Thursday, August 22, 2013

Under cover

I scrubbed my running shoes the other day - they were a mess after a summer's worth of dust and dirt - and when I was done I turned them upside down on the veranda steps to drain and dry.

And who was hiding underneath when I retrieved them the next morning?

This little fellow.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Homesteading University

Kim has had her hands full this summer with all things chicken related, much of it good and some of it challenging. And then this weekend, something new: bumblefoot.

Bumblefoot is an infection in a chicken's foot, caused by anything from a cut or scrape to a splinter from a roost or damage done by jumping down from a roost that's too high. If the infected tissue is cut out and the foot treated with antibiotics the chicken can go on to lead a long and happy life, but if left untreated bumblefoot can eventually spread to bones and other tissues and be fatal. The surgery is usually an at-home affair because (1) it's easy, (2) most vets have no idea about chickens in general and bumblefoot specifically, and (3) even if they did the cost would be prohibitive.

Kim noticed one of her hens limping on Saturday, had a look at her foot and found the tell-tale black scab. As luck would have it our friends Toni and Steve had been telling us about treating their own chicken for bumblefoot just the week before, and even luckier, they were willing to come to Mucky Boots to give Kim a lesson.

Here's the process:

Step 1: Spa treatment. Ms. Bumblefoot was treated to a warm epsom salts soak. Yes, that's our kitchen sink. And yes, we disinfected the heck out of everything when we were done.

Step 2: Surgery. Steve used a small exacto knife to slice off the scab. This sounds gruesome but it was actually very straightforward. Ms. Bumblefoot, wrapped up in a towel and placed on her side, took it all in stride. Once the scab was gone the infected tissue was visible, and it was a matter of gently and carefully cutting it out while leaving the healthy tissue behind. This case of bumblefoot was caught quite early so there wasn't much infected tissue to remove, and Ms. Bumblefoot was good at letting us know when we were tinkering with healthy tissue instead by starting to struggle instead of lying quietly. Toni suggested we err on the side of removing too little tissue rather than too much; more can always be removed in the days following surgery.

Step 3: Bandaging. We daubed the wound with antibiotic ointment, covered it with a non-stick gauze pad cut down to size, then wrapped it up with stretchy self-sticking tape.

Step 4: Repeat. Every one or two days we will repeat the whole process, looking for and removing any more infected tissue until we've got it all and the wound can heal. In the meantime Ms. Bumblefoot is being housed in one of the brooder boxes, up high on saw horses so she's out of the dust of the chicken yard and can survey the goings on of her friends down below.

We were lucky to have had friends willing to share their expertise - expertise gained through a lot of internet surfing and YouTube watching, plus a large dose of bravery in being willing to translate that into practice. Operating on a case of bumblefoot is just one example of a skill that isn't generally known any more and people are needing to learn again. Wouldn't it be great to have an electronic bulletin board where people in a community could post a request ("Looking for someone who knows how to operate on bumblefoot") or make an offer ("I'm canning pickles on Tuesday between 2 and 5 if anyone wants to learn how"). Kind of like Craigslist, but for the free exchange of homesteading skills. An informal, locally based Homesteading University.

I know there are all kinds of reasons why this might not be practical, like liability, and the dangers of welcoming strangers into your home. But couldn't it be a way to spread knowledge, build resilience, and turn strangers into a community?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Garden Report

My post about magically appearing zucchinis made me think it's about time I reported on the progress of this year's vegetable garden.

Most crushing disappointment: the onions. I should never have boasted how well we grow alliums here at Mucky Boots, because this year the onions have been a disaster. Germination was about 15%, so I replaced all my seed and began again, and still only had a 50% germination rate. All of which put me a few weeks behind. And once the seedlings made it into the garden they went on strike, and have done very poorly. In past years I have been harvesting my onions by this time, enough to almost see us through the year, but this year we'll be lucky to get a dozen onions big enough to eat. It makes me want to cry, which I guess is appropriate given it's onions we're talking about. I'm just glad the garlic did fine.

Most frivolous success: nasturtiums. My companion planting book suggests planting nasturtiums among squash plants to attract pollinators. I took this advice to heart and now my wildly vining, sprawling squash plants are entwined with wildly vining, sprawling nasturtiums in vibrant reds and oranges.

Most practical success: Cucumbers. I grew some pretty good pickling cukes last year, but my heart belongs to long, elegant English cucumbers, with which I have had no success. But this year I have four lush, healthy plants flowering like mad and already producing fruit. Best of all, I ate the first one a few days ago and it was the juicy, tasty essence of cucumber-ness.

Most gloat-worthy success: The winter squash. Unlike the zucchini, which produced three and promptly quit (why am I the only person in the universe who can't grow enough zucchini?) the winter squash plants are pumping out more squash than ever before. I have squash growing in beds, between beds, up a strawberry tower, along the ground, and even up the middle of a stand of dried up daisies. There are still a few things that could go wrong before harvest time, but it's looking good, and given my past failures in this department I'm giving myself permission to gloat.

Winners of the "Never Again" Award: cilantro and parsley. I can't grow either. The cilantro bolts the instant I turn my back, before I have a chance to harvest any leaves, and the parsley just sits in the dirt and looks at me, refusing to grow past the seedling stage. I've tried, and I give up.

Winner of the S-L-O-W-E-S-T Growth Ever Award: the cabbages. I don't know what the heck they're doing - I planted early varieties and they're barely starting to form heads. Was it too cold? Then too hot? Too wet, then too dry? They're progressing, just very, very slowly.

Winner of the "I Like It After All" award: broccoli. Last year it was kale, my formerly favourite vegetable to revile. This year it's broccoli, which I had decided, once I regained my sense of smell, I didn't like. But that was supermarket broccoli. My own broccoli, right out of the garden, lightly sauteed so it's bright green but still with some crunch, with a squeeze of lemon overtop? That's an entirely different story.

How has your garden been faring?
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