Friday, April 29, 2011

Small project for a Kitty day

      I am attempting to take a cue from our cat Stella and be lazier. I have been feeling lately that I have been working too much and need to slow down and give my body and mind a little bit of a break. Easier said than done though, I seem to have become a doer. Who would have guessed that I, self proclaimed T.V.-aholic, would start to feel guilty if I didn't redeem myself daily by working my ass off. I can't say what it is exactly, although I would guess that my family's curse/ blessing to always be doing SOMETHING worthwhile is partially to blame. That and Husband's seemingly endless amounts of inspiring energy paired with the seemingly endless amounts of projects we have to do. So, today I fulfilled both my needs by making the chickens a little feeder for the crushed oyster shells we give them to increase the calcium in their diet to ensure the proper thickness of shell on their eggs.
     We got the idea to create a feeder for oyster shells from the fabulous chicken coop at Pistils, a small and pretty urban nursery in Portland. Theirs was a very nice galvanized number, but I thought I could scrounge something just as nifty. So from my collection of tin cans I pulled out an old olive oil can that a friend had given to me with a fig tree in it. The fig tree is now in a bigger pot and the can was free to be tinkered ( I actually think that is the correct word for working with tin ).

    Have you ever been up late at night watching PBS? Well if you have, you have probably seen "Alone in the Wilderness." If you haven't then you should. The guy, Dick Proennoke, built his own log cabin in the Alaskan wild, and while he built the basic stuff to survive he also created a lot of creature comforts out of tree boles and gas cans which at the time where made of metal. I love to watch skilled people make things, and so I remember watching him transform these metal cans into useful items. So, inspired, I cut the can shorter so that when I rolled down the sides they wouldn't be too bulky. 

    I then took a random small metal rod that we dug out of our yard ( we end up keeping a lot of the "junk" we dig up because it often comes in handy ) and started crimping the can edge down around it with a pair of pliers. I  knocked the metal rod out of the rolled edge with a hammer when I was done with each side. It took a little bit but I sat in our hammock with the sun on my back under our lovely blooming pear tree and listened to the chickens clucking and Ruby sniffing around. I felt peaceful, and thing is, the tinkering, the doing  was part of the peace.

     Ok, it wasn't all peaceful. I cut the buhgeezus out of my thumb and had to run in the house and try not to get blood all over. But with lesson learned I finished the job with gloves on. Preety respectable if I do say so myself.

    I wired the finished project to the inside of the chicken run and filled it full of oyster shell plus a little bit of scratch to tempt the birds into investigating this new contraption in their home.

   Project done, I laid back in the hammock and spent a good hour reading and basking in the spring sunshine. Stella would be so proud.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hey babe, wanna get spun and do yard work?

    That was the gist of our discussion about what to do on our day off together this week. Now before you get all judgey, we are not talking about getting spun on illegal amphetamines, we are talking about caffeine in general and the Vev specifically. What is the Vev you ask? As a wedding present my good friend and mentor on things of beauty and quality Karen Kosogald gifted us this amazing Italian stove top espresso maker. The coffee these things make is strong and delicious and it is necessary to do something extremely active after drinking a cup or your head will explode ( at least mine will ). We made up a pot and drank it with a dollop of premium Georgetown honey and some heavy cream and went at it.
    Our project: a fence that will keep the chickens corralled in the back portion of the yard, keeping them out of our new raised beds while providing an aesthetic breakup of the yard. Also, Husband was hell bent on making a small close-able box for the little peepers to nest in when we start to leave them out side at night.

    We had gotten one post in and mapped out where the rest would go about a week ago. The first two posts are going to become the gate/ hop trellis so they have to be TALL. And when you need TALL posts you have to dig DOWN to make sure they are stable. In our case that meant if we wanted our trellis to be 8 feet above ground we needed to dig down 4 feet. We looked on-line at a couple different sites to acquire this ratio, but everyone we have talked to since thinks we are crazy for digging that far down.
    So while Husband built the little peeper box I got to digging with our newest tool, the post hole digger.

    This task would be nearly impossible without this tool. Plus this one has marks on the side to tell you how much more you have to dig. Still need to go one more foot!


     I then took the sledge hammer and busted up pieces of the mysterious concrete curb that was running the length of our yard before we removed it last spring. I found the process of making the rubble strangely zen. It's a bit like splitting logs when you hit that perfect spot with a huge but kind of effortless swing that sends a huge immovable piece of something into smaller perfect sized bits. I kept singing to myself that Clash song with the line "Breaking rocks in the hot sun. I fought the law and the law won." I felt a bit like an old-timey jailbird on a chain gang. Ok, not really, but you know what I mean.  Anyway, after taking out that curb last year we are extremely reluctant to put in any more concrete that we might have to take out someday. So while a lot of people recommend cementing in fence posts, our system is: layer of rubble, tamp with old broom handle or two by four until you can't feel your hands, layer of dirt, tamp, layer of rubble, tamp, layer of dirt, tamp. All the while the other person is adjusting the post with the help of a level to make sure the post is well... level ( strait up and down in this case ) and lined up with the other posts.

                                                                    The two tall posts in!

     As we worked closer to the existing fence setting our posts securely in the ground, we realized that we had done our measuring sloppily and were on a collision course with one of two yew trees that we had wanted to bypass. We talked about our options but there was no way we were gonna dig up the posts we had just set and we thought about zagging the fence around the tree or making a diagonal part right there. In the end, the tree didn't have a chance. Thus, powered by the Vev we cut down the tree, set our posts and called it a day. Whew!

     Above is a  pic of the temporary scrap lumber box that Husband built for the little peepers. We are now keeping them outside underneath the big girls coop cordoned off with a length of hardware cloth. This will help the chickens get acquainted with one another in the run with out too much feather plucking and bloodshed.  In time they will have to re-establish the pecking order but we want to wait 'til the little ones get bigger and better able to defend themselves. Then we will slip them in the coop and onto the roost in the middle of the night. Apparently this will psyche the birds into thinking this was always how it has been, all one big happy family. We'll see.

     While we were tamping and rubbling and cutting down trees I noticed that the BOB's were back! Blue Orchard Bees that is. We have a small hive for them set onto the south facing side of the chicken run and today I looked in there and saw three little bee faces covered with pollen looking back at me. These bees are more solitary than honey bees and while they don't produce honey they do collect pollen and so are immensely important for pollinating early blooming fruit trees like the pear tree that is blooming in our yard right now. Plus unlike honey bees they will work hard regardless of the cold or rain. It was so exciting to see them! I have been sad about our honey bee hive dying, so to see these little bees was for me a sign that all can still be well. Thanks Bob's!

Where my girls at?

   Let me introduce the ladies of the Rusty Roof ( which is what we call our little slice of heaven ). Up top we have Mercedes ( foreground ) and Dagmar or Dags as we like to call her. They are both Americaunas but of different shades, sizes and temperament. Mercedes is a very sweet chicken, very personable and she likes to be picked up and held. Dagmar on the other hand is somewhat of a brute. She is built like a brick house, an amazon chicken you could say. Whenever we approach her she looks at us sideways and makes some low threatening clucks and runs, she is not a "people chicken." Her legs are THICK and strong and make the other chickens legs look like sticks in comparison.  And how about those beards! Fantastic! They both lay pretty blue green eggs but Dags' are a bit more green than Mercedes'.

   This is an up close shot of Sissy our Silver Laced Wyndotte. The "lace" part of her heirloom breed's name comes from the pattern that her black and white feathers produce. Husband thinks she is the head hen and he's probably right, but then again he is a sucker for a pretty face. She lays light brown eggs and I think she is our most reliable layer.

   This is our Maran, Jolene, who lays beautiful dark brown eggs. She has this great archetypal hen figure, thick and solid. Of course, when you pick any of the chickens they feel a bit scrawny under all those feathers! We feed them a layer mash and augment it with scratch, crushed oyster shells and all the worms and bugs and slugs and vegetation they can get on their forays into the yard. It makes you wonder what they are feeding the giant chickens one buys at the grocery store.

   And here is the reason we allegedly invested in these glorious urban fowl. The EGGS! They have the most amazing creamy yellow-orange yolks that make store bought eggs look anemic by comparison. We are now getting four a day fairly reliably and how many a day and who laid and who didn't is one of the daily topics of discussion between Husband and I.

   Who could resist this face? Ruby is getting more comfortable with us and the house every week. We signed up for the free dog training class that came with her adoption fee from the Humane Society, and she is doing well. Although, I think these classes are really people training and she is only as "good" as we are. What I'm attempting to admit is that we could be practicing more. Oh well, she is doing better than when we first got her. That says something right?
    Below is a shot of the pet bed I made to fit in her kennel. Super simple project and it looks so chic! I just cut out two rectangles of polar fleece to fit the inside of the kennel plus an inch and half  for seam allowance and bouffiness, sewed it all around leaving an opening for stuffing. I then just laid the sewed up piece on top of some extra lofty polyester quilt batting and cut to fit and stuffed it in there. I sewed up the opening and using an extra big needle took some yarn and tied it through all the layers. Et Voila! I made one for our cat Stella too and put it in her favorite warm place. We have us some happy manimals, I must say.


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Fire Cider: The Tasting

The day has finally come! Eight weeks ago we started this process and now our Fire Cider has reached it's steeping maturity and is ready to strain and taste.

     We took off the lid and the parchment layer to reveal a slightly grainy super pungent slurry. The smell was a bit scary when I thought about ingesting this, very hot and garlicky. Yet, at the same time it was intriguing, strongly healthy and invigorating.

    First we dumped the chunky bits into a strainer to get all the loose liquid out of the jar.

    Then we took some cheese cloth and squeezed the chunky bits to get all "the good stuff," the juice of the steeped onion and garlic and peppers.

     We ended up with about three cups of finished liquid. Next time we make this I definitely want to use fresh turmeric and possibly omit the powdered cayenne and use more fresh peppers. I am not satisfied with the grainy texture even though it is very slight. BUT, now was the final step: tasting...

A preliminary sniff test." Smells hot."

The first sip....


I think he likes it!

Down the hatch.


The face of trepidation. 

Gaaaaaahk. It burns!
     But the aftertaste is surprisingly sweet! Plus it kinda peps you up, makes your eyes wider and your brain more alert. Taking shots was fun but in the future I think maybe a tablespoon a day is more prudent. Although neither of us had any problems digesting our samples, the thought of what the fire cider might do to our guts long term is a bit scary. On the other hand all of the ingredients are known to be beneficial to ones general health and I have heard that the intestines are one of the most important organs in immune defense. Still everything in moderation, right?