Sunday, August 24, 2008


This weekend has been long, with lots of ups, and unfortunately, some downs. When I got home Friday, this huge, beautiful single rose was waiting for me. "Just because," said DH (darling husband).

Saturday started with a trip to the farmers market, where I scored some great tomatoes and cucumbers for food preserving. I mentioned to the farmer, Lisa of Lisa's Petals and Produce, that I wanted some paste-type tomatoes for making tomato soup, and she offered up a great variety of which she had several pounds that were a little soft and were perfect for my purposes. And when I said I also wanted to make pickles, out came the tray of "too small" cucumbers that were, again, perfect. More on that in a bit.

A stop by the nursery to pick up some broccoli starts. I will start kale and peas from seed, but it seems like I always start my fall broccoli too late and never get good production, so I'll just get a jump with the transplants. They are going in a
bed that had bush beans which are now done producing, so they'll have plenty of time to get established before the weather turns cold.

Saturday night was th
e Nevada County Land Trust's annual fund-raising concert. It was at a new venue this year, Pilot Peak Winery, which turned out to be beautiful. By the time the second performer finished, it was after 11pm, the stars were out and the waning moon was just popping up over the horizon...

Let's just assume that after two glasses of wine at the concert (it was a winery, afterall) and getting home just after midnight, all I really wanted to do was sleep. So when I was wakened by chicken
squawking at 3am, I was pretty grumpy. Went out to investigate, and the chicken coop was still secure, though the perch had fallen down. Since I hadn't installed the hinges on it yet, it was possible that it just fell under the weight of the chickens shifting on the perches. It wasn't until 6:45 that my husband spotted the gray fox just down the hill from the coop. We thought everything was ok, until we noticed that Nina, our sole remaining hen from the original group, was bleeding around her beak. Her face had been scratched and the bottom of her beak half torn off. The fox had been able to stick a paw through the mesh and managed to get at her on the perch. We tried to clean up the blood to assess the damage, but you could tell she was in a lot of pain. We kept her under close observation, and forced her to drink, but she couldn't eat or drink with her beak damaged. So once again, my courageous husband took care of things. And then we attached fine wire mesh to the more open mesh of the large door. I don't think anything short of a bear could get to our chickens inside the coop now. And I attached the perch to the wall, the last, finishing touch.

Numbed, like my poor rooster, I focused on preserving the extra produce I purchased on Saturday. We put up four pints of garlic dill pickles, six cups of an Indian influenced relish and three and a half quarts of tomato soup. I want to put up some extra jars each week so that we can enjoy the fresh flavors deep in winter, when the produce is just a memory.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Harvest Day!

We have an egg! And a green egg at that! This means that one of the new chickens is part Ameracauna! There isn't any nutritional difference between colored and white eggs, but I like the range of colors. It just screams non-conformist, big-ag egg production and pays homage to home breed poultry diversity.

Now, there is a huge nutritional difference between pasture and true free-range animals. The yolks are vibrant, almost neon yellow-orange. But the difference goes far beyond just looks. Pastured animals are healthier and their eggs show it; less cholesterol, higher omega-3's, overall greater nutritional value.

Think your store-purchased "free-range" labeled eggs are really free-range? Most commercially produced eggs which are labeled free-range in fact have very little outside time on pasture. The birds are kept in a large barn for their first six weeks. After that, a door is opened to the outside, but most birds never actually go outside. If they do, they usually find an empty dirt lot to roam... Not exactly a pastoral process.

What to do? Check farmer's markets to find a local egg source. 4-H kids often raise chickens and have either eggs or extra chickens available for sale. If you have a neighbor with chickens, you can see if they have extra eggs they would be willing to sell.

Besides our first egg, we harvested our fingerling potatoes and the first of our tomatoes. If you look closely, you'll see that the tomatoes have extra protusions on the bottom of the tomatoes. Not sure what it's all about, but very cool and unique. The long, green pepper looking thing is a San Marzano tomoto. It fell off when DH poked at it. Even though it's green it tasted pretty good - you can see where we dared each other to nibble on the bottom end.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The chickens are back in town! Or so we hope. We have been busy bees, building a coop where the chickens will be secure at night from all possible predators. The coop could be prettier, but we used almost all recycled lumber we found on our property. Right now the coop is set up for summer. As we move into autumn the coop will have a top and back added to keep out the rain and wind. For now they need to open ventilation the hardware cloth provides.

Inside we have provided all the amenities that a busy chicken could desire. Egg laying boxes provide dark, quiet places to lay eggs. Notice the front and sloped roof to keep the chickens from messing up the egg boxes.

The spacious roost can accommodate at least ten c
hickens, fifteen at maximum. It also hinges out of the way for easy cleaning under the roost. A chicken door with ramp allows easy access, and the latch is raccoon proof, while a human door allows for egg collecting and cleaning of the cage. I'll get a bin to place under the coop for collecting their litter, which will then be composted and used the garden. Chicken poop is very hot (high in nitrogen) and can burn plants when applied right away. It must be allowed to compost and cool, and then it makes wonderful fertilizer, which will reduce the amount of fertilizer I'll have to purchase in the future.

Our two chickens have names now - Kazoo and Nina. Our little rooster is not so little anymore, and has begun to crow. At first this sounded like a strangled croak, but has now progressed to a respectable sound, but sounds reminiscent of a child with a kazoo... And I kept calling the remaining hen "my little girl", so Nina it is.

After the attack, we br
ought Nina and Kazoo inside our house every night for security, except for the last couple of nights when they have been in the new coop. However, we got some new chickens last night and everyone is not getting along. A friend's daughter has been raising chickens for 4-H, and had too many chickens, so I was able to purchase a few 2-year old laying hens from her. They aren't any particular breed, but they are full grown. We thought that they would defer to our chickens as the new birds are the proverbial new kids in town. However, our birds are about 2/3 the size of the others, and even roosting last night, they were being pecked by the new birds. I had planned to have them separated during the day for several days, but had to separate them immediately last night, bringing our two birds back inside.

Today the new girls are in the chicken tractor, where they can begin to gain a sense of their new home and not run off. Nina and Kazoo have free range and can see the new girls through the wire. I may set up the chicken tractor to be secure and just keep the new girls in there rather than trying to take them in and out of the coop, which is very stressful for the birds.

It's also worth mentioning that these new chickens are not only strangers to us, they have not been handled as much as our birds, and so being moved from their home last night, and again today out of the roost into the tractor were all very stressful situations. Hopefully we will have eggs in a day or two, if we can keep the stress levels low enough. They are being fed the same layer pellets, which includes calcium from oyster shells to support egg production, as they had previously.