Seeds Seeds Seeds!

The day after our epic Western Washington snowstorm, an even more epic ice storm moved in. Although it resulted in some beautiful pictures (what doesn’t look prettier encased in ice?), having an inch of the stuff coating every surface didn’t make for a happy farm mama. The ice turned my lovingly shoveled paths into skating rinks, and every time a chicken took a feathered, squawking tumble they glared at me like it was my fault. Apparently they’re smart enough to realize when they’re being laughed at so I dispensed extra oat treats to boost their fragile egos back up. All the critters spent most of the last week living it up inside their various residences, only venturing out into the cold at dinnertime. 

I managed to get quite a bit of garden planning done while I was stuck indoors. I put in my various seed orders, and everything but the live plants have been delivered! The day my Seed Savers Exchange order came, I was so excited I told everyone about it, even the check out person at the QFC. This year I got seeds from all over the world, with absolutely no regard for the indigenous climate and growing conditions. The way I see it, Russia and Japan can’t be that different from Washington…I ordered a new kind of miniature greenhouse/seed starter this year. It’s imported, so it must be amazing. It has 47 little cylinders that supposedly promote strong root growth. I was sure that I would fill it within moments of unpacking it, but it’s still sitting on the kitchen island, waiting to realize its potential. I absolutely cannot commit to what type of seed I want to start. Do I want 47 different seeds? Or 1 row of 7 seeds? 2 rows of 14? I can’t get past the numbers, much less a commitment to what type of specific seed. Sigh. Check back next week. 

“guava” starts in my greenhouse

I also checked out an indoor garden store in downtown Belfair this weekend. I had never been in one before, and it was conveniently located right next to a marijuana dispensary. There were signs all over the place stating that because federal law prohibits growing pot at home, if you asked specifically about how to grow marijuana, you would be kicked out of the store. Gene and I spent about 30 minutes inside prowling around, and it was unbelievably difficult to sort out the conversation we had with the sole employee inside. For one thing, he never stopped talking. Ever. For another thing, the entire place looked like a black velvet day-glo painting had thrown up all over the store. The clerk expounded at length about growing his pumpkin crop inside his bedroom, how to funnel the heat from the lamps through ducts to heat the rest of the house, and how difficult it was to control the lighting so the crop didn’t go to seed. The whole time I’m totally distracted by trying to figure out if he’s really talking about pumpkins, or if he means “pumpkins” (nod nod wink wink). Sigh. I have so little street cred it’s not even funny; I could never do undercover work. Given my profession, I felt compelled to make sure he understood that by “growing seeds in my greenhouse” I literally meant growing seeds in my greenhouse, and when I told him I had a good pumpkin crop last year, it was the kind of pumpkins you carve into jack-o-lanterns, not the kind you roll up and smoke, then overdo it with Mountain Dew and Cheetos.

And with that, I will leave you with today’s Zen moment – proof that no matter how cold, snowy, and icy it is outside, all you need to be truly content is a warm corner with a hot air vent.

Snow Day!!!

For the first time in possibly forever, the news got the weather right. All week, it’s been “Snowpacalypse” this, and “Snowmageddon” that, forecasted to hit between four and six o’clock this morning. Being renown for my pre-planning skills, I took the day off of work in the hopes that epic amounts of snow would prevent me from safely leaving my driveway. Sure enough, when I rolled out of bed at the crack of eleven am, I looked out the window and saw nothing but white. We got at least two feet! (Gene insists that it’s more like one foot, but I’m sticking with two feet just for the bragging rights.)

This is the first time the chickens have ever seen snow, so of course I brought my camera with me when I went to outside to turn them loose. Before I opened the coop, I shoveled a play area for them in front of the door, and also created a path to their winter enclosure. I then had to knock the 18 feet of snow off the top of the winter enclosure, because it was sagging dangerously and I didn’t want anyone getting squished. When I opened the coop door, all of the chickens just sat on their roosts, staring at me like they were annoyed I was letting the cold air in. Apparently they could see all the snow through their window, and decided it was much nicer inside. When a few of them finally made it to the door, the “WTF” expressions on their faces was priceless. Chickens, much like their mama, do not enjoy snow. They made good use of the paths I shoveled, and if one of them wandered off the path, much squawking and flapping was heard. The goats barely left their shed all day, preferring to cuddle up in the straw and stare out the door. 

Poor Gene had to get a ladder and shovel off the roofs over the turkey, goat, and rabbit areas, since the weight of 24 feet of snow could conceivably cave the roof in. The only critters who didn’t seem fazed at all by the snow was the ducks. I’m pretty sure the ducks wouldn’t even notice if a nuclear bomb went off in the backyard… they seem content to waddle around investigating puddles no matter what’s going on around them. They do look decidedly dingy though; no matter how many times I change their pool water, it’s been so cold lately that it’s always slushy, so they haven’t gotten their daily bath in lately.

Ceri absolutely loves the snow. This is the first time she’s seen this much of it, and she played for hours in the front yard, bounding around like an antelope. I discovered that the laser pointer, her favorite toy, works really well on the snow, so we played that until I couldn’t feel my feet anymore. 

Ceri wasn’t the only one who got to play outside – our neighbors Keith and Abigail (our raccoon hunting friends), got a new quad, so they were having a great time in the snow. I got to go for a ride too, which was awesome. It doesn’t get more country than that, riding on the back of a quad through a ton of snow with a happy German Shepherd running along beside you.

Some repairs are best not put off

A few days ago I went into the Bunny Ranch to dispense wheat thins, which are Harvey and Claire’s absolute favorite treat. As I was leaving, I noticed the decorative beaded latch-pull I had made to open the door from the inside (since the latch is on the outside) had snapped off, leaving just a short piece of wire to use. With the door open, I tried to reattach the beaded wire, but as happens with most of my repair jobs, I ended up breaking the whole thing. I mentally filed the project under “things to ask Gene to fix later” and went on with my day. Fast forward a few hours to when I convinced Gene to come with me and give the bunnies some quality cuddle time. In my defense, as I was opening the door, the thought “don’t let the door close” was echoing repeatedly in my mind. The minute I followed Gene inside, that thought was instantly replaced with, “Wow, Claire looks even fluffier today” and then I heard the click. I learned two things that day: 1) Gene built an extremely solid Bunny Ranch and 2) Gene is very good at improvising tools to get himself unstuck while I’m much more suited to panicking and developing situational claustrophobia.

In chicken news, they are all as tired of winter as their mama is. The chickens can only spend so much time in their winter enclosure before growing so bored they’re willing to venture out into the rain and wind. The inclement weather doesn’t seem to hurt them any, but it does result in some very interesting hair styles. Fluff mama is rocking the Grace Jones look, whereas poor Puff Daddy looks like he’s trying to be a hipster channeling the early 80s and way over did it with the gel products. The only critters who don’t mind the rain are the ducks…. and with that, I’ll leave you with today’s Zen Moment, which Gene has dubbed “Three Tired Ducks”:

Gene 1, Raccoon 0

2012 started out in a very positive direction here on the farm. Our neighbors Abigail and Keith were more than happy to help us with our marauding raccoon problem in exchange for me babysitting their kids, so Gene led the hunting party out into the woods. They brought their dog Honey, whom they train to hunt raccoons but has yet to actually tree one. I’m ecstatic to say all that changed on New Year’s, and Abigail even called me on her cell phone so I could listen to the kill shots. Sadly, I couldn’t hear the thud of the raccoon hitting the ground, but that’s probably just because the kids had the XBox turned up too loud. I heard it in my mind. The raccoon was about 18 pounds, 14 of which I’m fairly certain were comprised of boy ducks. Needless to say the Game Cam hasn’t picked up any more predator pictures, so as soon as Gene is finished building secure nighttime quarters, I’m going to get more ducks! He hasn’t finished the Quail Sanctuary yet, but in his defense it’s been raining nonstop.  

In other farm news, King Julian seems to be completely recovered from his romp with the eagles, with the exception of a limp. I think it gives him street cred, though. Sean Paul and Marley, the Polish crested roosters, are similarly doing well. Sean Paul has the obnoxious habit of crowing as loudly as he can any time I enter the coop; the space is small enough that his screeching actually makes my ears ring. Gene needs to install another roosting bar in the coop, since the six Golden Sex-Link chickens are just about ready to leave the brooding box. I feel bad for them; they must get pretty bored in there. I don’t want to put them outside until they’re ready for big chicken feed, which is in another month or so. Once they’re out, and the brooding box is empty again, I have my heart set on a particularly rare breed of chickens, the Black Marans. They lay chocolate brown eggs that are just beautiful. I really think chocolate brown eggs will bring my egg selling business to the next level, so obviously that breed is a necessity. How can Gene say no if it’s good for business?

Year of the Quail

All in all, 2011 was a pretty good year, with a few notable exceptions. The growing season was almost non-existent, I lost way too many beloved chickens and ducks to predators, and our hoop house got destroyed not once, but twice, by freak storms. But I learned valuable lessons from the bad times, such as the importance of taking the safety off when you’re pointing a rifle at a coyote, and that a squishy slug, while utterly repulsive, will make a happy duck’s day. 

Below are ten other important things I’ve learned, in no particular order:

10: Enthusiasm does not replace skill when it comes to using power tools.

9: Raccoons suck. Seriously. To your right is pictured pure evil, courtesy of our neighbor’s Game Camera, which I have dubbed “KillCam”. Thanks to my new best friend, we have discovered it was a humongous raccoon that chomped its way through all three of my poor boy ducks in the space of two nights. Game on. Tonight we’re borrowing the same neighbor’s hunting dogs, specifically trained to track raccoons. Yippee ki yay, raccoon. Enjoy 2012 while it lasts.

8: The farm critters eat a more balanced diet than I do, and even practice Yoga. We should all strive to be more like chickens.

7: There’s a reason none of the other famous nature photographers have goats for assistants.

6:You can never have too many seeds.

5: No matter how big your garden is, it’s never big enough.

4: Chickens expect treats. Always.

3: If there’s a limit to how many extension cords you can have in one back yard, we haven’t found it yet.

2: Enthusiasm is a great substitute for actual knowledge when it comes to gardening.

1: You can’t have a proper farm without quails, which is why Gene’s first task in the new year is building a quail pen for me. On an unrelated note, there is a never ending list of animals I’ve discovered you can’t have a proper farm without. Miniature pot-bellied pigs, I’m talking about you.