Spring is almost here.

The sorrel is up, and boy do I love this stuff! It’s the earliest edible green for me, and it just sprouts up all on its own. It has a lovely lemon bite to it!

After a long winter hiatus, the chickens have begun to lay eggs again. They have been solely missed. Ophelia the frizzle cochin laid her first egg a few days ago. I knew it was coming, because she had started “crouching” whenever I walked near her. It’s a sure sign when you see that; she’ll be laying in about a week! Ophelia’s eggs are a pretty brown, almost a pink. They are currently spotted with white, but that will stop once she uses up some of the extra calcium she has inside her right now.

I went out to feed the bobwhite quail the other day, and noticed something cute: they are getting on super well with the parakeets. When I threw seed on the ground, the green parakeet came right down with them – she was so unafraid that she actually was walking underneath the quail! Sadly, though I did get a video, I didn’t manage to capture any of the walking underneath action. But it’s still cute.

In other bird news, I purchased a ‘Lovey Dovey’ dove nest from Amazon, and hung it with a little grass stuffed inside. I’m hoping I’ll get a pair of mourning doves to nest.

The weather has been fairly decent the last few days, and I’ve got a lot of cleaning up in the garden accomplished. The summer kitchen area is ready to build in, and I’ve finished the raised beds in front and planted a few plants around. The summer kitchen will be roofed, and I’ll catch rainwater off it, to water the raised beds.

The area where the old duck coop used to be will now become an edible food forest. In the picture below, the first section of rough boards is where I plan to build a raised hot bed for winter growing. In behind, the two boards mark off the site of the future serama chicken coop.

I’ve got a bunch of trees and shrubs coming; the first batch is being delivered Monday. I’m so excited!

I’m so impatient for spring. Every time I go outside, I see more signs of life.

The violets are up.

The moss is growing.

And the roses are alive.

It’s still hard to believe that in about a month, everything will be green and I’ll have baby chicks out in the coop!

Raising My Own Meat

I can’t do it, guys.

And what I mean is, I can’t bear to continue buying contaminated, unhealthy meat from horrifically inhumanely raised and slaughtered animals. And going vegetarian is not an option for me – I believe, absolutely, that a strict vegetarian/vegan diet is not the most healthy option.  And I’m not ashamed to admit that I love the taste of meat.  I used to think I could never slaughter animals myself, but it turns out that most of that fear was a fear of not doing it right, of screwing it up and causing the animals distress or pain. But with every animal I’ve killed, I’ve gotten more and more confident. I truly believe that the last two roosters I killed knew absolutely nothing was happening: one moment they were alive, the next moment, they were dead.

I would love to be in a place where I could raise larger animals like cows and pigs, but until that happens, I’m stuck in the city where “hooved animals” are not allowed. (Strangely enough, all other animals are fine…as long as they aren’t too noisy or stinky. Perhaps I should get ostriches??? 😉 ) These regulations mean I can have chickens, and I can have rabbits. This year, I’m getting 8 – 10 Naked Neck chicks to raise up.

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They are a heritage breed, bred for flavor rather than unnaturally fast growth. These birds won’t keel over of heart attacks at a few weeks old, or shatter their legs when they try to walk, as the industry Cornish Cross breed does.  If it goes well, I’m think of adding a small breeding trio of Naked Neck adults to my urban farm, so I’m not dependant on (or patronizing) the commercial hatcheries. I’m not technically allowed to have a rooster – but only because roosters crow. If I try keeping a rooster, I’d have to use one of the No Crow Collars. They have mixed reviews, but after reading tons of them, one of the major difficulties seems to be getting them tight enough without choking the bird. And the reason why they can’t get them tight enough, seems to be the problem of shifting neck feathers. Naked Necks don’t have neck feathers. Possibly problem solved? I think it’s worth a try. I can’t find anyone who has written about using a collar on a Naked Neck. Do you know of anyone?

They certainly cut out the noise, while still allowing the rooster all other normal sounds and activities.

And rabbits, of course, are going to be my other meat animals. Not my mom’s pet rabbits, that I’ve been writing about recently. These will be a breed that is almost exclusively used for meat production: the New Zealand.

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The adults are not especially cute. They will, however, have an excellent life with me, as I will not raise anything in tiny little wire cages. These rabbits will have a large space to run and play in, and lots of fresh food.

Although killing animals is not easy (and should not ever be), it is entirely natural and far more moral than supporting the cruel practice of factory farming.  It’s incredibly recently that all of us have lost the skill. It’s actually shocking to realize that having a flock of chickens, rabbits, or even a cow in the backyard was absolutely normal within living history.

The summer kitchen area (which will also be my meat processing area) is finally cleaned out and ready to build on.  (Well – ready except for digging out a few stray t-posts.) As you saw in the last post, I left a horrific mess of rotten fence boards and other junk laying about until I had time to finish it. While I was at my day job, mom came out and cleared almost all of it away for me! It was an awesome surprise, letting me jump directly to the more fun bits of re-attaching the bamboo privacy fence. It’s starting to look nice now.

And the old potting bench fits! It just needs a new counter. And where the potting bench used to be, is now prime seating area. It’s really warm and sunny in winter (Ellie the chicken and I sunbathed together there just yesterday) and in summer, it’s cool and shady.

I’m going to build an awesome arbor here, with fluffy cushions, and fairy lights. Stay tuned.

Rabbits and New Summer Kitchen Prepwork

The rabbits are moved into their new hutch/run, and they are so happy. Happy, happy rabbits.

Daisy and Dandelion.

I filmed a brief video hoping to catch them romping, but of course they didn’t romp on cue. I’m told that a few minutes after I left, they were tearing around in circles, chasing each other.

 

 

They have piles of raspberry, blackberry, and apple prunings to eat.

And a tub of dirt to dig in, if they wish. And hopefully, if they wish, they will contain their digging to this tub.

 

So far, they haven’t dug at all. The tub is just to sit and look cute in.

They are excellent at looking cute.

The summer kitchen progress is moving right alone…but so far, it’s all prep work. There is a lot of prep work. I dug out all the gravel from the former duck yard, and half of it went as a foundation to the meat rabbit pen, and half went to the summer kitchen. Gravel drains well, and is nice underfoot. The part you see in the back, is where the summer kitchen will be.

To the left, the bamboo screen needed to come down and be replaced. It was meant to cover a decrepid rotting fence – but the neighbor has since built a new one, but rather than removing the old one, he just moved his new one inside his property line. So I took down the bamboo, and tore out the old fence myself. It made a mess.

It made a BIG mess. Old rotten wood and rubbish everywhere.

Now that the fence is down, though, I gained about half a foot of space, and some firewood, since we’ll cut up the old fence boards to burn. I’m also putting the bamboo back up again, since the neighbor’s new fence is too low and too gap-y for my taste. I don’t feel private or content on my property if I have to see the neighbor’s yard all the time.

Also, I had a brainstorm. One thing our garden is lacking are quality shaded places to sit. See this potting bench? In summer, the honeysuckle tree shades it, and it’s the coolest part of the yard. And I never use it to pot anything; it’s purely decorative.

 

Decorative when it’s not full of winter mess and junk, that is. But I’m going to take it out, and put in a lovely arbor there. And the potting bench, if it will fit, will become part of the summer kitchen counter. All it needs is a new top; the base is still really solid.

Inside the house, mom’s been doing a lot of crocheting. Dexter and Bundy help.

 

Beginning the New Rabbit Colony Pen

Today was a lovely sunshiny day – very Spring-like. I’m betting that we are going to have an early Spring in the Pacific Northwest this year.  Although we will likely have a few more frosts, I think we’re past the hard freezes. I certainly hope so! But whether we are or not, these lovely days are giving me a chance to do a lot of yard work – including build the new meat rabbit colony house.

I think in my previous post, I shared a pic of the site where I’ll be building it, all full of pruned apple branches and various other messes. Today, I cleaned all of that out, and started preparing the site. Since it tends to be lower ground, and thus wetter, the first job was to raise it level. Since I have a former duck pen full of pea gravel that I want cleaned out, that’s what I did today. Shoveled gravel from here:

To here:

Since a very old apple tree is also here, I am working around it.  The pen dimensions are roughly laid out by the boards. The narrow end of the pen (closest to the camera), will have a gate, so I can divide off the buck if I decide he’s causing problems – or just doing his bunny-making job too well! The wide end, shown in the below picture, will be the doe’s quarters.

Over the gravel, I will lay hardware cloth to keep out rats, and then build the pen up from there. To increase the space, there will be various levels inside the pen, and I hope to allow the rabbits access to the rest of the east yard on a regular basis…especially when there are young rabbits in the colony. I will also have a “rabbit tractor”, to allow them lawn grazing privileges.

Speaking of rats… You know, guys, I do try to look on rats as ‘squirrels without fluff’ and allow them a little respect. Like everything else, they have their place in the world. But their place is not chewing holes in my studio wall, so they can get underneath the floor and and nest in the insulation.

I just found this yesterday, and needless to say, I am not pleased. Time to reduce the rat numbers! Last night I set out the Snap Trap, and bagged one extremely pregnant female. I’ll keep putting out the trap until I stop catching them, and then I’ll fix this hole…and perhaps add a bit of hardware cloth along this wall.

Yesterday, I also planted out a bunch of seeds. Brassicas, mostly…kale and cabbage…but also some early lettuce, in the cold frames.

And in the greenhouse, too!

I also started onions, which normally don’t do well for me. I never get large bulbs. But this is the year I will succeed, right? I’m trying Green Mountain Multiplyer onions, because you can leave any bulbs you don’t harvest in the ground, and they will reproduce naturally.

Last year, I started doing the Back to Eden gardening method, using wood chips as a deep mulch. Now the ground has unfrozen, I can see that the chips are already starting to improve the soil. So many earthworms! The chickens, granted access to the east yard “vineyard” are thrilled! You never saw such happy chickens.

Before I had the wood chips, I had to really restrict their access to this yard, because they would busily dig immense holes in the dirt, usually right at some poor plant’s roots. With the wood chips, the layers are so deep that they dig and dig, and before they reach the dirt, they have lost interest in that particular hole and moved on.  And like I said, tons of earthworms! Over the last couple days, they’ve been digging and eating…and then curling up together in a sunny corner to nap and purr with contentment. Yes – chickens do purr! If you search on YouTube, you’ll find quite a few videos. (Mine are too shy of the camera to purr on cue.)

As a result of this happiness, we are going to cover all parts of the chicken’s outside runs with wood chips. It looks much nicer than straw, and I won’t have to:

A) Buy the straw.

B) Run the risk of the straw being contaminated with pesticides, thereby contaminating my garden.

It’s good that the chickens have a new source of forage, because they are running out of the veggies from last summer. The kales are finally eaten completely, the bags of tomatoes I froze for them are almost gone, and the kohlrabi are down to the last few. And looking pretty nasty – though still tasty to the girls!

Thankfully, signs of Spring are everywhere!

New Rabbit House, Quail, and Parakeets

Daisy and Dandelion, our two pet rabbits and poop producers, have officially moved – out of the old duck coop, and into a smaller coop. Smaller, because they will now also have access to an outdoor run on a regular basis.

The coop is up against the east side of the chicken coop, where they will get morning sun and afternoon/evening shade, which seems about perfect for rabbits. This passage is neatly between the “dirt yard” (the main 24/7 chicken yard) and the rest of the east yard, which will eventually be the meat rabbit area. I also want to allow the layers access to this yard regularly, because it’s also where many of the fruiting vines/shrubs are, and I want them to be able to scavenge the fallen fruit.

This is the view, looking from the east yard into the dirt yard.

The gate is standing open in this pic, as to allow the layers free access, but I can close that gate when I wish to either restrict the layers, or release the rabbits. Notice the stones placed against the fence. This is to discourage digging underneath the fence – and because I noticed that rabbits LOVE cool stones to lie on during summer.

And here is the view from the dirt yard, through into the east yard. Two gates, total, to control who goes where, and when. So far, the rabbits are thrilled. The chickens are somewhat less so…since they learned that fences and gates frequently keep them from the places they most want to go. Like my spring-planted garden beds.  They also don’t entirely approve of rabbits, in general.

I had two columnar apple trees in wine barrels inside this new bunny run, but I decided to replant those in the ground.  I’m much more confident in my ability to control fruit trees now – using the methods in Grow a Little Fruit Tree. The chickens have an additional run along the back south fence, and I moved the apple trees there.

In summer kitchen-making news, I did manage to situate and fill the new veggie bed. It’s going to be some time yet until I manage to get anything else done here, though. First up is the construction of the meat rabbit colony house.

Surprising me (as the coturnix quail are feeling full of Spring vim and vigor and mating instinct) the Bobwhites are still entirely calm and contented. They are the sweetest things.

The coop they share with the parakeets has some pine branches in it, which they adore.

And now that I’ve mentioned the parakeets, I should give you an update on those. Remember I was attempting an experiment to see if they could live happily outside year-around? It turns out, they can. They saw the camera and promptly fled into their nest boxes, so I don’t have any photographs, but despite temperatures dipping down to 13 degrees, they have been perfectly fine – fluttering around, chirping, and acting perfectly normally. Little goldie (the yellow one and my favorite) did die, but as it happened at the end of summer, before the temperatures cooled, I know it was unrelated. I have no idea what killed her; but sometimes these unexplained deaths do happen, sad as they are. I’m just happy that the other three are healthy and contented!

Spring Plans 2017

Every year…every year, I have a list of things to build and do as long as my arm. This year is no exception.  Although it is still below freezing here, I’ll be starting my cabbage and kale seeds very soon. I’ve got all my seeds purchased and waiting…even the ones I won’t be able to plant for months yet. Two mail order companies I particularly love are Baker  Creek and Seed Renaissance. Both stock rare and wonderful heirloom seeds – sometimes ones you can’t find anywhere else.

Besides the seeds, I am making plans for parts of the property that have been neglected for years.  The colony meat rabbits will finally be coming this year. It’s perfect timing, because their housing will be paid for by a Victorian costume I sold to a Los Angeles “stylist to stage and screen”! I’m going to build it here, in this shady bit of space behind the old apple tree.

Before I can build this, however, I’m moving the pet rabbits out of the former duck house and into a place of their own. Here, at the side of the chicken coop.

The idea is, they will have a bit of outdoor space to run in, and – if they and the chickens get on together – they will be able to have access to the entire chicken yard, too. We’ll see how that goes…Antoinette is not a great fan of critters in her yard.

She chases squirrels out the coop, and once, when the rabbits were a lot younger and smaller, she jumped on one and attempted to thoroughly thrash it. (I’m not sure the rabbit noticed…)

Once the pet rabbits are moved into their new quarters, I’ll have the former duck coop available again…and this year, I’m getting a few Naked Neck chickens to raise for meat.

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Naked Neck, or “Turken”

I have decided against raising the traditional “broilers”, those unnatural frankenchickens. Instead I chose this traditional meat breed, partly because they naturally have 40% less feathers (and not just on their necks). Less feathers mean less plucking!

Since I will be butchering both rabbits and meat chickens here next year, I decided I need a sort of summer kitchen, with an outdoor sink and a place to process animals. I selected this corner, which has always just been a place to store excess junk.

One bonus, once I put up a new solid fence at the back, it will be very private and out of the way of nosy neighbors.

The frizzle cochins roosters are gone…into my freezer. Probably because of the time of year, I couldn’t find anyone who wanted to take them off my hands. It’s just as well, really. They were massive boys (I called them the “Turkeys”) and butchering them was good practice for what’s to come.  The larger one dressed out at just over 5lbs, and the smaller just under that.

I used my new Ballista bolt gun, and I highly, highly recommend it. Easy to use, and I loved how instant and humane the death was. I truly believe the roosters were dead without ever having any inkling anything was happening. Even mom helped with the plucking and gutting.  And one interesting thing I noticed while gutting them: they didn’t stink. It’s pretty commonly known that the insides of chickens smell pretty terrible – that was certainly the case with the one other rooster (belonging to a friend) that I butchered. Gah. Nasty. But because my chickens eat a natural diet of grains, bugs, and vegetables (plus some table scraps) their poop doesn’t stink…and so apparently…neither do their insides.

My hens were SO HAPPY to have the roosters gone. The girls generally would not put up with any roostery nonsense from the boys, but my shy little Barnvelder, Josie, was being terrorized by them. The last couple of days, she took to hiding all by herself in the back of the yard, and wouldn’t come to the coop even to eat or drink unless I was there.  Even after I saw this happening, and penned the roos up separately so they couldn’t get to the hens, she didn’t feel safe. Poor girl.  Today, the first full day the roos are gone, the hens are so relaxed. They are sleeping in the sun, stretched out and purring.

I am, of course, keeping their sister, the blue frizzle cochin Ophelia. She’s such a calm, pretty girl…and she loves having her picture taken. She’ll stand and wait, every time she sees the camera.

My little soulmate chicken, Ellie, hates the camera – but also gets extremely jealous of all the attention Ophelia is getting. She pulls on my pants legs, whining with increasing volume and anxiety, and if I still keep ignoring her, she stalks away and stands in the corner with her back to me until I apologize.

This is my life: fluffy frizzle divas and jealous Welsummers.

My Favorite Books of 2016

As always, I read a ton of books in 2016 – 155 of them, to be exact! Out of those, here is my annual list of the ones I loved the most. They are in no particular order…except that my Book of the Year is at the end.

#1: Bread Illustrated, a Step-by-Step to Achieving Bakery Quality Results at Home, by the America’s Test Kitchen.

indexMy new go-to bread book.  Love that it explains why it tells you to do a particular step, or use a certain flour, or whatever. The illustrations are amazing, and all the recipes I’ve tried have turned out perfectly.

#2: Thicket, by Joe R. Lansdale

51dijm6-dtlWow, this man can write. Beautiful book.

#3: How to Be a Victorian, by Ruth Goodman

2So very fascinating, and unlike virtually every other “how they lived” book out there, this author knows her business first-hand. She has spent months living in the Victorian world, and has personally worn, eaten, and done the work she writes about. No silly comments about corset-wearing women being unable to sit down in this book – she’s actually harvested wheat with a scythe while wearing hers! (And found it easier than when not wearing a corset actually, back support for the win!) I now want to try making some of the skin creams and other cosmetics; they sound much better than our modern ones – and much safer for our health.

#4: Crimson Peak Art of Darkness, by Mark Salisbury

crimson-peakI have been insanely obsessed with Crimson Peak since I saw the film; it’s quite possibly the most insanely gorgeous movie I have ever seen. I watched it twice in two days. Of course I had to buy this book instantly, and I found it nearly as amazing as the film. Gorgeous, gorgeous book on the making of a gorgeous, gorgeous film. Too many usages of the word ‘gorgeous’? No. Not possible, not for Crimson Peak.

#5:  Project Animal Farm, by Sonia Faruqi

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Absolutely necessary book – everyone needs to read this. It’s frightening how many people want to keep their heads buried in the sand, and continue supporting the torture, suffering, and extremely inhumane death of billions of animals every year, rather than wake up and realize what’s going on. And don’t even get me started on what this ‘food’ is doing to our own health, and the health of our world.

#6: Eat Dirt, by Josh Axe

index6And if you don’t know what our factory farming, incredibly over-sanitized way of life is doing to your health, this book will explain it.  A must-read, especially if you have children, or an autoimmune disorder of any kind. Or, really, if you have any kind of health issue at all. It’s amazing what sorts of things are caused by gut issues, things you’d never think of.

#7: What Ho, Automaton! by Chris Dolley

51ohvzw3xal-_sx322_bo1204203200_Jeeves & Wooster pastiche, with a steampunk twist. Loved this SO much!

#8: Introduction to Permaculture, by Bill Mollison

index4So inspiring. So many great ideas – some I can put into practice now, others that will have to wait until I get my country farm. LOVE the detailed line drawings. I could just pore over those all day.

#9: American Elsewhere, by Robert Jackson Bennett

indexIf you like classic Stephen King, you’ll love this. Nicely thick doorstopper of a book, with all the character-building, slow buildup, and eerie storyline of the best of King. Loved it. And might I add: the cover is gorgeous.  I think I would have read anything that had this cover on it!

#10: The Black Belt Librarian, by Warren Graham

indexNow this one is very specialized, and if you aren’t a librarian, it’s probably not for you. But if you are, this book might just entirely change your professional life. I am a librarian, and my library has slowly become a place where no one feels safe either working or visiting. I’ve had so many long-time patrons come up and say they would no longer be coming in, because of the safety issues. Thankfully, the Mayor came to bat for us, booted out the leadership that was allowing this happen, and brought this book to our attention. It’s been revolutionary.  If you aren’t a librarian, but you visit a library where you feel unsafe, you might want to mention this book to your local librarian. It’s pricey, but worth every penny!

#11: The Creeping Shadow, by Jonathan Stroud

indexEvery time one in this series comes out, it makes my favorites list. Every. Freaking. Time. The series is THAT good! Extremely well-written, fantastic world-building, and great plot and characters. Don’t be thrown off by the fact that it’s a ‘grade school novel’. It isn’t, not really. It’s just a truly wonderful book that happens to have young characters.

#12: The Art of Natural Cheesemaking, by David Asher

51vyqwkdjpl-_sx398_bo1204203200_Wow. Just wow. What a brilliant, needed book. A valuable read even if you aren’t interested in making cheese yourself. And he uses kefir for his starter! So grateful and delighted I found this book.  Do yourself a favor and make creme fraiche with your kefir. It is to die for. I could sit and eat it with a spoon. And then, use the creme fraiche to make cultured butter….oh, the silkiness! The flavor! You’ve never had butter like this. This book would have been my favorite of the year, hands down, except for the book below.

#13: The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs, by Joel Salatin

51jdpvtpql-_sx330_bo1204203200_This the book I have been waiting my whole life for someone to write. It’s brilliant, and captures my entire philosophy, world-view, and personal goals, all in one. There are really no words to describe the meaning of this book to me.