Thursday, May 27, 2010

Chicken Jinxed

After my bragging about our four-egg-day (four eggs from 3 chickens!) on my blog, via email and maybe even with a phone message or MIL called to ask about our chickens. I told her they were doing great: laying an egg each a day, not fighting, not pecking, not eating eggs, eating all their vegetables, not going broody, not pecking at me... oh my sweet, and perfect model chickens.


Yep, a pecked egg. You can even see the double beak hole where she pecked it. I found this under the perch in the chicken pen.

To top it off, our black hen (one of the infamous mean girls) has been in the nest box a lot, and even pecked at me when I tried to shoo her out yesterday. She has been pulling out the small soft feathers from her belly and under her wings to line her nest with. Gee, going broody? Yep.

Going broody means that she thinks she wants to sit on her eggs to hatch them. In theory, this would not be a bad thing, it is what God intended for the eggs, to be hatched into little chicks, in theory. The reality of the situation is that we don't want chicks, we want eggs. The hen would probably get bored or distracted half way through and abandon the nest, leaving half incubated no-longer-edible eggs for me to deal with. The hen is also preventing the other two hens from using the nest box. Hens also stop laying during the time they are sitting on a nest, so overall production goes down. Some hens make very good mothers, and judging by the history of our two 'mean girls' this one may make a great mother and raise up a flock all by herself. But we don't want that.

By bragging on my small flock, I chicken jinxed myself.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Slice of Prickly Heaven

My favorite food of all time is artichoke with drawn butter. I love artichokes so much that my mom (and now hubby) puts an artichoke in my Christmas stocking instead of a pesky orange or apple. I toyed with the idea of artichokes in my wedding bouquet. I love artichokes!

So when I grew an artichoke plant for the first time last year, I was disappointed that nothing came of it the first year except a huge, beautiful, architectural plant with spiny leaves.

Here it is last June, small and spiny

Here is the same plant, this year, HUGE and spiny

Here is closeup of the yummy reward

Oops, looks like I never got over that dream of an edible bouquet...

Boil in salted water for about 30 minutes, or until the base of the artichoke is tender when poked with a fork.

Drain and serve with salted drawn butter. Think of it like a giant edible flower. To eat an artichoke, you pull off the petals one by one and drag them through your front teeth to scrape off the yummy soft flesh that lines inside of each petal. Oh, and dip in butter, lots and lots of butter. Hubby sometimes teases me that I am just using the artichoke as a spoon to get more melted butter...

As you get close and closer to the center of the artichoke, the petals get smaller and more tender. Then at the very center is the heart of the artichoke, covering the top of the heart is the 'choke' part, a small section of tiny hairs that is not at all tasty. I usually scrape that off with a spoon, but don't scrape too far, the choke will lift off neatly, leaving the heart to be eaten, yummy.

In general, my home grown artichokes were much smaller than store bought artichokes. The leaves seemed a bit tougher, but I may not have harvested them early enough. I also wonder if the plant I grew is not a differnt variety of artichoke than what is sold in stores.

I definitely plan to grow artichokes again, but not as a part of the tillable garden (since it takes two years to produce). These beautiful plants would look great as an accent plant in any garden. They do get rather large though. At the peak of the season last year, this thing was probably 4 feet across and about 3 feet high. The plant stayed green all winter, even during our 17 degree cold snap (I covered them with a bucket and lots of hay).

Hooray for Artichokes, beautiful and delicious!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Building Bee Boxes

The guys have been on hold on there bee removal activities because we are out of bee boxes in which to house our new arrivals. We put in another order to the big bee supply place in Paris, Texas and picked it up a few weeks ago. Here is our poor pitiful truck under the load of 15 complete new hives

Wait, those don't look like bee hives... oh, some assembly required... and gluing, and nailing, and treating and staining. No instant gratification here.

We start by gluing the ends of the boxes

This is not strictly necessary, but makes for a stronger box with fewer gaps for pests to hide.

The glued boxes are then squared off and clamped. Then nails are driven at each end to secure the box.

The rest of the nails are then driven in.

Since we had 45 individual boxes to build with this load (15 brood boxes with 2 supers each), we set up an assembly line to make things go quicker.




Repeat 45 times... unless you run out of nails part way through, then you stop, get more nails and finish. But you only have to do that part if you don't plan ahead...

So repeat the process until you are very sleepy

and have lots of bee boxes.

Are we done yet? Noooo

Next the boxes have to be treated with boiled linseed oil. This protects the wood and smells really good. I'm not sure if that part matters or not, but it makes it a fun job.

This is a stack of oiled boxes drying in the yard. Ideally, you would oil all of the boxes at once and be done with it, unless of course you run out of oil on box number 21... and have to stop for the night. But that only happens if you don't plan ahead.

Then the boxes must be primed and then painted. Then, then they are ready for bees.

Garden Visitors--May 2010

First visitor, on May 13th, this crazy looking moth hanging out on the door to the garage.

This is a Giant Leopard Moth, and here is the wiki on it
One interesting note, it says that the caterpillars of this moth are the woolly bear caterpillars with a red band. Boy and I have found several of these caterpillars in our yard over the last few months, but I've never seen the moth before. Pretty!

There is nothing too special about these birds, just common Starlings. I guess it is sort of special to note that Starlings are a non-native species that was introduced into Central Park in NYC back in the 1800s and has since spread to every single state. (double check me on those facts... it is just what I remember reading somewhere) We have Starlings in our yard every day, but what is neat is that this time, they brought their baby!

This awkward little guy was very funny to watch. He would occasionally trip over a stick or blade of grass and end up falling over. He would then run over to his mommy and stay near her for a while. Several times, if he was following too close to his mommy he would not notice when she stopped and he crash right into her. Quite the birdy circus in the yard.

Here are our other young visitors, a baby white winged dove and the parent. Notice the pretty blue eye bands around the adult?

Doves are one of the most common birds in our yard.

Then a few days later, I saw this!

a mommy bird and two babies, these guys are morning doves. They are the more common type of dove in our area of Texas.

There is also a smaller Inca Dove that has black bands along the bottom of each feather. I have not gotten a picture of those in our yard yet, but I have seen them.

So how I do know all about these birds? I have a helper (notice the bird book under his arm).

Not really, his bird 'I-denty-fa-cA-si-on' book is old and basically useless unless you really don't know what you are looking at or don't need a lot of details. He loves to help though.

This is kind of a cheater picture. More just to remind me to tell the story than to actually show anything. This is taken at the back end of my garden, the gray metal thing in the picture is our gas meter, which was placed directly on the property line, making it a real pain to fence the yard. The previous owners built around the gas meter with a weird boxy addition to the fence. We chose to build over it, just leaving a cut out around the portion of the meter that sticks through. Perched on the lowest pipe of the meter is a baby mocking bird. Nope, you cannot see it from the photos. He has been sitting there for a few days and screaming so loud when his parents come to feed him. He is too small to fly yet, so he must have fallen from the nest. Really, it is a fairly safe spot for him to be. He is hidden by brush and can retreat to either side of hte fence if there is something out to get him. Well, safe except from big dumb me who nearly knocked him over the other day when I went out to investigate all the noise coming from my garden. I decided to be nice to him and not try to take too close of a photo of him.

I also had an insight into my garden visitor from last year at this time-- the baby blue heron In early May, I spotted two full grown blue herons as they flew into a tree in a neighbors yard behind our house (about 2 houses south of us). They are nesting there which explains why the barely-flying baby ended up in my garden last year.


Four Egg Day?!? May 19th

We have three chickens, chickens on average lay an egg every 26 hours... so basically about one per day. So far, we've had a bunch of 2 egg days, a few 3 egg days, but yesterday was a first. We had a FOUR egg day, even though we only have three chickens.

I picked up one egg before work, it is possible that this egg was laid any time between 8pm on May 17th and 8 am on May 18th. I don't think chickens lay eggs at night, but I suppose if the time is right... who knows. Then after work on May 18th, I found THREE eggs in the nest box.

Ignore the giant brown egg in the upper right corner, that is a wooden egg. It is there to remind the girls where to lay, as well as to discourage egg pecking (which we have not had an issue with yet, thankfully).

Here are the eggs with a smashing toddler hand for size comparison

Here they are in my hand after rescuing them from the toddler so you can see the pretty colors, we get a blueish-green, a true white, and a beige-y off white color.

Hooray chickens for your first four egg day.

May Garden Update

My garden has felt sadly neglected this year. Last year, I was home during the months of April and May with my new baby girl so I was able to spend hours in the garden each day. This year... not so much. This has also been a screwy year for weather, a very cold, slow winter followed by hot and dry much quicker than usual. Our last snow was on March ~20 and by the end of April it was already up into the 80s and has stayed there nearly continuously since. I've been picking stuff on and off for a few weeks, nothing spectacular in quantity or size, but always of wonderful flavor.

Bad weather, neglect, lack of time, new hobbies, still the garden grows on. Here is what was happening out there in late May.

Here are the veggies I picked on May 17th, beans, squash, broccoli and dill. It weighed just a bit under a pound. I blanched (plunge them in boiling water for 3 minutes, then cool water) the veggies and we had them with dinner that night.

One of our black berry bushes is growing like crazy and is covered in berries. This ripe one was the size of my thumb, huge. I may have picked it a little bit too soon though, it was kind of tough and not at all sweet. Too bad.

I harvested the turnips on May 20th (before work, heck before sunrise!) and it was pretty obvious that my attempted kindness by not thinning them was a mistake.

The turnips that grew uncrowded were perfect orbs the size of my fist... the ones that were crowded into the unthinned areas were as small as my finger. Too bad.

I have to remember this for next year, I HAVE TO THIN THE SEEDLINGS if I want to harvest anything worthwhile. Sigh, still, there are plenty of turnips for a few meals. I'm excited to try them out tonight. Store turnips are okay, and I've never had fresh.

I cleaned out the dying peas, spent broccoli and various weeds and fed the scraps to the chickens. They were pretty excited at this bounty and quickly picked off the bugs. I"m sure these girls will have the greens down to the nubs by the time I get home from work.

The peas were a disappointment this year. I like snow peas (edible pod) but I planted garden peas. Even when they were small, the pods were tough and bitter. I'm not much on shelled peas, so another lesson learned... no garden peas next year, spend my efforts on snow peas.

I included some pretties in the garden this year, this is an Alaskan Nasturtium, it is supposed to vine to 6 feet, but so far they are only about 6 inches tall. Perhaps planting something in Texas with 'Alaska' in the name was not the best choice. Nasturtiums are edible, flower, leafs and stems. The kids and I snacked on a flower petal each the other day. Girl looked at me like I was nuts when I put the flower in my mouth, she generally gets in trouble for putting things in her mouth. Boy did not like the taste, girl ate it just for the novelty of getting to eat a flower. The flowers have a light peppery after taste, sort of tangy and a nice flowery taste at first.

This is a volunteer squash that came up near the compost pile. My volunteer last year ended up being a pumpkin that took over 1/4 of the garden to grow a single 6 inch pumpkin. I'll be more ruthless this year if it turns out this one is not producing well.

My dill is host to caterpillars again

I believe these are swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, so I'm going to share the harvest with them in the interest of having pretty bugs around. Last year, I had two caterpillars, this year, it was more like 6.

Keep munching little buddy, I'm willing to share.

My one prickly baby artichoke has turned into SIX prickly baby artichokes. I'm so impressed. I still have not picked any, I;m not sure when they are ready.

My edamame soy beans are looking good.

They have finally sprouted tiny hairy pods along their hairy stems. I'm looking forward to a good harvest since the plants are nearly covered in pods.

My squash are coming along, we harvested a yellow straight neck on May 17th and this round ball squash will be ready in a day or two.

This is my first year of growing brussel sprouts. I planted a whole row, which after sprouting was then snowed on, thawed, and snowed on again. The seedlings never did well after sprouting. I bought a single plant from a nursery and despite Caterpillar attacks, it appears to be doing well.

I can see the baby brussel sprouts along the stem. So cool!

This is the black prince tomato, it was in the earliest and also in a good sunny spot.

The other tomatoes also have fruit, but not at this size or quantity.

All of my onions are blooming, this year they are blooming without falling over, which is nice, the blooms are very pretty, like fireworks shooting up out of the garden. The onions themselves have mostly bulbed only to about golf ball to racquetball size, so I'm fairly pleased with them. The reds have not done as well as the sweet yellow onions.

The green beans are beany, purple and yellow seem to be maturing faster than the true green ones. This photo was from May 9th, so I've had a few harvests off of these plants already.

My swiss chard from last year has gone to seed, too bad, we ate very well off of those plants this spring. I have a few new chard plants that started from seed this year and one of them is doing great, one is just okay.

Broccoli, pretty good! This is my first year for growing broccoli, I planted seeds (just did okay), bought a 9 pack from Home Depot (they did well), bought 1 large plant from NorthHaven (it had a tiny head and then bloomed quickly). I've probably only harvested a few small broccoli heads, by small, I mean it the whole head was the size of a shot glass. More like a single florete than a head of broccoli. OH well, it was still fun, and definitely something I'll try again next year.

This is what broccoli looks like when it blooms, and the bees visit. See the bee mooning the camera?

Stuff without pictures...
Peppers, ugh, these guys are doing TERRIBLE. On one side half of the 9 pack I planted is dead and gone, on the north side of the garden, they are doing a bit better, but not much. I know I'll love the peppers come the hot weather, but now they are just looking terrible.

Spinach, what a disappointment. It sprouted, was small for months, then immediately bolted. I have not eaten a single garden spinach salad this year. Since spinach tends to like it cold, but not too cold... like snow on my seedlings, I'm guessing the poor performance was due to the weather this year.

Lettuce, very poor germination, very spotty growth, already bolted. Blaming it on the weather. We have not had a single garden lettuce salad this year. boo

Cauliflower, barely sprouted, then died. Weather?

Beets, very poor showing this year. Not sure why.

Carrots, not so great. I have a few that are still growing despite planting rows upon rows of carrots. Maybe next year.

So there is what is growing in my garden this May.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Homemade Deodorant-- do I stink?

This is one of those things I wavered on actually publishing here. It crosses some sort of invisible line of crazy in my mind but the thing that gets me is that this stuff actually works, at least, I think it does. I don't smell myself and hubby has said I don't smell any different to him either. So it must be working.

Why... why, why homemade deodorant. Well, first off, the cheap stuff I have bought forever (Secret solid in the blue tube) has started being not-so-cheap and it stopped working very well for me. I started to notice a smell at the end of the day, and oh my if I tired to re-wear a shirt, no way. I also started to wonder about all of the crazy chemicals and metals that are in this stuff. Hubby too is very sensitive to deodorant, he has to have a special kind and even that sometimes causes him to break out. I ran across a link for homemade deodorant in a blog I read, then found another and another then just had to try it.

So since November of 2009 I have not used commercial deodorant. There, I said it, come arrest me, better yet come sniff me!

This recipe is based off of one from this website:


1/4 cup baking soda
1/4 cup corn starch
~2-3 tbs coconut oil
10 drops tea tree oil

Mix it all together until it forms a very dry thick paste and then pack it into clean commercial deodorant containers.

* Coconut oil is a solid at 76F and below, and becomes an oil at temps above that.

When I started using this deodorant in November, it was great. I was able to store the deodorant in the bathroom where I typically keep that sort of thing. Then spring in Texas happened and I noticed a small pool of oil below my deodorant container in the morning. No problem, I store it in the fridge now and just think of it as refreshingly cool...

If 76 seems a little warm to you... here is the reading on our in-house thermostat on May 13th at about 3 pm.

Yes, 83 degrees. We generally keep it at 82, but there is a 1 degree sway before the blower kicks on. Plus you can the the amazingly poor job the previous owners did when painting our house, they did not even take off the thermostat to paint, so when we replaced it with a smaller, programmable version, we ended up with a patch of white wall (which we can't paint b/c we can't match the paint perfectly--oh and we're too lazy).

*Heading into the Texas summer, I am willing to accept the fact that this stuff may not be strong enough to handle a 105 degree day and my 111 degree van after being parked in a 105 degree parking lot. We'll see. I'm totally open to going back to commercial products if they are better than what I can make for myself.