Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chicken Coop Construction Begins!

I have waited three years to have a full size walk-in chicken coop and we are finally under construction. I'm sure all my friends are laughing, but glad to see it coming to fruition because that is probably all I talk about to them. (They are very good, patient friends.) 

I know that many people just have a small "tractor" type and are satisfied with their movable unit. But I have dreamed and designed a larger house over and over again in my mind and on paper. Finally, I came up with just what I needed after hours of thinking about this project. 

Where we live there are always predators seeking to get an easy meal. We've already lost hens to a rattlesnake, a neighbor dog, and two to coyotes and bobcats. Large hawks can be an issue as well, but I haven't lost one to the bigger birds so far. Because of the wild animals, if I let the  hens run loose, I have to be right there watching all the time. This just isn't practical - I've got too much to do. So we went back to keeping them caged nearly 100 percent of the time. I hate this, especially since our run is very small. Here is our current coop:

The problems with this house are numerous. It only holds about 5-6 hens comfortably, the run is too small, and it doesn't allow me to separate older hens from new chicks that I am introducing. Also, it is designed so that the roof lifts up in order to clean it out. If my husband isn't home, no one can get inside. I tried to lift it along with one of my daughters and it wouldn't even budge. Even if I could get it open, I can't reach where I need to because of the tall sides. So obviously it doesn't get cleaned as often as I would like.

In the new coop, I will be able to walk inside easily. There will be three areas inside, all screened off from floor to ceiling: an area for raising new chicks, an area for the hens, and a little "closet" with a utility sink and tool storage for clean up. Above in the ceiling there is an area for extra feed storage and such. Off of each side of the coop there will be two large enclosed runs; a smaller run for the chicks and a larger run for the hens. When I'm not raising chicks, then I will open up their area and the chickens will have full use of both sides of the hen house. And obviously this coop will allow us to keep it clean more often, too. I'm so excited I can hardly wait. I keep asking my husband "What do you have to do next?" which is an adult disguise for "How much longer until we get there?". He's very patient.

The pictures below show the process and where we are as of today. Soon he'll be adding siding and the large runs, but of course, not fast enough for me! 

Pray for me. I must be patient. Sighhh...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Canning and Freezing Blueberries

Last year we enjoyed about 20 pounds of organic blueberries all year long that we were able to pick up for about $2 a pound.  Now, my husband adores blueberries, so when it came time to get some again this year, he decided more would be better, so he bought 50 lbs! Oh, my... 

To make it even more hilarious, he purchased a bunch of apricots as well. Since I got rid of my extra refrigerator a couple of years ago to save on electricity (big mistake! I should have just left it unplugged.), I had to work fast. And because these had to be sorted and stems removed, I couldn't keep up with it fast enough. By the time I got to the last of three pallets, I had the entire family sorting and de-stemming blueberries. It's funny now and I am thrilled to have so much stored for the year, but at the time I kept thinking of all that money going down the drain - or to rot would be more appropriate. 

Thankfully, we got it done (and the apricots, too). The season is winding down, but you can probably still pick up some blueberries, although maybe not 50 lbs! 

To freeze: Remove stems and any blooms that didn't fall off. Discard any that are mushy or moldy. Rinse well in a colander and pour out onto a towel. Gently dry and leave out for about half an hour for any additional moisture to evaporate off.

Place cleaned blueberries on cookie sheets and into the freezer until solidly frozen. You must make a sacrifice and eat a few to test them. Next, bag into zip lock freezer bags or use a Food Saver and vacuum pack. 

Frozen blueberries can be used in smoothies, sauces, syrups, muffins, pies, scones,... the list goes on and on!

To can: Clean as above, but no need to dry them. Follow the water bath canning directions at  Pick Your Own or view the Ball tutorial at Fresh Preserving. Kathy Harrison (Just In Case Book Blog) just posted some great water bath canning tips as well. Be sure to read them in addition to this blog!

HINT: One thing to remember... be sure to start heating the water in your water bath canner. It holds a lot of water and takes a long time to heat up. You want this ready when you are done making the syrup and you have packed it into your jars. I made the mistake of forgetting this little tid bit. 

Here is my blueberry syrup heating on the stovetop. If you would like to use this no-sugar recipe that uses honey instead, I've added it to the bottom of the post. However, since it is made with honey, the flavor is a bit different. Try just one batch to test it and see how your family likes it. If you make only a single batch, just put it directly into the refrigerator and you don't need to processes it in a water bath canner. 

My last four jars in the water bath canner...

Several jars tucked away for later use next to my friend Laurie's raspberry jam...

Breakfast with whole wheat waffles!

Blueberry Sauce

2 C. blueberries, fresh or frozen
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. grated lemon peel
2-3 T. honey
2 tsp. cornstarch
dash of salt
1/4 C. water

Place blueberries in a blender along with lemon juice and peel. Blend at medium speed until berries are chopped but not pureed. Place in pan along with honey. Stir over low heat until just below boiling. In a separate bowl, mix cornstarch, salt, and water until well blended. Add to blueberries and cook slowly for 7 minutes and sauce is thick, dark, and smooth. Pour into canning jar and process in water bath canner.

NOTE: This recipe makes just over one pint jar. You must multiply the recipe for the number of jars you are canning. And thanks to Donna for sharing this recipe!

Update 5/25/10: I recommend using more honey with this recipe. It really wasn't sweet enough with the 3 T. Not sure what the extra liquid would do to the end product, but it really needed some help!

Bon Appetit!

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Family Meal Table

I have wanted to share this inspirational DVD for sometime, but I was afraid I would not do it justice. However, in delaying I am not getting the word out that this is a great DVD addressing the topic of families eating together, the benefits, and a few ideas to get going.

The Family Meal Table features Nancy Campbell of Above Rubies Ministry as she takes  the viewer through the beauty and blessings of gathering together as a family around the evening meal. Some of my favorite parts were how little ones can contribute to the process, how we need to partake of physical food and spiritual food at mealtime, and creating an atmosphere where even the teenagers want to be with the family at dinner.

So many have given up this important time together in lieu of extra-curricular activities and even ministry opportunities. But are our families really healthier spiritually and relationally as a result?

May the blessing of family fellowship and hospitality to others be yours,


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