Category Archives: Gardening

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.

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

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

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

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

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(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.

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And the tomatoes are already ripe.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The other silkie, Lola, is a buff color.

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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?

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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!

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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.

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I can’t believe how fast ducklings grow.

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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.

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

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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Cherries:

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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:

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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.

New Life Follows Death

It’s the way of life on this earth. One creature dies, another is born…or hatched. I lost one of my sweet hens, Tilda, a couple of weeks ago. She was fine, and then she wasn’t. I don’t know what happened; she was always an extremely busy girl, always foraging and running about, and I noticed pretty quickly that she wasn’t feeling well because she slowed way, way down. I checked her over, but nothing appeared to be wrong. But there was something, because shortly afterward, she developed sour crop. Problems with the crop are often a sign there is something seriously wrong inside the hen’s body. Since this particular hen was a golden sexlink, a variety bred specifically to pump out a huge amount of eggs, I suspect it was something amiss in her egg laying apparatus. These hens aren’t meant to last much longer than two years, and that’s about how long she lived. This is why I really prefer heritage breeds.

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I’ll miss her. She was one of the sweet girls, always jumping up on my lap for a snuggle. I made sure she had one last snuggle before she went.

But following close on the heels of this loss is new life. Just a few days afterward, the one solitary silkie egg in my incubator hatched.

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Meet Lucie.

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She is a miracle chick. In a previous post, I talked about how I got seven silkie eggs in the mail, and the box hadn’t been separated out of the normal non-fragile mail. My mail carrier told me she was very upset that she found the box tossed in the bottom of a mail bag, underneath all the other boxes. I wasn’t sure if anything could survive that! But candling the eggs, one of them was developing. I prayed for that egg. So many things can go wrong. Once, even, we lost power and had to put the silkie egg outside under a broody hen for a few hours.

Since she was the only silkie egg to hatch, I didn’t want to raise her alone, without a mother hen or siblings. I had Mottled Cochin Bantam eggs hatching the same day, underneath my smallest hen, Sansa. I checked on her, and she had two adorable little black and yellow chicks that had hatched so far, with more to come. That night, I put little Lucie out underneath her, praying she’d be ok.

In the morning, I went to check, and found the two hatched cochin chicks dead. Sansa had accidentally stepped on them. Even though she should have been small enough to mother them – I know people put bantam eggs under full-sized hens – she wasn’t gentle enough for such tiny babies. There were three other eggs with pips under her, and one other that had been stepped on while trying to hatch. It was still alive and peeping, but I couldn’t immediately tell if it was ok. There was no sign of Lucie.

I thought she was dead, and being a dark colored chick, was in a corner somewhere. Heartsick, I gathered up the hatching eggs and brought them inside to the incubator. The one that had been stepped on inside the shell needed help getting out the shell, but once out, it was perfectly fine! The rest weren’t ready to come out, so I left them and went to find out what happened to Lucie.

I lifted Sansa up to check underneath her better, and there was little Lucie, right between Sansa’s feet, alive, untouched, and looking up at me like “What?”

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Isn’t she sweet? The breeder I bought the eggs from had a mix of all colors of silkies, so there was no way to know what color would hatch from my eggs: black, white, buff, partridge, or splash. I was particularly wanting a partridge. Guess what color Lucie is? Yep, she’s partridge!

I brought her in the house and put her in the incubator too, until I could get a brooder set up. Sansa, meanwhile, was freaking out. She knew she’d had babies, and she knew I’d stolen them. She was so upset, and of course it wasn’t her fault I couldn’t let her keep them. Mom called around to the local farm store, and they had some Red Ranger chicks left…and one solitary silkie. She bought two of the Red Rangers for Sansa, and the silkie to be Lucie’s friend.

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Meet Lola. She is, I believe, a buff colored silkie.

From the Mottled Cochin eggs, I ended up with five chicks.

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They are such tiny, perfect little creatures.

Sansa, meanwhile, went from being a calm friendly bird, to being a velociraptor. If I go anywhere near those two Red Ranger chicks of hers, if I reach for a nearby water bottle to refill it, she goes berserk. She has not forgotten or forgiven the fact that I stole her previous babies, and she will murder me if I try to take these two! Last year, she raised two chicks for me, and had no problem whatsoever with me holding her babies. This year, wow. I had to move her and the chicks into a different coop, and the only way I could was pick the babies up (one in each hand) and carry them, knowing she’d follow. She not only followed, she flew repeatedly at me, as high as my chest, screaming the curses of her people, and biting me. If she weren’t such a small hen, she’d be terrifying! I hope she settles down, once she realizes I’m not going to steal these chicks.

In addition to the chicks already mentioned, I also have four Freedom Rangers. I’ve heard really good things about these as meat birds. So far, I’m impressed. They are calm, contented birds, that are curious and very easy to keep.

They are obviously a very stocky build, with huge feet and legs, and are already much heavier than the two heritage meat breeds we tried in previous years.

The garden is doing well this year. The fruit trees are loaded with blossoms! Below is a little columnar apple I planted just last year!

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This year I finally followed through and planted comfrey starts throughout my garden, and they are all doing great.

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The dandelions are springing up everywhere, and I love them. I used to try to keep them contained, and grow lots of kale, cabbage, and other greens for the chickens. I’ve since wised up. Dandelions are much easier to grow, and MUCH healthier to eat. They are packed with nutrition! They are one of the best greens for humans as well. And the chickens, rabbits, and other critters love them. Plus, the flowers are gorgeous. Definitely as pretty as domesticated flowers. So I’m letting them go, wherever they want. And this year, I harvested about two cups of dandelion flower petals, and made Dandelion Honey.

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It’s supposed to taste exactly like bee honey. I don’t think it does, but it is very good. Sunshine in a jar!

End of March

Pigeons grow INSANELY fast. Remember how small they were at hatch?

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Here they are, today.

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Such funny looking, prehistoric birds! And so calm. They don’t mind being taken out of the nest at all. The parents have differing opinions on that subject. The father, Emerson, would guard his chicks to the death when HE’S on the nest. He growls and pecks and slaps me with his wings. Peabody, the female, is pretty sure I intend no harm. She prefers I not touch, but if I do, she just gives me a precautionary wing-slap, then settles down and lets me pet her and the babies. Needless to say, I handle the chicks when she’s on guard duty…or when they’re both off the nest.

The first ten days of life, the parents feed the chicks with ‘milk’ produced in their crop. They are one of only three birds that do this, and it’s really cool. The crop actually changes to produce milk much the way human breasts do, then changes back after ten days. These babies are on solid food now. When I touch the thin skin of their chests, I can feel the crop’s contents and tell by the bulges that the parents are bringing them whole grains and peas to eat.

The mealworm farm is doing fantastic too. Most of the original worms are now either pupae or beetles. When the beetles first hatch, they are white, then slowly turn brown, then black.  Hopefully the beetles are laying eggs, and soon I’ll have a bumper crop of new worms – some to feed the critters, some to let grow into the next generation of beetles. They are kinda creepy, but definitely the easiest animals I’ve ever cared for. Put them in some wheat bran, add a few slices of raw potato, and let them do their thing.

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The Spring here has been fantastic. About 60 degrees during the day and sunny, in the 40s at night. The garden is exploding with life.

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I filmed a little video tour of my March garden. My camera shut off halfway through, so it’s in two parts.

Spring Pigeons

If you’ve read my last few posts, you know I recently acquired a pair of White Utility King Pigeons.

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They promptly mated, laid two eggs, and now – I am thrilled to announce – hatched out two healthy squabs! Despite the mother’s objections, I want to handle these babies fairly frequently as they grow, so that will be tame as adults. I did this with Zebra Finches years ago, and once they could fly, I could release them out of their cage into my room, and they would come flying to land on my fingers.  So today, I took one of the squabs out of the nest and held it.

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They are ugly-cute, for sure!

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I can’t get over the shape of their beaks! And look, on the very top/tip of that beak, you can still see the little bump called the ‘egg tooth’. This is what chicks use to break out of their shell.  Since they were hatched on the third day of Purim, if they turn out to be a male and female, I’ll name them Esther and Mordecai. Seems appropriate.

The weather here in Skagit County has been so glorious. Upper 60s, and Spring is bursting out all over. The anemones are in full bloom:

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And I started planting out starts and seeds. I have lettuce, kale, beets, collards, and kale coming up from seed, and many herbs. The first few pansies I plant are always so precious, and smell so delightful.

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And look what just happened today…the very first peach tree blossom!

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This is my absolute favorite time of year.