Thursday, March 28, 2013

What came first the chicken or the egg?

I just wanted to give everyone a chicken update.  We had another chick hatch today and we have two left in the incubator still.  We have had great survival rates so far (100%) for hatched out and store bought chicks.  Now we are up to 16 chickens total. 

1 Dominicker rooster
3 Australorpes hens
1 Wyandote hen
1 Rhode Island hen
4 Easter Egger chicks
1 Rhode Island chick
5 mixed breed chicks from hatching
Here they are scratching at our kitchen floor. 
Big difference between 1 Day and 1 WEEK old chicks!
Mama Rem keeping an eye on them.

The best part about having pet chickens. FRESH eggs!  Do you have any idea how old store bought eggs are?  Well neither do I, BUT I do know they aren't "fresh as fresh can be"!  Some studies show organically raised and free range chickens have 4 times lower rates of salmonella than traditional laying farms. 
So ugly, he's cute.  Pretty energetic for being about 6 hours old!

Since it does take supplemental feed to keep our chickens from going hungry because they are not ALWAYS free ranging (just when we are home to supervise) it does cost a little to keep them.  So to offset the costs of feed we have decided to start selling some of our excess eggs.  We will keep a special piggy bank just for chicken expenses.  The money from selling the eggs will go in the bank and the money for feed will come out of it.  At the end of the year we will see how we did!






Sunday, March 24, 2013

Biggers Bed and Breakfast in Hardy, Arkansas

I had the weekend off work and the weather was not going to be permissive for any work outside, so my husband and I decided to take a little weekend getaway for Spring Break.  We stayed at Biggers Bed and Breakfast in Hardy, Arkansas in the relaxing and romantic Shangri La suite.  It is perched on top of a very high bluff and has sweeping views of Spring River below.  On a clear day they say you can see about 9 miles.  We had a jacuzzi, gas fireplace and a balcony with an gorgous view; it was so relaxing we never even turned on the tv.  This morning the fog was really heavy on the river, but as the sun came up I was able to get some really gorgeous pictures even though it was cloudy and cold.

The gazebo.

They also have a restaurant on the property, The Bluff Steakhouse.  We had dinner there last night and my ribeye was so melt-in-your-mouth tender and perfectly cooked I am already craving another one.  They also have a great bar and wonderful cocktails.

From the sunroom, you will have the best table view around.

The pool area, which although we did not test out due to inclement weather, would be so much fun to lounge around on a hot, summer day.

We had a great time and cannot wait to go back!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Frozen Tomato Seedlings, Anyone?

Since usually I get to brag about how well our garden does, I also have to be completely honest here and record my non-successes.  I don't want to gloss over how easy it is to grow your own food from seed because it does take alot of work and care, therefore I must tell you about my first (of many, I'm sure) major gardening failure of 2013.

The COLD SNAP occurred this past Wednesday night, I was caught totally unaware. Thursday morning our thermometer showed 27F and yet it still didn't hit me that I had left the tomato seedlings in the greenhouse.  They had been out there for two weeks looking great and having no problems staying out there overnight when the lows were mid 30s.  Nope, it did not hit me until I checked on the after work and I found this...
Frozen to death, the lettuce still looks great though!

So sad.  I moved them inside immediately, gave them the pep talk of their lives, set them under a heat lamp and slunk into a very bad mood.

All my hard work!  For nothing!

The next day it snowed 5 inches...wait, what?  Wasn't it 80F last weekend?  And wasn't last March the warmest March on record?  And didn't I plant my Roma tomatoes the first of April last year?  Am I not in (Ar)Kansas anymore, Aunt Em? 

And about a day after THAT I finally got over it, trimmed the dead leaves and began a search and rescue mission for survivors.

As I snipped off dead leaves under the grow light, I could still see some bright green leaves hanging on for dear life!  So I sucked it up, repotted the survivors, said my apologies and started replanting. 

I salvaged 14 out of 36.  Geez I feel like the Grim Reaper of tomato plants.

9 Arkansas Travelers
1 Amish Paste
2 Chadwick Cherry
2 Russian Gypsy

Although its not a huge loss I was disappointed by not having enough Amish Paste in particular.  I was planning on counting on them for the majority of my canning tomatoes, so I decided to resow some more seeds.  I do think its fitting though that the variety that best survived (Arkansas Traveler) was cultivated and saved for generations here in Arkansas and it was best suited to survive our manic weather patterns.

I still have plenty of time, I was just hoping to get them to harvesting size before the summer heat decreases their production and I have to fight off the blister beetles and hornworms.

Oh well, I can still make due, but it made me stop and think how lucky we are to not HAVE to depend on our garden to put food on the table.  How much more disappointed I would be if my gardening failures meant no food on the table?  So I will not gripe too much more about my bonehead mistake and I will say a prayer that the gardeners around the world who depend on their harvests will have a bountiful year ahead.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Easter Egger Chicks

We happened to wander in Orscheln's the other day and they just happened to have just gotten their first chicks in and we just happened to go check out what breeds they had new for this year that we don't have and well you know what happened from there.

The good news is we only adopted 5 more pullets, at least this way we will KNOW for sure they will be hens.  As for the chicks we are hatching from our adult flock, no idea.

We thought that adding Auracanas to our flock would add genetic diversity, more color and of course cute pastel colored blue and green eggs!


Midnight, Goldie, Pippi, and Sandy

Midnight looking very serious

All the chicks getting to know one another out in my greenhouse.  There is a big difference between the 3 week old chick, the 2 week old chick and the days old chicks in this picture.  They grow FAST!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

How to Prep Seed Potatoes

In honor of St. Patrick's day and my Irish ancestors, I will devote today's blog post to the most versatile side dish that ever did sprout...the TATER.  Potatoes are cheap so why should you grow your own?

Because they are easy to grow and when they are just outside your door you never have to worry about having enough for the recipe you need.  Just go out and dig up a few immature spuds and call them "new potatoes", no emergency trip to Wal-Mart necessary.  Plus they keep for a very long time if kept in a cool place during the fall and winter so your summer harvest could last you well into spring if properly stored.  As always too, so that you can know exactly where your food has come from, what it has/has not been sprayed with and exactly how old it is; lessening your own carbon footprint and saving you money.

Plus you can grow them in cool new ways like we are in our potato towers.  I have even heard of people growing them in stacked tires, but of course you can always do it like the Irish did and just bury them in the dirt.  They aren't picky, just keep them well watered.  As long as they are prepared correctly for planting you should not have any trouble.

Here is how you prep your seed potatoes for planting:

  1. Choose a certified disease-free seed potato, like this large Kennebec white variety.  This is important so that you do not start out with already sickly potatoes.

  2. Leaving two to three eyes per potato and about 1-2 inches of "flesh" on the spud, cut them in to halves or quarters to get the most out of your seeders.

   3. Lay them out in a cool, dry spot with the cut side facing up and let them scab over.  This allows a scab to form over the exposed flesh to keep them from rotting and molding.

    4.  After about 3 days a hardened scab should form and now your seed potatoes are ready for planting.

Plant potatoes outside 3-4 weeks before the last anticipated frost date.  Potato leaves are very sensitive to cold so if you plant them too early the may be killed by cooler temperatures

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Dutch Oven Apple Tarte Tatin

Today was such a beautiful day and I am so glad that I got the chance to attend a French themed Dutch oven cooking demonstration at our local state park.
I had no idea what a Dutch oven even looked like before we went, but after being shown a few basics I am sure that anyone can cook this recipe without any trouble. 
With these ingredients, hot charcoal and a large Dutch oven you can make an awesome dessert with very little effort. 

  • 5 large apples
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 package pastry puffs (for top crust)
  • 1 can of Sprite
  1. Place the apples quartered and cored in the bottom of the pot.  Pour one can of Sprite in with the apples. Place number of hot coals on top of and below your oven as recommended for its size and temperature. Ours was a 10 inch pot that we kept at about 425F for about 30 minutes using 18 coals on top and 9 coals on bottom. 
  2. While the apples were cooking we caramelized the sugar on top of a propane camp stove in a metal bowl.  Interesting set-up but do-able in a camping or emergency situation.
  3. We melted the butter, then added the sugar and heated it stirring constantly until it turned brown and caramelized.  About 5 minutes on high heat on the camp stove.
  4. Next we added the caramel to the cooked apples and place the pastry puff sheets on top. 
  5. We put the lid on and let it bake for another 30 minutes. 
  6. When you are baking make sure you turn the pot a quarter turn every 10-15 minutes to keep crust evenly heated. 
  7. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes. 

I am super excited about this dessert.

Can't you tell?

So delish!!!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Black Cherry Juice for Gout

As a pharmacist, I often get asked questions about alternative medicines and herbal supplements.  It seems that more and more people are turning to nutritional supplements as an alternative to prescription medications.  Myself and my colleagues are certainly not opposed to herbal supplements, however because there is usually not much evidence to back up their claims we are hesitant to recommend them.

Recently, while I was shopping in a local store the staff began asking me questions about black cherry juice.  My husband really loves it when he has to stand there and listen to my "drug talks" (don't worry he will live) and I am always glad to offer a little insight to anyone who asks.  I wanted to share this question because I thought it was interesting and hopefully helpful to other suffering from gouty arthritis.

The question was:
"My son is very overweight and gets very bad gout, he has started taking black cherry juice to help with his flares.  My such-and-such's Aunt Whats-her-name takes allopurinol for her gout and she says it is a lifesaver.  Do you think black cherry juice can help him?"

Before you run to the fridge and chug the remaining juice out of your maraschino cherry jar, lets revisit what causes gout.

Gout is caused from having too much uric acid in your bloodstream which causes uric acid to crystallize in your joints causing a painful "flare".  Affected joints may be warm, swollen, stiff, red and extremely tender.  They may be so painful even the light touch of a sock can cause intense pain.

Treating Gout with Medications
  1. Allopurinol is the drug of choice for chronic gout.  This means it will help reduce the frequency of flares, but will not help once you have one.  It does have some risks associated with it and cannot be used if people have poor kidney function.  When you first start taking allopurinol, it can cause a gout flare until the levels in your blood stream get high enough to start decreasing uric acid production.
  2. It is recommended that you also take an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) like ibuprofen or naproxen everyday along with the allopurinol.
  3. Colchicine can be added for short term use to treat an active flare.

Black Cherry Juice
  1. It is a juice concentrate made from black cherries and is said to be high in antioxidants.
  2. Not much research has been done to support its use.
  3. Depending on the product it can have a lot of extra sugar added.  Check the label to make sure it is 100% juice and doesn't have a ton of calories.
  4. Tart cherry juice indicates more promising results than sweetened cherry juice based on research.
  5. Cherry juice concentrate tablets probably do not have as much of the antioxidant qualities as the actual berry or the juice does.

Doesn't it seem that once you start taking one medication for an illness, that you soon find yourself on many more than you ever intended?

So what can you do if you don't want to keep piling more and more medications in your pharmacy shopping cart, but also decrease your gout flares ?

  • Limit intake of high purine and gout inducing foods (red meat, seafood, beer)
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated (sweet tea does NOT count as water; decaffeinated unsweetened tea would be better)
  • Lose weight, but do not eat a very low calorie diet and getting moderate exercise is advised
  • To take advantage of antioxidant rich foods by eating fresh black cherries or by making cherry (or any other berry) breakfast smoothies with low fat milk or yogurt

In conclusion, 100% tart black cherry juice with no added sugar may help relieve some symptoms of gout and arthritis due to its antioxidant properties.  If you incorporate it into a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight and avoid high purine foods black cherry juice may help to relieve oxidative stress in your body and therefore reduce uric acid in the bloodstream.

Monday, March 11, 2013

March Birchbox

I love my birthday month Birchbox I just received.  So far I have been really happy about the wide variety of high quality products they have sent me.  I have gotten everything from body scrub to headbands.  Most of the samples I can't even use up all of it in one month.  It has definitely been worth it for me, especially since I am not the type to spend a lot of money on my beauty products.

Here is what I received for this month's $10 subscription:
  • MAKE eyeshadow in Great Lakes (blueish-green) $18 value
  • MAKE face primer and broad spectrum SPF 30 $30 value
  • Oscar Blandi hair lift mousse $23 value
  • Whish shaving cream in blueberry $20 value
  • Madewell for Birchbox floral emery board $5 value

If you want to earn extra points (and send a few extra points my way if you sign up) use this link.  Thanks, you will LOVE Birchbox!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

How to Harden off Heirloom Tomato Seedlings

I started the last of my warm weather seedlings just yesterday (eggplants, pepperoncinis and Rutgers and Beefsteak tomatoes).  Is it bad that I get sad when I'm all finished with my transplant seedlings and only have my direct sow seeds left?

So far I have had excellent germination rates, I use all heirloom seed from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and I have not been disappointed yet.  Last year I had great success with heirloom tomatoes.  This year I am trying some new varieties.

We have a whole 36 pot seed tray just for tomato plants:
6 Chadwick cherry
6 Gypsy
12 Amish paste
12 Arkansas Traveler
Hardening Off Tomato Seedlings

Here is the method I use.  With a nod to the medical community, I will use our mantra for starting a patient on a new medication as an allusion to exposing sensitive seedlings to sunlight:


  • Day 1:  I wait until late afternoon when the sun is gentler and I set them in a sunny spot on our deck that is protected from wind.  I leave them outside for about an hour and a half.  No signs of distress, so I continue on gradually increasing exposure.
  • Day 2:  At lunch I set the plants outside again around 1 o'clock.  At 5 o'clock they are still looking pretty perky but I go ahead and bring them inside.
  • Day 3:  Saturday is sunny and beautiful so I set the seedings outside from 9 to around 2 during the harshest sun of the day.
  • Day 4:  Sunday it rained all day...HARD.  No fun in the sun today guys, back under the grow light you go.
  • Day 5:  Back on schedule.  They should be able to handle full sun all day long without any problems.  I take them outside in the mornings, water them in the morning if they need it and bring them inside every evening so they do not get too cold.
Just as with medicines in the body, too much of a good thing can be, well, too much.  Now all I have to do is wait for the soil to warm and I can plant these little guys out in the garden.  Don't they just look beautiful?  And even those little seedlings SMELL like tomato plants.

Can. Not. Wait.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Double Your Dollar with Green Onions and Garlic Scapes

If you haven't gotten your spring garlic and onion sets in the ground yet, good news, you still have time!  And by using my method, you can get more bang for your buck.

Here is what you will need:
  • Loose rich soil, preferably a raised bed or container.  Compact soil limits bulb growth.
  • Compost to amend your soil with and provide plenty of fertilizer.
  • Onions and garlic.  You choose your family's favorite varieties.  I planted about 50 white onions, 50 red onions, 50 Vidalia onions and about 30 garlic cloves. 

Yes, just as I suspected,
the chickens have been here and have dug up some of my bulbs. 
Its okay, I will forgive them, I think I planted more than enough!

Getting Bulbs:

You should be able to find these at any nursery, farm service store and some hardware stores.  I even saw that our Wal-Mart had some the other day, I doubt they would have the variety that a nursery or other store would, but they will eat just the same.  

A Red Onion Set

Planting Bulbs:

The most important thing for great garlic and onion production is rich, loose soil. 
If the soil is too compact, the bulbs will not have any room to grow. 

These bulbs have fairly shallow roots and most sources say to plant them four inches apart, BUT I will let you in on my SUPER SECRET method for DOUBLING my harvest:

 from EVERY OTHER bulb
use them as FRESH 

Ok, maybe that wasn't such a secret, but it is an awesome way to always have green onions and garlic scapes on hand, practically all summer long. 

Just think no more, "Oh crud, I forgot to buy green onions for the fresh salsa"
Just run outside with your scissors and harvest away!

Onions and garlic are so easy to care for; if you have some extra dirt, you can grow them with very little effort.  Just keep them moderately watered, they can take some drought and keep them in a weeded area.  They would be great to incorporate into a raised flower bed, herb garden or a large container with other deeper rooted plants.

You will be ready to harvest the full grown bulbs mid summer when the greens that you see above the ground turn brown and start to fall over.
Garlic beginning to sprout, just look at those tastey scapes!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Duck Gumbo

If you have tons of duck meat in your freezer this recipe is a must!  It is so hearty and filling that one bowl will feed the biggest appetite.

Here is how it is done.

What you need:
  • 2 lbs. duck meat
  • 2 cups okra
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 pint of tomatoes or rotel tomatoes
  • 1 can baby shrimp
  • 1 package of Boudains
  • vegetable oil
  • flour
  • salt and pepper
  • cayenne pepper
  • Worchestershire sauce
  1. In a large skillet, brown the duck meat in olive oil.  Cook SLOWLY and only season with salt and pepper.  Cook til no longer bloody, but it should still be pink in the center.  
  2. While this is cooking, grab a large stew pot, fill it about half full of water and start boiling one chopped onion, 1 cup of sliced carrots, and 2 cups of sliced okra. 
  3. This should take about as long as the duck needs to cook. 
  4. Then decrease the heat, add cooked duck meat, one can diced tomatoes or rotel for more spice, a small can of baby shrimp and one package of cut up Boudains.  Add your seasoning here, we like Worchestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. 
  5. While this is simmering, start on the roux. 
  6. Heat 1/2 cup of vegetable oil to medium heat. Once your oil is hot slowly stir in 1/4 cup of flour.  Keep stirring and added small amounts of flour until you reach a "gravy like" consistency.  After about 10 minutes you should have brown, dry looking roux.  Be careful not to burn it. 
  7. Now you can add it to the stew.  Let it simmer covered for another 20 minutes. Then lower heat and you are ready to eat.
Serve over rice or straight from the bowl with a couple saltine crackers.

*Note if you don't have duck meat in your freezer, this recipe could easily be modified by using Polish sausage instead.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Ranch Dressing

We ran out of Ranch dressing last week and it is still on our grocery list...which doesn't help me very much considering I needed it for a recipe this week!  So I did a quick online search, pulled a few things out of the spice cabinet and whipped up this homemade Ranch dressing.  

I used a pint sized mason jar and modified the original recipe to fit our taste and here is how what I came up with. 

The Recipe:
1/2 cup milk
2/3 cup of mayo (I used real, but low fat would probably work too)
4 tbsp dried parsley
2 tsp dried dill
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp pepper 
1/2-1 tsp garlic salt depending on taste

The original recipe says this should last 3-5 days in the fridge, we will see.

To save time you could mix up the dry ingredients and store them in a ziplock bag or another mason jar.  Then you would just add two tablespoons of the "Ranch mix" to the wet ingredients when you needed to mix up a batch. 

I was pleasantly surprised with the results and I will definitely be mixing up some Ranch mix for future use!



Saturday, March 2, 2013

How to Build a Potato Tower

Make fencing into round columns, cut PVC pipe to height of column, and drill holes every six inches into pipe all the way around the pipe.  Put a plastic bag over one end of the pipe and secure it with a rubber band. This is to keep the water in the pipe so it will flow outward through the holes.

Line the bottom and sides with straw. Then add compost, at least 6 inches worth.  Now add seed potatoes.  Cover with more compost and 6 more inches of straw. 

Once the plants have grown out about 8 inches, then gently cover the stems with another 6 inches of straw.  The tubers should form off of the stems so you can keep adding more straw until you reach the top. 

I spent $3.48 on the seed potatoes so hopefully I will at least get a return on my initial investment.  Here's to hoping for a good harvest!