Fauxlosophy Department presents: Wintering In, Out and In Between (and a Duck)

The winter has rolled into the Canadian Maritimes, changing the face of everything – and everyone. Our winters are more brown than white here. The idyllic snow blanket doesn’t happen until late January, and even then it often turns into  mud or ice within 48 hours due to intermittent rains, compliments of the coastal climate. Right now, though, there is still a faint green hue of hardy grasses and the red of frost-ripened rosehips (which nobody ever picks, which I don’t understand for the life of me – if I weren’t already up to my nose in strawberry jam, I certainly would).

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Insane Jane, the resident sabre-toothed tiger, by a measly patch of snow

The remaining chickens, Bertha & Bertha with their collective husband Bart, have become fickle, suspicious creatures, preferring the compost pile buffet to my hearty cries of “chicka chicka chicka CHICKENS!!” announcing their evening grain, much to the amusement of my neighbors (most of which are long convinced that I’m nuts). Insane Jane, the barn cat, has grown a winter coat that would put a polar bear to shame, hiding 8 lbs of cat in a ball of fluff the size of a small lion. The dogs have taken up their favorite sport of burrowing under covers and blankets as “room temperature” in the house has steadied around 17C (dropping as low as 9C by morning when the wood stove burns out), forcing me to reinstate my habit of patting on every blanket and cushion prior to sitting on it in case there’s someone nesting underneath. And me? I’ve started going outside again.

I’ve spent the last couple of winters under the spell of two day jobs, depression, chronic pain, modern misconceptions about the weather and general lack of motivation. Outdoor work, aside from the daily chores of animal care, was put off until warm, sunny, or at the very least dry days – none of which happen very often around here from October until May. Following a random string of inspirational crap, I set out to change this pattern. (In the process, I found out how the modern day humans, even Canadians, have forgotten the true meaning of “dressing for the weather”, myself included. Buttocks were frozen. Lessons were learned.) Donning my water- and wind-proof pants, jacket, mitts, knit hat and sometimes a nose-saving scarf, I threw myself out the door every day for the past couple of weeks, rain or shine (or snow or windstorm, for that matter). The cherry saplings, mauled by the then-present goats two season ago, were pruned properly, cultivated and fertilized. The ancient apple trees that have withstood three generations of neglect have started their resurrection journey as I hacked away the dead and tangled branches. The only non-native rose bush in the garden got its feed-sack dress in an attempt to protect it from the frost and winds – something I never got around to do since I planted it two summers ago, likely the reason why the “climbing variety” has never climbed further up than my boot. I replaced the tattered tarp on the chicken coop (with old shower curtains, including one sporting the world map – I’ll have some cultured chickens by the spring). Sure, I invented some quality cuss words as I pulled my wind-whipped hair out of my nostrils repeatedly. I sharpened, re-dulled and re-sharpened my el cheapo pruning gear. I ran through my entire backlog of lip balm, cramped every muscle that exists between my fingertips and shoulders at some point, and sang every obnoxious camp song I could think of. What I did not do was get cold.

Add to this picture the fact that all of the above was accomplished while being trailed by an overly-personable Muscovy drake named Wilson, and you might have a better idea why my neighbors think I’m insane.

Wilson was given to me recently by a woman with a big heart who took him in from a relative’s farm where he was unable to thrive and raised him as a pet in her apartment. A full-grown Muscovy drake, however, a house animal doth not make. (Equipped with the ability to projectile-poop, ducks are the messiest creatures this side of Mississippi.) So I ended up with Wilson, who has not the faintest idea how to be a duck. He follows me around when I’m outside (his legs are still not quite right, so I’m hoping all this running after the human will also function as “duck physio”), lets me scratch his head occasionally, tries to eat my boot laces and harasses Insane Jane in his spare time. I’m currently trying to find him a wife, even though I had practically sworn off ducks. Really though, how can you turn down a friendly douchebag like Wilson? I didn’t even know ducks came in “nice”.

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the Calendork presents: a Douchebaggery Thanksgiving

How do you celebrate a harvest festival when you have harvested dick all after a season of hard work? How do you give thanks for spindly tomato plants that didn’t produce, and for frosts in June followed by a two-month-long heat wave, most of which was spent being sick and painful? What do you do, when after the “growing season”, your homestead has shrank to a skeleton crew of poultry and a functional garden patch smaller than your compost pile?

Let me tell you what you do. You get pissed.

This year, for Thanksgiving, I demand my right to be a cranky, bitter son of a turnip, and I resolve to greet the next yoga-panted, gratitude-obsessed, meditating hippie who advises me to “practice mindfulness” with a punch in the nose. I am very mindful, thank you very much. I am perfectly mindful of how much things suck right now.

Douchebaggery Ranch can barely be called a homestead at this point. After being ill and miserable for most of the summer, I have hastily and heavy-handedly downsized the poultry flock, getting rid of the ducks completely and reducing the hens and the quail to a bare minimum required for eggs and potential future re-population. Between the heat, the occasional monsoon-strength rain and having the constitution of a slug, the garden got taken over by a merry tangle of dandelions, plantain and Queen Anne’s lace. The “harvest” consisted of several handfuls of snap peas (the shell peas all got enation virus), a few pounds of pocked potatoes, one zucchini and precisely five tomatoes. There are half a dozen pumpkins on the vine the chickens kindly planted in the compost pile, but they are still green, and I doubt they’ll ripen before the heavy frosts come. (The light frost has already been making an appearance since early September, which is decidedly not normal.)

This is super lame. Allow me to shake my fist at whatever divine multiversal power might be listening and actually giving a rat’s ass.

So, Thanksgiving, is it? Bertha and Bertha, the two remaining Barred Rock hens, are still laying, which I suppose is worth mentioning. Let’s count that for one. The apple trees are heavy with fruit, except I can’t stand apples – the sad truth of my life. (They will most likely be given away to friends and possibly to church.) My mother is here for a month, actively waging war on the house, cleaning behind furniture and vacuuming the ceiling (I shit you not) while incessantly trying to feed me. (The added bonus is that she is nearly deaf and therefore totally immune to my PMS-driven grouchiness that urges me to scream at anyone and anything within range.) The cats speak Ornery as a second language, so they are always around to commiserate. There you go, I’ve counted my blessings. Thanks Be To Whoever.

There is no turkey dinner, but there is mom’s cooking, and I don’t like turkey anyway. The pantry is full of discounted dry goods rather than fruits of my harvest, but it still beats an empty pantry. The firewood still hasn’t been delivered, but wool blankets are plentiful and the dogs are still quite eager on their bedwarming duties.

Overall, I keep telling myself that the important points to remember are twofold

  1. In the world of homesteading, there are no certainties. There is always a chance of illness, drought, fires, hurricanes, crop failures, locusts, plagues of frogs, what have you. Some years you have to buy your tomatoes.
  2. Things could always be worse.

So happy effing Thanksgiving from the north side of the border.

And gosh dang and bugger everything. Blargh.

 

 

 

the Calendork presents: a Douchebaggery Christmas

‘Tis the season for chaos – everywhere, except on Douchebaggery Ranch. Well, maybe a little bit, but no more than usual… Being the anti-capitalist hippie that I am, I’m blessed to have friends who are as eccentric (and chronically broke) as me, thus eliminating the pre-holiday madness of rushing around in gas-guzzling vehicles to buy people crap they don’t need. The few presents that are exchanged are mostly homemade (wine, jam, lopsided knit mittens, corny tree ornaments made of salt dough or popsicle sticks, etc) or occasionally second-hand. This suits all parties involved just fine, and believe it or not, the gifts I give and receive are anything but crummy. I love them far more than I could care for anything bought at Impersonal-Mart.

Anyway, end of sermon.

Here at Douchebaggery Ranch, we celebrate Christmas, New Year, Epiphany, solstice, full moon, Cat Herders’ Day (December 15th), Make Up Your Mind Day (December 31st) and just about anything else we can get away with. Because the best thing to do in the dead of winter is to celebrate. Depending on how you look at it, you can justify this in two ways: 1) The winter is a wonderful time of year, and is worth celebrating. (This view appears to be held by myself only.) 2) With all the mud, ice, shovelling and freezing-your-tail-feathers-off that the season brings, the only way to remain sane is to find something to make a joyful fuss about. (This, I suspect, is the reason many faiths and cultures have a holiday this time of year.)

Douchebaggery Ranch is fond of tradition. We like to make our own, and encourage all, homesteaders and otherwise, to do the same. The main Christmas traditions on the premises are twofold:

  1. The Tree: There’s a small patch of spruce saplings in the backyard, past the pile of old fishing gear left behind by the property’s previous owners. They are terribly overcrowded, so every winter one of them doing the overcrowding gets hacked down and used as the DR Christmas tree. Spruce is horribly prickly, and sheds worse than a Persian cat. To add to its charm, the tree is often missing all branches on one side (where the other trees were growing), is grossly misshapen and otherwise unsightly enough to give Martha Stewart a conniption. Said tree is brought inside, propped into a stand or pot in whatever ways necessary, then decorated. DR decorations are made entirely of wood, fabric or paper (read: not breakable, because cats. Lack of plastic is due to my hippie ideals, though – it just seems wrong.), and most are handmade either by myself or by various friends’ children. The end result is often a quarter of a tree strewn with things that look like they belong in a kindergarten art class. Being one step up from Charlie Brown’s branch-with-a-red-ball, the tree is much loved and much cursed (see: having to sweep needles twice a day).
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  2. The Census Ornament: This tradition started last year, and involves making an ornament that has the names of all the residents of DR written on it, as of Christmas Eve of that year. Last year’s ornament was a locally-made wooden star bought at the farmer’s market, decorated with glitter glue. This year’s is a thrift store find: a make-your-own-photo-frame-ornament kit that was modified to frame the census list rather than a photo. 2017 Christmas Eve census is as follows:
    – One human
    – Two dogs (Oscar & Bonibon)
    – Three cats (Lemon, Lasagna & Insane Jane the barn cat)
    – 11 guinea pigs (Mr. T, Pecorino and nine foster cavies)
    – Eight chickens (six Plymouth Barred Rocks and a pair of Old English Game Bantams)
    – Six ducks (Three Muscovies, three Welsh Harlequins)
    – 30 quail

There are no Santa hats or reindeer antlers on the dogs, ugly Christmas sweaters or ham-and-turkey dinners on Douchebaggery Ranch. It’s not that we’re against those things. It’s just Not How It’s Done Here.

 

 

 

Agricultural Affairs presents: Gardening for Lone Rangers

If you have precisely two hands and one spine to assist in your gardening endeavors, life can get interesting. If the body attached to said hands and spine is not particularly large or buff, then it’s really time to recruit the good ol’ brain for the horticultural efforts.

This farticle (fart·i·cle: /färdək(ə)l/ noun A piece of writing included with others on a blog of precisely zero consequence.) addresses the problem of breaking up the sod in a new garden patch when you are:

a) living alone

b) small or in less than ideal physical condition

c) too piss poor to afford a rototiller

d) lacking any friends or neighbors who might lend you a hand (or a rototiller)

e) lousy at planning ahead

or

f) all of the above.

Lone Ranger had Tonto, but the newly-married pioneer farmer’s wife, like you and I, had nobody to help her. (If anything, she had a toddler or two winding about her feet. Yeah, there was a husband, but he was off building a house or plowing a field for wheat, or what have you. I’m not sexist, but history was. Whatcha gonna do?) So I take a page from her book, when it comes to planting the year’s subsistence garden.

Warning: This is not the most efficient way to do things. One person does not equal efficiency in the world of homesteading, so I suggest you either make peace with that here and now, or get yourself a wife/husband/partner/child/friend/grandfather/volunteer/horse.

The relevant sequence is as follows:

  1. Now, assume it’s spring (or whenever your local planting season is), and your garden bed is just not large enough for your liking. You need more space, but you didn’t have a chance to prepare a new bed last fall because you were too busy stacking and splitting firewood, which is REALLY not a job for a single person of your size/build/health/age/attention span.
    Determine the area that’s to be the new planting bed. (Don’t make it too crazy big- there’s only one of you to feed, unless you’re growing fodder for livestock.)
  2. Get a trowel and make a bunch of holes in the sod, best as you can. Don’t put too much time or effort into it. Save your energy for the remaining zillion other chores that need to be done around planting season.
  3. Plant potatoes in holes.
  4. If you have any livestock bedding, rotted leaves or compost, spread this stuff over the potatoes as evenly as you can.
  5. Let the potatoes grow. You won’t be able to hill the potatoes like you would in normal soil, so you’ll end up with more green potatoes than you would otherwise. (See above warning note regarding efficiency- or the lack thereof.)
  6. In late summer (or whenever your local harvest season is), pick the potatoes. Your soil will be nicely broken up as a result.
  7. For additional goodness, spread more compost, mulch or bedding over the empty potato patch and let that stuff rot over the winter. Next spring, you’ll have a perfectly good garden patch there, ready for planting.
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You can plan your garden a year ahead, or you can improvise- either way, there’ll always be potatoes. How’s that for a nice thought?

Other alternatives to potatoes are turnips, beets and pumpkins (which need to be planted in little hills of compost heaped over the sod), as per other accounts I read or heard. I prefer potatoes, because I’m unfortunately not a fan of beets (anything that pink should taste like berries, and therefore should not be in my stew) and turnips require a hacksaw to cut up for cooking. Besides, if you plant a good storage variety, you really can’t have too many potatoes. (My favorites for the Maritime climate are Kennebec and Yukon Gold, though I hear Russet also works fine. The photo above shows Fingerlings, best eaten fresh.)

The end math is as follows:

  • Work: minimum
  • Backache: minimum
  • Headache: as usual- still need a place to cure the potatoes for storage, etc.
  • Yield: moderate, though even the crappiest soil (ie. anything short of concrete) will give you enough potatoes to make it worth your while, especially given how little time and effort it takes to grow them.

Moral of the story:

Homesteading is best practiced as a team sport, but if it’s just you and your lone arse out in the sticks, you can still feed yourself.

 

Agricultural Affairs presents: Raising Quail for Eggs, Meat and Drama

The ultimate easy livestock for any homesteader, regardless of their environment, is the Japanese or Coturnix quail. I have successfully kept a trio of them back when I was living in a basement apartment, and they took up as much space as a pair of guinea pigs and were vastly cleaner and quieter than, say, budgies. I only ate the eggs at the time and didn’t breed them (and therefore didn’t end up with a multitude of extra cock quail dubbed Soup or Stew) but it was still a remarkably simple and satisfying way to have fresh eggs while living in the city.

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Stock photo, depicting a potential victim of mariticide

Now Douchebaggery Ranch has chickens, who conveniently recycle grass, bugs, kitchen scraps and some things I don’t want to know about (caught the rooster eating a dog turd from the neighbor’s yard the other day) into eggs. So why keep quail?

Three reasons:

  • My chicken coop doesn’t have a light. I let the ladies take a rest during the winter, because producing something the size of your head out of your ass every day can’t possibly be fun and they deserve a vacation. During that time, I bring a trio of quail into the house in a large rabbit cage, hook up a desk lamp over the cage and let the quail take over the egg duty for a couple of months. Sure, it’s a colossal nuisance to have to break 29 eggs to make a quiche, but Mother Nature never intended for the winter to be a time of convenience.

 

  • Soup and Stew. Now that I have an incubator, I hatch the quail eggs when the chickens are on egg duty. I raise every other clutch, keep or sell the new hens and give the extra boys a glamorous afterlife in the freezer, where they will be used for just about every recipe that calls for chicken. Quail tastes slightly different from chicken, but if I didn’t tell you, you wouldn’t know. There’s also the added convenience that for a single-person household, quail come in perfect portions. One bird makes one pot of soup, or one side serving to go with rice. (Yes, butchering is nasty, gross, messy and a whole chain of other adjectives I could spew off here, but that’s the topic of a different entry.)

 

  • Quail are still rare enough among the homesteading circles in most places that there’s a half decent market for live birds. It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme by any stretch, but it did help the incubator pay for itself.

 

Quail, however, have a Dark Secret that would make horror movie fans shiver with delight. There’s something insidious about these cutesy little birds that no quail book or website every tells you about.

Female quail are all homicidal maniacs.

Regardless of who is in the flock, how much space is available, what their diet is or how many toys they have in their enclosure, quail hens occasionally flip and start attacking anyone within beak reach. The most common victim is the husband, and death due to domestic violence is an unfortunate fact of quail social life. (This, I feel would make a fascinating phD thesis for any aspiring animal behaviorists who can’t think of anything better to do with their brain cells.)

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Stock photo- your friendly neighborhood psychopath

My twice-daily checks on the quail, who currently live in a large barn stall, are generally accompanied by the creepy crescendoing background music stuck in my mind and the thought of “Anyone dead? Anyone bleeding?” as I survey the flock to make sure nobody’s head has been pecked open. On more than a dozen unfortunate occasion, I’ve had to dispatch a (usually male) quail who was pecked halfway to death at a time of day when I was still busy waking up or all ready to go to bed, and I have enough nasty variations of this story to fill the front pages of several cheap tabloids.

No amount of research, dietary changes and supplementations and environmental enrichment has done anything to alleviate the problem of the werequail, who goes from sweet little hen to bloody-minded psychopath over the course of a few hours. For the longest time, I thought maybe my birds were inbred and had the quail equivalent of schizophrenia or some such in their bloodlines, but recently I met a couple of other homesteaders who quietly admitted to having the same problem with their quail.

Moral of the story: quail are douchebags. They are cute, they are pretty, they are the easiest livestock in the world to keep, but they are not for the faint of heart.

Archive of Imagined Conversations presents: Queen of the Night

Premises: Some ungodly hour of the night, the bedroom.

Characters: Lemon the cat (aka. Her Majesty the Queen, in royal italics), and myself the pathetic sleeping human.

The Queen on her throne


– Human?

– …

– Humaaan…

– Mmmh.

– HumAAANN!

– *groan* Whaddyawant?

– We wants attention.

– Holy shit, Lemon. It’s like two in the morning. Which is definitely not morning.

– Fine, then. We wants under the covers.

– Fine. Whatever. Come on in.

– We wants to lie on your chest.

– Have it your way.

– Human?

– Gah. Now what?

– We wants to stick Our whiskers up your nose.

– LEMONNNN!!

– Purr purr purr purr…

Cast and Crew: Gentlemen of an Oinky Disposition

How many roads must a guinea pig walk down before you can call it a farm animal? 

Let me make one thing clear: I don’t eat guinea pigs. Eating a rodent is a little beyond the extent of even my relatively non-selective palate. I don’t judge the folks that enjoy cuy, it’s just a case of to-each-their-own.

This being the case, here is a common question I get from friends and family who know my quasi-obsession with having a job for every resident of Douchebaggery Ranch:

“Why in the name of all creation do you keep guinea pigs??”

Souffle behind his house, with his former buddy hiding indoors after a particularly hearty bickering.

Allow me to explain in a list, because I like making lists.

1) Guinea pigs are essentially instant composters. You feed fruit and vegetable scraps in one end, and get fertilizer out the other end. No waiting for weeks for organic matter to break down, or for the worms to slowly eat their way through your garbage. You can pretty much watch it happen- it’s like magic.

2) Guinea pig manure, like rabbit manure, doesn’t require aging. It can go directly into the garden. Better yet, used guinea pig bedding (which in our case is a bit of wood shavings covered with a lot of hay) makes fantastic mulch, with the fertilizer already worked in. You don’t have to pick through it, dilute it, or process it in any way. The bottom of the cage is upturned onto a suitable patch of earth, and that’s that.

3) Guinea pigs cost practically nothing to keep. Hay is dirt cheap when bought by the bale, and makes up most of their diet. Vegetable and fruit scraps are exactly that- scraps. Wood shavings are also dirt cheap if bought by the horse-sized block, and you don’t need much anyway. (They are too rough a substrate for the guinea pigs’ feet, hence why I cover the shavings with tons of hay. This provides food, bedding and entertainment all at once.) Pellets are no longer considered an essential part of a guinea pig’s diet by most veterinarians, though I still give them a little bit as a treat. Like a tablespoon per day per pig. This, likewise, won’t break the bank.

4) Guinea pigs are wonderfully entertaining. They greet you with oinks when you enter the premises (mostly as a demand for food). They do the “hay dance” every time you give them a wad of fresh hay, rumbling and circling around the hay in unison. They chitter, purr, wiggle their butts (this is called “rumble-strutting” in guinea pig circles) in a hilarious way, and bicker like old couples. When they play, they popcorn (this is a motion that looks exactly the way it sounds). They have politics, for Heaven’s sake. You can watch the drama unfold every time there is the slightest suspicion as to who may be dominant over whom. It’s better than a soap opera.

5) Guinea pigs are snuggly. They will actually sit on your lap and make contented guinea pig sounds for a good twenty minutes before they pee on you.

6) The domestic cavy is a cheap and natural anti-depressant. It is the third-most ridiculous looking creature on Earth, ranking shortly behind the blue-footed boobie and the ezo momonga. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please pray to St.Google, the patron saint of the lazy and the ignorant.) You can’t stare one in the face and not laugh.

Pecorino, the guinea sheep.

Current guinea pig population of Douchebaggery Ranch consists of Souffle, Mr.T and Pecorino. Souffle is the longest-standing member of DR, predating even the dogs and the cats. He is pushing 7, which is ancient by guinea pig standards. Mr.T is named as such due to his mohawk, which is magnificent enough to make it worthwhile to break the tradition of naming household pets after food. Pecorino is the latest addition to DR and the only purebred cavy (and also one of the few non-second-hand animals on the premises), being a Texel- he is a curly pig, and resembles a sheep crossed with a toilet brush.

Mr.T reminding Pecorino who’s da boss.

The three gentlemen live together, though Souffle currently has his own “apartment” partitioned off- Mr.T likes to bully the old fellow, which I presume is karma, given the years of testosterone-driven harassment Souffle has provided for his previous buddy. Eventually, I might try to re-integrate him with the other two, if this can be accomplished without nipped ears and bloody noses. (Soap opera, I’m telling you.)

Why do I have guinea pigs? Because life would be a lot less colorful without them, that’s why. (Besides, I don’t have a TV and you can’t watch chickens in the winter.)