My recent column on the Hur Herald: The Garden Marathon:
(As published today on www.hurherald.com)
Passed Basic Gardening, Freezing
and Canning: On to Chickens 101
Iâ€™m very proud of my education. I graduated from Marietta High School, Parkersburg Beauty College, Washington State Community College, and Glenville State College. I have four diplomas, plus. And yet, here in such a rural region, I feel like a complete idiot. I was likely 20 years old before I realized that â€œmade from scratchâ€ meant â€œnot out of a box.â€ I thought the box was scratch.
My first vegetable garden was a fiasco. What I did harvest, I ate immediately, and there was no surplus to concern myself with preserving. My first year canning tomatoes was a disaster. And the first year I canned peppers and made pepper relish and jelly was successful, but I didnâ€™t know to wear gloves and seriously burned my hands with chemical burns.
As someone who moved here from â€œthe city,â€ I have a suggestion for welcoming folks. Take them the traditional plate of food (with recipe included) and a copy of â€œThe Complete Idiotâ€™s Guide to Country Living,â€ or my favorite, â€œStoreyâ€™s Basic Country Skills.â€ Theyâ€™ll thank you again and again, and itâ€™ll save you from bailing them out so often.
Iâ€™m still afraid of the pressure canner, but I have mastered making applesauce in the crock pot, and can freeze just about anything you give me.
When I moved here, and found myself in a garden, or kitchen â€“ I had to learn from scratch. When I worked outside our home, I never really had the time to focus on learning about canning or gardening or cooking â€“ and it has taken me nearly twelve years to have both the time and knowledge to have even moderate success with the garden, and thus another three years to fully learn about canning and freezing and drying.
I think I have moved past basic vegetable gardening, and I am darn proud of my flower beds. We doubled the size of our vegetable garden this year — trying some new things — and I feel confident that I can preserve our harvest for the year(s) to come. In other words, I have enough experience now to know what NOT to do, so I think I can pull it off. I feel now, after fourteen years, that I can plant, grow, harvest and preserve a garden with moderate success.
This year, however, I have selected a new challenge. Iâ€™m getting chickens. I announced this to my friend Sue, who asked, â€œWhat kind of chickens do you want?â€ I replied, â€œThe kind that lay eggs.â€ Until a few months ago, thatâ€™s all I knew about chickens. I want eggs, and Iâ€™m afraid of roosters. Thatâ€™s all I knew.
I wanted chickens last year. Frank, knowing my ignorance, was not as excited as I. And when I said I didnâ€™t want a rooster, several folks told me, â€œYou canâ€™t have eggs without a rooster!â€
I was dismayed, because I really, really donâ€™t like roosters. I was flogged by a rooster when I was a kid, and I certainly donâ€™t want one of those around.
It was several months before I discovered that if you want eggs to eat — not to hatch â€“ you donâ€™t need a rooster. When I shared my discovery with Frank (who of course, knew this all along) he began asking me how I intended to house the chickens.
â€œWell,â€ I said. â€œThey have a coop and they run around the yard, right?â€
â€œDo you want chickens tearing up your flower beds?â€ He asked, knowing how I fret and coo over my flowers.
â€œNo,â€ I said, perplexed.
â€œSo you need a coop and a penâ€¦â€ He started, and left me again to find my own solution.
Then, I discovered chicken tractors. Movable coops. Small investment; low maintenance; some limited evening roaming for the hens. I had my solution. Frank could put me off no longer.
I then announced to my mother on one of our Saturday morning chats, â€œIâ€™m getting chickens this year,â€ and she, â€˜country-girl-turned-city-girlâ€™ laughed at her â€˜city-girl-going-countyâ€™ daughter. â€œWhat are you going to do when itâ€™s time to kill them?â€ She asked. â€œKill them? Iâ€™m not going to kill them.â€ I said. â€œIf theyâ€™re dead, they canâ€™t lay eggs.â€
I donâ€™t have my chickens yet. I donâ€™t even have the chicken tractor but I have the supplies I need. I donâ€™t know what chickens eat, or why they donâ€™t fly away, but I do know what critters will eat my chickens, and I do know a lot of people who have chickens that I can call and learn from, because there is no â€œComplete Idiotâ€™s Guide to Raising Chickens.â€
One reason I enjoy Two-Lane Livinâ€™ so much is because I, along with our readers, get to learn from our columnists. I learned how to grow my own garlic, clean my house with basics like baking soda and vinegar, save money on every day things, make my own compost, and more. For me, Two-Lane Livinâ€™ is like my own â€œComplete Idiotâ€™s Guideâ€ to whatever topic each columnist has chosen to discuss. Several of our columnists even have chickens, and although none of them have covered chickens yet, I know I can contact them with questions any time I need.
You can too. Contact information for our columnists is usually included at the end of their articles in our print edition, and within their pages in our online edition. Weâ€™ve also gathered a collection of links to columnist e-mails, web sites, and blogs on our Passinâ€™ Time page at Â www.twolanelivin.com
Our columnists would love to hear from you about your newest challenge, just as much as theyâ€™ll be happy to advise me about my chickens. Feel free to contact them, ask them questions, or send your encouragement to them any time.
(Preview of this installment for The Hur Herald: www.hurherald.com.)
Have You Seen The Signs?
Are we there yet? Seems as though weâ€™ve had a long journey through Winter, and our destination has been Spring. And, as is on any journey home, the closer you get the more familiar signs you see that youâ€™re getting close.
I cheated. I started Spring a little early. My friend (and fellow columnist), Sue, trimmed Forsythia and Quince branches for me about a month ago. Enough that, when I returned home and put them in water, I ended up with four large vases of bare twigs and branches. Within a week, I had pink and yellow and white blossoms all through the house. How wonderful to watch the blossoms plump, ripen and open.
Even deep down though, I knew it wasnâ€™t really Spring yet. That was, until I heard them. I was letting Daisy out the back door when, â€œPeep?â€ I tipped my head in disbelief, thinking my mind was playing tricks on me. But then, there it was again, and this time, there also came the reply, â€œPeep? Peep?â€ Peeper frogs. My heart swelled with excitement. Peeper frogs. Spring was surely not far away.
Each year, the peepers are a little early. Each year, they get themselves frozen at least once. I suppose they crawl back down in the mud to keep warm. But the next morning, as I stood on the back porch I have missed so much during the Winter, I spotted the fronds of my Crocus peeking up through the ground. Another sign. Another sign that weâ€™re almost there.
We even had a pleasant day or two, with sunshine, and then, as per Murphyâ€™s Law, the weather went sour just in time for delivery of the March issue. But it wasnâ€™t snow this time, just wind and rain and grey, and I saw more signs of Spring along the way.
There is sound again. Birds chirping, water flowing, you can hear life in the world again. The silence of Winterâ€™s frozen clasp on the hills and hollows echoes no more.
In the forests of Webster County, the mountains have taken on that pink hue. Those who donâ€™t live here may not know or notice, but right before Spring, the grey and brown hillside trees take on a cast of color â€“ pink. They are almost ready, primed and waiting, to burst out into full season color â€“ almost. This is a sure sign that weâ€™re close.
March is the roller coaster ride between Winter and Spring. This is where the journey becomes the most exciting, and perilous. Temperatures rising and falling, wind gusts and thunderstorms and Winterâ€™s last blasts. Seems as though we encounter a little bit of everything before Spring wins out.
The March issue of Two-Lane Livinâ€™ isnâ€™t like a roller coaster, but it does seem to have a little bit of everything. Spear fishing, anyone? Poetry? How about some new uses for duct tape or salt? Just think, by the time you finish reading this issue, Spring will have arrived.
As published today on The Hur Herald (www.hurherald.com)
Obviously, the weather hasnâ€™t been so cooperative for the delivery of the February issue. Losing two days of delivery last week has put us a little behind. As much of our delivery route includes what the Department of Highways calls â€œSecondary Roads,â€ delivery is especially challenging in the winter. But, thatâ€™s Two-Lane Livinâ€™, isnâ€™t it? If your area hasnâ€™t yet received their copies, and you simply canâ€™t wait, you can check out this monthâ€™s articles online at Â www.twolanelivin.com
No matter how inconvenient, I canâ€™t deny the beauty of white winters. Daisy, our beagle, and I have enjoyed daily walks through the snow covered fields following rabbit tracks, and I enjoy watching the morning sun sparkle on the fresh fallen, freeze-dried flakes on the ground. I find immense joy in the fact that I can walk through my yard, along the paths, without worrying about mud. I have a new flock of friends at the birdfeeder. Iâ€™ve finished two books, knowing that such reading time is only possible because of the extreme weather outside.
Winter weather captivity allows time for reflection and regrouping, adjusting plans and goals, and when that extreme weather seems to just keeps coming, even allows time to put some plans into action. It also allows us time to be creative, or, better yet, just â€œbe.â€ I completed an art project â€“ one that I started last year in February, and never finished. Iâ€™ve redrafted my business goals, objectives and strategies, and created a new sub-section to our web site to help business owners understand the uses of print advertising. All things I never found time for before.
So often, in todayâ€™s world, everyone seems to be in â€œGoâ€ mode. But when winter weather really lets us have it, we seem to have no choice but to at least take a pause or slow down. How often are adults given a day to fine tune their routine, catch up on their chores or, even take a nap? Like school children on their snow days, even adults get the opportunity to â€œplay,â€ or at least get a break from their routine when winter weather gets extreme.
Still, I am glad to see they days growing longer, and relished in the unseasonable warm day of sunshine this past Sunday, knowing the mud appearing beneath the melting snow would be frozen again Monday morning. I truly wouldnâ€™t mind such cold winters if the days werenâ€™t so gray.
Weâ€™re only four weeks away from Daylight Savings Time, and as much as I try to appreciate this winter opportunity for hibernative activities, I count the days until the time change.
With the February issue in circulation, our staff and columnists are already thinking on those days of daylight, the Ides of March a month from now. The March issue is already filling with the light and warmth and rich smells of pending spring. So, enjoy these quiet days of winter. Enjoy the February issue of Two-Lane Livinâ€™, knowing that within a few short weeks, the March issue will be at hand, and spring shall not be far behind. Weâ€™ll all be back into â€œgoâ€ mode then.
Appearing next week on The Hur Herald:
Two-Lane Livinâ€™ – ReadingÂ Between Two Lanes 8/8
We are coming up upon my least favorite time of the year. Perhaps it is the quiet, cold. Perhaps it has just been too long since weâ€™ve seen a sunny day. Winter is the time to hibernate â€“ and percolate.
My best ideas come early in the year, after the distraction of the holiday break. And yet, tucked inside, away from the cold weather, I can do no more than contemplate on many of these ideas, planning, waiting for warmer days when action can finally be taken.
Gardeners spend these days browsing seed catalogs, and those with winter gardens (I do not) still yet wait for harvest. Others live outside vicariously by feeding birds. February is the depth of winter, the darkest (or coldest) before the dawn of spring. Though February is the shortest month of the year, to me, it always feels the longest.
I must admit however, that I do enjoy my winter days of hiding, of planning and plotting projects. These are the ruminant days when I quietly convert ideas and dreams into theories and blueprints. Of course now, early into the season of winter, the ingredients in my mind are still percolating, fresh mixed from the holidays and restless. No where near a drinkable brew. As time passes Iâ€™ll become more and more anxious to put thought into action. But, Iâ€™ll find it harder to concentrate, feel tired all the time, and become less productive.
Why? Some folks call it â€œcabin fever.â€ The American Heritage Dictionary defines this as â€œboredom, restlessness or irritability that results from a lack of environmental stimulation.â€ Cabin fever is clinically known as Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD), a severe form of winter blues or winter depression. Apparently, there is a link between decreasing sunlight during the winter months and a chemical imbalance in the brain. Light affects the natural release of melatonin hormone, which is a regulator of consciousness.
That all sounds fine and dandy, but to me, it just means the winter mental tea Iâ€™ve been brewing needs to be set aside to steep for a while.
Soon. Soon weâ€™ll toss open the windows and doors to the gusts of spring storms and re-discover the pleasures of the porch again. Soon, weâ€™ll sit in the porch swing and watch Marchâ€™s thundering light shows while we drink our fresh-brewed tea.
But not yet. First, we have to percolate, and then we have to steep. Itâ€™s a medical winter fact.
The February issue of Two-Lane Livinâ€™ reflects this malady as well. Sue Cosgrove, organic gardener, talks of her backyard searches for signs of spring. Susanna Holstein shares the treats within her favorite seed catalogs in â€œGrannyâ€™s Front Porch,â€ and outdoorsman Randy Bodkins talks about his own pre-season activities. Kim Butler shares the joy of getting outside on a â€œSnow Day,â€ and Brenda Koch, â€œThe Bee Lady,â€ even tells of the winter world inside the bee hive. It seems that many of us must sit and wait. Sit and percolate.
To help pass the time during this winter waiting, the February issue of Two-Lane Livinâ€™ will be released January 26-30. The online edition at www.twolanelivin.com will be updated February 1.