Thursday, September 26, 2013

The ducks have migrated to a new home.

The ducks have had me really stressed out this past week.  They got loud!!!  We got Khaki Campbells for two reasons.  They are great egg layers, and they are supposed to be one of the quieter ducks.

Well, if these things are quiet I'd hate to hear the loud ones.  It turns out that the females make a loud honking sound any time they get startled.  And they get startled a lot!  I couldn't even go out into my back yard without them freaking out.  It was annoying.  If it was annoying to me, I can only imagine what my neighbors must have thought.

None of my neighbors said anything to me, so I spent a lot of time debating what to do.  Should I just keep them until someone complains?  Should I get rid of them, and if so, where?  I didn't want to just release them into some random pond.  They might wander off into a road and get hit by a car.  They are fairly tame and are used to my dog so they might get eaten by predators.

I didn't want to get rid of them.  They're so entertaining to watch.  They have very unique personalities. We got them as a project for my son.  He did a good job taking care of them.  Their constant little quacking was pleasant to listen to while we were in the yard.  But... the honking was just too much.

Lucky for me, I knew of a great place where they could go, Cul de Sac Critters.  It's run by a family not too far from where I live.  They keep rabbits, chickens, and have ducks on a pond.  I visited them with my daughter to learn about rabbits before we got ours.  I contacted them and they were happy to take more ducks.  And wouldn't you know it, one of my neighbors was looking to get rid of 3 drakes.  So I took them too. 

I got home from work tonight and rounded up the ducks with my son's help.  They weren't happy to be put into boxes.  Then we went to our neighbors and picked up a box of drakes (male ducks).  And off to Cul de Sac Critters we went.

We went down to their pond and the 4 ducks they had swam away.  My son opened the boxes and released the birds one by one.
After the 6 birds were released the first 4 came back from the middle of the pond to greet them.
It was like a duck party after that.  The whole group of them were quacking and flapping and diving under the water.  They were doing what ducks do.  Seeing their reaction turned my stress and sadness into pure delight.  It was a really great sight. 
My son handled it really well.  He said that he was glad to see how happy the ducks were.  I think he understands the situation pretty well.  We tried something, and it didn't work out.  That's the way it is sometimes.  He's already talking about his next project.  He thinks he might want to get some chickens of his own.  He's talked about Muscovy ducks too.  (They're known as the quack-less duck.)  He has some time to decide.
I think watching from the dock was his way of saying good-bye.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Recipe mashup: Pumpkin Pecan Bars

It's that time of year when leaves start to show their brilliant colors and all of your Facebook friends start posting about pumpkin lattes.  Me?  I've been craving a yummy pumpkin pie!  I made our 10-year-old one for his birthday.  I hear it was delicious, but since it contained condensed milk, I couldn't indulge.  I'm toying with the idea of coming up with a recipe of my own using homemade sweetened condensed coconut milk but I haven't gotten around to testing it out yet.

But this past weekend, I just couldn't wait anymore.  I NEEDED something pumpkin!  So I browsed my Pins and found two recipes that I'd saved that sounded just like what I was craving:

Sadly, though, I lacked agar for the first recipe, and fell way short on almond flour for the second.  What is a girl to do?

Take it easy!  I got just what you need for that pumpkin craving!

You mashup those recipes!  That's what ya do!
I took the crust from the first recipe, messed around with it a little, and modified the pumpkin custard from the second recipe, and voila!  Pumpkin magic.  I can't wait to make it again!
In fact, I was so pleased with the results, I had to stop myself from eating the rest
so I could have a picture to share!  (Not pumpkin bars to share, mind you.  Hands off!
That last piece is mine!)

Pumpkin Pecan Bars

1 6oz. bag whole pecans
1/2 cup almond flour
5 soft pitted dates (soaked for 15 minutes in warm water)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (ok, I didn't use this the first time, but I will when I make it again.)
dash salt

1 15oz. can of pureed pumpkin (not pie filling, just plain pumpkin)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 unsweetened canned coconut milk (I find that the boxed kind doesn't work well for baking things like this)
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
dash salt

Preheat oven to 325.  Add all crust ingredients to the bowl of your food processor and give it a whirl until mixture is an even crumble.  Dump into an 8x8 (glass recommended) baking dish and press into a crust-like form.  (I didn't press mine up the sides, but if you wanted a thinner crust, you could.)
Mix filling ingredients in a large bowl and pour over crust.  Bake 45 minutes until the filling looks just about set in the center and crust is browning on the bottom. Remove from oven and let cool 30 minutes on a baking rack.  Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour.  Serve chilled.

Kinda makes me wish I'd chilled and whipped the rest of that can of coconut milk!  Yum!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Overflow rain barrel problem.

I've written several posts documenting my attempts to capture more rain water by moving it from the barrels under my downspouts to remote/overflow barrels.  One of my fears was that the overflow barrels are lower than the other barrels and that water from the higher barrels would just spill out of them.  Well, that happened.  I attempted to fix the problem by extending the overflow into the air.  That didn't work.
The water seeped through the holes in the lid and flowed over the top.  I put those holes in so any rain that fell on the lid would drain into the barrel. 
This is a problem.  Now I need to figure out what to do about it.  The obvious solution would be to install a float valve and fill the barrel from the top and then put a check valve at the bottom and have it feed back to the other barrels.  (That is what I did for the barrel under my deck.)  That's an expensive solution.  I need to come up with something else.  I may just end up moving this barrel to another location.  I haven't decided yet.  It's something I have to spend some more time thinking about.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Enhancing my overflow rain barrel with a check valve

Recently I put a short barrel under my deck to hold excess water from the barrels under my downspouts.
I put in a float valve to keep it from overflowing.  You can see in the picture below that it is at least 8 inches lower than my other barrels. 
This works.  It's great.  I can fill the overflow barrel from my over barrels.  The problem is getting the water back out.  If I connect the two barrels together using the hose bibs the water from the higher barrel will move to the lower barrel and cause it to overflow.  I have to make sure that the water in the higher barrel is lower than the lower barrel before connecting them.  That's a nuisance. 

There is a solution.  It's called a check valve.  It's a valve that only allows the water to travel in one direction.  The next problem?  Finding a check valve with a low cracking pressure.  That's the amount of pressure needed to open the valve so the water can flow.  All of the check valves sold at Lowes and Home Depot had a cracking pressure of 2 psi.  Using gravity you get 0.433 psi per foot of elevation.  My short barrel is about 3' high.  So when it's full I'd get 1.29 psi.  When it gets low it'd be less. 

Luckily we have the Internet.  I was able to find a low cracking pressure (0.25 psi) check valve at zorotools.  It wasn't cheap.  I paid ~$15 for including shipping.
It was a lot larger than I expected it to be.
I ordered one with female pipe threads on both ends.  I used a 1/2" MPT x 1/2" MPT fitting on the intake side and screwed it into a 1/2" FPT to 3/4" FHT fitting.  This gets attached to the hose bib on the barrel.  On the output side I screwed in the standard 1/2" MPT to barb irrigation fitting.
I ended up swapping out the straight fitting for an elbow.
I rotated barrel 90* to make it easier to tie back into the drip lines already under the deck.
All of my rain barrels are plumbed together. The irrigation tubing connecting them intersects under my deck.
In short, when my rain barrels get higher than the overflow barrel they will fill it until it's full and the float valve closes.  As I drain the barrels the overflow barrel will drain as well.  This gives the whole system more capacity while keeping the overflow barrel of the way and out of site.

I have plenty of room under my deck.  I'm going to see how this works and then probably add a few more barrels under there.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

We have another rabbit.

We lost our male rabbit the other day.  I still don't know for sure what happened.  I did some searching on Google, and it sounds to me like it was GastroIntestinal StasisHe stopped eating and died a few days later.  

Luckily the world has craigslist.  My wife was able to find another male rabbit in no time.
He's little.  He's smaller than the last one, but much more friendly.  He doesn't mind being held.  He doesn't hide when you go out to the hutch to feed him.  Actually he comes right up to the cage to sniff and greet you.  He's not even bothered by the dog.  The two of them sniff noses all the time.
He's two months old and seems to have settled into his new home just fine.  

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Have chickens? Make friends with a homebrewer.

One of me coworkers is a home brewer.  The other day he mentioned that he was getting ready to make a batch.  So I asked him what he did with the spent grain and could I have it.  He said I could as long as I provided him with a container.  I gave him a 5-gallon bucket. 

He filled my 5-gallon bucket and a third of a 6-gallon bucket as well.
I dumped out what was in the 6-gallon bucket and the chickens went nuts.
It was pretty much all gone the next morning.
The grain in the 5-gallon bucket lasted a little longer. 

I'm hoping that I can get more spent grain in the future.  It's a free way to supplement their feed. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Rabbit set back.

We lost a rabbit last night.  I'm not sure what happened. 
RIP buddy.  We hardly knew you.
I was in the yard with my kids after church.  My daughter went to check on the rabbits.  She came back and said, "Mister isn't moving.  I think he might be dead." 

So I went to check and sure enough he wasn't moving.  Ugh.  I did notice over the past week or so that he wasn't eating much.  Misses needed her feeder filled every day.  He didn't need his filled nearly as often.  It was the same story with the water and hay.  She was going through both far faster than he was.  He was probably sick and we just didn't know it.  He was active and hopping around his cage.  He wasn't lethargic or anything.  So who knows...

My kids are taking it fine.  When I asked my daughter, she said she was upset a little bit.  She isn't showing it at all.  So she's dealing with it well.  I'm bummed.  I hate to lose another animal.  I've already informed the dog that she isn't allowed to die. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Eventually it will be fall. Time for knitting!

A few years ago, I took up knitting.  Like most crafts, I pick it up for a while, and then put it down for a long while, and I rarely actually finish anything. 

I did, however, finish a dress for my niece...

and a skirt for my daughter.

I've never managed to finish anything for myself.  But a little while back, I saw a post on the Polyface Hen House blog about a Mystery Summer Shawl Knit Along.  I was truly inspired!  So when I saw Sherri post about the newest Mystery Fall Knit Along, I was intrigued and decided to join in!

For all the information about the knit along, check out the blog at WPKnits!

I've purchased the pattern and, inspired by Sherri's blog post, I've started compiling some color inspiration and yarn ideas.  

If you saw my house, you'd know fall colors are my absolute favorites, so I couldn't stray too far for this project...

And I'm drooling over some yarns I've found online, though I'll probably just go to a local big box craft shop when I'm actually ready to buy to make it most economical.

If you're a knitter and interested in following along, you can find me on Ravelry!  C'mon over and let me know what you're working on!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Grilled Tomatillo Salsa

I celebrated a birthday this past week, and since I spent the whole day in the car on the way home from vacation, a home-cooked dinner of favorites just wasn't in the cards.  For something quick and easy, but dairy and gluten-free, we went to Moe's for the first time ever.  Everyone liked the food, and especially the many salsas! 

So, when I contemplated what to do with the mountain of tomatillos and peppers our garden was producing, I decided to try replicating the smoky spiciness of Moe's. 

The result may not have been just like theirs, but it was absolutely delicious!

Grilled Tomatillo Salsa
1/3 bag mesquite wood chips
6 cups tomatillos (hulled, and halve anything bigger than a ping-pong ball)
1/4 red onion (quarter through root end so the quarter you're grilling stays intact)
4-6 jalapeno peppers (or other favorite hot pepper)
2 + 2 cloves of garlic
1 bunch cilantro
2 cups fresh tomatoes
1 lime
2 teaspoons + 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tablespoon Frank's RedHot
Olive Oil

We stopped at Home Depot and picked up a bag of mesquite wood chips.  I dumped about 1/3 of the chips into a bowl and covered them with water. 

After about an hour (ok, two... I got distracted), I dumped off the water and put about 3/4 of the wood chips into an aluminum foil packet, into which I poked holes to allow the smoke to escape.

I heated the grill and threw the packet of wood chips on there (medium high heat) while I prepped the vegetables.

The tomatillos were peeled, and I halved the larger ones, quartered the onion, halved and seeded the peppers, and peeled 2 cloves of garlic.  Then I drizzled everything with some extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  I left a handful of tomatillos, 2 more cloves of garlic and all of the tomatoes out of the bowl for later.

Once the grill was heated, I realized I wasn't getting much steam/smoke out of the wood chip packet, so I cut a slit in the top and peeled back some of the foil, then I laid the veggies in a single layer on a grill pan, turned the heat to low, and closed the lid.
I let the vegetables get brown on one side (about 10 minutes), then I gave them a toss, moved the pan to the top rack and the smoke packet directly underneath, cranked the heat up a little and closed the lid again.

After another 15 minutes, everything was cooked down nicely.  I removed the veggies from the grill and put them in a bowl in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.  After they'd cooled down, and released a good bit of liquid, I drained everything and put it in the food processor.  I had to process it in batches, and then mix it all together at the end.  To the last batch, I added the remaining tomatillos and garlic, as well as the tomatoes, cilantro and juice of one lime.

Once it was all processed, I put it in a bowl and folded it together, adding in the last 2 teaspoons of salt, the cumin and Frank's Red Hot.  Then we let it chill again for a bit while we put some ribs on the grill over the still-smoking packet of wood chips.

This is one of the best salsas we've ever made, and the best part is that it is a great use for the tomatillos our garden is producing like crazy!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Overflow rain barrels in action.

We got some heavy rain the other night.  I was anxious to see how well my overflow barrels worked.  I waited for the rain to let up a bit and went out to check.  To my surprise, overflow barrel #2 hardly had anything in it.
Originally I had attached irrigation tubing to the lower overflow of the barrel at the corner of my house and ran it to overflow barrel #2.  I think the 1/2" tubing is a real bottleneck.  It just doesn't have the ability to transfer water very quickly.  So I moved the tubing from the overflow to the hose bib (pictured above).  This worked.  My overflow barrel was full in the morning.
Overflow barrel #3 was full as well.  The float valve worked and stopped the flow of water into the barrel.
Great!  With this setup I can fill both of my overflow barrels.  The downside is that I can't get any water out of the barrel at the corner of my house.  Luckily I already had a solution.  I bought a 5-way hose manifold from Amazon the other day knowing that I'd find a use for it somewhere.
Now I can get water out of this barrel and it's plumbed to my regular rain barrels and my overflow barrels.  I thought everything was great.  Then I looked in the barrel and noticed that it wasn't full.  I checked the barrels under my other downspouts.  They were 8-10" low too.  I thought to myself, "Huh.  That's odd."  Then I realized what I had feared had actually happened.  Overflow barrel #2 is lower than the rest of the barrels.  The water flowed from the higher barrels to the lower one and exited through its overflow until they all reached the same level.

I thought of a few ways to deal with this.  I could put a hose cap on the over flow.  I have doubts about how well this would work.  When water enters the barrel the air needs a way to escape.  The lid on that barrel is solid with just a few 1/16" holes for drainage.  That may be enough, but it may not.

My next thought was to install another float valve and still fill the barrel from the bottom.  When the water is low the valve would be open and would allow the air out.  When the water got high enough the valve would close and no more air would escape.  The problem with this is that I don't have any more float valves and I'm too impatient to wait for another one to arrive.

I ended up doing the third thing I thought of.  I've attached PVC pipe to the overflows on my previous barrels.  They let me direct the water away from the house.  Well, I figured I could just do the same thing.  Only this time I'd point the pipe towards the sky. 
This will allow air to escape the barrel as it fills and it raises how high the water has to be before it'll overflow.  It is possible that it could still penetrate the holes in the lid and overflow that way.  I'm hoping that it doesn't.  I'll just have to wait and see what happens.  The only option I have after that is raising the barrel.  I really don't want to do that.  I want to keep it out of sight.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Ducks at two months.

The ducks have grown a lot in the last two months.  When we got them they looked like this.
July 3, 2013
Now they look like this.
September 2, 2013
Ducks are interesting.  They stick together.  The chickens will wonder off and do their own thing.  If one of the ducks gets separated from the others it'll freak out.  They're really a tight group.  I wonder how that's going to work when they start laying.  They aren't as friendly as the chickens either.  I can get close to the chickens and as long as I don't try to pick them up they are fine.  The ducks freak out if you get within 10 feet of them.  My only complaint with them is the freaking out.  Khaki Campbells are supposed to be quiet ducks.  These guys talk a lot!  Most of the time it's not too loud.  It's just a constant, "quack quack quack."  But once in a while, or if they get spooked, they'll let out a big loud honk. 

Anyway, it's apparent in the picture above that the ducks are a little big for the original tub we got.  So it was time for another one.  I picked up a large mixing tub at Home Depot.  The first one held 10 gallons.  This one is twice as big and holds 20.  My son had to test it out on the patio.  Let me tell you...  Emptying those 20 gallons of water was a chore...  One that he didn't do.
I like to automate things as much as possible.  That meant putting a float valve on the new tub. 
Then I moved the tub to the back corner of the yard by the chicken coop.  We have this area fenced off.  This gives us the ability to keep the birds contained in a smaller space if the need arises. 

I connected the float valve to on the tub to the rain barrel next to my shed.
I installed a 1/2" PVC pipe with ball valve for a drain.  I documented how I did this on the first tub for the ducks.
I don't know how long it took for the tub to fill.  I opened the valve in the evening and in the morning the tub was full.
I haven't seen the ducks try the new tub yet.  They still prefer the other one.  Of course, it's in the middle of the yard and the new one is back in the corner.  Obviously I'm more likely to see them in the old one.

As for housing...  I moved the old chicken tractor into the area with the coop.  The ducks have been staying in it. 
Here's a picture of the entire area.  Duck house/tractor on the left, coop in the middle, and duck water on the right (in the corner). 

There's one more thing that I have to share.  It's a video of the ducks in the water.