Monday, March 30, 2009

Can You Believe This?

I've been writing about our little Missy chicken - a Brown Leghorn that was given to us at least 10 years ago that just died a couple of days ago. When she died, I asked Aries if we should call or email Alan and Mary, the couple that gave her to us, to tell them about Missy. They'd moved over the Sierras, to a town hours away, years ago. Aries had no idea how to reach them anymore, so we just said oh well. That was two days ago.

Today, Aries' day off, we decided to go for a ride over the Sierras to Daffodil Hill (I'll write more about that shortly). So off we go, up over the snowy Sierras via Carson Pass. About an hour into the drive, I ask Aries for a potty-stop (I'd been drinking coffee) at the Snow-Park just past the top of the pass. Most folks stop at the rest area on top of the pass, but I like the parking area where no one else stops, just a quarter-mile down the other side, better.

So we pull into the almost empty parking lot - only two other cars there. One is empty - they must be out cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. The other car is up near the restroom, both passengers out near their open trunk, as we pull in. "Can you believe this!" Aries says, "Look! That's Alan and Mary." He honks and parks, they're looking at us wondering who's honking at them until we get out of the car. I ask if their ears have been burning - we've just been talking about you! Really!

They were driving the other way over the Sierras to spend the day at Tahoe, and had made a quick restroom stop. It was freezing cold out - not really a place you'd want to hang around any longer that it took to get in, get out, and get on your way. Now, really, what are the odds that we'd run into anyone we knew in that particular parking lot at that particular time? Each of us headed in opposite directions. And then, have it be a couple we hadn't seen in years, but had just been thinking and talking about? Can you believe it?

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Quick Update

Just a quick update before I turn everything off for Earth Hour. Nevada is notoriously slow to get on any bandwagon, but amazingly enough, it said in the paper this morning that the Capitol will go dark (and the Las Vegas Strip - that should be interesting). Carson City itself does not plan to do anything - not too surprising. Aries is resistant to turning off the television, but I think I can get him to do it again this year anyway. I have to confess, despite turning everything off in the house, we're not really cutting our electrical use down to zero. As with last year, I think we'll be out in the hot tub. It's the biggest energy-sucker in our household, but with the night temperatures below freezing I don't want to take the chance of cutting the switch on it and having it freeze up overnight. Oh well, at least it makes it easier to get Aries to turn off everything else. I guess we all have our justifications.

Missy was dead in the nest box when I went out this morning. We can't really remember how old she would have been - at least 10 - 12 years, and we think closer to 15. We buried her out in the sagebrush part of the lot.

The four baby chicks are all feathered out now, looking like half-size chickens. They spend the day out in the dog run, but with the nights still so cold I'm still bringing them into the dog crate in the living room each night. To try and get them on a daylight schedule, when I bring them in at night I've been covering their crate so they'll settle down and sleep. Maybe next week they can go outside for good.

More of my daffodils are blooming, the grape hyacinths too. There are a few more blooms on the apricot each day, but I'm not sure if they're surviving our night temps in the 20's. There were a couple of honeybees and one big black and yellow bumble bee working the blooms early this morning before the wind came up, so we might, just maybe, get apricots this year. Once the flowers get fertilized and set fruit, the fruit can take colder temperatures than the blossoms can. And I know winter isn't through with us yet.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Our Little Missy

At least 10 - 12 years ago (maybe more?), one of Aries' co-workers asked if we'd like a chicken. A little Brown Leghorn hen had flown into their yard earlier in the year. They started feeding her and she stuck around so they named her Missy. They had no idea where she'd come from - no one nearby had chickens. She was already fully grown and laying eggs. But they didn't really have anywhere for her to stay, and they didn't think an only chicken would be very happy. Firesign Farm has long been known as a home for wayward chickens, so we said sure, we'd take her.

So Missy came to live with us. She always did fly well, and after a year or two she figured she didn't need to stay in the pen with the rest of the flock. For a few more years she'd lay her little white egg in a nest box, then fly out, spend her day scratching about around the lot, and then stand waiting to go back into the pen in the evening.

Then, one evening, she wasn't there. We thought we'd lost her to a coyote or a loose dog. But maybe a week later, I spied her getting a drink of water from the birdbath. I went out to give her some feed, and she quickly gobbled it up and then took off. I casually followed her, pretending not to be looking in her direction, but she was really sneaky - she lost me. A few days later, we did it again. Eventually, I found where she was hiding. The next time she came to drink, I snuck over there to see what she was setting on, and figured I'd better make our dog run into a brood pen. Three weeks after she first disappeared, she came down to meet me at the feed shed trailed by a dozen day-old babies. I put food and water in the dog run, and she marched them all right in.

This happened every April for years. She'd disappear, and I'd mark the calendar. I'd usually be able to follow her and find her nest eventually. In three weeks, she'd come marching back with another clutch. Half our flock are her offspring - some from when we had a RI Red rooster, later from an Amerucana. And they all drive me crazy. They all can fly out of the pen and it seems like I'm always chasing them out of the garden. They'll all go broody on me too; stop laying and want to hunker down in a nest box for weeks (so far, none of them have hidden and set on a nest, although last Spring I did find 25 eggs under a shed).

Missy stopped laying a couple of years ago. She's always had spurs, and she's so old now they're grown into complete little circles. Every day when I'm out in the yard, she comes up to me squawking and talking, begging for a handout. But today when I was outside, giving the girls a bit of corn, I noticed she didn't come over. Then, when Aries got home, he agreed with me that she didn't look like she was feeling very well. She let him pick her up (she never does that - she'll eat out of our hands, but she doesn't like to be held), and then when I offered her some corn she wouldn't eat. We put her in a nest box for the night, but I don't think she'll last much longer.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

An Award from my Fellow Soroptimists

My Soroptimist Club made me cry yesterday. Our Foundation Committee put together a presentation to honor this quarter's high school Girls of the Month and the recipients of our club's various Soroptimist scholarship and recognition awards - the Women's Opportunity Award, the Making a Difference for Women Award, and the Violet Richardson Award.

This program meeting is a favorite of everyone in the club, so there were lots of members and guests. The high school girls honored are always such amazing young women - active in both school and the community, exemplary students, and their plans for their futures are always so inspiring. Then, in the middle of the presentation, the MC said, "This year, we are starting a new award for our club, called the Above and Beyond Award. Our first honoree was born and raised in Denver, Colorado."

I was born in Denver. I'm trying to think who else in the club is from Denver. The MC goes on, "She spent 10 years tending bar in Leadville, Colorado."

Oh my, she's talking about me! The MC continues (she gave me a copy of her presentation speech. Since we rarely hear how others see us, please indulge me as I quote her):

"She worked at Harvey's Casino, then at Eagle Valley Golf as Administrative Assistant. She met her husband through friends at a party - they married October 11, 1989. She has two children (no, I don't) - Boris the dog and Albert the cat (oh, ok). After 25 years, she received a degree in Human Ecology from UNR (ok, it took me a while. I worked full-time, and incurred no debt).

"She loves pizza and cheeseburgers (she's right - I don't eat them very often any more, but I could happily live on either). She's been all over the world: Tanzania, Tahiti, Honduras, Costa Rica, Machu Picchu, Belize, Curacao, Rarotonga, and has even taken a barefoot cruise on a real sailing ship (the girls, their parents, and the other guests just listen, but my club members start turning their heads to see where I'm sitting).

"She has 15 chickens - if you like eggs, let her know. She has three guinea fowl that love her and follow her all around (did she interview my husband?). She has her own garden and orchard - pears, apples, peaches, nectarines, Asian pears, plums, apricots, cherries, figs. She even has her own root cellar.

"She has a Honda Pacific Coast motorcycle which does not get out much (so, she did talk to Aries - he never said a thing!). She lives with her husband at the Firesign Farm.

"Please congratulate the first to receive Soroptimists' Above and Beyond Award. She loves to volunteer. She is involved in Muscle Powered, the Democratic Women, and Soroptimists. This year, she's been busy as our Treasurer, started a new fundraiser for our club selling garters during Nevada Day, and she is always willing to help out."

I was so surprised! The MC called me up to the podium. Recognition by your peers can be so moving - it's a good thing I had a handkerchief in my pocket. All I had to say was, "Thank you. I'm honored."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ash Canyon

It was a bit chilly but the sun was shining, so I got out for a walk with a couple of friends yesterday. We met on the edge of a subdivision on the west side of town, to hike a mile or two up Ash Canyon.

We parked next to a couple of city water tanks and walked up the dirt road heading up the canyon. Behind us, the silver dome of the capitol building in the center of town glints in the rays of the afternoon sun. This area burned in a wildfire four and a half years ago - the lower hills are covered with last year's dry grass and weeds; the sagebrush still small, just starting to grow back.

Just over the first rise, we left the road to take a small dirt trail down to the creek. Snow still lingered on the north-facing sides of the canyon, but had melted away on the south-facing sides. The creek sparkles in the sun shining down through the leafless trees. The water was icy cold - in fact, icicles still hung where water had splashed up and froze the night before.

It's been five years since the Waterfall fire burned through this area. The underbrush next to the creek has come back. But many of the big pines and cottonwood trees are gone - only skeletons standing against the sky.

We could see the tracks of mountain bicycles on the damp trail. It's still a beautiful place, close to town, to hike or bike. In the black and white of the winter landscape, the black peeling bark, the bleached dead wood and the charred interior of a burned poplar tree becomes nature's work of art.

There are signs that Spring is coming. Small plants and grasses sprout in the damp soil. In sunny places alongside the creek, we stop to stroke the fuzzy little catkins on the willows.

We see an odd pile of rocks, a small branch sticking up out of the center. Upon closer examination, we see there's carving on the stick, and realize it's a grave. "Hear [sic] lies the stinky dog RIP," it says.

The trail crosses the creek, and meanders along the shady north side for a while. It's colder on that side, but the effort of the uphill climb keeps us from getting cold. Another bridge brings us back to the sunnier side. We're warmed up enough now to take off our top sweatshirt layers and tie them about our waists.

We stop often just to listen to the sound of the creek as it tumbles down the bottom of the little canyon. It's obvious that someone else comes here for the same reason when we come upon a little rock chair, just big enough for one person to sit and meditate on the sound of the water below.

As we follow the creek uphill, the canyon gets narrower and the walls steeper. The trail climbs farther above the creek. Finally, we come to where the trail switchbacks up, away from the creek, to meet the dirt road above. We decide we'd rather return the way we came, so turn around and retrace our steps alongside the creek. Such a wonderful outing, right on the edge of town.

Monday, March 23, 2009

New Things for the Garden

I sat down with my box of garden seeds this morning, checking to see what I'm lacking, and then put in an internet order for the seeds I know I can't find locally. One hybrid I just had to have was Joi Choi, the only bok choi I've found that doesn't bolt to seed once our summer heat gets here. I also wanted Kuroda carrots, an Asian type that handles our summer heat nicely, yet keeps well in storage until the following summer. And I'm trying Delfino Cilantro in my on-going search to find the slowest one to bolt.

I also ordered seeds for a few more heirloom vegetables. I'm trying to move more and more to heirlooms, so I can save even more of my own seeds. This year, I'm trying Lutz Green Leaf for my beet crop, and Danish Ballhead for storage cabbages. I found the things I wanted in the Jung Seeds catalog.

I like additions to my perennial plant selection even better. I ordered a Wolfberry herb plant, also called a Goji berry. It's supposed to be a hardy, drought-tolerant, vining perennial shrub, and the berries, high in anti-oxidants, are commonly dried like rose hips. Sounds like it will fit right in around here. I wanted a couple more blueberry plants. I already have a dwarf Northland that is doing ok in a little bed where I've added sulfur, plus mulched with pine needles and coffee grounds, to make the soil more acid. Blueberries are supposed to do better with three varieties cross-pollinating each other, so I'm trying a dwarf Northblue and a Rubel to complete that planting group - I need to find varieties that can both take the heat of our summers and survive our freezing winter weather without snow cover.

Then, I'm trying something new for my sweet husband. He likes to make beer, getting the ingredients from a brewers supply place in Reno, but has always wanted to play with home-grown hops. So I ordered both Nugget and Willamette plants. Before they get here I'll have to decide if I want to just grow them as summer privacy screening on the fence and treat the hops flowers as a bonus, or set up a trellis system designed for efficient harvesting of the flowers. I've thought about growing them up a string outside the south side of the chicken pen to a pole just inside to give the chickens some more summer shade, or maybe I'll design a hops arbor. Aries is pretty good at figuring out how to make my design sketches a reality, and we've got quite a bit of salvaged wood for building projects.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Second Day of Spring

Oh, brrrrr! Four inches of snow this morning, cold wind all day, and temperatures forecasted to be way below freezing tonight. At least the days are getting longer!

This is our normal Spring weather. Just as something else comes into bloom, it snows on it. Oh well, we really do need the moisture. This is high desert - we only get an average of seven inches of precipitation annually; all of it as snow November through April. Those black hoses you see in all my garden photos are soaker hoses. Just about everything I grow here has to be artificially irrigated, all summer long. So whether it's recharging our ground water or filling up our reservoirs, we'll take all the "weather" we can get.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hello Spring!

The first daffodils are blooming, and buds are swelling on the lilacs and plum trees. The first apricot blooms opened today, just in time to get snowed on tonight.

Nights have still been chilly, but the days the past week have been sunny and warm. I've been able to get out in the yard, cleaning up some of the landscaping and moving a few perennials around while they're still dormant. To me, gardening is the slowest art form, so if something isn't quite working where it is I'll move it. I also use a part of the garden edging as a tree nursery, moving little self-seeded trees around the property to where they'll get plenty of water and protection from the wildlife for a year or two, and then transplant them back out once they're bigger.

The new chicks are now almost seven weeks old. They've been spending their days out in the dog run, running and flapping about; and then back inside every night. I was talking to my neighbor over the back fence today, and he told me a couple of days ago he'd found a nest with a dozen eggs in it, hidden by one of our guinea hens. He cleaned it out and threw the eggs away. I wouldn't mind not having any keets this year, but I figure they'll probably both bring in a clutch sooner or later this summer - they're pretty good at sneaking and hiding, and the reproduction urge is quite compelling.

The clouds moved in today, the temperatures dropped, and it started to rain at nightfall. It's expected to turn to snow tonight, and be cold for the next few days. As soon as the nice days come back, I think it will be time for the chicks to go outside full-time, time to plant some peas and lettuces out in the garden. In the meantime, it's about time for me to start my tomato, peppers and eggplants inside. C'mon Springtime!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Leeks for the Lazy Gardener

Most home gardeners growing leeks start them from seed each year, or just buy transplants. Some smaller varieties are said to mature in 90 days, but the big inch-or-more wide ones like you'll find in the markets take almost 200 days to grow to that size. In order to get a pencil-sized leek seedling ready to set out in April, you'd have to start the seeds in January, tending and transplanting and keeping them under lights. That's too much work for me. I prefer to let my leeks start themselves.

Leeks, if left to themselves, are actually hardy multiplying perennials. Many members of the allium plant family are, and I take advantage of that fact so that we can eat home-grown onions year-round. I have a permanent allium bed around one corner of my garden. In that bed, I grow perennial clumps of bunching onions for Summer scallions (background right), plus clumps of walking onions (background left; sometimes called top-set or Egyptian) for the earliest Spring scallions (I've started eating those this week - more about them here). I always replant some to replace each of the clumps I use each year. The center part of that background bed is my leek nursery; this year's eating crop, set out last year and over-wintered, is in the foreground.

I started with a few of my biggest home-grown leeks years ago, transplanting a couple of the last plants left each year and then just letting them come back year after year until I need them. But if your local market has leeks with the root section still intact you can use those too. In fact, you can have your leek and plant it too. Just cut off the root section and bury it somewhere it can grow undisturbed for a year or more. The following year the root will send up a seed stalk, and also some little leeklets. Every year thereafter, if left undisturbed, the clump of leeklets will increase. I let the seed stalks grow too. They add a nice ornamental edging to that corner of the garden.

Early each Spring, I transplant a clump or two of the biggest set of leeklets into my regular garden, setting the plants in at least 6 - 8 inches deep (pruning by poultry, as seen here, not recommended - I need to clip some wings). In June, each transplant will send up a seed stalk, and I break off the flower bud on the top. By August a new leek plant has grown up alongside the broken stalk. By October, the remains of the seed stalk have dried up and are easily pulled out, leaving only a big beautiful leek plant. The leeks continue to grow, slowly, into at least December. They then spend the rest of the winter out in the garden - either buried in snow, or as is usually the case, exposed to the wind and below zero temperatures in the barren ground. The long-season leeks, the kind you want to be using for this type of over-winter growing anyway, are extremely hardy.

I might dig a few during the darkest days of winter, but usually that time of year I'm cooking with my globe onions from storage. But now, with my yellow onions almost gone, the leeks I transplanted a year ago are an especially welcome addition to our meals. Besides, their lighter and mellower flavor just seems to go better in Spring dishes. We'll eat fresh leeks for the next couple of months. By then, they'll be gone and it will be warm enough for the corn and bean plantings to rotate into that bed. The last couple of leeks get moved over to the nursery section to grow and multiply for future plantings. If you've got a little space for a permanent leek nursery, try this method and you'll never have to buy plants or contend with seeds again.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Anything Oatbran Muffins

Muffins are the quick bread-of-choice around here. In the winter, I'll leave the oven door open afterwards, to warm up the kitchen; in the summer a 20-minute baking time won't heat up the house. With my flours and grains kept in gallon glass jars and various measuring cups for scoops, it's easy to just scoop and mix, and have hot muffins in 30 minutes or less.

Last night, for dinner, we had sausage-stuffed squash. There was enough room in the pan to roast a little butternut squash along with the two Carnival squash we had for dinner, so I had some fresh mashed squash to make breakfast muffins this morning.

This is a great whole-grains recipe and is endlessly adaptive. It can be a sweet breakfast bread or a savory dinner muffin depending on what you have on-hand. I'm always changing up the fruit (or vegetable, as the case may be), the herbs or spices, and the extra add-in(s), which is why I just call them my Anything Oatbran Muffins.

Anything Oatbran Muffins (12 muffins)

1⅓ cup oat bran
1 cup rolled oats
¾ cup flour (I used whole wheat pastry flour)
½ cup sugar (white, packed brown, raw, whatever you've got)
1 tablespoon baking powder
up to 3 teaspoons herbs or spices (today I used 2 t pumpkin pie spice + a bit more cinnamon)

¾ cup fruit puree (I mashed up the squash and didn't have quite enough so made up the difference with some applesauce)
1 egg
2 tablespoons oil (I substituted more applesauce)
1¼ cup milk (I used buttermilk)

½ cup chopped nuts or dried fruit (I added a handful of raisins; sometimes I'll add both nuts and fruit, or fresh corn kernels, or whatever else sounds good at the time)

Preheat oven to 400º, grease or non-stick spray muffin pan. Mix dry ingredients together. Mix wet ingredients together in a large measuring cup. Stir wet into dry, just until moistened. Stir in the extra add-in(s). Divide among 12 muffin cups (cups will be almost full, but that's ok). Bake 20-25 minutes, and try to cool on a rack before your husband burns his mouth snatching one up as soon as it's out of the pan.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

First Onions of Spring

I still have a few yellow onions stored in the cellar. I've found Copra onions, purchased as plants from my local garden center (they'll be in next week, they said), keep very well when well-cured in the fall, and grow well in my climate in my regular summer garden. Those (and shallots - my own, set out in the fall) are my winter-time storage cooking onions.

For lunch, I had a package of imitation-crab surimi, so I decided I'd make some crab salad to put on a bagel. I diced up some celery to mix in, but it still needed something. It's starting to feel like Spring, and I'm starting to crave Spring foods. I needed some green onion. So I headed out to the garden to forage.

I have to admit - I'm a lazy gardener. If I can get my plants to grow themselves instead of me starting them from seed each year, I'll do it. Luckily, onions and other alliums are so easy to keep going that I have a special perennial bed just for them around one corner of the garden. The bunching onions are up, but I want to give them a chance to multiply. I'll eat those in the summer. In very early Spring, I go for the walking onions (sometimes called top-set or Egyptian).

Last fall, I planted the little top-set bulb bunches in spaces left by those I'd harvested. They're just now starting to grow (left side, below the hose). But I also leave some big clumps alone every summer. Right now, the big clumps I didn't touch last year have multiplied - each onion making two or three new ones - and they're already up and growing strong. Later when the heat of summer gets here, each onion will be more than an inch thick. Then, they'll start to get tough and really hot-tasting, and send up stalks topped with little bulbs. But right now, peeling away the tough red outer skin reveals a sweet little scallion - just what I needed.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Lovely Day

Today was a nice day. After having weather nice enough to get the baby chicks outside for a few hours a couple of days ago, we had an overnight snowfall, yesterday a miserably cold, cold, cold wind, and then a low of 15F (-10C) last night. Today was chilly but no wind, and the sun was shining. I had planned to sit down with my garden seeds and start planning this year's garden, but decided I needed to be outside instead.

So I bundled up and went out on an inspection tour around the yard. The crocus that were flattened yesterday by the snow had perked back up and were looking lovely. There are buds starting to form on the earliest daffodils, and a few tulip leaves starting to poke up through the dirt. The buds are starting to swell on the apricot and the plums. They need to be pruned, but the nights are still too cold to start on them. The apple trees should be pruned now, but I didn't feel like tackling any of them today. But I did prune the Reliance and Himrod grapevines back to their four-arm kniffin shapes (note to self: I should write a post about taming a grapevine).

I wandered over to pick up the eggs, and had to go back up to the house for a basket. Nine eggs today! Aries got home from work, and I headed out to meet some friends for a walk. After getting some blood tests taken at his Employees' Health Center a couple of weeks ago, I'm now under doctor's orders to get more exercise and lose some weight, or face the possibility of having to go on medication sometime in the future. I don't even like taking aspirin - exercise it is! So I've been lining up exercise buddies to make sure I get out and do something.

This evening's hour-long walk was over at the Silver Saddle Ranch - a 700-acre ranch from the 1920's now part of Carson City's open space. The ranch lies east of Prison Hill, with the Carson River running along its eastern edge. We walked from the parking area outside the gate up around the ranch buildings and then on a trail along the Mexican Ditch, now part of our city trails system. At Carson River Road, we started to cross the road to continue on the ditch trail farther north, when a car stopped to tell us there was a bald eagle in the field just a bit farther east. We walked over to see - I'm so sorry I didn't have my camera along. The eagle was standing about 30 yards from the fence, a cow with a new-born calf still unsteady on its legs standing nearby. The eagles come here to feast on the afterbirth during calving season. As we walked back up the road to the trail, another car stopped to let us know about the eagle - this town is so friendly that way. Later, as we continued our walk, the eagle circled overhead, eventually disappearing to the south along Prison Hill.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Raising House Chickens

We keep a small flock of 12-15 chickens. We like the fresh eggs, and usually have enough extra to sell or barter. I have a chicken bucket in my kitchen instead of a garbage disposal, and their manure heats up my garden compost pile. The girls are pets, really, so we keep even those too old to lay until they die of old age.

We keep our egg supply going by buying a few baby girls almost every Spring from the local Feed Store (we have a hen, Missy, that used to hide a nest and bring back babies every year, but she's too old now. Besides, hers now are all less friendly than those we've hand-raised, and we didn't want the extra roosters). Since we're only raising a few babies annually, we don't have the need for a big expensive brooding set-up. Our chicken coop is unheated, and the floor has big gaps the babies would fall through, so we can't put the babies outside. A dog crate kept inside the house works for us.

Chicks are shipped, either to you or to the Feed Stores, the same day they're hatched. The hatcheries will only ship in large groups so they'll keep each other warm in transit, but once you get the chicks keeping them warm is the most important. They survive without food for a couple of days after hatching (if a hen is hatching out a clutch of eggs this allows her to set on the late-hatching eggs a couple more days without having to get up and find food for the first-hatched) because they're still nourished by the remains of their yolk sacs. I buy a 25-pound bag of chick-starter feed every year or two - more than enough for the chicks and then for when the two guinea hens bring in their clutches of keets later in the summer. Some feed stores sell chick feed by the pound too.

I line the crate with paper for bedding (chopped hay or wood shavings could also be used, but that would be too messy in the house. You want to use bedding material too big for them to eat, especially at first, so sawdust isn't a good idea). For the first week, newspaper is too slick for the babies to stand on and could lead to leg problems, so if I've got day-old chicks I'll use paper towels for the first week to 10 days. You also have to check their butts for the first week - cleaning them off with a damp towel if they get pasted up with dried poo. With these guys, now almost 5 weeks old, I put a few more layers of newspaper down each evening, making sure they have a clean and dry place to sleep. Then a couple of times a week I'll roll up the old layers, put them into the compost bin, and put down a fresh layer.

I found a little feeder designed to be used with a canning jar in a second-hand store, but before I got that I'd use a clay plant saucer. The main thing is to use something low enough that they can eat out of and heavy enough that they can't tip it over. I make a waterer they can't stand in from of a can with a couple of holes punched near the rim, filled with water, and then flipped into a glazed plant saucer (once they go outside, I make a bigger one out of a coffee can flipped into a cake pan). Now that they're bigger, I've put a pointy tippy rock on top of the can to keep them from trying to perch on it.

Day-old chicks need 90F temperatures for the first week, and then can handle 5º less each week. Last year (photo at right), our chicks were maybe a week old when we got them, so I rigged up a small light hanging down that they could huddle under for warmth, raising it up as they grew. This year, our chicks were at least 3 weeks old, so they'd be ok with temperatures in the middle-70's. Instead of fixing up a light bulb for them in the spare room, I decided to try a low-energy method. I put the crate in the living room on the coffee table a few feet from the wood stove, and loaded the stove up each night before going to bed. They'd be huddled together for warmth in the morning, but quiet, and as soon as I'd start up a fire and open the shade to let in the sun, they'd be up and scrabbling about, happy little cheepers.

Chicks will let you know if something is wrong - they let out a loud, sharp alarm call. When they're content, they make a soft twittering noise. Having the dog crate upside-down puts the windows down at their level, and I like watching them watching me when I'm sitting in my chair, listening to them twitter. They can be a bit messy scratching about, so I've got a piece of plastic underneath the crate, draped up over the couch behind to catch any bits of food or paper they may toss out. Now that they're bigger I've got their water and food dishes raised up on upside-down plant saucers so they won't scratch food out or get stuff in their water.

This afternoon it was sunny and almost 60º outside so I loaded them into the cat carrier and put them out in the dog run for a couple of hours. They got a chance to sun themselves, scratch about, and dust-bathe, the rest of the flock got the chance to check them out, and I got the chance to give the crate a good cleaning (can't have the house smelling like a chicken coop). It'll be at least another month before they're feathered out enough to go out in the dog run full-time. By the time summer gets here, they'll be big enough to join the rest of the flock in the coop.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

An Earth Extravaganza

The Seniors in our local High School have to do a Senior Project. This involves choosing something that interests them, putting their "project", whatever it is, together, submitting a written report, and also doing an oral presentation to a panel of local citizens and teachers.

While Reno puts together a big Earth Day event in April, Carson City doesn't really do much of anything. This year a High School Senior, who intends to study Environmental Sciences after she graduates, chose to put on an Earth Day-type event. Since the various parts of the Senior projects have to be completed before graduation, she couldn't wait until the end of April so scheduled her event for today.

She did a great job putting it together. The event was in the High School gym, and well attended by both the public and by local groups providing the informational tables and displays. I'm active in Muscle Powered, a local non-profit advocating for more pedestrian and bicycle use, and so helped at our display table. Despite being the capital of Nevada, this really is quite a small town. It was fun to both talk to people about what we do, and also to check out the other displays and visit with people I knew. There's more about Muscle Powered here and here, more about the Carson High School Senior Project here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Something Gardeners Should Read

When I was about eight years old, and visiting my Granny on her farm in Texas, I stepped on a rusty nail while exploring around back of some old sheds. I limped back up to the house, the inside of my shoe squishy with blood. Mom washed my foot with soap and hot water, checking to make sure no debris was left inside the deep puncture wound. Then Granny sat me down in the kitchen, my foot soaking in a pan filled with hot water and a heaping handful of Epsom Salts, "to draw out the toxin," she said.

"Lockjaw!" I heard from every adult relative that came in and saw me sitting there. I'd seen The Wizard of Oz. I imagined the rust from the nail creeping up through my body, freezing me up just like the Tin Woodman, until I couldn't even utter the word, "oilcan" . . .
Anyone planning on working in the garden should read "The Rest of the Story" (RIP Paul Harvey) in my post over at the Simple Green Frugal Co-op blog, here.

Since I was writing about Texas, I dug out this old photo of my Uncle Emmett and me. One time, early in the morning at Granny's, I heard a gunshot. I ran outside, barefooted and in my pajamas, to find my Uncle holding an armadillo he'd shot when he and his old hound dog caught it digging under the chicken coop.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Let It Snow, Let It Snow

We'd been getting some rain the past couple of days. It's been pretty dry most of this winter, so we can really use all the moisture we can get. I looked outside just before I went to bed last night, and it looked like someone was having a pillow fight up on our roof. The rain had turned to snow, and the snowflakes were as big as feathers falling out of the sky.

When I got up this morning, it looked like this - about three inches of sparkling snow covered everything, the sun was shining and the sky was a beautiful deep blue. The sun stuck around long enough to melt the snow off the streets, and then the clouds moved back in later. I made a quick swoop around with the snow shovel, before the temperatures dropped and everything froze up again. I'm happy to see the cold stick around for a bit longer. Although I'm starting to get anxious to be outside, playing in the dirt, I don't want my fruit trees breaking dormancy too early. So let it snow - I can wait a bit longer for Spring.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fish and Sweet Pepper Hash

I made one of my favorite planned-leftovers dishes for dinner tonight. We're trying to eat less red meat and more fish nowadays. This time of year, I watch for any kind of white-fleshed fish on sale, and bake it or cook it outside on the grill. I often plan to have enough leftover for another night's meal (this recipe is also a favorite way to use the doggy-bagged half of my entree from eating out, and would probably be good even with canned tuna). In the summer it's even easier. We have a couple of fishing friends that don't eat fish, and they know we'll trade eggs or veggies for fresh-caught trout. Often, those lake trout are huge, and we find one will be enough for both of us plus leftovers (photo is from last summer - one of our nearby high-mountain lakes).

Fish and Sweet Pepper Hash (serves 2)

½ pound cooked fish (more or less)
1 pound thin-skinned potatoes (red-skinned or yellow-fleshed, or a combination - I had Yukon Golds in the cellar)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
large pinch of red pepper flakes
⅓ cup sliced green onions (I quartered and sliced a yellow onion from the pantry - added same time as red pepper flakes)
2 tablespoons water (or stock or fish juices)
½ teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 large red or yellow peppers, roasted and peeled, with juices (I used ones from the freezer, prepped last fall the same way I do chile peppers)
1 tablespoon chopped parsley (I used dried from last summer, added same time as red pepper flakes)

Remove fish from refrigerator to allow it to warm slightly. Scrub, but do not peel potatoes, cut into ¾" pieces.

Heat the oil in skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes, garlic, and pepper flakes. Cook, turning occasionally until potatoes start to brown a bit - about 5 minutes. Add green onions, water, and salt, cover the pan, and cook until the potatoes are almost done - about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, pull fish apart into flakes (remove any bones) and cut or tear sweet peppers into bite-size pieces. When potatoes are almost done, remove cover and stir in fish, peppers, and parsley. Cook until the liquid is gone and the potatoes nicely browned (turn hash gently to brown evenly, but try not to break up the fish or potatoes any more than necessary).

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Looking for Eagles

It's a grey day, and looks like it's snowing in the Sierras already. But the storms hadn't come over the mountains yet this morning, so we took a little Sunday drive to look for eagles.

As bald eagles start their spring migrations to the Pacific Northwest, many stop off here for a snack. Just over the ridge to the south, the Carson Valley is still home to quite a few cattle ranches (Carson City is in the more urbanized Eagle Valley - confusing to newcomers). The end of February is calving time at the cattle ranches. Eagles can often be seen out walking around in the cow pastures, looking for the afterbirth - evidently an eagle's idea of a tasty treat.

Some of the ranchers move their pregnant herds into pastures close to the roads, giving folks around here a better chance at spotting an eagle. Others have joined together to provide tours of their ranches and barn areas, educating the public about eagle habitat preservation in the process. We didn't spot any eagles this morning. Many cows have already had their calves, so we might have been a week too late, but I'll still keep an eye out whenever I'm out and about - the weather will probably keep the birds around for a couple more weeks. It's really a thrill to see one perched on a neighborhood telephone pole.