Saturday, February 19, 2011


I'm calling it.  Weather is beautiful in North Carolina,  chickens are laying daily, herbs and some veggies have appeared in the garden center.  We're still a month away from spring equinox, but I think spring has sprung a little early here. :)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Time to Lock the Nesting Box

We have been keeping chickens now for about two years.  You can read about our initiation into the world of backyard chickens here.  We had a few problems early on in our chicken keeping venture with chickens escaping the coop or run while the dogs were outside.  We subsequently developed fortifications for the coop and run to make sure chickens couldn't get out and dogs couldn't tear the wire.

As time went on the dogs became accustomed to the presence of the chickens and have more or less ignored them for months.  Our small dogs are actually great with the chickens and can share the yard with them, but our big dogs still have to be kenneled if the chickens are going to roam freely in the yard because they have a hard time controlling their hunting instincts.

As I said before, I haven't seen the dogs so much as look at the chickens for the entire winter.  This afternoon I'm sitting in my kitchen and I keep hearing this banging sound.  I have a fleeting thought that it sounds like the kids opening and closing the nesting box, but both kids are inside.  I decide the neighbors must be up to something, I can hear that their kids are playing outside, and that must be where the noise is coming from.

I wish that had been true.  The chickens were making some noise and I thought they must be hungry, so I go out to feed them and collect eggs.  To my horror, I find all 70 pounds of my dog, Max, inside the chicken coop.  Actually, by this time he is in the run and several curious chickens are poking their heads out the coop door and staring at him.  He had managed to lift the nesting box lid and wedge his body through an opening approximately 12x12 inches (there are two nesting boxes, each this size, divided by a barrier).  When I discovered him he had gone through the coop and was in the run, hanging his head in shame.  There was one fatality.  Of course, though he was smart enough to figure out his way into the coop, he had not figured out a way out (that or he did not want to go back the way he came and deal with the 11 nervous chickens that were now all inside the hen house).

Max (left) and his brother Sammy
My first thought is to put a latch on the nesting box lid, but I actually wouldn't be surprised if he figured out the latch, so I think we are going to have to lock our nesting box!  This is the kind of nonsense that warrants the construction of a dog run area.  I have been suggesting this to my husband for months but he thinks the dogs need more room to run.  I think it would benefit us greatly to construct a large run area for them on one side of the yard, which would free up the rest of the yard for chickens to roam safely, reduce the area that we have to patrol for doggy poop, and we can expand the growing area for edibles without having to fence everything in.  Honestly, the dogs almost never actually run around the yard, they just sun-bathe, and the dog area would still be big enough for them to run the length of the fence if they wanted to.  My husband will just need to take them running in the evenings, it would be good for them all!

In happier chicken-related news, we have officially had our first dozen eggs of 2011 from our girls!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Starting Seeds Indoors

Last year we had a lot of success starting seeds indoors (I was a little too eager when I transplanted, but that is another story).  You can read a short post about my seeds last year here.  This year we have started a number of seeds in our dining room already.  Instead of using fancy trays from the garden center like I did last year we opted for inexpensive and sturdy 9"x13" disposable casserole dishes with plastic lids.  These are a handy size as far as portability, they are also lightweight, sturdy, and deep, plus the plastic lids make a perfect little green house for seed germination!

1.  Fill trays with seed starting mix about 2"-2 1/2" deep.  

2. Moisten soil.

3. Poke holes in soil with the eraser end of a pencil.  For small seeds plant 2 or 3 per hole, 1 per hole for larger seeds about 1" apart (you can also refer to package directions for spacing).

4. Sprinkle 1/2" of soil on top when you've planted all your seeds and gently firm the soil with a flat, heavy object or the palm of your hand so that the surface is covered and even.

5.  Place lid on and keep in a warm place that gets plenty of sunlight (between 70 and 75F degrees for germination and 60-70F degrees after germination).

6. Once your seeds have sprouted you can remove the lid.
7. Poke holes in the bottom of the trays with a small, sharp, pointed object and then place the lid beneath the trays so that you can bottom-water as needed.

8. The first leaves on your seedlings are seed leaves, which are food storage cells.  Once your seedlings develop true leaves you can begin fertilizing. 

9. When you water mix in a diluted amount of natural fertilizer (1/4 strength).  We are using sea kelp to fertilize out seedlings, but some other alternatives would be fish emulsion or vermicompost tea.

I will be posting follow-ups about transplanting to peat-pots, "hardening off", and finally moving to the garden, so stay tuned!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

What I Made for Dinner Last Night

Presenting...what I made for dinner last night.  I really didn't know what to title this recipe.  It has a decidedly Thai flavor to it because of the broth and coconut milk but there really isn't anything traditionally Thai about it (at least if there is it was completely accidental).  What happened is that I had this box of Thai Coconut Curry Culinary Broth made by College Inn.  They started carrying this at our Commissary and although I am usually stubbornly committed to USDA organic chicken, beef, and vegetable stocks, if I'm buying boxed stock, I picked it up a couple weeks ago and it was amazing.

So I had this box of stock and I had a can of coconut milk and I thought, what can I make?  Soup.  It's winter, so I wanted something hearty (also I feed a Marine at my dinner table, so if I'm going to make a soup I better make soup, if ya' know what I mean).  I had potatoes and after that I threw in almost every leftover vegetable I had in the fridge and some cubed ham to keep the Marine happy (I think this would have been great with chopped, cooked chicken breasts or leftover, shredded rotisserie chicken as well but I didn't have any of those meat options.  It would also be fine meatless!)

My husband and I have head colds this week so I thought this soup would be perfect since it is packed full of antioxidant-rich, vitamin laden veggies, as well as having chicken stock (would be a better immune-system booster if made from scratch), and coconut milk.  Coconuts have so many amazing health benefits, one of which is that they boost the immune system!  You can read more here and here.  Coconut oil is also amazing, especially for beauty products.

Now, back to the soup.  It was really easy to whip together in 30 minutes and really yummy.

2 Tbsp.butter
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 leek, dark green leaves removed, cleaned and sliced thinly
Approx. 1 cup matchstick carrots
Approx. 1 cup broccoli florets (chopped into bit-size pieces)
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-1 inch cubes
1 8oz. ham steak, rind removed, cubed (or chopped, cooked chicken breast, or leftover shredded rotisserie chicken)
1 Tbsp. flour
1 box College Inn Thai Coconut Curry Culinary Broth
1 can Coconut Milk
Dash whole cream (you can omit if you don't want dairy)
Salt to taste

*This is quite mild, with the only spices being the ones already in the broth, you could spice it up with a dash of cayenne pepper if that suits your taste.

Melt butter and olive oil in heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.  Add leek and saute approx. 3-5 minutes.  Add carrots, broccoli, and potatoes.  Saute until vegetables begin to soften.  Add flour and stir for 1 minutes until vegetables are evenly coated.  Add ham and stir to combine.  Slowly add broth, stirring constantly.  Bring soup to a boil over medium heat, stirring, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover (venting the lid a little).  Let simmer 20 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.  Add coconut milk, drizzle in a little whole cream, and salt to taste.

Serve with freshly-baked bread, we ate it with Ciabatta bread and it was sooooo good soaking the broth up with the warm Ciabatta.

I hope you enjoy this hearty, healthy, Thai-inspired winter soup!