26 October 2009

Independence Days Update

Again, it’s been a long time since I updated my Independence Days Challenge but … here we go!

Planted: It’s past outdoor planting time here, so nothing in this category. I did cover up the strawberry plants so that the chickens won’t eat them while they are doing their best to clear the rest of the garden, so perhaps that counts. :)

Harvested: Our harvest is all in. We do gather eggs daily (although not very many right now as the chickens are moulting and adapting to new housing and so production is way, way down).

Preserved: Red peppers were on sale at the store, so they were chopped and dehydrated. Two little squashes from the garden were getting weary looking, so they, too, were sliced and put into the dehydrator. More apples were sent home and made into Carla Emery’s “apple ketchup” (which is kind of an HP-ish sauce good on meats), some into apple butter (wow), and some into cider and cider vinegar.

Waste Not: A batch of bean stew that wasn’t really too much to anyone’s liking was combined with leftover lambaco meat to make a nice chili for dinner. Chickens are now in the garden for the winter, and get all leftover edibles. Lamb fat that was rendered in the late summer was used in a candle-making experiment that actually turned out rather well!

Want Not (Preparations): More infrastructure work, of course – the new chicken coop, a sheltered feeder-hanger in the garden to keep the chicken food out of the rain/snow/coop, fencing in the winter pasture to make the sacrifice pasture smaller and save some grass for early spring. The pantry got a minor clean-out (old stale stuff which was then fed to the chickens, who minded not at all), and that makes room for the flats of canned things that were picked up on sale at the store.

Community Food Systems: Sold some more lamb, still have a lot in the freezer to go, and more on the hoof outside. Met with a local fitness coach who recommends that his clients eat grass-fed local meats: he wanted to try our meat and perhaps recommend it to his clients. That was encouraging! Arranged to buy hay from a local farmer who is having a rotten year (as are many), so we put a few dollars back into a local farm, anyway. And, the boys are outside right now helping a neighbour load the last of his cattle into the trailer. Helping the food-producing neighbours is always part of community food systems!


Related to the Independence Days concept, we are also working towards a lower-impact holiday season: the folks at Buy Nothing Christmas have some great ideas about how to reduce the impact the holidays can have on the wallet and the earth. We want to return the focus of the holidays to our faith and to spending time with those we love, rather than at the mall or stressing about the expense of gifts!

We do love the holidays, and we love giving presents – it’s something that we’ve always enjoyed, and it never really has been the stressful experience that it seems to be for so many people. Maybe that’s because our families have always been happiest with gifts chosen for their meaning, not their dollar value – the small but perfect gift is treasured more than a big expensive … whatever. Regifting is really cool with us, as is handing on a possession that you know someone else will get more use/pleasure from than you will (just today I was reminded of the Christmas when one of my very best friends gave me his breadmaker, now I use it all the time). Baking, meat for the freezer, gifts of service, there are so many choices.

“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.”

“Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.”

- The Grinch (Dr. Seuss)

Oh, I’m sure we’ll spend some of our hard-earned dollars as part of our holiday celebrations, but it’s nice to know that it is okay to keep things reasonable, to focus on one another, on the gift of time, and not be distracted by any of the beeping blinking breakable trinkets we are so often told are ‘the really coolest thing’.

I just played three games of Cadoo with my family. That’s way cooler than any beeping blinking breakable trinket, trust me. :)

Think about it, anyway. What could you give that really comes from *you*?

23 October 2009

Knitting in the peace and quiet

The other night, after a long day at work, I sat in the big leather chair and worked on my knitting.

No TV.

No iPod.

No radio.


It was wonderful.


We don’t get enough peace and quiet, I think. It’s good for the soul.

09 October 2009

04 October 2009

A new chicken coop, made entirely of scraps and leftovers!

Chickens are wonderful animals. They don’t need much in the way of infrastructure or daily care, they give you eggs every day and chicks every so often, and chicken meat when you get around to butchering the roosters. They eat your kitchen scraps, devour grasshoppers and other bugs all summer, and are terrifically entertaining to watch. They’re so much fun, I think everyone should have a few. :)

Now, while chickens don’t need a whole lot in the way of infrastructure (especially when they are able to free-range safely, as they are here, protected by the guardian dogs), they do need a place to be warm and out of the wind, and a spot to lay eggs. We have the chicken tractors, which work quite nicely in the summer, but last winter we had some frozen toes and we wanted to come up with something a bit warmer for the hens in the cold of winter.

Some of the materials for our house construction project were delivered in a big 8x8x4 packing crate / pallet. We had covered it with wood ‘siding’ and a metal roof, and it has served as a wood shed/cat shelter/storage spot for the past four years. However, it’s not particularly attractive, and it wasn’t in a really good spot for a permanent structure so … it got repurposed as a chicken coop.

While the structure was still upright, we added some 2x4 boards for perches (I’ve read that in cold climates, chickens do better with flat perches so that they can tuck their toes under their bodies for warmth), a nesting shelf, and some access hatches. It was very peculiar working ‘sideways’: knowing the finished structure would be tipped over made perspectives a bit weird!

When the interior work was mostly done, the entire structure was  lifted (very carefully) on the bobcat forks and moved next to the garden, where it was tipped over onto a pile of old hay (we are big believers in the deep bedding method). Last but not least, the finishing touches were added: an access door (made of plexiglass, so that it serves as a window as well), sheathing on what used to be the bottom of the structure, and metal roofing on what used to be the back and is now the top.


The whole thing is actually big enough for an adult person to squeeze into (without standing up!) – it’s about 4 feet tall. I crawled around inside and spread out the hay bedding, then stuffed gaps with straw. It was nice and warm, out of the wind!

The north wall is insulated with straw, which is stuffed into the gaps in the pallet floor. The south wall is made of brown metal roofing, so hopefully it will warm up a little in the sunshine – we may upgrade it to a proper thermosiphon in a year or two. The bucket feeder hangs just inside the plexiglass door, so it will be easy to check and refill, and the chicken access door is on the west side, away from the prevailing winds.


It’s no Taj Mahal, but it is an excellent use of marginal scrap materials that might otherwise have been unusable. Chickens, fortunately, aren’t particularly hard on their housing (unlike sheep and cows, who rub and bang and crash into things fairly regularly), so that meant we could get away with somewhat less sturdy materials: we had some seriously warped and wonky wood that was suitable for the perches and various internal supports, and the egg and chicken doors are made from leftover bits of laminate flooring. The nest box floor is made from a leftover piece of engineered floor trusses. Those wooden I-beams, when laid sideways, have a nice raised edge, front and back, built right in. The roofing is left over from house construction, and we were able to use up some very odd shaped pieces and still cover the whole coop. Even most of the nails and screws are salvaged from other projects.

Once the siding on the house is finished (and it’s almost all done!), we will sheathe this structure with the leftover bits, so that it looks better and is more durable. 

One more addition will be a light: a light encourages egg production, and also provides a bit of extra warmth. We will install a canning jar ‘light fixture’ in the side of the coop and put it on a timer so that the hens get longer days and a bit of extra heat on chilly mornings. We had them in the chicken tractors, so this is something we already know how to do quickly (in fact, we may just move one of the lights from one of the tractors over).

Hopefully tomorrow we’ll have eggs in the nest box … and not in the hay at the bottom of the coop!

03 October 2009


The mama hen that went broody a few weeks ago now has three baby chicks peeping under her warm feathers. :)

When the hen went broody, we put her in a large cage in the barn, where she could have darkness and quiet and warmth, and gave her five eggs to sit on. As of this afternoon, three had hatched – two fluffy yellow chicks that look like the drawings of baby chicks you see at Easter, and one little black chick. The other two eggs may yet hatch, we’ll see in the next day.

It’s always exciting to watch new life arrive!

(And yes, we’ve been very careful: the mama hen has a water bottle … there is *no* water dish in the cage!)