Sunday, December 14, 2014

Chicken Run

Chicken Run away
  It is official. I am smarter than a chicken.

            Henny, our scrawny white leghorn, has been escaping from the chicken run for the last few weeks. It was annoying, especially after we closed all of the obvious escape routes, but not that big a deal. After all, chickens just want to be with the flock, so, after a few moments of running around and shouting “Free at last!” she would wander back to the coop and dig through the garden bed next door, waiting for the gate to open for her return. When I chased her around the yard, it was, really, a half-hearted chase on he part. However, when Gladys followed her out yesterday and found the collard patch, we had a larger problem. Half the flock was out.

            As anyone who has ever kept backyard chickens knows, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, even if the “grass” is actually the back alley or the neighbor’s dusty gravel parking area. You can give them free run of the entire backyard, but then they congregate (and poop) on the back stoop, waiting to stroll into the Big Coop. That grew old fast. When they are not chatting on the back step, they are roaming through the garden, digging up the just sprouted carrots or eating a collard plnat to the ground. They need to be restrained.

            Restraining a chicken is not as easy as it sounds. We learned this a few years into chicken keeping. Our first two ladies, George and Mrtyle, were full-grown barred Rocks when they arrived, and they required little restraint. They stayed in the back yard with a few pieces of chicken wire between them and the Big World. When Gracie, the Houdini of chickens, arrived, I would come home to find notes on the front door: “Your chicken was out. We chased her back in.” 

            Chickens escape by going over or under the fence. Both have their challenges and solutions. Over can translate into higher fencing, which can be expensive, or running a piece of yarn or wire higher up to create a thin barrier—cheaper, but kind of tacky. For years we banged together a complex fence from pieces of wire I had found along the roadside, but it was very tacky. I invested in some decent four-foot high hog fence two summers ago. It is a huge improvement.  It is also flexible and coils in amongst the beds in early spring, giving the ladies access to the compost pile, but not the young plants. Another solution, which we are working on, is to raise bigger chickens. Henny is a light and scrawny bird, who still flies easily. The Buff Orpingtons we brought home last spring are much bigger—and more peaceful—birds. They will be too big to fly over the fence in the spring. It is always easy to know when a chicken has escaped over the fence. She announces her landing and, if you look out quickly, you can see her shaking her feathers down before she heads for the collard patch.

            Under is more difficult to detect—but easier to solve. We eliminated the majority of under escapes by building a board fence around the back area. This stopped the chickens from even seeing the alley and neighbor’s parking lot, so they were no longer temptations. Now, when we have an under escape, we watch. Mark takes a book into the back yard as a decoy, sits down, and observes chicken behavior. Within fifteen minutes, he can find the weak spot, usually where the cats have pushed through near a fence pole. A brick in the gap, a good tug on the fence, a few staples to reattach the wire and we’re good. Toss the chicken back into the run and watch her head right for the gap once more. If she stays in the run, it is closed.

            There is a certain triumph to outsmarting a chicken, especially if she has been more clever at hiding her escape hatch than usual. This morning, when I opened the coop, I stood perfectly still and watched. Within two minutes, I had the answer. Henny was pushing her way out through a hole in the netting, which was big enough for her, but not for the larger buffs. When she was three quarters of the way out, I grabbed her and tossed her back in, then blocked the gap. She did not come out today. Victory has been declared, at least for now.

Pasta with Broccoli

Start a pot of water to boil.. While waiting, chop two big stalks of broccoli into small bite sized pieces.  Toss a handful of whole wheat spaghetti into the boiling water. When about two thirds of the way done, add the broccoli.

While this cooks, chop three cloves of garlic and cook in olive oil. Toss in almonds or walnuts and brown lightly. Also, grate some Parmesan cheese.

Drain. Mix olive oil, garlic, and nuts in. Top with cheese.

             It is official. I am smarter than a chicken.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Willamette Valley Winter

MY Sorrow, when she’s here with me,

  Thinks these dark days of autumn rain

Are beautiful as days can be;

She loves the bare, the withered tree;

  She walks the sodden pasture lane.

Her pleasure will not let me stay.

  She talks and I am fain to list:

She’s glad the birds are gone away,

She’s glad her simple worsted gray

  Is silver now with clinging mist.

The desolate, deserted trees,

  The faded earth, the heavy sky,

The beauties she so truly sees,

She thinks I have no eye for these,

  And vexes me for reason why.

Not yesterday I learned to know

  The love of bare November days

Before the coming of the snow,

But it were vain to tell her so,

  And they are better for her praise.

       This poem by Robert Frost perfectly captures the essence of early winter in the Willamette valley. Because of our Maritime climate and layers upon layers of accompanying clouds, we often never see a solid frost and the grass remains green all winter long. But, we do have the heavy sky, the faded earth, the bare, the withered tree.  Days when we walk to work at dawn, stare out a dark grey skies, and come home in the damp dark,  can be challenging. But we have two, often opposing, desires on these days.

     The first is to “hermit up” with a pile of library books, a new knitting pattern, and a huge mug of homemade chai. The cats love these days. They sit in front of the fire and purr, then walk over our heads and chase figments up and down the cellar stairs when they are bored.  I love them, too, and happily spend hours on the couch, staring out at the rainy day. The world is peaceful and quiet and I may bake English Muffins in the late afternoon.

            The other response is to go out and Embrace The Day. We walk the miles of trails that circle town for hours. Or we will head downtown, where we can stop for cocoa in the local coffeeshop. No day is so bad that a decent raincoat, a wool hat, and some cheery waterproof boots  cannot counter it—at least for an hour or so. Days that look dreadful from the window are often soft and misty once we step outside. Even a dank cold day can be beautiful, as the water beads up on spider webs and the clouds pass over and around the pine tree tops. The damp air smells of deep pines and woodsy mulch.  Fifteen minutes after we step outside, the world is perfect.

       Winter is our inward season and, for this first month, there is no outside work. We take the time to settle into our place, grow our roots, and be, inside and out.


In a non-reactive pot, combine:
2 cinnamon sticks
4 slices of ginger (fresh or candied)
10 smashed cardamon seed pods
1 t coriander seed
.5 t peppercorns
.5 t whole cloves
4 c of water
Simmer for about twenty minutes.

Add 2-3 t of tea and boil gently, then add 1 cup of milk and reheat. Add honey—or not—and drink.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

December Work List

December is the month of rituals, as we work to bring the old year to a close and assure that the sun will return again. There is not much to do in the gardens; they are tucked in for the winter. There are always house projects, but they are the sort that can wait, if a better offer comes along. So, the list is short.

·        Make the Christmas cards
·        Mail packages East
·        Hang the outside lights
·        Bake Lucia Buns and hike up Bald Hill at dawn
·        Light fires
·        Eat Latkes
·        Consider the Solstice
·        Set goals for the coming year
·        Bake bread, stolen, cookies, English muffins…
·        Paint the pantry
·        Visit
·        Read
·        Stare into space
·        Take long walks on the logging roads

Banana Pudding-- not at all local, but darn tasty!

Make a batch of pastry cream.
Whip a half pint of cream.
Slice bananas.
Eat a few Nilla Wafers and remember your grandmother.

Layer: Nilla Wafers, the half the pastry cream, then half the bananas, then half the whipped cream. Repeat. Decorate with Nilla Wafers.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thankful for...

            One of the best things about Corvallis, what I am most thankful for this season, is the level of community engagement in all sorts of issues. In the last few weeks, we have worked with three different organizations who are all working towards making Corvallis a more sustainable place to live. It has given us some new things to chew on over the long Thanksgiving weekend.

            Two weeks ago, we went to a presentation on residential solar power, sponsored by Abundant Solar and Seeds for the Sol. The first half of the talk was technical. We learned about all of the rebates available right now for solar panels; we could get over half of our money back between rebates and tax credits. The presenter all discussed how solar panels have become more efficient, so a smaller array could power the house. That interested me, because we do not have a huge, open, south-facing roof. Our house is aligned east/west, and part of the roof is shaded by a huge fig tree.  When I came home and looked at our electric bill, and saw that we average 6 KWH per day, I began to reconsider the panels. Maybe we could do this….It is a low priority, but I may ask Abundant Solar to swing by this Winter Break and let me know if it could happen.
            Seeds for the Sol ( directed the second half of the presentation on funding other family’s panels. If you are not in a perfect location, but still want to increase solar power in town, you can donate to the organization by directly purchasing panels, or by purchasing the federal tax credits. Mark was very interested in this idea, because it was easy. He could do it this year, and it would help decrease our reliance on fossil fuels as a community.  We came home excited to consider, once again, how we could make our house more sustainable.

            Last week, we attended the League of Women Voters presentation on carbon taxes. They had organized a panel discussion with two economists for Portland State, a woman from Sightline Institute, and a University of Oregon law school professor. Each presented for about ten minutes, and questions followed. This being Corvallis, a town full of engineers and math geeks, the economists, who had been studying carbon taxes and designing models to judge the financial impact of different prices, received the most questions. Everyone wanted to see the data. (They promised a new study next week! If we established a tax of 100 dollars per ton of carbon, we would just meet our  targeted emissions. But was the politically feasible? What would the impact on the economy be? All of the presenters considered British Columbia, which has had such a tax for several years, and California, which is working on a similar idea.  There will be a bill in the Oregon Legislature for the next session.

            Finally, inspired by all of the discussions in our house about carbon footprint and recycling what we do not need, I called Corvallis Furniture to pick up several pieces of furniture we had rescued from the streets. There was a wooden desk, a chair, and a small table lurking in our basement.  Corvallis Furniture  was started by a group of students who were appalled by the amount of good furniture that is cast into the streets to rot at the end of every school year. They collect decent stuff, take it back to a workshop, and refurb it. Sometimes it gets a coat of paint; sometimes it is transformed into a totally new design. Either way, it is off the streets. They have a store front in town, so, in a few weeks, I could visit my rescued and repaired desk!  ( – or check out their FaceBook page)

            All in all, I am, as always, thankful to live where I do, in a small city where people not only talk—a great deal—but also take positive action every day.

Peanutbutter Cookies: Whenever we have a meeting, we have cookies.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 egg 1 t vanilla

Beat well.  then add

2 cups of white flour
1/4 t salt
1 t BS
maybe some chocolate chips. Or raisins. Or nuts....

The dough is a bit crumbly, but holds together if you use a firm hand in shaping. 

Bake in 350 degree oven.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Chicken Hug

 Our chicken coop is perfect-sized for two chickens. It is five feet by four feet, A framed, sized to perch on garden beds in the winter and under the laurel tree in the summer. However, we often have more than two chickens, because we like to keep the eggs coming, but cannot kill an old hen. We put them out to pasture. This is a problem; the coop that holds two ladies peacefully creates mayhem when there are four, still working out turf battles. For years, we fought with chicken wire and rebar to extend the run, but it was a huge pain, so we built The Hug. The Hug is a lightweight frame made from pvc pipe, bird netting, yarn, and a bit of duct tape. It is not elegant—yet—but it is highly functional and very inexpensive to construct.

  1. Visit Habitat for Humanity to purchase the pvc pipe and the joints.
  2. On a sunny afternoon, lay the pipes out on the garden beds to measure and cut to fit, using an old hack saw.
  3. Join together with the pipe connectors.
  4. Check for sizing on the bed.
  5. Trim a little more off of the end near the fence, so it fits into the bed. Leave the coop end a little wider so the gate opens up inside of the Hug.
  6. Re-assemble.
  7. Wrap the entire thing in bird netting and sew on using old yarn. A snazzy color is nice. Duct tape the edges near the gate so that they do not snag.
  8. Place on the garden bed, next to the coop.
  9. Using old fence boards, create the “hug” effect by attaching the fence boards to the coop, jutting out to reach (or hug) the run. This fills in the gap between coop and run.
  10. Lift the gate so that it becomes the ceiling between hug and coop. Attach to the upper pipe.
  11. Let the Ladies out. Enjoy the peace of having four chickens who are no longer constantly bumping into one another.
  12. When the weather gets worse, rig a sheet of used plastic roofing over the hug to keep the rain off of the chickens.

Cauliflower Cheese Soup kind of from Moosewood Cookbook, circa 1982

2 potatoes
3 carrots
a medium head of cauliflower
one onion
salt, pepper, dillweed to taste

Chop and boil in minimal water until soft.

While waiting, grate a cup and a half of cheddar cheese and about half a cup of parmesan.

When the veggies are soft, puree in two batches. Add the cheese to one. Pour back into the pan, add a couple of cups of milk (until it is as thick as you like it) and reheat slowly.       

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Wintery Mix is Coming!

Winter is coming to the Willamette Valley. Usually, it flows in softly on a bed of clouds but, because we are so far north (equal to Calais, Maine, if you live on that side of the country), when the cloud cover goes, it is cold! For the last two days, the sky has been bright blue, brisk winds have blown, and there has been electricity in the air. Now that the clouds are coming back, we are seeing “Wintery Mix” in the forecast.

I spent Veteran’s Day snugging in plant communities. In the morning, I headed out to Sunbow Farm, figuring I would spend a few hours in the greenhouses, pulling up weeds and prepping for winter plantings. But, because of the forecast—24 degrees overnight!—Harry and Nate had bigger concerns. “Take this twine,” Nate asked, “and weave it across the entrances.” The newer greenhouses were breathing heavy, in and out, in and out with the wind, putting strain on the plastic covers. The twine could stabilize the flapping. Using orange binder twine and a small ladder, I designed a series of crossing strings that looked, from outside, like a pentagram. “Cool!” Nate called. “I love this guerilla farming stuff!” He staked down sandbags. Then we unzipped the front and back curtains in greenhouse five and replaced them. Standing on a ladder, wrestling with the greenhouse zipper in the bright breeze—it was a glorious way to spend the morning.

After lunch, I went to work in my own backyard. First, the chicken coop needed to be wrapped in plastic film for the winter. Because of the orientation of the garden beds, the coop is wide open to the westerly winter winds. I found the pieces I used last year in the shed and stapled them on. Once the Ladies were settled, I rigged a cold frame out of large tomato cages, rested on the garlic and onion beds, and covered them with more plastic. I repaired the sheet rigged over an experimental bed of Winter Peas as cover crop, then moved quickly onto the leaf project. All of the garden beds had piles of leaves dumped in the middle, but the mulch needed to be spread across each bed and snugged down around the roots of the overwintering plants. Collards, leeks, sprouting broccoli and the last of the beets   were all covered. Because I had moved so quickly, I still had time to rake up the leaves that had spilled out, tangled with day lily stems and some old amaranth that had sprouted in the aisles. It was all dumped onto the beds as well. Compost In Place, I thought.  By this time, the air was growing nippy and the sun was setting, so I went inside, glad we had already hung the wooden storm windows.

This afternoon, I watched the sky from my classroom. I could see heavy dark clouds on the horizon, but the precipitation was holding off. I fled before all of the students had cleared the building. Leaves, the beautiful red maple leaves down the street, had been raked into the road and were waiting for me to rescue them. Quickly, I gathered the rake and wheelbarrow. Rake, scoop, and dump…six barrow loads covered the front garden in a lovely glowing blanket. My last act was to bring the scented geraniums inside for the duration. I spread a small blanket for the cats on the window bench and we are ready for the cold.

Chai Tea

2 cinnamon sticks
2 chunks of candied ginger
10 crushed cardamom pods
1t whole coriander seed
.5 t peppercorns
.5 t whole cloves
4 c of water—simmer the spices for twenty minutes (cover the pan)

Add 3t of tea and 1 cup of milk. Bring to a gentle boil, then steep for about five minutes. Strain and add honey.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

November Work List

November Work List

It is time to move inside, to snug down, to venture out on cold, dank afternoons for long walks, then come home to sit by the fire.

·       Leaf mulch
·       Do NOT leave the pumpkins to rot on the steps
·       Clean up garden beds—compost in place for flower beds
·       Pie social
·       Sort the knitting wool
·       Find clothes drying racks
·       Split wood
·       Clean out the heater filter
·       Bring in the outdoor furniture
·       Create the holiday cards
·       Make fruitcake
·       Hang the storm windows
·       Rake leaves
·       Oil bike chains and fix the lights
·       Fill Your Pantry with beans and grains

Pumpkin Bread

3.5 c flour (wheat and white)
2 t BS
.5 t BP
1.5 t salt
1 t cinnamon
.5 t nutmeg
.5 t cloves
handful of raisins or chocolate chips or nuts or all three

2/3 c veg oil
2 c pumpkin
4 eggs
2 c white sugar
2/3 c milk

Mix wet and dry in separate bowls, then mix together. Pour into two bread pans and bake in 350 degree oven