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Category Archives: Gardening & Farming

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.)

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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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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.)

Garden update: June 20, 2013

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To pick myself up, I’m trying to spend as much time as the heat and sun allow out in our urban yard today. With a cup of Chemex-brewed coffee in hand, I trudged out the back door earlier today with Darren to corral the chickens into our portable chicken pen, a place where they can spend some time foraging for bugs and greens that they don’t have access to in their secure run.

Our garden is coming along nicely this year. The well-spaced rain storms we’ve had in the last two weeks have made for little need to hand water and lush, green growth.

This morning, I harvested the first of our beans for the year. So far they’re thriving, all climbing higher than the supports I’ve made for them. They’re showing no signs of whatever disease took them all out last year, so I remain hopeful.

We have planted over a dozen tomato this year. I was delighted to see, upon returning from Michigan a few days ago, some already setting fruit. Most of the rest are in flower, but we do have some with horribly stunted growth. Tomorrow I’ll stop by City Folk’s for some organic plant food for the stragglers.

Yesterday, I ate the first squash of the season. I thought it was a summer squash, but I neglected to diagram the garden as I squeezed plants in just about everywhere, so I realized while slicing it up that it may have been an immature winter squash. Regardless, it was delicious sautéed in butter with some garlic, onions, cayenne, dill and salt!

On the pest front, I thankfully have little to report. There have been no signs of our urban groundhog; perhaps the trap scared him off? And the squash bugs have not yet shown themselves. I’ve seen lots of bees, ants, ladybugs and praying mantis babies, so we’re at least starting off on the right foot.

That sunflower at the top of this post? A happy surprise that grew in the middle of the beets. I decided to leave it and its three friends growing among the radishes. They’re a lovely addition to my otherwise vegetable-heavy gardens.

As the season progresses, I plan to pop back in with updates. Stay tuned for another foraging report in the next two days!

Foraging: a tale of two chickweeds.

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A very common yard edible, Stellara media is oft-recognized as the bane of many a gardener’s existence. This spreading green with tiny white flowers is easy to find when it first shows its head well before Spring rolls around. At its earliest, chickweed is crisp, juicy and mild in flavor with no bitterness. As other greens begin to grow, though, the first green of the season becomes leggy and disappointingly fibrous.

The solution?

Let it grow in your garden bed, in the shade of your cultivated plants. Like the greens we intentionally plant in gardens, many early wild greens benefit from reduced exposure to direct sun as the weather begins to warm.

As an example, here are two chickweed plants growing in my very small urban yard. The plant on the left (shown with some equally scraggly Henbit – a close relative of Red Dead Nettle) is one that I harvested from as soon as the snow melted. It’s on the sunny slope of my front yard.

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The chickweed on the right has been permitted to grow in a garden bed that gets full sun in the backyard, generously shaded by mature spinach plants. (Those spinach plants are beginning to be shaded themselves by pole beans.)

Allowing wild edibles to grow in your garden space ensures a variety of fresh greens on your plate all growing season long. Those wild greens may even pack more vitamins and minerals than the cultivated ones they’re pulled out to make space for. (Read about it in the New York Times!)

Try it. The next time you find chickweed invading your garden, snip off the tender two or three inches from the ends of the stems, flowers included, and add them to a fresh salad or cooked greens, or use them as a darling edible garnish. Or all three!

Stratford Fiber Circle

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On Saturday, I drove up to Stratford Ecological Center for the monthly Fiber Circle – an unstructured three hour gathering filled with spinning wheels, pin looms, knitting, felting, coffee, snacks and talk of all things fiber. This month saw attendees ranging from one who was working on her second ever fiber project to a spinner who has been handcrafting yarn for 50 years.

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This month, I worked on some free form, experimental felting.

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When the meeting wrapped up, I headed outside to see all of the goings-on. I scurried straight to the sheep pen to see the Tunis and Shetland lambs.

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A quick aside: When I was in middle school, we had a small flock of sheep on our ten acres of land in the country. Our first spring, we brought home two Merino babies, Spring and April. We added two young adult Columbia sheep to the flock, a ewe and a wether named Kelly and Corey. The next spring, Kelly gave birth to Bounder and a still born twin during the night. The birth was traumatic, but thankfully my dad was able to save Kelly. We added a 4H cast-off sheep named Little Guy, an Angora goat we called DeeDee and Buddy the Pygmy goat to round out our flock.

After watching the sheep, I moved on to admire the orchard/ chicken run. I’ve learned that housing hens under trees prevents hawk attacks. The hawks like to have a clear entry and exit route, and the trees obscure that. If we end up with an acre or two in a few years, this is a set-up I would like to replicate, on a smaller scale.

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Finally, I took a look around Stratford’s revamped hoop house. They are growing some really lovely greens, for sale by weight. I didn’t buy any this time, but the process is easy – grab a pair of scissors and a bag, hanging by the door, and self-harvest what you’d like. Weigh and pay for your selections in the visitor center/shop.

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As usual, I enjoyed getting out of the city and into the openness of the country. If you are interested in fiber arts, considering doing the same. The Stratford Fiber Circle meets the first Saturday of the month, from 10:00 until 1:00, and the fee is only $10 for the entire year. If you come, I’ll even set you up to wet felt if you’d like! See you there?