Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lovin' Life on the Homestead

Today is a beautiful day!  

I'm not just talking about the weather, although I'll to that wonderful bit of pleasantry.  Here at the homestead, things are moving along.  We have slaved in the few hot days we've had, and my husband has been working 6-day weeks at work and coming home to work on the chicken coop.  But the rewards are beginning to roll in.

Most important is that fact the the chickens are out of the house!  Yay!  No more dander, stink, or crowing in the house.  No more going to let Boo-boo out and loading up food, water, and chickens to take outside every morning, and reversing the process every night. Time to clean house.  

They are mostly happy to be in the coop, but Boo-boo wants to go outside.  That's what she's used to, after all.  The Littles are in a large dog cage after Gracie attacked James last week when I tried to combine their pens.

Littles in their playpen
Big girls in the coop

They are still laying eggs, though!  I'll admit I was worried the stress of the move may stop production for a while, but Boo-boo laid and egg the first day, and I found two the next day!

Boo-boo laid an egg in the peppermint.
Can you see the little blue egg in the shavings by the door?

Our butterflies are beginning to emerge from their chrysalises, too.  We found one ready for flight Tuesday afternoon, and another came out while I was writing this.  We'll let its wings dry for a couple hours before we take it outside to the bee balm.  The bee balm is the only plant with flowers right now, so I am especially thankful for it this year.  (Although my yellow climber rose has started to revive and is flowering again, the Japanese beetles are devouring it, so the flowers only last about a day.)

A few minutes after emerging.
Notice the chrysalis at the bottom.
Bug found this one ready to go outside
and spread its wings.

I started on my pallet garden Tuesday, as well.  I got all the gourd plants in, but I'm worried I'm going to run out of soil.  I had no idea this project would require so much.  I do love the rugged, old-farm look it adds to the now bare flower bed around the house.  
Pallet Garden
8 Martins, 2 Dippers, 2 Sennaris

The house next door where I feed the cats in the barn is now under contract.  I met the buyer--well, the husband portion of a couple--and he seemed like a nice guy.  He was friendly and excited about the property.  They plan to make it a small farm of sorts, restoring the gardens and bringing in horses.  You know I'll be in heaven with horses next door.  The only thing that could trump that would be having my own out my back window.  I love watching Dano and Josie across the street, but in summer the trees' green foliage blocks my view, and they are so far away.

Under Contract

To top everything off, we have had the best weather this month.  I don't recall ever having such a mild July.  I am loving it.  We can play or work outside almost every day without the extreme heat and humidity we usually have here in the Chesapeake Bay watershed area.  We have had a handful of nasty days, but otherwise it's been heavenly.  If only I had time to go horseback riding in this delightful weather.

Ahh.  One day I shall mount up again.

Life is good!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Mindful Monday: Windowsill Herb Garden, No Soil Needed

You don't need a ton of space to have fresh herbs to add to your cooking.  If you've got a sunny windowsill, you have plenty of space for flavor.  In fact, for many of the culinary herbs I grow, all that's required is water and room for root to grow.  No soil needed.  

I love glass, especially old bottles with labels formed into the glass or painted on.  Different colors are wonderful, creating a spectrum in the window, but they aren't necessary.  After all, the herbs will add their own color to picture.

You can see in the picture that all I use is a bottle--or vase--filled with water.  Any container should be washed in hot, soapy water (or in the dishwasher) to kill any microorganisms residing within.  You should also pull any low-growing leaves from the stem.  If they get in the water, any bacteria they harbor may multiply in the water.  Of course, it's also important to keep the water level above the level of the shortest stem.  I like to fill mine to the brim every morning.  That way I know they will have enough water through the day.  You'll be surprised how much they drink in 24 hours, especially once they start growing roots.

Spearmint in Old Milk Bottle
Spearmint Roots after 1 Week

Chocolate Mint Roots
(I love this bottle.)
Mug Full of Basil Roots

Not all herbs will root, however.  Parsley, for example, will keep much longer in water, but it will not grow roots.  So, use these herbs while they're fresh.  Once the edges of the leaves start to brown, they are losing the battle for life.

Curly Parsley in Flask Bottle
Parsley Stems in Water, No Roots

Herbs that will root in water:

  • Mint (including Lemon Balm and Catnip)
  • Oregano
  • Basil
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary (This one is slow to root.  Have patience.)

Okay, so I didn't get all specific with the pictures.  But cutting stems is fairly easy.  

  1. Pick a healthy stem.
  2. Find a spot near the bottom and just above or below a node (where new stems or leaves grow from).
  3. Cut the stem with sharp scissors at a 45 degree angle.  (This allows the plant better access to the water.)
  4. Cut off any leaves that will be below the water level.
  5. Stick them in the water!
If you want to transplant the cuttings into soil, you should cut them about 4-5 inches long.  This gives the plant the opportunity to put more energy into growing rather than supporting the leaves on a longer cutting.  You can also add small gravel to the container, which will promote more prolific and stronger roots.  Gravel may even act as a substrate alternative to soil in a wider-mouthed container, allowing the cutting to grow as if it were in soil.  (Care must taken here to make sure the cutting is getting the nutrients it needs to grow.)

Of course, if you don't have fancy bottles or vases of an appropriate size, you can use any container that will hold water and support the leaves above.  I have basil cuttings in a coffee mug, and I have used mason jars, as well.

Even if you don't use the herbs to flavor your foods, the cuttings make beautifully fragrant bouquets suitable for any room.

How do you keep your herb cuttings fresh?

This post is part of the Clever Chicks Blog Hop!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Feathered Friday: Chicken Coop Pop Door

There are some egg-citing things going on here at the homestead.  And each will have its day, but today I want to brag about my pop door the incredible man who built it for me.  (That's my husband, of course.)

This door was thought up by me and my meanderings online looking at why others had done, but my husband made it happen far better than I ever dreamed.  

After much measuring, and four pilot holes, the first cut was made.  This was such an thrilling event for me, I took like twenty pictures!  But I'll spare you the monotony. 

First Cut!

The cut panel was removed, and Bug measured to make sure Daddy got it right.  

The opening is 20" high from the bottom 2x4 frame, and goes from stud to stud.  The piece at the bottom where the wood was exposed was cut off the door and nailed back in place, as you will see.

The intention was for the door to slide up to open, so Tom built a track.  He started with wooden tomato stakes, nailing them in the corner against the outside wall and a stud.  Then he cut a piece to close the gap that would be at the top of the door.  

Wooden Tomato Stake Track Frame

We used tomato stakes because we had them, and they were the perfect size.  We cut them to 45", which is just over twice the door height.

The inner part of the frame was done with a composite lumber, making it weather proof.  The pieces are nailed to the studs and floor 2x4, leaving a space slightly wider than the door to allow for expansion and smooth movement.

Completed Track

The bottom of the frame on the outside was also made using the composite material.  Here, it's important to note that the pop door should have something at the bottom to prevent grubby raccoon fingers from prying it open.  My door has a slot at the bottom that it fits into, effectively thwarting those pesky predators.  (The support frame of the door, as seen above, also makes it pretty heavy, so I don't think they'd be able to lift it even if there wasn't that protective track at the bottom.  But you shouldn't rely on that.  Blocking the bottom is the best way to keep predators out of the pop door.)

Composite Lip for Bottom of Door
A good shot of the complete door frame

Once the door had a supporting frame, an eye screw was added to the top and a rope tied on.  Tom drilled a hole through the header boards to run the rope up to a pulley above.  

Pull Rope from Door to Pulley Above
The rope was then run diagonally toward the entry door, where it runs through another pulley and then hangs down the wall.  

Rope Across Ceiling and Down Wall by Entry Door
After measuring the where the rope would be when the door was open and closed, Tom screwed a 2x4 cross beam between the studs.  Using another eye screw and a clip, the pop door is able to be securely held open.

Cross Beam & Rope Holding Pop Door Open
I'm sure you can see the bright green color of the rope.  I wanted it that way so it will be easily visible in case of a power outage on a dark day.

As an aesthetically pleasing touch, and also to keep rain away from the door a bit, my wonderful husband built a little roof using the composite. 

This door is incredibly engineered, and I couldn't be happier with the results!

Have questions about this build?  Ask below!

This post is part of The Chicken Chick's Clever Chicks Blog Hop!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tomato Bag Success!

As you know, I don't have a garden this year.  But that little bit of misery transpired after I had already purchased my plants and planted my seeds.  So I was left with a table full of seedlings that had no where to go.

Now, there are some I'm not as concerned about.  Like the brussel sprouts I accidentally bought instead of broccoli.  Those will make yummy treats for the chickens.  I even lost the few tomato plants I planted behind the asparagus row.  Those went first to the deer, then to the bobcat.  The bobcat also took out my asparagus, but left me the promise of replacing them next year.

I do still have my gourds, and one of the Medium Martins had it's first flower open last night.  

I gave up on my sandwich and canning tomatoes, but I refuse not to have grape and cherry tomatoes.  So, I used the credit I had from a garden supply company (for sending me moldy and dying plants a year after I ordered them) to get four tomato bags.  

You may have heard of these.  Essentially they are square canvas bags used for creating flourishing container gardens.  The water will run out through the material if there's too much, so over-watering isn't possible.  At the end of the season, you can rinse them out, let them dry, and store them flat.  So they take up very little space over the winter.  Mine are 15-gallon bags, and each one required a 64-dry quart bag of potting soil.  

I had four grape tomato plants that I had purchased.  They were struggling in their little starter cups, clinging to life with roots bigger then the space provided.  I put two plants in each of two bags.

You can see how spindly and bare they are.

The cherry plants I have were those I grew from seeds I had saved last year.  I could bare to watch them wither and die.  There were nine, and I saved each one.  A few were growing too close together to separate, so they remained neighbors.

I put four in one bag and five in the other.

I added Tomatoes Alive! fertilizer around each plant and watered them until it ran through the sides of the bags.

A week later, and my cherries looked like this:

It's now been about two weeks, and the plants are thriving.  They needed staking, and they have flowers.  There are even some tiny cherry tomatoes forming.  

(Note: I did NOT use tomato cages to stake them in the bags for fear of ripping the fabric.  Instead I used wooden stakes and wrapped twine around them, making sure the plants war supported where they needed to be.)

Grape Tomatoes after 2 weeks
Cherry Tomatoes after 2 weeks

Cherry Tomatoes after 2 weeks

Cherry Tomato Flowers and Fruit

 As a side note, Chamomile is a tenacious weed.  It will grow anywhere.  It's growing out of the bottom of the grape tomato bags.  They are neighbors.  But I also have it growing under the deck and in pots it's never been near.  The seeds are so tiny and light, you see.  When the wind blows, they just float away.  No poof balls needed.  

Chamomile growing out of tomato bag

 Have you had success with growing bags or container gardens?

This post is part of the Clever Chicks Blog Hop!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Mindful Monday: 20 Uses for Coffee Grounds

Coffee is one of the most versatile things found in the kitchen.  Aside from it obvious use as a delicious wake-me-up beverage (sweetener and lots of cream, please), coffee offers benefits to the garden, house, and even personal beauty.  

I looked at several websites, and found lots of used for both fresh and used grounds.  From the incredibly practical, to the somewhat fanatical (cellulite treatment, anyone?), coffee definitely goes above and beyond it's normal call of duty.

I have chosen 19 of my favorites to list here.  While I haven't tried all of them (for instance, I'm closer to strawberry-blond then auburn), the ones I have tried really do work.

1.  Use an old margarine tub--or other reusable container for green purposes--and fill it with fresh grounds.  Put it in your refrigerator to eat up offensive odors.  Every couple days, give it a stir, and replace it after about a month.  (Just like baking soda, right?)

2.  Freshen your car, too.  Use the toe of an old pair of nylon stockings (or the middle of the leg, just be sure to tie off both ends).  Fill it with fresh coffee grounds, add a couple drops of vanilla extract (I like almond, too), and tie it off.  Slip it under your seat in the car, and voila!  

3.  The odor-removal technique also works with you personal olfactory glands.  If you have an odor you can't get out of your nose, sniff at some coffee.  Beans or grounds, it matters not.  The coffee will cleanse your olfactory palette, and allow you to smell the fresh air again.  (This also works if you are trying to smell differences in perfumes or candles, too.)

4.  You can use damp grounds to aid in fireplace cleanup.  Just sprinkle them on the ashes.  It will cut down on airborne dust as you remove them.  (It also adds that wonderful aroma.)

5.  Use a few teaspoons of grounds (fresh or used) on a dish rag, and scour grime off of dishes, pans, or even tools.  Wash with soap afterward.  (Note: Don't do this with non-stick cookware, painted dishes, or plastic.  It's too abrasive.)

6.  Use a cotton swab dipped in steeped grounds to minimize the appearance of scratches on dark wood furniture.  (Be sure to test in an inconspicuous area first.)

7.  Old grounds make a nice sepia dye for paper or fabrics.  Soak the grounds in hot water then add whatever you want to color.  The longer you soak it, the darker it gets.  (This also works using tea, which is how I first tried it when I was in high school.)

8.  Ward off ants, slugs, and other creepy-crawlies that cause damage to your plants by mounding grounds in a ring around the base of the plant.  (Keep in mind that leaves touching the ground are still vulnerable.)

9.  On the other hand, worms like the coarse grounds.  They need gritty substances in their diet to aid digestion.

10.  Got roaches?  Make a roach trap by filling a can or jar with 1-2 inches of moist grounds, and line the neck with double-sided tape.  The scent draws the roaches into the trap.

11.  Keep cats out of your garden with a mixture of orange peels and coffee grounds.  Sprinkle it around plants or areas they seem to like.

12.  Coffee being acidic, your acid-loving plants will love it as much as you do.  Roses, azaleas, rhododendrons, hydrangeas, camellias, and evergreens all love acidic soil.  Work the grounds into the soil around the base of the plant.  They will do the rest. (Note: Do NOT do this for pink hydrangeas, else they will slowly turn blue.)

13.  Stir grounds into a watering can or soil to give seedlings a boost of nitrogen.

14.  Mix carrot seeds with fresh grounds before sowing to give them an energy boost and keep pests away.

15.  Working with stinky foods or chemicals?  Rub some grounds over your hands to exfoliate the dead skin odors cling to.  This is great for fish and garlic, but I'm thinking of rosemary, whose piney scent is a sticky and sappy as it smells.

16.  Speaking of exfoliating, add some mineral oil or vitamin E to old grounds and apply it to your skin with a loofah.  Not only does it remove dead skin, it stimulates blood flow, promoting healthier and tighter skin.

17.  Give yourself a facelift utilizing 1/4 cup of grounds mixed with one egg white.  Spread the mixture on your face.  When it becomes dry and flaky, rub it off and rinse.  See instantly tighter skin.  Can't beat that.  

18.  Stay out of the sun, but still get a tan.  Boil 1 cup of water and your old grounds, let it cool, and rub it on your skin.  Let it soak in for about 15 minutes,and rinse.  (It is unclear if this works on us pale-skins without prior sun exposure, but it will rejuvenate a fading tan.)

19.  If you are brunette or have dark red hair, a coffee rinse can rejuvenate the color.  Steep used grounds in 2 cups of hot water, rinse through your hair, and rinse with water.

What do you use your coffee grounds for?

This post is part of the Clever Chicks Blog Hop!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Feathered Friday: Keeping Cool with Frozen Treats

You can't tell now, what with the temperatures felling more like May, but last week it was hot here in the mid-atlantic.  Oh, and the humidity.  But I guess that's what I get for living in the Chesapeake Bay watershed area.

With the heat and humidity, I was reluctant to put the chickens outside.  But they needed to go out.  They enjoy their time outside.  It's where they belong.  For my part I enjoy watching them interact through in a more natural environment, and my two groups are being introduced to each other so integration in the coop will (hopefully) go smoothly.

Their area is shaded, and we get nice breezes in our open area, but I was still worried.  Then I read a post on The Chicken Chick about making a frozen fruit smoothie for the chickens, and I decided to give it a try.

I already had frozen fruit that I had picked myself, so I pulled it from the freezer, along with a bag of frozen raspberries.  (The raspberries were store-bought, but the only ingredient was "red raspberries," so I was okay with giving them to the chickens.)

I used two 9" round cake pans to make my frozen treat.  I have two pens I needed to supply, but having more than one option when all the chickens are together will prevents fighting and allow those at the bottom of the pecking order to get some, too.

I started with frozen peaches.

Then I added some blackberries.

Next, I took the bag of raspberries and tossed them in the food processor to puree them, but I left it a little chunky.  It turned out that there wasn't quite enough of the sweet red liquid to cover the fruit in both pans, so next time I'll add water.

I poured the raspberry puree over the fruit in the pans and put it in the freezer.

I wanted to add a few more layers, but I didn't have time this day.  When I do it again, I will add a peppermint layer and probably apples and/or zucchini/cucumber, too.  The possibilities are endless!

The chickens loved their keeping-cool treats.  However, I noticed that none of the blackberries were eaten in either pen.  And I know from experience with the girls next-door that pineapple is also undesirable.

The next day, having exhausted my frozen fruit supply, I tossed frozen cantaloupe and watermelon rinds into the pens.  Once again, they loved their frozen treats.  

Keep Kool!