Friday, August 4, 2017

Puzzle Toys for Ticky!

Ticky has been getting bored during the day, as evidenced by him throwing himself in front of the door in a dramatic fashion when I'm about to leave for work. To keep him busy while I'm gone I've  purchased and created puzzles for him to solve during the day. If you also have a cat that's bored during your work day or just driving you crazy with bad behavior while you're home, maybe these will spark some ideas for cat puzzles of your own!

Ticky and his new puzzle.
He says "put more treats in it hooman."

The purchased puzzle:
I bought a cat puzzle I found online called the "Brain Mover" by Trixie Pet Products. It was only $20 for something that can be reconfigured in different combinations of treat-finding and is also hard plastic so it can (supposedly) be washed in the dishwasher. They make a whole line of pet puzzles for dogs and cats, and have videos of pets actually using them so you can see how they are solved. I took a video of Ticky using his!

Ticky and I are both happy with this toy, but what if you don't want to spend $20 on a cat puzzle? I've also found a few creative ways to make similar toys out of recyclables. The only downside to those is that after awhile they wear out because the cat squishes and tears the pieces apart or the cat food gets the cardboard all oily. However, if you can find plastic recyclables these last much longer! I've seen cat puzzles made from Tupperware that can be machine washable.

The Busy Box: 

Hot glue some sections of toilet paper tubes and plastic bottles with large holes cut in the sides to a cardboard box lid. To cut the holes use an Exacto knife or box cutter to start the hole, then finish it up with scissors if the plastic is really thick. If it's thinner plastic it might be easiest just to cut it entirely with the knife/box cutter. If you have some jagged, uneven edges then either cut them smooth or sand the edge so your kitty's paws don't get poked. Toss a treat or two in each puzzle section before leaving for the day!

I made this from toilet paper tubes and a Gatorade bottle.

The Rolling Treat Dispenser:

This is simple to make from any plastic bottle. Rinse it thoroughly first and then cut holes about the diameter of your finger in the sides.

Make at least three holes, spaced along the length of the tube so if treats get stuck at one end they can still drop out. (Or I guess if your cat is the tenacious type it might keep batting it around until treats fall out even if you just cut one hole.) Make sure the treats you put in it are small enough to drop easily through the holes.

Ticky in action
Ticky loves this kind of toy and bats it around and then looks for any treats on the floor, bats it around again, etc. until it stops making the rattly noise. Hehe.

"Are they all gone?"

I hope these ideas inspire some puzzle-making for your pet! I've seen them used with dogs and even horses. Just stuff it with treats and they'll keep trying to figure a way to get to that tasty goodness.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Bean Harvest! And other garden updates.

Bush beans ready for picking.
Firstly I would like to report: Bush Beans are a success! These were a variety called "Tavera," a French Filet bush bean, meaning the bean pods are long and slender. Great for green beans! They have a good flavor on their own but I boiled the last batch for about 5 minutes with some bacon salt and it came out even tastier. Check out the harvest:
That's the second round of bean-picking this season.
The first was super tasty! Looking forward to eating this batch.

There are a few more flowers on some of the plants, but if there's a third harvest it won't be very big. I'm sort of contemplating taking out the beans and transferring some of my other plants to the front of the porch so they can get more sunlight.

Although this is a bush bean variety and stays very compact, they did require a little bit of support when it got windy. I improvised with string, pencils, and good ole' ducttape. It worked well and couldn't be seen from the front. I did have to tighten the tension on the string every now and then when it got wet, but it wasn't time consuming. I just twirled it around a pencil and re-taped it.

You can see my redneck bean support system peeking out from under the leaves.

In other news, that rose that I was nursing back from an early summer crisping is doing so well it's decided to flower again... 

Pretty happy I didn't lose this plant. It's so pretty!

I learned my lesson about small pots and recently moved the lavender up into a bigger pot to avoid the same crispiness problem. Now it has some more room to grow before winter which is good for a perennial. 


The Venus Fly Trap is loving the fact that it's right next to my now-flowering Oregano plant. The Oregano draws in all sorts of tiny flies and sweat bees for it to capture. I'm hoping to keep this plant outside until the first frost. Venus Fly Traps require colder weather to enter a dormant period and store up energy for the next year, however it gets too cold here to leave it outdoors all winter. When it gets frosty outside I will attempt putting this thing in the fridge! 

 That's about all the updates I have for now. I'll be putting together a new planter arrangement once the beans come out, and cucumber vines will be replaced with fall lettuce. Until then I'm just keeping on top of watering for the most part.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

When Cat Training is Potentially Life Saving

As you know if you've been following this blog, one of my many obsessions is training my cat. Not many people in the past considered cats trainable and that mentality continues today in many cases. However, I'd argue that a trained cat is a healthier cat mentally and in some cases physically, as it's easier to get your cat out of danger or a sticky situation if it already knows some basic training. Granted I don't have a degree in this (yet... I've been eyeballing some cat training courses), but here are a few scenarios where training can save the day:

Ensign Ticky says he's been well trained at the Academy.
He always follows the Prime Directive.
...Ok, maybe not always but he tries his best.
Ticky needed to be comfortable with being handled in order to get him in and out of his harness. He had to become accustomed to being lightly restrained and pushing his head through his harness and then back out of it each time we went for a walk. I never thought about how useful this would be in other situations until Ticky got his head stuck through a bag handle and didn't know how to get it off by himself. Cats are nosy but they can also panic if they think the thing around their neck is "chasing" them when they try to get away from it. Plastic bags, or in one cat's case when I was growing up a string of jingle bells, can become terrifying monsters pretty quickly. Luckily Ticky wasn't in panic mode yet and I managed to lift the bag up and say "head through" like we do every time he has to back his head out of his harness. With a familiar-ish scenario and command he pulled his head out of the bag handle, no problems.

As you can see, Ticky finds himself in odd bag-related
situations pretty frequently.
Training a cat to go into a carrier on their own is very useful for vet trips, but especially so if the vet trip is urgent or if you need to get the cat out of the building quickly in an emergency. Not that your cat is going to go in as smoothly as in a calmer situation, but they will at least not associate that gaping carrier maw only with going to the vet. It is more likely that you won't have as many problems if they go in and out of the carrier on a regular basis. We had a fire alarm go off in our building one time and Ticky was confused enough by the noise that I could scoop him up, deposit him in his carrier, and close the door in about five seconds. We'll see how it goes if it happens again now that he knows what the noise means... But at least getting him in the carrier won't be the hard part. It'll be dragging the cat out from under the bed.

Ticky learning "mark" which tells him to go to a specific spot on the floor.

Cats, like many animals, like predictability. Trick training mentally stimulates a cat when they're bored but it also provides something comforting and familiar to do when guests arrive or your cat is feeling unsettled about something in its environment. It proves to the cat that there's something they can actively do to receive a predictable reward, giving some semblance of control and familiarity in the moment.

For stressful scenarios always return to very simple, well-learned tricks.
For Ticky, these are "sit" and "up".
Finally, if you harness train your cat and walk them around outside then they are more likely to be familiar with the area if they do escape. Ticky runs immediately back to our porch and asks to be let in when something scares him outside. He now knows which door is ours so he can get back home if he's only a short distance from it. When I'm not quick enough closing the screen door and he dives off into the shrubbery then I at least know he's not going to bolt into the next county. I can go fish him out from under his favorite bush.

"Mom, I don't like it out here. Let me inside."
There are countless other scenarios I probably won't even think of until they arise. The point is- a trained cat is not impossible, in fact many people train their cats without thinking about it. Does your cat come running when you rattle a treat bag? Do they sit in the kitchen while you're getting their food? They have been trained! Training isn't as hard as you think and might be something that saves your cat's life.
Ticky trains hard! His motto is "just did it."

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Cucumbers: A Saga

I decided to take a break from tomato plants at the beginning of this year, partly because they had attracted an impressive infestation of spider mites the year before and the area probably needed a break from tomatoes. The other part was because I wanted to try a different type of plant in containers: cucumbers.

A helpful little pollinator

Cucumbers are a pretty cool plant to learn about. To start off with, cucumbers are a type of plant that can self-pollinate, but have distinct male and female flowers on the same plant. I didn't know this at first, and assumed that the flowers I was seeing bloom and then immediately die and fall off of the plant were failed cucumbers. They instead turned out to be the male flowers, which are the first to bloom on a cucumber plant. Later a mix of male and female flowers appear, with the female flowers having what are basically baby, unpollinated cucumbers attached to the back of them. If the flower isn't pollinated, or isn't pollinated well (apparently?) then the baby cucumber shrivels up. If it is pollinated though, then that part becomes the cucumber after the flower dies off.

Here you can see a female flower in the foreground
with a male flower in the upper right

Speaking of which, I now have SO MANY CUCUMBERS. I did not realize that three cucumber plants is way too many cucumbers for two people to consume before they go bad. I'm literally giving them away to neighbors and coworkers and still have enough to put in my lunch every day.

Seriously though, I'm eating a cucumber as I'm typing this.
Maybe I can try pickling them?

The first few were really bitter, so I did some more research to figure out why my cucumbers were basically coming off the vine inedible. It turned out that cucumber plants produce something called cucurbitacin which is normally found in the leaves but migrates into the skin of cucumber fruits when there's inconsistent watering. I'm not sure why...but that definitely explained it- the weather had been unusually hot that week and I'd come home to wilted cucumber plants a few times. From then on it was a half gallon to a gallon of water a day. Each. That means I'm dumping a total of three gallons on my cucumber plants alone in hot weather. Yeesh. Well, they are mostly water after all. I found out that even if a cucumber is bitter, peeling the cucumber takes the bitter skin off of it and the inside tastes just fine!

I'm glad I trellised these. Much more space for cucumbers to grow!
In a couple of weeks the cucumbers will probably be done fruiting and start to die off. I bought "Straight 8's" which are one of the types that loads you up with cucumbers for a month or so and then gives up the ghost. I'm thinking I'll plant lettuces as a fall crop in the buckets. Maybe mix in a few flowers for earlier in August... I'll miss my natural porch screen though! It shades some of my other porch plants a bit too much currently, but it does provide a nice cool place to relax when I get home from work!

People walking by ask me if these are pumpkins.
 I'm like "Nope, just ginormous cucumber plants."

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Bodi and How to Chill

Bodi is not the chillest of horses around human beings. It's not that he's afraid of them or wants to beat up on them or anything. He mostly seems to think that human beings are great and whenever they show up it means food or playtime. Hence the problem- I can not get him to chill.
Bodi, Prince of Not Chill in the kingdom of Playlandia

Today I decided I would create some chill time with Bodi. I showed up with nothing really in mind other than spending time in the pony paddock, standing. I walked in and Bodi immediately trotted over to see what I was up to. I was holding a water bottle! Play toy! So he tried to bite the water bottle. I did the pressing on his cheek to get him to turn his face away. That worked for about a second. Then it was my pockets. Did I have treats? What are these, keys? Are keys tasty? No Bodi. I pushed on his face again. And again. There was a lot of face poking. I'm sure he got pretty tired of me poking on his face, but at least I was consistent in NOT poking his face if he wasn't bothering me...

To be fair, most of what we do IS playtime.
I can see where he'd get the idea.

Eventually he started eating hay and just occasionally checking to make sure I was still going to push on his face if he tried to play with me. I told him yeah, that was still a thing. He tried smushing his body into my space and I poked him in the side until he moved. He tried eating my boots. He tried faceplanting my leg. He tried the water bottle again. Meanwhile I poked and pushed and stomped and waved my hands around every time he got in my space and then just went back to standing as soon as he got out of it.

Somewhere along the line I got this weird idea that maybe if I could convince him that I wanted to graze with him he'd figure out that I wasn't standing in his paddock because I wanted to play. After all, playing (or training) in the ring is really the only reason I go back there and get him normally. He might think that I was just taking a long time. So... I bent down and rummaged around in the hay with my hand and sighed really loud, like the horses do when they're done with nonsense and are ready to go back to eating. Bodi looked at me for a second, nudged me (I poked him back out of my space) and then started eating hay alongside me! He still got in my space a bit, but he was no longer grabby and playful. He was more trying to figure out if I had something tastier than he had and if I would sharesies.
"She's good at scritches.
Maybe she's good at finding tasty things to eat too?"

Upside down is an odd perspective to be in with a horse. Weirdly it was easier to bump him over when inverted. My elbows were more effective in shielding both my face and bottom half (at least from a miniature horse. I don't think I'd try this with a big horse). It was also easier to get him to react without me having to touch him. If I rotated my body toward him he swung his head away faster. I sort of wonder if horses communicate more often with each other in this chill, head-down position so they're better at reading it, or if they just feel more chill in general when grazing so they don't want to cause as many problems. Eventually he legit lost interest and wandered over to graze next to Pudge.

I don't know exactly what I accomplished with this other than learning more about how horses interact with each other while grazing. Bodi may or may not have learned any personal space lessons. I guess I'll see in future interactions. Thankfully no one was like "what the crap are you doing" while I was busy pretend-grazing with the ponies. Maybe I would've made something up like I lost something in the hay and was looking for it... haha. But now you ALL KNOW how I spent my afternoon. Judge all you like. I will continue my quest to learn more about horses, whether right side up or upside down!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Start of Summer Garden

The porch garden has been loving the warmer weather and growing into its summer look. Though the beginning of summer has fewer flowers, the leaves of plants go crazy, as seen in the sudden burst of growth in my young cucumber plants.

Last week's baby cucumber plant, starting to climb the lattice.

Cucumber has reached the top of the lattice, starting to climb the porch railing now!
Other plants had to wait until the warm weather to come outside. I'm trying out a Venus Fly Trap this year. I'm hoping to keep it for multiple years. Apparently they are native to North Carolina bogs and can be kept in the refrigerator for winter dormancy in colder climates? In any case, they're a bit picky about their surroundings. They have to be kept somewhere humid, without any fertilizer, bright sunlight, and only rainwater or distilled water. Hopefully this plant will make it... 

The sea thrift is thriving! I'm happy that it likes its super airy pot and well-draining soil. I may have to move it to a larger pot when the weather gets hotter so it has more root mass to keep it from getting too thirsty during the day. (PS: Check out the little lavender plant in the background! New perennial flower for beeees!)

Lack of root mass was what made my poor rose lose all of its leaves during the few 90 degree days we had a few weeks ago. The weird thing was that the leaves didn't droop, they crisped. I've never had a rose before, so I would look out, see the leaves all perky and think it was ok. It was definitely not ok. :( By the time I looked closely at the leaves it only had a few un-crisped ones left. I soaked it in water and trimmed it back a bit, trying to keep all of the un-crispy leaves. It slowly dropped the ones that had died. Now, however, it's in a larger pot and I noticed that new leaves are sprouting from the leaf nodes. Give it a few weeks and hopefully I'll have a picture of a healthy plant to show you.

Beans have been sprouting! These are Bush Beans, which means they grow in sort of a low, shrubby shape instead of trailing. I've heard they're good for pots so I'm trying them out this year. 

I really like sitting out on my porch and enjoying my garden. It's very calming. :) 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The End of Lettuce: A Summary

The first of the lettuces has bolted, signaling the end of lettuce season for this year. After the lettuce bolts its leaves become much more bitter which makes them less tasty for salads, though I can probably still use it with a lot of salad dressing or on a sandwich. I'll pull the other lettuces before they bolt to keep them nice and sweet in the fridge.

This is what bolted lettuce looks like.
The middle stem is now quickly growing a whole bunch of tiny leaves up a stalk
instead of forming one big leaf at a time from the center.

Lettuce bolts right before it starts flowering. Usually this corresponds with the much warmer weather of late May/early June, but this year has been weird and we're in the middle of some 80-90 degree days. The lettuce thinks it's time to flower.

I still have some very juvenile lettuces surrounding one of the cucumbers in a big pot. I'll wait to pull those, as I'm hoping that the deeper soil and larger mass of it might keep the roots cool enough to make it through this warm spell. Maybe they'll make it to maturity before wilting or bolting.

The young'ins. You can see a Green Salad Bowl lettuce variety
in the side of the pot closest to the camera.
Big Buttercrunches in the back.
In summary, the lettuce mix I got from Benkhes was fantastic. I especially liked the Buttercrunch variety in there- they're hardy and have a really great flavor. My second favorite was the Lolla Rossa, though its leaves were a little more delicate it had awesome color contrast and tasted good. The other varieties in the pack were Black Seeded Simpson, Green Salad Bowl, Red Oakleaf, and Rouge d'Hiver. The others also tasted fine, but sometimes didn't have the oomph to get going in a two month span and/or got leggy and paper-thin leaves. This was especially evident with the Green Salad Bowl lettuce. I had only the Green Salad Bowl variety last year and it was the same way- I eventually just pulled up the whole plant in order to use it in salad because picking off leaves left the other leaves flopped over and trailing in the dirt. Next year I'll probably just get a whole packet of the Buttercrunch and Lolla Rossa.

Buttercrunch and Lolla Rossa being fabulous.
I got four or five lunch salads out of these three alone,
with the plants still looking full and pretty after picking.
Grand total probably seven or eight salads after I pull them.

Also weird discovery: the hardware cloth that I used as a cage to keep the squirrels out also helped with keeping dirt off of the leaves of the lettuces. Since I gently pulled the leaves over the top of the hole cut in the cage wire as the plant grew, the leaves all stayed clean and ready to just pick off of the plant and eat as opposed to the ones in the big pot which got gritty and needed washing. (I mean, really you should always wash your lettuce before eating it, but sometimes you just get impatient.)

Some Red Oakleaf in the front there.
All in all this was a great success. I'll now have three empty pots for bush beans and flowers! :D I'll plant lettuce again in the fall.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Bodi and The Pros and Cons of Clicker Training Him

So firstly, I'd like to report that Bodi did GREAT at the Unicorn Festival demonstration this weekend. Granted, the only people at the fence watching us were a handful of kids and Bodi's sponsors, but it's the first time I've ever done anything with a horse in front of an audience, and Bodi's first time too so huzzah! He was wonderful. <3

Us preparing for the Unicorn Festival demo.

I started trick training Bodi three weeks ago with a pouch full of treats and a clicker. I'd done some previous work with Aspen but he's a different age and personality than Bodi. Old horse who is super timid about things vs bold two year old. I wasn't sure what to expect.

"Look, I'm a unicorn.
Also not scared of things on my head apparently."

The first trick was associating the click with the treat which took next to no time at all. This was quickly followed by a need for a "get your face out of my pocket" trick. I started bothering him by poking on his cheek when he was getting grabby, and clicked and treated when he moved his head away from me. Eventually I stopped clicking and treating for it and just stopped poking his cheek whenever he turned away. It works...sort of. I'm still trying to figure out how to get a longer "face away" time. I currently have to keep poking it every three seconds.

"treat? Treat? TREAT TREAT TREAT?!?!?!?!"

The second trick was touching things with his nose. First a wand with a bright card at the end of it, then cones and the magic wand I was going to be using for the Unicorn Festival. He picked this one up in no time. Sniff it and get a treat? Yes please. 

Thankfully Barbara had already trained him to stand still when held by the halter under his chin, so I used that when treat feeding so he didn't bite me. I also learned that part of the reason he'd take nose-dives at my hand was because he was concerned about me snatching it away before he got all of it. Slowly presenting the treat and letting him lip around on my hand for a few seconds after eating the treat helped with that.

Bodi also learned to follow posture directions. He can now gauge inviting toward (turning a hip away) and pushing away (hip turning toward him) and with this we zig-zag through cones and do the cha cha.

Stopping with big, exaggerated motions on my part.

Bodi's favorite seems to be going over a tiny jump pole. He only does it two or so times though, before he starts knocking it down and kicking at it. I'm not pushing it right now. He's got too much other stuff to learn. :-/ 

Trot poles are fun too!
The week before the Unicorn Festival I learned how to do round pen join-up with Bodi under direction from Barbara. He spent about 15 minutes trotting and cantering around and attempting to kick at me when he didn't like being driven. I tend not to want to discipline animals even when I probably should. Having a horse, even a tiny one, kick at you makes me a little bit more ok with moving him away with the lunge whip. O_o Like, cat getting feisty and nipping at your hands is annoying. Horse kicking you is more like "ahh, get it away before it hurts me." I'm glad Bodi is a mini so he's really only capable of bruising my shins. Anyway, he stopped trying to kick me and started listening to directions to slow down and turn left and right, so we ended the session. We both got good exercise out of it and the next day he still came trotting up to the gate to meet me for training, so I guess he doesn't hate me for bopping him in the butt a couple of times. Yay.

We're starting to work on not following me so closely now. Even though he's a mini and can't run me over so much as smack into the back of my legs it's still good to have him stay a couple of feet away when I'm leading him so he's not tripping me or running a tiny kid over. I'd also like to teach him how to stand on a box and pick things up off of the ground! I'm grateful for all of the direction that I've been getting from Barbara and for them trusting me enough to work with Bodi. He's always enthusiastic and fun to be around. It seems like he enjoys it too. I look forward to seeing his little inquisitive face at the gate when I come to get him. :)

Friday, March 24, 2017


If you've been following the blog, back in mid-January I went stir crazy and decided to start growing some lettuce. Yesterday I had the first delicious salad made from my home-grown lettuce. It was about two months from seed planting to harvesting. The seed packet was correct!

Four generations of lettuce...

These varieties are looseleaf lettuces, which are harvested by picking off only a few leaves at a time off of each plant. The picture at the top is of the three lettuce plants I just picked the outer leaves off of. As you can see, they still look great and will continue growing new leaves in until the weather gets too hot and they "bolt," aka- start flowering. The reds seem to do better in direct sun, and look gorgeous next to the bright green. I love the variety in this mixed looseleaf lettuce seed I bought.

I've been phasing my lettuce plantings so I've got several generations of lettuces growing at this point. I think once the current 3 day old seedlings mature, that'll be the last batch for spring. After that I'll be starting the bean and cucumber crops! 

The newest baby lettuces

Lettuce grows best in cool to moderately warm weather. On nights under around 27F I brought all of my looseleaf lettuces inside. (Kale stayed out until 18F). Usually, though, the nights were mild enough that I could just leaf them out there. Haha...leaf. 

Kale is in no danger from light frost...just from squirrels!
The one in the middle got damaged by a squirrel despite the cage. :(

Lettuces and other cold-weather crops have the ability to survive because they can increase the amount of sugars they produce in their leaf cells. Normally plants get frostbite when the water inside their cells bursts the cell walls. That's why they go all mushy. Cold tolerant plants use sugar as an antifreeze, to lower the freezing temperature of the liquid in their cells. That's why lettuce and kale taste sweeter if grown in cold weather! 

Look at that colorful bowl of sweet, sweet salad greens. Mmmm.

I hope to start getting most of my salad greens from my garden instead of the grocery store in the next few weeks as the plants all start to mature. Hooray growing food! :D