Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chicken Tunnel Experiment Is A Success!

An update on Chicken Sitting:

Once we had our coop in order we needed to provide the chickens with access to the outdoors. We decided to fence-off a portion of our existing garden (it being already fenced) as a run and then install a tunnel made of arched fencing to allow the chickens to safely navigate the 40 feet from the coop to the garden run. Here's what we did:

Cut a hole in the side of the coop:

Made a vertically-sliding door to allow chickens to leave the coop and enter the tunnel:

Installed a short ramp from the coop opening to the ground, inside the tunnel:

Installed a chicken wire transition from the tunnel to the coop:

Here you  can see the tunnel leading to the garden (fence in background) where the run has been integrated:

Now we had to convince the chickens that the tunnel was something to get excited about! We tried scattering treats along the run: that didn't work. We tried gently pushing the hens into the tunnel: that didn't work. Finally we decided to push the rooster into the tunnel: bingo! Once he was in there and comfortable the rest of them took to it quickly. See:

Here you can see the chickens getting close to finding the run (center right)

Check out this video for fascinating chicken behavior!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Christmas Lima Beans and Homemade Tomato Sauce

One of our favorite meals is so simple and so healthy we had to share (again.)  This summer we grew Christmas Lima beans and tomato sauce ingredients, which we canned.  We just finished shelling the limas and they are FABULOUS! The beans are giant with an incredibly rich flavor and a satisfyingly chewy texture. Cooked and topped with homemade tomato sauce and a bit of grated parmesan and they are absolutely delightful.  Really.  Sitting by the fire, eating a bit of this fare and perusing seed catalogs makes for the perfect winter evening in Ohio.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Winter Hiking

It's been a pretty wintry winter so far here in our part of Ohio. We find the best way to enjoy the season is by getting outdoors, of course. Last weekend we visited Mt. Gilead State Park for a little romp in the snow.

The snow covered trees begged to be photographed...

as did this happy hiker...

The shrubs surrounding this wetland area always harbor many birds.  It's sheltered and warm and a perfect place to be when the sun pops out.  The micro-climate is at least 5-10 degrees warmer it seems.

We've watched so many birds and other wildlife dining on beech nuts this year...they must be mighty tasty. (I just love how those beech leaves highlight that same color in Steve's handknit hat!)

And finally, a picture by our dear friend Paul McAfee of our Black Friday hiking team in Fort Wayne, IN at Eagle Marsh.

We're within a week of the winter solstice and we are SO excited!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Chicken-Sitting, Meet the Chickens, Part 2

If you missed the tale of our new chicken friends, see Part 1.

Here's the 5 hens and one rooster that now live on our little mini-farm.  They are sweet little creatures and are getting less wary of us each day.

The four dark brown hens are Rhode Island Reds.  The lighter red hen is a New Hampshire Red and the rooster is a mystery breed.

So far their favorite perch and hang out spot is the old potting bench.  The nest boxes and tree branch roosts have yet to be used.

The prime egg laying spot is on the floor buried in the straw in one corner.  We've harvested at least a dozen eggs since they've been here and that is without any supplemental light.

The frosted, too far gone greens in the garden (this patch of kale is uncovered) make a nice snack for everyone in the morning.

We have a steep learning curve with this particular type of animal, but we are making progress.  We've applied castor oil to the chickens legs to combat leg scale, Blu Kote to the rooster's rear to stop pecking by his ladies, figured out where best to hang their feeder with the correct feed and purchased a heater pad so we aren't dealing with frozen water all winter long.

The chickens are still waiting to use the chicken tunnel...

Maybe because our landscape now looks like this?

 It's pretty, pretty 'round here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Chicken-Sitting, Preparation, Part 1

Due to a great misfortune (house fire) that has happened to our neighbor and faithful egg supplier, we will soon be chicken-sitting (while this neighbor re-groups with her many critters and crisis home situation). We look forward to helping a neighbor and also to trying our hands at "livestock".

After some pondering and research we decided to convert our potting shed back into a chicken coop, use part of our existing fenced-in garden for a chicken run and, since these two structures are about 50 feet apart, connect the two with what we are calling a chicken tunnel.

Below Steve is at work fencing off a corner of the garden for the chicken run (so they can have access to fresh air and sunshine):

Here you can see Jennifer at work using some wire fencing to build the chicken tunnel frame, which will connect the run with the coop (you can see a bit of yellow in the background - the coop):

Here you can see the corner of the run and the wire tunnel that leads to the coop:

Of course, the chickens need nesting boxes inside the coop so...into the woodshop:

Nesting box installation inside the coop: 

The chickens also need a place to perch. Below Jennifer installs some sticks (that will serves as perches) that she salvaged from one of our wildlife brush piles:

The chickens arrive on Sunday but we are getting close to ready...wish us luck!

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  Here's a song that made us smile.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Southern Exposure: New Patio Door!

In our never ending quest to improve the energy efficiency of our century-plus old house we try to focus on things that increase the transmission of sunlight (and warmth) through our south-facing walls.

Here is our latest adventure in solar gain: patio door!

We hired some help for the rough install:

We then took over with the weather-proofing, entry steps and trim:

Jennifer stained/varnished the entry steps with a mix of supplies left from the prior owners:

Steve used reclaimed boards to create new trim that matches the old trim:

We finished this just in time for winter and bird-feeding season but we are already looking forward to...

...all the time we will be spending next summer having meals, coffee/treats and the like just outside to the south on the edge of our first small prairie planting (seen hear in dormancy but it will be alive with color and life before we know it. Actually, even today, it's still full of life - birds gleaning seeds, beneficial insects over-wintering and many more lives being lived than we even know about). 

We like to think that our indoor-only cats get a bit of enjoyment basking in this new sunny spot and observing our feeder birds. Flora can be seen here looking out the left door panel:

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sturdy Low Tunnels for Raised Beds, Part 2

You will recall from "Sturdy Low Tunnels for Raised Beds, Part 1" that we've been growing a lot of greens post-frost. We have also been eating a lot too...the endgame! Here's an example of a simple recipe:

Easy Greens:

  • Lots of greens, chopped coarsely
  • Olive Oil, to saute
  • Garlic (2 cloves, chopped finely)
  • Chilies in adobe sauce (3 chilies, chopped finely)
  • 1 T Sesame seeds, toasted. 
  • 1 tsp. Poppy seeds, toasted.
Here's what we did, give or take:

Check each leaf for cabbage-white butterfly caterpillars:

De-rib the leaves, compost the ribs and stems, chop coarsely in a bowl using kitchen scissors:

Saute garlic and chilies in olive oil:

Add the greens, mix with the above and saute until desired (we saute at 5-8 minutes):

Near the end of sauteing, add the sesame seeds and poppy seeds:

Serve with bread of choice and garnish with cilantro (since we have a ton anyway!):

Gotta love gardening and greens!