Monday, September 30, 2013

More Sad Chicken News

This year, we can't seem to catch a break. While our speckled hen Spotty was going downhill fast, we realized that apparently our newest hen, Miss Delaware (of the rare breed of the same name), had a lame wing. I was wondering if she'd once again gone to hide inside the feeder and gotten herself stuck, since a superficial inspection didn't show me much for injuries.
Sadly only a few days later, I noticed pus oozing down her feathers. She must have been grabbed by an animal of sorts, I think, to have caused the injury? I'll never know. I didn't think I could 'right' the wing itself.

The only things I did was I waited til just after sunset, when the hens are still awake but subdued, and in the coop. I grabbed her, and wrapped her in a towel. Whenever you want to immobilize a hen, it's a good idea to wrap her feet and wings into an old towel.
Then I washed out the affected area with a warm, wet washcloth. After that, I sprayed her with some antiseptic aerosol. This is the only time the hen was clearly startled and trying to break free. My middle child wisely observed that she was likely reacting to the cold wetness more than anything else.

I used blunt tweezers to pick out obvious dirt and old scab, while the middle child pointed a flashlight at my hands. Chickens stay much calmer in the dark, and this technique worked for her and for me. Then I slathered the whole area liberally in antibiotic ointment and gently put her back in the nest box she had chosen to rest in. I really hoped to see some progress in her healing.

But only two days later, I found her lying sideways on the floor of the coop. I prodded her a bit, and then carried her to the waterer. No dice. She couldn't put weight on the foot on her injured side. The infection must have progressed internally. On top of that, the other chickens had clearly started pecking at her comb and she was in miserable shape. I called it a total loss at this point.

Between the last two fatalities, I can summarize for those of you who may find yourself in the same predicament , that a hatchet works much better than wringing the neck, mostly for the sake of the human. There is an awful lot of after-twitching which is dreadfully hard to watch, and using the latter method, you're at least sure the hen is dead, which makes it emotionally easier. Same strategy, do it after dusk, when the hen is subdued. If possible, have a kind spouse on standby with a flashlight and a stiff drink. I know I needed one that night.

Enough of the chicken disaster year already! Time for some extra light in the coop, and for the ladies to finish their molts and resume the normal rhythms of egg laying, bickering, scratching and pecking.

Oh, there ain't nobody here but us chickens
There ain't nobody here at all
So quiet yourself and stop that fuss
There ain't nobody here but us
Kindly point the gun the other way
And hobble, hobble, hobble, hobble off and hit the hay....

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Salsa verde


I recently had the good fortune to be invited to dinner at a friend who's a great gardener and canner. She served us this green tomato salsa for starters, and I was inspired. I had a few unripe tomatoes myself, though not enough for a whole batch. Farm share to the rescue! 2 quarts of tomatillos would work  just swell. I dug around for more recipes, and they were all somewhat similar so I committed the biggest canning no-no there is. I messed with the recipes. Specifically, I used the above recipe as a starting point, but wanted to add 2 sweet red peppers, which I found represented in this recipe. I was working off half a batch there. To play things safe, I made sure the total acidity in terms of vinegar and lime juice was equal or above both recipes. Also, I sadly can't be specific about my hot peppers since they, too, came from the farm simply labeled 'hot peppers'. It didn't bother me, since I wasn't aiming for crazy spicy salsa anyway. If you are, I recommend cross-checking spicy recipes!

So here's what I ended up with:

5 cups chopped cored green tomatoes and tomatillos (a majority of the latter)
2 large red sweet peppers, finely chopped
2 yellowish green hot peppers of questionable origin. Not too hot
1 long dark green hot pepper, hotter but nowhere near jalapeno potency.
2 cups finely chopped red onion (3 good sized onions)
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup lime juice
1/4 cup white vinegar
2 Tsp dried cilantro (though I wish I'd had fresh)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp sugar

8 (8 oz) half pint glass preserving jars with lids and bands

I put all ingredients in a pot, brought them to a boil while stirring and kept it bubbling for 5 minutes. I didn't want to have soggy salsa, so I didn't cook it as long as the second recipe suggested.


I was more-than-usually paranoid about ladling into piping hot, clean 8oz jars and processed them for 15 minutes immediately. It made 8 half-pint jars plus a bowl that I placed in the fridge for immediate taste testing.

The usual disclaimer: I cannot vouch for the safety of the above recipe. If you make it, you're doing so at your own risk.

The Self Sufficient HomeAcre

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Do fix it, if it is broken!

This is a sort-of-guest post by the handy husband. Both of us are continually annoyed (to put it mildly) at things breaking when in our view, they should live much longer, productive lives. Today's exhibit: A broken, out of waranty, Canon EFS 17-85 lens.

In the husband's words: 
"There is a ribbon cable inside the lens that flexes as the zoom changes. After enough "zooming" the ribbon cable breaks and the camera reports a completely unhelpful "Error 99". Three years after purchasing the lens, I had got the first "Error 99" and had it repaired by Canon (to the tune of $160 or so). Three years later, here I am again. This time I decided to repair it myself to save the repair cost Canon charges.
The suspect ribbon cable ($25 including the aperture mechanism, or if you want to be ultra-cheap and are great at tiny solder joints, you can buy just the cable for less than $5) is the innermost part of the lens, so everything needs to come apart to get to it. I watched the relevant youtube video, took it apart, replaced the broken cable, and put it all back together. In another 3 years I expect it to break again."

the spare part
He was meticulous about taking photos of each stage of dis-assembly, so as to be able to put it back together. I was most concerned with trying to keep the parts dust-free. We're sharing this process for several reasons. One, I'm proud of the handy husband! Two, I read this book and it strongly advocates sharing lessons learned in self-sufficiency with as broad an audience as possible (yes, you're that!). Three, I simply would have never thought one could repair a camera zoom lens at home. Turns out it's not rocket science!

Next up: The non-functioning automatic door to the Sienna can apparently be fixed with bicycle hydraulic bike cable.... stay tuned!

Friday, September 27, 2013

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . . . 
{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
. . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Farming vicariously

On Thursdays, we go pick up our CSA share. The local farm offers a fall-and-into-winter share that is perfect for me as the gardening in my shady, cold spot winds down and they keep producing gorgeous crops on their sunny fields. (It couldn't possibly be their skill and expertise that make the difference, could it?). So we get to go and be farmers in spirit, and the kids get to help out and learn in their 'open farmyard' program. 
Harvesting popcorn
The education staff is amazing, and I learn something every time I go, too. I took pictures of these nifty hanging planters because I want to reinforce our fence and do this with some old wool blankets next year. Isn't it brilliant? And look at those gorgeous eggplants and peppers: 

A straggling tomato hornworm (aka 'tomato monster') doomed by wasp larvae feasting on him.

Julie was enthusiastically watering the herbs. See those pants? They're the famous 'Quick Change Trousers' by Anna Maria Horner, and I just spent my morning extending the pattern in length and cutting 3 more pairs for Julie's fall wardrobe.

I just loved this rainbow made of kale varieties, with the foliage beginning to turn in the background. Fall is glorious in these parts, isn't it?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The big and hard lessons

It's such a sad day today. We're losing our speckled hen, Spotty. The meds helped for a bit and she was active for the last few days, pecking and scratching, though the swelling never went down all the way and her bad eye never reopened. But since yesterday she's taken such a turn for the worse and the other hens are beating her up without mercy.
I took her out to enjoy the fall sunshine but she's too weak to even hold up her head. The kids are saying good-bye with typical kid questions on their minds. Incredulous that there just isn't anything we could or should be doing, other than making her comfortable and giving her company. Those are the hard days. This has been a hard chicken year for us.
We will miss Spotty. I've always kept one Speckled Sussex, this is technically Spotty III. In my experience they're beautiful, personable and reliable layers, except when they get broody, which they all did. One day, I would love to let one sit on fertile eggs, it seems like speckled hens would make excellent mothers. Happy thoughts for another day.
Manic Mother

Sunday, September 22, 2013

My reason to grow butternut squash

The same genius friend who inspired me to make black forest cherry jam also pointed me towards this amazing recipe for Kaddu Bourani. We already know she can be trusted, so we're going to take this recipe for a spin. Disclaimer: I have never eaten the dish the way it's meant to taste, at a restaurant. But the first time I made it, I was hooked.

Here's my way to make it, including several alternative options based on availability

Candied pumpkin:
  • 2 medium to large butternut squash, or 2 sugar pumpkins. Really any type of yellow/orange pumpkin-ish thing I have thrown at this, such as acorn squash, has come out wonderful.
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 Tbsp oil
Thoroughly peel the pumpkin/squash, and slice in large pieces, no thicker than 1in in the 'thin' direction. Place in a baking dish, toss in oil, and liberally sprinkle with sugar. When I say 'liberally' I don't mean this politically, I mean it literally. With freedom. Freedom to eat food that makes you happy and provides your soul comfort in those cold winter months. Stop obsessing about refined sugar, you're eating a homecooked meal, entirely from scratch. That ought to be good enough.

Bake at 300F (with speedbake on), covered tightly, for ~2 hours, then baste with the syrupy juices, and bake again for another hour. I have tried to cut down the time required for this dish to come out right, only to fail miserably. Don't take a shortcut. It's not worth it.

For the yogurt mint sauce: 
  • 2 cups whole milk yogurt. I really prefer goat's milk yogurt here, I have no idea if that is more or less authentic though. 
  • a handful of chopped fresh mint, if available. 2tsp dried mint if you must substitute. 
  • 2 crushed garlic cloves
  • salt to taste

Mix the ingredients while the squash bakes. Tastes better if it has incubated for a little while before serving!

For the meat curry sauce: 
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, finely diced 
  • 1 1/3 lbs. ground beef (just what Costco sells in one thing of organic ground beef!). I have also used lamb, which we love at least as much. 
  • 1 large tomato, seeded and finely chopped. I have substituted a small can of diced tomatoes, and used less water in the end, without ill effects. 
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground curry (I like the Maharaja's curry from Penzey's)
  • 1/4-1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 1/3 C water

Heat a large stainless or cast iron pan. Cook the onion in the oil for a bit, add the meat and cook until the meat is done. The add the tomato and spices and cook a little more. Add tomato paste, followed by the water, which I add a little at a time to make sure I don't end up with too much liquid. Let simmer for 20 minutes on very low heat, to make the flavors mingle.


A slice of candied pumpkin, topped by cold yogurt sauce, crowned by a spoon full of meat curry. Welcome to heaven.

Manic Mother

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Nature's bubble wrap

Who doesn't love popping bubble wrap? Today I learned something equally addictive from my middle daughter: Popping jewelweed seeds. The whackiest sensation! The seed pods get so full and spring loaded when they're ripe that you have to barely touch them to make them explode, curl up and stick their tongue out. 

Jewelweed (aka impatiens capensis or, aptly, 'touch-me-not') is a medicinal herb that grows abundantly around here, with deep yellow/orange flowers. Its crushed leaves are a remedy for stinging nettle, insect bites and even poison ivy rash, and the seed pod is truly a showcase for the ingenuity of Mother Nature's mechanical engineering. We found plenty of jewelweed during today's family nature walk in our 'hood: 

'Tis the season, or almost. Foliage, Indian Summer, Leaf Peeping. It's good to be in New England in Fall! The kids took soil samples, found the prettiest mossy rocks, and had a generally jolly time. So jolly that I was able to sneak in a nap at the top of the hill ... once they learn how to be entertained by nature, there is no more boredom for the kids.

We walked by a tree felled by hurricane Sandy, and repeatedly heard a rather intense buzzing noise: Could that have been a cicada? When I looked up more about cicadas, I came across this cool quote from the National Geographic:

 "Researchers have hypothesized that periodical cicadas evolved prime-numbered life cycles to avoid certain parasites, and that they stay underground for so long to avoid larger predators like birds and squirrels". 

What an amazing practical use for prime numbers! If I ever have to explain prime numbers to anyone again, I'll be sure to remember that.

Later, the husband observed a spectacular case of a very long, thin earth wasp (an Ammophila?) dragging a caterpillar into its earth hole, coming back out after some time, and then spending quite a bit of time closing up the entrance to make it invisible. I looked up more detail here, a very nice site for bug lovers. 

And now I have to run because the kids just captured a small salamander to be studied*!

 *and released asap, in the exact spot where it was found, of course.

Friday, September 20, 2013

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . . . 
{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
. . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, September 19, 2013

saving for a rainy day

On our weekly visit to the local farm for our fall CSA pick-up, I noticed two varieties of small tomatoes that looked practically untouched by the blight. I inquired, what kinds were they, and were they hybrids? No, heirloom tomatoes, a cherry by the name of 'Matt's Wild', and a medium to small size vine tomato called 'Mountain Magic'. I spoke to the farmer a bit more, and not only was I allowed to take a few of each to save seeds, I was even given a crash course on how to do it! So I'll document that here.
To some veteran gardeners, this might be old news, but to me, seed saving was somehow always intimidating, something one would have to learn a lot about before attempting it. A mental hang-up. Of course, then I realized I'm already doing it, if not on purpose then by accident, because I always end up growing a few volunteer tomatoes that sprout out of my sloppily finished compost. So maybe I can make the process a tad more intentional this coming year.
So here we go. Collect ripe fruits. Scoop out the seeds, and put them in cups, then add water. Remove the fleshy bits, and if you have floating seeds, remove those, too.
Then let the seeds sit overnight in the water to break down the gelatinous layer around each seed a bit.
The next morning, I took them out and rinsed them in a tea strainer, then put them out on a paper towel to dry. So that's that. I'll store them in paper envelopes with my other seeds, in a dry cool place, and I'll be excited to test for germination in March or so.
You notice, I saved three kinds of seeds. The third kind is from a most marvelous fruit called ground cherry, or husk tomato. This family agrees: they are the candy of the vegetable world. What fun to unwrap one, and bite into it for an amazing mix of sweet and tangy, and that fun 'pop' sensation. Can't wait to grow them next season.

Manic Mother

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A walk through the fall garden


To say it right off the bat: I'm not much of a season-extender in the garden. I have not yet gotten the hang of successive plantings (everything seems to grow and ripen based on weather, not on planting time, for me). I have tried cold frames, only to have a sheet of plexiglass bust into a million pieces right over my head, as I was harvesting the measly 7 leaves of lettuce I grew. This year, I'm happy to have planted a few flowers on the house-side of the new garden, because they do sort of mask that empty, wilted and overall sad look of my fall garden. They were meant to be cutting flowers, but we haven't cut them too much. They're too pretty right outside the dining room window.


My two biggest successes this year, quite literally, are the amaranth and giant sunflowers. A lovely duo, both something like 8ft+ tall. Sadly the amaranth is a bit lopsided since a recent heavy rain storm. What a plant, though! The young leaves can be eaten like spinach, the flowers are beautiful, and the grain (which is not there yet, I'm hoping it will before frost!) can be toasted and eaten in cereal. In theory, at least. I'll keep you posted on that, and also on a few options I have researched for shelling sunflower seeds. The process engineer in me is itching to play!

Speaking of big success - I wear a not-exactly-dainty size 9.5 in shoes, just for reference. This is going to be a BIG pot of butternut squash bisque. The parsley and swiss chards, of course, are loving the cooler weather.

The new everbearing strawberries are living up to their name! We pick a few every couple of days, and the birds and chipmunks get their share, too. It's a first for me, to be picking strawberries in September!


My favorite, the malabar spinach, is blooming in lovely purple, and you see the last red tomato through its shiny green foliage.


A handful of green and purple pole beans every few days, still, even though the rabbits have decimated the vines so much. In the cold back plot, most the potatoes were dug up, the winter rye is hopefully germinating as I type, while kale and swiss chards are holding down the fort. 


Fall is no time for a cucurbit beauty contest, says the garden variety cucumber, but the decorative gourds beg to differ! Fall can be glorious, they say!