Backyard Manifest Destiny

Manifest destiny was the belief widely held by Americans in the 19th century that the United States was destined to expand across the continent. I am becoming convinced that the same can be applied to chickens and our backyard. Our backyard is the wild west, just waiting to be settled and conquered. Our chickens are the settlers/conquerers.

How have we made it to this point? Here’s the recap: we purchase a coop on wheels, thinking we can move it all over the yard. The coop turns out to be nearly too heavy for one person to move with super wimpy wheels that probably won’t last a season of moving it around our lumpy yard anyway. Still, all seems well – until we go on vacation and three of our four chickens cook in the heat of their attached run. We vow to free range the chickens and look for ways to provide them with more cover. Then we have a hawk run-in AND a chicken escape in the span of two days.

The latest revised plan, then, is to give the girls as much free range time as we can, provided we are physically with them, and make their run able to sustain them happily otherwise. We also wanted the run to be secure so we can someday go on a weekend trip somewhere. Wouldn’t that be amazing? A trip! Away from the house! For more than an afternoon!

We started with this lovely little coop.

20120329. Coop and yard.

The coop, pre-chicken.

After yesterday and Chris’ mad know-how and building skillz, we have this brilliant piece of backyard manifest destiny!

20120908. Extending the chicken run.

Laying out the extended floor. We’ve added 32 square feet of space to their run.

20120908. Extending the chicken run - chicken view.

While Chris continues to attach the sides and roof, I do the VERY important work of documenting the view.

20120908. Extending the chicken run.

All done! Look at that sexy door. We also filled up the new section with dirt and grass clippings to encourage the girls to scratch for bugs and to help level the floor a bit as it sifts down through the wire.

20120908. Beaker and Dino Puppy explore.

Dino Puppy and Beaker, the Easter Eggers, take a stroll.

20120908. "If I can't see you, you can't see me."

Construction can be hard on a chicken. I call this one, “If you can’t see me, I can’t see you.”

20120908. Extending the chicken run.

The finished product!

20120908. 4/5 of the chickens.

I think they’ll like it (also, look how GIANT Edgar, the Australorp, has gotten! And how little Little Red still is).

All this… and can you believe we’re STILL waiting for our first egg?! Jeez, chickens.

Jinx Removing?

OHMYGOODNESS, YOU GUYS. DINO PUPPY LIVES!

BREAKING NEWS: Yoshi/Dino Puppy lives!

Cue angry parent of a teenager voice: How was your little adventure away from home, chicken? Huh? Oh, you’re HUNGRY?! Oh, you poor thing. WE THOUGHT YOU WERE DEAD!

Today after work, Chris was working out front while I supervised our four remaining chickens in the backyard (and by this, I mean drank beer, read a book, and rubbed chicken bellies… tough life, I know). Our neighbor Stuart comes over: “Hey, did you lose a rooster?” Chris affirms that we have, in fact, lost a chicken.

Apparently, Yoshi/Dino Puppy/that gray one made it out of our fenced in area of the backyard and through the one crack in our privacy fence, across the street, past countless neighbors’ dogs, over two other fences, and into Stuart’s backyard neighbors’ place – to weather a gigantic storm and two nights out on her own.

If I wasn’t so glad to see the dang bird, I’d wring her neck! Instead, we locked her in the run, let her chow down on chicken kibble for a bit, then let her peruse the yard with the rest of the girls. They were all immediately back to normal with her there. The flock is complete again.

I mean this in the kindest, most loving mama hen sort of way, but… BITCH ASS CHICKEN. Seriously, though… chicken lockdown is in effect.

And thank you for all the kind words on our last post. In honor of (maybe) removing our chicken jinx (maybe?!), I give you Jawbreaker’s “Jinx Removing.”

We’re too smart to watch TV, we’re too dumb to make believe this is all we want from life. I’m too dumb to talk to you, you’re so quick to listen to me. I’m saying nothing you don’t know.

A Peaceable Kingdom?

I have a new term for the weather we’ve been experiencing the last several days: chicken weather. It has been fantastic weather to be a chicken – a few gigantic, air-snapping, earth-shaking storms have blown through, leaving in their wake new green grasses poking through the brown, cool temperatures, and breezy blue skies that make me think of fall.

It’s good human weather, too. I feel a certain weight lifted off my shoulders – today, at least, I don’t have to worry about our sick chickens also being incredibly heat stressed. I don’t need to make them ice water baths all day or set up the fans or try to get them to eat frozen blueberries. Today, they can peck happily about the backyard, and I can take it a little easier than I have since the beginning of July.

Today also marks me and Chris’ two-year anniversary of our first date. What was our first date, you ask? Lying in a portable hammock on the edge of a farmer’s field in Martinsville, IN, watching the Perseid meteor showers and drinking wine. Pretty epic, right? Two years later, we have a house, two cats, five chickens, and so SO many plans. Life – it is good!

In honor of keeping things simple and low stress, let’s go on a pictorial tour of what chicken weather means at the Space-Farm, shall we?

20120804. Cicada shell and... cicada.

Cicada (not an alien, I promise) and cicada shell on a basil plant.

20120804. Beaker in ecstasy.

Before we could move the coop to its permanent location, the chickens took the chance to have a good bath. Here’s Beaker in ecstasy dust bathing in the dirt.

The chickens were VERY helpful in messing up my beautifully flattened, perfect foundation for the new permanent coop location. We refuse to move that dang coop ever again! They were in such heaven I probably couldn’t have stopped them even if I had had the heart to do so.

And now on to a few of the happy chickens:

20120808. Little Red.

Little Red is growing, although it’s hard to tell.

20120808. Oh, HI THERE.

Oh, HI. I didn’t see you there… You creep.

20120808. Mauled by Easter Eggers.

Near-nightly mauling by the Easter Eggers.

20120812. Honey bees on fennel flowers.

Honey bees and fennel.

20120812. Two-year anniversary of our first date! This was right as Chris was saying, "Do I really have to hold the cake?"

He didn’t like it, but he humored me and let me take this picture. Happy anniversary, boyfriend!

20120812. Honeyed hot peppers and Thomas Jefferson.

The prettiest honeyed hot peppers I have ever made… and Thomas Jefferson.

20120811. Mutant turnips!

It might be time to harvest some of the turnips. GIANTS!

20120811. Sunflower dreams.Happy chicken weather to all, and to all a good night!

Oregon or Bust!

Chris built a covered wagon for our chickens last night! Okay, okay, it’s actually extra shelter from airborne predators. But! It’s on WHEELS! And it’s the size of our raised beds so, if we just add sides, we can plunk them down on top of the beds and have the chickens process our beds this fall!

I keep having flashbacks to playing Oregon Trail in the library in junior high, back when our computers were black screens with orange block text and I had a really pitiful perm, braces, and giant glasses. Remember those computer screens? Our chickens now have a wagon! They must stock up supplies so they can forge the mighty Mississippi with their team of oxen! Then they have to avoid cholera and typhoid fever!

No? Just me? Okay, anyway…

20120805. Chris built a covered wagon for the chickens. Go, Oregon Trail.

Chris built the base, I sewed the canvas. TEAMWORK.

20120805. Chris built a covered wagon for the chickens. Go, Oregon Trail.

The girls are easily bribed with mealworms.

20120805. Chris built a covered wagon for the chickens. Go, Oregon Trail.

Me. In the covered wagon. Counting out my supplies to see if we have enough to make it to the next trading post.

20120805. Chris built a covered wagon for the chickens. Go, Oregon Trail.

Once we took the tent down (thank goodness we did as we got a huge storm that very night), there was very little cover from the skies. We’re getting apple trees in the fall… but they will be baby apple trees. Some sort of additional cover was pretty necessary.

Maybe we’ll run into Lewis and Clark on our voyage.

Eyes on the Skies

Lately, we have been a little preoccupied with the weather. First, we got excited about any old cloud that would cross our paths. No rain.

20120715. Nothing falling...

Then, we started obsessively watching the radar and checking the weather reports several times a day. Still no rain.

20120715. Studies in cloud formations...

We even unplugged the extension cords to the chicken fans a few times, to no avail. Still. No. Rain.

20120715. Waiting for rain...

THEN! FINALLY! Last Thursday, not only did it rain, but it poured. The streets were flooded four lanes across, lightning and thunder sizzled and boomed until we were sure our hair should be standing on end, and our rain barrel runneth over.

We and the creatures are happy.

20120715. Tiny praying mantis.

Armed with our renewed sense of hope, we decided to finish planning out our backyard. Mind you, we still have a watering and new landscaping ban in place, but where there was once dead grass and dust on our shoes, there is now greened up weeds and dew in the morning. Surely, our spell of bad luck is over.

Chris’ drawing is quite lovely:

20120720. Backyard planning.

Mine is a little more… free-form. But look! Purple, pink, orange, and yellow plantings circling the bench/picnic table. I love the idea of painting in flowers/plants.

20120720. Backyard planning.

Green Tomato Tour

This year, I went a little wild with my purchasing of tomato varieties. We have a whole slew of growing things that are totally foreign to me, so I figured it was time to do a proper green tomato tour of the backyard.

Roma:

20120620. We have green tomatoes.

Grape:

20120620. We have green tomatoes.

Hog’s Heart:
20120620. Crop report - green tomatoes are wild.

Black Krim:
20120620. We have green tomatoes.

The overall garden-scape:
20120620. June garden status.

Canning Report, Mid-June

Canning season is upon us! I’m going to keep a running list this summer of all things canned – you know, just for kicks. And to feel like I actually accomplished something this summer.

June 2012:

  • Pickled Beets (2 jars) – Using the recipe from the Ball Jar Canning cookbook. These things are delicious! I’ve been scooping them out of the jar with a fork and eating them straight.
  • Classic Pickle Spears (3 jars) – I totally cheated on these by using a packet of pickling spices I bought last spring. We’ll see if they work out.

20120609. First ever pickled beets.

(Not at All) Weekly Roundup: aka Picture Pages!

We worked our butts off yesterday in the sun and heat, and I have the awkward tan lines and weirdly sore muscles to prove it. In celebration of being exhausted, I’m going to just stick with the pics today. We’ve had an eventful week on ye olde home front.

20120602. Hiking at Shades State Park.

We started the weekend at Shades State Park, west of Indianapolis, to celebrate Chris’ birthday weekend. BIRTHDAY!

20120602. Hiking at Shades State Park.

I was NOT all that into the giant black snake CLIMBING UP A TREE that we encountered at the end of one of our hikes.

20120602. Hiking at Shades State Park.

Phew! The snake did not eat us, and we lived to tell the tale and eat another hot dog.

20120609. First ever pickled beets.

Have I mentioned lately that I like beets? And canning? Here are the finished pickled beets. Today I planted about 6 more rows of beet seeds!

20120607. Freezing pesto!

I also froze some fresh pesto.

20120609. Well-loved lettuce.

As of this morning, many of the lettuces and all the snap peas are no longer. This alien-looking thing is the sign of a well-loved, well-eaten lettuce plant.

20120609. Welcome... to the backyard, where we basically spend all our time.reopsis, and coneflower.

Did I mention the outside world kicked our collective asses yesterday? We decided, what with our upcoming housewarming party and the tour de coops, it was time to beautify the side of the house a bit. Where once there was dying grass, we now have coneflower, coreopsis, and blazing star (with a couple of rosemary plants thrown in for good measure).

20120609. We planted the side of the house! Blazing star, correopsis, and coneflower.

Mmm, blazing star!

20120609. Yellow sqaush is off the charts awesome.

Pretty soon, we are going to be very sick of yellow squash. I’m all for freezing it for later, though!

20120609. Hot Ono.

The girls commiserated with our general heat-strokiness yesterday.

20120610. Convertible picnic table.

Really, though, the entire point of this post has been leading up to THIS PICTURE – our brand new cedar convertible bench/picnic table!

20120610. Convertible picnic table = sexy.

Seriously, I think I’m in love.

It’s My Party, and I’ll Cry if I Want to

I have a problem with song lyrics. I’m not sure if everyone is like this, but I get lyrics to songs stuck in my head for, literally, weeks at a time. I will sing a song in my head almost all day, every day. I remember lyrics for an absurdly long time, too – I can sing all of “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot and probably MC Hammer’s entire repertoire from the “2 Legit 2 Quit” era, not to mention every line of every Jawbreaker song ever written. For the last three days, this has been the primary stuck-in-head song (the video is fantastic, too) – “Fake Patois,” Das Racist:

Anyway, this is just to say that, for the last several years, I have gotten the song referenced in the subject line of this post stuck in my head ALL DAY LONG on my birthday. My birthday was yesterday and, true to form, the song was back in my head. This year I fought it, though, and was able at least to rotate between Cracker’s “Happy, Happy Birthday to Me,” and the dreaded “It’s My Party.” I claim that as a small victory.

But! More importantly, I had a birthday! Presents received: a SodaStream fizzy water maker (AMAZING), Fiskars watering can, hot pink snap watch, fancy IPA from Northern California, a new nightgown, Fiskars dirt scooper, a new bike light and bike pump (with attached pressure gauge, oh yeah!), a new necklace and earrings, a book from the early 1900s about Billy Whiskers the billy goat, a bird mobile, and… wait for it… a cheese making kit. Imma make cheese!!!

20120519. Awesome birthday present (from me).

This is my new, very professional, very grown-up watch.

20120519. Awesome birthday present.

I am incredibly excited about making cheese – although this will likely only serve to fuel my desire to get a couple of milk goats.

20120519. Awesome birthday present.

Speaking of goats, look at this beautiful book. It includes an inscription from the last person who gave it as a gift on the front page, dated 1921.

The best present, though, was hanging out with the boyfriend and doing awesome stuff, like dinner at Traders Point Creamery, Indiana’s only organic creamery (which also happens to be down the road from our house), putting money down on a new car for Chris, and wandering the Broad Ripple Art Fair. This afternoon, I cleaned up the coop a bit, watered the garden, and began noticing how insanely well our newest plants are growing. Seriously – we already have baby green beans, squash, strawberries, and cayenne peppers. How is that possible?

20120519. Green bean babies.

Baby green beans!

20120519. Insane snap peas.

Snap peas as far as the eye can see.

20120519. Insane fennel bulbs, waiting to be eaten.

Fennel bulbs – this will be my first experience cooking fennel bulbs.

20120519. Squash fuzzies.

Furry squash foliage and baby yellow squash.

This afternoon, I made some more fennel simple syrup in preparation for our (much belated) housewarming party, as well as a pizza from the sourdough no-knead dough I made last weekend. Is anyone familiar with sourdough or dough you can leave in the fridge for a week or so before baking? The parts exposed to the air seem to get… bluish around the edges over time. It hasn’t made us sick or anything. I just wonder what might be happening with all those molecules.

20120519. Fennel simple syrup.

Fennel simple syrup – delicious.

By the time I got around to harvesting peas and fennel, the chicks realized that they couldn’t get in to hang out with me in the garden.
20120519. The point at which the chickens realized I was INSIDE and they were OUTSIDE.

So I went to hang out with them in the brush pile (AKA their new favorite spot).

20120519. The girls are panting, not holding a very deep conversation with each other.

Someday, I will insert little conversation bubbles above each of their heads in this shot. For now, it’s just a boring picture of hot, panting chickens.

It got up to 85 degrees today, and the chickens were HOT. I’m planning to test out a frozen blueberry/yogurt concoction shortly. Yes, they are pampered and coddled and totally spoiled. No, I don’t mind. I don’t think they do, either.

20120519. Beaker panting.

Beaker panting.

One Year Ago Today…

One year ago today, Chris got the keys to his very first house. We celebrated with strawberries and moscato. And we took pictures. It took me another month or so before I moved in almost full-time, then until my lease ran out in Bloomington, IN, on August 1 to move in full-time – which is just weird for me to think about. I *remember* not living together with all our projects and plans and more projects, but… I guess it just seemed like a really natural progression. There was no internal dialogue of “this is going too fast” or “JESUS H, I can’t stand this apart-ness another day.” It was what it was, it is what it is. And, today, what it is is very, very fantastic.

20120513. One year in the house!

The house today – now with native perennials and native trees.

Let’s do a little nostalgic tour of sorts, shall we? This is what has evolved into the reading room. This room is an internet/computer-free zone.
20120513. A year ago today...

The kitchen: looking slightly more lived in.

20120513. A year ago today...

The reason Chris isn’t in any of the shots from today? He is currently devising a system to suspend our giant new ladder from the ceiling of the garage. The projects really don’t ever end (in a good way).

20120513. A year ago today...
To the right of the fireplace now is a 3D shadow box ship from my grandparents and a very 70s oil painting of a city from my childhood home.
20120513. A year ago today...

Where the internet happens. Oh, and I am really proud of my paint chip garlands for our finally-housewarming party!

Someday, this wall will be one, giant, modern, hip, awesome, open closet just for me (and Chris… I guess).
20120513. A year ago today...

The grand finale: while we have made a TON of changes to the inside of the house in the last year, the backyard is where you really can’t help but go, “Holy crap! The place has really come a long way.” We were breaking sod the day after Chris got the keys for the garden beds, and we haven’t really stopped since.
20120513. A year ago today...

20120513. A year ago today...

Having such a blank slate has been mostly a blessing, but a little bit a curse, as well. The only limit is our own imagination – a tad daunting, really.

20120513. A year ago today...

I love Chris surveying the scene in the top photo.

Little SoBro homestead, cheers to you! Tonight, we celebrate one very happy year here, and we can’t wait to see what the next brings.
20120513. A year ago today...