Thursday, November 29, 2012

Chicks Go Christmas Shopping.

Why did the chicken cross the road? Why, to find some bargains, of course! Wouldn't you?

There's nothing more humbling than a Saturday morning knock on the door while you're caught lazing around in your PJs. Actually, it's most humbling when it's your next-door neighbor at the door, announcing that your chickens crashed her yard sale.

What can I say? I'm sure the girls just wanted a jump on their holiday shopping. 

After all, they need the perfect gift for Chicken Mama.

(Full disclosure: I hid, forcing Peter to answer the door. Yes, I'm that cowardly.)

Fortunately, our neighbor was gracious about the chicken invasion. Still, this wasn't the first time the girls flew the coop. In fact, our three little additions—Saltine, Sugar, and Spice—escape our yard frequently. Apparently, the dozen books Kiki read failed to mention that Golden Campines are flighty.

Very, very flighty. In fact, they would win gold medals for flying in the Chicken Olympics.

(In her defense, Saltine is a Barred Plymouth Rock, and she's not quite as flighty as the Campines. She just follows the lead of the two troublemakers.)

Flighty is both good and bad. Obviously, we don't want the girls bothering the neighbors. We allow them to free range in the forest—with supervision. When we can't supervise, they forage in fenced areas--around the pool or in their yard. However, while the older girls politely remain within our boundaries, the little delinquents take to heart “the grass is always greener” philosophy, escaping the fence.

Of course, when they escape the fence, not only do they potentially annoy the neighbors, but they also embark on suicide missions.

On one side of our backyard, where the naughty girls like to forage, our sweet dogs would happily use them as chew toys. So, when we let the girls forage by the pool, we keep the dogs inside. Outside the fence, the girls become potential snacks for roaming neighborhood dogs.

It's quite an adventure for a suburban dog. When another neighbor's dog rejoiced over his breakout, he hightailed it to our forest. After all, it was doggie paradise--three fluffy, yummy smelling treats to chase.


While we tried to catch the pup, our flighty girls used their wings wisely—Sugar escaped to the roof of our house, Saltine flew back over the fence.

We couldn't find Spice.

We looked everywhere—the forest, neighbors' yards, the coop, the greenhouses.

No Spice.

After 15 minutes, I expected the worst. The dog still ran through the neighborhood, and I feared that Spice became his prize.

I stopped to catch my breath and looked up.

There, sitting on a tree branch peering down at me, perched Spice.


(Did I mention—all of this fun took place in my pajamas? I did manage to throw on running shoes. Now, there's a fashion statement. Hmmm...there seems to be a theme here. Perhaps I need to stop lazing around in my PJs, huh?)

After the near death experience—both for the birds, as well as my near heart attack—we decided it was time to convince Chicken Mama to let us clip her girls' wings.

It didn't take much convincing.

After all, she decided she'd rather keep her girls safe than win more blue ribbons at the county fair. 

I'm very proud of our Chicken Mama.

That afternoon, we gathered the troublesome trio in the back garden to perform the deed.

Actually, I did nothing but take photos. I'm a wimp.

It's really a very easy process, and it doesn't hurt the bird. Basically, you clip approximately 10 of the primary flight feathers on one wing. By clipping feathers on only one wing, the chicken's balance is disturbed, prohibiting flight. Experts recommend waiting until the chicken reaches maturity, because wing flapping and practice flights develop strength in young chicks.

When selecting which feathers to snip, make certain you don't select any new growth feathers that contain blood in the shaft. (The shaft will have a pink tint if it contains blood.) Clipping a wing with blood in the shaft is painful for the bird and causes bleeding. In darker colored birds, you may need to hold the wing to a light to check the shaft. If you do accidentally cause bleeding, dip the tip of the feather in cornstarch and pinch it to stop the bleeding. Also, keep the bird separate from the flock until the wing heals. Blood or injuries encourages pecking.

Wing clipping is a two person task. Kiki held the girls to calm them. Because you need to use sharp scissors, you don't want to try this alone. You don't want to hurt yourself or the bird.

Spread one wing, holding it steadily. Peter cut approximately 10 of the longer primary flight feathers.

And that was it. Simple. Safe. And hopefully, the birds are now secured within the yard.

Then, Kiki, our future veterinarian, wanted to try it.


Honestly, how is this girl my daughter? She amazes me.

Just in case you like diagrams, there's a good one here:

An important note: 
Repeat wing clipping after your chicken molts. Once the new feathers grow in, those naughty girls will head for the skies again.

So, while Chicken Mama is now retired from the world of chicken shows, we're all resting a bit easier about our troublesome trio.

So far, they haven't flown the coop.

But then again, there haven't been any yard sales lately.

Wish us luck!

XO ~


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Barely Blooming...Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day November 2012.

Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day! Finding blooms in our garden posed quite a challenge this month, as we've officially welcomed fall with not one--but two frosts in our zone 7b garden.

Still, while most of the plants sustained quite some frost damage, a few trusty blooms hid from the cold.

'Rozanne' geranium, lurking under the overgrown lantana, survived the frost and continues a profusion of cheerful blue blooms. Thank goodness for this lovely little perennial. It's disappointing in the summer, succumbing to the heat, but boy--it works hard in the fall to liven up the garden.

Most of the lantana blooms disappeared, but a few blooms remained on the lower, hidden-from-frost portion of the plants. They look tired, though, having worked hard to feed butterflies and hummingbirds all summer and fall. They deserve a rest.

A few blooms remain on the tall verbena... well as the Mexican sage. Newly planted in the garden, I'm anxious to see how the sage performs next year. So far, it's been a stunning addition to the fall garden.

Here I go love affair with fraise des bois is well noted. Still blooming, still producing fruit. I won't bore you with my continued ravings...

Even a bit of gaura remains in the garden. A few whirling butterflies, ready to tuck their wings in for the season.

Ah, but the camellias...I'm becoming obsessed with camellias. Honestly, I wish I had planted dozens of camellias throughout the garden. I also wish I had noted the varieties I planted years ago. Keeping records of ornamentals was not my forté when I began gardening long ago.

A few sprigs of 'Provence' lavender fight the cold, willing one more flush of blooms. I fear they're losing this battle. 

What the heck is happening here? An azalea bloom appeared in the front garden. This is not an Encore azalea. These bushes only bloom in the spring. 

Well, usually.

Of course, the azaleas might be confused by the flush of blossoms on our daughter's cherry "birthday" tree. It blooms both spring and fall. In hindsight, I wish we had planted a normal, spring-only blooming cherry tree. Cherry blossoms in fall are just...bizarre.

'Blushing Bride' hydrangea looks like a tired old housewife these days...

...but the viburnum--wow! The huge, lacy blooms apparently enjoy the chill.

I'm thrilled about the newly planted witchhazel. I've been coveting it for awhile, and when I found it at a local plant sale, it followed me home. I'm so excited, I'm about to burst--just like these buds.

Now, this Encore azalea is supposed to bloom now.  Sadly, most of the blooms succumbed to frost.

The tiny blue blooms of rosemary are rare in our garden, as we don't have much sun to encourage flowering. I'm always envious of the bloom-filled, enormous rosemary bushes I see in sun-rich gardens. Still, I love rosemary regardless of its lack of prolific blooms. It's truly my favorite herb.

We've been harvesting sweet peas for a few weeks, thanks to a fall planting and some low tunnels to protect the kitchen garden from frost. With the abundant blooms, I'm hoping we'll be eating peas for quite awhile.

In the herb garden, the mint is the last bloom standing...

In the back garden by the pool, the tea olives' tiny blooms appeared.

And soon, soon, my favorite winter bloom will appear--Winter Daphne. Just a little bit longer until its sweet scent welcomes visitors at our door.

While most of the perennials only sport seed pods... 


...a few fall annuals remain. I've never been a fan of mums, but these mounds of cheerful yellow flowers found homes in wicker pumpkin shaped baskets.  


But pansies and violas will forever be some of my favorite flowers.  

As you know, I often curse our overly shady garden. But then, fall arrives...


...and from every window, the intense colors of the forest remind me to be grateful for our shady gardens.

Happy Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day! To visit more autumn gardens, please visit May Dreams Gardens.

XO ~


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Holy Shiitakes! How to Feast on Fungi for Months.

Well. The shiitake experiment proved a success.

Actually, it was too successful.

Is that possible?

Our refrigerator overflowed with shiitakes. Bags and bags of shiitakes.

With only two of us that eat mushrooms, I feared that my harvest would soon end up in the compost. Peter and I just can't eat three, gallon-sized bags filled with mushrooms that quickly. But after awaiting these babies for more than a year, I refused to trash my prize.

It was time to take action.

Dehydrating mushrooms is ridiculously easy. If you have a dehydrator, it's even easier—because you can plug it in outside and avoid the stench that will permeate your house. I thought the smell of hot peppers dehydrating in the oven was was nothing compared to shiitakes.

With dried shiitakes selling for more than $18/lb., though, the odor is worth it.

How to Dry Shiitakes:
  1. If you have a dehydrating setting on your oven, use it. Otherwise, preheat oven to the lowest setting possible.
  2. Rinse mushrooms under cool water, making sure to clean between the gills where insects might lurk. Fortunately, our mushrooms were clean. However, if you find gnats or other insects, you can soak the mushrooms in a high saline solution to kill any critters, then rinse again. Pat dry.
  3. Remove stems from the shiitakes. The stems are fibrous and tough. You can reserve them to add flavor in soups, if you like—but you really don't want to eat them.

  4. Slice mushrooms thinly to speed drying. You can also dry them whole, but expect the process to take much longer for complete drying.

  5. Spread sliced mushrooms into a single layer on a cookie sheet. If you are using whole mushrooms, place the mushroom gill-side up.
  6. Place mushrooms in oven. If you have a convection oven, you can leave the door closed. Otherwise, crack open the door a bit for air circulation.
  7. Using the dehydrating setting, it took approximately 12 hours for the mushrooms to dry completely. Check your mushrooms hourly to ensure that they are drying properly and not burning.
  8. When completely dry, the mushrooms will be tough and the gills hard, not spongy. Allow to cool completely before storing.

You can store the dried mushrooms for six months in a dark, cool place, or you can freeze the dried mushrooms for a year. I chose to fill canning jars that I stored in our pantry.

Drying shiitakes adds convenience to recipes—you'll always have mushrooms on hand when a risotto craving hits. To rehydrate the mushrooms, soak the dried shiitakes in boiling water for 20 minutes or warm water for 30 minutes. Many people use the resulting liquid as a healthy tea. Dehydrated shiitakes can also be added directly to the base when making soup.

While we focus on the culinary benefits of shiitakes, the Ming Dynasty considered them to be the “elixir of life,” reserved as royal food. Shiitakes were also used medicinally to cure various ailments, including colds, flu, headaches, measles, and nutritional deficiencies, among other illnesses.

Today, many people believe that shiitakes strengthen the immune system, provide a high dose of antioxidants, lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, as well as fight cancer, heart disease, AIDS, herpes, and other viral infections. Dried, powdered shiitakes are often used as supplements—but always consult a health practitioner before using.

Personally, I'm hoping to derive the health benefits of shiitakes by eat risotto...lots and lots of shiitake risotto.


In case you've been playing along and have your own harvest of shiitakes—or any mushrooms, for that matter, here's my favorite recipe for risotto.

Risotto ai Funghi

6 cups organic chicken broth, divided
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 pounds shiitake mushrooms, fresh or dried (rehydrate prior to use)
2 shallots, diced
1-1/2 cups Arborio rice
¾ cups dry white wine
freshly ground pepper to taste
sea salt to taste
3 tablespoons chopped chives
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Note: Make sure to have all ingredients ready before you start. You need to stir continuously to avoid burning, so you don't want to hunt down ingredients in the midst of cooking.
  1. Warm the broth over medium-low heat in a saucepan.
  2. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the mushrooms (fresh or rehydrated) and cook until soft, approximately 3 minutes. Remove mushrooms and liquid, and set aside in bowl.
  3. Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet, and add the shallots. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently. Add rice, stirring to coat it with the olive oil. When the rice is golden in color (about 2 minutes), add wine. Stir continuously until wine is absorbed. And ½ cup broth to the rice, stirring until broth is absorbed. Continue adding ½ cup broth at a time, stirring continuously, until liquid is absorbed and rice is al dente, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Remove skillet from heat. Add mushrooms with liquid, butter, chives, and Parmesan, stirring well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve alone or as a side dish. Makes approximately 6 servings.

XO ~


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The (less than) $10, 5-minute Low Tunnel. Really!

Most of the time, I love living in South Carolina. Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places—it's a fairly apt slogan for our state. Of course, though, some of those smiling faces continue to fly the Confederate flag while circulating petitions to secede from the United States.

(News flash: that war is over, people.)

Still, while that kind of nonsense evokes my weekly rants and increased blood pressure, South Carolina's benefits outweigh the negatives. In less than an hour, we're in the mountains, hiking. In three hours, our toes squish in the sand of Isle of Palms. 

And of course, with our mild climate, I garden all winter...with a little effort.


Zone 7b, where we live, typically experiences the first frost around October 31. This year, we bought a little extra time, with our first frost making an appearance last week.

I was ready.

A little wire, a little plastic, some office supplies, and voila—instant low tunnels to protect the fall and winter crops.

Cost: less than $10. Time: 5 minutes.

Honestly, even the laziest of gardener (me) can't argue with the return on that investment. Eating heirloom lettuce, bok choy, kale, Swiss chard, cabbage and sweet peas from the garden all winter?

Yes, please.

Here's what you'll need to create your own mini tunnel:
  1. One heavy weight, clear, plastic drop cloth, found in the painting supply section of your hardware store. Our raised beds are 4' x 10', so I purchased the 9' x 12' drop cloth, 2 mil thickness. Cost: $2.98
  2. Two 10' masonry ladders. You'll find these in the concrete section of the big box stores. They may also be referred to as steel remesh, but the product you want actually looks like a small wire ladder. Ask the nice person at the store to cut the ladders in half so you'll have four, 5' ladders. Cost: $3.98
  3. One box of large binder clips, 12 count. Cost: $2.99

Beginning at the front of the raised bed or garden row, insert one end of the wire ladder into the soil several inches. Support the ladder as you bend it over the top of the bed so that it forms an arch, and insert the opposite end into the soil.

Repeat at equal intervals, with the last ladder placed at the end of the bed/row. You should have 4 small arches spaced equally in the bed.

Remove plastic cover from bag and unfold. Spread plastic over the supporting ladders, covering entire bed/row.

Use binder clips to attach plastic to ladder supports at the bottom of each ladder, near the soil line, to ensure that the bed or row is completely covered and plastic is secured.

Ta da! You're done!

And now, a...

Watch the temperature! It's not unusual for a frost to be followed by a 70 degree day in our garden. Make sure to remove the cover if you expect a warm day with temperatures in the 50s or above. You don't want to cook your veggies until you WANT to cook your veggies. Preferably not under plastic.

The best part of the system is that it's so easy to uncover—just unclip one side of the plastic, fold it over to the ground on the opposite side of the bed, and secure it with the clips to the ladder to prevent it from blowing in the wind. When frost threatens, cover the garden.

I love easy.

Now, if only I could find an easy way to ensure that South Carolina doesn't secede from the United States...

I'll keep you posted.

Until then, enjoy your extended harvests!

XO ~