Monthly Archives: April 2015

censored-meat

Another Level of Crazy: Why don’t you raise maggots?

[***WARNING – if you have a weak stomach, skip this post***]

I don’t often scare myself, but I might have just tipped the scales.

Obviously, everyone that knows me pretty well thinks I’m either crazy or…  Well, crazy in a weird, responsible way.  I’m not sure which camp would be right in this scenario.

Remember the free meat that literally fell at my doorstep?  Well, what I ate of it was really good!  Unfortunately, the rest of it was in the freezer in my garage, which one day decided to stop working.  :(

I won’t lie – I was very upset.  Lane and I spent a lot of time butchering that thing, and after it had been sitting in a room-temperature container for who knows how long, it was ruined.

I was complaining to my friends Walter and Matt about it.  Luckily, they happen to be a little crazy, too.  (Sorry for throwing both of you under the bus, guys, but you know it’s true.)

“Why don’t you raise maggots?,” Walter asked with dead-pan seriousness.

I can’t say that it had crossed my mind, even in my wildest off-grid homesteading dreams, but it made sense.  My chickens love eating little bugs, and these specific little bugs love rotting meat…  So, I started thinking about what I might do to start my own hobby maggot farm.

Around that same time, there was a little bit of uncooked chicken in our fridge that had gone bad, so I just tossed it and the deer meat in a bucket.  (Meat doesn’t often spoil in our home – pretty much never, in fact – so maybe it was a little nudge from the Man upstairs to try this thing, eh?)  I hadn’t thought much about my plan, so I left the bucket in the garage until I could figure out what to do with it.

I concocted a plan to basically construct an elaborate cage in the woods on the edge of my property, so that predators aren’t attracted to rotting meat beside my living chickens.  I’d start with a tray at the bottom, then wire mesh that would allow maggots to fall through but would catch pieces of meat.  Above that I’d hang the meat, which would give greater surface area for the maggots to slip off and onto the tray.  Around that I’d put at least one sturdy cage (possibly two), so that animals couldn’t get inside.  It would be a self-sufficient maggot factory after I hung up some old meat.

That was the plan, anyway.  The reality is that I left the bucket of rotting meat in my garage for weeks.

uncensored-meat

The packaging was frozen to it (because I was testing the freezer), and I didn’t hassle with getting it off.

Yes.  It smells exactly as you would expect.  Every once in a while I would go into the garage, forgetting that I left the bucket in there, and would very quickly remember.  I’d step back outside, suck in a large amount of air, and then hold it in while I retrieved whatever I needed from inside.  Over time, I guess I just expected the garage to smell like that.

My wife didn’t really know that was going on until while I was away from home one day I asked her to get something from the garage for me.  I received a text soon after that, which said she almost threw up after stepping into the building.  I texted back a smiley face with a halo above it.

At that point, I realized I should probably do something about it.  The first thing I realized was that I hadn’t even asked my chickens if they specifically liked maggots.  Since my chickens don’t speak English (despite what you might think from previous posts), I realized the only way to get that answer was to present those maggots to them.

So, one Saturday, the experiment continued.

meat-maggots

I opened the garage door to let it air out a bit and brought the bucket outside.  Sure enough, moving the meat around revealed a gob of the little squirmy things.  I could easily put my hand in and scoop a hundred up.

So, of course I did.

maggot-hand

Yes, I realize there aren’t a hundred in my hand, but it’s hard to take a picture of a handful of maggots with the other hand holding a camera.  The little boogers were incredibly slimy, and I could feel them squirming through my fingers as soon as I picked them up.  It was disgusting.

I tossed a few to my chickens, and they were delighted!  If I threw a clump of maggots in front of them, they didn’t really know what to do, but if there were stragglers outside of said clump, they didn’t last very long before a beak would dispatch this from this world.  I assume the chickens’ eyesight isn’t so great, and a giant ball of pulsating slime probably isn’t as appealing as an obvious gyrating worm.

Not long after I started doing this, I noticed at least a dozen vultures circling overhead.  It dawned on me then that that was the reason I’d been seeing a lot more of them perched in the trees on my property lately.  Lucky for humans, our sense of smell isn’t nearly as ken as theirs, because I’d say that they had sniffed it from miles away.

maggot-bowl

I continued to scoop the maggots into some tupperware, thinking I might store them to give them to my chickens over time.  But then I started to consider how would store them.  I suppose I can put them in the fridge, but I didn’t know if that would kill them, or if they needed some meat with them to survive (and I didn’t want to purposely make my fridge smell like rotting meat for the rest of it’s existence).  So, I ended up giving all of the gathered maggots to the chickens, storing none.

Actually, I used the maggots to entice the chickens back into their coop, because I had to leave for the rest of the day and that was a lot easier than chasing after them.

And, yes, I put the bucket of rotting meat back in the garage.

Don’t worry, though – I have a plan.

honeyjar

Harvesting Honey the Old Fashioned Way

I have honey!

Over the winter, there really isn’t much you can do with honeybees.  Except for poking your head in during very warm days to make sure they have enough honey stored to get them through the season.  I tried to stay out as much as possible, realizing that they know a lot more than I do about keeping themselves alive.

However, spring has arrived!

As such, soon after it looked like we were in for consistent warm weather, I poked my head in with a much different intention: robbing them of their honey!  I didn’t want to take too much – but dang it, I’ve been at this for a year and have spent a lot of money, so I want some honey!!  Sunny, runny, bunny, funny, money, honey.  (Sorry – the line before last rhymed and I couldn’t stop myself.)

honey-frames

They’re doing great, and I saw some frames packed with brood (larvae/eggs), so it looks to me like they’re healthy.  I only took one frame from each, and those frames weren’t 100% capped and ready but they weren’t too far from it.  (Don’t worry – there was plenty of honey left in the hive.  I’ll take more after everything’s in bloom, though)  I didn’t even get stung, even though I was brushing them off of the frames pretty aggressively.

honey-stand

After I got the frames, I realized I had no idea what to do with them.  Most legit beekeepers have access to an extractor and other fancy tools to help them efficiently remove the honey.  However, I don’t know if I’d consider myself a legit beekeeper yet, and since those things cost money I figure I’d try to have a go without them.  (I’m really excited about the Honey Flow system, but that’s a lot of money, too…  One of my frames costs $1, and a frame from the Honey Flow costs about $80.  Basically, I don’t want to spend a bunch more money until I know I can pay myself back with honey.  I’m rhyming honey with money a lot in this post.)

My first idea wasn’t a very good one.

honey-first-try

I basically just stood them up like a teepee over a pan and used a spoon to scoop the honey out.  It wasn’t very quick, and I got a lot of spoons dirty because I tended to stick them in my mouth.  Don’t worry – I’m no double dipper.  If a spoon went in my mouth, it didn’t go back in the honeycomb.  I promise.

honey-scooped

I got pretty impatient, because I felt like I wasn’t getting very far even though I was scraping a lot of wax off.  So, I simply looked at a few websites on how to harvest honey without an extractor and got some much better ideas.

honeycomb

I just scraped everything off the frame into a colander.  I didn’t want to use a strainer, because when you filter honey you actually lose some of the benefits.  Unfiltered raw honey has pollen in it, and this is the pollen from my own back yard so it can help with my specific allergies, since I’d be ingesting the same pollen that my sinuses have a problem sorting through.  When you filter, those chunks of pollen can get thrown out.  (I should have taken a picture of some of the pollen, but I didn’t think about it.  I will next time.  Unless I forget again.  (You can see the pollen on the next picture, but it looks more like dirt.)

honey-mangled

The picture above is after I scraped from one frame all the comb that contained honey into the colander.  There’s still a lot of pollen, but I don’t think I missed any honey from that one.  I’ll get the wax later.

honey-drip

After that, I crushed the comb, forcing a bunch of honey, pollen, and some small chunks of wax into the bowl below.  I ate more wax in that day or two of extracting honey than the rest of my life combined.  Not that I’ve eaten a lot of wax in my life, nor that I just munched on wax all day – I just figure the little bits and pieces added up, since I was sucking the honey off of them.

honeycomb-dry

I poured the honey out into a mason jar, then crushed more comb, then poured, etc.  Finally, I just let it set for a long time dripping down, and the comb was fairly dry.  I’m planning on melting the wax in a cloth in the sun, which would let any trapped honey run out, but it’ll take a while.  On top of that, I had an ant problem when I left the whole setup out overnight.  (Well, technically my wife had an ant problem…  I just came home to an unhappy wife who dealt with an ant problem.)  So – if I set it out somewhere to melt and separate, I’ll need to make sure our six legged friends don’t have access.

To clean up, I left the frames on top of the hives, because bees will suck absolutely any remaining honey off of it.  I read somewhere that it can take bees collectively flying up to 40 million miles to make a pound of honey, so it would make sense that they would spend the time to get even the slightest amount of honey close by.  Sure enough, I left the frames overnight, and they were bone dry the next day, with bees still checking it out.

The honey has a very interesting taste, with a little bit of a kick to it, because all (actual) honey is flavored by the pollen and nectar that the bees gather from.  For a while I tried to analyze it to figure out what plant I wast tasting, but then I realized I was basically not seeing the forest from the trees.  Honey!  I have honey from my back yard!  I’ll figure out plant-flavors later!

I ended up getting three pints of honey, and I have been eating more honey than ever!  My friend Chris gave me some bread that his family baked, and I pretty much ate that with a 1:1 ratio of honey to bread.  My intention was to sell honey, but at the rate I’m using it, I might have to hoard it all…  I’ve been putting it in coffee, and I figure if I can replace all my sugar intake with honey, then I’ll be healthier.  Right?

Right?

easter-eggs

Eggcellence: Just in Time for Easter!

I’ve got eggs!

A lot has been going on, and I probably should have posted this almost two months ago, when I actually started getting eggs, because I was super pumped then.  Now, it’s kind of normal…  I’ll try to muster up some eggcitement for the purposes of this blog, though.  Or, at least I’ll crack some bad yolks.

icicles

 

It was quite cold outside – well below freezing for days on end, and I decided to give my chickens a little warmth so that they wouldn’t hate me.  As far as I know, they’re much better egguipped to deal with cold temperatures than you or me are (well, unless you’re actually a chicken), because they basically have the egguivalent of a down comforter on all the time.  As they metabolize their food, they generate heat that is trapped in their puffed up feathers.  At least, that’s what a guy on the internet said.  Because he’s on the internet, I can trust him.  But I still added my heat lamp from when they first hatched.

red-light-coop

Put on the red light

Hens don’t lay nearly as many eggs in the winter because the days are short, but I think when I put the heat lamp in there I kind of faked them out.  I can’t really be sure, though, because they were definitely at the age where the should be laying, and since the heat lamp is red, I’m not sure that that did anything as far as eggstending the daylight hours.  I’ll bet they were simply annoyed at the red light keeping them awake at night, but none of them got too eggravated about it.

eggs-n-golf-balls

Anyhow, I occasionally would check the nesting boxes for eggs, just because I wanted to be ready if they did actually start laying.  I’d gotten used to seeing nothing, so I was incredibly surprised to see two eggs sitting there one Sunday afternoon!  It had to be Henrietta and Peepnelopeep, as they were the oldest.  Not that I actually call them that.

Those two eggs were delicious.

frying-eggs

Omelet-you finish, but frying is the best cooking method of all time.

I was getting two eggs on an average day (sometimes just one).  I’d been putting a lot of pine wood shavings in the coop floor and at the bottom of the nesting boxes, but they usually shuffle (or soufflé) that around, which would leave the nesting box with a fairly bare wood floor.  So, one day I came out to one of these.

broken-egg

When she laid the egg, it dropped to the bare wood and cracked.  I just tossed the broken egg (well – actually I crushed it an gave it back to them, because there are tons of nutrients in an egg, and almost all of it is specifically there for a chicken to eat in order to survive for a few days), and filled up the nesting box with wood shavings again.  But, alas, I lost every 5th egg or so to the same situation, so I decided my hens needed an upgrade.

chicken-carpet

We have some eggstra carpet from our earlier renovation, so I just cut some pieces to size and put them at the bottom of the nesting boxes, then covered them with wood shavings.  They still knock most of the wood shaving out pretty quickly, but I haven’t lost any more eggs due to collision since then.

I have seen a few more cracked eggs, though…

frozen-egg

At first, I assume the above egg cracked because she had let it drop farther when laying it.  However, it was probably about 10° outside at the time, and when I picked it up I realized that the thing burst because it froze solid.  Carpet won’t fix that.  I had to bring it inside to let it thaw in order to crush it to give it back to them.

Some time has passed, and now I’m generally getting 3-5 eggs a day!  There for a while I started eating three eggs a day for lunch, because, well, that’s about as cheap (cheep) a meal as I could do right now.  And I was often frying them in some lard that my buddy Walter gave me, so it’s as organic as it could be, too.  Then I started realizing I’d probably burn myself out too quickly, so I only do that a few days a week now.

As you can see from the image at the top of the post, my eggs come “Easter Ready” – so I didn’t have to dye any eggs in order my wife and me to have an Easter Egg Hunt in our yard.  You’ll probably notice that there are some “blemishes” on my eggs, and that’s because I don’t wash them until right before I cook them.  They naturally come out with a protective coating that keeps them fresh for six months or more, and washing them can take that coating off.  (Commercial egg farms tend to wash their eggs in a bleach solution, which can actually seep through the shell.  I think I’d rather have a bit of chicken poop to wash off the shell than bleach inside the egg white)

I also have a variety of sizes!

egg-sizes

It’s kind of hard to see in the picture, but the far left one is quite a bit bigger than the far right one.  The one on the right is from my silkie bantam, and I’m pretty sure that’s as big as her eggs are going to get.

A lot more has happened in the last couple of months (spoiler alert: I have honey!!), but I won’t make this the Neverending Story in a sing post…  I’ll try to update soon!