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Posts Tagged ‘urban farming’

our celebrity salad...

our celebrity salad…

“Don’t cook produce from The Plant”

Don’t be fooled by the title of the article… Mike Sula (Chicago food-writer) loves our salad!  My farmer heart is all swelled up with pride.  Now time to get to work!  We’ve been selling out for the past month or so… thank for all the support, Logan Square market customers!  Your purchases go a long way towards keeping this not-for-profit, teaching and research aquaponics farm afloat (and keeping me in a day job, so I can spend my “free time” working on our house, making soap and writing about our homesteady-adventures here… instead of slingin’ hash browns in some brunch joint trying to keep the lights on…)

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no, that's not snow ice cream the gals are enjoying... it's gmo-free soy mash, aka okara, from a local tofu producer.  Yum!

no, that’s not snow ice cream the gals are enjoying… it’s gmo-free soy mash, aka okara, from a local tofu producer. Yum!

It finally looks like winter, for real out there- we got a couple inches of white stuff this morning to dust off the single digit and teens temps we’ve been “enjoying” this past week. I must say, I’m enjoying the change of scenery! After a fair number of dismal gray days, the bright sparkle was most welcome!

We tucked in early last night, after stopping into Revolution Brewpub for a pair of pints to cheers our friends’ John and Steven formerly of Grid Chicago as they announced and celebrated their blog’s virtual move to Streetsblog Chicago. Had a slice of awesome arugula pizza with shaved parmesean and lemon-infused oil to go with my ESB and Coffee Porter… we almost stopped in at a friend’s for their homemade pizza as well, but missed their street while cutting through the park, which was a minor bummer but for the best. We had planned to come home early (and the Bella Wooski was eagerly awaiting our return, and her bathroom break and dinner), as we fully intended to get to work… but were overcome by a powerful and undeniable sleepiness. Best laid plans… and sometimes the nap wins.

So instead, we got up with the sun and the chickens, the fella at five and I at six, got caffeinated and got to work. We rearranged a bunch of materials on the second floor, and the fella used the newly assembled tablesaw to make a pretty badass rolling cart for the pair of sawhorses organizing most of our framing lumber, which will soon have foam stacked ceiling high on top. I made us a breakfast of Tribble and Eggs- we had a bumper crop of Lion’s Mane mushrooms last week, so I finally got to bring one home to try… and they DO taste like lobster! Only cuter. And less crustacean-y. I caramelized half a minced onion in a goodly pat of butter, chopped and sauteed the mushroom pieces, broke three eggs in the pan, added a sprinkle of cheese, and served it up. Awesome. The fella commented at 7:57 that he had three minutes till he had to leave for work, still furiously loading wood onto the cart… I joked, great. Three minutes till I can get back in bed! Just kidding… and took over the wood-loading duties, then put on my mask and swept and shop-vacced the whole second floor, took out the trash, shoveled and salted the front walk, took down the christmas decorations, fed and watered the hens (see pic), rescued a cat the dog had trapped under the woodshed (really, I just distracted the dog so the cat could make a break for it…), a bolt of fluffy black lightening so fast that dumb-dumb dog didn’t even see it get away, and spent the next two hours wedging herself behind the fence and under the shed as far as she could fit, alternately, trying to find the thing. Oh, Wooski…

Time to feed the fish before I head back to the studio to cut soap- I’m really happy with that new Orange Chai batch. I checked on them this morning in the molds, and they look and smell fantastic! Can’t wait to start cutting them- it’s always a surprise to see how they look inside, especially these marbled batches!

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We’ve finally broken the longest stretch of snowless days here in Chicago in a looong spell (290!!!)… outside is a blustery, gusty, wintery mix of wet streets and fat blowing snow. I gave the chickens extra bedding this morning- straw for the nest boxes (where two hens have been roosting at night… can’t say I blame ’em but I sure wish they wouldn’t… luckily the few eggs we’re getting these days are mostly clean regardless) and a thick layer of coffee chaff from the Bridgeport roastery. Trust me, no chicken coop ever smells nicer than one freshly blanketed with fluffy coffee chaff (it’s a remainder of the roasting process which flakes off the beans while the morning magic is happening). I finally put the submersible aquarium heater into the chicken waterer bucket and plugged it into the thermo-cube that turns it on when it’s below freezing, and traced the snake of extension cord back to the porch and plugged it back in. I filled their feeder, tossed them their bag of bolting arugula from the farm and an extra handful of scratch.

Bella has added Houdini to her looong list of names (not all of them suitable for a family-friendly website)… I usually crate her when I’m doing chicken chores, otherwise she’s unmanageably bad. I was tying up the coop gate and looked up to see her on the other side of the fence, all drooly and foamy-lipped and waggy-nub-tail excited… we clip her wire crate door with two carabiners and the two latches, and have zip-tied all the sides together because she’ll get out otherwise (she’s STRONG)… apparently this time she squeezed between the door and top of the crate and bent it out a bit more than before, leaving her id collar behind in the process (thankfully she’s chipped now, and for just this sort of reason- she’s fond of sticking her head where it doesn’t belong and losing her collar on the way out). Bad dog! Now she gets the carabiners, latches, and two leash ends holding door corners tightly to the crate sides. Oh, anxious beast… I went thrift shopping on my way home from work today and got her a blanket for her solstice present- baby, it’s cold INside! I found a blue gingham shirt, a cute cardigan sweater, and two pairs of pants for myself (since I’m down to one pair without patches and/or holes, and spent two hours mending a pair last week… three dollars for two pairs of perfectly good pants seemed a sound investment) and a beautiful woolen handwoven lap quilt from the Handcrafts College in Berea, Kentucky also for THREE dollars. So what if it needs washing? Woolen blankets are like gold around here, especially ones in multi-hued jewel tones made by hand! What luck! I left early-ish from work to beat the snow, but by the time I’d stopped for butter, bacon, eggnog, and orange juice (just the essentials!) and spent too long at the thrift store, the snow caught up with me. Luckily the pavement was warm and wet, and the city was antsy to send the salt trucks around. The ride wasn’t bad, and I found myself grinning most of the way in spite of the ridiculous bags strapped to my rear bike rack which swayed from side to side and caught the wind gusts, almost blowing me broadside into the curb a few times… blinking away the snow that blew around my glasses, taking it nice and slow (wet rims don’t brake well), and actually enjoyed the ride. Warm mittens, tall boots, and a lot of layers meant I was mostly cozy even though I could have been miserable. All about the preparation, and a little bit about your attitude…

And then, Home! Let the gratefully happy and wiggly dog out, started a load of dog laundry (her crate towels, and the sheet we keep over the armchair she gets to sleep in… man, she is a dirty dirty dog. Which is to say, A dog.). Got a fire going in the woodstove, and thought about drying my socks and changing my boots… but first to work! Did a sinkful of dishes, fried up two slices of bacon, and started caramelizing an onion in the bacon pan… brought up a handful of potatoes from the basement that were getting sprouty and soft, and decided that an Irish fry-up was in order. While that was going, I pulled the pot of vegetable stock I’d made but not strained a few days ago from the fridge and poured it from the pot into a colander over a big bowl, and pulled the other pot of rabbit stock, also needing straining, but jiggly and semi-solid with meaty goodness. Our friend makes amazing dog jerky treats with 100% rabbit and brings us an extra bag of bones once in awhile- Bella gets a bunch of them but I always make a pot of dynamite stock for us as well! If you cook the bones long enough, they’re soft enough to crush between your fingers, so I feed those back to her too… I figure if they’re crumbly, she can handle them… they’re not going to splinter and hurt her if I can smush them with a fingertip.

And now, the good part! I finally thawed my feet by the fire, put on some dry boots and wiggled my toes to get the blood back into them (the tall wellies keep you dry from OUTSIDE puddles but the self-generated ones are another story… haha). The bacon didn’t last long enough to make it into the dish, but I tucked into a hot bowlful of lightly curried fried potatoes and caramelized onion redolent with bacony-goodness, washed it down with a whiskey-spiked vanilla eggnog with a dash of cinnamon on top, and got to catch up on some email, do some reading and writing… bliss! Hey, what can I say. I’m a simple girl.

I’m looking forward to the sunrise- Mayan calendar or not, it’s the birth of a new season and while winter is finally here, the sun is on the way back, and it’s longer light from here on out. The darkest days are on their way, out. Happy beginning of the world, again… and happy solstice to you all!

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Two days in the life last week, by the numbers:

48 hours.

13 sleeping.

10.5 at work. More time from home reading, writing, and answering emails.

4 hours on my bike (28 miles).

7 or more hours shoveling wood chip mulch after work (a truckload or two at least? The pile has sort of mushed together so I’m not sure how many loads there are…).

2 dog walks.

2 pots of coffee.

9 eggs from the hens.

in the kitchen: raspberry custard pies, blanched tomatoes for salsa, dehydrated 10 trays of eggplant and other veggies, sauteed and froze two gallon bags of eggplant, sliced cukes for pickles, and of course dishes, cleaning…

Whew! Now back to the kitchen- need to make those tomatoes into salsa and can it up, check the stock that’s in the crock pot, fill the dehydrator with more onions or potatoes, check the bees, take the salsa scraps out to the chickens, do a load of laundry, feed the worm bins, make something for dinner and the fellow’s lunch tomorrow, maybe surprise him by stapling up some insulation in the ceiling before he gets home, and if there’s any daylight left, work on stripping the front door trim for a bit.

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Stolen (err, reposted) from Casabon’s Book. Thanks, Sharon (yeah, we’re on like, a first name basis… not)!

Yes. It’s a nervous tic, actually. Prepare to laugh. Holy crap, indeed.

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For the record, chickens LOVE pie. Pumpkin pie, past its prime is deftly devoured and disappeared down beaks, after a bit of squabbling, wing flapping, and “hey, that’s my pie!”, “no, you seem to be mistaken… you ate yours… this is MY pie. Nomnomnom.” (no, they didn’t get that whole thing, just the last piece that sat on the counter too long and sprouted three fuzzy dots of mold. Chickens don’t give a cluck!).

Pie is a hit, but they are indifferent about nipples. Specifically, the “poultry nipples” which dispense water, mounted underneath a hanging five-gallon bucket with a submersible aquarium heater on a temperature controller that turns on whenever it’s below freezing, to free us from the worry and chore of constantly defrosting their waterer- they now have liquid water available in their coop at all times (added bonus- the design makes it impossible for them to poop in the thing, fill it with bedding, or otherwise muck it up, which chickens are adept at). Only problem? Getting them to use the darn thing. They’re red, like the base of their other waterers, which is supposed to be an “attention-getting” color for chickens. Mine didn’t get the memo. I’ve tried tapping it so that drops of water come out as they watch, which results in them pecking at the ground where the droplets fell but remaining oblivious to the source above them. I tried holding them and gently touching their beaks to the fount- mmm, tasty magic trick on my part apparently, no hoped for Helen Keller-AHA-moment… w-a-t-e-r… WATER! Hey, did you know there’s water in here? And its nice and warm, and here we’ve been eating snow and freezing our little chicken tongues off? Bitchin! I’d try finger-spelling it to them but I know that’s hopeless.

Yes, weird mammal over there. Why are you squawking about the nipples on that bucket when there's water in this dish? And solid water under that? I am chicken. I care not for the care you (or that other human) put into building the waterer to ensure my care. Now how about you throw us some of that nice corn and then go clean off the poop tray under our roosts?

How does the waterer work? Picture a water bottle for rabbits or other small animals- if you had a hamster or guinea pig as a child I’m sure you’re familiar with the mechanism- little ball bearing at the end of a metal tube is held shut by gravity and water pressure (sorry, not an engineer, people) and releases small drops of water when tapped. These work the same way, but with a little peckable stick thing that releases the water on a diminutive threaded valve that can be installed on the underside of just about any container. I keep hoping maybe they’ll run into it one day, get water on their head and finally look up, and that the one clumsy or bright bird (whichever) will figure it out to teach the others. Till then they persist in eating snow and ice with apparent relish, and drinking from dishes whenever I set them out for them. Any tips on training them to use the wonder waterer? I’m at a loss. They look like this, http://www.avianaquamiser.com/chickennipple/ (though we bought ours for about $12 for a 5-pack from an amazon seller, as we didn’t need the whole “kit” or pre-assembled ones that they sell, just the nipples thank you very much) and if I can get the girls to take to them would highly recommend them over the traditional style of waterer. I have yet to try the grape trick listed in the manufacturer’s troubleshooting page (http://www.avianaquamiser.com/troubleshooting/) but will give it a go… any other suggestions for titillating treats (sorry, couldn’t help myself) that will stick on the underside of the fount but not gum up the works?


In other news, we have a new member of our flock of three (now four). “Goldie Hen”, who was described as maybe a Buff Orpington, but maybe Minorca (she’s a wee thing, with a comb that flops slightly to one side… though her pale brown egg and gentle demeanor give credence to Orpington), was a rescue listed on the Chicago Chicken Enthusiasts list by a neighbor of her former owner. He’d gotten her as a chick last Easter and kept her in a cage as a house pet, and called her Colonel Sanders until she started laying eggs. Apparently the novelty of a chicken in the house wore thin (I can’t imagine- our three lived in an oversized dog crate in the kitchen for three days before we finished the chicken tractor, and it was three days too long). He was going to turn her loose “for the coyotes or whatever” but luckily his neighbor found us first and brought her over. We’re keeping her separate from the other girls, in the chicken tractor which is totally stuffed with straw that she can burrow in to keep her warm until she acclimates to being outdoors all the time. I’m not sure what he was feeding her, but she can’t get enough good organic layer mash, scratch, slightly-off aquaponic arugula, and oyster shell… I wonder if maybe she was eating birdseed before? We’ve gotten one adorable pullet egg already and hoping that she and the other ladies can get along so she can stay with us- I’m a little worried about her holding her own, as she’s a little timid and hasn’t been around other chickens before. Pictures coming soon!

La di dah, scratching in straw...

Wait a minute, who's this? (Goldie Hen has never seen another chicken before. Weird!)

"whotheheckarethey I'mjustfineinhere thankyouverymuch".


Someone's been sleeping in MY bed (this from the chickens who'd totally ignored the smaller coop since moving to the Chicken Palace of Luxury). The straw is always fluffier on the other side...

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