Taking stock

I found several packets of outdated seeds  (peas, lettuce, and pumpkins). I’m going to try sprouting them and see what happens. I bought 2 bags of potting soil tonight and I’ve been saving my toilet paper and paper towel rolls and popsicle sticks. The popsicle sticks are to label and stick in the dirt and the toilet paper rolls are to cut into little seed sprouting cups. Hooray for recycling! One things I’ve already learned is that gardening doesn’t have to be expensive.

I redeemed some of my Swagbucks  for e-Bay gift certificates and bought some muscadine seeds from a seller on a farm in Virginia. For those that don’t know, muscadines are big, fat grapes, perfect for jelly and wine. I plan to sprout some vines and grow them up a trellis attached to the privacy fence. Then, some day, I’ll harvest them and make wine.

Mmm, muscadine wine. I remember the first time I had some. I was at a sleepover and my friend’s mom had made some and let us each have a little shot glass of some. The other girls didn’t like it but I did. I waited until they set their glasses aside and then snagged and drank them. It was enough to give little 13 year old me a healthy buzz. I know, I was a terrible child.

Now that I’m older (you know, legal drinking age) I’ve had some bought off the shelf in a store and it is not the same as home made. I can’t wait to try making my own. Of course there are tons of recipes on the interwebz.

Any wine makers here? If so, do you have a great muscadine wine recipe I should try?

Spring will be here soon

Spring isn’t here officially yet, but it feels like it. Everything is budding and trying to bloom so the pollen count is already ridiculous and we’re hitting temps in the 70s (we’re just outside of Atlanta, GA). I’m not going to run out and plant anything yet, because I know better. There has been blizzards in March and April and while I don’t *think* thats happening this year, I’m not going to chance it. Still, the weather is gorgeous. I spent Saturday raking up the back yard and planning what I want to do. It includes additional fencing in a large chunk of the backyard so the ladies have their own space. We’ve had some close calls with people accidentally letting the dogs out when the girls were free ranging. I also want (one or three) more chickens. I’ve read that it is better to have even numbers when you have fewer chickens so that they don’t gang up on one which is what happens now with having three.

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Other than that I’m debating on what I want to plant. I was thinking of peppers (pepperoncini and maybe one other), some sort of tomato, green beans, pumpkins for Halloween, strawberries, and maybe a birdhouse or luffa gourd. Is that too much though? Oh and various herbs in containers. I also want to plant all of this in raised beds that we build in the front yard. I’m thinking the front to keep out the chickens and dogs.

Are you planning your summer garden yet? What are you planting?

What I’m Reading – Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway

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I had read reviews on of Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway and finally found a great price on e-Bay. It talks about permaculture for your home garden which is something I’d heard about but didn’t totally understand. This is a great manual which really breaks down what permaculture is and how to use it in your garden. Basically, you’re working with nature and creating a natural garden with layers that benefit each other (trees, shrubs, herbs, ground cover, etc). It also talks about important things like water conservation and harvesting, using small animals to help (hello, backyard chickens!), composting, and fruit trees. It is seriously a wealth of information and I love it. It is very text book like and can be slow going at times, because it can get a bit, well, technical, but it is fascinating and a must read.  I’ve skimmed through, then read through, and now I’m going back and taking notes.

Have you read this? What did you think? What are you currently reading?

We got chickens!!

For years and years, I’ve wanted a flock of chickens in the backyard, as pets and for egg production. Hubby was skeptical, I think because of the cost and the work involved. Still, I dreamed, read homesteading websites, stalked Instagram feeds of people with chickens, and lurked on the Backyard Chickens forum.  

When we moved, I started trying to come up with a chicken coop plan. We have an old playhouse we wanted to use and had started researching. One night I was on e-Bay though and found a local seller trying to sell 5 chicken coops for $99 each. They were A-frame tractors so they would be easily movable, although only hold a few chickens. I messaged the seller and made a deal to buy two of them for $150.

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Hubby assembling our coop!

A few weeks later, I was on Facebook and someone posted in a local group that they needed to re-home their flock of 11 chickens of various breeds. I texted Hubby and he reluctantly agreed that we could go take a look. I messaged the lady and made arrangements. Since I wouldn’t have time to go home for cat carriers, I snagged some large boxes and poked holes for air in them.

The chicken lady had a huge coop and a fantastic set up. She pointed out the different types of chickens and told me about each one. I picked a Rhode Island Red that had been rescued from an overcrowded farm, an Easter Egger, and what I think she said was an Orpington mix. We popped them in the boxes and headed home.

One our way home, we stopped and picked the boys up from daycare. We did not tell them what was in the boxes. When we got home, we set the boxes down in the backyard and let them boys take the lids off.

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Surprise! Chickens!

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They did not come with names and we had fun coming up with what to call them. The RIR is now Gladys, the Orpington is Gertrude, and the little gray Easter Egger is Bernadette.

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The boys love them. Orion especially, and he is great at helping catch them when it is time to put them up. “Mama! Catch chickens! Orion catch chickens!” It is the cutest thing, and anything that gets him to practice talking is a miracle. He has a speech delay and has had speech therapy but is still making progress.

I will admit, that to my embarrassment, I was a little afraid of them at first. They were squawky, and unfriendly, and Gertrude was so loud when we’d get close. Things are calming down now that they know we’re nice and give them treats. So far I’ve learned that they like strawberries, even just the tops I cut off for the kids. They also liked Sebastian’s leftover peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich. Bananas, oranges, and apple chunks were not a hit.

For the first 2 weeks, we didn’t get any eggs which I expected since they were traumatized with the move. Then we started getting one a day. I suspect it is Gladys. She was the quickest to catch on to the humans=treats thing and is now the friendliest.

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Side note: That isn’t a giant egg, I just have really small hands.

I love the chicken tractor because we can move it around the yard every few days to give them some new green space and a clean floor. I’m using wood shavings inside the coop and just add a little layer every day and then clean it out on the weekends. The dirty shavings go in my compost bin.

It has been about 3 weeks and we’re up to a dozen eggs now. The girls are getting used to us but I need to plan an enclosure around their coop so they can get out and about without us worrying about the dogs.

OK, I’ve rambled enough about our new ladies. If you have a flock, please tell me about them! What treats do they like?

What your pallet stamps mean

Moving is a big deal. It isn’t just taking stuff from one place and putting it in another. You have to pack, move, unpack and organize. We’ve been so scattered for so long that the unpacking and organizing is taking forever. It is certainly giving me something to do until Spring planting time though. I had ambitious plans to do a Fall/Winter garden but then I realized that I need to get my ducks in a row first and use the winter to get good and organized.

What I’m doing until Spring includes buying books and reading and also subscriptions to Mother Earth News and Grit. Side note on Mother Earth News and Grit: their websites have some awesome giveaways for things like homesteading supplies. I haven’t won anything but I keep entering. I love entering contests and sweepstakes. It’s like playing the lottery but doesn’t cost anything.

OK, back to what I’m doing: I’ve joined backyard homesteading type Facebook groups which are a wealth of information. I’ve asked one or two questions and always get tons of answers and responses. I’m planning for chickens come Spring and we’ll be working on the coop for the next few months. I’m keeping my eyes open for things and supplies that I can use. Pro tip: when you need supplies, TELL PEOPLE. You never know who will have what you need.

For example, Hubby works for a brewery and I mentioned that I wanted some pallets for my garden plans but didn’t know where to get some. He said “Oh, you want pallets? We’ve got some that we can’t use or return, I’ll get them.” and voila, I have pallets.

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I started searching for ideas of what to use them for and came across a thread in one of the aforementioned Facebook groups. Several people warned against using pallets that had been chemically treated. Apparently pallets are treated to kill bugs that might be in the wood and they can be heat treated or chemically treated. I never knew that was a potential problem but I learned that you can tell good and bad pallets by their stamps. The stamp isn’t always in the same place so I had to look for each one. Here is what I found on my pallets:

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The HT means each one was heat treated which is good because it means they were treated by heat instead of a chemical spray. Chemically treated ones would be marked MB. MB stands for Methyl Bromide which is a pesticide that can be harmful. Here is what the rest of the stamps mean:

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I had to Google IPPC because I’ve never heard of that before. IPPC is a group that safeguards against potentially harmful pests being carried to new areas of the world on products like pallets. Invading species could take over and do serious damage. They want to make sure trade among countries isn’t affected by those risks.

Now that I know my pallets are safe, I’m good to go on projects with them. Have you recycled pallets for anything? What’d you make?

One man’s trash is another man’s… compost bins

One of my to do list projects was compost bins. Manufactured ones weren’t in my budget and I was thinking of trying to make one from wooden pallets. Then one night I was on the Facebook and a neighbor in a local group posted that they had several compost bins they needed to get rid of. What??? I messaged him and confirmed they were still available- he had 2 left! Hubby and I rushed right over and collected them. 

Aren’t they beautiful? 

Our first offering! 

Hopefully by Spring, we’ll have some lovely rich compost for our garden beds. I’ve given my oldest kiddo the chore of emptying the coffee can of kitchen scraps into the bin every day. 

I love local Facebook groups for free and cheap stuff and for meeting our neighbors. If you haven’t got any local groups for your town or neighborhood, try making one. It really expands the sense of community. Plus you never know what you’ll come across! 

Chicken coop plans

One of my fondest wishes is for a flock of backyard chickens. Our area allows up to 8 for our yard size but I only want 3 or 4. First we need somewhere to keep them though.

I’ve been researching chicken coop plans and designs and stumbled across coops made from kid’s plastic playhouses. We just so happen to have a very beat up Little Tikes house at my inlaw’s:countingdays

Isn’t it sad looking? OK, I made it more sad with the filter that I added to the picture. It is missing a couple of shutters and faded but still sturdy. With some hard cloth wire (sturdier than chicken wire) over the windows and a roost and some nesting boxes, I think it will be fine. The plan is to build a platform to put it on so that it won’t be right on the ground, plus we’ll build a little run around it.

Here is the post that gave me the idea: Little Tikes Coops

and a video tour of one:

There are naked neck turkens in her coop in the video which I’d never seen before.

Have you seen all the cool chicken coop tour videos on Youtube? They’re so inspiring. I can’t wait to share our finished project!