Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Very Nice Afternoon

Yesterday, friend Delores Tucker and I went to Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill  (known locally as Shakertown) for one of their "Christmas Teas."  Of course anyone familiar with Shakertown knows how beautiful the buildings and grounds are.   They were decorated subtly and naturally for the season, but I had to think that those decorations were for us today and the Germanic and decidedly un-Shaker adornments would have been unknown to the residents in the early 1800's.

The teas are held in the Trustee's house, where the hotel and restaurant are.   

At the base of one of the famous twin spiral staircases, there was a beautiful - if un-Shaker - tree decorated and lit with fairy lights.

It was gorgeous, sitting at handcrafted cherry drop-leaf tables on ladderback chairs in the spare but beautiful room.  They brought tea, scones, then country ham biscuits, cheddar pecan wafers (everything was tiny - this was a tea after all), then tea sandwiches of country ham spread, chicken salad and pimento cheese, then date bread, pound cake and cranberry muffins.  Then, as if that weren't enough, there was dessert!  Lemon bars, chocolate turnovers and peppermint meringues.

photo by Delores Tucker

We rolled out of there - staggering a bit from the sugar high - and made our way on over to the Craft shop.   We actually went there both before and again after tea, because there was something I wanted that I had forgotten to buy earlier. Both times we were greeted outside the door by friendly cats, who had the uncanny knack of posing for the perfect photo until the instant you were ready to click the shutter - then they would walk away.  

photo by Delores Tucker 

It was a very gray and rainy day, but the rain stopped while we were there.  It wasn't too cold, and made for very pleasant walking around the grounds.  We saw some of the cattle and 'took a turn' (tea was making me feel very Jane Austenish) around their herb garden, still producing, even this late in the season.

On the way home, we discovered a "bulk foods" store - Kountry Kupboard - on Hwy 127 outside Harrodsburg.  It reminded us so much of our trip a couple of years ago to Amish country in northern Ohio, and as then, we came home with bags of food for very little money.

Shopping, eating (in an incredible setting), shopping, driving through beautiful countryside, shopping (for more eating) ....... my idea of a LOVELY afternoon.

Monday, December 3, 2012

New baby

Sara has her new baby Maisie, but I've got a new 'baby' at my house too.  On Friday,  the Woodford County Humane Society posted this on Facebook:

Now, who could not fall in love with this!!!!  I tried to talk myself out of it - it's Christmas time, of course they are going to show the really appealing animals, I have plenty (some would say too many) of pets already, and on and on.  In the end I could not talk myself out of it, made the call and went over to meet her.  She is a Chihuahua/Jack Russell mix. I have never liked Chihuahuas and although Jacks are cute - I tend to think of both breeds as 'crazy,' hyper, yappy and all things negative. She turned out to be the complete opposite. 

This girl was not the least interested in cats or other dogs, did not bark, and though she looks so sad in this photo (her "come and take me home" face) is very sweet, carries her ears perked up and is SUCH a love sponge.  So...........she is now mine.  They called her Prancer (the incoming animals were getting Christmasy names) and I thought I would keep it....but now it doesn't seem to fit her.    I've been trying on names with her and haven't found one that seems the right fit yet.   Poppy?   Sophie?  Trinket?   'Have any suggestions? 

She fit right in from the first minute.  She tells me when she needs to go out, and there was no question of her sleeping with me - she claimed her spot on the bed first thing.  When she gets cold, she dives under the covers.  On her first full day, she went with me to the open house/sale at Sweet Home Spun .  She travelled several hours in the car like a trouper and was the delight of the party.   

The cats are over their initial interest, and now share the couch/bed/chair with her wherever she is - not snuggling, but no problems. She and the buns are fine with each other, and she completely ignores the chickens. 

What a lovely Christmas present!! 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Would you have been ready?

I post occasionally about emergency preparedness here, and this seems a good time to do it again.  

I love this blog, and her emergency-prep post is a particularly good commentary on things people didn't have - or overlooked - during the Sandy disaster:

Personally, I had a couple of long conversations with a friend whose son lives on the Lower (East?) Side of Manhattan, and just had power restored after several days without.  They still had water, and a gas stove, so two requirements were met, and they were better off than many. Some of the things they discovered:

  • How dependent most everyone is now on their cell phones for communication.   What do you do once the battery is dead?  Tops on their list, a hand-crank device that will re-charge a cell phone.  There are a lot of them out there, many as part of a ratio/light/recharger combo. 
  • Speaking of a radio - my friend discovered during the last ice storm - that the only radio she has is ........on her cell phone.  Add a battery and/or hand-crank radio to the list.   
  • How about a battery clock?   Do you have one? If you wear a watch it's no problem, or do you rely .......on your cell phone?  (pattern emerging) 
  • Light?  Her son only had some candles in NY.  In an earthquake zone, kerosene lamps may not be a good idea, but there are lots of battery-operated  LED lanterns available.    
  • How about a supply of batteries on hand for these things?  Try to be uniform in the supplies you acquire, and look for things that all take the same sized battery, such as AA.   You can also find hand-crank chargers for re-chargeable batteries.
  • Food - the grocery nearest them stayed open via generator.  He said they made them line up outside, an attendant at the door would take their 'order,' and bring the groceries to them at the door.  What if you don't live within walking distance from a store.  Do you have some basics stored?  Enough to last you several days? 
  • Cash?  All the ATMs were down due to the power outage and after a few days he began to run out of cash to buy what they needed.  The most heartwarming part of the story was that some friends who own restaurants loaned him some cash to tide him over.   Not what I expected in NY, but apparently every neighborhood is like a little town.   If you live in town, how about your neighborhood?   There is no way to know how people will react in an emergency, but are you prepared to share what you have stored with those around you? Or are you expecting them to take care of you?   I had someone say that to me once.  She saw no reason to prepare for herself.  She said "I'll come to your house, since you have everything..."      
The link under the photo above is based on the FEMA preparedness list, which is included in that blog post. The cabinet in the photo looks a little sparse to me, but it's a start.  If you feel you don't have room to store stuff, everyone can do something.   My friend's son plans to, and he lives in what amounts to a studio apartment. 

Think about it......... 

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fall Fantasy

I don't do halloween.  I know some people love it, but I don't, so there.

However, I LOVE the Autumn, and all that goes with it. I saw this photo posted on Facebook today by the "Tiny House Blog," both as a joke (just how tiny can tiny houses be?)  and also as a tip of the hat to the season.

The first thing I thought of though was, "wouldn't that be great to make by needle felting?"


Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Updated Blog List

I don't know about you, but the best way I have found to discover new, interesting blogs is to cruise the blog lists of like-minded friends.

For ages my blog list seemed 'broken.'  I couldn't add any, the ones I had added after my initial list was made didn't show.......  For some reason, the little widget was working today, so I took the opportunity to add a few, hide a few more, and generally did a little house-cleaning.  (now if I would get off this computer and do some cleaning of my real house!!!!)

My blog-reading list is a lot longer than the ones that I show here.   Some don't post very often, or have political overtones - like food preservation sites that are a little too apocalypse-minded.   The ones I have chosen to show are a nice cross section of fiber, friends and food blogs I hope you find as interesting as I do.    

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Pickled Garlic

SO much garlic!  "You must really like it, or you must really like "pickling."  Yes to both.

Garlic is so abundant and priced right now, I just couldn't help but take advantage of sales, and add to what's left of the 17 heads of my own garlic I harvested earlier in the summer.  Now what to do with it?

There are many ways to preserve garlic - by freezing, in oil, but "pickling" (really fermenting, my new favorite way to preserve food) seems the way to go for me.  1. It's so easy.  2.  It only mellows the taste, doesn't really change it.  3. I'll have pre-peeled garlic cloves ready at any time to smash, slice or mince into a recipe.  4. I don't have to can it.  5. It won't take up any of my miniscule freezer space.

During the process, I found the easiest way to peel garlic (by far!) is to blanch it - dunk it in boiling water for 30 seconds or so, then into ice water.  Squeeze the root end, and it pops right out of the skin!  I was shooting them all over the kitchen until I got the hang of it.  The having pre-peeled garlic at the ready is the most appealing aspect of this, I think.

You could eat the cloves as-is once they are fermented, for the health benefits.  To each his own.  I put a lot of garlic cloves in when I make pickles, and I have found those are very good to eat 'raw.'  (did I mention I live alone?)

Put the cloves in a jar, cover with salted water, stopper the top, and leave in a dark place for a month, then into the fridge, where it will keep for at least a year. It's as easy as that.   For those who want a bit more detail in their instructions, try this site:   I don't have one of the fancy jars she mentioned, nor do I use whey.  I just use a canning jar, with a baggie of water in the top of the jar to weigh the cloves down.  

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bringing in the Harvest

If it is true that "In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love," then Autumn is the time when old women's thoughts turn to bringing in the harvest!! I do a little canning, almost no freezing, and I'm interested in other forms of food preservation.

I know, I know, it's been a very long time since I have posted anything, but this summer was the pits. At least a month of 100 degree temps decimated the garden, and work was a bear, taking up all of my emotional energy.

Now that we've had a month of cooler (and sometimes downright chilly) temps and some blessed rain, anything in the garden that wasn't ruined has bounced back.

I pulled up the San Marzano tomatoes today, not because they are done, but because I need the room to put in some fall/winter plants. I got almost nothing off those tomato plants all summer, but when I pulled them out, they were packed with green tomatoes. I will let some ripen inside to use later, and some will go into green tomato salsa.   I think I post this every year.  So does the Farmgirl, as it turns out.   One of the comments on the post also suggested roasting the green tomatoes (!!) with sweet potatoes.

In a repeat of last year's "haul" photo, this is what I got off my 4 plants.  Enough to fill a 5 gallon bucket.


The Corno de Toro peppers (there is a red pimento pepper peeking out of the background) need just a little more ripening.  The "sun side" is ripe, but the "shade side" is still green.  These are OK, but an improvement over banana peppers?   I don't know.  I might try both next year to test them side-by-side.   

Another reason for pulling out the paste tomatoes is to give my favorite German Pinks as much sun as possible, Hoping to ripen these babies on the vine.  

It's hard to appreciate how large these are in this photo.  I have at least a dozen 1 to 2 lb. tomatoes still on the plants. German Pinks are a very late/fall variety.  There is just no getting around that.  It doesn't matter how early the seedlings are started or when they are set out, this plant will only produce the occasional tomato until September.  They can go until frost kills the vines.  Then the green tomatoes are still fine to bring in and ripen.   The lady who gave me these said her family did that every year, and have had fresh tomatoes as late as Thanksgiving!!    
My dehydrator has been going day and night for a couple of weeks. I bought the peppers in the photo below at the local farmer's market.

I have dried peppers, zucchini and yellow squash, but my favorite thing to dry this fall - is greens!  I only occasionally eat greens cooked by themselves.  I prefer them in something  - think any recipe with the word "Florentine" in the title. Any greens can be dried - spinach, kale, chard, turnip get the idea.  I dry mine on the lowest temperature available, to preserve as much of the nutritional value as possible.   Dehydrating maven Mary Bell suggests powdering them after drying, which is fine, but I like to just lightly crush them into flakes with my hands before storing. They can then be added to any dish while cooking  - soups, stews, rice, couscous, pasta - they would be especially good in veggie lasagna.    

Another favorite is to buy fresh mushrooms on sale at the store then slice and dry those.  They dry especially well.  When reconstituting, the liquid makes a great mushroom stock, and they are good in so many things too - like that veggie lasagna. (do you sense a trend here?)

My other new way of preserving is fermenting. Yes, the experiment I talked about in my long-ago previous post went very well, and I have fermented many things since then!


I love these pickles!!!!!! They taste very different from vinegar-preserved pickles, and they are so freakin' easy to make!!  I have also done radishes, which I liked a lot  -

fermented radishes at the beginning:

photo credit:

And when they're done -


I just wanted to show you that the fermenting processes draw the red out of the radish skins, turning the radish white, and the liquid pink.  It looks a little weird, but tastes good!!  I also made 6 quarts of sauerkraut, which are in bags in the freezer.  I tasted it as I was bagging it, and I think it will be very good.

I didn't like broccoli at all, and I'm not fond of the cauliflower I fermented.   I made beet kvass  (how-to here: ) which is the liquid drawn off fermented beets.'s an acquired taste...I don't dislike it, but it is different.  It is so good for you though, I keep taking a swig now and then.

I made preserved lemons.  The instructions I had called the ones with added spices Moroccan lemons, and the plain ones Italian.   I made plain.

photo credit and how-to here:

Since I had to use lots of fresh lemons to get enough juice (unlike the photo above the lemons have to be covered with liquid) I peeled the zest (no pith) off the leftover lemon rinds, I'm steeping them in vodka, and will soon be making my own Limoncello.  I'm doing the same with Bing cherries to make homemade Kirsch.

What are YOU preserving this fall, and how? 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Who knew??

I am just as ignorant about food as the next person. I was listening to a report on NPR about someone who was trying to re-create her Grandmother's pickles, with no success. As she read off the recipe, I thought to myself "there's no vinegar in that recipe." Little did I know that real dill/sour pickles are fermented in a salty, herby brine, not canned in vinegar. Who knew?

I don't have enough cucumbers from my wee patch to make a batch, but my local Farmer's Market was my source for a few pounds of pickling cucumbers, and I have everything else here: kosher salt, peppercorns, along with dill, garlic - and maybe a dash of hot pepper - from my garden. I even have a small wild grapevine to provide me with the supply of tannin (leaves) to keep the pickles crispy. So. I'm going to give it a try.

I've been on the internet looking up recipes and instructions. Here are a couple of the good ones:

If it works well, I may try other veggies. I'll keep you posted. 

We've gotten a little blessed rain in the last few days. My frequent watering (I'm afraid to open the water bill) kept things alive, but it was just too hot to set fruit, especially on the tomatoes: "Daytime temperatures above 90°F and night temperatures above 70°F result in reduced flowering and fruit set. There is considerable evidence that night temperature is the critical factor in setting tomato fruit, the optimal range being 59° to 68°F." - source, Cooperative Extension Service. But now that the temps have cooled a little, I am noticing more blossoms.

I picked my first San Marzano tomatoes today, and half of those had blossom end rot. I worked lime into the soil when I planted them, so I am blaming the weather. Nothing wasted though, with the bad end cut off, they were a treat for the chickens.

Little Seraphina is getting better!!!! She has got movement and some strength in her bum leg, and with just a little support from me, she can stand! She has no balance though, and if she tries to stand herself, she falls over. That makes her mad, she squawks, and just keeps trying. She is determined to get better. I am really surprised her sisters don't pick on her, but they are very accepting. The "Mean Girls," Abigail and Gracie were mean to her (and all the Cochins) before, and still are though.

Getting 1 or 2 eggs every day. :)

Holly and Niko got plucked/clipped during the hot weather (even though they are inside and are nice and cool in the a/c) Niko peeled off the whole lower half of his coat to the skin, only needing to be sheared on top. Talk about looking like a rat! Holly was the opposite, plucked bald over her whole back. She turned on her "tude" before I could clip the rest. She was wasn't having it! She was done! So she has looked like a mushroom since. Maybe I'll give her another try today..........after I make pickles.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Heat is on!

This is the time of year that I don't like to go outside, unless it's early morning or late evening.  It's just too darned hot!   I am thankful that so many of my growing veggies and herbs are heat lovers though.  Without all this heat, our tomatoes would be, well, those icky pale things you buy in the store.

If it's possible, I think I've used even more of my small space this year for growing things than ever before.  There is a pot on every step, mostly tomatoes and onions.   At the top is a tall trashcan with potatoes.   They were an afterthought.  I had not intended to have potatoes this year, but found some of my home-grown ones sprouted in the bottom of the fridge, so .........  At the bottom of the steps are big tubs on the right, one with leeks, and another with a bush-form of acorn squash.   On the left is a comfrey (medicinal) plant, that has been cut back many times already this year.  The leaves really make compost break down quickly, and if 'stewed' in a covered bucket, the liquid at the bottom can be used (diluted) as a wonderful fertilizer!  

I'm in danger of having so much room taken by plants, that there is no room for me on the deck!    Pictured behind the flowers are a pot with two varieties of cucumber, a bush form and lemon cucumber. Also basil, dill, thymes, a tomato and two pots with lavender sharing with cousin rosemary as well as sage.   Two varieties of eggplant out of the photo on the left are going gangbusters, as well as two planters of bush beans.   

There is no question that tomatoes in the ground do better than the ones in pots, but the potted ones are producing some fruit too, and that is the important thing.

One side of my potager.  Tons of stuff growing there.  Broccoli, peppers, carrots, tomatoes, chard, onions, garlic, turnips and more. I'll admit it.  Times are uncertain.  I'm planting more because I have more sense of urgency to do it - even though I couldn't begin to feed myself completely from my efforts, every little bit helps. 

Lest anyone think my backyard is only for plants.......  

On the drying rack under the deck is Bramble's fleece.  Bramble is from Boulderneigh  in Oregon, a small farm where they are also used to making the most of limited space.  They keep a garden, chickens, horses, a pony, dogs, at least one cat, and a small flock of Shetland sheep, all on about 5 acres, I think. The fleece is lovely browns and beiges, although it looks gray in this photo.  Michelle seemed concerned I might not like it, since it is the least fine of her sheep.  Not to worry, soft and fine are relative terms, and even though she's got sheep that are softer and finer, this one is yummy to me!

I've got half  of Bess's fleece soaking in the washing machine.  Bess comes from Tanglewood Farm, and her fleece really is the lustrous brown/black as it looks in the photo (link to Bess's name).   I'm not sure what it is about that fleece.  It has something I've never experienced before in a fleece.  Body, maybe?  I just know that when I washed the first half, when  I gathered it up into may arms, it would just sproing right back when I would lay it down again.  I wanted to hug it !!!! 

Washing a fleece in a washing machine is a big deal for me.   I heard other 'sheepy' friends talk about it, but I just never had the nerve.  So, for years I have been messing with small batches in lingerie bags in the sink, in Rubbermaid tubs in the bathtub..........many sloppy, inefficient methods to wash a fleece.  This weekend - I don't know why I decided to risk it - with two fleeces I like so much, - but I filled the tub on 'wash' with hot water, turned it off, added Dawn dish washing detergent (which I have always used, although it has it's detractors) and added the fleece,  letting it sink into the water.  After a while, I turned the washer button to "Spin," which drained the washer without agitating the fleece, and spun the excess water out of it.  (I had used the spin part before).    I repeated to rinse. - using as many washes and rinses as necessary.   No muss, no fuss, no felting,  and it did a beautiful job.   Why, oh why have I been doing it the hard way all these years?  

What about the other animals on the Wren Cottage homestead?   The rabbits and cats are lying low, the rabbits loving the air conditioning the cats seeking out any patch of sun they can to bake in.  (crazy animals)  On the chicken front, it's good news/ bad news. Nearly all of the girls started laying last weekend.  It's about time for the hens - they should have been laying long before this.  As for Nigella and Jasmine, the new Cochins, they have begun laying,  at six months - 2 or 3 months earlier than Dolley did.

The third pullet, Seraphina,  is a sad case.   A month or so ago, she began to limp noticeably.  I checked her thoroughly, and  couldn't find any sign of injury or bumblefoot (my first thought).  After limping for two days, on the third day, she was down and the leg was paralysed.  She still has movement from the hip, but the leg and foot are  definitely lifeless.  It's warm, so there is circulation.  The other leg has movement, and sometimes she flails around like she is trying to stand, but she doesn't seem to be able to coordinate it to stand (even if I hold her up) or try to hop on one leg.   My best guess is she had a stroke, or was pecked on the head (I did find the tiniest bit of blood on her comb) so hard she got a brain injury.   (that's what I work around all day, so that's the way I think)   

So what do you do with a handicapped chicken?   I know perfectly well what most people would do, but I could not, will not, take an animal and kill it with my bare hands, say what you will.  She eats and drinks well, (I feed her separately so I can watch her and make sure she gets adequate food and water)  seems chirpy and perky, and scoots around in her own way.  She doesn't seem to be suffering at all, and still enjoys cuddling together with her sisters at bedtime.  (they have always preferred that to roosting)   I just make sure her vent area stays clean, and make her as comfortable as I can, wondering how I could make a little leg brace or 'walker' for her. 

Before you think I've gone completely 'round the bend, I'll leave it there. 

That's the latest news from ......Wren Cottage.   

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Where have I been?

OK, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth.....

The last couple of months, things have been intense at work, and it probably won't ease up through the summer.  Once I get home, take care of the livestock and tend the garden a bit, that's about all I have left, and I  just fall into bed - just like most other farmers who work off the farm.  :-)   For anyone who longs for farm life, that's the reality, even for an urban farm.

I'm enjoying every minute though.   My planting is nearly done.  About the only thing I have left to do is another planter of bush beans, which will go in after the peas are done, and another go at dill. The first planting didn't germinate. I just don't have the room for pole beans.  Last year they made an amazing amount of foliage for no more beans than I got, so I'm going back to bush beans in planters on the deck.  I have some 'Hericote Vert" coming up now, and will plant "Tenderpod" later.

I harvested the last of the beets yesterday.   I've decided I'm still not wild about beets, although they are OK roasted with other root vegetables.  I love beet greens though!  I never liked greens (read spinach only, during my northern upbringing).  Even after moving south, all the cornbread in the world couldn't make up for the 'slime' factor of greens boiled to death with a ham bone.   Then I discovered how to wilt down the greens in a skillet with a little olive oil and garlic (maybe onion),  YUM!!

My other "I don't like that vegetable" experiment this year is peas.  'English' peas here, to differentiate from the other things called peas, like blackeyed - actually a bean.  Mine have pods and are filling out - though the brutal heat this weekend has me worried.  I pulled off a couple of pods the other day and ate the baby peas raw........ they were exquisite!  I think I would like them best fresh in a salad rather than cooked though.    

New for me are cucumbers, acorn squash, and leeks ......which must be the slowest growing things in the world.   I put them in in March, and they are only the thickness of a pencil lead.

Mentally going around the garden, this is what I have planted, besides those already mentioned:


  • German Pink
  • San Marzano 
  • Yellow Pear

  •  Kamo - regular globe type 
  • Little Finger  - long, oriental
Onions -  large and scallions 
Carrots - Red Chantenay 
Blueberry - Duke, just beginning to ripen 
Strawberries - 2 unknown varieties, both everbearing and June bearing. 
  • Bushmaster
  • Lemon 
Peppers (all sweet this year) 
  • yellow bell
  • pimento
  • Corno de Toro (long, stuffing type) 
Turnips - both white and purple-top 

And this doesn't include the perennial plants and herbs.   Not bad for such a small space!! 

The roses were pretty but very early this year, and short lived in the warm weather. June is still a week away, and the roses are all done!    

This really should be two (or three) posts, but since I've let it go so long.....

Last week was the Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival  - our 3rd year.  I am SO glad it was last weekend, instead of this one.  The temps weren't  nearly as bad as this scorching weekend, and for once we avoided having a thunderstorm!  I took my camera, and didn't take one picture!!!    Anyone reading this who has not been to KSFF, will just have to content themselves with the photos they will post on the website of this year's festival.   My set-up was super easy and the same as I have done every year.

We had some new vendors, including people who were just visitors previously!  One was Fiber Crazy Studio.and Rabbitry , who also had Angora rabbits.   I met Ben last year, when he brought by a blue Junior English doe by for me to see.  Some of his foundation stock came from the same Rabbitry as mine, Somerhill Farm, so he was happy to see my Holly and Ivy - Aunties to some of his bunnies. Since he had lots of products (and rabbits) to sell, I didn't bother bringing anything.  I did my usual talk promoting the rabbits as an alternative fiber animal, especially for city folks, and if they wanted a bunny, yarn or fiber to spin, I would send them over to him.  It worked great.  New bunny owners got a packet of info from me and a member application for the United Angora Rabbit Club!

Even for us who show, it's still about the shopping!   I bought a burl cherry wood Nostepinne  (ballwinder) from Sistermaide.  Do I need such a thing?  Of course not, but I've always been a sucker for hand-made, hand-turned, beautiful wood items (that's why I have several hand-spindles I rarely use).  She sells at shows and on Etsy, as do a number of our vendors, so you can buy from them all year round!

I also bought some black alpaca/wool blend roving, and a skein of hand-dyed olive green alpaca/wool blend from Dianne at Tanglewood Farm. (thank you so much for the bonus!!!!)  To give you an idea of the quality of Dianne's wool, she took Champion Fleece, both this year and last year (which I bought!) at the Festival!  She has been breeding sheep for a long time, blending breeds to get optimum wool for the spinner and knitter, and her results are fantastic. She usually shows at the KY Wool Fest in Falmouth KY each year also, so if you're in the area in October, her booth is not to be missed.

That's all for now from Wren Cottage......


Sunday, April 8, 2012

And Then There Were Five.......

Bringing the new pullets home Friday brought my total number of chickens to 6 - a number manageable only because they are bantams, and so small.


Dolly was fine yesterday morning, but by early afternoon was very sick, with labored breathing and, much  more than lethargy - she couldn't hold her head up and only opened her eyes a couple of times. I immediately put everyone on Sulmet in their water, and began forcing some down Dolly with a syringe.  She was much worse by last night, and this morning when I got up, she was gone.  (None of the other birds are showing any symptoms)

To be fair, she had a bout with something similar, but less severe,  about 2 or 3 weeks ago, and snapped out of it overnight on the Sulmet - which I kept everyone on for a week after that.   When the new birds came in, they went right into a quarantine cage, and I practiced rigorous 'hand hygiene."  (I do work in a hospital, after all)   I don't believe in coincidences, so I figure she either picked up a virus they brought in, especially if she was in a weakened condition from her earlier symptoms, or something regenerated her illness from before.

But why is it always your favorite?

She was quite a little character, and will be missed.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Three French Hens

Actually, they are asian (all Cochins), and they are pullets, not hens....but you get my drift.

With the rooster gone, I had room in my coops for at least one more chicken.  I went to Wildwood Aviary in Indiana yesterday.  I knew I would be picking up one or two Cochin pullets (which in my heart, I knew meant two for sure) .  When I let her know I was definitely interested in one of her birds, Twila had picked out one for me with a really cute personality, since she knows that's what I like.

(photo courtesy Wildwood Cochins)  

Her pick for me was Jasmine.   Jasmine's color is called 'Calico,' and is a new development among the Cochin breeders. 

This is Twila's main breeding barn.  She has a separate building where she keeps the babies and juveniles. She also has a great interest in gardening, so her place is very pretty with ponds, waterfalls, and various 'living lawn ornaments." 

When it came time to pick another, Twyla said she would be giving me that one, to make up for my "losses' the last time I bought from her.  One of the babies I got then turned out to be a rooster and had to be re-homed, and the other (Dolly) is OK herself,  but is a carrier for a disorder, and should never be bred.  

Like a kid in candy store.......  Twyla breeds many different colors of bantam Cochins, and they are all so pretty.   I narrowed it down to a Lavender (aka self-blue) and Jasmine's sister, another Calico.   It was so hard to you know how it turned out!  I came home with all three.  That's how 'chicken math' works - you go for one, and come home with several.   

 My friend Delores who took the "road trip" with me was no help - she kept whispering "take all three, take  all three."  ........Enabler.  

This is Jasmine's and the other sister's Mom and Dad - the  two Calicos on the left.   The third of the breeding trio  - the one with  more brown and black, is called a 'mille fleur.'  I don't care for that color/pattern much because I think it's too 'busy.' 

Here are the new girls minutes after getting home.   The Lavender in the center is really much lighter than she appears here - more of a silver-gray. 

Everyone seems happy, but even though they were in a large coop at Wildwood with about 12 other birds, and didn't pay attention to each other there, the two sisters are very bonded here, and are shoving the other one off by herself.  The pecking order is working itself out, and I'm hoping after quarantine, the lonesome one can find herself a friend.  In the meantime, she is the friendliest one toward me - more than Jasmine who was picked for her personality!   

Jasmine may keep her name, especially if she responds to it.   For the Lavender girl, I think I will use Martha again (the little rooster was Martha - briefly - last Spring) both for Martha Washington, and also for long-suffering Martha in the Bible, since the others are rejecting her.  I'll have to work on a "First Lady" name for the second little Calico. 

Welcome to Wren Cottage, girls!! 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Starting the Garden

I have taken a couple of days off work and since today and tomorrow are supposed to be optimal days for planting root crops I hoped to get some good garden time in.  Yesterday was so warm and sunny here that I began preparing the garden bed and the pots on the deck for planting.   A little Wren came by to perch on the deck rail and watch me for a while.

Most of the garden was covered with this - Dead Nettle.  I pulled and dug - it's surprisingly tenacious.  The rake and hoe didn't remove it.   I found a couple of leftover beets and onions from last year, and some Chervil had reseeded.  Today, I got some more beets in before it started to rain. 

I'm hoping it will stop raining so I can put in white turnips, carrots and several kinds of radishes, but in the meantime, I'm starting seeds indoors.  Here is how I do mine.  At Wren Cottage I repurpose things almost as often as I recycle.  The cat litter I use comes in big plastic jugs. 

Not very 'green' but they don't like the kinds that come in bags.   I recycle most of them, but they also are very useful in the garden.  When I'm ready to start seeds, cut the top off:        

Then slit the corners down about 2 inches, like so, so the top will push back onto the bottom  ...... and use the bottom of the jug to start seeds.

I happened to have some "Jiffy' seed starting disks on hand, but you could also fill the bottom part of the jug with seed starting mix.  

I soaked the disks in warm water to expand them, then - because they are waterlogged - I allowed them to drain.    Add the seeds to the expanded disks, then return them to the jug. 

The top keeps the cats out, and with the cap off, extra moisture can escape. A tip sheet from a seed supplier I bought from said to sprinkle cinnamon on the soil to battle or prevent 'damping off' - the biggest threat to seeds started indoors.

By cutting bottom off of the jugs instead of the top, they make great cloches for covering seedlings freshly set in the garden.  I have a lot of trouble with Robins in the Spring, biting off or pulling out my seedlings, but these really do the job at allowing the seedlings to grow large enough for the birds to leave them alone.  

Not all things need to be started.  These strawberries never completely died back, and now are growing back like gangbusters.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Reverse Chicken Math

You know chicken math - you go looking for one of something and come home with five - sometimes not even what you were looking for?  Well....I went to a poultry swap in Paris KY this morning, and found a new home for my rooster!!!!   I didn't even get the cage onto the the ground before a man and a teen aged boy came over to ask about him.  While we were talking, two young girls came up.   I was explaining how I had raised Francis from an egg, how he had always been handled and never been aggressive, when the girls started saying "can we have him Papaw, pleeeeeease?"   I questioned them all carefully, made sure they have other chickens, were experienced chicken keepers, and what kind of home he would have.  In the end we  all got the deal we wanted - I was sad, but relieved, too. 

Goodbye, sweet prince! 

One of the ladies in CLUCK bought her bantam Cochins from a man who brings them to this swap, and I was hoping he would be there, but he wasn't, and no one else had Cochins.  There was nothing else there I wanted, or at another swap in Winchester I stopped at on the way home.   I actually came home empty-handed!!  With Francis gone, I now have room for at least one more girl, but I'll have to keep looking.  

From a sadder, quieter Wren Cottage .....

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Home-made "Beauty" Products - and More

I have made a few different 'home-mades' recently that I like, and wanted to share.   There are many websites and blogs that give directions for these, so it's hard to know who to credit: 

Home-made lip balm
I really like this one.  This recipe makes enough for twelve 'chapstick' tubes.  I used 3 - 2 oz. jars, purchased at Good Foods Co-op , and an empty small mint tin for a purse-pack.   If you prefer tubes, they, along with some of the ingredients, can be purchased here - Mountain Rose Herbs.               

What You'll Need:

2 tablespoons beeswax (about 1 oz) 
(note - beeswax pastilles are far easier to use and measure than grating beeswax bars)
2 tablespoons coconut oil
2 tablespoons shea butter

12 lip balm containers - or equivalent  in jars
A dropper ( I used a teaspoon to fill my jars) 

What to Do:

1. Melt coconut oil and shea butter, in a small pan over low heat. Add beeswax melting the ingredients together. Add your essential oils here.

2. Using a small medicine dropper, pour the melted liquid into your lip balm containers. Add a few extra drops to the top after filling each container as the ingredients will shrink as they cool.

3. Cool completely to harden. Cover with cap and decorate or label if you'd like.

Homemade Body Butter

1/2 cup shea butter
1/2 cup coconut oil (unrefined)
1/4 cup apricot or almond Oil
2 tsp grated beeswax
Vitamin E oil (1 capsule)

Stir all ingredients except vitamin E over low heat until melted.  A double boiler (a glass or metal bowl set over a pan)  helpful.  As it cools but is still pourable, whip with a whisk several times to incorporate some air and keep it soft and spreadable. Pour into a jar.  (I filled one 8 oz jar)  You could also add herbs or essential oils if you want.

Coconut oil as a makeup remover and moisturizer
If you are not familiar with coconut 'oil,' it is a food oil, and can be found in any 'health-food' or well-stocked grocery store.  Solid white at room temperature, it has an extremely low melting point, and liquefies instantly at body temperature. 
I bought waterproof mascara by mistake, and went to the internet a to look for a natural way to remove it, without having to go to the store. Many places recommended olive oil, and I know it is supposed to be good, but when I saw one place recommend coconut oil, I thought I would try that. I worked great.  I don't use foundation makeup, but it is highly recommended as a makeup remover and general moisturizer.

 I also bought some coco butter when I bought my shea butter.  It is tan in color, smells strongly chocolaty, which may be good in some things, but since I don't want to go around all day smelling like a Hershey bar, I prefer the shea butter. 

By using natural products when we can, we know what is in the product.  My Mountain Rose ingredients are far from local, but they are unrefined, organic, often 'Fair Trade' and lets not forget - no animal testing!! 


Things are beginning to grow on the Wren Cottage Urban Farm.  In fact, some things never stopped!  Because of the unusually mild winter, kale and Brussels sprouts never did die back.  That has also allowed some weeds to run rampant.  I've got some sort of lamium covering half the garden bed.  

Sometime in February - I didn't even write the date down - I threw a few radish seeds in a pot.  This is what I found yesterday -

Radish seedlings!

It remains to be seen if the seedlings will survive, but this, and what I am reading, have convinced me I'm waiting way too long to plant some crops.   Those crops that love cool weather need to go in very early, and since several of my crops will be grown in pots, they will be warmer than the earth, so I should be able to get them in sooner than the garden-grown ones.   

This should also allow me to 3-season garden:  Very early crops such as peas, radishes, beets, turnips, etc. in the Spring, some of those, such as peas, will come out in time for Summer crops - beans, tomatoes, peppers, then in the Fall repeat some Spring crops, and plant for very late harvests into Winter. 

I also thought I would try the old-fashioned, Farmer's Almanac method of planting according to the phases of the moon: this link is informative, but I found it a bit difficult to tell just what date I should plant.  This one on the other hand, says what to plant and when.   According to that, I should/could have planted peas, and lettuce this weekend.  Yesterday would have been fine for that - sunny and temps not bad for being outside.  But I was tied up doing a spinning demo for the Lexington Arts and Science Center at the Kentucky Crafted event at the convention center.  That was good for us though, we talked to tons of people about the upcoming Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival and our session went 2 hours overtime!! 

Today however, looks like this - intermittent snow flurries, and cold!    I don't really want to be out digging and planting - so I will just have to wait until later to get the peas in.  I have started leeks inside, and could start some other seeds so the day won't be wasted, garden-wide.  

Lots of budding going on.  This is apple mint.  

That's all for now from Wren Cottage ....

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My First Giveaway

It's getting serious now.  I mailed off for my first garden seeds today - after checking with Ferry Morse to make sure the varieties I want weren't available with them.

I've found several useful resources on the web for the upcoming gardening season. The USDA has published a new "Plant Hardiness" map.  I noted this:  "No posters of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map have been printed. But state, regional, and national images of the map can be downloaded and printed in a variety of sizes and resolutions."    So, feel free to print or post the image of your state.  I just couldn't figure out how to resize the image here for KY.   We are now officially Zone 6b where I live. 

I'm trying to think more in terms of 3-4 seasons of  gardening as I plan.  I still have kale and Brussels sprouts in the garden!   I want to stick (mostly) to veggies that seem to grow well for me, although I have to try one or two new things.  Here is a link to varieties of vegetables that are favorable for Kentucky.  It says "Spring crops [of cauliflower] usually fail," so I will keep in mind if I choose to grow cauliflower, I will save it for Fall.   It lists some varieties of onions that are 'long day,' but I had always read that we needed 'intermediate.' (see previous post)  So I have a few more choices to pick from.  Good thing, since intermediate varieties seem rare.  Onions and leeks can go in during spring along with salad greens (I want to try 'corn salad'/ mache this year) peas, radishes, and the strawberries should come back. 

The summer will have the usual beans, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant.  I would like to try a bush variety of cucumber I found, and I'm trying to figure out if winter squash has the same pest problems as summer squash?  If not, I found a bush variety of Acorn squash. Urban Farmers always have to think about limited space. 

I'm not breeding bunnies, and I don't have lambs on the way, so this is how I'm looking forward to Spring.

Which brings me to the giveaway.  Over the years I have compiled a chart of "companion plants" for vegetables and herbs.  (It is a Word document, not a PDF)  I did not see copyright warnings on any of what I used, and it was truly from many websites over several years.   

Companion planting is not the 'magic bullet' for gardening, but I found definite improvements in the health and yields of many of my crops by using the system, and will continue to do so. If anyone would like for me to share - lets say the first 6 people to leave a comment saying they would like a copy - I will either e-mail or snail-mail one to you. 

Have you started planning your garden yet?   


Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Garden Bug is Biting...

I found a blog today I really like.   Preserving Abundance is a new blog by Kathy Harrison, author of  the book Just in Case.  There seems to have been a shift in the 'preppers' world, from doom-and-gloom to living sustainably - something many more can embrace - and this is the focus of the new blog.   Kathy still has her "Just in Case" book blog, but this one is expanded, with photos, videos, recipes and more. 

Still thinking about spring planting, and wondering if Fayette Seed is open yet.   I've been sorting out what to plant and where - in the garden or in pots.  One thing I want seed for this year is onions.  Boy, do I feel like a dufus.  I have been planting sets each year and wondering why I never get any full-sized onions. Maybe everyone else already knew this, but in reading  the seed catalogs more carefully,  I think I have figured out that sets only grow scallions, or bulb out a little bigger, like golf balls.  For full sized onions I need an "intermediate" variety for this area (which I knew) and to grow them from seed!  Duh!  Onion seed can and should be started now, since they take a long while to grow, so I am ready to find some seed.

I have grown carrots in pots before, and want to try them again.  Shorter, stubby varieties are recommended.   I will still grow eggplant - one of my favorites - back in pots this year, and bush beans.  Peppers did so well for me last year, but I don't need any more hot ones, I may try sweet banana, or some other type of long roasting/baking peppers.  I don't think I will do potatoes.  They were fun, but take up a lot of room. Leeks in the big pots the potatoes were in, tomatoes, my usual herbs.......

Just one more chicken story...... Gracie laid her first egg this week.  I thought she had earlier, but it was Dolly's.  I found her, sitting in a corner of the coop, eyes wide open, making little scared noises, like "I don't know what's happening.."  Abigail settled in beside her and began to make comforting 'twirring" noises.  Like a midwife, Abigail coached Gracie through laying her first egg.   How sweet!  But they have all been on strike ever since!  Nothing else for a week!   I can't complain though. It is winter - and a blessing to get any eggs at all during these months.

Truffle is out playing and doing his favorite thing - chasing the cats.  I feel him nuzzle my ankle from time to time while I type.  Fiona, on the other hand, is more obviously trying to crawl into my lap.  Why is it they love me best when I'm on the computer?

Saturday, February 4, 2012

A Couple of Finds

Something I have looked for for a long time is a nice, leather-bound copy of just The Psalms, to use for personal devotions.  I didn't think it would be hard at all, but it was, surprisingly so.  New Testaments with Psalms are everywhere, and I probably have a couple of those, but I've always had an objection to New Testaments.  It's like carrying around half a Bible (really more like 1/4).  I have known people who never read anything but the New Testament, with the possible exception of the Psalms and Genesis.  Weird.  On the other hand, because of their nature, the Psalms are devotionals, so are suited for that use.

Anyway......I finally found this on ebay.  It has very large print - so in a pinch I could use it without my glasses (!!!), and the added benefit of being an antique - printed in 1911.  I wasn't looking for that, but it's pretty neat.

The other thing I found is this.  

I love jewelry and have done some jewelry making and beading for years. Brooches/pins are one of my favorite types of jewelry and I have many - usually inexpensive costume stuff. One form of jewelry I'm not in love with are necklaces. I've got a lot of pendants, drops, and other bits in my jewelry box though. Then I thought of this. It's a brooch with a hook on the back that ladies used to hang a little watch on, but I could use to hang my pendants.  (the 'watch' in the picture is a piece of printed cardboard so the seller could show how it was used)   There were hundreds on ebay, but I liked this one.

Can anyone besides me see the outline of a sheep's head/face in the design?  

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Coming out of hibernation .....

....maybe a little bit.  

Believe it or not, I like the kind of weather we are having today - damp, but not raining, foggy, chilly, but not frigid. Great for working outside.  This morning I 'stripped' Francis  and Dolley's cage.  Most of the time I use the 'deep litter method,' just putting clean shavings on top of the dirty.  When it gets so deep it's easily kicked out of the cage, and has broken down almost completely, it makes an incredible amount of dust - which can't be good for any of us.  Out it came, and was added to the compost heap(s).  The pine shavings leech nitrogen out of the soil, but the chicken poo adds plenty back in, so it's a well-balanced addition to the pile. Include green clippings and you've got the makings of 'black gold' - compost.  I left the new pine shavings in big compacted chunks as I put them in the cage.  The chickens enjoy scratching them apart, then 'arranging the furniture,' -  making heaps and hollows that are just as they like.

Here they are in their freshly-clean coop.   I was trying to get a decent shot of Francis for a potential taker.   He is afraid of the camera, but Dolley loves it, and kept sneaking into the shot.   He has grown into quite a handsome boy, but look at the difference in size!    He's definitely breeding her, meaning fertile eggs, but her blue and the Orpington gold don't produce a nice result color-wise. Think mud.  He's gotten Abigail at least once (Orp and Brahma would make a nice cross) but Gracie (for purebred Orps) is scared to death of him and stays out of his way, when the cage doors are open. 

I have been given the phone number of a lady who might be willing to take Francis on her farm.  I don't know why I haven't called her yet.  I think the main thing is the idea of putting him outside suddenly at the worst time of the year. He is sweet and will let me pick him up and cuddle, so temperment - wise he is fine for a pet. If I kept him I could get fertile hatcing eggs for sale or to give away, but he does crow (loudly) and I just don't like whole squawking, violent aspect of the breeding.  Outside in a coop is one thing, right in the middle of where I live is another.   Maybe I'll call her this afternoon. 

On the other hand, the other girls got out for a few minutes on the deck for some fresh air and to clean up some birdseed.   They were having a good time until a hawk swooped low over the deck, chasing a Mourning Dove.  It spoiled everything and they ran for the door and wanted back in. 

Unlike my ambivalence about keeping a rooster, I love all my bantam girls.  They make great pets - with benefits.

Today for brunch, I used some of those benefits in a fritatta. I'm sure I've talked here before about buying some of my dehydrated food. I've tried drying potatoes without success, but I've bought some hashbrowns inexpensively from the company on my sidebar. They come in a #10 can, (large coffee) are easy to store, save freezer space, and store forever.  While I was using the kettle to make a cup of tea, I just covered the potatoes with the same boiling water to rehydrate them.   Be sure to salt the water you rehydrate in.  Like grits, if you wait to season them until they are done, you'll pour on the salt and they'll still be bland.   By the time I had finished my cup of tea, the potatoes were ready to go.  Drain, and put in the pan, browning - covered- as usual, with butter or oil as you choose.   When they are browned, reduce the heat,  pour some lightly beaten eggs over the top, add some spinach (I used kale, because I have it still fresh in the garden)  Cover and cook, flipping over once.   Yum!     

I've been messing around a little with some jewelry making, but don't have anything finished to show yet.  I need to be spinning and working on fiber things.  The Kentucky Sheep and Fiber Festival  is only four months away!!!!

Until I next emerge ..... from Wren Cottage.