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Tuesday, February 24, 2015

DIY Less-Waste Chicken Feeder

Since we got our first batch of baby chicks yesterday, I have chickens on the brain. There's snow on the ground anyway, so gardening is right out.

Ice cube trays are working wonderfully as feeders for the babies, but they'll grow fast and so must their feeder.

RobBob has a wonderful YouTube Video on how to make a feeder.

He lives in Australia, and perhaps plumbing parts are slightly different, but I couldn't find the exact same items at my local Home Depot or Lowes.

While lamenting this fact, a friend asked, "Why don't you just buy a feeder?" Innocent question. Do I really just make life hard as my mother keeps telling me?

Hard . . . I like to think of it as better ;-)

This feeder design, which I can take zero credit for and have to thank RobBob for sharing (and he got it from another guy), limits waste, provides some protection from rain, looks easy to clean, stores lots of food, and well, it's just fun to know you made it!

So here's a version that works with common parts found at local home supply stores with the addition of a tight gasket from L.O.T.U.S.. (If you can't find the gasket, caulk will suffice.)

We used an old 5 gallon bucket to store plenty of feed to allow a weekend away without having to have someone stop over to fill feeders.

Step 1: Drill a hole at the side of the bucket close to the bottom. If using a gasket, push that through now--we used 3" piping and a gasket that worked with that size. You usually can rent a circular bit or in a pinch you could drill pilot holes and saw the opening.

Step 2: Get some 90 degree PVC elbows. We got 3 because we wanted 3 openings for the 1 bucket, which you'll see later. Cut part of one end at an angle--this will create an awning to prevent rain from getting into the feed. Cut the other end (we cut off at least an inch, but it depends on how long of a pipe you can find) so it looks similar to the picture above.

Step 3: The tough part, which I admit Mike, my husband, did, is to push/twist the pipe into the gasket. If I had done it, I would have used coconut oil to make it easier, but perhaps he's more stubborn than me or just wanted the challenge.

Notice how the inside of the pipe is about 1/2" off the bottom of the bucket. You can play with measurements when drilling the hole and cutting the pipe to make sure there's some space for the food to drop into.

Cool thing of this gasket is that the pipe won't twist around. While you could use caulk, it won't last anywhere near as long. RobBob has some suggestions if you don't use a gasket that would be worth checking out.

Step 4: Not sure if we'll need it, but on one of the three pipes we cut a 3" pipe end (for about 30 cents at Lowes) to create a lip. RobBob found this tactic useful in keeping the food from spilling out if you have a particularly messy eater.

Here's the final project:

Will be exciting to see it in action. Now to build a chicken shelter!

Immersion Blender to the Rescue

I love my new immersion blender. Snow may be outside, but inside toasty creamy soup awaits thanks to this handy devise.

A bunch of chopped bell peppers--orange, yellow, and red--along with onion heated until soft in some broth (I used chicken bone broth).

Add in chopped basil that for some reason wilted the moment I brought it home from Trader Joe's and any other seasoning you're in the mood for.

A few quick minutes with an immersion blender and wah-lah! Soup's on.

Top it off with some sour cream and chives for a super yummy warm treat.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Woman vs. Hardened Pot Soil

This Purple Heart's soil was so dried out and compacted that I figured the only way to save the plant was to give her some fresh dirt to spread her roots in.

The idea was to remove her from the left pot and create a new home with fresh potting soil in the green one (with drain holes) that would be placed inside the ceramic red one (without holes).

After at least 20 minutes of chiseling with a knife and spoon, some of the dirt--if you can even call this rock-hard substance dirt--was hammered away.

Some leaves and bits of roots ended up in the "go to the compost" bowl.

Others looked like they might make it for re-potting.

The rest ended up being cut off from their roots and placed into a glass of water. One great characteristic of the Purple Heart is she grows marvelously from a cutting. A matter-of-fact, the one in all of these pictures started as a cutting 30 years ago from a co-worker!

Since then, this plant has provided several snippets here-and-there, which were re-rooted in glasses of water and given away to fellow plant lovers.

The survivors now sit in the sunshine showing off their new shiny pot, which my husband loves.

Considering the challenge of rock-dirt vs womanly strength, I think the Purple Heart will flourish in her new home.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Weed or Delicacy?

These strong green bunches are popping up all over the place: in my garden, in the yard, and in the woods. They taste like chives and my 88 year old friend calls them wild onions.

To the pristine lawn grower, they are a weed. To the gardener with a plan, they are a nuisance. To my dog, they're something to sniff and occasionally pee on.

While pulling these to make room for garden paths, I paused and tasted one to discover that lovely onion flavor of chives: light and distinctive.

That's when I began saving these bunches and even took a hike along a trail at Warren Wilson to collect a large bag of them.

A quick washing followed by an overnight in the dehydrator (see below, close up for my friend Penelope that asked what kind I had) led to several jars of dried chives or wild onions.

This dash of flavor is marvelous on pizza, in soups, on eggs or salads, and just about anything you can think of. Since they are dehydrated they'll last in these jars for a year or so.

Collecting this gift from nature was great fun. Instead of tossing something into the compost heap or just hiking past it, I paused and really appreciated this "weed".

Countless edible plants surround us. If you find any near you, I'd love to hear about them.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Pumpkin Coconut Pancakes

A few years back my digestion took a turn for the worse and like so many people today, I limit my intake of grains.

Less grains means branching out to try other foods we might not have had before. One of those for me was coconut flour pancakes.

Our family has had a few versions and this one is my favorite because it includes pumpkin, which technically counts as a veggie for breakfast.

Coconut flour is easy to find, now that coconut has turned vogue. This trend is one I actually agree with.

These pancakes are packed with protein, fiber, and yumminess.


1/4 c                        Coconut Flour
1-3t                         Cinnamon or other spices
Pinch                       Nutmeg
1/2 t                         Salt
1/4 t                         Baking Soda
1/4 c or more          Pumpkin Puree
3 T                          Coconut Cream, Coconut Milk, or Dairy Milk
1 T or less               Honey
3                              Eggs (large size works well)
1 T                          Coconut Oil, melted, and extra for the frying pan
2 t or more              Vanilla (Trader Joe's vanilla with bourbon is actually pretty good)

Whisk all the dry ingredients together.

In a separate bowl, whisk all the wet ingredients together.

Mix the two bowls into one and stir just until combined.

Heat frying pan to a medium high heat and coat with coconut oil. Pour some batter into pan to make pancakes. Flip when first side is done or slightly browned. If they're really thick, you could add more milk or cream into the mix before cooking.

Pull out some real maple syrup or applesauce, maybe some strips of bacon, and enjoy!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fall Garden Preparation

I realize it's spring and a little late for touting the benefits of preparing the garden soil in the fall, but I'd never done it that way before. Research, however,  sold me on the idea.

The green garlic shoots above demonstrate the first benefit to the prepping in the fall. These puppies started popping up almost a month ago!

I was, also, able to start some seeds outside already, because the soil didn't need any work.

A another plus, for us, is now we have time to build a chicken shelter since the beds are all covered and ready to go.

This picture shows our newly laid black paths--more yet to be put down-- which are landscape fabric to prevent weeds. We tried cardboard first, but even with bricks and stones on it, the cardboard flew all over and tossed the bricks aside during a heavy winds.

Counting the days to harvest the garlic. In the meantime, I'll sit back and let the soil amendments of fall do their work.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Fermented Tea: Kombucha

I've been fermenting various foods for over a year and have had a lot of fun with it. What started for medical reasons has opened up a whole new way of eating and drinking.

Thanks to Mark's Daily Apple I found a method to make fermented tea (Kombucha) that works perfectly almost every time. Yes, I've had to toss a couple of batches, but over 1 1/2 years that's not too shabby.

Today I made two batches using $1 jars from the Science and Surplus store in WI.

Just 1/4 cup of sugar in each jar is plenty for the organisms to feast on during the fermentation process.

2 tea bags per batch. Oolong works the best--I've tried several. Still I like Green Tea, so I'm making one of each. Add 2 1/2 cups of hot water to steep the tea and dissolve the sugar--thus the wooden spoon you see to stir the sugar into the warm water.

I cover it with a cloth to keep dust or bugs out because the next step it to let it cool to room temperature. I don't think the cloth is needed yet, but I use it anyway.

Once the sugary tea is cooled, add 1/2 cup of kombucha--you can buy this at the store and pick the most stringy looking one. I know, I know, sounds gross, but think of all the yummy nutrition you'll be getting!

Also, add one S.C.O.B.Y. (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast).

The real trick is finding or making a S.C.O.B.Y. to add. I made my own (growing it from store bought kombucha), but most folks get one to start from a friend or even craig's list. If you live near me, I'm happy to share.

Here's my collection of S.C.O.B.Y.s. the top one is folded over so you can see it better.

Now all you do is let the magic happen. Cover the jar with a cloth and place it in a dark place, warmer is better. In about 5 days this tasty healthy drink is ready to go.

When I started doing this, I used pH strips to verify the mix was acidic, shooting for lower than 4.0. A sign that it's ready is a second S.C.O.B.Y. will have formed just above the original.

If you're new to this, it'll look odd. Compare to pictures on the internet (or the ones above). If it turns gray on top--definitely mold and that's when it goes down the drain--the whole thing.

Just take the S.C.O.B.Y.s out (with washed hands) and store covered with a little kombucha in the fridge or start another batch right away.

The remaining liquid should taste a bit tart, like vinegar. You can stop the fermenting sooner by removing the S.C.O.B.Y. and refrigerating the liquid for a milder sweeter flavor. I, on the other hand, drink this in part to aid the microbiome in my gut and thus drink it quite strong and acidic.

Storing it in a refrigerated covered jar it'll last for months.

Enjoy and drink up!

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Living Lettuce

Stopped by the farmer's market yesterday not expecting to find fresh lettuce in February. Not only was this hydroponic lettuce fresh, it was truly alive.

L.O.T.U.S. of Asheville grows various greens hydroponically and auquaponically. At the market they sell these fresh leaves, roots and all.

Other than picking from the garden in summer, you can't get any fresher than this!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Baby Chick Waterer

Saw this idea online for a waterer for chicks. I improvised with what was in the kitchen: matchsticks, plastic lid and glass jar (from olives).

Put some water in the jar and place the lid (or small plate) over the jar top. The key, if the photos don't make it obvious, is to have the lid or plate a bit larger than the jar. Too large and the adorable chicks could drown. Too small and they could not get to the water.

Carefully flip the jar and lid upside down. Yes, I did this over a sink as the first time water poured everywhere. Guess the lesson is hold on tight!

Then to get the water to sneak out of the jar, put some toothpicks between the jar and lid. I didn't have toothpicks, but wooden matches with the ends popped off worked great--I would say even better because they are a bit thicker.

Hoping to get chicks in the upcoming month and we'll see how they like it.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Outside the Box

While most folks are constructing chicken coops that are literally that--buildings that coop up the animals--I am repeatedly drawn to the open coop design--3 walls and a roof. That is one reason for this blog's name, "Open Coop".

The other reason is in both the kitchen and garden I tend to stray from the beaten path. Like an "Open Coop", when we break away from the norm, it's like tearing down a wall and letting loose.

Cooking projects include homemade kombucha (a fermented beverage), fermented veggies of all kinds (butternut squash was a huge success), and returning to the tradition of cooking with saturated fats such as bacon grease.

After a 15 year hiatus from gardening, I'm returning to the land with my lazy composting of just tossing scraps and leaves into a pile, then covering the food with dirt or sticks or paper to keep the bears at bay.

2015 is a year of adventure. My first year in North Carolina. My first year with chickens. My first garden here.

This blog is to share the wins and losses as this adventure plays out. So let's break down that 4th wall and see what happens!