It’s canning time!

Gene and I spent most of the weekend canning. We had friends from work come over on Saturday, and we harvested enough blackberries to make 14 pints of blackberry jelly and 5 pints of blackberry syrup. Then today, we canned peaches, pears, and apples, and made tomato sauce. Last week we canned more blackberries, and made salsa and ground cherry jam . Gene had the brilliant idea of moving the canning station inside to the covered porch he built last year, which means we can process fruits and veggies anytime without having to worry about the weather. It’s also bug and wind free, although it’s not kitty and puppy free. That’s the only drawback. I was a little worried because I always thought you weren’t supposed to use propane inside, but I guess it’s ventilated enough. We’re not dead yet, anyway, and we’ve been canning a lot.

When I’m not canning, I’ve been harvesting. I even tackled the Tomatonator, which is disconcerting. The ripe tomatoes are all hiding inside the shrubbery, and the green ones ring the perimeter. Unfortunately, the spiders lurk inside too. I really really really wanted to make salsa though, so I downed some liquid courage (of the bright blue wine cooler variety, cuz I’m classy like that), and dove in. Literally. Since the tomato bushes are about five feet high, I have to part the branches and lean in to get the ripe ones. In addition to hoards of spiders, the Tomatonator is also home to birds and wild rabbits, neither of which enjoys being disturbed and both of which will let you know by exiting the shrubbery straight at your face. Harvesting the peppers for the salsa was also challenging, although more in a culinary sense rather than an “oh my god it’s coming right for us” kind of way. I was sampling the peppers, trying to find the hot variety I was sure I planted, but none of them were the least bit spicy. Until you eat a whole one. Then it tastes like fire, for the rest of the day. The salsa is going to be awesome though.

Harvesting the ground cherries was my favorite crop, since they taste fresh and citrusy, and they fall on the ground when they’re ripe. You don’t have to fight birds, squirrels, or spiders to get them. For those of you who don’t know what they are, they are related to tomatillos and gooseberries; they grow in paper husks which you remove right before eating them. They make excellent jam, and are good in pies or eaten raw in salads. Or right out of the harvesting bucket, if you’re me.

In farm animal news, Condi is still broody. All she wants to do is hang out in the shed. I even tried dunking her in a bucket of cold water a few times, in an effort to get her body temperature down. (It increases when they’re broody, since the instinct to incubate their eggs has kicked in.) I thought she was annoyed when I kept kicking her out of the coop… that’s nothing compared to how she got after being dunked in the bucket. She ran in circles around me squawking and huffing and puffing, and then went straight for my head. Again. She sat on my shoulder for awhile, and this time Gene was out there so he could take a picture. Which also would have been useful to show the EMTs, had she been successful in plucking out my eyeballs like I’m sure she wanted too. When I put her back down on the ground, I made the mistake of turning my back on her, and she climbed up the back of my shirt using her talons.  Apparently she’s not a fan of bathing.

Paris, Nikki, and the Bedonkaduck are huge fans of the water, no matter what temperature it is outside. They are good friends now, and will even eat out of the same food bowl without chasing each other off. The Bedonkaduck and Paris sleep together on the roof, but poor Nikki hasn’t figured out how to get up there yet. She likes to hang out with the turkeys instead. 

Speaking of turkeys, I don’t think I’ll feel bad about eating Thanksgiving. He’s gotten so fat now he can barely waddle around; the fastest he ever moves is when I fill their food bowl at night. He’s like the 600 lb guy that hangs out in the recliner all day. Sure he’s happy, but it’s kind of a quality of life issue. He still gets it on with Christmas with stunning regularity though, he’s got some serious moves for a fatty.

I’m not sure how Christmas stays so thin, since she also eats everything in sight. She’s like the annoying friend we all have who eats dessert every time you go out but never gains weight. I’ve discovered that in addition to watermelon, she loves apples, peaches, and pears. All the critters were ecstatic this weekend because they got all the scraps from canning. Harvey and Claire were especially happy, since it’s a lot of work to maintain their epic growth rate.

It’s a good thing Gene built the Bunny Ranch to the scale that he did, because dang. They’re growing fast. They can mow their way through a handful of grapes and a few leaves of chard before you even have time to close the gate. They’ve become very friendly, and actually like to cuddle with people now. Always a good trait in 40 pound bunnies.

Goodbye Summer

I think Fall has officially arrived. The front yard is full of fallen leaves (where they will remain until spring, because watching our neighbor twitch is so much fun) and the air has that crispness about it. I’m sad about the end of summer, especially since my tomatoes aren’t ripe yet, but I do love all the harvesting that’s associated with fall. Canning production here on the farm is in full swing – we made 10 pints of plum jam from plums that a neighbor grew, and 4 pints of blackberry/plum jam. It’s a good thing we buy sugar in bulk, because we burned through about 30 cups of it. Gene and I also made 6 pints of amaretto blackberries, which should taste amazing. And here’s hoping the canning process didn’t zap all the alcohol out. In other harvest news, wild bunnies ate the remainder of my lentil crop, so I wasn’t thrilled about that. I’m tempted to let Harvey and Claire out, so they can eat the wild bunnies. 

Our new rabbits are loving the Bunny Ranch, and they’ve commissioned some upgrades. Gene added a litter box, an ingenious plumbing system (their poo falls between the slats and onto a plastic panel, which then runs into a plastic tub), a small bench so I can sit and play with them, and several treat stations. My contribution was a beaded door pull. I commented one day that they should probably have some toys, just in case they got bored, so Gene had our local hardware store special order some rabbit toys. They came in today, and Gene was excited because he got to go into McClendon’s and ask where they kept their bunny balls. The bunnies love them – they toss them up into the air.

In bird related news, I got two new pals for the remaining Bedonkaduck. She seemed kind of lonely, so I trolled Craig’s List and found two Muscovy ducks for sale. The three get along great, and the Muscovies are gorgeous – they have dark green, blue, and brown highlights. I’ve named them Paris and Nikki, just because they are both fairly dumb but they look beautiful. They’re fitting right in – their favorite spot is the wading pool. 

The chickens are happy too, for the most part. Condi has gotten very broody, and she would sulk in her nesting box all day long if we let her. I pulled her out this afternoon and forced her to go outside. She was clearly unhappy about it – she puffed up to fifteen times her normal size, and paced back and front of me bobbing her head. She was clucking and huffing and giving me her “oh no you didn’t” look. I think she was annoyed that I was laughing at her. I was standing near her with my arms crossed, and all of a sudden she launched herself right at my face. By the time I finished thinking, “wow, that angry ball of feathers is coming right at my face”, she was already perched on my arms, which I didn’t have a chance to uncross because I was so busy wondering if she was really attacking me. (You’d think given my occupation that I would have better reflexes, but apparently not.) So now she’s sitting on my arms, facing me, and staring at me while bobbing her head back and forth and clucking. I’m too afraid to look at her, because I’m worried she’s about to go for my eyes. I kept looking down at the ground, off to one side, hoping she would get off. She seemed perfectly happy to perch there, though, so I gently uncrossed my arms and tried to reposition her (difficult when I’m too scared to look at her), and she climbed up onto my shoulder where she sat like a huge parrot. In retrospect, it was really cute and charming (mostly because I’m still in possession of both my eyes), but at the time it was kind of scary. Gene said I should have batted her out of the air with a quickness, but I have a hard time defending myself against cute things. 

Princess Fiona knows this, and has no problem punching me in the stomach with her hooves if I don’t feed her fast enough. That particular habit I’m trying to break her of, because I’ve seen too many episodes of “When Animals Attack” to let that kind of behavior slide. She did it again today when I was handing out watermelon. With the exception of Thanksgiving and Buttercup, that is everyone’s favorite treat, and they mob me for it. I have to take turns dispensing watermelon chunks, and god help me if Fiona doesn’t get hers first. Next comes Christmas, then the ducks, then the chickens, then Fiona again. She’s really the only one that doesn’t patiently wait her turn, which doesn’t shock me since she’s the biggest.  Harvey and Claire love watermelon too – they basically inhale it. Actually, they inhale pretty much anything that’s put in front of them. They’re doubled in size since we brought them home.

The Fancy Chickens are ecstatic to have the full run of their brooding box back. They are getting big quickly as well – I had to put a second feed bowl in their for them. The biggest Polish chicken likes to perch on top of the water dispenser. He’s a confirmed rooster – when you walk past the garage you can hear this really squeaky, high-pitched crowing noise. He’s trying so hard to sound tough, but not quite making it; he’s more like the equivalent of the Vienna Boy’s Choir. They should be ready to integrate with the rest of the flock by October, although I think we’ll let the roosters live in the goat pasture with the ducks and the turkeys. I would like at least one batch of fertilized eggs, so I can watch chicks hatch, but mostly I want to be able to eat the eggs.

The Bunny Ranch!

Exciting news this week! Harvey and Claire, the Giant Flemish Rabbits, checked out what was available on the market and decided on a fully enclosed, elevated cedar mansion with about 30 square feet of luxury living. It opens out onto another enclosed 80 square feet of green space. They have plenty of room to hop around, no matter how monstrously huge they get. The only downside is they might have to share it with at least one rooster. (One of the fancy chickens is starting to crow, never a good sign if you aren’t expecting a rooster.) Hopefully all four of them won’t start to crow; if they do I might have to write a strongly worded letter to the feed store. 

I moved the bunnies in to their new home tonight, and they seem to love it! They are really friendly now, and come hopping up to me whenever I come over to them. (And it has nothing to do with the fact that I’m never without treats, they just love me that much.)

Our last surviving Bedonkaduck has relocated his bedroom to the roof of the shed, which is probably a good thing. We had some sad drama over the weekend – we got invaded by another bobcat. And this time, I feel like an idiot, because I was about four feet away from it, shining a flashlight on it, and I thought it was someone’s pet cat. Even though it was in the goat pasture, about five feet away from the ducks. I didn’t think it was even big enough to be a threat, but apparently ferociousness comes in small packages. And it was sitting down. But A) I didn’t want to shoot someone’s Mr. Fluffy, and B) I don’t want to take pot shots in the dark if I’m not 100% sure what I’m shooting at. So sure enough, the dang bobcat takes out two ducks during the night. Sigh. Nature sucks. We had friends over the next evening, and he graciously sat in a lawn chair with a .22 and shot the bobcat as it was stalking the last Bedonkaduck. But if anyone asks, yes, it was coming right for us, and yes, we had a hunting tag for it, I just don’t remember where I put it.

But on to happier news…. as soon as the Fancy Chickens are old enough to mingle with the rest of the flock (except for the roosters, of course), I want to get some quail. You can order them online, and they come through the mail with a little incubator to hatch the eggs. As you can imagine, I’m so very, very excited. As is Gene. He can hardly wait to build me a quail sanctuary. I just have to dream up what I want it to look like, and he’ll make it happen.  He completely redesigned the storage area for the feed, so now there’s tons more room in the shed! But back to the quails…I’m going to sell the eggs for $8 a dozen at next year’s Farmer’s Market in Belfair (at some point, all this stuff has to start making us some money back. I’m content to be paid back in love and cuddles and eggs, but Gene, not so much). As a last resort, I’ll just sell tickets to see the freakishly huge rabbits.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Blackberry picking season has finally arrived! It’s the one time of the year when Gene lets me completely disregard common sense in pursuit of sweet luscious blackberries. Today we picked about 25 cups worth, and made 14 pints of blackberry jelly. There were even enough blackberries left over for a pie! In order to get the really juicy ones, you have to be creative. Gene had the brilliant idea of backing up the F-150 into the bushes, putting down the tailgate, then weighting down a 2×12 board. (You can probably see where this is going…) I walked out on the board and had access to a bountiful supply of beautiful berries. It was a little scary, so naturally I needed some liquid courage.

Picking the berries is like the games of Jenga, Operation, and Let’s Make a Deal all thrown into one painful pursuit for the perfect berry.  You never know what’s behind the next leaf – juicy berry, angry wasp, or ginormous spider. And no matter what you find, you can’t jerk away in horror, because it hurts. (That’s the other reason I like to involve alcohol – it makes me fearless.)

Using the truck worked out great (let’s see you do that with a Smart car – everyone should have a truck). We put a huge cooler full of water in the bed, and threw the berries in it. The water keeps them from getting crushed by the weight, which happens when you pick in the quantities that we do. It also saves a step in the end, because they’re already washed off. You just have to float off the detris, dead bugs, and worms. (Gene’s job, obviously). After we crushed the berries and drained the juice for the jelly, I gave the mash to the chickens. They loved it, and ate the entire bowl. In a few more days, there should be more to harvest. I think we will freeze the next batch; they’re awesome in smoothies.

Even more exciting than blackberry season though, we got bunnies!!!! and not just any rabbits – I would never settle for run of the mill, everybody has one boring old rabbits. No, I got two Giant Flemish Rabbits. That breed can get up to 45 pounds. Yup, we’re going to have two 45 pound rabbits roaming the pasture. I can’t wait!!!!! Chupi was pretty excited when we brought them home, because finally he isn’t the smallest critter we own. Boy is he in for a surprise. Harvey and Claire (because they need big sounding names) are so cute and cuddly, and they like to be held. You have to watch out for their claws though, they are seriously razor sharp. Not so worrying when they’re 2 pounds; but I’m thinking they could gut you when they reach their full size. Here’s hoping they stay friendly. 
The plan is to breed them, because people sell them on Craig’s List for $50.  I got ours for $25 a piece, and once Gene builds their Bunny Ranch, there won’t be much more cost involved, since they can use the same feed and bedding as the other critters. Gene is building them a reinforced hutch in the chicken’s winter enclosure. It will be about three feet off the ground with a ladder leading into it, so the chickens won’t be losing any space. Gene rigged a little play area for them today in the backyard, and they hopped happily around eating clover and a piece of chard I gave them from the garden. At night, they are currently sub-leasing a spot from the fancy chickens in the brooding box. We used Ceri’s old dog gate for a barrier, since we were just storing it in the garage (she can just step over it now). They also went with a Nascar-themed bedroom set, and seem very happy. The fancy chickens don’t mind sharing the box, in fact, they seem very intrigued by their new roommates and just sit and stare at them.