Posted in Family, Home & Garden, Idaho

Chickens & Pickles! Autumn hits Idaho…

Rob, of Rockin’ R Ranch, with Christian’s special chicken

As of last weekend, our little Idaho “homestead” is up in population by seven, thanks to the adoption of seven (long-awaited!) laying hens for the chicken-house we’ve been all summer building.  With the kids incoming for the weekend, I contacted everyone on Craigslist who was offering chickens, and we lucked out by hooking up with Rob Newburn of Rockin’ R Ranch. He turned out to be a wealth of knowledge, and (bless his heart!) spent more than an hour with us when we arrived, showing us his various breeds (though we could only afford the $3 “black coppers”) and filling us in on all sorts of chicken-care nuggets of wisdom.

Hearing that our “chicken project” had been instigated at Christian’s request, Rob also rounded up a Barnevelder hen with beautiful brown coloring to her feathers, and presented her to Christian as a gift, to be his “special chicken.”

Keoni & Christian with the first pair of rounded-up chickens

We’d brought some U-Haul moving boxes from our shed (pre-printed on the sides with various possible purposes and rooms for movers to mark, but strangely enough, no pre-printed checkbox for “chickens”), and under Rob’s direction the kids took turns cutting air-slats in the sides before heading into one of his many hen-houses to pick out our chickens. After a quick demonstration on chicken-handling, Keoni and Christian rounded up six hens, helped along by Rob’s sage suggestions and bemused commentary…

Having taken up more than we’d intended of his Saturday morning, we bid Rob a very grateful goodbye and headed home, stopping just for a moment to scrounge some hay from the ground on a public easement by a horse pasture. (In case you’re wondering, this blog is NOT sponsored by the word “scrounge,” though I certainly wish someone were paying us for every time I use it!)

Chickens are home! (And please check out the awesome shingling-job Keoni did since I last posted photos…)

Back home, Christian distributed hay among the “nesting boxes” (kitchen drawers, scrounged—of course—from the neighboring trailer that was due for demolishment) and then we turned “the girls” loose!

Our neighbor Bill (happily for us, an old hand with chickens) came over to meet them, and shared with us how to clip the flight-feathers on their wings. This, in turn, led to my toilet-tweet (isn’t social networking wonderful?): “What every mom wants to hear through the bathroom door: ‘Mom, where are the BEST scissors you’d let me use on chickens?'” Out came the sewing-shears (what the heck, I know a guy who sharpens stuff!), and we clipped the wings on all seven hens.

“Ku’oko’a” on the roof. Happily, she always hops back INTO the chicken-yard when she’s done up there.

The “special chicken,” however, quickly decided that clipped wings were no impediment to flying up on the chicken-house roof! (Christian thinks her name might be “Freedom,” and we’ve been tagging her since with the Hawai’ian variation of ku’oko’a, while waiting on his final decision.) She’s definitely her own lone hen. We’re only beginning to learn chicken-culture, but the other six chickens huddled up in a heap in a single nesting-box that night, while she sat aloof in one of her own. Having watched the other six “settle” who would be on top and who on the bottom of that heap, there’s no doubt in our minds where the expression “pecking order” originated!

“the girls” settling in to a new home

The kids headed back to their dad’s house for the school-week, so we’re on chicken-duty in their stead, and sending updates (and photos) by email. I’m suddenly reminded of when Christian was about three years old and begging for a kitty. Before we made any move to visit the animal shelter, I had him go through the motions of cat-care (filling food and water bowls daily) to show that he was ready for the responsibility. He invented an invisible cat to go along with this ritual (named Clay, for reasons still unknown to me), and when we finally did visit the Humane Society, our choice was clinched by his excited exclamation that “THIS kitty looks exactly like Invisible Clay!”

Christian saying goodbye—till our next weekend!

I think our roles have been reversed now, and Christian has been training me up for chicken-care with the previous task of “feeding” his electronic reef-fish in the game on my iPad!  Hmm, I’ve accidentally let the reef-fish “die” on more than one occasion… No doubt he’s glad Keoni is on the spot!  And sure enough, I woke this morning to the sound of Keoni outside the window, calling “Hele mai, moa! Hele mai, moa!” (“Come here, chickens”) as he tossed out feed on the ground. Rob cautioned us not to expect eggs until they’ve had time to settle in, but hopefully they’re on their way to getting comfy…

In the meantime, we’re suddenly looking at the onset of Autumn here. Yesterday I was on the front porch with my book, perfectly comfortable in shirt-sleeves, and tonight we’re looking at our first hard frost. The sun has just called it a day and the moon is on the rise (seemingly magnified by the lingering haze from the summer’s forest-fires), and neighbors Bill and Anatoli are both out blanketing their vegetable gardens with tarps against the expected freeze.

last harvest before the frost—an unexpected bounty from a newly-met neighbor!

Earlier this afternoon, Keoni made a run to the mailbox (another adaptation of “Emma” in the mail!) and found himself waved across the road to meet a neighbor we hadn’t yet encountered. We watched his thriving roadside vegetable-stand all summer, and today he was trying to harvest and offload everything that was left, before the frost hit. At his urging, Keoni brought home a haul of peppers and cucumbers and yarrow and dill and tomatoes, and we feasted tonight on stuffed bell-peppers and fresh salsa.

a jar from Keoni’s first batch of pickles—a definite success!

Keoni has already turned out his first batch of pickles this week. Bill and Anatoli have both been sharing armloads of their cucumbers, so today we were able to reciprocate with mason-jars of home-made sweet pickles. Christian and I are looking forward to the next batch: dill pickles! Neither of us has historically been a fan of the sweets (though having said that, I did sample this batch, and was amazed to discover that I loved it)—but Christian has been known to eat a whole jar at a time of dills. (Cast-iron stomach, that kid…)

I’ve finished up my own little harvest—all of our lavender is now hanging to dry (mostly destined for our home-made shampoo & conditioner), and I’ve stripped the monster sunflowers (growing up around the bird-feeder) of their seeds. I’m saving about half of them to plant along the fence-line next summer, in hopes that we can keep both our neighborhood songbirds and our kids satisfied without resorting to “bought” seed. We’ll roast the other half when the kids are back for the weekend.

sunflower seeds!

Another fence-line already has raspberries planted—shoots we brought back from my dad’s burgeoning thicket. And Keoni’s potted kitchen-herbs (bedecked in the kids’ colorful artistry) are pulled in and tucked up on the porch. I don’t know if I’m ready for winter (despite the purring cat on my feet), but I think we’re at least ready for frost. And I’m thinking our first (modest!) summer of “sustainable homesteading” has been a pretty good success. Please pass the hot cocoa!

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I am... a writer, an explorer, a coffee-drinker, a recovering addict, a barefoot linguist, a book-dragon ("bookworm" doesn't cover it), a raconteur, a sailboat skipper, a research diver, a tattooed scholar, a pirate, a poet, a spiritual adventurer, a photographer, a few kinds-of-crazy, a joyful wife, a mom... a list-maker! :)

45 thoughts on “Chickens & Pickles! Autumn hits Idaho…

  1. What a wonderful post and glad to hear of all the “sustainable homesteading” you are doing. Sounds like such a wonderful life and something the whole family is a part of.

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  2. There is NOTHING better than homemade dill pickles! As a kid, I would have been right in there with Christian gobbling down those wonderful spears!

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  3. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!

    We’re making the most of our roadside harvest too. Windfall apples – the best apple pies evah! Blackberries – washed and frozen. Hazelnuts – drying in their baskets. Cherry tomatoes – everywhere. Blueberry – swapped the neighbour a loaf of fresh-baked bread for a bucket of blueberries.

    These last few evenings down at the lake with our hot tea have been a bit chilly. Time to get out the winter woolies, I think.

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    1. Love love LOVE it! And YES to the woolies—after last night, we agreed it’s definitely time to get out the winter down comforter. ;)

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  4. What a lovely lovely post… your life sounds idyllic – and hens are such characters, aren’t they… and as for all your local eating and swapping, it sounds like sustainable paradise. Great for the children to grow up practising sustainability…

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    1. We like to imagine they’re getting a “balanced” view of things… Dad’s house has lots of money, and our house has… Chickens & creativity! ;)

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  5. A world full of home grown and home made foods, chickens, recycling world stuff for home stuff, generous neighbors, happy family…..you’ve got a life of gold Kana. Thank you for sharing it. :)

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  6. I love your kind of lives. Home canning, fresh vegetables, friendly neighbours, chickens and fresh eggs. So wholesome. Gee, how times have changed. Not for the better. Sustainable. I remember those days. Love your posts too.

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    1. I know what you mean! I grew up in a tiny farm-town, the kind of place where my mom could send 7-year-old me to the store for a loaf of bread, and the grocer would just charger her for it the next time she came in… SO different from my adult experiences–until we moved HERE. :) I love it that the neighborhood is overrun with kids playing outdoors together, that neighbors know each other and help each other and look out for each others’ interests… Living here is like time-traveling back to the small-town America of my kid-hood. :)

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    1. Roosters aren’t allowed here, so we’ll be sticking with hens. (Even the hens are on slightly shaky ground—our lease prohibits “farm animals,” but our petition pointed out that every city surrounding us allows some number of HENS to be classified as “pets” rather than farm animals…) Our neighbors-with-chickens haven’t gotten orders to get rid of them since our June petition, so we just went ahead! ;)

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    1. I’m pretty sure it’s the presence of pickling spices and alum and sugar and the like… The process involved soaking the cucumber slices for several days in water with pickling spices, and then in vinegar with alum, and then (in the case of the sweet pickles, anyway) putting the slices into the jar, layered with sugar to coat each layer of the cucumbers. To my surprise, you DON’T put any liquid in the jar; the sugar and spices actually draw liquid out of the cucumber spices (osmosis at work!)—the pickles stay crunchy that way, and the liquid that ends up filling the jar is actually from the cucumbers themselves, and it IS a little murky with the partially-dissolved sugar and other ingredients. In contrast to that multi-step process, I think commercially made pickles are made by putting the cucumbers in the jar and then just pouring in their flavored vinegar mix, and not necessarily the ingredients that remain (and cloud the liquid) at the end of our process. That’s my best guess. :)

      I should also add that vinegar is a very effective anti-biotic and anti-fungal agent, used by many people (our household included) for cleaning and sterilizing. As a cleaning agent, it’s as effective as bleach on everything except viruses—and given its heavy use in pickling, it should make pickles a pretty safe food, cloudy or no. :)

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  7. Welcome, welcome to your chickens! Hopefully they’re settling in well, at this point, and will begin producing sooner than later. Those pickles look super yummy (I’m a fan of the sweet!), and I felt like I learned a few things in your answer to Rivka — very interesting. :)

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