Archive | March 2012

160 degrees

The temperature of the pile.

160 degrees.  That is how hot a pile of wood chips can get in just two days.  160 degrees, it just blows my mind.  It takes a lot of energy to get to 160 degrees.  At first I was mad, that mulch was 160 degrees and I was sitting next to a fire place, wrapped in a snuggie, drinking hot tea, freezing!  How can I get that heat in this house?  Can I put a sleeping bag in the mulch pile?  I was cold!  With both Ry and my personality we could not just allow that pile to be 160 degrees and not do anything with it.  A major brainstorming session started.  We came up with a lot of ideas about how to use that energy to heat the house, the future green house, the hot tub and the chicken coop.  Most of the ideas involved supplies that we just did not have on hand.  So we decided to move the mulch pile to the chicken coop and hope that it would radiate enough heat, or at least insulate the coop, to keep the chickens warm.

Ry was able to move about 30% of a mulch pile off the parking pad behind the house to the chicken coop.  A wonderful friend let us barrow his wheelbarrow, which was bigger then the one we have that we found on the side of the road.  Did you know a new wheelbarrow is $215? Crazy, I can do so many things with $215. I hope we can pick up a good used one for a lot less.  Anyway back to the mulch, Ry used the mulch to surround the base of the chicken coop, up about 3 feet high.   Who knows how much good it is going to do, but when you have 5 dump trucks of wood chips, why not try it and see what happens. I will let you know if the wood chips heat up again and if it keeps the water from freezing.

While Ry was working with his wheelbarrow, I was inside starting seeds.  I started Thyme and some red onions two weeks ago.  They have spouted and are doing great.  This weekend I started Parsley, Celery and Leeks.  I put them inside my shower curtain enclosed table. Under two, four foot florescent lights, which I also got off the side of the road by the way! The lights are hung about 4-5 inches above the soil level. I am using Jiffy Starter Kits, which have a plastic cover on them to help keep heat in. The Jiffy Kits come with 72 pellets of peat moss seed starting mix.  The cheap part of me does not like pellets because of their cost, but these pellets are wrapped in a mesh. I am hoping that I can plant the mesh covered pellets in the aquaponics system when it is up and running. (More about aquaponics later, I promise). So far I can’t complain the pellets are working great and the seeds are spouting.  All and all I think we had a productive weekend.


Better food, better eggs

Chicken feed is not a huge expense, we have a very small flock and we get a bag of feed for $12-$15.  The bag lasts us about 2 months. The chickens give us 10 dozen eggs a month. $15 is a small price to pay for that many eggs.  Now that it has gotten colder we have noticed that the chickens eat almost twice as much as they did during the summer. Now we go through a bag of feed every month, still not horribly expensive, but we are how heating the water when the temperature drops below freezing.  We provide extra light in their coop in the evening so they continue to lay eggs through the winter and on really cold nights we turn on a heat light.  The costs are starting to add up.  It is still not horrible but in a time when every penny counts, it is a noticeable increase in expenses.

I started thinking about ways to feed the chickens for free.  I called a couple breweries in the area to see if I could get free used brewers grains.  All the breweries already give their grains to farms, which I was excited to hear but sad that I was not able to get any.  Back to the drawing board.

I remember seeing a sign in the Organic market that I go to for gluten free specialty products that they have free compost.  The store is not too far away and we are in the area about once a week anyway for other reasons.  Right before Christmas I started asking the store for compost and I have not been disappointed. The first time we went we got a box of greens and a box of apples.  The second time we got 3 boxes of greens with some fruit mixed in.  The third time we got 4 boxes of greens and fruit.  It is like we hit the mother load.

This has decreased the amount of feed that they eat.  We are on track to having a bag of feed last 2 months, maybe even a little longer.  We have noticed a difference in the eggs as well.  During the summer, when the chickens were able to roam the yard, the yokes of the eggs almost had a dark orange color to them.  Then when the chickens had to be kept in a fenced pen and eat only chicken feed, the yokes went back to being just yellow again.  Now that we are able to feed them fresh greens everyday the yokes have that nice color again. The darker yokes are higher in Omega 3’s and good cholesterol, so we get better food when the chickens get better food.

A bonus about the greens is the dogs love them too.  They dogs really enjoy chewing on heads of cauliflower and broccoli. One dog even likes cabbage leaves.  The dogs get extra treats and feel special and we get to spoil everyone all the way around.

All you have to do is Ask!

With all the projects that we have going in the backyard we needed tons of mulch.  The mulch is going to be used for creating paths through the winter mud, filling in raised beds, mulching the playground, mulching the chicken yard and as the base for two new garden beds we are creating this year.  My plan was to get free mulch from the County dump.  The people there are wonderful and what could be better than free.  The only down side is that it was 30 minutes away and involved $6 in tolls.  Ry and I even enjoy loading the mulch ourselves, who needs a gym!  It was very rewarding.  In order to keep up with our high mulch demands the kids and I are suppose to being getting two truck loads a week.  Last week, 1/6/12, I woke up with a dislocated shoulder.  My plans for mulch loading have been put to an end. It was frustrating but Ry and I knew that God would come through and if the garden plans were His will for us He would provide.

I am happy to say that He has provided!! A tree company was doing work in our neighborhood trimming the trees above and around the power lines.  Ry asked them if they could dump the fresh wood chips in our yard, they happily agreed.  The company was having to pay $30 a load to take them chips to the dump and would be more then happy to dump them in our backyard instead.  Wahoo, just like that we have two dump trucks full of wood chips/mulch in the backyard.  Ry and I feel like we have hit the lottery.  We are so blessed and thankful for this gift of mulch.

Seed testing

I know Christmas just finished but I have spring on my mind.  I am so excited to get the garden growing this year.  We had quit a few packets of seeds from 2010 that I wanted to check and see if they were any good.  I hate to just throw them away when I can turn them into food.  I put about ten of each type of seed on a wet paper towel in a ziplock bag.  Each bag is labeled and I set them on the table inside the “growhouse” Ryan just built for me.  The “growhouse” is a small part of the basement that we sectioned off with shower curtains.  Inside the shower curtains we put two tables that make up a space that is 6 foot by 4 foot.  We suspended two 4 foot fluorescent light fixtures above the tables and a heat lamp.

This “growhouse” is also where I plan to start my seeds in a couple of weeks.  I don’t know how I already feel behind, I guess the warm weather is tricking me into thinking that spring is coming soon.  I will let you know how my seed testings turns out.


Update: 1/10/12- So the seeds that I tested turned out to be no good.  One two seeds sprouted out of all the seeds that I put in bags.  I am glad that I decided to test the seeds before planting them.  This is heart breaking but not as heart breaking as planting them and having nothing come up.

The yogurt cups that you see in the picture have onion seeds in them.  Three of them have just started to sprout.  I am so glad I am starting early.  I would rather have big onions then no onions at all.

Seed testing in the new temporary grow area.  

Apples, apples everywhere

Well we are learning some lessons the hard way!  We bought 2 bushels of apples from a local farmer the first week of November.  I talked to them about how to store them for the winter and made sure I bought apples that were good for wintering.  I stored them just as the orchard suggested.  I was so proud of myself and so excited to be enjoying local apples all winter long.  Well Mother Nature threw me a curve ball.  The temperatures for November and the beginning of December have been so mild that all my apples have started to go bad.  Apple sauce anyone?  I have been canning apple sauce, drying apple rings and baking.  These are all wonderful things, but not the fresh, crisp apples that I was looking forward to in February.

This weekend I was able to start a hot composting pile.  The pile was started on Saturday and the temp in the pile is already

December is a time of year when money is tight for everyone and our family is not different.  We are running low on money as well as chicken feed.  I am hoping to find a local brewery that has some brewer grains that they would like me to take off their hands.  I have made a few phone calls today with no luck, but I still have hope.

Winter planning

Yesterday it was 58 degrees here in Baltimore.  I could feel my body aching for time in the dirt.  This kids and I spent a couple hours outside playing with the chickens and tending to the very confused garlic plants.  I planted the garlic around Halloween and they are growing really well.  We have had such a mild fall that I am worried that they are going to die when it gets really cold outside, they have already grown about 4 inches.  I mulched them and covered them with straw, but I might have to add more straw if snow comes.

We have been collecting supplies for the green house, the grow beds and new raised beds. There is going to be another round of lay offs at my husbands job so we are holding off building anything until we find out if he still has a job.  So far we have collected at least half the recycled windows for the green house and we have an arrangement with a local window replacement company to be able to go back anytime for the rest.

In order to satisfy my dirt craving we are going to build a cold frame this weekend using some recycle lumber and the windshield of my old jeep wrangler.  I am going to plant some lettuce, collard greens and cabbage.  I am looking forward to watching things grow.


The chicken coop has been insulated for the winter, even though they have not needed it very much.  We have had only about 10 nights below freezing.  The only difference that we have noticed in the chickens with the slightly cooler weather is they are eating about twice as much as they did in the summer.  To help keep the feed cost down I try to let them run around for at least an hour a day in the backyard.  They really enjoy the worms, salamanders and slugs that they find.  We have also started sorting our compost into two bins.  One bin is the tissues, potato peelings, onions and coffee grounds that the chickens can not have.  The other bin is everything else.  The chickens are getting all the other table scraps, which they think is just a wonderful idea.

For extra compost I have been getting scraps from a market in a near by town.  I have also been collecting leaves from friends who I know do not have dogs.  We are in need of as much dirt as possible, especially with 6 new raised beds going in this year.  During my last trip to see some friends in Virgina I came home with a cooler of beef and a rubber maid tote of cow manure. There is some hot composting in our future.

What do you do in your garden during the winter?


The height of peach season has begun.  The farmers market had 1/2 bushel of peaches for $12.  The sweet taste of peaches in the dead of winters is one of my favorite things.  It is like canning a ray of sunshine.  This is the second year that I have canned peaches as an adult.  I used to can with my mother when I was younger, but I think the only job I had then was to eat as much as I could before she put it in the jar.  So as an adult with the Ball Canning Guide by my side I learned how to can peaches, I still eat some as I go, I can’t help myself.

OK back to my 1/2 bushel.  Some of the peaches were bruised and not too good for canning as just peaches so I made them into jam.  For the first time I used something called No Sugar needed pectin.  I was nervous.  When I made jam with my mom sugar was a major ingredient.  However the No Sugar pectin worked great.  I just followed the directions on the bottle, it was easy and I got great jam out of it.

The second thing that I did with my peaches was just can sliced peaches. I washed and blanched them to removed the skins, then I just sliced them into quarters.  I made a simple lite syrup using very little sugar.  I raw packed my jars, meaning I did not cook the peaches, and I poured my lite syrup on top.

The last thing I made was peach “juice”. At the suggestion of a friend, I took all the skins and pits and boiled them for about 45 minutes.  The idea was to make peach jelly.  Ryan decided that he would rather have “juice”. Using a kitchen towel I drained the liquid off, put it in jars and canned it for 15 minutes in my canner.  It will be great peach tea or juice in the winter.

So my 1/2 bushel became 12 half pints of jam, 8 quarts of peaches and 5 pints of juice.  All in all it was a very productive evening and I think I got my $12 worth out of those peaches.