First Guest Post: Ward Whitehead visits Pantanal

By Alastair Ong | Nov 9, 2017 | 1 Comment
Here Ward visited us and installed my new kitchen faucet, which I LOVE!

Ward visited us and installed my new kitchen faucet, which I LOVE!

The new rule of AlIris Farms is that if you visit, you must write a guest post on this blog.  My first guest to visit after implementation of this rule was my college buddy Ward Whitehead.  For folks that think I’m interesting, you would love to meet Ward.  After doing dozens of pro-level motorcycle races with his Yamaha RZ-350, he started doing triathalons.  After completing the Boston Triathalon in under 9 hours (I think he was the first non-pro to finish), he went to college.  In college, he metamorphized his 150 lb ectomorphish frame into a massive 205 lb. rugby god, where he played rubby with me (Trinity Dogs of War) and the popular club the Toronto Barbarians as 8 man.  He has advanced degrees in philosophy and chose firefighting right out of college because it “provided meaningful service to society while giving him time to read.”


He visited us during Labor Day.  Unfortunately, his aunt, who lives about 30 minutes away from us took ill and had to go to the hospital.  Seeing that his cousins were tending to their mom, he thought he should get out of their hair and spend the weekend with us.  Unfortunate circumstances, but I’ll take any and all the time I can get with Ward.  During one of the evenings, we decided to go out to nearby Bridgeport to one of my favorite restaurants, the Brazillian meatorama, Pantanal.


Storefront of Pantanal

Storefront of Pantanal

Next time you’re in Bridgeport, CT to visit the zoo or to take the ferry to Long Island and you find yourself with time to kill, don’t panic — get your ass over to its best kept secret, Pantanal Restaraunt & Churrascaria at 215 Frank Street.

Uninspired deocr at Pantanal - You're not there for the decorations

Uninspired deocr at Pantanal – You’re not there for the decorations

The decor, if you can call it decor — may seem strangely reminiscent of your 70s era wood-paneled basement rec-room.  You may find no consolation in the fact that the wood is oriented diagonally or that it is real wood rather than paneling but I am certain that once you taste the food any and all concerns about the setting will quickly evaporate.

You may share my own previous naivete in thinking that Churrasco consists only of a delicious traditional Brazilian technique to cook chicken and if so a visit to Pantanal is the perfect and most delicious way to disavow you of this erroneous notion because they bring Churrasco up a few levels both in the way it is done and in the variety of meats they cook thusly.

The heart of the restaurant consists of a buffet with a massive L-shaped station where one serves oneself.  There is usually a queue but don’t fret, because the line moves quickly.   The first part of the buffet consists of salad and other vegetables and the second features the hot dishes.  All told there must have been about two or three dozen dishes in the buffet including fried-fish and shrimp ceviche.  Go lightly as you select this food because at the end of the second table you will find the raison d’etre of Pantanal: the Churrasco area where skilled carvers will cheerily and expertly slice and heap on your plate however much your eyes and stomach desire of their mouthwatering chicken wings and breast, brisket, sausage, ribs and steak.

I like broccoli and it looked perfectly dark-green so I served myself a generous helping of it from the cold-buffet.  They must steam it then chill it in cold-water before setting it out in the buffet because although it was cooked it was not soggy in the least — a very pleasant surprise from the typical raw or overcooked broccoli one finds at a buffet… or from mom’s kitchen for that matter!  The fried-plantains were truly excellent with a lovely crisp, caramelized outside contrasting in texture as well as in taste against the soft and subtly-tangy center.

Pantanal Pitmaster carving meat and buffet offerings

Pantanal Pitmaster carving meat and buffet offerings

One would certainly not expect lasagna in a buffet at a Churrasco restaurant to be, at best, anything but mediocre and one might be ill-advised to even bother to try it but it looked piping-hot and gooey so I threw caution to the wind and helped myself to a modest sample-sized portion and I was pleasantly surprised — it had to be home-made with generous quantities of flavorful cheese and the pasta itself somehow managed to still be al-dente despite coming from a buffet.  I am sure the turnover of the dishes due to the great popularity of the restaurant helps in this regard.  It was very, very good and that an Italian dish is that well done in a Brazilian restaurant I think comprises an accurate metric of just how good all their food is.

Now we come to the revelatory part of the Pantanal experience: the Churrasco.  This cooking technique of course ensures that the meat cooks slowly in its own juices.  The chicken virtually falls off the bone and melts in your mouth and the steak rivals the most succulent I’ve ever tasted at any steak-house.

The really beauty part is that the food is sold by weight which is especially ideal if you are a light or big-eater as you take exactly how much you want and avoid leaving behind unwanted food or heading home for a apres-meal snack — as I’ve often done — because the portions were too small.  And if your eyes are bigger than your stomach you simply grab an aluminum tray from the self-serve takeout shelves and make your own “doggie-bag.”  This is also a great option if you would prefer to skip the retro-70s-basement experience and simply take-out your food.  Eat in or carry-out, it costs just $7.49/lb for mixed plates or $8.49/lb if you are getting solely Churrasco which is probably cheaper than a basic cut of steak one would buy from the local butcher!

Pantanal food porn

Pantanal food porn

There were five of us in my party and the bill totaled just $71 after tax and before tip.  Yes I picked up the tab!

Pantanal can be found at: 215 Frank St, Bridgeport, CT 06604


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City Slicker to Farm Dweller – One Year Later Follow Up

By Alastair Ong | Aug 29, 2017 | 1 Comment

FarmDweller is one year old [fireworks exploding]!

Actually, its really one and a quarter years old.  This post follows up on living in the country for one year and will track my first post of this blog to see if my initial predictions were correct.

What We Thought We Would Miss:

I can honestly say that we do not miss any of the five things that we thought we would miss.  The one thing that we do miss, however, is something that I did not list.  We used to live a block away from Ninth Avenue (International Food Avenue).  We miss the variety and quality of food from NYC.  In NYC, it is not about eating Thai Food or Turkish Food or Indonesian Food, but rather, which Thai, Turkish or Indonesian restaurant you want to eat at.  There is not only Italian food, but restaurants that specialize in Northern Italian or Southern Italian cuisine.  In Connecticut, there are a good selection of restaurants, especially in Bridgeport and Westport, but certainly not Northern/Southern Italian restaurants. Nor are there that many you can choose from.

And ratings are subjective -what is good for Connecticut folks, does not mean it is good.  I’ll never forget my first experience at the Old Bluebird Inn (one of the very few eating establishments in my town).  I was told by three or four people how good it was, particularly the breakfasts.  My first visit at 3:30 PM in the afternoon, I learned that it closed at 2PM.  2PM, are you kidding me?  My second visit, I took a bacon, egg and cheese on an everything bagel to go.  It is hard to mess up a breakfast sandwich.  It was not bad, but nothing special and certainly not worthy of a 4.7 rating on Facebook.  The reviews on Facebook make me think that the folks that eat there, have never eaten anywhere else.  It made me miss my breakfast mobile stand on the corner of 43rd and 10th Avenue – the guy was a breakfast wizard.  He’d cook your eggs to order and do it in under 3 minutes.  No hand or arm movement was ever wasted and always remembered that I liked hot sauce on it.  And this was for $2.50.  Hard to beat.

  • 24/7 Convenience.

In terms of missing convenience, I realize that using public transportation to get anywhere in the city is a 30-45 minute commitment to public transportation, fighting traffic or walking.  I had a car in NYC, but only used it to shuttle my wifey to work downtown (some 4 miles away from home) and to get out of the city on weekends.  I did not understand this before, but having a car is not a luxury living outside a major metropolitan area.  It is a necessity. Getting anywhere from our house takes anywhere from 15-30 minutes.  However, it is on my schedule – I decide when I’m leaving and when I arrive, which is very cool.  Stay posted for the BEST Connecticut vehicle to own which I like so much, that I’ll devote an entire post to it.

  • Online Delivery.

Honestly, I haven’t looked at the Seamless web app at all since moving to Connecticut.  When eating food that we are not cooking, we like to go for the whole experience of dining out.  I cannot even imagine ordering in.

  • Visiting friends.

This was perhaps the biggest surprise.  It could possibly be that we are only one hour outside of NYC, or maybe that we have a newborn son, but we have MORE friends and family visiting us now than we ever had in NYC.  From TannyTan, to cousins Tanya, to college buddy, Wardo, we are constantly hosting friends and family.  It wasn’t until six or seven months of straight guests in weekends, that I asked wifey what are weekend plans were, and she said, “Nothing, no one is staying with us.”

  • Access to new Restaurants and Trends.

You do not need to live in NYC to experience this.  I read the NYT Metropolitan section and Time Out New York to determine the trends and make mental notes of restaurants that I want to try.

  • Opportunity Costs.

Never having been to these landmarks, I do not miss them.

What We Would Not Miss:

Okay, the  things that we thought we would not miss, are spot on.  I would also like to add subway closure as another item that I do not miss.  And crowds.  I never thought I would say that I missed crowds.  I am, after all, part Filippino, and Filippinos love crowds.  However, having lived in Connecticut for a year, whenever I’m in NYC, and am faced with a crowd, rather than checking out why there are crowds, I tend to walk away from them now.

  1. Homelessness, Pan Handlers and Crazy Folks.
  2. Rude and Annoying People.
  3. Tourists.
  4. Litter, Pollution and Urine Smells.
  5. Traffic and Street Closures.

What We Were Looking Forward To:

The things that we were looking forward to are truly wonderful and life changing.  I am much more relaxed and calmer than I have ever been.  The frenetic pace of NYC is contagious, but not always in a good way.  Sometimes, I found living in the City that I was doing stuff just to do stuff, and was not really accomplishing anything.

  • Nature.
The men in our family at my morning coffee spot.

The men in our family at my morning coffee spot.

The fam on a walk on the road in front of our home.

The fam on a walk on the road in front of our home.

I have my morning coffee overlooking a beautiful lake or beside my beehives.  I take my son on a mile or so walk around our property filled with chickens, guinea hens and geese.  My friend Joe R. said it perfectly, “Al, you’ve traded in a city life to a paradise.”  Indeed.

  • Sunlight.

We have so much sunlight now, I bought four of these really cool solar powered suncatchers.  The problem was deciding which windows to put them in.  Morning sun, afternoon sun or evening sun?  Dilemmas, dilemmas.

  • Space.

We have more storage space now than we had living space in New York City.  That is not necessarily a good thing, as empty space always has a devious way of getting filled.  My garage and office are still filled with unpacked boxes that I keep telling myself, “I will get to next week.”  It was Mark Twain that said, “Never put off till tomorrow what may be done day after tomorrow just as well.”

  • Growing Plants.
  • Deer fencing up

    Deer fencing up

    My trailer park garden door.

    My trailer park garden door. Not pretty, but it works.

I’ve successfully put up a raised bed garden.  The first year, however, was a smashing failure as we did not account for deer.  In the words of my neighbor, we made a fantastic deer feeding station. The only things it did not eat were peppers and Chinese bitter melon – those deer have taste!  This year we’ve installed deer fencing, and I’m so happy to report that our tomatoes, swiss chard, bok choy and green peppers have started to come in.

  • Raising Animals.

Chickens, guinea fowl, and geese so far.  If I can convince wifey, I’d like to get a few dwarf goats.  She keeps claiming that she’s emotionally tapped out though – what with having a dozen chickens, two guinea fowl, four geese, three dogs, and a son.  I’m secretly planning on getting the goats for a “trial period.”  I’m certain that after we get them, she’ll love each one so much that she will not be able to give them up.


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Four Steps To Cook Pachamanca

By Alastair Ong | Jul 21, 2017 | 1 Comment


As most of you know, my wifey hails from Peru.  Although born in China from Chinese parents, she grew up in Lima, Peru.  I love the expression of Latinos when she launches into perfect Spanish. Sometimes, I like to make fun of her accent (her favorite color is a food – “jello”).  She has distinctly Peruvian tastes as she loves lemon and red onion with almost any and every dish.  Her family (read: cousin Tanya) taught me how to cook Pachamanca.

Pachamanca is a traditional Peruvian method of cooking.  The word derives from Quechua (the traditional indigenous language of the Incas) meaning pacha “earth”, manka “pot.”  The reason why Pachamanca is the ideal is that we like to host parties of more than 30 people.  If you are going to cook for that many folks, someone is going to be either slaving away in the kitchen or in front of the grill for several hours.  With Pachamanca, you can feed an army all at the same time – all of the food is ready at the same time and it is all hot.  Furthermore, with the help of wifey’s cousin, Tanya, we’ve pretty much perfected making the food come out juicy and tender.

There are many cultures that use earth ovesn to cook food.  The Hawaiians have a Luau pig pit, Moroccans have a tandir for lamb and of course North Americans have a clambake.  The only difference that I see between these other earth ovens is that in most of them, you start a fire in a pit and place the food on the embers or hot coals that remain.  In a pachamanca, you use heated stones.


1. Dig a Hole

Digging the hole

Digging the hole. Note that all the women have shovels – I am a firm believer in delegation!

Okay, so this is not for you city slickers reading this. You will need a yard and you will have to dig a hole. The hole can be any size you want, but we decided on a hole about 3 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep.

This was the hardest part of the pachamanca process.  The soil where we decided to dig this hole was filled with rocks of all shapes and sizes.  Save the rocks and sand in buckets as you will need them later (see below).




2. Heat the Rocks

You will need to heat the rocks that will do the actual cooking.  I got stones from a nearby river.  The kinds of stones you are looking for are round and hard.  You do not want sharp rocks as they do not radiate heat efficiently and may rip the foil and poke through to your food.

Hot pachamanca rocks

Pachamanca rocks reaching 790 degress. It was so hot, the lcd readout of my thermometer started going on the fritz

Ideally, you want the temperature of the rocks to be as hot as you can get them.  I was able to get the rocks as hot as 800 degrees, but 600  degrees is a good target.

Weber barbeque with a leaf blower

Using a Weber barbeque with a leaf blower

I first used a Weber barbeque to heat the rocks, but this was not ideal.  In addition to being too small to host all of the rocks needed to heat, once the rocks were loaded, it is impossible to feed the fire more to increase the temperature of the rocks.

Cinder block grill

Cinder block grill heating rocks

So ideally, you need an area to heat the rocks that allows you to feed the fire with more wood.  I came up with some spare cinder blocks from my raised bed garden build and came up with this snazzy trailer park trashy rock grill you can see to the right.

You will need time for the rocks to get hot.  I start the fire about three hours before cooking the pachamanca.

3. Place the Rocks and the Food

Banana leaves line the pachamanca pit

Banana leaves line the pachamanca pit

In a traditional pachamanca, you line the hole with banana leaves.  I have no idea why this step is necessary.  I suspect that the banana leaves create moisture when the hot rocks touch them, creating steam inside the hole.  You can find banana leaves in a latin food grocer.  You will need at least two packages, depending on the size of your hole.   You can see in the photo to the left, that we also lined the bottom of the hole with burlap.  In subsequent pachamancas, we left out this burlap and instead lined the entire hole with banana leaves.

After the banana leaves, one layer of hot rocks goes into the hole.  We have found the best way to move 800 degree rocks  from the grill to the pit is using a hoe to drop the hot rocks onto a waiting shovel.

Food trays in a pachamanca pit

Food trays in a pachamanca pit

Pachamanca food ready to go into the pit

Pachamanca food ready to go into the pit

Then the food goes on the hot rocks.  In traditional times, the indigineous Peruvians placed meat directly onto the hot stones.  We have found that this tends to overcook the meat and makes it dry, tough and is NOT good eats.  Instead, now, we place the food in aluminum buffet trays and cover with a few layers of heavy duty aluminum foil.  This causes the food to steam and preserve most of the moisture.  You can throw in some potatoes, sweet potatoes, and unhusked ears of corn directly into the pit also.

On top of each tray of food goes more hot rocks.  This will cook the food from below as well as above.  Having rocks on top will also create a convection current inside the pit.

Tanya christening the pachamanca pit

Tanya christening the pachamanca pit

Then you cover the pit up.  We used a piece of burlap that was soaked in water, then covered that with a linen sheet (read: old curtain) and then on top of that a plastic sheet (read: cut up garbage bag).  On the edge of the plastic we placed rocks from the original hole and then covered the middle of the plastic with sand from the hole.  In subsequent pachamancas we skipped the sand step and did not notice any appreciable difference.  I suspect that if your rocks are cooler, you would want the additional insulation that sand would provide.

Traditionally, indigenous Peruvians make a cross out of twigs and place this in the middle of the pachamanca. Then they toast the pachamanca gods and pour alcohol onto the cross.

The length of time of a pachamanca cook, depends on the amount of the food and the heat of your rocks.  It is always better to overestimate rather than underestimate (which contributes to the sterotype that pachamanca food is overcooked and tough).  If you underestimate and your food is raw, you’re stuck and you may need to finish the cook in the oven.  This is another benefit of cooking in buffet trays.  It is MUCH more forgiving to cook using steam than direct heat on food cooking.

We have found that a single tray of food would take a minimum of 1.5 hours with 600 degree rocks.  Two trays about two hours.  We would add or subtract from that depending on the temperature of the rocks.

4. Uncover the Pit and Eat

This is the best part. So yummy.  My favorite is pork belly.  The fat renders beautifully and you’re left with tender porky goodness.  We’ve cooked four pachamancas in the last year.  Each one we had at least 30 people show up for it.

Pachamanca cover made from an old pallet

Pachamanca cover made from an old pallet

I also used pallets that came from the delivery of my cinder blocks for my raised bed garden to build a cover so that son Oliver won’t fall in (especially during the winter when snow covers the pit).

Gratuitous Pachamanca Food Porn

No post about Pachamanca would be complete without some photos of the food that we pulled out of our Peruvian Earth Oven.  Here they are

Pachamanca Food Porn

Pachamanca Food Porn – Pork

Pachamanca Food Porn – Beef

Pachamanca Food Porn - Steak

Pachamanca Food Porn – Steak

Pachamanca Food Porn -  Corn

Pachamanca Food Porn – Corn

Pachamanca Food Porn - Table setting

Pachamanca Food Porn – Table setting

Enjoying pachamanca

Enjoying pachamanca

Folks like it so much that I’m considering doing one about once a month and charging admission.  This way local folks from my town can experience pachamanca goodness.  It’d be like monetizing a good time!  What do you think?  Would you come and try a pachamanca?  Furthermore, how much would you pay for all you can eat and drink? Comment below!


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Charlie the Coyote is in the House

By Alastair Ong | Jun 15, 2017 | 3 Comments

My New Shooting Toy

I bought a bow and arrow to take down any coyote that would threaten (read: eat) our hens.  After much deliberation, I settled on the Compact Folding Survival Bow (“CFSB”).  This is such a cool bow, because the arms fold in on itself to create a small compact package.  Accordingly, this makes it an ideal prepper bow for any bust out bag.  You can see a review of it here:

In Connecticut, coyotes are vermin status, which means that there is no season nor limit to the number of coyotes you can hunt and kill.

First Sighting of Charlie the Coyote

A week or so ago, amid the dogs barking, wifey woke me up at 5AM to tell me that there was an animal watching our chicken coop.  Sure enough, there was a coyote sitting cool and collected like a dog at attention, about 20 feet away watching the hens.  I should have taken a photo, but the first thing I did was run downstairs to grab my CFSB.  Upon grabbing it, wifey pleaded at me not to shoot or kill the coyote.  My wife celebrates life, and hates death of any sort, even killing those animals that kill our animals.  I get this.  These coyotes are not doing anything maliciously.  They are only trying to survive and need to eat.  I went outside and scared the coyote away.  A few days later, just outside my office window, I got a good look at Charlie the Coyote.  He is a huge animal, much bigger than I thought a coyote would be.  Not being deterred by our first run-in, he thought he’d return to try his luck at feeding his hunger.

Charlies Kills

Fast forward to last week.  We needed to run an errand, and my wife asked me if she should coop the hens.  I told her no need as I thought that they would be fine free ranging.  Famous last words.  When we returned, our guinea hens were 40 feet up in a tree, and we saw the following grizzly scenes.

Hen death scene 1

Death scene 1

Hen death scene 2

Death scene

These photos are the equivalent of a chalk outline at a murder scene.  From the array of feathers, I determined that it was Charlie that came buy.  Chester the Chicken Hawk leaves less of a trail of feathers, as they usually carry off the hens whole.  Sadly, Charlie got wifey’s favorite hen, a Rhode Island Red named Mona.  Mona would run and greet wifey every time she stepped outside.  She loved to be picked up and pet.




Coyotes Deterrence System – My Pee

We free range our chickens on our entire property.  They do not want to be at the butt of jokes so never cross the road.  Aside from being outside when the chickens are free ranging, I have come up with a coyote deterrence strategy.  I have taken to peeing outside around the perimeter of our property.  I have NO idea if this works.  A quick google search will result in much debate.  Some folks say that predators will avoid other areas where predators mark, and other say that where coyotes are close to humans, they disregard human scents.  Again, I have no idea if this works, but then again, I’m a dude, and ALL DUDES LOVE TO PEE OUTSIDE.  Funnily enough, my wife caught me peeing outside of her home office window, and came down to thank me.  Wifey thanking me for peeing outside – man, did I marry right.

Flock Additions

In total, we have lost 10 of our 17 original hens.  Seven to Chester the Chicken Hawk and now two to Charlie the Coyote.  The remaining missing one is still a mystery.  To assuage wifey, I went to my local feed store and bought four more hens.  To our flock we have added two white leghorns and two Red Cross hens.  Red Cross hens are a cross between a Rhode Island Red rooster with a Columbian Rock hen.  The resulting breed is a docile large brown egg layer.  You can see the Red Cross’ here.

Leghorn and Red Cross hens

Four new hens join the AlIris flock

I love the Red Cross hens that I selected because the white coloring is so pretty.  Wifey’s sister does not like this look, and I think most people would agree with her.   At the feed store, when selecting the Red Cross’, the handler initially grabbed a brown hen.  I asked to take the one with more white feathers.  He could not believe that I wanted the ones with white feathers.

I really do not care what others like or do not like.  The white feathered Red Crosses look so unique to me.  Also, the white ones were not debeaked, so I thought would be able to defend themselves better.  Click on the photo to the left to see a large photo of the Red Cross’ and check out their lovely markings.

As to integration, we have placed all of the new hens inside of a dog crate inside of the coop.  A couple of days of this, and then late one night, I plan on placing the new hens inside the coop so when the other hens wake up, they just notice that their number has increased, hopefully without any disagreements.  As an additional measure, I plan on placing the male guinea hen that we have inside the dog crate for a couple of days as he is the most aggressive of all of the birds we have.  I’m just hoping that one of these hens will be as friendly as Mona.





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The Argument for Solar

By Alastair Ong | Jun 7, 2017 | 9 Comments

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Bees Are In – How Not to Install Bee Packages

By Alastair Ong | May 25, 2017 | 0 Comments

Bees Knees

So when I originally thought about starting a small working farm, the first animals I decided on were bees.  Bees are ideal because of their work to product ratio – the bees do all of the hard work.  No hoeing, no weeding, no watering.  There was the issue of honey harvesting, where I thought I would have to invest in a centrifuge to separate the honeycomb from the honey.  Although I hear that it is sticky laborious work, most beekeepers I spoke to love harvesting time of year.  Nevertheless, for those that know me, I am all about efficiency and reduction of work.  This is a guide on how not to install bee packages!

Introducing the Honey Flow System of Harvesting Honey:

The patent pending frames are the genius behind this idea.  You have to watch the video to see how it works (fast forward to 2:10 if you want to see how these magically frames work).  Basically, its a frame with hundreds of split honeycombs.  With a turn of a key, the honeycombs split and the honey drains into jars.

Benefits of the Honey Flow System

  • Harvesting honey with little disturbing of the honeybees;
  • Less mess;
  • No expensive equipment to buy;
  • Gimmicky and gadgety, something that I’m all about!

Downsides to the Honey Flow Systems

  • Much more expensive than a standard bee hive;
  • Honeycombs are plastic and bees tend to like their own wax better;
  • Less communion between human and bees;
  • Expensive gimmick.

After giving it a fair amount of thought, I decided on buying three Honey Flow systems with bee houses.  The kit came in two very flat but heavy boxes.  I opened them up and saw what seemed to be a jig saw puzzle of pieces of wood.  I needed help, and recruited Felix, who readers may remember from my chicken coop building post.  He built the first one, and left the remaining two for me, which I put together much faster than I thought (~30 minutes each).  Like Ikea furniture, once you understand what you are doing, things moved quickly.

Receiving the Bees

Packages of bees

Packages of bees

My three bee packages arrived in three plastic containers.  I ordered mine from a flyer posted at my local feed store.  On the photo to the left, you can see me holding the three packages of bees. Each one has a queen, worker bees, and drone bees numbering in the thousands.  I had heard that since the bees do not have a hive, they are not overly aggressive, and will not attack a handler.  Accordingly, you can install bees without a bee suit.  I got two colonies of Italian bees, and one of a strain called Carniolans.  Click this link to learn the differences between the popular Italian Bees and the Carniolans bees:

After opening up the package by removing a can of sugar water and removing the queen (who is in a small cage plugged with a piece of sugar candy).  You are supposed to place the queen in my lower brooding box and then proceeded to dump the bees into the hive.  I forgot to do this and some other key steps also.

How Not To Place Bees

The mistakes I made (and I only made these once) were:

  1.  I neglected to place the queen in the lower hive first.  This is important, because in shipment, the bees are getting acquainted with the queen and naturally want to protect her.  I think it is more natural to pour the bees on the queen than pouring the bees into an empty home and then placing the queen.
  2. I forgot to strike the plastic cage on the floor to get the bees on the bottom.  When I tried to pour out the bees, rather than being dumped into my hive box, they flew EVERYWHERE.  Bees are pretty curious, and several of them explored my head and got stuck in my hair.  As a result, Bang, bang, bang, within 10 seconds of opening up the bees, I got my first three stings.  Not painful, but not pleasant either.

In contrast, for the other two hives, I decided to don a beekeeper’s veil and gloves to prevent against stings.  I’m unsure whether it was the veil or if it was correcting the above mistakes that prevented me from getting stung.  Probably a bit of both.  Here is a video of me placing the bees – its pretty funny.  If you want to have a good laugh enable subtitles.  If you want to just watch me getting stung, jump to 0:50 seconds in.


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Winner, Winner Egg Dinner – Winner of the Egg Giveaway

By Alastair Ong | May 15, 2017 | 0 Comments

Winner of the Egg Giveaway – Patti Killarney

The winner of the Egg Giveaway is Patti Killarney!  Accordingly, I will send you a dozen eggs!  These eggs will be organic, free-range just-laid.  Patti, please email me your mailing address to

Bowl of our multicolored Eggs which you can win in our Egg Givewaway

Winner, Winner!

I am eager to see how a dozen eggs ship!

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Let’s Break the Internet with this Egg Giveaway!

By Alastair Ong | Mar 10, 2017 | 1 Comment
Bowl of our multicolored Eggs which you can win in our Egg Givewaway

Chester the Chicken Hawk Update

Chicken Hawks on airplane

I want to thank all of you for your gracious outpouring regarding our chicken deaths.  Apologies for those of you who read my last post and thought that the chicken hawk wiped out our entire flock.  I originally started with 15 chickens and 3 guinea hens.  Chester ate 7 of the chickens, leaving us with 8 hens and 3 guinea hens.  Here’s something pretty coincidental or creepy, depending on how you look at things.  When I posted that I had an unwanted rooster, Chester the Chicken Hawk ate him the next day.  Then on my last post, I wrote how Chester had killed seven of our hens and how devastated we were.  Since my last post, we have NOT lost a single hen!  Is Chester merely a manifestation of my internal desires?  Chester, if you are reading this, I do not want you near our coop!

We Got Our First Egg!

Iris with our first egg!

Iris with our first egg!

Chickens have the equivalent of a photovoltaic cell in their eyes.  Longer daylight hours trigger the hens to start reproducing and thus lay eggs. Most commercial hen-houses have coop lights on timers, to fool the chickens into laying eggs year round.  I did not want to go this route because each chicken has a finite number of eggs.  Forcing a hen to lay during the winter will reduce the effective lifespan of a hen (and with wifey’s no-kill policy, I did not want several dozen chickens that were essentially useless pets.

Imagine our surprise when we got our first egg!  This winter has been especially mild in the North East U.S., and accordingly the hens do not have to spend as much energy keeping themselves warm.  Add this to the infrared heater that wifey bought for the birds, and the hens are toasty warm in their coop (I tried preventing wifey from buying this, because the chickens I bought are especially winter hardy).

From the 8 hens, we get approximately 4-6 eggs a day.  That is a good average for chickens, and great for the winter!  When I initially selected my birds, in addition to selecting breeds that are winter-hardy, I got a selection of white, brown and blue layers.  Yes, you heard that right, blue eggs!  The breed I got are called Araucana, and are nicknamed “Easter Eggers” because they lay eggs that are blue to turquoise to green.  And, no, because they are green on the outside, does NOT mean that they are green on the inside, although I have fooled a couple of folks, telling them that Dr. Seuss created his story about “Green Eggs and Ham” precisely because the yolks are green.

The Case For Not Washing Eggs

Our bowl of multicolored eggs.

There is an enormous amount of debate in the poultry world about whether or not to wash eggs after harvesting.  In the U.S., egg washing was mandatorily implemented by the USDA after a particularly nasty outbreak of salmonella in the 1970s.  In Europe, however, egg washing is strictly prohibited.  What gives?

When hens lay eggs, out with the egg is a cuticle called a bloom that surrounds the egg similar to the way a wax job protects your car’s finish.  This cuticle protects the eggs from bacteria.  There is a theory that Washing dirty eggs removes the bloom and invites bacteria to be drawn inside the egg.  And washing eggs in cool water actually creates a vacuum, pulling unwanted bacteria inside even faster.

According to, EU directives state that washing eggs “may favour [sic] trans-shell contamination with bacteria and moisture loss and thereby increase the risk to consumers.”

“To summarize, European eggs are not refrigerated, not washed, and end up sickening less people than here. The U.S. is more effective at producing low cost eggs, cleans the poop off, and requires refrigeration. Yet in 2010, half a billion eggs were recalled after potentially being tainted with salmonella.

But what about salmonella statistics? In that, there seems to have never been any definitive studies (at least that I could find), but it would seem on the surface that the European method is the winner. (Though there are uncontrolled factors that could potentially be skewing the numbers, so take this with a very large grain of salt.) On average, there are approximately 142,000 cases of egg-related salmonella poisoning in the United States every year according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This is approximately 1 in 2,200 people infected every year (give or take depending on whether an individual is a repeat offender in a given year).  In contrast, in England and Wales in 2009, there were just 581 cases of egg-related salmonella poisoning, or about 1 in 95,000. Notably, before the British started vaccinating their chickens in the late 1990s in response to a major egg-induced salmonella outbreak, in 1997 there were 14,771 cases of egg related salmonella poisoning in England and Wales, or 1 in 3,700.

One of the best ways of controlling a salmonella outbreak is controlling the cleanliness of the coop.  Accordingly, we change the bedding pretty frequently adding wood shavings and bedding for the chickens.  For those eggs that have a bit of poop on them, we use sandpaper to wipe them away.  After handling eggs, we ALWAYS wash our hands.

Best Ways to Store Your Eggs – Refrigeration or Not?

Mother Earth News has an excellent article about an egg storage test.  They found that unwashed eggs stored at room temperature easily lasted 8 weeks or two months.  Commercial farmers immediately refrigerate their eggs because the USDA mandated egg-washing and washed eggs do not last as long as unwashed eggs at room temperature.  Once refrigerated, eggs need to be constantly refrigerated.  According to Marianne Gravely, technical information specialist at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, “[Washed] eggs shouldn’t be left at room temperature for more than two hours,” “There is no way to know if a shell egg is pathogen-free. Food poisoning bacteria don’t affect the taste, smell, or appearance of a ood.”

Eggs don’t need to be refrigerated, but one day out on the counter at room temperature is equivalent to about a week in the refrigerator, so we are not planning to eat them for a while, we will refrigerate the eggs. Unwashed eggs will last three months or more in the refrigerator. Washed eggs will last at least two months in the refrigerator but won’t taste as fresh as unwashed eggs of the same age.

Let’s Break the Internet with this Egg Giveaway

Janice with a blue Araucana egg.

So our 11 hens are averaging about 7 eggs per day.  We get a mixture of very dark brown guinea eggs, dark brown eggs from the Rhode Island Red and New Hampshire Red, light brown from my two Barred Rocks, white from my two Leghorn Hens (please do not ask whether we named one of them Foghorn) and green and blues from my two Araucana mentioned above.

I’m willing to give away a few farm dozen of our fresh, free-grazed organic eggs.  There are three ways to win a free dozen eggs.

  1.  The FB post/tweet with the most likes.  Please use the hashtag, #FreeEggs.
  2. Person with the most subscription referrals.  One entry for each person that you get to subscribe.  Have that person reply to the subscription email confirmation that I send to them.
  3. Most creative post to this blog below.

Eggs can be picked up here at AlIris Farms, or if you prefer, I can ship them to you – another benefit of not refrigerating our eggs is that we can mail them without refrigeration.

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Chicken Hawk 7, Chickens 0

By Alastair Ong | Jan 25, 2017 | 2 Comments

We’ve had this very persistent bird of prey that has been attacking and eating our chickens.  I am sorry to announce that I have canceled the rooster giveaway because this eagle/falcon/hawk attacked and ate him.  For purposes of this article, let’s call it Chester, the Chicken Hawk. In trying to identify the culprit, I have run a few google image searches and think it is indeed a hawk that preys on domesticated birds.

When I first got the chickens, I did not look forward to, but expected some hen losses due to nature.  What I did not expect was my coop to be the bird equivalent of a KFC stand.  We had approximately one chicken loss per week.  The first couple, I was pretty excited (read: fresh organic chicken meat).  The guinea hens would squawk like crazy during and immediately after an attack.  I would go outside and see the chicken hawk departing.  It would have enough time to attack and kill, but if I got to the kill fast enough, he it did not have enough time to dismantle the bird.  So I did the natural thing, plucked, gutted and then put it in my handy dandy Ronco Rotesserie Oven.  The fifth hen death, demoralized me.  I could not bring myself to eat it.  I plucked and gutted it and then gave it to Iris’ cousin Tanya to cook and eat.

Steps I Took to Prevent Further Chicken Losses.

  1. Electric fence around coop.

    Electric Fence.  We installed an electric fence around the coop and run to give the chickens an area to free range.  Initially we had it in open ground.  Whenever a chicken would escape the fence, we noticed that the chickens liked to graze under thick shrubs beside our house.  We moved the fence to enclose the bushes, thinking that the bushes would provide camouflage and shelter from the chicken hawk.  Did not work.  Chester would hang out in a tree directly above the shrubs and attack on its time.

  2. Chicken kill.

    Chicken kill.

    Fishing Line.  Remembering a visit to City Island Bronx, New York, the outdoor restaurant at the end of the pier had thousands of gulls around it.  Amazingly, the gulls would not enter into the seating and eating area. After asking a staff member what prevents the gulls from coming down and eating human food, they replied that the entire outdoor area had a few strands of fishing line strung across it.  Apparently, the birds see the fishing line glinting in the sunlight and do not venture into this area because they believe that they only see part of the roof, and believe that they will get caught up in the lines.  I think you could count on one hand, the number of lines that crisscrossed the eating area.  Encouraged, I bought some 20 lb. test fishing line and strung a dozen or so lines crisscrossing the open area.  Did not work AT ALL.  The day after hanging the lines, a chicken was killed in an open area right below a fishing line.

  3. Bird deterrent wind spinner – does not work.

    Mirrored Bid Deterrents.  I bought aluminum streamers, a mirrored windpowered spinner and hung CDs everywhere in our yard.  I think these work by reflecting sunlight and blinding the hawks.  Another fail.  A day or two after hanging these reflective items, Chester killed another chicken.

  4. Another chicken kill.

    Roof Net v.1. Finally, we gave in and realized that we needed to net the entire free range area with a bird net that is designed to keep birds off of crops.  After installing, I neglected to zip tie the circumference of the fence to the roof netting.  Next day, I caught the hawk inside the free range area and watched him as he left from a small hole between the fence and the netting roof.

  5. Roof netting.

    Roof Net v.2.  I carefully went around the circumference of the fence and zip tied the roof netting to the fence. I tied all holes larger than a tennis ball.  This worked for a while, but then we got another killed chicken.  Apparently, Chester now waited for a chicken to venture close to the perimeter of the fence, and then would attack THROUGH the fence.  Dead chicken on the inside, Chester eating on the outside.  We had turned our chicken coop from an eat in KFC to a drive through!

  6. Most recent chicken kill (brown bird). Note how far the chicken is from the edge of the fence.

    Branch blockers. We lined the inside perimeter of the free range area with branches to prevent the chickens from venturing close to the edge of the fence.  This also worked for a while, but just yesterday, Chester killed another chicken.  Inexplicably, this chicken died about two feet from the edge of the fence. I am unsure how Chester got to this chicken, but after the customary squawking, this time I saw TWO chicken hawks fly away.  Great, now Chester is telling his friends about the great eats at our coop!

    Bird spikes.

    Most recently, I bought bird spike strips.  You see these everywhere in a city where people do not want birds (read: pigeons) to roost and poop underneath.  I lined the inside two feet of the coop with these spiky strips, hoping that this will further deter chickens from venturing too close to the edge of the fence.

Wifey has wanted to buy a fenced in free range area for about two months now (think fenced dog pen but larger and with a roof).  I want to avoid this.  Not only expensive, these pens are large, cumbersome, hard to move and do not look great.  If we get another chicken kill, I fear that we will have little choice but to get one of these.

If ANYONE has any advice or suggestions (at this point, I’d settle on encouragement) in deterring chicken hawks, please feel free to comment below.

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How to give a Gift to the Earth during the Holiday Season.

By Alastair Ong | Jan 3, 2017 | 2 Comments

I remember the first tree that I had with wifey in our loft in New York City.  It was a branch from a Christmas tree trimming that I found being discarded.  I mounted it on a piece of 2’x4′ and it totally channeled a Charlie Brown Christmas tree.  As the years went by, I started buying small potted pine trees which I would plant at my mom’s house each year.

Being a new homeowner brings decisions that apartment owners rarely have to make.  Artificial tree or cut tree?  I weighed the pros and cons of each – including looks, size, convenience, fire retardentness (is that a word?) of a plastic tree vs. a dying cut one.  Ultimately, having a fair amount of land, I decided on buying a LIVE tree.  I put live in allcaps because this is to distinguish it from a live cut tree.  I wanted to buy a tree along with the roots in a root ball, much like you would buy a landscape tree.  This way, after the holiday season, I would plant it on my property.  Only this was not as easy as you would think

The town I live in has 8,000 residents, and about a dozen Christmas tree farms.  In fact, it is impossible to drive through my town without encountering at least one tree farm – sort of trying to walk two city blocks without running into a Starbucks.  With as many tree farms and landscaping nurseries as their are in my area, it was nearly impossible to find a farm that sold Christmas trees with a rootball that I could plant.  Most of the tree farms get their trees either imported (from the mid-west or Canada) or locally on tree farms.  It is easy to cut a tree, and difficult to dig out the roots, and therefore, these farms figure that best bang for your buck is a cut tree.

Downsides to a Live Tree vs. a Cut Tree

  • Finding a live tree is not as easy as I would have thought.  Your best bet is to contact a nursery in September to pre-order one.  This has a lot of advantages including that you give the nursery enough time and you have a tree with your name on it.  No selection, but no worries that you will not have a tree.  If you are lucky, the nursery will deliver it to you (but probably at another cost).
  • Cost.  Expect to pay up 50% more for a live tree vs. a cut tree.  A 6′ cut tree costs about $80 bucks.  A live tree costs about $120.
  • Live trees are shorter than live trees – that is, the root ball is about 2′ in height.  So if you are buying a 6′ cut tree vs a 6′ live tree, the cut tree will be older and bigger.  A 6′ live tree is only 4′ of tree.
  • Weight.  An 8′ cut tree weighs 50 lbs at the most.  A 8′ live tree with root ball weighs ~300 lbs.  This means that you will need a vehicle to transport it.
  • Moving a cut tree to different locations is relatively easy.  Mind you, I know this is not common practice after stringing the lights and placing the ornaments.  Because of the weight of the live tree, you will only want to place it once.
  • Time.  A cut tree can last a long time.  Once you cut a tree, it is in the process of dying.  I remember living in NYC, seeing trees in the trash bin as late as March!  I am always surprised at how the trees look.  I mean the tree is dead, and needles fall off easily, but it is still green, which is why I guess the owners never saw to it to take it down immediately after the holidays.  A live tree can only stay in a warm environment for 10 days at the max.  Experts differ on how long a tree can stay indoors.  One nursery told me 48 hours max, and others told me up to ten days.  In fact many of the nurseries in my area stopped selling trees for this reason. – most homeowners would take home a live tree, and leave it in their home for too long, and when they planted it, it eventually died.  That is a ton of work and money to have a dead tree at the conclusion.  I decided to keep the tree indoors for one week.  This meant keeping the tree outdoors until very close to Christmas, and then moving the tree back outside immediately after New Years.
  • Work.  Moving and disposing of a live tree is fairly easy.  In addition to the amount of work moving a live tree, it also requires a pre-dug hole and the tree needs to be planted.

Upsides of a Live Tree vs. a Cut Tree

  • Since the tree is still alive, when moving a live tree, no needles will fall off.
  • Live trees always look healthy.
  • More environmentally sustainable.  Although the exact calculation depends on where both trees are being grown and shipped from, it does seem better to plant a tree that you use rather than simply discarding it.  Although most of the nurseries around me claim that for every tree sold, they plant more as replacements.  It just seems like a waste of resources to grow to discard.
  • You get a tree to plant in your yard.  Boom!!! [dropping the mic].

There being so many downsides to upsides, you would think that I would go with a cut tree (or an artificial tree).  You would be wrong.  The idea that sold wifey on a live tree, was if we did this every year, we would have a tree for every Christmas that we were in this house.  This reminded me of advice that a mentor gave to me – when in doubt, argue the romantic reasons if you want to win an argument with a woman.

Tree being placed on my diesel wagon. It took five guys and a forklift to get it on my car.

Tree placed in our house.

Tree decorated by wifey. She made all of the ornaments with felting wool.

The final result with wifey and Oliver.

So if you want to give a gift to the world during the holiday season, buy a live tree.  I understand that there are some business models out there where they deliver a live tree to you and remove it at the end of the season.  However, this business is an extremely local one because delivery is involved.  If you want to buy a live tree and have no place to plant it, let me know, and I’ll plant it for you here.

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