This for the bees. I’m going to make my own hive bodies (boxes, bottom board, inner and outer covers). I’ll buy the frames and foundation.

This for the water catchment, on Craiglist, for $100. Just need to borrow someone’s truck to pick up two of them.

But the majority of fun is being had with this – with Google Sketchup. The footprint is 8’x6′ for four chickens. The plank comes off the floor because I plan to do Deep Litter Bedding and honestly I couldn’t make it come down in the program.




The Ginger Bug is bubbling so I’m moving on to the next stage of brewing a good beer: adding the culture to the base (water, more ginger and sugar/honey) and letting it ferment away some more. I’m making a little less than a gallon,  about 6 wine bottles, I should say.

DH made some wine a many years ago (it was really good), and so we have carboys in several sizes. You could use a milk container but 1) they’re plastic and 2) they’re not clear, which makes keeping an eye on the fermentation difficult. Also, 3) you need to find a way of closing the container, and that flimsy cap won’t do it, it’ll blow right off as the fermentation keeps going. DH’s carboy comes with a stopper with an airlock. Perfect!

A week to two weeks to my first ginger beer!


I want to grow ginger root, or rather, ginger rhizome (Zingiber officinale). It seems challenging in a cold climate – it needs about 8-10 months of growing time and is not cold-hardy, so it has to come inside for a large part of the year. And inside I am still struggling with the whiteflies and the aphids – the neem seems to have gotten the majority, but the survivors are recolonizing rapidly. Keeping humidity-loving, pest-prone exotics happy in the extra dry winter indoors is not easy.

Nevertheless I want to give it a try, and while I’m at it I’ll also try to grow ginger’s relative, turmeric (Curcuma longa), another great medicinal and culinary rhizome, if I can find a fresh root somewhere.


More snow is coming down. It’ll have added 7 to 8 inches by the time it’s done. I  don’t think that  I’ve ever seen so much accumulated snow in the twelve years that I’ve lived in the Boston area. School is canceled for an unprecedented second day int he history of our town. I will have to go out to dig out the hoop house and the beehive. I’ll have to wade through snow up to my knees. A plus is that it is making me take a closer look at where to put the chicken coop.

If we want to make a snowman we’ll have to do it today. After today we’re looking at a couple of days of excrutiating cold – minus 5 (F) Sunday night!


Amie welcomes the first non-human animals on the homestead

I signed up for Bee School (7 Thursdays and 1 Saturday morning) and while I was at it I also enrolled for a backyard chicken class (2 Saturday mornings, maybe Amie can come too).

It took me so long to sign up because I know that the kids living right next door to us (on the side of the property where the beehive would be located) are very allergic to many things. Though I have been told that the neighborhood kids’ chance for being stung by honey bees is minimal, I decided that if the kids are allergic to bee stings, I would can the project. But the neighbors gave us the all-okay yesterday. They’re quite albeit carefully interested in our experiments.

A visit to the wonderful Drumlin Farm chicken coop made me realize that I really have not a clue about chickens. The only chicken I have experience with is the killed, plumed and cut-up kind, raw or cooked. The one or two childhood visits to the relative who kept chickens are long forgotten, and not one of the neighborhoods I frequented in my life boasted the presence of chickens. So, there I was, staring at those beautiful, mysterious birds at Drumlin, and thinking it would be good to at least hold one, just once, before I go ahead and buy chicks. The added advantage to such a class is also that we might all pitch together for a batch from a hatchery.

Amie is very keen on the chickens, and we’ve been reading library books on the subject. Once she read that the unhatched chick finds most of the nutrition it needs in the egg yolk, she also started eating it – she now devours the whole egg. And she started this beautiful chicken drawing:


(unfinished chicken)

The fish, lastly, were Amie’s Christmas present from several people combined. It’s a 20 gallon tank with, for the moment, 4 Zebra Danios. We had such fun at the store, ogling all the colorful variety of fishes. It was a bit of a comedown when the store assistant told us we should start with a “school” of these tiny little ones, four of them (we’ve learned, in the meantime, that six should be the minimum). Still, they’re fun to watch, and we’ve already learned a lot about fish, mainly that we don’t know anything about them. It’s Amie’s job to feed them in the morning. Just a matter of starting small…

Also, check out this basement garden!

Plangarden and Gimp are handy tools for moving things around in the garden without too much back ache. This is a preliminary map for the Spring 2010 Garden – not the veggies yet, but at least the structures.


  1. The hoop house will be moved from its present position (light blue) over beds 8, 9 (still to be dug), 11 and 12 as soon as the cold weather veggies in those beds can do without it. If need be I’ll put cold frames over those beds.
  2. The hoop house will move over beds 2, 3, 4 and 5, destined for hot house tomatoes, peppers and eggplants, so the soil there can start warming up early.
  3. I framed in pale green those beds that still need to be dug.
  4. I am still debating on whether to create raised beds or field rows in the south-western part of the garden (bright green). I will use the soil from last year’s potato towers there – these beds will hold lettuce and shade crops, so no fear of blight.
  5. The old potato towers will become a large compost system.
  6. I’m not sure if the north-west corner will become home to a small shed yet. It might be a good place for either the chicken coop (opening into the fenced off garden to the north, not to the veg garden, of course) or the beehive (would that be too close to human activity?).
  7. The bright blue circles indicate rain barrels. The two barrels up front will overflow into pipes (blue lines) leading down to a  brook/wetland that will drain into a fish pond at the bottom of the front garden.


Amie plants her onion sign

Our latest guests have left and Amie and I have settled back into the-two-of-us routine. What with all the commotion of guests and visitors and extended playdates we have seriously slacked off on our “schooling”. August, I’ve decided, will see some school every morning.

Amie so far has been enthusiastic. I am careful not to force anything. I try to make it into a game and help her stay concentrated, but the moment she becomes reluctant I leave the rest of the “lesson” up to her. So far we have been doing:

  • 1/2 hour of math: Amie’s grandmother brought some neat math books from Malaysia, we’ve been doing two or three pages a day. Amie can write all her numbers, and addition under 10 is too easy now, so we’ve moved on beyond that – yesterday she had such a thrill when she read 23 as twenty-three. We’re now working on recognizing and counting in batches of 10 (10, 20, 30) and today I introduced subtraction under 10.
  • 1/2 hour of reading/writing: Amie can almost read three-letter words without sounding out the letters and is getting more fluent by the day. She can also sight-read “the,” “and,” etc. I read a BOB Book, she reads one – our box will be finished soon, and they’re simply too expensive, so I’ll be making some myself (and making them available here, of course!).  She can write all her letters and every day we write a story, or pretend to, at least. This is aside from storybook reading, which happens on and off during the day.
  • 1/2 hour of nature study, in nature: that comes easily, in the vegetable garden and buckwheat field, with the new seedlings, at the bird feeder and on walks in the neighborhood.


Amie harvests green beans

  • 1/2 hour of art/craft: there is always something being drawn or painted or glued, but these days I make it a point to sit next to her at her desk with her and draw too. We used to do that so often but somehow lost the habit – and maybe it shows: she hasn’t made big leaps in drawing lately. Time to revive it!
  • I should also involve Amie in food preparation and preservation. Those are definitely skills I would like her to pick up early.

I had a great moment of hope when Amie decided she “really, really” likes eggs. The dream of having a couple of chickens was instantly revived… Two bites  later her new-found love of eggs had already disappeared. I told her we would only get chickens if she also eats eggs, and she said she would try again.

Today a solar specialist came by with the SunEye (neat toy!) to see if our site has good potential for a solar water heater. He praised our roof – its condition and orientation (a little bit South-West) – but told us what we already know, that many more trees will have to go before a solar water system becomes viable. Knowing his ball park figure (around $10,000) and the price of tree removal…

Taking a break from our construction – we were setting tiles till 4 am – and gardening Amie, her grandmother and mself ran off to our favorite place in the US (aside from our own Robin Hill, of course): Drumlin Farm.

There were birds, wild (Eastern phoebe?) and tame:

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And farm equipment (defunct):


And strawberry picking – and eating:

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And, when we returned, the littlest Robins of Robin hill (not so little anymore):


{Update} They have left the nest…

Friday was a glorious day and a holiday too, so Amie and I went out to visit two farms. First, Codman Community Farm and then Drumlin Farm, both in Lincoln, MA.

I went to Codman to check out their compost and also to see if they have duck eggs.  They had neither. But we had fabulous fun checking out their ducks and chickens and their fabulous new coops – I’d want one of those, for myself!



At Drumlin we again had chicken luck. Amie got to pet a pullet and a hen. She was fearless, not just petting them, but running up to the volunteers and asking if she could.



I had a psychedelic conversation with the volunteer in the hen house. Of the thirty or so pullets I asked if they will keep all of them – not just out of curiosity, of course: I want some! The volunteer said, “No, unfortunately not. About half we sell.” Me: “Really!” She: “Yes, you can buy them at the front desk. You have to hurry, though, they go fast.” Me: “Can I get on a waiting list? Can I call to inquire?” She (mystified): “Sure”. I was about to walk away happy when it occurred to me to ask: “We’re talking live hens, right?” She: “Oh? O no!”

Worth a try…

Most of the pictures I took were of the greenhouse (and its sumptuous contents) and other food-growing-related structures. I believe I was also the only visitor to the farm who took a snap of the compost bins and screen, and the large bag of compost.

At the end Amie counted the rings on the stump in front of the Drumlin Farm entrance. She does that every time.


“Almost as old as you, Mama!”

Yes, well…

Friends are saving their egg cartons for us and we’ve been researching what breed and how many chickens we want to get, on the internet, in library books:


And in the field, at Drumlin Farm:



I was checking out their state-of-the-art chicken coop as much as I was the chickens (the photo shows only part of one side of the coop).


I wanted to ask a Drumlin Farm-er for more information and if they sold any hens/chicks/fertile eggs, but none were around. In fact, Amie and I seemed to be the only visitors. It was cold, of course (definitely below freezing) and rather windy, but so beautiful!

But most invaluable of all is the fantastic advice from my readers. THANK YOU! I will keep you informed on our research and decisions.