Author Archive | Mama Jillian

Hi from the Village Homestead!


Hey there!

It’s been a while.

How are you?

I’m here, still ruling the roost at the Village Homestead. I’ve been up to a bunch of things, and I want to fill you in.

For starters, I started an herbal skin care business. I love using herbs that I grow myself, and I was making all kinds of balms with them last year. So many people told me to go into business and I said “Yes! I’m doing it!”

So I did it, and it’s been really good. So good that I even got up the courage to apply to be a vendor at the farmers’ market, and I was accepted!

My company is called Jillian’s Apothecary, and I have a website and an Etsy shop. I’ll be at the Spa City Farmers’ Market on Sundays from 10-3, starting May 1. (Squeal and Yikes! I’m so excited!)

The very best way to keep in touch is by following me on Instagram or Facebook.

What else is new? My girls are 9 and 10 years old. We have 13 chickens. Five of them turned 4 years old recently, and the other eight 2.

I’ve got 2 beehives, and I think they both made it through the winter. One definitely did, not completely sure about the other one, but I’ll know for sure when I got out and visit them next week.

My old house is still a big, beautiful old house. She needs a lot of love, but we give it willingly.

Come and see me at the market, and if you’re not close by (or even if you are), visit me on Instagram and Facebook.

– Jillian


Early Signs of a Broody Hen


Broody hens are easy to spot once they are fully into their brooding period. They sit in the nest box all day and night, getting up a few times a day to eat and groom themselves before heading back to their post. When their time is up (3 weeks? 6 weeks? Or somewhere in between…), they rejoin the flock as if nothing happened.

I let my hens go broody even when there aren’t any eggs to hatch, but not everyone does. A lot of people “break” their broody hens by making the first few days uncomfortable. This discourages the broody behavior. There are good reasons for both ways of handling broodies.

Either way, the onset of the brooding period can be confusing because you don’t know if your hen is feeling sick, has an impacted egg, or what. If you want to catch the broody behavior before it goes full swing, or if you want to ease your mind about having a sick hen, it helps to know the early signs.

Early Signs of a Broody Hen

Returning to the nest box often throughout the day
Broody hens start by scoping out the nest box scene. If you have more than one nest box, they’ll try out a few to see which one they like best. They’ll sit there for a few hours and they won’t lay an egg.

*This behavior can be mistaken for a impacted egg. If a hen has an egg stuck between her uterus and cloaca, she will return to the nest box frequently and try to pass it. In this case, she will also have a distinct waddle when she walks.

Sleeping in the nest box at night
She likes to hang out in the box during the day, so why not stay there at night, too? She’s feeling the urge to stay in one place round the clock.

*Sometimes chickens sleep in the nest box at night, but this behavior is unusual. I have had sick hens who chose to sleep in the nest box once or twice. I’m guessing it’s because they want to feel more secure, or because they don’t feel well enough to fly up to the roost.

Sick hens who sleep in the nest box will have other signs too. Check for these to see if your hen is ill:

  • Droppings look unusual
  • Stance may be different than normal (tail pointed down or waddling when they walk)
  • Feathers may look dull
  • Hen may looked hunched, with her head pulled in
  • She closes her eyes during the day, looks listless

Grooming vigorously when they do come out of the nest box
Broody hens don’t spend the day dust-bathing, so when they do come out of the box, they groom their feathers with GUSTO! Their head moves quickly, and they tuck their beak into their feathers like they’re on a mission. Then they ruffle their feathers up and shake them out. It reminds me of a wet dog shaking off!


Comes out of the nest box to eat special treats, but returns to the box when the treat time is over
A fully broody hen won’t leave the nest box for anything. Nothing can get her up. Even if you show up with her favorite treat, she won’t budge. A hen that is just starting to go broody will still get up when you show her a plate of dinner scraps (or meal worms!). She doesn’t want to miss out on the fun.

She doesn’t ruffle her feathers when you touch her (yet)
A hen that has settled into her brooding period will ruffle her feathers when you pet her in the nest box. Early broody girls won’t do that.

Enjoy your broody hen!

If you have a hen who fits this description but is otherwise healthy, she may be going broody! If you let her go through it, it will last anywhere from 3-6 weeks.

Just when you think she’s never going to get up from the nest, she’ll be back out with the others.



How to decrystallize a jar of honey


Have you ever opened a jar of honey and instead of finding golden, flowing, liquid honey, you see a solid mass that looks like slightly wet sugar? If so, you know what crystallized honey looks like. I can’t tell you how many people tell me that their spouse/parent/child/roommate threw away a jar of perfectly good honey because they thought it had spoiled. The honey hasn’t “gone bad”, it’s just changed in state, from liquid to solid. Luckily, you can easily turn it back to the sweet, golden honey you know and love.

Why does honey crystallize?

Sugars: Glucose and Fructose

The primary reason honey crystallizes is related to the amount of fructose and glucose found in each batch. Each jar of honey contains different amounts of these two sugars, depending on the flowers the bees visit throughout the season. When the bees bring nectar into the hive, it has a high water content, and they work hard to fan it to evaporate the water. When the amount of water in the stored nectar gets down to 18%, it is considered to be honey, and is ready to be capped with wax and stored. In the hive, honey looks like the golden liquid you purchase from a beekeeper. It is essentially a thick syrup of sugar and water.

The glucose sugars do not naturally stay mixed with water for long periods, and at some point they will separate from the water and form crystals. This is why the crystallized honey looks a little bit like granulated table sugar. The water has been taken out, and the sugar crystals remain. This is also why crystallized honey sometimes looks like it has “separated” and you see a pool of water on top of the hard sugar crystals.

Fructose is more stable than glucose, and won’t separate from the water as quickly. Honey that is higher in fructose will eventually crystallize, but it could take years instead of months.


The colder it is, the more quickly honey will crystallize. The inside of the beehive is ideally kept at a temperature of 94 or 95 degrees year-round. Because of outside temperatures, that’s hard to achieve every day, but the bees try. If it’s freezing in the winter, the bees will cluster together to keep the temperature up. If it’s hot in the summer, they will fan the inside of the hive to lower the temperature. When the honey stored in the hive is held at a steady temperature by the bees, it tends to not change state and crystallize.

I do my best to imitate the bees and store honey at a warm, constant temperature, but that’s hard to do, especially during our northeast winters. It’s inevitable that some of your honey will crystallize. Since you can’t stop it, I’ll help you manage your honey supply.



How to Decrystallize a Glass Jar of Honey

Last year the goldenrod near my hive resulted in honey that was high in glucose, and my entire honey harvest eventually crystallized. I’m now experienced at the art of decrystallizing honey, and I’ll share my techniques with you.

Keep this in mind when you are “thawing out” a jar of honey: the healthy components of the honey can be destroyed by heat. Let your motto be “Low and Slow,” and take time to thaw the honey slowly over low heat.

Low and Slow

  1. Use a pot that is large enough to hold the jar of honey. It doesn’t have to be taller than the jar.
  2. Add enough water to the pot so that when the jar is in the pot, the water comes close to the top without overflowing. The water doesn’t have to come up to the top of the jar. A few inches on the sides of the jar is enough.
  3. Heat the water to 110 degrees. Remove the pot from the stove.
  4. Remove or loosen the lid from the honey jar and place the jar in the pot of warm water.
  5. Wait until the crystals are gone. This can take hours. If the water has cooled down and the honey isn’t completely thawed, wait some more. Don’t heat the water back up until you have let it sit for a good 12 hours. Magic happens when you are patient.

Here are things that will thaw out the honey quickly but will also destroy the healthy components:

  • Microwaving the jar of honey
  • Placing the honey jar in boiling water

Don’t do it! Use the method outlined above.

Crystallized Honey in a Plastic Bottle

So your cute plastic teddy bear bottle is crystallized – what should you do? You can’t put it in warm water on the stove because it may leach toxins into your honey. If you have a plastic bottle full of hard honey, I have a solution.

  1. Find a clean glass jar or measuring cup large enough to hold your plastic bottle when you place it in upside down. A Pyrex 2-cup is probably a good size, or a 16-ounce wide mouth glass canning jar.
  2. Place the glass jar in a pot or saucepan and add enough water so that the water level (with the glass in the pot) is about 2 inches high.
  3. Remove the glass and heat the water.
  4. When the water is warm, remove the pot from the stove and put the glass container back in. Place your honey jar without the lid upside down in the glass. The warmth of the water will cause the honey in the plastic bottle to thaw out, and it will run down into the glass container.

This will take a while! You may have to reheat the water to keep the process going.

There will be some honey that won’t come out of the plastic bottle. Don’t throw it out – add some mustard and vinegar to it and make a salad dressing. Don’t waste!

You might be wondering why I don’t advocate leaving the lid on the honey bottle. It would certainly be less messy if you just turned the bottle upside down with the lid on, and kept all the thawed honey in the same plastic bottle, right? I am concerned about the toxins that come out of the plastic when it is heated, and that’s why I let my honey run straight out of the plastic bottle, into the glass container. The less time it sits warmed against the plastic, the better it is for you.

Remember the motto!
“Low and Slow” will get the job done.


The late winter beehive


Every time I think about the beehive, no matter what the thought, I immediately follow it up with a quick fingers-crossed prayer. “Please bees, make it through this winter…” This has been such a long, cold winter.

Thank goodness for the candy board!

I took a peek at the hive last week to see how much food was left. They’re down to almost nothing – no honey is left. They’re dining on the candy board I made in the fall. Thank goodness for the candy board! Whew, that could have been close! It was cold and windy last week, so I cracked the cover, looked in quickly, and tossed in a few sugar patties on top of the candy board.

Today I went back for a closer look. It was warm enough to open the cover (48 degrees) but windy, so I was concerned about keeping it open too long. I didn’t pause to take photos, but worked quickly and purposefully. The candy board is about half-eaten. I added a 1″ shim to the hive and two more sugar patties.

When I first got to the hive there were so many dead bees outside on the snow. That’s what I was looking at when I took this photo. I was worried – were they all dying? Now that I’ve checked inside, I think those bees either died in the hive (maybe they were old) and their bodies were carried out by the other bees, or they were ready to die, so they headed outside to do so on this warm day.

One thing is certain – the clock is ticking. With no food left, I have to check the hive and add food as needed for the next month, at least.

Around here, hope comes
in the form of melting snow

On the bright side, take a look at the snow level around the hive – it’s melting! Here is the same hive a few weeks ago.



The Snow is Melting!


Well hello there! It’s been a tough winter at the Village Homestead. ‘H’ and I got sick right before Christmas, and lucky us, we stayed sick for nine weeks. Nine weeks! Looking back, I’m sure I had the flu, because half of my recovery involved significant exhaustion. It seemed to last for so long that I actually wondered if the exhausted, scattered me was the “new normal”. I am so happy to finally feel well again – this is not something I ever want to repeat!

The chickens are awesome

Aside from the flu, things are great. Homestead life is rolling along. The chickens are thrilled this week about the warmer weather (if you consider 40 degrees warm). They’ve been huddled in their coop for weeks. Even on sunny days when they want to get out and roam, they have trouble making it over the soft snow to reach their destination. Now that the snow along the pathways is melting, they are so happy to mosey along and peck at the few blades of grass.

Egg production is way up. We’re getting 6-8 eggs a day now from our thirteen chickens. The new chickens are laying beautiful eggs. I’m so pleased with how things are going in the hen house. Everyone is getting along and it is all so easy right now. One thing I am tackling is the issue of mites – a few chickens have them. I have been dusting all the chickens with DE (Diatomaceous Earth), and this week I’ll spray the affected girls with Poultry Protector.

Homeschooling lessons: read, summarize and write

‘A’ and ‘H’ are in a good homeschooling groove right now. I know I say this through every age and stage, but the grades they’re in now – 2nd and 4th grades, are really good. They’re old enough to study more complex topics and are able to work independently. Lately they’ve been delving into writing using “text-based evidence.” I give them an article to read and a short set of questions. They underline answers in the text using different colored crayons, then write a paragraph for the answer. It is really good practice in breaking down the answer; referring back to the point the author made; and not making assumptions. The writing practice is also really good. A well written answer can be so powerful.

Grace is undergoing radioiodine therapy

Grace was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism a few months ago. We started giving her methimazole with really poor results. It addressed the hyperthyroid issue, but it made her really sick. So I asked around and decided that radioiodine therapy was a good choice for her. It’s pricey, but so is the methimazole. There aren’t doctors who perform radioiodine therapy on cats around us, so we took her to Cornell University animal hospital this week for the treatment. I am happy to say that she had the injection today, and I will head back and pick her up on Friday. Apparently she’s not fond of overnight stays at the hospital, a fact that does not surprise me at all.


It feels so nice to be back. Health and energy are so easy to take for granted when we have them, aren’t they? Just being able to think straight and plan ahead is making me feel so powerful, and I love it. I can do this. I want to, and I can.





22-eggsHere’s a sure sign spring is on the way: egg production has stepped up here at the Village Homestead. Our 13 hens are slowly but surely coming back into lay. All of them took a break early this winter, and there were days when we collected no eggs at all. Now we’re getting about four a day, just enough so I can start selling them again.

Our hens are out on the grass whenever possible. Even on winter days, when snow is found most everywhere, they will often find a little patch of frozen grass in our footpath. During the summer they forage in the bushes and eat very little of the pellet feed I put out for them. In the winter they subsist on our table scraps and the store-bought feed. I have gone back and forth on the kind of feed I purchase for them, and have finally settled on a solution that makes the most sense for all of us.

Our hens are on a certified organic, non-GMO diet

I have tried conventional feed (meaning it is composed of genetically modified grains, and is not organic); locally grown and milled feed; non-GMO feed; and organic feed (which is also non-GMO by definition). Truth be told, I don’t see a difference in the eggs, either in quality or rate of production. However, I recently switched to an organic, non-GMO feed that works very well for my hens, and although it costs twice as much as the other feed, I think it’s worth it. I am now purchasing the organic layer feed from Agway. For starters, it’s sold right around the corner from my home, so it’s easy to purchase. It comes in pellet form, so the hens don’t waste much of it compared to the mash. I made the switch because I think the organic and non-GMO feed is important for the hens to ingest, as all of those nutrients (and chemicals that are found in conventional feed) show up in the eggs. Not only that, I am hoping the chickens will be healthier in the long term if they are on an organic, non-GMO diet.

The chicken feed isn’t a large part of their diet during the growing season, as they spend all day outdoors, eating grass, seeds and worms. We don’t apply chemical fertilizers or pesticides to our lawn or garden, so I am comfortable with the knowledge that their diet during the spring, summer and fall is well-balanced. It’s the winter that gets me worried. Their options for foraging are greatly reduced and they rely on me to provide healthy feed through the snowy months.

As a result of the new feed choice, I will be raising the price of eggs from $3/dozen to $4/dozen. It doesn’t even begin to cover my costs, but I’m not in the egg-selling business to make money. At this point, I’m not even in it to break even, but I do like to share the bounty with people I know. During the high point in the season I will be able to sell 3-4 dozen per week, and that will just about cover the feed cost. At this time of year, I am able to sell about 1 dozen per week.

I do think an organic diet is the better route for all of us, including the chickens.

Spring is on the way!




When a chicken passes away…

21-we-loved-you-TickerTicker died today. I have been putting so much effort into identifying a diagnosis and treating her accordingly. I would observe and examine her, then try something new, and observe and examine again. What was happening aside from the ascites? Was it internal laying? Impacted crop or gizzard? Perforated intestine? Coccidiosis? Cancer?

She had been doing well. Her swollen belly went down and I thought she was on the road to recovery. She was eating and talking. Ticker continued to spend her time in a crate in our laundry room and I wanted so much to bring her outdoors during the day last week, but it was so cold and I knew it would set her back. So she stayed inside. Finally the weather warmed up (if you consider 20 degrees warm), and I brought her out a few days ago. Chickens have a distinct social order, called the pecking order. The one who is at the top gets to peck everyone below them, and down it goes until there is one at the bottom who has no right to peck anyone. I have heard of flocks where the lowest hens on the pecking order are mercilessly attacked on a daily basis. My hens have never fought and don’t peck each other, except to keep each other in line. There is usually no violence or any physical disputes in the henhouse.

Ticker has always been near the top of the pecking order. When I brought her out this week, she knew her place had changed. Fuzzybottom, who has always been under Ticker, went after her with gusto. It got scary and I broke it up a few times. Ticker cut Fuzzy’s skin and it started to bleed, which worried me because chickens love to peck at blood. Thankfully Fuzzy’s wound cleared up quickly. The rest of the chickens who were either above Ticker or on par with her in the pecking order came over to scold her for being away. Each took their turn with her, some more physical than others. Blue and Fae, our nicest hens, gave her gentle pecks on the head as if to say, “Shame on you for leaving us for so long.”

Ticker moved to a corner and hunched up, looking uncomfortable. I brought her back inside. After that she stopped eating and drinking. She had been doing so well in that department until her outing. I think she realized she would never be able to go outside again and be a healthy, happy hen. She made a conscious choice to end her life.

I knew it was time for her to go, and I appreciated how clearly she communicated it. I didn’t have the heart to watch her waste away for days, and I didn’t have the heart to euthanize her myself (I still need to learn how to do it). I made an appointment at the county animal shelter to have her put to sleep. We are so fortunate that the good people at the animal shelter were able to do the deed quickly and for not a lot of money.

She stopped eating on Sunday night and I brought her to be euthanized this morning. She was ready. She was such a good chicken, one of our favorites. The girls and I have cried while we said our many goodbyes to her this week. We loved her crooked comb, her chattiness, per inquisitive attitude, and her ability to connect with us.

It’s sad when to lose a pet.



My Fountain of Youth


Well folks, I’m still drinking calendula tea every day, and since it’s no fun to play with just one herb at a time, I am still adding ginger to it, and sometimes motherwort tincture. This week I went and found some tulsi tea to add to the mix. The brand of tulsi that is most readily available at the stores I frequent is Organic India. Also called Holy Basil, tulsi is a mild tasting tea that is so good for you, with many medical uses. It’s an adaptogen, meaning it supports us during times of stress (which is every day in my life as a mom, and maybe quite often for you too). Adaptogens work on a molecular level to protect us from the negative effects of stress. They modulate the body’s response to stress and support the adrenal system, which is important for all of us, especially for those of us who are mothering every day. Mothers, even those who make a point of getting rest, eating well and moving around every day, are often chronically exhausted. Our adrenal glands are working overtime for months on end (and those months quickly turn into years). Experts say the best way to support the adrenal system is to maintain a lifestyle that includes time to sleep deeply, time to relax and meditate, and of course ingest foods and herbs that help regulate adrenal function.

Sounds heavenly, doesn’t it? It isn’t always possible to live that way. Ask any mother of an infant or toddler when she last slept deeply. I know I didn’t sleep well for years. Just this past year I started sleeping again, as my children are growing and now sleep through the night with some consistency. That means I can sleep too. I wish I had known about the role of adaptogens in supporting the adrenal glands when my children were little. I was so tired! I would have loved to drink a soothing tea that gave me comfort and a sense of calm every day during that time.

Like I said in my last post, since I have been drinking calendula and ginger, I have felt younger. I’m still not sure how to describe it except to say that I feel like I did ten years ago. It has something to do with my circulation or my hormones, or something that is happening under my skin. Maybe it’s in my mind. I wouldn’t say I’m radiating good health right now, because I’m still sick – I don’t feel vibrant and full of energy. I wouldn’t say my skin is bright and clear, or that my strength has increased. I just feel younger somehow.

Calendula and ginger aren’t classified as adaptogens, but they do support our body systems and can be taken for general good health. I discovered that I respond the combination of these two herbs very well, so I am seeing where they take me. I am still learning about the power of herbs on our health, so undoubtedly components of these plants I don’t know about yet are affecting me in this way.

I’m not keeping this secret to myself – I’ve got the girls drinking the tea, too. Certainly their growing bodies need support and care, right?







A new plan for Ticker the chicken

14-tickerPoor Ticker! She is still so sick and I just don’t know how to help her. I am trying so many things, and as each one proves fruitless I move on to the next. She’s been living in a crate next to the washing machine for two weeks now. If the weather were warmer during the day, I would put her out in the coop with the other chickens, but it’s too cold out there for a sick hen. To address the ascites, she was on an antibiotic prescribed by the vet. Her swollen belly did clear up, but today is filling back up again, I’m afraid. Next on the list of ailments is her impacted crop or impacted gizzard. Her crop still has the ping pong ball sized mass in it. It’s just not going away, not with olive oil or pineapple juice or even plain water. She’s perky and interested in eating though, so I’m not sure her crop is impacted. The x-ray had shown a gizzard full of something, so I was thinking her gizzard was impacted, and maybe it is. Or maybe it is full of grit and she needs to eat food that will cause the grit to move around and wear down.

Ticker wants to eat, so I offer her many different options. Yesterday she turned her nose up at regular chicken crumbles, at canned pumpkin, at chicken-flavored baby food, but devoured a cabbage. My inclination has been to treat an impacted crop by feeding her soft foods, but she’s more interested in hard-to-digest foods, so I’m going with the idea that her gizzard has too much grit in it. I gave her a bowl of sunflower seeds (in the shell, straight from my bird food bin outside). They are really hard to digest! Ticker loves them and has been picking at them all day.

Another thought crossed my mind – that she might have coccidiosis. I’ve never really dealt with it before, so I wonder if I’m not seeing the signs. It can cause scarring of the intestinal lining over time, which would result in some of the digestive issues she’s having now. Maybe she’s had it for a while? Is that even possible? I don’t know, but I went ahead and started a Corid treatment on her just in case.

Time will tell what happens to Ticker. I wish I could figure out what was going on with her little body.

Ticker is the only one who is still sick around here, thank goodness! ‘H’ and I are slowly feeling better. We’re still tired and our cough lingers on, but overall we are doing much better. I’ve ingested more herbs in the past three weeks than I have in a long time! Something feels different now that I’m getting well… I think it’s because of all the herbal tea I drank. I feel younger. Not more energetic or clearer or stronger, but younger. Isn’t that interesting? What does “younger” even feel like? I’m still exhausted from being sick, and I’m not breathing clearly yet, so it’s not that I feel “healthy.” I think it might have to do with my joints, that they move more easily, or maybe the way my blood is flowing from my heart to the rest of my body. I want to keep drinking the tea that makes me feel this way, if only I knew which herb it is! Most likely it is a combination of herbs. The ginger I steeped in my tea made me feel warm and happy, so perhaps ginger has a positive effect on my body. I drank a lot of calendula and thyme, and experimented with reishi mushroom tea for the first time, adding it to our soup bowls at dinnertime.


Calendula is fast becoming one of my favorite herbs. I love the fact that it grows happily in my garden – most of my favorite herbs are ones I grow myself. I have been amazed at the power of calendula to heal the skin, both as an infusion and in a salve. I dried so much of it over the summer and now I have jars of dried flowers in my tea cabinet. It has a pleasant, very mild taste, and is gentle like chamomile. It stimulates circulation, working to clear toxins from the body. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that my “fountain of youth” feeling is coming from the little calendula flowers I harvested over the summer. I’ll do a test for myself – for the next week I’ll drink two cups of calendula tea a day, and see how I feel. I’ll let you know how it goes.






Sick Days


This is what the days look like here – children on the floor, reading and coloring, breaking only to see if their relatives have sent an email or to check on Ticker. I kind of hover around, listening to the poetry ‘H’ likes to recite, reading poetry for a schoolwork dictée, and sometimes I just sit and watch the sunlight coming through the window.

‘H’ is on Day 22 of her cold, and I am following close behind on Day 20. I can’t get over how exhausted I am with this sickness. For someone like me who is always go-go-go it is really hard to be slowed down by my own energy level. Reassuring myself that I will get better, and eating nourishing foods helps a little bit. I was never blessed with patience, so it’s hard for me to wait.

To good health!


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