Saturday, April 30, 2011

Walking Biohazards

I do not like raccoons. (Do not read this if you are eating.)

In fact I find them to be foul little creatures. They are vicious, carry disease and are disgusting.

Not so cute when they look like this, eh?
I try to dissuade people from thinking they are cute little woodland creatures, à la Disney's Snow White, and explain why they should not be fed or encouraged into ones yard. They are vicious wild animals. Some people think they look cute with those adorable bandit masks and fluffy tails, but they have been known to gang up on people and fillet them open. They have been known to vivisect dogs, cats and, yes, chickens. They have attacked people that had simply walked too close and even chased down those who had not.

They live everywhere in a city, not just in rural or semi-rural areas. They live in subdivision, suburbs and when I lived in downtown Seattle, I would see them running through the alleys at night.

People think I am joking when I call them walking bio-hazards. I am not. Raccoons are carriers of disease and can carry; distemper, leptospirosis, listeriosis, rabies, roundworms, tetanus, and tularemia.  All of which are pretty nasty ailments.

Raccoon poop
A few weeks back, while cleaning the Fir duff off of my garage roof I found a raccoon latrine. Just another reason for me to despise the nasty little creatures. The thought of it still gives me the heebie-jeebies! Raccoons, like humans, like a flat place to poop, so the little eave their latrine was under seemed to be an ideal spot for them. But they will also make latrines under porches, in attics, next to a tree, in crawl spaces... You get the picture.

Raccoon poop is tubular and blunted on one end and can contain seeds. It kinda looks like cat poop but with seeds. Fresh poop is brown and old poop looks a bit like leaf mold.

In cleaning raccoon latrines, some precautions have to be taken. You are going to need:

  • Rubber gloves that you are going to throw away
  • Disposable shoe booties or heavy rubber boots you can disinfect
  • Particle mask
  • Shovel
  • Heavy duty plastic bags
  • Spray bottle that you are going to throw away
  • Bleach
So armed with all these things, I climbed up onto my roof and gave a shudder. Touching poop is not one of my favourite things. Touching poop that is a steaming pile of biological weaponry, even worse. Just sayin'. 

First, put on your gloves, boots and mask. Next, you want to spray the whole thing down with bleach. You can dilute the bleach, I didn't.  Basically, moist poop stirs up less of the roundworm eggs than dry poop.  Once you get it sprayed, GENTLY scoop the poop up with the shovel and place it in the garbage bag. Once, you get the whole area cleaned up, you can then spray it down with the bleach or pour boiling hot water over the area. 

If the latrine is on the ground, you can shovel up 2-4 inches of the soil and discard it with the waste. Roundworm eggs can survive in soil and if you have kids, or pets, this is recommended. 

Throw your gloves, disposable booties if you used them, particle mask and spray bottle into the plastic bag, seal it up tight and throw it in the garbage can. DO NOT PUT IT IN YOUR YARD WASTE CONTAINER OR ATTEMPT TO COMPOST IT! Throw that nasty stuff away.

Pour boiling water over your shovel and let it sit in the sun for a few days and that should kill any roundworm eggs.  Then wash yourself and everything you have worn in nice hot water. I showered for almost a half hour and shuddered and made icky noise most of the time.

Usually, raccoons will not come back to a disturbed latrine. But you may have to check regularly and clean the spot a few times before they get the message. If the latrine is in a space like your attic or crawl space, close off the entrance and that particular pest will not be able to use that spot again in the future. 

I cleared the branches from the roof to make it more difficult for them to get to that spot, hopefully that will keep them off the roof from now on. 

In order to make your yard inhospitable to raccoons, make sure that you do not leave pet food out. Make sure that your garbage can is closed up tight. If you have chickens, make sure you lock them in every night, because if you are lax on locking your girls up once, you will have chicken bits all over the yard the next morning. Trust me, I know. Pick up any fallen fruit from fruit trees. Clean their latrines when you find them. Basically, don't give them a reason to come into your yard.

If they are still a nuisance, you can live trap them and there are many companies that you can pay to do this or you can usually rent live traps at most tool rental places. (No, I don't like the horrid creatures but I don't want to kill them either.)

You can find additional information on raccoons at: 

Mad City Chickens

This is an interview I did on KEXP a couple of years back with the producers of the film Mad City Chickens.  If you ever get a chance to watch the movie, I highly recommend it!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Seed Catalogs

(I wrote this back in January when my soul was screaming for Spring and the seed catalogs were starting to trickle into my mail box.)

I have gotten my seed catalogs from Irish Eyes Garden Seeds, and Seeds of Change and I am drooling over the notion of spring being just around the corner and my garden sprouting forth with Mother Nature's bounty and all that crap... I know I have at least another half dozen seed catalogs that will trickle in over the next couple of months and I am so excited for them I can piddle. It has been a cold, dark winter and I want my garden. 

So I sit in my bed surrounded by potential. That is what a garden is, you know. It is potential of heartache and backaches and beauty and disgust and annoyance and frustration.  There is even the potential of vegetables that might possibly be gotten to before the squirrels, raccoons, o'possums and crows. There is the potential that when you finally see that pumpkin at the perfect stage of growth that it will not be gnawed through the next day by the tiny, little, arrogant teeth of a squirrel. Yes, I say that squirrels are arrogant (and rude and suicidal, but that is neither here nor there). A garden is potential of blood (garden spades will cut through converse tennis shoes), sweat (a bag of compost weighs approximately 10 lbs), and tears (goddamn fucking squirrels!).

I garden because I like the idea of self-sufficiency. I like the notion that when the zombie apocalypse happens I will be able to survive on my carrots and lettuces and beets. I also like the feeling of overall smarminess of being one of those "garden people". I show up with my 15 lbs of zucchini at a BBQ and say things like "I grew it in my organic garden. I never used pesticides or synthetic fertilizers. I collected my own urine to use in my compost bin. My organic chickens provide me with eggs and manure for my fertilizer. Etc, so forth and so on."

Yeah, I'm one of those gardeners, sue me. I am also eying the McMurray's Hatchery catalog for a new batch of chicks...

So I am daydreaming of spring and of working my garden, as I simultaneously curse it. I am daydreaming of dirty nails and accidentally picking up cat poop and of grabbing slugs and tossing them over the fence into the neighbor's yard (his cat, so he gets the slugs in trade for the poop). I am daydreaming of yelling at the late turning of the tomatoes and the over-abundance of zucchini. I am daydreaming of wringing my hands over whether it will get hot enough for the eggplants and the jalapeños. I am daydreaming about pulling a perfect sweet ear of corn off the stalk to barbeque and the taste of beets pulled from the ground and the colour of bull's blood. I am daydreaming of crisp round peas that taste of green sweetness and spring.

So I stare at the catalogs and dog ear the pages trying to decide what adventures will be planted. I stare at the garden, even as it snows outside and I long to be wrist deep in it. The scent of dirt in my nose. Green shoots popping up all around me. Slugs sailing through the air.

Back Blowout

I herniated a disc in my back this last weekend. I can honestly say that it is one of the most uncomfortable sensations I have ever had. I went to the chiropractor and I have been specifically told, "No bending, lifting, pushing, pulling and DEFINITELY NO GARDENING." How am I supposed to not be tempted to pull a weed when they are mocking me?! It's Spring, dammit!

The last bit before the breakdown
I have been mostly bed-ridden for the last 4 days. Not so exciting. Sitting becomes excruciating after 10 minutes and even trying to find a position to sleep in can be hard. Probably why I am writing this post at 1:29AM. My chiropractor, who I like, says it can take upwards of 3 to 6 weeks before my back is, well, back to normal. And that it could be a combination of a sit down desk job and weekend hardcore gardening. I did get three huge spindly lavender bushes pulled out of the ground, did a significant amount of weeding and spread three more bags of mulch down on Saturday and Sunday was when the pain started.

I am just frustrated because I am pretty much immobile, I am out of sick time at work and I can't work in my garden.  At times like these, I expect someone to jump out at me and kick me in the crotch.

I am breaking out the knitting, because I can work on that while lying down. I am getting caught up on a few books I have been meaning to read. But I hate not working and being constructive, but I worry that if I try to push or force myself, I might end up needing surgery and I really do not want that.

The chickens are getting big and feisty and one has figured out a way to get out of their outdoor pen, so chasing her was not fun. It also means that I need to work on getting it reinforced, although it's pretty jury-rigged as it is. Just something to give them supervised outside time while they are still a bit too small and tempting for other animals. But it's a reminder that something needs to be done and I currently can't do it.

I noticed that my potatoes are starting to poke up through the ground and fortunately, I have the boyfriend, who is kind and eager to help.  So as they get bigger I have someone to help cover the greens, which is where the tubers form. Basically as the greens grow, you cover them with rich, compost-y soil and the potatoes will form on them underground. Cool, huh?

I like growing potatoes because they store well as long as they are kept in a cool, dry, dark place. If you have a root cellar or basement, you are set. If you are like me and live in a tiny house in the city, a dark cool cupboard  or closet will work. Never store potatoes under a sink, it's too warm and moist and will hasten rot. Yeah, I said "hasten".

You will usually find potatoes at your local nursery starting in mid to late March. You can also order from a reputable seed catalog like Territorial Seed Co. or Irish Eyes Garden Seeds who specialize in potato seed and carries something like 60 varietals! I usually try to get them in the ground by the first week of April. That does not mean I do, but I try! Others will say that the soil needs to be about 60 degrees and relatively dry before you plant them. In Seattle, I would have to wait too long which would significantly cut down their growing season and they seem to be fine planted right after the last frost.

I set them in a warm place in paper bags to try to get them to sprout but it isn't a deal breaker if you are planting potatoes with un-sprouted "eyes", sounds kinda creepy doesn't it... It might just take a little longer.  Anyways, you cut up the tubers of most potatoes to maximize your "seed". Make sure that there are at least a couple of "eyes" on each piece and I don't recommend cutting them smaller than an inch and a half square. Fingerling type potatoes can be planted whole. They should be spaced about 12 inches apart and be buried about 3 inches deep. Potatoes are water hogs, they don't like to be waterlogged but they don't like to be dry either.

I am currently using a mounding method, but have used a barrel method to good results in the past.

Mounding sounds just like what it is. You mound the soil behind the space you are going to plant your potatoes and when the greens grow to be about 6-7inches you gently pull the soil over them and continue doing so as they grow. I have a picture to the right, but it may not be very clear. I have potatoes planted on either side of the mound and if I run out of soil I can use a bag of or two of compost to keep the greens covered.

The barrel method is pretty much container gardening. You have the option to use a barrel, an old trash can, a plastic bag, a stack of old tires(I don't recommend this one), a 5ft piece of chicken wire or an old Seattle Composter compost bin. I prefer the last two options. Fill the bottom with about 10inches of soil and plant your potatoes. You may have to space them a little closer together, but the premise is the same. As they grow fill the barrel and cover the greens. The only problem I found with this method is that its hard to water the plants all the way to the roots as you continue filling the barrel.

After you've mounded 4 or 5 coverings of soil or your barrel is filled to the top with soil, you simply let the plant grow. It will flower and you know that your taters are ready when the leaves showing start to turn yellow and wilt.

You can harvest the potatoes all at once and store them in your root cellar or dry, cool, dark place or you can leave them in the ground until the start of the rainy season and dig them up as needed!  If you decide to harvest them all at once do not wash them. The soil will help them store better and you will not damage the skin allowing for faster decay.

Use a garden fork and gently "hunt" for the potatoes in the ground, it's a really fun chore for kids. Like a dirty Easter egg hunt!

Oh! and you can use the Seattle Composter as a compost bin when you are done growing potatoes in them! Here's how:

Monday, April 18, 2011


Using my lovely newspaper starter pots I planted a variety of seeds back on April 03, 2011. They are now plants!

So far both types of peas, the Swiss chard, Chocolate Cherry tomatoes and Stupice tomatoes are growing rapidly and I am eyeing my garden with concern. Once I start planting, I always realize that it is not as large as I think it is.

Mind you, I can stuff quite a few plants into it, but I may have gone slightly overboard (as I do every year). I will end up planting tomatoes in large pots and peas along the fence line and trade a few with friends. That is the lovely part of gardens, in truth you can never really have too many plants, you will always find a place for them.

I came home from work the other day to find that I had left my oven broiler on all day. I store my cast iron skillets in the oven and, sadly, the lovely patina and seasoning that I have worked into them for the last dozen years had all been turned to soot! It broke my heart!

Once that happens to cast iron, you just have to start all over again. Still wearing my office clothes, I started scrubbing the sooty patches and rust spots out with steel wool and a steel brush. Once the seasoning gets burnt out of pan it opens up the cast iron to rust immediately. It's like it sucks the oxidation right into the metal instantly. You have to scrub out the left over seasoning, otherwise it makes the cooking surface uneven, and of course no one wants to taste rust. Scrub the pan inside and out. Make sure to remove the seasoning from the outside of the pan as well.

Doing it this way is labor intensive, but I like the feeling of accomplishment I get when I get uncommon jobs, like scrubbing cast iron skillets, done. Go figure.

Once you have got the surface well cleaned, wipe the surface clean with a just barely damp cloth. Make sure all the residue is wiped out. Otherwise, the first few things cooked in the pan will be black. After you have made sure to wipe the skillet clean, then you start seasoning.

Using a paper towel, spread a thin layer of fat all over the pan. I prefer bacon grease. You can usually find pork fat at your local butchers, but you can use vegetable oil/Crisco if you prefer. Everyone has an opinion. I like bacon grease, you can do whatever you want with your pan, I would recommend avoiding a fat with a low burn point, like butter, though. Just sayin...

I wipe the inside and outside of my skillet and then plop it into a hot oven, around 400 degrees and let the cast iron's pores soak in the oil. You need a few layers of seasoning on a pan for it to be truly stick-proof, but you don't have to do it all at once. Next time you cook something in the oven, grease the pan and throw it in the oven during pre-heat and cool-down. When you use the skillet next, rinse it with hot water and use mild soap, make sure to rinse it well, dry it well and grease it up again.

I am kicking myself in the ass for not taking pictures of the process and will be better about  keeping the camera close at hand when opportunities like this arise in the future.

There are hundreds of how's and why-fors on the Internet on how to re-season a cast iron pan and each one is different but most say something about cleaning out the rust and spreading grease on it. Some say stick it in the oven at 500 degrees for 3 hours some say to put it in a warm oven for 1 hour. Truthfully, either will work depending on how much time you want to spend on it. Do what works for you.

And, now, for something completely different. I know why you all really came looking on here...

They actually look like little chickens now. They are still on the patchy side feather-wise, but they are definitely starting to look like those big-breasted matronly ladies.  You definitely see their breed characteristics and feather patterns coming in, although I get the feeling I got an oddball breed accidentally snuck into the batch. She doesn't look like any of the others and isn't looking like what the breed should look like... We will see what she turns into... They also are starting to get personalities that are interesting to watch. The boyfriend, the big softy, has already started coming up with names for them. 

As you can tell they are now allowed out in the little pen with adult supervision, they are still too little to be let out in the yard. They are enjoying the dandelions and occasional bug that gets caught in their clutches. They remind me of that movie Jurassic Park. Stalking their prey and tearing them to shreds. If they were 6ft tall we'd be screwed.

Oddball Chick
They are growing by leaps and bounds and as of this weekend they are approximately 5 weeks old. They will continue eating their chick starter feed for a few more weeks then it is on to chicken feed and after that layer feed. They also get an assortment of dandelion leaves and kitchen scraps. I like that if I can't finish those leftover mashed potatoes I can give them to the chicks and not have it go to waste. Chickens are omnivores and opportunis-avores and will eat just about anything they can shred and fit into their beaks. They will happily gobble the leftover tuna, pasta and salad hiding in the back of the fridge and I prefer to give it to them than to put it in the yard waste. Although, I still feel weird feeding them chicken...

I will tell you about cleaning up the raccoon (evil little bio-hazards!) latrine on the next installment, I still have to take a few more blazing hot showers before I can bring myself to talk about it... *shudder*

Sunday, April 10, 2011

An Ache in the Patootie

I love working in my yard. I love working in my garden. Unfortunately, my back hates it when I do.

Today, I found the remaining bricks I needed on Craigslist and they were located less than a mile from my house. They needed a bit of cleaning up, but mortar will come off with the help of a hammer and a screwdriver or chisel. They didn't need to look perfect, but they did need to be pleasing to MY eye.

So the beds are done and the potatoes planted.
  • Red Nootkas
  • Russian Fingerlings
  • Yellow Yukons

I also got around to getting some greens in the ground as well. 
  • Lacinato Kale
  • Collard Greens
  • Mustard Greens
  • Russian Kale

I found a good deal on bark mulch and although, I do not like the red dye they use in this particular brand, it looks pretty good. I have always in the past asked a licensed arborist for their woodchips after a job but they will generally only drop off a full dump truck load.  That is WAY more than I can use and, in the past, I have ended up with a huge pile in the back alley that the kids used as a bike ramp. 

I used cardboard and burlap coffee bags as the weed barrier, since I do not like using synthetic fibers like polypropylene, fiberglass or plastic. That stuff doesn't break down and truthfully it doesn't work. I may have to replace the cardboard next year, but at least I know that it works very well as a weed barrier AND breaks down  into compost eventually. 

Like it's synthetic fiber nemesis, cardboard retards sunlight to the weeds and smothers them to death. YAY!

Unlike the synthetic weed barriers, it isn't a pain in the ass for the environment! Double YAY!

Gratuitous Chicken Picture
The rest of the day was spent cleaning up the back yard and making it look spiffy. I allowed the chicks out for a little while into a pen and they loved it, but of course I forgot to take pictures. Next time, I promise.

Generic Icy Blue Smelly Stuff

I promptly jumped into a piping hot shower when I finally tore myself away from the yard and even though I knew I had over-done it,  I always find that it is really hard to come back inside once I get started on yard work. But I still needed to wash clothes and clean the bathroom and inside stuff that isn't quite as much fun. I will be smearing generic icy blue smelly stuff on my back and other joints for the rest of the evening. But it will be with a sense of accomplishment. 

And ample whining.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Live Free or Die Chicken

Today, the chickens were moved out of their little Rubbermaid pen into the great big world of the coop! So exciting! It is still fully enclosed so they are safe and they have no access to the outside world, nor does the outside world have access to them. They have spent much of the afternoon running and jumping and attacking each other. Much hilarity ensuing!

A friend saw earlier posts and told me that the chicks look "fugly" and yes they are at an unattractive age. It can't be helped. Like I said, their bodies are growing faster than their feathers.  It takes a while for them to look like chickens but once they do, they are will be lovely specimens of chicken.

I started raising chickens a few years back and have lost all three previous batches to raccoons. Evil, little walking bio-hazards.... I am not fans of the nasty little creatures. They are like dirty hoodlum teenager thugs waiting at your trash cans at night looking at you like, "Hey! Give me that bag of garbage or I'll give you ringworms!" Although, I think they are cute, I happily would like them to be anywhere but in my yard, snacking on my birds.

So in order to keep the birds safe, I have enlisted the help of the intrepid boyfriend to build a doofus proof chicken hatch. Me being the doofus, it basically needs to allow for my occasional laziness in latching.

The seeds that I have planted so far are:

  •  "Bright Lights" Swiss Chard
  • "Chocolate Cherry" Tomatoes
  • "Stupice" Tomatoes
  • "Petite Pois" Bush Peas
  • "Sugar Star-Bush" Snap Peas

I had some old "Petite Pois" peas from 2007 laying around so I thought I would see what the germination rate might be on those and, even after 4 years, they still have a germination rate of 80 percent! I must of done something right when I stored them!

I germinated them in between paper towel, like you might have done as a child in elementary school. It's always fun to see seeds begin to grow. I sprouted them and plopped them into a nice fluffy potting medium and now they just need to grow big and strong so that I can plant them in the garden and EAT THEM!! Sweet peas fresh from the garden are a little bit of heaven.

I found a garden cart for free on Craigslist this weekend and although it needs a new wheel, it is in pretty darn good condition. I have a wheel barrow and it is very handy, but a cart with two wheels will be a little more sturdy on some of the heavier loads like big bags of mulch and compost. Score!