Farm Fresh For Life

4 Easy Spring Plants You Can Grow Today


It is spring and most of the country is enjoying mild, wonderful temperatures. This is my favorite time of year. I especially enjoy working in the garden in spring. Spring is a fabulous time to garden for two reasons.

  1. Comfortable climate: not too hot, not too humid, not too many bugs. It is a great time to be outdoors.

  2. Spring plants are typically lower maintenance, easy to grow, and (usually) forgiving.

When it comes to spring planting, you will notice I often plant seeds in the ground instead of buying little seedlings at the nursery. I do this for several reasons:

  • It's easier.

  • It's cheaper.

  • I can plant whenever I want. I don't have to wait for the big-box store to sell seedlings.

  • Less stress on the plants and roots as they grow.

  • The plants will not go through "shock" as they are moved from a pot to the garden.

  • They establish strong root systems and are usually healthier.

  • Watching seeds emerge from the soil and grow is very satisfying.

Here are four easy spring plants You can start this weekend:



Did you know that asparagus is a perennial? Once you plant asparagus the plant will give you spears for over 15 years. (Some say up to 25 years!)

If you already have asparagus in your garden, new spears will be popping out of the ground daily in spring. Enjoy this glorious vegetable while it lasts. Simply break the spears off at the ground to harvest them.

If you don't have asparagus in your garden, this is a great time to plant it! Most nurseries are selling pots of asparagus now. It is usually sold in a 1-gallon pot. Once you get the pot home be sure to separate the crowns and plant them in holes 12 to 18 inches apart. My nursery sells six to eight plants in each 1-gallon pot.



Oh, how I love sugar snap peas. No matter how many I grow, we eat every single one. Sweet, crisp, refreshing!

Why you should plant sugar snap peas:

  • They have their own travel pack in the form of a pod.

  • They are the perfect, portable snack food in spring, summer and fall.

  • They are grown easily from seed (pea).

  • Not many pests, diseases or worries.


Sugar snap peas will perform best if they have something to climb. I use sections of cattle panel as trellises for the pea vines. I attach the cattle panels to some stakes driven into the ground.

Once your trellis is in place, sprinkle the peas on the ground around it. Then poke the peas an inch into the ground.


Poke! Poke! Poke!

The vines will be coming up in a few short days.



Lettuce is one of the easiest plants to grow from seed. It is amazing how quickly you will be harvesting leaves off your plants for a dinner salad.

Lettuce is generally a cool season crop. It grows best and has the best flavor when grown in cool temperatures.

Although lettuce has the best flavor when grown in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall, I grow lettuce throughout the summer too. My secret is to continually plant new seeds. As long as I harvest the lettuce while it is young, the flavor is good. I have also found that red lettuce is more heat tolerant than other varieties.


To plant lettuce seeds, first make a divot in the soil. I use a rake handle to make straight rows for my seeds.


Then I sprinkle the seeds in the row.

Feel free to plant several varieties of lettuce. Plant whatever your family enjoys. I like to plant an entire salad bar in my garden. It normally includes spinach, butter crunch lettuce, spring mix and radishes.

Last, rake soil over the seeds. Salads coming soon to your backyard!



Onions can be planted twice a year. Spring and fall.

Onions are pretty low maintenance. Here are the pros and cons:


  • No pests.

  • No diseases.

  • Easy to plant.

  • Grow quickly.

  • Easy to harvest (just yank on the top).

  • Will store in my basement for seven to nine months.

  • Natural healing properties (really good for you).


  • Difficult to weed.

  • Will have lots of weeds because there is nothing to shade the ground beneath the thin stalks (mulching around the stalks will help).

I prefer to plant onion "sets." This is not the only type of onion you can plant, but I have had great results in my area (Kentucky) with onion sets. They are easy to plant and will be as big as an orange in a couple of months.

Onion sets are generally sold by the pound. A pound of onion sets is a lot of onions. These tiny balls weigh nothing. They come in three varieties (at my store): white, purple and yellow. I'm pretty sure "White," "Purple" and "Yellow" are  their scientific name, kingdom and phylum.


The white onions are the strongest and store the best. The yellow onions are milder and sweeter (they store well too). The purple onions are beautiful, but do not store worth a darn and will bruise and rot if you look at them wrong.


To plant onion sets, I poke holes in the soil with the handle of my metal rake. A benefit of raised beds containing good quality soil is how easy it is to work in. We don't need shovels. I can dig holes with my hand. Or poke them with a handle.

Poke, poke, poke!

After you poke a 4-inch hole in the ground, drop in the onion set – root side down.


Once all the holes have onions, cover with soil. That's it! You will have green leaves shooting out of the ground in no time.


If you're feeling adventurous, there are many other plants you can get growing in your garden right now. Some popular choices include: Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, spinach, radishes, kale and many herbs. All of these will enjoy cool days and frosty nights.

Happy Spring, Everyone!

Raising Meat Chickens Without Feeding the Local Wildlife

Candi JohnsThere are two categories of chickens: layers and broilers. The layers lay eggs. The broilers are raised for meat. The layers are known for making lots of wonderful eggs. The broilers specialize in getting really large really fast.

A layer hen can take more than seven months to reach maturity and usually begins to lay small eggs around 6 months old. A broiler goes from a tiny chick to the size of a basketball in less than two months. Now that's fast!

If you would like to begin producing some of your own meat, broiler chickens are a great place to start. It's relatively easy. They don't require fancy equipment, pastures or knowledge. And it's over in six to eight weeks. Bonus!

Broiler chickens need food, water and a safe place to live. The hardest part about raising meat chickens is keeping them alive. I live on a 24-acre farm with a lot of woods. Unfortunately, those wooded areas are home to many chicken-enjoying critters. We have raised meat chickens a few times and it's always a gamble to see who will get to enjoy the beautiful hens: the local wildlife or us.

Here are a couple of tips to getting started (and finished) raising meat chickens.

raising meat chickens

TIP No. 1: Safe and Sound

Yes, I want my broiler chickens to eat grass, bugs and enjoy sunshine. I also want them to be alive in six weeks so that I can eat them. Here is where the challenge lies.

A predator proof fence is the best way to keep your broiler chickens safe. We have used a rabbit hutch, a dog kennel and a homemade chicken yard from woven wire fencing. All of these can be good options. Being flexible and using what you have is a huge part of homesteading. If you happen to have an empty dog kennel, it can be easily converted into a chicken yard with some chicken wire. If you have a large rabbit habitat without any rabbits in it – that will work! If you don't have anything but a roll of left-over, woven-wire fencing and some wooden tomato stakes. Perfect!

This year we started with 22 meat chickens.

raising meat chickens

DH (Dear Husband) set up a nice yard for them where they can enjoy the sunshine during the day and be closed in the barn at night. He used a piece of fencing and some stakes. The entire set up took 15 minutes and didn't cost anything.

Our chicks came to the homestead during a hot steamy summer month so they did not need a brooder for warmth. If the weather is cool be sure to provide a brooder fully equipped with a heat lamp for small chicks. Once they get their wing feathers they'll no longer need the lamp.

TIP No. 2: Don't Step on the Chicks

I had my sweet little meat chicks for one day before I stepped on one. Accidentally, of course. I was spreading fresh hay for their scratching and pecking pleasure when one scurried underneath the hay. I did not know he was under there. As I carefully tip-toed my way out of the pen I felt a lump under my foot. Sure enough, under my foot, beneath the fresh hay I found a chick.

At first I was relieved to see he was still alive. Then I noticed that he was not well. Its neck was broken. It was awful. I didn't know what to do, so I walked in circles and panicked. Walking in circles is what I do when I don't know what to do.

My oldest son was with me. I asked him if he thought my broken-necked chick might be able to recover. After seeing it hopping around with its head laying limply to one side my son said, "No." So, he put it out of its misery ....

To say that I was freaking out is the understatement of the universe. Arg! What?! Sadness! Horror!


"Mom, it wasn't going to live. Its neck was broken. Its head was on the ground."

"Give me a minute to start breathing again and I'll be OK."

TIP No. 3: Close the Barn Door

Whatever you are using to protect your broiler chicks, be sure it is closed, locked and secure before bed. Night is when all the critters from the woods come out in search of food.

DH had been working behind the barn. He accidentally left the back barn door open. From the house, the garden and the rest of the farm, no one could see that the back barn door was wide open. My baby meat chicks were in the barn. Baby chicks (that are not under a broody mama hen) will peep almost constantly. I think all the cheeping was beckoning to any predator in the woods that the buffet was open. Apparently, an opossum heard the call. And answered. He helped himself to 12 of my broiler chicks. Ugh.

We went from 21 chickens to nine chickens overnight.

I suppose you could get technical and say I had more than nine chickens if you count the dead ones the opossum killed, shredded and threw all over the barn for me to find. Every time I went out to the barn to get something: buckets, pliers, hay, etc., I was finding heads, feet, bodies and random chicken parts. Keep in mind that this is happening over a five-day period – every day I feel like I'm stumbling upon another massacre. With me, the squeaks, squeals and running don't stop just because it's the fourth head I've stumbled upon this week. I still panic, drop things and run.

I hate opossums. And raccoons. And coyotes.

TIP No. 4: Call the Local Authorities Before Extermination

The only good side to this story is that I got to shoot the numskull who shredded my chickens and threw their parts all over the barn for me to find.

I spoke with our local Animal Control Office as well as the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. They both confirmed that if the wildlife (opossum in this case) is causing document-able problems it is fine to exterminate the animal. I'm going to say chicken parts everywhere is a problem and the fact that he ended up in the animal trap next to my dead meat chickens is definitely document-able.

No more Mr. Opossum.

that pesky 'possum

TIP No. 5: Don't Stay Out Late

With nine meat chickens left, I was still optimistic about the chicken dinners I would be eating.

It was a Saturday night when we went to a friend's house for dinner. We had a nice time visiting and stayed out past dark.

Staying out past dark is considered a no-no when chickens are concerned. Generally, you want to get your chickens secured for the evening before it gets dark outside. I was hopeful that since they were in the barn they would be fine until I could get home and lock them in the coop.


You know what happens to chickens who aren't locked in the coop by dark don't you? Varmint food. I'm not sure what got it, but the next day I had eight chickens. Isn't this fun?

raising meat chickens

This story has a happy ending. My friend with the CSA, who gave me the original 22 chicks, still had a couple hundred to spare. He was happy to give me eight more. To learn how he ended up with 300 chicks for 5 cents each go here.

This put me back up to 16 meat chickens. I am pleased to report that all 16 meat chicks grew up to be fat, healthy chickens and have been relocated to the freezer.

If you have tried meat chickens and felt like all you did was feed the varmints, be encouraged. If you've never raised meat chickens and would like to try, don't be discouraged.

Meat chickens can be raised successfully without feeding the local wildlife by following a few tips:

1. Provide safe and secure living quarters
2. Don't step on them
3. Close the door
4. Call the authorities for proper methods for nuisance removal
5. Don't stay out too late

The great news is that although we lost a few, we put 16 in the freezer. We also eliminated one chicken-eating nuisance from the homestead, which is always something to celebrate.

I'll call that a success.

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Happy Chicken Raising!

7 Secrets to a Successful Garden

Candi Johns

Full home garden

I've gardened in several homes and in several cities. Although the locations were different, the recipe for success was always the same.

Having a successful garden isn't hard. I believe that anyone can grow their own food, and it can be done most places (as long as there is a cooperative climate). But there are a few things you'll need to do right in order to be successful.

Here's my Top 7 Secrets for a Successful Garden:

SECRET #1 for a Successful Garden: Start with Good Soil

Raking garden dirt

This was my nemesis when I began gardening. Kentucky soil is one of two categories: lush, dark, and fertile or miserable, red clay.

Unfortunately, my neck of the woods was almost completely clay. And clay is either in the form of concrete or soup. I'm not kidding. When it is dry, it is as hard as cement. When it's wet, it is practically liquid.

I managed to transform this clay nightmare into some great garden soil. Really. Here's how:

Greensand, manure, and compost.

1. Start with the greensand; sprinkle it right on that hard clay.

2. Next, add a layer of manure. Just ask someone who has animals if you can muck out the stalls or clean out the barn or scoop a field/pasture. They'll probably kiss you and bake you cookies.

3. Once the greensand and manure is down, just spread some compost on top. You can make this yourself, buy it, or go to a recycling center and get a truckload for free.

4. Once you have the greensand, manure, and compost in your beds, the worms will do the rest.

SECRET #2 for a Successful Garden: Variety

Full home garden

Plan to grow several different vegetables in your garden. Here in Kentucky, I usually grow up to 50 different varieties. Growing a large variety will offer palate change, food diversity, and interesting new dishes at mealtimes. Planting lots of different veggies will also ensure you have something to eat even if you have a crop failure (or several). If you have a nice variety of plants growing, chances are that something's gonna do well. You've got luck and numbers on your side.

By planting a larger variety of crops, you also may discover some plants that grow well and easily in your area.

SECRET #3 for a Successful Garden: Start Early

Homegrown asparagus

The sooner you get your plants in the ground, the sooner you'll be eating your yard. As soon as the ground is workable, get those crops in the ground.

SECRET #4 for a Successful Garden: Succession Planting

Planting seeds closeup

To get the most food out of a limited space, succession planting is key. I think I have been able to get loads of food from a small space because I am a nut for succession planting. I never leave a bed empty. Never. If it's not winter and I have open garden real estate, it's growing me food.

Succession planting is easy. Whenever you harvest a crop (like your spring broccoli, lettuce, peas, onions, and garlic), immediately plant a second crop in that space (like squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, or beans). Then when those crops are harvested in late summer, plant more crops for a fall harvest (like cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts).

SECRET #5 for a Successful Garden: Consider Height

Think about where the sun shines on your garden and plant accordingly. You don't want your tallest plants casting shade on your shortest plants. For vegetables to do their best, they need as much sunlight as possible. In order to give the shorter plants plenty of sun, plant sweet corn and other tall plants on the north or west side of the garden so they won't shade everything else.

Taller plants include the obvious ones like corn and tomatoes, but also can include cucumbers and small gourds if you grow them on trellises.

SECRET #6 for a Successful Garden: Make it Fun!

Full home garden

I think one of the reasons I find such pleasure in my garden is because I think it's beautiful.

A vegetable garden doesn't have to be a barren, empty, patch of dirt in your yard. You can add interest and beauty with trellises, raised beds, pots, and even flowers. Many flowers make great companions to vegetables. Marigolds keep the insects away from the tomatoes. Nasturtiums keep the squash bugs off the gourds.

Anyone can have a beautiful garden. It certainly isn't necessary. A garden will give you glorious free food all year no matter what it looks like, but the pretty ones are my favorites.

SECRET # 7 for a Successful Garden: Plan to Work

There are some tricks and tips that will keep your weeding and watering down to a minimum, but you are going to have to get out in your garden and work.

Mulching will stop most weeds and hold in moisture. Raised beds will prevent you from needing to weed your walking paths. A rainy forecast will nurture your plants so you don't have to water.

But there is still going to be work to do. Like:

• tying up tomato plants
• harvesting vegetables regularly
• pulling up plants and replanting the space (remember succession planting)
• hilling up potatoes (or covering them with straw)
• and even using organic methods to prevent bugs and diseases

Plan to visit your garden at least two times a week. This will allow you to know what is going on and stay on top of problems.

Weeding is easy when the weeds are small. The squash don't get too big if you harvest them regularly. Bugs can be defeated if you get on top of them before they start raising families.

The good news is that working in a garden can be a pleasure. It is also wonderful exercise. Lastly, it will be well worth the work you put in when you eat all that food year 'round!

Happy Gardening!

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Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book: Part 3

Candi JohnsIf you would like to know the good, bad, and ugly of owning chickens, this article is for you. This is actually the 3rd part in a three-part series called "Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book." Here are the links to the first articles:

Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book: Part 1 — It covers why you need to collect the eggs every day and how we feed our chickens for free (mostly).

Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book: Part 2 — This article gets a little deeper in the land of chicken ownership. Here I discuss predators, illnesses, and why we don't keep water in the coop.

Today, I'm going to tell you why you should put the chicken food in the coop (if you provide the food), and try to set some realistic expectations about the lifespan of your girls (and boys).

First, let's talk about the average life of a chicken.

SIX: All your chickens are gonna die.

Man holding a chicken

I am so sorry to break it to you. It's true. They are all going to die. Some sooner than others.

I always advise people to start out in spring with twice as many chickens as you would like to have this winter, because half your flock will manage to kill themselves in the next nine months.

Why? How? What is wrong with your chicken keeping skills?

It's not me. It's just a fact. Chickens look for ways to die. We've tried everything to keep them alive. We've kept them fenced in, we've let them free-range, we've put out a guard dog, we've used motion sprinklers. For eight years we have had the same experience: We lose half our flock in winter. It's OK. Just plan for it, buy some extras, and don't get too attached. It's a chicken, not a cat.

We have experienced more bizarre chicken deaths than I care to discuss. If you would like read all about them and decide for yourself if I am a chicken murderer, go here.

SEVEN: Put the food in the coop.

As I mentioned in this article, we offer free-choice food during winter for our chickens. In the past we have filled our king feeder (holds 50 pounds of feed) outside the coop, but every night some local varmint would show up, eat most of it, and dump the rest all over the ground. Ugh.

Since I don't have unlimited funds, this consumption of feed had to stop. I am not trying to feed the local wildlife; I am trying to provide sustenance for my chickens. We tried two solutions.

1. Move the feed into the coop. This was my first thought. It worked, kind of. It kept the nighttime visitors from eating and scattering all the chicken food ... but it didn't stop the daytime consumption. Dang it. Dang, stupid, gross, mangy-looking opossums are eating all my chicken food, and eggs! The good news is that this family of opossums doesn't like chicken. They are just eating all my eggs and chicken food. And the chickens don't seem to mind. Come on, cocks! This is why you are here! Can we please get some crowing when a non-feathered critter enters the coop?

2. Ration the stores. Since the opossums are BFFs with my chickens, they are happily sharing their food and eggs with them, and I can't catch them to save my life, we've started scattering a day's worth of feed on the ground each day. The chickens love scratching and pecking at the food, and the opossum can't eat it all. This doesn't stop them from eating eggs, but my feed bill is lower.

Opposum in a trap

Speaking of opossums. I have a story that may or may not have happened last week ...

We were visiting with family and out past dark. DH got home before the kids and I did. If it's after dark, the general rule is: First one home put the chickens to bed. "Putting the chickens to bed" means "go out to the coop and close the door to the hen house."

So, DH heads out to the chicken coop to close the door and saw some sort of commotion scooting away from the coop. It was Mr. Opossum. Probably the one eating my chicken feed and eggs. Busted.

Well, DH owns a pawn shop. You can see it here. Which may as well be called a "gun shop," because that's the majority of what we do. DH always wears his gun — his 1911 .45 caliber.

If you don't speak "gun," I'll explain. A .45 is quite the pistol. It easily fits in a holster on your hip, but it's a pretty powerful handgun. I'm pretty sure you can stop King Kong or a T-Rex with a .45. So DH was at the chicken coop, and he was armed and dangerous — especially if you happen to be an opossum.

DH saw him scurrying away from our coop, where I'm sure he was partaking of all my eggs and feed. Being the loving cowboy he is, DH secured the chickens in the coop first before giving Mr. Opossum his full attention. DH knew which way the varmint went, and he knew what opossums do when they run away: They climb. And one of the great things about iPhones is the flashlight feature. Need a light? You got one in your back pocket! DH used his phone flashlight and quickly spotted Mr. Opossum in the trees.

Varmint vs. .45. Let's just say if you lived in my county, you may have heard a couple of loud gunshots at about 8:00 last Tuesday night. And I have one less critter to deal with.

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Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book: Part 2

Candi JohnsI have all sorts of random chicken-keeping advice swirling around in my head. Most of it is the type of thing you don't typically find in books or magazines.

If you would like to hear my first article on this subject go here. It covers why you need to collect the eggs every day and how we feed our chickens for free (mostly).

This article is going to go deeper into my brain and the real world of keeping chickens.

THREE: Good luck getting rid of the fox.

If you get a fox near your hen house, you could be in for a world of hurt. I'm not trying to be a huge downer, but a fox is a problem you don't want to take lightly.

I've been told that once a fox finds your flock they will stick around until they have eaten every last chicken. One of my best friends watched her hens disappear one at a time until the fox consumed every last one of them. When she got new chickens, he ate them, too.

I know another lady who no longer even tries to keep chickens. A fox found her flock and ate every chicken she brought home. She finally gave up.

Foxes are smart. They are sly. They don't fall for traps. They can smell your scent on every hole, claw, line, bait, cage, or trap you set.

How do I know? After keeping chickens completely free range for over seven years, a fox found our flock.

He started with our ducks, because Pekin ducks are slow and easy to catch. He ate five ducks in one week. Then he went to work on the laying hens. He ate a chicken every day. Each night when my son would close up the chickens and count the heads, we would have one less. It wouldn't be long before they were all gone.

Duke the dog

We put our lazy, comatose hound dog to work. As long as he was stationed at the chicken coop on-guard, the fox didn't strike. If the dog took the day off — down went another hen.

Well, I don't have an ending to this fox dilemma. We are hanging in there, we still have a nice flock, but we still see that fox meandering around our property. Mama Fox is here, and she has a baby. We have traps set. We have tried to catch her in the act. She's good at what she does.

I'll keep you posted.

FOUR: Don't put the water in the coop.

Chicken coop

I don't know what most coop floors are made of. Ours is made of wood. We covered it in a laminate flooring to protect the wood from the "eeeew" that would be laying all over it thanks to the chickens. Even with a coat of laminate, I still don't want water in there ...

There are lots of great reasons not to have a chicken watering facility located inside your coop. First, there's the damage to the floor: rotting, molding, yuck. Additionally, cold weather is not what causes most cases of frostbite in chickens. Moisture is. If your coop is soaked, saturated, wet, and humid, it can make your chickens sick. The goal is dry litter in the coop. Whenever I've attempted to keep water inside their domain, it ends up making everything soggy and miserable.

We keep the water outside the coop.

FIVE: Don't buy sick chickens.

We made the huge mistake several years ago of buying some silkies from a girl showing them at our county fair. The chickens appeared healthy and adorable. There was no way to tell that they had been exposed to infectious bronchitis.

Once a chicken has had infectious bronchitis, it is a carrier for life. This means that even though the chicken got sick and recovered, it will contaminate every chicken it meets forever ... those chickens may not recover.

We brought our four silkies home (we have four children — each one got a silkie), and the chickens started coughing and dropping like flies. We had around 70 chickens that year (including the Cornish Rock meat chicks) before the silkies descended and destroyed, and the majority of them died. We were in the unfortunate situation where we had to cull or sell our entire flock in order to get rid of the disease. We talked to vets. We talked to chicken folk. We weighed our options. If we wanted a healthy flock, we would have to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. Sadness.

The good new is we had plenty of chicken to eat, and we found a great home for all our favorite hens.

Once everyone had moved out, we cleaned the coop, bleached the coop, torched the coop (used DH's red dragon to burn off any remnants of ick) and then we opened the doors to let all things air out and freeze. Then we got a new flock.

Chicken flock

We have not had any problems with diseases when ordering chicks from hatcheries or buying them from local farm stores. I have bought chicks from numerous farm stores in our area and haven't had any issues. It was only when buying from a stranger that we encountered problems.

Never again will buy a chicken from a person, fair, livestock swap, auction, or other untrusted/unknown identity.

I prefer buying baby chicks from hatcheries and farm stores that I know and trust. I know this means I will always be purchasing chicks and waiting five months for eggs. That is OK with me. Waiting for eggs is better than watching my flock die of an infectious bronchitis aftermath.

No thanks.

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Chicken Advice You Won't Find in a Book: Part 1

Candi JohnsI often find myself surprising new chicken keepers (and some experienced ones) with these tips on keeping chickens. I don't claim to be an expert, but I have been keeping chickens for a while — eight years, in which I’ve gotten at least 20 years of experience, unfortunately — and our approach is definitely unconventional.

For odd tips that you probably won't find in a book, read on, friends! But keep in mind — this is going to be a series and there are many more tips that will be coming soon!



Chickens feeding

ONE: Collect the eggs every day.

If you happen to have a lazy child in charge of collecting the eggs, who may or may not collect them on a regular basis, you might want to consider putting someone else (more reliable) in charge of the job — or simply doing it yourself.

When I have two or three dozen eggs sitting on my counter, somehow my children think this is a cue to take the week off from collecting the eggs. I guess they think we have plenty, and it's cold out, and they'll go get them when we run out.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

This is a bad idea for many reasons.

Egg size comparison

1. Poopy Eggs: By the time your child decides to bring the eggs in the house, they will be covered in a nice coat of poop. Gag. This is not only disgusting, unappetizing, and gross, it also greatly effects the shelf life of your eggs.

Huh? Yes. A freshly laid egg has a protective coating on it. An unwashed, fresh egg can be stored at room temperature (or middle-east temperature) for three months. Once that protective coating is washed off, the egg needs to be refrigerated and consumed within a few weeks. Poop-covered eggs need washing. Washed eggs need refrigerating. Refrigerated, washed eggs have to be eaten.

United States is one of the few countries that requires eggs to be washed prior to selling them. In most countries, American eggs would be illegal. Other countries ban the washing of eggs so that the protective coating remains on the eggs. In other countries, you also wouldn't find the eggs in the refrigerated section of the store. Believe it or not, unwashed eggs don't need to be refrigerated. If you were in a supermarket outside America, you would find the eggs next to the bread and onions.

2. The opossum will eat them before you do. We have had our share of varmint problems (and then some). Opossums are quiet, sneaky and they don't (usually) bother my girls. The only time I realize I have an opossum problem is when the chicken feed is disappearing at a ridiculous pace or the eggs aren't there. The opossums I typically have visiting my coop are looking for a low maintenance, free lunch. They eat all my eggs, and if it's winter and there's feed available, they'll eat it too.

3. You'll turn your hens into egg eaters. If you leave the eggs in the coop for days and days and days, it's just a matter of time before a chicken decides to peck one open and taste it. Once a chicken becomes an egg-eater, it is a hard habit to break. Really hard. They'll lay eggs and eat them.

TWO: Feed them for free (mostly).

Chickens in yard

If you don't want to buy food (often), there are some ways to feed your chickens for free. This may or may not be possible depending on where you live. Here in Kentucky we can get away with free eggs most of the year.

How to feed your chickens for free:

Free-ranging. For a quick intro to keeping chickens completely free, go here. It's called "Keeping Chickens the Redneck Way" and will have your chickens eating all the wild things chickens were born to eat. If you fence in your chickens or they have limited access to forage, you probably need to supplement with some good quality chicken feed. Our chickens are free with access to pasture, compost, woods, bugs, creeks, and anything else they care to find on our 23 acres.

Kitchen scraps. We are in the habit of tossing anything "organic" into a giant, stainless bowl that lives by my kitchen sink,. By organic, I mean dryer lint, nut shells, scraps from meals, onion tops, lemon rinds, watermelon shells, egg shells (crumbled into bits), beef bones from making stock, old leftovers that never got eaten, any food beginning to rot from the bottom drawer in the fridge, etc. The only thing we don't toss in the "scrap bowl" is chicken. We take this mash of random food and other organic junk and deliver it to the compost pile (which happens to be just outside the chicken coop door).

Garden debris. Any time I’m rotating crops, ripping out plants, clearing a bed, or just weeding my garden, I carry around a five gallon bucket to toss all the matter into. This makes it easy to deliver the goods to the compost pile/chickens.

The compost pile. This is the best tip ever. If you don't hear anything else I said, listen to this: Put your chickens on top of your compost.

You may have already caught on ... our compost pile is just outside the chicken coop. They have access to it and all things composting. This is such a beautiful arrangement. The chickens are going to partner with you to make some the most beautiful soil you've ever seen. There are some considerations and tricks to this, though.

Here's why you want your chickens on your compost:

They will eat anything they like and the rest will turn into soil. I toss all things into the compost — whether the chickens want it or not. The cow manure, old moldy hay, litter from the coop, debris from the garden, scraps from canning, weeds, old (disease-free) plants, rinds, peels, seeds, etc. Everything gets tossed onto the compost pile. The chickens get in the middle of it and eat everything they find appetizing. Anything they don't care to eat will stay put and compost into soil for me.

It will be filled with tasty chicken treats. The compost pile is always bursting with bugs, beetles, grubs, maggots, rolly pollys, worms, and assorted other chicken delicacies. If we ever need earthworms for fishing, the compost pile is a sure thing. The warmth, ripeness, and rotting food will always produce an insect buffet for your birds.

Those chickens scratch, peck, rotate, and turn the compost. I am not fussy about my compost. I have not attended any classes on composting or even read a book about it, so I don't know what I'm doing. At the same time, I have piles of glorious soil each spring to top dress my gardens. I throw everything into the pile and let the chickens and Mother Nature do the rest. I will add that cow manure is not as hot as other manures and is quick to break down into soil. I have this going for me. Between the manure and the chickens helping, I have been able to avoid "turning" my compost for years

The chickens eat for free and deposit more glorious manure during the process. Yup. As they scratch, peck, and consume all the free goodies from your organic pile they'll be fertilizing it, too.

Chickens feeding

Here's some logistic issues to contemplate as you design the compost and chicken set-up:

The chickens need to be able to get to the compost. If you want to put up a fence to keep your chickens safe, be sure to include the compost pile inside the chicken fence. This way, no matter if they are having a free-range day of exploring the farm, or if they are being kept fenced in, they will have access to all that wonderful compost and goodies.

You need to be able to get to the compost to add to it. If you use equipment (side-by-side, tractor, etc) to move manure and debris to your compost, be sure you have a gate that opens wide enough so that you can get to the pile and dump into it easily.

You need to be able to get the compost out. Consider how you will get the precious black soil out of your compost bin and into your gardens and pots.

Even with all this, I still buy feed sometimes.

There are a couple of months here in Kentucky that we do offer free-choice chicken feed for our girls (and boys). Those would be the deep winter months, when it's tough for a hen to scratch out a living. I find that they still prefer the scraps from the house and any hidden goodies they can dig out of the compost pile. I don't want any girls to go hungry, though, so we have some good (non-GMO) feed available in winter if they want it.

Stay tuned everyone! More unconventional chicken tips will be coming shortly!

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Happy Chicken Keeping!

– Candi

Easy Cast-Iron Apple Pie

Candi JohnsWhat make this apple pie so amazing? It's fast, delicious, and sugar-free. Don't worry, it's naturally sweetened with maple syrup so you'll never guess it doesn't have the white stuff in it.

I have to say, of all the desserts I have made "sugar-free," this one wins.

You would be hard-pressed to figure out there was no sugar in it. The filling is sweet, creamy, and bursting with apple. The crust is flaky, buttery, and crisp on top. If I handed you a slice of this with a scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream, I'm pretty sure you'd be happy.

Apple pie in skillet

Making this pie is as simple as it gets. All you're going to do is:

1. Make the dough.
2. Make the filling (in the cast-iron skillet).
3. Roll out the dough and place it over the filling (in the cast-iron skillet).
4. Shove it in the oven.

So easy.

If you like apple pie, you will love this.


• 1 cup flour — I use fresh milled, but do not use self-rising
• 1 tablespoon maple syrup
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 8 tablespoon butter, room temperature
• 3-4 tablespoon ice water — add 1 tablespoon at a time until dough comes together
• Cinnamon sugar for sprinkling

Apple pie ingredients

First, make the crust dough. This will be the top crust of the pie.

Add room-temperature butter (not cold; you want to be able to smash it with a fork) to a mixing bowl. Add flour and salt and cut into the butter with pastry cutter, fork, or food processor. You want pea-sized bits of butter covered with flour. Add maple syrup and egg and stir. Add ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until dough comes together. Wrap dough disk and refrigerate.

Once the crust is made, it's time for the filling.


• 5-6 apples, peeled and sliced
• 1/2 cup maple syrup
• 1/2 cup butter
• 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 2-3 tablespoon flour more or less to desired thickness
• 1/2 egg — scramble, and use half

First, peel and slice 5-6 apples. Gala and Granny Smith are my favorites for pies.

Apple pie ingredients

Toss the apple slices, butter, maple syrup, salt, and cinnamon into the cast-iron skillet.

Let cook on medium until the apples are getting soft.

Apple pie ingredients

Stir in the flour. The sauce will thicken. Remove the apple filling from heat and set aside. You are going to place your crust right on top of this filling and bake it. There is no bottom crust.

ROLL OUT CRUST and PLACE IN SKILLET (on top of filling)

Next, grab your dough from the refrigerator.

Apple pit crust

Placing a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap under the dough disk will make it easy to move after it's rolled.

Lightly flour the surface, place your dough, flour the top of the disk, and roll out with your rolling pin. Start from the center and roll out toward the edges. To move pie crust, roll crust loosely over a rolling pin and unroll into the cast-iron skillet. Trim any excess crust off.

Cut slits in the crust to vent. Brush with butter. Dust with cinnamon. If you are not avoiding sugar, a cinnamon/sugar sprinkle on top would be wonderful!


Bake at 350 degrees F until it's done (about 30 minutes).

Apple pie in skillet

Serve warm with fresh whipped cream, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or by itself. You'll never miss the sugar, promise.


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– Candi

Live The Good Life with GRIT!

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