Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Keeping Chickens, Part 2: Little Balls of Fluff

~Win sourdough starter by clicking here!~
Here it comes.  Are you ready for the cuteness?  This was our little flock last year on Good Friday, one day old:
Can you even handle the puffiness?!

Before you get your tiny balls of fluff, preparations must be made.  Ideally, you'll have the coop built and their run established before you even bring them home, even if they won't be in it for four to six weeks.  That ideal didn't happen for us; Jeremy hammered the last nail in the coop the day the adolescent pullets were put in their new, outdoor home.  There I go again, getting ahead of myself.  We'll chat about the coop in the next chicken segment...

What is essential to have ready as soon as you bring the puff balls home is a brooder, heat lamp, starter feed, and food and water feeders specific for chicks.

If you plan to continue raising poultry, investing in a real brooder is a good idea.  If this is your first go at it and you're not sure you want to sink that much money into flock-raising just yet, you can use a box, like we did.  This car seat box came in quite handy:
I learned if you put several layers of newspapers at the bottom of the brooder, I didn't have to take all 12 chicks out of the brooder every day to lay fresh newspaper down.  Daily chick up-keep consisted of peeling a layer of newspaper off, changing their water, and making sure they had enough food in the little feeder.  Yessiree, this is something your children can do.  I monitored the first couple of times, then 7-year-old took the reigns and coordinated chickie care with her three younger siblings.

We also didn't invest in an official "brooder lamp."  Instead, we used an office lamp we already had that had a 65 watt bulb.  I read a regular lamp can be used as long as it has a 65-70 watt bulb and the brooder stays about 90 degrees the first week.  We taped a thermometer in ours to monitor, but the chicks will let you know how they're doing.  If they're all huddled right under the lamp, they're not warm enough.  If they're sprawled out as far as they can get from the lamp, it's probably getting a little too toasty for the little nuggets.  If they're all spread throughout the box, scratching and peeping away, the temp is just right. You'll want to drop the temp inside the brooder 5 degrees each week by raising the lamp higher and higher to get them ready for the great outdoors.
At first, I was anti-medicated starter feed.  I wanted them to be 100% organic, but not being experienced in raising chicks (it had been 19 years since my last flock, after all) and from what I read about it being hard to keep them from getting sick without it, we went with medicated starter feed.  I figured it'd be out of their systems before they started laying, several months later. :)

A word on pasting up.  This might detract some of you from keeping chickens regardless of their cuteness and eventually delicious, daily, fresh eggs with orange yolks.  Sometimes... chick poo gets stuck on their bottoms and, well, it must be swabbed off before their little openings get completely pasted over and they can't poop and they die.  Just reporting the facts, people.

One more thing.  Chick dust.  Chicks... make a lot of dust.  If you can keep them warm enough in the garage and you don't have cats that would try to consume them (like we do), keeping them out of the house is ideal.

There you have it.  This is what life looks like the first 4-6 weeks of your chicken-keeping career.

If you haven't already decided on what breeds you want to raise, click here to see what we chose and why.  You can also browse a hatchery's website like Murray McMurray. Oooh, that part is so fun!  And if you're homeschooling (or if you're not, really), this is definitely a wonderful project that interests most children and something they can easily be involved in from start to finish.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sourdough Starter Giveaway. Why Not?

After hearing interest in ordering starter and trying out homemade sourdough bread, I thought, why not give some away?  I have extra starter every week that would love to find a new home. So, if you were considering dabbling with sourdough, I'm giving away some starter.  I even saved that questionable-looking container seen in the picture above that my King Arthur starter was delivered in.  I'll also include instructions if you don't want to read through my narration to get the info needed.

Here's your chance to try out the art of making sourdough bread, risk-free! :)

This giveaway begins Tuesday, March 30, 2010 at 1:00pm, PST, and ends Monday, April 5, 2010 at 4:00pm, PST.

1.  Leave a comment below answering this question: What homemaking art are you most wanting to give a try? IE: I really want to learn how to make cheese. or I'm new to all this and just want to learn how to make anything that's not intimidating.  Something like that.
2.  Tweeting about this giveaway gives you a second entry, just leave your tweet link in a separate comment. 
3. Post a Facebook link to this giveaway.  Leave a link to your post in a separate comment.

I'll head to on the 5th to find a winner.  Come back to this blog Monday the 5th sometime late in the afternoon/evening to find our if you're the proud owner-to-be of some happy starter.

Enjoy your kitchen!

The Beginning of a Sourdough Journey & a How-to. Join Me?

"But how do you make the sourdough?" Mrs. Boast asked.
"You start it," said Ma, "by putting some flour and warm water in a jar and letting it stand until it sours."
"Then when you use it, always leave a little," said Laura, "and put in the scraps of biscuit dough, like this, and more water," Laura put in the warm water, "and cover it," she put the clean cloth and the plate on the jar, "and just set it in a warm place on the shelf by the stove.  "And it's always ready to use, whenever you want it."
~Laura Ingalls Wilder By the Shores of Silver Lake

It was time to place the order.  I was about to embark on a journey of ups and downs, failures and triumphs, reservation and assuredness.  I ordered a descendant of food that began over 250 years ago.  It came.  King Arthur Flour Sourdough Starter.  Initially, my feet turned cold and I let the contents of the package sit in there for most of the day.  What was I getting myself into?  Was I ready for this kind of commitment?  What if I kill this ancient descendant on my first try?   ...That was enough yellow-belly jabber.  I cut open the package to find... Something what resembled a container you're given when pregnant and must provide a urine sample.
PLEASE FEED ME.  Ohmygoodness.  It must begin now, the poor starter is famished and if I wait I might kill it!  I fumbled with the directions to navigate my way through this mysterious, unknown bread-making method.  The lid was opened with care and I was met with a swift slap in the nose from the starter's oder.  Well then, nice to meet you, too.  I read that the smell was normal and it needed food and water.  Okay then.  I can relate.

In went the chlorine-free 1/4 cup of lukewarm water.  Stir, stir, stir.  And just as anyone would do with a good, stiff drink, it loosened up from it's holdings.  It was time to party.  In it went to a glass bowl (metal must be avoided, it reacts with the bacteria.  Yummy...).  It was time to get the starter really happy.  I gave it 1 1/4 cups more lukewarm water and 2 cups all-purpose flour.  Now... normally, I avoid refined flour (for the most part).  But it was my first time making this, so I went by the book.  Or paper.
As what most of us can relate to, once the starter was fed and given good drink, it needed to rest.  It was covered by a cozy kitchen cloth and let alone for 8-12 hours.  Ni-night, little bacteria.
What can happen when we're in bed with our spouses for a long time?  The same thing that happens to bacteria.  We multiply.  And get bubbly.  Wait.  That part only happens to the starter.  It was time to stir it and throw half of it out.  Excuse me? There will me no throwing out in this house.  I used the other half for my first trial of making sourdough bread with spelt flour.  Each half was fed 1/2 cup water and 1 cup flour and sat, covered for 2-4 hours more.
  At this point, the mass of dough is considered fed starter.
Now there are two states of starter: fed and ripe.  What I have above is fed.  It's ready to do it's thang, to be used to make sourdough bread.  This starter would be ripe if I stuck it in the fridge for up to a week.  Ripe starter needs to be stirred.  Then you must discard (or give to a friend) 1 cup of it to get the acidity to the proper lever, then feed with 1/2 cup warm water and 1 cup flour, cover, and set aside for 4-12 hours so it can turn back into fed, ready-to-go starter.

Enough on starter; on to the bread!

There is a recipe for extra-tangy sourdough bread that doesn't involve yeast, but this is a Rustic Sourdough Bread recipe that came with the instructions.

Combine and kneed well:
1 cup fed starter
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar (I use rapadura)
2 teaspoons yeast
5 cups flour
Place in a deep  bowl and cover for 1 1/2 hours.
After sitting for 90 minutes, mine looked like this:
Then it was time to divide the dough in to two loves!  I had come so far!  And yet... it needed to sit some more.  Like one hour more. But after it was done rising I got to slit the tops.  That was fun.  It looked pretty.  I don't slit them this long anymore though; probably about half this length:
At last!  In they went to a 425 degree oven for 30 minutes.  I give you, after 23 hours, the finished product:
Oh, and the spelt bread?  Here's how they turned out:
That was a lot of work, man.  I didn't know if it was worth it.  My life felt governed by this bread.  After I tasted it, though... it was all over.  And once you have ripe starter, it's only a matter of remembering to get it out the night before, quickly feed it so it's ready in the morning, and begin the bread process which is only 3 hours long.  I might use only lightly.  In terms of assembly time, though, it only takes about 20 minutes.  And I love home; being in it for three hours is not a stretch for me.  It's also cheaper to make, ingredients-wise.  There's way less that goes into it than sandwich bread.  We eat sandwiches German-style now: on sourdough, opened-faced.  I'm a believer.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Moist Spelt Cake with Whispers-of-Coconut Frosting. A Recipe.

Believe it or not, it actually slipped my mind to take step-by-step pictures of this experimental recipe, but I did have enough sense to snap a quick photo at one of the last pieces.  It went that fast. :)  Maybe next time it'll be put together in lovely layers with many pictures captured before it's demolished.  But why wait for the pretty pics to post the recipe?

I didn't feel deprived of that satisfactory, hit-the-spot feeling with this healthy(er) treat.  For those who aren't too keen on coconut, this is a great compromise.  A (very honest) friend of mine who I tested this cake on told me she normally avoids coconut-flavored foods, but it's so subtile, she actually enjoyed it!    It's rich, moist, and satisfying for that ornery sweet tooth; or in my case, sweet teeth, according to my grandpa when I was seven.  Not too much has changed in that area of my life...

Moist, Frosted Spelt Cake with Whispers of Coconut
For the cake:
2/3 cup extra virgin coconut oil
1 3/4 cup turbinado sugar (or whatever kind of sugar you use)
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 3/4 cup spelt flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon Celtic sea salt
1 1/4 cup milk

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour pan(s).  Mix coconut oil, sugar, eggs, and vanilla until well-blended.  Beat 5 minutes on high speed.  On low speed, add flour, baking powder, and salt alternately with milk.  Pour into pan(s).

Bake oblong 40-45 minutes, layers 25-30 minutes, or until the edges turn slightly brown (It's whole wheat flour; it's what it does.)

For the frosting:
1/2 cup extra virgin coconut oil
4 cups powdered sugar (fair trade/organic is ideal, of course)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
about 3 Tablespoons milk

Blend coconut oil and sugar.  Stir in vanilla and milk, beat until frosting is smooth and of spreading consistency.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Pea Packet Winner

My extra packet of pea seeds has found a home, thanks to, who chose comment number four. That home is:

Amanda O· 3 days ago

Email me your address and I'll mail the tiny treasures out to you.  Enjoy them! :)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Meet My Flock: Keeping Chickens, Part 1

If you're thinking about raising chickens this year, now is the time to start.  Walking into Tractor Supply the other day to pick up 50 pounds of chicken feed, I heard it.  Tiny little peeps!  Not taking a few home took major self control.   That's how they suck you in; they're so cute.  If you get sucked into the cuteness vortex and get your chicks now, you should have eggs by late August.

We bought our day-old chicks last year on Good Friday as an Easter present for the kids.  Well, maybe more for me if I were to be completely honest.  I'm getting ahead of myself.  We'll start at the very beginning.  It's a very good place to start...

For seven years, my parents home schooled my brother and I.  They suffered through many tantrums I threw.  Looking back (and after many apologies to my enduring folks), I can honestly say I am so thankful they made that choice for my chemist brother, Dr. Chris and I.  It gave me the chance to really discover what I love, who I was, what I was made for.  I found... my inner nerd.  There was no turning back.

After consuming the Little House and Anne of Green Gables book series, I longed to live in a different, simpler, earthier time when people were far more connected with creation and aware of their symbiotic relationship with it.  I decided I needed to become Amish.  This was in the 5th grade.  Phase 1: use no electricity in my room.  I couldn't hold the rest of the family to my new, higher standard, but my room would be a pure place, untainted by outside influences of the world; mainly electronics.  It lasted all of half a day.  Living without my Amy Grant and Chrystal Lewis CDs became unbearable.

Later, I tried another avenue.  Livestock.  We were living in the suburbs, on less than 1/5 of an acre.  I was going to make it work, though.  My parents, wisely seizing every learning opportunity they could and unthreatened by my current 11-year-old oddity, walked me through the proper protocol.  First: research (smarty-pant parents).  What livestock did I want?  A cow.  What kind of cow did I want?  A dairy cow.  What kind of dairy cow?  A Holstein.  Why?  Because they are docile, produce more than enough milk for one family, and I loved their black and white spots.  Next:  I was to call the city to see if we were zoned for cattle. I did.  The lady on the other end was quite sensitive and pushed through her initial shock of hearing a little voice ask if I could own a cow, and informed me we weren't zoned for cows, but we could have three hens, no roosters.

That's where it all began.  We researched coops, built one with my dad, and learned all about hens.  My old 2nd grade teacher who grew up on a farm lived around the corner from us and she offered her advice, a cage, and a warming lamp for little chicks.  We were all set.  I became the proud owner of Amy the Araucana, and Zachy and Red, the Rhode Island Reds.  It was magical, I tell you.

19 years later, we care for a 12-hen flock.  Dreams really can come true...
Meet the four different breeds we keep.  Why did we choose these breeds?  Because they have gentler dispositions, they are good layers, and they're just plain pretty.  This first one here is a Barred Rock.  I love their look.  So pretty.  And plump.  I love chubby chickens.  They were the first to start laying.  They yield light brown eggs (pictures of all the different eggs are at the bottom of this post).
The next to begin their laying career were the Rhode Island Reds.  They are the more aggressive of the docile breeds (??), but the most consistent layers, bearing darker brown eggs.
Then you have the Buff Orpingtons.  They are the most gentle hens we have and by far the fattest.  I love that.  They lay medium-toned brown eggs.
Lastly are the Ameraucana.  They seem like they are a few bales short of a wagon load, but don't be fooled by their strange behavior.  If there's a chicken who will find a way out of the run, it will be one of them.  They were the last to start laying, but the wait was worth it.  They lay greenish/purplish "Easter" eggs.
Quiz time: can you determine which breed lays each egg?
This is probably enough chicken talk for one day.  Next, we'll go back to when these fatty hens were adorable little chickey pufflets and how to care for baby chicks.  I can hear the awwwwwes from here.

I'm sharing this at Barn Hop Monday.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How to Grow Potatoes. And a Confession.

Another gardening post had to be written.  It's on my mind.  Gardening is my special reward for getting the other tasks of the day completed.  It's hard not to be out there all day, soaking up the sunshine, breathing the fragrant, blossom-scented spring air, feeling earth in my hands, spotting new sprouts, weeding, caring for little seedlings with anticipation of a tasty, satisfying harvest...  

We are nearing the end of potato-planting season for those of us in zone 9.  I got mine in the ground a couple weeks ago and they just started sprouting up all over the place. 
If you have never experienced a home-grown potato, well... you just must.  There is quite a superior taste that comes with a spud that you dug up with your own bare hands.  I think it has more to do than being bias, though.  If you like potatoes, ya gotta grow your own at least once.

How does one plant potatoes?  Well, there are many ways.  Google your heart to find out all the different methods.  I've read a several articles/books, and what every source said was to only  plant certified seed potatoes that you buy at a garden store.  I wondered what they did in the good ol' days and remembered reading the Ingalls ate their seed potatoes when they realized they were living in Indian territory and had to move right away.  So they used seed potatoes too.  This made me question my shady action even more.  I must confess to you.  I have been a naughty potato planter.  This makes 2 years in a row now.  I planted potatoes that were not certified seed potatoes.  They were organic, though (conventional spuds have been sprayed with an anti-sprouting chemical, amongst other treacheries).  They started sprouting and it just made sense to plant them.  Kind of.  In a rule-breaking sort of way.
So, I chopped them up (at least 2 eyes to a chunk), let them set out for a day to scab over,
dug 6-inch deep trenches, a foot and a half apart from each other, and placed the tubers, cut-side-down, about 8 inches away from each other.
I did this no-no last year, and was quite pleased with the results from our little rebel bed.

Some quick tater care tips:
*  Cover plants up with more compost/hay/wood chips weekly.  If the tubers (potatoes) are exposed to the sun, they turn green and become carcinogenic.
*  Take good care watering them when the plants begin to bloom.
*  Harvest about a week after the plant has turned brown and looks dead.  If you want to harvest new potatoes, gently dig around with your fingers for smaller tubers once the flowers have bloomed above.
*  Once you've dug up all your potatoes, let them sit exposed to the sunlight, on the dirt (on in the garage if it might rain; they need to stay dry) for a couple days to toughen up their skin so they can be stored longer. (You can also clean them up and eat them right away.  Leaving them out is just to toughen them up for storage.)
*  Make sure to move your potato plot every year.  Potatoes shouldn't be grown in the same place for at least 3 years to prevent disease.

Well then, I'll keep y'all posted on my second season of potato naughtiness.  Hopefully, I won't learn my lesson...

And for those of you who have never seen what potato plants look like (I didn't until 3 years ago) but always wondered:

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

You Capture ~ A Moment

A moment...

with the bumblebees

in the sky

with the ladies

enjoying SPRING!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

In the Garden ~ Peas, Please. A Pea-Sized Giveaway

It's a tad late in the plating season (for us in the upper Sacramento Valley, at least) to be planting peas, but it's not too late.  From my experience, peas are an easier plant to grow, making them friendly to both new and experienced gardeners.  They are a gorgeous addition to the home garden, especially as they creep up a trellis or twine and begin to bloom.

I planted my peas with some Ukon Gold potato tubers, because peas and taters are good companions, so I've read.
But what they are not friends with is garlic.  Just a head's up.
I don't know how I did it, but I managed to buy four packets of peas this year.  It just makes sense to give one away, you know?  So I am.  It seems like the right thing to do.
So here's the packet I'm giving away to a garden home who will plant the little seeds with love:  Pinetree Garden's Cascadia Snap Pea.  Give them 48 days, and you should have a pea harvest on your hands.  That sounds... weird.  But you know what I mean.  Oh, and don't worry, after I took this picture, the seeds went right back to a cool, dark place, awaiting their earthen home.

This giveaway begins Tuesday, March 23 at10:00am, PST, and ends Friday, March 26 at 4:00pm, PST.

1.  Leave a comment below answering this question: What are you most looking forward to growing this year?
2.  Tweeting about this giveaway gives you a second entry, just leave your tweet link in a separate comment. 
3. Post a Facebook link to this giveaway.  Leave a link to your post in a separate comment.

Have fun and happy gardening!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Traditional Stock Raises the Dead. Almost. A Recipe

This recipe has been stewing (I couldn't help myself. I'm my father's daughter) in my head for ages. So here we go, Nourishing Traditions style.

We've all been told to eat chicken noodle soup when we're sick, but what most of us haven't been told is that Campbell's, etc. is useless when it comes to the medicinal properties of chicken broth, or stock. I've learned that reading a label only tells you a fraction of nutrition content in the food it contains. The process by which the food is offered is just as, if not more important to the ability my body will have in absorbing it's nutrients.

Ladies and gents, this is how chicken stock has been made for centuries, and if you want an effective, comforting way to treat many ailments, this is what you'll want to have on hand. (I usually have a couple quarts of this standing ready in the freezer.):

Traditional Chicken Stock
You will need:
1 whole chicken (organic/free range will give you the best results and nutrition), gizzards are optional, cut up in pieces. You're welcome for not taking a picture of that. Oh wait. What's this?
Just keeping it real, friends. I couldn't help myself.
And you will need:
4 quarts filtered water
2 Tablespoons vinegar
1 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
3 celery sticks, chopped
1 bunch parsley
Don't worry about finely chopping everything.
Combine all ingredients accept the parsley.
Bring to a boil, skim off any foam.
Simmer, covered, for 6 to 24 hours. The longer you let it simmer, the higher nutrients and flavor it will yield. Add the parsley 10 minutes before finishing the stock, imparting more mineral ions to it.
Strain the stock into a big bowl.

After the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and store the meat. It's great in enchiladas, salads, soups, etc. The skin and smaller bones are soft enough to give to your cat or dog, and they'll probably gladly eat the veggies, too (mine do).
Store the stock in the refrigerator overnight or until the fat rises to the top. Skim the fat off and reserve the stock in containers (I use wide-mouthed canning jars, my all-time favorite storage container).

And there you have it, folks. Be well, be healthy, stock up on some... stock before the heat sets in!


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