Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lost Dog

Tonight, Ben and I found an incredibly sweet dog who needs a home. We've named him Chester.

We first saw him running around on the road last Thursday. And on Saturday, Oatmeal chased him about a half a mile off our property. Since then we've been worried about Chester, until tonight, when we found him sleeping in our neighbor's front field. He was skittish at first but is a really trusting and sweet dog and he let us put a leash on him. We brought him home and he has been absolutely fantastic. He's curled up in a little ball on the love seat outside and he's fast asleep.  He's already let Ben pick him up, he's quiet, friendly, and quickly caught on to the "sit" command.  

He's a bit malnutritioned and smells something like a cross between a barn and a dead, half decomposed opossum but he's still really cute.  He's definitely got some dachshund in him and looks to be under 1 year old.
We'd keep him if we didn't already have 2 dogs, 1 cat, 4 chickens, and a baby on the way... really, he's that amazing.  If anyone knows someone looking for a loving, sweet, quiet pup, who's incredibly cute, we'd love to set up a meet and greet. We promise to bathe him beforehand.

Friday, January 20, 2012

I Was Promised Snow

I love snow.  Winter is my favourite season, I look forward to it all year. When it snows, my excitement rivals that of a young child on Christmas morning. Nay, it surpasses that little rascal.  When snow melts, I get sad. So you can understand how disappointed I am with winter this year.  Winter has really let me down with its 40+F nights and 60+F days. It's unacceptable. I demand my fair share of winter.  To that end, I'm just going to ignore the gloomy warm sunny days we've been having and pretend that I've busted out my favourite red wool jacket, tied a colourful scarf around my neck and stepped out into the frosty air to toss a snow ball or two for the dogs to chase. Enjoy these pictures I found of previous winters, which were by far superior.

Winter 2008: Atlanta, GA. Emmy was an only pup back then.

Winter 2008: This was taken on our street in Atlanta. Look Emmy's flying!

Winter 2011: A bench we moved to the back of our property. Used primarily for quiet contemplation.

The goat run in

General frolicking

Full speed ahead!

The barn. Chicken coop, housing some cold chickens, located to the right.

This snow tastes cold!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year's Resolutions Part I

I never do New Year's resolutions. I don't even really do New Year's Eve. This year, I went to bed at 9:00 and then woke Ben up at 12:00 saying: "Ben, someone's shooting guns! Do something!" Turns out they were fireworks.

As to resolutions, I usually think of a bunch of things.  They're good resolutions, too.  Go running every day, take a multi-vitamin, watch less tv...  I make a list of all the great New Year's resolutions I've come up with and then I end up doing exactly none of them. I mean, I don't even make an attempt. Most people at least give it the good ol' college try for the first month. 

This year I plan to do one thing: improve the chicken coop.

I'm not going to trick it out like some of my fellow (more ambitious) chicken raisers. I would just like to make it a bit more comfortable for the chickens and more functional for me. My chickens, (who must have read my last blog post and are laying a bit better) have never been roosters. Not just because they're clearly all ladies (wocka wocka wocka) but because they've never used the roost that the builder of my chicken coop so kindly installed for them.  When I first put them in the coop, they slept in the run. They pretty much piled on top of each other in the corner.  Fearing that they may be eaten by a hungry raccoon with paws strong enough to rip through the chicken wire, I started locking them in the coop at night until they found new spots to sleep inside. Once again they piled on top of each other in a corner.  About 2 months ago, they decided they wanted to start sleeping on top of the nesting boxes. Really, this is my fault for not sloping the roof of the nesting boxes. Regardless, it makes a nasty mess on top of the boxes as chickens tend to poop excessively while they sleep. When I go into the coop at night after work, I hear the contented cooing of sleeping hens and the even more contented phthht, phthht, phthht of four chickens taking massive dumps every two seconds.

I would like to get them to start roosting on the roost. I think I might try to get them to do this by picking them up while they are sleeping and putting them onto the roost. I'll do this every night for a week and see if they start going up there by themselves.

Another problem with my coop is the haphazardly cut chicken door I put in the side of it. Last summer I decided that I really wanted to put in a chicken door that lead to the woods. I wanted to let them free range, and free range they did.... until the great dog attack of 2011.  I know I should have installed a fence for them, but fences are expensive, so I decided I'd let them free range only when I was outside to watch them.  I only lost one chicken because I chased off the dog (screaming expletives of which I'm not proud), but they haven't been outside since.  I am a firm believer that dog owners should be in control of their canine companions at all times.  First and foremost, it's unsafe for dogs to be running loose. They could get hit by a car, they could be stolen, they can get into fights... It's just a bad situation for Fido. Secondly, it's not fair that I need to keep my chickens in their coop all the times because certain dog owners can't keep their animals off my land. (Jessica steps off soapbox).

Regardless, I'd like to fix this haphazardly cut chicken door to make the coop a bit less drafty. Maybe I'll put some weather stripping around it but I haven't figured out exactly what I'll do.  Maybe I'll also build some sort of movable pen so that they can still go outside the coop. I'll keep you updated as to the progress of my New Year's resolution.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Dual Purpose Breed

I got a dual purpose breed of chicken for one reason: I was planning on eating them.  In hindsight, I really should have gotten a bunch of different breeds like my friend, Paula. She had 5 chickens and each of them lays a different coloured egg. This is a good way to get into raising chickens because you can learn first hand which is the right breed for you and you can tell which hen is laying which egg based on the egg colour which helps you weed out poor layers. Also, it's just fun seeing the different markings and temperaments displayed by chickens. They really do have distinct personalities.

I really enjoy my Speckled Sussex hens. They laid well last winter, they're docile, and they're very attractive birds. The only downside is that they're huge. I mean, they are ginormous birds. Which translates into a very low egg:feed ratio.  I think I'd like to try a couple of different breeds and choose one that I really like before I get a rooster of the selected breed.

Initially, I wanted to get all the same breed for a couple of reasons. The first is that I didn't want to be able to tell my hens apart.  My three rules for killing an animal are that one must never anthropomorphize,  name, or otherwise know said animal on a personal level. Secondly, I was hoping to get a rooster of the same breed as my hens and then get chicks every year. I'd raise the pullets for egg production and eat the cockerels when they were big enough to be processed.

I figured I would have no problems killing my chickens. I'm not a particularly squeamish person.  I step on mice, I kill spiders with my bare hands,  I had a job harvesting organs from lab rats. But for some reason the thought of killing my birds makes me terribly sad. They get so excited to see me ( rule #1: out the window) and they have such distinct personalities that it's hard not to be able to tell them apart. For example: Mean Chicken jumps at me every time I bring treats into the coop for them.  (And there go rules 2 and 3)

So at this point I'm attached to 4 huge chickens who AREN'T LAYING EGGS!

They molted in the late fall and since then, I've gotten maybe 5 eggs from them.  Practically speaking, they need to go.  Now I have 2 options that I can see if I want to switch breeds.

Plan A:  Since it's a bad idea to stick new chickens in the same coop with your established flock, I'd need to build a second coop, get new pullets, and then let my old hens free-range until they die of old age or get eaten by a coyote. The latter will probably come first. I call this the "Let Nature Take It's Course" plan.

Plan B: Find a sharp knife and slaughter my hens.  I call this the "Man Up" plan.

So that is my dilemma. Suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Puppy It's Cold Outside

In the summer, Oatmeal is miserable in our Tennessee heat. He sheds and pants and is generally a very unhappy camper. Meanwhile, Emmy is happy and comfortable as all get-out.

In the winter, the tides change.  Emmy gets a downy undercoat but it's not particularly thick. My little girl gets all cold and shivery so I bought her a jacket. If you'll allow me to anthropomorphise my dog, I'd say she's incredibly embarrassed to be seen in the little pink number I bought but she tolerates it like the good little girl she is.   I love this picture where she's looking at Oatmeal thinking, "Why doesn't he have to wear this dumb thing."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Homemade Granola

Ben and I love granola but it's really expensive to buy.  I like to make my own using ingredients that I buy in bulk. I bet you can make this using ingredients that you have in your pantry right now.  Like most of my recipes, this one is an amalgamation of a bunch of different recipes that I found online.  It's simple and you can change up the ingredients so you're not eating the same thing every week.

Ben's Favourite Granola


3 c old fashioned rolled oats (not instant)
2 c nuts
3/4 c shredded coconut
1/4 c brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 c vegetable oil
1/4 c maple syrup
3/4 t kosher salt
1 t spice
1 t vanilla or any other extract (optional)
1 c dried fruit


In a large bowl combine oats, nuts, coconut, and brown sugar. I usually do a mixture of nuts. My standard is 1 cup pecans and 1 cup slivered almonds. But you can jazz it up by adding walnuts, macadamia nuts, or a mixture of whatever you have in your pantry.

In a smaller bowl whisk together oil, syrup, salt, spice, and vanilla. Again, feel free to experiment with the spices. I've been adding apple pie spice, but you can add cinnamon, a pinch of cloves, or a mixture of whatever you have handy. Oh I just thought of something: You could even go crazy and add a little pinch of cardamom, I bet that'd be good. Mmmm, cardamom... Where was I?  Oh yes...

Pour spice mixture over the dry ingredients and stir to coat.

Pour mixture onto 2 sheet pans (preferably pans with sides because you're going to stir the granola as it cooks and you don't want to lose any of the deliciousness). Place the pans on the middle rack of an oven preheated to 250F for 1h15m. Stir every 15 minutes. I like to use two timers. I set one for 1h15m and the other I set in 15 minute increments as I tend to get distracted easily and will often forget to stir.

Finally, transfer the granola into a large bowl and add the dried fruit. I typically add raisins because they are cheap and delicious but you can add craisins, chopped up dried apples, or whatever you have handy.

Once everything is cool I like to store my granola in glass jars.  Enjoy this as a snack served on top of yoghurt, in a bowl with some milk for breakfast, or just munch on it out of the palm of your hand!

Let me know if anyone comes up with fun flavour combinations!

Monday, December 5, 2011

I Like Burnin' Stuff

While Ben and I always intended to turn the garage into a living room, we initially didn't think about adding the wood stove until my brother Matt said "You should put in a wood stove." He's always full of grand ideas and this was one of his best.  I love my wood stove.  It's a large, 650-degree, cast-iron toy. I think that if you're going to heat your house with wood you've got to think of it as a hobby or else it will become tedious very quickly.

There are many different kinds of stoves out there.  Pellet stoves, for one, burn compressed wood or biomass pellets. They're efficient, and require a lot less work than a wood stove. I, however, love the romance of a wood fire. There are essentially two different kinds of wood stoves, catalytic and non-catalytic.

Catalytic stoves send the exhaust through a honeycomb shaped ceramic catalyst that burns smoke at significantly lower temperatures (about 600F). This turns smoke and other pollutants that would normally be sent up the chimney into usable heat.  The result is a long, slow, and cleaner burn.  From what I know of non-catalytic stoves, they use air injection to burn combustible gasses in a secondary combustion chamber.  The benefits of each are as follows:

Catalytic : Cleaner exhaust, more even heat output, an overnight burn, higher efficiency

Non-Catalytic: More "lively" fire (I'm not exactly sure what that means), no catalytic combustor to maintain and replace, easier to operate

Ben and I want to supplant most - if not all - of our heating by using the wood stove so we decided to install a Defiant catalytic stove from Vermont Castings. I think the company tries to sell this stove as a two-in-one catalytic and non-catalytic stove. But you would operate it in the same manner as a catalytic stove.

Operating a Catalytic Stove
To get it started initially, what I like to call a 'cold start,' crumple up about 5 pieces of newspaper. One of the drawbacks to having a catalytic stove is that you must be watchful about what you're burning, meaning no glossy magazines, or cereal boxes though I suppose that's a good thing because burning the coatings on those types of things leaches toxins into the air and are, generally speaking, not very earth-friendly to burn. I even avoid newspaper pages with lots of ink on them, meaning the Art's section usually gets tossed into the recycling bin.

Next, place small kindling on top the paper (your sticks and twigs) followed by larger kindling (your branches and small logs).

Light the fire, starting at the back of the firebox so that you don't burn your little fingers.

Close the door. In theory, a well engineered stove and chimney will do the rest. The paper will light the twigs. The twigs will light the logs and you've got yourself a rip roarin' fire.  However, sometimes you may need to "prime" your chimney to give yourself a good draft. You can do this by loosely crumpling up some newspaper and throwing it in the back of the fire box. Repeat until a good draft is established. The goal is to warm the chimney so that the warm air starts rising and creates a draft.  The best chimneys are shorter and located in the interior of the house.  The heat from house keeps the chimney warm and makes it that much easier to create a draft.  Furthermore, a chimney that runs up the interior of the house will repay the favour and warm the house better than a chimney on an exterior wall.  Ben and I designed a tall chimney on the exterior of the house.  Subsequently, we need to prime the chimney to get a good pull, especially on really cold days.

Once you've got your fire started, keep feeding it logs until the ember bed is about 1-2 inches thick.  Once the ember bed is established (this could take up to an hour), and the surface heat is above 450F, close the damper to operate the stove in catalytic mode.  If equipped, use the primary air handler like a thermostat to adjust the heat output.

When it's time to go to bed, I load up the firebox and push the air handler all the way back to reduce the amount of air getting into the firebox to create a slow burn.

A Hot Start
In the morning I awake to a stove that's about 350F and still has a good ember bed.

This is a good time to de-ash the stove.  To do this: open up the damper. Take a fireplace shovel and move the ashes around so that they fall through the grate into the ash pan below. While wearing gloves, swing open the ash pan and carefully lift out the ash pan. Properly dispose of the ashes and return the ash pan.

Put in a couple of smaller logs and when they catch fire close the damper. When the fire reaches 450F use the air handler to control the heat output.

Wow. That was lengthy, and I really just scratched the surface of the Wonderful World of Burnin' Stuff.  A couple of take away thoughts are as follows for those of you who just look at the pictures and forgo my verbosity.

Tips for Buying and Operating a Wood Stove
The number one tip I would offer is to be honest about how much work you want to put into the stove.  If you don't want to spend a couple of weekends hauling and splitting wood, it's probably best to buy a pellet stove.

Secondly, look for a stove with as many conveniences as possible.  A swing out ash door may not seem like a big deal at the time, but when you've got to clean out the ash every day, it makes a big difference.

If you're set on a wood stove, try to gauge what is important to you.  If you want your stove to fire through the night or you are looking for a stove that burns clean consider a catalytic stove.  If you want as little maintenance as possible and to have a lively fire (I still have no clue what that means) opt for a non-catalytic stove.

Lastly, buy a wood stove thermometer so that you can better control your heat output and avoid overfiring your stove.