On Quail Monogamy & Remodeling a Garden

Loki the quail is being a bad boy.  Or a good one, depending on whether you are the female he loves…or the female he hates and was chasing all over the pen, causing her fly into walls out of sheer panic.

I’m starting to think coturnix quail are monogamists.  They’re fine kept in a group of a male and several females in the fall/winter, but once those spring hormones kick in…oh boy.  So right now I’ve got Peabody and wife together, and Loki and wife together.  I’ve had to put the other Italian girl in her own little wired off area, because she was going to hurt herself, trying to escape.  Cinna is still with two girls, but even he clearly has a girl he’s bonded with, and one he ignores.  I think once I either give away one of the pairs (or a male dies) I’m going to keep two breeding pairs, and one cage of only females for egg production.  They are definitely teaching me what they like, these quails!

And in spite of the fact that we are counting down to April 17th, and the arrival of three little ducklings, we haven’t started building their coop.  Instead, we are remodeling the back yard.  I’m of the persuasion that more than a small patch of lawn is a waste of space.  Mom is very attached to her lawn…or was.  I don’t know what I said, but suddenly she came around to my way of thinking, and we are getting out of the backyard lawn business.  Except for a few small areas.

We are also putting a paverstone path instead of the grassy area that always gets the most foot traffic.  In the winter, this area turns to mud, and I once used it accidentally as a very effective slip n’ slide.

Also, thanks to the influence/encouragement of Grow a Little Fruit Tree, I have planted two peach trees.  One Indian Free, the other Charlotte.

The boards are there because Dexter has discovered the joys of digging disturbed dirt.  Joy is a muddy, filthy corgi!

I also planted two cherries: Black Tartarian and Royal Ann, and have two plums on order: Coe’s Golden Drop and Mirabelle.  I’m especially excited about the Mirabelle, because there used to be house nearby with a plum tree producing mini yellow plums.  They were so good, but neither the owner nor I had any idea what they were.  Finally, though, I’m sure I figured the mystery out.  Since the house near me was sold and the tree removed, I’ll be so happy to have one of my own.

Also, I was in the local paper Sunday.  After being interviewed on keeping backyard chickens, a photographer came and took some pictures of my setup.  It’s too bad everything is in winter ugly mode right now, but the article did come out well.  I did not say I used ‘fine sawdust’ as bedding in my coop, however.  That would be a recipe for disaster!  Large flake shavings, that’s the ticket!

It was a surprise to find I’d actually made the front cover…sharing space with the human trafficers, no less!

New Quail Coop

Here is the latest and FINAL quail coop.

This one is my rotating garden bed scheme.  The first year, it will be here, on top of a unused raised bed.  In the fall, after the quail have had time to dig, eat bugs, and fertilize the bed, I’ll switch the coop to another bed that has been growing vegetables.  The quail will get to eat whatever is left of the veggies, and get to work fixing up this new bed for the following year.  I think it’s quite a brilliant idea, so hopefully it works out like I think it will.  I do know that since I had to move quail around, I took the opportunity to take out a couple of barrows full of great compost from the quail coops currently in use!

So now Cinna and his two girls are in the new rotating coop, and Peabody and his wife are in the display coop.  Loki and wives are still in the large green roof coop, but after I build the new greenhouse, they’ll be moving inside there, to help with pest control, and next year, I’ll be hatching out some Serama chickens for the large green roof coop.  After that, everyone should be set for the long term!

Here are a few pics of inside the new coop:

And now, with quail:

Cinna and his girls are happy with their new home.  I had barely put them in it, before they were all having a dust bath together in the corner.

This one has two doors on top.  One over the run, and one over the nest box area on the left.  I still need to put the rubber roofing on the nest box roof.

The chickens weren’t very pleased with the process of building the coop.  First I made the raised bed, and filled it with dirt that they would have loved to dig around in themselves.  They couldn’t quite grasp the necessity of building a coop over the top!  They think I do far too much building of fences as it is!

But they did enjoy seeing the quail move in.  I’ve noticed before that they like to watch the quail.  It’s pretty cute when quail and chicken are standing looking at each other face to face through the wire!

The weather here has been so warm.  We’ve had several days with 60 degree temps, and even the night temps are usually in the high 30s or early 40s.  I’ve decided to risk getting the garden started early, because I just have a feeling that Spring is actually coming early this year, and we’re not going to go back into winter.  Nothing too crazy though!  I started some lettuce, kale, peas, and argula.

You cannot believe how lovely it is to see little bits of green growing again!  Unless, of course, you garden yourself.  :)

The weather has been making it nice for getting things done outside.  I have a long list (as always) of Things That Need to Get Done:  greenhouse, duck coop, trellises, various gates and fences, and rain barrels.  Plus I’ll be putting in more fruit trees, but I’ll post about that later.

After a day’s work in the garden, it’s good to be able to come in and collapse on the couch!

Local Chicken/Quail Program

I mentioned this briefly before – along with three friends, I’m doing a program on keeping chickens, ducks, and quail naturally and happily in a backyard.  If you’re local to me, and interested in this topic, you should come!  It’s free, at the Mount Vernon City Library.  Monday evening at 6:30pm.

There will be live quail there – Loki and two of his wives plan to attend – and if the quail cooperate, a giveaway of some just-laid quail eggs!

poultryprogram

It’s My Birthday, and I’ll Cry if I Want To.

Only I don’t, because life just keeps getting better, and this coming year is shaping up to be the best yet!  I’m 42, and this means that I’m the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe and Everything…according to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Sounds about right.

The last couple of days I’ve been busy booking airfare to England, with a three-day stopover in Iceland, via Iceland Air.  I’ve also booked my accommodations in Iceland and England, and I’ll be posting about that soon.

Today, though, is all about my birthday.  In accordance with my new custom of doing/learning something new on my birthday, today I did TWO new things!

Last year, I learned to hand spin wool, using a drop spindle.  The yard turned out fairly well, though I still need lots and lots more practice.  I did find out that I really do enjoy it, though, so I bought some more wool roving, and plan to branch out to alpaca and angora rabbit fleece soon.  Here is a picture of my hand spun yarn:

Today, for one of my new things, I dyed it using the spice turmeric.  It makes an easy dye because you don’t need anything special like a mordant – just the spice and some water.  It makes a lovely yellow/gold shade.

This is the yarn, still wet.  I expect it will lighten to more of a yellow once it’s dry.

This is not enough yarn to actually make anything with, so my plans are to begin knitting a scarf.  As I spin and dye more yarn, I’ll keep adding to it, until it’s finished.  It might be an interesting yardstick of my spinning prowess, to see how much I improve from the beginning of the scarf to the end!  I do hope I don’t get so good I can’t spin chunky, nubby yarn, as some hand spinners say can happen.  I prefer really nubby yarn for knitting.  It’s so much more fun to work with.

The other new thing I did was try Jamberry nails.

They were fairly simply to apply, and by the last couple of fingers I’d started to figure out a good technique.  They are certainly less messy and smelly than polish!  It remains to be seen if they actually last two weeks or longer.  I’m one of those girls who uses her nails like tools, so with polish I’m lucky to get a single day without chips.  And if the weather is as nice tomorrow as they are promising, I’ll be outside gardening and building fences and quail coops.

Dexter is 6 months old, and still adorable.  He’s finally getting the point about housebreaking, and is learning other manners as well…although if he disagrees with the importance of a command, he likes to calmly argue his point, by using his words.  He doesn’t bark hardly at all, but he does like to vocalize!

The Ducklings Are Coming!

I just placed the order for my ducklings!  Fortunately, my local feed store (Valley Farm Center) allows you to order sexed ducks for a small added fee.  I’m going for three fawn and white Indian Runner females.

ducksBesides being incredibly cute and funny to watch, Indian Runners are my favorite ducks to free-range in the garden.  Because they are so skinny and upright, they don’t squash plants the way other breeds do, and they are top of the line foragers for slugs.  They also lay more than 200 eggs a year, each.  When I had ducks before, I never really ate the eggs, because they were almost entirely free-range, and they hid their nests.  By the time I figured out where they were laying, the nests were filled with dozens of incredibly dirty eggs.  Not exactly appetizing!  This time, they will be penned at night and in the morning, so according to the experts, they should lay before they are released out into the garden.  Duck eggs are supposedly better to bake with, and better tasting than chicken eggs.  I look forward to finding out for myself whether this is true.  My ducklings will be arriving on April 17th.  So now I have a deadline to finish the coop!

The white male quail, Peabody, was thisclose to being culled…but then I took pity on him – again – and decided to give him one final chance to get his act together.  I got to thinking that part of his problem with his females is that he might just be a one-girl boy.  When he had three females in with him, he picked on one of the girls.  When he was just with Mama quail, they were getting along great, until she died.

So I gave him just one female, and so far, so good.  He’s thrilled to have her, and is doing the adorable quail courting dance for her.  I won’t be breeding from him, though – nor will I be raising any more Texas A&M quail.  They seem to be much more aggressive and difficult in a colony.  The calmest and sweetest ones I have are the Golden Italians.  When I eventually get down to just one variety, that’s the one I’ll be sticking with.

Speaking of the quail, some friends and I will be doing a program on keeping quail, chickens, and ducks in your backyard.  If you’re in the area, it will be at the Mount Vernon City Library on February 9th.  I think at 6:30pm.  I’ll be bringing in some actual live quail…probably Loki and a couple of his girls.

Grow a Little Fruit Tree

So normally I save up my favorite books for a blog post at the end of the year.  I’m breaking that tradition in order to tell you about this fantastic book I just finished.

It’s brilliant, people.  If you’ve ever had an interest in growing fruit trees – lots of fruit trees – in your yard, but never thought you had enough room, this is the book you need.

book33I pre-ordered this on a whim, and it was delivered to my kindle last night, around bedtime.  I started reading it…and let’s just say I was late getting to bed.  I couldn’t put it down.

Everything you ever learned about growing and pruning fruit trees is wrong – and everything she says makes so much sense.

Totally going to get a peach tree this year…and a cherry…and a plum…oh yeah.  I love my espaliered pears and apples, but stone fruit don’t work well as espaliered trees (unless you fan-shape them, which I don’t care for, AND I’m running out of good espalier garden spots.)  I’m so excited to give this a try!

Prep for the Duck Coop and EGYPT

In the back part of our yard, there sat a shed.  Not a nice, dry, unrotten shed, filled with useful items and a fresh pine scent – no, this was a horrible shed, and this means it was not only not a hobbit hole, but also that it needed to come down.

Finally (as it was filled with my brother’s junk) I persuaded him to empty it, and that began the Great Demolition.

Dexter helped.

At least, until he began to help too much and too vigorously, and then he had to go take a forced nap while we finished the job.

But when it was down, we had a lovely, cleared area, just right to build a hobbit hole…er…duck coop.

It will be nice, for once, to have the new critter’s living quarters entirely built before the critter arrives.  Lots of construction is going to be happening around here, folks.  Duck coop, newest (and final) quail coop, and a greenhouse.

In other news, I finally and officially booked my Egyptian tour!  It still could not happen, because at least five more people need to sign up for this particular tour or the company might cancel it, and of course if Dangerous Things start happening in Egypt again, I might cancel on my own.  If that happens, I’ll revert to Plan B: All Iceland and England.  Cross your fingers, folks, and if you’ve ever wanted to go to Egypt, here’s your chance…I know of a perfectly lovely tour just waiting for a few more volunteers!  :)

I’m using Voyages Jules Verne.  Ten days in Egypt, including a seven day Nile cruise.    It’s so odd to think that on September 25th, I’ll be standing in Cairo!

 

Best Books of 2014

I read 155 books this year – although I joined Kindle Unlimited, which put me in a feeding frenzy of very short and very niche books, most of which I didn’t bother listing or rating unless they particularly struck me.  Here, however, is the roundup of my very favorites, counting down to the Book of the Year.

#12: Yes, You Can! And Freeze and Dry It, Too: The Modern Step-by-Step Guide to Preserving Food by Daniel Gasteiger

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After checking out a ton of books on canning from the library, this one quickly became my go-to reference. I bought a copy immediately.

#11: Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb

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So good.  One of the best that Hobb has ever written.

#10:  Traveling With Your Octopus, by Brian Kesinger

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I love Brian Kesinger; not only is a supremely talented artist, he is an all-around wonderful guy.  When I received my autographed copy, I couldn’t resist posting a picture and comment on his facebook:

With tremendous delight, I received my copy of “Traveling With Your Octopus” today. My own cephalopod, Oswin, is particularly anxious to pick up some tips for our own upcoming travels together. I believe he will be expecially intrigued (or perhaps concerned?) by the page on Egypt, as that is one of our destinations! Perhaps I should not allow him to read it at bedtime?

He confirmed, as expected, that is not wise to upset cephalopods at bedtime!

#9: Urban Farm Handbook, by Annette Cottrell

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Packed with helpful information specific to my part of the US.  Tons and tons of photographs.

#8: The Weekend Homesteader, by Anna Hess

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Really enjoyed this book. Great tone, and the projects were nearly all things I am either trying to do, or at least thinking about doing. Her section on growing mushrooms made me realize I absolutely need to add that one to the list!

#7: Leave Me Alone: The Introvert’s Guide to Travel, by Wya Soquiet

book1

Okay, this was fabulous. Way, way too short (it’s more of an essay than a book) but YES. This is my kind of travel book.Here’s the line that hooked me:

“Ahhh…travel. It’s an opportunity to expand your horizons, to see beautiful locals, to explore exotic cultures. You WILL make new friends! You WILL have encounters with the locals – right in their natural habitat! With any luck, you may even get invited home to dinner.

“If that last sentence makes you break out in hives, this guide might be for you.”

Hee. Finally an antidote to all those solo travel guides that assume everyone is an extrovert and WANTS to hang out with strangers every chance they get! Finally a guide that understands we introverts travel too…but we’re looking for a different kind of experience!

Only a few actual tips, but it’s hilarious, and so true.

#6: The Long Haul, by Jeff Kinney

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This is probably the best one since the first. Twice, I had to stop reading, I was laughing so hard.

#5: The Winter People, by Jennifer McMahon

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A beautifully written, spine-tingling tale. Definitely will be seeking out more books by this author!

#4: The Screaming Staircase, by Jonathan Stroud

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I honestly can’t believe this book is packaged as a middle school novel. It must be because publishers stupidly believe that people only want to read books about people their own age. Sure, the protagonists in this book are children, but the writing, language, plot, and world-building are AT LEAST on the level of a YA novel, and I would personally put on an adult level. It’s fantastic. Atmospheric, creepy, and genuinely frightening, and set in a brilliantly fascinating world. I can’t wait for the next one!

#3: Mrs Queen Takes the Train, by William Kuhn

book11So much fun. Kuhn clearly understands the royal family. He includes so many small, wonderful details, and really has a grasp on how The Queen might feel.

The only part I did not like was the “love affair” between Rebecca and Rajiv. The author seems to have no idea at all how to convincingly write chemistry between men and women. Every word Rajiv says to Rebecca is either creepy, icky, or awkward…and it makes zero sense that she would respond at all positively. The sections with the two of them were just…bad. I kept thinking she’d whack him over the head and escape, because any sensible real-life girl would surely come to the conclusion that he’s not at all dating material, and quite possibly a serial killer.

That said, the rest was quite brilliantly wonderful, and I’d love to see more fiction from this author. Just not love stories.

#2: Blue Lily, Lily Blue, by Maggie Steifvater

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I could rave on and on about Maggie Stiefvater’s grasp of language and style for twenty pages. Her writing is just so beautiful that I find myself re-reading little bits continually. She just wraps her world around me and makes me feel everything. If I had to name just four modern masters of fantasy, Stiefvater would be one of them. I love this series so much that I even though I was eagerly counting down the days until Blue Lily’s release, I couldn’t make myself start reading it for several weeks after it came out. It just sat on my kindle, giving me little tingles of anticipation every time I saw it in my library. You can never repeat that first experience of reading a brilliant book for the first time, and I really didn’t want that first read to ever be over.

And finally, my favorite book I read in 2014!

Peggy, by Anna Walker

book12A children’s picture book, gorgeously illustrated and so cute and funny. Clearly the author knows her chickens, because Peggy is a very “chickeny” chicken. If a chicken could take a train to the city, this is exactly how she’d behave!  I love every inch of the illustrations, and every word is perfect. 

Death of a Quail

Yesterday, one of the quail died.  It was first one that I ever hatched, the female who I originally named Hatchepsut, but who later became known as Mama after she became broody and raised a clutch of babies for me.

She didn’t appear to be sick; I just went out and found her dead in the pen.  I looked her over, and couldn’t find any signs of trauma or injury either, so I’m suspecting perhaps the online experts are right that the average life expectancy of a quail is 2-3 years.  Mama would have been three, this Spring.  I have four other quail the same age, so I’m keeping a closer eye on them, but so far everything seems normal.

The difficult thing is that now I have a solitary male again, my white quail, Peabody.  He’s a problem.  Really, he’s always been a problem.  I had to take out his other females because he was being mean to them; Mama was the only female he got along with.  I was hoping he’d die first, and then I could have just shifted her to one of the other male’s cages.  I can’t put two males together.

So right now, he’s by himself, and not very happy about it.  I’d consider hatching him out some more females in the Spring, but with his past tendecies of being mean to girls, I really don’t want to keep him in my colonies.  Plus, I’d never really intended to have three separate colonies of quail, and would love to downsize a little bit.  Sigh.  I may just have to cull him, which makes me sad because because he is such a little personality.

Dreaming of Green

It’s always right after Christmas that I start hungering to be out in my garden.  The seed and livestock catalogs start arriving, and I find myself browsing Pinterest and placing seed orders.

Yesterday, I ordered the second one-year-old pear tree I’m going to train as an espalier.  The one I planted last year is doing splendidly.  This one is a variety called “Seckel”, and the fruit are tiny, tiny little pears with a sweet flavor.  So sweet, they are often called “sugar pears”.

pear_seckel2I have also tracked down a local supplier of honeybees, and ordered a replacement package and queen for this Spring.  At least I’ll be able to ensure that the queen is alive and all is well with the bees before I take them home, so hopefully they will survive this time around.  I loved having the bees around last summer.

Two of the major projects this Spring will be building a greenhouse and a duck coop.  I will be getting three little Indian Runner ducklings.  I’m really looking forward to the arrival of the ducks, because if there is anything cuter than ducklings, I can’t think what it might be.

ducklings

The greenhouse was originally going to be a really small one, just barely large enough to stand inside of, but I’ve reshuffled some plans, and found a location where I can have a larger one.  Like this, sort of:
greenhouseI’m hoping to keep one of the quail colonies inside it year round, if I can get the temperature regulated enough to not to cook them during the summer.  Having birds in the greenhouse will help control aphids and other pests.

The Chickens are helping with the pre-gardening.  I released them out into the garden yesterday for a little judicious slug-egg hunting, and they took to the job with great zeal.

Besides dreaming of gardening, I’m also seriously into holiday planning.  I just bought this gorgeous handmade hemp hat for wearing in Egypt.  I’d been looking for a durable, packable, awesome hat for months now, and as soon as I saw this one, I knew it was the one.

travelhat

Dexter is about 5 months old now, and completely wonderful…except when he’s being completely naughty.  He’s so gorgeous.  I love him to bits.

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