Weekend Highlights

What a great, if gray and rainy weekend! Hopefully, it will be our last weekend as a twosome, and we had a lot of fun…doing exactly what we do every weekend. Garden work, farmer’s market, chicken coop building, cooking, and watching movies.

apple struedel muffins

Apple strudel muffins from Practical Paleo.  These were so good. Thank God they’re healthy, as we ate 12 in two days. Baked goods, even grain-free ones, are no match for us.

kale

Farmer’s market kale with red onions.  Amazing dinner – kale, roasted sweet potato and parsnips, a fried egg and some thinly sliced pork chop (1/4 chop each) with balsamic vinegar. So simple, so yummy.

6 week old chicks

Our chickens are almost too big for the dog crate!  On a whim, we put a dowel in for them to roost, and the birds are obsessed with it.  There are always a minimum of 2 hanging out on it, and it’s pretty adorable when all of them are there. 

chicken coop

Our chicken coop is ALMOST done!  It’s so amazing how talented and brilliant my husband is – he saw a few photos, and designed this coop from photos. It’s sturdy, beautiful, streamlined, and elegant. He is such a badass.

If at first you don’t succeed, replant your seedlings. I tried a few varieties of tomato and tomatillo (pictured) and three types of kale. The rest I’ll either direct seed or buy as starts, as I do not have enough faith in my soil block medium to invest the time and energy into a bunch of seeds at this point. However, we have at least one tomato seedling, so 1 out of 60 ain’t bad. 

tomato seedlings

PS anyone with experience – does it look like the block medium is too chunky? I think it is, but don’t have enough experience. 

Finally, dinner highlight was definitely cheeseburgers with slow-cooked onions and kale salad. 

cheeseburgers

My mom comes today, and will stay until baby is born which is just too exciting.  My mom and I are so close, and she will be at the birth which is just awesome. Provided I don’t go into labor in the next six hours and have a 1 hour and 45 minute labor like my sister did. Which, I have to say, if that happens I will not complain.

Chewy

Pink Slime…It’s What’s For Dinner

No, I don’t mean the delightful concoction served in McDonald’s the world over. I mean what I made last night, using nothing but pastured, organic, locally-grown, custom butchered and all together fancy pork steak. Read this as very expensive.  Ugh. 

pastured pink slime

It’s been a rough week for farm learning for me.  This morning caught me sobbing hysterically that nearly all my seedlings had died, even though I carefully watered them and followed all of Dr. Google’s instructions (give me a break, I am nearly 10 months pregnant. Hysterical sobs, although rare, are just par for the course.) I just feel so inadequate – this is my full time job at this point, and I can’t even keep a couple of seedlings alive. 

Since most of what I’ve done professionally and studied has been my strengths (reading, analysis, research, etc.) it’s shocking and feels appalling to me how bad I can be at some things that involve feel and experience.  Like making the planting medium (most likely why the seedlings failed) – the instructions say in the consistency of putty or concrete. This sent me for a touch of a tailspin, because I just couldn’t quite figure out if my soil mix was concrete, or more peanut butter?  How much water, exactly, do I need, for a soil mix that I created and is therefore not exactly like any other soil mix out there?

planting trees in the garden

After my episode of hysteria, that definitely involved some cuddles from a patient husband and a confused dog… 

confused dog

I was ready to throw the whole thing out and give up. However the nice and hard thing about our life now is that really isn’t an option.  For the first time, we’re choosing to rely on ourselves to create our food, even if it’s only 2% this year. If I give up until “next year,” that 2% will never grow.  So, I started again, and I made more soil blocks with more water.  This time, they stayed put.  We’ll see how they go. 

Oh, and the pink slime? I now know that if you want to ground sausage in the vitamin, you need to do it in very small batches on a low speed.  Also, that anything with lots of spices and salt tastes pretty good when mixed with sweet potatoes or thrown in a soup. Also, that my sweet and incredible husband will eat anything if it’s called sausage, and will tell me how delicious it is.

sausage

What’s your most recent kitchen disaster? Come on, make me feel better ;-)

What To Look for in Chicks

Our chicks are now five weeks old, and are basically smaller versions of chickens.  They have finally moved out of our bathroom into the garage, and I think we are all happier for it (especially Chewy, who was having such anxiety about exactly WHY she was not allowed to eat the chicks, when they were right there in her territory.)  Of the seven chicks we bought, six survived, thrived, and seem happy as little birds can be.  Here’s what we looked for to make sure the chicks were as healthy as possible when we bought them.

1. Clear Eyes

clear eyed chick

It’s important to make sure the chicks eyes are clear, not at all opaque or cloudy.  They should look curious and alert, not sleepy or disinterested.

2. Clean, bug free feathers

clean feathers

It’s also important to make sure their feathers are clear of mites and lice, and look to be in generally good condition.  This particularly applies to chicks younger than two weeks, as once they hit the two week mark, they start getting their adult feathers and look a little bedraggled. 

3. A clear vent (butt).

clear butt

Yet another important trait to look for is a clear vent (rear end) that has no fecal matter blocking it, and again, no small bugs of any sort.  Pasty butt usually has to do with being exposed to environmental triggers such as too hot or too cold a temperature, and can signify stressed out chicks.

4. Chicks who are active, curious and annoying.

While it can take a day or so for the chicks to settle fully in to their new home, when they do, they should be interested in their surroundings, their food and water.  If using a heat lamp, they should be scattered around the brooder, not huddled under or away from the source of heat.  If using a heater, they should be in and out from under it, getting food and playing around and returning under it to rest and sleep.  It is quite normal for them to lie down for a while, even on their sides (scary the first time you see it) but they should also hop up when prodded.

Of course, none of these are guarantees for survivors – we checked and observed each chick carefully, and still lost one after two days to unknown causes.  However, especially if picking up your chicks from a feed store, these qualities give you a fighting chance for healthy and thriving chicks who will contribute to your homestead. 

Just a Day

First of all, Happy St. Patrick’s day to those who celebrate.   Happy Israeli election day to the rest of you ;-).

After yesterday’s post on pregnancy reflections, I find myself sitting on my bum, typing on my computer on the couch, while staring out the window at a truly beautiful day on our farm.  I have been outside a little bit and ran some errands. but I just don’t currently have the energy to even go for a walk.  I just want to crash on the couch with the hubs and the pooch.  This is hard for me, as I so want to continue the “perfect pregnancy” illusion, even to myself.  I want to be the person who goes into labor due to a 3 or 10 mile hike in the woods, followed by a squeaky clean paleo meal and a raspberry leaf tea.  Not doing what I’m currently doing, which is just sitting on my bum, waiting for…what? Labor?  Inspiration? A combination?

Today’s breakfast was pizza.  Grain-free pizza, I hasten to say, but pizza.

I just have to remember that today is just a day.  It’s not anything other than a 24 hour cycle.  A day is not a moral issue.  Assuming I don’t hurt anyone, including myself, and I take care of my responsibilities, that’s enough for now. Everything happens, not just for a reason, but for the lesson.

beach

Pregnancy Reflections

Well, I’m almost 38 weeks pregnant, and have barely written a single word on being what it’s been like.  Part of it is because life has been so intense and busy and moment to moment for the past six months.  Part of it is also because this pregnancy has been remarkably, amazingly easy.  Except for some early morning sickness and general fatigue, the most surprising and delightful part of pregnancy has been how totally normal I’ve felt. 

six weeks pregnant

I was 8 weeks pregnant, and fancied I had a bump. Oh, how little I knew of bumpage ;-).

I think a lot of what made pregnancy easier on a spiritual and psychological level had to do with how much getting pregnant clarified what we really wanted. Anthony and I knew we wanted to get out of New York, but I was on a hardcore PhD track that seemed challenging to get off of, especially considering how much I did enjoy it, despite the constant stress and lack of money.  We also have wanted to start a farm together for years, but it always seemed like a “someday” goal, rather than a “jump in” goal. It was an incredible gift from the universe that I got pregnant, and within a few days, we decided that we were moving out of the familiarity of New York and starting the life we really wanted. The kiddo gave us that, and for that, I will always be profoundly grateful. 

honeymoon bump

On our honeymoon – 10 weeks pregnant. 

While I found out I was pregnant in August and stopped working in October, we have been incredibly busy for the entire pregnancy.  We travelled between five states and three countries (Anthony far more, actually). We went on our honeymoon, spent time with family and friends, and found our farm.  We bought chickens, planted fruit trees and seedlings, met so many wonderful new friends, and got acclimated to living in an utterly different place. 

bump

Not the prettiest photo, but I was about four months pregnant. 

Even though we were constantly moving around, probably the best gift I was able to give myself, which only could happen because of our precipitous circumstance of being unemployed and childless, was and has been tons of sleep. Whenever I haven’t felt well, I’ve been able to lie down and rest, which has made the process so much easier.  I also feel like I’ve put a premium on my health and wellbeing in focused way, which has also helped – lots of walking, some yoga, healthy and balanced meals, no sugar or wheat, and occasionally giving in to my gluten- and sugar-free cravings have all made a profound difference. 

six months pregnant

The great thing about moving to the farm is being forced to be active at least for a portion of each day.  When we got a cord of firewood, I wasn’t going to let Anthony have all the fun of stacking it himself, regardless of whether I was 30 weeks pregnant.

stacking firewood

 The garlic wasn’t going to plant itself, and what better a way to get the baby in the ideal position than crawling around in the chicken brooder?  While I might not have had the skills to build the mantle of our fireplace, I was able to lovingly sand and finish it (wearing a respirator and using an all-natural, no emission finish).  I made sure that I was being careful about lifting anything heavy, and always stopping if it felt like too much, but in general, I’ve strived to do all that I can to be an active participant on the farm, and of course, just in setting up the house and making it ready for baby. 

Baby is now due in two weeks, and I’m working on the surrender that baby will come out when he or she is ready.  As a person who cherishes the illusion of control, allowing myself to just surrender to “baby time” is a challenge, but one that is helping me grow.  I was reading my old journal the other day, and was able to see on paper how neurotic and afraid I was all the time. I don’t feel that way anymore. We’ll see what happens when baby is on the outside, however – one day at a time. 

Basic Lessons from Chicks: Tips for Designing a Custom Chicken Brooder

Well, that sounds elegant, doesn’t it?  A custom chicken brooder.  Makes me picture a picturesque corner of the barn, decked out with little chicken arm chairs and bookshelves. It doesn’t bring to mind the ramshackle dog crate combined with cardboard and twine that currently resides in our living room, but hey! I’m trying to learn how to be scrappy.

chicken brooder

Anyway, after being a chicken keeper for all of three weeks, I am shocked by how much I’ve learned about how to keep chicks, and the people raising them, happy campers. 

1) Give them much, much more space than you think they need. When we got them, they were teeny-tiny (and stinking adorable) and six little chicks very easily fit in our rubbermaid bin. 

rubbermaid brooderchicks in brooder

However, after two incredibly short weeks, they went from stinking adorable to just plain stinkers (thankfully not in terms of odor, as we added pine shavings for deep litter bedding as soon as they figured out how to feed themselves – more on that in a moment.) They were incredibly loud, pokey at each other (not violent, but not particularly lovey-dovey either) and constantly climbing all over each other.  They also continuously made their water filthy, and we had to refill their bedding almost every day because it became so soiled.  So, we decided it was time to move them to more palatial circumstance, and the change has been incredible. If I could go back in time, I’d have started them in the dog crate and not bothered with the smaller space. 

2) Keep their food and water separate from their play area. Funny story: we bought 20 lbs of Scratch and Peck organic, non-GMO, soy and corn free feed for our little flock.  Within 16 days, over 3/4 of it was gone.  At first, I was so impressed that they were eating so much, but also a little overwhelmed – they were easily going through two quarts a day.  Being super pregnant and a bit brain dead, I also didn’t notice how quickly their rubbermaid brooder was filling up. It was only after about a week that I noticed that their six inches of bedding wasn’t just pine chips, but was in fact almost entirely food that they threw out of their feeder. I was more than a little annoyed, to say the least.  So, first we raised their feeder and water onto a small box (the kind used for boxed soup) which helped a bit, but what really made a difference was a) changing the type of feeder and b) raising both the food and water onto a big box so they have to fly up six inches to eat. 

brooder

Now, I only have to change their water once a day (instead of 5-6 times) and their food every 2-3 days (instead of twice a day.)  I also recommend a box with a shiny finish, as it’s very easy to wipe clean with a damp cloth.   You could also, of course, use wood, but I needed a quick fix. 

3) Use deep litter. Trust me on this – deep litter makes a word of difference when it comes to chickens.  It not only pretty much eliminates odor, (it has a rustic, pine-y smell which I find totally pleasant) but the chicks LOVE it.  They scratch in it, play in it, jump on it, sleep in it, you name it.  Also, if you compost and/or have access to a compost heap, the pine shavings combined with the nitrogen rich droppings are a fabulous addition to your heap, so there’s little to no waste.  I don’t plan on emptying out the shavings until they are in their coop – instead, I’ll just add about an inch at a time of shavings whenever it looks low or dirty.  Again, now that they’re in a larger brooder than they need (for now, at least) this is probably an every 3-4 day job.

deep litter in the brooder

4) If at all possible, splurge on a heater, versus a lamp. This is really up to you and your budget. I am a firm believer that the expense of a chick should mostly come from their food, as whether you raise them for eggs or meat, you will also be consuming that food. I’ve seen incredibly fancy brooders with chicks that seem equally content to our brooders, which were $10 and free, respectively. That being said, I absolutely adore our Brinsea Ecoglow brooder heater (<— affiliate link!) and wouldn’t use anything else, even though it is literally 8 times the price of a standard lamp.  However, with standard lamps comes a significant fire risk, as well as a good amount of risk of either over or under-heating the chicks.  Six of our seven original chicks have thrived under this heater (one died, but it seemed just a failure to thrive after two days of being home) and have had no pasty butt or other common chick issues.  Considering we’re out and about so much, not having to worry about the lamp falling and catching on fire is absolutely worth the cost, plus the fact that the chicks seem to use it like a mother hen – going under for comfort, and coming out for food and play, makes it seem worth it.

5) Use what you have whenever possible. Just like the honey badger (I know, such a vintage reference) chicks don’t really give a shit.  As long as they have warmth, food, water, and some companionship from other chicks, they don’t need much at all to be happy and healthy.  We used Chewy’s old dog crate (we apparently thought she’d grow up to be a Great Dane?) with twine and cardboard, but could just as easily have used a refrigerator box or an old cabinet turned on its side if that is what was around. Chicks poo on everything, so having a cardboard liner for whatever you use definitely makes cleanup easier.  

Hopefully, these tips will help you design a brooder that is right for you and your flock!  

Weekend Highlights

This weekend was a bit of a whirlwind, but a fun one!  We had lots of time with friends, outside, working, and playing. What could be better?

The weekend started Friday afternoon by picking up 140 pounds of pastured pork from Misty Morning farms, butchered at Matt’s Custom Meats up in Kelso, WA.  It was a long drive, but the mountain views can’t be beat. 

pork

The above is barely a fraction of the meat. We asked to keep everything, including the fat to render for lard, so we have at least 25 pounds of just pig fat.  Amazing.

Saturday morning, I put up the decals in the (almost) finished nursery.  Since Anthony is from Australia, we wanted the baby to have a strong sense of it’s heritage.  It may be confused that bamboo has blue leaves, but whatevs. 

decal

 

koala decal

We took a beautiful walk up the road. Every day, I’m in such awe of the amazing natural surroundings we have, and how much it changes every day with the impending spring. 

walk photos

Hillsboro, OR

We also checked our garden beds with the garlic, which are still looking good and weed free. 

garlic bed

Super pregnant gardener

We also got our fruit trees in the mail from GrowOrganic.com and plan to plant them throughout the week.

fruit trees

We bought three cherries, four apples, two pears, and a peach.  We’ll see how they go!

As Anthony worked on the mantle for the fireplace, I built our growing (and exceedingly annoying, although very cute) chicks a home more appropriately sized for their growing selves.  We went from this:

chick brooder

chick brooder XL

Funny story. The crate was originally Chewy’s. Apparently, we thought she was going to go from 10 pounds to a german shepherd. No such lock, but the chickens are loving it!  I felt very 

Finally, our incredibly sweet and generous neighbors threw us a “welcome to the neighborhood” party.  We got to meet some of our new neighbors, including a couple who gave us a custom-written gardening book for our area. How sweet! There is nothing like having amazing neighbors. 

Welcome cake

Kat and Anthony

I tell you, after this weekend, the moment my head hit the pillow, I was out like a light. Can’t wait to see what this week will bring!

A Fools Errand: Planting Garlic in Spring

 

 If you google “planting garlic in the Spring in Oregon,” the most frequent advice that comes back is, “don’t.”  Apparently, garlic needs the long, cold winter to develop a root system to create big, juicy bulbs for your roasting or tomato sauce pleasure.  Unfortunately, as is often our style, we saw the organic seed garlic and bought it, and then looked up those minor details of such things as when you put it in the ground.

We have three garden beds up the back of the house that were sorely neglected, so we decided to broad fork, weed and plant two of them out with garlic, with the justification that even if the garlic is a failure, at least those beds won’t be wasted. Here’s how we planted it out, using a combination of advice from Organic Gardening and my favorite blogger Erica from Northwest Edible Life (notice that her post, written in October, says to plant that day). 

The first step was to gently break the cloves from the bulb, doing whatever I could to keep the papery skin on.

garlic clove

The next step was to soak the garlic cloves in a seaweed and baking soda mix, of 1 tbsp each to 1 quart of water. We used three quarts for each of our garlic varietals: Nootka Rose, Late Italian Purple, and St. Helens.garlic cloves soaking I left them to soak while we 

To start, here is how the beds looked when we started.  

weedy garden bed

weedy garden bed

So, using a combination of our Meadow Creature Broadfork, our garden fork, and my hori hori knife, Anthony and I turned the beds into this:

weed free bedAs you can see on my face, being almost 9 months pregnant and broadforking/weeding a garden bed is kind of a lot of work.  I look forward to the day when bending over a garden bed doesn’t feel like an Olympic workout.

After we got out every damn weed and blade of grass, we raked in some organic compost that we picked up at our local feed store. 

composted garden bed

After that, the beds were ready to plant.  Once again, I used my hori hori knife (Even though this was my first gardening project, I can easily see that this will become my favorite, indispensable tool) to dig the holes. Also, once I realized my profound lack of depth perception extended to distance between holes, I used the handy ruler on the back of the knife to measure the bulbs six inches apart. If I weren’t lazy and had cleared out the third bed this was autumn, I would have done them inches apart on all sides, but considering it’s spring and they probably won’t grow that big anyway, I stuck with six inches. 

garlic bed prepared

After that, all that was left to do was drop in the garlic gloves, flatter side down. 

IMG 1719

After we did that, we covered the beds with straw that we found in the chicken coop on the property, and I proceeded to sleep for about 4 hours.

Hopefully, in 4-6 weeks, we’ll see some garlic greens/scapes, which would be awesome as I love to cook with them when I can (only taking a few as it’s not great for garlic growth, from what I’ve read.)

Oh, and in case anyone was wondering what Chewy was doing while I was planting said garlic?

naughtiest dog in the world

Discovering the joys of digging up a lawn the way only a city dog can.  My fault.

What are you excited to plant this season?
If you’re not planning on planting, what are you excited to eat this season? 

They’re Here!!

daffodils

The daffodils are starting to bloom!  I am so, so happy. 

Weekend Highlights

It’s hard to believe that but a few months ago, my weekends were spent in New York City, either going to Central Park, or to a restaurant, or to the movies. Don’t get me wrong, we did plenty of cooking, canning, and other delightful homesteading activities, but now it just feels more real, as to accomplish our goals, we actually have to do it, rather than just, “wow, that’s fun!”

On Saturday, Anthony and I woke up bright and early to take care of the chicks (this is daily, of course, but it’s still fun. It’s wild how big they’ve gotten in a week. I’ll write more about setting up their brooder this week, but so far it’s been working great. However, soon we’ll have to move them out, as they are getting a bit crowded.  

Chicks

Because our heat system absolutely sucks (cadet, electric heaters) we’ve decided to invest in replacing our fireplace which makes the room colder, with a wood-burning stove insert.  To do that, we also decided to refinish our fireplace facade, which was white painted brick.  The reason we’ve decided to do that now, is that if we were to do it later, we’d have to pull out the fireplace, which sounds like a huge waste of money.  So, we decided to splurge in a massive way, and get the facade refinished now.  I’ll do a larger post on this later, but one thing we’re doing to help is creating the mantle from a disassembled barn from two properties down.  

Anthony finishing the board

He sanded, I finished it (not the whole thing, yet).  It looks amazing, and I can’t wait to see it above our fireplace.

reclaimed wood mantle

Anthony also put together a red wagon, which can pull very heavy things. Considering how much wood we bought from the barn being torn down, I can tell this is going to be crazy useful.

red wagon being built

While he was doing this, I washed the car, which was getting necessary as the dirt was thicker than the paint.  While I wouldn’t necessarily have a Prius be the first pick of a farm vehicle, it’s getting the job done in an impressive way. 

Sunday, I woke up and headed to Prenatal yoga.  I really enjoy this Iyengar class, and find it definitely helps my soreness as well as helps me feel more aligned mentally and physically.  Then, we went to the Hillsdale Farmer’s market, which was awesome. I forgot to take as many pictures as I intended, but here are a few highlights.

Super natural

Olympic Provisions

Oregon shellfish

The local clams looked so wonderful that we decided to do linguine vongole for dinner.    Unfortunately, after the market I started feeling a bit off, so we headed home so I could get some rest. Hopefully, today will be so I can start my seedlings! 

Linguine vongole

What did you do this weekend?