Tag Archives: Gardening

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.

Spring Pigeons

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

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

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They are ugly-cute, for sure!

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

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

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

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

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This is my absolute favorite time of year.

Of Pigs and Pigeons

The plans to get Muscovy ducks is moving along. I called the farm I want to buy them from, and confirmed that they can ship to me. Actually, they can’t ship to me, because my city is too small for one-day shipping, but they can ship to the larger city right next to me, and I can go pick them up at the post office there. I think I’ll have them sent in May. The weather will be nice by then, so I can move them asap out of my house (ducklings are incredibly messy) and out into the grow-out coop.

Brand new on the agenda for this year is pigeons! I have this wonderful pen that has never really lived up to its potential. I’ve had quail in it, rabbits, and most recently, guinea pigs.

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It’s wrapped in plastic right now because of the guinea pigs. None of these critters use the entire space, ground and upper flight areas, which is a shame. So I moved the pigs into a vacant quail coop that gives them ample floor room, freeing up this pen for pigeons. And I’m planning to wire over the rooftop garden, incorporating it into the cage as even more space for the birds.

I’ve long been interested in pigeons because I love pigeons, but I have a little hawk that lives in the field next door, and I’ve watched her take down the wild pigeons in my yard. While I definitely don’t begrudge her a dinner, I don’t want her dinner to be my animals, which has kept me from getting homing pigeons. The whole reason to have those is to let them fly free, which they couldn’t safely do in around my house. But recently, I stumbled across a website about utility pigeons – pigeons raised for eggs and meat. I had pigeon when I was in London, and really liked it, and I like the idea of having animals that are useful in several ways. Plus, pigeons helped many people make it through the Great Depression – and since we’re headed toward even worse times, another source of sustainable backyard protein is highly appealing to me.

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These are king pigeons, the variety I would most likely get. They are extremely domesticated, calm, and gentle. They are heavy enough that they don’t really fly well at all, so being kept in a pen is preferred for them.

And how are the guinea pigs doing? When I first got them, all the American websites said you absolutely cannot keep them outside. The British websites were full of people doing exactly that. So of course, I went with the British way of doing things…with the knowledge I may have to bring them inside during the coldest parts of winter.

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I haven’t had to do that. I wrapped their run in plastic both to warm it up slightly, and to protect from wind and rain, and they’ve been happy as two pigs can be. When I open the door, they come running for treats.

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So yeah. These are definitely outside pigs now.  I did, as I said above, moved them to a smaller pen, also winterized in plastic for the winter.

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You can just barely see Freddie in there.

We’ve been having some decent days lately, and the past couple of weeks I’ve been out working in the garden. Last year, I moved one of the quail coops out of the garden, and where it used to be, I built a small wall out of mason blocks, and added a new garden bed behind it.

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The wall both adds a bit of privacy and definition to the garden, and it also provides some protection for the mini fireplace in front.

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I also moved a couple of cold frames behind the greenhouse, and put in a larger raised bed where the cold frames used to sit. It’s a prime “hot” area, and will be terrific for tomatoes.

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All winter long, I’ve been dumping the rabbits litter boxes into the chicken’s compost area, and now I’ve started shoveling that out into my veggie gardens. It’s great stuff – even fresh, rabbit poo won’t burn plants, and this is partly composted and full of worms and other beneficial stuff.

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Just about a month left, and I’ll be able to start planting! The garden is ready for spring. The trees are budding out, the roses are sprouting leaves, and the bluebells are green.

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Now the race begins…which will happen first: spring or the rapture of the church? Hopefully the second, but at least if I’m stuck here on earth a little bit longer, I have ducklings to look forward to!

Garden Things

Just a few quick things…and a chicken video at the end.

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I was reading the Art of Doing Stuff (highly, HIGHLY recommend her blog…and not just because I was the reader who told her about Grow a Little Fruit Tree!) and she mentions she puts zip lock bags around her baby apples to protect them from pests. I don’t really have much trouble with bug pests, but I do have crazy squirrels. I’m wondering if bagging the apples will be enough to throw them off?  It’s worth a try!

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Last year, my plum tree was eaten alive by aphids…until the ladybugs finally swooped in like batman in red spotted body armor and saved the day. This year, they learned where my plum is, and they didn’t wait until the entire tree was covered…only a few leaves.  Wait, don’t spray, and the beneficials WILL come!

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And finally, the chicken video, in which we all learn that Ellie HATES my camera. I don’t know why. It’s not as if she hasn’t had pictures taken of her since she was a day old…

 

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/

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.

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!