Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Getting Everyone Ready for Winter

While the winter season has taken an unusually long time to settle upon the urban farm, it is finally here and with it come preparations for the cold season. It struck us how, yet again, keeping chickens indoors sure makes life easier not only for the girls but for us too. This fact is especially apparent when you contrast how we got the bees ready for winter versus the chickens. 

John, our amazing bee mentor, came over to help wrap the hive in felt paper to insulate, check for proper ventilation, balance the hive in such a way that the condensation will drip forward, and helped install a mouse guard over the front in order to prevent those pesky creatures from making a home in my warm, food filled hive. After he left, I ordered a special feeder that slides in with bees which I filled with sugar water, and then I made a candy board. A candy board is made of twenty-five pounds of sugar (yes the cashier gave us a weird look at the grocery store) and three cups of water and a half a cup of vinegar (to prevent molding). The mixture is pressed into a shallow hive box with a queen extruder (plastic screen that only worker bees can fit through) on to bottom to hold everything in. The sugar dries and makes the biggest lollypop you can imagine. The hive box goes on top the rest of the hive with more newspaper above it for insulation and this creates an additional food source for the winter. At this point, all I can do to wait and hope my girls survive to spring. 

As for what we did for getting the chickens ready for winter- nothing at all. 

We chuckle to one another as we read about the latest ideas for keeping chickens' water thawed over winter or how to prevent frostbite on combs. We have noticed that over the past few days the girls seem a little agitated; we wonder if this might have something to do with the furnace turning on more in the basement. Perhaps Jeff and I should take the girls for a drive in the country to introduce them to barn chickens!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Food Safety

Arsenic in apple juice? Another egg safety/cruelty scandal? It makes me shudder to think how our fragile food system is being slowly eroded away.

Check out this article on arsenic in juices (NPR Link).  I find it interesting that the arsenic based pesticides that were in use until 1970 are believed to play a part in this food safety issue forty years later. I wonder what we are using right now in agriculture that our children will pay the price for...

Then there was the story about eggs being produced in cruel/unsanitary conditions.

What really amazes me is the relatively little concern we show about these incidents. Sure I saw the egg story a few times on the news, but it was quickly over after a couple of major corporations dropped the producer. Are we all so addicted to cheap, fast food that we are willing to turn a blind eye to the safety concerns of this mass produced slop? 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Break Down in Aisle 5

It is commonly accepted advice to not go to the grocery store when you are hungry. Well a few days ago, I realized that one should also not go to the grocery store when you are tired either. What products found their way into my cart in my sleepy induced hazed?

  • Laundry detergent
  • Laundry detergent booster (I didn't even know that this type of product existed, but somehow I ended up buying it.)
  • Dryer sheets
  • Dish washer detergent (I even went so crazy as to buy the ones in those little packs so you don't have to measure the solution.)
  • Kitchen cleaner


Jeff didn't seem to know what to think when he saw what was in our cart, but I think he had enough sense to realize if I was buying this stuff it was probably not in his best interests to question it.

I was shocked when I got to check out and my bill was about $30 more than usual! Yikes, all this convenience is expensive!

So was it worth it? I will admit my clothes did smell nicer, and I do think they are cleaner. Using dryer sheets instead of dryer balls, I didn't see much of a difference. The dish washer detergent is nice to not have to spend the time measuring the solution but no quality difference. And the kitchen cleaner is no different that my vinegar lemon mixture. In conclusion, I think I may stick with the laundry detergent but the rest of the stuff is just overpriced versions of what I can make at home. It really only takes me a few minutes to make my homemade versions so I don't think the cost of the convenience is worth it. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Compost Mishaps

So I may have gotten ahead of myself on the composting front. The worm bins are going so well that I thought I should take it to the next level; bokashi. This is a Japanese anaerobic method of composting that basically pickles the food and then you put the pickled scraps through a regular composting process. Why go throw the extra hassle? With bokashi you can put in dairy, meat, and bones which you can't do in a worm or regular compost pile! So after a few weeks of research, I took what I like best from several sites and came up with this...

1. Buy a plastic, sealable bin making sure that it will fit in a trash bag just in case this experiment goes horrible wrong. Some web sites sell bokashi buckets that have a spigot on the bottom to catch the "tea" to use as fertilizer. I skipped this to save money, and since I have worm "tea" I don't think I need anymore fertilizer.
2. Most folks purchase pre-made bokashi bran. This bran is inoculated in effective microorganisms (EM) (good bacteria). They then layer the bran on the bottom of the sealable container put food scraps over that and then another layer of bran with a weight of some sort over that so as to keep air out. You continue layering until the bin is filled. You can then let the entire bucket ferment for a few weeks and take the pickled food and put it in you your worm bin, regular compost, or dig it into the ground. Being a DIYer, I found some web sites that talked about people who used newspaper which is much cheaper than bran. I also decided against buying EM solution. I went to the home brew store and bought lactobacillus.
3. To get the bacteria started, I put it with molasses and warm water kept it in a warm spot over night and then put it in my bin with shredded newspaper. As a test, I took a few handfuls and put that in the small plastic baggie. The plan was to allow everything to ferment for two or three weeks, dry out the newspaper and begin a bokashi bin.
4. I had mixed success. The newspaper molded instead of fermenting, and I now have a giant bin of funk! However the newspaper in the baggie is perfect. The only mold color is white which is okay and the mixtures smells sweet and sour just like it should. I have come to the conclusion that the problem with the bin was it had too much exposure to air.

In my next attempt, I want to make this even more of a DIY project. I plan on making my own EM solution from a old Thai farmer recipe. (Check out this site for the info.) Yes I recognize the fact that I probably shouldn't be trying to do more of this myself considering it didn't go so well the first time but it is just ingrained in my personality to always strive for more self sufficiency. Now the question is how to get a get the bin of mold out in the trash without Jeff noticing...


The starter yeast with molasses and oats.
Newspaper shreddings- pre crazy mold!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cider Mania!

And I thought tomato mania was bad...

Today Jeff and I set out to grind and press apples into cider to eventually make hard cider. For his birthday, I bought Jeff what I was told was an antique apple grinder from the local flea market. Last year we had a bucket and two by four that we beat the apples with. This year we thought we had it all set with our new grinder and ever so confident in ourselves, we out and bought 7 bushels of apples. Can you see what happened here? Yes, the new fancy pants grinder didn't grind a thing. Sure, it beat up the apples but barely any of them actually went into the grinder; they just bounced around on top of the scary looking metal teeth. Sadly Jeff had to go back to beating the apples with lumber again. Regardless we wound up with 4 gallons of cider and a bushel and  a half of apples still to go. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chickens Are Your Patriotic Duty

So ironic that at one point in time the government viewed keeping backyard chickens as a war time patriotic duty...



The government might have changed their stance on the subject, but I think they had it right the first time. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Chicken's First Coop Guests!

One of the best things about urban farming (other than the amazing food!) is the cool, passionate people you get to meet. Today one of our blog readers, who happened to live on the other side of town, came by to visit the girls. Their baby chicks are coming Tuesday, and we hope that we were able to help them out with some of the lessons we had to learn the hard way!

I have also been very fortunate to find a "bee mentor" who has been invaluable help for the first year of the hive. We meet John at a local gallery's showing of a bee documentary. He has come over to the hive several times to show us how to work the bees and has introduced us to the local bee club. I don't know how we would have gotten the bees through the summer without him.

As so many of us are trying to get back to craft of yesterday within the constraints of our modern, urban setting, it is really awesome when we can all help each other learn something new. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Master Composter

While I have heard of master gardeners, I was surprised to see a program for Master Composters being offered by our local cooperative extension. This sparked my interest, and I quickly signed up before really contemplating how much work this might be! It felt like high school biology and chemistry class rolled into one; it surprised me how much science knowledge was involved. Of course, I should've realized that nine hours of training would go beyond just throw stuff in a pile and let it rot! It was a wonderful course, and I feel so much more prepared to handle issues that have occurred with our compost piles. The class also taught us how to set up a new worm bin so now our basement hosts two worm bins! When I came home from the class, I announced to Jeff who was in the bedroom,"honey come out to the living room to meet the new members of the farm!" After a brief pause, "Dear, what did you bring home now.....?"

Check out this great web site for a ton of resources to help set up your composting game!
http://www.cce.cornell.edu/Environment/Pages/WasteManagement.aspx

Monday, October 3, 2011

Key Lime Tree!

Forever attempting to ignore the fact that we live in Upstate NY, another citrus tree has been added to the homestead-key lime (as a lovely birthday present from Mom.) We did some more research on caring for this tree and wanted share...


Rocks in the bottom for drainage

Here's the interesting part- who knew there was soil formulated for citrus?
I am sure we could've amended a general potting mix but sometimes the lazy way rocks!

Monday, September 26, 2011

There Really is an App for Everything!

This really made us laugh- there is an app to help you select the best chicken breed for your situation. The ultimate in urban farming!

http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pickin-chicken-breed-selector/id360977737?mt=8

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Everyone's Day At Work

This is the sight that greets us when we get home from work and check on our micro-flock. While we were busy at work, so were the girls! (The golf balls are in there to prevent the girls from pecking at and eating their own eggs. Yes, it looks weird, but it works)




So we work for this...
and they work for seeds!


"Hey, we should ask for a raise!"

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Tomato-mania begins!

That time of year is here already. Tomatoes out the you-know-where. So begins the tomato-mania, ie: the mad scramble to harvest all the rapidly ripening tomatoes and dry them, pickle them, can them, and make tomato sauce and salsa while they are perfectly red and fresh.

In a weird way, tomato-mania is kind of like the Olympics.



There is the thrill of victory!

                Fresh tomato sauce with garlic and basil
                            Mmmmm......almost done




And there is the agony of defeat

         The dishes...never a fun chore, especially at 12:01 AM after making sauce all night
  
               Maybe this mess can wait until tomorrow

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Putting the Chickens to Work!

It is that time of year again when we find ourselves in a wash of beautiful produce ranging from succulent tomatoes, so delicious we eat them like apples, to more beans than you can shake a stick at. As we begin canning, drying and just eating all the produce, I find myself contemplate the amazing team effort this garden takes from all the members of the "farm".

The chickens clear bugs out of the garden and help break up the ground before planting.

The bees help pollinate everything, improving the garden returns dramatically.

The worms, who live off the kitchen scrapes, produce incredible compost which helps the garden grow even more.

Even the poor fish, who didn't make it, were burried into the ground and are now acting as fertilizer.

And the cycle continues.

As we add each element to the farm, we have had to return more and more to traditional ways of gardening. For example, when we added the bees, we had to complete get rid of pesticides (which we barely used any of anyways). As we return to more traditional gardening, we find our lives getting simpler and easier (contrary to what garden supply companies would like you to think) and the rewards bigger. I love how the chickens eat the bugs out of the garden, eliminating the need for chemicals, saving me money, making the girls happy, and creating better produce. Sometimes the simplest answer is the best.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Summer cuke madness and more broodiness

As August passes by, we have more and more amazing produce from the garden. We've been cooking, canning, drying, freezing, and just plain eating raw, bell peppers, hot peppers, jalapeno peppers, raspberries, green beans, black beans, okra, tomatoes of all sizes and shapes, sweet and tangy tomatillos, zucchinis and cucumbers. Lots and lots of cucumbers. Its amazing how fast and how much these things grow. Now that we've canned at least a decade's worth of every kind of pickle, we still have a surplus. As we cant stand to see any of the product of so much sweat and dirt over the past few months go to waste, we decided we would toss some excess cukes in the chickens pen and see if they liked it. Let me tell you, .. they did. It was really unbeliveable how quickly they could devour a fat 8 inch long whole cucumber, leaving nothing behind but a nearly perfectly intact rind, picked absolutely clean. We started giving them bigger and bigger cukes each day, and each day the same result when we got home from work: a perfectly cleaned green rind. Its become a sort of entertainment by this point. I threw them an apple the other day, and when I got home from work the whole thing had vanished. Not even a core or a stem was to be found. I think this fall, Im going to leave them with a big pumpkin and see what they do with that!

In less happy news, Cluck is broody......AGAIN. I dont know what the hell is wrong with this bird. One week she refuses to leave the nesting box. The next week she is happily clucking and scratching for treats with the rest of the flock, and now she's back to camping out in the nesting box again. One day I actually found scabby in the nesting box with her. How the two of them managed to both get iin the box simultaneously, I have no idea. It actually looked quite ridiculous, and I sort of laughed. But its starting to get annoying. Its hard to get in to get the eggs when Cluck puffs up and does her high pitched angry chicken "growl", and we have both been pecked by her enough to know she doesn play around when she wants to be left alone. This weekend, while I was sweeping out and scrubbing the pen down, I had Big Crown and Scabby in their pet carrier waiting patiently as "room service", ie: me, was sweeping and scrubbing. I was fed up with Cluck, so I just picked up the whole nesting box, with her still in it, and set it down outside the pen while I worked. Of course, NOW Cluck wants to come out and squawk, and flap, and poop in the human side of the basement. Great. Just great. I was finally able to cram her into the pet carrier, but by now the whole job had taken twice as long as it should have.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Return to "normal"?

Tonight all three chickens are back to sleeping nestled tightly, 3 in a row, on their roost. Apparently, what ever was disturbing the "zen of the pen" has been dispelled, and things are back to normal (note - we use the word "normal" in the relative sense, since there really is not very much that is normal about 3 chickens living down in the basement). Egg production is still down, though. We had been getting 3 eggs per day consistently until the girls started acting batty. Then we went a day or two with no eggs, and for the past two or three days we have been getting one, still perfectly respectable, egg each day when we get home from work and go down to check on the micro flock.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Summertime update

As this summer stretches into August already, we have been way behind in keeping up the blog. Our garden is at the point where its nearly bursting with produce, which unfortunately means lots of time devoted to picking, harvesting, chopping, drying, canning, pickling, making jams and jellies. All of which is great for enjoying home grown food well into winter, and not so great for keeping current with the blog.

The flock has been enjoying the cool comfort of their home in the basement, totally unaware of the scorching heat outside this summer. I like to think they appreciate how good they have it in their basement abode, cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but this is as delusional as our hope that they see us as anything more important in their lives than mere treat dispensers....

Despite having it made in the shade, the girls' behavior is back to being bizarre. It all started when 2 of the 3 of them stopped sleeping in their usual places on the roost, where they would perch all right next to each other in a little row each and every night. For no apparent reason, one began roosting on the top of the chicken wire enclosure, while another began sleeping in a little nest she made for herself down in the shavings. This we attributed to her going broody and wanting to sit on her eggs all night long. Things continued to get weirder as the peace that has prevailed in the basement coop all summer has given way to recent bouts of loud squawking and flapping coming from down in the basement. One of these bouts even happened while the home appraiser was here (how embarrassing!) He took it in stride, remembering the last time he was here. "Oh, right.... The chickens" was his response. So by this point of course, the chickens are starting to show the signs of all this ruckus when we go down to feed them in the mornings, sporting fresh new scabs on their combs. Poor Cluck, never known for her sunny personality, seems to be getting the worst of it by the amount of cuts and scabs on her comb. Ironically, Scabby --so named because she used to have a rather large scab on her comb-- is the only one of the flock without any scabs or cuts on her comb. So we have no idea what the hell is going on with the flock. Maybe a re-alignment of the pecking order?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Basement Life Perks

Despite the blazing heat that is blanketing the Northeast, our girls have been sitting pretty in their cool basement. Us humans occupying the upstairs of the house have not been so lucky. So while the girls slept indoors, Jeff and I took our tent and slept in the backyard. The ultimate in irony did not escape us, however we had a wonderful time grilling and acting like it was a regular camping adventure.

A few night before we had decided the heat was just unbearable, and we turned on our AC (which we try to avoid doing for eco reasons.) Come two o'clock that morning, and we were woken by the carbon monoxide detector alarm. While contemplating calling my parents to ask if we could crash there for the night, it occurred to me that I literally have a canary in the coal mine or in my case chickens in the basement. I went down there to see if they were affected by the carbon monoxide. Once I flipped on the light to see, I could tell they were all just fine and only annoyed that I had woken them. However, Cluck had decided to sleep instead of on the roast but on the edge of the wire. When I turned on the light it startled her and she fell forward hitting her face on the side of the bathroom wall. Brilliant! In the end we just opened the windows and the alarm stopped, but I am glad to have my girls to alert me to any problems with carbon monoxide... just yet another random benefit of the clandestine chickens!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

What do they call this egg?

The eggs continue to get weirder...

Jeff was downstairs taking care of the chickens when I heard, "Lisa, did you give the girls an old carrot?" I replied no and then heard nothing from him. It was such an out of place question, it made me curious. Eventually he came back up stairs holding a small egg that did, in fact, look exactly like an old moldy carrot stick.

If the small eggs were called fart eggs, I don't even want to know what to call this one.


See, it is a carrot egg!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rabbit Repellant

There is unwelcome livestock on the urban farm..... rabbits are eating our plants. (Esp. the corn.) Jeff and I have declared war! The chickens have helped us create our weapon... we are using rotten eggs in water and spraying it around the plants to deter the rabbits. Here is the recipe:

Three eggs
1/2 cup veg oil
2 minced garlic cloves
Three table spoons hot sauce
Teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup milk

Put everything in a jar and set it outside in the sun to rot for a week. Strain it once through a colander and a second time through a coffee filter or paper towel. Dilute the mixture with one gallon of water and spray in garden.

The chickens come through the save the day again!

Update: While spraying this toxic mixture gagged me, it has kept the darn rabbits away!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Seriously..It's Called a Fart Egg?

Are you looking at a one giant egg or one micro egg?
The upside of this latest adventure on the urban farm is that Jeff and I are now at the chicken parenthood stage where odd changes don't panic us...

Two days ago we came home to find the tinniest egg you can imagine a chicken laying. We laughed it off and figured it had something to do with Cluck being broody (when chickens decide to sit on their eggs to hatch them despite the fact that they aren't fertilized and will never produce chicks). The next day I came home to find another "micro egg." Cluck was still broody, and I had to fight her to get her off the micro egg. Well okay, it seems that I should look into this. (Thank goodness we aren't human parents yet and don't have to pay to take our kids to the pediatricians.) About a half an hour of  internet research, and I had my answer. As is usually the case with all odd chicken behavior, it was perfectly normal. Turns out, that sometimes chickens just lay the egg too soon. They tiny eggs are called fart eggs since some people believe that they happen when the chicken farts and the egg just falls out! So I guess Cluck should lay off all the beans in her diet! 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Clandestine Chickens and Neighbors

Yesterday, while toiling away in the garden, our neighbor came over to check out what were planting and growing. Our corner of suburbia is pretty densely built up, so this is normal. In fact, looking from our back yard, we can see down across three adjacent backyard gardens. We have great fun trying to check out what the neighbors are planting and doing in their gardens without seeming nosy. Anyways, so our neighbor comes over, and after talking about our successes and failures growing different things in our gardens, he offers to cut us some of his amazing rhubarb stalks. We gladly took him up on his offer and gave him a dozen of our eggs (which we have an abundance of, now that the girls are in full production) in return. Our neighbor is an older, retired guy, who used to have chickens when he was a boy, and is convinced in his opinion that Rhode Island reds are the best, and that we should get some. Unfortunately we are presently limited to what we can keep in our basement, but we still appreciate the recommendation. He also mentioned that he had his son over recently, who was very surprised to see our micro-flock through the basement window. Luckily we have a neighbor who is pro-basement chickens, so its not a big deal.

Thinking about it, in this day and age, it really is a great and wonderful thing to know and talk to your neighbors, and to be able to exchange good, homegrown food, like fresh rhubarb and eggs. It would be so great if this happened all the time. Our neighborhoods and communities would be much friendlier, healthier, safer, and well-connected places to live if there were more of this type of activity.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Planting Time!

I am excited and exhausted to say that Jeff and I got our garden planted this past Memorial Day weekend! I woke him up out of a sound sleep Saturday morning around eight by shaking him and announcing that today was finally planting day!!! He was just thrilled, but after two cups of coffee and a reminder of how amazing the produce will be, he got going. We set up all the seedlings from our inside garden on our patio table. This year we started most of our plants by seeds which we kept in a small table top greenhouse in front of a south facing window in our living room. We also had six trays of seedlings which I took in and out everything day before and after work. (Thanks goodness we were finally planting since I was sick of having to do that, and I am sure my neighbors were done with seeing me in my PJs flailing around with seed trays every morning!) We believe in using a slow release fertilizer once for the season so we spread that over the entire garden surface and began digging in all the plants.

Turning the entire garden surface (thank goodness we registered for a pitch fork for our wedding), individually digging all the holes for the plants, and watering for our new 20 by 30 ft garden ended up taking the two of us most of the weekend. However, now that everything is in, the rest of the garden maintenance is not as time consuming until harvest!

I had fears that the lasagna garden (see post explaining lasagna gardening here) wouldn't work somehow, once we started to plant... did I get enough dirt? would the cardboard rip up as we planted? etc. However, it worked out just fine. Towards the outer edges the layer of dirt was a bit thin, but we planted marigolds there (to keep away pesky animals) so we weren't too concerned with making sure those were perfectly transplanted.

This year in our zone 5b garden we have planted:
Two varieties of heirloom corn
Four varieties (two heirlooms) of tomatoes
Tomatillos
Eggplant
Spinach
Cucumbers
Red Onions
Three varieties of peppers
Purple bell peppers
Red bell peppers
Asparagus
Black beans
Green beans
Lemon Balm
Dill
Rosemary
Mint
Stevia
Tarragon
Quinioa
Purple hull-less barley (for chicken feed)
Purple Adirondack potatoes




Command Central- Garden Plan on graph paper and seedlings galore!

Our new "lasagna" garden

The black raspberries!


The garlic we planted last fall

The grape vines



Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Girls' First Trip Outside this Summer

A few weeks ago we got the girls out for the first time this season. I was a little worried they might have forgotten being outside and get nervous or upset. I should've given them more credit; when food is invovled their IQs go up! I put down the dog carrier and they each popped right out and began munching on grass like it was just last week they were outside.


Fish Death

Recently, I was watching a video on urban farming about the seven rules of an urban farm. The first rule was simply that sometimes things die. Sadly this weekend we experienced that. A few weeks ago the plants in the aquaponic set up died so I pulled them out and had the intention of replanting them but in the mean time would feed the fish regular fish pellets. This went on all-right for awhile, but I think the fish got so used to the plant roots that they didn't eat the pellets. One by one they started to die.While I did try reseeding the plants there wasn't enough time for them to grow roots. I feel just awful about the whole thing. My urban farm mom guilt is off the charts. Done the road, I will use the lights as an indoor seed starter but don't want to try fish again for awhile... 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Seed/Money Saving Idea

Most garden centers offer a sale on seeds the first few weeks after Memorial Day since everyone has done their planting. I picked up a few packets at a great price, and then I put them with our other seeds saved for next year.

How do we prep our seeds for saving?

Keep them in the original paper package or if you don't have that anymore a paper envelope also works (be sure to note what the seeds are and other details such as planting directions.) Then put the packets in an air tight jar such as a mason jar. The seeds need something in the jar to help keep them dry. If you have old silica packets you can reuse them by throwing them in the oven on 170 degrees for 10 minutes or any store that sells fine leather goods will also have them. I prefer to use powdered milk wrapped in cloth and tied up with a rubber band (less chemicals and I already have the milk from our emergency pantry). I then put the jars in the fridge as the temperature is consistent and there is no light.

Next year, my tomatoes are going to taste even better knowing they came from a 25 cent packet!


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Reactions

I asked Jeff what we will do if our future kids turn out normal and cool. Without missing a beat, he responded, "Ask them what it feels like."

Now that we are "grown ups" we find people are very acceptant of our "chicken situation". We do get asked a lot how our family and friends react and they have been very supportive. Recently a new support network has been added to the urban farm: my coworkers. It came up in conversation that the chickens love produce so now I am finding wonderful donations of apples, celery etc for the girls left in my cubicle. We are very appreciative of the extra treats for the girls, and below is a movie of them destroying an apple. 

video
The entire apple was gone in less five minutes!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Bees: Part II

The night of getting the bees home from the post office, I had to install them into the hive I had built the night before. The basic steps of bee installation are as follows.
1. Wait until dusk so the bees are less likely to fly away since it is "sleepy time"
2. Spray the bees down with sugar water so they are all "drunk" and less likely to sting
3. Gently tamp the cage on the ground so all the bees fall to one area then pry open the top
4. Pull the queen cage out. (The queen bee is in a tiny box with a few attendants during shipping.) Find the end with the cork on it, remove that to expose the candy block (The candy keeps the queen in for a few days before she can eat her way out so that the rest of the bees don't abandon the hive.)
5. Rubber band the queen box to one of the sides of the hive. (Again so the bees don't abandon the hive.)
6. "Pour" the rest of the bees into the hive and then cover the hive

Like most of the things we try for the first time, I ran into problems. However when you are literally in a swarm of pissed off bees this not the best place to experiment!

Problem #1 The sugar water clogged my spray bottle so the bees were only half sugared making them less docile.

Problem #2 I dropped the queen cage back into the rest of the bees which meant I had to put aside my fear and put my hand into a box with 1,500 bees and get the tiny box out. Yikes!!!

Problem #3 The cork got stuck in the queen box and Jeff had to run to get me a screw to wedge it out.

Even with all of this, the entire operation went very well. I only got stung once (of course it was after I had finished and was walking away.) And in the end all the bees stayed in their new home and Jeff got a great show of watching me (from a distance) deal with this. I had to laugh though when I looked over at him and in one hand he had the digital camera and the other the broom. When it was all said and done, I asked him what the broom was for... he said he wasn't sure but it just seemed like a good idea.... I couldn't' have agreed more.

Yes, I covered the ends of my pants and sleeves in tape just in case!


Friday, June 3, 2011

A New Addition

Like we have said before, our home is an ongoing experiment, and we have yet again decided to try our hand at a new craft- beekeeping! Last Christmas, Jeff got me a book on backyard beekeeping. I have read that and everything else I could find on the internet and finally ordered my three pound package of Russian bees, which are, believe it or not, known to have a sunnier disposition than Italian honey bees, which are the other commonly raised honey bees. I ordered the bees from the most wonderful apiary in Ohio which meant they had to be mailed. (Yes, I tried to find a local source but they never returned my calls.) The woman who runs the apiary informed me that I needed to call my local post office and make them aware the bees were coming and once they arrived, the post office would call me to pick them up. I timidly called the post office. They didn't so much as flinch- you would have thought I was the hundredth person that day with bees being mailed! The day they came, I got woken up at 5:45 in the morning with a call from the post office. I threw the first thing I could find on and dashed to the post office. The front door was locked since it was well before they opened but the cleaning lady let me in. I walked up to the desk and after a few "hellos", the gentleman who had just woken me came out with the box of bees.

I was surprised by how small the box was and by how quiet they were. On the ride home, I put them on the car floor in the front seat and headed back to the homestead. Of course, only when I am driving around with three pound of bees in my car, would I get cut off in traffic. I slammed on the brakes and the box slid forward and fell back. My heart stopped. I prayed that the screen on the side of the box was secure. The funny thing is, I barely heard buzzing. They must be the nicest hive on the planet, and I am the luckiest idiot urban farmer also. I got home and sprayed them down the sugar water so they would have additional food to the can of sugar water in their box, and then I dashed off to the office. That night I would have to install the bees into the bee hive but for right then I was just glad the bees came before I had to go to work. It would be very awkward to explain to my boss why I had to leave a meeting to pick up a bee hive...
The hive on their ride home in my car!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Home Appraisal

One of the challenges of urban farming is the delicate balance of strangers you sometimes have to let in your home with the clandestine animals we keep in said home.  A few weeks ago, we decided to get our home appraised to possibly refinance to a better interest rate. This is all fine and good until you get to the part where we have to let the appraiser in our house! Hmm.... we chatted about it and decided to just rock the fact that we have chickens living in our basement. He came on a Monday morning and since this whole refinance thing was my idea, Jeff was conveniently away at work and I had to come home to let the appraiser in. I was praying that we could go around the outside of the house first so I could get a gauge on what kind of guy he was. He showed up, hopped out of his truck introduced himself and first thing he said was to ask to go in the basement to see the HVAC set up. My blood pressure shot through the roof! Having no choice, I walked him through the kitchen and as I open the basement door, I said, "You are going to have the best story at your office today." He looked at me confused, and I followed up with "We are the ultimate DIYers combined with self sufficient paranoia." By that point he seemed more nervous than I felt, but I just kept walking down the basement stairs. He came down and suddenly saw the chicken pen. He was silent. It felt like forever before he said something and I thought I might pass out. "Wow, that is really interesting" he muttered. I began explaining the value of home chickens and how it all works. He asked a few questions and by end seemed really impressed and interested in the girls and it all worked out just fine. (He also said that he wasn't going to put a value on the chicken coop because that would move with the house! ha!) What a relief! Now I just hope my house is worth what I think it is! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Monday, May 23, 2011

Spring Chickens

Spring seems to have raised the chickens' spirits as much as our own. As the last few weeks of winter dwindled away, the girls seemed more subdued and lethargic than their usual noisy, clucking, scratching, and strutting selves. And on top of this, egg production slowed down substantially, even stopping completely for about 2 weeks. We thought a nice improvised dust bath in their pen would cheer them up since one of their favorite activities is to dig up big dirt holes in the yard in the warmer months, when we can bring them outside, and bask in a fresh coat of nice refreshing dirt... So we filled a cardboard box with some sand and put it in their pen, expecting an outpouring of joy and gratitude as the girls enjoyed their very own dust bath. Surely this would raise their spirits? No dice. Other than pecking a hole in the cardboard file box, they couldnt have cared less. One of them even pooped in the "dust bath". We like to think it wasnt intentional to show us what they think of their dust bath... Well, just as we were beginning to contemplate whether the chickens might be ill and require a trip to the vet, the days began to get longer and temperatures began rising out of the arctic lows of this past winter. Eggs began appearing in the nesting box again, and the daily morning racket of clucking and screeching and scratching and flapping around has returned. Now we are getting just as many, if not perhaps more eggs as we were before, and the girls seem like their old selves again. It appears that they've even seen fit to use their dust bath for its intended purpose rather than for a toilet. Best of all, the arrival of spring means the return of their favorite  treats in the world --grass and weeds from out in the yard. They seem to love this more than anything, even the ridiculously expensive dried meal worms we bought them at the pet store. Cant wait to let them run around outside in the yard again. It seems they were just as demoralized by the long winter and as rejuvenated by the arrival of spring as were are. 

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Duck's New Home

Jeff describes our home as an ongoing experiment and sometimes our adventures work out well and other times we don't realize what we are getting ourselves into. Unfortunately, the ducks turned out to be in the later category. Over the last few weeks, we have been having more and more problems with them. Their bedding needed to be cleaned weekly as opposed to the chickens which only need to be changed every two to three weeks. Even when I did clean them every week, which was expensive and time consuming, they still smelled. They were also beginning to out grow their pen. As much as I loved Quack and Louie, my responsibility as an urban farmer is to always maintain the health and well being of all my animals and sadly, I could no longer provide that for the ducks. We made the tough decision to find a new home for the ducks. Through craigslist, we found a local hobby farmer who took them. This isn't like when our parents tell us the family dog is going to the farm to live! Quack and Louie are going to  a small country farm that has three ponds, a heated shed in the winter, two other Peking ducks friends and countless other chickens. The gentleman who took the ducks doesn't want them for food- they are just pets for his kids! While I miss the ducks tremendously, I am glad they are now living the ultimate duck life! (The chickens also seemed pleased to have the basement back to themselves!)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lasagna Garden

It is that time of year- getting prepared to put in our garden! There is nothing more exciting than the hopefulness of gardening. This year, we decided to expand our garden. However, I didn't want to dig anymore than I was already going to have to for our patio. I began seeking an easier answer online and discovered lasagna gardening! The most common method is to put down a layer of cardboard or newspaper (wet it) and cover with alternative layers of browns (leaves, paper, etc) and greens (vegetable/fruit waste, egg shells, etc) and then let is compost over the winter. Well since winter was already past and I didn't want to wait until next year, I put down six inches of finished soil over the cardboard. While my method is more expensive and required me hauling a lot of bags of topsoil, peat moss, perlite, etc it did give me an "insta-garden" without digging! Getting all that cardboard was another story..... First I raided our office cardboard recycling bin but that barely made a dent in what I needed. Then I got the idea to go to a local wholesale club to the free box bin. I spent over an hour there breaking down boxes and got stopped twice by employees wondering what in the world I was doing but when I was done I had an entire grocery cart filled with flat sheets of cardboard. I laid it all out and had to laugh since all the boxes were for food products, I had what looked like a big billboard of grocery store ads! We had everything from Spam to Snickers boxes! I wish I had remembered to take a picture but in my exhaustion I totally forgot. Our final garden is now 30 ft by 20 ft and last year it was 10 ft by 12ft! 

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Farmer in the Office?

"Oh sweet, I found the grow bag I have been looking for!" - me
"What!!! You can grow bags???"- Sweet but confused co-worker
"No, they are bags you grow things in!!" - me

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Impulse Purchase

Today's activities can best be summarized by Jeff's responses-

"Hun, I have to disagree. Apple trees are really not an impulse purchase even if they were on sale."

Upon looking out the window, "And contrary to what you seem to think, your Civic is not a truck."


Monday, April 25, 2011

I am that chicken mom!!!

This past weekend Jeff took me to Montreal for my birthday weekend. While at dinner, I kept hearing myself ask him if he thought the girls were okay and wondering what they were doing at that moment. My rambling came to a screeching halt as I realized I was that mom. You know her, the one who talks incessantly about getting away for a few days and as soon as she does, talks non stop and worries about the kids while she is gone. Here I was with my wonderful sexy husband in one of the most romantic cities in the world enjoying a wonderful glass of white wine by candlelight in a French restaurant and I am wondering if the girls are going to keeping changing nesting spots at night. Yup, it is official I am way too into this.

Update- the next night I pulled it together and stopped talking about chickens and ducks while on vacation and thanks to my mom and dad for watching the girls. 

Egg Production Back to Normal


I feel like statements like that make it sounds like I have a spreadsheet and a clipboard keeping track of the eggs per day. We really don't. Basically the way it goes whoever gets home from work first goes to collect the eggs. When the other one of us gets home we ask how the girls are and get a response like, "Good it was a two egg day."

Regardless, we are happy to report that the slowed egg production caused by the molting is now over. We are back to our normal two eggs a day. Which for only two people adds up quickly- does anyone need any eggs? 



Monday, April 18, 2011

Body Check Eggs

Yikes! A couple of weeks ago we were collecting our daily eggs and noticed that one of them had what looked like a pimple on the side. I was worried about eating it, so Jeff did some online sleuthing and discovered we had what is called a body checked egg. (On a side note, isn't it cool to know terms like that? Tomorrow, I am going to have to figure out a way to fit that into conversation at the office.) Basically the egg cracks inside the bird, but she is able to heal it before laying it. Isn't that just incredible? It never ceases to amaze me what nature can do. The egg is perfectly fine to eat (and was yummy as always) but what concerns me is that body checked eggs often come from birds who are stressed. (This happened before the ducks moved downstairs so it isn't my fault!) I am going to keep an eye out to see if this keeps happening.




Monday, April 11, 2011

A New Duck Home


I am not sure if it is my imagination or not but it seems like the ducks out grew their temporary "box I took home from the office" quarters faster than the chickens did. Either way, I needed a home for them in the basement ASAP. I debated building a similar home to the one Jeff built for the chickens but decided against it because I wanted to continue to stretch our clandestine farming minds and explore new ideas. (Ask anyone who knows me, and they will tell you that it is statements like this that normally get me into trouble but that is besides the point.)

First I thought about prebuilt raised garden beds. This would make the process easier and look more professional (sorry Jeff- nothing against your handy skills). This idea got thrown out for several reasons- I couldn't find find one big enough and even if I could, how would I fit it in my car...plus you would be SHOCKED by how much they cost.

Then came the idea of a kid sand box. The wooden versions came big enough but again were more than I wanted to pay and the cute plastic versions that were shaped like turtles or pirate ships were too small.

Just when I was about to give up and just build the same darn coop we have for the chickens, it finally hit me- an inflatable pool! A quick trip to the local seconds shop and $25 later and we were on our way- plus in came in lime green - bonus!

It just took a half an hour to unfold the pool, inflate it with our camping air mattress pump, lay down the pine shavings for bedding, get their waterer and food dish filled and we were set! I am fairly sure that they won't be able to escape however if they do, my plan is to buy the same pool and cut out the bottom and attached it to the first pool to raise the wall height. They have been in it for a few days without any problems but we will see as they get older/bigger. I don't think they can puncture the sides with their bills however, I don't know about their nails. I try to clip them regularly but they get sharp fast so that is another question. Like most things around here, it is an ongoing experience. We don't have a house but rather a lab, green house, farm, and workshop that we just happen to also live in.

I am most proud of the chickens who normally don't handle change well. They seem to be okay with the new basement roomies!


Before I inflated the pool. The chickens are in the upper right hand corner. Can't you just hear them thinking, "Ok mom- now what are you doing?"
The finished home with shavings down.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Fellow Urban Farmer in Need of Our Help......

The unfortunate challenges of being an urban farmer catch up with the best of us as Novella Carpenter of Ghost Town Farms and author of the book Farm City has recently learned. She is currently fundraising to pay a city fee for a permit that she needs to keep her urban farm going. Anything you can do for would be a great help.... http://ghosttownfarm.wordpress.com/

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Spa Day on the Farm?

During the molting, I noticed that the chicken's combs were looking dull and dry.  Traditionally, farmers use vaseline during molting or the winter to prevent cracks. However, I don't use vaseline on myself (it is derived from peteroleum and prevents the skin from breathing) so there was no way I was going to use it on my chickens. Besides, what if they ate it somehow? Hmmmmm.... well after going through my drawer of beauty products, I decided to try my absolute favorite hand cream. The Body Shop
s Hemp Oil Creme. (Yes, the joke about my chickens being stonners has already been made.) Just two days later and the girls look 100% better. Their combs are back to the normal bright red and all the cracking skin is gone. I can't believe how well it worked!

Next up on the beauty treatment cycle was the ducks. Their stink was totally gagging me everytime I went into the office! Yikes! The solution- change the box and a bubble bath for the duckies. I fillled their swimming pool with warm water and added a little body wash (again from the Body Shop so it would be safe). My concerns about the ducks hating the bubbles quickly disappeared as I noticed they were swimming around after the bubbles and eating them! From watching them, you would think the green apple scent made the bubbles taste like apple! After they swam around in circles for about twenty minutes, much to their protest, I got them out of the bath. They smelled wonderful!

Lastly, I also deserved a little beauty treatment. One of the unique challeneges of being an urban farmer and having an office day job is the balance between looking professional but still being able to "get the job done" on the farm. My main issue is maintaing a decent manicure. I can't tell you how many times I have ruined my nails with gardening, building a chicken coop, etc. etc. So this week I opted for one of those new gel/shellac manicures. $35 and an hour and a half later, we will see how long this manicure survives farm life. (Yes, I see the irony in the fact that I won't use vaseline but will get a totally toxic chemical ladden manicure- vanity is an amazing thing!)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Sad Day for Urban Farms Everywhere.....

Please check out this post by Novella Carpenter about her recent legal troubles on her urban farm. http://ghosttownfarm.wordpress.com/

It is a sad reminder that those of us working towards a world less dependent on fossil fuels are sometimes going to face opposition and bureaucratic red tape....unless of course they go clandestine! : ) 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Smelly Situations!

Things were starting to get smelly everywhere in our house today! The basement chicken coop was about a week over due for a cleaning, so we began there. We went through the normal cleaning routine, but I decided to take a quick picture of the girls while they waited for the pin to be cleaned (tough chicken life, huh?). I thought they looked so funny in the dog carrier. After a closer look I realized that I only saw two of the girls. I knew we had put all three of them in there so where in the world could the last girl be? I could see Big Crown and Cluck but no Scabby. I began looking around all the sides and saw the Cluck was sitting on top of Scabby. Somehow I wasn't surprised!
Scabby is on the lower left side- this is right after she got out from underneath Cluck!


The other smelly culprits of the house were the ducks. To be fair, the smelly situation was more my fault. I got the idea that it would be interesting to see if I could raise the ducks solely of the urban waste stream. There is a local bakery a few blocks from our home, and I am figuring they must through away plenty of bread products so that could be their urban food source (once they are old enough) and then I thought I would make bedding from shredding junk mail. I find the idea of shifting "waste" into a valuable commodity fascinating and an excellent commentary on the surplus of waste. So the bottom line of this is that I tried the shredded junk mail bedding. It took less that 24 hours for the paper to absorb all the spilled water, pee and poop to make a horrid smell. I think I may bag this idea! 

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Ducklings Adventure to Grandma and Grandpa's House

As we have mentioned in other posts, my parents are fans of the indoor farm. So I wasn't surprised when I asked if I could bring the ducklings for a visit they were fine with the idea. The duck's box fit nicely in the back seat of my car, and we made the ten minute drive over without any issues. (Could you imagine if I had gotten pulled over for any reason- how would I have explained the squawking cardboard box to a cop?)

They enjoyed sitting on my dad's lap and hanging out with us. After lunch, we decided we would try another swim lesson. I read that if you teach them to swim they imprint you as the "mom duck" so of course I wanted to try that. I tried the night before in our bathtub, but they got scared and flipped out trying to crawl out of the tub. This time we decided to try in the kitchen sink, figuring that being smaller it would be less scary. So we filled out one side of the sink with enough water that they could still touch the bottom and the other side with enough that they would have to actually swim. (Kinda like the kiddie swimming pools at the park!) We gently lowered them into the first side, and they just loved it! It was no time before they were splashing around and having a great time. We gave them a minute in the deeper water and they were able to swim but seemed to get scared so we got them out of there. We put them on the counter on a towel and put a space heater near them just to be sure they were warm, and they used their bills to squeegee the water off. It was fun watching them learn to swim and to see them look goofy all wet.

Amazing how much less duck there is when they are wet!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Inspiration

This is a powerful video reminding those of us who live the homesteading lifestyle why we do this and encouraging others to consider homesteading practices. It doesn't matter where you are on this journey, today is the perfect day to just try one thing. We hope you enjoy this as much as we did.


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Chicken Poop Bingo Contest

Just a reminder, the chicken poop bingo contest is still running. If you are interested in getting a square,  here's the link for more details.

Bullet Egg and Mini Egg

I think my chickens are on strike! It had been over a week since they laid an egg. To be fair, they just finished molting so we think that is why the egg production stopped. Either way, they finally laid an egg and it has to be the most unusual shaped one I have ever seen. It looks just like a bullet! The next day we got another egg and this one was micro sized. They had better start working on making dinner or they will be dinner!

Potential

I laid out all my seed packets getting ready for the new garden season and was stuck by how beautiful they all are lined up.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Special Annoucement!

We are deviating from our normal Sunday night posting schedule to bring you a special announcement! A new addition has been made to the basement farm- ducks!

Ironically, it started at the "birthday party" when my mom mentioned that, when she was picking up her present of freeze dried worms, the local farm supply store had ducklings. This of course interested me and a few google searches later, I was set on getting ducks. Jeff wasn't so sure about this idea. He does have a good point about having more animals to clean up after and the noise but it was Jeff's idea to get the chickens so once that flood gate opened there is no stopping it. Regardless, after promising that I would take care of the new "livestock", he reluctantly agreed. Not wanting to miss my opportunity, the very next day on lunch I stormed off to the store. The second you walk in you could hear the chorus of peeping. There were about fifty of the ducklings in a bin together under a hot brooding light, just a big yellow fuzzball of cuteness. The store supplied me with a little cardboard box that reminded my of a Happy Meal box to bring them home in. I was totally overwhelmed by which two birds to bring home. Luckily a little boy of about seven and his mom walked up to look at the ducklings. The boy asked if I was getting ducks and I told him yes and asked if he would help me pick out two. His sticky chubby hands grabbed onto one unsuspecting bird and he squeezed a little tight before putting it in the box. Then he grabbed another. I was grateful to have the decision made for me. Eight dollars later, and I was on my way. The girls did not appreciate the car ride back to the house. Every time I stepped on the gas or break, I could hear them fall down onto the wood shavings.

Upon arriving home, I put their little box on the kitchen table and began collecting items for their new home. Well all their peeping could be heard by the chickens in the basement who went crazy squawking! I got them all settled in and had to go back to work.

After work, my parents came over to see the new little guys. We decided on names. One will be  Quack (in the same vein as Cluck is named) and the other Louie (per a coworkers suggestion, after the ducks from the cartoon Duck Tails). Yet again, we can't tell either of them apart but that worked itself out last time so I am not going to worry about it. We decided to, under a careful eye, introduce them to the chickens. We put them in the chicken coop right by the door just in case we needed to get them out quickly. The chickens slowing came towards the ducklings to investigate the loud little fluffy creatures. Out of the blue, one of the ducklings charged at the chickens. Scabby of course ran away but the other girls didn't seem to much mind. Generally the chickens are disinterested in the ducks.

It is interesting to have babies in the house again. They are much more cuddly than the chicks were at the same age. For example, one of them crawled up my shirt and got on the back of my neck where she moved around so much that she got tangled in my hair and Jeff ended up having to rescue her.

It will be exciting to see all the new adventures this new addition to the farm brings.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

Happy Birthday Girls!

It is hard to believe that this Wednesday will be the girls first birthday! I honestly cant decide what is more worthy of celebration: The three girls reaching their first birthday..........or that we have managed to keep 3 chickens living in our basement for a whole year now. When we look back on the last year it has been a roller coaster of ups and downs and trial and error. Overall, I am glad we decided to embark on this crazy journey of clandestine chicken keeping. While we have had our moments of "why the hell did we ever decide to do this?" (the disastrous first attempt at improvising an indoor coop, for example) the benefit of the chickens has by far outweighed the negatives. The sense of accomplishment of having our own fresh eggs and the amusement of all the girls' antics makes it all worth it.

To celebrate, we had a small birthday dinner with their grandparents. Yes, I realize this is totally insane, but I do have 3 chickens living in my basement here in the 'burbs, after all. I decided to make them a birthday cake but the question was..... what for goodness sake do you make a chicken's birthday cake out of? Well, I started with peanut bird suet and put black sunflower seeds and ham (their latest favorite treat) over the suet. Then I took three worms out of the compost bin and put those on top.

Before my parents came over, I took my old hamster pin and set that up over plastic from my last dry cleaning order. Then I ran down stairs and grabbed each chicken and brought her upstairs and plopped her in the hamster pin. As my parents came in the door, I pulled out the cake and we sang happy birthday. They seemed bewildered but excited by the worms. They stayed in the cage pretty well and also enjoyed a present from grandma and grandpa of freeze dried mealworms. All in all it was a nice evening for both humans and chickens alike. However as Jeff put it as we were cleaning dishes, "You know it stinks that you spent all day preparing that birthday dinner and one of them ended up pooping on you." I guess it is just a part of being a mom.

The birthday cake- I swear they liked it. Just in this pic they are all looking away!
The cake right before the worms went on.
Seriously, one of them had the nerve to poop on me!
Their present from my parents.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Goats in basement?

For awhile now Jeff and I have been talking about getting goats. Okay if we are going to be more honest, I have been attempting to talk Jeff into letting me get goats, but lets not get caught up in the details here. So this weekend we decided to start planning our garden for the season (yes, we know it is insanely early but when you live somewhere that the Weather Channel comes to do broadcasts from a parking lot that is only two blocks from your office because the late season storms are so impressive you gotta create some hope for warmer weather) anyways..... we are at the store picking up seed packets when, right next to the beans, was a book on getting started with goats. Now you see Jeff has a weakness for all thing reading (hey we found each other at a bookstore on a Saturday night what can you expect?) So I picked up the book and pretended to be really amazed (okay I have read at least five books on goat keeping and wasn't surprised by anything I read in the book but a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do). Jeff picked up another copy and also began reading..... this is very promising! Fingers crossed for me.... oh and if anyone has any info on keeping indoor goats please drop us a line.... we (me) could use any help....thanks

I hear a chicken fight brewing in the basement so off to break that up.....

Monday, February 28, 2011

Pets or livestock?

After both of us spent the previous week sick, much of the weekend was devoted to cleaning "the farm." I can't tell you my relief when I emptied the fish tank to discover that in the bottom inch of water the fish were still alive!!! It was a miracle! As I slowly took gallon by gallon out, I feared what I might find in the bottom of the murky green waters, but there they were! I feel like a much better farm "mom" to realize that I didn't kill any of the animals. However the entire point of the fish is to get them "plate ready" so I really need to work on figuring out the difference between pets and livestock... oh well another day... today I am going to enjoy the little fish being alive and the new filter I installed to keep this from happening again.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bad Chicken Keepers!

As I start to come out of the haze that this horrible cold put both Jeff and I into, I am beginning to notice how much I neglected the farm during my sickness. The chicken pen is so gross. There is poop everywhere! The fish tank is a dark green, and I can no longer see any fish in there. The potatoes weren't watered and have fallen over. The worm bin got dry and the worms tried to escape! Yes, everywhere you look there is neglect. At least the chickens don't seem upset. It had been a few days since I had been down there since I didn't want to get them sick. When I finally spent some time with them, they all came running over to see me as soon as I stepped in the pen and dear Scabby even tried to jump in my lap. Who needs a dog to make you feel better when you have chickens? : ) This weekend is going to be a lot of cleaning though....

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Chickens in Paradise

So as you gathered from our last post, we have just spent the last week in the US Virgin Islands at an EcoResort, Maho Bay on St. Johns. (We would HIGHLY recommend it for any other eco-conscious travelers along with TerraPass to offset the airflight.) The first morning I woke up groggy from the day before of traveling and despite the warm temperatures and the ocean waves, in my haze thought that I was back home in Upstate NY. You see I was being woken up by the all too familiar chicken crowing. I couldn't believe it, we had traveled over a thousand miles and wouldn't you know it, St. John has as many wild chickens as we do squirrels up north. I was fascinated by the "wild" version of our girls. When we first saw the other chickens in town (and yes one was trying to cross the road) I was amazed by how small they were. Jeff just cracked it up to being a different breed, but I am now worried that perhaps we over feed the girls and they are just lazy fat American birds. Next week I am going to try to figure out a way to weigh them and determine if they are overweight. Either way, I enjoyed the week of getting to see so many different breeds of chickens and even one family of baby chicks. Upon arriving home, we were happy to see our girls again. My parents had done a wonderful job of not only bringing in the mail, shoveling, but also chicken farming. You know, the normal house sitting duties.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Am I my chickens keeper?

I dont think I ever thought that I would get to the point in my life when getting ready to leave for vacation would not only include the normal stresses of making sure sunscreen and tooth-brush are packed, passport is up to date, and chickens have a caretaker to look after them.....Check, check, and check.....Yes, you heard me right: We had to find a chicken sitter before we could jet off for warmer lattitudes. To 99.9% of city and suburban dwellers, this proposition would seem absolutely INSANE, and I suppose it probably is. But when you have chickens living clendestinely in your basement, you find yourself arranging your life in many ways that you never would have envisioned......Fortunately, the 'rents are in the "pro-poultry" faction, and are happy to drop in to fill the feeder, refresh the water, collect the eggs, and most likely spoil the girls with treats. Come to think of it it, this is probably alot easier than having to find someone to look after dogs. But the people with chickens are weird, hmmmmm.....

If you are thinking about becoming an urban chicken keeper, and your friends and family arent so used to the idea yet, dont worry - there are now chicken hotels. Really, this is not a joke. If you dont believe me, please check out the link to the Canadian Broadcasting Company, and the linked story of the "chicken hotel". Our chickens HATE anything that has to do with change, and would probably create as much havoc at this hotel as a Gun's N' Roses re-union tour, but definitely an idea and innovation whose time has come! 

http://www.cbc.ca/asithappens/episode/2011/01/31/monday-january-31st-2011/

Monday, January 31, 2011

Moulting is getting old and I am hungry!!! : )

So before the moulting began Jeff and I were overrun with eggs. We got up to three full cartons and that was with us giving them away to friends and family. Yesterday, I was getting ready to make pasta for dinner and reached into the refrigerator to discover that we only had one dozen left!! At the same time the girls have only been producing an egg every other day due to their moulting. Forget what the politicians say, this is true deficit spending!!! To my total horror, we may need to purchase eggs. The thought disgusts me. I suppose I should take Jeff's advice and be more understanding of the chicken's moulting. It really must take a lot of energy to be replacing so many feathers, but it is also taking a lot of energy to sweep up all those feathers!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sandbox and Moulting

Sand bath update- the girls have shown no interest in taking dirt baths but have developed a liking to pecking at the cardboard box the sand is in. Hmm....that would figure. We will keep the box in there just to see if they change their minds.

Mouting- The girls seem to be adjusting to their moulting status. They are becoming more friendly again (well except for Cluck of course) I am relieved that their attitudes are back in check. The week after next Jeff and I are leaving for our honeymoon, and I would hate to leave my parents to take care of three pissy birds. That would just be in poor form.  What amazes me is that with all the feathers that have fallen off the girls, I can't believe they don't have any bald spots. If I was collecting feathers for a pillow I would be more than half way there and yet the girls look just as pretty as usual. Hmm...I guess they have thick "hair."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Chicken PMS?

The girls have been acting strange. Yes, more than usual! They are moody and in the morning they don't make the normal squawking and begging for treats noises. Then we started to notice feathers EVERYWHERE!!! We also have only got one egg over the last three days as opposed to the normal 2-3 eggs per day. Yup, the girls are having their first moult. We had read about moulting and knew that it came in the winter so I am not surprised by the actual moulting but what none of the books told us about would be the moodiness. They have all started pecking at us when we put fresh food or water in their pen (even my dear sweet Scabby!). The feathers are also getting all over the basement. Today I found one in the potato bin and another in the fish tank- ew! Plus I am starting to find that they are sticking to our shoes, and as we walk up stairs we are bringing the feathers with us. I was less than pleased to find a chicken feather in my bed last night! This will be an interesting time with our girls......

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reset Day!

Every so often I like to have what I call a "reset day." Basically this means I set aside a day to concentrate on nothing but annoying errands and chores. First I tended to my non farm chores; bills were paid, the check book came as closed to balanced as it ever does, etc. Secondly I started on the farm chores. This began by attempting to reset the stupid digital timer for the potatoes which I still have no idea if I got it working this time but fingers crossed, then onto a little research on my container garden and what the next steps are now that the plants are sprouting, and I saved the hardest for last- cleaning the fish tank. Now the theory of the aquaponic systems was that the plant roots would naturally keep the water clear. One thing Jeff and I have discovered about all things relating to gardening, chicken care, food preservation and many of our other hobbies is that the more you read and research a given topic the more contradictory advice you find. Well aquaponics has proved the same. By absoluty no means do the plants keep the water even vaguely clean. The water is so green that I can no longer see the fish. So I took the plants out of the system, pulled the top off and bucket by bucket began to empty the water. An hour and a half later I am covered in water but there is only about two inches of water on the bottom so I figure that I have emptied enough and begin putting in fresh water again bucket by bucket. Now once the entire thing is full again and I am exhausted and covered in nasty fish water, I notice that I can barely tell any difference. Argh...I think I am going to just buy a stupid filter like I should have in the first place!