I miss my backyard

I realized today just how long it has been since I have spent any time in my backyard – two months. Yep. That’s WAY TOO LONG. But what’s a mother to do? My priorities are just different at the moment.

But I still miss it. I miss the smell of the grass. I miss the cluck of the hens. And even though I sold the last of my Angora rabbits a few months ago, I’m missing them today too. They went to a great home that will be able to utilize their fiber better than I could.

I’ve hired someone to do some of the maintenance that I have let slip. He’s power-washing the rabbit cages for storage, chopping down the new blackberry vines that keep appearing, and doing some general cleanup. Although I was really happy to notice that last month’s storm did not drop a single tree branch in any part of our yard! That was really nice to discover, given the number of downed branches and entire trees in the rest of the town.

I admired my yard through the window this afternoon as I went back and forth between dealing with laundry and dealing with preschooler tantrums. I will have to make some time to get out there soon. It is so rejuvenating to get into nature of any kind, and nature I can dig my hands into is especially invigorating.

The preschoolers and I planted some seeds last weekend. We had gone to a propagation fair – basically a seed swap with some professional talks. Free admission, free local/organic seeds, free talks, it was great! I picked out some seeds I want to try in my garden this year, and then let the boys each pick out some flower seeds. I got some peat pots and soil that day, and we planted the seeds and placed the pots on the front porch so the boys can see “their plants” every morning on the way to the car. I hope some sprout before the boys lose interest!  I know we’re playing roulette with the weather but the seeds had the boys’ interest so I struck while the iron was hot, so to speak. It’s so rare to get them interested in much of anything.

We still have the chickens, and added a fifth hen to them before Christmas. An opossum or raccoon had decimated a friend’s flock, leaving him with a single  hen. Rather than bring more hens into a coop that needed additional predator protection, he gave her to us. I was pleased with how quickly she was accepted. We placed her on the roost at night in the dark, and she spent about three days being ignored and run off by the others, then everything was fine. No fights, no blood, it was pretty tame as far as introductions go. A beautiful, large, shiny, blue/green-black hen that lays large medium brown eggs.

And about the eggs – I’m glad its winter and the chickens are molting, because I haven’t even been to the chicken coop in those two months! I could have eggs out there and I wouldn’t know about it, but this time of year that is unlikely so at least I’m not wasting eggs. When the preschoolers arrived we realized just how hard everything was going to be for a while, so we opened the coop and run and let the chickens have the run of the backyard. Feeding them now takes 10 seconds in the morning – open the back door to let the dog outside, toss out the day’s ration of chicken feed and call “chick, chick, chick!”. They all come running – five chickens, two legs and wings apiece, no new feathers missing, call it good. Whistle for the dog and close the door.

Although I did get to go in my neighbor’s backyard once! One of the chickens got over the fence. I tossed out the food and only four chickens came running, but I could hear the fifth. Stuck my head out the door and I could see her, running up and down the fenceline. Thankfully I had a guest that morning, someone from the boys’ therapy office, and she was willing to supervise them while I ran next door to catch the recalcitrant hen. It didn’t take long. I opened the gate and shooed her back into our yard where she happily joined the others at eating breakfast, none the worse for wear.

This blog has really undergone some changes in the past two years, hasn’t it? Micro-farming, a crazy amount of pets in a crazy small amount of space, becoming a foster family, and now back to wanting to garden. About the only consistency is that I’m still ranting against the boxes we humans can get stuck in. There is always something else out there that we can see, that tempts us to be more than we currently are. I’m going to get out of my mommy-to-traumatized-kids box pretty soon and get back to nature. It doesn’t mean the kids are going away, it just means that they can no longer be the sole focus of this household, because such single focus isn’t healthy for anyone. Our horizons are going to expand and we will find life outside our current “box”. What box are you going to get out of?

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Plants in my straw bale garden – and what I don’t know.

Woo-hoo! I finally have over half my garden planted. That’s an exciting milestone for me, given that the seeds I started indoors all died. Sheesh! I started over with plant starts. Some organic, but not all. I did what I could to have an organic garden, but $1.49 per start vs $7.00 per start tipped the scale more toward conventional ones. At least the growing conditions will be organic for all of them, regardless of how they started.

row of tomatoes in my straw bale garden

Row of tomato plants in my straw bale garden

So far I have seven tomato plants – regular tomatoes (Better Boy and Early Girl), roma tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, purple tomatoes, and yellow tomatoes. I have NO idea if the different colors taste different from each other, but this is the year I get to find out! They are all still small, but one already has blossoms on it. No idea why, hopefully that is heralding a good growing season for tomatoes.

I have three green bell pepper plants, and one sweet yellow pepper plant. I only like the green ones in the bell pepper family, but my husband likes them all, so I include a few extra for him. I’m still looking for a healthy jalapeno pepper start, but have not found one yet. The green peppers I have are all California Wonder, I have no idea what it is about them that makes everyone around here carry that type and only that type.

I have six bunches of three onions apiece. Don’t know why they’re sold like that, but there was no way of separating the individual onions without tearing roots. So I left them that way. I want to be sure they have enough room to expand as they grow, so they are planted in the 3-inch space between the bales of straw. I just filled it with compost and topsoil, and used loose straw to hold it in place.

The tomatoes, peppers, and onions together will be made into a BUNCH of salsa. We eat salsa like it’s going out of style, and we love my homemade pico de gallo and salsa. So whatever we don’t eat fresh will likely be made into salsa and canned for storage. If there is anything left after that it will likely be dehydrated for later use in stews.

I have lots of green beans, specifically bush beans. I already have lost count, I think about 10 plants. I want to get more of those, because I have such lovely childhood memories of home canned green beans. The texture was difficult to get past, but once I did that the taste was so wonderful. This is what I would love to have so much of that I can preserve enough to eat all year.

I have one chunk of “volunteer” beans. They sprouted in my compost pile from large whiteish-colored beans. I have NO idea what kind of beans they are! But beans are beans, and they must be edible since they sprouted from a restaurant’s kitchen scraps. So the chunk of compost came out in one piece, and I put it into an empty spot in my garden. They’re beside the green beans so they can make use of the trellis with them if they need it. I’ll know what they are and how to prepare and eat them after they produce. A little mystery is nice to have in life, isn’t it?

One of my favorite vegetables is cauliflower. Drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with garlic and rosemary, and baked in a 400 degree oven for about 45 minutes – YUM! So it’s no surprise that I have six cauliflower starts in my garden. I want more, but cauliflower isn’t my hubby’s favorite vegetable, so I’ll have to see how much room I have left when I get everything we’ve agreed on planted.

I have barley, too. I was feeding my chickens some barley and I wondered if it was alive enough to be sprouted, so I tried. Dumped a handful on a plate and added some water – and they sprouted! They grew so quickly that the roots quickly tangled, and I had to move them in one sheet to a planter of potting soil. When they had grown about 4 inches tall I dumped them out of the planter and into an empty triangular space in my garden where some bales leaned against each other. The picture didn’t turn out though, I’ll try again when it’s taller and looks a little less like a patch of grass between three straw bales.

I included on zucchini plant. It’s an experiment to see if I can grow plants in a straw bale that is stood up on end (instead of laying flat on the ground). I won’t mourn the zucchini if it doesn’t make it, but it can help suppliment the rabbits’ diets if it does grow. Again, NO idea if this will work, but it was worth a try and it would be great to know if standing bales on end would work for some areas with little square footage of ground.

And lastly are the herbs. Rosemary, dill, thyme, basil, and chives. I have never been good at growing herbs, not even the “easy” home kits of them they sell for children. But these haven’t died yet! I’m rather excited about that.

Still on my list to get and plant are peas (hopefully sugar snap), more beans, more green peppers and onions, and all the leafy greens that won’t go in until the cooler weather starts. Lettuce, spinach, kale, cabbage, swiss chard – ones like that.

Want to see more pictures? Here are the best ones so far:

row of herbs in my straw bale garden

Row of herbs

bell pepper plant in my straw bale garden

Bell pepper

Bush bean start in my straw bale garden

Bush beans

"Volunteer" beans in my straw bale garden

The “volunteer” beans

Cauliflower growing in straw bale garden

Cauliflower start – so tiny!

tomato with blossoms in my straw bale garden

Tomato plant, with blossoms

Zucchini in my straw bale garden

Zucchini plant – and yes, that’s a rabbit behind it.

What is straw bale gardening?

Several of my friends (and commentors on my blog) have asked questions about straw bale gardening – so here it is: straw bale gardening the Ranting About Rectangles way!

To start with, straw bale gardening is just a different kind of container gardening. It appeals to people who can not – or do not want to – have a traditional garden involving tilling up the soil. It is simply putting straw bales on the ground, and putting plants in the straw bales! There is a little more to it than that, but not much.

tomato in straw bale

A tomato growing in a bale of straw

There are two main reasons I can’t do the traditional garden method where I live. One is the water – there is simply too much of it. My soil does not drain well, and after most rains there are actual puddles in my yard for hours. They would drown any sensitive garden vegetable before they dried out. The other is the number of blackberry vines in my yard. They’re *everywhere* and I don’t have control of them yet. Tilling the soil here only gives them an easier place to grow, and it is difficult to garden when you are concerned with getting stuck with thorns you can’t even see yet. So, container gardening for me.

Next, I chose straw bale gardening because I have good access to the things that are needed for it. Regular container gardening requires containers, and large amounts of potting soil, neither of which I have convenient access to. But slightly differently – straw bale gardening is great for people who have access to large amounts of compost. I’ve been building my compost pile for more than a year now, and much of it is ready to use. Coffee grounds are *great* for straw bale gardening, and I have access to pounds and pounds of them each week. So, the straw bale version of container gardening for me.

I also enjoy the benefit of not having to weed my garden. The straw bales have no seeds in them, and only get the ones I put there, or the occasional grass seed or dandelion seed that’s easy to pluck out. (Unlike soil that has tons of seeds in it all the time just waiting for the right conditions to sprout.)

And straw bales are environmentally friendly; the straw bales last between one and three years before disintegrating. Perfect for someone who expects to live here just two more years, and who doesn’t want to pack up regular containers and put them in a moving truck! Used straw bales can be cut apart, and used as attractive mulch around existing trees and bushes. No waste, and nothing to transport.

And lastly, I like to garden without having to bend and stoop to reach my plants. Using straw bales as containers brings the plants up to a much easier height for me to reach.

Starting a straw bale garden is easy, too. I’ve reduced it down to four steps:

1 – Get straw bales. At my local feed store, straw bales are $5.99 each. I got 20 delivered for an additional $20.
2 – Put the bales where you want them. Make sure the strings that hold each bale together are on the sides of each bale as you put it down, not over the top and bottom. Leave the strings intact.
3 – Condition the straw bales. At a minimum, this means get them wet. You want the insides of the bales to start to compost themselves. This creates nutrients right inside each straw bale. If you have fertilizer or compost or coffee grounds, put some on top of each bale and water it in. This adds additional nutrients and gives a kickstart to the composting inside the bale.
4 – Plant your garden in the straw bales. This is literally as simple as removing some of the straw from each bale, and putting soil or compost in the resulting hole. Then place your plant start on the soil, and fill in around it with more soil.

After that, water it and treat it as a normal garden. A straw bale garden IS a garden, it’s just planted in straw bales.

compost on straw bales

Conditioning the straw bales for the garden

It’s important to keep the straw bales wet. Damp is enough as long as the water is throughout the bale. The water you put on each day carries the nutrients from the soil and compost and composting straw through the bale and to the developing roots of the plants.

There is no (or very, very little) weeding to do. If you happen to get a weed sprout or two, they’re easy to pull out. This means your plants are easy to pull out, too, so be careful about that!

You will need the same support system for tall plants that you would use in a traditional garden. So stakes for vining beans, cages for tomatoes, things like that. And if you are planting something where the edibles are a large part of the root system, you will want to snip the twine holding the bales together so the edibles have room to grow to their full size. This applies to things like potatoes, sweet potatoes, large onions, beets, or other roots of similar size. Not to carrots, radishes, or other thin or small roots.

And now you know pretty much all I know about growing a straw bale garden. Stay tuned to this blog – I’m getting my garden planted and will soon be able to post pictures of more plants than just tomatoes growing in my straw bale garden!

The beginnings of my straw bale garden

I got my straw bales! Yippee! This year I’m trying a straw bale garden, and the first ingredient of that is – obviously – bales of straw. Here they are sitting in a stack in my back yard.

straw bales for my straw bale garden

There are 20 bales there. Added to the four I had already, I will soon have a garden of two dozen straw bales! I had a nearby feed store deliver them, and they are neatly stacked in my yard waiting for me to pull and tug them into position on the ground. This is my first year doing a straw bale garden. It’s a large learning curve to undertake, but it seems to be the best solution to my yard that is overgrown with tiny blackberry shoots. The amount of rain we get here in Oregon ought to be awesome for keeping the bales from drying out.

I’ve had the starts going in my house for several weeks now. The beans are about to outgrow their pots, and the rest are about 3 inches tall. Beets, sunflowers, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, radishes, squash, gourds, watermelon, cucumbers, and many others that I can’t remember right now. And I have purchased starts, too – tomatoes and herbs especially. I don’t know anyone who has started tomatoes successfully from seed. (Although they must exist, or there would be no plant starts in the stores!)

When I can, I choose organic seeds. I know, the organicness of the seed has nothing to do with the organicness of the eventual fruit. But that isn’t my point in choosing organic seeds. What I am looking for is plants that grow well in organic conditions. Ones that don’t need artificial fertilizer to grow, and don’t need artificial sprays to resist bugs. And the best way to get plants like that is to grow the second (or third or fourth) generation of plants that successfully flourished in those conditions.

My garden can not be certified organic. To do that requires that the area not have non-organic amendments used on it for the three years preceeding the certification. Since I have lived here only 1.5 years, I can not know how the grass and soil was kept before I arrived. And since I will spend only four years here, it didn’t seem worth the bother (and expense) to get certified just for one year of being able to sell veggies as organic. So when (if) I sell any from this year’s crop, I must explain that while I grow with organic methods, the vegetables are not certified.

Which do you think is most important – purchasing certified organic vegetables, or knowing your farmer and knowing they grow vegetables organically even if they have not completed the paperwork to become certified?

Regardless of your individual answer, I know that I can only do what I can do.

I read a very inspirational quote the other day, perfect for my very first foray into straw bale gardening. It said that no matter how many mistakes you make, and no matter how slowly you go, you are already miles ahead of the person who did not even try.

I am definitely going to make mistakes with this garden. I might even be setting it out too early – local gurus seem divided on that. I might be using the wrong soil. I might not have balanced my compost 100% correctly and be feeding too much nitrogen or phosphorus or something. I might have grown my beans inside too long and have weedy stems instead of lush bushes. Heck, the neighborhood squirrels might discover the garden and eat it all. My own chickens might escape their coop and help! But no matter the result, I am learning. A straw bale garden is simply the next step on my path to being able to feed my family without relying on commercial groceries. Next year’s garden will be grown at least somewhat from seeds I save from this year’s crop!

Can you tell I’m excited??

So do you have a garden? What type? And do you have a specific goal for it (or your learning curve) this year?

How much food do you have available?

My hubby and I are embroiled in a “discussion”. 😉 Yep, discussion. On how much food I like to keep available at any one time vs the available space in the kitchen. The food has rather taken over the kitchen, and even taken over part of the garage. I’m not one of those end-of-the-world preppers! But I do believe in buying things when they’re on sale so that I don’t have to pay full price later. But there have been some good sales lately, so everything is rather overflowing with food.

Full Pantry

No, this isn’t my pantry.
But it’s pretty close!
Image from torchlakeviews.wordpress.com.

I have probably 20 lbs of pasta – purchased at approximately 50 cents per pound.
A dozen cans of green beans, a dozen of corn, and 6 of baked beans – purchased at 33 cents apiece.
About 15 cans of tunafish – purchased at less than 75 cents apiece.
Three loaves of bread – free because of a deal with a local restaurant.
About six pounds of fish – purchased at about $1.50 per pound.
Boxes and boxes of couscous, rice, and similar starchy sides – purchased at less than 75 cents each.
About two dozen cans of diced tomatoes – purchased at approximately 25 cents each.
About 20 home-canned cans of pinto beans and black beans – purchased dry at less than 50 cents a pound.

And that’s just an example. I have more food than that. 🙂 And a garden. Plus the eggs from the laying hens. Plus the chickens we butchered last year that we haven’t finished eating yet. So a lot of food.

But that’s how we handle living on a grad student’s living. I don’t know how I’d handle living in a place where the culture said you go to the market each day to purchase just what you will cook for that day. I would HATE paying the going price for everything, all the time.

Also, it’s great to have this much food available for when life happens. If I don’t get to the grocery store when I expect to, it’s no big deal. I can be sick, or have a flat tire, or get a last-minute invitation to do something, and it’s OK. I can run by the store for milk and forget the rest until the next day or so, because I know I have plenty for dinner that night – and the next. I can invite people to dinner with no advance planning. I can attend a last-minute potluck without stressing (and without buying chips or a veggie platter!).

But – storage has become an issue. My idea of clean is – organized, knowing where everything is, and nothing is dusty. Hubby’s idea of clean is – empty. Quite a difference there! So I need to either curtail the sale-shopping, or build some shelves in the garage where out of sight is out of mind.

So what’s in your pantry? How much food do you have available? Could your local grocery store workers go on strike for a week without bothering you much? Where do you store food that you aren’t going to eat right away?

Or in other words – just how far out of the norm am I?

Edited to add – hubby just posted his version on his own blog. You can read it here: http://ishism.com/2013/04/05/my-wife-and-i-are-having-a-discussion-about-f-o-o-d/ Come on, readers, read them both then come tell me I’m right! The inches of storage space may be on his side, but the dollars in the grocery budget are on mine! *grin*

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I am a dirt farmer

In high school a friend and I had a saying to help us remember something in English Literature class. It was “We be tillers of the soil, we be diggers of the earth. We be dirt farmers!” What it was intended to help us remember I have no idea – the phrase is stuck in my head though it’s meaning has long disappeared.

So I found it very ironic the other day to realize that the most successful part of my mini farm so far – has been the dirt! I am, officially, a dirt farmer.

The chickens are taking their winter break from laying eggs. Out of four chickens I am getting maybe five eggs a week. My rabbits are not breeding like rabbits – not that anybody’s ever do, unless they don’t want them to. Rabbits are contrary that way. And it’s dipping below freezing from time to time now, so gardening is out for this season.

Which leaves the dirt. Or compost, as it’s called in its pre-dirt phase.

The massive pile along the side of the  yard. As I mentioned in a previous post, compost is powerful. And one of its attractions is its ability to keep working even in winter!

I can add to it, I can balance it, I can turn it and aerate it, I can water it (well, here in Oregon the sky does that for me). I see the birds in it when I go outside, and I see the worms in it when I turn it. The bottom of the pile has become a beautiful, rich soil. It’s WORKING. Even in the middle of the cold, rainy season. It’s a nice break from the boringness of the other chores that feel rather – unproductive – in winter.

So, at least for this season, I proudly announce that I AM A DIRT FARMER!

The power of compost

Compost is wonderful. I can think of almost no other tool I’d rather have around my homestead. It beats wheelbarrows, hammers, even my favorite cooking pot.

If I did not have compost, I would have a more expensive garbage bill. If I did not have compost, I would have a more expensive chicken feed bill. If I did not have compost, I would have to use more plastic bags (to contain yard waste for pickup). If I did not have compost, I would be contributing more to landfills.

But I *DO* have compost! And it’s wonderful.

Properly placed and used piles of compost are lovely things.

I have more birds in my yard than all my neighbors put together, because compost with a good amount of fresh vegetable parts is more attractive to many birds than a birdfeeder. Seeds from green peppers, peels of carrots, halves of wormy apples. It’s a buffet for the vegetarian birds. And all the worms and grubs attracted to the pile are a feast for the carnivorous birds.

The grass around my compost pile is lush and green. Yes, even in January. The nutrients leeching out of the pile even without help are sooo good for it! So are the earthworms that the compost attracts. Some gardeners pay money for earthworms to put in their yards – mine arrive on their own.

I can take rabbit and chicken manure – that smelly, ugly stuff – and place it in a compost pile with layers of straw and vegetables … and suddenly there is no more smell and no objectionable sight. Certainly beats bagging it up in plastic and paying someone to remove it. And when you live in close proximity to your neighbors and even sight is an issue, compost looks a lot better than plain rabbit and chicken manure, even if it is safe to put directly on the plants.

And all of those benefits are even before it’s reached the point where it can be used. When everything in the pile is has been composted long enough, it is the richest, darkest, best fertilizer you can use. It looks good, just like expensive mulched topsoil from an expensive garden place. It smells good – musky and earthy and fresh – much better than any chemical fertilizer from the store.

Not to mention you get all these benefits for free! I live in Oregon, so the water it needs falls from the sky, but even in Colorado the water was the only cost. You do have to have a barn fork for turning and aerating the pile, but I use the same one I already had for moving rabbit manure and cleaning out the chicken coop. Sure, you can get fancy and build a compost bin, or get a tumbler, but those aren’t strictly necessary. Mine is a freestanding pile on the side of the yard.

Kitchen scraps and smelly manure disappear into its depths. Birds, worms, and my chickens feast from it. It greens my grass and fertilizes my garden.

Compost is powerful.

We’re home! Update on animals, sunburn, sea snakes, and more

It feels soooo good to be home. I really enjoyed the Philippines, and expect to go back at some point. But home is home. We left Manila at 9:30 am on Tuesday, and landed at San Francisco at 9:30 am on Tuesday. Weird. Had a 4 hour layover, so one of my husband’s relatives who lives nearby came to spend it with us. That was nice! Then we flew the rest of the way back to Oregon. By the time we got to bed that night, we’d been awake for 29+ hours. Phew!

Because of the wonderful housesitter, everything was in order. Whew! It was great to see all the animals well cared for.

Eggs from my chickens

Eggs! 37 eggs from my chickens.

Chickens:  When I left, I expected the chickens to be laying before I got back. They were hatched in March, so they should have started laying at the end of July or beginning of August, but the housesitter said she hadn’t gotten any eggs at all! So I went hunting, and eventually turned up their hidden nest – with 37 eggs in it! I did a float test and all were still good. I’m taking the housesitter a dozen eggs when I see her this weekend, and it looks like omelettes for breakfast (and lunch) for a while until we get through this backlog. Good thing we like eggs! For those who are wondering, the float test with eggs is to put each into a bowl of water. If the egg floats, it’s bad or almost bad and I throw those out. If it sinks and lays on its side, its good. In between are those that bob a bit, or stand on one end. I tend to feed those to animals after cooking them very thoroughly. The idea is that as the edible part of the egg starts to get older and decompose, it also loses some size, and the air cell inside the shell gets larger. The larger the air cell, the better it floats. It has to be well past floating to have that rotten egg smell to it, but better safe than sorry with food.

Female kits

Some of the female kits

Rabbits: The “baby” rabbits aren’t so baby anymore! I use them for meat, so I was happy to see the size they are. I do have a line on selling a couple as breeders to someone else, so they have a stay of execution until that person decides. They’re 13 weeks old now.

The litter is a Californian / American Chinchilla cross. I did not know what to expect in colors from a litter of that cross, but whatever I would have guessed, it wouldn’t have been what I got: From a litter of 8, half are the white with the black tips of a Californian, and half are solid black.

Male kit

The only male kit

Seven are females, only one is male (one of the Cali-looking ones) and I’m not 100% sure it really is male. I think the sex-change fairy is visiting, which is fairly common with little rabbits.

I ought to be able to tell easily at this age, but this male looks rather in-between. I’m calling it a male for safety because at this age they really need separated by gender to prevent an accidental between-siblings litter (in case any of them are precocious breeders). I will not sell that one unless the gender of it is unimportant to the buyer.

Aren’t they adorable? If you live in Oregon and want to buy one for a meat breeder yourself, let me know!

The cats are happy to have me home. My two went into a purring frenzy, and my half-a-cat looks very satisfied with himself, almost as if he’d brought me back himself!

And my Kira, the dog, is just so cute. She tried to ignore me, probably to punish me for being gone so long, but it lasted about 10 seconds before she gave in and started licking my hand. Awwww! She makes my heart melt. She’s the one I missed the most, all I could think about the last day before leaving for home was getting to see her. She’s 11 years old and gets more and more precious to me each day.

I think the garden is pretty much gone. Only one brussel sprout plant looks any good at all, and the sprouts on it are much tinier than they should be. The swiss chard and cabbage got eaten by wildlife. I can’t see where the onions and garlic are because that side of the plot got taken over by weeds. I can’t spend much time outside right now because of my sunburn, so I think I’ll just let them keep growing together and see what happens later.

Yeah, I got a sunburn. I got a BAD sunburn! On Saturday in the Philippines a bunch of us went to the beach. It was a goal of mine ever since I got there, to swim in the ocean! And then I did not put on sunscreen. I wear it at home for the cancer-reduction properties (which are debatable, I know), but I don’t burn even when I forget it. So when I forgot to bring it to the beach I didn’t worry about it. It was only 3 hours, and semi-cloudy.

My sunburn

My sunburn – you can see where the bathing suit strap was, and all the little shiny flecks are blisters. Ouch.

I kept checking my forehead, figuring I’d go into the full shade of the trees when it started feeling hot.It never did, so no worries, right? I enjoyed the ocean and swimming, and the beach and collecting shells. So much fun! Then I got back to where we were staying and showered, and THEN it hit.Bright red skin, hot to the touch, and oh so sore. My whole face, chest, and shoulders. My face healed pretty quickly, and was peeling three days later. My chest wasn’t far behind. But my shoulders kept getting worse and worse and finally today they broke out in hundreds of tiny blisters. Boo! The doctor can’t see me for two weeks, but the nurse says to keep moisturizing and not pop the blisters, but to let them know if a fever starts. On the way home, on the plane, I chose to buy and wear a strapless dress. It didn’t look the most flattering on me, but was much nicer than dealing with straps over those sore shoulders.

I think the only other health issue that has cropped up was some infected cuts on my feet. Probably from the beach day as well. One thing I realized was how difficult it is to clean cuts with water that isn’t clean enough to drink. No wonder the cuts got infected! I started rinsing them with drinking water after I realized an infection was setting in, but by then it was too late. And how in the world do you keep feet dry when you shower? I never did figure that one out. So they kept getting doused in river water. But now that I’ve been home a full day they’re already feeling better. The cuts are tiny, they ought to heal on their own just fine now that the water is clean.

Belcher's Sea Snake

Belcher’s Sea Snake

Speaking of the ocean, I saw sea snakes! Really cool looking. There were two, about four inches long apiece. Irridescent yellow/green and dark green/black. Watching them glide through the water like rippling ribbons was sooo awesome. I watched them until they dove deep enough that I couldn’t see them anymore. When I got home I googled to see what kind they were, and learned they were Belcher’s Sea Snakes. Yeah. Venomous. Extremely venomous! I am very glad that when I see snakes I just stand there and watch them, and that I have never been prone to poking them or picking them up!

It was fun getting outside today. I separated the baby rabbits and put some adult breeding pairs together. I float-tested the eggs, and got them in cartons and into the fridge (I usually let them stay unwashed and on the counter, but some of these are already 3-4 weeks old and already wet from the float test, so fridge it is). I picked blackberries. I watered the garden (or what is left of it). Not bad for not getting up until noon! Jet lag is weird. Hope it passes quickly, tomorrow is packed with stuff to do!

The first harvest!

I went to water the garden today and saw that the wild rabbits (or something similar) had eaten into my cabbages. They aren’t as large as I’d like yet, but I picked the one remaining intact one so I could have one that wasn’t already nibbled on. 🙂 Here’s a pic of it in my sink:

Cabbage from the garden

Cabbage from the garden, getting rinsed in the sink

And then I was trimming back some weeds and saw that my blackberries are starting to ripen! I got a collander from the kitchen and picked all the ripe ones. It’s not many, but they’re the first, and that’s exciting.

Blackberries in a collander

Blackberries after being rinsed.

Which means, tonight’s dinner is cabbage and blackberries. *big grin* The snails got the bottom cabbage leaves. The rabbits will get the outside leaves after I prepare it for cooking. and the chickens will get any cabbage left after cdinner. We all benefit!

Have you gotten anything from your garden yet?

Finding a housesitter

It is NOT easy to find a housesitter when you have 29 animals to take care of. On the one hand, regular pet sitters are often overwhelmed by those numbers, and don’t wish to deal with the issues that livestock type animals can bring. On the other hand, farm sitters can charge too much, and want to work during “work” hours instead of the hours when my animals are accustomed to having people around.

I have had sitters that would have been fine hauling horses or trapping predators, but were mystified with how to deal with a cat that went behind a piece of unmovable furniture and refused to come out. The kindest of housepet sitters are too saddenned by the death of rabbit kits to take a second job with me. Many professional sitters that handle unusual animals want to charge per animal, which doesn’t work when you have 29. Dog-and-cat sitters don’t know how to handle chickens. Chicken sitters only want to show up twice a day to open and close the chicken coop.

And yet people who own animals need to take trips, too! We want to go to weddings for family and friends. We want to visit distant relatives. We sometimes have jobs that require travel.

My husband and I went out of town over Memorial Day weekend. It was a lovely trip to where we used to live in Colorado. We got to attend a friend’s wedding, and catch up with other dear friends. I picked a housesitter recommended by a friend, and she did wonderfully well. Detailed, intelligent, clean, loving, all those necessary qualities. But she doesn’t want to do it again. So back to the drawing board to find someone else.

With the recent upswing in the number of people in urban and suburban areas who do some sort of micro-farming on their properties, I am surprised that more people have not entered the market to house sit for them. It seems like a good money-making opportunity for people with the time and energy to handle it. A basic understanding of most species of small farm animals and some knowledge of how to water and manage small crops would be necessary, but they are not difficult to obtain. If more people were willing and able to do micro-farm housesitting, it would sure be a blessing to people like me!