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!

Canning Report, the Last of July 2012 (aka the Month that Would Never Die)

Not gonna lie: this has been kind of a rough month.* However, with the turning of the calendar page in just two more sleeps, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic that maybe, possibly things will get better in August. With tentative joy, then, I give you… THE FINAL CANNING REPORT FOR JULY, which features a lot of delicious repeats.

July:

    • Pickled Beets (3 jars): The first batch of pickled beets were so delicious, I planted a ton more AND made a trip to the farmers’ market for two big bunches of them. We cooked up the greens over a couple of different nights, then pickled three jars of beets. Totally worth the $6 I paid to the local farmer.

20120715. BEETS.

20120729. Rosemary jelly, honeyed hot peppers, and thunder dome.

Left to right: Thunder Dome, rosemary jelly, and honeyed hot peppers.

Also canned this month:

  • Cinnamon Blueberry Jam (9 4-oz. jelly jars)
  • Garden Herb Blueberry Jam (2 jars)
  • Rosemary Jelly (3 half-pint jars)
  • Hot-Cumin Pickled Summer Squash (4 jars)
  • Turmeric Refrigerator Pickles (4 jars)

June:

  • Bread and Butter Pickles (4 jars)
  • Honeyed Green Hot Peppers (2 jars)
  • Pickled Beets (2 jars)
  • Classic Pickle Spears (3 jars)

*I should add that there have also been awesome things going on this month, so it’s not all bad. We’re happy, we’re alive… we’re just a little worn down at the moment. Nothing to see here!

RAIN FOR YOU AND ME

Bless you, clouds, for the rain. Keep it coming!

20120727. RAIN CLOUDS.

The chickens are very happy (minus Beaker – you know that last entry where I said I was afraid I’d jinx the girls by posting about them? THE VERY NEXT MORNING, Beaker finally caught what has been going around. She is sequestered in the office with me and still not looking too hot, although she did spend a great portion of today walking in her blueberries and scratching at the pine shavings in her cage. I tried to teach her how to file, but she just pooped on my papers instead).

20120727. Little Red and Boo creepin' yet again.

20120727. Little Red likes being underfoot.

Little Red prefers to be underfoot.

20120727. Dino Puppy and Boo creepin'.

20120727. Boo.

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.

How to Do Nearly Everything Wrong

I’m pretty convinced that we have been doing everything wrong this year. There is really no reason to try to comfort us and tell us we haven’t. This probably says more about my own chronic self-doubt and second guessing than anything (weird when you compare that to my general must act now/impulsive attitude), although re: chicken raising, I’m pretty certain we have, in fact, done everything wrong.

I just hope we make it to the other side to write an undoubtedly HIGH-LARIOUS book about how wrong we are. As it is, we have an upper respiratory thing going on right now with the chickens because we were idiots who thought Beaker needed a flock more than she needed quarantined, healthy chickies to join her.

And that’s just the start of How We Have Done Things Wrong.

I can’t think of that now, however. We did things wrong, we will learn from it, and now we just have to make the best of it and hope that all of our chickens end up being strong and tough and full of spunk. So far, they are all hanging in there famously and, aside from a few runny noses and a LOT of chicken disease research, they all seem fairly happy with each other and in general.

Fingers and all other pink parts are crossed (along with electrolytes and yogurt and frequent/obsessive checking) that we didn’t set these girls up for failure and doom. I hope I’m not reading this entry in another month and kicking myself for not DOING MORE (see? there’s that good old self-doubt and second guessing coming in).

In keeping with this whole half-empty/half-full theme I’ve got going tonight…

Sad Trombone
My pitiful little carrot (note that it is supposed to be that color… just not that misshapen and totally squishy).
20120712. Carrots are not my strong suit.

Dying yellow squash plants, which is heartbreaking since the cumin-pickled squash I made a few weeks ago is THE MOST DELICIOUS THING EVER (along with pickled beets… they can share the title, right?).
20120711. State of the garden address.

And… our absolutely Swiss-cheesed green beans. This is the second year in a row they succumbed to some unseen pest long before I got anywhere near sick of green beans. Boo, bugs! Boo, I say.
20120711. State of the garden address.

Walking on Sunshine!
However, as per usual, the good things outweigh the bad by so very much. For instance, we have a perennial garden in front that attracts bees and birds and my own two eyes all the time.
20120706. Sunset sunlight.

We have a cat named Boombox, who I am convinced is the most awesome cat in the universe.
20120705. Stoic Boombox knows this (heat wave) too shall pass.

We have chickens who, diseased or not, are both gorgeous and friendly.They even get along with each other now, just a week and a half after first meeting.
20120706. Beaker, new gray Easter Egger, and the three wees.

We have dragonflies and tomatoes out the wazoo. I’m thinking there are so many dragonflies this year because we have been watering the garden on occasion through this drought (it hasn’t been this bad in 104 years, I was informed by the radio today) and because we keep a low water dish out amidst the perennials in front of the house. Bees, wasps, birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and dragonflies love us this summer.
20120711. State of the garden address.

We also have the “three wees…”
20120706. Chris and the three wees.

And tomatoes like stoplights.
20120711. State of the garden address.

We also have an amazing way to eat up my proliferation of cucumbers: Adrienne’s Cucumber Salad. The cukes are finally coming back after the 100+-degree temps killed off most of their blooms. Also, sometimes you just have to pair your cucumber salad from the garden with square burgers from the freezer. It’s like when you have a nice steak, and all you’ve got on hand to pair it with is Carlo Rossi. Don’t judge.
20120711. Sometimes, you just have to pair that deilicous garden cuke salad with nasty square burgers.

Long live the cuke!
20120711. State of the garden address.

Finally, I’m super excited to pair edibles with our inedible landscaping. I ran out of room in the garden, and after pickling my first beets earlier this summer, I decided I needed moremoreMORE beets… and turnips, as long as I was at it. Here are the rings of turnips and beets on the front of the house.
20120711. State of the garden address.

How’s that for the most roller coaster-y, bipolar entry ever? It’s been a wild ride this summer, and I’m just holding on.

Chicken Watch 2012, or How We Survived the Worst Weather in the History of Ever

A high of 108 degrees? I laugh in the face of your predicted high of 108 degrees! Ha! Ha ha!

That’s not exactly accurate. What I actually did when that prediction came over the radio yesterday as I was perusing Value World, the thrift store down the street from our house, was call Chris immediately to start busting out the fans, extension cords, pools, etc., for the chickens. After our loss of three of our four first chicks last week, I am not playing anymore, heat. You hear me?

The new chicks are also still quite small, and adding the stress of having a new home, complete with giant resident Easter Egger Beaker, well, like I said… I’m not playing.

So what did we do? In no particular order, here are our heat mitigation tips from CHICKEN WATCH 2012.

1. Bust out the extension cords and make your own swamp cooler. It felt downright lovely (relatively speaking) inside the run yesterday.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

2. Wet towels to cut out the sun on the run roof. Hose down the coop roof itself once the sun starts hitting it.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

3. Set up any other shade devices you might have (good for human comfort during such chicken watches, as well).

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

4. Ice down and refill watering stations often. You might as well just accept the fact that you WILL go through a 22-pound bag of ice in a single day.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

5. Set out multiple shallow ice water baths, and replenish regularly. See? I told you you’d go through that entire bag of ice.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

6. Take pictures of yourself to pass the time and document your misery for future generations.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

7. Regularly replenish supplies of chicken treats, such as frozen blueberries mixed into yogurt. We bought 5 pounds of blueberries at the store the other day for $10 – Beaker’s fave!

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

8. Wet tea towels and place them on your head. Re-wet as needed. Now is not the time for vanity. Also, beer yourself.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

Maybe I just hate myself, but I figured as long as I was out there suffering along with them, I’d be able to do something right away if any of the chicks started looking rough. Plus, there is no way I’m letting these girls die, like, EVER. In the end, the chickens hung in there smashingly, and we were the ones who ended up looking a little rough:

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012.

Yes, that is a tea towel on Chris’ head. And yes, my shirt is almost completely soaked through with sweat.

However, even in the midst of Chicken Watch 2012, we still like to break all the chicken rules. Last week, we added three new girls of all different ages to our remaining flock of one after the mass death of our first girls during the last major heat wave. The newbies have been doing remarkably well together, knock on wood. After a few scrabbles and Beaker managing to get a good hold of one or two of them, the little ones have learned to stay out of her way, and Beaker is less interested in throwing her considerable weight around.

Fast forward to yesterday. It was hotter than hell, but we had to drop off a cage that the Chicken Lady of Avon (TM) had lent us when we got the new girls. Then Chris learned she had gotten a new batch of pullets in – what appeared to be an Easter Egger/lavender Orpington mix. So, while I sweated it out in the backyard with the rest of the girls, Chris went and grabbed us this sweet little lap chicken.

20120707. Chicken Watch 2012 (aka over 100 degrees).

She is incredibly friendly and gorgeous but very meek with the other girls. Sleeping arrangements were interesting last night. We now have a section of the coop wired off for the three littlest girls, which is working well. We tried to put the new Easter Egger in with Beaker in the main part of the coop last night, but we quickly realized that was not going to work. The new girl slept on the roost in the attached run. We hope in the next several days to week that she can move into the coop with Beaker. Fingers are way crossed that we will have a peaceable kingdom shortly.

20120703. Coop exclusion zone to keep the new girls safe at night (they have a roost, too).

The section where the wee ones are currently sleeping (they have a roost in there, too).

Introducing the flock:

20120706. The Australorp keeps a close watch on Little Red.

The Australorp has taken to mothering Little Red (who we hope against hope is actually a girl).

20120703. The Leghorn - perhaps about 8 weeks old.

Flighty Whitey, aka Boo (because she’s scared of everything).

20120706. Beaker is a literary girl

Story time with Beaker.

20120703. The wee Rhode Island Red.

Little Red her first day at the house.

20120703. The Australorp - guessing she's about 8 weeks old.

Another sweetie – the nameless, mothering Australorp.

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.