Sprouts for Winter Chicken Feed

Summer is Over

It is not technically winter yet but it sure feels like it. The skies are gray, it is cold and damp, and the wood stove is feeling really good. The chickens are not laying as well as they were this summer. We are only getting 12-15 eggs per day out of 21 hens. This is better than they were doing while I was away at my mothers’ for 2 weeks though. They missed me so much they dropped to just 7-8 eggs per day.

New Hens to Lay in Spring

Come March, the new batch of hens will start laying and we will be swamped with eggs. There are 25 Golden Comet, about 12 Buff Orpingtons, and 10 Aracaunas growing fast out in the barn under Mama Lightbulbs. I need to sell off about 15 of them soon because 4 dozen eggs a day will be way too many to deal with. They won’t even fit in the fridge.

Young Rooster

To help grow the babies good and healthy, I have started sprouting my own organic wheat and barley to feed them greens during these short days. We have an outside run with grass in it but the world is a scary place when you are a little bitty. A friend helped me get set up to grow the sprouts using pairs of nested plastic tubs, with the upper tub having drilled drainage holes.

2 Week Old Sprouts and New Ones Soaking

I pour a cup and a half of grain in the upper tub and pour water over it to cover and let it soak overnight. Each morning, I drain off the old water, pour a little fresh water over the top, letting it drain into the lower tub, allowing some to stay in the bottom portion.

Sprout Trays in Basement

I have a plant shelf set up in the basement by the sliding glass doors (facing east) and they seem to get plenty of light. It is not a warm room but the sprouts are starting to show within 2 days and can be started and fed to the chickens in staggered batches during the following 2 weeks, with progressively more green showing on top each day.

3 Day Barley Sprouts

I carry the tubs out to the barn and lift the matted sprouts out and into the chickens feed pans.

First Feed Trays

At first, the baby chickens were too CHICKEN to go near the scary sprouts but once they saw the older (very scary) hens gobble it up, they got brave enough to eat the sprouts too. Chickens can be so ridiculous when they first encounter something new. Once one gets it though, it is all over. They love their greens now.

Roosters to Eat

The 25 Barred Rock and 12 Buff roosters will be ready to butcher in about 3 weeks. I aim for them  to be 12-16 weeks old, taking the biggest first, and doing about 6 at a time. We will be eating and freezing a lot of chicken. I do not pluck feathers but skin them instead. It is easier and faster. I also bone most of the pieces and boil them down into broth for soup.

I like to marinate chicken pieces in a mixture of Balsamic vinegar, Soy sauce, Worstershire sauce, and Jerk Seasoning for a few hours and then slow cook it in the oven at 325 degrees for 1 ½ -2 hours in a covered dish. So far our chicken has been tender and juicy fixed this way. Sometimes I mix the marinade in with the meat in a vacuum freezer bag and freeze it to cook later.

You might think it is hard to grow and then eat your own chicken, but I figure it is only fair. If I am going to eat meat, I should be able to raise it and kill it myself. I know they each have a good life in the meantime.

-Wendy , writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters

Building a Flagstone Patio

A gardening client asked me to build her a flagstone patio this July to help prevent her three Cairn Terriers and a Chihuahua from carrying mud into the house. Sixteen little paws were doing a number on their lawn and the grass refused to survive.

I had just finished laying a flagstone walkway for another woman and seemed to be on a rock and roll. I taught my grandson how to lay stone  on the last job and this time I was going to teach the handyman.

The first step was to lay out and measure the site so we could order materials. We needed one pallet of flagstone to cover 220 square feet, 3 tons of fine drainage gravel 4 inches deep, a 40 foot x 6 foot roll of heavy weed barrier cloth, 10 forty# bags of pea gravel to fill the joints, and one gallon of Gravel Lok to seal the gravel in place.

I suggested using the polymer to seal the joints so no loose pebbles would hurt bare feet or paws and no weeds will grow in the cracks.

Gravel Lok Joint Details

We went looking for the right pallet of rock at landscape nurseries and a brick and rock layers yard. I would have preferred 1 1/2 – 2 inch thick slabs but we ended up with 1+ inch pieces. The thicker pieces are stronger and handle weight better with less potential for cracking. With a good base they should be fine, especially since there  be no equipment driving over them.

Leveling the site using flat shovels and then tapering the grade away from the house was time consuming. We started with a level taped to a 2×4 and progressed to a line level on crisscrossing strings. This step is important to keep rainwater from flooding the basement.

Once we were satisfied with the grade we shoveled in 3 inches of the fine gravel. This provides drainage as well as a solid base for the flat rocks. We rented a gasoline powered tamper to settle it all in and prevent air pockets. The layer of landscape fabric was laid on top and held down with the last inch of gravel. A thunderstorm rolled in and the whole area got covered with 6 ml plastic, held down with rocks along the edges.

The slabs of rock had to be laid on edge in the yard so the size and shape of each one was visible. Look at the space, look at the rocks, look at the space, measure, pick the most suitable. One edge was straight, up against a raised concrete pad, so the straightest pieces went there. There were a good many big pieces with a nice curved edge and they went for the outside edges. Then we filled the middle, chipping off some difficult angles as needed. It is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle, except it takes two people to move each rock.

We leveled each rock (slightly down hill), dropping them on their cushion of fine gravel, picking them up to check for air pockets, resetting them…Adjusted each to lay flush with it’s neighbor, reset it…Stomped on them and tried to rock them. Reset them…It is tedious work down on your knees but satisfying when you finally get it right.

Once all the rocks were laid in, I vacuumed out the loose gravel between the stones so that the pea gravel would fill the entire gap between each one. Then I washed the pea gravel a bag at a time by swishing it around with water in the wheelbarrow and scooping it up with a plastic sieve and spreading it out on landscape fabric to drain and dry. It was hot in the afternoons so it dried fast.

Draining the Pea Gravel

The next step was to mix in the liquid GravelLok with the pea gravel in a plastic mortar pan and start troweling it in the joints. After the first batch I decided to lay painters tape on all the edges to keep the polymer from dripping on the rocks and then having to quickly wipe it off with Acetone. It was much cleaner and faster with the tape.

Painters Tape on Rock Edges

The gravel mixture was pressed in to each joint and it solidified quickly. You can sweep or blow off the patio and hose it off without worrying about dislodging the joint material, which is quite nice.

Finished Patio

I think the project turned out well and the dogs love it too.

-Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters




Nelson County Virginia-Spy Rock Hike

While visiting friends recently in Nelson County Virginia, I drove up Rt 56 towards Montebello at night. It is a paved road, full of curves, and once past Tyro, it climbs all the way to the top of the mountain,  crosses the Blue Ridge Parkway and winds back down the west side into Raphine. As I started the climb fog pressed in around me and the headlights did little to penetrate the soup. I took it slow and was glad I was one of the few on the road.

Montebello sits below the ridge and the fog stopped right there. It was clear the rest of the way up. I spent the evening visiting, sipping wine,  and soaking in my friends hotub followed by a nice relaxing sleep.

In the morning I had time for a hike before my next visit and was steered towards the nearby Spy Rock Trail. You get to this by driving into Montebello (a small store and a few houses) and turning onto the Fish Hatchery road. Follow the signs past the hatchery for the designated parking area to access the Appalachian Trail.

Spy Rock Trailhead Map

It is a short but fairly steep one mile hike through privately owned woods on a gated forest road to the AT. You will notice a few spiffy looking cabins near the beginning of the trail and then it is just quiet woods.

When you reach the signpost at the trail intersection on the ridge  a sign points you 1/2 mile  North for Spy Rock. The ridge is much easier to walk on and one this way up takes about 45 minutes.

It was beginning to look like a storm was blowing in from the southwest and I was hoping to not get drenched. Three sets of people passed by heading down. It was such a beautifully comfortable Fall day.

When I got to the rock outcropping there was a woman standing there looking perplexed. She asked me if I knew the way to the top of the rock and was hoping to find her husband up there. It was not difficult  to find the trail off to the left around the base and she followed me up. She was worried it was going to get dark before they managed to get back to their car, They had walked in from the top of Crabtree Falls, parking in the Meadows up top and it had taken them more than 2 hours. I suggested they walk back on my shorter route and offered to give them a ride back to their car.

Looking West From Spy Rock

The view was spectacular and the slanting light through the storm clouds intensified the colors.                                                                                There was still no sign of the husband so I gave a good holler, which traveled out over the mountains ahead of me.

We walked around the bald granite rock but did not linger long with the storm clouds looking so ominous.

North View From Spy Rock

Back down at the rocks base we saw her husband who had done a clockwise loop emerge from the Rhododendrons. He was glad to see us and was relieved to find there was a way to get back before dark or the storm.East of Spy Rock

We only got sprinkled on a little as we quickly hiked down the forest road and my little Honda Fit negotiated the 2 small creek crossings on the Crabtree Meadow Road with no problems. Sometimes that road is impassable without 4-wheel drive and better clearance, so I was glad it was in such good shape.

It was the tail end of a sunny evening down on the East side of the mountain and I continued  towards Arrington and Freshwater Cove for my next visits of this trip. Nelson County was home to me for 12 years and it still holds me tight.

Wendy lee, writing at Edgewisewoods, Gardens and Critters


Fall Foliage in West Virginia-October 14, 2017

Usually the leaves in Pendleton County WV reach peak fall color around October 14-21, but  the whole month of September into October was so dry this year that many leaves have dried up and fallen before obtaining their normal vibrant colors. There are still pockets of color to be found though, especially in the valleys, so you  still catch some color, if you don’t wait too long.

On October 14th, at Spruce Knob Lake, the usual magnificent reflections of color on the water were not to be had, but with the sky such a beautiful, clear blue and the temperature at 70 plus degrees,  there were no complaints from us.

Clear Blue October Sky

We have never seen so many folks fishing at the lake as we did this past Saturday, as we walked the easy, level trail around the lake, taking photos and enjoying the balmy weather.

Spruce Knob Lake from South Shore






I found that the lack of leaf colors caused me to look more closely at everything else as we walked.

Milkweed at East End of Spruce Knob Lake

Interesting textures and the odors of warm fall earth, still water and decaying plants  became more important.


After leaving the lake we drove up the partly gravel road to Spruce Knob, the highest point in the state. We were a little sad to see that most of the trees towards the west  had already lost their leaves. The wind was not bad and it was a gorgeous view of the West Virginia hills, regardless.

Looking West from Spruce Knob

We followed a trail down  from the lookout tower that goes through some loose rocks onto a small  level meadow. The views to the east and South were excellent from there.

Eastern View from Spruce Knob

A few huge boulders you can climb on walked the meadow.

Stone Age Monster Rock

I thought this one looked like a lumbering short legged creature from the stone age. I did climb up and sit on top pretending  it was a horse sort of thing.

There were Mountain Ash on top of the mountain, with brilliant scarlet berries, dark green Spruce trees leaning out of the constant western wind, and the wonderfully textured sandstone aggregate rocks to admire.

Mountain Ash Berries

You can never go wrong with a trip up to Spruce Knob and the drive back down on the east side is paved. Route 33 East to Franklin has the Germany Valley overlook as another highlight.

Germany Valley Overlook on Rt 33

This maple was one of the few colorful trees we saw up close and it looks great with the sumac and Germany Valley beyond.

The Potomac Valley and other lower elevations should be pretty in the next week, especially since we finally got a rain last week. Even after the leaves fall, Spruce Knob, in Pendleton County, West Virginia is a magical place to visit. (Click on the Link for photos from 2016)

-Wendy lee, writing at edgewisewoods.com





Getting a word in edgewise through storytelling and pictures