Saturday, April 12, 2014

My feet hurt....

And I'm ready for a good nights' sleep.  The greenhouse has been tidied up and all 43 tomato seedlings repotted into quart-sized grow bags to give them more root growth before they can be transplanted outside.  It will be a few more weeks before I can get them into the ground safely.  The old timers say that when the snow is gone on a certain ridge that it is safe from frost to plant your garden.  Last year when the snow was gone from the ridge, we had one night of a killer frost that froze all the fruiting flower buds and did all sorts of damage to cold hardy vegetables, such as cabbage.  Even the tomatoes that had wall-o-waters around them suffered a blow.  Lots of locals had to replant their tomatoes and no one had any fruit on their trees.  Even the wild fruiting trees were not spared with the exception of those that were in sheltered areas.  Even those were few and far between.

Greenhouse clean up included removing the pipe frame that held the plastic sheeting and moving stuff around so I can get the seedling trays that don't require bottom heat set up in the southern exposure of the greenhouse.  I also trimmed out more dead plant material and fallen leaves.  Citrus fared really well this year.  The fruiting cacti that froze and rotted were pruned and the good parts were put into pots to root again.  I will have to set it up differently next time to prevent them from freezing, short of putting them in the basement.  I didn't water them over the winter months and they still froze.... except one, which is a different variety (some pink variety) than the others.  Maybe it is more hardier.  I don't really know.  The yellow dragon fruit is pretty easy to root but the red one that did get zinged is a booger to get rooted without the cut parts rotting.  They were all next to each other under the sheeting with the heater, so go figure. 

All the straw that I had on the ground during the winter has been removed and chucked out into the garden area.  Even the bind weed (morning glory) that sprouted up in the greenhouse has been pulled up and disposed of properly.... ie: into a trash bag.  If I were to toss it out with the straw into the garden it would only re-root and cause me grief in the long run.

Hive has been checked and fared really well.  Since the girls have been entering the hive with loads of pollen, the candy board was removed.  The pollen that I put in a few weeks ago was untouched so it was removed, too.  I'll write another post on some thoughts about what we will do differently next winter on the bees.  Every beekeeper you ask on how to do something will tell you a different.  For example, you ask 10 guys what to do and you'll get 12 different answers.....clear as mud. :-)
Anyways, so since we've been on the go with the longer daylight hours, below are some pictures of what we've been doing:

Snow?  We thought it was Spring
What was that, you say?  Snow?  Seriously?!  Get it OFF my fur!  NOW!


Peeps - time for the bigger ones to get booted out

Removed candy board from hive - will save the candy for winter

Clean candy board frame - won't put newspaper in next time.  It just holds too much moisture and molds
Re-seeded pepper seeds and time to transplant the tomato seedlings

Soon to be transplanted outdoors
Tomatillos and luffas outdoors in the shade so they don't get sunburn.


When you have critters, at some point, you'll need to treat someone.  This case is a minor infection one of the pullets received from the young, inexperienced roo who gave her a nice welt on the noggin.   Open wound + dirt = the above picture.
Time to set up for seedlings
It's a lovely day for a stroll

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Mud & Muck

Woke up to wacky weather yesterday in which the clouds didn't know if it should rain, snow, or part for the sun to peek through.  The ol' barn cat was disturbed that the white stuff dared to fall upon his fur but since it went away about as quickly as it blew in he decided it was time to nap in the greenhouse... if only he could reach the handle with his furry paws.  The girls agreed that a nap would be nice after all the hard work that morning of chasing the mouse that made a home in the wood pile.

But by noon we were able to venture outside to tackled the stream that is actually runoff from the hay fields.  It meanders around and follows along the corrals.  The years of no one living here left the duck pond silted in and overgrown with cattails which causes the water to go where ever it pleases.  The corral posts are showing some decay.  Last year Mr. H dug out part of the pond area for the waterfowl but it is slow hard work by shovel and pick.  It seemed to help with the seepage out towards the corral posts and none of the cattails that were dug out grew back, with help from the goose, too, who gives them a good work-over when they dare try to grow back.  She will pull the small ones out, roots and all, then nibble them down to nothing.  Geese are excellent grazers and weeders.  She also likes the wild chicory.

The storm that dumped on the valley a couple weeks ago eroded some of the pond and the runoff area so it needed some tlc.  The stream path was cleared of grass and rocks (Rocks!?  What a shocker!), we moved the duck water trough to a firmer location (it was sinking in the mire) and shored it up with...  rock.  It is a bit too high now for the ducks to hop into so I'll have to mess with it on a day when the wind isn't blowing my head off.  I don't mind the wind really but when it is cold and frosty, well, I've got better things to do than to freeze.  Like patch my left rubber boot.  It is in dire need of a patch and it was a little tough trying to get the trough adjusted without going at least ankle deep in muck.  Playing in muddy water (which waterfowl do lurk in) that can seep into your boot is not exactly a highlight of the day. ;-)

Hopefully tomorrow will bring nicer weather.  The weather guessers are predicting more rain but today was suppose to rain earlier today and that never materialized until late this evening. I think we're going to start to grow webbed feet or we need to build a large boat. But if it does decide to storm, or if the wind hangs around like it sometimes does after a storm, there are plants in the greenhouse that need to be watered and I do need to figure out where to plant the ones in pots that need to be transplanted here quickly before it is too late for them to get a good root going.  I also need to finish up plotting out the garden for this season.  Not to mention the gazillion other things that need to be done.  There certainly doesn't seem to be enough hours in the day....

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Cream of Potato soup

The mountains are covered with mist and clouds and occasionally peak through to show that they got a dusting of snow, while the valleys get bursts of rain mixed with some hail and wind.  A really good day for a hearty soup.

Cream of Potato soup

4-5 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2"-1" cubes
1/4 cup finely diced onion
2 tablespoons olive oil (lard works, too)
1 quart whole milk
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt 
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 pound pork sausage or chorizo, cooked (optional)

Cook potatoes in enough water to cover them, until soft.  Drain the liquid into a separate bowl (you'll use the liquid in your soup) and set the potatoes aside. In a large pot melt the lard and cook the onions until translucent (you can also cook the sausage with onions, if desired).  Add flour and then slowly whisk/stir in the milk and potato water.  Cook until thickened.  Stir back into the soup the cooked potatoes.  (If you didn't add the sausage with the onions you can also add it at this point, too.)  

Serve with crackers or a nice homemade loaf of bread with butter.  You can even top your serving with some shredded cheddar.  Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Just busy....

The ol' barn yard
A bit of background on the ranch.  It's an old homestead property that was passed down a generation and the former owners had passed on several years ago.  The land had been leased out for cattle and a bit of hay for many years before they died and since the farmer was getting on his years, a lot of the old wooden structures started to fall into various states of disrepair.  Nothing really unusual since wood does eventually rot and breakdown, and unattended cattle are rough on things.... like the barn that was full of hay.  It has several cow-sized holes covered with plywood most sides of the barn.  So needless to say, a lot of work needs to be done to clean up overgrown brush, busted up buildings and junk that has been buried by debris and dirt.

The snow melted quickly this year.  A few days of rain on top of that and things got pretty muddy around here, causing a never ending load of laundry. Last fall we cleaned up dead brush and debris from a section of the main irrigation ditch.  It gets quite a bit of flow from snow melt and spring rains.  We never did get to the larger of the debris dams before the weather came in so when 2 inches of rain fell within a 24-hour period things got soggy really quick.  Definitely a good day for waterfowl.

This past weekend we planted some bareroot fruit trees to get them established fairly well before winter rolls in again.  Hard to think about planting when it is 23F in the morning, 60F in the afternoon and winter arriving again in several months.  If you are buying bare root trees the best thing to do is see what is growing in your neighbors yard or ask some of the old timers.  Just because they sell it at the big box nursery it doesn't mean it will do well in your location.  We purchased the trees from a small nursery south of us but they are varieties that should do well for our locale.  But if you do purchase from the big box nursery or from online, do your research for the temperature extremes that your zone may receive and check that against each plant/tree variety to see if they can handle those temperatures.

The garden won't get set in for a while since it is still too soggy to till (and too cold to plant) but the seedlings in the greenhouse are doing fairly well.  Tomatoes need to be transplanted along with the few peppers that popped up.  The hot pepper seeds are stubborn but I am beginning to think that I have too much soil between them & the heat mat. So I will attempt again with my theory of less soil (about 3/4"-1" instead of the 1.5" that I have in there now).  It is damp enough but just may not be getting hot enough to encourage them to germinate despite the piece of plastic wrap on the top of the soil.  I haven't checked this week but the seeds may have begun to rot at this point, but some seeds can take up to 2 months to germinate.

Another daily activity around here this past week has been harrowing the fields.  Kind of like de-thatching your lawn (which we did a day ago) but with an implement that looks like a gigantic chain link fence being dragged behind a tractor across the field. It pulls out the dead matted grass and rocks.  Lots of rocks of various shapes and sizes.  In which case, said rocks must be removed from off the pasture and taken back to the rock field or used to shore up irrigation ditch from the spring run-off.

The greenhouse is getting a work-over, too.  Most of my dragon fruit cactus have freeze damage and need to be trimmed.  One of the aloe's died, the other is doing well.  They both were next to each other so go figure.  Some plants that went dormant never came out and need to be added to the debris heap.  All of the straw that I put on the bottom of the greenhouse is coming out - I won't do that again since it retained more moisture than I expected.  I had placed the straw on top of the rocks thinking it would give it an extra barrier against the frost that seeps in from the sides but it did not do any good in keeping the pot bottoms from freezing or against moisture. It will get tossed out into the garden to be tilled back into the soil.  I also have an assortment of plants that need to be transplanted.  They are being pulled out from under the plastic to get acclimated to cooler temps and soon they'll get planted but not until the latest weather pattern blows through.

Chicks are growing fast - from what we can guess at this point is that there are Buff Orpingtons, Easter eggers, Cochins, a Wyandotte and maybe a Jersey Giant in the mix.  Pretty sure that 2 of the Buff Orpingtons are roosters, and possibly the Wyandotte, too.  I added three Welsummer chicks over the weekend when we picked up the trees.  They are little cuties and I look forward to seeing those dark brown eggs mixed in with the green, tan, brown and white eggs.

The Heritage Rhode Island Reds (RIR) are laying now and the black Silkie is going broody. Soon we'll have some RIR eggs set under her to see how the youngster roo is doing or at least hatch out a batch from the 'foster' chickens.

Well, back to work.... rain is coming.
runoff from big hay field
Day for ducks.... again

Just a little bit of flooding

beware of the rapids!

buttercups going to a more favorable spot
planted and bees are happy

Girls are busy

Bringing in pollen

Dethatching lawn

result of dethatching

Harrowing big hay field

new fruit trees


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Mystery peeps

Ah, the adventure in the world of chickens continues.  Never have we purchased straight run chicks before.  They all have been by breed and we knew what sex they were.  'Straight run' means that you don't know what breed of chick you have, nor what sex of the chick is.  It is a complete mystery (unless you are familiar to what the chicks of various breeds look like).  You get what you get.

Peeps in the familiar glow of a red heat lamp bulb
The chick in the center/back is the largest of the batch.... meet Chickzilla.
On the way back from a farm-related trip south we dropped into a feed store and they had 'chick days' going on for the week... meaning a good special on a days old chicks, chick starter food, feeders/waterers, etc.  But since a long drive home was ahead of us we decided to stop at their other store closer to home so we wouldn't stress them too much. 

Now we have 15 little peeps to add to the flock, if they all survive and if they are not all roosters!  Sometime you can have a chick with a condition known as 'failure to thrive' where the chick fails to grow and dies of the condition.  We had one chick do that in the past out of 4 chicks that were purchased at the same time, two each of two different breeds.  Three of the chicks began feathering out whereas the one did not show any signs of growing any feathers at all, keeping its downy fluff.  It died before the weeks' end.  

So far, these all seem to be in good health but you never know.  We're going to take photos of the chicks now and then compare them to when they get older to see if our guesses on the their breed are correct.  I am really curious as to what breed Chickzilla is.  It is the largest AND fluffiest chick I have ever seen.  Looks like it has fur instead of peep fluff but is sure is cute.

Happiness is a box full of peeps! :-)

Darning socks.... well, sort of

When Mr. H was away on a job over the summer a fellow worker led him to this handy mending glue.

Bish's Tear Mender liquid adhesive for fabric and leather.  It is a really good product.  I've been using it to glue patches on our jeans where we've caught them on barbed wire or the kids' jeans where they've worn them out at the knees.  Put a thin layer of the adhesive on a patch, place the patch to the inside of the pant over the area where the rip/tear is and then let it sit for about 15 minutes to dry.  Then you can either launder the garment or wash and dry it.

The patched area does not come apart, even with drying it in the dryer.  All of the iron-on patches I have purchased over the years or spray on adhesives onto patch material have all curled along the edges thus requiring me to run a set of stitches along the edge of the patch material.

But this mending adhesive is really different.  And it works.  Chicken girl has some thick cotton socks that she has been wearing the heels out.  I have tossed several pairs since I don't like to mend them and usually mending them doesn't make them last any longer.  And I hate mending cotton socks because no matter what kind of threads or yarns used it makes them pretty much unwearable.  The mended area is bulky, uncomfortable and it usually does not last very long anyways, so into the trash they go.

But these socks are a little higher quality than most and were also a little more money to purchase so it is pretty painful to toss in the trash can.  Nothing is wrong with the sock except where she wore them out.  So out of curiosity one day I thought that since this mending glue works so well that I'd try it on her socks.
Worn out sock, mending glue, denim patch (cut from old jeans) & wooden darning egg

Put a thin layer of the glue on the outer edges of a denim patch.  The adhesive reminds me of watery glue so be careful when you squeeze the bottle.  The patch used was cut from an old pair jeans that the kids outgrew.

With a darning egg (a rubber ball would work, too - anything that if the adhesive seeps through onto the object you are using that it will rub off easily.  It is like rubber cement as it is drying.) in the heel area to open the hole a bit, place the gluey patch over the hole.  Then press firmly to be sure all the edges are down upon sock.  You may have to add a little more glue around the edges if you missed a spot.

As you can see in the photo below the curve of the heel is still in place after the patch has been applied.

Let the sock dry for about 15 minutes and there you have it....
 ... one sock, almost as good as new!  And even better yet, Chicken Girl says that they aren't uncomfortable nor do they rub on her heel.  

One note of caution is to test it on a inconspicuous place on the garment if the fabric is thin.  The liquid will ooze through thin fabrics such as homespun cottons or light weight flannels (loose weave fabrics).  Garments made of denim you may not have the seep-thru because they are usually a thicker fabric and denser weave.  Reason I say this is because I did use it on one of Mr. H's old quilt-lined flannel jackets that was ripped up pretty badly and it looks like he got some sort of clear lacquer finish on it where the adhesive oozed through.  If I had put the patch on the outside of the garment, instead of on the inside, I would not have had the end result of the adhesive showing through.  But thankfully it is ranch wear and I don't think the critters are fashion critics.  

A family friend even used it to hem his denim pants and I used it on an old waterproof fabric raincoat that had torn with good results.
So give it a try if you think it is worth the money.  It is not cheap but you do use it sparingly.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.  (I do not receive any ad benefits from this product, I just like it and was worth sharing the tip.)

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Spring cleaning

Despite rain, things still need to be done around the farm.  We did receive a break from the wet stuff so I scrambled to get something done outdoors.

The greenhouse received some much needed attention since the weather is warming up and plants are starting to awaken from their short winter's nap.  I pulled all the plastic sheeting off of my sissy plants that I covered within the greenhouse to give them a nice blast of sunshine during the few hours we were blessed with it and also gave them a little water.

inner greenhouse frame & Winky the Cat
My greenhouse helpers (below) were happy that the greenhouse was open for some much needed solar charging.


I also cleaned out and trimmed dead debris, moved pots back onto the top shelves in the southern exposure of the greenhouse and moved the Christmas tree out from under cover since it was too warm for it under the plastic sheeting.  It will be planted in the next few months so it needs to start to acclimate now.  Before closing up the greenhouse, the sheeting was put back in place, as was the portable heater because I know that if I don't, it will freeze.

Last winter I lost all of my potted pines - all 4 of them.  We had 2 weeks of subzero and low single digit temperatures and I completely forgot about the pines in their pots.  Stupidity is the only explanation for leaving potted plants out in the weather.  I knew better than that but I just completely forgot about them.  I should have put dirt around their pots at the very least.  Dumb.  I even lost my potted rose bushes but not from being out in the weather.  It was from the permafrost that crept 2 feet into the greenhouse as the poor things were just beginning to start to sprout from their dormancy. The shock of the sudden drop in temps and the pot bottoms freezing killed them.  They were not under the plastic sheeting cover that I had in there.  Being that we had moved here so late in the year our plan was to plant them in the spring.  Just a few lessons learned.

This winter I put rocks down inside along the south wall, then a layer of straw to lift any pots that were within that 2-foot range up off the ground.  Not that it prevented the permafrost from creeping in but it kept the pots off the ground and from freezing the bottoms.  I also placed the plants that were dormant or in a state of dormancy within that zone.  The other thing I did was lay down boards along the outside of the south and north sides of the greenhouse. And to keep the snow away from the sides of the greenhouse.  So every time the snow fell I dutifully cleared the snow.  It seemed to help keep the permafrost at bay but then we did not get as much snow this year nor did we get as cold.

Another step I took was to put cardboard all along the walls that I could remove on days of sunshine to let the sunshine in but it would help keep heat in during the night.  We also created a greenhouse within the greenhouse again.  No sense in heating the entire greenhouse when the heat would only rise to the top of the greenhouse and not do the plants on the ground any good.  It seemed to help - I still lost some plants but only because I did not keep my 'path' in the middle wide enough for the warm air to travel down the middle of the plastic sheeting tent.  But overall, it was a success.  The citrus did not drop their leaves like they did last winter but maybe they are getting a little more acclimated to their new home.

Before next winter I will set down more rock inside and would also like to add either sand or gravel to bring the level up inside.  Another project is to put raised beds on the north and south side of the greenhouse to help keep the permafrost creep out.
Seedlings are still going strong.  I may even have some jalapenos sprouting.  There is hope yet for them.  It has only been 2 weeks and some pepper varieties can take up to 8 weeks to sprout.  The second batch of pepper seeds have not rotted so they just need a little more time. The seedlings that I have in the house need to be transplanted into grow bags and can be moved back into the greenhouse.  
Rain predicted for tomorrow....  it may be a good day to do some transplanting.