Raising a Puppy while Working: Socialization and Training

Despite what the entire Internet claims, you can actually raise a well-mannered dog while keeping your 9-5 job. Here is how we did it…

As soon as we considered getting a puppy, I started looking for good Puppy Kindergarten classes. A lot of people don’t realize the benefit these classes can have; it’s not about getting perfect obedience from your puppy (well kinda, but that’s not the main point), it’s about training you how to teach your puppy. It’s also a wonderful and safe place for your puppy to meet new people and puppies. I signed up for our puppy class before we brought Jackson home. Our first class was when he was 3 months old.

Because we worked far away from our home, Jackson had to come with us on days we had puppy class. I found a wonderful dog sitter who had a few dogs in her home that took excellent care of him while we were at work. There he learned how to play with gentle bigger dogs, which is great because they told him “no” when he’d start getting too feisty.

Jackson and his posse at daycare (he’s the shadow in the back). He was so confused when he started meeting dogs smaller than him!

We also tried to give him lots of play dates with friends who had dogs so he would learn to play nicely. It turns out that our friends’ dogs were actually very high energy and we learned the signs that he was going to need a break. When he started to get tired, we would give him some food in his crate for a 10 minute time out and then he would be good to go again.

Prior to our first class we had already taught “sit” and “down”, but we got great practice in a new setting when those commands were taught in class. We also learned to walk “with me”, “stay”, “leave it”, “drop it”, and “go to your rug”. Our trainer focused on teaching us how to properly correct issues before they were real problems and was very proactive with getting our dogs used to being handled, including being handled by other people. She taught us how we can train our dogs to accept pills and correct other behaviors that were undesirable. My favorite part was that she set goals for us to work on for each class.

According to Dr. Ian Dunbar of Before and After Getting Your Puppy, the goal for socialization is for your puppy to meet 100 people by the age of 12 weeks. This was rather difficult with our work schedules, but I kept track of everyone Jackson met and we got to 100 by about 14-15 weeks (kinda crazy looking back at it now).

I think the best thing we did for his socialization was taking a trip to go visit my sister in college. We did a 500 mile road trip where he learned to ride in the car like a champ and met a ton of people at rest stops and on the college campus. We met all sorts of people: leather-clad bikers, college students, screaming toddlers, tall men, and old ladies. We also went out to restaurants where dogs were allowed and he fell asleep under our table and got comfortable with more bustle than he was used to at our little house.

While most of the road-trip was spent in his crate, Jackson did get out on a few jaunts where he sat up with us. The world’s so big!

Apart from that, we also took him on other trips to both parents’ houses and invited people over to meet him there. It was good getting him used to being in strange places with strange smells, and also learning that we had to show him which door he should scratch at when he had to go out. (It’s not easy being a puppy! Why are there so many doors anyways!?)

Getting some power-petting from Grandpa!

Because we have a small farm, I also wanted to make it super clear that the chickens and ducks were not toys to attack. Our yard is not fenced, so we always had him on a leash whenever we went outside. After initial interest in the ducks, Jackson grew bored of watching them and would start ignoring them whenever we went outside. At one point he did run up to one of the ducks, which he licked once, then ran back to me, tail wagging as if to say “Look, we’re friends!”.

From the inside though, the ducks are fascinating to watch.

The chickens in their pen were a little different because when he ran up to them they would startle and flap around, being highly interesting. But after they’d settle down he would sniff around a little then be ready to move on. Whenever I fed them, I had him sit by their coop so when I was done he was more than ready to move on to anywhere else.

He also met our pig which he was terrified of when she made noise, but after a couple visits he tried to play with her through the fence. The rabbits were his favorite though, whenever we’d go by their cages he’d play bow and when I’d open a cage and one would stick their head out, he would lick it and try to play.

One annoying habit Jackson had was chewing on the carpet and grabbing shoes and socks to chew on and run around with.

To solve the carpet issue, we tried everything from lemon juice to tabasco sauce, unfortunately he loved them all. Eventually we just started putting large items over the areas he liked to chew to prevent him from doing it, and if he did manage to start taking some samples we’d distract him with another toy. We tried to keep lots of interesting toys around and rotate them through his accessibility so he wouldn’t get bored of them.

He may look innocent, but he’s actively trying to sneak some nibbles of that tasty carpet. He did give up eventually. We ripped it out a few months later in favor of some new wood floors anyway, thank goodness.
Just a few of Jackson’s toys that we would rotate through, we always tried to keep him in our visual field while he was playing with new toys just in case anything broke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the socks and shoes, we would tell him “no” take the item away and immediately give him one of his toys to play with. This was also a good opportunity to work on “drop it”, but whenever we did that we made sure the reward was extra special (a treat and a toy) so we didn’t burn him out on the command by getting his prizes taken away all of the time. While he completely gave up on the shoes pretty quickly, the socks were a harder temptation for him. He’ll also grab any paper/tissue that happens to be on the ground and watch you, just so you can tell him to drop it, which is annoying. So we’re still working on that one. Mostly we just need to pick those things up better ourselves. (Maybe he’s trying to train us…?)

So although Jackson spent his days alone for the most part, I would say he did have a rich and varied social life in general. On weeknights after we’d get home from work we would often have friends over to meet and play with him or go out to visit Home Depot, Petco, or other stores that allow dogs. Later, once his vaccinations were complete, we went to the beach a lot or other little trails near our home. Our social lives were definitely enriched by having people over more often and going to others’ houses for his socialization!

However, many evenings we just spent time cuddling and playing games with him ourselves, because when all is said and done, that’s the whole point!

Beginning a Rabbitry

Beginning a rabbit breeding program is a fascinating and fun hobby. I’ve had two rabbitries, one from 2007-2010 and my current one that I started in 2016. Between the two, I’ve learned a few things that might help you out when starting your own rabbitry. At this time, I gear more toward producing show quality animals, but these tips can be applied toward meat or pet production as well.

I started my first rabbitry when I was a sophomore in high school. In search for a more manageable 4-H showmanship rabbit for my younger sister, compared to our Giant Angoras, we found the Jersey Wooly and fell in love instantly.

I did a few things wrong when I started my breeding program then and have notes that I took and applied when starting my second rabbitry in 2016.

Start small, pick one breed and only a couple varieties. Understand how the varieties interact when bred together- yes, learn some genetics and Punnett squares! Know what colors will and will not be showable for your breed. Some varieties are easy, like blacks and blues, while others can be more of a challenge such as reds or fawns.

A litter from a Palomino doe and white New Zealand buck

My first rabbitry was much smaller, I was breeding mostly just to produce pets and occasionally show. I had a few sweet gentle does that consistently produced sweet gentle babies. One doe would produce show babies, the others, not so much. This was because I had one correct type dwarf doe, and the rest of my animals, (including the buck!) were non-dwarfs. Yet another example of learning your breed before buying your stock. Most rabbit people are thrilled to discuss their breeds and happy to help in the quest for knowledge.

Get quality stock, don’t get discount rabbits! This is the single biggest tip I can offer. With my first rabbitry I got a trio at a silent auction for about $40. There were several reasons these animals were so cheap. One doe was terrified of people, and as gentle as I could be she would struggle so violently when held that she eventually broke her own back. One doe threw babies with incorrect eye colors. The buck had horrible type. Issues from those rabbits never left my barn even after the original rabbits had gone. Things like bad temperaments, ears being too long, and other faults can be inherited and stick with you for a long time. Buying quality animals to begin with helps immensely when you’re trying to produce quality animals. It also helps because people who have good stock generally know a fair bit about raising rabbits in general and can help you with some good advice as well. My best doe was about $40 and when I first saw her she was being held, without struggle, upside-down by a three-year-old. She was the most docile, calm, and sweet rabbit I’ve ever known.

Know your local market. Are people looking for meat rabbits and breeding stock, or is there a big 4-H culture that might be looking for more pet-sized animals with gentle temperaments? Choose a breed (or crosses) that you will be able to sell.

Along those lines, have plans for your culls. If you’re producing show animals a lot won’t make the cut. It’s easier to cull meat breed animals in my opinion since you always have the option to butcher them. I had an awful New Zealand doe that would try to attack me every time I fed her. No matter my patience, she drew blood once and that was enough for me. As soon as I had a replacement daughter (with better type and temperament!), she went to “freezer camp” and ended up in a delicious stew.

Only keep the best out of each litter!

It’s harder with smaller breeds that aren’t worth butchering. But remember, cull does not necessarily mean kill! So if your dwarf rabbits are producing larger babies that won’t do well on the show tables, make sure there’s a good pet market where you can get rid of the ones who won’t cut it for breeding stock. I had a word document where I kept a template post for my Jersey Woolies explaining the breed and why they were so great, I’d post this to Craigslist when I had babies to sell, along with some adorable pictures of the fuzzy little guys and I rarely had an issue selling them. Just be sure you handle these babies often so they do make good 4-H projects or pets.

Nobody can resist the fluff!

Have a goal, whether it is gold-star temperaments or prize winners on the show tables, don’t just breed willy nilly. If you want to produce great pet rabbits, make sure you have the time to handle them daily and tame them. If you want to produce the best show animals, cull heavily and only keep the best animal out of each litter, if any. For the record, I also highly recommend handling the show animals frequently too!

This little doe does not have to correct markings on her nose to be shown, so I gave her extra snuggles to get her used to being handled to ensure she would find a good home as a pet bunny.

Another tip is never take a pedigree on a promise. While most breeders are kind and well-meaning, some get very busy and will forget to provide you with the pedigree later on. I haven’t personally experienced someone never giving out a pedigree, but I would imagine it could happen. It’s just better practice to ensure you have the pedigree in hand when you leave with the rabbit. Less chance for mistakes with ear number or missing information that way as well!

Join ARBA and go to shows! The best way to find good stock and gain knowledge in improving your strives toward better breeding is to learn from people who do well at shows. Perhaps not as important with the meat or pet breeding, but if you are trying to sell show stock, having good comments from judges or even wins at shows will help make the rabbits you produce more valuable to other breeders. Even if your rabbit doesn’t win on the tables, if you listen to the judge they will explain why they didn’t make the cut and you can focus on those pointers as you continue your breeding. My first New Zealands were all a bit weak in the shoulders, great hindquarters though. So when I started to look for new animals, I only considered animals with strong shoulders to help balance my herd.

All in all, breeding rabbits is quite entertaining, whether for show, pet, or meat purposes. I hope some of my tips will help you on your journey of building your own rabbitry, and as always, please comment or send a message if you have any questions!

Our First Pig

When we moved into our new house, we were blessed with prosperous blueberry bushes. Ripening around the beginning of July and still quite pickable into September, they nearly satisfied my need for a garden. Nearly. With no time to create a garden space for the 2016 growing season, I was content with the bountiful harvest of blueberries, but I vowed to have a roaring vegetable garden in 2017.

I decided for ease of distance to the house and ease of protecting the garden from deer (and more often in our neck of the woods, elk) I would create a blocky U-shaped garden around the preexisting blueberry patch that needed a new fence anyway. However, the area around the blueberries was densely planted with lawn grass, we didn’t have a tiller, and I wasn’t about to hand dig hundreds of square feet. Who could shoulder this heavy burden?

Pigs.

Pigs are natural rototillers, they root up soil in search of tasty morsels hiding just beneath the surface. This includes roots of plants, like dandelions. I could harness the energy of a couple of pigs to tear up my garden for me, fertilizing it as they went. Then not only would I have a clean slate to work with, but I’d also have pork!

And this is how we decided to get pigs.

My next step was to determine how to get the pigs to the area I wanted and how to house them. At first I was completely set on developing a moveable electric fence set up, but as I moved forward I saw that I could have a much bigger number of issues with electrical fencing than with just using hog panels or the like. I don’t have any experience with electric fencing, our ground is quite rocky in some areas (an issue for grounding rods necessary to complete the circuit of an electric fence), and the thought of how to connect our fence to electricity was haunting my dreams.

Hubby and I decided the best bet would be a large moveable pig tractor that we could hook up to a riding mover and tow to a new section of lawn each day or so. The pig tractor would have to be heavy enough to keep them from rooting up panels and escaping, but also within the towing limits of one of our many riding mowers. Because I wanted to encourage the pigs to destroy the lawn, I wanted to make the pen a bit smaller than I would have normally liked. We decided on 10 x 10 feet for the pen, giving each pig about 50 square feet to live in (still totally adequate by most standards).

To build our tractor we had planned to buy hog panels and use them, but my parents offered free used fencing and boards if we wanted them, so we decided to patch together a pen from reclaimed materials from their farm. It was not beautiful, and it had flaws, but it worked.

I did some research on breeds and found a few local listings for piglets that would be weaned when we were ready. I settled on two Large Black x Berkshire piglets. I really enjoy the idea of heritage breeds and wanted to try something that I hadn’t seen before. One thing I was a little nervous about was that Large Black pigs are known for being “grazers” and being more gentle on the land than other breeds. I was hoping their Berkshire ancestry and the smaller pen size would help them want to get their snouts dirty.

They were born in May and weaned a bit later than the normal 8 weeks, which was totally fine by us because we procrastinated getting the pen together until literally the day we brought them home. This meant less feed we’d have to buy and they would be off to a great start gaining weight. I brought them home in August and we forecasted an early December harvest.

I brought the pigs home in a large dog crate, and it took us a long time to get them out. When they finally did leave the crate, they galloped around with little happy squeals, eating grass and attempting to root, then passed out from our long drive.

It took them a little while to properly annihilate the grass where we placed them. About a week for their first patch. Then it became quicker as they got bigger with just a few days needed between patches.

Then one day, one of our pigs mysteriously dropped dead. She had been a totally healthy pig, no signs of illness the day prior. The best we could figure was that with the wild swings of temperatures, she had gotten pneumonia. It looked like she went peacefully, when I found her I thought she was just sleeping. Her sister went totally ballistic when we took her body out of the pen. It was traumatic for all of us.

The next day, the sister pig had still not totally calmed down yet. Right around morning feeding, she spooked and pushed right through the closed pen gate. She took off running across our property with me in close pursuit. She eerily stopped to sniff at the place we had buried the dead pig, then bolted again. To add more stress, this was all about 10 minutes before we had to leave to go to work. She ran onto the highway, then got honked at by a log truck before she did a 180 and ran right back towards me before diverting and running into the blackberry thicket. Our neighbor helped keep an eye on her location while we tried to lure her out with food. My husband, in his work suit, was ready to tackle her when she came out, but she was a speedy little porker and blazed right by all of us and out of sight.

I finally gave up, knowing we had an hour commute to work that we were already late for. The best we could do was leave her food and water in the pen and hope she went back. We worried all day that she would cause a car wreck. When we finally got home, hubby ran inside to change into pig wrangling clothes. I heard a rustle in the blueberry bushes and to my utter disbelief, the pig was in the blueberry patch happily grunting in the shade. I slowly approached and she got excited and squealed for food. We slowly moved the dog crate to the gate for the blueberry patch, threw some food in, and closed the door behind her. And that’s how we caught the pig.

It’s a funny story, now that it’s over. We ratchet strapped the pen shut and never opened that gate again, opting to crawl over the fence instead. Just to be safe…

By losing one of our pigs, we did lose 1/2 of our tilling power and it again took about a week to till one patch. But then the rains came. It’s amazing what a few inches of rain can do. In just a couple of days, our sole pig was up to her chest in mud begging to get moved to higher ground. It was a miserable business, very dirty and slippery, but she was quite delighted to start working on a new patch of grass when it was all over.

We had considered having the pig till up a pasture to sow with good sheep forage for later on, but after a few months of our pig working on the garden site, we decided not to create a pasture after all. Hubs couldn’t stand to look at pig wallows and mud all over our front yard until pasture grass came in. We’ll figure out something different for that project in the spring.

The garden space turned out excellent. The pig was easily able to till down 6+ inches when we had dry weather and over 12 inches when it was wet. She ate all of the plants and other organic things she found on her way down. She also unearthed a few treasures like shards of glass, a baseball, and an antique spoon. It was really nice to see our leftovers actually get eaten too.

I tried to find out how we could get her to a butcher place. The plan was to borrow my parents’ horse trailer, but a lack of time and bad weather made the hour drive to the butcher a no-go. I also looked into a mobile slaughter company, but alas, they did not service our location. So, out of options and with some trepidation, we decided to slaughter and butcher our own pig.

I have experience butchering chickens and rabbits, but no animal as large as a pig. Reading online and reviewing my copy of The Ultimate Guide to Home Butchering helped calm some of our fears. We enlisted the help of my eager-to-learn brother-in-law and embarked on our journey.
  Everything went better than expect and we added a lot of beautiful pork to our freezer. I highly advise getting a good set of really sharp butcher knives, gambrel, and vacuum packer, as these made the job easier. We didn’t realize it at the time, but getting pigs that would be ready for butchering in the winter was a huge plus when we decided to butcher at home. Most sources recommend hanging the carcass for at least overnight in a fridge to let it chill properly. We do not have a fridge that big, but the outside temperatures were exactly fridge-like, so it worked out perfectly.

We really enjoyed having a pig, learning how to take care of it, and feeling the pride of filling our freezer with all of our own efforts. After it all, we decided that we do not want to do another pig project for a while, at least not while we’re both working full-time. We also voted that for our next pigs, we will build a permanent pen that won’t break on us. While the reclaimed materials were nice cost-wise, the pen really took a beating from getting dragged around and from the pig herself.

All in all, I think we succeeded quite well on the mission to till a garden space and the pork was a huge bonus!

 

Raising a Puppy while Working: Our Schedule and Housebreaking

I had a puppy once. When I was 10. I will get into all of the things I did wrong with that one in another post, but suffice it to say I knew when I got my next puppy, things would be different.

13 years and a B.S. in Animal Sciences later, that day finally came.

I am a research junkie and before I make any decisions I typically browse the web to see what other people have done, how it worked out, and what I could do for best success. Having my puppy was no different, especially since I was also working a full-time job which involved me being away from home for about 12 hours a day.

My research uncovered that basically, if you get a puppy with a full-time job, you are Satan and should be shot. People were all super passionate that if you had a full-time job, you should not get a dog, let alone a puppy.

I read all the arguments: potty training nightmares, hiring help, separation anxiety, general destruction and mayhem, the puppy’s well-being, etc. I found almost no success stories without people shelling out huge sums for daycare and drop in walkers or taking weeks off from work. Anyone who asked about getting a puppy with a job on forums was quickly roasted to a little charcoal crisp. I realized that I probably shouldn’t get one at this point in my life.

Nevertheless, when I happened to stumble across a sweet little Golden Retriever/Labrador pup, the logic part of my brain went out the window.

Forget “probably shouldn’t”, we NEED him.

I was determined to prove everyone wrong and even more determined to prove to myself that I could raise a well-mannered wonderful dog. I re-read (for at least the fifth time) Dr. Ian Dunbar’s book Before and After Getting Your Puppy. I got a good sturdy crate (or three, is that excessive?) and a plethora of Kong and stuffable toys. I scheduled four days off from work. Then we brought little Jackson home.

After work on a Thursday, I drove down to pick up Jackson as an 8-week-old pup. I had put a deposit down when he was about 3 weeks old, and we had already met him when he was 5 weeks. He was the cutest damn thing.

But cute or not, we couldn’t cuddle him all day. We knew that in a couple short days he would be left home alone for over 8 hours, and we had to start preparing him for that, stat.

Determined to crate-train, and on a tight timeline, we did not have the luxury of clicker training him to the crate or easing him into it. He had to know this was how it was and that the crate was the best place in the world!

As soon as I got home with him on the first day, he got a potty break, 30 minutes of play, then he went into the crate with a food-stuffed Kong. He did not go in quite willingly, but didn’t put up much of a fight once he saw the food in there. He didn’t cry much, but any noises he did make fell on deaf ears.

After about an hour we went out for potty and lo-and-behold he went! He got lots of praise and treats immediately for eliminating. That was our routine for the rest of the night, 30 minutes supervised (like a hawk supervises) play then in the crate for an hour. By bed time we had one last potty then we brought the crate to our bedroom next to the bed and he went in for the night. He cried for about 15 minutes, then went into a dead sleep.

At about 12:00 I heard some whining and got my slippers on for a potty trip. Without a word, I took him out of his crate, carried him to the door, grabbed some treats and went straight outside. “Jackson, go potty” was met with elimination. He received treats and quiet praise, then was carried back to the crate. He cried again for about 10 minutes, then heavenly silence. Again at about 4:00, at his soft whimpering, we repeated.

The next day, we repeated the schedule of 30 minutes of play, 1 hour of crate time with and without food in the crate. When there wasn’t food, he cried for a while before falling asleep. If he was asleep after an hour went by, I woke him up to take him to potty. He went nearly every time. If there was no potty, it was back to the crate for 10 minutes before another try.

At night, we repeated the same thing as before with roughly the same wake up times. He didn’t cry when we put him in his crate anymore. I think the reason for his quick transition was the fact that he was the last puppy to go home, so when we finally got him he had already been sleeping alone but now he got to sleep in a crate next to us so it was actually better.

The next day, Saturday, we started getting him used to his playpen, or what Dr. Dunbar calls his “long-term confinement area”. He quickly shredded the puppy pad and hated seeing us leave the room, a reaction he never had while in the crate, but he eventually settled down. We made an effort to consciously look away from him when he started making a fuss and would only take him out when he was quiet and sitting. In retrospect we probably should have played with him and fed him more in the pen to make it less scary, but he got it eventually.

A stuffed Kong: the ultimate distraction

He would stay in the play pen when we went out to do yard work or farm chores, but no matter what, we took him outside on the hour to potty. Then he got his treat and well-deserved play session.

So hard to refuse that little face!

We also interspersed a few crated time-outs for food and our own sanity.

That night we gave no more food or water after 8:00. We only got up once to potty.

The next day was more of the same, but the intervals were closer to 1.5 hours in his play pen. He received lots of stuffed toys before we left the room, which he did not mind in the least. When we sat down to eat dinner, he was making a fuss, trying to climb over the wire playpen. Then we heard shrieking that made my husband and I both jump up, he had gotten his paw stuck in the gate of the pen and could not free it.

Our plan had been to keep him in the playpen the whole day we were at work, however if he could injure himself in it or get stuck, it was a plan that had to be rethought.

We decided to keep the playpen for day-use when we were home, and use our bathroom for a puppy room when we were gone at work. We knew in either case, he was not going to be able to hold his bladder until we got home, we knew there would be a mess. We also hated our bathroom and knew a remodel was not so far down the road.

The first day back at work was terrifying for me. I stuffed all of the Kongs we had and picked up everything in the bathroom that he could get into, including the shower curtain! Then we shut him in and left.

While we were gone, I constantly wondered what he was doing and if he was okay. When we finally got home, the house was dead silent. I was certain he was dead.

He wasn’t. Opening the bathroom door I found a happy wiggly puppy thrilled that we were back. There was somewhat of a mess in the bathroom, but he kept it all to one corner. We went out immediately to go potty and then played the night away.

And that was our routine for months. On weekends when we were home, we didn’t play with him non-stop. He had a lot of time in his crate and in his playpen. We had to have him know that we weren’t everything in the world, that he’d be perfectly okay while we were gone, and that we’d always come back.

As far as chewing went, Kongs and nylabones were our go-tos as they were the least destructible. I would measure out his kibble each day and stuff about 3/4 of it into his Kongs for while we were gone. He would get the last bit as training treats or in Kongs when we got home.

As he was able to start mastering a tightly stuffed kibble Kong, we added in wet food, trickier treats, and started freezing them. I don’t know exactly how long it took him to get through all of the Kongs we gave him each day, but he seemed content. He started with a medium puppy Kong, a large puppy Kong, and a Kong activity ball. I would also give him a piece of carrot or apple to chew on and a frozen cube of yogurt, oatmeal, or wet food. After about a month I added in a Kong tire and a dense hollow rubber bone, and then around five months he got two more large adult Kongs. He did chew a little on the trim in the bathroom, but considering how much time he had every day to be destructive, I’m okay with it!

Jackson was officially potty-trained at about 3 months old. He had a total of maybe four accidents in the house (all our fault for not following the crating schedule). The magic happened suddenly when we had friends over one day and one of them said, “hey, your dog’s scratching at the door, does he need to go out?” Jackson must have thought he was king of the world with all of the praise he got for telling us he had to go outside. And to us, he was. It was like a switch was flipped. He never had another accident.

Raising a puppy while working full time is possible!

Now at nearly 6 months old, Jackson seems quite comfortable with his schedule and has excellent house manners. In the morning he knows that the bathroom is a wonderful place full of yummy stuffed toys and he runs straight there after his morning potty break.

I know we still have a long way to go, but I think we’re on the right track and things are going great!

The Dirt on Potato Towers

Potato Tower.jpeg

This is the chronicle of my trial with potato towers this year. I am by no means an expert, and there were many things I know I could improve on, so this will hopefully get you started in the right direction for success!

I saw this idea come across Pinterest and was very interested in it. When I was a child, my parents once planted purple potatoes in our small family garden. Without fail, year after year, we would find several “volunteer” plants that came up from potatoes we missed harvesting. It wasn’t necessarily a bad problem to have, but somewhat irritating nonetheless.

I decided to attempt the potato tower to help ease this issue in my garden. Growing potatoes in a specially set aside column of soil would prevent errant potatoes from colonizing. I also like that you can specially designate the soil for the potatoes so it doesn’t strip your other garden soil of nutrients in a particular area. Then you can sprinkle the used soil throughout the garden or keep it saved and just amend it again next year.

Materials
Poultry netting (smaller holes are better!)
Gloves
Wire cutters
Straw
Soil
Seed potatoes
First, I built the towers out of poultry netting. Cut a strip of netting as big as you want your tower to be. I found mine were a little too big, the potatoes didn’t seem set tubers too far from the edge of the tower, so there was a bit of wasted space. Take the ends of the wire and twist them together to make a secure attachment and turn the netting into a tube.

I included a bottom on my towers as the vole situation in my area is a little outrageous and I knew they would go for the helpless tasty tubers. I wasn’t sure if they would squeeze through the holes, but tried it anyway and didn’t see any evidence of critters.

I recommend a sharp pair of wire cutters and some poke-resistant gloves to help prevent scratches as the netting has a strong tendency to roll up on you.

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The soil in the garden I was using is a very heavy clay, which is great for nutrients but horrible for giving potatoes room to grow and breathe. I combined a few different types of soil and amendments, including potting soil and steer manure, to make a nutrient rich soil with good drainage. Most of the bags I used were left over from other projects. I mixed them all in a large wheelbarrow with about 1/3 of the mix being the native clay soil.

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And yes, the folks at the feed store get a good chuckle loading my farm rig. It’s always covered in hay and straw.

Take your time when deciding where to put your potato tower, try to give it as much sun as possible from the most angles possible because the potatoes will be spread around the tower.

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When you’ve decided where to put your tower, it’s time to start assembling! Take your straw and put about a loosely packed 2 inch border around the inside edge. Try to use the least amount of straw possible, but enough to keep the soil from falling out of the wire. We want the sun the be able to reach the potatoes!

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Cut the seed potatoes to include at least two eyes per piece. I did this a day or two before planting, as many sources recommend. Place the pieces around the potato tower, then cover with about 6 inches of soil and place another layer. I alternated placement so no potato had another one right above it on the next layer. On the top layer of potatoes, put a nice piece in the middle of the tower. Cover the top with about 3-4 inches of soil.

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Water the tower well, be sure to get all of the sides where the potatoes have been placed. As the potatoes grow, heap more soil on top to encourage more tubers to grow on the top plants. Keep the tower damp, but not overly wet.

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Now the waiting begins! I checked the towers a little compulsively for the first few weeks looking for any sign of growth. They did finally poke through some places along the tower edge!

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And everything in my garden turned into a jungle this year. With moving to our new house my garden suffered severe neglect, but the potatoes didn’t seem to mind that much.

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Harvest when the plants die back. I harvested by tipping the towers on their sides and rummaging through the soil to expose the potatoes. When it got harder to move the soil, I pushed on the tower with my foot to loosen it. You can also get the bottom potatoes from the bottom of the tower by removing the piece of netting there, mine just fell off so it was easy.

Overall, I was pretty happy with my towers. I hardly looked at mine once they started growing. They got watered maybe three times by me, then only by the mercy of Mother Nature. Unless they get more attention, I wouldn’t recommend Russets for towers. Mine didn’t get as big as I would’ve liked, but hey they could work for you! The red potatoes were plenty usable, so with a little more TLC from me next year it could work even better!

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So all in all, were the potato towers more efficient that growing straight in the ground? Maybe. The voles didn’t get to them so I didn’t have any loss. For how many cubic feet of soil I used, the potato yield was probably pretty average or maybe on the low end, but my input as far as care went was bare bones.

Would I try them again? Yes! They had decent yields, so I am happy on that front. I really liked being able to just tip the towers over to harvest versus digging and accidentally slicing through the tubers. I also liked being able to water one tower opposed to a long row. Next year, with more care, I should be able to get the towers perfected!

Homemade Granola

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My mom makes the very best granola from scratch, perfect sweetness and combination of spices. This is her recipe. I love it so much because it’s so flexible, you can change out nuts and fruit as you feel like it so it stays fresh and interesting with each new batch. I usually double the batch. This recipe, as is, makes about 8 servings.

Mom’s Granola
1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts
1/3 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)
1/3 cup hulled sunflower seeds
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/8 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cranberry juice (sweetened)
2 cups rolled oats
Ground cinnamon
Ground ginger
1 cup dried cranberries

Substitutes:
Other great nut options are chopped almonds, pistachios, or walnuts. Other dried fruits include raisins, blueberries, goji berries, or currants. I also mix up what fruit juice I use, I often do a cranberry or pomegranate blend. Feel free to go wild! Experiment and make it yours.

This time around I used half cranberries and half chopped apricots. I also tossed in a few tablespoons of golden flax seeds because I needed to use them up. My mom also uses hemp hearts and really likes that.

Directions:
Mix nuts on a large baking sheet and toast in oven at 400 until golden, about 10 minutes. Combine liquids and sugar in a large pot on stove top. When sugar dissolves, remove from heat. Combine nuts, oats, and spices (to taste) into the liquid. Mix thoroughly and allow liquid to be absorbed.

When there’s no more liquid in the bottom of the pot, spread mixture evenly on cookie sheet and bake at 325 for about 30 minutes (or until mostly dry), stirring after 15. Add dried fruit, combine, and bake another 10 minutes. Allow granola to cool, ensure it is dry, then place in airtight container.

It’ll make your kitchen smell heavenly! With a blend of of cinnamon and maple notes and the delightful crunch of toasted nuts, this granola is a great way to start the day. Enjoy with milk or yogurt and fresh fruit.

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Pancakes from Scratch

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One of our Sunday rituals is having chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. Once I found out how easy it was to make pancakes from scratch, I never bought the mix again!

I modified this recipe from Food.com.
Serves two

Ingredients
3/4 cup flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 egg
3/4 cup milk (plus a couple extra tablespoons if necessary)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Mini chocolate chips
Butter

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the wet ingredients. Try to use as few mixing stirs as possible to combine the ingredients, some lumps are fine. I like to let my batter rest for about five minutes while I prep the pan.

Use a small amount of butter to coat pan bottom, I usually just rub the end of the stick around the pan a couple of times. Heat the pan on medium heat until butter starts to bubble. Pour in first pancake.

Add chocolate chips to the top of the pancake, or whatever nuts or berries you prefer. When the pancake batter starts to bubble around the edges, flip the pancake.

Re-coat the pan with butter for each pancake, and reduce the heat a few clicks once the pan heats up.

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Buying Our Home: Part II

Okay. So when I left you last, we had got our offer accepted on our first house pending some inspections.

After phone calls galore, I was able to find out that the previous owners had done some extensive work on the well to annihilate the e. coli problem. They had installed a UV light to kill all of the bacteria and had some other work done to prevent future colonies. We found the receipts later and the work on the well was nearly $2000.

My father, skilled in woodworking, was able to look at the photos of the dry rotted floor joists and safely conclude that we would be able to fix it, but with the limited crawl space area, we would have to tear up the floors downstairs in their entirety. We did not have a problem with this, as our inspector discovered a couple small patches of sub-floor were drywall… Which is bad. Really bad. And the carpet was from the 70s…

Our inspector was super thorough and most of the issues seemed manageable to us. We would have to clean the gutters, divert the downspouts, fix the leaky roof on the shop, and a few other odds and ends, but we figure that’s what your 20s are for, right?

The inspector did say that there was virtually no water pressure in the sinks/shower and the water was brown. Uh oh.
After more emails and phone calls, we discovered that after extensive well servicing, the water can become very muddy and clog the filters. This is exactly what had happened, and shouldn’t be a problem once a new filter is installed.

So after all of our questions were answered, we removed our contingency on our offer and were ready to proceed with the deal.

The next step was to lock in our mortgage with the bank. This is where the real circus began. I was the official printer/scanner master and was responsible for getting everything signed, by the hubby, and sending back to the appropriate parties. This felt like a full time job. We got very little notice about what needed to happen and had a vast number of documents we had to arrange including explanations of where certain deposits came from, why we wanted to commute an hour to and from the house every day, and I even had to provide proof that one of my deposits was from inheritance from my grandfather who had passed the previous year.

We finally got everything in, and then the waiting game began. We never seemed to hear anything from the bank, which I personally found to be the most frustrating part of the whole process. We didn’t want to seem annoying, but we felt very in the dark about everything that was going on. Our Realtor was very patient and kept reminding us that we were never a bother so we kept in good contact with him to keep us in the loop.

One of my good friends who had bough a house a few weeks before us said, “don’t hold your breath for closing”. We knew the process was rocky at best so we tried to be patient, hoping to hear anything about progress being made.

We got anxious as estimated closing dates came and went, and about two weeks later I called our Realtor again and he said they had decided to start signing the next day!

What?!

So began the mad scramble to get time off from work to go to the title company to sign in the morning. We had to get the funds wired to the title company and get everything in order. To make it even more fun, our Realtor had a vacation scheduled and he needed to be at the airport by 10, so if the 8 am closing didn’t work out, we would be flying solo, which was terrifying.

The title company had everything very well organized and signing took about an hour. It was all downhill from there. After our wire of the down payment and closing costs went through we were able to pick up the keys that day.

It felt so good to have those keys in our hands at the end of it! We’ve both decided we don’t want to buy another house for a long, long time, which is fine because we have plenty of space and things to do at the new house!

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Our new house!

 

Join us on our big adventure of being homeowners, more posts to come!

Breeding Rabbits

Breeding RabbitsSo you want to breed rabbits? It doesn’t take a mastermind to get results, but there are a few things I learned the hard way that I wish I knew when I started.

Know what your end goal is. If you’re breeding just to get meat rabbits, then purebred lineage and registering offspring is not critical. If you’re in love with a particular breed, aim to breed the best examples of that breed with the best socialization. One of my personal goals was to create good stock of a certain color variety of my breed.

Pay for good breeding stock, or pay later when you have weird issues from the “cheap” rabbits. When I began breeding Jersey Woolies in high school, I got a great deal on a trio of rabbits. And they turned out to be some of the worst animals in my whole barn. They had poor conformation, poor fertility, poor socialization, and the works. Only one of them contributed anything worthwhile to my breeding program, namely that she happened to carry a very elusive recessive allele that I was after. Other traits that were introduced were not as desirable- long ears, poor dispositions, etc.

The best rabbit I had I first saw when I was at a show. She was being held upside down by a three year old and had zero reaction to it. When she was righted and set back down, she calmly began eating hay. She was a great show rabbit, a wonderful pet, and threw a few nice babies. I spent more on her than all three of the “great deal” rabbits, and she was worth it.

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When your doe is due, check often that no babies are out of the box. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve found baby rabbits on the floor- nearly chilled to death. When mom jumps out of the nest box, sometimes the babies don’t let go and get pulled out. Outside of their warm fur-lined nest, the naked little babies chill very quickly and will die if you don’t find them fast enough. Some cages are equipped with closer wires or a plate around the bottom edge to prevent babies from falling out of the cage. Keep a very close eye on litters less than a few weeks old, check several times a day to make sure the babies are all in the box, alive, and fat.

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Know that people who breed rabbits are generally super friendly and want to help out newbies like yourself. If you find another person who breeds the breed you want to, talk to them! Go to rabbit shows. Yes, rabbit shows, they’re a real thing. The American Rabbit Breeders Association (ARBA) is the AKC of rabbits. They register breeds and put on shows where you can go view live examples of nearly every breed there is!

Actually breeding the rabbits is very easy. Take the doe to the buck’s cage, or put them together in a neutral pen (does can be territorial). Let them do their business. No seasonality, no special requirements. They shouldn’t need help.

There is something to be said about cross breeding for meat breeds. The babies are often faster growing and more healthy than their parents due to a phenomenon called hybrid vigor. I commonly crossed my Palomino doe to a New Zealand buck and their offspring did very well in the market classes of several county fairs.

If you are planning on selling your meat breed baby rabbits, try to plan litters to be born in advance of your local fair. There are always 4-Her’s looking for good market rabbits, at least in this neck of the woods. The two main age categories for market rabbits at the fair are less than 10 weeks old, fryers, or 10 weeks to 6 months old, roasters.

Big, beautiful, very pregnant, Palomino doe
A very pregnant Palomino doe
Big, fat, cross bred babies
Big, fat, cross bred babies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Provide her with a nest box and plenty of hay around day 25-26 after she’s been bred. Nest boxes can be metal or wooden. Mine were always wood because we happened to have the materials on hand. KW Cages has a great page here that goes over more nest box information and sizing.

She’ll have her babies in about 28-31 days after breeding. Babies are born blind and with their ears closed. They get cuter exponentially each day! Check the box every day after the doe pulls her fur, when you reach in and feel babies, do a count and make sure they are all still moving. If you feel any babies that aren’t moving, pull them out. If they’re dead, dispose of them. Also dispose of any placentas that the doe did not eat, they’re about the size of a big blueberry, you’ll know it when you see it. Another thing to check for is that the babies are all intact and not injured. Sometimes overzealous mothers can chew off ears or appendages trying to clean up the babies, or even eat them if they are new mothers.

Opening their eyes around day 10, they’ll start venturing out of the box well before 3 weeks old. Change the hay lining of the next box when it is soiled, I try to keep the fur in as long as possible.

Once the babies are coming out of the box, be sure to handle them every day. This will make them tolerate being handled for grooming, showing, and most importantly cuddles.

Good luck!

Rabbits

Any questions I didn’t answer? Ask them in the comments below!

Quick Spinach and Shrimp Linguine

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This is one of my go-to quick meals when I’m in a time-pinch (or just being lazy). If I have fresh bell peppers I will chop half of one and add it in when I start cooking the onions and garlic.

I usually make small batches because I am my household’s only shrimp-eater. The leftovers make a great easy lunch for work the next day (and bonus, the amount of garlic masks the shrimp smell so the coworkers won’t complain!).

Takes about 15 minutes, depending on chopping speed and efficiency.
Makes 2 servings.

Ingredients:
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups fresh spinach, roughly chopped
12-14 large peeled, deveined shrimp (frozen works great!)
About 2 oz. dry linguine noodles
1 tablespoons salted butter
Old Bay seasoning
Salt & pepper

In a medium pot, start to boil about two liters of water.
Coat raw shrimp in Old Bay seasoning in a small bowl and set aside.
Chop/mince onions, garlic, spinach, and bell pepper, if using.
Add linguine noodles to boiling water and cook for about 7-9 minutes.

In a medium sauce pan, add half the butter and turn up to medium heat. When butter begins to bubble, add chopped onions and minced garlic and then season with freshly ground pepper. Saute until onions become translucent. Add spinach and about two tablespoons of water to steam the leaves. When nearly wilted, add shrimp and cook until pink and firm.

Strain noodles and add them to the sauce pan. Add the remaining butter, salt to taste, and mix with other ingredients to coat noodles.

Serve it up and enjoy!

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Recipe analyzed by Calorie Count.