Thursday, January 27, 2011

Styrofoam Alternative

Here is a TED video on an alternative for Styrofoam packaging.... Mushrooms! It's about 9 minutes long, but very exciting news.  Enjoy. -Jason

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Better use for Beer Bottles- Recycled Glass Paving

Last semester I was on a field trip to a new constructions site for a drainage class. They were pouring the walkways with a new material. Well, sort of. The material is recycled glass. I was happy to see that they were finding a new purpose for this glass. Unfortunately, the glass had to come from one state over, but the silver lining is that it was commercially feasible. Better yet, it looks great when it's installed!

As a bonus to the environment, this recycled glass walk is permeable. The easiest way to explain this is to think of the way a rice/marshmallow treat is put together. To understand why permeable materials are important check out this post from a few months ago on storm water management, Houston Sustainable Design Competition. -Jason

Recycled glass will take the shape of its container, in this case, a styrofoam cup 
I found which a construction worker used during his lunch.

Here we see the pieces before the epoxy is added to them.

This video demonstrates the porousness of the material.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Deep Litter Method for Chickens

The chickens and I work together to make sure the deep litter in the Aviary gets turned. Several months ago, we called a local tree company and asked them to dump one of their trucks of wood chips on our front yard. Normally, they have to pay to dump somewhere so they were happy to oblige us, PLUS it gives the wood chips new life as opposed to some loads which end up in our landfills.

We've used the deep litter method for several months now and we have no regrets. The chicken poo gets turned in regularly by none other than the chickens themselves. Additionally, we put our kitchen scraps right on the ground. They take what they want and the rest seems to get buried. We have seen them taking sand baths in the mulch, but can't testify to its effectiveness yet. We've never caught a parasite on them.

Featured below is the pile that I make for them and the aftermath. Notice the orange peels they passed on. Enjoy -Jason


Aftermath of 6 Hens - Close of Business

Monday, January 24, 2011

Loco Diablo el Pollo

Well folks, I'm learning gobs of things from my chickens. My most recent epiphany is that I'm done with winter chicks. We had yet another night where we got down to the low 20's and we made the decision to be better safe than sorry. So we put the chicks and their mom (Hopper the Hen) into the garage yet again. That's a big headache, but ok, I can live with it.

Today we moved the chickens back into their quarters. In the process, I took Hopper from the chicks so we could move them with confidence that she wouldn't fall all over them. As luck would have it, I made it to the aviary before Carrie did by a minute or two.

We all know that idle hands are the work of the devil, right? (Thinking to myself....) I wonder how the mother is going to get along with the flock when the time comes? Let's find out.

BIG mistake! Huge. Let me tell you, she was all over the rest of the flock like syrup on a pancake, like white on rice, like a cheap suit on a tightwad. I mean, it was six against Hopper and Hopper had them on the run. I could hear the thoughts echoing one right after another through my head. "Oh crap!" "This must be what a cock fight is like!" "Not so big now, are you Swoope?"

I ran for her. She ran from me. She terrorized everyone in her path. I failed miserably. She was, afterall, faster, smaller, and able to duck into places I couldn't. This wasn't working. I needed a plan. I'll open the door to her normal quarters maybe she'll go in on her own. Riiiight. Nope. Swoope, Reagan, Taylor, and Madison took shelter in Hopper's home! There goes my mind again... "Oh crap!" "Not good!" "Nobody will be laying eggs for a month!" "How am I going to get her in there and them out here?!!!"

The Aviary at Night -
The new coop still needs a roof and paint job...

Just then Hopper locked talons with Charlotte. Their wings went flapping and feathers went flying! Charlotte had her hands full, BUT, they were stationary! Without a moment to spare I grabbed a ten foot 2x2 left over from a project I was doing that morning. I pinned Hopper, much to Charlotte's relief, and finally got my hands on Hopper, much to her dismay. The situation must have been really bad because I thrive on high stress situations and Carrie knew immediately that something was wrong when she showed up with the chicks. The look on her face must have mirrored mine. After some prodding and reassuring we got Swoope and the presidents (Reagan, Taylor, and Madison) out of Hopper's coop and the proper residents back in. I'm done moving chickens this year. No if, ands, or fluffy chicken butts. Sorry no pics of the action this time. I just didn't think to get the camera in the middle of this one. -Jason

P.s. Anyone have advice to offer on integrating Hopper into the flock?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

My New Tiffin

Inspired by Annette over at ComoHomestead back in November, I embarked in December on finding myself a tiffin to purchase inexpensively. I first learned of the tiffin from Sheri at the sadly now defunct Green & Crunchy blog. A stainless steel lunch box of sorts, tiffins allow for food storage without the usual waste associated with the more "traditional" plastic bags everyone uses for school lunches.

I scored a new one from To-Go Ware (with tags still attached) off ebay. My total cost came to just under $13 (includes shipping) - and this thing will last forever. You can purchase the exact one I did directly from the company here but it will cost you about $30 including shipping. My plan is to use this on days that I have to go to school. -Carrie

Note: I used this on Wednesday for the first time. Speaking from experience, if you aren't prepared to talk to new people - don't use a tiffin! I can't tell you how many people came up to me at the local community college asking me "what in the world is THAT thing?". Most people thought it was some type of coffee/tea holder. When I told them, many people gave me the face of, "OK, weird green-girl" but a few seemed genuinely interested when I told them how it totally elimates the need for plastic. Got to start somewhere, right?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Homemade...Potato, Broccoli, Cheddar Soup

As mentioned in this previous post I recently made a delicious potato broccoli soup. I completely made this one up as per my usual, but this time had the foresight to actually write down what I was adding to the mix! Below is a picture of the finished product. The recipe follows.

Potato, Broccoli, & Cheddar Soup
  • 1-2 T. olive oil
  • 2 c. yellow onions
  • 1 c. red onions, both types chopped somewhere between fine & rough
  • 2 & 1/2 lbs. potatoes, 1/2 of them peeled, all cut into 1/2" chuncks
  • 3 c. water
  • 1 extra large vegetable boullion cube (I used Knorr)
  • 1 pound broccoli, chopped into 1" pieces
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 - 15 oz. can of cream style corn (non-cream style would be fine, too - but cream style tasted better - I know b/c I made it a second time w/ the non-creamy)
  • 1 - 12 oz. can of evaporated milk (I used "light" - or 2% fat)
  • 1 c. shredded cheddar
  • salt & pepper to taste
I just added everything into the large pot in the order listed above. I kept the burner between a 6&7 on a scale of 1-10. I let the first 5 ingredients cook for about 10-15 minutes with the lid on before I added the broccoli, then let that cook for about 5 minutes with the lid on before I added the remainder of the ingredients. I then let everything cook for another 10-15 minutes for the flavors to blend. Do stir every few minutes so the bottom doesn't burn. This was really good and very comforting on a cold night. Would be great with some hearty bread and a few bacon crumbles atop the soup, but we've gone vegetarian for at least the first two months of the year so the bacon was out for us. I almost added about 1/2 a beer for some extra flavor but decided against it in the last minute. The picture doesn't do the soup (stew?) justice. It made a large amount - about 14 cups. Six of us ate and there was enough for 2 servings the next day. Buon appetito! (Not that potato soup is traditionally Italian - we just have a slight Italy fetish!) -Carrie

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Spiritual Lesson from a Mother Hen

There's something very sublime, spiritual almost, about connecting with life around us. If we listen carefully, we learn lessons coming from the most unlikely of places. Landscape Architect and Environmentalist Grant Jones says that studies tell us all the time what common sense used. He believes we can cut to the chase by just listening to nature and observing. The other day I posted a little STORY of moving the chicks into the house to avoid an arctic blast which came through our area. The other side of the story is enlightening and I want to share it with you.

Carrie managed to move the chicks and the mother back to their home outside and when released back into their coop, the momma (Hopper), first out, did a little dance for joy followed by a the scratch, scratch, shuffle, peck that chickens do. Hopper called for her chicks who came out with equal elation to their old quarters. They were happy to be home.

These birds will never know what we did for them. They will never know that we possibly saved their little lives. All they know is that we put them in a tiny container and took away their Hilton of a coop. All they remember is a temporary period of cramped quarters in less than ideal circumstances.

Sometimes we ask God, "Why me?" when we hit a rough spot in our lives. We go kicking and screaming the whole way through phases of our less than ideal circumstances. To me, the story of Hopper and her chicks reaffirms the truth that I first discovered as a private in the Army. I believe in a god who I trust above me to be in charge of the circumstances of my life. I believe he is looking after me and that I'm being cared for even when I'm not always comfortable in my situation. I can take peace and solace in that and thank Hopper for reminding me of that lesson. -Jason

Monday, January 17, 2011

Winter Garden Pics

Just wanted to show you all a quick picture of our winter greens from under the floating row cover I erected (details of that here).

As you may remember, the picture below comes from that post:

See floating row cover post for specifics on what is planted here

And from this past Friday, even with temperatures in the low 20s, you can see everything is growing with flying colors:

You can be sure I'll be expanding my use of these row covers next year. I hardly have to water at all - the condensation generated from the heat inside the cover is enough to keep everything sufficiently watered. It is actually pretty amazing to see water streaming down the insides of the cover when it is 25 degrees outside. I love it! -Carrie

[Note: My brother over at .09 Acres actually just blogged yesterday about his forays into making row covers.  Check out his post here.]

Friday, January 14, 2011

Building a Chicken Coop- Lifestyles of the Rich and Feathered

Keenly aware of the pending arrival of our new chickens (though at the time we didn't know what kinds, how many, or where they were coming from), Jason spent 3 full days after New Years building a larger coop. Our original "Clampett Coop" ended up costing only $6 because everything was salvaged. The new one, however, came closer to $200 because we had to buy some materials as we didn't have time to scour the parkways for discarded items. The Clampett Coop is about 40 sq feet. The new coop is approximately 4'x10' and therefore about 80 square feet on two levels. We briefly toyed with the idea of taking the original down, but realized it's the perfect place to house a sick or injured chicken or raise some baby chicks, so we decided to keep it. Between the two coops we cordoned off the area and they now have a 10'x20' run. So far I don't think there is much we would change. Complete with electric & plumbing, it's a verifiable chicken palace! Painting and, dare I say, a bit of trim work will commence within the next two to three months.

Because I took so many pictures I'm going to mainly do a "silent" pictorial. If you have any questions feel free to ask! -Carrie

Upper right area has been covered with plywood but has chicken wire underneath.
The plywood is to protect the birds from the cold. It will come off when temps rise.

Storage area for feed, etc.

Removable trays below roosting area.

Ladder leading up to either roosting area or nesting boxes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Finally Joined the Co-op!

On January 1, we finally bit the bullet and joined our local organic "Farmstore in the City" Urban Acres. We signed up for a full share (= 35 pounds) of organic produce and veggies for pick up once every two weeks. The cost is $50 per pickup, which means each pound of food is about $1.43. I'm not used to paying that much for most fruits or vegetables, but everything is organic, and we're trying to head in that direction. Another big plus for us is that, especially during warmer months, they try to have 75-90% of the produce come from Texas.

We picked up our first share on Saturday (below), and needless to say I was pretty excited. I have been given some of their produce by a friend over the past few months and I've been very impressed by the shelf life of everything. The thing that sticks out in my mind the most is that we got a bunch of cilantro that ended up lasting just over 2 weeks, whereas it usually only lasts two days when purchased from the regular grocery store. And by lasting I don't mean barely hanging on, I mean still fresh & beautiful after two weeks. Amazing! That alone made me a convert. We just weren't able financially to sign up until now. However, we've committed to giving this a go and I don't think I'm going to be disappointed.

Our share this week includes (in a pseudo-clockwise fashion starting from the top left):
  • red leaf lettuce
  • kale
  • arugula
  • bananas
  • turnips
  • red beets & greens
  • oranges
  • Pink Lady & Gala apples
  • onions
  • carrots
  • broccoli (Tons of it! That pile is almost 1 foot tall!)
  • sweet potatoes
  • red new potatoes
  • grapefruit
  • slicing tomatoes
  • grape tomatoes
We've already eaten some of the fruit and I made large salads for Jason & me on Saturday. Sunday was an awesome potato/broccoli/onion/cheddar soup. Will post that recipe soon. Have any of you ever joined a co-op/CSA? Any pros &/or cons we should be aware of? Thanks! -Carrie

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Moving Chickens- A Tale from Tuscany

It was a very strange afternoon. Come to think of it, the morning was strange too. We we woke this morning and came out from under momma, there was this layer of cold powdery white stuff all over the ground. The night before it rained and rained and rained and then the water in the waterer turned solid! How bizzare. We haven't seen the sun for almost two days now...

"Hey Portici?"

"Yes Tuscany?"

"Why is Farmer Jason looking at us like that... and what does arctic cold front mean?" I said.

"I think that's a dish they make with chicken beaks," said Portici in a ghostly whisper, "and why is he walking at us carrying that box?"

"That's strange. You stay here and tell me later. I'm going under mom where it's safe!" I said in a hurried voice.

"He's not getting my beak!" Portici cried!

My sister and I quickly scampered under momma to find cover with the rest of my brothers and sisters. There sat Catania, Ravenna, Salerno, Casoria, and Savona playing chicken twister. In the past couple of days, I've noticed that Momma seems to be shrinking. There's just not as much space under her as there used to be.

Just then the door to our coop opened and like a flash of lighting momma let loose on Farmer Jason! She flapped her wings and squaked at him really hard. Like a good momma she led him outside and away from us. We took cover immediately. Feathers flew and while I know she did her best, Farmer Jason took her away.

But enough about her... The seven of us had our own problems. Evidently this arctic front stew required all of our beaks. Farmer Carrie took over where Jason left off. She tried and tried to round us up, but we were too fast for her. She'd swoop down and grab thin air where a chick used to be.

"Look out Salerno!" I chirped while taking a new position in the far corner. Catania and Savona were under the box trying not to make a sound. After two minutes of this little game, we chicks were winning 7 to 0! All we had to do was keep this up for the rest of our lives.

NOT. Evidently chick catching is a tag team sport, because as soon as Farmer Jason came back outside, he took over and we found out just how fast one of these farmers can move. I mean, HE WAS FAST. I was looking right at Ravenna when she just disappeared. It was like rapture happened! Then Catania, Savona, Casoria, and Salerno. Portici ran and hopped around the coop, ducking and diving to get away from Jason. She did such a good job that she led him straight to me!

In the end, it didn't matter. We all ended up in the box and in a matter of seconds into the farmer's house... where Momma was waiting for us in a big blue bin! It was nice and warm in there and his house smelled of something delicious. Momma was excited to see us and hugged and inspected each of us when we were dropped into that box. I still don't know why we're in here, but it sure is warm. - Tuscany

Bantam Eggs!

Just wanted to let you see the difference in size between the bantam and standard eggs. The picture below includes the first two eggs we received from our new bantam hens (their acquisition detailed here).

On the left we have a brown egg from our Black Sex-Link hen. It weighs about 3 ounces. The slightly cream colored one in the middle weighed in around 1.75 ounces, while the white one on the right weighed 1.25 ounces. They look so tiny compared to what we are used to. However, we've been very disappointed with the laying (more like lack thereof since September for one, October for the other) of our two other standard hens (a Brown Leghorn & Barred Rock). I'm more than happy to have existent smaller eggs than nonexistent bigger eggs! -Carrie

Monday, January 10, 2011

And Then There Were 16......

Now that the cat's been let out of the bag (here), I want to introduce to you our 13 (!!!) new chickens! We originally planned on purchasing 8 or so standard sized pullets from a list of about 5 breeds. However, for a variety of reasons, we responded to a craigslist ad and ended up sort of last minute driving out to a farm about 45 minutes SE of Dallas. Before we knew it we had 13 part-bantam mixes tucked in various boxes and cages in the back of the minivan. The kids were ecstatic and we all had a great time traipsing around the barn trying to catch our new-to-us hens & chicks.

So here's a rundown of the new members of our flock:

The one on the left and the one on the right are supposed to be about 9 months to a year old. The one in the middle is probably more like 5 or 6 months. We were ecstatic to find two eggs from these ladies only 36 hours after arriving at our home. I'm assuming they're from the two older ones.
Updated picture from 2/20/11 - My how they've grown!
The previous owner swears these two came from the same clutch but the more orange-colored one is almost twice as big as the whiter one (maybe the runt?). They are both young, though, maybe 5-6 weeks? I'm worried a bit about them because they don't have what I would consider a full set of feathers yet. We will bring them in for the next few weeks when the weather gets below freezing. Looks like they have some Serama in them.

And finally, our mama with seven babies. She's a great mother and it's fun to watch her interaction with the chicks. She looks almost exactly like our Brown Leghorn (except for her comb/wattles), but doing some research it appears she may be an Old English Game bantam. The previous owner says she is 1/2 bantam and 1/2 standard. The babies were about 1 week when we got them 5 days ago. They are the cutest little balls of fluff. I swear they have almost doubled in size since we got them. It's amazing. Most certainly we'll end up having a few roosters from this bunch that we won't be able to keep, but I've already found a real home for one of them when the time comes.

Total cost for our haul? A mere $45. The owners were just overrun with poultry and wanted to reduce the size of their flock. And seriously - the kids had such a great time it would still have been worth it if we hadn't left with a single chicken. When we arrived at the farm our two older kids hopped out of the car and about gave me a heart attack with their screams. You see, we ended up going at night because that was the only time the owners' and our schedules could align. Apparently (and very sadly) our kids have never been in the country and seen the dazzling display of stars when there is no light pollution. They were literally jumping up and down at how many stars were in the sky. We clearly need to go camping more often! Hopefully only a few more years and we'll be able to purchase a few acres in the country and they'll be able to stare at the night sky to their hearts content. For now we'll have to settle for the Dallas skyline. Obvious our original coop is not big enough to hold 16 birds, so look for a post in the new few days detailing Jason's awesome coop-making abilities! -Carrie

Saturday, January 8, 2011

$9.96 for a Head of Lettuce?!?!?!?

On Wednesday morning I was perusing the local grocery store fliers when I came across something that made my head spin. I was incensed! Not only have I never used that word in a sentence before, I don't think I've barely even felt that emotion up until 3 days ago! What has happened to us as a culture?

It appears that Tom Thumb (a Safeway brand) has decided to help the American consumer who has no time, no sink, and no ability to pull apart their lettuce by (gladly) offering 6 ounce Romaine, Green Leaf, or Red Leaf lettuce "Singles". Neatly packaged in a plastic bin with a beautiful farm scene on the label (they couldn't get any further from farm fresh if they were trying), they've "Triple Washed" the single leaves to make your lettuce-eating-experience even more pleasant. The cost for all of this convenience? What amounts to $8.32 per head of lettuce when on sale, and $9.96 per head when not on sale. PEOPLE ACTUALLY PURCHASE THIS! A typical head of Romaine at Tom Thumb costs $1.99 when not on sale and weights about 20 ounces. Instead of taking one minute to wash and pull apart a head of lettuce at one's home, people are willing to spend as much as $7 dollars more for not having to deal with a few specks of dirt. Plus, in order to equal the amount of lettuce in a usual head, you'd have to buy 3 & 1/2 of these packs (so more plastic wasted).

Here's my offer to those in the North Oak Cliff area and please tell all of your friends: I will pull apart your lettuce leaves, wash them, and will only charge $5 per head - an amazing savings of $2.00! -Carrie

Brief Chicken Preview....

Here's a quick video of a mere 8/13ths of the new chickens we just acquired! Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

No, It's Not a Bomb!

While it may appear in the picture below that our backyard was hit by a small missile, this indeed is not the case.  Upon further inspection note an abundance of wood on the ground, an orange tape measure, and some nails on the table.  I think I even see the bottom of a structure in the top middle of the photo!  What could this be?  Can't bare the thought of continuing your day without knowing?  Sorry, you're out of luck!  Check back in a few days for the big reveal! -Carrie

(PS - If you don't want a hint, don't look at the post label!)