Chicks arrived!

The spare bedroom is hopping!

24 one-day-old chicks under their heat lamp.

These are the mixed flock ordered from Odell Farms.  They are 8 New Hampshire Red, 8 Buff Orpington, and 8 Speckled Sussex.   The long cold winter put off production nearly a month for Odell, so we're very excited to finally have these babies!   In the meantime, we picked up a handful of sex-linked pullets, breed unknown.  They currently look like this:

These "big sisters" were hatched around March 10.

They are all in our spare bedroom, and are learning to be quite noisy.  This suits us fine, as then we're warned of anything wrong*.  They'll be going outside fairly soon, as our local average-frost-free date quickly approaches on April 1.

*Like now, when it sounded like wrens trapped in the rafters, but of course, two of the big sisters had gotten lost in the bedroom out of their bin.

Chicks reserved!

We've reserved some chicks at Odell Farms, a local FPIP hatchery. I'm very excited: this project is more birds, and I'm intending to sex them out and produce broilers, which means another set of skills to learn.

We'll be picking up 8 Buff Orpingtons, 8 New Hampshire Reds, and 8 Speckled Sussex, all straight run (whatever the luck is male/female ratio).  Pony and Blue are Orpington but other colors, so we know that breed, and our lost rooster Ham was a very fine New Hampshire Red.  The Speckled Sussex is a smaller chicken, that lays smaller eggs.  We're looking forward to the end of February,when we go and pick them up.

Which means I need to get moving on our chick brooder...

Country Pot Luck vs City, with Adzuki Beans Slow-Cooked

FH is going through the pantry.  "What's an adzuki bean?"

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We're experimenting on the church potluck folks again.  Country folks seem to be more interested in trying the unknown than those city folk I've brought potluck to.  (Kind of sad, actually - the successes have to be reproduced, because there aren't usually leftovers!)

We think the psychology goes like this:

City folk will sit and stare at something for the longest time trying to figure out what it is, waiting for somebody else to try it, and tell them that it's good.

Whereas some Big Old Country Boy, if it smells good, will have some slopped up on his plate, two spoonfuls down his gullet, before he looks at his friend. "MMM!  What's that?!"  And then, to borrow from Carlin: "It's rat's asshole, Bob." "Really!  What kind of rat?"

(Disclaimer: We're not aware of anyone around us who actually eats rat.  Recipes for possum, raccoon, and beaver can easily be had, however.  FH says he may have eaten these as a child.  Squirrel, however, he'll 'go to the mat' for a plate.)

Here's hoping today's experiment works.

4 links Georgia sausage (similar to summer sausage), sliced, fried, put in slow cooker.

2 cups dried adzuki beans, poured right on top.

1 quart vegetable stock, sadly not homemade

1 quart water

Raw veggies cleaned out of fridge, diced: 1 carrot, 1 red pepper, 2 green onions, 4 beet stalks, 3 cloves garlic

1/4 teaspoon Tony Catcheroni's Creole seasoning (misspelled)

I'm sure FH snuck a tablespoon or two of butter in there as well, his hands just betray him sometimes.

It's cooking on low for 8 hours.  Hopefully it'll feed somebody.

Seed ordering

Isn't this the best time of year, when we can snuggle up in warm beds with seed catalogs, multiple internet access devices, and the Seed Box?

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I have a problem with Potential.  The beginnings of gardens are SO FUN:  I'm living in a world of beautiful photography, a total disregard for totaling up costs or space requirements, and I'm thinking with my cookbook shelf.

Such irresponsible behavior has resulted in a large box of leftover seeds.  Seeds as old as 2006.  I've decided this year that I'm going to Deal With The Box, because now that we're at the farm, I've got Garden Space! and Room To Start Seedlings!  The sensible voice inside points out that my time is limited, the space isn't that huge due to all the lovely forest, and Farmer Hicks will probably grumble if I take over the entire garage floor with seed trays.  Or even just the counter in the dog room.

This year is also different, in that I've been impressed by Eating On The Wild Side, which is telling me that I can lower my hypertension by adding Purple Majesty potatoes to my diet.  EOTWS is also helping my hypertension by giving me a filter to apply to the Massive Overload of choices available from the lovely glossy seed catalogs, of which I get TOO MANY.

So, I'm feeling pretty good about today's list.  I know what I'm going to pull out of the box and throw away, what wealth I'm going to share (far, far, FAR too many tomato varieties), and I know what I need to order, and from whom, and what it will cost.

(WHY WHY WHY, despite doing all that good work this morning, does my seed order come in at $111.69?  I blame the aforesaid miracle purple potatoes.  And the purple asparagus. And the hard-to-get shallots.) (THAT'S why purple is associated with royalty, all the purple-colored veggies are super good for you, and thus expensive.)

What, you thought I was going to share the shopping list with you?  HA.  Well, okay, after the order is in.  Those shallots run out FAST.

Christmas Day Adventuring

We did some exploring Christmas Day, since the weather was so pretty, and new outdoor gear needed to be tried out.  We took our year-old beagle, Pixel, with us.

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Pixel is a red-tick beagle, and has a great work ethic.  She will follow her nose without regard to most distractions, including her own safety.  Today's adventure landed her in the creek!  We had to go looking and calling for her, tracing her yips to one bedraggled pup stuck against a clay creekbank.  Farmer Hicks found her from the opposite side of the creek, and directed me to the spot where I should lie down and pull her up to me.

I barely noticed the brambles I lay down on, except to make an extraction hole, and once she was pulled up, she danced in relief on my back.  I wish FH had had a camera!  Unfortunately the camera was with me, in the brambles.

Once Miss Dedication was on dry land, and her pack (us) was reassembled on our side of the creek, she was back to tracing scents - but now with frequent checkbacks!

Garden plan, 2014

We made a conscious decision not to have a garden in 2013, with the move and all, and I missed it so much!  Cooking Thanksgiving, I had to break down and actually BUY a "fresh poultry herbs" bundle of rosemary, thyme and sage.  I felt so embarrassed - I think I've grown rosemary longer than I've been responsible for cooking the turkey!

So I'm really excited about starting a new garden.  In my previous suburban life, I fit edible gardening in amongst the landscape.  Herbs make great drought-resistant mini-hedges.  I'd always choose a fruiting pear over an ornamental one, even at the risk of hard pears becoming hurricane ammunition!

But now, I can continue that tactic, but also have a garden that can be measured in square feet!  In preparation, I'm making lists of wants and limitations, and gathering inspirational sites.  My rule for plant choices: what I need to cook with, what is expensive/hard to find, and what flowers I want to cut for the house.

WANTS

Purple carrots

An asparagus bed

Artichokes

Tomatoes

Dinosaur kale

Rosemary

Thyme

Chives

Italian parsley

Sage

Lavender

Marigolds

Zinnias

Looseleaf lettuces

Baby spinach

Green peppers

Hot peppers

Sweet peas

Blue or red potatoes

Zucchini

Shallots

LIMITATIONS

Hand tools, my limited time, and I'd like to avoid owning a rototiller.  This couple has, and their technique is similar to the straw bale garden we tried the last couple of seasons in the city, with good results.  Raised Row Gardening

The garden area is in our front yard, so it needs to be pretty.  I may regret this, but I figure it'll be a good way to make friends, too.  I'm going to edge it with the flowers and perennial herbs, so hopefully it won't turn into a weed patch.

First step - complete the anti-chicken fence!

 

Book (and farm!) Discovery: Eating on the Wild Side, and HeirloomOnions.com

I like NPR's food blog, The Salt.  (Even with a considerable commute to my city job to listen to the radio, I miss less.)  Recently this post went up, about a book called Eating on the Wild Side.  We all know we're supposed to eat more fruits and vegetables, that plants offer goodies that support our health.  But I did not know that all apple varieties are not equally good for us, and some are not good at all!  I'm reading it now, and learning a lot that will influence the garden plan for 2014.  More on the book later.

For example, shallots.  My rule for garden planning thus far has gone something like: "if it's expensive to buy or hard to find, and I like it, I'll try to grow it."  Shallots are expensive in the grocery store, and as we are Cooks, we like them.

Did you know that shallots are Much Better for you than even not-sweet onions?  (Farmer Hicks will be so disappointed to hear that sweet onions are not-so-great.  Perhaps the news that frying onions increases their phytonutrient availability will comfort him.)  So I went hunting online for a shallot source and found a second Find!

HeirloomOnions.com is a farm near us!  With a funny blog, sadly inactive for the last two years.  I sure hope they're still selling onions - the French Gray shallots I was looking for seem to be out, but other links are active.  We'll be checking y'all out, for sure.

Guinea Hen Losses

Taking on responsibility for lives, as we do when we contemplate farming at any scale, means confronting losses.  I'm a person who dislikes taking 13 rosemary cuttings (the number that will fit in jam jars across the kitchen window sill) and losing two before I get them into soil.

So it's hard not to feel it's somehow my fault when recently, we lost three of the guinea hens.

I didn't mean to let them die.  But I can recount for you what may have been missteps, and hopefully your luck will be better.

The facts:

Day 1 of changed guinea behavior: Temperatures dropping.  Hens wouldn't return to open pen at night.  I moved them to a chicken tractor with two sides of windbreak and some nesting boxes.

Day 2: Cold and very windy (34F low).  I gave them a pound of corn to eat.

Day 3: Colder, but less windy (26F low).  Found first body.  Told self, well, maybe that's the one that wouldn't hang out with the others, and she's paid the price.  Fed remaining four more corn, who were starting to rush me for it.

Day 4: Colder still (22F low).  Found second body.  Remaining three rushing me hard for corn.  Thought, 'screw the training, they've got instincts, let 'em use them' and opened the tractor.  Left guineas alone all night.

Day 5: Warming (36F low).  Found two triumphant and happy guineas on top of quail coop, and one dead one in original small pen.

First, ignorance and overconfidence.  We got some young guineas not knowing really anything about them, and just assuming what we knew about chickens would transfer.  This mistake is what bites the hardest.  We wanted to become the vision faster than we were ready, and living creatures pay the price for our hubris.

Second, not listening to the creatures.  The guineas were doing really well free-roaming the yard and coming back to their pen.  I didn't fully weight the "worth of free-roaming".  They seemed to outgrow their pen, and eventually didn't want to come back to it.  Guineas being pretty wild creatures, probably didn't still need the pen.  I thought they did, so I put them in a chicken tractor, intending them to learn a new night home, as chickens do.  They clearly suffered in confinement.

Third, very cold weather for us.  Not controllable, but if less ignorance and hubris had been on the table, might have been more manageable.  I think that the birds were very stressed by being confined.

I'm curious to see how long the last two will hang on.  I think the right thing to do is keep them free, and let them shelter themselves as needed.  We do risk predators, but I would rather keep away the certainty of bird confinement depression and take my chances with the coyotes.  And now that there's a dog outside, that risk may be reduced.