The Week’s Harvest – 2015-06-06


This week we pulled thirteen radishes, which makes our total harvest so far this year: fifteen radishes, one quart of violets, and a million eggs. Alright, you’ve got me. I heard your mental chastising from here. I really don’t know how many eggs, but I will start counting, okay? 🙂

P.S. Look for the robot in the above picture. He is the cutest tea “ball” EVER.

Garden Helpers


I was digging in some day lilies I’d received from Freecycle, and it was taking some effort due to the clay content in our soil. After a few grunts and an arm slung across my forehead wiping the sweat away from my eyes, I glanced up to see this:


I’ve been very fortunate to have my helpers out in the garden (especially the Bigs – not pictured in this post). They run and grab me tools or help me move plants.

Gabe with Shovel

Sometimes they sling a little mud here or there. I don’t mind. Some doctors and academics suggest a little dirt is good for their immune system, and some suggest that a lot of dirt is good.

 The results so far suggest that simply inhaling M. vaccae—you get a dose just by taking a walk in the wild or rooting around in the garden—could help elicit a jolly state of mind. “You can also ingest mycobacteria either through water sources or through eating plants—lettuce that you pick from the garden, or carrots,” Lowry says.

Is Dirt the New Prozac?” by Josie Glausiusz [Discover Magazine]


I will admit that upon gazing at my one year old, I did let out a small gasp. We grabbed the hose and gently washed off most of the mud, undressed him in the middle of the yard, and in he went for a bath.


We’re those people with naked babies in their front yard.


Chicken Coop Construction: Insulation, Walls, and Roosting

The exterior of our chicken coop may still look like a garden shed, but the interior has greatly changed since when we bought the property in July 2013.

Chicken Coop Construction Continued

My husband, Aaron, essentially did all the work of retrofitting the coop within the month of May 2014. The chicks had arrived eighteen days after our fourth child was born via an emergency Caesarean section, so I wasn’t up for much hard labor quite yet. …Well, see for yourself what I was doing while my husband slaved away. 🙂

Feeding Baby


Our chicks arrive as tiny little fluff balls in a cardboard box…



…and in two weeks, they had become toddlers in a Tupperware container.

Chicks - Two Weeks Old

But soon they were month-old, gawky adolescents itching to be living full-time in the coop instead of in a plastic box in the basement. With the inside of the coop getting close to finished, we plopped them inside for more space and then continued to work on the outside.

Hens - 30 Days Old

Drafts and Cleaning

Funky panorama of the inside of the coop

Funky panorama of the inside of the coop

First, Aaron insulated the inside of the coop between the studs with expanded styrofoam. Next, he stapled plastic over the insulation then installed fiberglass shower panels on the walls and ceiling and caulked all the seams. He then painted the plywood floor white. Somewhere in there, he’d also cut the openings for the nesting box and for the guillotine door.

Insulated Coop
It gets really chilly in Minnesota (-40 F wind chill isn’t unheard of), and we were hoping to cut down on drafts with the insulation, plastic, and shower board. In addition, the walls are very easy to clean.



Originally I had wanted to install several broom handle or shower curtain rods across the top of the coop at the same height for the ladies to sit on in order to reduce dominance issues, but we were forced into scavenging for hen house parts from what we already owned. We had an old ladder that came from a neighbor back in Mount Vernon, Iowa, that we thought might fit the bill. At first, it just sat propped on the floor, but later Aaron cut it so that it’s completely off the ground. (Picture will be in later post) This allows for really easy cleaning because we just push all the litter out of the door without having to move the roosts.

We quickly learned, though, that there were going to be struggles for dominance as everyone tried to sit on the top rung… and on each other.





To date, the only ventilation that has been done is the trapezoidal cut-outs on either side of the stud in the above picture. Aaron lined the vents with hardware cloth and called it good. Eventually, we want to work on making the windows removable so that in the summer we can pop in screens instead.




The chicken coop construction saga will be continued with future posts on: creating the run, guillotine door, and nesting box; how we survived our first winter; and a video tour of the coop now.

Meet Helix, Our Hardest Worker

Sourdough Pancakes & Violet Syrup


Yesterday morning I sat myself down to a wonderful breakfast of thin, airy pancakes topped with syrup. These weren’t just any pancakes, though, and this wasn’t just any syrup. These were Helix pancakes with violet syrup.

Meet Helix

Helix is one of the hardest workers at our home – wait, thousands of the hardest workers at our home. Helix is comprised of flours, water, lactic acid bacteria, and yeast.

The sourdough bâtard, on the other hand, is a product of natural fermentation involving wild yeasts and bacteria. Almost all the bacteria are lactobacilli, cousins of the bacteria that curdle milk into yogurt and cheese. “These lactobacilli outnumber yeasts in sourdough by as many as 100 to one,” Sugihara says. It’s the acids they make that give sourdough its tartness. Not only that, say European researchers, the bacteria also contribute carbon dioxide as well as aromatic compounds that infuse bread with flavor and delicious smells.

The Biology… of Sourdough by Patricia Gadsby and Eric Weeks [Discover Magazine]


When I started Helix over a year ago, I did so by following this tutorial by Jean Nick over at Rodale’s Organic Life. He started his existence as a gluten-free starter made from Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free All Purpose Baking Flour (without xanthan gum and guar gum) inside of a half-gallon Ball jar. This, however, left a very potato-y taste to everything we made with him. I switched to a coconut flour soon afterwards because I had oodles of it lying around. This caused Helix to bubble and overshoot the jar with so much enthusiasm that we were enthralled. I had originally started Helix as a gluten-free starter so that I could experiment with gluten-free breads for my mother who has Celiac’s disease.


Lately, I’ve been feeding Helix with a rye flour. He’ll probably eventually switch back to a gluten-free flour blend, but we had a lot of rye flour lying around. Somewhere in between the coconut flour and the rye flour, Helix started to develop this wonderful, heady crumb. He smells like bread baking when he ferments. It’s intoxicating.

When I first started a sourdough starter a handful of years ago, I had to toss it multiple times as each time the local gnats got the move-in notice and turned it into a rent-by-the-hour hostel. By taking flour sacking and cutting it into squares and then securing it with the wide mouth band, I’ve solved that problem. In the past year I haven’t had a single gnat problem. Some day I’ll come up with a more attractive solution, but this has been imminently functional.

Eventually I got really busy with working and teaching our kids, so there were a few months where I kept Helix in the back of the fridge. He hibernated beautifully and came right back out without any troubles at all.

All in all, he’s been a very hard worker and we’re all grateful to have him.

The Pancakes

A few weeks ago I went searching for a pancake recipe that would use oodles of starter on a regular basis. Helix is a great producer and we often have more than we need. The same goes for our six hens. We’re constantly swamped with eggs. This recipe by What’s Cooking America seemed like a good start. It takes two cups of sourdough starter, two tablespoons of sugar, four tablespoons of oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in one tablespoon warm water, and eggs. The author recommends a minimum of one egg, but states that she’s also used two eggs for added protein. I used three yesterday morning and it yielded eighteen thin pancakes (1/4 cup of batter for each pancake). They tasted lightly of rye with a tiny amount of tang, and went very well with the violet syrup. Click the link to read the recipe and instructions.

Sourdough Pancakes

Violet Syrup

We made the violet syrup a few weeks ago from Viola flowers found in our backyard. We have a few different varieties with white and purple flowers. After cleaning the blossoms, we steeped them in water following the basic outline of this recipe at Chiot’s Run. I packed a quart jar with violet blossoms and then covered them in boiling hot water. I poked down the blossoms with a wooden spoon and shook it a little. It sat overnight. The next morning, I strained out the blossoms with more flour sacking and turned the stove to simmer. I added in one and a half cups of honey and one and a half cups of sugar. (See recipe link for more in-depth instructions.) After it had simmered longer, I poured it into my old-fashioned flip-top milk bottle. The syrup has a delicate flowery flavor with hints of honey and tastes amazing in lemonade or tea or on pancakes. Delicious!

Sourdough Pancakes

Let me know if you try any of these recipes!


Chicken Coop: Then

Our chicken coop began its life some untold years ago perhaps as a simple garden shed. When we moved in, it was this tiny hideaway tucked beside a vibrant Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’ (ninebark). Within a few weeks, I started to dream of repurposing the structure into a small chicken coop.

Garden Shed

A lot of work had to be done first. The shed was jam packed full of half-rotten miscellaneous house construction stuff – oh, and many, many, many dead bugs and spiders. With the help of a friend at the end of March in 2014 (as I was nine-months pregnant at the time), it was cleared out lickety-split.


The shed was in an ideal part of the backyard. The towering Picea pungens (Colorado spruce) around it provided some nice shade for the hot summer months, and it already had two windows cut into either side. The swinging front door added appeal. The best part, though, was the view from our master bedroom.



I started to research what chicken coops need and sketched out my initial plan. I knew I wanted to tackle eight areas and I took down notes:

1) DRAFTS AND CLEANING – I am taking foam and lining all the walls, roof, and subfloor between the studs with the foam then covering it in shower board to make it easier to clean off poop and stuff. I’m going to make the floor slightly sloped and without any impediments so that I can just use a push broom to drag out all the shavings/poop into a waiting bin to plop into the compost bin and then wash up anything that’s left.

(2) ROOSTING – I’m adding a roosting pole ladder (that will be slightly off the ground so that the push broom can easily get underneath of it) and several different roosts throughout. There’s quite a bit of vertical space in that I can stand up inside the shed.

(3) VENTILATION – I’m adding two secured vents near the ceiling for ventilation in the winter months.

(4) HEAT – We will be able to add a heating lamp if we need one, but I’m not starting off with one.

(5) RUN – On the right side, we are cutting out a secured chicken-sized door and building a ramp that will go out into the permanent, secured wire run (ceiling and walls dug down a foot). There’s tons of room for them in the back corner to roam around, a lot of vegetation above and around to clean it shady and nice during the summer heat. We’ll close them in at night and let them out during the day.

(6) – TRACTOR & FREE RANGE – They’ll also have a tractor to tool around in my garden in and will probably be able to roam around in side the fenced in portion of the yard, too, but the permanent run is so that they can still have outdoor time when I’m not out there to keep an eye on them. With cats and all kinds of other animals around, I want to make sure they’re safe while I’m not looking.

(7) NESTING BOXES – We are cutting out access to DIY secured nesting boxes that I’ll be able to open from the outside.

(8) FOOD & WATER – They’ll have water in the coop and they’ll have food and water (that’ll get secured/removed) at night in the run.


Before the coop was even done, on April 8th, 2014, I ordered my chicks: (1) Ameraucana, (2) Buff Orpingtons , (1) California White, (1) Gold Star, and (1) Barred Rock. They arrived on April 29th, 18 days after my fourth child was born. I had dreams about nursing one human infant and six chicks soon thereafter. The race was on to finish the coop, and finally, we did.

To be continued


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