Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Homemade Chicken Feeder

It's been a while since my last post.  Lots of things going on here, including a trip to Portland, Oregon which included a visit to a community garden in which a friend of mine has a plot.  I am planning a blog article on that in a couple of weeks.  So, stay tuned!

This post, however, is about an idea I saw in a magazine earlier this year on how to build a chicken self-feeder.  I've written about our chicken coop several times.  It is pretty small, so I am always looking for ways to save space in there.   The current feeder hangs on a rope from the ceiling in the middle of the coop and is in the way when we need to clean the coop or work in there for any reason.

The idea I saw used PVC pipe and fittings to create a self-feeder.  Yesterday, I made a trip to our local Lowe's to get the parts for this.  There are four pieces.  

The pipe is about 3 feet long with a cap and screw-in top.  The bottom piece is just a regular trap, like you would use under a sink.  It was rather like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, looking through all the bins of plumbing supplies to find the ones that worked together.

Tom attached it to the wall of the coop with brackets.  

Meanwhile, the girls were outside oblivious to the changes going on inside their coop.

We needed the help of a funnel to fill it with chicken feed.

The screw-in lid went on last.

And the U-shaped trap kept it from spilling out the end.

The girls were unimpressed with the new object, but soon learned it contained food.  When I went in a couple of hours later, they had eaten the feed down to the bottom of the curve.  It appears we may have to cut an inch or so off the open end so it will be shallow enough for them to reach the food when the level gets to the bottom.  

Also, we will need to install 2-3 more of these to insure several of the girls can eat at the same time.  However, this is going to save some room and allow us to remove the hanging feeder.  So, excuse me.  I'm headed back to Lowe's for more supplies.......

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Fennel Tea

I grow fennel in my herb garden for several reasons.  First of all, it is a beautiful plant that has lovely yellow flowers and ferny foliage.  

Second, it is a host plant for Black Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars.  If you look closely at the picture above, you'll see several if them.  Like this one.

Here's the type of butterfly this one will turn into.

The last reason l grow fennel is because it has wonderful flavor, both the leaves and the seeds.  Let me clarify something, though.  There are two types of fennel.  This is the kind that is grown for the leaves and seeds, not the bulb.  The kind that makes the bulb is called Florence Fennel.  That type is difficult to grow here in Oklahoma.  Our hot summers are too much for it.

I was a little late harvesting seed from my plants this year.  Many of them have already fallen to the ground. Here's what they look like growing on the plant and after picking.

I like to pop a couple in my mouth ever so often and chew them which produces a burst of refreshing anise flavor. Today, I made a cup of fennel tea.  I first took about a teaspoon of seed and crushed them in my mortar and pestle.

I put the crushed seed in my teapot basket.  I love my little enamel coated cast iron teapot! 

The basket is made of fine mesh wire and fits down in the teapot.

Next step was to pour boiling water over the fennel seed, put on the lid and steep for a few minutes.

I drank the tea straight, but I'm sure it would have been better with a touch of honey!

Fennel is a perennial plant and will come up year after year from the roots.  It requires very little care and even makes a nice plant for your flower bed.  It gets rather tall, though, so put it toward the back of the bed.   I encourage you to give it a try.  I don't think you will regret it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Cattle Tub Container Garden

Earlier this spring, I had the bright idea to grow a garden in cattle tubs.  I call it my CTC (Cattle Tub Container) garden.  If you are unfamiliar with these, they are large, extremely durable plastic tubs that contain supplement feed for cattle, like vitamins for cows.  We have a couple of friends who raise cattle and were able to get a few of these tubs from them.  

I wanted to set them up in the back yard, near the house where they would be easy to water.  We had the perfect place in a corner by the peacock shed.  I had Tom set them up in that corner after we had covered the area with weed barrier.

First he drilled some holes in the bottom of each tub for drainage and put some sticks in the bottom to keep the soil from packing down too tightly and clogging the drainage holes.

We bought potting soil that was 45% bark to allow for good drainage and I mixed it with compost to provide plenty of nutrients.  I didn't have enough to fill all the tubs, but if I have good success growing in the tubs, then I will fill the rest of them next spring.  

After the tubs were filled, I planted sweet potatoes in some of them.  We have difficulty growing sweet potatoes in the field because the deer love them.  It will be a very brave deer that jumps inside the fence and braves our very vicious Sally dog to get at them here!  Actually, Sally was a stray that we adopted and was crippled by a bullet in her shoulder.  So, she's not much of a danger to the local deer population. 

And, I planted strawberries in some of them.

And, rhubarb in a couple of them.

The county extension agent told me rhubarb is difficult to grow in this part of Oklahoma, so  I'm hoping by planting it in these tubs, I will be able to manipulate the growth conditions to give it a better chance of survival.

Something has eaten holes in the rhubarb leaves and many of the sweet potato leaves.  I'm not sure what it is.  But, the plants do not seem to be suffering too much as a result, so I'm not too worried about it.  

I added a layer of leaves to the top of the soil to keep the tubs from drying out so quickly.  Even then, I've had to water them every 2 to 3 days during the hottest weather.  So, I plan to add a drip watering system to keep them watered next year.  The best thing about this project is that it has basically eliminated any weed problems.  So, I am optimistic!  If all goes well, this may be the way I garden from now on. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Nest Competition Drama

Occasionally, there is a bit of drama in the chicken coop.  A while back I was in there to check on their food and water when I noticed all the nests were occupied.  

The nest on the left is occupied by Gertrude.  She is at the top of the pecking order and is one of the first batch of chicks we got back in 2012 when we became first-time chicken owners.  On the middle nest is Goldie.  We got her, along with 3 other chicks, last year.  One of the Rhode Island Red hens which we got from a friend in 2014 is on the last nest.  I honestly cannot tell the RIRs apart, except for one who has a different kind of comb.  This is not her.  So, I'm not sure which one this is. 

So, now for the drama.  Gertrude apparently was not satisfied with her nest and decided to check out the other nests to see if she could find one better to her liking. 

Notice that there is already an egg in Goldie's nest.  Now, just because the egg is there does not mean she laid it.  It could very well have been laid by someone else earlier in the day.  Perhaps it was the egg that made the middle nest look more attractive to Gertrude, but for whatever reason, she decided this was the nest she wanted to use.

She sat on the edge of the nest for a little while, perhaps to give Goldie a chance to leave peacefully.  However, when Goldie showed no sign of vacating, Gertrude began to edge her way in anyway.

Being the top chicken, Gertrude gets her way and Goldie eventually gave in and let her have the nest.

Gertrude carefully lowered herself on the egg and settled down.  Whether or not she laid an egg of her own, I have no idea.  Hens will sometimes sit for long periods of time on a nest and never lay an egg.  It is like the nest is their place to go meditate.  If they lay an egg while meditating, then all the better.

I didn't have time to stick around to see what Goldie decided to do.  She may have given up for the day or have come back later and tried again.  At any rate, I found this bit of drama to be quite entertaining.  Chicken interaction can be quite interesting!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

My Favorite Gardening Shows

Ninety percent of all the shows we watch on TV are public television.  For us, that is OETA on channel 13 out of Oklahoma City.

We enjoy Nature and Nova.  And, we watch a lot of the British mysteries, such as Masterpiece Mystery, few of which are as graphic or gruesome as most of the American produced shows.  Yet, they are, in many ways, much more challenging intellectually because of the complicated plots they usually involve.  

Gardening shows rank high on our favorites list, as well.  We greatly enjoy Growing a Greener World.  It features ideas for organic gardening and green living.  Many of the episodes feature a segment where a Chef Nathan (my idol!) prepares easy farm-to-table recipes.  If you click on the Episodes tab at the top of the above link, it will take you to a list of the seasons that have shown so far.  Scrolling through these, you will see the episodes.  Clicking on any of the episodes will allow you to watch them in their entirety.  

Here are some of my favorites:

  • The New Generation of Farmers   This show was so inspiring for me.  It features young people and some older ones, as well, who have left their cushy corporate jobs to pursue a more meaningful lifestyle growing clean healthy food without using chemicals or pesticides.  All the while, keeping it close to home where they can offer their communities the freshest food available that has not been brought in from foreign countries or trucked thousands of miles.  
  • Brooklyn Grange   This episode features a group of young people who have created very productive farms on top of buildings in New York City.  I was fascinated at how they managed to produce tons of fresh, organic produce in the middle of a large city.
  • Veteran Farmers   This show was emotionally moving because it featured Veteran’s Farm where returning veterans are trained in sustainable farming and organic methods of production.  Not only does this help create a meaningful career for these vets after returning from duty, it also helps them overcome many of the traumas they faced while overseas by giving them peaceful, quiet surroundings to live and work in, which in turn gives them a chance to work through some of the issues they returned home with.
  • There are many others, such as Chicken Keeping 101, How to Make Compost, Solitary BeesBackyard Bees and Polyface Farms.  You can find many more by scrolling through the list of episodes on the Growing a Greener World website. 
Of course, we watch Oklahoma Gardening which is produced by Oklahoma State University.  Their website is a wealth of information and many of these shows are available online, as well.

My newest favorite gardening show is Food Forward which deals with many of the issues facing us today, such as  Quest for Water , Food Waste, and Making School Lunches Healthier.

I hope you will check out some of the links above and find them as enjoyable and inspiring as I have.

Saturday, July 16, 2016


We meet the most interesting people at the farmers' market.  Some of them are customers; some of them are fellow vendors.  Some of these acquaintances turn into lasting friendships.  For example, there is Cindy (the veterinarian and foodie), Sarah (the chef), and Shonna (the beekeeper). 

The newest member of the market, and who is assigned the space next to us, is named Susan.  Susan is an auditor for the state, but she enjoys gardening, enough so that she has extra to sell.  She joined the market this spring and, like us, does not use any pesticides in her garden.   So, we hit it off right away.  

A few weeks ago she brought a jar of kombucha to the market and was giving out samples.  This was my first introduction to this strange drink.   If you have never heard of this, it is fermented tea.  Yes, you read that correctly.....TEA.  I was intrigued and she offered to give me the jar she brought to the market as a starter so I could begin brewing my own.  Here's what she gave me.

The layer of material on top is called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), also known as a mother.  It is a rubbery disk that floats on top of the tea as it ferments and closely resembles a byproduct of vinegar-making, also called a mother.  The fact that both kombucha and vinegar produce similar mothers should give you a clue about how kombucha tastes.  Once it is brewed, it has a tart and sour taste similar to vinegar, but it is also fizzy and, depending on how much sugar you add, slightly sweet, as well.

The SCOBYs form in layers as the kombucha is fed.  If you look closely, you can see older SCOBYs in the bottom of the jar.  But, I am getting ahead of myself.  So, let me go back and explain how I started my own kombucha.

I bought a gallon-sized jar with a spout, organic sugar and loose-leafed tea.

I use organic sugar, to keep the kombucha as pure as possible.  You could just as well use regular sugar and regular tea bags.

I took the SCOBYs out of the jar and reserved a cup of the kombucha.  I saved a couple of the SCOBYs in the rest of the kombucha in case I messed up and needed an extra one to start over.

Next, I brewed 4 cups of strong tea, to which I added 1 cup of sugar.  When this cooled to room temperature, I added it to the jar I had purchased (having washed the jar in the dishwasher first) along with a couple of cups of plain water.  The water you use should be non-chlorinated.  Then, I added the reserved cup of kombucha from the original batch.

Next, I peeled off one of the SCOBYs and added it to the jar.  

It sank into the liquid.

At this point, it had to sit for a week at room temperature while the mixture fermented.  It was obvious when fermentation started because bubbles began forming and rising to the top.  Also, a new SCOBY began to form on top.  

After a week, I tasted it.  It was okay and may have been fine for some folks, but I decided I wanted it a little stronger, so I let it sit a few days longer.  In the mean time, I bought another jar and divided the mixture in half.  To one half, I added 2 cups of tea, 1/2 cup of sugar and one of the extra SCOBYs I saved.  I began using the other half, drinking only small amounts each day....about 4 ounces.  How do you like my glass?  

So, now I have 2 batches of kombucha going.  One is brewing, while I am drinking on the other one.  

I am now doing what is called "continuous brew" meaning that I just keep adding sweetened tea every week to one jar, while I drink from the other jar.  However, at any point, I could brew a "batch" in the same manner that I did to begin with.

As you can see in the picture below, several layers of SCOBYs have formed and the bubbles indicate active fermentation.  Eventually, I will have to divide the SCOBYs and dispose of the older ones, either by feeding them to the chickens or giving them away to friends who want to make their own kombucha.

Kombucha is touted as having healing properties, but like any ferment it contains living bacterial cultures that may or may not agree with you.  So, it is best to start with small servings and see how it affects you.  The healing properties of kombucha may be attributed to the fact that it contains glucuronic acid, a compound produced by our livers which binds with various toxins for elimination.  

If you are interested learning more about  kombucha, you can find a lot of good information on the internet.  Here's a site with great information:  Kombucha Kamp.  Also, The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz is an excellent reference  book on, not only kombucha, but all kinds of foods made using fermentation, as well.

And, if you need a SCOBY to get you started, I have a bunch of them!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Tomatillos with Salsa Recipe

One of the new things we are growing this year is tomatillos.  They look a bit like green tomatoes, but taste completely different and have a totally different growth habit.  Here's a tomatillo plant.

They have tiny yellow flowers.

The tomatillo fruits grow inside "husks" that dangle from the underside of the plant stems.

They are ready to pick when the fruit fills the husk and the husk begins to split.

I picked a bunch last week.  

Once the husk is removed, they look like small green tomatoes.

But, inside they don't look like tomatoes.  They look like this.

I made salsa with these.  The recipe I used is easy and requires only a few ingredients. 


1 pound tomatillos
3 cloves garlic (unpeeled)
1 jalapeno (more or less, depending on your taste)
1 onion, chopped
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro
juice of 1/2 a lime
Salt to taste


Put the tomatillos, garlic cloves and jalapeno on a small sheet pan and roast at 425 degrees until they are soft.  They will char on top.  This is good and gives the salsa nice flavor.  Turn them a couple of times to get a good char on both sides.

When the tomatillos are soft and mushy, remove from oven and put in a food processor.  Peel the garlic cloves and remove stem and seeds from the jalapeno.  Put them in the food processor with the tomatillos.  Finally, add the onion and cilantro.

Run the food processor until everything is thoroughly chopped.  Add the lime juice and salt.  Pulse until incorporated.  Put in a small sauce pan, bring to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes.  Cool.  Adjust seasonings to taste.