July 29, 2016

Five Roosters

When you buy pullets (female chicks) from Mt. Healthy Hatchery, they only guarantee 90% accuracy on sexing them.  That means that in our batch of sixty chicks last time, we had a possibility of six roosters.  We think we actually ended up with four.  Let me introduce them to you.

1. The Pretty One

He's a Welsummer, the chicken on the Corned Flake box.  Thus, my husband often refers to him as the "corn flakes bird."  He loves the ladies and is often seen chasing one across the yard.  He and the big Barred Rock have been seen sparring a little in the yard lately.  They seem to be the two most dominant in the bunch.  This guy is not only the prettiest rooster, with his shiny green tail feathers, but he also has the clearest, loudest crow.  

2. Gimpy Bird 

This rooster, also a Welsummer, earned the name "gimpy bird" when he hurt his leg early on.  We thought that maybe he was low on the totem pole and was getting picked on by other birds so we isolated him in the baby coop for a little r&r.  Then when we let him back out with the others he disappeared into the woods, and we thought he was gone, but a week or so later he reappeared.  It became clear from his large tail feathers and pretty plumage that he, too, was a rooster.  His leg is mostly healed, but he'll probably always walk with a bit of a limp.  Despite his handicap, he's the king of chasing the girls.  Once he has his eye on a hen, he doesn't give up until he mounts her, even if it involves a pursuit all over the yard.    

3. The Yellow One

The third rooster, also a Welsummer, turned colors while we were in Michigan.  We came back and it's feathers looked like they were painted yellow.  It's a pretty mellow bird, also a lover of the ladies, but not as aggressive in its overtures as the others.  Somehow, out of only five Welsummer chicks, three were roosters!  We called Mt. Healthy on that one and they agreed to give us a credit of three birds on our next order.  

4. Big Barred Rock Boy

This big guy is in charge.  He's absolutely enormous and has his pick of the girls.  Occasionally we catch him and the prettiest Welsummer getting into it, often over a hen they were both eyeing.  The Barred Rock rooster looks out for his girls.  When he finds something good to eat, he lets out a loud crow to let them all know about it.  He often sounds like he's has a frog in his throat though.  It's funny to hear him crow.

You're probably wondering why I made the title of this post "Five Roosters" if we only got four.  The answer is below - a strange little bird we recently received from a Friend who couldn't keep it anymore.

5. The Rooster wearing Legwarmers

This little bird is a hoot.  Doesn't he look like he's wearing legwarmers?  He's also got an extra toe.  Our friend Sue keeps chickens but usually gets Bantams, which are like miniature chickens.  This spring she decided to try some full-sized birds because they were the only ones she could buy sexed.  Well, they turned out to be too big for her space so she asked if they could come live at the farm.  Along with a few hens came this odd little bird.  She said, "He's probably a rooster.  I haven't heard him crow but he's big for a Silkie."  And so, we came to have five roosters.  Our neighbors across the street have a female Silkie that their granddaughter named Unusual.  What a perfect name for this type of chicken.  Maybe we can get them together and have some unusual little babies.

July 28, 2016

A wet summer

This has been a really wet summer.  We have had a number of drenching storms where the rain just falls and falls and falls.  Early this morning another such thunderstorm hit.  

On the news this morning they showed where the worst of the weather was and our house was smack dab in the center of it.  They reported upwards of two inches of rain per hour fell and the storm went on for hours.  We knew it was bad because our larger dog, who is usually very carefree was crying loudly that she wanted up on the bed.  My husband picked her up and she snuggled in between us while the rain smacked against the windows, the lightening lit up the room and the thunder boomed.

This morning when I came down, it was still drizzling outside.  I put on my raincoat and went out to open the coop.  I could see from there that the pond was way full.

I walked closer to check it out and saw that the water had overtaken the dam and was flowing freely over the hill to the road.  It was so muddy and full of debris too.

Not only was the pond full, but the pool was actually overflowing.  Amazing, I've never seen it that high!  From the looks of this, we probably got close to 8" of rain.

You know the weather is icky when you look out in the yard and don't see any chickens!  Most chose to stay in the coop, but some came out and sought shelter elsewhere.  There were a bunch hiding under trailers, some on the workshop's covered porch and a few under the lean-to by the garden.

We were glad that we finally got the gutter system completed this week.  It's muddy around the coop because we need to plant grass, but it's not under water so that's good progress!  We need to start fencing off portions of the area and planting grass seed.  It's so hard to get anything to grow with those birds always scratching at the ground.  It's gonna take some real patience to do it in chunks and let the grass get established before we move the fence and start a new spot.

The ducks, on the other hand, were exuberant when I let them out.  They came charging out into the rain, flapping their wings and gleefully running about.  They promptly buried their bills in the mud, foraging for insects and yummy morsels in the soft ground.  It only took about two minutes for the ducklings to turn brown.  I guess playing in the mud is fun for children of any species! 

Read my newest story and learn to make Dandelion Wine

My latest story on Countryside details our whole adventure learning to make dandelion wine from picking the flowers all the way through bottling the wine several months later. 

July 27, 2016

Making Pickles in my Great-Great-Grandmother's Crock

When we came home from Michigan, my cucumbers had exploded on the vine - I easily filled a five gallon bucket with fruit.  

Since I've been getting so into fermenting lately, I was interested in trying fermented pickles.  I talked to my aunt, who I knew had fermented sauerkraut before.  She said she did little pickles once too and offered me the family crock if I wanted to use it.  

It's a nice crock: six gallons and it has handles!
She explained the history of generations who had used this same crock:
She got it from her grandmother, as her mother didn't have any interest in food preservation.  Her grandmother had a dairy farm, where she had used the crock regularly to pickle things they grew.  Her grandmother had most likely gotten it from her mother-in-law.  So, including me that's four generations to use it!  I eagerly said yes, I wanted it.

I found some old pictures in a family album of the ladies who touched my treasured old crock through the years.  

Minnie (my great-great grandmother) with her son, Willard, and his wife, Nancy.  This picture was taken at Burns Crossing Farm, where Willard and Nancy raised dairy cattle, a few pigs and chickens.
Here you can see three generations: Nancy (my great-grandmother), Minnie (great-great-grandmother) and Bettie (grandmother).  Bettie never had much interest in food preservation so the crock went right from her to her daughter (my aunt).
Here is Nancy with my aunt Pat.  Nancy passed the crock on to her grand-daughter, Pat.

When I got the crock home, I tested it outside with the hose to make sure it was still water tight before I filled it with brine.

It passed the test so I gave it a good scrubbing and brought it inside.  

I found a recipe for Crock Pickles in the book Putting Food By and then consulted with Rita to make sure it was a good one.  She confirmed that it looked like what she had done before so I came home to get started.

I mixed the brine in the bottom first:
- one gallon apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 cup sugar
- one cup pickling salt
- one cup whole mustard seed
- dill heads 

I only had about five small dill heads on my plant so I added a little extra dill seed from the pantry since I like my pickles pretty dilly.

Then I was ready to add my cucumbers.  I had already prepared them: cleaned and ends trimmed.

I had enough to fill the crock about 1/3 full.  Then I set a clean plate on them and weighted it down with a pint jar filled with water and sealed.  This serves the purpose of keeping the cucumbers submerged.

Finally, I covered it with a clean towel and set it in a corner of the kitchen.  The recipe in the book said it needed to be kept fairly cool, near 40 degrees.  This was one thing I consulted on with Rita because there's no place in our house that cold.  She looked through her older recipes and they all said to keep the crock around 70 degrees to encourage fermentation.  This is similar to what my kombucha recipes call for so it seemed to make sense to me.  I'm hoping that with the air conditioning, this corner of the kitchen will work alright for my pickles.

Later in the week, I added more cucumbers from my plants to the crock so that it was about half full.

At that point I put 1/2 cup of salt on top of the plate that's holding the cucumbers under the brine.  The recipe says to do this when the crock is half full then another half cup when it's full then 1/4 cup each week until the pickles are ready.

After about a week and a half, a brown crust of salt has formed on the outside of the crock, up to the fill line.  Rita said this is normal.  Some of the salt is leaching through, even though it's enameled, probably because the crock is so old.

I haven't yet seen the white film form across the top.  Putting Food By says this needs to be skimmed off daily to keep the acidity correct.

This sure is a learning process!  I have my fingers crossed that the conditions are right and it's beginning to ferment.  Check back, I'll post updates as they progress.

July 26, 2016

Brandied cherries are a little taste of heaven

We are getting towards the end of cherry season and I hadn't put any up yet so I got a few bags on sale at the store the other day and resolved to make something delicious from them.  

I looked through my canning books and found a recipe in one of my favorites - Canning for a New Generation (Krissoff 2010) - that I had to try: Brandied Cherries in Red Wine.  

To begin, I had to pit three pounds of cherries.  I started the tedious task with my little cherry pitter when my middle stepson, Oliver, came in and asked what I was working on.  I showed him the tool and he had to try it.  He got his apron on and, after a short tutorial, was determined to do the whole huge bowl himself.  I took the cherries after he pitted them to split them in half, checking to be sure the pits were out.  By the time we finished, we both looked like we had killed some small creature...

The syrup is simple to make.  Add two cups of brandy, one cup of wine, one cup of sugar and the zest of an orange peeled off with a vegetable peeler in long strips to a pot and bring it to a boil.  Boil for five minutes then add the cherries.  

Lower the temperature to a slow simmer and cook for a couple minutes (recipe says five-ish minutes; I did more like three), "until the cherries are tender but still hold their shape."     

Then ladle the cherries and syrup into jars.  I used 12 ounce jelly jars, and the recipe yielded about 5-1/3 jars.  Wipe the rims, cover and process in a water bath canner for five minutes.

Rita and I did a taste test on Sunday and found the syrup made for a delightful cordial, topped with a few cherries.  I'm also looking forward to trying them over vanilla ice cream!  

July 25, 2016

Ducks in a row

I'm the type of person who likes to keep my ducks are in a row.  I like order and it makes me happy to have things in their place (like a good Montessori teacher - everything in its place).

This morning as I was leaving the ducks were wandering the the front yard and I had to take a picture. 

Look at them!  The little duck family, all in line. 

At least for today, I have my ducks in a row. 

July 23, 2016

Duck family update

The baby ducks that were born while we were on vacation are thriving and growing like weeds.  In the morning they come waddling out of the coop following their mamma and the adventures begin.  We see them all over the place - in the front yard, back swimming in the pond, foraging near the garden, napping in the shade...  sometimes I wonder if their little legs are just exhausted by the end of the day.  

Their mom is looking a little tired after spending a month hatching them and now trying to keep track of them all the time.  One evening she was trying to lead them back into the coop at dusk.  They followed her until she got to the door then when she went in, they both ran the other way.  She turned around and saw they weren't behind her and came flying out of the coop, quacking loudly.  I was imagining their conversation:
"But mom!  We don't want to go to bed yet!"
"You kids get in here right now.  Don't make me say it again!"

They did eventually comply and come in for the night.

One thing that's been interesting to watch is the family dynamics.  Though the ducklings are with their mom most of the time, they do sometimes go off with their dad so she can have a break.  He is usually seen with the family too.  Occasionally he splits off though and hangs out with our little Cupcake (the one hatched by a chicken).  

Initially when the babies were born we saw all five ducks together a lot, but little Cupcake seems to be a bit of an outcast and is now usually by herself.  We are looking for a duck to be her companion if anyone has a young adult male Pekin they would part with.  We need to expand our family tree some and our girl needs a buddy!

July 22, 2016

Beet-Apple-Carrot-Ginger Juice

Since I have SO MANY beets, I've been experimenting with different ways to use them.  I tried juicing a beet by itself and it tasted a little bit like drinking dirt mixed with water and pink food coloring.  It needed some help!

This is a mixture that I find drinkable...

Two medium beets
Two medium granny smith apples
Three carrots
Two inches of ginger

I put all of this through my juicer, which made a lovely pink juice.

Now, the important part for drinkability - I divided the juice into three pint jars.  Two went into the fridge for later and the third I topped off with diet 7-up.  That little bit of fizz and sweetness put it over the top from I'm only drinking this because it's good for me to Wow, this is good.

What's your favorite juicing recipe?

July 21, 2016


I've been lax in keeping up with the garden.  It is so darn hot.  I go outside with good intentions, but quickly find myself feeling exhausted and thinking of ten projects I could work on inside...in the air conditioning...

A cool morning beckoned me outside recently though, and I got much done before the heat of the day hit.  I finally finished the weeding I started when we came back from Michigan and there was much to harvest - the fun part!

I yanked the rest of my watermelon radishes.  I've had trouble selling these to my family.  No one besides me likes the spiciness of a radish.  The only way I've found to get others to eat them is to slice them thinly, coat in olive oil and salt then cook at 425 until crisp: radish chips.  

We have been working our way through the carrots, one or two at a time.  I pulled about ten of them to use in a juicing recipe and maybe a few for dinner.  

I laid them on the ground for a minute while I went to get a tool and when I came back this chicken had her eye on them.  Can't you just hear her saying: Umm, mom, are these up for grabs cause you know I really like fresh vegetables???!

I gave the chickens the greens on top but kept the carrots for me.

Beans are amazing.  I mean, really.  These vines have soared up their trellis and are reaching for the sky.    

This one looks like it might cross over the gap and grow up onto the roof of the lean-to.  That would be fun to walk underneath!

I picked a small bowl full of beans.  Those were eaten before the day was done.

Walking under the lean-to to put some of my harvest in the shade, I caught this out of the corner of my eye.

Guess that chicken didn't feel like walking all the way over to the coop to use a nesting box.  She pushed the cool soil aside under my extra tomato cages, sat down, and dropped her egg there.  It's like Easter every day!

My calendula is bounteous with blooms so I picked a few more bunches to hang to dry.

They are hanging near the garlic that I hung a couple weeks ago.  It looks like it's just about cured and ready to trim and bring inside.

When I was finished, I had two large trays and a five gallon bucket of edible abundance.

Next came the washing.  I brought everything inside and spread out clean dish towels all over the counters.  Washing and examining food you have grown - like many parts of gardening - is meditative.  If you take your time and let yourself be filled with gratitude for all that abundance, it's such an enjoyable exercise.

I had sweet peppers, beans, my first ear of corn...

...beets, carrots, beet greens...

...tomatoes (yum)...

...patty pan squash, zucchini, cucumbers, okra...

...and kale, still going strong!

After cleaning everything and letting it dry, I packed it away until I had time to start cooking or preserving it.  Tomatoes stay out on the counter in a pretty bowl.  Cucumbers, beans, greens, okra, squash and zucchini went into the fridge.  Peppers into another bowl on the counter.  Beets and carrots into a third, covered with a light dishtowel.

In my near future I predict dilly pickles, kale and beet green pesto, some juicing experiments, radish chips, and maybe even beet relish.  There's always so much to try.

Sometimes I find myself feeling like - if only I had more time.  I have all this abundance to deal with now all at the same time.  When I feel that way, I remind myself to just enjoy what I can do.  If we can't eat something when it's ready or I don't have time to preserve everything, the chickens will always eat what we can't.  And watching chickens enjoy fresh food is a joy in itself!


"The fastest way to bring more wonderful examples of abundance into your personal experience is to take constant notice of the wonderful things that are already there."
- Esther Hicks

May the sun bring you new energy every day.
May the moon softly restore you by night.
May the rain wash away your worries.
May the breeze blow new strength into your being.
May you walk gently through the world
and know its beauty all the days of your life.
- Apache prayer