Thursday, March 31, 2011

Liquid Chicken Fertilizer

Ok, so I must admit, I only started writing this post because it's the only thing I could think of to stop me from reading more baby blogs. I've been reading for over a week now. While this woman's life is about as far from mine as I can imagine, I can't help but fall in love with her little family that is filled with all the happiness I hope to one day grow in my own home. She is also a proponent of many ideas I favor, cloth diapering, natural child birth, etc. so I have found her experiences most educational. If you find yourself suffering from a deficiency in cuteness, I recommend taking a little stroll through the pages of her blog.

Now, on to non-baby related topics, POOP. Yes you heard me right, P-O-O-P. It comes out of my chickens and sits there until Jeff or I clean it up. We honestly don't clean the coop out all that often. I had read from another blog/magazine/book (I can't really remember) where one woman says she just throws down a new layer of wood chips every now and again and then does seasonal cleanings of the coop. The new pine chips seal in the old ones and when you clean it out to throw in the composter, the bottom layers have already started breaking down. We have used this same method and found it to be easy on us and the chickens don't seem any worse for wear.

So right about now, as spring starts to take full bloom, it is time for another cleaning. I recently read an article in Mother Earth News which gives instructions for making homemade liquid fertilizers out of the wood chip/poo combination from chicken coops. It also had a fertilizer recipe involving urine (dilute it 1:20 with water and go to town if you're interested), but when Jeff asked, "where do you get the urine?" I figured we weren't ready to take that plunge yet.

So on to chicken poop. You fill a five gallon bucket 1/5 of the way with the chicken poo/wood chip combo and then fill with water. Let the mixture steep for three days (giving them an occasional swish) and then dilute your "tea" 1:1 with water and use as you would any other liquid fertilizer. I'm looking forward to not spending so much on my seaweed liquid fertilizer this year!

Oh and in case you're wondering, "where are the pictures?!" Well, many of you already know what chicken poop in a bucket looks like and would probably rather not be reminded, and for those who haven't you'd probably honestly rather not see it (which I'm happy about since I'd also rather not take my camera near that much poop). Of course there is at least one of you coughHelencoughcough that probably does have a morbid curiosity for pictures. If that turns out to be the case, you are more than welcome to come over next time we need to clean the coop!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

All-In-One Wash

As most of you know Jeff and I will be shipping off to Mexico soon to spend a week cooking for 250 teenagers. While I still haven't gotten a handle on mentally preparing for being surrounded by 250 hormone crazed creatures for week, I have made some progress on the more tangible preparations.

The shower situation in Mexico will be, well, M*A*S*H-esk. There is a wooden stall with a hook on which you hang a sun shower. Since I will only have 2.5 gallons of warmish water to shower with, I figure time will be of the essence. Taking this into account, I was delighted to stumble upon Burt's Bees All-In-One wash. Considering it's a Burt's Bees product, the price of $4 a bottle is pretty reasonable, and I ordered a few to give it a try. The point of this soap is that it is made to wash everything from the top of your head to the  tips of your toes. I assumed it might dry everything out a bit, but I'm not going for pretty in Mexico, just clean.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, after giving it a test run a few nights ago. It smells like you are walking through an herb garden in the middle of a pine forest. This smell does not linger after you wash so if it is a little much for you have no fear. It also is just conditioning enough that your hair and skin feel soft but not greasy afterwards! I really put it to the test too. I used it after doing a P90X work out and with mouse and hairspray that needed to be washed out. I've used it two nights now and I love it, five out of five stars. A lot of the reviewers said they use it for whenever they travel so that they only have to pack one bottle and I am definitely sold on it. This all-in-one wash takes care of four different containers that I would normally have to pack for a vacation, and since it only comes in 4 oz. bottles, it's a great travel size. I imagine it would also be good for young kids that you just want to get clean and out of the bath.

The only downside is I haven't been able to find it in any stores so shipping costs also have to be factored in.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Potting Shed Revisited

I must admit, I didn't really button up my potting shed before winter came. In fact, I kind of ignored it, piled more stuff in it and apparently threw some dirt around for good measure. The result of my behavior was that a few days ago when I went out to start some seeds, I was greeted by this...

and a little of this...

and a very good reason why you shouldn't leave your pots all a jumble and ignored for extended periods of time is that they'll be full of this...

So an hour and a half after I went outside to start some seeds I had swept, organized and generally restored my potting shed to it's former, pre-winter, glory. I threw away or recycled about half of the random plastic pots I had so they are now a more realistic and manageable pile.

The seed sewing itself only took about ten minutes, and I now have a nice little smattering of potential plants to enjoy this summer. I should have: 6 Love Lies Bleeding, 3 Golden Jubilee tomatoes, 3 Purple Russian paste tomatoes, 18 Rutgers tomatoes, 9 Mortgage Lifter tomatoes, 9 Amish Paste tomatoes, 9 Romain lettuce, 3 Pak Choi, 3 Cozella di Napoli (like a zucchini), 3 yellow peppers, 3 lemon balms and 3 butter crunch lettuces. I'm sure there will be many more seeds started over the coming month, but this is a nice smattering to get me started.

Oh and how early is too early to listen to christmas music? I'm not saying I was listening to it while I cleaned my shed, but if I was, would that be wrong? What if it was raining and felt christmas weatherish?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Why You Clip A Chicken's Wings

I never thought I'd say this about a chicken, but as much as one can love something with a brain the size of a pea, I love Baby Chick. She's adorable, she comes running when she sees you come out the back door and she adorably shadows you as you do work around the yard. I mean come on. Look at that face.

But Baby Chick has a dark side. A quiet voice that lurks inside of her otherwise gentle body and tells her to do things. Bad Things.

Case and point, look at my beautiful barrel of carrots. Lush, beautiful, still in need of some maturing but holding the promise of sweet roasted carrots this spring.

They had grown so well in fact, that I had to thin them out and enjoy some wonderful baby carrot side dishes.

This photo makes me think of another article I read from a professional gardener who was contrasting what she normally looks like when she gardens, to what she looks like when she appears "gardening" on television and in magazines. The reality might not be pretty, but I think it has it's own charm.
Baby chick has co-existed with these carrots beautifully for months. Never once has she jumped into these barrels to hunt for bugs or lay her eggs. I can only imagine The Voice returned to her. That it used its honeyed voice to convince her to do bad things again. I don't blame her, who could resist such a one as The Voice? This is what I found this Saturday, the dirty work of The Voice.

In order to protect our yard from future possessions of our otherwise docile chicken, we had to clip Baby Chicks wings. I feel bad, she doesn't understand why she must be exiled to the chicken coop when she obviously belongs with us. Well, I felt bad that is, until I found her still mysteriously able to get out into the yard. I can only assume The Voice was involved. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Herb Garden Beginings

Last weekend I finally took the first steps toward my new herb garden. I have wanted an herb garden in the little rectangular patch of dirt outside our front door for a while now, and in a way, I've had one. It was, however, a flawed herb garden. Sure it had the sage, thyme, marjoram, etc. that any good herb garden should have, but it was smushed in under a couple of rose bushes and two invasive plants that didn't really belong there. Let me tell you, getting caught on a rose thorn while quickly trying to grab some sage for the dinner you currently have cooking on the stove is no fun, no fun at all.

So after finally getting the blessing from my please don't prune or rip anything out husband, I took the first steps toward my new herb garden by ripping out everything that was currently there, which was quite a bit.

The only plant I felt bad about ripping out was the rose near the door. Every year it has given us a plethora of the most beautiful magenta roses you've ever seen. It was so pretty and healthy looking I had to stare at it for a few minutes before I could get the resolve to start hacking away at it. Here is a loving close up I took of it's leaves during this period of introspection and struggle.

I reget nothing else I did that day. In fact, tearing out the succulent that was next to this beautiful rose was down right fun. I hacked it to pieces with a hatchet, and every time the blade cut into the juicy leaves green ectoplasm came pouring out. It also smelled amazing, like a mix of fresh aloe and green beans. I imagine it would make a very refreshing sent for a soap. The thing was also huge (the picture below is just one of it's many heads) so it was quite the work out.

Two plants technically survived the slaughter that was reaped by my hatchet and shovel. The first is a plant whose name I can never remember, but that my family call grandpa George plants. It was found originally in our backyard in a pot, forgotten under a pile of over grown horsetail reed. It was then moved to the front yard, and now lives next to our raised beds. I wasn't very delicate with it, but this thing is a trooper and should do well in it's new home.

Upside down and waiting to go in it's new hole.

The other plant that survived was a little baby rose that i found hiding behind the big ones. I didn't know roses grew little babies, but it was saved and put in a pot in hopes it will some day find a new home. I'm not a monster after all. Who could kill a baby rose?

Now that my slate is clear, I am ready to plan the herb garden. I've done a few sketches of what I envision for it. I want a little path with three stepping stones going down the middle. Looks wise, I'd rather have no path, but without it I'd have a hard time reaching all the herbs. Around the stepping stones I'm thinking either the low creeping mint or baby's tears. Then I want the ground to slope up to mounds on either side of the path where the herbs will be planted. I'll play around with it a bit once I get the plants and dirt, but I'm thinking the herbs should be oriented towards the path in arches. You can see some drawings that make this clearer bellow.

Birds eye view



ground view

If anyone has any suggestions or herb recommendations I'd be glad to hear them!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Creamed Whiskey

A Little Ramble Before We Begin
I have found that writing a blog often puts one in the situation of asking why. For example, why did I decide to bake a cake at 10 pm when I am supposed to be on a diet, or why am I making twice as much work for myself by having to constantly wash my hands so that I can take pictures? The answer to these types of questions is generally something along the lines of because I love to do domestic things and I love to write, and to do the latter I must do the former and to do the former I must force myself to find the time.

Then however, there are these other types of questions. For example, why did I decide to pull out the crystal champagne coupes for this picture, why did I decide to take it on a bookshelf and best of all why did I wait until 9:00 am as I was getting ready for work to do my taste test of the different creamed whiskey's I'd made? Well, I don't really have a good answer to any other those, especially the last one, but I can assure you that somehow it all works out and I'm most appreciative that you all seem to just go along with it. Especially my husband who caught me in the kitchen this morning drinking booze. Thanks for understanding.

And Now, The Whiskey

Note: You don't need a great whiskey for this. Put the cork back in the 12 year McCallan and pull out the Bushmills.

Last year I made the mistake of not trying out any of my St. Patricks' Day stuff ahead of time. Not that this was a problem for the party, but it did result in my posting about all the wonderful Irish goodness after the event was no longer relevant. So this year I decided to start trying out a few things ahead of time to share with all of you. The first thing I have decided to try is to make my own creamed whiskey (think Baileys).

A simple internet search can pull up many recipes for homemade versions of Baileys, but most of them are pretty similar. The biggest difference seems to be whether people added eggs or not. I decided to not bother with the recipes that had eggs in them because it would drastically shorten the shelf life of my beverage, and despite what you might have been told, I can't drink a whole jug of Baileys in a week. I did decide to try two different batches, one sweetened with honey and one with condensed milk, to see if one yielded noticeably better results. I got the idea after reading that Carolans (my personal favorite) uses honey in the production of their creamed whiskey. I thought that a rich dark honey could add an earthy flavor to the mix.

I also changed my recipe from the norm by omitting or substituting a couple ingredients in both batches. First, most recipes call for instant coffee powder to be added. This kind of grossed me out. I said thanks but no thanks. While I don't doubt the addition of coffee flavoring would be good, I just have a mental block against using instant coffee. If you have an espresso machine though, a shot added to the batch could be quite good. Second, all the recipes call for chocolate syrup. I don't own any chocolate syrup, so I melted the equivalent amount of bar chocolate and added that. It mixes in just fine and doesn't separate back out once the mixture is chilled. Third, while both batches I made have almond extract in them, I would leave it out next time, or just add the  tiniest splash. It has an overwhelming scent and the taste leaves the kind of burn in the mouth feel that bad whiskey does. Now granted, I was also using bad whiskey, but when I sampled the batch before adding the almond extract, the taste was far less pronounced.

Alright, now that I have taken you on the journey of exploration that is creamed whiskey making, here's the recipe I worked out.

Creamed Whiskey

1 cup of heavy cream
1 14 oz. can condensed milk
1 3/4 Cups Irish Whiskey
2 Tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. melted chocolate/chocolate syrup

Optional Additions
1 shot of espresso
1/2 Tsp. almond extract


Mix all ingredients in a blender for 30-60 seconds until well combined. Pour into a tight sealing, preferably cute, jar and place in the fridge to chill.

Now you may remember I said I tried two batches but only gave one recipe. What's up with that?! Well, I found the honey version to not be noticeably different taste wise. If you wish to make that version, substitute the condensed milk for 2/3 cup of honey. This will however, be more expensive than using the condensed milk. I wouldn't have tried it if I didn't have an over abundance of honey at the moment. In addition to not changing the flavor, I found the honey version to be a little less pleasing in terms of mouth feel. The version with condensed milk feels creamier and fuller, while the honey version feels a little weak and thin. Finally, the honey version also separates out and doesn't look as nice as the condensed milk version in the fridge. Of course a good shake can take care of that. So experiment, it's up to you!