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It happened! We have our baby chicks. It took a lot of planning and preparation, but our six baby egg suppliers are growing and chirping in the spare room of the Food It Yourself house.

 

 

Finding a way to exclude D0ttMatrix (the Food It Yourself cat) from the spare room was a major priority. Thankfully Mr. Food It Yourself and my father were able to design and create a door for the oddly-shaped doorway. I think it looks good.

 

Next, we needed a brood box. Chicks are small and move quickly. Also, they need to be kept warm. There are plenty of options available for purchase on the internet, but you know how we DIY things around here. Mr. Food It Yourself managed to find a large wooden packing crate bound for the dumpster at work. We lined it with craft paper, since very young chicks can get sick from eating loose bedding material. We will switch to pine shavings when they are a little older.

 

 

As you can see, the brood box is quite spacious. In the lower left corner are the food and water dispensers. In the upper right corner is the “false hen”. It is a special heater designed specifically for keeping baby fowl toasty, but not too toasty. (The feather skirt is optional, but awesome.) Again, there are plenty of options when it comes to heaters for a brood box. This is definitely not an item you want to DIY, however. SERIOUSLY, NEVER USE A HEAT-PRODUCING DEVICE FOR A PURPOSE OTHER THAN THE ONE FOR WHICH IS WAS DESIGNED. You could harm your brood. Or start a fire. Don’t be stupid. Spend a few bucks and get something safe.

 

Not shown in this picture is the box’s cardboard lid with attached lights. You need a lid to keep both the warmth and the chicks inside the box. We cut small “trap doors” for access and little vents for air circulation.

 

All this was set up before I left the house to collect the chicks from the farm co-op. I knew the little peeps would be stressed after the journey from the breeder to the co-op to our house, so I wanted them to have food, water, and heat available right away.

 

 

They ran right for the heat! Two made it under the “wings” before I could get the camera out.

 

 

Four of the chicks are a variety called Amerucana. They are a smaller breed that lays-wait for it- blue shelled eggs. Two are a larger breed called Brahma. As you can see none of them had any trouble at all finding the food and water.

 

 

Mr. Food It Yourself managed to get this baby Brahma to stand still long enough for me to get a picture of her legs. Look how adorably downy they are.

 

I am so excited to raise these birds. The inevitable challenge of getting them to co-habitate with out two remaining New Hampshire reds is at least two months away, but we will have to cross that bridge. In the mean time, we are enjoying the sweet chirps of our little peeps. I assure you there will be updates on them throughout the summer, so check back in with us, my fellow DIYeters!

 

What has springtime brought to your home and garden? Share in the comments section!

Get Ready to Spring into Action!

Finally, we had a weekend without snow, freezing rain, ice giant invasion, sleet, or fog in central New England. We had a little rain on Friday, but it was nearly 60 Fahrenheit. Most (not all) of the snow has melted off my raised beds and there is just the slightest scent of mud in the air. That means I had better formulate a solid plan for the 2019 Food It Yourself Garden.

For reference, here is the plan I drew up for the 2018 garden.

If you read this blog at any time last gardening season, you will remember that this is what actually happened:

Well, I am pretty sure we have solved the woodchuck problem. Here is my plan for 2019, at least for the raised beds. (Check out my serious computer graphic skilz!)

The orange dots represent the old fashioned, smelly marigolds I will plant strategically to repel the adorable rabbits. Also note the gorgeous trellises I am designing to support the luffa gourds.

There are a few wild cards I have to consider. I have two packets of “thank you” seeds from Baker Creek; I forgot a few items from my first order so I made a second order. I do not want to give up growing “regular” basil. I always grow regular basil with my tomatoes. So, I think I will try the cinnamon basil in the front yard. Also, I have had mixed luck with tomatoes from seed, so I might put those Purple Russians in pots and see if anything happens. The asparagus peas might share the luffa trellis, or might get their own climbing structure in the same bed as the string beans. I am still working that out.

The front yard herb garden, besides getting extra basil as noted above, will also get some camomile, mint, and lemon balm. (I plan to buy those as plants when my local nursery opens for the season.) I spend so much money on teas, I think I need to start adding home-grown tea herbs to my DIYet.

Finally, in case you were wondering how our indoor growing adventure is progressing-here is that aquaponic seedling I showed you a few weeks ago. We now believe this is tomato, not a pepper as we originally thought. The leaves have that tell-tale tomato smell. There is what appears to be a pepper seedling next to it but I could not get a good picture of the pepper. I will certainly keep you posted on how these plants progress.

What are your plans for the 2019 gardening season? Share in the comments!

It’s snowing once again in central Massachusetts. I am really hoping this will be our final Winter Weather Event of the season, but you just never know around here. The chilly, dreary weather does have me in the mood for baking, but I could not decide what to make. While passing through the bakery department at the grocery store yesterday I saw the customary collection of St. Patrick’s Day items- green cupcakes, green cookies, green muffins, and soda bread. Then I realized, to my own surprise, that I have never ever made soda bread. Today, I changed that.

The history of soda bread is truly fascinating, especially the origins of its strong connection to the people of Ireland. The Society for the Preservation of Irish Soda Bread has a well written history on their site. You should totally give it a read.

Because it is leavened with carbon dioxide bubbles from sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) coming into contact with an acid (lactic acid from buttermilk), soda bread cooks up quickly with no need for hours of yest-driven rise time. In deed, it is a “quick bread”. Which is good, because I need breakfast.

Three are so many recipes on the web for Irish Soda Bread, but I ultimately decided on this one, from Kelly Rossiter at Mother Nature Network. This super-simple version has no butter, eggs or sugar. Based on my research that makes it more “authentic.” That being said, you know my feelings on food culture. You make your food the way your household likes it. You are part of your food culture. Do not be afraid to evolve your culture’s food culture! Here is how it all went down:

Step one- preheat the oven. Step two- mix the flour, salt, and backing soda together. I added one cup of raisins as well, despite being forewarned that this would render my “soda bread” a “tea loaf”. I like raisins.

Who keeps buttermilk in the house these days? I certainly never have any. However, the internet is full of acceptable substitutions. You can add one tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice to one cup of regular milk and let it sit for a few minutes. You can also thin out three-fourths of a cup of plain yogurt with one quarter cup of milk or water. I used the yogurt method.

At this point, I had to pause my baking as the oven had not yet finished preheating. Baking soda bubbles do not last long, so you want to mix any quick bread dough or batter just before it goes into the oven.

Since I had a few minutes, I decided to look into the connection between living in Massachusetts and having Irish heritage. Most places in the USA get a little festive around St. Patrick’s Day, with music and green stuff and all. The Bay State seems to bring it to the next level though. According to Emerald Heritage and the U.S. Census Bureau, Boston, MA is the most Irish of large American cities. A fairly well cited Wikipedia page notes that many Massachusetts cities boast the highest percentage of Irish descendants in their class. I never knew that.

With the oven ready to go, I made a well in the flour mixture and added the thinned out yogurt. I stirred and kneaded the thick dough just enough to bring it all together and patted it into a nice round loaf.

Evidently, the cross hatch on the top of the bread is not just for aesthetics. The cuts help the inside of the loaf cook evenly. This is yet another thing I did not know until today.

Now that is a good looking loaf! It is tasty, as well. The raisins give just enough sweetness. I did not even butter the slices I ate.

I am glad I tried a DIY version of soda bread. I was very tempted by the loaves in the supermarket bakery, but those are always quite sweet and a little heavy. This bare-bones recipe is filling but light. What cultural specialties are part of your DIYet? Share in the comments section!

Winter has certainly settled in, and will not be going anywhere soon. The Food It Yourself garden is fast asleep. My raised beds are frozen solid. My pitch fork, shovels, and rakes are tucked behind the snow thrower. My kitchen table, however, is covered with seed and plant catalogs. Yes, this is that exciting time of year when I start dreaming about what the garden is going to be.

I will probably pass on carrots and peppers this year. They just do not seem to yield well for us. It might be that our soil is lacking something. If any of you gardening DIYeters have tips, pretty pretty please share in the comments!

We are definitely going to grow sweet corn again. I have finally found a few sources for the old New England favorite variety Butter and Sugar. I have to say one of my favorite parts of keeping chickens is the concurrent inexhaustible supply of high-nitrogen fertilizer. Corn loves nitrogen rich fertilizer.

We have not grown potatoes for a few years, but we will probably grow those, also as I recently found a few pounds in the back of the pantry that have healthy sprouts on them. Reducing food waste is always a good idea, right?

I am pondering the possibilities of a few new crops, also. I really want to try to grow loofah gourds. Evidently you can eat them when they are small, or let them dry on the vine into a natural scrubbie. If I do grow them I will have to build some kind of support for the vines to climb on. Not a deal breaker, just something to consider.

I am also considering a purchase of some Carolina pine berry plants. Allegedly, they taste like pineapple. I have seen them in the catalogs for a few years now, but I do not know a single person who has grown them. I have some room in my strawberry bed, after all. And yes, I know the picture is of raspberries. I’m keeping my wild raspberry canes. Raspberries are yummy.

Every January I get this sense of emptiness because I am not growing anything. Perhaps other gardeners do, too? I know it will be time to plant eventually. Right now I am trying to enjoy the planning stages. What garden plans are you hatching this year? Share in the comments section!

So, Last week I promised I would share some pictures of the Food It Yourself garden if it stopped raining before it started snowing. I really should know better than to play chicken with Central Massachusetts weather. However, as I am a stubborn New Englander, I took pictures anyway.

Here is my new, improved and expanded strawberry bed. The majority of the plants survived the dry early summer and the subsequent monsoon-like late summer and fall. Many of them even sprouted runners. I like to think the very strongest have survived. I will transplant them in the spring to give them more space. The ultimate goal is a batch of strawberry jam. I think that is achievable.

The biggest challenge will be preventing the birds from getting the ripe berries before I do. So far, it seems like the least expensive thing to try is hanging shiny things (old CD’s are a popular recommendation) from the nearby trees.  Allegedly, the flashing lights scare off the birds. I suppose it is worth a try. I am also open to suggestions from my fellow DIYeters.

Just to the right of the strawberry bed and the cherry trees I put some cardboard over the grass and weighted it down with rocks.  I am hoping this will knock out the grass and make expanding the front yard garden a little easier in the spring. We get good sunlight in the front yard, it is a shame to waste it on grass.  I might move the bee balm up front and add more varieties of herbs. Front yard gardens are also good for edible flowers.

The chickens have not been laying recently. However, they did spend all summer producing some amazing high-nitrogen fertilizer.  We dumped it directly into our fallow raised bed; In 2019 I think this is where we will grow sweetcorn. Corn loves nitrogen.

Mr. Food It Yourself has been investigating possible reasons why the ladies have stopped laying. Age is one probable factor. Also, they just got through their fall molt. The short days and low temperatures certainly have not helped. While no man alive can change New England weather, we can winterize our coop to take that stress off our little flock.

I will shamelessly brag that all the winterizing equipment Mr. Food It Yourself and I put away last spring was exactly where we thought it was.

Once again, the chickens will spend the coldest months sandwiched between our deck and our garage. We decided to get the coop off the ground this year. Last year the chickens spent a lot of time with wet feet. That is not good for chickens! Mr. Food It Yourself dumpster-dove some large pallets from his workplace. We stapled some indoor/outdoor carpet over the pallets to keep the birds from getting stuck. I think it is important to note that we measured the foot print of the coop and the size of the pallets before we started this process. Good thing, too, because…

We nailed it! After setting up the lights (with a timer), fitting the water trough with a birdbath heater, spreading a layer of bedding and re-installing the doors on the run, we moved the chickens to their winter home. Looks like they are happy!

Yes, this was a challenging year for the Food It Yourself garden. Woodchucks are terrible people. However, we are not going to give up our garden, we are going to keep expanding. Meanwhile, we will keep learning how to work with what we get from the weather and the local fauna. I am glad for a little before I have to start again though. What went well in your garden this year? What do you hope you can improve next season? Share in the comments!

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