Summertime

Summer is not my favorite season by any stretch, yet in spite of unprecedented weeks of heat here in the Pacific Northwest, this summer has been filled with charm and simple luxuries.

The creek is at what neighbors say is a record low for this time of year, and I believe it. But it still offers burbling pools for swimming, and a multitude of wonders such as impromptu crawdad boils and a reprieve from the scorching afternoons.

The wild berries are bountiful, and my daughter and I spend much of each day picking– and she eating. The variety is astounding here. The common blackberries are just beginning to reach ripeness in greater quantity than could ever be picked, and the cooking and canning finally shall begin.

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We’ve dug the first row of potatoes– 17 pounds– and the garlic and shallots, which were small due to late planting and infrequent watering. Fortunately they yielded a good handful of delicious scapes, or as I always knew them, whistles.

Our great friend made an impulse purchase of two Muscovy ducks and brought two for us in exchange for keeping them here. My husband was quick to day “I told you so” when I conceded that they’re great– adorable, easy-for-now to care for, and will eventually be a good meal that led a happy life in the grass and water. Long-term, we intend to dig a pond in the pasture area, partially for run-off management, and then raise more ducks.

Our rabbits were successfully bred, and delivered ten of the most adorable babies: tortoiseshell, black-and-white, and all-white rex-New Zealand crosses. I’m pleased and relieved that all have survived and thrived, whereas in the past these mothers have struggled.

We took in our male rabbit, who I believe is a black-and-brown rex, several months ago after losing our buck. I hoped to have colorful pelts for a variety of uses. However, my plan backfired: these bunnies are way too cute for food, my husband insists. Some will therefore be sold, some will be eaten, and we will be purchasing an additional New Zealand buck.

The garden is filling out, which feels slow but good. I’ll be prepping fall beds this coming week and planting brassicas, as well as more beans on the pea trellis after we harvest the stunted shoots for salad tonight. This incredibly hot summer has had no sympathy for our late plantings.

This is the first year in many that I’ve been filled with visceral euphoria in anticipation of fall. I suppose it’s because I’m back home. And here, I think we will enjoy the most sumptuous fall of any, and I can enjoy these sweltering summer days for their promise of eventual cool and falling leaves and rain.

The Rabbit & Chicken House

We currently have about twenty chickens including two roosters and two broody hens that cannot be deterred from setting. Since for the past several years we’ve had the unique circumstance of urban acreage, there have been no predators aside from the occasional raptor from which to protect them. They simply roam free and roost in the rafters of the barn.

The new property will expose them to numerous hungry hunters, so at least at night, they’ll need to be cooped. With numerous outbuildings in various states of disrepair, I intended to fix one up to house the chickens and rabbits in the style of Joel Salatin’s “Racken House.” My favorite building seemed well suited, if a bit large, so we set to work cleaning it out.

After a few hours and a dump run, we had the place ready to litter and roosts. There was only one problem: everyone liked the place too much to give it to the chickens. It’s an early twentieth century cabin with true two-by-four construction and attractive siding on all but the front. (We will salvage the siding from a fallen building on the property to reside the front.)

So I changed course and located a concrete-floored shed at the back of what we call the Workshop. It needs to have a window installed, but it is otherwise perfect. We’ll mount the rabbit cages on the wall and the chickens will run below, eating their dropped food and aerating the litter to prevent ammonia build-up. For litter we raked dried grass from the field around the garden into piles, which we used also for mulch.

We removed the heavy door and replaced it with wire gate and a small chicken entry at the bottom, which with any luck, will keep the goats at bay. Add a few roosts and a window, and I think we’ll have a perfect little bunny-bird abode.

Our New Buck

We lost our sweet two-year-old male rabbit in last summer’s heat. It was one of the harder losses for me.

With the move in mind, we’ve been disinclined to add any new animals until we’re at the new place for good, but with a near-empty freezer– plus considering the time it will take the new boy to get a bit larger and reach sexual maturity– we decided to make a purchase now.

Another concern is the potential effect of this time lapse on the mama rabbits– with an extended gap between litters, some females become sterile. If they are, we wouldn’t know for a few weeks after attempting to breed, so with the time to replace them, we’ll be significantly further delayed.

The new fellow is living in the cage I made last year from plum tree suckers and scrap wire, while the females are in the hutches. He will have a little den for nighttime warmth. Our daughter named him Bob– or, more accurately, Bop Bob, which is what she dubs anything she can’t pronounce.

To be honest, I’m not sure if this little guy is a Californian or New Zealand white. He’s got the signature dark spots of a Californian, but they’re very faint. When we bought our original stock, they were sold as New Zealands, but their offspring all had varying shades of nose and ear color. My guess is that most people around here mix the breeds. I’m not too concerned about it either way– both are middle-weight, efficient types with good pelts, although I have not yet tanned any.

The Tiny Homesteaders have a nice tutorial that inspired me to tan the next batch, since it pains me to let the heavenly fur go to waste. Mother Earth News has a nice article from back in 1983 on tanning, and after seeing the luxurious gray pelts from Applegarth Farm‘s post, I’m giving some thought to other breeds. While white pelts are desirable for commercial sale because they take a dye, lovely naturally variegated fur appeals to me greatly.

I’m interested to explore what mid-weight meat breeds people grow with colored pelts, as well as what others use the pelts for. I’m looking forward to another clutch of baby bunnies by spring.