Friday, November 25, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mucky Boots Math

Here is the equation for the day:

Pullets who are just starting to lay + ranging ground that's a bit far from the coop + a daily egg count that seems a bit lower than it should be = ...

The other day Kim was putting the chickens to bed in the late afternoon (it's getting dark really early these days) and she couldn't find one of the pullets. We hunted high and low, tromping through the bush, pacing the fence lines. We even checked both neighbouring properties, and there was no sign of her. Kim was distraught, and dusk was falling. If a raccoon hadn't nabbed the pullet already, one certainly would if she was left outside overnight.

And then the bushes a little ways from the house erupted in the feathery, squawking buk-buk-bKAAAAW that is a chicken's announcement she has just laid an egg. Kim dove into the bushes and found a perfect, round, soft nest, with nine perfect, round, brown eggs. Nine, one of which was so fresh it made a lovely hand warmer as I carried it to the kitchen in my pocket.

Based on the colour, shape and size of the eggs, CSI Kim has determined there were probably three pullets laying their eggs in that nest. Which means three chickens that need some retraining.

The pullets are part of Gump's flock, and when they started to lay a few weeks ago they had to brave a gang of teenage cockerels (now starring on dinner tables across southern Vancouver Island) in order to get from their preferred ranging grounds near the house back to the nest boxes in their coop. Sensibly, they opted to start laying their eggs in the dry dirt under the verandah.

So Kim moved the portable next boxes to where they were laying, leaving a fake egg in one of the boxes to give the pullets the right idea, but they were having none of it. They haven't laid a single egg there. Now that the cockerels are gone some are heading to the coop for their egg laying, but Kim had a hunch there should be more eggs, and she was right. It just took us a while to find them.

"Just be grateful we're giving you eggs," Bertie says.

Here's another equation.

Bedroom temperature about 10 degrees + the world's most comfortable bed at the end of the day + flannel pyjamas + puffy feather duvet + sweetie beside me = cold nose, full heart, perfect happiness.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hello snow

Yes, the snow that last week was forecast to arrive tomorrow, then this week was forecast not to come at all, has arrived today. So much for forecasts. In fact, according to the weather network, right now it is 8 degrees and raining outside. Our thermometer is reading 0 degrees and I'm pretty sure that white stuff falling from the sky is not rain. That's a micro climate for you.

And if I'm not happy about this, the chickens seem entertained. Most of our flock have never seen snow before, and they're not sure what to make of it. Some, like the pullet in the photo above, are happy to explore . . .

. . . while others seem just as happy to watch it all from their dry spot under the verandah.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Goodbye sun

Usually we're knee-deep in puddles and mud by this time of year, but for some reason the weather has been really lovely: lots of bright sunshine which has more than made up for the colder than normal temperatures.

But today I looked at the weather forecast online and this is what I saw.

Saturday: rain.
Sunday: rain.
Tuesday: rain.
Wednesday: rain.
Thursday . . . Thursday . . .

I can't even bear to write it.


Can you hear me shrieking from where you are?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Sauerkraut wine

Now doesn't that sound tasty?

Well, not really, but that's what I got.

I was so excited this spring when Kim bought me two old stoneware crocks: visions of fermented deli pickles and sauerkraut buoyed me through the planting season and long summer. The cucumbers I seeded did absolutely nothing, but the cabbages were happy and plump, once the bugs that were nibbling them went on to better things.

I was so excited when I started the first batch of sauerkraut in one of the crocks. I tended that batch lovingly, and if my plugged up nose meant I couldn't smell the fermentation process myself, Kim assured me (regularly) that it was, indeed, filling the kitchen with its distinctive aroma.

I was so excited when I had my first taste. My mom might have made a politely funny face, and Kim might have sworn the kraut was salty enough to fell a horse, but to someone like me with no sense of smell and consequently little sense of taste, kraut that packed a punch was right up my alley. I loved it, and ate a bowl every day. But it was a big crock, filled with a big batch, and in the heat of August I knew it wouldn't keep forever on the counter. So I canned it.

I was so excited when I viewed the quart jars of kraut lined up on the counter. I imagined opening them up in the doldrums of winter, jolting my taste buds awake with every crunchy bite. And then I washed up.

I washed the canning equipment. I washed the crock. It was when I washed the glass plate I had been using to weigh down the cabbage in the crock that I saw that a fair-sized piece of glass had been chipped from the edge, and now was nowhere to be found. Which meant there was glass somewhere in my lovingly canned sauerkraut.

Into the garbage it went. It didn't even make it into the compost - I didn't want to put the chickens at risk, since the compost pile is one of their favourite places to scratch for bugs. And I started again.

I wasn't quite so excited by it all the second time around, and maybe that meant an essential ingredient was missing. Or maybe the cooler weather meant a slower fermentation that I didn't manage properly. But I started noticing a different kind of scum on top of the crock's contents, something more thick and rubbery than the foamy scum I had been told to expect and had been skimming off every few days. And then Kim came into the kitchen one day and said "Phew!"

Since I don't have a functioning nose, Kim has to act as my smeller and taster of things. With the kraut she never got past the smelling part, which is probably just as well. "Smells like wine," she said. "Sauerkraut wine. It smells really bad - I think you should throw it out."

So into the garbage went the second batch. It didn't make it to the compost either - no sense giving the chickens botulism, or whatever that rubbery mold was.

I'll definitely try this again next year, because the first batch was so darn good - at least to me. And I didn't completely wash out in the fermentation department, because the crock of mini cucumbers (bought by the case at our local market) that lived on the counter through the late summer and early fall turned into really, really good kosher-style deli pickles. But the sauerkraut was a failure.

Unless you have a taste for sauerkraut wine, that is.

My crock, full of hope but empty of kraut...
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