As I do every year at about this time, I’ve gone broody.
I need chickens.
Actually, what I *really* need is quail, but they aren’t available locally. Failing that, I’d like a duckling. Or two. Or six. Whatever. Ron is balking, but I’ve seen a couple of people in town raising them as backyard pets, and they appear to be thriving. Sure, their wading pool will probably add a coupla bucks a month to the water bill, but that’s still cheaper than buying eggs at the grocery store. Plus if I ever adopt that Border collie I’ve been thinking about since January, it will have something to herd, so it won’t get bored and spend all day annoying me. And if we end up hating them? Duck is DELICIOUS. I’m not seeing a down side here.
Anyway, one way or the other, it is that magical time of year when a Rubbermaid tub full of shavings and a screen are supposed to appear in my office, and a heat lamp is supposed to hang over them, warming a flock of stinky-yet-adorable balls of fuzz.
My favorite chicken breed, as anybody who’s spent much time on this blog knows, is the buff Orpington. Orps are good layers with great personalities — curious as cats and almost as friendly as dogs. They get along well with other chickens, they’re decent foragers, and they’re entertaining enough that I could probably cancel my Britbox subscription if I had a flock. WIN.
Tractor Supply — the only local source for chicks that I’m aware of at the moment — does not carry buff Orpingtons. Or any other variety of Orpingtons, for that matter. They do, however, have a few barred Rocks, and if I’m completely honest with myself, I’ll admit that Rocks are probably a better choice for our yard than Orpingtons, because they’re much more aggressive foragers, and I’m told this neighborhood is lousy with scorpions in the summer. A flock of feisty barred Rock hens would happily knock down the scorpion population for me.
I think I’ll head out to the shed to take a quick inventory of my chick-rearing equipment, and then I’ll cruise down 66 to Tractor Supply and see what kind of feathered friends I can rustle up.
We were included, and two copies of the book arrived in the mail today. Eep!
It was fun to look at the pictures, which showed how the house looked in December 2015, before I redecorated four rooms, swapped out a bunch of furniture and discovered the magic of cheap IKEA shoe bins. Sometimes I forget how far we’ve come in here, and seeing old photos — accompanied by a narrative showing my thoughts at the time — gives me a nice sense of accomplishment to counterbalance all the times I walk in here, see what needs to be done and get frustrated with myself because I haven’t done it yet. (Yeah, kitchen floor, I’m lookin’ at you.)
Even before all my projects last year, our house looked fairly spacious, and I’m proud to have it featured in the book, where hopefully it will inspire somebody else to experiment with minimalism and downsizing. It isn’t carved out of the side of a hill, sculpted by hand from cob, rescued from the brink of demolition or located in a picturesque forest or desert, but Kahn’s justification for its inclusion delighted me, because it sums up my reasons for sending him photos and information in the first place:
“As you may know, our building books are generally heavy on graphics and light on details. However, this meticulous rendering by Emily and Ron of their ideas for living in a small space, and the cost-conscious ways they’ve carried out their goals is rare and useful, practical information.” — LK
I hope people do find it useful and practical, and if anybody found out about this blog by way of the book, I strongly encourage you to search my Eco-Saturday and Tiny Tuesday tags to see more examples of our efforts to save space and live lightly on the planet. And, of course, if you found out about the book by way of this blog, I encourage you to support Kahn’s work by buying a copy or clicking over to The Shelter Blog to see what else he’s got up his sleeve. He’s done some great work over the last few years, and we always keep a copy of his Tiny Homes book handy to fuel our daydreams.
Oh, and mad props to our friend Laura Simon, photographer extraordinaire, who shot a bunch of the photos that ended up in the book. (We’ll be giving her the second copy of the book, of course.)
We’re sneaking up on the first frost of the year, which means it’s time to start putting the garden to bed.
This is always a bittersweet task for me — more bitter than sweet, because I’ve never liked winter — but prepping the garden for winter ensures it’s ready to go in the spring, and this year, I have a long list of projects to work on.
I’ll share more specifics about some of these tasks as I go, but today, I’d like to offer a general overview, in case you’re looking at a soon-to-be-dormant garden and trying to figure out what to do before the next planting season. Your garden’s specific needs may vary, but here’s my to-do list for the next 25 weekends:
* Make compost. Not sure how? Click here. * Buy six more fire rings. These will become raised beds. * Harvest seeds. Instructions here. * Harvest the last of the produce and pull out the old plants. * Rake leaves. If yours are from safe trees, compost them. We don’t have that luxury, as our house is flanked by pecan and walnut trees, so we’ll have to let the city take ours. * Plant daffodils and tulips. * Winterize the pond. * Winterize the quail pen. The Great Stuff I used to seal it when I built it is wearing out, and the polystyrene panels are degrading a bit, so I’ll have to hit the hardware store for replacements. * Fence the berry patch. * Treat the strawberries with coffee grounds. Supposedly this will ward off slugs. * Inventory beekeeping and gardening equipment. * Buy flagstone and install more paths. * Mulch between paths. * Mulch strawberries. * Build raised bed in the front yard. * Prune rosebush. * Map next year’s garden. * Order seeds. Two good sources: Seedsavers.org and Baker Creek Heirloom seeds. * Start plants. Check the USDA planting-zone map and consult your seed packets before you schedule this.
Harvesting seeds is one of my favorite fall chores. This year, I’ve brought in tomato seeds, which are drying on paper towels on top of the refrigerator as we speak; Trail of Tears beans, which need to be removed from their pods; and a newcomer to the garden this year: zinnias.
I spent the better end of an hour the other day separating zinnia seeds from chaff. It’s tedious work, but there’s something hopeful in the act of saving seeds — a sort of contract between the plants and their caretaker. The seeds contain the promise of spring; saving them is an act of faith in that promise and a statement of intention: “I’ll be back to tend you in a few months.”
Score one for Pinterest: After an infestation of caffeine-junkie fruit flies this summer, I ran a search for organic solutions to the problem. This one, courtesy of Suburban Turmoil, kept coming up.
For any method to work on a long-term basis, you have to start by finding the source of your bugs. In our case, the flies came in with some dodgy bananas, invaded the compost bucket in search of coffee grounds (apparently a great favorite of fruit flies — not that I blame them) and decided the filter on the underside of the lid was an ideal place to raise kids.
To eradicate the larvae and eggs, we replaced the filter, and to kill the adults, I used Suburban Turmoil’s technique:
Get a Mason jar with a lid. Fill it about halfway with apple-cider vinegar. Add a couple of drops of dish soap, put the lid on the jar, and shake until it’s good and sudsy. Open the jar, add enough water to bring the bubbles up to the top, and leave it out overnight.
The bugs will smell the vinegar, think you’ve got rotten apples for them to snack on, and become trapped in the suds when they try to check it out.
I caught the better end of 30 flies the first night, and over the next few days, this sneaky little trap killed at least 100 more. Every time the suds died down, I closed the jar and shook it up again, adding soap or vinegar as necessary and replacing the solution a time or two until I stopped finding bugs in it, which took maybe three or four days.
I don’t know the blogger over at Suburban Turmoil, but I definitely owe her a beer for this excellent solution to a really annoying problem.
Hidden behind our six-foot privacy fence, our garden really is a well-kept secret. The only hint of its existence is the occasional tomato plant stretching above the top of the fence. The bulk of my plantings still lie beyond the metal fence at the back of the yard, but I’m slowly expanding my planting areas beyond that, and I think in a couple more seasons, I’ll have something worthy of a Frances Hodgson Burnett story.
Here’s a quick update on the back garden, which is primarily vegetables and herbs, with a few zinnias thrown in for fun:
I’m a little frustrated with my cucumber plants; they’re blooming like mad, but they’ve yet to set fruit. The garden is feeling the absence of the apiary this year. Our last hive crashed last winter, and instead of buying more bees this spring, Ron put our names on the swarm list and hoped for the best. We didn’t get any calls, so we don’t have anybody living in the bee yard this season. Next year, I’m ordering two packages of Italians and maybe one of Russians. I miss having fuzzy little six-legged friends working alongside me in the garden, and I can think of way better ways to spend my time than standing out in the garden with a paintbrush, hand-pollinating cucumber blossoms.
I’ll have to do it within the next week or so if I want them this season, but I’m half-tempted to order some leafcutters just to bridge the gap until we can re-establish a proper apiary next spring. Leafcutters are, like orchard mason bees, a gentle, solitary species that won’t produce honey but will work their little butts off in the garden without giving me any static. In the absence of my beloved A. mellifera, I’m not against hiring a few temps in the interest of getting a decent cucumber crop.
As we work toward our long-term goal of building a tiny house someday, I’ve turned our small-but-not-tiny house into a sort of de facto laboratory for experimenting with products and tools that conserve space while increasing convenience. I’m blogging the ones that work here, in case anybody else is looking for ways to save space and time.
Over the years, I’ve tried several strategies for collecting compostable materials as we generate them in the kitchen.
I started with my mom’s tried-and-true approach: Keep an old ice-cream tub on the kitchen counter and throw peelings and cores into it as you work. It’s not pretty, but it worked fine when I was a kid, and Mom and Dad were cooking for a family of five and sending a kid out to the compost pile with a full tub of scraps every day. It doesn’t work so well in a household with only two people in it, as the tub takes the better end of a week to fill up, during which time it will start to smell pretty raunchy.
To reduce the odor problem, I tried keeping kitchen scraps in a half-gallon Mason jar. The jar took up a smaller footprint on the counter, but it also had a smaller mouth (making it hard to scrape things into); depending on what was inside, it could look pretty gross; and while the lid sealed in odors well, it also encouraged anaerobic bacteria growth, which made opening it extremely unpleasant after a day or two.
I finally resigned myself to daily trips to the compost bin (which ultimately resulted in a lot of perfectly good scraps going down the garbage disposal during crummy weather), but one evening at work, when I was killing time after deadline, I stumbled across the Kitchen Compost Caddy on Amazon.
It’s expensive (I gave nearly $60 for mine with shipping), but it’s really well designed, and I’ve used it a lot more than I expected. I like it because it doesn’t take up any space on my counter; the filter keeps it from smelling weird; and it has a little metal gizmo on it that holds the lid open while you scrape plates and stuff into it.
If it makes you feel better about the price, you can think of it as a steampunk garbage disposal.
I take ours out about once a week and empty it into the big compost bin at the same time I change the litter in the quail pen (thus striking a nice carbon-nitrogen balance in the pile) and hose it out while I’m refilling their big water dispenser.
P.S.: Nobody’s paying me or giving me free products to get me to endorse anything. I just posted this review because I bought this thing and liked it and thought somebody else might, too.