Saturday, June 30, 2007

Something to crow about & cat, napping.

Looks like we'll be getting a young rooster of this breed, a Delaware. Our UPS guy's daughter has some spare roosters, so in the next week or so, Toshi will get some much-needed assistance in proper hen service. They are a nice big friendly breed, and we're hoping to cross him with a Red Star hen to carry on those great egg-laying skills. Also, looks like some of the "babies" are laying in the haymow. We're not sure just who it is yet, but the eggs are lovely. Broody Giuliani has graciously volunteered to sit on them until we manage to gather them each morning.

Here's short clip of Crichton, the sleeping-wonder-cat. He sleeps in the greenhouse, on the bed, in the garden, under the porch, on the cat tree....He must seriously sleep 23.5 hours a day, with short breaks to refuel and hassle Newt.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Another busy weekend ahead!

Hopefully we'll start roofing the new barn half today/tomorrow. Lots to do before it's finished, but progress will be in bigger steps now. We're also planning to try out the colors we picked for the house on the outbuildings, so that will be kind of neat to see.
More garden work; hilling the rest of the potatoes, tying up tomatoes, weeding, watering. There are a lot of tiny green tomatoes peeking out, mainly on the Beaverlodge and Principe. Both were starts from our greenhouse. The bush beans are flowering, and we've found the first full-grown beet (another new variety for us - Early Wonder Tall Top) poking out of hte ground. The Inchelium Red garlic planted last November is nearly ready for harvest too.
Stella never did go into another heat cycle, so we're really really hopeful that's she's pregnant. She's sure cranky enough these days!

Stay tuned for pictures later/tomorrow!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Rachel, this is for you!

Yo Rachel honey, you hang in there and do what makes your karma shake out clean and dry. We are here for you, so just grit your teeth, take a deep breath and let it rip! Please email me at if you want and we can compare notes on how good it feels to be free of true evil.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Kale yeah!

It's manic season at Seven Trees, at least for the humans. Check out this basket of kale! I had planned to harvest some of all the greens, but only got to the kale before the basket was heaped up over the handle. We gave it a rough chop, then blanched and froze it in baggies. We got 12 cooked cups from that basket-full. Great for adding to soups! In fact, on this week's menu is bean, ham hock & kale soup.
The weather has been chilly enough for "winter" foods, which isn't too nice for the garden. The cukes aren't growing very much, which doesn't bode well for homegrown pickles. Oh well...
I gave the potatoes a 2nd hilling today and saw a tiny baby red one. I tucked it back into the dirt to get bigger. I also spotted the first baby tomato on a Beaverlodge variety from Territorial Seeds. This kind is a trial this year. It's new, and supposed to mature in 55 days. We'll see, and we'll also see how it tastes too.
Stella still hasn't shown any signs of heat. Bob started checking her more often the past couple days, but that's about it. He's only here yil July 15th, so plenty of time for her to get another heat in if she's not already pregnant. Both of them are like crack addicts when it comes to their grain treat. They don't get much, but they sure get pushy abou it if we let them.
Between the garden, critters, jobs, and for two weeks, house-sitting for a neighbor, we're running at top speed. I doubt we'll be albe to slow down much til fall. But it's all great fun!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Is she or isn't she?

Pregnant, that is. If I've counted right, Stella should be smack into heavy flirting mode with Bob right now, but this is what they are up this morning. Just standing there, staring at me as I poke around the garden. No tail flipping, no nuzzling, no bounding around the paddock like schoolkids. Just eating, staring, sleeping and cud-chewing. Fingers are definitely crossed for a March calf!
And a kitty's-eye view of the insane tattie-patch, also known as "what-was-I-thinking?!". The spud plants are huge and lush, beautiful lavender and purple flowers everywhere. I sure hope the underground bounty matches the top growth. Which leads me to the next issue - where the heck are all the spuds going to go? Guess I'd best figure out the best plan for a mini root cellar pretty soon. That and come up with large gift sacks for sharing the tuber-love come Yuletide!

Here is a clip of the hail/rain/thunder storm that rolled through today. We were under the porch roof, shrieking at the apparent damage to the garden. Everything came through ok though!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Library learning & livestock lecture

So this week, as part of Learning 2.0 in the library, we're exploring photosharing via Flickr. As part of the exercise, participants are sharing a picture of the libary, and tagging them so other library bloggers can see. Here's my contribution - my little cubby in the sky (well, 3rd floor actually). I tend to use Photobucket for any pictures I want available on the net. Mainly because it's a free stripped-down service. But in my explorations of Flickr, I see there are a lot of fun options to try out, and I may change over to it eventually.

And here I am, lecturing the dogs on the perils of chicken-hassling (they're actually very good about not bothering them). My not-terribly-willing volunteer, Neil the Ameraucana hen, was nabbed cavorting throughout the haymow. Definitely off-limits to chickens, as the cows really don't appreciate poop on their hay. We also try not to do much gratuitous chicken-chasing (well, actually I think it's fun, but the hens don't) but it's a good idea to periodically give them a once-over for health issues. Everyone seems ultra-healthy so far, I'm thinking due to being able to free range for bugs and greens, and dust bathe at will.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


When a ma'am with a hard head meets a dog with no brains, the ma'am with the hard head is a dead ma'am. Well...not quite, but it was funny to paraphrase "A Fistful of Dollars". The real story is that the blonde human of Seven Trees was pulling weeds from the edge of the driveway while throwing a tennis ball for Stewart. It went something like this - throw ball...bend down to pull weed...head-on collision with returning dog. I was in the barnyard and heard the awful sound of two noggins knocking, and the subsequent yelps from both parties. The jury is still out on whether or not a concussion was incurred, but I'm thinkin' so. Stew spent a whole 5 minutes looking upset, but quickly forgot the entire incident. The human is still recovering.

Here's Ms. Broody Guiliani in her temporary digs. She has repeatedly gone broody, which means she has a very strong instinct to sit on eggs. It's natural for certain breeds of chicken to lay eggs, and then sit on them until they hatch. Many modern breeds have been bred to lessen this instinct, since most people buy chicks from a hatchery and don't need a hen to hatch eggs. But when a hen goes broody, she stops laying, refuses to leave the nest box, keeps other hens from laying in the box, and just generally makes a nuisance of herself. Our current egg production has dropped by half. What to do?

Well, so far what works is to remove her from familiar surroundings (and nest boxes) for a few days. So she's in the spare coop now. A few more days and we'll return her to the flock, and hopefully get back to normal egg production soon. A "real" farmer would cull her, since we don't really want her to have babies. She could be useful if we wanted her to sit another hen's eggs, but I think we'll find her another home when the babies start laying.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Rainy Day Recess - Pt. 47

It's been raining off & on for days, and the forecast does not bode well for the near future. We had just enough break in the weather to get the barn addition tarpapered so as to keep it weather tight until we can get the roofing on. But now everyone is staying under cover, especially the humans. So all the action today has been at the new feeder. Our neighbor (the one with the to-die-for workshop) made this for us and I just recently hung it. It's a hit with evening grosbeaks, goldfinches, house finches, chickadees, and house sparrows. Even the hummingbirds check it out sometimes. Usually a few grosbeaks will camp out under the little porch and pig out til someone crowds them out. Naturally I can't get any good bird pictures, since they take off when I approach with the camera.

Here's the inside action - herbs! I have been picking and drying mint, catnip, chamomile, chives, yarrow, calendula and roses, for some time now, and I have a monster backlog of processing to do. Mainly involving picking leaves from stems and packing them into glass jars. The chimney is garlanded with bunches of freshly picked mint,which makes a nice aroma. And once the weather cooperates, I have even more outside to harvest and plant. But as you can deduce, I'm much more distracted by blogging than herbing. Ooops!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Breaking news!

Literally...I went to grab an oatmilk stout from the beer corral on a pantry shelf. Lo & behold if there wasn't the sad remnants of a victim of bottle conditioning. Luckily the storage buckets underneath the shelf caught the worst of it. And even more lucky is that no other bottles joined the fray. It must be something to do with the added oats. Or maybe just the stars aligned somehow. In any case, the beer is shaping up nicely.Finally! I get to do my tiny pittance on the building project. Tar paper cutting and stapling. But now the roof gets cedar fascia boards, flashing and then roofing.
The lovebirds, chilling out in paddock #3. Interest is picking up again, and according to my calculations, the 20th is the next opportunity for Bob to earn his fee. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Garden update 6/13/07

It sure didn't take long for the taters to reach for the sky! It's time to hill them for the 2nd time this weekend. Potatoes are kind of strange in that they set "fruit" in the dirt between the original seed potato, planted in hte spring, and the top of the hill. So as the plants grow, you have to hill up more dirt to give the taters a place to grow. The boards are serving as paths to keep the dirt underneath soft and fluffy so as to make hilling it easier. The scruffy patch in the foreground was supposed to be amaranth. It's an experimental crop for Seven Trees, and so far it's not too happy. I think I'll try some of the giant mangel fodder beets here next month.

Same garden, from the other side. Yummy chard, lettuce, beet greens & spinach are already making a regular appearance on the menu. The tomatoes are fairly happy, and I have high hopes for the peppers. Not in the picture are the beans, cukes and carrots. There is also broccoli, cabbage, onions and kale. Outside the main garden fence in the far upper left, is the squash pit - a 16 x 16 square with pumpkins, delicatas, potimarron (a French winter squash) and Inchelium Red garlic.

The greenhouse is empty but for the 5 watermelon starts. Hopefully the extra heat will be just the trick to grow this treat to full juicy ripeness! Next spring I plan to make full use of the greenhouse for starting more veggies. After comparing my in-ground seed starts with the ones the neighbor started in his sometimes-heated greenhouse, I realized that the extra head start can make a huge difference in terms of hardiness to heat and/or cold. Seems to be worth the trouble of running the bitty propane heater on chilly nights. The research continues!

Monday, June 11, 2007

New neighbor??

Last night, around 9:30, I heard the beginning of a coyote howl. I only heard the beginning because the dogs, who had been sleeping inside, immediately blew a gasket barking their heads off. Then both kitties shot through the cat door like reverse torpedos.

Normally coyotes aren't too big of a deal here. We have woods on one side and a 10 acre mixed pasture/woodlot/orchard/stead on another. And most of our little housing "development" is surrounded by berry farms and woods, with the river not far away. So we hear coyotes often.

But this coyote sounded like it was literally at the back gate, in the neighbor's orchard! Just one, so maybe it was a "teenager" looking for it's own turf. It howled again, from the same area, a couple hours later. This time the dogs got let out to run around like idiots, and hopefully establish that coyotes are not on the VIP list. Some of our neighbors, the old-timers, talk about bounties for killing coyotes not too long ago. And people trapped, shot and/or poisoned them as a matter of course, because they raid anything edible - coops, gardens, pet food, even small pets.

I enjoy having some of the original inhabitants around, but this visit definitely put us on notice that we've been lucky so far with predatory varmints. In Eastern WA, most of them were not so shy about helping themselves to a hen or three. I think the abundant cottontail rabbits, moles, voles, and other snack-sized wild critters, keeps the pressure off, but we're still part of the food chain. Or at least the cats & chickies are....

In other news -

--It's week #2 of the Library2.0 event at work. I added a news feed to the blog. It's from Energy Bulletin, a great hub for information about peak oil, climate change, sustainable living and more. I also did some research into news aggregates like Bloglines which take all the news feeds, blog updates, and even some Yahoo groups and put them together on one page. It's like having a customized online news site. Here's the one I put together today - Seven Trees News I won't add it to the blog, since it would take up a lot of space, but it's a really cool service if you're a news junkie.

--Stella & Bob have cooled things off a bit. Still pals, but no more romance until around the 20th. Bob has a very hearty appetite for a guy who lounges around most of his shift!

--The garden is going gangbusters! I dehydrated a pile of kale & beet greens and they came out like little crispy flakes. I found a recipe that called for sprinkling the fresh leaves with herbed oil before drying them. They are supposed to make tasty snacks that wy. Based on how good they taste just plain, I think it's worth a try.

--We've booked a train trip to the decadent southlands of Seattle. Amtrak can get us there & back the same day, with plenty of time to play tourist in our former hometown. Elysian Brewery, here we come!

Which leads us to the brew corner -

We just started another 5 gallon batch of extra pale ale, a wonderfully hoppy version from Northern Brewer. It should be drinkable in about a month.

And here is our cream ale "A light, clean fermenting ale modeled after the "cream lagers" of the northeast United States. Low in gravity, long on flavor, this beer is a pale thirst-quencher, great for brewing and enjoying in the summertime. Dingemans Biscuit Malt gives our Cream Ale a warm, toasty flavor that complements the light hopping."

And the experimental "Oatmilk Stout" a sweet stout recipe with added oats. The sweetness comes from milk sugar (lactose), and the oats add a silky smooth body. It came out a tad more bitter than I thought, but that may be due to operator error. We'll have to keep experimenting!

And a gratuitous critter shot. Stew and his corgi, looking like wet noodles.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

A chicken in every....


What if kids grew up with a fun learning experience in animal care, budgeting, food production, project planning, municipal codes, carpentry, marketing, recycling, interdependence, anatomy, chemistry, and so on? What if they grew up with a greater respect for where food comes from, how it's produced, and the importance of quality over quantity? I think your everday basic laying hen could provide the foundation for all these lessons, and do so in a way that kids would get into.

Lots of classrooms incubate eggs and hatch chicks. The chicks get to a certain age, and then they are usually given away. End of lesson.

But what if a curriculum was based on the entire process of hatching, raising, and keeping chickens? Obviously parents would have to be involved, permission slips sent out, etc. At the beginning of the school year, parents would have to commit to the process, as they'd be involved with setting up a backyard coop and run, and ultimately responsible for the hens (like any pet bought for a child). Once the number of committed households was sorted out, the teacher could plan an egg order, with maybe 2 hens per participant, to incubate. Then the class could start planning living space for their hens. There are a lot of websites dedicated to backyard flocks these days, so information should be abundant. Or if this was an actual part of a school curriculum, maybe schools would provide a standardized coop/run kit the kids would assemble, rather than build from scratch. Maybe kids who lived in apartments or whose parents didn't want to participate could partner with other kids and help with research and building and chicken care.

But think of the lessons that could be integrated into the whole process -

-biology; how eggs develop and hatch, how chicks grow and make eggs, the role of roosters and why one isn't needed for backyard hen-keeping, etc.

-chemistry; why do hens need grit, the importance of calcium in shell formation, the composition of chicken poop and how it fertilizes plants.

-ecology; the cycle of feeding a chicken which not only makes human food, but makes fertilizer which helps grow more chicken/human food, and so on.

-budgeting; teach kids how to work out the cost per egg. Kids could sell eggs to their parents or neighbors, learning marketing skills in he process.

-healthy food production; factory farmed eggs vs. backyard raised, why one is better in terms of nutrition and animal welfare and human health.

-project planning; researching local animal laws, best coop design and placement, materials purchasing.

-climate patterns; where the sun/prevailing wind hits their yard and how that impacts the comfort of their hens.

-animal care; researching store-bought chicken chow over home-mixed, forming relationships with another living being, etc.

Hopefully by the time the school year ended, most kids would have a happy, healthy laying flock at home. They'd make smart choices about food, have empathy for other beings, have a grounding in economics, some pride in helping provide homegrown food for their households, have the confidence of building a habitat with their own hands, maybe even branch out into gardening with the fertilizer their hens produce, or teaching other people how to start their own flock.

Even if an idea like this never made it into a school system, it still might be something worth pursuing as an extra-curricular program, after-school group, summer program, etc. A skilled grant-writer and a motivated school could pioneer this project and develop a model curriculum for other schools.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Blogging the library....

WWU's library is starting up a summer program called "Learning2.0" which is " online learning program that encourages staff to learn more about emerging technologies on the web that are changing the way people, society and libraries access information and communicate with each other..."

The intro to this summer of fun is learning about blogs. Luckily I have this part down pat, but there are some things coming up as part of the 26 Summer Fun Things I am looking forward to learning more about. Fer instance - RSS feeds & newsreaders and Tagging, Technocrati, Folksonomies (what the heck is anyway??).

Hopefully I'll be able to add some nice features to the blog over the summer as I learn more.....

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Of Highland Festivals and breeding Cattle

We went to the 2007 Scottish Highland Games at Pioneer Park in Ferndale, WA this past weekend. It was a stunning, sunny day for an outdoor event. We watched quite a few pipers and other musicians, shopped the vendors booths, ate Haggis and Scottish Meat Pie, and drank beer in the beer garden with the NW McGregor clan. (Much fun was had by all!) We can't wait for next year. Truly we can't, so we'll be hitting the Scottish Highland games in Skagit County come July! A fine commemorative mug from our outing below.

This stunning little fella named "Melbourne" below was our charge for a few days last week. Another rare Banty breed, belonging to some acquaintenances in Bellingham who are having neighbor troubles now that Melbourne is growing up, and wanting to do rooster things like crow. Unfortunately, he was not very happy to be in our hen yard... we suspect because of Toshi the other banty rooster who came from the same place being top chicken. At any rate, Mel escaped the yard repeatedly and took up crowing from different locations on the property. Since one of the spots he liked to do this was the garden and also the dog's yard(Yikes!), little Mel had to go back home.
While he was here, Mel also escaped the chicken house, and the brooder coop as well its fully enclosed run. A better name for him might have been Houdini. The bars you see in the photo cannot hold him.
Here's Stella and her Bob. Have they, or haven't they?
While we have seen signs of interest, your guess is as good as ours.
Does she look deflowered?

Friday, June 01, 2007

Barn and Bob the Bull

I can't do anything else on the barn at this point until we visit the lumber store again.
Time for faschia, sheathing, tar paper, and flashing. Then it's my favorite job... roofing. No, seriously, I love roofing! If I was 15 years younger I'd do it for a living. Good times!
The real big news is that this afternoon Bob the bull arrived! Stella's "man-friend", hopefully going to get her with calf.

They hit it off at once! Here's Stella, taking a break on Bob... ah young love. Bob scoped the heifer, water and the grass. Now he acts perfectly at home. Let's hope for twins!