Category Archives: Books

Rainy Tuesday

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A little less than six weeks left until this baby is due, and this morning I’m what my mom calls “all stoved up.” Probably because I spent an hour or so yesterday afternoon digging a couple hundred pounds of wet leaves and mud out of the chicken run to try to improve the drainage situation. Our plan is to dig a deep trench across the front of the run and fill it with gravel, then cover the whole run with several inches of sand. I found a fantastic idea from The Chicken Chick for a sand litter scoop here. I love anything that I can make with wire and zip ties!

Well, one rooster gone, and one on probation. I went up to collect eggs, lifted the roof of one nest box, and found the prettier of the two roos standing there with two broken eggs in front of him. He had just enough time to give me a “And? What are you going to do about it?” look before I grabbed him.

I have to admit that I briefly considered a quick neck snap. He was a good-sized roo and would probably have been pretty tasty… But I restrained myself and rehomed him instead. The great part was that I was able to find him a new home very quickly. He really was a beautiful guy, but I haven’t had a single broken egg since he left, and we’ve been getting many more eggs than we were. Have to wonder how many that rascal was eating…

I finally finished the Joel Salatin book I’ve been reading off and on for months. (Yes, the one I mentioned here ages ago.) It was pretty amazing. Full of common sense (or at least, what should be common sense) but also packed with so much information. Now I’ll be passing the book around — to my husband, my sister, my mom, and possibly the mail lady and the cable guy. If you are even remotely interested in the food you eat — where it actually comes from, who makes the decisions regarding its safety, and why it’s worth paying more for local foods — or if you just realize how backwards and out-of-touch our culture has become, you really should read Folks, This Ain’t Normal.

About the same time that I finished the book, we watched Fresh on Netflix. Salatin and Polyface Farms are heavily featured, and Ben and I both laughed out loud watching the happy chickens pour out of the eggmobiles to range in the pastures. Not to mention the pigs, the cows, and the family dinner out in the field. And of course, it’s not all about Polyface. There are naturally raised hogs in the Ozarks, a conventional soybean farmer who talks rather wistfully about organic methods, and a couple who raise chickens for one of the major poultry companies. It made me sad to hear them talk about all the recent improvements and how much “healthier” the scraggly, overcrowded birds are than they were a few years ago, as well as the fact that the company has to bring in prison inmates to work on processing day because conditions are so bad that people won’t take the jobs. It’s another really eye-opening movie that I wish more people would watch.

Well, I’ve put it off long enough. It’s time to go outside and see if my temporary drainage solution is holding up in the chicken run. I really hope it is, because I’m pretty sure the neighbors are going to pull out their video camera if the crazy girl next door gets back out there in the mud with her eight-months-pregnant belly.

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Impatience

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The big patch of turned soil in the backyard is calling my name. The seedlings in the sunroom and on the stone wall out back are begging for room to stretch their roots. And my fingers are itching to dig in the dirt. Patience is not my forte, but Ben wants to expand the garden before I get started (and it does need to be bigger), so I’m building character here.

I’ve been working on getting the chicken tractor painted in preparation for attaching the wheels and wire, and it’s looking pretty cute. The chicks, who will be very happy to get out on grass and have more space, are in their early adolescent stage, so they’re not so cute right now.

They’re also filthy, thanks to the duck, who isn’t content unless the brooder floor looks like a swamp. (Seriously, I’ve been expecting Troy Landry to float by in a pirogue, hollering, “Choot ’em, Jacob!”) I finally separated them a few nights ago and put the duck in its own box. That plus the dust bath box I’ve provided the chicks should have them looking better soon.

It should be noted that the duck (which I’m now about 95% sure is a Cayuga) is not happy with this new arrangement and is making his/her displeasure known very loudly. Don’t worry, though, he/she is getting lots of extra attention and will be reunited with his/her friends soon. (And by the way, I’m really rooting for it to be a “she.”)

Our laying hens have had a few “off” days this past week, so I’ve been giving lots of pep talks and thanking them profusely every day we get a dozen or more. Yes, I know they can’t technically understand me, but I’m pretty sure they get the idea. I’m grateful for every egg they give us, but I have requests now for six to seven dozen a week, so job performance has become an issue. When the new pullets start laying, I know we’ll be up to our ears in eggs again, but right now, we’re stretched pretty thin.

So, if you’ve read my other posts, you’ve probably deduced that I find the idea of a self-sufficient village dynamic very appealing. That preference got much stronger after my son and I went to Williamsburg, VA, last fall with my mom, sister, and two nieces. Our favorite spot was the colonial garden and nursery, a new addition since my 8th grade trip there in 1994. We visited at least twice a day to drool over the hotbeds and withy fences.

Now, one of the resident gardeners, Wesley Greene, has written Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way, full of wonderful information about eighteenth century techniques and heirloom vegetables. It’s a great book, full of beautiful photographs and useful tips.

Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way

So while I wait to put all of those young plants in the ground, I’m reading about organic gardening “from a time when organic was the only gardening” and thinking about how strange it is that the chemical-laced produce in the grocery store is now considered “conventionally grown.” Oh yes, and I’m being patient…

If It’s Worth Doing, It’s Worth Reading About!

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I like books. Any of my family members could probably tell you stories of conversations they thought they were having with me just to discover that I was in another world, completely absorbed in whatever I was reading. Good fiction, historical biography, poetry (Dickinson, Byron, Tennyson, Frost… What can I say? I’m an old-fashioned girl.), and pretty much anything else that’s not got a politician or pundit on the cover.

My big weakness, though, is what I will broadly refer to as “how-to” books. When I was pregnant, for example, I had a total of five books on the subject (three borrowed from my best friend, who shares my fondness for reference material). I bought a guide to baby care (really? I have to remove the old diaper before fastening the new one?) just because it made me feel slightly less helpless.

These days, I find agricultural books similarly reassuring — even though I grew up helping my emerald-thumbed mother, the idea of tackling a large garden on my own is pretty daunting. The chickens and rabbits are easier, of course, given my twenty-odd years of experience with them, but I still have a few reference books just in case I go out one morning and find the rabbits have each grown a third eye. (Actually, I don’t think any of the books I have address that possibility. Better find one that does…)

Anyway, just in case anyone else out there shares my weakness, I thought I’d share a few of my favorites.

Backyard Livestock

If you’re planning to raise anything from chickens to cows, Backyard Livestock covers the basics well — choosing the right breeds and specimens for your needs, care and housing, breeding, and butchering. It isn’t really in-depth, but it’s usually the first book I pick up when I have a question about our critters.

The Joy of Keeping Chickens

The Joy of Keeping Chickens is full of useful information and, unlike many chicken books, actually enjoyable to read. The author won me over on the first page with her story about rescuing a loose hen from a commercial chicken truck, but she goes on to deal with incubating eggs and raising chicks, managing layers and meat birds, designing and maintaining a coop, and preserving and using eggs and meat. Full of personal anecdotes and color photos, it’s a “how-to” book that reads like a novel — my favorite kind!

Mini-Farming

I just found Mini Farming at Tractor Supply a few months ago, and I’m embarrassed to say that I had never heard of intensive farming — in our garden at home, we always planted in rows, and it never occurred to me that we could be using the space more effectively. We’re looking forward to applying Markham’s techniques to our new garden.

Self-Sufficiency

Self-Sufficiency just screamed at me from the shelf. I mean, really, isn’t that the dream? Meeting as many of our own needs as possible with minimal reliance on external sources? And I love all of the projects in this book to involve and interest kids in the process. We will be referring to it often!

Folks, This Ain't Normal

Ah, Joel Salatin. If you’ve never read one of his books, you really, REALLY should. I think of him as a sort of John the Baptist — a voice of common sense crying out in the increasingly ridiculous, out-of-touch wilderness of mindless consumerism. We are fellow graduates of Bob Jones University, both concerned with the refusal of conservative Christians to acknowledge their God-given responsibility to care for the environment. I admire his commitment to raising animals with kindness and integrity, as well as his success in making Polyface Farms profitable without the use of chemicals or government handouts! And I can honestly say that Folks, This Ain’t Normal is the first book I’ve underlined in since college.

Our library is constantly expanding, so I’m sure this won’t be the last post on the subject. Any recommendations you’d like to share?