If you have been following my blog for a while now you may remember in this post from last spring I mentioned that we were adding to our flock with hopes that they would continue to provide us with fresh eggs through the winter. At that time we bought 12 chicks – 8 buff orpingtons and 4 black astralorps. When they were just a few days old one of the black astralorps became sick and died. We lost a second astralorp during the summer to some kind of predator, likely a hawk that carried it away, and we lost one of our young buffs due to an injury that wouldn’t heal. Thus we ended up adding 9 new layers to our flock.
I am happy to report that our plan has been a huge success. From December 1st through today our flock has provided an average of 7 eggs per day. Way more than my husband and I use.
Our current chicken count is 24. Here is the lineup –
1 rooster and 23 hens
2 of the hens will be 6 years old this coming spring (probably no longer laying)
2 of the hens will be 4 years old this coming spring (probably laying few if any eggs)
7 of the hens will be either 2 or 3 years old this spring ( we have had so many buff orpingtons it is hard to keep track of which ones we have lost) (should still be laying but maybe not as many as they once did).
3 hens that will be two years old this coming spring (should be laying regularly)
9 hens that will I year old this spring and just began laying late this past summer (laying regularly)
Having excess eggs has allowed us to continue to share them with family and friends. A couple days ago when we dropped some off for a neighbor he told us “these are the best eggs.” My husband replied “because we have happy chickens”.
We keep happy chickens by allowing them to free range. They have plenty of room to spread out and peck and scratch and do what chickens love to do. Yes, there are risks involved and some times we lose chickens to predators, but thus far the rewards have far outweighed the risks.
During the winter months it becomes more of a challenge to keep “happy chickens”. While we allow them access to the outdoors every day, when temperatures are bitter cold or there is snow on the ground the chickens seek protection from the elements.
This year my husband made them an additional sheltered area. He pulled our trailer near the chicken yard where it would be stored for the winter. After he blocked up the wheels to keep them off the ground, he covered it with a large tarp. The tarp drapes over both sides all the way to the ground. He placed bricks on the tarp, both on the ground and on the trailer, to keep it from blowing in the wind.
Underneath the trailer he spread straw and hay for the chickens to nestle in or scratch and peck through. He also places their food dish under the trailer each day.
Thus far we have had an unseasonably warm winter and snow has been scarce, but on the days that we have had cold winds or snow, the chickens have taken advantage of this shelter rather than stay in the coop all day.
It seems that October just flew by. There are several things that I intended to write about but just didn’t get the posts finished, so I decided condense them into this not-so-short but sweet post.
Little by little my blog is acquiring new readers, so I want to start by welcoming newcomers to my blog. Feel free to look around and explore previous posts. Please leave me a comment if you find something you like or just to let me know you were here. I always enjoy hearing from readers.
October 2018 Highlights
The Garlic Is Planted!
October is the month for planting garlic in Michigan. The objective is to plant the garlic 4-6 weeks before the ground freezes in order to give the garlic time to establish roots. If you would like to more about our garlic planting process you can check out these two posts from our 2016-2017 growing season.
This year our wet weather and mostly below normal temperatures in October made for less than ideal planting conditions. We watched the weather forecasts for our best opportunity and the week beginning October 21st, with several dry days predicted, seemed to be it.
Early that week my husband began preparing the garlic for planting (separating the bulbs into cloves). We, but mostly he, worked on this on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday while we gave the ground time to dry out. By Thursday we could wait no longer – the garlic had to be planted because there was rain in the forecast beginning late Friday.
Despite the ground not being as dry as we hoped, Thursday morning my husband got an early start and planted garlic until nearly dark. For several reason we decided to use a divide and conquer approach so while I attended to other projects my husband worked diligently in the garlic field. Friday morning he again got an early start. When I took the boys (dogs) to the farm for their midday walk he asked if I had checked the radar. Not having done so I couldn’t offer him any idea how long it would be before the rains came. It was late afternoon when he called me. “I just got the last clove planted he said – then the first raindrop fell.” “God is good!” we agreed.
Coincidently, or perhaps by God’s design, we ended up planting during the full moon. We have talked about experimenting with planting by the phases of the moon in past years, but weather and soil conditions have always been more of a priority.
We did scale back on our garlic planting this year. We still planted enough to meet the demands of the markets we currently supply and have seed for the following year. We hope in scaling back on garlic we can put more time and effort into areas where we have not been able to meet demands, namely honey and strawberries.
An Apple A Day
This year we had our best apple crop thus far. While not all of our eight trees produced well, two trees produced more than their fair share. The branches on these young trees were so heavily laden with apples that my husband built posts to brace the branches so they did not break due to their heavy load.
We harvested 4 milk crates nearly full (we didn’t weigh them). Here’s what I’ve done with them –
Apple Sauce – I’ve canned 22 pints of apple sauce.
When I told my sister I was making apple sauce she asked if I had an apple peeler/corer/ slicer. I laughed and said “Yep, it’s called a paring knife.” LOL. Then as I started peeling all those apples I remembered this antique that I had tucked away on a shelf and had never used. I decided why not give it a try.
One of the problems I have with this and some similar kitchen tools that I have is that they are designed to clamp onto a counter. My kitchen counters were not designed for such uses as they have about a two inch lip that the clamp will not fit over. To accommodate these tools I use a stand alone shelf, but since I don’t often use these tools that shelf is also used to store things. I first had to clear off the shelf and move it to an accessible area. I rinsed the dust off the old apple peeler then clamped it to the shelf. I placed an apple on the prongs of the peeler and began turning the crank. As I turned the crank the blade removed a thin layer of peel from the nice round apple. When it got to the end the apple was pushed off the prongs and popped into the pan I had placed on the shelf to catch the peels. The second apple I tried was not perfectly round and the blade did not touch the flatter areas, so it left strips of peel behind. Considering this, and that I still had to use the paring knife to core and slice the apples, I cleaned up this antique and put it back and the shelf. Lesson learned: My paring knife seemed the better way to go.
Apple Chips – Last year, when we had our first decent apple crop, was the first time I made apple chips (dehydrated apples). We discovered that apple chips make a wonderful snack.
This year I have filled up my 9 tray dehydrator twice. Each tray holds 3-4 apples and it takes about 20 hours to dehydrate them. When they are finished I store them in small sealable bags usually putting one tray (about three or four servings) per bag. When eating apple chips it is important to consider portion size because they are so good it would be easy to eat too many. It is also important to drink lots of water because they still contain lots of fiber.
Apple Vinegar – This is something I have been reading about and wanting to try for a while. I have seen recipes posted on several blogs and had bookmarked Home and Harrowto return to when I was ready. My vinegar is still fermenting so I’ll let you know how it turns out in a future post.
Apple Pie – Yesterday I made our third apple pie from this crop. There is just nothing better than homemade apple pie, except maybe homemade pumpkin pie, or homemade blueberry pie or homemade cherry… well you get the point. It is just so good. I also froze enough pie filling to make six more pies.
Coffee Cake – Even with all of that I was still looking for ways to use apples so when I made this coffee cake, which is a recipe that we really enjoy, I decided to add apples. I peeled, cored, and diced three apples and added a layer of apples on top of the streusel in the cake. It turned out fabulous.
I think we are now down to our last 7 or 8 pounds of apples and our plan for those in the next few days is to start a batch of apple wine. Cheers!
Making Soap – You may remember from this post that I consider this time of year soap making season. I haven’t yet come up with any new recipes but I did upgrade a couple of recipes that I have previously made. Perhaps I should add “version 2.0” to their names. :)Let me tell you what I did.
Cocoa Soap– My cocoa soap is made with olive oil and coconut oil as the base oils and coco powder, powdered milk and sugar as additives (just like a cup of hot cocoa might be made). When I first decided to make cocoa soap it was really just for fun. I mean how many of you would love to just bathe yourselves in chocolate? or maybe have dreamt about swimming in the chocolate river on Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Fun eh? According to this article cocoa may actually have some benefits for the skin, but when it is made into soap I am skeptical as to whether any of those benefits remain. It does however make the soap a deep brown color. The milk adds a creaminess and sugar makes for an extra bubbly lather. What more could you want right?
Actually there was one other ingredient that I use in another soap recipe that just needed to go into this soap, because what goes better in a cup of hot cocoa than ——————————marshmallow. In case you are thinking that I have totally lost my mind – no, I don’t use those sweet little sugary puffs that we all know as marshmallows. What I use is marshmallow root from the marshmallow plants that we grow.
I have been using this herb in my hair care soap for several years now. The marshmallow root is said to add conditioning properties. For the past four years I have exclusively used my homemade soaps (usually hair care or coffee) when washing my hair and in all honesty my hair is healthier than it has ever been. Don’t Eat It! Cocoa Soap (2.0 🙂 ) should be finished curing around November 23rd, so we will have to wait to find out how it turns out.
Coconut Soap– Like my Cocoa Soap the base oils used in this soap are olive oil and coconut oil. The additive in this case, however, is shredded coconut. The coconut, while gentle on the skin, adds a little extra scrubbing power. It really is a nice soap, but I decided to make it even nicer this time around by adding yogurt. In the past year I have discovered that adding yogurt to soap gives it a super rich creamy lather and who doesn’t love that?
Incidentally, I once had a lady ask me “Doesn’t the coconut clog up the drain?” and you might be wondering the same thing. The answer is No – nor do the coffee grounds in the coffee soap or the oatmeal in the breakfast bar soap. What does clogs up the drain is hair. Being the mother of 4 daughters, and all of us having long hair at various times in our lives, I can attest to the fact that hair is what clogs drains.
I also decided to stamp all the bars of these two batches. What do you think?
With the threat of frost looming I decided that a herb harvest was in order.
I collected these yesterday. (Are you singing? I was singing in my mind while I cut these.) After dinner I planned to come back for chives and lavender. I didn’t make it back and this morning frost blanketed everything. I was, however, thrilled to find that none of the herbs had been affected by the frost. I was able to harvest chives, spearmint, chocolate mint and lavender today.
I wasn’t the only one interested in the lavender. There were many bumble bees flying from blossom to blossom – collecting nectar I presume. Not wanting to take it all from them, I only harvested about 1/2 of the blossoms.
All of these herbs will be dried, then some will be used for culinary uses, others will be infused into oils for use in soaps or balms, and some (spearmint and or chocolate mint) might be infused in vodka since we enjoyed it the last time I made it.
Now that we have had a frost there are other things that can be harvested; these include rose hips and horse radish. Look for a future post on how I will be using them.
Thanks for reading and until next time – be well. 🙂
We started our bee keeping ventures in 2013 and to date it has been the most frustrating farming activity we do. Hive losses are heartbreaking and we have had many. Probably our worst experience was when the bees we ordered did not even make it to our farm alive. You can read about that here. If you read that article you may understand when I say that bee keeping is also one of the most thrilling and rewarding activities that we do. Capturing swarms, observing the bees while they forage and pollenate our crops, harvesting honey and wax all make this so.
As with everything we do our bee keeping efforts are done on a small scale. We often use the word boutique to describe our farm. Since we started bee keeping we have maintained at least one hive and at times had as many as seven hives. Each year we have harvested honey and for the last 4 or so years we have harvested and processed our own wax as well. If you are interested in learning how I filter bees wax you can read about that here.
Beekeeping has given me a whole new understanding and appreciation of honey. Most of my life I have used store bought honey and never thought much about it. The color and flavor were pretty consistent. Honey was just honey. It wasn’t until we started harvesting our own honey that I realized that honey is not just honey. In fact we have yet to have any two honey harvests where the honey tasted the same.
When people find out that we are beekeepers they often have many questions. Below are some of the points I make when talking about bees and honey.
Each honey harvest is (should be) a wonderfully, unique blend of nectars and pollen from various plants that have been in season.
The color and flavor of honey should vary between harvests.
Mono cropping, the practice of moving bee hives to a particular location where a specific crop is in blossom in order for the bees to pollinate that crop, may be detrimental to bee health. (how well would you fare if you only ate one food for the majority of your life?)
Feeding bees sugar syrup is probably not good for the bees.
Local honey may or may not be effective as a treatment for allergies depending on what the bees were foraging to make their honey.
In the U.S. honey suppliers are required to put their address on the honey label. Buying honey that has a local address does not necessarily mean you are buying honey that was produced locally.
Raw honey is honey that has not been heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Honey can be stored at room temperature and has an indefinite shelf life.
Honey might crystalize but it is still good.
Honey that has crystalized can be turned into liquid again by slowly heating the jar in a pan of water. Do not microwave!
Because the honey may crystalize and you may want to heat it to make it liquid again do not buy honey in plastic bottles.
Do you have any questions or thoughts about honey bees or honey? Leave me a comment and I will be sure to get back to you.