Where I live in the PNW, snow is rare. We can go years without anything but the lightest dusting…if we get anything at all. Today I woke up to about five inches of the white stuff, which was enough to get me a paid snow day off at work! As I write this now, it’s still snowing, and we’re up to about eight inches. Tomorrow, it’s supposed to start melting, and the temperatures are supposed to stay above freezing even at night, so this is basically the perfect kind of snow. It comes, it looks gorgeous, then it goes quietly away within a couple of days, without turning into crusted ice.
Dexter, my corgi was extremely excited. He loves snow. We took him a long walk, and he enjoyed every second…even though the snow cmpletely buried his legs.
What was strange though, is I let the cat, Bundy, out into his catio, thinking he’d avoid the snow…but he loved it too!
Predictably, the ducks were ok with it, and they looked mighty pretty out roaming about the garden.
The chickens were less impressed. They HATE snow. Absolutely hate it. They took one look and refused to come out of the coop…even though they normally can’t wait to escape the coop every morning.
Goosie (who assumes she is a chicken because she was raised by a chicken mom with chicken sisters) thought she’d hate it too. But once I shooed her out into it, she couldn’t figure out why the chickens were being so weird about it.
I was going to show you the new raised strawberry planter I made, but now it’s covered in snow, so you’ll have to wait. Though it doesn’t look like it at the moment, spring will be here very, very soon, and I am rushing to get ready. I have my tomato seedlings growing in the kitchen window, and tomorrow I’m starting more seeds. I made a 3D paper mockup of the new bantam coop I’m building, and am so eager to get started building the actual thing…but first priority are some other projects. Update on those in my next post, once this white stuff goes away.
Oh, and if I needed anymore proof of spring on the way? Watch this:
This is going to be a bit of jumble post. A little bit of urban farm update, plus some of my favorite things of last year. I know 2020 sucked for a lot of people, but I’m going to focus only on the positive!
First off, in urban farming, I am so hopeful for this coming season. My biggest issue in the garden has always been my persistent and overwhelming bindweed problem. Then I got a team of partially free-range guinea pigs, muscovy ducks and a goose, and I watched my bindweed literally disappear. So this year will be more of the same, plus some changes/adaptations I’m making to work around the bindweed-eating critters. Because ya’all know…if they’ll eat bindweed, they’ll eat everything else, right? Well, almost everything! The guinea pigs are fenced into three areas of vegetable/herb gardens. Because they don’t dig or jump, I’m doing container gardening in their areas, and letting them eat all the weeds in the ground, including the bindweed. The pigs are EAGER to get to work!
For the larger garden, I’m planting more of what the ducks don’t eat (roses, peonies, herbs, etc) and fencing off a section that doesn’t have bindweed to plant a few treasured plants that they DO eat.
Because it’s right in the middle of their coop/run entry, I had to leave a walkway for them to come and go. One thing I’m planting here is more wild violets. Besides being beautiful, they are edible. I bought some from Box Turtle Seeds, and they arrived today in great condition.
Speaking of seeds, if you haven’t yet ordered yours, you’d better get on that. Last year, many varieties were sold out, and this year is shaping up to be even worse. I’m hearing that supply is already getting limited, and lots of my favorite companies are actually closing to orders (at least temporarily) while they catch up on the tremendous influx of orders they already have! Personally, I bought most of mine months ago, enough for both Spring and Fall planting. I even bought an awesome storage box for them.
It’s actually meant for photos, but it works perfectly for seeds. Most people seem to get the clear colored one, but I got the rainbow, because I can use the colors to visually sort the seeds. Green for lettuce, yellow for squash, red for tomatoes…you get the idea! I also used a sharpie to write on them, rather than messing with labels. A bit of rubbing alcohol takes the sharpie right off, if you need to change anything!
It’s like it was made for seed packets!
It’s hard to believe, but in about a week, I’ll be starting the first seeds, breeding my rabbits, and picking up the first batch of chicks! I hope we’ll have an early Spring…and the garden seems to think we will. The clematis is budding out, and the bluebells are coming up!
I also am experimenting this year with different ways to grow strawberries. One thing I’m testing out is Mr. Stacky:
And I have bought a new variety of strawberries from Scenic Hill Farm to put in it. They are called Eclair, and they are so scrumptious-looking.
2020 has actually been a good year for me, despite all the stuff happening out there, and as I said before I’m only going to talk about positive things. So here are a few unexpected things I have enjoyed.
Social distancing. Maybe I’m the only one out there, but I like the whole not-shaking-hands and wearing a mask. It is NICE not to have to have some guy crush my rings into my fingers, or suffer through one of those ‘limp noodle’ handshakes far too many women seem to give…you know that type…when they just lay their fingers limply in your hand and leave them laying there? *shudder* Plus, I always have cold hands in winter, and it is awesome not to hear “cold hands, warm heart” every time I shake hands. Gets old fast, lol. And masks. Yeah, sometimes they got a little stuffy in summer, but in winter? LOVE. IT. So cozy, and I can mutter under my breath without anyone thinking I’m crazy. And no worries about spinach stuck in my teeth! Plus there’s the whole no-getting-sick thing – and I’m not just talking about Covid. You would not believe how many people across the counter from me at work used to just cough and sneeze IN MY FACE without any attempt to turn away or cover it. Now they have to be masked AND stay six feet away. It’s brilliant.
Shopping. Curbside pickup is the BOMB. Love it with a passion. Never, ever want to go back to the way I shopped before.
My job. I’m deeply saddened that so many of my co-workers were let go, and I do miss seeing and talking to a bunch of my favorite customers face-to-face. But since the library is now closed to public and we are only doing curbside pickup, I’m not going to lie…there are a number of things I really, really love. Most of the things that were the most stressful and aggravating about my job have just…disappeared. The drug addicts sleeping in the reference room and causing periodic ruckus and 911 calls and fears of someone being stabbed…no longer a thing. Fighting with customers over not taking off their clothes/bathing/doing drugs/unmentionable things in the bathroom…no longer a thing. Angry people throwing books and library cards in our face…no longer a thing. Dealing with poop/pee/vomit/blood…no longer a thing. Instead, there is a calm, quiet building full of books, and I can eat my lunch out in the stacks in the cozy chair by the window, or leave my projects spread out on the tables, or shout back and forth across the building with my co-workers. The only nasty people I have to deal with are those idiots who refuse to wear a mask or follow the rules at curbside pickup. It hasn’t happened to me, but my co-workers have had people deliberately pull down their masks to cough on them, or twirl a mask between their fingers while screaming”You can’t make me wear this!” like a five-year-old child having a temper tantrum. I honestly don’t care if you believe Covid exists, or not, or what your political views are. If you can’t respect me and my co-workers enough to put a piece of cloth on your face for the five seconds it takes for us to confirm your ID with your driver’s license, you are a terrible person. Okay, that got a bit negative. But overall, my job has been great these past months. We are even doing fun things with our pickups, like offering personal shopping for books, and right now, we’re working on setting up an interactive puzzle-based mystery for our patrons!
Lastly, I wanted to share a few of my favorite things I’ve discovered this past year. First off, I was having some issues with inflammation in my knees and back. The knee thing was on-and-off, but the back pain got pretty bad, to the point where I would wake up every morning feeling like a 95 year old. Not fun. I did some research, and discovered turmeric can help. You do have to be careful that it comes from a good source, and in order for it to be absorbed by your body, it needs to have black pepper added. I found NatureWise Curcumin Turmeric, and started noticing improvement in the first week. By the time I’d gone through the first bottle (a two months supply), my back was almost back to normal, and so were my knees! This is a keeper, for sure.
If you have critters, you know the struggle of keeping them in clean water. I found these RentACoop waterers, and am a convert. They don’t leak (as long as you screw them together REALLY tightly) and are so easy to keep filled. They make them in several sizes and styles, and I’ve been switching the quail, pigeons, guinea pigs and finches over to them. Still need to buy a few more!
Meat Illustrated: A Foolproof Guide to Understanding and Cooking with Cuts of All Kinds. Also a bit of a sucker for books about meat. I want to learn how to cook all those cuts I see in the grocery store and never know what to do with! You can’t go wrong with America’s Test Kitchen. Not only to do they tell you EXACTLY how to do it, in order to make it turn out, they tell you WHY. It is one of my pet peeves when a book says “Don’t do that thing”, but doesn’t say what will happen if you do. If I ever burn the house down, it will be because a book told me not to do a thing, and I was feeling testy and did it anyway just to see what would happen. Because I want to know. America’s Test Kitchen will never put me in that situation.
The Fat Kitchen: How to Render, Cure & Cook with Lard, Tallow & Poultry Fat. If I could convince everyone to do just ONE thing in their kitchen, it would be to throw out all their margarine, canola oil, and Crisco – and start cooking with animal fats. Those medical studies that convinced you animal fats are dangerous? Outdated and wrong. The NEW studies show it’s exactly the opposite: man-made fats are the dangerous ones, while grassfed animal fats are good for you! And they taste SO incredibly good…I mean, if you’ve never had potatoes cooked in duck fat, you haven’t lived.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. I have long been a fan of V.E. Schwab, but this particular book…it’s the book that is going to make her career. Indescribable, beautiful, haunting, and deeply thought-provoking, this is the book I recommend to my literary book snob friends who look down their noses at mere ‘genre fiction’.
Wow, that was a longer post than I thought it would be…I guess that happens when I don’t post for weeks….
There are people who claim that guinea pigs can’t be kept outside. That is absolutely incorrect. As long as they are acclimated to the environment, and have a dry, protected hutch, they will thrive. They are regularly kept outside in England. My pigs are loving their outdoor life…especially now, as they are officially useful, working homestead pigs!
The worst problem in my garden (and it is a really, really severe problem!) is bindweed. This stuff is incredibly evil, and it will not die. None of the methods I normally use for unwanted weeds works at all on bindweed. The only thing that works is pinching every last bit of new growth off at the ground the moment it appears. But my garden is way too big and full of far too many plants for that to be possible.
In a few sections where I was trying to grown annual vegetables, I’m giving up and switching over to an above-ground-and-piggie system. Because the ONE THING bindweed has going for it is that it is edible for animals. My rabbits, ducks, goose, turkeys, and chickens will all eat it – although the chickens really aren’t fans, so they eat very little. My rabbits, on the other hand, LOVE it. But I can’t let the rabbits into the annual vegetable garden because they also LOVE all the other veggies. And rabbits jump. They will happily jump up into the above ground planters I’ve switched over to and eat the veggies.
So no rabbits for bindweed control. I could pull it by hand, since it won’t become a threat to the veggies until it has grown knee high. But why do that, when you can work with an animal?
Enter the piggies. Guinea pigs don’t jump, and love to scurry around planters and eat bindweed.
Their new garden patrol is fenced off and safe, and they go in and out of their hutch at will…including putting themselves to bed well before dark. They only thing I have to do is shut and lock their door. So far, it’s working perfectly. If it continues to work, I will have to consider getting a second group of piggies to work the front veggie garden!
(And if you’re wondering why the strawberry plants look so terrible, it’s because I transplanted them in the middle of summer, and they are objecting. They are already growing fresh new leaves, though, so they will be gorgeous in Spring.)
I love giving the animals I love a natural life, filled with the things they enjoy!
In other news, the turkeys grew up to five weeks old, and were mostly independent. One of their two bantam chickens moms decided she had taught them everything necessary, and went off to live with the other chickens in the main chicken coop. The other mom was sticking with it…sorta. She still slept with them, but didn’t really spend any time with them during the day. So I decided it was time.
Within 15 minutes of posting them on my local facebook poultry group, I was fielding questions from four interested people. And then about 5 minutes after that, one guy took them all. He has a little farm, and although he’s been raising a few modern breed turkeys for thanksgiving each year, he is now getting interesting in becoming more sustainable, and wants these guys to be his new breeding flock of heritage Red Bourbon turkeys! So brought all five to work with me at the library, and he picked them via our curbside pickup. I have the best boss, honestly. When I texted her the night before to warn her I was bringing my turkeys in with me, she just said she couldn’t wait to see them.
Next year, if these bantams volunteer again, I might see what other interesting eggs I might get them to hatch. My mom suggested peacocks! Hmmm…..
I thought the turkeys would be the last babies on the farm this year, but it turns out my Muscovy hens had other plans. I don’t remember if I blogged about it, but my drake had a thing happen to him very early this year. He had a prolapsed penis, which resulted in him losing his penis. This isn’t a problem for a male duck, as the only thing he uses his penis for is fertilizing the females…he can still go happily through the motions of mating (and does all the time!) but he can’t actually fertilize those eggs. Or so I thought.
About three months after the…hem…incident happened, one of my females, Tabitha, went broody. I let her sit on the (I thought) infertile eggs while I decided whether I was going to get some eggs for her from somewhere else. I ended up checking the eggs just to be sure…and wow. There were babies developing inside! After checking with someone who checked with her vet, it turned out ducks can hold sperm inside them for up to three months. Okay, I thought…they just barely made the deadline!
And then, something went wrong late in the game, and the eggs didn’t hatch.
So that was it. No ducklings on the farm this year….or so I thought.
About a month ago, my second hen, Tilda, went broody. This was a good FIVE months after the…hem…incident happened. No way this girl’s been holding sperm this long. It’s scientifically impossible…isn’t it?
I let her sit, while I considered my options, and finally decided I’d just take the eggs away because it’s getting late in the season, and I really prefer having babies earlier. But just to be 100% safe…I checked the eggs.
And…there are babies inside! What. In. The. World. How is this happening? I’m thrilled to have a miracle drake who can apparently father children without a penis, because I really wanted to have a sustainable little trio of muscovies, and I love Tiberius and don’t want to replace him with another drake.
But really….what is going on here?
And then, after Tilda went broody, Tabitha also decided to go for a second attempt at being a mother.
Tilda has somewhere around ten eggs underneath her, and Tabitha has four. Tabitha’s eggs are also developing. Tilda’s eggs are due to hatch sometime next week? Maybe? I didn’t mark down the exact date, because I was so sure they weren’t fertile. Tabitha is due maybe a week after that. I’m pretty excited, guys.
And extremely puzzled.
In the garden, the grapes have wrapped themselves decoratively under the eaves of the chicken coop.
The bees are buzzing around their favorite flowers, which are leeks. I don’t grow leeks for the leeks, ya’ll. I grow them strictly for the bees!
And the artichoke is getting closer to flowering as well. This is also for the bees. And for the drama! If you’ve never seen an artichoke flower, you’re missing out.
But the real star is Goosie. She is turning out to be the most perfect addition. She’s extremely chatty, but she only gives the loud and obnoxious alarm call when she really feels there’s a problem…like when she first saw the guinea pigs roaming around! Those piggies are clearly chicken-eating monsters. But after giving the alarm, she settles right down. And she’s so sweet and affectionate.
Lots of babies and flowers happening on the urban farm. First off all, Sophie the goose (or Goosie, as she is commonly called) is growing up SO FAST. This is a video from a few weeks back:
Even though she was fostered by a chicken, along with two chicken “sisters”, she is very friendly to me, and will happily leave her chicken family to follow me around. I should have kept this video going, because right after I turned it off, she walked through a patch of calendula, and came out with a flower on her back!
I let her take it back to the chicken yard as a present for her chicken-mama. She is super sweet with her adopted family.
If you can’t quite see what’s going on in the above photo, Goosie is snuggled in against her mama, and her two sisters are snuggled in on her back. They treat her almost like a second mother.
Today, I took the picture below. Goosie is easily larger than her mama now, but she still snuggles with her sisters, and they follow her around the yard. The two little chickens now have names. The soft grey one is Elsa, and the brown one is Anna.
The three male pekin ducks I had shipped with the goose are also much larger. And today, they found a muddy place in the yard to play in! Duck joy!
And in the biggest baby news…the accidental baby turkeys have hatched! Out the six eggs that were mistakenly shipped to me, five are now official turkey poults. They are super cute. I’ve always had a fondness for turkeys.
These five turkeys were hatched by two sisters, a pair of bantam cochins. They sat together on the eggs in the same nest, but I wasn’t sure how it work once the eggs hatched. Would they divide the poults up? Would one hen steal all of them?
As it turns out, they are excellent at co-parenting. The poults treat the two hens equally as their mother, and both hens work together to feed them and keep them warm. It really is the sweetest thing.
I’ve been allowing the muscovies free-range status in the back garden, even though they are squashing down some plants. They are just so happy! And they like to follow me around while I’m weeding and chat to me.
In the garden, things are growing.
Including pears. It’s going to be a good year for pears.
And calendula. I love this new variety I found. Notice that the back of each petal is striped!
Goslings are too freaking cute. Also, so friendly!
She and the lavender orpington chick have become besties. I’ve seen the chick running after the gosling as if she were her mother. And they also eat together, and nestle under the broody hen side by side. It’s extra cute, since they are the two with the largest size difference.
No one minds having an oddly large, ungainly chick with a strange accent in the family!
Sophie the gosling is so cute when she snuggles in her mother’s feathers.
In other chicken news, I raised a few meat birds, and this year it turned into quite the sweet and heart-warming story! I bought an automatic chicken plucker with part of my covid stimulus money, so wasn’t quite dreading the entire process as much as usual. Chicken plucking by hand is definitely doable, but it takes time, and is NOT particularly fun. I assembled the unit (the Sportsman brand, if anyone’s looking for an inexpensive, but quality machine) and got everything else ready.
And then the machine didn’t work. It wouldn’t even turn on. I checked all the instructions, then mom tried to call the help line, but of course it was Sunday, and they were closed. The frustration was immense. I had nine birds – five of which were crowing roosters – and they needed to go. I was already overdue, because I’d been waiting for the plucker to arrive. I finally decided to just go ahead and do them by hand…and then mom saved the day by finding a review online which mentioned having been equally frustrated, by the same issue. It turned out that the instructions left out a critical detail, and two little stickers needed to be perfectly aligned when you put the drum on the base…or it doesn’t turn on! Seriously? Why would they not put that in the instructions! And the stickers just said ‘top’ and ‘bottom’, so it seemed like they were just informing me as to which way the base and drum were situated, not that those stickers needed to be matched together. Sigh.
But after that, everything went perfectly. Almost.
Two of the meat birds were not roosters, but hens. One of the hens was skittish and not friendly at all. The other…the other was a genuine little sweetheart. I don’t really spend much time with the meat birds, but this girl purposely sought me out, from the time she was a chick. When I would sit and hold one of the layer hens, she would come over and jump up on the arm of my chair and snuggle in against me. I tried not to fall in love. But I sort of was. I mentioned to mom how sweet she was, and that little meat bird played the same tricks on mom. It took mom about five seconds to decide we had to keep her.
So meet Penelope, once a meat bird, now a member of the layer flock.
(She looks slightly horrified, because I’m holding my camera. I swear, I do not beat my chickens with my camera. I don’t know why they hate it so much!)
So I processed all the other meat birds, cleaned everything up, and put everything away. I took a relieved breath because all the noisy roosters were gone, and I didn’t have to fight them off every time I went in the chicken yard to feed the hens. Seven young roosters create a LOT of chaos.
And then I looked out across the chicken run. And I saw…a rooster. A meat bird. Just standing there, looking back at me.
No. No no no no no! I couldn’t have miscounted. I couldn’t still have one meat bird left.
I had. I did. Bloody freaking roosters!
I couldn’t face dealing with another bird right then. He got a temporary extension. I have a friend who will be asking me to process her extra rooster a little later, so I guess I’ll do this one along with that one. And I must say, it’s like he KNOWS. I have never seen such a quiet, unobtrusive rooster. I rarely even catch sight of him. Smart little buzzard.
And lastly, two of my three bantam cochins, the little mini flock known as the Fluffernutters, have gone broody. I’m considering my options. I would really like to see these adorable tiny birds raise some adorable tiny babies. So maybe. Meanwhile, they are sitting on non-existent eggs together and look so cute.
I feel kind of sorry for the fluffernutter who isn’t broody, though. Suddenly, she’s all by herself, among the Big Girls…and she doesn’t even have the flock of meat bird roosters to chase anymore. (The bantam gang had those big ol’ roosters terrified! This little fluffy girl would come strutting out, and the roosters would scream and run for the hills.)
The last few weeks have gone by so fast! I was furloughed from my work because of covid-19, so I’ve just been avoiding public places and enjoying life on my little farm. I’ve actually been doing a lot more cooking/baking and crafting lately, but I have done a few things outside.
I have a few places in my yard that are basically a no-man’s-land, as far as planting in the ground goes. So this year, I decided to reclaim one section by using above ground planters. It’s out of the way, behind the chicken coop, so rather than investing in something expensive, I just went with large storage totes. So far, it’s been brilliant.
If you notice that some of the leaves are a bit…nibbled on, that’s the fault of my chicken, Ellie. She likes to help out in the garden, and takes her pay by taste-testing my veggies for me.
One of my Muscovy hens has gone broody, and has staked claim to a corner of the overflow coop.
She’s super sweet, not aggressive at all, and completely unflappable. My corgi managed to get in the coop with her yesterday, and stood there, barking in her face, and she just sat there and waited for him to go away. I did not think the eggs were fertile, because my one drake suffered a penile prolapse early this Spring, and ended up losing his…ahem…male equipment. This isn’t a problem for him, but it should mean no fertile eggs for me. I ordered three pekin ducklings to foster with her, but the day before they arrived, I double-checked her eggs by candling them, and miracle of miracles–about five have babies inside them! I don’t know if they’ll manage to hatch, but since they should be due any day now, I’m holding onto the pekins, and hopefully if she hatches some muscovies in the next few days, I’ll be able to slip the pekins in with them. I can’t give them to her now, because she’d abandon the eggs. You don’t know how hard it is to avoid snuggling three perfect little fluffy yellow ducklings! But I don’t dare give them much attention, because then they would imprint on me, and not accept her.
And speaking of perfect little fluffy creatures…along with the pekins, I got my future chicken guard goose! Meet Sophie.
She’s a tufted Roman goose, and is currently being fostered by my best broody hen, Ophelia. Ophelia didn’t even bat an eye at this strange new baby. Along with Sophie, I gave Ophelia two chicken chicks too, because I wanted Sophie to have ‘sisters’. Chickens are mean girls, and it really helps if you’re brand new, to have a few brand new friends.
I still need to figure out names for these two. The silvery grey one is a Lavender Orpington, and the brown one is a new hybrid called a Colorpack. It’s part Cream Legbar, so I will have colored eggs, either blue, green, or pink.
And just to show the size difference between a chick and a gosling…here’s Sophie and her sisters:
And here’s a video of Ophelia and Sophie:
It is so so so so HARD not to snuggle this gosling! Goslings are possibly my favorite baby animal, and Sophie is so calm and sweet. She keeps walking over to me and looking up at me with this adorable expression.
I’m hoping that once she’s safely imprinted on Ophelia, that I’ll be able to snuggle her. Ophelia won’t mind. This is the hen who, when I pick up one of her babies and the baby yells, runs over and pecks the baby to tell her to stop acting like an idiot. Humans are friends! They bring us food!
It’s going to be so much fun to watch Ophelia and her three mismatched children explore the chicken yard.
I don’t believe I mentioned it here, but I lost my Rex buck, Sorrel, this winter. I’m not sure what happened; his illness didn’t seem to match up symptom-wise with anything I could find. It doesn’t appear to have been contagious, thankfully, because the does share a wire wall with him, and they are both thriving. But it left me in want of a new male. I had pretty much decided on getting a breed other than Rex this time, and was keeping my eye out for a breeder of something interesting in my area that would have kits for sale in Spring.
And then, surprise, surprise, I stumbled onto this little fellow.
Meet Bramble. He’s still a little freaked out by his sudden change of residence, but he’s sweet-tempered and pretty. He’s also a New Zealand/Cinnamon hybrid, which seems about perfect for me. Hopefully I’ll get some gorgeous babies from him.
And in other news, I decided to go ahead and get a Guard Goose for my chicken flock. The idea is, you get one (and one ONLY) female gosling, and raise it with your chickens, so it bonds to them and wants to protect them. Geese are terrific protection against aerial predators like hawks.
I have a female tufted roman gosling on order with mypetchicken.com, and since they need to ship at least three waterfowl together, I also ordered three male pekin ducks. I’ll raise those for meat.
I’m hoping one of my chickens will be broody at just the right time (I have four cochins, so the odds are in my favor) and I’ll be able to have her raise the goose. I really can’t wait to see a chicken raise a gosling! How adorable will that be????
I chose a roman tufted because they are quite small for geese, quieter than average, and have an interesting history to them. As one of the oldest varieties of geese in the world, they were around during the time of the Romans. Hence the name. In 365 BC, as the Gauls attempted to steal into Rome under cover of night, it was the honk of a Roman goose that awoke Marcus Manlius and saved the capitol. As I adore both geese AND ancient Roman history, I’m quite excited about this addition to the farm!