Animal of the Month – The Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck

The Mandarin is a bright and colorful wood duck from Asia, primarily China and Japan, but they are also found in Siberia and North and South Korea. They are Asia’s counterpart to our North American Wood Duck. Easy to raise in captivity, the Mandarin is a duck that is becoming more and more in demand by collectors.

The male Mandarin Duck is easy to identify, as his plumage is a bright orange, purple, blue, with patches of black, green, and white. The female Mandarin is actually a bit larger than the male and is brown, gray, and white. She looks very similar to the North American Wood Duck female. Males will “plump” themselves up during mating season in order to become more attractive to the females.

Mandarins nest in hollow trees and will use nest boxes if they are provided. They lay about 10 eggs on average. Their natural habitat is found in marshes in or near wooded areas. Once their babies hatch, they drop out of the nests and begin swimming.

Mandarin Ducks are omnivores and they love mealworms and small fish. They also love seeds, greens, and grains, making it pretty easy to keep them in an aviary. As long as they have food, clean water, and suitable nesting, they will be happy.

We did not get a good hatch last year due to an unexpected late freeze which affected the eggs. The 2021 season looks promising right now, but be sure to keep your eye on our sale pages in the days ahead.

Going Back to the Good Ole Days

These days, I am more obsessed with farming and gardening on a larger scale than I have in the past. Mind you, I have been growing an organic garden since 1988. However, as the years have come and gone, I have found myself expanding in both my thinking and my actual gardening practices. A few years ago, we added a business with raising and selling gamebirds and wild waterfowl. While the business isn’t sustaining itself financially yet, it is growing and it has been a wonderful addition to the farm.

Two years ago, we added Nigerian Dwarf goats (one of them is mixed with LaMancha – funny ears!). They have been fun too and this year the girls each had a baby. Trying to keep tiny baby goats warm when Michigan was in a cold snap was not the most fun, but we did it and have learned much in the process.

Then, last year, we added two ewe Dorper sheep. They have blessed my heart so much I can’t even begin to explain it. The two year old ewe, Yolanda, is probably pregnant, but it’s so hard to tell until the last month. She will lamb around April 27 if she is indeed pregnant.

Also new last year was a greenhouse. It’s not very large, about 8 x 10 feet, but is big enough for what we need at this time. We got a Planta from a company in Canada and it is great – a hard sided polycarbonate material. The plan this year is to start more plants than I need and sell any extras. Last year, I gave away starts and I will continue to do that for families in need if I can. However, the goal in farming is to make a profit in order to avoid being labeled a hobby farm, and that is what we are working toward.

Seeds and plant starts are becoming more difficult to obtain and I only see that as a continuing trend. It is CRUCIAL for people to not only grow food, but to save seeds to ensure a future crop. Do you have heirloom seeds? Perhaps this is the year to be sure you get some. While hybrid plants can produce useful seeds, they can be very unpredictable. Better to be safe than sorry.

As for animal products, keeping a rooster or two with the chickens is a great idea if you have a flock that supplies you in meat or eggs. Allow the chickens to set for a spell and you can regenerate that flock from time to time. Last year, we were able to raise some extra chicks and sell them when they were close to full grown, increasing our farm income by a tiny bit.

When my dad passed away last year, I inherited some of his farming and homesteading books. A new favorite of mine was published in 1976 and is a compilation of writings from the mid 19th century. Wow! What a great resource. The Yankee Farmer, edited by Robert F. Hudson, is packed with New England farming wisdom from that era. And yes, a northern Michigan farmer in the 21st century can use the information contained within.

One section in The Yankee Farmer that is especially of interest to me is on squash – specifically winter squash such as the ever popular hubbard. They also talk about the turban squash, and also of a marrow squash. I had to look that one up; apparently it refers to a summer squash.

I think it’s time to go back to the basics of farming. Seeds are hard to come by. Grocery store prices continue to go up. Meat is difficult to buy at a reasonable price any more. And all the while the quality goes down as GMOs increase and herbicide use goes up. No, most of us don’t want to ditch tractors and modern inventions and go to horse drawn implements instead. That’s not what I’m suggesting. However, learning to compost and save seeds can help save us. Learning the best ways to keep our animals healthy and happy can also help save us. And might I add that hard work along with sunshine and fresh air can help save us?

If you can find old homesteading/gardening/farming books and magazines, I highly suggest you do so. They are worth far more than their weight in gold.

Baby Goats and Winter

After a shaky start, this little guy is strong and healthy, never staying in one place for long.

Nigerian Dwarf goats go into heat every 21-28 days. We learned early on that the boys can successfully breed at an early age.

This winter has been a mild one for us in northern Michigan. When we found that we had not taken our little Nigerian Dwarf buck, a.k.a. Bucky, away from the girls early enough, he had already bred our two females (cross between Nigerian Dwarf and LaMancha), we weren’t overly worried. Sure, they would kid in January or February, but the temps would not be so bad this year. Or so we thought.

Two weeks ago tomorrow, I went out to the goat/sheep barn to do the morning chores. We are still learning about goats, so to my surprise, Dottie had already had her kid sometime in the early hours before daylight. He was standing in the stall all dried off and seemingly healthy. The temperature was somewhere in the 20’s and we thought he would be fine with the heat lamp that is set up out there along with a warm momma goat. However, by evening we found that the baby was not doing so well. He had no suckling reflex and seemed to be ill.

He needed to wear a sweater for warmth.

We found out that this baby goat had hypothermia and needed to be warmed up quickly. We brought him inside and warmed him with a blanket. We also gave him some vitamin supplements through a syringe. By the next morning, he was doing fine and he tried to nurse every time we brought him to his mother.

We kept the kid in the house for almost a week, bringing him out to nurse and then back inside to stay warm. His suckling ability was never the very best but his mother sure took the best care of him that she could, never rejecting him in spite of how often we took him away.

By the time Wednesday rolled around, the kid was 5 days old. I brought him to his mother, made sure she was nursing him, then brought him back inside to stay in my daughter’s room until she returned home from work (I had to leave for work myself). The kid was contained in an area where he could not hurt himself.

When my daughter arrived home, she found a floppy and barely responsive baby goat. Needless to say, we needed to have an emergency veterinarian visit.

Here’s what we learned:

Baby goats should have a CDT vaccination via the mother sometime in the final few weeks of pregnancy. Ours did not because we gauged the birth later than it actually was. It should be noted that none of this baby kid’s ailments are related to the CDT. Still, it should be done before birth. We have vaccinated the other doe while pregnant, so her baby (or babies) will be ahead in that area.

Baby goats need to have selenium given right after birth. Though we had given a supplement containing some selenium early on, it wasn’t enough. Two mL of selenium/vitamin E drench is standard for newborn goats. Our vet gave our little kid a shot of selenium along with an antibiotic for a gurgling in one lung. She was baffled about the lung, thinking that maybe the baby aspirated.

We have a new regimen for the next few days with this kid. We are keeping him in the barn with his mother for longer periods of time, but keep him inside the house at night right now. Nighttime temperatures are dipping below zero but daytime highs are getting into the 30’s. Too bad that by Saturday the thermometer will be showing daytime highs not even reaching the high teens for a while. The ultimate goal is to have kids who live like real goats and do not become “house goats”.

Little guy is growing like a weed now and has no desire to be quiet.

This little guy is doing great now. He jumps, climbs, and nurses like a pro. He is getting a fat little belly and is strong.

Raising animals is always a learning experience, no matter how many births you have had or how many animals you have on your homestead. We are learning still and likely will be until our days here on earth are done.

Now Priscilla is due to deliver soon and I have a ewe Dorper that will deliver sometime in the spring. Spring is also the time that the ducks, pheasants, and quail will be laying eggs. We had some losses last year due to a late spring freeze. This year we will be better prepared should that happen again.

Animal of the Month – The Falcated Duck

Falcated Duck

The Falcated Duck is a beautiful duck that used to be called Falcated Teal. The male has a shiny green and copper/brown head and a brown and white body. It is about the size of a Gadwall Duck and American Widgeon. The female is mostly brown with some gray/blue feathers on the wings. Naturally, it is smaller than the male.

This breed of duck originates in east Asia but adapts well to the North American climate. It has been known to breed from southern Siberia all the way to south China and Vietnam. Interestingly, some have shown up in Alaska, but they are believed to be escapees (or descendants) from captive flocks.

The Falcated is a good dabbling duck and adapts well to aviaries, but be sure to keep their water clean to avoid potential problems.

My Mother’s Book

My mom has been gone now for nearly five years. After my dad passed in August of 2020, we five siblings got to divide up what was left behind (in belongings, not land). This was made possible since they had a trust set up rather than a traditional will. My brother was trustee and he did a fine job.

I have to say that I was always a mommy’s girl and I miss my mom still. There are those days when I just want to talk – wow, what she would say about the shut-downs and COVID. Really, since I know that current events would bother her terribly (she wanted to vote for Ted Cruz after all), I think it’s a blessing that she left this broken earth for Heaven when she did.

But this post is not about American politics or the worldwide COVID stuff. It’s about finding some gems in my parents’ house that I am beyond thrilled to have.

One of those wonderful things is a set of the Foxfire books. Published in the 1970’s, this set of books holds valuable information about cooking, sewing, building, raising animals, making soap, etc. from the Appalachian people at that time. The books hold numerous interviews and pictures, as well as just valuable information for the homesteader of today. When my dad bought the books, one at a time as they were released, my mom thought he was crazy. I love them, though, and will cherish them for my brief time on earth.

Another wonderful find is my mom’s handwritten recipe book. Her writing is not the easiest to read, but I’m used to it and have had fun making some of the dishes from my childhood. Some of the recipes I will never make, as I did not care for them when I was growing up and I’m pretty sure I won’t like them now.

There are no recipes strictly created to be gluten-free, but a lot of them are just because of the nature of the dish. Others are easy enough to alter to make them gluten-free, as is the cornbread recipe that I made this morning. I’d like to share that recipe with you and hope that you will find it as enjoyable as I do. I changed up some of the ingredients to make the bread without gluten and hopefully a little healthier.

Cornbread (made gluten-free)

1 1/2 cups white cornmeal (substitute masa harina)

3 TBSP all-purpose flour (substitute 1 1/2 TBSP tapioca starch)

1 1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. salt (use sea salt)

2 TBSP shortening (substitute coconut oil; you could also use butter, bacon grease, or lard)

1 1/2 cups milk (substitute coconut/almond milk blend; you could use any milk of your choice)

1 egg, beaten

Sift together (or run a whisk through) cornmeal, flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl. Melt shortening in a 9 inch square baking pan (I used a 9 inch cast iron skillet) in a preheated, very hot oven 450 degrees Fahrenheit (I used 425 degrees). Add milk and egg to dry ingredients, stirring to combine. Add melted shortening from pan to batter. Mix well, but don’t beat. Pour batter into very hot pan. Bake in preheated oven 450 (425 if in cast iron) 20-25 minutes (Mine took 40 minutes).

*I take breads out of the cast iron pans after they have cooled anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Too long sitting in the pan creates moisture and makes the bottom of breads soggy – especially gluten-free breads.

Animal of the Month – American Dorper Sheep

The American Dorper sheep is a hair breed that originated in South Africa about 1946 (when the breed was finalized). Blackheaded Persian Ewes were bred with Dorset Horn rams and, over time, the result was a hardy meat sheep that shed hair rather than wool that needed to be shorn.

The meat from the Dorper is considered to be among the best – as far as Americans go. The British still enjoy their mutton, but Americans have not learned to enjoy the stronger taste all that much. The Dorper fits the bill for the more tender palate. If you’ve never had lamb, the American Lamb has published many tasty lamb dishes that you might want to try.

The Dorper, in my opinion, doesn’t necessarily always shed all of its wooly hair at once. My ewes shed little by little much as a dog does. It often helps to brush out their wool to speed the process. If any shearing needs to be done, it is usually just for the wool on the sheep’s back.

Dorpers are heat tolerant, but they also do very well in harsher climates such as ours in northern Michigan. Mature ewes can weigh as much as 210 pounds while a ram might reach 230 pounds. They have black heads with white bodies. There is an all white Dorper that bears that name – White Dorper.

Ewes can be bred almost any time of the year, cycling every couple of weeks. Their pregnancies are usually around 147 days.

Dorpers are very friendly and fun to have around the farm. They are a great meat variety but also make sweet pets.

The Ins, Outs, and Whys of Menu Planning

Photo by Jess Bailey Designs from Pexels

I wish I had thought about meal planning when we first started a family. I think it would have made things easier as our family began to grow larger. By the time I had our daughter (baby number 5), I finally figured out that having a plan was the way to begin to simplify home life. Mind you, I was a full-time homemaker at that time with “only” five children. But I was a busy homemaker – as the majority of homemakers are. We homeschooled the kids, grew the largest garden that we could, preserved that harvest year after year as best we could, and prepared fresh, home cooked meals the majority of the time.

And then there was the penny pinching that we were forced to do. That in itself is a full-time job. And I became quite good at it.

As the years have gone by, I have learned to scale down my meal sizes to suit five people rather than seven, unless we have company …. but you know how that is discouraged these days.

There are some things that I continue in earnest, things like a large garden and preserving that harvest year after year.

Then there’s the menu planning. For a while, I tried to wing it by skipping that one chore on Sunday evening. You can guess how that went. I work until 5:00 most nights and one day of the week I actually work until 7:00. That’s the night when the family needs to know not only what they are having, but perhaps have it all ready in the slow cooker. Menu planning had to be re-implemented. And it’s been a good thing.

The best way that I have found to create a meal plan is the way that I get the most enjoyment. That means that I DON’T like to spend a lot of time on the computer looking things up or typing them into a program and then printing, or maybe just typing and no printing at all (bringing them up on a phone or other screen when I need them). You see, I work in an office setting for four hours every day at my job. I don’t have the desire to continue that office setting at home any more than I need to.

I like to spend time in real, physical books so the old-fashioned cookbooks are for me. I have quite a collection of them, but nothing as extensive as some people I know. I like to write things down on real paper with a real pen (blue ink preferred, or red when I’m in a fun mood), so I write out my menu plan each week, beginning with Monday.

I only plan out the evening meals and I do so by first figuring out what ingredients I have on hand. Rarely do I ever decide to cook something that requires going out to buy ingredients first. Sometimes I have to do a quick visual inventory of the pantry or freezers. My husband is a huge meat eater and if I don’t plan the meal around meat, I’m in a little bit of trouble. Between you and me, however, I do make vegetables the star. Our basement shelves are full of home canned veggies and I enjoy going “shopping” there the best.

When the meal plan is complete, it is posted on the refrigerator so nobody has to ask “what’s for supper tonight?”

What if you want to participate in some of those blog memes such as Menu Plan Monday? If you want to share your creativity or special recipes, I would encourage you to do that. Adding your blog posts to these memes also drives visitors to your site and that is always a good thing.

Some of my favorite food bloggers with menu plan themes are:

Organizing Junkie

two peas and their pod

Meal Plan Addict

Miz Helen’s Country Cottage

I hope you will give meal planning a try soon. Below is my meal plan for the coming Christmas week.

Monday

  • Cheesy Sloppy Joes
  • Green Beans
  • Roasted Potatoes and Squash

Tuesday – Christmas with the married kids

  • BBQ Beef Sandwiches (slow roasted with skirt steak strips)
  • Scalloped Potatoes
  • Cheese ball and Crackers
  • Deviled Eggs
  • Relish Plate
  • Christmas Cookies

Wednesday

  • Roasted Pork Loin
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Mixed Vegetables

Thursday – Christmas Eve

  • Meatballs
  • French Fries
  • Raw Veggies with Dip
  • Nachos
  • Cookies

Friday – Christmas Day (yes, it’s a time for feasting)

  • Baked Ham
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Frozen Sweet Corn
  • Green Bean Casserole
  • Dinner Rolls with jams, jellies, and apple butter
  • Pecan Pie (gluten-free)
  • Apple Pie
  • Pumpkin Pie (gluten-free)

Saturday

Left-overs

Sunday

On Your Own

Animal of the Month – Ringed Teal Duck

The Ringed Teal is a fairly small duck as are most of the ducks in the Teal family. When in full color, the males have a pinkish breast that is spotted with black. The back is a chestnut color that is truly striking. The flight feathers have a bright patch that is a nice shade of green. You can’t miss the blue bill.

Females are mottled below and solid brown above. When in flight, the wings flash white and green bands.

The Ringed Teal are native to South America and primarily live in swampy areas and nest in holes in trees, similar to the North American Wood Duck and other tree nesters. They lay anywhere from 6-11 eggs and both parents are active in incubating their eggs. Average lifespan of the Ringed Teal is about 13 years.

An easy duck to raise and keep in an aviary, the Ringed Teal is a pretty nice addition to any duck collector’s aviary.

Animal of the Month – Golden Pheasant

Golden Pheasant

The Golden Pheasant is often called Chinese Pheasant because of its origins in China. This stunning bird is native to central and southern China. It thrives in areas of the dense cover that forests and mountains provide. In the wild, the birds eat an omnivore diet consisting of insects and grubs, as well as bamboo shoots, seeds, and some flowers.

The Goldens in captivity usually eat a variety of insects and seeds. They love some berries – and the tomatoes I give them are a special treat. They need access to clean water, as does any animal. They are not especially difficult to keep and some people think they are splendid pets. Interestingly, some pheasants can form a bond of sorts with their owners. When our Goldens see us with treats in hand, they are often bold enough to come close enough to pet. However, they don’t enjoy anyone trying to catch them – and who would? If you have children, please teach them to be gentle with your pheasants and other “livestock”. While they normally won’t attack anyone, they can be physically harmed by the chase.

Golden Pheasant males, when in full color, will be a deep red/orange with a bright yellow crest. The females are dull in color, a mottled tan or brown. Both sexes have yellow legs and yellow bills. Full sun can have a bleaching effect upon the bird’s vibrant color, hence it is important to provide shaded areas for captive pheasants. In fact, in their native China, the wild Golden Pheasants spend a great deal of time under the thick cover that the mountains provide.

The “Red” Golden Pheasant is purported to be the original color and the variations (yellow golden, buff, etc.) are thought to be mutations as the result of cross breeding between Lady Amherst Pheasants and Golden Pheasants. In fact, their territories in China overlap somewhat and the birds are quite similar. In captivity, Lady Amhersts and Goldens have been cross bred successfully and they must be kept apart by breeders who intend to keep the bloodlines pure. Notice the red streak on the crest of the Lady Amherst Pheasant below. If you see this red streak in a Golden Pheasant’s crest, you can infer that the bloodline has been compromised.

Lady Amherst Pheasant

A fun piece of trivia that I ran across today concerning Golden Pheasants is that they may have been brought to America as early as 1740, which would make them the first pheasant species brought to the colonies. It is also thought that George Washington kept some at Mt. Vernon.

Golden Pheasants lay somewhere in the range of 8-12 eggs per clutch, and the incubation time is roughly 22 days. We have found that the pheasants we keep do not incubate their eggs well, nor are they particularly good parents. We take the eggs and hatch them with an incubator. After that, we hand raise the babies using a brooder. They are not fully mature until their second year when they will be in full color and able to reproduce well.

Life-Springs-Farm and Aviary’s breeding rooster is descended from imported San Diego Zoo wild stock. His colors are vibrant and very pure. The rooster in the middle in the picture below is our breeding male.

Golden Pheasants

We will be bringing some young Golden Pheasants with us to the Shipshewana (Indiana) swap meet October 17, 2020. If you are in the area, please look us up.

Is There a Wrong Way to Compost?

Photo by Sippakorn Yamkasikorn on Pexels.com

Most gardeners, whether they be new to the hobby (or profession) or not have heard of composting and the many wonderful benefits of it. What I’ve found in researching the topic is that there are so many different styles and methods of composting that to decide which is the best can be slightly overwhelming. It’s like trying to figure out which curriculum to buy if you’re homeschooling or more on the current side of things, what is the truth about COVID-19 – which is a truly overwhelming topic all on its own and not one I want to tackle.

Composting really is not rocket science, but there is a “science” to it. Basically, it’s a chemistry lesson that is actually fun and not so hard to do. The results may vary, but no matter how you go about creating useable organic compost that can ultimately feed your garden will be a plus rather than a bust.

If you have read anything I have previously written concerning my style of gardening, you will remember that I use the Ruth Stout no dig method. Last year, my husband tilled the garden a couple of times and I was not necessarily pleased with the results. Sure, it got rid of weeds in a hurry and the soil was nice and fluffy. Problem is, nice and fluffy is not always what you want.

By using a rototiller to break up the soil, gardeners also inadvertently break up microorganisms and the entire soil structure. Weeds seem to be gone, but they quickly sprout up and become more and more prevalent. When a person steps on the fluffy, tilled soil, they squish and mess up everything under their feet creating havoc on the tiny particles and microorganisms that make up and feed the soil.

Walking on soil that is undisturbed does not harm the organisms hiding underneath the top of the garden. The soil is firm and undisturbed and weed seeds that sprout upward are easily pulled and discarded, and they don’t continually pop up.

But don’t expect that if you choose no dig next spring after having tilled for a length of seasons before, that you will only pull a few weeds here and there and then never have to pull weeds again. It takes a couple of seasons or more to get to the point that weeds are a thing of the past. Namely, it takes undisturbed garden beds that have been mulched heavily with compost to really control weeds.

That’s where you come in with compost (broken down organic matter). I don’t have a nice, pretty compost bin but I do have compost containers. Last summer I read about a woman in Canada who lives in Zone 3. I live in Zone 4b. This gal doesn’t have a lot of time in any one growing season before she sees a heavy frost and then piles and piles of snow.

I relate to the snow.

The Canadian gardener in Zone 3 found that it was too much to trudge out too far from the house in deep snow to throw out compostable kitchen trimmings that would freeze anyway, so she cut the bottom out of a dark plastic garbage can and put it right outside her door, Whenever she had a bit of composting matter to throw into the bin, all she had to do was brush snow off the garbage can lid and throw in the scraps. The dark plastic helped the winter sun to heat up the contents and, in the spring at planting time, all she had to do was tip over the garbage can and scoop the compost into a wheelbarrow to remove to the garden.

I liked that idea. Tossing whatever composting trimmings (coffee grounds with paper filter, vegetable and fruit trimmings, egg shells, etc.) I had in my coffee can that sits under the kitchen sink worked well this past winter, or should I say spring. More on that a little further down in this post.

My only complaint is that my husband didn’t like having that compost garbage can sitting next to the house anywhere. I still had to walk to the garden in the snow. However, it wasn’t that bad because he kept a plowed trail for me to walk on.

My garbage compost bin is not black or very dark. It is a light blue and the lid doesn’t match. It isn’t dark either. It’s a tan color. My compost does not heat up with the winter sun (which we rarely see in northern Michigan winters anyway). Come spring, my compost material in the bin was frozen and looked fresh. I left the lid off in the spring except for at night (animals in the rural areas here are notorious for getting in compost bins – bears in particular, which is another story for later). It really didn’t take long for the material to break down once the weather was warmer and the sun stronger. By summer’s start, I was able to tip over the can and start filling it again. As of today, the compost garbage can is pretty full with all sorts of organic matter that is breaking down nicely, but winter is coming….

The other compost “bin” we have is simply chicken wire around a large, and I mean large, pile of “used” straw, wood chips, and hay out of the animal pens. We have made the mistake of using that large heap as a shooting target backdrop this spring and summer. I’m going to have to take out some spent bullets before spreading it all over my garden.

And that brings me to another point when it comes to composting. Don’t put materials in your compost that you don’t want in your body. That includes things like chemicals from non-organic vegetables and fruits, non-compostable products like tin foil, bullets, and plastics, among other items. Whatever you put on your soil will seep into your produce.

Apply compost and mulch all over the garden in the fall (for us in the frozen north) and let it sit over the winter. Mulch is a little different from compost. Mulch is not so broken down. In Ruth Stout’s method, it usually means rotten hay. In the spring you will have healthy soil full of wonderful worms and other organisms that work to the benefit of the garden.

If you have thoughts and ideas concerning fun compost bins and methods, let me know in the comment section. I love experimenting in the garden. It’s what makes gardening such a fun way to feed and nourish my family.

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