Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Backyard Broilers -- Week 11

I'm getting near the end now.  I only have one thing new to report since last week.  I put another bird in the freezer over the weekend.  It was 3 lb. 11.4 oz.  That's not bad, but it wasn't the biggest so far.

The birds have gotten quite happy in the yard.  They're ready to be released from the tractor when I go out in the morning.
They get along fine with the layers.  For the most part though, they keep to themselves.  I have noticed that they've gotten a lot more brave.  They are wandering all over the yard now and aren't just staying around the tractor.

I'm facing two issues right now.  Neither of them are huge.  The first is that the broilers' food has become community food.  The broilers, the layers, and the ducks are all eating it.  I have no way of keeping track how much of it the broilers are eating.  Luckily, I don't think I'll have to buy any more feed before they graduate.

The other issue is that I'm starting to feel bad about putting these guys in the freezer.  Now that they are in the yard they're more like pets.  Oh well, I'm sure I'll manage.  I only have 5 to go.  I'll probably get them processed this weekend.
11 Weeks.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Let there be salsa.

I've been getting a lot of tomatoes, peppers, and tomatillos out of the garden lately.
Salsa - Some assembly required.

  • Tomatoes 
  • Peppers 
  • Tomatillos
  • Cilantro
  • Lime juice
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Salt 
I didn't measure anything.  I just cut stuff up and threw it in a bowl. 
I thought it turned out pretty good for my first attempt.  Cutting everything up seemed to take forever.  There's got to be a faster way to get it done.  Or maybe my kitchen skills just aren't that great.

It irks me to no end that I had to use store bought cilantro.  I had tons of the stuff in March/April when it was cool out.  It bolted once it got hot and now it's all dried out.  Oh well.  I wish I could explain why nature has cilantro and tomatoes available in different seasons.  They're such a tasty combination.  That's just the way it is though.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

My tomatillos are out of control.

I grew three tomatillo plants last year and had more tomatillos than I knew what to do with.  We ended up canning a whole lot of tomatillo salsa.

Since I'm an American and believe that more is better, I planted a lot more tomatillos this year.  I don't even know how many I have.  I'm no expert, but from my experience I've found that tomatillos are hard to get started.  But if you can get them started and into the ground they take off!!!

I could hardly walk through my garden the other night.  The tomatillos got tall, leaned over, and were blocking the paths between the beds.  I've been trying to tie them up as they've grown, but even doing that hasn't been enough.
Tomatillos leaning over the pathway.
This one isn't quite as bad.  I tied it to the PVC pipe that the melons are growing on.

This one was tied up as well, but it's expanded all over the place.
This one isn't too bad.  It's still small and hasn't reached the top of the stake yet.
I put tomatillos is four of my self watering 5-gallon buckets and put them in one of the new raised beds.
If these plants produce like the ones did last year I'm going to have a whole lot tomatillos to use.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Keeping deer out of the garden.

I wrote previously that I had problems with deer snacking on my garden.  My wife got her hair cut and brought the clippings home.  I put them all over the place in hopes that they'd keep the deer away.  It appeared to work for a while.  Then one morning I as checking my garden before work.  It was bad. 
Most of the leaves on the melons were gone.
A lot of the top leaves on the peppers were gone.

He even ate the leaves off of the beans growing near my mailbox.  That means he was standing in the road!
I had enough of that nonsense.  I work too hard at this to feed deer.  I got on Amazon and ordered a Scarecrow motion activated water sprinkler.  It took two days to get here. 
Setup and installation was easy.  I had to install a 9v battery (not included) and screw 3 parts together.  Then I attached the hose and set the sensitivity.  I had it too high at first.  It was going off when cars drove by. 
I put it in my newest raised bed.
I put it in my newest raised bed and positioned it so it points down the center aisle.  It sprays far enough to cover the entire garden.  It doesn't quite spray in a full circle.  I'd guess that it covers 270* or so.  It'll startle you if you're not paying attention.  I've gotten sprayed by it on more than one occasion. 

I don't know if it's actually keeping the deer away or not.  I haven't seen any new damage done to the plants.  It's hard to tell though since so many of the plants were already half eaten. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

More raised beds.

I check Home Depot's web site every day.  I check for landscape timbers frequently because they sometimes put them on sale without publicizing it.  As luck would have it, they were on sale the other day.  So I got some more.  (Normal price is $3.97.  Sale price was $1.97.)
I built another 4x8 bed inline with the previous beds.
My driveway has a curve to it.  I tried to mimic that by creating smaller beds.  The first was 4x3'. 
The next bed was 4x2.
The picture below is better at showing what I was trying to accomplish.  You can see some of the curve of the driveway and how the beds get smaller to keep their distance from it.
I filled the new 4x8 bed and 4x2 beds with compost from my compost bins.
Below is a picture of all of the beds. 
I relocated my container plants that were sitting in my driveway to the new raised beds.  I didn't re-plant them, I just sat the containers in the beds.  They're doing fine in the containers and I see no need to disturb them at this point.  I just wanted them out of the driveway.

I still need to finish staining the new beds and then add more drip irrigation lines.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Backyard Broilers -- Week 10 (and a photo history)

I got rid of the last of my male broilers last weekend.  He was staying in the new tractor with two females.  It didn't make sense to keep just two of them in there, so I kicked them out and they quickly made friends with the 4 females that were residing in the other tractor.  (The ducks needed a place to stay a night, so they are using the new tractor now.)

Last week I started letting the broilers our in the evening.  Over the weekend I started letting them out in the morning.  They go back in the tractor on their own at night.  The layers have accepted that they are there.  I haven't seen any fights or anything.  The only issue I have is that the layers keep going into the tractor to eat the broilers' food!  I don't know why.  The layers have plenty of food of their own.

I'm only moving the tractor once a day now.  That's made taking care of them so much easier.  I don't have any other news to report about them.  So I thought I'd post pictures to show how much they've grown and changed.
Day 1
2 weeks
3 weeks
4 weeks
5 weeks
6 weeks
7 weeks
8 weeks
9 weeks
10 weeks

Grilled Butterflied Chicken

So the question was asked, "What do you do with a fresh 3lb, 6oz chicken?"

You make it yummy, that's what!  And the best part is, it's not that difficult!

I have long had a favorite roast chicken recipe that has never failed me.  The "High Roast Butterflied Chicken with Potatoes" from Cooks' Illustrated (or America's Test Kitchen) was so yummy that I had a hard time finding an excuse not to make it almost once per week.  Until, that is, I couldn't have dairy anymore.  And I pretty much stopped eating white starches.  But the great thing about CI recipes (besides the fact that they always turn out amazing) is that there's some technique to be learned by trying the recipe, and from this particular one, I learned how to butterfly a chicken and brine it.

I don't really think it matters whether you brine then butterfly, or butterfly then brine.  In this case, the brine came first.  And since it was only 3 hours, it was more of just a good soak than a good brine.  But let's not get lost in the technicalities, ok?

Chicken soak:
3 pints water
6 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon smoked sea salt (optional, leave it out altogether or try a bit of liquid smoke instead!)

Clean chicken thoroughly and place in large bowl.  Pour soak ingredients over chicken, cover and place in refrigerator.  Best if brined for 24 hours.

Remove the bird from the brine and pat dry with paper towels.  Lay on cutting board breast-side down.
Now comes the part where we butterfly the bird. 

 (NB: I prefer the term "spatchcock" mostly because it sounds cooler.  But I've read that a properly spatchcocked chicken has the breastbone removed as well as the backbone, but if you're looking for more cooking tips or recipes, Martha Stewart's website has some great ones along with how-to videos.)  

For the next part, a good pair of kitchen shears is a necessity.  Simply hold the end of the spine between your thumb and forefinger of one hand and feel around beside it for where the ribs branch out.  Use your kitchen shears to cut along one side of the spine from the bottom of the bird to the top and then do the same on the other side to completely remove the spine.  Open up the chicken into a butterfly shape.  If you were truly spatchcock-ing, this is where you would remove the breastplate.  I tried, but only got about half of it out.  Might have helped if I had actually watched the how-to video before attempting it.  Oh well.

Flip the bird over and press down between the breast sections to flatten.

Season as desired.  If you have truly brined the bird overnight, you shouldn't need to add salt but if you want some extra flavor, this is a great time to add some seasoning to the skin, put some lemon slices between the skin and flesh, or whatever.  (Please share your favorite pre-grill seasonings in the comments!!  Here's a recipe that looks really good that I'd like to try with the next bird we take out of the freezer.)

Heat grill to medium high and place chicken breast-side down over direct heat.  Cook ten to fifteen minutes until the skin is brown and getting some char marks.

Flip over and cook for 30 minutes more, turning heat down (or moving coals out of the way) if flare-ups start to occur.

Flip once more to finish browning the skin and continue cooking (another 10 to 15 minutes) until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.  Remove from grill and let rest for at least 10 minutes.  

We served this with roasted cauliflower and beets, but the great thing about a spatchcocked chicken on the grill is that it leaves lots of room and heat for grilled sides of your choice!

The chicken itself was a big hit in our family.  The kids dug right in, and it was definitely an experience knowing that this bird had been wandering our yard just that morning!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The ducks have moved from the garage to the yard.

I am happy to report that the ducks are out of the garage! 

We had some concern about how the chickens would react to them.  So I fenced off a corner of the yard to keep them separated during the day.
 Their tub of water is in the corner behind the trellis.

They've been spending their nights in the chicken tractor.

Much to my surprise the ducks use the poultry nipple waterer.
We need to find a more permanent shelter for them at night. Moving them in and out of the tractor is not the long term plan.  The six remaining broilers have taken over the other tractor.  Once they're gone maybe the ducks will move into it.  Or, maybe they'll move into the coop with the layers.  I don't know if the ducks would stay in there or not.  We just have to wait and see what happens.

On a few occasions my son has let the ducks out to roam the yard.  From what he has told me, they are doing fine with the chickens.  They're still small enough that they could get under fence gate, so I don't think they are going to be left out on unsupervised anytime soon. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Drip irrigation air purge video.

A little over a month ago I wrote about adding a vertical clear tubing to my drip irrigation system.  It allows me to see the water level in my rain barrels.  It also provides a path for air to escape the system.

I like to use the rain barrels in my front yard since they are higher than the ones in my back yard.  That gives me slightly more pressure and a better flow rate.  They can also drain all the way down.  Unfortunately all four of them were empty the other day.  So I disconnected the tubing and connected it to the barrels in the back yard.  In the process I got a lot of air in the line.  I was able to capture some video of the air escaping the clear purge line.  So now I know for sure that it's working.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

There's another bird in the freezer.

I hadn't planned on processing any birds this weekend.  That plan changed when I realized I had another male bird.  I thought I got all of them last weekend.
I don't remember him having that comb last weekend. Anyway, sometime during the week I noticed the comb, and that he was much bigger than the other birds in the tractor.  I also noticed his attempts at crowing in the morning.  That was a problem.  I was ready to take care of him after work, but my wife said that he was fine during the day and that I could wait.
No comb means she gets to stick around for another week or two.
I shouldn't have been surprised that I had another male.  I ordered a straight run.  So the odds are that half would be male and half female.  With 11 birds, 5 males is just what I should expect.

I set up the garage like before and moved him from the yard to the garage in a box.  Then I let the rest of the birds into the yard.  Until now I've only been letting them out for a few hours in the evening.  They got to spend the entire day in the yard today.  The layers didn't even have a problem with them.  The broilers pretty much stayed right around their tractor while the layers meandered around the entire yard. 
Processing the bird went fine.  I did change one thing this time though.  The previous birds went into zip top bags.  That was OK, but it's not a great for long term storage.  I guess freezer burn can be a problem.  The solution?  I found heat shrink bags.  (Actually, I didn't even know freezer burn was a problem until I found this site.)
4 lbs. 8.8 oz.  The biggest so far.
The heat shrink bags are so easy to use.  You put the bird in and twist the top shut.  Then you use a zip tie to keep it shut.  You have to poke a small home somewhere in the bag for air to escape.  Then you dunk the thing in a pot of boiling water for a few seconds.  That's it!  The plastic shrinks and seals the bird up real nice.

I thought that since I had the water boiling anyway, that I might as well re-bag the birds from last weekend. 
I don't think these bags were meant to be used on frozen birds.  The bag shrunk, but it wasn't able to squeeze tight to the bird.  So the hole got real big. 
My solution?  Put it in another bag and double it up.
I ended up double bagging all of the frozen birds.

The shrink bag worked a lot better on the fresh bird.  It turned out great.
The bag shrunk and squeezed it tight.
Here it is from another angle.
Two of the frozen birds double bagged and ready to go back in the freezer.
I'm real pleased with the heat shrink bags.  They were $15 for 25 of them and they got cheaper if you ordered more.  I'll be using them when I process the rest of my birds.