Fiber Friends Mobiles – Corgis! Songbirds! Happy Dreams!

I packed up Chrissy’s mobile today, but i almost had to keep it for myself! A few times a year i create a special Fiber Friend that’s just too cool for words and i want to steal it for my own….. when Chrissy contacted me requesting a mobile with 3 custom corgis, songbirds, and a chipmunk i KNEW i was about to make something truly special. I am so happy to have created something special for her to hang over her baby’s crib, celebrating her first babies and destined to become a beloved family heirloom. And before you say ‘wait a sec, Pembrokes don’t come in blue merle’ i can assure you that Chrissy’s dogs are truly stunning and i matched their unique colors  nearly to a T. (You can click on the image to view it larger).
Custom Corgi Mobile by Fiber Friends Mobiles by Fiber Friends - not just for babies!Mobiles by Fiber Friends - not just for babies! Custom Corgi Mobile by Fiber Friends Custom Corgi Mobile by Fiber Friends Custom Corgi Mobile by Fiber Friends

Are you as in love as i am? You can read lots more about how to order a custom mobile at my mobiles page over at wwwFiberFriendsOnline.com. I usually have a waiting list and i happily accept installment payments. Let’s see what beautiful mobile we can dream up for you, and inspire many years of happy dreams in your nursery (or your home! – my mobiles aren’t just for babies after all ;) )

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Filed under About, Felting, Fiber Friends, Fibers

DIY Cold Frame Using Straw Bales

When we moved to the Kings Valley area, we knew we’d have some challenges ahead. The Willamette Valley is a gardener’s dream, save the dry summers – but we’re several hundred feet higher and in a bit of a climactic pocket resulting in about one month’s shorter growing season. That’s a lot of time when you’re a tropical plant like a tomato!

We technically have a ‘hoop house’ where our garden resides, but without the expensive repairs and plastic needed to get it insulated it’s not much good to us! So: In order to get a head start on our vegetable garden I needed to use some Miranda ingenuity! Enter the DIY cold frame!

DIY Cold Frame for under $30!

We have a pretty big house that we purchased with the original 1978 windows still in place. One of the first lovely expenses we had was replacing all those windows with more efficient, modern models. I’m not one to waste usable materials, so we have all those old windows in storage! I had a plan for the sliding glass doors from day one: green house! Lacking the time or construction savvy at this time, i skipped the full on greenhouse this year and opted for a more affordable, easily assembled, temporay cold frame. And it’s working great!

DIY Cold Frame

  • 6 straw bales ($4 each at my local feed store)
  • 4 pieces of rebar
  • Mallet
  • 2 big old sliding glass doors – if you haven’t been lucky enough to spend a few thousand dollars on new windows recently, i’ll bet you could find a set at your local Habitat for Humanity Re-Store!
  • Chunks of 2x4s

DIY Cold Frame for under $30!Nothing fancy about this assembly! First i figured out how much space the doors would need and laid out the hay bales accordingly. I then malletted the rebar pieces into the west ends of each bale on the long sides. I also laid down some feed bags inside of the cold frame to keep down some of the weeds. Carefully place the doors on top of the hay (get a helper – those suckers are heavy) and place the chunks of lumber near the east corners of each door. The rebar keeps the doors from sliding when you lift them up and the chunks of wood act like adjustable props. You can keep it totally closed on the cold nights and prop them up pretty high during warm days. It’s early May here on my damp and chilly farm and i already have a ton of greens germinated in the cold frame and transplanted to the garden and all my summer cucurbits and herbs are on their way to sprouting in time for planting just after our last average frost date. Woo hoo! i’m actually ahead for once!!

Extend your gardening season with a cold frame!

Work with the materials YOU have on hand – adjust the size to fit whatever glass you can scrounge and enjoy the extension of the season without breaking the budget!

Do you start your own seeds? Do you use a cold frame or do you prefer indoor grow lights?

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Filed under Birdsong Farm, DIY, Farming, Gardening, Tools, Vegetables

All Wire Rabbit “Tractor” for Safely Pastured Rabbits

Pasturing rabbits SAFELY

I raise New Zealand rabbits for meat, breeding stock, and participation in the occasional rabbit show. One of the most common misconceptions i run into from folks not used to rabbits as livestock is “aren’t they unhappy in wire cages?” The answer is: no, they are not. My rabbits are safely housed in a well ventilated barn, in hanging all wire cages that are large enough for them to stretch out, play, make babies, have babies, snuggle with babies, and romp about as babies. All wire cages ensure a sanitary, easily cleaned environment which contributes to excellent health and the barn is secure against predators. Certainly, all rabbits would love to burrow in the dirt, run for long distances and chomp on grass – but i care too much for the health and safety of my rabbits to expose them to the elements, predators, germs and potentially toxic weeds.

I had a conversation with a woman recently who was judging my use of wire cages pretty hard. She told me a story about a woman she knew who ‘rescued’ rabbits from the shelter and let them free range on her property. “They were so happy, just romping around, hanging out on the porch, then one would go missing so she’d replace it.” Ahem – go missing? As in: eaten by a coyote???  I don’t know about you – but if i were a rabbit, i would much rather live my life in safety, being fed, watered and doted upon by a human, and then meeting my end happy and unaware of what was going on around me vs running in terror for my life and being ripped apart partially alive, by an unfeeling predatory beast. Right???

That being said: rabbits can be great ‘employees’ in the garden and why not give a litter destined for market the chance to romp and play while they grow, especially when they can do my mowing for me and they can do so in the safety of a a moveable pen? Enter, my all wire rabbit (or duck or chicken) tractor!

The construction of this tractor is incredibly basic (it better be as i am a scrimcoacher extraordinaire and do not excel at accurate building methods). I used the old wire from my hanging cages after i replaced all the floors with new wire but you can purchase wire new. The best wire is heavy guage that isn’t saggy – and that can be quite expensive BUT if you find some old, rusty cages on sale on Craiglist, snap them up and use the parts!  Here’s how i made my rabbit tractor:

Building a rabbit tractorBuilding a rabbit tractorBuilding a rabbit tractorBuilding a rabbit tractor1. Build the base. I used 1x2s to create a rectangular frame, added triangular blocks in the corners and pinned it all together using my nail gun and long nails. My tractor is 8 feet long by 4 feet wide, to match the dimensions of the wire i had on hand. Cut an 8 foot long section of 4 foot high horse fence (the stuff with 2×4 inch holes) and use your staple gun to attach it to the base. Flip it over so the fencing is on the ground and ta-da, ready for step 2.

2. Take 2 8 foot long sections of 30 to 36 inch wide rabbit cage floor wire and attach together using j-clips and j-clip plyers. Cut a square of cage wire, 4×4 feet, then cut in half diagonally. These will be your ends. Again attach to the other wire with j-clips

3. Using your staple gun, attach the bottoms of each side of this shape to the outsides of the 1x2s. They’ll over hang a bit so just bash them in to fit. We’re scrimcoaching here, people. Make it work.

4. Cut a door. I made my door big enough for me to climb into. i think it’s like 1.5×3 feet or something. Smaller is fine, too – but you’ll need to catch those bunnies occasionally and it’s nice to be able to get all the way in. Wrap the wire from the cut hole back onto itself to make a non-stabby hole then cut another new piece of wire that’s at least 2 inches larger than the hole. Attach to the top of the hole with j-clips and get some door latches to secure the bottom of the door. I need to buy my latches so for now i’m using old springs and wire hooks.

Pasturing Rabbits SAFELY in a mobile 'tractor'5. Protect them from the elements! Using a section of heavy weight plastic, staple it (with a regular staple gun) to one side of the base, then the other, pulling it tight enough that it won’t catch the wind. Using your origami skills, fold it to fit the back triangle and staple it down along the back. Now add a later of shade cloth to this to protect them from the sun. Sunstroke kills buns! I used a bunch of strips cuz that’s what i had – one 3 foot piece would be much nicer. I like to cover about half/1/3 of the tractor.

6. Add a handle. Grab a length of heavy weight wire and a piece of pvc or old hose. Poke the wire close to the front corner through the cage wire and around the base, twist. Slide the pvc or hose onto the loose and and then secure this end on the other corner.

7. Add a wheel or two. So far i’m doing okay with just dragging this thing as it is super light, but a wheel would be nice. I haven’t gotten mine added on yet, so i’ll let you figure that out for yourself. ;)  Note: Be very careful when moving your tractor! Bunny legs will fall through the holes and you don’t want to break anyone. Lift the tractor up, let them sort themselves then slowly drag watching them to be sure they’re not stuck.

That’s it!  Really, it’s easy – i just like to use lots of words to overly complicate things. ;)  Waterers can be poked through the front end and attached like normal. I use a small chicken feeder hung with baling twine in the covered area for their pellets. Hang so that it’s just above ground level.

Insert bunnies! Watch them have the time of their lives! Second note: always be sure and give your young bunnies some green grass in small amounts, adding more each day, when still with mama and before turning out to pasture. Too much green grass can make rabbits, especially young rabbits, very sick and can even kill them.

Pastured rabbits in the garden

I designed my garden with large rows between my garden beds specifically for pasturing chickens, ducks and rabbits to allow them to naturally mow and side dress my gardens with their manure. I also find them quite entertaining and have some lawn chairs set up to watch this ‘bunny tv’ in the evenings when i’m bored. Great fun!

And the best thing about this: they’re safe! This pen is not fully predator safe, and you should only use it in a fenced in yard or other area OR just use it as a day pen for your adult rabbits to get some grass and sun and then return them to the safety of their all wire cages in the barn for the evening.

Do you pasture any of your livestock? Do you allow them to ‘free range’ or do you protect them in a tractor or with electrified netting?

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Filed under Birdsong Farm, Livestock, Rabbits

Make Ground Meat Jerky Without a Jerky Press

I’m the kind of woman who invests in her kitchen tools. I LOVE my Excaliber dehydrator. I couldn’t live without my All American Pressure Cooker/Canner. And my meat grinder/sausage stuffer? It’s the love of my life. That being said, before those investments, i was a scrimcoacher – a fenagler, fudger and make-doer willing to get creative when lacking a certain tool. So, when i decided to grind up some old rabbit meat and attempt making ground meat jerky, i had to tap into my creative scrounger skills – of all the tools in my pantry, a jerky Press is NOT one of them!

Homemade jerky using ground meat

Making jerky is super easy, especially when you have a nice dehydrator (though jerky can also be made in a slow oven or smoker). It’s generally as easy as slice, marinate, drain, dehydrate. Poof: delicious, nutritious, packable protein. But what about making jerky with ground meat instead of whole muscle? Pretty easy too, and no special tools required. For my “jerky press” i used:

  1.  An old gallon sized ziplock bag
  2. 2 clip boards
  3. rolling pin

That’s it! I made two batches of jerky: “Devil’s Kiss” using a delicious and SUPER spicy jerky flavoring dust from ButcherPacker.com, and horseradish/soy sauce using ingredients from my fridge. Following the ratio on the flavor packet for the Devil’s Kiss and including the correct ratio of salt to meat for the other, i just mixed the spices with the ground meat in a bowl and got squishing!

How to press ground meat jerky without a jerky press

  1. Find an old ziplock bag and cut it along the sides so that it can open flat. Do not cut the bottom!
  2. Find 2 clip boards, paint sticks, or other thin pieces of wood/metal that measure about 1/8, 3/16ths of an inch
  3. Grab your rolling pin, or a bottle of wine, or a fat piece of pvc, etc
  4. Put ziplock bag on your counter, with the top flap opened towards you. Place a fistful of meat on the bag, cover with top flap of bag and rest your clip boards on top, sandwiching the meat inside.
  5. Pat the meat flat with your hands a bit, then roll toward you with the pin so that it squishes down against the bottom of bag. Roll away from you and outwards, just like a pie crust or cookie doe, keeping your rolling pin on top of the clipboards.
  6. Continue to roll out until the meat has been rolled out to a consistent thickness. If you keep your pin on the boards this will be easy!
  7. Peel up the top of the bag and plop bag, meat side down, on your dehydrator tray.
  8. Peel the bottom of bag off the meat and voila! Ready to go!

Making jerky using ground meat - without a jerky press!Making jerky using ground meat - without a jerky press!Making jerky using ground meat - without a jerky press!Making jerky using ground meat - without a jerky press!Making jerky using ground meat - without a jerky press!Making jerky using ground meat - without a jerky press!Making jerky using ground meat - without a jerky press!Ground meat jerky in the dehyrator

Rabbit is super lean and only took about 5 hours on the highest dehydrator setting (155-165). Most jerky will be done in about 4-6 hours at that setting. To test, allow the jerky to cool and bend a piece: it should bend but just barely and should crack like a green branch vs a brittle old branch. I cut my chunks of jerky into strips and will store it in the fridge for a few weeks. Any uneaten jerky will go into the freezer to last just about forever.

I made my jerky using homegrown meat that i ground, pressed and dehydrated myself. That’s one satisfying snack, in more ways than just the nutrition! Do you make jerky at home? Have you ever tried making jerky with ground meat instead of whole muscle?

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Filed under Cooking, Rabbit