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Why does so much of my life involve wheedling?  “Please eat your dinner, girls” and “Please come out of your coop, girls” are things I say repeatedly day after day after day after day, albeit to two different groups of girls.   What’s funny is the first group, the young humans, absolutely jump at any chance to get out of their “coop” (this winter, since we actually had one, has all of us with a massive case of cabin fever) but refuse to eat.  The second group, the young hens, on the other hand, eat all before them, but won’t set a foot outside their coop.   (Except for yesterday, when one of the Golden Laced Wyandottes actually flew out the upper door of the coop and into the yard.   Good thing the husband was home to help with the capture, and the dogs were in the house.)

Wouldn’t it be nice if I could split the difference?

Since I can’t, today I tried setting a sliced apple on the trap door to the run.  The plan was that they would peck at the apple (a favorite of both groups of girls), and when it fell down, the chickens would go after them, and discover what a lovely run they had.  At first, the Newton maneuver seemed to be working.  The Delawares (the boldest of the lot) came down, and started on the apples.  After they fell, however, they simply went back up into their coop.

What’s a girl got to do to get chickens to eat some bugs?

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Sometimes I can be unbearably smug.   I really hate it when I do that.  I mean, it’s one thing to feel a sense of accomplishment after a job well done, but quite another thing to be so smug that you want to punch yourself in the face.  At least I’m aware; right?  (The husband helps in this respect.  I know then whenever he calls me Mother Superior, I’ve gone too far.  All the same, that particular nickname makes me want to punch him in the face, too.)

Last night, I was in serious danger of being unbearably smug.  There was the sense of accomplishment for a job well done, the line between it and being unbearably smug, and me, walking the line like a tightrope.   All because of one night’s dinner.  After months of digging, planting, tending, etc, I’m starting to reap some benefits from my garden.  Last night’s dinner featured a green salad with homegrown lettuce and more of the freakin’ awesome homegrown broccoli.  (My “family room” — aka the dog/box/laundry room is in peril again.  I could grow a lot of broccoli if that room wasn’t there.)  Also featured on the menu was freshly made bread, baked by yours truly.

It wasn’t a completely homegrown meal, but it set off the chorus of Someday in my head.   Someday, I’ll have a greenhouse, and can have homegrown tomatoes all year.  That sort of thing.  And of course, it had me on that line between accomplished feeling and…unbearably smug.

Obviously, quick action was needed, before the dread Mother Superior was muttered by the husband and fists started flying, I thought back to last year’s garden.  It met a sad and premature end due to simultaneous attacks of whiteflies and aphids.  I know this, because I saw them.  And I did nothing to stop them, not even spraying with my oil/soap/water mixture, which is pretty darn eco-friendly.  And why didn’t I spray?  Because I also saw, among the evil armies of aphids, lady bug larvae.

Not all the aphids, mind you.  There were places I could’ve sprayed and not hurt the ladybugs.  But I didn’t, because I wanted to make sure there was plenty of food for the ladybugs.  Sounds fairly rational and not at all smug, doesn’t it?  Except it’s not.  Did I really think that I was going to kill that many aphids?  Really? 

Really?

On my limited time, with my limited little sprayer filled with water, oil, and soap, did I really think I posed any threat to the ladybug’s food supply?  That was I going to get under every leaf, up and down every stem?  Really? I still can’t believe I thought I was that effective.

So last year’s garden worked out great…for the aphids and whiteflies.  This year, I’ve upgraded my sprayer, and hopefully have downgraded my pride.   Aphids, your days are numbered.  Those of you that I can find, anyway.

This past fall I bought a food dehydrator.   It wasn’t the one I wanted (which was the Excalibur) but it was about a third of the price, and had the features I was looking for.  (Heats from the top down, variable temperature control.)  And when I say I bought it, I mean I bought it.  The husband was against the purchase, so it was paid for out of my earnings.

Why was the husband against it?  Because I had had a dehydrator before.  I owned it for several years and used it…maybe three times.  In my defense, the old one was the bottom of the range model, was kind of a PITA to use with all the tray rotating — due to its lousy fan and lack of temperature control.  It had been an impulse purchase at the Navy Exchange, and despite its lack of use, had been packed up and moved four times since we’d bought it wasted our money on it.  I’m not sure why I kept it so long, since I didn’t use it.  Possibly due to my “well, it’s better than nothing” mentality that sometimes makes me want to hold onto things instead of just letting go of them.  (Incidentally, we ended up giving the old, “better than nothing” dehydrator — along with a bunch of other stuff — to a woman whose house had burned to the ground, leaving her with…well, nothing.  I hope she gets better use out of it than I did.   But I digress.)

So last fall, I bought a dehydrator, inspired by a program I’d seen on food preservation.  Watching that program, I learned this amazing thing:  you can cook beans of various types (pintos for burritos, etc; red beans for red beans and rice; black eyed peas; and the like), then dehydrate them.  Stored in an air tight container, they’re shelf stable, and ready to be quickly rehydrated for an easy dinner on busy nights.  (Or nights when I just can’t be bothered to actually cook something.)  They’re also portable, and can be taken camping or hiking — if you’re into that sort of thing, that is.  Which I’m not.  Rehydrating is fast and easy, once you get through the trial and error of water to bean ratios, and find the proper cooking time (hint: pasta al dente is good.  Pinto beans al dente…not so much.)

I’ve been a fan of what’s generally called “Freezer Cooking” for years.  But lately, I’ve decided to try to move away from using the deep freeze in favor of less electricity dependent food storage.  I tried using my pressure canner to can beans, and I was pretty sure I had done it right.  When it comes to botulism, however, “pretty sure” doesn’t quite cut it.  If you wanted to compare all the different methods of preserving food to various sporting events, canning meats and veggies would be something akin to car races.  The penalty for messing up is pretty harsh… so until I get a little more confident, the dehydrator it is.

But am I really saving any energy?  The dehydrator, after all, doesn’t run on pixie dust.  It plugs in just like the freezer does.  And it runs and runs and runs (eight to ten hours, depending on the size of what’s drying), which draws power.  Here’s the thing, though.  Of all the options available (cook and freeze, cook and eat, cook and dehydrate, cook and can), I’m kind of loving dehydrating because while the basic energy use is the same, with the dehydrator, I get to direct the energy best.  So this winter, it helped heat the house (and in the case of good smelling things, made the house smell cozy and nice.  In the case of broccoli…well, that wasn’t pleasant, and I won’t be doing that again.)  and this summer, not having boiling pots on for hours will help keep the house cooler.

So for the husband who objected to the dehydrator:  pbbbt!!!

So after all the complaining (from the chicks, that is) about their close quarters, you’d think they would’ve been chomping at the bit to get out and into their plush new digs. That’s what I thought, at least. The reality, however, is that when their “brooder” was put into the living area of the chicken tractor, its door left open, five of the chicks cowered at the back, refusing to come out.

The sixth, one of my door chargers, proceeded to get stuck halfway down the ramp into the tractor portion, cheeping pathetically until I got her back into the living area. (I guess I have the treads too far apart for their comfort.  Which begs the question:  will this coop ever be done?) So with Door Charger 1 reinstalled in the coop, I closed the trap door for the time being (as in, until I can figure out how to add more treads without actually having access to the door because the chicks are in there and if I open up the roof while they’re in there they might fly out and then a dog could get them and aaaaggghh.   No, the coop will never be done.)

What happened to the other three door chargers, though?   I mean, I understand there’s a reason that “chicken” is synonymous with “fearful”, but c’mon already!  Don’t they realize their great great great etc grandmother was a dinosaur?   Gotta love my agoraphobic rex chickens.

Well, the coop is done. Or mostly, at least. There are a few small details: a hasp and a handle to be attached, a coat of paint to be slapped on. It’s done enough, however, to be moved off the front porch, across the front yard*, around the side of the house, and into the backyard. Easy peasy? Right? Yeah, right.

But wait! Did you say the coop is on the front porch? Yes, I said that. We don’t have a garage, and the weekend that the great coop project began, it was raining.  So our covered front porch was the logical choice of building location.  And had the coop been finished before the husband left, all would’ve been well.   Or would it have been?

It would have, until the husband tried to wheel the chicken coop (actually a chicken tractor, since it’s on wheels and designed to be moved) through the gate into the side yard.  It wouldn’t have fit.  How do I know this?

Because yesterday, a friend of mine came over and watched my rugrats while I enclosed the run (which really should’ve been done before the coop portion was built atop it) and then between the two of us, we managed to get the fifty gazillion pound coop/tractor down the three stairs and onto the walkway.  She went back into the kids, and I spent a few minutes trying (and slowly succeeding) at moving the coop through the overgrown grass, which is so overgrown that it transformed my moveable coop into a non-movable coop.   Not exactly a walk in the park, unless you consider body checking a chicken coop through grass a walk in the park.

The kids calmed down, my lovely friend helped me get the coop through the grass and around to the gate…where we discovered the awful truth:  the coop is several inches wider than the gate.  Even taking the gate off its hinges would’ve left us a couple inches too short on clearance.  Discouraged, sore, and above all, tired, we left the coop in the sideyard for the night.  She gathered up her kids and went home, and we went about the business of finishing the day.

I got my kids fed, washed, and ready for bed, all the while with the phrase “I’m going to have to push it down the street, around the corner, into the alley, and into the back gate” beating it’s awful rhythm into my head. . . go ahead and laugh.  It’s a pretty funny picture, I admit.  Just wasn’t looking forward to that.

The next morning, though, inspiration struck!  And now the coop is in the backyard, waiting for its chickens.  How did I do that?

No scene ala The Monkeys, no chicken coops taking to the roads.  I ripped the roof off of it, turned the bottom sideways, and dragged it through the gate.  I had to do some more work on it, (ie, I pretty much had to rebuild the roof) but over the course of building this benighted coop, I’ve gotten really good at ripping things apart and putting them back together.

So it’s been an interesting couple of weeks, to say the least.  And while I wouldn’t say I’m an expert on how to build chicken coops now, I would say that I’m definitely an expert in how not to build a chicken coop.  That’s got to count for something; right?

*aka the wildland meadow. It’s been raining a lot, the husband has been gone so hasn’t mowed it lately, and the grass/clover mix is between six and nine inches tall.

Homegrown broccoli is quite possibly the best thing I’ve ever eaten. I picked some earlier today and had it for supper. I just wish I had realized I hadn’t done something wrong, and picked some earlier.

Now I’m fighting the urge to run out back and pull everything else up, and replace it with more broccoli. I’m also resisting the urge to rip off the back part of the house, to make room for more garden and more broccoli.

Seriously, it was that good.

Picked, that is. So far this year I’ve picked 15 oz of spinach, and 2 oz of broccoli florets.

I probably (read: definitely) could’ve had more broccoli (and will, since I have plants growing) but…I’ve never grown broccoli before, and thought I had done it wrong because the plants didn’t make big huge heads like you see at the store. And I did have a few plants button…

Anyway, the other night I was watching Homegrown Revolution, the short film about the Dervaes family, and I saw one of them basically harvesting florets off the broccoli plants, and a light bulb went off over my head. Sometimes I’m kind of slow, I guess. But there are worse ways to be, so I’m okay with that.

The goal for this year, though, is 500 lbs of produce. I seriously doubt I’ll make it, but I’m going to give it a try. I originally had planned the goal to be growing and preserving a year’s worth of one thing (at least) but then realized that I could plant one okra plant, for example, harvest one pod, and call that good. (We don’t like okra much around here.) So the husband suggested 500 lbs for a goal and much to his surprise, I embraced it.

Hey, if you’re going to dream, dream big; right? So here I am, only 498 lbs, 15 oz to go. Here’s to a good year!

Our first foray into “livestock” was a worm bin. I do have to hand it to my husband; he’s not as interested in this whole self-sufficiency thing as I am, but he does humor me quite a bit. Seriously, how many husbands, when told by their wives that she’d like to raise earthworms, would respond by talking about seeing plastic bins on sale at Big Box Hardware and Lumber? And then going to BBH&L, buying said bins, and building the worm bin? For someone who’s just along for the ride, he (usually) is an excellent co-pilot.

So a few weeks ago, we went into the earthworm business. They get our kitchen scraps, etc, and every time the husband checked on them, he said they seemed pretty happy. (Why is the husband the worm checker? Because as embarrassing and irrational for an avid gardener to admit, earthworms…well, they kind of skeeve me out. I have managed, over the course of several years, managed to suppress the urge to scream when I see them. Intellectually, I have a great respect for the earthworm. Emotionally — well, sue me. So I’m an enigma wrapped in a riddle and all that.)

But happy may be a relative term.   A few nights ago, there seemed to be a jailbreak.  How do I know this?  Well, I was up in the night several times, and had gone into the kitchen a few times.  The next morning, on my kitchen floor, there were two squished flat earthworms that I’d apparently stepped on.   I felt pretty bad for killing them, but to be honest, I felt a little worse for myself.  After all, they never saw it coming, or felt a thing.  But as for myself…well, I was barefoot.  And I just don’t think I’ll ever get rid of that “there are earthworm guts on the bottom of my feet” feeling…

Guess maybe we need a new worm bin, with smaller ventilation holes!

Except for the plan bit, that is.

My husband, God love him, is a man.   By which I mean not only will he not stop to ask for directions, he seems to believe that the mere existence of anything like directions is an insult to his manhood.  Like the time we were leaving for our third date, heading from my neighborhood (which was not his neighborhood, or anywhere he’d ever spent any time) to go for coffee.  We were traveling through an area with a lot of road construction going on, and I suggested he might want to go ahead and get right to get to the appropriate freeway.   He laughed his charming, manly laugh and said something to the effect of being the rare man who will ask for directions if he needs them.  Unfortunately for him, he said this as he pulled onto the wrong freeway, going in the opposite direction of where we were heading.  Poor guy, he’s never going to live that down.

Then again, I’m the girl who knew this about him, and married him anyway.  And despite the fact that I’ve known his uber aversion to directions, plans, etc, I still somehow think that he’ll change.  With every new project, a tiny voice in my head says, “This time, things will be different.” They never are.

Two weeks ago, we bought chicks.  Six of them.  There we were, driving home from the feed and seed, kids strapped into the minivan, a chirruping box on my lap, and the husband said, “I guess now we’d better get started on that chicken coop.”  “Yes, dear,” I replied, “this week we’ll pick a plan.”

Famous last words.

Fast forward five days.  The husband is in the military, and will be leaving home for almost a month, leaving me with rapidly growing chicks, three small children, and no chicken coop.  During the past week, my various attempts at coop planning had been thwarted by, well, life in general.  So imagine my surprise when the husband says on Friday night, “The kids are asleep, so I think I’ll head on over to Big Box Hardware and Lumber* and get stuff for the coop.”  “Don’t you think you should settle on a plan, first?”  I asked.

To give him credit, he did look over various chicken coop plans.  Too bad he paid no attention to anything like say, a materials list, or anything pesky like that.  Off he went.  And the following day, construction began.  Sort of.  (If you call the husband standing on the porch staring at lumber “began”.  I do.  Life with the husband has definitely taught me to be more flexible with specific definitions of words.  But that’s another post.)

Long story short, a week ago, the husband took off for a month, leaving me with the three small children, three rpaidly growing chicks, and an incomplete chicken coop… more to come.  For some reason, the words to “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille” have been flitting through my head these past few days.

But I can’t help but wonder:  if I hadn’t used that dreadful P word before he left for BBH&L, and used some alternate word (blueprints, maybe?), would I have a chicken coop now?

*Fake name, of course.

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