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Archive for the 'Rural Living' Category

Captain Jack the Australorp Rooster

September 24th, 2010

Have you ever had a rooster?  They really have a certain charm and liveliness that gives character to their home environment.  Perhaps a little noisy at times.  Maybe really early times at that.   ‘Ole Captain Jack is quite the jaunty fellow…  as I write this he’s announcing the morning inside the coop.  When I open the door he’ll continue his pronouncements for a bit.  He even likes to crow when we come home…

He does his job well, looking out for the hens, and making sure they get the best treats first.  He looks at me funny now and then, but doesn’t seem to mind being picked up at times.  I’ve read that Australorp roosters can be fairly gentle compared to others.  I’m glad for that, and hope he stays this way.  It seems he grows a little more handsome every day :)

Chicken Coops

Poke Salad Annie

September 9th, 2010

Beautiful mornings with cooler temperatures. The days are becoming noticeably shorter, and the light just changes somehow. I love how the sun is lower in the sky, especially in the afternoons. Light filters through the trees and reflects off the pond in different ways, shimmering as the wind drifts across the water…

 The nights over the past week have been interesting too.  I’ve seen glow worms in the grass… I know, most people say, “Glow worms? There’s no such thing!” Ah but there is.   Really they are just firefly larvae, but most people have never seen them.

When you walk along at night, with dew on the grass at this time of year, you think you may be seeing things.  As you walk along you begin to notice little sparkles of light, almost like the stars above, yet twinkling all around you.   It’s natural magic I tell you…

As I write early this morning, Captain Jack is outside crowing like a banshee.  Or, um, a rooster I suppose.  Good thing we live a few hundred yards from our neighbors! If I listen carefully, there’s another rooster crowing a good distance to the south, so maybe he’s just keeping up appearances :)

I have to say the eggs these little birds give us each day are really wonderful.  I’m officially spoiled now with having fresh eggs and store bought cartons will never seem the same.  So in the name of enjoying such bounty, I’ve decided to encourage the girls to continue laying this winter by adding a little artificial light.

There’s a host of passions on the issue, but honestly the chickens I have are bred to be decent winter layers anyway. But I realized an extension cord into the nearby shed would be too simple, and perhaps it will give the girls a little extra heat in the winter. I’ll keep the light going for a few extra hours each evening, and that should be just enough to keep their egg production going well. I have to admit I also like the idea of the chickens earning their keep!

So the cool thing about how the coop fits together with the shed is that the window in the shed serves as both the “feeder door” and as a window for the light to shine through.    I put the food into a 30 gallon galvanized can to minimize the mice or other critters getting to it. When it’s time to feed (which seems to be all too frequently lately!), we just scoop it up and reach through the window to their feeder.

Makes it so much simpler, and I’m soooo glad I built it there.  Between the shed and the nest box door outside the coop, we don’t have to go inside the run and coop itself very often.   Of course if all the hens laid their eggs in the nest boxes, we’d only have to go in the coop every few days to change water.   There’s a couple of hold outs…  those hens seem to lay their eggs wherever the mood strikes them!

The light works well enough, although I may run it into the coop this winter to provide a little extra heat.  Or maybe the inherent heat within the shed will help keep the coop warm.  Either way most of the walls are insulated, and when I figure out what to put over the screen windows the chickens should be fine.

Otherwise it’s time to clean up around here.   I’ve been battling weeds and grass, and thinking of preparing for winter.  Summer’s done gone…   The cycle begins again it seems.   I did come across an interesting plant, way up high in a dead tree.    This snag has been around for a long time, and this year a Pokeweed plant (Phytolacca americana) decided to grow about halfway up on the right side…

Have you ever had poke salat ?    Lots of folks in the south have made it a staple, at least in the older days.   I tried it last year, not bad… if you like cooked greens.   When the little head and shoots are coming up around 6 inches in the spring, you just cut them off at ground level.

Then you boil the heck of them (two or three times is a good idea) and maybe saute them like spinach with butter or garlic and olive oil.  Pretty tasty, although I was a little hesitant because just about the entire plant is poisonous!   You can’t eat the plant or the berries in their mature form at all.

But if you never ate it before… then maybe you’ve heard the song.   Remember Tony Joe White’s Poke Salad Annie?   Here’s a grand ‘ole duet with Tony on the Johnny Cash Show from April, 1970… think I was in third or fourth grade, somewhere between California and New Jersey…



That’s just plain good stuff…

 

Late August Days

August 27th, 2010

Where has the time gone this week!? Between back to school and priorities at home, I have not written a single word… I think it’s time to start a few of those “wordless” photograph days :)

It has been a beautiful, dry week with cooler temperatures. To provide a little emphasis to his “back to school” week, the boy was stung by a wasp last Monday. Yeeouch! It was a doozy… and after a couple of days of itchy red swelling, his foot is nearly back to normal but very bruised and purple-red looking. Wasp stings can be very unpleasant, moreso than a bee sting. When I am stung it’s usually just a little red and itchy and some swelling for a day or so.

But wasp stings last longer and seem to bruise more. I’m trying never to take the bees for granted either… I found myself running out in a t-shirt and shorts “just to check” on the hives a time or two this year.   Big mistake… although I was never stung severely, the bees let me know that a good veil, protective suit and a smoker can really help keep things under control.   Sometimes however, the bees go crazy for no apparent reason…  I’m glad Warren is okay, and hopefully I will never have that experience!

Speaking of going crazy, I let the chickens have the run of the garden this afternoon and they were simply nuts! They ran everywhere chomping veggies and weeds, chasing bugs and diggling little holes to wiggle into and squirm all around. I never knew chickens liked to lay on their backs! This one was too funny…  a red hybrid upside down next to a Barred Rock.

After a while she leaped up like she had forgotten herself and shook all her feathers.  We can’t complain about their oddities… they’re laying about 6 eggs per day now, either in or near the nest boxes.    

Of course the boy had to go around petting and picking them up.    He managed to pick up none other than Captain Jack all dressed in black.   Jack is five months old now.  Funny, the kiddo has that pirate wink thing going on because of the sunlight.

The good ‘ole Captain runs the show around here… even the New Hampshire Red rooster takes second fiddle to the Captain. I’ll have to get a good picture of him, but when he puffs out all his feathers he puts on quite a sight! He’s got quite the crowing call as well. He put up with the boy’s attentions and I fed him a little scratch while he held him. Jack ate the scratch grudgingly, pecking my hand with a little extra fervor.

Saw this critter cruising along the shoreline of the pond the other day.  I’ve only seen the non-poisonous variety of snakes around here, but it’s enough to give you pause if you were thinking about swimming!

*******

I also took a day this week to drive down to Arkansas and attend a memorial for the father of a family friend.   His son is a good friend of my brother who is serving in Afghanistan right now, and the gentleman was a navy veteran.  So it was a privilege to put on the uniform and attend, and especially to meet his family and friends.   They hail from south of a  small town, back in the rugged Ozark mountains.  

It was a beautiful afternoon.    There was a small military contingent presenting a flag, and a bugle player.  Driving home late that night promoted much reflection, and as events of that nature tend to do, put many things in perspective.  This good man’s sons and grandsons helped to bury his remains, completing a circle that we often don’t consider until later in our own lives.   

I’ll write a bit more later…  summer is quickly winding down and the garden is a mess.  I should think about planting some peas or something, but my jar of garden motivation seems to be missing right now :)   I hope you have a great weekend.



Fair Days in Iowa

August 18th, 2010

Well… This morning we entered the “land of rain” or, as Ed and the signs fondly proclaim… Iowa. I’ve read how this is such a wet year here, but wasn’t prepared to see miles of flooded fields.

We have traveled in a small camper these past two weeks, the boy, the dog and I. Now ensconced amid hundreds of other “mobile homes” this morning was a sea of mud, grass, fiberglass and aluminum while the rain poured down..

But we persevered! The Iowa State Fair is amazing in its size and scope. The boy even milked his first cow :) I love seeing all the livestock, and the ag exhibits. The 1300+ pound pumpkin won the blue ribbon.

The boy was tickled playing with that “old-fashioned” rotary phone… He was amazed we grew up that way dialing so slowly and tied to the cord… And here I am writing this from a tiny wireless device that can call anywhere.. My father would have laughed- he worked for Western Electric and the telephone industry for 34 years.

Several families walked around with “Century Farm” t-shirts, reaching that family milestone which is so impressive in this day and age.

I had my first “Beef Sundae” (think pulled beef on potatoes with gravy and cheese), and the boy other gastric oddities like a “Monkey Tail” or frozen banana dipped in chocolate.

We could see downtown Des Moines and the State Capitol from the skyway ride. The rain kept things cool… A nice day with a lesser crowd. Tomorrow we’ll have another go before heading home. Need to find that Dr. Suess butter exhibit!

I miss the north country already… But I’ll show better pictures later. That washing machine was all I figured out from my phone for the first time! Maybe we’ll find that Mexican restaurant too…

It’s classic summer fun… We had hoped but won’t see the poultry exhibits at the fair…they don’t start until after we leave. Maybe the goats tomorrow which I think are cool. But I hear our own little chicks are going on two dozen eggs!



Small Wonders and Big Smiles

August 4th, 2010

The other morning I awoke to a light fog… beautiful and mysterious. My hope soared that it would be a cool, cloudy day… but then I saw the blue sky through the mist- I knew the sun would be blazing.

It was very warm outside, and the humidity has reached so high that you start sweating as you stroll around the yard. Yesterday the temperature pushed a bit over 100 F… but there were cooler refuges in the house or basement thankfully.

Yesterday I finally finished the chicken nest boxes! I was mulling over various options- buying some online, or maybe using milk crates or something. I had this nagging feeling that I really needed to finish them because in a few weeks the chickens would be ready to lay eggs.

So with morning gusto and three cups of coffee I just dove in to what I’d been putting off, and started building something…. anything… boards flying everywhere, the circular saw zipping through wood (carefully!), and hammers sending nails flinging across the garage floor.

The boy helped hold things in place and gave his opinions… He doesn’t think he helps, but he does! He even put a few nails and screws in. I was on a roll, and scraps of osb (along with a few muttering sob’s), pieces of siding and 2×4’s came in handy.   Before lunch rolled around we came up with this:

I kind of like how it came out, at least I hope so for a chicken!  I’m not sure they’re deep enough, but it stands on four legs and we went out to put it in the coop.   Fit pretty well at the height I wanted for the outer door.  I fiddled around, moving the feeder to the middle of the coop and tweaking it a bit.

Wouldn’t you know after putting some bedding in the box, our little Brownie hen jumped right in there!  She seemed to like it…

I couldn’t resist adding a few golf balls to the nests to help the chickens get the right idea… they seemed quite interested and made funny little clucking sounds.    I walked outside to check the fit…

Looked pretty good, if not a bit silly with golf balls!  I’m still not sure the inside opening for the hens to get into the box is big enough, or if the nest is “deep” enough for them.   Then I thought “What if they don’t even use the nest boxes!”   Oh well.  Which probably will be true… they’ll lay eggs anywhere at times I’m sure.

It was a busy day though- and after the boy and I weeded the garden for a bit he kept peeking in the nest box door to see what was going on.   He found one of the red hybrid hens sitting in a nest and giggled.   It looked like another chicken or two had been poking in the boxes but we weren’t sure.   Later that afternoon the boy wanted to “go check for eggs” again (for the umpteeth time)… so there we go.

Guess what we found?

The boy opened the nest box door… and his eyes grew wide and we both stared… he was speechless! I was speechless!  Then he said, “Daddy look! It’s an egg!”

Yep.  Would you believe that in a few hours after I put the nest boxes in that coop that a chicken laid a magical, beautiful, hard little egg right in that middle nest box?!?!?!    Our first egg! I couldn’t believe it.  And it was a “shack”… bombing lingo for a bullseye.   I  looked around to see if the Easter Bunny was hiding in the bushes.

We took it in the house and marveled with excitement… our first egg!  So then of course we thought we better look for more… he had to call his Memaw too, and while she was on the phone, lo and behold he found another egg inside the coop on the floor!  “Okay ladies, who missed the nest boxes!?”

Well, maybe a good omen that our first egg ended up in the nest box?  I hope so… I’d rather not rummage around the coop.  The boy loves it for now- and I hope it lasts.   I’d sure love to keep watching an automatic-egg-gatherer in action :)

Two eggs on the very day I put the nest boxes in.   I love it when a plan comes together, and maybe that nagging feeling paid off…  or those golf balls worked really well!  Or maybe the girls just humored me.   ‘Course we haven’t had any other eggs in the past day or so, but the chickens are only going on 17 weeks now. A few weeks more and they should really start laying.

They seem to enjoy their coop and run.   I haven’t let them out running around as much lately, but each day we throw in weeds, grass and a mix of scratch with corn and millet.  They seem to be just fine- even with the heat.  They seek the shade, and stay in the coop until the afternoon shades the front a bit more.   After they get in a strong routine of laying eggs, I’ll let them outside more often.   We still have that extra rooster if you’re looking for one… :)

Yesterday morning I had the cutest, tiny poached egg… and the boy had one scrambled. Pretty darn good. Not a very good fiscal return on the money invested, but hey it’s a lifetime of lessons, right?  I’d say that’s a better return than anything else.

That’s the big news around here…  small wonders and big smiles.   I need a few more of those in my life :)

*******

After this week’s heat, I’m going to take a blogging break and spend a week or two roaming with the boy, perhaps up north (that’s why we had to get those nest boxes finished!).   Maybe we’ll up towards Michigan where the nights are cool… I’ll check in a time or two and wrote a couple posts that will publish automatically, but I hope everyone can find a little cool refuge this month too!

Thankful for Goodness Around the Garden

July 29th, 2010

Where has July gone already!?    I’m thankful our garden and other activities are coming along nicely, and I hope our harvest keeps on coming.  Or at least progressing… like my weekly battle with squash bugs and tomato wilt (I’m losing!).  

I will say our tomatoes have produced their largest harvest this summer as compared to others ( The boy loves tomatoes!), but the plants look so ragged and are really struggling. Such is life in an organic garden in the midwest.  So much still to learn… but we’ve had enough tomatoes to make a good bit of salsa and more coming for sauce.

Each year I want to plant more and more… you can never have enough tomatoes! 

And what is the deal with pickles anyway?  Why do we like canning them?   You can buy a huge jar of pickles at the store for a few bucks.  Or you can take time to plant cucumbers, weed the garden, grow and pick them,  buy the jars and ingredients, and then take time to can your own…   Granted their is some raw satisfaction in doing it yourself. And it’s fun to share with kids… somehow pickles have a universal appeal.

These are the home-canned variety with dill mix and garden grown dill and other ingredients inside… like garlic and jalapeno peppers. Then processed for 20-30 minutes in boiling water to keep for long-term storage. 

They are very different from the fermented pickles I made last year… those were pretty tasty and I still have a few in the fridge that are still really good.  But it was hard to achieve consistent, firm pickles when I fermented them naturally.  

And do you have a good cucumber and tomato salad recipe in summer? They go so well together, but there’s so many cucumbers!… so maybe pickles just come from trying to figure out what to do with all the extra ones.  I guess it’s fun trying different recipes too… what’s yours?!

I did come up with a natural concoction to help combat tomato wilt/fungus and for discouraging squash bugs and other critters. Here’s my recipe: In a plastic bottle sprayer, combine 1 cup of milk, 1/4 cup hot/spicy sesame oil, 1 tablespoon tea tree oil soap or shampoo, 1/2 teaspoon dishwashing soap, and the rest with water… shake well and spray away!

It seems to work pretty well, although I found if you put the milk and oil in a blender first with a few drops of dishwasing soap it mixes a lot better. When I spray it the bugs skedaddle away quickly. It may or may not kill them, and is probably just a temporary protectant.  But hey, it doesn’t cost much!  Do you have a special mix or recipe that works?

The carrots are doing pretty well this year, but we came out a few days ago to find a dozen or more caterpillars happily munching away on the leaf tops.   These look like the caterpillar larva of the Black Swallowtail Butterfly. The boy loves them, and we kept a few to grow into butterflies- it worked out well, and we released them back outside after they emerged!

There’s no free lunch in this garden, so out the rest went!    Well okay, there are lots of free lunches…  I’m just trying to get the crowd to leave!   But I threw the extra caterpillars up into the grass and weeds at the fenceline, so maybe they’ll still become butterflies too.  

I did find a really neat plant this month.   Kind of funny too because I was the one who planted it.   A fellow beekeeper gave me a small mint plant a couple of years go, supposedly as an aid to natural beekeeping.   I’m all for that, even though I didn’t know what it was, and planted it at the base of an oak tree near my hives…  this year it finally flowered.   This is a Pycnanthemum species of some kind… try saying that five times really fast!  I love the white bracts that look like leaves at the top of the plant, with a little crown of flowers.

How did I find out what it was?   Well, I was enjoying the beautiful sights at Edifice Rex a couple of weeks ago, and Annie shared some photos including a plant called Mountain Mint…   I had never heard of it and thought it was neat.   Lo and behold when this one bloomed I realized it was the same plant!  Pretty neat way to find out something new- thanks Annie!   I’m not sure which species of Pycnanthemum it is, but it looks like albescens

I’ve also found that a particluar species of wasp really loves these little flowers.   The Double-Banded Scoliid wasp (Scolia bicincta) has covered this plant over the past week, with as many as 18 wasps on the tiny flower heads.   I’ve also seen some tiny flies and other insects, but no other bees, moths or butterflies.   It’s fascinating to see how the wasps really love the nectar from these tiny flowers.   These are commonly known as digger wasps.  They burrow into the ground and parasitize grubs and other insects.  I’ve never seen this species except on this plant.

*******

The bees are doing well and still building up their hive populations. About a month ago I took five frames from a really strong hive, and placed them in a small “nuc” hive.  Here’s a picture of that little nuc hive sitting on top of an empty full-size hive at right in this picture.

The little old boat with flowers is our “Burt Dow Boat”… do you remember the story? I wrote about it here a few years ago.   I love to fill it with petunias each year, and planted a wispy river birch behind it…

Anyway, I checked on that small nuc hive yesterday and it was doing so well that I put those bees right into that full-size hive that it was sitting on!  I was excited because the nuc was a “walk-away split” and the bees raised their own queen.   When I opened it up they had two full frames of brood and newly capped larvae… cool beans!    It looks like they’re in the shade, but the hive gets full sun from the middle of the day until sunset.

I wondered a little about moving their entrance lower from that little nuc to the bigger hive… if you move a bee hive any appreciable distance, the bees don’t know where to find it.   Supposedly if you need to, you either move them 6 inches a day, or two miles away!   Moving a good distance away is  fine, as long as you wait until all the bees get home in the evening, and then close them up.   But I only moved my bees down a couple of feet, and they quickly figured out how to get into their new home.

Now that I placed them into a new hive, they have five empty frames to draw out with wax, so I mixed up 10 pounds of cane sugar as a syrup, and put that in a hive-top feeder for them.  They won’t draw wax unless their is a good bloom and nectar-flow going on, or if you feed them to stimulate production of wax and additional bees.

With luck that hive population will increase over the next few months and be strong enough to carry right through winter.  I’m thankful they’re doing well and keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll have four hives next spring.

Our other visitors lately include a couple of Great Blue Herons who visit the pond a few times each week.   I don’t begrudge them a meal or two, but they never tire of an easy catch at the expense of our little fish.    When I see them I usually clap my hands or try to sneak up on them…   then they “Croawwwk!” loudly and fly away.

 

July is coming to an end.  It has been a really warm and humid month, but we also enjoyed a good bit of rain.    Hard to believe how fast summer is going by, but we’re not quite to midsummer’s eve yet!  

The evenings are so beautiful however, and the other night was a pretty one…  the boy just marvels at sunsets and the light on the clouds.

 

I hope your summer is going well too. What are you thankful for today?  See you next time!   :)




Summer Gardening, Picking Blackberries and Eating Weeds!

July 14th, 2010

Sometimes it seems difficult to keep up with everything, not to mention writing and sharing pictures.   The days pass with so many changes and it’s hard to share them all.   So rather than several shorter posts, I’ll catch up today with a long one!   Yesterday I started making a “to-do” list… that was a mistake! Think I need to make a “Would like to do” list” and a “Whenever I get around to it” list.  Come to think of it, I’ll throw in a “Definitely should not do” list as well!  Somehow my brain keeps these lists as thoughts floating around, crossing some off, adding others.

Some days my thoughts are efficient and organized, stepping with vigor from one to another.  Other days it’s simply managed chaos, flecks of needs interspersed with wants, smiles and muttering and usually enough desire and concentration to get the job accomplished.

Then I take a break, have a cup of coffee or three glasses of water (sometimes both…) and sit out by the barn.  Maybe a Coke now and then!  I might look towards the water and see the wind blowing on the pond, letting thoughts and cares take form and move around like the little waves… and  looking closer I can almost see shapes and movement.   Light dances across the water and the wind makes the waves look like chocolate and reminds me of the richness of my coffee… it looks inviting.

Then I begin again, but not without taking a few pictures along the way.    Near the bee hives I see what looks like the underside of a Black Swallowtail butterfly hanging on a poke plant.   I try to get closer and it flies away…

Later it’s time to make the rounds in the garden.  This is a strange year- the potatoes wilted early and died, but not before yielding a nice bounty of fresh young tubers for the summer.   The tomatoes are all suffering from wilt and black-spot, so I need to cut off the diseased leaves and try to save the plants.  If that wasn’t enough we’ve taken over 20 tomato worms off the plants!  They appear like magic… you pick off a few one day, and the next day there’s more.   They are kind of pretty looking…

Don’t be fooled however, that green worm is a monster!  These little guys can really chomp a tomato plant back in a matter of hours it seems.  Well sometimes they’re little- yesterday I took one off a plant as thick as my thumb and as long as a finger!   Since I really love tomatoes, they’ve just got to go.  I don’t till the garden soil, but that may be something I’ll start next year as a strategy for disrupting the life stages.   This site has a nice description of the life cycle of the tomato hornworm moth and larva.  The moths are beautiful, and even look like hummingbirds when in flight around flowers.   But the green worms are not long for the garden.  Fortunately the chickens really love them… bleck!

Otherwise the garden is coming along okay.  The beans are not as prolific this year- something is munching their leaves too.   We’re trying to keep things natural and organic, but I haven’t stayed ahead of the critters.   How sad is that- beans are a no-brainer!  I may plant some more.    The boy did plant some sweet corn a couple of weeks ago and it’s coming up nicely.  Hopefully we’ll have some for the table in late Septemember…

The cucumbers are doing great however, and they taste wonderful as a fresh salad, especially with tomatoes, and a little vinegar and oil for seasoning.   I saw a recipe I’m going to try that had chopped mint leaves in a cucumber salad… maybe tonight!   And carrots… they look kind of like weeds sometimes (meaning they get picked inadvertently!).  But we packed so many in the row when planting seeds that we’ve been pulling a few to make room for their growth.

After the garden it’s back to work, or a different kind of work anyway.   Cutting and trimming the grass and weeds!   A weekly cycle in the warm season.

Do you use a weedeater or trimmer?   It’s a wonderful invention and a great help around the property,  but they sure are noisy, smelly and finicky.   I know… bad for the environment, they use gas and oil, blah, blah, blah.  I do care about the environment and do the best I can.  It’s often a tradeoff… and unless you know of some really fast automatic scissors to trim acres of weeds that don’t use a mower,  there’s not many options.

Oh, I have a small electric trimmer too.  Works great for about 10 minutes in very light grass- the boy uses that to help out, and goes through several NiCad batteries very quickly, which over the years lose their charge and are also an environmental problem in terms of disposal.   I have a half-dozen cordless electric tools that I love, but they are not for long-term heavy-duty use.   Good for quick, light work and for a city or suburban yard, but not for hours of trimming on a rural property.  It  can literally takes a few days to trim the places that need it around here.

Often I just let the grass and weeds grow in many areas, and then trim them once or twice a season.  The pond’s dam is one example, which is nearly an acre of tall grass and weeds  such as queen anne’s lace right now.  That’s a tradeoff too because the landscape will soon turn to woody shrubs and then trees.

Leaving the grass uncut also fosters erosion in many places because it shades out turf at the lower levels.    A good carpet of grassy turf keeps water from tearing up the ground when running downhill… and we have a lot of hills leading down to the pond.   Like many things in life, unless you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes for a bit, putting thoughts and good intentions into practice is not so simple.

I’ve had a half-dozen different makes and models through the years, and there are few things more frustrating than trying to pull-start a weed trimmer that simply won’t run.    Or getting new line put on the spool… sometimes the line feeds out, and sometimes it’s a mess.  How does it tie itself in knots?!

But they really get the job done pretty well if you need to trim a lot of grass.  One of my favorites in terms of reliability is an inexpensive Bolens brand from Lowe’s.   I found it quite by accident after one that I had for two decades finally stopped working.  Well, the fuel lines are all messed up and I can’t find a part to fit it yet.

That favorite old weed trimmer was an IDC model 500 Supreme (tan casing at left in pictures), and I was never able to find another one like it.  Until last fall.  Turns out that IDC was bought by Ryan… and then Ryan/IDC was bought by Ryobi, which was later bought by TTI out of Asia, and apparently some aspects of the design now have a Bolens brand on them.    Consolidation in the business world, go figure.

The particular design that I like has a combination of light weight and motor/line strength that works very well for most grass and weeds.  And it just keeps on running.   My old IDC model ran for almost twenty years… on the same spark plug!   The funny part is that I remember paying $69 for that IDC model way back in 1989.

How much did I pay for this Bolens model last summer?   Yup…  $69.    From an inflation perspective, the new trimmer is far less expensive.   The build quality is still pretty decent- and as you can see in the pictures, it is nearly the same exact design.   The new one handles about the same and seems just as light and reliable.    Heck, I may even get another one as a spare since I really like this model.

If money were no object, a trimmer with the Stihl brand would be awesome.  I have a Stihl chainsaw that is amazing, but their products are pretty steep in cost.  For the chainsaw, safety is a big factor so I wanted something the industry uses and that would last.   I don’t think you can go wrong with a reliable inexpensive weed trimmer however.   And let’s just say I don’t recommend the brand whose name is synonymous with its purpose of being a weedeater.   I’ve got three of those in the barn that have been finicky and problematic for a lot of folks, not to mention heavy!

Our other activities over the past week included picking more blackberries!  Hooray!  The boy loves to pick them, but isn’t too thrilled with the stickers.  I think you get used to moving around in a briar patch if you take your time.   He’s not convinced… but he likes to eat them!

They are really good though- as long as you get the sweet ones.   I kind of like a mix of sweet and tart, so I don’t mind picking some that aren’t quite ripe yet.  The pinkish one’s will fill our buckets another day…

After a good hour we had nearly two quarts of berries.   We had some fresh for ice cream and the rest go into the freezer.

I have learned that there are cake people, and pie people.  Sure we all eat some of both at times, but honestly?  I’m a pie person… I just love pies of all kinds, especially berry pies.   Something about the juicy, sweet and tart flavors all combined.   We finished this one off last week, but I’m going to make another!

In a month or so we’ll have some grapes maturing, and this year I’d like to make a Concord grape pie.   I’ve made jelly and jam from the grapes, but never a pie, so that’s on the “to do” list.   I did plant some wild plum on the property, and I hope I get to see them bear fruit … I’m always looking for other wild edibles.   Some folks have wild grape or muscadine on their property.  We have them but I’ve never seen any substantial berries, or perhaps the birds get to them first.

So here’s a large muscadine vine I pulled down from a walnut tree this week.  They grow so vigorously that they can tangle a tree in a season or two, and eventually the tree’s growth is impacted.  This one was close to thirty feet up the tree, and had grown for the last few years- so I cut the vines at their base, and towed it en masse across the pond dam to the burn pile.   I looked reeeally closely to make sure there was no poison ivy in the mix!  I keep a pile of branches and dead woody vegetation for burning during the wetter seasons.  Maybe I should plant and cultivate a muscadine vine.

One of those “whenever I get around to it” items on my list is cutting the pond’s dam.   I hope to cut it soon, and as the grass dries out in the summer heat it will become lighter and easier to cut.  It’s not a job I really enjoy because of how steep it is, but it really does help keep the dam in good shape.    We did clear off some cattails near the base of the dam yesterday…  they look nice, but you really don’t want them growing abundantly.

The ground can become too wet and marshy if you let these types of plants grow, and then they attract the types of animals that start burrowing in places you don’t want them too (like a dam!).   Each year we have a few of them, but make sure to take them out.  Water seeps from down from the land bordering the dam, and a little bit near the base.    It’s been that way for at least twenty-five years, but I like to keep it trimmed each year.  Stay tuned…

So this week’s project included spending a few days with weed and brush cutters going around the perimeter of the pond.    First I went around cutting the woody plants and trees that always try to grow, and then I use that weed trimmer to cut down the taller grass and pond weeds.   It helps to keep the banks relatively clean, or else those shrubs and trees really get a foothold.  It’s a lot more work to cut down trees and brush, and I’m not letting a single cattail take root!   Perhaps I just like a more open look… it just seems more relaxing :)

One of these days I’d love to get a used sickle mower… it would hang off the tractor about seven feet or more with a long row of teeth, and then simply cut around anything you wanted it to (like the pond!), or under fence rows, etc.    Of course the only problem with more tools, motors and gadgets is that you have to store them and maintain them… and more junk is not what I need right now :)   Well this was a little longer than I planned… thanks for coming by especially if you’ve read this far.   Now it’s time to head out and fix something.  Have a good week!

The Chicken Coop is Finished!

June 28th, 2010

Finally… the chickens are in their new home. Seven weeks… arrrgghhh! The coop is, for the most part, about finished. It’s been mostly done for a week or so now, but I’m still fiddling with the little things. Remind me not to custom build something ever again.   I’m still deciding where to put the roosts, and need to build nest boxes by the end of August.  Between the measuring, cutting little pieces,  painting and trimming out… it just takes time.   But it’s kind of cute…

I’m soooo glad it’s about done.    Except for the windows and the chicken door (and the roof), it’s totally insulated.  Yesterday I spent the entire day building the little chicken door!  I feel like such a klutz sometimes, because it takes so dang long.   For whatever reason I think I should just be able to zip through it.  But the simplest, smallest things seem to take forever sometimes.

If I had it to do over, I would research more thoroughly and choose some really nice chicken coop plans (like ChickenCoopGuides.com ) and I would plan the details a little more!  But I’ve enjoyed putting this one together.

That little door has nine small pieces of trim and wood all around it.  I thought about making this on the inside, but decided it would keep rain and critters out better if it was built on the outside.   It slides in a wooden track, with the horizontal trim pieces moving up and down.  The bottom has trim in front and behind… when you push on it, it hits a lip on the coop and is blocked from pushing in.

 The top has a trim piece and a cap… the door hangs from that top cap piece so it’s slightly raised and won’t sit on the outer trim and rot when it gets wet.   I’ll put a hook-eye scew in the top to attach the pull cable, which will run to the left and outside the fence.  We (the boy!) will be able to walk up and open and close the door with the cable.

Someday I’d love to install a battery operated, light-sensitive automatic chicken door with a solar charger… there are a few of those for sale on the web, but I’m not inclined to spend $200-$300 on them!   If I learn a little more about electronics maybe I could make one.  Big learning curve for me…  For now, I like the idea of personal involvement with the chickens in terms of responsibility, and helping the boy to learn the same.  Hope that lasts :)

I designed the outer nest box door to open down, and it has spring loaded hinges to help stay closed. But the door is double-wall insulated and weighs about thirty pounds, so it will need a chain to hold it flat after opening it.

 It’s cool though- because you can peek inside and say hello to the chickies.   Maybe even fill their feeder with a little reach.    I’m thinking about putting in 2-3 roosts going across from above and to the side of the big door, across to the back wall…  what do you think?  Any other ideas for roosts?  I’d like to make them removable… easier to clean and get around inside.

They should start laying by the end of August or September, so I’ve got a little time for nest boxes yet.  And I don’t want them roosting in them now.    The windows have 1/4 inch galvanized hardware cloth as screens, and are built open for ventilation. After that tremendous rainstorm last night the inside of the coop stayed dry, hooray! I’ll need to make hinged windows or something by October, so they can stay cozy in the winter.   Any ideas?

I didn’t run electrical wiring into the coop, which I may regret… but an extension cord will reach to the coop from the house if I need to put a light or heated water bowl in there. It wouldn’t be hard to place an outlet box and run some wiring out the bottom and underneath, but we’ll see how it goes this year first.

Overall it should be fine, ’cause it’s the only coop we’re going to have!  At least for keeping less than a dozen chickens. If we had more chickens like a lot of folks, I would definitely build it full size (taller), and a good ways back from the house. As it is, we’ll end up with about eight hens and a rooster- which should work fine to keep within a hose length from the back of the home.   After living in a smaller space in the shed next door, they don’t smell at all.  Just a little dusty normal chicken odor.  I’ve heard the key is keeping them dry, so we’ll see.  But we can easily crawl inside from the two doors, although that skinny one is kinda tight for you-know-who…  But it will make access for the nest boxes easier as well as helping with clean-up.

The doors are heavy… built with 2×4’s and insulated with two walls.  They weigh between 30-60 pounds (14-27 kg), so I used 2 -1/2 inch lag bolts for the hinges into the 2×4 frames, and they swing beautifully.  Again, if I did it over- that left door would be a little wider.  It provides decent access, but I have the laying boxes in there and it’s a tight fit.  The idea was right, but I ran out of room by putting the door in towards the left so far.  Ah well… it is what it is :)

ChickenCoop

One of these days I’ll build the run… I’ve been letting the chickens have “the run” of the garden, which they love… but our plants are suffering a little from their stomping and pecking around.

I like watching them wander around, although the other day they came sauntering up beside our little Shiba dog while he was asleep… He was on a cable, but I didn’t expect them to come out to the front side of the house.   It seems and they wanted to see what I was doing… I froze and waited for them to get past the dog and come to me. Just as they moved out of reach, the dog woke up and stared, eyes wide, as if to say, “Oh man! I could have had one!”    He licked his lips and whined… he would grab one of those chickens in a second if he could.

So I locked the dog in the garage and went back out to herd the chickens into the garden/coop area. The yellow lab is definitely not a herd dog… he thinks it’s great fun to run around with the chickens which is probably why they weren’t afraid of the other dog. Here’s the motley crew…

Oh, and I figured out that Captain Jack the black rooster is an Australorp. He was in a bin mixed with other unknowns from the hatchery. Have to say he’s becoming a pretty decent fellow and is already crowing in the mornings at 12 weeks old. So is Little Red, the other rooster, but he sounds kind of sick when he tries to crow!  We’re going to give one of the roosters away, but haven’t decided which one for sure. They are both beautiful birds… but Jack seems a little more calm than the New Hampshire Red rooster.

It was great to have the boy helping yesterday… and at the end of the day we put the chickens in the coop for the first time. He stayed inside with a little scratch (corn, millet, mixed seeds) which is like candy to chickens. Most of them ran right inside, but I had to catch a few more. Just as we were cleaning up, we heard thunder in the distance… (something Ed has experienced too much of lately!). He said “Dad! Look at the clouds and take a picture!” And he wanted to put it up here to share…

No sooner had we gone inside than a huge storm came through. We really needed the rainfall and it helped cool things off a bit. Good for the chickens because they’re going to stay inside their new home for a couple of days!

Days Around the Pond

June 19th, 2010

Morning around the landscape- the sun rises slowly, painting the trees with color and bringing the world alive.   I like wandering around, checking up on things, enjoying that fresh cup of coffee…

… and then almost spilling it as I turn the corner to find a little beastie looking for his own breakfast!  This black rat snake was only a few feet long- they get a lot bigger (6+ feet), and really they do a lot of good with rodents and such.  But I wouldn’t mind if they did it a little further away!  Hmmm… no eggs yet for the chickens, but this guy will be around and I’ll have to watch them.  Ron had a cool post about catching a big one eating his chickens’ eggs, and Sage managed to interrupt lunch.     This one quietly slithered away…

I see the pond in the afternoons and think of fishing more.  For some reason it looks nice undisturbed.  There is life there… in fact it’s teeming with critters.  Bass, bluegill, catfish, grass carp, koi… bull frogs, snakes (water snakes!), and various turtles.  Glad this isn’t further south or I’d wonder about ‘gators.   The heron comes every now and then, looking for his breakfast too.  The occasional geese and ducks.  Swallows and martins swooping low over the water… bats flying around in the evening.  And sometimes a kingfisher makes an appearance, chattering as he swoops over the water near the trees.  They don’t stay long- this isn’t a river, and the fish are probably too big. 

The way the wind and sunlight dance across the water is something I never tire of seeing.  It’s not even two acres in size, but the water speaks of rivers and oceans…  

Across the pond I check up on the “orchard” of apple and pear trees.  They’re only a few years old, growing slowly, but perhaps one day will be gnarled and heavy with fruit. 

We had an apple or two last year… they grew small and the squirrels ate them.  This year just growth, which is fine with me.  There’s time yet, although I doubt I’ll be here to see the mature trees.    That’s okay… something about the hope that they will live on and provide healthful food and maybe a restful site for someone is enough.

One of my favorite wild plants is Elderberry.  I’ve planted a couple of dozen around the property over the years.   The boy and I made the rounds one afternoon and found this elderberry in full bloom.  This flower head was huge!  I enjoy the plant both for the unique flavor and the healthful jam, jelly and syrup it can provide.  Research has shown the juice from the blue-black berries have anti-viral properties and can be used to shorten colds and ward off flu.  I don’t know about all that, but it sounds good and I keep it around.  If I feel like I’m getting sick I pull out the elderberry jelly and syrup and a few days regimen seems to help.   It sure tastes good… and it’s fun to make a batch in late summer.

I had really planned to cut a few flower heads and try to start some elderflower wine or some other creative undertaking.    Alas the days drifted too quickly into one another and there are only berries forming now. 

In late afternoon the sunlight shines on the far side of the pond.   It’s the south side, although the land slopes down to the north.  The shoreline is covered in taller grass that I have not cut this year.  Now there are blackberry vines and woody trees starting to grow… which means I need to get busy!  I let the pond vegetation grow because it dissuades canada geese from hanging around.  The geese prefer ponds and grass like golf courses and parks.  This is a more natural place, and the life around the pond is indeed wild.   So I cut only a couple of times a year and it keeps things in shape.

The trees are everything to the landscape, and really make a difference in contrasts between sun and shade.  A few more have died in recent years, and the view is becoming more open.  But the trees remaining are growing taller and wider, so maybe the balance is the same.

And the wild blackberries are almost ready!  They look wonderful but are fairly small. There’s a blueberry/blackberry farm not too far away and they have these enormous juicy berries for picking.   I’ll still try the wild ones… something about enjoying that part of our natural world I guess, or maybe I like that they don’t cost anything… except for a few scratches here and there :)  Do you pick berries?

And then the night. I was out a few days ago and the fireflies were everywhere… it was nearly dark, and the little little twinkling lights were dancing across the landscape on the slopes to the pond- it really was beautiful.   I went out with a camera to get a picture.   I could barely see, but when I set the camera shutter to stay open longer and catch the fireflies, the picture ended up looking like daytime with strange tint…  

 Fireflies, lightning bugs… how many can you see?  There’s a cat on the prowl too…

The garden is coming along too… and the chickens new home.  Yes, I’m still working on finishing that coop!   Enjoy the day…




Meet the Roos

May 16th, 2010

The chickens have enjoyed a little freedom these days. They’re growing bigger each day and love flying a few feet at a time around the garden area. Just enough to scare themselves while they run back to the shed! Or when the roosters fly after them. So lets introduce the six-week old boys:
 

Meet Captain Jack… He’s a sprightly fellow, hard to catch, a rascal clothed in dark attire… a hybrid black rooster of dubious heritage, and a scoundrel in the making. Savvy!?
 

He’s named, of course, after Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean.

I picked Captain Jack out as a straight run chick… unknown breed or sex, guessing he was a rooster from a couple days old. I had no idea what he really was, but he just strutted around with his head held high above dozens of other chicks with a cocky look all his own, and I’m pretty sure I guessed right. He’s wary, but seems decent enough for now and already looks after the hens, chasing them back to the shed when they get too far away. One of the barred rock hens loves to perch on my arm, and Jack usually jumps up on the roost to watch and look after her until I set her back down.



Not to be outdone, here’s Little Red… maybe he’ll be Big Red one day, or maybe just Red or Reddie Roo? He’s a New Hampshire Red rooster and was supposed to be a pullet. The hatchery farms don’t get them all right however, so I ended up with one less hen and an extra roo. He should be a beautiful rooster though. He struts his stuff too, but Captain Jack is more assertive at this point.

So with only eight hens I’m going to have to choose between these two at some point. How am I going to get rid of one?! I guess if we kept them long enough and one became too aggressive, I could find a good stewpot for him. That might be a family faux pas however… And I believe a family friend has offered to take one, so that’s probably for the best. But which one?! Decisions, decisions…



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