It’s a mad world, so I make jam.

Day 17 of 365

This has been my motto for some time. I had wanted to make jam for years before I was finally brave enough to try it. My great grandmother was a master jam maker, so jam is nostalgia and everything that is right in the world to me. And, right now, as the world gets madder and madder, I am really clinging to the jam.

You should have seen me the first year learned how to make jam. I think I must have made 80 jars. I sent them to friends and family all over the country. I just kept on and on making jam. I realized at some point that I was making it to deal with my anxiety, but the process really seemed to help me. On top of this, when I see people taste some jam that makes them smile, it feels like I have done some good in the world.

I feel so helpless otherwise. I write to my Congressional representatives on the regular. I have found that my letters are getting angrier and angrier, but what changes? Nothing.

So I keep making jam.

Last week, I decided to try to combine a few recipes and make my own kind of jam-jelly spread. It might sound like a strange recipe, but it is a little bit of heaven on toast. I made several jars as treats for our CSA customers, and my son said, “I’m not going to let this leave this house.” He loved it!

Since some did leave the house, I am making another batch this weekend and wanted to share my recipe with you.

After surveying my brilliant friends for advice, I call this recipe Rhuberry Jem with Vanilla Bean. It’s strawberry and rhubarb, part jam and part jelly (hence the “jem”), with a touch of vanilla bean. I’ll have to make another post and just share the recipe. But, tonight, any readers who follow me are getting my backstory with jam making. If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading. And, without further ado, here’s how you can make your very own Rhuberry Jem with Vanilla Bean.

Rhuberry Jem with Vanilla Bean

Ingredients:

2 cups rhubarb juice (instructions below)
2 cups puree from fresh strawberries
1 package SureJell low-sugar pectin
4 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean

*You will also need 3 to 4 large or 6 to 7 small jam jars, and my favorite for gift-giving are these tiny tulip jars from Weck and a fine strainer or cheesecloth for making the rhubarb juice.

Instructions:

To make the rhubarb juice, you will need about 7 or 8 stalks of rhubarb. Cut them up into small pieces and put into the blender. You may have do this in two turns, so as to not overwhelm your blender. I had to do this with my old blender. Add about 1/2 cup of water each time and blend. After each blend, filter the blended rhubarb through the strainer or cheesecloth into a bowl or giant measuring cup. You will have to squeeze to get the juice out.

After you complete the rhubarb juice, remove the stems and blend about 24 ounces of strawberries in your blender. You want it to be a full puree, very smooth.

Combine your juices to make a total of 4 cups. It’s okay if the balance is not perfectly 2 cups of each, but you want to aim for pretty close.

Put the juice into a large pot (small and medium pots are dangerous for making jam) and bring to a simmer. It’s at this point that I scraped out the oily insides (the seeds) of the vanilla bean and add the insides into the mixture. Gradually add the sugar, stirring as you go. Next, add the SureJell. Make sure it is mixed in well. I use a whisk to make sure I get it all mixed in. I also had a few vanilla bean seed clumps I had to scoop out and give a little extra work with the whisk and put them back in.

Let the whole concoction simmer on a medium to medium-high heat for about 10 minutes. Keep a close eye and do not let it boil over. If it starts to, turn down the heat immediately.

At this point, your “jem” is pretty much made. Just ladle the yummy concoction into your jars and let it cool. If you like, you can water bath the jars and can have this treat many months from now. I did this extra step, but if you plan to eat it sooner, it is just fine in the refrigerator without being “canned” for many weeks.

The best part though is to wait until it starts to thicken but is still warm. Dip in your spoon and enjoy that warm coziness. I always try to give a taste to my son at this point too. It’s his favorite too!

***

I have a very quick Ruby and Kate update. Ruby is doing well, except that she was pretty upset when I forced her to walk around and take a break today. She settled down after a few minutes, and I could see it was really good for her to walk around and stretch her legs a bit–and use the bathroom. Moms need a break too. Kate was a struggle. I cleaned up her dog crate, put some eggs in there for her, and moved her out of the chicken coop into her very large and luxurious crate for baby hatching. She did not like this a bit! In fact, I don’t recall a broody hen ever being this upset about the move, and I have been doing this for years.

When I went to check on Kate one last time, she wasn’t even on the eggs and was pouting at the back of the crate. This may not work. I have moved about 20 or so broody hens in my years of doing this, and I’ve never seen one not get back on the eggs within a few hours of the move. I put one of the eggs under her tonight, couldn’t even find the other, and am trying to be hopeful. It may be that she’s just not going to do this, so I will give her one more day. If she just doesn’t want to do it, I’ll enlist Jane.

Dog Crates and Duck Eggs

Day 16 of 365

I have no recipe for you today, as today has gone longer than I had anticipated, but I do have a name for that recipe now and will have the recipe for you tomorrow. I think it will be a treat. My struggle with recipes is that I want to tell too many stories before I get to the recipe, which just annoys the heck out of people, so I am trying to figure out how to tell my story about the recipe very briefly. We’ll see if I can manage that tomorrow.

Today was spent focused on duck eggs and dog crates. I’ll start with the dog crate story.

We have two giant dog crates, which are truly just essential for chicken keeping. They are hospital wards and broody hen homes. Two used to be enough–until Juliet claimed one. She has to come into the garage to lay her eggs, and unless I provide her with a proper dog crate, she’s going to either lay her eggs in my husband’s tools or just leave altogether and lay her eggs in the woods. We’ve been there and done this.

Since Ruby has a dog crate now and I need a space for Kate and her eggs, I have been looking online for a used dog crate. I refuse to pay full price for a new dog crate. My frugal self simply will not allow it. Both of our current dog crates were purchased used and have been wonderful. Once you get a good deal on something, how is it possible to then go backwards and pay full price for something? For me, it’s just too painful.

So I have been on the hunt and getting a little desperate. But, today, I found a used dog crate that would be perfect! Ron was in the garden working, so I went out to discuss it with him. He was not a fan of my plan. We don’t really have the room for storing three dog crates. “We need a barn,” he said.

I agreed, but I explained that there was really no choice in this matter because of Juliet.

“You’re going to buy another dog crate because we have a spoiled chicken?” he asked.

I confirmed.

So I set up the meet, drove out to a beautiful house on a beautiful pond, and landed the perfect dog crate for Kate. I’ll have to share a picture soon because I am quite proud of myself.

I spent another part of my day washing and then freezing duck eggs. I love chicken eggs, but duck eggs are just extra. To me, they are everything wonderful about chicken eggs–and then some. I love them boiled the most, but they are an absolute dream for baking. Professional chefs and bakers prize duck eggs for their cooking, and I can see why. They are magnificent.

Ours are also beautiful, at least I think so. We have a total of seven ducks–six females and one male, Antonio. He’s both wonderful and terrible at the same time. We originally had just six ducks, but a few years ago, a farmer friend asked if I might be willing to rehabilitate a female she had who had been over-mated. Anna Maria was in pretty tough shape, but I took her on and am thankful. I am happy to report that she thrives now.

She also lays a green-ish egg! My reward for sure!

We have one other duck who also lays a green egg, but Anna Maria’s are the darkest. This morning, after I washed the eggs and was about to crack and freeze them, I decided it was imperative that I do a duck-egg photo shoot.

Aren’t they beautiful?

***

I have a quick Ruby and now Kate update. Ruby is doing well considering. She had some whole wheat pancake for breakfast, and I discovered that she won’t really eat unless I feed her. I put a tiny bowl right under her face, left and did some other chores, and came back to find she hadn’t eaten. When I put the pancake bites in my hand, she ate. So I guess I’m feeding Ruby by hand for the next week.

Kate will be moved to her crate tomorrow, and, then we just cross our fingers that she’ll take the baby chicks next week. I’ll detail the process in a later post. She seems to be doing well.

Grow Your Own

Day 15 of 365

Before we had chickens and ducks, we had a garden. The first time I ate a tomato from our garden, I thought I might cry. I didn’t even think I liked tomatoes very much. Then, I had a tiny sun gold tomato standing in our garden, and truly, it was like the sun had infused its magic into a tiny, delicious orange ball. 

I was hooked. 

I guess my husband was as well. Since that time 10 years ago, he has devoted himself each spring, summer, and fall to growing the food the feeds our family. Right now, if you count the garden, chicken and duck eggs, and the broiler chickens we raise, we grow somewhere around 60 percent of the food our family eats. Beyond that, we buy from local farms as much as possible, but we definitely do our best to grow our own. We do all this on about 1.6 acres. We are evidence that you don’t have to have a lot of space to do this. In fact, part of our property is still wooded.

It’s not easy work, of course. Outside of the epic work my husband does to start seedlings, plant rows (he grows perfect rows), compost the chicken poop for fertilizer, water in the most creative, water-conserving ways possible, and will the plants into beautiful growth, we have to focus our food preparation around the things we grow. 

This didn’t happen overnight. I grew up on Hamburger Helper, and though Ron had grown up on homegrown food, as an adult, he had also shifted his diet to the frozen foods section in the grocery store. And, as a cook, it took me some time to figure out how to use things like cabbage and beets. Additionally, even for the things I knew how to cook and use, like green beans, I had to find ways to use them a lot more frequently. We now eat a lot of green beans.  

Right now, our garden is just getting started, but the chicken and duck eggs are in full season. But we are eating greens every night for dinner (mostly spinach), eggs for every breakfast (and sometimes dinner), and I have learned to make several wonderful treats with rhubarb. 

My plan is to share some of the recipes I use that help us eat so well from farm to table. I have become quite efficient at cooking and storing food from the garden–from the spinach in the spring to the tomatoes and squash of fall. I think I can share some wisdom here. I mean, I’m going to try.

I’m going to start tomorrow with a little rhubarb recipe I kind of made up. I just don’t know yet if it’s a jam or a jelly. I think jelly, but I don’t want to steer you wrong and have to do some research. 

More on this tomorrow…

***

In the meantime, on the Ruby front, all is well. She had eggs and toast for breakfast and drank some of her water. It’s very nice and cool in the garage, and the sun comes in well. She seems to be pretty content. 

I have also decided that Kate will be our next mama, but we are going to try something different. Because she has been broody awhile, instead of getting hatching eggs for her this week, the chicken breeder I am working with says he can just sell me some chicks I want next week. So, this is exciting but also adds an element of drama. It will involve taking eggs from under Kate and replacing them with live chicks at night. We have about a 98% success rate with this, but we had one failure, which means I always have anxiety. Still, I am hopeful. Kate’s a good girl, and this strategy works almost all the time. We’re getting some Black Copper Marans and maybe some Blue Marans. If we get some girls, we will then be able to add chocolate colored eggs to our collection, and my little egg rainbow will be complete. 

A Tiny New Neighbor

Day 14 of 365

A few weeks ago, we noticed that some tiny birds were building a magnificently-messy nest by our back deck. At first, we weren’t sure what kind of birds had moved in right next door (well, above the window and on the drain pipe). They were very busy building the nest–at least I thought there were two birds building the nest. It turns out, our new neighbors are Eastern Phoebes, and I learned that the female builds the nest all by herself. I swear, she was working so hard it surely seemed like there were two of her.

This reminds me of some of my mom friends. Maybe all of my mom friends.

Eastern Phoebe by Patrice Bouchard

We were worried at first about disturbing the nest. We love our giant deck and always spend a lot of time out there in the summer. We were willing to stay away for the sake of the birds, but I learned that Eastern Phoebes are quite people tolerant. This made me happier than I can say–and not just because we were going to be able to keep using our deck. This meant I was going to get to watch some beautiful birds this summer. I was so excited thinking about what I might learn from our tiny new neighbor.

Though Eastern Phoebes are supposedly very people tolerant, I am still careful not to get too close. I can see that the female is sitting on her eggs, just like Ruby in tiny form. Eastern Phoebes have long tails, so every day, I see her up there and just see her little head and her little tail. Sometimes, when I am busying around on the deck, I see her watching me. This makes my day.

You can see her up there, right? If you look closely, you an see here little head, and, of course, her magnificent tail sticks out from the back of the nest.

Last weekend was the first time I saw her watching me. I was on the deck a long time planting seeds into flower pots, and I had been looking and looking at the nest but couldn’t see her. I was actually worried she had moved, that maybe we had disturbed her too much. But after a bit, I was sure I felt someone watching me. I looked over my shoulder, and there she was, up in her nest, with her head leaned over, peeking out at me.

I fell in love with her right then.

I told her I would never get too close to bother her. I am assuming she was thinking, “I have concerns about our neighbors.”

But I have been very good. I have kept my distance, but I take peeks at her several times a day. She’s almost always there. I read tonight her eggs will hatch in 16 days. I don’t know for sure when she started, but I think there may be babies very soon. I also read Phoebes will usually hatch two broods. Lucky me!

I also read tonight that the male defends his nesting territory with his singing, especially at dawn. Fantastically, I hear him every morning. He sings “fee-bee, fee-bee, fee-bee” every single morning at dawn. His favorite tree seems to be the one right outside our bedroom window.

This morning, the windows were open, and I first heard the little male Phoebe about 5:30 or so. It was just a little bit of heaven for me. I didn’t have to get up yet and start the day, so I just lay there with the morning light coming in the window and “fee-bee, fee-bee, fee-bee” filling the air. Ron can’t hear the Phoebe. His little call is too high pitched for Ron’s ears, so as I lay there,, I just treasured this little miracle of morning that, in the moment, felt like it was just for me.

***

Ruby is doing fairly well, but I worry about her color. Her comb is so pale. She’s eating and drinking some, but I am thankful the baby chicks will be hatching fairly soon. I had to pull her off of her nest this morning to make her take a short break. She didn’t stay away very long at all. She’s very serious about this. But I did sneak away a few eggs for a quick candling. The Salmon Faverolle eggs were all developing beautifully. I could see the shapes of the babies coming. Sadly, I am not sure that Juliet’s egg is developing. The shell is dark, and I was hurrying, which means I am not sure. Still, I don’t think it’s hopeful for our little cowbird’s egg. I’ll try to take another peek in a few days to confirm.

Too Many Broody Hens

Day 13 of 365

Right now, we have five broody hens, including Ruby. That’s too many broody hens. Moreover, I’ve found over the years that broodiness seems to be contagious. If you don’t do something about broody hens, it seems to catch on in the flock. Last year, at one time, I think we had eight broody hens. Nothing we tried really worked, and I didn’t have the heart do to the hard stuff like putting a broody hen in a crate alone with open air on the bottom. Still, the ice packs didn’t seem to work unless I could put them out three or four times a day. I would always get busy and let the ice packs get warm.

Finally, Ron figured out a plan. He built a fenced area under some trees we call Broody Hen Jail where they can have each other, some good space, food, and water, and we go ahead and let them be broody if they want at night. I am sure this makes “breaking” the broody hen take a little longer, but it works! Most of the time, the broody hens let it go within two to three days.

But I have to decide within the next few days who goes to Broody Hen Jail and who gets to be a mama. Ruby was first, so she gets to be a mama, of course. Right now, Kate, Penelope, Jane, and Marshmallow are all broody. Let me just say right away, Marshmallow is not going to get to be a mama. Marshmallow is the sweetest little hen most of the time, but when she’s broody, she’s a nightmare! Two years ago, I let her hatch babies. She attacked me the whole time. She started attacking other mama hens who just happened to come within ten feet of her children. She attacked me when I fed everyone. She attacked me when I changed the water. She attacked me for cleaning out her crate. I had to start wearing oven mitts all the time.

The other day, I was trying to figure out if it was, indeed, Marshmallow who was broody in the nest box (it can be hard to tell in the dark box, and she looks a lot like four other hens). When I reached in to take the eggs, the hen didn’t just peck me. She grabbed skin and then twisted. It hurt so much. This is Marshmallow’s signature move. So, yeah, Marshmallow is going to Broody Hen Jail.

Jane is a big, beautiful hen and raised babies last year. She was a little bossy with the food with Juliet, who was also raising babies. So she was not super cooperative. So I feel it’s really down to Kate or Penelope. I wish we could let both of them be mamas. They are both very interesting hens to me, both very smart and curious. I think Penelope is even more curious, but they are both fantastic hens whom I would love to get to know better. And that’s the coolest thing about letting a broody hen raise baby chicks.

This is Kate. She’s part Easter Egger, part Rhode Island Red, and part Welsummer. She’s an adorable mutt.

We move the crew into the garage and keep the baby chicks away from the main flock until they are bigger, usually about five weeks or so. So during that five weeks or so, the mamas and the babies run around with us. I get to watch them closely, tuck them in at night, watch the mamas tuck in their babies. It’s a little bit of magnificence. I’m glad to be chronicling the experience with this blog this year.

I get to hear babies sing to their mamas. I get to hear mamas purr to their babies. I get to see how the hens raise their babies and what they focus on. I love to watch them teach. It’s one of the greatest joys and learning experiences of my life. I’m getting excited thinking about it coming again soon, and I’m excited to get to share it with those following this adventure. I think you will enjoy it.

I hoped writing this would help me choose between Kate and Penelope. Kate went broody right after Ruby, so maybe Kate should be the one. I have a feeling she will be a really sweet mama. I’m going to check her out tomorrow, and if she feels strong enough to do it, I think Kate will get the eggs. I wrote about Kate before. You can read about how she was the most adorable baby chick in the history of ever in this older post.

***

And just a quick Ruby update. She’s doing very well but not taking breaks now. I may have to pull her off tomorrow. I did take her some scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast, and she tore into that dish just like the tiny dinosaur she is. It was fantastic to see her eat so well.

Nobody blogs about chicken poop dust in your hair…

Day 12 of 365

I generally feel like I live in two different worlds–the classical music world thanks to my son’s interest in and love for the cello and the farming/homesteading world where we talk about things like dirt and poop. Dirt and poop are actually far more important than I ever could have imagined, but that’s another post.

Sometimes, these worlds feel connected. Farmer-ish makes my worlds make perfect sense to me, for example. Sometimes, my worlds feel worlds apart. I don’t think this was ever more apparent to me than yesterday.

My son has made it to the next round in a music competition, and this has meant he’s had to work with a pianist to accompany him. First of all, I had no idea this was even a thing until like two months ago. I am essentially an idiot in the classical music world. I love classical music with every fiber of my being. It can be transcendent to me and is always a joy at the very least. But I know I am an idiot. Thankfully, I am a good listener and a quick learner. Still, I have so much to learn.

Come to think of it, I’m pretty much an idiot when it comes to farming. It is also magical to me. I love good animal husbandry with every fiber of my being, and I can talk about chickens until people want to run away or cry. But outside of chicken care and food preservation, I know about 10% of what I need to know. Thankfully, I am a good listener and quick learner. Still, again, I have much to learn.

But I digress. Yesterday, I had to take my son to the pianist’s home for a rehearsal. The pianist was very kind to us, and her home is beautiful, just beautiful. I didn’t feel jealous like I thought I might in such a situation, but the art and musical instruments were magnificent. Our old house has popcorn ceilings. We try to cute things up, but our home is well–quirky. It suits me, and our property with the trees and garden and beautiful fences Ron built by hand, is lovely. Still, it’s quirky.

I sat while my son played with her, and he did so well. He played well. He conveyed thanks to her. He was polite. All the things you hope for in such a situation. It was a good mom moment. While they were playing, I looked around with my eyes. The lighting was wonderful, and I was in love with the pianos and wall art, which I later found out included framed art from her children’s art growing up. Of course, I thought this was magnificent. I love art from kids. It feels so honest. But I was in awe of the loveliness of everything. Even the books stacked on the table looked magnificent to me. They were all books about classical music, and I wanted to read them.

Then, we came home. I finished grading essays and then had to clean the chicken coop and duck house. I, somehow, decided it was necessary to do a full deep clean of the coop. Maybe it was because I worry about lice and mites when we get a lot of broody hens in the summer. Broody hens won’t go dust bathe, which makes lice and mites more likely. We will soon have to make some decisions about who gets to raise babies this summer. Ruby was first, so she got some hatching eggs. But we will have ten hens go broody any given summer. We can’t bring that many chickens into the world. Our coop has limits, and we want the birds to be comfortable. So some broody hens will have to get ice packs and forced time outside the coop. This helps “break” them from being broody. I will get to choose one more to be a mama this summer. I always try to choose wisely.

So I scrubbed everything in that coop. I cleaned out every nest box and check every broody hen for lice and mites. Then, I started scrubbing chicken poop from the lower nest box and ladders. I’m telling you, there’s nothing like scrubbing dried chicken poop. I generally don’t mind cleaning the coop, but as I sat there scrubbing the dried poop with a scraper, I realized after a bit that my face and hair were covered in chicken poop dust. Yeah, it’s a good thing I wear a mask.

In that moment, I felt light years from my morning in the beautiful home listening to my kiddo play beautiful classical music. He’s playing The Swan. I mean, everyone loves The Swan on cello. And, there I was in the afternoon, with chicken poop dust in my hair. I had to wonder also why I have never seen a chicken blogger talk about the down and dirty of chicken poop dust in your hair.

It’s worth it, of course. I will clean chicken poop until the day I die because I adore these animals and want them to have a good, clean place to live. Still, that moment really made me think about the difference.

Later, when I was giving one of our hens a bath because she was the one chicken out of all of my health checks who had a mites. When I turned on the bath water, the noise scared her, and she flew up and broke the faucet. Just broke it–like we have to buy a new faucet kind of broke it.

I turned to Schumann, who is named for the classical composer, of course,, and said to her, “Schumann, I’ll bet classical musicians never have their chickens break their faucets.”

***

I have to do a Ruby update quickly. I’m getting a lot of messages from people saying they like knowing what’s happening with Ruby, which just makes my day. She’s actually doing very well. I figured out that she wasn’t eating or drinking very much because she is so broody. So I started today, in addition to giving her treats, holding the water for her while she drinks. Honestly, my Ruby who generally just grumps at me these days because she’s doesn’t want me messing around near her or her eggs, seemed really thankful. So I’ll be holding the water for her every day now. Every broody hen I have ever had was different. Sometimes, they seem to handle things well and don’t make me worry. But I had one who wouldn’t even get off her eggs to go to the bathroom, and I had a three-day rule. If she went three days and didn’t move, I would pick her up and physically make her walk around. I would move her legs for her, until she would go make the biggest poop in the history of the world.

There’s been lots of talk of poop tonight. If you made it all the to the end of this, I promise to give the poop talk a break tomorrow.

It’s World Bee Day!

Day 11 of 365

Apparently, bees are so important that the United Nations set aside May 20 as International World Bee Day!

I love the bees. I have never kept a hive, but our neighbor did for several years. I fell in love. The bees made our garden come alive with both their pollination and their song. Her hive didn’t make in through the winter of 2020, such a tough year for everything and everyone, I remember thinking.

I miss her bees.

I think my favorite thing was sitting next to the garden and watching my neighbor’s honeybees in the squash flowers. Their little legs would be so full of pollen that they could barely fly. Such little miracles.

One time, I was outside with the ducks, and a bee flew up my farm dress, only I didn’t know it was a bee. My hand immediately cupped whatever it was. I didn’t squish it, just to be safe, and when I opened my hand, out flew a little honey bee, back to work after her little detour up my dress. My dress was made of a floral print.

I miss my neighbor’s bees so much that Ron and I are thinking about getting bees, but we worry about getting over extended, which is something I talk about in the latest episode of A Farmer-ish Podcast. Ron is missing from this episode because he has too much work in the garden right now, but I was so excited to get to talk with children’s book author, Loree Griffin Burns, about her new book, Honeybee Rescue.

I wrap up the episode with a reading of Ron’s poem, “Marie’s Garden,” inspired by her bees. I hope you will check out the collection the poem comes from Why the Moon Tumbled Out of the Sky. It’s a beautiful collection of children’s poems that focus on nature and the four seasons here in Maine. It’s a treasure to me! Plus, all profits go to keep Farmer-ish going, so that’s a perk!

I will keep today’s writing short, as I am still grading student essays and have to clean coops this afternoon, but I hope you will check out Episode 3 of A Farmer-ish Podcast!

***

And just a quick Ruby update, of course. After her scrambled eggs this morning, I checked, and I think we are lice free! I will give her a follow up treatment next week to ensure the hatching eggs are gone too, but I think we are in the clear. She also took a break today and went back to her nest in the garage with zero help from me. Good girl, Ruby!

One Step at a Time

Day 10 of 365

Well, I made it to double digits in my efforts to write every single day for year. That seems like a good first milestone. My husband says that you have to do something for 30 days for it to become a habit. I hope that’s true, as I will have just 20 days to go to make writing here a habit.

I will have to be quick with my writing today. I have much work to do–many essays to grade. It’s been a busy week, and Thursdays tend to be long grading days for me. Things have also been extra stressful this week. I am teaching a writing class that ends this week, and some of my students are just in a panic. I have found that, since the pandemic, the normal “end-of-class anxiety” has increased ten fold. Everyone is stressed. Everyone.

It’s understandable. I just read an article today about problems with global food supplies that are certain to get worse. There’s a terrifying baby formula shortage. There are wildfires. Inflation is worrisome. At the grocery store today, I saw that a carton of a dozen organic eggs cost $8.49. It made me very thankful for our refrigerator full of organic eggs. But I understand the stress.

Today, one of my extremely-stressed students actually hung up on me while I was trying to help her over the phone. At first, I was grumpy about it, bemoaning the treatment of teachers. But then I remembered the stress of the world, and I decided to text my student a kind message of support. I told her I was going to type out what she needed to do so that she could read and process it again when she was less stressed. I told her to try not to stress, that the work always seems worse when it feels new and unknown–feels like it’s piling up. But I promised her she just needed to take things one step and a time.

And isn’t that the truth? Just one step at a time.

I believe I have learned this deeply, learned a kind of serenity that helps me with my anxiety from the state of the world, from homesteading. There have been times when I have felt overwhelmed by the work of a farm, like when our flock got sick with a respiratory illness a few years ago or when the garden is producing faster than I can process the food in the fall because I have to keep grading essays too. There was the duck with the broken leg that had to be healed. There was the summer when three ducks had bumble foot to treat. Three ducks! That’s a lot of duck-foot wrapping.

But I always get through it.

These experiences have given me some wisdom and patience, which is so important to someone with such a busy, worried mind. I dig into each new task knowing that, even though my work may feel daunting, most likely, I will be able get through it all. I often write about the magic of the farm and living more connectedly to nature, but as I thought about things today, I realized one of the most important life lessons I have learned from the farm is that I can handle more than I can think. I just have to start.

I don’t know what to do about global food shortages. But, today, I delivered the first farm shares to two families, and a third one starts next week. Maybe it’s okay to just take things one step at a time.

***

And just a quick Ruby update. She is doing fairly well, but I discovered when I candled her eggs that she has some poultry lice around her head. It feels like a miracle I saw them. I have terrible eyes. My poor Ruby! But I treated her with the good stuff, since I don’t have to worry about withholding her eggs anyway. She’s not going to be laying eggs for a long time. I also took her extra treats and scrambled her an egg this morning. Being broody is hard on a hen, and adding lice to the situation is not good. Still, I will give her a second treatment next week and will scramble an egg for her every day. Hopefully, this won’t be much of a setback for her.

Candling Eggs–and a Little Surprise from Juliet

Day 9 of 365

I have such a great story to tell today.

It was a big day because it is day 8 for Ruby’s eggs, so I decided to candle her eggs to see which ones were developing and which ones were duds. It’s good to remove the ones that aren’t developing, as they will go bad and just take up extra space. Ruby was sitting on 8 Salmon Faverolle hatching eggs from Why Not Farms, and I was hoping we would have at least 4 or 5 eggs developing so far.

I waited until Ruby was taking her break this morning and decided I would just scoop up all of the eggs into my son’s old Easter basket and candle them quickly in the house. It’s important to be gentle when you candle, so as not to disturb the developing chick. It’s also important to try not to candle too much, as it is just more disturbance. Historically, this has been a challenge for me. I think I candled my first batch of hatching eggs 4 or 5 times. That’s not a good idea. I will probably candle Ruby’s eggs just one more time in another week. I probably don’t need to do it again. I probably will anyway.

When I started putting the eggs in the basket, I counted to 8 and then had 1 more in the nest. I counted again. There was a total of 9 eggs under Ruby. I paused. I wondered if I had been mistaken, but, no, we had just 8 eggs at the start. Then, I looked more closely. The last egg in the nest was not a cream Salmon Faverolle egg. It was an olive egg from Juliet! Oh, she’s a clever girl!

Juliet is our most special hen. She refuses to hang out with the flock–unless she’s in the mood to hang out with the flock. Every morning, she leaves the coop and heads for the driveway and garage. She used to fly over the fence, but we now just let her out when we open the door in the morning. She’s always waiting and ready to go.

She sneaks into the garage where she gets a special treat, either some sunflower seeds or scratch; then she either hangs out in the garage and driveway doing her own thing or she heads to the dog crate with straw I have set up for her to lay her eggs. I did this because I realized last year that she was not going to lay her eggs in the nest boxes. Instead, she laid her eggs in the woodpile, under trees, in the shrubs. I normally would not find them until it was too late. I started to try to train Juliet to lay her eggs in a box in the garage.

It took just a few times. When she laid her egg in the nest in the garage, I was there immediately with a treat. Within three days, she was trained. And I set her up with a nice dog crate. This became our routine. In spring, summer, and fall, when Juliet is laying eggs, she lays her eggs in her special nest, and when she’s finished, she gets a treat from me. It’s the deal we seem to have.

A couple of weeks ago, I forgot one morning and closed the garage door. About half an hour later, I heard a chicken hollering at the front door. It was Juliet. I apologized, opened the garage door, and she made a path to her dog crate.

Juliet is wicked smart. Still, how she managed to sneak into Ruby’s nest and lay her egg during one of Ruby’s short breaks is a bit of a mystery to me. I always check on Ruby while she’s on her breaks and never once saw Juliet in Ruby’s nest box. I don’t know when she did it, but she did it. “Cowbird,” I thought to myself when I saw that adorable little olive egg.

I am happy to report that 7 of 8 of the lovely Salmon Faverolle eggs from Why Not Farms were developing! Those are very good numbers. I am also happy to report that Juliet’s egg is developing too. She’s such a fantastic little stinker. NOW, Ruby really has 8 eggs.

If the egg continues to develop and a chick hatches, it will be the first and only baby we have from Juliet.

Gardening with Chickens–and Rocks

Day 8 of 365

Because I long for a barn, every now and then, I look at real estate online. I would love to find a place with a barn. Any barn will do, big or small, red or brown. But when I look at real estate prices here in Maine, I find myself feeling thankful for the little plot of land we “own” (really just borrowing from the Maine woods). We have a large, sturdy chicken coop, a duck house, magnificent trees, and a giant deck in our back yard complete with an Eastern Phoebe nest this year. We also have a large organic garden space, and that garden space has come at a price for my husband, making it so we feel really tied to this little patch of earth. 

There was a small garden area when we moved in, full of rocks and deplete of nutrients. Apparently, the owners before us were not organic gardeners, so Ron had much work to do with the soil. Over the years, thanks to the composted chicken poop and straw and fall leaves and cover crops, the soil in our organic garden has become quite magnificent. Ron does not use a rototiller and turns over the soil by hand and shovel. But, also over the years, he has expanded our garden space, also by hand. During this time, I am convinced he has moved a quarry’s worth of rock from the garden. 

It never ends. Each year, he picks up rocks, digs up rocks, and moves boulders with nothing but logs and levers. Sometimes, I help. Sometimes, our son helps. Mostly, this epic undertaking falls to my husband, and I worry about so many years of toil. We joke that he did something in another life to deserve a life of rock moving in this one–Sisyphus, only moving rocks in wheelbarrow instead of rolling one up a hill.

I worried extra this weekend when he was expanding our garden yet again. This time, he was turning over grass in the chicken yard to add more space for a third kind of potatoes. It was hot. To have temps at about 90 degrees in May in Maine is not usual, and in the middle of that heat wave, that poor man hit a large rock “every time my shovel dug in,” he said. 

I was working to plant flowers on the other side of our property, but I would go visit him from time to time, telling stories of my adventures and bringing him water and lemonade. On my visits, I would marvel at both the size and amount of rocks he was moving to make space for more potatoes. 

But he had company. Every time I came to visit, I noticed the same three or four hens were “helping dad.” They know the drill. Under grass and within the rocks lie grubs, and it’s a win-win for everyone. The chickens eat the grubs, and that means fewer beetles in our garden, eating up our harvest. Chickens, while they cannot be trusted with small, delicious plants (one year, our Poe flew over the garden gate and ate a whole row of broccoli plants), chickens play an important role in our gardening cycles. 

Before planting in the spring, chickens do a great job of getting everything ready. We let them in the garden to eat grubs and scratch around in the soil. The chickens are also fantastic gleaners in the fall. They eat the leftover tomatoes and cabbages and will eat bugs then too. In the middle of garden season, sometimes, Ron has let a few hens into the garden for some interim pest control, and that works fairly well. However, you do have to keep an eye on them. In a garden of goodies, chickens are easily distracted from potato bugs. 

We reward our chickens with treats from the garden throughout the spring, summer, and fall, and it’s all just a part of this fantastic symbiotic relationship we have with our chickens. Our chickens give us delicious eggs, and I am so thankful for them. But they do more. The provide pest control, provide us with fertilizer for our garden, and on long days when you are digging through the rocky Maine soil to make room for potatoes, they provide you with some good company. 

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And, of course, I have to add a quick Ruby update: She’s doing well. No break today, but she did have some leftover scrambled eggs. Tomorrow, I candle eggs, so stay tuned!