Chicks!

I’ve talked about raising chickens for eggs for quite awhile now. We finally have the room, facilities, and time for me to be able to start this enterprise, so I’m REALLY excited! My dad had a flock of chickens when I was a kid that finally met their demise to some rampant dogs when I was in middle school. I never really had much to do with the chickens, but we love to eat eggs and this seems like one more step to the self-sufficient lifestyle that I want to lead. If I can manage to keep these ladies alive and well, and we stay in the house for awhile longer, a couple of milking goats are the next step!

I bought 15 chicks from Orscheln’s Farm and Home in Iowa City on March 9. One of our cars was being serviced, so I had to go pick up Andy from work in Iowa City anyway, so it seemed like a good time to go ahead and pick out my chicks. The flock is 5 Rhode Island Reds, 5 California Whites, and 5 Barred Plymouth Rocks. I’m hoping to end up with 12 laying hens when they’re grown up.

I had my spring break last week, so my goal was to use the time off (and Meg was still going to day care since we had to pay for the week whether we used it or not) to modify an outbuilding into a hen house.  My construction skills are not great and I, apparently, get frustrated really easily, so Andy helped me to finish up on Saturday.  We still need to finish the nesting boxes, roost, and the outdoor run, but the space is usable for the flock to be enclosed in a ring while they get big enough that they won’t be able to escape through the holes in the foundation of the building.  Until their move outside, they were living in a box on our back porch, which made the cat and dog more than a little nervous!

This is the building that I hodgepodged into a hen house.  I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, so I tried to use mostly found wood, but I had to buy most of the wood for the door.  The building has a really cool weather vane on top and a concrete slab to the side, perfect for an outdoor run.  I hope to be able to let the hens “free range” in our yard in the afternoons this summer, but I’ll need to secure the garden first, so they don’t eat our veggies before we get what we need.

R.I.P. Garden

May 2010-October 2010


Last weekend, while my mom was here to take Meg to Target to buy toys, we finished pulling everything out of the garden and turned the dirt over in preparation for the long Iowa winter ahead. I didn’t know what we were really getting into when I planted in May, I just wanted to see what would grow and what wouldn’t so I can really get going next spring. I learned that the dirt is so good here that everything grows monstrously and need twice as much room as I gave it, it’s hard to mow under out of control squash, and cheap tomato cages aren’t worth the 99 cents I spent at all. I’ve ordered my seed catalogs and am looking forward to plotting out next year’s garden plan before I start my seeds inside in a few months!

The Meaning of Efficiency

One of my favorite video game genres is the “Real Time Strategy” game, or “RTS.”  In such a game, you generate resources in order to build units that the allow you to conquer the other player.  Starcraft II is, perhaps, the most recent example of such a game, and one I’ve been playing a great deal of recently, however the Age of Empires series is, perhaps, best-suited for explaining more clearly.  In an RTS like Age of Empires, you start the game with a few units (Villagers) that harvests resources for you, like wood, food, stone and gold.  These four resources help you to produce other Villagers, but also Military units.  When you’re starting out in the Dark Ages, you primarily need food and wood for “Clubmen,” but as you advance toward “Swordsmen,” you need more diverse resources like gold.

These games are generally part of a larger game mechanic called “resource management.”  Basically, you begin a given game with a finite amount of resources and you choose how to spend those resources.  Some of them should go to more resource-generating (e.g. investments), while other resources should go toward the ultimate goal of the game.  It’s up to the player to decide to what degree they go in either direction.  If you want to win quickly, then you pour more resources into building military units so you can take out the other player.  If you want to “tech up” to a more stable position, but take longer doing it, you pour those resources into investments.

As I said, I’ve always liked this kind of game.  But I’ve never been terribly good at it in real life.

Brooke and I have never made huge amount of money, but the move to Iowa cost us a great deal.  Brooke was unemployed for the first 3 months of living here, and she’s still only been able to get work part-time (but that’s going to steadily increase).  That combined with the fact that we have a baby now means that our collective (limited) resources have been directed in other avenues than what we are used to.  Child care alone is a ridiculous, but necessary, cost.  Therefore, we’ve been doing our best to maximize our available resources as best as possible.  With various payments that one has to car loans, student loans, life/auto insurance, etc., that only leaves a relatively small percentage of cash that you can adjust for whatever purpose is required.

A few summers ago, we started with helping limit our energy costs by getting a single-room A/C unit for our bedroom.  That helped save us $100 in a single summer, paying for the A/C unit itself.  We’ve been using it in our house in Iowa now, helping to limit the excess cost of cooling a much larger space than we were dealing with in St. Louis by only cooling our bedroom(s) at night, as opposed to having our central A/C running too heavily.  Thankfully, Iowa summers are substantially cooler than St. Louis summers, and the house is in the shade enough that it rarely heats up to a significant degree.  We’re already talking about ways to limit the amount of propane we’ll use in the relatively harsh Iowa winters, trying to defend against the northwest wind by insulating specific windows.  We’ll probably spend more time upstairs, as the heat will collect there.  We’ll probably try keeping the house cooler than we had it in St. Louis, as well.

We’re also trying to limit travel to some extent.  When we can take Brooke’s Scion xA on longer trips, we’ll take it (37 mpg), but when we need a larger vehicle, we’ll have to use the Sportage (27 mpg).  I’m driving the Sportage to and from work every day and, on those trips, I’m doing my best to stay around 65 mph, as an engine runs most efficiently within that range.  Doing so, I’ve been able to help limit my gas costs to a reasonable degree.  I’ve also started getting up earlier, getting to work around 7:00 am and leaving around 4:00 pm, thereby allowing me to miss the traffic that frequently causes me to speed around people.

Brooke has done an excellent job over the summer growing vegetables and canning them for later months.  We’ve been able to save a pretty decent amount of money on food already, but those savings will continue on into the winter months.  So far, Brooke hasn’t had to buy much solid food for Meg, either, as the carrots and squash she’s been eating were grown in our garden.  Brooke froze down more of it so she can make more in the next few weeks.  As Brooke already posted about the cloth diapers, we’ve already saved a pretty large amount of money over disposables.  Otherwise, we still shop at Aldi, as always, but are making a more concerted effort to limit the “extras” (although, Brooke has already demanded that her ice cream allotment not be limited).

Our entertainment costs have dropped dramatically, as we don’t have cable anymore and our internet connection is fast enough that we can Netflix or stream everything we want.  I’ve seen one movie in theaters this summer and have decreased the number of games I’ve purchased, as well.  We also aren’t going out to eat as often, partially because we have to hold Meg and would rather have her in a high chair or something (which she isn’t…quite…ready…for…).

We’re still looking for improvements, but I think this is a helpful, albeit stressful, experience.  As in RTS games, if you build up your resource-generating units early on, you get a strong economy that can then provide you with better military units later in the game, allowing you to conquer and win.  It takes keen resource management to do this, as you have to be very, very efficient with the military units you do build early in the game, while instead putting those resources into things that can help you later on.

Let’s hope we learn something now, so that we’re prepared for later stages of the game.

A Busy Saturday

Thanks to my recent incessant PBS watching, I found this recipe for whole grain bread from America’s Test Kitchen.  I want to make our sandwich bread, but haven’t seen a recipe I like that’s also easy until now.  This one is definitely a keeper (ATK makes you join to get their recipes, but you can do it for free and get everything from this season if you want!)!

I also picked the first several-tomatoes-at-a-time crop today.  Andy took this shot of some of them in the window sill ripening a little more.  I’ll process them tomorrow, hopefully.

And, for your viewing pleasure, here’s Meg, in her bouncy seat where she spends a lot of time while I’m cooking and whatnot!  You can tell how excited she is about the BLTs we had for dinner.

Garden Monsters

Brooke and I were outside trying to avert the catastrophe that is our tomatoes when Brooke found this thing eating one:

And just to give you more of an idea of how big the thing was, we grabbed a shot of it next to (ish) Brooke’s hand:

Brooke noted that there was a tomato nearby that looked like the evil caterpillar had taken a few bites, but there wasn’t much damage done.  However, considering the size of the thing, you have to wonder if it ate a few whole tomatoes before we got outside and found it.

Anyway, there are apparently giant caterpillar monsters in our garden.  Watch for the SyFy Saturday Night Movie on the subject in the coming months.

Andy’s Favorite

Those are from my first picking on Wednesday, but there’s at least that much in the garden ready to be picked today and canned tomorrow!

Success!


I harvested the first of our garden’s bounty last night, a radish! It was a little on the hot side for my tastes, but Andy said it was good, so I guess that’s good!

On another note, the green beans (and sometimes the laundry that’s been hung on the line) are covered with these bugs.

What are they and what do I do about them?

“Is it a PONY?!?”

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This past weekend, our landlord, Phil, brought over a few of his family’s horses to graze in the area just around our rental property for the next 6 weeks or so. The “painted” one is Buster (~24 yrs old) and the brown one is Pistol (a yearling). We’re told that Buddy is a relatively tame one, and Phil said we could probably put Meg up on his back. I think we’ll be waiting awhile before doing that, though. 😛

It’s the first time either of us have ever been this close to horses. We’ve certainly seen then before, but never for an extended period of time. Certainly, Edie is not amused by their presence and frequently feels like she must bark at them in an effort to scare them off. Pretty sure it wouldn’t take more than a swift kick from either horse to do some real damage to the beagle.

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In other news, Brooke (and I…) did some yard work this weekend. I mowed the lawn and helped turn the soil in the garden, while Brooke planted some stuff in preparation for the growing season. To my knowledge, there are tomatoes, green peppers, onions, peas, soup beans, and an assortment of herbs planted already, with more to come in the next few days. The weather this week seems to be pretty conducive to gardening, so I imagine most of it will be planted shortly. Phil did recommend that we plant tall-growing items further from the fence so that the horses can’t get to them.

Overall, it’s been nice being able to go outside and do things. Back in Soulard, there wasn’t much (productive) to do outdoors, aside from going on walks, etc. While I’m sure we’ll be tired of yard work shortly, it’s kinda nice to be able to go outside and plant things, mow the lawn, wash the car, etc.

Considering that winter starts in Iowa around, oh, mid-September, we may as well enjoy it while we can. 😉

Progress and a Belated Thank You

First, a picture of our now in progress garden:
garden (1)
As soon as the weather warms up a little, some plants will go in, but it’s looking like that could be at least the weekend. A huge part of that was done by Andy’s dad on Saturday afternoon, so THANKS Jim!!

Second, we received an awesome baby gift awhile before we moved from the Nicholsons and I know they read this occasionally, so thanks Don and Kathy!
blanket
Since Meg’s a girl, I know I won’t have any problems convincing Eagle Scout Andy that she should be a 4-Her (not that there’s really any comparison!)!

Help!!

I was watering and checking on my plants that I’m growing on our 3rd story deck and noticed these tomatoes:

tomato1These are a lot more that I picked and threw in the trash because they look like this:

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There are some that look like this:

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…but I’m afraid they’re all headed in the gross direction.  So, does anybody have any thoughts about what is causing this?  And how to save the rest of the tomatoes?