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Motor City Homestead » 2008 » March

Archive for March, 2008

Site news and Winter Adventures

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

Hey everybody.  After months of wondering why no-one ever posts comments, I realized that I have to view and approve them before they show up.  So for everyone who has commented in the past six months, I’m so sorry.  I’ll do a better job from here on out.  For everyone who hasn’t posted comments . . . Hey - check out all the comments on the blog.  There’s a ton of them.

 In other news, we lit what is probably our final fire for the season today.  We’re pretty much out of wood, and the days are in the 40s or 50s - not quite cold enough to really enjoy a fire.  I know fireplaces are notoriously inefficient and wasteful, but my family enjoys them more than almost any other group activity.  The first words I heard when coming home from work all winter long were, “Daddy, can you make us a fire?”  We were curled up in front of our hideously painted fireplace this afternoon, and I remembered an adventure that we took pictures of, but never posted. 

This January we decided to cook a meal in the fireplace.  It was supposed to be simple, just hot dogs and s’mores, but I had an idea I wanted to try.  I’ve seen several bread recipes that call for baking in a cast-iron dutch oven, and I’ve always wanted to try it out.  Without time for the traditional rise and knead, I whipped up a quick soda bread to cook in our dutch oven in the fireplace.  I let the fire get really hot, and once we had lots of coals, I raked the flames over to one side, and left the coal bed on the other side of the fireplace.  It looks quite little-house-on-the-prairie-ish if I do say so myself.

Cast Iron on fire

Everything was going smashingly, until I opened up the pot.  Lots of smoke came out - which isn’t a good sign.  As you can see, the top of the bread looks lovely, but gets progressively worse as you head down.  First, there’s a big pocket of raw dough in the middle . . . .

Dough pocket - yum

And the bottom was burnt to a crisp.  Surprisingly, the kids wouldn’t touch it. 

Burnt bread - delish

We had a great time regardless, and ended up just eating hot dogs in front of the fire.

In front of the fire

And ended with s’mores.  Can’t go wrong there.

Smores

So, the moral of the story is to keep cooking fires really low, because no-one likes second hand smoke, especially if it’s a part of dinner.

Beginnings of an orchard

Friday, March 28th, 2008

Yesterday I got a call from Amy while I was at work.  I’m not exaggerating when I say she was breathless with excitement.  Apparently Sam’s Club had just gotten their shipment of fruit trees in for spring.  There were tons of different types, and they were only $17 a piece.  That’s cheap - like end of the season 50% off cheap.  But there they were - fresh off the truck, many with blooms and buds. 

Our track record with fruit trees isn’t the greatest.  Two years ago we bought a tiny Fuji apple tree that not only bloomed, but started growing apples.  Real, live, organic apples.   That little stick of a tree had 18 apples growing on it by the end of summer.  I could almost taste the apple pie.  Then, one morning, I came out to find only 17 apples on the tree.  I figured one probably fell off, or the kids grabbed one, etc.  On the morning of day two, only 16 apples remained.  That continued for two weeks until not a single apple was left.  I even stayed out late at night trying to spot the thief, with no luck.  The next year, we had lots of foliage, but no blooms, and no apples.  Apparently, the second year after transplanting, a tree will work very hard at extending it’s root system, and not so hard at making fruit.  So we’ve gone through two years with no fruit.  I have high hopes for this year, though.

Our original yard plan has 4 fruit trees.  We have the apple tree from two years ago, and a peach tree from last year - so I figured Amy would buy two more to fill out the yard.  I should have known better.  When I came home there were six young trees lined up neatly in our side yard.  Adding the two we already own, that makes a total of eight.  That’s a lot of trees. 

The story doesn’t end there, though.  It’s late March in Michigan.  March is supposed to come in like a lion and go out like a lamb.  But this March came in like a lion, and is going out like a slightly smaller, far wetter lion.  We had 3 inches of snow and low in the 20s last night.  Not good for delicate buds and flowers.  Here’s our solution.

Trees in mudroom 

Our orchard of two pear trees, two cherry trees, and two plum trees is now growing in the mudroom until the weather gets a little bit warmer.  Ironically, I had to stroll through a forest to let the dogs outside this morning.

True Urban Homesteading

Monday, March 17th, 2008

This past weekend, Amy and I visited my brother and his family in Chicago.  They are true urban homesteaders - way more urban, way more homesteading than we do.  They’ve had chickens for a year now, and it was his email that convinced me we could pull it off.  Their latest adventure bears retelling. 

I looked out the window on Saturday and said, “Hey bro, what the heck are all those milk jugs hanging on the trees out front?” 

 Milk jugs in Chi-town

In case you haven’t figured it out, those are maple trees in front of his house, and he tapped them to make maple syrup.  The craziest part of the whole endeavor is that it actually worked!!  He said that on days when the nights were freezing and the days warmer, the trees would drip out literally gallons and gallons of sap.  That’s a good thing, because it takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.

If you go online, you’ll find all sorts of detailed instructions on how to tap a tree.  You might get so freaked out by the equipment and expertise needed that you’ll never actually try it.  But rest easy, urban homesteaders, the maple syrup I had on my pancakes Sunday morning was the result of one drill bit, 3 old milk jugs, and some old plumbing parts.  My brother just drilled a hole, tapped in an old piece of copper tubing, and hung a bucket.  Then he boiled and boiled ’till it tasted right.

 img_0724.JPG

Tapped tree closeup

Sure, he got some crazy looks, but he also got maple syrup - and that seems like a worthwhile trade off to me.

It’s not metaphorical

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

I honestly thought everyone who said “chickens can fly” was speaking metaphorically - sure they flap their wings and make big jumps, but the don’t really fly.  Like penguins.  They move their bodies the right way, but don’t achieve lift.  Well, yesterday was a rude awakening to the very literal flight of our chickens.  I’ve taken to calling the hen in the following picture “Runt”.  She’s smaller than the other chickens, and spends a great deal of her time hiding in the corner, and then dashing out squawking to grab a bite of food.  Seems like runt-ish behavior to me.  Here’s a picture of her sitting in the rafters of our garage - which should have been foreshadowing for me.

Runt in rafters

Yesterday, the kids were visiting the hens, I turned my back for an instant and I heard, “A chicken is loose!! A chicken is loose!!”  I turned around to see Runt running (not yet flying) like a bat out of hell for the door of the garage.   I chased her to the side of the house, where she flapped over the fence into our backyard, and promptly ran into the crawlspace under our home.  Thankfully, Gabe felt like climbing in there, so he chased her back out.  From there, it was into the neighbors back yard, into the neighbors front yard, back into the neighbors backyard, and finally she flew to the top of the neighbors garage.  I’ve never been more surprised in my life.  She just took a leap and flapped 10 feet into the air.  Didn’t know they could do that.

She sat there proudly while Gabe and I hucked snowballs at her for 10 minutes, trying to scare her down.  We did manage to scare her, but we scared her up, not down, and she flapped ungracefully into a nearby tree.  The tree was only 15 feet tall, so I jumped on a nearby fence and scaled the tree.  Just as I was about to grab her, she took off and flew - again up, not down - into a tree in our yard.  Here she is, sitting pretty. 

Runt in tree - closeup 

Funny, right?  Not really, because here a better perspective of where she ended up. 

 Runt in tree - full

She’s that little bump on the fork furthest to the right.  At this point, I looked at Amy and said, “Sorry, babe, we only have 5 chickens now.  There’s no way I can get her down.”  Amy looked very sad, so Gabe and I threw snowballs for another 10 minutes, trying to knock her out of the tree, and somehow catch her before she hit the ground.

We did manage to hit her a couple of times, and finally, probably super annoyed at our barage, she took off again.  Thankfully, this time she flew downwards, onto the roof of our house a solid 30 or 40 feet across the yard.  Once again, we threw snowballs (not that it had worked very well so far) and once again, Runt flew down.  This time she ended up in our side yard, and I herded her back into the garage, and back into her pen, where she settled on her roost as if nothing was out of the ordinary.  So friends, chickens CAN fly.  Close the coop door on your way out, please.

Egg a day, and rabbit news

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

Not sure who it is, but one of our chickens is laying an egg a day so far.  For those interested, we have 2 Ameraucanas (they lay blue-green eggs) 2 Rhode Island Reds (classic brown farm hen) a Buff Orpington and a Black Star.  Normally a move to new digs will freeze them up for a week or two - plus with the cold and shorter days, I wasn’t really expecting any eggs at all.  Hopefully they hit their stride by the end of March.

In rabbit news, we had our first litter of the spring born 3 days ago.  It was a litter of 6, but two didn’t make it.  It was bitterly cold the first day, and two of the babies had scrambled out from under mama’s nest.  Still, 4 healthy babies for sure - there might be more, it’s hard to count them in the pile.  Hooray for spring.

It’s been a long, cold winter

Sunday, March 9th, 2008

We’ve spent the past several months just recovering from our remodeling marathon.  But, spring is in the air.  The last few nights in front of the fire, Amy and I started planning our summer garden.  I’ll lay out some plans in future posts.  But, even more exciting, is an idea that’s been brewing for a couple of years in the back of my head.  Chickens, baby.  If you don’t have a rooster, they are pretty quiet.  They eat anything and everything (seriously - my brother chad has stories that would turn your stomach) and they turn it all into eggs and meat.

 I finally got the all clear from Amy, so yesterday we made the 2 hour trek out to Bellevue to buy some hens.  It’s weird how fast chickens get snapped up once they are posted in a classified ad.  For a two weeks, every time I called on local chicks or hens, they were already gone.  Who knew they were in such high demand.  But a family in Bellevue had several for sale, and I jumped on them.  Now the shoes on the other foot, and some other indecisive chump will have to keep looking.  Eat my dust, homesteader wannabees!!

We had considered purchasing chicks, but they are a lot of work and don’t start laying for 4 - 6 months.  We decided on grown hens because they are usually cheap, can start laying immediately, and don’t require transitional housing or heat lamps.  So we boxed them up, brought them home, and I scrambled (no pun intended) all afternoon to put together some housing.  When I finally pulled them out of their box, what do you know . . . .

1st egg of the year