Seize the Daisy

Sometimes life doesn’t go to plan… and sometimes things just happen and it’s probably best to go with the flow. Currently my flow has taken me here:

a very waggy tail

This is Daisy… and as of today, she’s part of the Snail household.

I’ve half-heartedly been looking at dog adoption web sites since we lost Max, but the prospect of choosing a dog on the basis of a  few photos and a paragraph or two of text was deeply unappealing. After all the behavioural issues we have had with challenging rescue dogs in the past and the stress of Max’s long illness, I didn’t think I had the strength to do it all again. But Daisy was different…

We first met her a couple of months ago when visiting a friend. This particular friend fosters rescue dogs and Daisy was one of her charges. She was a lovely and friendly dog, but we weren’t in the market for a new canine at the time. A week or so later someone said they wanted to adopt her and that was that, but for one reason and another the prospective adopters kept putting things off, a situation that went on for several weeks and eventually it all fell through. Poor Daisy.

So, last Thursday, knowing that I liked her, her foster mum sent me an email just to let me know that Daisy was available once again. First, we had to get Sam’s approval, but once it was clear that all was well in that department, things moved rather quickly and now it’s Monday and we have two dogs once more.

I feel very happy.

Three Things Thursday: 7 September 2017

My weekly exercise in gratitude – three things that are making me smile – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with happiness.

First, visiting a friend. On Tuesday I went to visit Sue, who lives about an hour away and who I met as a result of blogging. We had a lovely day, chatting and setting up her new blog (more on this when she’s properly up and running). She has these words of inspiration in her kitchen:IMGP4028 (2)

Second, the harvest. The garden and limery continue to yield their bounty. And, after a few days of rain, the courgettes were huge!

Third, still alive. We have had a poorly dog over the past month, but I’m happy to say that after a couple of weeks of antibiotics, liver support tablets, multi-vitamins and a change to a low fat diet, Max seems to be somewhat better. He’s an old boy, so he won’t be with us for too much longer, but at least he’s eating well and happy now… even though he is doing a very good Eeyore impersonation in the photos.

So, that’s what’s making me happy this week. How about you?

-oOo-

Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes.

Poorly pup

Sometimes, when you are feeling under the weather, the only thing to do is to snuggle up in a fluffy jumper (that’s a sweater to all you US readers) and snooze the day away. So, when Sam woke up this morning with what appears to be a pulled muscle in her neck (the result of sleeping precariously balanced on the small blanket box at the end of our bed, we think), the only thing to do was wrap her up and send her back to bed (a proper dog bed this time):

Sleepy

Sleepy

I am not, in fact, a great fan of dogs in clothes, but Sam does feel the cold and so a few years ago I did make her this mohair coat, which she wears to sleep in on cold nights. It appears to be just the job for a muscle strain too. Fingers crossed that this will mean a trip to the vets is not required.

Oh, and Max feels some company is required and is helping out by snoozing alongside:

That's what friends are for

That’s what friends are for

Things I can learn from Max

I am very unsettled. The presence (and absence) of builders over the past few weeks means I don’t feel particularly relaxed.

First, every morning, there’s the will they/won’t they arrive question. Then if they don’t turn up first thing the issue of whether I should release the chickens to free range, or whether the builders will appear later and then I’ll have chicken wrangling to deal with. If they do arrive there is disturbance and noise, even though the workers are all very nice and deeply apologetic when they need to ask for something. I had hoped that it would all be over in three weeks, but it’s going to go on longer than that.

In an attempt to work out how I should get through the next few weeks, I have been observing Max, who seems to take this sort of thing completely in his stride (well, shuffle, really). These seem to be his top tips:

1. Everything is better with a friend

Hunting around

Where has our patio gone?

2. Sometimes you’ll put your foot in it, but everything will be OK in the long-run

Oops!

Oops!

3. It’s all about getting the right balance

Dogboard NOT duckboard

Dogboard NOT duckboard

4. Life is just an adventure playground

Who says dogs can't climb?

Who says dogs can’t climb?

5. Nothing beats good a nap!

Zzzzzzz

Zzzzzzz

So, there you have it… I’ll be seeking balance, being playful, enjoying the company of my friends and, when all else fails, going back to bed!

Pure intentions

Happy dogs

Aiming for more ethical and sustainable dog ownership

So, this is, apparently, the post many of you have been waiting for… how to deal with dog poo. Owning a dog is not the most sustainable choice, although it’s more sustainable than having children! But, for those of us who do have a canine companion, we can do all sorts of things to minimise its impact on the planet. First, rescuing a dog rather than buying one and thus encouraging breeding is by far the most sustainable option: there are plenty dogs in the world, let’s not support people creating any more of them simply for profit. Second, have your dog neutered, so that it doesn’t create any more puppies. When we start to run out of dogs, then we can think about creating more of them. Third, food choice is important – we have moved over to feeding Sam and Max minced organic offal as part of their meat diet, for example, because this is often regarded as ‘waste’ as it’s not a very popular human food. Having filled them up with yummy organic food, however, there are consequences! What goes in, has to come out and so there is poo to deal with.

In days gone by, dog excrement was considered a valuable resource and was used in leather tanning. Interestingly it was known as ‘pure’ or ‘puer’ in the nineteenth century and Julian Walker cites Hotten’s Slang Dictionary, 1865 as containing the following definition: Pure Finders – street-collectors of dogs’ dung. These days, however, leather is produced without the use of ‘pure’ and pure is generally regarded as a waste product – often bagged up and placed in refuse destined for landfill or simply left to contaminate our streets (shame on you, irresponsible dog owners).

I think this is a real pity, because by treating ‘pure’ as waste, we are missing out on a valuable source of fertility. Responsible dog owners already collect up their dog’s waste, so choosing to take an extra step and compost it is not an enormous leap.

If you read around the subject you will find dire warnings about the health issues associated with using dog (or cat) waste in the garden, but if you understand the issues, then you can create an appropriate system and minimise risks.

The two main problems you are likely to find highlighted are Toxocariasis and Toxoplasmosis, so let’s deal with these two things first.

Toxocariasis is, according to NHS Choices, ‘a rare infection caused by roundworm parasites. It is spread from animals to humans via their infected faeces. Roundworm parasites are most commonly found in cats, dogs and foxes…’ In general, the infection causes no or mild symptoms, but in rare cases it can lead to eye problems (ocular toxocariasis) or damage to the central nervous system or organs (visceral toxocariasis). Roundworm eggs can remain viable in soil for several years if the conditions are moist and cool. You should make sure your dogs are wormed and ensure good hygiene anyway, so ideally there won’t be any toxocara in their poo.

Toxoplasmosis is found in the faeces of infected cats (and other animals). The NHS Choices web site states: ‘Toxoplasmosis is an infection caused by a common parasite called Toxoplasma gondii … Most people who get toxoplasmosis don’t have symptoms. Around 10-15% of people develop symptoms similar to mild flu or glandular fever, such as a temperature, sore throat and muscle aches… Toxoplasmosis is more serious in people with weakened immune systems, such as those who have had an organ transplant, those with HIV and AIDS, and those receiving certain types of chemotherapy treatment.’ A major issue is pregnant women passing the infection to their unborn child and resultant damage to the child’s nervous system and it is generally recommended that woman who are pregnant never handle cat waste. The eggs that are passed by a cat can remain viable in moist soil for 18 months or longer.

I do not have experience with composting cat waste, but I see no reason why you couldn’t use the same techniques as for dog waste, with the proviso that anyone who may be more susceptible to Toxoplasmosis does not attempt this.

In addition, dealing with faeces of any sort means that you are handling gut bacteria. Remember that good hygiene is essential – use your common sense and never apply faeces to soils around crops that you are going to consume uncooked.

However, with all those warnings out of the way, and with the note that other approaches (like wormeries) are available here is my technique for PURE COMPOSTING:

Our poo bin

Our poo bin

Our poo bin is an old wormery with a reservoir at the bottom and a tap, plus it has a lid with a clip to keep it closed. It does not, however, contain composting worms any longer.

We collect all our dogs’ poo on walks in kitchen paper. We place it in a plastic bag for transport and on return home we drop the paper and poo (not the bag) into the poo bin. If the dogs poo in the garden, we collect it  and transfer it directly (unpackaged) into the bin. We tried using biodegradable bags and are still suffering from their unsightly remains in our soil.

In addition, the poo bin receives wood shavings and chicken poo from cleaning out the chicken house, plus shredded paper and wood ash from our storm kettle. We put in less ash than poo. The wood shavings and paper act as a good source of carbon. If you don’t keep chickens, paper alone is fine, and you could also add cardboard or finely chopped/shredded woody prunings. The ash helps to balance the pH and you should only use wood ash – coal ash is too acidic.

We just keep adding to the bin until it is full. It does not smell. We use a compost aerator tool to make sure that the contents of the bin are turned regularly and there is plenty of oxygen available for decomposition. Because of the ingredients, the compost can be very dry and if this is the case, I add human urine – this also gives a nitrogen boost and speeds up decomposition.

We regularly drain the liquid  to ensure that the base of the compost does not get waterlogged. This liquid is diluted 10:1 and used as a root feed – it seems to work well for tomatoes, peppers, chillies and fruit trees and bushes. We do not use this as a foliar feed.

more on this in an up coming post

This is what it looks like once transferred to the standard compost bin. There is no bad smell.

When the bin is full, we leave it for a couple of months –  aerating occasionally – before transferring the contents into the bottom of a standard compost bin, where it will remain for about a year, with other material being composted on top. Alternatively, we leave the poo bin closed up for six months and then use the compost for planting fruit trees or in the bottom of a bean trench.

The two-stage method (either moving it to a new bin or burial for continued decomposition) should minimise health risks. If you are unsure – simply compost for longer. If you have two suitable poo bins, and your dogs aren’t too ‘productive’ you should be able to have one bin in use and one rotting down in a constant cycle.

As I say, other methods are available, but this is the one that works for us using the resources that we have to hand. It produces a good compost and there are no bad smells during composting or with the finished product. In addition, we have had no problems with flies in the bin.

Pups - not completely unsustainable!

Pups – not completely unsustainable!

Getting organised

As well as getting rid of extraneous ‘stuff’ from around the house, I’m also trying to be more organised with the stuff that I do want to keep. This is a real challenge for me because I am just naturally untidy (I wish I wasn’t). Since I always have numerous craft projects on the go, I decided to start making project bags in which to keep them – each one neat and tidy and separate from the others. This also gives me an excuse to make yet more things! Here is my first completed one, containing the, as yet unfinished, hoodie in Jacobs wool (I’ve sort of lost the incentive to finish it quickly now the weather is warmer):

I adapted Lucy’s Jolly Chunky Bag pattern (Attic24) to make it the size I wanted and used New Lankark aran weight wool.

I photographed the bag last night with a chair as a backdrop and I was surprised to find Max underneath. I wonder if he felt he’d had a hard day:

In case you are wondering the wine is Cheverny – it’s French and very good.

Where has all the soil gone?

When we moved into Chez Snail eleven and a half years ago I was very excited to have a blank canvas as far as the back garden was concerned. All that was there was an expanse of lawn and a patio – no trees, no shrubs, no bulbs, no flowers and no beds… and, as it turned out, no soil

Well, I say no soil, but that’s not entirely true: there was about six inches of clay above the shale that represents our bedrock. About a month after we moved in, our elderly dog died. We tried digging a hole in the back garden; it was December, it was raining and we managed to get down about a foot… we gave up. At this stage we were beginning to wonder what we could do – it was Christmas and the vets was closed, so cremation was not an option. Should we put the dead dog in the freezer for later disposal? Should we go and bury her ‘in the wild’? Should we build a mausoleum? After some debate we decided the try planting her in the front garden. So, shovel out, body discreetly just inside the house and we tried again. This time was more promising, there was a slightly greater depth of soil and then we hit concrete… some part of the sewage system we later learned. Then, inspiration. There was a healthy-looking hydrangea in a corner – perhaps its roots would have broken up the ground. And, indeed, success. The hydrangea was removed, the hole was expanded into a grave (fortunately the dog was quite a small terrier) and we could proceed. At which point one of our new neighbours came over to say hello. “Doing some gardening?” she enquired. “Yes,” we responded cheerily, heartily thankful that the body was still indoors and that we weren’t going to have to make small talk about deceased pets. The neighbour eventually disappeared back home (we were grateful for the rain at this stage) and the burial commenced, with her nose towards the rising sun and her favourite cuddly duck and a stone (she was inordinately fond of those) as grave goods. Hydrangeas are not my favourite shrubs, so we planted a lilac over our canine friend (I had one waiting to go in the garden somewhere) and planted the hydrangea in the hole with the concrete in the bottom. I’m pleased to report that both plants are doing well.

So, as you can tell, we are a bit short of soil here. We shouldn’t be. The field behind our house isn’t – but there’s a step of about 12 inches up to it. In this area, when they build houses, they strip the topsoil (and more) from the plot and sell it. This leads both to drainage problems and to a nightmare in terms of subsequent gardening. We have pretty poor soils round here to begin with, so losing the majority of what there was to start with just compounds the problem.

Because gardening to produce food was a particular intention, we had to take steps. We started by installing log rolls to create some beds in the lawn and mulching with black polythene to kill the grass. Once done, we added homemade compost and hoped this would allow us to be productive. Sadly the waterlogged ground in the winter caused the wood to rot and anyway the beds simply weren’t deep enough. So, we dismantled those after a couple of years, bought some old railway sleepers and created new beds – bigger and deeper. Unfortunately we couldn’t generate enough compost to fill them, so, with heavy hearts, we bought in some topsoil, hoping that it hadn’t come from some other building plot now bereft of a growing medium. And finally we had a sustainable system – raised beds don’t get waterlogged, we keep them fertile with compost produced on site (including willow shreddings and chicken poo) and we eat fresh food from them throughout the year.

I just can’t help feeling that much less energy would have been expended and the system would have been naturally sustainable if the builders had left the soil where it was in the first place! Grumble.

Finally... productivity

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