Friday, June 27, 2014

Sunshine Umbrella

I have solved my clothes drying dilemma. I did consider a clothesline that Rose commented on in my Laundry Day! post. She suggested a T post set-up that I am familiar with because I had that type of setup at my other house. It is very durable since the metal T posts never degrade (except when our tree fell on them) and the lines can be very long between the posts, thereby holding a lot of laundry.

But in my research I ran across this sweet, USA made umbrella style clothesline.
 This is a copy of a 1920s advertisement for the Clay Clothes Drier an umbrella clothesline now manufactured by G and G Industries Inc. in Parkersburg IA.Pointing out the revolving feature of the Sunshine Clothes Dryer and how our clothesline folds up easily like an umbrella.
My Granny had one of these in her backyard when I was little and that is what got me looking for this style in the first place.

I didn't know much about them and I had never actually used one, so I made my decision based on these criteria:
My Granny had one.
I liked that it was made in the USA.
The website said it would hold 6 loads of laundry (it sure didn't seem like it would).
It looked like it was well built.
It could be put away in the winter or when it was in the way.
It was orange.
But most importantly - It spins!

This was important to me for two reasons.
1) I wouldn't have to lug my basket of wet clothes down the line. Instead I could spin the empty line to me!
 2) Remember how I had discovered that the field gates worked pretty well as a place hang laundry because you could point them at the sun?
My personal opinion of the Sunshine Umbrella Clothesline is... AWWWESOME. No more heavy basket shuffling. No more having to rehang my jeans in the afternoon so the pockets will dry before sunset. I just walk out and spin the clothesline so the jeans are back in the sun. It is very well made and I am very happy with how easy it was to set up and use.

While installing this clothesline I made an accidental discovery that rocks my world. I am a little on the vertically challenged side and the spot I decided to put it in has a slight incline. When I stand with my basket at the up-hill side, I don't have to reach very far to pin the sheets up, but they almost touch the grass. I pin them up, then spin the clothesline away from me and, voila! The sheet is high above the ground, on the downhill side.

 The clothesline sits in this PVC pipe which allows it to spin. If a gusty wind kicks up (something that happens often here) the clothesline spins to the point of least resistance, kind of like a weather vane, so that instead of flapping and flying off onto the grass, sheets just point into the wind and stay put on the line.

 Buck came by to help after I got that rocky hole dug. Nice timing Buck. He filled in the hole while I stood back and told him which way to push the clothesline pole so it was level.

And it really does hold 6 loads of laundry. This is a picture of my clothesline with 5 large loads of sheets and clothes. There is still plenty of open space on the far side for another load.

Anyone want to guess what my favorite colors are?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Grafting Chicks*

*Putting chicks under a hen that is not their natural mother.

O.K. So this post will not be full of fabulous photos because virtually all of it takes place in the dark.

If I owned an infrared camera it would be really fun to take pictures of the process but instead you will need to imagine what I am telling you to do and then ask me questions if I didn't get the point across properly.

There have been several people searching our Reluctant Homesteaders blog and many people asking on other blogs about how to take chicks from somewhere else and put them under another hen. The point being you want the hen to "mother" the chicks, so you won't have to. So I thought I would do a little "how-to" on it.

There are lots of reasons why you would "graft chicks." Perhaps you have a hen who is not a good mother, or you bought some new pullet chicks to revive your egg laying flock, or like us you want to raise meaty chicks without all the hassle and health problems of caged Cornish Cross.

Grafting chicks is pretty straight forward and I have been doing this trick since I was a little kid and my dad before me. It's not very hard and it can save you a lot of hassle and money if you let a hen do the work of raising the chicks. Just think, no more stinky boxes of noisy chicks!
The chicken with 32 legs. She has both forward and reverse gears.
This is my process:

I have very good luck with getting hens to take chicks by waiting until the hens have been sitting for at least a week. It helps if you have a breed that is good at brooding. You can tell if you have a good brood hen if, by throwing her off the nest, you cannot convince her to stay off a nest for more than a few minutes.

I order chicks when I have hens getting broody (or buy them at the feed store if the season is right) The chicks can be up to 5 days old (even a couple days older if the hen is a proven mother, except for Cornish Cross which get HUGE in 5 days).

Heck you can even let your kids, or you, hug and squeeze them for a day, then put them under a hen when you are tired of them. I have put as many as 16 chicks under one hen if she is a proven mom, but I would stop at 10 for the first time if you are not sure.

You need to time the arrival of your chicks properly. It takes 21 days to hatch eggs. As soon as you know your hen is broody, order your chicks to arrive within that window.

While I am awaiting the arrival of my chicks at the post office (I LOVE picking chicks up at the post office- how fun and weird.) about a week in to her broodyness, I pull the eggs out from under the hen at night and replace them with a couple of golf balls.

DO NOT LEAVE EGGS UNDER HER WHEN YOU PUT THE CHICKS UNDER. THE EGGS WILL HATCH MUCH TOO LATE AND SHE WILL LOSE CHICKS. Sometimes you hit it just right, but most of the time it will just cause problems. She will either stay on the nest trying to hatch the eggs and the chicks starve or she will leave the nest with the grafted chicks just as the eggs were about to hatch and leave the freshly hatched chick shivering in the empty nest.

Whether I get the chicks in the mail or at the store, I keep them warm under a light for the first day. I feed them and water them well so they’re fat and sassy.

That night I sneak them under the hen around midnight, after it’s been dark for a while, and take the golf balls out or any old eggs. Keep flashlight use to a minimum. The darker the better. Put chicks, a couple at a time, up under her, palm down so the chicks will not get pecked. Wear long sleeves and be prepared to get pecked yourself. Then just let her take charge.

 If the chicks are older than 3 days (most will be) you can put food and water nearby so the chicks can come out and refresh themselves. Make absolutely sure that the outside entrance to the nest box is easily accessed by a tiny chick. Put stones or build a dirt ramp, just make sure they can get back into the box if they fall or hop out. Or else you will be heartbroken one morning when you find chicks cold and near death, huddled against the door they couldn't get back into. 

The hen may want to stay on the nest for a day or two, let her. You need to let her take her time with the chicks, don't force it. In the next couple days she will decide it's time to get out and about and all will be well.

I have not had a hen reject chicks yet if I do these things. If the hen is not proven to be a good mom it can be a little dicey if you don’t let her sit for at least 2 weeks before you put the chicks under her. That's long enough to make sure she feels grateful when she wakes up the next morning and her “eggs have hatched”. The hen can also be sitting up to 30 days (on golf balls) even though eggs hatch around 21 days, she can't count and will generally keep sitting for much longer, waiting for her golf balls to hatch. This comes in handy if you were slow to order your chicks!

Don’t bother trying to time grafted chicks with a batch of eggs hatching under the same hen. The timing rarely matches and it just ends badly most of the time. The saddest scenario is that the hen will feel all those new chicks under her and take them out into the world while her own eggs are just minutes from hatching. The chicks in the eggs will grow cold and die. That makes me tear up just thinking about it.

I have 4 hens right now with varying ages of chicks. 2 hatched their own and 2 have grafted chicks. They all free range in the same general area and I have had absolutely no problems with fighting or stealing. They have a large area to run in though. The hens avoid each other when the chicks are small and let them mingle as they get older. They are all doting mothers, regardless of their chick's origins.

I have used this method since I was a small child, so I have many success stories. I even once put ducklings under a hen. She loved them as her own but was extremely upset when her "chicks" did not just drink from the pan of water she took them to, but also jumped in and swam around! The hen was incredibly perplexed and kept running around the pan clucking and clucking for them to get out. They ignored her for a few minutes of fun splashing and then dutifully jumped out to follow her away from that dangerous pan of water. Later the hen got used to the swimming. She would just look the other way and pretend it wasn't happening, like a true mother.

I have just started using this method with Meaty chicks though. In the past I had been led to believe that Cornish Cross would not be physically capable of free ranging with a hen, but I found that that is not true. They are very good foragers when raised by a hen, but I do not give free choice food either, which slightly slows their fast growth and so avoids many of their health problems.
I timed this most recent batch of meaty chicks in such a way that they could eat all the dang grasshoppers we have at the end of summer. That’s good free protein!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Green Bean, The Scary Bean

I have canned lots of fruit and jams but I have not canned many vegetables or meat. It takes skill and special equipment to can these. I have my childhood training (which was dubious at best. Watching your Mom and Grandma can doesn't really count.) and I have taken a couple of extension classes, but I have put off the meat and veggies until this summer because of the exacting skill and danger it involves.

And before you start thinking about how that never really happens, let me just say IT DOES HAPPEN and it happens to even experienced food preservers. Canning must be done with special care and within very specific parameters.

A Pressure Canner should be tested every year to be sure that it is reaching full pressure. The pressure dial can sometimes be wildly off. Recipes must be followed exactly. Jars must not be packed too tightly or the core temperature will be too low to kill bacteria and you will have a jar of poison on your pantry shelf.

Three years ago, our friends' mother was found paralyzed on the kitchen floor from one bite of a home canned green bean. ONE BITE! They finally figured out what had happened to her (she was paralyzed and could not tell them) when they found the contents of a home canned jar of green beans in the kitchen garbage. She has recovered somewhat from this terrible experience, but her health is not what it used to be.

She had been canning her own beans for over 30 years without incident which is very sobering.

Green beans carry a special danger because they have the bacterium C. botulinum, bacteria living on them naturally from the soil and they are very low acid. Acid content inhibits the anaerobic bacterial growth which leads to Botulism.

These traits aren't a problem when the beans are fresh, the bacteria is harmless to humans by itself. But if they are present when the beans are canned improperly (not hot enough, for long enough, in the middle of the jar) the bacteria lives on and thrives in the airless environment of the jar, creating a colorless, odorless toxin.

This is an important point. The bacteria is not what makes you sick, it is the toxin it produces. The toxin does not smell or have a color. It is invisible and it is deadly.

Because it is a toxin, a poison, you cannot cook it out. This is a point that I have had to explain to many a bachelor/ bachelorette. Boiling a batch of home canned beans will NOT make them safe! The toxin is still in them. Boiling kills bacteria but it does nothing to the toxin. It will still make you sick. (This also goes for food that has been left in the car or on the counter.)

Many canning techniques have been changed through scientific research, so "Grandma's Recipe" is not necessarily safe either. An excellent resource for techniques, skills and recipes that have been scientifically tested can be found at The National Center for Home Food Preservation website.
I started palnting these purple green beans when the kids were little. They are much easier to find when picking. Sadly they turn deep green when cooked.
So I will be planting a full row of green beans and we will be eating them fresh until we can't face another serving. Then I will make the rest into Dilly Beans which are high in acid and are an amazingly popular and delicious treat in the winter.

If you choose to can green beans please follow tested and approved recipes and directions. Just any old video or recipe on the net is not safe.  My teacher, at the extension office, is very sad to see so many dangerous videos and recipes appearing on the internet. Home canning low acid foods safely is a very precise science.

So, green beans are off my list for home canning but I am a Homesteader in a modern world. I can freeze my green beans or I can buy them, properly canned (without the BPA plastic lining).
And I am fine with that. My health is too big of a price to pay for my pride.