Thursday, August 15, 2013

mid-August bird report

Tonight I was watering the garden and watched a chipping sparrow pluck cabbage moth larvae off my kale.  He spooked when I got too close, but came back for seconds after I'd gone inside.  I've noticed for years now that if I keep my bird feeders semi-regularly filled throughout the summer, I have noticeably fewer insect pests in the garden.  Unfortunately this also means that I haven't had any swallowtail caterpillars to raise in years.  Maybe I should plant some parsley and dill on the other side of my house, away from the bird feeders.

When I bought the house I made a point to plant some native shrubs for the wildlife, but being that I was poor the only saplings I could afford were little eight-inch sticks that I laid in the ground with a prayer.  This is the first year my serviceberry has produced any fruit.  If I were able to pick every berry as it ripened I may have gotten a cup or two total, but as it is I got one good snack at peak harvest time and left the rest for the birds.  A week or so later I saw a robin clearing up every berry left on the little tree, and that totally made my day.  The serviceberry, elderberry and viburnum are all getting big enough now that birds will perch on the branches now and then, but they still vastly prefer the dense cover of the giant lilac, or the spruce on the other side of the yard.

The chipping sparrows are already start to amass in anticipation of migration, and I've had a couple goldfinches hanging out, too.  This has also been the summer of the hummingbird, by which I mean I've had one regularly every day, and up to four at a time.  I read that while 4:1 is the correct water:sugar ratio for hummingbird nectar, you can make it a touch more concentrated so that they do not have to refuel as often.  I have basically been underfilling the measuring cups of water so that my nectar is something like 3.8:1, and now I have more hummingbirds than I've every had at this house.  They love the feeder, of course, but they also visit my  monarda, liatris, Mexican hat, and nasturtium.  I've also noticed my nasturtium are producing a healthy supply of seeds this year.  All hail pollination.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

vanity chicks

I am maybe anthropomorphizing them, and I realize they are very simple creatures, but I don't want the chicks to get bored in their brooder.  All they had in there was feeder, waterer, one roost, the thermometer we use to monitor the temp, and the sand we're using for bedding.  I tried offering them a box of pine shavings to snuggle in, because I thought maybe the sand wasn't cozy enough, but they just cowered in the opposite corner peeping sadly until I took it out.  I put a hand-sized rock in there a couple times, thinking they might like to climb it or run around it when they're playing Chase the Lettuce, but apparently an inert rock is too scary, so I took that out, too.  But they are slowly getting a little more brave and curious--the last time I tried the rock, they only avoided it, and did not panic like they did the first time.

But I did find one new toy they like: a mirror.

They were cautious at first, but now they love it, and we'll frequently find the three of them all clumped around the mirror and pushing each other out of the way to be closest to it.  After a day or two the chicks weren't quite as fascinated with it anymore, but now we just move it to a new location every time we scoop the brooder, and then it is an amazing new experience again.  It even seems to calm them down if they can see their reflection in the mirror while we are scooping, like they might be thinking, "Oh, those chicks aren't being eaten alive by the little mesh scooper.  We'll be fine, too."  I am kind of assuming the real-life chicks think that the mirror chicks are new friends, because 1.) chicks aren't that bright, and 2.) they are very social creatures.  I have also heard stories of chicks clustering around stuffed animals or feather dusters.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Picking up Chicks

If I was a good blogger--or a good/obsessive chicken mom for that matter--I should have been posting every day, because just like with any other baby, baby chicks grow SO FAST and there are SO MANY developmental milestones and little quirks to fuss over.  They're eating out of my hand!  They can balance on the roost!  Their wing feathers are growing in!  They're flying a little!  They're dust-bathing!  They don't like yogurt!  Now they like yogurt!

We got three black australorp chicks almost two weeks ago.  This is what they looked like when we brought them home (they are probably three to five days old here):

Little puffballs!  Left to right that's Jenny, Jill and Barb.  This is what they look like now:

Little dinosaurs!  Photo taken through the lid of the brooder because they now panic if I put my camera in the brooder.  Gotta say, the old Chicken Little story makes a lot more sense now that I have chicks: they act as if the sky is falling whenever there is any small change, like a new waterer, or the addition of a rock to their brooder.  I'm told they'll get braver as they get older.

Chicken books are always suspiciously vague when it comes to brooding chicks.  "Brood them in a cardboard box.  Keep them at 95 the first week and 5 degrees cooler every week after.  Feed them chick starter.  Move them outside when they're fully feathered."  I wasn't really prepared for how easy it was to obsess about everything chick related, or how quickly one falls in love with them.  I am trying to socialize them so that they are okay with getting picked up and so that they grow up to be friendly chickens, so what I am doing now is hand-feeding them a little bit of their favorite treat (yogurt mixed with chick starter; I call it "chicken granola") then picking each one up and holding her for a minute or so.  Right now they run and scream and panic when I try to pick them up, but then once I hold them close to my body they settle right down, so I have high hopes.  Then after I'm done traumatizing them I give them more chicken granola, and they immediately forget their trauma and tuck right in.

I don't have a video or photo of the socializing, but here is a video of me hand-feeding them some plain chick starter, and here is a video of them playing a game of Chase with another favorite treat: lettuce.  One of them will snatch the lettuce from my hand and then run around like mad, and the other two will chase her trying to steal the lettuce leaf.  Jenny is usually one to grab the leaf, and it is rare that Barb or Jill successfully steal it from her.  Jenny is the runt of the flock (she is maybe just a day or two younger than the others) but she is brave and wily.

We got a free coop from a friend of mine, and made a slapdash brooder out of two cardboard boxes, thinking, "Well, this is our starter coop, and how often are we ever going to brood chicks?"  But we are already drawing up some plans to build a bigger/better coop this summer, and we're planning to build a reusable brooder next time we brood chicks, because there will unquestionably be a next time.  We clearly need more chickens.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

all snow and no spring makes Sonya something something

Zelda is unconcerned with the latest snowstorm (which is predicted to dump another eight inches by tomorrow).  She's got a heated blankie; it can snow through July for all she cares.

Last year at this time I was transplanting strawberries, and a week later I'd be planting peas, spinach, lettuce, carrots, radishes, beets and onions.  By the end of April I was seeing red admiral butterflies and hanging laundry out on the line.  My raspberries were leafed out and my Jacob's ladder was putting out buds.

This year... not so much.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

marriage proposal cookies

Marriage Proposal Cookies
(adapted from various chocolate sugar cookies recipes online)

1 1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup cocoa
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour

Cream together butter and sugar.  Add eggs and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, whisk together baking powder, salt, cocoa and flour and slowly add to wet mix until fully combined.  Dough will be very stiff.  Roll out on a lightly floured surface to 1/8" to 1/4" thick and cut out with cookie cutters dipped in flour to prevent sticking. You can knead and re-roll out the leftover dough at least once (after that it might start to get a bit tough) to get the maximum amount of cookies.  Bake at 375 F for 7 minutes.  Let cool completely and frost (I used the "creamy decorating icing" from the Joy of Cooking, and could have done with maybe a half recipe of the icing).

(He said yes.)

Friday, February 22, 2013

boreal and great gray

It's an irruption year for owls, which means that they're running out of food up in their normal range in Canada, so they venture south to Duluth looking for food.  It's a great opportunity for people to see birds they might not otherwise get the chance to, but it's kind of sad for the poor hungry owls.

All the same, last Sunday me and George drove up the shore to see what we could see.  While we were looking for the turn off for Stoney Point, we came upon a group of people with binoculars on the side of the road, so we pulled off too, and there in the tippy-top of a half dead pine was a boreal owl, which refused to look at me for every single photo I took.  Still, it is an adorable little kitten of an owl.

By then we were nearly to Two Harbors, so we walked along the shore by Agate Bay, where I took some unpostably blurry photos of unidentified waterfowl and it was awesomely cold and icy.

After that we were looking for a place to get a hot beverage, but apparently everything closes at 3 p.m. on a Sunday in the winter, so we headed back to Duluth, but again right outside Knife River we saw another cluster of binoculared people on the roadside, so we stopped, and this time it was for a great gray owl.

He spent a few minutes hating at some people with a two-foot camera lens (who I think were too close to him) and then flew across Scenic Hwy 61.

And landed in a tree on the other side of the road.

After that I got a much clearer view of him, but he refused to look at the camera.

He soon flew into the woods side of the road he started out on, and the two-foot camera lens people continued to stalk him, and me and George left him in peace.

None of my photos are exactly calendar worthy, but the birds were awesome things to see, the great gray especially.  What a gorgeous face, and what a beautiful bird.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Christmas tree stowaway

We got a permit to harvest a Christmas tree from Superior National Forest, so we drove up to Isabella, MN, and cut down a beauty.  About a week later I found a bug in the house, not exactly a very common occurrence in December in Duluth, so I captured him and looked him up: a Western Conifer Seed Bug.  I'm guessing he must've come in with the tree.  According to my book, they eat the needles and green cones of conifer trees, so I've been keeping him in a 6" x 8" x 10" plastic bug habitat with various pine or spruce twigs that I change every couple weeks.  I haven't seen any evidence that he's actually eating them (there's been no poop on the floor of the habitat) but he is still alive and seemingly healthy, about two months later.  I frequently see him navigating the twigs or scaling the sides or ceiling of his habitat, and last time I changed the greens he flew out and I had to recapture him.  (I had seen him clean his wings before, but had never seen him fly before that.  It was a brief, buzzy, grasshoppery flight of about two feet from the habitat to the windowsill.)  If he survives the winter I'll let him go outside once the weather warms up, and might even release where we found him.  It would be a good excuse to drive out to Isabella again.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

hello again

It's not really true to say that I am "not working" right now, I'm just not bringing in any income.  But I am spending a couple hours every day working on my novel (which I've been working on sporadically for years, which now in the editing phase needs so much work because I did work on it so sporadically while writing the first draft) and I have been making some small strides in artmaking too.  Plus I take care of home stuff and soon I'll be working garden stuff too (I can start seeds indoors in just a few weeks).  My partner's income pays the bills, and we both get do work we enjoy.  I usually take weekends "off" of writing, but by Sunday night I'm itching to get back to it.  I've never felt that way about any outside job that I've had.  I love to cook and garden, don't mind laundry, and can usually get my partner to do the dishes.  At night we make dinner together and usually play some game (I am totally wiping the floor with him in rummy this month) and on weekends we go frolic.  It's a very good life.

So I have been feeling fairly homestead-y lately and have been thinking I might restart the blog.  Also, I've been looking at freelance gigs and thought it would be good to have an active blog again to prove that I am charming and I know things.  So here I am.  Expect more posts on urban homesteading, living simply and radically, nature observations, maybe some musings about art and writing.

In the mean time, here's a photo of a mutant carrot from my garden last year.