Friday, February 29, 2008

Turkeys are Back

First they were nosing about the duck feed by the garage, then they wandered up under the bird feeder. I've seen these 3 around on and off the past few weeks. We used to have a hen party of 10 cruising up and down our driveway but I haven't seen them in months. After these 3 ran off, I took Luna and Rocket on their walk through the woods and she she turned the corner of Bambi Highway I heard all kinds of squawking then at least 12 turkeys were flying in the air over head. I could hear many more scattering through the woods. There had to be at least 20 birds if not more. When we moved here nearly 8 years ago there was a huge flock of 100-150. They wintered in the hilly woods but dispersed after that winter probably because they didn't like Rocket being in the area. Perhaps they're coming back? Though 20 is a far cry from 150.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

A Beautiful, Sunny Day

Simply delightful. The temperature reached 40f and the dogs and I enjoyed a nice walk through the hilly woods, those are the woods above the swamp where oaks and maples and poplars take over from the cedar, spruce and tag alders. We haven't been up there much as it's closer to the houses in town, so there wasn't a nicely compacted trail through the snow. Consequently there was a lot of high stepping by the 3 of us to make our way through. Very tiring but the dogs had a great time.

Of course, we also walked our regular trail through the swamp as it's the way to Uncle Butch's house. A day cannot go by that we don't go there, Rocket and Luna MUST see Uncle Butch, his biscuits, and Yogi and Tank, too.

I also threw the frisbee for Luna a lot today. She sure enjoys chasing that thing, catching it when I throw it high but usually it goes long and hits the ground long before she can get under it. When she doesn't bring it back she likes to roll on top of it. I'm not sure of the significance of that move, but I know she'd do the same thing if she found a dead fish or other dead animal on the ground. A hunting thing I suppose.

The ducks took a few strolls around the yard too. Their footprints showed they went down to the creek (still frozen, so I took pity on them and broke it open, though I'm not sure if they've noticed yet.) They also wandered into the swamp on the far side of the driveway looking for good things that ducks like to eat.

While they were wandering about Rocket, Luna and I sat on the deck soaking up the sun. A few hundred feet in front of the house on the trail we call "Bambi Highway" I spotted a deer standing in the shadows staring at us, unmoving. Deer freeze like that while they figure out if what they are looking at is dangerous. I kept pointing at it for the dogs but they never noticed. Eventually, 2 more appeared but the dogs were oblivious though Rocket tried, as he knows what I mean when I speak the word "deer". I'm afraid his eyes aren't what they used to be, the cataracts in them make them very cloudy. I wonder if he's capable of seeing much of anything at all?

All this sun meant the snow was melting off the roof and the ice in the gutters and downpout kept it from flowing away from the house.
I crawled under the deck and spent an hour banging on the downspout which caused big hunks of ice to shoot out, and placed a plastic trough under the spout to move the water down the hill rather than under the deck into the foundation. There is a huge lake of ice under the deck and I'm sure it can't be good for the retaining wall or the garage.

That was chilly work since I was kneeling in snow and the water/ice soaked my gloves. I am hoping it's going to be as nice tomorrow, but there's a cold front and snow coming Tuesday and it's probable the weather will start changing soon. Still, it was a very nice day.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Cleaning the Duck Pool

Yesterday I saw that the little duck pool my husband and I created for the ducks was frozen over, even with the heater running. So I stomped on it a few times and broke the inch thick sheet of ice. The stench that flew up and assaulted my nose was worthy of a sewer. It was horrid. I decided that the pool must be cleaned.

With a pry bar I removed the 2 logs frozen to the ground that stood at the drain plug end. I'm glad I had put those logs there as they not only made a nice platform for the ducks, but kept me from having to dig out 2 feet of snow to get to the plug. Then I scraped out a path to the very edge of the hill for the water to flow through (an entire foot of snow, smart me, put the pool as close to the edge as I could). Next I found a large crescent wrench and when that didn't work well, a large pair of wire cutters that had handles spaced just the right distance apart to place into the plug end for a good grip and twisted that plug out. The dirty water gushed out, I caught the plug before it went down the hill with the water. When empty I used a coffee can to scoop out as much muck at the bottom as I could, rinsed it out and filled the pool back up. It only took about an hour, by the end my fingers were frozen, well water in winter is cold.

In the meantime, the ducks had been watching me from afar but of course, wouldn't head over till I spent 15 minutes chasing them in circles (the dogs did NOT help, thinking it was a great game they seemed to stand in front of the ducks and send them elsewhere every time I'd gotten the ducks headed in the right direction). Finally I managed to get them to the pool edge and they immediately had a drink. Satisfied, I left to walk my dogs and when I got back there were 5 very damp ducks preening their feathers back by the garage door. I'd say they were quite happy. I, myself, can't imagine bathing outside in 20f degree weather.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chickening Out

Well, I thought long and hard on raising chickens and had narrowed it down to a breed called the Dominique and/or some Wyandottes. I liked the fact that these breeds have small combs on their heads (referred to as rose combs) instead of the typical tall pointy single combs most people expect to see on a rooster. As temps here in winter typically drop below 20f and often into the single digits (as in most of this week) there is a danger of those large combs getting frost bite. I can't imagine that feels very good to the poor chicken.

Another breed I considered was the Chantecler, a chicken bred by a monk in Canada early in the last century. Now that is one hard chicken to track down around here, but I did find a place, sold out till the summer. I figure by the time I got my order in I'd have to wait till August. It's a very rare breed in the US and apparently is threatened as a species. Being so cold up here, I didn't want to risk raising young chicks into the fall so I nixed that one for now.

Now it was simply a matter of finding an appropriate hatchery. I didn't want one too far away, the shorter the trip for the chicks the better. Almost everyone had Wyandottes, a few had Dominiques. Prices varied, figuring shipping costs was oft times confusing. I began to feel overwhelmed. After all, I don't even have a hen house built yet. The other problem is most places want a minimum order of 25 chicks. For this beginner, that felt like a bit much.

So this morning, after a short discussion with my husband, I changed my mind. I am still getting some chickens but I'm sticking with cheaper, more popular (and therefore populous breeds) that are sold by a hatchery in Michigan and supplied every spring by my local feed store. I'll be getting some of those Cornish X's I mentioned in my last post and some Barred Rocks (Plymouth Barred Rocks) and some Buff Orpingtons. They have regular single combs so in the colder weather I'll have to smear them with petroleum jelly. Supposedly, that helps.

The Orps are supposed to be good setters and mothers and the Rocks are a good meat bird. I'll get straight run so I won't know how many hens and roosters I'll have for a while but by the end of the year I'll thin out (referred to as "culling") a few of the roosters as you can't have too many of those, they'll drive the hens nuts and fight with each other. Whether I cull any hens depends on how many I end up with. This way I can decide if chicken rearing is for me without going to a great expense and feeling guilty about wasting money.

I'll also get 3 more runner ducks (this is the place I got my ducks from last year). I may even get 3 or 4 guinea fowl. I put off getting those last year, but they'd be okay living with the chickens. They aren't the best suited bird for cold weather, having come originally from Africa, but they eat nasty bugs like ticks and are a good watch dog against those sneaky hawks and eagles.

And, of course, I still want to get a few Muscovy ducks, but that's for another post.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine's Day

Or is it supposed to be Saint V's Day? Or is it just a holiday created/co-opted by a major greeting card company? Who knows? All I know is I didn't get a box of chocolates today.

I spent today doing a lot of on-line research on chickens. That's right, chickens. Raising them, housing them, feeding them, eating them, etc. Until a few days ago I really had no interest in raising anything but ducks, but then I got to thinking how much I like to eat chicken and how good farm raised chicken tastes compared to grocery stores. There is no comparison. Farm chicken tastes better. And from what I've read, they're easier to pluck than ducks which is a big consideration as I have enough stuff to do than spend hours on plucking one duck. Besides, I like fried chicken, I've never fried duck, though roast duck is excellent.

The 5 ducks I currently have feel more like pets as I never intended them to be eaten (at least not by us,
the hawks and eagles have other ideas.) I have told my husband that assuming they breed little ducks, once we get a flock over 15, he can start culling, (he has no qualms about killing a bird to eat.) And at the moment we have no trouble eating their eggs. But the chicken thing seems more doable in getting lots of birds to eat quickly. Plus, if I want to kill and freeze a bunch at once, the local Amish have a small business in processing the birds for you.

I am looking into an all around chicken that has small combs and wattles to lessen the chance of frostbite. I also don't want to get those meat makers, which are some sort of Cornish X that simply sits there; eats, defecates and dies of heart attacks by the time they're 3 months old. They're meant to be killed by the time they are 6-8 weeks old, that's how fast they gain weight. I would rather have a chicken that runs around and feeds itself and may even lay a few eggs. I wouldn't mind a couple hens that are broody enough to hatch their own chicks as well. Otherwise I can ask my father-in-law if he could hatch a few eggs in his incubator. A self sustaining flock is what I am aiming for.

So now I have to build not only a duck house,
but a hen house. It seems possible to house them in the same building, but everything I'm reading is pushing me to build two houses. One for the ducks down behind the garage and nearer the pond and the chicken coup up on the other side of the house, under the trees and in the fenced yard. They'd be a little safer there from neighborhood dogs, which though they are infrequent visitors, have been known to use my driveway as a short cut through town. (Have I mentioned I have a 1/4 mile long driveway?) Plus, they can fertilize my lawn in spring and summer and eat the bugs that invade my shrubs and flower gardens. I'll have to run the idea past my husband and see if he's interested in building 2 houses. I'm guessing, no.

Either way, I've got maybe a month to make a decision, the local feed store will probably be ordering the birds in late March. At least I know I am going to buy 4 more Indian Runner ducks. They are good egg layers, don't eat much and are fun to watch. Whether I get any chickens depends on what kinds the feed store offers (I know they had about 10 varieties last year, including those meat makers) and whether or not I come to my senses in time.

The photo is of my female runner, her partner was eaten by an eagle. I think she needs some friends her own size.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Walking for my Health

I've taken up walking again, started last week, without my dogs this time. They have this tendency to want to sniff everything, chase squirrels, visit people, and pretty much are impossible to walk together on one leash (the height difference doesn't help). I've tried two leashes but then it becomes one of those cartoons where they go in opposite directions and either pull me apart or tangle me in the leads. They still get their daily walk through the woods and a visit with Uncle Butch and his pups, but for my power walk I leave them with Uncle Butch.

Last week I managed to walk 3 days, and took about 35 minutes. It wasn't as tiring as I expected so I'm not in as bad a shape as I thought, but I'd like to work up to an hour. I'm only walking down 2 village streets so far, I figure adding a 3rd will get me up to 45 minutes but it isn't easy walking. The streets are not plowed very well, there are no sidewalks and the pavement is a little slick.

Yesterday, even wearing my rubber boots I slipped half a dozen times and a couple of those nearly had me on the ground. So I'm not walking as fast as I'd like. I also have no idea how far I am walking as I have misplaced my pedometer. I could drive my car around and get a rough estimate, but that only works if I can get it up the driveway. There's about 6 inches of new snow, it hasn't been plowed, and my driveway is up hill. The Taurus will be staying in the garage for now.

I did manage to walk to the post office today, with the dogs, and as my driveway is 1/4 mile long and it is my land on either side, the dogs were not leashed so I got to walk as fast as I could to and from the P.O. So I got in a half mile today. I'm hoping we don't get the next 6 inches of predicted snow and I can get in another power walk tomorrow. Or I could just slog back and forth through 12 inches of driveway snow and get plenty of exercise.

In the meantime, Rocket and Luna would probably like their woods walk soon, visiting the P.O. just isn't enough.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Time to Buy Vegetable Seeds

I'm perusing my garden catalogs today, seriously picking out seeds to plant this year. I've glanced through them before now, but with it being about 3f degrees outside with a wind chill of -31f, I really feel the need to look at pictures of GREEN things today! So now that I've taken the dogs for a walk (nutty Luna wanted to stay outside and catch more Frisbees!) and they are comfortably snoozing downstairs, I can sit back, peruse to my heart's content, and sit back in my loft writing this little blog update.

So far I've selected 2 cherry tomatoes, one I've grown every year for at least 20, except for last year when I discovered the "Sweet Million" packet I'd saved from 2006 was EMPTY! Those have been the best, most reliable little cherry tomatoes I've ever grown, worthy of being popped into your mouth right off the vine. I'm adding a smaller cherry this year called "Red Currant", supposedly finger tip sized, and probably will order some more of the heirloom "Yellow Pear" unless it turns out I still have seeds from last year. The only non-cherry tomato I am getting is called "Tip Top", claimed to be a 3 oz, thick walled tomato good for salads and sauces. I've got plenty of other varieties of tomato seeds left over from previous years, but am not planning on growing any of them. I don't have a lot of space and there's an excellent small farm/garden selling tomatoes only a 10 mile drive from here. In case anyone is interested in these varieties I am growing, I'm ordering from Pinetree Garden Seeds in Maine.

I'm growing a couple hills of small pickling cucumbers and one slicing cuke "Diva" which I have found to be my favorite of all I've grown over the years. Mainly though I'll be getting a half bushel of smallish cukes from that same farmer. I made excellent pickles with them last summer.

Snow peas I must also have, they are too expensive in the stores and taste so good sauteed with butter, salt and pepper. Those would be "Carouby de Maussane" and probably "Oregon Sugar Pod II" which I can just buy locally. Now if only I could figure out how to freeze them successfully.

Green bean varieties are "Masai" and "Jade". Excellent, long lasting, tasty beans. I tried "Tendergreen" but found them to become overlarge too quickly and turn bitter. I finally let the plants just go to seed and saved the dried beans just to see if they are viable. Assuming they're a hybrid it's probable won't breed true.

Because I am growing fewer regular sized tomatoes and cucumbers this year, I'll have a little extra room and am planning on beets which are good pickled (the only way I can stand eating them) and if I get a bumper crop, I'm going to let my husband try making beet wine. I've read about it, my neighbor has done it years ago and my husband enjoyed making wine out of elderberries and pear peelings last year. Why not find another use for beets, if possible? Plus the leaves could go in salads or make tasty tidbits for my ducks.

I am also thinking about trying watermelons again. Not the big red ones, but a smallish yellow one called "Pony Yellow" that is supposed to grow in 75 days. I don't know if it's really possible here in Zone 4, I've never had good luck with any kind of watermelon even when I lived in Zones 6 and 10. Technically, I can't really grow them within my actual fenced garden, it's only 12 x 12 feet square with a small outer ring with a 2' high fence for extra plants not bothered so much by deer. Where would I put it that would be protected from deer? I may talk myself out of this before then end of this post!

But I'm getting a little long winded anyway and I still haven't looked at the flower section. Generally, I've already got plenty, I prefer perennials, but they might have something interesting. For example I grew hollyhocks for the first time this past year and am very happy with them. Perhaps, they'll have another variety.

In the meantime, I have to amuse myself with catalogs because this is what my vegetable garden currently looks like. It will be April before most of the snow is gone and even then it will be too cold to plant. I tried some early veggies last year but between the cold and excess rain nothing sprouted. Good thing I have a planting area set up in my basement laundry room. I can start planting seeds at the end of March. Only six weeks to go!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Luna Gives Me a Scare

While walking through the woods the morning, she stuck her nose into the snow, doing the usual doggie thing. Then she lifts her head and blows through her nose to get the snow out, I assume and instead sprays blood onto the snow. Then she runs ahead and does it again, and again, and again. By this time I was fairly frantic and made a beeline to the house and called the vet. One hour later (it's almost an hour drive) the doctor was looking her over, checking for "spots" that could mean "something" but which she didn't have so I guess it's unimportant what that something is, checking her breathing, her throat, the end of her nose, gums, etc.

He's not sure what caused it (of course, it hasn't happened since I called for the appointment), it could be a twig up her nose, an abscess, tumor, etc. He took 3 vials of blood to check for blood diseases, I'll find out those results tomorrow. All I know is it isn't her lungs, wrong symptoms. She is as bouncy as ever, eats well, drinks water. Everything is "coming out" okay too. There was just this blood spray that I can't explain. A bit nerve wracking.

Before the blood spraying episodes, I had taken my car into Lincoln to get a loose heat shield re-secured so it wouldn't rattle against the exhaust pipe and sound as though my car was falling apart. When I got home, both Rocket and Luna were outside in the front yard. I went up the stairs and found a large spot of blood in the snow. At that time I thought one of them had cut a foot. Luna had a cut pad last week that was bleeding so I took both dogs inside and checked feet, teeth, ears and bodies for injuries. I couldn't find anything and was quite perplexed. I was worried that the pills Rocket is on might finally be affecting him badly so I held back today's dose until I could talk to his vet tomorrow. Then we took the walk and the nose spraying ensued. Solved that mystery, only to reveal this new one.

Now I also have to wonder if the blood I found by the garage door a couple weeks ago was related to her nose or her foot? Because at the time I couldn't find a cut foot, though it was obviously cut a couple days later. If it was her nose, that means this has been going on longer. Who knows if she had bouts while out in the yard while I wasn't watching. I expect I'll be worrying for a while longer before this gets figured out, if at all. I sure hope it's not serious.