There's also the critter-proof containers to keep said seeds and scratch in.  Any medical supplies and the costs of vet visits, should you choose to take your hens to the chicken doctor.

But keeping chickens doesn't have to put you in the poor house - or the hen house.  Here are a few ways I've saved or could have would have should have saved:


COOP: You can save money and resources by repurposing an old play house, dog house or similar.  Many people, including my sister, also reuse wood, windows, doors, curtain rods and what not when building their coop.  I envisioned something along the latter lines but Mr. Green Bean envisioned Home Depot lumber and, as he was building it, I deferred.  I may still get my salvaged building in the form of a greenhouse like this someday.


CHICKS VS. PULLETS: I've done both.  Chicks cost about $3-4 and pullets $15-20 in my neck of the woods.  We started with 5 chicks and have 1 remaining.  Two were roosters, one was MEAN and had to go, and another ate a screw.  After the expense of the heat lamp bill and the chick waterer and feeder, I'd definitely opt for the pullets if you can get the breed you want from a healthy source.  If you opt for chicks, though, you cut costs by borrowing a brooder and heat lamp from a friend, like I did.  I passed both along to another new chicken mama and I assume she's done the same since then.

ACCOUTREMENTS: I felt the feeder and waterer were a worthwhile investment but I'd recommend researching the kind you want before buying.  I first bought a galvanized waterer because I hate plastic but turns out you cannot use certain additives in the water in a galvanized (see below).  If you want to skip this expense, though, a friend fashioned a feeder out of a cat litter box.  Ingenious!


FEED: Without a doubt, hens do not go through as much feed when they are free ranging. They do go through the garden though and are also more susceptible to death or injury from screws, poisonous plants and predators.  After witnessing my pumpkin sprouts destruction at the feet of chickens, we decided on a plan of winter out of the run, summer in the run.  We also give all non-moldy kitchen scraps and handfuls of weeds for the girls.  A final thought is to grow your own chicken feed.  I've seen lots of forage gardens and this year planted borage and sunflowers for the pollinators and the hens.  


BEDDING: You definitely want bedding of some sort inside the henhouse and some folks also put it in the attached run.  I use cedar shavings in the henhouse but I've seen someone use shredded non-glossy paper with nice results and saw the suggestion of peanut hulls or coffee chaff.  The run is another story and, for over a year, I left it bare dirt, which is free!  I figured it was nice for the girls to dust bathe but this article convinced me to start spreading the straw.  Other run bedding ideas include pine needles, fall leaves, and growing your own.  I will say that we used fall leaves once and the girls were not fans but perhaps mixing leaves with one of the other media would work.

MEDICAL CARE: Organic apple cider vinegar in the water seems to cure many ails (but only in a plastic waterer). So does a clean coop.  I've gleaned many more low cost ideas - as well as hours of worry over nothing - from BackyardChickens.com.  Once a year wormer is a good idea to keep egg production up and I give it when they stop laying in the winter.  Yes, they do stop laying - unless you give supplemental lighting which I haven't . . . yet.  Then, there is the chicken vet.  If you really want to keep costs down, view your chickens as livestock and not pets and "cull" them when they are sick.  If you get very attached, like me, you just might find yourself spending too much money at the chicken doctor.

By following my tips - and avoiding my pitfalls - you can bring the $100 egg down to a $10 egg.  Add your own and maybe we can get that egg down to $5 each! ;-)

This post is my submission to the Monday Homestead Barn Hop.


Cluck on over to the Facebook page for in between post henhouse gossip.


*I'm linking to Seasonal Celebration Sunday for this post.
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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Green Beans in the Garden

I've been buried in the garden this, the first reallllly hot week of summer, but no worries.  I've waxed poetic and pragmatic in the past.  Check out my favorite and most popular gardening posts (both from this blog and The Green Phone Booth):

Attack on the Home Front: Battling pests without pesticides in the home vegetable garden.

Finding Our Work: In which I get all emotional about the joys of gardening.



Liberate Your Lawn: Replacing grass with greener choices.


Down on the Farm: The true bounty of harvest time in my front yard homestead.


I Grow, Therefore I Am: Step by step to planting an edible front yard.

Edible Exhibitionism: Do suburban farmers have no shame?  Flaunting it in the front yard?

From Bashful to Bodacious: Overcoming modesty to plant edibles in the front yard.

Bee The Change: How gardening can save our pollinators.



Bringing the Mountain to Mohammad: Getting kids invested in the garden.

You Can Take the Girl Out of the Mall . . .: In which I get a little over-excited at the local nursery.

* Join the Facebook page for links, posts, photos, videos and more.
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In Bloom

On a visit to the San Francisco Botanical Garden, I discovered


beauty;


serenity; and 


one of a kind


show stoppers.

Riddle: Which is my garden and which is the Arboretum California native garden?



Tough one because they both have the same flowers planted in them!!  Who knew but I'm thanking the "Bring on the Birds" seed packet or whichever one I tossed out there.  Now, hopefully, the flowers will reseed themselves.  (Oh, and mine is the one on top).

Keep blooming on the Facebook page for in between post garden updates, relevant links and more.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pathways

I've been busy in the garden lately.  Not with planting because, well, mostly everything is planted.  Not with harvesting because, well, mostly nothing is ready to be harvested yet.  Just non-blog worthy projects for the most part.  Moving the tool shed, weeding, tying up vines, putting in pathways between the raised beds.


Actually, the last one I did think was worth at least some photos.  I laid down cardboard from boxes and my kids science projects.  Ever notice how none of us have newspaper any more.  We've all cut that out to be eco-friendly but boxes do still crop up as do school projects so yay for reuse.  I covered the cardboard with mulch, lined them with some of the used brick we have lying about and, ta da!


The raised beds from the pathways UP


Non-weedy walkways that don't do much other than provide a finished look in between my bursting beds.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Going Old School

On this, the last week of school for my kids, I decide to go old school over at the Green Phone Booth.  Check out my post here.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sunshine Brings


Berries beginning to bloom; 


Happy hens shielded by a native grapevine;


And companionship.

What has sunshine brought to your garden?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tales from the Roost: Garbage In, Garbage Out

As told by Ginger, who is jockeying for not lowest in the pecking order.



I didn't come by this figure on its own.  It is hard work maintaining these gams, this beautiful blond booty.

First, there is exercise.  Back in the days when we were let out of the coop - before Serena took down the pumpkin seedlings - exercise was easy to come by.  I used to run the yard - particularly when the human was trying to get us back in the coop.  I'd run and run and run and my long legs were so toned.

It is tougher these days, confined to the coop while the garden spouts outside, but I still manage.  Puff gets all broody-like and lounges in the nesting box all day and the other girls shuffle about in the straw.  Not I.  I dig, paw at the earth underneath the straw, hop up and down on the roost in the run - shouting at the top of lungs, breathing in and out.  Hen aerobics, if you will.

It takes more than exercise, though, to have a healthy chicken.  Garbage in, garbage out, I always say.    If you don't want to look like one of the chubby Cochins, go light on the scratch.  Fill up on the organic laying pellets, water mixed with organic apple cider vinegar or wait until the human comes up with her bucket.

She does that about once a day.  Sometimes, she'll pop up a second time with some greens especially when she's cleaning out her kitchen before the big farm share day.  She also tosses in weeds when she's out working in the garden.  The big question we hens always have, though, is what's in the bucket.

The other girls always hope for carbs - pasta, rice, leftover dessert.  Ha!  The human almost never lets the last one slip in.  Garbage in, garbage out.  She keeps us for the eggs.  As much as Puff might like to think that she's put on this earth just to look pretty.  If you want to stay in the human's good graces, you just keep laying.  So no garbage in this blond bombshell.

Carrot nubs, bok choy ends, strawberry tops?  Not garbage.

Leftover stir fry, mushy apricots, wilted lettuce?  Not garbage.

It's all about health . . .  Whoa, here she comes.  What's in the bucket?  What's in the bucket?  What's in the bucket?

Let those other fatties go for the  - leftover homemade waffles!  I'll work it off later.  Gotta run.

The chicken bucket


Don't be chicken.  Join the Facebook page for in between post clucks.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Puff Mommy


I've got eggs and I like sweet,
So when its time to cook some eats,
I use up the eggs and the fruit,
And feed the family to boot, yo.

Okay, Puff Daddy, or P Diddy as he goes by these days, may have a thing or two on me when it comes to lyrics but not when it comes to baking the fastest consumed Puff Pancake on the Planet!  This delectable recipe was published in Sunset magazine a couple months back and uses raspberries and strawberries, plus a pinch of sugar and eggs.  Guaranteed to disappear before the pan cools down.

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs
  • 5 Tbsp. honey or sugar, divided
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • pinch salt
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cups raspberries
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 pound strawberries or other berries, hulled and sliced

Preparation

1. Put ovenproof 12-in. pan or 9- by 13-in. pan in oven and preheat oven to 425°. Whisk eggs, 1/4 cup honey or sugar, and the zest in a medium bowl. Add salt, flour, and 1/4 cup milk and stir until smooth, then add in remaining milk.
2. Mash raspberries.
3. Remove pan from oven; add butter and swirl until melted. Pour in batter. Pour mashed raspberries over batter in wide ribbons. Reduce heat to 400° and bake pancake until golden, 30 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes to cool and firm up (pancake will fall).
4. Combine strawberries and remaining honey or sugar; let stand at least 10 minutes. Add honey to taste. Spoon fruit mixture over pancake. Cut pancake into wedges and serve.


Check out more Meatless Monday ideas and recipes over at the Midnight Manic Meatless Monday Carnival.  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Life Began in a Seed Packet

Once upon a time, I lived in a tiny cottage with a tiny yard stuffed with big flowers and vegetables.  Giant pumpkins lounged on the walkways.  Grape vines clambered and climbed.  Enormous tomato plants jostled for space.  Even there, though, there was room for flowers.  For sunflowers, cosmos, lupine, and calendula.


No matter how little space I have, no matter much is eaten up by edibles, I always plant flowers.  They attract the bees, butterflies and birds, which increases both pollination of my fruits and veggies.  They provide habitat for wildlife when more and more habitat is being destroyed.  They repel pests.  And I just think that flowers look pretty - stuffed as they are amongst the vegetables and fruit tress.


I always call these flowers my pollinator garden - whether they are gathered together or strewn like beads from a broken necklace between tomatoes and peppers.  It sounds fancy, and a lot of work, and expensive.


It is none of those things.

Every spring, my pollinator garden begins from a seed packet or packets.  I chose flowers I like and I grab those butterfly or fairy garden packets at the nursery check out.  Then I rake up the soil, scratch little holes here and there and wait.


Eventually, even in cold springs like these, the flowers bloom.  The pollinators and beneficial insects come.  And life begins.


Keep growing over at the Facebook page.
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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tales from the Roost: Head Shot

This is Puff, the Blue Cochin who lives in the red coop up on the hill.  If you can keep a secret, I'll confess that she is one of my two favorite hens - even though she is an unreliable layer and spends half of her life broody.  Her story can be found here.  Happy hump day from the girls in the little red coop.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Growing Instability

My puny peas! Just starting to bloom in June.

I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for 15 years.  For at least the last 12, I've gardened consistently.  Every year, the tomatoes go in the first of April.  I direct sow wildflower seeds mid-March.  For the rest, I follow my handy planting guide.  It's worked well for me.  Summer welcomes the bees and butterflies through our seed-started pollinator garden.  Fall produces a bumper crop of tomatoes and pumpkins that hulk about the yard.  Sunflowers gawk over everything.

Only, it hasn't actually been working these last few years.  Last year, April 1st hit and I headed to a local plant sale to load up on tomato starts (No, I'm lame and don't start my own.).  I finally located parking, bundled the kids up in their parkas and headed for the sale when we began being hit by hailstones.  At the sale the vendor suggested bringing tomatoes in on cold days and at night due to the unpredictable weather that spring.  I overheard another patron say "I'll just wait."  Me too, I thought! And I did.  I put the tomatoes in in early in May, once it warmed up, but they never did produce that much.

This year, I dutifully raked in seeds in mid-March.  The first weekend of April was in the mid 60s.  Warm enough for tomatoes, I determined and plunged ahead.  In May, I piled mounds of earth around the garden and poked squash seeds in them.  In late May, I tucked sunflower seeds in vacant spots.

Here we are, the first week of June and are bracing for another winter storm.  You read that right.  A winter storm in California in June.  It is so bad, the weather service has inserted little exclamation points on three days worth of weather.  The tomatoes look to be holding their own.  The sunflowers and squash sprouted but nothing more.  For weeks, they've squatted on their mounds, two leaf wonders, turning more and more yellow as day after day of 50 degree temperatures crawls by.   My friend's dad is a local farmer.  He reported that it doesn't look like there will be any pumpkins this year and that rain deterred most of the pollination during blossom time so few fruits as well.

As cold as it was last year, I remember cosmos blooming and squash blossoms echoing with bees by this time last year.  What is happening?

Climate change is a touchy subject these days but more and more, our climates do seem to be changing.  Weather has become more extreme, less predictable.  Yes, yes, I know.  There are colder Mays on record here.  Apparently 26 of them.  And it is El Nino or La Nina or blah blah blah.  

Regardless, the weather continues to be as moody as, well, me.  It seriously interferes with growing food - not just for the urban homesteader but for large scale operations as well.  How big of a problem do you think this is?  How have you dealt with it or what do you plan to do to avoid weather related catastrophes next year?  Have you invested a greenhouse or set up a hoop house?  Or do you just roll with the punches?
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Monday, June 6, 2011

Bake Like a Buccaneer

Seasonal cooking is not for wusses.  It is for folks who don't bat an eye - even if they only have one eye - when faced with a pile of unfamiliar fruits and vegetables.  They wield a knife with confidence, fear not the flame (from the fire or oven), and substitute with abandon.

If you want to cook with the seasons, you need to think like a pirate.  What does that mean, you ask?  Well, as Captain Barbossa explained in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, the "pirate code" is more guidelines than actual rules.



Same I say for any recipe you encounter.  It offers rough suggestions. Cook until soft.  Incorporate these types of fruits or vegetables.  Add these types of spices.  You savvy?

Here is my Frigate Frittata - freely adapted from this Food Network recipe to incorporate what I like to eat, what I have in the fridge, and less of what I don't think I should be eating.

Ingredients

  • 9 eggs
  • Spray olive oil
  • 1 green garlic (substitute 3 minced garlic cloves)
  • 1/2 small red onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 cup pickled jalapeno peppers 
  • 2 cups chopped cooked broccoli
  • pinch salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Directions

Separate 3 of the eggs, putting the whites into a medium sized bowl and setting aside the yolks for some other project or cooking them to feed the chickens. Add the whole eggs and 2 tablespoons of water to the whites and whisk.


In a medium ovenproof skillet heat the oil over medium. Add the onion, garlic and jalapenos and cook until it begins to soften, at least 5 minutes. Add the broccoli and cook for another 2 minutes. Season with salt and  pepper. Pour egg mixture over the vegetables in the skillet covering them evenly. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and let cook until the egg mixture has set around the edges but is gooey in the middle. Sprinkle with the cheese.
Meanwhile, preheat the broiler. Place the skillet under the broiler until the surface is golden brown.  Cut the frittata into 8 wedges and serve with salsa or additional peppers - if you like it really spicy, like this wench does.




Check out more Meatless Monday ideas and recipes over at the Midnight Manic Meatless Monday Carnival.  




Join the Facebook page for more debauchery.  
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Friday, June 3, 2011

Tales from the Roost: Sounding the Alarm

As told by Warrior Chicken, Minerva Louise.


Life as a warrior chicken is not easy.  One needs to be constantly vigilant, forever on the look out for escape routes, continually scanning the skies for back up, and forever ready to sound the alarm.  Alarm for what, you ask?

One of the other hens is laying an egg?  Alarm worthy.

I just laid an egg?  Alarm worthy.

There is a predator outside of the coop?  Alarm worthy.

A storm is coming?  Alarm worthy.

The water bowl is empty?  Alarm worthy.

It's early in the morning, and you are worried about us waking up the neighbors?  Clearly alarm worthy.

Whatever strikes our fancy? Alarm stinkin' worthy.

One of us will take up the call and the others join in until it the dingy red coop rocks with our raucous rebellion.  To our feathered ears, it sounds like "Revolt! Revolt! Revolt!" though you may simply hear the squawking of livestock.  Know, though, that when we sound the alarm at, oh 6:30 on a Saturday morning, we really are doing it just for you, dear captor.  To get you up out of your warm bed.  Running up on the hill in your stockinged feet to quiet us.  Shush us by throwing in scratch or spraying us with water.  It matters not.

We'll sound the alarm again and again and again - until freedom reigns.

Check out my Facebook page for video of the stars of Tales from the Roost, other posts, links, photos and updates. 


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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Memorializing Memory Lane

There's nothing like small town America!  Here are a few photos from my walk on Memorial Day weekend through a favorite small country town.




Join the Facebook page for more posts, links, updates and photos.  Never miss a bean!
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