Melt Some Hearts!

Why is it that such small gestures can just about break your heart (in a good way)? I had one of those today and just had to report it here. Let me set the stage…

The mailman drove up to the house today with a package that he could not fit into the mailbox and I instantly wondered what I had ordered on line and could not think of anything due to arrive. I was about to start a meeting with visitors so I could do no more than accept the package and set it aside while I continued with my guests but I admit, I couldn’t help but wonder why I had received a mysterious box from my brother and could barely concentrate.

As soon as the meeting concluded, I tore it open. This is what I found…a note from my dear brother, Tim. t9wHLeKVQ1aFxhL2v5Nstw_thumb_18038And of course, wouldn’t you know it, in the box were two packages of my most favorite treats of all time…Hermits from Wilson Farm in Lexington, Massachusetts. My heart just melted.wvfTdQEi9HkV+gWsLwQ_thumb_18037So if you don’t remember the post, I make Sriracha with our jalapenos (no chemicals in my version!) and have given it to my brother over time whenever he visits and I guess he likes it a lot! He uses it (along with our honey) in at least one of his favorite recipes, ‘Chicken Lady Chicken’ from the “My Paris Kitchen” book by David Lebovitz.

Brothers, sisters and friends everywhere, do something kind. Melt hearts…especially now when we need to see kindness in the world. I’m off to package up some Sriracha (both red and green) for Tim and hope his package is as welcome as mine was today.

Eggs, Eggs, Eggs…Pysanky and Dissection

I have heard rumblings that I’ve left some of you hanging with anticipation as you have eagerly awaited the results of the tiny egg dissection as well as the status of Buttercup, our beak challenged hen from the last post. I appreciate your patience and have good news on all fronts but first, Buttercup got a little worse before she got better but is now fully back in the flock after needing to isolate her for a bit. I am actually pretty surprised by how quickly her beak is growing back. When I look at her now, I would not have really noticed a problem with her beak at this stage. If you look closely, you can almost see a newer, whiter layer filling in on the bottom. This girl is now used to my thorough daily inspection of her health, so she poses just so! Don’t you love her fluffy chin beard which is a signature physiology of the Araucanian breed?Nj6ZZV2sSP+2vXosKu437w_thumb_18006.jpgShe is also back participating in all the group activities of the flock. I never tire of seeing them take a group dust bath!

So dissection of the tiny egg was very, very fun. The neighboring kids were very excited at the prospect of becoming my little citizen scientist assistants and brought their “Uncle Luis” with them to witness the event.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f8a.jpgI was prepared with pointy scissors to begin the process but they really took it from there. I was gratified to see their curiosity in all things that had to do with the chickens that day including collecting eggs. Their mom took photos and videos and made the experience into a wonderful iMovie which she shared with us…many thanks Peggy, et. al.!

Later that week we had the pleasure of learning more about Ukrainian egg decorating known as Pysanky from Kate’s friend Mandy who I hope will become a new friend of mine as well. I tried to learn as much as I could about this process from her and this is what I gleaned from the morning we shared.

Mandy was introduced to this process as a grade school student when she took a class offered by the spouse of a local Webster Groves school teacher many years ago. She brought over her growing collection of decorated eggs as well as the original instructions which she had saved and some of the equipment for the process. Here are some of the eggs she has decorated over the years. Gosh, it is hard to pick a favorite! uCZaqow5S6OrOvGT3NCRwg_thumb_17fcc.jpgThe process starts with taking an egg and drawing a design to follow. Mandy now does this with the help of a craft lathe but this can be done by hand as well. She uses the lathe to help draw circles and intersecting patterns.  UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fb8Then she begins to apply the wax and dyes on the eggs to make layers of colors. The first wax layer protects the egg from receiving any dye at all. The successive layers of wax are applied to continue the design and the deepening of the colorful dyes. Mandy uses a wax applicator called a kistka which is a wand with a copper funnel  that can hold the melted wax as she applies it to the surface of the egg. These kistkas come in various diameters for the wax line of application. The blackened portion you see here is due to the heating of the instrument (a copper ‘funnel’ if you will) done using the heat of a regular candle. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fb9.jpgHere is Mandy filling the kistka (left hand) with beeswax (right hand), heating it in the flame of the candle in order to apply it to the surface of the egg. She blots the kistka as she works which is what you see on the splotchy paper below her hands. The colorful egg sitting on the cloth was one in progress that she started the previous night to help me understand the process. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fbdSimply put, after each layer of wax and dye is incorporated into the design, the egg is nearly completely covered wax. The wax is then melted off of the egg (Mandy says there are various ways to do this) and the egg is then emptied of the contents using a couple of special tools. First, she creates a tiny hole with a burring tool and then she uses a device that displaces the contents of the egg using a small bellows and a hollow needle.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fc6After this point, the hollow, decorated egg is then varnished for safe keeping. Mandy did an amazing job of introducing me to the process of creating these traditional, decorated Pysanky eggs. I hope I did the process justice in my description and told her that if she wanted to teach a class that I would host it here! Supplies for this craft can be found at the Ukrainian Gift Shop.

The new fence at the farm is continuing a pace as Dave (tirelessly) and I (somewhat less) continue to clear the existing line. Piles of debris now litter the sides of the old fence but this is a good thing that we will deal with later when we have more time.UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fe1.jpgOne of the worst stumps was taken out with a joint effort by Dave and Jon Lanaghan. They both sweated over this and employed all the tools at hand, including bolt cutters for the fence, multiple axes, saws, shovels and lastly, the power of the tractor to extricate this monster from the fence line. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fe9.jpgUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17fec.jpgThe new fence installation is coming along. The tall posts are in place on the south side and the fencing has been stretched about half way along before the current rain stopped the progress. cUMKhQMqQOyeUor1fj8uFA_thumb_17fd3.jpgAlthough we are busy here, there is nothing more fun than entertaining some favorite guests from out of town. Kate’s dear friend, Robin, was in town last week with little Damon who is just a couple months older than Coulter and they all had fun in the corn pool!UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f9cA rainy day here has given us a break from the fence project but thankfully, the hens never stop laying…we just topped the 1300 egg mark a mere 3.5 months into their laying productivity. I’m so pleased with their progress!    Next blog: looking forward to an interview with Kathy Rainey Bussmann about her newly published book, ‘The Uncommon English Teacher and the Forgotten Doughboy’  available for sale at It can be found here as well.


Winter Gets the Last Laugh…But We are Not Amused!

We had lots of warning that a terrible cold blast was coming to our area last week and that temps would dip into the teens, threatening to reverse all the early spring progress that had already begun on the farm. We spent last Friday attempting to protect as much of the beautifully flowering and budding orchard trees and bushes as possible. The peaches and nectarines were in full bloom and a couple of the pear trees were just pushing out with tender buds. IMG_2608.JPGSo we thought if we could cover as many branches as possible with large plastic bags, that we might save some of the future fruit. By the time we were done the orchard looked like lollipop bouquets.IMG_2604.JPGUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f41.jpgThe strawberries were a bit easier to cover since we unfurled plastic sheeting and staple gunned it to the raised beds. IMG_2599.JPGThe blueberries were not quite as worrisome since only one of the varieties (the earliest of the five) was pushing out their buds so we covered that one row as best we could. IMG_2596.JPGWe think we could have survived a day or two of this but in the end, we had nearly a week of frightful weather, including one morning this week when we woke up to 16 degrees. If only the wet, heavy snow had preceded the cold spell, it would have served as an insulator.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f55There is not a lot to do at this point except to wait and see just how much damage occurred. This dire weather pattern should be in the rear view mirror soon but we plan to keep the covers on the plants for a couple more iffy nights.

It is still a very busy time around here. We had our annual orchard check up and pruning with our arborist/horticulturist, Jon Lanaghan. IMG_2484.JPGThis year he knew to bring equipment appropriate for trimming the taller trees. IMG_2498.jpgThis was before the recent cold snap but was still a fairly miserable day to spend outside for hours trimming trees!IMG_2510.JPGIt might look like Jon was doing all the work but Dave takes notes in his extensive record book which has the history of each tree, its root stock, origin and age. I was in charge of supplying Jon with the bleach jar into which he dips his cutters before moving from tree to tree. I also constantly pump him for information as we go along and even tho I’ve heard some of it more than once, it always sinks in a bit deeper each year depending on just how much my teeth are chattering as a distraction!

Dave continues to work on the never ending fence project as we prepare for the official new North and South deer fencing to be installed. He makes me nervous using the chain saw so much. He takes out the tops as much as he can…UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f71.jpgAnd then employs the might of the tractor to pull the stumps. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f24.jpgThe Egg Subscription project has been very fun. As promised, I worked on producing a book that has basic chicken information as well as recipes. Thanks to Sue for providing several interesting recipes. Here is the cover page picturing our 6 breeds. wqqQMeA1Rme2eMq1TSQBxg_thumb_17f70.jpgWe have had several issues of late in the coop that have caused me pause. First, I found a bit of cannibalization in that there was evidence in one of the nest boxes of an egg having been laid and then subsequently eaten with only the wet spot of left over yolk and some shell to show for it. Ugh! I was not pleased to see this since when chickens start to eat their own eggs it can get out of hand and they enjoy them before we can collect them! Of course I immediately eliminated all trace of this and was keen to not allow eggs to sit in their nests very long after this. So far, this behavior has not continued but it made me think twice about feeding them their own shells. Instead, I collect them and have been adding them to the compost.IMG_2648.JPGAlso, we had the egg-citement of a very, very small egg being laid last week which I discovered in the outdoor run. I suspect it to be from a Cinnamon Queen. I showed it around to the subscribers last week and promised the kids who come to collect their weekly eggs that I will dissect it with them tomorrow so that we can see what is actually inside…does it have a yolk or is it just filled with egg white? Oddly enough, it doesn’t sit still on the paper towel for a photo…it swivels a bit as if it is either heavy on one side or magnetized! Hrmph!  Here it is next to a normal sized egg…I will report the outcome of the biopsy next time! IMG_2647.JPGMORE CHICKEN NEWS!….this just in today. When I went out to the early morning clean and feed session in the coop I found that Buttercup, one of our Easter Eggers, had a broken beak. UGH! She seems to have a long list of challenges. I’m not quite sure these issues arise because she is a target from others or whether some of her problems are self inflicted due to her own anxieties. In this case, I think she may have just gotten her beak chipped in a frenzy when the chicks react to sudden noise or action that causes them to panic and frantically flee in all directions. IMG_2646.jpgPoor girl! So what does a broken beak mean for a chicken? First of all, you need to understand that a chicken uses its beak for gathering food and exploring their environment such as preening and nesting.  Their beak grows much like our fingernails but slower. In a natural setting their beak will wear down thru use just about as fast as it grows. The farther back from the tip, the more the beak is supplied with nerve endings and blood. Hard to find a good graphic for this but I doubt you need the scientific names to convince you of the details.

nerves in beak

This injury seems to be fairly superficial but I will watch to make sure it doesn’t inhibit her from eating or drinking. My reading says this may repair itself in the next 6 weeks or so.

A highlight of our egg story happened recently when Kate and an old friend from grade school, Mandy, reconnected after 20 plus years. The two young families had dinner recently and I sent over a little box of eggs as a hello from the farm. Mandy subsequently sent Kate a photo of the project she created using the farm eggs…IMG_2609.JPGWow! This is the art of Pysanka, a Ukrainian egg decorating technique which is not unlike Batik, using wax and dye to create colorful designs on the shells. Mandy says this was her first experience using a brown egg for this technique but we all think it turned out rather well! I can’t wait to get Mandy to share more info on this when she gets time.

Wishing I had more time in the day but I did manage to provide the Artery with a new product recently. The owner, Kim, has been the recipient of my home made granola for years and calls it the Crack Cocaine of snack foods. I sent over the first 5 jars last week and she sold out immediately! I have since sent over another 6 jars for sale in addition to more pickles and jams!IMG_2514.JPGCoulter has kept us active all spring with visits to the local parks. UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17ebe.jpgHe was oh so happy recently to find that the zoo train is now back in action!UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_17f14.jpgFinally, a shout out to our neighbor, Luis, who celebrated his 89th birthday on Wednesday. We delivered a small carton of eggs, much to his delight!