Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tour de Coop

I could probably blog more if I would carry a camera around my garden instead of a cup of tea -- but I can't manage both, and the tea wins every time!  These past two weeks have been taken up with a lot of dealing with a horrible itchy poison ivy-like rash (and a week dose of steroids to calm it down, which it did, but now that the steroids are gone the rash is back), monitoring blood pressure following alarmingly high readings at the dr visit regarding the rash, and a broken tooth, necessitating my first dentist visit in I don't want to even say how many years (bad bad bad, I know).  But it's all to the good, and all will be well (if this allergic rash can get under control) -- so on to my chickens.

It seems like everyone is posting pictures of their new cute chicks and waxing enthusiastic over coop plans and the eggs to come, so I thought I would join in.

I guess I'm just ahead of the curve, as I began urban backyard chicken keeping 6 years ago.  I began with 4 ameracauna hens, 2 of which I still have and still give me an egg each almost every day.  They used to lay through the winter, but the past 2 years they stop in November and resume in late February (and really, who can blame them?).  At one point I had 6 hens, having added 2 babies three years ago.  Now I am down to 2 of the six year olds, and one of the youngers  -- so only 3.  However, from these three I am currently getting more than a dozen eggs a week.  I would like to get two or three new chicks or pullets this summer, but we go to the beach in May, which makes timing difficult.  Often when we get back the stores have sold out all of their chicks and don't get any more.  But we'll see.

We also need to revamp the coop and set aside a larger area of the backyard for them to roam, so as to reclaim the rest of the backyard for our use!

We made our coop out of 2 old rabbit hutches, place like a "T", with the sides of one replaced with wire.

We have lots of doors and latches for ease of reaching in (the latches are to confound raccoons and possums), and the "downstairs" is screened, with a ladder that raises up and down.  I usually let the girls out in the backyard in the afternoons.  Right now there isn't much damage they can do, but they will destroy any plantings I try to do or any planted pots.  They chew the irises and lilies down to the ground, and no grass survives back there.  We keep bird netting strung across half the back yard to keep them out of the vegetable garden.

Project number mumble mumble for my husband is to revamp/rebuild the coop (which is rotting and practically falling down) and to fence off the back part of the yard, thus allowing access from the back to the vegetable garden again (currently can only access from the driveway and gate) and replanting our backyard to make it more pleasant.

The heat of the summer is more of an issue here, than winter cold.  In the enclosed part, there are doors that open to screened windows to get cross ventilation.  In July and August I keep an old sheet draped over the top to shield the coop from the brutal afternoon sun, since our back yard neighbor cut down their large oak tree.  Sometimes I wet the sheet down to help them keep cool, when we hit triple digits.  Ameracaunas are a good hot weather breed, as they are not very big and heavy.  There are usually only a few nights in the winter when we have to rig up a heat lamp.  This winter I think we only used it a total of 4 nights.

Usually we pull up the ladder at night and lower it back in the morning, to deter raccoons and other critters.

The pay-off!  A wooden ball encourages the hens to lay in the spot that I want them to, rather than any old place -- I sure don't want to have to dive deeply into chicken coop to search for eggs!

linked to Farmgirl FridayHome and Garden ThursdayHomestead Barn Hop

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Little Free Library movement!

This is my newest obsession:  putting a Little Free Library in my front yard.  I heard about this idea on NPR a few weeks ago:  individuals building and placing little "libraries" (about the size of a large mailbox or bird house) in their front yards, near a path or sidewalk, stocking them with some books and encouraging neighbors and passers by to "take a book, leave a book".  Individuals are encouraged to leave notes and bookmarks in the books for others to read and add to, when they read the book.  Neighbors stop and chat.  Little children can "go to the library" on their own, walking or riding bikes to the free little library in their neighborhood, without having to be driven.  All grassroots -- no government maintenance or funding, just neighbors giving to their neighborhood.  The picture above is from the website, showing one that you can order, so you can see the general idea, since mine isn't ready yet.  I have an artist friend that will help me build one, and of course "art" it up substantially.  A tiny whimsical library, nestled under the pine tree, perhaps with a garden chair nearby -- inviting a passing child or curious adult to take a book, sit a bit in the garden . . . .

You can read about little free libraries on the their website: Little Free Library, and look at a photo gallery of all the cute little libraries.

I have my number and my sign -- we'll be number 975!  Now, I just need to get one built and mounted.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Exuberant Garden

It's only mid March, but we have had 10 days of temperatures in the 80's!  The garden is responding . . . exuberantly.  Especially fetching this March, is the kerria (yellow rose of Texas, not actually a rose).  Perhaps it's because of the way it pops against the newly painted white brick of our house.

Gardens become special through the provenance (personal history) of the plants within them.  Just like the concept of provenance with regard to antiques, knowing the provenance of a plant elevates both the plant and the garden.  I received this kerria from my in-laws' next door neighbor about 12 years ago.  She was a woman in her late 80's, maybe early 90's, and was an extraordinary gardener.  She had a degree in horticulture or agricultural science and during World War II she filled the position of County Extension Agent in Madison County (Jackson, TN) since all the qualified men were away at war.

The rest of the front yard is also growing with exuberance -- the early spring ephemerals (spring beauties and woodland phlox) competing with false nettle, wood ivy, and what passes for grass in my yard.

The red buckeye is blooming, which means the hummingbirds will be returning soon and I should put out the hummingbird feeders.

amsonia (dogbane)
I have transplanted the amsonia from house to house where-ever we have moved.  It grew at our first house bought in 1978, a brick bungalow build in 1920.  The elderly couple we bought from, were only the second owners of the house.  They had lived there since the 1930's and the husband was an avid gardener.
spring beauties naturalized in the yard
The spring beauties and woodland phlox I have naturalized throughout the front yard were given to me by my friend Mary, out of her magical yard.
woodland phlox and frothergilla

uh oh -- the false nettle is getting out of hand, but I can't mow until the woodland phlox and lyre leaf sage set seed!  I really hope the yard police don't come after me.

native azalea

more woodland phlox, and some irises
It's hard to keep up with the blogging when my yard beckons!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Beef and Cabbage Tart

Last night I made this Beef and Cabbage Tart.  It was very easy and a hit with everyone.  I got the idea from a post of Sweet Bee.  Her recipe called for ground beef, mushrooms, and red onion.  I didn't have any mushrooms, so I sautéed a pound of ground beef, along with some thinly sliced red onion wedges, some diced bell pepper, and about a quarter of a head of cabbage, thinly sliced.  I seasoned the mixture with some pepper and Italian seasonings (although I think next time I may use seasonings of a more central or eastern European nature, like thyme and rosemary).

Meanwhile, I had thawed a package of frozen puff pastry and laid it out in a large square on a baking sheet, and cut some of the puff pastry into strips to lay along each edge, to build the edge up.  I pre-baked this for about 10 minutes at 430 degrees, then filled it with the meat mixture, sprinkled some mozzarella cheese and bleu cheese on top, and finished baking for another 10 minutes.

One could easily use any tart or pizza dough, or even crescent rolls for the base.  Whenever I make any kind of savory tart or pizza I pre bake the pastry for about half the cooking time, then put on the toppings.  This keeps the pastry dough from getting too soggy from the filling.

Linking to Home and Garden Thursday

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

covers for altered books

Last month the Altered Book Club that I participate in completed its most recent round robin of altered books, and the assignment for this past month was to create a cover for our own books.  In the round robin each person picks a theme for their book and then the book goes to a different member each month for them to do a spread, so that at the end of the round robin everyone has a book of their own theme filled with art pages created by everyone else in the group.

The theme for this most recent book of mine was "Metamorphosis".  I created the cover by first glueing down a decorative napkin, and then sections of mulberry paper.  There is a little segment of a peacock feather tucked into the mulberry paper that my daughter came downstairs with when she was cleaning up her room, right when I was working on the cover.

I also finally did a cover for my previous book, which is called "Ramble Through My Garden".  This is simply a cut up paper bag, which has been repeatedly scrunched, which softens and breaks down the paper fibers making it more like cloth.  I made a paper flower from some of the pages from the book, and stamped the title on a metal garden marker.  I inked up some of the wrinkles in the paper, and added some dragonflies cut from some printed tissue paper.

Several years ago, when studying world geography and the cultures of Oceania, the girls and I cut strips of kraft paper, which we scrunched and softened into cloth like strips, which could then be sewn or woven together and used like fabric.  This mimics the making and use of tapa cloth made from tree fibers by traditional cultures in the Pacific.  This book cover uses the same technique.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Great Day in the Garden!

It's been a beautiful day here at Chickadee Garden -- to have a Saturday in Spring that is warm, not raining, and not taken up by chauffeuring children around town, and with no other obligations, is rare indeed!

I've spent the bulk of the day working in the vegetable garden, weeding and hoeing up little areas to slip in some radish, pak choy, beet, sugar snap peas and lettuce seeds -- tucking them in edges around the peripheries of the beds so that the center areas can be planted with tomatoes, peppers, squash, etc. later in the season.

Got the herb garden all weeded and it appears to need some serious rehabilitation.  We're heading to Lowe's tonight for a number of things, so maybe I'll throw in some top soil.  I think my thyme has played out after 14 years of growth there, and the chives appear MIA also.  There's a bit of tarragon in the lopsided pot, and some Mexican Sage (ornamental) at the base of the center pole.  I need to reset the plates for the edging.

The blueberry bushes around the herb garden are in full bloom, as is my peach tree.  We are a good 5 weeks from our official last frost date.  If the lows so much as nudge 32 degrees when the peach is in full bloom, that will be it for any fruit this year (not that WE have ever picked a ripe peach, but the squirrels would be very sad I think).

The fig tree actually has baby figs on it.

Back over at the Salad Table, where the salad greens are growing v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y, I had been pondering how to keep intrepid garden cat Ophelia from plopping herself in the middle of the plants, where she has taken to sleeping.  I had put on some spare chicken wire and a sideways tomato cage, but I found her in the cage snoozing the other day!  I found the solution here -- plastic forks.  The tines deter the cats!  My husband asked if the forks were for when the salad is ready to eat from the Salad Table.

You can see some painting progress on the side of the house here (my husband's outdoor activity for the day, and the redbud tree in full bloom outside the kitchen window.

This redbud is in the front yard.  The flowers emerge directly from the bark of the tree, all along the branches.

A very good day at home.

Linking to Show off Your Cottage MondayTuesday Garden PartyFarmgirl Friday

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Easy Meal: Oven Beef Stew

I think I've said before, that one of my "easy meal" cooking strategies is to cook when I cook.  Generally, it doesn't take very much longer to cook a double, triple, or quadruple recipe than to cook only enough for one meal.  When do large batch cooking I have dinner for that same day, and also one or two or three additional meals to put in the freezer, or to share.

My mother has a recipe for oven stew that she has made a gazillion years, and shared the recipe with me and my sisters when we were grown.  It has become one of my family's favorites over the years and I usually make double batches a couple of times a year, having stew one night and then another time topping the remainder with frozen puff pastry and having beef pot pie.

My mother doesn't really cook anymore, as she doesn't have the stamina for the cooking prep and process,  and she had been expressing a desire for "her" stew, so I offered to make up a batch for her.  I used 6 pounds of stew beef from Costco and made two pots' worth -- enough for her and my Dad for several meals, as well as enough for my family for a night of stew, a night of beef pot pie, and several single lunches and dinners that could be reheated according to a person's individual schedule.

note ever present tea cup and electric kettle, handy for tea refills
The recipe is so simple -- because there is no need to brown the meat!  Everything gets dumped into a big dutch oven or stock pot together, and placed in a 275 degree oven where it cooks unattended for 5 hours. When you take it out, perfect stew -- perfectly thickened gravy/broth, perfectly done carrots and potatoes, perfectly done fork tender beef that looks the same as if it had been browned!  This could probably be done in a crockpot, but a 5 hour cook in the oven usually works better for me as I do not like dealing with a bunch of dinner food prep first thing in the morning!  And usually I have forgotten to thaw the meat (or it never thawed overnight in the fridge) -- so getting things into the pot between noon and one o'clock just works much better.  And it can hold in the oven for a long time, so it is good for those nights when husband isn't coming home until 7 and a daughter won't be home until 9, etc.

dump all the veggies in the pot

add the meat and the rest of the ingredients and mix it up as best one can

one pot out of the oven
the other pot after it's done cooking
Oven Beef Stew (for this big batch session I doubled all of this and used two pots)

2 or 3 lbs stew meat
1 or 2 onions, cut up
2 or 3 celery stalks, cut up
3 or 4 carrots, cut up
4 or 5 potatoes
1 can cream of mushroom soup or tomato soup (or both)/can use home-made cream of- soup of course
a half cup or cup of water (depends on if you use 1 or 2 cans of the soup).

Mix it all together in a big dutch oven or other oven-proof pot with a lid, cover and cook at 275 degrees for 5 hours.  Give it a good stir towards the end of the cooking time.

The recipe is good just as it is, but sometimes I add mushrooms, some bay leaf, some thyme -- just whatever I feel like.  And you can vary the amounts of veggies and the amount of meat to whatever suits you.  No matter what you do, it turns out good.

Linked to Farmgirl Friday Blog HopCountry Homemaker Blog Hop

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

It ain't pretty (yet)

Oops -- time to put together a post about what's happening in the garden, but I've yet to get out there and really do some spring clean up.  Soooo  -- here it is, but it ain't pretty.  In fact the vegetable garden area is kind of Sanford and Son, on a bad day.  Too many half done projects.  The garden fence has yet to have the posts cemented due to too much rain -- the post holes are full of water.  The exterior of the house still isn't completely painted.  The chicken coop is falling apart.  And the list goes on and on and on.

The cold frame has kept me supplied with some greens, along with chocolate and pineapple mint, through the winter.  I've got a lavender in there that I got on sale at Lowe's in the late fall and never planted out.  Our winter has been so mild (aside from a couple of cold snaps that went into the 20's) that everything might have survived in the open garden with just some covering on the cold nights, but who knows that at the beginning?

And more of the same greens in the garden itself, having made it through without any cover at all.  The mustard bolted to flower this past week with our record 83 degree high on Friday.

Some broccoli plants, again uncovered all winter.  They have given me multiple small harvests over the past couple of months, most recently appearing in our stir fry lo mein at dinner tonight.

The blueberry bushes are all in full bloom.

As is the peach tree.  Too early.  Doomed I am afraid, to one of our typical surprise (can it really be a surprise when it happens almost every year?) hard freezes that come after a February warm up.  Our last frost date is April 15.  Most of the plants will handle a late hard freeze between 32 and 29 degrees.  But not a peach tree.  It will be like our tulip magnolia that began blooming almost a month ago.

Those brown clumps should have been large pink tulip shaped blossoms.  Oh well.  Such is the life of a gardener.

But, back into the vegetable garden, you can see some clean up really needs to be done.  In all honesty, when I was taking all these pictures the sun was so glaring I couldn't see a thing in the camera viewer so I had no idea really of what I was taking a picture of or how they would show up, so composition and focus is kind of random (at least that's my story and I'm sticking to it).

The rosemary and chives are looking reasonable.

And over on the side of the house the Salad Table is coming along.  I had to lay some chicken wire and a vegetable cage on top of it to keep the cats from plopping down in the middle of my lettuce and snoozing in the sun.

And in the front yard, the red buckeye is close to blooming.  When the red spikes open I know it's time to put out the hummingbird feeder, as the first of the migrating hummers time their journey to coincide with the blooming of this nectar plant.

linking to the first Tuesday Garden Party of 2012 at An Oregon Cottage ; The Homestead Barn Hop