fall clean up

In the fall in New England, I rake up the leaves that have fallen in my gardens and yard and move them out to the compost pile. Then I turn the pile, add horse manure, turn the pile, add kitchen scraps (no animal products except egg shells), turn the pile, turn the pile and turn the pile.  So that in a years time I can spread this compost over my gardens and lawn.  Maybe I should just leave them where they fall.


My chickens enjoy the raking.  They don’t get out as much as they use to, so this weekend was a treat for them.  If I was out raking, they were out helping.  They slow it down some because you have to be careful not to hit them with the rake.  Maybe helping isn’t quite right.  But they are good company and talking to the chickens looks better than talking to yourself.  I love watching them scramble for the creepy-crawlies that  I uncover.


Once the leaves are in piles they need to be moved to the compost area.  This has never been fun.  The wheelbarrow doesn’t hold enough leaves and raking them onto a tarp and then dragging this to the compost is way harder than you would think.  So some years back I made a cardboard tube that fits over my wheelbarrow giving it much taller sides.  I am amazed at how many leaves can be stuffed into this and easily wheeled away.


wood strips to support the cardboard sides

wood strips to support the cardboard sides



We’ll get to the soup in a bit.  Right now I want to update the garden.  This could be a short post, “the garden is done”  actually the garden is never done.  Looking at seed catalogs on a snowy day is a gardening activity.

The tomatoes are done.  I pulled up the plants and gathered the red and green tomatoes.  Now, I have to decide what to do with the green tomatoes.  DSCF0008I let the ladies and Jack into the garden to clean up where the tomato plants were.DSCF0012As you can see they didn’t stay just where the tomatoes were.  Jack is in with the carrots.  Not much left in this garden, some leeks, carrots and parsley.  The other garden has kale left in it.

On to the soup.  I took a walk through some of the conservation land in town the other day, looking for mushrooms.  Found a nice “hen of the woods”, about the size of a cabbage.  Cleaned it and cut it up.  Froze three, 1 quart bags and made soup with the rest.

hen of the woods

hen of the woods


Wild mushroom soup.

4-6 cups of mushrooms,  1/4 cup leeks or onions, 2-3 tbsp olive oil,  1-2 cloves of garlic,  1/2 cup white wine, 1 cup of chicken broth, 1-2 cups heavy cream, 2 cups water as needed, salt and pepper to taste.

I’m very flexible with ingredients and amounts when I make soup.

Saute the leeks and garlic in olive oil till soft, add the mushrooms and cook till they brown slightly,  add the chicken broth and wine,  simmer 10 minutes.  Puree in 2 batches in a blender adding water as needed.  Return to soup pot, add cream, simmer a couple of minutes to blend the flavors. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with fresh soft pretzels warm from the oven.  I have a small bowl with melted butter to dip the pretzels in.

leeks and carrots

leeks and carrots


mumsDSCF0005more mums


My wife and I, to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, took a 2 week vacation.  We don’t normally take a full 2 weeks off, ever.  But, we did.  There were too many things to do before we left and some didn’t get done.  The important one, of enlarging and securing the chicken run was priority #1.  We didn’t know if any of our chicken sitters, (we had three sitters stopping by to check on our flock) would be brave enough to let them free-range for a bit.  So having a larger run for them was important to us.  Peter, our neighbor, did let them free-range a couple of times while it was his watch.  Thanks Peter.

Son, David, split the days with Peter and doesn’t think he will need eggs for a while.  Thanks Dave.

And my wife’s friend Robin stopped by as she could to bring them special treats.  Thanks Robin.

We were gone for 15 days and didn’t have easy internet access.  My wife had her phone, me, I’m a dinosaur, I need a keyboard and a large screen.  So, I went cold-turkey for 2 weeks, no blogging and no e-mail.  Actually we need to add 2 more days without internet service.  While we were away, a large piece of an oak tree came down on our service wires.  The electric company had repaired their wires but our Verizon service was still out.  All is working again.

Two weeks away was almost too much for the both of us, we were ready to go home and see how our chickens were doing.  They survived just fine.  We did come back to FALL,DSCF0262 the leaves have changed colors and are falling, the nights are getting colder and the days are getting shorter.  The garden is winding down for the season and I have been letting the ladies and Jack into the gardens to do their fall clean-up.DSCF0261

They are happy chickens, the garden is full of earthworms, grubs and the soil is easy digging. They first stuff themselves on the worms and grubs before moving on to the salad.  Carrot greens, kale and turnip greens are their favorites.

I played in my strawberry bed today.  This bed is roughly 3′ by 12′ and divided into four  3′ by 3′ sections with a screened cover.  Those of you who read this blog know that this setup hasn’t been very successful.  I am still hopeful.   The screen cover protects the plants from the deer and keeps the chipmunks away from the ripe berries, (should I ever get any).  BUT, this cover also protects the grubs from birds, chickens, skunks and anything else that may eat them and they are thriving.  So much so that they will eat all of the strawberry plants roots and the plant dies.  Three of the sections are doing poorly so I removed the cover, pulled a few weeds and cultivated around the plants.  The grubs were plentiful.  The picture is of the grubs that I picked from just one of the sections and I know I didn’t get all of them.DSCF0250


strawberry bed


strawberry bed

I need to figure out how to let my chickens into the strawberry bed without them digging up the plants.  Suggestions anyone??

I did a rough draft of this post in my backyard, sitting in a lawn chair, in front of my garden watching my helpers do their fall cleanup.  A very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.  Well, some of it.

It is good to be home and the chickens missed us.  They put this sign up on their run.



Here it is the middle of December, in New England, and I’m still doing things outside for my garden. I went and picked up over thirty large contractor bags full of horse manure. Took three trips, good thing it’s not far. These bags are so heavy that I can’t pick them up without straining something,  So I made a lift from recycled parts that were at the recycling center’s metal bin.  I hang it on the hinges of my back door.  I roll the bags onto it, jack it up and pivot it into my truck.

truck lift with 160 lb log

truck lift with 160 lb log


With this manure I covered my asparagus bed and my rhubarb plants for the winter.  My compost pile hasn’t frozen yet, so I was able to spread compost over the rest of the garden.  Now we wait for spring.  The warm days have caused my garlic (that I planted in November) to sprout.  Small green shoots are poking through the ground.  They are very hardy and will be fine till spring.

Last night I made soup with my last butternut squash.  Fresh homemade and still warm pretzels with melted butter to dip them in, an excellent meal.DSCF0001

Roasted Butternut Soup

  1. Butternut squash
  2. Olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper
  3. 1/2 cup cooked sweet sausage w/ minced onion
  4. 1 cup chicken broth
  5. 1-2 cups of heavy cream
  6. 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  7. water as needed
  8. salt and pepper to taste
  9. Goat cheese crumbled for topping

Peal and cube squash, toss with olive oil and spices, bake in shallow dish till fork tender, about 45 minutes.  I do this ahead if I can.  In blender puree squash, sausage and broth, add water if needed. Puree in 2 batches.  Combine all but cream and cheese in sauce pan, bring to a gentle boil add cream and salt and pepper if needed, reduce heat, 5 minutes, serve. Sprinkle goat cheese on top.


Many people have asked me why I got chickens. I tell them the three reasons why I wanted chickens.

#1 Chicken manure.

I am a gardener and a frugal yankee (one step up from cheap mother of a person). I garden as organically as I can, using compost and manure to replenish my garden soil.  I can get all of the free horse manure I want. Horses never stop making the stuff so most horse owners have an abundance that they are happy to give away.  Horse manure is the least nutritious of the 3 most available manures, one of the reasons you can get it for free.Cow manure is the next nutritious and chicken manure is the best. Chicken farmers know this and sell the manure.  Being frugal, I don’t buy it or any chemical fertilizers.  But, I needed a better fertilizer for my garden, so I started thinking about getting chickens.

#2 They eat bugs

Specifically, they eat ticks.I have fences to keep the deer out of my garden, but the ticks they host are in my grass and woods.  The two previous years I have had 4-5 ticks on me each year from doing yard work.  The U.S. also has been invaded by a Chinese insect called a stink bug.  Actually there are more than one type of this bug, once you squish one you will know how it got it’s name.  I read an article on backyard chickens and the line I liked most was “chickens eat anything that moves slower than they do”.  I’m fighting back against the bugs, I got chickens.

Now that my garden is done for the season, I’m letting my chickens into it and they are scratching up and eating cutworms, grubs and other little creatures. Plus, they are adding fertilizer as they go.

#3 Fresh eggs

I think this might be the first reason most people get chickens, but I’m not that fond of eggs.  I really hated them as a kid.  I’m more mature now.

So, after going to 2-3 times a week for the last few years (I wanted to see what I was getting into), I decided to get chicks.  I wanted 4 chicks, 2 different breeds and all hens.  The Franklin Agway store will order you day-old chicks, so I went down to place my order.  Well they have a minimum order of 5 and they had to be the same breed, OK

I ordered 5 Rhode Island Reds.  The following week I swapped my order of RI reds to Golden Reds and brought home 6 baby chicks April 4th 2012.  They had an extra chick. calls this chicken math. Wanted four, ordered  five and came home with six.

And so the adventure began.


My Garden,

I used the last  leeks from my garden in the turkey stuffing last week.  We had Thanksgiving a week early.  The garden has stopped producing for another season. As usual this garden season had successes and failures.  The 2 biggest failures, well 3 were corn, strawberries and rutabagas, I didn’t get any of them.

Successes were asparagus, spinach, peas, tomatoes, cukes, butternut squash, sweet potatoes and rhubarb.  I tried buttercup winter squash for the first time this year, I like the butternut better.  I will give the buttercup another try, I still have seeds.

I have planted my garlic cloves for next year, so am I done??  NO. I still want to add 3-4 inches of horse manure to my asparagus and rhubarb beds, and spread compost and lime over the rest of my garden. Then I’ll be done.

My garden is fenced because of the deer, rabbits and woodchucks, I have all of them.  I’ve been letting my chickens (6, one day old baby chicks April 4th 2012) into my garden now that it is done for the season. So they have been scratching and eating cutworms, grubs and any other little creatures they find.They are eating a lot of earthworms also. When they were 5-6 weeks old I thought they were defective chickens, they would not eat an earthworm. Now that they are laying eggs they slurp them down like spaghetti. I think they need the food energy to make eggs.  I’ve heard some people eat earthworms, I like mine processed, as in the form of a fresh chicken egg.


Chickens roosting in their run.

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