Posted in Animals/Chickens

Ducks on the Homestead

I love walking out onto the back porch and being greeted by the ducks. Sitting with my cup of coffee in the mornings watching them splash in their swimming pools and quacking at the goats and wagging their tail feathers (they love the goats!) just makes me happy.

It looks like we may have one female and two males. Sandia is a little louder and smaller. The boys, Serrano and Big Jim (all named after New Mexican chili peppers) are quieter, bigger, and less agile.

We chose Pekin ducks this time around. We always had Runner ducks and they are hilarious to watch as they run by, a herd of bowling pins quacking along. We never did have ducks past five months of age because inevitably, we would have to move and circumstances would require us to re-home them. We chose Pekin ducks because they are suppose to be friendlier and more pet-like. Ours are very sweet but they have no desire to be snuggled. Pity. They are so dang cute!

Farm ducks lay anywhere from 60-200 eggs a year. The eggs are larger, and I hear quite good for pastry making. I suppose you could eat the ducks themselves, but we aren’t really into eating our animals around here. The boys are pretty docile. My runner males were a little nippy with the chickens but were excellent companions to the female ducks (hens).

They sleep in a large dog kennel with an old Mexican blanket over it to keep wind and rain out of the holes. They go in on their own at night and we close it to protect them from marauding predators in the night. My past ducks did not go in on their own and had to be herded into the chicken coop at night. I am this group likes their shelter.

We buy an All Flock feed that the chickens and the ducks eat. Ducks love fresh veggies chopped up and put in their swimming pool. Lettuce is among their favorites. They don’t have teeth, so smaller pieces are best. They eat by nibbling then drinking, so leave their food near their water. They will chomp on weeds, sometimes dragging them to the swimming pool.

Homestead ducks don’t typically fly, but certainly research duck breeds before choosing one. Some are dual purpose (meat and eggs), some are better egg layers than others, some are better at flying over fences than others, some breeds are more docile than others. Our Pekin ducks are considered dual breed. They were readily available at the feed store in the spring. Ducks are sold straight run, which means not sexed. Pekin ducks lay 150 eggs per year.

In the Appalachians, homesteaders would pluck the ducks of their down feathers once a month or so for pillows and mattresses. Just grab them and pluck ’em. I very much doubt we will be doing that here though.

Ducks are excellent insect control. They dig into the mulch and will eradicate eggs and bugs. They can clear a field of grasshoppers. I will employ them in the fall since they ate my tomatoes this week and were promptly evicted from the garden.

Ducks are very easy to care for. Eggs, entertainment, and bug control are all great reasons to get ducks for your homestead.

Posted in Animals/Chickens, Farming

Natural Insect Control (cont.) and Before and After Pics (so far)

Yesterday, while lamenting the incredible overpopulation of destructive bugs, I posted a picture of the gardens with three adorable ducks sitting outside the closed kitchen garden gate, practically yelling, “Put me in, Coach!” They were employed this morning and have been doing a great job eating grasshoppers. I am afraid they take way too many breaks to go swimming. I think they will really help us out though.

While they attacked grasshoppers, I turned my attention to squash bugs. They are easy to catch with tongs and then drop into soapy water. Look on the undersides of the leaves for tiny red eggs and scrape them off. Spray the base of each plant with a 27 oz water bottle filled with a teaspoon of castile or dish soap and 15 drops of peppermint essential oil (thanks, cousin Janet!). It makes the little buggers come out so you can catch them and repels them from the plant (for awhile). Grasshoppers hate the spray too but they come right back and they are harder to catch. So, that is the ducks’ new job.

Sandia, Serrano, and Big Jim (named so because they love chili peppers!) save the potatoes from grasshoppers!

We always used to shrug and count on next year. We never proactively fought for our gardens. We didn’t have to. But these days are a little weird, y’all, as you may have noticed. Empty shelves, rioting, and social media craziness makes us homesteaders sit up and take notice. Might be a good idea to fight a little harder to feed ourselves. This is our first year on this particular homestead, and I know from experience that the third year of compost and growing is really the very best. So we will get there. We have come a long way on this little homestead in the past eleven months.

There’s no place like home.

Posted in Farming

Surrendering and Saving Seeds

My friend, Lisa, is studying homeopathy and had an interesting solution to get rid of grasshoppers. You tincture them, dilute them, then apply it to the garden. I also heard of chopping up grasshoppers in a blender, diluting them, then spraying them in the garden. I am an herbalist so Doug and I had a funny image in our heads about what people would think when seeing a quart jar of grasshoppers suspended in liquid next to the dozens of quart jars of herbal medicine.

“We’ll place it next to the eye of newt,” Doug declares.

We caught three. About three thousand to go. Same with the squash bugs. I armed myself with tweezers, tongs, a jar of soapy water, and a maniacal laugh and sought them out, drowning them as Doug destroyed the eggs off our precious squash plants. Organic gardening is equal parts manual destruction and compassion, as we save honey bees and other beneficial insects (and ourselves) by not using commercial pesticides. Doug looked into nematodes and wants to order some. They sound great. Has anyone reading this ever used them? My fear is always that once you release something, you can’t take it back. We also cannot watch our garden fall to Exodus-style plagues.

There is a certain amount of surrendering that needs to happen this time of year. What is going to be planted has been planted. What has come up will come up. What will survive will survive. And we can try our darndest to get a reasonable harvest for all the hard work and first year financial output, but in the end, we must learn to surrender and focus on the positives.

Lots of plants never germinated, came up and fried in our desert shale, or were quickly taken out by late frost or flea beetles. C’est la vie. Lots of plants are doing wonderful. The tomatoes have small green fruits on them, the potato flowers are beautiful. The corn is tall, the pumpkin and squash plants are taking over, the soup beans growing wild. The root vegetables- though stunted from the limestone beds beneath the soil- are growing well. The herbs are surviving or thriving. There are lots of positives. I was certainly getting myself depressed over the hundreds of dollars of dead trees, bushes, and wasted seeds. Part of being a farmer is surrendering and seeing the positive. Next year we will have more raised beds and older trees put in. In the meantime, I need to see the garden as half full not half empty!

One of our two gardens: The Kitchen Garden

How to save seeds:

As the spring crops go to seed, we want to save them to replant in the spring. As the plants go past their prime, they will shoot up beautiful flowers. From these flowers will come seed pods. Keep watering the plant until the seed pods are fully formed. Then clip the seed pods into a paper bag and label. In a few months, when they are fully dry, transfer to a sandwich bag or small canning jar.

I had a huge bundle of shiso greens drying on my porch a few years ago. I should have put them up but I got distracted and the chickens got into them and ate them all! I cannot find seeds for that plant anywhere now. It is always wise to save as many seeds from your plants as possible. In order to do so, order heirloom seeds. There are some hybrids you can save but you will have the best luck from heirlooms.

There are many things that we are having to buy from a farm forty minutes east of here to put up. One day we will grow it all! For now, we will enjoy the process and the farm as it is in this moment. Surrendering to all the beauty around us.