Our Blue Orpingtons are now 13 weeks old.

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Around 11 weeks the roosters started learning to crow. They’re still not very good at it. It sounds like teenage boys with their cracking voices!

We killed one to see what we’d get and how it tastes compared to the Cornish.  It’s currently chilling in the fridge overnight. Skinny breasts but giant thighs.

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We’ll likely gradually cull and eat the roosters… we don’t particularly want them breeding with their sisters!!

We did also acquire three full grown laying hens today. Super excited to go egg hunting! image

The one in the middle is kinda bald from over-breeding, but it should grow back soon and she’ll be alright now  They integrated pretty seamlessly with our flock – some minor scuffles but no serious fighting.

We put in nest “boxes” (buckets) yesterday… our main flock isn’t quite old enough to lay but should be starting soon.

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I like to think that pretty much everybody can identify a dandelion.  If not, ask somebody around this time of year, and they can probably show you.  Usually when you gather from nature, you have to be careful not to overharvest.  This is not a problem with dandelions.  They’re basically impossible to kill, which leads to the only thing you really have to be careful of with them – make sure you’re harvesting from a place that hasn’t been sprayed with weed killer!

Oh, and watch out for your friendly neighbourhood honey-bees.  They like dandelions too!  image

Anyways, I wanted to make some dandelion-infused oil.  It’s a nice massage oil for sore muscles, but more than that, it’s packed full of Vitamin D and is great for cooking with in the deepest dark of winter when you can barely remember what it felt like to be warm.

The actual gathering portion of this is quick and easy.  You probably need less than you think you do, because the garbling portion of the show is pretty tedious.  You don’t want the green bits, just the yellow petals.  The best technique I’ve found is to split the flower head in half and then sort of scoop out the petals with my thumb.  This project will appeal to the same sort of people who like knitting.image

imageI’m infusing mine in sunflower oil, because if we’re going for solar energy, let’s go all the way!  To that end, I’m also letting it infuse in sunlight for the afternoon.

At this point I’m not sure if I’ll even strain out the petals.  They’re totally edible and good for you, after all.  Probably only if I notice the oil starting to get cloudy, at which point straining out the plant matter can save it.

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I’ll definitely be saving some of this for Longest Night!

Now that my poplar buds have been infusing in olive oil for a month, (see Part 1) it’s time to move on and actually make the balm.  In her Boreal Herbal, Beverley Gray calls this Boreal Balm, and also Balm of Gilead, and simply Poplar Bud Balm.  (I will never stop recommending that book. Go! Buy it!)

No matter the name, this balm is good for dry/itchy/cracked skin, burn treatment, minor cuts & scrapes, soothing inflammation & rashes, and generally preventing infection and speeding up healing.

Ingredients:

1 cup poplar-bud-infused olive oil

2 Tablespoons grated beeswax

contents of 2 vitamin E capsules image I’m sure pros either buy little beeswax granules, or have a much better grater set-up, but in a pinch, my kitchen cheese grater works fine.

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If you have a double boiler, great!  If not you can probably rig something up like I what I did with a sauce-pan and a Pyrex glass bowl.  Just be sure the upper portion can handle the heat. Strain out the buds from the oil (top up with more olive oil if you have to in order to get a whole cup), and SANITIZE whatever you’re going to put the finished balm in.  I had sort of an odd collection of little containers.  SANITIZE!  Just like for brewing – no sense wasting all your time and effort through laziness at the end.image

Fill the saucepan about halfway with water, and put your bowl or glass measuring cup or whatever you’re using on top.  Heck, a Mason jar would work fine.  Put the burner on about medium heat and melt the wax.image
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Then add the oil.  The temperature difference will make the wax go all lumpy, which is fine.  Let the wax & oil melt together, stirring periodically.image

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When the wax and oil are nicely melted together, add your vitamin E oil.  From what I understand it helps the balm last longer.  Then carefully pour your hot melted mixture into your sanitized jars.image Let them cool completely before you put on lids and label them.
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Easy-peasy, simple balm!  image

Do you ever look at those giant bags of garlic at the grocery store and think “Sure it’s a great deal, but I’ll never use it all before it goes bad”? Well here’s a super-easy way I’ve learned to preserve it, and avoid buying garlic powder ever again. (Learned from this article at Mother Earth News.  Really all this info is there, but I like pictures :-p)

Fair warning, your entire house will reek of garlic if you do this. It took me about half an hour of prep work and 4 hours of actual drying time.

First you have to peel and slice a lot of garlic. You want it sliced as thin as possible, and enough to cover a baking sheet in a single layer.

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The peeled stuff in this picture is nowhere enough.  It took me 5 whole heads to cover my baking sheet.

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Then you pop it in the oven on the lowest bake setting you have, and leave the door cracked open.  Remember, you’re trying to dehydrate, not cook it. Mine were on at 170ºF. I checked it and stirred it around a bit every hour and declared it done after 4 hours. Your timing will probably vary if you live in a really humid climate.  You want it DRY DRY DRY to where it crumbles or snaps when you try to bend a piece.

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Let it cool once it’s dry before you jar it.

You can grind it all up for powder now if you want, but it holds flavour a lot better if you just grind what you need as you go. It grinds up quick and easy into a fine powder in an old school mortar & pestle.

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I have no idea how long this stuff keeps, cause I always use it up before it turns, but at least three months so far with no signs of deterioration.

Jar, label & store out of direct sunlight. Use just as you would pre-made garlic powder, tho maybe a little less at first. I find this stuff packs a heavy flavour punch!

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First attempt at spinning with a drop spindle went surprisingly well. Yarn lumpy as tapioca, but I was pleasantly surprised to get any yarn at all on a first go. I’m sure it will just take practice.

It’s amazing what you can learn off of YouTube.

My mom was visiting for the weekend, and we decided to put in the side garden.  Unfortunately it’s still a little early and tends to just barely freeze at night, so we have to tuck them in.  It should just be another week or two before we can leave it uncovered through the nights, because it’s a real pain, but it’s worse to find dead plants.

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We also salvaged this old waterer that happened to be on the property and turned it into a planter.

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With a wire brush, some elbow grease and a can of rust-paint, it turned out lovely!

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You can hardly see most of the bedding plants amongst the straw.  Give it a couple of weeks though, and I expect an explosion of green.

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We had a blizzard here a couple days ago.  Man were the chickens confused!  They refused to come outside their coop until the snow melted.  Hopefully by the fall time they’ll get over it, or else it’s going to be a long, boring winter….

Anyways, here are a couple pics.  10 weeks old already!  They’re such a delight, I hardly notice the time go by.  So different from the Cornish – by week 7 I was so ready to be done with them.

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Love the blue/green/purple undertones that show up in their feathers in sunshine.

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This evening I finished up a batch of meditation incense that I’d ground up a couple days ago and then left to sit. The scents blend like flavours in stew if you let it sit overnight.

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I won’t actually buy Dragon’s Blood anymore, much as I love it, since I’ve learned about how badly overharvested it’s become, but I have a bit left from before that I figure I might as well use up. I’ve also made this blend with no Dragon’s Blood but double the cinnamon, and was still happy with it.

Today we added another length of electric fence to the chicken yard, thus greatly increasing its size. These birds are voracious foragers, and had decimated the grass inside their smaller yard. This addition should help since it’s easy to move to fresh pasture as they need it.
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They’re very curious.
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They also have very little fear of us anymore. 🙂
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Hand feeding not actually the best idea though – they don’t have very good aim!
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