I feel like a kid again when the garden is about to sprout. I love coming out in the morning to see if the first leaves have raised their heads out of the soil. Yesterday I saw the first and today there are a few more.
This year the garden is simple. I’m using up older seeds, and there were a lot of bush beans saved from last year. Everyone loves beans, so we are doing several containers of those. I’ve also planted some carrots and spinach. Along the yard I also threw in some snap peas to grow up the lilacs, cukes along the fence, and ran some squash and pumpkins here and there.
The mint and strawberry pots wintered over just fine, but I had to replace the oregano and sage from my herb pot. Some of Jen’s cilantro seed also went into the middle of the herb pot this year as an experiment.
Today I set up the home for some day-old ducklings that should be arriving this week. We have Indian Runner ducks, and, while the chicken instinctively does this, the Indian Runners just aren’t smart enough to go in the coop every night before the automatic coop door closes. As a result, we lost two ducks to what is probably a raccoon predator in the last month.
Due to the loss and also because my goal is to have a laddered-bond approach to my small flock (a few new birds coming in each year to keep a steady flow of eggs from birds of different ages), I ordered day-old ducklings from McMurray Hatchery. I called them to ask for a breed that is smarter than the Indian Runners. The friendly person on the phone said that I should also steer clear of Blue Swedish. The result is 3 baby female Gold Star Hybrids arriving this week. These birds are good foragers and excellent layers. I had Khaki Campbells in the past, and really like those ducks. I think these will be similar.
Here is the setup. This sits in a room that can be closed and locked against our cat, but in case of a breach we added a wire mesh top with weights on it to keep her out. If you are doing this yourself, you will need
- A large waterproof container with high sides
- Clean shavings (other materials may do, these have worked very well for us in the past. We get them from Erikson Grain Mill in Acton, MA)
- Small water bowl and food bowls that are hard to flip if stepped on
- Heater that birds can get under – adjustable height. We like Brinsea’s safe heater.
- Crumble feed (again, from Erikson Grain Mill)
As they grow, you can move the heater up higher so they fit underneath. I recommend these water and food bowls that can attach to mason jars. Note that free-access water for ducks will require more shavings cleanup. Eventually I will move them to a dog crate that has a plastic insert in the bottom. This gives them more room to move around and they can’t jump out.
Looking to improve on my interrupted Bone Broth Attempt #1, I cooked another batch recently. This time I did two things differently. First, I made sure that nobody would be around to steal ladles full of it to make their own soup! and Second, I pulled the meat away from the bones to let the boiling water hit the bones directly. By exposing the bones more directly to the hot water, I was able to get more of the bone gelatin into the broth. This increased gelatin makes the product, once refrigerated, blumpy and odd to pour out. It takes a little getting used to and is not for the faint-of-heart. However, that is where the goods are, and if your broth becomes gelatinous in the fridge then you did something right. I am not talking about the fat on the top, that is different. You can scrape that off or mix it in. I like a little fat in there but not too much.
I drink a cup of broth in the morning as the first part of my breakfast, and it really warms my belly and feels great to my body. I am always on the lookout for store-bought broths/stocks that are a quick substitute for the home-made kind. Recently I found this one, Kitchen Basics brand Original Chicken stock. It tastes pretty good and has much more protein than the other products available in my local grocery stores. The price was similar in price to the other stocks on the shelf.
There’s been a lot of talk about bone broth lately, so I decided to make some. I’ve been making chicken broth forever, so this is just basically chicken broth cooked for a really long time, so that the bones give up their goods.
For this experiment I bought the cheapest chicken cuts with bones that I could find, which were chicken thighs. They cost $0.99/lb at my very convenient nearby grocery store, so my total investment was about $3.50 for 2 packs of thighs. I added veggies that I had around the house – celery, parsley, carrots, some garlic, plus some seasoning – sage, thyme, bay leaf, and rosemary. I also added juice from half a lemon, salt, and pepper. Then I covered it all with filtered water and cooked it for many many hours.
Here is the delicious result. The house smelled so good! After about 6 hours my son came in and immediately wanted to make chicken soup, so we did. I strained out some broth, we just simply shredded up some of the chicken from the thighs in the broth and put the bones back in, then added some carrots and noodles.
Now, I know that kids like the food that they cook better than if the mom had cooked it, but this is what my 11yo said, “This soup is so good that I want to cry.” I’d say it was worth breaking from the experiment for that quote.
After the soup break, to imbue that new water with the essence of the bones, I added more water and kept cooking for 2 hours on high and overnight on low. In the morning I strained out the solids and put the “liquid gold” into glass containers. It is good, but a little watery. I don’t think the bones had the strength to power two batches, so I’ll just make it for 8-10 hours next time without the soup-making hiatus in the middle.
Still, absolutely delicious and pretty much my favorite breakfast drink! I will put it in the fridge and then heat up a glass at a time to drink.
Today was a crisp Fall day up here in New England, just perfect for closing up the coop and yard. The coop is all cleaned and ready for next year, the yard is raked and the whole place is tidied up.
The chickens all went to grateful families, and next year we will get a new flock. We are thinking of some Indian Runner Ducks for a change. I had ducks for many years and just love them. They make a mess with water, so that will be our challenge to solve.
We use the firepit a lot, so the ash buildup went into the freshly turned composter.