Archive for September, 2008

Timber! and Chicken Training

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Other than providing you with my entertaining Product Review, I’ve been busy working on adding an on-line shop to the Back to Basic Living website for my bath products. I’ve enjoyed using Etsy, but there is an expense involved in using it and with the cost of everything rising these days, the easiest way for me to keep my selling prices affordable is to offer the products from my own website. I hope to have it up in the next week or two so those of you that have told me you start your Christmas shopping early can continue making the rest of us look bad by getting your bath product gifts a full three months early. There is seriously something wrong with you people.

Eddie came out this weekend and sawed down three especially huge trees that were dead and leaning ominously toward the house. Bernie could certainly have done this himself, but he was not comfortable with the proximity of the trees to the house. Eddie has a lot more experience sawing down large trees and plus, it’s not his house, so his comfort level is greater. My comfort level, on the other hand, was lacking a great deal. I pretty much hid in the house and only stepped outside the door when my curiosity couldn’t stand it any longer. It was at one of the exact moments when I was peaked with curiosity that I stepped just outside the door in time to hear Eddie say “Wow. Brother, that tree is heading the wrong way” and I looked up just in time to see a humong-nificant oak tree land exactly on top of a section of the fence that Bernie just finished putting in not too long ago. It was flattened beyond recognition. I went back inside and prayed I was safe there and wondered if it was too early in the day to start drinking.

In the next few days, Bernie plans on sawing up the trees they took down today and repairing the fence. He’s also promised to start running electricity to my garden shed and the chicken coop. The girls have been fussing about getting chilly the past few nights, so they are pretty excited about having electricity for the heat lamps as the nights get cooler.

And speaking of the girls, I’ve got the Black Spanish hens trained to fly up to my shoulders or arms when I hold my arms out. Occasionally a Phoenix will join them. I was outside playing with them and
had three on my arms and shoulders when Bernie came out with the camera. One of them jumped down, but he managed to get a few pictures of two of them:

Two White Faced Black Spanish Hens and Me

Pretty Black Spanishes

And how cool is it that my shirt matches with the coop exactly?

Cute little bugger.

OK, I admit it. The truth of the matter is that I never trained my chickens to fly up to my arms and shoulders. They trained me to hold my arms out for them as they flew up. None the less, I can talk and they can’t. So I trained them. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Be free,
Penny

Does Soap Grow in Trees?

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

I recently received an email from someone asking if she could send a free sample of a product for me to use and then review on my blog. She sent me a link to her website and when I went to it I found soap nuts. Seriously. I had never heard of soap nuts, although they have apparently been around for a while.

According to the website, soap nuts are a “100% natural, completely renewable, environmentally friendly, biodegradable material”. And they really do grow on trees. I was intrigued and quite flattered that she asked me to write a review for her, so I agreed. And a few days later a box with a few soap nuts in a small muslin bag, a little soap nut powder, and some literature arrived in my mailbox.

I have to tell you, I was a little skeptical when I opened the box. Those little soap nuts didn’t look like they’d be able to handle washing a load of laundry very well. I mean, don’t these things look a little odd to you?

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But I promised I would try out her product and write a review, so on laundry day I gave them a shot. Let me first tell you that in order to make an honest assessment of their abilities, I did everything I usually do with the only exception being that I replace my regular laundry detergent with the soap nuts. What this means is that I pre-treated stains, added a scoop of Oxy-Clean, and filled the rinse cup with white vinegar. I used 5 soap nuts, split each in half, and then I placed them in the muslin bag and tossed them in with the clothes. I washed a load of whites and a load of colors – both in cold water. And you know what? The clothes came out just as they do when I use my regular laundry detergent. I was rather surprised and really pleased. I’ve tried all sort of “green” laundry products before, and I would rate this at the top of the list. According to the literature, soap nuts may be reused several times. I’ve used them twice so far, and they worked just fine for both loads.

I also received a vial of soap nut powder to review. The instructions say to boil it with water and then put the resulting liquid in a spray bottle for use as a multipurpose cleaner. Here’s a picture of the soap nut powder, as featured on the Soap in a Nut Shell website:

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So I boiled up a batch of this stuff and put it to the test. And trust me, when I say “test” I am talking about quite a rigorous one. I attacked my stove and microwave oven with it. I seriously considered taking pictures, but I just can not allow you to see how dirty my kitchen appliances were. And I have no desire to see the Health Department on my front door steps tomorrow morning, so I’m not posting pictures. But I will tell you that this cleaner did a wonderful job. I think it worked every bit as well as other multipurpose cleaners with one added bonus – after cleaning the stove top and microwave with it, they dried streak free! I am really quite happy with the results and I’ll be ordering some of this powder for sure.

The literature lists many different uses for soap nuts including as a hair wash, insect repellent, and jewelry cleaner. It also says that soap nuts are phosphate free, economical, hypoallergenic and anti-microbial (which means it’s safe for septic systems). They also do not produce many suds, which works out quite well in the front loading washing machine that I have.

In the interest of complete disclosure, I will mention that the one thing I’m not too crazy about is the way soap nuts smell. Although it’s certainly not over powering at all, I just do not find the smell very pleasant. Even so, this was very easy to overcome by simply adding a few drops of essential oil (I used Sweet Orange) to the laundry as it washed and to the liquid I made with it.

I wouldn’t say I’m “green” by any stretch of the imagination, but I do understand the negative impact harsh cleaners can have on the environment, and more specifically on our over-priced-required-by-county-law-backyard-consuming alternative septic system. I find soap nuts to be a great alternative.

So now you know. Soap really does grow on trees. Check out the Soap in a Nut Shell website and see what you think.

Penny

Change Can Be a Good Thing

Wednesday, September 24th, 2008

As you’ve noticed, we’re going through a few changes around here. I’ve given the website a little face-lift, and I’ve decided to use WordPress as my blogging tool so I can blog on the Back to Basic Living server.

For you, the only changes should be that you need to update your bookmark to point to the new Back to Basic Living Blog, and sign up for email delivery on the right of the page if want automatic email delivery when the blog changes.

You may now leave comments without registering for an account to do so. Your first post will be moderated, but once approved you may comment freely!

Enough about all that. Let’s get to talking about the homestead…..

Well, I was really tickled to learn after my last post that I’m not the only one that has tricked herself with fake eggs in the nest box. I received emails from a few of you that admitted doing the same thing. The details varied, but the bottom line is I’m not the only one! I appreciated each “confession”, but I have to tell you, the one that meant the most to me came from my cousin, who I consider the Chicken Queen of all times. There’s no need to publish her name (Don’t worry, Julie. Your secret is safe with me for sure.) She’s been raising chickens for many years, so it really did make me feel better to learn she tricked herself in a similar fashion. Granted, this happened early on in her chicken raising career, but I chose to ignore that and simply focus on the fact that fake eggs seem to fool a lot of people more than they do chickens. Although every one that wrote me did say that the fake eggs worked in getting the hens to lay their eggs in the next boxes. My cousin did mention that doing this type of thing “runs in the family”. I guess I even found comfort in that little tidbit.

We built an 18 X 18 pole shed off of Bernie’s barn shed. And by “we”, I really do mean “we”. We worked side by side on every single bit of it, except the shingles. And I’ve got the sore muscles to prove it. Bernie put on the shingles by himself because he wanted to finish it quickly and he would have had to wait until the weekend for me to help. Take a look at this beauty:

Pole Shed Front

Pole Shed from an Angle

Pole Shed 2

Bernie wasted no time filling it

That is one fine pole shed there, don’t you think? After seeing Bernie’s ability to design the coop and the pole shed, I’ve requested a screened in gazebo. He rolled his eyes, but did say he would put it on “the list”. Darn that list anyway!

I finally added some recent pictures of the chickens to the Chicken Coop Deville page. Scroll down to the last few pictures on the bottom. Although I know the chickens are growing and changing, it just amazed me to compare the pictures I posted yesterday to the batch I put up just before them. They have really changed a lot in just a few short weeks!

And speaking of changes, we are heading full steam ahead into the fall season. The days are shorter and cooler, and summer is on it’s way out. I already miss it.

So, there you have it. Things have changed around here – from the website and blog to the chickens and the weather. I’m not always a fan of change – but it can be a good thing.

Bee Free,
Penny

Egg On My Face

Monday, September 15th, 2008

I’ve always heard that placing a golf ball, or some type of fake egg, in a nest box will encourage chickens to lay their eggs in the nest boxes, rather than on the floor or other places. I was reminded of that this weekend when I read a post on a chicken forum from someone who was having trouble getting her chickens to lay eggs in their nest boxes. I remembered that I had some fake plastic eggs that came with an egg basket I inherited from someone a little while ago. I got to thinking that my hens are just about at the laying age, so I grabbed the plastic eggs and set one in each nest box last night. And then I completely forgot all about them.

This morning I opened the chicken door to let the chickens out and, as I do each morning, I opened the “human” door to walk inside the coop and make sure there was plenty of food and water. I looked over at the hen boxes and almost screamed for joy. Eggs! Perfectly beautiful eggs! My heart was beating uncontrollably. I thought I would cry. I kept thinking “They are so white, so perfectly formed, so clean, so large, and there is one in each box! One in each box? Wait a minute…. those….. are…… plastic.” I was looking at the plastic eggs I had placed in those boxes just the night before.

I’m sure I turned every shade of red. But it does give me hope. If my chickens are half as stupid as I am, they may just really believe those are real eggs in those nest boxes and lay theirs right beside them.

Lordy, I sure hope they fall for it. If they don’t, you’ll never know. I promise.

Bee Free,
Penny

Chicken Hawk – What the……..

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Well, wouldn’t you know, the very day I posted bragging about how well it’s been going as our chickens free range, we had an experience that made my hiney tingle.

As I mentioned yesterday, for the past week we’ve been allowing the chickens outside of their chicken run each evening for an hour or two before bedtime so that they could free range a little. As the week went on, I began to feel very comfortable with the whole situation and had begun to let them free range pretty much unsupervised. By “unsupervised”, I mean that we did not pull up lawn chairs and sit with them while they were outside. Instead, I watched them from the window of the house.

Yesterday evening was particularly lovely, with cool temperatures and relatively no humidity. When I let the chickens out, we decided to pull up some lawn chairs and sit with them to enjoy the nice weather. The chickens had been outside for about two hours and I was just beginning to think it was about time for them to start heading into the coop when suddenly they began squawking and screaming and running about. I will mention that they did this once before earlier in the week when they spotted a deer peering at them at the fence. So initially, I thought they had once again seen a deer and I glanced over at the fence line. At the same time, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a chicken hawk swooping down towards a couple of chickens that were pinned against the outside of the fence in their panic. These chickens, and the chicken hawk, were within 10 feet of us. I immediately jumped up and ran full speed toward the chicken hawk, clapping my hands and screaming like a wild woman. I apparently startled the hawk so bad it changed course at the last second before reaching the chickens and flew rapidly in the opposite direction toward the wood line. Bernie did have a pistol with him, but he could not risk shooting while the hawk was so close to the chickens. But as the hawk retreated, Bernie fired a few shots into the ground near the woods to make sure he scared it off for good – at least for the evening. He did not fire at the hawk because he was not sure what else would be in the path past the hawk and it would have been difficult to insure a direct hit using a pistol on a hawk flying erratically, especially given the conditions. His goal was to make enough noise to scare off the chicken hawk and discourage him from perching in a nearby tree to re-access his tactics. Bernie was successful as that hawk flew straight up and over the trees and the last we saw him, he was flapping his wings wildly in an attempt to get the heck out of there.

Needless to say, we were all quite shaken by the event. A few of the chickens had made it back inside the chicken run, but most were scattered throughout the woods. Duke was every kind of upset and he was clucking loudly and fiercely. I finally calmed him down and got him to come out of the woods and into the chicken run. It took quite a bit of coaxing, but Bernie and I finally managed to get everyone safely into the chicken run. The chickens seemed to recover quickly, but I can not say the same for myself.

I am simply amazed that the chicken hawk attempted to get one of our chickens while we were sitting right there and within a few feet of his intended prey. I was so upset that I loudly declared the chickens would never be allowed out of the chicken run again. But even as I said it, I knew it wasn’t very fair to remove all freedom from my chickens based solely on my fears.

It’s my understanding that as the chickens get bigger and the roosters become mature enough to be more protective, the threat of chicken hawks is not as great. I’m going to discuss this with my cousin who has had chickens for many years and has a great deal of knowledge on the subject. But for those of you that have had chickens for a while, what has been your experience with chicken hawks? Are they less of a worry as the chickens get older?

Chicken hawks are awesome creatures, but I can’t have them picking off my chickens. We haven’t even gotten the first egg from them yet! Besides, I’ve grown a little found of those little buggers.

Bee Free,
Penny

Chicken Mushrooms – Yum!

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

Since we’ve moved onto the homestead, Bernie and I have spent a little time roaming around in the woods looking for wild mushrooms. Specifically morels and chicken mushrooms. We didn’t have much luck finding either – until yesterday. And we weren’t even searching for them. I went out to the coop to let the chickens into the run and a bright orange blob from the trunk of a dead oak caught my eye. Chicken mushrooms! Take a look:

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I took this close up so you could see them, but the truth is the chicken mushrooms are all over that dead tree. I bet I gathered about 10 pounds worth. Then I cleaned them up, cut off the tougher pieces, cooked up about a pound of them, and froze the rest. For those of you that are foragers, I’ll include how I cooked the chicken mushrooms.

First I should note that I made this using what I had on hand and what we like. The mushrooms tend to take on the taste of whatever they are cooked in, so you can add or subtract to match your taste. I used herbs from my garden and am just guessing at the amount, but if you grow and use your own herbs, you’ll know how much to use. The texture is similar to chicken:

1 pound chicken mushrooms – cleaned and cut into medallion size pieces
3 fresh tomatoes – diced
1 clove garlic – minced
1/2 medium onion – diced
6 – 8 fresh basil leaves
1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano
1/2 teaspoon fresh marjoram
1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese – added at the end

Saute the onions and garlic in olive oil. Add remaining ingredients except cheese , stir well and bring to a boil. Cut down the heat and let it simmer on low heat for about 30 – 45 minutes, or until the liquid reaches a thick consistency. Put the whole thing in a baking dish and cover with mozzarella cheese. Bake for 10 minutes on 375 or until the cheese begins to bubble a little. Enjoy!

If you’ve never eaten chicken mushrooms and are interested in foraging for them, please be sure to do a little research on them. Although not many mushrooms resemble a chicken mushroom, it’s always wise to be certain you know what you are looking for. If you have allergies to any type of mushrooms, you should definitely consider this before eating chicken mushrooms. It may be wise to try a very small amount the first time you eat them, just to be sure.

My father gave us an old wood stove and Bernie and I spent this morning cleaning it up with the angle grinder with a wire brush on it. Then we painted it black with some stove paint. It looks almost new! Our furnace is electric and it costs us a mint to keep this house heated in the winter. We have a fire place we use faithfully in the evenings, but we won’t leave it burning when we go to bed or are not around to tend it, so we let the furnace kick in. After last winter and all the ridiculously high electric bills we paid, we’ve decided to heat exclusively with wood. We should have the wood stove installed shortly. It’s on the list – and being as it’s already September, it’s moved up on the list considerably.

Last week we let the chickens free range for a couple of hours before bedtime each evening when the chicken hawks are less likely to come around. Monday through Thursday we sat outside with them. The did a pretty good job of getting into the coop by themselves when it started getting dark, so Friday and Saturday evening I let them in the yard by themselves. I opened all the windows so we could hear them, but that was silly because I ended up spending almost the entire time standing at the window so I could watch them and make sure they were OK. With the exception of a Black Spanish that insists on getting in trees to roost, everyone did very well. And I can assure you the bug population in our yard has decreased already. The chickens just love flying, pecking, scratching, and playing without the confines of the chicken run. I really love watching them. I wish I could let them free range all day, but it really is too dangerous around here for that. We have every chicken-loving-predator on the planet around here. I worry enough just letting them out for two hours in the evening.

My meal worm population is booming – which is a good thing because those chickens can put a serious hurtin’ on meal worms.

Things are going well on the homestead. Bernie is busy taking care of things around here. I’m busy making sure Bernie knows what to take care of around here. The cats are busy watching the chickens out the window and sleeping in any chair I plan to sit in. And the chickens are busy not laying eggs and eating us out of house and home. Whew. Makes me tired just writing that.

Bee Free,
Penny

Bobby Lee’s Debut

Monday, September 1st, 2008

After following Bobby Lee around the chicken yard with a video recorder for the past several days, I’ve finally decided he’s not going to cooperate and crow for the camera. So this morning, when I went to open the coop, I took the recorder with me and I managed to catch the sound of Bobby Lee crowing. What you’ll see is the coop and the run as I walk toward it, and what you’ll hear is Duke crowing, followed by Bobby Lee crowing, ending with a duet:

How cute is that??? Waking up to those sounds each morning starts each day with a smile for us. It almost seems that Bobby Lee tries to emulate Duke’s crow. I’m not so sure that’s a good idea, but I am really proud of his efforts. Bobby Lee is a Phoenix, by the way.

You may be able to hear the roosters from the top of the ridge in the background. There are two that live up there and it seems that they call back and forth with Duke, especially in the mornings. I’m certain they spend a lot of time laughing at the noises coming from our homestead, but I hope they keep in mind that both Duke and Bobby Lee are not quite four months old yet. I am a little defensive about my boys.

Now that we’ve got both roosters crowing, I’m ready for the girls to kick it up a notch and start laying those eggs. They seem to have different thoughts on that subject though.

Bee Free,

Penny