Monday, March 21, 2011

One Freaky Egg

We have two sweet little purebred Ameracauna pullets that I got from a breeder in North Georgia. These girls are defective as show chickens -- they are missing the "muff gene," the gene that gives the breed the distinctive beard -- so last August, the breeder gave them to me for free. They are perfect Wheat Ameraucaunas, the sub-category by the color of their tail feathers. Little Blue and Little Black are still with us, but Little Red didn't get into the house one night, and the next afternoon all I found was a leg and a wing. Hiding under the shed wasn't such a good idea after all.

I'm wondering if being bred for show and not for a "productive" life is now coming out. A few times since the turn of the sun, there have been goopy glops in the henhouse, and yesterday I found a most curious thing, like an enlongated malted M&M. We broke it open, and for sure, it was an egg, with a yolk smaller than a pea.

Today, Little Blue sat in the laying box a long while, and when I went back later I found this curiosity:

If you look closely, you can see the yolk. It's, like, an egg with no shell. Rubbery and squishy -- I'm not sure whether it actually has no shell, or an under-hardened shell. But it's a first for us. Weird. And, oh yeah, I still plan to eat it.

Critter Creak

Who in your house is big enough to make the floorboards creak??

In our house, it's practically everybody, even the cats. Especially Serik. He used to be skinny, when he was a shelter kitty. Now he's not.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Bees are Coming!

Video & podcast interviewing Thomas Seely, author of Honey Bee Democracy.

So now I've got almost 3 years of chicken raising (mistakes and all) under my belt, I'm giving in to my desire for honeybees. It's the last in my trifecta of "chickens, bees, and goats" because, frankly, I ain't gonna' get goats in our backyard.

I went to the HoneyBee short course
at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens in January. Quite honestly, I didn't really learn anything I didn't already know from reading books and online sites (I am a librarian, after all. Research is our business), but it was really nice to network and talk with folks I'd read about online. I met some people who have become lovely supportive mentors, and talked with others who have extensive experience in "off-road" beekeeping (ie, top bar, limited interventions, "bee guardians, etc.").

The night I got home I reserved two packages from Dixie Bee Supply (aka. The FatBeeMan), in Lula, a little hamlet in the foothills of the North Georgia Mountains. I was lucky and got the first hatch date available, March 18. That's like, next Friday!!

Alas, I've got extra teenage boys coming for an overnight that weekend, so my friend is going to collect my packages for me. I did get to get to visit with Don the Beeman when we went up to Gainesville last weekend, so I have an idea of where my bees are coming from. I think I'm ready, but the real proof is when the thousands of ladies arrive!

Monday, July 20, 2009


15 or so years ago, when I first moved to a Big American City, the sound of helicopters overhead was very disconcerting. You see, where I grew up, in tinytown north Alabama, a helicopter hovering over your town meant only one thing -- ECAPED CONVICT!!

In Intown Atlanta, the helicopters were more benign. The greatest possibility was traffic jam, followed by major sporting event. Only later, when I moved to an up-and-coming neighborhood, did the police come back into to the picture, only this time, they were looking for a suspect, not a convict.

These days, in our summer home in rural Tennessee, helicopters mean something altogether different, and troubling. I have long had difficulty with the wail of an ambulance siren -- as I tell the kids, an ambulance whizzing by means 'somebody's hurt, and somebody's scared.' The whirlybirds touching down in our town mean the same thing. It's awesome (as in, inspiring awe) too see those huge metal insects hovering, and lowering themselves to the helipad. The windstorm they create is unbelievable. But it's always in front of the hospital, and it's only ever to take somebody away to a bigger hospital many miles away. Somebody's hurt, and somebody's scared.

Amazing how context matters, isn't it? It makes all the difference in the world.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

living closer to nature means nature rules

ewww. That means lovely things like trees, fawns and butterflies, AND less lovely critters like snakes, skunks and possums. Summer relocation has been tough on my hen 'girls'. I was really worried about woodland predators when preparing their run, and put netting over the top to keep out hawks, and made sure no raccoons could get their paws in. And then, the first day in their temporary home, I goofed, left a door open, and three of the girls were attacked by a stray that was hanging out nearby. Poor Silver, Raquel and my darling Baby Madge are no more. I cried and cried, then accepted the way things work -- dogs chase chickens. It's what they do. Everything dies sometime. And chickens are chickens, not children.

My father and I buried them in the woods last week. (Full disclosure -- their bodies were in the deep freezer for two weeks prior to the burial. Morbid humor is still funny.) On the plus side, the incident did result in the stray getting a new home and a name - Blue, for the wild blue eyes. Her new family took her to the vet, where another family identified her as their old dog who had run away. They were happy to see her, and happy for her to stay with the new family. And, of all things, the dog's previous name had been Blue, too!

In any case, the surviving hens, Stormie and Martha Washington (formerly Lacey), are very cautious about leaving the safety of the enclosed coop, even to scratch around in the enclosed pen, so I've gotten into a nice routine of taking a chair and a book out in the evening to sit with them while they range. Yesterday, when I was closing up for the evening and checking for eggs, I found GIGANTIC black rat snake trying to swallow the day's production! Ewww -- can you see the egg inside the snake's jaw? Looks like a golf ball covered in black netting. Yuck.

The short story is that the snake escaped (to steal eggs another day?), the egg didn't (it broke) and I'm reminded that "simple country living" isn't as simple as folks might think.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

celebrate independence!

Isn't this flag cool? It's flying on a cottage in the community where I work in the summer. I only saw it yesterday, (probably luckily) too late to make one for our family this year. But what a great idea, especially if it could be made with handprints from every family member. This one is for sure a present and future family heirloom -- it's dated 1991.

We've a full day of community activities, starting with an 8 am flag raising & potluck breakfast, cat and mutt shows, crafts fair and parade. I'll be the cool mom (not!) driving the pickup truck and flatbed trailer for the summer league swim team float! From me, to my family, my community and our nation, for all our flaws, I am deeply grateful for all the unearned gifts we've been given.

Today I will spend some time thinking about the blessings, costs and responsibilities of independence. And then we'll all go watch the fireworks!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

to buy or to make? what is your answer?

I just saw a review over on The Crunchy Chicken of a great-sounding book that's going on my next library order -- The Green Teen: The Eco-Friendly Teen's Guide to Saving the Planet. It must be synchronicity, since just this morning I watched the DVD of Kilowatt Ours: A Plan to Re-energize America, and am more determined than ever to reduce and reuse as the leading edge of my own family's battle to live as more responsible citizens. My summer employer found out just today that Jeff Barrie, producer and director of Kilowatt Ours, is available and will be coming to speak next week!

Recycling is a tricky third leg of the 3 Rs, because large-scale recycling depends on finding a market for recycled materials. That means somebody (= consumers = you and I) has to buy whatever the finished product might be. The recycling program where we are has been discontinued for the summer, because the guys that collected all the materials can't sell them anywhere that will pay enough to make it worth their while.

I'm happy to buy recycled when it's something I need and was going to buy anyway. But what about something that I could make myself? Enviromom was musing about the Mylar that comes into her house, and what to do about it now that it's not recyclable in her town anymore. TerraCycle is a company that collects consumer waste like juice bags (they call them pouches), chip bags and yogurt cups, and remakes them into consumer goods -- very cute tote bags, pencil cases, cardboard fire logs and other neat products. They even pay a small amount per waste item (2¢ per pouch, for instance) to schools and other organizations who collect and send them in (like the cereal box or soup label programs many schools use for fundraising).

Are you like me? When I see great ideas like this my first thought is -- I bet I could make that! So my question is, is it more responsible to send in my juice bags and buy a finished product, thereby supporting a good eco-company and large scale recycling? Or better to keep our (very few) juice bags out of my trashcan, not buy yet another thing at a big retailer, and save my own money, by making similar products at home? What would you do?