Inkster Dispatch: She’s Off To the Quarter Finals!

abnaqtrfinalQuick update from Inkster Here…

Every time I hear the words “quarter finals” I think hockey. But today my dear darlings, it’s all about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Yes! Casz made it to the quarter finals. That means I went from 1 in 5,000 to 1 in 500 to now, 1 in 100. Amazing.

Think good thoughts. Maybe this baby might even go further.

We did get two rejections today, but we’re going to keep going.

Rock on and keep writing.

Dispatch End.

Inkster Out.

 

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Harvest Creations: My first month of Backyard Chicken Keeping

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You know how you just marvel over how your child (or niece or nephew, neighbor’s kids, your grandkid) grows so fast? Multiply that by four when it comes to your chicks. No, not the girl you picked up at the bar last night, honey! Your future fresh-egg layers. Chicks. Pullets. Hens. AKA The Girls.

This is what they looked like when we brought them home on March 2nd:

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This is what they look like now:

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They grow fast. What you learn about being a chicken keeper grows fast, too. What I’ve learned so far about raising chickens:

  1. Your brood incubator probably needs to be twice as large as what the “experts” say.
  2. Put bedding heavier in the corners because the scratching and pecking seems to be concentrated there.
  3. Handle your chickens often – this isn’t something outside of what the experts say, but they are not afraid of us any longer (even if they bitched when I had to transport them to “cleaning box”).
  4. My neighbors reacted surprisingly cool to our journey into becoming poultry keepers.
  5. You need to build your permanent coop faster than you think.

Musing over the past month of keeping The Girls (which you superstitiously must call them so they don’t get any ideas on becoming a rooster), I have decided that chickens are a gateway to building things. It’s kind of like when some comics talk about how smoking weed leads to making a bong or pipe out of anything and everything. As a backyard chicken keeper, you’re constantly trying to figure out how you can cheaply make your own coop, feeder, waterer. Why? Because buying a commercial pre-built coop – or waterer or feeder – is  expensive! Remember, I’m a freelance pen monkey; it’s feast or famine around here. So, cheap it needs to be (not cheep!).

In our area, a coop that is large enough for two hens costs about $450. We have 8 hens (hopefully, we’ll know in a couple of months for sure). So a coop to house our brood would run about a cool grand, easily. We also noted that they weren’t very well made or had good ventilation or good cleaning access. So, we decided that while The Girls were in the brood incubator we would build their eventual future home.

We wanted to keep costs down so we tried to reclaim as much as we could. That drove the plans. What also drove the plans was the space we had to keep them in. We started with an old bunk/loft bed that went through four of our 5 kids. We gleaned old hinges, etc. We did have to buy hardware cloth, a few 2 x 2s and roofing materials. I’m thrilled with what we ended up with, for sure. A few lessons include:

  1. Take into account that you’ll need to access framing when you mount the hardware cloth. We had to slow down on construction because this was time-intensive because of how we framed our coop. Also, hardware cloth is easier to work with in sections as opposed to the whole roll.
  2. Hinges are the devil’s work, and frakking expensive, too.
  3. If we could do it from all new lumber, we’d use a lot more 2x2s and 7/16” exterior-grade plywood. It would cut the weight down by more than half, making our goal for it to be more mobile. It’s hefty right now, but no windstorm is going to knock it down either.
  4. You will drag out all your cool tools that you haven’t used in a while. Don’t have cool tools? Better find a buddy who does. You’ll need ‘em.

Here’s the coop building in a picture slide show:  http://bit.ly/1e9mubV

In total with the cost of the chicks, the feed, wood chips, hay, heat lamp bulb, containers to store aforementioned materials, and (again, why are these so expensive!) hinges, our initial chicken investment was $369.80. Still cheaper than pre-fab equipment. Our waterer cost us a dollar (I’ll do a blog post on that later). Our feeder, $5.99.  The roofing material was the most expensive – but we needed it to hold up to Western Washington wind storms and rain. Regardless we saved about $750 by doing it ourselves. Obviously this doesn’t include our labor, especially that of the lead architect, engineer, and foreman, my husband. It was a labor of love – or rather, for his love that he did it. Regardless, our coop gives us obnoxious access to help clean and get the eggs, or lay feed, all the things you need to do to make backyard chicken-keeping as sanitary and safe as possible for both humans and poultry. Most prefab stuff doesn’t have that. I have fellow backyard chicken keepers that have done prefab and end up mod’ing their coop extensively.

At the going rate for organic, cage-free, well-cared-for-and-loved pullets’ fresh eggs, that means my Girls need to lay about 61 dozen eggs (and yes, I plan to keep track) for me to get back what I put into it. That’s just their value as egg producers. They also have given our family a bit of a project we all contributed to, taught my children a few things, and given my husband and me hours of enjoyment just watching their stupid butts. And stupid they are. Adorable. Loyal. But stupid. There is no such thing as a smart chicken, I read once while preparing to become a backyard chicken keeper. How true that is. However, two in my brood are smarter than most in the lot, and two of the eight are dumber than the lot.

There will be further mods to the Coop DeVille, as we’re calling it (every backyard chicken keeper makes a pun on their Coop name, it seems). We already made one – access to the below (another blog post down the road). Additionally, we plan to carve out a Coupe DeVille-shaped window to give The Girls more light. We also are trying to make ours more of a mobile/tractor coop. Currently we move it with a tow strap and a dolly. Further investment will be made in order to more simply move it around the yard. Right now it will get moved once a week. Also, I’ll be making some more decorative accompaniments, to include some herbal hanging baskets around to keep flies down. (Yes, there will be another blog post).

Maybe this whole backyard chicken keeping is a foolish man’s folly. Maybe I won’t get my return on investment. I don’t feel that way right now. But if you’re thinking about getting chickens, be sure to understand you’re going to be building things (unless you have the cash outlay to just pay someone like my hubby to do it for you). Our chicken coop was our gateway drug. We’re building a duck pen now, as we’re also rescuing a mated pair of ducks. So far we’ve spent a little bit of gas to pick up an old dog house to mod into the Duck pen.

Guess I better go set up another spread sheet.

While I do that, won’t you tell me about your backyard chicken experience? What have you learned? If you’re considering it, what questions do you have?

Let’s talk chickens…or ducks.

The last day in the brood incubator. Time to be real hens in the Coop DeVille.

The last day in the brood incubator. Time to be real hens in the Coop DeVille.

 

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Inkster Dispatch: Cross Your Fingers & Mums the Word

inksterJust a quick dispatch from Inkster here. For those new to Casz’s Fiction Farm, I am Casz’s Writing Superhero alter-ego. I swoop in to tell you of great news. We can all blame Aaron Dietz for my existence.

Regardless….

In the “best news in a while” category:  Casz got a short story accepted! However, she can’t talk about it yet. Also, she made the first cut of the Amazon Breakthrough  Novel Award in the Young Adult category. Fingers crossed that she makes the next round. You can cross your toes that her latest submissions also get accepted at other places.

Work on the initial draft of WHEN A RAVEN PECKS OUT YOUR NORMAL continues, as does the final edits on SECOND THOUGHT. Keep sending your good mojo that these projects complete and find publishing homes.

Thanks for reading. Tell us what creative project you’re working on right now.

Inkster Out.

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Harvest Creations: Gardening To Do for April

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BEFORE

 

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AFTER

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Above:  You can see the major project that was my Camellia bush/now tree. It hadn’t had a haircut since 2010, which was a minimal one at that, because I didn’t know what I was doing back then. It’s a much happier being today — good thing I did, too. There was evidence of fungal and pests starting to move in. It got some pest control, all natural, and some fertilizer, too. Going to stay on top of this from now on. Oooh, I’m sore!)

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I need to find better urban farming work gloves.

Here it is, April Fool’s Day. Urban farming is no joke – unless the joke’s on agri-business and other corporate commanders. But it’s so delightful – not necessarily in a humorous way – to know where your food comes from and to have a pantry full of preserved foods you grew yourself. Prepping for the growing season is going well.

This is a great way to plant seeds. I may do a separate blog post on this method.

This is a great way to plant seeds. I may do a separate blog post on this method.

Most of March’s to-do list was done. Some of it was pre-empted by Chicken Coop building (blog post on that forthcoming), but hopefully this weekend we’ll knock out the rest of it. In about a week’s time I’ll have to harvest mint, rhubarb, and kale.

 

Something I learned last month is that we need to get on that greenhouse and fast. I don’t have enough window sill space to do starts fast enough. Also, the birds around here love leaf compost and will find your seed cloths and deposit them outside your beds. Put up CD scarecrows with each planting. I also learned that my investment into coveralls and muck boots was the smartest thing I could have done. Now I need to find a gardening glove that doesn’t fall apart. My sister got me a pair of bamboo nitrile gloves for Yule. This weekend they busted a hole in the right hand (my dominant side). What suggestions for gloves do you have? I’m wondering if I should look into Mechanix gloves? I use those for firewood and other projects around the homestead, but not typically for gardening.

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Throughout April, more successive plantings of these.

 

Here’s what’s on my Gardening To Do List for April:

 

  • Till up new Grow Food, Not Lawns space and compost (leftover from March)

 

  • Get border flowers in new GFNL #2 space

 

  • Cut down dead trees in orchard and set up spiral garden (this may take through June) to move blueberries and strawberries to…

 

  • Begin to reconstruct strawberry/blueberry area

 

  • Get Broccoli, Swiss chard, and Brussels Sprout starts in the ground*

 

Get parsley starts from nursery and get in ground (I forgot t buy seeds)

 

  • Cut away dead from bay tree and thyme patch (our couple of sub-zero days this winter decimated my herb garden)

 

  • Keep weeding (herb garden, strawberry, and blueberry patch)

 

  • Prep pepper bed

 

  • Plant successive rows of radish, peas, turnips, spinach, green onions

 

  • Mid-month, get rest of lettuce starts outside in ground; plant more lettuce starts indoors.

 

  • Continue getting things like tomatoes, peppers, corn, cucumbers, etc. going indoors.

 

  • Continue slug and critter control with sluggo and coyote urine pellets

 

  • Continue painting garden signs for front herb garden

 

  • Patio brick in green bean patch to keep puppy out (she keeps digging her bones in there…the access is too easy), plant seeds of both pole to climb lattice and bush beans in front

 

  • Get annuals for potted plants and get in pots

 

  • Pull up border around rhody bush, compost and get new border that won’t inhibit growth

 

  • Get fencing for front garden? (we’re still debating on this…depends on if people are rude and invade our space).

 

  • Begin to research beekeeping steps and plan accordingly

 

 

As you can see, there are lots of chores to do this month. Granted, some of it will take me through May, but I need to get started on them now. So looking forward to ripping up the front lawn. Having a grass allergy makes me like lawn care even less. My hubby’s not a fan either. So it wasn’t hard to get him to support this plan.

The weeding never ends. Here's a garden path I'm filling with rocks, ground cover, and succulents.

The weeding never ends. Here’s a garden path I’m filling with rocks, ground cover, and succulents.

 

Well, the garden waits for no one. Time to get to work.

 

What gardening chores do you have to do? What things have you learned?

 

 

 

 

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Harvest Creations: Gardening To Do’s for March

This is a familiar site around my valley today.

This is a familiar site around my valley today.

Well, the weather around her in the last part of February and leading into the first of the month has been nothing but ice and rain. Compared to other sections of the country, I’m happy with the rain and the quick-lived ice storm versus the Polar Vortex Voodoo other areas have endured. But, it hasn’t made for easy list checking-off.

It’s embarrassing how much I haven’t gotten done. As I said, I blame the weather. As it is the daffodils have not popped on my land, save one that just opened this morning. And it looks as if some critter ate all my crocus bulbs. Regardless, this is what I still need to do from February and into this month:

This year's first daffodil to bloom. 3.10.14.

This year’s first daffodil to bloom. 3.10.14.

  1. Till up the new garden space & compost it.
  2. Take the transplants from inside, plant starts outside.
  3. Plant successive planting of radishes, carrots outdoors
  4. Plant spinach, turnips, and reseed peas, if necessary, outdoors
  5. Plant indoor starts of dill, parsley
  6. Put more compost down on naked beds (this is partially done, but more still needs to be done)
  7. Trim out-of-control shrubs (I have one that has been untouched since we moved here four years ago, that desperately needs topping.)
  8. Start broccoli, bok choy, swiss chard, kale, brussel sprouts indoors (there’s a chance I won’t do bok choy, it seems to be a rabbit magnet).
  9. Sharpen my bush lopers
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The starts are strong, if not as full as I’d like at this point.

Meanwhile the lettuce and cabbage starts are going, albeit slowly.

What I need to add to my list in March:

  1. Lop off old broccoli & pepper plants and see if they’ll renew
  2. Relocate brussel sprouts that survived winter to new location
  3. Move Swiss Chard outside (if I don’t get the starts planted, I’m just going to plant directly in the ground, which is harder with critter control)
  4. Plant starts of larkspur, calendula, yarrow, and other herbs inside.
  5. Get tomato and pepper starts begun indoors.

There’s a lot to do, as you can see. My plan is to try to knock one thing off the list each day, working around the weather as necessary. My farming friends in the lower valley are dealing with some moderate flooding right now – winter squash and things like that have been ruined. Today is a good reminder that without a good balance of rain, sun, and the like, we don’t have a very good crop. Even when we do, Mother Nature can come along and remind us who is boss. Is it a wonder we have to do things like rain dances and fertility rites and harvest celebrations?

What’s on your gardening to do list?

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