Sunday, February 15, 2015

Waiting Egg-spectantly: Giving a Broody Eggs to Hatch

Cotton, dedicated mama-to-be. (That's Thelma squeezed in next to her.)
Our little hen Cotton has been broody for months. She wants so badly to raise some babies that she spends all her time earnestly (and fruitlessly) setting on unfertilized eggs.

Cotton is the hen who came to us as a chick and insisted on being raised by Oreo, the other Bantam hen. I don't think she's produced an egg in long time. Every time she gets broody I take her off the nest and take her eggs, and she comes back to her empty nest and looks forlorn. It makes me feel bad for her.

Nothing seems to break her of her mama-urges. So I asked my sister-in-law, who has a nice country flock, for some fertilized eggs. Her rooster is none other than Cluck Norris, the rooster that started life at our house as a pullet named Cadbury. Until we heard him crow and sent him off to live in the country where he could crow and crow and tend his own little harem.

So we took five eggs, marked them so we could tell them apart from the eggs our hens produced, and slipped them under Cotton on February 1. If we were serious about raising chicks, we'd have candled them to see if they were fertile, but instead, we took a sort of "if it happens, it happens" approach. I'm doubtful, but it feels good to leave Cotton some eggs to tend.

Cotton is a devoted broody, and she is almost always there on the nest. She'll take a break each day for water and food, but hurries right back. So when I saw her wandering around in the chicken yard one fine 60-degree day last week, I expected she wouldn't be out there long. A little while later, I looked out and she was still out there.

I thought maybe she'd forgotten about being broody. Sort of felt disappointed in her. I thought, "Well, we tried." But I figured it was a good time to go out and at least gather the new, fresh eggs without having to reach beneath her for a change.

I opened the nesting box door from behind, and laughed. Facing me were two fluffy chicken behinds. Cotton was, quite logically, taking a break from her hatching duties while two other hens were laying eggs and at the same time keeping the potential hatchers warm.

Hazel and Thelma  (seen from behind) share egg-sitting duties. 
Time and again, my chickens remind me that they know what they are doing. Why I think I'd make a better chicken than my own chickens I don't know. We've got T-minus five days to hatch, if they are viable eggs. In spite of my doubts, I'm determined to let nature have the upper hand here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The story behind our O'Keefe & Merritt stove

Our new old O'Keefe & Merritt stove, circa 1956
When we first bought our 1905-era home, I remember seeing pictures of renovated kitchens that featured vintage stoves. I had checked out the cost of newly-built vintage stoves and knew that was well out of reach budget-wise. But a couple of years ago, as we began to talk about renovating our small kitchen, I came across a listing on Craigslist for an O’Keefe & Merritt gas stove, and it was less than the cost of a new stove. It was in-use and worked well, albeit crusted with old grease. And for $200, it seemed doable, compared to a fully refurbished O’Keefe & Merritt stove which can run more than $1,000.

To make a long story short, we brought it home with plans to restore it. I began to look up parts on eBay, read old-stove-repair sites online, Googled pictures of O’Keefe & Merritt stoves (for reassurance and inspiration) and daydreamed about how it would look in our old house.

It sat there in the garage for two summers, waiting for its makeover. As we started to renovate our kitchen, I became more serious about trying to find parts for it. Prices had, I discovered, gone up a bit. At one point the original knobs had been taken off our old stove and replaced with '70s era black and stainless knobs. One vintage knob on eBay ran about $40. That meant an investment of $200 just for knobs.

Discouraged, I looked on Craigslist again, thinking maybe someone had one I could use for parts. There was a photo of an old stove that was behind stacks of boxes. I knew it was an O’Keefe & Merritt with all its knobs intact, but it appeared to be incomplete and dismantled. It was listed for $75.

By the end of the day, we were the proud owners of our second O’Keefe & Merritt stove. This one was circa 1956. What surprised us was that it was in better shape than our first one. All the porcelain was beautiful. It sported a chrome top that lifted like the hood of a muscle car, and the griddle-in-the-middle was in beautiful shape. On top of all that, we found that the box of parts that came with it contained extra parts—which, we reasoned, we’d sell on eBay to recoup our expenses.

It was placed in the garage next to stove #1. Then, a few weeks later, as if sensing its impending retirement, our 13-year-old electric range burned out the oven element on Thanksgiving day. That hurried the process along a bit. I began to clean stove #2, removing the glaze of years from burners and grills, degreasing, scraping, gently separating hardened burned-on grunge. When I finished, most of the stove looked pristine. Two of the burners will eventually need new porcelain.

K hooked it up and texted me a photo at work. “It works!” We were smitten. It beamed stoutly. We beamed. We took our photos next to the two quiches we made with it.  It's gratifying to think that it escaped the landfill, and we marveled at how solidly it was built and crafted.

On Christmas Day, we put it to the test, using the warming oven to let the rolls rise while the ham baked. The kitchen heated up. I could not help wondering how many Christmas dinners it had made, and imagined it was pleased to be back at work on a holiday meal. I look forward to using it for bread baking, canning, and yogurt making.

I am still smiling every time I clean it up, polish it, start the teakettle or fire up the griddle. It is worth every bit of elbow grease it took to burnish it back to its mid-century beauty.

Meanwhile, stove #1 awaits. Do we restore and sell it whole? Or sell it piece by piece? It needs more work than stove #2 did, and will require a greater investment to re-porcelain parts and get it to the level of restoration it needs. We know its story is not yet complete, and whether pieced out to bring its kin back to life, or refinished as a whole, we are confident that someday it will also be cooking with gas.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Seed Sources to Consider

If you're like me, you may be starting to think about seeds -- what you'll plant, where and when you'll plant it and where you'll buy your seed, if you aren't using seeds you've saved. I've always been concerned with organic seed, but having a hive of honeybees tunes your awareness to good seed.

I've made a list (with links) of some of the seed and plant sources that have signed the "Safe Seed Pledge," and plan to support these companies with my orders. Those in italics are companies I've ordered from in the past. I'm hoping to try a few more this year

Adaptive Seeds* - Northwest

Amishland Seeds - Pennsylvania

The Ark Institute* - Pennsylvania

Baker Creek Seed Co. - Missouri

Bountiful Gardens - California

Crispy Farms – Florida

Gourmet Seed - California

Grow Organic - California

Heirloom Seeds* - Pennsylvania

Heirloom Solutions - Illinois

High Mowing Seeds – Vermont

Horizon Herbs* - Oregon

Humbleseeds – Michigan

Growing Crazy Acres – Florida

Ed Hume Seeds – Northwest

J.L Hudson – California

Kitchen Garden Seeds - Connecticut

Lake Valley Seeds – Colorado

Landreth Seeds* - New York

New Hope Seed Company – Tennessee

Organica Seed* -- Massachusetts

Prairie Road Garden – North Dakota

Renee’s Garden – California

Restoration Seeds – Oregon

Sand Hill Preservation Center (heritage breed poultry, too) – Iowa

Seeds Trust – Idaho

Siskiyou Seeds (NW) – Oregon

Southern Exposure* - Virginia

Sow True (SE)* - North Carolina

Sustainable Seed Co* - California

Tomato Fest – California

Trees of Antiquity – Heirloom Fruit trees – California

Turtle Tree Seed – New York

Underwood Garden Seeds* (Terroir Seeds) - Arizona

Uprising Seeds* -- Washington

Victory Seeds* - Oregon

White Harvest Seed – Missouri

Wild Garden Seeds* - Oregon

Wildseed Farms – Texas – Wildflowers

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Balanced Below the Hive

One of our bees, at work on a sunflower.

I’m still seeing pollen enter the hive—a good sign. The bees have been cleaning up the sugar water relatively quickly. I’ll add more tonight, but I’m hoping that I’ll see more comb being drawn out on frames when we open the hive on Sunday.

Wanting to see into the hive without disturbing the hive, I get on the ground and stretch out flat on my back with my head resting beneath the hive. I glance across the yard, hoping my neighbor doesn’t see me, as she might be alarmed to see me prone on the ground by my beehive. But an overgrowth of tomato plants and zinnias rise between us and I'm glad she can't see me and wonder about her strange neighbor. 

Looking up from beneath the hive.
Because hive boxes have no top or bottom, and the frames hang inside like files in a cabinet, you can see into the hive from beneath. First, you see a screened “bottom board” that allows for ventilation but keeps critters out of the hive. Just about a half inch above the screen, you can see the bottom edges of the frames.

I settle in, my legs stretched out and ankles crossed. My awareness of the outside world shrinks to just the space between my eyes and the hive, which is about a foot above my gaze. I can see what looks like discarded larvae on the screen as housekeeping bees occasionally pulled it toward the hive opening. Bees walk back and forth, up into the frames, over the wax, and busily doing what bees do. From the bottom, it still doesn’t look like they are building on the new frames, though could be that I just can’t see their progress since they start at the top of a frame and build comb down.

From my vantage point beneath the hive, I feel a settling sense of peace. How strange to feel so relaxed and peaceful with a large number of stinging insects suspended above me.

We are often separated from wildness in a way that lessens our lives as humans. In an interview with writer David Kupfer, poet Terry Tempest Williams said of the often distanced relationship between humans and wildlife:

We become disconnected, we lose our center point of gravity, that stillness that allows us to listen to life on a deeper level and to meet each other in a fully authentic and present way.”

And perhaps that is what I find there, beneath the bees—a center point of gravity. I regain my footing in the hum of the bees. I’m an observer, and these small winged beings encourage stillness in their presence.

I don’t spend as much time beneath the hive as I would like to. I need to water the garden and check on the hens. Dinner is yet to be made, and there is always work to be done. Reluctantly, I leave bee-viewing for the night, but I do so feeling greater equilibrium, as if the hum of bees has calibrated the balance in my bones.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Carb Cutting: What Honey Brings to the Table

Dark honey -- like this buckwheat honey -- is high in antioxidants.
I have been working on cutting carbs at the same time as I’m feeding sugar to my bees and looking forward to their honey. A bit of a disconnect, I suppose. Though, truth be told, it’s not the honey that I’ve been most excited about, it’s the pollination they bring to my garden and the feeling that I’m helping honeybees survive that rewards my efforts as a beekeeper.

Honey is a natural sweetener that seems intuitively good to me (besides having a far more complex sweetness than sugar). It has antibacterial, antiseptic properties reputed to heal. Some say it can heal and soothe bedsores when nothing else works; and it’s like a natural allergy fighter for people with pollen-related allergies. But what about the nutritional aspects of this golden, flower-based sweetener?

My mom recently recommended a book called “The Sugar Smart Diet.” Interesting book. It points out the problems with zero-calorie and low-cal sugar substitutes—even with sweeteners like stevia. Reading it, I was beginning to feel a little guilty about that honeybee-managed sugar factory sitting in my back yard.

Then I read this paragraph:

“…honey contains an estimated 180 different substances—proteins, enzymes, amino acids, minerals, vitamins, phytochemicals—that may account for its health promoting effects. For example, gram for gram, honey is as rich in antioxidants as some fruits and veggies…even small amounts may offer some protection against cancer and promote heart health. In test tube studies, honey—the darker the better—slows the oxidation of LDL cholesterol in human blood.”
~ The Sugar Smart Diet, by Anne Alexander

Well. As if I needed another reason to be amazed by bees.

Honey is not the only substance produced by bees. Propolis is a tar-like glue that bees create to fill in cracks and close gaps, but it has been studied for its potential in treating numerous illnesses from cold sores to cataracts to cancer. Bee pollen and royal jelly are also purported to be beneficial. But I’d not heard much about what honey itself brings to the table.

I’m working on cutting carbs and reducing the amount of sweeteners in my diet, but in this case, my instincts about honey as a beneficial side-effect of pollination seem justified. All things in moderation, of course, but it makes me feel happy to read about the natural goodness in the sweetener my bees are producing.