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

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Getting ready for a farm baby...

In the last few weeks I've been a very "light duty" farm lady. Since I'm reasonably sure I have no readers that don't ACTUALLY know me, it won't surprise anyone when I say this third pregnancy has gotten a little rough toward the end. All the things I did up until the last second with my first two kids (holding an older kid, running, cleaning, standing) seem like they are virtually impossible this time. As such, farm husband has had to take over a lot of my farm chores.

I very much miss feeding my chickens and planting my garden. I feel like since the feeding and watering chores have gone to the husband, the animals are less happy. Perhaps I'm a narcissist, but I think they know I love them more. And they should, I pet them and sing to them and carry them around.

In the mean time, I am growing farm baby. This baby promises to be the farmiest of them all owing to its being nursed and cloth diapered. Now this is by no means a parenting blog (Lord help you if you are asking parenting advice from me!) but I am a parent and so there is definitely going to be some bleed over. I think cloth diapers is a great place for that bleed to happen.

So first, if you considered cloth diapering but your mom scared off with her talk of safety pins, diaper services and plastic pants, fear not. While those options are still out there, cloth diapers have come a million mile since your mom used them (if she used them....) Now a days most people opt for an All In One (AIO) or a pocket diaper.

I myself prefer the concept of the AIO. This is essentially just like a disposable diaper. You put the baby in it, you snap it closed and you are good to go. The difference is, when you take it off you don't toss it, you put it in a wet bag or pail until you are ready to wash it (probably that day or the next unless you have waaaaay more diapers than me!)

The pocket diaper is similar except its padding it stuffed into a pocket rather than being attached. The benefit to that is that your diapers dry faster when you can remove the padding (think if you had two towels intertwined vs being separated, how much longer would it take to dry the twisted up towel?) the down side is that you have to re-stuff every time you wash. Some people are ok with that.

Below is a pocket diaper. This is a one size fits all so all those snaps you see can make the diaper smaller. I find them to be too bulky on tiny babies, that's why I have chosen a sized option. This cute lady bug one will be used when farm baby out grows her tiny ones!

So when I first looked into the idea, the logistics terrified me. Honestly how does this whole things look in practice? And of course the age old question: "WHERE DOES THE POOP GO?!?"

The way I described the AIO should help with the practice of things. It looks the same as disposables, just with washing. You do have to have special soap for diapers but you are able to use it on your regular clothes too if the idea of two types of detergent is upsetting to you. Most people have two types anyway with a baby cause of the "dreft"stuff (I believe that to be something you only buy a few times with your first baby before you wise up and wash everything together.) and its recommended that you hang your diapers to dry rather than put them in the drier, but they will be ok in the dryer if that's your only hang up.

When you are out in public you use a fancy contraption called a wet bag. Actually you can use it at home too. It's a water proof bag with two pockets, one for clean diapers and one for dirties, you just keep that in your diaper bag.

The Poop. Oh the poop. For the first six months, while your baby is breast fed it will have non-smelly poop. Seriously. Breast milk poop doesn't smell, usually you find it when you look in the babies diaper. You just throw those, poop and all, into the wash. Its water soluble. its ok. don't freak out. Now if you choose to use formula or if your baby is on solids, you're getting into some funky poop. Here's where it gets interesting. You can purchase liners if you want, thin sheets that go over your diapers so you just lift out the poop and flush it. Some people love them others not so much. You can get a little sprayer to attach to the back of your toilet that lets you spray off diapers into the potty. They run about $50 and I'm told they have a pretty strong spray. I'm registered for one on amazon, if you wanna get me a gift. I promise I'll write you a full review! But the easiest option is to hold the tab of your diaper as you dip it in your potty and flush. The swirly water will take the poop with it and then you just have to throw a very wet diaper into your pail. No big deal.

Washing instructions are on the side of the soap container, but its worth noting you need to wash new diapers a few times (3ish) to make them their most absorbent. You also have to double rinse since residue buildup causes leaks. See? Don't panic.

But honestly, that's it. So what scares you about them? Why wouldn't you do it? Just for some good old fashion wiifm (what's in it for me) ill tell you I bought all of farm baby's diapers used from a friend for about $200. I am choosing to go with sized diapers which means I'll need a set of bigger ones after about six months. However if a baby under six months uses about 6 diapers a day on average (conservatively. Probably more), and a month is thirty days, and you only buy the Costco brand size 1-2 diapers (which have 216 per box, although if you need a bigger size you get less) at $54.99 a box you are still paying $75.95 cents more than I did for mine. Ask for them for your baby shower and your our of pocket expense goes WAY down. And also you can't sell your used Kirkland diapers to anyone when you are done with them, that money is just gone. Whereas with cloth, you can pay it forward.

All this without mentioning the environmental benefits. Some people will say things like "you use so much water washing them that you don't save the environment at all." That's just factually inaccurate, but if you want to make sure you are welcome to grey water harvest. Most diaper soaps are environmentally friendly so you can collect the water and use it on your plants. If it were me, I'd stick to flowers.... For some reason, even though the garden grows in manure, the idea of pee/poo water on my veg grosses me out. But if you don't wanna do that and you just want a witty retort you can say something along the "ya cause using the toilet is waaaay worse for the environment than diapers." Toilets use a lot of water. And you flush them EVERY time you pee, unlike diapers that get changed every few pees.

Now this next part is not part of my sales pitch I just think its too cute for words. Even that AIO I showed you ill be big on a new born, but for the most part, new borns cloth diapers are not cost effective. Your baby will not be that tiny for as long as you think. Buuuuut, I found these cute little g-diapers at my favorite new/used/handmade baby store here in town and I bought them. ($15 for three, used). G-diapers are a whole different thing. Essentially you buy a shell and you fill it with disposable liners. You only wash the shell and you can use the shell all day. To be more Eco friendly, I bought prefolds to put in the shell so I can wash them. But look how tiny and cute!!

Side by side with my AIO so you can see how tiny! Ps, prefolds are the diapers your mom used, except not used the same way here. That's it folded up in the middle of the diaper there.

Ok. That's all I have for you on cloth diapers but I hope some of you are considering them for your next baby. They are waaaaay cuter than disposable, they cost less long term, and they are friendly to the farm. :)

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The molt-down

I mentioned last post that Talulah was molting, this was obvious because she looks mangy and the ground is covered in white feathers. I didn't know what was up with the other girls though. Well today I realized, Ruth is also molting!

Her black and grey feathers were harder to see on the ground but when I looked in the box tonight, there she was, with a giant bald spot on her back.

First I panicked. She has parasites. There's mites in the new coop. The poor baby. Then I looked closer. Nope, no parasites on her, no mites... I tried to pet her and she ran away from me. Now Ruth is not Talulah on the out-going scale, but she's certainly not shy. I felt her chest and it was SPIKEY! What is going on!! Then I thought about it for three seconds... She's the same age as Talulah, she's probably going through the same things!

Sure enough the spikes were the end parts of new feathers coming in on her chest. No wonder she stopped laying. All her energy is going into this molt!

So how do you help a molting chicken? Well number one you don't stress it out with new coop mates or a new coop (oops....little warning next time ladies!) you make sure it has plenty of water and food and you don't touch it, as their little bodies are super sensitive during a molt. Yours would be too if your hair grew in like this: (not one of my hens, but this is a better example of how it looks...)

Secondly, you need to provide them with lots of protein. In this case, Micah happened to grab a can of freeze dried meal worms while we were at the feed store this weekend. Good call for the boy! Some people will supplement with cat food at this point. I think that's creepy so I don't plan to do it.

Lastly you keep them comfortable and clean. Keep the hey changed, empty the drop boxes, make sure they have a roost and keep them warm. Unfortunately, our ladies started this madness in the middle of the worst cold snap in a really long time. Our overnight temps were in the twenties for several days in a row. Pipes burst. Really. Not ours thankfully,but not really great for a molting bird.

So while our other two may have stopped laying because of the cold or the new coop, these two ladies are molting up a storm. Since chickens are flock animals who tend to follow suit with those who out rank them, it's very possible our little fatties (stager and ronald weasley) gave up laying in solidarity. Flower girl is either too much hen for that or just doesn't care. I suspect the later.

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Location:The farm

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The great egg-scape

Well, long time no blog. I'm sorry for the delay. It's been that type of...two years... Where you seem to always be busy. I can't remember what our chicken count was at last time I blogged so I'll quickly update you: we now have 13.

Of our original five girls, only two remain: Talulah and Ruth. The rest have either been found out as roosters (Betsy) or went to chicken heaven (Dorothy of heat stroke I think and Esther died last Easter having given up her will to live)
The second two showed up shortly after, Polish and OWC. OWC was also called home last summer (also heat stroke) and Polish is still with us, all though retired.

Since then we've collected a few at different times. Flower Girl, a Rhode Island Red, came to us with a friend who turned out to be a roo. Stager and Ronald Weasley came together and are a pair of New Hampshires. They are HUGE!! Honestly twice the size of Flower Girl. Those two would be delicious if we had the heart to eat them.

Then we have 7 girls remaining from an order of 15 mixed brown egg layers. We don't know for sure the breeds although some are quiet obvious. There are at least two gold laced Wyandottes in there, one Rhode Island, and then the rest are a little questionable. A smarter chicken farmer might know.

Anywho, with the addition of all these chickens, we had to come up with a different storage solution. The older girls were living in an Eglu Cube, the iPod of chicken coops, until the little girls got old enough that they needed to be moved out of the goat house (did I mention the goats? Oh, well I'll catch you up on that in another post! "How do you forget us?!?" they bleat). So, a few weeks ago we moved the big girls into a smaller house made for five chickens, and the seven little girls and Polish moved into the Cube. Since the move, two of the little girls have started laying, and many of the big girls have stopped. Dum dum dummmmmm...

There are several main reasons why a chicken stops laying: excessive heat, excessive cold/darkness, molting, age and stress. Right way we can rule out heat. It's been very cold lately. However, not cold enough to be excessive cold. Remember some chickens live in the Midwest where it's below zero. The days have started getting longer since the egg cessation so I doubt that's it. So we are down to the remaining three.
Age: this could be the case for Ruth or Talulah since they are both coming up on two years. Polish gave up the nest box months ago, although Polish chickens are notoriously bad layers. But Stager and Ronald Weasley are both under a year and only recently started laying so they shouldn't be giving it up already.

Molting: without a doubt, this is Talulah's problem!! See photographic evidence! Talulah only showed her booty for this picture, probably cause she's ashamed of her nudity. Look at all those feathers! Ps that's Ruth and Flower girl in there. The big girls are under the house.

Stress: here is where I suspect the problem lies. Ruth, RW, and Stager are the three biggest. Although Ruth is only 3/4 of the other girls' size, she's still a bigger girl. The new coop has a nesting area that is very low, probably cramped for girls their size. The girls tend to go into the boxes and kick all the hay into the interior of the coop, likely for the warmth and the nest boxes are empty except for the manure left by one of the smaller girls at night. Although, most nest boxes are the same size if not smaller. So the big girls could just be being fussy. Or mad that there is now no hay in the boxes. See?

So, how to fix this problem? Here are my options, you tell me what you think.

Option 1: Move the larger girls in with the little girls. However, that means I have to move out some of the little girls to live with the older ones. The little ones have been together since they were a day old. Literally. Also the larger girls are borderline psychotic. There is a pretty heavy risk of pecking if we put them in with girls who are smaller and younger, which would be a shame since the little girls NEVER peck.

Option 2: put a nest box under the new coop. That way I can make it bigger for them, but since it would be outside the coop it has a chance of failure because its TOO open.

Option 3: put down something that is harder to move in the nest box (batting that has been stapled down?) so they can't move it, and wait for them to just get over themselves and start using it.

I look forward to your thoughts. Next time we can talk about WINTER GARDEN!!!

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Location:The farm

I wanna blog on maternity leave!!!

This is a test of my blogging app. It worked once, then it didn't. Here's hoping it will again

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