Saturday, November 30, 2013

They're Just Ducky!

Now that the ducks are out of quarantine and in the animal yard, they have access to the stream that runs across the back of my lot.  I've enjoyed watching them work their way up and down, sticking their bills and sometimes their heads deep into the water looking for good stuff.

Since the stream is not that deep, I wanted to give them a way to submerge themselves if they have the need, so Nate rigged up this fabulous duck pond off the back of the chicken coop  The pond will be fed with water from a rain barrel.  I designed it so the overflow from the rain barrel will fill the pond and then I can save the collected water for periods when it doesn't rain.



We had some rain a few days ago, but not enough to fill the pond itself or the rain barrel, so I'm still waiting on the opportunity to dunk the ducks and let them know it's there.  Hopefully they will take to it like a duck to water.  Ha, ha!  I couldn't resist.

I'm looking forward to spring and the first clutch of duck eggs and potential ducklings.

Happy homesteading,


Monday, November 11, 2013

Chirp Chirp, not Quack Quack

Be afraid!  Be very afraid!  I'm burning up the blog world with two posts in a month!  Ha, ha!

We've introduced Muscovy ducks to the homestead.  I first learned about this breed of duck at a friend's farm a month or so ago, and then crossed paths with them again at another friend's farm.  Both of these experiences put a nugget of interest in my brain, and as luck would have it, I came across some for sale this weekend at a local livestock event in the colorings I wanted.

Here and here are a few articles on the breed that touch on all the reasons I find them suitable for my backyard homestead.

They are considered quackless.  They do make a chirp-type noise that is very quiet.  Sometimes it sounds to me like water dripping into a pool.  My chickens are loud enough, so I didn't want to add more noise coming from my backyard.

They don't need a pond to flourish.  I have some ideas to incorporate some type of landscaping pond in the glorified ditch/creek bed that runs at the back of my lot.  In the meantime I'm going to rustle up a kiddie pool to keep them happy. 

They tend to be very broody and are good at hatching their own eggs.  I like for nature to takes its own course, and less involvement required of me is just peachy!

Their meat is said to be very much like beef, very lean and non-greasy.  They are not the breed to have for rendering duck fat, but I have read you can render a small amount of fat from them.  I love adding another meat dimension to the homestead. 

They are good foragers and excellent at bug control, particularly mosquitoes, which is also hunky dory by me.  We have a terrible time with mosquitoes, so I hope they can help control our mosquito population next year.          

They don't require care much different than a chicken, so I feel like I can incorporate them into the flow of things without too many changes to our routine.  Though in my observations this weekend they are unlike chickens in that I notice they move as one.  Whenever I would approach the run they would move away from me in one unit, very unlike chickens who would have scattered, every chicken for itself.

One of the features that attracted me to these particular ducks at the event was the coloring.  I love the fawn and chocolate colors!


Anyone out there have experiences with this breed that you would like to share?

Happy homesteading,


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Operation Chicken Feed

I would love to say everything I eat is whole and unprocessed, but working full-time causes me to live in the real world.  So, I'm a label reader.  These days you have to be.  There are many hidden gmo-derived "natural" ingredients out there, citric acid, xantham gum and even Vitamin C, to name a few.  So, if I'm reading the labels of my food so thoroughly, why shouldn't I read the labels of my animal feed?  As my concern over GMOs has grown, so has my concern over the corn I was feeding my chickens and the alfalfa I was feeding my rabbits.  After all, we eat the eggs from the chickens and sometimes the chickens themselves, and we definitely eat the rabbits.  If I will put a package back on the shelf because it has soy lecithin in it, how can I justify feeding my animals feed laced with GMO products?

In my research I found this website, which is a fabulous resource for formulating your own chicken feed.  However, the problem for me is finding all of the different ingredients used in a particular recipe and at a reasonable price.  When you can't find all of the ingredients, you start to mess with the protein content and you then need to know how to formulate your protein based on the ingredients to which you have access.  Using the list of grains I could get locally and this website as a general source of protein content, I turned to one of the best homesteading blogs around, Five Acres and a Dream, for Leigh's explanation of the Pearson's Square Protein Calculator.  Right now I have access to whole oats, barley, wheat, flax seeds, black oil sunflower seeds and millet.  With all of these ingredients, how did I use the Pearson's Square, which only calculates the protein for two ingredients?  Well, I actually did not use the square itself.  I basically used Leigh's Step 2 to formulate my feed.  My formulation is totally an experiment and would not be appropriate for every flock.  They've been eating it for almost two months now, and so far so good.   

I was shooting for 16% protein in whole parts to make it easy to measure and mix.

Step 2 from Leigh's post:

     % of ingredient x its % protein
  + % of ingredient x its % protein
     % crude protein in grain mix  

My formulation:

Wheat       .30 x 13% = 3.9
Oats          .30 x 14% = 4.2
Barley       .15 x 12% = 1.8
Millet        .10 x 11% = 1.1
BOSS        .10 x 16% = 1.6
Flax Seed  .10 x 36% = 3.6
Total % of crude protein:  16.2

I do add mineralized salt and DE to the mix but I really just eyeball these two ingredients.  They also have free access to oyster shells and I know they pick up plenty of grit while they are out foraging.  I have plans to add brewer's yeast and kelp to my mix soon,  and once I add the brewer's yeast and kelp, I will reformulate based on this method. 

I really like to think of the feed as a supplement to the other ways in which the flock gets fed.  I depend on them being able to forage for some of their food, both for economy and for their overall health.  Even living in a neighborhood, my chickens have a pretty good free-range area.  In addition to a large area in my back yard, they have access to the back side of my neighbor's yard, which is approximately 1/4 acre of jungle.  He doesn't care that they are back there, and they love it because there is plenty of overhead coverage to protect them from hawks and it's a treasure trove of bugs and other goodies.  I recently started raising meal worms, but because I'm building up my population, they only get meal worms as a treat.  They also spend time scratching through the compost beneath my rabbit cages.  They get plenty of garden cast-offs, and they pick through the throw-away organic produce I get from my nearby natural grocery store.  In the garden this year, I experimented with growing field peas, which the chickens love and are an excellent protein source.  They did well so I'm hoping to expand and grow more next year. 

I know the combination of all of these feed sources contribute to happy healthy chickens.

Foraging Jungle Birds

Happy homesteading,


Monday, September 16, 2013

Falling in Love Again

I've fallen in love with my farm again.  It's the "get excited when you first meet" kind of love, giddy with excitement and potential.  I always feel the "this is my farm and I'm so proud of it" comfort love, but like all relationships, sometimes you need a jump start to get the giddy love going again, and we have had such a dreary rainy summer that the giddy was running on empty.

I was born to be outside, and I haven't gotten much outside time this summer.  I know this about myself, and I'm happiest when I'm outside whether it's being productive or just sitting on my deck watching chicken TV.  Add to my lack of sufficient outside time a dismal garden because of lack of sunshine and torrential rain, 3 inches of mud in the animal yard for three months straight, the chicken run flooding from one massive rain storm with a mama and 4 chicks in the thick of it trying not to drown.  Things like this can test your commitment to your passion but it can't break it.  Do you know why? 

Because here comes fall with her crisp mosquito-less lower-humidity air.  I've been working to get the summer garden cleaned up and doing some planning for my fall garden.  I'm craving some greens:  kale, collards, mustard, cabbage, lettuces, all of them.  Bring them on.  Bring on the fall/winter projects too, more beds, a better irrigation system that utilizes rain barrels, expanded fencing.

I've renewed my vows; my commitment is solid; my love is giddy.

Happy homesteading,


Monday, July 8, 2013

It's Raining Men, Cats, Dogs, Buckets, and Frogs

And the gully washers just keep coming.  It has rained every day for the last month, and not light showers, but heavy rain.  I sink ankle deep in my animal yard, and my tomatoes are splitting and rotting on the vine.  The next ten days are forecast for 30-60% chance of more rain.  Can you tell I'm over the rain?  I am SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO over the rain!

Okay, enough venting.  What have I been doing during all of this rain?  Well, I've been canning a little bit, and I decided to finally get my Etsy shop going.  It's a mixture of vintage and handmade items, and it is giving me a creative outlet and a purpose for my collection of vintage and reclaimed buttons and eventually my collection of felted wool sweaters.  As far as handmade, I've started with button rings, and I've already sold two, so I'm happy about that.  I have a few more ready to list, which I hope to get done at some point this week.

If you are on Etsy, I hope you will add Bottle Tree Farm as one of your Favorite shops, visit often as I add more items, and maybe even buy something that strikes your fancy for you or someone you know.

Here is one of the button rings I listed.

Stacked Vintage/Reclaimed Button Ring with Iridescent Blue Button

Even though this only has already sold, I wanted to share it because I think it turned out really cute.  You have to scroll down the page past all of the current listings to see it.

Stacked Vintage/Reclaimed Button Ring with Yellow Flower Button

Stay dry and happy shopping,


Friday, June 7, 2013

A Backyard Garden Tour

Hey, folks!  I thought I would break down a garden tour into my front and back yards.  Since I took down all of those trees, the backyard is now getting pretty good sun, and I'm seeing the benefits like I've never seen before.  This past week, we have been drenched with rain, and this farmgirl is not complaining.  Though it does make the animal yard look like a monster truck's dream.

My cilantro and dill are going to seed as is my lettuce, so bye bye cool weather crops.  But, we've had a cooler spring than normal and for the first time I've been able to enjoy a salad with my own lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers.  Normally my lettuce has bolted in the heat by the time the tomatoes and cucumbers are coming in.  I could probably do a better job keeping my lettuce around longer each year, but I can only do so much with the time I have.  Anyway, I'm just starting to pick cucumbers, grape tomatoes, green beans, a few blueberries and blackberries here and there, and of course, summer herbs like basil.  Everything is building up to what looks like a productive year.  Preserving season is upon me, and I really need to get myself organized and ready for it.

My back garden consists of Winter Luxury Pie Pumpkins, Waltham Butternut Squash, a variety of heirloom tomatoes (Black Cherry, Black Plum, Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, Hillbilly, Yellow Gooseberry), Cherokee Trail of Tears Pole Beans, Yellow Midget Watermelon, Zucchino Rampicante Squash, Oaxacan Green Dent Corn, Rattlesnake Pole Beans, Japanese Pickling Cucumbers, Delikatesse Cucumbers, Purple Hull Pinkeye Cowpeas, Red Onions, Buran Bell Peppers, Red Marconi Bell Peppers, Purple Jalapenos, Craig's Giant Jalapenos, Beauregard Sweet Potatoes, and Yukon Gold Potatoes.  

A few lessons learned already are: 

Squash Vine Borers love pumpkins.  I don't plant summer squash because I have a long standing battle with the vine borers.  However, when I decided to try pumpkins for the first time this year, I didn't realize they were suseptible to vine borer damage.  One thing I've noticed though is that the pumpkins are very prolific rooters, so even though the older parts of the vines are getting hit hard by the borers, the vines are rooting themselves as such a pace that I hope they can stay ahead of the vine borers.  I've been killing quite a few squash bugs too, but at least they are easy to catch and dispatch. 

I decided to try a different jalapeno variety this year, and I'm already regretting it.  I don't like the Purple Jalapenos.  They are too thin walled.  I used up the rest of my Craig's Giant seeds this year, so next year, I may go back to them. 

I am attempting the three sisters, but one of the sisters left the party early.  She got jealous because her other two sisters were taking all of the limelight, I mean sunlight and space.  I planted ------- Green Dent Corn with the Waltham Butternut Squash and the Rattlesnake Pole Beans.  The corn is coming along and the pole beans are climbing their way up the corn.  The beans don't look like they will be as prolific as my trellised pole beans.  They aren't in a raised bed like the trellised ones, and are really struggling with all of the clay we have in the ground.  Regardless of the outcome, I love to experiment to see how much and what I can grow in my small space.  Live and learn. 

Now, for the main event, pictures.  Enjoy!

Happy homesteading,


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Trellises, Trellises, I Need More Trellises!

As my garden grows, so does my need for trellises.  I only have so much ground space so going vertical as much as possible is the best solution for me.

Over the years I've amassed quite a collection of old windows.  My original intent was to have Nate build me a window greenhouse out of them, but as time passed, it just didn't happen.  Nate finally got so tired of my begging for a window greenhouse that he said he would just buy me one.  Okay, I didn't get the window greenhouse I dreamed of, but I did get a greenhouse.  I choose my battles, and he does so many projects for me anyway, that I can't complain if he doesn't really want to build me a window greenhouse. 

The fallout is that I now have a large collection of windows without a purpose.  I'm not naming any names, but someone says this to me from time to time:  "Either do something with these windows or get rid of them."  "Either do something with these windows or get rid of them."  "Either do something with these windows or get rid of them."  Okay, okay!

Recently I was contemplating the windows and better use of the vertical space along my privacy fence when an idea popped in my head.  Why not use them to make a trellis?  So, after more sanding and painting than I really ever care to do again in the near future, stapling 2x4 hardware cloth to the back and having them mounted to the fence with 10" lengths of scrap 2x4s, I have this lovely window trellis.  I realized after they were hung that I probably should have given myself more space between them to reach behind the middle ones, but I wasn't about to request that they be taken down and rehung.  I'll see how they work this year and possibly separate them a little more next year.  I managed to use six of my windows, and I have room for two more trellises like this along the fence, meaning 12 more windows can eventually be taken from the stash.  I'm not naming any names, but he will be very happy I'm chipping away at my collection!

Happy homesteading,


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun

The "bottom" half of our yard looked like this when we bought our house.  I call it the bottom half because it sits down off the retaining wall that runs along the right side of this photo.  Behind the privacy fence is a glorified ditch that usually has a small stream of water running through it, and our yard extends beyond this ditch.

This space has come a long way with the real transformation being once we decided to turn it into the animal yard.

We now house rabbits and chickens in this yard. It has worked out wonderfully for this purpose because it keeps the chickens out of the top half were the majority of my garden is located. But I'm always looking for ways to utilize our outdoor space to its full potential.

For several years we've talked out taking down the privacy fence to be able to fully see our yard. I would garden there, but the ground slopes down to the creek, it receives shade most of the day, and the oak tree roots are practically throughout the whole area. So, recently we decided the best way to use this area of the yard was to expand the animal yard and give the chickens even more space to free-range since we've denied them access to the top half. We ran fencing and took down the privacy fence that separated these sections. It basically doubled their space, and I think it turned out great!

Our dilemma was how to bridge the "creek" as we call it. We ended up spanning a 2x4 and then buiding the fence across the 2x4. After that, we used some of the old privacy fence boards to run the span of the creek to keep the chickens from running all over the neighborhood. The last thing we did was attach a piece of hardware cloth to let the water flow. Since the flow is never heavy, it won't be hard to keep that flow-through area clean.
I think the flock likes it.
Happy homesteading,







Thursday, April 4, 2013

You Say kee-fur, I Say kuh-feer

Can we just meet in the middle and share a common love for kefir? 

Recently, I had been researching yogurt making and just couldn't take the plunge to start doing it. Working full-time makes my life crazy and I don't have time to add another "need to monitor" project to my list. Some days I wonder how I get what I do done, so monitoring the temperature it takes to make yogurt just seemed too much for me. I considered a yogurt maker, which would certainly simplify the process, but that's another appliance to buy, store and maintain.

So, when a friend offered me some kefir grains in exchange for a jar of honey, I started doing some research.  You can find a multitude of websites that discuss kefir, but by far the most informative website I've found is this one:

Kefir is SOOOO easy to make.  You put some milk in a clean sterilized jar, add the grains to the milk, cover the jar, leave it on the counter for 24-48 hours, strain the grains from the milk, and you're done.  It's tart, creamy, full of good for you stuff, and very versatile.  And the longer you let it sit, the tarter and thicker it gets, and if you let it sit long enough, the curds will separate from the whey, and you have the perfect opportunity to make a variety of products.  I've stopped buying yogurt, sour cream and cream cheese from the store, and whenever I can eliminate another store bought item off my list, I'm a happy camper.  It means I'm less dependent on the food industry and more self-sufficient.  Unless I do something to kill the culture, my kefir will live indefinitely.

I started out putting it in smoothies, which is fabulous, but the more research I did, the more I realized how versatile it is.  If you drain the whey from the curds, you get a product ranging from a mock sour cream to a soft spreadable cheese.

I recently took a cheese-making class and during the class I started wondering if I could use kefir to make something other than the soft spreadable cheese I had been making.  The teacher led me to this website:  You'll note it is from the same person as above.  I'm looking forward to trying some of the hard cheese recipes.  What I love about these cheese recipes is that the kefir works as the coagulant and you don't have to use rennet.   

I've used kefir in the place of 1/2 of the milk in my favorite pancake recipe.  It gives the pancakes a sour dough flavor and makes them very light and airy.  I now use it in the place of the sour cream called for in my ranch dressing recipe.  I've also made this pudding, subbing coconut milk for the milk:  This was my first experience with chia seeds, and they do remind me of tapioca like the post suggests.  It turned out yummy. 

My most surprising use for kefir is using the whey to tenderize venison cube steak.  I always have venison cube steak in my freezer.  It's my least favorite cut, and though I have tried every recipe and technique known to man, I could never get it to tenderize.  Therefore, the cube steak packages would get relegated to the bottom of the freezer.  In the back of my mind, I had remembered reading that whey is a good tenderizer, but I had never tried it since I never had whey on hand.  One day, I had some leftover kefir whey, so I decided to give it a whirl with some cube steak.  I let the cube steak sit in the whey for a few days because I put off cooking it thinking I was doomed for failure.  Man, am I glad I took the risk.  That cube steak was the most tender I've ever eaten, fork tender I'm telling you.  Even Nate commented on it.  Now, I don't have to fear the cube steak! 

Here are some other recipes to consider, though I haven't tried any of these yet:

Kefir Eggnog

Apple Pie Kefir Ice Cream

Kefir Butter

Kefir Cottage Cheese

Kefir Avocado Soup

Kefir Cheese in Olive Oil

Whey Lemonade

By the way, the chickens love whey, but for all of you dairy farmers and cheese makers out there, you probably already knew that. 

Happy kefir making,


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

It's Pinterest's Fault

I remember a time when I told a friend, "I don't have time to add another thing to my list."  This was my response to her question about why I had not joined Pinterest.  I caved and joined and sold my soul to the virtual pinboard.  I recently joked to a friend that if I could knit as quickly as I pinned, I would be AMAZING!  I live in a small house, so Pinterest is a hoarder's dream tucked away in cyberspace.  It doesn't clutter my house with pages torn from magazines never to be looked at again, until I decide to get rid of the clutter in my house.  It feeds my OCD need for organization.  Pre-Pinterest, I would see an idea and think, "I want to do that."  Then I would forget it as soon as I saw the next clever idea.  Much to the chagrin of Nate, the ideas I've pinned have stuck, and I've actually done some of them.  One day, he was loading a pallet into the bed of his truck, and he said a co-worker just looked at him and asked, "Pinterest?"  Nate said he just nodded and threw the pallet into the bed.

A few months ago Nate built a new rabbitry for me.  I know, he just built one for me a year ago, but it didn't work for several reasons.  I hated the cage over cage set-up because of the poop boards, which just did not seem sanitary no matter how often I cleaned them, and the arrangement of the cages, which were either too high or too low for me to reach into comfortably.  Plus the height of the lower cages made cleaning beneath them difficult.  The old rabbitry is now being used for storage, which I desparately needed, so no great loss with some small gain.  I love my new rabbitry, and the cages hang so the poop and urine fall straight to the ground, and I can adjust them to a height that works for me. 

I've composted for years, but I've never had a great system.  One day, I was trolling Pinterest and I came across the idea of building compost bins under the rabbit cages.  Compost bins under my rabbit cages?  You don't say?  I do say, and I did!  Operation Compost Bins has been in full force and effect the past two weekends.  The backs and sides are 1/2" hardware cloth and the fronts are boards that fall into the slot with screws in each board to keep it slightly apart from the board below it.  The boards can be stacked close to the bottoms of the cages.  The chickens are already checking it out.  (You can click on any photo for a larger view.)

Another idea I recently found is growing celery from the cut base.  I never buy celery because I don't use much of it, and tf always goes bad before I can use it all.  Well, what do you think appeared in the compost box I get each week from the grocery store?  You got it, celery.  It was pretty limp and old, but I thought what the heck.  After about a week of sitting in a tray of water in the greenhouse, both pieces started growing from the center, and I potted them this weekend.

And, the next time Nate gives me the look when I broach a new project to him, I'm going to say, "It's Pinterest's fault."

Happy homesteading,


Saturday, March 16, 2013

Scratching and Clawing My Way Out

Looking at the date of my last post, I see to my amazement that I've taken a nice LONG winter break.  But spring is in the air, and I am going to claw my way out of my winter blogging den and try to get back on task.  So, I thought the easiest way to do that would be to bring you up-to-date on some of my animals.

Big Boy; A beautiful rooster, and he was great with the girls, but he and I just could not get along.  It got to where I had to carry a small rake with me to fend him off whenever I stepped out the back door.  Big Boy was my first meat chicken.  I got teary-eyed when I did the deed.  It's hard taking a life, and it certainly causes one to take a moment and give reverence to the food on your plate.

I got this motley crew of birds about a month or so ago, and they will be my first intentional venture into meat birds.  Wow, eight whole birds.  Don't go overboard!  Really, I like to start things slow and get used to something before I jump in whole hog.  The girls will be kept for eggs, and the boys will go to freezer camp. 

This is Belinda, our new American Chinchilla doe.  She will be one of my breeder rabbits for meat.  I had her bred before the breeder brought her so I would have a separate gene line from her babies.  Well, she had one baby!  She took excellent care of it, and let me tell you, it was fat, fat, fat!  I will be breeding Belinda again soon.  Hopefully she'll give me more than one baby next time.

This is Belinda's Baby.  Can you believe she is only a few months old?  I told you she was a healthy girl.  We're keeping her, which will give me three American Chinchilla does for breeding when she comes of age.  

This is Buck Nasty, my new American Chinchilla buck.  Okay, Nate named him after a charactor on Dave Chapelle's Show.  When I first got him and Belinda, I was showing the pedigrees to Nate and I told him that the boy rabbit at the time was only called Buck and that he needed a name.  Well, Buck Nasty has stuck so far, but I told Nate I didn't know if I wanted to put that on a pedigree.  So, we'll see.

This is a litter belonging to Bunny and Jack, my other two American Chinchilla rabbits.  They are starting to venture out of the nest box, so it's fun to watch them frolic together.  They are my first meat litter for this year.      

Well, that's it, folks.  Thanks for being patient and sticking around and checking up on me!

Happy homesteading,