Cast and Crew

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Girls on the Block

That's right! It's time for the return of Everett's hottest chicks. Peep shows cost five cents, cash only please.
Huddle!! Defying all responsibility of adulthood, we've added six new baby chicks to our little urban farm. Three or four of them will be going to the neighbor across the street (who I wouldn't trust alone with grass, let alone a brood of babies...), and the rest will become part of our established flock. These little lovelies came from the amazing Monroe Feed & Seed, who currently have about 40 troughs filled with just about every breed of chicken imaginable. We picked out three Speckled Sussex, two Brahmas, and one Blue Wyandotte.
Brahmas are dual purpose birds from India. Their tails are short, they're big when fully grown (like 10 pounds for hens), and they have feathered feet (see above). Too cute!! We'll be making a lot of "shave those legs" jokes as they grow up.
Blue Wyandottes have a lovely greyish-blue feathering when they grow up. This little girl (in the front) has already been through her own set of adventures, which I'll tell you about in a day or two. She's named Winona, or Winnie for short. She was originally destined to become one of the neighbor's chickens, but only time will tell. We've both fallen really hard for this little girl.
The Sussex girls are big and sassy. Two of them are obviously from the same clutch, and the third looks a little different in her coloring. Sussex were the original bird of choice in England for years, both for eggs and meat. They're friendly and cold hardy, and they lay very nice brown eggs. Next to this one you can see a Brahma on the left and Winnie on the right.

The chicks range in age from five days old (Brahmas) to about two weeks old (Sussex). Some are starting to feather out already. Brooding chicks is a bit of work, though, so I'm glad we've done this before. I'll go into a little more detail over the coming weeks about how we raise our chicks and some of the trials and errors of being a chicken mama. In the meantime, does anyone have suggestions for names? Our only rule is that they be named after "Hot Chicks," so movie actors are generally the easiest. Bear in mind, our current flock has the following names, so repeats are not allowed.

Portia (di Rossi)
Ellen (DeGeneres)
Ursula (Andress)
Raquel (Welch)
Ingrid (Bergman)

...and, though departed to the great coop in the sky...

Norma Jean (Marilyn Monroe)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Animal (chicken), Vegetable (Apple), Miracle (Birthdays)

I've been reading a lot over the last few weeks, what with school slowing down for finals and spring break. It's nice not to feel bound by course requirements, even if it won't last. Math 141, Chemistry 121, and Political Science 101 begin next Monday. I'm cramming in the garden books while I still have free time. Here's a list of what's captivated my attention so thoroughly this spring.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is an endearing journey through a family's year of local eating. I've found myself laughing along many times. This book (and its website) contain a number of tasty-looking recipes for eating local produce and meats that are in season. I doubt I'll get Aimee to choke down anything with eggplant in it, but I'm always eager to try new dinner menus.
Okay, you knew sooner or later I'd have to admit being a Michael Pollan junkie. I originally got hooked by The Botany of Desire, which is a great read. The film version of it was on PBS not that long ago, and it was equally enthralling. What I enjoyed most about In Defense of Food was its semi-cynical manner of breaking down and discrediting every major diet fad America has known, including the one proposed by Michael Pollan himself.
I followed Jenna's blog for a few months before finally wrangling Made From Scratch from the clutches of the Everett Public Library, and it was worth the effort. Again, this was one of those books you chuckle along with as you read it on the bus or train, but I can't say she's got me convinced to playthe hammered dulcimer just yet. I will admit that her trials and errors with chickens alone made me feel like a truly accomplished urban farmer (seeing as we currently have an 83% survival rate amongst our hens).

All of this reading has got me (and, to some extent, us) thinking about eating more locally and more seasonally. The eggs from the backyard are great (our monthly tally is already over 100 for March), and I know we'll have plenty of produce from the garden in the front yard come July and August, but we'd like to go further. The Everett farmer's market doesn't start up until June this year, so these changes are going to require thinking outside the box.

Do any of you eat seasonally and locally? How about some advice for the novice!

Today is also my birthday. While their importance decreases over the years, birthdays should still be infused with a bit of fun. One present (though it wasn't intended as such) arrived on the porch while we were out walking the dogs this morning. Two of our older computers are being replaced with a new iMac. This thing is so huge I think we'll need to build a new desk for it. I can't wait to get home and play with it!! Additionally, the much anticipated weekend of Seattle Tilth classes is almost upon us. I've signed up for two classes: Goats 101 on Saturday, and Muchroom Cultivation on Sunday. What kind of wine goes best with chevre and porcini mushrooms?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What's Growing in Your Garden?

About mid-March in the Pacific Northwest, trees start budding, cherry blossoms snow in a light wind, bulbs emerge and bloom, and the first tender spring crops can be sown in the soil (especially if you garden in raised beds like we do). I like the concept of gardening year round, but my follow-through is usually a bit weak. I did, however, neglect to pull all the onions last year, so we'll have some nice, big onion bulbs at the end of the summer. We've also used our cold frame to nurse along some hardy herbs and grasses, and it is now planted with the first few seedlings for salads and stir-fry dinners. (I'd tell you what I planted in that bed, but I didn't mark anything. I'm hoping it'll all be a great surprise!) If we replace the window in the mud room this year, I can build a second cold frame. Here's to hoping!
If you were closer, you could see the first leaves of beets, mesclun, lettuce, and who-knows-what-else in that cold frame. It's probably one of the best and easiest projects we've undertaken so far. I'm really hoping to get a lot of use out of that thing.

It's also a good time to head out and pick up berry plants. This is the time to transplant all of them, since the likelihood of a hard frost is behind us. Aimee and I picked out some strawberries and blueberries this morning, and I transplanted them this afternoon (in the rain and wind, because I'm hard core).
There are five blueberry bushes in this bed, three varieties. Raised beds give you a number of benefits. They warm up quickly in the spring, they provide great drainage, no intense digging is required at the start of each planting year, and you can space plants closer together since the roots don't get stepped on. Blueberries need to be as much as five feet apart in standard planting rows or hedges. Here, each plant has about 18 to 24 inches between it and its neighbors.
Strawberries love the weather we get. They come in two main types; ever-bearing and June-bearing. We bought four of each. Ever-bearing strawberries produce a slower crop of berries from June until the first frosts. June-bearing.... well, you can guess. The advantage of getting your whole crop over a three week span is for freezing and making batches of jam. Or, if you're like us, you'll eat berries from sunrise to sunset through the whole summer and then pine for them for the rest of the year.
We're trying a new method for growing potatoes this year. I read somewhere that you can grow taters in a burlap sack. Start by filling the sack one quarter full with compost. Plant one or two tubers in each sack (we went with two), then roll the sack down (like the ones pictured here). As the plants grow, roll up the edges of the burlap and fill in more compost. At the end of the growing season, tip the bags over and have a harvest party. We're growing red, blue, and fingerling potatoes. I'll let you know how this method works out in a few months.

The garden shed is also currently home to a large group of seedlings. We've started brussels sprouts, cabbages, lettuce, mesclun, endive, bok choi, borage, and oregano, and the rest of the seeds are jumping at the pots as the days warm up. I can't wait to get more going.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hard Work in the Fall, Payoff in Spring

The snowdrops were the first to come up, followed shortly by crocuses.
The tiny, bunched tulips out front were the next to bloom.
A row of brilliant hyacinths now guides you toward the gate to the backyard. The yellow tulips intermingled within are pushing hard to join in.
But by far, these are Aimee's favorites. They're Shakespeare tulips, and we've been staring at the closed flowers for a week. It was well worth the wait. When planning for the garden each year, I draw out elaborate designs for how to fit the maximum number of tomatoes and peas into our raised beds, but Aimee always reminds me that we need some flowers for color. It was her determination (and a little grunt labor from me, too) that got over 250 bulbs planted at the end of last year, and we are now reveling in the rewards. Soon there will be whole patches of daffodils and alliums bursting forth from the soil, and we'll begin making plans for the next spring; bigger, brighter, and better.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Egg Report Cards

When you have five chickens in your backyard, especially if it's your first foray into the world of urban farming, expectations are a dangerous thing. When will my chickens start laying eggs? How big will they be? Will the shells be soft or hard? And, the biggest question on any urban farmer's mind, just how many eggs will I collect from these hens? After spending the last eight months with our happy girls, we've learned a lot about all of these questions (and more we thought we would never ask). And so, after a little over two months of egg production, the first report cards are out.

Raquel- Being one of the first chickens to lay lovely little brown eggs around the holiday season, Raquel has won us over with her consistency. Her eggs have some of the darkest, orange yolks I've ever eaten. Raquel produces approximately six eggs every week. A+

Ingrid- Small but mighty, Ingrid lays eggs that display the largest ratio of egg size to body weight I've heard of. We collect about four eggs per week from her. What she lacks in production she makes up for in supervising everyone else. That clucking and squawking sound coming from the coop? It's not the chicken laying an egg, it's Ingrid observing the act. A-

Ellen- We started collecting eggs from Ellen in January, and we've been quite impressed with how many of these strikingly beautiful eggs she puts out. We get about six eggs every week from Ellen, and their shells are slightly off-white and creamy. Yesterday she spent over an hour in the nest box laying the perfect egg. It was well worth the wait. A

Portia- Most improved chicken award!! Yes, she's earned it. The last to lay, Portia has increased her production from two eggs per week to nearly five. B+

Ursula- What can we say about Urs but DAMN! She may have the smallest comb and wattles, but she routinely plops out double yokers. Don't believe me? Here's the evidence, folks. Every two weeks, rain or shine, we find one of these in the nest box.
Seriously, this thing didn't even fit in the egg carton. I could barely close the lid. I was forced to stare at it for three days before I could crack it open (alas, early morning shifts don't lend to hot breakfasts).

Yummerific!! While we love the eggs from all of our girls, the best yolks are from the Dominiques. Ursula, you've earned your A+. Good work!!

In total, we collected 90 eggs in the month of February. So far this month we're up to about 37 eggs. What's a farmer to do with all these yummy treats? Well, we're currently selling some and bartering with the rest. Overall, we endeavor to keep most of what we grow and produce in our own neighborhood. That's the essence of eating local, and a 100 foot diet is even better than a 100 mile diet if you ask me. Are you in the 'hood? Stop by some time to visit the girls and nab some fresh goodies. This is local farming at its best.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Dances With Wolves... er... Mutts, Actually

I've apparently neglected to post much about the canines on our little urban farm, so today we'll catch up with the Usual Suspects.

Jodie was the first member of our pack. She's a Korean Jindo and possibly has a bit of Whippet mixed in there somewhere. She will be seven this year, but that hasn't slowed her down one bit. In fact, she's probably in her prime. Jodie's favorite words are:

  • Hungry
  • Car
  • Park
  • Hike
Did you mention hiking?? One of our favorite activities as a family is hiking on the many beautiful trails here in the Pacific Northwest. No matter where you are around here, you're never more than an hour from a fantastic hike. Jodie was the first to get a backpack, and she knows when it comes out that an epic adventure is afoot! Dogs can carry about 20% of their body weight in a backpack, depending on their age and physical ability. Jodie weighs 35 pounds, so she carries poo bags, a few dog biscuits, and sometimes her own water supply.

Caleb enjoys getting outside no matter what we do. He has a backpack, too, but he has a hard time figuring out that wearing it prevents him from skinnying through tight spaces, so he gets stuck quite a bit. He's wearing his in this picture, but it's hard to see anything but his tongue. Caleb is two going on three this year. He's as close to pure-bred black lab as you can get without having papers, and he frequently has to put up with him calling him a pretty girl. He's gorgeous.
Caleb's favorite words are:
  • Hungry
  • Pretty girl
  • Jodie
Aengus likes a good breath of fresh air, too. He's a cross between a gorilla and a woolly mammoth. This picture was from his first hike last year. He had a great time, but then he always has a great time. As they say, ignorance is bliss. Aengie is about as blissful as they come. We think he may actually be Black Lab mixed with Irish Setter. Either way, he's enormous. At 18 months, he now weighs 80 pounds, and he's a skinny little beast.
Spring is in the air around here, and we're already planning the first dog hike of the year. It's always a gamble to head up into the mountains this early, and we may run into snow, but that can be fun in its own way. Sometimes the best part about living in the city is getting away from it all for one day. It's time to taste freedom.


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