Monthly Archives: June 2014

Free and Easy Treats for Chickens

Chicken food can be expensive.  A 40 pound bag of organic feed (highlight being GMO-free) costs us about $30.  In the Spring time, our chickens supplement their own feed by eating the grass and bugs in their pen.  They also enjoy some of our kitchen scraps.   This time of year, I can give my girls a special treat of mulberries for FREE with almost no work.

Mulberries are growing all around our property and they are ripe for the picking.

Mulberry Tree

Mulberry Tree with ripe mulberries

I simply cut a branch off to throw into my chickens (like I said EASY, I don’t even have to pick them).

Cutting a Branch

Cutting a Branch

And since I’m a softy, I picked up some of the berries that fell to the ground for them:

Mulberries

Mulberries

You can eat them raw, or process them into jam, if you don’t have chickens or just don’t feel like sharing.  They have a mild taste, and are super easy to grow (as in some people consider them undesirable pain).  But these berries are for my little egg machines.

I throw the whole limb in the pen and scatter the ones I picked up from the ground around the limb.  The girls enjoy the treat, and they have fun picking through the leaves.  So they are enjoying a snack and some entertainment.

Chickens enjoying their summer treat of mulberries.

Chickens enjoying their summer treat of mulberries.

These mulberries came from a tree that is growing on the forest’s edge naturally.  I wanted to make my life even easier, and take myself out of the equation, so I took a cutting in May of this year and planted it by the chicken pen.  The idea is that when it gets large enough to fruit, the fruit will drop into their pen and give the girls a treat without me doing anything.  Right now, I’m planning so that I can be lazy in the future.

Future Chicken Treats

Future Chicken Treats

Daily Chicken Chores

Keeping chickens is a lot of fun.  I enjoy watching the girls run around.  I enjoy them searching for bugs.  And one of my favorites is when one of the girls finds a big juicy bug, and the others chase her around the pen.  After providing all this entertainment, they still provide eggs, pest control and fertilizer.  What a wonderful animal.

So what do I do on a daily basis to keep the coop running?  Quite frankly, not much.

  • I check their food and water daily.  If I know I’m going somewhere for an entire day, I make sure everything is topped off before I go.  If it is really hot out, I go out several times throughout the day to add ice cubes to their water.  If it is super cold, we add hot water to prevent freezing, so they have water to drink.
  • I use a deep-bedding method.  So every day  (or every other day) I add some fresh straw to the coop.  The straw (wood chips work even better, but I have more access to straw) soaks of the nitrogen of the chicken poop.  This become very yummy worm food, and gives you super healthy soil.  I clean this out every 3 to 6 months (this takes an hour or more)  As this composts down gives you girls some heat in the winter.
  • I collect yummy eggs.
  • In the winter, I shut the coop up at night to keep the heat in, and in the morning I open it back up.

These are the only things I do.  So maybe 15 minutes a day, at most.  But it is every day.  This is also after everything is built (which took a lot of time).  I also really enjoy my girls, so I will go out just to spend time with them and watch them be chickens.  When they see me coming they actually run to the fence to greet me (or maybe they are looking for some kitchen scraps I usually bring).

I have plans to move them to a shifting paddock system in the future.  (I will write more about this in the future). This will take a bit of time every week, but not much.

If you want to take a step toward simplicity, and you want to get closer to providing more for yourself, I recommend chickens.

Your Mission Statement

I recently took an Medicinal Herbal Class at the Rodale Institute.  It was wonderfully informative.  They opened the class up with a 15 minute introduction to the farm and how it was started.  Within the introduction, the presenter told us about the founder’s mission statement: “Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Healthy People”.  The foundation, itself has its own mission statement: “Through organic leadership we improve the health and well-being  of people and the planet”.

Everyone, every business, every club benefits from a mission statement.  A mission statement allows you to measure your progress and stay on track.  Schedule time every week or month to seriously think about your mission statement and whether your actions over the past week/month have stayed in line or strayed from it.  This will give you deep perspective as to whether you are heading in the right direction or not.  You can also re-write your mission statement to evolve as you do.

Why do you need a mission statement?  It is a way to keep yourself focused and on track.  A mission statement is more encompassing than a simple goal.  Goals are hard and cold, a mission statement is flexible and hits more of your emotional side.  A mission statement is not something you check off your list.  It is something you constantly make sure you or your business aligns.

For example, J.I. Rodale’s mission statement tells us that whatever he does, he wants to work towards a healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people.  So when he worked on any project, be it his own garden, an article, book, or publication, he knew the direction he was heading.

How do you make a mission statement?  Take a life’s mission statement.  Think about what you want to leave behind.  Do you want to help restore soils by planting trees?  If so, think wider than that.  Why do you want to restore soils?  For healthier foods?  To stop degradation of the land?  To promote diversity.  The key is to be wide enough that you can grow with it, but not so wide that you can easily ignore it and justify yourself. You don’t want to become something you hate.  A mission statement works to keep you true to you (or true to the business you are building).

I, personally, have three mission statements in my life.  My first mission statement is very broad as it applies to my life, and my life is very broad.  My mission is to: leave the world a better place than I found it.  This is in the line of “No Trace” hiking.  Where you pack out what you pack in, and take out at least one piece of garbage.  Probably no one else will notice that the trail is just a little better, but if everyone adopted this attitude, you can imagine the change we would see in the world.

My second mission statement has to do with the most important undertaking in my life: parenthood.  I actually didn’t realize I had a mission statement until I wrote this post.  My mission as a parent: To raise a kind, truly happy person.  Kindness is important to me, as I feel “being nice” sets one up to be taken advantage of, and also feels a little fake.  Whereas, being kind seems more genuine and loving.  It implies empathy, and respect.  And truly happy.  Not so that he has that instant gratification going from one hand out to the next, but so he can be happy when times are hard or when they are great.  So he has resiliency, self-confidence.  That he can go to bed at night, and examine his actions from his lifetime and smile knowing he is a good person, knowing that he is true to himself no matter what adversity that brings.  That seven word mission statement sums up a lot for me.  This has been the most personal thing I have ever written on here, but I think it serves a purpose, so that is why I share.

This brings me to my third and last mission statement.  My mission statement for my blog, the site  you are reading right now: To provide informative, entertaining and inspirational posts to help folks live a more simple and fulfilling life.

Hopefully I have done that, or will do that for you.  That is my mission.  That is why I write this blog.

Thank you for taking the time to read.  What is your mission statement?

Easy Homemade Broth

Chicken broth is super nutrient dense (especially when you get grass-fed birds).  In fact, bone broth is a huge part of a GAPS and the Westin A. Price diets.  As I found here, ingesting bone broth helps your body stay happy in the following ways:

  • Heals your gut, thus promoting healthy digestion.
  • Reduces joint pain and inflammation.
  • Promotes strong healthy bones.
  • Helps fight infections (including the common cold and flu).  So eat that chicken soup when you are sick!!
  • Help you with your gorgeous hair, nails and skin.

This is the broth that you make.  Not that yucky, blucky stuff you find in the stores.  Even the organic stuff.  My homemade broth is gelatinous when refrigerated, and sometimes gelatinous at room temperature (and is always liquid when warmed).  Whereas, any store bought broth I have purchased is liquid at all times.  That gelatin is part of what makes the bone broth so darn good for you. Now, how on earth do you make this stuff!??  Good News!!! It’s simple! and it takes VERY little hands on time.  YEE-HAW!! Here’s how:

1) Make that chicken in the crock pot and enjoy it for dinner.

2) Separate the meat from the bones and skin.  Save the meat for a sandwich, or another recipe, and put everything else you wouldn’t eat back into the crock pot which is was cooked.  There may be some juice in the bottom of it already.  Keep it there!  That’s broth. 20140523_185157 3) Top your bones with water. 20140523_185406 4) Set your crock pot to low and let it cook overnight (or during or work day).  Just let it cook for awhile.  Make sure cooks for no more than 16 hours, but Ideally about 10.  I accidentally left this go for almost 24 hours and I had a royal, inedible mess.  Learn from my mistake.  No need to make your own.

5) Turn the crock pot off and let everything cool.

6) When everything is cool enough to handle, dump the contents of the crock pot through a mesh strainer into a storage container. 20140524_184126 7) Now you have your broth!! Place it in the fridge overnight. The next morning, scrape off the fat that solidifies on the top.

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Use this to cook rice, makes soups and stews, or use it any place that calls for broth.  The flavor and the nutritional punch is second to no other broth on the market. And it’s simple to make.  Looks like we hit a home run today!

Plant a Tree, Save the World

This past weekend, my mom, my husband, my kid and myself planted a tree at local Rail-to-Trail as a memorial of my late Grandfather.  It was a small oak that will hopefully grow into a mighty oak which will outlive all those that planted it. (meaning it will live a VERY long life, as well as those who planted it).  This is a wonderful way to remember a wonderful man.  This is surely a gift that will keep on giving.

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Trees do many things positive things that we know of, and I’m sure many that we do not.

Here is a list of 10 positive things trees do:

1) Restores biodiversity.  Bugs live in trees.  Birds and Squirrels live in trees.  Bird eat the bugs that live in trees.  Bigger birds eat those smaller birds who eat the bugs.  This biodiversity is not limited to the animal kingdom.  A tree creates a shady spot which creates cooler environments.  Plants that like cooler, shadier areas now have an environment to thrive.

a robin nest nestled deep in an evergreen

a robin nest nestled deep in an evergreen

2) Provides shade and shelter for your critters.  Our chickens love to hang out under the shade of the oak tree we planted for Jaxson when he turned one.  I have heard bees become more productive (and are overall happier) when the live in the shade of a tree.  All animals benefit from having the shelter/shade of a tree available to them.  This includes: birds, sheep, goats, horses, goats, and bees.

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3) Prevents Erosion (3 ways): (a)The tree protects the soil from the impact of the rain, which can hammer the earth’s surface.  (b) The tree sucks up water from the soil.  This means that the soil will not become over saturated.  When you have heavy/flooding rains, picture what the surrounding creeks and stream look like.  They are muddy and icky.  This is from the soil being flushed out along with the water.  A tree helps to reduce this.  (c) A tree holds onto soil, especially on sloping lands.  And by holding on to that soil allows other plants to set roots down; therefore, increasing the biodiversity we discussed our first reason trees save the world.

oak tree with acorns

oak tree with acorns

4) Helps replenish the soil.  A tree accumulates biomass.  Biomass is the mass of living things in a given area.  When a tree drops it’s leaves, the leaves decompose and turn into worm food and create soil.  Trees also have two types of roots: perennial and annual.  The annual root system dies every year and becomes worm food, creating more soil/organic matter.  With their roots, trees suck up nutrients deep in the ground and bring the nutrients up the their leaves.  These nutrients now become available to the surface of the earth.

walnut tree at the forest edge

walnut tree at the forest edge

5) Stores solar energy and makes it usable (in a sustainable way).  Chris and I heat our house with solar energy.  Yes, our home is south facing, so we benefit from passive solar, but we also benefit from stored solar energy in the form of wood.  When we burn wood, we are simply releasing the solar energy stored in the tree.

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6) Act as a wind buffer.  Trees will slow gusting winds down.  Anyone who has run or biked in the country has felt this.  You are chugging away down the road and all of a sudden you are surrounded by fields and you feel like you are about to be knocked over.  Trees act as a natural wind buffer.

young paw paw tree

young paw paw tree

7) Create oxygen.  Well that’s pretty cool.  Anyone with an elementary school education is aware of this.

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8) Provides food.  Possibly.   If you want.  It is possible that a tree after doing all the above will also provide you with food.  Anything from peaches and pears to walnuts and almonds.

An immature peach on a tree

An immature peach on a tree

9) Look pretty.  My goodness.  Trees are amazing living things.  Certain species can live thousands of years.  Some are so big cars can drive through them, some are so small they look like nothing more than a blade of grass.

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10) Provides materials.  As a woodworker, Chris uses wood to make shelves, lids, chicken coops and fences.  This material can be re-purposed when it’s original purpose is no longer served.  Wood products are longer lasting, healthier (less yucky chemicals), and more attractive than their plastic counterparts.

All this was spurred by a short two and a half minute video which features a woman who reclaims the dessert by planting trees:

So get out and plant your trees today!

Newspaper Article

I was interviewed by the Reading Eagle a couple weeks ago.

First I talked to the reporter on the phone for about 30 minutes.  Then, an awesome photographer came out and took pictures of my chickens.  It was a real treat to have him come out.

The overall process was pretty amazing, and it was super cool to go to the store to pick up the paper.  (well, a few papers, actually).  It was in the Sunday paper and the front page of the lifestyle section.  It was a very cool thing.

Check out the link here.

I would like to make two notes:

The egg quantity are daily amounts, not weekly.

The rooster attacking me was not a big deal.

Other than that, I am very happy with the job the reporter did.

Making Your Own Watering Bulb

This is another post borrowed from my old blog, but I really like it and I wanted to make sure that this was part of this site.  So if you’ve seen it before, my apologies.  If not, enjoy!!

Recently, my mom bought me several plants for my birthday.  Two of these plants are Stevia, the natural herbal sweetener.  Stevia
is hardy until 10 degrees F.  Temperatures any lower than that will kill the plant.  So I potted it.  My two stevia plants are living on my front porch.  I will bring them in when the weather becomes cold. 


Chances are, as Spring turns to Summer, I may forget to water these awesome herbs.  So I thought a watering bulb would be a good idea.  You fill it with water, turn it upside down and it provides your potted plants a continuous amount of water.  The set it and forget it of plant care.

Aqua Globes AG011706 Glass Plant Watering Bulbs, 2-Pack


While I appreciate the ingenuity of this product, I don’t spend money on things like that.  I will, however, steal their general idea.  I used something we happened to have around the house: a beer bottle.  I filled the beer bottle up with water, and sunk the neck into the dirt of the Stevia’s pot.

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If you have bigger pots, a wine bottle would also work for this.  I’m sure you could set these up in the garden, but that seems like a lot of work and maintenance and not really worth it.

 

Carrots Love Tomatoes – A book Review

Several years ago, when I began my backyard garden, I bought myself Carrots Love Tomatoes: Secrets of Companion Planting for Successful Gardening.

This book outlines which veggies (and sometimes fruit) to plant together.  This is called companion planting.  The idea is that different types of plants in close proximity can benefit each other.  For example, planting your carrots near onions and leeks is beneficial for the carrots since the onions and leeks act as a repellent to the carrot fly.
A gardener can also gain a higher yield per acre by integrating plantings instead of abiding to a mono-cultural method (i.e. rows and rows of carrots, followed by rows and rows of beets).  Planting rows which contain a kohlrabi – beet – kohlrabi pattern benefit both crops.  They both do best in the same type of soil and pull their nutrients from different levels.  Anytime you diversify your crops, you make it harder for critters to take out your entire patch.
If there is a worm that just loves cucumbers, he and his buddies can easily demolish one plant, but if the next plant is a distance away from the one he destroyed, he must figure out how to get over to the new cucumber plant.  Chances are he won’t make it the entire way, and your other plant is safe.  Or you have time to take protective measures.  But if all of your cucumber plants are close and hanging out together, it will be that much harder to save your plants as that evil cucumber critter can just mosey on over to the plant right next door.
The book also discusses which plants are detrimental to each other.  As well as the different ways to cope with certain diseases and pests and basic descriptions of each plant.  While this book is not exhaustive (and therefore NOT overwhelming), the array of plants it covers varies from vegetable and herbs to nuts and wild plants.  There are also chapters on gardening techniques, garden plans and pest control.
This book is a wonderful resource that I have by my side when I’m planning my garden. Although of this information is easily accessible via the internet, having a small, easy to read book (that won’t break if it get’s wet or dirty) by your side makes life a lot easier.  I would recommend this book and have used it often and will continue to use it over the years.
**This page contains affiliate links**

How to Cook a Whole Chicken

As I mentioned in a previous post, I buy whole chickens from a local farmer, and 98% of the time, I cook them the same way.  It is SO easy and only takes me about 5 minutes of hands on time, but requires a bit of planning.  I usually do this on the days I work in Philly since it takes such a little bit of time to do.

Since my chickens are frozen, I take one out to thaw out overnight at room temperature.  When I wake up in the morning, so early in the morning

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I cut the chicken from the plastic wrap:

IMG_1833And I put it in the crock pot (here is the MOST IMPORTANT PART!!) breast side down.  How do you know it’s breast side down?  It is the opposite of every whole cooked chicken shown on TV or cartoons.  The legs should be facing down.  This causes all of the juices to drip down onto the commonly (but not this time!) dry breast meat.

IMG_1834Next step, put the lid on the crockpot:

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and set to low (for a 10 to 14 hour cook time) and high for shorter cook times.  I think it needs at least 6 to 8 hours to cook well.  This is all you need to do.  I don’t put spices or add any liquid.  I used to add some spice, but I noticed it didn’t make that big of a difference for the taste of the chicken.  This is what you can do when you buy high quality meat.  The flavor of the meat is so wonderful, you don’t need to add a lot of extras.

Please note, when it is done cooking, it does not have a golden brown skin.  This is the only real downside of this method of cooking.  If you are questioning the chicken’s doneness, go ahead and use your instant read thermometer.  (place  the thermometer in the leg of the chicken, avoiding the bone.  The accepted safe temperature is 165 degrees F for chicken)  It will fall off the bone.  Sometimes, I can only get it out in pieces (not the last time I cooked a chicken, though).  Can you say TENDER?

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When I get home from working a long day, I get a wonderful hot meal.  Generally, on the first night, we eat the chicken with some sides.  Like I said above, the light colored skin is nothing to be worried about.  The chicken is fall of the bone tender, and incredibly delicious.  This chicken can also be used in any recipes that require cooked or grilled chicken.

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After we are done eating it, we use the left overs to make broth (I will make a post about how I do that), or for chicken recipes.  I have a few I’m crazy about!  I will post them later.  In the meantime, please remember that any recipe that call for chicken breast can use ANY parts of the chicken.  More about that later!!