Blackberries and English ivy had taken over a good portion of our backyard until M started spending some quality machete time out there. The newly cleared areas revealed, among other things, rotting stumps and an apiary full of spiders the size of which I did not know existed in these parts.
The stumps gave me an idea. Completely rotted through, I thought that removing a bit of the interior wood and replacing it with potting soil could transform them into functional planters with excellent drainage. I was already in search of a place to transplant my sage, chives, rosemary, thyme, and oregano which had been hastily potted last December before our move and were starting to look desperately droopy.
And so it happened. The chickens, of course, felt it was necessary to help out. Time will tell if the stumps remain intact and the herbs are happy.
Three small dinosaurs joined the family. They’ve been on our radar for a while, but we didn’t have enough space at our old house according to the City Code. So, when we realized the yard at our new rental met the city’s area requirements for backyard poultry, M took the initiative to put in a chicken application with the city. And it got approved!
Before I knew it, Saturday morning came around and I found myself on a beautiful, rain-free drive through wine and lavender country on my way to pick up three special ladies–all hens entering their first laying season. One Speckled Sussex and two Golden Sexlinks. We had one egg within hours and three more the following morning. The eggs, of course, are delicious. I know you’ve all heard it before. Omnivorous diet. Slugs+insects+compost=quality egg. And it’s true. Home-grown chicken eggs are the best.
We currently have the chickens in a fenced enclosure with a coop that is locked up every night. When we’re home the ladies have more freedom to roam the fenced backyard. I designed the coop and M built it and installed temporary fencing. It was a good learning process. Building things, we found, can be expensive. We were eager to get things going as quickly as possible so we bought most of the materials new. On the plus side, we know the coop is sturdy and should last for years. And it can come with us when we have our future-someday-farm. I think it was a good investment.
So far the girls seem healthy, happy, and hilarious. Have you ever watched chickens? I have. And could for hours on end. Such characters. Constantly scheming for the next morsel. This is such a great opportunity for us to learn about a new farm animal on a small scale. The yard feels (and sounds) so full of life and activity. Spring is on its way! The earliest dahlias and daffodils are blooming, the eggs are coming, and we may have baby bunnies a few weeks away…
Yesterday was anything but black. The sun was shining, the air was cold and the birds looked like they had also enjoyed a delicious feast the night before–wings lazily outstretched, waddling slowly, soaking in the rays. I had to wear sunglasses. At the end of November. In western Oregon! Crazy. It was a beautiful day and I am happy we spent it exploring.
Getting to work at sunrise and leaving after dark can be pretty dismal; it’s not surprising to hear people complain about it all the time. Where did the 4:30 pm November sunset come from? Winter is sneaky. Memories of a long, hot summer are still fresh and the change is surreal. Our first frost crept in a about a week ago and it looks to be a chilly Thanksgiving with overnight temperatures dipping into the low 20s. Other than the whole sun disappearance thing, I have to say that I’m loving this change. Sweater weather, as I call it, has arrived at last. I always did love summer, but ours was so very dry and the heat was so incessant that the changing seasons have been a beautiful relief. And I sure love a good wooly sweater and have several that are overdue for some time out and about.
In these short days, having bright colors in our home cheers me up immensely. Last week I finished my latest sunshine project–my second quilt (first adult-size). It is just about as bright and sunny as you can get. It’s not perfect, but I think it will hold together and I am delighted to have its bright colors great meet morning and night. It doesn’t particularly help me leave hibernation-mode on cold mornings, but it does brighten my day and welcomes me back in at night for dreams of sunnier climes.
This last calendula flower has helped too.
I love that we could have one last cut flower at the end of November, though I think it’ll be the last for the year. And as it fades so do the last vestiges of summer. But the holiday season brings its own warmth. Now I look forward to other things that will brighten our days. Candles, warm fires, food, more food, family, and friends. It’s hard to stay too gloomy this time of year.
I hope this Thanksgiving week finds all of you happy, warm, full of delicious food, and in good company.
When M and I left on a two week adventure last month we were able to leave Jimmy and Socorro, our pair of American Chinchilla rabbits, at my friend’s house. Elizabeth has been my best friend since freshman year of our sub-par high school. Thank goodness we had each other. Throughout the years, Elizabeth has pretty much been the best. Moral support and moving support–only the best of friends help you move more than once. And now…rabbit support. Elizabeth’s partner built something of a rabbit hotel on what has become their little urban family farm/garden (garm? farden?). The hotel is pretty awesome as you can see from the photos below. The design allows for removable dividers and a bunny stacking. And lucky for me, the bunny hotel had a vacancy and my generous friends took our two charges on for two weeks. Seriously, these folks are the best friends.
All went well with the hotel stay, until about a week and a half ago when I got a message from Elizabeth telling me about a little hiccup in the room arrangements. Her partner, she found out, may have let our two buns in the same space together for a minute or so in order to do a little cleaning. The tricky thing is, rabbits do tend to breed like rabbits. It takes about 10 seconds. However, I didn’t know if anything had come of this little snafu. I thought that, as this possible encounter had taken place the day after they were dropped off, the rabbits might have been a little too shell-shocked to…do what rabbits do best (and I don’t mean poop everywhere).
By the time last week came around, I was pretty certain Socorro was not pregnant. In her two past pregnancies she started nesting well over a week before the birth. Now she showed no signs of wanting to build a nest. Then, on the day I thought she could possibly be due, I got a message from M at home. Socorro was trying to nest. Of course. Luckily, M was home and he rushed a nestbox into Socorro’s cage and gave her lots of soft hay to work with. She went to work like a lady on a mission. A nest was made by evening. The next morning any doubts about her condition were erased. Surprise! Socorro had filled the nest with her fur and I counted nine little chubby balls of bun curled up in their soft bed. All warm, full, and happy. That Socorro is such a good mama.
The only reason I had not bred Socorro myself was that we are in rental-purgatory right now. The owner of our rental put the house on the market about two months ago and we don’t know if we’ll have to move in the near future or not. Best case scenario for us is that the house does not sell and we can at least continue renting through the spring. But who knows! Gosh, I suppose not having a mortgage is nice, but I can’t wait for the day when we have a farm that we can truly call our own.
Oh, and those hides? They’re a mixed bag. Two turned out fairly nicely and I have images of fur brimmed knit-wool hats flitting around my head–maybe we’ll have a winter this year? Two are a little oddly shaped and the fur got a little matted, but I suspect we can find a use for all of them. The lessons learned from this first round of tanning are 1) don’t scrape too much off the hides 2) be very careful when you actually have to wash them; apparently rabbit fur will mat.
It turns out when you start raising meat rabbits, you just might end up with bags of poorly labeled rabbit hides in your freezer. Luckily, I’ve wanted to work with rabbit hides since the idea of raising rabbits first came up.
The moment finally came to pull one of those suspicious-looking bags out of the freezer and start the first tanning experiment last week. I followed the directions in this article (M is helping too), starting off with four hides. The hides are now part-way through the process, which in condensed form includes the following steps:
Soak washed hides in a water/aluminum sulfate/salt mixture for two days.
Soak washed hide/separate (or “flesh”) tissue layer from the actual skin.
Rinse and put hides back in the original mixture with additional aluminum sulfate and salt for approximately one week.
Check to see if done.
When done, wash and partially dry the hides.
“Break the skin” or work the partially dried hide with your hands by pulling and working small sections.
We are currently on step 3, so I can’t vouch for the article, but I can say that the process seems relatively clear and simple so far. But does it work? Time will tell.
On Saturday we fleshed the hides which was a little tricky. M and I ended up using different tactics to remove the tissue. I held the whole skin in my hand and tried to peel of as much as I could in one go and picked at the rest. M laid his flat on a table and used a rock hide scraper to flesh a couple. Both methods seemed to work relatively well, although I think M was having fun using a tool that would have been traditional used by Native Americans. After fleshing, the hides are looking more like tanned hides, which I take as a good sign. I can’t wait to see if the whole process works!
Upcoming blog posts:
An update on the tanning process.
An anecdote or two about our journey to the East where we had many an adventure and saw a lot of inspiring farms along the way.
I spent two weeks of the last month working in Northwest Alaska. I saw a whole new view of the world from the window of a helicopter and grazed on tundra blueberries and cloudberries. Alaska is gigantic and beautiful and helicopters are like the world’s greatest rollercoaster times a million. I loved it. It was a privilege to experience such a beautiful, mystical place. I know when the day comes to start farming full-time, trips like Alaska won’t come around all that often. So I embraced it. Well, I would have regardless of the situation, because it was awesome. Why mourn trips of the future that cannot be when you can enjoy the present?
Next month M and I are taking a trip of a different sort. The tickets have been purchased, so this one is official. We are setting off on a 16 day road trip through New England, Upstate New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, the Smoky Mountains and whatever happens to be in between. It is an ambitious agenda that we haven’t fully settled on so things could change. But I hope to cover a lot of ground, because this trip is more than a road trip. You see, land in the Pacific Northwest–particularly decent farmland–is getting awfully expense. And so we are embarking on this epic journey to see what’s out there. I think it is a very worthy investment. What are the possibilities and what speaks to both of us? And of course, what is affordable? Good vibes. Off-farm work potential for M. Affordable. I think those will be the keys to success. That’s the awesome part about not having our own place yet. We can be open to all the options. Will we end up in Maine, West Virginia, Tennessee or back in Oregon? Who knows! I don’t. But I sure do like adventures.
Now I’m home with the bunnies and the garden. Trips are fun, but I really like being home too. I’m looking out the window right now and see Jimmy lounging on the brittle summer grass and clothes drying on the line. Summer is a fine time when it’s not 104 degrees out. My farm library is expanding and this weekend I plan on delving into the topics of soil quality, sheep, and market gardening. You can never have too many books
Oh and the baby rabbits are getting huge like they do. Socorro ended up raising 9 of the 11 to sizeable little buns. The runtiest died at two weeks old and another died while I was in Alaska of what sounded like some sort of choking issue. The first bunny deaths are their own story though. The remaining nine are large and healthy. Oh how quickly they grow. Check this out:
In other news, I think seeds are awesome. Their different shapes and colors are just so cool. Like calendula seeds. I harvested some today and they all look like weird little caterpillars:
And I’ll leave you with that for this update, folks. Have a wonderful weekend!
Summer is here and the babies have left. And ELEVEN more are here to stay. I just can’t get over how awesome a mama Socorro is and how well she raised such a healthy and happy first litter. This is the final tally for our first litter of eight:
Three for our pot
One for a friend’s pot
One to a friend for breeding stock
Three to a nice lady for breeding stock
The rabbit experiment has not as a whole have not paid for itself yet, but this first litter has paid for itself which is rewarding. Encouragement is sweet.
The babies came and went so quickly. With less than a week since our last bun flew the coup, Socorroo gave birth to the eleven healthy little peanuts on Friday. Socorro had been diligently perfecting her nest for over a week, so it was about time. But eleven is a huge litter. Rabbits only have eight teats, so Socorro is working overtime to keep the the little guys plump and well fed. I’m only a little worried–she’s such a good mom. I think they’ll all pull through in the end and the fact that they’re fat and happy now is a good sign. However, the arrival of the new babes coincided with the start of a ridiculous heatwave which is not the greatest thing.
We’re used to warm, dry summers here in Western Oregon, but multiple 90+ degree days in row, in June no less! is very unusual. It’s a little bit of a worrying start to an already warm and dry drought year. And most Oregonians, including us, do not own air conditioners. And rabbits are sensitive to heat. This means the rabbits have moved into the garage, laid claim to our one box fan and are hanging out next to frozen water bottles. And it also means that I bought one of the last fans Target had in stock yesterday for the house. Sadly, the heat is not going to let up anytime soon.But at least the tomatoes are happy. And luckily my job is flexible enough that I can work from home on the hottest of days and make sure the buns stay alive. So life is good! And as we fight the heat, please enjoy the latest garden pics. The little tiny babies are hidden in a cool, fanned garage right now, with awful lighting, but updates on them to come soon. ELEVEN though! That’s a darn lota babies.