The weather here has been…unpredictable, to say the least. We’re past the snow and the below freezing temperatures, I’m happy to say…but literally we can have all four seasons within a two hour period. Last Sunday, it was cloudy with a couple of stray showers, and I was trying to build up enough enthusiasm to go outside and work anyway. But then the skies abruptly opened, and TORRENTIAL rain poured down…and out of nowhere it got windy, and the road outside my window turned into a lake, and the wind was blowing the water down the street and up into the air, and it was…kind of cool, actually. My mom asked, “Are you still thinking about going outside?” And I said, “I think that dream is over.”
And then. And THEN. Five minutes later, the wind went away, the rain went away, and the most glorious sunshine you ever saw came pouring out. Friends, I grabbed my chance, and went outside!
Over the next couple of days (none with such glorious sunshine, however) I did a few things that needed to be done. Including setting the foundation for the new bantam coop.
This area, back behind the pigeon coop, is definitely a work-in-progress at the moment. It’s looking pretty terrible. Actually, maybe you should just pay attention to the cute corgi! There used to be a compost pile back here, but I’ve decided my new method of composting will be to throw it all in the bantam run, and let the chickens do the work. So I moved the third guinea pig coop back here.
It is currently wrapped in plastic to keep out the winter wind. But eventually, the pigs will be bindweed patrol for the herb garden further behind it, and this area underneath and in front of it.
And this is the foundation for the bantam coop.
The chickens will be able to go underneath, but I primarily want it raised off the ground to keep rats from burrowing under it.
And here’s a view from the other side, looking down what will eventually become a covered bantam run.
No corgi in this picture. 😦
And I’m happy to say I will quite possibly be getting turkeys again this year! Last year’s turkeys were an accident (the breeder sent me turkey eggs instead of the chicken eggs I ordered) but this time I found a local breeder of White Midget turkeys. They are the smallest breed of turkey, the females are about as big as a large chicken hen, and when Mother Earth News did a turkey taste test these guys were rated the best tasting by far! I plan to get around 4-6 poults (baby turkeys) and keep one pair to breed, and harvest the rest. I love having sustainable, humane sources of meat on my urban farm. Did you know that those butterball turkeys you buy at the grocery store have been commercially bred to pack on the weight until they can barely stand on their own by butcher date? The female turkeys have to be artificially inseminated to be bred, as the turkeys themselves are incapable of breeding naturally due to their size? As Joel Salatin would say, “Folks, that ain’t normal.”
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
The critters around here think it’s Spring. I have eight (possibly more) bunnies born yesterday, with second doe due on Sunday. This, I will admit, is my doing, since I did enable the affair. They were certainly enthusiastic participants, however! I still have three from the previous litter – one of them I actually sold. This handsome little buck is going to be a pet – and possibly getting a girlfriend later on.
The Snowflake Bobwhite quail have decided to try for a family too. I’m not overly optimistic about success, since Buckbeak (my male) suffered a leg injury as a chick and has never had perfect agility since. I’m not sure he’s able to properly balance on Bellatrix in order to fertilize those eggs. They are so sweet, though.
Buckbeak has taken to sitting on the eggs with her, and when she leaves the nest to stretch and eat, he moves over to keep the eggs warm. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. I’d love to see them manage to hatch out at least a couple of chicks!
I’ve also had two different chickens decide to go broody on me, too – despite me explaining over and over again that we have already had our allotted chicks for the year, and we really can’t have any more.
So they are taking turns in the broody prison. I just released the last one this morning…I hope she’s actually changed her mind about babies and isn’t just going to sneak back onto a nest when I’m not looking.
I FINALLY got the girls’ musical instrument mounted in their coop, right above the oyster shell and grit where I know they can’t miss it.
The guinea pigs have moved out into the large outdoor coop, and are loving all the space.
Of course, their favorite activity is still coming up the wire to beg for treats. Both are especially fond of cherry tomatoes.
It’s been too smoky from all the wildfires to do much work outside, so I’ve been doing lots of cooking and baking. You know how you tend to pin things on Pinterest but never actually do them? Well, I’m making a point of making the recipes I’ve pinned, and most of them are turning out! A pretty good percentage are actually keepers, and I’ve transferred them over to a new board “Recipes I’ve Made and Liked”. Just yesterday, I made the Bacon-Wrapped Cornish Hens, and they were fantastic…and super easy. Besides the Cornish hens, I also made two apple pies with apples from my backyard tree (these apples make the most extraordinary pies…but I didn’t plant the tree, and have no idea what variety it is). One pie to bake immediately,
and one to freeze for later.
As you see in the background, I saved all the cores and peels to make three gallons of apple scrap vinegar. It’s so easy, and tastes just like store-bought apple cider vinegar. I use it for everything but canning. (Canning requires at least 5% acidity for safety, and I haven’t tested the acidity of mine.) Some apple scrap vinegar recipes tell you to start with yeast, or add sugar, or do all sorts of extra things. I do nothing but throw my apple scraps in a jar and add filtered water. Put some 90 grade cheesecloth over the top to keep out the fruit flies, and stir it vigorously at least a couple of time per day. You’ll notice it starts to bubble, and smell like hooch. Once the bubbles stop, and the apple scraps sink to the bottom after a few weeks, strain the scraps out, replace the cheesecloth and store the jars in a cool, dim place for up to six months. You’ll know it’s done when it smells and tastes like vinegar, and then you can bottle it up and use it like you would apple cider vinegar. When you make future batches, add a little of the dregs from your previous batch to kick-start the process.
In the same day, I also made Lemon Poppyseed Yellow Summer Squash Bread – you’ll find the recipe in my pinterest recipe link above. It’s a super way to use up those overgrown yellow summer squash, and you’d never know it has squash in it! I recommend cutting down the sugar by at least half a cup, though. Most comments on the recipe say it’s too sweet as-is, and I’m glad I followed their suggestion.
Dexter was glued to my side during all this baking frenzy, and boy was he ever exhausted by the end of it!
It is hard work cleaning up all the scraps that accidently (and on purpose) fall to the floor. He didn’t even wake up during his close up.
Is someone talking about me? Are there more treats?
Finally, Amazon sent Bundy another cat bed in the mail, and this one, sadly, was slightly undersized.
Meet Fiona. She is the new companion for our previous guinea pig, Freddie. Fiona is not AT ALL the type/color of pig I was looking for, but sometimes you just interact with an animal and know they are the one. She is more shy than Freddie, but equally sweet, and also likes to snuggle in against my neck, underneath my chin.
Freddie is still getting used to her. Last time I had them out together, Fiona was snuggling under my chin, and Freddie came alone and bulldozed/flipped her right out of the way and laid down in her place. Interloping pig! This is MY human!
They are going to be moving into the garden roof coop outdoor soon – which will be their summer quarters. Lots of room to run and play! As a first step toward that, we moved my mom’s pet rabbits out of that coop and into a brand new pen of their own.
Both sections of the top lift up, for ease of cleaning, and it has an access door on the front for feeding and litter box cleaning.
I really enjoy designing and building these things – and this time it was easier than ever because I had my mom do the parts I hate, like cutting and nailing the wire to the frame (hey, this pen IS for her bunnies!)
My rabbits are settling into their life as colony rabbits. I have two does together, and although they are sisters, they did have some issues at first – particularly through their first pregnancies…when they turned into hormonal rage monsters.
The only damage was little hair-pulling and chasing and growling – but now, even though both of them are pregnant, they are perfectly sweet with each other, enjoying grooming sessions and long cuddles in their litter box. Seems like they just needed to get their dominance issues worked out.
At almost nine weeks, I just moved Thistle’s last litter of kits into my separate grow-out pen. It is so cute to see two does and a passel of babies all happily living together. Love, love, love the colony system of rabbit raising! Both does are currently pregnant for the last litter of the year, so it will be fun to see TWO litters playing together in the Bunny Barn!
And speaking of rabbits, thanks to them, I am able to eat meals that are entirely home-grown in my backyard urban farm: meat, veggies, and herbs – the only things on this plate that I didn’t grow are the salt, butter, and soy sauce!
Let’s talk about the rabbits first. I wish I would have gotten meat rabbits years ago – they are fantastic! Such easy care, especially in a colony system, and I am discovering more uses for them besides meat. Sorrel, my buck, is such a tame sweetie, and his favorite food in the world is hedge bindweed…luckily enough, hedge bindweed is the greatest evil in my garden. I’ve taken to penning him outside in a bindweed-infested area, and letting him take care of the problem. This is pre-bunny:
This is post-bunny (I removed the chair, once it was freed from its chains):
In this pic, I’ve actually enlarged the area over to the left, so he can start cleaning the bindweed out of the compost/bucket storage area. He loves it! It’s amazing how quickly one bunny can make bindweed disappear! And for those of you who might have seen bindweed on the list of plants poisonous to rabbits, never fear. After turning the internet upside down and hearing from a vet with knowledge of bindweed, it turns out that there are two different varieties of bindweed: hedge and field. Field bindweed is the poisonous one. I have hedge bindweed, and it’s supposedly edible even to humans. I tasted a leaf, and while I was expecting it to be bitter, it was actually good. I’m still a little leery of eating it myself, however! It just seems…wrong.
We’ve had about five rabbit meals now, and each was terrific. I’m super impressed with how tender and good it is, and from six 5lb rabbits, I’ll be able to get around 19 meals for the two of us, counting things like liver and broth from the bones. I’ve heard you can even make rabbit bacon…I really want to try that!
In other critter news, the snowflake bobwhite quail pair has moved from one coop into another. They used to be in the ‘display coop’ in the center of my garden, but it’s really not a great cage for a flighty bird like bobwhites – too difficult to clean when I have to worry about them spooking and flying out. I put them into a slightly larger coop in the chicken garden.
I’ve noticed that quail and chicken like to be in company with other; the chickens hang out around the cage and the quail like to watch them. Plus, the quail like to eat the fermented grain I feed the chickens, and in two days they’ve already learned what it means when I call the chickens to dinner, and they’ve started demanding their own share. Since they are so close, it’s easy to throw a little into their cage! They’ve also started building a nest. It would be nice if they decided to start a family – but they did try last year, with no success. The male has a slight leg deformity, and I wonder if perhaps he’s unable to mate her properly.
The other reason I wanted to move the quail out of the display coop is because it’s difficult to wrap in plastic during the winter to keep out the wind and rain. The new plan is to keep part-time critters inside it, ones who will occupy it only during the summer, and in the winter will be moved inside. Specifically, a pair of guinea pigs!
I was not intending to immediately get the pigs, but I sort of accidentally-on-purpose wandered by the rodent section of a pet store, and they had this little girl.
Meet Winnifred (also known as Piggo). I’ve had a number of guinea pigs during my life, and while most of them were nice, I’ve NEVER met a pig like this one. From the first instant she met us, she loved us. She snuggles under our chins and purrs and chatters happily the whole time we’re holding her. When she’s tired, she falls over on her side on my chest with her little legs stretched out and takes a nap. She likes Bundy, our cat, and isn’t frightened by our extremely excited corgi – even when he can’t contain himself and jumps or scratches at her cage.
Now I’m keeping a look-out for a friend for her. I’d like one of the wire-haired ‘teddy bear’ type, but we’ll have to see what shows up.
Lastly, I tried the old cucumber trick on my cat. If you’re not aware of this, go to YouTube, and search for cats and cucumbers. It is hysterical. Unfortunately, Bundy did not have quite the same reaction:
And I’ll end this blog with a couple of cat-in-a-box photos, because if there is one thing on earth Bundy is obsessed with, it’s boxes. When a package comes, he’s often trying to force his way into the box at one end, while I’m cutting open the other. This particular box…well, it was a bit of a tight fit.