Memphis Backyard Farmer


March 30 Rabbit Update
March 31, 2012, 6:19 am
Filed under: Livestock, Memphis, Rabbits, Urban Ag | Tags: , ,

We’ve been overrun by rabbits. As of Monday we were up to 11. At least today we’re back down to nine. But nine equals success. The two we lost, by the way, were two  adult females given to us by some friends. They are now living the country life at my brother’s.

The kits are now over five weeks old. I’ve learned quite a bit about birthing and caring for rabbits through this ordeal, but I’m not sure if I’ve learned the right lessons.

First of all, when you look for information on rabbit breeding in the most reliable source – the Internet – you find a lot of really scary stuff. Evidently infant mortality among rabbits is high. I’ve heard tales about does canibalizing their kits and about terrible digestive disorders among babies. I’ve heard that you have to be very picky what your kits eat and at what time they should start solid food and when they should be weaned.

In our case, all that was pretty much crap.

This has been easy. Our New Zealand doe is a terrific mom. Easy birth (six kits in about a minute and a half – seriously). Not too protective (though at first she would nip at you when you put your hands in the box). And in a testament to how great she is, last week we had a friend call with a rescue: a tiny baby cottontail had been found in their yard when her nest was destroyed due to spring yard work. We picked her up and put her in a new box with Ruby (our doe) for three nights, and Ruby assumed the nursing mother position once more.

And the kits have been awesome. They’re as healthy as can be. The transition to pellets came quickly and easily. It happened quicker than we thought. At three weeks we caught them eating Ruby’s food pellets, and even the green “treats” we slipped her. We also walked in to discover them stretching and straining their little bodies up the side of the cage so that they could reach the water bottle. At first I was freaked out about the babes eating greens (though I didn’t care so much about the pellets). I’ve read horror stories about how greens can destroy a kit’s gut. So we were careful about only giving greens to Ruby. But what the heck – rabbits eat grass, right? So slowly we began introducing more and more clover, henbit, and wild violet into their diet. Now, each time we clean a different part of the garden or yard, we bring big handfuls of fresh “weeds” to the cage and drop it in. They devour it. No dreaded diarrhea.

I haven’t seen the kits nurse in about a week. I would say they are successfully weaned. We’ll try to sex them tomorrow and separate the males and females. That shouldn’t be too hard since some of the boys are already putting the moves on their sisters. Ewww.

After that, it’s a matter of growing them out and – well the bloody business. I’m looking forward to some rabbit in the freezer and a big, fur Russian hat. But I’m not looking forward to the look on the kids’ faces.



March 30 Garden Update
March 31, 2012, 5:47 am
Filed under: Gardening, Memphis, Urban Ag | Tags: , ,

Potatoes!I picked peas today.

I know, no big deal, right? Except that these are peas from seed I put in the ground last fall. That should give you a taste of how warm the winter has been here in Memphis. Turnip greens, spinach, and peas are still producing for me (though the greens have gone to seed now).

I keep trying to put off planting something substantial until at least Good Friday, though April 15 has been the de facto planting date around here. But today I threw caution to the wind and put out some herbs and some loofah gourds. The loofahs have a long growing season, and I never seem to get them in the ground early enough to pull them before the first frost of fall, so I end up losing a few. Not this year. And two weeks ago I put collard greens, carrots, and more spinach in the ground. Everything except the carrots has come up in spades.

And to add to all this green glory, I have strawberries on my plants and the grapes are preparing to bloom. I’m holding my breath – will there be one, last, humongous frost? What about the prognostications of Punxsutawney Phil?

To round things out, I have the prettiest, heartiest tomato and pepper seedlings I’ve ever had. I’m hoping that I’ve learned the secrets to successful starting from seed after three years of trying. If they continue the way they’re going, I’m going to have a fantastic crop of tomatoes to put out in a few weeks. I’ve chosen three varieties. “Early Treat” is a Burpee hybrid that produces in 49 days. I usually have a great crop of late tomatoes, but I never have tomatoes before August because the heat sets in so quickly here and the blossoms drop. Hopefully “Early Treat” will put me ahead of the curve.

Second, I have “Black Krim”, an heirloom variety that was recommended to me a few years ago by a farmer friend in Ohio. This is my first year growing these and I’m not sure how they’ll do. I’m substituting them for the “Cherokee Purple” I grew last year. The Cherokees were great – no complaints – I just want to try something new.

And finally, old faithful, Brandywine, rounds out my top three.

Stay posted – I’ll try to write a post about my seedling success soon.



Garden Update March 16, 2012
March 17, 2012, 4:23 am
Filed under: Gardening, Memphis, Urban Ag | Tags: , ,

It’s been a crazy week. 80’s  all week, then some crazy rain today. But it’s about 5pm and things have cleared. I just got home to walk through one of my gardens and here’s what I found:

Grapes

Grape bud

Blackberries

Blackberries

And strawberries!

Strawberries



Attack of the Pumpkin, Part 3: Squash Soup
March 9, 2012, 5:51 am
Filed under: Cooking, Gardening | Tags: , , , ,

A month or so ago I wrote a few posts about winter squashes – specifically pumpkins – and what you could do with these beauties. The initial post about processing the pumpkin is here. We took a free pumpkin and made a series of dishes with it. One was, of course, pumpkin pie. But next we made a fantastic pumpkin soup.

A little over a year ago, my wife and I attended a conference put on by our friends at Englewood Christian Church, called “A Rooted People“. It concerned “the church, place, and agriculture in an urban world”. There were some great sessions, no doubt. But one of the pleasures of the conference was the food. The church community provided all the meals from as much locally grown and sourced ingredients as possible (the church sponsors a fantastic community garden, and many members raise chickens, provide eggs, and raise bees). The two things I remember most were persimmon pudding and squash soup. It was the first time I had eaten squash soup and it was wonderful. So when a big, free, pumpkin showed up at the house, I went looking for a recipe.

What I found was a terrific – very similar – recipe from All Recipes. You can look it up – I won’t list it here. But I will list a few changes we made to suit our tastes.

First of all, the ingredient list calls for 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Bump that up. Give it at least 1 full teaspoon.

Second, substitute the 1/4 teaspoon of pepper for white pepper. Who wants black specs in their creamy orange soup? Plus white pepper is a finer ground, which suits my texture sensitivity.

Third, thicken your soup by using a 12 oz. can of condensed milk and 4 oz. of half-and-half instead of 2 cups of milk.

Fourth – not necessarily a change, but a recommendation: use sweet yellow onion instead of white.

Fifth (it seems this list is getting long), we use our own chicken broth instead of canned chicken broth. These days we cook enough whole chickens that we can make a lot of chicken broth. It’s a much richer flavor than the bland stuff you buy in the can.

Last, I suppose, would be a substitution on the parsley. We grow a lot of cilantro (for our home-made guacamole), so we used cilantro to garnish the final dish instead of parsley.

It’s a fantastic soup. Everything I hoped it would be. And since our original batch, we’ve made a few more using butternut squash rather than pumpkin. The butternut is a bit sweeter, but still very good, and butternut is easier to get once Halloween is over.

And just in case you’re keeping a tally: That’s two pumpkin pies and a pot of soup big enough to feed eight people, all from one medium pumpkin. And there’s one more dish coming.



Easy Backyard Composting
March 6, 2012, 11:02 am
Filed under: Compost, Gardening, Urban Ag | Tags: , , ,

I did a quick video over the weekend as I turned the compost piles and mulched the beds. This is how we compost around here. Easy. No rocket science. Enjoy.



Bunny Progress: Week 2
March 3, 2012, 6:30 am
Filed under: Livestock, Memphis, Rabbits | Tags: , ,

should have a bee post right now. The weather is incredible here in Memphis (mid-70’s today) and I should have gone out to the bees this week, but time just wouldn’t allow. So in lieu of a spring Memphis beekeeping update, I’ll give you a quick update on the kits (rabbits).

They’re two weeks old as of yesterday. It’s been interesting to be a part of new rabbits. We’ve birthed several litters of pups here, and the experience is completely different. First of all, the birthing process of pups was much different. Jessie’s (my momma Jack Russell Terrier) first labor was an all night affair, with the first puppy getting stuck in the birth canal. It was somewhat stressful. Ruby, our doe, gave birth to six kits before I could get off the phone and take a look. Boom – it was over. No mess, no fuss.

Second, baby rabbits are much less needy. Pups seem to always be nursing, or at least trying to, and generally, bitches oblige. Not so with kits. The doe seems aloof, hardly showing them attention. Evidently this is the way of rabbits. In the wild, does generally abandon the kits during the day to keep from drawing attention from predators. Then they come back to feed the babies at night. Now, don’t get me wrong – Ruby is quite the mom. If you move too quickly in and out of the cage, she’ll come after you. You must pay a toll before picking up any of her babies by stroking momma first. After that, she doesn’t seem to care what you do with them.

In case you’re wondering, the kits were quite able to roam around their box almost immediately. By ten days their eyes were open, they had put on quite a bit of fur, and their ears were perked up to the point where they looked less like naked mole rats and more like – well, like rabbits.

The fluffy bunny factor is going to be hard to get over. Everyone in the family is quite taken with them. Bringing down the axe is not going to be easy.