THIS WEEK’S SUBSCRIBER MENU:
Clockwise from Left:
• Pea Shoots
• Fresh Mint (If you have too much, just keep it in a glass of water until you can use it. It will last up to two weeks this way.)
• Mixed Salad Greens
Strawberries—for fruit shares
This week’s list looks just like last week’s, but it will all change soon. And yes, there will be more food soon. The beautiful weather is finally making everything grow! Our neighbors have strawberries coming on, and will be open at the end of the week. The crops are all growing beautifully, and we’re finally starting to catch up with planting. We’re busy planting all the winter crops as well as the summer ones, since we only have a few weeks left. It feels good to be getting somewhere finally.
Friday was the first day of summer, the Solstice, a joyous day…usually.
After months of below normal temperatures, we soared to 88° in the farmstand, where it actually felt quite cool about 3:00. Outside it had to be well over 90°. Great weather for weeding, planting, and clearing the spot for our house which will arrive Tuesday. Not so great for setting out transplants, picking greens, or hanging out with the kids.
I got up early to butcher chickens, which is my new weekly job. Mike had got up at 3:00 to turn on the scalder (a big fiberglass tub with a heating element). Without adequate very hot water, the feathers will not come off of the birds. I got suited up, got everything ready, and the chickens were waiting outside the shed. I killed the first three, and then got ready to dunk and pluck. But the feathers wouldn’t come off. The scalder was not hot enough. What was going on? We boiled water on the stove and carried it to the shed. Then the water cooled off, so we resigned ourselves to the fact that the scalder wouldn’t work, and we’d need the big propane burner to heat water all morning. But all three of our propane tanks were empty. By this time, those first three chickens were stiff as a board and I had to discard them. I fed them to the pigs, who love chicken, so they weren’t wasted, but still… Luckily I only had orders for 3 birds, so the remaining birds after those got to go back to the group and be spared—one more week of life. But, Mike and I had wasted nearly 4 hours trying to get three birds butchered.
Then we had lunch and went back to work.
Then, a panicked call from Mike—The chickens were dying!
And it was lucky that he checked, because the next group of fryers, about 6 weeks old were rapidly dying of heatstroke! We put up shade cloth, got them water, and tried to revive the survivors. At that time, half had died—50 little birds, about game-hen size. Some were too far gone, and drowned in the water we were trying to save them with. The ones that had been able to drink before the water ran out were fine and just hot. A few had been smart enough to hide in the bushes for shade. But not enough. It was a sickening sight. Brave Della jumped in with us, picking up the panting birds and carrying them to the water fountain, or under our quickly-erected shade structure.
These birds are the infamous Cornish cross, a special hybrid breed that was developed to grow very quickly, and produce a very meaty carcass. They’re great eating, but they are fragile. They have an incredibly rapid metabolism, which means they need a very high-protein diet, and lots of water. Even when fed properly, and in a temperature-controlled environment, it’s not uncommon to lose a few to heart-attacks, simply because their hearts can’t keep up with their bodies. They often have leg problems, because their bodies get too heavy for their bones. But, putting them outside early in their lives and forcing them to exercise helps. And it helps to remember that the reason we grow these chickens is that they are tender, juicy, and meaty. Much more so than the old fashioned chickens that can be tough and not meaty. Chewy is how I remember the ones we ate as kids. Good for soup and stewing, but not for a quick roast or fry, or the barbecue. And it also helps to remember that commercially these chickens are kept in controlled-environment buildings that smell like ammonia from all the manure that the birds create (proportionate to the amazing amount of food that they eat in their short lives), and that the commercial chickens never get to see sunshine or smell fresh air, or eat a bug or blade of grass.