A New Year

Happy New Year everyone!

I’ve been missing in action the last half of 2015 for a number of reasons – some good and some sad.

The good news which actually helped me thru the bad is that I started a new job in June. The best part is that I get to work from home.  It took me a few months to get used to working alone after being in an office of 150 people, 75% of them I’ve worked with for eight years.  My new boss is a former coworker who started her own business so that made the transition easier.  She needed help and I wanted a job with more flexibility to spend time with my elderly parents who live 3,000 miles away and to eventually go back to school.

The other good news is that my husband and I adopted an 8 year old Chihuahua/Boston Terrier female.  She had been abandoned at 7 years old pregnant and her owner didn’t want to deal with the situation.  Her puppies were adopted right away leaving her all alone.  She was sent to live with different foster “parents” for a year until we spotted her at a pet Expo. It was pup love at first sight.

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I was nervous about having such a little dog in the house and a couple of times my husband yelled at me as I would begin to sit on the couch not knowing she was there – she moves so quickly!  Because she was an older dog, there wasn’t a lot of training and she understood the basic commands.  We were warned that she didn’t like to be out in the rain like most little dogs, especially Chihuahuas, so she wouldn’t do her business if it was raining.  Since we work from home, there’s really no excuse on our part for not taking her outside when the rain stops. If she piddles inside, it’s our fault for sure!  We love her so much and I think she finally realizes she’s not going anywhere else.

We settled into a routine with the animals, my husband was starting a new project and I was able to put in more time in the garden.  I thought I would blog more but time just got away with all the gardening and the new job.

Then sadly in September we begin the bad news.  First Mathilda, our 2 year old cat was diagnosed with blood cancer after finding a huge mass growing along her tongue and into her throat.  Her recovery was not promising with surgery followed by chemotherapy  treatment so we decided to say goodbye to her while she was still her silly fluffy self.

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To work thru the grieving process of no longer having a cat in the house, I visited a local cat shelter to sign up as a volunteer and my first assignment was to foster a 6 month old kitten suspected of being pregnant.  She couldn’t get her vaccinations and be around the other cats so she would be stuck in a cage 24/7.  I brought her home and within 5 hours my husband announced we were keeping her – he has such a soft heart for animals which is one of the many reasons I love him.  Yes, we did adopt her and turned out she wasn’t pregnant – just a very cuddly chubby kitten.  Since we had Betty, we decided to name her, Veronica.

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Then our  6 year old dog, Sam, who had been limping a bit earlier in the summer, got worse.  We were told back in June that he probably just strained a muscle and not to worry about it.  A week after saying goodbye to Mathilda, we took Sam in for an x-ray and found out he had bone cancer, a common illness in Rottweilers and he was half.

My husband and I LOVED Sam.  He was my first dog and having raised him from a puppy, the emotional impact of having to say goodbye to him just broke my heart.  I cried all day and cried myself to sleep. The house seemed empty even though we had Betty and Veronica.  I felt as if I was missing my shadow – he followed me everywhere.

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A few weeks later my husband found an ad for a Rottweiler/Lab puppy and so off we went to take a look at it.  The puppy was 10 weeks and I could tell by the look on my husband’s face as he held the puppy in his arms that he wanted it so we took the puppy home.  As we observed the puppy we started to think maybe the owners got the breed wrong.  We tried to contact them and no reply.  Seems we got scammed as they purchased the puppy from someone else and advertised it based on the markings.  We were disappointed in that it wasn’t a Rottweiler/Lab mix (we did a canine DNA test) but we love it just the same.  Turns out the puppy is a mix of German Shepherd, Lab (probably yellow), Rhodesian Ridgeback and Welsh Corgi.  All I know is it’s a very smart dog and we’ll need to get it trained and keep it active.  The puppy is extremely cuddly and loving and unlike Sam who had his tail docked, our new dog has his tail so whenever he sees us, we hear the happy “thump thump thump” of his tail against the sofa, floor or whatever is nearby that makes contact.  We named our puppy, Klytus, after a character in the movie, Flash Gordon, because of his black and gold markings.

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So we lost a couple of our furry loved ones and gained a couple new furry pets who are turning out to be just as wonderful with their own little quirks and personalities.

I forgot to mention earlier is that we no longer have chickens.  It happened a few days after we lost Sam. I heard the hens squawk in the back yard and went out in time to see three racoons hauling them away.   Life has been easier without the chickens and we don’t plan on getting more until we have our own house and a bigger plot of land – so that I can build a large enclosed area for them to come and go as they please while protected from racoons and coyotes.

Moving forward into the new year, I plan on posting more often – on cooking, crafting, homemade products, pets, and gardening.

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Homemade Hair Conditioner

I’ve been making homemade hair conditioner for about three years now. I found the recipe at my favorite local soap supplier, Bramble Berry:

Hair Conditioner Ingredients:

  • 374 grams distilled water
  • 2 grams Liquid Silk
  • 22 grams Glycerin
  • 27 grams BTMS – Emulsifier
  • 13 grams Jojoba Oil
  • 4 grams Sweet Almond Oil
  • 4 grams Optiphen preservative
  • 4 grams Fragrance or Essential Oil

I decided to make the conditioner without the silk as it’s fairly expensive and I figured the glycerin would be enough and it came out great for my hair.

Recently I changed up the oils to just coconut oil as I want to keep the number of ingredients to a minimum so my current recipe:

  • 374 grams distilled water
  • 27 grams BTMS-50 Emulsifier
  • 17 grams coconut oil
  • 4 grams Optiphen preservative
  • 4 grams Essential Oil

Since I use homemade rose water for my hair conditioner, I make sure to add the optiphen preservative.  I also keep my conditioner in the refrigerator as I don’t  wash my hair every day nor do I use conditioner every time I wash my hair (in the winter I will use conditioner with each wash and add the glycerin to help retain moisture).  The recipe above will last me close to 3 months during the summer; 2 months in winter.

Rose water will give the conditioner a light pink color (I haven’t tried the recipe with rose water that I’ve infused more than once so it may be a darker pink with 2-3 infusions):

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If you really want a natural pink color to your conditioner, you can add madder root powder (which is also used to make a natural pink color soap) and a little goes a long way so test it out in small increments):

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I found that I prefer to use a conditioner as my hair is very fine but I haven’t tried other methods like a vinegar rinse.  What I like about this recipe is that I purchased the 2 oz of BTMS-50 three years ago and I still have half of it left.  Note on usage:my husband doesn’t use conditioner so it’s just me.

Much of this is personal experimentation so you will need to tweak the recipe a few times before you find a combination that you like.

Raising Chickens – Predators

When my husband and I decided to raise chickens, we didn’t think about predators since we basically live within the city limits.  My only concern was making sure to provide a fence so they couldn’t wander away.  I didn’t know we had coyotes and until last year, had no idea there were hawks.

We lost three chickens in one day to coyotes which was devastating as one dead body was left behind and there were feathers everywhere that revealed the path and attack of each chicken.

Last year we lost a hen to a hawk.  I don’t know if it’s been around and we just didn’t notice (we’ve only been in the neighborhood four years) or if it recently decided the area was a prime spot for food as we have a few neighbors who also raise chickens.

Today lying in bed sick with a cold I heard my two hens squawking. I can now recognize the difference between egg laying squawks and HELP ME squawks.  This was definitely the HELP ME squawk.  I got out of bed and there it was, just hanging out on a tree branch staring down at my chickens.

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I did some research last year and I believe this is a Coopers Hawk and by its markings, a young hawk.  It ignored me until I let my 100lb dog out and then it flew away but not far. It perched in another tree on a higher branch but it was watching the chickens.  Then it got tired of me standing there staring back at it and flew away.

The chickens were huddled/shaking under the branches of a shrub  I tried to coax them out but they were too scared.

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Finally I walked over to their coop and fussed around with their feed tray and that’s when they came running.  I cleaned their cage, gathered the one egg of the day and replaced their water.  I checked on them every half and hour to make sure they were okay but found them inside the safety of their coop. They have better vision than humans so I’m guessing the hawk is perched somewhere and I just can’t see it.

They have one more summer with us then they’ll get harvested.  For our next batch of chickens, I’ll think about whether we’ll keep them gated instead of free range.  I’ll miss seeing them outside my kitchen window but at least they’ll be safe.

Nasturtium Pesto

I know pesto can be made with other green vegetables so I decided to experiment with the nasturtium in the garden.

My recipe:

  • 2 tbsp almond meal
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan, finely grated
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 handfuls of nasturtium leaves, rinsed and lightly chopped
  • 1/2 handful of nasturtium flower petals, rinsed.
  • salt and pepper to taste

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I have a small food processor so I pushed in the nasturtium leaves first, then added 2 tbsp of olive oil and the remaining ingredients.  I blended the ingredients then added the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil.  Once the mixture resembled pesto, I transferred into a glass container.

I used almond meal instead of pine nuts as I had it on hand.  I also added a zucchini flower just for fun.

The pesto is pretty thick so you can add more olive oil to it as needed.  Basically I added 1 tbsp of olive oil to 2 tbsp of pesto.

Nasturtium has a spicy flavor and as a pesto, tastes wonderful with pasta.   I look forward to harvesting more nasturtium in a couple of weeks and making it with pine nuts this time and maybe a different cheese.

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Note: the next time I make this pesto, I’ll indicate how much of it in cups once chopped.

Clever Hens

One of the hens began to brood some time around the end of July so of course the other hens found somewhere else to lay their eggs.  I cleared up all the areas I thought they might hide eggs and came up empty.  One morning I decided to hang out on the back deck and observe them.   I waited almost an hour and was just about to go back into the house when I saw a hen make her way to the fire pit.

We’ve been lazy with our fire pit and piled our little Christmas tree, branches and even blackberry vines with the intention of breaking them down and having a nice little fire at the end of the summer.

That’s when I noticed the three holes in the dried up vegetation. I walked past that pile so many times but it never occurred to me that it would be a perfect nest.

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I watched in disbelief as the hen made her way into the hole and disappeared.

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I ran inside of the house and announced the discovery to my husband.  He just chuckled and shook his head.  Once the hen exited the nest, we slowly removed the debris.  The hens had burrowed deep into the pit and for a second we wondered if maybe we were wrong.  Then we saw the eggs.

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I counted twenty four eggs, including a cracked one.  The smell hit us once we fully uncovered the eggs.   Even though most of the eggs appeared to be intact, we decided that all of the eggs would need to be composted.  As my husband handed the eggs to me, I realized I should have put the hens in their coop.  The hens were rushing at my husband to protect their eggs.

I collected the eggs in a basket to carry them into the kitchen were I placed them in a compost bag. I’m sure there are folks who have experience with finding hidden eggs and determining if the eggs were still safe for consumption but my husband and I didn’t want to take any chances.

We set the debris on fire for a few minutes just to burn away the smell.  Now the hens have no where else to lay their eggs but the chicken coop.

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Flowers

ROSES

The property already has roses but they’re the wild ones on thin short stems so not very good for cuttings (but wonderfully fragrant for making rose water).   While at Home Depot in early April, I walked past the roses and caught a glimpse of purple on one of the packages.  Purple is my favorite color so of course I couldn’t resist a purple rose called Blue Moon.  Then just to spice it up, I chose a non-purple hybrid tea rose called Broadway.

I went home and found a location right outside the window where I sit at my computer.  Ten minutes after planting the roses, I came back and the hens had eaten most of the young leaves!  I waved the hens away and asked my husband to stand guard as I cut up a leftover length of chicken wire.  I secured the wire around each rose and hoped for the best.

June arrived and I spotted the first bud.  I checked the roses every morning and in the evenings to squish or flick off any aphids.   Then on June 13th, which happened to be a Friday and a Blue Moon, my purple rose bloomed.

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A few days later, the tea rose opened and my husband named it Tequila Sunrise:

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In full bloom the morning of a light rain I got the last photos before they wilted and fell apart.

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LOVE-IN-THE-MIST (Nigella damascena)

I spotted a feathery like plant growing in a spot of dirt next to the mailbox.  At first I thought it was a cosmos flower that somehow made its way by wind or bird.  Cosmos is one of my favorite flowers so I was happy to leave it alone.  I watched as it grew taller and developed tiny buds.

Then I came home from work one day and saw a flower but it wasn’t a cosmos – it was something I had never seen before.  I took a photo and sent it around to friends.  Finally someone said it was Love-in-the mist.  I immediately opened up my web browser and typed in the name and the result was Nigella damascena.

A couple of days later more flowers bloomed and the centers were turning a dark purple.  I cut a few stems and arranged in a small vase with a couple of the roses from the back yard.

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I was determined to figure out how the flower landed in my yard.  One morning on my way to work I saw them in a garden only a few houses from mine.  But, there were other colors!  Blues and purples in addition to the white.   I did another online search and discovered the Persian Jewel mix which includes pink, blue and lavender flowers.   I will definitely plant these in the garden next year mixed with cosmos (photo below from web search).

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PEONIES

We moved into our house in the month of September and the next spring revealed white peonies in the front garden.  There are two main types: the herbaceous and the tree peony.  The hybrid is the ITOH (intersectional peonies).  The white peony in my garden I believe is a herbaceous type.

I purchased a pink peony which I planted between the roses (I learned my lesson from the roses and placed chicken wire around the young plant).  The flowers won’t bloom until next year. Together with the white peony, should make for a very nice spring bouquet.

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A co-worker gave me great advice on peony buds – don’t get rid of the ants!  There were ants crawling all over the buds and if I hadn’t mentioned this to my co-worker, I would have made a big mistake.  The ants help the flower by eating away at the stiff outer shell of the bud.

I would like to plant more peonies but they’re quite expensive.  I happened to find them on sale at a local store and decided $14.99 wasn’t too bad as they are sold from peony farms starting at $22 for herbaceous and up to $75 for the ITOH.

HOLLYHOCKS

I have four hollyhock seedlings about 2 inches tall. I read hollyhocks take a while to grow and I definitely won’t see flowers this year.    The ones I chose are a dark maroon, almost black color.  I should have gotten a variety packet so I would end up with this instead of just the maroon (photo below from web search).

The first time I saw these flowers I knew I wanted to grow them one day.   I have a place in mind to plant them but I’ll have to make sure the chickens don’t get at the seedlings.  They’ll grow to 4-5 feet so they’ll need some support.

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OTHER FLOWERS

There’s a term for plants that are not intentional: volunteer plants.  In my vegetable garden there is a feathery like plant growing and I think this time it’s a cosmos but it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if it turns out to be purple nigella.   There’s also a volunteer tomato plant between my zucchini and bok choi.   I can’t remember the type of tomato I had there last year – I’ll find out in two months.

Mowing the lawn with my little helpers

My husband and I purchased a push mower last month after the gas mower stopped working.  I’ve been wanting a push mower for a while mostly because it’s light enough for me to get out of the storage shed by myself.

I used it for the first time last weekend and boy what a great workout!  Because we got one without a bag, all the clippings remain on the ground which turns out is great for the lawn.  The push mower doesn’t provide a well manicured lawn but it gets the job done.

The front yard is super easy but I have more fun mowing the back yard because the chickens follow me around.  The clippings are like a salad bar to them!   Every now and then I’ll take a break and watch as they scratch through the clippings, gobbling up choice pieces of grass and sometimes even a few insects.

I stopped for a few minutes to get a drink of water and when I came back out, I found all three of them around the mower:

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As I got closer, I noticed one hen actually getting clippings from the catch basin – targeting bits of dandelion.  I guess those qualify as dessert!

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I’m not sure how we need to maintain the sharpness of the blades, but I bet someone has posted a youtube video that I’ll be looking up in a few months.

 

 

Seedlings

The weather has been a bit overcast here in Seattle and the seeds I planted a few weeks ago are just now coming up with a few still taking their time.

photo 1Marigold.  I planted a whole tray of these flowers to plant around the vegetable garden and herbs.  Marigold are perfect companion plants and help deter insects: http://www.ourherbgarden.com/marigold-companions.html

photo 2Pak Choi (Chinese cabbage; aka bok choi).  Very nutritious and great for stir fry – here’s a link for more information : http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/bok-choy.html.

photo 3Beets.  The little leaves are so cute.  I wish I had a better camera so you can see the outline of the leaves are a dark pink/red color. I love beets and they’re very good for the liver.  One of my favorite salads is roasted beets with arugula, goat cheese and candied walnuts.  Beets are cold weather vegetable (perfect for Seattle!) so I plan on starting another batch of seedlings in September.  http://www.almanac.com/plant/beets.

photo 4Hollyhock. I’ve seen these flowers around town and decided to grow them this year.  The downside is they won’t bloom until next year so I’ll need to find a safe area for them in the front yard and marked so I don’t forget them: http://www.burpee.com/perennials/hollyhock/planting-hollyhock-flowers-article10290.html.

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Chamomile.  The flowers are so cute, like tiny daisies! I plan on harvesting them to make tea.  Right now I only see a few seedling (you can barely see them in this photo) so I may need to try again with another batch.  The great thing about this plant is that they only take 30 days to harvest: http://www.gardeningblog.net/how-to-grow/chamomile/.

I have a few other seeds I’m waiting to sprout: dill, thyme, nasturtium, lettuce, okra, and zucchini.  We’re supposed to get sun and temperature in the mid 70’s this week so I hope that helps the seeds.

Neverending Coop Cleaning

I’m not sure if it’s the breed (Barred Rock), but the new hens are the tidiest chickens I’ve raised so far.  My other hens would sleep and lay their eggs in the nesting box and sometimes the eggs would be a bit dirty.  Not my Girls.  They keep the nesting area super clean.

They don’t like to sleep on straw and every time I replaced the straw in the sleeping area, I’d find it all moved into the nest.  I decided to use brown paper grocery bags in their sleeping area, 3-4 at a time, so all I had to do was remove the top bag and add it to the compost bin.  Then I started getting a little low on the bags and came up with my best idea ever.  Paper towels!  Paper towels can be composted and absorbs moisture.

So today I decided to use a couple of paper bags as the foundation.  I cut up a few tangerine peels and put them in one of the bags to add a refreshing scent to the coop:

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Then I placed two paper bags, the top one with the tangerine peels, in the sleeping area:

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Followed by two layers of paper towels (which I will replace every day):

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I replaced the straw in the nest last weekend and as you can see, still very clean.

I think this will be the best solution for these hens.  Now if they’d only learn to go into the coop at night instead of waiting on the deck railing for me to carry them down!

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Nesting

The hens finally started producing eggs a few weeks ago.

First eggsMy neighbor’s nine year old daughter was helping me clean the coop and when I asked her to check for eggs, she checked the nesting box but the hens decided they preferred a window seat.  They are very tidy hens and so far have kept their nesting area clean.

One of the hens is an overachiever.  So far in the last few weeks she’s produced three double yoked eggs.  I read it’s okay and doesn’t harm the hen but she’ll produce less eggs in the future. The picture below shows the double yolk egg on the left.

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The hens aren’t the only ones nesting.  I’m nesting of sorts with regards to gardening.  I took a few days off to tackle all the weeks and debris and the worst, blackberries!  We have the large thorny invasive blackberries and I spent two weekends clipping them along our back fence and then one day finding vine after vine hiding all over the property.

I had intended on a small garden this year but changed my mind after my husband found out he’s being let go at the end of the month.  Now I feel like our vegetable garden (and even the chicken eggs) will help keep some costs down as we tighten the money belt until he gets another job.

Everything is newly planted or seedlings so we won’t really save costs until they’re ready to harvest.  But, I feel a little better knowing in a few months if we’re still pinched, we’ll at least have eggs and lots of salad to help.

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This is a picture taken today after my husband and a few of his friends help put up a 4ft tall chicken wire fence around the vegetable garden to prevent the chickens from digging everything up again.  I have five tomato plants, lots of seedlings of lettuce, carrots, beets, spinach, pak choi, zucchini, sugar snap peas, garlic, walla walla onions; and herbs.   I’m also planting lots of nasturtiums as I just love the flavor of the flowers and found a recipe to make pesto with the stems and leaves.

Hopefully next post will show the seedlings planted.

 

 

 

 

 

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