Arcadia Farms

  (Portage, Michigan)
Eat healthier. Save money. Create local jobs.
[ Member listing ]

Winter Egg Update

In mid-November I shared that our hens had stopped laying eggs completely due to molting, cold weather and minimal daylight hours. Though chickens can and will lay occasional eggs during cold, dark winter days, we decided not to endure an entire winter of feeding chickens who aren’t ‘giving back’ (or the shame of buying eggs at the grocery store)! After research and input form other homesteaders, we settled on the following plan:
  1. Add artificial light in the early morning hours so that the hens receive at least 14 hours of light a day.
  2. Use an eco-friendly white light in our heat lamp. Saves money and energy.
  3. Avoid using a red heat lamp to insure against the scenario where the chickens get used to the extra heat and we subsequently lose power.
  4. Feed more protein to the flock.

Today I’d like to give you a quick update on the progress of our plan.

First, I bought an outdoor automatic timer found in the holiday lighting section of Menards (less than $10). Though I can only plug one thing into it at a time, it allows me to create several (maybe a dozen?) different schedules for times of the day and days of the week. We’ve opted to turn our light on from 2:30 AM to 8:30 AM every morning. It’s a little longer than necessary, but based on the shifting time of the sunrise it will keep us covered without me having to remember to revise the schedule. (Call me lazy…)

The day after I finally go the light installed I went out to feed the chickens. I peeked into the coop from the door opposite the nesting box to see if there were any eggs. (I’d been doing this for several weeks – since the chickens hadn’t laid in egg in sooo long – and because it’s easier then hopping the fence to get to the nesting box.) I noticed that an egg was laying on the floor of the coop below the nesting box; it must have rolled out. How exciting! We had an egg! I hadn’t expected the light to work so quickly…

I hopped the fence, opened the nesting box and, imagine my surprise, when I discovered 16 eggs! No wonder one had rolled out…

The lesson: Yes, chickens still lay winter eggs naturally in the absence of supplemental light and heat.

True as this may be, I had no idea how many eggs per day this 16 represented (it had been three to four weeks since I’d checked… I think… I wasn’t keeping track) and one egg every few days is still not going to cut it as justification when Mr. Shank is reviewing our feed bill.

At any rate, using the light seemed to work fairly well. The girls started laying about 3 eggs a day. Recently we’ve had several four-egg days.

winter eggs

By adding supplemental light and heat we’ve been getting about three eggs a day.

winter eggs

Three eggs a day ain’t bad!

However, two things happened that made me alter the plan. First, the chickens did seem to be getting restless, even a little aggressive from their 6-hour stints locked up inside the lighted coop. Also, on very super cold days (of which we several in late November/early December) they stopped laying completely. With these things in mind, I decided to switch to the red heat lamp.

red heat light lamp chicken coop

As I mentioned in last month’s winter egg production post, red light has proven to be useful in calming chickens’ nerves. (Weird, right?) I’m certainly not conducting a scientific experiment here, but I can say that the hens seem to be calmer now that we’ve been using the red light. I have no idea if it’s just a factor of time or if it has to do with the warmth of the heat lamp, but the two chickens whose feathers were very sparse have filled back in nicely.

So far things are going well – we’re pleased with three or four eggs a day. I’ve been cooking up food scraps (like carrot peelings, apple cores, sweet potato leftovers, bits of steak, etc.) into a warm batch of… goop… for the hens to enjoy. And though I know they’re a heavy breed intended to withstand winter just fine on their own, I can tell that they’re not fond of the snow. They come out in the morning to eat and drink but usually spend their day in the coop.

I bet they can’t wait for six-eggs-a-day season spring.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.   

 
 

Four-Egg Day

Ever since wintery weather began we’ve been receiving one to three eggs each day. After skillful interrogation I still haven’t been able to get the hens to spill the beans on which girls aren’t pulling their weight!

Meanwhile, three eggs a day isn’t bad.

Yesterday, however, was an extraordinary day. Yesterday was a four egg day. Apparently whoever decided to start pitching in is a little out of practice, because she gave us this…

odd shaped egg

Honestly, the first thing I thought when I saw it was – ouch! Then I thought about this

I’ll bet the funny-looking torpedo egg tastes just as good as the rest.

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.    

 
 

Our First Egg

Today we’re getting several things done in the yard. One of those things is finally constructing the chicken paddocks around the coop. (Until now, the chickens have been free-ranging in the backyard.) I’ll be posting a more complete chicken update soon, but just couldn’t wait to share this: We have eggs!

brown egg in grass

Well… one egg, really. The first one. Ryan discovered it in the corner of the coop (not in the nesting box) when moving the coop this afternoon to its permanent home. I wasn’t expecting the chickens to start laying until mid-to-late July. Yay! More updates coming soon.

 
 

Container Gardening Tips

Plants in a WindowThe more I learn about sustainable living, the more convinced I become that everyone can grow fresh food at home. Not everyone can have the same 1,500 square feet of garden space that we have here at Arcadia Farms, but even renters and apartment dwellers can grow a significant amount of food in a container garden. Container gardening is also a great place for reluctant homeowners to start. If you’re convinced that growing some of your own food would be beneficial but are hesitant to rent a rototiller and start digging up your backyard, consider starting with a container garden. Today I want to share some tips with you on how to make your container garden a successful one.

For the most part, growing veggies in containers is the same as growing them directly in the ground or a raised bed. One obvious difference is that you have less soil to work with. With less soil, you’ll need to pay close attention to your plants nutritional needs (small space means soil nutrients can be used up more readily). You’ll also need to keep a close eye on moisture (it’s easy to over or underwater a container garden). Let’s talk about those two factors – and a few other things you should keep in mind.

1. Give Your Plants Nutrients

raw egg fertilizer

{image Credit}
www.redbookmag.com

To make sure your plants get the nutrients they need, I recommend starting with good quality compost. Because the soil in your container is more likely to become compacted over time, mixing in some vermiculite would also be preferable. There are also many ready-mixed organic garden soils that provide a good supply of nutrients while still being lightweight.

After your plants are established (are showing their true leaves), you’ll want to give them with a natural fertilizer. Good choices are fish emulsion (diluted in water per the bottle’s directions) or an organic soil amendment (such as Jobes organic tomato and vegetable fertilizer.) Fertilize every 1 to 2 weeks after your plants begin to show their true leaves. Here’s another idea for fertilizing your container: A whole, in-shell, raw egg. Warning: I’ve never actually tried this myself, rather, I found the idea on Pinterest. The idea is that the egg will decompose slowly and add nutrients to the soil as it does.

If you intend to use the same containers over and over again, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when it comes to soil fertility. First, you should add new organic matter every year. Fall is a good time to do this so that the materials have time to breakdown over the winter. You can accomplish this by adding grass clippings, shredded leaves, table scraps, store-bought or homemade compost. The second thing to keep in mind has to do with crop rotation. Just like an in-ground garden, plants of the same family ‘eat’ certain nutrients in the soil. If you continue to plant the same type of plant in the same container, over time the nutrients necessary for the healthy growth of that plant will be depleted. To avoid this issue, rotate similarly sized containers through various crops of different plant families. If your season and container are conducive to this, consider sowing some manner of nitrogen-fixing crop after your summer veggies are spent. This cover crop will keep weeds from inhabiting your container over the cooler months and will also add nitrogen to the soil. For a list of nitrogen-fixing cover crops, click here. In general, any legume will do the trick, such as peas and beans.

You can also add nutrients to your container by adding a layer of woody debris – such as broken branches, twigs or even small logs – to the bottom of your container. As the wood breaks down it adds nutrients to the soil, among other benefits.

2. Manage Moisture

{Image Credit} www.amazon.com

{Image Credit}
www.amazon.com

Another benefit of adding woody debris to your container is that it helps to retain moisture. As wood breaks down it acts like a sponge, attracting water and then releasing it slowly into the surrounding soil as needed. This is the primary function of wood in hugelkultur – a system where raised bed gardens are built over piles of well-rotted (spongy) wood to help retain moisture and reduce (or eliminate) the need for irrigation. You can put this hugelkultur benefit to work for you on a container-sized scale. I even read that one blogger found better success with logs placed vertically than horizontally, essentially because the grain of the log acted like a straw for moisture to move up and down. (As soon as I can re-find his post I will link to it here!).  Keep the following tips in mind when selecting wood for your container:

  • Avoid wood so large that will interfere with the growth of root crops (i.e. carrots)
  • Avoid treated lumber
  • Avoid wood from plants that contain natural herbicides, such as black walnut
  • The more rotten the wood, the better
  • Fresh wood that contains a significant amount of tannin (i.e. pine) should be avoided until the wood is older (6 months old at earliest, just my opinion)

Don’t feel like you need to use a giant log in your 12” pot – just a handful of fallen sticks from the yard will help! These sticks will also help provide some air pockets for drainage at the bottom of the container which is of critical importance in container planting. (You don’t want to drown the roots of your plant – they need air too!)

Because containers can dry out easily, try mulching the top to keep the soil cool and water from evaporating. If your container is large enough, you may consider using an olla to reduce the amount of time you spend on watering.

And lastly, because moisture management is so important in container gardening, you’ll want to invest in a moisture meter. For $5-$10 you can find something like this (image above) which takes the guesswork out of whether or not to water – just stick the probes into the soil and you’ll find out how much moisture is already present.

3. Choose the Right Container (Size, Shape & Materials)

When it comes to container gardening, bigger is generally better. That’s because you have more moisture-retaining, nutrient-rich soil to work with. But that doesn’t mean a small container can’t be just as successful! In Mel Brook’s Square Foot Gardening method, nearly everything can be grown in soil that is just 6” deep.  (Root crops will need a minimum of 12”.) The necessary width of your container will depend on what you’re growing – tomato plants do best with at least 2 square feet of space while one head of lettuce requires only 12.5% of a single square foot. Use these plant spacing rules as a guideline for container planting.

Tall or vining crops (such as cucumbers and tomatoes) will need a trellis. Does your container have enough space to hold both your plant and your trellis? Or will you use an external trellis near the container such as a fence or a porch railing? Here are some ideas for container-gardening trellises. Click on the image for more info and image sources.

outdoor trellis string trellis simple diy copper trellis raspberries trellis sapling green ladder trellis

Also consider the material makeup of your container. You’ll want to avoid containers from treated materials, ones that may leach chemicals into your soil or that previously held harmful chemicals/materials.

4. Location, Location, Location

This isn’t real estate, but location is still pretty darn important! The closer your containers are to the house, the less likely you’ll be to neglect them. Plus if you have easy access to your cherry tomatoes and snap beans, you (and your family) will be more likely to grab a few for a snack or dinner than if you have to wander far from the back door.

When choosing a location for your container garden, sunlight is another huge consideration. In general, you’re looking for a location with as much sun as possible. However some plants benefit from a little shade. To determine the best location for each crop, check out the info on the back of the seed packet. Once you’ve identified your shade-loving plants and your sun-loving plants, you can devise a plan for each group. You may even be able to use your large sun-loving plants to provide shade to your shade-loving plants. Shade-lovers staged on the east side of sun-lovers will get plenty of morning sun but will be shielded from harsher afternoon rays.

And when you place your containers, keep pests in mind! Do you have deer nearby? You may want to keep your containers in a fenced area. Is the sunniest spot in the yard also in the path of your pets and kids – you’ll need a plan to keep them from being toppled over. Another way to keep bunnies and other critters away from your veggies is to interplant smelly things to deter them – chives, garlic, marigolds and rosemary are good options.

Inspiration

As you ponder how to incorporate these tips into your own container garden, click here to take a peep at some of these neato ideas for inspiration.

I’m working right now on a custom container gardening plan for growing lots of things like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, carrots, potatoes and herbs. I hope to share that with you soon!

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally.  

 
 

Celebrate Easter Without Sugar

Sunbeams Backlighting Cross

Easter is coming! On Sunday March 31 our family will be celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ. While the Easter Bunny doesn’t make an appearance during our celebration (we prefer to shoot any giant rodents found sneaking into the house) we do incorporate things like Easter baskets, dyed eggs and getting all dressed up to have breakfast with our friends and family at church. Since we’re focused on avoiding processed food and artificial dyes, I spent some time looking for more natural ways to fill Owen’s basket this year. Here are some celebration ideas your family can use as well.

{P.S. I hope to make Owen’s basket as local as possible. If I have time, I’ll post pictures and sources for Owen’s local-centric Easter basket before the big day!}

Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs

Artificial dye is poison. Did you know that some artificial dyes are banned from inclusion in our cosmetics and medicines, yet food manufacturers are permitted to include them in our food? Many of these same substances are banned in other countries. Why? Because they have been linked to health issues like cancer and hyperactivity in children. For more info on the hazards of artificial dyes (and ideas for natural food dyes) click here. For more on how to dye your Easter eggs naturally, check out the video below.

 

Cake (Pancake?) Filled Eggs

Another fun surprise you could put together would be baking cupcakes inside real egg shells. I love this idea! Owen and I enjoyed doing this project together. We tried a little variation – first we dyed the eggs, then we baked the cupcakes inside them. We learned that natural dyes don’t withstand the heat of baking quite as beautifully as artificial ones. (That’s why this post doesn’t feature any of our ultimately brownish-greenish cupcake eggs!) I’m going to try filling some eggs with pancakes to eat on Easter morning… we’ll see how that turns out.

We also tried a slight variation of the recipe included in the tutorial you see below. Here’s our own twist on the recipe created by the Cupcake Project.

What you’ll need:

  • 9 large eggs (Only one will get used in the cake.  The rest are just used for the shells.)
  • 1/2 C flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1/3 C real maple syrup
  • 1/4 C unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp homemade vanilla extract
  • 1/4 C vanilla or plain yogurt

We mixed the dry and wet ingredients separately and then mixed them together with an electric mixer. Also, if you have trouble getting the egg to come out of the shell, try poking a teeny-tiny hole at the other end and blowing it out (Owen loved this… despite thinking it was disgusting). Also, my skills with a piping bag are about as great as Kanye West’s public speaking abilities, so I opted to use a medicine syringe (the kind you use for giving a toddler pain medicine) instead – worked beautifully!

Easter Cupcakes 11

{Photo Credit}
www.cupcakeproject.com

Non-Candy Easter Basket Prizes

A chocolate bunny and jelly beans are usually staple candies in an Easter basket. Here are some basket ideas that will make your kids “hoppy” without the sugar buzz-and-crash routine following typical sweets.

Sidewalk Chalk

Source: etsy.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Homemade Bubbles

Sealed container + cute label + bubble wand (check the party store) = tons of fun for little ones! What if it’s cold outside? Are you kidding – have you ever experienced the fun of frozen bubbles? Regardless of what the weather’s doing, this one is a total win!

 

All-Natural, Chocolate-Covered Sunflower Seeds

As yummy as they are colorful!

Source: nuts.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Homemade Treats

What kid wouldn’t like to get a stack of cookies as a gift? Try our own minimally processed (no processed sugar) cookies or perhaps some homemade granola.

 

Source: babble.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Seeds

Some plants are super easy to grow. Owen has his own garden (4 x 8 raised bed) and loves sharing cucumbers with his friends during the summer. Give your little one some cucumber, watermelon or sunflower seeds and initiate them into the wonder of spring.

 

Dinosaur Egg Cucumbers… What kid wouldn’t want to go dinosaur egg hunting in his own backyard??

 

[pin]

Stuffed Animals

Source: etsy.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Turn your child’s drawing (no matter how wild!) into a stuffed animal. So cool!

 

Jump Rope

This jump rope (found on Etsy.com) is personalized.

Source: etsy.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Sports Balls

Warmer weather is coming, so give your little one something to play with outdoors. A frisbee or a kites are great too!

Source: meijer.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Books

Source: amazon.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Crayons

These crayons are all natural. You can find more natural crayons on Etsy.com in many shapes, sizes and colors.

Source: etsy.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Source: etsy.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

Craft Supplies

Source: etsy.com via Arcadia on Pinterest

 

All Natural Candy

Ok. It’s candy, I know. But if you absolutely can’t manage to go without giving your child sweets for Easter, why not buy allergy-sensitive, all-natural treats? Here’s a source.

 

Resurrection Cookies

We’ve never made resurrection cookies before, but it’s a tradition I’ve heard about from family and friends. The recipe and baking process are used as an illustration for the story of Jesus sacrifice and resurrection. Pretty straight-forward, family-friendly stuff. We may give it a whirl this year to see if there’s a way to make it with less (or no!) sugar. For a pictures and instructions, click on the image below.

{Photo Credit} www.motherhoodonadime.com

{Photo Credit}
www.motherhoodonadime.com

Did you enjoy this article? Visit www.arcadia-farms.net for more info on eating healthy, saving money and buying locally. 

 
 
RSS feed for Arcadia Farms blog. Right-click, copy link and paste into your newsfeed reader

Calendar


Search


Navigation


Topics


Feeds


BlogRoll