Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Celebrating diversity and making lemonade...

Sunday, October 18, 2020

"I'm molting! Molting"

 In the Coop

A couple of the girls are in a hard molt and it was downright scary!  I decided I had better do a little research about molting and how to help the girls out during this difficult time.

Shorter days can trigger a response in poultry to shed their old feathers and produce new ones for the upcoming winter.  Feathers help to protect the birds against rain, snow and cold temperatures.  This happens every year.  Old feathers are dropped and new ones grow in.  

I had read that young hens (less than 12 months) may not molt the first year but there are definitely a couple girls that are molting.  Notice how "mottled" their appearance is...

Molting can take between 3 and 16 weeks.  Feathers are about 85% protein (keratin protein, to be exact) so it is good to give extra protein while the girls are molting.  Sunflower seeds were mentioned as a good source of extra protein.  Our girls already get sunflower seeds for treats every day.  I had also read that you can feed flock raiser which has a higher amount of protein than layer feed.

Growing feathers is hard work so the chickens and ducks may temporarily quit laying eggs while their body puts all its energy into growing new feathers.  Molting can be mild or severe. Some hens molt slowly, just losing a few feathers here and there over a longer period of time. Other chickens molt quickly, dropping lots of feathers suddenly. These are called 'soft' and 'hard' molts, respectively.  Here is an example of a hard molt...
I have seen this girl get picked on a bit.  This may happen when they go through a hard molt.  I am keeping an eye on the situation and we will put her in the quarantine cage if things start to get out of hand.  So far, she has done a good job of getting away from the bullies.

A hen/ducks egg production is also tied to light, as mentioned earlier.  A hen/duck needs at least 14 hours of light each day to keep laying eggs.  We do provide lighting in our coops to keep the girls laying.  Our chickens and ducks receive good quality feed and treats all year long so we expect them to work in the winter too (after they have finished molting).

We did purchase some game bird feed.  It is 30% protein.  The girls eat about 23 pounds of feed a day so I would put out about 5 pounds of the game bird feed to increase the amount of protein available to them.  I have been feeding this through the month of October but I don't expect to continue this practice.  We also experimented with fermenting some feed but that will be for a future blog post...stay tuned...

Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, October 4, 2020

The Plum Patch...

 The Plum Patch

When we moved here, the neighbor pointed out the plum patch to the north of the property.  We rode his ATV out to get a closer look...
It looks pretty nice from a distance but as you get closer you can see all the bryony choking out some of the trees.  Bryony is a terrible noxious weed that is almost impossible to get rid of.  It grows on some of the apple trees on our property but I am able to pull most of it out.
The brown vines on the trees is the bryony
The plum patch is also where the coyotes hang out.  Here you can see an entrance that goes back into the plum bushes...
So, we have been here 3 years and I finally got out to pick some plums!  There are 3 different kind of plums in the patch.  The first one pictured is what I consider a "regular" plum...
Then, there were a few smaller purple plums...
Finally, there are a bunch of greengage plums.  These plums are smaller green/yellow colored plums.  They are a European plum but originated from Iran.  They are considered a fine dessert plum.
I was able to pick quite a good size bucket of the greengages.  
I wanted to make some jam.  I could only find European recipes that used grams and milliliters in their measurements.  Luckily, I have a food scale so this wasn't a problem and I got the jam made.  This is the first pectin-free jam that I have ever made.  It turned a deep brown color similar to a plum butter.  I was kind of hoping it would stay that goofy green color...that would have been great for Halloween...
After making 2 batches of jam, I still had plums leftover.  If you have ever worked with plums, you know that once you pick them, they need to be used right away.  They don't really keep that well.  I decided to dehydrate some of the plums...
...and then I made an upside down plum cake with the last of the plums.  I am not sure how appetizing this looks.  It may have looked better with purple plums but it tasted great!
The plums were small and the pit did not really come out easily but I am happy with the results.  Hard to pass up on free food!  I "planted" the pits out by the chickens/ducks so we will see if I get any plum bushes growing next spring. 

A wonderful, egg delivery customer shared his Italian Plum tree with us!  I also made some Italian Plum jam.
I picked up some grounders, pitted them, and gave some to the girls!  They loved them!
Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Summer 2020 review

On the Farm

Autumn begins this week so this seems to be a good time for a summer review.  First, an update on the Langstroth hive: it did not make it ($200 down the drain).  I tried putting a new queen in there but she did not take.  So, I just put it away and will get it out next spring and try again.  I have a bee "art" project that I am going to be working on with a friend so more on that next year.  Since most of the honey we harvest comes from the Langstroth hive, we will not have any honey for sale for a maybe a couple years.  The top bar hive continues to do well!
It's a little hard to see but the bees love the water feature.

We continue to be busy in the garden.  The garlic, carrot and beet harvests was decent and the onion harvest was fantastic.  The eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini are just starting to come on AND we are actually getting a nice harvest of cantaloupe and watermelon!  I canned 11 pints of Rotel yesterday but I probably will not get any salsa canned unless I get some peppers.  
Garlic curing before going into storage

I was able to ferment some salsa!  I had to use some tomatoes that a friend gave me to make this batch.  Fermented foods have increased digestibility and vitamins.  Also, fermented foods promote growth of healthy bacterial flora (probiotics) in your intestines.  I also made a good amount of sauerkraut (which is basically fermented cabbage) and some pickles.
We grew our first batch of meat chickens.  Here is a pic of the electric scalder and plucker that we used.  It went pretty good.  The electric scalder takes a LONG time to heat up (5 hours).  So, we ended up just using a large pot of water set over a propane tank flame for the scalding.  Next time, I will get it plugged in sooner (the paperwork that came with it says it will heat up in 20 minutes).  
Scalder and plucker for processing meat chickens
I was able to make several new jams/jellies this summer.  This is a pic of some elderberry jelly.  This is one of Henry's new favorites.  I have enough berries saved in the freezer to make one more batch.  Other new jams/jellies were white currant, black currant, mint, and roasted rhubarb.  
Trying to get better about seed saving.  I always start with good intentions but then get overwhelmed with all the processing in the fall and never get around to saving seeds.  So, trying to start with simple things.  This is lettuce that has gone to seed (see the white fluffy stuff at the top of the plant) and is ready to harvest the seeds.
This is spinach that I let go to seed.  I did not realize that spinach has male and female plants.  Also, I did not know that the seeds actually grow on the stems of the plant (not at the top like the lettuce).  Learning new things all the time...
The girls are loving the cooler weather and I am still praying for a late, hard freeze.  It got down to 39 degrees the day after Labor Day and zapped the basil and hurt some of the squash and pepper plants but most of the other plants are still chugging along.


Sunday, September 6, 2020

It's a lot quieter around here...

 On the Farm

Last weekend we processed the first half of the meat chickens and since we were chopping heads off, the roosters also saw their end.  We only had 2 roosters but the bigger rooster would attack us (Mark and me) and the smaller rooster kept attacking the ducks.  I could tell that Mark was getting nervous around the roosters and would watch them and not walk past them.  It was just poor working conditions.  If the roosters had been nicer, they could have stayed.  There are lots of great reasons to keep a rooster...


Rooster look out for the flock.  They keep their eye to the sky and watch for predators.  I have seen all the girls run into the barn after the rooster made some type of noise to alert the girls of danger in the sky.  Also, a rooster will also crow if there is danger approaching.  He crowed a lot when Henry went out to the chicken area!  Henry didn't really like the roosters either.
The bigger rooster was almost always the last one in the barn at night, making sure that all the girls got in safely.

Fertilized Eggs

You don't have to have a rooster for a hen to lay eggs.  Chickens have been selected over the centuries to lay eggs most all year.  Now, if you want to hatch eggs, you definitely need a rooster to have fertilization so that baby chicks will develop.  We do not want to hatch baby chicks from our current hens.  They are hybrids so they would not breed true.  Therefore, we didn't really need a rooster.  It just happened that when we ordered the hens, 2 of them turned out to be roosters.

It is really cute to see the rooster do his little shuffle dance to try and impress the ladies.  Also, he will point out little pieces of food for the girls.  He will pick up the food and then drop it again to show the girls.  This is called tidbitting.  

Roosters look handsome but they can be kind of rough on the girls too.  They jump on the hens back to mate with them...(I am really keeping an eye on this girl, she did not leave the barn for several days.  I think she got jumped on too much.  The good news is that I saw her out in the run a couple days ago and she seems much more alert!)
and pull out the feathers in their heads...
I understand this is part of their mating routine but sometimes it gets to be a bit much.  I thought since we only had 2 roosters that maybe it would not be so bad or they would spread their love around but I was mistaken.


Roosters keep the girls in line.  In the absence of a rooster, the hens may start fighting to work out the pecking order.  I have seen some hen fighting and I am keeping an eye on it.  I have even read that the "head" hen may start crowing!  I am curious to see if this happens!

So, it's a lot quieter around here in some ways.  The roosters were crowing loudly at like 3:00 in the morning.  I didn't really mind the crowing but it is nice that it's quieter.  However, on a side note, the dogs have been super noisy lately.  It seems we have a raccoon (the neighbor saw one on September 1st) and a skunk hanging around the farm (we can smell it some mornings).  I think the dogs are barking a lot to keep them away.  Both skunks and raccoon will prey on chickens.

One last note about getting rid of the roosters... 
Eventually, we want to go and visit Joshua and extended family in Kansas and Pennsylvania (after this pandemic lets up).  At that time, we will need someone to come and take care of the girls.  I think it would be difficult to find someone that would come to feed/water the girls and know how to fend off the roosters too.  Now, we don't have to worry about that.

Have an eggcellent day!

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Working Prepper Pantry

 In the Home

Recent activities in the world have made me reevaluate our home pantry situation.  I have decided to start a "working" pantry.  This blog is not about how to start your own Prepper Pantry but just my own rambling thoughts on being prepared.  Just google "Prepper Pantry" and you can find lots of information for starting your own pantry.  Here is a link to a free checklist for Preppers on Prepper Website that I like.

My goal is to have 3 months of food stored in case of an emergency situation.  An emergency can be a power outage due to a natural disaster or a lock down due to a global pandemic (which I didn't even think was possible until a few months ago).  
Let me start by explaining what I mean by building a "working Prepper pantry".  Mostly, I am talking about food reserves.  Most people could go a week without a bath but it would be hard to go for a week without food.  I never did understand the panic buying of the toilet paper earlier this year...but that is just me.  Once I get our food stores figured out, I will get extra of toiletry/hygiene items.

Let me insert a special note about water.  Water is probably the most important item you can have when preparing for a disaster.  Most preparedness sites I have seen suggest a gallon of water per person per day.  We have a well so if we lose electricity, our pump does not work and we will not have water.  We have a good amount of gallon water jugs set aside but we should probably have a larger, drum to store more water.  I have been wanting to get another rain barrel so maybe this is a good opportunity to do something like that (see, I told you this would be a lot of my thought ramblings...).  

Okay, back to my definition of a working Prepper pantry.  I think it would be best to explain with an example.  We buy flour in 25 pound bags.  I usually only have one bag of flour at a time.  When the bag gets low, we put it on the grocery list and then buy another one to replace it.  Now, I am going to buy an extra bag of flour and keep it in our Prepper pantry.  Then, when we use up our current bag of flour, we would take the extra bag of flour out of the Prepper pantry and use that bag and then replace it in the pantry.  So, it is like always having a back up.  
Store what you eat


 eat what you store!

This is a common Prepper phrase that I ran across several times in my research.  The idea I had was to make up a list of simple meals for a week and then just buy enough to make that meal for 12 weeks.  For example, one of my dinner meals is spaghetti.  So, I bought 12 jars of spaghetti sauce and 12 boxes of pasta.  We have ground beef and ground pork in the freezer so I could add some meat to the sauce for protein.  I would maybe add some green beans as a side so I also stocked up on 12 cans of green beans.

Obviously, we are not eating the same meals every week right now.  This is just for a true emergency.  To keep the pantry items fresh, we will use items out of the pantry on a regular basis and then replenish them while always keeping a stockpile of 3 months worth of food.  I hope that makes sense.

I am putting most of my emphasis on storing lunch and dinner items.  Usually for breakfast, we have eggs (I hope that is not a big surprise to anyone) or muffins/pancakes.  Muffins and pancakes are made with sugar and flour.  Of course, we will have extra baking supplies (baking powder, baking soda, salt, etc.) in the Prepper pantry too.

You may say, "Wouldn't you get tired of eating the same 7 meals for 12 weeks?"  Well, as I mentioned earlier, we often eat the same thing for breakfast most days and we have pizza EVERY Friday evening!  Mark demands it!  I guess I had better stock up on pepperoni and mozzarella cheese.  Did you know you can freeze mozzarella cheese?  I think we will need to get a larger freezer...

Speaking of freezers...we have meat stored in our freezers but I also purchased some canned meat.  I also bought canned beans and we have dry beans too.  It's good to have a back up for your back up.  This makes me think of another common Prepper phrase:

Two is one


One is none!

Of course, I will keep working on freezing/canning items from the garden, dehydrating herbs, and storing items in our root cellar like I do each year.  I am actually working on the root cellar and turning it into a cold room.  I will have an update on this when it is completed.  

Here is a pic of some green beans that I canned yesterday.  Last year, I froze all our green beans but canning will make them more shelf stable.  I have also tried dehydrating green beans in the past but I did not care for the texture when they were re-hydrated...

I am not suggesting that everyone go out and start stockpiling food but maybe now is a good time to look at your preparedness and grab an extra can of food next time you go to the grocery store.  If you bought an extra can of food each week when you went to the store, you could also have an extra 3 months supply of food in 3 months.

Have an Eggcellent Day!



Sunday, August 9, 2020

Garden 2020 update

In the Garden

This blog is going to be short and sweet.  The garden did okay but last year it was better (insert sad face here).  Here is a video tour of the garden so most of the information can be found in that...

We had a bumper crop of onions.  I harvested them yesterday and laid them out to dry.  Last year, I kind of layered them on top of each other for drying and then they started to mold while in storage.  I think it is really important to keep them all separated so they can cure and dry out completely.
I like to store carrots and beets in our root cellar.  I pack them in damp sand.  
I also do a lot of drying.  I pick flowers and let them air dry.  These will be fed to the chickens and ducks as treats this winter.  Here is a pic of some nasturtium and yarrow flowers.  We also harvest lavender, marigold, chamomile, calendula, and probably some other things that I am forgetting...parsley, sage, dill and comfry foliage...
Pic of lettuce (saving for seed), eggplant and watermelon vines in the water trough raised bed...
I think that one problem is that we put new wood chips down on the garden and I did not dig down far enough to get things rooted in the soil below when I planted.  I enjoy the Back-to-Eden style gardening for some things (tomatoes, squash, and corn) but it seems that the raised beds did better this year.  We will be making some more raised beds this fall for next years garden.
Happy gardening!


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Chasing the swarm


I knew the top bar hive was doing well.  In fact it was doing so well that the bees were running out of room!  They were literally spilling out of the hive...this pic was taken early last week...
A responsible beekeeper would have taken the time to split the hive.  See...the bees were making a new queen in a swarm cell.  The upside down cup-looking cells are queen cells in the pic below.  Once the queen emerges from the cell, she leaves the hive and takes about half of the bees with her in a swarm.  It only takes 16 days for a queen to go from egg to larvae and then into queen!
I have seen a swarm before but I have never actually seen the "swarming" of the bees out of the hive.  Last Thursday afternoon, I just happened to actually see the swarming (but I didn't actually know what was going on) and I filmed it!
It was something out of a sci-fi movie.  There were bees everywhere and they were buzzing so LOUDLY!  The bees finally landed in the top of an apple tree.  At this point, they send out little scouting bees to find a new home.  When they find a good place to start a new home, the scouting bee come back and lead the swarm away to their new home.
Once I knew where the swarm had landed, I called my friend, Alison, because she has a special 5 gallon bucket on the end of a pole that you can use to capture a swarm.  Here is a pic of a similar swarm catcher...
Unfortunately, even with bucket on a pole, I could not reach the swarm.  It was in the very top of the apple tree.  So, Henry got a ladder and I climbed to the top of a 10 foot ladder and hoisted the bucket-on-a-pole up into the air.  We did not bother to put on any bee suits.  I told Henry not to worry because bees in a swarm are friendly because they do not have any hive to defend.  Then, I jammed the bucket up into the swarm and the bees went crazy!  They started flying everywhere!  I got stung on the neck and Henry got stung on his head.  Abort, abort, abort!

So, I started to think of what else I could do to capture the swarm.  First thing I did was to go to Bed, Bath and Beyond to get some lemongrass essential oil.  Did you know that bees are attracted to the scent of lemongrass?  It's true.  I got back home and set up a swarm trap that I made out of an old nuc box.  I put a bunch of lemongrass in the trap.  Maybe, if I got lucky, the swarm would go into the trap...
I also put some of the lemongrass in my Langstroth hive.  I had gotten bees for the Langstroth hive in May but they did not make it ($160 down the drain!).  I figured that if I caught the swarm, I could put it in the Langstroth hive.  We put on some bee suits and I tried two more times to get the bees that evening.  I caught a few hundred bees each time and dumped them into the Langstroth but I could not get the entire swarm.  It's very difficult to balance a 5 gallon bucket on the end of a 10 foot pole on top while standing on top of a 10 foot ladder!

The next morning, we tried one more time to catch the swarm but we were still unsuccessful.  That afternoon, the swarm was gone...bummer...

I looked into the top bar hive and I saw more queen cells that were early in their development.  I took a couple of these bars out of the top bar hive and put them into the Langstroth.  My hope is that the few bees that I got off the swarm would take care of the developing queen and she would hatch and they would keep her as their leader.  This is really unconventional so I would not suggest anyone follow this advice.  The components of a top bar hive and a Langstroth hive are not interchangeable.  The top bars are the ones with the numbers on them in this pic...
I am not upset that the bees swarmed and went away.  That is part of beekeeping.  It is actually a win that the bees were doing so well that they had to swarm.  I just wish I could have caught that swarm and put it in the Langstroth hive.

In a perfect world, I would have had an empty top bar hive to split the hive into.  I have been thinking about getting another hive of each.  The reason I have the Langstroth hive in the first place is because my top bar hive swarmed a couple of years ago and I was able to catch that swarm.  Here is a blog post that I did when we caught that swarm, just click HERE.  After we caught the swarm, I ran to the local farm store and bought the Langstroth hive to put the swarm in to it.  Top bar hives are not as common as the Langstroth hives so you you can't just go to the farm store and buy one.  Also, hives are not cheap so that is why I have not gotten around to getting more.  The beekeeping started as a 4-H project for Joshua and I have kind of taken it over and have been on the fence about how much I want to do with it.  I really enjoy it but don't feel like I have the time...

The swarming happened over a week ago (not this past Thursday and Friday but the week before).  I mention this because I checked on the Langstroth hive yesterday and the queen bee cells were all capped.  This means that the new queen may be emerging soon!  I also got stung again...pro-tip...lavender essential oil is really good at taking the pain of the sting out right away!

I will make sure to give a hive update in September when I do the summer review...to be continued...