Wednesday, June 30, 2010

More Chickens?

We are wanting to start a little flock of Bantam Ameracaunas. I've been researching coop designs and think I've found one that will work well for us. You know what this means? Time to start saving towards the new coop! I'll keep track of my progress here. Probably need another $250. The coop is $200 and I'll want to add additional wire underneath. Here we go again. Hmmmmm....what can I sell this time?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wonderful Raspberries

Last year I was fortunate to get 6 raspberry canes from a lady who was offering them on Freecycle (hi, Marti!). I stuck them in the ground and watered them faithfully. But they turned brown and withered. I got distracted with other garden projects and didn't get around to pulling them up. One day, as I passed by, I thought I caught a glimpse of green. On closer inspection it was apparent they had only been playing possum. Perhaps they were putting all their energy into establishing their roots? But now they were focusing on leaves. Soon they were sending out new canes. I even got a few ripe berries last summer. But this summer they are really taking off.

I have been picking the berries daily, and freezing them. Waiting to get enough for jam. But I still don't have enough berries all on my own. So last Sunday I purchased 2 half pints from a vendor at the South Tacoma Farmers' Market. There were 2 vendors there, with raspberries, but this fellow's price was a dollar less. When I went to wash the berries it was apparent why his price was lower. I had to toss out almost 1/4 of the berries due to mold and rot. Even though I just bought them 2 days ago. Needless to say I won't be purchasing from that vendor in the future. I was able to salvage most of the berries, and when I added the ones from my garden, and mashed them all, I had a full 2.5 cups of fruit. The recipe I'm going to share is a tweaked version of one from RecipeZaar. I added some lemon juice (for tang) and some butter so it doesn't foam and need skimming. I also cooked it for an extra minute to make it thicker. The beauty of raspberry jam is in its simplicity. You don't need pectin, and the proportion of berries to sugar is easy to remember and adjust. Here is the recipe as I make it:

Raspberry Jam

An equal amount of both:
crushed raspberries
For example, I had 2.5 cups of crushed berries so I used 2.5 cups of sugar. This makes the recipe very easy to adjust.
1/2 Tbs. lemon juice for every 2 cups of fruit
1/4 tsp. butter for every 2 to 2.5 cups of fruit (do not omit)

In a large saucepan (use larger than you think you'll need. The jam expands and splatters) heat berries, lemon juice and butter. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Stir in the sugar. Return to a boil, stirring constantly, and boil for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Fill sterilized jam jars leaving 1/8" head room. Wipe jar edges with a clean damp cloth. Top with a sterilized lid and screw band. Tighten the band as much as you can by hand. When all the jars are filled invert them (stand them on their heads) for 5 minutes. Flip them back over and allow to cool. You'll hear a "pop" when they seal. If any jars fail to seal, refrigerate them and use within 2 weeks. Store sealed jars in a cool dark place.

NOTE: I used 2.5 cups of fruit and got 3 full jars and about another half of one to use right away.

Of course I had to sample some to be sure it isn't poison. My dinner:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Strawberry Rhubarb Heaven

I decided to try to make some strawberry rhubarb jam, today. I have been picking the little strawberries from my garden each day, and freezing them until I had enough for jam.

It was taking forever but I figured if I added in some rhubarb I'd have enough. And I really should use my rhubarb since I've been growing it for 4 years and haven't done anything with it. The reason? It's the wrong damn kind. It never occured to me that not all rhubarb had those nice, ruby red stalks. I thought "rhubarb is rhubarb" in the same way I once thought "sheep are sheep". Not! So when I purchased my rhubarb baby, of course I picked the WRONG ONE. Mine has rather skinny, sickly, pale looking stalks. And it produces some of the fugliest flowers I've ever seen (I didn't even know rhubarb HAD flowers). So every year it comes up, and every year I ignore it. I actually have 2 rhubarb plants (same type), but one of them must've not liked all our rain and died back. Maybe it rotted? I have no idea. But it does seem to be recovering and sending out new leaves. Here they are. The healthy one is on the left.

I only have about 1.5 cups of strawberries saved, by the time I crushed them up.

That means I'll need a total of 3.5 cups of rhubarb, since I have decided I need a total of 5 cups of fruit. I am going to need 3 cups of chopped rhubarb which I'll cook in a half cup of water. I picked 5 stalks of rhubarb (but ended up needing a 6th).

After washing the stalks I halved them lengthwise then cut them into chunks on the bias.

I placed them in a pot with 1/2 cup of water, brought them to a boil, and simmered them for 2 minutes, until tender. Then I removed them from the heat and set aside in the refrigerator, with the crushed strawberries.

In the meantime I sterilized 6 small jelly sized canning jars, and their lids. When I was ready I proceeded with the recipe, as follows:

Roxi's "Slap Yo Mama Good"
Strawberry Rhubarb Jam

This is my own recipe. I like more rhubarb than strawberry in my strawberry rhubarb jam. I also don't like it sickeningly sweet. I added a little lemon juice for tartness. I may be prejudiced, but I think this is the best damn jam I've ever eaten. I hope you'll enjoy it, as well.

1 1/2 C. mashed strawberries
3 1/2 cups cooked rhubarb (prepared as above)
5 cups sugar
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. butter (don't leave this out or you'll have to scoop foam)
1 (3 oz) package Certo liquid pectin

Mix first 5 ingredients together in a saucepan and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Add the pectin and continue boiling and stirring for one full minute. Remove from heat. Pour into hot sterilized jam jars, leaving 1/8 inch head room (I think I left more like 1/4"). Wipe any spilled jam from the jar edge with a clean damp cloth or paper towel. Top with a sterilized lid and tighten the ring as tight as you can by hand. Repeat with remaining jars (I used 6 and had a little jam left over, which I refrigerated). Once all jars are filled, invert them (stand them on their heads) for 5 minutes. Flip them back over and let them cool completely. They should all "pop" and seal. If any jars fail to seal refrigerate them and use right away. Store your sealed jars in a cool dark place. Enjoy your home made jam!

Here I am sampling some of the jam on my home baked wheat toast. The only thing I didn't make is the butter (although I do know how to make it and have done so in the past).

Well, that was fun. I hadn't made jam in years. Probably close to 20 years, in fact. I guess life got too busy. I am so happy that I have gotten back to the simpler, more enjoyable, things in life. Speaking of which....Joanie gave me another egg today! She did manage to crack this one, too, but it isn't a bad crack and I'm gonna eat it. I'll have it for breakfast in the morning. With my toast and jam. LOL

And I leave you with a picture of an odd type of fly that was resting on my sidewalk, today. Isn't it the strangest fly you've ever seen? Anyone know what type it is? I've never seen one before.

Attracting Flies?

I think I'm the only person I know who WANTS to attract flies. No, not house flies or fruit flies. I've got plenty of those out around the compost bin. The fly I am trying to invite to live here is the elusive (apparently) Black Soldier Fly. Or, more specifically, the BSF larva. The larva would be beneficial to me for 2 reasons, composting and chicken treats. They compost organic material MUCH faster than red worms. And once you have a colony established you can compost just about ANY organic material including meat, fat, dairy....even feces if you really wanted to. All things that would be a big no-no on your ordinary backyard compost pile. Here is a video showing how the larva make short work of 2 salmon (one cooked, one raw) over a 24 hour period. And here is an excellent video showing the larva being propagated in a commercial BioPod. This is a residential BioPod, which is a tad more affordable(?). BioPods are ridiculously expensive (and you know how I hate that) so I will jury-rig my own set up when the time comes. But first things, first. I need to find some BSF larva. So now you know what those cardboard triangles, in my compost bin, are for. Apparently the female flies like to lay their eggs on those. Theoretically Tacoma is well within the BSF's range. But I have yet to see hide nor hair of one. Yesterday I totally dismantled my worm bin in the hopes of finding a BSF larva or two. Nada. But I did find that one of the trays is full of worm castings that are ready to add to the garden as fertilizer.

The worms didn't seem to do much with the egg shells, or the avocado rind. No problem. It can go right into the dirt. I also drained the worm bin's liquid, from the base, and added some water to it to make "worm tea".

All of my vegetable and herb plants got a little afternoon "tea". But I digress. Back to the BSF situation. Luring them the old fashioned way could take forever. And I am not the patient type. The next step in my plan is to try and track down some live BSF larva also known as Phoenix Worms. I guess they had to give them a prettier name to be able to sell them. Phoenix Worm sounds so much nicer than maggot or grub. I will be checking at my local pet stores and bait shops. Wish me luck!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Joanie's First Egg (And She'll Get it Back)

I was happy to get this little white surprise when I looked in the coop this afternoon.

That happiness turned to mild disappointment when I rolled the egg around and saw that it was cracked open.

She either dropped it, or pecked at it. Damn it. So close to eating one of my own home grown fresh eggs. But I'm boiling this one and giving it back to the chickens. Maybe tomorrow I'll get one that isn't broken. At least this one had a shell. That's a step up from those shell-less blobs she was laying last week. Looks like she was just lacking calcium.

Sunday Bargains

This past week was really busy. Friday I hit some yard sales in the morning. I found these 2 house plants ($1 each).

Don't know what they are, yet. I think the first one may be a type of kalanchoe? Will have to try and find out. The second one reminds me of some type of alien plant form. They're both cool...whatever they are. I need to repot them, fast. I also found this fuzzy hen and chicks to add to my collection. I hadn't seen this type before ($4 because of the cute planter).

While yard saleing I also picked up a basket for the stairs ($1.50), 3 vintage canning jars with zinc lids ($1 each), 2 modern pint canning jars ($.50 each), An apple peeler/corer/slicer ($1) and a few other things not worth mentioning.

This morning (Sunday) we ran out to Renton to pick these up.

I had been watching Craigslist for a pair in my size. They are like new and I got them for $50. My feet have champagne taste on a peanut butter budget. They would've cost me about $125 new by the time I paid sales tax. Now to try and find a brown pair and I'll be all set for the fall and winter. Just have to get busy and knit myself more socks. On the way back from Renton we stopped at the Farmers' Market (in South Tacoma) and I bought some herbs and veggie starts for the garden. I love that this farm uses all heirloom seeds and nothing but organic compost as fertilizer. She rocks!

I bought some sorrel, which I've never used before but it sure is pretty. Will need to investigate how to use it for cooking. I also bought some rosemary, more chard (because I love it!), and some pickling cucumbers because the slugs ate the ones I planted ($11.50 but I don't mind. I want to support our local organic farmers).

Friday, June 25, 2010

Life in the Compost Bin

Maybe I'm just easily amused but I find composting to be quite entertaining. It seems magical to be able to take things you would normally toss in the garbage, mixed them together in a pile, let it sit for a while and have it turn into a lovely soil amendment. Everyone seems to have their own style of composting. Different ratios of browns to greens, different types of heaps, bins, etc. I have worked out a very simple system that is easy and seems to be working quite well. It is suited to those of us with small yards and it doesn't smell bad. It does attract flies so I have located it in the back corner of my yard, behind some bushes so it isn't an eyesore. It takes up approximately 3' by 6' and consists of a covered black plastic compost bin and a mixing area, next to the bin, which is 2 square pieces of scrap plywood butted up against each other in a corner. The bin is where the well mixed compost material is placed and allowed to decompose. Here is the bin as it appeared earlier today, before I added to it. This material has been in there for a couple of weeks.

This is a close-up of what's growing inside the bin. Here are a couple of little mushrooms, a couple of good sized (albeit dead) slugs and an opportunistic potato. Sadly, I had spread slug poison on top of this pile, before I got the chickens. I was a bit freaked out the last time I opened the bin and saw how many large slugs were in there. I decided to sprinkle the poison and kill off the slugs before they could add to the population. Now that I know how much chickens LOVE slugs I am regretting that decision. I will wait until the poison is well buried before harvesting hen treats from the bin. Don't want to poison the girls.

And here is another bin resident who is taking full advantage of all those flies. Sorry for the poor photo and the fact this subject is being shy. You should be able to almost make out the well fed spider up near the left corner.

And here is the current batch of compostable material. It consists mainly of grass clippings, cardboard, newspaper, pine shavings, and chicken poop. There are other various and sundry compostable materials in there, as well.

The pile is big enough that I am going to mix it up, wet it down, and add it to the compost bin. Here it is all mixed, moistened and ready to go.

And here it has been added to the bin. I decided to move the cardboard triangles to the back so they'd be out of the way (more on those later. Betcha can't guess what they are for).

The mixing area is all clean and ready for me to start another batch.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Reggie Loves The Ladies

It didn't take long for Reggie to settle down. He was still a bit over excited this morning. But by this afternoon I was able to leave him out in the yard with the chickens and he was well behaved. He knows if he barks he'll be spanked and have to come inside. Then he can't see what the chickens are up to. So he is very quiet. I need a revolving back door, though. As soon as Reggie comes inside he wants to go right back out. The chickens might be doing something. I ended up leaving the backdoor open while I baked the bread. He could come and go as he pleased. First he guarded the chickens.

He peeked at them around the corner.

He stood up and watched them.

He was out there so long I finally took him a blanket so he wouldn't be cold. He sat on the blankie and watched them.

By the end of the hour he was lying down and watching. I'm surprised he didn't fall asleep.

He didn't bark, or anything. Just sat there watching. Like doggie TV. I think Reggie is enjoying the chickens almost as much as I am. Good dog!

Meet The Girls

Father's Day was a busy one this year. My poor husband got to drive all over, in the pouring rain, doing my evil bidding. We had to drive to the feed store, in Spanaway, to pick up some last minute supplies for the chickens. I got their feeder base, some scratch and oyster shells, and a bale of pine shavings. I love Nature Boys Farm & Pet Supply. The guy there is so nice and helpful. We got to go out back and look at his personal flock which includes some bantams. I hope to have a small flock of bantams in the near future.

On the way home we stopped at the *brand new* South Tacoma Farmers' Market. They were doing really well in spite of the drizzly weather and it being a holiday. Most of the vendors under estimated and were already running out of things to sell by 1pm. The market lasts from 10am until 3pm. I wanted a zucchini start and a dozen eggs but came up empty. They promised to bring more next week. I intend to visit them every Sunday that I possibly can. I am thrilled to have a Farmers' Market in my neck of the woods and want them to be successful. We picked up an acorn squash start and some salmon and asparagus for dinner. Then we hit the food area. I had a taco and tamale. All freshly made and delicious and only $4. Husband had a pulled pork sandwich which also looked yummy. I might have one of those next time.

Once home husband had a few more things to wrap up on the coop overhaul and then it was off to Lacey to meet the chickens. I was expecting to drive to a farm. Imagine my surprise to end up in a subdivision. The little backyard was filled with chickens. Apparently the couple had planned to move to the country but their plans fell through. We stuffed the girls in a box and headed back home. And here they are, getting settled into their new quarters.

The red one is a production red and her name is Laverne. The black one is a black star named Shirley. And the pearl white leghorn is Joanie. Joanie is the eldest and if she isn't already laying she should start any day. The other two will follow, probably sometime in August.

Reggie was way too excited to meet the chickens. He barked and carried on and scared them. But he was scolded and by the end of the day he was getting much better. Rick would take him out to see the chickens every hour or so, and make him sit, stay and just look. We are hoping he gets bored with them soon.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Tractor Has Landed

Whew! Never thought I'd see the day. In typical Willoughby fashion the feat wasn't accomplished without a false start and a couple of close calls. It was all going so well. That should've been my first clue. We were scheduled to pick up the tractor at 10am. I have to be at work at 11am so this timing didn't leave much wiggle room. We left the house in plenty of time, drove to North Tacoma (actually more like Hilltop), and found the house. I made it all the way to the front porch before uttering a bad word when I realized I forgot to bring the MONEY. Duh. So I assured the seller that we'd be right back, apologized profusely to the husband and we made the round trip back to the house, grabbed the cash, and back to where the tractor awaited. And there it all its metal roofed, chicken wire sided glory. It was a sight for these sore eyes, indeed. As the 3 of us hefted its bulk onto the top of hubby's roof rack my elation turned to horror. It wasn't going to fit. Or was it? If it had been even a half inch wider I would've come back empty handed. It Another huge whew. We managed to strap it down and headed for home taking the back streets, avoiding potholes at all cost, and driving at a snail's pace. We made it home safely, with the tractor still perched precariously atop the Subaru. Now to get it down.....and around the side of the house to the backyard. This is a big, heavy, wide tractor. There were 3 adults lifting it up to the roof. We couldn't kidnap the seller and force her to come home with us to unload. We needed to scare up another body or 2. Our daughter was home but she was pretending to be crippled and none too thrilled to have to help. We also grabbed our son as he arrived at the yarn shop for work. It took all 4 of us to lift it down and then carry it down the side of the house (again is JUST fit) and set it down in the grass of its final destination, our backyard. And here it is. Ta da!

Reggie is VERY curious about this strange thing in his yard. He can smell the chickens but can't see any.

I stopped by our incredibly lame local feed store. Can you believe they were all out of chicken feeders? They also had farm fresh eggs advertised for $3 per dozen. But were out of those, as well. Major lameness. But I picked up 50# of feed and a water er. Will try to find a feeder tomorrow.

And sweetie, you know that gutter thing? I think we're even.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Robert Burns

Standard English translation:
But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!

Oh, don't I know it. You can do your homework, shop around, and get a fellow's word that he will accomplish a job, for a certain price, by a certain day. And that person will let you down more often than not. Such has happened with the fellow who I commissioned to build my chicken tractor. It is a very fortunate thing that I tried to contact him again, before Sunday, or I wouldn't realize until then that he has changed his mind. Not that he has said so, but it's what he is not saying that tells the tale. He is ignoring my emails and not returning my call. It should've been apparent that he was less than honorable when I caught him harvesting photos from another tractor builder's web site. Don't worry, he didn't get any of my money, so all it cost was a bit of time and frustration. All's well, that ends well. I managed to find this tractor which is less fancy but half the price, and it's located right here in Tacoma.

I have an appointment to go purchase it tomorrow morning. I am still on schedule for having 3 chickens in my backyard by Sunday. I am getting a pearl white leghorn, like this one,

also a production red, and a black star. At least that is the plan....and you know how those go.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I Didn't Sign Up For This, Man

One of my expectations of marriage are that there are "wife jobs" and "husband jobs". In our family wife jobs are things like: giving birth, changing diapers, doing laundry, washing dishes...that sort of thing. And husband jobs are: anything to do with cars, plumbing, computers, electricity....and cleaning gutters. Our gutters have needed attention for months. One of my customers teased that I needed to weed them (no, my husband needs to weed them, I replied). That was the last straw. I asked the husband which ladder I should use to climb up there? "Don't do it. I will", he replied. That was over a week ago. Apparently he meant that he would, just as soon as hell froze over. Today I was out weeding the parking lot when I glanced up at those damn gutters and could stand it no longer. I grabbed the closest ladder, a bucket, and a trowel, and climbed the 3 steps up to gutter level. Here I have already cleared out a big swath. It wasn't difficult, in fact it was very easy. There was so much composted debris in there that the roots of the plants had room to grow and spread. It was like pulling out chunks of sod.

And here is a close-up of how tall the weeds were up there. You could chop them for firewood, they were so big.

Next stop, the yarn shop, which is conveniently located across the alley. You guessed it. Those gutters were growing plants, too. Little scrub maples in this case.

It took all of 20 minutes. If you knew how afraid of heights I am you'd be super impressed. I did end up with a bunch of crap in my right eye, and now I'm all itchy.
So sweetie, you no longer have to clean those gutters. But it'll cost ya. And that moss is all yours.

Update on Operation Laverne & Shirley

If you've been checking the original post you'll see that I have broken the $200 mark. Hurray! And I have ordered up one of these little beauties. I was going to have to drive (actually my husband was going to have to drive) all the way to Portland to procure one but I was fortunate to find a fellow in Sequim who will do the job for $200. I should have it in my yard sometime this Sunday. I am sooooo excited to be one step closer to bringing Laverne & Shirley home (and maybe Joanie, too).

UPDATE on my update: As of 6-17-10 this fellow has flaked out and we are now following plan B.

Monday, June 14, 2010

First Paddle of the Season

We haven't been kayaking in over a year. I don't know why. Too lazy, I guess. But we are re inspired to get healthy and stay in shape. I am one of those who gets bored out of my mind going to a gym. I'd rather get my exercise the old fashioned way. By working hard, and playing hard. Today it was time to play. We drug the kayaks out of the garage and were dismayed to find that rats had been using them to sleep (and do other things) in. Dirty rats! That meant I would have to give the kayaks a bath before we got to play. Here are the freshly scrubbed boats being strapped to the roof of my hubby's car. This SWIFTY is mine. I call it Baby Beluga. Its a fat little booger but I love it because its so stable.

And here is my husband's boat. I don't think his has a name.

And here we are at Spanaway Lake. It takes about an hour to paddle all the way around. Definitely a nice workout. Off to the right is the boathouse with our boats on the dock, waiting for us to get up enough nerve to attempt to get in. Getting in (and out) of a kayak can be tricky. Especially when its been a while since you did it. I had visions of those old guys on the dock having a good laugh at my expense. At the center top of the picture is Enchanted Island, which is filled with lovely (and expensive) homes. We usually start by paddling around the island and come out on the far side (top left in the picture)....

....then we continue around (top of next picture) and head down to the far end (you can't see that far) and come back up along the opposite bank until we arrive back at the boat launch. Our reward for making it all the way around was to go get lattes from our favorite baristas. Mmmmm...that was damn good coffee.