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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Book Review: Keep Chickens by Barbara Kilarski

If you are on the fence whether or not you want a small flock of chickens, this book will convince you to have them.
Like me, the author grew up a city girl, but had a burning desire to have chickens. She lives on a very small plot of land she calls "postage stamp sized" in Oregon. The authors obvious love for her chickens shines through her writing. This well written book is entertaining while very informative. Keep Chickens has all the information you would need to get started with your city flock of chickens without being overwhelming. Included in the book are reasons for keeping chickens, the basics of chickens, neighborhood laws, definitions, what is required, coops, picking baby chicks, and chicken care. She has a very realistic view on the time, effort and cost involved with raising chickens. If you are looking to have a large flock or run into problems with your chickens, this book does not cover it. Even if you already have your very own suburban flock of chickens, you might learn a thing or two, I know I did. All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get started with their own small flock of chickens, what an entertaining book!!!


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Heirlooms 101

When my friend Meghan suggested we have a whole section dedicated to heirlooms on this blog I thought she might be placing a little too much emphasis on them. To me, an heirloom was a pretty tomato - a vegetable grown by mega-serious gardeners who wanted to impress their neighbors with rare produce. How wrong I was! After a lot of reading I am a changed (and educated) woman. I can now say that in the future I may not plant anything BUT heirlooms. Want to know why? Well first let's define what an heirloom vegetable is...

Heirlooms are:
1. Old - Usually associated with plants dating from the 1920's and older. It's hard to date them but some American heirlooms varieties are believed to be Pre-Columbian (meaning before Columbus came to America). Many heirloom seeds may have been carried by your ancestors across the ocean to America hundreds of years ago! There were reasons people held onto these seeds...

2. Open-pollinating - meaning if you gather seeds from your plants you'll get the same plant next year. You might not know this but if you tried to gather seeds from your garden center tomato plants and grow them the next year you wouldn't get the same plant from it. These plants are not able to reproduce and are often sterile. (Unless of course it's an heirloom) Over hundreds of years these seeds were gathered from the best plants of the harvest and continue to produce that same quality. Think of the savings!

3. High quality - The best of the heirlooms really are wonderful. They have it all. They taste wonderful, look beautiful, and are easy to grow. The vegetables and fruits you buy in the grocery store were not bred for flavor or quality - but for uniformity and ease of transporting. Which means that many pale in comparison when it comes to taste. Many people say that once you taste an heirloom vegetable you'll realize you have been eating the cardboard version of this veggie all your life. How exciting to taste flavors that mother nature intended you to have - unadulterated pleasure! At least as much as food can give you - which is a lot to a foodie like me!
Heirlooms were cultivated for many years to produce strong, disease fighting, climate hardy plants. In fact, some heirlooms were very locale specific - sometimes as much as a small valley with very specific weather patterns. The plants you purchase from the garden supply may tolerate your climate but they aren't complex creatures ready to thrive in your climate - but your heirlooms just may be.

Diversity and variety are good not only for our taste buds but also for our gardens. Another vital reason to maintain heirlooms is to keep their genetic traits for future use. When old varieties of food crops are not maintained, the gene pool grows smaller and smaller. This may lead to increased disease and pest problems. You may have pest or disease problems in your garden but with many different varieties the likelihood of all of your plants being affected is very low.

While this is just the tip of the iceberg(lettuce?) when it comes to heirlooms and their distinction, I hope you feel as inspired as I do to try out these treasured plants. So, this year when planning for your garden why not try some heirlooms? You may feel you are connecting to the past and sharing a heritage with your forebears in the planting of these wonderful vegetables and fruits. (There are also heirloom status livestock - animals that are better suited for the free range instead of the factory.) You can order heirloom seeds from several different companies including the Seed Savers Exchange. This company has a free seed catalog - order one even if you're not ready to plant heirlooms - just to acquaint yourself with these treasured plants!

More seed links:
Victory Heirloom Seeds
Amishland Heirloom Seeds
Heirloom Vegetable Gardener's Source


A lot of my information came from
this wonderful site and this amazing book(I'll be reviewing this book very soon.) Images from Mike Donk & Scott Bauer

Friday, January 25, 2008

Ramblin' Roses

I've recently moved into a new house, and shortly after I moved in I noticed roses in the front yard. I'm not exactly sure what kind they are, I think they are a sort of Climbing Rose. Maybe a Trailing Rose? Either way they were unkempt and didn't have many blooms. I have killed many a rose bush in my day, and instantly thought "Those are goners." However, one day my mom walked past them, put her good ole' Texas A&M Agronomy education to use and said, "You know if you will trim these to the second five they will do great." The second five??

She explained, after a bloom dies look down the stem and you will notice the leaves grow off the stem in bunches alternating of threes and fives (sometimes you will get even numbers in the mix as well). So walk down the stem and find your first set of five leaves, then keep walking down the stem until you find your second set of five leaves. (You may pass many non-five leaf groupings on your way down the stem. That is okay!) Then trim right above the second set of five!

Now I have such healthy happy roses. I feel empowered and I can tell they are rapidly becoming my babies.


Tuesday, January 22, 2008

My First Egg

Waiting for your first egg is almost like waiting to deliver a child. You can expect your hens to start laying eggs once they are about 5 months old, their "due date". You might even mark it on your calendar! Your chicks start out so cute and small, just like your body. Then the growing begins, your cute little body, I mean the chicks, get big. You wonder how big your bum is going to get just like you wonder how big your hens are going to get. As the due date gets nearer, you start the official countdown - and people start excitedly asking you if you have gotten any eggs yet. Waiting for the egg past the due date is so 'laborious' and some hens may not even 'deliver' their first egg until they are up to 6 months. Let me tell you, when your hens are 'overdue' on their first egg, it can be very frustrating. Every day feels like an eternity - let alone waiting four more weeks! You might even begin to think that the egg is never going to come, but it will. Every morning you run to the coop to see if there is a little surprise egg waiting for you, and when it's not there the disappointment is real. You have to check a couple more times during the day, because maybe the hens were too cold that morning or maybe they wanted to wait until after they ate. You start to think you must be doing something wrong. Maybe you could get the chicken on the trampoline to get that egg out, or is there some sort of special foot rub you can give to get the labor started? A nice long walk might jar it out. Can you harness a chicken and walk it on a leash?

But eventually it does come.

The excitement of getting the first egg is amazing. It is nowhere near the beautiful experience of delivering or receiving a child, but it is exciting none the less. If you are unfamiliar with farm life like I am, you may be a little apprehensive to eat that first egg. We waited and stressed over the first egg for weeks, but when it finally came we were scared to eat it! I triple dog dared my husband to eat it and he survived, so the fear disappeared after that. Now, after having fresh eggs for a year, I might call myself an 'egg snob' because there is no comparison to store bought eggs, but I will save that for another post.


Website Review: www.mypetchicken.com

While Marisa got her chickens from craigslist and I got my chickens from the local feed store - one the best ways to get chickens may be through a registered hatchery. Obtaining your chickens this way allows you to order the specific breeds you are looking for as well as better control the sex of the chicks. Chicks can live for the first few days after birth without being fed - they are still gaining their sustenance from the yolk sack which they absorb just before hatching. This enables day old chicks to be shipped directly to any customer that lives within a two day journey from the hatchery. There are hatcheries all over the nation and you might find one locally but a great resource for getting started is www.mypetchicken.com.

At My Pet Chicken a person can order all of the supplies needed for raising chickens - excepting the feed - or just get some very helpful information. My pet chicken has a free chicken care e-guide as well as forums and FAQ pages for help getting started and troubleshooting. They also sell pre-made coops and runs as well as plans for building coops. This cute coop plan is called the "playhouse" plan and will run you at $35.00/plan.

By far, my favorite and most used feature at the site is the breed finder. It asks you a few questions to help determine your needs/wants and then produces a list of chickens that meet your requirements. So, if you are looking for high egg producing chickens, chickens that are cold-hardy, or chickens that lay colorful eggs - this is the easiest way to find out the breeds that are best. Or you can search through their VERY thorough list of breeds. Other sites may list a few breeds but this list tops all other I've been able to find online.

Once you've selected a breed you can click on it's name to read all sorts of good stuff about it. This page has excellent color images of each breed - another thing that's hard to come by. I really haven't seen better images of so many breeds all on one site.
Each page details breed history, size and weight, personality, and egg laying characteristics including egg color. At the bottom of this page is also a listing of all of the hatcheries that this chicken is available for purchase from. What a helpful tool that is! I have been known to spend a serious amount of time on this site. It has also helped me to identify the breed of several of my hens. That has helped me to better understand their personalities and the amount of eggs I should expect from them.

This wonderful site also has books, art, clothing, and stationary all to support your love of everything chicken. Including some of those cute tin signs sporting such phrases as FRESH EGGS and Chicken X-ing.

I chose this site as my first website review because I believe it's the best there is when it comes to chickens. It's ease of use and graphic layout make it my top pick. These people really have thought of everything! It's also a great time to be looking at this and other sites because chicken orders will be starting as early as February and will be in full swing by Spring. Some of these beautiful breeds do sell out - so get your orders in soon! (I'll be ordering some blue Americaunas. They're beautiful hens that lay green and blue eggs!)

Here is an example of some cute prints from mypetchicken.com!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Clothesline Preview

This past weekend I got my clothesline in the mail from Amazon.com and I am so excited to install it. I am really stoked about this particular clothesline because it makes drying clothes outside so much more user-friendly! Check back soon to see my complete post on it!


Friday, January 18, 2008

When Gardeners garden...

This is my paternal great grandparents working in their garden outside their home in Utah. Circa 1930

When I was eleven years old I announced to my parents that I wanted to be a shepherd when I grew up. They assumed I was just trying to make them laugh, but I was completely sincere. I had thought about how I wanted to spend my time as an adult and the life of a shepherd seemed fitting. I can see now what I was reaching for - a quiet simple life, my days spent out of doors, with animals and mother nature. Though I don't want to be a shepherd anymore, I still yearn for the same things I did as a child.

My mind is always going. There are all sorts of names for my type but I prefer to call myself a dreamer. Sometimes though, my brain can get fuddled up with noise - all of the things I heard/read/saw that day from websites, the news, phone calls, music from the car radio, my kids running through the house screaming, or the dog barking. The only thing that seems to help is going outside and doing something with my hands. When I'm outside it feels like all of that confusion and stress just slips off of me and is replaced with a quiet strength. I know that sounds silly but I mean it!

I see the same in my kids. After too much television or video games - they are like wide-eyed zombies ready to attack. I've found if we take a step outside and pull some weeds from the tomatoes, or gather some basil for making fresh pesto, or just watch the chickens scratch around for bugs, that they return to their former selves. They're curious and thoughtful - they're happy (and a little dirty).

I recently came across a quote from Ken Druse, a gardening guru, writer, and photographer, that said:

When gardeners garden, it is not just plants that grow,
but the gardeners themselves.

He succinctly puts into words what I find to be true in my own life. I have realized that to live an abundant life I need more time in that element and away from computers, television, and radios. More than ever before, the world we are surrounded by is constantly bombarding us with both visual and auditory noise. It gets harder and harder to have even shorts amounts of time away from technology. I finally got a cell phone a few months ago and I have a hard time even blow-drying my hair without it in my gaze. I easily become a media junkie who needs a garden to save me on a day to day basis!

So, that is why I am so excited, or should I say obsessed, with this new blog. These activities that have been lost in the last two generations or less are essential to living full & peaceful lives! I really do hope that it will serve as a reminder and a help to my family and yours in our quest for better lives. And if not, at least in our quest for some darn tasty eggs and homemade pesto!


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

How we got started with chickens (Part II)

If you remember from my last post (Part I) We started with 2 baby chicks. Refer back to the last post to see what happened to them, I would hate to rehash all the gory details. Even with that rocky beginning, I was devastated but not defeated.

A few months later, I think it was in August I was browsing around Craigslist. (Craigslist is a free service where you can post items you would like to give away for free, sell, or even items you are looking for. You can choose your city and everything is broken up into categories for your convenience. It is really easy to use and is fun to browse around. It can be a great resource to get you started in backyard farming at a lower cost.) As I was browsing Craigslist, I saw that someone was giving away 3 free chickens that the had given to their kids for Easter, and of course, the novelty had worn off of the kids. I immediately called her, grabbed our cat carrier and drove right over there. The family was so nice, they even gave me all the chicken feed, a feeder, and a waterer - all for free!

My kids were so excited. The two oldest got to choose which was going to be their chicken and what their names would be. There was one left so my husband named that one. My son named his Sam, my daughter named hers Princess Jasmin, and my husband named his Dog Food. As you can tell, my husband did not have faith that these chickens would survive for very long!

From left to right: Sam, Dog Food, Princess Jasmin
Now, I wasn't going to repeat the same mistake I made the first time I had chickens, so my husband built a gate to section off the side of the house for the chickens. That way they could be safe without being tormented by the dog and it would also help protect them from any predators that might be in the neighborhood. For the hen's house we used a large breed dog house that we propped up off the ground. We had heard putting it up makes them feel a little safer. We went to the local feed store and bought some wood shavings for the dog house to keep them warm and comfy at night. We kept them well fed and watered. Then we waited - waited for our very first egg.


Monday, January 14, 2008

Backyard Potatoes

There are many methods for growing potatoes but none is as easy or as convenient for a backyard as the container or trash can method! All you will need is a container between 20"-30" tall, a trash can works perfectly.

Start with seed potatoes. I found mine at the local garden store. They are easiest to find in January to early February. You don't want to use grocery store potatoes because they can carry diseases which will produce unhealthy plants. Seed potatoes are certified disease free and ready for planting, but if you can't find any - store potatoes may work in a pinch.

You want to cut each potato in half and then in half again - making sure there are a few eyes on each "seed". The cut pieces will then need to dry for at least 24 hours to help prevent any rotting.

Meanwhile you can prep your planting area. Drill some large holes in the bottom of your container to ensure proper drainage. We also placed ours on two boards to facilitate even more drainage.

Once your container is ready to go, fill the bottom with medium sized rocks - we used volcanic rock because it was the most economical but any rock will do. After the rock layer, add about 6 inches of an acidic soil. You can buy soil with higher acidity or add a good amount of organic material like leaves or peat moss to increase it's acidity.

After the potatoes have finished drying it is time to plant! Place the "seeds" cut side down in the soil and cover with a few inches of your soil mixture. After some time the potato vines will begin to grow up and out of your soil. Once they have reached about 6 inches tall, cover them with soil again until just about a third is sticking out. Continue this process until the plants begin to flower. Remember to water your potatoes but not so much that the soil is soggy - that will increase your chances of rot. Liquid fertilizers are also a good choice if you are so inclined. After the plants have flowered, stop watering and let them dry. Once the vine is withered and dry, let the potatoes cure in the soil for a few weeks to help them store longer. Depending on soil/weather conditions this process should take about 130-150 days and will produce a trash can filled with delicious home grown potatoes!

-Megan & Mike Knorpp

Friday, January 11, 2008

Program Review: Get Naked at Home.

Against my better judgment I stayed up way past my bedtime Sunday night to watch the sneak peak of Jamie at Home on the food network. The show will premier this Saturday but it was definitely worth the late night to catch an early glimpse. Jamie Oliver, otherwise know as the Naked Chef, has come out of retirement on Food TV with a new cooking show featuring food he grows in his own backyard. The show is filmed in an outdoor cooking shed, in his kitchen, & right in his backyard where he cooks in a brick oven. It is oh so inspiring on so many levels. Sunday nights episode featured Peppers & Chilis & left your mouth watering after every recipe. Jamie is so excited the entire episode & it really gets you excited about cooking homegrown food. He seems driven by love for the ingredients he is working with & he has a very hands on approach to cooking. Many times he stirred with his hands & licked his fingers to taste, & of course we get to watch him pick his ingredients from his garden. You almost get the feeling that the food is a part of his family.
Not only did this show inspire in the way of cooking but also in encouraging a wide array of ingredients to be grown. Jamie featured many heirloom peppers & speaks of the different characteristics they all have. The colors of the dishes were incredible. One of the highlights of the show was when Jamie deseeded one of the peppers & then simply threw the seed behind him on the ground commenting that he hoped that would produce a plant next year!
You can't help but pull from Jamie's enthusiasm as you watch. The show is very fast pace & it almost feels as if Jamie is going to jump up & down with joy as he is cooking. That kind of love is addictive & you almost feel the need to run & start your own garden immediately! The show airs on Saturday mornings starting tomorrow & I don't think that time slot was unintentional. I have a feeling Jamie Oliver is going to start a new movement all on his own of urban homesteading & the results should be magnificent!
For those of you who don't have television, make sure to check out the Jamie at Home book where you will learn to cook & to grow stuff. Watch the funny promotional video here.

-meghan stubbs

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

How we got started with chickens (Part I)

Besides gardening, chickens have been our (Marisa) first attempt at backyard farming. We learned a lot over the last year and a half of having chickens.

Here is how we got started...

We started with 2 baby chicks that our neighbors gave us. The chicks had been given to their 8 year old son by his uncle, gotta love those uncles! They seem to give our kids and teach our kids everything we don't want. They knew that I had wanted chickens for a while, so after about a week (when the novelty of having chickens wears off of kids), we got the 2 baby chicks. Oh, they were soooooo cute. Along with the deal, we got a little bottomless chicken coop (remember that it is bottomless, it is an important factor later in the story).

Not only did the kids and I love the baby chicks, so did our dog Jada.
Now, remember that part where I told you the chicken coop was bottomless? This is something you will want to remember if you decide to get chickens. Jada, being a playful little dog, well I guess I should say little in maturity yet large in size. Jada believes that anything left in the backyard is a toy, this did not exclude baby chicks. She was able to dig a hold in the grass, scoot the 'bottomless' chicken coop over the hole, the chicks fell in and she was able to get them. My husband and I came home from a night on the town to find a dead baby chick on our back porch. I was devastated!!!

But, I did not give up. There is more to this story.


Friday, January 4, 2008

Welcome to Backyard Farming!

Growing up I always wanted to live on a farm. I wanted to spend time outdoors - able to hear the wind blowing through the trees and fields - to spend time with animals - to work with my own hands. That desire continued into my college years and as I started my own family. Together my husband and I dreamed of moving out to a piece of land after we finished school to live more simply but life took us in a different direction. We applied for jobs - looked at different communities and homes and found ourselves in the middle of a large suburb of an even larger city. We longed for the lifestyle we had dreamed of, but we also enjoyed the benefits of living in a place so close to friends, schools, churches, shopping, and work. We were torn between living in two seemingly opposite worlds.

After a few years we realized that it was possible to enjoy many of the activities of rural living in our suburban home. We planted a highly productive herb and vegetable garden and enjoyed our harvest for many seasons. Still though, we wanted more, we wanted animals! We visited local feed stores and farms and investigated what, if any, farm animals could live happily in our backyard. Around this time some friends of ours started their own backyard flock of chickens. After some encouragement we went to the local feed store and came home with four baby chicks. For the first six weeks they lived in a box in our pantry while we designed and built a simple chicken coop in our backyard. We were hooked and our quest for a backyard farm had begun! Little by little we are adding small activities to give both simplicity and joy to our daily lives.

Backyard farming is the idea that we can bring a little piece of a simple country life to the city or suburb where we live. Whether you live on 1/16 of an acre or 20 acres there are some simple and healthy activities that can be incorporated into daily life that are good not only for your own family - but for the planet. This site is dedicated to those things. We hope not only to give you a glimpse into the things that bring us joy - but also to provide some practical instruction. Whether you're interested in adding a small herb garden to your patio, having your own compost pile, or obtaining a flock of backyard chickens - this is the place for you!

-Megan Knorpp