Saturday, 29 September 2012

Keeping a hay or straw bale dry in the great outdoors...

I have just noticed that the last few posts have been chicken related - I guess that's because with new baby chicks in the pen, I am spending a bit more time than usual with them.

Getting bigger! Man, they eat a lot!

I needed some more bedding straw - which I use in their nests only, its too expensive at $14 a bale for them to scratch around in - and although you can buy a plastic bagful, it works out to be much more expensive. So, I bought the bale and took it home.

I lugged it into the pen and broke off what I needed for the various nesting boxes and that left me with a, well, almost full bale of straw to store. If you have chooks, you are gonna have rats and/or mice. Its all part of the game. Our neighbours have chooks that back onto our chooks - so there is no way that we will be rat or mouse free (where are those carpet snakes when you need 'em??) So I'm not allowed to put the bale in the garage and move any potential rats/mice condominiums into the house.

If I leave it outside, even though we are having a mini drought, its definitely going to rain on my expensive bale of straw - Murphy's Law is strong in my world. I didn't have a spare tarp to put over it, and then I spotted the perfect item in our "to be thrown out" pile...

Here's what I did...

Yup! - I popped an old umbrella with a broken handle over the top!
The air is able to circulate underneath so hopefully the mould wont grow so quickly in the sticky Queensland summers...

The water should just run off the brolly and stay off the straw bale.

With the break below the catch, its never going to open and be used the way it was intended. As an aside, I turned the last dead umbrella skin into pennants to hang in the garden for parties and BBQ's. Very colourful and last a long time as they are nylon - also the are already a triangle shape. My mathematically minded husband worked out a way for me to get a whole bunch of triangles out of each panel... maybe I should have blogged that...

I put the bale up against the fence where there is some overhanging branches to give it all the protection that I could muster and then poked the broken handle into the bale. Its not going to stand up to a really big storm but should protect the bale for a lot longer than if it was just left outside all the time. The chickens still have a bit of a peck at the edges of it - but over all, don't seem to like the colours or texture of the brolly or something and so leave it alone.

I don't use sugar cane mulch in my pens at all. I find it harbours or encourages leg mites which look terrible and must really hurt the chickens. I was for ever treating my chickens (tea tree oil applied with a small paintbrush to the legs) until I read somewhere that sugarcane, although cheap, was probably where my leg mites were coming from. Since I swapped to leaves of any description, grass clippings and roof sweepings (We sweep the leaves and stuff off the roof into the chook pen) they have had no leg mite at all!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for not using something new.
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for not spending a cent and reusing an item that was going to the dump!
Time cost: Ohhh about 15 seconds! (10 minutes of looking for something to do the trick doesn't count does it?)
Skill level: I'm not sure there is one!
Fun -ness: Looks really funky in the chook pen!!!

Friday, 28 September 2012

Why we bought heritage chickens...

We have had a motley collection of chooks for years. Usually the cheap hybrid layers from the local produce place that lay well and provide all the fun of having chickens in the backyard for well under $20 each.

  "Cloud"                                  "Sunset"                      "Thunder"                         

I have always admired the wonderful array of chickens at the Ekka and secretly coveted them. But since my only source of chickens was the produce place down the road, I simply could never lay my hands on anything more exotic than a black, white or brown hybrid layer.

Then suddenly there was a couple of interesting chickens at the produce place. I enquired about them and was told that they were in quarantine and to come back later in the week, which I did - and predictably they were gone. I managed to get a gray (or is it blue) Leghorn from a lady at the markets who was a breeder but she disappeared after a few weeks. Which was a shame as "Storm" lays the most magnificent big white eggs.

A few more exotic looking hens finally turned up at the produce place and  I managed to lay my hands on a Pekin bantam and an Indian Game bantam. They were wonderful fun and so different from my hybrid layers.

             "Dawn"                                                  "Drizzle"                                  

After visiting the Ekka this year, I decided that I wanted to concentrate on eggs rather than chickens per say. I was never going to be able to raise any for the freezer and since I live in Suburbia, the council and I wernt going to see eye to eye on a couple of Rooster,'s for breeding no matter how magnificent they might be!

Once you start looking into eggs, you discover that there are green eggs, cream eggs, sun burnt coloured eggs, tiny eggs, huge eggs and so on through the rainbow. I was hooked and it took a fair bit of research to figure out what chook laid which egg. Then I had to track down a breeder or two.

An ad on Rhonda's Down to Earth website for heritage chickens was my first foray into the world of heritage chickens. I bought two Aracana's, that will lay green tinted eggs when they are a bit older, from Julie and got a glimpse into the world of  heritage chickens. There is soooooo much variety. All those childhood books with images of barnyards and farms with chickens scratching and rooster proudly crowing were suddenly real! Julie sent me down the road to see Andrew - and that was game over for me.

My Aracana's (Breeze, front and Misty, back) that will lay green eggs from Julie

I had set a limit for myself of twelve chickens across two pens (breaking a few council rules (but then the 11th commandment, I believe, is "thou shalt not get caught!) and once I saw Andrews collection, I decided that I wanted at least one of everything! The hybrid layers come in black, white and brown. Hertiage chickens come in black with white spots, white with lavender ruffs, red, so dark it shines green, speckled with every shade of brown, black with black legs, eyes and skin, black and white stripes, big poofs of beige, white and black, black with gold trim and that's just the hens - the roosters are another awesomely magnificent creature entirely!

My two new barnevelders that will lay dark brown eggs from Andrew!
(As yet un-named as I cant tell them apart yet!)

Breeders need us backyarders to buy their chickens to keep the breeds going and to make a living. Us backyarders need the heritage chickens to add variety and beauty to our flocks. My husband had never seen heritage chickens before and he was amazed to see how small and boring our beloved hybrid layers were! Everyone who comes to our place is always taken with the heritage chickens and comment on how different they are. Its great fun.

We wont be culling our three hybrid layers but when they shuffle off their mortal perch one day, I will be making another visit to a heritage breeder to bring home something with spots, stripes and a ton of personality!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Feeding egg shells to chickens...

At work today, we made a Salmon and Dill frittata - for 150 people! That used a heck of a lot of eggs and left a heck of an amount of eggs shells to go into the bin, too! I decided that I could do something with them and rescued them into a bucket and bought them home.

I normally crush up our egg shells and give 'em back to the chooks or they go in the compost, but this time I thought I'd have a proper look at whether it was a good idea to feed egg shells back to chooks or not. A quick google search later and it seems that it is and that we humans have been feeding shells back to chickens for thousands of years. (Phew - I'm in the majority)

Chooks need a lot of calcium to lay an egg each day and although commercial laying pellets, mash and grain have calcium and all these other vitamins and minerals, I occasionally put my finger through a shell still. So I'm thinking an extra bit of calcium probably wont go astray. I also think that they will ignore it if they don't need it and go in search of what they do need instead.

So armed with four dozen egg shells to make my calcium supplement, Here's what I did...

I didn't bother rinsing them - just used them as is.

Then I crushed them one at a time onto an oven tray

Like so! The inner membrane holds them altogether in big lumps. Don't worry about this too much. Once they go into the oven, the membrane will dry up and the shells will get crushed again once they are out.

I pooped them into a 350 degree oven for about 5-10 minutes.

Once they had set off the fire alarm... I took them out of the oven and crushed them up further with a spoon. If they are still in gooey clumps, turn the oven down to about 250 degrees and leave them in for another couple of minutes, checking occasionally to see if they have dried out enough.

Then I crushed them into a takeaway container - as fine as I could be bothered

And popped them next to the grain bowl in the little chicken pen - no chicken wanted to be photographed eating my offering as it was nearly bedtime and they were having a quick drink before going to bed!

In the big pen, I put the egg shell in the top of the nesting box on the ground. They are curious enough and when they finish the lettuce that I threw into the pen before I put my egg shell mixture, I'm sure they will have a quick peck. I don't think they will be able to scratch dirt and leaves into it at this height either.

This is the best link I have seen to get some more information about egg shell drying and feeding to chooks. Much of what Jill says, I agree with and already do! Rather than repeat everything she wrote - have a look and see what you think.

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 very green to reuse a naturally occurring "waste" product to get new eggs!
Frugal-ness: 5/5 Free is always frugal!
Time cost: About 10 minutes. It took me longer to blog it than to do it!
Skill level: Crushing and mashing skills!
Fun -ness: Good fun to make a useful free chicken supplement!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Making your own chai flavored tea!

I'm a bit of a tea drinker. I've never liked coffee and over the last few years I have expanded my tea drinking repertoire to exdend well beyong an English breakfast and an Earl Grey. I love going into shops like T2 and the Tea Centre and trying all the different flavoured teas that they have. I'm a black tea drinker though... I don't mind green tea with sushi, but given the choice of a spicy chai, a creamy vanilla, a reliable french earl grey from my collection or a watery green tea - It just never gets drunk.

Even though I have found a few good sources of flavoured black tea's at the markets and a wee shop tucked away in an arcade in a distant suburb that I like to support over the big tea companies, I have been wrestling with making my own for a while. I mean how hard can it be?

Since I have woken up sooooo early this morning (4.45am - it figures, I'm going to be at work till 1am tonight) and the husband is very sensibly sleeping, I decided that I had time to trawl the net and see how exactly you make a chai flavoured tea. I came across this site early on in my search and decided that since she reckoned it was so easy, I'd just go into the kitchen a whip myself up a batch of "random kitchen spice" chai tea!

Here's what I did...

First I collected a list of spices that went into a chai. It would seem that there is no single recipe for chai like there is for, lets say, Earl Grey tea (which is bergamot flavoured). So I looked for ingredients that I'm likely to have already or could source easily. I didn't bother with things like marshmallow root as Im confident I wont be able to pick that up at the local Aldi!

Then I got an empty tea jar (I decant my teas into jars and store them on my tea shelf) and got out my motley collection of spices. As this is an experiment rather than a purist type endeavour, I decided it was fine to try some of the spices that may have spent a lot of time in my cupboard in this recipe!

In the interests of keeping it simple for my first attempt, I basically put a teaspoon of anything I could find on the list into the jar, including a teaspoon of cocoa!

Then I added the last of my large loose leaf plain black tea and mixed it all together.

Popped a spoonful into a pot...

And made myself a cup of chai! 

I had a taste when it was just plain black - and decided to go down the traditional chai path and add lots of milk and sugar! 

Like so! Ahh - thats better!

The verdict? Entirely drinkable!! And tottally bloggable! Lacks a bit of a real spice kick - but that's because I didn't go over board with any of the spices so next time I made a chai cuppa, I will add a few more teaspoons of peppercorns, cardamon, cloves and maybe cinnamon I think.

 I think I will end up with a jar of "perpetual chai' as I will simply add a bit of this and a bit of that depending on what I feel like at the time. As long as I add some tea as well I can't see why I will ever need to buy chai again???

It would seem that I could make a lot a flavored teas at home, maybe adda vanilla pod to some plain large loose tea and let infuse for vanilla tea. What about rose petals for rose tea? Would they be strong enough? Peppermint would be easy enough... What about cinnamon and dried orange peel? Hmmm.... the possibili-tea's seem endless!!! I'll let you know how my future experiments go!

In the meantime - have a look at these sites (and this one) if you are needing some more chai inpsiration!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 if you are using organic fairtrade tea and spices
Frugal-ness: 5/5 for making something at home that costs about $7 for 50gms for less than 1/2 that!
Time cost: Maybe 10 minutes - if you have the spices and tea in the cupboard.
Skill level: spooning, mixing making a cuppa easy!
Fun -ness: This is fun by the cupful right down to the last mouthful!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Easy to make "rag" style quilt!

My Brother and his wife had their first baby a few weeks ago and I decided that I wanted to make a practical welcome to the world gift for him.

I'm not a crocheter or knitter but I can sew a semi straight line on the machine if its an easy enough project. So after flicking through a few library books I decided that I could make a basic quilt to put on his bed or even on the floor for when they do that naked kick around thing... (the baby, not the brother and his wife...)

I decided on a rag quilt as it allows the beginning or one off quilter a fair margin for mistakes!

It looked easy enough on the tutorial here and here and so I gave it a go.

Here's what I did...

I used matching cotton materials from a sheet set (that I started to rip up before I took the photo)
First I cut a series of strips and then cut them into rectangles (squares might be slightly easier upon reflection)

And using the first rectangle as a template, I cut the sheet part into matching squares.

First strips the same width and then into matching rectangles

Then I laid them out in the pattern (I thought) I wanted - I had one square left over - it took me a while to realise that I had planned a quilt of 5 x 5 squares (which makes 25) and not 4 x 6 squares (which make 24)
I had started sewing before I noticed my mistake... 
I'm doing a mixture on the front and just stripes on the back

To make the batting (I think that's what its called) I used some old towels that were past their hang in the bathroom days

Then you make a sandwich of a back, a piece of batting and the front. BOTH front and back have to be right side out - we wont be turning it inside out or anything. So if you have it the right way up - you can see the front of the front and if you have it with the back side facing up you can see the good side of the material as well.

Then sew corner to corner in a plain straight stitch - either in a plain or contrasting cotton.

You want each piece of your quilt to have an "X" across the back and the front of it.

To incorporate the embroidered designs already on the material, I drew around them in pencil

And then carefully stitched around it trapping the batting between the back and front pieces still. I didn't want to X out the motifs but still needed to stick the batting and back to the piece.

Return each piece to its place ensuring the back and front patterns still do what you want them to do. This is a good time to turn your quilt pieces into their final places and look for any mistakes.... 

See how the embroidered animals are now in the middle and have a different quilting pattern from the others?

Now the tricky bit - sew two rectangles together so that one side is flat and the other side has all the seams.

and then make strips like this...

Keep going until you have all the rectangles made into strips - look for your mistakes and unpick now if you see two orange ones together or wait till later and be annoyed that you didn't see it in time to correct it...

Then keeping all the seams to one side sew the strips into a quilt.

Sew a line all the way around the edge

and cut the edges like so - being careful not to cut through the stiching.

My front looks like this

And the back like this...

You then have to cut along all those seams to fluff up the edges - this takes some time. Grab a cuppa and some music to snip to!

The front in (my case) is smooth so that the bub doesnt pick ip bits of cotton and eat 'em.

And the back has the "rag" characteristic that the quilt is named for. Normally you would have this as the front, I would say, as this is where the fun of the quilt really is.

I really enjoyed making this! Pretty basic and easy enough to do. I would probably attempt another one but I might go and price batting as the towel was hard to keep square.
Even though I have put mine through the wash a few times, it hasnt fluffed up the way the one I saw at a quilt show did or like the ones in the tutorials on other blogs did. Maybe it was the material, mabe my machine is too delicate (Hmmm... what wash did I use maybe I should put it back through on super heavy duty?)

At any rate, I hope the young fella apprecietes the thought and the effort even if there isnt a lot of technical expertise to admire in it!

Score card:
Green-ness: 5/5 for making a present out of things you already have kicking around in the hall cupboard.
Frugal-ness:  5/5 Made with love not money!
Time cost: I managed to make this in one sitting and it took me about 4 hours.
Skill level: If you can sew a stright line and can unpick it - you can make this quilt!
Fun -ness: Great fun! Im looking forward to a photo of the young fella on it!
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