Monday, June 22, 2009

Going Green with our Lawn

I've been under the weather the past week and have been in a bit of a funk. Hence the lack of blog entries this week. Nothing lifts my spirits like a new gadget/ toy to play with so my mood
brightened considerably when my new push reel mower arrived via UPS from Amazon. Our old gas mower had given up the ghost and I had decided long ago that when the time came for a new mower we would go with a simple push mower and a little muscle to keep the yard in shape.
After surveying the stock at Home Depot and Lowe's I checked out the offerings on and settled on an 18 inch mower from Great States. The reviews were good and it offered the simplicity I wanted with the ability for height adjustment. It was a breeze to assemble, weighs just 27 pounds and is easy to store. Best of all there is no gas or oil to fill, no spark plugs or filter to replace and fewer things to break down which has been a constant issue in this household. It is quiet and instead of inhaling gas fumes I can enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass.
After assembly my son took it out for a spin around the yard and found it was really not any more difficult to push than our old, clunky mower. I will still have to use the weed eater for edges and tight spots but for the most part I was quite pleased with the results. We had to go over a few spots twice and you don't want to let your grass get too long as reel mowers are not suited for very tall grass. While not a manicured lawn by far, this mower produced a neatly cut yard with no more effort than our previous gas mower at a cost of just under $100 including shipping. Burn some calories, save some green and go green all in one shot. Happy Mowing!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Watermelons: Up, Up, and Away

Lots of firsts this year in the garden. This is the first year of gardening with the square foot method. My four raised beds each have a five foot high trellis at the north end of the bed for vining plants such as tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and another first for me-watermelon.

I had never thought about growing watermelons vertically but after reading about it in Mel Bartholomew's Square Foot Gardening I thought I could give it a try. Due to size considerations I planted sugar baby watermelons and so far I have several growing up the trellis already. The largest is soft ball sized and there are a few grape sized melons as well. I will have to rig up a sling from cloth to support the watermelons as they grow larger. I've heard a pair of old nylons works well for this purpose. Sugar babies grow to about 12 lbs. so I'm curious if I'll be able to keep them on the vine until they are full grown. This should prove to be an interesting experiment indeed.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Eggs for Sale

When we got our chickens we never thought about what we would do with our excess eggs. For a while we gave away our overage to friends and neighbors though sometime a little reluctantly on their part. It was funny the responses we got from people who had never been given free range eggs straight from the chicken. One younger friend was concerned that they wouldn't be safe. She felt the "store bought" eggs had to be healthier and free of disease. Worried that they weren't government approved she never did ask me for more eggs.

My yuppie neighbor took my offer of eggs but quizzed me on how to prepare them. "Do you just cook them like regular eggs?" she asked. It seemed like people around me could not grasp the idea that eggs start out somewhere before they hit the refrigerated section of Wal-Mart. It was becoming a chore sometimes just to hand out free eggs.

A health conscious co-worker started asking for some of our free range eggs but after the first dozen he was insistent that he pay me a fair price. I hadn't even considered selling my extras but realized a few bucks here and there to help out with rising feed costs might be reasonable. He was happy to get healthy free range eggs, I was happy to have the extras go to someone who appreciated the value of really fresh eggs. Win-win situation all around.

Shortly after that several senior ladies in a nearby retirement development started calling asking for eggs. These women had been raised in the country and in a time when more people kept chickens for eggs. They were thrilled to get my eggs and each had a story that started, "when I was a young girl..." and "back on our farm.." Each one remembered how great farm fresh eggs were and they even started saving empty cartons for me. I quickly learned that it is futile to argue with eighty year old women to just take the eggs for free. We eventually agreed that market price was fair.

Now I have more people interested in buying eggs than I can keep up with. If I were living in an area that would permit me to increase my flock I could actually make a small side business out of this. While it is sad that some have been brainwashed to believe that safe and healthy food cannot come from your own backyard, thankfully I have been lucky to find that segment that finds value in a freshly laid free range egg.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Hunter lives up to his name

It was a beautiful morning. The sun was just coming over the horizon and I could hear the birds chirping outdoors. I heard our cat, Hunter, crying at the front door and went to let him in. Lo and behold he greeted me at the door bearing a gift for our family. Living up to his feline destiny he presented us with the remains of his latest conquest, a blue jay.

While my initial reaction was to scold him I remembered that this is just part of his nature. One look at his proud face and I could only accept his gift graciously. Keeping his family full of tasty blue jay was his job and he was as pleased as could be. Hunter brushed up against my leg purring and I brought him in for a treat to reward him for his successful hunt.
Shutting the door to give Hunter his due I was more than willing to let my boys take care of gift removal when they woke up.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Weekend Wrap Up


Swiss Chard are coming along

I got to eat our first squash of the year this weekend.

No rest this weekend. My daughter and her friends went on their campout and despite my fears for what could go wrong-hey I'm still the Momma Bear- everyone had a great time. They navigated major highways, pygmy rattlesnakes and miscellaneous dangers adeptly and I couldn't be prouder. My daughter called on the way home to say she had been the recipient of a ticket. I was ready to blow my stack with visions of skyrocketing car insurance racing through my head until she clarified, "no Mom, I got a tick!". Phew, a tick I can handle, a ticket that's a whole 'nother ballgame.

As for me, I spent the whole weekend having a much needed and quite rare Me Getaway. I attended a two day defensive shooting class and brushed up on my personal protection skills. I had a wonderful time, relieved a little stress, burned up a lot of ammo and came away with quite a sunburn. If you love to shoot there's nothing better than a weekend at the range shooting at paper bad guys from behind barrels.

Lastly, I took some pictures of the gardens progress. I did absolutely nothing in the garden this weekend and the grass around the raised beds has gone wild. Guess I know what I'll be doing tonight after work. That pumpkin plant my niece insisted on planting, Pumpkinzilla, has grown completely out of the bed and is roaming Tokyo ready to swallow cars, chickens and whatever gets in its way. The squash bugs tried to kill it but even they failed. I will enjoy getting my sweet revenge when I carve up the pumpkins for pie at the end of summer.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Read Me Like a Book

Recently I had a gift card from Amazon which was slowly but surely burning a hole in my pocket. It is not often I find myself in such a spot and I was determined to savor this opportunity to shop for whatever titles held my fancy. As a former librarian I was foaming at the mouth pouring over lists of books trying to top off my summer reading book shelf. I was like a kid in a candy shop changing my list with each new volume I spied. A few days later as I ripped open the boxes and waded through my new books I realized how my choices were a reflection of the homesteading lifestyle I had chosen as well as the dreams I hold for the future.

My current endeavors in the garden were covered by Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and the newly released Growing Your Own Vegetables by Carla Emery and Lorene Forkner. These two texts have helped me get my garden off to a great start and answered all my questions about growing veggies from Aphids to Zucchini.

Putting Food By written by a trio of canning and preserving wizards, Janet Greene, Ruth Hertzberg and Beatrice Vaughan, was an old standby on my wishlist for ages. It is chock full of all the info and advise needed to successfully and safely pressure can, water bath can, dehydrate, or freeze food for storage. It now stands proudly beside my battered and stained copy of Ball's Blue Book of Preserving, hands down the Bible of pressure canning and preserving.

Around this time, deep in volumes of guides and texts, I was glad I had ordered some lighter fare to even things out. A recent article in Mother Earth News highlighting Jenna Woginrich's Made From Scratch caught my eye and after checking out her blog at I quickly added it to my shopping list. I am now half way through the book and thoroughly enjoying Jenna's take on living her farming dreams on her rented rural homestead amid chickens, sheep and beehives.

Moving to a rural location to expand my homestead and literally get away from the crowds and chaos is my topmost long term goal. Knowing that each day I am closing in on that goal often makes the difference between a bad day and a good day for me. So into the shopping cart went How to Find Your Ideal Country Home by Gene GeRue. This guide to searching out the perfect relocation spot is very thorough and covers everything to consider from water to weather and taxes to toxic waste sites. It should be a great tool for me to narrow down the area I choose to replant myself in the next few years.

And having just a few dollars left on my giftcard I finished off my order with the very comprehensive guide to homesteading The Encyclopedia of Country Living by the great Carla Emery. This hefty volume covers so much information I am in awe- gardening, beekeeping, livestock, this book has it all. Not to mention it contains some of the best recipes I have ever tried. If there is one all inclusive manual for living off the land this is it.

As I look over this pile of weighty material I have to wonder where I will grab the time to curl up and free my brain to soak up all the wonderful bits of wisdom. Most likely it will be consumed in small bites in dentist's waiting rooms or pre-dawn hours waiting for the chickens to call for me. However I do it I know I will come away much better prepared to tackle a more self-sufficient life.

Chili Con Carne Canning Recipe

Well Chili Gremlins struck in the middle of the night. Out of the nine pints we canned for my daughter's camping trip only 7 survived. No one's fessing up but its alright as I have several jars in the pantry in reserve for chili emergencies such as this.
For those who requested it here is the recipe I use when I can chili. It is from the USDA Complete Guide To Home Canning and Preserving. Since our family are spicy chili wimps this recipe is mild. Those of you who feel it ain't chili unless you get third degree burns to your tongue will have to fiddle with the spices a bit. By adding more chili powder, some real chili peppers and a few other spices I'm sure you can raise the recipe by a few alarm levels.

This recipe makes 9 pints of canned chili. One of my sons is a vegan and so we have made several batches omitting the ground beef and substituting an equal amount of various beans.


3 cups dried pinto beans or red kidney beans
5 1/2 cups water
5 teaspoons salt, divided
3 lbs. ground beef
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped bell pepper
1 teaspoon black pepper
3-6 teaspoons chili powder
2 quarts canned crushed tomatoes or canned whole tomatoes

1 . Wash beans well and put in a 2 quart pan.
2. Add cold water 2-3 inches above beans and let soak 12 to 18 hours.
3. Drain and discard water.
4. Add 5 1/2 cups of fresh water and 2 tsp. of salt to beans and bring to a boil.
5. Reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.
6. Drain and discard water.
7. Brown the ground beef, chopped onion and peppers in a skillet.
8. Drain off the fat then add 3 tsp. salt , pepper, chili powder and any optional spices, tomatoes and the cooked beans
9. Simmer 5 minutes. Do not add any thickening agents.
10. Fill jars and leave 1 " headspace.
11. Adjust lids and process in pressure canner at 10 lbs. (0-1000 ft.) for 75 minutes.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Weekend Chili Canning

Today my nineteen year old daughter and her two friends joined me in the kitchen to pressure can a batch of chili con carne. I've been canning this chili for over a year now and I can never seem to keep it stocked in my pantry as it is my kids' favorite meal. All three girls are busy planning a camping trip next week and wanted some chili for a tasty yet easily prepared meal for their outdoors adventure. I agreed to whip up a batch and they agreed to help out with the canning session.
We chopped, sliced, browned and simmered and two hours later we had produced 9 pints of delicious chili. It was a fun afternoon for all and along the way the girls learned all about the process of pressure canning food. Now all we need is some cornbread and we're all set.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Keeping the Girls at Home

Chickens love to explore. Mine will escape when given the chance and since my neighbors have a problem with chicken poo on their neatly manicured lawns I have to be the warden. When they were younger gals and not quite so plump they could easily fly over the four foot fence surrounding our backyard. It is truly amazing how well a Rhode Island Red on the lamb can play chameleon in a residential neighborhood. It wasn't long before I grew tired of chasing down escaped inmates. That's when the scissors came out and the girls got their first "haircuts". Clipping their right wing feathers put the brakes on unauthorized flights and made for happier neighbors and less stress for me.

I've also had to reinforce my fence line several times as my chickens will dig along the edge with such energy it would put Rover to shame. In several areas planting a line of plumbago along the fence has provided a barrier and put an end to our real life "Chicken Run" drama. Its been quite a while now since anyone has made a break for it and I think they've realized all attempts are now futile. Perhaps they've learned that the grass is not any greener on the other side of the fence even if its cut a little neater and prettier over there.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Grow, Baby, Grow

Two pumpkin plants only made it into the garden due to the pleas of my son, niece and nephew. They will enjoy watching the growth of these giant pumpkins. I planted them on separate corners so they can sit just outside the raised bed once they grow beyond the confines of the planter.

The squash plants have just blossomed this morning. I know it won't be long now before I have plenty of squash and zucchini. Even if all other veggies fail you can always count on those two to prosper.

Cherry tomatoes are now visible on all the tomato plants. I can't wait to taste these babies in a tossed salad with dinner. My early girl tomatoes got a late start and most will likely end up canned for sauce.

Lentil Soup for a Rainy Day

Another day of much needed rain today provides as good an excuse as any to cook up some Lentil and Veggie Soup for dinner. This recipe is very quick and easy. It also tastes absolutely delicious. I am always looking for ways to add more non-meat sources of protein to our diet and lentils fit the bill perfectly. Unlike many beans lentils, which are actually legumes, don't require lengthy soaking times so this works as a great spur of the moment soup. It is a variation of a recipe from the Betty Crocker website.

1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. chili powder
1 large onion chopped
1 green pepper chopped
2 garlic cloves chopped
1 cup tomato juice
3 cups water
1 cup dried lentils
28 oz. can diced tomatoes undrained
1 can (4/5 oz.) chopped green chilies undrained
1 cup whole kernal corn
2 small zucchini cut into julienne strips

1. Combine the first seven ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 5 minutes.

2. Next add the water, lentils, diced tomatoes, and chilies and return to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes.

3. Add the corn, cover and simmer for 10 minutes followed by the addition of the zucchini. Cover and allow to simmer 5 more minutes. Eat and enjoy.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Double Dog Dare Radish Challenge

Our first veggies of the year are of course the radishes. I think most gardeners plants a few each year as they are so easy to grow and mature so quickly. Radishes give an early payback and help to reassure that all the sweat and toil are indeed yielding results. The only problem is that few people in my family really enjoy radishes. A tiny detail forgotten at planting and suddenly remembered at harvest.

So yesterday the radishes were ready for picking. My brother was visiting with his children so we took the opportunity to make it an event. My six year old niece excitedly grabbed the green leaves and yanked the radishes one by one with a dramatic flair only a kindergartner can muster. She helped me wash and slice until we had a bowl to share with the other kids. Two of the group were radish newbies and the rest were pretty sure they weren't big radish fans though they couldn't recall why. That's when the gauntlet was thrown down. Five kids spanning ages six through nineteen (I know technically not a kid) challenged each other to see who could win a radish eating contest. The face off was quiet at first but after those first few bites memories were suddenly refreshed and you could almost see the light bulbs coming on as the peppery taste warmed their mouths, "Oh, yeah NOW I remember!"

I sat in the corner and smiled watching the tangled web of flailing arms grabbing for glasses of water to quiet their burning tongues. Our first garden produce of the season, while not a fave among the youngsters, generated such laughter in our kitchen that I consider it a definite hit. It certainly created a lasting memory for the cousins to share. Next year when planting time comes I may even plant a few radishes again- just for fun.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ditch the Tide: Homemade Laundry Detergent

Everything you need to make your own laundry soap

Grating the bar of soap

Adding the soap mixture

Adding the washing soda & borax
The finished product after sitting overnight

With three teenagers in the house I find myself on perpetual laundry duty. As a genuine cheapskate I never pass up an opportunity to save a buck. Recently I decided to try out a recipe for making homemade laundry detergent and kill two birds with one stone. There are numerous variations of this recipe floating around on several frugal living sites. I pulled this particular one from as it was simple and cheap. Using just three ingredients you can produce a five gallon bucket of laundry soap in only fifteen minutes at a cost of just pennies per load. One batch kept my family in clean clothes for eleven weeks and I was a little heavy handed with my soap. I found no difference in cleaning results compared with the name brand detergents I had used in the past. This soap is low sudsing but does a great cleaning job without the bubbles. Also do not be surprised if your soap appears to have a gloppy uneven texture. The mixture will still work just fine. I use one and a half cups of detergent per load with excellent results. The hardest part is finding a store that carries the washing soda.

Ingredients: Bar of soap, Borax and Washing Soda (Not Baking Soda).

After grating the bar of soap place the shavings in a saucepan with 4 cups of boiling water until melted. While the soap mixture melts place three and a half gallons of very hot water in a clean five gallon bucket. Add the melted soap mixture to the five gallon bucket and stir. Next add 1 cup of washing soda and a half cup of borax stirring well after each addition. That's it! Just let the whole concoction sit overnight and in the morning you will be ready to hit the spin cycle.

Finally it rains!

Yes, those are rain drops on my kitchen window looking out at the yard. After six weeks with no rain we finally got a visit from the rainman yesterday. Perfect timing as our fire threat has been high and we have several brushfires flaring up in the area. I've been watering the garden each night as the temperatures have been in the 90's most of last week. I hope that the rain keeps up the entire week as we need to replenish the local water tables. I almost think the chickens had forgotten about the wet stuff falling from the heavens as they ran from one end of the yard to the other seemingly perplexed by the showers. With any luck they will grow used to it in a hurry. I believe this calls for a Precipitation Pizza Party at our house tonight.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Momma Wannabees

On this Mother's Day I felt a tinge of sadness for my hens. Raising chickens in an urban area restricts me from keeping roosters on my land. So each day my hens labor steadfastly to lay an egg in an effort to bring forth new chicks just as nature intended. And yet despite their best efforts all this work is in vain at least from the hens viewpoint. While my family enjoys the results of their industrious work the hen is doomed to repeat their daily effort like a scene out of the movie, "Groundhog Day".

My sadness is short lived though as I recall the hen who stuck her head in a wide mouth mason jar my son had left on the grass while catching bugs. Poor thing lacked the grey matter to back its head out of the jar and ended up stuck there for over an hour. Yes, poultry are definitely not the smartest animals by far. For chickens ignorance truly is bliss. Thankfully, they will never know that they have missed what has become my greatest experience- motherhood. Happy Mother's Day to all.

Yard Sale Wrap Up

Saturday I held my first yard sale of 2009. This past month during spring cleaning frenzies we have steadily added to our yard sale pile until finally this week I had had enough. As much as I dread holding a yard sale I needed to reclaim the corner of my living room taken over by my family's trash soon to be someone else's treasure.

I was pleased with the turnout. Economic times what they are many parents were looking for kid's clothes at bargain prices and I had plenty of that. I was able to unload most all of the clothing, ten pair of shoes, a basketball hoop, a file cabinet, storage bins, stuffed animals and a respectable amount of odds and ends - half of which I do not even remember buying and all of which will NOT be replaced. The bonus of the day was selling my daughter's first car, a 91 Mazda, which we had recently replaced with a slightly newer ride. Thankfully, that windfall will cover my daughter's summer college tuition and books.

An unexpected perk was meeting up with a neighbor who came by just to talk chickens. She had just acquired four chickens from a friend and was thrilled to find another urban chicken owner nearby. We spent twenty minutes comparing notes and during a lull in the yard sale I showed her my backyard setup and introduced the girls.

At quitting time I surveyed the aftermath and tossed the leftovers in my trunk for a quick trip to Goodwill. I was completely exhausted, slightly sunburned and totally pleased to have parted with so many items. A cleaner house, less knick knacks and a few extra bucks in my pocket-not a bad return for my investment of one Saturday morning spent playing Let's Make a Deal.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Cats, Kids, and Chickens

Hunter stalking the 10 week old chicks.

My daughter hanging out with the cat and chickens. All one big happy family now.

When we brought our baby chicks home from the feed store last year I had my doubts that all God's creatures, especially the ones at Little Ant Farm, would get along. I prepared myself for a bumpy adjustment as our cat, Hunter of all names, was sure to see our new additions as more of a happy meal than family members. Those first few weeks while my room doubled as a chick nursery, I was extra vigilant about keeping the door to my bedroom closed in order to keep Hunter from making off with one of the chicks. Once they had feathered out and were ready for the coop we had to be careful to lock the chickens away whenever we could not keep our eyes on them.

As they grew bigger the chickens were allowed to free range more which allowed the cat to see them as just part of the family. Occasionally, I would catch Hunter stalking quietly through the tall grass pretending he was some cougar from a Wild Kingdom episode. But a few quick pecks from a full-grown fowl put him in his place and they mutually agreed to call a truce. Now, our birds free range all day long in our backyard returning to their coop only for egglaying and sleeping. Neighbor cats who climb our four foot chain link fence and think they will stop off for some birdfood soon find their stay shortlived. These girls can sport some attitude when pushed!
Now that peaceful coexistance has been achieved with cats and chickens perhaps I can begin work on the tougher challenge of getting my own teenage sons to get along with one other.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Watching our chickens dustbathe is always good for some cheap entertainment. And at Little Ant Farm we're always up for cheap entertainment. Several times a day they will make their way over to a corner of the yard dubbed the sandbox. They will toss and turn in the dirt, kicking their legs and throwing clumps of sand and dirt hurling through the air covering themselves with sand like kids at the beach. After a nice bath of dirt they will stand up, stretch in the sun and then shake themselves much like a soaking wet dog- just substitute dustcloud for watershower.

Dustbathing was a most unexpected perk of raising chickens. Chicken novice that I was it surprised me when one day my kids came running into the house screaming that one of the chickens was dying. Not sure what was wrong I turned to the forum at and quickly learned that dustbathing is a very normal behavior of poultry and one that serves an important function. By throwing the dust between their feathers chickens are able to suffocate parasites and mites. It is do it yourself pest control for chickens. Beyond that it truly appears that they really enjoy the activity. So if you've had a bad day and are in need of a good chuckle just pull up a chair and watch the birds take a bath, a dust bath that is.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Thoughts on Laundry Day

Yesterday was a perfect laundry day-the sun was shining, a slight breeze blowing as butterflies danced around the backyard flowers.
it was only a year ago since our family began a concerted effort to forgo the dryer and go back to letting Mother Nature do the drying for us. While the dryer had afforded us the convenience of doing a quick load at any hour its days were numbered when I learned the true cost of that convenience. According to Alexander Lee, a lawyer and clothesline activist from my native N.H. using a clothesline and washing with cold water saves the average family 15% of their annual energy costs. Lee started Project Laundry in 1995 to promote the benefits of hanging clothes to dry. Fifteen percent of my electric bill was enough of a benefit for me to bring out the post hole digger and set up some line.
So with some grumbling from the kids I started drying all our clothes on a solar clothes dryer . The electric dryer still sits in the utility room though it now has a few boxes piled on it. Occasionally, we use it when we have a string of rainy days or one of the kids remembers at dinner that they need a certain shirt for school the next day. And my teens have now discovered that the triangular device with a handle and a cord sitting on the utility room shelf has a use. It is great at removing wrinkles in their favorite jeans. My seventeen year old son has even become quite the expert at pressing a shirt.

As for myself, I have rediscovered the joy of folding a basket of sun-dried clothes freshened with Mother Nature's scent. The smell of fresh laundry straight off the line-that alone will keep me forever a clothesline gal. Few simple pleasures reap such rewards.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Garden Update

Well the garden is coming to life and I couldn't be happier. Most every square has some green blooming and if won't be long before I have fresh veggies on our table. The radishes are just about ready to pick. I'll need to add the trellis netting this week as the vining tomatoes, squash and cucumbers are really coming along.
The only problem I've noticed so far is that something is snacking on my swiss chard. I've lost a few seedlings over the last few days and I am debating how to nip this problem in the bud, so to speak.
I was also a little disappointed that my herbs don't want to cooperate. I've planted one square each of oregano, rosemary and parsley. So far there's no signs of germination. I decided to reseed and cross my fingers. All in all, despite these annoyances, I am quite pleased with my first try at square foot gardening.

Eggs for Onions

This week I made my first real barter of homestead goods when I traded a coworker some onions from their garden for some of my free range eggs. Both my coworker and I are relatively new to homesteading and this is the first time either of us has made a barter trade of homegrown items. He was able to start his garden earlier than I so he had onions ready to go. I have had my chickens laying now for almost a year and he just started with some chicks this month. They won't be laying for a few months yet. It was satisfying to be able to trade the fruits of our labor and everyone gained in the bargain.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Salad Bar

The garden is complete. A little time and sunshine and we'll have our own salad bar just outside the back door. The radishes have already started popping through the ground and the beans should be next. Since I've put up the fence the chickens have largely ignored the garden and I hope to keep it that way. I still need to add the trellis netting to the trellis posts but there's time for that. I am very pleased thus far with the Square Foot Garden technique. Give it a few months and I will know whether the extra time and effort up front was worth it. It does indeed appear so far that there will be much less weeding and watering required.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Our Chickens

Its been just over a year since we brought home our four baby chicks and joined the growing number of urban households who raise chickens.

Because our lot is so visible to neighbors and code enforcement I opted to apply for a proper permit through the city and avoid any problems. While we were keeping the chicks in our home waiting for them to grow feathers we built our coop. After an official visit from code enforcement we received our permit which allowed us to keep four chickens on our land. It was pretty ironic that the officer who did the inspection had absolutely no clue about chickens and what he should be looking to inspect. He seemed more concerned about the unregistered camper my brother had parked on the side of the house.

At ten weeks of age the chicks had feathered out enough to make the move to their new diggs. My kids and I had so much fun watching them scratch for bugs and worms. Finally at 21 weeks we were surprised with our first egg. It was a tiny little thing but we were thrilled. Before long all the girls were laying one egg per day and over time the eggs grew to be a mostly extra large size.

Caring for the birds has been quite easy. I wake up at dawn, open their coop and put out fresh food and water. At dusk the girls make their way back to their coop and jump up on their roost. I lock them up for the night to keep any predators away. Eggs are gathered once a day and at least once weekly the coop is cleaned out with the manure going to our compost bin. The return for my efforts is well worth the work involved .

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Best Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread Ever

I stumbled upon this recipe at and tried it for the kids recently. We were trying to find an excellent tasting bread that had a density just right for sandwiches and this bread fits the bill, and it is so easy to make. Kneading is at a minimum and the results have been very consistent over time. This bread stays soft and tastes so delicious. Each loaf has been perfect.
Big thumbs up from the Little Ant household. I may never buy a store bought loaf again.
3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
1/3 cup honey
5 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted

In a large bowl, mix warm water, yeast, and 1/3 cup honey. Add 5 cups white bread flour, and stir to combine. Let set for 30 minutes, or until big and bubbly.
Mix in 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey, and salt. Stir in 2 cups whole wheat flour. Flour a flat surface and knead with whole wheat flour until not real sticky - just pulling away from the counter, but still sticky to touch. This may take an additional 2 to 4 cups of whole wheat flour. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the surface of the dough. Cover with a dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled.
Punch down, and divide into 3 loaves. Place in greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pans, and allow to rise until dough has topped the pans by one inch.
Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes; do not overbake. Lightly brush the tops of loaves with 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine when done to prevent crust from getting hard. Cool completely

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Garden In Progress

I have all four of my 4' x 4' raised beds constructed. I spent the better part of today digging the sod out from under these beds and lining the bottoms with weed fabric. I had read that you could forgo digging up the sod but in my experience that has never worked and within a few months grass will work its way up through the garden despite 6 inches of topsoil obstructing the sunlight.

Tomorrow I hope to complete the last of the sod removal and then I can fill the beds with composted topsoil.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Composting- One Gal's Trash

Now that the garden vegetable's are sprouting I am so glad that I started that compost pile a few weeks back. With the temperature rising daily as we head into Spring it will only be a few months before I have usable compost for my garden. My 17 year old son and I put together a 3 foot square composter from old two by fours and scrap plywood. We set it behind my shed, out of view, and fenced it off from the chickens. So far we have had no trouble finding ingredients for our compost stew. Any trash of plant origin is fair game. Banana peels, coffee grinds, eggshells, grass clippings and shredded newspaper are prime composting material. Avoiding meat, bones, grease and dairy and frequently turning the pile will keep it from attracting flies and maintain happy neighbors.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Our Little Corner Amid the Chaos

It's been a year and a half since I decided to carve my little .15 acre of suburbia into a homestead and turn our postage stamp plot into a more self-sufficient resource. In that time our family of four has managed to change our lifestyle toward a more simpler, organic one. Some changes are small ones, such as drying our clothes outside on the line. Perhaps our most dramatic change has been the addition of chickens to our urban backyard. I'm always looking for ways to live more frugally and work more healthy choices into the mix. Recently I've begun baking our own wheat bread, pressure canning food and making our laundry soap from scratch.

Gardening has always been confined to a few container tomato plants on the patio. This year I've decided to expand and have just completed four raised 4' x 4' planters in our backyard. I'll be trying my hand at square foot gardening and by the end of the weekend my 10' x 10' garden plot will be finished. The chickens will be so disappointed, poor babies, when the poultry fence goes up around the garden. I only hope I can keep the other pests at bay and bring in a decent crop. I have seeds sprouting and ready to transplant including: green beans, peas, cucumbers, squash, zucchini, radishes, carrots, spinich, swiss chard, tomatoes, watermelon, parsley, oregano, rosemary and some marigolds. Now that should keep me busy.