Incubator Inspired

Back when our son was very small, about 10 years ago we got our first chickens. We ended up with lots and lots (did I say LOTS?) of chickens! There were 50+ free range chickens….3 of us in our family so that meant lots of extra eggs. Back then you couldn’t give farm fresh eggs away, let alone try and get $1/dozen for them. Now farm fresh eggs seem to be all the rage.

Once our chickens started to lay (we didn’t start out with 50) we began to think about incubators and hatching our own chicks. We did our research and purchased our incubator. 30 days later we had an ok success rate….we candled, turned the eggs and watched the humidity. We were very good broody hens.
One morning the husband woke up and was very excited about the dream that he had. How to make our very own incubator and we wouldn’t have to buy anything. I am going to have to guess here, as this was several years ago, but I’m thinking that we spent about $35 for our Styrofoam incubator…no fan, no egg turner just basic plain jane. But, this is how we made our own. We had an old food dehydrator that had the fan and warming element on the bottom try (as well as the temperature control). Next we got a cardboard box, we had one from a computer monitor that it slid down into perfectly. One modification that we made mid-way through the first hatch was we lined the box with a heavy trash bag, it helped to hold in the moisture. Some smallish door shapes were cut in the box, just a couple of them to help control the temperature/humidity. Pop it open for a bit if it gets too warm/humid. The incubator trays were lined with cheese cloth to try and keep bits of shell from going down into the heating/fan tray. When it got close to the hatch date we put a picture frame over the top of the box so the little boy could watch the peeps break out of their shells.


Po-Tay-Toh** Po-Tah-Toh

After reading this article this weekend over at domestic sensualist, I began to really think about the good old potato.  Years ago when my mother-in-law was diagnosed with diabetes, we jumped on the Atkins diet craze when she did.  We began to look more intricately into the carbs we ate.  I guess it was out of that habit that to this day we dramatically limit the potatoes that we eat. 

Fast forward 15 years and we begin this grand homestead and garden adventure.  Low and behold, potatoes are one of those crops that grow abundantly and will store in the root cellar fantastically.  We have done well growing and storing, but haven’t kept up on eating them as well as I think we should.  It all goes back to that low carb time. 

Aren’t potatoes one of the perfect foods?  I went in search of information this evening and am a little disheartened.  Most information is put out there by either the potato growers, or the authors of diet books.  Simple or complex carbohydrate, pish posh, let’s talk about the glycemic index.  Sheesh!!  Do any of you have the answer to this question? 

Maybe it is best to take the everything in moderation approach…and preparation is the most important part.  After all, I minimally process everything that I harvest.   Honestly, I am just trying to make healthy choices for my family and don’t want to feel guilty growing and stocking potatoes.  Thoughts??

End Rant  :)



chez poulet

the chicken enclosure was finished this week, so we could finally move our chickens from the rabbit hutch where they were temporarily living over to chez poulet, their posh chicken coop. the outdoor part is lined with zinc, repurposed from an old refrigerated container that was on our property, to make it rat-proof. apparently rats love eggs. we haven't seen any rats here at our place, but we have seen them at the stable next door, so they're in the neighborhood.

i was able to pick up the black swedish chickens yesterday - four hens and a rooster. they're completely black - including their combs. i read that even their meat is black! but we want them for the eggs. they're a bit smaller than the others, but they seem to get along quite peacefully when we put them together.

the dansk landhøns have really grown since we got them. they're nearly ready to begin laying eggs. and now they've got nesting boxes all lined with straw, ready for them to begin.

the black swedish rooster. i think he's actually quite cute.

husband got to indulge his inner engineer on this project and he has built a rather ingenious door that we can lower to let them out during the day.

he was inspired by castles and draw bridges, i suspect.  he didn't even spend endless hours looking at designs online (like someone else in this family would), he said he had a vague picture in his head and he just started building it, modifying along the way as he encountered problems. i do admire that about him.

the chickens were pretty suspicious about going in last evening, but we managed, between the two of us to shoo them in. we want them in at night, so they don't get eaten by a fox, tho' husband has built quite a secure enclosure, so they should be ok anyway.

the door is raised and lowered by this handle on the outside.

here's how the mechanism looks on the inside. the chickens managed to open it sometime last night and let themselves out, so husband has made some more improvements so it can be locked into place and they can't get it open.

i couldn't resist showing you the beautiful door he made, repurposing one of those old round windows we've collected. it really is a cool chicken coop.  on the righthand side of this photo, you can see the turning device for the door that's on the other side, where there will also be a pen they can be let out into. but that will be for another day. you can see he used a bit of a different design on that side.

woody was pretty interested in the whole project. he was wondering if they were a bit big to be an afternoon snack.


Swiss Chard

One of my garden favorites! Swiss Chard is one of the newest additions to my garden, this is its 3rd summer with us. Maybe it’s the small town that we live in, or maybe swiss chard doesn’t travel well to grocery stores….but I don’t remember seeing it in available in our grocery store (which is very small). If memory serves me right I read about it on a blog out there on the web. I am always willing to try new things in the garden, especially since we love spinach.
Swiss chard is easy to grow and was one of the first things that went into the garden this spring. The chard seeds got planted at the same time the spinach seeds went in the ground. The spinach has been gone for a couple of weeks now. We had a hot spell, the spinach bolted…we only got 2 pickings off of it before it was gone. The chard has flourished. No need to worry about bolting with this green! It will tolerate our hot and humid summers and we can pick until the first hard frost.

I have substituted Swiss Chard for spinach in lots of recipes (like hot spinach dip). Creamed Swiss Chard is fantastic….we have made it and added precooked pasta, also used it as a dip for flatbread, homemade of course. Chard dehydrates wonderfully as well. Just rinse the leaves (I save the stems for something else) pat them dry and put in a single layer in the dehydrator. The dehydrator is set on 95º F (35ºC) this is my herb setting on the dehydrator. I just dry them until they crumble. Time depends on humidity and how large the leaves are. The chard then broken into pieces and put into a jar. I put it in soups and dips and have even put it in bread. Husband one time thought the jar had basil in it and we had it on pizza, that was good too.
If you haven’t given swiss chard a try and like spinach or other greens give this vitamin packed plant a try. It grows well in containers too! If you have grown it before and have recipes to share we are always looking for new ways to incorporate it into our menu ☺

Spinach Rice Salad with homemade Bread (Swiss Chard instead of spinach) The only thing I had to buy for this dinner was the rice and the celery.


harvesting honey

it was strawberries & honey day around denmark today. the national beekeepers' association sponsors the day early every summer - to take advantage of the beautiful seasonal strawberries and the first honey harvest of the year. we went to our bee school to see how it was all done. we'll be "slinging" (i cannot find what it's called in english (centrifuging? spinning?) and i even searched an entire online bee dictionary) our own honey early next week, together with our mentor.

how most of our bee "lessons" function - here, one of the experienced guys explains to one of the other newcomers how to check whether the frame is ready and going to be easy to "sling" or not.

when the bees are finished making the honey, they seal it in. you have to scrape that off with a special tool before putting the frame into the centrifuge, otherwise, no honey will come out.

the front frame has had the sealing wax scraped off, but the ones behind it have been emptied of their honey. they will be placed back in with their bee families, and the bees will fill them up again by about august or so. after that second harvest, the wax will be melted off and repurposed and the frames cleaned and made ready for next year.

this is the hand centrifuge we used today. it holds three frames. after the first spin, you turn the frame around, so the other side is facing out, then you put it back and give it another spin, for a total of three spins.  the honey collects down in the bottom and you open the spout and let it pour into a clean bucket.

as the honey pours out here, you can see there are still bits of wax. you then put it through a large cloth strainer into another bucket (which i must not have photographed, because it was a rather boring big white bucket), from which you can then fill the containers with honey.

the honey is runny and golden and absolutely delicious (we ate it with heart-shaped waffles and fresh strawberries). and i can't wait to have our own.

one last shot of our bee mentor explaining to husband how to build a box for transporting the frames. it's ok to harvest the frames if they're about 2/3 full of honey, the bees don't have to be finished with them before you take them, since you're going to give them back. we also learned it's important to have a box where you can enclose the honey-laden frames, otherwise you'll have a whole lot of bees that want to come along for the ride.

that's the update for now, i'll tell you more next week after we harvest our own honey. as you can see, we enjoyed some fresh honey together with our dinner...we made pancakes with elderflower blossoms out on the grill table (using a pan, don't worry, we didn't try to grill pancakes). fresh honey, strawberries and elderflowers from the garden = summer bliss.


Edible Flower Heaven

 I'm so excited about this new find that I am doing a first (and a rare). I am double posting this little tidbit both here and at Eat Right Racine. I figured that I needed to share the wealth of this new found (to me) information!

Tonight, as we are prepping to leave town on vacation, we wanted to eat some of our left over winter cold frame greens that are approaching their end. Arugula, is a favorite, and when it bolts/goes to seed, the leaves get very spicy. Tonight B came in and said "oh, google arugula flowers and see if their edible.  I just ate one and it's great!" So, here's the gem....arugula flowers are amazingly sweet spicy and a phenomenal treat! We went to an old standard tonight. Did your grandma make salad dressing with mayo, vinegar and sugar?? Well, mine did and we did a similar variation with the chive flower vinegar I made after Palmer's post and all I can say is heaven!!

Bottom line....try arugula flowers---and chive vinegar, for that matter!



let the chicken adventure begin

at last, progress was made on our chicken coop this weekend. it's just been a foundation for awhile, but now it's beginning to look like an actual building with a roof and everything! those poles sticking up at the back are for the fenced enclosure where they'll be able to be outside. according to danish law, you have to have even the outdoor areas completely enclosed, in case there's a bird flu scare - so you can keep your chickens separate from wild birds.  it will also undoubtedly help secure the chickens against the mama fox and her two babies that i've seen meandering in our field in the evenings.

i, of course, couldn't wait to get the chickens 'til their coop was done, so i found an ad in the blå avis (our craig's list equivalent) and went off on a chicken acquisition mission. i think i was also hoping to speed up the building process on the chicken coop a bit by having the actual chickens waiting in the wings, as it were.  luckily, they can live in the outdoor bunny cage 'til their coop is finished.

i went to the chicken farm, intending to get a 1.4 as they call it - four hens and a rooster - but while i was there, i was talked into one more hen and they threw in an extra rooster for free. there was also a possible commitment on my part to buy a very cute little pony, but thus far, we're just whispering about that.  we are going back to get some cool swedish black chickens that are a nordic heritage breed and good egg-layers - they weren't quite big enough (you couldn't tell which were boys and which were girls as of yet). the chickens we got are 2 months old and are dansk landhøns, another old nordic breed. tho' i do still want a couple of araucanas, which aren't a nordic breed (i need those martha stewart blue eggs).

the poultry farm was a marvelous place and next time i will take my camera (how i managed to get out the door without it is beyond me). they're raising all sorts of traditional nordic breeds and contributing to bringing them back to commercial viability. they also had all kinds of turkeys, guinea fowl and even some gorgeous peacocks! they were really fowl people! (sorry, i couldn't resist) i'm always so excited to meet people like that - people who are passionate about what they're doing, have loads of knowledge and enthusiasm for it and are contributing to sustainability. all of their birds had a great life, with lots of fresh air and outdoor space to run around in. they had electric fences to protect against the foxes and said they hadn't had any trouble with them.

it's funny, my high school boyfriend knew all about chickens (he'd been in "country school" 'til the 7th grade) and i remember teasing him endlessly and thinking he was a bit of a geek. and now, some thirty-odd years later, i find having chickens to be cool.


Chive Talkin'

Chives have been a staple in my garden for several years. They are easy to grow, and here in Iowa, are one of the indicators that it is spring :)

There are 4 chive plants in my herb garden. Three are "regular chives" the other little plant is onion chives. Garlic chives are another option too, which I really really want to try. Chives are easily divided to share with family, friends are just to have more for yourself.

Things got busy around here this spring and the chives got neglected. Once I got around to doing something with them they were just starting to flower.

A quick search online and I came up with some interesting options! I blogged earlier about the sweet apple blossom jelly that I made and it made me wonder if I could do something with the chive blossoms. Sure enough you can and much much more! I had enough blossoms to make both chive jelly and chive infused vinegar. Both are really easy. I also put some chives in the dehydrator. Since I had waited so long to harvest the chives some of them were rather tough so I composted those and only dried the smallest most tender chives. Dried chives I use in all sorts of recipes...breads, dips, mayonaise based salads (such as potato and macaroni) where they can rehydrate. I know that Im forgetting some options so please chime in. :) Chives can be frozen as well, but for me its much more convenient for me to dry them, snip them up and put them in a canning jar where they are easy to grab. No digging through the freezer.

Chive jelly (left) Chive Vinegar (right)

Chive Blossom Jelly (Jam)
1 cup chive blossoms

2 cups boiling water
1/4 cider vinegar (you can use 1/4 lemon juice but I was looking for savory)
4 cups sugar
3oz liquid pectin
Clean blossoms and pour your 2 cups of boiling water over them. Cover and let steep. I left it overnight and then strained it...there were lots of little bits so I strained my "chive tea" twice. It was a pretty pink color.

Once strained add to a heavy stock pot along with the sugar & vinegar (lemon juice). Bring to a rolling boil, once the sugar has dissolved add your pectin. Return the mixture to a rolling boil and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and skim off any foam. Fill your sterilized jars and process for 5 minutes (small jars)

Chive Blossom Vinegar

Pick a generous number of chive blossoms. Soak in water to remove any bugs or dirt that are clinging to them.

Dry well and pack into a jar. I only had about 1 3/4 cups after I made my chive jelly so I put them into a quart sized canning jar. I used about 2 cups of heated distilled vinegar to make my chive vinegar, you could use white wine vinegar as well.

Let your mixture sit in a cool dark place for about 2 weeks. I shake it daily. When your 2 weeds is up, strain your brew and pour it into a non-reactive container. (When making my chive blossom vinegar I made sure I used a canning jar with a plastic lid.) It turns a gorgeous bright pink color!

Delicious on my spinach salad!


Vegetable gardening is the new 'it'

Although we all ready know that growing vegetables is THE thing to do, this has now been confirmed by the gardening elite displaying at the Royal Horticultural Society's, Chelsea Flower Show. So, I thought I'd summarize three of the gardens I found interesting and relevant to us:

B&Q's garden
The B&Q (Home Depot in North America) garden was entirely vegetable based. Their garden was "designed to encourage individuals and communities to develop sustainable food growing spaces and enhance urban greening, no matter what the size of their plot." For them, this meant building a 9 metre high vertical garden! The window boxes off the tower attempted to show how vegetables can be grown anywhere. Although I am not sure how practical a 9 metre high garden is, I love the cleverness of it. One side of the tower was the garden while the other side was a potting shed that included "composting, rainwater harvesting and storage, a thermal chimney, photovoltaic panels and a wind turbine." Now, that's cool! They also had a adjacent "insect hotel" made by school children. And the judges loved it too, awarding it a Gold Medal.

M&G Garden from:
Another garden featuring veggies was the M&G Garden. This one was more traditional and I think beautiful than the B&Q garden. It featured, as they say, "a modern take on a traditional kitchen garden." In the above photo, you can see the terracotta pots and the willow framed raised beds. The raised beds had 20 different vegetables and there were 6 different fruit trees (lemon, lime, apples, pear, fig and medlar). They also squeezed in 16 different herbs as well as some beautiful flowers. It was very evocative of the classic French potager garden.

Daily Telegraph garden: from

And finally, the Best of the Show garden by the Daily Telegraph, featured vegetables too. Amongst the flowers were leeks, fennel, and parsnips in flower.

These beautiful landscaped gardens make my little hodge-podge terrace container vegetable garden look, well, little and hodge-podge-y. But here it is:
From the front, in the shorter black pot is chard and peppers, next in the black trough is tomatoes, peppers and eggplants (aubergines), behind that in three purple pots are tomatoes, bush green beans, dill, cilantro, and basil. Way in the back in the terracotta pots are spinach (in two pots) and some thyme in a third pot. Somewhere back there is also a lavender. Of all the plants, the dill is doing the best:

I am off today to get some more soil as I need to plant out some more eggplants and rearrange some of the beans, chard and peppers. I tend to do that sort of repotting which I know you shouldn't but I just can't help myself. I like to reposition plants. Makes me feel like I am doing something! I might post more pictures if I can make the garden look more appealling!

-- Jude