Thursday, June 28

Chicken Tractor Update

The chicken tractor housing the 6 red sex link chicks has been repaired to make it both safe for them and easier to move for me. I have to say that this project, which started out as a simple tractor to keep the chicks in, has turned into a heavy chicken fortress complete with draw bridge.

This tractor was to keep the chicks in until they were big enough to mingle with the existing flock. I wanted them to get out of the segregated coop and into the fresh air and grass.

It then grew to incorporate a nesting box area and ramp for night time safety. This added greatly to the overall weight of the tractor and the wheel system that I have planned was just not working.

Sadly, we lost one chick in the moving of the tractor, and I refused to lose another chick.

The problem was that the wheels were not turning. The bolts were too short and they were not turning smoothly. And the weight of the tractor made things even more troublesome.

The little man and I got ourselves up to Tractor Supply determined to solve this problem. After much comparison and deliberation we ended up selecting four 3/8" x 8" bolts and eight 1 1/4" washers. I chose those bolts since they were not threaded all the way along the bolt - there was a non-threaded section that would fit right into the wood and allow it to turn more smoothly. The washers I hoped would allow all the connection points to fit better and turn smoother.

I used a crowbar and a small section of 2 x 4 to "jack up" the tractor and I placed 4 more sections of 2 x 4's under each corner. I took all 4 wheels off and put the new bolts and washers on - one washer then the wheel then another washer. I then put the bolt through the wood and it fit nicely with the non-threaded section right where I wanted it.

 I put another washer on the inside and secured the bolt - not too tightly but definitely tight enough for safety and to allow the wheel to function properly.
After all four wheels were re-installed, I used the crow bar and 2 x 4 to hold up the tractor and I removed the 2 x 4's holding it aloft. The tractor still sits low but I am sure that no predators will be getting under the frame. The tractor is still too heavy for me to move by myself but Roy can pull it well enough and the wheels are all spinning nicely.
That did lead me to another problem - I needed to be able to move this tractor myself. Roy suggested that I use the lawnmower to pull it which would work great but there was no way I was going to hook it up to the mower and pull  it while trying to make sure no chicks got stuck.

So the drawbridge was born. The existing ramp, which I had already installed hinges and a latch on, worked but the latch kept slipping when I tried to move the tractor. The girls, all safe in the nesting box, were not happy with this arrangement so in the interest of speed, I used a bungee cord to secure the ramp and the girls were moved to a new patch of fresh grass with little disruption.
What started out as a simple project turned into a big project. Lessons learned: draw up a plan and don't just start building, consider the weight of the supplies, and know your limiations.

Sunday, June 24

As I watch the sun kiss the tops of the pine trees out my kitchen window, I can not help but think that I was just standing there not too long ago doing the dishes. It was in fact just 8 hours ago that I was standing there looking out the same window, elbow deep in suds, watching a very fat raccoon enjoy the dish of dry cat food I had set out for Bailey, my gray and white stray cat.

Dishes done, I retired to the couch to work on a pair of wool socks and watch the second half of the History Channels' Dark Ages. I got to bed around midnight, and I was up at 5:15 in response to a fussing baby demanding a early breakfast. It is chilly in the house as I left some windows open last night and with the baby wrapped in an afghan in my arms, happily devouring her bottle, I browsed around on facebook to see what others might be doing. I am waiting for a post from a friend that they have finally had their baby girl - she is well overdue.

Buffin, one of my cats, spent this time sitting next to my chair, meowing every second and a half for breakfast. That cat can eat. He considers the breakfast hour any time between 4:30am to around 10am. And he is always up for seconds.

Now the baby has fallen back asleep and I would love to do the same. I would love to crawl back under the covers of my warm bed and sleep for another hour or so but I know that this will result in being woken by the little man by being poked in the face or having the covers ripped off of me or being jumped on. I will see that mischievous happy little smile on his face, bright blue eyes all glowing with anticipation - "What are we doing today, Mommy?"

My immediate response, given that I am still in a warm bed, unless he did rip the covers off, is usually "You're looking at it." Sleeping is a great way to spend a lazy morning. But even as my eyes feel like sandpaper this morning and I know that I am overtired, there is much to do today. Weekends are a time when I have both childcare and muscle (thank you dear husband).

The sun is a little more than half way down the pine trees now and soon it will start to vaporize the morning dew. Today I am planning on cleaning the coop, moving the chicken tractor (more on that soon), and many other little projects. I might even try to see a movie tonight with my husband - a rare night out if I can get the planets to align and my parents to babysit.

Best wishes for a happy and productive Sunday to all of those watching the sun come up on their homesteads this morning.

Saturday, June 23

Garden Update - Just Like in the Store!

No matter how many seasons I plant a garden, I am still amazed that one tiny seed can grow into a healthy, hearty plant, producing food that will feed my family through a good part of the season. It seems like a small miracle to me that so much hope and promise can come from one packet costing under $3.

My first celery plant - ever.
My garden this year is no exception, as far as certain crops are concerned. I have had issues with very poor germination in the first planting of beans, peas, cucumbers and watermelon. The second plantings went better with all four, but the corn is a total loss. Every couple of years I try to grow corn since we all enjoy it so much. And every year it is the same story - little to no germination.

Yep, potatoes are my thing.
I have heard it said that some people just can not grow certain things. No one knows why - it is just some fluke of nature. But on that same line of thought, a person can, through no logic or special talents, grow another crop that does beautifully with little effort.

In that case, I am a whiz at potatoes. My two rows of yellow gold are thriving and I just sit back and take the credit. The rest of the garden, as in most years, falls into the "middle of the road" category. There are plants, they are growing. That is all.

Lettuce - just like in the store!
Tomatoes, peppers, onions, a variety of squash and pumpkins, broccoli and celery. All there. All growing.

This is my first year trying celery and it looks pretty good so far. I got two seedlings from a friend and I stuck them in next to the tomatoes. My only question is when and how to harvest celery. It is something that will come back after harvest? How much do I take?

Identification required....
My two raised beds are doing well - one having first year strawberries and the other having lettuce, carrots and radishes. I got my first handful of ripe radishes yesterday for Roy's salad, but the carrots are going to take quite a bit longer.

The lettuce looks delicious and I am going to harvest and serve it with a zesty italian dressing this weekend. It came up a little sparse (low germination again) so I replanted and I am seeing results. It still takes me off guard a little to see the living proof that the food in the produce section is not there by magic. I can actually grow food. The same food that is in the wondrous grocery store. This makes me realize just how much 'conditioning' I have been subject to in my 30+ years of living. "If you want food, you go to the grocery store and buy it.  Period." Ten years of growing food and I am still taken aback by this realization.

I do have some plants that I know are one of three things. And since I have never grown these three things before, I am kind of clueless about which ones are what. Cauliflower, brussels sprouts and broccoli. Ok, I started some broccoli from seed and I know what that looks like but it is still small and these plants are much larger. Another gift from a friend who bought too much for her small garden space, I got two of each of the three mentioned above. I can always wait until they start showing signs of eatable branches, but I just don't like not knowing things. Any help?

A tomato plant in the 'tween' stage.
My tomatoes are doing alright but I am always impatient with them. I know that one day very soon I will wake up and see that they have changed seemingly overnight into huge towering plants, falling over with the weight of their branches and fruit. But now they are still small and just starting to creep up and need the trellis supports. I should be happy that they are still small and unobtrusive and not the tumbling mess I have come to anticipate each season. They are not babies, needing constant attention but they are not the rebellious teenager tomato plants that grow like crazy and get too big for their cages. I call this their "tween" phase. Still very much manageable but the crystal ball shows tough trellising times ahead.

Last but not least, I have two pots of cilantro and corvair spinach sitting next to the end of a row of peas. Spinach, new to me this year also, looks just like those little green leaves that come all packaged in the clear plastic box at the store. "Baby spinach" actually grows in the ground - who knew.

Spinich - just like in the store!
Either I am easy to impress, or I have drastically underestimated the ability of conditioning present in our society. Probably it's a little bit of both. Either way, I kind of like it. I reminds me that things like miracles and hope are still with us in these crazy times.

Friday, June 22

Mailbox Milk Pails

First, my apologies for the lack of posting this week. The weather has been hot and humid, but despite the sometimes stifling air quality, I have been out and about getting things knocked off the to-do list.

This week the humidity kicked the already high temps into high gear and we had a stretch of 90 degree weather. The majority of the week was spent sweating and getting very, very dirty. We had the kind of days that made for sore backs, early bedtimes and smelling like someone who just finished Jillian Michael's level 3 workout. And not to dismiss Jillian's very effective weight loss methods, but I lost 3 pounds this week and got the garden weeded at the same time.

A little color at the mailbox. Now if I could just get something
nice inside besides bills and political fliers.
One of the many projects I tackled this past week was repairing the mailbox flower boxes. Not a huge job but one of those things that gets put aside time and time again - put off for more pressing matters like overflowing basement sinks and leaking ceilings.

When we moved in, the mailbox was on a pole which was tipping slightly to the side and that was pretty much it. That just wouldn't do.

We straightened the pole, added a board across the top to attach the new mailbox to and I made two small, square flower boxes for either side of the mailbox. We painted and planted and it was great.

A few years went by and with rain, snowplows and the general elements, the wood of the planter boxes started to rot and I replaced them with two black plastic pots since I did not have time to make proper boxes. They served their purpose, but yet again, the elements had other ideas. Just like the tendency for wood to rot, plastic doesn't hold up to mother nature for extended periods of time either.

So, instead of planting flowers in them this spring, I let them sit - empty and cracking - and adding their repair or replacement to the to-do list under a long list of other more pressing matters.

This week, I decided it had sat on the list long enough, and I didn't want the mailman to think poorly of me, so I took off the plastic pots and made a decision.

Last summer I found two matching milking pails at a local garage sale. They were small but heavy duty and they were in good condition, save a few small rust spots and tiny holes along the bottom rims. At the time I did not know what I would do with them but they were just something I had to bring home.

I thought of how they would make nice planters but I cringed at drilling holes on the bottoms for drainage. I hate to intentionally damage an item that will result in its usefulness being compromised - i.e. - drilling holes in the bottom of a bucket. But the more I thought about it, I decided that I was going to use them for the mailbox planter replacements. They already had small rust holes near the bottom anyway and I have been trying to get out of my current mentality of "save it for later!" (along the same lines as "save the good china for some other day")

I drilled 8 small holes - about 1/4" wide - in the bottom of each bucket, spaced evenly apart. Then I anchored the buckets to the existing black board through three of the drainage holes with durable exterior screws.

I filled the bottom 1/2" of each bucket with small stones and gravel to allow for drainage and I filled them the rest of the way with good potting soil. I chose orange and yellow marigolds since I like the way the colors stand out against the black of the mailbox and I also put a vinca vine in each so they would hang down over the sides of the buckets for a little fancy decoration.

A good watering and I looked over the results, which I was quite pleased with. I am glad I went ahead and used those pails instead of leaving them to sit on the garden table for another season pondering what to do with them.

I am working on throwing out this mentality of saving things for "good" and using them. What am I waiting for? The Queen of England will never come to my house and want to see my collection of two small milk pails with rust on the bottoms. I don't think they are worth more than the $10 I paid for them so I will not be selling them some day for a windfall.

I want to enjoy them and see them every day. And I know they will last longer than thin boards and cheap plastic.

Sunday, June 17

In the Garden: Hair Clips and Weeding by Lantern Light

My ONLY corn seed to grow.
The little man has a book which begins "In the garden, many things are growing..." Indeed this is true for my vegetable gardens this year, however, weeds are definitely included in that all encompassing description of "things."

I have had very poor luck with germination this season - especially beans, peas and corn. This is the second year in a row that my first planting of peas and beans has failed to germinate more than about 15%. In previous years they did wonderfully - it was as if I could not fail. But the past two years have resulted in a very poor germination rate in the first sowing, and not a great showing on the second sowing either.

I have used the same brand of seeds from the same company since I started gardening. I rotate the crops from year to year. Maybe it is time for a soil test and some serious amendments?
My corn is by far the most disappointing, but it was also the most predictable failure. I have never been able to grow corn here. It just will not germinate. I have tried different areas of the garden but I never get more than a few stalks. This season I decided to try again given that we all love corn on the cob.

I planted 4 rows, each 8 ft. long. I got one plant. ONE. I am open to suggestions on how to make corn grow. And I can not believe I just typed that.

The raised beds are doing fair. The radishes and carrots are coming up, if a little sparse in patches. The lettuce is also coming along, with a larger percentage of sparse sections. I think a re-sowing of the lettuce is on tomorrows schedule. The poultry netting over the raised bed hoops seems to be working in keeping bed bugs out while letting the bees in.

Hair clips - cheap, easy, reusable and durable.
I had some trouble figuring out how to attach the netting so I could be able to get in to weed and harvest. I decided to clip the netting on one side so that I could pull it back to access the bed and then put it back in place when I was finished. I ended up using hair clips for this. Just plain old hair clips from the basket under the bathroom sink.

These smaller ones are the perfect size in circumference when closed to fit snugly around the geo-thermal tubing used for the hoops. They hold the netting in place firmly, they don't move around, and when I want to access the bed I just unclip them or slide them up the tubing. They work perfectly!

The weeds are a problem this year, as they are every year. I remember reading somewhere that weeds like to grow in freshly disturbed soil. How convenient. I have been trying to get a row weeded every night, or during the little man's nap time. The baby comes out with me and watches from her stroller while I yank the beasts out by the roots and toss them in the bucket. When she tires of watching mommy do battle, she turns her attention to the chickens, waving her arms frantically at them with her mouth open. They stay around only because they think she might have food for them.

My one-row plan of attack is proving to be insufficient so I think I will either weed faster and dare to leave some of the small ones behind, or I will be weeding by lantern and firefly light long after the moon has risen. One way or another, I will be victorious. I may not have anything growing in the garden due to lack of germination, but at least I won't have weeds.

Friday, June 15

My First House Wren

This season I have a family of house wrens living in the back yard birdhouse. And I have been privileged to pretty bird songs every day it is warm enough to have the windows open.

These guys can really sing. Such small brown bundles of sleek feathers - they seem to put their whole body into their song, flapping and exaggerating. I have been watching them as they fill the house with small twigs and bedding and I hope to see some fledgling young boys and girls take their first tentative steps towards flight someday soon.

Along with the bluebirds and chickadees that have taken up residence in the two bird houses by the vegetable garden, I have a whole community of barn swallows being hatched in their crowded nests on the barn beams.

Thursday, June 14

Reminders of Reponsibility and Lessons Learned

I have always had semi-romantic notions concerning the whole homesteading idea. Reading a canning book in the slowly fading mid-summer daylight at the kitchen table while sipping home made lemonade. Curling up in front of a wood burning stove in hand knit wool socks on a frigid night in January. Chickens pecking at the grass as they free-range around the yard and tomatoes growing in the garden as big as softballs.

Not to say that i am ignorant as to the hard work involved. I have a very up close and personal relationship with chicken poo, sweltering summer days spent over a hot stove canning and very, very dirty fingernails. I make choices that may seem strange to others and I worry about things like Miracle Grow in my salad. I like hauling firewood. And I know the responsibility that I take on by keeping chickens.

Most farms have much more than chickens by way of animals - goats, cows, pigs, sheep - and maybe we will some day. But for now, we have a great flock of girls and I am fully aware that they are not just fun lawn decorations.

But I do get used to having them around. I don't take them for granted, but I do relax and let my guard down on occasion. I am not so nervous about monitoring their every movement like I was when we first got them. And 99% of the time there is nothing wrong with this. But it is that 1% that is on my mind today.

And I am sick about it.

I made a huge mistake that cost me one of my new Red Sex Link chicks. My favorite one. The one with the most snowy white feathers mixed with the light brown.

The chicken tractor needed to be moved to fresh grass so I asked Roy to pull it for me since the wheel system is not working properly and I can not move it. Moving it right now basically consists of pulling the frame along the ground since the wheels won't turn. Many factors converged to cause the following incident. Roy had started to pull the tractor slowly and carefully while the little man and I watched the chicks to make sure they were away from the sides. They got scared when one of the ladies in the main pen flapped her wings and made a loud noise and ran to the back of the tractor. At that moment as Roy was trying to pull the tractor forward slowly, it lunged ahead on accident catching the chicks leg under the frame.

Her leg and possibly her hip were broken. She was in pain and as much as I want to be able to heal my animals, I would just have caused her more suffering in wasted time looking up solutions in books or trying to find an open vet.

Roy took care of the chick swiftly and humanely which was the best thing we could have done for her. I feel desperately guilty over this. My lack of understanding on construction caused this and it was a painful lesson.

The tractor is too heavy. As I added the roosting box and the ramp, the weight increased overall and I should have anticipated this when I chose the wheels. I also should have done more research on the proper installation of wheels on a chicken tractor. This coming weekend Roy and I are going to fix the wheels properly.

I have also installed and hinge on the ramp that leads to the roosting box. From now on I will only move the tractor, bad wheels or good wheels, when all the chicks are in the roosting box with the ramp raised and secured by a hook I installed.

The shame I feel in having to have learned a lesson at the expense of a chick is deep. I am again reminded of the responsibility I have taken on in raising animals. I get used to having the chickens around, learn their needs and schedules, and caring for them becomes less stressful. But I have to keep reminding myself that just because the nervous fretting stage of caring for animals has passed, there is no room to lax in safety and common sense.

Wednesday, June 13

Birthday Clothes Line

What is the best gift a girl can get for her birthday? Something useful, practical and energy efficient, of course!

When we moved in to the farmhouse we cemented in our clothes poles near the house on the east facing side. They were very convenient to carry heavy baskets to and I could have the windows open on a breezy day to hear the sheets snapping in the wind.

However, that was 7 years ago and trees grow. Trimming branches did a god job at letting the sunlight back in at first but the trees are too big and between them and the house, there is just not a full day's worth of sun to dry all the laundry. Not wanting to cut down my trees and not being able to move the house, our only option was to move the clothes poles.

Easier said than done. With is busy work schedule Roy just have no spare time to tackle this project. And it was not 100% essential so it was put on the back burner time and time again.

One of the poles had started to tilt due to not being buried and cemented deep enough (and I hit it with the mower once day a few years ago, don't tell), so they had to be repaired, if anything.

So when my parents asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year I decided to ask for a yard project instead of a physical present. I asked if they would come over on a weekend and I would help Dad with the poles while Mom watched the kids. A deal was struck and this past weekend the poles were moved. Roy was out of town for work so I had free reign of where I wanted to move them to in the yard.

The first pole - the tipping one - came out easy. No problems there. The second pole was buried far deeper due to uneven ground and it had way more cement for some reason (I can not remember why). That pole took most of the afternoon on Saturday. The little man helped a great deal and did not get bored and distracted as he sometimes does with yard projects. This involved dirt, sledge hammers, rocks and worms, so he was content and very happy. And very dirty.

Dad and I finally got the pole out and we then marked out the place they would go. I chose a spot on the north side of the house, being the back yard, where the sun hits between 10:30-ish to well past 5pm. The perfect spot - our second choice when we originally put in the poles. (We ended up putting them near the house to compensate for my still healing back and my inability to carry heavy loads any more than very short distances.)

Sunday, they were back and we were digging the new holes with the shovels and post hole digger. Little man was again very helpful and found it very entertaining to try and squirt Grandpa with the garden hose. Six bags of ready mix cement later and we had two clothes poles leveled and in the ground. I can not use them until they are fully set which might take until the end of this week, but it will be worth it. I can hang my clothes on a temporary line that i have put up by the shed and I have my clothes drying rack on the front porch.

A better birthday present I could not have wished for and it will last for years and I will remember the weekend of hard work and time spent with family each time I hang out a freshly washed load of baby clothes and bath towels.

Tuesday, June 12

My Saving Grace

My saving grace at the end of a hectic, stressful or just plain exhausting day is when I get to slip away out the back door and take a short wander in my flower gardens. Seeing what has bloomed, what is at the peak of color and what has declined and faded for yet another season seems to give me some sort of peace. Life moves on, as evidenced in buds.

I used to combine this time with feeding Kitty in the upper barn and I would talk to him about the new red roses or how great the peony's smelled in an effort to win him over and be able to scratch him behind the ears.

However, now that we have lost Kitty, I am just a garden spectator again. For a dropped-off cat who came to us at the beginning of last winter, that orange ball of fur made quite an impression on me. I was working up to a friendship - a day when I could pet him and take him to the vet without causing him trauma. To get him checked out and bring him into our home. He was my cat and he looked to me for food and shelter.
There is something to be said for having something that is completely your own. Being a wife and a mother it is hard to obtain this. Every minute of my life is spent in the company of another person and everything possession I have is shared property.
I don't have secrets, but I do like privacy. And the freedom to call that privacy a possession. Kitty was my one private charge. And I enjoyed taking care of him. I sorely miss his company.

If he were still here I would tell him that my roses are all blooming and the pink climbing variety has hundreds of blooms in all stages. The smell is intoxicating. I have rose bushes all over the property in all colors and types and every day something new is blooming.
I was given some bright white daisy's that I planted near the lavender - I like the combination of the bright white with the more muted purple of the lavender with it's grayish foliage. I am also very happy with the poppies this year, although I must remember to plant more red seeds in the future.
The portion of the vegetable garden that I let grow over this year to replenish the nutrients has produced a fantastic number of daisy's that attract all sorts of bugs and bees. It makes a nice border to the pumpkin and squash seedlings and when those seedlings are branching out, the daisy's will be gone so the oranges and whites and greens of the future fall decor will creep into the tall grasses and provide their own color.

Not everything is doing so well however. The orange lilies are taking over the one garden and have crowded out my other lilies as well as my yarrow and bee balm. I am going to have to do some serious digging and thinning at the end of the season.

Something has also been snacking on my hollyhocks - two of the large plants have been eaten down to the stems along with all of the strawberries. And I am dealing with an invasion of ground ivy which I am battling by the bucket full.

I feel I am fighting a losing battle with it and in some places where the flower gardens are a little sparse I have let it go, waving a white flag of surrender, favoring the little purple flowers to no flowers at all.
So tonight after a cold drink and the baby monitor on, I ignored the ground ivy and enjoyed the roses. Some lucky friend or family member will get a huge pot of orange lily bulbs this fall and I will look forward to a new cast of colors tomorrow.  

(from here on out known as SPSS)

Yesterday was a hot and humid nasty little mix of weather. There was a breeze but it was dry and stale and it was a miserable day to do anything outdoors. The kids were feeling the stress and were cranky and irritable, as was I.

Today has brought massive rain showers that are currently flooding the basement but doing almost nothing for the stifling humidity that is still hanging in the air. The house smells of must and wet basement, mixed in with baby formula and that ever annoying scent of desperation.

The automatic basement pump that kicks on when the sump pump sink gets full is not working and the new one is sitting in a nice neat little box on the front porch, right where the UPS man left it yesterday morning. I have no idea how to install a new draining pump on a sump pump slop sink in a basement.

Currently, I am listening for the tell tale slamming and banging of the sump pump (from here on out known as SP) pumping brownish water into the sump pump slop sink (from here on out known as SPSS) and when it has gone off two or three times, I know that the sink is full. Then I go half way down the basement stairs until I reach the end of an extension cord that I have run from the portable pump that I have submerged int he SPSS. I plug it in and it pumps the water out of the SPSS, up an old section of garden hose and out of the basement window where the water runs downhill away from the house.

Such are the exciting life and times of a modern homesteader who's husband is out of town for work so he can't install the automatic pump until Thursday.

Monday, June 11

The New Chicken Tractor

I mentioned in a previous post that I have been working on a chicken tractor for the new Red Sex Link chicks we have been raising. They have been living in a sectioned off area of the main coop so they have some space, but they have no access to the outdoor pen because they can not mix with the older girls until they are bigger.

My mission was to make a solid chicken tractor that could comfortably hold 6 to 8 birds until they were large enough to integrate into the existing flock. In the tractor they would have food, water, shade, sunlight, fresh air and grass under their feet. They would also have a safe place to roost at night.
I used mostly materials that we already had around the farm - cedar boards left over from the raised beds, netting from the outdoor pen cover, various scrap lumber and screws, staples and hinges that we already had in the workshop. The only items I had to purchase were the wheels and bolt assemblies to attach them, the latches and the corrugated vinyl roofing.

I made the tractor 8 ft. x 4ft. to minimize the cuts I would have to make with cedar boards that were 8 ft. to start with. I braced the corners with 2 x 4's and also framed out the base for the raised roosting box area.

I covered the sides with the heavy poultry netting using the staple gun to attach it. (I attached the netting to each panel before I put the tractor together which made it much easier.) I made the door from 2 x 3's and put a bracing piece horizontally across the middle and attached it with hinges on one side and a sturdy latch on the other. It is large enough for me to get in and refill the food and water and to check on the girls when I have to.

The roosting area is completely enclosed with ramp access. The front wall has hinges on the bottom and a latch on the right side, near the top so I can open that area for cleaning. I lined the bottom with an old rubber doormat and then placed a generous amount of straw on top of the rubber for their bedding. I think having the rubber mat there will help with cleaning out the poop in that it will not go right onto the wooden floor on the roosting box. And I can always replace the mat if I have to - it will be a lot easier than replacing a floor.

The top is vinyl corrugated sheeting from the local hardware store. Very inexpensive and lightweight. I anchored it with some sturdy screws and it works well. I chose white instead of a dark color because I thought it might help keep the area a little cooler with the hot sun.

Roy and I installed the wheels just high enough to roll so I would be able to move the tractor by myself, but low enough to discourage predators who might try to dig under the tractor. The bolts we purchased were a little short for the length they had to go through - the wheel, some washers, the cedar board and a 2 x 4 - but it just made it.

We were able to push the tractor very easily on the driveway, but that is where easy street ended. With the un-even ground, the sticky wheels due to short bolts, and the fact that we placed them just a little too low, grounded our tractor. It was a heavy monster, and no wheels rolling along to move it easily. I could not even budge it. Roy tied a rope to the front and managed to pull it into position near the existing coop.

He came up with a few different ideas for the wheels but it was getting late and I wanted to get the girls outside into the fresh air as soon as possible. So I brought them out - one at a time - and they felt grass under their feet for the first time.

All 7 of them, after fighting to be caught and not liking to be carried, took to their new home quickly. I had to climb in and show each bird the roosting area and how to get to it, but after that they were going up and down the ramp and pecking at every inch of the green grass.

We will devise a new wheel strategy soon, but for now the girls are out in the sun and the fresh air and they seem to be thriving. With any luck they will be integrated into the flock and laying eggs around the middle of August.

Sunday, June 10

On Foraging Pears

Where I grew up - in a very small town in Upstate NY - it was all fields and farms and not a whole lot going on. Behind our house were acres and acres of wild fields and coyote and fox dens. Deer and bunnies and woodchucks and just about everything else. We went sledding there in the winters and explored in the summers.

Now developers have moved in and the fields behind where my parents still live is is new housing development with very, very expensive houses constructed by the lowest bidder with the cheapest materials. At the newly made road that shoots off the main road to enter the development sits the almost 200 year old farmhouse and outbuildings where the farmer who once used the acres and acres for cattle grazing once lived. It is now owned by a family who does take care of the property, but their yard has been reduced to just what the buildings are sitting on.

There are still remnants of the old farm there - the stone smokehouse, the chicken coop and the large hay storage barns. And there are also the pear trees. they now fill the weedy buffer of about 50 feet between the farmhouse and the new development road. No one really knows who they actually belong to but every year they are filled with big green pears that no one picks, save the few deer that are left in the quickly vanishing wild space.

My first instinct was to pick them, can them and feel so proud of myself for being so frugal. Then I thought about someone seeing me do it. Who did own these pears? Would they care if I picked them? If they were on the developers property then probably not. They have no use for pears when they just want to make a quick buck by destroying the landscape and building over rated housing. Did the people who live in the farmhouse own them? If so, why weren't they picking them?

Would I get in trouble? I hate confrontation. I hate knocking on peoples doors and possibly getting an answer of "no" even more.

So the pears went to the deer and to the layers of composting fruit somewhere in the weeds.

My foraging ideas are still floating around inside my head, especially since food of all kinds is growing like crazy right now. I read blog articles about people driving back roads looking for apple trees and filling up 5 gallon buckets to make cider or applesauce. Wild cherry picking, black walnut collection, wild strawberry procurement, blackberries, red raspberries, sunflower seeds, wild leeks, acorns - all just there for the taking.

And those are just the things that are immediately recognizable as food to my untrained eye. So many greens, mushrooms, nuts, berries and flowers that I would not know to be eatable.

I must stop this train of thought and remind myself that I am not living in medieval England. It's not just there for the taking. That is someones property. There could be decades of chemical contaminates in the soil those berries are growing in. There could be animal contamination, pesticides sprayed an adjacent field, guard dogs, kids with air rifles, posted signs, cranky people, fences or garbage and waste contamination.

Or the pears could just taste really bad.

And, even with all that I read and know, there is always this little know-it-all voice in my head telling me that those pears are not safe.

"Those pears are dirty! They might have bugs in them! They need to be pasteurized and pressurized and sanitized! Just go to the grocery store - those pears are safe!"

I have the same problem with dairy products but that is a whole other post. Conditioning is a very dangerous little game.

Back to the problem at hand - to pick the pears or not to pick the pears. I have decided to fight the system - push back against the conditioning and questionable property lines. The worst that could happen is the pears taste bad or someone kindly suggests that the pears are not for public use.

Decision made.

This summer, I'm picking the pears.

Thursday, June 7

And Then the Washing Machine......

First the sump pump, now the washing machine.

It's 11pm. Do you know what YOUR washing machine is doing?

Apparently not washing my clothes, even though I specifically remember loading it, adding detergent and turning it on. It stopped half way through the rinse cycle and hasn't made a peep since. So at 11pm when I went to put the load in the dryer before bed, I was greeted not by damp clothes waiting for the dryer, but a washer full of water.

I spent 5 minutes fiddling with the dial and randomly pushing buttons. I spent the next five minutes swearing (quietly due to sleeping kids) and kicking the washer.

Then I spent the next half hour up to my elbows in very cold washer water hand wringing out the clothes and tossing them heavily into the dryer. I was fully aware of the wide range of environmental sins I was committing by doing this, even before the washer went. Normally I would do laundry in the morning and then hang it out on the line to dry. But when the baby spits up all over three different outfits, the little man has an potty "accident", plus all the other items that build up, I was willing to suck some power off the grid to dry the little mans socks and Roy's work shirts.

After ringing out said socks and work shirts, I was really in the homesteader doghouse by having to use three times more electric to run the dryer long enough to dry the soggy mess.

I emptied the entire washers full of water out by dipping in a tupperware into the drum and then dumping that into a 5 gallon Tractor Supply bucket. 7 full buckets later I was able to move the washer away from the wall and disconnect the hose to see if there was a clog. The remaining washer drum water flowing freely out of the hose onto my floor let me know that there was indeed no clog. That meant it was an internal timer problem.

In my experience, washing machines can get pricey to repair. It is almost better to get a new one. This particular washer and dryer was bought second hand about 7 years ago from a shady looking gentleman at a public storage unit. It was cheap and we were strapped for cash.

And it served as well - through all three dogs, the kitties, both Roy's and my work, yard and regular clothes, and then a little boy and a baby girl. That washer got a workout.

We decided to get a new set since the dryer was the same age as the washer and it wasn't performing up to par recently either. We chose an energy star, energy efficient set that seems to make every effort to save both power and money.

Our first ever brand new washer and dryer will be delivered tomorrow.

Kitty is Gone

I took this picture of kitty a few days ago when I happened to have my camera with me at the barn during feeding time. He was getting so tame that I could almost pet him. He would wait for me to come up to the barn at dinner time, under this stack of white plastic lawn chairs, and he would meow at me as I filled his bowl with dry food.

He liked the sound the food made when it fell into the bowl and when I shook the plastic container it was stored in. I would wait near the bowl after filling it - letting him work up the nerve to come over to the bowl with me still there. We made great strides in trust and I almost get to pet his fluffy orange coat the other day. He could be Princes' twin, except Kitty's face was different.

Two nights ago when I went up to feed him, he was not there in his usual spot. But I was feeding him a little earlier than normal and it was a nice day. I though the was just out doing whatever he did during the course of a day.

Yesterday after arriving home a little before dinner time from some errands, my neighbor from across the street walked up my driveway. Her family is fond of Kitty also and keeps a look out for him. She told me that there was an orange cat laying on the side of the nearest main road. It had been hit by a car and did not know if it was Kitty.

I immediately checked the barn but I knew even before I opened the heavy sliding door that Kitty was gone. His spot under the chairs was empty, as was the old couch that he slept on at night.

We got in the car and drove up to where she said the cat was, and it was Kitty. He must have been hit sometime after I took this picture that night or early the next day. Roy moved him off the side of the pavement and way into the tall grass by the field where he would be left in peace from passing mowers and dogs. Roy said that it looked like he was hit in a way that he did not suffer and it was over quickly. I did not ask him to elaborate on how he knew this.

I looked forward to feeding Kitty every night - he was my break from the hectic day. I could go up to the barn where it was quiet and it was just me and Kitty. If we did not have time to form a relationship, what we did have was an understanding. I fed him and gave him a dry place to sleep. He greeted me with meows and a golden eyed stare. For a few minutes each day I could kneel down and try to help this dropped-off cat, building a little more trust each day.

I just hope that I made his months here as comfortable as possible and that he knows he was loved.

Wednesday, June 6


"June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which 'we will accept nothing less than full victory.'

More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end on June 6, the Allies gained a foot- hold in Normandy. The D-Day cost was high -more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded -- but more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march across Europe."

I have always felt that this day deserves a special remembrance. Never have I felt such a presence than when we visited these beaches and surrounding areas a few years ago. It is haunting and promising at the same time. So many lives lost on these beaches and so much freedom gained in the end.

Here are some photos from our trip to the Normandy Beaches:

Sunday, June 3

Rain, Rain and More Rain (and a broken pump)

The poppy is no match for even the lightest rainfall.

Today's weather was just stupid. I know that sounds ridiculous but I found myself saying it all day, sometimes out loud, sometimes in my head.

"Stupid weather...... stupid weather........stupid weather"

It rained. It stopped. The sun came out. It was hot. It sprinkled. It stopped. It poured. The sun came out while it was pouring. It stopped. The sun went away. It got cloudy. It rained........

That was pretty much the entire day, making it absolutely impossible to even attempt any yard projects. The yard is a soggy mess, the garden is a mud field and just about every flowering plant I have is hanging to the ground, bent over by the weight of drenched blooms and leaves. The peony's are getting the worst of it - all drooping forcefully, petals plastered to the ground and looking miserable. All the iris blooms called it quits and are now mushy shriveled up globs. And how depressing it is to see a drenched poppy. That must be the saddest garden sight of all.

But I was not about to sit in the house all day.

I did manage to get a little bit accomplished on an outdoor project in between soaking rains. I finally got the door framed and attached on my new chicken tractor. I have been working on it for about a week now as time allows and the only things I have left to do are attach the roof, make the ramp and attach the wheels. It is for the 7 Red Sex Links that are still too small to go in with the ladies, but I just can not stand to keep them penned up inside the coop any longer. I want them to feel fresh grass under their feet and breathe fresh air.

Soon, little girls....soon.....

The rest of the day was spent fretting over the waterlogged vegetable garden, running errands and doing the massive loads of laundry that have accumulated. I was forced to wear a skirt the other day due to lack of clean shorts or pants. Not a pretty sight since I have yet to lose my post pregnancy weight from the little girl.

I was just finishing up a load when Roy smelled something burning.

The way the day was going, I would have had a meltdown if it was my washing machine. So much laundry to do.......

But it wasn't the washer, it was the sump pump in the basement. With all the rain we have been having, it has been working overtime and it finally gave up. The pump was smoking so Roy unplugged it immediately and we stood there staring at it - like that would somehow make it whole again.

So we are without the pump tonight and luckily the rain has let up to a drizzle. I have the emergency pump out and ready to plug in if it is needed tomorrow - the only thing is this pump is either on or off so I will have to keep running down into the basement every half hour to check and see if it needs a pump. Roy will be picking up and installing a new automated pump after work tomorrow, so I will just have to hold down the fort until then.

They are predicting more showers for the next few days so we will see what is left of the veggie gardens after it dries out a little. They will love the water and thrive or they will become waterlogged and rot. Either way, it will make for an interesting weekend.

More Pretty Things

Saturday, June 2

Getting the Basics

Feeding goats = Check!

Milking Cows = Check!

Friday, June 1

Borderline Madness and Strawberry Thieves

Today was one of those days where I just could not catch a break.

The little man and the baby tag teamed me all day - when one was crying the other was bouncing off the walls. When one was wanting attention the other was having a massive meltdown. One wanted to go outside, one wanted to stay in. One napped fitfully while the other had Mommy issues that made weeding the garden impossible.

Do any of you have three year olds out there? Maybe you are having the same problem I
 have - he is never quiet. Never. He is talking constantly. About nothing:

"How did that stick get there?"
"Look! The moon is out!"
"It's my birthday!"
"Can I use my jump rope for a lasso?"
"I told you that was how it works."

And when he is not talking, he is making all sorts of noises that run the gambit from pterodactyl shrieks to zombie growls. Jabber, jabber jabber. Chatter, chatter, chatter. A constant bombardment.

It's borderline madness and it is driving me crazy.

When does this stop? Does it ever stop.....

No breaks for me today.

The garden seems to be following the tag team trend. Some things are doing great while others are pitiful.
The potatoes are the only thing keeping me from plowing the
whole mess under and putting in a tennis court.
The potatoes are one of the great ones - they are exploding in their two rows. Nice straight, neat rows (don't mind the weeds.) The broccoli and cauliflower are doing very well, as are the peas and beans - those peas and beans that managed to show up for the party, that is.

There should be more than 4 bean
plants in this long row.

In a row of about 22 ft. I got 4 bean plants to come up. Four. The second row of beans did a little better but something came in and nibbled the tops off half of them.

I have two more packages of beans and another packet of peas soaking now. They will go in tomorrow and hopefully do better than the first planting.

The matter of strawberries must also be addressed here. I have a growing bunch plants - spreading nicely - in one of my flower gardens. All loaded with beginnings of berries. (See Before picture). Today I went to inspect them and I found that something has been making a midnight snack of not just the berries but the entire tops of the plants as well. (See After picture).

Not a good way to start off the season.......
And after.

A pea plant that decided it might as well germinate,
unlike many of his siblings.