Archive | Homesteading

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.



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.






Cold days for our homestead

8-alice-and-eliza-janeLast night was our coldest night so far this season, with temperatures dropping below zero F. Thank goodness for the wood stove, which keeps us warm and happy. This house was so cold without it, and I sometimes wonder how people lived here for 200 years and never thought to put one in. Ticker has been indoors the past few days, even during the day, because it is just so cold outside. Outdoor play for all of us isn’t an option right now. Instead we happily pass our time by the fire.

When it gets cold like this, some chicken keepers put a heat light in the coop to warm the chickens. I don’t do it because the chickens are capable of surviving temperatures this low, and also, I have learned the hard way that having the light on all night makes the chickens wacky the next morning! I did turn the light on once last year and it was a big mistake – all the chickens were fighting when I checked on them in the morning. After that experience, I don’t leave a light on. I do make sure that all hens are on the roost at night, snuggled together for warmth. I secure the winter plastic wrap on the lower half of the run that keeps the harsh breezes out, and ensure the heater water bowl is plugged in and working. On days like today, when the air temperature is cold and the wind chill makes it even colder, the chickens huddle together in the protected run. They must get bored. I give them treats, but there’s not a lot I can do to help them with entertainment.

Ticker’s crop is still full, the size of the golf ball. She’s not eating much, and it amazes me that her comb is still so red and perky, and quite frankly, I’m amazed she’s still alive. Yesterday I fed her 3 ml of olive oil to get her crop and gizzard contents lubricated and moving along. Today I fed her another 3 ml of olive oil. I’m waiting to see what happens. ‘A’ and ‘H’ don’t like seeing her bored in her crate, so they carry her around and talk to her. She’s a very social chicken.

It looks like the freezing spell will let up. Our windows have been accumulating ice layers on the inside… I think it is from the heat of the wood stove. We can’t even see out the front door anymore. Today: more research work for the girls, more herbal class for me, and more of hugging Ticker.




More Reasons I Love Homeschooling

My girls are halfway through 2nd and 4th grade. We’ve been homeschooling the whole time. As each month passes, I love it even more. Sure there are times when I want to give up out of exasperation, days when the girls and I have spent too much time together and need space, and moments of OMG What am I doing? But overall, it has proven to be an awesome lifestyle. Take today, for instance.

It’s really cold outside and we have no plans to go anywhere (except the post office to mail our holiday thank you cards, but that can wait!). ‘H’ and I are still sick and feeling exhausted, so I’m more hands-off with teaching than I normally would be, and she is running out of steam pretty quickly.

School today looks like this:

  • Watch the news.
  • Tend to the chickens. It’s cold today! They need food, water and shelter, as usual, and today we put down some cracked corn on the floor of the coop so they would move around and scratch for it. Maybe they’ll warm up when their blood gets moving.
  • ‘A’ spent time writing the code for her own game on, and then published it. You can play it here.
  • We examined Ticker and try to figure out how best to treat her. Her crop is full, even though she hasn’t been eating much, so we gave her 3 ml of olive oil to try to loosen it up and move things along.
  • The girls work to keep the house clean everyday, which is something I love love LOVE about homeschooling. They unloaded the clean dishwasher and filled it back up with breakfast and lunch dishes. And they washed some by hand. I love the home responsibility aspect of homeschooling.
  • Watch some of the Eyes on the Prize videos. Today we’re watching the segment titled, Mississippi: Is This America? (1963-1964). Voting rights are the main topic. ‘A’ and ‘H’ are young, and have a lot of questions as we watch the video. I answer as much as I can as encourage them to watch even if they don’t completely understand, because the images are so powerful.
  • Work on a new research project. The girls could choose any topic in New York State history and they both chose a war time. I find that so interesting, especially since we talk a lot about other periods of history. ‘A’ is working on the French and Indian War, and ‘H’ is researching the War of 1812. Work has just begun, so they will narrow their topic in the next few weeks.
  • Lounge by the fire and read (or look bored, if you’re still sick).


Homeschooling isn’t for everyone, but it works well for our family. Even when I am feeling less energetic, the girls are still learning and enjoying the flow of the day.




Always Learning About Health

Ever feel when something bad happens that you are about to learn a big lesson? I do, often. I’m here on this planet to learn and grow, and everything is a learning experience for me. These past two weeks have been full of opportunities to expand my understanding of our health. I’ve thought more about human and chicken health in recent days than I have in a long time!

First, the chickens (they always come first, don’t they). I was so pleased heading into winter that Ticker had made a full comeback after being sick all summer. And I was also happy that Ruby, who had been sick too, recovered on her own. Both hens seemed to be doing just fine. And then out of the blue, just before Christmas, Ruby got sick. Her tail pointed down for a day or so, and then her health went south pretty quickly. We gave her a bath and discovered that she was covered in northern fowl mites. I quarantined her in a crate on the porch and treated for mites. I wanted to check for an egg that might have been stuck in the pipeline after the mite situation calmed down (they were crawling up our arms during her bath, they were that bad). Unfortunately, Ruby didn’t make it through the night.

I was interested in finding out why she died. I wanted to do a necropsy but had no idea where to start. After an examination I realized that her abdomen was swollen and she most likely was laying eggs internally and had developed ascites. She hadn’t laid an egg in a while, and she was just coming out of that dormant time. Somehow her system did not return to its normal function.

We buried Ruby on Christmas Eve. Then a strange thing happened – a few days later, Ticker got sick. Similar symptoms, minus the mites (I checked all the chickens for mites after discovering them on Ruby, and found them on Aries only. She got dusted with DE and sprayed with Poultry Protector for two days, and the mites went away). Ticker had a swollen belly and was hunched and listless. This got me thinking: Did they both have ascites this summer and somehow made a recovery? Or, did they both have something this summer that would predispose them to ascites?

Ticker looked pretty bad so I started calling around to see who could do a necropsy and what I would need to do to prepare for it. I needed to know what was killing my chickens. While I was on the phone with one veterinary office it occurred to me that I could have Ticker seen before she dies… and perhaps save her life. Off we went to the vet, and returned home with a diagnosis of ascites and a bottle of antibiotics that may or may not help.

Ticker is still alive. I can’t tell if she’s getting any better, but she’s not getting worse. Her belly is still swollen. She gets around okay, roaming the yard during the day when the snowpack is low. She seems happy when she’s hanging out with the other chickens. So far, so good. So, how does this fit in with my lessons learned about health?

My definition of health has changed

The way I define health has changed. For humans, and for the chickens. When we first started down this path a few years ago, I wanted to keep chickens for eggs. When the chickens reached 3 years of age, we would turn them into stewing hens. It was a simple plan, one that other chicken-keepers in the area put into practice. At this point, we have six out of the original ten hens. A few of them have become pets (Ticker included). I’m not sure the rest will be processed this spring. I have come to see that the chickens provide more benefit for us than just eggs. They clean up the yard, eating the fallen birdseed under the feeders; and their manure feeds our garden and compost pile. They are an asset to our homestead, and I would like to see them live a healthy life for their natural lifespan.

As soon as my perspective shifted to the long term, my view of good health changed too. The chickens are fed a complete pellet feed along with our kitchen scraps, and they free range and forage, but I can’t help thinking that something is missing. If Ruby and Ticker had a supplement during the time they weren’t laying, would it have prevented the ascites? If Tocker had a supplement, would it have prevented her death after her long brooding period and heavy molt?

I do leave out oyster shell and grit for the chickens, and they eat it when they need extra calcium and minerals. There is still something missing, and I’m going to find out what it is. I know that “old timers” feed back crushed eggshells for additional calcium, and also feed hard cooked eggs for protein. Some people add apple cider vinegar to the water. Some add herbs to the feed. This year I am looking forward to learning more about long term chicken health and how it is tied to the food and supplements they eat.


Holistic living means I’m constantly learning


Recently I’ve changed my view of human health, too. I’ve been on this holistic journey ever since my children were born. Before kids, Jeff and I knew about the importance of eating from certain food groups – back then it was all about low-fat and low-carb. Our health journey ended when we looked in the mirror and liked what we saw. It wasn’t until ‘A’ was diagnosed with food allergies and I cut eggs out of my diet that I realized how much of a brain fog I got from eating grocery store (factory farmed) eggs. It wasn’t until I started eating local, organically-grown produce that I realized how much my mental health improved by establishing a relationship with my farmers. There are so many aspects to good health. I make an effort to live in accordance with my values, and that has proven to be one of the healthiest things I have done. This summer I signed up for an online course on herbal medicine through the Herbal Academy of New England and I have been making my way through the course, learning so much about health and the power of herbs. I have shifted my perspective even more in the past few weeks, and I am seeing first hand the power of herbal care.

It all started because ‘H’ and I got sick (and still are sick). We caught an upper respiratory virus. Luckily, it didn’t touch ‘A’ and Jeff. ‘H’ and I are going on Week 3 of this virus. I am exhausted. Note that I’ve been tending to Ticker the Chicken all this time, too. And burying Ruby. Did I mention that our cat Grace has been sick? She has.

Two weeks is a good amount of time to experiment with different remedies. We started out drinking chamomile tea augmented with a few homemade tinctures. When I took lemon thyme, lungwort and rosemary in my tea, I could feel my sinuses and lungs opening up. If I added red clover and motherwort to the tea, I got sleepy. The herbs were a good start, a way to comfort us when we were in pain. I added to my regimen sips of the Four Thieves vinegar I had made over the summer. That got my blood moving. Conventional therapy has a place too, so after a week of sickness, ‘H’ and I went to the doctor. ‘H’ was prescribed antibiotics to treat her rattly lung, and I declined in favor of rest and supportive care. Guess what happened to ‘H’ when she took the antibiotic? Yup, she’s allergic to it. She went off it, and I decided to go on one to treat my never-ending sinus infection. It’s working to treat the stuffy nose, but the coughing…

The coughing has been ridiculous. We both just want to feel better. Good energy, easy breathing, no body aches… that’s not too much to ask, is it? The herbal teas open up our lungs while we are drinking them, but we won’t see real relief until the virus goes away. Today is a big day – I can feel I am turning the corner on this virus. To help it out the door, I made a ginger tea using ginger grown by one of my local farmers. Wow, that cleared me up! On the stove now I have dandelion root steeping (harvested from my garden this fall) and a reishi mushroom tea simmering. I’m choosing these herbs now because I do believe we are coming to the end of our sickness, and the restorative and cleansing benefits of ginger, dandelion and reishi are just what we need.

I have been interested in herbal care for years. I’ve made teas and salves using herbs from my garden and I have seen first-hand how well they work. Through my coursework with the Herbal Academy of New England I have learned more about the specific properties of herbs and how they can affect the body. We all react differently to herbal medicine, the same way we react differently to pharmaceuticals. You can tell when you take a pill if it affects you or not, and the same is true of herbs. When I drink a dandelion decoction (it’s like a tea) I think more clearly. When I drink ginger tea I feel warm and satisfied. Experimenting is fun to do, and learning about the reasons why we react to herbs in a certain way is even more fun.

This holistic health journey will always be unfolding for me, which is good, because it’s exciting to challenge myself and see new ways of living. I have treated sickness with herbal care in the past, but this time around I experimented more than usual. As I am learning more about the body, my confidence is increasing. I am enrolled in the Online Intermediate Herbal Course, and there is an Online Introductory Herbal Course as well.

Opening up to this new understanding means I am not only asking myself “Is this healthy?” when I eat something, I am also asking, “How will this food nourish and protect me?” There is a big difference between eating to get in the right amount of vitamins and minerals every day, versus eating for warmth, clarity and peace. Certain foods and herbs can augment our well-being and spirit, and that impacts our physical health.

Wishing you peace and health!



Chicken Updates


I realize it’s time for a chicken update. We currently have 15 chickens, all laying hens. The ones we hatched this year are varied in breed and coloring. They are beautiful! They aren’t work horses like our older chickens though, and egg production has been seriously lacking ever since the equinox in September. Many chickens need at least 12 hours of sunlight every day to lay eggs, and apparently our newer breeds fall into that category! We were so lucky the last two winters because our production breeds kept laying all winter long. That’s not the case this year. No, I don’t use a light in the coop. I believe in letting nature decide how to keep the hens happy and healthy.

Our older girls (there are seven of them) have all ceased laying this month. One by one they molted and stopped laying. Some are recovering from their molt but haven’t started the egg cycle again. The new girls (there are eight) are barely laying. We get about two eggs a day from our fifteen chickens.

We’ve had two sicknesses and one death this fall. First, the loss – Tocker was one of our New Hampshire Reds from the first batch we hatched. She was Ticker’s sister and was a nice, dependable hen. This fall she went broody, and since I don’t break my girls when they go broody, I let her sit. She sat on her imaginary eggs for a long time – two months – before she finally got up and went back to the business of being a chicken. All that sitting must have drained her resources, because she launched into a hard molt. I have never seen a molt like the one Tocker went through. ALL of her feathers fell off. All of them. The poor thing was so cold, and in so much pain as her feathers started to grow back. If she sat down, her feather shafts would bleed and hurt, so for days she didn’t sit down. I kept a heat lamp running and she stood under it at night. One night she stayed in a part of the coop that was colder, with no lamp. I couldn’t pick her up to move her because she was in so much pain when she was touched. I figured she knew what she was doing. The next morning we found her dead in the coop. Why? I wish I knew. Was she too cold? Too depleted of minerals and protein? Too tired from standing up for days on end?

Rest in peace, Tocker.


Our two sicknesses resulted in full recoveries, thank goodness. Ticker was in very bad shape this summer, and I had mentioned her issues in this post. After she recovered from sour crop, things took a turn for the worse. By the end of the summer she was listless and her feathers looked awful. She would kind of stand still and hunch over all day, eyes shut the whole time. I figured out after I wrote that post that she didn’t have scaly leg mites, so I ended up with two big tubs of vaseline that I’ll probably never open. She did have something wrong with her crop and digestive system though. It was either worms or mechanical issues with her crop. I dewormed her and she improved slightly, but still did not recover fully. Then, on the advice of my neighbor, I fed her a handful of grit. She gobbled it up. Within days she was a whole new chicken. She had more energy and she went through a soft molt, losing all the old feathers and regrowing new, shiny ones. Since the chickens free range on our gravel driveway, I hadn’t considered lack of grit as a primary issue, but it turns out that it was. From that point on I have offered grit to all the chickens on a regular basis.

The second sickness involved Ruby, also one of our original hens. Ruby had some listlessness similar to Ticker’s, but different. She recovered on her own and I’ll never know what ailed her.


At this point all the hens are doing well, thank goodness! Fuzzybottom, one of our best layers, is finally molting. She hasn’t molted at all in her 3 years, if I remember correctly. After watching Tocker molt (and then die), I’m concerned that Fuzzy will lose too many feathers so I’m keeping an eye on her. Aside from that, the girls are good! If they could change one thing, it would be the weather – the snow is a big drag for the chickens, as they prefer the lush green grassy pasture of the summer. And really, who doesn’t?

Around here we are giving thanks for good health!



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