This winter while the snow was 2 feet deep and the green garden was only a dream that would come eventually, I read about hot composting chicken manure. While I’ve always composted our chicken manure, which turns into garden gold and keeps our plants super healthy, never had I used it in the same year.
Chicken manure can be extremely “hot” or nitrogen rich and, if used too soon, can burn tender leaves and even more established plants. To protect my garden plants, I’ve always waited a full year for the manure to “mature”. This spring, based on my research, I thought I might try a new technique to speed up the process and see what happened.
To begin with, my coop is layered all winter long with pine wood shavings. I try to keep the bedding fluffy and never really let the manure matte into a pile, but rather continuously add more bedding. This encourages scratching which helps reduce any matting and also allows me to occasionally go out, when temperatures are above freezing, and clean off the horizontal surfaces and nesting boxes without doing a deep clean in the middle of winter. Instead I schedule a major clean out twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. Continually adding bedding also warms up the coop just a tiny bit as the decomposing of the bedding continues all winter long.
I learned that hot composting requires a 30:1 ratio of shavings to manure, i.e. carbon to nitrogen. This is, it turns out, also a healthy ratio for the hens, as breathing in the toxic ammonia from their waste is not good for them. If the ratio is off, the compost pile (or the coop) begins to smell of ammonia/urea. Adding more bedding is nearly always the answer.
Once the coop was cleared of all of the winter manure and bedding, I created a compost pile 4 feet by 4 feet with wooden pallets that I just tied together. Hot composting requires that the pile be big enough to build up heat in the center. Each day the pile needs to be turned and then covered with a tarp to keep the nutrients from leaching out due to any rain. Conversely, if the pile should be moist, so in the beginning it may be necessary to add water. By the 18th to 24th day of turning, the pile should be smelling like hummus. Once earth worms appear, it is ready to go into the garden. They are the indicator that the pile is now safe for plants. If it was still too hot, the worms would not find the pile hospitable.
Sailing. In Maine. On the Riggin. Eating Chicken and Homemade Ravioli Soup. Done.
And as for the recipe…
Chicken and Homemade Ravioli Soup Make your own chicken stock
Saute diced onions, carrots, and celery in butter
Add some white wine, sea salt, and fresh black pepper
Add stock, then chicken picked from the bones
Add the fresh ravioli just before serving along with fresh herbs
Serve with grated Parmesan if you like
Rosemary Cheese with Apricot Preserves A reader gave this recipe to me and I’ve adjusted it a tiny bit by adding more goat cheese. The black pepper and honey work well together next to the rosemary and the preserves just make it something really special.
This could make a lovely holiday gift if packed in a small crock or a special addition to your holiday appetizer plans.
4 ounces crumbled goat cheese; about 1 cup
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
2 teaspoons honey
3 tablespoons apricot or fig preserves
Combine all ingredients except the preserves in a food processor. Pack into a shallow serving dish or small crock and chill. Cover thickly with apricot preserves and serve with assorted whole grain crackers or the Homemade Crackers found in Sugar & Salt: Book 1 (the Blue Book).
Makes 2 cups
Just got the wreaths today and the house is full of evergreens!
A pot of chicken stock simmering on the stove. The windows edged with moisture. The wind howling outside while inside, all is well, warm, and welcoming. That’s what this soup is about.
Today I’m feeling especially grateful for the people who grow our food and the animals that become our meals. That our food is well-tended before it reaches our plates is a gift. I appreciate what nourishes my body and the bodies of those I love. Abundance comes to us in so many ways and I feel rich and full and blessed.
Ginger, Sesame Chicken Soup with Cilantro Sesame Pesto 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups diced onions; about 1 large onion
2 cups diced carrots; about 2 carrots
1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled and julienned (cut into match-stick sized pieces)
1 teaspoon salt
8 cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
3 cups cooked chicken meat
Heat a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the oil, onions and carrots and sauté for 7 to 10 minutes or until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the ginger and sauté for another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil to heat through. Serve with a dollop of Cilantro Sesame Pesto.
Serves 4 to 6
Cilantro Sesame Pesto
1/3 cup sesame seeds
2 cups lightly packed cilantro leaves and stems
1/4 cup scallions, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 small garlic clove, smashed
3/8 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Combine everything in the food processor and pulse until thoroughly combined.
I’m sure that other parts of the country are beginning to thaw (if they ever were really frozen), but up here in Maine, the idea of having the oven on for a couple of hours to bake potatoes, bread, pie and a roast while we pull our chairs up around the stove to warm our toes, hands and cheeks is still quite in vogue.
This is one I made yesterday when the wind was howling – still. The crew was happy to run from the barn to the house to find a blast of warm air hit their cheeks as they came in for tea or to check on the new baby chicks.
Potato Skins with Artichokes and Fontina
5 russet potatoes
10 marinated artichoke quarters, coarsely chopped
6 ounces sliced Fontina cheese
freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pierce the skin of the potatoes with a fork and place on the middle rack bake for one hour or until the potatoes are tender in the middle and give a little when you squeeze them. You can do this step ahead of time. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and scoop out the flesh on the inside. Save the flesh for gnocchi or a soup and place the skins onto a baking sheet.
Reduce oven to 300 degrees. Divide the artichoke quarters evenly among the the potato skins and top with slices of Fontina. Grind the pepper on top and bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer
Good to go in the garden as soon as the ground thaws
Preheat oven to 400°. Rub the chicken outside and inside with the herbs, salt, pepper, paprika, and oil. Bake for 1 1/2hours or until the legs feel loose in the joint. Serve with mashed potatoes
Lemon Garlic Chicken
Follow the instructions above and stuff the chicken with one whole lemon cut in half and two heads of garlic. If you’re roasting it the quick way, place the chicken on top of the lemon and garlic, then roast.
They came by mail, packed in a box no bigger than a shoe box. Seven downy Buff Orpington female chicks are now safely ensconced in a lobster crate in our bathroom with the door firmly shut to keep out Charlie, the cat. My initial plan, one that decidedly did NOT include having them spend any time in the house, was to sneak them under a broody hen in the middle of the night, removing the eggs she was nesting on and introducing the baby chicks. Anyone who has ever had cute, tiny baby chicks in their house who have then grown into unruly, ungainly, dust- and chicken-poop-flinging teenagers can feel my pain when I say I’m determined that the chicks will not be in the house for long.
The intsy flaw in this plan is that, for the first year ever, I don’t have a broody hen. I can’t tell you if it’s the cooler weather or the lack of a rooster (Fluffy the rooster died this winter) but none of these hens are feeling the mama urge.
I put my problem out to Twitter and a few people suggested either fake eggs or ping pong balls as an encouragement, thinking that someone is bound to think they are hers. Having one child who saves, hoards and parses her holiday candy, I had some pastel, plastic Easter eggs still in the house into which I added some flour for weight. I then taped them shut and put them in a nest. This is what they thought of that idea…
However, Plan b is now in place. I have a lobster crate, a heat light, chick starter and reams of newspaper. They will be protected from the other hens in the coop by the lobster crate while they stay warm under the heat lamp. Once they have feathers and are eating regular feed, I’ll turn them loose with the rest of the flock.
“Mama, WHY are we the only ones who take care of the chickens?” say the girls one morning. (They aren’t but who’s counting.)
“I tell you what, I’ll do the chickens both morning and evening if you cook dinner tonight,” I say with complete certainty that they’ll choose chickens.
“DEAL!” they say.
So then goes the conversation about what they’ll make and how they’ll make it all by themselves. Admittedly, they did ask questions and I did hang around the kitchen to field them, but I didn’t touch a pot or a pair of tongs once.
They served it with asparagus from the garden and even figured out how to use the pasta water to blanch the asparagus. The amounts of the peas and the cheese are approximate as I wasn’t in there measuring, but the creme fraiche and the salmon are exact.
It wasn’t just edible; it was GOOD!
Salmon, Creme Fraiche and Peas with Penne
1 pound package of penne
4 oz. creme fraiche
1 1/2 to 2 cups peas. The girls used frozen, but if you have fresh peas? Heaven.
1 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese. I was skeptical but it was great!
salt and pepper
4 oz. smoked salmon
Asparagus with Lemon
If the asparagus you find is skinnier than what I’ve listed, reduce your blanching time accordingly.
1 bunch thick asparagus (about 3/4-inch diam.)
salt and pepper
Cook the pasta for 5 minutes in boiling salted water. Add the asparagus for 4 more minutes. Remove asparagus with tongs to a platter and add the peas to the water for 1 minute. Drain and return to the pasta pot. Add the creme fraiche, cheddar cheese and smoked salmon and stir until the cheddar is melted. Add salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze half a lemon over the asparagus and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Serve the pasta with the asparagus and a lettuce and vegetable salad.
The sun was bright and high in the sky as I turned the compost pile today. I find few things more satisfying for releasing aggression (not that I have any, of course) than turning a pile of garden refuse, kitchen waste and office paper into food for the garden. As I stuck my pitchfork into the pile, I heard a squeak… and froze. Pulling a little dried grass away from the surface, I found a tiny, eyes-not-yet-opened… baby rat. And after another shuffle of a little more grass, it’s brothers or sisters. Four of them. All blindly scrambling for warmth into each other and trying to avoid the sudden light into their little burrow. Do I need to say out loud how cute they were?
So it’s official. I’m a hypocrite. I could. Not. Kill. The Babies. And yet, I will absolutely eat meat that is packaged in one way, shape or form. Hey, even local meat has to come in a package. Even my own chickens. Can’t kill ’em. Would if I HAD to, but don’t, so can’t bring myself to do it.
The worst part is that two days later I go out to check on the hens and the coop. I putz around in the coop for awhile, cleaning, tucking up the hawk netting and checking their water. There were seven eggs in the coop and I figured I’d wait an hour or two to make sure no one else wanted to lay. Less than two hours later I head back to the coop only to discover no eggs, no trace of eggs. None. The hens didn’t get them because I can’t see one single trace of egg yolk or shell. But rats could have rolled them through the big hole I discover in a corner of hay. What do I do? March straight up to the shed for the rat poison to kill the suckers dead for getting my eggs.
Okay, so I’m a Gemini and the twins are alive and well
Our retirement home for aging chickens is woefully short on the production of eggs right now. One egg per day – total – just isn’t cutting it. It could have something to do with how freaking cold it is here right now (Even my husband is wearing his fingerless mittens today. In the house.) … or that they are all molting. How unfair is it of Mother Nature to cause her sweet hens to drop their feathers on some of the coldest days of the year? The coop is well insulated now with a layer of feathers, but the hens are scraggly, cold and sorry looking.
The plan is to every year or other year add some yearlings to the brood so that the egg production stays level. As hens age, they lay fewer and fewer eggs. And while a true farmer would allocate them to the stew pot, I just can’t do it.
They were precious cargo in the back of our car. Held with great care. Me without my chicken bin lined with hay, but instead with three cooing girlies in the back of the car content to hold them on the way home.
Hoping, generous hens, for a few more than one a day