Saturday, June 30, 2012

Building a Game Bird (not poultry) Pen

Game bird pen

I suppose the first thing you should do before deciding to raise quail is prepare a structure in which to keep them, since quail are good fliers.  Not me…I bought the quail first!  Then, I was forced to come up with some sort of pen quickly.  There was a slight crisis when we arrived home at 10 p.m. from the farm with eight quail in a small box and nowhere to keep them (Rural King was closed).  However, we shut the doors to a small room in our house and transferred them to a larger box, put some water in and hoped for the best.  There was a bit of flying around the room (I wish I had video footage to share), but all ended calmly and there were still eight healthy quail in the morning. 

Needless to say, I spent the next morning figuring out how to house these little guys in a way that would make both their life and mine enjoyable.  I was inspired by some raised beds made out of cinder blocks at Eli Creek Farms and the cluttery pile of cinder blocks in my own yard.  I decided to give it a go and make a small pen out of cinder blocks.  Of course, I would need some other things like chicken wire and feeding pans as well.  Following is the step-by-step for building the pen:

1.      Stack cinder blocks two high in the shape of a rectangle.
2.    Lay one wall’s worth of cinder blocks sideways, so that the birds can nest and lay eggs in the holes of the cinder blocks. 
3.    Spread chick wire (holes are smaller than traditional chicken wire) over the cinder blocks. 
4.    Secure one side of the chicken wire between the two layers of cinder blocks (opposite the laying side).  Tie the wire down using metal wires through the holes of the cinder blocks on two sides of the rectangle. 
5.    Build the outline of a rectangle the size of the top of your cinder block rectangle using scrap wood and place it on top of the wire to keep raccoons and other predators out.
6.    Hinge a solid rectangle to the frame to cover the side where the holes face out, so you can lift it to retrieve eggs.
7.    Staple the extra chick wire to the top of the rectangular wood fram.  Place an extra cinder block on top of the rectangle and in front of the door just to be sure.

Using this structure, we can change their water by lifting the corner that is not wired shut.  We can also slide the feeding tray in through the nesting holes.  We threw some wood chip animal bedding in to keep things cozy.  Our guys are in a big enough space that they can run around together, and they like to cuddle together in their nesting holes.  Now all we have to do is wait for the eggs!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Eli Creek Farms

I am currently ecstatic.  I have found a local family farm from which I am comfortable purchasing meat, eggs, and vegetables to supplement what I can produce at home.  It all started with a sign at the farmer’s market indicating quail eggs for sale…

Jon and Jim Bob (real name?) from Eli Creek Farms
I approached the man at the stand and asked if he’d sell me some quail.  His reply was that his quail are not yet ready to go to the butcher but that he’d have them at the market in a few months.  I had to clarify that I was asking if he’d sell me live quail because I wanted to raise them for eggs.  His response, “Sure, I’d sell you some quail.   Why don’t you guys come out and see the farm, show the boys around?”   We told him that sounded great.  After taking a couple weeks to arrange it in our schedules, we finally had our long awaited visit to Eli Creek Farm this week.

On the way we were bemoaning the distance (1.5 hrs. driving) and hoping this was worth it.  Our visit was scheduled at 5:30 p.m., so we stopped to buy the boys Happy Meals on the way, which somehow felt completely wrong.  The man from the farmers’ market stand was waiting on the porch for our arrival and was anxious to tell us all about the farm, which has been in the family for generations.  Then, he began taking us around.  First to the rabbits, then to a barn with quail, turkey, pheasants, ducks, and a green house section with flats of young carrots and other produce. After handing us each a fresh carrot to munch on, he began walking us through the fields telling us how much crop has been lost to the drought, allowing us all to pick some goodies to take home and insisting that we taste the sweetest cherry tomatoes available.  Then, he had us all hop in his truck to drive us to other fields, passing hens and roosters roaming in a yard happily along the way.  He showed us where his grass-fed cattle range and where his next batch of hens will be living.  We stopped at various fields along the way, picking samples of beets, turnips, potatoes, herbs, and sugar snap peas, among other things.  He even walked us to his favorite spot by the creek.
We met other family members who worked on the farm with the man we met at the market.  Everyone was proud that they were raising everything chemical-free, steroid-free, and every other kind of naturally.  Of course, this makes extra work, but to this family, it is a way of life worth living.  They sell their goods at farmers’ markets all around the area and are at the Muncie market every Saturday. 

Three and a half hours later, we went home with rabbit and chicken meat, free range quail and chicken eggs, baskets full of produce, some quail feed to get us started, and of course, some baby quail who will start laying us eggs soon.  I know that I can feel comfortable feeding my family food from Eli Creek Farms.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Caring for Strawberry Plants

New strawberry growth indicators:  top left is the stem from the mother plant, top right is the new root.

I’ve been told several times that strawberry plants stop producing strawberries after the first few years.  My initial reaction was to just leave my strawberry patch alone for the first few years and hope for the best, not quite convinced that I would need to replace all my plants after the first few years.  Well, as the saying goes, timing is everything.  This year, the year that I decide to commit to transitioning everything to edible landscaping, is the year that my strawberry crop has dwindled and my patch is looking very sad.  Several of my favorite magazines have also published articles about strawberries this year, so I have learned a lot and feel equipped to foster new strawberry plant growth without purchasing from outside providers. 

Here’s what I’ve learned and what I’ve been working on this week (and probably for weeks to come):

1.      The shoots that strawberry plants send out (their way of spreading) count as new plants and can be disconnected from the plant that is no longer producing well.  Thus, I have looked for new shoots that are in the process of rooting or are about to root. 
2.    If the new shoot has already rooted, I have disconnected it, dug it up, and potted it.  (As my patch is a mess, and I think I want to relocate my strawberries anyway.)
3.    If the new shoot is not yet rooted, I have dug up the mother plant and potted it.  Then, I placed the shooter over a separate pot, hoping it will take root in its own pot.  Once it has rooted, I can disconnect it from the mother plant and have a nice new plant. 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Liquid Gold

Human urine is high in nitrogen, which is great for your plants!  People flush away free fertilizer everyday, and then go purchase nitrogen containing plant food.  I must admit, I’ve been found guilty too.  But those days are over.  Now, we’ve started a new routine…peeing straight into the watering can.  Why not pee straight into the garden?  Because undiluted urine can burn plants due to its high salt content.  If you and/or members of your family urinate directly into the watering can, then you just top up with water (about a 9:1 water to urine ratio) and water your plants.  I am not short on male volunteers to pee in the watering can at my house, so I still get to use the toilet!  

I hope the following goes without saying, but to be sure, the solid waste from our bodies (a.k.a. poop) is not good for your garden and will spread disease if not disposed of properly.  Please do not scoop urine from the toilet bowl to use on your garden, as bacteria from stool is present.  The urine needs to go straight from your body to a separate holding container until used on the garden.  Another fun use for urine is peeing straight onto the compost pile.  This helps break down the organic material faster while providing moisture and nitrogen.  So, stop wasting all that water flushing away your liquid gold and send it straight to your garden and compost pile!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Safe and Natural Herbicide…and Cleaner

If you couldn’t guess from the title, I’m talking about the wonderful world of vinegar.  Vinegar kills weeds as well as any chemical spray on the market.  I am using it on my garden paths before laying down the bricks to make ongoing maintenance of the paths much easier.  It is working so well that I am planning to hit the sidewalk cracks next.  For those of you who are torn between not wanting to add unnecessary chemical runoff to our storm water systems and wanting your paths to look neat without endless hours of additional weeding, vinegar is your answer.  One word of warning:  vinegar will kill bees and other beneficial insects (as well as pests), so it still needs to be used in moderation and in small, targeted areas.  For the sake of your fellow urban farmers – please don’t go spraying all the clover!

 I know some people are hooked on that fresh, clean, unnatural smell of chemical but vinegar is a much cheaper, safer, and equally effective cleaning agent.  I’ve used it for everything from mopping floors to washing windows to removing mineral deposits left on dishes by the dishwasher.  It can be diluted and mixed with a variety of other natural ingredients to serve a multitude of purposes.  I mix in a few drops of oil of cinnamon or other essential oils because it overrides the vinegar smell.  I have a new recipe that looks like it will smell fabulous, but you will have to wait until colder weather to hear about how that works.  I must admit that the inside of my house gets a bit neglected during gardening season.

For a fairly inclusive list of uses for vinegar, check out

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Non-edibles and the Box Store

Gerber Daisy - a favorite of today's finds
I found more space for plants while cleaning out a section that I thought was just weeds on top of cement.  I was thrilled to instead find sections of dirt between the cement path and the foundation of the house.  If any of the soil surrounding our house is contaminated with things like lead and asbestos, this is the space.  So, instead of planting edibles, right now I'll put some non-edible flowers in until I test the soil. 

A friend and I made a trip to what she refers to as death row at Lowes and picked up flowers for next to nothing (as cheap as 25 cents for a six pack of impatiens).  I know this doesn't quite count as living local, but she got me feeling like I was saving helpless little plants from premature death!  Overall, I have done fairly well on supplying my garden locally overall, purchasing topsoil from nearby Shadeland Farms and purchasing plants and seeds from the locally owned G&M Pet and Garden center.   Then, of course there are the free plants from nearby friends and family.  So, can anyone blame me for saving some non-edible plants from unnecessary early death at the big box store?!?  

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Top 10 Uses for Raspberries

Smoothies Count as Dinner at Our House

With the raspberry harvest winding down, here are my top 10 uses for all those delicious berries.

10.  Make raspberry jam with freezer jam pectin.  We go through homemade jam way too fast to worry about  all that cooking and canning.  Just mash the berries, mix in the sugar and pectin, let set, then enjoy!
 9.  Mash them up and shake them into your favorite cocktail.
 8.  Simmer them with a little sugar and water for a delicious sauce that can be used on sundaes or pancakes.
 7.  Pie!  I did a black raspberry/rhubarb blend this year - delicious.  I've found that Julia Child's pie crust recipe is my favorite in both taste and workability thus far.
 6.  Mix them into the 32 ounce container of yogurt to enjoy raspberry yogurt at less cost per ounce.
 5.  Leave the dried fruit out of that homemade granola, and throw fresh raspberries on top instead. (If you don't already make granola at home, stay tuned...I'll be sure to do a how-to in another post.)
 4. Spread them on a cookie sheet to freeze them.  Once frozen, remove from cookie sheet and place in a freezer bag.  Don't forget to label and date those bags!
 3.  Put them on top of vanilla ice cream.
 2.  Pick and eat on a sunny day.  Not all produce needs to make it into the house before being eaten.
 1.  Smoothies!  These are a staple at our house year-round.  Throw in some yogurt and spinach, and you're off the hook for cooking dinner on a hot evening. (I'll try to do a post with some smoothie pointers sometime, too.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Line Dry Those Clothes!

It is surprising to me how few people in the United States line dry their clothes.  This is a simple way to use less electricity and save money.  People all around the world dry their clothes with the heat of the sun, and considering the dry weather we have during the summers, there is really little excuse for not deserting the electric clothes dryer for much of the year.  If you have limited space, like I do, a retractable clothes line (Whitmor Mfg. 20ft. Retractable Clothesline 6243-2513) allows you to put the line away when you're not using it.

There are a few additional perks to line drying clothes.

1.  The sun has notable stain removing powers.
2.  If you position your line right, you can use your clothes to shade plants that don't like all that heat during the hottest hours of the day.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Experiment Update

This blog entry is an update on the experiment mentioned in the June 1st entry entitled, “All in a Day’s Work.”  For those of you just tuning in, I laid linen between the grass and new dirt in some of my raised beds but not in others.  Why?  For no better reason than running out of steam…and material.  I am already seeing a difference in the weeds.  There are some determined little pieces of grass already popping up in the raised bed  that do not have linen under them.  So far, it is not a lot, and I can only hope this will be the pattern.  I will have to wait longer before updating you on how the root vegetables handle the linen barrier.  As of today, I would highly recommend anyone building raised beds to go ahead and put a natural fabric barrier between the grass/weeds and the new dirt of the beds.  As usual, extra work upfront usually means less work later.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Vigor Gone Bad

After making significant progress digging my small pond, I decided to see how close I was by trying to fit the kiddy pool (my waterproof liner) down into the hole.  The hole looked deep enough, but the pool wasn’t dropping down into it.  A lapse in judgment found me trying to push the pool down into the hole with my foot because the fit was so close.  While it should have come as no surprise, I was surprised to find my foot pushed right through the bottom of the plastic kiddy pool, leaving me with a foot-sized hole in my sealed liner intended for my small pond.  In retrospect, I now realize I should have redirected my vigor to digging the hole wider instead of trying to stomp the pool down into it.  Meanwhile, I am toying with the idea of how to repair the hole in a way that will hold when wet (probably not tape) without contaminating the water (probably not Gorilla Glue), leaving me concerned that I may just have to throw out the pool and the idea of using it for my water barrier.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Lookin' Good, Darlin'

The backyard is already starting to feel like more of an inviting oasis, so much so that I stepped outside to enjoy the atmosphere last night in my less-than-modest pajamas (really, they weren't so bad, I promise).  I was picturing myself in the privacy of my backyard, where no one would see me anyway, enjoying some peace and quiet.  Well, reality was something different!  The minute I stepped outside, I was surprised to find my neighbor out on his second story landing that hovers over my backyard.  After an awkward greeting, I went to briefly take a picture of the compost for the blog, only to hear the conversation continued with, “Lookin’ Good, Darlin’.”   Assuming the best of his intentions, I just said, “thanks” without returning eye contact and went back inside after taking the compost picture.  After repeatedly replaying the scenario in my head, I cannot think of a better alternative response to my “thanks.”  So, I guess I will just have to embrace the reality that, though my backyard may become an edible oasis, it is still an urban oasis and that I will have to wear more clothes when enjoying my garden.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

New Compost System

I came home from a meeting yesterday to find my compost compartments built by my fabulous husband.  I found the palettes at the Mr. Rooter dumpster (free, obviously).  The owner said that they are always getting rid of extra palettes, so if you ever need palettes, now you know where to look!  My previous compost system was one big pile, making it very hard to get the decomposed, usable compost from the bottom of the pile, where it sat below all the fresh food scraps and yard waste.  With my new and improved system, after one is full, it can fully decompose while I fill the second and third bins with additional compostables.