Category Archives: Gardening

Of Pigs and Pigeons

The plans to get Muscovy ducks is moving along. I called the farm I want to buy them from, and confirmed that they can ship to me. Actually, they can’t ship to me, because my city is too small for one-day shipping, but they can ship to the larger city right next to me, and I can go pick them up at the post office there. I think I’ll have them sent in May. The weather will be nice by then, so I can move them asap out of my house (ducklings are incredibly messy) and out into the grow-out coop.

Brand new on the agenda for this year is pigeons! I have this wonderful pen that has never really lived up to its potential. I’ve had quail in it, rabbits, and most recently, guinea pigs.

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It’s wrapped in plastic right now because of the guinea pigs. None of these critters use the entire space, ground and upper flight areas, which is a shame. So I moved the pigs into a vacant quail coop that gives them ample floor room, freeing up this pen for pigeons. And I’m planning to wire over the rooftop garden, incorporating it into the cage as even more space for the birds.

I’ve long been interested in pigeons because I love pigeons, but I have a little hawk that lives in the field next door, and I’ve watched her take down the wild pigeons in my yard. While I definitely don’t begrudge her a dinner, I don’t want her dinner to be my animals, which has kept me from getting homing pigeons. The whole reason to have those is to let them fly free, which they couldn’t safely do in around my house. But recently, I stumbled across a website about utility pigeons – pigeons raised for eggs and meat. I had pigeon when I was in London, and really liked it, and I like the idea of having animals that are useful in several ways. Plus, pigeons helped many people make it through the Great Depression – and since we’re headed toward even worse times, another source of sustainable backyard protein is highly appealing to me.

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These are king pigeons, the variety I would most likely get. They are extremely domesticated, calm, and gentle. They are heavy enough that they don’t really fly well at all, so being kept in a pen is preferred for them.

And how are the guinea pigs doing? When I first got them, all the American websites said you absolutely cannot keep them outside. The British websites were full of people doing exactly that. So of course, I went with the British way of doing things…with the knowledge I may have to bring them inside during the coldest parts of winter.

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I haven’t had to do that. I wrapped their run in plastic both to warm it up slightly, and to protect from wind and rain, and they’ve been happy as two pigs can be. When I open the door, they come running for treats.

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So yeah. These are definitely outside pigs now.  I did, as I said above, moved them to a smaller pen, also winterized in plastic for the winter.

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You can just barely see Freddie in there.

We’ve been having some decent days lately, and the past couple of weeks I’ve been out working in the garden. Last year, I moved one of the quail coops out of the garden, and where it used to be, I built a small wall out of mason blocks, and added a new garden bed behind it.

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The wall both adds a bit of privacy and definition to the garden, and it also provides some protection for the mini fireplace in front.

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I also moved a couple of cold frames behind the greenhouse, and put in a larger raised bed where the cold frames used to sit. It’s a prime “hot” area, and will be terrific for tomatoes.

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All winter long, I’ve been dumping the rabbits litter boxes into the chicken’s compost area, and now I’ve started shoveling that out into my veggie gardens. It’s great stuff – even fresh, rabbit poo won’t burn plants, and this is partly composted and full of worms and other beneficial stuff.

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Just about a month left, and I’ll be able to start planting! The garden is ready for spring. The trees are budding out, the roses are sprouting leaves, and the bluebells are green.

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Now the race begins…which will happen first: spring or the rapture of the church? Hopefully the second, but at least if I’m stuck here on earth a little bit longer, I have ducklings to look forward to!

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Frosty Garden/Planning for Next Spring

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I went for a walk through my garden before Christmas. This time of year is when I dream. It’s easy to make grandiose schemes when the ground is too frosty to actually do any work.

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The meat rabbits have worked out extremely well (they are definitely the easiest critters I’ve ever kept and from the last batch of fifteen grow-outs, I harvested enough meat to make 36 meals, plus I had three gallon bags of bones to make stock). Last year was all about building their housing and getting them settled, and figuring out how to manage them. Now, though, I’m ready to add some new critters.

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I think this is the year for Muscovy ducks. I’ve considered them before, but wasn’t quite sure how to wrangle them with the chickens. Some people keep a mixed flock quite happily, but I’ve also heard horror stories of the Muscovy drake killing chickens. I value my hens; I don’t want to risk their lives. But my hens have a much larger area than they actually need, so I’ve worked out a way of dividing the chicken runs, so that they will rotate through different areas with the ducks. We’ll see how it works. The ducks, being non-diggers, will also get access a lot of the time to the garden. I miss having a devoted slug patrol!

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The things that are awesome about Muscovy ducks is their extreme quietness (always valued in an urban farm) their fly and rodent catching abilities, their devotion to motherhood, and the fact that their meat is more like red meat than regular poultry. It’s said by top chefs that their breast meat in particular tastes like sirloin steak! Since there is zero chance I will ever be able to raise sirloin steak in my backyard, I’m all about this. The downside is that I have to order a minimum of 15 chicks from my hatchery of choice.

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So I’ll keep the trio of ducks I want (1 male, 2 females) and either butcher the rest, or possibly sell a few ducklings. Ducklings! I’m so excited to be getting ducklings again. They are seriously my favorite kind of babies.

I’m also making plans for the new trees and plants I’ll be ordering. Not so many trees this year, but there are at least a couple I want. It’s weird, though, making plans this far ahead, because I know I won’t be remaining on this world much longer. Literally any moment now, Christ is going to return and take his children away. It’s 100% going to happen, and happen soon. But just in case I have to wait a couple more years (rather than the weeks or months I think it will be) I have to keep doing what God wants me to do. The Bible says to garden, and provide for my family, and live a quiet life while working with my hands, and that’s exactly the life I desire…while I’m here on earth.

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But I cannot wait for the moment when I finally get to fly away and meet my Savior in the air!

Hungry, Hungry Hippos (or Bunnies)

I do feed my rabbits. I swear I do. They have free choice hay, plus nearly unlimited pellets while they are pregnant, nursing, or babies. Still, though, whenever I refill the bowl, it’s mayhem.

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Absolute mayhem! You’d think I gave them pellets once a month instead of refilling their bowls twice daily.

 

Most of the garden is preparing to sleep for the winter now. I’ve had a light frost on my car windows, but my backyard is a warmer microclimate, and even the tomatoes are still limping along…ripening those last few cherry tomatoes. The olive tree has small green olives on it, but I don’t know what’s going to happen with those. This is the first year it’s attempted to set actual fruit.

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We’ll see. The tree is tucked up against the house wall, in the warmest possible place. There are a few apples left on the apple trees, and we just ate the last of the pears. That was exciting – it was our first year to have pears! The mini pear “Seckel” produced about 15 pears, and they were very tasty! Just like full size pears, only half the size. One of my co-workers brought me couple of unusual fruits she’d been given by a friend of hers. They are a pear/ash cross, called a “Shipova”.  I’d never heard of them, but according to One Green World, they are “A unique hybrid of Mountain Ash and Pear, Shipova Mt. Ash Hybrid bears round, yellow-orange fruit, about the size of a large apricot. Quite delicious, the sweet, seedless fruit has a delicate, rose-like aroma. Shipova forms a pyramidal-shaped tree with attractive, grayish-green foliage.” They are pollinated by actual pears, so I think I might try getting a tree next year. The ones she brought me were slightly overripe, but still very good!

It’s weird, planning for the future, when you know the world as we know it is coming to an end. I’m pretty sure I won’t even be here on earth next Spring…but in case I’m wrong about the exact timing of the Rapture and start of the Great Tribulation, I still have to keep going, planting my garden and providing for my family, as the Bible commands. But it’s a strange, strange feeling.  I’m also in high gear planning for Christmas, and I hope I won’t even be here for that! I’d so much rather celebrate Christ’s birthday in Heaven with him.

I’m also crocheting like a fiend, getting tons of charity items and gifts finished…but I’m also making a few things for me, of course! One of those things is this Virus Shawl. Love, love, love the pattern – once you figure it out, it’s fun, because it’s the same four rows repeated, so you can do it without thinking. Perfect for watching YouTube videos and listening to audios!

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And I love MelodyyByWolltraum on Etsy for the yarn. She imports this gorgeous gradient Wolltraum yarn, which is “is hand-tied gradient yarn made with love in Switzerland. The gradients are created by tying little strands of colors together and the tiny knots (TK for short) are so small they are easily hidden within your project with no additional cutting/tying necessary.” It’s so much fun to work with, and unlike many of the other importers, her shipping is very reasonable. The above shawl was made with her Summerwine yarn, and it is just yummy! I have another order in with her for a cake of her Brown Sugar yarn, and I can’t wait to get it.

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Highly, highly recommend her.

 

Bindweed, and Other Stuff I’m Working On.

The big devil in my garden is hedge bindweed.

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It is literally EVERYWHERE. If I didn’t spend time continually pulling it, by the end of summer, I would have no garden, just a massive pile of bindweed. It winds up everything, pulling it down the ground and smothering it.

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Yep, that’s definitely not a currant flower….

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The only hope I have is that permaculture books say that if your soil improves enough, it goes away on it’s own. It certainly can’t be smothered under mulch, black plastic, or paving stones. The neighbor sprays his with roundup, and it laughs in his face as it pretends to die, then springs up from the ground again with the strength of ten men.  Supposedly, if you keep pinching it off at the ground every time it sprouts, it will eventually grow weak and die…but I simply have too much of it and too much garden. It would be full time job to pinch it all.

Recently, however, I discovered there are two kinds of bindweed. One is field bindweed (which, if you can believe it, is the “bad bindweed”). That bindweed is non-edible, but, as I discovered, hedge bindweed is actually an edible plant, with several nutritious benefits. I doubt I’ll eat it myself, but as my rabbits have always made a beeline for it, whenever they get out in the yard, I’ll now be feeding it to them. It will make me feel a little better, to have an actual use for the fiendish stuff! A British vet actually says it makes wonderful bunny fodder; those lists that have bindweed listed as a poisonous plant to bunnies are referring to field bindweed, so just make sure which kind you are growing before you feed it.

It’s actually been a wonderful summer so far here – not hot like usual, and enough glorious rain to keep everything watered. The past few years have been abnormal for the PNW: upper eighties temps, and no rain whatsoever during the summer. I hated that with a passion; I’m a true Washingtonian – there is nothing I love more than a summer rain! It is so fantastic to be outside in a summer rain, and smell the green, and feel everything all fresh and crisp!

But since there has been rainy days, I’ve kept up with my crocheting, which is normally just a winter activity for me. I’ve put aside the baby blankets, though, and am just making infant hats. Lots and lots of adorable little hats! So much fun to make.

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I also made the most beautiful egg bread yesterday. I do love making bread!

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The Importance of Variety

Have you noticed that fruit just doesn’t taste very good anymore? When I was younger, there was so much FLAVOR in a fresh strawberry, fresh apricot, fresh pear. Nowadays, everything you buy in the store is so bland, so…cardboard compared to how it used to be. I feel sorry for the younger generation. Most of them have probably never tasted how fruit is supposed to taste! One difference is the way produce is shipped across long distances. Everything is picked unripe, then allowed to “ripen” as it drives across state lines.

The other problem is, even locally-grown fruit doesn’t taste right anymore, and that’s because of the varieties farmers are choosing to grow. Heirloom varieties of strawberries, for example, are smaller, and very fragile. You can’t pick them roughly, and pile them in a box, and expect them to keep for even a few hours, much less for days. When I was a kid, you could tell at a glance the local strawberries from the imported strawberries, because the local strawberries (then heirloom varieties) almost look tiny, smashed, and on the verge of decay…but if you could catch them at the right moment, wow were they good!

Farmers nowadays – even the small local farms – want their produce to last on the store shelves. You can’t blame them, but they are choosing to sacrifice taste for convenience. I went to one of my local organic farms last Friday to u-pick a few berries. Ugh. They were large, perfect, gorgeous berries…and they didn’t have hardly any flavor.

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The heirloom variety I chose to grow in my own yard was particularly for its flavor, not its keeping ability: the Shuksan. I don’t have any pictures of these (we gobbled them up too fast) but the difference in taste is striking. The only reason I bothered getting any from the local farm is because I want some to freeze, and I simply don’t have room to grow enough in garden. The ones in my garden are fresh eating only!

So if you are planning to put in some strawberries, don’t plant a variety simply because it “grows well in your area” or is what the local farmers plant. Really research the flavors. You don’t want your berries to taste like commercial berries!

Read this article and see if your mouth doesn’t start watering for some old-fashioned strawberry taste!

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Garden Things

Just a few quick things…and a chicken video at the end.

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I was reading the Art of Doing Stuff (highly, HIGHLY recommend her blog…and not just because I was the reader who told her about Grow a Little Fruit Tree!) and she mentions she puts zip lock bags around her baby apples to protect them from pests. I don’t really have much trouble with bug pests, but I do have crazy squirrels. I’m wondering if bagging the apples will be enough to throw them off?  It’s worth a try!

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Last year, my plum tree was eaten alive by aphids…until the ladybugs finally swooped in like batman in red spotted body armor and saved the day. This year, they learned where my plum is, and they didn’t wait until the entire tree was covered…only a few leaves.  Wait, don’t spray, and the beneficials WILL come!

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And finally, the chicken video, in which we all learn that Ellie HATES my camera. I don’t know why. It’s not as if she hasn’t had pictures taken of her since she was a day old…

 

A Garden Ramble

Sometimes I amuse myself in the garden. I like my garden moles. I like them even more when I move a hedgehog statue into one of their holes…

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I’ve been busy planting more things in the chicken yard. My mom read me an article that said the one thing that really improves a chicken’s wellbeing is not being able to see the entirety of their run at any given moment…they like having little nooks and corners to explore. My yard definitely fits that ideal!

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I should take you on a video tour sometime – would you like that? It’s basically a very long L shape along the east and south sides of my yard.  They sometimes spend weeks just in one particular end – and then they’ll spend a week at the opposite. It’s like they have vacation homes!

The Rex rabbit kits will be 10 weeks old this Saturday, and are such a lively bunch. I moved them out of the Bunny Barn colony at eight weeks because I bred one of the does (Thistle) and wanted to give them their own space to finish growing out.  Thistle has since had a litter of four very healthy kits! This colony system is really working out well.

Inside the house, I finally got my sourdough “mother” going so I can bake bread.

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I used Maryjane Butters’ book “Wild Bread” and I highly recommend it! Packed with info, cool pictures, and the easiest method of making a mother I’ve ever seen. One bit of warning, she does want you to buy $70 worth of brand-name bowls, etc, to get started, but you definitely don’t have to. I used what I had at hand, and it worked perfectly fine. So far I’ve made pancakes and waffles, and both were excellent. Sunday, my mother will be strong enough to try bread!

And I’ll end this with a few beauty shots of things growing in my garden. This is a water clover, growing in one of my pools.

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And these are calendula flowers. I love growing these intermingled with my vegetables because they attract bees, are so bright and colorful, and are edible themselves!

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