Wednesday, August 03, 2011

112 Degrees in the Shade

Ugh! It is going to get up to 112 degrees today and I am outside tending to the chickens and the solar oven. God Bless the person who invented the portable mister system that Ace Hardware sold me, I think I would be passed out right now without it.

The good news is that despite this unbearable heat, the chickens and the gardens are doing quite well.

Our youngest hens are now 25 weeks old and they are all laying several eggs a week in various hues. We had a over 5 dozen eggs in July. Considering the hot days, that's not too shabby. We had enough eggs that we were able to share them with friends and our (oh so understanding!) neighbors. Not once have they complained about the "hen party" in the backyard when things get a bit noisy.
Lucy soaking her feet. Or is it Molly?

Lots of eggs!

Our front garden has really worked out beautifully. Over the winter we lost the Lantana to a bad frost so we tore it out and replaced the flowers with a vegetable garden. This turned out to be a fabulous idea. The area is shaded until the afternoon and the plants are doing much better that the backyard veggie garden.

In the front garden we have several Better Boy and Early Girl tomatoes which are still producing. The Sweet 100 tomatoes were very tiny but make perfect chicken snacks. We have a single zucchini plant which, as anyone who has grown zucchini can tell you, yields more than enough zucchini for 2 people.

The backyard gardens contain some heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, and melons. Not much to say here as we have more crabgrass than garden at this point. On a lark I threw in some seeds from and Armenian cucumber that I purchased at Lee Lee's. I completely forgot about them until the big monsoon in July uncovered this. . .
I have no idea how long it had been growning under the grass and weeds but boy was it delicious. From now on I am only planting these babies.
More good news - the bell pepper curse is finally broken. My inability to grow peppers is legendary in my family and it's quite funny since I can manage to grow just about anything else. This season I finally was able to grow 2 red bell peppers in the front garden. Believe me, they are nothing to brag about and certainly wouldn't win any prizes at the county fair. Heck, they were barely big enough to add to a single dinner salad. Still, just the fact that I was able to keep the pepper plants alive and harvest a vegetable that could be clearly identified as a pepper - that is HUGE for me and I owe it all to chicken poo water.

Yes, I said chicken poo water. It smells and looks just as disgusting as it sounds but the plants love it. You see, it is so hot here in the east valley that chickens find it very difficult to cool off. Heat related deaths of backyard hens are quite common here. Thanks to the folks at Valley Permaculture Alliance and the people on the Arizona board over at I have learned about different ideas to make life more comfortable for my girls. One way is to provide the hens with a shallow pan of water to wade in and cool off. They love it! HuzBen refers to the pans (actually cat litter pans) as the Hen Spas.

Now about the part where the "poo" comes in. Chickens are not unlike small children and won't get out of the pool to do their "business." By the end of the day the pan of water is less foot bath and substantially more chicken toilet. But - when life gives you lemons. . . or in this case, chicken poo water. . . use it to your advantage. It's free liquid fertilizer and it's fabulous. (But OMG - the smell, yuck!)

Time to go and get the bread out of the solar oven - see you soon!

Monday, June 13, 2011

I was trying to get a nice photo of our cherry tomatoes for an entry on the front garden. Then Danica showed up. Our little leggy supermodel.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Is his mafia name Benji Bag O' Bay Leaves?

Ben and what's left of the bay leaves. . .

HuzBen was up early this morning making brine for a pork loin. When I see him putting the brine together I always yell, "Use lots of bay leaves!" Not that I have a special fondness for bay leaves, I don't. It's because I have no concept of weight and I purchased a 1 lb bag of bay leaves awhile back from the San Francisco Herb Co.

Imagine my shock when a giant bag the size of a couch pillow showed up with the rest of my order. "Good grief" I thought- "what IS this?" It was a lifetime supply of bay leaves - for my whole neighborhood! We started portioning out the contents into smaller bags and giving bay leaves away to friends and family like they were an end summer, over abundance of zucchini. We started leaving bay leaves as tips in restaurants and we opened up a bay leaf and lemonade stand in front of of our house. Okay, it didn't quite get that far - but almost.

So, if you're in the neighborhood and find youself with a lack a bay leaves, call me. And if you drop by to borrow a cup of sugar, you must take a bag of bay leaves too!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Grilled Zucchini

Today's harvest from the garden, sitting in my new grilling basket from Sur La Table at Casa Paloma in Chandler.

Ben will be grilling our first zucchini of the season today. Lucky for us, we still have some oranges to use for the zuccini marinade this afternoon. These (behind the zuccini in the photo) are Arizona Sweets from the neighbor's tree. They keep for weeks as long as you put them in a cool spot.

To make Ben's grilled zuccini- First, slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/2 to 3/4 inch planks or rounds. Squeeze some OJ on the slices and let them sit for about a half hour to absorb the flavor. Right before grilling, spray the squash with a litle mist of EVOO and sprinkle them with garlic salt. Toss the slices on a very hot grill until grill marks appear, flip and cook for a few seconds on the other side.

Check out the varegated purple sage we grow in the herb garden. It almost looks too pretty to chop up and use in a recipe.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Good Week

Today's yield - tomatoes, oregano, lavender and eggs

The weather has been fabulous for the last week and a half - mostly in the 80's. This has made the hens very happy and the older girls are laying again. Even little Camilla gave us an egg yesterday, her first since late March.

The Early Girl and Better Boy tomatoes in the front garden are yielding about 2-3 tomatoes a day for us. The pepper plants are growing well and setting flowers, but that's it. Not a pepper in sight. There is one large zucchini that Ben will probably pick next weekend. He loves to marinate them briefly in fresh orange juice and sprinkle them with garlic salt before throwing them on the grill.

The cooler weather has stopped the herbs from bolting and going to seed but we were not so lucky with the lettuce. Lucky for us the chickens don't mind bitter end of season lettuce.

The newest additions to the flock are now 15 weeks old. They are still several weeks away from laying eggs but they are showing interest in the nesting boxes so that's a good sign.

Lucy, Molly, Piccata and Speckle

Speckle - our Delaware Hen

Saturday, May 14, 2011

First Tomato of the Summer

Our first red and ripe tomato of the season. On the vine yesterday, on my plate today.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Penzeys and British Gourmet Update

*** May 2011 Update - I am getting lots of hits on an old entry for Penzeys and British Gourmet so I thought I'd post an update. Penzeys has relocated to Tempe Marketplace. The store is fabulous and they are planning a location in the west valley as well. Sadly - British Gourmet has closed.***

Two of my favorite food related shops are located just about a mile apart along Hayden Road in Scottsdale. British Gourmet is on the south west corner of Hayden and Thomas. They carry all sorts of food items that are difficult to find outside of the UK. HuzBen is a big fish and chips eater and loves the malt vinegar they stock. I usually treat myself to a bottle of black currant flavored soda. They carry many more British food items than CostPlus, as well as candy, beauty products, soap, teas, and baking supplies. British Gourmet has a small freezer section when you can also pick up things like steak and kidney pie.

Half a block north of British Gourmet is Penzeys Spices. I ordered their products online and I was thrilled when they decided to open a store front in Scottsdale. They only sell the highest quality spices and spice blends. Products come in various sizes so you can buy a small shaker of something you want to try out, or you can purchase a larger quantity in a cellophane bag if you want to refill a bottle you purchased previously. (The "green" way to go!) Penzeys also sells empty bottles so you can experiment with blending your own spices and herbs.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April Garden Update

This year we decided to expand our veggie garden to the front yard. The big frost killed nearly everything so instead of cutting back we decided to rip out and replant. This year we have over 20 tomato plants, a mix of hybrids and heirloom varieties. I'm trying squash again since we had such a big crop last year. I even planted celery this year so it will be fun to see how that works out.
We have our big lettuce crop and tons of herbs for cooking too. As usual the plants that grow the biggest and the fastest are the weeds!

This is one of the tomatoes in the front of the house where the lantana had been for about 5 years. The lanata looked awful after the big frost and we decided it was time for it to go. Due to the lack of hours in direct sunshine- the lantana never bloomed much so it was just a big ugly bush. No great loss when we ripped it out. Like my neighbor proved last year, the tomatoes seem to like the front yard. We did minimal soil amending yet these tomatoes are doing much better than the plants in the main beds in the back yard. They get less direct sunlight here so maybe that's helping. There are peppers a few feet away and they seem to be growing very well too - a shock because I've always had a black thumb when it comes to growing any sort of pepper. I am the only gardener in Arizona who manages to kill off all my peppers every year. Most folks I know have the same bell or hot pepper plants for 3-5 years. I'm crossing my fingers for the red bells I planted last month.

In the main raised bed we have our lettuce, at least until it bolts or we eat it all. This year I threw in some mixed seed packets. We ended up with some beautiful red speckled lettuce and a very hearty long green leaf lettuce that must be some sort of romaine. It is super crunchy and great on sandwiches.

The herbs are really taking off after the recent rain. This is one of the pots of oregano. We added more oregano and parsley this year since we never seem to have enough. I finished the long overdue task of dividing the chives. I will never put that chore off again. The chives were so compacted that I ended up breaking them apart with a screwdriver. Most ended up in the garbage but the healthiest bulbs are now doing well in a bigger container. The sage is also beyond it's usefullness after 5-6 years so I planted some purple and some varigated sage. The older plants are now flowering so I hope to be able to harvest some seeds. I still have to decide where to plant the spearmmint and peppermint I purchased. We have a new wall of the southside if the yard so I want to see how plants do in that area before I commit. So far everything is growing well but that may change in the summer heat.

These are the last of the winter/spring desert wildflowers in the front yard. I was lucky enough to be home before the storms hit this weekend and I was able to gather seeds this year. I'd like to have flowers in the back yard next year so I plant them in the fall.

Sunday, April 10, 2011


Lavender from the garden. This was cut from a plant that I purchased last year at Trader Joe's for about $7.00. Lavender has always been a challenge for me but these plants are doing very well. TJ's sells some lovely plants and herbs.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Our Very Own Backyard Chickens

We thought about it for years and this weekend we finally took the plunge and got our very own chickens. We are now the proud owners of two Black Minorcas and a cute little Blue Old English Game Bantam. The girls started work right away and we had 2 eggs in the first 24 hours. Nice!

When I say we thought about it for years I am not exaggerating. I first learned about keeping backyard chickens like most city folks did, in an issue of Martha Stewart Living. At that time I was single and living in an apartment so all I could do was look at the fabulous photos of the beautiful hens and their multicolored eggs.

Fast forward to 2009 when I discovered the Valley Permaculture Alliance (then the Phoenix Permaculture Guild). I was looking for info on veggie gardens in the desert but I was thrilled to find a group of people chatting about raising hens all over the valley. That's when we figured out that it was "do-able."

We finally got serious about chickens after participating in the first Tour De Coops where we met people just like us and saw how they incorporated chickens in their suburban neighborhoods. We stopped looking at chickens as pets that lay eggs and started considering the benefits they would bring to our gardens and compost pile. Oh, and they eat kitchen scraps and bugs? Bonus!

Our next step was to take the "Raising Chickens In Your Backyard" class taught by Rachel Bess with Valley Permaculture Alliance. Rachel's class is better than any book you can read. Most books are general but Rachel has been raising chickens for years in the Valley so she understands the needs of a desert chicken. She's also honest and says that having your own chickens is hard work and it isn't for everyone. Her class waaaaaaay under priced at $10.

In Rachel's class we also learned that you could purchase custom coops from people advertising on Craig's List. Bingo! We found Kyle, who not only builds custom coops, but he delivers too! He asked us about our needs and made suggestions about things we might like. He was fabulous! Three days after speaking to him on the phone he pulled into our driveway with our new coop. (see below for you can find Kyle's Craig's List ad "Chicken Coop for the Valley" or call him at 480-363-5775)

That brings us to this weekend when hubby bought me a trio of hens for my birthday. We are already planning a coop addition with Kyle. and we hope to add an Ameraucana to the flock soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Solar Oven Eggs and Cheese

Solar Oven Eggs and Cheese

Today was windy but sunny. Too windy to work in the garden but a perfect day to get out the SOS Sport Solar Oven and make breakfast. I set the oven out to preheat and I added a brick. The brick is painted with black bbq grill paint and actually serves 3 purposes in the oven. It elevates the dish for more even cooking, and holds heat so the oven stays hotter if a cloud passes in front on the sun. The bonus is that it also keeps the oven from blowing off the table on windy days.

I used the same ingredients I use to make an omelette on the stovetop (1 whole egg, 2 egg whites, 1 oz grated cheese, 1 tsp non fat milk). Cheese is a must. I am trying to lose weight and live heart healthy so I try and keep cheese to a minimum. Trader Joe's carries interesting but inexpensive cheese and I picked up Cotswald Double Glouchester this week. It has a great flavor that goes well with eggs and I love the chives added in.

I mixed everything together and poured the mix into an old First Class cabin casserole dish that I found at the US Airways Company Store for about 50 cents. Buttering the dish makes for easy cleanup. The eggs and cheese took about 30 minutes in the preheated oven. I topped the dish with more fresh chives out of the herb garden. Breakfast for one without turning on the stove - gotta love it.