Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Homesteading Chicken Question: Re-Posted

There is a post from last year I loved so much I decided to revisit it again today.

I liked it so much because it was written by YOU...I asked a series of questions and hoped for some input from the great homestead blogging community here. And voila! I still refer back to your answers today. No, we don't have chickens yet.

But when we do, oh the collective wisdom we have to spur us on!

Below is the re-post from the Homesteading Chicken question. If you care to raise another question you'd like to see offered for collective sharing again, I've opened that up for today's post over at NotDabblingInNormal, and would love your feedback!

But back to the's the past post :)

Originally posted Nov 11, 2008

The answers to the list of questions I posted on my recent post were so wonderful and specific, I thought they deserved to be their own post instead of hiding in the comments section. If you haven't been able to add yours yet, if you put your answer in comments here, I'll just cut and paste them into the text here, no worries.

A HUGE thank you to all who have contributed your wisdom and thoughts about these questions! Thank you! We're learning so much :)

Here are the original questions I asked (your answers are posted further down):

For all the folks out here in blogland who keep chickens, or have kept chickens, I have a couple questions...

1. Do you have a particular favorite breed of chicken, and if so what is it and why do you prefer it? Or if more than one, which ones, etc?

2. Do you use your chickens for your family, to sell, or both? Meat, or eggs, or both?

3. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start out raising them, other than reading some good books on the subject?

4. Do you primarily keep your chickens in a coop/enclosed chicken yard, or do they roam your property?

5. Do you ever let them into your garden? If no, do you have a fence or something to keep them out?

6. Do you ever use a chicken tractor, and if so, is it for meat birds only? do you use electric/ net poultry fencing? I'm interested in which has worked for you and which has not. What has been your experience with pastured poultry 'a la the Joel Salatin sort (follow behind the livestock grazings at the optimum time), if that applies?

7. Do you keep chickens year-round, or raise them for seasonal processing?

8. How many chickens of a certain type do you raise at one time (what works best for you as far as how many to raise at a time?)Inquiring minds (me!) want to know. I've seen so many folks with their own styles of chicken raising, and I'm so curious to know what works best for you...

Here are your wonderful answers!

Donna said...
I don't have any chickens now, but I surely did have to keep them penned up when I had them. By day, roving neighborhood dogs would chase and kill them. By night, it was the racoons, foxes, coyotes and possums. Especially possums. They'd simply eat the head off the chicken and leave the body for me to dispose of.
November 10, 2008 1:30 PM

fullfreezer said...
I don't have any chickens either, but I have wondered the same questions. I look forward to the answers you get. Vicarious information gathering... fun, isn't it, full freezer ? R
November 10, 2008 2:46 PM

Country Girl said...
Wow, lots of questions. We have Barred Rocks and Rhode Island Reds. I like them both, the Reds are suppose to be better layers and the Barred rocks are mild mannered and easier to handle. We have 12 RRR and 24 Barred Rocks and their primary purpose is as layers although after a few years when their egg production reduces drastically they may be headed to the freezer. During the summer we were getting 2 + dozen a day but now that the days are shorter we get approx 1 dozen a day.

We sell our excess eggs for $2 a dozen.We also raise meat birds Cornish Rocks. We buy 100-200 at a time sell all but 20-30 and then raise the remaining for our own consumption. Lots of great info on line about raising chickens...nothing in particular???

They all reside in chicken tractors attached to portable fencing in spring, summer, and fall. This allows them to have fresh greens readily available and clean bedding. We move them every 3-4 days and in the late fall/winter they are in the barn. After they are done laying for the day usually 12-1 I open up the door and they free range in the yard until dark then they all voluntarily go back to roost is their coop.

In the warmer months we keep them penned because they are very destructive to the garden!They also lay wherever and I cherish every egg I get and do not want to risk loosing out on some.

Hope this helps! ~Kim :) It does, thanks, Kim! :) R
November 10, 2008 3:14 PM

Stephanie said...
We are still novices, but here is my two cents.

1. We've had Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons. The Reds were good layers, but they are a smaller bird and the roosters tend to be mean. (if your going to keep one.) The Buffs are very gentle larger birds. Their size limits their ability to get out of the fence (The Reds wings had to be clipped) They lay large eggs. Haven't butchered any of them yet...

2 Meat and eggs for us, but I'm considering buying quite a few more to sell eggs

3 They really are pretty easy. Start small and you can always grow your flock.

4 Ours are pastured. They used to free roam which was fine when there were only a few, but too messy when we got more. (poop and scratching out everything)

5 The escapees get in the garden I'd like to tractor them in the garden, but haven't yet

6 Ours in the pasture with the other animals and have access under the rabbit hutches. I'm not sure about the method you refer to. Having them clean up after the other animals, sure keeps the flies down.

7 year round

8 We have 14 hens right now. The older ones have slowed way down.. (kicking my self for not getting chicks last spring.) We are barely getting enough for us (6) plus my parents. (about 4-5 per day) At their prime they laid at about a 80-90% rate

HOpe that helps Thanks, Stephanie :) R
November 10, 2008 4:19 PM

Christine said...
1. I have several different breeds and love them all.

2. Yes, yes, yes and yes.

3. Check out

4. Ours are in an enclosed area to keep them protected from predators.

5. No.

6. I've not used the tractor, but would love to do so. It's a great concept.

7. I keep them year round, they're fun.

8. I have about 23 layers right now. You would really only need about three if you only want eggs for yourself. I love my chickens. Go for it!
November 10, 2008 5:55 PM

Christina said...
We got our first chickens this spring. We had to do some research first.

We wanted winter hardy with decent egg laying out put. I put together a list of preferred breeds. When we went to the feed store, they didn't have my 1st 3 choices, so my second string choices were all there and so we came home with 3 of each buff orpington, NH reds, and barred rock. We got them for egg laying. And boy do they lay eggs. On avg. 7 eggs a day times 7 days equals about 4 dozen eggs a week!

We kept them in Sugars old crate for a bout a month and a half. Then they got their own tractor. We live too close to a road and predators and since we rent, we didn't want a permanent structure. So we move the tractor to fresh ground every day. We let them out in the evening for a little while. They are quite happy to go back and roost.

I love my chickens. They actually all have names. Now, this is the funny part.... We got 9 straight run day old chicks. We thought that we would lose a couple. But no... still have 9. The other extraordinary thing is that we only ended up with one rooster! Oh, well ... didn't intend to write a novel! Did I say I love my chickens???? Do you love your chickens or something?? lol ;-) R
November 10, 2008 5:58 PM

Laughing Orca Ranch said...
1)I've raising chickens for a little over a year. I chose two of each kind to see which would be my favorites.

Here's the chickens we chose and my favorites in order:

*speckled sussex (super friendly, more like a dog then a chicken, heritage breed, beautiful and regular brown egg-layer)

*barred rock (very friendly, regular brown egg layer)

*americaunas (friendly, calm, regular blue/green egg layer. One of ours even lays pink eggs)*rhode island red (friendly, daily brown egg layer)

*silver laced wyandotte (flighty, not as friendly, good tan egg layer)

*brown leghorns (daily white egg layer. tends to be agressive with other chickens, egg eaters, not as social with people. These are the same breed used in factory farming)

We also have:

*japanese silky


They both lay eggs, but are more 'decorative' as they don't lay as often. Polish aren't usually eaten, though Silkies are a special delicacy in Japan, due to the Silky's black skin, meat, even bones.We got them jus for fun and for my kids to show at the State Fair. We are also planning on breeding the silkies to sell the chicks next year, too.

2. We use the eggs for our family. We go through at least 2-3 dozen eggs a week in baking and cooking, egg salad, etc. We sell the rest for $2.00 a dozen and always have a waiting list for our eggs.Don't have any plans to butcher any yet. My husband might faint. lol!

3. Build your coop BEFORE your chicks arrive! lol! We waited and then were racing. Chicks grow so fast!Also, decide what time of year you want chickens. There are pros and cons. We bought ours in the fall because I wanted eggs in the Spring, and all summer long. Most people wait until Spring to buy chicks, and then have to wait until late summer for eggs, and then the chickens slow down egg laying during the winter.Downside to Fall chicks is having to keep the chicks inside for the first couple months, and then providing a heat lamp for them most of the winter.

4. Ours primarily live in a coop, due to predators, especially hawks and stray dogs. But we allow them to free range when we can be outside with them.

5. Only before planting anything to till the soil, or afterwards to clean up the dead plants. Chickens are otherwise too destructive.

6. I have no experience with those things.

7. Year-round egg layers.

8. This is just our family flock and we have 17 chickens. We sell the extra eggs to pay for the chickens feed.Happy Poultry Raising!! :)~LisaNew Mexico Thanks, Lisa! R
November 10, 2008 6:59 PM

Wendy said...
1. We have seven chickens and seven different breeds. They all have their merits, but I have to say that for egg color, I love our Araucunas (green eggs! ;). For temperment, I love our Rhode Island Red, our Light Brahma and our Australorp - all of which were very good layers and are considered good "multi-purpose" birds, which means they're good as layers and as meat birds. The leghorns, while purported to be good layers, are flighty, and not as good around children, which is a must for us, as my children spend a lot of time in the coop. We also have a buff orpington and, what we think is, a plymouth rock.

2. We do not sell eggs or meat, although when our chickens are all laying, our neighbor "buys" a dozen eggs a week.

3. Pick a breed that's good in your area. Some chickens work very well in cold temperatures and some do better where it's warm. Build a REALLY strong, sturdy and predator proof coop BEFORE you put the chickens in there, and I would even suggest that you build the coop and then put some strong-smelling something in it to see if anything gets in. Better to know where your weaknesses are before a raccoon chews the head off your best laying hen.

4. Primarily our chickens stay in their coop, but we let them out occasionally - more during the spring and summer than this time of year. We try to let them out for a couple of hours a couple times per week, usually right before dusk so that they'll put themselves "away" when the sun goes down.

5. We have a very small space, and so, when I let the chickens out, they do have access to my garden. When the plants are young, I will either be out in the yard with the chickens to shoo them away from the raised beds, or I just wait until the plants are more mature, when the chickens won't do as much damage. But I like that they'll eat the bugs off the broccoli and tomato plants, and they scratch under the plants and aerate the soil, which some of my plants seem to like.

6. We raised broilers in a chicken tractor that we built using PVC pipe and hardware cloth. The bottom was open to the ground, but there was a top. We did not use electricity, but we made sure to cover the tractor at night and for the first few weeks, before they got bigger than my beagle, we locked them up in a dog crate at night inside the tractor which was covered with a tarp that was weighted down with logs. Anything that wanted to get in there would have to work at it a bit. It worked very well. We started with eight broiler chicks, raised them for ten weeks, and put eight 5.5 lbs fully dressed chickens in the freezer.

7. We keep the laying hens year round. The broilers are a seasonal thing, as our butcher only does chickens from May to August.

8. See number one. I did read, however, that keeping a variety for a small backyard flock is a good idea. I don't remember where I read it, or why it's a good idea. We love the different personalities of our hens, and the eggs are so much fun - all colors of the "egg rainbow" from white to dark brown with a green one thrown in there when Emily feels like it. As an additional comment, I highly recommend getting chickens. They're a wonderful addition to any homestead - large or small. We have only a quarter of an acre, and chickens are a big part of our self-sufficiency plans :).
November 10, 2008 7:01 PM

Jo said...
We have bunches of chickens. Japanese bantams, Faverolle bantams and regular, ISA Browns, Americaunas, Sumatras, Silkies, probably others.

1. I love the hardiness of Americaunas. The Silkies are great brooders.

2. We do Cornish crosses in spring and summer for the freezer, and we cull roos and older hens for soup. ISA Browns lay large, gorgeous eggs. We have some extra in summer, but usually give them away.

3. I would recommend fearing not. You CAN love a chicken.

4. Some of ours live in the coop on our property (large and already here). Others live in the barn. They all roam freely.

5. We lock them out of the garden and away from the bees. Fences.

6. Ours roam the pasture. They love the sheep, the sheep seem to like them, and our flies are not bad at all.

7. We try to cull as many as possible by now, to keep feed costs down.

8. When we do meat birds, we order 25 at a time. We hand process here by ourselves. I would not want to do more than 30 in a day, personally.I love my chickens. They are such a part of our farm life.
November 10, 2008 7:08 PM

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...
Gosh all of that depends on what you expect from your chickens.

We liked the Barred Rocks for our "commercial" layers, they were calm and good layers. If you want to raise your own chicks you need a broody breed that likes to set like the Buff Orpington. For meat, I like the Cornish X, but I know that is an unpopular choice, but they do well and they are especially suited for tractors. I don't like the mess chickens leave, poop and scratching so the tractors work well for us. It is also a great way to build your garden soil, with a deep bedding in the tractor. I didn't particularly care for my visit at Andy Lee's farm, but his book Chicken Tractor is full of good sound advice for start to finish on meat birds and layers.

If you mail order your chicks you have to order a minimum of 25, some hatcheries allow mixing and matching of breeds. Mail order is a good way to avoid chicks getting medicated feed. It is common practice at feedstores to feed medicated feed right off the bat. A lot of health problems can be headed off by NOT giving medicated feed. But it is hard to find counsel that believes that and will recommend no antibiotic laced feed.

As for Joel's methods, again not popular with homesteaders, but they have worked the best for us. Joel really does know what he is doing. I think most people anthromorphise farm animals and discard Joel's methods as too production oriented. But, while production oriented, Salatin's livestock is treated very well.

The electric poultry netting from Premier is well worth the money. Ours is still good and we have abused it for over 8 years.

And we are strictly seasonal, it costs too much to raise poultry against the seasons. Think nature. However, your growing season is so different, you might be looking to raise your birds in the cooler part of the year, since they don't take the heat all that well.Gosh, I guess I hijacked this post didn't I? Oops. I wondered why the terrain below was suddenly looking like Cuba...haha, just kidding, Nita ;-) R
November 10, 2008 11:19 PM

Phelan said...
Answers on my blog. Neat! Thanks, Phelan ~R
November 11, 2008 5:05 AM

Throwback at Trapper Creek said...
I meant seasonal on meat chickens and turkeys, we keep laying hens year around.:)
November 11, 2008 6:42 AM

Just trying to be green said...
(I just wandered by, via Homesteading Neophyte. I had chickens growing up, and I'm going to get them again in a few months)

1. Do you have a particular favorite breed of chicken, and if so what is it and why do you prefer it? Or if more than one, which ones, etc?I love Barred Rocks. They are so friendly, hardy, calm, and ours laid well. I loved their eggs because they would lay eggs with purple speckles and pink dots.

2. Do you use your chickens for your family, to sell, or both? Meat, or eggs, or both?We raised mainly for my family. Mostly it was for eggs, but we did do meat birds occasionally.

3. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start out raising them, other than reading some good books on the subject?Start out small (i.e., don't go out and buy 100 chicks), and start out with good housing. Also, if you buy those cornish-cross meat birds, don't think all chickens are that dull, slow, or ugly. Just saying.

4. Do you primarily keep your chickens in a coop/enclosed chicken yard, or do they roam your property?Depends. Most of the time, they are kept in sheds at night, and let loose during the day. Sometimes we use chicken tractors.

5. Do you ever let them into your garden? If no, do you have a fence or something to keep them out?They usually had access to the garden. If there was something that needed protection, it got it's own little covering.

6. Do you ever use a chicken tractor, and if so, is it for meat birds only? do you use electric/ net poultry fencing? I'm interested in which has worked for you and which has not. What has been your experience with pastured poultry 'a la the Joel Salatin sort (follow behind the livestock grazings at the optimum time), if that applies?We used tractors with the laying hens (next boxes built in), and when we wanted to isolate a breeding pair We're also used them with ducks. It worked pretty well- except that my dad built it, and he didn't take into account who would be moving it. Most of my childhood, it took two people or more (where people are children) to move one. I really like chicken tractors, but if you design your own plans- take care with moveability and sturdiness.

7. Do you keep chickens year-round, or raise them for seasonal processing?We keep them year roung.

8. How many chickens of a certain type do you raise at one time (what works best for you as far as how many to raise at a time?)Generally around 12-20. My family eats a lot of eggs, and there are 6 of us.
November 11, 2008 9:06 AM

farm mom said...
1. well, my favorites have been the barred rock, buff orpington, and black australorps. These were the calmest breeds, the friendliest breeds and the ones who went broody readily. They were also winter hardy! If I lived in your climate I have to admit I'd be more than a little tempted to raise some of those rarest of rare breeds listed on ther ALBC website, who are smaller and more suited to your climate than mine. I also am really enjoying my Easter Eggers and my Silver Grey Dorkings this year as well, but I've only had them this year and don't have as much experience with them as I had the others.

2. We raise dual purpose birds for both meat and eggs. My parents put up a sign and sell their excess eggs and I've sold a few there, but I usually just freeze my excess and keep them for leaner winter months.

3. Know your goals. Do you want reliable eggs? Are you more interested in the huge-breasted meaties? Do you want a middle of the road bird who does well at both? Are you thinking about having a breeding flock, or just raising them seasonally? If you want to breed, will you keep more than one roo? Where? separate coops for separate breeds? A rooster bachelor pad? Stick with one breed and one roo, or create mutts? Is ranging important to you? What are the likely predators in your area? How will you deal with them? Know your goals in terms of that bucolic farm scene as well as in productin needs. My advice is to really sit down and figure out what your goal is with this future flock of yours. Not only will the answers to these questions steer you towards a breed or set of breeds, but it will do wonders in dampening any future disappointments in your flock. I also recommend a local source, be it a farm or local small hatchery. I've used larger hatcheries over the years but lately the quality has really been horrible. Nothing is worse than opening that box and getting most birds dead or dying, disease, illness and deformities. No eyes, extra legs, twisted beaks.... you get the idea.

4. My chickens have all 3. A coop, a run and free range. The coop is mainly used for laying and sleeping, and of course winter shelter. I keep them confined to a run in the morning hours, while they're laying. So, they can get outside, scratch about, and still lay those eggs where they belong. Come afternoon they're out and about in the yard until nightfall. I like this set up because I am free to leave the property for a weekend, or on errands and I know the birds are safe, but still have outside access.

5. Yes, my birds have access to my gardens. They do wonders for the bugs, particularly in spring/fall when they can really get in there and turn over the earth, looking for overwintering bugs, slugs and insect eggs. During the ripening season, it can get a bit hairy, particularly the tomato patch. I usually cover any raised beds that I don't want them to have access to with a floating row cover or bird netting.

6. No, I've never used a tractor. If I was ever considering selling I would. I enjoy reading about Joel Salatin's methods I think he has revolutionized the idea that food production had to be mechanical and industrial.

7. I keep them year round, as we want a breeder flock. We keep the hens for eggs and cull the older birds and the extra roos for meat.

8. I've had as many as 50, but usually keep between 12 and 20. I have had both mixed flocks and same-breed flocks and have enjoyed both. Usually the 16-18 mark is enough to keep us well supplied in eggs and meat. (I don't use forced lighting in the winter to make my girls lay, so while that may seem like a lot of eggs for a family of four, keep in mind that their laying slows/stops in the winter months, so I stock pile our summer surplus to get us through.)Hope that helped robbyn! It does! Oh how I wish we had chickens RIGHT NOW :) R
November 11, 2008 10:10 AM

mommymommyland said...
Hey, I was writing about chickens today too, so I just added your answers to my post. You can find them here Thanks, Robin! ~R
November 11, 2008 11:20 AM

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...
You've probably figured out my answers from my blog, but I'll recap here.

I only keep chickens for eggs, so long-lived, good-laying, friendly birds are my top priority.

Easter-Eggs are tops on my list. They come in many colors, as do their eggs, which they lay regularly. We only got our chickens this year, but a friend with vast experience (she even raised SHOW chickens) says they lay for a good, long time. I plan to keep my chickens to old age, so that's good.

Our neighbor used to raise organic eggs for sale, and she put 2 or 3 at a time in a small tractor to keep her little garded weeded and de-bugged. My husband has a thing with big bird poop, so ours have a coop and a fenced yard.
November 11, 2008 1:00 PM

Rena said...
Rocks and Orpingtons are good for both meat and eggs. We like them both--they have less meat than the fast growing Cornish crosses but it tastes much better.

Araucanas/Americanas (not fancy pure bred ones)lay the pastel eggs and are very popular if you are going to sell any eggs.

We have had meat ones in a tractor. We have let our chickens out to roam once in a while. They are easy to get back in where their feed is. I have put the tractor in the garden at the end of the season. It is helpful to have a dog who gets used to the chickens and won't attack them. He will keep the critters away from the birds.

These are disjointed comments, sorry. I love them, thanks! R
November 11, 2008 1:43 PM

hickchick said...
I'm late to this post...but I'll throw this out to anyone still still reading...does anyone have experience with growing their own feed for winter or buying whole grains-something other than the expensive 50# bags from the feed store?
November 11, 2008 2:54 PM

Alan said...
I thought I left a response to this question. If I didn't I left a very detailed response about chickens on someone's blog. They may be wondering why. We have raised both layers and meat chickens and used fixed coops, mobile coops with poultry netting, and chicken tractors for each. I like the poultry netting best. It gives you more flexibility, longer life, and less labor than tractors and healthier chickens than a fixed yard. If you didn't get my response shoot me a question on my blog and I'll do a post. My response was rather like a book. I didn't get it, sorry! I look forward to whatever you post about it :)
November 11, 2008 3:07 PM

tygab said...
Here's what I posted on our blog for answers...

1. Do you have a particular favorite breed of chicken, and if so what is it and why do you prefer it? Or if more than one, which ones, etc?Fairly new to chickens, so I have no strong preferences. Our black sex links are laying like crazy, and our Blue Laced Red Wyandotte roo is quite the looker. Though he is a big baby. The Easter Eggers lay fun eggs and are pretty chickens, too. If I were going just for volume, the black sex links would win.

2. Do you use your chickens for your family, to sell, or both? Meat, or eggs, or both?We have our layer hens and we only plan to sell the excess (to friends, coworkers, family). We subsidized the raising of 10 meat birds at another farm, and we've had 1-2 roasters a month since they were processed in July. This usually translates to several meals for 2 based on a 5-6 lb bird. The meat birds were able to enjoy fresh pasture and were fed w/organic feed.

3. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start out raising them, other than reading some good books on the subject?, and build a strong run. Don't skimp on the housing and fencing, though the very resourceful can get a lot of building materials through yardsales, Craigslist etc. Just make sure it will be a clean and dry home. Overestimate the size you need, you can always add chickens if you want to later!

4. Do you primarily keep your chickens in a coop/enclosed chicken yard, or do they roam your property?Our chickens stay in the run area for most of the time. We let them out only when we are ourselves outside doing work around the barn, yard, etc. We usually do this late in the day so twilight gets them back in the run. However, a cup of scratch tossed in the run will usually work too!

5. Do you ever let them into your garden? If no, do you have a fence or something to keep them out?Uhm, yes, they have gone in our garden. It is not fenced from them. But our garden was not a wild success this summer. Next summer may be different.

6. Do you ever use a chicken tractor, and if so, is it for meat birds only? do you use electric/ net poultry fencing? I'm interested in which has worked for you and which has not. What has been your experience with pastured poultry 'a la the Joel Salatin sort (follow behind the livestock grazings at the optimum time), if that applies?We do not use a tractor for the layers. The meat birds were in a tractor for much of the time.

7. Do you keep chickens year-round, or raise them for seasonal processing?Year round; it'll be our first winter with the hens.

8. How many chickens of a certain type do you raise at one time (what works best for you as far as how many to raise at a time?)I think this depends on your goals. If it's just family eggs you want, a half dozen may be enough. We have 12 hens and 1 roo, in part because I figured a few wouldn't make it. They all did! But we're happy anyway, a dozen seems like a good number for us.Inquiring minds (me!) want to know. I've seen so many folks with their own styles of chicken raising, and I'm so curious to know what works best for you...Raising them from chicks is very rewarding!

P~ said...
Hi Robbyn, I imagine you probably already read my post about my chickens. (Funny that I posted and you asked on the same day huh? Great bloggers must think alike.)

I think it answers most of the questions that you asked here but maybe a few.

I raise leghorns, not for their marvelous companionship skills (not) but for their prodigeous laying. I had a few barred rock roosters that came as additional birds with my chick order and I really liked them. Very nice birds, also they tasted very good...(answer 2).

I don't specifically rais them for meat, but roos are not allowed so that was the best way to deal with.

Advice would be to be truly honest about why you are getting them, and what your environment will sustain. i.e. do you want "pets" that lay, or livestock only? Do you have a fenced area protected from animals where they can range or will they need greens brought to them as do mine? They do free range occasionally but never in the garden!My coop has been designed to be able to be made mobile, but has not been yet. Next year.I have 9 birds, and I will be raising them all year primarily for egg production.

Best of luck to you!

P~ Thanks, P! Yes, your recent writing on this subject was perfect timing...hope everyone stops by your place for a read! R said...
Excellent read! Of course, my lazy back end didn't make it over here to comment on this post but had I done so -- I would have said that my favorite chicken breed is the Buff Orpington because they are dual purpose birds. They have a nice sturdy build and lots of layers of feathers so they keep warm and continue laying eggs through the winter. How do I love them? Let me count the ways!Blessings!Lacy

Phelan said...
I answered hickchick over here.

The Thinker said...
I answered here (Sorry, I don't know how to use the tags) And now i have to take time to read everyone else's answers. (sigh) I love chickens.

jayedee said...
a day late and a dollar short...that's my mantra lolanyway, here are my answers

1. Do you have a particular favorite breed of chicken, and if so what is it and why do you prefer it? Or if more than one, which ones, etc?honestly, i really like my production reds. nothing phases them. i have two elderly (9 years old) that are still laying several eggs a week. ALL of my heritage breeds quit laying when hurricane faye rolled thru and haven't laid a single egg since.

2. Do you use your chickens for your family, to sell, or both? Meat, or eggs, or both?both and both

3. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start out raising them, other than reading some good books on the subject?start small and with some variety so you can make educated choices. don't discount what the oldtimers have to say either (even when their advice sounds somewhat bizarre)

4. Do you primarily keep your chickens in a coop/enclosed chicken yard, or do they roam your property? my girls roam the entire property when there isn't a garden actively growing

5. Do you ever let them into your garden? If no, do you have a fence or something to keep them out? the forage in the garden when it's clean up time.....when the garden is growing/fruiting, they're confined to the chicken yards

6. Do you ever use a chicken tractor, and if so, is it for meat birds only? do you use electric/ net poultry fencing? I'm interested in which has worked for you and which has not. What has been your experience with pastured poultry 'a la the Joel Salatin sort (follow behind the livestock grazings at the optimum time), if that applies?i use small tractors when i'm transitioning from the brooder to the poultry yards. i have no experience with poultry raised completely on pasture

7. Do you keep chickens year-round, or raise them for seasonal processing? year round for the dual purpose breeds, the strictly meat birds are seasonal

8. How many chickens of a certain type do you raise at one time (what works best for you as far as how many to raise at a time?)Inquiring minds (me!) want to know. I've seen so many folks with their own styles of chicken raising, and I'm so curious to know what works best for you... i ALWAYS have too many dadgum chickens lol but i think about 50 would work best for me (maybe not for danny though lol)
November 12, 2008 12:03 PM

Killi said...
1. My eldest was given a Cochin chick a year after her father's arrest & removal. He hated being alone & cried, until I found out that he was a Mumiy Troll'fan & then he "sang". My other 2 childer were then given a Cochin chick each ~ we were lucky as we ended up with 2 girls & the cockerel from hell. Welsummers came because I'd heard that they were good layers & I wanted to supplement our money with egg sales. Eldest fell in love with Silkies ~ an ancient fluffy Chinese breed, so they joined us. Buff Orpingtons came because my chicken mentor was selling her stock off after her sister died & she re evaluated her life. I moved to Ireland & Cuckoo Marans (along with KC ducks) joined us after the Orpingtons died/were killed. I gave someone eggs for their incubator & got a few chicks back, including Banties. Now I have a mad mixture & I love them all. I'm hoping in the next season to separate out my feather legs & non-feather legs & put the FLs in a copse where they can stay cleaner.

2. Eggs to sell & for us. Cockerels go somewhere, probably for dinner, but I physically cannot kill them & we eat no feather meat. I've given some of my flock to friends

3. Find a chicken lady to talk chicken to! I did a couple of years after we got ours & pre-Shirley (& post-Shirley) we do things by instinct & hope as well as consulting books. Talk to chicken people & compare notes. I butted into a conversation after a concert with someone talking chicken & the friend that took me along in exchange for a bed for the night asked in awe how I knew June Tabor ~ I didn't. I'd never met 1 of the queens of British Folk Music before, but chickens are a great leveller & we chatted chicken.

4. I want my feather-legs (Cochins, Silkies & their crosses) in my small copse area, so they will be fenced in but free to roam their area. & I want to fence the others in another area with access through the old cowshed window. I love having them all roaming freely around my land, but my Beddy likes fresh chicken & she's teaching the Lurcher pup to hunt them. Also there are foxes & mink around. I have my mummy & her 1 remaining chick cooped up with the Partridghe Cochin cockerel after her other 7 chicks were taken. The Cochin is there only because he refuses to sleep in the shed with the other poultry & puts himself to bed in that house. I'm breaking the law as I have chickens & waterfowl all in together & roaming the same land.

5. Garden? What garden. Once they're fenced in I can have a garden ~ so long as the goat fencing holds!

6.They're not fenced in here & wander off into the forestry as well as around my land. I used an unelectrified fence in UK to try to separate the breeds, but the Cochins, who shouldn't fly, would liberate the Welsummers & the Silkies ran out through the holes ~ it WAS Poultry fencing! I may put the horses/ goats in with the chicken for a while if I need foliage clearing, but 1 area only grows nettles at present & I'd love grass to regrow there before letting anything else share it with them. Because they're free-range, totally, they can go join the horses/goats when they're up behind the house. I don't have a chicken tractor.


8. No idea! I didn't incubate this year until I was given some eggs specifically to incubate, but next year I'll incubate any eggs that come along (but not all of them ~ I only have 2 incubators!) & I'll try to buy in Cochin, Silky, Welsummer & Maran eggs to hatch to bring in fresh blood to those breeds. At 1 point I had 80 chickens, but disaster struck last year & I have around 27 hens now ~ no idea how many cockerels. I'll also incubate duck eggs & goosey eggs if my girls don't sit.Hope that helps. Chickens are great timewasters & are wonderful things. said...
Since chickens is what I enjoy raising and writing about, I couldn't resist answering your questions:

1. At present I have a RIR and Barred Rock and love both of the hens. I also enjoy raising anything that lays green eggs. I am writing a series on chicken breeds on my blog post and plan on getting some Australorps in the near future due to what I learned about them while researching.

2. My chickens are for the fun or having and the eggs. I have never eaten one yet but that doesn't mean I won't if things got tough.

3. Chicken raising is easy so jump in and get started. Start small with a couple of hens. It is contagious and you will be expanding before long.

4. I love free ranging. We have coops and due to multiple roosters have to choose which coop free ranges for the day, but I like my birds to get exercise.

5. A garden is for next year and I will have a fence around it to keep them out until I am ready to let them in.

6. My husband built me a chicken tractor, mainly for my biddies or little baby chicks. It is an intermediate cage until they are big enough to free range.

7. For the past three years I have had them year round and keep expanding every year.

8. Right now I have 15 4-week old chicks, 4 pullets (less than a year old and not laying), 3 roosters, 4 laying hens multiple breeds.If you are considering raising chickens, it is one of the easiest animals to raise and there are multiple forums available to answer any questions you may have. So jump in and enjoy yourself.

jack-of-all-thumbs said...
I came across your blog on Robert's Roost and read through a lot of useful info on all of the replies.

I would offer two somewhat unique contributions to the discussion. The first is my system of rotational gardening with chickens, based on an easy to manage system of gates, that allows the birds access to unused garden space, while restricting them from active garden areas.

It's here:

The other is a SUPER way of excluding predators from your coop that Alan provided to me months ago. I love it and it is brilliant!

It can be found here:

Alan's answer posted to his blog and his second answer, both copied here:

1. Do you have a particular favorite breed of chicken, and if so what is it and why do you prefer it? Or if more than one, which ones, etc?I really like Red Star from McMurray Hatchery. They aren't as attractive as some of the older breeds, but they produce a lot of eggs for the amount of feed. We have tried others and have enjoyed the visual aspects of lots of different kind of chickens but for egg production, I haven't found them worth the feed cost.

2. Do you use your chickens for your family, to sell, or both? Meat, or eggs, or both?We raise ours for eggs for our family and to sell. We only sell from home. Taking the eggs to market was too much work and there were plenty of others with eggs. Currently we have no problem selling everything we can produce.

3. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start out raising them, other than reading some good books on the subject?

4. Do you primarily keep your chickens in a coop/enclosed chicken yard, or do they roam your property?Our chickens are enclosed in a yard that we move every few days in the spring, summer, and fall. They follow our herd of goats and cows on pasture, cleaning up the paddocks after we move the herd. We use a coop that we are able to move around the pasture with the chickens.

5. Do you ever let them into your garden? If no, do you have a fence or something to keep them out?In the fall we move the chickens to the garden for clean-up duty. They do a great job and contribute a lot to weed control, bug control, and fertility. We use poultry netting from Premier 1 to contain our chickens. It keeps them in (unless I forget to trim their wings) and keeps the local predators out.

6. Do you ever use a chicken tractor, and if so, is it for meat birds only? do you use electric/ net poultry fencing? I'm interested in which has worked for you and which has not. What has been your experience with pastured poultry 'a la the Joel Salatin sort (follow behind the livestock grazings at the optimum time), if that applies?We don't use chicken tractors. We have used them in the past and found them to be a lot more work than we have time for. Well managed they work well, but you must be able to move them often and monitor them well. I've seen whole pens of birds die in hot weather. We get the same effect with poultry netting and a mobile coop. If you have livestock on pasture, following them with chickens or allowing the chickens to share the same space has a lot of advantages. They really help with fly control and manure management. They also use a lot less feed than chickens in containment.

7. Do you keep chickens year-round, or raise them for seasonal processing?We keep our hens year round. We are finding that moving them off pasture and into a more permanent coop with better protection and light improves our egg production in the winter. We have overwintered our hens in the mobile coop (basically a tent) and had no problem with health or survival, even in 2 feet of snow and -11 deg temps, but egg production really dropped.

8. How many chickens of a certain type do you raise at one time (what works best for you as far as how many to raise at a time?)We maintain a flock of about 50 hens. This fits the mobile coop we have and seems to work in our system. We could sell a lot more eggs than 50 hens produce, but that would require reducing some other aspect of our farm and we choose not to do that.

The most important thing is to decide how many you want and what kind of relationship you want with them. Most people I know who only have a few chickens have them named and pamper them way too much. If you have a lot (more than 20) it's hard to get that attached to any one of them. Healthier in my opinion. I like raising them from chicks. They bond better to me and learn my system. My friend Jack-of-all-thumbs at Self-Sufficient Steward has a great system using a permanent coop and rotates his chickens around his garden. You should check it out.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sweet, Tart, Lemony

Fresh-squeezed lemon and pound cake make a great combination! Jump to today's NotDabblingInNormal post if you'd like to read how mine turned out, and maybe snag the recipe...

which goes great with a tall glass of unsweet tea or good cup of coffee


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Rain, Rain...Stay!

It was hot, hot today! And then we finally, FINALLY, got some rain. For two hours.
That's two more hours than we've had for most of the year so far, so it's time to celebrate!
Cornbread started out the soul food fare...

Greens picked from the garden fresh today...purple hull leaves and calabaza (pumpkin) leaves cut in a chiffonade (ribbons) and boiled like turnip greens. It was our first time trying them cooked like this, since we usually sauteed them. They tasted great...milder than collards or kale or chard, even. Perfect with the cornbread, mmm. They nestled next to some homecooked red beans and a small slice of tender roast beef.

It all went down goooooood :)
This was for later...Jack works tonight. I miss him even before he has to leave. We take whatever time we have for a date. Today's date was warm homemade berry cobbler with cold milk. And lots of kisses :)
We love the sound of thunder. The plants were still dripping when the brief storm let up.
Liquid gold...
I love how the rain beads on the leaf surfaces. These thirsty guys got a well-deserved drink.
This is part of the snap bean and purple hull patch. It's a sprint to see if we can keep the Bermuda out long enough for them to bear.
Here's more evidence of the chase...layering old straw and hay and wheelbarrows-full of old barn manure, and yet the Bermuda skips merrily along.
Marking off a new calabaza sprout with some stick debris and willow whips, to keep our friendly neighbor from accidentally dumping a load or two of stall cleanings atop the little guy.

I hope you had a great weekend! Ours was wonderful. I was with my best friend/beloved and mix in some outdoor sunshine/sunburn and a surprise thunderstorm, and it's my favorite kind of day. The cornbread, good eats, and cobbler didn't hurt, either :)

How was yours?

Friday, May 15, 2009

These well-traveled pages, my riches.
I cling to these words.
When everything else in my life fell away, these words remained.

I hope your week was full and fulfilling.
The sun's about down here, and we're enjoying our weekly wind-down for this shabbat we so look forward to...every week, it's the perfect way to stop everything, breathe, relax, be thankful for so many things, and to leave our worries and our bills behind closed doors till next week.

We wish you a weekend of refreshing, and of all of the garden's new and awakening things! Thank you for stopping in here, and for the friendships that grow across the miles.

We are grateful for you :)

Shabbat shalom

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

New Gardener Learning Curve

For more about some things we've learned as beginning gardeners, it's today's post over at NotDabblingInNormal.

And greetings to the new folks who've come here...welcome!

Monday, May 11, 2009

I'm Hot, Baby!

Lookee what I just won over at Razor Family Farm's VERY FIRST giveaway...(thank you, Lacy!!)...I'm hot, baby, HOT!!

I've never won anything, EVER!

Hmmm, I wonder if I should go with this. Should I be purchasing my first ever lottery ticket, or betting on the horses? Going barefoot in the rainforest? Swimming near the pier where the tourists illegally feed the sharks?? Taste-testing day-old sushi? Wrassling a gator and putting footage of it on YouTube to make my small side- income on the internet?

Oh, the possibilities, ha!

Well, when you're hot, you're HOT...and this gal's about to get hotter by the minute... I'm going outside now in the 91 degree inferno to do whatever humans do in gardens as they feel themselves slowly melt down in that particular cauldron called Florida.

Maybe some Bermuda grass will meet its end in the process, and maybe some more horse poo mountains will get relocated via shovel and wheelbarrow. We'll see. I'm vascillating between garden empathy and heat lethargy, what with the weather climbing the 90s. Is this a tropical phenomenon, or am I just lazy?

Sometimes I find it all looks a bit rosier at a distance while sipping iced tea. And reading a good book..., perhaps, the book I just won, yay!! :)

I'm going now to make some iced tea and go out and take stock of all the To Do's, and maybe dance a gardening groove at least for a bit. In the heat. And drought.

Rain, please make it our way soon! It's nice being hot and all, but I'm not sure I really want to be able to fry eggs on my forehead


Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mothers Day

Happy Mothers Day to all you moms out there...

and to all the wonderful women, with children or not, who tend their world and relationships with a mother's heart.

Friday, May 8, 2009

First fistful of Roma green beans ready for the picking! These were from the initial ones I tested growing in buckets. We'll be planting all our snap beans in-ground from now on when possible...about a third have not thrived in the buckets.

Baby moringa, grown from seed. So far, we have several of them thriving. This is a fast-growing and very useful tree good for human food and animal fodder. We hope to see it grow at least 8 to 10 feet this year. It'll go into the ground as soon as it's big enough. This is a plant we hope to keep a big patch of in order to harvest the fast-growing limbs for many purposes.

One wayward calabaza seed next to the compost bin sprouts into a glorious riot of variegated leaves and saffron blooms. We saw blooms and were wondering if any of them were being pollinated. It's sited near the swale that's overgrown with cattails. The drought this year means there's no standing water, but still it's slightly moist down there. We think we're getting pollinators from that area, though we've seen no honeybees around.
Hello, beautiful! These blooms can be eaten at a particular stage (we haven't tried that yet), and so can the leaves (cooked for greens). A peek beneath the vines found that many blooms have traded in the ruffled yellow petticoat for fertility's sake. There are a lot of little calabazas plumping up under there!

One such baby. Who will get to eat it first...the rabid bugs and ever-present pests of Florida, or us? Only time will tell! Maybe our stunning technique of "weed therapy" will keep the bad guys occupied? (crazy little laugh...ahem...oh how the Bermuda grass is making my life one big weed-battling duel, sorry!) :) I'm beginning to think that the subtropics down here are in a sense one big stomach, and anything on or in the ground eventually will get digested..and that it's just a matter of time to see if a harvest results, before it all returns to mulch again! ;-)
This week, on is a small shoot emerging from the freeze-killed Mamey Sapote (fruit tree) we were growing from seed last year. Grow, baby, grow!

Out at the cowpea patch, one area is doing great and another area is becoming engulfed with invasive Bermuda grass (what else??). The Bermuda lurks under all the other natural grasses around here, barely ever showing its starts watering a garden. Then it calls all its friends, and in a single evening it begins having the sort of garden party it does no good to call the cops to break up. Ah. Well. My Fordhook limas are so glutted with Bermuda, it would kill them to begin (again) pulling it all up. Same thing with the it's a dead heat to see which (if any) of these will win by a nose...weeds, or plants? If the okra can get some height soon, maybe it'll stand a chance. The limas? Hmmm. The good news is that all the purple hulls and blue lake snap beans are at present SOMEWHAT under control (from the weeds). But they're there. I just keep smothering them time and again with straw, hay, mulch, stable cleanings. Until this crop has produced, there is no hope of turning the soil since it's simply a very very thick layer of composted stable cleanings. Sure, let's go with calling this "no-till," but "no-till" is looking messier than I like at this point.

Oh, the learning curve.

Hey, we're leaning in to the curve...the ride's fun! :)

How grows your weed patch?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Eating Cowpea Greens

They're not just good for animal fodder, a plate of purple hull peas with cornbread, or fixing nitrogen as a cover crop in the garden. The leaves are a really nutritious edible green! For more on our experiment on how to use cowpea leaves as edible greens, it's my post today over at NotDabblingInNormal.

Hope to see you there :)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Some Things We've Gotten Right: Kombucha

(clicking on any picture will enlarge)

It's hard to believe it's been nearly 9 months since we were given our first Kombucha SCOBY (thanks, Maria!).

Last year we branched out a bit in investingating pre-biotics, pro-biotics, and lacto-fermented foods. The first three experiments involved our first attempts at culturing real milk into Caspian Sea Yogurt and Kefir. Of the two, we most enjoyed the Caspian Sea Yogurt, but only managed to sustain the culture for 3-4 months at a time before it got overactive and changed from its original taste and texture. The Kefir was enjoyed, too, but simply was more maintenance than the CSY, though we enjoyed both. Our uses of them centered around pairing them with fruit or granola (or both), or with frozen fruits and honey as smoothies. Boy, was it good!

As the very very hot months here progressed, we got caught up in other projects, and the "milk projects" took a backseat, since they require a good bit of regularity (though none of it was difficult). At the same time we'd researched those, we'd also played with the idea of buying a Kombucha starter "mushroom," or "SCOBY" to being making this highly-beneficial probiotic fermented tea. We noticed how many people made kombucha regularly, and that its appeal seems to be widespread and has a very loyal following. We also noted the potential health benefits. But frankly, I was just intimidated about it and afraid I'd poison my family by accident in all my experimentation.

Thankfully, there were online friends such as Maria, who coached me past my initial insecurities and got me off to a good start on this VERY EASY process of making Kombucha. She sent me the gift of one of her baby SCOBYs, yay! Shown above is the glass of kombucha I'm enjoying while typing this very post...and I do have to say it's NOT an acquired taste for's simply delicious!

The more it's allowed to ferment, the stronger its flavor gets. If left to its devices, it will essentially turn into a sort of strong best to drink it and refresh it before it reaches that stage. At its best, it's an effervescent slightly tart slightly sweet tea with a hint of apple, and a delightful sweet cider smell.

This closeup shows the foam and tiny carbonation bubbles in a freshly-poured glass. Mmmm!

Kombucha has helped me forgo drinking Cokes (sodas, to you northerners). Jack never drank soft drinks much, but I did, especially on those blazing hot summer days. Now ice cold kombucha or water with lemon is our drink of choice. We save old bottles and use them sometimes to store kombucha in the fridge...if there's any left!

Before I ever got started, I went online and compared pictures of the SCOBYs I saw...they varied significantly. Some were pristine white and looked like pure paraffin. Some were uneven, or had "blisters" in different places. Some were creamy beige and others were unevenly colored anywhere from beige to darker brown spots. Some were pure spongy discs and others were layered, uneven pancake stacks. Some of the brews were barely tinted and others were very dark, nearly opaque.

And then there was the matter of the "strings" and odd floaty things. That's where the warning bells kicked in for me. So I read on...

Now that we've been doing this for several months, I'm not saying we're experts, but I am saying we've found what works for us. The hanging-down fibrous "jellyfish tentacles" that develop under the SCOBY ("mushroom") are normal and are what help create the changes from a simple sweet tea to a delicious fermented probiotic. In the jar shown below, I've made a fresh batch of sweet tea and poured it into some reserved kombucha (a couple cups or more from the first batch) and let the mushroom remain the same. I handle the cooking implements with very clean hands but have to make sure there are no traces of antibacterial soap left on them because that would quickly kill off the very GOOD bacteria we're trying to nurture in the kombucha. So after cleaning my hands and utensils, I rinse all in plain white vinegar, which serves to keep things clean but is friendly to the kombucha.

If I have a good, strong SCOBY, I'll often smooth off a lot of the fibers that hang down off the bottom layer, and if the bottom layer begins looking flaccid or seems to be coming apart easily, I'll dispose of it and rinse the next layer up with a little vinegar. In the picture below, all the layers were healthy and I needed a jump-start to a large batch of new tea, so I left the fibers. I no longer worry if they cloud the brew slightly, etc...I'll just get rid of the fibers the next time I brew a batch. They're actually healthy for the brew. Just filter them out when you pour some to drink (not harmful to drink, but I like my drink without any "floaters.")

A clean piece of kitchen linen is what we use to cover. A rubber band keeps it secured tightly but the layers of cloth allow it to breathe, which is necessary for the fermentation. We keep our jars in a shadowy area in a hutch we have, where they won't be handled or moved around in between batches.

My "mushroom" used to look thin and very uneven, and I was worried it was unhealthy, or maybe dangerous. I learned that it just takes time to get the batch built up to consistent brew, and the first couple of batches will make way for much better ones in only a few rotations. The way we now have SCOBYs for our three 3-gallon containers is by taking one of the "pancake" layers from another SCOBY and putting it into the jar along with a few cups of reserved kombucha, and then adding in the newly-brewed tea. Making sure to have a couple other SCOBYs on hand assures that you can keep things going if you feel one needs to be replaced. Here's how one of ours looks now. It is smooth on top but still has a "blister" here or there, which is normal for ours. We don't leave them exposed to air without a cover unless refilling with tea...especially with occasional fruit flies about.

(In the picture above, there is a reflection of the paper towel roll against the glass...there is not a white ghostly apparition at the left side of the brew ;-))

Here's a closeup...

We followed a very precise method at first, but then switched to what works best for us. Here's what we usually do:

1. One of our containers has a spigot. The other two do not. We use the tea in the one with the spigot first.

2. As the first container's being drunk down (usually quickly) the others are fermenting. By the time we drink the first container down to about three inches from the bottom, we simply refill it with some of the kombucha from the other containers. We do this for a couple of draining and fillings, never fully draining any container. This, for us, accomplishes the same thing as the Continual Brew method.

3. At some point, all three containers will begin getting low. We don't let them get lower than 3 or 4 inches from the bottom (several cups of brew remaining in each). If we're going out of town or don't want that big of a refill soon, we leave them As Is...covered, with several cups of brew in each. Undisturbed. They can stay this way for weeks, and will get stronger and stronger as vinegar. Not enjoyable to drink, but it preserves the SCOBYs.

4. If we DO want more of the Continual Brew Kombucha, we simply make several batches of sweet tea. The proportions we use are 1 cup plain sugar and several small plain Lipton tea bags per gallon of Spring water (any kind of purified water works as long as it has no salts or chemicals). They are cooled to room temp before refilling the containers. Sometimes we fill the containers all the way, sometimes not, but always use the same tea-to-sugar ratio per gallon. We never pour them in hot or cold...always at room temp.

5. Before pouring the new brew into the old, we assess how vinegary the remaining kombucha in the container is by tasting it. If it's really vinegary (like as strong as pickles), I'll remove some with a measuring cup till there's only an inch or two in the bottom. I like to skim from the top and not pour it out because that old kombucha has mature probiotics in it that only get better with age, and these are often concentrated at the bottom of the brew. (I do NOT wash my containers each time since we do continual brew. ONLY if my entire batch looks strange do I wash everything and start it over.) If the remaining brew is not very vinegary, I just leave it all and pour in the new batch.

6. I rinse the SCOBY in white vinegar and smooth off any dark brown strings or excessive hanging fibers. I look at the bottom layer to see how slick and healthy it seems. If it seems to be disintegrating, I pull off the parts that easily disengage and discard them, and then rinse the bottom with some vinegar on my clean hand. Nothing clinical...just smoothing the excess with my hand wetted with vinegar. It's at this point that if you have a "baby SCOBY" pancake forming one or more layers and you want to share with someone else, separate the part that easily comes apart and set aside in a sealed plastic bag with a few tablespoons of kombucha to keep it wet inside. If your SCOBY doesn't separate easily and the layers cling tightly together, I leave it be.

7. If there is ever any DRY discoloration or DRY mold on the SCOBY, or any discoloration besides brown, discard it and the entire batch of remaining kombucha, wash everything thoroughly in hot soapy water, and rinse all in white vinegar. You can restart it with a few cups of kombucha and a new baby SCOBY from another batch if that one's not got mold on it. Add a couple tablespoons of white vinegar to the liquid (this helps balance it) and a teaspoon of a pure grain alchohol. It might take a couple brew cycles to get back to the good mature flavor after doing this.

8. Fasten clean linen or cloth squares to top tightly with rubber band. Don't use cheesecloth, as the fibers are too widely spaced and dust and fruit flies can get in.

9. At some point in a few days or more, you will see "floaters" in the liquid, which are the floating fibers that are active in fermenting the kombucha. These are normal, and can be strained out when you pour yourself some to drink. In our container that has a spigot, most of these are concentrated at the bottom of the container below the spigot line, so most times we just drink it straight without filtering.

10. At any time, if the "floaties" actually move, look at them closely. If they move on their own, there is an imbalance and you have "vinegar eels"...nothing pandemic, but discard it all, clean everything, and start it all over.

11. We don't let our kombucha get below 72 degrees F. The warmer it is above that, the faster it "brews." If it turns too vinegary too fast, we simply drain some of it out and put in fresh tea mix (as stated above).

12. Basically, though this seems to be a very long set of instructions, it's not hard at all. You essentially make fresh batches of sweet tea and instead of putting it in the fridge, you put it with your SCOBY and it makes some delicious kombucha just by sitting around. The worst you ever have to do is very seldom discard a batch, clean it all, and start over, but if you have harvested the new layers of your SCOBY and started other containers, you always have that to fall back on.

13. We used to make a separate new batch every time we drank the old. Our modified "continual brew" method is an adaptation of the method described in some literature we ordered. By simply refreshing the brew while still leaving the concentrated bottom liquid in the container, the continual brew method, for us, seems to give a more consistent product. We often leave in as much as 6 or 7 inches of the old brew, depending on how vinegary it tastes. Some people love a very sharp-tasting brew. Jack likes his with a bit of a bite, and I like mine just at the carbonation stage but not very vinegary. It's just personal preference. The stability of the continual brew makes for fewer Start-Overs for us, and less cleaning overall. But there comes a time when it all needs a good scrubbing. Reserving some of the liquid and keeping the SCOBYs healthy ensure some reliability to restart it all again. We much prefer the continual brew method since it just works better for us.

Oh sure, we are novices at this and we've made mistakes. For instance...

1. Right after we got our first baby kombucha, Jack's mom went into hospice and for two months we were not here at home doing anything at all. I put the baby into the fridge with some reserved liquid. It took a while to come out of "dormancy" when I was finally back home to get things going again. But it did finally do its thing.

2. Neglect. I'm the culprit when that happens. Scenario...we've drunk all the jars down to the last few remaining inches of kombucha. And I plan on making a big brew to refresh them all. And then we get caught up in 100 other things and it doesn't happen for a while, and all the while the kombucha keeps getting more vinegary. Well, by the time I do make the big batch to refill them they're almost pickled...ha! But they still do their thing, despite my benign neglect.

3. A certain husband who will remain nameless got so desperate for a new batch of kombucha once that he couldn't wait for me to make it. So he did. Only he used enough tea bags to start his own Boston tea party, and used brown sugar instead of white. Thankfully, he only filled one of the jars with that. It was black and opaque. Ergo, it soon became time to start it allll over again, and Robbyn finally un-procrastinated and re-did the whole shebang.

4. Yes, SCOBYs can, indeed, be left floating in their kombucha-turned-vinegar for nearly two months and still remain healthy. (Don't ask me how I know...) But whew, you only need a little of that to kick-start the new batch! :)

My advice for anyone considering kombucha but still having some trepidation...go for it! Find someone nearby who already brews their own, if possible, but if you can't do that, buddy up with an online friend who's a pro at it and give it a whirl. I can MAKE it faster than I can type about what we've learned in trying.

To sum's as easy as making sweet tea.

We feel it really ramps up our healthy internal bacteria, which gives the bad guys a double-whammy sucker punch. Let's hear it for the probiotics...woo!

Got Kombucha??

Friday, May 1, 2009

Tepary Insanity

Oh no. We bought more seeds.

I read about the Tepary Bean, went to the ECHO seed site, and that was all she wrote. If "all she wrote" means I also "needed" an assortment of other equally-enticing seeds.

It's not as if we actually NEED more things to plant. There are no vacancies in Bucketville. But seeds, we buy.

(Thank goodness I'm not the only one out here so afflicted. This condition could be more contagious than the swine flu...)

As for the above picture, I have to get a good look at these before the heat kicks 'em hard. This is about the only time of year these vines look good, or at least that was the case last year.

None of them set fruit last year, so I'm thinking of trying my hand at my very first batch of pickles before too long just to road test the grape leaves...I remember my Grandma's dills having a clove of garlic and a grape leaf in each jar...mmm :) There is a little market nearby and they have a lot of cucumbers, but we aren't enough in the groove with timing and growing yet to have our own.
I think these guys will get harvested this weekend, and salads will abound! After they're feasted on, we'll plant something geared more toward the hot weather. The days now are quite hot, though there are some mild nights still...but there is still NO RAIN.

This is about the actual size of one of the friendly little lizards that are all over the place here.

When I first moved down here, they kind of freaked me out, but since they're not poisonous and don't bite, and DO eat prodigious quantities of crawly bugs, I've warmed to them. I love seeing them peeping out from leaves. They take giant leaps if they think we're too close, and the males show off for the gals by extending their throat flap, waving down their women and bobbing their heads.

Yeah, little guy, you're cool :)

I'm really excited that we may have solved our Floridians-Do-Not-Plant-For-Summer-Harvests dilemma. The weather here has extremes that do in a lot of hot weather crops that flourish elsewhere...maybe the non-winters, the extra parasites, the extremes of drought and monsoon?? Whatever the case, we've had to explore additional resources to find some that we hope will be up to the challenge. The ECHO global farm was a great place to nose around for those sorts of's an order we placed that I can't wait to try our hand at planting.

Some of these are dual-purpose plants, and all are supposed to be hardy and worthy of some kitchen and garden experimentation. Woo, happy!

To arrive soon, seed packets (as if we ever have enough):

Cranberry Hibiscus ---flowers, edible! leaves, edible!
Lima Bean- 'Pima Orange' -- can't wait to see if this one does well...gorgeous colored heirloom bean
Lima Bean-'7 Year' -- hullo, this is the Madagascar bean we've been looking for!
Malabar Spinach, Red -- they had this growing as a ground cover around other plants at ECHO, sort of a prostrate viney non-invasive plant, gorgeous red stems and green leaves
Okra-'Burgundy' -- who can resist more red?? :)
Papaya-'Red Lady' -- and even more red. A more dwarf type, though it is a hybrid
Pigeon Pea-'Vegetable' --we'll see if we can grow 'em, and if so, how we best can use 'em
Pumpkin, Tropical-'Brian' -- Again, I'm enamored with growing drought-tolerant plants. let's see if it'll make it
Tepary Bean -- Here's one I have high hopes for. They might weather the fluctuations better than our snaps and purple hulls, we'll see. They sounded vigorous and delicious in the preliminary reading I've done, and can be used as a green manure cover crop. I'll have to check but I think the leaves are edible. Don't take my word on that, I'm sleep deprived. Sleep deprived and with visions of seeds STILL dancing in my head.
Yardlong Bean 'Mix'-- we'll have to get some verticality going for these and the madagascars and a couple of the others listed above. So far we've done bush-type beans and we're dealing with poor soil, straight up wood shavings and horse poo, and a whole lot of weeds. Soil improvement is a labor of love and isn't an overnight phenomenon. Anyway, these look productive and they're beautiful. And take fewer square feet of terra firma
Hopefully some of these will grow enough to eat them and figure out what works well. It'll be fun trying :)

But for now, I've been up nearly 24 hours, so it's lights out for me.

The old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be. (But she's not out to pasture yet, either, ha!)

I hope your weekend is wonderful!
Shabbat shalom