introducing the newest members of chez farm – chickens!

last weekend, our dreams of chickens on chez farm finally came home to roost. (sorry, i just could not resist). we decided to go with the coop and chicken package provided by victory chicken co.
they bring the coop, the chickens, starter bags of food, hay, wood chips, all you need for basic chicken-husbandry – easy-peasy.

we did have to prepare the space where the coop would go.

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and here we are!

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that’s veronica in the run, there. she’s a barred rock hen, about eight months old and already laying lovely brown eggs for us. the other two aren’t visible (they’re inside the coop in this picture) and their names are estelle and nedra. they’re easter egger hens, who lay blue-green eggs. they’re a little more timid and haven’t quite got used to their new surroundings yet. and they’re very camera-shy.

in case you haven’t guessed, veronica, nedra and estelle are named after the ronettes. (oh come on, try and think of better names for chickens than the members of a motown girl group). all three of them are ridiculous and adorable and i’m completely in love with them already. and they’re great layers – we now have nine eggs from hens we’ve only had for six days (plus the one i ate this morning).

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see? shy.

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chicken dreams

chickens are also on the agenda this spring! adding laying hens to our food-growing, bee-keeping, angora-rabbit-raising setup will make this feel like a real urban farm. but because we’re still a pair of over-achieving yuppies with delusions of a mid-century modern design aesthetic (and because we have neighbors who can see into our backyard), we’re not content to throw together some scrap wood and chicken wire into some kind of ghetto coop.

you know, there are some fantastic coop designs out there, along with amazingly talented people who designed and built them. our favorite is this one that was profiled in dwell magazine. that bit of green you can see peeking up along the roof top? that there, is a green roof. on a chicken coop. made of reclaimed cedar siding, fer pete’s sake.

Modern Chicken Coop by Mitchell Snyder in Dwell Magazine

this one is pretty great too. i love the lanterns outside the front door.

stylish chicken coop from the art of doing stuff

but as enterprising as we are, we’re sort of overwhelmed by the prospect of designing and building a chicken coop that can live up to these models (also, that second one is way too big for the three chickens (max) we’re going to have). it’s not that we couldn’t do it if we put our minds to it, it’s really more that we’d maybe rather pay someone else to do it for us so we can skip straight to the enjoying-the-chickens-in-their-fancy-already-built-home part.

and THEN, i found out that there is a brooklyn company that provides all-in-one chicken services to aspiring new york city chicken-keepers – victory chicken co. i think we’re going to go with the rosie package: a simple and modern coop sized just right for the three young hens almost ready to start laying that they also provide, and a two-month supply of chicken feed, hay, and wood shavings to keep the girls fed, clean and happy. best part – they build and install the coop, so we really can skip straight to the aforementioned enjoying-our-new-chickens part.

we’re gonna get the teal version.

farm on!

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planning for spring

the other night, i started planning for spring planting at chez farm.

planning the garden

mostly, we have enough seeds from last year’s seed order to carry us through but i ordered a few that we used up last year, plus a few new varieties. as discussed at the end of last season, the greens, purple bush beans, pole beans, purple carrots and amish paste tomatoes are definite keepers. the beets and the cucumbers have one more season to shape up and be productive or they’re getting shipped out.

since we’re focusing this year on the things we apparently grow best, we’re adding to the greens quotient: collards, radicchio, and a new spinach variety. we’re keeping the amish paste tomatoes, trying two new varieties (hungarian heart and mexico midget) and giving them a bit more space than last year. we’re also going to try again with peppers – a chocolate bell pepper, another sweet pepper named tolli’s sweet, and another crack at the ancho gigantea. here’s the new plan for the veg garden plots – you can see a more extensive version of it here:

mother earth vegetable garden planner

i also bought something new and crazy exciting yesterday – columnar apple trees! these are dwarf apple trees that grow in a tall, narrow column and produce fruit on very short branches along the trunk. they’re perfect for small gardens – they can be planted as close together as two feet OR in containers! how exciting is that – apple trees in pots in our brooklyn garden! apparently, you can’t just buy one apple tree, because they need at least one different variety friend to cross-pollinate. so, we bought one green sentinel, which will produce green apples (natch) and one scarlet sentinel, with greenish-yellow apples blushed with red. we ordered them from raintree nursery and i can’t tell you how excited i am for them to be shipped.

columnar green apple tree from Raintree Nursery

columnar apple tree from Raintree Nursery

we also ordered a new blueberry bush and some lingonberries to try in the shadier parts of the garden. i can’t wait for spring!

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a month of letters, or how i love a challenge on the internet

here’s something you may not know about me – i am a sucker for internet challenges. want me to try something new, or develop a better habit in some way or another? if you find a way to post it on the internet as a challenge, i will probably try it. way back in 2005, farmer woob tried to get me to start running. inspiring stories of how she was learning to love running, gentle suggestions that maybe i should get more exercise, offers to take me out on a run to show me how fun it could be – none of that convinced me. when i discovered that the couch to 5K program was not only posted on the internet but had a whole website and forum community where people publicly posted and reported on their progress – then, and only then, did i agree to start running.

i’ve posted here about brooklyn homesteader’s bread challenge, which i haven’t been religious about meeting every week (or posting about), but has definitely resulted in me baking more bread. i follow @janeespenson on twitter and get excited about her group writing sprints every single time i join her in one, even though my day job is essentially all writing, all the time. i set up an account at the concept2 rowing website just so i could participate in the knotty knitters virtual team challenge on the rowing machine at the gym in january (and look at that – there’s a february challenge, too!)

so, when i found out today that author mary robinette kowal has organized a month of letters challenge this february, i was powerless to resist. i haven’t signed up for an account on her site (yet) but i sent my first letter out in the mail today. i’m not going to bore you with some diatribe on how email and facebook have destroyed the gentle art of letter-writing or rhetorical questions like ‘what happened to the good old days when the post came with something other than junk mail and bills?’ suffice to say – it’s an internet challenge and i am in.

i can already think of plenty of people to write to. to start, i have five nephews and a niece, though not all of them can read yet. i have a best friend who’s having a rough time right now and is pretty lonely and another friend who gets so much email that she’d probably love forever a person who actually forces her to slow down long enough to read a hand-written letter. and since i find it inexplicably weird that my grandmother is on facebook, i’m going to increase my postal communication with her so i don’t have to think too much about what she might see on a grandchild’s ‘wall.’

if anyone wants to join me in participating in february’s month of letters, share your plan in the comments. and if you feel like exchanging actual letters with me, feel free to send me your postal address via the ‘contact’ link at the top of this page.

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thinking about wool

i’ve been thinking a lot about wool recently. i’m a knitter and a spinner and it’s winter in new york, so that’s not terribly surprising, i suppose. it’s really that i’ve been thinking a lot about wool in some different ways than i’ve thought before. before when, you ask? well, here’s how my thinking has evolved.

before i was a knitter, wool was just something that winter clothes were made of. you wear sweaters in the winter, sometimes they’re made of wool, sometimes they’re made of something else, some wool sweaters are itchy, some are nice but expensive, sometimes you find a wool sweater that’s so perfect you basically live in it from october to may. but mostly, i didn’t really think that much about the fiber content of my clothes. if it fit well, looked nice, was washable and dry-able (which tended to rule out a lot of wool clothes, actually), and if it was something i could afford or was willing to spend money on, i bought it and wore it, giving more thought to how my clothes looked or felt and not so much about where they came from and what they were made of.

after i became a knitter, i started paying more attention to clothing fibers. after all, i was making things for myself and others to wear and i started to learn about the properties of different fibers and fiber blends in yarn. what makes this yarn feel so softy and squishy to knit with or this yarn produce a good firm fabric but be so tough on my hands? what causes this yarn to show off cabled stitches in a sweater so nicely but this yarn to have such a lovely drape and sheen in a lacy shawl?

when i learned to spin, i started paying even more attention to fibers. how is spinning wool different from spinning alpaca or silk or angora? how is spinning the wool from a fine wool sheep breed different from spinning wool from long wool breed or a down breed?  spinning got me more interested in sheep and other fiber animals and in the people who raise them.

i became a shareholder in juniper moon farm’s yarn and fiber CSA, visit the farm on a regular basis, and have became good friends with JMF’s owner and shepherd susan gibbs. i learned to shear sheep, acquired the only fiber animal i can legally keep on my tiny brooklyn lot, and keep my eyes out for any and all ways i can get my shepherding ya-yas until i’m ready to overthrow my yuppie life for a sheep and fiber farm of my very own.

all this has had a significant impact on the way i look at the clothes i wear. and this evolution of my thought process, which was already unfolding on its own, was reaffirmed with kate davies’ and felicity ford’s wovember project.

i know, it’s almost february and wovember happened in november. and i admit that i didn’t actually wear that much 100% wool in november. november was an unseasonably warm month here in new york and i hadn’t unpacked all my heavy woolens yet. but i spent a lot of november thinking about wool and as winter turned into actual winter weather, i started reassessing my wardrobe.

i have some good wool sweaters, a few pairs of wool pants for work, a nice wool-blend dress but also a lot of clothes from H&M and old navy and the like that are poly-something/rayon/etc blends and the best that can be said of them is that they’re cheap enough to buy a lot of and easy to replace. i actually tend to wear the same smallish handful of pieces over and over, so i’ve come to realize that what i do own should be the best i can find.

i started shopping for more 100% wool clothing after wovember. one of my favorite brands is icebreaker, which not only produces some great 100% merino wool clothing that’s machine-washable, but tries to do it in an ethical and sustainable way. i like that you can trace each garment to the sheep farm where its wool was grown. since i’m friends with an actual shepherd who makes her living from the sheep she raises, i particularly appreciate that even larger corporations recognize that for there to be wool clothing to sell, there have to be sheep farmers who can make a buck producing it. other companies that make 100% merino washable wool clothing that i like include ibex, luna, minus33, and of course, smartwool.

yes, these clothes aren’t cheap. but they’re hands down the clothes i put on more than all the rest of my clothes combined. i wear wool skirts and pants to work, with wool tights or wool knee socks underneath. i wear wool long johns under my wool skirts on extra cold days when i’m walking to the subway. i wear wool shirts with jeans and wool sweaters with everything. wool keeps me warm when it’s cold, is breathable and cooler when the heat gets turned up a little too high, and keeps me comfortable all day. wool is perfect for running and farm chores and other times when i’m working hard and sweating up a storm. i even wear wool as pjs. i won’t say that i wear 100% wool 100% of the time, but i’m definitely committed to spending more of my money on high quality wool clothes and less on cheap lower-quality synthetics.

and every time i put on something made of wool, i think about all the work it takes to raise the sheep that make the wool and all the effort it takes to turn raw wool into finished garments. and i think that all the money i’ve spent is a total bargain.

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have day job, still trying to farm

hello there, it’s been a while, hasn’t it? sigh. between the holidays and my day job, there just aren’t enough hours in the day (or evenings) to do all the things i’d like to do. i bet you know exactly what i mean.

but it’s a new year and time for new resolutions, right? farmer woob and i did our annual new year’s eve tradition of going out for an early dinner and making our resolutions, then going to bed early. you’ll see some of the chez farm-related ones come to fruition here, i hope – improving our garden infrastructure, starting fresh with a new colony of honeybees, adding chickens to the farm (!!)

in the meantime, i’m trying to get more organized and be more productive in the time i do have. yesterday, i managed to winnow my work email inbox down to four messages (four!). i’ve got a better system for tracking tasks, i’m working on prioritizing and planning out all my projects in more concrete, manageable steps, and i spent an evening this week sketching out the beginnings of a plan for more and better blog posts.

its’a work in progress, but here’s some link-love for the people and products i’ve been playing around with lately:

  • sister diane reposted on twitter recently her craftypod episode#119 on planning blog posts – very helpful, especially the links in her show notes.
  • dave navarro, who used to run a site called “The Launch Coach” has a workshop on “Becoming Incredibly Productive,” which has some great strategies for getting all the things i need to do out of my head and into to a system for storing, sorting, and prioritizing that keeps things from falling through the cracks. i wouldn’t say i’m “incredibly” productive yet (as witnessed by the inexcusable gap between this post and the one before it), but i’m hoping to get much better soon.
  • i finally bought a software program i’ve been eyeing for a long time – circus ponies notebook. it’s a note taking and organizing program for mac and ipad and it’s my new best friend. my only regret is that i didn’t pony up the money for it ages ago (ha!)
  • i also use evernote quite a lot to keep track of pretty much everything – interesting websites, articles, documents, receipts, notes, anything i hear, see or think about and don’t want to forget. i love that it’s integrated with twitter and safari so it’s easy to send things i come across straight to evernote to keep track of. i have evernote on my mac, my iphone, my ipad, and it’s accessible by web too. best of all – a basic account is free!

what are your favorite productivity tools or tips?

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bread challenge, weeks four and five

despite the lack of posting, i have been sticking with my #breadchallenge. the last couple weeks have been busy and hard, for reasons i won’t get into here, but baking actually helps, and no one’s more surprised about that than me.

week four: i stuck with the same recipe as used in week three, although i did add a bit more flour and forgot the sesame seeds.

i also made clementine and lemon marmalade, based on the navel orange and lemon marmalade recipe in my favorite canning book: canning for a new generation, by liana krissoff. the three pound bag of clementines i bought, along with two lemons, made just a hair over three 8oz. jars of marmalade. and kept me somewhat pleasurably occupied in the kitchen for about three hours of an otherwise terribly hard day, so i consider it an overall success.

i gave one jar to a friend for christmas but we still have two jars left and marmalade is an obviously perfect complement to my bread-baking.

for week five of the bread challenge, i switched back to the oatmeal bread i made in week one. i remembered the salt this time and used honey instead of molasses. possibly the best loaf yet.

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