Thanks for joining us on what we hope will be an exciting journey! Despite the name, we plan to write about more than just chickens. Although, we agree chickens are clucking awesome!
Along with chickens, we also garden and raise bees on our half acre plot of land. If you did a double take when reading how small our parcel of land is- we agree! We have some plans in the works to potentially expand (more on that later), but for now we are doing the best we can with what we have.
In case you are thinking, “Well, Idiot Chicken, I can’t get more land. How the cluck can I grow food for my family?”.
Don’t worry. We know it is an affectionate term.
That is exactly what we hope to talk about here. Even if we can get our hands on more land, our open space will likely be limited for the foreseeable future. We are hoping to share information about what we have learned about yardsteading (growing as much food as you can in a small area). We want to take you with us as we learn even more!
This year (2020), we hope to talk about gardening and chicken keeping in small spaces, foraging, raising meat animals, and anything else we can think of related to yardsteading!
Please reach out to let us know if there is something you would like to read about.
It all started a couple of weeks ago when Ross went out the check on the hive and he thought he saw what could possibly be swarm cells. For those of you who aren’t keeping bees yet, swarm cells are peanut sized cells that the bees build when they intend to raise a queen. (They create these cells any time they determine that they need a new queen, not just when they are swarming. It’s all about the location of the cell. More on that some other time.) Depending on where it is on the frame, it can look a lot like burr comb. He wasn’t sure…so he closed the hive up.
Not long after that, he decided that since the hive did have a lot of bees, he might want to do a split. Whatever happened, we would need another hive.
So, a couple of days ago, he began to build a hive. He built the bottom board, a brood box, and an inside cover. Today, he planned to build a roof and a super when he got home. He began the task of watering the plants and was about to start planting the shipment of potatoes that we just received. All things that needed to get done before the fun projects.
Meanwhile, the kids and I were sitting on the porch talking when one of them said, in an off-handed way, “I think there’s a bee hive in that tree”.
It didn’t take long for us to realize that it was a swarm! Ross was just coming into the back yard as that realization was sinking in.
I said “We’ve got a swarm!”, and pointed up into the tree.
Sure enough, about 50 feet up the tree was a whole mass of bees that he recognized as a swarm right away. This isn’t our first experience with this sort of thing.
Last Summer, right as we were getting ready to go camping for a weekend (and by getting ready, I mean the car was packed and we were about to get in) Ross noticed that there were A LOT of bees flying around in the air. We sat there and watched as a ball of bees began to form way up in the climbing tree. We let that one go because we didn’t have time or any supplies at all.
This time, we were ready enough that we could at least consider trying to catch the swarm. Maybe 30 or 45 minutes passed as we gathered, imagined, and created what we would need to do this.
In the interest of keeping it real, I should mention that I don’t like heights. And, bees are not my favorite people. I do like having them around. I think it is pretty important to raise them and I like that we are making this quiet yet meaningful contribution to our community. However, you won’t catch me climbing a tree chasing a swarm of them. So, as I describe this daring rescue, don’t mistake any misplaced “we” to actually mean I was doing anything but watching. I assure you, I was not in the tree at any point.
Did I mention that the swarm was resting on a branch about 50 feet from the ground?
Ultimately, Ross decided to tape a bucket to the end of our telescoping roof rake pole. Then took that pole and, using a ladder to help him reach the lowest branches, he climbed up the tree. After a couple of attempts and having to climb even higher in the tree, he was able to get the bucket to the swarm.
He scooped as many bees as he could into the bucket with one swooping motion, and then began the interesting and challenging task of getting out of a tree with a 25 foot pole and bucket full of bees. A few times the bucket felt too heavy to hold so Ross had to reduce the length of the pole and that meant having the bucket of bees closer to him. That being said, being 30 feet up a tree, balancing a top heavy pole with a bucket full of bees while trying to descend said tree is quite unnerving, I’m sure you can imagine.
Funny thing about a swarm is that they are very docile and not at all interested in defending themselves because they have bellies filled with honey to help them when they find their new home. They need lots of honey to help them draw out new comb and get their new home set up. So bringing as much honey with them as possible beats having to forage for more nectar right away.
He made it safely down (I did hold the ladder steady for him so that’s something) and plopped the bucket of bees upside down on top of the hive.
There were a lot of bees in the bucket, but only a small fraction of the swarm. So, we (it’s appropriate here) were kind of doubtful that we caught the queen, which is necessary when capturing a swarm. The workers will follow the queen where ever she goes. So we waited. If the swarm left and did not inhabit the hive, we would know that she was not in the bucket.
While waiting, Ross knew that if he did catch the queen, the bees would need to be fed so that they can spend their energy building out comb in the hive. That meant that we (appropriate, again) would need to get the feeder out of the other hive.
We checked on the new hive and the remaining swarm that was still gathering in the tree as we set up to get the feeder, and we definitely thought we noticed changes in the swarm. It was getting smaller and there were A LOT of air-borne bees. As we were working at the existing hive, I looked over and noticed a beard forming on the outside. Soon there were thousands of bees on, in, and around the hive. We are confident that Ross caught the queen.
This must be a rite of passage in bee-keeping. We caught a swarm!
Most of the pictures in this blog post were taken by Alora. Check out her work on instagram.
Our kids are pretty clucking amazing. One is grown, married to a lovely individual, and they are both missed on a daily basis. Although they aren’t living here, they are part of the love that propels us forward and motivates us to carve out a better world. They contribute to our vision with their generosity and kindness. So, “C” and “S”, we love you! 🧡🧡🧡🧡
But today, I’m not writing about the twenty-somethings in my life. I am writing about the teenager. Do you have one of those? Teenagers have the unfortunate reputation of loafing around, playing video games, and eating all the food in the house. And, while that is probably true of many teens at least some of the time (and, lets be honest – adults too!), teens can also be productive and helpful around the home and yardstead. I bet you didn’t see that coming!
Am I about to brag about my kid? Yes. Is she actually worthy of this praise? Absolutely.
Here’s what she has been up to lately:
Landscaping – She has been making an effort to beautify every ugly spot in the yard. This included staining the playscape earlier in the season, clearing the hose storage area of weeds and dead plants, and putting stone and mulching hay down to prevent more weeds from popping up in areas where we don’t want them. She also created lovely garden beds in various locations around the yard where she has planted or will plant flowers.
Interior decorating – She enjoys creating beauty inside as well as outside. Earlier this year, she had a vision for the bathroom. She wanted to add curtains in place of the ugly shades and I happily gave her the green light. She is creative and frugal, which results in affordable yet aesthetically pleasing spaces. Score! She made curtains out of old sheets we found at a second hand shop, created plants out of cuttings from her favorites, and she even whittled a curtain rod from a stick to create a certain rustic elegance to the room. She is still working on this project, but the area around the toilet is complete and looks great! (Pics in the gallery below)
Creating body care products – we have been experimenting with using vinegar as a conditioning rinse for our hair. We stopped using commercial shampoo and conditioner months ago, and discovered that vinegar (especially apple cider vinegar) is a passable alternative to commercial conditioners. Our teen did some research, and discovered that dandelions and violets can be used to enhance white vinegar. It is still steeping (I think she said that it needs a couple of weeks) but I am looking forward to giving it a try.
What an amazing contribution she makes to the yardstead and our lives! I walked into the bathroom several times yesterday just to look at her work. It is so different now! Everywhere I look in the yard I appreciate how her keen eye and hard work benefit us all.
This post is supposed to be about all the work she does around the house and yardstead, but she is pretty busy with a lot of other things as well. She is a great student (Honestly – her teacher just gushes about her!), an avid reader, an artist, and a great friend to all.
So – thank you “A”! Thank you for being awesome, compassionate, loving, and helpful. Thank you for sharing your creativity and putting sweat equity into our home and yardstead! You are loved and appreciated!
Something strange has happened in the chicken coop. We have had a meeting. Here is what we have figured out:
Today, Olive went in for her special time at the usual hour. We were all waiting for her to come out so that we could go in for our special time. There are plenty of boxes, but we all like the good one, you know. Finally, Happy Feet became impatient and marched in with reckless abandon, resolved to use an inferior (but still molded nicely to a chicken butt) box.
And then, SHE didn’t come back out. So, that was two of the favorite nesting boxes that would be unavailable to the rest of us. The other Olive, Chicken George, Mama, and I decided that this was not fair. Why did they get to sit all day in the good nesting boxes while we wait around? Who wants to use a nesting box that hasn’t been molded and made cozy? All the other nesting boxes were just a mess of hay and shavings and the rest of us would not stand for it!
We marched in and found…..nothing! Olive and Happy Feet were not having there special time. There were no eggs – no evidence that anyone had been there. Once we all got in there, all thoughts of laying eggs and nesting boxes were forgotten.
Right there, in front of our eyes, there was a hole in the side of the coop! Olive and Happy Feet must have been eaten.
We had another meeting. Chicken George suggested that whatever made that hole was sure to eat the rest of us too! She left the meeting to go pace under the basket to get the humans attention. We may need their help.
The other Olive suggested that Mama peek out the hole to see what was going on. I can not repeat what Mama said, but she did not peek. We decided it would be safer to leave the coop and join Chicken George in trying to get the humans attention.
We clucked our loudest. Walked, no – RAN – our fastest under the basket, and stood by the door. Humans must be idiots because even a turkey would have noticed that we needed help. But, the humans did not come. Clearly, they are useless. We were on our own. In disbelief, and two chickens short, we went back inside the coop to figure out what to do next.
As we headed into the coop, a familiar sound came from the hole in the wall. It sounded familiar. I called out.
“Bac – Kawk!”
And she responded, “Bec, bec, bec kawk!”.
Could it be?
This time Mama called,”Bawk, bec, bec beckawk!”
“Backawk!”, hollered back the voice excitedly.
We knew it was okay to go out. What we found on the other side of that hole was truly amazing! It was soft and light – exactly the perfect thing to roll around in and throw all over our bodies. We rolled, clucked, and rolled and clucked some more. At some point Chicken George figured out that it was safe and joined us. (Chicken George is always the last to the party).
This year I had the clucking great idea to plant peas all around the outside of my chicken coop.
“It will be fantastic,” thought I.
On a beautiful March day, I planted no less than 8 plants around the part of the coop that will be facing the sun most of the day. I thought that would provide nice shade for the birds, and give us a snack to share. And then I waited.
Tomorrow is the first day of May. As of this writing, only one plant has popped up around the coop. I should have kept planting, but I have to be honest with you here. You are not going to catch me outside on a cold day doing much of anything. It was unseasonably warm the day that I planted the peas and I was spurred to action full of hope for an early spring.
And then it got cold. So those 8 pea plants along the coop and about 8 more along the fence where we will be planting most of the climbing plants were the only peas that were planted early. Outside, anyway. We did plant a lot of peas inside. And it is a good thing too because the peas I planted along the fence didn’t do well either. So far, 3 of those plants have broken the surface.
But it’s okay. The plants that we planted indoors are clucking beautiful! In total we grew around 24 pea plants and around 36 pole bean plants. This is the first time that I can remember that we have planted peas indoors. So far, they look great! I grew up thinking that you had to direct sew pea plants because they don’t transfer well. Earlier this season we were visiting our local garden center and found pea plants there! We decided if the guy at the garden center can do it with enough confidence to put them out for sale, we could certainly try it for ourselves. And….so far, so good!
As I mentioned, these plant will be planted along the wire fence that surrounds part of our backyard. To prepare the beds, we began layering mulching hay in March. The mulching hay will gradually break down, feeding the soil and the plants, help to prevent weeds from coming up, and hold in the moisture. All of this will mean less maintenance work for us, and will hopefully help the plants to be as productive as possible.
For those interested in this sort of thing, we are in zone 6b, and the farmers Almanac lists the average last frost date as April 28th. Of course, we still could get a frost. We’ll watch the weather carefully and we cover the plants if a frost is expected. We feel fairly confident that temps will continue to trend upward.
Here’s a link to the map for those of you interested in checking what hardiness zone you are in:
I made yogurt in our instant pot today. I have done this several times. It is really easy to make and we enjoy it more than store bought yogurt!
I like to make my yogurt Greek style and I only use two ingredients:
1 gallon of milk (whole, 2%, or skim from a cow or goat)
5.3 oz yogurt (any style but it must have live active yogurt cultures. I use Greek yogurt)
Some instant pots have a yogurt setting and some don’t. Ours does not have it. (Come to think of it, you can make your yogurt without an instant pot if you don’t have one).
So, in the method I use:
add a gallon of milk to my instant pot. I then put the lid on and set it to “keep warm” for 40 minutes.
2. After 40 minutes, I remove the lid.
3. I then set the instant pot to “saute”.
4. I check the temp until it reaches 185℉.
5. I remove the pot from the unit and allow it to cool to below 110℉. (Make sure the unit is cooling while the milk is cooling).
6. Once the milk is cooled to below 110℉, add the yogurt and mix it in.
7. Then put the pot back into the unit and put the lid back on after to allow the culture to take effect.
8. I wrap the unit in blankets and keep it in a warm area (upstairs) for 8 to 10 hours.
9. Once the culture process is done, I jar it and put it in the fridge.
Some ways that you can enjoy this yogurt include mixing in fruit, granola, honey, or chocolate chips. We also use plain yogurt as a replacement for sour cream.
I also use this yogurt to make cream cheese by straining the whey from it to make it more dense. Then mix in garlic, onion, salt, and many other ingredients to make a flavored cream cheese.
The most exciting thing that you can do with your homemade yogurt, though, is make more yogurt! Make yogurt once and you’ll never have to buy yogurt in the store again . Just make more using 5.3 oz of your current batch before it goes bad. Clucking awesome, right?
When we purchased this property several years ago, there was already a sizable maple tree growing in a corner of the lot. It was pretty out of the way, so no one paid much attention to it. It just grew happily and provided shade to the shade-loving plants underneath it.
Just a couple short years later, our young family had the unfortunate experience of losing our first pet. We decided that the maple tree would become the location of our pet cemetery. With the addition of the graves to that quiet spot in the yard, the maple tree received increasing visits as more pets were laid to rest under her branches, and as our small family grew from three members to four.
At some point, our children discovered that the maple tree’s branches were low enough that they could climb it! This discovery lead to many happy hours of lounging, reading, and play in the old tree, and it became affectionately known as the climbing tree.
The children grew up, we stopped adding pets to our family (and, as such, were gifted with some longer breaks between losses), and so the climbing tree stood lonely once again. Just growing.
I don’t even really know how it happened that someone noticed the huge crack going right down the middle of the tree. I do remember feeling sad to learn that we would suffer another loss. For safety, the climbing tree would have to be cut down. Do you have a story like that in your family? It was gut wrenching and still brings tears to my eyes! It is amazing the emotional attachments that we form without even realizing it.
However sad the loss, something good will come out of it. We are losing our beautiful climbing tree, but gaining a food forest!
We have watched and read a lot of about the Back to Eden gardening method and food forests. When we started planning what to do with our yardstead, we knew that we wanted a Back to Eden food forest.
For those that are not familiar with the terms:
A food forest is a planned area where fruit and nut trees are planted with complementing perennial and annual fruiting undergrowth in such a way that it can be self sustaining with very little maintenance or intervention. From what we have seen and read, it produces a LOT of food. And it’s beautiful.
Back to Eden gardening is a method of gardening using mulch. The mulch provides protection and nutrients to the soil and plant roots. It also helps to retain moisture. This idea mimics what happens naturally in forests everywhere. In fact, it is happening in forests right now. Even those that border primly manicured planned neighborhoods. It’s simply exactly what’s supposed to happen when humans don’t interfere.
Nature doesn’t move dead plants, trees, insects or animals. Whatever dies on the forest floor stays there and becomes nutrients for all of the other living things. In this way, the forest floor is essentially one gigantic compost pile. All the dead and dying vegetation protects the soil and roots, provides nutrients, and helps to retain water. When you pull back the layers of dead, decomposing material, you will find rich soil underneath.
We are just at the very beginning stages of our food forest. In fact, right now, there isn’t a food forest at all.
But, the climbing tree has been felled. We will use the wood to heat our home and be grateful to the climbing tree for providing that wood. We have received the first of hopefully many loads of wood chips and the food forest has begun.
Are you growing a food forest? Let us know how it is going.