On our little farmer-ish homestead, we have two Great Pyrenees that we love to the moon and back. These dogs are just beyond amazing, so intelligent, so stubborn, so loyal, such good friends. We have a female and a male.
Boudica, named for the Celtic warrior queen, is truly a warrior–and also a nana. Yes, that’s her. She is a warrior nana. She is fierce in a way I can’t explain but so sweet and loving at the same time. She protects everyone inside and outside of the house, from chickens to children. She even helped teach Gus how to behave with the chickens and ducks. She is a remarkable being.
Gus, short for Prosatagus, named for Queen Boudica’s husband, really enjoys life. I don’t know how else to put it. He really enjoys life. He smells the flowers, looks at the clouds, and loves to snuggle.
An incident happened last week that that just crystallized for me the beauty of these two dogs and the way they approach their lives.
Our ducks had a hawk visitor last week, and it was scary. The ducks live right near our house, but this hawk still swooped in. I was sitting at the breakfast table when I saw something swoop in right in front of our window. I ran to the back door just in time to see a hawk land in a low branch, not 15 feet from our house.
The ducks were terrified, and I turned to them, quickly counting to make sure we had six still. We did, thankfully. When I turned back toward the hawk, it was gone. I was relieved but so worried about its possible return.
As I stepped back into the house, I was met at the door by Boudica. She was upset and anxious to get outside. She ran out barking, doing her perimeter check immediately. Then, she came around to where the ducks were and sat herself right in front of the duck house. She sat there forever. I finished breakfast, graded some papers; she was still there.
She sat there for close to many hours, until well into the afternoon, protecting the ducks.
At some point, I had to go upstairs for something, and that’s where I found Gus. He was snuggled up in our quilt, settled into to a lovely nap, with not a care in world, just a squinty smile that he always gives, the one that says, “mama, come snuggle me.”
I sat down with him and snuggled. I could relax with Gus. I have Boudica.
This week, I have my first guest blogger post. My husband, Ron Sands, agreed to write about our duck ducks for me. I’ve been wanting to devote a post to the ducks for months, but I’ve found myself unable to do the duck ducks justice. The duck ducks are really my husband’s babies. I think you’ll find his talent for duck-duck description quite enjoyable.
Ducks. As a matter of fact—ducks unlimited. No, not the wildlife, conservation organization, our fenced backyard. At least, at times, it seems so. We have six Indian Runners. They are the duck coterie, the crew, the collective—the Borg. We named one Seven; she is Seven of Six. She is Seven of Six because she is absolutely loud enough to be two ducks. She is also the smallest, which perhaps explains her emphatic and raucous need for attention.
This might be the point in the narration were the reader stops and asks, “Why in the world do you have six Indian Runner Ducks?” Believe me, I’m asking myself that at this point, too. According to the internet of all things, Indian Runner Ducks are excellent egg layers, compliment a garden well, and their antics are great fun to watch.
Well then, I thought maybe I’d get some eggs. That would be a great perk; I understand duck eggs are large and delicious. Rather than go online, we ordered the cheap ducks from a local Farmer’s Union—straight run only, minimum of six. I am always unrealistic about these things in that I always expect to lose a few birds. But, so far, out of 48 birds, counting chickens, we have lost just two—one was DOA, and the other died at around a year from being egg bound. That’s a 4% death ratio.
The ducks are showing no signs of ill health; four percent of six is roughly a quarter of a percent, which means their mortality, at best, likely will be limited to the loss of a few feathers. And the lottery gave us a 4-2 split that the house did not win. Four of those ducks are never going to lay anything but down. The only perk—males are far quieter than females.
Okay, so they will help control insects in the garden. Yes, well, Indian runners apparently do not have it in their DNA to “go around.” They are tramplers—single-minded, seemingly-oblivious tramplers. They recognize nothing as an obstacle that cannot be waddled, tripped, and flopped over. They do eat insects, however, and Japanese Beetles, for which our garden seems to be a destination resort, are a favorite. But vegetables in their path take a cumbrous and prolonged beating. I am amazed at how long it takes a duck to scramble, waddle, and quack through a bean plant.
Accordingly, I am now adept at catching Japanese Beetles. I’ve caught probably 200 this summer. Those ducks are eating right out of my hand. I guess it beats the beetle-drowning bucket.
Well, they’ll be cute and the wife and the kid will enjoy them. That statement was rock-solid for the first month, mainly because the ducks were mostly too small to effectively express their ethnocentric-flavored xenophobia. (Their first swimming pool was a 9 x 6 baking dish.) While it is true, they will reliably show up for food—and eat beetles out of my hand—at any other time, they look at me as if I’m coming to collect the rent. Considering the 4-2 split, they might be on to something.
At the beginning of their second month, we turned them out; we also bought them a kiddie pool. I have since learned, it’s likely no accident the words foul and fowl are homonyms. Duck “tea” is not a pleasant liquid, and six ducks can brew it black, potent, and surprisingly quick. On the upside, it gets the compost pile “cooking,” and our corn is taller this year than it has ever been.
And, now, after three months and a recent pool-side exhibition worthy of a honeymoon hotel at Cabo, one that brought color to my somewhat worldly cheeks, I’m having to explain the farm facts of life to my seven-year-old. Indeed, the ducks are no longer cute.
Which brings me back to that rent. Just how delicious are recycled Japanese Beetles?
So blueberry season is now upon us in Maine. One of the reasons I love the Maine summer is that we have three berry seasons: We start with strawberry season; then the raspberries come; and we end on blueberries.
We kind of have a fourth season of summer in Maine, but it has nothing to do with berries. I think it’s called the “melancholy that our beautiful summer is almost over” season, but that’s for writing about later. Right now, it’s blueberry time!
I love blueberries. I mean, I don’t have the history with blueberries that I have with strawberries, but I love them so much that, two years ago, for my birthday, my husband bought me six blueberry bushes to plant in our garden.
It was a bit of a rough go at first. There was a bunny who ate both leaves and berries. Then, one of the bushes got sick. Still, last summer, we had a small but delicious crop of blueberries.
But, this year, things were looking great. All six bushes were loaded with berries, and I was so excited!
Until the unthinkable happened…our ducky-ducks ate all the blueberries!
There were like 50 to 70 berries left at the top of the very tallest bush. Our sweet little ducky-ducks (aka blueberry thieves) ate everything else! I am talking about hundreds and hundreds of blueberries. Those stinkers! Still, I can’t be mad at them because they’re cute, and they’re just doing what ducks do.
My husband fenced off most of the garden, but he didn’t fence off the blueberries. We paid for this and learned a hard lesson. Next year, it’s the fence!
But, we still had like 75 to 100 berries left, and I, being the optimist I am, thought this would be just enough to make a good batch of blueberry muffins. I have this amazing blueberry muffin recipe (see below), and I wanted to make a batch with our own blueberries.
Unfortunately, those little ducky-ducks were very persuasive. As I was picking those beautiful blueberries on the tallest bush, a few of our chicky girls came over to “share.” They’re so cute, I couldn’t resist sharing some. But the next thing I know, the ducks are with me.
There they were. Chewing hopefully on the blueberry bush next to me (on one that had already been stripped) and looking at me from the side, as if to say “Oh, mama, we love the blueberries. Please share with us.”
And if you think I’m making up that look, you have to meet our ducks. Believe me, they know what they’re doing.
So what am I supposed to do but share blueberries? So I did.
I think we still have enough for one batch of muffins, but it looks like it’s going to be another year of purchasing and picking blueberries from a local farm. Of course, that’s OK because that’s awesome too.
If you live in Maine, here’s a great blog post from Diane Atwood’s Catching Health offering a list of places you can go to pick blueberries. It’s an awesome resource!
And, once you get your berries, you might want to try them in this delicious bed-and-breakfast-style blueberry muffin recipe.
As an aside, I’ve never been to a bed and breakfast, so I don’t know what kind of muffins you would get at one, but if I had a bed and breakfast, you could get these blueberry muffins there. They’re a hit with my whole family—and our neighbors. Plus, they’re super quick and easy to make.
Blueberry Muffins with Crumb Topping
*Please note that this recipe was adapted and “remixed” from several recipes years ago, so I have no recipe to credit here.
Ingredients for Muffins
1 ½ cup of flour
¾ cup of sugar
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
¼ cup canola oil
½ teaspoon vanilla
almost ¾ cup of milk
1 ½ cup of blueberries
Ingredients for Topping
½ cup light brown sugar
⅓ cup flour
1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup soft or melted butter
In a large bowl, mix all of your dry ingredients for the muffins together. Add the wet ingredients and be careful on the milk. It really does need to be a little less than ¾ cup of milk. Too much milk seems to really negatively impact the muffins. After you mix the wet and dry ingredients, fold in your blueberries.
Use fresh blueberries your ducks didn’t steal if possible.
For the topping, mix the sugar, flour, and cinnamon. After you have mixed those well, add ¼ cup of the soft or melted butter. The topping should be crumbling just a bit, so if it’s too moist, you can add a dab more of brown sugar or flour.
Put into a 12-muffin pan and bake for 15 to 16 minutes at 375 degrees.
It’s a pretty easy recipe and so delicious. I hope you enjoy!