Friday, April 29, 2016

Making a Garden

The month of May is quickly approaching, and my thoughts are turning to the garden more every day. When my body is away from the garden, but my thoughts linger there, I can feel impatient, or maybe it's more of a feeling that I'm moving too slowly, that I'm losing time.  I never started any seeds inside, or planted early peas, and the potatoes and onions I wanted to put out could have been in the ground for weeks already, had I been ready.  Just imagine all those lost sunbeams I could have been gathering!  

But on the other hand, it's liberating to allowing myself to experiment more now, while the garden is young.  If you remember, I've been adding clumps of top soil and sod to the places where the mobile chicken coop was parked over the winter.  

I quickly realized that I would need a fence before I could actually allow plants to grow in my new beds.  The giant flock of chickens (and now a turkey!) and the roaming pigs could make short work of digging up plants.  Thanks to a gift of orange plastic fencing and some scavenged metal fence posts, I have a small area around three beds that I can defend against the hungry hoards.  The grass is so long in the fenced in area that it tickles my ankles.  

I had two partial bags of organic potatoes from the grocery store that started to grow in the bag before I could cook them, so I made rings of dead sod dirt clumps and placed potatoes in the center.  No digging required since my garden dirt is so chunky I can arrange it like building blocks of dirt and grass roots.  

Last summer a nice lady who let Tamara and I pick strawberries from her garden gave me some small onions.  She said to just plant them in the garden and they would grow more onions.  I braided them and they've been knocking around the house, getting shuffled in the move, and being used as cat toys all fall and winter.  Believe it or not, some of them looked like they were trying to grow!  I planted these in one of the beds amid the dirt clumps and potato mounds.  

I bought garlic to plant last fall, so of course it was mostly dried up or moldy by now.  I'm sure it's way too late to plant garlic, but I did it anyway.  Who knows, maybe I'll get a bulb or two despite my late start.  

I sprinkled the cloves throughout one side of the bed with the onion braid and the potato mounds.  I'm cramming a lot of things in to these small spaces.  I've never been great at thinning plants, but if even a fraction of the things I planted try to grow, I'm going to have to pull some extras or there won't be room.  Remind me of that later this summer when the bed is overflowing and nothing has the room it needs to do well.  

I bought a bag of purple onion sets at Tractor Supply, and left them sitting so long they are starting to grow in the bag.  I actually think these may still be in good enough shape to grow, so I dedicated most of the second bed to them.  I just stuck them in the cracks between the dirt clumps, like hiding Easter eggs.  

Since I had a partial package of buckwheat seeds that was getting rather old, I sprinkled these over the bed of onions.  Will they sprout?  Will they choke out the onions?  Who knows!  Puck guards the entrance to the garden to keep the chickens at bay while I work.  

A package of old sunflower seeds were planted along one side of a bed.  Some dipper gourd seeds I'm sure were dead got sprinkled along one edge.  Home harvested kale seeds went in there too, and marigolds on the corners of the beds.  Oh, and some cantaloupe seeds too.  What was I thinking?!

My over-planting got so complicated that I was inspired to make a drawing and actually take some notes.  You know, like a real gardener!  

Oh boy, nothing inspires my gardening hopes and dreams like compost!  The kitchen scraps we collected through the fall and winter were looking good.  I picked up the metal barrel ring they were in, moved it over, forked the chunky bits on the surface that weren't decomposed back into the ring, and forked all the black compost that was in the bottom into the wheel barrel.  I added some of the perlite left over from the rocket mass heater too.  

The compost was wet from the recent rain, but I spread it over the seeds, bulbs, and potatoes.  Surely, something will grow now that it has such nice compost to encourage it.  

I put a light coating of straw over both of the beds, and then placed pieces of fencing over that, just in case the chickens breach the walls or the wind tries to blow the straw away.  It feels good to have two beds all covered and tucked in.  I feel sort of caught up, despite my late start.  With just two small beds planted, I feel like I actually have a garden now.  Whew - it's about time! 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Reptiles, Amphibians, Flowers, and a Zipline

Peekaboo!  I found this box turtle while I was out looking at stream restoration project for work.  When I picked him up he exhaled so fast he sounded like he was hissing at me.  I pretty sure he was just trying to get a small as possible so he could fit inside his shell.  Like when I squeeze out all my breath before I button my blue jeans after they shrink in the dryer. Wait, I don't have a dryer...

Box turtles are omnivores, so they eat stuff like worms and slugs and bugs and flowers and mushrooms.  I once saw a box turtle take a bite from the fruit of a mayapple (Podophylum peltatum), which is a poisonous plant.  If my parents let their tomato plants grow on the ground, the box turtles eat the tomatoes.  Once upon a time, a coworker and I stopped our work to watch a couple of box turtles mate, which is not something you get to see very often.  It was quite boring, really, and awkward.   For all of us.  

It's not just the reptiles out enjoying the spring weather, the amphibians are active now too.  I hear frog calls every evening, and this puddle was teaming with tadpoles.  I think these are toad tadpoles.  

The fleabane (Erigeron sp.) is blooming in the field behind the barn.  The chickens get curious when they see me focus on something near the ground and follow in my footsteps.  

Winter cress (Barbarea sp.) is blooming now too.  This bright yellow flower really stands out against the new green grass.  I saw wood bees and wasps drinking nectar from these tiny flowers.  

I read that the leaves of the winter cress plant are edible, but when I offered some to this young rooster, he wasn't even interested enough to taste it.  Eat your vegetables!

Did I tell you that we got a zip line?!  We gave it to our nephew as a gift, with the understanding that we would install it out at our place.  The instructions said it was for kids at least eight years old, but I was pretty sure even my younger niece would be able to handle it as long as we didn't hang it too high.   It was harder than I thought it would be to find two tress the correct distance apart that didn't have something in the way.  Once we settled on a location, Brandon used a chainsaw on a long pole to trim some branches from the trees.  

The zip line is a long metal cable that runs about seventy-five feet between two trees.  The instructions explained how to hang it so that the rider slows before they arrive at the end tree, which keeps them from having a crash landing.  

Over time, the kids are supposed to build up their arm muscles so they can zip between the trees without using the detachable seat.  

It works!  Weeeee..... It starts out high enough that the kids are above our heads, but by the time they slow down at the other end they have to raise their feet so they don't drag the ground.   Now, if only I will get brave enough to try it too!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Brandon's Birthday Turkey

Last Saturday was Brandon's fortieth birthday, and when Jamie arrived at the farm to help us get started with a celebration, he asked when we got a giant turkey.  We have a turkey?! 

We do!  Sure enough, when we went outside to make sure Jamie could tell the difference between a chicken and turkey, we found this guy strutting his stuff for the chickens.  Good eye, Jamie, that's definitely not a chicken.  The turkey has white feathers with black stripes, a long black patch of feathery hair dangling from his chest, a light blue face, and loose wrinkly skin on his neck and head that changes color from white to red depending on his mood.    

A birthday surprise, right?  He stayed all day, greeting guests as they arrived, and impressed us all by puffing his feathers and spreading his tail.  He gobbles when someone laughs, which makes us laugh, which makes him gobble.  He's fun that way.  

The turkey spends the day hanging near the chickens and sleeps at night on a table near the barn.  The turkey belongs to the same neighbors that frequently lend us their pigs.  Apparently, if you call your little plot of land a farm, animals just appear to populate it!  Who knew.  We now have: 

1 dog
3 cats
4 guineas
1 turkey
2 pigs (day time custody only)
32 chickens

Our neighbor must have realized his turkey was at our place, because he stopped by to discuss the situation with Brandon today.  He used to own two turkeys, but a predator got one of them while it was caged up.  Brandon called me at work to tell me that he's pretty sure this turkey now belongs to me, unless I specifically tell the neighbor to come and get it.  Thank you neighbor.  I think...

I worry that the turkey will fall prey to a raccoon or coyote, but the neighbor thinks that if he's free to roost where he will, then he can fend for himself.  I guess I'll find out, unless I can figure out how to make a turkey coop and convince the turkey to use it.   

We lost one of the guineas to a predator, most likely a hawk.  It was the guinea with a hurt foot, so it probably couldn't escape as fast as the others.  Now we have two pairs, which is good since guineas pick a mate and stick with them.  Each night they come back to the coop to roost, so I knew they aren't sitting on a nest of eggs yet.  Even the guineas stay out of the turkey's way.  I have to spread the breakfast grains in a broad area so the chickens can get some even though the turkey is trying to keep it all for himself.  He pulls a beak full of feathers from any bird that doesn't respect his presence during meal time.  

Enjoy this short clip of the turkey trying to keep the chickens from eating their dinner. 

In other poultry news - I found a tiny egg in the chicken coop from one of the baby chickens!  Which goes to show that they are not babies any more.  We're making plans to thin the flock of extra roosters and make a nest box for the hens.  I can't wait to have too many eggs.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Lolly Pops and Fruit Trees

The dandelions are going to seed.  Now that the grass has been mowed, the fuzzy white balls are more obvious as they poke above the level plane of cut green stems. 

The day after we mowed I looked over the expanse of green grass, and it was like someone stuck lolly pops in the grass while I was at work.  Fuzzy lolly pops everywhere.

They must be at just the right height for Puck to walk into with his face since he was wearing dandelion fluff in his eyebrows.  

The little cherry tree that I planted in the front yard has a handful of flowers right now.  Does this mean I could get a handful of cherries later?

The apple tree blossoms were a beautiful dark pink. I used the loppers to trim off as many of the little sprouts from the trunk as I could reach, but I find it hard to trim the big branches like I should since they are covered with pretty pink buds and flowers.  

I didn't get more than a handful of apples last year.  The poor performance isn't because the tree isn't tying though, because it's covered in sweet smelling flowers.  

The small peach tree that bloomed so early has lost it's flower petals, but retains these pink sepals and stamens.  Do you think I will get a peach?

The big pear tree only had flowers for a few days before a strong storm blew most the petals off.  There were so many white pear flower petals on our roof that the downspouts poured piles of petals when it rained.  

I was worried that the storm may have ruined the flowers before the bees were finished pollinating, but I think I see tiny pears developing all ready.  The mole that lives at the base of the tree has mounds and tunnels everywhere.  I've been told that moles are natures soil aerators, and they eat grubs, so it's probably good for the tree to have a resident mole.   When we mow the grass under the pear tree we make dirt clouds as the blades of the mower shave the tops off the giant mole mounds.  

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

My New Pig Wallow

Miss Piggy and Bugger come for a visit nearly every day.  They munch on grass and lay in the sun and when Bugger gets feeling frisky he half halfheartedly chases roosters.  The pigs took advantage of the wet spot I make when I dump the dirty chicken water every morning and made a small mud hole that they wallow in near the chicken coop.  I have my very own pig wallow!  

Bugger enjoys being scratched.  He loves it so much he flops on his side and stretches out so I can give him a belly rub. Unfortunately, his hair is so wiry and caked with crunchy mud pieces that petting him isn't a very appealing tactile experience.  His nose is cold and wet and he usually has some greenish foam on his lips too, so I'm not sure I should encourage so much familiarity.  I wonder if I could brush him?  With a brush on a long pole...

Aren't his little feet cute though? 

They love the wallow, but maybe offering a mud hole to my piggy guests isn't the best idea.  He's so dirty!  I have to make sure to hang clothes on the line to dry at least pig high so he doesn't walk under them and paint the bottoms of the clothes with his dirty back.  

I caught him scratching his wet mud caked back on the bumper of my car!  My car is never clean, really, but this is the first time I've ever had muddy bumpers from a dirty pig. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Dangerous Place

Someone ate all of the corn out of the bags for our corn toss game, which were stored in the barn.  I have a pretty good idea who it was...

Slowly, I'm sorting through all the things that are stored in the corn crib,which has been stuffed full of odds and ends.  One of the biggest things taking up space was the carpet rolls I saved to kill grass in the garden.  I decided to use it to smother the grass and weeds that are growing in what will eventually be the green house.  

Guess who I found dozing under the carpet rolls?  Carlos the black rat snake and his friend, all coiled together.  Shiver.  They didn't even move when I pulled the carpet rolls from over their bodies.   

I can understand why the snakes picked that location.  Within one of the carpet rolls was an entire family of mice.  It's a barn ecosystem - the snakes that eat the mice that eat the corn toss bags in the barn that Rain bought!  The carpet roll was housing big mice, medium mice, and even cute little baby mice, like the one in the picture above trying to hide from me in a carpet hole.  

The sun is so bright, he needs to wear shades.  

A couple of bigger mice ran out over my hands when I yanked on the carpet roll (yikes!), but the little mice sort of fell about as I dragged it into place and unrolled it.  The chickens enjoyed this treat, although I tried not to watch the carnage.  Seeing and smelling the mess the mice made in the carpet, and reminding myself about the hantavirus, kept me from saving the adorable babies from the greedy chickens.  The last thing I need is pet mice, right?  Sorry snakes, the chickens just ate your dinner.

Chickens can be jerks.  I don't think they are motivated by meanness, but there are times it's hard to understand their motivation.  I hear little squawks from them all the time as they sort out their position in the pecking order.  I recently heard a prolonged squeal that was not the normal insulted squawk, but sounded like someone in distress.  

The chickens like to lounge under an elderberry shrub near their coop.  As I approached, I could see this young hen on the ground with a ring of other chickens around her pecking at her while she screamed.  At first I though she was wounded and they were trying to eat her!  Oh no you don't chickens - if anybody gets to eat a chicken around here, it's going to be me! Scat!

It turns out, she wasn't hurt, but was stuck under a grape vine that grows in the elderberry shrub.  She some how scooted her body under the vine and got her wings on the top.  She was pinned to the ground and the others were casually pecking her.  Jerks!  I pulled her out and she left a few feathers, but was unharmed.  I never considered a wild grape vine to a threat to chickens.  It's a dangerous place.
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