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.