Wednesday, July 25, 2012

our homestead: mid season

1. The first of my sunflowers are starting to open up.
2. A ladybug finds her home on the stalk of a tall sunflower.
3. The vegetable patch.
4. I love my sunflowers.
5. Golden chard and Arabian Nights nasturtiums.
6. Fava bean pods.
7. My free-ranging duck herd.
8. The Blondie.
9. Oswald and the ducklings.
10. My first Brown Turkey fig in the greenhouse.
11. I believe these are a Pink Brandywine/Yellow Pear cross.
12. Resident spiders keep the mosquitoes down in my greenhouse.
13. Big green beauties...waiting to see what color they turn.
14. The majority of our tomatoes appear to be this saucy, Black Prince/Evergreen cross.
15. There's a Cat hiding in here.
16. A basket's worth of harvest with much more to come.
17. Freshly rinsed tomatoes right before grilled sandwiches and preservation.

Monday, July 16, 2012

our homestead: perennial flowers of July

Lavender, yellow yarrow and astible from my yard.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

our homestead: I smell like garlic

Here's how close you can get to garlic without getting your eyes wet...err...dirty.
I've begun the garlic harvest. It was growing in a jungle of weeds this year and I just had to get it out of there. Bad Cat, very, very bad Cat, if you compare my current garlic bed to the photos of my garlic bed from last year: gorgeous, neat alfalfa mulched rows of well weeded splendor. Oh well, I still have a good crop of garlic  ( a wheelbarrow's worth) and any missed bulbs will just peek back up next year in the lawn. 

I've been peeling the first few outer layers of  my freshly picked garlic to prep it for sun curing. Curing refers to drying the outer skin layers of the garlic for better storage. Garlic doesn't have to be peeled to be cured, but I think it's a lot prettier without dried, caked on dirt and its easier to cook with later. 

To clean up my garlic, I'll usually grab the green tops of my outer layers or any yellowed leaves, and pull them down, around and off the bulb of the garlic if that makes any sense. It's an allium artform. It takes a long time, but I think it's worth it. Peeling garlic is kind of a zen activity...and then you smell like garlic for the rest of the day.

Before peeling the outer layers
After peeling

our homestead: free range babies


For about a week now I've been allowing my ducklings to free range in the yard with the rest of the flock.They get to go exploring through the tall grasses, munching on an assortment of bugs, slugs and grass seed, they can dig around in the dirt in the sunflower patch by the coop and can warm their newly developed little feathers in the sunlight with their dad and aunties. Before, I had them living in the "Duck Nursery": the lower level of the coop with a little fenced in outdoor area, keeping them safe from predators and any grumpy adult birds. I figure they are finally big enough to fend for themselves in the wilds with momma duck close by. I am very happy about this: I want my ducks to be able to eat a diverse, vitamin-rich diet of greens and insects while getting as much exercise as they please. This is how ducks are supposed to live. It's an ethical priority for me. 

I am expecting two more clutches of ducklings to hatch either at the end of July or at the beginning of August. I'm debating as to what age I should allow the upcoming ducklings to free range. This first year of raising ducks is pretty experimental. I'm learning all about what works and what doesn't. I have a feeling I could let my ducklings run about the yard with their mom earlier than  I've waited with my first set of ducklings. My main concerns with free ranging are flock dynamics and predators. With my first hatching, I lost a duckling to being trampled by its elders. Ducklings are so tiny and delicate when they first hatch- much smaller than the ducklings one would see for sale at the Cenex in springtime, thus keeping the ducklings separate from the rest of the flock at the start is pretty important. This is why I created the "Duckling Nursery". I have a feeling that if I still housed the ducklings separately, but allowed them to free range, there would be less of a chance of the little birds getting picked on since the flock would have so much space to roam. 

In regards to predators, I live in an area full of open, grassy cattlelands. For this reason, we have lots of feral cats and raptor birds. Today, as I headed outside to harvest garlic, I didn't see my little duckling herd or their mom. Usually, I'll head out and they'll be ambling after me as I've been dolling out lots of strawberry treats lately (they go buckwild for strawberries- check out the second photo below this paragraph!). I started calling after them and saw their mom peek her little head out of a shaded wood pile underneath some thick evergreens. My first thought was that they were hiding from something, and sure enough, I looked up just in time to a see a large eagle slowly gliding by in the air. Good girl! Hiding her babies away from that eagle. I hope the rest of my ladies will share her survival instincts. I'm pretty sure if a cat tried hard enough, it could drag one of my ducklings at their current size away. A smaller duckling? For certain. I guess living with the uncertainty of predator attack is part of free ranging. I'm always sure to secure my birds up at nightfall in their coop, but threats still exist with daylight. 

I have been playing with the idea of training, Banjo, my little shepherd mix to herd my duck flock. He's the perfect size to be a duck shepherd after all. Everytime I head out to work in the yard or whenever I put the birds in for the night, I am sure to bring him with me. He's been growing more and more comfortable with the flock...dare I admit that he's actually a little bit afraid of them when they are all together. The ducklings will rush me in the afternoon, looking for treats, and Banjo will jump back from them (because he's always by my side). It's really funny. I'd love it if I could train him to round up the birds for me. Luckily, he doesn't trust cats and does an angry "snake" dance whenever he's near one where he'll bare his little teeth and wiggle his long torso back and forth. His war dance doesn't quite work on our cats, who enjoy hunting him like ninja assassins at night, but it seems to work on  neighborhood cats who find themselves in our yard. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

our homestead: good things from my week

1. Bienenfreund flowers in full bloom. Seeds from Uprising Seeds of Bellingham, WA.
2. Collecting German Chamomile flowers for winter sleepy tea. Seeds from Uprising Seeds.
3. My mystery duckling. Hatched between clutches.
4. Nesting in my palm.
5. Visiting my parents, Flying Tomato Farm, at the Thursday Snohomish Farmers Market.
6. The "Uglies".
7. Flying Tomato Farm offerings.
8. My niece, Sofie, searching for flowers under an old apple tree.
9. This is what summer is all about.
10. Our homegrown raspberries.
11. Making berry soup with Sofie using raspberries and pie cherries from our backyard.
12. The first of our tomatoes: a Pink Brandywine/Black Prince cross.
13. My tomato jungle.
14. Sunflowers growing taller and taller in front of the bird coop.
15. Spyder Munggins in "outer space".
16. Ghosty Cupcakes taking a front porch snooze.
17. Me and my loyal sheppy, Banjo.