Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Vegetable Starting Guide: Seeds or Plants?

So you're ready to begin a vegetable garden or try a new plant for the first time, but you aren't sure how to begin. Start seed indoors, direct sow, or buy transplants?

After years of experimenting with seeds and transplants, I have decided to make a handy chart to keep track of the vegetables that start out better with seeds started indoors, seeds directly sown in the ground, or bought from the store in a pot. Here is a little bit more on each of the options.

Direct Sow
I used to be completely intimidated by starting seeds directly in the ground. I'm way to much of a control freak to believe that sticking a seed in some dirt outside and walking away could ever produce anything edible, but after lots of trusting and trying, it has become one of the easiest (and cheapest) ways that I have found to begin most vegetables. Without direct sowing in the garden, you will greatly limit the number of different vegetable types that you can grow. It is much easier than you think, and at $1 per pack for most seed, the price is unbeatable for gardening on any larger scale.

All varieties of beans are a great seed to start with if direct sowing intimidates you. These seeds will come up fast and grow strong every time!

Seeds Started Indoors
Some plants need the extra time to grow before the weather warms up enough to go outside, especially in areas of the country with short growing seasons. Starting seeds indoors is a great way to give those plants a jump start. Simply plant your seeds in six packs or peat pots with potting soil. Some gardeners use a soil-less seed starting mix, but I find that a good potting soil almost always does the trick. Keep the soil moist, (the best way is by watering from the bottom) and keep them under LOTS of light. You don't want your seedlings to get long and lanky stretching for sunlight. Put them out in the sun as soon as possible.

Some plants simply take too long to grow from seed to maturity in a single planting season, especially in colder zones where the growing season is short. There are also some plants that can be grown from seed, but with the amount of care and attention they need, it is just not worth it. In those cases, you will want to buy plants from your local nursery. When choosing plants, buy the smallest ones possible to keep your budget under control. Don't worry, they will be big soon! Look for plants that are low and bushy rather than tall and lanky.

Other vegetables have special beginnings, such as potatoes, onions, garlic, and asparagus. They may be started from bulbs, seed potatoes, slips, leftovers from the kitchen, mature root stock, or sets that you buy from the store or order from a catalog. Do some research on these individual plants to find the best way to get the growing.

Sweet potatoes are grown from slips started from a seed potato.

And now for the handy chart! I hope this helps you as you expand your gardening horizons and try new plants. Some plants may have links that you can click on for more information on starting that particular plant.

Download: click here

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Natural Chicken Dewormer

Earlier this summer we lost a laying hen to gape worm. By the time we figured out what was wrong with her based on the symptoms, it was to late to treat her. 

About Gape Worm- How to Recognize the Signs
Gape worm is a worm that most chickens carry at any given time. Occasionally it will take over a weaker chicken and can cause death, as it sis in the case of our hen. Gape worms lodge themselves in the throat of the chicken and cause them to walk around with gaping mouths as they gasp for air. (hence the name) The gaping mouth of the chicken is the first sign, following by making hoarse rasping noises, stopping egg laying, lethargy, stretching out the neck and shaking the head back and forth in an attempt to dislodge the worms, and finally heaving the body forward to literally attempt a self-Heimlich maneuver. The chicken eventually dies of asphyxiation as the worms multiply and block the breathing passage.

You can see Meg "panting" in this picture with a gaping mouth, the first sign of gape worms lodged in the throat.

What to do about it
After doing more research we realized that other hens in or flock were showing early symptoms of gape worm as well, and we needed to act to keep from losing more hens. As it turns out, the gape worm can be easily treated with antibiotics. We didn't want to use antibiotics unless absolutely necessary for two reasons: 1) you can't eat any of the eggs for two weeks while they have the antibiotics in their system and 2) the whole reason we have our own chickens is to avoid unwanted and unnatural substances such as antibiotics and growth hormones in our food. On the other hand, we didn't want to lose our whole flock to the worms. We started looking for a natural remedy to use to deworm the chickens. After reading about a few different natural dewormers for chickens online, we decided to put our own concoction to the test. The recipe is simple and uses ingredients that you probably already have around the kitchen. 
Our Natural Chicken Dewormer Recipe
We made a single serving of grits (I know this is a southern thing, but you can substitute oatmeal as well. This part is just to give them a base of something they like to eat so they will gobble it down). Then we mixed in a teaspoon of Cayenne pepper and a tablespoon of minced garlic. We fed this mix to our chickens once a week until the threat had passed, and we continue to give it to them about once a month to avoid problems in the future. Not only did all of the symptoms disappear immediately, but they have shown no signs of infection since!

 I thought at first that the chickens wouldn't eat the awful smelling concoction, but I set the bowl out and ran back in to grab my phone to take a picture. By the time I got back outside, they had pecked it clean! Cayenne pepper and garlic goes in, and gape worms come out :)

Natural Chicken Dewormer Recipe
1 serving oatmeal or grits
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 tbsp. minced garlic

Serve once weekly or as needed.

So simple! I hope that you will be able to combat gape worm (and types of other worms) in your flock naturally!

Monday, September 8, 2014

DIY Ribbon Headband Holder Tutorial (No Sew!)

I recently pinned a DIY Ribbon Headband Holder that someone had made and was selling on etsy for $20. I don't think so! Immediately I knew I had to make some to give as gifts to nieces, etc. It didn't take long for me to create my own version, and it was so simple that I can't wait to share it with you so that you can make one for yourself :)

3" of 1/4" wide grosgrain ribbon 
4" of 1" wide grosgrain ribbon
5 pieces of 9" long 1" wide grosgrain ribbon
24" of 2" wide grosgrain ribbon
hot glue gun
metal key ring
*choose any color combinations of ribbons that you want!

Begin by ironing your ribbon as grosgrain ribbon creases easily. Next, hot glue  the edges of each of the five pieces of ribbon to create loops.

Put hot glue along the top edge of the first loop and glue it centered on the base 2" wide ribbon. Next, flip the loop upside down and put a line of hot glue along 2/3 of the length of the ribbon and stick it down to the base ribbon.

Put a line of glue along the top of the next loop and glue it onto the base ribbon so that the edge of the loop just fits underneath the end of the loop before it. Add the line of glue 2/3 of the length to secure it to the base ribbon, and continue this process until all five loops have been added along the base ribbon.

Once all the loops are attached, put a thick line of glue to the top of each loop and press down firmly with your finger to connect the base of the loop above it.

Glue the 1/4" ribbon into a loop and then glue it to the top front of the ribbon.

Glue the 4" piece of 1" wide ribbon lengthwise across the top
of the base ribbon, but slightly above the top edge.

Flip the base ribbon over and glue each side of the ribbon down to enclose the top for no raveling.

To finish the bottom edge, just hot glue the edge under to make a short seam on the back of the ribbon.

And now all you have to do is pull off all of those annoying glue strings from the hot glue gun, put your metal key ring through the loop, and hang up your creation for organized headbands!

And, for those of you who love homemade things, but can't find the time to make them, you can purchase some for a reasonable price at my etsy store. Happy creating and gifting!

Rabbit Lunch Wraps

Ready for another great rabbit recipe? This one is quick, easy, and one of my husband's all-time favorites.

In order to cook your rabbit, boil it in water on the stove for 20 minutes just like you would a chicken.

After that, the meat will easily tear off the bone so that you can cut it into small pieces to mix in with the other ingredients.

Next, mix the meat, rice, beans, corn, cheese, and tomatoes together, and you're done!

This makes a perfect meal for a quick lunch that is healthy and filling.

Not only is it super simple, but it also makes a lot and freezes well. I usually freeze about half for us to have another time.

Rabbit Lunch Wraps Recipe
1 rabbit
2 cups brown rice, cooked
4, 15oz cans black beans, rinsed and strained
2, 15 oz cans pinto beans, rinsed and strained
10 oz can corn, strained
10 oz can diced tomatoes with green chiles, strained
flour tortillas
1 lb. shredded pepper jack cheese
Optional: picante sauce and sour cream

Cook the rice as directed. Boil the rabbit in water over the stove for 20 minutes. Debone the rabbit and cut the meat into 1/2 inch pieces. Mix all rice, rabbit, cheese, and canned goods together in a large bowl. Serve heated on flour tortillas with picante sauce and sour cream.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

10 Reasons to Raise Meat Rabbits (and 4 Reasons Not To)

10 Reasons to Raise Meat Rabbits

1. Rabbits are quiet
They literally make no noise. If you live in the suburbans with temperamental neighbors who are bothered by the slightest disturbance, then rabbits are the right choice for you. I'm pretty sure we had our rabbits for six months before our neighbors even knew. When the chickens are squawking in the morning or singing the egg song, you will be grateful that the rabbits are mute!

2. Rabbits are delicious
For more on this, check out the post on the Verdict on Eating Rabbit. This is a lean white meat that can replace chicken in most recipes or even ground beef in much the same way that ground turkey can. It can also be used to make delicious sausage! whichever way you enjoy it, this is a great alternative to grocery story meat with unknown beginnings.

3. They multiply like...well...rabbits
The gestation period for rabbits is only 30 days, and each litter can easily have 8-10 kits. The kits can be weaned completely after 4 weeks and the mother is ready for mating again. At that rate of reproduction, a breeding pair of rabbits can produce 60 rabbits in a year. At 3 lbs. of meat per rabbit, you have just produced up to 180lbs. of meat for your family without large livestock!

4. They don't take up much space
While raising cows, chickens, or goats takes up a lot of land, our entire rabbit operation takes up only 45 square feet. We have a cage for the male, one for the female with the breastfeeding kits, and another cage for the weaned kits that are growing into processing age. Most of the meat for our family is raised in just a corner of the backyard!

5. They create garden fertilizer
We do compost most of our kitchen and yard waste, but rabbits can create amazing garden fertilizer a lot faster than the compost pile can. Rabbit manure is one of the best natural fertilizers for the garden because it is one of the only animal manures that do not need to mature before applying to the dirt. Cow and most other animal manures need to sit at least six months before going into the garden to avoid burning the plants, but rabbit manure can be shoveled straight from under the cage and into the vegetable garden. And they produce plenty of it! Your days of buying bags of Miracle Grow Soil are over!

6. They are a healthy source of very lean meat
Not only is rabbit meat delicious, but it also is very healthy for you. Rabbit meat has less fat, calories, and cholesterol than beef, pork, turkey, and chicken, and it has the highest percentage of protein. According to many studies, it is considered the most nutritious meat out there! So, yeah...delicious and very good for you :)

7. They are inexpensive to feed
While chickens can forage for up to 15% of their diet, rabbits can forage for up to 90% of their diet, which significantly cuts the cost of food. We feed our rabbits all of the leftover greens from our garden, such as beet, radish, turnip, and carrot tops, potato vines, and leaves of greens that have been chewed up by bugs. We also give them grass, weeds, tree leaves, etc. They will eat anything green and in many cases prefer it to the bagged feed. Our average price of feed per pound of meat produced is right around $2.50. That is much cheaper than any meat you can find in the grocery store, and you can rest assured knowing that it is free of antibiotics and growth hormones.

8. Easy to process
My husband does all of the meat processing. He has frequently processed chickens and rabbits. On average it takes him about 45 minutes to process a chicken (with my help to defeather), while a rabbit takes him around 15 minutes to process from live rabbit to meat in a freezer ziplock bag. No feathers to deal with, the skin peels right off, and you also don;t have to withhold food from the rabbits before processing.

9. They grow quickly
Rabbits can be processed at only 8 weeks of age. Since we feed our rabbits so many greens, we usually wait until 12 weeks to process them, but it still doesn't take long to raise a litter from newborn to dinner. It also keeps the turnover quick so that you can have another litter right behind it waiting for production.

10. Rabbits make great pets.
You obviously won't be eating your breeders, and they will become your pets. (And if you can't bring yourself to eat the babies, then you will end up with LOTS of pets). Rabbits are really sweet and cuddly, and they make great pets. Our breeders love to be petted and held, wait for treats, and even free range in the backyard occasionally.

4 Reasons Not to Raise Meat Rabbits

1. Rabbits are cute!
The hardest part about raising rabbits for meat is that they are so adorable and sweet! I have to make an effort not to get attached to the babies. One of the best parts of raising rabbits is getting to see the entire life cycle, from hairless newborn and to first opening their eyes to learning to eat on their own and growing from hamster phase to full-size rabbit. It is enjoyable to be a part of, which makes it that much more difficult when it is time for them to become dinner. It makes it easier when you think that there is always another batch on the way to start the process over again!

2. Rabbits have a lot of bones.
Lots of little bones. The legs are good, and have a lot of meat on them without too many bones, but once you get to the back, you really have to be careful. Be especially cautious if you are feeding the meat to children!

3. They need daily attention.
They drink a lot of water and food, especially when you have an entire litter sharing a cage. Sometimes we even have to refill the food and water twice a day when they are close to processing age. For this reason, you can't take a trip without having someone to check on them regularly.

4. They have claws.
They have back claws that will draw blood if you try to pick them up. They are fine being petted, but once you lift their four feet off the ground, the hind legs start kicking and they only have one motive- to be put down again. For this reason, they are difficult to move or hold unless you handle them a lot when they are young. You may start off doing well with the socialization, but truth be told, soon they are multiplying too quickly to handle them all well enough to avoid getting scratched up every now and then.

Want a great rabbit recipe? Click on one of the recipes below!