Thursday, June 26, 2008

Chicken Update - It's a boy!

Many of you have expressed your sympathy regarding our sick chick (thank you) and have asked for the next update about the rest of the "flock". The chicks are growing well and seem to be happy and content. They're really doing a number on the weeds. They have already cleared the area in front of our studio and beg my husband to be moved in the afternoons when he checks on them after work. They also have an endearing habit of running up to greet me when I squee at them.

Also, we have determined that one of our Wyandotte females is actually a male. No, he's not a gender challenged young chick, but obviously determining the sex of baby chicks is not a precise process and we got the result! Can you pick him out in the group photo? He's the one with the burgeoning red comb.

By the way, green legs on the Americaunas indicates green eggs from them in our future. Now to find green ham... Sources anyone?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Farm Bill and Food Safety

The recent $307 billion Farm Bill was passed into legislation, despite a veto from the president, which was overridden. This farm bill had the potential to overhaul our agriculture priorities and do away with subsidies which only pay for certain crops like corn and soybeans to mega-farms, but fell short of most advocates hopes.

On the upside, the farm bill is recognizing the need for access to healthy foods in many urban environments where convenience store junk food is the norm. The bill introduces a Healthy Urban Food Enterprise Development Center to increase access to fresh and healthy food options. Of course, they're also spending money to study the effects of "food deserts", as though there haven't been enough studies already conducted in this area...

In previous years, subsidies were only provided to farmers growing certain cash crops, like corn and soybeans. New subsidies will go to farmers of "specialty crops", what you and I would call fruits and vegetables, in an attempt to divert some subsidy money away from imitation calories like high fructose corn syrup. In the same vein, $1 billion will expand healthy snacks for kids programs in farm to school programs.

Increased support for farmers markets, support for socially disadvantaged farmers and farm-workers and support to use food stamps at farmers markets are more steps in the right direction.

This may sound far away from you, but let me remind you that we all need to eat everyday. In light of the recent tomato-salmonella contamination, it becomes apparent just how opaque and fragile our current model of food production truly is. As of today, the CDC still doesn't know the source of the contamination, and the first reported cases occurred over two months ago!

What to do? Buy local. Join a CSA (community supported agriculture). Shop at a farmers market. Ask your grocer where the produce comes from. Eat foods that are in season locally - you'll be amazed at the taste of a non-refrigerated tomato! As each of our dollars become more precious, use them wisely to purchase the healthiest and tastiest food that dollar will buy.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

On a Happier Note

Condo living - chicken style!

The chicks have been enjoying their new accomodations outside since Sunday. Each day their portable coop, also called a chicken tractor, is moved to fresh ground. They love to scratch for bugs and seeds in addition to their chick feed. We have them in an area that has been a milk thistle patch for the last couple of years despite efforts to get past it - I'm hoping that the chickens will take care of the seed load in the soil.

The coop is heavy enough to keep out most predators like bobcats, raccoons and foxes. They have fresh water daily, a place to perch and a safe area in the back half. For the moment the coop is very close to our studio so that we'll be able to hear any problems, and is also under the shade of the oak trees. We'll wait to move the coop into the open until they're older and bigger, at which time half of the coop will be covered in shade fabric.

Sad News

I suppose it's inevitable to expect casualties amongst your livestock, but heartbreaking nonetheless.

We awoke this morning to find one of our Buttercup chicks collapsed in the coop. She was chilled, couldn't stand or move her feet and legs. We brought her inside, cocooned her in toweling and on top of a heating mat on my lap to bring up her temperature, while we tried to figure out what was wrong.

We believe she had Marek's disease, a virus specific to chickens. There a few different forms of the disease, and she was presenting with classic Marek's, with leg paralysis. We kept her separated from the others, and tried to get her to eat, or at least drink. However, when the afternoon rolled around with no change and she still wasn't drinking water, even when we dipped her beak into it, we came to the hard decision to put her down. Huge thanks to my husband who wanted to spare me the agony of that process, and took care of everything.

There's no cure for Marek's. The terrible thing is that they can be vaccinated at birth against the disease, but the chicks I purchased from a feed store in Grass Valley were not vaccinated, so it's possible that the other three chicks from that location may also sicken, and have to be killed in turn. I'm waiting on information to see if I can still vaccinate the others, though if they are already incubating the disease vaccination will be pointless.

On the upside, my two Wyandotte chicks were purchased at a feed store in Auburn, where they request all of the chicks to be vaccinated as a matter of course. Also, a friend with poultry stated that he's rarely had more than one bird die at a time from Marek's or other diseases, so it's possible that the others will be ok.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Creative Potting

I garden on a hillside with very little topsoil, so everything is in raised beds, terraces and containers. As large pots increase exponentially in price according to size, most of my containers are unconventional to say the least.

I've used old-fashioned metal dryer drums, which have natural drainage holes for larger items like my blueberry bushes and pomegranate tree/shrub. Did I mention they're usually cast-iron steel? Those things last forever, and are great large planters that you never have to worry about rotting like half oak barrels.

Next was the BBQ pit planter made from a metal 55-gal drum. It was cut in half from top to bottom, and then welded to bent rebar legs. We discovered this gem hidden in the vinca on the hillside under our studio. You'd never have seen it from above, but I noticed it poking through the foliage while walking up from the river one afternoon. It was very rusted,
which made it easy to snap off the welds on the legs, and let it rest on the ground, where it now houses orangemint and catmint to keep them under control and out of mischief!

The old, rusted wheelbarrow has had the handles and wheel removed, and snugged into the dirt. The goblin flowers, a type of blanket flower, don't mind the varying depth of the planter and have filled in beautifully.

My latest pots were unearthed in the vinca by my husband - two white ceramic toilet tanks! I had run out of places to put the zinnias acquired while I was in Fresno for Mother's Day and these provided the perfect solution. Nice depth, nice ceramic finish, drain holes - what more could a girl ask for?

Oh, I should mention my worm bin. Many people have those nice, layered, stacking affairs. Not my worms though. My worm bin is the body of an old refrigerator, sans door. We added drainage holes to keep the worms from drowning in winter. The beauty of the fridge is the sheer volume - with that much cubic footage, the worms have plenty of room to self-regulate according to the seasons.

If you are willing to be flexible with your potting options, you'll find there are many containers waiting to be found or repurposed.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Corn and Beans

As part of my effort to eat fresh produce as well as preserve food for the rest of the year I'm planting a modest patch of corn and lots of beans. Given my husband's love of fresh corn, I doubt there will be much left over to save.

The beans on the other hand are much more exciting. I'm planting several kinds of bush beans and pole beans for fresh eating, drying and freezing. I love legumes for their versatility. Fresh, dried, canned, frozen - the opportunities are infinite. I dream of bean purée dips, chilled beans with pesto, fresh beans with mint and lemon...

My first introduction to Musica pole beans, a type of Romano bean, was through a coworker who brought in several pounds to work. At 8" long, these beans were perfectly tender and fresh, with an amazing flavor. I casually snacked on the beans for several hours, until just before closing, at which point I began to moan, "I don't feel good. My belly hurts!" Yes - there is such as too much of a good thing!

Like most things I plant, most of these are heirlooms, tried and true favorites for generations. Here's this year's lineup:
Bush Black Turtle (dry soup bean), Blue Lake (fresh or dry), mung (dry and sprouts), edamame (aka soybeans, fresh or frozen), Tendergreen (fresh or dry) and Black Kabouli Garbanzo (fresh, dry, hummus).

Pole Kentucky Wonder (fresh, frozen or dried), Musica (aka Meralda, fresh or frozen), and Painted Lady Runner Bean (fresh, frozen or dried).

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Easy Cleaning

I've run out of my favorite disinfecting soap, but rather than going to the store to get more, I'll simply step into my pantry to whip it together. It smells great, and best of all, it's easy on my skin and the environment. And did I mention that it cuts through grease, dirt, dust and hard water deposits? The following recipe comes from Clean Naturally by Sandy Maine. If you are interested in soap making and/or natural cleaning products, this is a book to check out.
Eucalyptus-Mint All-Purpose Disinfecting Soft Soap for Kitchen and Bath
5 cups grated castile soap1/2 cup baking soda1 tsp borax6 cups hot peppermint tea1 tsp eucalyptus essential oil
Put grated soap into a 3-qt stainless steel saucepan and add hot mint tea. Simmer for 15 minutes on low heat. Add baking soda, borax and eucalyptus oil. Store in a labeled plastic jug or squirt jug. Shake before using.