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"Silence is a friend who will never betray."
Confucius



America

September 11th, 2010






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…

 

Rooster Heaven

September 6th, 2010

It was time for one of the roosters to go. With eight hens and two roosters, our hens were a little tired of being chased around the yard. The roosters got along just fine, but that was because Red took the #2 spot, playing second fiddle to Captain Jack. The Captain let everyone know that he was in charge around here. In fact, little Red didn’t even crow much, while Jack loves to let the world know how he sounds, from early morning to the afternoon. Especially when he sees you…

I was fortunate last week to meet someone looking for a rooster however. A woman with six children (all girls!) and a bunch of hens running around the yard. The best part for Red? He went from being the #2 rooster among 8 hens, and joined a new flock of 16 hens, all to himself!

It was funny… within 30 seconds of letting him go among the new “girls” he was strutting his stuff and making low chortling sounds to get their attention.  Sheesh!

But a few of the more dominant hens ran right up to him as if to say, “Who the heck do you think you are Buster?!”

Red didn’t care… he just looked ’em hard in the eye for a minute and strutted off as if to say “There’s a new kid in town Ladies, and I’m going to go meet the other hens!”



Welcome September!

September 1st, 2010

Rain!  A nice day or two drizzle to give us some much needed moisture.  Hopefully it won’t really storm… and I hope too that all you folks on the Eastern seaboard are well prepared before Earl makes an appearance.   That’s going to be a lot of rain… I can’t remember the last time a hurricane came up the east coast?  Hopefully it stays far enough offshore to lessen the winds.

Hard to believe it’s already September, but I’ve been watering the garden to keep everything from totally wilting…  it’s a pretty sad affair.  This was about a week ago, and it just became drier.

Today’s rain should help a little, but the weeds have taken over and there’s very little growing at this point.   What should I be planting now?  Peas? Beans?    I may skip the fall season for planting and go right into spring planning :)

What I do know is that bell peppers grow really well in big containers!   And quite a few other plants I’m sure.  This is a grouping of three pepper plants I picked up for .99 cents each back in late June.

They have grown so well and given back about a dozen green peppers with more coming!  It doesn’t get any easier- and the peppers in the garden didn’t do nearly as well.   Containers do so much better, but I really love the garden rows.  Maybe I should make some really long “row containers” with landscape block or something?

Last week we ran down the road a good bit for some trout fishing.  Just a nice cool morning and a good mess of pan-sized rainbow trout.   This one is actually a pound and a half!   Fun times and so delicious…

We also have critter news!   Meet the new addition… a Calico mouser that looks like she stuck her nose in a coal bin.   Isn’t she a cutie?

She’s 7 weeks old with a great disposition.  Let’s hope it stays that way… and she becomes an expert rodent hunter.  With the chickens around this year I suspect we’ll have a few more mice.    Watch out little rodents, this kitty will grow up quickly.

And the other big news… the chickens gave us 8 eggs today!  One from each of the 8 hens which is very cool.  Usually it has been around 4-5 a day but now they’re all laying.   Now just when I’m getting excited they’ll probably slow down as fall continues.   I don’t think I’ll keep lights on in the coop for winter however, so we’ll just see how the chickens do on their own.

Otherwise you can really see the fall season approaching.  The barn swallows have disappeared I think… perhaps starting their migration south.  I did see a larger flock of nighthawks meandering around the sky and they will continue heading south.  The cicadas are growing quieter, and the fall flowers are in bloom.  I’m glad the rain will promote a little more flowering for the bees as well.    Have a good day!



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.



Home and Checking on the Critters

August 22nd, 2010

Oh my… home again! It was a nice journey around the upper midwest, and after the Iowa State Fair we made our way to Missouri, stopping over one night near Mark Twain Lake to clean things up a bit. It wasn’t all fun on the way home… I picked something up at the fair and spent a few nights with a fever and cough.

I’m getting there but it really knocked me out for a few days. Salmonella anyone? Who knows… I had several eggs at the fair, and a couple of egg breakfasts in Wisconsin and Iowa. It wasn’t a fun way to finish the trip, but hey that’s the price you pay for having fun, huh?  Home again and school starts this week for the boy.

That last night at the fair was really nice, and we rode the Skyride up the hill to the campground.  

On the way home the boy learned how to play dominoes.  He found an old dominoe set at an antique shop at the fair for a reasonable price… nice little wooden pieces.   After playing a game or two he would build things that didn’t stay up very well while driving along.

The chickens must have known we would be home… they gave us five presents for the first time with that many eggs. I was really hungry this morning and had four poached eggs on toast! Of course they were half-size eggs anyway :)

We have one or two chickens that don’t know where to lay their eggs… well, maybe they do, but one likes to put an egg in the corner of the coop. I found four eggs in the nest boxes this morning however, so maybe they’ll adapt.    They’re a cute bunch, and race out to see you whenver you come near the coop and run.  Of course they’re motivated by food… they go crazy for scratch mixings of corn and other seeds.

Hello Chickens!  We’re Home!!!

It was very dry while we were gone and all the grass was going to seed and nearly two feet tall. Weeds everywhere… I can’t believe how much things grow up in such a short time. We missed our Concord grape harvest! They were just ripening when we left and I thought our timing would work out… but the dry weather wilted the vines and all the grapes dropped off.

While cutting the grass I nearly ran over a little turtle scooting through the field. He was heading toward the pond a good hundred yards away. I believe it’s a Western Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta belli).

Colorful little fellow, and he kept paddling in the air as we looked at him. I took him for a free ride to the pond, and let him go… he swam quickly for the depths.

A quick check of the bees and they’re working away like crazy. There goldenrod is blooming! I watched dozens of bees at one hive bringing bright packs of pollen into the entrance. Three of the four hives appears to be doing well, but I may need to order a new queen for the other.

It’s good to see the bees doing well.  Still not a lot of honey this year, but their populations have increased dramatically.

The garden is surely winding down… the squash bugs got most of the pumpkin and squash vines, and cucumbers too.  But the corn is still growing taller and the carrots are growing bigger.  The tomatoes, not so much… between wilt and hornworms they’ve had a pretty tough summer.  But we probably took more than 30 pounds of tomatoes from the garden this year so we can’t complain. The elderberries have half dropped their fruit as well, so we hope to run around and cut some berry clusters before they’re gone.  Soon it will be time for jelly!

We may have some cooler weather ahead and I need to make the rounds and catch up on all the writings in the blogosphere.    

Sometimes I think of my grandmother on my father’s side.   I last saw her in 1999 when she was in a nursing home and when I asked how she was, she laughed and said “I’m here…” and then, “Time waits for no man…”    She passed away a few months later.   Somehow I’ve been thinking about life in the context of time lately… but (with luck and a little time!) those thoughts will await another day.   Stay well…

Here’s someone who really loves little Brownie the chicken!




More Fun at the State Fair

August 19th, 2010

Yesterday there was more fun in Iowa after the rain. The sun came out and so did the crowds, but we had a goal to see a few things- it’s so big!

The Dr. Suess exhibit was enormous… That’s a lot of butter! And the butter cow too- what a tradition.

We saw sheep being trimmed for showing. One family had four people working quickly to brush and smooth the wool- you could see the pride in their work.

Then were able to see the goats! They were so cute- especially the little ones just a few days old.

I remember a friend years ago (maybe late 70’s?) that had a few milk goats- we were on their homestead for a few days and one doe was struggling to give birth. I called long distance from Arkansas to Missouri and talked with my Mom who had close friends that ran a larger milk goat farm in New Jersey (we lived there previously too and grew up on raw goats milk and eggs for a few years).

Anyway, we patched a three-way call for some expertise and I think it helped out a lot.

I remember visiting that farm in New Jersey and marveling at watching this small woman pick up those big heavy metal cans of milk and pouring it right into gallon glass bottles without spilling, as fresh as could be with thick cream at the top.

Here’s a picture of the boy milking the cow… He did really well. Chook it sounds like you’ve got some wonderful memories there!

All in all it was great fun… The crowds were huge and I was surprised at how many of the older folks really came out… Talking with many it seems this is a strong tradition for their families.

It was neat seeing the 4H exhibits and blue-ribbon chicken tractor. The boy loved his giant cold dill pickle, and I enjoyed the pork chops and free hard-boiled eggs.

We finished up with the rides; went on the “Ye Old Mill” ride which was riding a floating log through the dark. The boy said “What was the point of that!?” and as I looked around at all the teenagers I laughed and realized he would understand too soon in a few years.

We found some more rides for faster fun… where do the kids get that energy?! We need to save some of it for getting home and cleaned up :)

Maybe next year we’ll enter something in the Missouri State Fair… Or at least go. Iowa has put on a terrific Fair!





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!



Three States and Into the Farm Belt

August 17th, 2010

We left Michigan yesterday… The UP is a land of fudge and pasties! I took a photo of the Garmin GPS as we rounded the north end od Lake Michigan… Wisconsin was beautiful but we didn’t stay…We have many pictures on another camera to share another day. These are taken with my phone so I’m not sure how well they turn out. Yesterday was a long but nice drive down through Wisconsin… This morning we’re in Iowa at an amazing rest stop. They even have murals and wireless internet! We may be heading to the world famous Iowa State Fair, but home (and school!) beckons as our summer fun winds down. This has been a nice trip… We’d like to keep going :)

Driving On

August 16th, 2010

Awoke this morning on the shores of Lake Huron, the sound of the waves peaceful through the night. The water calls to me somehow… Yesterday was fun.. Enjoyed the charm of Mackinac Island, if a bit too commercial. The homes were beautiful however. The yellow lab got all the attention, and he loved it! Today we are heading across the upper peninsula in Michigan. The wind along the northern reaches of Lake Michigan is amazing, and the air has that feel of Autumn not too far off… I looked for meteor showers the last few nights but didn’t see any… We have wishes in reserve… Onward!





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