Thursday, December 26, 2013

New post over on Grit

The new post is live over on Grit... check it out by clicking here when you have a sec!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Snow day!

One of the things I love best about living here in Washington is that it doesn't snow in our area very often- but when it does, it's gorgeous. Better still, it doesn't last very long... so when it does snow, it's an occasion.

I'm taking the day off; for the first time in years I don't have to worry about deadlines at the paper or anything like that. That's actually kind of nice. Plus, the roads don't get cleared well, if at all, and most people here don't drive well in the's just a good day to stay at home until things melt. It's supposed to turn over to rain this afternoon, so as soon as there was enough light, I went outside to take some photos and check on the animals.

There will be a new post up on Grit shortly; it's all ready to go but they're still having trouble with their system. Keep an eye out for that; it'll kick off a series of posts where I go over what worked and what didn't in the garden this year.

Whatever holidays you celebrate this time of year, I hope they're wonderful. Now, it's time to get back outside before the rain comes. Happy snow day to me... :)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

It's not normal for us to get too cold here in the PNW, so this past week's sub-freezing temps have been a bit of a challenge. I run on the cold side to start with (no lie- my normal temp is between 96.8 and 97.5) so extreme lows like this present a personal challenge when I have to work outside. Chores increase exponentially it seems, both in number and duration, the lower the mercury goes.

Water bottles that usually last the animals 2 days are freezing solid within hours. No more quick top-offs as I dash off to work... these days require bringing everything inside, thawing the tubes and switching out bottles completely. Lucky for me, the caps and tubes fit onto 1 liter soda bottles, so it didn't cost too much to stock up on spares- just one dollar each, compared to at least $8 per bottle if I bought all new ones at the feed store.

Speaking of the feed store... can't forget the food! The rabbits and chickens both need to eat more when it's super cold, just to stay warm. I'm refilling feeders every time I go out, and once a day everyone gets a nice big flake of hay in their pen. Even the chickens; they get the "fines" that shake out into the bottom of my bucket as I feed all of the rabbits. Those little bits of grass and seeds are a boost for them, since they can't get out and forage much this time of year.

I have to say, though, that I am grateful for the dry weather. The low temps mean lots and lots of sunshine, and that's a huge deal for us right about now. It's also too cold for snow, a fact I'm also appreciative of. So, while we're making extra trips out to the woodpile and running around with additional chores, it's not knee-deep in snow or squishing along in the rain. Counting my blessings, indeed.

What weather challenges are you facing this season?

Monday, November 18, 2013


hi·a·tus  noun \hī-ˈā-təs\:  an interruption in time or continuity :  Break; especially :   a period of time when something (such as an activity or program) is stopped. (Courtesy of Merriam Webster online:

Well, hello there! I’m sorry for dropping off for a while, but the work-life balance went a bit sideways on me. Things haven’t quite leveled off yet, but I miss this space and it’s time to get organized again.

We’re into the time of year that many of us folks in the Pacific Northwest affectionately refer to as “the dark days”. For as long as our days are in the summer, they’re quite short going into winter: sunrise today was at 7:16 am and sunset will arrive at 4:30pm. This translates to a bit of fumbling around in the dark, both before and after work, when it comes to taking care of the chores outside.

It’s also the time of year where our weather turns… well… soggy. I was going to say unpredictable, but let’s be honest: we can pretty much count on it being wet. Hollywood likes to paint us a little rainier than we really are (fact: we get fewer inches of rain per year than New York City) but it’s not too far from the truth. We’re the Evergreen State for a reason, after all! Before you start to think I’m complaining, I have to say that I’ll take the damp over months of snow, any day.

In truth, I do love this time of year. When spring starts coming around, I end up packing away my “inside toys” and focus on everything outside. But once the clocks change, I settle in and it’s all about making things. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time sitting by the fire with my spinning wheel these past few weeks; hands down it’s one of the most soothing hobbies I have, and definitely a favorite. Spinning is art, science and music all rolled into one happy little woolly package... so much fun! Spinners, you know what I mean.

If you don’t spin, but enjoy making things, I highly recommend giving it a shot. There are lots of (Free!) resources available on the internet to get you started, and a basic spindle is super easy to make. When I first was looking into spinning, I made my own spindle because I didn’t want to fork out the money for something I wasn’t sure I’d like. Now that I think about it, I’ll do a post on how to make a starter spindle, if anyone’s interested.

What do you do to get you through your ‘dark days’ of winter?


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Houston, We Have a Broody

It was bound to happen eventually, I suppose: Flo, our alpha hen, went broody in late June. For those who aren't familiar with the term, it means that a hen is ready to hatch out some eggs, and she will take up residence in a nest box for approximately 21 days- regardless of whether or not she has eggs to sit on. She also stops laying during this period of time, and if you're really lucky (like us) you get to watch as your previously normal hen turns into something akin to Godzilla with feathers.

Things started out normal enough: Flo eased in to being broody over a few days; the only clue being that she was heading off to the nest box in the evenings a little early, instead of getting up on the roost with the other chickens. After a couple evenings of that, though, she went full-on and wouldn't leave the nest box except for once a day to eat, drink and poop. Then she'd take her cranky self back inside, and sit on her empty nest again until the next day. Thinking I might be interested in getting some fertilized eggs if she does this again, I was content to leave her be and let this run it's course.

Alex wasn't so sure... He was worried about her, he said. The weather was supposed to get hot, and he'd read something on the internet about broody hens overheating and dying. I tried explaining that we live in the northwest, and that 80 isn't really *hot* by most standards. Married folks, you know how this goes: sometimes, it's better if you just roll with it. So, after 2 weeks of being allowed to do her own thing, we started picking fights with the chicken.

For our first try, we just took her out of the nest box. She'd protest; puffing her feathers up and clucking at us. She'd wander around for a bit, and as soon as we weren't looking, she'd run back inside.

Our next trick was to take her out, and block off her access to the nest box. Not so easily put off, she went to a different nest. (Really? How did we not see that coming?)

Time to get serious. We tried closing off access to the coop altogether when she was out. This just made her angry- like The Incredible Hulk angry- she'd scratch around in the grass for a few minutes pretending to be normal, and then run at the door shrieking like a banshee with all of her feathers standing on end. Then she'd walk away like nothing happened, only to flip out and try again later. I think I lasted four rounds of that before I gave up and opened the door again.

We even went so far as to try a cool-water bath. You've heard the saying "madder than a wet hen", right? Well let me tell you: it is 100% accurate. After her dunking, she tore around the yard screeching at the other chickens, then me, the dogs, even the fence... you name it. I actually saw her hop 3 feet straight up in the air, just to kick the gate to the chicken run. Flo's a big gal, so for her to catch any air is no small accomplishment.

I gave up at that point. Alex continued to take her out in the evenings sometimes, but nothing seemed to help. It wasn't until the beginning of September that she finally started to snap out of it... and now, she's molting. Poor thing can't seem to catch a break. Next year, I'm getting some fertilized eggs for her to set on, since she's proven to be so determined. But for now, she's getting extra protein in her diet to help her through the molt and so she regains some of the weight she lost over the broody time.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Catching Up

It's been pretty busy over here; first we went on vacation- we've been taking a trip out to Glacier National Park in Montana every year, since 2008. I can't get enough of the place... it's like going home every time we go there. We spend almost the entire time hiking; this year we logged just over 60 miles for the week. Whew!

When we got back, the garden (as expected) was in full swing. My mom housesits for us when we're away (THANKS MOM!!) and she did her best to keep up with everything. There was, however, a zucchini hiding from her:

                Feed Me, Seymour!

So, as soon as we got back, we had to hit the ground running. I picked, blanched, and froze three pounds of green beans, and have been cycling pounds of zucchini through the dehydrator. I also had to scramble to get the apples that were starting to fall, and canned up some pie filling and applesauce. Blackberries are off the charts as well, so many pints of jam were canned up during the week after work.

Now the pears are here. I picked a bunch the other day and I'm just waiting for them to ripen a little bit more before I can them. I'm thinking I'll put them in a medium syrup with vanilla... mmm.

Plums are also on the way- the tree is loaded and I'll be up to my ears in those in another couple of days. I've scavenged the few early ones and have them soaking in some vodka; I'll give them about a week, and then strain out the spent fruit. A shot of that, plus a little simple syrup in a glass of seltzer makes for a nice treat after all this hard work!

True to form, my tomatoes are just putzing along. I have 3 (would be 4 but I ate the first one) reddish ones on the vine, and oodles of green ones just taking their time. I'll be stopping by the farm stand down the road tomorrow, to see if they have any uglies boxed up and ready for sauce. I nabbed a flat from them last week ($18 for 10 pounds of organic heirloom beauties!) and had a batch of sauce in no time. I like using my crock pot for stuff like this; I can put it on in the morning before work and when I get home it's pretty much ready. Beats standing over the stove all day- it's still too warm here for that!

What's your favorite thing to put up for the winter?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

2+1 equals... 13?

After we had the first batch of pullets for a few weeks, I realized that everything I've read about chicken poop is true: it's stinky, and they make a LOT of it. I'm a big proponent of composting, so my original plan was to add it to our existing bin and let it turn into the magic that is compost.

Without getting into the technicalities of composting -we'll save that for another day- I'll just say that the chicken manure and associated bedding (straw and/or alder shavings, in my case) wasn't breaking down as fast as I expected.

What's a girl to do, you ask? Easy! Get Rabbits!!

I'd been kicking around the idea of adding rabbits for a while, anyway. They're a great addition to any gardener's yard: they don't take up a lot of space, are easy to take care of, and in general are pretty friendly little critters. They also love to eat garden trimmings and weeds. Their manure is on the other end of the spectrum from chickens where composting is concerned; it's considered a "green" and doesn't have to break down as long before it can be used in the garden, if at all.

So, with logic and chemistry on my side, I picked up two rabbits from a woman on craigslist. Meet Barley and Hops... they're Satin rabbits, known for their shiny fur. Satins are also a fairly large breed of rabbit, and are generally raised for meat as well as their pelts.

Barley (L), Hops (R)- 10 weeks old.

Male rabbits, referred to as bucks, I've come to find are pretty gross. I didn't know that going in; I either missed that part during my research or failed to grasp what "spraying and other undesirable behavior" meant. Either way, if I had to do it over again, I'd skip bucks unless I was planning on breeding. Which I wasn't. Then.

Anyway, fast forward about a year. The boys are full of raging hormones and I'm thinking, well... what else do you do? Sure, you can get rabbits fixed but that's better done early on and not later. So, I did some searching and found this lovely lady:

Stretching out on a plastic tub. Big Gal.

She goes by Missy, Linnie or Mama, depending on the day and who's talking to her. I don't think she cares that we can't decide on a name; her previous owner didn't actually name her, and we got her at 10 months old. She's a California Giant- a rather big bunny. It's reported to be safer for the doe if she's larger than the buck, if you're planning on breeding.

We did some math, checked dates on the calendar, and picked a breeding date for her and Barley. He's got gorgeous cinnamon colored fur, and has a much friendlier disposition. Granted, we're (gasp) planning on raising the offspring for meat, but on the off-chance that I'm not up to the deed when the time comes, I wanted to make sure we had a marketable and friendly pet-quality end product. We put the two together, and voila! Our rabbits did what rabbits are known to do...

...and 28 days later, she had 4 kits! If you haven't seen the photos, there are some over on the facebook page. There was one tiny hiccup in all of this: I had the rabbits all housed together in floor pens, inside a 7x8 dog kennel that we converted to a rabbit hut. I didn't realize how determined a buck could be- Hops climbed over the 3 foot divider and into her pen- fortunately I happened to look out the window just in time to see what was happening, so I ran outside to separate them. I was worried he'd do something to the new kits; it didn't occur to me that he was going after Her.

Hops wasn't happy about the interruption; in fact, he went full Monty Python on me and took a chunk out of my arm in a fit of rage. Seriously, folks- I couldn't process what was actually happening at the time: I just stared at the rabbit hanging by it's teeth from the end of my arm. Totally Bizarre.

So, off to exile in the mini cooper Hops went; I noticed that Barley was starting to get a little twitchy, too, so I moved him out to his own hutch so Missy could raise the kits in peace. It's been fun watching the little guys grow up, and it's definitely given me a lot to think about. Typically meat rabbits are dispatched around 12 weeks, so at just over 4 weeks, we're not even halfway in yet. The ethics and challenges of raising one's own meat is definitely a topic for another day.

Speaking of 4 weeks... you may have noticed that she had her first litter 28 days after being bred. Guess what just happened? Yep- Hops was on the money and she just gave birth to another litter- 6 this time. I never would have chosen to breed her back like that, but people do and it certainly happens in the wild. I would have preferred to have more experience with the first round of kits, but everyone... all 13 of them... seem to be doing just fine. The boys will have to stay in their apartments for a while longer, though!

Mama and... Mini Me.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Rainy Friday

It started raining here on Wednesday evening; a rare thunderstorm rolled through and kicked off what's stretched into 2 full days of on/off rain. I have to admit that as an East Coast transplant, there are few things I really miss besides a good, loud, shake-your-windows kind of thunderstorm. One of my all-time favorite memories is sitting on the front porch of our house in New Jersey with my Dad, just watching a downpour and listing to the thunder. We'd laugh that it was the angels bowling... and I sure loved it when they'd get a strike! It's funny, the things that stick in my memory.

Anyway, rain in early August is an oddity here in WA. Usually you can count on July and August being dry, whereas the rest of the year is pretty much a crap shoot where the weather is concerned. On one hand, this bout of rain isn't a bad thing- most of the local farms have just finished putting up their hay, so they're in the clear. It's also kind of nice to have the dust washed off of everything. On the other hand, though, rain while it's still warm sets the stage for a fungal explosion.

Since I don't use chemical sprays, I'm anxiously watching the forecast. As of right now, they're calling for it to clear up tomorrow and get sunny again. Best case scenario, things will dry out before anything nefarious takes hold. Our apple and pear trees are the most at-risk; both fruits are susceptible to scab and that's a real challenge to keep in check without sprays. Good sanitation practices are key, but all it takes is a few warm and wet days to set the stage for a major outbreak. If one sets in now, we'll have to be extra vigilant come fall to make sure that next year's fruit isn't impacted. This means raking up and burning all of the leaves and spent fruit (whatever we can't use) as our compost pile doesn't get hot enough to kill out the spores. If you're not familiar with it, scab causes unsightly cork-like patches on the fruit and can damage the overall health of a tree. The fruit, while it won't store well on it's own, can still be peeled and cooked up or frozen.

In the veg garden, powdery mildew is a distinct possibility. Once things dry out, I'll be watching for any white fuzz to show up on leaves, so I can remove any offenders and get them down to the burn pile. Catching it early is  great control, but the key with any fungal infection is to make sure you're not mucking around with things while there's moisture on the plants. I can't stress that enough... if you get the spores on your hands, and the conditions are right (read: wet) you'll just spread it around the garden yourself. Not Good. Insects and birds can also transport the spores, which is why removal can be helpful.

I've not tried it, but I have read that milk can be used (diluted 1:1 with water) as a foliar spray to control powdery mildew. I don't remember all of the science to it, but something in the milk reacts with sunlight and as it breaks down chemically, it's anti-fungal for about an hour or so. Garlic is also a great anti-fungal; I used to use garlic tea on my roses for black spot control. A simple recipe is just to boil a cup of water, and pour it over a few cloves of garlic that you've either chopped up or squished in a garlic press. Mason jars work great for this. Cover it and let it steep until cool (I always left it overnight just because I'd forget about it) then strain out the garlic and put the liquid in a spray bottle. For bad infections, I'd leave it full strength. If you're shooting for a preventative (keeps the aphids away too) then dilute it with an equal amount of water before you bottle and spray. This will be stinky-- you have been warned.

Even with those natural options available, I still hesitate to mess around with spraying things if I can avoid it- but that's just me. In my opinion, it feels easier to just snip something off and get rid of it, rather than fight (and possibly spread) something around the garden.

What do you do for powdery mildew or other fungal issues in your garden?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Garden Tour

I think it's kind of funny that I decided to start a blog in the middle of garden season. I mean, yes- it makes sense given the scope of the blog... but it's that time of year where as soon as I get home from work, I'm outside until the sun sets. Since I try not to blog when I'm at work, this creates a bit of an issue with getting posts up in a timely manner.

So, I created a video tour of my veg garden for you! Feels a bit like I'm cheating, but at least you know where I'm hiding out when I go quiet for a few days. I do ramble in the video, which totally feels weird to me, but it seems passable for a first attempt.

Oh, and going forward, I'll orient the camera correctly so it fills the screen... Hello, Learning Curve! For now, I'd suggest not trying to watch it in full screen mode, as it gets all blown out and pixelated.

Anyway, hopefully it's not too dorky and you all like it. I think it's a good medium to take advantage of when I don't have a lot of time, but it's your opinion that matters most. Let me know what you think!

PS: I've come across some compatibility issues with Blogger comments and the Chrome browser... I'm working on getting that fixed. In the mean time, if you're trying to leave a comment and you can't, try switching to IE. If that doesn't work, email me and let me know so I can have the nice folks over at Blogger troubleshoot it some more. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


Okay, so the title's a little dramatic, but this is the time of year when we start seeing insect damage in the garden, and sometimes it feels like we're being invaded. Fortunately, if you know what to look for, it's easy to keep things in check before anything major happens. 

Last night when I was in the garden, I saw this:

Tiny holes in my broccoli leaves! Any time I see leaf damage, I go in for a closer look.

See them? They're tiny. No? This should do it: 

That "big" one in the center is just shy of a quarter-inch long. And they blend in so well!

These caterpillars are in the cabbage butterfly family; their Latin name is Pieris rapae. They grow fast and have huge appetites, making for a lot of damage if you aren't careful. The adults are small(ish) white butterflies that can be seen flitting around over most of North America and beyond.

I squash them in place on the leaves when they're this small. This seems to keep other caterpillars away, too, which is nice. (If I miss any, though, the chickens are happy to take care of them for me when I do find them. I don't let them in the garden most of the year, so I just pick off the bugs and toss them over the fence- the girls go bonkers for them. Since the chickens are used to this routine, they tend to hang out around the perimeter when I'm in the garden.)

I typically avoid using sprays to control insects when I'm gardening, so picking them off or squishing them works for me. Other non-toxic options are diatomaceous earth or Bt, applied per their labels. I find it easy enough to monitor the plants for eggs and caterpillars, though, and generally that's all we need around our place.

What pests are you starting to see in your garden?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Them's the Berries!

Just a quick update from the garden... The warm weather we've been having here has the garden going gangbusters, which is great! The berries, in particular, are doing exceptionally well- both our native berries (huckleberry, salmon berry and thimbleberry) and our cultivated ones. The blackberries aren't ripe yet, but  they are loaded with flowers.

We've picked over 2 pounds of raspberries so far: 
Some of which are huge:
And the blueberries aren't far behind!
All in all, it's shaping up to be a good fruit year, here. 

(Note the pale berry in the foreground above- that looks to me to be  a "mummy berry"; that's the common name for a type of fungus here that has wiped out our blueberry harvest for the past 2 years. I'm pleased to see that my control efforts are paying off, and I'll write more on that later.)

What are your favorite berries to grow?

Monday, July 1, 2013

Meet the girls! (Or 5 reasons why I don't name chickens anymore)

I name things. Well, to be more specific, I name animals... even if they're not mine. There was a steer across the street when we first moved in, and he quickly became Fred. If nothing else, it's for brevity- I mean, really, what's easier in conversation: "Fred" or "That steer across the street, you know, the one who sits under the tree..."? Right.

So anyway, when I got the first batch of chicks, I did what most new owners do- I promptly named them all. After all, how are you supposed to tell those adorable mini-dinosaurs apart? Meet Florence, George, Sylvia and Nugget. (Thank my sister for that last one...) Florence and Sylvia are Silver Laced Wyandottes, whereas George and Nugget are Barred Rocks. They were 10 weeks old, give or take, when I brought them home:

Poultry in Motion

Since we have quite a bit of room, and we're a good ways back from the road, it seemed like a good idea to let the chickens free range during the day once they were big enough. Well, it was, up until we came home one day and discovered that George was missing... all that was left was a pile of feathers down by the pond. Boo. 

Not wanting an odd number of chickens, I picked up three new Americauna chicks from a gal down the road. The naming thing hadn't occurred to me yet, so before I even got home they had names: Flora, Fauna and Merriweather, named after the Fairy Godmothers in Sleeping Beauty. 

Time passed, and eggs started coming. That's an exciting time for chicken keepers... nothing quite like finding that first egg in the nest box. Or under a fern, where one of them decided to start laying. That's a whole other story, though.

In August, Merriweather started coughing. Within a week she died, and I was starting to think that that if I'm going to keep getting chickens, I'd really have to toughen up. Crying over a dead chicken is somewhat embarrassing, and really hard to explain to people who don't have pets, let alone chickens.

Fast forward to Thanksgiving last year; our neighbor dogs got out of their yard, and came over to our house for some dinner. So long, Nugget and Sylvia. Lesson learned here: sometimes, it's better when they just disappear. (There was also a lesson learned about not putting freshly collected eggs into one's coat pocket. Nothing quite like having a conversation with said neighbor about his killer dogs, with a goopy pocket to add insult to injury. Ick.)

Where are we? Oh, three. There's Florence, Fauna and Flora. (Try saying that three times fast!) So this spring, I bought 4 chicks from the feed store: 2 Barred Rocks and 2 Americaunas. Collectively, they're the Muppets. They were not given individual names, and I don't regret that one bit. Sometimes, it's a challenge having a conversation about a specific one, but it was just *that* much easier the day the coyote came and ate one of them. Particularly so in context, when compared to the day last month when I had to put Flora down... that was not at all easy.

Maybe I'm just getting used to the fact that chickens aren't generally long-term companion animals. As fond as I am of them, if naming (or not naming) is the thing that gets me through the losses, then so be it.

One last shot of the Fab Five, enjoying their dust baths: 

Chicken keepers, what do you do? Names or No?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

It's go time! Here's the link to my Grit post:

Next up, I'll introduce you to the gang here at Acorn & Thistle... complete with photos!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

One foot in front of the other...

Everybody's got to start somewhere, right? It seems like getting going is the hardest part of any new endeavor... the uncertainty leads to inaction, and there is no getting ahead when you're not even moving forward.

So here I go. (deep breath)

My intention with this space is to share information. Mainly, it's a living form of my own internal monologue, a journal of sorts, but I'm sure things will be up for discussion from time to time. That's just how blogs are... you put it out there, and people will have something to say about it. I think that's both the beauty and the curse of the medium, really.

Anyway, I'll be rambling here regularly about the things I love: gardening, growing, cooking, music, being outdoors, photography and the like. If you're interested in any of that, I hope you'll join me as I wander down this new path.

I'll also be blogging weekly over at Grit Magazine, which I'm really excited about. I'll put up a link when the first post goes live. Nothing like jumping in with both feet first!