Friday, November 25, 2011


Keeping "free range" chickens is awesome.  It's really fun watching them scratch around and it feels really good to see them finding food in the most miniscule microscopic items found in the lawn, as well as using the unwanted weeds as forage also.  The downside to all this free food and free weeding/pest control is that the ladies don't know where to stop.  They first eat the weeds and the grubs, then they scratch deeper for smaller bugs, eat the grass, and once those are gone, will keep digging for more.  They have those crazy big feet with crazy big talons and they know how to use them.  Since we got the ladies nearly a year and a half ago, they have slowly but surely destroyed over half our lawn. 

Now I am a strong believer in lawn alternatives for your yard.  Lawn is a really rediculous idea when it comes to the environment.  It's a monoculture that requires lots of herbicides to keep it weed and moss free, tons of water to keep it green in the summer months, and it provides absolutely no benefits to our natural environment.  One of my readings in grad school said that "the American lawn is an ecological disaster."  When I read this, I thought YES!

But I digress.  Logically, I shouldn't really care if my chickens destroy my lawn.  The problem is, it's not my lawn.  It my landlord's lawn, and I doubt she shares my viewpoints of it's presence being en ecological disaster.  Since there is chance that we will be moving out of this house in the next year or so, repairing the backyard needs to start now.

This leads to the title of this post.  No more complete control of the backyard for the ladies.  Clever rigging of random fences has restricted them to a small portion of the backyard that includes their favorite foraging area, the compost pile.  We've also let them have the garden area since that's pretty much finished.

Naked kale to the left.
They took no time in stripping the leftover broccoli and kale plants down to their bones and should start working on the smaller stuff soon.  Their poop should fertilize the soil and hopefully some bad bugs and weeds will get consumed.  They really love scratching around in there, so I don't think these new boundaries are bothering them much.

Once sequestered, Shawn and I had a chance to survey the real damage.  And there's a lot of it.  Any and all areas that had a nice layer of moss are now completely bald, (I really like moss as an alternative to grass.  Less water requirements, and it naturally suppresses weeds.) and the whole area under the fruit tress are pretty much cleared.  Those bitches...

Spot #1 of at least 4 areas to be restored.
Today we started the grass reseeding process.  We waited until all the bushes and trees dropped their leaves, which happened this week thanks to the storm.  We loosened up the top inch or two of soil and sprinkled seed.  Hopefully a sprinkling of soil over the top of the seeds will protect them a bit from the sure onslaught of tiny birds coming to eat the seed in the next couple weeks.

This whole lawn thing had really caused me some stress and sleepless nights.  I know, it's silly, but our landlord is really opinionated about her lawn and likes to see a nice one.  Hopefully this reseeding works and I'll be able to breathe a sigh of relief.

Moral of the story: Chickens are tiny bulldozers.  They will destroy all.

P.S.  Sorry for the lack of posts as of recently, I got a mini job that has kept me busy.  But now that I'm getting into the swing of my new schedule, I should be back again.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Heirloom Seed-Saving

This past gardening season, I ordered my seeds from Uprising Seeds in Acme (Bellingham), WA.  I went with them because they sell organic, heirloom varieties, and sell seeds from plants that are accustomed to our cooler, shorter summers.  This also guaranteed that they were not GMO's and that seed saving would be a possibility. 

Saving seeds from GMO or hybrid varieties generally results in weaker offspring.  GMO seeds are created to have the highest yield for the first year but have weak genes.  Heirloom varieties are old breeds that have been bred year after year, for many generations, and are open-pollinated, thus resulting in "true" seeds.  The bottom line is seeds saved from heirloom plants are likely to be successful year after year.

Anyway, saving seeds is generally pretty easy.  You just have to think about how a plant would reproduce in nature.  Think to yourself, what would this plant do if I just went away and left it alone?  The plant will flower and be pollinated by bees, then a fruit will be produced that will either be eaten by something, or fully mature and fall off the plant or dry out.  That's when the seeds are ready.  That's when you should collect them to save for next year.

With beans and plants that produce an actual pod (like broccoli) this is easy.  You just wait for the pod to dry.  These are the broccoli pods I harvested.  I'll just collect a bunch of these and put them in a little paper pouch and store them in a cool, dry place until spring.

(The only concern I have with these seeds is whether they will be "true" or not.  They were next to some other brassica plants that were also flowering so I hope they don't become hybrids.)

Green beans, peas, and broccoli: food potential for next year.
With tomatoes it gets a little more complicated.  Ever looked at a seed inside a tomato?  It's covered in a slimy goo.  This goo protects the seed, but unless it goes through a specific process, will also stay on the seed and suffocate it.  In nature, a tomato will get ripe, then fall off the plant to mold on the ground.  This fermentation is key to getting the seeds ready.  Allowing that to happen outside would result a pain-in-the-ass task of looking for seeds that are likely buried in the soil.  And who wants to pick through a moldy tomato?

Though there is still some picking through mold necessary, this task is made much easier and less disgusting when done inside.

First you pick some really good, healthy tomatoes.  Cut them open and squeeze out the seeds into a small container.  Add a 1/4-1/2 cup of water and cover with something that will allow the container to breathe.  Put the container on a windowsill somewhere, where it won't be disturbed and can be watched, and wait.

Day 1

Day 4

Day 8

I would say that's fermented.
Now that it's gotten nice and moldy, the seeds should be ready.  First you carefully remove the nastyness at the top and chuck it.  (It peels off quite nicely in one piece.) Now gently pour off the liquid on top.  The seeds that are floating are no good so those can go too, it's the seeds that are sunk to the bottom that you want.  Rinse out the seeds by either using a colander or by swishing them around in the container with a couple rounds of fresh water.  I found that they needed to be agitated and kneaded a bit to get their skins off.

Now the seeds need to dry.  This can be done by dumping them out on a paper towel or coffee filter.  They need to be super duper dry before you store them or else they'll mold again.

Once dry, they need to be peeled off the paper towel, (mine stuck pretty good and some seeds have some paper towel bits stuck to them but I think they'll be fine.

I think they're pretty.
So there you go.  This is my first time really saving seeds so we'll see how it goes next spring!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

BAM! Wedding shoes.

I like comfort.  But I also like originality.  So naturally, I wanted both of these elements when it came to my wedding shoes.  Though I rarely wear fancy shoes, I am a firm believer in shoes making a huge difference in one's mood.  So after I bought my dress, my hunt for awesome shoes began.

Here was my shoe shopping criteria:
* They have to be awesome.
* They have to be tall(ish).
* They have to be super comfortable. (I don't want to do the switch into flats for the reception thing.)
* They have to have their own personality.

I also originally thought they would have to be gold, but after looking in several stores, I decided that it was not a requirement.

So I started my shoe hunt.  I thought it would be easy, but it wasn't.  The tall ones were too uncomfortable, and none of them were nearly as awesome as I wanted.  Then I tried on these:

 I found them in the sale rack and they were like heaven on my feet.  They were cute, tall, and incredibly comfortable.  But awesome?  Not really.  Then a lightbulb went off.  I could make them awesome!  So that is what I've done.  A trip to the craft store resulted in some black lace and pretty metal flower things.  A couple Mabel feathers and BAM!  Awesome wedding shoes.

I can confidently say I will be stomping around my wedding with major style.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thursday Harvest

But the purple ones had the best flavor.
I played outside today.  And this is what happened.  ----->

Carrots generally stay good in the ground for a while so not picking them is the best way to store them until you want to use them.  But I picked one earlier this week that was cracked and had some worms in it, so I decided to pick the rest.  They also last a long time in my 'fridge in a bit of water. 

Carrot-pulling is so fun.  You never know how big they're going to be.  The seeds I got were a mixed trio of yellow, orange and purple carrots, but by far, the yellow ones did the best. 

The other thing I harvested were the sunchokes!  Also equally fun.  The plants were 8ft or so tall, so I just grabbed the thick stalks and yanked up.  Most of the tubers came out attached, and the ground was so dry that I didn't even have to wash them off.  I'm so excited to eat them!

Yay for root vegetables!
I only harvested half the batch, since I'm waiting for the plants to die off a little more.  And they'll keep fine in the ground. 

Last, but not least, the ladies were all in sync today with their egg-laying.   When I went out there at 11am this morning, I was greeted with four beautiful eggs.  (Oh, by the way, Elsa started laying last week.)  I can still tell the difference between all of them, and I hope they stay that way.  Unfortunately, when the babies' eggs start getting bigger, I have a feeling I won't be able to tell anymore. 

Abby's is the one on the top right, Frannie's is below that, Pearl's is at the bottom left, and Elsa's is above Pearl's.  I love Elsa's eggs because they're super round with almost a purple hue. 

Also, Elsa has gotten very social lately.  She follows us around wherever we go.  It's really cute.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Phonebook: The Rest of the Story

Apparently the phonebook experiment I conducted a while ago to help with baby chicken integration was done incorrectly.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised since it came to my ears after passing through 5 others.  (My grandma's friends hairdresser-->my grandma's friend-->my grandma-->my dad-->me.)  I'm still unclear on the whole story but let me tell you how I understand it thus far:

When I heard the story, I thought the phonebook was supposed to be on the ground.  Too simple.  According to my grandma's friend's hairdresser, the phone book must be hung in such a way that the pages flutter above the chickens.  I am still unsure of how it can be hung in a way to achieve this result, but I guess I can see how that would work better than if it was on the ground, asking to be walked over.

Regardless of whether the phone book method was executed correctly or not, the end result was what I wanted.  The ladies are incredibly happy and getting happier each day.  They almost look like they are part of one single flock now.  At this point, any improvement in their politics outweighs my expectations for for their relations, so I'm a happy homesteader.

The planter box is a very popular hangout location.

Friday, November 4, 2011


An-pan is a deeelicious treat that is a staple in the Japanese diet.  There is not a single supermarket or bakery in Japan that doesn't sell it and it is loved by all.  An-pan is pretty much bread filled with sweetened red bean paste. (That's the 'an' part, and 'pan' means bread.)  My dad isn't a huge fan of it, because during his first days in Japan he bit into one thinking there would be chocolate or custard inside.  I think he's held a grudge against them since then.

I used this recipe to make them, and I think it was a success.  They looked pretty much like the real thing and tasted pretty good too.  I might add a little more milk or add less flour to keep the pan part moister.  It also took longer to rise than the recipe said, but that could have been an error on my part.  Making sure it properly rises in all the steps is key, people.

You should click HERE for a little surprise.  This is how much an-pan is loved by all in Japan.

You're welcome.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

99.9% hand-recycled notebooks

Remember the paper I showed you how to make a couple weeks ago?  Well, I did something cool with them.  I originally started making them for wedding invitations (which have yet to be made since we're still a little far off and don't know all the deets yet,) but I was curious how versatile they could be.

So I though to myself, I wonder if I could make an entire notebook out of them? 

First I had to come up with a way to make a sturdy front and back cover.  I looked to my trusty always-around-the-house crafting supply of cereal boxes.  (Seriously, cereal boxes are the bomb.  I can't even count how many times I've looked to them to complete crafting projects.)  I carefully cut some out so they would be just an eighth of an inch or less larger than the inside sheets on all sides.  Now I had to cover them with something that looked nice.  The first one I made, I covered with the paper that I made, but that required that I had sheets be larger than the inside sheets, which would have made the notebooks a little small, blah blah blah, cool, but I needed something better.

So I looked around my crafty room and saw it.  My old environmental science textbook that I tried to sell back a hundred times and no one would take.  Bingo.  I ripped out some sheets with nice pictures of nature on them and brushed on a light coating of acrylic paint.  Once dry, I sprayed them with some finishing spray and glued them on the cereal-box-cover sheets. 

For the inside, I cut the papers so that they were even on all sides and sewed the binding together with old de-knitted sweater cotton yarn.  Pretty nice, huh?  Yeah, it was a little painstaking, but I think the result is really cool.  They can be used for general notes, a journal, or even a nature journal (keep it out of the rain, though.)  I think the inside paper would be really good for water coloring, since it absorbs water pretty well.  And just think, they are notebooks that are completely (save the glue) made out of post consumer product.

The insides of the covers were scored so they open and close nicely.

They turned out so nice, I thought, "I wonder if I could sell these?"  What do you think?  I looked on Etsy to see what was available, and there definitely weren't any journals with hand recycled paper on the inside.  But what made me discouraged was that there were so many journals on there already that were being sold for 5 bucks or less.  With all the effort I put into these, there is no way I could sell them for that low.  I was thinking maybe $15?  But then I thought, "I wouldn't buy some silly notebook for 15 bucks, why would someone else?"  

So I need your help, dear readers.  What would YOU pay for one?  I'll even add an incentive: each person who responds to this post with a suggestion, I will enter into a drawing to win one of these.  How's that?  But you have to promise that if you win, you have to tell me what you think after I send it to you, k?  Lets say I'll hold the drawing next Thursday.  That gives y'all a week to respond.  Cool?
Here are some more specs on them to give you a better idea:  The small ones are 4.5x6.5 inches and the larger ones are 5.25x7 inches.  They all have 10 sheets of hand made paper inside of them.  The paper varies based on what batch they came from so they are all unique.  I can't wait to hear what you think!  (And let me know if you want more details about them.)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Happy Egg Day!

Which egg is not like the others?  Notice that the one the bottom row, second from the right is a little smaller?  Well that's because it's Pearl's first egg!  She's been acting provocative around us for the last month or so, so I knew this was coming, but I'm still very proud.  I feel the same way as I did when Abby laid her first egg.  This is what it must feel like to have a child hit a milestone.  Wait, she is my child and this is a milestone!  So, so proud.

It's so perfect.  Small, but perfect
And the best part is, even after she laid her egg, and left the nest box for Frannie to use, she came back to it to sit on it for a little bit.  I think she's slightly confused about her new mommy feelings.  I don't want her to go broody so I took the eggs after that.

They aren't babies anymore!

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