Sunday, January 25, 2009

Winter weekend

It's been a quiet week at Seven Trees. Seeds are ordered, chicks are ordered, paint colors picked out. Now we just have to wait for spring. So we decided to make some bread. It's a great recipe that only takes a few minutes of work, and no kneading. Goes great as a loaf, especially with butter and homemade grape jelly. And it works as pizza crust too.
The recipe is from soon-to-be-gone Seattle PI - "Here's how to make artisan bread with just a few minutes of work".

Here we have Magnus Cat (who now has his own Facebook page), investigating the laundry.
Since it's been too dang cold to take Gemini out for a drive (and he may be too woolly for his harness anyway!) he got a workout on the lunge line. He doesn't care for being made to exercise ;)

Here he is, after blowing off a little steam, with a quick peek at Doug & Buddy, who were fascinated by the whole thing. What sounds like traffic in the background is the north wind which has been blowing steady for a long chilly time.

Almost forgot!
The big "demand" button in the upper right corner is to request Marc Gunn to play in the PNW. He's a very entertaining musician and podcaster, and we'd love to see him play at one of the Highland Games or a local pub. His home page with more information is at
If you like cats, Irish music and drinking, then check out Irish Drinking Songs for Cat Lovers
And if you want to hear a well-chosen mix of Celtic & Irish music, try Marc Gunn's Irish & Celtic Music Podcast

Today was Burns Night, the annivesary of poet Robert Burn's birthday. We didn't celebrate it this year, since we didn't procure a haggis in time, but maybe next year...
There are a lot of customs and rituals surrounding this observation, most dramatic of which is the Entrance of the Haggis. Here's a step-by-step video guide and more great information, plus recipes, from the BBC Food site.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Chicken choices - 2009

Now that we've figured out what we're planting in the garden this year, it's time to choose some chicks for this year's laying flock. Hens will be productive for a few years, but as they get older eggs will be less in number and get much larger. We call the eggs laid by our veteran hens "tennis balls", since they seems to be about that size. Our current flock, which consists of Barred Rock, Buff Orpington and Cherry Egger hens, is in their laying prime right now. But we want to ensure a continued supply of eggs, as well as have some hens to sell. So we'll order another batch of chicks in time to mature right when we plan to sell our current flock.
This year we're trying a few new-to-us hens. The picture at the top of the page is a Welsummer hen. Cackle Hatchery says: "The Welsummer is a Dutch breed named after the village of Welsum in Holland, developed in the 1900's. It was first imported into this country in 1928 for its large brown egg. The Welsummer is a large, upright, active bird with a broad back, full breast, large full tail. and a single comb. They are a fast growing bird and a very rare breed here in the United States. Admitted to the American Standard of Perfection in 1991."
Check out the beautiful spotted brown eggs they lay (all but the top row in the picture below)!
The hen below is a color variation of the Plymouth Rock called a Partridge Rock. We're ordering from Stromberg's hatchery this year (since Cackle Hatchery doesn't offer the Welsummers pre-sexed), and they have a 25 chick minimum for shipping. So we have an opportunity to try out some new flock members to make up the minimum amount. Some websites say they are a little smaller than the Barred Rocks (we're getting more of those too), but as long as they are happy layers, we'll like them just fine.

The hen below might look a bit familiar to our readers who remember Del the rooster. We want big cold-hardy hens for our flock, that lay big sturdy eggs. Delaware hens should fit the bill, and also be good eating birds once they are done with their laying career. They are also on the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy list as critical. We don't plan to breed them this year, but eventually we'll breed our own replacements. It would be nice to help bring back a breed that is part of our heritage, but only after we give them a trial run.

Another repeat performer for 2009's flock will be the Buff Orpingtons. They are a nice solid sturdy cold-tolerant layer. Though we like the Cherry Eggers just fine, the Buffs and Barred seem more laid back & friendly, and worth keeping as regular flock members.

How do we go about choosing chickens when there are so many breeds out there? One handy tool is Henderson's ICYouSeeHandy-Dandy Chicken Chart. It's an Australian site, so they call chickens "chooks", and it's really helpful when you have specific criteria in mind. You can scroll down and see egg size & color, winter layer or not, breed origins, broodiness, etc. There are also other pages on the site with more information on all aspects of chicken-keeping.

Another helpful site (if you're interested in chicken nutrition, and maybe making up your own chicken feed) is one called Chicken Feed. Some great ideas for raising worms as protein for hens, also calculators to see if your home-blend has what chickens need to be good meat birds and layers. A good resource as store-bought feed prices keep going up.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Is it spring yet?

It's that scary-licious time of year when we have to put down the seed catalogs and place our orders. Time to commit to a list of plants, and hope to get a year's worth of produce from them. Most of 2009's veggies are return visitors, but we're adding a few we've never tried before.
The picture above is Detroit Dark Red Short Top from Fedco Seeds, who say:
"Introduced 1892 and still the standard late variety for home gardeners and canners. Globular smooth uniform beets with tender oxblood-red flesh. This short top strain had the best roots in our evaluations."
Beets seem pretty happy here, especially with all the compost we add to the garden soil. We've grown Early Wonder Tall Top, which was good for fresh eating & pickling, but the greens were a bit iffy. Bulls Blood was a red-leafed variety we tried too. The "greens" were wonderful, with a deep purple-crimson color. The roots themselves were good, but stayed small. Since we get lots of wonderful greens from chard & spinach, we're going to concentrate on beets for pickling this year.

Most gardeners in the PNW were challenged by the cold spring of 2008. Plants just didn't want to grow! We ended up replanting more than one kind of veggie because the seeds rotted in the ground. Everything eventually got into gear, but by then there just wasn't much time to set and ripen fruit. We would have had a bumper pepper crop judging by how many green ones we managed to pickle. But I really wanted to try those candy apple red Jimmy Nardello's or have some Cayennes mature enough to gring into red pepper flakes.

This year we decided to hedge our bets and look for short season peppers. After hearing good things about the Czech Black hot pepper from Fedco and a few friends, we're giving this black beauty (see picture above) a try. Fedco says:

"Black when immature, the 21/2" long conical fruits ripen to a lustrous garnet... Mild juicy flesh runs with a cherry red juice when cut. The heat, a tad less than a jalapeƱo’s, is in the ribs and seeds... 2-1/2–3' bushes bear very early, setting about 20 pointed thick-walled peppers per plant."

Now that the only plants left in the garden are these topless mangel beets, the hens can get to work tilling in all the compost piled on the garden rows. They really look forward to it and it's a big help working in all that raw material.

Warning! Gratuitous critter pics below.

Crichton assembled a hoard of catnip toys and proceeded to beat the crap out of them. As you can tell by the rest of the pictures, no one was impressed....

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Rain keeps falling...

Smith road between Everson Goshen and 542...

Doggy depth checkers...

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

State of Emergency

Whatcom County was under a state of emergency Wednesday, Jan. 7, after major roads and the Nooksack River have flooded from warm rains and melting snow.
Here's some pics of the Nooksack at Deming this afternoon.

Here the dogs check the depth for me.

At full roil... amazingly loud!

Friday, January 02, 2009

St. Distaff's Day means work and play

Distaff Day is January 7th, the day after the feast of the Epiphany. It is also known as Saint Distaff's Day, since it was not really a holiday at all. In many European cultural traditions, women resumed their household work after the twelve days of Christmas. (Men didn't return to work until Plough Monday - go figure!)
The distaff, used in spinning, was the medieval symbol of women's work. Often the men and women would play pranks on each other during this day, as was written by Robert Herrick in his poem "Saint Distaffs day, or the Morrow After Twelfth Day":
Partly work and partly play
You must on St Distaff's Day:
From the plough soon free your team;
Then come home and fodder them:
If the maids a-spinning go,
Burn the flax and fire the tow.
Bring in pails of water then,
Let the maids bewash the men.
Give Saint Distaff all the right:
Then bid Christmas sport good night,
And next morrow every one
To his own vocation.
This mirthful observance recalls a time when spinning was the occupation of almost all women and girls during the intervals of other and more serious work, and while caring for children, cooking, minding livestock, etc. Spinning was so integral to a woman's workload, that in England and its colonies, spinster was a recognized legal term for an unmarried woman—the spear side and the distaff side were legal terms to distinguish the inheritance of male from that of female children—and the distaff became a synonym for woman herself.
Five hundred years ago, Chaucer classed this art among the natural endowments of the fair sex in his ungallant proverb:
'Deceit, weeping, spinning, God hath given
To women kindly, while they may live.'

It was admitted in those old days that a woman could not quite make a livelihood by spinning; but, says Anthony Fitzherbert, in his Boke of Husbandrie 'it stoppeth a gap,' it saveth a woman from being idle, and the product was needful. No rank was above the use of the spindle. Homer's princesses only had them gilt. The lady carried her distaff in her gemmed girdle, and her spindle in her hand, when she went to spend half a day with a neighbouring friend. The farmer's wife had her maids about her in the evening, all spinning.
Women still carry on this skill, some by necessity, and many by choice. As the picture below of a Romanian woman with her distaff and drop spindle shows, the tools of the trade have remained the same for centuries.
More recently, modern day fiber art & crafts groups have taken up St. Distaff's Day as a celebration of this ancient practice.
There is an excellent book, Women's Work: The First 20,000 Years : Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, which goes into fascinating detail about the importance of women's work involving all aspects of cloth production in the greater economy.
Other sources for information about St. Distaff's Day: