BC & AC... I am talking about chickens!

I I often hear newbies say:"I can't grow a garden because I have clay soil". To a seasoned gardener the problem really is that the soil is not properly "fed". Years of growing my own vegetable garden made me realize how important it is to add organic matters to the garden. So year after year I've bought compost from supply companies, fertilizers, and composted my own kitchen and garden scraps.
Longing for fresh eggs, we bought our own chickens this spring, and then it all hit me: I've got a gold mine for fertilizer! After just eight month of having the chickens, I realize that I will NOT need to buy any more compost or 16-16-16s for my garden! And the chickens practically compost everything for me, fast!
Here are some of the ins and outs that I found out about raising your own chickens...
The chicken coop:You will need some initial investment for raising chickens. You will need raccoon-proof chicken coop. My husband built a shed (12x9) for the chickens. He put a cyclone wire dog run in front of the door so the chickens have their "yard" during the day. I let them out to my garden around 3pm and they go back on their own by dark. I've seen someone re-purposed a plastic toddler playhouse for a chicken coop.
Selecting the right breed: A website I found has very good information on chicken breed (http://www.ithaca.edu/staff/jhenderson/chooks/chooks.html). Check the reference carefully before deciding what you'd like to buy. Each breed has it's own unique characters. Go to a reputable feed store to purchase your chicks, or you may end up with more males than you have planned...not a good thing.
Roosters: Roosters are not a must in a flock, however they do keep things interesting. Our flock consists of 19 regular sized hens and 2 bantie roosters and a guinea hen. The banties are smaller chickens, about half the size of the hens. One of them is obviously a manager, he likes to keep the hens together and call them when there's food brought to the coop etc. etc... I like the bantie roosters, as they are not as rough on the hens as the big ones.
Input:Straws and chicken feeds, including oyster shells and chicken grits, kitchen and garden scraps
Out put: eggs (usually after 6 month) and mountains of fertilizer, not to mention the joy of watching your own chicken channel.
Egg production: Our 19 hens produce anywhere from 13-17 eggs per day. Plan your flock accordingly if you do not want so many eggs. Rhode Island Red (brown eggs) and White Leghorns (white eggs) are known for their egg laying abilities.
Culinary delights: Eggs make such a good cooking material. If you are concerned about the cholesterol, you can remove the yolks. But egg yolks contain lecithin, which is beneficial to reduce bad cholesterol from your body. Fresh scrambled eggs is the best! Since I have the abundance of eggs, I have the luxury of learning to make meringue cookies, lemon meringue pie, creme brulee, flan cake....and there are still more to explore!

Chickens are an integral part of gardening, not only do they produce fresh eggs for you, they make the circle of growing, eating and feeding the soil complete. It is such a life changing event that I commemorate the event as BC (Before Chickens) and AC (After Chickens).

Savoring the winter

I've got 3 giant winter squashes from the garden, each weighs approximately 25 lb. As the winter approaches, I brought them inside from the garden, kept them in a dry airy place. Now that most of the fresh veggies are gone, I am working on these giant squashes. For thanksgiving dinner this year I made a baked winter squash dish with maple syrup, sage and prosciutto. It was unusually good with both savory and sweet flavors, and a lot less calorie compared to my usual candied yam...
Here's how I made it: precook the squash in the oven (or in a microwave, you will need to cut it up)until it is just soft enough to cut into. Make squash balls using an ice cream scoop, and arrange them in a 12"x8" baking dish. Place a pan on medium heat, melt 2 table spoons of butter, add a pinch of salt, 1/2 cup of real maple syrup, 1/4 C. finely chopped prosciutto, a few finely chopped sage leaves. Pour it over the squash balls, and finish cooking in a 350F oven. (cooking time will depends on how much your squash was precooked). I am elevating this one to my Thanksgiving tradition status...