Sunday, December 2, 2012


We thought for sure that we'd have to wait until the days got longer in February for eggs, since the girls hadn't produced by mid October. But then last week Ruby started to make a lot of noise. She looked fatter, and her comb was redder and larger than before. Desi was also looking a lot more grown up.

I didn't think anything of it until Alex texted me this picture on Tuesday:

Between Tuesday and Saturday, Ruby laid 4 eggs! It's so exciting. We tried the eggs for breakfast on Friday, and they are absolutely the tastiest eggs I've ever eaten. The shells were nice and hard and the yolks were deep yellow, almost orange. This is a good sign, meaning the girls are getting enough of the right nutrients in their diets.

I watched Ruby yesterday to see how she acted before laying. She squawked a bit, ran into the coop, stayed only a short while, came back out to scratch for a bit, and repeated that cycle for most of the morning. Finally, she stayed in the coop for about 25 minutes. When she came out, she looked a lot littler, so I ran outside and found a warm egg waiting in the laying box.

The shells go either in with the worm compost (they like the calcium) or into the black plastic yard waste compost bin. We really need to amp up our soil production for next growing season, so food scraps feel like gold.

Cold Frame Construction

This happened a while ago, but I'm just now getting around to posting the pictures. We wanted to insulate one of the raised beds from the cold so we could keep seedlings in there to overwinter and get an early start in spring. We'd liked to have harvested cool weather greens all winter, but didn't get the plants developed early enough, so that isn't a possibility. 

We made the cold frame so that we could easily install it each winter and break it down each Spring. We drilled brackets into the inside of the raised beds.

Then we used PVC pipe to make the skeleton of the cold frame.

Then we draped polyethylene plastic sheeting over the whole thing. We weighed the sides down with bricks to keep it in place.

The right side was mcGyvered since we didn't have enough plastic sheeting to have it be one continuous sheet (we'd used too much for drop clothes on house projects.) 

Inside there are spinach, kale, and arugula seedlings. There's also a sad little enormous broccoli that may or may not ever produce. The sheeting will protect against frost, but let enough light in that we should be in business pretty quickly for next season.

The seed catalogs came on November 28th, so planning is already underway.

The Chicken's Life

Now that the garden's done for the season, we're allowed to scratch in the beds to find yummy treats. 

If we eat grubs now, they won't hatch in Spring and be a nuisance for the plants.

This is a hard life.

What is happening with this black box that flashes light. Is it food? I'd better check.

Sometimes our humans insist on holding us. We hate it, but there are treats after.

Cabbage leaves aren't our favorite, but the little bug eggs on them are pretty thrilling.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mind Reboot

This past week, we've made a lot of pricy mistakes. Alex left my iPad in the seat back pocket on the plane home from our NYC visit. It wasn't just his fault - I saw him put it in there, I should have reminded him to get it out. Tonight a friend came into town, so we took him out for dinner. The car was towed while we were inside since we screwed up the parking. Goodbye, we said, to another 135 dollars. When we got home, we realized another (albeit smaller) error.  Our visiting friend just tore his ACL, and his wounded limb is in need of frequent icing. So before we went to dinner, we took all the ice out of the ice cube trays and refilled them. Great plan, except that we left the ice out on the counter to melt and get everywhere.

Earlier this week, Alex was cleaning the drain out and starting washing the sink when he was done. Done, but before he'd put the drain back together. Water went everywhere. I think we need a brain realignment or something along those lines. We are eager to buy a rental property in the next few months, and at this rate, we won't be able to since we'll have pissed away all our extra cash on stupidity.

Tonight before bed, I am thinking very organized, together sorts of thoughts. I am writing lists for the week, and making sure to come up with lunch options for Alex for. Yes, I am tired, but I know if I don't make easy meals, he'll just buy fast food instead. Half the days, I could probably be counted upon to make something for myself since my food laziness is much less developed than his, but the other days I'd hit up the work cafeteria. And that's money we've already spent on idiocy.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Catchup Post

With a death in the family, an out of town birthday party, work craziness, and hurricane Sandy, blogging hasn't exactly been high on my priority list. We have been making slow progress on the house, so I wanted to post a few images to get back into the swing of things.

Slugs have been eating the greens I planted behind the retaining wall any morning it's warm enough for them to be out. But no more! We bought a 50 lb bag of diatomaceous earth at the pet store. It's great for de-lousing the chickens, but also works as a barrier to slugs. Score!

The fire bush in the back is loosing its leaves very quickly, but it's so wonderful to look at.

We've been experimenting with booze infusions! It's cold now, so I crave bourbon. This is the first attempt, an apple vanilla cinnamon bourbon. We tested it last night, and it was glorious. It was even too good to add mixers. I just put a bit of water with it, and sipped happily. We also made a great batch of green tomato chutney from the leftover tomatoes in the garden that wouldn't ripen quickly enough to escape first frost (which is expected tonight!)

I realize this is a dark, virtually useless photo, but the dining room is coming together nicely! The walls are painted, there are curtains, and plants. Things are looking up!

Slowly but surely, these wall tiles are also going up on the accent wall in the dining room. Pretty interesting, right? The last little bit is taking a while to work through because we have to move an outlet, and there isn't anything to attach the outlet to in its new position. A dozen different techniques have failed miserably. But things are going forward!

For the winter, our indoor project will be the kitchen. I plan to:
  1. Paint the cabinets a glossy white
  2. Add red knobs and silver drawer pulls
  3. Redo the countertop with a cheap, Rust-oleum kit for now
  4. Paint three walls white and one wall the slight lime green
  5. Paint the paneling near the side door bright red to match the hardware
  6. Retile the floors

Sunday, October 7, 2012


Even giving most scraps to the chickens, we are still amassing an unseemly compost pile in the yard faster than I'd like. The pile is also not becoming finished compost as quickly as I'd like. Enter red wrigglers! We purchased the worm factory (I prefer worm apartment, if you'll excuse me) online and set it up with some in-process compost, shredded newspaper, and coconut coir. Then when the worms arrived last week, we added a small amount of food and let them at it.

If you want one of these bad boys, you can purchase it here:

For the first few days in a new home, their impulse is to escape. Makes sense to me. We lost a few, but most seem happy and healthy inside. Ideally, they'll process about one tray's worth of food per month, meaning that at planting time next year, we're going to have a wonderful amount of worm poop black gold.

The only things you can't feed them are: bay leaves, oily things, meat (eww), citrus, and garlic or onion. That's basically the same list you can't feet the chickens (although meat is actually ok for them.) Garlic & onions aren't a problem, since they go into the stock bag. We rarely have meat, and when it's around, Alex eats all of it. It's just oily leftovers from our plates that go into the garbage now, and that's ok with me.

One attempt at winterizing the house - failed.

Our home is big, old, and therefore it only stays about 10 degrees warmer than outside temperature naturally during Winter. On a day like today, with no sun and spitting cold rain, that is noticeable. The thermostat reads 58, and outside it's 48. Burrrr.

So we've been researching heaters for the living area and attic (although right now, the attic still holds heat really nicely.) I've also been thinking about solid curtains for the living room and dining room, so we can form a barrier between the holes in the walls (aka windows) and us. Our windows are new and double pane, so we don't really have to worry about drafts. Still, I want to seal all leaks possible before I cave and turn on the furnace. One thing I really miss about apartment living was when wimps  neighbors above and below me turned on the heat nice and early and kept my house warm for free.

But back to the curtain search: we have perfectly serviceable (albeit faux bronze) pinch pleat drape hardware. The pulls work, so you can open and close the drapes easy. Cool! I'd rather reuse than replace any day. Unfortunately, pinch pleat drapes seem to have gone out of fashion. People who still demand them seem to only buy horrifying, gauchely-patterned maroon monstrosities. I just want something solid in color, preferably a luxurious velvet or unobtrusive cotton, but no.  There is no fabric store in Pittsburgh, or I'd just make them myself. Apparently there is tape you can use to make drapes pinch pleat easily. I don't have a sewing machine, but neither did the pioneers.

Pinch pleat drapes, it seems, are out.

So I decided I could break off the end of the curtain rod, remove the hardware, and just use ready-made window panels with grommets at the top. These ARE in fashion presently, and are overpriced-but-available everywhere from West Elm to Pottery Barn. I have a weakness for eggplant, so I bought four eggplant panels from West Elm, assuaging my sweatshop guilt by reminding myself that I'd be saving energy with these drapes.

They arrived, and these drapes -- so pillowy and vividly aubergine in the pictures online -- are thin, chintzy, and BROWN in real life. They are awful. I hung one just to see, and they are the absolute worst. So I'm back at square one. Anyone want to offer me their old pinch pleat curtains to dye a cool color as a present? It is my birth month soon...

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Rounding out the end of the season

A few weeks ago, it started to reach the low 40s at night. We were seeing highs in the low 70s, but it was a little horrible for the tomatoes and peppers. As a result, I did the right (but horrible) thing and snapped off all the new buds. This way, the plants could concentrate on ripening the fruit they already had rather than setting new fruit that probably doesn't have enough time to ripen before the temperature permanently drops below 65 degrees and then freezes. As a result, we got three more, gorgeous black krim tomatoes, and two more pints yellow cherries. The jalapenos gave 6 more little beauties, and we squeezed another bell pepper out just in time.

Tonight, however, we have a freeze warning. It may sink below 32 overnight. This means we need to prep. Pineapple plants and rosemary all come indoors for the winter. I pulled up the basil, which was really past its prime anyway since garden snakes have been using its root system as a house for about a month. That became one last bit of pesto. In fact, even the hardy herbs I took i big chunk from, since you never know.

This seems like a good time to reflect on the productivity of different varieties so I don't forget entirely by next year.

The two big shocker producers were both yellow: the yellow cherry tomatoes and the lemon cucumber. I had only one plant each, but got dozens of pints of yellow cherry tomatoes. The tomato plant was taller than I am. The lemon cucumber gave me at least 30 lbs of veg. I had two russian pickling cukes in there, and they gave me about half the volume of the one lemon cucumber. Good to know. All cucumbers did succumb to some kind of disease at the end, and I think they would have appreciated more scaffolding to increase air flow.

Corn, broccoli, onions, and beets were a wash. I tried to get some beets and broccoli this fall, but the broccoli is 4 feet tall without any flowers and the beets are still as big as a pea.

The french climbing beans had only 3 square feet, and produced twice what the purple dove beans produced with 4 square feet. HOWEVER, I love the purple beans  a lot more. I also suspect the purples were a little light starved due to the yellow cherry tree.

We ended up with only one Black Krim tomato bush. It stayed too close to the ground, so I need to be more diligent about staking and pruning. We only got a few lbs from it, but there is another whole crop, green on the vine, that would be great if they had another week or two. Bummer. This is why I'm not just pulling them now. I'm gambling that it won't freeze, and that we'll get red tomatoes soon.

Amish paste tomatoes were slow to produce, but I got another 2-3 lbs this week. From 3 plants I wanted the yield to be more like the insane Early Girl. Not sure how much total that one gave, but we have 20 lbs frozen whole in the deep freeze.

The potatoes in the first barrel were a little disappointing - about 5 lbs worth. On the one hand, this only came from 1 potato, but it's not really enough to warrant the space. The second tower had about double that, so that's encouraging. Next year I need to stack the towers higher and plant a few different varieties.

Our squash vines were unhappy. We got one Blue Banana and one Butternut before things went down hill. However, we have two more little fruits on the vine now, so we'll see what happens in the next month or so.

The brussel sprouts gave us about a gallon, but attracted many pests. And unless I'm seriously mistaken, neither Alex nor I love them anyway, so it seems silly to try them again.

I want twice as many beds next season, so wahoo! And production isn't over by any means. We're trying to grow greens behind the retaining wall and will set up a cold frame in one of the beds in the next 2 weeks for more greens.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ohiopyle Hiking Trip

This weekend we took an overnight hiking trip on a whim. We'd bought used packs a few weeks ago and the cheapest tent REI had to offer last week. I was starting to feel the weather crunch, since in another month it will most likely be too chilly to sleep outdoors with the equipment we have.

So down to Ohiopyle we drove. We did about a 2.5 hour hike in the afternoon, then camped at one of the tent sites, and came back the following morning. The whole trip took 24 hours total. We learned some things about our packs, and that the sleep padding we have is not adequate for long term trips where actual sleep will be required. We also learned that yes, the rain fly works well, since it rained the entire night.

I really enjoyed waking in the crisp, autumn air and drinking a hot mug of tea in front of a tiny fire. Next step is to do an actual backpacking trip, but only a short distance. Maybe next Sunday. Finally, before the season ends, I want to do the 19 mile backpacking loop in Racoon Creek State Park.

What is with me? I leave Colorado and all of a sudden I like being outdoors. I suspect it has a lot to do with the deficiency of mountain lions in my current state. That, and all the cool fungus and moss around here. The way to make me interested in something is to cover it with fungus and moss.

Perhaps I should embroider that on a pillow.

Gearing up for Fall

I'm not super happy about the dropping temperatures. The house is getting chilly and I'm certainly not turning on the heat any time soon. The garden seems frozen in place, nothing is ripening the way I'd like and the new fall seedlings are taking forever to grow.

Still, it doesn't take very much for my attitude toward Fall to change. Pumpkins will make me a happy camper pretty quickly.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Harvest Festival 2012: Pt 3


Photo credit: Shannon Dickerson

It was harvest fest for the chickens too. They got so many treats since there were so many visitors. Plums (their fav), squash innards, corn husks, leftovers from dinner, apple skins, etc.

Photo credit: Tom Cruger
They are still getting a little bit each day from their very own leftover bag in the fridge. They've hardly touched their feed in the last few days, and who can blame them? Of course, this does mean they are pooping at an alarming frequency. The coop needs to be cleaned out again this afternoon. Smelly girls!

Harvest Festival 2012: Pt 2


Cider Making

We began with apple cider making. I thought at first that we'd turn it into alcoholic apple cider but a few things changed my mind. First, alcoholic cider has to age for a few months, so we couldn't have consumed it that day. Second, for people who didn't want booze, there wasn't anything interesting to drink unless we used the cider. Third, it was SOOOO GOOD that I questioned whether it'd be improved through fermentation. Blasphemy, I know.

All we did was buy a half bushel of apples (a sweet variety and a tart variety,) core them, and run them through the juicer. We skimmed off a bit of foam and heated the cider. Man, was it delicious! No need to add spices in my opinion.

Usually you don't need to core apples to run them through, but I was planning to make apple butter from the leftover apple mush, so it was necessary.

Lawn Art Contest!

This was perhaps the high point for me. There were three teams, 30 minutes, and very few rules other than don't smash my plants. Action shots below:

These pictures of the final products are courtesy of my dad:
Shannon & Jenni's spiral herb garden

One of Alex & Dave's three patio benches
Mom & Dad's Goldworthy-esque rock sculpture

I couldn't pick a winner, of course, because every entry was awesome. Now there is seating outside, a spiral herb garden for spring planting, and a super cool sculpture for the chickens and me to enjoy. Well done teams!!


We grabbed all the carrots, brussel sprouts, and a few radishes from the garden. Now it's ready for a fall planting of greens sometime this week. Thanks, team!

Mostly we just chatted and laughed like idiots. A pretty good way to spend a day if you ask me. 

Harvest Festival 2012: Pt 1

THE MENU! All dishes included garden produce; some exclusively so.

Apple pie - right out of the oven.

Peach Raspberry pie after it's baked

Everyone lining up - plates in hand

My first plate-load

A close-up of some of the spread. Food gets served in its cooking container in my house - nothing fancy!

Pies - before they go in the oven. Cute little pastry art by Jenni Finch.

Pumpkin Peanut Soup with Chives and Sour Cream

Happy Birthday to Tricie!!


  • Local Cheese Platter with Provolone, Smoky Jack, Garlic & Herb Chevre, and Spicy Honduran Harvest cheeses. I made the whole wheat herb crackers that accompanied.
  • Hummus and pita wedges (pita made by a local bakery)
  • Roasted squash seeds
  • A selection of pickles we canned this season, including Dilly Beans, Mustard Green Peppers, and Cantaloupe Pickles (which were bizarre.)
  • Honey cake (provided by Alex's mother as a Rosh Hashanah treat)
The Dinner:

  • Tomato, Basil, & Balsalmic Salad
  • Cucumber Salad
  • Blue Potato and Rutabagas au Gratin with sage
  • Quinoa-stuffed Guatamalan Blue Banana Squash
  • Roasted Brussel Sprouts smothered in caramelized onions and mushrooms
  • Spicy Szechuan Wax Beans
  • White Sweet Corn (brought by by sister Tricia)
  • Homemade Italian Bread (brought by Mom & Dad)
  • Spicy Pumpkin Peanut Soup (brought by Shannon, and I vote this as MVP.)
The Beverages:

  • Homemade autumn ale
  • Three different ciders from Arsenal Cider House in Lawrenceville
  • Homemade apple cider (non-alcoholic)
The Dessert:

  • Peach Raspberry Pie (the fruit was brought my my sister Lizzy)
  • Apple Pie
  • Chocolate Hot Fudge Cake (not in keeping with the local theme, but it was my sister's birthday cake so it gets a free pass)
Breakfast the Next Morning:
  • Leftover Pie
  • Honey Cake
  • Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread (Tricia)
  • Leftover Italian Bread, toasted with raspberry jam (mine) and blueberry jam (my mother's)
  •  Gluten Free Apricot tea cakes (much better than they sound)
  • Leftover hot apple cider