Category Archives: Haiku

Feathers and Fluffballs

We’ve had a whirlwind few days with chicks hatching and cheeping day and night.

Seven eggs had hatched fully by the end of Tuesday. It was getting a little crowded in the incubator, so we decided to risk  the 8th egg in order to get the other chicks in their new home, under a heat lamp and with food and water.

The incubator is temperature and humidity controlled to mimic the warmth of a mother hen sitting on her eggs. Once the egg has a pip, a small opening for the chick to work its way out, opening the incubator exposes the egg to dry air.

Drying the pip could make it more difficult for the chick to break through the egg without assistance.

The final egg had pipped before we opened the incubator, so we knew the risks.

After we had settled all of the chicks, we sprayed the sides of the incubator down with water to try and keep the humidity in and put the lid back on…and waited.

In the wee hours, the final egg hatched and a scraggly, wet little chick stumbled into the empty shells on clumsy claws. We let its feathers dry out a bit, before moving it with the others.

The boys and my nieces have named them all…although the names have changed frequently since we moved them.

Here’s the final list…for now.

Yellow Feather
Nita
Cheep Cheep
Sir Hubert McFeatherington
Fluffy
Fin
Cheepy
Flappy

A few of them have a couple gray dots like their father and they all have big feet with feathers on their legs.

This has been an exciting and amazing project for the boys. Joe has been so careful and gentle with the chicks and the eggs. He lets us know when it is time to leave the room so “the chicks can sleep”.

We’ve also learned a lot about the chicken…from anatomy to the lifecycle to how the chicks are able to go a few days without food and water.

I think the best part was when I asked Joe if he wanted to look at a piece of shell under the microscope.

While we were oohing and aahing over the little yellow fluffballs, my niece asked me “what if they are all roosters?”

Hmm. I didn’t consider that eventuality. Didn’t I order all hens? I’m sure Pecky and I talked about it, didn’t we?

Feathers and fluffballs
Yellow chicks with small gray dots
I hope they’re all hens

Hatching Our Own: Step 1

This week, we will start incubating the fertilized eggs we’ve been collecting.

Pecky and 5 hens have been separated for just 2 weeks. We gave them about a week to get settled and then started to collect the eggs for incubation rather than eating.

wp-1488219109756.jpg

Once we have 12 and I’ve tested the incubator, we will be ready to start the process.

wp-1488218029962.jpg

The incubator I ordered holds 9-12 eggs, automatically turns the eggs and keeps the temperature and humidity at the right spot…at least that is what is advertised. I’ll have to report back on the success.

The boys and I are very excited to get this started. Every time I collect the eggs from “Pecky’s Girls”, they ask if there are baby chicks in them yet.

We’ve talked about the life-cycle of a chicken, but we will delve deeper as we go through the process.

Pecky and his girls
Separated from the flock
A science project

Risking It

The weather has been so nice lately.

Nice enough to spend the morning outside wandering around the homestead.

Nice enough for the boys spend time digging for worms, playing tag and practicing hockey.

Nice enough for me risk it and start sowing seeds in the garden.

wp-1487704264962.jpg

The last frost dates for Central Illinois is somewhere between the 14th and 21st of April so I probably should have waited.

But the soil is ready!

The worms are squirming!

The birds are chirping!

Since everything else on the homestead is confused by this weather, I’m throwing my hat in the ring and taking a chance.

wp-1487704843933.jpg

I planted cabbage, lettuce and carrots. These are cool weather tolerant, so even if it does freeze again, I’ll be able to take measures to protect them from most of the cold.

I hope.

Warm, sunny, breezy
Birds chirping and worms squirming
Did I hear a frog?

The Spiral

The kitchen garden has been planned and I am busily and happily marking seeds in my catalogs…most of which I will not buy, but still, it’s fun to dream and pretend to have an unlimited budget for seeds.

I sketched out the herb spiral again this year. There were many herbs that did not do well and I will not be planting them again.

The lemongrass was spindly, the cumin non-existent, the lavendar never even made and appearance and the lemon balm sprouted and died.

I probably wouldn’t have used them anyway and that will leave more room for cilantro and basil and rosemary.

Here’s the list:

  • Sage
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Cilantro
  • Nasturtium
  • Chives
  • Lettuce
  • Bee balm
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Parsley
  • Marigolds

Fragrant spiral planned
Herbs, lettuce and flowers too
Attracting the bees

13 in 17: No, Really

When I pulled up last year’s list of skills/resolutions we made for our homestead to prep for this post, I was a little shocked.

Shocked because we hadn’t looked at it since I wrote it in January.

Shocked because we’d failed to move forward on 5 of the 13.

Shocked because we barely made any progress on the majority of them.

I felt like we failed Homesteading 101.

Then, I found a post I’d forgotten I’d written. After I re-read it, I went from feeling like a failure to feeling like a success.

  • We planted 65+ trees.
  • We built a new, bigger run for the chickens.
  • We learned that we are not rooster people.
  • We expanded the vineyard.
  • We transplanted seaberries and blackberries.
  • We built a squash arch.
  • We built an herb spiral.

I’ve learned that nothing is certain. That even the greatest intentions can be pushed aside for those unexpected opportunities that pop up.

So this year, I’m listing the same goals and resolutions as last year.

I know other things will come up and we may switch gears to follow something else. I’m not going to feel bad or guilty about failing the skills below because I know that no matter what, we will learn and move forward.

1. Writing
I’ve been submitting to magazines and publishers after learning SO much in the workshop I attended in May. I’m going to continue to push forward and accept failures, learn from criticisms and take more risks.

2. Seed Saving
We saved more okra and amaranth seeds than we can use. This year, we are going to start saving tomato and pepper seeds too.

3. Concealed Carry
Another goal we have not tackled. We found a range near us that offers the class, but I want to get some range time in and get comfortable holding, handling and shooting my gun.

4. Essential Oils
I’ve been using and diffusing essential oils on a weekly basis. I will continue to use them and learn more about natural remedies for common ailments.

5. Back to “prepping”
I want to step this up. It’s an easy one and it is silly that, beyond ordering a few kits from Amazon, we’ve not made progress.

Our goal is to get back to food rotation and copy canning so that we have at least 6 months of meals.

6. Curriculum Planning
This is the one goal that I feel REALLY good about. The boys and I have a routine that often gets disrupted…and that’s ok.

8. Stocks and Investing
Ray has learned quite a bit about the stock market and investing. I have not.

This year, I’d like to start an investment club with friends. It will force me to learn and ask questions about the stock market and investing.

9. Fitness
I have let this one slide. This year, I’ll try to have a set routine…especially because the boys can go to a Kids Get Fit class while I work out.

10. Blogging
I had 268 followers at the end of 2015 and I have 362 followers now. Not too shabby! However, I can do better. I’ve started to share my blog posts on more social networks like Twitter and Pinterest. I’ve also created an Instagram account for my blog so I can share pictures of what we are up to.

11. Tree Care
This year we planted more than 70 trees, but have done little to make sure they will thrive. We are taking a “survival of the fittest” stance, but I think that might really be an excuse for not putting the effort in to make sure they survive (ie, laziness).

I’m determined to prune, fertilize and care for all of these trees…even those that seem on the verge of death.

12. Propagation
In an effort to at least start this goal, we’ve watched two videos on propagation.

We’ll continue watching these videos so that we can execute what we’ve learned in the Spring.

13. Brewing
Nothing has changed since last year on this one.

“We know how to brew and we know how to make wine…but I don’t remember the last time we’ve actually done either. We’ll be focusing on getting our kegs full and learning more about making meads and cysers from fresh fruit.”

We have a 8 gallon bags of grapes, blackberries and aronia that we will be making into wine this year. No, really.

No, really we will
No excuses for failure
No, really we will

wp-1477253723869.jpg

 

Winter Fertilizer

The cold weather approaches and it is just about time to move the chickens closer to the house to keep them out of the bitter winter winds that rip through our small homestead.

We’ve let the plants go to seed so that our girls will have a nice treat during the long winter. We will have moved them all over the garden so that by Spring our soil will be rich and crawling with squiggly worms.

wp-1479498584117.jpg

Perhaps telling the boys that it was time to “destroy the garden” was a little short sighted; but it was worth it to see how much fun they had chopping, pulling and stomping all over the kitchen garden.

wp-1479498584038.jpg

Since it has been warm, the borage and lovage are confused. They think they still have time to multiply and grow.

wp-1479498584028.jpg

Borage. It’s all over the garden and some is even in the yard.

wp-1479498584044.jpg

Lovage – smells like celery.

We found a ton of cherry tomatoes on the vine. They are so sweet! We fed some to the chickens and snacked on some ourselves. Most of the broccoli had gone to seed so we gave that to the chickens too.

wp-1479498584051.jpg

I ran around front to see if the strawberries were confused as well…no such luck. I did find a few roses blooming though.

wp-1479498584393.jpg

The chickens “accidentally” got loose so the boys spent an hour or so chasing them around, catching them, letting them go and catching them again.

wp-1479498584852.jpg

Pecky stood guard over the coop while this was happening. He was reluctant to get involved in the shenanigans.

wp-1479498584588.jpg

I think the girls may be picking on him a little bit. He has a few feathers missing on his rear and a few raw spots as well. A couple of the hens have missing feathers on their heads too. I guess chickens must have cat fights too.

The boys are both very gentle with the chickens. They can catch them much easier than Ray or I can. The hens seem almost docile with them.

wp-1479498584869.jpg wp-1479498584912.jpg

We had a beautiful day working outside. I like all seasons, but I sure am going to miss these nice weather days when we are cooped up.

Snow is on its way
Winter days are coming fast
Autumn falls away

Saving Seeds…Finally

We always say we are going to save seeds.

We know it will save us money.

We know the plants grow well with our soil.

We know the saved seeds will be unique. They’ve adapted to our growing conditions and there will never be another seed quite like it.

Yet each year, time gets away from us. By the time we remember that we planned to save seeds…it’s too late. Or at least, we think it is.

But this year, we actually did save seeds.

Okra seeds.

Okra seeds, along with pea and bean seeds are some of the easiest seeds to save.

First, just let the pods dry on the plant. When they turn brown and start to split at the ridges, cut them off, open them up and shake the seeds out. Let them dry for a few days and, voila! They are ready to store.

wp-1477066318933.jpg

So far, we’ve saved seeds from three large pods and filled a small medicine bottle.

wp-1477066613312.jpg

Old prescription bottles are one of the best containers for seed saving. They are easy to label and easy to store in neat little rows.

Sunflowers are also good candidates for saving, although there are a few more steps involved.

Tomato seeds are a bit easier than sunflower seeds, and pepper seeds even easier…at least there are fewer steps involved.

Since we ate the three peppers that actually made it this year (slight exaggeration), and our tomatoes were devoured by the chickens, the okra seeds…and maybe marigolds…are the only ones we’ll save this year.

At least it’s a start!

What seeds do you save?

So easy to save
Okra and marigold seeds
Cut, shake, dry and save

Sprouts!

I love brussel sprouts…especially fresh.

For the past three years I’ve tried to grow them without success. The ones I started indoors never made it much past the seedling stage and the ones I direct sowed never sprouted.

But just look at them!

wp-1475168915501.jpg

I didn’t do anything different this year except get a really, really good seed starting mix. One of the plants survived my winter sowing experiment, one was started indoors and one was from a nursery.

They are all almost ready to harvest!

What are our plans for these gorgeous sprouts?

We are going to roast them with garlic and olive oil, mix in a bit of bacon and then sprinkle the whole thing with parmesan.

YUM!

The sprouts have grown tall
Each one large, green and gorgeous
Roast ’em and enjoy!

The Clutch

Blue has been disappearing.

She used to sleep on top of the big run, but recently she’s been…somewhere else.

The first time I couldn’t find her, I thought she’d been taken by a fox, coyote or other predator.

But then, the next morning…there she was.

wp-1473188635533.jpg

The second time it happened, I tried to find her.

Was she roosting in a tree? No.

Was she hiding in the swales? No.

Was she sleeping under the chicken tractor? Again, no.

Then yesterday, while I was watering the chickens, I saw her running from the back of the house.

Maybe she’d been sleeping under the deck.

wp-1470872759478.jpg

As I walked toward the garage to refill my watering can, I noticed a small gap in the tall, ornamental grass by the house.

I got closer and saw a patch of white.

I crouched down and peered into grass…and there it was.

A big clutch of eggs.

wp-1473188635510.jpg

Twenty-two to be exact.

Almost a whole month’s worth.

We weren’t sure what we should do with them. They didn’t smell but…

So I sat down and did some research on Backyard Chickens, one of my favorite go-to sites for questions on all things chicken. It hasn’t steered me wrong yet, and the forum is chock-full of great questions and answers.

I found a question posted by someone who had found a clutch of 15 eggs in an old dog crate. She asked the question I needed an answer to: How long do eggs last when left outside?

All of the answers said almost the same thing: test them first, but eggs can last for weeks outside.

Another site I sometimes go to for answers brought up a great point: What did people do before refrigeration existed?

And all of the sites I visited said that hens don’t start incubating their eggs until they have a clutch, or 12-14 eggs.

Hens lay up to 1 egg/day so it would take weeks to get that many.

If any are rotten, the hen knows and will roll them out of her nest because a chick cannot hatch from a rotten egg.

wp-1473188635527.jpg

So, rather than throw them away, I tested them.

I did the float test. If they sink and stay on the bottom or stand on their ends…they are still good to eat. Only four floated.

wp-1473268640012.jpg

This method is not foolproof, so I cracked the eggs one by one into a bowl.

If the yolk is a deep golden yellow, the eggs are still good.

I poured the good eggs into another bowl to scramble–shell and all–cook and feed to the chickens for a calcium and protein treat.

wp-1473269241080.jpg

If the yolk is brown, that means they are rotten.

Curious, I cracked one of the eggs that floated.

It was perhaps, the biggest mistake I have ever made.

Through the horrible haze of the more-than-disgusting smell, I barely noted the dark brownish, greenish yolk.

wp-1473268229585.jpg

It smelled awful.

I mean really, really awful. I will never again say “It smells like a rotten egg” unless I am referring to an actual rotten egg.

Nothing smells as bad as a rotten egg.

It was so disgusting that I ran outside gagging and dumped it in a bucket along with the other three that floated. I’m gearing myself up to go back out with a ziploc bag, or maybe 10, to try and seal the smell off from the rest of the world.

No one should have to experience that horrible, horrible smell.

My diffuser is now running full speed, filling the house with a lovely, lavender scent. I’ve scrubbed my hands and bleached the counter where some of the egg white fell.

I don’t think I will ever be able to smell pleasant smells again.

A stinky rotten egg
Watering eyes and gagging
Worse than any stench

The Flock(s)

The weather has been SO hot and humid lately. This coldish front coming in is a welcome break for all on the homestead.

Especially the girls…and Pecky.

wp-1472221807074.jpg

We lost an older gal last week. I came out to check on them in the early evening and found her in the run.

No sign of foul play.

No pile of feathers.

No visible reason for her death.

So now, we have 3 reds and a blonde left of the old flock, and 14 girls and Pecky in the new.

wp-1472221806775.jpg

Poor Blue is still segregated from the rest of the flock. Each night she tries to roost on top of their run, and every morning she escapes her dog kennel and races to the big pen, wandering ’round and ’round trying to figure out a way to get in.

When she gets bored with that, she roams the yard, pecking at bugs and eating seed heads in the yard and swale.

wp-1472221807199.jpg

She seems to enjoy the amaranth the other girls spread for us.

It had overgrown so I threw a few cuttings in with the ladies and there is an amaranth trail where the run has been.

wp-1472221807258.jpg

Her own eggs are another “treat” she seems to enjoy.

Ray found her toting an empty eggshell in her mouth the other day. It made us wonder if the others attacked her because they knew she was an egg eater.

They certainly seem to give her the cold shoulder now.

wp-1472221806770.jpg

We thought to send her to the freezer, but she may be useful in the garden. She could eat pests and keep the weeds down in the paths.

We are probably going to make some chicken tunnels to keep her from eating all the veggies.

Since it has been so hot, we’ve been giving the girls frozen treats. Bananas, grapes and a block of frozen grain leftover from brewing beer.

Although they were reluctant to try it at first…

wp-1472221806783.jpg

…they soon swarmed and attacked it with vigor.

wp-1472221806799.jpg

Frozen treats for birds
Cool snacks in this humid heat
Spoiled little chickens