Beginnings of the Bantam Coop

The weather here has been…unpredictable, to say the least. We’re past the snow and the below freezing temperatures, I’m happy to say…but literally we can have all four seasons within a two hour period. Last Sunday, it was cloudy with a couple of stray showers, and I was trying to build up enough enthusiasm to go outside and work anyway. But then the skies abruptly opened, and TORRENTIAL rain poured down…and out of nowhere it got windy, and the road outside my window turned into a lake, and the wind was blowing the water down the street and up into the air, and it was…kind of cool, actually. My mom asked, “Are you still thinking about going outside?” And I said, “I think that dream is over.”

And then. And THEN. Five minutes later, the wind went away, the rain went away, and the most glorious sunshine you ever saw came pouring out. Friends, I grabbed my chance, and went outside!

Over the next couple of days (none with such glorious sunshine, however) I did a few things that needed to be done. Including setting the foundation for the new bantam coop.

This area, back behind the pigeon coop, is definitely a work-in-progress at the moment. It’s looking pretty terrible. Actually, maybe you should just pay attention to the cute corgi! There used to be a compost pile back here, but I’ve decided my new method of composting will be to throw it all in the bantam run, and let the chickens do the work. So I moved the third guinea pig coop back here.

It is currently wrapped in plastic to keep out the winter wind. But eventually, the pigs will be bindweed patrol for the herb garden further behind it, and this area underneath and in front of it.

And this is the foundation for the bantam coop.

The chickens will be able to go underneath, but I primarily want it raised off the ground to keep rats from burrowing under it.

And here’s a view from the other side, looking down what will eventually become a covered bantam run.

No corgi in this picture. 😦

And I’m happy to say I will quite possibly be getting turkeys again this year! Last year’s turkeys were an accident (the breeder sent me turkey eggs instead of the chicken eggs I ordered) but this time I found a local breeder of White Midget turkeys. They are the smallest breed of turkey, the females are about as big as a large chicken hen, and when Mother Earth News did a turkey taste test these guys were rated the best tasting by far! I plan to get around 4-6 poults (baby turkeys) and keep one pair to breed, and harvest the rest. I love having sustainable, humane sources of meat on my urban farm. Did you know that those butterball turkeys you buy at the grocery store have been commercially bred to pack on the weight until they can barely stand on their own by butcher date? The female turkeys have to be artificially inseminated to be bred, as the turkeys themselves are incapable of breeding naturally due to their size? As Joel Salatin would say, “Folks, that ain’t normal.”

Forget Winter…Spring is Coming!

The snow is all gone now, and good riddance! I will never, ever be a winter person. There are really only two things I like about winter: getting to wear my Icelandic sweater, and watching the trumpeter swans migrate directly over my house. Sometimes they honk as they fly, and that is one of my favorite sounds in the world. Sometimes they are silent, but fly so low I can hear the soft flapping of their wings over my head. I love that, too. I am so grateful to live exactly where I am! While the snow was keeping me from working in my garden, I baked. Woman Scribbles is the ONLY recipe blogger I follow, and she’s amazing. I have tried several of her recipes and they are always super easy to make and turn out fantastic. All but one have been “I MUST make this again!” successes, and the one I tried last week…oh, my goodness. I am addicted to it. I made a loaf two different times during that week, and I’m making another tomorrow! It’s her Cinnamon Roll Bread Loaf and look how complicated it looks. Don’t believe it…it’s the simplest thing ever. Seriously.

And after it bakes? Gorgeous! I’m drooling just looking at it.

The other thing I did while I waited out the snow was get started on my seed planting. I have tomatoes, onions, and leeks started now, with brassicas to follow tomorrow. It is so satisfying this time of year to stand in my greenhouse, hands in the dirt, with that lovely warm smell of spring filling the air.

Especially when your view outside of the greenhouse is this:

I mentioned last time that I made a new strawberry bed as a trial, using a non-pallet version of Lovely Greens’ design. Here it is.

I will line the inside with landscape cloth, then punch holes for the strawberry plants as I fill it with compost. Like hers. She used straw in this particular photo, but I shy away from straw because so much of it is contaminated with herbicides these days. People of ruined their gardens, using straw (or even cow manure) from non-organic places.

I’ll be able to grow around 40 strawberry plants in this. If it does well, I’ll build a second one next year. I’m also testing out a couple other methods, because you can never really have too many strawberries! I bought two of these garden grow bags. I’ve heard good things. We’ll see!

I also bought a Mr Stacky planter.

And lastly…to get ready for spring, I set up the brooder for the meat chicks.

I was hoping to get them this week, but the USPS has gone all villain-ish and put an embargo on all live animal shipping. This is a truly tragic thing, because the hatcheries have already put those hatching eggs into the incubators, and whether or not they are allowed to ship, those chicks WILL be hatched. Hundreds of them, across the USA. The hatcheries can’t delay this, and once the chicks hatch, they are either forced to find local homes for them, or kill them. The hatchery I got an email from said they were fortunately able to find local places to accept their chicks THIS week, but if the embargo doesn’t end by next week, it will quite possibly mean those chicks will be killed. And of course the hatchery will have lost a lot of money, and some of the hatcheries are small family businesses, and won’t be able to survive. This embargo is NOT about the weather. According the USPS, it is because they are behind in their deliveries and have decided to prioritize non-living packages over living ones. This is, of course, is the complete opposite to what they should prioritize! It makes me so sad. I’m really praying the embargo is lifted next week, and those chicks can be shipped. Every life is a precious thing, and shouldn’t be wasted.

So I don’t have to end there, on that note, I’ll tell you about one more favorite thing of mine. These seed sprouting jars. I love them. My mom got them for me for Christmas, and they are the easiest way of sprouting seeds I’ve tried.

This week, weather permitting, I plan to get started building something. Not sure what. The new greenhouse for the chicken yard that I’m going to plant with comfrey? Could be. Remodeling one of the old quail coops to hold two of my free-ranging herd of bindweed devouring guinea pigs? Needs to be done soon! Or maybe start work on the new bantam/pigeon coop? So much I want to build! Come on, sunshine! Or least…please don’t rain. Or snow.

Oh, yeah. And I also need to put my rabbits together for a play date, and get some new baby bunnies started! 😉

Snow Day!

Where I live in the PNW, snow is rare. We can go years without anything but the lightest dusting…if we get anything at all. Today I woke up to about five inches of the white stuff, which was enough to get me a paid snow day off at work! As I write this now, it’s still snowing, and we’re up to about eight inches. Tomorrow, it’s supposed to start melting, and the temperatures are supposed to stay above freezing even at night, so this is basically the perfect kind of snow. It comes, it looks gorgeous, then it goes quietly away within a couple of days, without turning into crusted ice.

Dexter, my corgi was extremely excited. He loves snow. We took him a long walk, and he enjoyed every second…even though the snow cmpletely buried his legs.

What was strange though, is I let the cat, Bundy, out into his catio, thinking he’d avoid the snow…but he loved it too!

Predictably, the ducks were ok with it, and they looked mighty pretty out roaming about the garden.

The chickens were less impressed. They HATE snow. Absolutely hate it. They took one look and refused to come out of the coop…even though they normally can’t wait to escape the coop every morning.

Goosie (who assumes she is a chicken because she was raised by a chicken mom with chicken sisters) thought she’d hate it too. But once I shooed her out into it, she couldn’t figure out why the chickens were being so weird about it.

I was going to show you the new raised strawberry planter I made, but now it’s covered in snow, so you’ll have to wait. Though it doesn’t look like it at the moment, spring will be here very, very soon, and I am rushing to get ready. I have my tomato seedlings growing in the kitchen window, and tomorrow I’m starting more seeds. I made a 3D paper mockup of the new bantam coop I’m building, and am so eager to get started building the actual thing…but first priority are some other projects. Update on those in my next post, once this white stuff goes away.

Oh, and if I needed anymore proof of spring on the way? Watch this:

New Additions to the Farm

I had a birthday last Sunday, and it was raining, so of course I went to the local nursery and picked up four new blueberry bushes: a Chandler, a Duke, a Kathren, and an Olympia. I have a row of blueberries in the front yard, and last year they did well enough that I actually got to freeze a nice sized bag of berries. So we decided to pull out the gooseberries that were nearby. Three of the gooseberries were replanted in the chicken run, and two others I gave to a friend for her chicken run. This left a nice place to plant more blueberries. Which I did. In the rain. On my birthday. This is how an urban farmer celebrates her birthday…playing in mud!

You can barely see the blueberry plants in there…they are just bare twigs at this point. The area in front used to be the Shuksan strawberry bed, but there is too much bindweed here for that to work out well. Also too many wild rabbits, but another project this year was putting black chicken wire all along the bottom two feet of the perimeter fence to keep them out. I like cute little bunnies as much as the next girl, but there is a nasty disease they can carry and spread to my domestic rabbits, so I want to at least keep them off the property. So I still need 1 -2 more blueberry bushes for here, and I’m moving the strawberries to a version of Lovely Greens’ raised strawberry planter.

She uses reclaimed pallets, but I don’t have those (and I’ve heard many of them are contaminated with chemicals) so I’m using regular wood. Hopefully it works out well. It would be nice to get the berries off the ground – no rotting berries, and no slug damage! I also have an order in with Raintree Nursery for a few more Shuksan plants.

Looking slightly further ahead to Spring, I’m making plans for which eggs I’m hatching out this year. Since I lost my sweet little cochin bantam hens (who were supposed to be my broodies) I’m starting out from scratch. I want to hatch out some more cochin bantam eggs, as I’m building a new coop/run that will be safe from hawks. I also found an amazing guy on Ebay who sells serama hatching eggs. He lives in a place that gets really cold winters and really hot summers, so he’s bred his birds to be extremely hardy. My winter/summer conditions are not so extreme as his, but I do love the idea of seramas that don’t need special care. If you’re not familiar with seramas, they are the world’s smallest chicken. So freaking adorable!

I’ve always been interested in these, but resisted for two reasons: the lack of hardiness, and the fact that they are so small I worried about predators if I just mixed them in with my full-sized flock. They are just so so so CUTE though! (If you’re on instagram, follow mad4hens…she has a mini flock of the most adorable little snuggly serama birds.)

Also, because I’m down to just one hen left of my original four bobwhite quail (old age took the others away) So I’m hatching more. I won an ebay auction for 12+ Snowflake bobwhite eggs, and those are my favorite. They are so beautiful.

I had a Brinsea mini incubator that I was happy with, but the automatic egg turner on it stopped working, and it’s just a little small. So I decided to upgrade slightly to a Harris Farms Nurture Right Incubator. Unlike my old one that could hold 8 chicken eggs, this one holds up to 22. It also has an egg candler build right in!

As so many of my eggs are fancy breeds that need to be shipped, the usual hatch result is 50% of however many eggs you incubate. Eight eggs in means only four hatched…and two of those could be roosters! Not great odds! I’d like to have enough chicks so I can choose by temperament/color which ones to keep and which ones to sell. The new incubator is coming today in the mail, and I am excited! Wish I could pop some eggs in right away…but it’s still a bit too early for chicks.

I have so many projects this Spring – it feels a bit overwhelming, honestly! I already have a ‘honey do’ list as long as my arm…and the problem is, I’m the honey. Besides building the new bantam coop/run, I’m remodeling two of the guinea pigs coops, and a former rabbit hutch into a broody hen coop, building a new moveable pigeon tractor to put those birds to work, building a greenhouse in the chicken run, and building numerous raised strawberry/garden beds – oh, and building a small raised pond for my goldfish. Plus there’s all the ‘fun’ projects like birdhouses, guinea pig chalets, and yard furniture I’d like to make.

Lots of building. So much building. Strange to think that a few years back I hardly knew how to use a hammer!

Favorite Things of 2020

This is going to be a bit of jumble post. A little bit of urban farm update, plus some of my favorite things of last year. I know 2020 sucked for a lot of people, but I’m going to focus only on the positive!

First off, in urban farming, I am so hopeful for this coming season. My biggest issue in the garden has always been my persistent and overwhelming bindweed problem. Then I got a team of partially free-range guinea pigs, muscovy ducks and a goose, and I watched my bindweed literally disappear. So this year will be more of the same, plus some changes/adaptations I’m making to work around the bindweed-eating critters. Because ya’all know…if they’ll eat bindweed, they’ll eat everything else, right? Well, almost everything! The guinea pigs are fenced into three areas of vegetable/herb gardens. Because they don’t dig or jump, I’m doing container gardening in their areas, and letting them eat all the weeds in the ground, including the bindweed. The pigs are EAGER to get to work!

For the larger garden, I’m planting more of what the ducks don’t eat (roses, peonies, herbs, etc) and fencing off a section that doesn’t have bindweed to plant a few treasured plants that they DO eat.

Because it’s right in the middle of their coop/run entry, I had to leave a walkway for them to come and go. One thing I’m planting here is more wild violets. Besides being beautiful, they are edible. I bought some from Box Turtle Seeds, and they arrived today in great condition.

Speaking of seeds, if you haven’t yet ordered yours, you’d better get on that. Last year, many varieties were sold out, and this year is shaping up to be even worse. I’m hearing that supply is already getting limited, and lots of my favorite companies are actually closing to orders (at least temporarily) while they catch up on the tremendous influx of orders they already have! Personally, I bought most of mine months ago, enough for both Spring and Fall planting. I even bought an awesome storage box for them.

It’s actually meant for photos, but it works perfectly for seeds. Most people seem to get the clear colored one, but I got the rainbow, because I can use the colors to visually sort the seeds. Green for lettuce, yellow for squash, red for tomatoes…you get the idea! I also used a sharpie to write on them, rather than messing with labels. A bit of rubbing alcohol takes the sharpie right off, if you need to change anything!

It’s like it was made for seed packets!

It’s hard to believe, but in about a week, I’ll be starting the first seeds, breeding my rabbits, and picking up the first batch of chicks! I hope we’ll have an early Spring…and the garden seems to think we will. The clematis is budding out, and the bluebells are coming up!

I also am experimenting this year with different ways to grow strawberries. One thing I’m testing out is Mr. Stacky:

And I have bought a new variety of strawberries from Scenic Hill Farm to put in it. They are called Eclair, and they are so scrumptious-looking.

2020 has actually been a good year for me, despite all the stuff happening out there, and as I said before I’m only going to talk about positive things. So here are a few unexpected things I have enjoyed.

  1. Social distancing. Maybe I’m the only one out there, but I like the whole not-shaking-hands and wearing a mask. It is NICE not to have to have some guy crush my rings into my fingers, or suffer through one of those ‘limp noodle’ handshakes far too many women seem to give…you know that type…when they just lay their fingers limply in your hand and leave them laying there? *shudder* Plus, I always have cold hands in winter, and it is awesome not to hear “cold hands, warm heart” every time I shake hands. Gets old fast, lol. And masks. Yeah, sometimes they got a little stuffy in summer, but in winter? LOVE. IT. So cozy, and I can mutter under my breath without anyone thinking I’m crazy. And no worries about spinach stuck in my teeth! Plus there’s the whole no-getting-sick thing – and I’m not just talking about Covid. You would not believe how many people across the counter from me at work used to just cough and sneeze IN MY FACE without any attempt to turn away or cover it. Now they have to be masked AND stay six feet away. It’s brilliant.
  2. Shopping. Curbside pickup is the BOMB. Love it with a passion. Never, ever want to go back to the way I shopped before.
  3. My job. I’m deeply saddened that so many of my co-workers were let go, and I do miss seeing and talking to a bunch of my favorite customers face-to-face. But since the library is now closed to public and we are only doing curbside pickup, I’m not going to lie…there are a number of things I really, really love. Most of the things that were the most stressful and aggravating about my job have just…disappeared. The drug addicts sleeping in the reference room and causing periodic ruckus and 911 calls and fears of someone being stabbed…no longer a thing. Fighting with customers over not taking off their clothes/bathing/doing drugs/unmentionable things in the bathroom…no longer a thing. Angry people throwing books and library cards in our face…no longer a thing. Dealing with poop/pee/vomit/blood…no longer a thing. Instead, there is a calm, quiet building full of books, and I can eat my lunch out in the stacks in the cozy chair by the window, or leave my projects spread out on the tables, or shout back and forth across the building with my co-workers. The only nasty people I have to deal with are those idiots who refuse to wear a mask or follow the rules at curbside pickup. It hasn’t happened to me, but my co-workers have had people deliberately pull down their masks to cough on them, or twirl a mask between their fingers while screaming”You can’t make me wear this!” like a five-year-old child having a temper tantrum. I honestly don’t care if you believe Covid exists, or not, or what your political views are. If you can’t respect me and my co-workers enough to put a piece of cloth on your face for the five seconds it takes for us to confirm your ID with your driver’s license, you are a terrible person. Okay, that got a bit negative. But overall, my job has been great these past months. We are even doing fun things with our pickups, like offering personal shopping for books, and right now, we’re working on setting up an interactive puzzle-based mystery for our patrons!

Lastly, I wanted to share a few of my favorite things I’ve discovered this past year. First off, I was having some issues with inflammation in my knees and back. The knee thing was on-and-off, but the back pain got pretty bad, to the point where I would wake up every morning feeling like a 95 year old. Not fun. I did some research, and discovered turmeric can help. You do have to be careful that it comes from a good source, and in order for it to be absorbed by your body, it needs to have black pepper added. I found NatureWise Curcumin Turmeric, and started noticing improvement in the first week. By the time I’d gone through the first bottle (a two months supply), my back was almost back to normal, and so were my knees! This is a keeper, for sure.

If you have critters, you know the struggle of keeping them in clean water. I found these RentACoop waterers, and am a convert. They don’t leak (as long as you screw them together REALLY tightly) and are so easy to keep filled. They make them in several sizes and styles, and I’ve been switching the quail, pigeons, guinea pigs and finches over to them. Still need to buy a few more!

And lastly, my four favorite books.

The Book on Pie: Everything You Need to Know to Bake Perfect Pies. I am a sucker for pie books. I buy them all. Do I actually bake any of the pies? Sometimes.

Meat Illustrated: A Foolproof Guide to Understanding and Cooking with Cuts of All Kinds. Also a bit of a sucker for books about meat. I want to learn how to cook all those cuts I see in the grocery store and never know what to do with! You can’t go wrong with America’s Test Kitchen. Not only to do they tell you EXACTLY how to do it, in order to make it turn out, they tell you WHY. It is one of my pet peeves when a book says “Don’t do that thing”, but doesn’t say what will happen if you do. If I ever burn the house down, it will be because a book told me not to do a thing, and I was feeling testy and did it anyway just to see what would happen. Because I want to know. America’s Test Kitchen will never put me in that situation.

The Fat Kitchen: How to Render, Cure & Cook with Lard, Tallow & Poultry Fat. If I could convince everyone to do just ONE thing in their kitchen, it would be to throw out all their margarine, canola oil, and Crisco – and start cooking with animal fats. Those medical studies that convinced you animal fats are dangerous? Outdated and wrong. The NEW studies show it’s exactly the opposite: man-made fats are the dangerous ones, while grassfed animal fats are good for you! And they taste SO incredibly good…I mean, if you’ve never had potatoes cooked in duck fat, you haven’t lived.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. I have long been a fan of V.E. Schwab, but this particular book…it’s the book that is going to make her career. Indescribable, beautiful, haunting, and deeply thought-provoking, this is the book I recommend to my literary book snob friends who look down their noses at mere ‘genre fiction’.

Wow, that was a longer post than I thought it would be…I guess that happens when I don’t post for weeks….

LitJoy Magical Subscription Crate

Every now and then, I treat myself to a subscription…for at least a few months. I’ve done healthy snacks, lipbalms, and snacks from around the world. Now I’m trying something a little more pricy than my usual, but it’s so quality that it’s worth it! Meet the LitJoy Magical Crate.

Last week, I got my first box, and even the outside was magical.

Inside, was a fantastic collection of magical items, and the packaging was just as beautiful as the actual things. The first thing I pulled out was this metal tin filled with individual tea bags. I’m not a huge tea-drinker, but the smell of this tea was extraordinary! Just like chocolates and raspberries. Yummy!

Next was a glass perfume bottle. Again, look at the packaging!

They gave me a print of the design on the box, which I love, and a bookmark.

There were three metal pins. I particularly love the two alley ones.

A very thick and heavy coin, demonstrating the proper wand movement for a wand spell.

And the wand itself. In a gorgeous box.

A magical pet toad (and this one was my least favorite, just because I don’t think the toad is very cute. I love toads, but this one is just…blah.) But still adorable packaging!

And this contraption. Again, I am so impressed with how quality everything is. This is made of some very solid, heavy metals.

And it works!

Even the sheet of paper explaining what each item is, and who made it, is a work of art.

Over all, I’m deeply impressed, and looking forward to my next book, which will arrive around my birthday in January. Perfect timing!

Sad Times

I had a few sad animals deaths on the urban farm recently. First though, let me say that Ellie the miracle chicken is perfectly fine. She’s around eleven years, and still doing great. But my bobwhite quail were getting quite elderly for quail, so it wasn’t a great surprise when my last little female snowflake, Bellatrix, passed on in her sleep.

I’m already planning to hatch more in the spring, because bobwhite are a pure joy to have around. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get some more of the snowflake eggs.

Then, a few weeks later, I found Ophelia dead in the chicken run. No sign of sickness, and a postmortem examination turned up nothing obviously wrong, so I think she just died of an age related heart attack or stroke. She was a heavy breed, and not young. She was a wonderful girl, though. Always a visual standout in the flock, and so sweet and willing to hatch anything kind of critter I gave her, even a goose.

Then, the most sad death happened, just last week. One of my bantam cochin hens was missing at bedtime. A search of the chicken yard revealed that she’d been killed and eaten by the merlin hawk that lives in the field behind my property. This hawk primarily feeds on pigeons and other wild small birds, and is too small to take a full-sized chicken. It’s never bothered the banties, either…until now. I think the problem was a combination of its normal hunting ground being torn up by developers (who keep coming tearing up the field and destroying all the habitat and wild bird nests…but then never actually building anything – and they’ve been doing this for YEARS now and it frankly pisses me off) and also because the banties were all molting, and thus looked much smaller than they usually do.

And, of course, out of the three banties, the one killed was my favorite. Millie, who I called “Little Friend” because she followed me around and loved to snuggle on my lap. She was an absolute sweetheart.

I knew the other two banties weren’t going to be safe now that the hawk knew it could take them, so I made arrangements for a friend to take them both…and in the meantime, I put together a covered makeshift run to protect them.

I thought it was safe. It was completely wired in, with a tarp over the top. That hawk, though…. I went out mid-afternoon, and found the big chickens all hiding at the complete opposite end of their yard, as far away from this makeshift run as they could get. And they were looking up and acting jumpy and nervous. I thought they’d just seen the hawk fly over, so I wasn’t too worried, but I went to check on the banties anyway. And found one of the two remaining banties dead. The hawk had waited until she was scratching around close to the wire, then struck her through the wire and killed her. She had a couple of talon marks on her, but because she was still behind the wire, the hawk hadn’t been able to eat her, just pulled a few of her wing feathers out.

Because my friend has only standard-sized chickens, I wasn’t comfortable sending one banty all by herself to integrate with a new flock, so I thought of a different friend who has a flock of just banties. I asked her, and yesterday Keri came and adopted the sole survivor, Mollie, into her own flock. She says she thinks Mollie will end up being the alpha hen, and I believe it. Despite her size, Mollie was always a dominate girl. She had the goose completely terrorized of her!

This whole situation makes me very sad, both because it’s always difficult when animals die of anything other than natural old age – especially when you feel you should have been able to keep them safe, and you didn’t – and also because I really loved having banties in the flock. I loved how adorable they were, how sweet tempered and good at being mommas they were, and also their small eggs. Because it’s just the two of us, I often split recipes in half, and it’s always been an issue when a recipe calls for just one egg. I know you can whip the egg, then split it that way, but it feels like a waste. I discovered that banty eggs were perfectly sized to be “half an egg”, and I loved that.

So now I’m thinking I will get banties again, but they won’t be able to run with the regular flock. I have a section that I could fence off and cover (with smaller hawk-proof wire!) for a run that would be perfect for three little banties. It would also be a secure place for them to raise any chicks, since I’ve long been worried about the potential dangers of letting the mommas and babies run with the regular flock. Not because the other hens would hurt them – they never would – but because of all the various dangers involving water buckets, escaping through fence holes, or predators that can befall such tiny creatures.

I feel bad about my regular hens too, because they don’t understand why the banties were killed, they don’t realize their own size difference in comparison to the Merlin. All they know is they saw two of their own killed, and they are worried they’re going to be next. The morning after I found the first dead banty, two of my girls led me over to the sad little pile of feathers to show me what happened. One of them was Penelope, the dead banty’s particular friend. They both stretched out their necks, peered cautiously at the place where it happened, made the churr churr sound chickens make when they see something bad, then looked up at me. They had such worried, upset faces. Anyone who says birds don’t have feelings and emotions like humans do is absolutely wrong. Hopefully the hawk will move on now the last banty is rehomed, and they won’t keep getting re-traumatized by it flying over.

But to end this on a happier note, since it’s now winter and the outside garden is put to bed for the winter, I have been busy these past couple of months gardening inside. As of right this moment, I have eight tropical fish aquariums in my house, five of them in my bedroom. They range in size from 2.5 gallons to 45 gallons, and they are bringing me such joy. I’ve been following Father Fish on YouTube, along with a score of others, who believe that the way aquariums are commonly set up, with a inch or so of gravel, some plastic plants, and a smattering of chemicals to keep everything alive is a travesty. It’s possible to have a natural aquarium, one with a dirt substrate, real plants, and hardly any human tampering once it’s established and balanced. I love this so much.

Father Fish has a great rant on the subject of how the traditional methods of keeping tropical fish is destroying the hobby, and I agree with him.

I find it really difficult to take nice photos of aquariums, but here’s one that turned out fairly decent. It’s prettier in real life, though!

I absolutely love the idea of capturing a piece of actual nature, and it really is so simple.

Perks of My Job

I work at my City Library, and since we’ve been closed to everything but curbside pickup of requested materials, the squirrels have become friendly. Very friendly…especially this one female we call Black Squirrel.

She’s not actually black (although she looks black from a distance). She’s several gorgeous shades of mahogany. And yes, she is that close. She’s so friendly that she literally will run right up and demand peanuts. Twice, she has sat on my boss’ shoe! She comes right up to the door and presses her hands against the glass until we come out, and then she doesn’t want us to pass by without giving her some attention. And by attention, I mean nuts.

She recognizes which of us likes her, and will feed her. She’s gotten so comfortable with me, that she will take a peanut from my hand, then sit right down beside me to eat it. I took a video, but she was a little skittish, either because of the camera, or because of the fire sirens.

Unfortunately, she has also discovered that the cars that come for curbside pickup also contain people…and these people frequently like her too. She gets lots of treats from them, too, which means she terrifies us regularly by darting under cars and around wheels. We will be very sad if we find a squished Black Squirrel one day. If it weren’t a really, really bad idea to relocate a wild animal, I’d considered live-trapping her and bringing her home to live in my garden with my resident wild squirrel population!

But as I said, bad idea. Speaking of the live trap, though, I did catch something more interesting than a rat the other day.

He might look fierce, but possums are actually quite beneficial in a garden. So I let him go after a took a picture.

Finally! A Solution for Bindweed?

As always in this world, there are good things that happen, and bad things. I had two Muscovy hens sitting on eggs…but only one hen managed to hatch out her babies. My black hen, Tabitha, did hatch one successfully, but I found it dead in the far corner of her broody pen the following morning. It didn’t look injured or malformed, it just looked like it got out of the nest and died of cold. I suspect she threw it out, not recognizing the baby as hers? This is the second time she’s failed to hatch eggs, so I may not let her try again next year. We’ll see.

But the other wannabe mama, Tilda, is going great! she hatched nine ducklings, and they are just the cutest things, ever.

That is a just-hatched duckling…not even completely dried off.

She is super happy with herself, and super concerned I’m going to steal her babies. She’s my skittish hen, never very friendly, which is unfortunate, since all I want to do is snuggle ducklings.

A few days after they hatched, I let her take them out into the duck run, and one of the babies just…disappeared. I looked everywhere for signs of what happened, but there was nothing. I suspect the little hawk that lives in the field behind my house got it. So then I had to keep them confided in a more secure area for a few weeks until they were less vulnerable.

And the ducks are doing the job I hoped they would! Bindweed control! My entire garden is infested with bindweed, to the point where gardening is very frustrating. If I don’t pull it continually, it literally devours everything.

But I started noticing something…the bindweed is dying! Where it was grown up through a rose bush, it was all brown and dead! One area of the fence that I had pretty much given up on, was suddenly bare.

THAT, friends, used to be a solid wall of bindweed! Now it’s just…gone…except for some brown and dead leaves the ducks can’t reach.

And the fence along my chicken run, used to be overgrown, too.

But it’s not all the muscovy ducks’ work. Goosie has been working too. She’s getting everything on her side of the fence. And she’s been picking at the dead stems of bindweed wrapped through the wire, too, cleaning it up. If I had known this was possible, I’d have gotten muscovies and a goose thirty years ago!

Of course, having ducks free ranging through my garden does have a few negative points. They have trampled down a few plants I’d rather they didn’t…but I can put wire around those. They would eat my veggies…but I fenced them out of the veggie area. And they made a mess of the container water gardens I had. So I moved one to a non-duck area and converted the other to a bog garden.

This used to be filled with water; now it’s filled with a mix of peat moss and sand. It holds the water and keeps the plants happy, but isn’t attractive to the ducks. It’s all about the compromise! And I’m happy with a few squashed plants and nibbled leaves if it means the bindweed is being controlled.

And finally, I have enough elderberries on my oldest tree to start preserving a few. I dehydrated them, and will use them to make elderberry tea this cold and flu season.

Guinea Pigs Loose in the Garden?

There are people who claim that guinea pigs can’t be kept outside. That is absolutely incorrect. As long as they are acclimated to the environment, and have a dry, protected hutch, they will thrive. They are regularly kept outside in England. My pigs are loving their outdoor life…especially now, as they are officially useful, working homestead pigs!

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The worst problem in my garden (and it is a really, really severe problem!) is bindweed. This stuff is incredibly evil, and it will not die. None of the methods I normally use for unwanted weeds works at all on bindweed. The only thing that works is pinching every last bit of new growth off at the ground the moment it appears. But my garden is way too big and full of far too many plants for that to be possible.

In a few sections where I was trying to grown annual vegetables, I’m giving up and switching over to an above-ground-and-piggie system. Because the ONE THING bindweed has going for it is that it is edible for animals. My rabbits, ducks, goose, turkeys, and chickens will all eat it – although the chickens really aren’t fans, so they eat very little. My rabbits, on the other hand, LOVE it. But I can’t let the rabbits into the annual vegetable garden because they also LOVE all the other veggies. And rabbits jump. They will happily jump up into the above ground planters I’ve switched over to and eat the veggies.

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So no rabbits for bindweed control. I could pull it by hand, since it won’t become a threat to the veggies until it has grown knee high. But why do that, when you can work with an animal?

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Enter the piggies. Guinea pigs don’t jump, and love to scurry around planters and eat bindweed.

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Their new garden patrol is fenced off and safe, and they go in and out of their hutch at will…including putting themselves to bed well before dark. They only thing I have to do is shut and lock their door. So far, it’s working perfectly. If it continues to work, I will have to consider getting a second group of piggies to work the front veggie garden!

(And if you’re wondering why the strawberry plants look so terrible, it’s because I transplanted them in the middle of summer, and they are objecting. They are already growing fresh new leaves, though, so they will be gorgeous in Spring.)

I love giving the animals I love a natural life, filled with the things they enjoy!

In other news, the turkeys grew up to five weeks old, and were mostly independent. One of their two bantam chickens moms decided she had taught them everything necessary, and went off to live with the other chickens in the main chicken coop. The other mom was sticking with it…sorta. She still slept with them, but didn’t really spend any time with them during the day. So I decided it was time.

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Within 15 minutes of posting them on my local facebook poultry group, I was fielding questions from four interested people. And then about 5 minutes after that, one guy took them all. He has a little farm, and although he’s been raising a few modern breed turkeys for thanksgiving each year, he is now getting interesting in becoming more sustainable, and wants these guys to be his new breeding flock of heritage Red Bourbon turkeys! So brought all five to work with me at the library, and he picked them via our curbside pickup. I have the best boss, honestly. When I texted her the night before to warn her I was bringing my turkeys in with me, she just said she couldn’t wait to see them.

Next year, if these bantams volunteer again, I might see what other interesting eggs I might get them to hatch. My mom suggested peacocks! Hmmm…..

I thought the turkeys would be the last babies on the farm this year, but it turns out my Muscovy hens had other plans. I don’t remember if I blogged about it, but my drake had a thing happen to him very early this year. He had a prolapsed penis, which resulted in him losing his penis. This isn’t a problem for a male duck, as the only thing he uses his penis for is fertilizing the females…he can still go happily through the motions of mating (and does all the time!) but he can’t actually fertilize those eggs. Or so I thought.

About three months after the…hem…incident happened, one of my females, Tabitha, went broody. I let her sit on the (I thought) infertile eggs while I decided whether I was going to get some eggs for her from somewhere else. I ended up checking the eggs just to be sure…and wow. There were babies developing inside! After checking with someone who checked with her vet, it turned out ducks can hold sperm inside them for up to three months. Okay, I thought…they just barely made the deadline!

And then, something went wrong late in the game, and the eggs didn’t hatch.

So that was it. No ducklings on the farm this year….or so I thought.

About a month ago, my second hen, Tilda, went broody. This was a good FIVE months after the…hem…incident happened. No way this girl’s been holding sperm this long. It’s scientifically impossible…isn’t it?

I let her sit, while I considered my options, and finally decided I’d just take the eggs away because it’s getting late in the season, and I really prefer having babies earlier. But just to be 100% safe…I checked the eggs.

And…there are babies inside! What. In. The. World. How is this happening? I’m thrilled to have a miracle drake who can apparently father children without a penis, because I really wanted to have a sustainable little trio of muscovies, and I love Tiberius and don’t want to replace him with another drake.

But really….what is going on here?

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And then, after Tilda went broody, Tabitha also decided to go for a second attempt at being a mother.

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Tilda has somewhere around ten eggs underneath her, and Tabitha has four. Tabitha’s eggs are also developing. Tilda’s eggs are due to hatch sometime next week? Maybe? I didn’t mark down the exact date, because I was so sure they weren’t fertile. Tabitha is due maybe a week after that. I’m pretty excited, guys.

And extremely puzzled.

In the garden, the grapes have wrapped themselves decoratively under the eaves of the chicken coop.

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The bees are buzzing around their favorite flowers, which are leeks. I don’t grow leeks for the leeks, ya’ll. I grow them strictly for the bees!

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And the artichoke is getting closer to flowering as well. This is also for the bees. And for the drama! If you’ve never seen an artichoke flower, you’re missing out.

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But the real star is Goosie. She is turning out to be the most perfect addition. She’s extremely chatty, but she only gives the loud and obnoxious alarm call when she really feels there’s a problem…like when she first saw the guinea pigs roaming around! Those piggies are clearly chicken-eating monsters. But after giving the alarm, she settles right down. And she’s so sweet and affectionate.

I’m loving having a goose in the flock.