Small Space? Not a problem!

So some of you may feel like you can’t garden or have chickens because your space is just too small.  I calculated today how large our property is.  You’ll never believe it but it is only 1/6 of an acre.  No joke!  It is tiny, but it is mine, and I have fallen in love with the improvements we’ve done over the years.  My house is even smaller.  It is an early 1950’s bungalow.  I am sure it was a first time home for a young family.  With the 5 of us space can be tight, but we’ve come to find that being close, physically and emotionally, is a good thing.  Even though our lot is small I’ve loved having the opportunity to grow our own food and raise chickens.  I was going through my mobile photos from the last few gardening seasons and found some gems.

Last year we hade one grapevine.  It went crazy and produced so many grapes!  I taught myself to can from books and videos and made lots of grape jam and grape juice.  It was a bit of a process since the grapes are seeded. My girls were a big help though.  We also ended up with a lot of watermelon, much more than we could eat, so watermelon jam was next!

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Last year I gardened by covering the raised boxes with black plastic and cutting holes for the plants.  A drip line kept things growing well.  It is a very low maintenance way to garden.

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Remember how I said I don’t do usual plants?  I guess I did have some red tomatoes this year, but the zucchini was yellow, the tomatilos were purple, and the cherry tomatoes were yellow and purple.

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At the end of the growing season there are usually a lot of tomatoes left on the vines that haven’t quite ripened.  Instead of lining every surface of my little home with tomatoes and waiting for them to ripen, I made my new favorite, pickled green tomatoes.  They are so good on a sandwich or in egg salad. Yum!

10441462_10203976080058819_4626542990509297049_n  Even if you only live in an apartment there are always pots that can be placed on a porch.  These little peppers were beautiful and gave quite the kick!   They started out purple, but continued to go different colors until they turned fully ripe and red.  I still have some in my freezer and I’ll occasionally pop one in a dish to liven things up.  10435982_10203249345410907_7521646575556459255_n

In any space you can find room to grow a little something for yourself.  You’ll be happy you did!

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The Gardening Experiment for the Year

So many of the posts recently have been all about chickens, but my first adventures into homesteading were actually gardening.  There is just something wonderful about being able to go out to your backyard and pick your own food.  Every year I like to try something new.  I entirely shook things up this year and chose a new method of gardening.  I’m doing square foot and vertical gardening.  I tried some vertical gardening with a few of my tomato plants last year and I had some of the biggest tomatoes ever.  DSCF8194

My husband has built me planter boxes over the years and they are the best.  I love being able to control the soil and it helps keep the weeds down a little. With the vertical gardening I got some very heavy-duty T posts from the Tractor Supply store.  I picked up some 2″ by 2″ fencing from the Cal-Ranch store.  It is the same fencing we used on the run.

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The T posts came with metal clips that allow us to simply attach the fencing to the post.

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To separate the boxes into square foot sections I measured around the box and put a screw every foot.  From there it was easy to string the twine and knot it to the screws.  Voila, a grid!

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I actually got a spring garden planted this year.  I have tried a lot of new things this year since there is a lot of room for planting different crops with the square foot method.  You do need to make sure that you are allowing enough space for your crop.  For example, you can only put one tomato plant per square, but you can plant 12 radishes per box.  The tomato really needs a vertical space to climb up so it can stretch out.  Speaking of radishes, I have really come to love them this year.  They grow so quickly.  I used to hate them as a kid, but it is funny how tastes can change, and did you know that radishes cooked are delicious?  They lose their spice and take on a whole new flavor.  I like them cooked with my eggs.

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Currently in the spring garden I have radishes, atomic red carrots, red beets, golden beets, peas, kale and spinach.

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I’ve never had success with peas, but I think I planted them early enough that we might get some. Here’s hoping.

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I planted several summer plants from seed and for weeks they sat on top of my table soaking in the sun.  Peppers, tomatoes, tomatilos, jelly melon, cucumber, butternut, amaranth, watermelon, and marigolds have all been transplanted.  My square foot gardening book said to plant a tomato every square foot.  I’m a little skeptical.  My tomatoes often take over the garden, spilling out of tall tomato cages, weighed down with fruit.  I’m very curious to see how this patch is going to turn out.  My tomatoes are never red.  I have become such a lover of heirloom tomatoes and I often like exotic colors.  This year is no exception.  I have purple, green, orange and other colors in-between.

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The only thing using a tomato cage this year are my tomatilos.  I ended up with a lot of empty spaces despite all my plants so I’m hoping this weekend to plant more beets, radishes, spinach and kale.  Maybe I’ll even get in some more marigolds.

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Removable is Better

The pullets (young hens) spent their entire day out in the run today.  Even when it rained they stayed outside.  They hung out under the coop and the minute the rain stopped they were off pecking and exploring again.  As the evening went on I was very worried I’d have to corral them to bed.  I went out around 8:30 and I was thrilled to see the hens in the coop on their own.  Since the girls spent 3 weeks in the coop before getting a chance to explore full time they really learned where their home is.  They are pretty good to use the roost bar to sleep which is great. It will mean less problems with nest box sleeping.   My first flock I had to train to use the roost bar to sleep.

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I love the design of the roost bar in this coop.  It is fully removable thanks to metal rings and wood dowels.  The dowels slide into the rings and are pretty secure.

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The roost bar can get messy quickly.  Chickens poop a lot, and when they are roosting they still poop.  Luckily my roost bar pops right out and within a few minutes of spraying and scrubbing it is almost as good as new.

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I actually used an exterior grade paint on the roost so it will withstand the sharp claws and scrubbings.  So far so good.

My Amazing Bedframe Door and Poison Panic

The run is pretty much done!  Wahoo!  I am SO excited.  One of my favorite features now is this wonderful door.  My husband incorporated a vintage bedframe to make this beauty.  It probably needs to be painted, which will be my job, but currently I’m enjoying it’s natural beauty.  The door is strong and heavy, which makes me happy.  The door failed on our last run which lead to our flocks demise, so this one has to be predator proof.  It even has two locks.

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Wes also constructed this beauty today, the chicken ladder.  I’ll also need to paint it as well.  One of my favorite things about the ladder is that it is fully removable.  It also hinges up and out of the way if needed.

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It was pretty funny seeing the chickens come out of their chicken door for the first time to check everything out.

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The absolutely loved exploring their big space. We leveled out the run a little.  There are just a few small things left to be done, but they can safely roam now.  Funny enough though I had an absolute moment of panic this evening. See that large prickly weed on the right.  My husband assumed it was milkweed, since it does have a milky fluid when cut.  The hens love it and were nibbling it like crazy.  It is all over the run.  Some of the bigger stalks were pulled because we weren’t sure it was good for them.

DSCF8256After I put the hens to bed I started researching milkweed.  Turns out it is absolutely deadly to chickens.  I suddenly had visions of finding all of my hens stone cold dead in their coop.  I typed frantically trying to find images of milkweed. None of the images matched our weeds.  After more panicked research I found out it is actually Prickly Lettuce and it is great for chickens.  Now I’m wishing I hadn’t pulled any of it.  Hopefully it will spread.  I would have never said that before with a weed. Turns out the bindweed, which I always thought was morning glory, may be mildly toxic though.  I never saw our other hens eat it though.  Fun times!   I am also planning on planting Sunflowers, Amaranth, and Flax.  All in due time.

The Easiest Roast Chicken Ever

Sunday dinners are the best!  I love it when I can actually take time to make something supper yummy.   Sundays can often be busy for me though.  My girls and I attend three hours of church on Sunday, and I help out in the Young Woman’s program so I sometimes have meetings as well.  Today was one of those days. I was still able to make a tender, moist chicken with only 10 minutes of prep work.    No, I am not super woman, far from it, but with the help of the crock pot roast chicken turns out perfectly every time. All you need is a whole chicken, onion, apple, celery, butter or coconut oil, and herbs.  Cut up the onion, apple and celery and stuff it in the cavity of the bird.  It keeps the chicken wonderfully moist and gives it a great flavor.  I had the younger girls gather herbs from the garden.  I’ve been lucky that I have a few hardy herbs that come back year after year.  This year we have sage, parsley and oregano.  Give the herbs a rough chop and mix them into a couple tablespoons of butter or coconut oil.  I used coconut oil since my oldest can’t have dairy.  Spoon the herb mixture under the skin of the top of the chicken.  The skin will actually easily separate from the breasts and allows you get the mixture right against the meat.  Then I spoon a bit of it on top of the skin.

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Then sprinkle the chicken with your favorite seasonings.  Today I used paprika, garlic powder, and pepper.  Then put the crock pot on low and let it cook for about 6 hours.

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Once it is cooked through take it out of crock pot and let it cool before carving.  The great thing is we usually will have leftover chicken for soup later in the week.  I served it with mashed potatoes , gravy, stuffing and salad.  The sides probably took more time than prepping the chicken.

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I was glad we had a larger dinner today.  Wes has been working super hard on the chicken run and doors.  Bless him! As I was leaving for church today I noticed a vintage bed frame we bought years ago for one of our daughter’s rooms. It never worked out though because it was for a full mattress, not a twin. Who has full mattresses anymore? Anyway, I said to Wes “Wouldn’t that be great if we used it for the chicken run door”. Sure enough when I came home from church he was using it for part of the door. I can’t wait to share what it will look like when it is done!

So some of you may be wondering if the roast chicken is one we raised. I’m sad to say it is not. Currently we’ve only had chickens for eggs. We’ve named them and treated them more like pets than farm animals. Someday I would like to take the plunge and raise a few meat birds on my property. In order to make it more economical I would need to learn how to butcher my own birds, which is somewhat intimidating. I think it would be worth looking into though. With all the problems of industrial farming I’d much rather put something homegrown on our table. My youngest girls get quite upset when I talk about it. They know where chicken comes from, but they think it would be hard not to get attached. That may be, but animals are more than just pets, especially if they are ending up on our table. I am hoping in the years to come we can really take the plunge into providing at least our own chickens for the table.

Meet our Featherd Girls and Scratched Cornea

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We got our new hens on April 2nd from a local hatchery when they were just a few days old.  Months in advance we chose each breed carefully and put in our order.  Each of my daughters got to choose a breed they liked best.  Chickens can be pretty funny and as they grow they each develop their own personality.  I let them out for some free time this morning and snapped some pictures.  I can’t believe they are almost 2 months old already.

DSCF8210 My youngest chose a Plymouth Barred Rock.  She wanted this hen because she will grow up to have black and white stripes like a zebra, hence the name Zebra.  Violet named her hen all by herself.  Zebra is the largest of the chicks right now and is very independent.  She actually was being picked on for awhile, which is funny to me.  Being the biggest you’d think she’d be free from getting bullied, but not so.  She has been injury free for a little while, thank heavens.  DSCF8221Cleo, short for Cleopatra, is a Black Australorp.  She got the name Cleopatra because when she was a chick she looked like her eyes were painted just like the old Egyptians.  She isn’t quite as friendly as some of the other hens.  She squawks when we pick her up, but sometimes she’ll settle down.   DSCF8219

Luna, not to be confused with Cleo, is a Black Copper Maran.  She hopefully will lay very dark, chocolate colored eggs.  She is very friendly and is quite content to be held.  One day when I was holding her in the sun, she stretched out her body, content to be with me.

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Rose is a Blue Red Laced Wyandotte. I love the lacing she is getting on her feathers.  She isn’t as blue as I’d like, but it will be interesting to see how her coloring will develop.  She can be friendly, but recently she’s taken to being more independent.

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Lydia’s hen, Sweet Pea, has been quite the character from the start.  She is a Salmon Favorelle, and she is very vocal.  From the day she was little she has cheeped and screeched.  We tried almost everything to keep her quite.  Audio books by the brooder seemed to help. She liked female voices over male voices and she didn’t care much for music.  Luckily she has gotten much more quiet.  She has feathered feet and five toes instead of the usual four.  She complains when we pick her up, but usually settles down and will let us pet her.

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Adelle’s hen, Snow, has become very curious and friendly recently.  She is a Silver Laced Wyandotte.  We have been nervous for a month that she is a he.  Her comb and wattles are very red.  As time has gone by though they haven’t gotten much bigger so I’m thinking she is not a rooster which is a relief.  We aren’t allowed to keep roosters in the suburbs.

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Since she was so friendly this morning she was enjoying hanging out on my arm.  I got the grand idea to take a chicken selfie.  Sure my face was makeup free, and sure it was silly.  What I should have been worried about is my eye and that sharp beak.  Chickens are fast and they love shiny things. Before I knew it she pecked my left eye, hard.  I put her down and came inside to look in the mirror.  Sure enough she scratched my cornea.  Oh, it hurts and I can’t see out of it very well.  Such foolishness.  I know better.  I am praying it will heal quickly.  Who knew chicken keeping could be so hazardous.

Losing our Sweet Hens and Starting Over

February 2014 we lost our entire flock of hens to neighborhood dogs. We were devastated. You can see from previous posts that the dogs were a continuous problem.  Without a fenced in backyard dogs had easy access to race around the mobile coop and chicken  run trying to get at our hens.  One evening when we had gone out to dinner we came home and found Lucy, Amelia, and Arwen slaughtered.  The two dogs that had attacked them were still at our house and when we got out of the car at our driveway they barked at us viciously.  My husband protected us.  They seemed determined not to leave and Wes had to resort to chasing them off with a stick.

The dogs had managed to pry open the chicken run door.  They didn’t eat the hens, but left their torn and broken bodies.  I cried as I picked up each one.  Unable to bury them in the frozen ground I had to place them in a garbage bag and place them in the trash.  It seemed such an unfair way to let them go. I never realized how connected I was to each hen until that moment.  I remembered raising them from chicks and all the care I had given in their two short years.

We couldn’t find Perse.  We searched all around the yard and even at my neighbor’s but all I could find were feathers.  The next morning I looked again around the driveway and found a cold, injured, shivering hen under our old car. She was badly hurt with a wound in her back.  We bandaged Perse and did our best to help her, but she got weaker and weaker.  We made the decision to take her to the vet, but before we made it out of the driveway she passed away in my oldest daughter’s arms.  12700_10202138493480303_1473344318_n

1623766_10202138493200296_696733762_n We weren’t sure we would ever get hens again, but as time went by we decided we did want a new brood, but we wanted to make a safer place! My sweet husband agreed to build me a fabulous new coop. We sat down and began designing together. We decided on a 3′ wide, 8′ long, and 6.5′ tall coop. We are only allowed 6 hens on our lot so we knew it would be ample. Not only did we design it to be sturdy and safe, we also put in some dream features. I wanted a broody box for a sick, broody or injured hen, a storage area, a built in feeder, removable roosts, and a few other extras.

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We began construction in late Spring 2014. The base was built and even cemented into the ground to make it extra sturdy. Hopefully we will never move! Before beginning framing we got a roll of linoleum and covered the entire base, which meant all of the corners would be covered by the framing which would prevent peeling. Then we began the framing. The weather was too hot when summer hit, it was unseasonably warm, then oddly we ran into a strange rainy season, which was unheard off. Construction was slow in these conditions and before we knew it 2015 was upon us. With six cheeping hens in the basement we quickly tried to finish our massive project.

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Thankfully it has come together and the coop is mostly done! We still need to build the chicken ladder and we need to finish the run. The chicks are so young they are happy hanging in the coop full time for now. We have super heavy duty hardware on the doors. I chose a morning glory blue and white for the exterior, and yellow for the interior. The roof is shingled and the entire coop is insulated. All of the windows are screened with 1/2″ hardware cloth and then have a hinged plexiglass window on top.

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The front (people) door is very large and swings out wide to allow for easy access.

My husband also designed and installed a built in feeder.  It is very easy to fill and stores a lot of feed. We have modified it already because the sneaky chicks like to waste a lot of feed.

This one piece roosting bar is actually removable for cleaning or repainting as needed.  I wasn’t long before the brilliant white paint became poop splattered.  Luckily it is removable so I can scrub it and repaint as needed.  Maybe a brown color next time?

There are three nesting boxes.  I plan on installing nesting box curtains before the girls start laying to allow for more privacy.

The west side of the coop.  As you can see it is wired for power and there is an electrical outlet on the interior of the coop.  It is easy to plug in an extension cord for any electrical needs.  The nesting boxes all have their own hinged top so I can easily collect eggs without disturbing another hen in a neighboring box.

The East side of the coop.  Here you will find the storage space and the broody box.

This space is already filled with my chicken first aid kit, extra bedding, food, and cleaning supplies.

Here is the front of the broody box.  The door/window has two parts.  On a hot day you can easily open just the plexi-glass.

The whole door swings wide to allow access to the broody box.

I wanted a space where a sick, broody, or injured hen could go.  The wall to the rest of the coop is separated by hardware wire so the hens will still be able to view the out of commission hen.  I’m hoping this will make it easier for the flock to stay whole and not have to worry about a reintroduction period.  I wish this spot was a little easier to reach.  I need a step stool to be able to reach all the way back to the rear of the space.

We moved the chicks into the coop when they were 5 weeks old. They were quickly outgrowing their brooder.  They just keep growing and I hope we can get the run done soon.  Now if only the rain would let up.

The Crazy Chicken Lady is Back!

5f1b40ab8517da02ad5660d9342a047dIt’s been over two years, but I promise I haven’t been in hibernation.  We lost our hens early 2014 due to those darn neighborhood dogs.  We were devastated to say the least!  It didn’t take us long to prepare for a new flock though.  Gardening went on, the new coop was planned, and lots of lots of work took place, and things are still in the works to make our little hill my own special heaven.  I can’t wait to share what we’ve been up to!