Sunday, June 27, 2010

My Case for Chickens

I have always wanted to have chickens. The benefits are great. They make great pets, their eggs are healthier than factory eggs, and it's a way to save chickens. I know, it's just a chicken right? Click on the link to find out more (warning this is graphic): Animal Abuse at Iowa Egg Factories. In Sweden and Switzerland it is now against the law to produce factory eggs. Their chickens are free range chickens. Most organic eggs are from free range chickens.

I just can't look at store bought eggs the same. Every time I empty those eggs out of the carton and place them in my fridge I think about it. I first heard about the mistreatment of chickens from Jamie Oliver's book. I knew a neighbor that had chickens and really loved them and another contemplating getting some once zoning was redone. I looked further into it during this time. The benefit of chickens are fantastic.

Did you know that free-range chickens' eggs have:

• 1/3 less cholesterol
• 1/4 less saturated fat
• 2/3 more vitamin A
• 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids
• 3 times more vitamin E
• 7 times more beta-carotene

I have also heard that home grown eggs also taste a lot better. The hen is not only healthier, but it's diet is varied. The caged chicken eats grain (usually corn) only. The free range hen eats insects and plants in addition to grain.

Other benefits of having chickens are:
  • They eat insects
  • They make fantastic pets
  • They are easy to take care of
Just this morning I looked at the window and my chickens were in the garden devouring insects. Remember my squash bug incident last summer? I didn't know how to get rid of them organically. Well, I think this will solve my problem. From what I hear, it is true that chickens try to eat some of the produce from the garden, but in comparison to the bugs in the garden that are bad for my plants it's minor. I've also seen them scouring the edges of the foundation of the house eating bugs. They even like ants.

Composted chicken manure is some of the best fertilizer out there. It is true that they sometimes poop on the cement, but a quick squirt of the hose takes care of that problem. Each time I clean out the pine shavings and poop from their box I just throw the shavings and poop in my garden or compost pile. They also fertilize the lawn and take care of weed seeds. I check their food and water daily, but they are very good pets and just wander the yard or take a nap under a bush. They are very low maintenance. Chickens also get along with cats. Our cat likes to chase them from time to time, but they can hold their own if a cat comes at them.

On Mother's Day, my husband and daughter surprised me with a trip to our local farm store to pick out five little beauties. They are more of a teenage chicken right now, but I love to go out and hold one or two and just watch them run around the yard. It is true that I'm a crazy chicken lady now. However, come August or September when I'm collecting and eating those eggs, and when I watch my cute chickens run around I can be proud that not only are they living a healthier life than the factory chickens, but I am too. I might not have saved the "chicken world", but I feel better about my cute little hens, and it makes me happy.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Time to plant the peas . . but first . . .

a secret my dad told me my grandma use to do:

Grandma use to give her peas a jump start before planting them. I put mine in a baggie with a moist paper towel. In UT springtime can still be cold from time to time, so this gives those seeds some time to soften and want to sprout earlier. I am planting my favorite (sugar snap) peas and also some stir-fry seeds. Peas are generally planted 2 inches apart with the rows 6 inches apart. I figure out how many rows I want to plant, and how long I want those rows to be and then I put the number of peas in the bag that would cover that area + a few extra just in case some don't sprout. Also, remember that peas need full sunlight so keep that in mind when preparing a bed. I actually plant my rows further apart because directly next to them I plant my beans in May. That way, when I pull my peas up I'm utilizing the same space, and it's not left empty. I'll be planting mine in a day or two.

Today is dedicated to preparing the soil. This week I'll also be planting spinach, green onions (I'll do a few plantings of these every two weeks to have a supply for the whole summer), and kohlarabi. My daughter Megan has been asking me everyday if it's time to plant our garden. She's also been having dreams about it and been drawing pictures of the two of us planting and watering plants together. I think she's caught the gardening bug as well.

How many of you have planted peas? Do you have a trick to help them do well? What varieties do you like?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Looking Ahead . . .

I've had a couple of people tell me they'd be interested in learning to can this year. I think it would be great to get a group of us together to do it together. It will make the task both faster, and fun. There are a few things you will need. Let's focus on the basic canning needs.

Look ahead for canning jars if you don't have any. Thrift stores and the DI are excellent places to get your canning jars. I see them there all the time. Also ask around. If you know someone who used to can that doesn't anymore, they may be willing to give or sell you their old jars. You can also buy them new in most grocery stores, but it would be a lot cheaper to buy them used.

You will need a canner or a canning pot. Most foods (with the exception of freezer jam) need to be processed. The canning pot makes it necessary. Most of them come with a canning rack already in them, but if they don't look for one of those too. If you will be doing canning with someone else and they have the canner, jar lifter, and funnel you could just use theirs.

You will also need a canning jar lifter. After the food as been processed in the water bath, this makes removing the jars so much easier.

You will also need a canning funnel. This makes it necessary for all the liquid to make it into the jar effectively without spilling it and getting it on the rim of the can.

I don't necessarily can all thing I grow, but there are some particular things you just can't buy at the store that taste the same as freshly canned fruits and veggies. I also like the fact that I know what's going into my food and that I can control it. I challenge you to try it if you've never given it a try before.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Plantings For March and April

Here are some of the things I plant by seed in March and April:

March (Around St. Patrick's Day):

  • peas
  • onions
  • radishes
  • cabbage
  • kohlrabi
  • broccoli (I have to admit I haven't had a lot of success with broccoli by seed. I'd rather plant them by plants at the end of April/beginning of May)
  • spinach


  • lettuce
  • chard
  • carrots
  • beets
  • potatoes

Monday, March 1, 2010

Preparing the Soil to Plant

I know it is so tempting, but do not rush things in the Spring. If your soil is too wet and you try to till or mix the soil you will end up with a gummy mess and may even ruin the make-up of your soil. To test if your soil is ready USU extension suggests that you should take a handful of soil 3 inches deep from the garden. Squeeze it firmly and drop it on the sidewalk (or nearby cement). If the ball shatters it is a good consistency to work.

When your soil is ready you should put 2 - 6 inches of organic material. I don't always get 2 inches deep of organic material, but I do my best to make sure there is plenty. Examples of organic material are: sawdust, leaves, compost, peat moss, etc. Growing up we had a lot of oak trees in our yard. When it was autumn my dad would always pile the extra leaves on top of the garden. I go and buy steer manure and soil prep for my garden. For each bag of manure I mix 2 bags of soil prep. If you live in UT a great place to find manure and soil prep is IFA. IFA is also one of my favorite places to get both vegetable seeds and vegetable plants. This year it is my goal to get a good composting bin made. This will not only get rid of my garden waste, but will also benefit my garden.

After you have your organic material on top of your garden either rototill or shovel and mix your soil 6 - 8 inches deep. Don't overwork the soil to a fine dust. This will make watering more difficult later one. If you have any clods of dirt, just rake them.

These simple steps will really benifit your garden. I always have huge success with my tomatoes and I swear it is because of the organic matter (especially manure) that I add to my garden beds. Just make sure that if you use manure that you don't use too much. Too much manure can actually burn the plants.

Planning the Garden

It's really hard to be patient when waiting to plant the garden. If you plant too early you can either damage the soil or the seeds. When it starts warming up the first thing I start to do to get in the spirit of gardening is to plan my garden.

I first draw/outline on paper what I would like to plant for the year.

I then take inventory of the seeds I have. What seeds do I need to purchase? What seeds should I start indoors ahead of time?

I write down/map when I'm going to plant each vegetable. This helps when planting season comes around. Some crops I plant one or two weeks apart so that I can enjoy a long crop of it such as peas, green onions, etc.

I then decide if I want to add any more raised beds or pots with additional plants. I start buying the seeds and supplies ahead of time.

If this is your first year gardening you will want to decide how you are going to garden (raised beds, flower beds, etc.). You need a spot that gets full sunlight. I think most people that start a garden make the mistake of thinking the plants need some shade. Every garden I've grown (on my own and with my dad) has always been in full sunlight. They have all been very successful. If you are in the area and would like me to help you find a good spot, give me a call. I'd be happy to help, or to seek advice from some of the great gardeners I know.

If this is your first year gardening, also decide what kind of supplies you need. If you are making raised beds acquire the supplies, and build it now so that it will be ready when planting season comes around.

Planning ahead of time really helps to utilize your space and time. Good luck and have fun! It's still not too late to order some seed catalogs and to thumb through and decide what will be in the garden this year.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Come on snow and melt already!

I'll be updating the blog soon. I'm waiting for the snow to melt. It's almost time to plant the peas. YAY!