Category Archives: Gardening

Finally! A Solution for Bindweed?

As always in this world, there are good things that happen, and bad things. I had two Muscovy hens sitting on eggs…but only one hen managed to hatch out her babies. My black hen, Tabitha, did hatch one successfully, but I found it dead in the far corner of her broody pen the following morning. It didn’t look injured or malformed, it just looked like it got out of the nest and died of cold. I suspect she threw it out, not recognizing the baby as hers? This is the second time she’s failed to hatch eggs, so I may not let her try again next year. We’ll see.

But the other wannabe mama, Tilda, is going great! she hatched nine ducklings, and they are just the cutest things, ever.

That is a just-hatched duckling…not even completely dried off.

She is super happy with herself, and super concerned I’m going to steal her babies. She’s my skittish hen, never very friendly, which is unfortunate, since all I want to do is snuggle ducklings.

A few days after they hatched, I let her take them out into the duck run, and one of the babies just…disappeared. I looked everywhere for signs of what happened, but there was nothing. I suspect the little hawk that lives in the field behind my house got it. So then I had to keep them confided in a more secure area for a few weeks until they were less vulnerable.

And the ducks are doing the job I hoped they would! Bindweed control! My entire garden is infested with bindweed, to the point where gardening is very frustrating. If I don’t pull it continually, it literally devours everything.

But I started noticing something…the bindweed is dying! Where it was grown up through a rose bush, it was all brown and dead! One area of the fence that I had pretty much given up on, was suddenly bare.

THAT, friends, used to be a solid wall of bindweed! Now it’s just…gone…except for some brown and dead leaves the ducks can’t reach.

And the fence along my chicken run, used to be overgrown, too.

But it’s not all the muscovy ducks’ work. Goosie has been working too. She’s getting everything on her side of the fence. And she’s been picking at the dead stems of bindweed wrapped through the wire, too, cleaning it up. If I had known this was possible, I’d have gotten muscovies and a goose thirty years ago!

Of course, having ducks free ranging through my garden does have a few negative points. They have trampled down a few plants I’d rather they didn’t…but I can put wire around those. They would eat my veggies…but I fenced them out of the veggie area. And they made a mess of the container water gardens I had. So I moved one to a non-duck area and converted the other to a bog garden.

This used to be filled with water; now it’s filled with a mix of peat moss and sand. It holds the water and keeps the plants happy, but isn’t attractive to the ducks. It’s all about the compromise! And I’m happy with a few squashed plants and nibbled leaves if it means the bindweed is being controlled.

And finally, I have enough elderberries on my oldest tree to start preserving a few. I dehydrated them, and will use them to make elderberry tea this cold and flu season.

Guinea Pigs Loose in the Garden?

There are people who claim that guinea pigs can’t be kept outside. That is absolutely incorrect. As long as they are acclimated to the environment, and have a dry, protected hutch, they will thrive. They are regularly kept outside in England. My pigs are loving their outdoor life…especially now, as they are officially useful, working homestead pigs!

IMG_8228

The worst problem in my garden (and it is a really, really severe problem!) is bindweed. This stuff is incredibly evil, and it will not die. None of the methods I normally use for unwanted weeds works at all on bindweed. The only thing that works is pinching every last bit of new growth off at the ground the moment it appears. But my garden is way too big and full of far too many plants for that to be possible.

In a few sections where I was trying to grown annual vegetables, I’m giving up and switching over to an above-ground-and-piggie system. Because the ONE THING bindweed has going for it is that it is edible for animals. My rabbits, ducks, goose, turkeys, and chickens will all eat it – although the chickens really aren’t fans, so they eat very little. My rabbits, on the other hand, LOVE it. But I can’t let the rabbits into the annual vegetable garden because they also LOVE all the other veggies. And rabbits jump. They will happily jump up into the above ground planters I’ve switched over to and eat the veggies.

IMG_8194

So no rabbits for bindweed control. I could pull it by hand, since it won’t become a threat to the veggies until it has grown knee high. But why do that, when you can work with an animal?

IMG_8193

Enter the piggies. Guinea pigs don’t jump, and love to scurry around planters and eat bindweed.

IMG_8231

Their new garden patrol is fenced off and safe, and they go in and out of their hutch at will…including putting themselves to bed well before dark. They only thing I have to do is shut and lock their door. So far, it’s working perfectly. If it continues to work, I will have to consider getting a second group of piggies to work the front veggie garden!

(And if you’re wondering why the strawberry plants look so terrible, it’s because I transplanted them in the middle of summer, and they are objecting. They are already growing fresh new leaves, though, so they will be gorgeous in Spring.)

I love giving the animals I love a natural life, filled with the things they enjoy!

In other news, the turkeys grew up to five weeks old, and were mostly independent. One of their two bantam chickens moms decided she had taught them everything necessary, and went off to live with the other chickens in the main chicken coop. The other mom was sticking with it…sorta. She still slept with them, but didn’t really spend any time with them during the day. So I decided it was time.

IMG_8183

Within 15 minutes of posting them on my local facebook poultry group, I was fielding questions from four interested people. And then about 5 minutes after that, one guy took them all. He has a little farm, and although he’s been raising a few modern breed turkeys for thanksgiving each year, he is now getting interesting in becoming more sustainable, and wants these guys to be his new breeding flock of heritage Red Bourbon turkeys! So brought all five to work with me at the library, and he picked them via our curbside pickup. I have the best boss, honestly. When I texted her the night before to warn her I was bringing my turkeys in with me, she just said she couldn’t wait to see them.

Next year, if these bantams volunteer again, I might see what other interesting eggs I might get them to hatch. My mom suggested peacocks! Hmmm…..

I thought the turkeys would be the last babies on the farm this year, but it turns out my Muscovy hens had other plans. I don’t remember if I blogged about it, but my drake had a thing happen to him very early this year. He had a prolapsed penis, which resulted in him losing his penis. This isn’t a problem for a male duck, as the only thing he uses his penis for is fertilizing the females…he can still go happily through the motions of mating (and does all the time!) but he can’t actually fertilize those eggs. Or so I thought.

About three months after the…hem…incident happened, one of my females, Tabitha, went broody. I let her sit on the (I thought) infertile eggs while I decided whether I was going to get some eggs for her from somewhere else. I ended up checking the eggs just to be sure…and wow. There were babies developing inside! After checking with someone who checked with her vet, it turned out ducks can hold sperm inside them for up to three months. Okay, I thought…they just barely made the deadline!

And then, something went wrong late in the game, and the eggs didn’t hatch.

So that was it. No ducklings on the farm this year….or so I thought.

About a month ago, my second hen, Tilda, went broody. This was a good FIVE months after the…hem…incident happened. No way this girl’s been holding sperm this long. It’s scientifically impossible…isn’t it?

I let her sit, while I considered my options, and finally decided I’d just take the eggs away because it’s getting late in the season, and I really prefer having babies earlier. But just to be 100% safe…I checked the eggs.

And…there are babies inside! What. In. The. World. How is this happening? I’m thrilled to have a miracle drake who can apparently father children without a penis, because I really wanted to have a sustainable little trio of muscovies, and I love Tiberius and don’t want to replace him with another drake.

But really….what is going on here?

IMG_8203

And then, after Tilda went broody, Tabitha also decided to go for a second attempt at being a mother.

IMG_8205

Tilda has somewhere around ten eggs underneath her, and Tabitha has four. Tabitha’s eggs are also developing. Tilda’s eggs are due to hatch sometime next week? Maybe? I didn’t mark down the exact date, because I was so sure they weren’t fertile. Tabitha is due maybe a week after that. I’m pretty excited, guys.

And extremely puzzled.

In the garden, the grapes have wrapped themselves decoratively under the eaves of the chicken coop.

IMG_8202

The bees are buzzing around their favorite flowers, which are leeks. I don’t grow leeks for the leeks, ya’ll. I grow them strictly for the bees!

IMG_8216

And the artichoke is getting closer to flowering as well. This is also for the bees. And for the drama! If you’ve never seen an artichoke flower, you’re missing out.

IMG_8221

But the real star is Goosie. She is turning out to be the most perfect addition. She’s extremely chatty, but she only gives the loud and obnoxious alarm call when she really feels there’s a problem…like when she first saw the guinea pigs roaming around! Those piggies are clearly chicken-eating monsters. But after giving the alarm, she settles right down. And she’s so sweet and affectionate.

I’m loving having a goose in the flock.

Duck, Duck, Goose…Turkey?

Lots of babies and flowers happening on the urban farm. First off all, Sophie the goose (or Goosie, as she is commonly called) is growing up SO FAST. This is a video from a few weeks back:

Even though she was fostered by a chicken, along with two chicken “sisters”, she is very friendly to me, and will happily leave her chicken family to follow me around. I should have kept this video going, because right after I turned it off, she walked through a patch of calendula, and came out with a flower on her back!

IMG_8089

I let her take it back to the chicken yard as a present for her chicken-mama. She is super sweet with her adopted family.

IMG_8110

If you can’t quite see what’s going on in the above photo, Goosie is snuggled in against her mama, and her two sisters are snuggled in on her back. They treat her almost like a second mother.

Today, I took the picture below. Goosie is easily larger than her mama now, but she still snuggles with her sisters, and they follow her around the yard. The two little chickens now have names. The soft grey one is Elsa, and the brown one is Anna.

IMG_8120

The three male pekin ducks I had shipped with the goose are also much larger. And today, they found a muddy place in the yard to play in! Duck joy!

 

IMG_8122

IMG_8125

And in the biggest baby news…the accidental baby turkeys have hatched! Out the six eggs that were mistakenly shipped to me, five are now official turkey poults. They are super cute. I’ve always had a fondness for turkeys.

IMG_8140

These five turkeys were hatched by two sisters, a pair of bantam cochins. They sat together on the eggs in the same nest, but I wasn’t sure how it work once the eggs hatched. Would they divide the poults up? Would one hen steal all of them?

As it turns out, they are excellent at co-parenting. The poults treat the two hens equally as their mother, and both hens work together to feed them and keep them warm. It really is the sweetest thing.

I’ve been allowing the muscovies free-range status in the back garden, even though they are squashing down some plants. They are just so happy! And they like to follow me around while I’m weeding and chat to me.

In the garden, things are growing.

IMG_8102

Including pears. It’s going to be a good year for pears.

IMG_8157

And calendula. I love this new variety I found. Notice that the back of each petal is striped!

IMG_8166

IMG_8169

 

Broody Hen Adopts Gosling

The last few weeks have gone by so fast! I was furloughed from my work because of covid-19, so I’ve just been avoiding public places and enjoying life on my little farm. I’ve actually been doing a lot more cooking/baking and crafting lately, but I have done a few things outside.

I have a few places in my yard that are basically a no-man’s-land, as far as planting in the ground goes. So this year, I decided to reclaim one section by using above ground planters. It’s out of the way, behind the chicken coop, so rather than investing in something expensive, I just went with large storage totes. So far, it’s been brilliant.

IMG_8024

If you notice that some of the leaves are a bit…nibbled on, that’s the fault of my chicken, Ellie. She likes to help out in the garden, and takes her pay by taste-testing my veggies for me.

One of my Muscovy hens has gone broody, and has staked claim to a corner of the overflow coop.

IMG_8034

She’s super sweet, not aggressive at all, and completely unflappable. My corgi managed to get in the coop with her yesterday, and stood there, barking in her face, and she just sat there and waited for him to go away. I did not think the eggs were fertile, because my one drake suffered a penile prolapse early this Spring, and ended up losing his…ahem…male equipment. This isn’t a problem for him, but it should mean no fertile eggs for me. I ordered three pekin ducklings to foster with her, but the day before they arrived, I double-checked her eggs by candling them, and miracle of miracles–about five have babies inside them! I don’t know if they’ll manage to hatch, but since they should be due any day now, I’m holding onto the pekins, and hopefully if she hatches some muscovies in the next few days, I’ll be able to slip the pekins in with them. I can’t give them to her now, because she’d abandon the eggs. You don’t know how hard it is to avoid snuggling three perfect little fluffy yellow ducklings! But I don’t dare give them much attention, because then they would imprint on me, and not accept her.

And speaking of perfect little fluffy creatures…along with the pekins, I got my future chicken guard goose! Meet Sophie.

IMG_8022

She’s a tufted Roman goose, and is currently being fostered by my best broody hen, Ophelia. Ophelia didn’t even bat an eye at this strange new baby. Along with Sophie, I gave Ophelia two chicken chicks too, because I wanted Sophie to have ‘sisters’. Chickens are mean girls, and it really helps if you’re brand new, to have a few brand new friends.

I still need to figure out names for these two. The silvery grey one is a Lavender Orpington, and the brown one is a new hybrid called a Colorpack. It’s part Cream Legbar, so I will have colored eggs, either blue, green, or pink.

IMG_8015

And just to show the size difference between a chick and a gosling…here’s Sophie and her sisters:

IMG_8016

And here’s a video of Ophelia and Sophie:

It is so so so so HARD not to snuggle this gosling! Goslings are possibly my favorite baby animal, and Sophie is so calm and sweet. She keeps walking over to me and looking up at me with this adorable expression.

IMG_8027

I’m hoping that once she’s safely imprinted on Ophelia, that I’ll be able to snuggle her. Ophelia won’t mind. This is the hen who, when I pick up one of her babies and the baby yells, runs over and pecks the baby to tell her to stop acting like an idiot. Humans are friends! They bring us food!

It’s going to be so much fun to watch Ophelia and her three mismatched children explore the chicken yard.

Lockdown, Ducks, and Salt-cured Egg Yolks

Well, pretty much everything has changed since the last time I posted, hasn’t it? As I write this, I’m under lockdown in my state for two weeks. They hope this will “flatten the curve” and keep this virus from becoming as terrible here in the States as it has been in other parts of the world. I don’t know if that will work or not. Honestly, I have complete security knowing that everything will be fine for me and my family, whatever happens. We are completely safe, forever.

But right now, I’m off work (with pay, thankfully!) and I’m sitting at home being bored and miserable.

You didn’t believe that last statement, did you? If you did, you haven’t been following this blog very long, I’m guessing! Of course I’m not happy with why I’m at home, and it feels a bit weird knowing I can’t just pop into JoAnn Fabrics at a whim – but even in regular times, it’s basically my goal on most days to never leave my property. It truly is a glorious feeling to have all the time for whatever I want to do…and I gotta say I’m loving how quiet everything is. I live near a busy street, and normally the sound of traffic is constant. I woke up this morning to silence.

I’ve been sitting with the chickens, cooking new recipes, playing games, and crafting. So much peace, here on my property – with just a bit of spice, when we plan future trips to pick up groceries (mainly just milk) and animal feed, wondering if the stores will still be sold out, and if we should spray everything down with bleach before we bring it in the house.  It’s honestly…kind of fun. I’ve always loved reading about people who lived through “interesting history”, and wondering what it would be like to be one of them. If this current world-as-we-know-it holds together longer that I believe it will, one day little girls will be reading about the pandemic of 2020, like I read about the Spanish Flu. I think I’d feel quite a bit differently if I hadn’t already read the ending of The Book, and know that whatever happens, nothing can keep me from the glorious future waiting for me. Some of my friends and co-workers are so scared. I wish they understood. One day very soon, they will.

But I actually just wanted to talk about some of the interesting things I’ve doing these past couple of days. Things like letting the Muscovy ducks out to roam in the garden.

Things like trying salt-cured egg yolks.

IMG_7979

You completely cover raw egg yolks in a salt/sugar mixture, and let them sit in the fridge for a week to dry out. Then you remove them from the salt, further dry them for a short time in the oven on a low temp, then they are ready to eat! But WHY? Because you can grate the yolks and use them as a tasty topping for almost anything that calls for grated cheese. I haven’t tasted them yet, they are still drying in salt, but it sounds intriguing. And if there’s one thing I have plenty of right now, it’s eggs. Particularly since I’m locked down and can’t sell my extra eggs at work.

Today I also brought out the craft I bought a few months back, and didn’t have time to do.

IMG_8010

My first attempt turned out pretty good! This book has THE CUTEST little felt doll clothes for this doll, can’t wait to make the little fox hood/cape!

Out in the garden, Spring is springing up all over. I’ve got the lettuce starts I bought out in the garden, getting a head start while the seedlings I’m growing from seed are in the greenhouse. It never ceases to thrill me, being able to plant things like lettuce – and NOT have slugs immediately devour them! Letting the chickens out to dig through the garden in winter and early spring, controls them so amazingly well. They eat all the slug eggs (and a few of the slugs themselves) and I have a nearly slug-free garden. It works so much better than letting ducks wander through your garden, eating the adult slugs!

IMG_7980

The peach and plum trees are blooming.

IMG_7999

The chickens are laying, and hopefully considering going broody. I’d love it if one of these new bantam cochin hens decided to raise a family for me. I really, really want a Lavender Orpington this year.

IMG_8002

Though not you, Khaleesi! Every year this frost Cream Legbar decides she wants babies, and I remind her that she is quite possibly clinically insane, and thus not a suitable mother.

IMG_8006

Do you see the insanity in her eyes? It’s there, I promise you. She is the most neurotic, crazy-butt chicken I’ve ever owned. I’d think about rehoming her if she weren’t so entertaining.

The nine meat birds are growing so large already. They are so heavy and…meaty. I’ve tried several different kinds of meat chickens, and these Freedom Rangers are the best. They are so calm and easy to keep. I keep them in a separate coop, but now that they are large enough to hold their own, I let them out to share a run with the rest of the chickens.

IMG_7998

They are living a happy life, as they should. Even meat animals – perhaps especially meat animals – should be raised in a way that lets them live a natural, happy life. Right now, it’s hard to imagine butchering them, they are so sweet. But as they are almost all roosters, about the time they reach butchering age, they also start acting out and getting bratty. It makes it so much easier!

Before all this virus lockdown stuff happened, I managed to complete most of my must-do spring building list. One thing was raising the quail cages off the ground.

IMG_7991

When they were on the ground, I’d have rats burrowing underneath, trying to get at the quail’s food. This was not a situation I liked. So I raised them up, creating raised beds filled with dirt, so the quail still have a natural place to walk, scratch, and dig. Bonus: I can now enjoy the quails themselves better, since I don’t have to sit on the ground to see them easily.

Two of these raised quail coops are in the chicken run, so I purposely raised them high enough for the chickens to be able to get underneath. Hawk protection, plus shade and rain cover! Ignore the roof on this next one: I’ve got a few roofs I need to finish, but that will have to wait until after this lockdown.

IMG_7995

Another thing I did was install a solar lamp post in the middle of my garden, a tribute to C.S. Lewis’ Narnia. It has a flickering flame light inside, so it’s pretty dramatically realistic at night.

IMG_7993

So that’s what I’ve been up to. Hopefully everyone reading this is nestled at home enjoying their family, and catching up on all the things they always intended to do, but never had the time. For those of you who are “essential employees”, thank you for what you’re doing. A lot of you probably thought you had fairly non-essential jobs – no one ever really appreciates a grocery store clerk or truck drivers on a daily basis, do they? At least they didn’t until now, when you guys are truly demonstrating how essential you are. I hope you’ll stay safe.

And for all of you, whoever you are, if you’re scared right now, if you wonder whether the world will ever be normal again, the truth is, it may not be. And if it does manage to regain some semblance of normality, it won’t last. It can’t. But that doesn’t have to scare you. You can have complete peace, and complete security, no matter what happens next. I do.

“Short Answers to 8 of The Most Important Questions Regarding The Will of God, Salvation, The Gospel, Eternal Security & Repentance.” By Gregg Jackson

1. What is the will of God? To believe on The Eternally Existing Son of God, God The Son, Jesus Christ! “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of Him that sent Me, that every one which seeth The Son, and believeth on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:39-40)

2. What are the works of God? To believe on the one whom God the Father sent, His Son, Jesus Christ! “Then said they unto Him, ‘What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?’ Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘This is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.’” (John 6:28-29)

3. What must I do to be saved? Believe on The Lord Jesus Christ, that He died for your sins, was buried, and rose again on the 3rd day according to the scriptures. “And brought them out, and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.’” (Acts 16:31)

4. What is The Gospel & does believing The Gospel save me? It’s The “Good News.” That Jesus died for all your sins (past, present & future), was buried (proving He was dead) & rose again on the 3rd day according to the (old testament) scriptures for your justification in the eyes of God. “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you The Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” (1st Corinthians 15:1-4)

5. Are works required for salvation? No. We are NOT saved by works or kept saved by works. We are saved FOR works. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” (Romans 4:5)

6. Can I lose my salvation? No. Once a person genuinely believes the Gospel they are sealed by The Holy Spirit in Christ the instant they believe forever and can never perish! “In whom ye also trusted (referring to Jesus), after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14) “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” (John 10:27-30)

7. Do I need to endure till the end to be saved? In Matthew 24 :13 Jesus tells the disciples, “he who endures till the end, will be saved.” When read in proper context, it is clear Jesus is speaking about Jews during the tribulation (which occurs after The Church is raptured). Jesus is telling them that those Jewish believers during the Tribulation who “endure” till “the end” of the Tribulation will be saved. The word “saved” in proper context in this passage signifies being saved from danger during the Tribulation, not saved from hell.

8. Do I need to repent for my sins to be saved or to stay saved? No! Neither Jesus, nor any of His apostle’s or disciples ever told anybody they needed to “repent of their sins” or “stop sinning” to be saved. Sin is transgression of the law. Repenting of sin is following the law. Salvation is by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Not by faith in Jesus PLUS obeying the law. The only requirement for eternal salvation is believing The Gospel! AFTER a person is saved, they SHOULD repent from their sins (confessing your sins to God) not to stay saved (because you can never lose your salvation) but as their rightful service to God to stay in right relationship with Him. The ONLY requirement for salvation is trusting (BELIEVING) in the finsihed redemptive work of Jesus Christ on The Cross ALONE for the remission of all your sins and eternal life. “For God so loved the world, He gave His only begotten Son that whoesoever would BELIEVE in Him would not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Busy, Busy, Busy!

This past month has been insanely busy. We’ve had a few gorgeous Spring days, and some less-than-completely-gorgeous Spring days, but I’ve been outside working in all of them. All day, every moment I have! This is my favorite time of year. I’ve discovered that I don’t even mind working in the rain, as long as I’m wearing a hat. I’ve been too busy to even blog, so I’ll slowly have to catch you up on everything that’s been going on. Believe it or not, the loooong post to follow is just a small sampling!

First of all: new chicks!

IMG_7928

I have Freedom Ranger meat birds. These guys are the best. So calm, so quiet, so completely chill. We did a test run of four last year, and absolutely loved them. They were awesome to raise, and tasted the best of any chicken we’ve had.

Second: We rat-proofed the chicken coop. Guys. We had such a rat problem this past winter! They were burrowing into the chicken coop, and stealing all the food. I couldn’t go outside without seeing them scampering away…they were bold as squirrels. First step, we laid an apron of hardware cloth around the perimeter, inside and out. We got rid of the areas around the coop that the rats were using as cover. We set traps. And we bought a rat-proof feeder. This one.

IMG_7968

The chickens took to it instantly with no learning curve (even the dumb ones!), and the rats almost instantly stopped coming around. I saw a rat now and then for about a week, and now I see no rats at all. Not a single one.  This feeder is worth every penny.

Third: The neighbor took their tree down, and we waylaid the tree-trimming company and snagged the chips.  Last year, we did not get a proper layer of chips down in the chicken yard, and we paid the price all winter. The ground was a soggy, muddy mess. I was forced to put down some straw just to make it bearable.  In the below picture, Mina and Valentina are scandalized by the muddy state of their yard. Behind the hens: lovely, thick chips. In front of the hens: mud and squish.

IMG_7934

Free wood chips have been the most amazing thing we’ve ever done for the chickens. They hate them when we first put them down – I don’t know if it’s the fresh scent, or the texture – but they hate them. Within a week, however, they are loving them, and are scratching down through, to the ground which remains diggable, soft, and full of worms.

Fourth: Moving Cocoa’s cage. My angora rabbit requires special housing to keep her fur clean. No slumming about in shavings or dirt for her! She’s bunny royalty. I had her cage inside the breezeway, but I started feeling sorry for her, because she was so isolated from all the other critters. If there’s one thing I’ve loved seeing, it’s how all the animals on my backyard farm are interested in each other. The ducks explode with joy whenever a chicken comes near their pen (every duck I’ve ever owned has been obsessed with chickens!) the quail and the chickens watch each other like television, and the chickens and the rabbits nap near each other on sunny mornings.

So I moved Cocoa out to the bunny area. Her cage is raised up off the ground, both to keep her fur clean (she has a linoleum floor) and to give the chickens another place to get out of rain. She has a hardware cloth window through to Bramble’s cage, so they can spend non-sexy time together, and of course she can watch the chickens. I still need to roof her cage. That ugly tarp has to go!

IMG_7945

Fifth: The pigeons got new nestboxes. They are built on the outside of the cage, so I can do welfare checks on the squabs without going inside.

IMG_7937

They like them, and it’s much easier for me to keep them clean (and handle the babies).

IMG_7941

I had three pair in this pen, but I decided that was one pair more than I need. I found a buyer for the extra pair, but since he needs to build his cage before he can take them, I stuck Casanova and his mate in the Bunny Barn temporarily. With the rabbits.

IMG_7948

People on the internet will tell you this does not work – even though they haven’t tried it themselves. They have all sorts of reasons why not: It will scare the rabbits, and they will die. The rabbits will kill the pigeons. The pigeons will blind your rabbits. The pigeons/rabbits will get sick. The rabbits will get pooped on. They will eat each other’s food and die of malnourishment. They almost had me convinced. But then I found a person who actually does it, and it works perfectly for her. And I was reminded of all the rabbits who live with chickens, and my common sense came rushing back.

The rabbits were not scared. My rabbits are not namby-pamby wussy critters locked away in solitary confinement–my rabbits live in the real world, with screaming neighbors, fireworks, and other animals. The only time they are ever stressed out is when it’s time to cut their toenails. The rabbits and the pigeons completely ignore each other. The pigeons live in the loft areas, the rabbits live on the ground. Since I feed my rabbits real grains with their hay, they are largely eating the same diet as the pigeons–and the pigeon food is up in the loft, anyway, and the rabbits eat on the floor. No one has gotten sick, or even pooped on. Most of the things that might make an animal sick are species specific, anyway. It’s not a thing I worry about. I am LOVING having these pigeons in the Bunny Barn. It may have started as a temporary thing, but I think after this particular pair of pigeons are sold, I might put a different pair in there. The potential is wide open!

Sixth: Starting seeds, and preparing the garden. It’s a bit early to direct plant outside, but I do have the greenhouse full of seeded trays, and I’ve put out a few hardy beasts, like lettuce.

IMG_7930

And speaking of seeds, my book library has decided to start a seed library. Of course, I ended up being part of the process, and it’s been interesting. The actual seed library itself won’t be operational until Feb 2021, but we are busy figuring out stuff behind the scenes…including special events like our upcoming Seed Share and Garden Fair.

Seed Share social media post[290]

While those with seeds of their own to share are completely welcomed, our focus is on getting seeds out into the hands of people who want to garden. So there is absolutely nothing expected of anyone but show up, enjoy the live music, attend the seed-starting workshop if you want to learn how to begin planting (1pm), let your kids make some garden-related crafts, and of course take home free seeds! The entire event is from 1-4pm.

Seventh: Cleaning up. How does so much junk accumulate over one winter?

IMG_7929

And lastly, because if I go too long without mentioning Ellie on the blog, someone always gets concerned and asks if she’s ok, here’s Ellie.

IMG_7965

She’s not amused by the new chicks, doesn’t think the new chips smell nice at all, isn’t sure why I want so many rabbits, and thinks I waste entirely too much time building cages and nestboxes for other animals, when I could be sitting in the sun with her on my lap. Or bringing her mealworms. Or doing something that she wants. Because she is a cranky ten-year-old lady who just wishes those crazy ducks would get off her lawn.

 

The Sweetest Thing

The sweetest thing just happened on my urban farm. I have a pair of snowflake bobwhite quail, and although they have tried for three years to hatch out some babies, their eggs are apparently infertile. They sit and sit – the male sitting patiently right beside his hen – but nothing hatches.

Until now. I bought some coturnix quail eggs to put under her. I was afraid she’d reject them – either because I messed with her nest to replace the eggs, or because bobwhite eggs are pure white, and coturnix eggs are usually spotted.  Could she tell the difference?

Either the answer was no, or else she didn’t care. They sat on the eggs together, and out of the eight I gave her, three hatched. And they are so so so sweet! I went out to check on them periodically the day of the hatch, and I knew something was up when I approached their pen and male began to pace in front of his hen, holding out his wings to look big and fierce, and warning me away. He was a father!

I’m not sure there is anything so bitty and fluffy as baby quail. Since I had more eggs than would fit under the hen, I put the extras in my incubator, and managed to hatch out five more.  I’m really interested to see what the adult colors are going to be; the chicks range in color from pure golden yellow, to yellow/black/brown spotted, to dark brown.

IMG_7545

Since I was out there with my camera, I did a few photoshoots around the poultry run.

The Muscovy ducks:
IMG_7567

IMG_7568

IMG_7586

The boys are always bold and out in front. The females are more shy.

IMG_7590

I also discovered that, unlike the camera-shy larger chickens, the bantams are little divas. They are happy to pose.

IMG_7519

IMG_7622

I also simply sat and watched everyone (as I do every day) with Ellie on my lap.

IMG_7556

(She wants to make sure you know she is currently molting, and not quite the gorgeous girl she normally is. Kindly disregard the fact that she only has two tailfeathers at the moment. These things are vastly embarrassing to a hen. Good feathers are important.)

The grapes are starting to fill out.

IMG_7627

IMG_7634

And the tomatoes are already ripe.

img_7636_zps6nsnuef4

We’re had a fantastic summer here in the PNW. Warm, but not too warm. And quite a few rainy days. I adore summer rain!

Yesterday I defrosted and cleaned out the freezer, which means I was inspired to fill it again. First I sliced and bagged 14 quarts of raw mushrooms.

IMG_7506

This is the best method for keeping mushrooms. They are just like fresh, whenever you need them in your recipes.

Then mom and I harvested apples from our mystery apple tree. The apples are ugly, but they make the best pies in the world.

IMG_7507

And then I made three pies. One for now, two to freeze.

IMG_7509

I love making pies. And I can’t believe it took most of my life to try putting lattice crusts on them! It is so easy to do, and besides looking beautiful, they taste better, as the spaces allow more gooey goodness to bubble up unto the crust!

The Babies Aren’t So Tiny Anymore

Wow. I can’t believe June went by so fast! This time of month is always crazy busy in the garden…and this garden was crazier than usual because I had so many new animals. Mom counted all the animals on the farm and asked me to guess how many we had. I think I guessed something like forty. The correct answer? SIXTY-TWO.

Sixty-two critters: chickens, ducks, quail, pigeons, rabbits, guinea pigs, plus one cat and one dog! Of course some of these are not going to be staying here forever. Some are being raised specially for meat (seven chickens have already gone into the freezer), and some are going elsewhere. Two of the black copper marans chicks, for example, have already gone to live with a friend of mine.  And I have a few young roosters that will have to leave pretty soon. Anyone want some mottled cochin roos? They are super cute! Or how about a silkie roo?

I LOVE these mottled cochins. They are so adorable, and they are turning into sweeties. They will jump into my lap for a cuddle.

The Muscovy ducks are also proving to be a win for the farm. They are getting HUGE. Especially the drakes. They were always skittish as babies, but now they are realizing that I am the one with the food, and they are taming down enough to let me pet them. I will be keeping three: two hens and a drake. Since I only have two girls, there’s no difficult decision there. As for the drake, I’m pretty sure I’ll be keeping the black one. It’s funny, because that is specifically the one color I said I did not want. I wanted ones with lots of white on them, but either they are super hard to tell from ducklings what color they will be, or the breeder I got them from didn’t know how to tell. She gave me black ones, and chocolate ones, and solid blue ones…and one solitary chocolate and white. Oh well. I love them anyway! And they are already devoted bindweed eaters!

Mom and I roasted marshmellows and hotdogs in the garden Sunday.

IMG_7400

Dexter approved wholeheartedly. Especially once we pulled out the hotdogs.

IMG_7403

 

June 6th Urban Farm Update

This time of year is crazy-busy-fun on the backyard farm. The garden is growing so fast it’s hard to keep up with everything, and nearly every spare pen/coop I have has babies in it. I love it.

In the bunny barn, I have three different ages of rabbits, all co-existing happily together. I have my original two breeding does, plus babies from two different litters – born about a month apart.

IMG_7361

My favorite one from the most recent litter is this blue otter kit.

IMG_7366

I was hoping to keep it, if it was a doe, but sadly…I’m nearly 100% sure it’s a buck. Maybe in the next litter I’ll get a keeper.

Ophelia’s foster chicks, the four black copper marans, are growing up. They still sit on her back like she’s a massive pillow…and who can blame them, really? She’s so soft and fluffy! I’ve gotten lucky here, because out of the four, only one is a rooster. I’ll be keeping one of the hens, and the other two girls will be going together to a friend of mine.

IMG_7317

Sansa’s foster chicks have been cast out of the nest. They are Red Rangers, a meat breed I’m testing out, and they are already as large as she is. In the below picture, they are the two closest to the camera.

IMG_7347

The bigger darker red hen is Charlotte, one of my layers. Beyond her, on the other side of fence are the four Freedom Rangers I’m also trying out as a meat bird. The Freedom Rangers are definitely proving the best. They are larger, easy to handle, and just really plumping out well.

The other chicks are the bantam Mottled Cochins, and the two Silkies.

IMG_7323

I’m really falling hard for the cochins. They are so adorable. I have two roosters that will have to be re-homed, plus three hens: Milly, Maisie, and Molly. In the back of the photo, you can see the two silkies. Lucie is the partridge one, in front. I love her coloring, and I hope she is an actual hen. It’s super hard to tell for sure with silkies.

IMG_7330

The other silkie, Lola, is a buff color.

IMG_7339

In the below picture, you can see how easy it is to sex the cochins, even at this young age. The two on the right are the roos…see how much larger and redder their combs and wattles are?

IMG_7327

And then there are the Muscovy ducklings. Taking the advice of the Fit Farmer, I made a screened box for underneath the water, to keep the shavings dry and clean(er). Ducklings are horrifically messy, and wet shavings stink. This helps so very much!

IMG_7312

Here’s a video of the ducklings:

That video was taken a week or so ago. They are now MUCH larger, and have outgrown both my indoor brooder, AND the two intermediate secure pens. Their ultimate duck house is not yet finished and predator-proof, so they are currently spending their days in the unfinished duck house, but I’m locking them up in the extra coop at night.

IMG_7340

I can’t believe how fast ducklings grow.

IMG_7345

In the garden, everything is growing and flowering, including my favorite kitchen flower, the calendula. These self-seed throughout the garden is such a charming way.

IMG_7371

A few weeks back, I made a bed in the front yard for more raspberries.

IMG_7380

I intended to get the traditional canes to plant, but when I went searching for the variety I wanted, I discovered you can also buy rootstock, which is how the commercial berry producers do it. For a fraction of the cost of bareroot canes, they send you a literal envelope with some thin, cobwebby raspberry roots. You stretch them out in a line, bury with 1/2″ to 1″ of soil, then keep them well-watered, never allowing them to dry out. Unbelievably, they are supposed to grow faster and produce berries sooner than if you’d planted canes!

Mine are starting to sprout little raspberry plants!

IMG_7381

Will I really get raspberries this summer? It’s hard to believe, but they are doing very well, and for $10 I got enough rootstock to make a 5 foot row.

One thing already fruiting is the berry I wait for every year: strawberries!

IMG_7382

Berries shipped in from CA taste like cardboard to me, and even locally-grown strawberries, while vastly better, still don’t have the full taste they should. Most commercial varieties aren’t grown for taste, but how well they last on the market shelves. These are Shuksan, one of the varieties that is considered one of the BEST tasting berries ever grown. I can personally attest that they taste fantastic!

 

The Garden is Exploding!

May is when the garden goes crazy. Green, lush, and – after the long winter – just so suddenly packed full of life. I could easily spend my entire day outdoors working, between the animals and the garden…and often, I do. It’s wonderful.

img_7264_zps4a6ovbxu

Nearly everything is fruiting like crazy, too. I don’t know if it’s because of our unusually snowy winter, but the fruit trees and bushes are packed with blooms. Even the ones that normally don’t do all that well in my garden, like the blueberries. We have apples, currants, gooseberries, peaches and so many others, including figs.

img_7256_zpsjcb6wb16

Cherries:

img_7244_zps0u7it4vj

And plums. This will be the first year I’ve gotten plums!

IMG_7223.JPG

That is, I WILL get plums, if Mama Short-Tail doesn’t get them first.  I couldn’t get her to show off her short docked tail (there has to be a tale of adventure there!) but this particular squirrel nests in the tree right against my fence, and spends a lot of her time in my yard. I saw her with two healthy youngsters just the other day. Sigh.

img_7230_zpsf8tb5e3e

There are some ornamental flowers blooming as well. Roses and Lily-of-the-Valley are two my favorites.

img_7246_zpsrapgjw7q

img_7248_zps4uun2iza

Besides the numerous baby chicks running around, I also have a brand-new batch of baby Rex bunnies. These are about 5 days old.

This one is a blue otter. If she’s a doe, I may keep her.

img_7220_zpspuc4ny64

The pigeons have a new nest of two babies; I’m guessing it’s another male and female pair since one of the them stands up, puffs out its chest and tries to bite my fingers when I pet them, and the other shrinks down and tries to become invisible. The firstborn pair are fully grown, billing and cooing and falling in love, and trying to find their place in the dovecote. That is Esther with the purple legband, and Mordecai in the green. Watching a bit resentfully (he thinks the kids should fly away and find their own dovecote) is the father, Emerson.

img_7236_zpspjxyqpcz

And they aren’t MY babies, but someone chose to make their nest in this house I put up in the chicken coop rafters. I love hearing the sounds of the babies screaming for their supper!

img_7257_zpskehjaygv

I’ve been working on lots of projects. I added another box of commonly-used herbs near the kitchen door – I’ve just started really cooking with fresh herbs, and its unbelievably lovely to just open the door and snip off a few leaves!

img_7251_zpslfgu7dxh

I’ve also been working on the future home of the Muscovy ducks.  It doesn’t look like much yet, but I have a plan! Speaking of the Muscovies, I will hopefully finally get them in about two weeks. It’s been a journey, getting these ducks!

img_7224_zpskpcxrbdk

Mom also finished a project. We have this spot just to the left of our front gate that has always had the ugliest concrete floor. One of us had the idea of just getting cedar boards, cutting them to size, then laying them into the space. It worked, and looks wonderful. And super easy, too.

img_7253_zpsdolim2gy

I’ve also been sprucing up the garden. First, because a blogger friend of mine wanted to come film my garden and interview me for her channel Making It Home  (I’ll put the finished video she made at the end of this blog, if you’d like to see it) and secondly, because I have several tours I’m giving for various people, plus hosting a family party.

The interview Making It Home did was specifically about the method of gardening I use called Back to Eden, where you keep the soil covered at all times by a thick layer of wood chips. We didn’t get into it because of time constraints, but I really do only a modified version of Back to Eden these days. I have found that while wood chips works fantastically in the perennial beds (and in the chicken run!) it is less successful in the annual vegetable beds. And that is largely because the chips are too large. I scrape them aside to plant seeds, but invariably they fall back in and smother my seedlings – either because of the wind, or rampaging squirrels like Mama Short-Tail. So now I use bunny litter on my vegetable beds. It’s a mixture of wood shavings, plus bunny droppings, and it’s a perfect thing. The shavings are small enough not to smother seedlings, and bunny droppings can be used directly in the garden without composting, because it won’t burn your plants like other manures do. Look at the picture below:

img_7217_zpsobmmowkr

The left side is wood chips. The right is bunny litter.  I tell ya, I wouldn’t know how to garden if it weren’t for my critters. The bunnies are essential for their manure/mulch, and the chickens have absolutely saved my garden from slugs. I used to come out in the morning and find my lettuce destroyed under a tell-tale trail of slime. In the evenings, you could come out with a flashlight, and see literally dozens of slugs crossing the lawn, heading for the vegetable beds. Ducks are good slug patrol, but honestly, chickens are better. Ducks eat slugs, but chickens eat slug eggs. I let my chickens out free range into my garden for a couple hours a week during the winter and early spring, and they just ninja their way through all the slug egg caviar. Come planting time, there are few slugs left…just a handful of super tiny ones spread out through the whole garden. I see a few nibbles on a leaf here and there, but it’s generally not a problem. I don’t remember the last time I saw a slug larger than half an inch.

I love it when things work together in harmony, the way God intended.