Category Archives: summer

soaking up the last drops of sunshine

We were ready to embrace fall after a few days of grey and rain, but apparently we’re getting some more summer.

A list:

one of us has a whole lot of homework
one of us is trying to become a morning person again (not going well, yet)
one of us had a mishap with the immersion blender
luckily, everyone still has 10 fingers
even if it is sunny, soup season has officially begun
we’re still anxiously awaiting our first egg
no loud noises have been reported from our rooster, yet
homemade hot sauce is fermenting on the counter
the kitchen is still full of tomatoes
so many plans, so little time

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Seattle community garden with a side of Americana

While we were wandering around Seattle in search of a little roadside Americana, we found two of our favorite things together in one place – a community garden with a backdrop of a roadside relic that has been refurbished.

We went to Oxbow Park to see the old Hat ‘n’ Boots that used to be part of a Western-themed gas station built in the 1950s. I was struck by the beauty of plants growing with the towering hat and boots nearby.

I would love to have something like this around here, but I don’t envy the wait-lists and smaller plot sizes Seattle community gardeners must face.


tomatoes, hat, boots

I also saw my very first artichoke flower.

Kind of a shame not to eat something so delicious, but at least this honey bee got a crack at it.

We soaked up the sun.

I turned 35 this weekend, and can’t recall ever having a birthday so hot. Over 90 degrees in the northwest in September. We’re enjoying it while we can! For more photos from our visit to Oxbow Park, click here.

– Krista

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The Hen that Wasn’t

We knew that being a chicken-tender had its share of heartbreak opportunities, even if you read every book, consult all the right experts and do everything “right.” Chickens get sick. Predators get wily. Life ain’t easy for chickens, even the coddled pets of vegetarians. That is to say, we have discovered our first chicken heartbreaker.

Oh, Cry-Baby Walker. We paid an extra $1 for her to be sexed at the hatchery. We were given a 90% hen guarantee for our tiny birds, although we always knew that chicken sexing is more art than science. We gave Cry-Baby a gender-bending name, knocking on wood and hoping that she would grow into it more gracefully than a boy named Sue.

You see where this is headed, don’t you? Little Cry-Baby has been displaying some unnerving signs of imminent roosterness: early comb development, thick legs, relatively large body size and “shiny” feathers. Krista, Levi & I have spent months comforting each other about these characteristics. We said things like: Buff Orpington chickens are a large breed. She’s big-boned. Lots of BO hens have very prominent roostery-looking combs. The gender-ambiguity of the Buff Orpington breed helped to perpetuate this grand delusion. We’ve been in denial because, of course, we love her. Er, him. We love him. Levi called us out this weekend. “Come and look at this chicken,” he demanded. Pointing at the adorable fluffy chicken butt, he said, “Those are saddle feathers. Those tail feathers are curling.”

One could make a good case to either keep or eliminate a rooster, and we have gone back and forth about this in our family. One of us sleeps flip-flop schedules for work, and no one likes to be woken up by a rooster if they went to bed at 5am. He hasn’t started to crow yet, but it could start any day. We’re squeamish about fertilized eggs in the omelets. He likes to cuddle now, but our charming cockerel might attack his beloved humans to defend his hens. Ultimately, I think the adults in the household agree that there is not room in our hen house for a rooster.


Having decided that we won’t keep him, our options are slim. We’re hoping to find a home for him in a flock with more open-minded owners. Do you know anyone who would like a very sweet pet rooster? Speak up.

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Adventures in Vertical Potatoes

In 2009, we grew poatoes in stacked tires on a lark. That was fun. The potatoes were delicious and we were converted to enthusiastic potato growers. Occasionally, I come across something about how important potatoes are for self-reliance gardening and I think that we really need to grow more of them.

In 2010, Krista built wooden stacking potato boxes. I wrote about why we switched from tires to wooden stacks here. We also grew potatoes in burlap bags from local coffee roasters, although apparently I have never blogged about that. I found burlap bags to be an unsatisfactory way to grow potatoes. The burlap bags were free though, and I composted them afterwards. No harm, no foul.

I buy our seed potatoes at a local nursery. I wrote about the varieties we planned to grow here if you are interested. We planted them in our faithful wooden stacks again this year, but we have been more attentive about mounding the plants regularly. Hopefully our diligence will be rewarded with a better yield. We haven’t harvested yet, but the plants are much taller and heartier than we have ever grown before.

The neighborhood deer have been voracious this summer, causing serious damage to the potatoes a few weeks ago. We covered the stacks with deer netting and as you can see, the plants grew back with a vengeance. The wooden stacks work well with deer netting because you can tuck it all around the edges.

This is a sort of experimental method, so we’ll report back when the plants die back. We planted late this year so we have weeks to go before harvest. And then? Potato salad, potato tacos, potato soup, roasted potatoes and colcannon for us, and maybe some of our hard-earned tips for growing vertical potatoes for you.

xoxo,
Jess

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Thurston County Fair

We went to the County Fair last week and like The Boss says, everybody in town was there. Krista was working at the 9-1-1 booth and teaching little kids how to make emergency phone calls, so Levi & I wandered around. We saw quilts, jams, a baking contest, lots of animals and fried food. It was an afternoon full of summery, midway cheer and agricultural boasting. The experience exacerbated my longing for a tiny pygmy dairy goat.

We spent a good deal of time in the poultry barn. As new chicken owners, this seemed important. We admired a lot of plumage and rare birds, discussing breeds we might want to raise someday. We saw a poultry costume contest, which was the highlight of my week. We had several discussions about whether this would be chickens dressed in costumes, or people dressed as poultry. We were pleased to see chickens in outfits.

You have to respect the chickens who will lay eggs under some adverse conditions, like a little wire cage at the county fair with hundreds of people staring at them all day. Three leghorns in one pen makes it hard to tell who laid the egg.

We met a pig named Bacon. That was a little sad.

We explored the nuances of sarcasm in the food court. Why does the Republican party have a hot dog stand? The opportunity for jokes are endless here.

In the quilt room, I found this cathedral quilt. It is a pretty awesome quilt. Learning to make quilts… put that on my list of projects.

We stopped by the beekeepers booth, of course, and spotted the queen in the observation hive. Levi is good at spotting queen bees.

Krista & I shared a very special moment while waiting for our veggie burger. We watched a little troop of young gentlemen dancing to a Justin Bieber song. It was the kind of moment that makes me glad to be human, right here, right now.

The sun went down. We packed up our sunburns, sticky hands and dusty shoes and went home. See you next year, county fair!

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Inside the coop

I am so happy to report that the ladies are greatly enjoying their full-time outside lives. They still seem to love us a lot even though they are big girls with their own lives. Bribery, treats, and special attention will get you everywhere with chickens. I like to peek into the egg door and see what they are doing. Usually they are being cute or funny, or both.

The inside of the coop is pretty nice. The roof is clear as to not interrupt their stargazing.

They’re good at putting themselves to bed when the sun goes down. They are learning to use their perch. They love the bugs and dirt. I enjoy not having chickens in my house. If we ever raise baby chicks again, I would prefer to do it in the garage. Or at your house. We’re friends, right? You’d let me keep a flock of chickens in your house, wouldn’t you? Now, that’s settled.

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Summer Progresses: Strawberries

I’ve planted at least 75 strawberry plants in our yard since we bought the house. The squirrels dig them up, so we don’t have 75 left, but the survivors are doing pretty well. We grow a mix of Shuksan, Firecracker & Quinault strawberries…. and the occasional alpine strawberry. Most of the berries are in a former flower bed near our back patio, so I check on them often. I greatly enjoy watching them through the seasons.

Our second-year harvest amazes me. Krista has made some amazing strawberry salads this week with organic mixed greens, balsamic vinegar, walnuts and crumbly cheeses. Last night we topped vanilla ice cream with strawberry slices and I sat with my nose over the bowl, inhaling the smell of summer. I’ve managed to keep the birds away this year with a combination of netting & a cat who naps in the strawberries. The slugs are eating too many berries, but the chickens don’t mind eating the ugly slug-nibbled strawberries. Then the chickens look like little feathered gladiators with blood (strawberry pulp) all over their faces. Adorable.

Strawberry crown (bare root) before planting.

The crowns grew into little strawberry plants. I nipped the flowers the first year.

The second-year plants made little flowers. Several species of bees visited the flowers. (not pictured)

Flowers grow into green berries.

Green berries turn red.

Red berries get picked & eaten — every day! Or they go south. This is the danger of growing delicate strawberry varieties.

It is fun to see our garden knit itself together and change over time. We have such an infinite “to do” list of projects for our little garden, it is important to take time to admire what we’ve accomplished in under two years. These strawberries are a metaphor, a delicious, delicious metaphor. I try not to think about how I want to dig up all these strawberries and move them! And someday I will grow enough berries to make strawberry jam from my backyard. I’m not sure that it’s possible on 1/5th of an acre, but I will try!

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Summer progresses: blackberries, bees & honey

The blackberries are blooming in my neighborhood. I’ve written about our blackberry issues in the past. They are invasive weeds with sharp thorns, certainly, but lovely ones.

The bees go crazy for them. There is a lot of freshly capped honey in the hives.

Later, we’ll extract the honey. Something like this:

In a few short weeks, we’ll pick the neighborhood blackberries, make jams, jellies, syrups and shrubs. I can’t wait!

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Chickens, 7 weeks!

There are so many things I want to blog about these days, but the most labor-intensive project gets precedence today. We have been working on our garden coop for months. In fact, we spent most of the 4th of July weekend working on our chicken coop — what is more American than that, I ask you? I would say that our coop is now about 97% complete. It thrills me to type that.

We still need to:
* finish filling in the predator-proof trenches.
* add hardware to the human-sized door.
* tile and re-install the coop floor.
* add perches and nesting boxes.
* sew up a little part of the hardware cloth to keep predators out.

It’s nearly good enough for chicken habitation. Later this summer I want to add gutters and a rain catchment system, but that’s not essential now. Our years of research, weeks of hard work, the labor of our dear friends who helped to build this, and a smidge of good luck seem to have paid off – we are delighted by our coop. With great relief, many broken fingernails, a sunburn, 5,000 mosquito bites, and a thin layer of caulk on my hands, I am so pleased to present our 97%-complete coop.

The chickens are too big for the light box anymore, so we made them pose with Levi this week. I have to admit, this is pretty much my favorite photo ever. Of All Time. I have never loved a photo like this. No one was pooped on in the making of this photo. (see it bigger here.)

Ramona & Pepper love to perch on human arms. They make us feel like professional falconers. They are so sweet.

On to the individual shots!!

Cry-Baby Walker, pretending to be a pirate’s parrot.

Hatchet-Face is growing some feathery Farrah Fawcett wings on the sides of her head.

Ramona did not want to pose today. Also, her white feathers are coming in like crazy.

Pepper Walker is checking out the egg-access door.

Lenora was far too busy flying around to pose. This was her “best shot.”

The chickens were enthralled by the coop and they can’t wait to move outside full-time. The dogs anxiously tried to herd/eat the chickens, but the coop was secure enough to keep the hounds at bay. I have high hopes that the flock can move outside within a week!

Click here for past chicken portraits.

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SIX WEEKS!

We have managed to live with chickens in our house for six weeks now. I wasn’t always so confident about the chick raising, but we have done it! We have kept them safe from weather, predators, our dogs and cats, disease, over-handling, neglect and everything else that could have ended their little avian lives. They have grown feathers and started flapping their wings.

Being a chicken mom is so rewarding. Let’s not talk about dust or poop. I prefer to focus on the precious moments. I wake up to a chorus of anxious peeping at chicken breakfast time. I am greeted by excited peeping when I get home from work. I hear a round of sweet, sleepy, contented peeps as they cuddle up for bed. I hope we can finish the coop & move them outside within the next week. I’m not sure how much longer we will continue the weekly photos. The ladies are difficult to manage in the photography studio. They hate to be separated from their flock. They are too big for the light box that Krista built to photograph them. That cat keeps destroying the light box by napping in it. There are a lot of factors.

Anyway, without further ado, here are the six-week-old portraits of the chickens in my living room.

Cry Baby Walker has grown into a seriously huge chicklet. I need to get her on a scale. She is Chickenzilla.

Lenora Frigid. I love this bird. She is like the dove of peace, in chicken form. She is terrifyingly good at flying. I need to learn to clip chicken wings.

Ramona Rickettes who is obviously a speckled sussex and not a welsummer. I really wanted a welsummer, but c’est la vie. Ramona is the chillest, sweetest chicken ever, so I am forgiving her for being the wrong breed, even though I am sad to miss out on chocolatey welsummer eggs. Next time around, we are getting chocolate egg layers.

Pepper Walker!! Pepper is a really sweet, chillax’d chicken, much like Ramona. Ramona & Pepper act like BFF’s. You can always find them together, quietly plotting to steal all of the raisins/quinoa/melon/worms/peas from their frantic sisters.

Last, but never least: little Hatchet-face, who is growing feathers and gaining weight but never quite catching up with her sisters. She is looking a little scraggly this week, but our fingers are still crossed for her. I just want a happy, healthy adult hen who lays turquoise eggs. Get to it, Hatchet-face.

Outtakes from this week include close-up shots that show off the wattles and combs we are growing.




Click here for past chicken portraits! Hopefully soon we will have gorgeous shots of our finished coop to share! In the meantime, buck-buck-buck-ba-gock!

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