Category Archives: ducks

Big Spring Project

I always seem to make my plans for the year, and then something comes up, and we make a huge change of plans. This year, instead of building new animals housing, we’re making some structural changes to the circle garden. This is mainly roses, clematis, and other flowering plants.  Two years ago, I ripped out a middle section to put in a quail coop. Since then, I’ve been meaning to get around to revamping things, but I never have.

The wood sides are over ten years old, and are in pretty poor shape. After going over a number of different options, I decided to go with the most labor-intensive. Sigh. Instead of replacing the wood sides, we’re tearing the wood out, digging out the plants, carting away the extra dirt, and making the circle garden into a flat, rather than raised, bed.

Yesterday, it was raining pretty hard. We worked anyway. We got the largest clematis and one rose moved, and I hope the clematis will survive. I’ve never moved a clematis before, but the internet says it can be done. So we’ll see.

Today, it was sunny and actually warm! It was much more pleasant being outside, but it is still back breaking work – especially since our backs were already pretty much pre-broken from yesterday.

One half of the circle is done, however, and I have the largest rose moved from the other half.

The ducks were very interested in the whole process.

What ARE you doing down there?

Are you looking for slugs? Your method seems a bit…destructive…

Dexter the corgi wanted to help, but I felt he’d be more of a hindrance, so he had to satisfy himself with being on duck watch. From his patio position, he warned us whenever the ducks were sneaking up behind us. Beware! Feral garden ducks!

It was a good birthday.

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Year in Review – Including Best Books of 2015

2015 was incredible. In the garden, we took down two old rotten sheds, paved a long section of pathway through the garden, and built a duck coop for our new animal additions, and built a greenhouse.

Outside of the garden, I took the trip I’ve been dreaming of for half my life to Iceland, Great Britain, and Venice.

I would have also published my first book, but I decided to delay it until I finished all three in the trilogy, and release them at the same time. So basically, I wrote three books in 2015. A little more tweaking, and they’ll be ready to go out in Spring, I think.

Additionally, this was the year of me being the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything, according to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Seriously, I loved being 42.

And of course, I read a ton of books in 2015. I made my yearly goal of 150, just barely – hey, I didn’t read at all during my month abroad! I ended up with a total of 152.

Out of those, here are my favorites, beginning with nonfiction.

1: Real Food for Rabbits, by Laura Wheeler

rabbitsI talked about this one in my last post. But basically, it’s a fabulous book for people with either pet or meat rabbits, who want to feed their animals with natural food, not commercial pellets.

2: Book Cover Design Secrets, by Derek Murphy

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Sometimes a particular book comes to you at the exact moment you need it. This is one of those books. It’s absolutely brilliant – Derek tells it like it is, often going against the commonly believed and published “truth” about cover design. If you’re an Indie writer, this book MUST be on your bookshelf. I borrowed it through Kindle Unlimited, and then immediately went and purchased a copy – it’s that good!

3: The Compassionate Carnivore, by Catherine Friend

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Really good explanation of what I’m trying to do on my little farm, and why I’m doing it.

4: The Nourishing Homestead, by Ben Hewitt

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Yes. Just read this. He has a few things wrong (I disagree completely with his views on wheat, for instance) but the majority is so, so right.

5: My Garden, the City, and Me, by Helen Babbs

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Wonderfully written, interesting little book about gardening on a rooftop in London.

6: Grow a Little Fruit Tree, by Ann Ralph

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This book should be required reading for any backyard gardener with an interest in fruit trees. Wow – so much helpful info! Everything you think you know about planting, pruning, and growing fruit trees is wrong…read this book and find out why. It will completely change your gardening game plan.

7: Adventures in Yarn Farming, by Barbara Perry

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I admit it; I’m fascinated by sheep and shepherds. I would love to own sheep, but I can’t quite figure out how to fit them in my backyard farm…plus they are just ever so slightly illegal where I live. So I read these books and dream of the day I can move to the country and have my own flock. Icelandic sheep, definitely, after experiencing the wonder of those sheep in their home country!

I’ve been reading far more non-fiction than I used to, and it’s heavily weighted in favor of practical books relating to homesteading, gardening, or animals. But I also still read tons of fiction.

8: Fool’s Quest, by Robin Hobb

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So good. I can’t even…it’s just so good. I love how Hobb ties everything together in this one, all of her various series just fitting together seamlessly. Book one of this particular series made my Best Books list last year, and I expect she’ll make the list next year, too.  My favorite series of hers, although to really get the most pleasure out of it, you really should read her others, first.

9: Kat, Incorrigible, by Stephanie Burgis

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So charming and fun. It was a delight to read, and after I finished, I immediately downloaded the rest of the series. There were equally good.

10: The Boy Who Lost Fairyland, by Catherynne Valente

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Valente’s writing is SO yummy. It’s old-fashioned and modern and hip and nostalgic and you can’t skip even a single word. No one writes like Valente; she’s just incredible.

11: The Hollow Boy, by Jonathan Stroud

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This book deserves way more than five stars. Take all the stars! Honestly I am just blown away by how good this series is, and this book in particular. Every one I know needs to read this book right now!

12: Uprooted, by Naomi Novik

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I’ve been a fan of Novik’s dragon series for a long time now, so when I first heard this was coming out, I was a tad disappointed. What, no dragons? No Napoleonic War? No men who (a tad disconcertingly) call their dragon ‘dear’?  But yowza. I was blown away by this. It’s head and shoulders above her dragon series. It’s truly the best fantasy I’ve read for ages.

 

Okay, it was super hard this year to pick an over-all favorite, because numbers 11 and 12 were SO incredible.  But I’m going to give the title to:

13: Miss Buncle’s Book, by D.E. Stevenson

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This isn’t the most amazing, life-changing book in my list. It’s not even the best written. But it is a book that I hugged to my chest when I was done reading, because I grew so intensely fond of it. It made me happy, and once I started reading it, I couldn’t stop. I stayed up way too late, and skipped watching two of my favorite tv shows for this book. And the sequels are great, too – I think I may even like the second book a triffle more.

And there you have it: 2015 was a year of glory. But I have a feeling 2016 is going to be pretty spectacular too….

Christmas, and Looking Forward to 2016

This Christmas was one of the best in nearly a decade. The extended family and their drama went elsewhere, and it was a quiet, peaceful Christmas with great food, excellent gifts, and an opportunity to attend our Christmas Eve church service. I actually made it through feeling relaxed instead of stressed out, and rather than being SO GLAD it’s over, I’m looking forward to next year.

This was Dexter’s second Christmas, and the first that he really understood what unwrapping was all about.

We also discovered the perfect way to apply flea medicine to a wiggly corgi…you use the sleeve of a sweatshirt to ardvark them!

It’s been rainy almost non-stop this fall and winter – we’ve set records for rainfall. Finally, though, we’re seeing the return of some sunshine, and it’s bringing on the desire to garden. I’ve been marking up my seed catalogs, and almost have my order ready to send. This year, I’m going to try to stick to tried-and-true varieties, because I’m making it a goal to grow as much greens/seeds for the animals as I can.

rabbitsI found this fabulous book on Amazon:Real Food for Rabbits: Raising Meat Rabbits Without Buying Commercial Feed.  Don’t be put off by the title if you only have pet rabbits – it’s all about feeding, and it applies just as well to pets. I’ve actually suggested to the author that she change the title.

I would LOVE to get all my critters off packaged, commercial food. The chickens are, but the quail and rabbits are (hopefully) being converted over to natural grains and veggies this coming year. I’ve seen so many benefits from the chickens being off commercial food. They are healthy and happy, and – biggest of all – their poop doesn’t stink. At all. I’m looking forward to having that be the case with the quail!

I don’t know if my meat rabbits will happen in 2016. I have a muscovy duck in the fridge ready to cook tomorrow, and assuming we like it as much as everyone says we will, I think I’ll be starting with a few meat ducks.  I’ll order the minimum order of 10 ducklings, save out the nicest trio for breeding, and eat (or sell) the rest. The nice thing about muscovies is how quiet they are, plus the females are terrific mothers.

muscovyI really like having the Indian Runner ducks in my garden. Other than a certain devilish attitude at bedtime sometimes, they are no trouble at all.  And every time I see them out the window, they make me laugh. I’ll be getting two more in the Spring. Either as chicks, or I’ll try hatching some eggs.

I’ll also be hatching more quail. I don’t remember if I told you guys, but I lost a female this Fall, bringing my numbers down to just four females and two males. I want to plump up the female numbers. And my friend lost all but one of her quails due to a predator attack. She didn’t wire in the bottom of her pen, and something dug through the rocks and gravel and killed all of them but one little male in one night. Put wire underneath your cages, folks. It might be a little more trouble and expense, but you never know when a predator will find your cage!

I’m keeping her lonely male with my females, until I get more quail hatched. Then she’s taking him back – I have enough males already!

So right now, that’s the big plan. Re-vamp the chicken yard area to make room for the muscovies, hatch more quail, and garden ALL THE FOOD.

Because seeds.

SAD

http://www.greensparrowgardens.com/2014/12/sad-seed-acquisition-disorder.html

Back to the Garden

The travel posts are over, and now I can return to updating you on the garden and the animals.

It’s been pretty warm weather-wise – we only had our first light frost this week – so I’ve put off winter-proofing the quail coops until 2 days ago.

To keep out the worst of the winds and rain, I wrap the smaller coops in clear plastic.  I want them to still get light, and to be able to see out. I also fill the coops with loose straw. The quail LOVE to be able to burrow around in there.

I don’t put plastic on the big coop. It’s big enough the rain can’t get in except at the edges, and there’s lots of areas where the quail can get out of the wind. I do put a lot of straw in it, through.

Look how pretty the nasturtiums look – they are blooming up a storm, even though it’s the middle of November.

Partly because of my travels, I didn’t get much of a fall vegetable garden in. I did plant garlic, and I planted the greenhouse in some beets and kale.

I also moved a few of my more delicate potted outdoor plants inside. It’s nice to be able to have a place to put these, finally.

The “Hardy Nasturtium” I planted this year is growing tremendously. I hope it will survive the winter okay, because I really love it.

It’s finally blooming, too. The hummingbirds love the flowers.

The ducks are full grown, and are doing their job as slug patrol.

An unexpected benefit of having them loose in the garden all day is  that they keep the chickens in line. I have a couple of young, flighty chickens, and I used to have some trouble with them flying over their fence into the garden. Not while the ducks are on duty! The ducks LOVE the chickens (they are sex-crazed little maniacs, and I think they hope the chickens are drakes!) and given the chance, they will follow the chickens around the yard and try to seduce them. The chickens are not amused. If the ducks are in the yard, the chickens won’t go there.

Another benefit of the ducks is their eggs. Surprising the heck out of me, they are actually using their nest box!

And I completely adore duck eggs. They taste better than chicken eggs, for sure! I’ve never been able to eat eggs on an empty stomach – if I have scrambled eggs for breakfast, it always makes my stomach feel a bit icky. Duck eggs don’t have that effect on me. I’ve heard that people who are allergic to chicken eggs can eat duck eggs without a problem, so how cool is that?

The chickens are not laying right now because of molting, and winter light, and a variety of other excuses. But they do still have work to do. Year-round, they are my master composters.

They have a large yard, that they have turned to dirt. To keep the ground soft enough so they can dig for worms and bugs, I keep a layer of straw on top of it.

If I throw it out in sections, they will take care of spreading it out.

They also eat all the grass seed in it, and break the pieces up, and poop in it, and basically turn it into this lovely pre-compost. One or twice a year, I go and scoop it up and put it on the garden.

It finishes composting directly on the garden, and I put more straw out for the girls to get to work on. The chickens are definitely earning their keep even when they are taking a vacation from egg-laying.

I’ve been making lists of what I plan to accomplish next year.

I want to build a second rotating quail bed for the extra females to live in, so I can get them out of the big coop. I also want to hatch some more quail to add to the female population. Right now, I just have two mated pairs, and three solitary females.

Once the quail are moved, I can remodel the big coop a little bit, and hatch some miniature serama chickens.

I also want to build the colony rabbit house, and start raising meat rabbits.

Also a must-do is finishing the various fencing around the property, and put in some new raised beds along the side front yard.

And then….wow. I think all the building might be done! If all this gets done in 2016, starting in 2017 I’ll be able to start working on the purely decorative stuff that been sliding by because of lack of time/money.

 

Garden Update

This will be a quick one, folks, because I’m exhausted.  I spent a good share of today shoveling pea gravel, mostly for underneath the ducks’ kiddie pool.  After it’s done, I’ll show you pics.

The ducks are almost entirely gown up now.  They still have a bit of baby fluff on their necks, and their voices are still in the process of changing to quacks.  Maisie has her quack down pat, and she can really sound demanding!  Millie is either a little more laid-back, or just hasn’t figured out her Human-Do-My-Bidding-Now voice.

They are having free-range time in the backyard garden now, and are so enjoying themselves!

So far they haven’t caused any real damage, just slightly squashed one lettuce.

Oh, and they are making an inventory of all the ornamental pools of water in my garden.  Including dog bowls.

The new chicks are doing great.

Freddie.

Charlotte.

And Edith.

Who I am 85% sure is a rooster.  Sigh.  Her comb is bigger, her feet are HUGE, and she’s much more aggressive.  Remember I said I can never get an Ameraucana in my flock because I always choose the one rooster among the bunch of supposedly sexed female chicks?  I said I wasn’t going to pick one out because of this unfortunate penchant, but when I got to the feed store, I saw this one and just fell in love.  Such puffy cheeks!  Such an owl-like face!  I told the clerk I wanted this chick…oh, and one of the others, a lighter colored one.

So at least the lighter-colored one (Freddie) that the clerk picked out is looking like a girl.  I should hire myself out as a rooster-finder, for folks that actually want one!

I finally got the sign I designed and free-hand painted up.

I  have one more sign for the chicken coop mostly done, and then I need to make two more: one for the ducks (Duckingham Palace) and another Out of Eden sign for the backyard.

My veggies are coming along well.  This is my cabbage/runner bean bed.  The picture is about a week old; the beans are almost as tall as I am now.

And the snap peas are even taller than me.  They must be close to 6′, and producing peas like crazy.

I don’t seem to have a picture, but the tomatoes in the greenhouse are a couple feet tall, and setting teeny tiny little fruit.  Outside, I have a few tomatoes that actually ripening cherry tomatoes!  I think I’ll be eating my first tomato this weekend.  So exciting.

The roses are blooming like mad right now.  This is one of my current favorites.  Belle Isis.

And the bees are out foraging.

The Big Spring Projects are (thankfully) winding down now.  Which is good, because I’ll be leaving for Iceland, England, and Egypt in about three months.  I’ve been too busy to even really think about it, and of course, once I get back, it’ll be time to start seriously planning the Big Spring Projects of 2016.  Right now, it looks like we’ll be adding meat rabbits, and possibly a stock tank of Tilapia!  I keep getting drawn to books on aquaponics, and finally I realized I don’t really want to raise plants with fish, but I do want the fish!  Fresh fish, right from the backyard!  How awesome would that be?

And even cooler, it turns out that species of Tilapia that is best suited for my area is also the same fish from the Sea of Galilea – which means I’d be raising the same fish that Jesus and the disciples fished and ate.  I love connections to history like this.

New Greenhouse, Ducks, and Garden Stuff

It has been so busy here.  One day, we think, we will be done with all the major builds/improvements, and then we will be able to relax.

Or, you know, at least be able to keep up with the work that we want to do.

The greenhouse (Early Bloomer, by Solexx) is almost finished.  It’s up, and usable – there is just a few remaining details, like the door handle, the solar-powered automatic window opener, and some trim.

There is also quite a bit of landscaping to be done around it.  I’ve already planted some peas and sunflowers around the back.

Inside, I built raised beds, and spent several hours shoveling compost out of the chicken coop’s deep litter, and carting it by the wagon load into the greenhouse…only to shovel it back out into the beds.  Lots of work, but somehow enjoyable, all the same.  I’m finding that there is true pleasure in hard, physical work.  I used to be a total night owl, staying up until the wee hours of the morning, then sleeping in.  Now I’m so excited to work outside, that I wake up early, work all day in the garden, then collapse in bed around 10pm.

As you can see, the inside floor still needs to be installed.  We’ve bought some lovely brick.

At the far end, will be a potting bench, once I have time to build it.  To the left of the door, is shelving for starting trays of seedlings.

I’ve planted a bunch of tomatoes, melons, and peppers in the beds.

In the front vegetable garden, I came up with a good idea for trellising my beans.  I put in two t-posts, then built a frame of wood and wire that fits between them.  It is zip-tied securely into place.

At the end of summer, I can cut the zip-ties, and store the frame out of the weather.  Next year, I can put two more t-posts in a different bed, and put the frame up there.  Some years, I’ll have a frame between the posts, other years, I’ll use the posts as tomato tie-ups.

The Indian Runner ducklings are getting so big.  Their chests are completely feathered in, and feathers are coming in on their backs, faces, and wings.  They are still very, very cute.

They’ve changed so much from just a few days earlier…although they still like to snuggle with each other.

Josie and her chicks are doing great.  I need to get some more pics; this video is from a week ago.  They have lots more feathers on their wings now, and their tails are coming in.

What’s this I see?  What’s that in your hand?

You have a new camera????

Well, then!  Time for some beauty shots of what’s blooming in the garden!

Peonies.

And roses.

And after years of never seeing butterflies, I’m finally seeing visitors in my garden.  This one seems to come here a lot.  It’s very shy, though, and even though I hunted it as stealthily as I could, this was the best shot I could get.

Is that a Painted Lady butterfly?

And Peabody and Nefertiti say goodnight.

For those of you who are interested in keeping quail naturally, a friend and I are running a new facebook group: Natural Quail Keeping.  Feel free to join and start posting pics or asking questions!

 

Introducing Chicks to a Broody Hen

Sometimes this works with a broody hen, sometimes not.  Sometimes it works, but you have to be a lot more stealthy about it.  I’m lucky, because my broody Barnvelder hen, Josie, will just take chicks straight-up, with no fuss.

I just went to the feed store, and bought three chicks.

Frederika (Freddie)

Edith (Edie)

Both of these are Ameraucanas, and will hopefully lay green or blue eggs.  Edie is already my favorite.  I think she looks like a fat little owl.

And then there’s Charlotte (Lottie) who was supposed to be a Speckled Sussex, only there was some kind of problem at the hatchery, and we had to chose a different breed instead.  We chose a Buckeye.  They are supposedly great mousers!

Here is a video of Josie meeting her new babies.

Josie is such a great girl.  I used to get annoyed with her constant broodiness, but now I’ve learned to appeciate her mothering skills.  It’s so brilliant, being able to bring new chickens into your flock through this method.  There’s no fuss with pasty butt, heat lamps, or messy brooder boxes in your house.  And best of all, by the time they are grown up, they are peacefully intregated into your flock!  And if your hen is as friendly as Josie, she teaches her chicks not to fear humans.  It won’t be long before she’ll be showing them how to jump up on my lap!

I transfered Loki and his girl out of the roof garden coop, and into the smaller one, so I could clean the big coop out and use it for Josie and her babies.  While they are young, I like to give them a little extra  privacy away from the Big Hens Who Are Terrified of Babies.

Josie will be a couple of days coming out of her broody state.  If she were hatching eggs, she’d have to wait for all of them to finish hatching, so even though she has her babies, her body tells her she still needs to sit still on her nest and wait.  Meanwhile, she talks continually to her babies, teaches them to eat food (and not to eat poop).

Yesterday I introduced them, today I took a second video of them.

If you’re interested in why hens go broody, I HIGHLY recommend this article by the Holistic Hen. What she says makes so much sense.  It’s completely true that Josie used to be the absolute bottom of the pecking order…and after her first batch of babies, went straight to the top.  The only hens that give her any sass at all are her two daughters.  Of course it doesn’t help that she’s such a natural mother that when she finds something yummy to eat, she can’t resist giving the “Come babies, come babies, I found food for you!” call.  Her two-year old daughters come running, and when Josie sees them, she realizes her mistake and snaps up the goody herself, leaving her daughters standing around looking confused.

And let’s end this blog with two ducklings in a basket.  Just because I can.