This is what a hot shower looks like at our house right now. The important thing to note is that it is actually hot. With steam and everything.
Thank you, Jesus.
“Quack, quack, quack, quack, quack…QUACK, QUACK, QUACK!”
There’s something about waking to the sounds of a hysterical duck that just says, “Today’s going to be that kind of day.”
Our remaining two ducks live on the pond not far from the house. Often, they waddle their way down to the house to (unproductively) beg for grain or to sift through the mud puddles caused by laundry day for bugs. A few days ago, I found them hanging out in the chicken coop for which they received a stern talking to and were promptly chased home. So while the ducks don’t live around our house, per se, it is not uncommon to see them around here. It is, however, unusual to hear them outside making a ridiculous racket before the sun has fully risen.
“Something’s not right,” I sat straight up in bed, apparently channeling the nurse from the children’s book Madeline. Running to the window, I looked out to see exactly what I had suspected. Our dog had the male duck by the neck and was ferociously “playing” with it. Thank God our female Pekin is the loudest duck on the face of the earth because her buddy was mere moments away from chew-toy death.
Fortunately, our German Shepherd puppy does respond quickly to commands, but it didn’t stop me from wanting to trade her in for a llama. Especially when, later that day, she went after the ducks again…and then the chickens. About a week later, the same chew-toy duck went to chew-toy heaven. Now, I didn’t see our dog actually kill the duck, but I did find her tearing its poor little body up. The evidence is certainly not in her favor.
Despite how much I insist upon it after getting virtually no sleep due to her incessant barking, I don’t hate our dog or dogs in general. I just hate having a dog…anywhere on our property. I know that makes me the odd one out in virtually any crowd. I live on a continent full of dog adoring folk, and I respect that. I’m just not one of them. Dogs are fascinating, but so are lions. I still don’t see the logic in keeping one.
As a child, we didn’t have a dog. We had cats, hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs, fish, one evil mouse, but no dogs. To my understanding, dogs were like Astro from The Jetsons (which was arguably the best cartoon from my childhood). Well, as it turns out, Astro may have been a poor representation of what dogs are actually like. My dog has yet to carefully bring me the newspaper. She does, however, bring me beer cans that someone oh-so-sweetly tossed along our road or rotting carcasses that you smell long before you see.
I just don’t get it. As an almost homesteader, it seems required to keep a dog, but for what? I can’t stand the feeling of dog fur, thus I do not find petting a dog, or any animal, therapeutic. I prefer the company of humans to animals, which I would argue is biologically correct. Our dog is a nightmare with the other animals because, well, she’s a dog and she’s genetically programmed to eat small goats, chicken, and ducks. She does bark at raccoons, cats, deer, and armadillos, but she also barks with the same ferocity at floating seeds in the air. And she wards off friends, but is apparently old pals with the creepy guy who decided to shoot intravenous drugs right on the other side of our fence. (Yah, that actually happened.) So she’s hardly a reliable alarm system.
Oh, you know what our dog is excellent at? Licking chicken droppings off the porch. Of course, with that in mind, I have a hard time not hyperventilating when her mouth gets within five feet of my children.
I know she’s still a puppy, but our last dog was no better. But as farms just don’t seem to be complete without a dog, I’m sure I must be missing something. It just doesn’t stand to reason that all the dog owners in America are wrong and I just happen to be the one person who sees the madness in encouraging the wolf’s close relative to sleep on my porch. Surely there is a dog out there that is actually an invaluable asset to their farm? Does anyone have any advice?
Expanding the Flock
We need more chickens. Of course, I always think we “need” more chickens. But this time we actually do need more chickens. And not just any chickens – meat chickens.
One of our goals for this year is to catch or raise as much of our meat as possible. So far, we haven’t done well. With moving both the house and the business, we’ve been busy. Very, very busy. But chick season is just around the corner.
Generally, when people buy meat chickens, they buy Cornish Rocks. They’re a cross between Dark Cornish chickens and Plymouth Rocks, a carefully selected hybridization. Over time, breeders have developed a bird that grows rapidly with a particular focus on breast meat. That seems like a good thing until you look deeper and discover that due to their rapid growth they’re also prone to fluid accumulation in body cavities and/or leg weakness. They can grow so quickly that their legs can’t keep up and before long they are literally unable to move. Hmm…this just doesn’t sound very delicious, nor particularly ethical.
So I’ve been looking for an alternative. Prompted by a more in depth post I read on the subject, I began looking through the dual purpose breeds, the chickens that are recommended for both meat and eggs. I wanted a large bird worth the effort of butchering. Last year, we butchered six roosters that were sent with our small order of Silkies essentially as heating packs. We needed to get rid of them because, umm…six extra roosters? No bueno. Imagine crowing literally every 20 seconds…starting at 4 AM. Not to mention the additional cost in feeding the constant noisemakers. They were Production Reds, I believe, and it was a LOT of work for not a lot of meat. (Mental note to self: build a chicken plucker.)
After examining the potential weight of the locally available breeds, I have settled on Buff Orpingtons.
These fine feathered things get to be about 10 lbs for males, 8lbs for females. Only a little behind the weight of Cornish Rocks, they are nearly double the size of some of the other dual purpose chickens. Buff Orpingtons grow at a slower rate than the Cornish Rocks, but that is absolutely fine for me. As I don’t have a freezer, suddenly having to store, say, thirty butchered chickens would be a big problem for me. Our meat chickens can just wander around, pecking and scratching, until we…have need of one. Our meat is going to be really fresh.
Another point that makes these chickens the ideal breed for us is that they not only great egg layers, but they are also the most broody of the standard breeds. Theoretically, these birds could be regularly reproducing, eliminating the need to buy more chickens every year. That sounds both economical and sustainable to me.
So, Buff Orpingtons. I’m excited. If it doesn’t work out the way I expect, that’s okay. I’m always happy to try out a new chicken breed. We can always use more layers. Plus, as far as meat goes, we are, after all, getting pigs next week…(insert squeal of excitement here)
Meanwhile, In the Greenhouse…
Hello, pak choy. And argula, radishes, lettuce, and broccoli. And fire ants?!? Ack. I guess if you create summer, you can’t pick and choose which parts of summer you get.
If you don’t have fire ants where you live, count your blessings. If you do have them, you know what I’m talking about. They are horrendous. I can tell which season we’re in simply by counting how many bites I have around my ankles. (None right now, so we’re currently in winter.)
There’s a reason fire ants are taking over North America. They’re nearly impossible to kill. I have tried everything get rid of the little…pests. Cornmeal, diatomaceous earth, hot water, drowning, orange oil, cinnamon, fire ant specific insecticide…You know what’s, hands down, the most effective? Gasoline. But as gratifying as that may be, it’s not exactly going to pass for an organic gardening practice.
The only, only limited success I’ve had with fire ant removal is taking the infested plant away from the others and watering it like a madwoman. It doesn’t kill them, but it does encourage them to relocate. So far, that seems to be working well enough in the radish starts. But fire ants are relentless and we have a few months before our last chance of frost. In other words, the battle is won, but the war rages on!
If you happen to have any fire ant tips, I’d love to hear them!
It may not look like much from the outside. I can only imagine what they neighbors are saying to themselves. “What are those crazy, redneck neighbors of ours up to now?” It’s not THE greenhouse, because everything is getting relocated elsewhere on the property before long. But my incredible husband and my very sweet sons worked hard and it’s finished.
Welcome to my new happy place.
Oh my goodness, this greenhouse makes me a little weak in the knees every time I enter it. It is my winter gardening mecca, the hallowed destination to which I must make at least one daily pilgrammage. Nothing but peace and the sweet smell of dirt in here.
When I proposed the idea of building a greenhouse, Caleb, my ever-encouraging, ridiculously capable husband, asked me what I had in mind. Fast, free, and functional was my response. Immediately, I could see the wheels in his beautiful head turning.
In the past year, he had made a deal with a nearby plant manufacturing railway cars. They needed somewhere to unload all of their shipping “waste”. Before long, all of their crates and pallets were being dropped at his shop. Truck after truck, they delivered the free lumber, crates made of 2x4s and 2x8s, pallets of all sizes, wood with huge, industrial bolts through it. It’s awesome. We plan on building out a lot of the interior of our house with it.
For the greenhouse, Caleb grabbed three of longer pallets and leaned them up again the storage container we’ve been using as a garage/feed shed.
In about 20 minutes, he and the boys had the frame secured together. It took another 30 minutes or so to wrap it in 6 mil plastic (not taking into account the 24 hour delay between the two steps).
Caleb opted to just use a couple of 2x4s nailed to the pallets underneath instead of, say, stapling the plastic down (which was my idea…because I recently got a new Dewalt staple gun…and it’s so much fun). This created fewer holes and thus fewer potential places at which to tear.
At the beginning of the project, we intended to put chicken wire around the base to keep out the (obvious) chickens and the (less obvious) dog. When it was time to finished off the bottom, we stepped back and realized that dirt would be faster, cheaper, easier and possibly more effective. So Caleb got into his skid-steer loader (which takes absolutely no convincing), and piled dirt all along the bottom of the plastic. He suggested that I could smooth it out to make it look more presentable, but I’ve been too preoccupied playing with dirt inside the greenhouse. Plus, I figure the chickens will spread it out before long.
And now, all that’s left is to plant and revel in all things that grow.
My ever-willing garden helpers assisted me in starting beets, carrots, onions, argula, lettuce, salad mix, lemon balm, thyme, parsley, basil, dill, radishes, pak choy, turnips, broccoli, cilantro, cumin, and my favorite, cape gooseberries.
Today, we plant rhubarb seeds.
Oh, do you want to see how I store my seeds? I use an old army surplus ammunition can that my husband gave me.
It’s water tight and so easy to organize. Admittedly, it’s not very full right now, but that’s just because I haven’t received my seed order yet. (Insert maniacal laughter here.)
The only finishing touch that remains to be done in the greenhouse is the installatio of a piece of vinyl guttering for growing strawberries. (My only explanation for that one is Pinterest.)
All in all, I am over the moon. My citrus trees finally have somewhere warm to snuggle up during this cold, and I have a place to put on Jack Johnson and play in the dirt. Life is good.
You would think that hatchings would have lost their magic for me by now. I mean, we only have a hatch day at least every other month or so. But they haven’t. Every time an incubation period is coming to an end, I can’t help but get excited. It’s like Christmas, only you never know on exactly which day it will fall. And of course, like the best laid holidays plans, hatchings have the same potential to go awry.
As I mentioned previously, we had two Silkie hens go broody around Christmas when the weather was warm and eggs were forgotten about.
Cold came in the following week, and as I suspected, the black hen, Mama, decided it was too cold to hatch. However, the eggs were still often being sat on as other hens would lay in the nest. Occasionally, I would find Mama in her nest. I have no idea what those girls were thinking. At any rate, I continued to remove the new eggs from all the nest daily during feeding time.
The first chick hatched in Marshmallow’s nest on Thursday. As it had yet to absorb all of the yolk, it was clearly early and not strong enough to survive. It died before I found it.
The second chick hatched Friday. It was healthy and seemed to be doing well, snuggled up under Marshmallow.
Third chick? Hatched and died during the night. From what I observed, Marshmallow rejected it and it froze. Nice work, Marshmallow.
The following day, I found another egg pipped and saw a little beak poking through, cheeping away.
Three hours later, that fuzzy little black thing seemed to be settling in just fine under its mama.
Come nightfall, I closed up the coop as usual and checked to make sure the two living chicks weren’t lost somewhere inside. All was well.
But wouldn’t you know, this morning, I found the black chick dead. It seemed to have been wandering around, looking for someone to keep it warm. It appears Marshmallow rejected it as well. The peculiar thing is that all of the chicks which died were black from head to toe. If I had to guess, I would say that Marshmallow refused to take care of them because she thought they weren’t hers since they didn’t share a resemblance.
How useful it would be if my hen could understand genetics. As we have a black roosters, it comes as no surprise that we’d get black baby chicks.
Quickly putting aside the disappointment of losing another chick, I searched for the last little one. Marshmallow was up, eating, and the chick was wandering around, bewildered. Hmm…it’s not abnormal for a chick to get lost, but Marshmallow didn’t seem to be responding to its cries. I had seen this before. Marshmallow is excellent about sitting, but leaves something to be desired when it comes to raising her babies.
The chick was making the, “Cheep, cheep, cheep, CHEEP!”, the crescendoing cry that basically means, “Help! I’m cold and alone!” I carefully picked it up and tried to warm it. No good. My hands were like ice. Just then, Marshmallow finished her frantic scurry for sustenance and settled back onto her nest. Ah. It made sense. Her body was still in sitting mode.
Hens are programmed to get off their eggs after approximately 36 hours from the first hatch, assuming she has live chicks to care for. Marshmallow doesn’t seem to have been programmed properly. As a result, one of the other mothers usually end up taking care of her chicks. Or I do.
After failing to convince Marshmallow to care for the last chick, I brought it in the house to warm up by the heater. Maya and Mary were more than happy to sing to it. Before long, its cheeping turned into trilling, which turned into silence. It was finally resting comfortably, a good sign. Clearly, it had not been left alone long enough to suffer terribly.
I have cared for abandoned chicks countless times, but a mother hen is always preferable. Not only do the chicks learn better survival instincts, but the beneficial gut flora inherited from a real chicken mother promotes stronger, healthier chicks. Mama was sitting again today. As I have very little hope that her eggs will hatch, I put the chick under her. Her bizarre cross between cooing and purring quickly informed me that she happily accepted the transplant. Success.
Within the hour, Mama was up showing the chick how to search for food. And wouldn’t you know, Marshmallow got jealous and decided that maybe she would go take care of her baby after all.
So Mama went to sit on Marshmallow’s eggs instead.
For the love, ladies, you are ridiculous. Oh well. All’s well that ends well…enough.
A Quick Freeze
At least once a year in Texas, we get a good ice storm. We may not get snow, but we’ll certainly see ice. Having spent the first nineteen years of my life in a place where winter lasts for eight months, snow and ice are not as romanticized for me as it is for the other Texas-born members of my family. Still, even I must admit it can be rather pretty.
We’ve been here on our land for more than a month. It’s been amazing to meet the same blades of grass, the same trees under different lighting and seasons. You know how in movies one of the kind of scrubby or nerdy characters will get all dolled up and make a grand, though bashful entrance? Today has kind of been like that.
My four year old, Maya, kept asking me if Elsa (from Frozen) was real. The boys proclaimed it to be a “winter wonderland” outside.
Fortunately, all the animals seem to be doing well despite the wet and cold. The sitting hens are still on their eggs.
Yep, that’s it. Just thought you might like a quick glimpse from our front door. 🙂
So You Think You Can Cook
I can cook. I mean, I’m not about to win Top Chef or anything, but I know my way around the kitchen. Part of my identity is tied to cooking. I relish the smile on a friend’s face when you bring them a fresh baked treat. I take great pride in putting a nutritious meal on the dinner table that prompts comments from my 4 year old like, “You’re the best cooker person ever.” One of my aunts even calls me Betty Crocker. Now, whether or not she means it as a compliment, I can’t say. But I enjoy the nickname all the same.
Out here, without electricity or a conventional range, my cooking is mediocre. On a good day. There have been more failed meals in the past month than I can count. Common adjectives to describe my best efforts have included mushy, undercooked, burnt, or just “off”. Many dinners have ended up in the dog’s bowl, and on occasion even the dog has been reluctant to eat it.
For someone who once had dreams of working as a chef in a high end restaurant, this has been nearly soul-crushing. If I can’t even put something
mouth-watering edible on the table for my family, who am I exactly?
But my failure, though highly unpleasant, has been beneficial in other ways. It has reminded me to be humble, that there will always be someone who is more informed on absolutely any subject than I am. It has reminded to be patient, that something I deem to be a simple task could be very challenging for another person just starting out. It has forced me to muster up every bit of perseverance I have to continue to fight what seems to be a losing battle. It has forced me to try, even when success is near impossible. Because even if I don’t succeed, I will certainly learn. And as Henry Ford once said, “Success is 99% failure.”
Sigh. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go Sharpie that on the back of my hands before I go make yet another attempt dinner.
Winter solstice has finally passed. Each and every day is just a little longer than the last. And like clockwork, I feel that gardening itch coming on…
My mother is the best gardener in the world. It’s true. You know that scene in Ferngully where the fairy thing makes a seed sprout in her hands with her mind powers? Or something? Yah, that’s my mum. She’s amazing. Not only did she raise my two sisters and I by herself, she also is a world class gardener, seamstress, baker, and sweet Moses, does she ever make a mean bacon sandwich. Of course, she doesn’t think all of these things about herself, but they’re true.
I spent many summers in her garden, which, in my memory, was a botanical wonderland. To this day, the aroma of healthy, sweet-smelling dirt and tomato plants immediately make me think of my beautiful mother. As in most everything, she tried to include us in what she was doing, allowing us to “help”, and teaching us in so gentle a way that I often didn’t even realize I was learning. It helped that she grew a lot of edibles and never seemed to mind when very little of it ever actually made it to the table before it ended up in our mouths.
While I didn’t necessarily inherit my mother’s remarkable green thumb, she did pass on her love for all things that grow. As I’ve gotten older, I kill fewer and fewer plants. I’ve actually resurrected some in the more recent years. And of course, every spring, I feel the insatiable desire to put something in the ground, to nuture it, to watch it grow.
Our fall garden was a miserable failure. Initially, it showed great promise, which of course lured in the rabbits, the armadillos, the deer, and the feral hogs.
In fact, the only plant that survived was the garlic that I anxiously await harvesting in the spring.
A (really) good garden fence is on the to do list.
But the weather is meant to turn really cold this week (cold, of course, being a relative term), which is customary for this time of year in Texas. So garden fencing will get put on the back burner while we install the wood burning stove. (See what I did there? No? Never mind.)
Frost or no frost, there are a few things I mean to do in the next week. First of all, there’s garden planning to be done which will involve pouring over this beautiful catalogue from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds and putting together an order.
Then I have these Glaskin Perpetual rhubarb seeds that need to be planted. And these peach pits, saved from the most mouth-watering white peaches I’ve ever tasted, are destined for pots. I have no idea which particular variety they are. But apparently peaches are a fairly sure bet here in Texas, so I’m planting first and asking questions later. (The pits were stratified for several months while we still had refrigeration.)
Of course, I may have to wait a few days until after our last frost date before doing any serious planting. I may have to wait 92 days, one hour and 5 minutes. But, you know, who’s counting?