Category Archives: Gardening

Butterflies, Rainbows, and First Pears!

First of all…the pears! I planted this tree about four years ago, and this year, it not only bloomed for the first time, but it’s also setting quite a lot of fruit. It’s a Seckel, a miniature pear.

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Really happy to see this. I hope the squirrels don’t eat them all…the squirrels are becoming a major problem for my entire neighborhood. They are destroying everyone’s garden, eating everyone’s fuit, nesting in attics, and actually chewing off one neighbor’s house siding! They are literally just rats with fluffy tails, and one neighbor is going to try shooting them with a bb gun. I have my doubts he’ll manage to hit any, much less control the problem, and I suspect I’ll need to start treating this overpopulation of squirrels like I do when I have an overpopulation of rats. People….if you wouldn’t put food out for rats, don’t feed the squirrels, either. They are not “cute” when they start eating your house siding right off your walls!

What is cute is a mama hen, teaching her chicks to roost for the first time.

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Sansa has had it with nest boxes…she and her chicks now roost every night. They still snuggle underneath her, however!

We don’t have many butterflies in my area apparently – because I hardly ever see any, despite my garden being filled with flowers for them. One variety we do see occasionally is the Western Yellow Swallowtail. It normally flits through at top speed, and about the time I see it, it’s gone.

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Yesterday, it not only stuck around for several moments, it allowed me to get REALLY close with my camera! Such a gorgeous big one, too…it was fully four inches across.

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It felt like a gift from God.

Also a gift…when I got off work last night at 8pm, there was a rainbow waiting for me. It was so strange, because I’ve never seen a rainbow before when it wasn’t raining, and not only had it been sunny all day, but the skies looked like this:

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There was just one little patch of darker clouds over to the southeast, and a rainbow. By the time I got home, the skies surrounding the bow were darker still, there was only a little bit of the rainbow left:

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Thank you, Lord, for the promise of what’s past…and the warning of what’s to come.

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Chicks and Bunnies!

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Just look at the feet on this little Rex fellow! He’s only about four weeks old.

They were much smaller such a short time ago….

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They grow so fast.

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Here’s a video when they were just about twelve days old:

And here’s another at four weeks:

We also have new chicks on the farm. Two are with Ophelia, and apparently I didn’t get pictures yet, so those will be for another blog. The other two are Dark Cornish, a traditional meat breed. We’re giving them a try, to see how it goes. They are fostered on Sansa, my 1 year old Cream Legbar. She is a perfect mother.

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It is so much fun to see chicks out in nature with their mother, learning how to be real chickens.

I’ve also been working in the garden. I got the roof on the meat chicken coop finally:

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Don’t you just love the metal duck? I also bought a metal chicken!

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She is hanging out in the brand new wildlife garden area. It’s still very much a work in progress.

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I also got the summer kitchen largely completed. The roof is on, the lights are installed, and I have a sink and counter, even if neither is *quite* finished. It’s usable, at least.

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I need to add a door onto this sink cabinet, at some point. And also install a faucet.

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I’m really pleased with my kale bed. Last year, it bolted, so I cut it off at the ground, and covered it in some mulch/rabbit poop. I was getting ready to replant, when to my surprise, the kale came back up from the roots, flourished the rest of the summer, and overwintered to provide some gorgeous kale in the very early summer. It’s just beginning to bolt again, so I think I’ll cut it off again at the roots and see if I can keep this bed going forever!

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Very early spring, before the roses and the peonies and the rest of the drama queen flowers bloom, is really my favorite time in the garden. Everything is SO beautiful.

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New Babies – Rabbits!

Last month I bred my two Rex does for the first time. About five days ago, one or both of them gave birth.

There are six of them, and I’m not entirely sure whether both does gave birth in the same nestbox (entirely possible in a colony situation like mine) or only one of the does was actually pregnant. Either way, all six kits are extremely fat and healthy, and squeak and try to suck on my fingers when I pick them up.

I’ll get good pictures once they are older – I’m trying not to bother them too much at this stage. One is solid grey.

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Two are black otters, and three more are white and black spotted.

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The does, which got EXTREMELY hormonal and feisty during the pregnancy (both of them!) are now calming down. I can actually pet Blackberry again without risking losing a chunk of skin. (I have a nice healing mark on the back of my hand where she managed to nail me while I was trying to put food in her bowl.) I kept hearing from people who said you can’t breed rabbits in a colony situation because the does will kill each other’s kits – or fight each other. I confess I got a bit worried when they turned so crazy-mean to me, but other than a bit of chasing around at feeding time, they continued to enjoy each other’s company. I’d see them snuggling together and grooming each other.  I think it helps that they are sisters, and have never known life apart from each other. They also don’t seem to mind me handling the babies!

At the end of April, I’ll have new chickens in the family, too. Sansa, my Cream Legbar hatched last Spring, has gone broody for me.

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I plan on giving her a couple of chicks from our local feed store. Probably a Speckled Sussex, and maybe a black sexlink.

And just last night, my proven broody mama, Ophelia, my frizzle cochin, decided she wants in on the action. As she never really cares about her children once they reach the age of self-sufficiency, I’m giving her the meat chicks this year. We’re trying three Dark Cornish as an experiment this year, and about 5-6 Freedom Rangers. She’s a big girl, so these larger clutches work out really well with her.

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Spring is busting out all over here…for the first time, my young pear trees are covered in buds!

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The Spring Garden

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The Nadia cherry/plum hybrid is blooming like crazy this year…for the first time! Hopefully, that means we’ll get at least a few fruits this summer. I’m really interested in what a cherry/plum tastes like.

The other young fruit trees are showing signs of a bountiful harvest as well. I think all the apples are going to bloom, and the pears as well.

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I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the garden this year…if I’m still here on earth. And of course I’d MUCH rather be gone! (see my previous blog post to know why.) But only God knows what His plans are, and whatever they are, they are perfect. Love this new stepping stone for the garden I bought this month!

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I have my greenhouse (and my kitchen window) filling with pots of started seeds, but the primary thing I’ve been doing is building the last three major builds of my little urban farm: the meat chicken coop, the Bunny Bordello, and the wildlife garden corner.

The egg chickens don’t like the annual takeover of their coop by a dozen crazy teenaged Little Meats, so I decided to remodel the old duck coop into a coop that would work for the meat chickens.

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I took off the nesting area, added an enlargement to the indoor area, then reattached the nesting area to the right side. Until the Little Meats arrive (I have three dark Cornish coming April 23rd, plus I’ll get a handful of Freedom/Red Rangers) the egg girls are using it as a fun place to hang out and lay their eggs. They like variety, my hens. I’m desperately hoping that one of them will go broody in the next couple of weeks and save me the trouble of hand-raising these little meaties.

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Another view of the remodeled coop. The stepping stones lead through the mini “food forest” I’m planting, right to the nest box area.

Yesterday, I finished the Bunny Bordello. This is the male rabbit’s new home, right next to the does’ Bunny Barn.

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Sorrel loves it. Not only does he have more room to play, he can interact with the does through the adjoining wire door.

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A couple of weeks ago, I bred both the does to him, and they were perfect little angels about it…no issues at all. Since they’ve since stopped humping each other and started trying to burrow, I think the pregnancy took in both does. I should have babies the first week of April!

My third project (and this one will be very much on-going all Spring and Summer) is the wildlife garden. My first action was to build a fence on the back side, adjoining the neighbor’s fence. I still need to continue my fence at some point right alongside of his, because he built his far too short, and way too full of gaps. Wild rabbits can (and do!) waltz right through his boards to come eat my veggies. Temporarily, I’ve put hardware cloth along the bottom of his fence to keep the rabbits out. I do want this to be a wildlife garden, but the wild rabbits are taking over our neighborhood, and if I let them in, I couldn’t have any food left for me or MY rabbits! Also, in the front of the picture, where the pear espalier tree is, I will be putting up a shorter fence, just to define the area, and keep my wild corgi out.

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On the wall, I hung a set of mirrors my mom gave me. I adore mirrors in a garden.

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I’m building a set of birdhouses to line the lower fence on the left side. The first one had interested possible occupants the morning after I put it up! Also, notice the blue table. This is what you call working with circumstances. That blue table is actually an ancient washing machine that was dumped in a corner of my yard. It was filled with dirt and rocks, and really just immoveable. So I spray painted it blue, put on a wood top, and added a bowl of water for the birds.

I need to start working on planting things. I want to have some more fruit producing trees/bushes for the birds, herbs and flowers for the bees/butterflies, and some dye plants for me. I’ll be also putting in a very small wildlife pond. Very small! And look, I found this adorable frog sculpture to sit on my log. He looks so realistic I do a double take when I walk past him. Hopefully, once I have the pond, I’ll attract some genuine live frogs.

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I like having logs in my garden. The bugs like them, and as they break down, interesting things happen: here, a foxglove has actually seeded itself inside.

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In my April 23rd chick order, I’m also getting three bantam cochin hens. Besides being great broody hens for more fragile eggs, I’m going to put these smaller chickens to work in my garden, using a chicken tractor, and also some free-ranging in areas where I hope they will be less destructive than standard sized hens. These girls will be hand-raised by me, so they will be super friendly and sweet.  At first, they will living together in a small separate coop, but if they manage to integrate with my older hens, they will be able to move into the regular coop eventually.

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One last thing, a dear friend of mine just started a blog documenting her and her husband’s journey towards self-reliance, simplicity, and marital happiness.  I highly recommend you check it out: http://making-it-home.net/

Chicken & Garden Update

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The garden has been producing green beans like crazy. I’ve canned four batches already, and I’ll be doing another tonight.  Maybe this year will be the year I don’t run out of canned beans before fresh beans are in season.

My frizzle cochin Ophelia (who already raised one batch of babies this year) went broody again, so I gave her some Silver Fresian Seagull eggs. I don’t know a lot about this breed of chicken because they are super rare, but I was won over by the description of the adults having the profile of actual seagulls, and the chicks being the cutest babies ever. I don’t know about the adult profile, but the chicks are truly adorable.

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I gave her a dozen eggs, and it looked like six would hatch. But three of them died as just-born chicks. I’m not sure what happened with two of them, but the third was clearly squashed as it was busy trying to hatch. Ophelia is a big, heavy girl. I’m thinking I’ll keep her for fostering the meat chicks in the future, and leave the more delicate egg hatching business to one of my lighter girls.

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They are a lot more grownup now. They have properly feathered wings and tails now. I need to have a photoshoot with them. They were not in the mood when I tried the other day…and Ophelia was being difficult too. She really doesn’t approve of her children’s pictures being plastered across the internet for everyone to see.  Do they look like seagulls yet?

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Charlotte also hatched eggs this summer, and hers are growing beautifully. They are Cream Legbars, which I wanted particularly for their blue eggs. I got one in the standard color:

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And two surprises – a couple of rare white sports! One is a girl, and the other a future rooster.

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The one in front is, of course, the girl. The other is the cutest little roo I have ever seen. I’m in love with him, folks. If he plays his cards right, I might just attempt to keep him in the flock. I’ve already named him Bertie Wooster, which just suits his personality and makes me laugh every time I say it. The white girl is probably going to be Minerva (Minnie for short), and the brown girl still hasn’t told me what her name should be.

The Naked Neck meat chickens are still around, because apparently they have the whole thing figured out, and are refusing to eat enough to get fat. Skinny little birds, these guys. I think I’m going to have to look into other options for next year.

They are still funny.

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I might still get a few next year, just for the humor and joy they add to the farm.

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A few nights ago, I went to lock them up in their coop. I counted them and counted them, and came up one short. Mom and I looked EVERYWHERE. In the neighbor’s yard, in case it flew over the fence. Under the bushes and up in the trees. I kept expecting to find a sad little scattering of feathers, because I thought something had surely gotten it. But I didn’t even find feathers. Finally, I gave up.

In the morning, it was back in the yard, wandering around like nothing had happened. The next night, it was the same story. One was missing, and couldn’t be found. Finally, though, as I was passing under the grape trellis, I happened to look up.

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There it was, looking down at me. I don’t know how many times I walked underneath this trellis while I was searching. And the whole time…staring down at me….

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These guys. They are so silly.

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I’ve been giving lots of garden tours, so many that I decided I needed to start charging.

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And I’ve been working hard on the summer kitchen! The inside is still quite a ways from being finished, but the outside is looking very pretty….

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Garden Beneficials

My garden is entirely organic. Other than a limited use of Sluggo when the slugs get completely out of hand, I don’t use even natural sprays.  And hopefully, I’ll be able to discontinue even the use of Sluggo eventually. I have noticed SUCH a difference in my yard since I stopped trying to control nature.

Things that used to be a problem, like aphids, just really don’t exist for me anymore. I used to have aphids covering my rose buds in spring, now I rarely see any. If you leave the bugs alone, the predator insects will come! I have tons of ladybugs instead. Last year, I planted a lot of currant bushes, and I had little worms eating the leaves. I fed a few to the quail, but otherwise, I left them alone. This year, I saw about two worms…before something swooped in and devoured them. I have never seen such gorgeous currant leaves!

It really bothers me when people’s first reaction to seeing an unfamiliar bug is to kill it. So many posts on my gardening groups are something like: “What is this bug and how do I kill it?” Killing things should not be our first reaction! Just today, I was out by one of my mini ponds, and I saw these gross-looking larvae swimming around in it. They looked like maggots with rat tails…and no joke, when I googled, them, that what they turned out to be named: Rat Tail Maggots! Ick! Kill them!!!!

Not so fast. Turns out they are the larvae of Drone or Hover flies, and they are a very important beneficial bug in the garden. Resembling pretty little bees, these flies are great pollinators, and are one of the top predators of worms, caterpillars, and aphids. I want these guys in my garden. I’m willing to let their gross (but weirdly interesting) larvae live in my pond. So glad I didn’t just dump out the water and kill them.

I also enjoy having non-bug beneficials in my garden…like moles. Yes, moles ARE beneficial!

Contrary to public opinion, they don’t eat your vegetables…or any vegetation at all. They burrow through your soil, improving it while consuming worms and grubs. Having a mole take up residence is usually a sign that you have pretty good soil…and you’ll have even better soil by the time he moves on. Sure, he pushes up little hills of dirt here and there, but that’s no biggie.

The only critter I’m having a problem with right now is baby rabbits. Wild ones, from the field behind me. Once they are grown, they are too large to fit through my fence, but baby rabbits are tiny and squishy and cute. Cute…until they eat every single kohlrabi you plant…and do it over and over, because you think you have covered all the holes, so you plant more, and THOSE vanish overnight too. I have a bunch of scrap wire and wood lining the bottom half of my fence now, but my kohlrabi are safe at last. I don’t mind sharing – but I do want some for myself and my chickens!

It is amazing how useful birds are, too. I do have to cover my sunflower and pea sprouts, but otherwise they leave most things alone. And they eat tremendous amounts of bugs. I see the little nuthatches hanging upside down in my roses, looking for bugs. It’s far more interesting, then simply putting out a feeder…because you get to see birds doing actual bird behavior. I need to get more nest boxes out there! The one in the picture above has been in constant use so far this year. The nesting pair gathers feathers from my chickens to refresh the nest after clutch. Even though it is right above one of my most used paths!

One thing I don’t have…yet…is snakes. I’m working on attracting some, but until then, I make do with $1 plastic ones from Walmart. I place them where I really don’t want birds – with my pea sprouts, my ripening strawberries, etc, and they really do keep the birds from coming too close. Even the chickens stay away!

It seems like every time I go out in the garden, I see some new wildlife activity, and it’s so cool.

In other garden news, I have so much lovely fruit ripening from trees that I planted. This year, my very first espalier apple is producing: Cox’s Orange Pippin, a very old heirloom variety and reputedly one of the best tasting…if not THE best tasting. Apparently the taste depends a lot of which part of the world it’s grown in.  It’s from England originally, and since the Pacific Northwest is basically the exact climate as England, I have hopes it will be amazing here.

Also going crazy are the little peach trees I planted just last year. I can’t believe they are producing at all – much less so bountifully! There are at least two dozen peaches developing.

And since I picked great old varieties with leaf curl resistance, I’m having no problems with no spraying.  One is Indian Free, the other is Charlotte.

A garden is a magical place.

The Little Meats

These guys have been such a pleasure to have around. I don’t know whether it’s the breed (Naked Necks) or just because there are ten of them (plus one future layer) but they are FUN.

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve shown you pictures, so I’m putting them in chronological order, so you can see them grow. They still have a ways to go before they have their ‘one bad day’ as Joel Salatin puts it, but until then, they are having a ball.

They are experimenting with the Big Girls’ perch – much to the dismay of the Ellie, my Welsummer who likes to go to bed early.  It’s simply impossible, she says, for a civilized hen to share a perch with such an uncivilized gang of youngsters.

And just look at their necks! Are we sure they aren’t diseased???

The babies love their kefir.

Even the new future egg-layer, our Golden Sexlink. We have named her Matilda, Tilda for short.

She is the sweetest little bird. I have to be very careful not to step on her, because she’s always right at my ankles. I haven’t socialized these meat birds much, because…well, they ARE meat birds. They aren’t scared of me (because I bring the food) but they don’t really want to be touched. Tilda does. Even though she was raised exactly the same, she started approaching me, and wanting affection – or at least extra treats!

They love to sunbathe – they spend more time stretched out in the sun than any chickens I’ve ever raised.

And when they are in the way back part of their yard, and they hear me coming with the fermented grain, it’s like having a little flock of velociraptors. They are fierce, when they run!  Sometimes, it startles me…but always, it makes me laugh. I need to try and get a video of it.  I did get a video of them drinking kefir.

I just took this pic today. Relaxed, happy babies, just hanging out.

And Ellie peeking at them through the grape vines, still convinced there’s something wrong with them…

I have been working on planting the chicken areas with lots of future fruit sources: grapes, mulberry, blackberries, herbs, wolfberry, roses, apples, and many others. It’s really starting to look pretty nice, and the girls appreciate the greenery, even if it’s too soon for fruit.

I have also spread a thick layer of wood chips out here. The chickens are not very fond of them when they are fresh – I don’t know if they don’t like the smell, or the prickliness of all the pine needles and twigs, but it prevents the ground from turning to mud in winter, and bare, dry, cracked earth in summer. Once the chips age a few months, they will be in here, constantly digging through it and finding tons of worms and bugs.