August 31, 2015

Starting over, duck style

I went out this morning to check on the ducks and see how their first night in the new pen went. As I walked up I saw the eggs we had moved scattered on the ground outside the house.  Oh no, I thought, they abandoned their eggs!  I went into the pen to look inside the house and saw that there was a new egg and a new little nest at the back of the duck house.  

I guess that's how these birds start over in a new home. I was hoping they'd recognize their own eggs and claim them but I guess not. Oh well, I removed the two eggs they had shoved out of the nest and left the new one untouched.  As I left the pen the ducks followed me out and went over for a swim. It was a beautiful morning with a rich blue sky.  Maybe soon this picture will include a trail of little ducks dotting our pond...

August 30, 2015

A Duck Nest

As I wrote in a previous post, I noticed that the ducks weren't laying eggs in the coop anymore and I had an inkling that Mrs. Bossy Pants (as the boys named her) might be hiding her eggs somewhere in the yard.  I watched where the birds were going in the morning and discovered their little nest.  It was nestled in the dry leaves by a couple dead trees, right at the edge of the woods near the pond.  There were two eggs in it when I found it.

I told Josh that it looked like the ducks were determined to raise some babies, and we decided to let them try for some ducklings.  This meant, however, that we needed to seriously get busy building an enclosure for them so that when the mom started to sit on the eggs she would be safe.  We debated what to do in terms of trying to fence in where their nest was or move it.  We thought they would certainly be safer up by the chickens, but it would also be good for them to be near the pond when the babies were ready to go out for a swim.  Looking at where the duck nest was, we just couldn't get a fence in the spot because of the dead trees and uneven ground.  So, in the end we decided on a compromise: move the nest out about fifteen feet, under the willow tree, where we could safely fence it in but it would still be close to the pond and the woods.

First thing we had to do was fish the "floating" duck house out of the pond, where we had never succeeded in getting the ducks to use it.  We widened the opening at the front as well to let in more light and air.  Then we set it in place under the willow tree.

At this point, I carefully carried over the dry leaves and other nesting material the birds had pushed together in the woods.  I placed their two eggs in the nest, just inside the duck house where they could see them.  

Next, we needed to fence it in.  We wanted to do this project with as much reused material as possible so my husband went scavenging around his workshop.  We collected a trailer of items to use: a few t-posts, a portion of a roll of welded wire fencing, some treated wood boards, scrap metal, old hinges, zip ties and screws.  The only things we needed to buy were a few more t-posts and a little more welded wire fencing.

I measured out an eight foot square around the duck house and set the t-posts in the ground while Josh used his welder to construct a gate.

Then we worked together to run the welded wire fencing around the edge and over the top of the enclosure.  We used zip ties to hold the roof to the sides.  A piece of wood in the center prevents the roof from sagging down too much.  We used the treated wood at the base - one board inside and one outside - to make a skirt board.  Our hope is that this will make it harder for predators to come in at the bottom.  Finally, I hung my "Ducks" sign above the gate and we made a latch with rope and a carabiner.

I put some food and water in the enclosure for the ducks and tonight we will carry them down and put them in.  Hopefully they will take to the space and add more eggs to their collection of two.

Now that's a chicken egg!

I went out this morning to take care of the girls and saw this green jewel peeking out from under the henhouse. Now that's a chicken egg, an Ameraucana to be exact!  It is small and very green. Here it is compared with a regular size egg from our neighbors:

Chicken eggs usually start small and get larger as the chicken lays more.

If you've been reading my posts, you'll know that we started getting eggs last week.  We thought they were chicken eggs but then realized they were actually from the duck due to their enormous size, timing of when they were laid and where we found them. There is no doubt that this little one is from a chicken though!  

Speaking of the ducks, they haven't given us eggs in a couple days. I have a suspicion she may be hiding them somewhere in the yard. I'll have to do some searching and see if I can find a nest...

August 27, 2015

Double yolk-er

This morning I collected our fourth duck egg when I let the birds out. It was even bigger and harder than the last few. I cleaned it and placed it in the fridge. Tonight when I was looking for something to make for dinner I noted that we had a lot of eggs from Frank and Rita's chickens and our ducks. So I decided to do a quiche. I cracked the chicken eggs first then added the duck egg last. When I cracked it open there was a surprise: two yolks!  If you look at the picture above you can see them side by side in the bowl, so much richer orange than the chicken yolks. When the quiche came out of the oven it was a beautiful pale orange color from that one duck egg!  

Article on "Countryside" magazine website

My neighbor Rita recently started writing online content for Backyard Poultry and Countryside magazines.  She connected me with the editor, who asked me if I too would like to write for them.  I gladly accepted!  It seemed like a neat opportunity to write some longer pieces, sharing stories, recipes, experiences and photographs of life here on the farm.  My first piece was published today: "Six Uses for Your Watermelon Plant's Bounty."  Check it out!

I also added a section to my website called Articles, where I will create an archive of my articles as they are published.  You can access it from the top menu bar on the site or at this address:

August 25, 2015

The mystery of the giant first egg: solved

I went out this morning to let the ladies out and I saw an egg as soon as I stepped into the run, before I let the chickens out. It hit me: now I know why these first eggs have been huge!  They aren't chicken eggs. They are duck eggs.  That explains why they have been laid on the ground too.  Mystery solved!  

We thought the ducks were nesting under the pine tree by the pond but I guess they like the safety of the run or maybe it's just a matter of time of day and where they happen to be when the feeling hits and she need to lay.

So the wait is back on for the chickens to lay... 

August 24, 2015

An egg comparison

We got another egg this morning from the same chicken: same size and coloring, laid in the same spot as soon as she came out of the henhouse in the morning.  Above you can see the two matching light green eggs, pretty as can be. 

I decided that we would all have scrambled eggs for breakfast this morning to celebrate our first hen laying yesterday.  My middle step son Oliver put on his apron to help me crack the eggs.  Of course two eggs wouldn't feed five of us, so I got out some eggs from the grocery store as well. My neighbor Rita had told me she read that Ameraucana eggs had a richer looking yolk than typical eggs.  So first we cracked one of ours next to one from the store to check this out. Look at the comparison:

The one on the left is our Ameraucana egg. The one on the right is an "organic, free range" brown egg from the grocery store. Amazing!  The yolk on ours was bigger and much deeper orange. It will be interesting to see how the Rhode Island Red eggs compare when they start to lay.

Note: since I put this post up originally we realized that this egg I thought was an ameraucana was actually a duck egg!  

August 23, 2015

Our first egg!!

I went out to check on the chickens this afternoon.  I just had a feeling I should go out and see what they were up to and peek into the nesting boxes.  Our neighbor's chickens have been laying eggs for about a month now and they are about a month older than ours.  So we kept thinking, any day now...

I looked in the nesting boxes but all I saw were the glass eggs we put in to give them an idea what the nests were for.  I was feeling disheartened when I stepped into the run.  I knelt down to take some pictures of the girls when something caught my eye.  There's a corner of the coop where the birds like to dust bathe and my husband has been putting things there, like paver stones, to discourage them because they are digging out the ground by the fencing.  Right by the paver, there was what looked like a rather large stone but when I came closer I saw, it was our first egg!  

It's huge!  When I washed it, I saw that it was an Ameraucana egg, light green in color.  It was still warm when I picked it up.  All the boys came running when I said I found an egg.  They each held it reverently, smelling it, rolling it around in their hands, looking at all it's markings...

Many of you know that my neighbor and I have a friendly competition going on with our chickens.  First it was the chicken coops in her post titled: A tale of 2 coops.  Rita put up another post on her blog recently titled: The tale of 2 coops: a new generation of egg layers.  It was about her newly laying chickens and how hers beat ours out the gates with the first egg.  I think we have hers beat in terms of size though.  Check out our first egg next to one of her first; it's almost twice the size!  

What an exciting day!  I'll let everyone know when they are laying enough that we can start selling.  Should be soon.

Bean salad

If you read my post yesterday, you saw that I was feeling a little overwhelmed by the quantity of beans I've been harvesting and exhausted with making dilly beans. This morning I looked around at some recipes online and in my cookbooks. I decided to make my own version of the pickled three bean salad in the ball blue book of canning.  I took their general idea, minus the celery which I didn't have, switching honey for sugar, and altering the quantities of ingredients some based on what I had available and flavors I prefer...

I mixed the 5 lbs of trimmed assorted beans from the garden with a diced onion and 7 small sweet peppers from the garden.  All of that went in the pot (above) with water. I boiled it about 10 minutes then drained the veggies. 

Meanwhile I made a brine of 8 cups of cider vinegar, 4.5 cups of water, 3 tablespoons of salt, 2.5 teaspoons of celery seed, 2.5 tablespoons of mustard seed and 2.5 cups of honey. I brought this to a boil for a few minutes to blend the flavors.

Finally I packed the jars with the veggies and filled with brine, leaving about 1/2" headspace.  They are in the hot water bath now, processing 15 minutes. This quantity made 5.5 quart jars. 

They look so pretty!  I can't wait to serve them at our next BBQ. They'll make a lovely side dish. 

August 22, 2015

Beans, beans and more beans

My bean vines are like the gift that just keeps giving!  I have been harvesting a huge basket of them every few days. I have cooked them fresh, put them in soups, frozen bags of them, given them to family and made jars and jars of dilly beans.  Today I picked another basketful and spent the whole length of "The Goonies" trimming and cutting them up. Whew, that was a lot of beans!  I need some inspiration - I just can't make another jar of dilly beans - so tomorrow I think I'm going to research recipes for bean salad.  Check back and see what I find!

August 15, 2015

The benefits of chicken sitting

We have been watching our neighbors' chickens for them while they went away for a couple of days.  It's pretty easy business: make sure they have food and water mostly. Their rooster is getting pretty aggressive though. When I opened the door to get the water bowl, he came flying towards me so I closed the door and got a little rake which I displayed to him when I went back in. He seemed to get the point and left me alone after that. 

The great part about chicken sitting is the eggs.  Since ours aren't laying yet it was nice to go over and get almost a half dozen pretty free, fresh eggs.  I had an omelet for breakfast this morning and boy was it good!  

The tiniest little brown egg was still warm from the bird when I picked it up. You can see the variety in egg size from their flock right now, which is mostly because of age. The chickens they got at Easter are just starting to lay, and their eggs are tiny. The bigger ones are from the older birds. The color variation is because they have several breeds. Together they make for another beautiful Montessori lesson in darkest to lightest.   

August 14, 2015

Cinnamon Pickled Watermelon Rind

As many of you saw in my last post, our watermelons are starting to ripen and we have a great influx of fruit to eat all of the sudden.  After we cut up the first one, my husband looked at the huge pile of rind left over and said, "What do you want me to do with all of this?"  I remembered having seen recipes for pickled watermelon rind so I said, "Throw it in the fridge.  I'll see what I can do with it."  That led me to the adventure of the last two days...

I looked in my cookbooks, on Pinterest, on various websites, and I finally settled on a recipe to try for Cinnamon Pickled Watermelon Rind.  Here's the one I decided on:

On the first day...

1. Cut off any remaining pink fruit from the rind.

2. Use a potato peeler to remove the hard outer skin from the rind.

3. Cut the rind up into about 1" chunks.  My one watermelon from the garden yielded about 17 cups of rind, a little more than the recipe called for but I just threw it all in.

4. At this point, I had three bowls.  The extra watermelon (fruit) I gave to the chickens.  The rind I tried to grind up for the birds but it was too mealy so I threw it in the compost.  Lastly, you'll have your prepared chunks of rind, which need to go in a big bowl or pan.

5. Cover the chunks of rind in cold water and add 1 cup of salt.  Cover and put it in the fridge to soak overnight.

On the second day...

6. Dump the chunks in a colander and rinse them off.  Put them back into the pot and cover with cold water again.  Bring them to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for about ten minutes.  The recipe says they should be fork soft at this point, like a potato before you mash it.  When finished, dump them back into the colander and use your pot to prepare the brine.

 7. In making the brine, I strayed a little from the recipe.  More sugar than vinegar seemed extreme to me so I made mine with equal parts: 5 cups sugar, 5 cups vinegar.  (I always like to have a little extra liquid so I don't run short trying to fill my jars.)  Also add 4 cinnamon sticks.  Bring it to a boil and then simmer five minutes, mixing to dissolve the sugar.

8. Add the watermelon rind back into the pot and cook on low until the pieces look translucent.  The recipe says an hour but mine were done in about 45 minutes.

9. Pack the sterilized jars with rind and pour brine over to fill, leaving your 1/2" headspace.  Process in boiling water bath for 10 minutes and then finally, after two days, you are done!

My 12 pound watermelon from the garden made five pint jars of pickles.  Check them out at the farmer's market this week!  

My husband said when he tried them: "Tastes like apple pie."  They have the texture of a baked apple and some of that same sweet cinnamon-i-ness.  I have read that in the south, they put watermelon rind pickles on everything from ice cream to pork sandwiches.  I hope you will try them and send me a comment through my website to tell me what you think.

August 12, 2015

A watermelon feast

I went out the see how my watermelons were doing and found one had grown quite large so I picked it and brought it in for dessert tonight. I tried to weigh it but it was too much for my small scale so my husband cut it in two and weighed each half... weight: 12 pounds, 4 ounces.  A feast for the whole family!  We only ate half of it and we were stuffed.  That baby had a ton of seeds too. Initially we tried to pick them out nicely but after a couple slices gave up and just started spitting them on the counter. It's more fun that way anyway!  A true taste of summer: a good watermelon mess -

I think tomorrow I might try making watermelon rind pickles. 

Moving day!

Last night we finished the items that were left on the small coop, fenced off a part of the run and moved those babies over.  The rooster immediately started pacing back and forth around them, trying to peck at them through the fence. You could see his little wheels turning: who are these little creatures?  Should I eat them or protect them?  How do I get in there?

No one was able to breech the fence, much to our relief, and when I came back out later everyone was ok. The one issue was all the babies had exited the coop into the run but seemed afraid to come back in. They were huddled under the ramp for the night. Since the fencing is temporary we didn't put in a gate. That meant I had to try to reach out and grab them from inside the coop. Boy, was that fun!  

I got about ten of them and put them in but couldn't reach anymore. I thought maybe the others would follow the light and the happy sound of their sisters eating and chirping but not so much. So I tried the old food trick to lure them in. I sprinkled some on the bottom step and waited until they came to eat. Then I slowly added more up the ramp until they came up to the doorway. Once they saw their siblings inside the ran in to join. Finally I got them all in safely for the night. I'm hoping this is something they will learn quickly!  

August 10, 2015

A most spectacular rainbow

This afternoon it started to drizzle; then it started to pour; then lightening came.  I looked out the window to see that the birds were all waiting by the door, which the wind had blown shut.  I ran out, getting soaked, to open it for them, but they had scattered by then to spots all over the yard - under the water tank, under the trailers, under the new coop... they had found shelter all on their own.  Smart chickens.

So I went back in and continued my evening, feeling a little down and tired.  An hour or so later, I looked out the window again to check on the girls and my breath caught in my chest.  A most spectacular view - I ran outside to see it without a window in the way - a full rainbow, bright and colorful filled the sky over the backyard.  Then a second, fainter arch appeared above it, a double full rainbow.  The last time I saw this same sight was the day my mother passed away.  I stood there for as long as it lasted, savoring it, watching it transform.  It was so beautiful.

It is interesting if you really watch a rainbow to see how it changes.  This one started as a single, full arch.  Then the upper rainbow appeared, fainter but also a full arch.  The upper arch quickly faded but the original one lasted a long time, almost ten minutes.  When it started to go, it split at the middle, fading out towards its ends.  The left side disappeared faster but the right side lasted almost another ten minutes.  It came and went for a bit, looking like it was undulating up from the ground into the sky.  Finally, it was all gone, the last piece evaporating into the clouds.

These are the moments that make you live in the present, forget all else that's on your mind and just be there, appreciating the beauty of this world.

The proud rooster finally crows

Our rooster stands tall and proud as he struts about the yard. He is bigger, more colorful and taller than all the other birds. Recently he's gotten some shimmery emerald green tail feathers. When it's getting dark and he is trying to corral his girls into the coop, he gets mouthy and bossy. They don't always listen but he is insistent!  Yesterday we heard his first real crow: a hearty cock-a-doodle-doo.  I was working in the garden midday while the boys swam and I heard it. It took a minute to register and just as I ran over to ask my family if they heard it too, he did it again: cock-a-doodle-doo!  Our boy is finding his voice.  Hopefully he won't start getting mean because he is fun to watch as he tries to manage his ladies and keep everyone in line.  

August 9, 2015

Getting ready for another move

The new girls are getting so big!  They are quickly outgrowing their small home in the workshop so we are preparing to move them out into the big coop with the older ladies. In order to keep them safe we are creating an attached but separate space for them, using the small coop we started with. We butted it up against the run and cut a hole in the fencing. 

Now we just need to fence off a little of the run for them and it'll be ready for them. This will enable the different generations of birds to get used to each other without risk of the older ones hurting the younger. Hopefully we will get them out there in the next few days... Stay posted.