The Scoop on Molting

We have things we do to get our chickens ready for winter, and so do they.

Molting Chicken

Now that the days are getting shorter, they’re busy molting, so they’ll have a fresh set of feathers to help them stay warm. A couple weeks back their feathers started to fall out. Notice how thinned out this hen’s feathers look. You can clearly see the white down underlayer that’s usually completely hidden from view. It isn’t pretty, but it’s a lot prettier than the next step … [Read more...]

Beef & Butternut Squash Chili

Beef and Butternut Squash Chili

Butternut squash is a fall staple in our house, so is chili. It was only natural, then, that the two would eventually end up in the same bowl. And let me just say, the results are crazy good. Butternut squash chili is delicious; it’s colorful; and it’s loaded with all sorts of good-for-you stuff. This is the kind of meal that you’ll want to add to your regular rotation because it comes together quickly and leaves you with leftovers for the next day.

Butternut Squash Chili

Prep Time:

Cook Time:

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • Half of a butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 14 oz. beef broth
  • (2) cans kidney beans, drained
  • (1) 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes
  • 2 bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp chili power (2 Tbsp if you like heat)
  • 1-1/2 tsp cumin
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt to taste

What You Do:

Brown the Meat and Cook Peppers and Onions Until Soft

Brown the ground beef in a large pot. Drain the fat. Then, add the peppers and onions, and cook until soft.

Pot of Butternut Squash Chili

Add the rest of the ingredients, and bring the pot to a boil. Then, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the butternut squash is soft (about 25-30 minutes).

Beef and Butternut Squash Chili

Serve with sour cream, cheese or your favorite chili toppings.

How to Protect Chickens from Predators

How to Protect Chickens from Predators

See where the dog tried to dig under?

Last week a dog tried to dig under our chicken run to get at our hens, but he didn’t succeed. Why? Because we built our coop to keep predators out, and so far it’s worked. Here’s a look at the measures we have in place:

  • We elevated our coop, to discourage rats, snakes and other egg thieves from living underneath it. In fact, we actually enclosed the underside of their coop with hardware cloth to make it usable space (it ties in with their run)
  • We wrapped their run in hardware cloth, instead of chicken wire. The smaller mesh prevents raccoons from reaching in to grab our hens, and offers a bit more protection against snakes
  • The floor of their run is wrapped in hardware cloth, too. It’s a completely enclosed space, top to bottom (This is what kept the dog out, but it’s just as effective against coyotes, bobcats, owls and a host of other hungry sorts)
  • We keep a padlock on their run and their nest boxes. Raccoons have super dexterity, and can open slide locks and turn knobs with no trouble. This keeps them out, and it also keeps the neighborhood kids out (you don’t actually have to lock the padlocks to keep the racoons out. The sequence of having to turn the lock, and lift it out is complicated enough)
  • We have motion-activated lights on the back of our house. If something enters the backyard, the lights come on to scare them off
  • We keep the area around their coop neat, so there aren’t places for predators to live or lurk
  • We trained our hens to return to their coop every night. Once they’re in, we lock the door to their run
  • We collect eggs every day to minimize temptation
  • We keep their coop and run in good condition. Damaged hardware cloth, holes in the floor or roof – they could all be an entry point for a predator, so we stay on top of maintenance
Locked Nesting Boxes

Locked Nesting Boxes

Locked Chicken Run

And a Locked Run, Too!

Want to see what our coop looks like and how we built it? You’ll find all of that here.

Front Yard Farming

Butternut Squash Harvest

Remember all those volunteer butternut squash vines that came up in our front yard? We just harvested our squash this morning, and ended up with 24 for us, and a few damaged ones for the chickens. Pretty sweet deal.

Next year, I’ll plant squash in our front yard on purpose. It’s led to many interesting conversations with our neighbors and the CSA families that pick up at our house (we’re a CSA pick-up spot for our friends’ farm). One of our neighbors came over Friday to ask about buying some of our squash, and someone driving by this morning, stopped and bought one. I wasn’t really planning to sell any, but I’m happy to see people excited about eating real food.

If you grew butternut squash this year, I’d recommend waiting until the stems are a tannish-brown before you harvest yours. If you look closely, you’ll see my stems are still a bit green. I’m working on a secret plan that required me to pick mine a bit early. They’re fully edible at this point; they just won’t be good storage squash. I’ll puree them, and get them into the freezer sometime in the next couple weeks.

Here are some guidelines to help you determine when to pick butternut squash.

See Also:

When to Pick Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash Vines

This spring my husband added some soil from one of our compost bins to our front beds, and before long we had butternut squash vines coming up in the front yard. Nice!

Butternut Squash - Not Ripe Yet

Those plump butternut squash have been tempting my taste buds every time I walk past them, but I’m not picking them just yet because I know if I pick them too soon they won’t keep well.

So, how do you know when butternut squash is ready to be picked?

Pick them when …

  • the skins are tan, with no green lines showing
  • the stems are brown, and the vines have died back

Many gardeners also recommend waiting until after the first frost to harvest any winter squash.

To Pick Your Butternut Squash

Be sure to leave two to three inches of the stem intact. If you cut them shorter, they’ll rot quickly. Inspect your squash carefully, and place any with damaged skins or stems in a pile to be used right away. Cure the rest by sticking them in a warm spot with good air circulation for a couple weeks. Turn them regularly to ensure even curing. This will allow the squash to shed some of their water weight and to develop tougher skins, so they store well.