Wild Wednesday – Spring Chickens

Brrrr!  It’s the depths of winter.  We haven’t had snow yet in Seattle, but we have had cold, fog, and the ever-present rain.  My garden is sleeping, buried in a warm bed of straw.  It’s dark, cold and wet.

But it won’t be for long.  I’m already planning which seeds I’ll be starting early indoors; grapes, peas and beans.  Maybe more, with me, you never know.  I know what I’m not planning for this year…baby chickens.  The flock Hub and I raised last year are laying beautifully.  They’re coming up on their 1-year birthday.  It’s hard to believe in just a few short months they went from this:

We are chicks with 'tude!

We are chicks with ‘tude!

 

To this:

She's so well behaved.

She’s so well behaved.

 

To all grown up and laying delicious eggs:

 

Brahma Mama

Brahma Mama

Isn’t she gorgeous?  You want chickens now, don’t you?  Have you always had a secret desire to be an urban chicken farmer?  Do you realize the benefits of raising your own food, even if it’s only in small quantities?  If so, now is the time to start planning for your new flock, and I’m here to help.

Before you go any farther, check with your local government, and familiarize yourself with the city codes concerning livestock.  In Seattle, they recently upped the number of chickens you can have in the city from three to eight.  Lucky me, I’m in an unincorporated zone where the only requirements are minimum square footage per animal.  It’s also a good idea to have a friendly chat with your neighbors about your chicken plans.  Usually, free eggs help ease any concerns, and you’ll likely have plenty to share.

How many chickens should you have?

Chickens are flock birds, so just one is not a good idea.  She’ll be lonely, she may make extra noise trying to find friends.  Two are okay, but they’ll constantly be vying for top bird status in the pecking order, and that can get noisy, not to mention uncomfortable for the birds.  It’s best to have a minimum of three hens so they can keep each other company.

This time of the year is perfect to plan what size flock you want, where you want their coop, and what breed of chicken you want.  You can check out these earlier posts on some basics of chicken coops and care, and the breeds I have right now.

What breed should you have?

I can hear you asking; you mean there are different breeds of chickens?  There are actually hundreds of chicken breeds!  Check out the wiki list for an overview.  But which breeds are going to best for you, a new chicken farmer?  Here are some suggestions for your consideration; these breeds are generally easy-going, hardy, and readily available.

Buff Orpington

BuffOrps

Pretty gold ladies with mellow temperaments, often described as calm and friendly.  They are excellent egg producers, and lay light pinkish-brown eggs.  Buff Orps are heavy-bodied birds, that can tolerate colder climates.  They are considered dual purpose (eggs and meat) if you are inclined that way, but to be honest, egg-layers are tough and stringy after a year and take a lot of cooking.  Buff Orpingtons will likely be available at your local feed store (if they carry chicks) come spring.

Wyandottes

Silver Laced Wyandotte

Silver Laced Wyandotte

Wyandottes come in a variety of color schemes; gold, silver, blue, to name a few.  Like the Buff Orpington, Wyandottes are heavy-bodied birds with an easy-going nature who are also very good egg producers.  You can expect about 4 brown eggs a week from one of these girls.  Wyandottes are hardy in cold weather.

 

Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island Red

Rhode Island Red

These birds do it all.  They are excellent egg-layers (some report 6 or 7 eggs a week), hardy in winter and heavy bodied.  They are even the state bird of Rhode Island!  Most report mild and friendly temperament in these birds, although my two girls were the dominant birds in my first flock and were on the bossy side.  That’s okay, every flock needs a leader!  For a first time owner, 3 or 4 Rhode Island Reds will provide you with more than enough eggs for you and your family.

Have you kept chickens?  What are your favorite breeds?  What birds would you pick for your flock?  Would you want a variety or keep all the same breed?  Good luck, and be sure to check back for more chicken, garden and animal training tips!

Wild Wednesday – Animal Buddies

In my dolphin post, I shared a video of a cat interacting with dolphins.  It was such an Awwww moment, I thought I’d share a few more with you.

 

I give you….Dog and Owl.

 

Dog and Otter.

 

And my personal favorite, Dog and Elephant.

 

Looks like Dog isn’t just Man’s Best Friend.

I have three cats.  Two do little more than ignore or occasionally hiss and bat at my two dogs, but Sage, my oldest loves to torment play with my dogs.  It’s all done out of love though, I’m sure.  He’ll stroll teasingly in front of my aged Belgian, taunting him to give chase.  Sadly, Domino’s hips aren’t what they used to be, so he has to be content with yelling at Sage instead of leaping to his feet and sending Sage scampering.  I’m sure Sage misses their fast and furious chases; more and more I find the two of them curled up together on Domino’s thick and comfy bed.  Sage is probably starting to feel his age too, he’s got three years on Dom’s thirteen.  They often groom each other, trading face-washing and ear cleaning.  Lately though, when Domino’s not watching, Sage also makes up to Golly, our 5 year old yellow Lab, face butting and grooming her.  Golly is a little embarrassed by it I think; when I catch them in the act, Golly will turn her head away or stand up and walk off as if to say, “Nope, nothing to see here.”

Do any of your dogs have unusual animal buddies?

 

 

 

Wild Wednesday – Go Batty!

Short and sweet this week folks.  I found this video a while ago, and just love it!  Lil’ Drac is a short-tailed fruit bat abandoned by his mom and raised by the folks at Bat World Sanctuary in Texas.

Why bats?  Aren’t they icky, scary bloodsuckers?  On the contrary, they pollinate and eat bugs.  If you have bats in your area you can thank them for helping keep the insect populations in check.  Go ahead and enjoy those bananas, mangoes and guava, all pollinated by bats.

This quickly became one of my favorite memes on Facebook.

I love bats!  I always wanted to have one as an education animal when I worked at the Zoo, but it never happened.  So, I am content to enjoy them from afar, and ask Hub to build us a bat house.

What’s a bat house?  Why would you want one?  A bat house provides a safe place for bats to roost and sleep.  With increased habitat loss, bat populations are in trouble.  You can provide a safe home for bats on your property, keep them from roosting inside your house and under your eaves, and reap the benefits of their insect control.  Check out why we need bats, and why bat houses are a great idea here.

Go on, put up a bat house.  Go Batty!

Wild Wednesday – Name That Mammal

OK, I’m tossing you a softball here.  Who out there remembers Flipper?  Who’s been to Sea World?  Does anyone not love the bottlenose dolphin?

When people say ‘dolphin’ this is the animal most of us immediately see in out head, but the bottlenose dolphin is only one of almost 40 species within the family Delphinidae.  The Delphinid family also includes killer whales, Pacific whitesided dolphins, and spinner dolphins.

The bottlenose dolphin is the one we pet and feed at Sea World, the one who does the bulk of performing in dolphin shows and in the movies.  Lots and lots of lore and legends surround the dolphin, going back to ancient times.  In Greek mythology the dolphin is linked to the god Apollo, and his temple at Delphi, but also Dionysus, god of wine and revelry.  Maybe that’s why dolphins are always smiling and look like they’re having so much fun?  The Greek myth of Arion tells of dolphins rescuing this famous singer from drowning.  You can read about this legend and more here.

Today, dolphins have a reputation for being intelligent.  New Agers claim they are smarter than us and here to help the us and the planet.  You can find dolphin swim programs all around, just Google it.  Wherever there is warm water and tropical resorts, you are likely to find companies that either have dolphins on site or will take you out to them in their native habitat so you can swim with dolphins.

Who’s in?  I know I would be the first to jump in and play.  One of the most enduring legends about dolphins is their capacity to play and make friends.  I think these two short videos say it all.

Doesn’t that look like fun?  This one though, always warms my heart.

But how smart are dolphins, really?  If you measure it by the things dolphins have made, then not very bright at all.  However, put a human and a dolphin in murky water and ask them to find objects on the bottom or even floating around and the human will look like a floundering idiot.  Current research shows that dolphins give themselves names, called signature whistles, that they develop when they are infants.  Dolphins will use these to get the attention of other dolphins in their social group, or to find each other in murky waters.  Is this language?  Research done by Louis Herman in Hawaii shows that dolphins do possess the ability to understand word order, as shown in this really cool video.

Let’s see…swim and play all day with your best buddies?  Yeah, next life I think I want to be a dolphin.  What would you be if you could choose?

 

Wild Wednesday – A Brand New Year

Happy New Year!  New beginnings, new possibilities, new horizons to seek are all awaiting us in 2013.  This is the time of year when people make resolutions, plan to break bad habits and form good ones, and reconnect with friends and family.  My wish for everyone on the planet is this:  May 2013 be the year that brings you all the love, prosperity and abundance you desire.

But we didn’t get here all at once.  It was a long journey through all of 2012; the joys and sorrows of the past year are part of us, and it is up to us to take in those lessons, the bitter and the sweet, learn from them and move on.  Take your pain, bless it, thank it for its teachings, and let it go.  Take your joys, embrace them, tell yourself that prosperity/love/abundance is your true destiny and desire, and manifest that for the coming year.  You can do it!

Every journey starts with a single step.  Today is the first step of your new life.  Seize it!

To help you on your road, I want to introduce you to two animals that make incredible journeys in a single year.  Let them inspire you, that you too can accomplish much and travel far in 365 days.

The Humpback Whale

Humpback whales make the longest migration of any mammal on the planet; 5,160 miles traveling from the frigid waters surround Antarctica to the balmy Caribbean.  Think you’ve had a long year?  Try swimming from the pole to the equator and back again. Humpback whales are found in all the oceans, and they regularly migrate from cold Arctic or Antarctic feeding grounds to warm equatorial waters to bear their young.

Humpback whales are baleen whales.  All cetaceans, the animal group that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises, are divided into two groups, baleen whales and toothed whales.  Baleen whales strain very small fish and other organisms from the water using thick, fibrous plates called baleen.  These baleen plates hang from their upper jaws like curtains, and the skin and muscles of their lower jaws expand tremendously to take in huge quantities of water and food.  The water is pushed out with the tongue and the little critters in the water are trapped by the baleen and eaten.

It’s not just their travels that make the humpback unique, look at those long front flippers.  Oh yeah, and they are flippers NOT fins, here’s the difference; flippers have bones and fins do not.  No other whale has elongated, wing-like pectoral flippers, making the humpback whale instantly recognizable.

What really makes me love the humpback?  They sing.  Just like my own Hubby making up songs to delight me, humpback males sing long, complex, beautifully haunting melodies to entice the ladies.  Here’s the really amazing part, all whales sing the same song.  It changes year to year, but every whale makes the same changes in a year.  It’s still a mystery how they communicate the changes to each other.

I figure if all the humpbacks in an ocean can manage to get their act together each year and all decide on the new song, I should be able to step it up and make the goal of being better at networking and growing as a writer.

The Arctic Tern

This tiny, 4-ounce bird makes the longest migration of any animal on the planet.  They have the humpback beat by a whole hemisphere.  Arctic terns migrate from Greenland to Antarctica, traveling 44, 000 miles one way.  These birds have a life span of up to 30 years, and scientists estimate in that time they travel 1.5 million miles.  Let me give you a little perspective on that number; in its lifetime, an Arctic tern will travel the equivalent of to the moon and back three times.  I will never again complain about my commute.

On the upside, they never see winter.  Their travels take them from northern summer to southern summer.  How far would you travel to always have long, warm summer days?

Arctic terns mate for life.  Talk about commitment:  “Honey, it’s time to pack up the kids and head to Antarctica.”  It must be true love.

How far would you go for what you love?  From one pole to another?

We are all on this life journey together.  Many small steps taken one at a time can carry you incredible distances.  What commitments do you need to make for your journey?  What is your first step?  How far will you go?

 

Wild Wednesday – The Winter Gardener

DSCN0010

Right now the garden looks like pretty bedraggled.  Sad, right?  How about these strawberries?  They tasted so delicious, but now they look anemic and ready to die.

DSCN0007

Well they are about to die…back.  Their roots will stay safe and warm in the ground, ready to come back in the spring but the green tops are withering and dying.  I think that’s why I love living here, I get to see the cyclical nature of life.  All things die, but all things eventually come back.

This weekend is likely the last one we’re going to get here with any substantial sun in Seattle for a very, very long time.  Hub and I have plans to get our garden put to bed for the winter.  The perennials in containers will overwinter, but if they’re allowed to freeze it can kill the dormant root system.  The larger containers, like these strawberry barrels will be fine free-standing with a good mulching.

DSCN0008

See my little baby strawberry plants in the square pots?  I’ll tuck them in with their big sisters to keep them safe and warm.  A nice thick layer of straw, nighty-night and see you in the spring, you delicious things!

But the rest of my ‘kids’ are in much smaller pots, so I’ll gather them all together on the side of the garage and pile straw over them all.  I’ll huddle them together like emperor penguins, plus put some large yard furniture around them to protect them from getting blown around.  I did all this last year and it worked better than I thought it would, which was pretty cool.

My next experiment, is overwintering some edibles.  I planted more carrots, onions and beets late in the summer.

FallGarden12

Apparently, all I have to do is mulch them good, so this weekend we’ll be covering them with a thick layer of straw.  I’ve read mixed reviews about the beets.  Some say don’t bother, that they’ll be inedible and just bolt (go to seed), while others rave about their harvest the following year.  Same with the onions.  Carrots universally seem to do pretty well overwintering in the ground.

So while I’m busy working on WIP 2 during the rainy season, my garden will be peacefully slumbering and waiting for spring, nestled beneath a cozy bed of straw.  All things in their season.

Do you have any rituals for this time of the year?  Is there anything you bid farewell to this year, that you look forward to seeing again in the future?  Putting the garden to bed is my fall ritual.  It reminds me that there is a time to be active,  a time to rest, a time to be productive and time to die.  It reminds me that death is not the end, but part of a cycle that we all participate in.

 

 

 

Wild Wednesday – Happy Thanksgiving!

I worked today, late and so didn’t have regular post ready to go.  A little late, however is better than not posting at all.

Here’s wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!  Take a moment to be grateful for the blessings in your life.  Here is my list:

  • For my Husband, the love of my life.
  • For my loved ones near and far.
  • For the blessings in my life, big and small.
  • For my home, my animals, and my health.

What more do you really need?  I am also thankful that my dinner tomorrow will be far more satisfying than this poor froggy’s.

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Wild Wednesday – What I Did This Summer

For those of you with offspring, do they still have kids write the obligatory essay on summertime activities in school?  I thought I’d give you a little reminder of summer if, like me, fall has closed you in with clouds and rain.

Instead of being in front of a computer, this is where I spent most of my free time during June, July and August.  And a good chunk of September.

Strawberries, corn, carrots, raspberries, grapes, potatoes and onions.

Also garlic, peas, beans and basil.

Boy did it keep me busy, but I loved every second of it.  I learn something new with every season, and I think that is the best part about gardening.  Exercise for the body and the mind.  Although if you look close, at the end of the row you’ll see I’m not above sitting to do my weeding.  That is one of the beauties of raised-bed gardening, it’s that much less distance you have to reach down to weed.  The other bonus is, you can plant more closely, so fewer weeds sprout.

I learned that if you plant beans (and peas) too close, you will end up with a towering mound of vines.

 

 

In my head, I nicknamed it ‘The Monster Pile’ because it really was a monstrous pile o’ beans and peas.  The peas only produced so-so, and I ended up with these little worms inside the peas on half the harvest, so the humans didn’t get much.  The chickens, on the other hand, were delighted with the infested peas, and ate them up happily worms and all.  The beans produced like crazy, with no issues.  I ended up freezing some for Hub and I and donating the rest to the local food bank.

Next year though, it’s all about the placement.  Hub has kindly volunteered to put some work in on making another planting bed in another part of the yard just for the beans and peas.  Love him!  This will let me space the plants better, and improve harvest.  Many of the beans ended up choked, or tangled up in the vines because they just swamped each other and couldn’t be harvested or weren’t useful.  Again my chickens benefited.  When we pulled the bean plants at the end of the season we just tossed them to the flock.

The girls also got the cobs from the corn, after I’d blanched and frozen the kernels.  I was greedy, I kept all 4 gallons of corn and it’s sitting happily in my freezer just waiting to be steamed, or made in to chicken corn chowder.  Yum!

I did put some pretty in my garden too.  From the showy:

 

To the simple:

 

But seasons turn as they always must, and my once overflowing garden is now (mostly) bare and dying away.  The asparagus has been put to bed for the fall, the carrots and grapes have been plucked, the strawberry plants are starting to lose their leaves, and the potato bags have been moved into cold storage in the garage.

 

Now, I’ve begun my next garden experiment.  Fall/winter garden.

 

Carrots, onions and beets.  I dropped the seeds in the rows and figured if they sprout, I’ll see if I can make them overwinter for early spring harvest.  Well, they sprouted, and are still looking remarkably happy.  I am equally happy because I no longer have to water the no-so-little guys anymore, Mother Nature is taking care of that chore for me.  I have to do more research on just how to get them through the winter and growing again, but I suspect I’ll mulch them in a few more weeks, and then hope for spring goodness.

And that is how I spent my summer.  In addition to what I’ve put up, I donated a little over 20 pounds of fresh produce to the local food bank, fulfilling a promise I made to myself at the start of the season.

Here in Seattle, I’ve heard lots of moaning and groaning about fall and winter coming, and how much they miss the sun.  I’m often asked if I miss Southern California and all the sunshine.  My answer is no, not one bit.  I love how the seasons turn up here, and the grey and rainy days are the perfect excuse to sit and write.  During the summer, my creativity just wasn’t flowing, so I put all my energy into the garden.  Now, the ideas I let lie fallow during the summer are springing forth renewed.  Everything has a right time, a right season; something we humans are prone to forget in our hyper-technological world.  The trick is connecting to that seasonal, earthy energy that is part of our very being, but once you do, wonderful things happen.

How do you connect?  How do you renew yourself?  What pastimes fulfill you and recharge your mental, emotional and spiritual batteries?  I would love to hear your stories!

 

 

Also….the pictures in this post are all under copyright to me.   Please ask before you use.  Thank you!

 

Wild Wednesday – Name That Mammal!

“Look!  A seal!”  A little boy points excitedly.  Mom, walking nearby peers in the direction her child is pointing.  A sausage-shaped creature lolling just above the surf line blinks back at her.

“Is it a seal, Mommy?”

Is it?

I know this has been a burning question for so many of you.  It’s even tripped up animal expert Randall.  In this video he refers to a seal as a sea lion, incorrectly.  Oh the horror!

Aside from that, it’s a cool video and for an excellent cause too.  Yay Randall!

I know, it’s a huge issue, and I’m here to help.  In a few brief sentences, I’m going to make all of you pinniped experts.

Pinnipeds are aquatic mammals; the name means wing-, or fin-footed.  This group includes seals, sea lions and walruses.  No one has trouble recognizing a walrus.

Big tusks, googly eyes and a huge moustache of sensitive whiskers.  Easy!

Seals and sea lions are just as simple, once you know what to look for.  Just remember, a true seal has no ears.

photo made by: L.Heafne

See how this lil’ cutie above just has a hole immediately behind his right eye?  No external ear flaps for the true seals.  These guys have very short, clawed front flippers, although you can’t see the claws in this pic.  The true seals are incredibly graceful swimmers, but they inch along like fat worms on the beach.  Their front flippers are too short to prop them up very far, and they drag their hind flippers behind them.


Their movement on land may be slug-like, but seals are able to climb and maneuver over obstacles such as rocks and logs.

A sea lion, on the other hand, has external ear flaps.

See how this pretty girl also has long front flippers?  Sea lions can pull all four limbs underneath their body and run down a beach like a dog.  They’re actually pretty quick, faster than you and me over the short distance, so if you ever do see one, or more, on a beach make sure you keep your distance.  Federal law actually prevents you from approaching them; all pinnipeds are covered by the Marine Mammal Protection Act.  Do not attempt the following:


Yes, it was the best job in the world.  Harpo was a total sweetie, and he met thousands, quite possibly even millions of people in his years at the San Diego Zoo as an animal ambassador.
So, what is Harpo?

Wild Wednesday – Happy Halloween!

I’d play Name That Mammal, but you already know this one:

Nocona, my sort-of buddy

The wolf.

Hey, it wouldn’t be Halloween without this classic creature of the moon.  Wolves are one of the most wide-spread mammals on the planet, they can be found on every land mass but Antarctica.  The rarest wolf is the Ethiopian wolf, check them out in this great article by National Geographic.

The wolf has been one of the most misunderstood animals on the planet; myth and legend frequently paint them as ravening beasts, bloodthirsty killers.  The supernatural association with werewolves and vampires has only added to the animal’s mystique and fear factor.

Conversely, the wolf has also been revered as a teacher, a pathfinder, and a keeper of wisdom with the admirable qualities of loyalty and strength.  They have been powerful totems for cultures around the globe and through history.

The Cherokee tell the following tale:

 

 

In honor of Halloween, since it is a time when the Veil thins between the worlds and cycles turn, I’m going to ask you my readers, to feed the good wolf.

 

Blessed Be!