Monday, March 30, 2015

Homemade Vegetable Broth

A few days ago I went through my refrigerator and collected all the past-their-prime produce  in the vegetable bin.  This included some wilted celery, a couple of carrots and an onion.  Instead of throwing these in my compost bucket, I made a savory vegetable broth with them that I can use in the future for soup.  Here's how.


 First, chop the vegetables along with a clove of garlic or two.




Put them in a pot.


Add some salt, pepper and seasonings.  Be creative.


Add water and put on the stove to simmer.



When the vegetables are done, taste the broth and adjust seasonings to taste.  Then, pour the broth through a strainer into a jar.



The broth can be stored in the refrigerator for several days.  Or, it can be frozen for use at a later date.

Finally, DO NOT throw the cooked veggies into the trash!  Put them in your compost bucket where they can be recycled into your compost pile.






Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sleeping Chickens

A while back I wrote about how a wily chicken figured out how to get in one of the nest boxes, even though we had put milk jugs in the boxes to keep them from sleeping in the boxes.



I ended up leaving the wildlife camera in the chicken coop for several days and learned a lot about chicken behavior from the pictures it took.  I have always wondered what goes on when it is time for them to go to roost.  Here's what I found.


At 5:53 pm (around dusk), one of the Rhode Island Reds (RIR) starts the process.  However, instead of flying from the floor up to the roost bar, she approaches the roost from atop the nest boxes. 

Within 3 minutes, another RIR has joined her along with one of the buff-colored girls.  Another RIR is on the nest boxes getting ready to join them.


By 6:00 pm, four are on the roost bar with others on the floor apparently "thinking" about it.



By 6:01 pm, all but one are on the roost bar.


And, at 6:02 pm, all seven are on the roost bar attempting to get settled.



Eventually everyone settles down for the night.


But, even after lights-out, they still get restless and shuffle around a bit.


And then settle down again a few minutes later.



I found this to be true all night.  Every hour or two one of them would stand up which would cause a disturbance among the others.  They'd all shuffle around a bit only to settle down again after a couple of minutes.  I'm not sure if they were even awake during these times.  
It made me think that, in regards to sleeping, they are not much different from us humans.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Grind Your Own Cayenne Peppers

What do you do on a cold rainy day in the late winter when you can't go outside?  This is the question I asked myself recently when faced with this situation.  There were a multitude of things I COULD do .... dust furniture, mop the kitchen, clean out a closet ... the list goes on. Well, I wasn't in the MOOD to do any of those things.  Then, I looked across the kitchen and saw a basket of cayenne peppers that I dried last fall.  I even wrote a blog entry about how I dried them.



Well, now was the time to do something with them, I decided.  I wanted to make a powder out of them, like you buy in the spice section of the supermarket.  The first step was to get the seeds out of the peppers because you only want to process the red skin.  Just break the stem end of the pepper off.  Most of the seeds are located in the stem end.


Now, tear the rest of the pepper into pieces and remove any more seeds you find.  Did I mention you might want to wear rubber gloves for this step?  



Next, load the pieces into the "spice" grinder which is really just a coffee bean grinder.  



And grind away!





This is what it should look like when finished.  



Pour into an empty spice jar you have saved from store-bought spices.



And there you have it, your own home-grown, home-made Cayenne pepper spice!



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Simple Chick Brooder

I recently bought four baby chicks.  Did we "need" them?  Probably not, but once you become a chicken owner, it is hard to stop!  The chicks are SO CUTE and hard to resist.  So, last week while shopping at our local Atwoods farm store, I was drawn to the baby chickens and ducks they had for sale.

We have 7 mature chickens - 3 old gals that are going on four years old and 4 younger ones that I bought last year.  Chickens are not long-lived and I decided the older ones may not be here much longer, so I reasoned that we NEEDED some chicks to replenish our flock in case the old girls cross over the rainbow bridge to chicken heaven. 

Once I got them home, I set up a "brooder" for them.  This is simply an enclosure that is small and free of drafts where they will be safe and warm for a few weeks until they get feathers.  For my brooder, I used a large black plastic tub.


Added a layer of wood shavings to it.  These can be purchased in bulk from any farm store.


The brooder should be put in an enclosed area where it is safe from predators and will be free of drafts. I put it in our small 8X10 greenhouse on the south side of our house, but an unheated garage would be fine.


The final pieces of the setup are a feeder, a waterer and a heat lamp.


Here it is all set up and ready for the chicks.


The store provided a little box for transportation.


The chicks were banded to indicate they were females.  Female chicks are called "pullets".


The band is metal and should be removed.  Some folks use a pair of needle-nose pliers for this task, but I had trouble trying to bend the metal to get it loose while holding the chick. So, I used a pair of wire cutters to cut the end off.  This worked very well.

Once the chicks were "un-banded", I put them in the brooder.


They seem right at home and went about exploring their new home.  It is hard to believe that in a few months they will be full grown hens!  Stay tuned for updates on their development!


Monday, March 2, 2015

Plant Starting Techniques - Chamomile

As I write this, there is snow on the ground and spring seems a far way off.  However, it's already time to start tomato, pepper and herb plants for the 2015 garden.  

The past 3 or 4 years, I have used a method I saw on the internet that uses row trays.  This method saves space and I can start a lot of varieties of plants in a small space.  Here's a blog entry I wrote on this method.


I didn't start out using this way of starting seeds. Gardening is a creative endeavor for us and each year we build on previous years' successes and failures.  The first year we decided to start our own tomato and pepper plants, we didn't have the row trays described in the above article.  I'm not sure what gave me the idea to use those clear clam shell containers, like you buy berries in at the supermarket. Maybe it was just that they reminded me of miniature greenhouses.  And, although I have started using row trays for the bulk of our seeds, I still use the clam shell method for most of my herb plants....mainly because I only grow a few types of herbs.  A row tray has 20 rows in it and I don't need that many for herbs.

Today, I planted chamomile using the clam shell method.  There are two different types of chamomile, Roman (or English) chamomile, a perennial, and German (or Hungarian) chamomile, an annual.  I planted the German type.  I believe it has the best flavor for tea.



To prepare the clam shell, I cut a small piece of newspaper to fit in the bottom and filled it with damp potting soil.  Chamomile seed is tiny, almost like dust.  



To plant, I scattered the seed over the surface of the moist soil and gently pressed it into the surface.  Next, I sprayed the soil with water using a spray bottle.  You don't want to use a regular plant watering can because the rush of water will wash the seed away.



Next, a very important step is to label the container.  I learned this the hard way.  Don't ask!  It's a bad memory.



Finally, I set the clam shell on a heated mat under lights to give the seed a good start in life.



This is an easy way for the home gardener to use if they want to start their own seed without investing a lot of money in seed-starting trays and equipment.  

Friday, February 27, 2015

Nest Boxes and Milk Jugs

One of our younger chickens recently decided she wanted to roost in the nest boxes.  When Tom went over to shut the coop up, he found her in the nest.  The first couple of times, he just left her in the nest, but we quickly learned that was a mistake.  Chickens produce prodigious amounts of poop during the night which resulted in us having a messy nest box the next morning and having messy eggs to deal with if we didn't get out there before an egg was laid in that box.

One time Tom tried to pick the chicken up and put her over on the roost bar with the rest of the chickens.  But, chickens go into a sort of stupor when they go to sleep, and he was unable to get her to catch hold of the bar with her feet.  So, she kept falling off.

We found several ideas on the internet to thwart this roosting in the nest box behavior.....the simplest being this.


How, you ask, could milk jugs on strings keep chickens out of the nest boxes?  Here's how.



Tying strings to the jugs was just a handy way to keep the jugs in easy reach.  So, late in the afternoon, we simply stuck the jugs in the nests forcing the offending chicken to have to join the other girls on the roost bar at bedtime.

However, this brilliant idea caused another problem.  Chickens wake up a lot earlier than we do and they are ready to get to get down to the day's business before we get over there in the morning.  What's a girl to do if she is faced with a milk jug in her favorite nest box?

Well, where there's a will, there is a way!  Tom arrived to open the coop several mornings to find one of the milk jug hanging on its string and an egg in the nest in its place.  You're probably thinking the same thing we were.....how'd the chicken manage to get the jug out?

Once again, I used our wildlife camera to solve the riddle.  What follows is the sequence of photos that document what happened.



Chicken gets on nest box bar.




Chicken enters nest box and maneuvers around the milk jug.




Chicken is in the nest box with the milk jug.




Chicken pushes milk jug out of nest.

Now, who said chickens were dumb!  I suspect after another couple of weeks, we can get rid of the milk jugs.  I think perhaps the reason the issue started in the first place is due to the cold weather we've had lately.  We've had some snow and very cold temperatures, especially at night.  I imagine sleeping in a warm nest box is more attractive than sleeping on a roost bar in an un-insulated coop.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Old Jeans Garden Apron

Gardening is hard on jeans as evidenced by the following picture. 



A friend who knows that we garden sent me a really cool way to use old jeans to make a handy gardening apron.  Here's what you do.

First, cut the band off the front of the jeans.  Then, cut down the side seams, like this.



Next, turn the jeans over and cut a straight line across the seat of the jeans, below the pockets. 


Now you have a neat little garden apron.  The pockets are just the right size for clippers, gloves and other garden tools.


You should button it in back so the pockets are in front where you can easily get to the tools.