Friday, June 28, 2013

Scavenging, Chickens, and Garden News

Three more heat treated pallets! Yay!

I did a little bulky trash pickup scavenging last week. I had the kids with me so it was Big Sister's job to peer down all the side streets and tell me if there were any promising piles of treasure. It was a pretty modest score this time. I'm still learning which areas are the best to hit. I have found middle- to upper-middle class suburban neighborhoods to yield the best and most goods. Hip, urban neighborhoods are generally not so good but you can sometimes get lucky.

So last week we got:
several 4x4 lumber pieces
a wooden frame covered in chicken wire
a 5 ft length of wide (5"?) flexible tubing
a Bumbo seat (I'll sell that at the children's resale shop)
a Little Red Wagon
a round plastic seat for a rope swing, nice and sturdy
a steering wheel from a playscape (to be added to our play area)

I also checked the pallet pile at the feed store and got three more heat-treated pallets. The feed store guy even loaded them for me and then told me to take as much loose hay as I wanted. They had a trailer full of hay bales and there was a lot of loose hay at the back of the trailer. So I took a big box of loose hay for the chicken run.

In chicken news, my black hen is taking good care of her ten adopted chicks. They are already growing in some new feathers! Also, we slaughtered four of our eight freebie roosters last weekend. They were about 3.5 lbs live weight and fairly small when butchered. It was just Mr. Chanclas and I doing the work and I could have used another pair of hands to help pluck/pick feathers. I think I might recruit adult help next time.

Rooster headed to slaughter. Hanging them upside down calms them.
The garden news is that my garden is yielding up a very small amount of produce. I've had a pretty unproductive garden and I want to explore why in another post all about gardening.

The harvest from one day this week.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Sneaking Chicks Under a Broody Hen

I need some more layers. My laying hens are just not laying enough to keep us in eggs and I think it's ridiculous for me to have to buy eggs at the supermarket. So when one of my hens went broody last month I decided to let her sit on a clutch of eggs and (hopefully) hatch me some more layers. The only problem is that my only rooster, Drogo, is a very small banty and most of my hens are standard sized. I've seen Drogo give it the old college try with the full-sized ladies but it just doesn't look like all the parts line up right. So I am not sure if my standard-sized hens' eggs are fertile these days. I didn't want to waste my time (or the hen's) by having her sit on eggs of dubious fertility so I got a dozen fertile banty eggs from my neighbor. My broody hen sat on them dutifully for 25 days. They were supposed to hatch on day 21 but I let her go a few extra days just in case. On day 25 I finally candled one of the eggs (which is just a fancy way of saying I held it up to a bright light to look inside it) and it was clear. No embryo. Ditto for all of the other eggs underneath her. 

Ten chicks ready to meet their new mama
Which is my explanation for how I ended up at the feed store Thursday afternoon buying day-old chicks. Ten of them! It seemed silly to be buying chickens with as many birds as I have at home but I am determined to get some more layers! My plan for the ten baby chicks was to wait until nighttime while mama hen was sleeping on her eggs and then go out and swap the eggs for the chicks. I was hoping like crazy that she would accept the little interlopers because I really have no interest in raising another batch of birds under brooder lamps in my guest room right now. I was so tempted to get some Speckled Sussex chicks at the store but they were already a week old and I knew that the chicks needed to be as young as possible for my ruse to work. So instead we got 4 Production Reds, 3 Dominiques, and 3 Ameracaunas. I was also tempted by the mixed banty selection but they weren't sexed so I didn't want to run the risk of more roosters. Eggs. I need eggs.

Big Sister with an Ameracauna chick
 On Thursday night, after my kids were asleep in their beds, Mr. Chanclas and I crept out to the chicken coop with a cardboard box full of chicks and a failing flashlight. Mama Hen was fast asleep on her rotting eggs so I gently removed the eggs, hoping like crazy I wouldn't bump one and spray us all with foul-smelling goo. After I got the eggs out I quickly dropped all ten sleepy chicks in next to their adoptive mama. Mama looked a bit confused but she didn't attack the chicks so I took that to be a good sign. She didn't gather them up under her wing but they all snuggled up around her in the warm nesting box. I closed the lid, we beat a hasty retreat, and then I had to wait until morning to know for sure if she was going to accept them. 

The next morning I went out to the coop to check on everybody and there was Mama Hen caring for her ten babies! Our trick totally worked and I bet she is so glad to get out of that hot nesting box and be able to move around with her babies. Broody hens don't eat much while they are setting because they spend all day and night on the eggs, getting up once a day or so for a quick drink and nibble. Plus, it's 97 degrees here in the afternoons so it can't be much fun to sit in a nesting box in that heat.
Mama with her two-day old chicks
The chicks are adorable and hen is doing great as a first-time mama. I just wish it wasn't going to be 6 months before those little pullets start laying!

In other chicken news, the eight roosters that were added to our duck and guinea order back in March are getting to be slaughtering size. They  are beautiful birds and I have determined that they are Rhode Island Reds. I'm tempted to keep one in my flock but I don't know. Floyd was such a problem that I'm hesitant to try another full-sized rooster. If all goes as planned we will slaughter tomorrow morning before it gets too insanely hot outside. Then I can leave those birds chilling while we go to the pool!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Tips For Getting Free Stuff on Craigslist

I think that everybody in the Western world probably already knows about Craigslist, but did you know that every Craigslist has a "Free" section? It's the bomb. You wouldn't believe some of the stuff you can find on the Free list. Nice furniture given away by people who are moving tomorrow and need it gone now. Building materials, a million couches (some nice, some disgusting), entire playscapes, hot tubs, craft materials, pallets, landscaping rocks or gravel or bricks, and working appliances are all items I see regularly. Not every once in a while, but regularly. Some other things I've seen recently on the Free list: roosters, rabbits, dogs, kittens, gerbils, sporting and concert tickets, scrap metal, television sets, a newborn boy, and a male. The one labeled "newborn boy" scared me but it was just someone looking for free baby items for their new baby boy. The one labeled simply "male" scared me, too, and I was too afraid to click on it with my 9-year old looking over my shoulder. I will try not to think about it. Some things on Craigslist are better left unexamined.

Christmas morning on our Craigslist futon
Lindsey at Northwest Backyard Veggies had a fun post this week called The Craigslist Rule Book. You should check it out because it is funny and illuminating. She talks about general rules for being a good Craigslist buyer and seller. I have a few tips specific to getting stuff on the Craigslist Free section. The first thing you need to know about the good stuff on the Free list is:

1) The good stuff goes fast. Really fast. You can contact the person 20 minutes after the ad goes up and not get it. Now, don't let this get you down. If the ad is still posted and you want the item, go ahead and contact the person even if it has been listed awhile. Sometimes the first (and second and third...) person has flaked out and that's when you step in. Or, strangely, no one else was chomping at the bit for the antique hand-crank washing machine that was going to require four burly men to load. So what I'm saying is, if you are interested in something by all means contact the seller immediately.

2) Check the listings often. Because stuff goes so quickly it pays to check the listings often. Also, checking often familiarizes you with what is being offered regularly in your area. There is an abundance of free hot tubs offered on the Austin Craigslist. In other parts of the country you see a lot of above-ground pools. During garage sale season there are lots of garage sale leftovers listed.

3) Offer very prompt pickup. Most people who offer things for free just want the stuff out of their space as quickly as possible. In your very first email you need to offer to pick up the item as soon as you possibly can. Don't say "I can pick it up this weekend". People who say that are not sure they really want the stuff. Say "I can pick it up tonight after 5pm". Which leads me to tip #4:

4) Be specific in your response. When you respond to a free ad go ahead and tell the seller/donor exactly when you are available. Offer flexibility, too. "I can pick up the item tonight after 5pm, tomorrow morning before noon, or at another time if that works best for you."

One of my favorite scores was a huge box of swing-top homebrew bottles. Tonight I am the backup person for a load of 4,900 (yes, you read that right) tiny aluminum lip balm and hand salve tins. Brand new! That would be such a score and then everyone I know would be getting homemade lip balm for Christmas this year. I'm also waiting to hear back from someone giving away three rabbits, their hutch, and all their accessories. I've been wanting to add some meat rabbits to the homestead but I had planned to wait until fall. As I told Mr. Chanclas, though, you don't turn down 3 rabbits + hutch+ the goods for FREE. You just don't. So I'm anxiously awaiting the word on that one.

Scavenge on, my friends!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Scavenging Heat-Treated Pallets

I'm planning to build more raised vegetable beds and I need some scrap wood for the project. It seems ludicrous to say that I need scrap wood because I have PILES AND PILES of scrap wood in my materials yard (a fancy name for my scrap heap). But nearly every piece of lumber out there is treated wood, which means it was soaked in some fairly nasty chemicals to keep it from rotting. Most folks recommend using untreated wood for vegetable garden applications so that there is no risk of chemicals leaching out of the treated wood and being taken up by the veggies. I've read some sources that say that while that is plausible in theory, in reality it doesn't happen. I am not here to argue- I just don't know- but I decided I'd just make my beds out of untreated wood and then I never have to worry about it.

One way to score some free wood is to get old shipping pallets, which are easy to find for free. A lot of pallets (most, it seems) are made of treated wood but some are heat treated instead. You can easily identify which are heat treated because they will be stamped "HT" like this:

 or this:

New pallets have to be stamped with a country code (the ones above were made in the US and the one below in Mexico) followed by a number identifying the plant followed by either "HT" for heat treated, "DB" for debarked (this is also a safe type of pallet to use) or "MB" for chemically treated with methyl bromide. It is the MB's that you want to avoid. 

I found two of those pallets at my local feed store. Most of the pallets in their stack were not marked so I grabbed the only two marked "HT". Later the guy at the feed store told me that the heat treated ones are the only ones that the shipping companies will take back. Feed stores are a good place to look for pallets, as is any store that receives shipments of heavy items. The shipments are unloaded off the trucks by forklift, which requires a pallet on bottom. The pallets I used to make my compost bin came from a pool supply store. (Pool supply stores carry a lot of heavy 5-gallon buckets of chemicals.) Other places to check might be paint stores, grocery stores, and hardware stores.

I always ask permission before taking pallets even if they are next to the dumpster. Most places are happy to get rid of them. I also see pallets listed in the "free" section of Craigslist all the time.

Where do you guys find pallets? Do you look for the heat treated or debarked ones? I'm going to need quite a few for my veggie bed project so I'm on the prowl.

Monday, June 10, 2013

What The Dog Dragged Home

Please note the lovely ungulate hoof.
My dog brought this home today. I am not sure where she got it but surely we would've noticed the smell from a dead deer on our own property. It would have to be somewhere very close by because my dog is about a million years old and her back legs resemble kick stands. But yesterday she walked up with a large piece of vertebrae, which I didn't think too much about. Then today it was a HOOF. Somehow that caught my attention more. I couldn't bear to throw it away because it is really interesting but it also had a stink on it so I put it out back in the bone cage. If we find cool bones that still have flesh on them we put them in a metal squirrel trap and leave them in the woods until the ants and other insects clean them up. The reason for the cage is so that other animals don't carry them away. It works quite well. I'm almost afraid to think of what she will bring home tomorrow.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Watering Fruit Trees With Greywater

Fig trees with water breaks for slowing down water runoff

I'm doing a lot of long-term planning for our homestead these days. One of the things I have been thinking about is how to best use the greywater from our washing machine. In the past I have used it to water a little row of boxwoods and a patch of purple heart at the back of the house, as well as the grass (ahem, weeds) in the dog run. We have a small fenced dog run at the back of the house that contains a water barrel, a sage bush, some honeysuckle, and a sad little fig tree under too much oak canopy. I never bothered watering the fig tree too often because I thought it was dying anyway. Then a couple of weeks ago I realized that it had FRUIT on it! There were a couple of ripe figs and a large number of green, unripe ones. So I decided that we could salvage our only fruit tree. I cut back all the thorny vines that were choking it and really cleaned things up in there. The dog run, like the rest of our property, is on a slope so I relocated the greywater drain hose just uphill of the fig tree and have left it there all week. We have poor, rocky soil that has a hard time absorbing water quickly. So today I rummaged around in my materials pile and pulled out a few curved concrete garden border pieces. I placed them just downhill from the fig tree (a single tree that actually has two rooted sections, which makes it look like two trees). I want the little concrete wall to slow the water down so it has time to trickle down deeper and water those fig tree roots well. Afterwards I ran a load of laundry to see how the water would flow and pool. It looks like the little wall, which I think of as a water break, will work fine. 

Washing machine greywater discharging at base of fig tree
My next plan is to add several more fruit trees to the dog run and water all of them with the greywater. I have never had fruit trees before so this is totally new territory for me. I don't even know what is appropriate for our climate so I need to research that. (Any advice is more than welcome!) It isn't recommended that you water vegetable gardens with greywater (and my vegetable garden is too far away anyway) but fruit trees are a great way to put that valuable waste water to use.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Tater Tire Failure

Well, folks. My tater tire project has gone flat. Last week the potato plants looked awfully wilted. I checked them more closely and realized that the main stem was squishy and rotten. I suspect that my growing medium, unfinished compost, was too heavy and wet. I had watered the tire stack pretty heavily when I added the third tire. I thought that it was pretty impossible for me to over water it because any extra water would drain out the bottom of the stack. But after the plant died I kicked the stack over and the compost, especially the compost in the bottom and middle tires, was quite wet. Potatoes like well-drained growing media. Whoops. The compost had seemed quite loose when I put it in but it got heavy once it was too wet.

Guinevere the Hen thought the compost was great for scratching up a tasty treat.
Also, my mom came to visit last week and told me I had planted potatoes too late in the season. I think I planted mine in April and she told me that the time to plant potatoes is Valentine's Day. How did I not realize that? Whoops again. I know what I'll be doing next Valentine's Day! I hope Mr. Chanclas thinks potato planting is romantic. Next time I think I'll try using old leaves or straw as the growing medium. Straw can be hard to come by in this part of the country so leaves might be a better bet.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How to Hang a Clothesline

Today I'm not going to talk about all the good reasons to have a clothesline. I'm just going to tell you that you need one and they are really easy to hang. Here's what you need:


a length of wire or cord (I highly recommend plastic-coated clothesline wire)
2 screw eyes, screw hooks, or one of each
1 turnbuckle (optional but very nice)
2 sturdy vertical objects to attach clothesline to (trees, posts, the side of the house, a fence, etc)

Don't know what screw eyes, screw hooks, and turnbuckles are? They look like this:

Screw eye
Screw hook

First of all, figure out where to locate your clothesline. Direct sun might be important if you live in a very damp, cool climate. Here in Austin I can totally get away with shaded clotheslines and my clothes still dry in an hour in the summertime. We have lots of trees out back so I strung all my lines between trees here. At our last house I strung my line between a garden shed and a wooden fence on the opposite side of the yard. When I lived in Madison I had the good fortune to have two old-fashioned T-shaped clothesline posts. Just look for solid, sturdy objects that can support the weight of a line full of wet clothes.

You can string a clothesline with virtually any cording or wire but you want to make sure it won't rust or sag horribly. Cotton cord is awful for sagging. Some braided wires rust (galvanized shouldn't). The plastic-coated clothesline wire is pretty great stuff and costs less than $10 for 100 feet.  

Now you need to figure out how to attach your clothesline to the endpoints. My preferred method is to use a screw eye or screw hook on one end and another screw eye/screw hook plus a turnbuckle on the other end. Using a turnbuckle allows you to adjust the tension on the line, both when you install the line and later as the line stretches over time.


1)      Install first screw eye/screw hook.
2)      Loop one end of the clothesline wire through the screw eye and wrap around itself to secure like this:

3)      Install second screw eye/screw hook and turnbuckle. (Make sure the turnbuckle is open at least halfway so that you can tighten it later.)
4)      Pull clothesline wire up to attach to the turnbuckle, wrapping it around itself as you did before, like this:

5)      Tighten turnbuckle to make clothesline taut. Don't tighten it so much that you create a weapon, but get it nice and taut so your clothesline won't sag when the clothes are on it.

All you need now is some clothespins and wet laundry! Wood clothespins last a lot longer than the junky plastic ones. The plastic ones get very brittle in the sun and they eventually break. I used to have a cute clothespin bag that my mom made for me. It hung on the line from an old coat hanger and held all the pins. After it wore out I started keeping the pins in a little cotton bag that I hang on my right shoulder and I have found that to be much more efficient. (It’s the yellow Café Bustelo bag in the photos.) I don't have to reach as high for the pins and I don't have to move the bag along the line. 

I have had a clothesline in my yard for almost my entire life. It wasn't until this week, however, that I had a child-sized clothesline. As soon as we moved into this house Mr. Chanclas strung up two regular-sized clotheslines out back. They're only about 50 feet from my greywater washing machine so they are pretty convenient. This week I grabbed some of the leftover plastic-coated wire and added a short, low third line for the kids to use. The kids loved hanging napkins and other small items on it. If your little kids have trouble pinching the clothespins properly just show them how the clothespin is like a little alligator and you have to pinch his tail to make him open his mouth. 

I’m planning to make a much longer kid-height clothesline so I can add hanging clothes to the chore list! (Insert evil laughter here.)