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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Growing Up

The chicks have been going through some changes these past two weeks. As you can see they are getting wing and tail feathers. They have been trying to fly, which is basically a small jump with wings flapping. I installed a small perch in the cardboard box for them to roost on, but they haven't figured out how to land there after their jumps. I suspect in the next couple of days they will be up there.

After living in a box non-stop, I thought they may enjoy some outside time. Last week I constructed a small round pen for them out of chicken wire. But when I placed them inside, all they wanted to do was cower next to the cardboard shoebox I transported them in. I don't think that they were quite ready for the outside world.

Today, I decided to try again. Instead of using the small round pen, I placed them in a wire cage. At first they were a little tentative, but after a few minutes they were pecking at the ground. I placed some food and water in with them then shut the door. My major concern was that they would be too cold, but I didn't see them crowding into the shoebox I gave them for shelter.

I left them in the cage and went about my business, checking them every so often from the window. After a few hours, they were still out pecking and moving around. It was getting later in the afternoon, so I decided to bring them back inside. It was then I realized that the back corner of the cage was outside of my reach and exactly where the chicks were huddling when I tried to get them out. I was going to need a new plan.

I attempted to lure them into the open shoebox by putting the food inside. This worked, as the chickens were in and out of the box eating the food. However, since I was inside while this was happening, I couldn't close the lid and contain them. As soon as I went near the box, they jumped out and ran to the other side of the cage. I now knew that I would have to block their safe corner and force them to be closer to the door and within reach. I pushed the shoebox into the corner which caused the chickens to be closer to the door. Without much thought, I decided to grab one and carry it inside. It was a little stressed, but we made it back inside the house to their cardboard box. One down, three to go.

Fortunately, I was able to grab the other three chicks without much commotion. Although, the last one was cheeping very loud when it was outside in the cage by itself. They are all back inside and back to normal - I can hear them jumping.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Blueberry Patch

Ever since one of my husband's co-workers mentioned that they were growing blueberries in their yard, he has be determined to plant some. We have been acquiring plants from various sources over the past couple of months and have been staging them near our front door. Just last week we decided on the location for the patch, two rows that are approximately 4x12 ft on the hill next to our driveway. The next step was to prepare the soil.

Blueberries like acidic soil and it often takes 1-2 years to acidify soil. Since we didn't want to wait that long (and we already had the the plants!), we decided to add a bagged soil intended for acid loving plants. Our soil prep was as follows:

- Clear the plot of land of weeds
- Turn over the top 6-12 inches of native soil to loosen
- Add sulfur amendment per amount specified
- Add 2 cu ft of bark to each row
- Add 2 cu ft of peat moss to each row
- Add 3-4 cu ft of soil for acid loving plants (i.e. azaleas, rhododendrons)
- Mix all amendments with the native soil

The amendments raised the soil level of the rows ~6 inches into small berms. We planted the bushes 3-4 feet apart in the center of the rows. While planting we discovered a couple of blueberries already growing on one plant. My husband ate one and I snapped a photo of the other because the flowers are fruit are being removed from the plants today to encourage plant growth. We decided on a mixture of varieties for a bigger yield and to extend the growing season.

Row 1: Sharpblue(BR) - Blue Ray(#2) - Sharpblue(BR) - Jubilee(#1)
Row 2: Sunshine(#2) - Southmoon(#2) - Jubilee(#1)

After planting, we watered and mulched around the plants and in the walkway between the rows. The planting looks nice and I am looking forward to the day that we will have a crop of blueberries to harvest from our yard.

BR - Bare Root
#1 - 1 gallon container
#2 - 2 gallon container

Monday, March 16, 2009

Savory Carrot Soup

Last weekend while at the grocery store I came across an outstanding sale on carrots and yellow onions: 5 lbs/$1, so I had to get at least one bag of each. The onions are a staple in many dishes so I wasn't too worried about using them. The carrots were another story. Then I remembered the recipe for a basic vegetable* soup where I could use them. Here is the recipe:

4 large carrots peeled and sliced in the large chunks
1 large white potato peeled and quartered
1 small yellow onion peeled and quartered
5 whole cloves of garlic peeled
Seasoning to taste (I used Mrs. Dash Garlic and Herb, thyme, and freshly ground black pepper)

Makes 4-5 cups of soup

Place all ingredients in a saucepan and add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil, lower heat, then cook until the carrots are tender. Remove from heat and blend. I used a handheld blender directly in the pot, but a regular blender could be used or even a potato masher for a chunky soup. Serve plain or with crackers, croutons, or broken taco shells (my husband's idea).

I made this soup for lunch last week and did a double batch for dinner on Saturday night. It is a quick and easy meal that is tasty and healthy.

* The basic vegetable soup is built on the base of boiling potatoes and flavoring with garlic (can be minced and sauteed before adding) and/or onions. To this base one can also make spinach soup by adding spinach near the end of cooking time then blending. Another option is to use different root vegetables alone or together in the soup.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fuzzy Signs of Spring

Since moving to Loomis I have been thinking of raising some chickens for eggs, compost, and insect control. Last weekend while driving through Auburn, we came across Echo Valley Ranch supply. They had big signs advertising baby chicks for sale. We stopped in. It was really crowded. Apparently baby chicks are a hot commodity. Not knowing what breed of chick we wanted, we decided to forgo the chick purchasing and come back later.

Yesterday, after receiving the 3rd Craigslist chicken advertisement from my future brother in law, I did a quick search and saw that Echo Valley just received a new shipment. Narrowing down the available breeds for disposition and egg laying frequency, I had my short list in hand. When I arrived, I was told that my top picks were straight run chicks (males and females mixed). This made for a tough decision: go with the straight run for my top picks or get pullets of the runners up breeds? In the end I went for the pullets. We are now the owners of two Ameracauna (brown) and two Light Brahma (white) chicks. Here they are in their temporary home (cardboard box):

Sea of Seedlings

It is approaching the 6 week mark since the seeds were started. All the surviving seedlings have been transplanted into 3" pots. Just this week I rigged up a 4' flourescent light from the bottom of a table for the plants. They are now lined up along the floor with the light above them.

I did have to apply another round of cinnamon and chamomile tea since there was some white mold growth due to too much moisture. This combined with a fan increasing the air circulation has curbed the mold and things are looking better.

Fortunately, it seems that there enough seedlings to plant according to plan. I may only be short some basil.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Beautiful Apple-Streudel Loaves

I have fully discovered Grandmother Bread and all its uses. These are Apple-Streudel Ladder Loaves that I made. They are much prettier than the first loaves I made during my starter experiment. For this dough, I used a combination of whole wheat and white bread flour. The melted butter* brushed on the outside gives them a nice golden hue.

The taste was really good and they were a nice stand-in for regular dessert. Next time I will add more apples, probably double, so they are the most pronounced flavor in the bread.

* Substituted Smart Balance for real butter

Friday, March 6, 2009

Evening Visitors

Walking around the corner into the kitchen, I looked out into the backyard and saw deer. Not just one, but four. They were taking a stroll through the yard and grazing on the greenery. They stayed long enough for me to grab the camera and snap a few shots.

Dusk at the Lake

After the heavy rains earlier in the week, we decided to walk down to the lake. There have been several dry years of a lake that was barely a creek running down the middle of a dry canyon. What a surprise when the water was visible from high on the walking trail.

Loaves on Display

Here are the loaves of bread I made the other day. The loaf on the right has the starter, notice how it is bigger. Both were loosely shaped and placed in square baking pans. They spread out horizontally during the 2nd rise. I scored the top to try and make them look prettier. Both loaves had a good taste and texture. Next time I will try adding some other ingredients to enhance the flavor.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Transforming the starter - Part 2

The other day I started this experiment and I am happy to report success. I have been able to follow through on my next steps and have baked a loaf of bread using the modified starter.

1. Changed the container for the starter
The starter is now housed in a glass mason jar with a paper napkin attached as a lid. This allows airflow and keeps other stuff out. I would have used cheese cloth, but I didn't have any.

2. Put the starter on its new diet
After moving the starter from the plastic bag to the jar, I fed it with 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/2 cup warm water, and 1/2 cup unbleached white bread flour. I know I added whole wheat flour last time, but decided to change it up a bit and see if the white makes a difference.

3. Baked two loaves of bread
Since I am experimenting with the starter, I figured that I should have a control group to compare it to. Based on that plan, I baked two loaves of whole wheat
Grandmother Bread. One with the starter and one without. I added 3 tablespoons of dough enhancer and omitted the salt.

Note: I have never made this bread recipe before, or a loaf of bread from scratch for that matter.

During the first step of the recipe, I noticed that I could smell the yeast and see tiny bubbles in the water with both versions. When kneading the dough, the one with the starter had more spring and took more flour in the kneading step.

In general, the amount dough with the starter was larger. This held true through the entire process (1st rise, 2nd rise, end loaf size). After baking, the loaf with the starter was a bit fluffier and a tad bit undercooked in the center, but not enough to stop us from eating it. The other loaf was fully cooked and light for a whole wheat bread.

I will keep the starter around a little while longer (using its new diet) and try another loaf.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

My Homemade Dough Enhancer

Following the directions provided on Chickens in the Road for making homemade dough enhancer, I have attempted my own. I wasn't able to find the exact ingredients that were recommended, but I think these are close enough. The only key difference is the substitution of Soy Flour for the Lecithin granuals. The final product is in the container at the bottom of the photo. It smells really good because of the ginger.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Rainy Days

It feels like it has been raining at least 2-3 days a week for the last month. Today brought one of the more severe cells of rain that has come through Loomis lately. At about 12:45pm there was a huge downpour of rain that made me stop and take this photo of our gutter overflowing. I was stunned by the amount of rain that was falling so quickly. Even a sheltered window is splattered with water that bounced off the ground below.

My only regret about this sudden downpour is that I wish I had picked up the mail sooner. Now it is going to be soggy.

Transforming the starter - Part 1

Last week I was given a bag of Amish Friendship Bread starter and recipe. After sampling the actual "bread" I decided that I didn't want to maintain the starter with the intent of baking the Amish Friendship Bread recipe (a little too unhealthy for eating on a regular basis). Instead, I decided that I would attempt to transform the starter. This is purely experimental as I have never cultivated a starter of any form, much less try to change the recipe. Here is current status of the experiment:

2.23.09 - AFB starter day 1

3.1.09 - Change in ingredients:
Added 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup light soy milk, 1/4 cup Sugar in the Raw to feed the starter. This was a day late according to the original directions, but it seems to be doing okay.

Next steps:
1. Change the container:
The starter is currently being kept in the 1 gallon plastic bag it came in, but I am thinking about moving it to a glass jar based on suggestions made by others online. The only thing keeping me from moving it is that I don't have a large jar to put it in.

2. Bake a non-sweet bread using the starter
The 10-day cycle end is approaching on 3.4.09 and I will have to use some of the starter
for fear that it will explode all over my kitchen. I will try to make this Grandmother Bread recipe using the starter.

3. Further alter the "feed"
The plan to is wean the starter off the milk based feed and use water. Perhaps the light soy milk is a step in the right direction, or maybe I am just confusing it. Either way, the next time I feed the starter, I will use warm water.

4. Break the chain of distribution
I am not a fan of chain letters and the waste that is involved with perpetuating them. This is a chain letter of sorts, so I will not be distributing the starter as prescribed. If someone asks me for some, I will happily share, but I do not want to impose this on others unsolicited.

In the meantime, I will be preparing for the next steps by gathering materials
and ingredients. Part 2 will be coming soon with the latest status of the experiment.
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