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
Red Onions
Three varieties of peppers
Purple bell peppers
Red bell peppers
Black beans
Green beans
Lemon Balm
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


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. 

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!