Lotta Things Going On

Quail update:

The babies are now just shy of five weeks.  When they were four weeks, I finally took them out of the inside brooder and put them outside in the big coop.  They still have their Brinsea EcoBrooder out there for warmth, but although I see them occasionally underneath it, I don’t really think they need the warmth.  But just in case…

Here’s one of them at four weeks:

The first thing they all began to do was take dust baths.  It was pretty stinking cute!

And here’s a video I took of them shortly after they went outside:

As of today, they are just shy of five weeks.  I know that I have at least five boys, because they have developed the golden chest without speckles.  Of the other three, I’m positive one is a girl, but I’m unsure of the others.  They still have speckles, and I think they are acting more like girls, but I’ve been fooled before by a male who kept his juvenile speckles longer than his siblings.  I really, really HOPE I have three girls!  Fingers crossed!

The boys also have more vibrant coloring on their heads.  Some are brown, like this one; others have nearly all dark brown/black.  They are really pretty.  I wish I had room to keep one of the boys!

They are a lazy lot.

The one on the far right is one of the Maybe Girls.  Notice the light speckling on the chest, and the lighter head.

For some reason, I cannot get wordpress to load this next video, but here’s a link. It shows the five week old babies running around.


Cinna’s girls have developed a taste for worms.  They go crazy when I bring them a few, and lately whenever they see me they hang out at the wire front, begging.  If I open the top of the pen, they will actually jump up in anticipation.  One grabbed a piece of my hair once!  They have become completely fearless.

In the garden, Spring is definitely here.  Everything has suddenly become so green!

Some of the clematis are blooming:

The new fig is leafing out (and still has a few figs from last year.  Will they ripen this year? No idea.)

There are also a few aliens emerging from their winter hibernation (or perhaps they are baby kraken?)

The tomatoes have graduated to the cold frames, and it will only be a short time before they will be too tall to fit.

My kitchen window is now full of baby Ground Cherries, instead.  The straw bales have gone through the conditioning process, and it is now time to plant.  This a straw bale I bought at the same time, and which has been sitting outside in the weather:

This is the top of one of the conditioned straw bales:

Look how the color has changed!  You can see that something is happening.  Plus, it’s sprouting a few stray oats (or wheat, or whatever straw is made from) from the bale.  Clearly my bales were not weed-free.  Oh well.  At least I know the bale is ready to go!

Because I have extra tomatoes, I tested putting a couple of those out in the straw bales – with the added protection of a frost cloth.  If these two do well, I’ll be moving the rest into the bales very soon.

One big thing we did was have a few big weeds removed from the front yard.

Big weeds.  Really big.  Do you see the first weed?

No?  What about now, after it’s been taken out?

I have planted a quince in the place where the fir tree used to be.  The tree was leaning badly toward the street, and we were afraid its roots might be plotting terrible vengeance against our water pipes.  So, out it went!

And we also had the Eager Beavers take out a couple of ugly trees against our house.  I highly recommend this company for tree removal.  They are super fast, efficient, and fun to watch.



This summer we’re repainting the house and fixing up the plantings in front.

And for no reason at all, here’s a couple videos of my hen, Ellie.

All the girls know their names, and will come when called, but Ellie comes at top speed.  She’s my special love.

And I’ll close with a picture of Daisy.


Frogs, Fruit, and Chicken Poop

Yes, it’s finally here.

The alpine strawberries have flowers.

I found a frog in one of my water gardens.  He jumped out immediately when I saw him, but I have hopes he (or actually SHE) was in there laying eggs.  I’ll have to check for tadpoles later.

The front yard vegetable garden is pretty much in place (as least as much as I’m going to do on it this Spring.)

A good share of those beds are now planted with seeds of various kinds: lettuce, beets, and chard galore.  I’ve started the corn inside, and before too much longer, I’ll be getting the beans in.

The straw bales for the attempt at Straw Bale Gardening are coming on just like the book says they should.  This is day six of “conditioning”, which is basically just watering them really well and adding a high dose of nitrogen.  I stuck a couple of fingers down inside the bales this morning, and they were really hot, which is exactly what should be happening right now.  I’m kind of excited about this trial.  I’m going to plant mostly tomatoes in them, because they could certainly use some extra warmth in my climate.  I always struggle with tomatoes, so if they do well with this method, I might very well continue it every year.

I also did the first pruning cut on the new (future) espalier trees.  I took off about a foot of height, bringing the top down to where I want the lower set of branches to be.  It was a bit of a wrench, cutting them!  They were already so small, and the top was starting to leaf out a bit.

Yesterday, I was thinking about all the fruit vines, trees, and shrubs I’m adding to the yard.  Here’s a list of what I’ve put in so far:

Two varieties of Blackberries

Two varieties of Raspberries

Three varieties of Blueberries

Three apple trees

One Honeyberry (I need to add another to pollinate it)

Hardy Kiwi

Two varieties of Grapes

Two varieties of Gooseberries

One Fig

One Pear

One Thimbleberry

Two varieties of Quince

Four varieties of Currants.

And in the next year or so, I plan to add another Honeyberry, six more apples, another pear, two more varieties of raspberry, blackcaps, a mulberry, another currant, and a peach tree.  And perhaps a cherry, if I can find one that will stay small enough.  Oh, and a Chilean Guava, to replace the one that died.

Can you tell I really, really like fruit?

Possibly Thursday, but definitely by the weekend, the baby quail are moving outside.  They are almost fully feathered, and although they are extremely contented in their brooder box, they have definitely outgrown it.

I discovered an interesting thing about my chickens the other day.  If you own chickens, perhaps you’re familiar with how horrendously stinky their fresh poop is.  Older poop…not smelly at all, but when a girl just drops one, it could clear a room!  At least, when the hens are eating conventional layer mash/pellets.

We’ve had our girls on a grain diet for around a year, and they are allowed to forage however many bugs and worms they can find, as well as eating greens like grass and dandelions.  Sometime in the middle of winter, I noticed that I didn’t smell anything when the girls pooped right next to me.  A few days ago, I tested it by getting down close to some freshly dropped poop and taking a whiff.  Nothing.  No stink at all.

Their feathers are glossy and lovely, and even though all the online sources tell me that four-year-old hens are “old” and probably are not laying anymore, my girls lay an egg nearly every day.  They do take a break in winter, because I don’t provide extra light, but otherwise you could never tell these girls are “old”.  They clearly feel and act young.

And their poop doesn’t stink anymore!  Wow.

Free Range Eggs

This is the truth of what “free range” eggs really are: not humane, and not free.

This is why I have backyard chickens.


Just Because

It was a beautiful day in the garden.  Warm, tshirt weather, and green, new sprouts, buds, and leaves.

I worked on the front yard vegetable garden, but the pictures I want to share are just random things that made me happy today.

A weird mushroom thing.

Several of them, in fact.

They are very tiny, and look like hollow balls.  Or alien spawn.

There are flower buds on the brand new currants I planted just a few weeks ago.

And the quail babies are still sweet.  This one is my buddy.  She likes to sit in my hand and look around.

Pretty soon I’ll have to start thinking about how to move them outside.  They are already beginning to outgrow the brooder box.

And there’s Ellie, my Welsummer hen, and my sweetest baby-girl of all.  She’s very camera shy…hence the leery expression.

We spent some time sitting in the sun together.  Her, on my lap, snuggled in tight against my chest.  She’s a great conversationalist, even though my chicken is pretty rusty and I don’t catch everything she says.

She also helped me dig out the old compost bin, carefully removing all harmful (and not harmful but tasty) bugs before the compost went into the new garden.

And then we had another snuggle in the sun together.

It was a very good day.

Quail Love, Tomatoes, and Straw Bales

The tomatoes I started from seed outgrew the grow light.  There just wasn’t room for all of them underneath it, once I transplanted them into larger pots.  Plus, I wanted the light for Ground Cherries, so the tomatoes went into the kitchen window.  And the living room window, since there are so many of them.

This was about a week ago.  Today, I transplanted them again.  Since I didn’t actually have any pots the right size, I went to the dollar store and bought a bunch of plastic Easter pails.

If you’re thinking that they look smaller now than they did then, it’s because each time you transplant tomatoes, you snip off the lower leaves and bury the stem up to top set of leaves.  The buried portion of stem sends out roots, and makes the plant much stronger!

There are still some areas in the front yard vegetable garden that I haven’t had time to build raised beds in.  This means that the soil is still very poor, as I also haven’t had time to put in a bunch of compost.  Since I really, really want to garden those areas this year, I decided to try out Straw Bale Gardening.  I doubt I’ll continue doing it in future years, because straw is not very cheap in my part of the world, but it will be an interesting experiment.  The first step is to “condition” the straw bales, so I’ll be doing that for the next couple of weeks.

At the very least, the straw will turn to compost, and help fill those raised beds!

Today I also finished getting the former quail Bachelor Pad set up in its new location, and moved Peabody and his wives into it.  I built a new nest box for it; basically a box with a roof that raises on hinges that fits inside the quail coop.

Here’s the view looking down into the nest box.

Here’s the view with the nest box roof lowered.

I’m going to put a piece of waterproofing on top to keep the quail (and their food) dry.

Peabody and two of the girls seem to like it.  Mama quail is Not Amused.  She is very shy, and was terrified out of her wits by this move, but she seems to be settling in.  Hopefully she’ll go broody again, but who knows?  Quail are often a mystery.

The babies inside are just two weeks old, and they are nearly entirely feathered out on their bodies.  And they can fly!  It’s not uncommon for one to helicopter straight up out of the brooder when I take the cover off.  They don’t want to escape; they are just full of high spirits, and they love it when I clean their box, because they always get interesting things like dirt to dig in, or buttons to pick at.  They need things to keep them busy and happy, so they won’t develop the habit of picking on each other.

Their legs are also getting insanely long.

I don’t think I ever posted this picture of them at a few days old.  I just reached into the brooder and scooped up a handful!  This was about half of them.

Moving Peabody and his girls out into the their new coop left Loki alone in the old one.  I was going to leave him by himself at first (it’s only a short time until the chicks will be old enough to join him) but he was clearly just too lonely.  Poor guy.  So I ended up temporarily “borrowing” one of Peabody’s girls and putting her in with Loki.

He loves her.  He’s on cloud 9.  It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen; he started running in front of her, neck outstretched, on his tippy-toes.  It must be a courtship dance?  I’ve never seen either of the other two males do it, though.

She was unimpressed, and even less so when he tried to mate with her…and let’s just say…he needed some serious practice to get the technicalities down!  ;)

As soon as he finished, she pecked him around the face a few times to let him know she wouldn’t be putting up with any more behavior like that!  So he went back to his tippy-toe dance again.  Then she got involved in having a dust bath, and he snuck up behind her, and deliberated: did he dare make another attempt?  Would she scorn his attempt if he did?  But oh – she was just so seductive, down there rolling in the dirt!


I wish I’d been able to record this for you.  It was so hysterically cute and funny – especially when he celebrated by performing an especially vigorous tippy-toe dance afterward!

I did go get the camera and record a little bit for you – although he is not showing off the perfect form he previously had in his dance.  I think he was getting a bit tired by this point!

Travel Plans Post

What with the garden and the animals, it’s been awhile since I posted about my travel plans…but I sure have been thinking about them!  I can’t believe it’s next year that I’m going; it won’t be long until I’ll actually be able to start buying tickets and reserving hotels.

If you remember, I was planning on going to England and Scotland in June of 2015.  That has changed.  There are three places in the world that call to me more than anywhere else: England, Egypt, and Venice.  Because of current events, Egypt is pretty much off the table at the moment.  And for some reason, I thought Venice would be too difficult to combine with a trip to England, thus the addition of Scotland.

Then a friend made me jealous with *her* trip to Venice, and I looked into it.  Turns out Venice is only a two hour flight from London…and the flights are super cheap.  I could pay more for a train trip in England!  So: New Plan.

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After the England portion of my trip, I will fly to Venice, and spend a couple of nights there, before flying home.

Also, since I won’t be in Scotland this trip, I am changing the timing back to going in September of 2015.  September works out so much better for me, schedule-wise.

And after I decided on September, I discovered the Benedict Cumberbatch will be playing Hamlet at a London Theatre….in September.  So how perfect is that?  Tickets will go on sale in a couple of months, and I’m definitely going to try for one.  It’ll be a little tricky, since I don’t have my exact travel dates nailed down, but I guess I’ll just have to plan the rest of the trip around that single theatre ticket if I get it!


Quail Chicks Update

Everyone is still alive and thriving.

Their favorite time of day is when I clean out the brooder box.  With all the food, water, and heating out of the way, it’s time to run and jump and play!

Their wings are almost entirely feathered out, and they can fly/jump startlingly high.  Give them another couple of days, and they’ll be helicoptering out of the brooder box whenever I open it.

I gave the adult quail some wheat fodder that had been growing for about four days.  They LOVED it.  I wasn’t sure whether wheat grains would be too large for them, but they had no trouble eating it at all.

Out in the garden, the beet seeds I planted are coming up, and so are the peas I thought had drowned.  I had started more in pots, and I put those out yesterday, so altogether, I’m going to have a ton of peas this year, I think.

The asparagus I planted last year are finally coming up!  I’m so happy about that.  Little Blue (one of our hens) got into the patch yesterday and tried to dig them all up, but fortunately she only managed to damage two spears before Mom realized where she was.   She’s a sweetie, though, and is one of the hens that wants to sit on my lap and be cuddled more than anything else in the world. She one eye on me while I’m working, and the moment I sit down, she comes running.  If she doesn’t come running, I know I need to go look for her, because she’ll have gotten someplace where she shouldn’t be!   She’s the opposite of an escape artist…instead of escaping out of pens, she always escapes in.  I’ve tried keeping her wings clipped, but she’s just too determined.  I’m going to have to put a much higher fence around the vegetable patch.

She can also recognize her own eggs.  Today when I gathered eggs from the nest boxes, she came over, and picked her own egg out of the five I was holding, and began “arranging” it in my hand, clucking at it and turning it over with her beak.

EDIT:  So, after I posted this, I went out to shut the Girls in their coop for the night.  Guess who was missing?

Almost a Tragedy (and a warning!)

Today seven of the eight quail chicks almost died.  Let me tell you the story.

I woke up about an hour earlier than I normally do, and it’s so fortunate that I really had to use the bathroom…and then, that I decided it wasn’t really worth going back to bed.  Instead, I came into the living room and checked on the chicks.

Seven of them (all but one) were laying stretched out on their sides, limp and completely cold.  They apparently had left the warmth of the Brinsea Ecoglow Brooder (as they frequently do during the daytime), and had wandered to the opposite end of the brooder box, where they had been unable to find their way back in the dim light.  Two of them were feebly opening and closing their beaks; the rest looked completely dead.  I thought it was probably too late to save any of them.  They were so cold.  They almost felt like they’d been in the fridge.

I picked them up and put them under the Brinsea Brooder, then found the old heat lamp I’d used for the previous hatchlings, and held that over them instead.  It was a more intense, focused heat, which was, I thought, the only thing that might save some of them.  And it worked.  After about five minutes, a couple of them started to move slightly.  I began to hope I’d be able to save at least one.

By ten minutes, all but one was starting to showing signs of recovery.  I was so sure that one of them was gone, though.  It was completely still and cold; no signs of life whatever.  If you’ve ever held a dead bird, you know what dead feels like; this one felt dead.  But you should never assume a creature that “died” of cold is actually dead, until you warm it up completely.

A few minutes after the rest were starting to move around, the “dead” chick opened its eyes and looked at me.

All seven survived, and tonight, they are all running around as if nothing ever happened.  Quail chicks look fragile, but they are surprisingly resilient.  Still, if I hadn’t drank so much water before I went to bed, or if I’d gotten up even a few minutes later…I know I would have only one chick left.  Miracles do happen.

Lesson learned.  From now on out, I’m leaving the overhead light on in the living room so the quail have enough light find their way back to the Brooder if they decide to go Crazy Quail Adventuring in the middle of the night.

And that eighth chick who had enough sense to stay under the Brooder?  If she’s a girl, I should name her Athena, after the Greek goddess of wisdom!

Besides rescue quail, I did a little work in the garden.  I’m in the process of making a small water garden inside one of my flower beds, out of a plastic tub.

The tub is sunken into the raised bed (I will eventually bury the front of the tub as well.)  It will be lined around the edge with bricks.

Inside are two concrete cinder blocks, to raise ledges for the plantings to sit on.

The holes in the cinder blocks will be nice hiding holes for future fish.

I also swung by the local nursery and picked up two more gooseberries.  One Black Velvet, and another of the Captivator gooseberries that I planted one of last year.  We got about four berries from it, and they were SO good.  An absolutely wonderful sweet flavor, right off the bush!  I knew I had to at least one more of this variety.  I also got a Petite Negri fig, which I will grow in a pot, and something I’d never heard of: an Apple Rose.

It is a very old type of rose that is grown for its large, flavorful hips.  They actually had it in the edible fruit area of the nursery, rather than with the other roses.


The garden is really starting to wake up.  Everything is greening out, and several types of early flowers are blooming.  I put my mason bees out, so hopefully they’ll come successfully out of their cocoons soon.  Oh!  And I saw my first bee today; a bumblebee.  I was so happy to see her buzzing around.  She appeared to be on a mission; I suspect she was a scout out searching for a new place to build a hive.  Hopefully her and her sisters will choose someplace very close to my garden, if not inside it.  I adore bumblebees.

In other bee news, Mom painted the new honeybee hive, and it’s out in the garden on its new stand awaiting its new residents!

New Quail Hatched!

The new Brinsea Mini Advance incubator performed perfectly. It is a marvel.  The hatch was still immensely stressful though!  Eight of the twelve eggs pipped on Sunday afternoon.  The last batch of quail I hatched were zipping within a few hours…not these little guys.

Nooooo….these little guys decided to completely freak me out by pipping and then not doing anything else for nearly 36 hours!  Luckily one of them kept poking at the pipped edge of the shell to let me know at least one was still alive, but I was having serious worries about whether or not I should attempt to help it hatch.  Most internet sources said they should be zipping within 10 hours, and if they didn’t, the humidity had likely gotten too low, and the chicks were “shrink-wrapped” inside their shells, unable to move enough to get out.

Luckily, I found one person who said it was normal for them to take this long (sometimes) and I should just sit it out.  So I did, but Monday night I didn’t sleep very well, thinking they might all be dead in the shell by morning.  I finally got up around 2:30am to check on them – and yay miracle! – two of the little lazy buggers had hatched.  No sign of any difficulty whatsoever.  I went back to bed feeling MUCH better, and by morning, six were hatched, and two more were on the way.

The very last egg that hatched was the plain white one.  I put a little spot of paint on that chick’s back; if she’s a female, I want to keep her in the hopes she will lay white eggs like her mother.  Since the girls from this hatch will become Loki’s wives, I think I’ll name them all after mythological goddesses.  Since this baby was born from a white shell, I think she has to be Aphrodite, don’t you?


Assuming she’s a girl, of course.  If not, well, he will be nameless.  And sadly, dinner.  I can’t keep any more males!

Right now, though, they are just so adorably tiny and sweet.

Aphrodite is already photogenic.

And worn out from hatching.

They love their Brinsea Eco Brooder 20.  It also is working perfectly, keeping them brilliantly warm and contented.  I did my trick of tucking a piece from a feather boa underneath with them, and they LOVE snuggling into those cozy feathers.

All eight of the hatchlings are inside the brooder box now.  They have food and water figured out.

Oh look – do you notice something?  Just like last year, when the hatchery accidentally sent me one Texas A&M chick (Peabody), this year I also got a cuckoo in the nest.  I’m assuming that little dark chick is not an Italian, but rather a sneaky little Standard!

Whatever, it’s cute.

And so are the Italians.  At this age, they love to snuggle in hands, and come right up and crawl up into your palm whenever you put your hand into the brooder.

At this age (barely one day old) they already have the worm-hunting instinct.  Just look at this little one hunting a loose thread on the duvet!

There are still four eggs unhatched in the incubator, and I’ll leave it running for a few more days, just in case.  Sometimes there’s a late hatch.  If not, eight very healthy chicks from twelve shipped eggs is a really good hatch rate, so I’m happy.

Keep your fingers crossed for mostly girls…

Spring Plantings

I took an inspection tour of the garden yesterday, and all the edible vines, trees, and shrubs I planted last year made it through the winter and are beginning to bud out – with the exception of the Chilean Guava.  It was fine, up until that last temperature drop to 12 degrees, but now it appears to be dead.  I’ll wait and see if it happens to regrow up from the roots, but if not, I’ll get another plant and place it in a more protected spot.  I should have covered it, but unfortunately, I didn’t even think of it until too late.  I’m just happy the kiwi vines made it through.  It was touch and go during the summer, so I was a little concerned; I’ve heard it’s sometimes hard to keep them alive for the first year, but after that, it’s all good.

Today I went out and planted my first batch of seeds directly into the ground.  I planted several varieties of lettuce, beets, swiss chard, and turnips.  They join the seedlings of cabbage, kale, and broccoli I started inside, then transplanted outside earlier.  Those are looking great.

It is so unbelievably lovely to see green things in the ground!

The front yard garden where I did my planting today is slowly starting to come together.

Mom and I spent some time yesterday putting together a few more beds…and hauling wheelbarrows full of dirt to fill them.  There are still quite a few more beds to go, but I may not get all of them completed this season.  We have decided to put straw in the pathways between beds, to control weeds.  I would prefer brick or stone, but for right now, there’s just no time or money for anything that massive.  Maybe later?

Here’s another view, showing the beds that are only partly completed/not built yet.

The two taller beds have my first (future) espalier trees in them.  To the left, is my Honeysweet Pear, and right behind the ladder is my first apple, Cox’s Orange Pippin.  For the apple rootstock, I ended up with M7.  It’s a semi-dwarf, and well recommended for espaliers.  I’m planning to make a two-tiered espalier, and its branches should span almost the entire length of that back fence.  One day, it should look something like this:


Right now, it looks like this:

Just an itsy, bitsy twig.

Inside, I have tomato seedlings under the grow lights.

I’m growing four different varieties from seed this year.  Sweet Pea Currant,  Indigo Rose, Black Trifele, and a mystery variety that self-seeded into my yard last year, and was amazingly prolific and tasty.  We’re calling it the Out of Eden Tomato, because we have no idea what it actually is, and don’t remember planting anything that looks like it.  I also have a three varieties of alpine strawberries starting indoors, as well as a few ground cherries.

The Indigo Rose tomatoes in particular will be extraordinarily beautiful.


Today the quail eggs went into “lockdown” in the incubator (which means no more turning, candling, or disturbing until they hatch).

Tomorrow, they *could* begin to pip, though probably we won’t see any actual hatches until Sunday or Monday.

Speaking of quail, Cinna and his girls are continuing to love their new coop.  My mom went over to the coop, and they came right over and looked up at her inquiringly.  She said: “I think they want me to give them something.”  Of course they did.  They are spoiled little quail, and well-used to me bringing them seed and greens!  I fed them some greens today, then filmed them for you to see.  I have the top completely open here, and my hand with the camera right down inside the coop (almost touching them).  You can see how relaxed they are – Cinna even takes the opportunity for a little personal business!  (His motto: If you don’t succeed the first time, try again with a different girl!)

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