In February, 2011, I signed the contract with Roger Boddaert to create a permaculture food forest. The goals at that time were to stop the erosion on the property, to create a wildlife habitat, and to grow food, medicine, native plants, building materials, herbs and ornamentals in a sane way: no chemicals. So the journey began, and it hasn’t been easy. Nor did I at that time know that the garden would evolve into Finch Frolic Garden and my business would be education.
In preparing for a talk about our garden, Miranda and I worked on before and after photos. The garden this April, 2017, is stunning, with blooming wisteria, fruit trees, red bud, roses, angel-wing jasmine, iris, and so much more. Best of all Mrs. Mallard has brought her annual flock of ducklings from wherever she nests, and the four babies are still alive and thriving after a week! So I thought I’d share the incredible difference between what had been, and what is now. All done with low water use, no fertilizer, herbicide, insecticide, additives or supplements. Come visit when you can! Slideshow images change in ten seconds:
Mrs. and Mr. Mallard really love our pond, and have adopted us for several years. She had tried to nest on land here, even up by our garage which is a long walk from the pond, but the eggs were always destroyed in the night. Last year she returned with four young, which all disappeared quickly. They were probably food to bullfrogs, birds, rats or other creatures. It was very sad.
This year Mrs. Mallard went through her usual breeding time with Mr. Mallard, then disappeared, and then reappeared without ducklings. We figured that her brood hadn’t been successful and that was that for this year. Mr. Mallard has been losing his mating plumage, and she hadn’t been visiting. Miranda and I figured that she was enjoying herself elsewhere. Today as I worked outdoors I passed by the pond and to my astonishment there was Mrs. Mallard and seven adorable ducklings! These babes are only a few days old. She would have had to lead them walking from wherever her nest was, and somehow navigate a chain-link fence! At first she was cautious because I was talking to her excitedly and taking photos.
I calmed myself down and went about my work, and on one of my trips past the pond she gave me a decided look and then quickly led her brood out of the big pond just in front of me and paraded them across to the little pond. The babies had their first sample of duckweed.
Mrs. Mallard decides I’m still a friend and leads her ducklings from the big pond to the small pond at Finch Frolic Garden. I think she was showing her firs…
As these ponds have no chemical treatments, are topped off with rain and well water and cleaned by the plants and fish, the water is wonderful for wildlife. They can bathe, eat and drink without ingesting or absorbing chemicals. Good water is as microbially diverse as good soil, and all those microscopic critters are food, protection and healthy flora for all the creatures that flock to these ponds.
Later I noticed her crouched in the bog by the big pond, with all of her young out of sight underneath her. I looked around for a predator, but saw that Mr. Mallard was on the duck island and she was uncertain of him. I stood watching them, ready to protect her. Finally he noticed her, and all went well. A little later they were sitting together, still with no babes in sight.
I heard him fly off, probably to join some other males for some companionship.
Mrs. Mallard led her young across the pond and right to the floating duck island that is anchored in the middle of the pond.
This island has a board down the middle and loose plants stuck in without soil. It is a remediation float as well, cleaning the water as it floats.
Miranda and I were worried that the little ducklings wouldn’t be able to get aboard the raft, but they had no trouble.
After exploring a little, falling off a few times and grooming themselves, they tucked under their very good mama for a warm and safe sleep. Squeee!
Howdy there — it’s Miranda popping in from the Facebook page to bring you a cool update. It’s been quite a while since my last post on Vegetariat: I mostly leave all the easy-peasy blog work to Diane while I’m concentrating on the excruciatingly complex and tiring Facebook stuff. I know, I’m a saint. Hey, did you know old Shakespeare the Bard invented the name Miranda? — it’s the feminine form of the Latin gerund mirandus, meaning “worthy to be admired”; so really I’m Saint Admirable of Vultusliber. (One in there for the dead language folks, thank me in the comments — or, you know, not.)
Today I want to tell you a story about some ponds, and some turtles, and some recollections. No elephants.
Those who visit us on the Facebook page may already know of our glee last April when a pair of Southern Western Pond Turtles (Actinemys pallida) appeared in our big pond.
The Western Pond Turtle group which our Southern race (I think species status for pallida is still under study) belongs to, Actinemys marmorata, is an IUCN Red List “Vulnerable” species. This listing is due mostly to late 1800s to mid-1900s overharvest for food and extensive, continuing destruction and alteration of habitat. We simply don’t have wetlands anymore. They also struggle under pressures from invasive species such as Red-eared Sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) — which will eat small pond turtles and usurp pond turtle habitat niches — and many other trials from the cornucopia of threats we offer our native species. Actinemys pallida‘s conservation status hasn’t been updated since 1996, and probably warrants at least the more critical status of “Threatened” by now.
Soooo, we were pretty excited to see not one, but two, apparently male and female judging by size, actual pond turtles in our pond. We’ve had visits from Red-eared Sliders, certainly, and captured and relocated them to sites which already have established slider populations that aren’t going anywhere. I’m afraid we haven’t the heart to kill them, so although we’re not reducing the problem, we are working to maintain an exclusive pond turtle club in our own pond.
We were even more ecstatic when the pond turtles stayed. We’d catch glimpses of one or both of them all summer, until in the fall only the small one seemed to still be around, popping up on the duck raft to catch some sun in the warm afternoons. As it got colder, we saw him less often, but every now and then, we’d come round by the pond and there’d be the quiet “ploop” of a small scaly body slipping into the water.
The April pair, however, were not actually the first pond turtles we’d ever had on the property.
Back in July of 2011, our big pond was still under construction and was just a big dirt bowl with water in it, and lots of other activity was under way around it as old building materials were being moved and the garden being shaped.
We were quite astonished, therefore, when Jacob Hatch (of Hatch Aquatics) who was managing the installation discovered a small turtle hiding in a stack of boards behind the pond. Delighted and bemused by the appearance of this usually wary and probably quite squashable reptile near our stark pond, around tractors and trucks, we examined it for injuries and to determine what species it was.
A comparison with the images and info. on the wonderful CaliforniaHerps website confirmed the stripeless turtle as a rare native Western Pond Turtle, and probably a female from the apparent concavity of her plastron (‘belly’ half of shell).
The most cursory examination, however, immediately revealed the turtle’s startling absence of a left front foot.
The wound was old and well-healed, and the turtle was admirably (Miranda-ishly) sprightly and seemingly unperturbed and unhindered by her partial flipperlessness.
Of course, we instantly dubbed the gimpy, watery, gimlet-eyed fighter ‘Rafael Sabatini’ (author of such famous swashbuckling tales as The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood). When we determined it was, in fact, a she, we respectfully redubbed her ‘Mrs. Sabatini’.
The second real Mrs. Rafael Sabatini, née Christine Dixon, I imagine to have been a person of some intelligence and depth of feeling, due to the fact that she had Rafael’s tombstone inscribed with “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad”, the poignant first line of his novel of the French Revolution, Scaramouche.
Our Mrs. Sabatini was certainly full of a sense of madness — at her unjust captivity! — so we quickly released her in the only place that seemed suitable and safe on the property: the small pond at the front of our house.
And that, despite our warm feelings of companionship and our admonishments to stay safe and show her face now and then, was the last we saw of the delightful Mrs. Sabatini.
Life went on, as it does. And we gained that pond turtle couple last spring, so maybe-maybe we might end up with baby turtles here down the line. A distinguishing trait of a Shakespearean comedy (rather than a history or other) is that it ends with marriage, which implies future babies: it ends in the expectation of life. And I think Mrs. Sabatini would rather like the turtle story she was involved in to be a comedy — ‘gift of laughter’ and all. I can just imagine her rusty, grudging little whistly cackle guffing out as we fade to black.
However, in January this year, we began seeing multiple turtles in the pond again, rather than simply the lone male that had lingered into the fall. We became fearful that we’d been infiltrated by sliders again, as we’d see three turtles at once sunning on the raft — a new turtle maximum, and sliders are prolific and less picky about personal space. I had trouble getting good shots to check for the clearest field marks (the rounded vs. pointed shapes of the marginal scutes over the tail) so we were feeling rather turtle-scouraged, to be frank, a little turtle-glum. It’s difficult to catch a slider, but if we had them in the pond, as we had the grim feeling we did, they couldn’t stay or we’d risk all the balanced habitat we’d built up for our native species.
Last night I decided to start catching up on my new year photo sorting. I take a lot of photos, and they all come off the camera into my ExternalHD Limbo on my desktop, where they’re eventually sorted and distributed to their homes in various folder nestings on my external harddrives. I’d managed to grab a few shots of the January turtles, and determined to examine them as best I could for slidery traits. It was time, I felt, to know for certain.
I pulled up a photo of a chummy pair of turtles I’d taken January 17th as they enjoyed the weak sunshine on the raft.
The resolution was good, so I was able to zoom in on their faces with fair clarity. Happily, I couldn’t see any stripes, red or yellow, on the face that would indicate a slider, and their chins looked mottled-yellow as pond turtles’ do.
Looking for more clues, I panned down from the faces along the necks and shells-fronts and —
— and there it was. Or there it wasn’t.
For on the smaller turtle, who was relaxing under the friendly claw of its chelonian compatriot, where there ought to have been a small reptilian left front leg — there was none.
Mrs. Sabatini… had returned.
(Scaramouche, Scaramouche, she finds it difficult to do the fan-dan-go!)
“Faith, it’s an uncertain world entirely”! We certainly didn’t expect the same small, appendagially-impaired pond turtle to suddenly reappear in our pond after five years of absence.
Well, whether she’d truly been away or was simply being a lot more sneaky about using the pond so we never saw her, we’re exceedingly chuffed to know she’s back. She’s a jewel in our healthy, chemical-free habitat crown, and we’re pretty chuffed with ourselves for creating a safe, natural pond that she and her buddies — and so many other water-dependent species — can rely on.
If you build it, they will come — and come back!
Let’s keep making habitat for the small, wild, heart-pirating creatures in our lives, eh?
(Please direct Mrs. Sabatini fanmail c/o Finch Frolic Garden.)
October is one of my favorite months, even when we’re on fire here in Southern California. This year we’ve been saved, and October is moderate in temperature and lovely.
Summer has lost her vicious grip and we have time until the holiday rush and winter cold. Finch Frolic Garden has withstood the heat, the dry, the inundations, the snow and the changes, all without chemicals or much human intervention.
We’ve lost some trees and shrubs this year, but that is mostly due to the faulty irrigation system which delivers too much or too little, and is out of sight underground.
Permaculture methods in sheet mulching, plant guilds, swales, rain catchment basins, and the use of canopy have pulled this garden through.
The birds, butterflies and other insects and reptiles are out in full force enjoying a safety zone. A few days ago on an overcast morning, Miranda identified birds that were around us: nuthatches, crows, song sparrows, a Lincoln sparrow, spotted towhees, California towhees, a kingfisher, a pair of mallards, a raven, white crowned sparrows, a thrush, lesser goldfinches, house finches, waxwings, robin, scrub jays, mockingbird, house wren, yellow rumped warbler, ruby crowned kinglet, and more that I can’t remember or didn’t see.
Birds have identified our property as a migratory safe zone. No poisons, no traps. Clean chemical-free pond water to drink. Safety.
You can provide this, too, even in just a portion of your property. The permaculture Zone 5.
I’m indulging in showing you photos from that overcast October morning, and I hope that you enjoy them.
Normally tours of Finch Frolic Garden are held by appointment for groups of 5 – 15 people, Thursdays – Mondays. Cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours. By popular demand, for those who don’t have a group of five or more, we will be hosting Open Tour days for the first 15 people to sign up in August and September. They will be Sunday, August 10 and 24, Sept. 7 and 21, and Thursdays August 7 and 28, and Sept. 11 and 25. Tours begin promptly at 10 am. The tours last about two hours and are classes on basic permaculture while we tour the food forest. I ask $10 per person. Please reserve and receive directions through firstname.lastname@example.org. Children under 10 are free; please, no pets. Photos but no video are allowed. Thank you for coming to visit! Diane and Miranda
Thanks to my daughter Miranda, our permaculture food forest habitat Finch Frolic Garden has a Facebook page. Miranda steadily feeds information onto the site, mostly about the creatures she’s discovering that have recently been attracted to our property. Lizards, chickens, web spinners and much more. If you are a Facebook aficionado, consider giving us a visit and ‘liking’ our page. Thanks!
When I tell people that I have a house chicken they look at me funny. Then I launch into the explanation and sometimes afterwards they say, “I want a house chicken!” Or sometimes they just smile gently and pretend they recognize someone else with whom they’d like to speak.
Right now I not only have a house chicken, but I have a bathtub full of chickens. These are the chicks at the six-week stage, and are just about ready to put out in the Fowl Fortress. They are exercising their wings, especially Esther one of the buff orpingtons, which comes to kamikazi-ish flights into the other chicks and scattering them like bowling pins. I can be excused bathtub chickens because, after all, they are temporary. And so, I thought, was my house chicken.
The way Viola became a house chicken though will make much sense to you and warm the cockles of your heart.
Viola and Madge were two one-year-old Rhode Island Reds who were raised en masse at a feed store. Although the hens had had their beaks trimmed (poor dears) these two had been severely pecked. Madge is blind in one eye and Viola had a gimpy leg (and, I have come to believe, some psychological damage from the bullying). These two hens have been the sweetest girls, unlike the other hens who were coddled from day #2 and act like complete spoiled brats.
One day last Fall I went to put the chickens away and noticed that Viola was holding one leg up high and not able to put any pressure onto it. Uh-oh, I thought. I felt it all over but couldn’t tell if anything was broken. I set up a cage by the kitchen table with a heat lamp and heating pad, and hoped for the best. I spoke with the vet and researched online and everyone (all poultry-eaters, I’m sure!) said that she’d have to be put down. The leg was probably broken. She was probably in pain and showing a brave face… or beak. Well, I considered having her put down, but she didn’t appear to me to be in tremendous pain. She acted as if she’d pulled a muscle. She ate well, and after a night on the heating pad laid a very nice egg. So I kept her in. After a few days she began to use the leg a little. She certainly ate well. I took her outside into the front fenced area, formerly home to Homer the Desert Tortoise who had escaped the year before. This area has a small pond and all the bird feeders where we watch and count birds for Cornell’s Project Feederwatch. Pretty much a chicken heaven, except for the loneliness. Having been hen-pecked, she didn’t seem to mind so much.
Viola improved and we developed a routine. In the morning I’d let her out and sprinkle some food for her outside. She’d wander and sun herself and roll in the dirt and eat bird seed, and lay an egg in Homer’s old house.
At dusk she either would tap incessantly at the sliding door to come in, or I’d go out and call, “Vi – o- laaaa,” and she’d run around the corner of the house, up the stairs and inside, making a brief stop to check out Sophie-the-dog’s dinner, then she very nicely cage herself. I’d cover her with a blanket so she could sleep while the light was on. The cats ignored her and Sophie “peace and love in her old age” -the-dog was actually a little intimidated by her. Perhaps she thought Viola was the ghost of chickens past.
Did I say run? Yes, her leg improved greatly, from a painful hop to a piratey roll. Then I made the mistake of speaking on the phone about her within her hearing. I gave a progress report on how well she was doing, and said that I’d try to reintroduce her to the flock again the next day or so. By the next day, however, Viola suddenly had a very sore leg again. She hobbled painfully around. I couldn’t reintroduce her because the other girls wouldn’t be very nice to her. So I nursed her again. She improved. During the Christmas holidays once more I spoke about reintroducing her, and by the next day she was limping badly again. Guess what? Viola got to stay inside for Christmas.
This healing/reinjury happened yet a third time, and yes I had mentioned bringing her to the coop, so by then I was pretty sure she was either a very good chicken actress, or she was injuring herself to maintain her improved way of life.
The best part of having a chicken in the house I find is at night. While I’m up writing or paying bills and she’s caged, suddenly I’ll hear a sound as if a bomb is falling from a great height just outside the house. It is a high pitched whistle that descends in pitch gradually, but instead of hearing an explosion at the end there is a little soft “brrrup.” The first time I heard it the sliding doors were open and I thought that Camp Pendleton (whose artillery practice shakes the house) had dropped a missle overhead.
When I sneeze or make a loud noise I always hear a comment from the cage. She’ll often croon to herself, too. Viola enjoys music and will sit contentedly both when I’m playing CDs or even when I’m practicing my beginning piano chords on the keyboard. I’m sure she considers herself a songbird because she makes horrible noises of protest when she wants attention.
At first I had placed a metal food dish and a flat water dish into her cage. She soon learned that if she stepped on the edge of the metal dish it would clank. She became very good at clanking over and over and over again with her big foot when she wanted out. She’d also manage to spill her water so I’d have to let her out to clean. She’d take the opportunity to run into the other room and check out the cat’s food dishes. Now I just put some feed right on her newspaper, and my daughter cleverly tied open the side door just enough so that Viola can get her head out to drink from a water dish placed outside the cage.
A friend who knows birds suggested that Viola had bumblefoot, a painful swelling of the pad of her foot. She kindly gave me a week’s worth of antibiotic for Viola in pill form, and I learned a new skill. Or not. By the end of the week Viola and I had developed a whole new relationship which had us eyeing each other warily. There was no change in her condition other than she wouldn’t let me anywhere near her beak without a tussle. Yet again she’s walking very well.
I’m not the only one with a house chicken. Social media is a wonderful method of exposing slightly affected people. There are photos of perfectly respectable people – grandparents even – Skyping with a chicken on their laps. There are even businesses who sell products for chickens such as chicken diapers. Yep. Chickendiaper.com, in fact. I didn’t enjoy the diapering part of raising my children so much that I want to reenact it with a chicken, thank you.
So here it is the middle of Spring, and Viola’s leg is doing wonderfully. She barely limps. Perhaps I can reintroduce her to the flock at the same time I introduce the chicks. I’m writing this while Viola is rustling about in her covered cage, facing the back of my laptop and unable to read what I’m writing. I just wonder if tomorrow she’ll be limping badly again.
Mornings find me waking before sunrise, throwing cats off my bed, rousing my elderly dog for her morning ablutions, and scampering down to the hen house in my robe and slippers (and some mornings warm hat and scarf) to feed the hens and the wild ducks, and the tortoise.
Last night when I let Sophie out for her final walk of the night the Santa Ana winds were like a warm caress, riffling through the palm fronds in the dark. Orion sparkled overhead, moving into the position it was in for the birth of both my March babies half a lifetime ago.
This morning the air was expectant. The garden seemed to emit a trembling energy; an excitement roiling to the surface, but afraid to burst out in full in case of another frost.
Indeed another cold front will be moving in with much-needed rainfall later this week. For now, the bold grasses are up and reckless early stonefruit have blossomed out, much to the joy of the hungry bees.
I could almost hear Browning’s Pippa chanting in my head. But not too much.
The ornamental pear trees all around town are in full glorious bloom. Yesterday while driving from the Community Center to the bookstore there were enough petals strewn in the road as to cause a whirlwind of white as I drove through. An eddy of petals around my car. Joy.
This weekend is the Great Backyard Bird Count, as well as my two regular bird count days for Project Feederwatch. Before breakfasting I filled seed feeders and enjoyed the show while eating my fresh egg, asparagus, toast and cinnamon tea. Twitterpating is definitely in the air as birds pair up and rival mallards chase each other over the big pond.
A Northern mockingbird sips from the bird bath dripper sizing up his territory and listening for new sounds to add to his repertoire. A buzzy rufous hummingbird guards the nectar feeder from the larger and flashier Anna’s. A long-mated pair of crows hang out preening each other on the telephone wire.
Frogs are croaking amorously in the damp rushes. To my complete joy, far earlier than the bulbs strewn across the property which are just peeking green out of the earth, just outside my window are early daffodils and sweet violets, two of my favorite flowers.
It is still February, and I’m not that great a fan of such a beastly month as February , but for today the paperwork will lie ignored, the cold weather clothes will stay in the laundry basket, and after I take my cat to the vet I will spend the day in the garden (although that isn’t so unusual for me, is it?) listening to the Nuttall’s woodpecker try to drum holes into the telephone pole and smell the scent of Gideon’s trumpet flowers.
I look forward to tomorrow when I’ll be making two new friends, and to casting seed which will add new life to the garden.
It doesn’t often frost here in Fallbrook, which is located about an hour from both the mountains and the Pacific in northern San Diego county. When it does, the fruit growers have to take drastic steps to keep their citrus, avocados and other tender plants from dying. The last frost happened after a long steady rain, just after a thick mulch was applied to all the trails here at Finch Frolic Gardens (thank you, Lori!). I awoke to a magical result: just the pathways had turned white with frost. Beautiful! (You can click on the photos to enlarge).