Monday, November 8, 2010

Food Security and Safety

Shucking beans and our all from our garden meal
11/8/10- Last winter Jeff started making homemade bread and it became quite the hobby for him. My mom got him a breadmaker and things really took off. I do see his point in understanding where your food comes from and to know what is in it. Today for dinner I enjoyed some homemade egg bread (thanks chickens) and homemade cider. It felt so warm and yummy it almost didn’t make me sad winter is coming. Today my LED grow light came. The light is all red and blue for optimal plant growth but it makes my living room look like a bad nightclub! I will have to figure out how to hang it also. If I am not careful the cops might knock on my door to see what kind of plants are growing in my house!

Let There Be Light

The Air Pump

11/5-6/10 Jeff was working late so I decided to have dinner at my parents. I mentioned to them that I was going to hydroponic store to pick up some supplies for the aquaponic system and if they would like to join me. Well my dad mentioned that he may have some of the needed supplies in the basement and before I knew it we had started building the light system. The next day we went over to my house to install the system. To summarize the process, we took two fluorescent light fixtures and screwed them to leftover bamboo floor scraps. Put in eye hooks and hung it to the ceiling in the basement. Below is a large storage unit with holes cut out of the top to hold hydroponic pots filled with pea gravel and perlite on top with mustard greens and basil sprouts in them. Fingers crossed that this experiment goes well however with most new things around here there is some experimental error first.

First Aid

11/3/10 It is very ironic that just yesterday I mentioned our interest in learning more about first aid as Jeff sprained his ankle pretty bad today. He was breaking down the garden he stepped in a hole and strained his ankle. While I felt bad for him that he wasn’t able to work tonight it was very nice to get to spend the night together. This defiantly sparked my interested in learning more first aid. Jeff is very up to date on his first aid knowledge. I need to work on this and not be so dependent on him.


I tried to give the chickens the left over apple pulp from pressing. They didn't like it at all. Ha!
11/2/10 I can’t believe how much the cider has lightened since we pressed it this weekend. A lot of sediment must have settled. This time we kept one gallon for just cider and another for making hard cider. Instead of boiling it we are experimenting with campden tablets to kill the natural yeast. On a mission to fill in our indoor “green house” so I went to a local home improvement store and see if they had any seedlings….not likely this time of year but I did find an aloe vera plant which is good because we want to do more of our own minor medical care.


One Week Later
11/1/10 Today we decided to set up Jeff’s AeroGarden. Unfortunately the middle light was burned out so we went to the hydroponic store to pick up a new bulb. We got home and replaced it but no luck still didn’t work! Seems as though the entire hood is broken….. Jeff called and we got a replacement. It will be worth it when the green beans come in but it does say something about the reliance these “systems” create. If we had done a DIY kit it would have been harder to fix but we wouldn’t be so depended on a corporation that you just charge anything that is broken. Using the extra light cast off from the AeroGarden, I decided to start the aquoponics seeds. Some folks recommend starting the plants out of the hydroponic set up so as the seeds don’t accidentally wash away. Our kitchen table is pretty much taken over but that’s okay it is worth it for our experiment! I also ordered the LED light for the aquaponic system….again these systems of self reliance are ironically creating a system of dependence on utilities for the light and companies for the supplies. Oh well, I am having fun and that counts for something plus I was highly amused to read that my new light has a low thermal footprint. Jeff had to explain to me that meant pot growers don’t get caught with these lights. Well I don’t care if the electronic company finds out I am growing mustard greens and basil but I do appreciate the low carbon footprint.

Cider Making Continues

10/30/10 We re-racked the first pressed cider into a new carboy. The second round of apple pressing was even more of a pain in the arse than the first! My beloved husband decided that using the quisanrt to grind the apples really didn’t make sense with our philosophy of self reliance. Of course I can’t disagree with him, however I wasn’t so thrilled with taking a bucket and beating the apples to pulpy death with a 2x4 board. A new apple-grinding scheme needs to be developed before we press the second batch of 40 pounds of apples. That all being said the juice was spectacular! We invited my parents over to see the pressing which I think they got a kick out of. It also turned out to be a good idea as my dad was able to help me drill holes in the top of my Tupperware aquaponics system. They also helped us figure out how to eat the chestnuts Jeff bought at the grocery store this morning. My father is a genetics researcher working on bringing back the American Chestnut tree. This lead to Jeff reading a book on the tree that my dad was profiled in and hence the pile of Chestnuts being put in my grocery cart when I wasn’t looking! The nuts were yummy and the juice was great so it turned out all okay. We also had time to carve our Halloween pumpkins and get candy ready for the kids.

Apple Pressing

10/16/10 For Jeff’s birthday his mom and I got him an old-fashioned apple press and today is our first run of cider. Fingers crossed we make cider and not vinegar!

More Aquaponics

10/5/10 I got the pots and packs of mustard greens and basil seeds. Went to the home supply store for pea gravel and perlite. I have been setting up the system in the basement near the chicken pen. They just sit there and watch me. They seem half interested which normally they notice very little of what is going on around them.


9/14/10 I have decided to use a big plastic storage bin from our camping supplies for the aquponics experiement. My first attempt involves using a second bin for the plants. I quickly realize this bin isn’t big enough and it seems that putting the plants directly in the water works well for others I have read about. I will go to the hydroponics store to pick up some pots and seeds.


9/13/10 It seems reading all sorts of blogs and web sites on self reliance is what tends to get me into trouble! Recently I have been reading about aquaponics. Which is a closed eco system where you grow fish and vegetables together and the fish fertilize the plants and the plants clean the water. The commercial systems are really expensive but I figure I could make my own. This project is all on me as Jeff hates seafood but I figure that if the world ever got to a place where we really had to be self reliant he would find a way to eat fish!

Chicken Diapers?

9/12/10 Well I said I wouldn’t take YouTube videos on chicken care seriously after the nail bleeding incident but today I saw a video on chicken diapers. It made me think it would be nice to have the chickens upstairs as we do enjoy spending time with them. However something is stopping me as I feel that would cross a line from self reliance urban farming to just weird. Yes I am aware of the fact that many people would already classify our lifestyle as weird.  If I think something is weird it has to be really out there and I know I should stop myself! On the other hand, we have noticed that the more time we spend "socializing" them the nicer and gentler they are. (Except of course for Cluck who is just plain old mean no matter what.) I am going to have to think about this one.

Are We Normal?

We felt a brief sense of normalcy as Jeff found an article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal about Urban Chickens! Yes that’s right- yesterday urban chickens were a slightly insane preoccupation of survivalists, off-gridders, and new agey back-to-the-earth proto farmers, and today they have arrived on the front page of the WSJ. We immediately clipped it and sent it to family….hey this was our brief moment to prove that we aren’t totally insane.

Goosed by a Chicken!

9/5/10 The egg laying is become more regular, they have finally started using their nesting box and the egg size is getting bigger. One of the girls must lay in the morning as when we wake up around seven we hear her squawking up a storm. It is particularly loud in the bathroom which is directly above the basement coop so the noise goes right through the air ducts. My mom was rather startled the other day when she was in the bathroom and the chickens started crowing! We have read that each chicken lays a distinct egg color and shape. We have figured out that it is big crown who lays the speckled eggs and Cluck who lays the light brown eggs. I am not sure Scabby is laying yet. She seems to be the lowest in the pecking order. None of the chickens are particularly bright but poor Scabby is defiantly the slowest but she is never mean. Cluck is rather mean. She loves to peck at Jeff’s ankles or anyone who tries to pet her. We weren’t sure what to do about her pecking problem until we read on several sites that if you hit them with a rolled newspaper you establish yourself as higher in the pecking order. I felt awful to do this but eventually Cluck made me bleed just one too many times and I finally hit her with an Economist Magazine (hey we want our chickens to at least be educated if we have to hit them magazines!) It seems to have worked and she is much less likely to peck now. It is funny because both Jeff and I can clearly see the look in her eyes when she is thinking about pecking either one of us. The chickens still peck at shoes laces but that is only because they think they are worms. The other day Jeff was bent down tending to our grape vines when one of the chickens came up behind him and pecked him right on the butt! The other two immediately came over and did the same thing. We think they thought his belt loops were worms but I was laughing so hard I couldn’t help Jeff and he had his hands full with the vines!

The Fight

9/6/10 Well sadly we can now tell the Clucks apart. Today they got into a fight and one of them got their crown cut. We picked up the injured chicken and took her to the bathroom where I held her while Jeff washed her cut and put hydrogen peroxide and Neosporin on it. (Try holding a chicken during that!) We had her upstairs in the living room for a few hours to make sure the bleeding stopped and just to make her feel better (to be honest that was my idea as she seemed just fine but I was concerned). She seemed okay as soon as we stopped messing with her! Now we have Big Crown (for obvious reasons), Scabby (again for obvious reasons), and Cluck. As least we can tell them apart.


The Treat Bin
9/2/10 The golf balls seem to be helping. Jeff also put some river rocks that look more like their eggs in there as well so between the two they seem to have stopped eating the eggs. What a relief! Jeff also read that sometimes they eat their own eggs due to a calcium deficiency in their diet. He bought them crushed oyster shells to help with that problem. Now every morning before we leave for work we give them black oil sunflower seeds (BOSS), cracked corn, and bits of crushed oyster shells to munch on. The ironic thing is that of all the treats we have bought for them their favorite thing to eat is grass. We will pull it from the front yard and put it in their pen and they go crazy. (Yes, our chickens are very spoiled, and if I was a jealous woman I would be put off by how much time and money my husband spend on them!)

Tragic Egg Eating

8/30/10 The chickens are starting to lay every few days. However tragedy struck today. One of the chickens ate her own egg. Jeff was furious!! I could hear him yelling at them in the basement throughout the entire house. I ran down there and saw the silly bird with yoke dripping over her beak and had to keep myself from laughing. We read on the internet that if you put golf balls in with them they will peck at the golf balls which of course wont break which tricks them into not pecking their eggs. I immediately ran out to Wal Mart to pick up some golf balls. (Jeff hates supporting Wal Mart as he puts it, “that store represents everything wrong about America” but this was an emergency after all!)

Manicure Mishap

8/25/10 So today I decided that the chicken’s nails were getting too long and I should clip them. So as we normally do, I went online and read up on how to do it. Well never again will I take the advice of a YouTube video for chicken care….I was just beside myself when I clipped a little too high and made one of them bleed. She didn’t even so make as make a peep, but I felt awful. Jeff and I wrapped the nail in a paper towel until the bleeding stopped and put a band aid around it. I put her back in the coop and we watched for awhile to make sure she was okay. She was fine except the other two chickens tried to peck at her band aid! I ended up pulling it off and leaving well enough alone (which is what I should have done in the first place!)


Some of the finished product
8/23/10 So last year we were wary of canning our vegetables because of all the warnings you see about botulism. However over last winter we did our research and decided to give it a try. Little did we know that this would become an all-consuming addiction. I couldn’t believe how much fun it is to can. After I found all their canning supplies 50% off at Lowes we really got into production! We even bought more produce at the farmers market to supplement what we got out of our garden!

First Egg!

8/21/10 So post wedding and triathlon I needed to seriously catch up on sleep and just chill out for awhile. Jeff has done most of the chicken and garden care for the last month or so….what a great husband. But today was a big mile stone in our self reliance, urban farming lives….one of the chickens laid her first egg!!!! Over the past few days we noticed that they seemed really pissy!!! And while I was at the office, Jeff called to let me know the good news. He said that it sounded like they had gotten into a big fight and when he went downstairs to break it up there was an egg!!! Notice how small it is compared to the store egg.


/7/10 I completed my triathlon today!!! Such an amazing feeling but wow do I hurt!!! All the training paid off even if I was 13th from last! ☺ We feel it’s important to be in good physical condition should an emergency arise we both want to be a good enough shape to handle what may come our way and the triathlon seemed like a good way to force myself into training. Jeff is very self motivated in his exercise program. You can’t take the military outta that boy!

The chickens are no longer bastard children....

7/30/10 “Were going to the chapel and were gonna get married.” Okay so no chapel since we wanted a nondenominational ceremony but you get the idea. Marrying Jeff was the most amazing day of my life. In addition to all the normal sustainable wedding things (local flowers, locally sourced grass feed meat, recycled paper for invites, etc.) we purchased carbon offsets for the ceremony. Check out the web site if you or someone you know is interested. I will never forget how it felt to look into his eyes as we said our vows. It was like he was the only person on the planet at that moment. Plus the party was awesome!!!!


Today I decided to make an entry regarding the general reactions we have gotten about keeping our chickens.
My Parents- They just love the chickens. They act as our babysitters when we are gone and often bring over treats. My dad thinks it is great in terms of sustainability and self sufficiency.
His Parents- They didn’t seem too surprised coming from Jeff and I.
My Extended Family who happen to hail from an Iowan farm- They seemed generally confused by the chickens but thought we built them a nice set up.
My Co-Workers- So originally I didn’t plan on telling them but got so excited when they first came I totally spilled the beans. I was surprised by how very interested everyone was. Several people have asked about how we do it (another catalyst for this blog) and one day they even asked if we could have an egg day. I brought in the eggs and several other people brought toast and sausage and everyone got to try urban farm fresh eggs.
His Co-Workers- Jeff, who can keep a secret, never told them. However one day one of his coworkers came into the office and was just flabbergasted because on his way into work he saw a chicken coop in someone’s yard. He went on for several minutes about how weird it was and why would someone want to do that while Jeff just quietly laughed on in the inside.
My Friends- Generally not too surprised and thought it was interesting. One friend even let me know about a few other “clandestine chickens” she knew of in nearby towns.
His Friends- Being the survivalist types no one seemed too surprised but thought it was a great part of a survival plan.
Our vegan animal rights friend- To be honest, I was nervous about telling her. However she was really into it and thought it was great that we gave them such a good life. Upon talking to her I did some more research into factory chickens conditions and realized, yup, our chickens live in the palace of coops.

No Interest in Escape?

Hanging out in the yard on a nightly "walk"
7/28/10 We continue to struggle with watching the chickens while they are outside. Even with the carrier helping us get them back inside it is a struggle to get them in the carrier and we have to watch them to make sure they don’t wonder into the neighbors yards. I have been looking into one of those outside kid play castles and was shocked by how expensive they were. We ended up just using the lattice fence from the old pen and putting it up against the shed. The funny thing about the chickens is their total lack of interest in escape. They could easily get out of this pen or the basement pen but generally they have very content to stay where there is food!

New Pen Adjusting

7/20/10 The chickens have adjusted to their new pen eventually and seem pretty comfortable there. Changing the pine shavings for the first time went fairly well. Except I got the stupid idea that we could change it with them still in there and not have to watch them outside. We swept the shavings into a trash bag to put in the compost and all was okay until the end when I think the chickens had enough and started to freak out on us. Next time we will take them outside to change their bedding. Jeff had built them a really nice perch to sleep on at night; however they kept sleeping on the edge of the pen. Which was annoying in two ways. One that clearly meant they could just fly right out of the pen if they wanted and two their little fat butts were bending the chicken wire. Eventually Jeff put a 2x4 across the pen at the top and just conceded to where they wanted to sleep.

Change is Not Our Friend

7/2/10 While the chickens may not be the brightest they do notice change. They seem so confused by their new pen. They totally went beserk when we put them in for the first time, and immediately tried to fly out! Now they sit in one corner and just make this strange almost humming sound. I feel so bad for Jeff who spent so much time putting this together and I feel bad for the chickens who seem stressed by the much bigger and nicer pen. Hopefully with time they will get used to this set up. I wish we had known what a problem change would be and then we would have worked harder and getting the pen right the first time.

Coop Change

7/1/10 It is time to figure out something new for the chicken coop. Both Jeff and I have had it with washing the “poopy blanket” (which I am amazed how clean it comes out every time.) My mom and I hung out outside and watched the chickens while Jeff started building the new coop. What we came up with is a 6 x 8 piece of linoleum from the scrap bin at Lowe’s, as the floor, and 8 inch wide boards fashioned together into some thing like a sand box sitting on top of it. Then a wood post in each corner to support chicken wire around the whole thing, and finally a sack of aspen pine shavings over the linoleum (not cedar –it can cause respiratory problems for the birds). Easy to build, and much cleaner and nicer for the birds to live in. I am so impressed with his design. With the pine shavings in the bottom we can change it every few weeks by sweeping the shavings up into a big garbage bag. The shavings should absorb moisture and hopefully control the odor.

Bridal Shower

6/28/10 We received an awesome wedding present today….. a new pitchfork! That has to be a first in bridal shower history and will be so helpful for make dust baths for the chickens.

Chickens + Cats

6/10/10 Jeff and I were hanging new gutters with my dad when I looked over and saw a neighborhood cat spying the chickens. I ran after the cat to scare him away. The chickens didn’t even notice. However they are terrified of other birds. A chickadee went by and they ran and hid under my peony bushes.

Dog Carrieer

6/7/10 The dog carrier has turned out to be a great success. 3 Chickens fit inside perfectly! One of us holds the carrier up while the other picks up the chickens and put them in. That way we can keep the door closed after each bird. It’s a big help in taking them outside at night. The new food tray hasn’t worked out as well. We decided to just accept that they top part of the feeder isn’t going to work.
Duck Friends

6/5/10 We went down to the farmer’s market and happened to see baby ducks in a nearby pond. Amazing how similar the ducks are in terms of how they act as our chickens. On the way back, we decided to pop into a county farm store. We picked up a variety of baked goods and vegetables. We even got purple potatoes which tasted amazing and are supposed to have more nutritional value. Next year I am going to have to get them for our garden. While there we saw a new tray style feeder that we thought might help with them, since they started with the obnoxious habit of knocking the old plastic feeder over on its side and spilling their food, and making a huge mess. We also picked up a small dog carrier to carry the chickens around in, since bringing them in and out of the house for their “free range” time in the back yard has become more and more difficult. Recently as the chickens have gotten bigger we have started having problems with catching them in the backyard to get them back inside. (Picture two humans running around in circles, under lawn furniture, through our garden, after chickens.. rather funny but annoying). Chickens are surprisingly quick and agile when you are trying to catch them. Hopefully the carrier will make life easier. Also the carrier will make is easier to discreetly carry them outside so we wont have to wait until the neighbors are inside or gone to take the chickens out for their almost nightly “walks.”

Waste Management

We also tried newspaper
6/1/10 The blanket idea is not working out so well. They cover it in poop in no time and it starts to smell. Again, if you are contemplating keeping your own micro-flock in your basement, make sure you give due consideration to how much these creatures poop. “waste management” has become the most frustrating part of this whole project. Chicken manure from 3 birds is pretty easy to manage, but not very pleasant if you neglect cleaning up after them for even a short time. Having the house smell like a barn is NOT an option and every time we have company over I have to wash the blanket which means one of us needs to stay outside and watch the chickens while the blanket is put in the wash and then the dryer (yes I know we need to buy another blanket) Lining their “coop” with a blanket is not turning out to be a very feasible idea, especially with the chickens growing so rapidly! We have to come up with something new.

Garden Set Up

5/29/10 Have to take a break from the chickens today and put in this year’s garden. Sadly this means we are covering up the biggest chicken dust bath in history! Jeff and I will have to find their favorite treat of worms from somewhere else in the yard now.


5/15/10Jeff starts building toys for the chickens. A cardboard ramp goes in along with a cardboard roost. They seem to mostly just poop on their toys. I went out and bought them bird toys from the pet shop. Again, no interests in toys. Oh well.

First Home

5/10/10 It is time for a new home for the chickens. Sadly they have outgrown their box and we have to move them into a bigger home. Like any mom I am sad to see them grow up. I can’t believe how attached we have grown to “livestock.” Some place in heaven my grandpa (an Iowa farmer) is laughing. While they were still in the cardboard box, we started researching like crazy how to keep indoor chickens but there is almost no help out there for this (another reason to start this blog). Almost everything out there in books and on the internet is geared towards raising chickens in a coop of some sort outside. Apparently to raise chickens in our basement, we are going to have to “wing” it. For now we’ve improvised a “coop” made of some scrap wood, cheap plywood lattice, and an old blanket. The bathroom and the walls of the basement and three side of the “coop”. We duct tapped the lattice to the wall and laid down an old blanket my mom brought over. Funny to think that my chickens are now pooping on the blanket I slept under as a child. This coop looks like something the Beverly Hillbillies would come up with, seems to work.


5/10/10 Biking through the “ghetto” has turned out well for me. There are a few people who have started to recognize me and my co-worker who wave and wish us well. There is even a bar at the top of a steep hill who cheer for us when we get up there!

Ghetto Biking

5/3/10 I am loving the better weather and am now able to start biking to work today. Biking brings to light some of differences between Jeff and I. The fastest way for me to get to my office is through a really bad part of town. I am of the opinion that if I want to see change the best thing I can do is to be that change and bike through there. Jeff however feels that I should take the longer route and avoid that neighborhood. Well I am the one struggling to bike my tired butt home at the end of the day so I go through the “ghetto.”


4/10/10 Jeff’s parents came over and meet their “grandchicks” wish they could have seen them as chicks. They look goofier by the day. We have started to take them outside for “walks” in the backyard. The neighbors’ toddler seemed to notice the birds and wanted to come over and play. His mom didn’t want him walking through the bushes and stopped him; phew close call. While the baby chicks are cute, still no telling how neighbors might react to livestock being raised next door here in suburbia.

Ackward Teens

Jeff decided to take a quick nap- I happened to put Cluck on his head! 
3/25/10 I can’t believe how fast the chickens are growing! They are losing their baby fuzz and are in the awkward teenage look!

Baby Chicks

3/20/10 We are continuing to play with the chickens nightly. It really surprises me how much Jeff is getting into playing with the chickens. He is not much of a pet person but there seems to be something about the “Clucks” he really enjoys. As he puts it, he only likes pets that aren’t “free loaders”. I had to laugh when he said that. The chickens have pretty much taken over my office. We let them room around and play. When I redid the hardwood floors I didn’t get all the paint flecks off the floor from painting so a few of them are under a coat of poly which the chicks think is food and peck at non stop. It is so sad to watch them try so hard! We had to switch the heat lamp to a red light. We read on the internet that if they see blood the other two might attack but with the red light they can’t distinguish the blood. So hard to believe something so cute could be so mean! One thing we did not prepare for was how much they POOP. They seriously each poop about 2 minutes or so. Little tiny droppings, which aren’t so bad, but which requires a lot of paper towels…..

3/17/10- The babies arrive!!

This was the first heat lamp which we had to switch to red later.

Today at work I received a text message from my boyfriend that our chicks came!!!! Several months ago Jeff came up with the idea to keep urban chickens. Not going to lie, I thought it was insane but one of Jeff’s many charms is his innovative and unique ideas so I started researching it and found that it was becoming popular and figured, why not? The only issue was that after calling our local zoning office chickens are not legal in our town. Not be deterred, we figured that we would just work out a way to have indoor chickens. How hard could it be? (Little did we know then!) So after some research into the breeds we ordered three australorp chickens from I couldn’t believe how easy it was (the overnight shipping was the most expensive part of the order!) Well today a rather confused mail carrier came to the house with a chirping box. Sadly I wasn’t home but Jeff keeps unusual hours and was home to sign for the new babies. I drove home in record time as soon as I got his text message. I couldn’t believe how cute they were. We put them in a cardboard box with pine shavings, a heat lamp, some chick food, and water. They seemed tired from their journey through the US postal system from Connecticut and settled in for a nap. Sadly I had to return to work, but I really wanted to spend the whole afternoon just watching their cuteness. That evening my parents came over to visit the new arrival. To be funny, my mom brought over sweet and sour CHICKEN for dinner…..only someone who grew up on a farm could pull that off! We knew we were going to name one of the chickens “Cluck” in memory of my dad’s childhood pet chicken. Since we can't tell apart 3 little peeping fuzzballs, for the time being we are just calling them all “Cluck!”