A Death in the Family

For once I'm blogging without pictures. It didn't seem fitting to take any when I came home two nights ago to a dead chick in the brooder. Penguin had been sleeping a lot the last few days and I was a bit worried about her. I fed her some egg yolk (cooked of course) on Monday afternoon, and it seemed to perk her up a little, but when I got home on Tuesday night, she was dead in the brooder...... Dave, his girlfriend Meg, and I buried her by flashlight in the backyard. I was a little nervous that a raccoon might dig up her body, but we dug a relatively deep hole, and honestly, there wasn't much at all for a raccoon to eat. She was really light - just feathers and bones.

I had a weird feeling that Penguin wasn't long for this world. She seemed weaker and more lethargic than the other two, and she was the only one who didn't put up a big fuss when I picked her up - she was too weak.

I was dreading my first chicken death, but it honestly wasn't too bad. It was a bit of a relief in fact. I don't have to worry about her any more, and death is something you just have to deal with when raising chickens (or any animals for that matter). Stanley and I are going to look at some pullets this weekend, so I know there will be more chickens in my life soon.

Three Spot and Puff (that's what I've decided to call the chick who hatched with Three Spot) are doing exceptionally well. They're both full of energy and curiosity, and are eating well, drinking lots of water, and pooping up a storm!
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It's Almost August Garden Pictures

Lots of pictures to share today. In the interest of time, I'll run through them quickly.....

Our little half plot at Quann Gardens is a little weedy (I did some serious weeding after this picture was taken, so it's not as bad as it looks), but doing well. The potatoes are almost all died back, and the Canario beans look awesome.

Stanley dug some potatoes today. Approximately 3 feet of a row yielded more than 10 pounds of beautiful and humongous red potatoes. I had no idea they would be so big! I don't even know what kind they are - we just planted some of the local Igl Farm red potatoes we bought for eating this spring. We're going to have lots when all is said and done.

The Canario beans planted between the two rows of potatoes are incredibly lush and big.

These are dry beans, so it will be a while before we harvest. They're starting to form nice pods though. I ate one - it was OK, but tough. I'll let them mature and dry before I pass judgement.

On to our garden on Main Street. I don't usually put pictures of myself on this blog, but you have to have some scale to understand just how big this corn has gotten. I honestly think it's a little too big. It recovered well from the wind storm though. It's probably grown at least 6 inches since then.

And it's starting to tassel! This is the male portion of the corn stalk that comes out of the top. It releases pollen.....

.... which gets caught on the silks below. The silk is the female part of the corn. Each strand will pollinate a kernel of corn. It's really starting to tassel, and I'm a little worried that there's not enough silk coming out yet. The timing has to be just right for pollination to work. We'll know in a few weeks if it has pollinated well. If not, there's a lot of good local corn available at road side stands. It's cheap too - we got 13 ears of delicious fresh corn from a farm stand for just $3 yesterday!

Here you can really see the beans climbing up the stalks. They're flowering heavily, but no pods yet. The corn makes an excellent trellis!

The squash is going nuts! Every time I visit this garden I'm just amazed at how much the squash has spread. It's outgrowing the garden plot.

Here's a baby Marina de Chioggia.

A Winter Luxury Pumpkin.

And a Black Futsu.

Here's an upcoming exciting thing. There are two peach trees in my Mom, Brother, and Sister in Law's plot on Main Street. They never produced until this year when they decided to prune them way back early in the spring. They're loaded! I can't wait for peaches!!!

And the last garden on the tour - our new house on Marquette Street. We move in in only two weeks!

The tomatoes have been poisoned by the Black Walnut tree in the neighbor's back yard. We should have know better than to plant tomatoes here - our new landlords warned us. The tomatoes grew like crazy until their roots got big enough to contact the Walnut's. Black Walnut trees' roots are poisonous to tomatoes. The tomatoes that are the worst off are nearest the tree, the ones on the right are farther away.... Next year we'll grow our tomatoes in pots.

Despite being half dead, I think some of the cherry tomatoes that have already set are going to ripen. At least we'll have a few!

The root crops are doing well.

I pulled a few small turnips for dinner last night. Delicious!

The beets are also looking beautiful. These will be just about ready to eat when we move in.

The eggplant also looks good.

I've never grown eggplant before. How exciting to find baby eggplants - they've got to be just about the cutest vegetable around!

Here is the chicken coop, awaiting the arrival of the chicks! It's filthy right now - the old tenant still hasn't cleaned it out from the chickens he had there. I've been assured that it will be clean and ready for my babies in a few short weeks.
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Baby Chicks, Part Two

It's really hard for me to believe that these chicks aren't even a week old yet! Only three hatched, which is too bad. I finally got rid of the remaining four eggs and cleaned the incubator today. No Buckeyes hatched at all! I contacted Jeff from Crain's Run Ranch where I got the Buckeye eggs and he said he incubated 24 eggs from the exact batch he sent me and 18 of them hatched.... he figures it must have been some problem during shipping - the got jostled too much or got too hot.... oh well, he will send me more for just the cost of shipping next spring. I may try to find a few hens to keep these three babies company until then....

The first few days after I put the chicks in the incubator were touch and go. One of them has been exceptionally perky the whole time. The other two just seemed to want to lay around and sleep for the first few days. I was petrified I'd come home to find one of them dead. They seem to have pulled through (at least for the time being) and are starting to act a lot more like chickens now - pecking, eating, drinking..... it's nice to see! I'll introduce you to them one by one:

This is the only one who has a name so far: Three Spot (from the three black spots on his/her beak.) Three Spot is by far the perkiest, most energetic chick of the three. Based on his personality I have a feeling he's a rooster, but there's no real way to tell yet. He was the first to learn to drink, peck, and poop, and generally runs circles around the other two. A few days ago he started pecking at the other two a little too much for my comfort, so I tried to make a chicken wire partition to keep him away from them. He pecked at it for a few minutes, then backed up and took a running leap at the wire, wedged his head through the 1"x1" fence and his body followed. He's a trip!

This is the chick that hatched with Three Spot. I was a little worried about her at first, mostly because compared with Three Spot she didn't seem to have much energy or pluckiness. She's coming around now though. She's the roundest and fluffiest of the three, with only one black spot on her beak.

This is chicky number three - the third and last to hatch. She's got an all black beak with a white spot on the very tip. Her markings remind me of a penguin. She was also pretty lethargic to start out, but is now rivaling Three Spot in her energy.

Here is my brooder - a kiddie pool lined with old bath towels. I put up chicken wire around the outside as extra cat insurance (I keep the door closed, but you never know....) and also to keep the chickies in as they grow bigger. I've already caught Three Spot looking curiously toward the edges of the pool! It he does turn out to be a rooster and the other two are hens, I'm not sure what I'll do. I'm already quite attached to him - he's got such personality! I was thinking I would butcher the roos, but if there's only one, I don't know if I can bring myself to do it..... we'll see how things develop.

I'll post video of them soon!
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Baby Chicks, Part One

Oh, the excitement!! Please forgive the crappy pictures: I don't want to open the incubator if I don't have to, and photographs through clear plastic just don't turn out too well.....you'll get the point at least.

Sunday was day 18 of the 21 day incubation. On Saturday night I candled them all for the last time. Disappointingly, 10 of the 12 Buckeye eggs were showing absolutely no development. It's pretty easy to tell at this point as eggs with chicks inside are completely opaque under light and the undeveloped ones let lots of light through. I cracked some of them open to make sure they weren't developed and sure enough, no baby chicks inside. That brought me down from 18 eggs to 8: 6 Black Austrolorp and 2 Buckeyes.

On Sunday morning I woke up to another of the Buckeye eggs (the one in the front and right of this picture) that had somehow sprung a leak and oozed out some liquid from inside. Initially I assumed it was bad and took it out of the incubator. After thinking about it for a few minutes, I decided maybe it had accidentally punctured a hole in it's shell a little early and perhaps it had sealed itself enough to survive. Either taking it out of the incubator for a few minutes killed it, or more likely, it was already dead. I left it in for a few days then candled it again and decided it was a goner. This only leaves me with 1 (hopefully) viable Buckeye egg out of 12 - not good! I'm guessing that's because it was a bad time for the flock, either that or the eggs got damaged in shipping. The Austrolorps from Meyer Hatchery all developed without problem.

Anyway, on Sunday morning I took the dividers out of the incubator and cranked up the humidity by adding water to the troughs underneath the egg tray. On Monday morning, day 19, two of the eggs had pipped.

Here's egg number one....

Egg number two.....

It took them forever to make their holes bigger. Here they are last night before I went to bed. When I woke up they hadn't made a whole lot more progress, and when I got home from work this afternoon they still weren't out, so I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Many people will tell you not to help chicks out of their shell, but these guys had been pipping for over 24 hours, and it seemed like it was time to intervene. I had a feeling, which proved to be correct, that it wasn't humid enough in the incubator. The digital hygrometer was reading 75 percent, which wasn't much higher than it had been throughout their incubation, despite the water in the troughs. On Monday morning I added a bit more humidity by running my humidifier in the room. That was after these guys started to pip, however......

So, after deciding it was time to help the little buggers out, I went for it and very carefully peeled the shell away from the little birds. I didn't see any blood, so I kept going till they were almost out. I was right about the humidity: the inner membrane was dry and tough. It was stuck to the babies pretty badly. I had to get it wet in order to get it all off the chicks so they could move their wings and legs....in the end thankfully I was successful.

It was truly incredible to help these little chicks out of their shells. They were so tightly packed into the shells..... to see them transform from eggs to chicks in my hand was amazing.

Here's one of the chicks pretty fresh out of the egg. They were pretty wobbly and awkward at first.

Soon enough they were walking around, peering at me through the glass, and clearly wanting to get out and explore the world. They'll have to wait a while though - they need to stay in the incubator at least 12 hours before they move to the brooder.

There's one more egg that's got a good pip going, they two newly hatched chicks have been rolling it around, as if they are trying to help it hatch. There's four eggs beyond that, with no signs yet of hatching. It's only day 20, there's still lots of time! We'll see how it goes.....
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A Raspberrry Chocolate Birthday

I don't make cakes often (mostly because I insist on full fat, organic and/or fair trade ingredients and things can get pretty pricey and pretty fattening pretty quickly,) but once or twice a year I have fun creating something special for a loved one's birthday. Last Friday was one of those occasions. Brother Dave turned 25. I had been anticipating his birthday and my cake baking adventure for quite some time. Sometimes I get nervous that so much anticipation will make things anticlimactic, but I had no need to worry in this case. The cake was fabulous!

This was my secret weapon - chocolate cheese fudge. I spotted some of this heavenly stuff at the cheese factory in Monroe, WI. It's mostly fudge, but a little cheesy with some chopped walnuts thrown in for texture. By itself it's divine, and I couldn't help but wonder what other uses I could find for it..... Dave's birthday seemed like the perfect opportunity for some experimentation.

I decided to use the fudge as a frosting. Since it's really really rich, I wanted a light-ish cake for the base. I found this recipe online for a buttermilk chocolate cake that seemed like it could work. It says that it makes two cakes, but I decided to make one big one. I cooked it in three pans - a 10 inch round pan, an 8 inch round pan, and my cute little 4 inch round pan. I thought I might do three layers, but ended up sticking with just two and freezing the tiny cake for later.

For the frosting I simply mixed the chocolate cheese fudge (two packages of it) with some of the leftover buttermilk from the cake until it seemed spreadable. The fudge was just a little too dense to use on its own.

The cake and frosting chilled for a few hours, and then I put it all together. Here are the assembly steps.....

Step one - frost the biggest (10 inch) layer. The frosting spread beautifully!

I added a bunch of raspberries from our front yard (they've been so GOOD!) to the top of the first layer....

....and then placed the second layer on top.

The second layer got a nice coating of frosting. I didn't think I'd be able to use all the frosting, but it ended up being the perfect amount.

Then lots of raspberries on top.

It was amazing to me how many raspberries I ended up using - it was more than a full pint by the time I was done.

Here it is with 25 candles on top! We had dinner at Ben and Erica's and I got to use their Fire and Light cake stand that I had gotten them for a wedding present. It was the perfect base for this beautiful cake.

Not only was it beautiful, but the flavors all worked together incredibly well - chocolate, cheese, fudge, raspberries.... it's really impossible to go wrong when you combine ingredients like these! As you can see, the birthday boy was pleased indeed!
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The Corn Catastrophe

Remember that beautiful sweet corn that I was gloating over just a few posts ago? Well, precisely three days after I wrote that, we got a much needed rainstorm, and along with it 40+ mile per hour wind gusts that wreaked havoc on the tall, heavy cornstalks. I was so happy that my corn was bigger and everyone else's...... this is a good lesson I guess: pride goes before the fall. Literally.

Here's a different angle with Dave for scale. Some of it was still standing at an 80 or 85 degree angle, but some was knocked down totally flat. I think the beans climbing up the stalks weighed them down a little, and also the patch is relatively small and was the tallest thing around. Luckily it was all still attached at the ground - none of it snapped off and the base, and the squash and bean plants were as healthy as could be.
It took three of us to wrestle the cornstalks back into a somewhat vertical position. It was an arduous task, but I think we did a pretty good job. (Thanks again Mom and Meg!) We used fence posts at the end and middle of each row and wrapped twine around them. It's still not perfect, but I'm hoping the corn plants will take it from here and straighten themselves out in a few days.
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Very Exciting Egg News!

These two pictures don't do the eggs justice, but they are the best we were able to get. They're about a week and half into their incubation, half way done. Tonight I pulled a few out and candled them. When I had candled them a week ago I noticed the vein structure forming in some of them. This time, the vein structure was much more apparent, plus THE CHICKS WERE MOVING AROUND INSIDE THE EGGS!!!!!! I looked at about six random eggs and the vast majority of them had dark spots where the developing chicks are and the spots were very noticeably moving around...... I could barely keep from jumping up and down with excitement. It has finally dawned on my that I'm going to have baby chicks very soon!

Again, it's hard to see what's going on here. The dark spot on the right is the chick, and it was moving around in the egg..... wow.
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Beginning of July Garden Pics

If you've been following this blog throughout the spring you really won't believe the amazing growth going on in our garden plots! This is the garden on Main Street where I have sweet corn, winter squash, and beans growing together in a "Three Sisters" combination. The corn was not only knee high by the Fourth of July, it was chin high!

It was hard to capture the impenetrable jungle of squash and beans amongst the corn plants. Needless to say it is all doing extremely well. It's seems so inconceivable that those tiny little corn kernels and bean seeds that I planted back in May have grown into these giant cornstalks and winding bean tendrils in just about two months time. There are still no discernible ears forming. Hopefully it's not just all plant with no ears or ears that don't pollinate right. Both of those scenarios are still quite possible.

This is the mini basil that I started from a free seed pack I got at Jungs Garden Center early in the spring. There are two different kinds here. I'm not sure how I'll use the little ones - their leaves are almost too small to be good for cooking. They're pretty though, like little delicate trees. The bigger ones were starting to flower, so I harvested a bunch of it for the first pesto of the year.

Remember that patch of self seeded dill I decided to keep this spring? It's not so little anymore. I gotta find me some cucumbers to pickle!

On to the next garden.....

The tomatoes at our new house (this is the one we'll be moving into in August) are going absolutely crazy! I knew I planted them too close together, but this is absurd! I snapped a bunch of the limbs off the cherry tomatoes in front to try to give the baby basil plants a little room and sunlight.

Little baby cherry tomatoes. We're going to have a ton!

These beets look a bit beat down (no pun intended!) since I watered them right before I took this picture. They're doing really well. I'd imagine they'll be close to ready when we move in in mid-August. How fun it will be to move into a house with vegetables ready to harvest in the garden!

The turnips are also doing really really well. Like the beets, they look beaten down from watering - they should perk back up in no time. I thinned them a week ago and since then they've almost doubled in size.

I couldn't resist digging one up to see how big the roots were. Not too big, but they're developing!

The eggplants are also doing well, they're flowering!

The only thing that is not doing well are these carrots, planted at the same time as the turnips and beets. For some reason they're just sitting there not growing at all. That's OK. we'll get a few carrots eventually, and we can plant that bed in something else in August. If just one thing out of everything we're growing is a failure, I'd say we're doing really well!

The plot at Quann gardens is going pretty well, especially considering that the ground here is super super hard. The Canario beans are starting to flower.

The potato plants have been suffering through an infestation of potato bugs. When I was there about a week ago they were so thick they looked like little red berries all over the plants. For some reason the fingerlings seemed much worse off than the regular red potatoes. The bugs have subsided now and most of the plants seem to have recovered, but two of the plants were almost completely defoliated.....

We decided to dig those two plants up to see how the potatoes were doing. There was one Russian Banana Fingerling and one French Fingerling (a red variety). Definitely not to their full size potential yet, but not bad. There's nothing quite as tasty as freshly dug new potatoes.

Last but not least to the garden in our current backyard. the shade has all but made this garden useless. The peas are done and about ready to be torn down. The arugula and spinach has gone to seed. I'm leaving them in the hopes of collecting the seed to plant again. It looks messy, but seed saving is something I've always wanted to try, and this seemed like a good opportunity.

The shade has allowed this Red Russian kale to remain pretty decent, even in hot weather. We've been eating a lot of it.

Same goes for the Swiss chard.

The herbs that I planted by seed way back in March are finally looking impressive. It's been a long time in the coming, but I've started cooking with them in the last few weeks.
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