Morning flight

I haven’t posted any art in a while. We’ve been so busy with outdoor things these days, I only draw on rainy days and occasionally in the evenings if I can. I decided to take a quick break from the rather dark and colourless world of soil life and draw something light and airy for a change.

I’m not used to working in these lighter tones and I noticed that I felt calm and meditative while drawing, compared to some of the darker dragons I’ve drawn in the past.

sunrise small.png

It’s back to working on soil drawings after this although I admit it’s been difficult to stay motivated with so much else happening.

I’ve opened an Etsy shop, by the way! I haven’t posted my dragon art in there yet, just sticking to soil life for now. If you’re interested in buying prints of any of my other work that hasn’t shown up in the shop just send me a message!

Here’s a link to the shop. It’s very new and occupies a very small niche so it hasn’t had much attention yet. If you’re interested in some unique art that will probably spark some interesting conversations though, take a look! ūüôā

The rhizosphere/mycorrhiza drawing is slowly coming along. That one is giving me a real exercise in lighting and perspective. It’s almost like trying to draw a bowl of spaghetti.

Here’s the work in progress as it is right now. I think I like where it’s going, I can’t wait to be finished with it! I’m adding a teeny bit more colour than usual to this one and that has been quite fun ūüôā

Mycorrhiza WIP 4.png

 

 

Homemade Fireweed Tea (DIY “real” tea!)

IMG_1237

Tea is made with the leaves, so the lovely flowers are left for pollinators ‚̧¬†

I’ve spent most of my free time this spring and summer learning about the different native plants we have in our area and what can be done with them. I’ve tried making a few herbal teas but they always felt like they were missing some key ingredient or a foundation or something. Well, I think I finally found it!

I learned how to make tea which is exactly as tasty and satisfying as “real” tea (meaning Camellia sinensis;¬†the tea people generally refer to when they just say “tea”). It is naturally caffeine-free. It has an interesting history, and I have read a lot about its health benefits but won’t go into all that now because let’s be honest, I’d just google it and paraphrase other articles. What I want to write about is how my own experience making it went, and my honest opinion after tasting it. (If you do want that more in depth info, this is a good place to start, and that’s where I got the preparation instructions too.)

I’m very sensitive when it comes to some things like sound and touch, but not when it comes to taste. For whatever reason, I’m not one of those people who really appreciates “floral and fruity notes” or “earthy, nutty” flavours. I’ve always understood the “earthy, nutty” description to mean “boring”. Maybe this is why I’m not that into cooking. Anyway, if I’m going to enjoy a food or drink, it needs to be obviously tasty, not with such a subtle flavour that I need to concentrate to decide whether or not it tastes good. Sorry foodies ūüôā

Anyway, that is my way of saying you should seriously try this tea! I first tried fireweed tea with just dried leaves, and I felt like I might as well just brew up a cup of grass. I wanted to like it, but I didn’t. I then read about this oxidation process which removes the grass taste and was immediately interested.

It was AWESOME.

It didn’t taste like grass. It didn’t taste “green” at all. It was bold, rich, it had the same “mouth feel” as tea and left a nice aftertaste. I might even say it was “complex”. Just look at the words I’m using.

Fireweed is a common plant here, and harvesting it does minimal damage to the plant itself, and from what I can tell it has little or no impact on the ecosystem it grows in, depending on your harvesting technique. If you have this stuff around you, this can be a truly, genuinely eco-friendly way to drink tea.

At worst, there could be some soil compaction from me trampling through the patch, and some plants will inevitably be stepped on along the way, but that’s it. I leave the flowers alone. I gently remove leaves from only the top section of the stalk, so the plant can just seal up those wounds and carry on. As long as it doesn’t pick up an infection of some kind, it should be completely fine. I noticed that there were usually some tiny little mini-leaves just above the nodes of the leaves I harvested, so most likely the plant will simply grow those out and replace the leaves I took in a couple of days. I noticed harvesting nettles in spring that the plants would often end up being larger and more robust a few days after I harvested them. That could be the case here too, with careful and conscious harvesting.

IMG_1224 2.JPG

Fireweed plants just beginning to show off their beautiful pink flowers.

We have several patches of fireweed around our property, and I have seen lots of it along roadsides too, although that isn’t a great place to harvest them (roads are a significant source of dust and pollution that lands on or is absorbed by the plants near them). We obviously don’t spray poison on our land, so there is no concern here about pesticides or herbicides. And, since this is a native plant the leaves are typically healthy and in good condition, being well adapted to the particular challenges of this ecosystem. Fireweed thrives without any need for human intervention.

Below is a picture showing how I harvest a single leaf, grasping the base and just gently turning the petiole (leaf stalk) downwards towards the stem. It snaps off very easily with minimal harm to the stem. Occasionally a little strip of the stem peels off with it but I try to minimize that. There is a quicker method of harvesting the leaves which is to wrap your hand around the stem and just slide it downwards. The leaves break off easily so you can strip off a handful at once, but I find that method a bit fumbly and can be more damaging to the leaves, plus you have a greater chance of accidentally picking up leaves with damage or insects on them. I prefer the one at a time method, but I do alternate between them. I’m still learning ūüôā

IMG_1235.JPG

If you want to try this, one useful key to identifying fireweed is to look carefully at the leaf veins. In the picture below, pay attention to the outer edge of the leaf, there is a vein that runs parallel, leaving a little space or border zone around the edge. The main veins running across from the center appear to connect to each other and loop around to create a border instead of running all the way to the edge of the leaf.

IMG_1227.JPG

It is a very striking and beautiful plant, and if you live in an area where it grows wild you’ve probably noticed it before. It’s hard to miss. It is widespread across the northern hemisphere, and it particularly likes disturbed areas, especially places that have been devastated by forest fires or logging. Fireweed is a pioneer and a natural healer; it adds beauty and the promise of a bright future after traumatic loss.

The first step after harvesting leaves is to let them wilt in the sun or a warm place for a while. When the wilted leaves are ready, they will bend in half without snapping, and you can roll them easily between your palms without crushing them and having little fragments break off in your hands.

IMG_1248.JPG

Then, the leaves are rolled up between the palms to bruise them and initiate the process of oxidation, which is what eliminates that grassy taste in the tea.

I used the crock pot (unplugged) as a container for the leaves to ferment. I read that a ceramic bowl with a lid is ideal because it is an aerobic process, but it’s good to cover it so bugs don’t get into it. I noticed a fragrance already just a few hours later. It was a bit pungent and I was not optimistic about it at first. I continued anyway, checking on and shaking up the leaves now and then. The pungent smell went away by the end of the first day, and I started to notice a nicer tea-like scent.

I did a small batch at first to test it out. Here is a shot of the rolled leaves in the crock pot:

IMG_1215.JPG

I forgot to write down the time when I put them in to ferment, but after about 48 hours I brewed up a small cup to test it, and I thought it was delicious so I put the leaves into the dehydrator to stop fermentation.

The leaves dried quickly, and when they were brittle I turned off the dehydrator, let the leaves cool to room temperature and then stored them in a glass jar. The instructions said to let the tea cure for 2-4 months before using it, but I enjoyed the taste right away so I guess it will just get better and better. I harvested a much larger batch this morning and plan to do more before the season ends so I have a good stash of it for wintertime. It actually works out nicely that it needs to cure, because I don’t really drink much tea in summer so it will probably just sit there and cure for the rest of the summer anyway until things start to cool off outside again.

IMG_1221.JPG

The small test batch, stored in a glass jar to cure.

I’m just so excited to finally have the ability to make a delicious tea from something that grows in our yard rather than being imported from another continent. It is so prolific in the wild it doesn’t require cultivation or human intervention, and all it costs is a bit of time. This stuff is a win on so many levels ūüôā

I’m also very excited to try using this as a base for different herbal tea blends. As an experiment I added some dried meadowsweet flowers and did a taste test, and it was lovely. I did another test with some dried red clover and that was also very nice. I have finally found the key ingredient that my previous attempts at herbal teas were missing, so now I feel optimistic that I’ll be able to make all kinds of interesting herbal tea blends that are rich and flavourful.

IMG_1217

Fireweed and Meadowsweet tea

If you have fireweed growing near you, and you can safely harvest it without worrying about pollution, pesticides, or pissing someone off, I highly recommend trying it!

Just make sure you are certain about identification before you gather anything from the wild, and always harvest consciously with respect and gratitude ‚̧

Our first sick hen

We hoped it would be a long time before we had to deal with something like this. Our flock is only 16 weeks old now, so we were surprised to discover that we had a serious health problem already.

I have read that chickens will kill a sick or injured bird to protect the rest of the flock, so I first started to suspect something when I saw two or three birds pulling on poor Bronze from different directions. Later, she was chased over the electric fence, and didn’t return to the coop at bedtime that night. We tried bringing her into the house to protect her, but she was upset and kept banging her head trying to escape the smaller enclosure so we put her back in the coop, unsure what to do.

The next morning she stayed in the coop when everyone else went out, so I put the others out in the electric fence area and let her stay in the coop with access to the run. I checked on her frequently during the day, and she just stood there with her head hunched back into her feathers, looking very unhappy. I still didn’t know what to do.

We are new to chickens, and like new parents we kept asking, at what point do we worry? Are we overreacting? Not worrying enough?

It wasn’t until she actually came over and leaned on me that I realized we had to do something. Our chickens weren’t handled much in their earliest days, so they aren’t that friendly. Having one approach me and actually initiate physical contact like that, on top of everything else, was a definite cause for alarm.

The internet is absolutely packed with backyard chicken keepers offering advice, solutions, do’s and don’ts. One person says one thing and another says the exact opposite. It’s overwhelming.

If your dog gets sick, you take it to the vet and the vet takes responsibility for figuring out what’s wrong and how to best handle it. If your chicken gets sick, you have to deal with it yourself. Maybe some people take their chickens to the vet but we don’t. I don’t know if our vet would even see a chicken. (We can get into a debate on “speciesism” another day.)

So we took Bronze in the house and gave her a calm, comfortable environment¬†away¬†from the cruel beaks of her siblings to see if the situation would improve at all while we researched some more. We didn’t want to start just trying stuff in case we made things worse, or caused her more pain without any benefit. She watched an episode of Orange is the New¬†Black with us and fell asleep on my arm, making very sweet little “tut tut tut” noises. It was heartbreaking. I put her in the old brooder box and she slept peacefully for the night.

IMG_0587The next day the situation had not improved, she seemed more lethargic and even quieter than before. We realized that she was clearly suffering and it wasn’t going to resolve itself.

I learned that chickens have a compartmentalized digestive system that compensates for not having teeth. Food is first stored in the crop, then travels further to be ground up for digestion. I keep reading that it’s a very efficient digestive system, but it doesn’t seem like the most brilliant layout, since the food needs to exit the crop through a small opening before it’s broken into smaller pieces, which means if the bird eats something like a large leaf, a plastic toy, or long blade of grass, it can easily cause a blockage. If the crop is blocked, food will go in, but won’t go further towards digestion. The bird will feel full and lose the desire to eat, while the food in the crop begins to decay.

I learned that impacted crop can be fixed surgically by cutting into the crop and simply pulling out the blockage, but this was definitely not an option for us. We would likely have done much more harm than good trying something like that ourselves.

After watching some helpful videos I gently massaged Bronze’s crop, to see if I could work out any blockage. ¬†Her mouth starting to move as if she was swallowing something, so I tipped her forward and a whole bunch of yucky goop came out. It definitely had a yeasty smell, which my research told me meant that she probably had “sour crop” and the blocked up food was fermenting.

I spent the next day checking on her and alternating between emptying her crop and force feeding (she was still refusing food) yogurt mixed with water, which we hoped would help fight the yeast and balance her crop again. After vomiting however, her crop always swelled up almost immediately with gas and fluid. I thought the crop was empty after her vomiting, but couldn’t understand why it kept swelling up again. She only got worse and worse through the day, and by the end of that day it seemed like she had given up, and there wasn’t any more we could do for her. We couldn’t let her suffer anymore.

After putting her to rest, we cut open her crop to find out what was really going on and found a wad of wood shavings and leaves still in there. I had been doing my best to help clear it out, but this stuff was packed in very tightly and I don’t think we could have removed it without surgery. I made sure to feel the body after I could see that the crop was actually empty, so if we have to deal with this again in the future I’ll be much more confident about whether or not the crop is still impacted and how it feels when the blockage is actually cleared.

I see the other chickens eating wood shavings and long grass all the time and we haven’t seen any other signs of trouble, so it’s possible that Bronze was just unlucky, or perhaps her crop didn’t work right and she would have continued having problems again and again if she did recover, or maybe she ate a whole lot at once and it clumped up in just the wrong way. Whatever the reason, I hope this never happens again but I also see how easily it can happen, and I know there isn’t much we can do to prevent it.

Experience can be a cruel, but very effective teacher. We had to face not only the stress of trying to cure Bronze, but also to decide at what point it was time to give up hope, end her suffering, and to actually euthanize her ourselves. That part was as awful as we expected it to be, but we knew from the beginning that this is part of keeping chickens and had braced ourselves for it the best that we could. It was difficult and emotional, but despite this harsh reality check we are moving forward without feeling any less motivated or enthusiastic about keeping chickens. We know that we did the best we could and feel confident that we did the right thing. We learned so much from this ordeal that we feel we have “leveled up” significantly as chicken keepers. I would still recommend keeping chickens to everyone who has the capacity to do so. The more backyard chickens there are, the less demand there will be¬†for factory farmed chicken and eggs, and that is a win for chickens, people, and the environment ‚̧

 

 

 

 

Feels like summer!

Spring is well underway now, although it feels more like summer, and it has been exactly as incredible as I dreamed about¬†all winter long. When everything was white, it was so hard to picture green, but now that it’s all green we can’t imagine the ice and snow¬†anymore, and we like it much better this way! Everything exploded into flowers and green all at once, and the weather has been warmer and sunnier than I’ve experienced in all the time I’ve been in Norway. I have sunburns on top of sunburns, on top of layers of scratches and bruises from all the exploring, planting, dragging, digging, etc as we get things going here. It feels great to be so active again. I think I might even be growing some muscles!

IMG_0204

Phoebe was born in late November last year, so she has only experienced cold and snow up to this point, and she absolutely loves¬†this warm, sunny new world. She loves splashing in the stream on hot days and racing around the yard. She follows me around when I forage for wild edibles and¬†tend to the garden, and she is learning to lay calmly next to me while I work instead of stamping all over the¬†gardens. I’m almost always wearing a pouch filled with kibble and other goodies¬†because every day is filled with “teaching moments” for a curious¬†puppy.

The trail camera has been busy up in the forest keeping an eye on some of the larger wild creatures we share the land with.

The abundance¬†and diversity of wildlife here is truly amazing. It seems like almost every time I see an insect it’s one I haven’t seen before. There doesn’t seem to be an overabundance of any one species; it truly feels like a well balanced ecosystem. We have plenty of small¬†predators like spiders, lizards, and frogs roaming the gardens already, along with bees, butterflies, and countless¬†other pollinators. The days are now so long that¬†there are birds singing pretty much around the clock. In the back near the forest edge there are some small ponds and marshy areas that¬†are teeming with tadpoles.

We keep some areas around the house mowed, but we generally try to tread lightly and treat most of the property as a sanctuary for nature. This helps maintain that great abundance and diversity of insects, and it means that our gardens are not the only source of food and shelter in a desert of clipped grass. Diverse plant life provides the foundation for a healthy and robust ecosystem.

IMG_0232

The stinging nettles pictured below are near the edge of our veggie garden. Nettles are known to host a great deal of beneficial insects. These ones are currently nursing some caterpillars which will develop into butterflies that will probably end up pollinating some of our garden crops.

Not only do “weeds” provide food and shelter for insect life, but many of these plants are useful to us too. Stinging nettle is considered a nasty¬†weed¬†by most people, but I can’t get enough of it. I’ve seriously considered asking the neighbours if I could harvest some of theirs. Despite the painful sting, it¬†is a highly nutritious early spring food¬†(it tastes like spinach), it makes a nice¬†herbal tea, it has medicinal uses, it attracts beneficial insects, it is used in biodynamic preparations for the garden and can be made into a surprisingly good¬†hair rinse among many other things. You can read more about nettles here, if you’re curious.

We’ve also been experimenting with some other wild foods¬†like¬†fried dandelions. Those were actually¬†better than I expected. I started nibbling¬†on them and demolished¬†half the batch before they even made it to the dinner table.. oops.. but Tux just couldn’t quite get past the idea of eating dandelions so he wasn’t super into it. He’s been very open minded with all this experimenting though, which makes it a lot¬†more fun. I normally hate cooking, but being able to use ingredients we harvested ourselves changes the whole experience completely.

img_0377

Cheerful spring salad. A mix of foraged and store bought greens, wildflowers, and the first radishes from the garden ūüôā

I think I could write an entire post dedicated just to our foraging experiments, or even stinging nettles alone since I’ve focused a lot on those this spring. I know there is loads more out there to discover, but this one is just so incredibly versatile! Next year maybe I’ll try getting obsessed with a different plant. Here are some¬†pictures of the nettle harvest and a few of the different things I’ve been doing¬†with them:

Mixed “weeds” pulled out of¬†the gardens are also a great salad for the chickens, which they appreciate since they have already gobbled up¬†every microscopic¬†bit of green that was¬†inside their run.

Here are some pictures to give an overview of the main garden beds that we have put down so far. Everything has been planted out now except tomatoes, which I’m not entirely sure where to place or how to support yet. I’ve done a lot of research on companion planting and try to place things according to which plants will cooperate with each other. Tomatoes and potatoes, which are both in the nightshade family, seem to be the fussiest from what I’ve read, but we have plenty of space so it shouldn’t be an issue anyway.

Along the south wall of the house we have these stone raised¬†beds which I thought would make a nice place for a herb and salad garden. The bottom step has two rows of “baby leaf” lettuce and a row of radishes which will be replaced by another row of lettuce when¬†the radishes are done. The second step up has a mix of¬†edible flowers. In the steps above¬†that I’ve planted thyme, oregano, parsley, borage, lemon balm, basil, and mint. There are a few strawberry plants next to the borage because I read that¬†they grow nicely together and I love experimenting with plant partners.

IMG_0286

Below the stone “steps” is a small hill leading down to the plum tree and berry bushes. I plan to fill this hill with different herbs and useful ornamentals, focusing on perennials like echinacea. I plan to expand and develop this herb garden over time. I’m very interested in making herbal products like finishing salts, flavour mixes, teas, oils, and perhaps even some bath products. This will also be a good place for plants like comfrey that spread aggressively by roots, because it is bordered by mowed lawn and the driveway, so plants like this won’t get a chance to invade¬†the wild meadows and forest around us.

IMG_0313

Underneath the row cover in the picture above is a patch of strawberries that were a gift from our lovely neighbours. The row cover is there to shelter the strawberries from the harsh sun while they get established in their new home.

We have half of a¬†rhubarb plant, which we obtained from a friend who lives in an area that hasn’t been affected by the horrific brown slug invasion either, and was kind enough to dig up¬†part of her rhubarb to plant into our garden. It seems to have transplanted well and is growing rapidly.

IMG_0296

All of our¬†veggie and herb beds were established¬†on top of the existing ground¬†using sheet mulch instead of tilling. We laid down wet cardboard, covered it with a layer of well aged, composted horse manure, and topped¬†it with a thick mulch of¬†hay which we got from a¬†friend who couldn’t use it to feed his cows (the wrapping had broken¬†open and the bale had become¬†damp). To plant, I just make an opening in¬†the mulch¬†and plant seeds or seedlings into the composted horse manure. As the young plants¬†mature the cardboard and lawn¬†below will be consumed by earthworms and other decomposers, opening up the soil below. With this technique, the earthworms, insects, and other soil life are responsible for turning and aerating¬†the soil while also¬†providing nutrients for the plants and adding organic matter, which helps with soil structure, water retention, and drainage. It’s basically on-the-spot vermicomposting that aims to mimic the process in nature. The mulch provides food and shelter for soil¬†creatures, and it acts as insulation; keeping the soil at a comfortable temperature and moisture level. It should be very¬†little work to maintain these gardens once they are established. The soil in our gardens should become deeper, richer, and healthier over time, rather than depleted and lifeless. It will require no additional inputs of fertilizers or soil amendments other than topping up the mulch and adding some compost each year to help replace the nutrients¬†we remove when we harvest.

IMG_0333

Earthworms are thriving in the rich compost between the cardboard and mulch layers

So far the veggies we have planted in these beds are: rainbow¬†carrots (interplanted with radishes), leeks, swiss chard, mixed varieties of kale, lettuce, bush beans, striped beets, spaghetti squash, some kind of green pumpkin, and chives. I might be forgetting something somewhere but I think that’s everything in these beds at the moment.

Below is an example of companion planting at work:

IMG_0327

I planted carrot and radish seeds together.  The radish pictured is pretty much ready to harvest, just as the carrot seedling next to it is starting to want that space. The two plants have occupied the same place in the garden at the same time without competing with each other, and the radishes have provided some shelter and protection for the fragile carrot seedlings in their earliest days.

img_0376

The very first veggies harvested from our garden!

The peas are off to a good start and should begin climbing up the trellis strings any day now. I arranged this bed so that the lettuces will receive full sun in the early part of the day but later on, once the peas are climbing the trellis, they will be sheltered from the more intense afternoon sun. That should extend the time we can use the mature lettuces before they bolt (go to seed).

I put together a super simple cucumber/squash trellis in the orchard garden, using a couple of small forked logs and a large wire grid that I found on the wall of the barn. There is space under the trellis, so I planted some lettuce here too. I also interplanted some marigolds with the cucumbers and squashes, to try and deter hungry insects that might want to snack on them.

Here I’ve planted a few rows of potatoes, again using a no-till sheet mulch technique. The plan is to add more mulch as the potatoes start to grow, so while the roots are growing downwards, the potatoes themselves will develop up in the hay. Instead of digging them up, we just have to pull off the mulch, which should mean the potatoes will come out clean and with a nice round shape.¬†By next year most of the mulch we added will be broken down and this¬†bed will be ready for a new plot of¬†veggies.

IMG_0317

The plum and cherry trees are now finished blooming, and the berry bushes look amazing after their hard pruning this winter. They were neglected for a few years before we moved here, and there was a lot of heavy old growth on them. They were much too dense and heavy, which leaves them at risk for breakage and disease. I was a bit scared after cutting so much off of them, but they do seem rejuvenated and quite happy now. From what I can see we will be drowning in fruit this summer.

IMG_0315

 

 

IMG_0314

Blackcurrant bushes are looking fresh and healthy after a severe winter pruning.

The chickens are enjoying more time outside now that their run is completely enclosed and secure. The next step is to set them up with mobile electric netting  so they can have access to fresh pastures and help us keep the grass trimmed.

We installed¬†a couple of perches and sectioned off a dust bath area for them, and they get deliveries of fresh green “weeds” from the garden every day, plus occasional treats from the kitchen.

IMG_0306 The run includes a chicken door to the outside, which we plan to use when we (somehow) herd them back and forth between the coop and the mobile fence.

IMG_0303

I can’t say for sure but I think they are happy birds ūüôā

FullSizeRender 6

The Chicken Cam¬†is still going, by the way! We now have two cameras up, one inside and one outside. If you’re on a computer you’ll find a button next to the settings button at the bottom of the video that lets you switch cameras, but for some reason YouTube doesn’t seem to offer¬†that option on phones or tablets at this point.

There is audio on the inside camera only. You can often hear two of the roosters taking turns crowing!

Coop camera:

 

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 09.54.16.png

Outdoor camera:

Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 09.48.42.png

So now that¬†we are getting used to having nice weather and being outside, hopefully I’ll be able to get back into making art¬†again. It was impossible to sit inside in front of the computer when the weather first started to turn nice and there was so much to do in the gardens, but now that we have had warm¬†weather for a few weeks and the¬†big rush of starting¬†the gardens¬†is over, I think I will finally be able to start drawing again.

If you’d like to see more frequent updates about the gardens, animals and life in general at Trollg√•rden, you can follow me on Instagram ūüôā

Hope you’re enjoying spring and early summer as much as we are!

 

Moving day for the chickens!

The chickens are in the coop! What a relief for all of us. They were getting much too crowded in their brooder box, and it was a lot of work staying on top of all that poop. The coop is much bigger, so it won’t have to be cleaned nearly as often as the brooder, especially once they are spending most of their time¬†outside. We’re also able to¬†position the food and water dispensers farther apart, and hang them up a little higher so they are both staying much cleaner. Chickens¬†are very busy, constantly running and flapping around, stirring things up. When I see how active¬†and curious these guys are I can’t help but think about factory farmed chickens in cramped cages with nothing to do, how miserable that must be for them.

IMG_9881

Getting ready for the big move!

It’s so great to watch them in their new house. They are so much happier now, with space to do all their running around and squabbling with each other. They have enough room to play “keep away” with treats now too, instead of crashing into the walls. We blocked off the nest boxes for now so that they don’t establish a habit of sleeping in them. We’ll open that area up later on when¬†they are ready to start laying. We also aren’t letting them play outside just yet because we want them to become comfortable and establish the coop as their home so it’ll be easier to keep a routine of closing them up at night later on. I tossed in a few chunks of grass that I dug up from between the stone walls to give them something to “forage” indoors. They love¬†picking off the greens and digging through the roots for little bugs and grit. Also, they finally have a nice sandbox for a¬†dust bath now, which they started using right away.

The webcam¬†is installed in the coop already, so we (and you) can check in on the 24/7 livestream¬†anytime (find that here¬†or click the picture¬†below) ūüôā

Screen Shot 2017-04-25 at 08.27.57.png

We decided to use heat lamps at least for now, because it’s still quite cold out and I think they are still too young to handle¬†that. The coop isn’t insulated, so without heat it’s pretty much the same temperature as the outside air.

We woke up to this the day after we moved them:

IMG_9896.JPG

I was playing on the grass in the sun with the dog the day before that! It’s snowing again as I write this… and it’s almost May already. However, the trees and bushes are really taking forever to leaf out, and I haven’t seen nettles yet. Nature knows best. I have already wasted some carrot and radish seeds out in the garden by planting much too early. I couldn’t help it. It’s hard not to be overly¬†eager when it’s our first year here and spring seems to be moving in ultra slow motion. I’m so envious when I read blogs and see posts on instagram and everyone is talking about all their spring gardening and posting flowers, meanwhile I’m up here tossing snowballs for the dog to catch.

It does feel a bit strange to listen to all the spring bird songs while looking at this winter weather.

Hope it’s warmer and sunnier wherever you are ūüôā

Speed painting

I finally finished a new soil life illustration, which feels like a major accomplishment with a puppy and ten chickens in the house!

Here is the latest drawing: Difflugia Finished small.png

This one features testate amoebae in the genus Difflugia. They live in beautiful shells built from particles collected by the amoeba living inside, much like the Caddisfly larva that people use to make unique jewelry.

I did something different when I was drawing this time, well two things actually. The first is I changed the dimension of the canvas I usually use, so it should more easily fit onto A series paper. We usually print A4 paper here, so my illustrations normally need to be cropped for printing or the paper has to be trimmed afterwards, which isn’t ideal. I realized this about halfway¬†through drawing and decided to widen the canvas, which wasn’t too difficult, but did add quite a bit of extra work. I think it worked out okay though, and it was worth the effort to make the illustration more useful.

The other thing I did differently this time was record the screen while I was drawing. I took 19 hours of recorded drawing time and sped it up to about 40 minutes of video. The first few minutes are a bit slower so you can see the process, then it speeds up so you can watch it all come together.

Here’s a link to the video!

Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 09.28.57.png

Facebook

I also decided to start¬†a Facebook page! You can find that here¬†ūüôā

Is this drawing or painting?

I never know whether to say I’m drawing or painting when using the digital medium. It feels like painting when I use a bigger brush, but it feels like drawing when I use a smaller one. The stylus is basically a pen, so then it’s more like drawing with ink, but the result feels more like a very smooth painting. In a way it’s like drawing with paint, if that makes any sense. There isn’t really a unique word for the action of drawing/painting digitally at this point, so I typically use the words interchangeably because it really feels like both at the same time.

 

 

Spring is here, and so are the CHICKENS!!!

Finally, after our first long winter on the farm, the ice is receding, the stream is bubbling, and ten fluffy little birds are peeping in the living room. It feels great to finally take a little step further towards self sufficiency and sustainability, and in my opinion there is no happier sound on earth than that of peeping chicks.

We have been planning¬†for around 6-8 hens, but we ended up buying ten chicks, since we don’t know the genders and there will surely be some roosters in there. They are a mix of different breeds that lay different colours of eggs. We originally planned to raise a breed of chickens that Tux had seen before that have¬†green legs and lay green eggs, but I came across¬†a farm advertising that they had chicks available from hens laying a mix of colours, and we couldn’t resist. So we actually have no idea what kind¬†of chickens we ended up with!

The chicks are two weeks old except one that is a week younger, so they aren’t as tame or comfortable with us as they would be if we hatched them here, but we plan to spoil them with treats, so we’re pretty¬†sure they’ll learn to like us. It’s so addictive to watch them! We have two chairs set up next to the brooder and¬†we spend as much time as we can sitting with them.

IMG_9587

We enjoy¬†watching them so much we set up a 24/7 live video stream! You can find that here, if you feel like you could use a smile ūüôā

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 09.16.53

By the way, if you’re watching with audio on and you hear a lot of banging or rumbling, that’s probably one of two things (besides us walking around and closing doors etc). The chicks really like pecking on the wall that holds the camera, and they also make quite a bit of noise when they drink from their water bottle, so that might explain some of the noise. You’ll also hear us chatting from time to time as we watch them ūüôā

The Brooder

Our brooder is mostly made from materials we found¬†around the house, plus a few things that were just a lot easier to purchase. Here’s how it looks:

IMG_9578

The plastic container is a water tank we found in the basement when we moved in. It hadn’t been used before, and since it was so big Tux and my dad had to cut it in half to get it out of the room it was in. It happened to be a perfect size and shape for the chicks. The feeder is a bird feeder which we also found on the farm when we moved in. I gave it a good wash, and it seems to be working nicely. I’m amazed at how quickly they manage to empty it, though a lot¬†of the food seems to just get kicked around in the shavings.

We bought the heat lamp and water bottle. The lamp arm came from a microphone Tux had over his desk, and it allows us to raise and lower the lamp to adjust the temperature.

The wooden divider (a board we found under the barn and cut to size) is just clamped to the sides of the tank, so we can expand it as they grow and start to need more space.

For water we are using one of those rabbit water bottles with the little metal ball (which is what makes the rumbling sound when they drink):

IMG_9545

Since they aren’t in a cage with bars to hook the bottle onto, I made a holder out of an empty plastic bottle and put rocks in the bottom to keep it from falling over.

The wooden block raises the bottle so it’s at a comfortable height, and prevents any water from dripping into the shavings.

The feeding station:

IMG_9547

They still like sleeping all piled up together in a big mass of fluff and feathers, but I nailed a small branch from the firewood pile onto two little blocks, so if they want to try¬†roosting on a branch they have a little perch they can use for practice. Some of them¬†do climb up on it now and then, but it doesn’t seem like they have good enough balance or stability to really fall asleep like that at this point.

IMG_9586

 

The food we’re starting with is organic chick pellets, which were kind of¬†expensive. As we get more established we’d like to produce as much of their food as possible ourselves both to save money and make the whole thing¬†more self sufficient and sustainable. We also want the chickens¬†to have a more natural and varied diet which we feel will be¬†healthier and more interesting for them than commercial pellets.

The Coop

The original intention¬†was to have the chicken coop finished before getting the birds. That didn’t happen, so the new plan is to have it ready when they are ready for it. My prediction¬†is that we’re going to end up with ten big chickens flapping around the living room and we still haven’t figured out what kind of fencing to secure their run with. Sometimes we just need a real push¬†from some outside force to actually get things done. We’ve been talking about getting chickens for a very long time now, even before we bought the farm, but we still ended up slapping the brooder together the day before we got the chicks. That’s how life is when both people in the relationship are heavy duty procrastinators ūüôā

But that’s ok! Things work out. We have the chicks, they seem to be doing great, even though we really have no idea what we’re doing and have to google everything.

Here’s the coop as it stands now. We’ve never had chickens before, so we decided to start out by building the coop in such a way that it’s not actually¬†a permanent structure and if we end up liking the whole chicken thing (I suspect we will) we can build a bigger, more permanent coop or fix up the barn so it’s chicken-friendly. With a few small adjustments this coop¬†can be used as a nice¬†chicken tractor, or if it all goes horribly wrong we can just take it apart and forget about it.

IMG_9502.JPG

Other Spring Updates

Phoebe is growing up incredibly fast! I can’t believe how much she has changed since we first brought her home. Now that she’s a little bigger we go out hiking together almost every day. We usually spend¬†about an hour exploring the forests around us. Phoebe¬†loves sniffing through the moss and carrying sticks around. We have a lot of fun our walks, and I can already feel a difference in my own physical fitness since I started hiking¬†with her.

We are incredibly fortunate to live in such a beautiful area with endless opportunities to explore and enjoy nature just outside the door.

The critter cam has been busy keeping tabs on the local wildlife. I recently moved it up the hill where I’ve noticed a lot of moose poop and tracks, so hopefully we’ll have¬†some nice moose pictures in the near future!

Our first farm animals, the¬†worms,¬†are also doing very well. They have a much nicer¬†home now than what they started in and they are thriving in there, along with enormous numbers of¬†small arthropods and microorganisms. At this point they consume about a third of the food waste we produce, the rest goes into the compost bin outside or we send it to the township if it’s things like meat scraps or bones that we aren’t set up to compost ourselves. The worm bin doesn’t stink, even if you stick your head in it (I can say this from experience), and there is already a decent layer of rich finished compost forming at the bottom. Overall, this project is¬†a huge success!

I’ve also been taking a Norwegian class¬†in Notodden at the adult learning center, so altogether I haven’t had as much time to draw as I’d like, but I have been continuing work on¬†the soil life series, here is the newest work in progress:

IMG_9474

This drawing is taking quite a lot of time, because it’s fairly detailed¬†and takes significant time just to mentally get into working on it, especially with so much other interesting stuff starting to happen around me. Imagine drawing a gravel driveway, stone by stone.

*yawn*

Still, I do what I can when I can, and it’s getting there. The effort is always worth it in the end ūüôā

 

 

 

New Gallery Website!

I’m so excited! I now have a dedicated website to showcase my soil life illustrations. It will be great to have a professional looking gallery to direct people to when they ask about my artwork. The website will focus on microbiology illustrations for now, but later on it will probably¬†include more categories as my portfolio develops.

There won’t be any changes to my blog; I’ll continue to post here as usual and the website includes a link back here too. Eventually I’d like to add a shop page for ordering prints and stuff like that, but for now it’s just a gallery with some basic info about me and my artwork. It feels so great to have it published!

Please check out my new website and let me know what you think! I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions; I still have so much to learn about starting a career as a professional artist. If you have any feedback, advice, or just a story to share, I’d love to hear it!

PP logo drawing.png

http://www.protozoaprincess.com

Thanks for stopping by! ūüôā

Ciliates

The fifth installment of my soil life illustration series is finished!

ciliates-final-small

The two large protozoa pictured here are of the genus Euplotes, which are common in aquatic and terrestrial habitats. I used to see them frequently in freshwater biofilms (algae slime layers) in university, and I still see them every now and then in my agricultural soil samples too. They have a long ridge along the underside with a fringe of fine cilia to help filter and draw food in. Longer cilia (the things that look like tentacles) around the cell help them to swim and control movement in the water. I still find it incredible that so much can be accomplished by one single cell, and that something this tiny can be so complex. Watching them navigate through samples searching for food is truly fascinating.

The three smaller green protozoa on the left side of the picture are of the genus Euglena. They are flagellates, unlike Euplotes which are ciliates. Another flagellate of the genus Anisonema can also be seen working its way through the soil just below the ciliates. Flagellates are also single-celled organisms, but they are typically smaller than ciliates and travel by only one or two long whip like tails, as opposed to ciliates which travel using larger numbers of shorter ‚Äúhairs‚ÄĚ called cilia. Unlike most protozoa which are heterotrophs, Euglenids often contain chloroplasts like plants, which means they can also photosynthesize and create their own food, in addition to eating food from outside sources. So does this make Euglena a plant or an animal? Euglena is not the only protozoan to give early taxonomists a unique challenge, and this lead to protozoa being given their own kingdom in taxonomy, instead of simply being included in the animal or plant kingdom. ¬†

For the next illustration I’ll be featuring testate amoebae again, this time focusing on the genus Difflugia. This time I’m using a screen recording program to try and create a time lapse video of the entire process from start to finish. I’ve noticed that people often look a bit bewildered when I try to explain how I make these drawings, so I thought it would be interesting, and maybe even helpful, to make a video showing exactly how I do it.

It’ll probably take some time to get it done, I’m in school four days a week now and we have a new puppy in the house plus it’s time to start really getting into planning the spring gardens, so there really isn’t much time leftover for drawing. There has also been quite a bit of logging in the area for the past few weeks, and I have to say I don’t find the sound of chainsaws very inspiring to my art process, much less when it’s falling on top of general exhaustion and a tight schedule… but I’m doing what I can.

On the bright side the days are getting longer and the sun has finally started rising high enough to shine into the windows once again, and that has been a very welcome change.

FullSizeRender (1).jpg

Here’s a picture of our newest addition, Phoebe ‚̧

 

Predatory Fungus in Soil

This is a gruesome example of how nutrients can move through the soil food web. Drawing this scene was complicated and very challenging, but I learned a lot in the process. The other soil life illustrations took about 10-15 hours each, this one took 32 hours over the course of several weeks. I had to leave and come back to it a few times, and I’m still not sure if it’s really finished. It might be one of those pieces that never really feels finished because there is so much to look at, but I had to draw the line (no pun intended) somewhere.

This drawing requires a bit of explanation, unless you’re a soil biologist or just know a lot about the soil food web.

The main subject of this illustration is the big worm, which looks kind of like an earthworm but is actually a nematode. Nematodes are roundworms are usually very small and are unsegmented, unlike earthworms. There are over 25,000 known species of nematodes,¬†but they are so ubiquitous that¬†scientists estimate there are actually about a million different species of them. If you’re an avid gardener or maintain a lawn you might have heard of nematodes before, either to help fight pests or as pests themselves. I’ve seen packages of parasitic nematodes in garden centers that people can buy as a biological pest control against grubs in their lawn.

Soil nematodes are very small; you usually need a decent microscope to see them. There are a few main types of soil nematodes that gardeners are interested in: fungal feeding, bacteria feeding, predatory, and root feeding nematodes. They have specialized mouthparts according to their diet. The nematode pictured here is a root feeding nematode, with a needle-like mouthpiece called a stylet used for piercing through plant roots to feed on them. This can cause bulges or lesions in the roots, which are not good for the plant.

The fungus pictured is¬†Arthrobotrys dactyloides. You can find a very good¬†video demonstrating how it traps nematodes here. I used this video as a reference to get a better idea of how the fungus should look, since I’ve never seen one in the microscope myself.

Nematodes don’t have any eyes, so they find their food by sensing chemicals in the area, kind of like our sense of smell. The fungus emits something to attract the nematodes into the rings, and when the nematode swims through the ring it senses the heat and the ring cells rapidly swell up like balloons, trapping the nematode and killing it. Then, fungal hyphae (like roots) grow into the nematode’s body and begin to digest it from the inside.

In the illustration, all this is happening on the surface of a plant root. A plant which is probably very happy to have the fungus around protecting its roots from hungry nematodes.

Nematode brightened, smaller.png

As usual, if you look closely you can also see some other small critters¬†in the picture. There are two small flagellates just above the plant root between two root hairs on the left side, and a ciliate just below and to the left of the nematode’s head. There are also scattered bacteria, demonstrating just how ridiculously small bacteria are, so small that even at this scale they just look like little specks of debris.

I kept the soil background relatively simple in this drawing because it was already busy enough with all the scraggly root hairs and fungal hyphae. I wanted to make sure it was easy to focus on the nematode and the fact that it’s trapped.

I hope this drawing, along with the others in the soil life series, will help demonstrate how complex, fascinating, and alive the soil ecosystem really is. It is essential that we as gardeners or farmers take care of our soil by protecting and encouraging a diverse and thriving soil ecosystem. Just being a bit more aware of what goes on down there is the first step towards more sustainable food production on any scale.

There are still more drawings to come in this series. I’ve already started the next one, which features some of my favourite protozoa. Here is a sneak preview of the work in progress:

Ciliate WIP smaller.png

If you would like to use my existing artwork in a publication or display, or if you want to discuss commissions of any kind, feel free to contact me using the contact button above, or you can email me directly: artborean@gmail.com.