On Sunday, daylight savings begins, and we will be doing the final lap of winter before spring officially arrives on March 20th. Who is excited about this? We’ve made it through another winter!
The Spring Equinox is one of two days where the Northern and Southern Hemispheres will have equal daylight. It’s the official start of spring and the days are noticeably longer. But did my garden get the memo its time to wake up?
Late March and early April is the time when we see the first signs of spring in our garden. Tender wildflowers start to poke their heads above their winter blankets of mulch and leaves. Flowers like crocuses, violets, and tulips are usually the first to show their faces.
I wondered if the crocus had a story or a special meaning similar to the rose and other flowers? These questions led me down many rabbit holes, and who knew this small, pretty flower had so much passion associated with it.
The book The Secret Meaning of Flowers says the crocus means attachment, cheerfulness, exuberance, foresight, gladness, jovial, joy, mirth, the pleasure of hope, visions, youthful, and gladness.
In addition, I found an article that said “crocus” means thread, referring to the long, thread-like stamens. It also stated the word also derives from the Greek word Krokos because the plant gives us saffron from its stamens.
This flower also has several love stories originating from ancient Greek Mythology.
One version says Crocus was a young man and had an affair with a nymph called Smilax. He became bored and unhappy with the relationship, and the gods didn’t like his behavior and decided to turn him into a plant. Smilax turned into a beautiful yew tree known as a slow-growing tree with hard but flexible wood. Perfect for Cupid’s bow and arrow.
Another Greek version stated that Crocus killed himself because he was so grief-stricken when the gods refused permission for them to marry. The goddess of flowers, named Flora, took pity on the two lovers and turned them into plants so their love could bloom forever.
Then there is this version that says Smilax wasn’t interested in Crocus. But the ole’ boy wouldn’t take the hint to go away. In frustration, she turned him into a flower so she could have some peace and quiet.
Then we have the great Greek love story of Zeus and Hera (the goddess of women, marriage, and children). The story goes they were “enjoying each other’s company” so passionately that the river bank they were on erupted with crocus flowers.
Since then, these two lustful lovers have been associated with passionate love. In some parts of the world, crocuses bloom near Valentine’s Day and are the preferred “passion” flower rather than roses.
The Crocus species (Crocus Sativa) has medicinal properties grown commercially for saffron and seeds all over the world. So please, please, do not go out and start chewing on a crocus plant. These plants in our yards are poisonous!
c. Sativa has carotenoids that have been shown in clinical studies to inhibit cancer cell proliferation. Saffron helps reduce depression supports eye health and cognitive function.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), saffron is used for depression, shock, cramps from moon cycles, PMS, skin disorders, stomach weakness, and an appetite suppressant.
There you have it; when your crocus starts to pop its pretty purple flowers above ground, I hope you will remember they are flowers created by mad passionate love of one kind or another as well as a healing herb.
Chevallier, Andrew, Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine, 2016; 89
I am thrilled to announce that we have just published our 5th book in our Kids Count Series Counting Trees. I had so much fun writing this book. We spent a great deal of time out in the woods and doing research about trees. By the time you finish reading this book to your little ones, they will be junior Naturalists ready to test their skills out in the woods. I’ve included a Forest Scavenger Hunt game in the book with scan codes so you can download the game and take it with you.
There are two formats, paperback, and ebook which has another bonus activity and pictures included. Books can be purchased on all platforms, libraries and retail stores. Just ask them to order it for you.
It’s the end of May here in Connecticut, and how is your garden doing? Things here are painfully slow going here. We’ve had a wet, cold spring and in between rainstorms, we’ve been busy rebuilding the yard and changing some things around for easier maintenance. We’re not as young as we used to be and its time to transition the gardens into the next phase of its life. More perennials and fewer annuals.
To add insult to injury, this winter’s brutal polar vortex combined with the wet, cold spring has taken its toll on our garden. Many trees, flowering bushes, and lavenders didn’t survive. My hubby has been busy digging up the deceased and replacing with new softwood bushes and flowering plants. I’m amazed at the extent of the damage. Mother Nature can be so cruel!
I’ve been surveying the raised bed area and figuring out what new perennial herbs I can plant that will survive our crazy winters. My big experiment will be seeing if I can grow old fashioned big bush roses. I’m planting them in the largest raised bed we have. Winter freeze will be a huge concern since the beds are above ground. Will the roots overwinter in a raised bed? I don’t know, so stay tuned…
In the greenhouse, we ripped out the aquaponics system and reverted the 2 beds back to dirt. I planted more rosemary and experimenting with scented geraniums. The variety I’m starting with is “Rose of Attar”. The leaves really do smell like roses! If they survive the winter, they will be a wonderful addition to my herb garden.
Time Well Spent!
The good news is, the time spent waiting for storms to pass and temperatures to rise has been productive. I’ve been working on the last bits of my garden book. It will be published sometime this summer titled “My Garden Journal” (although, the title may change…I’m currently playing with different titles).
I started journaling my gardens 20 years ago to remind me what worked and what didn’t from one season to the next. Gardening is a journey – your yard is an ever-changing ecosystem and I found that journaling gave me a higher success rate.
My personal journal evolved over time. It wasn’t fancy, just a list of plants and comments in the margins of how things went during the growing season.
However, when I was teaching children how to garden, I discovered by accident, my journals were a great teaching tool. My simple journal pages made the perfect outline for the curriculum I was creating. I took what I learned from these very talented students and reworked the format. The results were a simple easy to follow garden journal for children (and adults too!)
In addition to the journal pages, I also added other useful sections. For example, Parts of a Plant, Themed Gardens, How to Make Compost Tea and 10 Easiest Plants to Grow from Seed. These sections were designed to give young gardeners basic tools to be successful in their first years of gardening.
Excerpt from “My Garden Journal”
Here is the section from the book on the “10 Easiest Plants to Grow from Seed”.
Arugula is a small leafy green that has a peppery taste. It makes a perfect addition to salads and pasta recipes. To get ideas on how to prepare this green, do an online search. There are lots of recipes to pick from.
Arugula can be direct seeded into the ground and prefers to grow in cooler temperatures and is best grown in early spring and late summer into fall skipping the hottest part of the growing season.
Basil is an excellent herb to grow. Basil does not do well if direct seeded into the soil.Start your seeds indoors in small containers and then transplant outside when it’s warm enough.
When the plant gets big enough, pick the leaves off to add to a fresh tomato salad.Dry the leaves and save them for your herb and spice collection.There is nothing better tasting than homegrown basil in spaghetti sauce!
Basil prefers hot weather and full sun and best-grown late spring through the hottest part of the summer. Make sure the flowers are pinched off frequently for a bushier plant, which will produce more leaves.
If you are growing this plant in a container, water frequently.Plants grown in containers dry out quicker than plants grown in the ground or in raised beds.
Microgreens are 5 to 10 day old baby plants that you can harvest and eat. Don’t confuse them with sprouts which are seeds that have sprouted in water and then eaten. The difference is to grow microgreens you must plant them in potting soil or some sort of growing medium sprout them and then harvest the plant.
These baby plants are high in nutrition and can be grown on a kitchen counter with no sunlight. They are the perfect plants for a kitchen garden.
The easiest microgreens to grow are:
Spicy mustard greens
Cucumbers are a gardener’s summer favorite. Make sure you have plenty of room to grow these plants; they like to spread their vines everywhere.Do an online search
to learn how to save space by growing up.There are many ideas on how to build simple trellis’ using materials such as long sticks and twine.
Cucumber seeds can be direct seeded into the ground in late spring, or can be started indoors (early spring) in small containers and transplanted into the garden when it’s warm enough.
5. Green Beans
These are one of the easiest plants to grow, and you get a lot of beans in return for your work.They can be direct seeded in the ground late spring. Beans like to grow in direct sun and love hot temperatures.
When researching seeds, make sure you know which kind of beans you’re buying. There are bush beans and pole beans.Bush beans don’t need any trellising.Just plant and watch them grow and harvest them when big enough.
Pole beans need a trellis to climb on.
6. Green Onions
Green onions are tall, green and white stalks and they are fun to grow.Patients will be essential, because they may take most of the growing season before you can harvest them.
Green onions grow well in containers but need frequent watering during hot weather. They are a perfect vegetable to grow if you have a spot that has partial shade.Direct seed in early spring and keep watering.Onions take many weeks before they sprout.So be patient.
Onions also do well if left in the garden over winter. Once the garden bed is established, they will self-seed (the seeds drop into the garden bed after they flower), and new plants will grow the next season.
There are many kinds of kale to grow, so do your research on which varieties will grow well in your area.Kale likes cooler temperatures but will tolerate some heat if the plants are well established.
Kale is another plant that can be stared in early spring and late fall and will tolerate colder temperatures until a hard freeze or even snow.These can be direct seeded into the ground.
Dinosaur Kale is a good recommendation if you are looking for tender leaves, which are perfect for salads.If you want to grow big leaf varieties like Red Russian Kale, their leaves are perfect for making crispy kale chips – which are like potato chips.Yum!
Peas are another early spring and fall plant to grow and can be direct seeded into the ground.My peas never make it to the kitchen because I eat them right off the vine while working in the garden.They make a great snack!
These plants require something to climb on otherwise they will grow in a heap of strings on the ground.
There is nothing more satisfying than a fresh picked homegrown tomato! They are gardener’s pride and joy! Do your research on what kind, or color you want to grow.There are hundreds of varsities to pick from and you need to know the difference between an Indeterminate and Determinate tomato variety.
For beginner gardeners, I would recommend not growing tomatoes in the heirloom (or determinate category) until you are an experienced gardener. Heirloom tomatoes taste great but can be very temperamental if the plants don’t get an even amount of water and sustaining hot temperatures.They are also prone to disease and fungal problems.
If the plants get stressed this results in what is called end rot or blossom rot.The tomato is not ripe enough to pick but instead starts rotting on the bottom of the fruit and the falls off the plant.Once a plant starts producing rotten fruit the problem cannot be fixed. The plant must be pulled out of the ground and thrown away.
I recommend varieties like “Big Beef” or “New Girl” for a nice evenly round healthy tomato and are perfect for sandwiches or salads.These varieties are what is called “Indeterminate” hybrids and are not prone to disease or fungal problems.
There are smaller tomato varieties you can grow too.Grape and cherry tomatoes produce a lot of fruit and are fun to grow.Make sure you share with friends and family if you have too many.
Indeterminate Tomato: Tall plants that require staking for trellis and will keep producing fruit up until first frost.
Determinate Tomato: A bush variety that is low and compact and doesn’t require staking. These plants grow a certain number of fruit and then the plant stops growing and dies.Unlike the indeterminate tomatoes where the plant continues to produce fruit until it’s too cold.Heirloom tomato varieties are determinate plants.
I recommend you start your seeds indoors in small containers and then transplant into the garden in late spring. Do not direct seed into the ground the seeds will have difficulty sprouting.Tomatoes need full sun and plenty of hot temperatures.
Sunflowers are beautiful and can be a showy centerpiece to any garden. The good news is sunflowers now come in many different sizes.These are a perfect plant to direct seed into the garden.
There are shorter more compact varieties that produce multiple flower heads that are smaller. These are great for flower bouquets.
The tall varieties like Royal Hybrid produce one big flower and need lots of sun.Make sure your seeds are organic if growing these flowers for bird food and don’t spray your plants with pesticides or herbicides. Chemicals hurt the birds and wildlife that will live among your plants in the garden.
At the end of the season, cut the flower heads and dry them. The birds will appreciate a nice snack when there is little food to forage on during the cold winter months.
Over the last few weeks I’ve seen many postings using natural dyes for Easter Eggs. The pictures are beautiful and I wondered if I could get my eggs to turn out as nice as the pictures. Over all I had mixed results. Some colors were the same as the pictures – other colors I didn’t come close.
If you want to try naturally dyeing eggs here are two important things to know before you start:
Natural dyes are not going to be as vibrant as commercial dyes.
The process will take hours – at least a 1/2 a day or more.
But first I recommend you read these two blog postings on natural dyes and decorating techniques from the Herbal Academy of New England. I thought they had some great suggestions for natural dyes.
The Day Before Cook your Eggs:
Cook your eggs gently by starting with a pot of cold water on low heat. Don’t bring your eggs to a full boil but just to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Cover and remove from heat and let stand until completely cool. I recommend you do this the night before. By morning you will have perfectly cooked un-cracked hardboiled eggs.
Select your Dyes:
What I liked about natural dyes is that you can use what you have on hand. In my freezer I found a bag of frozen blueberries (blue) and cranberries (red). In my spices I found turmeric which I thought would make a great yellow dye. I wanted a green color and I decided to try using green tea.
Berries Smashed or Cooked:
The blueberries I smashed and added enough boiling water to the bowl to submerge the eggs. The cranberries needed to be cooked until the berries popped open and I could mash them into a pulp. For the turmeric and green tea (4 tea bags) I just added boiling water to the bowl and let them steep and cool. Do not add your cool eggs to the hot dye mixture – this will result in cracked eggs.
Don’t forget the Vinegar:
I added a tablespoon of white vinegar to the all the bowls so the dye would set.
Hurry Up and Wait:
When the waters were cool I set my eggs into the cups. I first started with bowls but the eggs weren’t submerged enough to be completely covered. I didn’t want to add more water because I felt it would dilute the dye so I switched to using cups and glasses. And I waited and waited…and waited…
After 4 hours of waiting the other colors were ready and I pulled them out. However, the red egg in the cranberry pulp wasn’t doing a thing. So I found some Red Zinger Tea and frozen raspberries in the freezer. I made up a new bowl of red dye and dropped my egg into it and waited another hour to see what happened.
5 Hours of dyeing:
After working on this for 5 hours I decided to throw in the towel! I wasn’t going to get a red Easter egg. Oh well…
Left to right: Red (cranberry, raspberry and Red Zinger Tea) Yellow (turmeric) Purple (blueberries)
Left to right: Blue (blueberries) Yellow / Green (if you look close…) (green tea – however, I think some turmeric accidently got in my bowl of tea resulting in more yellow than green color).
Final thoughts: If you decide to do this I don’t recommend this for really young children – the process takes a long time and unless you have patient children the waiting will be difficult. On the other hand, this process allows for some really cool creative thinking about the natural dye world and playing with other ingredients would be fun. Some of the suggestions from HANE on dyes are:
If you decide to try using natural dyes and you have success with red or green – please let me know!
I’m always humbled and grateful when asked to speak about what I do here on Thompson Street Farm. This week I was the speaker at a local garden club here in town and I have to say what a wonderful group of ladies! I understand there are 5 garden clubs in town, and this particular club has been together for over 30 years. Can you imagine how much knowledge and experience there was sitting in that room! How cool!
After my presentation on growing micro-greens, a sweet woman asked about how I made my soaps. She identifies handmade soap to her childhood elderly neighbor, Mrs. Jones, peddling her soap door to door. Apparently her soap was extremely harsh that one lost a few layers of skin when using it. I’m guessing from the age of my new friend, “Mrs. Jones” learned how to make soap between World War I and the Depression. In those days, there weren’t a lot of choices for oils other than animal fats and other moisturizing ingredients – which explains the harshness of her soap.
Today there is a world of difference between commercial soaps and handmade. Technically commercial soap is not real soap but a detergent that is created from petroleum based products . Yes, the base ingredient in commercial soap is petroleum oil!
My Decision to make Handmade Soap
(Lavender Soap made with lavender grown on our property)
When I began researching how to make soap it was out of necessity. I had been purchasing a goat’s milk soap from an independently owned health food store for my daughter. My daughter had a stroke before she was born and as a result she is missing 80% of her right brain, so we had many health issues to deal with. She is also a beautiful redhead with extremely sensitive skin. It didn’t matter which commercial soap I used, her skin was as red as her hair and irritated – similar to the reaction to Mrs. Jones soap!
Perfumes were also a huge problem for my daughter. It is not uncommon for children that have severe brain damage to have an over-reactive sensory system. I can only explain it as standing in front of a speaker at rock concert 24 /7. The brain’s sensory system is on overload it can’t filter out and dial down what’s going on around them. If you stop and think about it, our world is pretty noisy. For Katie as a baby, sound, smell and textures was magnified a billion times over.
Its an understatement that the early days for Katie were painful – everything bothered her. For example, my husband loved Irish Spring Soap, but when he came near her she would become overwhelmed and started to scream and cry. We went through a period of time when I dumped every commercially made product including the toothpaste and toilet paper and we went O-Natural! Thankfully, Katie is much better thanks to years of therapy.
The Decision to Make My Own Soap:
(Pine Soap – pine needles are harvested from our own pine trees and now that I’m becoming a herbalist, I’m adding my own pine infused olive oil to this soap!)
When Wholefoods moved to town our small independent health food store went out of business and that ended my source for handcrafted goat’s milk soap. The good news is soap making had become popular and with YouTube at my fingertips, I decided it was time to take control of our soap supply and learn how to make soap.
When I started my research I had a basic list of requirements:
The soap had to be moisturizing, have a great lather but be a firm enough that didn’t melt into a pile of goo in the shower.
Ingredients had to be mild enough for daughter’s sensitive skin.
Oils for the soap had to be found in the grocery store and had to come from the plant world.
Scents need to be from the plant world (correction/clarification from original posting: I do use fragrance oils if essential oils are not available, too expensive, or I happen to like the scent!).
I knew I wanted my soap to have at lease 2 oils that were great for skin, olive oil and coconut oil. After weeks of research, my first generation master soap recipe was born and it was a Mediterranean inspired blend using 4 oils and raw goats’ milk.
Olive oil – has been used for centuries as a great skin conditioner and moisturizer.
Coconut oil – has been used for centuries as a great skin conditioner and moisturizer.
Canola Oil – creates a stable lather and a great skin conditioner.
Safflower Oil – creates a wonderful lather and is a great skin conditioner.
Herbs, flowers, vegetables and goats milk had to be either grown by me or acquired by a local farmer that shared my socially responsible beliefs.
During my research, I learned there is a minefield related to certain common ingredients in soap making. The biggest one is palm oil, and the atrocities associated to the destruction of rainforests to meet the worlds demand for palm oil.
I admit, my soaps are not for everyone, but I can honestly say I try to be socially conscious and intentional on where my ingredients are sourced. It is important to my daughter’s wellbeing and to me. I want to create a product that is safe; with no chemicals or preservatives.
New Sea Salt and Mineral Clay Inspired Soap with Avocado Oil
I have to say I have the best customers! They are intelligent, well-traveled and socially conscious and they are challenging me to take my social responsibility even further! Over the summer I heard a few concerns expressed about how canola oil is grown and processed. Canola oil comes from a plant called rapeseed and most of the crop grown in the world is from GMO seed. Since I refuse to use GMO vegetable seeds on my farm it was an easy decision to do the right thing and switch out that oil and substitute it for sunflower oil.
In addition, I did some more research on the benefits of sea salt and mineral clays in soap. Out of that research I created a new 4 oil sea salt soap using avocado oil. Avocado oil is rich in vitamins A, B, D, and E. Sea salt is known for its relaxing properties and is a natural detoxifier as well as some of the mineral clays that I use – Dead Sea Clay, French Green Clay, Bentonite Clay and Moroccan Clay.
So I say to my new” Garden Club Friend” – try my soaps, I think you will be pleasantly surprised just how good you will feel! Please check out my entire line of soap on website online store.
(Honey, Cinnamon and Carrot Soap – I purchase my honey from a local farmer. Although I might get brave and purchase a hive in the coming year.)
In my town there has been some zoning changes regarding keeping chickens. My town is part urban and part rural and keeping backyard chickens has become very popular. Unfortunately, some chicken owners have not been good to their neighbors by containing the noise from loud roosters and/or containing the flock to their own yards. On more than one occasion I’ve had to wait for a flock of chickens finish crossing the road to get to the other side.
Because of a few knuckle heads, my town changed its zoning regulations to restrict backyard chicken owners to 11 hens on less than 5 acres and no roosters. Honestly, I don’t blame the town for banning roosters – they can be noisy all day and night, some are aggressive and in my opinion are not needed if the reason for having chickens is to have fresh eggs.
A pullet (hen less than 1 year old) will begin to lay eggs around 5 months of age regardless if there is a rooster. Remember your basic biology, when a male mates with a female the result is a baby. However, some people think hens need roosters to lay eggs. If you want baby chicks then yes, you need a rooster.
Once a hen (pullet) is old enough, she will begin to produce an unfertilized egg every day like clockwork. She doesn’t need any help from a rooster to do her thing. I actually prefer to eat unfertilized eggs. On occasion I’ve had fertilized eggs that have had a bit of blood in them, which I find unappealing.
– Hens (or pullets) begin to lay eggs around 5 months of age.
– In the first year hen’s lay small eggs at least once every day and the eggs get gradually bigger as the hen ages.
– Two-year-old hens (depending on the breed) lay larger eggs, but may not lay every day but every other day.
– Three years and older, will lay large eggs less frequently and the older the hen is the less eggs she lays. This is why farmers turn over their flocks on the third year and bring in new pullets.
– A good laying hen in her prime on average can lay 250 – 280 eggs in a year! That’s 1 hen!
– Do you remember the jingle on TV back in the 1980’s– “Brown eggs are local eggs and local eggs are fresh?” Well that was a brilliant ad campaign. How many people fell for it? Do you see me raising my hand?
Myth: The color of the eggshell does not determine the freshness of the egg. The color of the shell indicates it’s a breed of chicken that happens to lay a brown, white, or blue egg. People thought brown eggs were once white and had gone bad. Which is why egg producers created the commercial – to get people to buy brown eggs since only white eggs had been sold commercially.
To test if an egg is fresh place an egg in a bowl of water. A fresh egg will sink to the bottom. An old egg will float up to the surface of the bowl.
– Another slick marketing campaign used by some health food stores was claiming that fertile eggs are more nutritious than infertile eggs. The goal was to charge more for these “special” eggs.
Myth: According to “Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens” there is no evidence that states that a fertile egg is more nutritious than an infertile egg.
– How many people do you know that gave up eggs (especially yolks) because they were told they cause high cholesterol?
Myth: Eggs are high in cholesterol however; one would have to eat a lot of eggs to get their own cholesterol to rise. According to an article from the Mayo Clinic:
“Chicken eggs are high in cholesterol, but the effect of egg consumption on blood cholesterol is minimal when compared with the effect of trans fats and saturated fats.
The risk of heart disease may be more closely tied to the foods that accompany the eggs in a traditional American breakfast — such as the sodium in the bacon, sausages and ham, and the saturated fat or oils with trans fats used to fry the eggs and the hash browns.”
I love pudding but unfortunately puddings made with any kind of mammal milk do not like me. Over the years I’ve developed an allergy to milk. If I ignore the allergy I pay dearly for it with a serious sinus infection and fever blisters. Those who know me well can always tell when I’ve cheated – the signs are always on my face. Its not pretty…
Not being able to enjoy milk products has been a major bummer for me, as I love artisan cheese, milk, ice-cream, fresh yogurt, puddings and thing else made with milk. So when I saw this recipe on “Cooking Without Limits” blog for a pudding that:
didn’t require milk
didn’t require cooking
used simple ingredients
I had try the recipe.
In the original recipe she calls for 200 ml of either soya milk or almond milk. We drink almond milk, but last night we were running low so I dug around in my pantry and found a can of coconut milk. So here is my version of the recipe. (click here for a link to the original recipe Strawberry Chia Seed Pudding)
1 can coconut milk (400 ML)
3 Tablespoons chia seed
1 Teaspoon of vanilla extract
(I make my own extract using the a bunch of vanilla beans split down the middle and stuffed into a bottle of the cheapest vodka I can find. It works like a charm!)
Mix the milk, chia seeds and vanilla together in a bowl cover with plastic wrap and put in refrigerator for a minimum of an hour to 24 hours. The chia seeds will develop with gelatin coating which makes the milk become a pudding consistency.
When pudding is ready spoon into a bowl and add fresh fruit and serve. Its that easy!
If you prefer a sweeter pudding add Agave syrup, honey or maple syrup. I added a drizzle of Agave syrup because it has a lower glycemic index.
For those that really counting calories – use the 30 calorie Almond Milk instead of the coconut milk.
When I decided to convert our backyard into a micro farm, one of the requirements under our state’s agriculture law and USDA Regulations was to be recognized as a “farm” on both the state and federal levels. Qualifying criteria was to sell $2,500 of agriculture product and/or have livestock. As I was just starting out and didn’t yet have $2,500 of agriculture product sales, I needed to get some kind of livestock, which could include hooved animals, bees, chickens or rabbits.
Local zoning code requiring 2+ acres for hooved animals eliminated that option for me but, since I was in a “rural” zone, rabbits, chickens and bees were fine. I therefore decided on chickens because I could sell fresh eggs and then butcher the birds for meat when they stopped laying at around 2 years old. At least that was my reasoning when I presented my idea to my husband.
Fast forward 6 years later and they are still alive and even were given names “Henrietta 1 – 9” aka “The Girls”. One of them, a poor bird that was being brutally picked on by the brood was named “Sally” by my husband and became his pet. In addition, although I have lost several birds (which I will discuss later), not one of them has been eaten (by a human at least). All in all, the “Girls” truly have lived a charmed life.
If you are thinking about getting chickens, here are a few things I’ve learned over the years.
Spring is usually the time when hatcheries begin to sell chickens. If you are serious about getting chickens, make sure you purchase them from a good hatchery. Chickens carry a lot of diseases and federal law requires that chicks be vaccinated for a nasty viral disease call Marek’s Disease prior to sale. This is a virus that can kill off an entire flock and contaminate others. I was also surprised to learn that the vaccine wears off in 2 years, which is why most birds are butchered within 2 years.
The lesson here is that purchasing chicks from non-registered hatcheries can result in all kinds of flock failures so – “Buyer Beware”. According to University of Connecticut’s top poultry expert, genetics impact long term health and the Marek Virus is found in the genetic line of a particular bird family.
I recommend that you also check out a website called My Pet Chicken . I met the owner/creator, Traci Torres, while we were guests on the Colin McEnroe Show on WNPR CT Public Radio a few years ago and she is a wealth of knowledge on chickens. Her website offers great information and cool products for backyard chicken owners.
Once you decide upon a breed of chicken, you’ll need some equipment to get them through the first weeks of life. Be forewarned that having chickens can be expensive in the beginning. As baby chicks need warmth and protection, a safe warm nursery will need to be created.
I picked my chicks up in early March when there was still snow on the ground and it was bitterly cold. Keeping them in the garage therefore clearly wasn’t an option so they ended up in my backroom where I could keep an eye on them. Then the circus began as EVERY critter in our household wanted to sniff, play or even eat our new babies!
Baby chicks make a lot of poop so be prepared to clean your box frequently. They need a box big enough for them, a warming light, a special size water container and baby chick feeder, all of which I purchased at my local farm supply store.
Moving into the Coop
Housing the chickens will depend on where you live. We have very cold snowy winters and thanks to the realities of Climate Change, we also experience extended days of hot/humid days of 90+ degrees. I wanted the coop to be predator proof so I decided to purchase one made by a local farmer, which cost me $600 (without roof shingles and unpainted). I added the shingles, stained the outside with weatherproof stain and, as we are now going on our 6th year, I’m so glad I did this.
The other consideration is not to overstuff your chicken coop with chickens. I had originally purchased 9 Rhode Island Reds and this coop was built for 6 chickens. It was a tight fit and I had to add another roost for them. Overcrowding a chicken coop is not healthy for the birds and can cause health problems.
Since we live in a wooded area we have all kinds of wildlife (i.e. – hawks, coyote, fox, fisher cat, raccoon, possum, an occasional black bear) plus local dogs and cats. As all are potential predators, we fenced in a large section of woods surrounding the coop to given the chickens plenty of room to roam while also protecting them from most of these critters.
My next blog posting will cover choice of bedding, general care and a few things my chickens taught us.