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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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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!