Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Not So Scary Bug Control

We are always looking for ways to strike a healthy balance between natural care for our animals and using something a little less natural, but perhaps more effective. My method tends to fall into the pattern of using natural products and clean habits as a preventive, and then trying to medicate only when there's a real need. We are not organic, but I feel our chickens get the healthiest balanced care we can provide.

That being said, I wanted to talk about a few products that I always have on hand to help guard against some common ailments for chickens. The first being Diatomaceous Earth. This product has proven very valuable in the daily care of our chickens.

Diatomaceous Earth is actually fossilized algae. It is a porous substance similar to pumice. There are many uses for Diatomaceous Earth around the chicken coop. We buy food grade DE and use it to control parasites both on and inside our chickens. It comes in a powder and I mix a small amount into their feed with a little vegetable oil to help it stick. This helps to flush worms out of their system.

We also dust our chickens with DE to control lice and mites. The powder is abrasive and on a microscopic level, it leaves tiny lacerations all over the parasite's body, eventually leading to death. For this reason I always wear a mask when handling DE, as the powder can easily be breathed in.

We also sprinkle the coop floor and nesting boxes, and I throw a generous amount into the chicken's bathing "ditches" and favorite dust bath areas, like my Hosta bed (little stinkers!), and they dust themselves better than I ever could. DE is also great if you have parasites in your garden. I sprinkle it around my flowers and vegetables to keep the bugs off them as well.

Another handy product is Vaseline. It's not necessarily "natural," but let's just say I'm not afraid to touch it like some insecticides. We rub it on our chickens' legs and feet to guard against scaly leg mites. The thick Vaseline suffocates the mites and they get stuck in the substance and die before burrowing under the leg scales.

Vaseline also lubricates chickens' feet and softens dry cracked skin and toenails. We also use it in the winter on our rooster's combs and waddles. It acts the same way lip balm prevents chapped lips. It can help with frost bite, too.

Vaseline can also be helpful in the vent area. Wearing rubber gloves, I sometimes rub a little on a vent that might be red or irritated. It helps keep off the flies and seems to sooth the affected area.

The least "natural" product that we use is Ivomec, but I have to say I love this product.

It's originally meant to be a wormer for cattle, but we use it on all our animals, including our rabbits.

Ivomec can be injected, taken orally, or dropped topically on the skin. When used topically on chickens, it works similar to a product like Frontline, which you might use on your dog to prevent fleas and ticks.

We use a hypodermic needle to get the medication out of the vial ...

... then we use an eye dropper from there.

For our chickens we drop 3 to 5 drops on the back of the neck, depending on the age and size of the bird, separating the feathers to get to the skin.

Ivomec might not be all natural, but if you really have a parasite problem it works fast, effective and is easy to administer, and it doesn't have the scary warning labels that some of the "shake on" varieties have.

Some of those caution labels warn that when administering, DO NOT get on hands or skin, as burning and irritation of the skin is typical and numbness of the afflicted area could last for up to 30 minutes. No wonder it kills bugs ... not something I want to go splashing around my chicken coop or the eggs that I eat.

Each of us has to decide what type of care we want for our animals, I encourage you to share what tips or techniques are your favorite methods for caring for your flock. Especially the "not-so-scary ones."

To see what else we're doing around the farm, visit our website at www.IronOakFarm.com.

Eggs Benedict with Delicate Smoked Salmon

Eggs Benedict is my favorite breakfast. It's a delicious savory egg dish that stacks crunchy English muffins, Canadian bacon, poached eggs and Hollandaise sauce. I give this version a sophisticated twist by swapping out the traditional Canadian bacon for delicate, flaky, home-smoked salmon.

The dish's history can be credited as far back as the 1860s at Delmonico's Restaurant, "the very first restaurant or public dining room ever opened in the United States." The egg dish with a "sir name" was so called after Mrs. LeGrand Benedict, who was craving something "different."

Eggs Benedict makes a grand statement if you're having company for the weekend and you want to pull out the stops and impress your friends or family with a step up from the ordinary "dunk" egg. Eggs Benedict is a surprisingly simple recipe to make. The decadence in this dish lies of course in a perfect Hollandaise: a creamy, tangy butter sauce with lemon juice and egg yolks. You are essentially pouring emulsified egg yolks over more eggs, an egg lover's dream!

Hollandaise was first used as a simplified version of a Dutch Sauce served to the king of the Netherlands on his visit to France. Dutch Sauce is also a butter-based sauce, but it includes more herbs and flavors than Hollandaise.

Eggs Benedict has acquired a reputation over the years because Hollandaise can be tricky to make; the egg yolks tend to cook and curdle with the acid from the lemon and the heat from the double boiler. I've seen packets of powdered "Hollandaise Mix" ... yuck! I've tried these, and they end up clumpy and taste like school paste.

This foolproof version makes a silky smooth sauce that's delicious on eggs, asparagus, cauliflower or any veggie of your choice. Hollandaise can also be used in Eggs Florentine, a similar dish, but includes spinach and sometimes Parmesan cheese. Again, you can't go wrong.

To start, you'll need the following:
  • English Muffins (I like sourdough toasted and buttered.)
  • 2 farm-fresh eggs for poaching
  • Smoked salmon (Zach smokes his own in the smoker, yum!), or Canadian bacon or ham
  • 1 recipe for Hollandaise (below)
For the Hollandaise, this recipe is inspired by Ina Garten from the Food Network. It's an easy blender-based sauce that eliminates the need for a double boiler. However, if you're wary about eating under-cooked egg yolks, honestly I'm not sure how much the melted butter actually cooks the yolks, so keep that in mind.

  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice (you can also use white wine vinegar)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • pinch cayenne pepper, a dash of Tabasco, or some smoked Paprika
In a small pot on low, melt butter. While that's melting, blend the remaining ingredients in a blender. Once combined, slowly add the butter and blend until well incorporated. VoilĂ ! You have instant, easy Hollandaise.

For the poached eggs, in a medium pot (a short, wide one works well because it gives you room to swish around) add about 2 inches of water and bring to a simmer. Crack your eggs and gently lay them in the water. They will swirl and float around. If they sink to the bottom, leave them be until the whites start to become opaque, then gently lift them to float with a spoon. As the eggs float, ladle the hot water over the yolks to cook; they will become opaque, as well. You can skim the "foam" as it collects around the top of the water. Cook until the whites are fairly firm and remove with a slotted spoon. You can dry the eggs on a paper towel or a bread crust before placing on the toasted, buttered English Muffin.

To assemble, place the two halves of toasted, buttered English muffin facing up, then your choice of meat (ham, Canadian bacon or salmon), then the delicate poached eggs and a generous drizzle of the silky Hollandaise. Top with a sprinkle of smoked paprika and snipped chives. Mrs. LeGrande Benedict, eat your heart out!

To see what else's cooking up on the farm, visit our website at IronOakFarm.com.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Making Memories With Deviled Eggs

My mailbox is filling up with invitations to reunions and weddings and picnics. Retirement parties! Graduation celebrations! Memory making days, every one … and I think, “deviled eggs!!”

You see, out here where I live, most of these occasions are “bring a dish to pass” affairs. I have lots of eggs, so it’s an easy task to use my old 4-H recipe to make a plate of deviled eggs for a group. The basic recipe makes a dozen, but it’s easy to expand or decrease as needed.

I always begin by sorting the eggs I might use. I like to have them close to the same size. When I’ve chosen the ones I’ll use (and an extra or two, usually), I leave them out for a bit so that they will reach room temperature. Peeling hard-boiled fresh eggs can be “devilishly difficult,” and bringing them to room temperature before cooking is one way to make peeling easier. If you are in a hurry, running warm water over the eggs is another way to warm them up.

Place them in a pan in a single layer (don’t stack them) and cover them with cold water. “Old” eggs will float—discard these; very fresh eggs will stay flat on the bottom of the pan. Bring the water quickly to a boil, remove the pan from heat, cover and leave them for 15 to 20 minutes (depending on size of the eggs—one recipe I’ve used says to set a timer for 17 minutes for regular size eggs and 20 for extra-large). Drain the hot water and place the eggs in a bowl of ice water, or run cold water over them to cool them. The idea is to stop the cooking and keep the yolks from getting a green tinge on the edges. I usually put the eggs back into the pan I’ve used to cook them in and run cold water over them for a minute or so, then put the cover back on the pan and shake them around a bit to crack the shells. A little more cool rinsing, and they should be ready to peel. I like to crunch up the discarded shells and add them to my compost.

Once the eggs are peeled, cut them in half length-wise, and slip out the yolk. Mash the yolks with (for 6 eggs) a shake or two of salt and pepper, about a teaspoon of yellow mustard and 2 tablespoons of salad dressingjust enough to moisten the filling. Scoop the filling back into the hollow of the egg white, shake a little paprika on top (or maybe some diced chives), and refrigerate the eggs until you are ready to serve them.

Now, why would I associate deviled eggs with memory making days? For one reason, my mother always took a plate of deviled eggs to family reunions and church picnics. I think of her when I’m shaking the paprika on top of the eggs, and when I’m adding the salt. The recipes that have come to me from my mother often say, "Add a dash of salt, paprika, pepper ...", so I always "dash" in the spices.

When I arrange the eggs, I think of Miss Anna Crandall. Miss Crandall was an older lady in our community when I was a young girl. She was a retired school teacher, part-time librarian, church clerk—everyone knew her. When I married, my husband was in the service, I was a college student and we needed everything: sheets, towels, kitchen utensils and appliances. Miss Crandall gave us a deviled egg plate. When we moved into our first tiny home, the egg plate stayed packed up; it wasn’t until some years later that I unpacked it and began to use it. By then, I had forgotten who had given us which of the household furnishings—but I remembered who had given us the egg plate. It’s not something that I use everyday—but it's something I use every time I make deviled eggs—and I think of Miss Crandall each time: I remember her when I fill the platter.

My mother has a deviled egg platter, too. I remember seeing it at the church and family functions for years; it was a wedding gift to her (in 1941) from Miss Anna Crandall.

I think of these things as I mash the eggs, make the filling, and arrange the eggs just so. I have received invitations to a couple of summer weddings: I hope the newlyweds have the same fond memories of me 40 years from now when they are making deviled eggs for a gathering and placing them on the plate they’ve received for a wedding gift.

A Little Birdie Told Me It Was Your Birthday

Original birthday cakes are a tradition at 1840 Farm. I sometimes spend weeks preparing a cake's blueprint and gathering the tools, both edible and not, to assemble the masterpiece in time for the big celebration.

I've made three-dimensional poodles, polar bears, dinosaurs, and even a Flying Ford Anglia inspired by the Harry Potter series. So, when I asked my soon-to-be birthday girl what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday, I was expecting a challenge. I wasn't expecting for her to request a three-dimensional cake in the likeness of her hen, Amelia.

Amelia, who is my daughter's favorite member of our little flock, was in fact named for Amelia Earhart. My daughter got the idea when our Amelia was the first of the chicks to fly. She loved to fly around their pen and beat the rest of them to it by several weeks. It seemed like the perfect name for her. Now I had to make the perfect birthday cake using her as my model.

Once I asked my daughter two or six or 12 more times if she was sure that she wanted a Golden Laced Wyandotte cake for her birthday, I was told "Yes" emphatically each time. Okay, the game was on. Now, how exactly would I make an Amelia birthday cake?

I gathered all that I had learned from my years of Wilton Cake Decorating classes and took a deep breath. This one wouldn't be easy. This time, my model was not a beloved stuffed animal, fictional car, or cartoon character. She was a living, breathing, clucking resident of 1840 Farm. In fact, she lives 50 yards from our farmhouse door.

Planning the construction of the cake wasn't the only challenge. Explaining to family and friends what kind of birthday celebration my daughter was having was quite an experience all on its own. When a child has a birthday approaching, friends and family tend to inquire about the upcoming celebration. Each time they asked, my daughter proudly responded that she was having a "chicken birthday" complete with a “chicken cake.” In each instance, the inquiring party developed a puzzled look on their face and looked to me for an explanation.

I could discern from their expressions that they were imagining a cake made of chicken. If they know our family very well, they are fully aware that we raise chickens but don't eat them. I could understand the confusion. So, I delicately explained that this cake would be in the shape of a chicken but constructed of traditional cake components. Even as the information sunk in, they appeared to be slightly concerned. Those without chickens found it a bit odd that a 10-year-old girl would chose a birthday cake in the shape of a chicken. Like I said, they don't have chickens.

I searched the Internet for photos of chicken cakes for inspiration. All of the examples I found were cakes with a chicken decoration added to the top. Given that I had made the Flying Ford Anglia only three months before for her brother's birthday, I didn't think that a chicken shape made out of frosting would do. I was going to have to pull out all of the stops and figure this one out on my own.

To make the shape of a chicken, I had a few options. I could use a three-dimensional pan and decorate it as a chicken. I could construct a layer cake and carve the shape of a chicken from the layers. I've carved three-dimensional cakes before, but I was afraid that the weight of the chicken's head would cause the neck to break and the cake to topple over. This wasn’t exactly the fond birthday memory I was hoping to create.

I also considered shaping the head out of marshmallow cereal treats, but I was again afraid that I wouldn't be able to shape the head and neck in a stable manner. I wasn’t sure which process to choose. In the end, I decided to use a cake pan that I had used several other times and had good results with.

Enter the Wilton 3-D Duck cake pan. Yes, I know that it is a duck and not a chicken, but Wilton doesn't make a chicken-shaped pan. A duck would have to do. I had used this pan before and knew that I could indeed make it into a passable chicken.

While the oven was preheating, I prepared the pan and set it aside to mix a double batch of my favorite chocolate cake recipe. The cake pan holds about one and a half batches of traditional cake batter.

After the bottom half of the pan has been filled, the top half attaches and then a few pieces of kitchen twine are used to keep the halves together as the cake rises. I poured the remaining cake batter into an 8-inch round pan to be used as the cake's base. Then it was off to the oven for the recipe's recommended baking time.

When the baking time has elapsed, the cake can be tested for doneness through the hole in the top half of the pan. When a toothpick inserted into the cake from the hole had only crumbs attached to it, I removed the pan from the oven and set it aside for ten minutes to cool. After ten minutes had passed, I removed the twine along with the top of the pan to allow the cake to cool for another twenty minutes. At the end of this cooling period, I placed the top of the pan over the cake and used it to flip the cake to the other side. Then I removed the bottom of the pan and allowed the cake to completely cool for one hour.

After the duck-shaped cake had cooled, I wrapped it with food wrap and then placed it inside a freezer bag. I washed and dried the bottom half of the pan and placed the double wrapped cake in the pan to stabilize it and then moved it to the freezer for two days. The night before I planned to decorate the cakes, I removed them from the freezer and allowed both to sit on the counter in their wrapping to thaw overnight.

The next morning, I removed the wrapping from the cakes and prepared to decorate them. First, I placed the round base on a cake platter using a dollop of frosting to adhere it. After frosting the base layer, I leveled the bottom of the duck and centered it on the base. I stabilized the duck by driving a dowel into the top of the head down through the cake and base layer until I could feel that it was touching the cake platter. I frosted the duck with a light crumb coat and then placed the cake platter in the refrigerator to chill and set the frosting.

After about thirty minutes, I rolled up my sleeves and began to transform the duck into a chicken. I was prepared with photos of a Golden Laced Wyandotte from a reference book as well as several photos of Amelia.

I tried several different-sized tips for making the feathers on this cake. Some were too small while others were too large. Then I tried a medium leaf tip and realized that I had hit the jackpot. Now I had to decide on the frosting colors and how to mix them to create a cake that would leave my birthday girl saying, "Wow!" That proved to be easier said than done.

Technically, I should have used black and gold frosting to replicate Amelia's plumage, but I was hesitant. Black frosting can be incredibly difficult to work with, not to mention what happens to your guests when they actually eat the cake. It takes an inordinate amount of food coloring to yield a truly black frosting. The colossal amount of food coloring ends up painting your guest’s teeth a lovely shade of dark mossy green as it is being eaten.

A little black frosting is okay. In fact, children are sometimes quite amused at their teeth turning mossy green while eating their birthday cake. It really is quite a parlor trick. In this case, I would have a cake covered mostly in black frosting. I didn't want to be sitting at the table after everyone had helped themselves to a hearty helping of a cake and looked more like ghouls than birthday party guests.

It was time to make a deal with the birthday girl. What if the dark portions of the cake were a dark chocolate brown instead? Dark chocolate frosting would taste delicious and allow all of our teeth to remain their natural color. Luckily, my daughter didn't care what color the frosting feathers were. She just hoped that it would resemble her beloved Amelia. Now I could get down to making the feathers on the cake that resembled a duck more than a chicken.

I prepared two types of frosting for making the feathers. The first was a dark mocha brown and the other was a light coppery tan color. Then I took a little time to play with the colors and attempt to make a feather shape with the decorating tip. I tried striping the two colors in one bag of frosting and making a few feathers on a piece of parchment paper. Instead of the colors yielding a realistic feather pattern, they mixed together and looked marbled. I tried several other times to combine the two colors to make the feathers but never succeeded in finding a technique that could yield the end result that I was looking for.

Then I pushed back from the kitchen table and realized that I was agonizing over how to mix two colors of brown frosting to decorate a duck-shaped cake as if it was a real black-and-gold-colored chicken. It was time to gather what sanity I had left, take a deep breath, and go back to the decorating table. Combining solid dark brown feathers with interspersed light copper feathers ended up being the answer. No, it didn't look exactly like Amelia, but it looked like it would elicit just the response I was hoping for from my daughter.

I continued on until the cake was covered with feathers. Then I mixed a small amount of orange for the beak per my daughter's request. Using a large white chocolate disk and light blue frosting, I prepared two eyes to be attached to the head. I tried in vain to replicate Amelia's rose comb and wattles, but each time it seemed to make the cake look more like a duck than it did without them. In the end, I decided that as far as a child's birthday cake is concerned, aesthetics were more important than physiology. After affixing a piece of 1.5-inch-wide ribbon to the outside edge of the bottom base layer, it was time for the cake to sit patiently in the refrigerator until party time arrived.

When it was finally time to affix the candles and sing "Happy Birthday" to our birthday girl, I was happy with the results. So was she. Her smile told me that all of my hard work was worth it. She didn’t care that it slightly resembled a duck or that Amelia’s beautiful rose comb had been left out. She was only concerned with the excitement of her big day and the knowledge that I loved her enough to try and make exactly what she wanted. That was reward enough for me.

I hope that my daughter will always have a fond memory of her tenth birthday and our chicken-themed festivities. Maybe someday as an adult she will recount to a friend about celebrating her tenth birthday with a chicken cake. Luckily, she'll get to explain that it was a chicken-shaped cake instead of a cake made out of chicken.

Now you know all about my journey to create an original cake in the likeness of Amelia, one of our Golden Laced Wyandottes. If you are interested in learning about all of the chicken-themed handmade gifts that I crafted to be given to the birthday girl, stay tuned. I'll be writing about them in my next post.

You can follow the daily adventures of everyone living at 1840 Farm on Facebook, Twitter, and at www.1840farm.com.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Big Red pizzas

Last weekend, after what seemed like an interminable wait, the Big Red bus next to the Birds Nest pub opened for business selling pizzas and beer. Pizzas and beer, who needs anything else in life? Well some people need coffee, mojitos or a bit of salad on the side, and luckily the Big Red sells all of these!

I wasn't able to make it the first weekend, and to be honest it was a bit cold and wet anyway, but yesterday as the sun started to blaze down in a truly summery way, the geezer and I gave it a thorough checking out.

From the outside, it's a big red bus designed to look like it's busting through the fence at the side of the Birds Nest in true cartoon style.

From the inside it's still a bus, although the seating is slightly rearranged to offer something a bit more sociable than you'd get on the 36; there are tables with little spotlights and red lights that are intended to light up when your pizza's ready so you can go down and collect it.

Outside is a jumble of different types of seating; from a row of little jasmine-strewn arbours catching the full rays of the afternoon sun to big comfy outdoor sofas that you can lounge on, and more formal tables for groups ranging from two to a dozen or more. To be honest the staff are so obliging that if you turned up with twenty they would probably regard it as no trouble at all to set you out a large table, or perhaps give you the whole of the upper deck. Some of the outside area is shaded, the rest is open - a bit hot in today's temperatures but probably a good sheltered spot to catch a bit of warmth on a cooler day.

The menu is short but offers an interesting choice of pizzas, including margarita, 'mare' (prawns, capers, sundried tomatoes), pepperoni, roast vegetables and the 'flamenco' which has already become my personal fave. You can tell they are still finding their feet as far as the menu is concerned and getting the hang of the various pizza toppings because the flamenco I had on Saturday was rather different to the one I saw being served on Sunday - however the two central ingredients were the same. They are chunks of spicey, succulent chorizo and lumps of morcilla, Spain's answer to black pudding. Whether teamed with ham and a handful of pesto-dressed rocket or with green olives, they provide a very tasty alternative to pepperoni for the meat eaters.

The pizza crust was thin and crunchy, slightly burned in places which I prefer to Pizza Express's frequently anaemic version, and the topping quantities very well balanced. They are very happy to accommodate any requests such as no cheese, which I know will go down particularly well with at least one friend of mine, and the staff were overwhelmingly friendly and helpful.

Prices range from a fiver for the margarita to £7.50 for the flamenco and the pepperoni - they are very generously sized pizzas and you can also order side salads if you feel you need some greens.

Bottled beers including Peroni, and Meantime's IPA and London Lager are available, as well as mojitos and soft drinks/coffee too.

At the moment the Big Red is only open Friday (5-11) Saturday (12-11) and Sunday (12-5) but from 6 July they plan to open five days a week (closed on Monday & Tuesday).

UPDATE Dec 2011: The Big Red is open throughout the winter from 6pm and they have a cocktail 'happy hour' Tuesday to Friday from 6pm till 9pm. The hardy/smokers can still sit outside as there is a wood fire and fleece blankets to keep you warm, along with hot soup and mulled wine/hot toddies on the menu.


For a decent pizza in the evening we'd taken to walking to the New Cross House, which serves pretty reliable offerings from its pizza oven. I'm delighted we've now got a local alternative which, on initial experience, has better pizzas at a very reasonable price.

Definitely worth a visit; see you there!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My Fish

One of the arguments often used by betting shops to justify their proliferation in areas such as Deptford is that having a betting shop is better than having an empty shop unit. Whether this is true in any circumstances is arguable, depending on your opinion of what benefit betting shops offer to the community.

However long-term empty units is not a problem that Deptford High Street is prone to. In fact at the moment I think the only unit that has been empty for a long time is the former Halifax, for which Betfred is waiting to hear the results of its appeal.

The latest unit to be filled was open for business yesterday; My Fish. It's a cavernous shop and has been lovingly (and rather slowly it's true) fitted out with shiny stainless steel and jazzy lighting that would seem more at home in an bar than a fish shop.

The front part of the shop has a huge counter of wet fish and live crustaceans, many of which were unfamiliar to me, stretching about half the way down the shop along one wall. Down the opposite wall are huge racks holding packets of dried and smoked fish and shrimps of various types as well as African foods such as egusi seeds.

The back of the shop has several rows of freezers stocked full with whole frozen fish of many different varieties, large catering packs of clams in their shells, squid in rings or whole, boxes of octopus and all manner of other fish and shellfish.

A hard sell was going on yesterday when I drifted past; half a dozen staff tasked with getting the punters in and then getting them to purchase - the huge spread of wet fish was certainly getting a lot of interest, particularly from Deptford's African and Vietnamese shoppers.

As a rather unadventurous fish eater myself, it's unlikely I'm going to desert Codfather's for My Fish, particularly since the kind of purchases I usually make - smoked haddock, skate wings, smoked salmon etc - aren't sold by My Fish. Some of the shellfish look interesting though and might tempt me in now and then.

Or if anyone has any recommendations or recipes I could try for something a bit more adventurous, please feel free to leave them in the comments!

Meanwhile I see local artist Sarah McIntyre was also down there taking a few photos; see her take on My Fish here.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Making a Chicken Coop into a Chicken Home

By Cortney Cogswell

Last Monday, Jim and I brought our chickens out for their first full day in their new house. Because the kids had grown so much, it was getting crowded in the brooders. That could have led to all sorts of bad things: sickness, injuries or, worst of all, a horrid smell in my house. While their coop isn't 100% finished, I doubt the boys and girls will care about their house not being painted.

As we are trying to stick with our natural and nature-friendly design, Jim raked some pine straw and leaf litter together to cover the coop floor. We thought this would give the kids something to scratch around in, while saving some money. The Pineywoods Region of Texas isn't just a name. We have more pine straw than we know what to do with, so there isn't a risk of running out of pine needles!

It's so much fun watching the birds poke around the needles, finding little bugs to munch on. I had wanted to use hay in the nesting boxes, but upon doing some research, I found out that it will mold when ANYTHING wet comes into contact with it. Yep, chicken poop is wet. So that was out.

While looking for ideas, I came across a lot of information. Some of it was common sense ... but just because something's common sense doesn't mean you always think of it right away. (Especially if you are new to this, as we are.) That's why I'd like to share these tips:

1. Make sure the leaf litter you're using is free from animal waste. You don't use dog or cat waste in your garden as fertilizer, and the same goes for chicken poop and chicken bedding. These critters will try to eat anything.

2. Make sure nothing nasty, like chemicals, has been sprayed on or near the bedding.

3. Above all, no matter what you use, KEEP IT CLEAN! A clean house makes for a happy chicken.

As I say, we decided on pine straw because of the ready supply we already have. For the urban chicken family that doesn't have access to pine straw, ask around. Tons of people want to get it out of their yards. Most folks who don't use straw burn it or leave it on the curb to be picked up with the trash.

We also made our roost and installed it before the kids made their final move into the house. Again sticking with our natural theme, we used wood that was cut from the land we are clearing for pasture.

Using 6-foot sticks with a diameter of 3 to 4 inches, we stripped off any side branches and leaves. We then put two pieces at an angle and nailed them in place. You can make your roost more narrow or wider depending on your needs. We put ours two feet apart.

Next, we selected and trimmed six branches that were the straightest we could get, 2 feet long and about 2 inches in diameter. We nailed them to the two angled branches a foot apart to provide enough room for everyone's comfort. And that was that. A fine-looking free roost.

Yesterday was spent just sitting outside, watching our flock check out their new digs. They have a little trouble with the concept of going in and out of the coop, but they'll get it in time. (I hope.) For them, it was a day spent roaming about the yard and seeing what kind of mischief they could get into.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

September 2, 1967 Cabrillo College Football Field, Aptos, CA: Grateful Dead/Canned Heat/others (Canceled?)

The poster for a rock festival at the football field at Cabrillo College, Aptos, CA on September 2-3, 1967

Both the Grateful Dead and the University of California at Santa Cruz were founded in 1965, after many years of planning, so UCSC made a suitable home for the band's archives. I have written at length elsewhere about the Grateful Dead and Jerry Garcia's various appearances in Santa Cruz County between 1967 and 1987. The nearest that the Grateful Dead themselves got to the campus, however, as a performing entity at least, appears to have been their very first performance in the County. According to a well-circulated poster the Dead headlined a rock festival at Cabrillo College, just a few miles from the UCSC campus, on September 2, 1967. Since the Grateful Dead played Rio Nido the next two days (September 3 and 4), and those dates are fairly well confirmed, everyone, and most especially me, has presumed that the Dead headlined the first day of the Cabrillo College "Magic Music" Festival, on Saturday September 2.

I have always romanticized this event, entranced by the idea of the Grateful Dead headlining an outdoor show at the tiny Cabrillo stadium. Sadly, however, I am now leaning towards the conclusion that the show never took place. I would be delighted to be wrong, but difficult as it is to prove a negative, I can find no evidence that the show actually occurred, and I find it difficult to fathom that such a seemingly remarkable event in the history of Santa Cruz County rock music in the 1960s would pass by thoroughly unremarked.

What Is Known About The Event?
The "Magic Music Festival" is only known from a poster that appeared in Paul Grushkin's book The Art Of Rock. Since The Art Of Rock preceded the internet, posters published in that book were a principal source of original research for show lists, not least because the excellent reproductions allowed much of the fine print to be read. However, AOR (as it is known), was appropriately enough about the Art of rock posters, rather than as a sourcebook for archival research. As a result, many fine posters of canceled or re-scheduled shows were published there without comment, since the purpose of the book was not to document events. As a result, publication of a poster in that book indicates nothing about whether the event occurred.

The poster itself says
2 Days And Nights Of Magic and Music
Dancing On The Green
Lights By STP
Arts Crafts Lights Color Sound Displays
Sat Sun Sep 2-3 
3-12 PM
Cabrillo College Stadium
Tickets $2.50 At The Door
The bands listed are

Grateful Dead, Canned Heat, Leaves, Andrew Staples, Sons of Champlain (sic), New Delhi River Band, Second Coming, New Breed, Bfd. Blues Band, Gross Exaggeration, Yajahla tingle Guild, People, Jaguars, Art Collection, Morning Glory, Ben Frank's Electric Band, New Frontier, Chocolate Watch Band, Other Side, E types, Mourning Reign, Imperial Mange Remedy, Omens, Ragged Staff, talon Wedge, & Others.
The entire event sounds deeply logical. September 2 and 3, 1967 was the Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day Weekend. The Monterey Pop Festival had just happened an hour South of Santa Cruz a few months earlier, and the Cabrillo College Football Field was larger than any facility at the newly opened University of California at Santa Cruz (and may still be, as the UCSC Banana Slugs do not play football to my knowledge). There were three bands of the status to headline the Fillmore or Avalon, namely the Dead, Canned Heat and the Chocolate Watch Band, as well as a number of popular local hippie and hip rock groups.

It's worth noting, however, that all that is known about this event is that there was a poster published in the Art Of Rock. To my knowledge, every other reference to this show stems ultimately from this poster. Almost all the groups on the poster are the sort of hip band favored by collectors, archivists and 60s scholars like myself, and various websites, blog posts and articles in magazines like Cream Puff War or Ugly Things have covered these groups in some detail, as even the most casual google search will reveal. Yet I have been unable to find a single reference to this show actually happening--no band remembers opening for the Dead or Canned Heat at Cabrillo, nobody recalls a drug bust or LSD freakout or meeting their girlfriend at what would otherwise be a memorable event in Santa Cruz County. I realize it's impossible to prove a negative proposition, but am I supposed to believe that the first and still biggest rock event in Santa Cruz County happened at the end of the Summer Of Love and left nary a trace?

To give just one example, I looked again at the history of Talon Wedge, the last band mentioned on the poster. At the time, Talon Wedge was a Cream-styled heavy blues band in Santa Cruz. By 1969 they had evolved into a terrific band called Snail, who ruled Santa Cruz County bars and clubs for many years. Snail even released two underrated albums (Snail and Flow) in the late 1970s, and future Elvin Bishop and Jerry Garcia Band drummer Donnie Baldwin was a member of the band for a large part of that time. A great site called Garage Hangover has a great overview of Talon Wedge and early Snail, and includes a copy of the poster, but nothing is ever mentioned about the show. An absolutely amazing Comment thread recaps the entire history of Snail, with many of the members of the band and their friends weighing in with great, detailed memories. Yet among all 53 Comments, not a single one recalls an outdoor show opening for the Dead. If the show had been held, would none of the Santa Cruz teenagers remember it?

The Poster
A closer look at the poster suggests that it was a preliminary poster for a planned event, but the event itself was not close to occurring. Whether the poster was printed long in advance of the show, or whether the poster was just wishful thinking by an ambitious promoter remains unknown at this time. However, a number of things stick out about the poster. First of all, while the poster says "Cabrillo College Stadium," there is no map, no indicator of what city Cabrillo College was in and no directions of how to get there. It's one thing for a poster of a school dance to have no "directions" (the students know where the gym is), but this is a regional rock festival. Cabrillo is easy to get to, but shouldn't it say "Park Avenue exit off Highway 1, six miles South of Santa Cruz?" or something to that effect.

Also, the bands are listed in some kind of random order. Once a two-day event gets close to happening, prospective patrons want to know who will be playing what day. A poster that just listed the bands would have to have been a promotional item pushing an event some time off in the future. The band listing is why I think that the poster was published in mid-Summer, anticipating a Monterey Pop-like event that never actually happened. I have done considerable research on the 60s rock history of Santa Cruz County, with respect to The Barn in Scotts Valley, the New Delhi River Band and a variety of other tributaries. As a result, I have been in contact with a lot of people from that time, and not a one has mentioned this event, even when I specifically asked them about it, so I just can't buy that the event actually occurred.

Some Speculation
The Monterey Pop Festival took place on the weekend of June 16-18, 1967. Although the event did not really make economic sense, as all the bands played for free, a flurry of similar events were promoted up and down the West Coast over the next 18 months. I have to think some enterprising promoter thought that the Santa Cruz area would make a good candidate, given a resort area on Labor Day weekend. Cabrillo College would not have been in session until after Labor Day, so some College functionary may have given a provisional OK to use the football field.

Cabrillo College was a junior college that had opened in Aptos in 1959. It was the first institution of Higher Education in Santa Cruz County. It was a lively, interesting place, and had a well regarded Music Festival, featuring 20th Century composers, that started in the early 1960s. The campus itself is in a beautiful setting that most resorts would envy. It was a forward looking place and would not have been inherently hostile to a rock show presented on its campus.

However, Santa Cruz County was considerably smaller and less populated than it was today, and the "hippie" population was still tiny and not well liked (as opposed to now, where the opposite is the case). No rock concert (of the paying variety) had ever been held on the Cabrillo campus, to my knowledge. I can't imagine that the college would have tolerated a giant, Monterey Pop event on the sleepy little campus. The local roads and parking lots would have been completely overwhelmed. If the two-day festival was ever a serious proposition, I think it got shot down long before it came anywhere near fruition. All that remained was a poster of what might have been.

The Carl Connelly Stadium at Cabrillo College, June 2011
Having come to the mournful conclusion that the Cabrillo show never took place, I decided to look at the facility as it stands today. The venue is now called The Carl Connelly Stadium. While I'm sure that the stadium did not have artificial turf as it does today, the location of the stadium on the site (see photo above) indicates that it could not have been bigger or significantly different that it is today. As is typical of Junior College athletic fields, there are almost no bleachers. There were almost certainly fewer buildings in those days, so there may have been considerably more room to allow people to dance and watch the show, but it is not a large site. I have to think that after the size of Monterey Pop became known, any willingness on the school's part to host such an event evaporated. More's the pity.

Please Prove Me Wrong!
I normally write blog posts with the intention of being right, but I'd much rather be wrong in this case. I would love it if after I posted this, some close personal friend of the Yajahla Tingle or someone would chime in with memories of the event, whether or not the Grateful Dead played. It would still be the first outdoor rock concert of any size in Santa Cruz County, and almost all the bands have their share of fans. So here's to hoping against all the evidence that maybe there was an outdoor concert overlooking the Pacific Ocean on Saturday, September 2, 1967, even if all the evidence points in the other direction.

Updates: I May Actually Be Wrong--Hooray!
Ross weighs in with a listing from the Berkeley Barb from that week. He is confident that the event occurred, and the listing hints that the event may have been a one day affair. It says "Dead, Staples, 2nd Coming, Morning Glory, Canned Heat, 8 more: Cabrillo College, Santa Cruz, 3pm-midnite, $2.50 benef LMN, SPAR, others, info Pat Sullivan, 1838 W. Bayshore Rd, Palo Alto."

I do not know what organizations "LMN" and "SPAR" represent, but all campus events would have had to benefit some outside organization (students could not use a college facility on a for-profit basis). Whomever Pat Sullivan may have been--hey, maybe he's a reader!--that is the first indication of a promotional entity behind the event. West Bayshore was a sleepy residential part of Palo Alto, so the address was probably just the promoter's house.

It's great to be wrong--now to look for some eyewitnesses...

Monday, June 20, 2011

penny lane

a few weeks ago, a girl i call penny lane came to stay with us. i could see she had a wandering heart from the very beginning, like she'd never be truly happy unless she was exploring and living. 

at nighttime we'd all walk down to the rock overlooking the mountain valleys. as we stepped over tumbling stones and loose dirt on our way to the rock hill, we'd whisper about dreamtime monsters hiding in the trees. all was pitch dark but the curling trails of incense smoke and lit lanterns. everything was deathly still but our breath. we'd wrap ourselves in blankets to keep warm but the cold would still lick at our lips and fingers.

we'd walk home and light the fireplace so that everything was alight and warm, and we'd toast marshmallows or eat hot soup. one night after our walk to the rock it began to snow and the balcony was painted white. i've never seen snow before so i ran out like i was ten years old again, in just a dress and stuck my tongue out to taste falling snowflakes. me, penny lane and another pretty girl named hannah jumped around in it and made little snowmen and snowballs and everyone around could hear our excitement. 

snow in autumn. i thought it was like magic.

but then one day she had to leave, so we took her to the train station and said sad goodbyes and our home was quiet again.