Returning to the Garden

Gosh, it’s been such a long time!  About a year ago, I decided to vacate this space for a new home that just never found its legs, and thinking I’d settle in there (without finding an authentic voice), I kept putting off a return to this blog… until I feel like I just can’t anymore.  I miss writing and having an avenue for our chicken and gardening and family expansion that is coming so very soon.  Two weeks ago, we put in an order for another thirty chickens, hoping to find something we prefer to the Buff Orpingtons for meat.  We’ve ordered a mixture of Bard and Partridge Rocks from Murray McMurray and are eagerly awaiting expanding our flock.  We’ve also put in a seed order for this year’s garden, limiting it to our primary stock vegetables (those we can freeze or can and grow organically): peas, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, squash, carrots and garlic (already in the ground and hopefully poking through the snow soon!).

But there’s bigger news.  Baby M will be arriving any day now, joining his older sister who has eagerly awaited his arrival for the past few months.  And in anticipation of Baby M and my almost five months at home with the kiddos, we’ve reinvested in a lot of the sustainable baby practices we did for A: preparing to breastfeed, restocking some of the cloth diaper supplies we needed, ensuring we’re ready for all that laundry, and purchasing a new baby carrier.  With A, I used a Moby (sparingly) and Jason got a lot of use out of our Ergo when she was bigger, but I really struggled with the Moby and I’m super-excited to get started with our new Sakura Bloom ring sling in Peacock, which came in the mail two weeks ago.

We’re counting down the days to spring and all of the new arrivals on our increasingly growing homestead, and I hope you’ll join us again for the adventure.

So happy to be back!

J

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Preserving the Harvest: Peas

One of the biggest factors that allows us to forgo takeaway so often during the very busy school year is the amount of produce we are able to put up during the late summer months.  While having a baby has definitely altered the shape of our days (and the amount of spare time I have), we are still going strong, preserving vegetables for the upcoming winter months.  I’ve posted previously about preserving green beans and zucchini and summer squash, but one of Jason’s favorite vegetables is peas.

Materials:

Quart Freezer Bags

Fresh-picked peas (you want these shucked immediately after picking or the pods get gummy and hard to manage)

Large pot for blanching (with large metal sieve, if possible)

Colander

Bowl or clean sink full of ice water

Cookie Sheets

Clean, absorbent dish towels

Before starting, make sure you have enough space for two cookie sheets in your freezer, as you need to flash freeze peas BEFORE placing them into bags.

  1. Pick your peas on a day when you have enough time to process them start to finish.  Pick the pods, shuck the peas, and get started preserving.  If you must, I’ve found that shucked peas are okay in the fridge, covered, for 24 hours before processing.

    Fresh Peas from the Garden!

    Fresh Peas from the Garden!

  2. Bring your water to a rolling boil.  Meanwhile, prepare your blanching sieve and pans (cover with a fresh dishtowel).

    Prepared materials.

    Prepared materials.

  3. Blanch peas (this is where I use the metal sieve) for 2 – 3 minutes, until the color changes to a rich green.
    Fresh Peas

    Unblanched Peas

    Blanched Peas

    Blanched Peas

  4. Place blanched peas in an ice water bath to cool.  I usually just lower them into ice water in a pot while still in the sieve, so I don’t have to strain ice out of them before drying.  Leave in ice water until peas are cool (3 – 5 minutes).
  5. Transfer peas from the water bath to dry dishtowels, then roll peas on dishtowels into logs to hurry along this process.

    Peas, rolled into a dishtowel to remove water.

    Peas, rolled into a dishtowel to remove water.

  6. When dry, spread the peas on a clean, dry dishtowel on a cookie sheet.Toweled Peas
  7. Place in freezer until frozen solid (6 – 12 hours).

    Frozen Peas

  8. Loosen peas and transfer into freezer bags.

    Loosened peas.

    Loosened peas.

  9. Remove air from bag and place in freezer.

    Peas, ready for the freezer!

    Peas, ready for the freezer!

These peas can be used in cooking all winter long, steamed or placed in the microwave and served plain.

Enjoy!  I know we will!

We Eat/She Eats and Monday Motivation

Somehow, another week has blown by!  I look back over last week, and how much we accomplished even though Jason had to spend the entire weekend working out at his dad’s house in preparation for its inspection, and I am so thankful we’re still balancing things.  Cords have been picked up and put away, more baby proofing has been accomplished, and I finally got to those pesky floors!  And, by some grace of luck, I managed to week and mulch our flower beds and stain the decks before we had company last Friday night.  But to get down to the purpose of this post… last week’s meal planning went great, and A ate what we ate (or what I had planned for her) every night of the week!

This week, we’re getting ready for a visit from my mom and brother (Amelia’s Uncle Sparky).  They’ll be arriving Friday night and staying through the weekend, and since Uncle Sparky lives in LA, this will be his first time meeting little Miss Amelia.  I can’t wait!

In terms of how things are going… I fully completed Week 3 of T25, and with the addition of more careful eating practices, I am down 1.5 pounds!  I’ve noticed some hip pain this weekend, but I think it’s just my body continuing to adjust.  We’ll keep our fingers crossed!  Eating healthily is so much easier with all of our own fresh veggies finally coming in!

Fresh Peas from the Garden!

Fresh Peas from the Garden!

This week’s We Eat/She Eats focuses a lot on what we can get out of our own garden at this time of year: onions, garlic scapes, zucchini, and cucumbers.  The tomatoes and corn are coming, albeit very slowly!  Amelia is also loving watermelon or watery-melon as I call it when I feed her, so we’re going through about one a week, and it makes such a great, healthy snack for Mama, too!

Monday:  Jason Working at His Dad’s House – Homemade Takeout
We Eat: Grilled Chicken and Cheddar Panini Sandwiches on Rye Bread, Crispy Fries, Cucumber Spears
She Eats: Grilled Chicken Bits, Cheese,  Avocado, Cabot Greek Yogurt with Fruit

Tuesday:
We Eat: Eating Well’s Easy Salmon Cakes over Salad with Cucumber Spears and Creamy Dill Sauce and Watermelon Cubes
She Eats: Cucumber Bits, Watermelon, Cabot Cottage Cheese, Leftover Chicken

Wednesday:
We Eat: BBQ Chicken with Homemade Sauce, Sautéed Zucchini with Melted Parmesan Cheese, Orzo with Herbs,
She Eats: Chicken Bits, Chopped Zucchini (sauteed but before I add the cheese) with Fresh Parmesan (unmelted), Bits of Orzo, Fruit (Mama needs to buy more watermelon!)

Thursday:
We Eat: Hamburgers on the Grill on Sandwich Flats, Sweet Potato Fries, Cucumber Spears
She Eats: Sautéed Ground Beef, Cucumber Bits, Watermelon, Cabot Cottage Cheese

Friday: Mom & Uncle Sparky Arrive!
We Eat: The Pioneer Woman’s Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs (without eggs), Salad, Bread, Green Beans
She Eats: Meatballs (chopped up) without Sauce, Pasta Bits, Green Bean Bits, Bread

And in case you were wondering what meals look like at our house… here’s Taco Salad from last week:DSC_0098

What are you and your little ones enjoying the most this summer?

We Eat/She Eats & Monday Motivation

Though it took me several days to make it (for some reason it fell out of the rotation last week),  we had a real We Eat/She Eats success on Sunday night when A ate exactly what we did – organic chicken sausage (with sun dried tomato and basil) sauteed with organic zucchini and red pepper over pasta (hers was all cut into tiny bites), garnished with fresh grated Parmesan cheese.  She gobbled it up and finished it with a side of Greek yogurt with pear sauce.  She also ate a great lunch on Sunday of turkey (chopped), blueberries (diced) and cheddar cheese with a few Cheerios.  It’s really interesting to watch how much more delighted she is with more seasoned and flavorful food.  Here’s hoping we’re raising an adventurous little foodie!

In other news, T25 is still going great.  The scale still hasn’t moved much, and since balancing nursing with weight loss is such a struggle for me (I’m back at my pre-pregnancy weight, which I’ve maintained since doing Weight Watchers this past spring), I’ve decided to commit to three more months of WW to see if it can get me to my goal weight.  I went off when I traveled home to Vermont, knowing that I didn’t want to pay for two weeks during which I’d probably slide off program, but I’m ready to finish slimming down in hopes that a little less weight might ease up the last of my residual back pain.  I should note that all of these dinners are pre-tracked in my WW calculator, something that I’ve had really good success with in the past.  I tend to eat the same breakfast every day, and knowing what dinner will bring allows me to make better choices at lunch and in the early afternoon, when I tend to be most snacky.

We Eat/She Eats: Week Three

Monday:
We Eat: Grilled Chicken with Homemade BBQ Sauce, Maple Braised Carrots, Orzo
She Eats: Chicken Bits, Steamed Carrots & Chopped Orzo with Greek Yogurt & Pear Sauce if she’s still hungry after dinner

Tuesday:
We Eat: Cheese Burgers (90% lean, grass fed beef) on Sandwich Flats and Homemade, Baked Sweet Potato Fries with Watermelon
She Eats: Sautéed Ground Beef, Cheddar Cheese, Sweet Potato (Frozen), Watermelon Bits

Wednesday:
We Eat: Homemade Taco Salad: Lettuce, Tomato & Peppers Studded with Ground Beef (Homemade Spice Mix), Light Sour Cream, Avocado, Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar & Tortilla Chips (garnish – think croutons)
She Eats: Sautéed Ground Beef, Avocado, Watermelon Bits, Sharp Cheddar or Cottage Cheese

Thursday:
We Eat: Chicken, Sautéed and cooked in Seeds of Change Masala Sauce over Brown Rice with Broccoli and Garden Peas!
She Eats: Sautéed Chicken, Broccoli, Chopped Peas, Cottage Cheese

Friday: Possible Dinner Guests
We Eat: Homemade Pizza on the Grill – Pepperoni and Veggie
She Eats: Leftover Chicken, Leftover Broccoli, Cheese, Cheerios

What are you looking forward to cooking this week?

 

Planning the 2014 Garden

A few weeks ago, when the average daily temperatures were lingering around -22 (without the windchill), we placed our 2014 seed order with Park Seed.  Part of the reason we order through Park (despite my heirloom, seed saving dreaming) is their super reliable Tenderette and Soleil green beans, a staple of our winter diet (they freeze like a dream, and we eat them 2-3 times a week).

Young, fresh beans

Tenderette and Soleil Beans in Our Garden

I would like to say that A’s arrival has made us more cautious gardeners, but though we’ve cut back on some things (we might not have terribly over-ordered seeds as we have in past years), we still plan to fill both our primary garden 100’x50′ and our smaller garden 10’x100′, and if you were worried, we’re also preparing for a 2014 chick purchase to add more genetic diversity to our flock of Buff Orpingtons after a 2013 decline in hatch rate.

Chicks hatched in 2012 from our own birds.

Chicks hatched in 2012 from our own birds.

In planning our garden, we made the choice to grow more crops that we use all winter (carrots, beans, peas, onions, garlic, tomatoes) and fewer try-it-out-for-fun crops (though we will be planing parsnips again this year because we’ve really enjoyed having them!).  So what did we decide on?

2014 Vegetable Order

  • Green Ice Lettuce (Free Add-On)
  • Master Chef Blend Lettuce
  • Summer Glory Blend Lettuce (Free Add-On)
  • Green Towers Lettuce (Free Add-On)
  • Sweet Rainbow Blend Pepper
  • Orange Paruche Hybrid Tomato
  • Sugary Tomato
  • Costoluto Genovese Tomato
  • Mr. Big Pea
  • Lincoln Pea
  • Tendersnax Carrot
  • Honey Bear Squash
  • Summer Squash Medley
  • Soleil Bean (Yellow String)
  • Tenderette Bean (Green String)
  • Albion Hybrid Parsnip
  • Yellow Onion Set

In addition to this, we’ll purchase cucumber plants from a local grower because no matter how we try, we’ve never been able to get them to grow reliably from seed; whereas, every year we buy plants from the same mom and pop  greenhouse and they thrive.  Other than that, we’re hoping for another big crop of blueberries from the bushes we planted a few years ago.

A was more than ready to help when we placed our seed order a few weeks ago!

A was more than ready to help when we placed our seed order a few weeks ago!

What are you planting in your garden this spring?

Chocolate Zucchini Muffin Recipe

Early this week, I talked about ways to preserve all of those zucchini and summer squash that overtake our late summer gardens, and today, I’m going to share one of my favorite recipes for using that produce.  Chocolate zucchini muffins are moist, delicious and the perfect treat for Sunday brunch.  They are also a favorite with kids!  Best yet, they are easy to make, regardless of the season.

Ingredients:

1 c. Brown Sugar

1 c. White Sugar

3 c. Flour (I often use 2 c. AP and 1 c. whole wheat)

1/2 c. Baking Cocoa

1 T. Baking Soda

1 t. Baking Powder

1 t. Salt

1 T. Cinnamon

3 Eggs

1 T Vanilla

1 c. Vegetable Oil

2.5 c. Grated Zucchini (If you are using frozen zucchini, let it thaw on the counter before mixing it in.  You may need to adjust the flour and/or cocoa if the zucchini is watery.  I do this all the time, and the muffins still come out great!).

1 Bag Milk Chocolate Chips

Instructions:

1. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  If your cocoa powder is particularly clumpy, run it through a sifter first. 

2. Beat in eggs, vanilla and oil.

3. Fold in zucchini and then stir in chocolate chips.

4. Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes.

5. Enjoy!

The best part about these muffins is that all you need are the muffins.  They are delightfully moist and the chocolate chips remain soft and gooey, even in the prepared muffins. 

Preserving the Harvest: Putting up Summer Squash and Zucchini

If your garden has been anything like ours, lately, you have been blessed by an onslaught of zucchini, and when I say onslaught, I mean dozens of healthy, beautiful squash.  What do we do with these squash?  We stirfry them with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper; sometimes we add a link or two of chicken sausage to the stir fry, serve it over pasta, and call it dinner; we grill them, sometimes marinated, and sometimes just lightly salted and peppered; but, mostly, when we get way behind, we freeze them.

I freeze summer squash and zucchini primarily for baking, and I often freeze them together.  Working with teenagers who are always hungry, it’s nice to be able to bring in treats that have some (minor) health benefits.  And my favorite of those recipes is chocolate zucchini muffins.  So, you’ll notice in the freezing instructions below,   I freeze our squash in 2.5 c. increments.  It’s all for the recipe, though, so if you have a favorite recipe, freeze in increments that will make your baking/cooking easier!  Squash frozen this way also mixes really well into things like chop suey, shepherd’s pie, and other meat dishes that can really benefit from a vitamin push, especially in the winter!

Materials:

Glad Press & Seal

Freezer Bags

Food Processor or Cheese Grater

Fresh Squash (zucchini, summer squash, or a mixture of both!)

1. I usually pick my squash from the garden the day I’m going to process them.  I do it early before they’ve baked in the sun all day.  I try to aim for medium sized squash, but if you have a baseball bat sitting under one of your zucchini plants, shredding and baking it is the way to go!

2. Bring your squash inside and wash it thoroughly under lukewarm water.  Remove the cap and the end where the blossom was (taking only about an 1/8” of the fruit off with the pieces you are removing).

3. Shred in the food processor.  I use the cheese grater attachment.

4. Measure onto sheets of Press & Seal in the proper increments (2.5 cups for Chocolate Zucchini Muffins!).

5. Form a packet around the squash using your press and seal and press firmly to remove as much air as possible.

6. Pack into freezer bags and freeze until needed!

And later today, I’ll give you the recipe you need to make zucchini lovers out of your friends, family, and children!

Putting up the Harvest: Preserving Green Beans

Jason and I plant a garden that seems way too big for two people.  Take a walk through our backyard past our six blueberry plants, herb garden that was once a fire ring and the large garden (50′ x 25′), and when you notice the smaller garden (25’x10′), you might start to wonder what’s going on.  Yesterday’s confession that we grow 5 – 25′ long rows of tomatoes probably only helps reinforce this image.

What is my plan in all of this?  It’s my goal to buy as few grocery store vegetables (frozen, fresh or otherwise) in the winter.  And one of the ways we succeeded at this last year was by putting up a vegetable we both love to eat for dinner: green beans.

The first year I tried this was a raging failure because my original thought process went something like this:

Larger Beans = More Beans = More Food

I waited until the beans were pretty big.  Picked them, processed them, put them up… and they were horrible.  Stringy.  Tough.  Generally gross.  So my first lesson for you is that if you’re putting up produce, put it up young and fresh.  Just because you have more of it does not mean you want to eat it.

Young, fresh beans

Below, please find my guide to preserving green beans.

Materials:

Quart Freezer Bags

Glad Press & Seal

Fresh-picked green beans (you want these in the pot almost immediately after you pull them out of the garden)

Large pot for blanching (with large metal sieve, if possible)

Colander

Bowl or clean sink full of ice water

Cookie Sheets

Clean, absorbent dish towels

Before starting, make sure you have enough space for two cookie sheets in your freezer, as you need to flash freeze beans BEFORE placing them into bags.

Step 1: Pick you beans.  We usually pick tender beans of about 4 inches that have not started to form thick beans inside the pods yet.  This is how we prefer to eat them raw, and we’ve had great luck with them frozen.  Last year, we grew Tenderette and Soleil varieties from Park Seed, and they’ve now grown beautifully two years in a row!

Beans, Fresh-Picked for Processing

Step 2: Immediately after your beans are picked, bring them inside and remove the caps from each bean (the part that attached the bean to the plant).  If your beans are a bit longer, you can break them into segments at this point.  A fresh bean should snap easily.  Discard any beans that look like they’ve been munched on by bugs or spotted by disease.

Cap Removal

While you are removing the caps on the beans, place a large pot of water with a lid over high heat to boil.  We use this crazy old pot that my father in law gave us a few years ago.  I’m not sure what it’s initial purpose was (probably canning!), but it consists of a large pot, a slotted interior pot and a lid that lets off steam.  If you can find one of these at a garage or yard sale, snap it up!  Best. Preserving. Pot. Ever.

Preserving Pot, Disassembled

Step 3: Rinse beans under cold water in a colander until clean.  This step is particularly important if you’re using pesticides in your garden, which we don’t.  That said, it removes dirt, bugs and anything else that might be on your beans.

Rinsing the Beans

Step 4: In batches that fit your pot, blanch beans for 2 minutes.  I use the interior slotted section of my preserving pot for this; however, I’ve also used a large metal sieve before, when preserving peas.  Anything that will let you get the beans into the hot water for two minutes and remove them quickly is perfect.  Note: I would not use a plastic colander for this purpose.

Blanching the Beans

Step 5: As soon as the beans come out of the hot water, place them immediately in ice cold water to halt the cooking process.  Leave in the water 5 – 8 minutes. I don’t usually stress about this time, as long as they’re in there at least five minutes.  A bit longer won’t hurt them!

Cooling the Beans

Step 6: Spread your tea towels out onto your cookie sheets.  You are going to use these to absorb as much water from the beans as you can before freezing. 

Place the beans in  a thin layer onto the tea towel, then roll up like a jelly-roll, tucking the edges in over the beans to keep them from slipping out.  If you have a lot of beans, you can place a second towel over the beans before rolling, to soak up excess water.  Remember: too much additional water = freezer burn.

Step 7: Once your beans are dry, remove the towels and leave the beans spread out on you cookie sheet in a thin layer.  You’re now going to flash freeze the beans in your freezer.  Place the trays in the freezer for 8 – 12 hours to ensure a quick and uniform first freeze.

Beans prior to freezing

Step 8: Remove one tray of beans from the freezer.  Loosen them gently with a spatula and arrange a complete dinner serving for your family onto a sheet of Press and Seal.  I usually measure out enough for one meal for Jason and I.    Wrap tightly.  You will want to work quickly because you don’t want the beans to thaw.

Step 9: Place 3 – 4 servings in each freezer bag.  Remove as much air as possible and mark with the date.  As soon as a bag is complete, return it  to the freezer.

To reheat, remove beans directly from the freezer.  Unwrap and place either in a microwavable bowl in the microwave for one minute (or until hot) or in a steamer basket over the stove until they’re hot and ready to eat.

Perfect, garden fresh beans every time!

Trellising Tomatoes and Increasing Yield

Last summer, we were plagued by heavy rains and blight so bad that we lost more than 75% of our tomato crop.  And though we always grow a lot of tomatoes, and 25% of a 60 plant crop was still enough to get us through the winter in pizza sauce (a staple at our house), I spent the last year purchasing crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and tomato sauce from the grocery store in quantities that I wasn’t particularly comfortable with.

Our Current Garden
July 29, 2012

One of the easiest ways for us to be self-reliant is by putting up our own tomato products.  While tomatoes aren’t necessarily as easy to grow in the far north as they are in the south, we’ve discovered a few tricks that have helped us with this year’s crop.

2012 Tomato Crop

We usually start big.  Tomatoes are a huge part of our diet, and we don’t fool around with them.  This year, I planted seventy-two tomato seeds under a growing light about eight weeks before planting, and at this time, we currently have 68 plants thriving in our garden.  Since we are so far north, and larger tomatoes take more days to develop, we usually grow a mixture of cherry and plum-sized tomatoes (about 70% of our crop) and one larger variety that will thrive some years and really struggle in others.  This year’s Constoluto Genovese heirloom variety from Park seed is growing like a weed, despite the fact that the fruit are also ENORMOUS.  We’re just hoping that the growing season is long enough that I can bring in the bulk of these beauties.

Constoluto Genovese Heirloom Tomatoes

While cherry and plum tomatoes are not your traditional sauce tomatoes, I’ve found that all tomatoes can go into sauce after a whirl through the food processor (skin and seeds intact) and a few hours on the stove top.  This flexibility has given me a lot of room to play with different types of tomatoes in my sauce and has made for a lot more variety and better taste.

Orange Paruche Hybrid cherry tomatoes ripen almost three weeks before all of our other tomatoes and make a delightfully sweet (and orange!) pizza sauce.

If you want to grow this many tomatoes, you need a system.  For years, both Jason and I used cages.  And cages are great if you want to grow five or six tomatoes.  But cages tend toward weakness, plants usually need additional support, and I don’t want to be worried about my crop 24/7.  So last year, we started switching over to welded wire fence as a support.  I carefully wove the plants through the fencing, and they did okay, but that weaving caused quite a bit of leaf damage and may have later contributed to the blight (since the plants were already a bit stressed.

This year, I’m using a mixture of cable ties and string to gently train the plants onto the fences, then marveling as they weave themselves between the wires.  The cable ties (smallest I can find) run about $1.99/100 and we’ve gone through about four packages this summer. My only advice is that if a large wind/thunder storm is predicted in your area, try to get out beforehand and secure your plants if you’ve been letting them go a bit too long (they need to be re-secured about once a week in June and once every 2 -3 weeks in July and August with careful monitoring for heavy fruit that might be weighing down the plant).

Cable ties secure plants firmly to the wire when they are already in close proximity.

String or twine can be used for added support in situations where plants are too far from the fencing to use cable ties. We just use a basic twine.

The added benefits of this system are that it gives us a solid wall between our squash plants and the rest of the garden and it allows us a nice pathway to bring the hose through when we’re watering our beans and peas in the small secondary garden that we put in last year.  And while welded wire did have a substantial upfront cost, it was comparable to buying 72 tomato cages and will likely last for years without all of that tomato cage hassle!

Row between the tomatoes. Each row of tomatoes is 25′ long, and this year, we’ve planted five rows of tomatoes.

How do you support your tomatoes?

Homestead Update

When I went to Boston a week ago today, I had every intention of continuing to write regular posts, but between a hotel with limited wi-fi access and a weekend of wedding-related activities (and my 30th birthday!), not nearly as much got done on the blog as needed.  This time of year always feels a little breathless, as the first truly hot summer days descend in a haze of weeding, home reorganization and preparation for canning.  Throw in a wedding to prepare for and host, and everything that used to feel normal about my days has pretty much evaporated.  That said, I wouldn’t want anything else at this point.

Always a welcome sight at the end of a long day…

In the garden, things have finally started progressing at a rate that I’m excited to discuss.  This year, we’ve been plagued by a super slow growing season and the fear that not one of

Tomatoes … finally growing!

our seventy-something tomato plants would make it.  Apparently, our problem was soil temperature because as that has climbed over the last nine days, so have our plants!  I think one of the things I struggle most with on this blog is adequately cataloging our failure and my fear of failure, as putting it in words somehow makes it seem that much more eminent.  So in that vein: I’m worried about the peppers, which have been plagued by flea beetles all season.  We’ve been hitting them up regularly with a mixture of garlic, hot sauce, Dr. Bronner’s natural soap and water, and we’re hoping to see some progress, but it has been SLOW.  We’ve also really struggled with flea beetles in our cucumbers and have had to replace some of the plants (a complete repeat of last year).  We’ve planted nasturtiums with them to try to cut back on cucumber beetles, and – cross your fingers – we haven’t seen any yet!  What do you do to protect delicate pepper and cucumber plants, and how do you keep the dreaded flea beetle away?

One Week Old Chicks – Note the Feathers on the Wings!

And in the coop?  Chicks!  Our hatch yielded 21 of the healthiest, most active chicks we’ve ever had.  So healthy, in fact, that after six days in the back bedroom nursery, they had to be moved out to the coop.

Chick-mania!

This year, rather than constructing our modified coop brooder out of cardboard, I used some scrap wood from our earlier coops and the clear panels from an old cold frame that blew apart in a storm last year.  I’ve slowly begun to expose them to a bit more light and sun from outside (keeping a careful eye on drafts).

Abby keeping a watchful eye on her “babies”. Do note that at this stage, she is never left alone with the chicks. In about three weeks, I’ll be less careful about chaperoning her, but the chicks are still way too small to protect themselves, and I’m not sure she realizes they are chickens (and meant to be protected) yet.

Rather than keeping a thermometer in the coop with the little ones, we’ve been monitoring their activity and adjusting accordingly.  Right now, we have one lower and one higher lamp and lots of space for them to move around in, and we’ve only begun to see the first hints of flight!

Flight!