A Rose is……

Rose_resizeOne of the joys of gardening is when you plant something, a bush or shrub or tree, and it blossoms the first year. I planted this rose bush in a kind of shady spot. I wasn’t sure if it would take or not. But last night when I went into the garden to water, there was this guy. Made me smile.

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Duck pond

  • I’m Having a little difficulty engineering a successful duck pond. I traded a sack of feed for a five foot kiddie pool. But all attempts to filter the water and make it less than a muddy cesspool have met with….. Failure.

The only thing I have been able to do with the duck water is pump it into my orchard and irrigate my apple trees. Not a total waste, but having to empty the pool every other day and fill it again is going to be an awful burden on our well come August if I can’t figure out a way to at least treat it enough to pour on my veggies.

My latest design involves siphoning out the water into three cascading buckets then into a sump where the water would be pumped up to the pond again.image

The idea was that three buckets would act as swirl filters to precipitate solids out, each bucket being a little clearer than the previous one. I had hoped this arrangement would work to filter the solids out of the water so that I could include a bio filter at the top. But the water remains stubbornly filthy after it passes through my buckets.

i haven’t given up yet, but I am somewhat discouraged at the amount of time I have spent on providing my ducks with a clean place to bathe. I had no idea it would be this hard.


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Duck Update week 1-4

It’s been a few weeks since I posted so I thought I’d give an update on the new ducks.

The ducklings arrived in the mail on April 13. Two days old and cute as could be. We got them from Holderread farm in Oregon and were delighted with the health of the lot…. As well as the bonus duck they sent along! So eleven Welsh Harlequin ducklings settled in and commenced to eat and drink at once.


Note to prospective duck owners. No one can prepare you for how much baby ducks eat and drink! ….. And poop. And definitely no one can prepare you for how fast they grow! Much faster than chickens. They out grew the pet carrier I had prepared in a couple of days! Fortunately I had a large dog carrier to switch them into.


Their first bath was a hoot. At first they just looked at the water dish as if, ” what’s this thing for?” Then I sprinkled some chopped grass on top and in two seconds they were all in the dish!


Now a mere three weeks later the ducklings have transformed into tweeners. Feathers have started to replace the fuzz and I’ve heard a few proto-quacks among the peeps.


What this means is that I have to hurry up and finish their permanent outdoor home. Once again I have built a cattle panel quonset style cage. As ducks produce more messy and smelly poop than chickens I have added a french drain and lined the base with smooth pea stone.



With luck this will keep my ducks safe and allow me to hose down the enclosure every morning to keep the smell down to a dull roar.

will it work? Stay tuned.

Next Post: building a duck pond!

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When one runs a small farm there are many moments that almost defy description. One such occurred last night. Having had a chicken that was starting to “fly the coop” my wife and I reasoned that it was time to clip their wings again. We did it last year with good result. But obviously at least one bird had molted and grown back the few feathers we clipped, at least enough to fly up and out of the enclosure.

There was only one problem. Recently we got two new birds – year olds – from a neighbor who had let them free range. These two were going to be a problem to round up. Sure enough, the most skittish of the group (a chicken who will henceforth be known as “scooter” refused all efforts to coral her. Finally, however, with difficulty we managed to corner her and clip her wings. For putting the girls through such a traumatic experience I thought I’d give them a session in the orchard to scavenge worms.

Big mistake. No sinner had I opened the gate when scooter and her sister headed straight for a nearby blackberry thicket, ducked under the fence and were off. As the rain began to pour my wife and I spent a fruitless hour chasing the birds from the blackberries to the bamboo forest – which the previous owners had so thoughtfully left behind. I managed to corner one of the birds but Scooter resisted all efforts to capture her.

After just having weathered an attack by a peregrine falcon (see “Attack from above”) I was not feeling good about leaving a chicken out over night. But what could we do?

Finally, with night falling we gave up. I closed up my six tame birds in the coop but left the back gate open hoping that Scooter might find her way back home.

Sure enough, by morning when I went out to feed the rest of the crew, there was Scooter, lined up, waiting for breakfast! A happy ending. But it gave me pause. Surely there can be no better definition of irony than chasing a chicken that has escaped…. After you’ve just clipped her wings so she won’t escape!


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Attack From Above

I had just finished collecting the day’s bumper crop of five eggs when something hit the netting above my head.
Looking up I saw one of these guys flying away.


He obviously wasn’t expecting the netting. Fortunately for us it was there so I didn’t lose a chicken. Fortunately for him he didn’t get tangled up in the netting.

thinking about it later however, I felt like, “What a cheeky bastard!” I mean, he hit the netting right next to my head meaning he was ready to swoop down and make off with one of my flock….. With me standing right there!

The peregrine flew off to a nearby tree and sat looking down at the chickens as if trying to figure out how to get around the netting and grab a bird. I puffed out my chest and waved a stick and he finally flew off in search of easier pickings.

The incident did give me pause however. I’ve been letting the girls out in my garden to forage as of late. Too early to plant yet so why not let them turn up the soil? But the garden doesn’t have a net over the top of it. As if I don’t have enough projects to worry about already.

furthermore, I have ducklings coming in April and their enclosure doesn’t have any netting at all.

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Fish Eggs

No, I’m not talking about caviar.

I’m talking about chicken eggs that taste fishy. The other day Cathie remarked her omelet – from our very own eggs – had a fishy taste to it.

at first I was skeptical. I eat eggs almost every morning and I hadn’t noticed anything strange. But a couple of days later I noticed it too. A distinct fishy aroma and taste… Almost as if I’d cooked my eggs in the same pan as someone who’d cooked salmon a few minutes before.

a quick perusal of “backyardchicken.com” (my go to reference) I uncovered the following study:


I knew that feeding fish to chickens could affect the taste of the eggs, but who knew you could affect the taste by feeding them canola meal?

Thing is, I had just switched feed for the hens a week or so before. I called the company and they admitted that yes, they did put canola meal in their feed. I switched back to the hideously expensive organic feed I was using before and the taste improved almost immediately.

lesson learned. Try to save a few pennies on the cost of feed and suffer the consequences.



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Hot Compost

It might seem strange to get excited over seeing a pile of poo steam, but that’s exactly what I felt this morning: excitement.

You have to understand, over the past year I have been frustrated by my inability to get a compost pile to cook. Worm composting? No problem. I got that one down. But no matter what I tried I couldn’t seem to get my hot compost pile hot.

Oh, it rotted and broke down okay. Whenever I’d turn it it would be crawling with worms. But the temps necessary to kill weeds and nasties from the animal poo were non- existent.

finally, in desperation I sat down with Sara Cassatt, our local conservation agent and reviewed all the things I’d tried. Layered brown and green material, check. Moisture? Check. Oxygen? Check.

About the only thing I hadn’t been scrupulous about was the dimensions of the pile. That is, I sort of threw everything in a big pile and expected nature to take over.

After talking with Sara I decided to come home and make one more try. Clearing off a level spot I screwed four pallets together and began building my pile from scratch. Placing a perforated drain pipe vertically in the center I layered chopped straw bedding from my chickens, moldy gooey grass hay, green horse manure , wet leaves from last fall, and some rotting pumpkins that didn’t make it through the winter.

Then I cut a piece of wet cardboard to fit and for good measure I tacked up a scrap of black roofing felt on the south face of the box.



the second morning I woke up. The outside thermometer read 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Freezing. Yet when I stuck a thermometer in the pile, to my delight it read 142!


This morning, the outside temp was 42 degrees, but the pile continues to cook at a steady 142. Finally, I seem to have figured hot composting.┬áThe lesson here, as always, is if your first attempts at anything don’t pan out, persevere. Keep at it. You’ll get it.

In fact, on a broader level, my take away from my farm experience is, if your first attempt at anything is a total success, be very grateful. It doesn’t happen very often. Usually, my first three attempts at anything are a dismal failure. Or at best, mediocre. But eventually I get it….. Usually.



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