Gardens and Plants


Our egg production is down a bit at the moment, because Victoria is setting and it’s summer, so things are a bit slower (even chickens like a bit of a break!) but we’re still getting four or five eggs a day, which is quite a lot, for a family of three, if you don’t eat two eggs apiece for breakfast every single day.  🙂 

 Eggs are wonderful because they’re an excellent source of protein–and because they’re so inexpensive!  (With egg production down, but the chickens still eating, the cost of our eggs has risen to probably $0.75 or so per dozen (from 2/$1), maybe a bit less than that–but that’s still remarkably low, for a good source of protein. 

Even more than that, though, I love eggs because they’re so versatile.  Fry them, scramble them, hard boil them, soft boil them, add them to a salad, devil them, make an omlette out of them…the possibilities are nearly endless.  You could eat eggs every day, and never get bored of them. 

I was a bit disappointed last week to discover that chickens won’t eat kudzu.  Other animals will (goats, for example, love kudzu), but not chickens, even though they like their greens as well as the next animal. 

Part of the problem may have been that I boiled the kudzu leaves before giving them to the chickens.  Kudzu has many uses (I must post about them someday…) but there’s plenty of it growing along the sides of the road–I don’t want it taking over my house and garden!  Unfortunately, boiled kudzu doesn’t seem to appeal to chickens. 

If we ever decide to bite the bullet and get a goat, we could feed him year-round on kudzu, if we took the time and trouble to store kudzu hay for the winter.  Kudzu is tremendously nutritious (and I happen to think it tastes rather good), even better than alfalfa when it comes right down to nutrient content. 

But chickens won’t eat it. 

It finally rained today, a nice steady gentle rain.  It was exactly what we needed–exactly what I needed. 

I promised a few days ago that I’d write another post on the specifics of keeping chickens.  Chickens are wonderful for anyone who is looking at keeping animals for food, because 1) they eat so little, 2) they take up so little room, and 3) you don’t have to kill them to get food out of them. 

First of all, where can you keep chickens?  The answer is almost anywhere.  Even tiny pockets of yard can be fenced in and given a little roof to protect the birds from rain and hot sun.  A fence is necessary to keep neighborhood cats and dogs out and chickens from getting run over or leaving little presents all over your yard.  It’s important for chickens to have a little room to scratch. 

What kind of chickens should you get?  If you have the choice, Buff Orpingtons are a large, docile chicken with soft golden feathers.  Their gentle nature makes them an excellent choice for families.  Plus, they’re excellent layers. 

 What should you feed your chickens?  Chickens will eat almost anything–table scraps, grain, even dog food.  But if you want the best egg production, consider going down to your local co-op and picking up a bag of laying pellets.  (Be sure you get the pellets; laying crumbles tend to get lost and wasted.)  Give each chicken a handful of laying pellets and a couple of handfuls of kitchen scraps per day, and reap the rewards in eggs and black gold for your garden. 

 How many chickens can you keep?  An eight-by-ten enclosure will hold three to five hens, or even a couple more, depending on their size.  And the average Buff Orpington hen will give you five to six eggs a week during all but the hottest summer months. 

Do you need a rooster?  That depends.  If you have room, and you want to produce fertile eggs and raise chicks, you’ll need a rooster.   But hens will lay just as well–and sometimes even better–without a rooster.  And if space is limited, or you don’t want to keep a chicken that isn’t going to produce food for you, a rooster will be a liability. 

Similarly, you don’t want to keep a rooster if you live in a crowded suburb.  Their cock-a-doodle-do is the epitome of the farm and country living, but neighbors tend to frown on a rooster crowing from 4:00 or so until daybreak or later. 

Chickens are worth their weight in gold.  I have eight hens and two roosters in different coops.  I get an average of six eggs a day, or a dozen eggs every two days, which is plenty for our family to eat and give to friends and family.  And that’s to say nothing of the fertilizer for our garden.  When your clean out your chicken coop, put the manure in a pile to the side of your garden, cover it with leaves, and let it sit for a couple of months.  The result will be a fabulous rich soil that you can spread over your garden for the best vegetables you’ve ever tasted. 

My first basket is finished.  It’s a darling little thing–a bit whopsided, but then, it is my first.  And the bottom is actually flat, which means it stands up just exactly as it’s supposed to.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s quite an achievement! 

This particular basket is rather small, with an upright handle–I’ll post pictures as soon as I upload them–but I’m thinking next time I may try to do a large, shallow basket.  We’ll see.  I don’t have the vines for another basket at the moment; I’ll have to cut some more on my walk tomorrow morning. 

One of the ladies at church gave us a bag of zucchini this morning.  Never having cooked zucchini before, a new adventure lies before me: how to prepare zucchini? 

I’m thinking that I will, perhaps, cut it up and cook it in a stir-fry this evening.  It’s hard to go wrong with ginger teriyake soy sauce.  🙂  (1/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and soy sauce to taste makes the best stir-fry topping you’ll ever eat!) 

Breakfast this morning cost just pennies to make, and it was both delicious and satisfying.  Lunch will be, too. 

Breakfast was French Toast, slices of bread dipped in egg and skillet-toasted over low heat.  We bought the bread at a thrift store; three loaves of white bread for $2.25, or about 75 cents per loaf.  Each loaf has between 20 and 25 slices of bread in it, for just over 3 cents per slice, and we each had two slices.  Call it about 7 cents per person. 

The eggs are harder to figure, because we get them “free”–but we have to feed the chickens.  We give them both cracked corn and laying pellets; the extra cost for the laying pellets is more than made up for in the consistency of their laying.  It costs $6-$8 dollars per month to feed our flock (which currently has 8 hens and 2 roosters), and we get, on average, a dozen eggs every two days (15 doz. per month).  That’s about two dozen eggs for $1, or a little over 4 cents per egg.  We use two eggs, lightly beaten, for two people.  Add in about 2 cents worth of margarine to cook them in, and you reach a figure that’s approximately 25 cents for breakfast for two.  Not bad for something so utterly delicious!  Of course, if you’re naughty and add sugar, the cost goes up a little, but only by a penny or two at the most. 

 Lunch will be very similar, only we’ll be having scrambled egg sandwiches.  Again, two slices of bread per person, or about 14 cents for two, four eggs (two apiece), for about 18 cents, and perhaps 5-10 cents worth of mayonnaise in place of butter.  We’ll also add a couple of lettuce leaves, but those are from our own lettuce, so there’s absolutely no cost except the seed. 

Even rounding up, you still come to 42 cents for a meal for two people–and that’s 42 cents for the meal, not per person! 

Eggs are a wonderful source of protein, and the chickens who produce the eggs also produce wonderful fertilizer for the garden.  And they hardly take any room; a 10×15 area will house a small coop and a large yard for as many as five or six chickens without being crowded.  (A crowded chicken is an unhealthy chicken.)  If you want to raise your own chicks and keep your flock young, you’ll need a rooster; otherwise, hens lay just fine on their own, and you don’t have to feed an extra beak. 

Later, I may post on the fine points of keeping chickens; how to keep the coop from smelling, for example, and the one thing chickens need more than anything else to stay healthy.  For now, though, just remember: it’s something to think about.  A few good laying hens are worth their weight in gold. 

This morning, the sky was low and heavy, and for a few hours, I thought it might hold a promise of rain.  Unfortunately, the promise burned off with the noon sun, and we remain stubbornly drought-bound. 

I’m more than ready for rain.  Everything is so dry.  There’s a blanket of dust lying over the leaves on the trees by the side of the road. 

 I’ve been watering the perennials and herbs by hand, hauling buckets up from the creek, because I’m concerned about the well with the drought.  Our land is currently resting for the Sabbath year (which, for us, begins and ends on August 9th), which means there are no annuals to water, including no vegetables.  I’ve missed having fresh vegetables, but at the same time, I’m very glad to not have the extra watering to do right now. 

 I hope it rains soon…