Monthly Archives: January 2014

On Sculpting, Gardening, and Duck Fat

Oh WOW, you guys.  I’d heard that duck fat and potatoes were made for each other, so since potatoes are basically my favorite food, I gave it a try. Last night I fried some sliced potatoes (which I would normally have fried in butter) in duck fat.

It was SO incredibly good.  I’m salivating, just remembering.  In fact, after I finish this post, I think I’ll go make some more!  Duck fat is officially on my ‘must have’ list.  There is no way I am not raising ducks for meat, now.  I just have to figure out which breed, and where to put them.

Today the rain let up, and that was a fortunate thing, since my order arrived from Raintree Nursery.  I have a Crandall Black Currant, a new blueberry, and two Golden Sentinel columnar apple trees!

I put the apple trees in wine barrels in the Chicken yard.  The chickens are extremely excited about all that new dirt, which is why there is currently boards over the barrels.  If I didn’t do that, they’d dig the trees up in very short order.  Once they are settled in, and the dirt is no longer quite so enticing, I’ll remove them.

Hard to believe anything can come of those little twigs, right?

In other gardening projects, the front yard garden is coming right along.  Most of the beds are in, and filled.

I think we’ve decided to use straw between the beds, in the walkways.  I can’t wait until time to plant!  I’ve already started a few seeds inside, things like kale, that will be ready to put out before the last frost.  I think we’re going to have an early Spring.  The daffodils are coming up, the trees are budding, and the rabbits are losing their excess winter hair.  Of course, now that I’ve said this…..

Loki the quail needs his coop built, so I’ve started on that, as well.

Why do things have to look so terrible before they look nice?  This is part of my circle garden.  I’m pulling apart one of the middle sections, and am going to build the coop into it, as a pretty accent.  I need to get this done as soon as possible, because I’m going to order a snazzy new incubator (a Brinsea) soon, and raise some gorgeous Blonde wives for my picky quail boy.  He’d better like these girls.  If not, he’ll have to go, pretty as he is.   😦

I also managed to finish up a sculpting commission I took on – three cats, modeled after pictures of the buyer’s cats, with the requested accents of Lovecraft, Pokemon, Tesla, Steampunk, and the Cheshire Cat.  I think it quite adorable, myself!  I love doing commissions for people; it’s such an exercise in creativity.

And look!  Our sky was so pretty tonight!

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On Birthdays, Projects, and Ducks

I had another birthday a couple of days ago, which allowed me to practice my second annual birthday tradition: learn a new skill.

Last year, I learned to knit.  Well, I learned the basic knit stitch, which is all I want at this point.  I don’t want to fuss about with reading patterns, or counting stitches (heavens knows I get enough of that with my other handiwork).  No, all I wanted was to have a mindless activity for my hands while I watch tv.   In a year, I’ve made (I think) eight scarves, and six pairs of mitts.  Most of these scarves are super long, too, as I do love a loooong scarf, and ones I find in the store are rarely long enough!  The scarf I just finished has a crocheted trim and pockets.  I’m loving the pockets.

This year, I learned two new things, actually.  The official thing was learning how to hand spin, using a drop spindle.  I bought a basic spindle and some prepared alpaca roving off Etsy.

And…I’m getting the hang of it.  My yarn is extremely uneven, but considering my favorite purchased yarn is almost as uneven, I kind of hope I never get so expert that I lose the ability to make uneven yarn!  Uneven yarn is super fun to knit.

I’ll spin out the entire 4oz of roving I purchased before I say whether spinning will become a lasting interest for me.  Right now I’m enjoying it, though.  After I’ve made the yarn, I plan to hand-dye it, using plants I’ve grown in my garden, then knit it into something.  A pair of mitts, probably, since I doubt there will be enough for a scarf.  It will be cool to say I made them myself from (almost) start to finish!

Also for my birthday, I cooked my first duck.  I’d never even tasted duck before, but I’d always been curious.  People say it’s difficult to cook well, but I have to say it was simple enough – as long as you find a good set of directions and follow it.  I decided to slow roast mine, as I’m a big believer in slow roasting meat until it’s so tender it falls off the bone.  Most meat, I find, is generally undercooked.  Meat should either be rare (as in a good steak) or cooked for a really long time on a really low temperature to be really good.  I used this recipe for my duck, and it turned out brilliantly.

Wow.  I am such a duck convert!  This was absolutely the best tasting meat I’ve ever had.  It was not greasy at all, just really tender and flavorful, and the skin?  So crispy!  Plus, I had about a cup of duck fat left in the pan, which we saved to render.  Soon, I’ll use it to fry some potatoes, as I hear that makes the best tasting potatoes ever!

Because of this duck experiment, I’m now delving into the idea of raising ducks for meat.  I never even considered that before, because I love ducks alive and quacking…I thought I’d never want to use them as meat animals.

But the taste of that duck!!!!!  Seriously, the best meat I’ve ever put in my mouth.

I did some research, and discovered a lot of people raise Muscovies for meat.  They are considered not only the best tasting duck, but also a contender for the best tasting meat overall.  Some describe it as more like veal, with several saying that the breast meat is almost indistinguishable from sirloin steak.  You can even grind it, and use it for hamburger.  It is the Cadillac of meats.

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And then, I did even more research on the Muscovy ducks themselves, and discovered that the females are natural mothers, hatching and raising up to 80 ducklings per year.  Muscovies also catch and eat mosquitoes and flies out of the air; they are so brilliant at controlling flying pests that people purposely keep them around barns just for that purpose.  People say that once they get Muscovies, mosquitoes are a thing of the past.  While I don’t have a huge problem with flies or mosquitoes, I’d love to be rid of the ones I do have!

muscovy_ducklingsOddly, they are actually more of a goose than a true duck.  They can breed with a duck, but the offspring will be “mules”: infertile.  Another point in their favor is that they are extremely quiet.  The males “whisper” or hiss, and the females have a “trilling coo”.  They have very…interesting faces, as well.  A little reminiscent of a turkey?  I always though they were ugly, but after watching a bunch of youtube videos, they are starting to grow on me.  Perhaps it’s the way they wag their tales like puppies?

I’ve got more research to do, but I kind of think I’m going to end up with a few Muscovy ducks.  And the perfect option would be to find someone willing to do the slaughtering for a share of the meat.  Even though I’m totally a convert to duck meat, I still don’t think I could kill a duck.  😦

And here.  I can’t resist.  You’ve seen the first episode of Sherlock, season three?  If you haven’t, minor spoilers.

This kiss.

Just…this kiss.

Out of Eden

You may have noticed I’ve renamed this blog.  No longer “Alisa’s Totally Random Blog”, it is now “Out of Eden”.  While I will remain random at times, this blog is more and more evolving into a record of my gardening and homesteading efforts.  Thus, I have renamed it after the name of my garden.

Genesis 3:17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;

3:18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;

3:19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.

3:23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.

Let me tell you…unless you’ve gardened yourself, you have no idea of the back-breaking labor it can be at times.  Especially when you’re building a new garden, which is what I’m doing now.  It is definitely not Eden around here.

But perhaps because I really have no personal frame of reference to the real Eden, my garden is still starting to look pretty wonderful.  The new front yard vegetable garden has an actual bed installed!  The trellis (made from a hog panel held in place by four T-poles) will be for growing squash over; underneath, I plan to grown things like lettuce and cole crops.

On Keeping (and Eating) Quail

Yes, I did it.  I ate two of my quail.  I’ll tell you that story in a bit; first I want to share some questions I received.  Amber writes:

I wanted to tell you that reading about your success with raising quail on the ground in a natural environment has given me so much hope to do the same! I was wondering if you would be willing give me the approximate dimensions of both quail coops and any advice on things you would change or keep the same? Also, how do you clean them? Thank you!

Instead of answering her privately, I decided to turn this into a blog post, because those are some great questions!  (And I’m also thrilled that she is considering raising quail outside of  those small wire cages that so many people use.)

If you haven’t been following my blog, or missed the posts about the quail coops, you can see pictures of how they look, here.

The dimensions of my largest coop (the one with the roof garden) is about 8ft long, by 3ft wide, by 5ft tall.  This is way overkill for what the quail need.  I built it with the idea that if I didn’t like keeping quail, it would be suitable housing for something else.  Serama chickens, perhaps, who would actually use that height!

The smaller coop is 6ft long, by 2ft wide, by 2ft high.  This is a perfect size, I’m finding, for up to four quail.  I have three in it right now, a male and two females.  They have plenty of room to jump and scratch around in.  The top-lifting door is working perfectly, as well.  My quail aren’t frightened of me (I’m the Bringer of All Good Things, after all) so they just look quietly up at me when I open the top.  They *are* afraid of the Wide World, and thus don’t want to attempt to escape.  The only reason they would try to fly out, is if something startled them so severely that they just flew without thinking about what they were doing.  I’ve only had one escape me, and that was when I was trying to put her in the cage for the first time.  She didn’t try to fly away, even then, just scuttled off under some leaves.  With her coloring, it was literally as though she’d disappeared!  I had to not move for fear of stepping on her; I just knelt carefully down and searched the ground until I finally picked her out.  And then she just let me pick her up.

I’m going to be building another cage for Loki the quail and his future wives, and it’s going to be very close in design to the smaller cage.  Just a little prettier, since I’m making it a focal point of my garden.

The cages have a dirt floor, with wire dug underneath for security against predators.  I put a very light layer of shavings on top, and when it starts to look dirty, I take a trowel and turn the shavings layer under into the dirt.  Then I add more shavings on top.  It’s almost like the quail are toilet-trained – although they run all over the cage, there are definite corners that they tend to hang out in, and poop in, the most.  I turn those corners over more frequently than the rest of the cage – maybe every week or so.  The shavings and poop compost down, and I’m getting some really nice soil in those cages!  At some point, I’ll scoop a bunch of it out to put on my garden, and give the quail new dirt to improve for me!  This troweling also loosens the dirt, which lets the quail have dust baths.  I need to figure out a tray or box that I can make a proper dirt bath in for them…although the jury is out on whether they will use it.  Quail definitely have minds of their own.

One thing I would change in the smaller coop is the nest box.  I’m still figuring out what quail like in their nest box.  They would prefer no nest boxes at all, I think, and just a lot of tall grass and brush to hide under, but right now I’m still figuring out what varieties of grass will grow well in their coops, so they have very little grass.  This summer, I’m going to try to remedy that situation.  I also like them to have nest boxes, because it gives them a place where they can go to get warmer in winter, or to give them added protection against wind and rain…but so often I go out in nasty weather, and they are choosing to sit in the most unprotected part of the coop!  It hasn’t seemed to harm them any, though – they are plump and healthy.  Mama quail did use the next box to hatch her eggs in, so that was a win for me and my nest boxes.

One thing I wouldn’t try to do again is keep more than one male together in a coop.  It didn’t work.  In my quail-partner’s coop, there were a couple of terrible injuries, and I took warning and separated my males before they had more than mild squabbles.  Young ones can be kept together, but once they hit puberty, watch out!  They become fierce little warriors, perfectly capable of pecking another quail’s head half off.

I also plan to start giving them more seed for food, rather than packaged Game Bird crumbles.  I’m not a fan of soy, for one thing, and for another, the quail LOVE seed.  They come running over when I go out to the coop in the mornings, because they know I will scatter seed for them.  I also need to figure out how to grow more greens for them.  They liked sprouted alfalfa, and they love chickweed.  They are peculiar birds, though.  If I pick a few leaves from something they should like, they stomp all over it, rather than eat it.  If I “plant” the leaves, they’ll cluster around it and eat.  I’m thinking of growing some sort of plant in little trays that I could put out for them, but that is still in the works.  Right now I am just troweling up any likely chickweed I see and transplanting it into their coop.

They are really quite easy to care for, and will be even more so, once I get Loki into a coop of his own, and figure out the nest box/greens/grass situation.  I love how, when I go out in the morning to give them fresh water and seed, they look at me, fluff their wings, then start “popcorning”  This is a thing quail do when they are happy – they make these small jumps into the air.  It’s called that because when you have a whole bunch of babies doing it at the same time, it’s like popcorn popping!  I didn’t think they would continue to do it when they were grown up, but mine do.  It’s sweet.

And that’s all I can think of.  If anyone has any more questions about keeping quail, be sure to ask.

So…I can’t keep more than one male per cage, but in Mama quail had two boys hatch from her clutch.  I can’t keep them in the coop, or they’ll end up getting killed, or killing my other male.  So I did what you do with extra males.  I ate them.

I was not prepared to do the actual kill myself, so my quail-partner Laura came over this morning and did the deed while I watched.  She used the kitchen shears method, which I consider the most humane.  If you want to know how, you can watch this instructional video.

It was very quick and easy, and next time, I believe I could do it myself.  I feel very strongly that if I’m going to eat meat, it’s far better to raise an animal myself, know that it is both properly cared for and not polluted with chemicals or disease, and then dispatch it as humanely as possible.  Unlike the meat you buy in the supermarket, which has probably been pumped full of all sorts of artificial hormones, antibiotics, and other pollutants, as well as tortured its entire short life.  Disturbing as it was to see an animal I’d raised from an egg suddenly become a piece of meat, it felt right as well.

After they were dead, Laura demonstrated how to skin and gut one of the quail, then I did the second myself.  It was surprisingly easy; it only took a few minutes, and then I had a couple of plump miniature “chickens”.

Unlike chickens, quail are all dark meat, though – which is excellent.

I saved the wings, and am attempting to preserve them by covering them in Borax.  The internet taxidermy folks says it works.  I like the idea of using as much of the bird as I can, so if it does, these wings will someday be used on a hat or something.

And after marinating them in a pomegranate sauce, I roasted the quail and mom and I had them for dinner.  They tasted….not like chicken.  I wouldn’t describe it as a ‘gamey’ flavor, but it was distinctive.  But good.  Not so good that I’m going to run out and start slaughtering all my quail, but next time I end up with excess males, I definitely will enjoy eating them.

Spinning

I’ve long been interested in learning how to spin using a drop spindle.

Last year, for my annual birthday tradition of learning a new skill, I learned to knit.  This year, I think I’ll attempt learning to spin.

I bought a simple drop spindle off Etsy:

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And four ounces of undyed alpaca fiber:

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I hope they’ll arrive by my birthday on the 24th.  If not, I’ll have to postpone learning that new skill slightly, and stick with my original plan: learn to cook a duck.

I’m really excited about the spinning thing, though.  I hope I can master it, because it fits right in my plan for dual purpose French Angora rabbits.  I’m actually sort of considering getting one Angora rabbit this year (the male) so that I see how much work/maintenance they will actually require.  There are some wildly divergent opinions out there!  If all goes well with him, I’ll add a couple of females in a year or two.

Apples and Bunnies…

First of all, though, let me show you a couple of pictures of the progress on our front yard garden fence.

We basically have two sides done, which means we only have one side left to go.  And it’s killing me that the weather turned wet and windy, so I can’t work on it.

In case you missed the previous post, it’s made of rolled, 1″ bamboo fencing, attached to T-posts.

While I can’t work outside (I refuse to make myself miserable by working in the rain) I’ve been doing some more research into apple trees.  I was originally planning to have purchased them last fall, for planting this Spring.  That did not happen…because wow.  Getting apple trees is FAR more complicated than I would have imagined.

First of all, there are a million different varieties, and they all require different pollinators, so you can’t just pick one and bring it home.  You have to make sure that you have one or two others that will bloom at the same time.  And even then, you have to make sure that they are varieties that actually have fertile pollen!  I didn’t know that.  I knew fruit trees often require a second tree to pollinate, but I had no idea some apple trees have infertile pollen, and are completely incapable of pollinating anything.  If you get two of those trees, you won’t get any fruit at all.

Then, you have to select a rootstock to have your tree grafted onto.  There are a many choices, and they all have their pros and cons.  I’m looking for something that will make a dwarf tree, because I plan to turn mine into espaliers.

So at this moment, I am still trying to figure all this out, but I am utterly determined to order my trees this fall.  For one thing, since I am doing espaliers, I have to start out with a 1 year old tree.  Basically, a stick, with no branches.

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With a lot of growing and pruning, it will eventually be this:

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But as you can see, it’s not going to be ready to produce fruit for some time.  I need to get started ASAP!

I do have three apples I am quite determined to get.  They are:

Arkansas Black.

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So freaking beautiful!  And a great keeper, too.  It starts out quite tart on the tree, then sweetens in storage.  And they are, quite possibly, the most beautiful apple ever.

arkansas-black1It is also a heirloom apple; it has been around since 1870.

Another is Cox’s Orange Pippin.

AppleBushCoxOrangePippin

This one is even older, dating from 1830, and it reputedly the BEST tasting apple in the world, ever.  If it likes you.  It’s also reputedly somewhat difficult, which would normally make me give it a pass.  But I am just hugely drawn to this apple, so I am going to give it a try.  It grows well in England, and the Pacific NW is often described as having an English climate.

Gravenstein is my third choice, and also very old, dating from around 1669! The problem with both Gravenstein and Arkansas Black is that they both possess infertile pollen.  Cox’s Orange Pippin is a pollinator, but is not enough.  I need at least one more fertile apple tree.  I may end up getting a crab apple.  They are among the best pollinators for other apple trees.  One crab I wouldn’t mind having is Wickson’s Crab.  It is far sweeter than most.

Decisions, decisions!

I am also mulling over the whole meat rabbit thing.  I already know that I don’t want to keep them in small cages – and absolutely NO wire on the bottoms.  I want to give them a happy, natural life.  Recently, I’ve begun looking into keeping them in a colony setup.  I’ve been really impressed with what I’ve read/watched so far.

I’m also considering French Angoras as my breed of choice.

French-Angora-Blue-Buck

Yes, under all that fluff, they do have the body of a meat rabbit.  In fact, they were originally bred as a dual purpose animal…meat and wool.  If I keep angoras, not only will I have a source of meat, but I could sell babies and wool for a little extra income.  I’ve also long been interested in learning how to hand spin with a drop spindle, so maybe I’ll end up keeping all the wool for myself.

Another bonus; angoras are so soft.  In fact, when you pet them, you can hardly even feel their fur, it is so incredibly soft.  They are also quite easy to keep, not nearly so demanding as other angora breeds, and are very gentle.

Loki the Quail

Today I am going to answer the question all of you were asking.  Well, some of you.  Well…maybe a couple of you were thinking it, quietly in your heads.

Why, when I have an “Egyptian theme” going on with my quail names, is the little Blonde male called Loki.  I know some of you think it’s simply because I might be just a little bit of a fangirl where Loki is concerned, but that’s a (mostly) false presumption.

You see, here’s the story, and you tell me if it doesn’t seem familiar.  There are two little boy quail, hatched from eggs together, raised together, and best friends with each other.  Then the older one started claiming everything as his.  His coop.  His girls.  The younger quail was not a fan of this.  He felt he was burdened with a glorious purpose, and deserved to have the coop and the girls just as much as the older quail.  Weren’t they brothers?  Well, no, actually, it appeared (judging by his color) the younger quail was not a Standard Coturnix at all.  He was a Blonde.  He was the only Blonde in the whole coop.

He was very angry about this, and started attacking all the other quail, and demanding that they submit to him and his right to rule.

The other quail ganged up on him, and there was a furious battle.  Sadly, his adoptive human mother had to agree to separate him from all the other quail, and put him in a cage all by himself.  She was the only one who came to visit him, and brought him seeds and chickweed.

It only annoyed him more that his cage had bars.  Wasn’t he attractive enough to rate glass?

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And that is why Loki is named Loki.