Category Archives: Gardening

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.

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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.

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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!

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The peach and plum trees are blooming.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!