Thursday, February 27, 2014

Co-parenting chickens

Jay and I had lunch with our next door neighbors last weekend. I mentioned our upcoming lunch a few weeks back. I planned to serve an arborio rice and butternut squash soup. Jay said we had to serve something with eggs, so I made two quiches, one with mushrooms and one with spinach. OMG they were good. And I was reminded of exactly why we're doing this chicken thing. Just look at the difference in these eggs!
Comparing eggs from store and our chickens

Our gathering went exactly the way I'd hoped it would. We got to know one another, talked about what we each wanted from having a backyard flock of gallus gallus domesticus and enjoyed a meal made possible in part by the three hens we are currently chicken sitting.

I could sense both Matt and Marisa's excitement building throughout lunch, and by the end, we planned a field trip together to Cluck the Chicken Store in Paoli, Wis. to learn more about having a flock and to get some coop ideas. 

After lunch we went to visit the girls in the back yard. I popped open the door and was delighted to find someone had left us an egg. I gave it to Marisa (even after today's quiche, we've got lots of eggs in the fridge). 

I am pretty darn excited about this upcoming adventure - that has already begun!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Time to start some seeds

It may be below freezing outside, but inside it's time to start some seeds. My Vegetable Planting Calendar from Madison FarmWorks says that Feb. 26 is the day to plant leeks, onions and shallots from seed. I tried from seed last year but they didn't go in as early (post-hip surgery and PT wouldn't let me do stairs until middle of March!) and were rather wispy. I got a crop out of them, but they were small. This year, seed is in earlier and I've got a sunnier spot in mind.

I like to plant them in a clear plastic salad box. I can plant 100+ seeds in the box and the lid makes a nice, cozy environment for the first few weeks. I'm starting mine on a heat mat - helps with germination.

I wet down the potting soil generously first. Then scattered seed on top and covered with a bit more soil.

Covered and cozy on a heat mat. Germination is 7-14 days.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Maybe, just maybe, winter isn't all that bad

American Family Insurance, has a blog called "Dream Protectors." I was recently asked to write something for all the gardeners out there wallowing in the snow and the cold. Here's what I came up with.

Maybe, just maybe, winter isn't all that bad

Monday, February 17, 2014

Building community one chicken at a time

Jay and I are relatively new on our block. We just achieved one year of moving into our home on Mifflin Street. I'm pleased that within the year we have gotten to know some of our neighbors well enough to borrow a cup of sugar (literally), and others who we wave at as they drive by (and they wave back) or who stop as they are walking their dog for a bit of small talk.

These casual friendships are wonderful, and I would like to deepen our friendships and relationships with a few people on the block. This reminds me of a story my dad once told me. Early on when we were on our farm, he met some people who were even newer to the area than my family. This fellow asked my dad, "How do you get to know your neighbors?" My dad replied, "Your borrow something and return it better than when you got it." They then parted company. The next day, that same fellow came up the hill and asked to borrow a tool from my dad - and that family has been life-long friends since.

I love that story - it says so much about neighborliness, and taking risks to ask for what we need, and taking risks to trust people.

A great example of building community is the growing "Little Free Library" movement. Here is one across the street from our hours that the creator and owner incorporated photos of children and pets from our block.
So with that favorite story in mind and after discussing it with Jay, one afternoon last autumn I crossed the driveway to our next-door neighbor's house, knocked on the door and said "Hi there, have you two ever thought of raising chickens?" No sooner had the word "chickens" left my mouth when Matt called to his wife in the house and said, "Come here, you're going to want to listen to this."

It turns out they were interested in raising chickens, but were concerned that their two dogs wouldn't get along with them. My proposal was to build a coop together on our land (away from their dogs but really close to their house) and co-parent a small flock together. They were in.

This winter we are going to plan our coop, work out the co-parenting details and figure out how to do this together. 

This is exactly the kind of thing I want to do with my neighbors, and it feels very much like building community up around me. It's also good to remind myself that community building happens in small increments, and before we know it, we've got something we can all love and appreciate.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

What I learned by Day 2 of chicken sitting

A few thoughts 48 hours after taking my chicken sitting job:
  • My light-bulb/brick/water warming system works, but leaks light. I wonder if this will affect these very light sensitive birds?

  • A 60-watt bulb will keep water from freezing in above 0 degrees F temperatures.
  • A 100-watt bulb will do the job down to (at least) -17 F.
  • Eggs will freeze in this weather. The coop we design will somehow keep eggs from freezing. THOUGHTS?
  • Bending down to work at ground level is for the birds. I want whatever we create to be waist high and easy to access.
  • Three chickens in a rather small space seem to be able to keep one another warm at just about any temperature!
  • When I go in the yard, the chickens hear or see me and come out into the run to greet me (ok, let's be honest, I was carrying food too!) Getting them back into the coop for the nightly lockup was impossible in the current set up. I want a coop that doesn't require a door to shut them in at night but access that provides predator safety and a wind break.
  • When we go away for one or two nights, I want to be able to let the chickens be without a sitter. This means automatic water and food. I'm thinking about the Le Bistro cat feeder we have as a viable food option.
My friend Betsy send me a bunch of suggestions based on the coop she has. If you have suggestion about what you would have done different, please share them! We'd all like to hear.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mifflin Street chicken parade ends in my back yard

Meet Headband, Capt. Hastings and Goose (I don't know which is which). Here they are in Chris and Geoff's yard awaiting relocation.

These are the three chickens I will be taking care of for the next six weeks while my neighbors across and down the street a few houses are away in their native Australia. Chris and Geoff spent many hours yesterday melting and chipping ice to free the wire chicken run so we could move it into our backyard. Then Sunday afternoon the three of us paraded down the sidewalk and across the street with the coop, run and wagons of food. I wonder what the block thinks now?

Following three educational and amusing hours with Twain Lockhart from Nutrena Feeds, I was both very excited and a little nervous about taking on the responsibility for three lifeforms. Yes, we have cats, but they live indoors, have a cat fountain with a large reservoir and a automatic feeder that delivers cable three times a day. What I'm saying, is I don't really have to think about it more than once a week.

This chicken routine is entirely different. Because of the cage design, it's important to let the chickens out during the day that lock them up in the coop at night. That's not such a big deal except if we want to be away, which at the moment only looks like it may happen once. I have to figure something out to lock them up at night.  So our first experiment with chicken sitting will be an exercise in figuring out if we really want to do this, and how to make it easy :)

I had to clear out some snow for the coop and chicken run.

The snowblower wasn't able to get down along the bumpy grass, so I shoveled out as much as I could.

There is a plastic "igloo" at the far end of the wire run where they chickens sleep and nest to lay eggs. There is a clear plastic cover over the run to keep out snow and rain.

My first experiment in keeping the water from freezing; a square of bricks around a 100-watt lightbulb.

Put a metal bowl over the bulb. If this doesn't work, I'll use Chris' method of watering them twice a day.

The three chickens in their new location. I can see that photographing similarly colored birds isn't very easy when they are near one another.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Stick a fork in me - I'm done

Wow. What a great day, and met many people I know and new people. Jane LaFlash, Kathy borkowski, Kate heiber-cobb, Ed from church, betsy true, megan cain, a friend of jay's from high school and many more. Today took another chicken class, mushrooms in the garden, growing tomatoes, pruning techniques, and I stepped into several others. What a fun day!

Saturday schedule

9:15 Basic pruning techniques
10:30 mushrooms in the Garden
Noon do it yourself first aid and maintenance
2:15 going beyond the basics in food preservation
3:30 small batch preserving
4 volunteer at the Madison area permaculture guild booth

Madison Garden Expo virgin

I'm at the Madison garden expo for the first time ever. why hasn't anyone ever told me about this before? Last night attended two classes about chickens and one called a bounty of seasonal fruits and vegetables with PBS's Melinda Myers.

This rooster just stood there throughout both chicken seminars. Just fascinating to watch. I CAN'T WAIT.