Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Fox Alert

The flock was attacked by a fox!  Thunderstorms were keeping Puck and I in the house, and when the storm was over I didn't realize something was wrong until the hen named Marshmallow slammed against the dinning room window with a loud squawk and shower of feathers.  What's going on out there?!? I rushed to the window just in time to see the fox, claws and fangs bared, leap onto her back and grab a mouth full of feathers.  Oh no!

I yelled and rushed outside which startled the fox enough for Marshmallow to escape.  In the instant I realized the fox was after the chickens the noise that I wasn't tuned into suddenly penetrated my brain.  The guineas were making a racket, and all the chickens were upset.  There were feathers everywhere.  

I chased after the fox but got distracted by the carnage.  How could this happen so quickly?!  I could see one dying hen and piles of feathers.  I spied the fox on the other side of the garden and I ran after it, with no shoes on.  Scat!!

The fox ran into the longer grass of the back field, and when I stopped at the edge, hesitating to enter the weeds without shoes, it stopped about a fifty feet away and looked me right in the eye.  I almost flinched, but then I mustered my courage.  I shouted at it - bad fox!  Get out of here! And looked for something to throw at it.  I had run from the house with a bag of dried dates in my hand, but didn't think they would make very good weapons.  Why is there never a rock or a big stick when you need them?!  I felt like a cave woman standing in my bare feet yelling at a predator with my fruit in hand!

After the fox sauntered away I went to assess the damage.  The mamma chicken was very alert, and had all her chicks close by.  

The guineas were sounding the alarm, but were safe out of reach on top of the coop.  

Marshmallow was looking pitiful in the back of the coop, one of the buff hens was dead, and two of the barred rock hens were missing.  They left lots of feathers behind.  Two days later, the fox returned an stealthily took Marshmallow and another barred rock hen.  During the day, and while I was home.  

We've been very alert since then.  It's so hot that I hate to keep everyone locked up.  We mowed the long grass and trimmed the tall weeds.  We borrowed a trap, but the wily fox managed to steal the bait without getting caught.  I've been told that if we don't kill the fox, it will come back until all the chickens are gone.  

Everyone needs to stick together.  

Keep your head up. Stay alert.  

This is no time to lolly-gagging, Puck.  There's a fox out there!

Seriously, chickens, you can't just stand around arranging your feathers.  It will be back!

It's time to get your heads out of your... wait.. where is your head? 

Oh, there you are.  Pay attention!!

Mamma, if you must take your babies for a walk, make sure you take a couple of guineas to sound the alarm if the fox is spotted.  

The fox made a big commotion with it's first killing spree, but now he knows to be silent.  I found barred rock feathers on the driveway the day Marshmallow and the other hen disappeared, but never heard a squawk.  

I do lots of head counts now, and I'm afraid to come in the house before it's dark and everyone is put safely to bed.  Cross your fingers that the trap works better tonight.  

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ladies and Gentlemen!

Ladies and Gentlemen!  Allow me to introduce the Amazing!.. the Spectacular!.. the ONE and ONLY...


Shhh...Please hold your applause while the maestro prepares himself for...

His Crow!

 Ta- Da!!!  (press play)

Thank you!  Thank you!  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Spider, Crater, Garden

I was about to begin my way home from work when Brandon sent me the photo above, and warned me to be careful, as the sky was ominous.  The dog spent the evening cowering in the pantry, but the storm wasn't so bad that it ripped the chicken door apart, like it has before.  

The summer thunderstorm wasn't the only frightening thing at the farm either.  Brandon made sure to direct my attention to the wall behind a tool box in the workshop... is that what I think it is?!

Oh boy - that's a huge spider!  

Handsome, in his way, with the bowl hair cut and the lightning striped pattern on his legs.  I left my muck boots in the workshop, and after meeting the spider, it took me several minutes of beating on my boots while they were upside down to get up the courage to put them on my feet.  What if that giant spider was taking a nap in there and wouldn't shake out?

The spider looks more like the photos I found on-line of the common fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus) than a type of wolf spider, but the habitat for fishing spiders is listed as forest or wetland - not a barn.  The online spider guide says they can bite if handled carelessly, and bites are painful, but not serious.  Pain is serious!  

The storm was kind enough the fill our swimming pool crater with water, which helped us realize that we have more leveling to do before we can put the pool up.  Brandon couldn't resist a dare, and went mucking around in the saturated clay.  

Big foot has been here!  If a volcano erupted and covered his footprints with ash, someone could excavate our pool crater in four million years or so and wonder what us early humans were up to.  

I had fun mixing all the old or extra seeds I have collected over the years into a single mix.  There are sunflowers, marigolds, millet, grain sorghum, corn, basil, pumpkins, squash, wildflowers, and I can't even remember everything else.  I've been needing to do a seed purge, so this seemed like a good way to plant all the exposed dirt from the pool excavation.  So far, not a single thing has sprouted on the tough clay blocks, despite my daily watering.  It doesn't help that the chickens and birds have been eating the seeds, but surely something would sprout? 

I spread some of the seed mixture on a patch of garden soil, and watered it daily too.  All kids of stuff is sprouting now, so I know all the seeds weren't too old.  I think the hard clay clumps that were dug from the pool crater are just too raw and hard to make a good seed bed.  When I water the pile, the water just runs off the surface into cracks, taking the seeds with it.  

In addition to the seed mix bed, I have an entire long row of baby sunflower plants.  These are black oil sunflowers, which are the kind found in bird seed.  With all the chickens I'm feeding now, I was curious to know if I could grow some of their food too.  Plus, sunflowers are pretty, and hopefully will have tough enough roots to penetrate our tight clay and add some good organic matter to the garden.  

I threw down some big clumps of sod, grass side down, and poked pumpkin seeds into them, and covered them with bedding from the chicken coop.  Maybe we will have a pumpkin patch!

Our good neighbor gave me some corn to plant.  It sprouted within a few days.  Zinnia seeds sprouted quickly too, and I'm still transplanting my tomatoes from the pots they have been growing in to the garden.  It's a late garden, for sure, and doesn't have much people food growing in it, but it's plenty to water and tend, so I'm getting some good motion and sun from it after sitting at the office.  

If I stand on top of the dirt pile, I get a good vantage on the garden and barn yard.  The pool crater does look like a meteor hit the earth!  The long garden beds made by rolling out the carpet remind me of the terraces we saw in the Inca ruins in Peru.  Instead of stone walls dividing the terraces, I have rows of grass.  It looks just as cool though, right?  Don't you immediately think of Machu Picchu when you see this photo? Ha!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Do You Like Blue Eggs and Brown?

I do not like them in the straw.

I do not like them in a hat.  

I would not eat them under water.

Or eat them like a scoop of fodder. 

I do not like them from under a hen.

I do not like like them in a pen.

I would not eat them from my shirt.

I will not eat them from the dirt.  

I do not like them in a pile.

I would not, could not, from the barn.

Would you, could you, in a basket?   

Eat them! Eat them! Here they are.    

Say!  I like green eggs and brown! I do, I like them, Sam-I-am.  

So I will eat them from the straw. 
I will eat from a hat. 
I will even eat them from a scoop. 
I will eat them despite the chicken poop!   

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pool Hole and So Many Eggs

This may look like a large hole and an even larger pile of dirt, but in truth, this is a swimming pool and an entire summers worth of good times, hopefully for years to come. You have to use your imagination to put in the twenty-five foot pool with deep blue sparkling water and surrounding deck and landscaping, and then imagine yourself leisurely floating in the evening sun with a tasty beverage in hand while waiting for the lightning bugs to put on their show in the surrounding fields.  When I imagine this, it helps to suppress the sense of panic I get when I see what a huge disturbance we've made to our yard.  Oh my - that's a really big hole!  Are we sure we know what we are doing? 

You may remember that I have been slowing removing top soil from the pool location to add to the tight clay soil in my garden beds.  It was apparent that I was never going to be able to move dirt fast enough for the pool to go up this summer, so we decided to rent a bobcat to speed up the process.  Poor Brandon went to fetch the machine on a Friday afternoon so we could stretch the eight hour run time rental over the weekend, and when he arrived home with the machine in tow, he was visibly stressed and announced "I will never do that again!"  Our truck isn't made to pull that much weight, and the roads to our house are challenging even without a giant trailer.  He was already dreading the trip to return it. 

Neither of us had ever operated a bobcat before, and the guy at the rental place warned that the hardest and scariest part is backing the thing off the trailer, especially if you don't know how to drive it yet.  He wasn't joking either.  

It didn't take Brandon long to figure out how to use the machine.  When he managed to really scoop up a giant load of dirt the first time we were quite excited.  The machine has two handles for directing the wheels that are very responsive to touch.  I had to laugh when we were trying to back it down the ramps from the trailer because every time Brandon would look over his shoulder to see my frantic hand motions (it's loud, so he couldn't hear my directions) the machine would turn with his head.  And always the wrong way!

The bucket on the front is operated by foot peddles, so it took a little practice to get the machine to move forward while the bucket scooped at the right depth.  

The machine keeps track of how many hours you are using it, and we paid two hundred and fifty-five dollars for eight hours.  Brandon used it for a couple of hours on Friday, and really started to get the hang of it.  After five hours on Saturday, he said he dreamed that he was driving it at night, and even felt like he was riding it when he wasn't.  We ended up going over our rental time by an hour, on Sunday, but decided it was worth the extra fee so we could avoid as much shovel and wheel barrow time as possible.  By the end, we were glad to be done.  Nine hours of digging is plenty for one weekend.  

My photos from the weekend are all of digging and eggs.  Hey Brandon, look how many chicken eggs I found in the nest boxes!  He seems a little preoccupied right now...    

You would think that people intent on digging a giant hole would have some sort of plan for all that dirt.  We didn't really.  We thought it would be nice to use the dirt to build a berm and create a pond.  But where?  The machine doesn't move very fast, and we could tell our progress digging was slower than we thought it would be, so we didn't want to drive the dirt very far from where we were excavating.  While Brandon was digging, I put on my boots and spent some time in the nearby field thinking about a pond.  

Wait, what's that in the tall vegetation?  

It's a guinea nest!  I've been wondering if they are laying eggs.  Is this just one of the hens eggs, or is there another nest somewhere?  

Although we think we came up with a plan for a pond, we decided to stockpile the dirt in a long row near the pool and garden for now, since we could tell building a pond was a task for another day.  Brandon piled the topsoil on one end so we know where to go when we need good dirt for something.  

Fifteen guinea eggs in the nest.  The eggs are a little smaller than chicken eggs, and a little more tapered in appearance.  

The dirt in our stock pile area just kept getting higher and the pile kept getting longer!  It's dense clay too, so it's in hard blocks, almost like bricks.  It's not going to be good dirt for growing things.  It's located down hill from the garden, so I'm hoping it will capture moisture on the uphill side, and make nice moist soil for growing things.  Maybe even a little band of wetland will form on one side - it is a giant clay berm, after all.  

I did a float test on the guinea eggs to make sure they were still fresh.  They all sank like rocks to the bottom of the bowl, so I know they aren't so old they have air pockets in them.  

Some of them are speckled, or striped.  The shells are incredibly hard to break, which may be because the guineas are so young.  We ate some for breakfast this morning, and they taste just like chicken eggs to me.  

Toward the end of the digging, we used a borrowed laser level to get it as flat as we possibly could.  We did a little clean up with some hand tools, and raked it smooth.  I worry that the tall wall might slip if the ground gets really saturated, and dump dirt on the side of the pool.  It's such a hard clay that it's hard to imagine it going anywhere.  It rained last night, and now there's a giant shallow puddle in the bottom of the hole.  We have plans for a french drain, but haven't decided yet if we need a retaining wall on the cut.  

Newt likes to imagine herself floating in the pool too, although I think she finds the dirt to be more relaxing than the water.  

Well, we've definitely made a mark on the landscape with our giant dirt mound.  Thousands of years from now some archaeologist is going to be quite confused by this, I'm sure.  If Brandon ever gets up the nerve to rent the bobcat again, we have plenty of material to build a pond berm.  Maybe I can figure out how to grow something interesting on it.  If I incorporate some organic matter, I could build one of those permaculture mounds (hugelkulture?), or make a giant raised bed strawberry patch.  So many options to consider while I float in my swimming pool!
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