Building a Simple Duck Pond

Ducks are waterfowl and having access to water is important for their health and happiness. For the past few months, our flock of twelve ducks has been using a small kiddie pool to satisfy their unquenchable desire to swim, bathe and splash. WP_20160723_08_57_37_Pro

Nothing is wrong with using a kiddie pool for ducks, but we wanted to dig a pond for our ducks that would blend into our landscape and have a more organic appearance, as well as provide more surface area for them to spread out in.

During pond construction: No water = sad ducks!

Ryan picked up a rectangular 7 x 10 foot, puncture-resistant pond liner at Home Depot. First, we measured out the area for our pond.  Because we need about a foot on each side as a “shelf” for our rocks to sit on and to allow for the pond’s depth, we figured our finished pond would be about 5×8 feet.  We marked an outline with the shovels and began digging.  WP_20160723_09_05_27_ProTo help the ducks enter and exit the pond, the shelf for the rocks sits down a few inches from ground level and we made the sides slope gently.WP_20160723_09_41_04_Pro We chose large, smooth, flatter rocks for the pond as duck feet are sensitive and prone to a disease called bumblefoot if they walk across small, sharp rocks on a regular basis.WP_20160723_10_17_35_ProEven though our liner is rectangular, we dug an oval shape. This leaves some extra liner on the corners, but we may eventually plant some duck-resistant plants around these corners, if such a thing exists.  I’m experimenting with deer-resistant plants around the yard to see if the ducks will keep their bills off them.  WP_20160723_10_36_39_Pro We were able to replace some pieces of sod around the rocks to help keep the dirt in place and hopefully encourage the vegetation to get reestablished.

WP_20160723_10_39_57_ProThe pond is now ready for water.

Our Speckled Sussex rooster comes to investigate the status of the pond.

With the hose running, we have thoroughly piqued the ducks’ interest.  WP_20160723_10_49_08_ProThey simply cannot resist water!  These birds will seek cover from sun and come out to bask during the rain.  Their love of water cannot be overstated.  But ducks tend to be highly skeptical of anything out of the ordinary. Once, when we cleaned out their kiddie pool and filled it with sparkling, clean water, they eyed it suspiciously and refused to enter the pool for hours.  We expected no less with this new pond. WP_20160723_10_58_51_Pro

The ducks waddled to one side, stopped and looked.WP_20160723_11_00_55_Pro Then they waddled to another side and stopped to look.  The kids began guessing which duck would be the first to brave this foreign apparition…but then the ducks left.  WP_20160723_11_01_43_ProThe pond has been deemed too scary for the moment.  It wasn’t until some rain rolled through while we were inside for a lunch break that we discovered the ducks excitedly swimming and splashing in their new pond.WP_20160723_19_29_15_Pro

We chose to forego a pump and filter for our duck pond. Ducks drag so much dirt and muck into their water source that pumps and filters get clogged and broken down.  We decided to keep our pond small so emptying the water with buckets, which is what we did with our kiddie pool, and refilling with the hose is manageable.  Plus, we can distribute the water wherever we’d like, such as the trees and berry plants in our nearby orchard.  For a pond that doesn’t need to be cleaned out periodically, a diverse ecosystem including fish and plants is needed to keep the water clean, and we decided to not take on that project at this point.

Ancona (white/black) ducks and Blue Swedish ducks enjoying their new pond
A Cayuga drake takes a solo swim

Watching the ducks play in the pond is something we consider great entertainment.  They bob, dive, splash and swim until finally they decide they’ve had enough so out they waddle to dry ground, where they proceed to preen, flap and groom.  Just when they’ve gotten every last feather dry, clean and primped, that’s when they decide it’s high time for another splash in the pond. WP_20160723_19_29_26_Pro



10 Zucchini Dishes (that don’t require flour or sugar)

The zucchini season is upon us! I have a whole row of zucchini in my garden and last week we enjoyed our first zucchini harvest. WP_20160722_10_43_33_Pro

I brought my quality control specialist to ensure the zucchinis were fit to be eaten.WP_20160722_09_48_07_ProWP_20160722_09_48_28_ProWP_20160722_09_48_34_ProWP_20160722_09_48_12_Pro

Looks like they passed inspection. 🙂

Zucchini plants are known for their productivity. Most people have so many zucchinis, they begin giving them away to coworkers, neighbors and friends because they don’t know what else to do with their fresh, green bounty.  Last summer, we made lots and lots of zucchini bread, zucchini muffins, and even a pretty delicious chocolate zucchini cake.

But since last fall, we’ve decided to actively reduce our consumption of sugars and grains. This summer will not be filled with cakes, muffins and breads of the zucchini variety.  I’ve come up with 10 simple dishes for using those green summer squash that don’t involve drowning them in cups of flour and sugar.  This is how we do zucchini in my kitchen:

#1 Sautéed Zucchini

Photo credit:

It doesn’t get simpler or tastier than this quick, savory side dish. Slice several zucchini thin and sauté in a tablespoon of butter with salt and pepper until the zucchini slices are soft and turning brown.  Mix it up by adding in onion or other fresh veggies and herbs from your garden.  I served this for lunch last week and my kids gobbled this down and requested more.  I rarely serve anything that evokes excitement by all six of my children, unless, of course, it’s pizza or ice cream.  Even when I went to clean up the baby’s booster chair in the dining room, I found my homemade coleslaw on the floor, I found our farm-fresh, free-range chicken on the floor, but I did not find any zucchini slices…anywhere.  This dish gets two pudgy baby-thumbs up!

#2 Stoplight Kabobs

Skewer those green babies stoplight-style. Bright colors make for an appealing and impressive cookout with family or friends.  Try red cherry tomatoes, yellow bell pepper pieces and thickly-sliced zucchini for the green in your stoplight.  Drizzle a little olive oil over the kabobs and sprinkle with your favorite seasonings.  Grill alongside a meaty main dish or sandwich pieces of chicken, steak, shrimp or fish between your stoplight-patterned veggies.

#3 Campfire Veggie Pouches

Food Styling: Jamie Kimm Prop Styling: Paige Hicks

Nobody wants to turn on their oven and heat up their kitchen in summertime. My solution?  I make dinner over the campfire once a week.  Not only does it keep my farmhouse cooler, there is always less mess to clean up later.  Suddenly dinner feels a little more fun for everyone.  Or bring these pouches in a cooler the next time you go camping.  To prepare this sizzling side, lay out a rectangle of aluminum foil.  Lay some chopped veggies like zucchini, onion, bell peppers, mushrooms, potatoes or grape tomatoes in the middle of one end of the foil rectangle.  Plan to make one pouch for every 2-3 people you are serving.  Season with salt, pepper, fresh dill and garlic.  Place two or three small cubes of cold butter over the veggies and seal the pouch by bringing the empty end of the foil rectangle over the veggies, then folding the edges of the aluminum foil up two times on all three open sides.  You should now have a handy-dandy pouch, ready for the fire.  Let your fire burn down to coals and throw those pouches on top.  Allow them to cook for 5 minutes, flip over and cook five more minutes.  Open one of the pouches (careful for steam!) to see if the veggies have reached the desired tenderness.  Grab a fork and enjoy!

#4 Sliced Zucchini Pizza

We do pizza night every Friday night to welcome in the weekend. I make a homemade grain-free crust and we pile on veggie toppings for a healthy dinner everyone loves.  When I have some extra zucchini, I love to slice it thin and top our pizzas with it.  The zucchini blends nicely with some chopped red onion, mushrooms, yellow bell peppers and some spinach leaves.

#5 Zucchini Patties

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Shred 2 zucchinis into a colander and toss with 1 teaspoon salt.  Place colander in sink and allow to drain for 10 minutes, then squeeze some moisture out with some paper towels and place in a bowl. Mix in two eggs, salt, pepper, 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon onion powder and 1 teaspoon garlic powder. Melt two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and form the mixture into manageable patties (keeping them on the smaller side makes it easier to flip).  Once the butter is hot, place patties, about 4-5 at a time into the skillet.  Allow to cook and get crispy brown on one side, approximately 5-6 minutes, then flip to brown the other side and cook through, another 5-6 minutes.  For a cheesy twist, top with a handful of shredded cheese during the last two minutes of cooking.

#6 Zucchini Lasagna

My pickiest eaters cheer when I announce it’s lasagna night. Even if you eat pasta, you may still enjoy this lower-carb option every now and then in your meal plan.  This is easy to make, and you can even use your favorite lasagna recipe.  All you need to do is omit the lasagna noodles, and shred about 3 medium-large sized zucchinis.  Crack three eggs into this mixture and add in the ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese and spices as called for in your recipe.  Now put your meat sauce in the bottom of your pan, and smoosh on half the zucchini/cheese mixture, followed by meat sauce, then the other half of your zucchini/cheese mixture, and finish off with your meat sauce.  Top with cheese and bake.  Allow to sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

#7 Zucchini Egg Bake

WP_20160723_17_45_34_ProFor a healthy veggie boost, swap the hash browns in your egg bake or skillet scramble with shredded, seasoned zucchini.  I make a very simple crock pot egg bake.  Pat 2 or 3 shredded zucchinis, seasoned with salt and pepper, into the bottom of a buttered crock pot.  Top with a thinly sliced (8 oz) block of cream cheese, 5 sliced green onions and 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese.  Whisk together a dozen eggs, 1/2 cup milk, salt and pepper and pour into the crockpot.  Chop and cook a pound of bacon until crisp and sprinkle on top.  Cook on high about 3 hours or low for 5 hours, until eggs are good ‘n’ set.  Garnish with a few sprinkles of cheddar cheese and one more chopped green onion.  Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.  I made this yesterday evening and all the kids requested a second helping.


#8 Ratatouille

My daughter, Hannah, requested ratatouille for her 9th birthday.  I’ve never made this dish before.  It sounded fancy, French and fussy and I was anticipating a lot of work to get this dish on the table.  In the end, I’m so glad I gave it a try despite my reservations.  It’s a delicious, one-pan dish, and is another use for that abundant zucchini in your garden.  Click here for the easy recipe I used.

#9 Zucchini Boats


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Another way to indulge your Italian craving without carb-loading are these tasty zucchini boats. I use this recipe and it’s kid-approved.  I’ll be cooking my zucchini boats in foil in the campfire this summer.

#10 Chili

Just when the evening air turns cool and crisp, and the trees are changing color, but your zucchini plants are still offering up their fruit, it’s time to make some chili. Chopped zucchini can be added into any chili recipe.  Soften and cook them along with the meat or veggies you sauté in your usual recipe. You just may enjoy the healthful addition!

For those that still plan to make some breads, muffins and cakes, I don’t want to leave you out, either. Last summer I made this chocolate zucchini cake and it was very good.  If you have a birthday coming up or were asked to bring a dessert to a potluck, I think this will do nicely and you may even impress someone by saying it contains vegetables from your garden. 🙂

Did I miss your favorite zucchini dish?  If so, add it in the comments!  Enjoy those versatile zucchinis!WP_20160722_10_43_15_Pro


Coop Invasion

When we first received our maiden batch of chicks, I thought, “These are lucky chicks.” Out of all the places these chicks could have ended up, they came to our farm.  A cozy, happy little chicken-topia where they will be treated well, fed tasty kitchen scraps and unmedicated food, and allowed freedom to roam, flap their wings, peck at bugs, and spread out in green, shady spaces.

Bourbon Red turkey poult

What more could a chicken want in life, right?


Wrong. A chicken needs a safe, predator-proof coop.  We thought our coop was safe.  Each and every evening all the chickens and ducks would head into their coop as the sun sank, darkening the sky and signaling them to seek cover.  We would shut and secure the door before we went to bed, then sleep soundly knowing our birds were protected.  Our turkeys liked to perch on top of the door, as the door was about ¾ of the way high, leaving open space at the top.  This space never bothered me, as I knew a coyote or fox wouldn’t be able to scale the door.  Sometimes the turkeys would roost in the sapling next to the coop.  We allowed them to, knowing they would fly into the coop through the open space above the door when they were ready to call it a night, as they have done in the past.

Wrong again. One fateful morning, about two weeks ago, I was out gathering some leaves that had blown out of the trees during a rainstorm the previous night.  The rabbits love leaves so I thought I would give them a treat rather than have all those leaves go to waste.  As I’m gathering these leaves, enjoying the sunny, pleasant and quiet country morning, I was thinking how amazing it is that we never have any predator problems.  Nothing had ever tried to rip into our broiler pen when it housed broilers, WP_20160502_13_30_43_Pronor now as it houses rabbits.  Nothing has ever bothered our rabbit hutches, and we’ve never lost any chickens to birds of prey or stray dogs during the day.  I’m naively thinking this to myself, not knowing that in a few minutes, Hannah would discover one of our beloved turkeys, decapitated, lying on the ground near the sapling.  Body uneaten, head missing.  Her sad and startled scream cuts through the cheerful morning air and bursts my chicken-topia bubble.

We think the turkeys stayed in the tree all night. We think something must have either flown into the tree or climbed up it to get the turkey.  We think, based on the turkey remains, it could have been a mink.  Ryan decided to cut down the sapling.  Now no birds would be tempted to roost in it and the new barnyard rule is all birds go into the coop every night, no exceptions.  This seemed to solve the problem.

Wrong a third time.

Yesterday morning, Ryan walks out to open our coop and release the normally eager birds. When he comes back in, he makes an announcement.  We have more dead birds.  My heart pounds.  “Please not our remaining turkey!  Not our favorite hen, Henrietta!” WP_20160711_20_01_09_Pro Thankfully, our turkey, which we have now named Lucky, and Henrietta were spared. WP_20160711_19_49_30_Pro Six other chickens were not.  Something infiltrated the coop, the structure meant to keep them safe, and killed them, the same way the unlucky turkey was killed.  Head gone, body intact, no blood.  We even found one of the heads near a body.  Two hens were not decapitated at all, just dead.  We couldn’t even find a fatal wound.  It’s possible they piled up in fear and suffocated.  Suddenly the project we had planned for that day, digging a new duck pond, became postponed.  We would spend the day beefing up security around the chicken coop.

Ryan fixed the neon “Predators Enter Here” sign above the chicken coop door. He cut some plywood and screwed it to the door so nothing could crawl in that way. WP_20160711_19_58_43_Pro In hindsight, I can’t believe we didn’t think our quasi-door would be a problem.  We were thinking predators in terms of coyote and fox, not mink, owl, weasel, opossum, and raccoon.  We’re living and learning here, folks.  He also put some smaller wire mesh over the window, as the current mesh looked like a cattle panel and would allow smaller animals such as mink to get through.  WP_20160711_19_59_11_ProRyan and his dad discovered a tunnel leading under a wall and into the chicken coop, recently dug in one of our barn stalls.  Ryan just cleaned all the bedding out of that stall to mulch the garden, so he is sure the tunnel didn’t exist a couple weeks ago.  Now, it is clear an animal has dug its way from the stall into the chicken coop.  Ryan’s dad placed a trap in this tunnel.  Hopefully we’ll know soon the creator of the tunnel and whether its mission was chicken or chicken feed.

We had a couple hens that were still so terrified from the attack they refused to go into the coop the next evening. Ryan chased one around the homestead and finally persuaded her to go in.  We did not sleep soundly last night.  Every noise was cause for us to jump up, listen for frightened squawks and check out the window for vicious intruders.

I’m not sure what else we could do to keep predators out of our coop. I hope our birds will be safe during the night and I hope we’ll be able to sleep soundly once again, knowing we’ve tucked them into their coop and secured the now full-length door.

I hope we’re not proven wrong yet again.


Blood, Sweat, Tears…and Radishes

Gardening is not for quitters. Especially during the first year, a garden will test you.  It will push you to your limit.  It demands your time, your energy, your problem-solving skills.  I’m not talking about the cute little pot of tomatoes people grow on patios or the 2×4 foot raised garden box.  Those are good things, don’t get me wrong, and any effort to produce one’s own food should be applauded, but a pot or two is mostly maintenance-free fun and doesn’t compare to our 3,500 square foot garden.  The garden we are growing, the hey-let’s-try-and-grow-all-our-own-veggies garden, the why-did-we-start-out-so-big garden, the that-grass-was-here-first-and-wants-its-land-back garden, our garden has called for my literal blood, sweat and tears before we even saw the first seedling sprout.

Would it surprise you then to hear that I love my garden? That I’m already thinking how I’ll expand it for next year?  I love working in it, seeing the plants grow and produce. WP_20160705_12_57_16_Pro And now that it’s covered with mulch and looking a bit better, I’m proud of my garden.  Is it still full of grass and weeds?  Yep.  Is it hopelessly patchy where some seeds didn’t sprout?  You betcha.  Are the rows wandering and uneven?  Totally.  Will passersby slow down and take pictures out their car windows like they do with Helga, our chicken mailbox?  Doubtful.  But I still love it.  The kids and I planted it together, so it’s not perfect.  WP_20160705_13_01_47_ProAnd I am far from a gifted gardener.  I have no green thumb.  I am a novice with much to learn.  I have to grunt and claw my way through this process of growing food, but I still find it fascinating, fulfilling, satisfying and spiritual.WP_20160705_12_56_12_Pro

We finally got this beast of a garden covered with the hay/manure mixture from the barn and surrounding barnyard that wintered our sheep and cows. Before we accomplished this, we had grass thriving right along with our fragile seedlings.

Wow, this is really embarrassing.  But yes, that is an actual garden, not just a patchy lawn.

It took a long time to clean out the whole barnyard and spread it on top of those weeds and around each of our plants.  WP_20160705_12_55_26_ProWe just barely finished and now we see grass poking up through the mulch.  Much less grass, to be sure, and much more manageable.  Each day this week, my morning project will be weeding a section of the garden.  If I wait until afternoon, the sun is so hot and I can feel it beating down on me.  Morning weeding is actually very pleasant, with mourning doves calling, ducks splashing, and a gentle breeze stirring.


This morning I was weeding my third row of carrots, while Elijah is a few rows down weeding beets until he decides he wants to check the radishes. He begins harvesting the larger radishes and thank goodness for them.WP_20160705_09_54_02_Pro  Radishes are as relentless as weeds and are neither hindered by them, nor any other shortcomings of the gardener.  Elijah pulled up a healthy handful of the spicy, round roots.

My happy, pajama’d harvester! 🙂

Radishes are about the easiest thing to grow, and provide as close to instant-reward as it gets in the agriculture world, therefore they are the perfect vegetable to grow to get a group of kids excited about gardening.  Think you don’t like radishes?  I think you’re wrong.  You love radishes, you just don’t know it yet.  Grow some, you still have plenty of time this year.  Once you harvest, slice up your radishes, sauté them in some butter until they are soft and sprinkle on salt and pepper. WP_20160705_17_27_59_Pro Mmmm, you’ll be glad you grew some!  Our radish tops don’t go to waste, either.  The bunnies were delighted to receive a delicious snack after I cut and washed our first garden harvest, mere weeks after planting the seeds!WP_20160705_12_44_52_Pro