Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Building Buildings

Brandon has not been idle in the past weeks while I've been away for work.  He's been building.  With a work space for making art, and a need for painting storage in mind, he made an addition to the shed barn where we store most of the farm tools and hay.  Working alone, he's managed to nearly complete the "studio," which has a plywood floor, metal roof, and even a nice window, that was given to us by some good friends when it was left over from their home renovation.  Since he texted me the photo above, he's framed in the front wall, so all that's needed to keep the chickens and dogs out is a big door.  He has plans for chicken wire additions to the neighboring bay, which will allow us to store finished art works in the dry, without fear of farm animal contamination.    

When I would get home from work, it's always fun to see his progress.  In this photo, you can see how the new addition is attached to the old shed.  Some of our artist friends have such nice studios.  Immaculate spaces with display rooms and white walls, even.  Brandon assures me that the way he works, he would destroy those clean spaces, and that working at home with the doors thrown open, near his wood shop and barn suits him just fine.  He also has a nice studio at the university, that's temperature controlled, and has a giant skylight.  

Stormy skies over the new building.

Not only has the studio and painting storage project made significant progress, we are nearly pig capable!  Jamie and Brandon were able to sink wooden posts in our back field, to create a small pig pasture.  Most of the posts were harvested cedar trees from our friends farm, and a few have been re-purposed from places around our farm.  

The wooden gate that used to be on the old shed has been relocated to the pig fence.  It hasn't been hung yet, and the fence hasn't been stretched, but we're closing in on it!

To create a shelter for our future bacon pigs, four posts were sunk in the dirt, then framed in with two by threes, and the whole thing has been clad in sheets of old metal roofing.

The long metal pieces for the roof were purchased from Craiglist, but the siding was recycled from our shed.  We added it up, and this is an eighty dollar pig house.  Not bad!

I like the different colors on the old metal sheets.  It's seems rustic, and appropriate for a pig shed.  We located the shed along the back of the fence, as far from the garden and house as possible, and placed it so it gets shade in the evening from the adjacent tree line.  Our hope is that it will provide shelter from the sun and the rain for at least four pigs at a time.  We don't plan to keep pigs through the winter, so hopefully it won't matter if it's a bit drafty.   I hope they like it! 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Armadillos, Snakes, and Red Bat

Silly armadillos!  We saw two groups of four armadillos recently, while working in west Tennessee.  I've read that armadillos have migrated their way to Kentucky lately, but I've never seen any.  When we first spotted these guys, we tried to be very quiet while we stalked them as they snuffled under the leaves and rotting logs.  They would frequently find something tasty, and stop to briefly chew and swallow before busily resuming their pig like search.  It wasn't long before we realized there was no need to be sneaky while we spied on them.  They must have terrible sight and hearing, or they are not afraid of humans, because we could talk and make noise and they didn't even notice.  Only when I reached out to touch one did it scurry under a log.  The tail I touched felt like a tough leather shoe.  

Google tells us that they have litters of four identical twins, so maybe the two groups we saw where all brothers or sisters.  They are known to eat ground nesting bees, like yellow jackets.  Hooray for armadillos, right?

Watch this short clip if you want to see the armadillos in action.  

Here's another shot of the rattlesnake from my video.  When I showed my boss the video of the rattlesnake, she said she took back the thoughts she had when she approved the request for snake gaiters for this job!  

Last week, during four nights of bat catching, this was the only bat we managed to catch in our nets.  It's a pretty red bat, which is one of the most common species.  Each night that we are surveying, we stay near our nets for five hours after sunset.  The nets get checked every ten minutes.  Five hours a night for four nights with only a single bat makes for a long survey!

After a rattlesnake encounter, all the other non venomous snakes seem so friendly!  I think this snake may be a black racer.

His tongue makes a cool shadow.  

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

"Rain, you're a nutjob!"

I have lots of fun photos to share with you.  Bats, snakes, armadillos, and even the cactus I had for dinner yesterday.  Hopefully I'll be able to get a handle on my technology and share them with you.  In the mean time, enjoy this video of the rattle snake that we encountered last week.  I'm laughing so hard the camera is shaking because not all of my coworkers had the same kind of excitement I did when we spotted it crossing the gravel road in our project site.   I immediately put the truck in park and jumped from the drivers seat to take it's picture, but a few of my colleagues stayed safely in the truck and added good commentary to the video - "Rain, you're a nutjob!"  Ha!

As you can see, this was a very well behaved timber rattlesnake.  He made his body small and loudly announced his presence when I approached. He was clearly saying "don't step on me!" I kept my distance, but he made no moves to strike.  We were informed ahead of time that our project area is the home of rattle snakes, and diligently wore our snake gaters while trampling though the underbrush.  I would have been disappointed if we hadn't got to see at least one before we left.  It's been a long time since I saw a live one in the wild.     

Monday, June 5, 2017

Out and About

So far this bat season, I've been traveling the perfect amount to feel like I'm out and about in the world, without losing all touch with home.  Last week, I was working in Tennessee again, and accidentally captured this Indigo bunting in my bat net.  We try not to have our nets up during the day-light hours, so we don't capture many birds, but this little guy must have been out late and managed to get caught.  Untangling birds from mist nets takes patience, especially when they are struggling and fighting like this one was.  Once he was free, he was kind enough to pose for a picture before flying away at top speed.  

We captured a pregnant tricolor bat around midnight.  She was so pregnant that she looked like she swallowed a couple of marbles.  She weighed in at nine grams, which is heavy for a bat like her, but nine grams is about the weight of a quarter and dime.  As tiny as she is, she will probably give birth to two pups, and nurse them for about a month before they are old enough to fly and forage on their own.  

While working in this small town, we dined at a restaurant associated with a giant metal sculpture.  We were standing in the parking lot, gazing at the art work and reading the various words that are incorporated into the piece, when a laughing local lady getting in her car commented that we were working awful hard at it.  This art was obviously years in the making, and had recognizable objects and symbols throughout.  I asked the lady "What does it mean?" and she said, with confidence, "It don't mean nothing." Ha!     

Vibrant blue birds, pregnant flying mammals, massive sculpture hidden in small towns, and brilliant pink sunsets reflected in farm ponds - sometimes it's good to get out and about.  

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Firefly Festival #3!

We celebrated the fireflies this weekend at the farm with the third annual firefly festival!  It was so much fun.  We started on Saturday with the first guests and lots of party preparation, and partied on through Monday afternoon, with energy to spare.  Having party hosting practice just makes each year better than the last.  Even though the weather forecast promised nothing but storms and floods, the sun was shining, the breeze was constantly cooling, and our only brief shower was over before we even got wet.  The kids didn't seem to mind that the swimming pool was frigid, either.  Everyone brought delicious foods and beverages, and we kept the blender whirring mixing drinks.  

After many rounds of corn hole, second helpings of burgers, chili dogs, and some of Joe's home grown brats, followed by a cup cake overload, we gazed at the millions of fireflies dancing in the fields, and then settled in for a true bonfire.  Brandon and I tend to burn small fires inside our metal ring.  Safe and cozy fires, with chairs pulled up close and we barely make a dent in our wood pile.  Not this year.  This year, we attempted to clean out the wood pile and had an exciting roaring blaze!  The metal ring was completely covered in a blazing inferno of logs and old lumber.  When a new log was added and the fire was stoked with a shovel, giant clouds of sparks would rise high into the sky flowing in twisting eddies of hot air.  

In the wee hours, those of us who hadn't yet found our beds, backseats, or tents, were discussing the beauty of the hot coals, and someone said it was a shame we didn't have a pig to roast over the fire.  Wait a minute - I have a pig!  I have had, for some time now, a small pig in the freezer, given to us by our good neighbor.  I wasn't sure what we would ever do with it, so we decided to try to cook it on the fire!  Mom and I seasoned it with herbs and spices, and wrapped it foil.  I wondered if anyone sleeping in the house would wake and hear the crackle of the foil at 2 am and wonder what I was up to.  

Hot coals were dug from the fire ring, and the foil wrapped piggy was buried inside.

The next morning, I dug the foil package from the remains of the fire, and we all laughed to see that it was cooked to ashes!  We cremated that poor pig, instead of cooking him.  It was so burnt, even the dogs weren't interested in it.  Now we know, that is not the best way to roast a pig!    

Thank goodness we weren't relying on our barbecue skills for breakfast, right?   Instead Jamie cooked a giant campfire breakfast scramble.  Onions, peppers, and potatoes were cooked in coconut oil and then scrambled with three dozen home grown eggs!    

Once the giant omelet was out of the frying pan, Jamie cooked up sausage patties and warmed some frozen blueberry pancakes, which were served with honey and butter.  It was the fuel we needed for more time at the corn hole boards and dips in the frigid swimming pool.  I'm already looking forward to the next party.  

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Old Timer Gorilla

Last night was my first night conducting a bat survey for the summer survey season.  It was also the first night, in many years, where Brandon didn't come with me as my field technician.  After a few weeks in horrible field conditions during a previous survey season, a job nick-named by those who participated as "adversity training," where trucks got stuck in mud, lightning storms threatened lives, and all the survey sites involved hiking for miles through mud with heavy gear, he was less interested in giving up a summer of studio work for a summer job.  I tease my boss that she broke Brandon's spirit with that job, and he's throwing in the towel.  In truth, we have a menagerie of animals and gardens that can't be abandoned for days at a time, so someone needs to stay home in the summer, and Brandon is thankful to be able to dedicate the time to his studio practice.  

I miss spending the night hours with Brandon while we wait for bats to be caught in our nets, but working with someone new is fun too.  My new coworker is a recent college graduate.  

This morning, as I was getting dressed in my hotel room, I paused for a moment when I noticed my travel sized q-tip holder.  It's meant to be disposable, but I have refilled it many times over the years, and I keep it in my travel toiletry bag.  I paused because I realized that my q-tip holder is as old as my new colleague.  I've been traveling, with q-tips, for as long as he's been alive.  

I've noticed that recent work related documents refer to me as a "senior" ecologist.  When I participated in a workshop earlier this year, to learn about a new analysis software for identifying recorded bat calls, I made friends with the two young ladies that sat at my table.  These smart women were just getting started with their careers and marriages, and as we talked and got to know each other it came home to me that I might be one of the old timers now.  When we talked about work related stuff, I tried to keep myself from comparing everything to the way it used to be, like an old timer would do.  What happened to the folks that used to be the old timers?  Retired now, or worse, I guess.  If they are gone, then who the heck knows what's going on?  Not me, surely.      

Last week, someone even asked, while standing over my shoulder, "Rain, you're getting grey hair aren't you?"  Ack! 

Despite the all the jokes about mid-life crisis, and being over the hill, I find myself a little surprised that the signs of my maturity are surprising me.  Not that I'm forty - I still have five months in my thirties, thank-you-very-much, but it's no coincidence that I'm noticing all these things now.  Even my body is announcing to the world that I am a fully matured primate with life experience, and I have the grey hair to prove it.  If I were a gorilla, you could tell by my silver hair that I was quite successful at living, right?  

Thursday, May 18, 2017

A Fawn, A Snake, A Flower, and A Boob Sandwich

I've been working and traveling in beautiful Tennessee this week.  I got to spend several days hopping on and off one of these small four-wheel drive ATV's that has the side by side seating.  Normally, I prefer to walk during our field surveys, making sure not to miss anything and preserving the quiet of the forest and increasing my chances of seeing the wildlife and hearing the calls of frogs and birds, but when there are thousands of acres to cover in a matter of days, I'm thankful to be able to zip up and down the mountain trails risking my neck and frightening the forest residents with our dust churning wheels.  We must of spooked the mamma deer, but I'm sure she didn't roam far from her new born fawn.  The fawn was so still and quiet as it hid from us, that we had to reassure ourselves that it was still alive by watching for it's nostrils to move when it breathed.  

We startled a tiny black rat snake baby too, and when it dove into the creek to hide from us, and I reached in to pull it out, the accomplished hunter and outdoorsman guy, touring me around the property, said "you're crazy!" and stepped far away from me. Ha!  The snake was barely the size of pencil.  I'm sure it's teeth were so small I wouldn't have felt it, even if it did try to bite me.  For some reason, when manly-men types show their fear of teeny snakes, I have to suppress an urge to chase them while chanting "it's gonna get ya!"   

Parts of the forest were sprinkled with pretty red and yellow flowers called Indian pink (Spigelia marilandica).

We even got to ride a ferry across the Cumberland River.  For lunch, we stopped at a local gas station with a sandwich shop.  A large grumpy lady was making sandwiches as fast as she could, and expressing how overwhelmed she was by having a line of at least five customers, who all wanted different kinds of sandwiches.  Sheesh.  When it was my turn to order, she slathered both pieces of my bread with mayo, set them on the counter in front of her, and then reached across the counter for some lettuce, which caused her giant bosoms to press into the mayo on my bread.  When she stood up, some of the mayo was now on the front of her shirt, and my bread was slightly flattened.  She decided not to notice, and I was to intimidated by her to say anything, so I ate a boob sandwich for lunch.  It was a pretty good sandwich, really, but I giggled while I ate.  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Milkweed Relocation

Milkweed, the food of the monarch butterfly, grows in my goat pasture.  Milkweed is on everyone's list of plants which are toxic to goats.  It's also on everyone's list of plants to protect in order to save the butterflies.  What to do? 

I've seen Peaches nibble a leaf or two, but surely the goats wouldn't eat so much of it that they would make themselves sick unless there wasn't anything else to eat, right?  But, Light River did get bloat last year, and I can't think of anything else in the pasture that could have caused it.  Despite my friends recommendation that Roundup will take care of my "weed" problem, I don't want to kill the milkweed.  

I'm going to try to relocate it, even though it's already grown bigger than the recommended transplant size.  Apparently, it's a little tricky to transplant because it has a deep tap root, which is nearly impossible to dig up without breaking.  It's a perennial though, so if I can manage to relocate the plants, they will come back each year.  

After doing the evening animal shuffle - locking the donkeys in their yard, and letting the goats have access to the big pasture.  I gathered a bucket and a shovel, and dug up three of the plants.  The problem with gardening with goats is that they want whatever I have, so it was a challenge to stay focused on my task while trying to keep them from eating the milkweed in my bucket.  

Hattie the donkey was interested to see what was in my bucket too.  I set one of the plants with it's big root ball on the post while I negotiated the gates.  I thought I dug a pretty big root ball, but the plants started to wilt right away.

I decided to plant these three at the top of the herb spiral.  Milkweed isn't an herb.  Dang it, Rain, you're already messing it up!  In my defense, I wanted to plant them somewhere very noticeable, so I won't forget to water them.  Plus, they might look really neat on the top of my herb mound, especially if they attract some butterflies.  Or, it might look really goofy.  We'll see, right?  

Because they were already so droopy, I decided to cut the top off the plants.  Since I trimmed the roots when I dug them up, it seems only fair to trim the plant to a size that can be supported by fewer roots.  Look at all that white milky sap.  I can see why they are called milkweed, although if they changed their name to milkflower, they might find more admirers.  

I asked all my co-workers if anyone would like to give a milkweed a home, and despite Brandon's predictions that no one wants my weeds, four folks offered to take them.  Hooray for butterflies!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Peaches, Plums, and a Beet


Look - baby peaches!  This poor little peach tree only has two branches, but it's got more than a handful of little peaches growing on it.  The first time I saw them, I did a double take.  I never really expected to get actual peaches from my peach trees.  Unfortunately, the tree also has a fugal infection which is causing the leaves to turn red and curl.  I'm not sure if the tree will be able to pull off a full sized peach, but we'll see.  

These strange little green globes are plums!  I've never seen a plum in it's natural habitat, so I was excited when they appeared.  I assume they will be purple when they are ripe.  Let's hope I get to eat one before the chickens and goats get them all.  

The cherry tree, which only got three cherries last year, has dozens of little yellow cherries on it.  The apple tree too.  But, the pear tree, which has always been so generous with it's fruit, timed it's bloom poorly this year, and now I only see a smattering of pears when normally there would be hundreds.  

Brandon made the first hay of the season.  He mowed the field next to the donkeys, and then the next day he raked the cut grass onto a tarp and stored it in the barn, out of the rain.  It smells so nice, and is such a pretty green color.  Since the forecast calls for rain nearly everyday, we're experimenting with drying the hay under roof.  I'm hoping to keep up our hand baling through the entire growing season this year, and see how many bales we can make.  

You probably can't see the changes I've made to the greenhouse, but I moved the piece of plastic to the back corner to kill the veg, and planted tomatoes where the plastic used to be.  It does a wonderful job of killing all the weeds, and leaves nice worm filled soil to plant in.

The consensuses is that these volunteers are cabbage, not kale.  Which is weird, because I didn't grow cabbage last year.  Were did they come from?

A friend of mine is moving, so he gave me these cute yellow tomato cages.  I've learned from experience that this type of cage is rarely big enough or strong enough to support a giant plant, but I'm doing it anyway.  At the end of the summer, when this spot is a tangle of fallen over plants, I'll remind myself, again, to use sturdier supports.  

I think they will work well for the three pea plants to escaped the chickens wrath.  The peas growing in the greenhouse are twice as big as those growing in the garden.

Beets have pretty stems and leaves.  

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Green Grass and Iris Blossoms

Remember how I was saying how ugly our backyard was?  Back in February?  Well, green grass and some iris blossoms look much better than mud and doggy chew toys!

The little trees that I planted several years ago are starting to look like trees!  Even the tiny red bud seedling that kept being lost in the weeds in years past, is as tall as me now.  I'm looking forward to the shade these trees will provide someday soon.

The hardest part about moving from our old house was leaving my plants behind.  But, now that the bulbs and peonies that I transplanted are beginning to thrive in their new home, I feel like my old friends are right here with me.  

The herb spiral is still a work in progress.  Cleaning the the green algae from the siding helped me see the backyard with rosier glasses.  

We've been moving stones around as we figure out where we want borders and walkways.

Just taking these pictures inspired me to pull some weeds from the perennials that grow around the old cistern.  We haven't been taken over by weeds yet, so I'm enjoying all the growing green leaves.  We've been hatching plans for a railing around the pool, and we've even hinted to ourselves that we might put painting some of our outbuildings on the list.  Oh, boy!
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