Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mission - Chicken Feed

Yesterday evening, we drove down to Sarasota through a deluge to pick up our organic co-op feed. Buying with this co-op was a lot cheaper than shopping in Gainesville at the organic feed store. Still, because of the long drives, we are thinking about starting our own co-op in Plant City. I have a couple of people interested, and since the minimum order is just one palate, it shouldn’t be too difficult to do.
We headed down 39 at 5:00 and stopped for dinner at a Mexican eatery in Wimauma, the one my friend Anjie took me to about a month ago. I heard a good deal of skepticism coming from both Michael and Don because it really is a hole-in-the-wall-looking place, but Julia’s Mexican Restaurant serves genuine Mexican food, made from scratch, and at a reasonable price.
Notice the look of mirth on Don’s face. Well, he really liked it, and so did Michael… who, upon entering the parking lot, wasn’t too impressed and tried to convince us to just wait till we reached Sarasota to find a “regular” restaurant. It’s a good thing one of us is adventurous around here! I think this place is Wimauma’s best kept secret. You can even look into the kitchen while you wait and see Julia, the owner, cooking up a storm - from tortillas and corn chips to “flautas” and spicy salsa… it was a fine dinner.

 As we approached Myakka though, we could see an ominous looking storm ahead of us. Michael thought it was cool, so I guess he is adventurous when it comes to things other than food... We slowly drove on, as it rained cats and dogs. A few times we lost sight of the lines on the road, as lightning was hitting everywhere. I felt sorry for the poor policeman who had someone stopped and was getting drenched by the side of the road. At last, we arrived at the neighborhood where the homesteaders in charge of the co-op lived. It was a private aviation community with its own landing strip. The majority of the houses had hangars for their Cessnas. We could have seen commuters parking their planes if it hadn’t been for that storm. There was no hangar at our destination – a house with a couple of happy Jerseys roaming free in the back yard, what I surmised looked like a coop in the back, and a nice shed with several palates of organic feed.

Michael helps load up 50 lb. bags of miscellaneous grain.

We left and arrived back in Plant City uneventfully an hour and a half later with our 12 bags of chicken feed.

My job now is to delve into feed rations and mixes, put together our own formula, and do away with soy and GM corn. At this point, we have organic field peas and corn, and diatomaceous earth from Countryside Natural Products (the co-op); and we have oats, alfalfa, and sunflower seeds from the local Tractor Supply store. We had a 50 lb. bag of kelp that we’d ordered a while back plus dairy from our cows in the form of yogurt and whey. I know there are several other items I need before I can call the mix complete, but we are getting there. My friend Tammy told me last week that fish meal, one possible substitute for the protein in soy, will make the chickens taste like fish, so that option is out. I can’t imagine serving Michelle a chicken dinner and having it taste like fish, she detests fish. Hmmm… I’m just wondering… I’ve seen our chickens catch frogs many times when they’re out and about grazing. Is that why people say that frog legs taste like chicken?… Frogs would be a source of protein… so are the worms they pick out of the compost pile, and with all the bugs we have year round here in Florida, I don’t think protein is really an issue.

When I reflect on my great-grandmother’s flock, I know that complicated commercial feeds aren’t necessary. I think they are intended for chickens that are living with very different conditions than ours. All she fed her flock was some scratch grain, once a day, plus whatever kitchen and garden scraps there were. For the rest, the chickens fended for themselves in the yard. Since we are not looking for an all-organic mix, we will be able to reduce the price considerably, and that is vital. A 50 lb. bag of feed from the organic feed store in Gainesville costs $35 plus the gas to get there and back, and that isn’t sustainable.

If you are interested in making your own chicken feed, this article from Backyard Poultry Magazine was a good source of information.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rabbit(s) and Figs

Don worked from home today. During his lunch break, he went outside to work in the shed and the compost pile. Shortly after he went out, he returned and said, “you won’t guess what I found in the shed.” Ok, I have a vivid imagination, so the first thing I thought of was a fire-breathing dragon. “So, what did you find,” said I. He responds, “a little rabbit.” We head out to the shed, armed with my camera, of course. He starts looking around the hay bales, but nothing. Then we hear some rattling behind us.
We walked over, and here is Mr. McGregor Don moving stuff around. I cautiously stepped away a safe distance, unsure of whether what he saw was really a “little rabbit”… this was no “little” rabbit, and it went as fast as lightning into the adjacent room, still inside the shed. We couldn’t find it again, so I’m guessing we’ll have to set a trap and relocate it. I’m sure it’s found a way to get into the feed, it was BIG. It might even be a mama ready to give birth... We’ll have to see if we catch it.
Here he is loading up on chicken manure and garden refuse we fed to the chickens for the compost pile.
I later went and harvested some fruit off one of our Brown Turkey fig trees. We planted three figs two years ago, then two more last year. I think they are a great addition to our edible landscaping. They are nice trees, even though they do lose their leaves in winter. They are producing deliciously sweet figs – sweet as honey and soft as pudding.
I have seen a ten-foot tall Brown Turkey fig growing not too far from where we live. They are susceptible to nematodes, so what we did was we cut out the bottom off of some really big nursery pots, then buried them in the ground, and planted the fig trees inside the pots. The nematodes live up near the surface, so the roots are protected in that space and grow down through the bottom opening.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Watermelon Popsicles

With the kind of heat we've been having, the kids love this afternoon treat.  Swinging on the front-porch with watermelon popsicles, simple pleasures... one way to actually enjoy the summer heat.
Watermelon Popsicles

1 cup Watermelon Juice
¼ cup Sugar
¼ cup Water
1 tsp Lemon Juice
Pinch of Salt

1) Deseed watermelon and run through blender to make juice
2) Mix sugar and water. Heat for 2-3 mins
3) Remove from heat and add the remaining ingredients to it
4) Add to popsicle molds
5) Freeze for 3-4 hrs

To make the blueberry one in the middle, just substitute blueberries for watermelon.

Marans Eggs Not Hatching

Our first group of fertile eggs did not hatch.  I am disappointed but not giving up on Marans.  We have the second and larger group that is due at the end of this week, so I'm still hopeful.  We have hatched eggs before with close to 100% success.  They were from our own coop though.  The Marans eggs have had several things working against them - they were shipped to us, so we don't know how many days they were delayed from incubation, and we had that power outage which left them without heat for seven hours.  If the entire effort fails, I'll try again in the Fall, as it is way too hot to have more eggs shipped now.  I sure wish we had a Marans hatchery nearby, so we could just pick chicks up.  I was reading, over the weekend, about how it is becoming harder for hatcheries to ship live chicks as only half the airlines will transport them. 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Solar Oven Cooking

A few weeks ago, I went to a class at the county's extension service and learned how to build this solar oven.  Since then, we've used it twice and it works.  It doesn't cease to amaze me how we can bake things outside with free energy.
Two weekends ago, I made beef stew and peach cobbler.  It took four hours.
And last weekend it was these two baked chickens.  I set out the oven at 11:00 and finally brought the chickens in at around 5:00.  They were really good and juicy. 

The first thing Don asked was if the bugs were going to get into it.  The bugs don't because it's hot...  Someone at church asked the same question last Sunday, and I know the thought crossed my mind the day I went to the class.  It was the first thing the professor there clarified for all of us.  I especially like not having the oven on in the kitchen during the summer, heating up the place.  I will be attempting baked beans today. : ) 

If you live in or near Hillsborough County, you can check at the Extension Service's schedule of classes, they offer this class periodically for a $5 donation.  Check for the link to their website on the right of this page.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


I've been in a soap-making mood this week. 

Twice a year, I bring out the crates of oils - olive, coconut, almond, avocado, Shea and cocoa butters..., a bag of lye, and a box of essential oil bottles for a week of soap-making fun.  I make one batch per day and play with different scents and natural color combinations. Everyone likes the hearts. 

What first got us started looking into alternatives to regular soap bars was Michael's eczema. We needed a gentle, milder soap for him so his skin wouldn't break out and itch terribly. When we went to the health food store, back then there were no options outside the health food stores, we discovered how expensive these natural bars were, even a plain bar of Castille soap would cost $3, and that was thirteen years ago.

Making soap isn't very difficult as long as you aren't rushed or interrupted.  I learned to make soap by reading The Soapmakers Companion.  My family is used to the luxury of our handmade soap now, and we never leave home without it.  I just realized that our three youngest children have not known anything but our soap made at home.  They probably think all moms make soap for their families.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Wild Edibles are Free

I am reading and enjoying Florida's Incredible Wild Edibles

Did you know that most acorns are edible?  In Florida, we are blessed with one of the varieties that is easiest to prepare. The Live Oak has acorns that are sweet, not bitter.  They don't contain tannic acid and thus don't need to go through a blanching process.  Every fall, our property is littered with tons of acorns that drop off the Live Oaks growing along our driveway.  We'll be out there in October filling our buckets.

Hunter, Angler, Gardener, Cook has a few posts on how to cook with acorns.  My main interest is using them to supplement our chicken feed in a more sustainable way; and for that purpose, all we need is a grinder.  Since the nutritional value of nuts and grains decreases very quickly after grinding, we have been  thinking of buying a grinder that will crack corn and other grains in small batches. Having a way to crack acorns for the chickens would be useful.  Apparently, acorns have lost of protein and are a source of fat, carbohydrates, calcium, etc.

But the best thing about acorns is that they are free.

Fresh Farm Eggs for Breakfast

I love the look and taste of these egg yolks.  This is one of the top reasons why we raise chickens.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A First, Nothing Wasted, and an Update on Ferdinand

This is the first time I've grown watermelon in the garden.  It was sweet, juicy, and delicious...
I baked some more calabaza squash today.  I found a great way to use all the seeds and the rest of the inside by making a calabaza smoothie, grinding it all up in the food processor with some yogurt.

Don't worry, it wasn't for us.  The pullets loved it.  I read here that the seeds are good dewormers, plus they are very nutritious,.  They got calcium, protein, and probiotics from the yogurt too.  Everything from that big squash was used, the peel went into the compost pile, we ate the flesh, the dogs got some too (they love those treats), and a smoothie for the chickens, nothing wasted!

As an aside, I've been reading up on how to supply our chickens with food in a more sustainable way so as to not depend so much on store-bought feed.  I have discovered some exciting new things, such as the possibility of feeding them acorns from our oaks.  More on that to follow...
Also, it appears that Daisy and Ferdinand have worked things out.  I don't think you can see the rain in the picture, but that was the reason they were under the shelter this evening; unlike yesterday - there he stood out in the rain all by his lonesome.  

All is well.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

art in nature

This morning, I found this caterpillar feeding on the remnants of last winter's parsley.  Maybe we'll see it transformed into a Black Swallowtail butterfly in a few weeks.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

the thunderstorm's aftermath

We had a thunderstorm roll through here yesterday before dinner that left us without power and phone.  We are still without a phone line this afternoon.  It also looks like some people lost cable, as we saw two cable company trucks out late in the night.  A bolt of lightning hit before everything went out at around 6:00.  We were without power for seven hours, and now I'm worried about the eggs in the incubator.  If my eggs fail to hatch, I'll have to remember to not try to incubate during the summer again.

A volunteer sunflower blossomed after the rain near our back porch.  I think it's fascinating to look into the center of a sunflower and see those seeds arranged in perfect mathematical order - a manifestation of our Creator.  This was the clearest picture I took all morning.  It was very hazy due to the sauna-like conditions just after sunrise, when I like to go out with my camera.  Normally, the light at this hour is kind to my pictures, and there is more wildlife out and about.
Something else the storm brought us - a Ringneck snake decided its lair was too wet, best to crawl around those shoes by the back door **shudders**. I really don't like snakes; however, there are two girls in this house who aren't faced by them.  They petted it, even though it was obviously trying to bite. That's fine though, someone has to teach those pests snakes where not to set up house.

The new bull has been named - Ferdinand Lindo the Sweet, and he  seemed fine this morning.  We ended up tying Daisy for the night, because she was still butting heads with him at 8:30 when we went out to check on them.  Ferdinand was looking a bit harrassed, so we thought he could use a break on his first night here.  Lilly seems to have no problem at all around him, that's good.  I didn't realize cows could be so territorial.  I've done my best to explain the situation to Daisy, but she's in a state of complete denial.

Monday, June 14, 2010

our new addition

He arrived this morning, and as you can see, he's not one of the girls.  Isn't he cute?  We've yet to decide on a name for him.  Tonight, we'll let the kids come up with a list, then we'll have a drawing.  So far, we've got Jack and Ferdinand on the list.  We're hoping he will get those girls pregnant, as we've had a hard time with AI for a while.  He is actually a mini-Jersey, the offspring of a mini-Jersey bull and a regular Jersey mama.  The lady who brought him is another homesteader whom I met over the phone while looking for a chicken feed co-op she's running up near Orlando.  We got to talking about what animals we have and the subject of Jerseys came up, next thing I knew, we were making a deal over the phone on this bull, whom she says has a very sweet disposition.  Let's hope so, because Jersey bulls are known to be the meanest out there.  He'll have tough competition on this pasture, if his hormones turn him mean - he's just over a year old.  Daisy, our mama cow, is the meanest cow in Florida.  As soon as he entered the field this morning, she started giving him the horns.  We've checked on him several times, and she's been asserting her authority on him all afternoon.  He really is a sweet bull; he lets us come up to him and pet him.  Earlier, I looked out the window and saw him and Buttercup eating together a ways away, while mama laid under the shade chewing her cud on her own and giving him the evil eye.  She's a mean one.
Here she is reading him his rights.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Pancakes, every Saturday.

Oatmeal Pancakes

3/4 cup oat flour (you can make this by pulsing rolled oats into a food processor or blender until finely ground)
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted plus extra for the pan
1 1/4 cups milk
1 cup cooked oatmeal
1 tablespoon honey
2 large eggs

Whisk the dry ingredients (oat flour, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) together in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk the butter, milk, cooked oatmeal, honey and eggs together until thoroughly combined. Gently fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients.

Heat a pan or griddle over medium heat. Lower to medium-low.  Rub the pan generously with butter; Boyce says this is the key to crisp, buttery edges. Working quickly, dollop 1/4-cup mounds of batter onto the pan. Once bubbles have begun to form on the top side of the pancake, flip the pancake and cook until the bottom is dark golden-brown, about 5 minutes total.

Serve & enjoy!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Chickens - Having them, Feeding Them

Once again, I heard this morning on the radio that we are trillions of dollars in debt.  I have to wonder how long before we will have to make some serious changes in the way we use our resources. Some of us suspect that the era of easy prosperity we grew up assuming almost as a natural right may soon come to an end. With that in mind, I've been searching for alternatives to our dependence on store-bought chicken feed.  It makes sense that we should free range our chickens, but since we suffered the slaughter of one flock a few years ago (most likely the job of a fox), the only grazing our hens do is when we are outside keeping an eye on them.  Just last month,  when we set our last set of chicks outside in the chicken tractor, we had daily fox sightings.  Today, I read at The Modern Homestead about electric fencing.  I think this might be the solution to the predator issues. the chickens are allowed to graze, their diets will only have to be supplemented with store-bought feed.  Less dependence on feed means savings in the long run, and free ranging the chickens translates into better eggs and broilers for us.

I went to a class today at the County's Extension office to learn how to build a solar oven.  I had long been curious about this, so I jumped at the opportunity.  I was surprised at how simple the oven was to build, and the sampling of chicken and rice cooked outside in one of her solar ovens while we built our own was delicious.  I couldn't believe it, but the sun actually cooked our food to perfection using simple and inexpensive materials.  Another thing I enjoyed at the class was meeting and talking with the people there. I have met several people lately who have backyard chicken flocks.  The woman sitting behind me at the class today told me she keeps her hens in the city (Tampa), even though she knows this is not allowed.  It reminded me of a friend who a few months ago told me she kept chickens in her garage when she lived in a subdivision not far from my home.  That subdivision doesn't even allow people to grow vegetables in their fenced-in back yards...  She and her family have since moved out to a larger piece of land where her hens can live outside in peace.  I wonder how many people out there keep chickens in hiding.  It would be nice if our cities allowed chickens, but even when they do, they often have low limits of 3 or 4 chickens per household and even charge fees (taxes) for a permit.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Todays' Harvest

Our second wave of green beans has been doing great, in fact, better than the first bed of pole beans we planted back in March.  I had never planted them successively before and never in late May. There are some in a raised bed and two of the hydroponic stackers are full with them (each stacker takes 20 plants).  They look healthy and happy, with lots of pretty flowers.
This is our first year planting Poblano peppers.  I am really looking forward to these.  They have just the right amount of heat for my family, and they are great for stuffing. 

The calabaza squash flowers are still blooming like crazy out there.  We're letting them remain in the beds for the bees to feed on.  The bed I planted as an afterthought between the blueberries has done incredibly well.  While the ones in the raised beds are done setting fruit, those among the blueberries are still going. I have to wonder if the acidic soil that the blueberries like is more suitable for calabazas too.  It may be that they have more water there as well, since the irrigation is better in that bed.  I read recently that squash flowers are being sold at farmer's markets up north for $3 a piece!  I am going to cook some for lunch today - fried squash flowers are supposed to be a great Mexican dish, dipped in egg and bread crumbs.  I wouldn't be surprised if Martha Steward has a recipe on her site...  Ok, so I had to go look, and guess what?  She does!  I am making Basil-Stuffed Squash Blossoms for lunch.  So, she calls them "blossoms," figures.

I have heard that in Florida we can have year-round vegetable garden production, and that is one of my goals.  So far this year, our garden has been producing every month, but I have been fully anticipating a stop during the garden summer doldrums - July, August, and September.  As we approach it, the bugs and fungus are everywhere.  Most of the tomatoes are in sad shape right now, even though we've sprayed with Bt, every week, they are succumbing to mildew and fungus, especially the larger varieties.  The same is true for cucumbers and summer squash.  The corn is almost done, with just a few left to ripen.  The chickens have been happy with that.  They love those corn stalks.  I pull a couple every day and toss them in their coop runs.  Lettuce... bolting all over the place.  We've decided to keep some flowering for the bees, and that's another story.

Marans update - we got two packages in the mail yesterday, finally.  One with Black Copper Marans eggs and another one with Golden Cuckoo Marans.  They both had some eggs that were darker than others, but at least they were of good size.  We have a full incubator, and the kids can't wait till our first hatching date in two weeks.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More Marans Eggs

I just got back from a trip to Auburndale, a 45 minute drive, to pick up a dozen Black Copper Marans fertile eggs.  I can tell this is becoming a quest for the Marans flock.  Even Google maps couldn't figure out where this place was, a tattoo parlor in the middle of nowhere.  I stopped by a produce stand along the road near my destination and saw that the two people there had several tattoos, so I thought to ask them.  They were familiar and directed me - just past the church on the right...  I bought a watermelon and continued on, finally found it, entered in - I'd never been in one before...  I felt just a little out-of-place.  Anyway, the man there proceeded to tell me that "Rachel" wasn't feeling well, but she left the eggs.  He handed me a carton, I handed him the money.  Once I was safely back in my car, I looked inside the egg carton to find a dozen diminutive, dark, brown eggs, *sigh*.  They are in the incubator now.  I spent some time trying to find information on whether I should even attempt hatching these small eggs.  I even weighed them - 1.5 oz.  So they qualify as "Small."  It will be a challenge.  I read that if the egg is small, there is less room for the chicks to move around and break out at hatching time.  We will have more than this challenge ahead since we've started incubating these and last week's eggs at different times.  The humidity and temperature required at the time of hatching is different from the rest of the incubation time...  And we are still waiting for a shipment of 1/2 dozen from Alabama!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Catching Up

Last week was super busy.  A birthday celebration, canning, cheesemaking, scouts, canoeing... 

I hadn't made cheese in a long time.  It was my second attempt at making mozzarella, and the pizza we had yesterday for dinner was proof of a good thing. Aside from waiting for the rennet tablets to arrive in the mail, it was very easy and hassle free. I used this recipe.  It was perfect on the pizza, because it was easy to grate. Sometimes we like to eat soft fresh mozzarella though, so I'll have to figure out how to get it to turn out that way too.
Early, Saturday morning, Don and I went back to the farmer's market for more tomatoes.  We bought two 25 lb. boxes.  I canned one and most of the other went in the dehydrator.
Fresh mozzarella curds draining out, almost done.
Blanching tomatoes for skinning...
...and today's harvest.  Both of those eggplant varieties are heirlooms, so I'm thinking I'm going to try to save the seeds - which reminds me that it is time to plant seeds for the fall garden already!
We finally received our first shipment of Marans fertile eggs on Friday.  I have to say, thought, that I am disappointed with what we got.  I ordered 6 eggs and got 11, but only 3 are really good chocolate colored eggs.  I guess the process of selection starts now.  I will have to breed only the ones that come out of those dark eggs. I'm hoping they are male and female. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Pumpkin Harvest

We harvested most of the pumpkins in the garden this morning.  The big one must have weighed 20 lbs.  The green ones in the cart are my favorite, a tropical pumpkin called Calabaza.  Calabaza is easy to grow in Florida, practically care free, it has great texture and flavor - very similar to a butternut squash, it's an heirloom that is easily grown from seed, the seeds can be saved for the next season, they store for months at room temperature, and the bees love the flowers,
The orange ones were two of the three we got from the volunteers that grew out of the compost bin by the garden fence.  They came from seeds that were tossed there after eating a Cinderella pumpkin from last year's crop. 

We stopped at a produce stand by the side of the road this weekend and saw they had the Calabaza pumpkins for sale at $1.59/lb.  You could easily take the seeds from those pumpkins, save them, and plant them in August for edible landscaping and a cartfull of pumpkins come Thanksgiving.
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