Monthly Archives: March 2014

Travel Plans Post

What with the garden and the animals, it’s been awhile since I posted about my travel plans…but I sure have been thinking about them!  I can’t believe it’s next year that I’m going; it won’t be long until I’ll actually be able to start buying tickets and reserving hotels.

If you remember, I was planning on going to England and Scotland in June of 2015.  That has changed.  There are three places in the world that call to me more than anywhere else: England, Egypt, and Venice.  Because of current events, Egypt is pretty much off the table at the moment.  And for some reason, I thought Venice would be too difficult to combine with a trip to England, thus the addition of Scotland.

Then a friend made me jealous with *her* trip to Venice, and I looked into it.  Turns out Venice is only a two hour flight from London…and the flights are super cheap.  I could pay more for a train trip in England!  So: New Plan.

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After the England portion of my trip, I will fly to Venice, and spend a couple of nights there, before flying home.

Also, since I won’t be in Scotland this trip, I am changing the timing back to going in September of 2015.  September works out so much better for me, schedule-wise.

And after I decided on September, I discovered the Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing Hamlet at a London Theatre….in September.  So how perfect is that?  Tickets will go on sale in a couple of months, and I’m definitely going to try for one.  It’ll be a little tricky, since I don’t have my exact travel dates nailed down, but I guess I’ll just have to plan the rest of the trip around that single theatre ticket if I get it!


Quail Chicks Update

Everyone is still alive and thriving.

Their favorite time of day is when I clean out the brooder box.  With all the food, water, and heating out of the way, it’s time to run and jump and play!

Their wings are almost entirely feathered out, and they can fly/jump startlingly high.  Give them another couple of days, and they’ll be helicoptering out of the brooder box whenever I open it.

I gave the adult quail some wheat fodder that had been growing for about four days.  They LOVED it.  I wasn’t sure whether wheat grains would be too large for them, but they had no trouble eating it at all.

Out in the garden, the beet seeds I planted are coming up, and so are the peas I thought had drowned.  I had started more in pots, and I put those out yesterday, so altogether, I’m going to have a ton of peas this year, I think.

The asparagus I planted last year are finally coming up!  I’m so happy about that.  Little Blue (one of our hens) got into the patch yesterday and tried to dig them all up, but fortunately she only managed to damage two spears before Mom realized where she was.   She’s a sweetie, though, and is one of the hens that wants to sit on my lap and be cuddled more than anything else in the world. She one eye on me while I’m working, and the moment I sit down, she comes running.  If she doesn’t come running, I know I need to go look for her, because she’ll have gotten someplace where she shouldn’t be!   She’s the opposite of an escape artist…instead of escaping out of pens, she always escapes in.  I’ve tried keeping her wings clipped, but she’s just too determined.  I’m going to have to put a much higher fence around the vegetable patch.

She can also recognize her own eggs.  Today when I gathered eggs from the nest boxes, she came over, and picked her own egg out of the five I was holding, and began “arranging” it in my hand, clucking at it and turning it over with her beak.

EDIT:  So, after I posted this, I went out to shut the Girls in their coop for the night.  Guess who was missing?

Almost a Tragedy (and a warning!)

Today seven of the eight quail chicks almost died.  Let me tell you the story.

I woke up about an hour earlier than I normally do, and it’s so fortunate that I really had to use the bathroom…and then, that I decided it wasn’t really worth going back to bed.  Instead, I came into the living room and checked on the chicks.

Seven of them (all but one) were laying stretched out on their sides, limp and completely cold.  They apparently had left the warmth of the Brinsea Ecoglow Brooder (as they frequently do during the daytime), and had wandered to the opposite end of the brooder box, where they had been unable to find their way back in the dim light.  Two of them were feebly opening and closing their beaks; the rest looked completely dead.  I thought it was probably too late to save any of them.  They were so cold.  They almost felt like they’d been in the fridge.

I picked them up and put them under the Brinsea Brooder, then found the old heat lamp I’d used for the previous hatchlings, and held that over them instead.  It was a more intense, focused heat, which was, I thought, the only thing that might save some of them.  And it worked.  After about five minutes, a couple of them started to move slightly.  I began to hope I’d be able to save at least one.

By ten minutes, all but one was starting to showing signs of recovery.  I was so sure that one of them was gone, though.  It was completely still and cold; no signs of life whatever.  If you’ve ever held a dead bird, you know what dead feels like; this one felt dead.  But you should never assume a creature that “died” of cold is actually dead, until you warm it up completely.

A few minutes after the rest were starting to move around, the “dead” chick opened its eyes and looked at me.

All seven survived, and tonight, they are all running around as if nothing ever happened.  Quail chicks look fragile, but they are surprisingly resilient.  Still, if I hadn’t drank so much water before I went to bed, or if I’d gotten up even a few minutes later…I know I would have only one chick left.  Miracles do happen.

Lesson learned.  From now on out, I’m leaving the overhead light on in the living room so the quail have enough light find their way back to the Brooder if they decide to go Crazy Quail Adventuring in the middle of the night.

And that eighth chick who had enough sense to stay under the Brooder?  If she’s a girl, I should name her Athena, after the Greek goddess of wisdom!

Besides rescue quail, I did a little work in the garden.  I’m in the process of making a small water garden inside one of my flower beds, out of a plastic tub.

The tub is sunken into the raised bed (I will eventually bury the front of the tub as well.)  It will be lined around the edge with bricks.

Inside are two concrete cinder blocks, to raise ledges for the plantings to sit on.

The holes in the cinder blocks will be nice hiding holes for future fish.

I also swung by the local nursery and picked up two more gooseberries.  One Black Velvet, and another of the Captivator gooseberries that I planted one of last year.  We got about four berries from it, and they were SO good.  An absolutely wonderful sweet flavor, right off the bush!  I knew I had to at least one more of this variety.  I also got a Petite Negri fig, which I will grow in a pot, and something I’d never heard of: an Apple Rose.

It is a very old type of rose that is grown for its large, flavorful hips.  They actually had it in the edible fruit area of the nursery, rather than with the other roses.


The garden is really starting to wake up.  Everything is greening out, and several types of early flowers are blooming.  I put my mason bees out, so hopefully they’ll come successfully out of their cocoons soon.  Oh!  And I saw my first bee today; a bumblebee.  I was so happy to see her buzzing around.  She appeared to be on a mission; I suspect she was a scout out searching for a new place to build a hive.  Hopefully her and her sisters will choose someplace very close to my garden, if not inside it.  I adore bumblebees.

In other bee news, Mom painted the new honeybee hive, and it’s out in the garden on its new stand awaiting its new residents!

New Quail Hatched!

The new Brinsea Mini Advance incubator performed perfectly. It is a marvel.  The hatch was still immensely stressful though!  Eight of the twelve eggs pipped on Sunday afternoon.  The last batch of quail I hatched were zipping within a few hours…not these little guys.

Nooooo….these little guys decided to completely freak me out by pipping and then not doing anything else for nearly 36 hours!  Luckily one of them kept poking at the pipped edge of the shell to let me know at least one was still alive, but I was having serious worries about whether or not I should attempt to help it hatch.  Most internet sources said they should be zipping within 10 hours, and if they didn’t, the humidity had likely gotten too low, and the chicks were “shrink-wrapped” inside their shells, unable to move enough to get out.

Luckily, I found one person who said it was normal for them to take this long (sometimes) and I should just sit it out.  So I did, but Monday night I didn’t sleep very well, thinking they might all be dead in the shell by morning.  I finally got up around 2:30am to check on them – and yay miracle! – two of the little lazy buggers had hatched.  No sign of any difficulty whatsoever.  I went back to bed feeling MUCH better, and by morning, six were hatched, and two more were on the way.

The very last egg that hatched was the plain white one.  I put a little spot of paint on that chick’s back; if she’s a female, I want to keep her in the hopes she will lay white eggs like her mother.  Since the girls from this hatch will become Loki’s wives, I think I’ll name them all after mythological goddesses.  Since this baby was born from a white shell, I think she has to be Aphrodite, don’t you?


Assuming she’s a girl, of course.  If not, well, he will be nameless.  And sadly, dinner.  I can’t keep any more males!

Right now, though, they are just so adorably tiny and sweet.

Aphrodite is already photogenic.

And worn out from hatching.

They love their Brinsea Eco Brooder 20.  It also is working perfectly, keeping them brilliantly warm and contented.  I did my trick of tucking a piece from a feather boa underneath with them, and they LOVE snuggling into those cozy feathers.

All eight of the hatchlings are inside the brooder box now.  They have food and water figured out.

Oh look – do you notice something?  Just like last year, when the hatchery accidentally sent me one Texas A&M chick (Peabody), this year I also got a cuckoo in the nest.  I’m assuming that little dark chick is not an Italian, but rather a sneaky little Standard!

Whatever, it’s cute.

And so are the Italians.  At this age, they love to snuggle in hands, and come right up and crawl up into your palm whenever you put your hand into the brooder.

At this age (barely one day old) they already have the worm-hunting instinct.  Just look at this little one hunting a loose thread on the duvet!

There are still four eggs unhatched in the incubator, and I’ll leave it running for a few more days, just in case.  Sometimes there’s a late hatch.  If not, eight very healthy chicks from twelve shipped eggs is a really good hatch rate, so I’m happy.

Keep your fingers crossed for mostly girls…

Spring Plantings

I took an inspection tour of the garden yesterday, and all the edible vines, trees, and shrubs I planted last year made it through the winter and are beginning to bud out – with the exception of the Chilean Guava.  It was fine, up until that last temperature drop to 12 degrees, but now it appears to be dead.  I’ll wait and see if it happens to regrow up from the roots, but if not, I’ll get another plant and place it in a more protected spot.  I should have covered it, but unfortunately, I didn’t even think of it until too late.  I’m just happy the kiwi vines made it through.  It was touch and go during the summer, so I was a little concerned; I’ve heard it’s sometimes hard to keep them alive for the first year, but after that, it’s all good.

Today I went out and planted my first batch of seeds directly into the ground.  I planted several varieties of lettuce, beets, swiss chard, and turnips.  They join the seedlings of cabbage, kale, and broccoli I started inside, then transplanted outside earlier.  Those are looking great.

It is so unbelievably lovely to see green things in the ground!

The front yard garden where I did my planting today is slowly starting to come together.

Mom and I spent some time yesterday putting together a few more beds…and hauling wheelbarrows full of dirt to fill them.  There are still quite a few more beds to go, but I may not get all of them completed this season.  We have decided to put straw in the pathways between beds, to control weeds.  I would prefer brick or stone, but for right now, there’s just no time or money for anything that massive.  Maybe later?

Here’s another view, showing the beds that are only partly completed/not built yet.

The two taller beds have my first (future) espalier trees in them.  To the left, is my Honeysweet Pear, and right behind the ladder is my first apple, Cox’s Orange Pippin.  For the apple rootstock, I ended up with M7.  It’s a semi-dwarf, and well recommended for espaliers.  I’m planning to make a two-tiered espalier, and its branches should span almost the entire length of that back fence.  One day, it should look something like this:


Right now, it looks like this:

Just an itsy, bitsy twig.

Inside, I have tomato seedlings under the grow lights.

I’m growing four different varieties from seed this year.  Sweet Pea Currant,  Indigo Rose, Black Trifele, and a mystery variety that self-seeded into my yard last year, and was amazingly prolific and tasty.  We’re calling it the Out of Eden Tomato, because we have no idea what it actually is, and don’t remember planting anything that looks like it.  I also have a three varieties of alpine strawberries starting indoors, as well as a few ground cherries.

The Indigo Rose tomatoes in particular will be extraordinarily beautiful.


Today the quail eggs went into “lockdown” in the incubator (which means no more turning, candling, or disturbing until they hatch).

Tomorrow, they *could* begin to pip, though probably we won’t see any actual hatches until Sunday or Monday.

Speaking of quail, Cinna and his girls are continuing to love their new coop.  My mom went over to the coop, and they came right over and looked up at her inquiringly.  She said: “I think they want me to give them something.”  Of course they did.  They are spoiled little quail, and well-used to me bringing them seed and greens!  I fed them some greens today, then filmed them for you to see.  I have the top completely open here, and my hand with the camera right down inside the coop (almost touching them).  You can see how relaxed they are – Cinna even takes the opportunity for a little personal business!  (His motto: If you don’t succeed the first time, try again with a different girl!)

My Beehive is Here!

It’s a Warre hive, made by Sweet Valley Hives, and it’s gorgeous.  Beautiful workmanship!

It arrived in two very large boxes.

From the ground up, here’s all the pieces and how they fit together. If you want to understand what everything is, here’s a great video by the maker.

The base:

The first two boxes:

Each box has top bars for the bees to make honeycomb on.  This box has an added insert of a “queen ring”.  See the little rectangle plug on the left? When my bees arrive, the queen will be in a separate box, just that size.  I’ll take the plug out, and insert the queen’s box.  Once the bees accept her as queen, they will release her into the hive, and I can put the plug back in place.  It’s a brilliant little system that Sweet Valley Hives invented, and makes releasing the queen much simpler.

The boxes are made from cedar, and the bars are coated in a thin layer of wax; combined, the boxes smell so nice!

Each box also has a glass window in the side.  With a Warre hive, the only time you open the hive is when you harvest the honey, so it’s great to have a way of checking up on what the bees are doing.

There are three boxes in total, then a screen to collect propolis.

On top of the screen is a quilt box, which will be filled with shavings.  Sweet Valley Hives even included a bag of shavings!  This quilt box helps regulate temperature, plus keeps moisture out of the hive.  The latter is especially important in my climate.

Lastly, there is a very well ventilated roof.

We have to finish building the stone base, but we couldn’t resist sitting the hive in the place where it will eventually sit.

Right next door to the chickens.  Antoinette doesn’t appear to even notice the new housing development going up!

I may have to put a divider up to redirect the bees out of the chicken yard, if there’s a problem, but I’ll wait and see.  The chickens know all about bees and hornets, and give them a wide berth. When Josie was fostering her little chicks, one of the chicks found a dead hornet laying the ground.  It started to peck at it, and Josie galloped over at her top speed, screaming.  She grabbed that hornet away from her chicks and threw it as far as she could.  And then gave them a really long, animated lecture on the dangers of stinging insects, telling them in no uncertain terms they were NEVER to touch one again.  It was quite entertaining to watch!

The New Quail Coop is Finished

Well, except for the roofing.  But it’s done enough, and the quail can move in!


Since Loki’s future wives are not yet hatched, I moved Cinna and his girls inside so I could move Cinna’s coop to a new, more central location.  I wasn’t sure how tame Cinna and the girls actually were, since I haven’t tried to catch them since they were chicks, but they were so nice.  They stood still and just let me pick them up without any fuss at all.

They’d been working really hard at composting the dirt from their former coop into lovely, rich earth, full of bugs and earthworms, and I didn’t want to deprive them of winning the rewards of their labor, so I put them temporarily into one of my cold frames.  And then we dug out the dirt from their old coop and put it into the new one.

Nice, lovely composted dirt!  Despite having had quails living (and pooping) on it for around half a year, it didn’t smell.  I would have loved to put it into my garden, but I gave it back to them, worms and all.

I need to add some plants and little logs and things for them.  The green you see is just a few edible weeds I “planted” for them.  Which of course, they promptly dug out!

The nest box area also has their food and water.

They were quite enamored of their nest area, and spent quite a bit of time inside, arranging their hay.

And then they all took a nap.  The two little females snuggled up together, and Cinna on guard beside them.

After the nap, they left me a tip.

I hadn’t named the two females, because I couldn’t tell them apart.  They are identical in looks.  But having spent considerable time recently watching them, I’ve learned that they are quite different in personality.  I’ve named them Mary and Martha, because they remind me of those Biblical sisters.  Martha always vigorously doing what needs to be done (in this case digging for worms and uprooting plants), while Mary is contend to sit and learn.

I also gave them some alfalfa seeds I had sprouted.  That was a big hit.  I’ll definitely continue doing that on a regular basis.

I have one more quail coop to build, and then I’ll have the big coop with the green roof empty and available for my future Serama chickens.  Now that I have this awesome incubator and brooder, I honestly want to hatch ALL THE EGGS.

I wonder if I could fit an emu egg in it?  😉

Schemes, and Also Cute Quails.

The new quail coop is nearing completion. I just need to put on the three roof sections, and add the hardware (hinges, catches, etc.)

And also fill the bottom six inches or so with dirt.  Now that it’s Spring, the quail are enjoying digging around in the dirt so much.  I went out to check on Cinna and his girls this morning, and found they had dug massive holes.  I thought maybe it was just for dirt bathing, but then I saw one of the girls unearth a worm.  This led to a high-energy game of chase, as the other girl wanted the worm too!  Then Cinna found a worm of his own, but instead of eating it himself (he’s such a sweet little boy) he tugged it up out of the ground just enough so it couldn’t get away, and called for the girls.  The wormless girl came running and grabbed it, and then both girls were doing the mad worm chase, neither stopping to realize that they each had a worm of their own.  There were several near collisions, and much drama!  I can’t imagine raising these little guys on a wire floor; they get so much enjoyment from their lives being “natural” quail.

I tried to get a video for you, but Cinna was in the nest box out of sight, and the girls had calmed down.  And they had also managed to fill in their biggest holes.  And oops – I need to find a better water system; this energetic digging is throwing too much dirt into their water.  I’ve cleaned it out four times today!

And they are also beginning to lay again; I found my first little speckled egg this morning!

This winter I’ve been planning lots of plans.  I’ve sketched out each section of the yard, with what I want to do.  These plans are constantly shifting, but right now, here’s a portion of the side yard.  There will be some fruits and vegetables here, plus a yard for meat chickens/ducks.

Right now, that yard is a disaster.  Junk from this-and-that, plus mud.  Lots and lots of mud.  It’s been raining pretty much non-stop here.

Another view (from the other end):

The chickens better enjoy it while they can.  Once I start renovating things, they won’t have access to this yard anymore.

Don’t feel sorry for them, though – they are getting their own yard renovation, with a private kale garden, apple trees, roses, and herbs.  I’ll show you photos of the “before” of their yard soon.  Right now, I’ll just show you one thing: the chicken garden plot.

I just planted out some kale starts, and some peppermint plants in cement cinder blocks.  The cinder blocks work really well as planters; they can’t really dig them out very easily, and they don’t like to eat peppermint.  It does, however, help deter flies and keep things smelling nice in the coop yard.

I’ll put a proper fence around the garden bed at some point, but right now I just needed something quick and easy to protect those little kale until I can start harvesting leaves for the chickens to eat!

There is one other section of the side garden.  I’m growing mostly fruit bushes and vines here, but I also plan to install a duck coop for a couple of Indian Runner ducks.  I need some garden slug patrol.  The chickens do a great job of keeping the slug population way, way down, but I can’t let them run freely in the garden during the growing season, or I wouldn’t have a garden.  Ducks, though, especially small, light Indian Runners, are perfectly wonderful in a garden part-time.

Here’s my sketch:

And here’s the current reality.  This portion of the yard is further along.  I have a large number of the fruit bushes/vines already planted.

We’re still in the process of building raised beds, etc.  There is still such a long way to go!

But Spring is finally making an appearance.

The Eggs are Alive!

I’m so happy.  I broke down and candled the quail eggs even though they are only three days in the incubator and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to see anything.

But I did!  I chose the plain, unspotted egg for candling, and the “spider leg” pattern of veins was clearly visible!  I was so hoping that egg in particular would be fertile and undamaged by the shipping, and it is.

If you don’t know what I mean by spider leg veining, watch this short video I found on youtube:

I now feel confident enough to recommend this seller, if you want fertile hatching eggs.  There were much better wrapped, and came faster, than the eggs I ordered from Stromberg’s last year.

I’m also happy because I mentioned to Mom that eventually we should have an Eco Glow Brooder for the hatchlings, and to my surprise she decided to purchase one for this this batch of babies.

urlIt’s pretty snazzy.  Much safer and cost-efficient than a heat lamp, and it mimics the soothing effect of having a warm mother over the babies, which can only be good for them.

Garden Plants & Quail Eggs

I went to Christenson’s Nursery today for a class on growing espalier trees.  It was completely fascinating, and exactly what I needed.  I feel quite confident; all I need is trees!  Unfortunately, no one local sells the heirloom trees I want, and the reputable places online have all sold out for the year.  So next year, for sure, I am getting my apple trees.  I still have hopes that I’ll be able to find a pear tree for this year.

But while I was there, I did pick up a couple of currents.  One white (Primus) and one pink (Gloire Des Sablons).


I also got a honeysuckle to plant around the beehive.  I used to be scared of planting honeysuckle, because you hear the horror stories of how invasive they are, but after some research I discovered there are nice, well behaved varieties.  This one is called “Peaches and Cream” (lonicera periclymenom).


I also picked up my first mason bees.  They came in a teeny little package, and are still in cocoons.  Right now they will stay in my fridge, but when it warms up a little, I’ll put them outside.

And lastly, I did my quail egg inspection last night, and discovered all the eggs were in great shape!  I only threw one of the twenty out because it appeared to have a weaker shell than the others.  No detached air cells that I could see at all!  This is a very good thing; hopefully it means their shipping wasn’t traumatic, and they will hatch well.  I put twelve in the incubator.

This Brinsea Mini Advance incubator is the bomb.  It took me less than a minute to set the temp, turn frequency, etc, and since then it’s been right on the mark.  No fuss or worry at all.

I have high hopes for these little eggs.  In a few days, I’ll candle them again, and see if there’s any development that I can see.  They are so tiny, and most are so spotted that it’s basically impossible to see inside…but maybe if the plain colored one is fertile, I’ll be able to watch that one grow!