Friday, April 27, 2012

Chicken Run

The Chicks and Hens that I wrote about previously are absolutely adorable. Only 8 weeks old, the little ones have grown by leaps and bounds, and Zelda (Speckled Sussex) and Buttercup (Buff Orpington), the two hens we acquired, have been with us for 6 weeks. They are all in their new digs now and seem very happy.

It took several weeks for the two ladies to get settled in and begin to lay, but currently appear relaxed and are offering about an egg a day. Buttercup has been faithful to lay one about every 24 to 25 hours.  Zelda on the other hand, seems to skip a day now and then. After two days of no eggs, we laughingly said, "Zelda, chicken stew", and sure enough she came through yesterday. (wink)

Scratching and in constant motion
The chicks were quickly outgrowing their brooder, so we decided we had better put in a run and one large enough that we could divide the area, separating the chicks from the hens until the chicks grow larger and can defend themselves and the hens have an opportunity to get acquainted with the new girls in town.

We did a lot of reading prior to building the run, and one excellent source when it comes to almost anything about chickens is BackyardChickens.com. They suggest 2-3 square feet per hen inside the house and 4-5 square feet in the outside run. We wanted our girls to have adequate space; thus, the area would encompass the front, one side and the back of the coop.

Of course many things take longer than estimated, but it was worth the several days of effort to get it as we wanted. We put in 4 corner posts anchored in a concrete base in order that the structure withstand the high winds we get at times; a metal roof was used on the side to offer shade in the summer heat and a dry area for them to scratch during the rainy season. The end result is a 19-square-foot-per-chick enclosure.... nothing too good for our girls. (wink)

South side, chicken run
North side, chicken run
Due to many predators in our area, we used wire mesh (expensive) for the lower half and regular chicken wire for the top half. The 3 foot high mesh runs the perimeter of the run, is secured inside, folds under the base 2 x 4, extends one foot to the outside and is covered over with dirt and pebbles.

We added a place for them to roost on either end, and chicken wire divides the run so they can get used to one another over time. We chuckle at how much time Zelda and Buttercup spend at the fence line with the chicks.

We have one more little project: the area above the entrance is currently covered with chicken wire; we have some used Suntuf in the shed to put in its place to make an even dryer area.





My husband and I were chuckling the other day: just think of what chickens have done for our language. What other ones can you think of?

Hen-pecked
flew the coop
cooped up
pecking order
mother hen
get up with the chickens
go to bed with the chickens
don't count your chickens before they're hatched
don't put all your eggs in one basket
walk on egg shells
egg on your face
cock sure
cocky
rules the roost
cock of the walk
chick
you're no spring chicken
nest egg
madder than a wet hen
you're chicken
ruffle your feathers
that's chicken feed (scratch)
he's a bad egg
run around like a chicken with your head cut off
coming home to roost
empty nest 

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Brassica oleracea

Kale (Brassica oleracea)


Kale. Who loves you baby?

We all do! Worldwide, cruciferous vegetables have beautiful color, texture, and some even display their ruffled edges, and kale is a star among them. It is one of the easiest things to grow, nutritionally one of the best; high yielding, fast growing, and just like the energizer bunny she just keeps on giving. What’s not to love? And it is that time of year.

Brassica, a genus of plants (family Cruciferae aka Brassicaceae) includes a prolific family of Bok Choy, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage, Cauliflower, Collards, Kale, Kohlrabi, Mustard, Rutabaga, Turnips… It is said to have originated in Asia Minor, eaten by ancient Greeks and Romans, brought to Europe by the Celtics, and to the United States in the 17th century.

Kale prefers cooler temperature, and in our Pacific Northwest garden it has been a most reliable vegetable producing abundantly year round, winter, spring, summer or fall (I think I just broke out in song). And you know what else? After a frost, nature gives it a final brush of sweetness. With regular watering and full sun, it thrives in slightly enriched organic garden soil with good drainage. Organic heirloom seed varieties can produce beautiful deep green (Dwarf Siberian) to blue curled leaves (Dwarf Blue Curled Scotch) to the bright purple stems of Russian Red Kale and Red Winter, and these can be seen in our garden.
 
Nutrition: according to the American Heart Association, kale is rich in beneficial antioxidants, vitamins K, A, C, B6, along with many other cancer-preventing compounds, and is a good source of fiber and calcium.
Propagation: sow seeds outdoors in early spring, or as we do, start them indoors in a sterile starting mix; once germinated, they are transferred either to the garden hoop house or into the raised beds.
Harvest: snap off the outer leaves and allow the smallest, terminal growth to continue to produce. Rinse, dry and you’re ready to cook.
Versatility: combine younger leaves in your salad; sauté, steam, braise and serve as a side dish or entree; include in your omelets, casseroles, potatoes, pasta, soup and stews; and it freezes beautifully all by itself for addition to your meals at a later time.

As an added bonus here is a simple favorite recipe. Yesterday I picked the final 5 pounds from two of last year's kale. This year's plants are also beginning to produce.

Sautéed Kale (or Kohlrabi leaves, Spinach…) from Diana's kitchen

3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, divided
3 spring onions, chopped
1 to 2 lbs Kale or Kohlrabi leaves, tougher ribs removed, and leaves chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, diced
Kosher salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup vegetable or chicken broth
2 Tablespoons Red wine vinegar (cider or Balsamic)

Heat 2 tablespoon olive oil in a Dutch oven; add chopped onions, touch of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, and sauté for several minutes over medium heat. Add chopped Kale and cook on medium high heat for several minutes, tossing with two utensils until all is coated and bright green.

Reduce the heat to medium and push the leaves aside; add another tablespoon of olive oil to the empty side and add the diced garlic, a pinch of salt, crushed red pepper flakes and cook for about a minute. (Be careful not to burn the garlic.)

Add the broth and heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally until desired tenderness. Add your choice of vinegar, stir and taste for any additional salt or pepper. No need to fret if you have cooked too much for it heats nicely the next day, or simply freeze it to enjoy at a later date.

Note: We do not remove all of the rib with kale since we like the crunch, but do so with kohlrabi since it is coarser. Sautéing spinach takes a minute, and in that case sauté the garlic with the onions. For any bacon lovers out there, you might consider frying up a slice of bacon (chopped) in the beginning process.
Grilled wild Alaskan salmon, baked sweet potato fries and a little kale. Oh, so good and so good for you.


Thursday, April 5, 2012

Chicks and Hens

On occasion I have suggested to my dear husband, "let's get some chickens". He has been quick to respond with a slight tilt of the head, a sideways glance and a bit of a grimace. I took it to mean he was not too keen on the idea. So be it. After all, the vegetable garden keeps me pretty tied for much of the year.

One of the things we enjoy is the local Home and Garden show, and this year we did again. Lots of similarity from previous years: the home (improvement) was in the large main building and with many of the same participants, while the garden was in another smaller facility, and to our liking, somewhat expanded. We rather quickly strolled the aisles at the main site, then headed out to the other.

We surveyed the vendors, chatted with a few of interest, and as we were nearing the end, there it was, a chicken coop and two smiling faces. We smiled in return and were drawn to their booth and the couple. I told the young man, "I've been wanting one, but Pete's not been too keen on the idea"; to which Tristan replied as he moved his hand over the doorway, "Right here: Pete's Hen House". Laugh, we did.

"Come over here, Pete. Let me show you this".

Sometime later... wired for electricity, heat lamp, the brooder box, four (4) one-week old chicks, and if you buy this floor model, we'll deliver and set it up right after the show. Pete looked at me and said, "Let's do it". My sides are splitting.

"Buff Orpington, two Golden Sex Links, and a Rhode Island Red, all good chicks", he said.

Right after the show Tristan arrived as promised with truck and trailer and some help, but as the rain continued and the hillside proved to be sopping wet, not to mention it was nearly dark, he asked if they could leave the coop along the driveway and return the following Sunday for install. That was fine with us.

The girls would do well in the large cardboard box for a week; they had food, water, a heat lamp, and we would have them inside with us.

The Girls_one week old
The two-week old chicks were patient and growing, and their brooder pen arrived as promised.

'Missy', Rhode Island Red
'Rosie', the Buff Orpington
Two Golden Sex Links, 'Sadie' and 'Sophie'
No easy task ahead: the hillside was satiated from the endless rain. That morning it continued, then snowed, and rained again, but fortunately subsided as they began to work. The first attempt to drive up the incline was aborted_ the truck tires spun in the wet clay.

Plan B. Luckily Tristan had a winch that would hoist the truck to the top of the hill, and then the truck was the anchor, while the hoist steadied the hen house, and the guys rolled it upward.



 

















Putting it in place

It took the entire morning to get this done, and despite the difficult task, these young men never complained, were determined and positive the entire time! An absolute delight to work with these folks, and the quality of construction, well, we couldn't ask for anything better. Should you be in the PNW and are considering a coop, visit the Chicken Coop Store, and tell Tristan we sent you. You won't be disappointed.

Three weeks have passed and the girls are growing, four-fold. Their coloring is beautiful, their wings have formed and the necks are quite elongated. A favorite thing for them to do is jump on top of the feeder. They are quite cute when we talk with them: they freeze and stare and listen, then go on about their business. ...but there is more of the story.

Sophie and Sadie


Missy, Sadie, Rosie










Ms Sophie
Considering it may be September/October before they get to laying eggs, wouldn't it be a good idea to get a few one-year old hens? A lady was selling young ones on Craigslist. Let's go look.

A week later and we were thrilled to collect our first two eggs from the coop. Thank you ladies! And as of today, they have given us 8.

The Speckled Sussex, aka Zelda, has been slow to lay; she has offered only 2 so far and walks around and moans a lot. It makes me chuckle and am considering renaming her Mona.  Undoubtedly she was nibbled upon by the other hens or roosters before we got her, but is beginning to get her comb back and is very beautiful.

Zelda

First two eggs










I was struggling to come up with a name for the Buff Orpington, and my wonderful husband asked, Why not call her Buttercup? And so she is. Beautiful coloring, as sweet as can be, and look at those beautiful tail feathers.

Buttercup's pompadour
 
Now I must go see what gifts we have in store.