Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Guest Post: Feather Frost

My mother wrote this and sent me the pictures. As an email. (I know. I'm sneaky like that) She has, if I may say so myself, quite a way with words and can sum things up quickly. She lives in Vancouver, BC, right on the edge of the UBC Endowment Lands Ecological Reserve and Pacific Spirit Regional Park. She runs the trails there, and I used to walk Zora there everyday (sometimes twice) when I visited. It's quite the gorgeous spot and all rainforesty in a way that only the pacific Northwest can be.

This is cool!  I don't know if you have seen this before--I felt like I hadn't, and I really love when it happens.  It's called "feather frost" and it happens when the weather has been warm-ish and wet, and then turns clear and cold overnight.  The moisture in the dead and fallen logs along the trails in the park at the end of our street squeezes out in these wonderful feathery shapes.  I saw it this morning and gave up on my run to come home, get my camera and finally take some pictures (I always mean to do that and never get around to it!).  So here they are.  The first picture gives you a sense of how it looks on a log on the ground.  The second two are some close-ups.  Gorgeous, eh?

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Germinating on an Idea

So a little while ago, I had a thought. The Chicken Palace we built, while awesome and spacious, is not necessarily easy to clean. When we built it, we were concerned with security from (as of yet non-existent) predators and with speed as the little chikety-chicks were already cheep cheep cheeping their way through tinyhood in a Rubbermaid tub in the barn....with another batch in my bathtub. It had 12inches of chicken wire extended from the walls and tacked down on the ground. None of this is too big of an obstacle, except that in order or reinforce the walls and doorway, we have a 2x4 standing up on edge all along the foot print. Making it just a bit of a pain to muck anything up and out.

We also didn't put in enough litter for it to be really deep litter and therefore substantial enough to get it out. And the rain has a tendency to pour down the hill, make it in the palace, but doesn't really make it out...

And I'm kinda pressed for time/lazy.

A friend of mine also sent me a whole bunch of seeds.

And I thought it might be nice to suck up some of the nitrogen with seedlings and help break the chicken poop down while giving the chickens a snack in the spring (they're in a different coop over the winter). I'm not necessarily trying to get rid of the poop - that would take years and probably something more tenacious than mesclun mix and carrots, like fescue or something - but just something to help it break down into dirt faster. But chicken poop is really hot, and this was uncured chicken poop. The chickens had only been vacant from the palace for about 2 months? 3? Not nearly long enough for the poop to have cured and turned into something less hot.

But I figured that we had a crazy cold snap coming (it's been a super mild winter here...), and that I had nothing to lose really as I had seeds coming out of my ears. I was banking on the super cold snap protecting the seeds from getting burnt. (OK not the same, but work with me here). So I raked a few packets of various kinds of seeds into it and promptly forgot about it for a few weeks.

A nice variety. Just in case.

Success! If you look closely, you can see that the carrot seeds have come up, too.
That last photo was taken 2 weeks ago, and the seedlings are even bigger now. If nothing else, the chickens get a brief snack for 10 minutes worth of my time. Worth it to me!

Monday, February 20, 2012

(almost) wordless.

Good morning.

Monday, February 13, 2012


I have been in a bit of a mental pickle recently - I am feeling torn in many directions, and hoping like crazy that it all works out in the end. Granted it's an ongoing process, and it's not like the journey stops. So trying to hope like crazy that it all works out...during the process. You know. From time to time.

And in thinking about all I am lacking, I am reminding myself of all that I do have. Because I do have. I have a lot. And as many circumstances that I have that I would like to change, I am trying to be OK with the fact that there things out of my control, and there are things that I just have to make the best of, and circumstances that I have to deal with so that I can have other things.

That said, there are things that I have that others don't. Or can't. I have made trying to make our little plot on the earth produce enough to feed us, at least through the bountiful spring/summer/fall months. I hope for us to be more and more self-sufficient as time goes on, but baby steps :)

And I know that every so often my gardening friends/family have an abundance, too. Extra produce that maybe you don't have the time or resources to put up. Extra zucchini that you're tempted to sneak into your neighbor's unlocked car as they stopped answering the door when you ring the bell. Ahh well - there's an organization for that. I am thinking about starting a local group myself here in the Burlington area. We are in such a rich agricultural area, and I don't want to see anything go to waste. We also have some of the poorest communities here and it just seems like the natural thing to do! If we've got enough to share with our neighbors, then we have enough to share with the other members of our community that we may not know personally. Things are rough for me at the moment with being behind getting this place going, being broke, not being able to be home with my family, but this is something that I feel is important. A minor way that I can contribute to the community as I don't feel that I am at the moment. And being connected with the community goes hand in hand (for me, at least!) with being connected with the land.

So if you've got time, money or produce to spare, check this organization out: www.foodpool.org.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

And Here We Go...

I finally got my seeds started this year. I am about 2 weeks behind for my brassicas, but so be it. Last year I had a whole big elaborate table dedicated to seed starting with fluorescent lights hung from the ceiling and blah blah blah... and this year I have a shelf on a mobile greenhouse inside the barn with a light. Singular. *sigh* But it's on a timer! That I found out doesn't work... *double sigh*

The good news, I suppose, is that I have my vegetable beds planned out, and am (more or less) set to go. And it's been such a mild winter (so far. Crap. I just jinxed it.) that a lot of my will-they-or-won't-they's did manage to overwinter (so far!) just fine. Ah. We shall see how it goes!

Yes. I am still addicted to various imaging effects on my iPhone. Sorry.

Plastic trays this year instead of peat pots. My seed starting mix is also peat free. (next year I hope to make my own)

In a greenhouse, but inside...

The plant labels are made out of a yogurt container...

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

(almost) wordless.

I love walking through the woods and stumbling upon things put up by my great-grandfather. Or my dad as a kid. Or his (now sadly gone) cousin. I guess I will never know who put these up. Or when.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Egg Color.

People often ask me chicken questions. (Which is good because I HAVE chickens. People used to ask me parenting questions, and I didn't have kids. This at least is a bit more ... umm... in my field of experience?) All sorts of questions. Health related questions, feathers, behavior... but more often than not it's about that mysterious thing that they have and we don't... eggs. Egg size, shape, color...shell thickness, size, color... egg color...

People seem to be most curious about egg color.

Growing up we ate whatever color eggs. I don't know that my parents had *too* much of a preference, although I remember a lot of brown ones when we were living in the states, and white ones when we were in Japan.

Egg color is determined by many things, but mainly chicken breed. Each breed has the color it basically lays, and then each hen has her own shade of said color, with or without speckles, splotches, streaks, stripes, and bumpies. I posted this picture before, but all of these eggs came from 2 types of chicken, and one breed is derived from the other:

Our hens don't vary much in size, and the size of the chicken doesn't seem to make too big of a difference in the size of the egg. The chicken that laid the lightest and hugest egg is the same size as everyone else. But they do have a tendency to lay more or less true to their own pattern...Cindy has a tendency to lay large beige eggs consistently, and Henrietta usually lays a medium egg of a light brown color. One of the Hampies lays the rosy tinted one, and the other lays the light speckled one. I love this shit.

The two main egg colors, white and brown (even though 'brown' is the understatement of the century on this one... ) are nutritionally the same, taste the same, and you can NOT tell by the color of the chicken's feathers. You can (most of the time) by the fleshy bits that are their earlobes. So cool. My chickens do not stay still long enough for much of their bits to be admired, especially not the small ones that are their ears.

Anyway...I came across this post, and so egg color and formation has been on my mind. This is an awesome and super informative post regarding chicken eggs, and I highly encourage you to check it out should you feel so inclined. I have to say that egg color was pretty much on the bottom of my priority list when choosing chickens last year, but I think that this year I do want to add some easter eggers. Because dude. A chicken that lays blue or green or rosey colored eggs is just kinda cool.

But regardless of the color, a chicken is super proud of her accomplishment every time she lays an egg and loudly announces it to the world. After some extremely loud squawking, she leaves the nesting box (you hope she was on the nesting box, and not on the damn couch), her internal egg clock resets, and she forgets the whole thing and goes off in search of the next shiny object or juicy worm to hold her flighty attention.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

(almost) wordless.

Helping their floofy selves to leftover peanut butter sandwiches. Off the floor of my car.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

This Year's Garden.

I know I know. I have said before (and I'm sure I'll say again) that this place is a farm.

Well. Almost. I figure in the sense that we've got a lot of things growing, we are. But that's close to about it.

My manfriend and I had talked long and hard about tilling and planting the 'upper' (or big) meadow this year, and putting the garden there, with a more permanent irrigation system. Keeping last year's beds, mind you, as the herb/seed garden. He tentatively tilled a swath just to see what we've got to work with.

(gasp! You haven't done soil tests? What?!?!?! No. No I have not. Grasses grow very lushly on that meadow, and little baby volunteer trees are springing up from deer poo, so no. I didn't test anything. It's viable.)
About a third of the upper meadow, complete with volunteer cedar.
Pickup sticks. Wait. Is that not how it's played?
What we've got is great topsoil in an area where most of the soil is hard (and in our case yellow) clay. Better than the blue clay I had in Japan, but still a pain in the butt. But the meadow had been used oh so many years ago to grow hay for the neighbor's cows, and has been mostly left alone since, with a bush hog coming through and cutting down the grass and shrubs (or in last year's case, me on a riding mower) annually, and a cover crop (read: the neighbor's leftover clover seeds) thrown on it every now and again.

But alas no, we will not be planting the upper meadow this year. It is too high a rise from any water source, and it would mean a substantial pump and crazy water system to make it happen. It doesn't mean it won't ever, but not in the near future.

So instead we will be clearing out some more trees (if we go a year without cutting down trees out here it means I'm incapacitated and most likely in a ditch somewhere), and expanding the current garden. Which means more raised bed building for me! But only about 2 or 3. We are also tinkering with putting a rainwater irrigation system in - the rise from where our buildings are to the garden is only a couple of feet, and we can manage to procure a good pump capable of handling that much.

And that also means that the nice topsoil gets another year (or 5 or 10) to rest and enjoy being a lovely green place. Before I come up with some crazy scheme for orchards and goats.....

Future farmhand, off to gather leaves for the chicken coop. (the future is now!)

I was informed that this is the only way you can make sure that no more will fit in the wheelbarrow. I trust his overly-wise-for-seven-years-old judgment.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

A Very Manly Birthday

A Happy Birthday to the Manfriend!

Poor guy. Last year he got an awesome (ifImaysaysomyself) Zelda cake that shall go down in the Stoneyhaw annals of cakes as legendary.

This year he got responsibility, work, and no cake (yet. Jury's still out).

When I was little, birthdays were magical things. Mine happened to be at the end of the summer, and my parents usually took the opportunity to throw a big party and invite all their friends and co-workers (I remember the year I was old enough to think "wait. What?! It's MY birthday! Why am I only allowed 5 friends?!?!"). There was always grilling, beer, outside running around, and general fun. My seventh birthday was 'at the farm' at The Forman School, and I got a kitten, and there was volleyball. Seventh? May have been sixth. I forget. I was itty bittier than I am now (please no short jokes). And that was just the birthdays we were in town. More often than not we were off on a (camping) trip somewhere on the east coast... Anyway I digress...

I never did understand why my parents didn't make a bigger fuss on their own birthdays. Birthdays are magical! was about as far as my little brain got. And while I still fundamentally believe that, it gets harder and harder every year to get excited about my own birthday, and easier and easier to give in to being too tired or broke or disinterested to do anything.

I felt bad as I sent my sniffly man off to work this morning on his birthday, with him not quite feeling himself and me not quite feeling myself, although mine was due to my lack of having done much special for him.

I told the spawn this morning it was his Daddy's birthday (see? more ineptitude...should have had a secret plan. ugh. I'll get there...) and his eyes lit up. Possibly not for quite the reasons I was expecting:

"February 1st is my dad's birthday? Woohoo! It'll be MY birthday soon!"

"your birthday is in 5 months, little man"

"5 months and 7 days, hippie!"

And then he proceeded to stare off into the not-as-distant future presumably imagining the magicalness of his coming birthday. Good grief I love this kid.

And despite my ineptitude at having David-involved birthday-related activities planned for him, I do sincerely wish my man a very happy birthday.

Family walk to the pond in the sunshine.