Boiled Peanuts

Until I moved to South Carolina fifteen years ago, I didn’t know the first thing about boiled peanuts. Being a Wisconsin native, my food options included things like cheese, corn, cheese, rhubarb, cheese, beef, and cheese. Boiled peanuts were as foreign as sushi to this farm girl, perhaps even more so. I’d never tasted, smelled or viewed a boiled peanut. I certainly had no idea they had the flavor and texture of a salty seed bean, or that they could be so addictive. Though, there are people who disagree. People either love them or they hate them, it seems.

Throughout the South, boiled peanuts can be found at roadside stands, flea markets, gas stations, and even in cans on grocery store shelves. I’ve never had canned boiled peanuts, but I don’t recommend them for first time boiled peanut eaters. It just doesn’t seem right. I prefer boiled peanuts fresh from the vendor, slowly simmered in the open air. There’s nothing quite as comforting as a Styrofoam cup of salty goober peas packed in a paper bag. Almost sounds illegal, doesn’t it? Well, take it from this transplanted southerner, eating from a bagged cup of boiled peanuts adds a little somethin’ Southern to a weekend drive through the countryside.

I’ve introduced many of my “Yankee” friends and family to boiled peanuts with little applause. Only one or two of them acknowledged liking them, and probably only because they didn’t want to disappoint me. That’s okay. More for me!

Recently, I tried my hand at making boiled peanuts. Preparation requires time and patience, but not a lot of talent. Basically, if you’re good at watching a kettle boil, you will be able to make a great batch of boiled peanuts! The recipe only calls for three ingredients… raw/green peanuts (make sure they are raw and not roasted), salt and water.

BOILED PEANUTS

2 to 3 pounds fresh green peanuts
1 cup salt
water to cover

Rinse peanuts. Put the peanuts and the salt in a large stockpot. Cover completely with water. Let the peanuts soak in the water overnight. If you prefer to bypass the overnight soak, bring them to a boil on the stove and allow them to boil for three minutes. Remove them from the heat, cover and let them sit for 2-3 hours. After soaking, put them on the stove and bring to a boil again. Simmer for at least 2 hours and up to 4 hours. When the peanuts are soft (the actual peanut, not the shell), they are done. If they are still slightly crunchy, continue to boil them. When they are done, drain and serve immediately. They can be refrigerated for several days.

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My Chickens Are Losing It!

It’s that time of the year… molting season. Simply put, when chickens molt, they lose their feathers and grow new ones. Think of it as their way of refreshing their wardrobe before winter.

My chickens are experiencing their first big molt and I am learning things about chickens I’d rather not know. Not only are they molting, but they are picking on each other. When I say “picking”, I don’t mean teasing and name calling. They are literally picking (pecking) each other! Last weekend, I was horrified when I noticed that two of my white Tetra Tints were bleeding from the vent area (backside) due to excessive picking by the other birds. We immediately soaked the birds, Sue Sylvestor and Sally, in a sink of warm water for 15-20 minutes, followed by an application of Neosporin. We then separated them from the bullies. The next day, we made a trip to Tractor Supply and picked up Blue Kote (a blue tinted wound spray that discourages picking and aids healing). It’s not pretty, but it does the trick. We also added vitamin and electrolyte powder to their water.

Several hours after rescuing Sue and Sally, we discovered that one of the Red Stars, Frieda, had also been severely pecked! Her wounds were much worse than those of the other two. In fact, we wondered if she would survive. Seven days later, and another trip to Tractor Supply for Tylan (an antibiotic), Frieda is holding her own. She is still not out of the woods, but she gets around fine and has not lost her appetite. To protect her, we confined her to a large Rubbermaid bin in the basement for several days and kept the lights low/off to discourage egg production. Imagine passing an egg through a vent that has been pecked to bits! For the past several days, we’ve let her free range for an hour or so every morning and evening. This allows her to be her little chicken self as well as socialize with the rest of the flock. My hope is that giving her co-foraging time will make her permanent reunion with the other chickens a bit easier. Chickens are funny about their coop mates. If one is injured, they will torture her. If the tortured chicken is removed, they might attack her again when she returns… as if she is a dangerous stranger. Flocks truly do have a pecking order and are not afraid to enforce it. They also have short memories.

Fortunately, I stopped my chickens before they murdered one of their own. Yes. Chickens will kill each other. It’s hard to believe, but chickens have cannibalistic tendencies. They will ruthlessly peck at a less dominant, or injured, chicken. If left unchecked, their pecking could lead to pulling the victim chicken’s intestines out. Disturbing and disgusting, isn’t it? I shudder to think that my chickens could do this to one of their own.

So, why did my chickens turn on each other? I blame molting for this sudden spree of bad behavior. Until they started losing feathers, they were peace-loving, happy birds that never quarreled. When their feathers started to fall out, they turned into bullies, mercilessly pecking the balding spots on their molting sisters. Until I researched molting and picking, I didn’t realize that when chickens molt, they need extra protein. It just so happens that feathers are a good source of protein. That explains why they were feasting on each other’s feathers! It’s the best answer I can come up with anyway. The internet is filled with possible explanations. I chose the solution that seemed the most correct.

I feed my chickens layer feed with a 16% protein content. Some people switch their molting hens to meat bird feed, which contains 20-22% protein. I’ve also heard of people feeding their chickens raw hamburger, cooked eggs, and various other forms of “people food” protein. I’ve been giving mine meal worms and letting them free range several hours a day for natural forms of protein (bugs and worms). They also seem to be much happier when given more space to roam and are too busy scratching for goodies to worry about pecking at each other. Since I started the extended foraging time routine, I haven’t had any more incidents.

I will keep you posted on Frieda’s progress. So far, she’s been a trooper. We hope to reintegrate her into the flock in a week or two. Tips, advice and suggestions are greatly appreciated!

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Work it Girls! (part two)

A couple of weeks ago, I put my chickens to work tilling and fertilizing a new 5’x10’ garden bed. I moved their mobile run to a grassy area near my raised bed gardens and let them scratch away. They did not disappoint! It’s hard to believe that the area inside the run was once lush and green. Now, it is grass and weed free and filled with organic fertilizer, courtesy of the girls.

This fall, I will plant lettuce and other greens in the new bed. At the ending of the growing season, I will till in what hasn’t been eaten by humans or the chickens, adding valuable nitrogen to the soil. (Yes. The chickens will be rewarded with fresh lettuce/greens.)  When spring rolls around, I will plant sweet corn in this plot. And yes, the chickens will get sweet corn. Mostly used cobs. The nutrients they take in will be used to make eggs and more fertilizer. It’s a beautiful cycle, isn’t it?

Thank you Lucy, Marcie, Peppermint Patty, Sally, Frieda, and Sue Sylvestor!

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Work it, Girls!

Not only do my chickens produce fresh, delicious eggs for me, but they are now helping me garden. I put them to work tilling and prepping a new garden bed. These are some hard working chickens! Don’t feel too sorry for them though. To them, it’s just another day of being a chicken. Plus, they love the change of scenery and greenery. In a couple of weeks, they will have this 5’x10’ area grass/weed free, tilled, and nourished with organic fertilizer. By the way, composted chicken manure is THE BEST fertilizer available.

The chickens enjoyed the walk as I pushed their mobile run from one spot in the yard to their new “pasture” area. Well, Lucy wasn’t too amused when the chicken run wall tapped her fluffy butt. She’s a very vocal girl. My pup and supervisor, Jackson, enjoyed eating the chicken feed that spilled in the driveway when I hit a bump. So, for the most part, everyone was pleased with the move.

After I situated the run, the chickens were more interested in the fresh grass and bugs than in their pellets. Since I don’t dare let them out without supervision, due to predators, this is as close as they will come to free ranging. They appear to be enjoying their temporary new foraging spot.

I’m a huge fan of raised bed gardening. However, there are some plants that fare better when planted directly in the earth. Corn is one of them. Perhaps after the girls ready this new garden area, I will attempt sweet corn again. My sprawling strawberry plants, now planted in a raised bed could use a bit more space and I’m thinking about moving them to this new garden. I’m also considering moving my asparagus plants, though I hear this is a difficult task with sketchy results.

After the chickens till and fertilize this little patch of land, I will build a border around it, which will give it a raised bed look and keep out invasive weeds… a serious problem I had when I gardened directly in this soil in the past. In fact, weed control is the main reason I love raised bed gardening.

I’ll keep you posted on the girl’s progress. Wait until you see what they do to it. You will be amazed!

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Store Eggs vs. Farm Eggs

There IS a difference between a store bought, factory farm egg laid by chickens confined in small cages and a farm fresh egg laid by a happy hen who is allowed to scratch around in the earth for bugs, worms and weeds. Add fruit and veggie scraps to their natural, outdoorsy diet, and your flock will reward you with protein and vitamin rich eggs. Do you know that the protein in eggs is one of the highest quality proteins found in any food?

The white egg in this photo is a factory farmed egg purchased at the grocery store. The brown egg was laid by one of my chickens. The egg produced by my chicken is considerably smaller than the store egg, but as my flock matures, the size of their eggs will increase. My gals are still pullets (chicken teenagers!) and have only been laying for a few weeks.

Notice how the farm egg has a rich orange center while the store egg yolk is a medium yellow? Not only do farm egg yolks have a deeper color, but they are creamier and don’t break as easily as factory egg yolks. Another noticeable difference is that the shells of farm eggs are thicker and harder than those of factory eggs. These differences are due to diet, of course. Also, since my chickens spend their days outdoors, they get plenty of natural vitamin D. Factory chickens are given supplemental D in their feed pellets. Poor factory farmed chickens. How would you like to eat Grape Nuts every day of your life?

If you’re wondering, there’s no difference between white and brown eggs, though some people swear they differ in taste and nutritional value. Two of my chickens lay brown eggs, two lay medium brown eggs, and the other two lay cream colored eggs. All have beautiful orange yolks and taste the same.

Do farm fresh eggs taste better than store eggs? Yes! It’s like the difference between strawberries you buy from the grocery store and strawberries you pick from a farm or your own garden. Perhaps the reason farm fresh eggs taste better is because they are fresher.  After all, the typical grocery store egg is 30 days old. Keep in mind that eggs have a long shelf life and this is nothing to be alarmed about. However, if you want a truly FRESH egg, you won’t find one at the grocery store!

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Five Perfect Eggs

I’m tickled to death to announce that one of my chickens has started laying eggs! I found the first adorable, little brown egg four days ago. It was on the ground in the run and was a bit muddied because it spent the night outside in the rain (top photo). Unfortunately, I didn’t discover it until I put the girls in their run the next morning. That didn’t keep me from feeling as giddy as a child on Christmas morning!

Since then, I have found four more pretty brown eggs. Two of them appeared less than 26 hours apart, which is approximately how long it takes a chicken to create and lay an egg. Amazing, isn’t it? That makes me wonder if two of the girls started laying at the same time. Then again, when a hen first starts laying eggs, it takes her a while to get on schedule. Not only that, but first eggs are smaller and sometimes have soft or wrinkled shells. Fortunately, my first eggs have had very hard, flawless shells. I hope the other five girls follow suit.

The chickens recently turned 18 weeks old, which meant they could start laying at any time. Their starter/grower feed ran out last week, so I purchased their first bag of layer feed. I wondered if it was too soon. My worry was put to rest a few days later when an egg appeared. Is that good timing, or what?! In addition to their commercial feed, they free range on bugs and weeds, and snack on treats such as meal worms, watermelon, cooked pasta, frozen peas, apples, lettuce, cornbread, and fresh veggie scraps. I have some well-fed chickens, indeed!

The first three eggs were either muddy or poo covered. Ick. Two were laid in the run and one on the coop floor. So much for the carefully planned nesting boxes in the coop. Perhaps if they had access to the coop during the day, the mystery layer (can’t figure out which one is laying) would have trotted inside and deposited her egg in the designated area. That doesn’t explain the egg I found on the coop floor though. I’m guessing the poor chicken didn’t know what was happening the first few times.

To accommodate Mystery Layer’s early afternoon laying schedule (while outside in the run), I purchased an inexpensive stacking bin with a cover and set it in the outdoor run. The lip at the bottom edge holds the wood shavings in and the lid adds privacy as well as protection from the weather. It’s like the bin was made for this very purpose. At first, the chickens thought it was a cool new piece of playground equipment and a great place to poop (on the lid). Ugh. I wondered if Mystery Layer’s instincts would kick in. Would she understand that this box was an egg depository? It seemed like a long shot, but I hoped for the best. Guess what? The day after I installed the outdoor nesting box, Mystery Layer laid a nice, clean egg in it. Yes! The next day, she laid another egg in the outdoor nesting box. Good chicken.

People really do need to give chickens more credit.

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Cool Chicks

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about keeping chickens cool in the heat. Living in South Carolina, that’s a big concern for me and my chicken girls.

You’re probably thinking, “How do you know if your chickens can’t take the heat?” Chickens pant and lift their wings when they are hot. They can even die of heatstroke. It’s essential to provide them with fresh water and keep their water container filled. On super hot days, I toss ice cubes in their waterer. Shade is also very important. Mine spend their days in a shady run and their nights in a coop that has been shaded all day. Their run has plenty of dirt for dust baths (which also keeps them cool) as well as a little “sandbox” that they like to sit it. I’m not sure what that is all about.

Thanks to Fresh Eggs Daily, I learned about a great treat for hens on a hot summer day… frozen peas! I happened to have a bag of them in the freezer so I gave it a try. I poured a few in a bowl and set it in their run. They were apprehensive at first, as they are with anything new. Before long, one of them took a chance and tried a pea. It didn’t take long for the rest of the group to join in. An hour later, I went out to check on their progress and the entire bowl was empty! I noticed a lot of peas scattered on the ground though. You know how kids scatter them around on their plate to make it look like they ate some of them? It was like that. So, the jury is out on whether they like peas or not. They certainly did have fun pecking at them and throwing them around!

By the way, peas aren’t the only frozen treat you can feed your chickens. Most frozen fruits and veggies will work, with the exception of citrus fruits and raw potatoes, which are not good for them. I hear they go crazy over watermelon, including the rind. Frozen grapes are another favorite. Another cheap and easy treat is ice cubes with fresh mint or other herbs mixed in. Who knew chickens had such sophisticated palates?!

UPDATE: The peas that were scattered on the ground were gone before the end of the afternoon. Guess that means they like peas. Good chickens!

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Rhubarb

Peculiar word.
rhu·barb [roo-bahrb] noun

1. any of several plants belonging to the genus Rheum, of the buckwheat family, as R. officinale, having a medicinal rhizome, and R. rhabarbarum, having edible leafstalks.

2. the rhizome of any medicinal species of this plant, forming a combined cathartic and astringent.

3. the edible, fleshy leafstalks of R. rhabarbarum, used in making pies, preserves, etc.

4. Slang . a quarrel or squabble.

Quirky flavor.
It has a notably tart, tangy flavor. Nothing a little sugar can’t relax!

Interesting structure.
Rhubarb looks like red celery with elephant ear leaves. It even has the crunch and stringiness of celery – traits that mellow on the stovetop or in the oven.

Culinary curiosity.
Rhubarb is a vegetable with a wealth of “fruity” applications. It can be used in pies, cakes, compotes, beverages, tarts, stuffing, turnovers, chutneys, cobblers, sauces, soups, blintzes, shortcakes, cupcakes, sundaes, sorbets, bars, custards, salads, and ice cream. Need I go on?

Seasonal treat.
I wish I could grow rhubarb in my Southern garden, but it nearly impossible to grow here. Summers are too hot and winters are too mild.

When I saw it in the grocery store today, it brought back fond memories of the rhubarb my grandparents and parents used to grow when I was a kid in Wisconsin. Of course, I had to buy some. I knew if I didn’t buy it now, I’d have to wait another year.

I was very impressed when the young man behind the register knew what it was. Though, he did hesitate and asked me not to tell him… said he wanted to try to remember what it was on his own.

After picking up my once-a-year rhubarb fix, I thumbed through a book of my grandma’s recipes. She and my grandpa grew a LOT of rhubarb, so I had several good recipes to choose from. I carefully reviewed my choices and decided to bake Grandma’s rhubarb crunch. Nothing fancy, but a timeless classic that is soooo good right out of the oven topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Here’s the recipe written in my grandmother’s hand.

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EASY Raised Bed Garden

I installed a new 4’x4’ raised bed garden this weekend and want to show you just how EASY they are to build. There’s no reason to buy an expensive raised bed garden kit (that you will have to assemble anyway) when you can build a less expensive version with very little effort. Trust me.

1. Gather your supplies:

  • 4 – 2”x10”x (4’ long) untreated boards
  • Drill with 1/8” bit and Phillips screwdriver tip attachment
  • 12 – 4” deck screws
  • Weed barrier cloth
  • 6 – Bags of garden soil (2 cu. ft. each)
  • 1 – Bag of composted manure
  • 1 – Bag of mushroom compost
  • 1 – Bag of peat moss (2 cu. ft.)
  • Rake

2. Square up two boards to make a corner. Pre-drill three holes.

3. Using the screwdriver bit, install three deck screws in the pre-drilled holes. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for the remaining three corners. Step back and admire your handiwork 🙂

4. Place the completed frame in your garden area. Make sure it is exactly where you want it, as it will be difficult to move after you add the soil!

5. Insert a 4’x4’ (doubled) piece of weed barrier cloth under the bed frame.

6. Add a third of the soil, peat moss, composted manure, and mushroom compost.

7. Using a rake, mix the soil, peat moss and composts thoroughly. Continue to add the fill a portion at a time. Rake in until the garden soil is a uniform color. The mound of soil will be a bit higher that the sides of the bed. Don’t worry. Once it settles (and it will!), it will be the perfect height.

8. Plant your garden, water and enjoy!

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Bloomers!

I spent the afternoon with a group of my favorite friends… my flowers. I did a bit of weeding, pruning and fertilizing. Ahhh… so good for the soul.

Spending some time in the garden also gave me an opportunity to closely examine the plants, determine if any needed to be moved, check for insect and chipmunk damage, etc. Everything is coming along nicely and there are many more blooms just waiting to appear as the season progresses. This is just the beginning!

My gardens consist of perennials only. I do use annuals in containers and hanging baskets, though I haven’t had time to plant a single one this year. I prefer perennials because, once they are established, they almost take care of themselves. They have to be divided occasionally and some of them can get out of control if not monitored. But, overall, they are quite perfect.

Perennials are also easy to share with friends. Just dig a few clumps out of the bed and they will fill back in like nothing ever happened. In fact, since perennials benefit from being divided every few years, they will probably love you for giving them some room to breathe.

I’m a big fan of ground cover, especially in my tree-filled yard. Coaxing grass to grow under the trees is nearly impossible. Why cry? I mean, why try? 🙂 The answer is to work with the shade and the bare spots it creates rather than against it.

Over the years, I’ve created several curved beds around groups of trees and planted pachysandra, vinca, ivy, and snow-on-the-mountain (also known as Bishop’s Weed) in them. Even though these plants spread quickly,  it will be a few more years before mine fill in the way I would like.

One way to help the ground cover spread is to take cuttings, root them, and plant them in the areas you would like them to get established. Another way is to get out there with a shovel, dig a few clumps here and there, and replant them. You’d be surprised by how effective both of these methods are in speeding up the “filling in” process. If these methods seem too laborious, buy 50-200 plants and be done with it, Moneybags!

I’ve been working on these garden beds for about eight years. You’d think I’d be ready to sit back and enjoy a finished product. Nope! Not even close. The gardens continue to evolve, as do I. I’m not a patient person, but gardening has helped me with that. No matter how fast I want my ground cover to fill in or my irises to bloom, they’re going to do it at their own pace. Believe me.

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