Sheepish Sunday Struggles

February 23rd, 2009

The nights are cold but the days are warming, a little.   The spring peepers have quieted down for now, but will be back in force in a week or two.  Walking around I noted the leaf and fruit buds of most trees and shrubs are becoming much thicker now.   Yesterday we heard the cry of a redtail hawk and saw it land among a rough nest of branches in a tall oak tree in the forest.   And little green shoots are poking their way above the ground now- daffodils, crocus, peony, day lilies and more.

I spent the afternoon in the barn working on removing a 19-year old 5 foot mower deck from my father’s old 23hp tractor.  It had not been off for many years, and took me a few hours of fiddling around. My last big winter goal is to try and restore it as much as possible before the growing season.   I lit a fire in the woodstove to take the edge off the cold and the yellow lab paced around the concrete floor impatiently, wanting to run and explore.  He finally settled down, realizing I wasn’t going anywhere.   I turned the radio on, listening to two fellas pontificate  about the economic challenges we face and that we’ve been here before.  I kind of laughed as I saw my father laying underneath the same tractor years ago, about the same time as the last recession.  I know we’ll get through this, and things do go in cycles, but it doesn’t make it any easier for a lot of folks when it comes around again.

After a while I had most of the deck unhooked except for removing a wheel or two, but couldn’t disconnect the drive shaft from underneath the tractor’s mid-pto shaft (power take-off).  Sometimes it’s hard to get your arm under there with any strength, or the couplings are really stuck with old grease and grime.  I struggled for fifteen minutes on one side, and fifteen minutes on another, pulling the 250 pound deck this way and that and banging my knuckles on every sharp corner the darn thing had.

The lab kept coming up to lick my face like he wanted to play…  so we took a break and wandered around outside a bit.  That morning I saw a lone mallard drake on the pond, which was unusual.  I’ve seen wood ducks on the pond but only one mallard here before.   This guy was probably taking a rest enroute to somewhere else.  It was still here as evening approached and he didn’t seem to mind us watching him swim around lazily.

 Mallard drake on the pond

Time to head back inside the barn and try again.  I got back down pushing and pulling this way and that…  and all at once I had the idea that maybe I should consider something else.   I stared at the thing and finally realized sheepishly that I had moved the heavy mower deck backwards just enough that the driveshaft was completely compressed against the tractor’s pto shaft.  Which meant that all the pushing in the world with one hand on that slip collar wasn’t going to remove the drivesaft from the pto… I was trying to push 250 pounds of metal along the floor upside down with one hand and a poor grip.

I shook my head feeling quite silly that I wasted a good half hour or more struggling for no reason, and then I got up and went around to each side to drag the deck forward, extending the driveshaft a few inches and relieving the pressure.  Then back underneath as I reached around to the pto, gave it a good push and “thunk!” off came the driveshaft like it should.  In my mind I could see my father smiling and telling me he did the same thing once before long ago.   How many times in life have we tried and tried to do something, only to realize later on that there was a much easier way?

So with the tractor’s deck off, my hands greasy and the sun settling behind the trees, we walked out the side door shutting up the barn and turned to walk back to the house.  Zoom! A little brown rabbit shot right in front of me and the yellow lab, racing around the front of the barn and into the pasture beyond.  The yellow lab looked up at me as if to say, “I don’t know what his problem is, but I’m not going after him!”  And then we heard “huffa, huffa, huffa” as our little Shiba came racing around breathing heavily, about 5 seconds behind the rabbit.  He paused at the corner of the barn, having lost sight of it, and looked back at us.  “Give it up Kuma” I said, “the little guy is long gone.”   He didn’t listen, and trotted off around the other side of the barn.  That rabbit had this really funny look in its eye as it raced past like “Where the heck did you come from!?”

A Few Warm Days in February

February 11th, 2009

Storms and rain since yesterday, but we had a really nice run of warm weather and I took advantage of the time to catch up on outdoor chores.   It was even time to clean up the garden and prune a host of shrubs.  The timing worked out well with today’s rain- I was able to burn a small garage-sized pile of brush that had accumulated since November.  I only burn in small piles, after (or during) rainfall, when the winds are calm.   The temperatures are dropping back down to the forties now, but yesterday was amazing.  I was out in a t-shirt in 70 degree weather happily mulching the garden.   Maybe in a few months that will change to happily munching in the garden!

It was time to paint the old bluebird nest boxes too.  Soon we will learn about building some new bird houses- they seem quite simple, and it’s great to teach children to learn more about safe use of tools and carpentry.  I like to browse Ted’s Woodworking Plans, because it offers so many varieties of plans and ideas for use around the home and farm.   

As for the old birdhouses- there’s always some paint around that can be used for something.  The young boy loves to paint! So that was his new project.

 Painting Bluebird nest boxes

The weather was so warm we saw a handful of bugs flying around.  Last night this little critter landed on the glass door- the young boy stood on the inside saying it looked like a T, so we called it a T-bug.   I went out and took its picture, and didn’t realize until looking at the picture today that he had traced his own T on the opposite side of the glass.  Update:  A little Googling revealed this critter is in the family of Plume Moths…

The T-Bug

Now we need to find some organic mulch or compost to topdress the garden rows, and we’ll be ready to plant starts and seeds next month or early April.  Before last year I had accumulated enough leaves and grass clippings to have our own mulch, but last year the bagger broke and I just cut the leaves up on the grass.   Going to fix that this year and keep building our own mulch pile again- it’s too easy to have your own, and too expensive to get it someplace else.  Of course if we had some goats or chickens that would be different…  heck, if things get any worse out there we may need to…  

Nothing like a helping hand of the loader bucket to carry the brush and clippings away.  I really like roses… but it’s not fun pruning them.  We’re still experimenting with growing vegetables organically, keeping the weeds down and improving the soil. 

 Cleaning up the garden

I have not found an easy method for trimming weeds and bushes yet, but it’s probably more like that old quote about hard work and “gardens needing lots of moisture”… it’s mostly in the form of perspiration! 

Ted's Woodworking Plans

Gopher Piles and Bathtub Smiles

February 5th, 2009

I had forgotten that in late winter there are some very active critters around- especially underground.  Now I don’t mind a mole or two around the place, they’ve got to live too.  But when the moles and gophers begin to think this is their private little kingdom, then I’m not a happy camper.  After the deep freeze the past few weeks we had a nice warm-up, and I walked around to find this nice little trail of diggings on the hillside below the garden.  These dirt piles are 6-12 inches tall, and would fill up a kid’s beach bucket.

Gopher tunnels on hillside 

These wouldn’t be so bad off in a field by themselves (where they are usually).  But on the slope it causes a great deal of erosion, especially when it rains and the water washes down inside the tunnels evacuating mud everywhere.  I usually squish the muddy hills and tunnels down with the tractor, and the gophers just dig them out again.  We play that game for a while until they move on.  Hopefully I can persuade them to move somewhere else again… not on the slopes, and not near the pond dam!  But if they won’t?  Well, we’re just going to have to figure something out Caddyshack-style…  hopefully with better results!   Somebody remind me why these little critters are useful anyway?!

And what do you get when you ask a dog-and-water-loving-kid to take a bath, and you didn’t keep an eye on your water-and-kid-loving-labrador-retriever?    Well, after hearing unusually gleeful giggles down the hallway, you suddenly look around and notice that your faithful yellow lab is no longer sitting quietly by your side, looking up at you with those big dreamy eyes, and you realize that he has absconded to that playful paradise for kids… the bathtub… much to the boy’s delight of course.  So you get up, get your camera and slowly open the door of the bathroom to find your kid squirting water from a squishy toy at the yellow lab, who loves every minute of it.   Both of them wore great big smiles, and neither of them wanted to get out…

Yellow Lab in the bathtub

Snowy Landscapes

January 29th, 2009

What a snowfall we got the other day.  Our thoughts are with all those folks struggling to get their lives back together after the ice storms this week.  Thankfully we only received the white stuff- about 6-8 inches worth.    The kids were out of school for a couple of days, and we enjoyed a chance to spend some time together.     

The Shiba Inu loves to run around in the snow, and has a coat so thick he would be just fine outside all the time.    He’s running through the garden here and likes to look for rabbits and moles. 

Shiba Inu in winter

Speaking of the garden, it’s pretty sad looking.  I’m embarrassed to show how we’ve barely cleaned up last year’s growth.  The next warm spell we get I’m going to head out and clean it up, and topdress the rows with leaves.  It’s time… I’m already imagining tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, beans, peas…

Garden bare in winter

I keep telling myself spring isn’t far off, especially while plowing the gravel drive.  I took half the snow off, but it’s still a few inches deep.  I don’t want to plow too closely or I would scrape away the packed gravel base.  We park one of the cars near the road during snowstorms because it doesn’t drive very well down and up the snow-covered slope.  Hopefully some of this will melt off today.

Plowing snow on gravel drive

But I just love how the landscape looks when covered in snow.  Maybe it even keeps the bees a little warmer?  Who knows, but in about a month it will be time for the queen bee to start producing a lot more baby bees.  Oh, if you’re wondering- the beehives are black looking because I wrapped them with black-painted insulation for warmth. 

Some people debate whether you should wrap hives in winter in the midwest.  Some believe it makes them too warm and hence they could be more active and eat more their winter stores of honey.  I like to think it helps them stay warmer, using less of their own metabolic energy to stay warm comparatively, and hence eating less of their stored honey over time.  I’m sure there are a lot more opinions and research out there… I’m a new beekeeper and still learning.  But this winter has been colder than normal for us, and I’m glad I wrapped them up. Hopefully they make it to late winter when I’ll start feeding and the cycle will begin again.

Winter landscape and bee hives

Cold Weather and Catching Up

December 16th, 2008

Let it snow!  The landscape is beautiful after a light patch of snowy weather came through the area. Not enough for a snowman, but just enough to appreciate even though the roads are a mess. It’s early morning, and a travel show is playing in the background on the television.  Looks like Australia… one day I’d like to spend the holidays in the land of the kangaroo.  It looks really warm…

Not warm here though, with temperatures in the teens and the high well below freezing. We’re going through firewood like crazy. The birds appreciate the feeders in this weather, and are gathered all around the house.

Light snow in December in Missouri

Did you see the full moon last Friday?  It was beautiful, and big!  It rose slowly beyond the trees, and seemed to grow larger and larger for the next hour or two.  It was one of those magical, clear nights.  Seems I’ve taken to the moon in recent months… either that or we’ve just had clear weather on bright moonlit nights.  So in case you missed it, here it is again.

 December Full Moon in Missouri

I saw a Bald Eagle circling slowly overhead last week too.  We don’t see them often, but they usually arrive in Missouri this time of year on the way to our rivers and lakes.  Here they can take refuge in open water areas where they can still find food.  Most of Missouri’s rivers and lakes remain free of ice through winter, and if they do freeze it only lasts for a week or two.

Bald Eagle circling in the sky

Closer to home our little kitty is growing up fast.  And she still loves to play with the yellow lab- who also loves to play with her.  She claws and chews and pulls and smacks him with her paws… and he doesn’t even seem to notice it.  I think he secretly enjoys the attention, and they’ve become buddies. He doesn’t even mind sharing his bone.  Isn’t she a neat cat?Her name is Spotty… she has six large black spots on her white coat (I wanted to call her Domino!). 

Yellow Lab and Cat

Speaking of attention… something really got mine the other day.  Have you ever heard of “Floam”?  It’s a kid’s toy, supposedly akin to Playdough.  Ever used it? I think it was invented by someone with a warped sense of humor.  It comes in very attractive, colorful packages.  We’ve had a few lying around for a while.  The young boy was home sick last week, the day we spent cleaning his room.  He decided to play with a tub of pink Floam.  Good idea I thought, something to keep him busy.  I was wrong… very wrong.

Floam- an icky, sticky mess

I mean this stuff is downright nasty.  Could be that it doesn’t age very well.  But once it’s on your (supposedly wet) hands, it’s there for a long, long time.  The boy finally said, “Yuck! This stuff is too sticky… it won’t make anything!”  Whoever thought goop and recycled styrofoam balls would make a good toy?  You need water to wash it off your hands, but who’s going to wash styrofoam down the sink? I can’t imagine a worse clog.  So I carefully picked his fingers clean with a wet paper towel, and then he kept trying to wash them clean.   After which we collected all the Floam tubs and out they went, right into the trash.  I honestly don’t know how the company makes any money from the stuff.  Maybe there’s a secret to it, but if Floam is around in a few years I’ll be very surprised.  But if you have a different experience, I’d love to hear about it.  Ah well, when Santa comes there will be other toys to play with.   

Changing the subject again, I had to share a picture of the sun on the pond.  So different from today’s snowfall. It was late afternoon last week as the ice was melting, and the picture came out with a neat blaze from the bright sunlight.  Not a very good picture really, but it was just so bright and…  well I would say warm, but it wasn’t.  It just looked warm! 

Sunlight on Fox Haven Pond

And by the way, are you still around Ron?  Have a feeling you’re moving the site to a new home. Time to catch up on a few more indoor projects this week.  I hope everyone is staying warm!

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