Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Yard Excavation Finishing Touches

As many of you know, this gardener didn't have one this year due to excavation throughout our property.  My husband started the project because we couldn't get a contractor to show up, and the one's that did gave ridiculous quotes.  ($22k?!  Are you kidding me?)

But finally, we found one that did show up, at least part of the time, and gave a very reasonable quote.  He did around the house, pulling out all the over-grown and dying bushes and weeds without the use of chemicals to kill everything first.  (One contractor wanted to do that, but I wasn't having it.)  This guy and his worker busted their butts to pull and dig everything out.  They even saved a big chunk of the zebra grass for me.

They edged the beds with aluminum, laid a thick felt over the ground, and covered it with river rocks.  We love the look and the promise of a low maintenance garden bed.  (This gardener doesn't do flowers, so perennials that require little care will be planted after more research.)

After they were washed, the stones were very appealing.

This same landscaper finished off what Tom had stared in the back yard.  We had enough rain to fill a pond since the excavation had started, so any semblance of top soil was gone, leaving a rocky mess.  A "rock hog"--or something like that--was used to clean up the rocks and even out the slope.  It also worked to loosen the dirt for seeding.

Rock Hog in action



So, my garden is now seeded with grass.  But not to worry.  When the ground is tilled in the spring, the new grass will provide organic nutrients as it breaks down, providing a natural compost.  I also plan to bring in a few trailers full of my secret ingredient--and the reason for my blog name--before settlement on the house next door.

It may require a bit more landscaping in the garden area--behind the garage still needs to be done--but I'm developing plans for that.  Dear Husband isn't fond of my deck garden, and wants me to move my herbs.  So, aside from a few staples that will remain in pots on the deck, I plan to create a beautiful garden around my chicken coop.  

Progress is always good!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Mindful Monday: Savoring Every Moment Before Kindergarten Starts

Normally, this is all about my garden and slight tangents that go along with it, such as recipes or crafts.  But today, I want to do something different. 

This week marks the start of school for both of my boys.  The older one will be a freshman in high school, and Bug starts Kindergarten!  Where did the time go?

It seems just yesterday I was taking him to his first day of Pre-K3, all spiffed up in a polo-style shirt and khaki shorts.

Bug's 1st Day of Pre-K3

He slipped into the routine almost instantly.  And I knew I was one step closer to losing him.  Moms, you know what I mean.  While we want to watch them grow and learn. . .

All by himself!
Age 3
Picking the ripe ones
Age 2

We also want to hold onto them and keep them as our little angels forever.  We want to be able to snuggle up with them for an afternoon nap. . .

We want to take them for wagon rides. . .

We want to share our passions with them. . .

Hooking up to the trailer

But in the end, they grow up.  Like a tree sapling, they spread their own branches as they develop interests and passions of their own.  They learn things with their teachers and friends that maybe we wouldn't have thought of. . .

Bug's 1st day of Pre-K3
making apple prints to see the stars inside.

We watch as they develop skills that seem beyond what we imagined they could do. . .

Lego car Bug built

We watch them form bonds of friendship. . .

Bug's first friend at Pre-K3
End of the 1st day of Pre-K3

Last Day of Pre-K4

And we relish in the energy and joy that the simplest of entertainment brings them. . . 

"Looking" through the eye Lego

So today, while I may have many things that need to be done, I am taking the time to play with my soon-to-be Kindergartener before he is gone from my days.  We will build rolling houses. . .

And watch silly squirrel videos at the feed store.  We will play Transformers using only HotWheels and our imaginations.  We will have Mickey Mouse pancakes for lunch, because that is what he wants.  

Too soon I will be alone for seven hours five days a week.  Sure, it will be nice to be able to do the things I can't while Bug is with me, but that freedom comes with a heartbreaking silence that only my Little Man can fill.

I have read a lot of articles lately addressed to moms like me, seeing their little ones off to Kindergarten.  For some it's the first one to go, for others it brings quiet after the last of three (or more) kids climbs up the school steps.  No matter the situation, it's not easy.  The other authors pointed out something vital for me:  We did a good job as parents.  Our little angels wouldn't be taking this next big step if it wasn't for us helping them take each big step that came before.  

I will be strong.  I won't cry when I say goodbye to my Little Man as I leave him with his teacher, as I long for a glimpse of his sweet face throughout the door as it closes and I walk away.  I will wrap my  arms around him, and hold him tight when I pick him up, listening to the never-ending babble as he recants the events of his first day.

I will the mom in the parking lot, crying her heart out before she pulls away.  And I will probably cry most of the day.  But in the end, I know I did a good job bringing him to this point.  And if you are in the car next to me, crying behind the glass, I know you did a good job too.  

Good job, Moms (& Dads).  We've done well.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Feathered Friday: A Rainbow of Eggs

Aside from Boo-boo, our other egg layers right now are what they call Easter Eggers.  These chickens can lay a multitude of egg colors from brown, to green, to blue or pink.  

Here is our array of colors.

Photo courtesy of Sandy James
at So What? I Run.
These were my first gift of eggs to a friend.  She is very health and fitness conscious, so it was a joy to give them and receive such a beautiful thank you photo.

It's delightful to walk into the coop and see a rainbow of eggs waiting for me.

When I first got the Easter Eggers, I was under the impression that they would all lay blue eggs.  But as you can see, we get blue, green, and even pink eggs.  The rainbow of colors is from cross breeding hens and roosters of breeds that lay different colored eggs.  For instance, a rooster from a brown egg breed (i.e. Buff Orpington) bred to a blue egg laying hen (i.e. Ameraucana) could produce a hen that lays green eggs.  The possibilities abound.

When the day came that I collected five eggs, one from each hen of laying age, I was able to tell that we had two blue egg layers, one green egg layer, one pink egg layer, and of course Boo-boo's brown eggs.  Now I had to figure out who was laying what color.  

A hen will always lay the same color egg, so it just became a mater of catching each girl in the act.  (I did hear of putting lipstick around the vent of the hen so that the egg would be marked when it came out, but I find that gross.)  There is plenty of time.  I can wait.

A few days ago, I caught Gate Locker in a nesting box.

This isn't necessarily her egg
as there were 2 in the box this time.

I kept checking on her until she was out and there was an egg in the nesting material.  The one egg left behind, still hot from the warmth of her body, was green.  So, Gate Locker is our green egg layer.

Gate Locker's Green Egg

A couple days later I caught Gracie in a nesting box.

Beautiful Gracie in the nesting box.

A little while later, I found a blue egg where she had been.  I also noted that it has the distinctive long shape that I've been finding double yolks in.  (I've had three double yolks already!)

Gracie's Blue Egg

Now I just need to figure out either who lays the other blue eggs or who lays the pink eggs, and I'll know which Easter Egger girl lays what color.  

Do you have a favorite egg color?

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Gourd Chicken Coop for Fairy Gardens or a Child's Toy

It's been awhile since I posted a gourd product.  Admittedly, it's been a while since I made one.  But last week I had an old camp friend request a fairy house for her little girl's new fairy garden.  

So, I pulled a few gourds out of the bin, and while I was down in the damp darkness of the basement, I saw a smaller gourd sitting on the shelf.  This little gourd smiled at me and said, "You know what I am?  Look at all the fairy houses around me.  I'm not big enough to be a fairy house, but I'm perfect for a chicken coop!"

Yes, a chicken coop.  But for a fairy garden.  Now, Bug got a set of three fairy garden chickens the other week, so I thought I could make him a quick home for them while I worked on the fairy house (and another surprise I'm making for a friend's new baby).

But the gourd that told me it was a chicken coop was a little too big, and I know it's destined for greatness, so I didn't want to make it into a toy.  I do have a bucket full of little gourds, though, so I dug through those and found a perfect little coop.

After washing and sanding it, I used a hole saw to cut out the bottom.  I wanted it to be sturdy and have enough room for the three chickens to fit without falling over.  As you can see in the picture, this particular gourd was a bit thin and fragile.  But no worries!  I had a fix for that.  

At this point, I also cleaned the seeds out of the inside.

I drew a door over the cracked area.  Then I got the rooster and measured him against it.  It was wide enough, but he wouldn't have fit his head under.  So, I made the door taller.

Then I used my gourd saw to cut out the door.  I checked it again next to the rooster.  He fit!

The next step I did a bit out of order from my usual routine.  I used a tiny cleaning ball attached to my Dremel to clean the gunk off the inside.  This little ball also provides a rough sanding, so I used it to smooth the edges of the cut areas.  

Normally I would do this cleaning after cutting the hole in the bottom and cleaning out the seeds.  The fragility of the door area on this little one, however, had me being more cautious with the cracked area.

I decided to cut a little "vent" in the back so Bug's fairy chickens would have good air flow just like our real chickens outside.  I thought about painting it before I gave it to him, but I was too anxious.  I can paint it anytime, and I'd rather he pick the color(s).

This is also when I stiffened the gourd up a bit.  I painted wood glue on the inside surface, allowing it to soak in.  It fills the spaces in the porous interior, adding more stability.

So I gave it to him "raw."  He thought it was awesome!  He was so excited to show his little birds their new home, and he started playing with it right away.

He even broke out his Little People barn and set up an elaborate chicken mansion of sorts.  Notice how the hens are in the barn resting while the rooster stands guard.

Sharing the gourd and chicken love with my boy!

This post is part of the Clever Chicks Blog Hop on The Chicken Chick!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mindful Monday: Healing Benefits of the Herbal Weed Plantain

I am trying to self-educate as far as my herbal knowledge at this point.  And I try to stick with one herb or ailment at a time.  But they all interconnect, and I sometimes get sent on tangents for one reason or another.

This is one of those tangents.

A few months ago I learned that a common weed found in most people's yards is a helpful herb used in for bee stings.  Broadleaf plantain (Plantago major) is high in vitamins B, C, and K, beta carotene, and calcium.  It makes a healthy green treat for the chickens, so I made sure to give them a little at least every couple days when their pens weren't on any.   I scanned the information, then filed it away in my brain for later study.

Broadleaf Plantain
Broadleaf Plantain with Seed Stalks

Later came sooner than expected in the form of my little man crying "Ow!" and running to me as I sat on the sofa.

"My neck hurts!" he cried with his little hand covering the offending area.

When I finally got him to let me look, I noticed the side of his neck was a splotch of red surrounding a small, swollen spot.  I checked for a stinger, but found none.  I asked if he had scratched it, but he said he hadn't.  I asked if it was itchy.

"No.  It hurts," he told me.

Bite on Bug's neck.
(The spot at the bottom left is a freckle.)

I am paranoid about spider bites.  I jumped online to check pictures of Recluse bites. The Brown Recluse freaks me out, but in our area the Yellow House of Yellow Sac spider is responsible for most bites.  I have had more than my fair share of spider bites, so I know how irritating they are.  

Then I remembered what I had read about plantain.  I did a quick search on it, just to make sure I was remembering correctly, and I went out to pick a couple leaves.

I brought them in, washed them, and tossed them into the Ninja.

Chopped plantain I used for Bug's bite.

Chopped plantain in Ninja processor.

I took a wad of the chopped leaves and held them on the affected area for about five minutes.  When I removed the leaf pieces, the results were almost immediate.  The swelling was reduced, and the red splotch was fading.

After 5 minutes with chopped plantain.
Ten minutes after removing the leaves, the redness was gone, the swelling down, and only a small dot remained where the bite was.

10 minutes after removing chopped plantain

A few days later, I got a mosquito bite on my thumb.  I don't normally react to those pesky parasites, so the itching was annoying.  But I thought it was the perfect opportunity to try the saliva poultice recommended.

Bite on my thumb.
(It's hard to see because I don't have much reaction.)

I took one plantain leaf, washed it, and popped it in my mouth.  I then chewed it well--the taste is very green, a little bitter, and slightly heavy.  I put the chewed wad on the bite and let is sit for a few minutes.

Masticated saliva plantain poultice 
I know it seems gross, but it's my own saliva on my own body.  And I'm not easily grossed out.  Even before trying it on myself, this method seemed viable.  Saliva has healing properties.
July 24, 2008
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
A report by scientists from the Netherlands identifies a compound in human saliva that greatly speeds wound healing. This research may offer hope to people suffering from chronic wounds related to diabetes and other disorders, as well as traumatic injuries and burns. In addition, because the compounds can be mass produced, they have the potential to become as common as antibiotic creams and rubbing alcohol.

After removal of saliva plantain poultice
As I said, I don't normally react to mosquito bites.  When I do, they heal pretty quickly on their own.  (Take that diabetes!)  But beyond that, this poultice gave immediate relief of all symptoms.

Healed bite area, immediately after washing poultice off.

I plan to try this on my dog's irritable skin.  She is allergic to life, and has frequent outbreaks of inflamed red spots.  (These are not hot spots, they are allergic reactions to the environment.)  Normal antihistamines do nothing for her, so I'm hoping that this may be an easy, free way to ease her suffering.  I will let you know how it works on her.

I will also give more in depth information about broadleaf plantain in a later post.

Do you use any yard weeds for their healing properties?

This post is part of the 100th Clever Chicks Blog Hop on The Chicken Chick!