One afternoon in the garden

It’s summer… warm, lovely summer with long days, homemade popsicles, water balloons, and everything growing like mad.

As you can see above, our sage plants, after a long latent stage as poor little sticks, have grown to be mighty bushes. And our tomatoes, though still green, are already very promising. I also put in some new pepper plants.

Here is also one very annoyed mama hen. Doesn’t her whole attitude speak very plainly: “Do not get close to my chicks, or else?” After a heartbreaking result with our previous batch of chicks – some sort of predator dug its way into the coop and just made off with all our chicks, plus two of my favorite chickens, leaving absolutely no trace – I spent hours reinforcing the base of our coop with local rock. I know pouring concrete around the base would have been more effective, but we just can’t afford this right now.

Anyway, we now have fifteen new chicks, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I hope we can raise them into nice stock of pullets who will lay plenty of eggs for us in a few months.

Hatching chicks the natural way

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In the past two seasons, we have hatched new chicks exclusively by using broody hens – and, with a few drawbacks, find this age-old, natural way of expanding one’s backyard flock easy and satisfying. Though incubators can be convenient for hatching large numbers of chicks at once, exactly in one’s chosen time (which is kind of hard to do with broody hens), our irregular power supply and frequent outages make the choice pretty obvious. Though we might venture to buy or build a small, well-isolated incubator sometime in the near future, I expect we’re still going to rely almost exclusively on broodies.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“We used to let hens accumulate a clutch of eggs in the hopes they would begin sitting, but it only resulted in a lot of mess and many spoiled or broken eggs. Now we collect every egg as soon as it is laid and, to encourage broodiness, provide a clutch of plastic dummy eggs (can be bought cheaply at a toy store or on e-bay). Note: we’ve had some hens begin sitting even without a clutch. Once the broody instinct kicks in, they’ll just do their thing.”

Improving your soil

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We don’t have ideal soil – to put it mildly. It is heavy and has a high clay content; it’s muddy and slippery in winter, and sticks to rubber boots until we have clogs so heavy we can hardly lift our feet. Once the rainy season is over and it dries up, it becomes rock hard. Oh, and it’s also full of actual rocks, large and small, which makes clearing up space for a garden bed one challenging job. Using raised beds with imported high-quality soil has been great, but would I like to have friendlier soil all over our property? Sure!

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Practically any soil – whether it’s sandy, or has a high clay content, or is somewhere in between – can benefit from generous amounts of organic material being worked into it. Back when we used to keep goats, there was a place in our yard with plenty of brush that needed to be cleared and I often tethered the goats there. Apart from the brush it was pretty arid, but next year, beautiful tall lush grass sprung up there as if by magic. It was goat manure, left over winter to rot and decompose, that did the trick.”

Top Money Savers

Above: growing some of your own food is excellent, but one must give it time

For those just venturing out into the field of frugality and a more self-sustainable lifestyle, here are some of the things I find most helpful:

1. Cooking from scratch. This really is a no-brainer. As a rule (though there might be exceptions), ingredients cost less than food. Flour is cheaper than bread, vegetables are cheaper (not to mention healthier!) than pre-packaged soup, and whole chickens are usually cheaper than chicken parts (and you can use the carcass for making rich soups and stocks). Dry beans are cheaper than canned ones. Oh and of course you get an even better return of your investment if you grow your own.

2. Making your own cleaning products. Apart from making and using my own soap, I also clean with a mixture of vinegar and water, and the windows, mirrors and taps come out squeaky clean. I will probably look into homemade replacements for fabric softener once my stock runs out.

3. Buying the best quality you can afford. This can be a double-edged sword, because it’s easy to get carried away. Recently, a neighbour of ours wanted to get “the best” antenna for his internet connection. Well, he got something that could probably transmit a signal from Mars. It was ridiculously expensive. We, on the other hand, did a careful evaluation and bought something adequate that does the job. On the other hand, it doesn’t pay off to buy something cheap and of low quality that will soon fall into disrepair.

4. Growing a vegetable garden and raising your own livestock. To this I would add gathering wild foods, or taking advantage of abandoned fruit trees. We do that every year.

A warning about raising livestock – it might take a lot of investment in time and money before these ventures begin to pay off, especially if you run into unexpected trouble. All the chicken owners we know have had their flock demolished by a fox, a mysterious disease or a stray dog at least once. Most goat owners lost does and/or kids because of a kidding that didn’t go as it should have, or else had to pay a large vet bill. These things are heart-wrenching and highly discouraging, apart from the cost.

5. Thrift shops and op shops. A very good idea and there isn’t much to add. There are enough people who have more clothes and things than they can ever need, want or use – and some of that inevitably trickles into thrift shops. I know, because I used to be one of those people! One of my favorite things to wear for yard work a sturdy denim skirt which was priced at a second-hand store at 3 shekels (less than a dollar). I have worn it at least 3 times a week these past two winters, and it’s perfect for working around the house and yard.

There are of course many other great ideas, such as stockpiling, mending and repairing things, revising your internet and phone bills (you might find out you’re actually paying for something you aren’t using, or paying full price when you are entitled to a discount), but time is too short to expand on each of those right now.

It seems to me this often boils down to a difference in attitude – would you rather do it yourself, or pay for the convenience of having someone else do it for you? There isn’t a right and wrong or black and white in this, it’s all a matter of priority in every specific area of your life.

What are your top money savers?

Coping with chicken loss

 

There are few things more painful to me as a chicken owner than the untimely loss of one of the flock. Our chickens are all lovingly hand-raised, and it’s enough to drive one mad when a sneaky predator gets past one’s defenses, or when a disease you can do little about makes its rounds in the coop.

Still, I guess that this knowledge, this acceptance of the fact that there will be some losses, is what enables us to bounce back and keep raising chickens.

From my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Losing animals is an inevitable part of raising them. No matter how careful and diligent you are, at some point you will have to deal with saying goodbye – and not just due to old age, either – to some members of your flock or herd. This is heartbreaking even if your animals were meant to end up as dinner at some point. So much more if you treat your livestock somewhat like pets. I remember one time years ago, crying and telling my husband I’d rather give it all up and never keep anything living but plants again.”

Chickens: predators and prey

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Above: garden bed fenced against digging chickens.

Chickens are both predators and prey: you have to protect them from ending up in the belly of a fox, but you also have to protect your garden from your chickens eating whatever is in their sight, or just turning your lovingly made flower bed into a dust bath.

Read more in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“We free range, which of course exacerbates the losses to predators, but the overall pros of free ranging are so evident that I truly believe it’s the only practical way for us to keep chickens. Not only do we save a bundle on feed as our chickens forage and find their own food, but we get the benefit of a pest free yard and can get away with a smaller coop – it’s OK for chickens to be a little crowded some of the time if they mostly have the whole yard to themselves.”

Building Mistakes

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Read my latest Mother Earth News post about the lessons we learned while building our cabin:

“Mistakes are an integral part of a learning process and can be expected if you are an amateur builder, but it might also be very frustrating, since this isn’t just a practical lesson – it’s a real dwelling you are trying to raise and make livable and comfortable, often under great constraints of time and money. It would be wise to mentally prepare for making mistakes and fixing them as you go.”

Also, this will probably be my last post before Pesach, so happy Pesach to all my Jewish readers, and a happy spring to everyone else!