Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Came Early!

Each year, my family gets together before the actual Christmas holiday to have dinner and exchange gifts. This year, I received a lot of nice gifts that really showed that my family knows me very well. I received two gifts that are sort of homesteady in nature. My dad bought me this food dehydrator, so I hurried home to try it out:

I also received this really cool hydroponic kit. Next year, we hope to add an outdoor hydroponic setup. This will allow me to practice on herbs during the long cold winter. Mmmm...we love fresh herbs!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

But the Fire is So Delightful...

A lot of people like the warm glow of a fireplace when the temperatures dip low. In our house, we like the low numbers on our heating bill even better! Though we have had many a cold night, we have not used our furnace much at all this season. When we do use it, we just turn it up to a reasonable temperature and then turn it off. Our fireplace insert burns hot enough to maintain the temperatures the rest of the time.

We had it installed years ago after a major electrical and wind storm moved through our area. We were without power for more than a week and the nights were very cool. Though our house has a regular brick fireplace, we didn't really have any firewood to burn to keep warm. We vowed that we would never allow that to happen again! That storm taught us quite a few lessons about being prepared and though we know that there is no way to be prepared for EVERY event, we try to be ready for the one thing that we know will happen: WINTER!!! It arrived today in the form of snow, sleet, slush and (later tonight) wind.

For now, we are comfy and warm by the fire.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Energy Savings 101

With the encouragement of my friend, Jan R. Cooke, we have been tracking our energy usage around the urban farmstead for the past 3 months, actively seeking out ways to reduce our electric bill. We always thought that we were fairly good but assumed that we could get better. The results are in:

August Electricity KWH Usage............... 660 KWH
September Electricity KWH Usage............ 552 KWH
October Electricity KWH Usage.............. 439 KWH

The only significant change that we can remember during the month of October was that we began unplugging the upstairs television when not in use. I had heard that tv's burn almost as much power when off as they do when they are turned on. I still don't know if that is true or not, but I guess that the proof may be somewhere in our billing statement from the power company.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

First Marans Egg!!!

It seems as though I have been waiting forever for this day! One of our little free loaders rewarded us with a small brown egg this morning.I feel so proud... .

Monday, November 9, 2009

Let There Be Light...

and there was...and it was good!

Our carriage house is a wonderful place to keep chickens safe, but with the waning daylight hours of the season, it is a decidedly DARK place to keep them! There is no electricity in there, so it can be quite inconvenient when I have to go out there after sunset. Hiring an electrician to wire the structure was completely out of the question, as well as the budget.

Instead, we purchased a portable power device to run a string of LED holiday lights.It is sort of like a marine battery that has outlets on it to allow you to plug in standard appliances. With the help of an inexpensive timer that we already had, the lights come on first thing in the morning to extend the daylight hours for the hens. This should encourage them to lay eggs throughout the winter and keep me from tripping over my own feet no matter what time I choose to chat with my girls!You might be wondering why we chose to use a string of LED holiday lights, rather than an actual lightbulb... The LED's provide a nice amount of light without using a lot of power. This will enable the portable power device to last a long time between re-charging.

The portable power device can also be used to run a few lights and things inside our home in the event of a power outage and can jumpstart a car! It isn't as powerful as a generator, but it feels good to know that we have a bit of a backup to keep us comfortable.Here is a photo of the one that we bought:

Next, we will try to find a solar power trickle charger to charge the portable power device for free. We are making baby steps, but it is all coming together! Now, if these darn chickens would just start to lay some eggs to earn their keep or at least help to pay for this equipment...

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Mission Accomplished

This weekend began on Friday for me, since I had the day off. The To Do list was long but I was determined to get as much as possible accomplished. I began by removing all of the old firewood out of the carriage house. Some of that wood had been in there for years. Each summer we would order up new wood which would end up stored on top of the old wood and the cycle continued, year after year.

I removed all of the old wood and stored it on the porch so that we'll actually burn it. Next, I cleaned the carriage house out to accommodate the quail cages for the winter. This was no easy task. The carriage house has a dirt floor and clouds of dust are kicked up whenever you try to move anything. My organizational system was to move everything to the edges of the barn and leave the center, wide open for the cages.

Though I had previously loaded up the chicken pen with plenty of pine shavings, I decided to make use of a free resource...LEAVES! I took them a couple of bags full for them to play in. Though the chooks were scared of them at first. They soon discovered that it was great fun to scratch around in them. I was sorry that my camera has been borrowed by a friend. It was hysterical watching them fly up in the air making the leaves scatter.I may try to put some up for them to have in the winter. It would help to cut down on pine shaving usage.

In an attempt to spread the fun, I also gave the quail some leaves to play in.They dug tunnels through them and peeked out at me.

Then it was back to (real)work...This time gathering up sticks and twigs in the yard and storing them away for quick kindling to get fires started. I went back into the house in an effort to escape the rain that started in the afternoon and made some firestarters. I make them out of leftover paper towel/toilet paper rolls, candle wax, laundry lint, and sometimes a handful or two of that shredded insulation made from paper. We used to spend about $30 per year buying commercial firestarters.Now we just make them from things that we used to throw out. Besides, mine smell better than the commercial ones.This batch smelled like plums...Just in time for the holiday season.

Next undertaking involved putting up plastic on the back porch. I like to hang the laundry there to save on energy(read=save $)Once the clothes are just about dry, I throw them in the dryer to soften them up. It is something that really saves on the electric bill and I'd like to be able to continue it through the winter, if possible. We've already saved a bundle on the gas bill by only heating the house with wood this season. Of course we know that we won't be able to continue that much longer but we are pleased that we've been able to do it this long.

I also drained the water barrels, put away most of the garden tools, stocked up on feed, urea fertilizer(for melting ice) and a couple of bales of straw for the quail.

Last,but not least, is a project I've been trying to accomplish for the past month...putting the gardens to bed. Well, it still isn't completely finished. I have a hard time pulling up plants that are still producing. We are still getting a few green cherry tomatoes. They don't ripen until I bring them in the house, but after not getting tomatoes for most of the summer, we are enjoying their meager bounty. We still have onions in the ground, one more potato plant, a few herbs, turnips and (of all things)several pea plants that are beginning to bloom. I still got some quail manure, straw and leaves into the gardens around the remaining crops. I may not actually till anything until the spring.

Tomorrow, it is back to work. Sitting at a desk sounds pretty good right about now!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fantastic New Blog About Being Frugal

Good morning! I wanted to shine a spotlight on a blog that was recently started by a Canadian friend and mentor. I first found his articles on the Homestead.org website and they really inspired me to think about ways that I could reduce the costs around my home. I have shared his articles with many people over the past year or so and find that I gain new insight and a renewed sense of frugality every time that I read them. He is light years ahead of me, utilizing both solar and wind power. I always get new projects to add to the To-Do list, which grows longer by the day. For those of you who think that you will never be able to afford a comfortable retirement, I offer up this article by Jan R. Cooke:

The Economics of Being a Cheap-O

His new blog is Cheap-O Economics

I hope that he inspires you as much as he inspires me!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wood Work

We still had quite a bit of firewood left over from last year, so this time we only ordered 5 cords. It doesn't take long to put away, but it always seems daunting when there is a mountain of wood in your driveway. In prior year's, we've ordered twice as much, which fills the entire bed of a dump truck!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Most Reliable Crop...

Several years ago, I went to the local grocery store looking for something a little different to prepare for a side dish to go with dinner. In the produce department, I found red and blue fingerling potatoes.

They came in itty-bitty mesh bags with probably no more than 10 potatoes in each bag. The sign next to them proclaimed that they were "on sale," 2 bags for $6. I was completely appalled. For $6, I could buy a BIG bag of potatoes and eat for a couple of months.

I really wanted the fingerling potatoes, though, so I bought them. I made pasta salad as a side dish that night and planted them in my front yard in the flower bed the next day. That fall, we had a wonderful crop of red and blue fingerling potatoes. The following year, I made space for potatoes in my regular garden and planted a few of the (now sprouting) fingerlings that remained in the kitchen. That crop did poorly, but I had a few volunteers in the front flower bed again. Each year, I would dig up the potatoes from the flower bed, certain that they had all been removed only to find more growing during the next gardening season. Here is a photo of this year's volunteer crop:

I expect to dig them up this weekend. I think that I got my money's worth all of those years ago. They are like the gift that keeps on giving!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Finally...An Update!

Well... It has been a long time since I have posted any updates to this blog. The summer has been very busy and has somehow gotten away from me. I have been taking online classes again which ate up far more of my time than I expected it to. I hurt my back twice, making it difficult to do the chores, I have been working on a novel that I've been meaning to write for the past three years. I've continued to work my part-time-work-from-home jobs. Let's see...Where do I start?

Our garden was pitiful this year...We just didn't get enough sunshine and warmth. The squirrels have been running around with all of my cherry tomatoes in their mouths and have actually broken some of the plants in half.

The chickens are doing well and have gotten really big. I lost one of my Marans roosters to an impacted crop. He was a sweetheart and didn't crow very much. Luckily, we have three more roos at my friends farm as spares. We probably won't be bringing a spare here until spring, when we will begin to sell the hatching eggs. Our hens should be laying eggs in the next few weeks, I think.

The quail have been doing their part to pay for their own feed by laying eggs. Selling their eggs for eating has actually been providing enough income to support the chickens' addiction to scratch grains. Yep...it is just like crack to them! We still haven't eaten any of our quail...It's kind of hard when several of them have names. The neighborhood stray cats are still quite interested in putting them on the menu and spent a great deal of time watching through their cages. I am so glad that the cages seem to be kitty-proof.

While the beginning of the summer was rainy and cool, the month of August was fairly dry. My two water barrels are very low as I've had to rely on their contents to water the gardens. Although I had been wishing for an abundance of bees to assist with plant pollination, the reality was that we had way too many yellow jackets. They were everyplace that we turned. Finally a very kind skunk (we think) dug up their nest and many of them went away. Now that's what I call natural pest control!

I will update the egg and money counter a bit later.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mission Update:

We spent the past 2 weeks working in the yard and trying to get some more veggies planted. We built another raised bed and added more soil and manure around the plants that are growing in the beds that we planted over the past several weeks. We've had a lot of rain lately, so the water barrels are overflowing.

I was happy to see that the mulberry tree is loaded with fruit this year. The berries at the top of the tree are already turning a reddish color while the fruit that is within my reach is still a whitish green. Last year was the first year that I was able to harvest any mulberries. I tend to forget that the tree is there and the birds always seem to beat me to them. At the grocery store, I made sure to purchase some Sure-Gel. I am dying to do something with those berries when they ripen!

We started cleaning out the carriage house to prepare to build the indoor chicken pen. The each end of the carriage house was already equipped with hardware cloth/welded wire. It was in pretty good condition so we just tightened it up a bit with a few more nails. Next we shored up the plywood that covers some of the other windows. Predator proofing is a priority for us since there are raccoons, skunks, dogs, feral cats and a myriad of other hazards in the city.The next step is to frame the area that will be used by the birds.

We also said goodbye to the remaining Rhode Island Red chicks and one Ameracauna. The Ameracauna had a crossed beak which sometimes can make it difficult for the bird to eat. This bird managed to eat anything that wasn't nailed down. His absence alone should save us a bundle in chicken feed. They went to a very nice family with a five acre mini-farm. I had grown awfully fond of the Rhodies (as we call them) and added their breed to my ever-growing list of critters that I want to have when we move to a rural area. Although they could be boisterous at meal times, they were extremely quiet at all other times...

Friday, June 5, 2009

Another Budget Update

Here is the latest tally of what we've spent so far to get our property ready to be an urban farmstead. We did modify the budget to re-allocate funds to urban farm categories that are more needy. So far, we aren't doing too badly.

CHICKEN EQUIPMENT - Budget $250 - Only $83 left!
Children's Playhouse.............$80
Plastic Dishpan.......................$ 1
Plastic Crate............................$ 1
Diatomaceous Earth...............$15
Crushed Eggshells..................$ 0
Poultry Waterer Heater........$ 0
Poultry Feeder.......................$ 0

Chicken Feed..........................$20
Oyster Shell Dish...................$ 0
Brooder Construction............$ 0
Welded Wire...........................$13
Heating Pads..........................$30
Fasteners................................$ 7

Garden - Budget $225 - Only $55 left!
Member to Member Seedswaps............$ 5
5 Mushroom Kit.......................................$28
12 Raspberry Canes................................$26
Assorted Fruit Order..............................$63
Plant Labels..............................................$ 6
Recycled Wood.........................................$38
Concrete Edging.......................................$ 2

Garden Shears..........................................$ 2

40 oz Beer.................................................$ 0

Newspaper................................................$ 0

2 Water Barrels........................................$ 0

Aquaculture - Budget $200

Miscellaneous - Budget $325 - Only $84 left!

1000 Mealworms...............$20
Oatmeal...............................$ 4
Aquarium Brooder.............$ 0
Potatoes..............................$ 0
Plastic Bins..........................$12
Quail Supplies....................$41
Quail Eggs..........................$29

Quail Feed.........................$ 13

Bird Seed........................... $ 3
Welded Wire......................$26
Chicken Eggs.....................$74
Wall Thermometer...........$ 1
Pea Seeds..........................$ 3

Child's Pool.......................$15

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Quail Jail...With Paint!

A trip to the local hardware store yielded a gallon of cocoa brown exterior paint. The Quail Jail now blends nicely into my garden. I am planning to build another potting table in the garden and will likely install the Quail Jail on top of it. This will keep the birds up off of the ground and make it nearly impossible for a rodent to try to build a nest under them to take advantage of spilled food. It seems as though everything is a work in progress as we discover better ways to improve upon the things that we are doing. We are quite fortunate to have access to the internet. There are so many other blogs and websites for people who want to get a little closer to nature. So far, we have been able to learn from the mistakes of others and avoid some of the more common ones.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Wind Egg

I have seen other people post pictures of wind eggs. A wind egg is what happens when a chicken lays an egg that is abnormally small. It is sort of a glitch when it happens and the obligatory side-by-side comparison photos are quite comical to see.

They are even funnier when they are laid by a quail. You see, it took 11 quail eggs to make a small omelet for breakfast this morning. In other words, quail eggs are very small to begin with. A quail wind egg is about the size of a marble...or maybe a little smaller...Yep, definitely smaller!I didn't have the heart to crack it open.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Memorial Weekend Workout

We decided to put the long weekend to good use. We managed to get most of the gardens in: some tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, more herbs, radishes, cucumbers, zucchini, cantaloupe and watermelon. We sowed some pots of mesclun mix and various other salad greens awhile back and they are doing fairly well...Or at least they are when the squirrels leave them alone!

Our strawberries are doing very well and there are quite a few blossoms on them. We can't wait until we can taste some homegrown berries.

The peas are up and we continue to sow more each week to make sure that we have a continuous crop.

The quail are enjoying the backyard in their Quail Jail. Fabricated from old windows, it still needs a paint job. I never manage to remember to check the hardware store for OOPS paint. I'm hoping to find something that will complement the colors of our house. The first batch of quail hens are all laying 4 eggs consistently. This photo only shows the first batch of birds as the Rich Heritage birds have been residing on my screened back porch . The Rich Heritage quail started to lay this week, though I'm still not certain as to the sexes of most of those birds... Only one bird crows! Could we really be so fortunate as to have only one rooster in the hatch? If so, it would bring our total male count to three.

Here is a picture of one of our water barrels. I would love to get another one that is shaped like this. It is currently half full due to some generous rainfall...Now if we could just get some gutters up on the house or carriage house to direct the rain into the barrel...hmmmm...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


These are the first two Martian eggs laid at Mission-2-Mars. They are rather small, even for quail eggs. I'm not too sure which birds actually laid them, but I have my suspicions. Our first batch of quail had 2 males and 4 females, so we should be seeing quite a few eggs in the days to come. The second batch of quail is fast approaching 6 weeks of age, so we will soon be overrun with eggs. I can't wait to try them in an omelet!


CraigsList paid off... We sold 10 of the Rhode Island Red Chicks! It is amazing how much it reduced the workload and the incubator debt. Those little guys were voracious eaters and I had fears that they would eat us out of house and home. Anyway, they went to a very nice family in a nearby suburb. There is a very cute little girl in their household who hand-selected each one and plans to spoil them richly. All of us at Mission-2-Mars wish them well.

Chickens Have Landed On Mars!

Although we'd had two successful hatches of quail in the past couple of months, nothing had prepared me for the chicken chicks that hatched out during the Mother's Day weekend. There were three different breeds: Rhode Island Reds, Ameracaunas and Black Copper Marans.


There were chicks hatching at all hours and I got very little sleep. TheMartianMan can sleep through anything, but not me. I was there to greet most of our new arrivals, even though the hatch started on Friday and continued through Tuesday. The reason for the long hatching period was that we had set some of the eggs a couple of days late. I got so little sleep that I really didn't know how many chicks that we actually had. The final tally was 17 Rhode Island Reds(24 eggs set), 8 Ameracaunas(11 eggs set) and 9 Black Copper Marans (15 eggs set).



The Rhode Island Reds will not be staying at Mission-2-Mars for long...They are already listed on Craigslist. Their sale will help to pay for the incubator expenses.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bad Blogger!

I have been an incredibly bad blogger lately. The good thing is that we've been really good urban homesteaders and have a lot of progress to report. Of course we won't share all of our news in just this one post!

We spent one weekend building 2 new raised beds out of scrap wood and planting the few items that can go in the ground this early. Building more beds had stalled because we'd used most of the wood that we salvaged. Luck was with us and we were able to find a lot of wood out at the curb. Most of the pieces were brand new and still had the price stickers on the ends. More raised beds will be underway during this upcoming weekend.

We managed to plant carrots, red and blue potatoes,radishes, more peas and we decided to try planting beans, though it is still a bit too early. If the weather holds, then we'll have a tasty, early bean crop. If it doesn't, then we'll be replanting in a few weeks!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Working Vacation

I have been on vacation from work this week and have been working hard on the urban farmstead. With the weather just starting to level out, there were many projects that I could finally tackle.

Right on time, our mail carrier brought bags of plants from the nursery that we ordered from. It was as though he knew that I would be on vacation and he didn't want to take a chance that I might have time to relax!

First up were the strawberries. We bought this aluminum, 3 tiered garden about 6 years ago and never installed it. It has gotten battered in the carriage house, but we were able to bend it back into shape by stomping on it a bit.

Next came the asparagus. I was careful to install it in a raised bed because it has a bad habit of taking over if not kept contained. The bed was built with some of the lumber that we got at the Habitat for Humanity Store.

Then came two kiwi. These are not the fuzzy kind that you find in the grocery store, but a smooth skinned variety that is cold hardy to withstand our winters. With kiwi, you have to plant both a male and a female plant in order to get fruit. I can't help but wonder how they figure that out. Does one plant wear ribbons or a frilly skirt? Both plants looked the same to me!

Then came getting the greens in pots. These will go on the garden table that I built a couple of months ago in my attempt to keep the greens away from the groundhogs. There is spinach, mesclun mix and lettuce for salads. For TheMartianMan, there are collard greens and cabbage. Also planted in pots are cauliflower, kale and broccoli. We shall see how they do...They can't do any worse than they did last year when not a single one of these plants survived in the garden. Luckily, I had grown some lettuce varieties in pots on the front porch or there would have been no salad for us!

We needed to get busy building the raised bed for the kitchen garden. It measures about 12 feet x 8 feet and will include basic herbs, beans, a variety of heirloom tomatoes, scallions, carrots, peppers and other basic veggie staples. It is nice to be able to run out the back door while cooking to grab some fresh herbs!

I took time out to hang the hummingbird feeder. I would love to get hummers, but know that I may have to settle for bees. We have seen many bumblebees this season paying visits to our flowers and trees. Not so many honeybees... I also noticed that this feeder is no longer full...Hmmm... I may have to keep a closer eye on this to determine if it leaks.

Well, that has been my week so far! I have more still to do and not nearly enough time to get it done.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

12 Step Program Needed!

My name is TheMartianChick and I am a hatchaholic! After having two successful quail hatches, I am feeling confident enough to move on to chicken eggs. Not just any chicken eggs, but Black Copper Marans! To most people, a chicken is a chicken, is a chicken...unless it's fried! To people who are really into breeding chickens, the BC Marans are something special. The eggs are a deep, deep brownish red color. The darker the egg color, the more desirable the bird.

The eggs now reside in the incubator along with some Rhode Island Red hatching eggs. Tomorrow, they will be joined by some blue-green Ameracauna eggs that arrived in the mail today. The eggs need to recover from their postal journey before going in the incubator.

Once hatched, we plan to keep all Marans hens at our house and one or two roosters at a friend's farm for breeding purposes. We will likely keep an Ameracauna hen or two for the novelty of having green eggs. All of the Rhode Island Reds will be sold as chicks on Craigslist along with any other Ameracaunas. Of course, the more chicks that we sell, the faster the incubator will be paid off.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Last Call For the Chicken Nest Contest !!

Life on a Southern Farm: Chicken Nest Box Giveaway.

The prize is a fabulous handcrafted 2 seater, chicken nesting box. If you haven't been visited already, then take a trip now and register to win!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

These Martian Quail Have A Rich Heritage...

That's right! The second batch of chicks is hatching! These are the ones from Brad at Rich Heritage. They also seem to be a bit better behaved than my first batch. They don't seem to step on eachother as much, nor did they try to play soccer with the rest of the eggs in the incubator. I felt so bad leaving them at home alone. So far there are 11 chicks and at least one more egg with a good sized chip out of it. I'll have another update after I get out of work.

Just a reminder: The contest for the chicken nest box continues Life on a Southern Farm: Chicken Nest Box Giveaway.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Life on a Southern Farm: Chicken Nest Box Giveaway.

There will soon be chickens running around at Mission-2-Mars! I am expecting a shipment of hatching eggs this week and I will also set some Rhode Island Red eggs for chick sales to help to pay for the incubator. I figured that I can't be the only one trying to farm on a budget, so I decided to share this contest with all of you.

I absolutely love the Life on a Southern Farm Blog and this week, they are rewarding their readers with a chance to win one of their chicken nest boxes. This isn't just any chicken nest box, but a handcrafted beauty that any hen would be proud to lay an egg in. You can learn more about the contest here:

Life on a Southern Farm: Chicken Nest Box Giveaway.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Budget Update

I decided to revisit the farm budget today...Sheesh, money sure doesn't buy as much as it used to! We will be modifying the budget soon to free up some of the money that is currently dedicated to the aquaculture/tilapia. We have managed to locate a stock tank that costs half as much as the one that we had originally planned to buy. We also located someone who is willing to sell us a smaller number of tilapia. Most places that sell them deal on a commercial scale and want the purchaser to buy hundreds (or thousands) of fish. We plan to buy only about 50 fish now, which will drive our costs down.

Here is the latest tally of what we've spent so far to get our property ready to be an urban farmstead. On the right side of the blog, you will notice that I added a ticker to help us keep track of the money generated by the incubator. After all, it has to pay for itself! I have separated the expenses by category:

CHICKEN EQUIPMENT - Budget $200 - Only $45 left!
Children's Playhouse..................$80
Plastic Dishpan.......................$ 1
Plastic Crate.........................$ 1
Diatomaceous Earth....................$15
Crushed Eggshells.....................$ 0
Poultry Waterer Heater................$ 0
Poultry Feeder........................$ 0
Oyster Shell Dish.....................$ 0
Brooder Construction..................$ 0
Welded Wire...........................$13
Heating Pads..........................$30
Child's Pool.............................$15

Garden - Budget $300 - Only $139 left!
Member to Member Seedswaps............$ 5
Mushroom Kit..........................$28
12 Raspberry Canes................$26
Assorted Fruit Order..............$63
Plant Labels..............................$ 3
Recycled Wood.........................$38
Concrete Edging.......................$2

Aquaculture - Budget $300

Miscellaneous - Budget $200 - Only $12 left!
1000 Mealworms........................$20
Oatmeal...............................$ 4
Aquarium Brooder.............$ 0
Potatoes..............................$ 0
Plastic Bins..........................$12
Quail Supplies....................$23
Quail Eggs.........................$29
Welded Wire.....................$26
Chicken Eggs....................$74
Wall Thermometer................$ 1

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Martian Quail Have Taken Over!

Last night before I went to bed, I noticed that 3 of the quail eggs in the incubator had pips! The chicks were determinedly pecking away, trying to shed their little shells so that they could meet some honest-to-goodness Martians.

It was a dark and stormy night and the wind howled incessantly, keeping me awake for hours. I was determined to sleep in this morning, but a steady peeping awoke me at 7:40. Our first quail had hatched out and was determined that no additional sleep was to be had in our house. I captured some of the hatching activity on video and spent the remainder of the day watching quail tv...It's quite entertaining. There are lots of re-runs, as each chick is determined to repeat the mistakes of their brethren. Someone told me that baby quail come into the world with a suicidal streak. I have found it to be true. I also learned how resilient they are, since none of their antics actually killed any of them.

By dinner time, we had a total of 6 chicks. I believe that 4 of them are Texas A&M quail, one is a chocolate quail and one is a golden quail. Not bad considering that these eggs were shipped through the postal service. Here they are:

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Quail Egg Pictures

That's right! Two posts in one day...I just had to post a picture of the quail eggs in my incubator. Prior to this endeavor, I had never seen quail eggs before. I think that they are kind of pretty. There are three varieties in this photo. The only ones that I can identify are the Texas A&M's. They are the cream colored eggs with the big brown splotches. I purchased an assortment of eggs from someone on the Backyard Chickens website, but I couldn't identify them. When Brad at Rich Heritage sent a shipment of only Texas A&M eggs, it helped me to narrow things down a bit. I could have some eggs hatching in about a week or so, while the ones from Brad will be at least 10 days later.

Thanks again, Brad for allowing your quail to come live with the Martians!

New Homesteading Projects...

Yesterday's weather was sunny and beautiful! The high was somewhere in the vicinity of 68 degrees. We had received an email from the nursery, stating that our raspberry canes would be arriving this week. After months of trying to figure out where to plant them,I finally had to make a decision. After consulting with TheMartianMan, I decided that the best place was near our second driveway. It was important that the raspberries not be too close to our chain link fence as they can become entangled in the links. But it was equally important that they not be able to spread willy-nilly all over the yard. We wanted a controlled bramble patch!

I hauled out the edging bricks that I got at the Habitat Re-Store and arranged them in an arc, right at the end of the driveway.Then I tilled the space and pulled out any rocks that I found. I added some maple leaves and tilled again. A topping of mulch completed the task. We are supposed to get some rain this week, so the soil should stay nice and moist until the plants arrive. It looks a lot nicer in person. I waited until today to take the picture and our weather is fairly gray, rainy and dreary. When I plant the raspberries, I will also add some companion flowers to brighten things up and attract bees and other pollinators. My neighbors are used to my yard always looking neat with lots of flowers. I don't think that they'll be disappointed with the outcome in a couple of months.

The tiller that I used was the Mantis tiller that I picked up on Craigslist last year for $150. It wasn't even one year old at the time of purchase. For anyone who is not fond of equipment that makes a lot of noise, the electric Mantis tiller is a very quiet option and does not require a lot of muscle power to keep it under control. It really does a good job for such a small machine!

I also finished the Quail Jail! Well, sort of... We have all of the pieces cut but assembly is not possible for two reasons: 1) We need to buy longer screws to hold it together and 2) There is a truck in the way of the stairs that lead to the 2nd floor of the carriage house. The truck was a freebie from my dad. It needs a new transmission and does not move on its own. Unfortunately, it is in the wrong parking bay and blocks the only access to the 2nd floor. So, if we put the Quail Jail pieces together now, we will have to carry it in one piece to the second floor. Although it won't be extremely heavy, it would be pretty awkward to carry.

The good news is that TheMartianMan and his friend should be pulling the truck out of the carriage house and replacing the transmission. A working truck will make it much easier to haul firewood that we find at the curb after people have had trees cut down and reduce our firewood expenses.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Balancing the Budget...

Here is the latest tally of what we've spent so far to get our property ready to be an urban farmstead. On the right side of the blog, you will notice that I added a ticker to help to keep track of the money generated by the incubator. After all, it has to pay for itself! I have separated the expenses by category:

CHICKEN EQUIPMENT - Budget $200 - Only $103 left!
Children's Playhouse..................$80
Plastic Dishpan.......................$ 1
Plastic Crate.........................$ 1
Diatomaceous Earth....................$15
Crushed Eggshells.....................$ 0
Poultry Waterer Heater................$ 0
Poultry Feeder........................$ 0
Oyster Shell Dish.....................$ 0
Brooder Construction..................$ 0

Garden - Budget $300 - Only $150 left!
Member to Member Seedswaps............$ 5
Mushroom Kit..........................$28
12 Raspberry Canes................$26
Assorted Fruit Order..............$63
Plant Labels..............................$ 3
Recycled Wood.........................$27
Concrete Edging.......................$2

Aquaculture - Budget $300

Miscellaneous - Budget $200 - Only $13 left!
1000 Mealworms........................$20
Oatmeal...............................$ 4
Aquarium Brooder.............$ 0
Potatoes..............................$ 0
Plastic Bins..........................$12
Quail Supplies....................$23
Quail Eggs.........................$29
Welded Wire.....................$26
Chicken Eggs....................$74

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Doing Time: Construction Of The Quail Jail

Last Sunday, while puttering around in the carriage house, I found several old window frames. The glass was missing from each, so I decided to use them in the construction of a dual cage for the quail. I used a frame that once held two panes of glass and mounted 1/4 inch welded wire to it. This would be the floor of the cage. The daylight hours were waning, so I put the project away until I had more time.

This week, I selected twin frames and mounted 1/2 inch welded wire to construct the sides. The sides will also be hung on hinges to create doors. The front panel will consist of more 1/2 inch welded wire and the rear wall and top will be plywood. The plan is to set the quail hut inside the chicken pen, which should make cleanup easier. A side benefit is that in the event of a quail jail break, the birds will be unable to escape from the chicken pen.

Once finished, I'll take a trip to the Re-Store to get some suitable paint. Yeah... I know that the birds won't notice the paint job but if I'm going to go to the trouble to make it, then I want it to look good! Besides, I think we can squeeze a few bucks out of the budget for paint. I'll post pictures, when its finished.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Incubator Is Here!!

I was so excited to see the UPS delivery truck pull up in front of the house a few days ago. Our Brinsea Octagon 20 incubator arrived! We set it up on my dresser to see how it works and to make sure that it is consistent in holding the temperature and humidity levels steady. Today is Day 2 of its operation and it is running like a dream. We decided to start with some quail eggs to make sure that this thing is as foolproof as the company says.

We logged on to the Backyard Chickens website to see if someone had any quail eggs for sale. Luck was with us and we now have 20 eggs on the way. The seller had an assortment of goldens, chocolate and Texas A&M quail. Though eggs that are shipped through the mail have a decreased likelihood of hatching, we have high hopes that we will at least get 5 birds out of the deal. Any more than that and we will consider them to be purely a blessing.

Today, we had beautiful sunny weather and it was actually warm enough for me to get outside to work on a farmstead project:

I made a makeshift table out of a couple of halved pallets and some of the lumber that we got from the Habitat Re-Store. Last year, the groundhogs launched an attack on every cabbage, collard, squash, and cucumber plant that I planted. This time around, we decided to plant the cabbage and collards in 5 gallon buckets that will be raised up on the table and out of the greedy reach of the groundhogs.

I've been told that we'll have nice weather tomorrow, too... If so, then I'll be busy storing away the remainder of the firewood pile in our carriage house for next year. We still have wood on our porch that we will continue to use, but this pile will likely not be needed. It is about 2 cords of wood left over from our original purchase of 10 cords. I'll probably order another 10 cords for next year. I really like having a surplus.

I might even have time to start building a cage for the quail! The weather will need to warm up a bit more for me to start construction on the chicken pen, though.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Did I Really Just Blow The Budget?

I have spent the past couple of days trying to justify a couple of purchases for the urban farmstead. I finally decided to post what I have done here and let the inhabitants of Earth judge the Martian:

First Scenario: I had completed a list of the various fruits that I would like to be grown on our property. Right now, we only have an old mulberry tree that produces fruit. Anyway, when I tallied up the strawberries, blackberries, grapes, vine peaches, blueberries, etc. The total was $68. I thought long and hard about this and then looked in my cabinets, deep freezer and two refrigerators. I decided to skip grocery shopping for the week. We probably would have spent around that amount buying food at the grocery store. We actually don't have to grocery shop too often because we are really stocked up. Given the uncertainty in the economy and the job market, we try to have food stored so that we won't have to buy much in the event of a layoff at TheMartianMan's place of employment. So, should I add the cost of the fruit plants in to the farm budget or is it really about the same as buying groceries? After all, these groceries will be on the table during the summer and fall!

Second Scenario: As you probably know, we really want some chickens. Our desire was to actually breed some unusual breeds. Now that I have a friend who is willing to hold a rooster or 2 for me at his farm, I actually have the opportunity to be able to breed 1 unusual breed. The problem is that for the breed that I want, I cannot seem to find chicks ANYWHERE!! So I must hatch eggs if I am to get these birds.

So I browsed around on Ebay and saw a used top quality, almost foolproof incubator. It works kind of like the rotisserie that they advertise on tv during the holiday season: Set it and Forget it! Though I bid and bid and bid...someone else won the item. Then a miracle happened! I remembered that I had a stash of American Express gift cards. They were left over from a vacation that we took last May. The cards were free to us since we cashed in reward points to get them. There was a grand total of $325. So, I used them to buy the brand new version of the top quality incubator. Since I bought it with free money, should it count against my budget?

Before you answer, I also have three plans for recouping the money that I spent for the incubator. The first plan is to hatch out some specialty breed eggs for others and sell them to people like me who cannot find them anywhere. This would help me to recoup some, if not all of the money over time. The second plan involves possibly ordering up some quail and selling quail eggs and or birds locally. I believe that there is a market for it. The third plan is to sell the incubator on Ebay when it has paid for itself. The auction that I was bidding on taught me that this particular model of incubator holds its value and that people are willing to pay an awful lot of money for it, even when it is used. I can also do a combination of any of these three plans and probably MAKE money on the deal. So, given all of this rationalization (fooling myself) that I have done, should the incubator count against the farm budget?

Friday, February 27, 2009

A Blog Worth Visiting...

I don't have much time to post today, but I did manage to read the new entries in all of the blogs that I follow on a daily basis. Lately, I have been getting a lot of good information from Brad at Rich Heritage. I have been reading his posts about raising quail as a hobby and for meat. If you haven't had the opportunity to check him out, I highly recommend that you do!


Monday, February 23, 2009

The Local Habitat Revisited

We went back to the local Habitat Re-Store again today. We are going to try to go every Monday on my lunch hour. We scored again, spending only $15, but some of what we picked up will NEVER be used to build a chicken pen or a raised bed. We got several pieces of maple lumber. I'm not sure what we will use it for, but there was no way that we were going to leave that in the store! It wasn't of the quality that I would want to use for shelves in my house, but maybe it could be used to build outdoor benches? I don't really know. I am open to any ideas that you all might have. Each board is about 4 feet long and 8 inches wide.They are really heavy. I guess I'm used to the weight of similar sized pieces of pine.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Worms Crawl In...The Worms Crawl Out...

I have spent the last week doing a lot of pesky little items to get things ready so we can hit the ground running when the weather finally breaks. I did some baking which added to the eggshell stash. I started herb seeds on Saturday and shared my trip to the Habitat For Humanity Re-Store with everyone a few days ago.

I also picked up the necessary items to create a worm composter. So... yesterday was the day to put that project together. I had planned to wait until we were a little closer to Spring, but I have an issue with the amount of food that we waste in our house. No matter how hard we try, we still have some food trash each week. We don't have a dog,a cat, or a chicken to eat the scraps, so they go into the trash. I am really hoping that the worms don't smell atrocious in the house as they do their work. (Otherwise, I'll have a lot of explainin' to do to The MartianMan until they can go outside!) I will also have to place an order for the worms. Hopefully, I will receive them by next week. I found the directions for building the composter here:


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Re-Storing My Faith

I know... I have gone many days without posting and today I felt the need to post twice. I just had to share about my experience with our local Habitat For Humanity Re-Store. I work highly unusual hours and haven't had the opportunity to visit the Re-Store during their highly USUAL hours. So...TheMartianMan and I both had the morning off from work and decided to use the time wisely.

The local Re-Store is now our new favorite place! We found lumber as inexpensively as 50 cents per piece. In fact, we purchased enough wood to create one and a half raised garden beds. We paid with a ten dollar bill and still had more than $3 come back to us in change. TheMartianMan checked out all of the windows, doors and hinges. He was most impressed with the selection. They also had a large quantity of new power tools and used gardening tools. Still looking for welded wire fencing or hardware cloth, though.

If there is a Habitat For Humanity Re-Store in your area, I highly recommend that you check them out. Now, I am trying to figure out how I can sneak out during my lunch hour once a week to check out the new stuff that they might get. An hour might not be enough time...

Here, Chickie Chickie...

Buying chickens is never easy when you live in the city. Many urban areas don't allow poultry at all, while others place restrictions by requiring hens only and by setting a maximum number of birds between 3 and 10. That is darned inconvenient when most hatcheries have a shipping minimum of 25 baby chicks. Grrrr...

Luckily, I found My Pet Chicken. My Pet Chicken will allow me to order a small quantity of chicks, guarantee live delivery and they are so darn friendly when you call to ask a (seemingly) idiotic question. I should know...I called. I was told that they will soon be selling hatching eggs, too.

I also found a way to be able to breed chickens. My good friend, Ollie, has a farm and some hens of his own. He has agreed to house my rooster when his , er, services are not required at the urban farmstead. Now, I just have to figure out which breed of bird to go with.Chickens actually only need a rooster's services every few weeks to fertilize the eggs. Whew! Now that's one less thing to worry about.

Since we now have a safe place for a rooster, we may decide to purchase an incubator instead of buying day old chicks. Hatching eggs sounds like a lot of fun. Hatching eggs of a rare or endangered breed of poultry sounds like a good idea for the planet!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

In the Mood to Brood...

Realizing yesterday morning that I had made no arrangements for brooding my baby chicks when they (eventually) arrive, I set out to rectify the situation. With my mantra of Re-think, Re-use, Re-purpose reverberating in my skull, I quickly settled on a long cardboard box with a lid.

I had originally considered using a Rubbermaid tote that had been purchased it at WalMart about a year ago( shortly before I decided to boycott the retail chain).

The plastic tote measured only about 4x2 feet. I wanted to install a window in the side of the tote, but decided against it. While I am sure that the chicks would have appreciated a room with a view, I didn't want to do anything to a tote that would interfere with it being reused again for something else.

So, I moved on to converting a fabulous, lidded corrugated box. The box would provide more floor space for the birds than the tote would have anyway. Since I can only have a few chickens in the city, it is unlikely that I will need a brooder of this size again, so I have no plans to recycle it when we are through with it. Since it is made of cardboard it will be contaminated from chicken poo and incapable of being cleaned.All bedding materials will of course be turned out into the compost pile.

Anyway...I wanted the brooder to be large enough to accommodate 6 chicks, so I devised something that they could grow into. The floor of the box is waterproofed with leftover linoleum from some of the rental apartments that we own. Martha Stewart probably wouldn't approve of my taste in decorating, but the flooring will be covered in pine shavings, so the chicks won't really be embarrassed by it anyway.I found a roll of screen in my basement and will probably use that to cover the top. However, I am toying with the idea of using an old sheer curtain instead...Hmmm... The birds will only occupy one portion of the box initially. When they need more room, I will bring out the other half of the box(the lid)and put the two parts together, instantly doubling their space.(What you see in the photo is the expanded version which measures 4x5 feet.) Even more convenient is the fact that the two parts of the box actually "nest" together for storage until we actually need to expand it. This project was accomplished entirely with things that we had lying around the house and took about an hour to complete.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Counting Coins

I thought that I should take a few minutes to tally up what we've spent so far to get our property ready to be an urban farmstead. I have separated the expenses by category:

Children's Playhouse..................$80
Plastic Dishpan.......................$ 1
Plastic Crate.........................$ 1
Diatomaceous Earth....................$15
Crushed Eggshells.....................$ 0
Poultry Waterer Heater................$ 0
Poultry Feeder........................$ 0
Oyster Shell Dish.....................$ 0

Garden - Budget $300
Member to Member Seedswaps............$ 5
Mushroom Kit..........................$28

Aquaculture - Budget $300

Miscellaneus - Budget $200
1000 Mealworms........................$20
Oatmeal...............................$ 4
Aquarium..............................$ 0

Friday, January 30, 2009

Dirt Digging Dreams...

We have been pondering the best way to lay out the gardens for this year. Do we build raised beds? Should we double dig? What will we use to support the really heavy plants? Last year, all of our local garden supply stores ran out of tomato cages. We had a heck of a time trying to support tomato and pepper plants with whatever we could find around the house. One feeble attempt included tying twine to our chain link fence and to wooden stakes pounded into the ground.The twine stretched almost daily so we were constantly re-staking and twine tightening. It was a never-ending (and losing) battle.

I have drawn up several versions of possible garden layouts for 2009 and I am almost at my wit's end. (I may just be desperate enough to just scatter two fistfuls of seed in the wind and eat whatever sprouts!)

I am really looking forward to warmer weather just so we can commit to one design and start planting. Until then, our gardening plans change every time we see something online that looks like a good idea. Unfortunately, I am online all day, everyday and there are a lot of good ideas to be gleaned.

Today, I actually had an opportunity to do a little digging in the dirt...er, peat, that is. I started some onions and leeks in my cute little seed starting kit that uses peat pellets. I found the replacement peat pellets last year at the end of the growing season for 59 cents at Kmart. I am usually not a fan of overly packaged products but when I opened the package, I found that there were some extremely sturdy plastic trays. I am determined to re-use and re-purpose them for a hydroponics project another day.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yes, there are mealworms on Mars...

I was so excited to receive a box of mealworms as we head into the Valentines Day season. I know that many of you are probably thinking that my hubby, TheMartianMan will be sleeping in the car for all of eternity with no hope of a reprieve due to an un-Cupid-like gesture. In actuality, I ordered 1000 mealworms from www.nyworms.com

After doing some more reading, I discovered that mealworms don't always reproduce quickly. I decided that it would be prudent to purchase worms now, so that I would not be in danger of feeding all of my mealies to my baby chicks about ten minutes after their fluffy butts arrive. (Everyone knows that baby chicks are awfully cute when they beg for food. How can you possibly refuse something so cute?)

Here is a picture of the mealies in their new home:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Incredible, Edible Eggshell?

We used to be really good at "making do" with what we happened to have at hand. Of course TheMartianMidgets were toddlers then and we were frugal out of necessity, not because we really preferred to be. This urban farmstead project is really forcing us to take a hard look at ways to pull things together on a shoestring budget.

As I go through the planning stages, I am constantly tempted to just buy certain things that we'll need.Instead, I have to rein myself in and Re-think, Re-use and Re-Purpose ordinary items that we happen to have around the house.Today, I decided to begin saving eggshells for our future flock of chickens. Eggshells can be washed, dried, crushed and fed to laying hens to provide calcium. The mineral is critical to ensuring that eggs laid will have strong shells. I could purchase calcium for poultry (also known as oyster shell), but that is an additional cost, albeit a small one at around $5. However, I do have about nine months before our chickens will begin to lay. (This is an extreme version of counting your chickens before they hatch, since the chicks that we will get in the Spring haven't actually hatched yet!) Hopefully, all of these small savings will add up and enable us to meet our farm-building budget of $1000.

Groovy Mushroom Madness!

TheMartianMan and I have quite the affinity for mushrooms...If you are having hazy memories of your time spent at Woodstock, now is the time to stop. I am not talking about the psychedelic shrooms, just the everyday kind that you might top a pizza with. We like to buy them from the local farmer's market in the summer, but have difficulty in obtaining them during the winter unless we get them from the chain grocery stores. We hate to do that because they really aren't as fresh. Anyway, some weeks back we ordered a mushroom kit. Essentially, it was a cardboard box of dirt and manure that had been inoculated(or seeded)to grow button mushrooms. I checked on the kit a few days ago and it had several smallish white clumps.They were rather disappointing to look at then, but not anymore! Some of these are about 3 inches across. Mmmm...gotta figure out what to make for dinner...

I decided to add a picture of the mushroom that I actually cooked for dinner. These things grow exponentially.A few hours really do make a difference. For scale, I placed a quarter next to it. Keep in mind that these are the same kind of button mushrooms that commonly come in a cute little can. I really don't think that one of our "Martian" mushrooms would even fit in a can!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Fast Food Nation

My daughters (collectively known as TheMartianMidgets) have spent the past month at home from college for winter break. The biggest difference that I notice is the dwindling amount of foodstuffs in my house.Over the summer,I spent an inordinate amount of time stocking my deep freezer and two refrigerators with fresh veggies from the farmer's market and from my garden. I shopped every sale at the grocery store to put away bulk quantities of chicken, fish and beef for the main carnivore and chief grillmaster in our house, TheMartianMan. I truly thought that I had squirrelled away enough of the basic ingredients to get us through the majority of the winter. Apparently, I was wrong.

During the summer, there were more daylight hours to prepare food for storage and I was able to create my own convenience food items. My frozen containers of macaroni and cheese and pasta with sauce are far superior to any purchased in the freezer case at the supermarket. (If I do say so myself!) With shorter winter days and longer working hours, my convenience foods provide me with a quick way to start dinner and something healthy (and inexpensive) to carry to work for lunches.

Peering into my nearly empty cabinets , refrigerators and freezers, I determined a few days ago that I will again need to re-stock. I began by making cookie mixes. I know that cookies aren't really necessary to survival but they do make life worth living for, especially if there is chocolate involved! I filled plastic Zip-Loc bags with the basic ingredients for chocolate chip walnut, oatmeal chocolate chip walnut, oatmeal(no raisins), chocolate chip peanut butter and sugar cookies. On the outside of each bag, I listed the additional wet ingredients that would need to be added to complete each recipe. It went very quickly and I soon had 12 bags of cookie mix assembled.Once the mixes have been used, I save the bags for re-filling.

I repeated the same steps to make cornbread mix, biscuit mix and a basic muffin mix. For muffins, any mashed fruit can be added to the mix to add flavor. Over the next few days, I will set about the task of restocking the freezer with main dishes like the aforementioned mac and cheese, lasagna, soup, chili, stew, and anything else that I can think of. I'm already watching the grocery store sales for meat. In this tight economy, a well-stocked pantry buys me some peace of mind. The kids will be going back to college in a few days. Then the countdown begins for spring break when my pantry will take another hit...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Breaking Bread (A Cautionary Tale)

A few days ago, I was reading some of the posts on the Homestead.org forum. Someone had asked about a recipe for making No-Knead Bread. I've been making it for awhile and find that it fits into my busy lifestyle without making my hands hurt.The conversation somehow turned to using a bread machine and it sort of served as a reminder to me that I really should use mine occasionally. I've had it for several years. It was a gift from my dear husband, TheMartianMan. (Well, what else did you expect his name to be?)

Although I have quite a collection of appliances, most of them rarely see the light of day simply because I hate the chore of cleaning them after use. Anyway, I decided that yesterday would be the day to utilize the bread machine. I gathered my ingredients together to make a simple white loaf, loaded the machine and three hours later, I had bread. It was a decidedly tall and fluffy loaf that we would later enjoy with dinner. I decided to immediately re-load the machine and start a 2nd loaf.This is where I ran into a problem.

The bread machine was unwilling to start the 2nd loaf and the display just had the word WARM on it. I tried everything that I could to turn the machine completely off but nothing worked. I was concerned about the yeast being killed off by the high temperatures in the machine and went tearing through the house in search of the instruction manual for a machine that hadn't been used in over a year! Once located, I discovered that the machine must be allowed to cool down before starting the next loaf and could be turned off by holding the stop button for about 10 seconds straight. I started the 2nd loaf about 20 minutes later after sprinkling a little extra yeast in the machine to compensate for any yeast killing that I might have done. Three hours later, the loaf was finished. However, the quality of the 2nd loaf was nowhere near as high as that of the first loaf. Although the second loaf did rise...It only got about half as tall as the first and feels DENSE. I will freeze it and use it as chicken feed. The lesson to be learned here is to at least skim through the manual before using an unfamiliar appliance and make sure that you have the booklet handy when you are using the apparatus.

A picture is worth a thousand words...The two at the top of this post are screeching volumes.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Our Own Mealworm Farm...

Remember the ant farms that kids used to have? I haven't seen one of those since the 1990's. There were a lot of lessons to be learned from an ant farm. The biggest eye-opener for me was learning that the ants didn't actually come in the farm kit and had to be mail ordered from the manufacturer. Today's project is similar to an ant farm but it centers around being able to provide chicken feed that actually costs, well...CHICKEN FEED! Poultry can be a wonderful addition to any farm, but when you are only allowed to have a small number of birds due to zoning restrictions, costs can outweigh the monetary savings of buying fresh eggs at the farmer's market. We are going to try to minimize our costs by growing much of the supplemental foods for the chickens ourselves. We already have seeds for sunflowers, broomcorn, amaranth and a variety of garden veggies. Now, we need to grow some protein of the insect variety for our birds.

We selected mealworms for the simple reason that when we go to the local pet store, we NEVER see mealworms scampering around the store enjoying their newfound freedom. Crickets? Well that's another story! Crickets are just too darn fast once they escape. They have a remarkable ability to disappear from view and then will proceed to serenade you when you are trying to sleep. Nope! We can't have crickets keeping us up. We have to get up too early in the morning to go to work.

So,on to the mealworms...

We will be using an old plastic aquarium with a lid as our mealworm farm. The worms eventually turn into beetles so a container with a well-aerated lid is essential to ensuring that the cycle of life continues inside the aquarium as opposed to outside of it. We will add several cups of organic bran and organic oatmeal into the aquarium and cut up a few chunks of home grown potato to provide moisture for the worms. Meal worms can be purchased from your local pet store, but for best results, we will order some online to ensure that they are in the best of health. After all, when starting a farm, you really want to get the best quality livestock that you can find! The mealworms should grow fat and happy in there. We will just scoop out some worms whenever we need them as chicken feed. *PLEASE NOTE* If you don't see anything in the aquarium, you do not have a vision problem. We won't set this project up for another month or so. Because we don't have chickens yet, we don't have a use for too many mealies. We do have a turtle named Jake who will eat them but due to the cold winter weather, he isn't very interested in eating much of anything!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Quick Homesteading Project

Today was a beautiful day. The sun was out in full force, though we have received about 8 or 9 inches of snow over the past few days. Maybe the sunshine went to my head, but I was in the mood for a homesteading project. With the cold temperatures outside, any project that I was going to undertake needed to be completed indoors.

I decided to put together a heated base to keep a chicken waterer from freezing during the winter. A galvanized poultry waterer would be placed on top of the heated base to keep the water temperature above freezing. I used the heating element from a potpourri simmerer. The element was already pre-wired to a plug in cord. I inserted it into an old cookie or candy tin and used tin snips to make a hole in the tin. Once it was assembled, I caulked around the hole to prevent water or other foreign materials from getting inside. That was it! The entire project took about 25 minutes and most of that was spent looking for the tin snips! This project could also be completed with the parts to construct a small lamp. In that case, a low watt lightbulb (rather than a heating element) would provide the heat to keep a metal waterer from freezing. Now, I just need to get a galvanized waterer and some chickens!