Garden Projects, plus a Poisoned Corgi

Wow.  It feels like forever since I’ve posted, but we’ve been super busy here.  No, the duck coop still isn’t finished…but I did get the upper part (and inner nest box area) put together and ready for doors, roof, and foundation.  The green ripple roof section is a piece we bought as a trial to see if we wanted to use it for the roof.  We will.  I think a green roof will be quite pretty…and provide shade protection of the ducks.

Still a considerable bit to do, yet, but at least there’s progress!

Our new paved pathway now has solar lights, and it’s so pretty at night.  Love the patterns they make on the stone.

I want to get some of the solar fairy lights to string over the trellis arch.

The circle garden quail coop has a paved “patio” as well, and I spray-painted a couple of cheap plastic pots blue and planted lavender in them.  Blue is becoming our garden accent color.

Peabody the quail enjoys having a patio.  He spends a lot of time hanging out on his log (like he is here) and watching the goings-on in the yard.  If I walk over, he starts growling and chuffing at me.  It’s pretty cute, even though he’s trying to be Intimidating and Fierce.

I took a video of the Cinna and Martha in their new coop.  This is the rotating coop, that will be alternating over raised beds, so I can grow veggies in one while the quail are fertilizing and tilling the other.  The standard quail seem to be the best at this job.  The others I have (Italians and Blondes) don’t seem to be much into digging holes and turning the soil – except for the occasional dust bath hole.  The standard girls dig the most amazing deep holes.  The one in this video is actually one of the smaller ones I’ve seen.

The front yard vegetable garden FINALLY has a gate.

It will look gorgeous later this year, when I have squash/beans growing up the trellis.  It’s nice to have it fenced off from the rest of the yard, because Dexter is not the most helpful gardener.  Our other big project was fencing in the entire rest of the front yard, so Dexter can have a play yard.

We used t-posts and livestock wire, and it’s amazing how invisible it is, when there’s plants up against it.  One project for a later time, will be filling in plants into the bare spots.  Edibles, I think, but shrubs and larger plants that can take the roughhousing of a corgi.  I might put espaliered trees against the fence on the left.  It looks out onto a lovely view of the neighbors many, many vehicles, and we’d love to hide that behind something green.

Mom spray-painted the white tops of the t-posts black to match the fence, although we left the white sides that faced the driveway.  The wire is a little too invisible, and we don’t want anyone accidentally driving into it.

I have a bunch of kale, cabbage, peas, and beets directly planted into the garden now.  Everything is so gorgeous.  I’ve been hungering for the sight of green growing things all winter!

I’ve also found a cool idea on Pinterest that I’ve started this year…using plastic storage tubs as portable coldframes.  It’s been working perfectly.

Finally, we come to Dexter.  We took him in for his neutering appointment, and the bloodwork they do beforehand showed elevated liver enzymes.  The vet said we’d have to hold off on the surgery, until we checked to see if anything was going on with his liver, so instead of becoming less nuts, Dexter had another test, then was sent home to wait for results.

While we were waiting to hear, we did a little research/remembering on our own, and discovered the culprit: poisoning by lawn chemicals.  There is an abandoned field near our house, where we let Dexter run and play.  Someone keeps it mowed, and apparently they also apply copper sulfate to the grass.  One time when he came back, he smelled really strongly of copper, but we didn’t put two and two together until after his blood test.  The symptoms of copper sulfate poisoning/copper overdose match his blood test results and other symptoms perfectly.

When the vet called with the results of the other test (which were fine) we ran our theory past him, and he agreed that was almost certainly the culprit.  So we have to wait three weeks for the copper to leave his liver, and then we can go ahead with his neutering.

This makes me so angry.  Why are we still pouring poisonous chemicals onto our lawns and into our gardens?  And this was an abandoned field, for pete’s sake!  Right behind it is a wetlands area – of course all that copper sulfate is going straight into the water, and who knows what else it is poisoning?  A friend told me a story of a friend of hers whose dog died because it ate a few blades of grass outside his own apartment.  This is completely insane.

In happier Dexter news, we gave him his first bath.  He was very good, but his favorite part was afterward, when he got to run through the house like a soaked tasmanian devil – and play with the hair dryer.  He loves the hair dryer.  Every time I wash my hair, he stands behind me when I dry it, just hoping I’ll turn the blower on him a few times!

Our gorgeous sunny weather has turned back into rain, so I didn’t work on the duck coop today.  Instead, I worked on a few crafty projects for the garden (I’ll share those in my next post) and hoed up one section of the chicken run/garden to plant a chicken-friendly pasture mix.  It was really pleasant to be out there, hoeing in the drizzle!  Spring rain has such a vibrancy to it; I love the feel of being out in it.  It’s supposed to rain tomorrow too – and my plan is to work on the rain barrels.  I want to install three this year: one for the garden roof quail coop, and two for the chicken coop.  I’m looking forward to it.  It’s something I haven’t done before, and that’s always fun!

What We Did When We Should be Building a Duck Coop

In the last post, I talked about how I finally convinced mom to let me convert a large section of the back yard lawn into paver stones and garden beds.

Reader, except for a few minor things like cleanup and adding a proper border of stone around the new mini lawns, it’s done.

Here’s the week in pictures:

And finally – just today – Mom put in the last stone on the pathway!

I’m really chuffed with how great it looks!  No more slip n’ slide through the mud!

We designed the pathway to turn off into a little mini patio for the Display Quail Coop.  I think I’ll put a few pots of herbs here.

We still need to get more stones to border the lawn…

…and also, that wood border is getting rotten, and we’ll be ripping it out and either just sloping the dirt down into the new bed, or putting in a border of stone to keep the two-level look.

There’s another tiny little circle lawn in the shady/wildflower area. We’re checking into options for replacing the grass with something green that doesn’t require cutting.

I can’t wait to start planting in the new garden beds, but that will have to wait for a few months.  Right now, there’s just a thin layer of dirt over newspaper and cardboard to kill the grass underneath.  Eventually, it will be a combination of herbs, easy perpetual vegetables and fruits, along with a few areas for annual veggies.

In quail news, Loki and his chosen girl have made a beautiful nest, and are laying eggs.

They are so cute.  Loki accompanies her to the nest, and sits beside her, grooming her feathers while she lays an egg.  Then she leaves, and he sits on the eggs for a bit, touching them with his beak, talking to them, and guarding them.  They are showing so much joint interest in their eggs that I’m hoping I have another female that will choose to go broody and raise a clutch for me.  But we’ll have to see. Coturnix quail are infamous for not raising their own young, but I’ve been lucky before.  Fingers crossed!

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!

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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

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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. 

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