Thursday, May 30

Apologies, apologies......

As we all know, this is the busiest time of year for the garden - planting and weeding and fencing and wringing our hands over poor germination and woodchuck incursions.

Please stay tuned........

Friday, May 17

The Potato Project

Roy's raised bed potato project
This year Roy is in charge of potatoes.

It was his suggestion and at first I thought he was doubting my potato growing skills. I reminded him that, if nothing else, potatoes have always done very well in my garden. He told me that he was not questioning my gardening expertise, he just wanted to try a new method of growing them that he heard about.
Given that almost all of Roy's ideas or suggestions concerning the yard and garden (few and far between as they may be) end up being my new responsibility, I told him that he would be doing the work. No discussion.
His method was to choose a place in the side field to build a raised bed garden out of cardboard, shovels full of dirty straw from the coop and topsoil. We decided on an area that needed some nutrients that was part of the old garden, currently on 'resting' status. True to his word, he and the little man were out there laying down cardboard and looking very proud of themselves.
And true to past experiences, I was indeed the one hauling and shoveling the chicken poop.
He did haul most of the topsoil and rake the bed level, which I am still recovering from the shock of. I was so shocked that I did not even think to grab the camera and record the moment. He and the little man carefully cut and planted the potato starters, covered the rows and marked them with wooden garden stakes.
The end result was one that I am not entirely unhappy with. I admit that the idea sounded slightly messy and unnecessary given that growing potatoes in the dirt had never been a challenge or caused any difficulty here in the past.

After over a decade of gardening and food production falling under my job description, he has taken an interest.

In potatoes.

A girl couldn't ask for more.

Thursday, May 16

right in the gut

I hate losing chickens.

I hate losing anything that I put time, care, money and effort into.

But losing a hen, especially to a violent act, adds a whole new dimension to the loss. She is not just money lost in egg income or the time and care that I took in raising them from baby chicks. I lost three living creatures.

To a fox.

Yesterday afternoon when the little man and I went out to feed the chickens an afternoon snack of bread scraps, I saw a pile of scattered feathers and a half eaten chicken carcass inside the run addition into the grass. I explained to him that these things happen and I tried not to get upset in front of him. The ladies were put in the coop for the rest of the day and I took care of the remains after the little man was in the house.

I hate losing an animal and I stood in the yard looking at the brown and white feathers feeling like a neglectful failure of a mother. I provide great fencing, a secure coop and what I like to think is a safe environment. I know there are fox, coyote, raccoons, and the occasional loose domestic dog running around which is the price we pay for living near a large forested area and farm land. And we love it here and would not change a thing. But we have not had a lot of problems from the wildlife so when something like this happens it hits me right in the gut.

I moved the portable run addition to a new patch of grassy area, this time right along the shed as to give a sense of security to the girls and to maybe deter the fox from venturing too close.

Then today when I went out to lock the girls in the coop and check the feeders and fonts, I found two dead chickens in the new fenced in grass area. I was angry and I spent the time chicken on the girls fuming and cussing out the fox under my breath. I apologized to the chickens which was all I could really do while they glared at me from the roost. I felt awful and I went out and looked at the two piles of feathers and half eaten chickens. I called Roy out to look and he confirmed that it was definitely a fox that had done the damage. He kindly removed the bodies for me and I went into the house defeated and angry.

I take these kinds of things seriously. I raise the chickens from fluffy little chicks, I feed them the best food I can afford, I make sure they have fresh straw and plenty of water. I worry about them having enough shade during the hot days and provide them with dust baths, DT earth and all the kitchen scraps they can eat. I sell their eggs and I enjoy their antics while I am out in the garden.

And now I feel totally helpless. What can I do besides lock the chickens up in the coop all day? I can redo the fencing, making it stronger and burying it 6" down to avoid digging. I can't spend all day and night in a lawn chair with a shotgun. I could give up raising chickens or I could buy some top of the line 'fox repellent' from Country Max.

These kinds of incidents really make me question if I am able to practice animal husbandry. I get too attached - too emotional. I get scared when something is wrong with one of the chickens and I relay on Roy to handle the life and death decisions. When things like this happen I think I should stick to gardening and pay $4 per dozen for brown eggs at the grocery store.

I am reminded of something I wrote last year when I lost one of my new chicks.

"...there is no room to lax in safety and common sense."

Monday, May 13

Dubrovnik Fencing

The new garden fence has taken up a great deal of time during these last few weeks. Given that I only have small amounts of time in which to work on it, generally during the baby's nap time or in the evening, it has monopolized my yard time.
As of today we have installed 26 rough-cut larch posts and two out of the 4 sides have the galvanized 4' fencing installed. It is starting to look like a proper garden fence. Or as I like to call it, my garden fortification system.
I feel as if I am engaged in an ongoing battle against a determined and entrenched army of woodchucks, bunnies and deer. They are also brazen in their attacks - sometimes coming out in broad daylight for a shot at the all-you-can-eat salad buffet.
Last July I went to the garden to find some of these guys happily munching away on clover - inside the garden fence. Another one was snacking on some of my peas. I was able to get within 6 feet of them and when they eventually took a break from eating to notice me, they did not run immediately. They gave me a look as if to say "May I help you?" and after I yelled, they made a hasty retreat to their home under my garden shed. They are so brazen as to live under my garden shed.
This new fence will be the farming equivalent of the Walls of Dubrovnik, never to be breached by a hostile army.

Sunday, May 12

The Wisdom of the Lilac

When the lilacs come out, I know that I can officially celebrate the full throws of spring. I look forward to them every year and we have 4 bushes in our yard, all in various shades of purple. the largest bush is right outside the back kitchen window and every time I go in or out the back door I can smell a wonderful blast of perfume heaven.
Yesterday the little man and I cut a few to bring into the house. They are currently looking great in a nice vase on the table and making the kitchen smell wonderful. I made sure to choose a vase with a nice wide bottom in order to prevent a lilac accident since Seamus has an obsession with destroying, oops, I mean exploring anything plant-related. I could picture him 'exploring' the lilacs and having the whole thing tipping over and soaking the tablecloth.
I am not one to prune my lilac bushes. I know that some pruning is good, but I try to do the  bare minimum - removing storm damaged branches or low hanging limbs that make it impossible to mow the lawn in the immediate vicinity. I like the way the wavy limbs seem to grow in defiance of the laws of nature - intertwined and uninhibited. The texture and color of the bark reminds me of ancient fairy tale forests and even the young bushes seem so old and wise because of it.
And I believe they share that wisdom with us. What do you do when you are near a lilac bush? Most of us stop and take a deep breath of the wonderful scent. And another. And probably another. Standing still and taking slow, deep breaths. I can tell you that the calming effect this has on the mother of two spirited children is some priceless wisdom I am glad to be the recipient of. If just half of us heeded the wisdom of the lilac bush, the world might be just a little bit better.

Saturday, May 11

Another week has flown by, and given the beautiful weather we had for most of it, we managed to get quite a few things knocked off the to-do list. Normally, no matter how many things I get checked off, I still do not feel like I got anything done. But this past week, I actually felt like I accomplished some things. Given the great weather, Roy decided to take a couple vacation days to spend some time helping me with my projects.

I got dirty and smelly and I was tired and my muscles ached but I have not felt this good in a long time. Not since the little man was a little baby and I had a line of babysitters just waiting to get their hands on his little cheeks. So even though I had a baby, I still got things done on the scale I did before I became a mommy.

One of the more notable accomplishments....

The chicken coop has been completely cleaned of its winter deep bedding. I used half of the straw and 'chicken leavings' to put down a 7" layer on Roy's potato bed project (more on that later) and the rest I used to cover the floor of the outdoor run. I used the dirtiest straw for the potatoes, such as the shovels full I got from under the ladies favorite roosting areas, and I used the cleaner straw to put down a layer on the ground of their outdoor run. The ladies were very happy with the new clean coop and the goodies to scratch around in outside.

From what I can only guess is a great big 'thank you' for the fresh bedding, I have been getting more eggs for the last few days. I was down to getting only about 4 per day but for the past three days I have been getting almost a dozen!

The 6 new girls have also made their way into the segregated section of the interior coop. They had outgrown their basement accommodations and had started to fly out of the baby gate enclosure at all hours of the day and night to feast on my seedlings. I lost a few tomato plants as of this morning, so as of this afternoon, the new girls are in the coop. At last check, they were in a staring contest with some of the older ladies through the partitions.

In more coop-related news, I have purchased a 5 gallon water font to replace the several 1 gallon fonts I have been using for the past few years. While they are perfectly fine, aside from the necessary cleaning, the 5 gallon font has proved to be a great time saver. The ladies do not manage to get as much debris into the base and I only have to clean and refill it about every 5 days. I am very happy with this investment, and I still have the 1 gallon fonts to use for the new girls and to supply a source of water in the outside run on those hot summer days.

More dispatches from the homestead front lines shortly.....

Saturday, May 4

This past week has been a flurry of activity here. Since the weather has been cooperating wonderfully, we have been spending just about every spare minute outside taking care of projects.

Although I feel like we will never catch up, and no matter how much we do, it still feels like just a drop in the bucket, things are getting done.

The leaf raking, which should have been done last fall, has finally been taken care of for most of the yard. This year I will make sure there is time to take care of things in the fall since raking them in the spring is not a fun task for me. Besides the fact that they have gotten rather smelly and moldy over the winter, it is so hard for me to get going with the gardens when I know that I have an additional stop added before I can even see what is going on. My sprouts are buried under a blanket of musty old decay. I am happy to say that the leaves have been raked and dumped to compost in the side field.

Speaking of that side field, I am letting a significant portion of the yard and garden go back to field this year. I want to give the soil a chance to recharge in the areas that we have been using for the past few years, and I have come to think that having the field grasses and wildflowers is more appealing to me than having the close cropped grass. I am looking into some cover crops that I can plant to help further replenish the soil there. I am thinking of some sort of Rye and maybe some clover.

The experimental potato mound.
On one section of the old garden Roy has decided to conduct a potato growing experiment. Even if it does not result in any potatoes, it will still provide some compost for the field. We put down a layer of cardboard over a 6' x 12' area and I dumped many, many loads of coop shoveling on top - about 8" worth - covering all of the cardboard. We are going to put another few inches of topsoil over the straw and poo, and in that mess is where the potatoes are supposed to grow.

We'll see.

The new garden fencing is coming along. I have two rows of posts in and hopefully I will be able to dig the other two rows this weekend. I have high hopes for this fencing system. If this doesn't work, I am going to invest in cement blocks are mortar. This year, the woodchucks will not be having a free buffet.

One row of posts, rough cut larch, in the ground.
I try to make things festive by using a bright purple
guide rope.

Since I had such great results with the raised beds last year, I wanted to add at least two more this year. I got them together this past week and I am waiting on the delivery of our soil, hopefully this weekend. These beds will house my peppers, carrots, onions and lettuce.

Two new raised garden beds made from rough cut larch.


 Such high hopes this year, as is the same with every season. There are so many things that can go wrong - seedling failures, no germination, bugs, worms, disease, woodchucks, bunnies, the little man unsupervised with a shovel.

All I can do is try my best, read a lot, be observant and vigilant, and say a little prayer to the garden gods that this year will bring a harvest to be proud of.

Friday, May 3

My Naughty Sweetheart

 It has been a while since I have had a kitten in the house and I had forgotten what a fun, cute, adventurous, naughty, aggressive, cuddling, scratching, biting, sweethearts they can be.

Seamus is no exception. One minute he is lounging in a strange yet seemingly comfortable yoga position on my lap and the next he is attacking my hand and launching himself off my leg to chase some imaginary foe.

He loves the kids and the other two cats, even though he sometimes gets a little rough and I have to get out the spray bottle. He also has a very annoying habit of climbing into the refrigerator every time someone opens it and sitting on one of the shelves like he is just another gallon jug of milk.

His adjustment from a care free outdoor barn cat to an indoor house cat has been a little trying, for both him and myself. He tries to run out the door when it is opened, but then he is not really sure what to do once he gets out there. I put him in Prince's old pen the other day so he could get some fresh air but he was not thrilled with it and wanted someone to come and get him in short order.

He has managed to destroy two house plants, the corner of the recliner, and a glass mason jar left too close to the edge of the counter top. Whoever said cats were graceful never met Seamus. He manages to knock everything off the windowsill over the kitchen sink on a daily basis on his quest for a fly or to stare at the birds in the side yard. I have thought about taking the solar radio, the candle and the black wooden Amish cart and horse down until this behavior gets out of his system, but I have decided that I am going to win this particular battle of wills. He knocks them down, I put them back - at least three times a day.

But his is not all craziness. He will cuddle up with us at night to watch television or at the foot of our bed when we are sleeping. He will take naps with the baby on the couch and let the little man pet his tummy. He loves to play cars with the kids - they send them down the ramp and he attacks them like they are painted metal mice on wheels. He can play cars for hours. Sometimes he will play all by himself and Roy and I will hear the car ramp noises in the quiet of the evening after the kids are in bed. Beep, beep, vroom, vroom.

I feel some regret about his upcoming vet appointment where he will be 'fixed'. I keep reminding him that he is doing the right thing and that he is helping the keep down the pet population. I have taken to turning on the Price is Right during the day so he can hear Drew remind us all to "help control the pet population, have your pet spayed or neutered."

I don't think he quite understands yet.