Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hen-pecked: a story of murder...

...or maybe negligent homicide. I'm really not sure.

In the last week or two we had noticed our "little girls" (who are now full size laying hens and we now have some more really little girls, yet somehow we keep calling these year old chickens "little girls") had lots of feathers missing on their booties. They are too young to molt, and a molt begins on the head neck and chest, not on the booty. It could mean only one thing: pecking.

Now, chickens peck for one of three reasons: too small of space, too little protein, or boredom. Oh wait, general bitchiness is an option too, so I guess there are four reasons.

Space and bitchiness generally are evident immediately. If your birds are in too small a space, they will peck right away. My girls have not been moved and they just recently started pecking. So space seems like the wrong problem. Just for reference, the recommended space for chickens is four square feet per bird. Their coop and run is about forty square feet. So in theory, ten birds could live there happily.

Also they don't just become bitchy. They usually are all along. It's not like they steal each others boyfriends and three way call each other in order to get them to talk bad a'la "Mean Girls".

So right now we are focused on the other two options, protein and boredom.

These girls live in a "tractor" which means their whole run and coop can be moved around the yard. We move it every few weeks to keep them clean and let them eat new and interesting patches of weeds. We recently moved them to the far corner of the yard where the weeds are a bit more sparse.

As a result, I suspect that boredom is our culprit. Nothing to peck at with no weeds. So today we move them onto more weeds. But not before tragedy struck:

When I noticed the pecked booties I was concerned, but not overly so. I figured it would die down in a few days. But it didnt. My husband asked if I had seen "that one chicken, her butts totally bald". I hadn't noticed it so I paid attention when I went out. I saw a blonde chicken with a very bald butt, so I moved her out with Polish and the babies (who now live in the old goat shed, the goats live in a fenced off area, keep up jeeze!).

The next day Luis asks why I moved that chicken, she wasn't the worst one. She was the worst I saw...?

But since they were all pretty badly pecked, I went to the feed store and picked up some protein supplement to add to their food and also some Blukote, an antiseptic spray that also turns their butts blue. Why blue? Because chickens are attracted to red. If they see a raw red butt that's been pecked, they can't help but keep pecking it. If they see blood....o man...

I went out to spray their butts. One by one I picked them up when I finally got to one of our partridge Plymouth rock chickens who was now very obviously the chicken Luis was thinking of. I picked her up and was about to spray when I saw something horrible. She had a hole in her back, about the size of a quarter and a 1/4 inch deep. She had been pecked so badly that she was injured!!!

Now the wound wasn't bleeding and it wasn't even open anymore, it was black and seemed scabbed. I sprayed her and then took her out with me to be separated while she healed. I put her in a small cage that we typically use for sick or injured chickens or baby chicks. I gave her food and water I put her on top of a nice patch of weeds to give her something to do.

Less than four hours later I took Luis out to look at her and she was dead.

I couldn't understand it! How could she be dead!? She had a hole in her back sure, but she was still running around just fine a few hours earlier!! She had food, and water and it wasn't particularly hot. No feathers were spread out, so no sign of foul play (see what I did there?).

At this time, I'd like to give you a good reason why the chicken is dead but I honestly don't know. She even laid an egg prior to her death, so her insides were all functioning just fine. (For those of you who buy our eggs, it was broken on the wire of the cage, so no worries you won't be getting the egg that sat with a dead chicken for a few hours)

Last night I went out to the coop during the night when they are all "cooped up" inside to make sure the pecking wasn't happening in there. I watched for ten minutes or so, and no one got pecked. However, I'm not confident the pecking has stopped. Know how I know?

See the blue tinge to the blonde chicken in the backs mouth? She's either pecking herself or someone else. I suspect it's herself since she has a lot of missing feathers and the blue goes back to the back of her beak, like she put the feather all the way back, like when a bird preens. But they all have blue beaks. I'm hoping they are only trying to clean off the blue on their butts.

For breakfast this morning they had a hearty mix of scrambled eggs, protein feed and egg shells. Delicious. Oh and for those who are about to barf thinking that feeding eggs to chickens is canablism, remember that egg yolks are like chicken placentas. It's what feeds a chicken while its in the egg, it is not itself a chicken. So it's more like feeding them placenta...Or breast milk if you like that analogy better! It doesn't really translate to mammals quite the same!!

In the mean time, some of our eggs are coming out like this

They are perfectly safe to eat and nothing is wrong with them. Just paint transfer from a fluffy butted chicken (the blonde one in the foreground of that last picture I suspect). Festive, in time for Easter right?

But as far as the dearly departed nameless chicken, I have no answers. Perhaps stress? Perhaps infection got the better of her really really fast? Or more likely she spazzed out in a smaller cage and broke her own neck. Either way, this is my second Easter in a row losing a chicken.

But, as always on a farm, where there is death there is often new life.

Say hello to this years first tomatoes! There are three little ones that we hope to eat in a month or less!

Happy Easter!
He is risen!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, March 25, 2013

How to grow herbs

I have been asked twice this week how to start and herb garden. Since this seems to be the jumping off point for many food growers (and a good point it is I might add!) I thought I'd give you some quick advice on this topic.

Why is the advice quick? Well there are two main reasons. Number one: farm baby is asleep right now and will probably only maintain that position for a few more minutes. Today is my first day with only one baby on maternity leave and so far it's been extremely productive. I'm hopeful this productivity continues, but I'm not banking on it! And although one person who asked about herbs called it my "baby vacation" anyone who has taken a maternity leave knows it usually anything but. Unless you only have one baby. Then it's totally vacation. But you will never know that until you go on leave with more than one. At the time that you are on leave with your first baby it too seems like a hectic madhouse full of terror and vomit. And poop. And urine. And __insert bodily fluid here__. Sort of how youth is wasted on the young, single baby maternity leave is wasted on the first time mommy.

Any who the second reason why this is brief is because there isn't much to it! You can plant herbs in a bed, container or in the ground. Out here in Arizona I'd recommend a bed or container. This is largely because our ground is more similar to concrete than dirt!

Just like in my pervious post about seedlings, I'd recommend using a good organic potting soil or compost. Our bed are 70/30 compost and manure. I like that proportion myself. Fill your container or bed with your dirt of choice. Then at this point you can start from seed or from transplants. If this is your first rodeo, I'd recommend transplants. I would NOT recommend you get them from Home Depot. For whatever reason, HD has some terrible plants. Go with a local nursery.

If you start from seed, you will need to keep them in a nice warm sunny place. But mind you I said warm, not hot. Too hot and your seeds fry. In Arizona, that balance can be hard to maintain unless you have them inside your home in a sunny window. Then go for it.

The following herbs are virtually impossible to screw up: curly parsley, basil, rosemary, and mint. Mint will take over your whole garden and influence the taste of other foods. So unless you like minty tomatoes, keep them a good two feet from your other foods. Or in a container alone. Mint is the Hitler of herbs. Not because of its hatred of any particular ethnic groups but because it spreads very fast. Blitzkrieg style. If you have an attitude of appeasement, your mint will cross the Rhineland, and that is no good for anyone. But I digress.

Basil needs to stay in the shade or it will bolt. Remember this term? It's VERY obvious when your basil is done for. It has flowers on the top and it tastes awful. If you notice it grow six inches in a day, it's over. Plant a new one.

Parsley is nice cause it gets bushy and you can sprinkle it on your food to make it look less grey all the time. It's the stuff restaurants sprinkle on dishes to give them color without too much taste. And if you are my mom, you can make tubule (sp?) every other week since it will grow quickly.

Rosemary is used in landscaping here. I've never watered mine and its still alive. I actively trying to murder it. So far, no dice.

Oregano, thyme, sage, dill and cilantro are a little more temperamental, but not much more. You just need to monitor their temperature more closely. Plant these in pots on your porch or under a big shady tree. If they start to get too hot, they Will wilt, or fry. You'll notice right away because they look brown and crispy or very very sad. Water these twice a day in summer and never in mid day. You water before the sun comes up, and just as it sets in order to keep your water frame evaporating and making sure it gets down to your roots.

That's really all there is too it. Pick it frequently to keep it growing back. ;)

And there's farm baby! Off we go!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Farm baby and hand me down knowledge

This week we welcomed farm baby Millie to the family. She was born on Monday at a whopping 7lbs 10oz, a personal best for me.

While primarily this is a farming blog, I do like to take the occasional side step into all things granola and natural. So, as I've said before about cooking, our society has lost a lot of hand me down skills simply due to updates in technology and priorities. This entry means to explore one of those lost skills: nursing.

First of all, I was nursed. My mom breastfed two babies without much support at all. So she's to be commended. Statistically, most of us my age were not. Nor we're our mothers. Around the sixties and seventies formula became a much more popular option for mothers. Nursing became less and less customary. Now it's shocking to some to see a baby nursed in public. So it's no surprise many of us don't know how. And ps, it's not easy. It's natural but definitely not instinctual.

There are now millions of online resources to help a new nursing mother and you can get every bit of advice known to woman about your nursing problems from just a handful of resources (The Leaky Boob, Kellymom, and La Leche League to name the most popular). But what can get lost is the overwhelming emotion and difficulty that a new mommy can feel, especially if she is not so hardcore as the mommies who run these sites.

What do I mean by hardcore? I mean most of us agree breast milk is best and would like to nurse. But most of us also are willing to give a bottle of formula when we are exhausted and do not believe that ending breast feeding at 1, 3, or 6 months is wrong. Many of us would never think to criticize a mom for weening. That is not really the vibe you'll get from some of these sites, which advocate and support breast feeding beyond one year.

Please understand, I do not have an opinion about nursing over a year. I don't know that's what I would want to do but certainly I don't fault those who do. I merely mean that your biggest advocates are sometimes difficult to relate to as a mainstream lady. So what follows is a diary of my first few days nursing farm baby, emotions and all, in the hopes that someone who was looking to be told their feelings are normal might find it. Keep in mind this is written with MY feelings, not necessarily considering anything else.

Day one: 2:15pm farm baby makes it into the world, I did not nurse her for over an hour as I was being stitched up from her (overly?) dramatic entrance into the world. Once I was able to nurse she took to the breast right away and stayed on each side for over 20 minutes. It also took two hours for them to bring me any pain meds. By the end of hour two I was shaking and gripping my pillow to try not to scream. Farm baby was largely held by her daddy at that point. Lesson one: make sure the meds get there before your nurse changes at shift change. We nursed again about four hours after birth because we were moving rooms and farm baby was asleep. That was about 7:30 pm. Farm baby slept until 9 when I woke her to eat but tell asleep at the breast. Same story at 11. I couldn't fairly say she really ate anything at all during that night. At midnight Evil Night Nurse told me that since I "wouldn't get her to eat" she would have to stick her to check her blood sugar. It was more of a threat than anything.

Day two: no milk yet. Still feeding colostrum, but happily to a little baby who will fall asleep at the breast most of the time but occasionally get a good 10-20 min per breast in. The LC (lactation nurse) comes in at my request to evaluate our latch and such. All of which are good (um no duh, I read all of kellymom, I know how to latch a baby!!) but baby isn't sucking well. My dr and my pediatrician have cleared us to leave today but the LC thinks we should stay until she sucks harder/better/more/faster. We all agree this is because she's not that hungry (tiny tummy right Kellymom?) and that when my milk comes in, she'll be more vigorous and not fall asleep so easily. So wait, why are you trying to make me stay again? So you can watch her get older? Do you suspect she won't if we go home? My formula fed son and I were free to go after 24 hours, but cause I chose to breastfeed this baby I have to say here? That's crap. Peace out. I leave the hospital very upset and feeling like the lactation ladies are predicting my failure. They don't want me to leave cause if I do they think I'll give up. They make an appt for me to bring farm baby back to the hospital for a neonatal check the next day.

That night, we are up nursing every 2 hours. Without fail. I didn't sleep at all unless I dozed sitting upright in my chair. I held baby skin to skin all night.

Day three: still no milk. We nurse every two hours until her appt at 2:30, where they announce she has lost 1lb 2oz. That's more than the "allowed" 10% and they recommend supplementing formula until we go to her dr tomorrow.

I cry. A lot. It's what happened with my first baby. She's starving to death and the dr thinks I'm a terrible mother for allowing it to go on. The nurse feels terrible "it's only until your milk comes in hunny". I am reasonably sure "milk coming in" is a myth. I've had three babies now, I've never been engorged, and never seen a drop of milk come from my chest. Not once.

At home I keep on nursing every two hours, but since farm baby is hungry now,she is giving up quickly and screaming at the breast. Literally shrieking in the saddest most high pitched sound you'll ever hear. I feed her two oz of formula then get out my breast pump to remind my body that there is still a baby it needs to feed. Obviously I pump nothing. I sleep maybe two hours since this new nurse, feed, pump thing takes about an hour and a half and occurs every two hours.

Day four: still no milk. A wonderful woman I know brings over some mother milk tea at the request of her daughter, my friend and another wonderful woman I know. The tea is made with fenugreek and blessed thistle among other things that are supposed to be good for supply. Fenugreek drops were unavailable at the moment but I'm told they help a lot too. I think I'll get some later if the milk doesn't come in.

The breast feeding support websites say don't supplement. It keeps your body from producing milk. They also say no herbs, women are always thinking their supply is low when its not. Just keep nursing they say. I am reading this while looking down into the screaming teary eyes of my brand new baby who is red in the face and shaking angrily at the breast in front of her. "Just give me the damn bottle I know you have it!!!" She seems to be saying. And I cry a ton as I give her to her daddy to feed while I go pump. My friend texts to remind me that her milk took a long time to come in too. I pump a few drops of colostrum from the right, the left seems to have shut down completely.

We take her to her dr. who says she looks ok but it's a lot of weight loss. She says keep up the formula and "we'll see what happens with you" meaning me. Meaning will I give up on this or not. Or am I a barren milkless woman, doomed to starve my children or give formula. I cry a little more. We also forgot to bring a bottle to the dr office so I had to try to nurse while I was there. Thankfully she didn't scream like usual, just fell back to sleep. Thank god for that too because I had spaced my pain meds and I was on the verge of tears already. Husband even went home to get my meds for me, and pick up the big girl cause we had to take her to her kindergarten assessment (ya that's a thing) right after this. Remember when I thought nursing would be easier to leave the house since I wouldn't have to pack bottles. "Effing moron" I thought to myself. I'm never gonna be able to leave the house again. Nursing in a dr office was embarrassing, imagine a mall!

We nurse and pump every two hours over night. Farm baby sleeps the whole night other than the feelings, she's a super easy baby. I have to stay up to pump. But husband and baby look very peaceful.

Day five: Still. No. Friggin. Milk. DAY FIVE! I have two other kids, I'm not a first time mom and I didn't have a csection. What the hell gives universe!?!
At five am feeding, farm baby barley touches the breast. She arches her back, screams, pushes with her hands, shakes her head violently. She wants nothing to do with this dry boob. She wants the formula. In a bottle. Now.

I am so tired I can't even sob anymore. It's just quiet hot fat tears rolling down my face as I whisper to her "please don't give up on me..." But she's a baby, she has no idea how badly this hurts me. She just wants the food and she knows I'm not giving it to her. Daddy gives her a bottle while I pump. A few drops of colostrum which I give her through a syringe. Only the right though. The left is my "useless boob" it's producing nothing. I take a hot shower and try to hand express. Two guesses how well that works.

We decided to get out of the house and take the big kids for a picnic and to the toy store. So we do that. Farm baby sleeps the whole time and won't nurse when we get home. So she gets more formula from nani while I pump. I ask the husband to go find fenugreek while he's out. It's supposed to help.

While pumping I feel something tickley in the pump. I looked in to see a few drops of liquid. Not goo like it has been, but white liquid!! OMGOODNESS.... It's milk. Literally less than .1 ml but its there.

When husband gets home I suck down twenty drops of fenugreek in my water. This might work out yet....

While I'm pumping later in the evening, I see someone has asked about how long milk takes to come in, she's on day four and her baby isn't taking to the breast anymore. I wonder if she's having the same screaming meltdowns I'm seeing... The advice from the breastfeeding ladies is as I suspected "don't supplement!" "Tummy the size of a marble!" "Babies don't register hunger" "nurse more!" "Spend more time skin to skin!"

I assume these women saying that have never waited over three days for milk. Or they had WAY calmer babies than mine. Or they have nerves of steel. How can they say babies don't register hunger?!? Mine is screaming like she is in pain! Nurse more? Do you ladies know some secret way to force a hungry baby to suck a dry boob?!? Cause if I hold her head down I can probably make her stay on but she's sure as hell not gonna suck. Just scream. And is that the "special bond" we are looking for here?!?! "Don't supplement"!? My baby is getting smaller in front of me. My dr is telling me she needs food. It's like that snl skit I posted before "hmm trust doctors or stay at home mom Sheila from down the street who is having wine at 10am".

That's the sort of pressure a new mommy who's crying uncontrollably and begging her baby to keep believing in her does NOT need. This is why I am writing this down, because you can be told they are getting what they need from women online, but the screaming, crying, self contorting baby in front of you tells a different story.

Farm baby has another bottle at 10pm while I pump my largest batch of milk ever. 7drops. But two came from useless boob! So hey-yo!!

Day six: this morning at five am I pump a collective .3ml from both boobs! Farm baby eats those with her 2oz of formula. I have waffles for breast fast...I mean breakfast. 90% of my thoughts involve boobs.... These waffles are a break from five days of steel cut oats topped with ground flax and brewers yeast.

30 more drops of fenugreek, down the hatch.

Second pumping of the day I don't wake the baby. Why bother? She's getting frustrated so fast. So I just pump. 1.6 ml!! Yay!!! I wake her to syringe it to her, which takes two attempts since my syringe holds only 1 ml. :) maybe I'll wake her next time since I've read that baby is more effective than a pump...

Third feeding I let her have the breast first. I woke her u p, changed her diaper, got peed on and let her nurse. For ten minutes she stayed on so that was fun. Then I pumped 1.7ml and gave it to her with her syringe. Wouldn't it be nice if I could put it in a bottle right now I'm just content at the improvement, but I get sad thinking how hard it will be when my mom goes home and farm husband goes back to work. And he's home for three weeks!

By six pm I had nursed farm baby and pumped this:

This post has gotten very long,so I'll conclude.

It is not easy to nurse. It's a remarkably emotional and difficult process. Everyone advocating for your success runs the risk of making you feel like a failure. And conversely, anyone telling you it's ok to give formula seems to be predicting your failure.

But more than anything, it's important to understand that everyone's body is different. I could not find any advice for people six days postpartum who's milk had never come in. There were lots on low supply, nothing on no supply. And the ladies (very well meaning ladies) from the support sites seemed to think it was silly to be upset that early.

It's not silly. It's not trivial. Having to supplement is hurtful to a new mommy, and being told its not really necessary when your heart says it is can be confusing and counter productive. Six days is a long time, but its not unheard of. If I can make it you can too. And if giving 6-8 oz of formula a day ends the heartbreaking screaming, don't feel horrible. It's not forever. Even though it seems like it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Market on the move and produce education

Our church participates in something called Market on the Move. It's a pretty fabulous organization. The basic premise is actually a little heart breaking.

When a farmer in Mexico ships his crops for the season, he doesn't necessarily "fill an order". There is a buyer in the US who wants what he's selling and so he takes a ton of his crop to the border and fills the buyers that he has lined up. Most of the time, he has more produce than is necessary to fill the orders. A lot more. So because of some customs laws and probably a general desire to not bring back lots of unbought food, the producers tend to leave the produce at the border. Just on the side of the road.

So this organization got together with them and agreed to buy their surplus for a minuscule amount of money. Then they take it into the US and sell it in big sales in parking lots, like the one at our church. You pay $10 for up to 60lbs of produce.

The goal is pretty admirable, for a very low price, fresh fruit and veggies can get to the masses, and people who don't otherwise have access to produce. It also helps facilitate neighborly produce trading. It's is a concept that I'd like to write about in more detail later, but suffice it to say that you can make some great friends trading off food that you grew, raised or otherwise acquired!

As you see, we don't take a full 60lbs because we don't need it, but in addition to this stuff we also have a full target bag of green beans, seriously, green beans for DAYS!!!


So it's something to think about, the politics of food and hunger. There are starving children right here in Tucson and literally tons of food rotting by the roadside not 45 miles south of where their little bellies growl. It really is a tragedy. So if you find one of these happening near you, get some food, take it to a local homeless shelter, or group home or just some poor family you know who is struggling. Post it on Craigslist. You will get so many responses from people who are struggling to eat if you offer free food on Craigslist.

This is one of those times when being an all organic person doesn't necessarily make sense. When your options for a kid are happy meal v. Roadside spaghetti squash, wise up, go with the squash. This is not to say you shouldn't have higher standards if you are able. Just that you should not let that standard get in the way of good common sense.

Now for the farm snobs among us, I feel it's worth pointing out. Did you see those tomatoes?

That's how your grocery store buys them. Unripe. They will red up eventually, but this is one of the biggest culprits behind why grocery store tomatoes are no where near as tasty as home grown. So if you are growing your own this year: don't pick til you are ready to eat or until they are waaaaaay ripe and you need to share with a friend. Trust me the sharing is just as good. :)

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:The farm

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The truth about organic gardening

I have been wanting to write this post for a while and I have a ton of pictures for it. But it's a very long topic so if there is a seemingly abrupt ending, I'll finish in a "Part two". I'm just preparing you in advance for my nearly inevitable laziness.

I'd first like to say that I have absolutely zero objection to non-organic produce. I really really do not. I opt for an organic garden because actively putting poison on my own food seems odd. And although I know that there is/was/remains in a lingering way poison on most non-organic produce, I just don't have the time or the inclination to care. I just wash it, like most people.

But when you garden you get to "know" your plant a little. And you become familiar with its behaviors, it's output etc. So in that case, organic seems just a little bit more...gardeny. I dunno. It's harder, certainly...

Anywho, organic is not all sunshine and roses. I think a lot of my "organic only" snob friends (no insult intended...) would be super grossed out to know what's involved. Here is some of that info:

Truth number one: Organic = bugs.

This is just a fact. Even grocery store organic produce will have bugs. If you can't hack bugs you probably aren't eating organic, or looking at it very closely. For example, broccoli.

Yummy!!! Guess what's crawling riiiiiiight next to his mouth?

See those little dots? APHIDS! Hundreds of them! It's thick enough to cover the whole thing and almost look like the broccoli crown itself! Eeeeeew. Go wander through Sprouts and pick up a head of broc. Every other one SHOULD have these on them. Wash it in water with salt and vinegar and they'll come right off. If you miss a few... Eh, protein.

Aphids can be dealt with organically using lady bugs. Lady bugs eat aphids. The aphids are attracted to the nitrogen in your soil. So if you have manure in your soil, you'll get bigger, leafier, healthier plants, but you'll also get aphids.

Not all broccoli will have aphids.

See? Clean as a whistle. Except for this guy...

See him? He blends right in. He is a cabbage worm. And I imagine he's delicious. Or just keep an eye out for him. Cause if he gets in your cabbage, you get holy cabbage.

So holy it's running for Pope. (Do you run for Pope?). If you see white butterflies around your cabbage, you have cabbage worms, likely. Cover them with netting. The netting keeps them from laying eggs and eating your whole patch. In theory.

You know who loves bugs on cabbage and broccoli?

Truth number two: Organic = smaller (usually)

The stuff you get in a grocery store is fed steroids. I hate to tell you. I have a friend who runs a baseball blog who is actively upset about the use of steroids. Probably not in veggies, but given his passion on the issue I can only imagine it translates to veggies as well.

This is a good sized organic carrot from my garden compared to my husbands hand. He's a normal sized grown man. And they vary pretty significantly from carrot to carrot. My red carrots were all nice and fat, my whites were all long and skinny. I barely got any orange.

But truth number 2.5, these carrots are way prettier than their evil grocery twins. Even next to my dirty glove.

They make nice bouquets.

Truth number three: Organic = imperfect.

It's less a fault of the organicness and more of the grocery store only selling the perfect looking food. There is nothing actually wrong with this carrot. You can eat it just like its little friends.

Yes, it's a carrot. Yep I'm sure. Nope I didn't plant radishes. Honestly people its not just about the outside! It's what's inside that counts right?

See? Orange like a carrot. :)

Finally, truth number four: Organic (rather home grown) = kid friendly.

My kids have eaten the following dishes, veggies and all. Excitedly too, because they pulled the carrots, cabbage and broc that went into them.

That last one is fried rice, showing you an appropriate rice to meat to veg ratio, if you wanted yours to be healthy. Trust me it cooks down so it looks more even. Start with less than that and you've got problems.

Oh look! I got through all I wanted to say! Hooray! Ok so remember, organic veggies are buggie, oddly shaped and small, but they are delicious, less likely to make little boys start menstruating at the age four, and prettier. And chickens like them. And ergo visa vie, chickens eat bugs, there are bug nutrients in your eggs! Unless your eggs come from unhappy chickens.

Happy eating!!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:The farm

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The wisdom and pitfall of Pinterest

Let me start this by saying, I love Pinterest. I mentioned in a recent post that we got our seedling-pots-out-of-toilet-paper-rolls idea from there. It really is great for things like that.

In fact there are TONS of great tips on Pinterest. Including keeping lots of calcium in the soil for your tomatoes to keep them from splitting and spraying buds with Epsom salt in order to make peppers and tomatoes more abundant. These are all great tips! This year I am trying out a Pinterest tip that I can't vouch for just yet, pinching the suckers off my toms and strawberries for more fruit. I'll let you know how that comes out in a few months!

But there are some things on Pinterest that seemed to be planted there by evil elves just to screw with desert gardeners. If you live in Arizona, you need to remember you are not just a gardener or a back yard farmer, you are a DESERT gardener. That is significantly more hardcore than your Midwestern and Southern counter parts.

This is one of those posts:

I've seen it a bunch of times now. The problem with this post is twofold.

Number one, there is almost nothing save for corn and sunflowers that can tolerate full sun in the desert. And even those two things would probably like a little mid day shade. Honestly, you cannot grow things in full sun here, much less carrots and lettuce.

Number two: while I think I've said before I can't make carrots grow in the summer here, others have, so I guess that's only half a problem. But the lettuce in the picture with the "partial sun" implies you could do this in the summer time. You can't plant lettuce in the summer. Unless its inside. Lettuce "bolts" which means it grows really tall and bitter really fast. Like overnight fast. That's nothing to do with how much sun it gets, it's the heat. Anything over 85-90 is too hot for lettuce out here. So for my purposes I will make the blanket statement, salad is for winter! If you could conceivably make this veggie spicy or picture yourself eating it in the summer, then it's a summer food (toms, peppers = salsa! Spicy! Summer food! Corn with hot peppers, delicious = summer food! Watermelon, good in summer) and allll of it needs shade.

This leads me to my next Pinterest lie:

It's probably a little hard to read, especially on the mobile app but its saying when to plant what. Including crazy things like broccoli getting planted may 1. No. That's a winter plant. Peppers, transplant June 1. Only if you don't want to ever eat any peppers cause the whole plant fried in the sun before you had a chance. Tomatoes, may 20, that might work for your second round of toms, but you should start them much earlier if you want to eat anything before August. Anything planted in may has to not only use its energy to create fruit but also to fight off the heat! If you could read the source on there you'd see the problem: University of Minnesota. I am reasonably sure that there is zero overlap in our seasons. When we think its summer they are buying their second winter coat.

So there you go, know your source! If you are reading garden advice not specifically tailored to a desert climate, you are probably reading a source that will ultimately lead to your disappointment! Good Luck new garden friends!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:The farm

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Just a quick update

I don't have much in the way of pictures or fun stories this week, except to say that the girls are laying in full swing again, giving us ten eggs on Thursday, but only 7 today. Still a pretty good haul!

None of our seedlings have sprouted yet, and we are getting yet another cold snap, hopefully the last one!

In the mean time, I am just laying around waiting for farm baby to make an appearance! :)

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Location:The farm

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Time to think about summer

Here it is, the first week of February and I am just now getting started on transplants. Oh dear! I might have to start using the chick light in order to make sure these little guys get the growth they need!

"What on earth are you talking about?" I think you might be asking yourself.

Mid-January to early February is a good time to start seeds for summer veggies here in the Old Pueblo. You obviously need to start em inside because we do get a few freak frosts between now and march 15 when you are good to transplant into your garden. In the mean time, your little guys can grow up in doors. I have found that transplanting works much better in Arizona than outdoor seed planting. For whatever reason, I can only grow carrots in a direct to the ground seed fashion.

So how do you start this process? Well there are some little kits you can buy at Target that are pretty easy, they have little pills that expand into dirt when they get wet. Then you just press your seed into them, keep them watered and in the sun and you are good to go. This year, we went a more "homemade" route.

First we had to find a potting soil that was organic, in order to keep up our organic veggie garden status. The pills in those little planters are not organic, FYI. Target actually sells a pretty awesome potting soil, if you are interested. It's nice an dark and moist when you open it. It just feels like something that would grow things well.

For the record, yes, we really did do all our planting at the dinning room table today. Farm baby doesn't let me sit on the floor very easily these days!

Farm husband made little planters out of toilet paper tubes. You might have seen this on Pinterest, I think that's where he got the idea. You simply cut them in half and then cut one end into fins that you fold over.

Now before I show you this next picture, I have to say, we do NOT go through this much TP in a short period of time! We are lucky enough to have a family member that owns a catering business and uses a LOT of paper towels. You can make three of these little pods out of a paper towel roll. :)

We made two trays about this size. Obviously, you just spoon your dirt into the little pods about half full. Then put down one see in each pod, near the middle. These are all tomatoes, different varieties. It's difficult to see the seeds. But below we have green beans and cukes, much easier to see

The kids both helped. If you have kids, this is a really good way to involve them in growing their own food. It could be coincidence, but our kids eat a lot of dark leafy greens and veggies that normally kids wouldn't because they see it come out of the garden and they get to pick it themselves. Green beans are super easy to grow, very healthy, can nicely and are fun for kids to pick. If you only plant one veggie for your kids I'd do that one. If you plant two, do the multicolored carrots :)

Finally, once the seeds are all dropped, cover them with a little more dirt, and spray them with a spray bottle. Find a home for them in your house where the windows are nearby and they get lots of light and sun.

Like I said earlier, I started a little late on these guys, so I might need to give them some artificial sun to get them up to snuff in time. We'll see. My plan would be to involve the light we use to warm up chicks when they are little. It's a red light so it won't be so harsh on the little planties. But again, we will see! Maybe they'll take off all on their own!

So have you thought about your summer garden? What are you planting? I'm thinking about corn this year down with my green beans. I would have to put that straight into the garden though so that's a liiiiiiiitle bit scary!! Anyone ever successfully grown some back yard corn?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:The farm

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Farm Food Safety

Recently, I have began selling eggs to new and diverse groups of people. Lots of people have commented that they'd like to try some eggs, but only recently have people been willing to sink $3 into the experiment. Now I have also not always had the supply to feed my family and offer extras to others, and now I do, so my supply could be a good part of the recent uptake. However, it's been recently brought to my attention that it could just as easily be people's concerns regarding the safety of non-regulated food suppliers. Although it never occurred to me before, farm husband thought it should have been obvious to me, saying he himself had similar concerns in the beginning. So I thought I'd give you just a little info about the safety of homegrown eggs and produce.

The main concern, I imagine, is salmonella. So here are some of the FDA rules for eggs in order to curb salmonella. keep in mind, these rules apply to people with greater than 3,000 birds whose shells are unpasturized. Pasteurization of an egg shell generally consists of washing it with warm water and a sanitizing chemical.

The FDA requires that eggs be held at about 45 degrees if they are going to be waiting around for transport for greater than 3 days. Additionally they are required to be shipped and available for purchase within 30 days. A day, for the record, starts the day after the egg is laid. So, if the chickens are like mine, an FDA day starts when the egg is about 18 hours old already. (Many hens lay at sunrise). Prior to shipment, eggs must be washed in warm water (and frequently a sanitizer chemical of some type) and shipped without any cracks in the shell.

What follows is a lay explanation of those rules. Please keep in mind I'm neither a doctor, nor a scientist.

An egg, normally, is an airtight item. Without any cracks or age based deterioration, the inside of your egg will never be contaminated by the outside of your egg. That's good, because eggs come out of a chickens butt. I hate to be the one to tell you if you didn't know, but essentially the same hole they poop out of is the same hole the egg passes through. it is not uncommon for an egg to have poop on it when it comes out. It is the poop and other environmental factors that cause eggs to have salmonella on their shells. Again if the egg is uncracked, that salmonella is no problem, once you crack it, it's exposed. Thus, the washing. If you wash with water over 90 degrees, the bacteria will be killed. Even more so if you wash them with a chemical.

Storage at 45 degrees keeps the bacteria from growing back, if it remains on the egg.

So why was I never concerned? If you've seen my chickens in their coop, there is plenty of poop! We toss out about ten lbs of chicken poop a week (let me know if your compost could benefit from some nitrogen btw!). It falls into a tray under their coop which has a slatted floor. However, they lay eggs into a nest box. Traditionally, a chicken doesn't poop where's it lays its eggs.the nest box is a clean area of the coop filled only with straw and eggs. This is a repeat picture but you'll see what I mean.

See through that's little door there is a slatted floor? That's where they sleep. The clean dry straw filled area is where the eggs are. See? No poop.

Now, at the risk of being accused of attempting to shock, here is a picture of factory farm chickens:

They poop and lay and live and eat and spend their whole lives in the same space. They cannot spread their wings, much less move away from their waste matter. So it makes good sense that "farms" with this many chickens should be following rules to minimize salmonella exposure. Just for fun, these are your factory "free range" chickens which produce those "free range" eggs. To be FDA free range they need only have access to the ground and fresh air.

Look how free!! Certainly better than the alternative I suppose but, my girls, who are confined to a run, have enough space to speed up and charge at one another! They also get supervised weed eating time. ;) this one was from last summer. So you'll see one of our dearly departed, Other White Chicken.

I suppose knowing how a factory chicken lives is what leads me to never worry about the safety of our eggs. I cannot imagine a scenario in which the former two pictures of chickens are cleaner, happier and healthier than the latter picture.

But just for full disclosure, unless our eggs have visible poop on them, they are not washed. At all. This is to preserve the "bloom" or naturally occurring protective coating on the egg. I recommend you wash them before cracking them, but most home farmers will keep their eggs on the counter until they use them because of this bloom. We refrigerate a dozen once we have a full doz (normally two days) and we sell the ones that have been refrigerated. Our home consumed eggs live on our counter. For the record, the front egg is speckled, not dirty.

Right next to our butter. Which is also not refrigerated. Now we don't sell butter, so this is just a fun fact: we use a butter bell. It's a little crock with a lid. The underside of the lid is a bell type shape that you store your butter in. You keep a small amount of water in the crock which creates an air tight seal around the butter. This means your butter is always soft and spreadable. Butter, like eggs, is very obvious when its gone bad. Both smell funky.

As long as you have a little device like this, and you clean it and replace the water weekly, you too can keep your butter soft and toast ready. They sell these little guys at places like William Sonoma, but we got ours at bookmans. PS if you ever find one with a chicken handle, please buy it for me, I'll pay you back!

So there you are. A quick note one egg and butter safety! Now I have to do some research to talk to you about veggie safety, but just for fun, the number one carrier of food borne disease last year was leafy greens! Not that I want you to be afraid of my salad, but rather consider where your food came from. Farm husband has said before he loves eating our salad cause he knows exactly what was on it. (Mostly dirt and water... But we compost chicken poop sooooo dirt is actually poop and rotted veggies... Albeit raised to a very high temperature in order to turn into dirt....Tee hee! Wash your salad!)

I hope it's been fun and educational.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:The farm

Monday, January 28, 2013

Winter garden

Switching topics from last night, I thought I'd talk to you a bit about our winter garden. If you were here in the early days of the farm (a whooping two years ago) you know I struggled getting my garden to grow.

In Arizona, gardening is not a grandma past time. I mean it is, but not growing veggies. I even have a book called "extreme gardening" that describes growing food in this climate. The heat can make anything die just as soon as you plant it, the birds are predatory to both chickens and tomatoes alike, and the winter brings a few good frosts every year.

The first and most important rule I can teach you about Arizona gardening is that you cannot trust seed packets. Not that they are GMO or whatever, but they lie. They tell you to plant in "full sun" for example. There is NOTHING WITHOUT SPINES that grows in full sun in Arizona. You are best to get yourself a nice planting guide. I am a big fan of this one here.

But even then, be skeptical, and rely more on your own experience than what you read. For example, everything says carrots are a warm season crop here in Arizona. They may be for someone else but for me, they should be planted in the fall and replanted in the winter. Here are my fall carrots as they look today:

The ones I planted in the summer did not come out. However I did plant a new three rows of them in early January. It was a bit frosty, so they are just now are coming up

That tall thing there is an onion. We have them sorta scattered throughout. We got some free bulbs at Home Depot this season, so we planted them in the other bed and then all the spares ended up in this bed. Trust me when I say, if these guys get big, I will have no shortage of onions anytime in my near future.

Or cabbage for that matter! Those flat leaves in the back are cabbage and we have tons of it growing this year. If you are ever looking for a good cold hearty veggie, consider hybrid cabbage and red leaf cabbage. It's withstood several frosts. I can't say the same for its Asian cabbage counterpart. That stuff started to wilt when it got cold. We pulled it and gave it away to anyone who thought they'd use it!

Additionally this year we were able to grow a nice head of broccoli, lots of kale and lots of chard (which we really need to eat more of, as you can see!)

This winter we were able to have several salads a week out of our garden with very little trouble. We had leaf lettuce growing earlier but since it stayed so hot for so long this year, much of it bolted. That's the term for grow upward really fast. It makes veggies bitter.

So what did I learn this season that might help you? Number one, water less. It should be obvious that once its not 100 degrees outside you don't need to water twice a day, but I didn't know at what point it's onto cut back. This year I learned, pretty much by accident, that if its under 85, most winter veggies only need one good watering at sundown.

Number two, don't plant too early. There is this vicious period between aug and sept that really you can't do much with. Your summer plants will be a mess cause of the heat and the monsoons and you will want to pull them and put down new stuff right away. While I have no opinion on pulling stuff, resist the urge to put new stuff down until night temps are under 75 if you are using transplants. if you are using seed go right ahead! That might mean waiting until late sept or early October to put down lettuce and kale transplants, but trust me, you'll be glad. In the last picture I showed you you can see two sad kale plants with leaves only on top. It's tall and has no leaves on the bottom. It's because it the heat, those girls took off upward instead of outward. So we pulled our food from the bottom and it only grew on top. I'm told this happens much less when the weather isn't so hot.

And number three: plant more of what you love. We ate a LOT of kale. One of the reasons that poor little plant looks so poor is cause we pulled leaves from it every day to eat salads. It took us months to start incorporating cabbage and chard into our salads to give the kale a break. Too much plucking puts the plant into shock and it stops growing as well. Learning that is why we planted those tiny little kales you see in between our two top heavy kales!

Additionally, we should have planted more carrots. The kids love nothing so much as a carrot from the garden. The bunny is a pretty big fan too.

So those were my big tips of the season. That and you just get better the more you do it. You know when to worry a little bit more. Just like with chickens, you learn a lot when you start, then you realize it's all wrong anyway and you just wing it and make it work!

This season I'm happy to report a very happy garden and still some very happy hens. Oh did I mention the little girls started laying more?

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Location:The farm

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Farm budgeting: whole chicken

So, as you might suspect, we are not exceptionally wealthy people. Shocking I know.

We spend an awful lot on feed. That's an expense I don't think many people consider when they think of getting some farm animals. Sure, you know you feed them, but will the cost of feed offset your eggs? Probably not. I get about 6 eggs a day right now. I buy three bags of feed a month at $17.99 a bag (plus treats and veggies which I've never bothered to calculated what I spend on them...) I sell my eggs for $3 a dozen. So I'd have to sell more than 18 dozen a month in order to break even. Since right not i can only possibly get 15 doz out of them a month, you'll see even if I sold every egg I had, I'd never make a profit on these chickens.

But what I do have is pretty priceless. Kids who know where their food comes from, happy chickens, great pets and eggs that I think taste much better than their grocery counterparts.

This is, of course. Without mentioning the food intake of the "useless" animals. Since the goat isn't pregnant and hasn't had a baby yet, we do not get milk from them. So they get probably two bags of feed a month ($40 combined) and a bale of hay a month ($15-$20 depending on the type and the market price). The bunny eats her fair share of hay and pellets, and the dogs eat like dogs. The only animals who don't have a monthly food expenditure are the fish and they are pretty much on the $3.99 a year budget...

So we make up for the loss elsewhere.

I'm not sharing this with you in the hopes that you'll give us money or pity us. We aren't wealthy but we are no where near poor either. I'm sharing this with you because a lot of our money saving techniques lend themselves well to a happier, healthier and more farmy life overall.

Obviously you know we use a clothes line. That helps out with our electric bill substantially, cutting a summer bill by $20 or more. It also helps the clothes stay nice longer. And with 2.85 kids pulling on your clothes constantly (or requiring you to buy a whole new maternity wardrobe every two years...) keeping your clothes nice is important.

But today I'd like to focus on one of my more ambitious money saving ventures: the grocery budget.

I made a decision to try to limit our weekly grocery budget to $40 a week with a $40 monthly allowance for meats purchased at Costco. If you are a meat eating family, a quick look at your budgets will make it very apparent that the largest food expense in most households is meat. The more meat you eat the higher your bills. And your cholesterol...and your blood pressure likely... So when I made this decision, our family cut back on its meat intake substantially. We are not vegetarians, no matter what Maggie tells you, but we probably eat meatless 4 nights a week.

When we do eat meat, we try to make sure we are using proper portions:

Plates in the world today are FAR too big. All of these portion sizes are reasonable. That's four oz of chicken, a fist sized portion of starch (in this case: potatoes mashed with cauliflower) and a large portion of veg. We eat a lot of salad since its growing in our back yard.

Eating smaller portions can help with your grocery bill more than you realize. I don't think most people realize what a portion of meat should be. Half a chicken breast half (a chicken breast quarter?) is about the right size. Since veg is the cheapest thing you can buy at the grocery, you can feel totally fine over eating it. The rest should really be scaled back. It saves you money and calories.

Next, we focus on starting with whole things. Now whole chicken breasts are great and we totally have a giant bag of them in the freezer, but our most successful weeks are the ones where we make a whole chicken on Sunday.

Keeping with our correct portion sizes, our family of four eats about half of that chicken, if we are lucky. The kids share a drumstick and thigh, the husband and I share a breast. That leaves the wings, other breast, thigh and drumstick laying around. It is my normal process to pull this thing apart with my hands and keep it in a box in the fridge. It adds really well to fried rice (also a fabulous way to get tonnnnnnnns of veg into your kids), salads for lunch during the week, and plates of nachos when you get particularly pregnant crave-y.

Then you have the lovely carcass left over. Now I know the word carcass doesn't really make anyone too terribly hungry, but if you have some celery, carrots and onion, you can boil that little skeleton into a nice stock. This is good to have on hand, especially if you are limiting your meat intake. Generally I make all of our rice in chicken stock, use it in risotto etc to add in some extra meaty goodness where it might not otherwise exist. I'm not sure that's as nutritionally sound as I think it is, but I can't imagine it hurts. This also allows you to limit the amount of salt in your stock. Grocery store stock is pretty salt heavy, so this method pretty much only leaves you with what you had on the chicken itself.

This is a stock pot with one chicken carcass, three stocks of celery, three garden carrots (about the size of one grocery store carrot), one onion and a handful of parsley. Don't feel like you have to put in that much veg, but if you have it, you might as well. Add 6 c. of water and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer for an hour. Afterward you'll strain out your veggies and bones and bits of meat and have a nice fatty broth left over. You can skim the fat easily by putting the liquid into a ziplock bag and letting it rise to the top. Then cut a corner and pinch off the flow of stock when it gets to the fatty part.

Now, from one little chicken, you've got the makings of several meals. With mine, I plan to make a batch of fried rice, about four salads with chicken on top, and a pot of potato soup. This is all without mentioning that whole chickens are OFTEN buy one get one free at Fry's.

There is much more to our budget situation, but for now I'm running a bit long and the power of a whole chicken seems like enough for one blog post!

So just to recap: cut down on the meat. When you use meat, use correct portions and use it all!!

I hope this was helpful rather than preachy. You do whatever makes you happy, but if you are serious about cutting your budget, this is a great place to start. I think next budget topic will be about eating your cupboards bare. That's a fun one!!

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Location:The farm