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Candling Chicken Eggs.

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This is the third in a four-post series about hatching eggs from our 5 deceased laying hens who fell victim to a predator, along with nearly all of their temporary flock-mates, during their transitional stay at Harmonious Homestead. For more, read The Absence of Chickens and Incubating Chicken Eggs. IMG_9972 There are varying opinions about the importance, and risk, of candling eggs while hatching them via an incubator. Some feel it is unnecessary exposure to bacteria, which could result in a greater number of developing embryo losses. Others feel it is an essential source of information about how the incubation is progressing and what might be going right or wrong in the incubator. During my first try incubating eggs, I found myself somewhere in the middle, hoping to minimize the risk of contamination while still checking the eggs in order to remove any non-developing eggs and avoid a messy situation. On day 7, I candled each egg for the first time. Previous reading led me to believe that it may be difficult to see the tiny embryos, but i found it to be fairly easy to tell which eggs were developing. Even the blue eggs, with two layers of pigmentation, were fairly easy for me to see through using no special equipment, just the flashlight on my iPhone. I invited Rachel and Lil of Harmonious Homestead over to take a look and assist me with photos. We crowded into the bathroom, our only room without a window. I held my phone in one hand and the egg in the other, sealing the light of the the flashlight as well as I could so that it would shine only through the shell of the egg. The light revealed a spiderweb of veins and a sizable air sac in the developing eggs and just a indistinct cloud of yolk in the duds. IMG_0010 (Viable, developing egg, you can see the embryo as a dark spot just to the left of the corner of the phone.) After candling each egg, I recorded whether or not the egg was developing on a chart. I decided to keep those that did not appear to be developing in the incubator for a few more days before checking them again and discarding them if they were, indeed, lacking embryos. IMG_9986 (Another developing egg. Note the spiderweb of veins, slightly difficult to make out in this photo, and the visible air sac at the top of the egg.)   IMG_9975 While it was a little disheartening to find that many of the eggs from Rachel’s rooster Shackleton II weren’t developing, we knew the experiment was a long-shot from the beginning. Many of the eggs from her next door neighbor were viable and developing, though. So I knew my clutch would hatch quite a few purebred Ameraucana chicks in just two more weeks. IMG_0027 (This egg had a clear blood ring around the yolk. We decided to crack it open and investigate as part of this homesteading/homeschooling activity. The head, body and eye were easy to make out.)

Incubating chicken eggs.

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This is the second in a four-post series about hatching eggs from our 5 deceased laying hens who fell victim to a predator, along with nearly all of their temporary flock-mates, during their transitional stay at Harmonious Homestead. For more, read The Absence of Chickens.

Introducing another partner in our quest to raise a new generation of chickens, the HovaBator incubator from City Folk’s Farm Shop.

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The HovaBator 1588 is a Styrofoam picture-window incubator with digital electronic controls and temperature and humidity sensors. It has a few optional add-ons, including the automatic egg-turner that we brought home with us.

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Right out of the box, the entire operation is intuitive and easy to assemble. The bottom tray goes down first, then the water reservoir, the hardware cloth hatching surface and then the lid. Our automatic egg-turner sits on top of the hardware cloth grate, its power cord exiting through a small, specifically-manufactured channel.

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The digital controls and sensor reading displays are all on the lid of the incubator, along with the large plexiglass window.

To get the eggs started, I searched the internet and found quite a few informative sites about hatching chicken eggs. Instead of giving you a step-by-step myself, since this is my first time endeavoring to hatch eggs, I’ll point you to some resources in the next post of this series.

The absence of chickens.

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This is the first in a four-post series about hatching eggs from our 5 deceased laying hens who fell victim to a predator, along with nearly all of their temporary flock-mates, during their transitional stay at Harmonious Homestead. For more, read Incubating chicken eggs.

When we moved into our new house a few weeks ago, we anticipated that one of our first priorities while getting settled in would be building housing for our hens. Last fall, our friends at Harmonious Homestead graciously offered to take the five girls in when our landlord needed to take down the coop and run to address moisture issues in the house we had been renting. Our girls enjoyed life in their more rural setting, but we were happy to be having them back soon.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck in the form of an efficient predator. All of our hens and all of their temporary flock mates, except one hen hiding out in the nest box, were killed in one short moment of one morning. I felt helpless as I received the word from Rachel while I was at work. By the time I was finished with my day of baking, the burial was taken care of and there wasn’t much left for me to do. So I plotted the possibilities.

A few days before, I had arranged to supplement our flock of five with five additional unsexed chicks hatched by another local homesteader a few weeks prior. The hope was to build our laying flock to 7 or 8 hens so that we would be able to share eggs with friends during surplus times. But with the Harmonious Homestead fencing and coop already in place, and no concrete plans of our own, we had a lot of options to toss around.

We had access to five additional unsexed chicks from the same homesteader, so we had a bit of a start on rebuilding the two laying flocks. However, Rachel particularly mourned the loss of their rooster, Shackleton II; he was not aggressive toward people, didn’t crow excessively and was good with the ladies. Also,our five hens laid particularly large eggs and the whole flock was robust, healthy and fairly friendly. Eyeing the uneaten eggs we each had stored on our countertops, it seemed like a wasted opportunity to enjoy one last omelette when we could chance their fertility and try to incubate and hatch a new generation of our combined flocks.

Enter our trustworthy local shop-keep and homesteading friend, Shawn. City Folk’s Farm Shop has become more that just our go-to place for any homesteading-related purchase over the last few years, it’s become the hub of a rich community of like-minded folks. And in the face of this chicken loss tragedy, it became a resource that didn’t let us down.

Among other homesteading tools for rent, City Folk’s now has an incubator, holding up to 41 chicken eggs, and its maiden voyage is happening right in my very own living room.

Today is day 13 of 21, so we’re just over halfway there. If you promise to stay tuned, I’ll promise to provide plenty of photos of fluffy newly-hatched chicks in about two weeks.

This may be the most exciting of the possible paths toward rebuilding our flock, and I’m happy to share the journey with you here.

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one more time: a new place to call home.

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Barring any last-minute issues, tomorrow, May 27, we will again become homeowners. We’ll be downsizing our inside space, from 2500 to 1155 sqft, but we’ll be drastically upgrading the yard space: we’ll have over .25 acres to play with.

I expect to be back here frequently to document the changes we make to our new homestead.

I hope that you’ll soon see:
The return of the hens
A tire swing and hammock
Three berry patches
A small meadow lawn
A mini orchard
Outdoor house shows with Dennis
A wild edibles and medicinals learning garden

The simultaneous tasks of purging and packing while working are petty exhausting. So if you see me in the next few weeks, offer me a coffee. Or just a jab in the ribs to get me moving again.

Foraging, Spring 2014

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Spring is decidedly here, as evidenced by temperatures creeping up and up, days of rain, snow and ice now taking the form of streams, buds on the trees and our favorite spring greens popping up everywhere.

In our yard, I’m greeted by Corn Speedwell, Red Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum), Bedstraw (Galium triflorum), Plantain (Plantago major), Curly Dock (Rumex crispus), Chickweed (Stellaria media), Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale), Chicory (Cichorium intybus) Burdock (Arctium lappa), and the beginnings of Violet (Viola sororia), all uncultivated. In the woods, ramps and garlic mustard are springing up in abundance, signaling the beginning of morel season.

With all of these foraging options, today I chose to focus on a wild food that could have, and perhaps should has, been harvested last fall after the first frost: Rose Hips. High in Vitamin C, rose hips are said to be a general health and wellness staple. The fruit of both cultivated and wild roses occurs after the blooms have died, sending nutrients to a round red-orange fruit, containing the seeds, just behind the rose blossom. Embarrassingly, I’ve not tried them myself. Knowing that they are often dried to be used in teas or herbal infusions, I could not ignore the glut of large hips still present on the bushes in our next door neighbor’s front yard.

Darren and I headed out for a twelve foot hike, scissors and buckets in hand.

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With no instruction from me, he chose an effective method to harvest: snip the ends with scissors held in one hand, while your other hand holds a bucket just below to catch the hip as it falls.

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We’ll pick through these to remove any that are mushy instead of sun-dried.

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Happy foraging!

The homesteading backslide

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Through a series of unfortunate events, upon which I don’t care to expound, we have come to a point of urban homesteading that I have feared reaching – the backslide. As renters, I have always known we were at the mercy of our landlord when it came to our homesteading exploits. When our permission to keep backyard chickens was recently revoked in order for our landlords to address a property issue, I felt a bit deflated. Ok, more than a bit.

Fortunately, we have a close community of like-minded folks, so our options were numerous when considering a new home (or a swift end of life) for our trusty hens, procured just seven months ago from one of our favorite places – City Folk’s. Betty, Batgirl, Austra, Beyoncé and Pippin are now efficiently tilling the earth for our friends over at Harmonious Homestead, helping them prepare for expanded planting in 2014.

This experience has focused me even acutely on saving money to buy a modest homestead of our own as soon as possible. I would love to have our girls back in our own yard, doing work for us, turning scraps to nutrient-rich fertilizer and healthy eggs and entertaining us with their chicken ways. It was a moment of homesteading bliss cut too short.

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(These photos and links seem glitchy, so I’ll likely be back to fix them tomorrow.)

Plantain and a canning accident.

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Today I had a canning adventure with a friend. You can read Rachel’s account of the situation over at Harmonious Homestead.

Preserving is fun to do with friends: the workload is shared, more can be accomplished in less time, and it is a great bonding experience. Matching canning burns aren’t usually part of the equation for most, but that’s certainly the part of today that will be most memorable for Rachel and I, and likely for our kids and husbands that witnessed the immediate aftermath.

In short, as I was tightening* the Tattler lid on a quart of tomato purée after pulling it from its 85-minute hot water bath processing, the lid exploded forcefully off of the jar instead of fastening down tighter as I turned the canning jar ring with one towel-laden hand and held the searing-hot jar with the other. Boiling tomato purée shot out, clinging to everything in its path – my hand and arm, Rachel’s arm and clothing, the fridge, the cupboards and up to 8 feet away all over the floor. Rachel claims it looked like a stabbing scene.

She and I immediately ran to sinks to cool our skin. My next stop was out Rachel’s back door for plaintain, (the plant, not the banana-like fruit) to apply a quick poultice of the chewed leaves. I pressed the juicy leaves onto my skin, covering as much of the burn as I could without the oozy pulp falling off of my arm, and stayed outside for quite a few minutes. Upon returning to my home a short while later, I repeated the treatment, holding the poultice to the worst spots with bandaids and larger dressings.

I must admit, when I took the bandages off to check on the progress just minutes ago, I was quite impressed. I’ve used this plant before to dress burns, but they’ve only been very small injuries. In fact, I’ve never experienced a burn like this before. Some spots that earlier appeared as though they would be a larger area of blistering have settled right down, and I’ve ended up with only two very slightly raised blisters, each much smaller than the eraser of a pencil.

I obviously don’t have a control for this crude experiment, but I call it an early success. The pain of the fairly serious burn was gone in about 4 hours, and the swelling is remarkably nearly absent already. I’m glad to know plantain.

After a 20-minute application of plantain (note the swelling):
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After a 5-hour application of plantain (swelling nearly gone, the green splotch is from the plantain juice):
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*The tightening step is one that is particular to the reusable Tattler lids, which have given me delight over multiple canning seasons. I will not hesitate to use these lids in the future, as I believe this was mostly operator error on my part. In the future, though, I will use one-use Ball canning lids for tomato purée.

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