Autumn Again

InstagramCapture_45d4508e-3737-49e8-b402-27166d6713e8

Fig preserves, freshly canned, and cooling on the counter.

Growing our own food keeps us well-tuned to the seasons. This past summer has been a bit of a blur as painful realities of life demanded our full attention. The garden got a little raggedy, Hilda managed to hatch three chicks without much attention or fanfare from us, and before we knew it, it was time to plant the the fall and winter veggies!

We currently get 4-7 eggs a day from 10 laying hens, but it seems the eggs are starting to taper as the daylight hours shorten and the temperatures cool. We are expecting some serious molting to start any day. We have started to evaluate our little flock and think about any changes we might want to make as we head into the Fall. We’ve learned that keeping the flock healthy and thriving sometimes means making tough decisions about who stays and who does not.

We like to use the fall to make repairs, changes, and additions to our garden beds and this year we’ve been replacing some of the wood edging frames around the beds and tidying up the layout. Now that most of the summer garden has been harvested and we’ve planted the winter veggies in one big bed that is fenced off from intruders, the chickens are allowed to free range again. They are great helpers in tilling up the beds, weeding away any weeds, and fertilizing the beds for next year. So, as the leaves start to fall, we rake them into the beds and let the chickens break them up and work them into the dirt. It’s a great system!

Some of our last harvesting tasks involve the fruit trees. There are still apples on the apple trees, and we are just starting to harvest the ripe figs to make the delicious fig preserves we use as a marinade for pork and hams throughout the year. The persimmons are just starting to turn a pale orange, and while the leaves are starting to fall from the persimmon tree, the fruits won’t be ready until the weather gets a bit colder. Meanwhile, everything else has been harvested, canned, dried, or frozen!

V__90AA

Hilda hatched 3 chicks in late August (she was setting on 4 fertile eggs) and proved to be a fantastic mama hen!

The Tiniest Egg

016

 

Teri wanted to try raising the bantams and she started out with two little ones earlier this spring. One of those nuggets turned out to be a rooster, so Minnie remains the only bantam currently in residence at Raggedy Hen Farm. We’ve gone back and forth on our thinking about her breed and had originally thought and hoped she was a Welsummer Bantam. As she’s grown, however, we’ve been leaning toward thinking she is an Old English Game Bantam. We finally figured we’d know when she laid her first egg–dark brown would mean Welsummer and barely tinted would mean Old English.

At 19 and a half weeks, without any fan-fare at all, Minnie took to the newly-fluffed nest boxes this past weekend. There was a bit of rustling and some funny little hen noises. She looked awfully tiny in there next to the regular-sized “inspiration egg” (we’ve painted them forest green so they don’t get confused with actually eggs), but as we’ve learned about Minnie, as far as she’s concerned, she’s the biggest, boldest hen there is.

019

 

After some time in the nest box, she emerged and took some long, drinks of cool water. Teri says this is the tell-tale sign that a chicken has laid an egg–when they go straight for the water trough!

023

 

Minnie’s first egg was tiny, faintly tinted and perfect! Her Old English Game-ness confirmed, Minnie has taken her place as the tiniest egg-layer with the littlest eggs at Raggedy Hen Farm!

024

Busy, Bustly Days at Raggedy Hen Farm

006

 

This…is crunch time!  The garden is blousy and overgrown and producing like crazy; Most of the pullets are laying, along with the old hens; it is time for canning, drying, saving seeds,, and just trying to keep up with this last big hurrah of another summer season. This has been an incredibly prolific year as some of our long-term projects like raspberry canes, grapevines, and hop vines are really coming in to their own.  Here’s a little run-down of what’s keeping us so busy…

004

 

We are getting 5-8 eggs a day from our plethora of busy hens. It is so fun to have the diversity of colors in the egg basket. We now have everything from white to green, to dark brown (along with the light brown we’ve had for a while.) We haven’t had any trouble finding homes for all these yummy eggs!

015

 

Our daily forages into the garden with a harvesting basket under one arm are yielding pounds of tomatoes, green beans, zucchini, cucumbers and, now, some of the ripest of the winter squash. This means we’re doing all sorts of canning and preserving, along with eating our share of these tasty treasures!

011

 

The apple trees are laden and almost ready to be picked and canned. We’ll make applesauce and can slices for winter pies. Any “drops” get tossed into the chicken run as the hens all love to eat up the fallen apples.

 

 

 

007

 

We have dozens of pumpkins this year and they are all starting to turn orange! It’s a good thing, too, because it’s helping us realize and find them all…although there tend to be daily “surprises” as we stumble upon yet another swelling pumpkin. These magical vines are starting to get a little ragged after roaming all over the edges of the garden all summer.

014

 

Harvesting Hops! We have three different hop vines that we planted a couple years ago. This year, they are laden with ripening hop flowers and we are determined to dry them and use them in the making of home-brewed beer. These have been incredibly easy and fun to grow–the vines twine and stretch and grow along the fences and up into the trees and the hoppy smell is delightful too!

So, there you have it! We are neck-deep in projects and preserving all the bounty coming from our overgrown urban lot. Stay tuned for an update on the also-very-busy honeybees!

The County Fair!

While we live only a mile from our downtown city center, we also don’t live too far from rural farm land and open fields. It is the best of all possible worlds! Because of our prime location, we were able to walk about thirteen blocks and find ourselves right in the middle of the crowing, mooing, and bleating of hundreds of gorgeous critters at one of summer’s pleasures…the county fair!  Here are a few highlights from our wanderings…

023

This Golden Laced Polish Cockerel seemed to know he was quite the specimen!

028

Teri loved the feather coloring on this Wheaten Maran, and wanted to add this to our list of possible future breeds.

032

There were so many adorable rabbits! Small, huge, and then, there were these two, who looked for all the world like they were kissing.

034

We’ve talked about getting ducks, and this little family was awfully cute! Between the snoozes and the splashing around in the pool, the cuteness was on overload!

035

Well, who knew that folks could enter their gorgeous eggs for ribbons and prizes? We weren’t sure what the judging criteria weer, but it was fun to see all the lovely eggs.

041

Chicks were hatching in a home-built incubator. While we didn’t get to see any hatching as we stopped by, there were some freshly hatched ones fluffing up in the warm incubator.

046

So many well-cared-for goats brimming with personality. We watched a couple judging/showing competitions and read up on all the different breeds present.

047

After lunch, we explored all the jams, jellies, breads, cakes and other home crafted items. It’s so fun to see how other folks’ preserve and create!

We didn’t go on a single ride or play any of the midway games, but we had so much fun exploring, wandering, and learning!

Injury Drama at Raggedy Hen Farm

DSCN8491

 

Mavis is easily the most challenging and aggressive hen we currently have here at Raggedy Hen Farm. So challenging, in fact, that her name has been extended from the simple and classy Mavis to Mavis G@* D^%#@T! Who would have guessed that she would have our first hen-pecked injury?!

Well, she must have had her snout somewhere one (or more) of the bossier hens didn’t want it because when Kori went out to give the gals a treat after dinner last night, Mavis G.D. had a bloody comb and beak. At first glance, it was assumed that Mavis G.D. had attacked one of the others, but, alas, it was she who bore the bloody head. Kori went into the coop to retrieve her before things got worse. Chickens give blood-thirst a rather gnarly enactment–when they see an injury or blood on one of their coop-mates, they will literally peck her to death, no matter how well they all got along before the injury. Blood=weakness.

Mavis G.D. was not too happy being carted in the house to have her comb cleaned–first with water and then with hydrogen peroxide. It took a while to get the blood to ease up, but when it did, Kori put some homemade comfrey salve over the wound. Because she was still injured, Mavis G.D. couldn’t go back into the coop, so she spent the night in the garage with her own food and water. She certainly was feeling out of her element, but it was the safest spot for her to recover.

Today, Mavis G.D. spent the day in isolation in the grow-out pen–she was her usual crabby self and not at all happy about being separated from the flock, but it was for her own good. By evening, the wound was dry and healing well–no sign of infection, oozing, or other unpleasantness. We let her out for an hour of evening free range right before dusk and then let her into the henhouse after all the big gals had gone to bed–which was right where she wanted to be. Hopefully, a night returned to the roost will help to ease everyone back into co-habitation. We’ll be keeping a close eye, however, just in case we need to intervene in any roughness. As long as her wound continues to heal and there’s no blood, we have our fingers crossed that things should be fine.

Of course, with our flock, there always seems to be some sort of drama going down!

 

Bean Bonanza!

034

 

We are on the verge of a bit of an explosion…We planted a few different types of heirloom green beans this spring and, as of a couple days ago, we’ve started to find a few big enough to harvest. With hundreds of blossoms coming on strong, we know it won’t be long (days?) until we’re doing a daily harvest of these easy-to-grow garden treasures!

Heat Wave!

026

We make sure there is plenty of water for all the critters as the temperatures soar–including the honeybees!

 

It is unmistakably summer and the toast temperatures are a bit more than we’re used to this time of year.  We normally get a brief hot stretch in August, but we are into the third week with temperatures in the eighties and nineties with the promise of possibly hitting 100 later this week. That’s a lot of sunshine for us Pacific Northwesterners!

For us, it means extra attention to the critters and the garden. While there are those plants (like tomatoes, squash and beans) that love the hot stretches of heat, there are others (like lettuces, broccoli and chard) that don’t take too keenly to the hot, hot days. We pay especially close attention to the chickens, and take some precautions and steps to make sure they stay as comfortable as possible and survive those 85+ days!

Chickens adjust easier to the frosty colds of winters than they do to very warm weather. With all those feathers, there are some breeds (the wirier, Mediterranean ones) that manage warmer weather better than others (the big, fluffy, heritage English and American ones.) Chickens with larger combs and wattles are better able to cool themselves down because that is the purpose of the comb, to circulate cooled blood away from and back into the body.

019

Dust bathing in the cool ground is another hot-weather coping skill.

 

Here’s some other ways we keep the chickens as cool as possible:

  • Lots of fresh water: we have 3 big water founts for 9 chickens in the run (the two nuggets have their own) and on hot days, we’ll empty and refill these with cold water a couple times a day.
  • Spraying the henhouses and coop: When the temps are in the high 80’s and 90’s, we spray the roofs and sides of the henhouses with cold water during the hottest part of the day and give the coop ground a light spritzing. Even though the run is shaded by fruit trees, this helps to bring the ambient temperature in the run down.
  • Plenty of shade: Our coop/run is located in a shady corner of the yard–there is lots of shade and protection from the afternoon sun.
  • Cool treats: Instead of giving the chickens scratch grains this time of year as a treat, they only get a little of this in the morning. The rest of the day, we give them plenty of greens, melon rinds, frozen berries, and other cooling treats.
  • We also arrange the water and feed stations to the chickens don’t have to travel far to get what they need. When the temperatures are very warm, chickens move as little as possible and we try to arrange their space to accommodate this.
  • Straw mulch=cool ground: We keep fresh straw mulch over the run as this helps to keep the ground underneath cool. When the chickens dig their little holes for dustbathing, they actually get to roll around in cooler dirt.

Of course, we still keep a close eye on the birds to make sure they are not overheating and, alas, laying does tend to go down when the temperatures get really warm and stay warm. Many of the heritage breeds don’t lay quite as well when the temperatures get up over 85 or so and we just have to adjust. As long as the hens stay healthy, active, and happy, we figure we can tolerate a little dip in egg laying!

Guess Who’s Laying?

029

 

Well, if truth be told, several of our gals are laying eggs almost daily, but a pullet’s first egg is always an exciting thing! As of two days ago, we’ve been finding little white eggs and this means that Blue Andy, the Blue Andalusian we hatched in the incubator this past February is the first layer of this year’s pullets. When we say “finding,” we literally mean that she has yet to figure out that the nest boxes are for laying and we’ve found these eggs–looking ever so much like little golf balls–scattered amidst the bedding in the coop! It’s as if that quirky, independent, and jumpy chicken just happened to drop it as she was walking by…

 

032

 

With gorgeous shades of blue-gray, to almost black, feathers and a bright red floppy single comb, Blue Andy is a striking chicken. She also marches to the beat of her own drummer and is a bit of a challenge to contain. We’ll just see how long it takes her to conform to putting her eggs where they belong!

Watch the video of Blue Andy’s hatching on our YouTube channel

Blueberry Zucchini Muffins

010

 

I’m pretty sure the saying “necessity is the mother of invention” covers all gardeners and cooks. Maybe that wasn’t the original intention, but it fits perfectly! As our summer garden is coming into full production and the nearby farms are offering up their seasonal delights, we’re starting to get creative with our meal preparations!

This year’s crop of heirloom zucchini is starting to come on strong as our daily temperatures have warmed up quickly and are staying in the eighties and nineties. We’re already starting to share the daily pickings with family, friends and coworkers. Of course, we’re saving plenty for ourselves and this little muffin recipe is the perfect way to enjoy two of our current fresh treats: zucchini and blueberries…

Blueberry Zucchini Muffins

1 3/4 cup organic all purpose flour

1 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 cup sugar (white or brown)

2 teaspoon baking powder

2 large eggs

2-4 Tablespoons organic macadamia nut oil (or melted butter)

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup fresh blueberries

1/2 cup freshly grated zucchini (about 1 small-medium)

Freshly grated nutmeg

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease muffin tin (this recipe makes 12 muffins). Blend flour, salt, sugar and baking powder together (either by sifting or with a fork.) Lightly beat the eggs, oil or melted butter, and milk in another bowl and then add to the dry ingredients. Stir until about half-mixed. Add the blueberries, zucchini, and freshly grated nutmeg to taste and stir together with fork just until mixed. Batter will be lumpy and uneven (the trick to good muffins is to NOT over-mix–stir them by hand just until everything is incorporated.)

Spoon into muffin tins and bake for 10-15 minutes or until lightly brown and firm to touch. Serve warm with melted butter or jam.

 

July at Raggedy Hen Farm

005

We’ve been busy with travels and adventures and meanwhile, the garden is full of life here at Raggedy Hen Farm! This year’s pullets are growing up and the summer crops seem go grow several inches every day.  Here’s a little peek at what’s going on…

002

 

Pumpkins and winter squash! With plenty of pollinators, we are getting plenty of growing squash.  Last year was a good pumpkin year for us and this year seems to be shaping up quite nicely too!

013

Zucchini anyone?  We came back from a trip to the East coast to find nearly a dozen zucchini hiding among the big squash blossoms. These vegetables grow fast and we should be seeing daily harvests for the time being. We need to get busy finding ways to eat or preserve these beauties!

003

As the tops start to brown and die back, we have started to harvest the onions and garlic.  If we let the tops die back all the way, we won’t be able to find the onion bulbs!  The weather is warm and dry–perfect for allowing these to dry so they’ll be ready for storage.

023

Meanwhile…the pullets are turning into almost-full-grown chickens. The two nuggets are 14 weeks old and we’ve been letting these two gals out for a bit of free ranging. Teri’s little bantam, Minnie, is still quite tiny, but full of so much sass. Since they can’t do too much damage, and they are a pair for now, they enjoy their play time foraging in the clover!

The days are long and warm and that means plenty of time for us to spend trying to keep up with our abundant garden. Of course, at this time of year, it is quite the challenge and we are often tempted to pour a glass of lemonade and just sit and watch the world go by.  Ahhhh, summer!