It doesn’t look like much, but in the last few days I’ve been working on a little garden in front of the chicken coop. I’ve been browsing Free Range Chicken Garden and while the book is perhaps more oriented to those keeping a small backyard flock it is nonetheless inspiring. The current chicken arrangements involve some time in the coop in the morning, then out “to pasture” in a large area we had fenced off for the goats. In the evening we let them out to free range around our property. So this little garden won’t have their full (damaging) attention. I planted it with some so-called “chicken resistant” plants as well as a few of their favourites, like kale. Tiny kale plants are protected by a chicken wire tent and I seeded some greens under the cover on the other side. I’m hoping these will give the plants a chance for a good start but after that it will all be fair game.
I hope to get a few more herbs that will be useful for sprinkling in the coop and look forward to seeing nasturtiums spilling about. I recruited a few wild strawberries and cowslips from the lawn. G and Little R built the stone path yesterday. Looking forward to seeing it grow up!
I made some lemon curd a week ago and while I stood over it and stirred it occurred to me rhubarb would make a good curd too. We have lots of eggs, we have lots of rhubarb. This afternoon I tried it out. I was hoping for a pale pink mixture but I guess it must be the eggs that give lemon curd its colour, not lemon, so the rhubarb curd is also a cheerful yellow. It tastes lovely. I still want to perfect my recipe but this first attempt is quite passable. Seems like a perfect spring delicacy.
Some creatures need to be loved and loved, with perseverance and determination. They need somebody who is willing to overlook the fact that they always run away, or give every indication that they aren’t interested, or actively evade contact, somebody who’s love is so confident as to create a certainty of being loved in return. And when they get that, something remarkable happens and they give up and love back.
High up on the list of my favourite things is gathering from the garden and using my finds as inspiration for a meal. I love that. And it’s early, and there isn’t anything ready in the garden yet, but thankfully there is sorrel and dandelion greens in profusion. And a healthy clump of chives. And add to that the eggs collected daily. (Oh, if only I was an “egg person” and could enjoy an omelette, or indeed any kind of egg dish, then a collection like this could be a meal in itself. I’m serious, I really do regard my dislike of anything eggy as quite a handicap, but I don’t think there is any hope for me in that regard.) So the eggs go in the fridge and I turn the rest into this dish:
Pasta with sorrel pesto (sorrel, garlic, olive oil, roasted almonds) dandelion greens and mozzarella.
Not sure why I find this transformation from gatherings to meal so satisfying but I do. And I have so much more of this to look forward to as things begin to grow.
Nothing beats the real thing, of course, but sometimes being able to use a more cohesive (less messy) “potting soil” is just the thing. This is coffee play dough and some old seed packets filled with beans and other goods from the pantry.
Our chickens have been spending time in the “goat pen” (time to move on and call it the chicken pen, I guess!) because with the arrival of spring they have rediscovered their urge to range onto the neighbour’s property. It’s a very large pen with varied terrain and flora so I don’t feel too bad for them, and I’m glad it’s been working. But maybe because they are “shut up” I found myself thinking about what they have to eat these days. We’ve never been that great about giving the chickens our scraps – they pick and choose and then whatever is left lies around on the ground (until a toddler comes to pick it up). The best is a compost they are free to scratch about in; I’m planning to create a compost pile in the pen this spring so they can do that.
I read about somebody chucking their veggie scraps in the blender and chopping them up for their chickens so I thought I’d try that. It was very popular! Every day, or other day, I blend a collection of vegetable and fruit scraps for the chickens. Sometimes they get a little yogurt in there, or a splash of apple cider vinegar, or a little garlic. It’s almost like cooking for chickens, and it’s kind of fun. I often don’t put salt in things I cook (a habit from when Little R was a baby) so occasional leftovers go in as well. Some ground up egg shells too if I’m not giving the chicks any. I think, on the whole, it’s best for them to find their own food, and I won’t coddle them in this way once it warms up and things start to grow, but for now they get these little treats and I’m happy seeing kitchen scraps so heartily enjoyed.
Yesterday Little R helped me garnish their mash with a shake of turmeric and a sprinkling of mung bean and lentil sprouts. Lucky chickens.
Dinner is served!
As Little R would say “Queen Anne is a mummy!” Queen Anne is our Silver Laced Wyandotte hen (silver laced – Queen Anne’s Lace, in case you are wondering about her name.) Her brood hatched out last Tuesday/Wednesday. Six out of seven eggs. I’m not sure why but I had been preparing myself for it not to work. When I went in to check on her and heard the tell-tale peeping I was quite excited. Nature! It works!
It’s quite different having a mother hen with chicks than buying chicks on their own. Of course, I’m a little bit more familiar with chickens this time round, but you do worry less since it’s her job to look after them – keep them warm, protect them from danger, find them food. I opened the door to her broody box and gave her access to the outside and she took them all out. It was sunny but certainly way colder than I could have imagined comfortable for chicks, but they were fine, and she stayed out with them for hours. (Guess it helps she was scratching around in front of a south-facing wall, a pretty good micro climate.)
We couldn’t find any chick starter crumbs because I guess these little ones are two early, so we’ve been somewhat cavalier in offering various alternatives; some ground up grower pellets, millet, rice and such. I would have worried much more about this last year but since they have a mother who is busily foraging for them, and showing them to do the same, I feel more confident that they will be alright. And I give them some boiled egg sometimes too.
Queen Anne is an excellent mother. It’s amazing to think it’s all instinct. She will let me handle the chicks but isn’t happy about it, and I’m fairly confident she would defend her brood from a predator, without worrying that she’s going to tear me to shreds! Little R and I were in checking her every day while she was incubating the eggs so that may have helped her feel a bit used to us.
I love watching the chicks with their mother. It really is quite a different beginning than life in a box. It might be a bit harder to hold and play with the chicks when they have a mother, but I think it is made up for by being able to watch them following and learning from Queen Anne. They aren’t even a week old yet,so I suppose I should wait to expound on the ease of raising chicks this way. I know there are various tragedies the could befall these chicks….but I guess I’m trying to remind myself again that nature works, and we’ll just have to see how it goes.