Backyard Chicken Tips and Homesteading School

20180605_085348Gandalf the Great Pyrenees had a new toy.  The story goes (according to him anyway) that Buttercup the chicken got out of the pen and he was simply attempting to corral her back in.  Three quarters of her was stuck in his mouth as I screamed at him.

Forget hawks, eagles, raccoons, skunks, bears, coyotes, or any other predator you may have heard about.  Dogs are the most common predator chickens face.

20180710_161045My friend, Addie- aka Superwoman…if war breaks out, we are heading to her house- brought us three chickens to make up for Buttercup.  Buttercup, was of course, our best layer.  These three have some work to do.  They were in a large coop hanging out in the front yard when we got home.  A lovely surprise!  We quietly put them in the coop in the night so that the chickens would all be fooled and think that they were always there come morning and there would be no blood baths.  It always works.  Except when it doesn’t.

We used the portable coop she loaned us that the chickens had been delivered in to lock up the chickens.  “Should I put the three new girls in the pen?”

“No,” she replied, “you lock up the bullies!”

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This is Hei hei because she acts like the leghorn in the movie Moana.

She further explained (if y’all knew how many homesteading lessons I have had from this gal over the years you would think she should have written a book!) that if you put the new girls in the pen it only tells the old girls that they are indeed below them.  If you lock up the mean girls then they come to understand that they are not the bosses.  It worked like a charm.

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Then the egg eating started.  Oh, those three rascals.  One of them was eating eggs like she was sitting in an IHOP.  Addie suggested we raise their protein intake in their food because they were all molting and they needed more nutrients to get through it.  We also laid golf balls around the coop so the culprit would peck those once and would stop pecking eggs.  That worked but no one is laying eggs right now!

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I have been a subscriber since I was twelve years old to a magazine about country living.  I am afraid its gotten a little high falutin and ridiculous.  Very pretty pictures but really geared for rich people who have no idea what farming is about.  Photographs of chicken coops with pea gravel and curtains with lush, landscaped yards and chickens crossing the kitchen without any poo in sight.  I love it, but it is a little deceiving.

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We have a noxious tree that I love called Tree of Heaven here, or Chinese Sumac.  It’s poisonous so the chickens don’t eat it.  It has popped up all over the chicken yard creating a jungle atmosphere and shade.  When they first moved in they had two foot high grasses to jump through.  They will eat any plant that is edible, y’all.  Do not landscape your chicken yard!

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We looked around this place and saw the chickens, the infant orchard, the vegetables growing tall, and the pumpkins jumping out of their beds, and we have realized that we live on a perfect urban farm.  A lot of people cannot afford to live out in the country and I have decided to reopen my Homesteading School.  I will be teaching canning, preserving, baking, cooking, gardening, and much more as our little-farm-that-could gets more organized and utilized.

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Check out my Facebook page for events here! I will also be putting a link on this blog.  Happy Homesteading!

The Homesteading Bug…or in the Blood?

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There are some that are content with flowers in a pot.  There are those who are perfectly happy turning on a switch to make the fire come to life (the gas flame is rather pretty).  A package of this food or that blended with another to make “homemade” food.  Our society has a different view of homemaking these days.  But I, well I used to think I had the homesteading bug.  A bug that I wondered would pass once we entered the city.  Would I miss canning?  It is tedious work.  Would I miss hand washing dishes and clothes lines, and the smell of firewood setting aflame while a pot of beans is set on the wood stove to percolate?

I guess you know the answer.

City life can be rather easy.  My friend cleans my apartment once a week.  I leave for work with everyone else and work very, very hard all week long.  So does Doug.  We come home and fix supper or head out to eat.  We switch on the fire.  And a movie.  We feed the cats.  I do laundry.  It is quick, even though our clothes are a bit shrunk from the dryer…or the lifestyle.

We long for chores and the cool breeze as we run to the chicken coop to let the ladies out.  We miss the sight of dozens of jewel colored jars cooling on the counters waiting for the larder (I did get several dozen things put up, but we’ll be out by next month).  I miss the sound of the dehydrator and the smell of drying tomatoes.  The sound of crackling from the first log that catches in the wood stove.  I miss the extensive gardens to water and the music blaring from my earphones as I dance and water at the same time, entertaining the neighbors.  I miss pointing out what we grew on the plate (sometimes all of it).  I miss falling into bed exhausted with a huge smile of completion on my face.  Planning the winter rests of learning to knit and weave and spin and the books I’ll catch up on.  Only to be planning the next year’s gardens and pouring over seed catalogues instead.

We wondered if we would get over the homesteading bug when set into a life of a bit more ease.  But, no, it turns out, it was homesteading blood.  Not a bug.  We are a few of those folks that could go back to 1890 with ease.  Playing the fiddle or working as we please.  To step out of normal society is a plus.  Yes, on a mini-farm and homestead you will find us.

I look forward to donning my apron again.  The one that swaddled new born goats and chicks.  The one my granddaughter can hide under.  To wipe my hands on after chopping a zillion vegetables or to wipe my brow after crawling on my hands and knees to plant tiny seeds that will become life and infuse our life with…life.

Some of us just have homesteading in our blood.

Across Enchanted Woods and Harbors

I found this man who might have been in the woods too long!
I found this man who might have been in the woods too long!

It’s always nice to get off the homestead once in awhile.  If you are on the farm too long you start to think that everything revolves around your little plot of land.  That’s a lot of pressure.  Thinking the world revolves around me getting alpacas can be overwhelming.  I needed to get away.  Every time I tell you all that I am taking a break, or a day off, I am lying.  I can’t take a day off at home.  Not possible.  Call me a super charged housewife or a Ritalin candidate, my days off are best spent in another state so I can’t revert back to chores.  My days off here have been filled with wine country, redwood forests, and seaside lunches.  Not bad days off, if you ask me.

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But while I am lounging around my friend’s patio, watching the traffic and taking in the new plant life, I am also getting recharged and inspired.  Sometimes we need to step away from our little world in order to come up with conclusions.

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In my quest for growing fresh fruit at 6500 feet above sea level, I have concluded that I am going to try to grow raspberries, blueberries, and grapes in five gallon buckets.  That way I can control their climate, their soil, and when it is time to move in a few years, I can just take them with me and plant them on my permanent farm.  I can keep them out of the deer’s’ buffet line, in the sun they crave, and hopefully harvest handfuls of delicious fruit.

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As we walked through the Muir Woods, we took in the intoxicating smell of lush growth, soil, sea.  The unfamiliar birdsongs, the moss growing up giant trees, our steps taking us through the enchanted forest.  It felt so surreal, it could have been a set out of a Disney movie, or Lord of the Rings.  The canopy tree tops, the babbling brook, the rustling in the underbrush.

As we walked though, I started to notice similarities with the terrain I grew up around.  The land looked very similar to Colorado.  The walking trails could have been the same (except for the occasional Palm tree and flowering bush…there are no flowering bushes in Colorado in November!).  The birds were different, but their songs as sweet.  The tree in Leo’s yard across the street is as high as many of the trees in the forest, having seen many, many a decade of pioneers crossing.  We are all on the same space.  I can be happy anywhere.  I realized that I can grow where I am planted, and love the terrain I am on, but also that my next farm, probably still in Colorado, will be at a lower altitude and on an easier plot of land to grow things!

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Oyster mushrooms climbed old trees in the forest.  A delicious example of the bounty in nature.  I need to inoculate a log and get us some mushrooms growing on our humble two thirds of a acre in a tiny part of the planet.

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The next day, from the harbor in Santa Cruz, we dined on frozen fried clam strips (not at all fresh) but enjoyed the scenery of hundreds of sea lions bantering, playing, sleeping, sunning, babies frolicking and getting in trouble with the older lions.

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These experiences show me that we live in a great, wide world with so many people and species.  I should not get so in my head about my own place.  Just enjoy what I have there.  In the whole scheme of the world, of time, does it matter if I get two more goats, one pregnant, that I have no idea how to mid-wife?  We are getting the fence fixed, surely it will be fine this time.  Two alpacas who are adorable and may or may not come near us are coming to live there too.  If we fail at our homesteading quest, does it really matter?  We will surely be wildly successful on our mini-farm.  Keeping my footprint small and taking care of my allotted space, loving the animals and people around me, and enjoying the life I am living right this moment is all that is important.

Perfect Pickled Eggs

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The first time we ate a pickled egg was at Nancy’s house a few years ago.  She put out a platter of olives, crackers, chutney, and pickled eggs to enjoy with our glasses of wine out on the deck in the waning sunlight.  The eggs were a royal purple with brightly colored yolks.  We hesitated, then tried one.  Then promptly ate all of the pickled eggs and asked for more.

Such a surprise they were, and so delicious!  So, last year I made my own.  You make them with beets so that the glorious color transfers to the plain white eggs.  I put up several quarts of pickled eggs and beets.  We picked out all the eggs and wasted most of the pickled beets.  So this year I did mostly eggs with a much smaller amount of beets, enough for one salad, but enough to turn our beautiful eggs into works of art.

I was telling my plan to three lovely ladies I know from town that were visiting the farm yesterday learning how to can corn.  They were intrigued as well and I said that I would post the recipe today.  After all, one of the gals paid me the most flattering compliment (though she probably didn’t realize it!), “This is like Little House on the Prairie!”

Pickled Eggs and Beets

Hard boil as many eggs as you see fit.  Click the link to see my recipe for the perfect boiled egg.  Cool and peel.

In clean pint jars layer sliced or chopped beets (I do not even peel them, just scrub them up.) with peeled boiled eggs to an inch from the top.

Add a tablespoon of brown sugar, a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice, and a half teaspoon of salt.  Fill half way with water, and the rest of the way (leaving a half inch head space) with vinegar (white or apple cider).  Make sure the rim is clean and replace lid.

Place jars in a pot of boiling water with water just covering lids.  Bring back to boil and process for 30 minutes.  Add one more minute per 1000 feet above sea level that your kitchen sits.  I just round up to 7000 feet, so I boil the jars for 37 minutes.  Remove from water and cool on counter until you hear the harmonious sound of popping jars preserving your bounty for winter snacks!

Pumpkin Hollow Farm Strikes Again

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I hate limbo.  I like things nice and organized.  Memos about the future, perfect accounting, smooth plan making…I am a tad power trippy.  I panic.  Our shop is for sure closing but our business is not.  I felt like we needed to move quick, save money, find a cheaper place, not live in a box!  I tell you what, simply mention how many animals you have to a prospective landlord and you aren’t likely to hear from them again.  I finally found a house (adobe, no less!) that would take all our animals.  She was in a pinch and needed the money ASAP.  By the time we would have paid the deposit, two rents in one month (already paid it here), two utility bills in one month, and taking into account the sheer distance of out in the middle of nowhere, but can’t have roosters, it was, the gas money pretty well took away any savings we would have gained.  So, Doug made an executive decision.  This is a rare occurrence, folks.  We will work our booties off.  We will set up a road side stand in front of the house.  We will make this work.  And we will stay where we are.  It is a relief for him to just make that decision.  I still worry about losing everything.  But I guess we can’t live our lives worrying about everything.  Here we are on a perfect mini-farm.  Let’s make it work!  Pumpkin Hollow Farm is going to be great.  Come by and visit our roadside stand!

Forcefield Fencing…no more deer buffet!

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The first time Doug and I saw deer close up we were driving through a neighborhood to a dinner party and the lovely creatures were crossing the road.  Doug and I hung out our car windows whistling and blowing kisses like they were supermodels crossing a catwalk.  “Hey Beautiful!”  We were so astounded seeing deer close up.

When we moved further out we found they were in our own yard every evening.  We watched in awe as a huge buck with a large rack (Hey there good lookin’!) jumped through a one foot opening into our garden.  We laughed and pointed and blew kisses as they ate all the bird seed and moved on to what vegetables were left.

They are cute and all, I certainly don’t want to hunt them and they are beautiful crossing my landscape but I want them to deter around the gardens.  A student of mine told me about an article he had read a long time ago about deer fencing on the cheap.  We had just moved into this house last year and were a little cash poor so it seemed like a good idea, though highly far fetched that it would work.

So, Doug bought several t-posts and fishing line and went to work.  He placed the t-posts every ten feet all the way around the mini-orchard and the garden.  He then strung fishing line around the posts, winding it up every eight inches or so.  Around and around he went like he was wrapping a secret present.  The fishing line strings only go six feet high and a deer can easily clear eight, but the idea behind the force field, superhero fencing is that they walk right up to the garden not seeing the fishing line and when they hit it they get spooked.  They cannot see where to jump and there is something invisible touching them so they leave it alone.

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You can kind of see the fishing line in this picture.  Apparently the neighborhood teenagers running in the dark through our yard one night didn’t see it as Doug had to redo a section!

Doug installed a gate and my arbor and it looks wonderful.  It worked all year!  I could not believe it.  It seemed too simple.  This spring there are a few lines down.  And there is deer poo in the garden.  I thought at least we outsmarted them for one year but Doug thinks we should just restring it taut and that it will serve us well another year.  It makes for inexpensive fencing around hard to fence areas and when the cash flow does not allow for fancy fencing (or it is not your house) it is a fine idea, so here we go again!  Here’s to another year of no more deer buffet! (They can eat out of the compost if they’d like.)

Catching Time…unplugging

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I want to feel satiated as I fall into bed exhausted.  Complete in what I do.  Comforted in the thought that homesteading improves my lifestyle and mood, that I stay healthy, contribute to the health of animals, grow glorious food for my loved ones, prepare for accidents or Mother Nature or the Zombie Apocalypse according to my dear friend, Erik, but also live a good life.  I want to lessen my footprint on this fine earth and live fully.  Busyness sneaks up.  Its eager eye on making me feel tired and blue instead of satiated.  It robs me of time to make gourmet dinners and practice all the skills I am learning.  Here I have learned all these much desired skills this winter with scarcely a moment to practice or put into place.

This winter I have learned to make soap, spin (somewhat…I am getting there), knit (crooked albeit), and play the fiddle.  I have designed two new businesses.  I have learned how to keep chickens in the past year and will learn how to keep bees this year.  I will intern with my friend in her greenhouse.  I will take on a bigger piece of farmland (Sadly, I cannot live there, but I can farm there!).  I have my shop in town.  I will be a friend, mom, wife, lover, grandma, and farmer/homesteader extraordinaire…..tomorrow.  Because busyness makes it tomorrow far too quickly.

So, I look around in vain trying to find the cause of my minutes flitting away.  I still wanted to take a cheese class!  I still want to go to college.  I still want to do farmer’s markets with Emily, Maryjane, Nancy, and Faleena.  What is taking so much time?  Granted I do hand wash laundry, try to do things slow, but something else is stealing in the shadows.

Then a revelation!  Lo and behold the thief comes to light.  Do I seriously need to check my email twenty-five times a day?  Check my blog to see if it is still there?  See what’s happening on Facebook?  Would it wait until the next morning?  Could I properly homestead, complete tasks that I desire to do, and have time for a chapter of my book and a glass of wine under the huge Elm tree if I didn’t continually stalk the internet?  What kind of off-gridder wannabe am I?  I thought I had outsmarted technology and all its glitz by not watching television (save for Voice and So You Can Think You Can Dance…I don’t think it’s too late for me!), but then the internet, in all its Siren glory, tricked me out of a few good moments on the land.

I will turn its face to the wall, turn it off if I must, but I will only view this box into the world once a day…..maybe twice.  And find magic hours to read how to keep goats, play with baby chicks, plant potatoes, treat animals, teach herbs to children in the inner city, learn to knit straight and spin fabulous yarn and breathe outdoors on this quaint little mini-farm.  And play with Maryjane.  Time found.

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