30 March 2015

Chard leaves as spinach substitute

Despite my best efforts, using seeds and even transplants, I am not doing well at growing spinach down here.  While I still have starts that are alive, they aren't thriving to the extent we'd like.  Enter the Swiss chard.  So far, we have tried fresh chard leaves chopped up in omelettes and now a baked crustless quiche, and that is working out just nicely.  I have also dried some chard leaves to add into casseroles and broth soups and eggs later in the year after the chard bolts.  I definitely want seeds from these plants!

We haven't yet tried torn up fresh chard leaves for salad, nor have I tried using the stalks like celery in broth stock, but I have read (somewhere ...?) that they can be used as such.  I'd also like to test out the dried chard in crackers as well, along with the dried kale I have.

Saturday afternoon I stopped up at Lynn's and picked up another bucket load of compost.  Yesterday hubby unloaded it into a nice long narrow bed.  I think I'll transplant tomato starts there once it gets into the shade in an hour or so.

While starting to crumble up the dehydrated chard leaves, I had a "doh!" moment, then went to get one of two glass mortar-and-pestle sets Mom gave me back when I wanted to major in pharmacy.  Of course, that was before I took the "GPA Killer's" organic chemistry ... but the glass mortars and pestles are still here, and still quite usable.  One is big, and one is quite small, and the small one worked just perfect on the dried chard and kale leaves.

I ran the little electric dehydrator the past couple days, and it did a great job of keeping the chill out of the air inside the house.  I also opened up the two extra trays, so it was running six trays on the lowest setting, "Flowers & Herbs."  I am planning to get a lot more use out of it this year, although it will be outside when it gets hot.

29 March 2015

Live caponizing take two

I still do not have a capon.  I don't even have a half-capon.  I do have one full cockerel and one dinner.  (*Sigh.*)  On the first try, I broke the poor cockerel's fixed rib so badly, I could not get the rib spreader in to try one rib down, and that one is now chilling in the refrigerator.  I couldn't even get the rib spreader in the right spot postmortem.  So, I put him into the carrier and set him in the shade while I took a smoke break and regrouped my thoughts before hubby brought out the second cockerel.

On the second cockerel, I initially cut in the right spot, but then he jumped when I first tried to insert the rib spreader, and after that I could not locate the cut in the muscle wall.  So, I made another cut ... and you guessed it, I was looking at lung tissue when I spread the ribs.  The good news is not only did I initially find the right spot, but I got the ribs spread without breaking any of them.  He's back in the rabbit hutch, has eaten and drank and now sunning himself.

Now, about that first cockerel, one of Luanne's Wyandottes although not the biggest or even second biggest.  He has a lovely carcass for only being about 11 weeks old.  Of course he is nowhere near as meaty as a Cornish-Rock cross, but he isn't supposed to be either.  The only oddity I noticed was that it appeared he had fluid around his heart.  The gizzard was surprisingly small on the inside, but with a lot of muscle.  What pieces of the liver I managed to salvage after nicking the bile duct look excellent.  Overall, a decent little dinner.
11 week old Wyandotte cockerel carcass

11 week old Wyandotte cockerel carcass
inside one gallon bag for scale

The scalpel helped a lot.  This was "just" the kind one can buy at Tractor Supply, but it is sharp and holds an edge well, and also does excellent for cutting the jugular for slaughtering.  When using it on the organs ... watch the bile duct by the liver.

I keep hitting the upper forward edge of the thigh muscle, which is getting downright annoying.  I know it's there, and now with the alcohol prep pads I can see the subcutaneous veins to avoid, and the shallow between the thigh and ribs is easier to see and feel with the birds stretched out more than before, yet I still hit it on the first cockerel.

The next two, the larger red broiler cockerels, will be going into the isolation crate tonight, for another round on Tuesday morning.  They'll be nine weeks old and the squabbling out in the two cockerel tractors is getting louder.  After I try on them, I will get back to the BLR Wyandotte cockerel, then the Ideal Poultry Wyandotte cockerels, most of whom are smaller than the red broilers.  After that, we will be eating either full or half Wyandotte cockerels for quite some time.

28 March 2015

Pullet Bullets 3 out of 4 now

So, I posted back on Tuesday when we got the first pullet bullet of the year/season.  Wednesday we got a second, which meant it's likely both Darkie and Penny have started laying.  Today, we have three!  Judging from the comb and wattle color, it looks like Goldie has joined the laying crew.  None of the pullets has actually chosen a particular spot in the tractor to lay, so it is like an Easter egg hunt, hoping you get out there before the egg shell gets cracked.  Two eggs are a rosy-tan, with the third being a darker, almost terra cotta color at the ends like a Welsummer egg.  Cool beans (literally, this morning! LOL) the egg season is kicking it up a gear, with seven layers as of today.  Bright Eyes has only started reddening up, and her comb is still pullet-small.

More chicken-swapping with my neighbor Maria: she traded me two black pullets for two of the red broiler cockerels.  Hubby came over to help pick out the pullets after Maria had caught a second cockerel.  She had wanted both of the dark red cockerels, but I could only grab the biggest (the bully of that tractor!) and even climbing into the tractor she still couldn't get her hands on the other darker one, so she grabbed a nice golden-red one.

Speaking of cockerels, the two extra Wyandotte cockerels are back in isolation for another caponizing try tomorrow morning.  Hopefully, my back will behave better than the last attempt, which I had to cancel due to back spasms that morning.

27 March 2015

Salad days are here again

This year's designated salad box - planted from seed this time - is ready to contribute to the table!  Two kinds of lettuce and then a few baby small chard leaves as well.  The hens contributed the eggs hubby hard-boiled the other day.  What better way to kick it off than with a piece of prime rib hubby's dad sent home with him from New Year's get-together.  That's marinating in the back fridge, hopefully happily soaking up the port.  Fresh sliced mushrooms were marked down at the grocery Wednesday, and twice-baked potatoes will round out the dinner line-up.  It is also supposed to turn cold behind the last wave of rain, so this is the best time to roast some beast in the oven.

Here is the salad box, before pillaging.
this year's salad box: 2 kinds of lettuce planted,
1 volunteer green romaine, collards, and of course
volunteer acorn squash
I was intending to take a pic after the pillaging, but honestly I really didn't put that much of a dent in the leaves to be noticeable.

I intend to pretty much strip the kale plants, and the Swiss chard plants, tomorrow morning for dehydrating.  I want to get them before they bolt, and preferably on a morning it's cool.  Kale rocks when it's dried, then crumbled into scrambled eggs or a broth soup.  Oddly, the chickens don't seem to care for it ... they always tear through the turnip greens though.

26 March 2015

Transplants 26 March

I picked up some starts yesterday at the little Ace Hardware in town before hitting the grocery store, and that errand pretty much wiped me out and made my back scream.  At least we have half and half for our coffee.  This morning, after looking at weather radar I went outside to put all the starts into the ground.

  • Tomatoes: one each of Pink Brandywine (the larger of the two) and Heinz's Super Roma (heirloom type, not the hybrid one ... the flat were specifically marked each way).
  • Peppers, of the sweet variety: one orange bell, planted next to the purple bell, and one giant Marconi, an Italian sweet pepper that I am hoping will be similar to the Carmen peppers from the year before last, as the peppers didn't sprout for us.
  • Red onion, and a big bunch of them!  I took a little less than half next door to Maria, and she thought that was a lot until I mentioned "Estan menos de media de los cebollos."  Hubby will have a few fresh ones, and the rest will end up in the dehydrator then ground for onion powder and dried minced onion for the spice cabinet.
  • A six pack of assorted coleus!  Must have my pretties, and coleus are my favorite of all time, going back to the first grade when I received a small one with my seed order through school.  I even won a blue ribbon in the school's plant fair.  Last year, I had oodles of volunteer coleus ... but then the neighbor's pet deer ate all the flowers off them last summer, and they didn't recover enough to make another round of seeds.
So now I am sweating in the high humidity before the rain starts, but have more plants in the dirt.

24 March 2015

First pullet bullet of 2015

We're not sure if it was Penny or Darkie, but one of the pullets laid her first (small) egg.  A nice medium brown egg, almost as dark as the ones Betty laid.  Since they are often small, the first few eggs from a pullet are often nicknamed "pullet bullets."  Laying hen #5 has reported for duty!

Caponizing cancelled this morning

I woke up this morning with my back hurting ... not the usual midback, but the lower back that has been flaring up since clinicals in the spring of 2010.  So, I took that nansy-pansy weak pain pill VA gives me now, but no dice.  Then, as I was finally getting dressed, my back spasmed.  So, the caponizing is cancelled since I will not do it with back spasms, nor will I attempt it on my muscle relaxant, which does work decently.

So, the two Wyandotte cockerels are back in the chicken hutch with food and water, as the weather report indicates Saturday morning is my next window of opportunity.

Generalized rant:  This sucks, but ya know I am on VA disability for a real reason, even though SSA decided against me.  Even after a decade of midback pain, and now half a decade of lower back pain on top of that, I still feel so frustrated when I must alter my plans due to being broke-(*donkey*) and infirmed.  My usual vent is: "I was strong enough and healthy enough to send off to war!"  Nevermind that Iraq was a total Charlie-Foxtrot (that's a polite way of saying cluster ****) and meant absolutely nothing to the stupid-(*donkey*) politicians who sent us to get messed up, and that's those of us who returned.  Now, we have VA taking away meds that work, even from those of us who were NOT dependent on them but used them sparingly and wisely.  Instead, we get classes on using magick to help us cope with pain.  Those of y'all who know me, know I believe magick is real and can and does work ... but that doesn't mean I need to resort to it when a simple little Oxycodone pill would be more effective and faster.  I do have that little battery-operated TENS unit, that puts mild electrical pulses into my skin and muscle, and that will be getting put to use in the next few minutes.  So, things/substances I know for certain work, I cannot obtain legally.  What the cluck, over?  There are days when I just want to give the local and federal levels of government the old one finger salute, sounding off with the appropriate vulgar phrase ... and today is one of those days.

So, on that note, I should probably cut this short.  Some of y'all know through experience that I can go on like this for quite a while.

23 March 2015

Cooking With Flowers book

One of my more unusual flea market finds is a book in rather good condition called Cooking With Flowers.  Copyright date inside is 1971, and the subtitle is Wherein An Age-Old Art Is Revived.  Written by Zack Hanle, who is/was a woman, and illustrated by Donald Hendricks ... neither name is familiar to me, but this isn't exactly a mainstream topic.  While I do have individual recipes in various cookbooks using flowers like squash blossoms and lavender blooms, I had never seen an entire book dedicated to the subject, so of course I had to snap that one up gleefully.
Cooking With Flowers, copyright 1971
by Zack Hanle; illustrated by Donald Hendricks
For me, this book was well worth the $1 I paid for it.  The table of contents lists: carnations, chrysanthemums, dandelions, day lilies, elderflowers, marigolds, nasturtiums, roses, squash flowers, violets, and yuccas.  I had already known dandelions, elderflowers, roses, and squash blossoms were all edible (or fermentable, in the case of elderflowers) but I did not know about marigolds, which I have always been able to grow as garden perimeter flowers, or carnations, mums, violets, and day lilies.

I've only browsed this book so far, but I do love the line drawings.  Since today is definitely a cooking day (light rain since before sunrise) I figured this would make some interesting rainy-day reading.

You can find some of the neatest stuff at flea markets, if you just look.

22 March 2015

Capon countdown begins again

We just put the two remaining BLR Wyandotte cockerels into the isolation crate (moved under the carport in case we get storms tonight) for caponizing Tuesday morning.  Nothing overly wrong with these two boys; they just aren't the best or most useful for my project breeding.  Azar is bigger, rounder, typier, and grew earlier.  Spikey will be useful as a test breeder to see which pullets have the recessive gene for single comb, and after the test breeding I will use him on the red broiler pullets as a meaty line that is obviously different from the actual Wyandottes.  So, here are Tuesday's patients.
black laced red Wyandotte capon candidates
I do have scalpels now, courtesy of my friend Lynn up the highway.  She says they don't hold an edge very well when used to cut denim.  She also told me they are on the wall at Tractor Supply next to the syringes and needles, so I must have looked right at them when hunting for the big pack of 20G needles the other day.

These two will get their feathers plucked tomorrow when it's daylight, which should give them several hours to chill out again afterwards.  Also, a suggestion from my online mentors, after hearing about my continuing difficulty locating the right place to cut, is to stretch the birds out more to elongate the gap between rib and large thigh muscle.  It will also make it more difficult for one to get free like last week.

These two are line-jumping in front of the broiler cockerels mainly because one of them did the kazoo noise this morning.  I'm not sure which one did it, since both looked utterly surprised and even shocked that strange sound came from one of their beaks.

Oh, I'll wait for a nice pretty day to get a pic of Azar and Spikey (and their harem!) in the new digs.  It may be after the boys are either caponized, or dinner.  Third time has got to be a charm.

Planting notes for equinox week

OK, a big update on what has gone into the ground this past week.

  • Last Sunday and Monday we planted potatoes, German Butterfinger and Yukon Gold, one in each box on the north side of the shed so they will be well shaded.  We also reviewed the planting notes on the bag for the Yukon Gold potatoes.
  • Beets (Jupiter variety) undersowed in the newest bean bed after consulting the companion planting color-coded simple chart.
  • Carrots also undersowed in the other two bean beds.  Another packet of Ferry-Morse rainbow assortment in the old pea patch (which also has now four volunteer sugar pea plants up) and Danvers 126 in the original garden box that has the purple bell pepper start and a couple silverdusts on one end along with the assorted garden beans.
  • Beets (Ruby Queen variety) put into the other half of the cabbage/chard box.  The cabbage looks like it is starting to head, and the swiss chard looks impressive, so it's time to test just how good a substitute it really is for spinach (which is struggling in the old tomato box, although volunteer dill plants look decent but not spectacular)
  • The sweet corn in the old compost heap is rocking it ... pole beans will go in sometime this week, along with zucchini and summer squash, with a perimeter of pumpkins as well as the volunteer acorn squashes.
  • Speaking of compost, we have run out of our homemade compost and I bought a Bobcat bucket load from Lynn up the highway ... and I will likely need another bucket load or two before this season's planting is done.
  • New fruit trees for the orchard: a bit of a surprise!  My neighbor came over with two orange tree saplings in one hand and his shovel in the other, and planted them for me on Wednesday "Nosotros somos amigos!")  He also showed me how big of a "crater" to put around citrus trees, so we'll be digging up more rope grass in the near future on the rest of our struggling citrus trees.
  • Garden fresh salads should begin this week, as the green leafy lettuce from the seeds I collected last year are looking great out there.  I may not know exactly what variety or strain these lettuce plants are, but I do know they are thriving.  I also have a volunteer green romaine lettuce coming up from under the layer of compost, so I will save seeds from that one as well.  Finally, the blush-tinted lettuce (Ashley variety) and the collards I planted in that box are also rocking it, alongside even more volunteer acorn squash.
  • Tomato starts are up and need transplanting.  All three varieties planted have sprouted: San Marzanzo, Brandywine, and the Mortgage Lifter seeds from 2013, so I will be taking an assorted dozen next door as a "Muchas gracias por los arboles naranjes." ("Many thanks for the orange trees.")  The other 70-some-odd will go into the walk-in greenhouse we bought at Big Lots and hubby put together over a week ago.  Dad called me Friday and one of his questions was if that was up and running yet.
  • Raking up the fallen dead leaves is now a high priority here, after seeing tangible and very positive results!  Must make more compost, for possibly the autumn, and definitely for next spring.
So that is a summary of the past week's playing in the dirt, with some notes for this week's round of playing in the dirt in between chickening and building for chickens.  LOL I wore my cute little cheapie Tractor Supply T-shirt to the county fair yesterday, and the folks at the UF Ag extension booth noticed and commented on it: "Living Life One Acre at a Time."  I mentioned it was so appropriate because while we only have about two and a half acres, we're doing most of this by hand, so it really is "One acre at a time."  Ya know, we may have the front acre almost covered by now.

Just to keep this from being a solid "wall of text" here is one pic of my silver dusts, shortly after I transplanted them.  I have two more pics, but the pic card is not playing well with GIMP right now.
three silver dusts with a couple aloe veras

21 March 2015

Quick update 21 March

For every light there is a shadow, and every good gets balanced with some bad ... Yesterday was the equinox, where day and night were balanced.  While the chicks are all doing great, and the gardens are exceeding our expectations, the bad happened this morning when Elf died.  We noticed he looked "off" Wednesday, and so I began to medicate him with penicillin shot in the evening.  At first, it looked like he would recover, but yesterday he took a turn for the worse and he died in my hands this morning when I picked him up to see if he was still breathing.  Here is our last picture of him, taken Thursday evening when we thought he'd recover.
Elf, the bantam rooster
We didn't have him for very long.  We didn't know how old he was, and neither did Lynn as someone gave him to her a while back just as she gave him to us.  He was just that much of a little character ... we will miss him puffing out at Feyd through the wire and strutting around with those hilarious feathered feet that looked like elf boots.

I'll do a bigger planting update later - lots of seeds going into the dirt and quite a few sprouting out of the dirt as well.

20 March 2015

Chicken City!

We've been working on the gardens and chicken "housing" for two weeks now. We've planted beans and corn. We've started two new compost piles or maybe it's three. Our first compost pile (Or is that oldest?) was flattened out for the corn. They really seem to like it.

Chicken Tractors.
Right now we have 8 tractors we finished two yesterday and moved some of the birds from other tractors and hutches into their new homes.  It's funny how terrified they are just to be put into a spot, more or less, just like the ones they left. But it all worked out ok. We also set up the extra Electric Netting I think each net is about 164 feet long.  It took a little bit to get it sorted out.
The tractors are all in a row now except for one which is still out of place right now. We have to rake more of the future compost out of the way to clear a path for it. I started that yesterday.

We have parts for two more tractors which I will start next week we should have them done in two weeks, I'm not planning to rush them out. But they will be ready for the new chicks to move into next month.
I feel like I am always behind schedule, there's always more to do.

Enjoy the pictures!
the Keepers, most still need names

Chicken City view from the shade

18 March 2015

First try at live caponizing

We are NOT having chicken for dinner tonight - they both are still alive.  That's the good news.  The bad(dish) news is they are both still full cockerels.  I did not even get one teste out, but it was quite the educational experience.  Notes:

  • pluck feathers the DAY before.  I intended to do this last night, but was tired and figured I'd do it this morning.  This upsets the birds (they hate when they do it to each other) and sends their blood pressure up, which means more bleeding.  Oh, pluck both sides, with the bird tied down on the table.
  • Alcohol prep pads are a must for seeing the subcutaneous vein.  I definitely hit that one on the second bird.
  • Really tie them down tight.  If he can get a wing loose to flap, he will, and then that sends his blood pressure way up and makes a cut that barely bled bleed profusely.
  • Do this on a morning when hubby is not expecting a friend over, or has plans.  It helps if he can keep the washcloth over the cockerel's head.
  • Get disposable scalpel blades.  Mitzi sent me a scalpel blade handle, might as well use it until we get the hang of putting a proper edge on the permanent scalpels on the end of the grabby-things.
So there we are.  The first cockerel got his wings free when I tried to open up the rib spreader, while I managed to get the second one opened ... I was one rib too far forward and saw lung, not kidney and testes.  This was the same problem I was having on the carcasses last month, and I really need to remember to go back one dip before cutting.

I will take a good look at the weather forecast and try again soon.  One of the cockerels in the small triangle is now trying to crow, at only eight weeks.

16 March 2015

Caponizing: T minus thirty-six hours

Getting ready to try again on the red broiler cockerels, so the countdown will start tonight as the sun goes down.  I will put two into the old dog crate set up on a couple pieces of scrap wood, and they will be without food until after the caponizing.  Tonight and all day tomorrow, they will get water with some Nutri-Drench vitamin solution, then tomorrow evening as the sun sets I will put them into a cat carrier without water, then caponize Wednesday morning.  So they will be without food for 36 hours, and without water for 12 hours.  This is to make the intestines as empty as possible, and the mild dehydration will cause vasoconstriction which will help reduce bleeding.

Stupid spell-check does not recognize the word vasoconstriction ... I guess that should not surprise me considering how many other biology terms it wants to correct, especially microbiology terms and names.

No guarantee on pictures, as I will have my hands full and may even have hubby help me hold the little monsters.  An interesting note: one of the gals at the little local hardware and feed store I like to buy scratch from knows what caponizing is and what it involves.  She is impressed I am trying it.

Another note: I should probably have hubby set up the bucket-pluckit in case I nick the vena cava.  (Stupid spell-check doesn't recognize vena cava either. Must have really failed A&P class.)

Beans and corn sprouted

So Saturday, hubby found the bean sprouts peeking up through the compost.  Then we both went over to where I planted the corn, and sure enough there were little green blades popping up!  This morning they are obvious enough for the camera to focus, so here are pics.
garden bean sprout

newest garden bed with beans

corn sprout

corn bed, with a couple volunteer acorn squash
Yup, there are at least two volunteer acorn squash growing with the corn already.  No bother, as we are planting squash in this bed anyway.  Probably crook neck summer squash and zucchini - we do love stir-fry zucchini!

Now, in other news ... last night after we went to bed, as we were almost asleep, we woke to the noise of a shotgun.  Next door.  He fired off at least half a dozen shots, so we knew it was serious.  I asked this morning, and sure enough, the bears are awake already.  Grrr ... this bear was trying to open up their pig pen, so they are doing repairs this morning.  It did get one of their chickens, but both cows and both pigs are unharmed.  That's particularly good, because the cow is about to calve and the sow about to farrow!  I guess the electric netting fence will be tested sooner than we hoped.  Cross fingers and knock on wood that the bears are successfully deterred.

14 March 2015

Garden beans sprouting already

Hubby just called me out to identify some sprouts out in the beds where I planted the gourmet blend of garden beans on Tuesday.  Yup!  They are sprouting already!  I think that may be the quickest I have had seeds sprout.  I soaked them overnight before planting them, so that may have done the trick.  The sprouts were not there this morning ... it is part of my morning walkabout to check the garden boxes and beds.  Hubby thinks it is cool he spotted them before I did.  Although we have had rain in the forecast for most of the week, it keeps missing us so hubby is out watering with the hose in the evenings.

Beardie and Penny

I tried to get pictures of Darkie also, but she just was not having it.  Ah, well.  The Halloween chicks are growing up.  Beardie is crowing, and using multiple notes instead of the glissando kazzoo crow.  He has also figured out "the Great Mystery of Life," namely that pullets are different from cockerels for a reason.  Penny and Darkie are also starting to make more hen-sounding noises, along with reddening up on the comb, wattles, and face ... they should start laying before the end of the month.  Here they are, in yesterday's early evening light.
Beardie and Penny, at 19-1/2 weeks

Beardie strike a roosterly pose

10 March 2015

Bean booster and a gardening book

We have been busy-Busy-BUSY the past couple days.  The weather has been just beautiful for this time of year, and - except for afternoon crash-naps - it has seemed a shame to spend such nice days indoors.  I bought more starts the other day: the last three Mysore raspberry canes I needed to make my nice symmetrical formation in front of the pumphouse, some dusty millers/silverdust starts, and a purple bell pepper start.  The raspberries and the silverdust flat were on clearance markdown.  I only paid $3 each for the berry canes (regular $7.98) and then $3 for the dozen silverdusts (regular $9.98) so that just rocked.  I also bought more seeds.

Speaking of seeds, I finally got the "gourmet blend" of garden beans in the ground this morning.  I had them out and soaking to wake them up, and I saw "Pea and Bean Booster," and this time I bought some because I knew what it is!  Let me back up a bit: Tractor Supply has bargain boxes of books, where each is only $5.  I have happily pillaged this box, usually for cookbooks that sound interesting but also for two gardening books, both Storey guides.  One is for growing organic orchard fruits (my trees may celebrate when I start reading that one!) and the other is Growing Organic Vegetables and Herbs for Market.  I figure market growers should know a thing or two about getting better crop yields ... and so far this book is not disappointing.  In fact, it has quite an informative section all about soil, and one chapter that includes microorganisms in addition to minerals.  A section mentioned inoculates to put with peas, beans, and various other nitrogen-fixing legumes.  As soon as I read it, I realized I see it in the seed racks, labeled "Pea & Bean Booster."  You know, if Burpee had labeled it properly "Pea and Bean Inoculate," I would have immediately realized what it was ... but then again I am a bit of a geek.  This year I bought it, and this year I am using it.  According to the book, I need to treat it like my bread yeast.
the book, the inoculate booster, and the bean seeds
Oh, a slight annoyance: there were a few broken bean seeds in my packet.  More than I usually get in my grocery-bought field dry beans.  I am a bit irked.  As y'all can see in the picture, it is not difficult to tell which seeds will be which colors.

I have hybrid silver-and-gold sweet corn seeds soaking right now, and hubby leveled out the original compost pile to make a squarish bed where we will give the "three sisters" planting a try.  Corn gets planted first, otherwise the pole bean plant will strangle it - I learned that the hard way up in Tennessee.

Finally, the really big announcement: I have MINT coming back from last year!

08 March 2015

Preparing the bean beds

Taking one of the old salad boxes, cleaning out all but the flat leaf parsley plant still holding on after two years, and transplanted a volunteer fernleaf dill out of it before I cleaned it, added compost, and worked it in with a hoe.  That reminds me - I need a new and better garden hoe.

I also pulled up the three carrot plants and four radish plants ... and was terribly disappointed.  I didn't even bother to snap a pic, just tossed them in to the chickens to at least play with.  I forked the pea/carrot/radish bed, added compost, then hubby and I hoed it in.  Then I mentioned what was left of that small compost pile under the trees would make a good bed if it was spread out to proper size, and hubby got it done while I sat in the shade sipping ice water (at his insistence - "You need a break!").  After that, we switched spots, and I began to rake the leaves into new compost piles that should become beds either for winter planting or next spring.

The compost pile we used was only a year old, but it is also the one I had hubby's friend, "Airborne," stir up whenever he came down to visit last year.  Airborne usually was all excited and happy to be away from the big city, out in the countryside where he knows the food will be great (we always feed him leftovers!) and to hang out with hubby, and even me.  The problem is, he often shows up at sunrise when we are coffee zombies, so I took to pointing him towards the compost fork, or handed him the dog on the leash.  He would joke about a free workout, and I'd joke about him earning his lunch and/or dinner.  So this small compost pile, made up of mostly fallen leaves and a bit of grass clippings, quickly broke down into something very usable for beans.
three bean beds ready to plant
chick tractors in the background
I am planting a "gourmet blend" of garden beans, with one third being a normal green bush bean (Blue Lake) , one third being Royal Burgandy bush bean, and the last third being Mellow Yellow bush bean.  That ought to make for a fun plate.  If they produce well, and I have enough to can up, they'll make awesome-looking jars with the three colors.  I also have a whole package of the Royal Burgandy beans, and another of Dragon Tongue for fun-colored beans other than just green.  Then, I also have asparagus/yardlong beans, sometimes called snake beans, for the summer.

Along with all that, I have two packs of sweet corn, and a variety of summer and winter squash ... hubby wants to try out the "three sisters" planting.  We just need to figure out where we want to put that.  I'm liking the idea of planting in the clear spot in back, while hubby is thinking up front by the road-fence-decorative windmill.  We'll bat ideas back and forth while driving up to get a nice dinner and hit Lowe's for more supplies.

06 March 2015

Gold-laced Wyandotte goals

An overcast, drizzly day today, so not conducive to going out to try to get pics of the chickens.  Instead, I found a couple old illustrations from the early 20th century that show what the ideal gold-laced Wyandottes ought to look like.  Here is what I am aiming for, looks-wise:
plates of ideal Gold-Laced Wyandottes
from 1917 Wyandotte Standard and Breeding

color plate from early 1900s of ideal Gold-Laced Wyandotte
The 1917 book The Wyandotte Standard and Breeding is available online here if anyone else would enjoy reading it.  I am finding it fascinating.  You'll notice how round these Wyandottes look ... outside, I only have one so far that fits that shape, Azar.  Another thing I've read in these old books is that Wyandottes should be quick-growing, not slow to mature as is often heard today.

So, why exactly am I using century-old literature and standards?  I am wanting old-fashioned Wyandottes, who were bred to be dual purpose utility birds.  I like useful as well as pretty.  I want cockerels who grow out fast enough to make fryers or broilers before they start trying to crow, or if caponized I want the capons to grow huge and meaty for a good-sized holiday dinner.  I want hens who lay decent.  They don't need to lay great, as they aren't a specific egg-laying breed, but I figure if a hen can average 180 large eggs her first and second years, that is good enough to perpetuate.  Since I do not plan to use artificial lighting during the winter months, I figured I should use a realistic goal.  For contrast, some strains of white Leghorn lay over 300 eggs average over their first two years, and the highly specialized commercial strains can top 320 eggs per year.  I don't think we could eat that much quiche here.

So I am looking for some specific traits out in the grow-out tractors: nice fleshy cockerels, that put on meat at a good rate (we'll be eating the scrawny ones for a few years) and grow out huge when caponized, pullets that come in to lay at a decent time (I am going for 22-24 weeks as my goal) and lay at a moderate to decent rate their first two years ... and I would like to end up with hens that are still laying at age 5 or 6 years old while I am at it.  All that, and beauty too.  If the property will be basically covered with Wyandotte chickens, let's have them look pretty while doing their job!

A dual purpose breed does not excel in either purpose, meat or eggs.  If you want meat birds, and fast, there are Cornish-Rocks (just don't let them go too long before slaughter).  If you want eggs and lots of them, there are commercial egg layers who can put out phenomenal numbers of eggs.  Leghorns for white eggs, or sex-links for brown eggs ... they tend to be leaner-bodied since their energy is directed to egg laying and not fleshy out.  The dual purpose breeds are the happy medium between the two extremes ... and in my opinion the dual purpose breeds tend to also be pretty yard ornaments.

05 March 2015

Six week review Ideal Poultry Red Broilers

So, I have had these Red Broiler chicks for six weeks today, and thought to share what I see.  When I first got them, someone over at Homesteading Today remarked she had been disappointed with hers.  They were rangy and scrawny, and did not make good broilers at all.  I'll need to resurrect that thread, because I do see a basis for this assessment ... although my experience so far has been a little different.

Some background: Before I received them, I emailed Ideal to ask about the genetic background on their Red Broilers.  The reply sounded like a vacuous non-answer.  I was informed these are not breed hybrids, but a specific line the hatchery has developed ... descended from the Cornish Rocks.  Err, I am not quite sure how a solid white specific four-line two-breed cross can spawn red meaties who do not grow freakishly fast enough to develop health problems, but still flesh out well enough to be meat birds.  That piqued my curiosity, and I am still toying with the notion of exploring the genetics, though I may just leave it be and work more on my Wyandottes.

I received 25 chicks six weeks ago (ordered 25, no extras).  I still have 23, with one chick totally disappearing from the brooder tub in the shed (likely escaped the tub, then out the door without being seen) and one chick getting sick and dying the day before last.  There is a wide range of feather color, amount of feathering, size, and build of body among these 23 chicks.  Certainly not the near-uniformity of the Cornish-Rocks, so definitely not the F1 generation of a breed cross.
the six biggest Red Broiler cockerels

a couple Red Broiler pullets

the two runt Red Broiler cockerels 
As you can see, there is a huge difference between the largest cockerels and the runts.  The smallest runt is disproportionate to the point of looking absurd, and is approximately half the size of most the others.  I can easily see if someone ordered a small batch, and only received runt-looking chicks regardless of actual size, there would be significant disappointment.

As for my personal opinion on the Ideal Poultry Red Broilers: I won't order them again, although I will likely keep three pullets to cross with Azar, my big Wyandotte boy who is larger than even the biggest broiler cockerels with much more flesh.  These will hold us over for the middle of the year until I can get my Wyandotte project fully launched, with no hurry to slaughter them before they begin failing inside like the Cornish-Rocks.  At only $1.50 per chick, they will also make good practice caponizing once my headlight finally arrives.

If you want quick meat, buy Cornish-Rocks.  If you want slow meat, either work on your own line of your favorite dual purpose breed, or find someone near you who breeds and buy extra cockerels from them.  I just don't see anything special about Ideal's Red Broilers that would recommend them over other options.  The idea behind them may be good, but the execution falls short of the promise.

03 March 2015

My WONDERFUL birthday present cookbook

My mom conspired with my sister up there in Indiana, and I now finally have a copy of the cookbook I have been attempting to get from Mom since I was about 18 ... so 24 years.  Mom's copy is regular bound, with the obligatory packing tape on the spine (many I had found online were the same) and if you stand it up on its spine and allow it to fall open, you will find one or the other of the two best-est recipes in it: Hot German Potato Salad and Sweet-and-Sour Meatballs.

The copy I received from my sis is ring-bound, which means I won't be needing the strapping-style packing tape to hold it together.  It also means this copy won't automatically fall open to either recipe ... but I can live with that.

Sis bought this for me - but hubby is now LOVING this present.  The first recipe I made from it was (of course!) the hot German potato salad, and I have also made it for the in-laws.  Father-in-law stated before the meal that the "only" way to get really good German potato salad involved a plane ticket to Frankfort, yet once he tried it, we didn't hear another peep out of him about that.  Instead, he quietly went back for a large second helping.

Last night, hubby had the sweet-and-sour recipe for the first time.  Instead of meatballs, I used extra thick pork chops (BOGOF score) and also added carrots.  He cut the one pork chop into bite-sized pieces, while the other is waiting in the fridge.  Hubby said he kept thinking about the red dipping sauce Chinese style sweet-and-sour, despite my attempts to describe a more Hawaiian style in the recipe, but once he had a couple good bites of it, he loves it.  I told him about how the recipe calls for meatballs, which he says sounds delicious, but that growing we used to on other meats and cuts.  It sounds like he wants to try all the possible variations I can come up with.

Now, here is the Book, and the two favorite recipes:
Betty Crocker's Cookbook, originally published 1969

Hot German potato salad recipe, page 140

Sweet-and-Sour Meatballs recipe, page 29
Considering I needed to put all the page back on the rings when I first got it, I suspect my sister scanned or copied the cookbook.  Those are the pages to check, Sis!

For everyone else, if you can get a decent readable copy for less than $25, do it.  These two recipes alone are worth it.

01 March 2015

Six pounds of strawberries put up

So, I finished putting up all those strawberries I bought on sale Friday.  Since my recipe had two versions - smooth and chunky - and the recipe uses three pounds of strawberries, it made sense to try each version out.  Neither one came out as jam-like as I had planned.  Each version, I took off the heat a little too soon to gel right, just like the problem with the orange marmalade.  The half-pints are still useful, though.  I'll just use them one things like cheesecake, shortcake, roll cake, and pancakes.  They are more syrup than jam.
smooth and chunky strawberry syrup, not jam
My plan is now to go back to the grocery after we've eaten lunch, and get another three pounds of strawberries to try again.  This time, I will make a batch halfway between smooth and chunky, cutting the strawberries up smaller (recipe recommended whole, I quartered these and they were still huge) but using the set of instructions for the chunky style.  Here's hoping they are still on sale, because I am now determined to make actual jam.