Monthly Archives: July 2013

Chickens: What is the Deal with Dust Baths?

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Owning chickens is a simple pleasure in life.  Living in an urban setting with chickens just seems normal for this farmer’s-daughter-turned-urbanite.  For all practical matters, the chickens don’t mind where they live, just as long as they have food, water, predator-proof shelter, and an area to take dust baths.

The Marans enjoying a dust bath

The Marans enjoying a dust bath

What?  You haven’t heard of dust baths?  Now while this doesn’t appeal to all the critters on your homestead or backyard, chickens absolutely love them.  And the dustier they get, the more they seem to enjoy it.  In case you don’t believe me, I have included a picture showing three of my Marans enjoying a leisurely dust bath (which they decided to do in one of my garden beds).

A burning question you may have is, “Why do chickens take dust baths?”. Well, the simple answer is this is how they protect themselves from external parasites such as mites and lice which can live on the skin, feathers, and shanks of the birds.

I would also add (as a frequent observer of this ritual) that dust baths are social occasions.   If the area is large enough, multiple chickens will bathe together and after they finally settle in place, my girls will begin to coo softly, definitely a sign of a very contented chicken.  They truly enjoy their ‘spa’ time and frequently take up to an hour in their dust bath.

If your chickens free-range, they will search out an area.  For my girls, they prefer a spot in the shade and with very loose soil.  They will start scratching with their feet, creating a chicken-sized hollow.  Once they have dug down deep enough (generally 1″ – 3″) they will lay down on their side, never in the classic chicken-on-a-nest-box pose.  Then using both their feet and wings in a coordinated effort, they stir up the soil.  The feet kick up the dirt while their wings help distribute the resulting ‘dust’ on themselves.  Once they have an established area, they will return over and over, but if the area is changed (soil is no longer loose or if a large plant is now in that place) they will seek out a different location.

chicken-frost-dust-bathFor those new to witnessing a dust bath, don’t worry.  Your chicken is not having a seizure.  Chickens will roll from side to side while they kick up dirt and then flap their wings to distribute it.

My araucana, Frost, is in mid-dust bath.  When I snapped the photo, she  just started to roll to the other side.  Notice how she squirreled herself at the edge of my carrots?  As she  bathed, she nibbled on the carrot foliage, and enjoyed a bath-time snack.

Please note that when a chicken has finished with their bath, they will stand up and shake themselves.  If you are watching them, I would recommend standing back at least 4′ if you don’t want to get covered in the resulting dust cloud; 10′ back if you are wearing white.

When conditions prevent my chickens from free-ranging, they are confined to the coop and run.  I create a dust bath area in the run so they can enjoy this ritual.  Since I know they like shady spots, I select a shady corner of the run, dig out a hollow that is about 4 chickens wide and then fill the hollow with sand.  They love the sand!  It is even looser than the soil in my garden beds.  They are in the bath area as soon as I step aside, which on some days, I am almost tripping over chickens to get out of the way.

So fellow chicken-lovers, embrace the dust bath.  Not only is it good for their health, but it allows for some great social interaction.  After all, don’t we all deserve a little spa time?

6 Reasons to Grow Daylilies

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single daylilyI love this time of year.  All of the vegetables have been planted, herbs are being harvested, and we are in the midst of berry picking.  Even though we focus on edibles: fruits, vegetables, herbs, fresh eggs, and honey, we enjoy a bit of deliberate beauty by planting some perennials around our homestead.  Right now, one of the showiest is in full bloom: daylilies!

I spied the first glorious bloom earlier this week.  This prompted me to heave myself from the depths of the patio chair and go in for closer inspection.  There it was… a daylily in bloom! Delirious from this discovery, I checked the rest of my daylilies.  Each clump was sporting a scape (or flowering stalk) with multiple buds.  Even though each bloom lasts but one day, the multiple buds per scape ensure that we will have weeks worth of blossoms.

There are several reasons why daylilies made the short list of perennials in our garden.

Six Reasons to Grow Daylilies

1) They come in a wide range of colors including yellows, pinks, reds, purples, and shades of melon.  How’s that for selection?  You could pick varieties to coordinate with your existing landscape or to add unexpected pops of color against a sea of green foliage.

2) Daylilies are low maintenance plants.  Plant them in well-drained, fertile soil and in a location where they receive a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight per day.  Water regularly for best blooms, but they will tolerate drier conditions.

3) These gems are quite hardy and experience relatively little disease or pests.

4) The flower form (or shape of the bloom) comes in a wide variety.  The forms include, but are not limited to: star, trumpet, spider, circular, ruffled, and my personal favorite… double.  Each shape is definitely unique and adds to the charm of these wonderful little bloomers.

5) Daylilies come in multiple bloom sizes where the bloom is measured by the diameter.  I have several varieties that sport miniature blooms (blooms that are less than 3”).  These truly are petite pretties.  The next size up is small where the blooms range from 3” to 4 ½”.  The last category is large.  Here, blooms range from 4 ½” up to 12”. Now imagine seeing something like that in your backyard!  When these varieties are in bloom, they add a very dramatic effect to the landscape.

6) These perennials bloom profusely.  Daylilies are a guaranteed bloomer season after season.

Spider flower form daylily

Spider flower form daylily

If you are interested in finding out more about daylilies, check out The American Hemerocallis Society at:  www.daylilies.org.

Tinker’s Garden is another helpful website at: http://db.tinkersgardens.com this website sports an impressive daylily database.  Simply enter the cultivar name (if your not certain of the name, just start typing and a dropdown list of daylily names will appear) and then hit the search button.  This is a great way to view information about a particular variety and in some cases, see a photo of the plant in bloom.

Summer Fresh Basil Pesto Base

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Summer Fresh Basil Pesto Base

To me, July means fresh herbs, whether it is from the farmer’s market, a friend’s garden or my own back yard.  Each morning in anticipation, I walk through the garden beds with a basket and pruners in hand.  And while I pick thyme, oregano, sage, chives, my favorite greets me with it’s large, bright green leaves.  I am talking about basil!  And not just any basil, but specifically, Genovese basil; the classic basil used in pesto.

If you love pesto, but have never made your own, you are missing out.  Yes, I know that you can buy pesto in stores, usually in glass jars so it shows off the color, tempting you to pick it up and put it in your shopping basket.  But folks, I am telling you that homemade pesto is so much more flavorful and pretty darn easy to make.

From my kitchen to yours, I am sharing my basil pesto base recipe.  I call it a base, because I do not  add cheese since it is destined for the freezer.  Personally, I do not like the flavor of cheese after it has been frozen.  Since I leave the cheese out, I can serve this to my vegan friends.  I also do not add all of the olive oil that I normally would if making pesto to use immediately.  This is done intentionally so the mixture will freeze well.

Urban Overalls: Basil Pesto Basepesto-blended-smooth

  • 3 C. packed basil (leaves only) or about 6 oz.
  • 3/4 C. roasted pine nuts (roast nuts at 425F for 5 1/2 – 6 minutes or until golden brown)
  • 1 C. good quality olive oil
  • 1 1/4 oz. fresh garlic (or 8 – 10 large cloves)
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Place all ingredients in a blender.  Blend until the mixture is smooth and it is a uniform color.  Please note that this mixture will be thick.  After the mixture is well combined, spoon into a tray to freeze.  (I use the silicon 2-bite brownie trays sold at craft stores.)  Ice cube trays will also work.

Freeze the pesto until solid (about 2 hours) and then remove from the tray and place into freezer bags or other container suitable for use in the freezer.

This recipes makes approximately 25 cubes (~ 5/8 oz. each).

Pesto in 2-bite-brownie tray

Pesto in 2-bite-brownie tray

Doesn’t this look wonderful even in the tray?  The color is such a vibrant green and truly evokes the look of summer.  Not only is this pesto visually appealing, but aroma is heady.  Basil, garlic, and olive oil all vie for your attention.

When harvesting basil, select the larger upper leaves.  Avoid leaves that are yellow or brown along the edges, all those leaves will negatively affect the flavor of the pesto.  Instead, select only whole, bright green leaves for best results.  To maximize the flavor, make the pesto the day you harvest.

Pesto frozen into cubes

Pesto frozen into cubes

This pesto is great stirred into pasta.  I use approximately 3 cubes per pound of pasta.  To finish pesto and pasta, I stir in 1 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese and 1/8 cup of olive oil.  Season to taste.

Homemade pesto also makes a great sandwich spread.  Stir in 1 pesto cube per 1 cup of mayonnaise.  For easy mixing, allow the pesto to come to room temperature before using.

I also use this pesto when roasting vegetables.  Bring 1 pesto cube to room temperature.  Mix in 2 pounds of vegetables such as new potatoes, onions, carrots, or tomatoes and then roast in the oven until the vegetables are tender.

These little heavenly pesto cubes also enhance the flavor of my spaghetti sauce.  To one quart of sauce, add 1 cube of pesto (allow to come to room temperature) and 1/8 cup of olive oil to a large pan over medium heat.  Stir to combine.  Serve over pasta.  Yum!