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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Recycled shelter

By Jennifer

I'm blindsided. I've lived in the same region all my gardening life, and have never seen snow this late into May. What in the world?!? The drive in junior high carpool this morning was long enough for rain to turn to snow on my windshield. The radio announcer noted the temperature as 37 degrees. I freaked out a little bit, knowing that my tomato plants were helpless naked beach bums about to be invited to a ski slope.

I had a double scramble when I got home: getting my younger children ready for elementary school, as well as coming up with ways to protect my tomato plants and other seedlings from the thickening snow. Thankfully, (as is my habit), I was a bit behind with gardening, so I'd only planted five tomatoes when starting my plot nine days ago. All the other seedlings remained in their flats on the patio. And since I also hadn't yet taken down my grow lights, I whisked the flats back indoors to those shelves.

 Yes, this picture is oriented correctly. The poor tomato plant is lying on the ground.

But what to do about the vulnerable plants outside? Apart from cottage cheese, I'm not a real fan of white stuff on my tomatoes. It's not the snow itself I'm concerned about really, just the fact that it's COLD ENOUGH for snow! An hour after my junior high trip, as I took my other children to school, the radio announcer noted the temperature as 36 degrees. Getting colder! Not good.

How could I have been so oblivious to the weather? Even as I was asking myself "Why didn't I cover my plants last night?" I frantically searched for a solution. My first choice was milk jugs, of which I found two empty under the sink, and another nearly so in the fridge.

I decided to make newspaper teepees for the remaining two plants. And wouldn't you know it? In gathering sections of newspaper I found the weather forecast:

Ah-ha! No mention of snow whatsoever. At least I wasn't off in the head! I found great satisfaction in using that very newspaper page -- and its incorrect forecast -- to shelter my tomatoes.

To make the freestanding teepees I stacked five to six long sections, then loosely folded and stapled them. That's all. I left a small opening at the top to allow some light and ventilation.

I prefer bottomless milk jugs over the newspaper teepees, because they are rigid and allow lots of light. You can also use the lid to close them at night, offering warm, greenhouse-like conditions -- but the newspaper teepees will do great in a pinch. If the bad weather persists I will replace them as I empty more jugs. So drink up, kids!

At least it's not all bad. My peas, lettuce and spinach will be loving life. Read here and here for more about cold-tolerant crops.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Homegrown Giveaway

by Mike

We appreciate all of the responses for last weeks giveaway of the book Homegrown by Marta Teegen. Using the random number generator on my IPOD I came up with the winner. Drum roll please.....and that winner is Penny of Black Sheep Cottage fame. Penny, please email us your address at backyardfarmingblog@gmail.com and we will ship you the book. You will love it. Thanks go out to Marta Teegen the author for providing this book for our giveaway.

As a side note, it is currently snowing here in Utah and many of the fruit trees have lost their blooms which is not good. Hopefully the damage does not end up being as bad as it currently looks.

In other news, I watched the LOST finale last night and I still don't get what that show was about but I feel like I was entertained.

We at backyard farming appreciate everyone who participates on our blog, whether it is reading, commenting, or just passing through. If none of you came to participate, we would not be doing it so thanks to all of you and we wish we could give you all a book.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Homegrown Recipe

Don't forget to leave a comment for a chance to win the book Homegrown by Marta Teegen.

And here is the recipe we tried from the book

Shaved Fennel Salad with Arugula, Avocado, and Almonds

3 Florence fennel bulbs
1 handful Florence fennel fronds, torn into bite-size pieces
2 large handfuls arugula, torn into bite-size pieces
1 avocado, halved and cut into 1/4" slices
1/3 cut raw sliced almonds, lightly toasted
Extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

Use a mandolin to slice the fennel bulbs as thinly as possible (or use a serrated knife)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the sliced fennel, fennel fronds, arugula, avocado, and almonds. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice and toss. Taste and add more lemon juice or olive oil, if desired. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and toss again. Serve immediately.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Painting with Chives

Maya was sitting on the front porch and observed that our chives looked like little purple paint brushes. 

So we picked a few of those "paint brushes" to see if they would work. 

And they did.
I must warn you that it took quite a few chives to paint an entire page because they weren't real sturdy, and it took me a while to figure out it was my kids stinky hands that smelt bad, and not me. I was beginning to think my "imaginary deodorant" wasn't working any more.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Questions from Readers

Hey there wonderful readers! I have been asked 2 questions, neither of which I know the answer to, I have never had either problem. So, if you know the answer, leave a comment. 



One of my laying hens has this white, very moist mess around her whole rear end and her anus is protruding out and has fell out and has sores on it. I cleaned her up in some warm water. Can u tell me what this is?


My chickens have been molting for a few weeks now.Do they usually lose weight during this time. My girls are looking quite scrawny and I can feel the breast bone really sticking out. Someone suggested a mite could be the prolem. Samantha


Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book Review and Giveaway

Don't judge a book by its cover...unless it is the book Homegrown by Marta Teegen because not only is the cover beautiful, but the content is beautifully written.

Teegan goes over many of the aspects of gardening in raised beds, containers, and in small spaces. I really like her approach to planting the garden, not in neat and tidy rows, but simulating nature. I wrote plenty of notes in the margins so I can refer back to the book when I'm ready to start my garden in our next house.

One thing I thought was really interesting was the combination she uses to make up the soil. She uses composted horse manure, wood shavings, and straw with a touch of bone meal and green sand. I still have to research what green sand is!  I like this idea because it seems like it would be a heck of a lot cheaper than Mel's Mix used in square foot gardening.

There is a gallery of plants and produce where she goes over many of the different plants you may be interested in planting. For each plant she lists the best climate and site to plant, growing season, how much to plant, how to grow it, good companion plants, problems you may have, how to harvest it, and even how to eat it. 

To top it all off, Teegen is a chef and has included many recipes to use all the good grub you grow in your garden. We tried out the Shaved Fennel Salad with arugula, avocado, and almonds. It was delish!!! The combination of textures and flavors was just perfect.

This book covers a lot of the basics, so it would be great for a beginner as well as the seasoned gardener. Some days I feel like I'm a beginner even though I've been gardening for about 8 years and I still learned many new things. I'm so glad to have this book in my library, and we want one of you lucky readers to be able to add it to your library as well.

To win a copy of this book, simply leave a comment. Be sure to check back to see if you won.

Giveaway will close Friday May 21st at midnight. 

Thanks for subscribing!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Endangered Species Day

Friday May 21st is Endangered Species Day, here are some ideas on how to observe it.
  • Go do the zoo to see endangered species in person. 

  • Read this e-book to your kids (you don't even have to login to read it)

  • Go to the library and check out books on endangered species

  • Have your kids do an art project on their favorite animal or endangered animal. 

  • Plan a neighborhood clean up. 

  • Find a documentary or video to watch on endangered species. 

  • Blog about it. 

    Sunday, May 16, 2010

    As if I didn't have enough to worry about...

    Now I get called to jury duty. I know, I know, it is my duty as an American Citizen, but did they have to choose this week!?!?

    We close on our cute little backyard farm the 25th, the only thing I asked for on Mother's Day was a house. I didn't feel that was asking too much, but I didn't get it. None of the homes have felt right yet.

    Michael had grand plans for living out of his car, while I lived 200 miles away in Idaho. I just couldn't handle being that far away from him for that long. So we decided to get an apartment. WAIT....an apartment?!?!? This is not what I anticipated! But I'm hoping that in the end my new backyard farm will be worth the wait.

    So we are packing up basically everything and putting it into storage. My house looks looked like it threw up on itself. Pretty graphic, I know, but it is the only way to describe it. We are taking just the very basic necessities with us to the apartment so the dog bed went out to the storage unit and we took our bed off the frame and just have our mattress on the floor. We left for two minutes and look what became the new dog bed...

    My bed!

    The kitty likes to hide under my bed, but can't now that it is just a mattress on the floor, so guess where she has now chosen to hide out: 

    the baby's crib.

    This is not good people!

    We think we have found a home to "babysit" our chickens.  My friend Nora wants to get chickens, her husband does not. They negotiated a trial run with ours to see if they are a good fit for their family. I'm sure James will come around.

    Kitty is coming with us to the apartment.

    I still need to find a temporary home for Jada (our dog) and Rodrick (the bunny).

    Wish me luck!

    Saturday, May 15, 2010


    by Megan

    Here are 6 of my 8 chicks a few days after I picked them up from the local feed store.

    Aren't they sweet? This was 7 weeks ago and my chicks are really beginning to look like pullets. Every couple days I like to remark to myself, “My, how big those little ladies are getting.” Yesterday though when I opened the coop I found myself saying to one hen in particular, “My how big YOU are getting! What a big red comb you have...” Then a long pause. “What a really big waddle you have! Hmm...”

    So the obvious question of the day is, is my she a he? Is one of my hens a rooster? Here is the low down, the skinny, the scoop – and then you make the decision. She/he is somewhere around 7 weeks old, the same breed, an Australorp, as the other pictured and purchased on the same day. The feed store, like most, does not guarantee the sex of the chicks but I wasn't worried because they were supposed to be female chicks. BUT her/his comb is considerably larger than the other pullet pictured, don't you think? And I've noticed white tips coming at the end of the wing feathers. That seems troublesome as well. One thing to consider is that I didn't notice the comb in particular a few days ago so perhaps those combs grow quickly and perhaps the other pullet is just a few days younger. What do you think? Do I have a Rooster on my hands?

    And if I DO have a rooster on my hands...what then? I live in a home that I don't even own, on a lot that is a postage stamp as it gets, and she is one of 8 hens. I have heard of roosters that don't call so if that were the case I would keep the guy around. But if it calls, do I sell him? Do I eat him? I certainly can't keep him, right?

    Go and vote (the poll on the right)  on whether you think this chicken is a future hen or rooster and then leave a comment and tell me what you think I should do!

    Friday, May 14, 2010

    Is it safe to eat lettuce amid E. coli outbreak?

    By Dale Johnson

    The above title is the title of the following article.

    Answer: It is safe to eat my lettuce because I grew it myself.

    We hope your spring garden is doing well whether it be a large backyard farm or deck container garden. We are eating out of our garden now and it is refreshing, particularly our various varieties of lettuce and spinach, untainted by E. coli. We have accomplished most of our garden goals this year and look forward to several months of fresh produce.

    Thursday, May 13, 2010

    A Simple Plan

    Michael Johnson

    As I was watching Food Inc this past week they talked about an organic Dairy Company called Stonyfield Farms. They signed a contract with Wal Mart and it brought up some interesting topics. Some people considered them hypocrites for signing on with a big box store, but the CEO argued that they were doing more good than harm by offering organic food to people that would never otherwise have it.

    So I ask you all, are they hypocrites or are they doing something good? Is it possible for a company to try to make money and be profitable while at the same time doing what is right for people and the environment. My argument is that it is possible to do and be both, but only if consumers demand and buy things that are good for the world. If I am not willing to buy organic earth friendly shoes, then no one will make them. This might be a cynical view but I believe that ALMOST all companies care almost exclusively about the bottom line profits. At the same time I think that MOST companies can be profitable and still be socially responsible.

    That leads me to one of my favorite socially responsible companies that I enjoy. Simple shoes make shoes that attempt to be better for the environment. They use organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, recycled rubber, cork, and recycled tires in their products. In addition to being socially responsible, their shoes are cool and comfortable. I don’t consider myself na├»ve in believing that they only make shoes to help the world. They make shoes to make money. However, they have found that there are people that want what they offer so they provide it.

    We are a simple family. I have three pairs of Simple shoes. Marisa has two pair and our daughter has two pairs as well. They are comfortable and they are durable. They also look cool in my opinion. I am not trying to get you to buy these shoes. I am just trying to start a discussion about earth friendly companies and if they really exist.

    I have hesitated to write this article for a while for a few reasons. First, it doesn’t have a lot to do with Backyard Farming, and second I don’t want to make it look like our blog does commercials. Third, usually when I think a company is socially responsible I end up finding out that it is just an image and they are doing more bad than good. In the end I just really like my Simple shoes and wanted to write about them. What companies do you consider to be environmentally responsible?  What companies do you think portray themselves as such, but fail? Is Simple just pulling the wool or hemp over my eyes?

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Side Salad

    By Jennifer

    I am growing peas, spinach, carrots and lettuce in pots on my patio. Small tomato cages offer support for the vining peas. I think this will make a charming planter -- some pea tendrils climbing up the metal spokes, others cascading over the pot's edge. 

    I positioned the tomato cage on the north side so it -- and the vines that will cover it -- won't cast too much shade on the emerging lettuce and carrot seedlings seen behind. In a few warming weeks, however, shade may be desirable for the lettuce, and I can simply rotate the pot. (Lettuce likes cooler weather and will quickly bolt and go to seed in intense heat.)

    If you'd like to try such a planter, a great pea seed variety is Lincoln. In my zone, Zone 5, it can be planted as late as June, and will still produce in 90-degree weather.

    I planted the pea seeds in a circle, with the idea of slipping a tomato plant into the cage later in the season. Here's a picture of last year's "side salad" of cherry tomatoes and lettuce.

    How are you including fruits and vegetables in your container plantings? Share with us your ideas and pictures!

    Monday, May 10, 2010

    Backyard broilers 2010 video 4 & 5

    Our Freedom Rangers are now 5 weeks old and growing very nicely. Our Cornish Cross are 3 weeks old. In one more week we will put them out on pasture to finish them. One of our freedom rangers hurt its leg and we isolated it for a few days. It didn't eat very well so its growth has not kept up with the other Freedom Rangers. We don't dare put it back in with them because they might pick on it so I put it in with the younger and smaller Cornish Cross. You can see how that went in part 5 below

    Saturday, May 8, 2010

    Minutes in the Green

    (Reuters) - Just five minutes of exercise a day in the great outdoors can improve mental health, according to a study released on Saturday, and policymakers should encourage more people to spend time in parks and gardens.

    Researchers from the University of Essex found that as little as five minutes of a "green activity" such as walking, gardening, cycling or farming can boost mood and self esteem.
    "We believe that there would be a large potential benefit to individuals, society and to the costs of the health service if all groups of people were to self-medicate more with green exercise," Barton said in a statement about the study, which was published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
    Many studies have shown that outdoor exercise can reduce the risk of mental illness and improve a sense of well-being, but Jules Pretty and Jo Barton, who led this study, said that until now no one knew how much time needed to be spent on green exercise for the benefits to show.
    Barton and Pretty looked at data from 1,252 people of different ages, genders and mental health status taken from 10 existing studies in Britain.
    They analyzed activities such as walking, gardening, cycling, fishing, boating, horse-riding and farming.
    They found that the greatest health changes occurred in the young and the mentally ill, although people of all ages and social groups benefited. The largest positive effect on self-esteem came from a five-minute dose of "green exercise."
    All natural environments were beneficial, including parks in towns or cities, they said, but green areas with water appeared to have a more positive effect.

    Friday, May 7, 2010

    The Natural History of the Chicken

    by Michael Johnson

    On a slow night last week Marisa decided we wanted to watch a movie together. Now most people might pull up there Netflix queue and find the latest action thriller(men) or the latest romantic comedy(ladies). Being the weirdos that we are we were looking through documentaries and found one called The Natural History of Chickens. Needless to say we were extremely excited to watch it.

    This movie was not what we expected. Based on the title, I thought we might learn about the historical domestication of chickens. This was a much lighter, warmer movie that told a few stories of some interesting chickens and their owners. Watch this movie and you will find out about a chicken that was brought back from the dead, a spoiled chicken that enjoys Happy Meals, a Silkie that yearns to be a Mom, and also a rooster without a head. Interspersed with the stories are various facts about the modern chicken industry. It doesn't necessarily demonize modern chicken farms but it does leave you wishing that conditions were better for them.

    This movie is a feel good, folksy style movie with heart warming stories that contain more than a few people that love their chickens. Some of them might love them too much. Check it out if you have an hour to spare and I think you will be entertained. Check out this clip.

    Thursday, May 6, 2010

    How We Got Started with Chickens (Part 1)

    (originally posted in 2008)
    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.


    Tuesday, May 4, 2010

    Doing My Part

    by Michael Johnson

    I need your help. I have been trying to think of ways to reduce my carbon footprint but lately my wife has been limiting me from reducing it as much as I feel like I could. She is great with a lot of the things we have done. She has supported and even championed our backyard garden and our chicken rearing so we can have a local supply of food. She has helped contribute to our compost pile so our garbage can return nutrients to the land. We reuse items as much as we can and have stopped buying bottled water. We buy local when we can. By no means are we perfect at any of these things but we try.

    The reason I need your help is that my wife will not let me get a motorcycle. The only reason I want a motorcycle is to reduce my carbon footprint by using less gas as I commute to work. It's not just any motorcycle that I want either. I want a Ural.

    I know what you are all thinking. Why would my wife be against saving the environment? I don't have a great reason. She thinks I have ulterior motives but she is far from wrong. I don't want a Ural because they are in my opinion the baddest, most original bikes on the market. I don't want it because of how cool I would look driving it while my dog sits in the sidecar with her aviator glasses. It has nothing to do with the drool that comes from my mouth as I look at the above picture. I am not interested in the beautiful retro feel, the power train that goes to the 3rd wheel so I can drive it in mud or snow, or the attention it might get me as I cruise down main street.

    The only reason I want it is to reduce my carbon footprint, I swear! Please comment and help me convince her to let me help the environment and buy this sweet vehicle. Thank you for your support.

    Liberate the Layers! Part 3

    by Dale Johnson

    I write for a monthly column in the American Agriculturalist magazine. The editor of this farmer’s publication, John Vogel is a friend and I admire his balanced viewpoints of agriculture. I was happy to see the two lead articles in the May issue focus on the welfare of laying hens in industrial confinement layer houses. Please read the articles at:

    Karl Johnson, co-author of the first article is not a relative of mine although I do have a wonderful brother named Carl.

    I still feel the best way to get your eggs is to keep your own hens to augment your garden. They eat table scraps, garden refuse, and annoying insects (You must still supplement with layer pellets.) They produce litter for composting into fertilizer. And fresh eggs are fabulous. But if you can’t grow your own, then buy cage less eggs. The higher price margin per dozen is less than the price of a can of Diet Coke. Isn’t it worth that to Liberate the Layers!

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    Big Beautiful Buns

    Marisa Johnson
    Just move along if you read the title and came for a different reason! 

    This post is about big, beautiful hamburger buns. 
    And here is how to make them. 

    Just be forewarned, once you make these, you won't want to go back to store bought.

    This is one of the easiest white bread recipes ever and I always have all the ingredients on hand. I also use this recipe to make 2 loaves of french bread or regular rolls.

    (you can use any bread recipe to make buns)

    Easy White Bread

    2 packs of yeast
    2 cups warm water
    1/2 cup warm water (for yeast mixture)
    2 TBS sugar
    1 TBS salt
    5 TBS oil
    5-6 cups flour

    Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water, sprinkle a little sugar and swirl to mix it in. Let it stand until foamy. Combine 2 cups water with sugar, oil, salt,  and 3 cups flour. Stir well. Add yeast and rest of flour, mix well. Let stand for 10 mins. mix for 1 min. Let it stand and mix for 1 min. 4 times total. 

    At this point your dough is ready to make french bread, buns, or rolls. 

    For buns, I like to make sure they are consistent in size, so I use a food scale. For a nice large bun, I portion 3.5 oz balls of dough. Form into a nice ball as if you were making rolls and place on a baking sheet. 
    Now comes the fun part. 
    Smash the rolls down with the palm of your hand. 
    They may spring back up, so wait a few mins. then smash them again, it took 3-4 times on each bun to flatten them out.
    Let them rise for about an hour. 
    Notice the cute little hand prints on the buns, that is why you want to use the palm of your hand.
    Don't worry, when the dough rises, it gets rid of any hand marks.

    Before setting out to raise, dust with flour and cover with plastic wrap.
    Bake at 350 for 15-20 mins. This recipe can make about 18 buns.

    Saturday, May 1, 2010

    What I Want for Mother's Day...

    A HOUSE!

    I couldn't be happier that our house sold to the cutest little couple. The husband grew up not far from here on his own little backyard farm and was homeschooled as well. No, we weren't checking up on their background before we accepted their offer or anything.

    So, we are getting the boot at the end of May, and have no where to go. Michael wants to live out of his car until we find a place, sounds fun huh? Then me and the kids will head up to Idaho to stay with is parents. Not ideal. I want to get going on a garden, so I can hopefully put in a fall garden. Not to mention, I don't think Michael's parents condo allows chickens, a dog, a cat, or a rabbit. Hmmm....
    Is it too much to ask to get something like this?
    I would even take something a little smaller, like this...
    (image from www.ahs.org) 

    Yes, it is too much to ask with our budget. Oh well, a girl can dream, right?

    Other Mother's Day ideas.