Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Orphan

My adopted baby, Wiggly Ticklemint.

Sunday morning when I checked in on the Jersey Woolies and opened up Miss Flossy's cage, I found a surprise. Four babies. I only got a quick glance before I shut the cage and ran in to tell Lee. He came out to see the little ones, but when I opened up the cage the second time I was able to observe that some of the babies weren't moving. 

It turned out that three of the four babies were cold and lifeless, but hadn't been dead for long. The little pink one was still moving, so I picked her up and tried to warm her little cold body.

For any number of reasons, Miss Flossy had abandoned her young. It could have been that it was her first litter and she wasn't quite sure what to do, something could have startled her, her cage could have been too small... I've read countless possibilities. 

I felt it my obligation to do what I could to save the last one, and told Lee that we were going to have to make a trip into town to get some kitten formula. However, after looking up what to do for an orphaned infant rabbit and learning that in most cases they will die after three or so days, I felt absolutely useless. Apparently rabbit milk is impossible to replace. 

So knowing that it would be useless to hand feed the baby, I decided to turn Miss Flossy on her back, holding her in my lap because the family I adopted her from said that she would lay like this for great lengths of time as if hypnotized, and it was going to work in my favor. I then laid the baby on her stomach. The first attempt at this was not successful, as the baby was still cold and unable to feed. The second time was successful. I've been feeding the baby this way twice a day, which is how often a mother rabbit feeds her young, as well as having to clean the baby's hind end with a warm, dampened cotton ball. I knew this whole procedure from having pet rats. Rabbits, like rodents and many other mammalian mothers, have to clean the babies hindquarters in order to get them to eliminate wastes, otherwise the babies will die from blockage. 

I've named the baby Wiggly Ticklemint, it's such a wiggly little thing when it feeds and it's little feet tickle when they kick. Sadly, Miss Flossy doesn't want to have anything to do with little Wiggly, she has made no attempt the last three days to get in the box and feed her on her own or clean her. In fact, she tried to snap at her this evening after feeding when I let the baby cuddle up at her side to sleep while both of them sat on my stomach. So I've decided for Wiggly's safety, I am going to remove her from her mother's cage. I will continue to have Miss Flossy nurse, since I can hold her and she seems calm enough for that job, but it's fairly obvious that she has rejected the baby as her own and can't be trusted not to harm it while unattended.

From what I have read, rabbits are really odd mothers compared to other pets that I've owned. I've had rabbits before, just never bred them, so this is new to me. Rabbit mothers don't lay with their young like dogs, cats, or even rats. They only feed the babies twice a day by standing over them for about five minutes at a time, and amazingly enough, this sustains the baby. The rest of the time the mother spends away from the nest. This is something wild rabbits do to ensure that predators will not be alerted to the nest, and apparently domestic rabbits still have this instinct. 

Wiggly is almost four days old now, and every day I've noticed how rapidly she is growing. She was practically bald when I found her, but now she has a fine velvet peach fuzz of white fur sprouting up. Her ears have been changing, and it's the cutest thing when she wiggles them. In six or seven more days, she will be able to see me. I've totally fallen in love with this funny little creature and can't wait to see how she changes each day in the coming weeks. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

My Empire of Crap

It's Wednesday, which means it's library day. Every week I have a new stack of books to pick up that I've requested through the interlibrary loan. One book I am happy to return (and so glad I didn't shell out any cash for) is My Empire of Dirt: How One Man Turned His Big-City Backyard into a Farm. This guy was no backyard homesteader, he was a was a total animal abuser. Really, I thought this was going to be another enlightening, inspiring and entertaining tale like Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, or Made from Scratch: Discovering the Pleasures of a Handmade Life, but it certainly is not. I wouldn't recommend wasting your money, and certainly not your time. Let's hope there's something waiting in my stack of books at the library to make up for this horrendous piece of writing.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hail No, the Rain Won't Go!

Tomato and pepper seedling pots.
The weekend was blah. The forecast predicted that this whole week would be blah. Blah.

I was about to thumb my nose at the weather reporters after the sunny morning we had, when just a moment ago everything went dark again. I looked outside our office window to see my freshly planted seedling pots being pelted by hail! Hail in March? Well, I guess that's not too unusual since we had snow in April up at Columbia College about 5 years ago when I worked there.

Yeah, it's been one of those weeks. Dead bees and bloody awful weather. Looking forward to those sunny days... where are they?

BTW, I finally got a paper pot maker and highly recommend one if you garden a lot and grow from seed. I figure that it has already paid for itself just this season because those seed starter peat pots add up quick. I held off getting one for so many years because I wasn't sure if they would work that well. Even after getting this one and trying it out, I still wasn't convinced that those flimsy newspaper pots would last after the first watering, but they have. I think I even spied the first tomato, an Oxheart, breaking through the soil in one of the pots this morning, unless it was a rogue weed. One of the Armenian cucumbers has sprouted as well. Can't wait to see what all the weird heirloom vegetables look like (and more importantly taste like) this summer. Now come back sun!

Saturday, March 19, 2011


We may have failed with the bees, but our chickens have have started laying again full swing. Even Red and Chili, our late bloomers, are finally laying. Five eggs almost every day now (Chili is our least productive, so some days it's just four.)

You can see Red's dark brown speckled eggs in the photo. Chili lays tinted pinkish tan eggs. Of course the blue-green eggs are Chipmunk's, and the medium brown eggs belong to Salt and Pepper. No dye required this Easter!

Today we are off in search of ducklings! We'd like some Indian RunnersBlue Swedish, or Khaki Campbells, or a combination pair of any of the above.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Doing My Bee-Search

After this morning's beehive debacle, I did a little research on what may have possibly gone wrong and while initially I didn't think it could have been the Varroa destructor because I didn't see any mites on the few bees still alive (doh, wow I feel dumb today), the deformed wings in the young I saw earlier this year were almost a dead giveaway, as are the dead brood in the frames.

I also discovered, which was not all that encouraging but probably a necessary wake-up call, that people like me are sometimes called beehavers and not beekeepers because we don't know anything about keeping the bees alive these days. I'm a bee student without a mentor so this is all trial and error for me, but I do have the gumption to become a real beekeeper. This has been a valuable, if not depressing, lesson.

The most disappointing part is that we will not have that wonderfully melodious hum of bees this year in the garden, as it is too late in most cases to order package bees. Sigh. I will miss them terribly.

A Sad Morning

I found these girls huddled in the bottom box.
 Today is the day I realize how much of an amateur I am at something I felt I knew a lot about, which goes to show that being booksmart doesn't mean squat next to hands on experience.

When I noticed this morning that there were absolutely no bees coming and going from our hive, which is very unusual this time of year on a sunny morning, I opened it up to find it barren. I was shocked and totally dismayed. Well, more dismayed than shocked, really. I must admit that I have been in denial the last couple of months since I first began to notice strange happenings in the hive, like young bees with deformed wings and dwindling numbers day after day. I didn't want to believe that it could be something that would decimate our hive, so I kept telling myself... "oh, it's just Winter. Their numbers probably dwindle a bit in the colder months, they'll regenerate when the weather warms up."

About 13 of the 20 remaining bees in my hive currently.
Anyway, so after finding the hive barren this morning, I began dismantling it to investigate. As I did this with a screwdriver (because I forgot where I put my hive tool) I realized how lousy this experiment was and just how unprepared we were. We never got our beekeeping suits or a smoker, which would have allowed us to inspect the deeper frames on the bottom box sooner for trouble. Instead, we just had a laissez-faire attitude about it, "ah, we'll let the bees live undisturbed  and au natural and see what happens." Really, we are to blame for being lazy about doing our bee homework.

Bottom frame is barren brood chambers, top is honey comb.
Upon first glance, the only thing I can determine is that further investigation is required to figure out exactly what happened. In the top box of the hive, there are several beautiful capped frames of honey that are untouched. So they didn't starve over Winter at all. The thing that is very mysterious, is that in the brood chambers, there are dead young that appeared to die in varying stages of development, some looked like they died just as they exited their chambers. My first guess would be foul brood, but honestly it doesn't look like that from what I remember of descriptions I've read and previous images I've seen. I'm going to have to do a little more internet research to find some comparison photos.

In the meantime, I guess I'll just leave the 20 or so bees I have left to live out their life in the hive while I prepare to start all over again. Sigh, I guess it's a good thing our tax return is on the way, but this time we aren't skimping on the suits or the smoker.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dreaming of Rabbits

I had a pretty neat dream last night. I dreamt that Lee and I were living in some cool little town, and even though we had to live in a tiny apartment, somehow we had still managed to create a little urban farm. I remember at one point we found some kind of odd shaped shopping cart outside our front door. I grabbed it and said, "right on, we can use this!" To which Lee replied, "no, that belongs to a store." I looked around for a name on the cart handle, but there was no store name to be found. I pointed that out to him as I smugly pushed it into our apartment. Later on in the dream, I came out the front door to find a bunch of boxes lined up on the sidewalk by our steps. Some of the boxes had Flemish Giant rabbits in them. I yelled to Lee, "there's all kinds of rabbits here we can take!" Once again, Lee was a big downer, saying, "no, we don't need anymore rabbits." I began to see little baby Flemish Giants coming out of the boxes, and started scooping them up in my apron. I said to Lee, "But look, there's all different colors!  A brown one, a black one, an orange one, a gray one, an orange and gray one, a tricolor one!" I excitedly rang off the colors as I popped the baby rabbits into my apron.  The dream gets fuzzy at that point, but I think we ended up keeping all of the rabbits. I think this dream is absolutely hilarious because this is really how we are. Lee is the more practical one, and if he weren't here to keep me balanced out I'd probably be turned into animal control for animal hoarding. Well, I'm not that bad yet. 3 dogs, 3 cats, 3 rabbits, 5 chickens, a hive of bees and a bin of worms isn't too bad when you have a backyard that is 1/10 of an acre.
Anyway, I was reminded by this dream that I hadn't yet introduced you to the three latest editions to our little backyard farm, the Jersey Woolies. I've really been wanting to adopt an Angora, but they are a rare find around here so I've kept my eye out for Jersey Woolies. A single Woolie will produce barely any wool in comparison to an Angora, but I figured that many Woolies might prove to be just as well in providing some wool to practice carding (and eventually spinning) with.

I thought I'd end up having to travel way south of Fresno to procure some, but by a stroke of luck some people in Waterford posted an ad on Craigslist looking to rehome four of the little fuzzies. It turned out that there were three males, two of them light gray sable point (kinda like the marking of a siamese cat), and another that was medium gray with chestnut features around the face and feet, and a female who was pure white with blue eyes. The female was the friendliest, so I chose to take her, along with one of the sable points and the chestnut.

During the day, the rabbits have the entire backyard as their run along with the chickens, dogs, and cats. The dogs only had to be scolded about chasing the rabbits once, actually, it was mainly Scout, our newest pup, who needed the lecture. Now the dogs don't even blink twice when the rabbits run by them. The smallest of the three cats, Lily, likes to try and stalk the rabbits, but her plans are always foiled when the rabbits see her and run right up to her, as if to say, "hey, whatcha doin?" It's funny to watch her walk off in a huff. The chickens are goofy ol' broads. They don't like the rabbits getting too close and will give them a right peck on the noggin if they get in the way. All in all though, everyone gets along fine. We love to just hang out in the garden and watch everyone play and forage. Beats what's on TV!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Let Your Lawn Get a Little Wild

A few years ago while I was attending college, somehow the topic of lawn care came up in my English Lit class. I'm not sure how the discussion took a turn in that direction, but I remember one of the younger girls mentioning how she didn't mow her lawn very often because she liked how it looked greener when it was longer. Our professor smirked and said, "oh, you would be the bane of our neighborhood."

Having lived out in the country most of my life where no one really cared if your lawn was an inch overgrown, I never realized how competitive lawn keeping was until this discussion came up. Now living in town, I further understand how some people can become the thorn in the neighborhood's side because they forget to mow their lawn one week. It's really mind boggling trying to comprehend why so many people put so much time, effort, and resources into a patch of green in front of their house that never gets used! If you ask me, lawns are really boring, and the more perfectly manicured they are, the more they bother me. The space of a front yard could be filled with so many more interesting plants, even useful & edible plants.

Last week, one morning around 9 am while I still donned my pajamas in bed, typing away on my laptop, there was a knock at the door. I peeked through the blinds from the front bedroom window, and saw a man I didn't know standing on the porch. I looked out to the street and saw a big truck and trailer with a lawn service motif on the side. I decided that he was probably going to try and sell us his lawn services, and I wasn't about to get up and answer the door in my pajamas for that. I watched him get in his truck and drive away.

Later on, as I began to think about it a little more, I began to wonder why he just decided to randomly stop at our house? Was that his usual method for gaining new customers? I had just done over the flower beds and they looked pretty good, even next to our neighbor's prim and trim yard (which in my opinion is overly done and looks more like the lawns in front of a strip mall.)  I was beginning to wonder if I should take the gardener's visit as an insult!? I deduced that it had to be the lawn, and I admit that the mower has not touched it yet this year. While the type of grass we have, St. Augustine, dies during the winter and yellows, it stays short until it wakes up in Spring. It's still asleep right now, however, there are weeds and rogue grasses that pop up at the front edges near the sidewalk. Those, I guess, are getting unruly, but some of them I just don't mind being there, like the dandelions.

I allow, and even encourage, the dandelions and pretty flowering clovers that most people banish with nasty weed & feed chemicals. I always thought that parks with patches of those little white daisy-like flowers and golden dandelions were so pretty, and wished for a lawn at home like that. They bring back childhood memories of making daisy chains and hair ornaments. Why would anyone want just a boring plain ol' uniformly green lawn in front of their house? If people want a perfect green (boring and ugly) carpet in front of their house, why don't they just lay down some astroturf? I believe it probably has a lot to do with people and their habits & traditions that they never question and continue to carry on with in order to keep up with the Jonses. Well, I say the Joneses need to get a life, or a better hobby than mowing the lawn.

Anyway, dandelions are edible and can be used in a variety of ways. The leaves provide vitamin A (a better source than carrots,) have antioxidant properties, and can be used in this kind of salad, or that kind of salad, sauteed, steamed, in soup, etc. The flowers can be eaten raw or steamed, even made into cookies, muffins, marmaladesyrup, or wine amongst many other things. The roots can be used as a coffee substitute or to make chai, mmm mm. There are many more recipes online, just surf around a bit.

Remember, you don't want to consume any part of a plant that may have had lawn chemicals or pesticides applied to it, so be careful where you harvest your dandelions from!  Also, even though it's pretty tough to mistake a dandelion, make sure you know your weeds through identification. Don't eat any plants that you can't clearly identify.

There's nothing that says you can't plant dandelions like any other vegetable in your garden, so, save your wishes for lost eyelashes & birthday candles and don't blow your dandelion seeds away! I actually saved many of the seeds from dandelions that sprouted in our backyard last summer so that I can purposely plant and harvest them. I can't wait to try out the many recipes I've found online!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

And the Daffodils Look Lovely Today...

Multi-colored  rescued Daffodils in full bloom.
When I moved from the ranch last year into my new home, here in town with Lee, I rescued every single bulb and tuber I could. My mother had other plans for my wildly designed garden beds. I came away with three large cat food sacks full of bulbs and tubers. I only got one of them planted last fall. I had no idea if anything would take, but as you can see in the photo, I had a bit of green thumb luck. Everything I planted last fall is either blooming (Daffodils everywhere), preparing to bloom (one white Iris), or sending up green shoots (multi-colored Irises and Belladonna Lilies). Just a couple weeks ago, I planted almost all of the remaining two sacks, and they also seem to be taking well and sending up late shoots. I feel a little bad that the poor things didn't get a chance to meet their full potential already, like their lucky cousins already in the ground, but maybe if I'm lucky I'll have a second round of Daffodils? In California, anything is possible.
The up-cycled snapdragon from last Fall.

That's why I've learned to love it here, despite the heat in the summer (something I always wanted to move away from.) You can practically garden year round. Annuals that tend to die off in traditional climates (where they actually have seasons) will stick around another year, sometimes more. I've had snapdragons and California poppies live for up to four years, their stalks growing thick and wooded like a shrub. Two snapdragons that I planted in one of the front beds last summer, who were no bigger than those spindly things you get in a six-pack at the nursery, were refusing to grow and flourish. I could only guess that the reason might be because they had to compete with some taller shrubs standing next to them for sunshine, so I replanted them in a more open bed near the front of our driveway early last fall. I figured they may as well live out their last days basking in what beautiful sunshine we had left in the year, except they never died even despite a couple serious frosts. As you can see in the photo above, they are much larger than those that you would buy in a gallon sized container, and they seem to be getting bigger every day. My secret for saving them? Just replant them in a place where they can hog the sun and cut off anything dead, including spent flowers.
The recent bargain rack snapdragon in recovery.

I'm a sucker for waifs and strays. If I see something that is a little lacking, from abandoned pets to cast away furniture on the side of the road, I will take it home, fix it up and give it lots of love. Same goes with the half dead plants on the clearance rack at the nursery. This is mainly because I feel sorry for things, yes, as crazy as it sounds, even inanimate objects and things without faces. I'll always pick the one I think others will pass up. I've been this way since I was a kid. However, I've procured many a garden bargain by picking up plants for pennies and working my green thumb magic on them, so laugh if you must. When out picking out fruit trees and vines a couple weeks ago, I couldn't pass up two more snapdragons, this time gallon-sized, who looked like they were about to kick the watering can. They've got a ways to go before they look the ones who grew all winter long in the ground and have already sent out legions of blooms, but they are already looking much better now that they are out of their pots.  Plant life never ceases to amaze me with it's tenacity and will to thrive and grow despite whatever conditions it may find itself in.