Migrating Purple Martins Pass through Nashville

Here in Nashville, Mother Nature has given us a brief diversion from COVID, #SaferAtHome, Zoom meetings, FaceTiming, home-schooling, cooking, cleaning, weeding, and searching for a good movie on Netflix.

She has given us reason to “ooh” and “aah,” followed by a peaceful, easy feelin’.

She has done it all by sending us waves and swirls of Purple Martins coming in to roost after a day spent foraging for insects along the Cumberland River. The birds come to fatten up for their 4000-mile flight to Brazil and other areas of the Amazon Rainforest. I’d call this swarming a murmuration, but I’m not sure if that term is reserved for starlings only.

My niece, Elizabeth, was with my husband and me and captured the sky dance of the Purple Martins in this video shot at 7:00. Like I said, lots of “oohs” and “aahs” and even a “Holy S#$%” in there.

 

I learned about the Purple Martins roosting in Nashville yesterday in a New York Times column written by my friend, Margaret Renkl. Her article is definitely worth reading, as are all of her weekly Monday opinion pieces in the Times. Click here for a link to the story, A 150,000-Bird Orchestra in the Sky.

I am not sure how long the birds will be in Nashville. We drove downtown and parked in front of the Schermerhorn around 6:40 p.m. At first, we didn’t see any birds and figured we had missed them. Then, suddenly, they started to show up by the hundreds. It was exciting! We were glad we had made an effort to go downtown.

The trees were full of roosting birds.

The sky dance was extraordinary and just what I needed to get re-energized during a blah COVID-fighting week.

Take care and in the words of Dr. James Hildreth and Dr. Alex Jahangir, Nashvillians docs who have been leading our city in its fight against COVID, along with our Mayor, John Cooper, “We’ve got this Nashville.”

COVID Projects
How to Build a 4 x 4 Raised Bed Starter Garden
Upbeat Movies to Watch While Social-Distancing
How to Make Gorgeous Birdhouse Gourds
How to Make Artisan Bread the Easy Way
How to Make Greek Yogurt at Home
Marion’s Crazy Good Pumpkin Bread with Chocolate Chips
Fall Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden
Putting Your Garden to Bed with a Blanket of Cover Crops

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© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Chicken Chat LIVE!

Here chick, chick, chick.

A few days ago, the production crew of Nashville Public Television’s weekly program,Volunteer Gardener, came over to film an episode on urban hen-keeping. After the team finished filming the TV program, they stayed and broadcast a Facebook LIVE segment. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Facebook LIVE.

The white arrow doesn’t always work, so if it doesn’t, try this link.

Watch the live program and learn things you didn’t know to wonder about like chicken egg production (No, they don’t need a rooster), what chickens do all day, what they eat, their most unusual eyesight, and the requirements for getting a Domestic Hen Permit.

Special thanks to the ever-creative producer of Volunteer Gardener, Greta Requierme for giving me the opportunity to teach about keeping a flock of urban hens. She searches the state to come up with unique and interesting stories for the program and has made it the number one watched show on NPT. Much thanks also to the hilarious host, Julie Berbiglia, Public Education Specialist for Metro Water Services. She was delightful and put me at ease throughout the two interviews.

The end of the LIVE broadcast got a little crazy with the chicken humor, but they couldn’t didn’t edit it out …

Related Posts
Eulogy for a Chicken
Putting Your Garden to Bed with a Blanket of Cover Crops
Family Dirt
Edible Landscaping with Nashville Foodscapes
Roasted Fig Preserves with Lemon and Thyme

If you enjoyed this post, please share and become a subscriber! Be sure to confirm the subscription on the follow-up letter sent to your email address.

Follow Judy’s Chickens on Instagram and Pinterest @JudysChickens.

Always check my blog for the latest version of a recipe.

© 2014-2019 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos, videos, and text may only be reproduced with the written consent of Judy Wright.

Spring Planting Guide for Your Kitchen Garden

A hot pink and green salad. Mother Nature is a creative genius.
DSC_0342This is a close up of a salad we had for dinner this week. We call it the Lily Pulitzer Salad. Every part of it came out of our garden: lettuce, radishes, pea pods, dill, green onions and tasty radish flowers. I am beaming in amazement! To think, these vegetables all started out as tiny seeds planted in brown dirt, and now they’ve become something delicious, nutritious and gorgeous.

Here is how the newly planted garden looked on Sunday afternoon, March 15th after I spent the day tending to the soil and seeds.

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Here it is today, just ten weeks later.

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This was the first vegetable garden we built in our yard. I think of it as my summer Italian garden because later in the season, I will grow tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, onions, and basil in it. The garden space is 20 by 30 feet. The fence was made using four-foot high chicken wire and wood. About 18 inches from the fence sides, I “planted” a necklace of empty, upside-down, wine bottles to separate the spring planting space from the summer planting space. By keeping the center of the garden open and available, I no longer have to wait for spring crops to die off before I plant summer crops in early May.

People often ask when it is I start working the soil and planting vegetable seeds. The first vegetable I plant is always peas. I aim for getting them in the ground by March 1st, at the latest, which means I have to get the perimeter planting space prepped before then. This year, I invited the chickens to help out by doing what comes naturally to them: scratching up the dirt (tilling), eating the CHICKweed (weeding), and leaving some of their nutrient-rich poop (fertilizer) scattered about. It was a free-for-all for them and a bonanza for me.

Veg garden

To prepare the necklace space for planting, all I do is use a pitchfork to loosen the soil. I let worms and old roots do the bulk of the work of aerating the soil. I try to stay out of the way of nature. Additionally, because the perimeter space is off the beaten path, it doesn’t get compacted by foot traffic which also helps keep the soil loose and ready for the next planting season.

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Next, I planted a row of peas along the fence (notice the white dots in the soil), and then I planted two rows of green onion sets in the middle row, and finally, one row of radishes next to the bottles. This season, I was careful to space the radish seeds about every four inches to help with good root ball formation. I planted a different variety of radishes on each side of the garden, one that was quick to mature and one that would mature later in the spring.

Inside the Necklace Space: peas, onions, and radishes photographed 3/30, 4/17, and  5/30. Mixed in there were some dill seeds that had self-seeded from last year’s dill crop.

Sugar Ann Peas
There is an old gardening tradition that says to plant your peas on Valentine’s Day. That is always the goal, but seldom the reality. This year was no exception, in fact, we were iced-in for most of February, and I didn’t get around to planting anything until mid-March. This may be the reason my Sugar Ann peas, a new variety for me, failed so miserably. The other reason is they probably got crowded out by the quick growth of the onions and radishes in front of them. If I use this same planting plan next year, I’ll start the peas two weeks earlier than the onions and radishes.

In previous years, I planted two varieties of peas: a sugar snap and a snow pea. They both grow the same way and need a trellis or fence for vine support.

May 21

Sugar snaps are an edible-podded cultivar that has plump peas inside. If you harvest while young, you can still eat the pods. If you harvest late, you would need to shell the peas and discard the pod. These are so delicious raw; they hardly ever make it to the kitchen.

vegetable gardens vegetable gardening

Snow peas have edible pods, as well, but are flat with tiny peas inside. Snow pea pods are often used in Asian cooking. I like to use a “stringless” variety of snow peas. The chickens love the pea plants, including the leaves, and will often eat what pokes out of the chicken wire fence. One of them took a bite out of a snow pea in the photo below.

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Spring Onions (aka Scallions or Green Onions)
Sets planted 3/15. Harvest started six weeks later and continues. Even though you can buy white, yellow, or purple onion sets, I plant the purple variety for one reason, I love the color. I planted 200 sets this year. I cannot get enough of spring onions. I use them sliced and uncooked in salads, sautéed in mirepoix, and roasted whole in the oven or on the grill. Yum.

For more information on growing spring onions, radishes, and turnips, go to my last blog post, Urban Farming Part 1: Fall Planting.

“Easter Egg” Radish
Seeds planted 3/15. 30 days to maturity. Started harvesting 4/17. Sweet, mild, crispy, and colorful. Flowers are edible.

spring garden

“Red Meat” Radish (aka “Watermelon” Radish)
Planted 3/15. 50 days to maturity. Started harvesting May 18. Crisp, have more of a bite and have a beautiful hot pink color inside. Their white flowers are edible, too.

Cauliflower and Broccoli
On each end of the rectangular garden, I planted cauliflower and broccoli. Both crops were a failure. Something ate the leaves within a week of planting them. Every year, I swear I’m not going to grow these two plants ever again and every year I cave when I see them at the garden center. It’s a case of tunnel vision — I remember the glory days of gorgeous broccoli and forget about the pesticides I used to keep caterpillars from chomping away at them. Now that I have free-range chickens in my yard, I don’t use any chemicals. In fact, I often joke that the hens keep me honest whenever I get tempted.

 spring garden 4/17

Raised Beds: kale, chard, turnips, beets, potatoes

“Premier Blend” Kale
Seeds planted March 23. Days to maturity: 28 baby, 55 bunching. Harvesting began late April

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“Bright Lights” Swiss Chard
Seeds planted 3/23. Days to maturity: 28 baby, 55 bunching. Harvesting began 5/26

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“Hakurei Hybrid” Turnips
Seeds planted 3/23. Days to maturity: 38. Harvesting began 5/26

These white turnips have been the tastiest surprise of all the vegetables growing in my garden. This pure white variety of turnips are so light and crisp you can eat them like an apple. Truly. When sliced, they can be used as low-cal scoops for hummus and other dips. I’m so glad I planted two rows of them! As with other turnip varieties, you can cook the greens. I like to sauté them together with radish greens, green onions, and garlic in olive oil.

Turnip 4/17

Beets 
Planted as seedlings 4/2. Days to maturity 55. I haven’t started harvesting the beets yet because they are still quite small. I have, however, been harvesting the beet greens for the last month. I should have separated the seedlings when I first planted them for better root ball formation. In the picture below you can see how small the beets are. New gardening rule: all plants with edible roots need to be planted with sufficient space around them for good root ball formation.

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My healthiest vegetable seedlings came from my annual subscription to The Nashville Food Project‘s “Project Grow,”  a plant CSA. All plants are grown organically in TNFP’s greenhouse. The plant subscription includes herbs, leafy greens, edible flowers, tomatoes, eggplants, squashes, and peppers. Pick-up is once a month at their urban gardening site. The beet seedlings below were part of the March selection.

“Red Norland” and “Yukon Gold” Seed Potatoes
Sets planted 3/16. Harvesting began 5/26.  To prep seed potatoes for planting, slice the potatoes into 2″ chunks/sets that each contain 1-2 “eyes.” Allow to dry out for a couple of days to form calluses over the cut sides to help prevent sets from rotting in the soil. In general, when the plant leaves turn yellow, it’s time to harvest, but you can start digging for a few “new potatoes” long before that.

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Photos of potato plant growth taken on 4/4, 5/19, and 5/26:

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Every bit of the delightfully colored food in this photo was harvested on April 17th.

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LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

 

Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs

My high-spirited Great-Aunt Bridget was the original #nofilter. Always, words were coming out of her mouth that caused us to look at one another as if to say, Did she really just say that? She also made a great pot of chicken soup. She was a character. Between the things she said, the clothes she wore, the bouffant hairdos, and the food she cooked, Aunt Bridget was memorable. And, loved. What more could we each want?

Jerome Bridget - Version 2

She and her husband, Uncle Jerome, both immigrants from Sicily, owned successful side by side businesses on Eastern Avenue in Baltimore — Bridget’s Beauty Shoppe and Jerome’s Barber Shop. They created an interior doorway between their adjoining buildings so they and their customers could visit one another all day. It was one big happening place. As a little girl, I loved to sit under the hairdryer hood and basque in the attention of my aunt as she paraded her loyal customers by my chair so they could meet her grandniece.

In this photo from 1963, Aunt Bridget is standing at the forefront of her salon wearing a white uniform and Uncle Jerome is in the back in his barber’s shirt. Aunt Bridget employed a dozen full-time “operators.” They were her girls and they were busy. This was at a time when women went to the beauty parlor weekly to get their hair washed and set. Upstairs from the shop, Aunt Bridget had a kitchen where she and her niece, Theresa, seemingly fed everyone either chicken soup or spaghetti and meatballs.

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One year, in the mid-1970s, I visited my grandparents in Florida during Easter break; so did my Aunt Bridget. In the whirlwind that signaled her arrival from the airport, my aunt walked into the kitchen, opened her purse, and pulled out an “old hen,” complete with its collagen-laden feet. She announced she was going to make a pot of soup. Her nephew had brought her to the Fell’s Point Farmers Market to get the hen on the way to dropping her off at the airport. I regret now that I spent more time rolling my 19-year-old eyes than looking for a pen and paper to write down her recipe. Her soup was the best. I have spent years trying to recreate it.

What was so memorable about Aunt Bridget’s soup was the full-bodied flavor of the broth and the light, bite-sized meatballs that floated on the surface.

In my youthful attempts at recreating her broth, I was left with either perfectly cooked chicken in a thin stock that had to be boosted with a bouillon cube, or great tasting stock with tasteless, limp meat. Eventually, I figured out a way to have both, rich stock and tasty meat. I simmered the soup for sixty minutes, removed the chicken thighs, pulled the meat off the bones, and returned the bones to simmer in the stockpot for a few more hours.

About the Ingredients

My mother taught me to use chicken thighs when making soup. As the mother of seven children, she worried about us choking on small bones so chicken breasts were out. That was okay with me because I like thigh meat.

Bones, cartilage, and connective tissue contain a protein called collagen. As the bones simmer in water, the collagen breaks down, and once chilled, congeal and turn into this gooey gelatin. This gelatin is your goal. If the broth is too dilute, it will not gel up like this.

chicken broth

The aromatic vegetables used to flavor a stock are known as mirepoix (pronounced “MEER-pwah”). The standard French mirepoix consists of 50% onions, 25% carrots, and 25% celery. Other aromatics I use are garlic and parsley.

bridget's chicken soup

First, we will make the broth, then the meatballs, and then add the greens.

To Make the Broth

Chicken stock ingredients:
8 pounds chicken thighs, with skin and bones
5 quarts cold water
1 large unpeeled onion (1 pound), quartered
⅓ head celery, with leaves (½  pound)
4 unpeeled carrots (½ pound)
6 cloves unpeeled garlic (½ ounce)
10 whole stems Italian flat-leafed parsley
3 bay leaves
1 teaspoon black pepper, or about 20 twists of the pepper grinder
2 tablespoons cider vinegar

Yield: 4 quarts of chicken stock

Instructions:
Rinse and drain chicken. Put in a large stockpot.

bridget's chicken soup

Cover with cold water. If you start with hot water, the stock could become cloudy. Bring ingredients to a simmer. Remove foam as it forms.

aunt bridget's chickens soup

Prep the mirepoix: wash unpeeled vegetables and cut into large chunks Add to stockpot. Add seasonings: bay leaves, garlic, parsley, and pepper. I do not add salt until I decide how I’m going to use the broth.

bridget's chicken soup

Add the vinegar. Acids such as vinegar or lemon juice help break down cartilage and pull nutritious minerals like calcium from the bones.

Bring stock to a gentle simmer and cook for 60 minutes. A hard boil will make stock cloudy.

Use a slotted spoon to remove thighs. Once cool, pick off meat and refrigerate.

bridget's chicken soup

Return bones, cartilage, and skin to stockpot. Simmer for 4-5 hours. Strain through a colander positioned over a large container.

To get a couple more cups of flavorful stock, put the solids from the colander back into the stockpot. Add 2 cups of hot water and stir. Run the resulting liquid through the colander again and add to the container of stock. Discard solids.

I strain the stock once more, through a fine sieve, to clarify it further.

Refrigerate stock until fat rises to the top and congeals. Use a spoon to scrape it off.

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To Make the Meatballs

bridget soup

Ingredients:
bridget soup

Yield: 70 small meatballs

1 pound of ground meat. I use a package of combined beef, pork, and veal known as Meatloaf Mix when I can find it.
2 eggs, slightly beaten
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup grated Reggiano Parmesan cheese
¾ cup unseasoned bread crumbs
zest from 1 lemon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
2 tablespoons water

Mise en Place for Meatballs:
Grate the Parmesan cheese.

bridget soup bridget soup

To learn how to make your own bread crumbs, go here, or buy plain, fine bread crumbs.

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Zest a lemon.

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Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl and mix gently until just blended– less than 30 seconds.

meatballs meatballs

Use a melon scoop to make bite-sized meatballs. Place on a 13″ x 18″ rimmed sheet pan. The meat mixture weighed 1½ pounds. From that, I made 70 meatballs. Set aside.

meatballs meatballs

Prep the Greens

I used spinach because I have so much of it in my garden. Hard to believe the spinach survived this cold weather. Escarole or endive would be other tasty choices. Wash the greens. If leaves are large, chop them.

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Putting It All Together

Ingredients:
4 quarts chicken stock, homemade or boxed
1 pound fresh spinach
About 70 uncooked bite-sized meatballs
1 pound cooked small pasta, such as ditalini, cooked separately

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Bring a pot of chicken broth to a boil. Add the meatballs. Simmer for about 15 minutes.

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Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the greens.

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Serve immediately while greens are still bright. bridget soup

Sprinkle with freshly grated Reggiano Parmesan. If desired, serve over pasta cooked separately. If cooked in the broth, it will soak up most of the liquid.

bridget soup

Postscript
Only the most memorable great-aunts get chickens named after them. Our two Rhode Island Reds were named Bridget and Josephine (sisters of my grandfather). The two blonde Buff Orpingtons were named after my husband’s blonde grandmothers, Mildred and Alice. The two black and white Plymouth Bard Rocks were named after my silver and black-haired grandmothers, Marion and Concetta.
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Other Soups
Chicken Stock from Rotisserie Chicken Bones
Mrs. Lombard’s Portuguese Kale Soup
Pasta e Fagioli
Award Winning Buffalo Chicken Chili
Kelly’s Duck Stew

Other Family Recipes
Baked Ziti with Roasted Eggplant, Mozzarella, and Marinara Sauce
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
Rapini and Fettuccini
Spiralized Zucchini with Fresh Marinara Sauce
Pasta e Fagioli, aka Pasta and Bean Soup
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers
Italian Sesame Seed Cookies
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram @JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2020 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.