Monday, April 29, 2013

Getting Posty

The fencing project is taking some time. Between rainy days and the limitations of having small cars, we have been making slow progress on our garden area. I am pleased to report that the posts are in! We finally got a beautiful weekend and had the opportunity to work until we couldn't go on anymore.

I let Mike take the reigns on this project and he spent several hours coming up with a design and came up with a list of materials needed and a cost estimate. Building a fence on a budget is not easy. Even chain link fences are several hundred at minimum! If you are following from my initial post about our garden plans, our garden area is about 420 square feet. Not super large. That's slightly larger than our family room. So I wasn't expecting it to cost $500 to fence it in. That was Mike's initial estimate of the lattice-based fence. I eventually made peace with the loss of the money and realized that we needed a fence as an additional barrier for our chickens.

Over the course of a couple of weeks, Mike managed to buy the posts and start getting them in the ground. I started helping him around the third post. Most of the posts are measured about eight feet apart.

The first step is to dig a hole. Bonus points for achieving a goofy look on your face like my husband's.

Once dug, quickly measure to ensure that the hole is a foot deep. 

Then fill the bottom with a couple inches of pea gravel for drainage.

Tap down the gravel to make sure the ground is even before the post went in.

Now it is time to finally put in the post. I held up the post while Mike poured in the Quikrete. It was really dusty and we probably should have worn masks. 

Then add water to "mix" the cement. The bag says it takes somewhere around 45 minutes to set, but it really takes a day or two to become really solid.

It took us a couple of weeks to get all of the posts in. I am so happy to say we are finished with this portion of the garden. 14 posts, 9 bags of Quikrete, and 5 bags of pea gravel later, we are ready to assemble the fence. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Three Weeks Old

I can't believe it, it's time for another chick update. These little babies are now three weeks old.

They don't really look like chicks anymore! A lot more feathers, longer, sturdier legs, and voracious appetites. I finally caught on and bought a 40 pound bag of feed. They are going through almost two pounds a day!

One significant change is that they are now getting treats. I went searching around town for some chick grit and could not find any so we ended up getting a giant bag of play sand from Lowe's and are currently giving the chickadees a cup with sand in it each day. They love to peck at it and play with the plastic container that I put the sand in. As far as treats go, they are only getting dried meal worms so far. We plan on giving them other things as well as time goes on, such as fruits and veggies, yogurt and seeds.

The weather is still not cooperating as well as I like. Yesterday the high was forty degrees. Not warm enough for the chicks to go play outside. The hope is that we will get the coop built this weekend so the chicks will be able to spend some time outdoors during the day. They are starting to get pretty crowded in their brooder box and it is really easy for them to get dirty (like the girl in the photo above). It has become a nightly ritual to clean the box and take a damp towel to clean any feet that have poop on them. Around six weeks, they will move permanently outdoors (and three will be leaving, sad as it is to say). Right now we are just enjoying their company. It has been pretty fun getting them to eat out of our hands and hearing them chirp away busily during the day. I can't wait to see them in their new coop, which will hopefully be soon!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Living Room & Office Inspiration

Progress is slow around here, but it is progress none the less. Remember our front room that is kind of split into two rooms we are calling the living room and office? It hasn't really changed since I last showed you in this post.

One big multipurpose room with not a lot of detail. And outdoor dining set serving as living room furniture. Hmm...

And here's an actual picture of our gorgeous woodwork. This is what you see when you walk into our home. 

Well, like I said progress is slow. One thing that has been done is curtains - the fabric is here! Sneak peek of what is to come:

 One source of inspiration is this lovely office decorated with black and gray. Funny enough, we already have a chair similar to this one.

 I love the open desk. If only I could figure a better way to handle all of Mike's cords, our desk could be this amazing too. I like the yellow accent but I think I am going to try to incorporate red accents in the office (and maybe some orange?). The nice thing about gray and black is that they allow lots of room for accent colors. Did I mention that the goal is for the office/living room combo to be gray? Once the chickens are living outdoors and maybe when I have the summer off (I am a sub teacher) I will be working on this.

Anyway, for now I am furiously working away on the curtains, which may take awhile in between working on the garden and taking care of the needy animals. Also on my radar are some second hand furniture from Craigslist. I've tried our Goodwill in the past, but they never seem to have any good furniture. This has not normally been the case in other cities that I've lived in, so I may give it a try in another city if I happen to be traveling through.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Dig It

A couple of weeks ago, Mike and I started the excavation of the garden. The plan: take out all grass, brush and stumps, and get the areas marked for where we will place the coop, garden beds, compost bins and rain barrel. Here's the sketch I made of our plans:

The area marked grasses, vining plants and flowers was looking pretty rough:

Dead stuff, some trees that had grown on their own, weeds, prickly bushes... all things that had to go. We started by digging this stuff up and tearing out the old garden fabric that weeds were growing through. While I worked on this, Mike took out the old garden bed and the boards separating the garden and the hill. Leela had fun helping.

Boards removed, all that remained on the garden level was our compost bins. Although less than a year old, these compost bins that we bought on the cheap from Lowes have not held up well. One of the lids snapped off and the sides were barely together anymore. We made the decision to dismantle them and build new ones. They were ugly anyway. Right?

There were a lot of stumps and roots on the hill that had to be removed. It was time consuming and exhausting.

Leela was definitely exhausted.

Almost finished. At this point I stopped taking photos, so just imagine all of the grassy stuff removed, okay?

Once finished with this, Mike and I used string tied to plastic stakes to mark the boundaries of the fence we are preparing to build. Being the crazy perfectionist engineer that he is, Mike went back out a second time and re-marked all of the stakes. Pretend with me that this is a real picture and not just something I doodled for fun. This is basically what it looks like:

Next up, digging holes for the posts and putting up a fence!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Homemade Applesauce

Mike and I both eat lunch on the go. He usually tries to eat at his desk as he works and I have only a few minutes to scarf my food down before I have to tend to the children in the cafeteria, so I try to pack smart. Both of us are pretty bad at eating fresh foods when we have to peel, clean, or cut up the food. So I try to plan ahead and make food that can be easily packed and that it easy to eat. Homemade applesauce is one of those easy to make and eat foods.

First step? Get some apples. I know that there are certain types of apples that do better than others for canning, but I don't really pay attention to that for applesauce. I have a mixture of Gala, Golden Delicious and Pink Lady, simply because that's what I had laying around my house that needed to be used up. Pick whatever apples you like. I don't buy everything organic, but I try to follow the dirty dozen. Apples happen to be one of produce's most contaminated by pesticides. So these are organic.

Chop them up into inch cubes. Peel them if you want. I never peel because I like to keep the extra fiber. The peel usually is not an issue in the final product if you have a food processor or immersion blender that can make the pieces real tiny.

Put them into a pot and top with cinnamon and water. This would also be the time to add sugar if you like. I'm addicted to sugar but I find that sugar's not really needed, especially with the cinnamon on top.

Cover with a lid (slightly exposed so you can let some steam out and keep it from boiling over) and let simmer on low for enough time so it looks like this:

Once the apples are cooked and kinda mushy, mash with a potato masher or you can use a blender, immersion blender, or food processor. I used a food processor but now thinking about it an immersion blender sounds like a good idea. Less stuff to lug out and way less to clean up. Hmm... I will by trying that next time...

I used pulse on my processor and stopped when it looked like this:

With sixteen apples I was able to get quite a bit of applesauce. The round container on the right has enough applesauce to get my husband and I through the week. It has about 6-8 servings in it.

The other two containers I will freeze for later lunches. They should last a couple of months in the freezer, although most likely for us they will be gone by the end of this month. 

I took about a cup of applesauce that wouldn't fit in my containers and made some apple butter with it. Easy peasy.

Add some sugar and spices and cook until thick and sticky. Use it on toast or a sandwich. Soooo yummy.

It's as simple as that. This is really easy and doesn't take a whole lot of your time. Because of the water content, you can let this sit on your stove (on low) without burning. I usually just set the timer and come back to tender apples. 

Homemade Applesauce

8 medium sized apples of your choice
1 cup water
1-2 tbsp cinnamon (optional)
3/4 cup sugar (optional)

1. Wash apples and cut into 1 inch cubes, removing cores and seeds.
2. Place apples in pot, covering with water, cinnamon and sugar.
3. Cook on low for 20 minutes or until tender. Remove from heat.
4. Let cool for 15-20 minutes. Use a potato masher to mash or blend with a blender, immersion blender, or food processor.
6. Enjoy!

I find that applesauce tastes best when cold, but some enjoy hot off the stove. To each his own! 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A chicken update

The chicks are two weeks old!

I don't know where the time goes, but these little ladies have grown up so fast! They now have TONS of feathers and are quickly filling up their brooder box.

We are slowly getting ready to put up the coop for our babies. Hopefully it will be all ready to go in a couple of weeks so the chicks can spend their days outside in their run. Since our backyard isn't fenced, we will not be able to let them range a whole lot. We hope to be able to let them roam around the garden with supervision on occasion as well.

All of the chicks are starting to look the same. We have names for them, but we have to look really carefully to tell which is which. I can almost always pick out Penelope, who is the most outgoing, and Lucille, who has the darkest stripes.

When I ordered our chicks, I ordered four. We ended up with six in the box. Two bonus chicks that were too adorable to abandon. The first couple of days we thought, "What's two more? No one will notice we have too many." Our city caps your bird limit to four so we would be having these chicks outdoors illegally.

A week goes by and the chicks are getting steadily bigger and the amount of poop they produce in a day is headache inducing. We think maybe we can't handle six. They start making more chirps during the day and get into some skirmishes that make rather a lot of noise. We start to wonder how curious the neighbors might be.

Ultimately we have decided to give away three of them to a friend with a farm. Three is a good number for hens, who are extremely social. And this gives Mike hope that he can get a duck, since we would be within that limit of four birds.

Of course we won't be dumping three of our babies off on the farm just yet. They still need time to grow and we are happy to keep their cute butts around for a few more weeks.

So that's what is happening on the chicken front! We are having so much fun with them and can't wait to see them all grown up!