I’m Plotzing!

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I can barely contain myself.

Something I’ve been waiting for years to happen has happened.

In fact, it’s something that helped bring about the formation of this blog six years ago.

Deanna and I had been friends for ten years at that point, but somehow we never fully realized we shared a certain passion for the same sorts of things; growing things ourselves, making things from scratch, the sort of things this blog is about. Our friendship had centered around school and family and our respective generalized nuttinesses, but one day, one phone conversation, we realized we both wanted to . . . grow mushrooms. And keep chickens, too. And so on.

From that conversation this blog was born. Before I knew it, we had a registered domain name, a whole lot of unwritten posts, and even a book in our future.

BUT. Until this week, neither one of us had grown a single mushroom on purpose.

Now, my dear friend Deanna and my dear blog readers, I am tickled way beyond reasonable proportion to announce:

I have grown mushrooms.

And lo, they are adorable.

Witness:

IMG_5290Look at that little baby one at the foot of the mama one! These are Bellwether Shiitake mushrooms from spawn I got from Field & Forest Products. They are the cutest little things I’ve ever seen, on par with baby chicks and baby goats.

IMG_5305To make it even more exciting, I’d sort of halfway given up on mushrooms, having tried to grow them a couple of times before without any payoff. And while I knew having mushrooms would be cool, I hadn’t realized how absolutely photogenic they are.

Their rich brown caps decorated with white remind me of artisan bread fresh out of the oven encrusted with a crackled layer of dusting flour.

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I am still waiting and watching to see if the logs I inoculated with oyster mushrooms are going to fruit, but for now, I’m enjoying watching these little cuties get bigger and bigger every day. I’ve put them in what amounts to a cage to keep marauding squirrel paws off of them. If critters still somehow manage to get my mushrooms I will not be responsible for my actions.

MILD MANNERED GARDENER KILLS SQUIRREL WITH BARE HANDS

IMG_5297If you’ve ever wavered about how thrilling growing mushrooms could be, waver no more. Try it. Like most things that require patience, it’s worth the wait.

IMG_5298–Daisy

Easy Blueberry Bush Bird Protection

Many years ago I tried draping deer netting over my blueberry bushes. It was a complete failure. I didn’t secure the netting at ground level so the birds got up under the net, it was a pain to crawl under there to pick, and the birds could sit on the outside and pick berries through the net.

In the years that passed after I gave up on the net, my default strategy has been to get out there early in the morning and try to pick as many berries as I could before the birds got to them. I’d pick them a little underripe, too, greedily snatching them up before someone else could greedily snatch them up. Contrary to much popular advice, blueberries do sweeten up a bit after picking. Still, if I had my druthers, I’d rather pick completely ripe berries.

This strategy was partially effective, especially in years where the berries were abundant. Meaning, I felt I was getting enough to pacify myself although the birds were getting A LOT of berries, too. Still, it’s aggravating to watch birds fly off with ripe berries. Even more aggravating is seeing partially-eaten berries on the ground, berries with beak-marks, and perhaps most goading of all, watching birds snatch berries right in front of me WHILE I was picking. Cheeky!

I read up on various caging methods and decided on one of my own. It’s extremely basic, easy to remove and store in the off-season, and relatively inexpensive. It uses PVC pipes so the netting slides easily on them (unlike wood which snags the netting like a beast), a little bit of rebar, and of course netting.

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This method works easiest if your blueberry bushes are in a row, although it can be done with individual or widely-spaced plants, just use a couple of pipe hoops and separate sheets of netting for each blueberry bush.

Judge the length of pipe you need based on the height of your plants. Measure your blueberry plants, high and wide, and take these measurements to the store. Get a partner at the store to hold one end of the pipe  while you gently bend it into a hoop and measure to see if it will clear your plants with several inches to spare; leave some growing room all around.

The pipes I bought were “bell-end” which means one end is shaped to fit over another length of pipe. As it happened, I needed to cut off about a foot of my 12′ pipe. I cut off the bell-end, flipped it bell-end up, pounded it into the ground (using a piece of wood to cushion the hammer blows), and used it to mount one end of the hoop.

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I bent the other side around and fit it over a 1′ piece of re-bar pounded into the ground on the opposite side of the blueberry.

I spaced more hoops about 3 feet apart over the plants, locating the end hoops a bit outside the edge of the canopy to give me some picking room under the netting.

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For the netting, I used standard deer-proof netting, cut to size and pieced together with zip ties.

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It’s awkward to do this by yourself; get a helper or two. It you plan on snipping your ties apart when you fold and store after harvest is over, leave a little space in the tie to get your scissor in (thanks for the tip, Sallie).

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Mine is small enough that I plan to leave it intact to store it, but if you’re netting a larger area, you may want to do this.

Leave enough extra netting all around so you can weight it down at ground level to keep birds from sneaking underneath.

So far the birds are unable to get in and we’ve had the first summer without having to rush out and beat the birds to the berries. Yes!

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Roll-Out Nesting Box

Chicken Time-Out wasn’t much of a success.

First, there’s the problem of having to catch an angry chicken first thing every morning.

No amount of coffee can prepare me for that.

Second, I think there may be another culprit. My smartypants Rhode Island Red laid an egg on the top shelf of the coop yesterday morning and was proceeding to roll it over to the edge (a seven-foot drop) when I grabbed the egg and saved it from a desperate fate.

The only thing that would get to the bottom of this would be a chicken cam or dawn-to-dusk surveillance and while I admit to being a bit obsessive I’m not going to those lengths.

The fact remains: I refuse to feed eight hens seven days a week for only seven or so eggs a week.  Not happening.

I did not whine my way through a Long, Eggless Winter only to endure a Long, Eggless Summer.

The next possible solution to try was a roll-out nesting box, which is exactly what it sounds like; the hens lay their eggs on a slanted surface and gravity takes them away so they can’t get to it.

I looked at a couple of homemade roll-out nest box plans online that used plastic storage boxes but decided to use materials I already had. So I made a few rough sketches and went out to my scrap lumber pile.

For the base I made a rectangle of 3/4 inch plywood with a length of 2X4 attached to the bottom to elevate one side to make the eggs roll down to a catchment area.

In my coop I don’t have rear access to the nest boxes so I decided on a front-access egg-collecting box. The eggs would roll forward and into a box beneath a hinged door.

Here is a photo of the back showing the 2×4 attached to the plywood base. Ignore the dividers at this point, I just wanted to show how the base is simply a rectangular plywood board made to slant with the addition of a couple of scrap lengths of 2×4. Also please ignore the pieces of plywood under the 2x4s which I was using to help make the driveway level.

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Here it is from the front. You can see it has no 2×4 in the front, which makes the board slanted.

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There are four dividers which form three nesting areas. The dimensions of the dividers are based on the 12? x 12? recommendations for nesting boxes. Because the sides rest on the floor, they needed to be taller than the center dividers. I made these two side boards about 4 1/4? taller than the two center dividers to adjust for the height of the 2×4 and the 3/4? plywood. I cut them on a slant to keep hens from roosting (and pooping) on top of the nesting box. They are also 12? deep.

The width of the individual boxes is a little more than 12? because my plywood was already cut and I didn’t want to cut it just to make it perfectly 12? per box. Chickens don’t care.

I made the box in two separate pieces so the top could be taken off for cleaning and so it would be easier to move. I used a scrap piece of luan for the roof and nailed it to the dividers.

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Once the roof was complete, I made short sides all around the base to form the part of the box where the eggs would roll.

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It’s difficult to attach these from the top, so I turned the plywood base over, clamped the side boards to the (now) underside, and screwed them in from the bottom.

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Flipped back over, I could then attach the box cover. I used a pair of small hinges I had lying around. The eggs roll under this catchment area where the hens can’t get to them.

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The roof/divider unit fits over the base. It could be fastened with nails or screws, but I left it separate.

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Since using nesting material such as straw or wood chips would keep the eggs from rolling and defeat the purpose, I cut a piece of fatigue mat (you can buy it by the foot at home centers) to cushion the egg drop without getting in the way of gravity.

The chickens had a hard time getting used to this. Check back tomorrow when I post on how the intro to the new box went over with the hens.

DIY Soothing Plantain Salve Recipe

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Plantain, that pesky lawn and garden weed, makes a soothing salve for itches, bites, burns, rashes, sore muscles and strains.

Using the plantain-infused oil we made in this post, here’s a recipe for an easy-to-spread salve to keep in store for all the times someone in your family says “I’m itchy!” and “Ouch!”

PLANTAIN SALVE

makes 7-8 oz.

6-7 oz. plantain-infused oil

1 oz. beeswax

Optional: 1/2 tsp. EACH tea tree essential oil and vitamin E oil

1. Melt beeswax over a hot water bath.

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2. Pour in plantain oil and stir until the two are completely combined. 6 oz. will yield a medium-soft salve. 7 oz. will yield a softer, creamier consistency.

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3. Stir in the tea tree and vitamin E now if you are using them. Tea tree essential oil has anti-bacterial properties and vitamin E helps as a preservative, but the salve works fine without them.

4. Pour into clean jars and allow to cool before screwing on the lids.

5. Take all the spills and residue from bowls, etc., and smear it all over yourself until you are greased up like a competitive body-builder and can barely type on the keyboard.

Thank you.

 

DIY Plantain-Infused Oil

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Most people have seen this herb growing in cracks in the sidewalk or marring the monoculture of an otherwise pristine lawn. Before you pluck it out and toss it away, consider that broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) is a nutritious edible plant and a potent medicinal herb.

Plantain (especially the young, tender leaves) can be used like any green leafy, added to salads and sandwiches fresh, or older leaves cooked like greens. It contains vitamins A, C, & K and the mineral magnesium.

Medicinally, plantain is used to soothe irritated skin and can help heal rashes from poison ivy, heat, ease the pain of sunburn and other burns, and help quell the pain of insect bites and stings. Containing allantoin like comfrey and aucubin, an antimicrobial, its anti-inflammatory properties are used to ease the pain and speed healing of sprains, sore muscles, and swelling.

Spring and early summer is a good time to find fresh plantain. I pulled up some of the plantain from my untreated lawn, roots and all (or you can use just the leaves), washed them:

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Chopped them and put them in a lidded jar:

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I used a food processor but a knife or scissors works just as well. And covered them with warmed olive oil and left them in a window to infuse:

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After about two weeks I strained out the solids using a fine sieve.

IMG_2496You can use the oil ‘as is’ or use it as the base for a salve for summer’s bites, rashes, and sore muscles. I prefer the salve because it’s less drippy and easier to apply, plus you get the benefits of the beeswax used to thicken the oil. Recipe for my favorite plantain oil salve here.