Friday, March 16, 2018

A fermented treat for the chickens

Three large glass jars of fermenting grain
From left, Days Three, Two and One;  Feb 2018
Since we try to buy the best feed we can for our chickens, giving both them and us the best nutrition, our feed bill can be pretty expensive.  We buy the non GMO, non soy feed, and a 20 kg bag in theory should last three weeks for our current flock of 12--but usually is closer to two weeks.  Because of the threat of rats, I'm rationing out feed as carefully as I can so as not to have any lying around uneaten;  this has helped cut back a little on waste, but it's still expensive.

During the winter when we were lucky to get two eggs a day (but getting none altogether just as often), we opted for the cheap feed.  It's definitely soy, definitely GMO, but also half the price.  To feed a flock of freeloaders, we made concessions to our ideal standards.  But it's coming on spring: we want to breed chicks, we want those now three to four eggs a day to be good quality: expensive stuff again.

To help alleviate costs just a little, I've been soaking and fermenting their daily scratch grains treat.  It's mixed wheat and corn, and about the same price per kilo as the cheap feed.  They love it dry, but are very partial to fermented.

I have three big jars on the go, and every day the chickens get the three-day-old jar.  It's basically two and a half cups of grain soaked in water (at room temp) for three days.  I usually add a little of the oldest soaking water to the newest jar, but that's it. Easy as anything, and the chickens love it.

I've read than fermenting makes the vitamins/minerals in foods more bioavailable so that chickens (or any other animals, including people) get more nutrition than from the same amount of dry food.  It's also probiotic, a definite plus.  And finally, the chickens don't need to eat as much to be full;  whether that's from the added nutrition or from the swelling in size I don't know, but less feed eaten means less feed to buy and I'm for that.

I don't currently ferment their regular layers pellets, although it's an option for the future.  I've made warm mash for them in winters past, so it's just a step beyond that to ferment, possibly saving me even more money.  It would require a different feeding station, like a trough, however--to allow low status chickens equal time at the feeder.  We've take to scattering their pellets (and scratch grains) around their yard so that everyone gets a chance, not just the top chickens:  can't really do this with mash.

Just to be sure, I feed their full ration of regular feed during the morning and afternoon, before feeding their fermented mixed grains in late afternoon/evening.  This is to make sure they get adequate amounts of layers pellets and its added minerals first.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Cabbage in winter (and spring)

Several spring cabbage heads growing in a cold frame
Inside the cold frame, Mar 2018
Winter's nearly done and I still haven't cut any winter cabbages!  Those are the spring cabbages pictured, meant to be harvested in May (though I might pick earlier, as they're taking up valuable cold frame space).  There is definitely at least one winter cabbage out there with a well formed head--I better get on it. 

Last spring I found three forgotten winter cabbages when I cleared away the sprouting broccoli;  they were small and spindly, with about six leaves each.  I took pity on them and let them stay, hoping they'd grow for some greens at least.  Turns out, they just needed a bit of time and a bit more sunlight, as by August they'd grown into the Three Cabbages Gruff;  the biggest one looked like it ate trolls for breakfast every morning.

I'm certainly tempted to let the smallest ones just carry on, after this success.  I still have the last little bit of sauerkraut from the Gruffs in my fridge, and I'd love to be able to make another couple jarfuls this summer. 

But first, time to eat the ones that are ready now.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Cookie: ready, set, go

Last year, we set some bought eggs under our little Pekin bantam Cookie when she went broody.  She hatched one, an Orpington who grew up to be our (hopefully) breeding rooster.  He's been trying to mate with our two Australorp hens who Cookie also raised (we snuck them under her as tiny chicks and she adopted them) at the same time.

Now I've got six eggs, and we know who the dad is (hopefully he's doing it right and actually will be a dad), and we know the eggs are from one or both of the Australorps--who incidently don't have names and are just called "The Black Hens."  They might as well be the same chicken for all we're concerned--they're from the same batch, sisters, and look exactly alike;  they're down on the egg-laying score card as "blacks" next to Rock, Florry, and Cucky (seven year old's spelling).

But back to Cookie (or Cucky if you prefer).  She's been sitting on the nest and after  a week of waiting to be sure, those eggs have gone under her.  In fact, we had to delay for several days because of the so-called Beast from the East storm which brought us several inches of snow and about five days of sub-zero temps.  I thought if she got up for a drink or a bite to eat, those eggs would freeze without her, so we waited, taking whatever eggs she'd collected that day from everyone else, until it warmed up.

Due date is 27 March, or thereabouts.  We'll give her until 3 April and if nothing's hatched as mentioned previously, Plan B is to sneak bought chicks under her.  Come on Cookie (and good luck Toasty and Black Hens)!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

What's left from 2017's harvest

A garden gate covered in snow
Rickety garden gate to keep chickens out (only successful during snowstorms), Feb 2018
Rather than publish a garden notes for February--because nothing really happened out there except some last minute, school-closing snow--I thought I'd update on how my stored and preserved garden foods are doing.

At the end of 2017's growing season, I had many things in my pantry, both stored and preserved.  For instance, in storage I had potatoes, garlic, squashes and onions.  Preserved, I had zuccini pickles, dried chard and nasturtium leaves, applesauce and sauerkraut, among others.  Later on, I made green tomato salsa and garlic salt, and very recently some fermented carrots (with bought carrots).  So what's left?

Well, all the stored veg have been eaten up except garlic;  though it's going slowly, I use two cloves pretty much every day no matter what we have for dinner.

My preserves are getting a bit thinner now too, but there's a few left:  most of the applesauce (the stored apples--from the same batch, wild harvested--lasted until the end of December), a little apple jelly, most of the green tomato salsa, most of the garlic salt.  I found a small jar of salted lemons which may be from 2016:  still good though!  And a little bit of sauerkraut left in the fridge made at least six months ago but also still tasty.

We've also drunk all the rhubarb and elderflower wines (finally), and most of 2016's cider, but have several bottles of elderberry/blackberry wine to tide us over till 2017's much larger batch of cider's ready for drinking. 

Now it's March and we're getting close to the "hungry gap;"  I really should have more stored and preserved to tide us over till summer--though at least we have enough to drink!  It's something I'll focus on this coming year, particularly with dried greens like chard, hopefully some more dried peas, a few more squashes and possibly some more fermented vegetables like sauerkraut.

Friday, March 2, 2018

February 2018 Food Totals

A patio with containers with a garden beyond, covered in snow
Crimping my style!  Last day of Feb, 2018

20 oz celery
2.5 oz salad greens (miners lettuce, arugula, baby chard)
0.5 oz spring onion

Total: 23 oz

Note:  I weigh all my vegetables after preparation:  peeling, trimming, etc. 


No fruit harvested


Total: 65 eggs from 11 hens
Total feed bought: 2 bags layers pellets (40kg total) and 1 bag mixed corn (20kg)


2 medium jars fermented carrots (own garlic and dill seed, bought carrots)


Cider still fermenting
No new homebrew begun

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Rats! I need a new way to compost

About two years ago we were invaded by rats;  they even managed to get inside the house by crawling into the dryer vent and chewing a hole through it--there's a funny story I like to tell about that, set in the middle of the night involving the piano and five nectarines in the fruit bowl.  Sadly it doesn't translate well into the written word.  Anyhow, at that time we enacted strict rules about uncontained composting and chicken feed;  eventually they moved on.

Well, rats are again back;  I've seen a massive one wandering around the garden nonchalantly.  It was big enough that I'm more worried about it catching a cat than the other way around--we have a neighborhood cat who is a good ratter, but I don't fancy her chances against this one.  So our rules are back in place:  chickens are getting set meals three times a day instead of freely available feeders, and I need to contain my compost.  I have two composters (both currently empty), neither of which are rat-proof.  What I want is a worm bin.

To this end, I've got a large plastic container (it used to be a curbside recycling box before the council replaced them with wheelie bins).  I've got worms in the garden, though I'll have to wait for the weather to warm up before collecting them;  I'm pretty sure worms aren't active in this cold, and they'd probably freeze to death in an above ground plastic box, even in the garage (uninsulated).  I wouldn't mind having a small worm bin under my kitchen sink, but my current selection of plastic containers are all too big.  It'll have to be outside.

Hopefully without an easy source of food, the rats will again move on.

*Though we know at least one neighbor uses it, we don't put down poison as we don't want our chickens finding it--or indeed having it poison locals pets who might eat a rat.*

Friday, February 23, 2018

A few seeds here and there

Though it's still cold out there, it's also noticeably lighter in the mornings and evenings than a month ago.  We've had our first daffodil open, and a snowdrop or two.  Spring's coming!

March is the month it all kicks off, but there are things to begin in February too.  I've got onions and leeks sprouting on the kitchen windowsill (plus some flowers and geranium cuttings).  I planted out some pre-sprouted peas;  I should really put another batch to sprout--there's some spring broad beans just thinking about it too.  I'll plant them out in a few days (the autumn sown ones are putting out a few more leaves, growing slowly).

I organize my seeds by the month I usually sow them, and I still have a handful of varieties to sow, nearly all to start in trays indoors.  So even though I'm still spending most of my day inside (I've got loads of knitting done this winter), the warm ups have begun.