Sunday, December 11, 2011

OK, so it's been a while ......

....but it is that time of year when nothing much is happening on the Urban Farm.  

This urban farm took a decidedly rural turn this morning though.   I was in the kitchen, beginning to put together some breakfast, when I looked out the window and saw a COYOTE trotting down the street!!!!!  Granted, my townhouse neighborhood is on the very edge of town, with a big meandering lake and farm fields beyond, but this was startling!    I ran outside to get another look at it, and make sure I wasn't seeing things.  Nope, definitely a coyote, trotting down the sidewalk. (so much for the stray cats that have been around for weeks)  A neighbor was just pulling in, and looked at me with eyes and mouth wide open.  "Was that a ...."  Yes!  He said he grew up on a farm, knew exactly what it was, and couldn't believe what he was seeing.   One more reason I'm glad all my livestock is inside!

I still have kale and brussells sprouts in the garden.  The sprouts weren't big enough for Thanksgiving.  Christmas maybe?  They are completely unprotected, so I can't expect them to grow much.  I'm just amazed they have lived this long.

Mostly my interests have turned indoors, though.  I dusted off the spinning wheel (literally) oiled 'er up and did some spinning, and I have also pulled out another winter pastime, jewelry-making.  It's so easy, everyone and their brother can do it, so it's not much of a 'sellable' item.  It has to be something really special and priced for the average person to afford - not an easy combination to achieve. But I enjoy choosing components, making, then wearing something - much as with making a garment from fiber.

The auction house I went to so frequently for a while has moved to different nearby town, and and changed the times of their auctions to the middle of a weekday - when I can't go.  That is NOT a bad thing for my purse, but I do miss the fun of finding something I love for just a few dollars.   Perhaps sadly, I have renewed my relationships with Ebay and Etsy.  With my newly-discovered Scottish heritage in mind, I bought a couple of charms on-line for my charm bracelet:

A thistle - the national symbol of Scotland

....and a 'croft' cottage. 

This one has several meanings for me.  Scotland, and small-space farming of course, and it reminds me of a blog-friend Homeschool on the Croft, who lives and farms on a modern-day croft (what we would call a small farm) in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.   Most importantly though, it reminds me that big things can come from small beginnings, and God answers prayer.   In the 1940's, two women in their 80s, one totally blind, and one crippled with arthritis, lived in a tiny stone cottage on the Island of Lewis in Scotland, just a few miles from where Anne of the homeschool croft lives today. They despaired of the next generations ever finding a realationship with God.  The churches were emptying, and the young people were just not interested.  As they were prayer warriors, they held their concerns up before God.  It's a long story, but you can read about it here (The Hebrides Revival) and other places on the internet.  God's presence came down on the islands of the Outer Hebrides, and it was one of the most exciting moves of God of the 20th century - the results of which are seen today in Anne's deep faith, and that of many in her community.    All because two crippled, old, poverty-stricken women prayed.               

Sunday, November 6, 2011

I did it again - the National Horse Show

Once again I went to an event and forgot to bring my camera!!!! 

It took me a while to figure out the horse show this week here at the Kentucky Horse Park was a big deal.  Cynically, and especially because the emphasis seemed to be on the sponsor, I thought they had dreamed up an event to keep the ball rolling after the World Equestrian Games here last fall.  After a while, I realized this  National Horse Show was the National Horse Show - as in the one held in Madison Square Garden in New York for forever.  To compare another species, it would be the same as if the Westminster Dog Show would come to Lexington, and the event is about the same age, 120-something years.   

A friend and I went yesterday for the last day - the day with all the big stakes (championships) classes, and it was terrific.  The crowd was sparce in the afternoon, but picked up in the evening for the $250k Open Jumper Championship.  That's right, a quarter of a million dollars - no small potatoes. Except for the "end-zone" area of the arena (shown in the background below), the crowd was not packed, but respectable.

photos by Matt Goins - Lexington Herald Leader  

This was our vantage point - although a few rows up. The jumps were terrifying - 6 feet high and with spreads equally huge.  This was one of a triple combination  - only one step in between.   Some horses were so smooth, they made it look almost easy.    But one jump that seemed very plain and 'easy' was the undoing of many.  We couldn't understand it - until a visitor from Arizona, obviously an expert, explained to us that it was an awkward distance from the previous jump.  

It was the top-of-the-top echelon of show jumpers.  There were competitors from all over the world, including several Olympic Team members, both from the US other countries.  

The sponsors seemed to have learned their lessons from the WEG - no more $100+ tickets.   We got in for the price of a movie, and it was on-the-edge-of-your-seat exciting.   Everyone would hold their breath during each ride, groaning if a rail came down, afraid to 'jinx' it if it looked like someone was going to jump clean.   If they did, the instant they landed the crowd would erupt in cheers.   

Here is the winning rider collecting his $75k check.  (The top 12 placements were money winners) We joked that it might pay his transportation bills to get to the show.  :)  I talked to folks sitting around us, asking where they had come from and what they thought of the facility.  To a person, and from what I have read, all the participants are thrilled with the arena, the Park, and especially the easy accessibly.  Can you imagine trailering horses into mid-town Manhattan?  

It was a very fun time that we both enjoyed enormously.  I think it will grow in popularity in the same way the Rolex Three-Day Event has.   I'm putting it on my calendar.  

Monday, October 31, 2011

2nd Annual Hug a Sheep Day

Last Saturday, Sara at Equinox Farm opened her home to one and all for the 2nd Annual Hug a Sheep Day.   All of us who love sheep, love farms, love fiber and spinning/weaving/knitting/felting were in heaven!   

A few sheep were chosen to allow visitors some up-close-and-personal time by the barn.   

Marcel and Graham meeting some little visitors 

 Some of the Adventure Chickens, not too interested in making friends, until......they discovered they like cookies too!


(Keebler) "Sheesh! You'd think they would understand by now that I am not a sheep, and should not be in this pen with these .......animals." 

Lila Lamby - last Spring's bottle lamb, still little, but growing up too fast!!   By the smile, she seems to enjoy the attention.  

Shermy - everyone's best long as you have cookies!
(really he's still friendly, even if you don't have cookies - just substitute cheek scratches)   

The unsinkable Renny - the object of everyone's admiration.   A year ago Sara rescued her - more than half dead from owner neglect/abuse and a severe predator attack.   That she survived leaves everyone shaking their heads in amazement, but she doesn't even have scars or a limp.  Unbelievable.  Apart from all that, she is a really beautiful sheep, with a thick, healthy fleece and a lovely head.   She seems to be at least partly Shetland - she has a short, little undocked tail, and her earset looks Shetland-ish.  Most of all, she has a forever home, where she is loved, well cared for, and surrounded by friends.

The rest of the flock was outstanding in their field. (couldn't resist) 

A lot of the sheep in Sara's mixed flock are Jacobs.  I only know a couple of them by name.  Boudreaux (the big 'brown' sheep in the center above) surprised me.  He was eager to get his share of treats last year, but this year he looked me over, then thought better of it ......"'Nah, it's a grass kinda day."   

Enjoying the lush grass - sprung up from rains earlier in the week.   

 We got a fascinating display of good-dog Hank taking care of his flock.  Mid-way through the event, we heard rifle shots.  Pretty close actually.  Hunters on the farm next door.  Hank looked laid-back, but really was on high alert, taking his responsibility seriously.   Every time the flock wandered across the dry creek, he would cross over and bring them back - closer to the barn, where they would be safer. 

Sara told me he does not like the horses, but one time they got looped into the crowd.  Darn!   

Over and over, Hank was not having anyone running willy-nilly over the fields....not with guns going off! 

1....2.....3....4......Yep! All there.  I suppose that horse can stay, so long as he doesn't mess with my sheep!

What a wonderful day!  Any day spent in the country, with animals - especially sheep - is my idea of a great day!   

Thank you Sara!!  Thank you friends at Equinox Farm!  

It can't happen here......

......And it didn't.  This time.

But it could.  3 million people without power in the Northeast - and the power won't be back on for days.   How many were prepared?

This is the time of year that like the squirrels, we think about preparing for winter.   Some of us ''put by" garden produce - either grown in our own gardens, or purchased - locally, I hope.   We winterize our homes in various ways, but being prepared for the unusual weather event is a lifestyle, a year-round attitude.  How well we in this area know how hard - and how often - an ice storm can disrupt our normal lives.

This is today's blog post by a blog-friend who lives in upstate NY, and is coping very well with the results of the "freak" snow storm in the Northeast over the past few days:

As her blog indicates, she has also written a book, Just in Case, an excellent primer for starting and maintaining a lifestyle of 'Preparedness' in your home.

I'm just sayin'..........

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Autumn soup recipe and other things.....

As I've said here before, I love soup!  Today seemed a good day to simmer up a pot full, so I tried an old recipe, new to me.  Scotch broth is traditionally made with lamb.    As much as I would like to support local sheep breeders, lamb is prohibitively expensive, and I could only find 'luxury' cuts - whole legs, frenched chops, 1.5 inch thick but still tiny loin chops, selling for double digits.   This dish is a simple 'peasant' dish and definitely needs a 'cheap' cut - with bones.  Bone-in meat is needed to make a broth properly.  That was also hard to find.  Beef short ribs now have no ribs (!!!) according to the butcher at Kroger.   I finally found a cross-cut slice of beef shank with a nice big bone to use.   

sorry for the dark photo - flash washed out the image so you could see even less

1-2 Tbs. Olive oil
1 lb   lamb or beef, shoulder, shank or other cut with bones. 
3 sm - med turnips
3 large carrots
2 stalks celery 
2-3 cloves garlic  
1/2 to 1 tsp. dried thyme
3/4 cup pearled barley
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

In a 3-quart pot, heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.  When hot, add meat whole, and brown on both sides.  Add water to fill pot about half-way.  Cover tightly, simmer until meat is tender.  Remove meat from pot, and when cool enough to handle, remove any fat and gristle, returning bite-sized pieces of meat to the pot. 

Peel and dice turnip, carrots and celery.  Add to broth and meat.  Add garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and barley.   Simmer, tightly covered, for 1 hour, or until barley and vegetables are tender. Add water as needed. Adjust seasonings, and serve.

  • Even after browning the meat before cooking, the broth looked a little pale to me, so I added 2 beef bullion cubes.  
  • 3/4 cup of barley is plenty.  I might cut it back to 1/2 cup.
  • This is a thick, stew-like dish, especially with the amount of barley that is called for.  Cut back barley or increase water if you want it soupier.
  • I didn't see a lot of fat on my broth, so I didn't feel the need to skim the fat before I added the remaining ingredients.     
I had this for supper tonight with some crusty bread - I thought it was very good.

Other news around the homestead:  
The breeder I got my Orpingtons from asked me to post current photos on Backyard Chickens so she could see how they are developing, so I thought I would post them here too.

This is "Whatsit," - at least that's what I've been calling 'it' until now.  The breeder said she thinks it is a rooster.  It looks like one but is quiet, and not bothering the girls.  'Good thing, because I have no prospects right now for re-homing him.    

And this is Grace - aka Gracie, Gracie-Lou.....  she is significantly smaller than the other one and very sweet.  In some ways it's nice having a 'pair' in case I wanted to breed for more.  I would have to convince folks here that bantams are great.   For some reason, even the urban chicken-keepers in CLUCK all keep large fowl, and are leery of bantams.   I don't know why.  They are very sweet, and their eggs compare favorably in size with large bird's eggs.

Holly's back is much better, and she seems to be moving OK now, but......  (I'm such a bad mom)   She has never used the resting board I put in the cage for her. I didn't notice she was always laying - not only in one spot because her back hurt to move, but in a spot with lots of wool stuck to the wire.    Since she would pee where she lay, the wool was saturated ......and now she not only has sore hocks, but the wool is all burned off, and she's got a large raw ulcer on each leg!  I feel awful.   I stuck her in the sink and washed her well, then bandaged each foot after coating it thickly with neosporin.   After a short time, scabs formed on each foot, and I started giving her a 'blankie' to lay on - and keep the wounds dry, since she won't leave the bandages alone.  I change it every 2 or 3 days, when I see urine stains on it.  

Her personality has changed during all this.  She lets me take her out of her cage with no fuss, let me bathe, treat and bandage her multiple times, and likes nothing better now than to cuddle with me.   I think she would sleep with me if I let her.  No biting, no growling, no lunging with teeth bared........who are you and what have you done with Holly?

Speaking of sleeping with me, the first cold night we had this week (I haven't turned the furnace on yet) I had all 4 cats in bed with me all night- even Michu!!  It was funny, but they were snuggled so tight I couldn't move!

Until next time - from all of us - at Wren Cottage.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Weird chicken behavior - updated

A couple of days ago, I looked over at Dolley in her coop/cage.  She (I'm insisting she is a she) was carefully searching through her pine-shaving litter until she found a piece she liked, then she would pick it up, turn her head around and..........carefully place it on her back.  (:-/ ???)   She did it over and over - probably 40 times while I watched her.   Since she's shaped like a bowling ball, her pile would slide off about every third piece of shaving, but she kept at it .......until she caught me watching her.  Then she gave me an indignant look, and  walked away.

What kinds of weird stuff do your animals do?

She IS a girl!!  Dolley laid her first egg today.  No photo, because it looks eggs-actly like Abigail's in size and color.   What a good girl!   WHEW!         

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Beginning to put the garden to bed

I pulled up the San Marzano tomato plants this morning.  Once I got the main crop in during the summer, the plants grew a second flush, but they never did ripen - even in hot weather. There were lots of green tomatoes on them, full-sized ones in full sun for weeks, they just wouldn't get ripe.  Out they came.  I picked all the green tomatoes off, and composted the plants.  Compost has become nearly as important a 'crop' as anything else I grow. I found a few red  and ripening ones, a few past their prime to feed to the chickens, and maybe 20 pounds of green ones.  

I will probably make the green-tomato salsa I linked to a post or two back, because it can be canned.   I found about a dozen ripe, or nearly-so 'German Pink' tomatoes to enjoy now, and left the plants in the ground for a while longer. These did very well in their protected place last year.  It was only after a heavy frost that the foliage died and revealed even more tomatoes. 

This is just two plants!

After some research, I have found this is a 'vineing' variety.  Simple stakes are useless, and cages aren't much better.  They will just continue to grow taller until killed by frost.  I have thrown the vines over the fence (8 feet tall) and they have still grown another two or more feet on the other side.   The neighbor has been told anything growing on his side is his.  Lessons learned this year:  Get the seedlings started inside and in the ground much earlier so I can enjoy the tomatoes in the summer instead of fall! 

I pulled the hot pepper plants too, mostly because I'm tired of messing with them.  I got another couple of dozen jalapenos and almost that many green cayennes. Green or not, they are still hot, and will dry just fine in the dehydrator.  I got a warning tingle on my hands as I cut up the plants to put in the compost pile.  Apparently even the leaves and stems are hot too - no wonder the insects leave them alone!  I know I got well over 100 jalapenos off two plants and probably half that of cayennes off one plant.  I wish everything I grew was so prolific! 
My fall garden has been more failure than success, but I am not discouraged.   Cauliflower and Brussels sprouts in containers started off much better than the ones in the ground, but then were eaten to pieces by cabbage worms.  I didn't plant any companion plants with them, because I didn't think they would grow so late in the year.  The ones in the ground are catching up now, and have little-to-no insect damage, being planted with radishes!  I may get Brussels sprouts for Thanksgiving after all.   Overall this year, I did see a positive difference in outcomes with companion planting.

I am in love with French Breakfast Radishes!  I planted 3 varieties of radish this fall and all are doing well in the ground (they didn't like pots) but the French are the fastest to mature.  I looked it up, and the French eat them raw, dipped in soft butter with salt.  I tried it, but the butter on a raw veg seemed superfluous, so I just eat them the American way, raw with salt only.  They are mild and have a great 'root vegetable' taste, unlike regular varieties, which seem more like a garnish or accent.  I want to plant lots early in the Spring, and in the ground, not pots. 
  • Turnips are still promising in the pots.  It remains to be seen if they continue to grow through frosts so I can get some baby turnips before a heavy freeze does them in.  I'm in it only for the roots.  The greens go to the chickens and rabbits, or the compost.    
  • Two varieties of kale planted from seed are coming up fine, but will probably have to be eaten in the baby stage. 
  • The Bok Choy grew to seedlings, then stopped.  Didn't die, just simply didn't grow any more.  I will try again in the Spring - to be harvested at 'baby size.' and steamed or sauteed with other vegetables. 
  • The eggplant have grown fine this fall and have very healthy foliage and blooms, but will not have enough time to set and ripen fruit before frost.  Go back to pots next year - they did fine there. Add companion flowers and herbs. 
 More lessons learned:  Concentrate on what I can grow that will produce the most in the least space or fewest plants.  As mentioned before, squash are out.  Even if I could overcome insects and disease, they are simply too big for my small space. Ditto on the pole beans.  Instead of saving space by growing UP, the plants were just huge, with few beans.  I'm going back to bush beans next year.    

My garden space is not suitable for 'floating row covers,' which are needed to garden well in seriously cold weather - to keep things going after frost and freezes to get full-sized plants and veggies.  The plants need to be grown in - uh - rows to use those. Mine are grown in clumps, more like the square-foot-gardening style. If I had started with rectangular raised beds, it might be different, but my garden stared out as a very big, deep English 'herbatious border' - stylish a the time - that evolved (degenerated?) into my small oval planting plot studded with shrubs and flowering plants, some large, some small.

Chicken update:
I'm going out on a limb and naming one of the Orpington chicks.   I have been calling her Gracie, after   

Grace Coolidge  

Gracie is a cute name that seems to fit the chick, but I confess I don't know much about the real Grace Coolidge, except that she loved animals of all kinds :-)   I chose that name not so much because of admiration for the lady, but because of this fabulous portrait.  It, along with one of  Edith Roosevelt  are among my favorite First Lady portraits.  (Yes Edith, TRs wife, although Eleanor's portrait is very innovative) 

And here she is - little Gracie herself - trying to get away while I try to take her picture.  She is very shy, and hides behind Abigail much of the time. I'm still working on winning her over. I got her on my lap the other night, and after a minute she decided she liked it, and started to trill.  She has no comb or wattles to speak of ......and I hope it stays that way.   

On the other hand, look what Dolley has grown in the last month!  

A very impressive set of comb and wattles (comb looks even bigger on the other side where her feathers are flatter)  Even her earlobes are bigger.  She had smaller wattles and comb before, but I could literally see them getting bigger every day.  This change roughly coincides with putting no-name chick in with her.  I don't know if it's a hormonal thing, or if she is really a he!!!   If that's the way it turns out, I'm going to be very upset!!!    These aren't the only indicators of gender.  She hasn't started to crow or try to mount any of the other chickens - but then she's not laying any eggs, about 8 months old!  That's not unheard of, according to what I read on Backyard Chicken Forum - especially this year, there's been a lot of that.  I don't use organic feed.....I wonder what GMO stuff they might be putting in there, and if it's having an effect on our livestock?   Sigh.......if Dolley 'turns into' a rooster, as long as there continues to be no crowing - she's staying.  I'm much too bonded now.

Here is little no-name below.  I'm still waffling nearly daily on this one - does have a pretty big comb, has wattles, but small, pale unless excited, not displaying obvious roo behavior, like crowing or mounting other birds.  It is much more outgoing than Gracie.  Not really brave though, in fact, if I try to pick it up, or it gets upset about something, it does it's best "henny penny / the-sky-is-falling" imitation.  It's hysterical - both the chick's attitude, and my amusement.  Abigail wants nothing to do with it anymore, poor thing, but it's getting bonded to Dolley.    

The chicks are 9 weeks old today, and are nearly the same size as the older chickens.  If you consider Dolley is mostly feathers, no-name probably is the same size. It's amazing how fast they grow.

Holly-bunny (who would not let me take her picture, because she is partially plucked and not looking her best) gave me a scare this week, when it seemed as though some of her legs were partially paralyzed!   After giving her a thorough going-over and watching her move, I think she has hurt her back somehow, but not seriously.  This is not uncommon in rabbits, due to the length of their spine and the extreme power of their back legs.  They can actually break their own back while playing, and die.  Holly is gradually getting better, and while not being her usual snotty-diva self, she has not relinquished her "Princess" title, and is relishing all the extra attention.   

 Those are the updates from Wren Cottage .....

Monday, September 26, 2011

It's been a while .....

I've been SO busy lately.  Mostly at work, but my weekends have been full too. A week ago I went to A Wool Gathering in Ohio.  It was my first time to that festival, and I really liked it, although as we pulled into the parking lot, I realized I had forgotten my camera!

Lisa from Somerhill Farm was one of the vendors there.  She is the breeder of my first French Angoras, Holly and Ivy.  She also breeds show-quality Blue-Faced Leicester sheep, and had these lovely dyed locks for sale, which I snapped up!

Then I stopped by Stephanie's LunabudKnits booth

Stephanie  is one of our KSFF board members, and her booth was one of the outstanding ones with all this fabulous color!   

I bought some of this beautiful gold merino top, and another in olive.   I also got some dyed silk hankies from her in shades of turquoise, blues and greens.  I hope all the links will make up for the fact that I forgot to ask before using her images!!!   With all this fiber I'm buying, I'd better get to spinning it!! 

This past Saturday, I went to the Bluegrass Poultry Association show.  I took my camera, but didn't take any photos.  It didn't seem as good as last year, with only about half the entries.  I went later in the day though, and people who had already had their birds judged, might have already left?    Like last year, I was impressed with how huge (and scary) the standard sized chickens are, and glad I have my sweet little bantams.  There were only 3 Cochins there (standards?  A lot bigger than Dolley), the same number of standard Orpingtons, one Polish, a few Silkies, even though they are so popular, but lots and lots of Old English Game Birds, besides the mix of other breeds. 

I also unloaded found a new home for the one Orpington chick I knew was a male.  I was nearly positive, but as a novice, I asked around for someone who could help me tell for sure.  I was finally directed to a man - apparently with some expertise with the breed - who told me no doubt it was a cockerel.  He had a couple of boys with him, about 8 to 10 years old, one who especially seemed interested in the bird, so as I told the man my sob story about not being able to keep it, I said the boy could have it if he wanted it.  Dad said "Go get a cage," and the kid was off like a shot.... so the little boy chick is now living with a little boy in Tennessee.   Cute, and when I said to the little guy I hoped my bird was going to a good home, the little boy said with conviction, "oh, he is."   

I now have 2 in each coop - just right, if the mystery chick turns out to be a pullet.   The pullet I'm sure of is in with Abigail, and the "not quite sure" one is in with Dolley.  I'm willing to give that one some more time, since space is no longer an issue.  It's funny how each chick is being effected by the personality of the older girl in with it.  Abigail is quieter, and picky about what she eats, and the baby girl is following that example.  If her foster mom won't do it, neither will baby.  Dolley eats greens and other things Abigail won't touch, like yogurt, so her 'roomie' does too.  I gave Dolley and 'her' chick some yogurt yesterday and I should have gotten a photo of that!  Both with it smeared all over their faces like toddlers with ice cream cones! 

If I can get rested up and get some energy back, I'll take some photos and post about my fall garden next time.

From Wren Cottage.......

Saturday, September 10, 2011

There are some advantages... living in a townhouse.   1) I never have to mow the grass, and   2) when it's time to replace the roof, I don't have to bother with arranging that, it's just done for me.

The view out my kitchen window

Of course it's pretty noisy, with people walking on the roof, the scraping and then the nailing.  At the first unusual sound, all of the cats disappeared into whatever hidey-hole they have found for themselves.   The bunnies are unconcerned.  The chickens did a little frantic "the sky is falling, the sky is falling" skittering around, but settled down quickly and are now ignoring it. As for me, I'm going to escape to a CLUCK meeting for a few hours this afternoon.  A guest speaker is going to talk about feather condition and how it relates to overall health in chickens.     

Abigail is done with the mom thing.   Don't get me wrong, she is still a good mom to the chicks, she just isn't single-mindedly dedicated to them anymore.   One evening when the chicks were screaming and jumping all over her, I thought I detected that familiar harried look one sees on the faces of mothers of youngsters from time to time.  I took her out of the coop and put her on her favorite perch by the window, and could almost hear her sigh with relief. Those perch sessions have become more frequent, and she doesn't act all that eager to go back in with the young'uns. 

Abigail also started laying again this week.  While I wasn't getting eggs, I bought Chelsey's Eggs  at Good Foods.  After viewing a video (which I will NOT be posting here) of a commercial hatchery, I don't think I can ever eat grocery store eggs again.  These come from pastured chickens in Pleasureville, KY.  They are good and very big.  Sometimes the carton will hardly close.   Here is Abigail's egg next to one of the Chelsey ones - 

Store-bought egg on the left - Abigail's egg on the right
Not bad for a bantam, huh!

I split up the little family today.  There was a bit too much sparring going on, and one of the chicks looked like it was having some feathers picked out.   The coop is also getting a little crowded, since the chicks are nearly half the size of the hen now. I split up the two I think are boys, and put one in with Dolley.  After a couple of sharp pecks to let it know who's boss, she seemed to like the change.  Chickens are flock animals, and she has wanted to join the family all along.   This week Abigail actually let her join them in their cage for a little while!  That's how much she has mellowed out.
( I like the big round eyes on the Cochins)

The little one had some periods of peeping and pacing, but also settled down sometimes to scratch and peck in the litter.  I'm less sure this week that it's a cockerel than I was last week.  The comb  isn't growing and the wattles are barely there.  But then I look at the "girl," and she looks very different than the other two.......  See why I haven't named anyone yet?  I am so convinced of the girl though that I have been running through First Lady names, to see if one fits. There haven't been any takers on the feelers I've put out on the other two though.  I hope I have some time to find homes for them before one or both starts crowing or know.

My fall crops have really liked the rain and cool temps we had this week. It was perfect for germinating the seeds.  I haven't had anything to harvest for a while though - no tomatoes in over a week.  I had some San Marzanos I picked last week I hadn't done anything with yet, so I made a pan of these.  When I first the tasted them, the skins were very apparent, and I thought I might try to skin them first if I made them again.  I put them in a jar in the fridge rather than the freezer, since I didn't have that many, and this morning tossed some in the pan with my breakfast eggs.  Yum!!  Skins had softened and they just needed a bit of time to meld the flavors.  Today I made a batch of this.  It filled a quart jar with a little left over.  She's right.  It's so good I wanted to just sit down with a spoon and dig in.  I'm planning upcoming meals with this in mind as a topping.     

Sunday, August 28, 2011

This Week at Wren Cottage

Is it just me, or is it starting to seem like Fall?  It's still hot, but my garden is definitely looking fall-ish.

This week, out came the broken-down pole beans.  In went turnips, beets, and radishes. I still need to find a spot for lettuce.  I salvaged enough beans for a couple of servings, so not bad.   I tore off the ratty foliage remaining on the chard, and hope cool weather will bring another flush of leaves later.   The replacement basil and eggplant, and the bok choy are doing nicely.

This is one of the Comfrey plants, allowed to flower.

In real life, the little bell-like flowers look exactly the same shade as the Petunias planted beneath them

The "roma" tomatoes are slowing down.  I've been calling them Roma all this time, but I looked at the packet and they are "San Marzano."  Still a paste-type tomato.  I've got enough to fill the dehydrator again today.  I've already got lots dried for making "sun-dried" tomatoes.   This is one recipe  I want to try with them.  

The German Pinks are ripening and I LOVE them.  I hadn't tasted a tomato that tasted like the ones I had when I was young, since I left Ohio.  I thought it had something to do with the minerals in the soil - and it might - but this one really takes me back.   The plants don't produce many fruits, but the ones that are there are really big - 1 to 2 pounds.  Meaty, not many seeds, with tender skin - they are yummy!   I think I'll enjoy all of these fresh, and if there are leftover green ones at the end of the season, I found a recipe for a green tomato relish here .  I like that it is salty and tangy - the way tomatoes should be. 

I know I am in the minority on this subject, but two things that should never be said in the same breath, much less put in the same recipe are tomatoes, and sugar.  I know your Momma put just a teaspoon in her spagetti sauce "to take the acid out,"  but I'm sure every Nonna in Italy would blanch at the idea.  Tomatoes are meant to be tangy.  Ragu spagetti sauce (and others like it)  must be the most disgusting things ever put in a jar.  One of the primary ingredients is .....high fructose corn syrup.  blech!  (stepping down from soapbox and changing subject.....) 

Before I had to have a new muffler installed on my car  (which really needed to be done, but didn't fix the problem.  Now I'm thinking tune up / points and plugs)  I bought some more silk from Wooliebullie on Etsy. (and since she gave me a 20% off coupon when she sent my previous order)  The hankies are called "Veggie Tales," which is funny but true, since they are exactly those colors.  I'm not afraid of the really intense colors, because once they are drafted thin and/or mixed with something, it tones them down.

The roving at the top is called "Maple" and is spectacular. I want to just sit and look at it.  I have some brown Corriedale I can mix with Truffle's beige fiber, and either spin this separately and ply it, or card it in.  It would go a lot farther if I did the latter, but there's really a lot there for only weighing 2 oz.

Lastly, on the bottom right is .....something about Titania and Midsummer's Night's Dream... I can't remember the name exactly, taken from a painting the artist saw.   I wouldn't have thought to use those colors together (I rarely mix 'cool' and 'warm' colors) but I really like it.  That might go with my black Angoras - which produce mostly gray wool. 

Whatever I do, I will be sure to save some shreds in case we have someone doing a wet felting class at KSFF next Spring.  Now to figure out how to have my rabbit booth and take a class?

No real news about the chicks this week. Looking more and more like dinosaurs. I'm pretty convinced I only have 1 pullet and 2 roos.  If I'm right, anyone want a bantam buff Orpington rooster?  They are said to have nice, laid-back personalities......

Until next time, from Wren Cottage .......     

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sometimes life gets in the way

I thought I would be posting some photos of cute rabbits, amazing chickens and homely dairy goats from the State Fair today, but Friday as I drove to work, my muffler made an awful noise.  It's original to the car (16 years) so it's not surprising that it would go sometime.  The State Fair was out, Midas Muffler was calling my name for Saturday.   I looked under the car when I stopped and I don't know what made it start making noises right now.  Clearly it's been shot for a long time.  It looked like it had exploded.

I went to the computer to look up the number for Midas.....only to find I could not get connected to the Internet! (the phone books they leave on my stoop go straight to the recycle bin)  After trying all the usual things, I called the cable company (number is on the bill) and they said they could work me in the same day.  I hoped I could do both - computer fix and muffler, but the cable guy didn't come until 7:00 last night.  I found my router on my computer has also given out.  Thank God that was all.  One new router later (I'm sure I will get a bill and a new monthly charge from the cable company for installing and using their router) I'm back in business.  I can't blame the cable guy for making me hang around here all day - he was from Florence, called to Lex along with cable workers from all over the state, especially to help with the massive load of installations for UK students this weekend!

It seems Midas requires appointments for that kind of service anyway (no more walk-in like the old days) so I will rumble to work tomorrow and set something up.

OK, enough grumbling about the rumbling in my muffler  -

This was a fun experiment, but one I won't repeat.  What looks like a plate full of somewhat disgusting raw meat, is actually ..... nearly a whole watermelon, dehydrated.

It tastes great, with an intense watermelon flavor, chewy and very sweet.  I did it just because the books say it can be done.  The reason I won't repeat it is it took over three days to dehydrate.   I will stick to more practical things. I'm loving my dehydrated leeks, for example.  Just throw a tablespoon or two into something with a lot of liquid -  even canned potato soup - and it really gives it a great flavor. 

The chicks at three weeks are continuing to grow and feather out, and are approaching the 'alien' stage, where they are awkward and ugly.  I still have no idea what I have, males or females, and no one is getting a name until that is figured out.     

They are still very hard to get a photo of, since Abigail hates the camera and sends out the alarm call every time she sees it.  Here they look like geese (or cockrels!?!?), with their necks stretched up. 

They like to stand, lay (and poop) in the food bowl, and at least one has discovered the roosting pole! 

Well, setbacks and unexpected expenses - whether we can afford them or not  - are all a part of life and (urban)  farming. but we just aim to ......

Until next time, from Wren Cottage.......

Monday, August 15, 2011

Planting for Fall

I've started planting fall crops.  Since this is my first fall garden, it will be an experiment.  I may get some things, or nothing, but I hope to learn.  I got ruthless and pulled some things out so I could put others in.  Out came the squash plant that didn't produce one squash, and in went Brussels sprouts and cauliflower.  Two more of each of those went in tubs to see where they do better.  Turnips (to be harvested as 'baby' size), bok choy (ditto), and another planting of basil have gone in.  The basil is not a fall crop, and neither is eggplant, which I put in a couple of weeks ago, but if it's hot, like it usually is here in September, I may be able to get another crop in.  The original basil has been allowed to go to seed.

I can tell the days are getting shorter!!  Now if I go out to the garden in the evening, half of it is in shadow!  Maybe that is fueling my need to plant more crops before cold weather sets in.

There was a bean emergency here over the weekend!  Friday evening we had a thunderstorm which brought very little needed rain, but plenty of wind.  When I went out Saturday afternoon, I found my bean teepee had blown over and broken one of the poles.  Some plants were pulled out by the roots, and others plants mashed when the beans fell on them.  I propped up the beans as best I could on 2 poles by leaning it against the big rose, and covered the exposed roots with compost.  The beans have been disappointing again too.  This is my second year for pole beans - last year a heritage bean, and this year Kentucky Wonder. Lots of blossoms, but few beans.  There is no denying I get better yields with bush beans, but they take up so much room, and I don't know if they have non-hybrid varieties.  I will look next Spring.

One thing that is a huge success is the compost pile! (balance the 'browns' and 'greens') I got about 3 wheelbarrows full of finished compost over the weekend.  Since my townhouse neighborhood started offering recyling, it has been gratifying to see how many people use it, and between that and the kitchen stuff going to compost, it's amazing how long it takes my trash can to fill up!

I'm still running the dehydrator like crazy.  I dehydrated this big platter full of tomatoes - along with carrots and mushrooms - over the weekend, and still have plenty more tomatoes if I want to make sauce. (note to self: make Roma tomatoes a mainstay in the garden)  Of course the things I don't need much of, like hot peppers, are producing like crazy.  I've lost count of how many dozens of jalapenos I've dehydrated so far - many!  I powdered them in my coffee/spice grinder and it only came to 1/2 of a 1/2 pint jar!  I've got all the cayenne I will need for a long time too, so I can use that spot in the garden for something else next year.

The peeps are growing like weeds.  They were 2 weeks old last Friday, have doubled in size and are starting to feather out.  They do some really cute things.  They spar and chest bump, then freeze with their neck stretched out into a stare-down position.    

"You wanna piece 'a me?"

I hope that's not male-only behavior!  Dolley used to do it with the little roo who came her with her, though.  Abigail is a good mom, and will step between them to break it up.  One or the other always
'blinks' first and they wander away.  I wonder if that's why they call it playing 'chicken!?!' 

Saturday I found all 3 cuddled in their feed bowl, enjoying a sunbeam........but because of the 2.5 second delay in my shutter speed, I only got one. (still cute)  It has been hard to get photos of them all along.  They can really hear the tiny noises the camera makes and dive under or behind mom. 

Abigail used to let them sit on her back all the time - sometimes 2 at once.  She's weaning them from that now though.  When they hop up, she ducks her head or raises it while she ducks her bottom, so they slide off.  In the shot above one is about to get dumped.  Chick-watching is better than TV!

The KY State Fair has started, and this weekend is a 2-fer as far as I'm concerned.  Both rabbits and poultry are being shown then.  Sheep aren't until the next week. :( 

See you at the Fair!  From Wren Cottage.....     

Saturday, August 6, 2011

This and that

As much as I admire the many spinning friends who participated in Tour de Fleece 2011, I just didn't have the gumption for it.  Even with the longer days of summer, there are only a few hours after work each weekday, and mine have been taken up with gardening, putting up food, eggs and chicks.   I haven't even thought about spinning in ever so long. But, I found myself on Etsy  this week, and bought some dyed silk hankies to spin.

The colorway is called "Peony," and as you can see, they are shades of pink, peach, cream and spring green.  Since I tend to spin pretty fine anyway, I thought I would ply it together with some Cormo I bought at KSFF.  Very Spring-time colors, which may seem odd with Autumn approaching and the strong colors that go with it, but knowing me, it won't be done until Spring anyway.  

I've never spun silk before, unless it was blended with something else into roving. Years ago when I was in a spinning group, I remember Jane plying some silk with some cranberry-ish something she had, and it was beautiful.  That was before Jane left spinning and went to 'the other side.' You know, those who don't spin their yarn, but buy it.  ;)   

As for what has been keeping me so busy, I don't have any new chick pictures.  They have gotten used to the 'giant' lurking outside their coop, but every time I pull out the camera, Abigail 'bwaks' to them and they dive under her.  Silly girl.  As best I can tell, in my completely novice way, I have only one pullet and two cockerels.  The feather-sexing wasn't too successful.  They're just too small.  But I also read the females feather out a lot faster than the males.  One definitely has more going on with her (?) wing feathers than the other two, and they are pretty much alike. All still adorable - and I'm hoping I'm wrong about the 'boys.'

Dolley is getting more attention, and is developing a routine. She wants to perch on the towel-covered  arm of the couch each evening until dusk.  I'm sure it's because she can better see everything that's going on from that vantage point.  No eggs from her yet - and she can't even use the heat as an excuse.  She's at least 6 months old now, but others on Backyard Chickens are moaning they have Cochin girls over 8 months old and not laying yet! 

I picked (and ate) my first green beans from the garden this week.  I'm picking a dozen tomatoes off my Roma plants every 2 or 3 days. I have some replacement eggplant growing, and later this month and in Sept. I'm going to to be putting in some fall garden plants.  I want to try turnips again, Brussels sprouts, maybe broccoli, garlic, lettuce and radishes.   Try as I might, I can't find any winter onions other than the kind that only produce scallions. I must be the only person in the world who can't grow radishes.  Mine in the Spring have been a bust every year.  Maybe they will do better in fall. 

My dehydrator has hardly stopped.  For reasons I've mentioned before, I only can a couple of things, and freeze very little.  I'm drying everything I can get my hands on - Roma tomatoes (for home-made 'sun dried' tomatoes) onions, leeks, zucchini  and summer squash (from the Farmer's Market) bell and hot peppers, Bing cherries, carrots, celery, corn (I found a recipe for dried-corn soup) , mushrooms and more.  I bought some watermelon to make and can watermelon rind pickles, and I want to try dehydrating some of the watermelon.

Some 'sweet' banana peppers I bought at the Farmer's Market were NOT, and since I had been processing them with bare hands, my hands burned like fire for hours. They were even tender the next day. Between the hot banana peppers, and the jalapenos and cayenne that are growing like crazy in the garden, I have plenty of hot stuff.  Thinking ahead to Christmas, I want to do some herb and spice mixes with some of this dried produce I have, and put them inside cards for 'work' gifts. 

This has reminded me I'd better get back at it.  Busy as a Wren Cottage.