Hey there, Mason jar fans!
If you’ve been around awhile, you know that we have a big family here at Helseth Urban Homestead – full of the human, furry, and feathered sort. As of the beginning of 2022, we had 10 chickens, three cats, a dog, and a tortoise.
At the end of February, we had to do one of the hardest things we’ve ever done -we said goodbye to the sweetest, cuddliest, cutest, and most unique little 16-year-old urban farm dog named Rerun (in this case, I use “farm dog” loosely – he was a 15 lb Italian Greyhound who absolutely loved to romp around the yard with the chickens and chase squirrels, accompanying me on all my “farm” chores, and always sneaking first dibs on the scraps I put out for our hens, but by evening and night, he was solidly snuggled with us on the couch and under the covers in our beds).
We miss him terribly around here (I’m crying as I write this), but we are grateful for all the love he brought to our lives for those 16 wonderful years.
That said, we’re not ready to bring home a new doggie yet, but, maybe because our lives felt a little too empty without him, we did add some new little cuties to the lineup at the end of April: two French Angora rabbits. Long story short, they are a lot bigger than I expected, and we already love them!
We call them “Grey Bun” and “White Bun,” but their actual names are “Dustina” and “Blizzard.” They are “production” animals (as all of my backyard creatures happen to be), in that they produce angora wool. They go through periods of shedding, and when this happens, you harvest their fur simply by brushing them or gently pulling the fur that’s basically already fallen out. We’ve been doing this and collecting their wool in Mason jars, with the eventual goal of spinning it into yarn.
More than anything, though, they’re our pets. My daughter, Margot, has been loving giving them attention every day when she returns home from school. She has a selection of treats that she gives them, and they’ll come right up and eat them out of her hand.
We’ve realized that a lot of “farm animal” items (feed, treats, hay, etc.) come bulk packaged, so decanting into Mason jars is a great way to keep these items -especially treats- accessible. A pour and store lid, for instance, comes in handy for Margot to bring a little jar of treats out to the yard – she can just pop the jar open when she needs to pour some out, and shut when she’s done.
Always up for a cuddle or some treats, we have our three indoor cats: Barney, Betty, and Heather. Though we don’t intentionally let them outside, Barney and Heather have been known to slip through open doors on occasion. Oftentimes, I’ll find Barney poised next to the chicken coop, probably hoping for a mouse to emerge (one of the less appealing and not often discussed parts of chicken keeping). That’s about as close as our cats get to being “farm cats.”
When I need to get them back into the house, I’ll shake some treats. Because we shop at Costco, we pour cat and dog treats into Mason jars to keep them fresh and easily accessible. Stainless steel and plastic storage lids are great toppers, as they’re airtight with their silicone seals. Another favorite lid for these is the reCAP Flip storage lid.
Next up, we have my bees! I started beekeeping (unsuccessfully) about four years ago. After two failed colonies, I gave up. After a two year hiatus, I’m back on the bee bandwagon, thanks to a friend who called me last month to tell me that her own colony had split and swarmed. She set me up with that new colony about three weeks ago, and they’re going strong. In that three week time period, I had two other swarms of bees land in my and my neighbor’s yard! To anyone who knows bees, that’s pretty crazy! My friend came and caught one of the swarms, and then I took the next one. So, I went from not even thinking I’d have bees this year, to having TWO beehives in my backyard!
When setting up a new colony, it’s important to help them get a strong start. For many beekeepers, this means feeding a homemade syrup (1 part water to 1 part sugar), poured into a Mason jar. You can use the two piece lid that your jar comes with (or you can add a colorful or stainless steel band, if you’d like), take a nail and tap in tiny holes into the lid, and tip the Mason jar upside down over the hive (as pictured). The syrup will bead out of the jar as the bees continue to eat it. After some time (weeks, months – it just depends on your colony, how much you feed them, and how many bee-friendly plants they can access), you’ll have yourself the most delicious honey you’ve ever tasted. I was able to enjoy some honey from my previous colonies, and we thought it tasted like passionfruit! Of course, the harvested honey goes into Mason jars. Honey dippers are obviously the perfect pairing for honey in a Mason jar.
Though she is the least “farm animal-like” of the lot, a Russian tortoise quietly resides amongst all this chaos. She lives in Margot’s bedroom, enjoying daily soaks in her water bowl and munching on clover and dandelions we pick from the yard. Occasionally, when we have a big ol’ lot of dandelions in our yard (have you noticed they seem to pop up overnight?), we’ll pick a bunch and stick in a Mason jar in the fridge (again, stainless steel lids are a convenient, airtight topper).
When we set her outside in the lawn, we are always shocked by how quickly she moves! If we don’t watch her constantly, she disappears into the bushes in no time flat. Though she’s our lowest maintenance animal, she brings us much joy in her own unique ways.
Last, but most certainly not least, we have our 10 backyard chickens. I’ve been chicken-keeping for about four years now, but I can’t imagine a time when I didn’t have a flock of chickens bock-bocking their way around the yard. Not only are they a delight to have around, they provide us with the most delicious, beautiful (pink, white, blue, green, light brown and dark brown) eggs.
We often get eight eggs in a single day, so we need to get creative in our egg eating. That’s where egg bites come in! If you haven’t made egg bites, check out our Egg Bite Challenge blog, where we share several recipes for tasty and easy to make egg bites in Mason jars! You will not be sorry!
Keeping my girls healthy is of utmost importance to me (after all, they are first and foremost my pets), so I like to give them fermented chicken feed when I think they could use a boost. It turns out that probiotics are good for humans and chickens alike! I wrote a blog all about that, too – a must read for all my fellow chicken-keepers out there.
That was a super abbreviated rundown of our little urban homestead. If you know me personally, you know that I could easily go on for an hour about each little creature, but I tried to keep it to the most important pieces here. Want to know more? Have questions about anything at all? Are you thinking about starting your own urban farm? Leave a comment – I’d love to chat!