Thursday, January 31, 2013

Green House Kite

This little greenhouse was my gift from santa this year.  I think santa wanted all my seedlings out of his garage window, but he didn't know that the green house would fit perfectly on the pavers where he keeps used to keep his grill. 
Just for fun, I sprinked some lettuce seeds in some flower pots and after a week I had lots of little baby lettuce even though its been cold enough to kill everything growing in the ground.  I was just getting ready to thin them out and see if I could grow enough lettuce in the greenhouse for a few salads when there was a lettuce dissaster.  We had terrible wind Tuesday night.  The wind was so strong it woke us up in the middle of the night when we heard a big thump, followed by more, smaller thumps.  So, at three in the morning we were out in the yard in our pajamas trying to drag in the pieces of the green house before they blew out of the yard.  The plastic walls were like kites and very hard to carry in the wind.  The little baby lettuces were spilled.  The greenhouse is in shambles.  Santa thinks he can put it back together again, but I doubt it ever be the same. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Plucking Party

We participated in a goose and chicken plucking party over the weekend.  I know it seems wierd, but it was a really good time.  Despite the death and gore it was fun to work together with new friends and old friends, tour a new farm, and learn how to turn birds into food.  We worked in a green house and it was kind of like being in a life sized snow globe.  Lots of light streaming in and feathers floating everywhere like snowflakes.  This is not my first time plucking and butchering, but it was the first time I got to work with geese.  It takes soooo much longer to pluck a goose than it does to pluck a duck, and they both make chickens seem easy. 
The down is the fuzzy gray fluff that is revealed when the white feathers are removed from the body.  My friend saved all the down so she can make a duvet, and it is wonderfully soft but horribly hard to get it all pulled off.  The two of us worked on our goose for over an hour and it's still a bit fuzzy.  Maybe it will have a nice crunch when I cook it!
We tried to use this mechanized plucker, which is basically a cylinder with rubber stobs that spins very fast with a power drill.  It didn't really help much and with the chickens it was easier to pluck by hand that deal with the plucker.  I've always been currious about a plucking machine so I was glad to get to try one. 

I like the gutting and butchering better than dealing with the feathers (or the ax!).  It's much nicer than the anatomy classes I took in high school and college.  All the organs are fresh and brightly colored and don't smell toxic.  I've alway heard people say they can't get past the smell of butchering anamals, but most of the time it just smells like chicken.  If you've ever cooked a whole chicken or turkey it's not any different.  Once the feather and feet are gone it's just like food.
I don't want to get too gory, but I thought this picture was worth taking.  These are goose ovaries.  As you can see by the different sized lumps, the follicals are in different stages of developement, but still attached.  These are basicaly the egg yolks.  Once they are fully developed, they detach from the ovary and enter the oviduct where they get fertilized and the white albumen and a shell is added.  For an idea of the scale, the biggest lump was about the size of a chicken egg.  I didn't take a photo of the males testicles, which lets you know just how unimpressive they were. 

Monday, January 28, 2013

Blue Bus Tree House

In this photo you can see the door we made from some old garage doors.  It has a stained glass window (a Big Lots find) and a strange fish/serpent head door lock carved from a board and decorated with sharpies. When we got the bus the original door was mangled and I never would have guessed that getting something to match the weird shape of the opening would be so hard.  It's a work in progress. 

 Of course, we would make more progress if I didn't spend so much time in the hammock!  A flock of vultures nests near the bus and they seem to spend all their time soaring on the wind currents above the river.  It's wonderful to lay in the hammock and watch the trees sway in the breeze and see the birds floating on the wind. 
It's also nice to hear the sound of Brandon's hammer or ax while he builds something or cuts firewood while I work on hammocking.  This picture shows the deck in progress, but the rail is up and it's almost finished now.  Some friends removed a deck from their house and we recycled it at the bus.  It's a little scrappy looking, like most of our projects, but it makes the bus feel like a tree house since it's perched on the edge of the slope.   

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Which Comes First?

This incubator, with six eggs from moms hens (hopefully fertile ones), currently sits behind my office chair.  It has an automatic egg turner so I don't have to turn the eggs twice a day.  Folks around the office have ceased to be surprized by it.  Some have even put the due date (Feb. 4) on their calenders so they can be here for the hatch.  My chicken partner, whose office is accross the hall from me, used this incubator when he was a kid in 4H.  It hasn't been used since then, so I had a disapointing first try at hatching eggs before I realized that the old thermometer was bad.  Unfortunatly, I was so gung ho that I order 32 eggs online and wasted nearly a hundred dollars on eggs that I then killed. 

Or maybe I didn't kill them they just didn't develop.  Hmm...These were not intended for breakfast, they were intended to be chickens, so I feel like I killed them when they didn't hatch, but I don't feel like a murderer when whipping up an omelet.  Of course, I don't feel like a murderer when ripping the guts out of a chicken that was walking around a minute ago either, so maybe it's just me!
So, this time I'm sticking to 6 free eggs for a trial run.  Yesterday I used my desk lamp and cardboard box with a hole in it to "candle" a few of the eggs and I think I could see developing chicks.  Should I pull this off, I can make new chickens every 21 days.  It's like magic! 

Cranberry Pleaser

As you can see from this photo, we like to make our wine the traditional way - smashing the fruit with a baseball bat!  Actually, we only did this once, but it worked quite well and I prefer it to letting anyone's (especially his) feet touch the fruit. 

This was the first batch of cranberry wine, which in both cases has been inspired by the discounted cranberries that always go on sale after Thanksgiving.   Since it was so hard to smash the fruit for a 5 gallon batch, I've started freezing fruit before I use it in the wine.  This makes it mushy and much easier to smash up a bit so the yeast can get good access to the fruit.  I think this time I put the unfrozen cranberries in the food processer and chopped them up a bit. 
The final product is a lovely color and very bright.  It was also very potent, with a 14 percent alcohol content.  It was still a powerful drink when diluted with sprite and ice, which made it a good summer beverage instead of the holiday drink I imagined it would be. 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Countertop Livestock

It was time to rack the cranberry/grape/raisin wine, and to take the the pear/prune/clove wine out of the crock and off the fruit. This is the second cranberry based wine I've made, and I think this one is going to be better than the first, which was drinkable, and maybe even enjoyable if you mixed it with some sprite and told yourself it was sangria.  I'm hoping the grapes and raisins will add something to the final taste other than just the tartness of the cranberries. Its a little early to say for sure, but the pear wine tastes weird. Maybe cloves weren't a very good idea.

I think I prefer making wine and other fermentations in the winter, on cold dark evening like tonight. I get a feeling of accomplishment similar to that of growing food in the summer. The gist of the chores is the same - making sure they are alive and have food, making sure that they have a comfortable temperature, checking their progress and tending to the ferment. Maybe its more like having livestock in the house. Quiet, gassy, and invisible livestock.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Baby Chicken Visit

On my way home from working out of town today, I dropped off some expensive organic chicken feed for our forty eight baby chickens. My partner in this chicken adventure recently set them up at his family farm. They have a cozy converted milk room for their first home out of the brooder. Even though they were huddled near the lights because it was so unusually cold, they seemed to be content and growing. The little bard rock chicks made me want to go home and watch baby videos of Helen and Mrs. Hall. They also made me want a spicy chicken sandwich for lunch!

Barn Quilt

Helen and Mrs. Hall, when not roaming the yard, live in their very own chicken tractor. Complete (roost, egg box, etc.), with a painted barn quilt inspired by The Egg.

Helen and Mrs. Hall

Helen and Mrs. Hall have been giving us eggs for over 4 years. They stay in the fenced in yard and provide not just tasty eggs, but also entertainment, companionship, yard ornamentation, and fertilizer. Or, said another way, they are always in the way, dig up the mulch, eat my garden, create a stir with the neighbors, and poop on everything. Good eggs though.

Mrs. Hall is the darker colored one and the most friendly. She thinks I'm the rooster so she flirts and crouches for "petting". Helen plays hard to get. I try to do my part to keep'm happy.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Inside the Blue

This is a fuzzy photo of the inside of the bus from the back door. There's a futon, and a sink that used to be in my parents house. No running water and a bucket under the sink drain. I finally have some place to put all the afghans I rescue from (buy at) goodwill.

We Have Fire at the Bus!

Its not as smoky now that I filled in all the holes in the old stove. I rescued the stove from an old barn that was being demolished.

The Bus In The Wood

The bus now has a custom built front door (which doesn't close very well and has no knob), an outside bench, picnic table, and firepit. The views of the river from the many windows are best in the winter after the leaves have fallen.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Stupid Sock Monsters

Can I post images from my phone? Yes, I can!  I made these stupid sock creatures for my friends two baby girls.  I'm sure they will be replulsed when they are older.

"Remember moms weird friend?"

"Do you mean the one who used to give us mutant dolls made from old socks? Gross!"

 They remember me!!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

I'm Back!

After nearly five years, I've decided to give this another try. Here goes!
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