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backyard chickens

Homesteading update: eggs

Let me catch you up on the chickens.

In short, they’ve grown up. Sometime in July, Goldie layed her first egg. She graced it upon our neighbor who was chicken-tending during our victorious summer of camping.

I’ve never experienced the chicken coming-of-age transition before, and let me tell you it is A Thing. In the days before The First Egg, the girls were small, skitterish, made little peeps and clucks, and made staying out of our way their main business. Here is what our neighbor relayed to me about The Day of The First Egg. Before she’d  even discovered it, she knew something was going on. The ladies were strutting and squawking like narcissistic high school seniors at prom.

Bless our neighbor for recounting this by shuffling around our front yard with her elbows angled just so, her neck bobbing out and in, and for saving the first few eggs for us to see. She intuited that this was also a very big moment for me. It was.

I crooned over them. They were so perfect and small. Little starter versions of real, live eggs.

First Eggs

And they were delicious. It was a miracle to see them sputtering to white in the cast iron skillet I inherited from my grandmother.

Over time, the eggs have gotten bigger, and now they’re your standard medium/large that you get at the supermarket. Except for the fact that they’re a sepia rainbow. And Mavis’ are always this amazing blue-green color and more oblong than the rest.

We’ve also gotten a few whoppers. Like one from this morning that we cracked open to find 2 yolks inside.

BigEgg
When I first layed eyes on it, I audibly winced. I hope she did some deep breathing when that one was coming out.

Now, our gals are routine and established layers. We usually get 3-5 eggs per day. The bounty is amazing.

And of course I have slipped into the mundane routine of it all, but I still get shocked into awe by the cycle we’re part of. We throw our cast off cheerios and weeds and apple cores and rotting pumpkins into the run (in addition to their pellets and scratch), and in exchange, these birds make us food and fertilizer. Every effing day. That daily wheel of give and take brings me back to the human animal I am. And even though I can be found hemming and hawing in bed about having to go outside to let the chickens out, I can also be found whispering “thanks gals” into the nest box in the afternoon.

Really. Thanks gals. You’re doing a bang up job.

Homesteading update: the chickens have landed

I spent Sunday afternoon somewhere between extremely tired and blissed out. That feeling when something you’ve worked really hard for and toiled over is suddenly, actually here.

Chickens.

In case you weren’t aware, I’ve wanted chickens for a really long time. Remember, way back when I had those chicken and kale dreams? Well, it turns out that the kale was easier to realize than the chickens for a number of reasons. Among them, radical rent increases, pregnancy, buying a duplex, moving and becoming a family of 4.

But we stayed the course, and were regularly reminded of that way-back dream every time we had to haul this coop around over the last 2 years.

#frontyardchickens

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I’m pretty obsessed with these ladies. We chose 4 very docile breeds that are known for being good layers. From head placement in the photo from left to right, there’s the Black Sex-Link who Jo has already named Rosie, the Black Australorp who is still unnamed (suggestions?!), the brown and black mottled lady is an Easter Egger who I’ve already taken a particular liking to and named Mavis. And that big golden gal is a Buff Orpington, also, as yet, unnamed. So feel free to put some names in the hopper.

I chose to get pullets (teenager chickens) rather than baby chicks because I’ve had enough baby action around here, and it’s just less time and labor and material intensive. Pullets have their adult feathers and can sleep outside and eat out of all the adult gear, so no need for heating lamps or special feeders that you only use for a handful of weeks. We chose to buy our chickens from Dare 2 Dream Farms, a sweet and savvy outfit nestled near the coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Their website is a complete dream come true–organized, beautiful and delivering exactly the information you need instead of overwhelming you with 300 coop designs or a forum 6 miles long about how to keep pests from eating your layers. We got their coop-ready package which thrilled the pants off me, because it meant I didn’t have to strap the boys in and hunt around for feeders and food and wonder if the person at the farm supply store was giving the city girl a line.

dare2dream

It probably sounds like they gave me my chickens for free so I’d write all these nice things about them, but no. I’m just a shameless promoter of things that I find helpful. And they were radically helpful from the breath of fresh air website to Jeremy (Dare 2 Dream farmer and co-founder) hanging out in our yard while the girls pecked around their new home. He checked out our coop, gave us tips on how to not freak the ladies out in their first few days with us, and we yakked like old neighbors about farming and New Zealand, as you do.

And then I just spent the rest of the afternoon sort of dopey and in love, staring fuzzy-eyed into the distance and listening to their sweet little croons.

I finally got my chickens.

**long, slow, satisfied sigh**

Homesteading update: the status of my chicken and kale dreams

I’ve been craving more space for our little family. Daydreaming of 3 bedroom apartments with chickens in the backyard and a garage for our bikes. And then the universe promptly declared, “Put your money where  your mouth is, lady!” in the form of an unexpected and radical rent increase at our little cottage.

After recovering from my initial shock and terror, I realized that this was just the kick in the pants I needed to get moving. Nothing like the prospect of paying $700 more per month to motivate a hunt for new housing. So we’ve had to put the backyard chicken plan on hold for the time being. That is not to say that our coop isn’t getting plenty of use.

JoToddlerCoop

Please note the cool combo ladder/door that my naked child is playing with. I came up with the design and A hammered it out–this way, we don’t have to put out and then take away a separate ladder every time we open and close the door. What efficiency! That is, won’t that be efficient once we actually get chickens?

JoToddCoop

While our chicken aspirations are on hold, my kale dreams are coming true.

Perhaps I’ll go make myself a kale salad and go obsess over housing ads on Craigslist…

I have a crush on a blog: 6512 and growing

You know when you spot someone across a room and just desperately want to be their friend?

I feel that way about the blog 6512 and growing and the gal behind it. Everyone, meet Rachel. She lives in my hometown. I’ve known of her for quite some time, in that way that you know of most everyone in the small town where you’re raised. I watched over the years as she and her partner transformed a very “normal” looking house in our neighborhood into what most “upstanding” members of our community would call a hippie commune. With every top-heavy sunflower that sprang up in the front yard, I silently cheered. As if that wasn’t reason enough to be friends forever, she is a sensational writer, has refreshing things to say about parenting and relationships, can teach you an easy way to make yogurt, and writes magazine articles about fermentation that read like sonnets, driving J to such distraction that he forgets to eat breakfast. (You can read it too, flip to page 30 here.)

I took this picture with the hopes that Rachel’s kids will see it and decide they want to be friends with us, since J has the same taste in local food quarterlies as they do.

Here’s hoping.

My version of Fight Club

I took a suggestion from Garrison Keillor this morning in honor of April Fool’s Day. Wrapped a thick blue rubber band three times around the sink sprayer handle and aimed it straight at the space where A’s body would stand while innocently turning on the tap. Not 2 minutes later, I tried to rinse off a baking tray and instead, the sprayer nailed me square in the face. Welcome, April. I needed that.

For most of March, I had to lean hard into the days like a toddler pushing a bike uphill. Not a lot of momentum over here. With the energetic crater of February came my seasonal depression that settles in until warmer weather airs things out a bit. Add to that the rearing up of my rabid inner critic and J contracting a case of hand, foot and mouth disease during a week-long rain storm…well, lets just say my mood has been flat.

Mr. Hand Foot and Mouth himself

As though the outside world has no understanding of my inner turmoil, things are really perking up. Those little vagabond plants that snuck in with our strawberries are freesias! And their succulent, yellow blooms swelled up and popped, so that corner of our backyard smells like a dream. And my ode to a driveway garden and backyard chickens was not in vain! We are now the proud owners of 2 redwood planter boxes I found on Craigslist and a chicken coop I scored after posting a coop-wanted ad on Freecycle. We picked up the coop yesterday—turns out it was sitting vacant in a backyard only 4 blocks away, and it just took a little internet miracle to connect us.

Oh, the things you can move with a Honda Accord...

As A and I slogged through the rain, pushing the mucky coop end over end, I thought, “This is like my version of Fight Club.” I haven’t seen the movie forever, but I connected with that need to be shocked into aliveness, to deeply feel and experience something beyond sitting in artificially heated and cooled rooms and eating Trader Joe’s bagged dinners. So instead of having the crap beat out of me by Brad Pitt, I’m going the chicken coop route. The combination of mud and wet working skin and purpose reminded me that I’m a creature. An animal with working muscles and bones. Alas, there IS more to life than the internet and man-made playground facilities and vacuuming and the internet. There’s the springtime blooming and rain. The pile of soaked clothes kicked off at the back door. And the promise of little green shoots pushing through and a dark corner for laying eggs.

Starting somewhere

You have to start somewhere.

That’s the line that’s on repeat in my head today. I’ve been reading The Mists of Avalon for the last couple of months. In case you haven’t heard of it, it’s a cult classic re-telling of the Arthurian Legend from the perspective of the women. I just finished the last page (p. 892!!) yesterday and still feel under a spell that only a pagan, goddess, earth-based, woman-power-festival book can cast.

Reading it has stirred the longing I’ve had, since I moved away from the small, arid town of my youth, to have the dirt and sky and seasons figure prominently in my everyday life. Instead of smelling the rain coming, I sit here and type and scan websites as though the internet will save me. My tangible connection to the natural rhythms of life consists of two things lately: hanging the laundry out on the line that we strung across a tree and our back door and digging bare hands into my daily kale salad to work the oil and lemon juice and salt into the leaves. And sometimes it’s raining, so I put the laundry in the dryer. And there are days when I’m sick of kale. On those days, my ribs hurt from sitting at the computer for too long, and I try to remember to look up at the sky when I’m sitting at the park with J.

It’s not enough.

During this recent Mists of Avalon bender, I’ve been noticing the cycles of the moon again. And remembering this experiment my mom and I did in our garden, where we planted half of our plot by the moon and the other half a few days before that, just to see if the whole farmer’s almanac, by-the-moon thing had any merit. Our by-the-moon potatoes and green beans were head and shoulders above the others–I still remember the site of that lop-sided garden. One half bushing out on mysterious lunar steroids. If the moon has that kind of influence, what power is it exerting over me every wax and wane? And why does my life have so little to do with that?

So I’ve been criticizing our life here, and how I unknowingly traded the slow satisfaction of life in the San Juan mountains for the hip here-and-nowness of living in a thriving urban community. I’m stifled by the high density of people and concrete and traffic here. For better or for worse, I was raised in the high mountain desert of Colorado. I grew up roaming on our 5 acres which was surrounded by dozens upon dozens of open, roam-able sage brush acres. Solitude and open and the sounds and smells of dirt and bugs and life were freely given every day. There was no seeking required. And now I live in our little cottage that I love. And I sit on our back deck and hear airplanes, traffic and cackling crows. The deck looks out over our back yard, for which we once had grand plans and has now become a storage receptacle for our family’s bicycle fetish (cruiser, road bike, tandem, cargo…!) and various J toys. Our front yard is a shared driveway. A very beautiful, recently re-poured driveway for which I am very grateful, because J loves to roll trucks and balls and ride bikes in it, and we have a nice table and chairs there where we enjoy warm evenings . But it’s a concrete driveway.

You have to start somewhere.

I have known, very clearly since our ill-fated trip to Boulder last year, that I want chickens in our back yard. And I’ve been putting it off, because in the back of my head, I think we might move (in the next year or two) since the 650 sqft that we occupy is, for the first time, starting to feel too small. So I want to live in our wee cottage for another year or two without my dream backyard chickens just because I might have to move them? Upon conscious thought, I’ve deemed that not a good enough reason. And my earthy, Mists of Avalon, pagan self needs chickens now. So, we’ve gotten approval from all of the neighbors and have an email in to our landlords for our final stamp of approval. Here’s our future chicken sanctuary:

Goddess willing, they’ll live just below my favorite walnut tree in existence.

I love to watch the drama of it leafing out in the spring, the crunch-crunch-crackle of the squirrel walnut harvest in July and August (which inspired this video), how in one or two days in November, it drops every single rattly leaf and is naked like this again. Locals have been telling me that the soil surrounding walnut trees is often difficult to grow in, and we’ve certainly found that true over the last 4 years. So replacing the stunted ferns and lilies  s l o wly  growing there with chickens seems like just the ticket.

The one edible thing that we have successfully grown in our walnut-ed, shady backyard are strawberries. And here are some rogue spring bloomers getting ready to pop on this lovely March day. I have no idea what this plant is, so if you do, let me know. I intentionally left them here instead of weeding them out in the fall and I’m so glad I did.

And last weekend, I snapped myself out of the internet hypnosis that always calls when J is napping, and instead I potted some plants and dragged them out to the driveway.

I’m rooting more succulents in the kitchen that will occupy another pot or two once they’ve got some nice trailing roots to show. I also want to build or salvage a long narrow gardening bed for our only sunny, vegetable garden-able spot that we’ve got–also in the driveway. I’d thought of this years ago, but A was worried about the exhaust from cars on the driveway, and so I shelved the idea.

You’ve got to start somewhere. And if that’s eating exhaust-y vegetables from a concrete driveway garden that is planted by the moon, so be it.