July 06, 2011

We harvested our first zucchini two weeks ago and have since been flooded with skinny green squash OH MY WORD those plants are prolific.  Charlotte is in love with picking and toting around zucchini, but we’re about two seconds away from piling a bunch in a basket and dropping them off at random on doorsteps.

Over the last few days, we’ve also begun harvesting yellow snap beans and at nearly seven feet tall our corn started to tassle.

The pride that accompanies weaving through my vegetable garden, dipping over a plant to pluck off a fresh bean for my daughter, watching my child select the squash she wants to hold…is unlike any that I have ever known.

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  1. By chrsity on July 06, 2011

    i feel the same way about seeing my son in our garden!!!!!!

  2. By JM on July 06, 2011

    What a beautiful garden! I’m awfully jealous of your harvest so far! I have a single green bean and that’s it! Tomatoes are coming, but I seem to be the only person in the world incapable of growing a zucchini. Lots of flowers, no veggies. Ooof.

  3. By on July 07, 2011

    Sarah - I want to pick your brain a little about chicken raising. My husband and I are seriously considering it and I’m already mildly overwhelmed. How did you decide on breeds? Are you raising just laying hens or also raising breeds that are good for meat? I’d like to do both. You said you ordered some birds - was it somewhere local to you or shipped in? Any other advice would be much appreciated.

  4. By on July 07, 2011

    Alicia - We just have the cast-off chickens from my neighbors.  The neighbors ordered a selection of ten breeds several years ago and then interbred them as part of a genetics lesson with their kids (home-schooled).  The ‘mutts’ are healthier too, just like with dog breeds lol.  When we started out, they gave us nine hens.  At least five were mutts and at least three were specific breeds - the last one is sort of unknown.  The only breed we’ve paid any attention to specifically is the Aracauna.  That bird is the stupidest, most moronic bird in the lot.  She lays green eggs, but only about half the number that the other hens lay.  And did I mention she’s dumb?  She’s super dumb.  BUT!  She was also our best brooder.  The smarter birds wouldn’t brood - they got bored and left their eggs.  The stupid birds brooded like it was going out of style.

    When the neighbors gave us the birds in February, they were all over a year old.  Ideally, you slaughter chickens for table eating around five to seven months and after that the meat gets a little tough so they tend to be better for stews.  Our master plan was to order a batch of mixed-breeds hatching eggs this year and next year so that we could interbreed them with our birds and have enough genetic variation not to worry about inbreeding.  Then this fall we’d cull our older layers (the ones we have right now) and next spring we’d cull a few stew birds from the ones we hatched this spring.  Obviously, it didn’t really work that way because we didn’t have enough hatchlings.  Instead, what we’ve done is arranged with various neighbors with unrelated roosters to borrow their roosters in a couple months and then again next spring so that we can diversify our flock.

    Our goal with the birds is, long-term, to have large meaty birds who are good for eating (although must be slaughtered young) and good for laying.  The way we approached that is to look at our hatchery’s selection of large laying breeds.  We ordered the eggs from MacMurray’s - and they have a mixed selection of large breed laying birds.  Those are the breeds we’re focusing on.  Since we have such a dense coyote and hawk population, we’re also focusing on breeds that have darker colors.

    Right now, we have eight hens and two chicks.  The two hens that had been brooding are not laying again yet - I suspect that we have another four to six weeks before they do, especially with the hot weather.  None of the birds lay as well in the heat.  During the spring, we received about five to seven eggs each day from the eight hens.  Right now, we’re getting around three a day.  When it cools off but the days are stiill long the number should go back up and then when it’s cold and they molt it will go back down again.  For us, this number of eggs is perfect.  It’s enough for us, for my parents, and for a few dozen to be handed out to friends and relatives every so often.

    Does that help at all?  I’m more than happy to answer any questions you have!

  5. By on July 07, 2011

    That did help! Thank you. I imagine we won’t really dive in until next spring, but I’ve been gathering information and am really excited about it.

    My husband is all about laying hens because he’s not sure he could eat something he raised… I’m all about raising quality meat. Considering the initial research I’ve done on breeds seemed to imply they’re pretty much good for one or the other, it’s good to know I can find meaty birds that will still lay.

  6. By on July 07, 2011

    Alicia, here’s the hatching batch we ordered.  The only breeds in the lot that I know are good for both meat and eggs are the Wyandottes, the Rhode Island Red, and the Sussex.  I’ve slaughtered those for neighbors who use them for both.  The rest I assume are as well, and over time I’m sure I’ll find out!

  7. By on July 07, 2011

    Oops, forgot the link: http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com/heavy_assorted_chicken_eggs.html

  8. By on July 07, 2011

    Thanks again! I visitedtheir page earlier an they really seem to explain the benefits of each breed - very helpful for a beginner!

    Another question: does your coup/run stink? We were talking to a Guy we know with chickens and he said his stinks. I looked online and seemed to get mixed results. Some say if you maintain the floor it doesn’t stink, others say their stinks (but don’t seem to do much maintenance). Due to space, we’d probably have to keep it close to the house. I’m not talking about a light chicken poop scent wafting into the house… I mean a god-awful uncontrollable smell infiltrating my home. We hav an exposed basement in the back of our house, so it wouldn’t even be on ground-level with our living space.

  9. By Sarah Christensen on July 07, 2011

    Ooh, ours does not stink, BUT that was a condition of us building it.  We built the coop to house more birds than we plan to have, so that it is easily scraped out, so that nestboxes are contained, and so that the top of the coop airs out.

    Our coop and run go like this.  The coop is to the north.  It’s large enough square-footage-wise to house about thirty chickens.  We have eight plus two chicks right now so obviously it’s roomy.  Off the back of the coop there are six nest boxes.  When we want to collect eggs, we just open a flap above the nestboxes.  We have a two-inch lip between the nestboxes and the coop ground so that eggs can’t just roll out (eggs that get squished and rot usually will be picked up by rats or ants in coops, but I didn’t want to take any chances).  We have cedar chips in the nestboxes to cut back on fleas and to help with smell.  We change out the cedar chips every two months or so - more when the birds are cooped up (when I don’t want them eating my garden sprouts!) or when there are hatching chicks.  The nestboxes open on the north end and the coop opens to the run on the south end of the structure.  The south face is solid wood only on the middle third of the wall.  The bottom third has two flaps that we just flip up to scrape out the coop.  I try to make sure I scrape it every five or six weeks - more frequently if they’re cooped up.  It takes about ten minutes.  The two flaps were meant to lay flush when they were down, but they don’t - they pop out a bit so there’s air circulation.  The top third of the wall, close to the peak of the roof, is also open.

    The run to the south does not stink either, but I suspect that if we had more chickens always cooped up that it probably would.  Right now, the floor of our run is like a thin compost heap.  I throw weeds, worms, kitchen scraps, etc. in there and after the chickens are done with them they just let them dry out on the floor.  As the poop, scraps, sprouts from seeds they drop while eating, etc. all mingle with the dirt (and sometimes I put in a wheelbarrow full of dirt just to give them something to scratch through - I just drop in the dirt in a heap and they spread it out in a couple minutes on their own lol), it’s composting.  It has a bit of an earthy smell.  Not super compost-y, just sort of dusty.

  10. By on July 09, 2011

    Are you guys planning to can/jar a lot of the food you can’t eat immediately?  Any tips?  It looks like I’m going to have a huge harvest of tomatoes this summer and I’m going to have to learn what to do with it all pretty quickly.

  11. By on July 10, 2011

    The garden is looking fantastic! Our squash are currently taking over everything else. I wish we had as much space as you guys do. In retrospect, I really should have paid more attention and gotten only bush varieties…





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