Thursday, March 29, 2012

Dying Eggs - Even The Brown Ones!

It is almost Easter and I've been saving all my white eggs for dying as well as the eggs from my Amreacana aka Easter Egger Chicken just to add to the mixture since they are already green!  Little did I know you could die the brown eggs too!  How exciting.  I'm not sure why I thought you couldn't.  Following is an excellent article from My Pet Chicken about dying eggs including brown ones which are treated the same as white eggs.  It also includes some information on using natural dyes.  I think this year I'm going to give it a go with beet juice and turmeric at least!  I hope you enjoy the article and excellent pictures as much as I did.

Picture from My Pet Chicken

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Meet The Chickens & Their Eggs

It has been awhile since I figured out what breeds my chickens are and I meant to post adult pictures sooner but it worked out that I waited because now I know what their eggs look like.  Meet the ladies and two gents whom we had to find new homes for.


Name: Yellow Wing - Breed: Buckeye - Medium Brown Eggs

Yellow Wing was the last to start laying her eggs.  She lays beautiful medium sized brown eggs.  This Buckeye hen can be pushy for instance when I'm corralling all the chickens into their coop or the fenced part of the yard she will be the one to stare me down and try to go the other direction.   She is not very fast or flighty though and has been a favorite of the kids.

Name: Flufatrox - Breed: Ameraucana - Medium Green Eggs

Flufatrox has beautiful green eggs.  She is full of vibrant feathers and has what looks like a fluffy beard.  She is docile, beautiful and lays eggs regularly.  She is my son's favorite.

Name: Camolot - Breed: Golden Campine - Medium White eggs

Camo is a Golden Campine.  She is an amazing flyer and likes to be free of the coop.  Her eggs are medium sized white to cream colored.

Name: Crystal - Breed: Golden Campine - Medium White Eggs

I'm pretty sure Crystal is a Golden Campine however she has a double comb which is not standard to Golden Campine breed so either she is a different breed that I am unaware of or her double comb is just devient from the standard.  She also has more of a fluffy bum then our other Colden Campine, Camolot.  Crystal lays long medium sized white eggs with just a hint of brown. Feel free to chime in if you have any experience with a chicken like this having a double comb.

Name: Luna - Breed: Barred Plymouth Rock Bantam - Tiny Light Brown Eggs

Luna is my favorite.  She is a tiny super well behaved happy little hen.  One of the first to start laying, her eggs are small and light brown.  She lays almost every day.  Luna is an excellent flyer for a chicken.

Two of Luna's eggs next to a regular sized egg.
Name: Samwise Gamgee - Breed: Partridge Silkie Bantam - Small Cream Colored Eggs

Samwise Gamgee is our other bantam.  Her feathers are beautiful though not useful for flying.  A Silkie, she has feathered legs and all kinds of attitude in her plumage but her personality is kind.  Samwise Gamgee's favorite thing to do in the world is take a dust bath.  She has a favorite spot in the yard where the dirt is always dry and she spends hours there.  Samwise Gamgee lays small cream colored eggs.  True to her breed she is very broody meaning she likes to lay on her eggs as well as the other chicken's eggs in a vain attempt at hatching them.  (We have no roosters so we will never have fertile, hatchable eggs.) We frequently have to nudge her off the pile of eggs to convince her to go get some food and drink.

Egg Comparison 

Eggs are from the following breeds left to right:
Buckeye, Ameraucauna, Golden Campine, Golden Campine,  Barred Plymouth Rock Bantam, Partridge Silkie Bantam

Name: Rusty - Breed: Partridge Silkie Bantam - Rooster

I had such a hard time telling which chicks were bantams (the small breed) because two of my bantams were roosters and therefore a little bigger than their female counterparts.  Rusty was my all time favorite with his pretty feathers and fluffy feathery legs - of course roosters always are prettier than hens.  I was sad to see him go.

Name: Silver - Breed: Black Silkie Bantam - Rooster

Silver was our other rooster - a beautiful black Silkie Bantam with a soft, fluffy black plumage and like the other silkies, feathers on his legs.  We re-homed Mr. Silver.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Compost - It's hard to screw up.

A picture of my current batch of compost as I was turning
it.  It should be ready in the spring.  The chickens LOVE
it when I turn the compost exposing so many delicious bugs!

Compost is a key ingredient to a nice healthy garden especially if you don't want to spend a lot of money on amendments and fertilizer.  It is also a stellar way to deal with yard debris, kitchen scraps and chicken poo.

There are entire book on how to make compost - what ratio of debris should go into it, how it should be stored, put together and how frequently it should be turned.  But the thing about compost is that it will break down regardless of how you handle it.  I completely respect and maybe even envy people who have the right mix of ingredients, who turn their compost often and have a hot steamy pile of compost that breaks down quickly - just not enough to become one of those people.  

When I was seventeen I learned from a master gardener in Texas how to deal with yard debris by simply throwing scraps into a circular cage made of wire fencing and rotating the pile now and again.  That is still how I do it and every year I have beautiful healthy compost that takes a little less than a year to break down.  The ingredients to my compost are simple:
  • Kitchen Scraps - All veggie/fruit peals and scraps, coffee grounds, crumpled egg shells, egg cartons now and again.  I never use meat, dairy or processed foods. 
  • Yard clippings and scraps from bushes, trees, flowers and veggies.  I tend to keep out the weeds although I understand if the pile gets hot enough it kills the seeds - maybe I just don't have enough faith in the heat and I really don't like weeds.  I think I'm just being paranoid. 
  • Chicken poo from when I muck out the coop or droppings pit along with some sawdust from the broken down wood pellets inside the coop. 
There is much ado in books and online about the right balance of nitrogen to carbon ingredients when it comes to the compost pile.  "Green" or nitrogen ingredients are wet ingredients like fresh grass clippings, fresh yard debris, manure, most kitchen scraps like vegie and fruit debris, coffee grounds etc.  "Brown" or carbon rich ingredients are the things like dry grass, dry leaves, egg shells, sawdust, straw etc.  It feels complicated to me when I start thinking I need to go for a particular carbon to nitrogen mixture.  Experts recommend 30 parts Carbon to 1 part Nitrogen.  To be sure of that ratio you would have to take the particular nitrogen and carbon content of each ingredient in your compost and figure out the big picture from there.  I know it's not brain science but it's also just compost.  I think if you just put the things you have already to feed your compost just making sure that you have some dry ingredients but not too many, you will be fine.  If your pile is stinky you have too much nitrogen - green ingredients, add some brown.  If it is just not decomposing quickly at all you have too much carbon - add more fresh yard debris and kitchen scraps.

I promise you as long as you have wet and dry ingredients and not a ridiculous amount more of either your compost will break down in a reasonable time.  It's called nature - you can't prevent the breakdown of organic material!  

Even though they are cool, you really don't need giant plastic containers or store bought compost bin to do something that will occur naturally anyway.  If you want a plastic compost bin great - just make sure it at least came from recycled material!  If you don't want to bother with even a wire cage for your compost, don't.  Just make a pile out back!  There is no wrong way to compost!
Two piles that have sat all winter about to be turned into one pile. 

The final turn before my compost is ready to be mixed into my garden this spring or summer!
Here I am using an old kennel for my wire bin.
Tips for composting-

1.     I keep my kitchen scraps in an old ice cream tub with a lid on it in my kitchen.  When it gets full I take it outdoors.  I have a friend who hides hers in a nice canister you would normally use to store flour or coffee.  She got hers used so there were no detrimental effects on the earth on her compost's behalf.
2.     I usually establish a new compost pile in the winter and add to it all spring, summer and fall.  This pile is ready early the following summer. I only turn it about two or three times in a year’s time.  Then for the rest of my scraps I start a new pile in winter and continue the cycle.  Usually I have three roughly 3x3 piles which shrink down considerably until I compile them to one or two wire bins.  This leaves an extra bin to start fresh compost in.  You will get your own rotation down. 
3.     I'm in the Northwest where keeping the compost moist is not an issue.  In fact, I may experiment with covering it next winter.  If you do not get very much rain where you are or if it gets real hot in the summer, you should certainly water your compost now and again.  It breaks down much quicker when moisture is involved. 
4.     If you can get your hands on a pile of red worms do it!  My neighbor gave me scoopful from her compost and I wasn't sure they would hang around since my compost wasn't fully enclosed but they did.  I have a ton of worms in the compost that significantly helps break the organic matter down. 

This is my "new" pile that I will add to while I wait for the other piles to become ready.
 This compost will not be complete for about a year. 

Friday, March 16, 2012

Making Pomegranate Wine #2

My pomegranate wine has been patiently sitting in the corner where I last left it.  I meant to rack it for the first time at 3 weeks but I was late as per my usual schedule.  It has been four and a half weeks since the wine first went into the carboy and I did rack it just now.  It has been quieter lately, probably since week three when I was supposed to first rack it.  The bubbles have been rare and come to think of it may have ceased all together.

I had expected the purple liquid to clear up more than it had - it still seemed just as cloudy as when it went into the carboy although when I compare it to the pictures I previously took, it has cleared up.  It wasn't until siphoning the wine that I saw how much sediment really had settled at the bottom of the jug!
I was

Of course I taste tested my pomegranate wine.  It is clearly in its infantile state but as always, it was quite a pleasure to taste that this wine tastes like wine!  It is

Check out all the sediment!
already potent and explodes in the mouth.  The pomegranate is of course the predominant flavor but the lemon and orange flavors are obvious too.  It is bitter and tart with a filmy aftertaste.  This all sounds a little crude but I am pleased so far.  I added a half a cup of sugar after I racked the wine hoping it would re-energize the fermenting process as well as hopefully help the wine mellow it out.  I like my wine dry but this was in no danger of being too sweet.  As soon as I added the sugar it bubbled like crazy so I think its good I gave it some more sugar to feed on.  I'll probably add more when I rack it again in a couple months.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Spring is just around the corner!

Frog and Toad All Year - The Corner 
by Arnold Lobel

Frog and Toad were caught in the rain. They ran to Frog's house. 

“I am all wet,” said Toad. “The day is spoiled.”

“Have some tea and cake,” said Frog. “The rain will stop. If you stand near the stove, your clothes will soon be dry. I will tell you a story while we are waiting,” said Frog.

“Oh good,” said Toad.

“When I was small, not much bigger than a pollywog,” said Frog, “my father said to me, ‘Son, this is a cold, gray day but spring is just around the corner.’ I wanted spring to come. I went out to find that corner. I walked down a path in the woods until I came to a corner. I went around the corner to 
see if spring was on the other side.”

“And was it?” asked Toad.

“No,” said Frog. “There was only a pine tree, three pebbles and some dry grass. I walked in the meadow. Soon I came to another corner. I went around the corner to see if spring was there.”

“Did you find it?” asked Toad. 

“No,” said Frog. “There was only an old worm asleep on a tree stump. I walked along the river until I came to another corner. I went around the corner to look for spring.”

“Was it there?” asked Toad.

“No,” said Frog. “There was only some wet mud and a lizard who was chasing his tail."

“You must have been tired,” said Toad.

“I was tired,” said Frog, “and it started to rain. I went back home. When I got there,” said Frog, “I found another corner. It was the corner of my house.”

“Did you go around it?” asked Toad.

 “I went around that corner, too,” said Frog.

"What did you see?” asked Toad.

“I saw the sun coming out,” said Frog. “I saw birds sitting and singing in a tree. I saw my mother and father working in their garden. I saw flowers in the garden.”

“You found it!” cried Toad.

“Yes,” said Frog. “I was very happy. I had found the corner that spring was just around,”

“Look, Frog,” said Toad. “You were right. The rain has stopped,”

Frog and Toad hurried outside. They ran around the corner of Frog’s house to make sure that spring had come again.

What I'm up to -

Honestly I've never planted in the spring before.  I am usually scrounging a spot in the earth for summer veggies but my raised beds were just begging me to be planted as I only have parsley and cabbage left over from the fall.  If at all possible I always plant directly in the earth instead of starting indoors.  This is what I did, we will see if anything comes of it:

In the earth now - lettuce blend, spinach, cilantro, carrots, radish, peas, broccoli and cauliflower. 

Still to go in the earth as soon as I get to it - leeks, chives, pac choi and maybe onion. 

Soon I will start some herbs, kale and cabbage and even though I think it's too early maybe I'll go ahead with the pepper and tomato starts indoors.  

I'm excited to have a spring garden and I plan on using the same space for my summer stuff.  Hopefully I will be able to utilize the dirt well in intermingling the crops. 

Here is a link to Mother Earth News' guide for information specific to each region on when to plant what.  

What are your favorite veggies to grow and eat?    If you use seeds you really don't have much to lose.  Even organic seeds come cheap!  It's time to look forward to spring!!!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Few Notes On Buying Chicks

It has been a little over six months since my little chicks arrived in the mail.  They were only a few days old.  I'm not exactly sure what I was thinking getting chicks in the fall.  The most fun time to tend to a new flock is not during the rainy season, however, currently all  but one of the ladies have started laying eggs and they are all healthy and happy so of course right now I have no regrets.  If I had not gotten the chicks I would be getting chicks right about now - the local farm store started stocking chicks in February!  I have some thoughts, for your review, on how and when I bought this batch of chicks.

I should not have gotten the chicks until their home was actually finished.  I think everyone does this - buys chicks a little before project completion since they have to stay indoors for a few weeks anyway.  I did it with my previous batch of chicks too.  I spent so much time building the coop/fort and when I nailed the last nail I was ready to buy chicks!  Of course I still had to paint the coop and build and stain fencing for it.  Add to that, it was the end of summer and the beginning of football, soccer and school which effectively took away my "project" time.  It was pretty stressful squeezing in all that last minute stuff and the chickens ended up staying in my house longer than they should have.  Next time I will wait to get chicks until the coop is ready.

I'm a cheap ass and in this case an idiot.  I was too cheap to pay to have my bantam's (the small breeds) sexed.  It is harder to tell the male from female with bantams since they are so tiny and it would have cost $6 per chick to get females only.  I didn't want to shell out the $30 to get hens only so I ordered a strait run of five bantams.  I thought I'd rather just risk getting roosters and give them away or sell the ones that turned out to be roosters.  Well I wasn't really thinking.  By the time the chicks were old enough for me to to figure out they were roosters I had put well more than $30 worth of organic feed into them.  Finding a new home for them was more difficult than I thought it would be.  I practically had to offer a dowry to re-home them, never mind charging actual money for the little roosters.  I would have, should have could have butchered the males but just never worked up the gumption or time.  It just seemed like so much work for what would have been like two pounds of meat per bird and it would have been a real big deal for me.  Next time I will get them sexed, duh.

Finally, I do have a little bit of shame about buying my chicks online from a big company but seriously I'd probably do it again.  I got them from My Pet Chicken.  I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with the company but it would have been ideal to support some local farmers and buy chicks local.  We have a lot of options for local chicks up here.  The appeal of My Pet Chicken was that I could get lots of different and rare breeds in one place and I could get them even at the end of summer - since I was being impatient.

I am really pleased with my chickens and I'm glad I have them. If you are a chick girl or guy you know that when you want chicks you just have to get them even if it's in the fall!  Now that it's spring whenever I am in the feed store or even in the neighborhood I stop in and watch the fluffy little darlings but I am always pleased with the ladies I have back at home!