Phoebe Update and a Question: Is Pet Insurance Worthwhile?

Many of you have asked for an update on our cat Phoebe. She was born with a very defective heart. Instead of being separated into chambers, basically Pheobe’s heart is one big sack. Even her heart valves are defective. If she were a human being, in a prosperous country, she would be waiting for a heart transplant. Cats, however, can’t have heart transplants. Our vet has said that we should enjoy every day we have with her, but that we should not expect her to live for more than nine months from now. She is on a few inexpensive medications to make her days comfortable. She’s slowed down a bit and is showing the first signs of heart failure (an occasional cough), but otherwise acts like a normal cat, playing with Trout and enjoying long afternoon naps.

She is a daily reminder that we should not take life for granted, that we have no control over when our time to pass will come, that we need to celebrate each day as sacred and make the best of the time we have on this earth. The thoughts and prayers readers of this blog have sent our way are greatly appreciated. You, our readers, are people who grow, make, share, and are involved in making this world a better place. We our fortunate to be in communion with you, some in person, others in spirit.

As this blog is practical one, I have a question for you. Thankfully we did not have to make any hard financial decisions regarding her care. There’s simply nothing that can be done. But veterinary expenses raise some real ethical (I’ll leave those ethical questions for philosophers and theologians to parse out) and financial quandaries.  As to those financial questions, I’m curious to hear from blog readers about veterinary insurance. Do you think it’s worthwhile? Have you used it to care for the pets in your own household?

A Time Out Box for Quail

 
In this week’s guest blog post, Nancy Klehm tells us about her unique way of dealing with pesky quail: 

It is a beautiful, lush rainy spring in Chicago and all my birds get a large bouquet of fresh weedy greens everyday to supplement their feed: chickweed, dandelion, clover, shephard’s purse, garlic mustard, stinging nettles.

Besides chickens, I have been raising quail for the past four years – I have both Coturnix and Bobwhite quail. Quail need to be enclosed and can’t ‘free range’. They are top choice of any urban predator: raccoon, possum, stray cat and raptors.

After almost a year of this particular constellation of individual birds living peacefully, unrest flared. Recently, ‘B.B. Curious’, the largest of all the quail became exceedingly aggressive towards the others. She was chasing them and pulling their back feathers out causing periodic frantic scurrying and distressing calls from the others. I checked her body and health. I stepped up their seeds and protein in case it was a protein deficiency causing this. I created visual baffles with extra flower pots (quails love to niche themselves).
And so, after nearly a week of this behavior, my friend Sarah built this ‘quail timeout box’ in a jiffy from scrap wood and a milk crate she found. Needless to say, B.B. Curious, settled into it comfortably and after a few days, was released to rejoin her bevy much more at ease.

Picture Sundays: Trout Smells Kraut

Somehow, in a post about a handy fermenter from the Farmer’s Kitchen, I failed to put up this shamelessly cute picture of our cat, Trout, interfering with the photo session.

If you’d like more proof that the internet is some kind of million typing monkey/non-linear/collective unconsciousness generation machine, try typing “cat and sauerkraut” into Google. You get a fluffy and deaf white cat who loves sauerkraut. We can now consider that long experiment in human civilization complete.

How to Prevent Bees From Living in Your Walls . . . or Welcome Them In

I love and keep bees. That being said, I’d prefer not to have them living in the walls of the house. Now, a hive can live in a wall for years and cause no harm–forget about the horror stories told by exterminators (they are, after all, selling poison). But if you have to remove bees from a wall it can be an expensive job if done correctly. I’ve removed hives from walls and it’s both hard on the bees and the beekeeper.

Thankfully you can take a few easy steps to prevent a hive from moving into your house. Bees like dark hollow spaces–think of a dead tree or an empty stud wall. Here in LA many old houses, such as ours, have lots of cracks a bee colony would be happy to move into. Note the small hole I found on one of our walls that opens into an empty space between the studs (old LA houses often have no insulation).

So how do you keep bees from moving in? According to backwards beekeeping master Kirk Anderson., all you need to do is fill a wall cavity with a can of spray foam insulation.

Please note: do not do this if there is already a hive in residence! If that is the case, hire a beekeeper to cut or trap them out. Bees are very gentle until you disturb their living quarters. If you’re in Los Angeles you can call the Backwards Beekeper rescue line. If you’re not in Los Angeles, start your own Backwards group!

How to Welcome Bees Into Your Wall
Now, a more permacultural approach would be to design buildings in such a way to welcome bees into a wall.  Here’s an example of a hive box built into a stone wall in India:

Photo from http://ranichari.blogspot.com/

There’s a tradition of keeping hives in wall or niches in Europe and many other parts of the world. No need for spray foam or exterminators–just lots of free honey from your wall.

Bee skep in a wall in Kent, England.

Time to bring back this practice!

Note from Kelly: This might seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many people pay for bee removal or extermination and then do nothing afterward to correct the conditions that attracted the bees in the first place. Invariably the bees come back, because a house which looked good to one swarm will look just as good to the next swarm that comes along. Better, in fact, because it will smell of bees. Plug those holes and screen off all vents!

Altadena Kitten Needs a Home

Some horrible person kicked this little kitten. My friend April took her to the vet and saved her life. She needs a home. She is about 9 months old, is fixed with a tipped ear, and has had her rabies and 3-in-1 shots. If you’d like to take her home please contact April at [email protected].

Japanese Cat Baskets

omg that’s cute

Someone help me, I’m obsessed with Japanese cat baskets (稚座 or neko chigura).  Like all traditional Japanese crafts, they are functional and stunningly beautiful.

Mrs. Root Simple and I want to learn basket weaving just to make one of these things. Woven out of rice stalks, there are, thank you for asking, Youtube videos showing how they are made:

And, yes, you can watch cute videos showing their use–say goodbye to office productivity today!

According to Modern Cat (I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit I read that blog) these things aren’t available in the US, though you can admire this Japanese website that sells them. Guess we will have to make our own.

Note from Kelly:  Say we make one of these…100 hours and 1000 curses later, won’t our kitties promptly adopt their new 稚座 as a scratching post? The Japanese must have figured this out. Back to the  research!

Vital Farms: Pasture Raised, Organic Eggs at Whole Foods

Image from the Vital Farms blog.

Over the weekend I attended the Natural Products Expo West, a massive health food industry convention. Yes, indeed, Fabio was in attendance selling some sort of powdered supplement and I may have seen Ziggy Marley packing up his own bottles of “Coco’Mon” coconut oil. Such are the indignities one encounters on the downward arc of a career in reggae music or romance book cover modeling.

Out of the nearly 2,000 exhibitors of, frankly, health food store junk food, one stood out: Vital Farms, purveyors of eggs from pasture raised hens. The overwhelming majority of eggs in this country are laid by chickens crammed into small cages or, arguably worse, crammed into big sheds.  “Free range,” “cage free” and “organic,” mean absolutely nothing. What makes Vital Farms different is that the eggs they sell were laid by chickens who live outside, during the day, on pasture. Their spokesperson offered to let me tour the farms they contract with, something that, I doubt, any of the big egg producers would offer.

The Cornocopia Institute gives them a “five egg (exemplary)” rating, citing their rotational grazing methods, abstinence from the practice of beak trimming and year round outdoor access for the hens. Vital Farms contracts with several farms in Texas, Oklahoma and Georgia. Their eggs are available nationwide at Whole Foods and they have expanded into meat chickens.

Now, hopefully, I can recover from the spectral celebrity hallucinations induced by downing hundreds of free samples of things like pro-biotic frozen pizza (I’m not making this up) and caveman power bars. Perhaps a pasture raised egg omelet will wipe away my açaí berry hangover.

Thanks to Dale Benson for suggesting attending this event and for driving, spending a half hour finding a parking space and pointing out Ziggy Marley or someone who resembled Ziggy Marley packing up those bottles of coconut oil.

Solitary Bee Nests: Why Having Bare Ground is Good

Solitary bee nesting sites? Cat added for scale. Photo by Anne Hars.

Just as I was about to arrogantly suggest to my neighbor Anne that she mulch her garden paths, we spotted what I believe to be some sort of ground nesting bee activity. We found neat little holes scattered about the the middle of a dirt path. More appeared today.

According to Attracting Native Pollinators: The Xerces Society Guide to Conserving North American Bees and Butterflies and Their Habitat, 70% of solitary bees (not to be confused with honey bees) build their nests in open, dry spots of dirt. While I’m all for mulch to build soil and suppress weeds, the Xerces Society makes a good case for keeping a small part of your yard bare and thus open for native bee habitat.

In case these are the infamous Los Angeles sandworms, Anne plans on avoiding rhythmic walking in the backyard over the next few weeks.

Insect Hotel

This is old news, but we thought it worth repeating in light of last week’s review of Attracting Native Pollinators.

Above is a picture of the winning design of a native pollinator habitat built by Arup Associates in response to the Beyond the Hive competition put on by the City of London.  The Core77 post we’re linking to has more views and also some pics of the runners up. It might give you some ideas for building your own habitats at home.