Saturday, July 16, 2011

Salem Chicken Coop and Garden Tour

Sorry I am late posting about this, but the garden took over and delayed me.  On Sunday, June 19th, Salem, Oregon had their first Chicken Coop tour.  This was a huge deal for us, since we had to fight so long to make keeping chickens legal.  

Featured at the first stop on the tour was author Gretchen Anderson, who wrote, “The Backyard Chicken Fight - How Keeping Chickens in Your Yard is Ruffing Feathers Across the Nation and A Beginner's Guide to Hen Keeping”.   (This is available from Mill Park Publishing don’t have the book, but understand that she documented part of Salem’s fight for the right to raise chickens in the book.  

The number of coops and gardens was overwhelming – there was no way that I could take 5 hours out of my weekend (my garden needed me), so I chose three coops to visit.

Joy's chicken coop
I decided to take the tour backwards, as most people go in numerical order (no lemming I), so went to one of the last stops, first.  And it was the home of one of my coworkers who retired years ago.  Joy has a lovely coop for hens Aretha, Gertie and Maizie.  I won’t say too much about them because I am going back to do an in-depth blog posting about those who choose to take this path. 

Homey touches everywhere, and plenty of places for these free-range hens to explore
Joy's garden area - the only place the hens are not allowed - and the one place they work at getting into - kind of like kids...
Joy has written a book on chickens called "Egg-Song".  If you are interested, it is only 99 cents to download.  Go to, search for author: Joy Mazeikas, and you will get the link to download the book.  Written as a children's book to introduce children to what having backyard chickens is all about, there is also some great information in there, so the kid in all of us can enjoy.   Joy is also a master gardener; I will be returning to get more information from her and will post that later this summer.   Joy says, “raising hens … is like having a backyard full of comedians”.  

The second stop was at the home of Tim and Becky.  For those who think they don’t have the room to garden, keep hens, etc., check out the pictures of this back yard!

Who would guess by this narrow entrance to the back yard all this family is able to do to be self-sufficient?  Planters on the side are filled with Tomatoes, peas, and other garden goodies.

Although the main place they garden is in a community garden not far from their house, they still have made the effort to grow peas and tomatoes (and probably more) in their small side yard, chickens in the back yard, and keep a bee hive in their other side yard.  Very impressive!  So on a small lot, with a tiny backyard (much smaller than mine), this couple with two growing children supply themselves with veggies, eggs, honey, and fruit from their fruit trees and raspberry bushes.  

Lots of interest on Coop Tour day in the coop Tim built

A closer look at the coop

The "girls" were interested in all the different people visiting

The playhouse that Tim built - even in this small backyard, this family has space for play, growing veggies, raising hens and keeping bees.

The beehive is kept on the far side of the house - under a fruit tree, protected by raspberry bushes gone wild.  Tim and Becky became interested in keeping bees when they noticed that none of the fruit trees on their property were being pollinated.
 I will be returning soon to talk more with them on beekeeping, and their work on being self-sufficient in a urban setting.

My last visit was to the first stop on the tour, the house of Shannon, who is a founding member of the group “Chickens in the City (CITY)”, and who worked really hard to make the first coop tour a success.  Shannon also has a really small backyard; her coop is a converted garden shed behind the garage, home to Matilda, Lucy and Pepper.  Again, I was struck by how little space is needed for someone to start the path to self-sufficiency.

The chicken run

Converted garden shed becomes roosting and egg-laying area for three beautiful girls.

Hens come in all sizes, colors and shapes.  Not sure what kind this one is, but I sure liked those feathers on top.

View from the coop - again, a very small backyard where someone has managed to raise chickens.
I would also like to say for those who are worried about having backyard chickens, that in none of the places I visited did I even notice any smell or a lot of noise - two of the worries that most people worry about when you bring up the subject of keeping chickens in the city.
And for the most part, Salem chicken owners are keeping hens in small back yards - along with doing other activites to be as self-sufficient as possible.  I hope you enjoyed my reporting on the tour.  For more pictures of the coops featured on the tour click on this link:
For more information on CITY, check out their website: 


This is definitely one revolution that is ok to join!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I sing the garden dynamic

Wondered where I've been?  Out in the garden every chance I can get - that's where.  There is so much to do right now, besides harvesting, I am also doing plantings for fall.  So every minute is precious.  But, it was raining when I woke up this morning, so I have a few minutes to catch you up on what I have been doing.

Harvested all peas except for this batch - these come out in about two weeks - getting bed ready for next planting of peas, with carrots in front for the fall crop

Harvested snow peas (Oregon sugar pod) and garden peas (Alderman) - a quick dip in near boiling water, then an ice bath, and then off to the freezer

Garden Peas - I freeze these on cookie sheets and then pack in freezer bags when they are frozen - that way I can shake out what I want and not have them frozen in a big clump.

Snow peas get frozen individually too, then put in a freezer bag, so I can grab a handful and throw into a stir fry when I need them.
Picked the main crop of currants - about 3 quarts - still a few on the shrub to pick this week

I've been drying all the currants for scones later this winter...

Harvesting sage - this is the time of year to harvest your herbs and dry or freeze them.  If you freeze them, chop them up finely and process with butter, freeze in ice cube trays, and then you will have lovely herb butter to add to pasta or bread.  Here I am giving the sage a good wash.

spinning herbs in salad spinner before drying removes excess water

Stack in drying trays - I ended up with 8 trays in this batch!
What to do with leftover sage that wouldn't fit into the dryer?  Finely chop - along with some rosemary...

Throw herbs into a bread dough - I had some milk going sour that I needed to use up anyway.  don't ask for a recipe - I make up bread as I go using what is in the fridge or needs to be used up in the garden.

Let rise till double...

Form into a loaf

Let rise till double, then bake in a hot oven till done...

Yum - perfect with Italian Wedding soup

Speaking of Italian Wedding soup, which is a family favorite, it usually takes spinach, but I used our spinach mostly for salads, and then it bolted so quickly and I didn't have time to plant more.  However, our swiss chard has really performed well this year.  It has loved the cool weather and lots of rain it had this spring.  But I knew that the hot temps coming in July would do it in, so decided one evening to sit and harvest it all.   

Bright Lights and Razzle Dazzle Swiss Chard in front of peas - ready to harvest
For my purposes, I didn't need the thick center spine - some people steam it and eat it, but I find it a little strong tasting.  My compost was happy to get the stems though.
Since the leaves sort of fold anyway, I just folded them, snipped out the spine, cut up the chard as I picked it. 

I had done a taste test earlier with the last of my spinach, to see if chard would be a good substitute for spinach in this recipe.  Our chard was so mild, that it worked great!  So,I picked, chopped, steamed, chopped some more, and ended up with enough chopped frozen chard for about eight batches of soup.  I made enough for myself to last all week for lunch.  Then my granddaughter who is being a picky eater right now, decided that my soup was just the thing she wanted, and had several bowls.  Well, I got at least one helping for lunch this week!

Here is our family recipe:

Zuppa di nozze italiane. (Italian Wedding soup)
You will need a stockpot full of chicken stock – I would recommend at least 2 gallons.  Make sure it is flavorful.  (I make my own from scratch - with a bit of wine)   If it doesn't have a lot of flavor, add a bit of salt and pepper and let it reduce a little while simmering if you need something more concentrated.  

Meanwhile, bring out the frying pan and a stick of unsalted butter.  Slowly melt the butter, and the start adding a pound of mild Italian sausage, but in little tiny pieces.  You want the pieces smaller because this is a soup, not a pasta dish.  You could put it in in larger pieces, and then just use a fork to mush them up as they cook.  You want really small pcs, like you would find in a soup. (Sometimes i cook up the sausage, let it cool, and then mush it up with my fingers to get it really fine.)   When done cooking, add about a quart of chicken stock – use what is heating up in the pot if you want.  For each batch of soup (1 pound of sausage, 2 gallons stock) you want to add 1 pkg of shredded frozen spinach (or swiss chard).  No need to thaw, you can just put it on top of the meat (once you have taken it out of the box), cover the frying pan, and let it steam ( till ice melts and it is all thawed out.  If you have fresh spinach or chard, cook it and chop it first, and then add it.  Once it is cooked, it is really hard to chop up fine if mixed with the meat.

Meanwhile, as you are doing this, you were getting the stock boiling.  When it comes to a boil, put in at least one pkg of small sea shells pasta and about a cup or so of anci pepe. 
Anci Pepe can be found in the pasta aisle and it is a small piece of pasta that cooks up round.  This soup used to be called frogs eyes soup, and since it was served at weddings all the time it got the name Italian Wedding soup.  They called it Frogs Eyes soup because when the Anci Pepe gets into the sea shells, it looks like eyes. 
Once the sea shells are al dente ( don’t over cook as they will stay in the hot stock and continue to cook while the stock is hot), add the sausage and greens, along with the liquids in the pan. Stir to meld all the flavors with the stock.  You can either sprinkle on some grated parmesean  then and stir it in, or let people add it at the table.  Either way, it is wonderful. Do not used the powdered stuff from the green can.  Buy a hunk of Parmesan and grate it up by hand.   Make sure you have a good Italian or French bread to help sop up the broth.  It also tends to absorb broth, so you might have to add a little more the next day.  This is much better than the stuff you find in the can.  So superior!.

And so easy to make!  This is one of the main reasons I canned and froze so much chicken broth while my kids were growing up.  I think we had this at least once a week, and it was one of the first dishes my two younger kids learned to make on their own.  I am sure my son impressed a lot of friends (girls) at college by making this easy dish.  And if you think your family won't like spinach or chard, try them on this.  they won't even realize they are eating it.

And last, leftover sage got smashed with butter to be tossed with pasta at a later meal

Meanwhile, out in the garden, the Borage is doing it's job of drawing bees in from everywhere to pollinate the tomatoes... 
Borage with Tomatoes in the background
Amazing how big just three plants can get - and the seeds were so small.

The tomatoes keep trying to get out of control and I keep working at pinching off the suckers and tying them up.

Raspberry picking is at it's height - picked 2 pints Sunday - in the stores they are selling for $5 a pint, so that is a lot of savings.  We pick about a pint almost every other day.  And that doesn't count the ones my granddaughter stuffs in her mouth every time she comes out into the garden.  

Marionberries are ripening fast.  I only planted about three canes, but they have taken over this section of the bed.  My first picking was about two pounds.  I am freezing them for pie and cobbler later this fall.
My happy place in the garden is standing next to the beans and pot marigolds (calendula's).  I am just in awe at how big they got and how well they are doing.  The beans topped the top of the bean house about two weeks ago, and are covered with blooms.  I noticed a few tiny beans already.  I will be canning beans by the end of the month is my guess.
This picture doesn't do this area credit - the intensity of blooms, the buzzing of the bees - this is just a very happy place.

There are parts of my garden that I am not proud of.  The area around the compost bin is one of them.  We ran out of room in the compost drum during the rainy cold spring - nothing wanted to compost down.  So my son-in-law piled everything into a big pile back by the plum tree.   I spent one weekend taking everything out of the drums, sifting it, putting uncomposted material back in the drums, adding blood meal and some water, and got back on the composting schedule.

My granddaughter was unhappy that grandma was using gloves to sift the compost, and she didn't have any.  So we had to take a trip to my favorite Salem nursery, 13th Street.   (  Not only did she find gloves that were almost her size, but a new watering can.  She also picked out some more ground cover for our path we are building, and some more flowers for the side of the grape arbor - she is a very determined gardener.
Amaya kind of wanted the pig watering can - but it was almost as big as her!
All in all it has been a very busy couple of weeks - and I still have not told you about the chicken coop tour, shown you how tall the corn and sunflowers are - next post!


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Tomatoes gone wild

Unless you did row cover, your tomato plants are probably still a bit small, so they will start to take off now with the summer heat coming on.  Be warned - they can get out of control very quickly!  My row cover created such a great greenhouse environment that when I took it off, I was faced with all this lush growth:

Tomato bed before pruning
Now why would you want to prune out all that lovely growth?

Tomato's are just sugar factories.  When the plant has maybe 10 - 15 leaves, it is producing too much sugar for the main growing tip to handle, so that signals the plant to start creating new growth - as suckers.   
I usually try to get the suckers off before they get to this size

You can see where an old sucker was snapped off, and now another sucker is forming

Suckers form in the angle between the leaves and the main stem. If left alone, these suckers will grow just like the main stem, producing flowers and fruit. If you let them go too long, and then you go to prune and see blossoms, it is really hard to prune it.  Be strong - you need to.  Perhaps it will help to know that fruit produced on the suckers is usually smaller and the stem is weaker and more liable to break if you let it stay on.

Suckers appear from the bottom of the plant up. As you move up the plant, the sugar concentration gets weaker, so the suckers will be weaker also - but you still need to take them off.  I have found suckers at the bottom of the plant that I mistook for the main stem that looked stronger then the plant!  

To prune, just snap it to the side, and it should just come right off.  Once in awhile, you are going to get one that just went too long - but it is important to prune also:
In this case, don't try to snap it - it won't.  Don't cut - you could leave the plant open to disease.  Pinch off the growing tip of the sucker.  Or, cut just above the first couple of leaves.  this will stop the growth, and keep any disease away from the main stem of the plant.
When you have stems that start growing out below the first flower cluster, they can weaken the whole entire plant.  You want to create a strong main stem that is capable of sustaining this plant over the next four to five months.  So remove all the suckers, and I remove all the stems below the first flower cluster.  I also trim back leaves that are touching the ground.  Leaves touching the ground are a bridge for bugs to get into the plant, and make the whole plant susceptible to bacteria and pathogens in the soil.  

I also prune back some of the long branches - I measured one branch coming off of a plant at two feet long!  You want to keep enough leaves to continue photosynthesis (sugar-production) but not have so many that the leaves in the shade don't produce any sugar - just use it.  You need to have a certain amount of air flow around the plants.  You could partly achieve this by not planting them too close together ( as I always seem to do).  But it is hard to tell when you set out those little seedlings how big they are going to get!

A plant that is properly pruned and staked will put most of its sugar production into the fruit, because the only thing competing for the sugar is your main growing tip.  So make sure to prune out all those suckers!  You should get a plant that steadily produces fruit until the the first frost ( and later if you are using row covers).

So - make sure that your tomatoes are staked and not laying on the ground - that each main stem is secured to a support.  Make sure plants have room - even if you have to cut back a few leaves.  Another important note is to never work on tomato plants when they leaves are wet.  Always wait till the dew, rain, mist, etc., has dried before working on your plants.  Otherwise they can become prone to disease and are more likely to break as you work with them. 

Note the pile of trimmings - this is just from a 6-ft section on one side of the bed!
 Here is the same section first pictured above - after pruning:
Tomatoes after pruning
A week later, these plants were all about a foot taller.  Taking off the suckers put more energy into the main growing tip and they just took off.

It is a constant battle with tomatoes to keep the suckers pruned off.  I check them every time I walk past them, and always seem to see some I missed.  You just don't want to go a week without checking.  And make sure you keep that main growing stem staked and growing up.  

So, out to the tomatoes to check for suckers and attach more ties.