Sunday, May 30, 2010

We've Got Bees!!!!

I sold my bees last year because the hive had become incredibly 'healthy'.  That's usually a good thing, as it means there were thousands and thousands of bees.  But these were not nice bees - they were small, hard working and mean.  I had reached the point where I had to either split the hive or do something else.  I called in the Bee Guy.  I have never met anyone with such knowledge of and such an affinity for bees.  He is very generous with his time, too.  We bartered and he left with the hive, and I got 30 bales of hay and the promise of a new hive in the spring.  Saturday, the Bee Guy arrived with an entire hive to install into my shiny new hive with it's gorgeous copper roof.  My friend, Linda, came to watch and take mental notes because she is interested in beekeeping as well.  What a difference!  Even with all of the shifting and bumping and noise, even with being brushed and smoked, these bees were pretty darned calm.  The only one who got stung was Linda (who bravely decided that it was no big deal), and the Bee Guy didn't even wear gloves.  I watched them this morning as they spiraled up into the sunlight, getting the lay of the land and scoping out all the pollen and nectar opportunities.  It is so nice to have bees on the homestead again.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Win Some. Lose Some.

As anyone who raises chickens knows, they are not the sharpest tacks in the box. I love my chickens and there is nothing that I love more than walking out my back door and seeing all my hens racing towards me. Food Lady!!! But they can be a real challenge when something goes off-kilter. Such as one of my Barred Rock hens finding herself on the other side of the fence. I am not sure how she managed it, but she did. I have spent three days trying to catch her, herd her, reason with her, and trick her. It hasn't helped that I have been so bone-tired that my limited agility was almost non-existent, and I managed to fluster her more with each attempt to grab her. I couldn't leave the gate open because they would ALL get out and decimate my front yard in it's fragile garden-ness. And every night that she was not in the security of the coop, I heard the coyotes howling. And mysterious, ominous rustlings. ALL night. This is a good example of why I am not a parent. I would be institutionalized by now. This morning, while I made my rounds (I work from left to right), I glimpsed a flash of black and white on the gated side of the fence. Hurrah! I silently went over and opened the gate a crack - then busied myself with my patient, Pearly Mae, and the ducks. Sure enough, the hen came in through the gate. I raced over and slammed the gate shut and locked it. Back, safe and sound.

Unfortunately, while I 'won' that round, I lost Millie, my angora rabbit. There were no signs that I could read that she wasn't well - she was eating, drinking, she had shade and shelter and chicken t.v. When I came home last night and went out to check her food, she was gone. My lovely, soft, white rabbit. It just broke my heart and I keep thinking there should have been something I could have done or noticed. I have gotten better at taking my losses, but some are harder to take than others.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Slow Food.

As recently as five years ago, the thought of raising my own food (other than gardening) would have seemed completely alien to me.  Even when I started raising chickens, about 12 years ago, they were for egg production only.  Everyone had a name and when one succumbed to SCUDS (sudden chicken unexplained death syndrome) I would tearfully dig a hole and bury her in the back yard.  When I moved to this small homestead and decided to become as self-sustaining as I could manage, I began to look at how and what I ate, what resources I had and started raising chickens for meat.  These chicks, pictured above, are slow-growing red and slow-growing white roasters.  (And, yes, that's a washing machine dial in the background.  Don't ask.)  I had to reconcile that these cute, downy chicks were future entrees.  As hard as it was in the beginning, after tasting the difference between store-bought chicken and home-raised chicken, I was a convert.  As long as I continue to eat chicken, I will continue to raise my own.  I do not, however, process my own chickens.  That's a line over which I have not been able to step.  I use a fellow about an hour away who has a family-run, humane poultry processing business and I am entertained by his many children while the processing takes place.  My other forays into raising my own non-plant food has not always been successful.  Last year's quail experiment resulted in weeks of interrupted sleep (male quail are LOUD and LOUD at all hours of the night), this year's turkey experiment was also a bomb (my breeding pair turned out to be two males who were LOUD and LOUD constantly), my Guinea Forest Hogs (Ethel and Kate) were too cute and smart to be food, I lost Ethel to an aneurysm and Kate went off to help repopulate the breed in Virginia, and the ducks - Puff's surprise hatch of 10, mostly male offspring (who were LOUD.  Constantly.)  I'm seeing a pattern here - you, too?  Now, I happen to eat duck, turkey and pork.  Quail?  Not so much.  So my turkeys are in the freezer, I 'raise' a pig cooperatively with friends, and I'm going to try ducks again - this time with a Muscovy hen and a Pekin drake.  I'm hoping the ducklings inherit their mother's Muscovy quiet trait.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


While walking the dogs the other day, something caught my eye - I couldn't believe what I thought I saw...morels? Here? YES!!! Not the smaller, dark ones, but golden morels. Needless to say, we hot-footed our way through the rest of the walk, then I grabbed a bag and out the door and up the road I went. These beauties are now in my dehydrator - my present schedule not allowing for cooking at night right now. I'm making a note of time and place for next year. They smell heavenly! Isn't it wonderful to be able to live in a place where you can find such treasures practically outside of your door?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Working Alone

I have a lot of friends who help me. Lots. And I am so thankful for that, I can't even begin to thank them all. But there are many times when I end up working alone. Depending on the undertaking, sometimes it's very nice to work by myself -- I can get into a nice rhythm and let my mind loose to go wherever it wants (although, that can be pretty scary). This weekend, however, I was faced with a bigger job -- having to finish off the hayport so that Gigi could be let out of her crate into the larger 'crate' of the inside of the hayport. She has been sweet and patient, but it's been two weeks of confinement and she's getting pudgy and bored. Sort of like me by the end of winter ;o) I went through the usual shenanigans of dealing with well-meaning but condescending guys at Home Depot and wrestling the 4x8 foot sheets of T-111 off the truck - all the time being conscious to NOT use my left shoulder. Then the last sheet slipped off the back and landed on my 'panel-helper' - a very useful and nifty tool my dad gave me that allows me to carry large sheets of things by myself. And crushed it. So, being the stoic that I am, I cried. A little. Then strong-armed the panels to the opposite end of the hayport where my sawhorses were set up. The sawhorses kept getting knocked over while I tried to maneuver the sheets on top of them. What to do. More cursing and whining. Voila! A step-in post or two propped up one end while I tilted the other on the horses. Then I did a mighty fine job of trimming the sheets so they would fit along the curved roof of the hayport. Mighty fine, by my standards, of course. Then I screwed them into the frame I had built on Saturday morning and put another sheet across the future door, screwing it in with the help of the now-very-handy step-in posts. All during this long, hot, sweaty process, Gigi sat curled on her bed in her crate, silent, giving me a large-dark-eyed stare. I'm not sure if it was because of the noise of the tools, or the surrounding air, colored quite a dark blue by my running commentary. During the entire process, the sheep bleated, the llama hummed, and Scrappy followed me from window to window, yipping incessantly. He does this so that I will get infuriated and come inside and yell at him. Which I finally did - but, luckily for him, I was so exhausted, all I could do was shake a shaky fist in his general direction. This morning I finished the job with a poorly constructed but adequate door covered in chicken wire so she can look out at her future domain without quite venturing out yet. More for my peace of mine than hers, of course. After I fed her, I left her crate door open and closed and latched the wire door. One small step for cats - one giant step for cat-caregivers.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Poultry Relationships

There is so much drama on a homestead when one has poultry. Or so it seems to me. I have enough room in a large fenced side-yard to give everyone their 'space'. But, as in human relationships, there are just some personalities that don't mesh. For the most part, Alfie, my Pekin drake, could care less about the chickens. They are mildly annoying when they are crowded around the waterers, and they will attempt to run him over if he stands between them and me with possible food treats. A couple of rapid quacks are the extent of his irritation. That is, until he sees Attila the Hen. Alfie HATES her. If his beady eye spies ATH in the yard, he is after her faster than a bell clapper in a goose's butt (I've been waiting to use that expression). I'm not sure if it's the fact that she's loud and puffed up all the time, or if she just exudes a certain something that he finds offensive. He chases her all over the yard, in the coop and out, and in again, until she hops back up and sits on top of Dotty. Some of the hens are drama queens and any little thing will set them off, shrieking like little girls. That sometimes will get the rest of them going and it is total cacophony until, one by one, they realize they've forgotten what all the hubbub was about. Junior is usually the last to stop - he loves a good hissy-fit.

On a more sober note, little Pearlie Mae is not making progress. I put her outside, knowing that it will be warm and sunny so she won't get chilled. The rubber flooring in the infirmary may be hampering her recovery, since she can't get purchase on the slick surface. Then, again, she seems to have lost most of her muscle tone in her legs, so it's a moot point. I will have to make a decision as to keep on trying to get her mobile, or ... not. That is a very difficult decision for me, as I find it almost impossible to take life away. I've had to do it twice before and it haunted me for weeks, even though it was the right decision in both cases. Let's hope the sunshine, green grass and nice (low) bowl of water work a miracle.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's Complicated.

The one thing I can count on is that nothing I undertake is simple. Sure, it may start out simple - say, like raising a few chickens. Before you know it, you have chickens in all manner of 'special needs'. And special needs need special housing. Right now, in my small operation, I have a) a paraplegic hen recuperating (I hope) in a redwood dog house now rigged up as the infirmary in a special fenced in area that also houses the rabbit; b) duck quarters (photo above - no comments, plz, about my carpentry skills) which include an A-frame building that they hate, my late quail cage - partially deconstructed, then adopted by Grendal the duck as her nesting spot - also fenced; c) the main coop occupied by my 20-something chickens, Junior rooster, Alfie and Puff, the odd-duck couple (both figuratively and literally) who take offense to the duck quarters and prefer the coop, Dotty Duck & Attila the Hen - nestmates, and the five pullets - the Violets, Prissie, Peanut, and Almond - who, until last night, lived in; d) the nursery coop, now occupied by Marie-Claire and Home-Chick (photo below). Each of these set-ups require their own food and water dishes, security devices (aka doors), etc. When I came in from chores yesterday morning, there was a message on my voicemail alerting me to the fact that my 12 meat chicks would be arriving this morning. Sigh. I am, however, about half-ready for them. That is quite an improvement to my previous endeavors. They will be housed NOT in my laundry room, but in a donated galvanized water tub, equipped with a hardware cloth lid, hanging heat lamp and all the appropriate accouterments - situated in my shed. Which, in turn, had to be varmintized - meaning nailing boards over large/small holes, more hardware cloth over obvious openings. The upshot of all this is - learn to plan ahead. Realistically, I never do this and, most likely, never will. Then again, I have gained all manner of new skills - chicken first aid, carpentry skills, reusing/recycling/rethinking. It's not all bad.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Pheromones Didn't Stand a Chance

I met a fellow for coffee on Saturday - after much urging from friends. Since I tied it in with my list of errands, I had pretty much discounted anything significant coming out of the meeting. And I brought Scrappy along for added insurance. He is (usually) my dud-finder. On this occasion, however, he spent most of his time rolling around in the grass, waving all four paws in the air and looking ridiculous. But he was also reserved around Mr. Saturday, so that was a red flag. So was the non-stop monologue about himself with no questions about me, my life, likes, etc. I hold to the belief that chemistry is VERY important, so I also count on my pheromones. They, however, wilted under the onslaught of heavy, overpowering, cloyingly pungent aftershave. If there had been any frisky pheromones, they didn't stand a chance.

Broody Hens

I have a couple of hens that will go broody at the drop of a hat. One, Marie-Claire, is a funny little Maran hen that's probably 3+ years old. She is a rescued hen and has a funny, wide-legged, hop-walk that is the result of being raised in a plastic tub during her formative months. She goes broody quietly and doesn't fuss when I lift her off eggs and shoo her out of the door. Then there is Attila the Hen. (Attila's golden butt is in the pic at left.) While Buff Orpingtons are usually known for their sweet natures, this lunatic turns into a mad thing when broodiness hits. She has attached herself to Dotty's little nesting box full of duck eggs and will not leave them. She puffs up and screeches when I get close and regularly squeezes herself beside, behind or on top of Dotty and her eggs. This is actually a lucking thing for Dotty who, while she makes a great 'Auntie', is sorely lacking in the broody department. I have very little hope for the four eggs she's been 'mostly' setting on.
This morning, Marie-Claire had her dreams come true. Grendal, my other broody (and much better at it) Muscovy hen, managed to hatch a chicken egg while setting on her own eggs. The incubation period for chicken eggs is about 21 days. The incubation period for a Muscovy duck is over a month. So, while Grendal dashed out for a quick bite and a sip of water, I snagged the little fluff-ball and introduced it to Marie-Claire. When I tucked it under her wing, she then fluffed up and snuggled down and pecked me. I took that as a good sign. Now I have to keep a close watch on Grendal's nest, as there may be more chicks in amongst the duck eggs.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Taking Time

I woke up at 3 a.m. this morning, worrying. As soon as my eyes opened, the brain snapped into gear and off it went, running lists. This is what happens when I am under a great deal of stress. The Chorus starts with the listing. As much as I dislike and try to ignore the Chorus, it's always there, lurking, hopping from one foot to another waiting for it's chance. My friend, Jordan's post about morning chores set me to thinking about my chores and how I had set myself up for stress. Once again, I was reminded about my lack of backbone when faced with using the "N" word. All you softies, over-achievers and non-delegators know which word I mean. Sometimes, even though my logical self has the "N" word on it's way to my lips, the Chorus does a quick block and jumps in with, "Why, sure I will! Love to!! Always wanted one!!!" Today I was reminded that I am not taking time to smell the roses. My Scrappy is urinating in the house because he's unhappy/frustrated/angry - all the test results are in and it's not a physical problem. I don't know how many chickens I have. I haven't scritched Juno behind the ears in weeks. My insomnia is back. So, whoa Nelly! The Universe is reaching out to me and I am going to listen. On my way to work, I passed by a woman sitting quietly on her lawn, next to her very old Lab, both looking off to the distance, her arm draped around his neck. Taking time to be together and enjoying their obvious long-time bond. It made me teary. And made me want to turn around and spend time with my two dogs, who haven't seen much of me lately. And I used the "N" word today, even though I didn't want to. But it was the right thing to do. Tonight I am going to go home and spend time with the dogs. I'm going to let Cookie drape himself over my shoulder, even though he weighs as much as a Holstein and kneads his claws in my flesh. I will not complain while Tippet head-butts me continually. I may count my chickens. It's difficult to sort out priorities when your life is so full, when there's so much to do and so much you want to do -- and when you are the only one there to do everything. But there is tomorrow. And, if there isn't, you've lived well today.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Oddities of Dogs

I will be the first to admit that my dogs are quirky. Most especially, Scrappy. (This is the picture that sold him - the goof. Thanks, Sarah.) And most of his quirks have something to do with food. Smelling food, thinking about food, getting me to give him food, stealing food, dreaming about food, getting anyone else nearby to give him food. You get the idea. He haunts me in the kitchen, although I am a stern food lady and do not feed him from either my counter or my plate. But he is always hopeful and incredibly persistent. This past weekend, I was cutting up mangoes and a piece jumped off my knife. I am sure most people have heard of the 5 second rule - well, it doesn't exist in my house. If it hits the floor, it's chicken food. I live with two dogs and two cats in the country with mice. Nuff said. It's a rare piece of anything that hits the floor, though. Scrappy can home-in on a morsel mid-air like a highly developed missile-tracking device. That bit of mango never had a chance. And then there was the fun of watching him discovering that it was something foreign - something he'd never had before. I doubt if I could describe the many expressions that passed over my pooch's face as he - loathe to give it up - contemplated the mango while rolling it around in his mouth. Suffice it to say, he isn't called 'Bert Lahr in a Dog Suit' for nothing. In the end, he decided he liked it. Fast-forward a day to when I am cleaning a sinkful of ramps. One slippery devil made the plunge and again, like greased lightening, Scrappy was on it. Ramps, he discovered, are not mangoes and after he spit it out, he went looking for toothpaste and dental floss.
Bernie, on the other hand, is waaaaay more subtle. She seems bored, above it all. Then you turn your back and she tiptoes in, stands up to the counter and removes whatever has been foolishly left within reach - plate and all. It's almost unnerving.
I am now waiting for the results of the latest food incident - a mostly-full bag of beggin strips, those grossly artificial non-bacon things that were the worst impulse purchase I have ever made. I neglected to stow the bag and (gasp) left the house. I returned to an odd, chemical-bacon-like smell wafting about and two dogs who would not look me in the eye. It is never boring in our house.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


How lucky am I? Not only do I have a source for ramps, but she is such a good egg that she didn't blink so much as an eyelash when I begged to go dig ramps in the pouring rain! Since the time to harvest ramps is short (and pungent) and my free time is equally short, the window was closing fast this past Saturday. And, of course, it was cold, blustery and pouring rain. My friend, a mere youngster, is not bothered by such small things, so off we went, pitchforks and buckets in hand, to slog up a long muddy road to the mother lode. (I would tell you where it is, but then I would have to kill you. So I won't.) We talked and laughed and dug bucketfuls of muddy ramps. Then we slogged down the road and washed them in a brook. More talking and laughing. By the time I had dropped her back at her place, we were both soaking wet and mud-splattered. But we each had a 5-gal bucket of lucious, aromatic ramps. Yum! Said ramps are now residing in my fridge, with half of them washed and chopped and in my freezer. It's all good.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Black Gold

When I first met my dairy farmer neighbor, I naively asked if he had any extra cow manure. I bet it was all he could do to keep from rolling his eyes. "Sure," he said, "I can bring some by - you just tell me where you want me to put it." After figuring out the perfect spot, I relayed the information and drove off to work, happy as a clam. When I came home, there was a pile of manure approximately half the length of a football field by the side of the house. Was I horrified at this giant pile of 'aromatic' organic material? I was not -- I was thrilled. Fast-forward three years and I am shoveling up piles of black gold with which to plant my fruitscape, fill my raised beds, nourish my rhubarb. And I am working on a new pile of black gold, albeit a smaller one. I've learned to ask for manure in the summer, while the herd is mostly outside during the day. The accumulation in the barn is much more manageable. I figure I can't lose with my dynamic combination of cow, sheep, llama, and chicken manures. Woot!!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Celebrating My Mom

I am very, very fortunate to have the mother I do. And, as I get older, I realize that I am very fortunate to still have both my mother and father in my life. We are a small, close family that seems to get closer every year. I absolutely and completely love my mother - she has such a wicked sense of humor, is much too self-effacing, is completely open-hearted, fair-minded and very loving. Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

Tender Green

As it is every spring, all the tender green leaves seem to pop out overnight. I love the color of the early leaves - so indescribably tender green. This is the view down my road. I am always grateful that I ended up in such a beautiful place. My morning and evening walks with the dogs allow me to center, calm down, shed worries. They also allow Scrappy to 'mark' every other blade of grass, both coming and going on our long walks. He is more relaxed on our morning walk, since it is an apres breakfast walk. Evening walks are a little more - "look, let's get going here - I've done everything and now I want dinner" - fast-paced. Depending on the weather, Bernie is just thrilled to be outside. But thunderstorm weather makes her very anxious, so we just manage to get the basics done. Speaking of 'marking', I was thinking this morning of how much like alpha male dogs my two road neighbors are. They have nailed up countless No Trespassing signs branding their property. Makes me think of Scrappy, methodically lifting his leg on every other tree, although he has many more positive attributes than my neighbors. But, I digress. The actual morning I was waxing poetic about my tender green spring, I did not have my camera at hand. This was taken this morning and, while it still is tender and green, it has also turned into March - with low 30s and - gasp - snow this morning! We have also added a barn cat, Gigi, to the menagerie. I have decided to use "we" every time I add another resident because it makes it seem less like lunacy on my part if there are more people involved. Which, of course, there is not. She is the first of two I have adopted - Joey still has some recovery to do at the vet's. They were two of many barn/feral cats on a property with two barns that was sold and they all had to go or else. I ask you, how could I say no? Gigi is in a nice, large crate, with comfy thick towel, litter box, food and water. After listening to the wind howl last night as this cold front motored in, I trotted out with a wool blanket, which is now covering the crate. It's pretty cozy in there, with all the hay, but I think it's better to have a sheltered spot where she can feel less vulnerable. I will take her picture when she is more settled in.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Thar She Blew!

Didn't get a chance to take any pictures of the violent thunderstorm that zoomed through, but then, again, all you would have seen would have been various loose objects out of focus as they went zooming by. I can use Bernie as a barometer - just about 10 minutes before a thunderstorm hits, she begins to pace and pant. As the storm gets closer, she gets frantic and I let her into the bedroom so she can go under the bed. With the drapes pulled, windows shut and a nice, dark close space, she is safe from whatever demons frighten her. Yesterday, we went through the drill and, while I did hear some distant thunder, birds were singing, the sun was shining and it was warm and balmy. Within three minutes of Bernie's disappearance under the bed, the sky went black, the wind howled, rain and hail came in sheets, and the temperature dropped almost 20 degrees! It was amazing! Ten minutes later, it was clear. A half hour after that, Bernie emerged. That's my girl.