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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.

All Bugs Welcome Here

Started the foundation for the meat rabbit colony coop. This is the part I hate: leveling, putting down wire…all the boring, tedious bits. Before I can finish it, though, and move on to the fun building, I need that one stumpy limb of the old apple tree removed. Thankfully, my uncle has a chainsaw, and is willing to come help me out! He’s coming Weds, so hopefully the weekend will be nice, and I can get some work done here.

While I’m waiting on this, I started designing my “Insect Hotel”.

It’s behind the big roof garden quail coop, so it’s out of the way…yet will be attractive enough to be a cool surprise when you walk around the corner! I’m going to plant a few things in the pots, and around the base of them, and keep building the cinder block and wood platform up higher. Each level will have different things on it: blocks of wood with holes drilled through for mason bees, bundles of straw and reeds, pinecones…basically all the things that bugs like to overwinter in. Beside it, is the rhubard, just starting to show leaves, so that will be quite pretty, I think.

The bottom layer is for any frogs or toads that would care to move in. I’ve put some overturned flower pots underneath, and barricaded it off from the squirrels. There is also a tiny little dish of water – although hopefully later this year I’ll have time to install the larger wildlife pond I have planned. It’s a few feet away, on the other side of the compost.

And look! I found this broken mason block, and was about to throw it away, when I realized it makes a perfect frog house!

Last of all – look at this cool addition to the garden: a little olive tree!

I did not know that any type of olive would ripen in the Pacific NW where I live, but then I discovered this one! It’s called ‘Arbequina’ and is self-fertile. It says it often started bearing the year after planting, which is very exciting. I hope it thrives.

Beginning the New Rabbit Colony Pen

Today was a lovely sunshiny day – very Spring-like. I’m betting that we are going to have an early Spring in the Pacific Northwest this year.  Although we will likely have a few more frosts, I think we’re past the hard freezes. I certainly hope so! But whether we are or not, these lovely days are giving me a chance to do a lot of yard work – including build the new meat rabbit colony house.

I think in my previous post, I shared a pic of the site where I’ll be building it, all full of pruned apple branches and various other messes. Today, I cleaned all of that out, and started preparing the site. Since it tends to be lower ground, and thus wetter, the first job was to raise it level. Since I have a former duck pen full of pea gravel that I want cleaned out, that’s what I did today. Shoveled gravel from here:

To here:

Since a very old apple tree is also here, I am working around it.  The pen dimensions are roughly laid out by the boards. The narrow end of the pen (closest to the camera), will have a gate, so I can divide off the buck if I decide he’s causing problems – or just doing his bunny-making job too well! The wide end, shown in the below picture, will be the doe’s quarters.

Over the gravel, I will lay hardware cloth to keep out rats, and then build the pen up from there. To increase the space, there will be various levels inside the pen, and I hope to allow the rabbits access to the rest of the east yard on a regular basis…especially when there are young rabbits in the colony. I will also have a “rabbit tractor”, to allow them lawn grazing privileges.

Speaking of rats… You know, guys, I do try to look on rats as ‘squirrels without fluff’ and allow them a little respect. Like everything else, they have their place in the world. But their place is not chewing holes in my studio wall, so they can get underneath the floor and and nest in the insulation.

I just found this yesterday, and needless to say, I am not pleased. Time to reduce the rat numbers! Last night I set out the Snap Trap, and bagged one extremely pregnant female. I’ll keep putting out the trap until I stop catching them, and then I’ll fix this hole…and perhaps add a bit of hardware cloth along this wall.

Yesterday, I also planted out a bunch of seeds. Brassicas, mostly…kale and cabbage…but also some early lettuce, in the cold frames.

And in the greenhouse, too!

I also started onions, which normally don’t do well for me. I never get large bulbs. But this is the year I will succeed, right? I’m trying Green Mountain Multiplyer onions, because you can leave any bulbs you don’t harvest in the ground, and they will reproduce naturally.

Last year, I started doing the Back to Eden gardening method, using wood chips as a deep mulch. Now the ground has unfrozen, I can see that the chips are already starting to improve the soil. So many earthworms! The chickens, granted access to the east yard “vineyard” are thrilled! You never saw such happy chickens.

Before I had the wood chips, I had to really restrict their access to this yard, because they would busily dig immense holes in the dirt, usually right at some poor plant’s roots. With the wood chips, the layers are so deep that they dig and dig, and before they reach the dirt, they have lost interest in that particular hole and moved on.  And like I said, tons of earthworms! Over the last couple days, they’ve been digging and eating…and then curling up together in a sunny corner to nap and purr with contentment. Yes – chickens do purr! If you search on YouTube, you’ll find quite a few videos. (Mine are too shy of the camera to purr on cue.)

As a result of this happiness, we are going to cover all parts of the chicken’s outside runs with wood chips. It looks much nicer than straw, and I won’t have to:

A) Buy the straw.

B) Run the risk of the straw being contaminated with pesticides, thereby contaminating my garden.

It’s good that the chickens have a new source of forage, because they are running out of the veggies from last summer. The kales are finally eaten completely, the bags of tomatoes I froze for them are almost gone, and the kohlrabi are down to the last few. And looking pretty nasty – though still tasty to the girls!

Thankfully, signs of Spring are everywhere!

York

I don’t know what it is about York. I assumed I’d love it, but I didn’t. Even though it’s ancient – its bones go back to Rome, it felt somehow fake-old to me, like an American city pretending to be British.

I took the train along the coast from Edinburgh to York, and it was a beautiful, very scenic ride. I’d intended to stop off along the way at Alnwick Castle, but I’d picked up one souvenir I hadn’t wanted to: a British cold. I felt pretty much ok, but I didn’t have the energy I should have done. So I skipped the optional excursion.  I do love train travel in the U.K.; the trains run on time, and if you have a Britrail pass like I did, you can just hop on any train you want, anytime. It felt so freeing, because otherwise, to get the good fares, I would have had to buy the tickets before I left for Europe, and that would have locked me in to where I had to go, and what time.  One tip: if you’re traveling a short distance, don’t fill the date in on your Pass until the conductor asks you to. When I went to Leeds Castle, I got a free ride both ways because the conductor was nice enough to tell me I didn’t have to use my Pass on such a short distance!

My hotel in York, the Bar Convent, was brilliant. It was a functioning convent, and so quirky and charming.

It reminded me of a hotel for hobbits.  A lot of the doors were short – even for me, and I’m only 5’4″. I could – just barely – walk through my room’s door without ducking, but the toilet across the hall? Not a chance.

The toilet had some crazy forced perspective. It got tinier as you walked in.

And, most importantly, the people who run it are wonderful. The male receptionist (whose name I have already forgotten) was the friendliest guy. He took me on a quick tour of the place on the way to my room, pointing out which way was the breakfast room, the chapel, the garden, the toilet.  There were so many little passageways and staircases, it was like a maze. Fortunately, the walls were well-marked with directions.  The receptionist told me to feel free to wander wherever I wanted. I said it was a good thing there were so many directional signs, or I’d get lost for sure.  He said, “That’s okay – we feed anyone we find lost and starving in the hallways!”

After I settled in, I took his advice for a wander, and when I passed the reception desk, he jumped up and took me on a more in-depth tour. We visited the chapel, which was built to be a secret, as Catholism was illegal when the convent was built.

This gorgeous dome?

It’s invisible from outside the building!

There is also a relic of a woman who was tortured to death rather than betray her priest. Inside this locked box is a mummified hand!

He opened it and showed it to me.  The next day, I was actually inside the shop that used to be her home, and saw the actual priest’s hole, where the priest was hiding.

The convent gardens were lovely.

After I settled in, I went to the Railway Museum.  Normally, this sort of museum wouldn’t have a lot of appeal for me, but they have Queen Victoria’s train on display, and this I wanted to see!

Inside, it was just like a Victorian house, lots of upholstered chairs, lamps with fringe, and little fussy tables. So cute. As I was forced to take pictures through the very reflective glass of the windows, none of my pictures turned out good enough to share. However, if you Google “Queen Victoria’s train carriage” there are lots available to see.

Next I went to the castle. I did not walk up the hundreds of steps for the view.

But I did visit the castle museum, which was my favorite museum of the this trip, and the best of its kind I’ve ever been to. So worth a trip if you’re in York.

They had a HUGE section of street reproduced exactly as if it were a Victorian street. All the details were perfect. They even had the sounds of the street playing over a speaker. It was very immersive.

Some of the street was meant to be residential.

But the largest section was full of shops.

Some of them were just for window-shopping,

but others you could either look inside, or actually go inside!

Part of the time, I had the whole street entirely to myself!

And as I left, I noticed that you can actually rent use of the street after hours for parties and events. Costuming friends, think of how fun it would be to hold a Victorian party here – it would be the closest possible thing to time travel!

The second day I was in York, I visited the Shambles, the famous little shopping street. And I did love this particular bit of York.

Sometimes, you’d catch a glimpse of the Minster.

And then, the Minster itself.

Unlike Westminster Abbey, the Minster allows photos.  Yay!

Lots of stained glass, but like the Abbey, too high up to really appreciate.

The faces were the best part.

The Elizabethan-era memorials were splendid, and gave me just a hint of how colorful the entire church must have been, when it was new and all the stonework (walls, ceiling, and posts) were all painted vivid colors.

And down in the crypt, a memory of the past: an opening to the Roman foundation. Those are coins down there…people just can’t resist throwing money into any vaguely well-like opening they see.

York was super easy to navigate in, because of all the signposts.

Geese wander at will through the streets, completely unperturbed by traffic.

I visited the ruins of St. Mary’s.

Another reminder of Roman days…everywhere in the gardens surrounding St. Mary’s were Roman caskets, dug up and discarded during construction of modern buildings.

Hundreds of them were thrown in the rubbish pit, until someone rescued a bunch of them and used them for garden “art”. Interesting to think that sometime in the future, our own graves might be treated similarly.

And for my mother, who loves pictures of laundry…

Even though I never really bonded with York as a city, it ended up having my favorite museum, and being my favorite place to shop.

Canning

Canning is proving to be addicting.  After my first test run of making strawberry/black currant jam, I went running back to the store and bought a bunch more jars and Mom chipped in for a fancy new pot.

The first batch of jam was made using a regular recipe with LOTS of sugar.  It tastes good, but I prefer my jams less sweet.  So for my next two batches, I started experimenting with alternate recipes I found online.

One really interesting one was for Blueberry Vanilla jam, using honey as the sweetener, and chia seeds to thicken it.  It worked like a charm, and Mom really likes it.  I’m not entirely sold on how the honey overwhelms the vanilla flavor.  I’ll try it again, I think, using “less sugar” pectin.  NOT the kind that calls for a Splenda substitution, however.  That stuff is so bad for you, it could literally be called poisonous.

Since we have a ton of blackberries ripe right now in the back yard, I made Blackberry Jelly next, using the less sugar pectin.  Worked really well, and I was able to add just enough sugar to sweeten it just enough, while leaving a little tartness.  Loved this one, and I’ll be making more of it, I think.

I also canned about fifteen half-pint jars of sweet cherries.  I used only a very small amount of sugar in the syrup, and YUM.  So good!

I’m really excited about canning peaches, and making apricot jam.  Two of my favorite things!

 

Are Aliens Using Our Rabbits to Communicate?

This past weekend, I got a bunch of work done in the garden.  Mainly grunt work, like weeding around the vegetables, and digging out 522 of the 5022 buttercups that are infesting portions of our plot.  Specifically the portions that I want to turn into a pasture for the chickens, future meat chickens, and ducks.  So those buttercups have got to go!

One fun thing I did was work on the little espaliers-in-training.  They have grown branches long enough to stretch out and tie to wires.

See?  Look at that!  They almost look like real trees!  🙂  This one is the pear.

I also put in another raised bed in the east yard.  This one is built around the one Honeyberry bush that I currently own.  It is absolutely flourishing, and next Spring (or maybe this Fall) I need to get another one planted on the other end of the bed.

Under and around the Honeyberries are little alpine strawberries I just grew from seed.

Speaking of strawberries, the Sparkle strawberries I planted on top of the quail coop are doing great.

Right as I was beginning this post, actually, mom brought me a bowl of berries she had just picked.  They are so sweet and good!

Also doing well are the “White Soul” strawberries I planted, although none of those are quite ripe.  We have to wait until the seeds turn red – the berries themselves will stay white.

The fruit I’m most excited about are the hardy kiwis.  After making me think all last summer that they wouldn’t survive, they are finally thriving…and producing fruit! Of course, the MALE vine is covered in flowers, while the female has exactly six.  But I hear some kiwi vines don’t produce at all for upwards of seven years after planting, so I’m quite thrilled with six.  Fingers crossed they all survive.  With all those male flowers, they should at least be well-pollinated!

All my potatoes *seem* to be doing fantastic – although I won’t really know for sure until it’s time to dig them up and see how well they produced.  These are the batch I’m growing in a trash can.  Whichever method works best will be the method of choice for next year.  I’m kind of rooting for the trash can.  It takes up the least amount of space!

In chicken news, one of my white egg layers surprised me yesterday with a lovely cream egg.  Not to be outdone, one of the new Italian quail girls laid a pure white egg.  I’ve had two pure white quail eggs from her now.  I’m very happy with that!  I was hoping there would be a white egg line in these new quail girls I hatched out.

And that’s pretty much all the news around here.  So now I’m going to end this with a few gratuitous garden pictures and two video tours.

You’ve heard of crop circles, and how some believe aliens are using them to communicate with mankind?  Well, I think those same aliens are also using my bunnies.  See those black lines on Daisy’s nose?  That alien-in-appearance furry crop circle?  She has them all over, and they are constantly changing.  One day she has circles on her nose.  Then she has drag queen eyebrows.  Then peculiar black squiggles on her back.  I need to start documenting her fur…for science!

Now, video tours!  Number one, a tour of the new front yard vegetable garden.

And the back yard garden:

Processing Quail, Plus Bee and Garden Update

A few weeks ago, I processed the four extra male quail.  While I had previously helped clean (and then ate) two of my quail from a previous hatch, this was the first time I had done the entire process all by myself…including the kill.

It was a weird thing.  I’ve spent about 40 years raising animals, and nursing them back to health when injured.  I did kill a wild mouse once that was caught in a trap, but that was only time I’ve ever deliberately killed an animal.  The hardest part of the whole process was simply the before: picking the quail up, soothing it so it wouldn’t struggle at the wrong time, then deliberately thinking: Yes.  I’m doing this.  It just went so counter to all my instincts.

The actual physical moment of doing was shockingly easy and simple.  (I used the scissors method, because I felt it seemed the quickest and the most humane.)  Afterward, holding the lifeless body as it convulsed and bled out was not fun, but not nearly so traumatic as I thought.  I knew it was dead, so  it wasn’t like holding a ‘dying animal’.  I don’t think I could ever use the throat slitting method on a critter – I couldn’t stand the long several minutes waiting for it to die.

Afterward, I did feel bad, but not to the extent that I wouldn’t process more animals.  If I’m going to eat meat (and I am), it feels so much better to have control over how the animals lives, and how it dies.  It makes me sick to read and see how the animals in factories are raised and killed.  I don’t want to support that industry, that sort of torture and inhumanity.  I also don’t want to eat that sort of polluted food.  I don’t agree with or support PETA as an organization, but this video does a good job of showing what goes on in those factories.

Quail, however, are not going to be a meat animal for me – unless I have a few extra males that I have to dispose of in the future.  Four adult quail made enough meat for one meal.  I don’t like that ratio of death.  With a standard sized chicken or duck, I can get up  to four meals from one death.  Maybe more with a rabbit.

The other thing I don’t like with quail is how many tiny little bones they have.  They are seriously like fish bones!  I tried to be super careful with my de-boning, and I still missed a few.  And the taste of the meat is not my favorite, either.  I wouldn’t call the flavor ‘gamey’ precisely, but it’s quite different from chicken, and nowhere near as fantastic as duck.  Quail just aren’t worth it, as meat animals, in my opinion.

However, I do adore them as garden companion animals – and they will be even more helpful once I get the rotating garden bed/quail cage set up and operational.  And I like the eggs; I’m getting into the habit of throwing a few quail eggs into whatever dish I am making.  I can’t ever see myself not wanting quail as part of my little homestead.

And now on to happier things.  Here are some photos from last week in the garden.

The foxglove and roses are in full swing.

The two tomatoes in the grow bags seem to be winning the contest, as far as growth and health are concerned.  That could also be because they were the last I put out, when the weather had finally turned to a proper Spring.  In front there is a Black Japanese Trifele tomato.  This is my first time growing it, and so far, it’s brilliant.

Look at the flowers!  They are HUGE.

Below is a shot of one of the straw bales.  I poked several squash seeds down into them a few weeks back, and now they are coming up nicely!

Below is one of my potato patches.  Potatoes are in the innermost square, and beets are around the outside.  I keep piling on more straw as the potatoes grow.  Adding more is on my list of things to do this weekend….

Because I’m not using the cold frames for anything, I decided to try growing summer squash in them…with the lids left raised, so the vines can tumble out.  So far they appear to like it.  This morning, they were already a good four times larger than this.

When I was inspecting the front yard garden this afternoon, I surprised a wee wild bunny doing an inspection of her own.  I didn’t see that she’d damaged anything – other than trampling down one sunflower and snapping its stem. That was hardly her fault, though – it happened when I surprised her and she was frantically trying to get away from me.  I may have to put some bunny-proofing out there if she becomes a regular visitor, though!

And the bees…sadly the bees are going to be a failed experiment this year.  I think too many bad things happened to them (difficult long trip through the mail, dead queen, wet weather) and their numbers are dwindling rapidly.  Bees only live for a few weeks, so when starting a new hive, they really need to get off to a fast start – they need that next generation or the colony will die of old age.  Right now we’re down to fewer than 100 workers bees.  I suspect as well that something is up with the new queen.  Either she was not accepted, or she died, or something.  The brood that has been laid seems to be all drones (males).  This can happen if a hive goes too long without a queen.  One of the worker bees decides to become a queen, but unlike a true queen, a worker is only capable of laying drone eggs.

We’ll start over again next Spring.  I found a guy who naturally raises bees (no chemicals or pesticides used in his hives).  His bees come from Oregon (so they will be used to my climate) and he delivers to my area.  Unlike the bees I ordered this year, his bees will arrive within one day.  I wish I could have gotten them from him this year, but we started so late that he was sold out.

Well.  At least we know we love having a hive, and really enjoy the bees!