Sunday, July 23, 2017

A Home for the Chickie Babies

Adam, my farmer hero, sacrificed much time and labor and built a new pen and coop for my four new chickens. They're about 7 weeks old now. The pen/yard is right beside the garage. He put up fencing: 4x2 welded wire, chicken wire on the bottom, and netting overhead and down the sides.
He used existing trees and put in posts. He strung rope overhead to hold the netting.
The netting is to prevent the birds from flying out, which is how we lost several hens before.
It was tedious work, but he never complained.
After the enclosure was mostly finished, he started on the coop. I hinted to him that the babies were feeling quite confined in their dog kennel on the front porch, and were starting to fight a bit.
He built the frame of new materials, digging post holes and putting hardware cloth (a fine wire mesh) as the floor of the coop.
He built a sloped roof. Friends had given us some asphalt shingles and tar paper, which was a very timely gift!
Adam used old farm wood for the exterior walls. It is not meant to look fine and swanky like some chicken coops. It is meant to be sturdy, serviceable, and inexpensive.
He built a fine nesting/laying box to go on the left hand end of the coop. I can lift that lid and get eggs out easily ... provided the hens decide to lay there and not elsewhere!
This is the front side. See the laying box on the left? The exterior is a bit pieced together, but it's solid. He cut out a little hinged door for them.
I lifted the laying box lid and took some inside shots. They really like their sturdy, wide roost.
They seem very happy and content in there.
You see I put a little straw in there for them to land on and peck at. Here are my four:
The screen floor, plus lots of open screening under the roof eave, gives good ventilation.
They have food and water inside. I put that paper plate on top of their waterer because they kept perching on top of it and pooping, and their poop would drop into the water tray! Ugh. As you see, this helps a bit.
Roost, hardware cloth, straw:
This is the view from the house, and you see Adam put a door up too, with a latch.
That's the door from the greenhouse. The wind out there really thrashed it, so we hope it will have a calmer life here out of harm's way.
Okay, here are my babies. This is Inky. Unknown breed. Hoping she's a hen, but with wattles developing, she may be a roo :( She is my sweetest, and will let me pick her up easily.
This silkie cross is called Little Gray. Her head feathers are a real tuft up there, so I'm hoping she's a hen. You just can't tell with silkies until they crow or lay an egg, from what I've heard.
This is my other silkie cross, Sylvie. Not sure about her gender either.
Fourth chick, unknown breed. Smallest, but most aggressive, perky, and inquisitive. Bright pink/red comb and wattles and perhaps hackle feathers tell me he's probably a roo. I don't mind one roo in this bunch, but I don't want two.
Adam put two large hinged doors on the back side of the coop so I can clean it out easily and get the birds out by hand if I need to, plus for changing food/water. Their poop should dry and fall through the hardware cloth, a feature of this coop I'm quite fond of!
The wood you see there is pretty pitiful-looking! It started life as the ceiling in the girls' building. Then it served as the walls of Adam's compost bins for 2 years. (Thus the decay along the bottom edge) Now it's a chicken coop. That's what we mean by reuse and save money!
I kept them confined in the coop for over two days so they would view it as "home." Yesterday I let them out for the first time! They were quite interested in the big world ....
Then they came hurrying down their chicken stairs to enjoy the big world!
They pecked and ate grass and weeds with great enthusiasm! They scuffled in the dirt and took dirt baths, lying together in a pile. The chipped and ran around and fluttered. They are adorable. Oh, I hope I don't end up with four roosters!!!
They also must learn to re-enter the coop in early evening. I picked each one up and put it inside, walking each one up the stairs a bit to help them learn. Today, Sylvie didn't want me to pick her up At All. Finally I walked to the stairs and tapped my fingers on it several times. She came over, and flew up onto the stairs! (Yay!!! Success!!) I opened the door, and she went inside. Oh, I hope they learn to do that themselves!
This is what we've been doing with much of our time the past week -- making a home for baby chickens we may or may not be able to keep, depending on their genders. Ah well. But we are satisfied with the new coop and pen, and hope this will make for a safer flock.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Good-bye, Mr. Fig

 Julia came in the house last night and said to us, "You know the fig tree fell over, right?"
No, we didn't.
 The tree was huge, and the vast majority of the fruit was inaccessible to us, it was so high. Adam was planning to cut off these long branches after it bore this summer anyway.
 The root ball lifted a bit from the soil. We had lots of heavy rain this past weekend, and the heavily-loaded branches were hanging low.
 Look at all that green fruit! What a shame!
Only 3 or 4 were ripe and plump. Most were small and green.
Part of the tree is intact, so it will grow again and be a more manageable size.
But y'know what? I have five pints of fig preserves left from last year. My mother loves it, and I take it to her, and I've given some away, but I don't prefer fig preserves, myself.
I now prefer pear butter, of course! I canned five and a half more pints!
 And regarding tomato paste, I made another batch. This time I didn't freeze it all in a bag together. I dolloped it by tablespoons on a cookie sheet and froze them.
 Then I pried them off with a spatula, put them in a freezer bag, and back into the freezer they went, easier to use.
Friends gave us some beautiful corn, which we took off the cob and froze as well.
The deep freezer and the canning shelves are getting fuller and fuller!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Battle Tactics Against Tomato Invasion

We're being assaulted by our tomato beds. Adam has trimmed (hacked back) the plants, and we've cleaned out the beds. They looked like this (well, worse):
 Now they look like this:
(The biggest problem with our beds this year is we put one rope for each plant, when we needed about 4 per plant. Many vines were on the ground.)
They should recover and keep bearing. Quite a few plants were pulled out for disease.

We're getting some nice whoppers; this one's a Brandywine. And I took a pretty platter to church for my personal Adopt-Some-Tomatoes program! Still, we have platters of them on our table at all times.
We had twice that many yesterday. How many tomatoes can one person eat?
This morning I rolled up my farmwife sleeves and took matters in hand. I found an online recipe for tomato paste that appealed to my personal brand of laziness. I loathe blanching/peeling/seeding tomatoes. I simply won't do it, bleh! And when hundreds of them are little tomatoes? No way! Here's the recipe that inspired me:
Easy Crockpot Tomato Paste
The tomatoes are oven roasted with garlic and olive oil. They are put through a food mill to remove skins and seeds. They are cooked in a crockpot. This all makes for less work for little ol' me!
 Cleaned yellow tomatoes cooked on 400 degrees for an hour.
 Take them out and put in a tray of red tomatoes, although I'll just process them all together.
I ran the roasted tomatoes and garlic through my cone food mill.

This method is fast, and it removes all the skin and seeds, allowing the juice and pulp of the tomatoes (or any fruit) to pass through. Turn the wooden cone and press firmly until all that's left is dry skin/seeds. It gave a lovely, creamy sauce in the bowl below:
 I did the same with the red tomatoes. I put all the sauce into my crockpot before lunch yesterday and cooked it on high All Day Long, uncovered, stirring it about every hour. At bedtime I turned it to low. I woke at 4:00 and turned it to warm and put the cover on. At 7:00 this morning:
 A thick, rich, pure tomato paste. All those tomatoes reduced into this single quart-sized ziploc bag!
My idea is to keep the paste frozen in the bag until I need some. I'll open the bag, scrape out some with a spoon, and return it to the freezer. I could have canned it also, but even a half-pint jar, when opened, is a lot of paste, and I didn't want it to go bad in the frig after I'd used only a tablespoon of it. We'll see how this works. Regardless ... I'm so happy to have turned SO many tomatoes into one quart baggie! The score this morning? MK: 1, Tomatoes: 0

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Making Pear Butter

We have a pear tree. Remember when Adam was lopping big limbs out of the top of it?
He's lopped off branches twice now, and will do it once more. This summer I picked fruit from it, although most of the pears are too high for me to reach. I decided to make pear butter!
First I put the pears in the frig for 24 hours, as many websites said to do. Then I laid them out on the guest bed on newspaper for a week to ripen some. Then I washed them in water and baking soda.
 It's not a huge amount of pears, maybe one somewhat full plastic grocery bag.  But I didn't want a huge project, and if the pear butter turned out horrible, I didn't want to waste ingredients and jars.
Pears are bland, so this is perhaps better called "spice butter." The pears are just a carrier fruit. I also put in two apples that were sitting around, unloved. I cooked and processed it just like apple sauce/butter.
Except -- I added more sugar, more spices, and lemon, orange (about 1/2 cup), and lime juice. All recipes said to add citrus for flavor; most instructed to add orange zest, which I may do next time.
 For spices, I used a cinnamon/clove/nutmeg/allspice blend. It needs more spices than you'd imagine, but you don't want a bland spread. And about a teaspoon of salt; don't forget that! And I mean to say ... ohmygoodness, it's worth it!
I'd been taste-testing it as I cooked it (in the crockpot), and was doubtful. It had just a bit of the grainy texture of pears, and the flavor was just a little odd. But this morning I put it on an English muffin with butter. Wowzer! It's better than any jam in our frig! It's better than my homemade apple butter! This stuff is the bomb.
So now we're going out with a ladder to get more fruit, and I'll begin the process all over again. I'll have this yumminess all winter long!
[Two notes: Pears should be picked before they seem ripe. If you wait until they feel ripe on the outside, they'll be rotten on the inside. Also, cooking any fruit butter in the crockpot requires you to cook it on high for an hour (to raise the temperature initially) and then cook it on low for many hours (like 10, all day long or overnight). Do not put a lid on it either time; the thickening occurs as the moisture evaporates from the pot.]

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

All Those Glorious Tomatoes!

On Monday I did tomato harvesting, which I do every two days right now. They're coming in! I sorted out the most ripe ones and made canned tomato sauce.
 One is a partial jar we'll use today to make a pizza. Making tomato sauce is time consuming! Seriously -- I could go to WalMart and buy 5 jars of Hunts diced tomatoes with basic/garlic/oregano for $5. Or, I can spent an hour and a half in the kitchen making my own. (Sigh) But it's fun, and I enjoy using the skills and using our own produce. So I do it.
These are all small tomatoes, so I clean them in a water with a little baking soda and grind them up thoroughly in the blender. I add: basil, oregano, thyme (from our herb garden), garlic, Worchester sauce, a little canned tomato paste, and salt and pepper.
 I don't blanch or skin them. That would take WAY too much time.
On my table I have a platter of small red tomatoes, mostly Juliets, Cherry Chocolates, and Red Cherries.
 I have yellow tomatoes, mostly Yellow Pears, Green Grapes, and Mini Oranges.
 And I have a big platter of Matt's Wild Cherries.
I don't make the little babies into sauce. We just eat them straight.
Those photos are AFTER I've removed the tomatoes for sauce.
This morning (Wednesday) I went to pick tomatoes again. And now I have tomato overload!  And I won't be at the farmer's market on Saturday, so I won't be selling any, so we must do something with all these tomatoes! I think I have a day of sauce-making in my future.
 I picked these three bags this morning. That one big 'mater on the end will be a sandwich for lunch :)
They are so pretty and golden!

That's a table full of tomatoes! Now I go to sterilize jars and pick herbs.