27 February 2015

Strawberry SCORE

Just got back from grocery shopping, and our local Winn-Dixie has strawberries on sale for $1.69 per pound!  I haven't seen a sale price that low in a couple years ... we won't mention how many years it may or may not have been since I saw that as a regular price.

Six pounds of strawberries.  A 25 pound bag of sugar on sale.  Two dozen new "quilted" half-pint jelly jars on sale.  The gal running the checkout commented, "You're going to make jam!"  Hehehe.  Then out in the parking lot, one of the baggers walked up and offered me a helping hand, and immediately noticed all the strawberries, the jelly jars, and the big bag of sugar.  "Oh, wow, you're making jelly.  My great-grandma did that all the time!"   When I protested that I am no quite that old, he chuckled and explained: "Great-grandma is a hundred now.  She lived through the Depression, and she had so many skills!"  There sounded like a note of awe in his tone.

So, now a few minutes to rest after my successful hunting trip ... then the processing of the strawberries will commence.

Volunteer acorn squash AGAIN

You might think, after a handful of years, that I might learn acorn squash seeds do not compost.  Well, it won't be this year again.  After digging in the nice beautiful almost-black compost pile a couple weeks ago, we now have a slew of volunteer acorn squash sprouts almost everywhere we used the compost.

In with the cabbage and chard.  Among the lettuces and collards.  Even in the compost pile itself.
acorn squash sprout towering over lettuce and collard sprouts

acorn squash sprout in between cabbage transplants

acorn squash sprouts in the compost pile
So far (knock on wood!) no sprouts in the seed trays in the greenhouses, although I used compost in those also.  Maybe this year, we'll get a couple acorn squash before the local wildlife does.  It could happen.

24 February 2015

We have sprouts

We decided to use the two small greenhouses we've received over the past year or so to start things like tomatoes, peppers, and any other delicates that might need a headstart rather than constantly buying transplants (though obviously we still do, me in particular).  Hubby mentioned checking the little greenhouses out and we have sprouts!
hubby shimming the smaller greenhouse

catnip and something else in top tray
tomatoes in middle tray

middle and bottom tray both tomatoes
I'll need to look back to see what I planted in with the catnip in the top tray, but those two tomato trays have a mix of Brandywine, San Marzanzo, and Mortgage Lifter.  Which have sprouted?  Errr ... give me a couple months to figure that out.

That cabbage and chard transplants are looking happy and healthy in the compost.  Neither freeze nor chilly wind phased either of them.
45-day cabbage and Swiss chard
Now, for the final garden pic, my best-looking Florida broadleaf mustard green plant has decided to bolt, and in a very pretty fashion.  This is the one I particularly want to save seeds from.
FL broadleaf mustard plant bolting

23 February 2015

BLR Wyandotte chicks from Luanne

First up, the BLR stands for Blue-Laced Red, although mine are all black phase.  I separated the cockerels from the pullets the other week, but they have not exactly been cooperative about pictures until today.  The cockerels still weren't exactly thrilled with the concept, but I got a couple good pics of three out of the four.
Azar in the middle, with the secondary on the left
and the single-combed on the right

Another pic of Azar (middle), the secondary (left)
and the single-combed cockerel
Yes, one of the cockerels has a name, and now y'all can get a feel for why I named him for the regional Big Boy restaurant chain: he is visibly and significantly larger than the other three.  That is not all feathers, either, as I put my hands on all the boys yesterday, to their disgust.  (Ew!  A female touched us!)  Azar will be put in with the best of the hatchery pullets when they get old enough.

Now, for the pullet side of the equation: the girls were much more amiable about the whole visit.  Not only did I get some good pics, they let me touch them with a lesser amount of fuss than yesterday.  The nice tender green weeds just outside the bantie house helped their tolerance level.  LOL
all 5 BLR Wyandotte pullets
from 8 Acre Farm

four of the BLRW pullets, including the single-combed girl

the two biggest BLRW pullets from Luanne

all five BLRW pullets, with my favorite in front
I am thinking about naming that pretty and good-sized pullet in the front in the last pic Bertha.  She feels pretty solid under those fluffy feathers, although she is the least fond of being touched right now.  The four rose-combed girls will all go in with Feyd when they reach laying age.

22 February 2015

Chicks in morning sunlight

Just my attempt to share the happy sight this morning of my youngest chicks bouncing and cheeping as the morning sunlight filters through the top of the tree line.
cockerel pen, with suspected pullet

cockerel pen

pullet pen, with a suspected cockerel

pullet pen
It is completely by chance that I have pictures of the two suspected "others" in each tractor.  The chicks usually don't hold still enough to even be in focus, much less get a specific one in the frame!  One of these years, I guess I'll need to figure out how to do a short video.  Until then, you will just have to take my word on how cute these chicks are bouncing and cheeping in the morning sun.

20 February 2015

Canning weather

Yes, the cold front made it down this far south.  Since the house is built to dissipate heat instead of retain it, I have been canning yesterday and today.  Yesterday was a second batch of orange marmalade, and I ended up with another 20 half-pints of marmalade.  I had given about six pairs of marmalade away at hubby's grandmother's birthday party on Sunday ... good thing I took that much up, too!  Everyone wanted to take some home to try.
boiled orange slices, ready to marmalade
So yesterday was water-bath canning the marmalade.  Today is pressure-canning up four pints of chicken meat and six pint-and-half jars of rehydrated beans for summer cooking.

The  observant will notice the absence of chicken stock ... that was due to a mistake on my part.  The biggest stock pot didn't fit into the spare refrigerator without moving shelves.  Instead of asking hubby to fix this situation for me, I thought the stock would be fine left out ... but I was wrong.  We didn't get as cold as fast as they originally forecast, and the stock went funky.  I am still a bit annoyed at myself for that.  I wasted four good cockerel carcasses and giblets.  Live, learn ... and compost the mistakes.  As long as I learn from this mishap, hubby says not to fret too much about it - he had been kicking himself last month when one of the carcasses went funky because the storage bag didn't "zip" properly and neither of us double-checked the bags.  That one was cooked up and fed to the various other chickens.

Speaking of chickens ... we lost two of the younger Wyandotte chicks overnight.  One, a very small pullet, was no surprise since she was acting down yesterday so we medicated her and hoped for the best.  The other, a cockerel, was of a decent size and had shown no indication of weakness ... plus it looked this morning like he had been on the bottom of the pile-up and just got squashed.  We tarped all the tractors the past few nights, first to keep off the rain, then to keep out the wind and keep at least some of the heat in for the chicks.  This is another good argument for having broody hens and chick-rearing capons here in the future.

16 February 2015

All chicks outdoors

Hubby just finished up the second new chick tractor, and we moved the mixed suspected pullets out into it, after moving the mixed suspected cockerels out yesterday afternoon.  Pic bomb time.
mixed cockerels

suspected cockerels hiding in the shadow

suspected mixed pullets, out in sun

suspected pullets
Now, for the best I can do of a pic of Azar.  The Wyandotte "kids" aren't exactly cooperating ... again.
5-week-old Wyandotte cockerels
Now, to goof off a little before the rain moves in this evening or night.

14 February 2015

Chicken update 14 Feb 2015

I haven't done a chicken update post for a little while ... and there won't be too many pictures this morning as it is cold outside and the bird-brains are not posing for the camera at all.  It took me four tries to get an in-focus pic of Beardie.
Beardie, the Easter Egger cockerel at 15 weeks
As for the pullets in the tractor with him ... they had no interest at all in having their pics taken.  All four are doing just fine though - Penny, Darkie, Goldie, and Bright Eyes.  These five are the last of the Halloween chicks.

The Wyandotte "kids" I bought in Alachua County from Luanne are doing well also.  I separated the cockerels from the pullets, and have four boys (one a single-combed).  One of the cockerels is very noticeably larger than the other three, so I have named him Azar ... he is a "Big Boy!"  Yes, I know that in some areas Big Boy restaurants have a different name than Azar's, but those can be for future cockerels who are obviously faster-growing.  No pics of them or the five pullets, as they were hiding in the shadows.

The sorta-birthday chicks are also thriving, with the crew still in the brooder shed zipping around the tubs a bit too fast this morning to get anything but colored blurs in pics.  The Gold-Laced Wyandottes are getting in some very pretty feathers, while the red broilers are growing and growing and eating like gluttons.  Not quite like the Cornish-Rock broilers, but very close!  I brought thirteen of the most boisterous boys out of the shed the other day, and they are still adapting to their new surroundings ... there is still way too many blades of tender green grass.
13 boisterous and rowdy red broiler cockerels outside
The rest of the young chicks will be moving out of the shed in the next few days, as hubby has been building two new large triangle chick tractors.
new chick tractor in progress

new chick tractor up on sawhorses for finishing
I will move the Wyandotte cockerels and the rest of the red broiler cockerels out when the first is finished up (probably today!) which will leave the Wyandotte pullets and two or three broiler pullets in the shed.  I have very few pullets, and have called up Lynn to see how many she has.  I will happily trade her cockerels for the pullets just to have more of a choice in which to keep to hatch out half-broilers.

I slaughtered the last three cockerels from the Halloween assortment, and like the red cockerel these were mostly feathers and attitude.  I now have four carcasses to pull off the large meat for canning, then simmer down the rest with the giblets.  Hubby really likes how tender and flavorful the canned chicken meat come out, especially the dark meat.  I continued practicing the caponizing procedure on the already-deceased cockerels, and felt like a bull in the china shop for the first two.  I took a break, had a little more coffee and a cigarette, then went out to try a third time.  That one went a lot better than the earlier two, but I am still not feeling confident enough to practice on anything other than a carcass.  The learning curve is very steep for caponizing!  The good news is, I have plenty of red broiler cockerels coming up.

12 February 2015

Orange and grapefruit marmalade

Otherwise known as "kitchen work - review."  I did not get everything accomplished on Tuesday that I had hoped, but I did get a good enough start on all but the bread pudding to finish up yesterday ... and still have time to crash out for a nap in the afternoon.  Both marmalades are finished and water-bathed.  The orange marmalade was my first time doing up a marmalade of any kind, and it's a bit thin because I took it off the heat just a couple minutes too soon.  The grapefruit marmalade is the perfect gel consistency, and it has that distinctive grapefruit tang/bitterness to it that may just be the perfect glaze for grilled meats.  Oh, I am now officially out of half-pint jars again.
grapefruit marmalade ready to be water bathed

orange marmalade in the water bath
No pics of the ketchup or barbecue sauce, as I have done a post on those previously.  I also did up the flour tortillas.
cooking the flour tortillas

kneaded flour tortilla dough resting before rolling out
My neighbor Maria gave us the grapefruits and oranges.  I'm pretty sure she said her sister has the trees, and had a good crop again this year.  This is really getting me excited for when our citrus trees finally start producing!  I have orange, lemon, lime, tangerine, and sweet kumquat trees out there still growing.

Now, time for a different sort of chore today: slaughtering the three cockerels.

10 February 2015

Kitchen work

Today is an all-day cooking marathon here.  Already started orange marmalade two days ago, and have a crock pot going with ketchup, some of which will be further converted to barbecue sauce.  Also on the list are grapefruit marmalade, flour tortillas, and ... bread pudding with orange-soaked dried cranberries.  I'll also zest the peels and juice the rest of the oranges.  We had to toss some out due to fungus/mold/whatever fuzzy growth, so I need to get my (*donkey*) in gear and get them put up.  Live, learn, and compost the mistakes.

08 February 2015

First time using caponizing tools

Warning:  Graphic description in this post (but no pics)

First of all, the cockerel was slaughtered before I tried out the caponizing tools.  I know I mentioned one of the white cockerels had basically volunteered for the stock pot, but he was easier to catch than the red cockerel, so the red went to the tree of destiny first.  This was probably a Production Red cockerel, given his appearance and poor attitude towards the world in general.  The production red cockerels and roosters have a reputation for just being mean to chicken and human alike.  Whether he was or was not a production red, he certainly was not going to go quietly into the night ... as I was securing his feet at the tree he took the opportunity to given my shirt several frustrated nips.  Ornrey to the end!

Now, for the initial use of the caponizing tools, I was doing this solo.  Hubby had gone into town to get a bigger pipe wrench to fix a new leak in the pump house, that appeared overnight (and of course on the weekend!).  My headlamp has not yet been delivered, so I was also poking around with limited light.  Any wonder why I did not try on a live bird?

The testes were smaller than I anticipated, which made them a little harder to locate at first, but I used the kidney as the landmark and looked anterior (in front of) to that.  I was able to get one out through the incision and rib spreader, but just could not get a good enough hold on the other so I turned the cockerel over and tried from the other side.  That side did not go as well, as first I broke a rib with the spreader then still could not get a hold of the second teste.

I will need to work with the tools some more.  Along with reorganizing which ones I take out with me, I need to work the spreaders more until they no longer feel so awkward.  I will also make sure the next two I try on are already slaughtered.  Because I bleed my birds out for slaughter, I am not seeing the vena cava that runs between the two testes, so that will be something to be mindful about when I get comfortable enough to try caponizing a live bird.

The red cockerel sort of had the last laugh.  There is hardly any meat on him, and no visible fat, so I am going to need my cooking creativity to get more than just one meal out of him.  I guess he was too busy scratching, pecking, and squabbling with the others to put on any significant amount of weight.

07 February 2015

Transplanted raspberries, more seeds started

I started off this morning okay ... hubby volunteered to dig the holes for the two new raspberry canes we bought yesterday, so all I had to do was grab up a small bucket of compost and my gloves.  Mysore raspberries have thorns ... not that the dog is in any way discouraged from fertilizing the raspberries in the least.  No problem.  Just lean over, work the plastic container off them, massage the roots so it knows it can once again expand in its own shape, hold it ground level while putting some compost around, then firm up the loose soil.
two new mysore raspberry canes
No problem, and it gave me something to do while waiting for the clothes washer to finish up the final rinse and final spin.  Then I went to hang up the laundry ... and my back let me know I either moved wrong or did too much already.  Insert vulgar profanity learned in factories and the army here.

I took the half-(*donkey*)ed pain pills VA gives me nowadays and laid down for a few hours.  I had also sorted out the seed packets over coffee earlier, and had a handful to start in with the tomatoes and peppers in the little greenhouses.  (Note to self: need pic of little greenhouses.)  So I knitted and rested up then went back out to rearrange cockerels for tomorrow and plant some seeds: Carmen sweet peppers I had saved seeds from in fall 2013, pasilla bajo peppers, garlic chives, and catnip.  Almost all were in packets marked 2013 or 2014, except the pasilla peppers.  I know I bought some previously ... I just can't seem to find them right now.

Instead of using potting soil, I used our compost.  They really do look almost identical - the potting soil has little white and green bead-looking thingies in it, but that is the only difference.

I think I'll add three more raspberry canes to the patch, then see if that is enough or not.

06 February 2015

Transplanting cabbage and chard

A big trip to town today, which included hitting both Tractor Supply and Lowe's ... and both have their early spring planting stuff out finally.  I picked up only two transplants this time: 45 day cabbage and swiss chard "bright lights" variety.  Most of the stalks on the chard are a red almost fuchsia - fun fun.  I shoveled a bit more compost from the 2yr old pile into the garden box, as it had settled a bit after our couple days of rain.  Here they are:
the garden box with cabbage and chard added

45-day cabbages and bright lights Swiss chard

05 February 2015

Another merry chase

So, Corey the black bantam rooster got out again.  This time he led us on an even longer merry chase than the first time, where we came home at dusk to find him trash-talking at Elf through the wire.  This time I was trying to catch him and put him in the carrier so we could move the pen to a different section of grass between the garden boxes ... and he slipped right past me and out into the yard.  Along with running around the chicken coop several times, he also ran around the garden boxes, across the driveway, around the electric perimeter (off until it gets darker), between the house and workshop, back to in front of the house, back behind the carport and shed, then back again to circle the coop and garden boxes ... and finally he ran into the pen's open door and began eating like nothing of any significance happened.

I don't know if tonight's episode of chasing a chicken looked funnier than when the last Cornish-Rock pullet did her Logan's Run, but boy am I glad that neither time we looked up to see a neighbor's teenager holding a camera.  In fact, the neighbor's teenagers seem to think we are either boring or weird ... good thing, because they could probably make some bank uploading that kind of video to YouTube.

Caponizing tools are here

They arrived in today's mail, and hubby went to town to get it and a package he had been expecting (we use a PO box).  I bought these second-hand from a gal on BYC who had been trying to caponize her pet roosters, but decided she could not handle the losses that are inevitable in the learning curve.  Caponizing is usually done on meat birds, not pets.

Caponizing must truly be an almost-lost art/skill, as spellcheck hates it.  Also, it does not care for the word capon or capons or caponize ... (*sigh*), as my son would say.  My neighbor who raises grass-fed beef cattle up the road did not know what caponizing is, nor could he recall ever eating a capon.  In truth, the last time I remember seeing a capon in a grocery freezer was when I was still a kid.  Since hubby spent part of his youth in Germany while his dad was stationed over there, he has eaten capon and remembers it with great fondness and enthusiasm.
caponizing tools

the complete set of caponizing tools
and accessories
Mitzi from BYC hooked me up properly here!  The only two things I can think that weren't included are the headlamp and the antiseptic stuff to clean the incision site.  In her PM, she mentions that she almost sent her headlamp also.

I even have my first "volunteer" for the process.  One of the whitish cockerels pulled out another cockerel's flight feather yesterday afternoon - YEOUCH!  It's difficult enough to pluck a flight feather on a deceased and scalded chicken, but to yank one out of a live and squawking one?  Funny part is, I could hear one of my old drill sergeant's voice as I said, "Congratulations, sh*tbird - You just volunteered!" while pulling the guilty party out of the triangle tractor.  Since he will be the very first, I will slaughter him before I start.  He volunteered for the stock pot, not vivisection.  The drill sergeants always told us that sh*tbird was a term of endearment, and meant in an affectionate way.

02 February 2015

Chicken update 2 Feb

Just a short update on the feathered dinosaurs.  My neighbor came over and bought the other barred cockerel, once again claiming he is too pretty to eat.  No big surprise there for me.  The previous barred cockerel and Starry the barred pullet are both doing quite well, and Starry now looks more barred than mottled.  I was surprised my neighbor still has some Cornish-Rocks left ... they are almost 14 weeks old now.  Twenty-four of her 25 "surprise special" chicks are doing good, the one exception is not really growing or thriving much.

Mula died Friday morning.  I knew something was amiss when she didn't mob the door at morning feeding, just sat up on the roost with a cranky look in her eye.  I had broached the idea of giving her a proper send-off with dumplins, which seems to me to be the modern chicken's equivalent to an old Viking funeral.  Not quite a blaze of glory, but older birds tend to need a gentle simmering or stewing.  Hubby had the idea under consideration when he found her beak-in-the-dirt dead Friday morning.

So Betty is the only remaining red chicken of the trio I bought for hubby in spring 2013 as his reward for building the first part of the rampart.  We didn't know how old they were, just that the three were full grown two years ago.

Oh, the cockerel my neighbor bought tried out his voicebox for the first time this morning, while hubby was looking right at him.  I thought it amusing that hubby was so proud of the little cockerel ... almost reminded me of the roosters trying to take credit for food appearing in the coops.  I mentioned it jokingly, and hubby retorts that we've raised that one up from newly-hatched chick, so why not feel a little pride at his first attempt to crow (once the initial laughter has subsided, of course)?  It's been two years since we've raised up cockerels to the kazoo-crow stage.

01 February 2015

Pictures of dirt

Now this is a thing of true beauty: our two years in the making compost heap.  Hubby decided to start breaking in to it today, and called my attention to the lovely shade of deep rich brown, almost black, and the wonderful smell of fertile soil instead of the various stages of decomposition.
digging in to the compost heap

spreading rich compost on the garden boxes
You can really see the contrast in the half-filled garden box!  That box was filled from the compost heap last year, but what we have today is superior.

Today's outside adventures started when I decided I would prune back the raspberry cane, the grapevines, and the still-small fruit trees.  Then, hubby offered to help me plant seeds for the little greenhouses: tomatoes and peppers. That sent me on a hunt for the jalapeno seeds from last year and from the store while hubby filled the little Jiffy-pot cells with potting soil (before we broke into the compost heap, or we might have used that instead).

What we've accomplished so far today:

  • pruned the orchard, berry patch, and vineyard (hey, it sounds good ... I'll get more planted soon!)
  • planted Anaheim and jalapeno peppers, along with two unknown pepper varieties.  I forgot to write down what they were, just know they are some kind of pepper
  • planted Brandywine and San Marzanzo (sp?) tomatoes, along with some Mortgage Lifter seeds I had saved in 2013
  • started topping off the garden boxes with the compost
And that's only outside stuff.