Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Uh-oh a rooster.

This is actually old news at the tiny farm, but I never got around to posting about it. It turns out that the cute little Easter Egger Chick above turned into Dazzler, the handsome young rooster you see below (named after the less-than-popular Marvel character whose superpower was to turn sound into light). Unfortunately for urban farmers, roosters are not allowed, so he had to go.

Most pets have a certain knack for inconvenience and Dazzler was no exception. As we were loading up the car at dawn on Thanksgiving morning to go out of town and visit my family for a few days I hear an unmistakable "Cock-a-doo" (he hadn't mastered the "doodle" yet). I had been having suspicions for awhile, since Dazzler was a bit bigger than the other birds and had longer tail feathers, but since Easter Eggers are mutt breeds, I thought maybe s/he was part large breed. My neighbor happened to be outside as well and I explained that the rooster was an accident, that we would be leaving town for a few days, I was sorry and I would take care of it when I got back. Lucky for me, a friend who has more land and less strict animal laws was able to take him a week later. He still may end up in the pot (a shame for such a handsome and friendly rooster) but at least this bought him a few more weeks. So now we're down to 10 hens, which is about 10 more than my husband wanted, but it's about 20 less than I wanted, so by my calculations I can still get 5 more and have it be a fair compromise! I'm trying to hold off another year and a half so we always have birds that are in their prime laying seasons but this is going to be tough...
Also, I want a turkey.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

New Seeds are on the way!!

After crying and grumbling about my $3,000 hospital bill I realized there was only one (realistic) way of cheering myself up: the 2009 heirloom seed order. Up until now, I've preferred heirlooms but would occasionally buy an early girl tomato on a whim when walking through the garden center. I think those days are over, there are just too many benefits to growing heirloom seed. I usually order from heirloomseeds.com, but I saw that they have about a month turnaround time right now because they're so flooded with orders. That's fine for people in cooler climates, but I wanted to get my tomatoes, peppers and eggplants started indoors in mid-January, so this year I ordered from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I spent several hours looking over my choices and here's what I finally decided on:

Ivory Egg Tomato
70-75 days. Sent to the United States by a seed saver in Sweden, this rare and attractive ivory-cream colored tomato is the shape and size of a chicken egg. The creamy flesh is both sweet and rich; great for making a lovely sauce, or in salads. Plants are very productive.

White Queen Tomato
70-75 days The favorite white variety of many tomato collectors, this heirloom is said to have been introduced in 1882 by A.W. Livingston, though many people question the exact date of introduction. 4-8 oz. fruit have one of the best flavors of all tomatoes, being fragrant, fruity and intensely sweet. It's creamy white in color and very attractive. A productive variety that has become very rare.

Bloody Butcher Tomato (My response to Early Girl... take that patented varieties!)
60 days. A small 3-4 oz ‘cluster’ tomato. Fruit are deep red in color and have a nice tomato flavor. Production is really good, but where this open-pollinated tomato really shines is its earliness. It ripens in only about 60 days, making it ripen about the same time as Early Girl, but this tomato is much tastier.

Roma Rio Grande Tomato
Vigorous plants produce many 4"-long, pear-shaped fruit with dry flesh, perfect for fresh use and sauces. Productive during hot, dry summers.

Yellow Pear Tomato
78 days. Very sweet, 1 1/2" yellow, pear-shaped fruit have a mild flavor, and are great for fresh eating or for making tomato preserves. Very productive plants are easy to grow.

Applegreen Eggplant
70 days. An early light green eggplant, good yield, very tender and delicious, smooth oval-round fruit growing on small plants. Highly recommended. Developed by the late Prof. Elwyn Meader, UNH 1964.

Casper Eggplant
75 days. Medium size, very attractive, smooth ivory-white fruit, that have a very mild mushroom-like flavor. Prolific plant. Fruit ripens early. An excellent variety for specialty growers and gardeners.

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli
An English heirloom variety, bred for overwintering. Produces lots of purple broccoli sprouts in the spring. Grows slowly through the winter; very frost hardy. A great variety that is very hard to find in this country; delicious!

Boston Pickling Cucumber
50 days. An old heirloom dating back to 1880. Vigorous vines give large yields of smooth green fruit. It is excellent for pickles, very crisp and good quality. A very popular variety at the turn of the century.

West India Burr Gherkins
65 days. (Cucumis anguria) Not a true cucumber, but used much like it. Will not cross with C. sativus-Very beautiful long vines and hundreds of small tasty fruit. Yields better than any cucumber. These are becoming rare. They do great in hot humid [yeah, I know Phoenix is a far cry from humid, but we do have the hot! I thought this was worth a try anyway] weather. Introduced to the USA in 1793 from Jamaica, and used pickled or boiled by the Colonies in Jamaica.

Ground Cherry (Strawberry Husk Tomato)
Huge yield of tart-sweet berries. This is the common type, used by the Pilgrims; excellent for pies, jams, and preserves of all kinds, also delicious fresh. The fruit grows inside a paper like husk, (the same as Tomatillos.) Grow it the same as you would tomatoes.

Lemon Balm
Deliciously lemon-flavored; great in tea. A vigorous, hardy plant.

German Chamomile
(Matricaria recutita) Beautiful, small flowers; makes a relaxing tea with a sweet, fruity fragrance; medicinal. Attractive plants.

Tigger Melon
The most amazing melon we have grown. The fruit are vibrant yellow with brilliant fire-red, zigzag stripes, (a few fruit may be solid yellow), simply beautiful! They are also the most fragrant melons we have tried, with a rich, sweet intoxicating aroma that will fill a room. The white flesh gets sweeter in dry climates. Small in size the fruits weigh up to 1 lb. - perfect for a single serving. The vigorous plants yield heavily, even in dry conditions. This heirloom came from an Armenian market located in a mountain valley. It was the most popular melon at our Garden Show last August and makes a unique specialty market variety.

Orange Bell Pepper
Super sweet, brilliant orange fruit are blocky, and good-sized thick flesh is flavorful and among the best tasting of all peppers. Plants produce large yields of this most magnificent pepper.

Red Cheese Pepper
80 days. Candy-sweet, round, flat, 3", pimento-type peppers that have thick, red flesh, great for stuffing or fresh eating. So good, they are almost addictive. Very productive plants. Once used to color cheese.

Red Malabar Spinach
70 days. This beautiful plant is not a true spinach but a different species (basella rubra). This heat-loving Asian vine has lovely red stems and delicious, succulent leaves that are great in salads and stir-frys. A delicious green that can be grown as an annual in many areas or as a perennial in sub-tropical areas. [I've seen this at the farmer's market and have known people who grow it locally and it seems to do well here, it has a flavor that's a bit too lemony-tart for my taste, but it produces greens in the summer in Phoenix, so you take what you can get :)]

PLUS a surprise seed pack! I can't wait to see what kind they'll send me. I am so excited to get these growing!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hospital and updates. Anyone have desert toads?

I ended up going to the emergency room about two weeks ago for something that I think was related to the original illness. I had *extreme* stomach pain, they thought it was appendicitis, a CT scan said it wasn't and they never really figured out what was wrong. The best part of the hospital (the least bad part maybe?) was that I happened to be wearing some brand new underwear, so I wasn't embarrassed about the open-back gown. :) I am sure my insurance company will screw me over on this, as they do any other time something expensive happens, so my husband and I got an odd job that lasted for 10 days helping to build a large scale electrical spectacle artwork for another artist. I'm crossing my fingers that it will be enough money to cover the hospital bill. My mother-in-law is also very generously putting some money into our bank account to help out.

We have had lots of rain (well a lot for Phoenix, the rain gauges here got up to six-tenths of an inch) and unseasonably cold weather, no freezing yet, but I think that will come around new years. The early cold and short daylight hours have made everything in the fall garden slow down. I'm getting some lettuce and radishes, but those just aren't as exciting as the fall crops. The coldness has cut off my black-eyed pea production and I'm losing hope of having vine-ripened tomatoes this fall. There are still a few eggplants and lots of peppers, but they seem to have stopped growing. I'm hoping that I can keep them warm enough so that they'll last through the winter and I'll have a head-start on spring. The chickens all molted and stopped laying for the winter except my Rhode Island Red who is giving me about 5 eggs a week. I'm spending a lot of time looking over heirloom seeds and rare-breed chicken varieties, there's so many I want! There's a slim possibility of raising some Muscovy ducks this spring, but a more realistic animal addition to the tiny farm is toads. I've read that they love squash bugs and it seems like a fantastic pest control method. I just have to find some that do well here. I remember growing up there was a giant toad that lived by our pool filter where it was damp. I have no idea how it got there, but it stayed for some time. Anyone in the Phoenix area know where I can get some toads for the garden?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Sick and crappy randomness

That headline pretty much sums up my last few days. I had what I thought was food poisoning Sunday night from some expired but "still probably okay to drink despite it's slightly unpleasant taste" milk. In the name of not wasting money I drank something I probably shouldn't have. To skip the ensuing details, I will abbreviate and just say, I lost a lot of weight the following 12 hours. I felt pretty bad the next day too, which led others who are more knowledgeable about illnesses to believe it wasn't food poisoning but something more flu-like, and now two days after that, I still feel not so great in the stomach, less like the flu, more like ulcers. Who knows. I wonder if this is what would happen to a longtime vegan force-fed surf and turf.

In unrelated matters, I had some fantastic bread at Thanksgiving that my parents' neighbors/friends made, and it turns out it was the New York Times bread that everyone has been raving about. (Here's the recipe link in case you haven't gotten to it either) When I first saw it popping up all over the blogosphere I looked at it and thought, that looks a little messy, takes a long time, and what the hell does the New York Times know about making bread?? Apparently they (or rather the guy that originally wrote the recipe that they printed) know a lot. I will be making it as soon as I can stand up straight again.

There isn't a whole lot of tiny farm news to post this time of year. The seeds have all been planted and I'm just starting to get to the harvesting point for the swiss chard and mixed greens. I'm still getting bell peppers, eggplants and even a little okra and I'm hoping the tomatoes ripen before our first frost hits (usually around December 15th though I think it will be later this year). It seems like they almost never do though, I always have to go out and pick a bunch of green tomatoes and let them ripen inside.

I guess this was a pretty random post, I'm distracted by my stomach and my unrelenting desire for nachos, which apparently "aren't appropriate food for sick people".

Friday, November 21, 2008

Slick, the polish chicken, gets a haircut!

Slick is our silver-laced polish chicken. She started off with a cute little extra tuft of hair, that grew into quite a mop. As her 'hair' grew longer she got more and more blind and wouldn't leave the coop when I let all the chickens out and got picked on so badly that she got a pretty big bald scab on her back. (I figured out that it was mostly the work of one particularly aggressive salmon faverolle which now lives in a coop across the street.) She couldn't see to fly up, so when the other chickens would roost up on bar, she was on the ground all alone and I had to put her up there myself. I felt so bad for her that as cool as her hairdo was, it had to be adjusted.
This is Slick at 2 weeks old

At 10 weeks, her hair had already grown into this blinding afro

In case you were wondering, this is what a blind chicken has to do to see what's behind her

I went in the coop and caught her from behind (which is very easy as her field of vision is next to nothing) wrapped her in a towel and held her between my knees. After she was secure in the towel, she didn't fuss at all, surprisingly. I used our second best haircutting scissors and went to town. When she was in my lap it looked like I'd given her a mohawk, but when I put her down it was more of a "modified Hillary Clinton"
Slick, still in my lap

When I set her back in the coop, she immediately went outside to join her friends and it seems to have made a world of difference in her quality of life. Maybe I could open up a chicken grooming center. ;)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Where have all the postings gone?? and making olives.

I sort of fell off the face of the blogging earth. I've been busy scheming up ways to make extra money and tying up lots of loose ends. I know that most of us are all on the conserve-every-penny boat, which sucks, but I guess the bright side is that there's lots of empathy and moral support to go around.

I've been thinking about things to do to save money. (which I always do, even in more flush times-- I consider myself "delightfully frugal", my husband would use different terms when I'm explaining to him why I didn't buy magic shell for his ice cream.) I've noticed there's been a huge resurgence of canning recently, which is wonderful, however, it seems like a lot of people are going to the store, buying things in bulk and saving $1.20, and then canning them in jars that cost $10/dozen. If it's a matter of having food set aside in case there's a food shortage, then that's one thing, but if you're doing it for financial reasons, then it doesn't really make sense unless it's your own surplus crop or you're getting a really unbelievable deal on those apples. Just a thought.

So, I played crazy neighbor lady and picked 4 pounds of olives off the vacant (in foreclosure) house across the street. Three or four of my neighbor friends came over mostly to hang out and laugh at me while I picked, one neighbor decided it might be a fun idea and filled all the pockets on his cargo pants. I watched several youtube videos about brining olives, and it seems easy enough, so I'm giving it a go. You can watch them yourself, but they all say basically the same things. Here is the info pared down for you:

1. Pick olives, preferably between rosy and dark purple in color. Don't get them off the ground, they are probably covered in various animal pees.
2. Make a brine. Add kosher salt/pickling salt to water and stir so it dissolves. Keep adding more salt until the brine is concentrated enough to make a fresh egg float.
3. Put olives in a jar and weight them down with something so they won't float in the brine. (I used cut up pieces of those plastic basket things strawberries come in.)
4. Add brine to the jar and make sure all of your olives are covered.
5. Change out your brine about once every month or two, the more often you change it out the faster your olives will become edible. Some suggest every two weeks, some say every three months, depending, your olives will be ready in 2-6 months. (Months??!! I know, but they're free! :) )

Brining olives gets rid of the bad bitterness and makes them safe to eat. Don't eat them raw, that would be bad news.

The brine has already started to take out some of the color, resulting in some splotchy olives

P.S. If you're in the Phoenix area and want to learn about keeping chickens, I'm teaching a class for the Phoenix Permaculture Guild at the downtown farmer's market from 8-9:30 AM this upcoming Saturday (11/22).

Friday, October 31, 2008

Hawk! Protecting the chickens.

About a week ago I was outside chatting with neighbors and SWOOP there goes a red-tailed hawk being chased by a bunch of grackles. Uh-oh. I have seen red-tailed hawks in downtown Phoenix before, but we've only had little kestrels in my neighborhood (that I've seen) until now. I thought about what I should do and that I'd better keep an eye out. Well, two days ago I hear a crazy commotion outside like someone just threatened 1000 bird nests and sure enough, I go outside and the sky is crazy with birds going every direction and right above them is my hawk. I move into the chicken pen figuring that would protect the chickens (who were all hiding beneath bougainvillea), when the hawk dives down and lands on a wall about 15 feet away from me. I move towards it and after a few steps it flies off onto the neighbors fence and I eventually get it to fly away. I had no idea they were so brazen.

The babies (now 7 and 5 weeks old) are still in a smaller fully enclosed coop, but the adult chickens are free-rangers inside the pen. I didn't want to confine them to their pen permanently, though I did for the rest of that day, so what should I do? I looked online for large netting, but that area would be very difficult to secure with a net because of several trees and bushes that are quite tall. I then read online about someone who spider-webbed his pen leaving smaller than 6 foot openings and that seemed to deter the hawks, so I grabbed a huge roll of macrame rope someone gave me and started webbing. I hope it works. It looks perfect for halloween back there, but I'm afraid after the holiday, my animal area is more starting to resemble a miniature shanty town. My neighbors undoubtedly think I'm crazy, I'm not sure it will even work, and it looks like crap. I think when our finances get a little more stable, I'm going to start saving up for the materials to build a 20'X 15' fully enclosed chicken aviary.

For several reasons, I hope that comes soon.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Class on keeping chickens at the Tiny Farm and the ducks get a new home :(

Today was an eventful day at the tiny farm.

As you know from previous posts, the ducks were just too loud. We tried a few things, they helped, but not enough to make us good neighbors again, so the ducks had to find a new home. They left tonight for their move to live near chickens in the garden at Mesa Community College. They will be protected and well-cared for, but I was (am) still *very* sad to see them go.
My friend from the farmer's market just got 4 muscovy ducks this last week, and I'm hoping that maybe in the spring we can get some eggs from him and hatch a few. Muscovies aren't cute like the khaki campbells, and they don't lay as many eggs, but they don't quack. It's a trade off.

In better news, through the Phoenix Permaculture Guild, I taught a class on keeping chickens at your house... here at my house. A lot of people turned up and I thought it went well, and I always love talking to people that are also interested in chickens.

In the background of these photos (to my right) you can see the in-progress solar oven, it's just about done, I'll make a detailed post when it's completed and I have temperature statistics. I sat through a very nice man's presentation about water softening to get a $25 home depot gift certificate which, when it comes, will let me get the rest of the parts I need to finish the oven.

In other 'being resourceful' news, the downtown arts district had a harvest festival last night and there were straw bales and pumpkins that were going to be thrown away at the end of the night. We brought home 2 straw bales, which also worked as great seating for my class today, and 9 big pumpkins, which we will eat. Thankfully, the rest of the straw found a home at a community garden instead of the dumpster, so nothing was wasted. :)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Our backyard khaki campbells

Marigold, Pinto and Petunia, the cute ducks
The cute ducks 2 seconds later-- quacking
As some of you know, I hatched three khaki campbell ducks in July (I got lucky and hatched a boy and two girls). They were rescue eggs, whose mother had abandoned them. I have to say that watching them hatch was one of the coolest things I'd seen in my life and they were (and are) unbelievably cute.

I kept them in a playpool lined with towels that ended up needing changing twice a day because little ducks like to empty water dishes and poop. That went on for about a month and then they went into the outside cage and eventually graduated to free-reign chicken pen privileges. They ended up getting along with the chickens okay, but the chickens love the ducks' food and the ducks love to make all water into mud. This combined with their loud pre-dawn wake up calls made me think that it just wasn't going to work out. The neighbors didn't complain, I asked if they were bothered, and they said they weren't, but I know they have to just be being nice when they say that. I had posted a request to rehome them on the local permaculture forum and got a few replies, but when it came down to it, I just couldn't let them leave, so at the last minute I had to call the person who was set to come get them and tell him that we'd decided to give it another go. That was embarrassing, and I felt like a jerk. That morning my husband and I moved the duck pool and penned off about 175 square feet of the chicken pen for them to muddy up as they please.

So now I have the mud and food thievery problem solved, but they still have a round of loud quacking at 6am that carries on for about 5 minutes. I really really want to keep these ducks, but I can't imagine what time the quacking will begin in the summer when the sun comes up before 5. The other thing I'm hoping for is that maybe they'll settle in a little as they get older and start laying. Does anyone out there in internet land have any experience with this?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

General updates and chick pics, also a new solar oven build in the works??

Sorry for the lack of posts this week, my husband and I have been a little busy with figuring out where the dollars will come from. He doesn't seem very worried, but I'm the one that does all of our accounting and bill paying, so that's not as reassuring as it sounds. ;)
We finally got all my birthday trees and the free banana tree I got last week into the ground. I've also been busy transpanting some seed starts I had growing on the porch and about 140 onion starts. I'm plagued with those cabbage looper caterpillars so I spend a few minutes every morning picking those little plant eaters off and giving them to the chickens.
I'm still picking okra and eggplant and today I got my first black-eyed peas, which was super-exciting as I'd never grown them before this year, and after my experience earlier this year with the birds eating my bean plants down to the ground, I didn't have high hopes, but they seem to be thriving.

Here are some pictures of the chicks at 3 weeks, they are doing well and still very cute. In these photos they are still segregated from the younger chicks by the screen that's in the pictures. I was a little nervous about just dropping the new ones in with the older ones so I decided to give them some time to get to know one another while the babies got used to being alive. After a week of being separated by the screen, I combined them and everything was just fine. (It probably would have been fine anyway, I just didn't want to risk it) The bigger chicks would be going outside next week, except now that they are mixed in with our surprise chicks which are 2 weeks younger and not ready for outside yet. (It's still in the low 90's most days out here, but at night it goes down to the upper 60's).

Finally, I've got a new solar oven in the works. It will be made of glass and wood-- but plank wood rather than plywood, so there aren't any glues, formaldehyde or other nasty stuff. I've got the body of it completed and it gets up to 200 degrees without any reflectors. I'm hoping to get those built and attached this week. I've been taking step by step photos, so I'll post it all at once when it's all done. It seems crazy and un-smart to build an oven out of wood, but I'm pretty sure it will work out without any spontaneous combustion. Pretty sure.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Rare fruit classes and update

Yesterday was the fall plant sale accompanied by a great selection of FREE classes at our cooperative extension office. A person on the Phoenix Permaculture site posted about this and it couldn't have come at a better time. I didn't feel we had the money to buy any plants, like I'd originally intended, but I knew we had plenty of funds to cover free classes. ;) The ones I took were presented by master gardeners and members of the Arizona Rare Fruit Growers and included: tropical food plants in Phoenix, Grafting, Pomegranates, and Bananas and I ended up with a free tiny avocado tree from the grafting demo and a banana tree from the banana demo. I also got some free seed from the red okra they're growing in the demonstration gardens, which was a variety I planned on buying next year. I hope to pass on some of the information I learned in the coming days.

I came home and my husband and I planted the 6 citrus trees I had bought a week ago with birthday money. We now have 27 or 28 different varieties of fruit trees for a total of around 32 trees on our 1/5 acre lot. That sounds ridiculous, like we must be living in a forest of peach trees, but they really don't take up too much room.

I was so scatterbrained last week, I didn't post many chick updates, so here's a picture I took of Cosmo, our white-crested blue polish, almost a week ago. Tomorrow the groups of chicks will be 3 weeks old and 1 week old and I'll take some new pictures.

Thanks for all the comments and emails about our recent income slash. We're definitely going to try and make lemonade out of the situation. :)

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

another batch of new chicks.... what??!?

Here's how they show up in the mail!
You can imagine my surprise when I get a phone call from the post office this morning at 7:45 telling me that my baby chicks are here. I got my chicks two weeks ago, what chicks are these? I went down there and sure enough, there was a box of baby chicks waiting for me. I guess the hatchery accidentally sent my order twice! I don't think I'll have to pay for these, but you never can tell... So I had 23 extra chicks and no idea what to do with them. I'm happy because that means two extra cuckoo marans and a chocolate-colored easter egger, and it looks like I've found homes for the rest of them, so it's not that big of a deal, but man, what a surprise. I also took pics of the two-week old chicks, I'll post those soon so you can see how they've grown!

On a totally different note, our income got cut in half today thanks to the tanking economy. Well, we aren't the first on the block, and likely not the last. The bail-out is a total scam, and looks like some new version of it will pass this week. I wish they would just have all those rich, greedy folks that caused it do the bailing. Our pennies were pinched before, so this pretty much just sucks. I'm glad I already have some seeds started for fall/winter. Also, yesterday I added two more trees to the tiny farm: a meiwa kumquat and a low-chill hood pear. Let's hope these trees perform soon! (Note to self: do not tell husband when he's leaving for work that you wish he didn't have to go in--- this wasn't what I meant! ;) )

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Quick plant update!

I had some birthday money this year that I wanted to spend on new fruit trees, but I was thinking I would wait until January and get bare root trees...

Well, on Thursday I was at the Home Despot using some generous gift cards picking up some unrelated things and of course went through the garden center "just to look" I saw they had a Dorsett Golden Apple, which is the same variety we lost in that bad storm a few weeks back so I picked that up, they also had a great looking Kadota Fig (a white fig) that it seemed like we needed because two fig trees just aren't enough, a washington navel orange, which was a variety I had planned on planting anyway and a strawberry guava tree which after a long discussion with employees, references to garden books and calls to my husband to check the internet about whether it would do okay here or needed a pollinator etc. I decided to get that too.

On Saturday after the farmer's market I went to my friend Jennifer's house, and it just blew me away. Okra as tall as me and hundreds of eggplant, lots of melons and a whole bunch of other great stuff everywhere. If folks are reading this from the Phoenix Permaculture Guild and are on the fence about going to the tour at her house, GO! It's amazing. She told me that my favorite nursery (Baker's) had onion sets already, so on my way home I stopped by to get some of those. Long story short, I went home with 200 tiny onions, a 6-pack of broccoli and a sweet orange tree variety that I'd never heard of before called a pineapple orange.

Today I couldn't stop thinking about some of the other citrus that was at the nursery that I didn't have so I went back and got a meyer lemon, a bearss lime and a moro blood orange. I really want to go back for a kumquat...

So those 8 new trees bring the tiny farm fruit tree total up to 27. :) The baby chicks turn two weeks old tomorrow, expect pictures!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Gross. Don't read before dinner.

Don't worry, I didn't take photos. Sometimes this urban farming stuff can really suck. This week I made an unplanned and unwelcome foray into maggot farming. To understand how upsetting this is for me, you need to know that there are really only two things that gross me out: leeches and maggots. When I was 19 I tried to get over my fear of the former, by ordering leeches from a biological supply company and keeping them as pets. (Imagine the looks of the fedex employees and other customers when I opened my box to make sure everything was okay.) I can tolerate seeing leeches now in a contained aquarium, but you can be sure I don't go for soaks in stagnant water. To this day I haven't been able to assuage my extreme disgust of maggots.

Here is a long story short: Lots of lettuce/green scraps go into an insufficiently aerated or balanced compost pile. A few days later I open and find thousands of maggots squirming and pulsating and not just the little tiny kinds, there were a bunch over an inch long that seem to come from some giant fly beetle thing I've never seen until this week. I had rotting avocados beating like hearts from maggot excitement. I'll stop with the descriptions. I shoveled a bunch out into a bucket to give to the chickens who obviously have a completely different viewpoint on this subject. Yuck. That's enough about this.

Chickens heart maggots, I do not.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The new chicks are here!!!

All 26 right out of the box
What's better than new phonebook day? New chick day! After waiting 4 months, they're finally here and they all made it safely. I put in an order that included some for a couple other people too, so all 26 of these aren't mine, just 8, but I think the addition of these 8 officially bumps me up from Rachel's minuscule farm to a respectably tiny farm.

A salmon faverolle using a lavender/blue easter egger for a pillow

A goofy silver-laced polish peeking out to show off her new hair

I was surprised at how brown silver-laced wyandotte chicks are (which is what this is ;) )

Australorp sisters

Salmon faverolle

...and here are her 5-toed fuzzy feet

she's top model material!

So here is the list of the new additions: an australorp, an easter egger, a cuckoo maran, a white crested blue polish, a silver laced polish, a silver laced wyandotte and two salmon faverolles. These will eventually mix in with my current easter egger, rhode island red and blue andalusian for a total of 11 hens plus the 3 khaki campbells. What a birthday present!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Gulf Fritillary Caterpillars on my Passionflower

One of many tiny caterpillars
A double flower, if you look closely you can see a couple caterpillars in the background
Just like Parsec commented on an earlier post, the Gulf Fritillary Butterfly is attracted to passionflower plants. I had seen a couple of them flying around the plant and a few days ago I saw the plant was covered in orange and black spiky caterpillars. :) Now there are about 10 big juicy ones. They eat up the leaves a little, but it doesn't look like it's enough to harm the plant. I'm pretty excited about watching them turn into butterflies, I hope the birds spare a few.
Also, happy birthday to me! The baby chicks should get here tomorrow!!!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Bees Bees Bees

I was removing the dirt from a failed strawberry pot and out came all these little flower-tubes. At first because of the bright colors I thought they were old fake flowers that found their way into the potting mix somehow, but then I looked closer and saw they were little bee nests made of bougainvillea. Out here in Phoenix, our native bees are solitary bees that build little tubes out of cut up leaves and flower petals and put them into small cracks or holes. For whatever reason a bunch of them thought my strawberry pot was a good location. I'm making a bee house (a chunk of wood with holes drilled into it) and I'm going to transfer these and hopefully attract more.

You can see from the pictures that they make a perfectly shaped tube with the bottom sealed off and then it's sealed off above where the eggs are as well. It's hard to believe that a little bee made this. I'm impressed.

The baby chicks should be here in less than a week!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Painting, "The Traveling Strawberry Grower"

"The Traveling Strawberry Grower"

I don't usually post my artwork on this blog, but I was updating my painting website earlier today rachelbess.com, and thought this painting might be appropriate. It's 8" by 6", oil on panel. The woman has a bee in a little bee cage for an earring (which is hard to see in the lo-res computer image).

Hopefully we make begin making better choices for the environment so we don't all have to grow dinner in test tubes on our head. A good beginning would be to think long and hard whether or not it's smart to go busting up Alaska (or anywhere else) to get resources we wouldn't need if we had better energy policy (solar/wind etc) and conserved the energy we already have... I didn't mean for this to be a political rant but the ignorant "drill baby drill" B.S. makes me angry every time I think about it. It's hard to believe that people could be such disgustingly poor stewards of the earth. These people are so greedy and selfish (look to the national debt partly because of corporate bailouts for other proof) that they will sell their grand-childrens' futures just to make their own life a little less of a hassle.

Well... I better sign off before I get too far into those feelings, this is supposed to be about my tiny farm! :)

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Storm update and new rainbow seeds!!!

The storm is still not cleaned up in most places, there are still palm trees snapped in half on the side of the road, my neighbors still have a tree crushing their house and my other neighbors' cars are still smashed underneath another tree. There is so much damage that I guess the tree removing people are very backlogged. It's sad because we've gotten rain everyday since then and it's just raining right into my neighbors' house and there's nothing that can be done about it while the tree is still there.

On a brighter note, I went to the nursery and 'accidentally' bought these:

As I've said several times before, I LOVE planting seeds that give you surprise colors and shapes of fruit. For this season I've chosen a gourmet blend of jewel tone beets, mixed colors of tall trailing vine nasturtiums, the 'brightest brilliant rainbow' variety of Quinoa ("keen-wa") and 'carnival blend' carrots. This will be in addition to the easter egg radish seeds I already have. 5 varieties of surprises!!

I am hoping that I can use netting or something to be able to see all the different colors of quinoa and keep the thieving sparrows away. I've never grown it before
and I don't know anyone who has, so if you have, let me know how it went!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Terrible Monsoon at the tiny farm!!!

Usually here in the land of no rain we welcome the monsoons, without them we wouldn't get to our annual average 7" of rain. They occasionally break some tree limbs and some flooding, but last night we had a storm that put all the other ones to shame. We had 100+ mph winds, penny sized hail and floods. The chickens were fine, the ducks ended up being fine, but they got a little roughed up. Lots of my neighbors have no power today and it's supposed to be 103 and very humid. Here are just a couple of pictures of the damage, all of these are within a block radius of my house and there were a lot more but you get the idea from these.

Completely uprooted
There are two cars crushed under this giant tree
This took out the roof and part of the front of the house
no more porch

My wildlife rehabbing neighbor rescued this hurt swallow from floodwater

This photo only shows 2 of the 5 trees that were uprooted in front of this complex

Needless to say, most of today will probably be spent cleaning up and doing minor repairs to the tiny farm. We're thankful that all our animals seem to be okay.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ducks and the plumbed duck 'pond'!

The ducks are 5.5 weeks old now and nearly full-grown. They spend most of the day hiding out in the damp shade except when they hear the back door open which means it's time to start making noise and coming out from under the bushes to see if I have food.

I got very sick of taking out the dirty duck water every morning by hand with buckets, so I found a sturdy kiddie sandbox/pool in a bulk trash pile and added this faucet to it for draining. (The stick in the picture has nothing to do with it) With a couple rubber washers, some silicon sealer (which was probably unnecessary), and a brass fitting for the top side (also from the aisle with the hose spigot parts) I now just turn the knob and drain the water using a 6' hose. The pool is elevated on cinder blocks to help get enough gravity for it to drain and I may add one more row of 4" block to improve drainage pressure. I don't think this would work with those blue molded plastic flimsy pools, it needs to be a sturdier plastic, but this will be well worth your time if you have ducks.

The pond
Inside of the pond: the drain
Edit: I'm finding that it takes about an hour to drain with a 6 foot hose, this is a little slower than I would like and not quite the distance I would prefer. I may adjust this drain to fit a large pool hose so it will drain out faster and farther. Either way, it still beats using buckets.
Underside of the duck pond