So I ran into Gig Harbor today to pick up two girlfriends for Dimsworth and Hawthorne. Upon arrival, I was greeted with my version of Heaven – fat, beautiful turkeys and chickens happily roaming around as far as the eye could see. I could have spent hours there! I really wish Gene had come with me, because it really was an amazing farm. The seller had pulled aside four turkeys from which to choose, each one a different color, and each one more amazing than the last. It was a lot of pressure – far too big of a decision for one person to make alone. But since Gene decided he’d rather go hunting in the mountains than play turkey match maker, I figured the last thing I wanted to do was let him down by choosing the wrong two. Good thing I brought a large cage.
Hester, Constance, Prudence, and Temperance seem to really like their new home. I haven’t introduced them yet to Dimsworth and Hawthorne, since I didn’t want to rock their world by having them go on a date just after relocating. I set them up in the Cabana, since it has a heat lamp, and a gate I could shut until it got dark enough they wouldn’t want to explore until daylight. I set them up with a buffet of tasty pellets, fresh water, and a pumpkin treat, all of which they happily dug into. I will post better pictures of them tomorrow. It was dusk by the time I got back, and I didn’t want to go all paparazzi on them their first night here!
I’m ecstatic to announce I’ve solved the aggressive turkey problem, at least I hope. Much to Gene’s annoyance, my solution doesn’t involve a 425 degree oven and a variety of seasonings. Since Dimsworth and Hawthorne turned aggressive because it’s mating season, I decided it’s unfair to penalize them for just wanting a little loving. Isn’t that what every living creature wants? Someone to cuddle with during the long winter nights? I’m picking up two turkey hens on Monday, so hopefully that will distract them enough to stop attacking poor Fiona. Until then, I’m keeping them outside the pasture, which doesn’t seem to bother them overly much. Since it’s been so cold, I’ve been closing them in at night in the old chicken coop, then letting them and the resultant cloud of turkey stench out at dawn. I was worried about what they would do when it starts raining again, but Abigail laughed at me and pointed out that they aren’t exactly waterproof in the wild, so they should be fine. I guess that explains why I couldn’t find any patterns for turkey raincoats on the Internet. (Yes, I looked. Don’t judge).
In other life-changing news, the quails have started laying their eggs! So far I’ve found one blue egg, and one speckled egg. They’re actually quite a bit bigger than I expected. I can’t wait to cook something gourmet, just to have an excuse to top it with a perfectly poached quail egg, exactly like they do on Master Chef. Now I just have to figure out how to poach an egg. Gene hasn’t started building The Quail Sanctuary yet, mostly because it’s too cold to put them outside right now.
I spend about 20 minutes each morning chipping quarter inch ice out of the wading pools and waterers. Not my favorite way to wake up, since I prefer my weather more on the tropical side. I love standing in the greenhouse on freezing days, basking in the warmth and humidity and eating strawberries right off the plants. As usual, my heated mats are full to capacity with all my tropical plants, plus plants I decided to grow over the winter, like the strawberries. On sunny days, even if it never gets above freezing, the greenhouse is almost 90 degrees inside. It’s more like 50 on overcast days, but it still beats being outside. I particularly enjoy watching the colony of tree frogs hopping around, chasing bugs and basking in the rays of the plant lights.
I never in a million years thought I would consider this, but we might be chowing down on Dimsworth and Hawthorne. Out of the blue two days ago, they both decided that Fiona is their nemesis, and have been trying to attack her ever since. And it’s not a casual, peck you in the butt because you chomped on my beautiful tail feathers either. Those turkeys go straight up insane the moment they see her, trying to claw her face with their talons. They won’t let up unless I physically drag them away. I’ve had to keep them separated during the day, with the turkeys outside the pasture and the goats inside. Then they get corralled in their feeding kennel for the night, which they hate. Keeping them outside the pasture works great when it’s not raining, but I don’t know what I’m going to do when the heavy rains come again. I thought about trying to sell them, but anyone buying a turkey around this time of year is buying it for one reason only – one delicious reason. I’ve poured so many loves and cuddles into them that if anyone is going to smother them in gravy and potatoes, it’s going to be me. As bad as I feel about the whole thing, I don’t want them to have a poor quality of life penned up somewhere, nor do I want them to spend their days terrorizing Fiona, especially since she’s pregnant. I don’t know why she doesn’t put the smack down on them, but she just tries to run away and they corner her against the fence. Since I have no idea what made them turn into gigantic butts in the first place, they could start attacking the other goats at any time, or more alarmingly, me. Sigh. They’ve left me no choice but to reclaim my rightful place in the food chain. Hopefully the next turkeys we get will be more peaceful critters.
In much happier news, and speaking of food, I have little baby mushrooms growing already! Gene isn’t thrilled with the big block of fungus taking up space on the kitchen counter, but I’m the one that lovingly mists it five times a day, and makes sure it has everything it needs. He also said the idea of intentionally growing fungus in the kitchen is disgusting so I should pick a different room to house it. Clearly he hasn’t looked in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer lately, this isn’t my first kitchen rodeo. The mushrooms should be ready to harvest in another week and half, so who knows. Maybe I’ll be eating fresh mushrooms on top of my fresh turkey.
I’m not the only one dreaming of fresh meals around here, though. For the last two weeks, the critters have been terrorized by a hawk that keeps swooping down on them. So far the hawk has been unsuccessful, but I have a sneaking suspicion he’s the reason all of our baby chicks went missing a few weeks ago. The Guineas are definitely earning their keep – at the first sight of the hawk, their usual screeching gets about 100 times louder. I’m not sure if the chickens are running away from the hawk or from their incessant noise, but either way, it works.
I was going to let the baby bunnies out for supervised play out in the grass, but I changed my mind thanks to the hawk. They are the perfect size for a raptor hors d’oeuvres. Cinnabun is an excellent mother – now that they are big enough to eat Wheat Thins and fresh produce, she lets me pet them all I want. All of them are incredibly curious, and none seem particularly scared of me. When I clean out their cage every few days, their favorite game is to hop on the shovel and ride it back and forth while I try to scoop out the shavings. Even though it takes me about 30 minutes to clean their enclosure with all their help, I love playing games with them.
Last winter, I didn’t start planting seeds in my greenhouse until February. Waiting until well into the new year left a solid three months worth of time spent staring out the window at the pouring rain, sighing heavily, and complaining about the weather non-stop. All while wrapped in a cozy blanket, curled up next to a warm fire in our wood stove with an abundance of furry purring felines available for petting. But still, it was rough. Mostly for anybody within earshot of my incessant whining about the rainy cold darkness, which, by the way, starts to dampen my spirit at 4:30 pm thanks to day light savings time. But I digress. This year, it’s going to be different. I’m not waiting for February, I’m starting now. It’s going to be the Year of the Tropics around here. Since I’ve never been one to put all my eggs in one basket, I planted various seeds both in the greenhouse and in little pots on the windowsills inside the house. I’m sprouting dragon fruit, several types of aloe, papaya, guava, and kiwis. That’s in addition to several types of ancient medicinal plants, and even several types of tobacco for Gene. (I figure that dovetails nicely with my luffa sponge project – if the apocalypse comes, we’ll be both clean and free of nicotine withdrawals! Now if I can figure out how to distill vodka from the potatoes I grew, then bring on the four horsemen I say, for I am prepared.)
I’ll be the first to admit I need a lot of distractions from the weather to remain happy during the rainy months. Don’t get me wrong, the farm keeps me busy during the day, but once the sun sets and all the critters have gone to bed (before 5 pm!!!), I’m faced with a lot of free time. Thanks to the good folks at Fungi Perfecti in Olympia, I found a way to fill the void – with mushrooms! I ordered a shitake mushroom kit so that I could grow my own at home, instead of paying $14.99 a pound at the store. The mushroom kit arrived today, along with a small novel containing all the care instructions. Judging by our backyard, I was under the impression that fungi grew profusely on its own with no human intervention whatsoever, but leave it to me to find the one species of fungus that demands to be spoiled with attention. Like three times a day. Apparently shitake mushrooms adhere to a schedule – four days in the refrigerator, then three to four mistings a day for a few weeks. And then, if it suits them, you’ll be rewarded with tasty mushrooms.
Between the mushrooms and the quail, my complaining about the weather time has been drastically reduced. I was able to find day-old quail chicks in Belfair, so naturally I jumped on that one. After bringing them home, I did some research and learned that quail chicks are 100 times more high maintenance than chickens. First off, they eat and drink a ton, way more than you’d think could be packed into those tiny fluffy bodies. And they can’t have a standard waterer, since they have a habit of falling asleep with their heads down and their butts sticking up. If they do that in deep water, you can imagine how that would end. So I have to fill up a shallow lid with water approximately 15 times a day. They can’t eat standard chick starter, since the crumbles are too big. Every night, I patiently grind up a scoop of starter kibble with a mortar and pestle. Three little chicks can hoover down a scoop a day, which is impressive, even by my standards. They’re not born knowing how to eat, either. Unless you have an usually smart chick in the batch, you actually have to show them how by using your fingers like a pretend giant quail beak. My days are now filled with misting fungus, fake-eating, and changing water lids. And I couldn’t be happier.
The one thing I’m not doing this winter is bottle feeding baby bunnies, thank god. Cinnabun is an excellent mama, and her kits are finally big enough that she allows me to pet them, and more importantly, take their picture! I was cleaning out around their nesting box a few days ago, after distracting mama with a giant pile of Wheat Thins, and I glanced inside to find five baby bunnies. I was relieved – five is a number we can manage. I was sure there’s five people within a 20-mile radius of us that haven’t bought a baby bunny yet. So I slid the box over to clean behind it, and six more bunnies tumbled out from behind it. So yeah. Eleven is a good number too. Who wants a bunny for Christmas????
They really are cute, though. I spend a lot of time in the Bunny Ranch, petting them and giving them treats. Now that Cinnabun has decided it’s okay for them to interact with me, they tumble out of their nesting box and weave themselves in and out of my fingers. It’s probably one of the best feelings in the world. Some of the babies have unusual coloring this time around – a charcoal gray with darker stripes. Most of them are the same size, with two huge monster babies. No runt this time, which is unusual. Not that any of them would stay runts for long, what with the steady stream of Wheat Thins and fresh produce that comes their way on a daily basis.
In an effort to make the most of the dry fall weather, I’ve taken to letting all the critters have a supervised prison break when it’s not raining. They all forage happily for a few hours, eating grass and leaves and blackberries, until one of them remembers there’s delicious chicken feed to be had in the coop. I always remember to shut the big door and open the little sliding one, but the miniature pygmy goats can slither through the smallest of openings. Even fat Ursula has the ability to collapse her skeleton, just like a mouse, if there’s the promise of forbidden treats on the other side. I’m beginning to think she’s a vampire goat – if I ever find her perusing the contents of our kitchen cupboards, I’ll know she can turn into mist and seep under the door.
All it takes is one goat to enter the coop, then every one gets sent back into the pasture. Of course, I have to lure them there with scoops of grain, but still. They respect my authority. I usually let Dimsworth and Hawthorne stay outside, though, since they mostly hang out on the deck anyway. Except for today. I came home from running errands and went outside to check on the zoo, which of course means I had to throw scratch to the frenzied horde of chickens gathered around my feet. If they don’t get their scratch, they will literally follow me around, wherever I go, in a great teeming horde that makes it nearly impossible to walk. Dimsworth and Hawthorne usually waddle over to get their share, knocking chickens out of the way since they’re not big on sharing. Today was the first time I didn’t see them fighting for the choicest bits. After looking around, I realized I didn’t see them at all, which just about stopped my heart. I’ve really gotten attached to those crazy turkeys, although just this morning Dimsworth stepped on my bare foot and ripped a piece of toast out of my hand. (We have a habit of throwing old toast out the sliding door, sending it sailing over the deck and down to the waiting beaks below. But this morning my aim sucked and it ended up in a flower pot, so I had to go get it). At any rate, after looking around for about 15 minutes, I finally found the two turkeys on the far side of the back fence, deep in the woods. Not being the brightest bulbs in the chandelier, they were milling around the fence line, chittering angrily because they couldn’t figure out how to get where they wanted to be. I had to literally herd the two of them back through the woods, around the fence, and back into familiar territory, which took about twenty minutes. I finally realized you can use their tails sort of like rudders – if you poke the left feathers, they veer to the right, and vice versa. They also refuse to cross over stray branches or tall grasses, so I had clear the way for them. Wild turkeys can’t possibly be that stupid, or they wouldn’t survive, so I’m not sure if I have exceptionally dim ones, or if they think they’re the Kings of England and should be treated accordingly. I’m guessing it’s the latter.
Thank god the quails don’t have that same sense of entitlement, because I really don’t think I can deal with more avian divas. They are getting bigger, but not any louder. You have to almost hold your breath to hear the soft peeping they make. When they stand up, they look like perfectly round, feathered tennis balls. So far the Quail Sanctuary is still in the planning stages, mostly because Gene and I can’t agree on the scope of the project. He apparently thinks a covered tunnel leading down to a secure grassy play area isn’t a necessity, even though it most certainly is. But there’s no hurry to build it, they’re perfectly happy in their half of the brooding facility in the garage. The other half is occupied by Frizzle Mama, who finally hatched three of the eggs she’s been diligently sitting on. She’s the most dedicated broody hen I’ve ever had – I took away her eggs every day for a month, and she stayed broody. She was so determined I finally made her a nest in the garage and gave her a clutch to hatch. I haven’t even gotten a good look at the chicks yet, since they spend most of their time nestled underneath her. I can hear them cheeping though, and they sound content. If I stand where she can’t see me, I can listen to Frizzle Mama cheeping softly back at them, and it’s the sweetest sound ever. Even though it’s an immense amount of work, and I’m chained to the farm in that I have to be up at dawn and back by dusk every single night (not to mention the 11:00 and the 3:00 chore list), it’s moments like that – hearing a contented mama talk to her newly hatched chicks – that make me realize I could never go back to not being a farmer.
In addition to Esmerelda, the huge preying mantis, the greenhouse is also home to a cheerful colony of tree frogs, which I must say adds a most welcome tropical feel to the space. The heating pads are working great, and the tropical plants, including a ten-foot pink banana vine and my two-foot tall papaya tree, couldn’t be happier. I’m thrilled to plant my latest rare seed acquisitions, including a dragon fruit plant and several species of aloe. Now all I have to do is replicate the conditions of the African savannah!
Gene and I spent the afternoon crafting the perfect nesting box, in hopes of enticing more chickens to lay where I can actually find the eggs. Now that it’s getting colder and the days are way too short, I can’t afford to have hidden forest eggs cutting into my stock. We decided on cedar A-frame nesting chalets, which are all the rage with the chic city chickens, at least according to Poultry World magazine. After building them with my supervision, and to my exacting standards, Gene hung two of them in the coop. I can’t wait to see if there’s eggs in them tomorrow! I’m hoping the guineas will use them as well; they should start laying any time now and I’m curious to see what their eggs will be like.
I’m not sure when the quail will start laying, because I totally forgot to ask how old they were when I bought them. I figure I’ll know when I start finding eggs. Gene is still pondering the best layout for the new Quail Sanctuary, but I think he’s leaning toward building some sort of enclosed coop which can be rolled around the yard for access to fresh grass. The bonus of that design being I can also pull it into the garage during inclement weather, since quails are quite prone to illness from dampness.
But this week wasn’t all about pampering the winged critters, Princess Fiona got some extra attention too. On one of my coffee-fueled strolls through craigslist, I happened open a post from Baxter, an Alpine buck who was, as he put it, “looking for love.” Naturally I immediately set up a play date for the afternoon, because as luck would have it Fiona had just gone into heat the day before, so the timing was perfect. She apparently thought so too, because the two of them got down to business within minutes of being introduced. If Baxter was all that he advertised, Fiona should have a baby near the end of March!
In honor of Halloween, I hauled Senor Jose the giant pumpkin into the backyard and cut a big hole in the top. The chickens have been trooping in and out of the giant shell all day, slowly hollowing it out. Even the ducks love chowing on pumpkin innards. That’s about all I did to mark Halloween’s passing. I dressed up as a flannel-covered couch beastie, whose natural habitat includes any room in which there’s a TV playing. I’m happy to say I stayed in character for most of the night.