Spring

The sun has finally decided to shine here in the soggy Pacific Northwest and it feels wonderful. I just thought I would share some of the stuff we’ve been up to while I’ve neglected to write.

IMG_3760

We built some raised beds. We planted asparagus in two of them and some potatoes that we had left over from last year in the other two. The asparagus is making a straggling start but the potatoes are going gangbusters. The potatoes were an unplanned exercise in seed-saving. I didn’t even think about it until I was checking plants today but we grew those potatoes last year and now we’re growing a new crop. Awesome!

We also got two new Langstroth hives going. I added another deep box to each one yesterday. They seem to be going strong. The different hives make it much easier to check their progress. So far no signs of Varroa mites. Knock on wood. I also discovered (thank you YouTube) that punk wood makes a most excellent smoker fuel. Punk wood is that spongy, rotten wood you find on the forest floor, the kind you can crumble in your hand. Pick it up, put in the barn somewhere and let it dry. Smolders forever.

We’ve been walking in the woods a little this spring – mostly because it’s been too soppy to do anything else – and it’s always an adventure. The pink flower above and the berry below it are wild raspberry. The mass of golden flowers is Oregon Grape. So far I’ve not been able to beat the wildlife to the ripe fruit but I’m going to keep an eye on them this year and see if I can finally taste them.

IMG_3882

I got a wild hair (hare?) and decided to try carving a goose egg. The only tool I have is a $9 Dremel knockoff from Harbor Freight but it was still fun and a hobby I’m thinking of continuing.

IMG_3936

Speaking of goose eggs, ours are finally starting to hatch. We’ve got three goslings so far. I don’t know how many will actually hatch because the two geese that sat decided to sit on the same nest. If you can get used to the noise I would say that geese are probably the easiest, cheapest livestock we’ve tried so far. The vast majority of their diet is grass and they basically keep themselves. We built them a shelter but they only used it for nesting. They certainly don’t mind being out in the rain. We’ll see how it goes when winter rolls around.

IMG_3962

And finally, this little lady showed up today. This is Tilly the cow. She’s a four year old Jersey. She’s open and dry, meaning she’s not pregnant and not giving milk. That’s okay. I wanted to have her for a while before breeding her.

I can’t believe we have a cow!!

She’s halter trained and also pickets which is good because our fences are still not complete. Next week I will use electric fence to make her a paddock off the barn so she doesn’t have to be tethered all the time. Although, I must say there is something romantic about staking out a small house cow and moving her throughout the day. It’s one of those rosy, probably not too real, romantic images from the past.

Did I say I can’t believe we have a cow?! Well I can’t! 🙂

I think that’s it for now. Waiting for Tilly’s arrival today has just about worn me out.

I hope you are all doing well.

-J

Eggs Must Be Gathered

Despite all the chaos in the world eggs must still be gathered. Seeds must still be planted. Wood must still be cut and joy can still be found.

Even when I can’t find the energy to write in my farm journal the coop must still be cleaned and the grass mown. I still find the pink blooms of wild raspberries on my walks in the woods and I still wait with piquant anticipation on the arrival of goslings.

This weekend will extend the berry bed to enclose the new gooseberry and currant plants. We will buy and install bird netting because birds don’t follow politics.

The elk still appear on my morning drive to work.

I am so thankful for the things that must be done, they pull me up and away from the steady stream of bad news. They don’t replace the needful drumbeat of action but they temper, somehow, the berserker urge – like a large anchor on a small tempest tossed boat.

 

Since Last We Spoke

Where to begin?

Well so far on this farm adventure I’ve traded chickens for rabbits and half a pig for some geese. I’ve got to learn to trade things for cash someday.

After receiving my husband’s permission of course, I sent a note to a Craigslist advertiser and traded the pork for one gander and five geese. They are an awesome addition to our little homestead. They did, however, precipitate quite a struggle to prepare for their arrival. Have I mentioned that it’s been raining ALOT here? 🙂 I know I have.

IMG_3654

I can’t think of much that is more frustrating than trying to build a fence in the rain. Except maybe trying to build a fence in the rain in soil that is 90% clay. Jeez what a pain.

IMG_3661

And I mean constant rain. And then of course there’s always the adventure of digging in the ground on a place that’s been occupied for almost 100 years.

IMG_3659

Because there’s a rule that no matter where you dig, that’s where the waterlines will be. Yay! More water!!

IMG_3680

We literally were hanging the gate 30 minutes before the geese arrived. They have been worth it though. They are so pretty to watch. And within an hour of being here they gifted us with our first goose egg.

IMG_3663

Don used it to make a pineapple upside-down cake and it was awesome. We’ve gotten three more. From what I’ve read online goose eggs are prized for baking and making pasta. Who knew?

In a total non sequitur, I had a tingly, slightly eery experience while raking rabbit poo from underneath the grow-out pen. I found this:

IMG_3648

At first I thought it was a steak knife. When I picked it up I decided it must be a letter opener.

IMG_3652

Upon closer inspection though it turned out to be someone’s Athame or magical knife used during Wiccan ceremonies. I am just so curious as to whom among the previous residents of this place was practicing moon magic. It’s by far more interesting than the various car parts that keep working their way out of the soil.

IMG_3710

And finally, in a perverse f-u to the traditional farm cycle and rebirth that is spring I processed the rabbits and sent the pigs to freezer camp this weekend. The pigs dressed out at about 200 pounds each and the rabbits at about 2.2 pounds. We should be set for meat for awhile.

It’s been such an interesting experience raising animals for food. I’ve lost a lot of my Beatrix Potter view of them – there’s nothing romantic about chickens and geese mating, and rabbits and pigs can be vicious to each other – but at the same time I feel more connected to the world I am a part of. I don’t have any deep truth to share or even any insight. Mostly I wonder at the cosmic joke of a hairless ape practicing animal husbandry.

Just A Big Ol’ Data Dump

img_3512

The night of my last post we had a snowstorm blow in. Somewhere between 12 and 16 inches depending on how you measure I guess. I measured 12, my coworker who lives two miles away measured 16. He measured 5 inches that evening then wiped it away and measured 12 more the next morning. I just let the snow pack down. Potato, potahto.

img_3529

I know it’s not much to those of you who live further north or in the northeast but for this Texas boy it was quite the show. This was the scene Monday morning so we had a day-in. (Does “in” count as a preposition if I hyphenate it with day?) Luckily, or unluckily depending on your perspective, it started raining and the snow was gone by Wednesday morning. Unfortunately the snow and the continuing rain have added up to a new precipitation record. On Thursday we were 1.5 inches away from doubling the normal precipitation for February… and it’s on the 18th. Still it was beautiful while it was here. The snow looked like nothing so much as the top of a frosty white cobbler and every footprint was the first footprint.

img_3534

Even the pig pen was somewhat romantic. Somewhat. The poor guys were literally knee deep in mud by the time I could move them. I don’t think they would’ve minded but the water and feeder are attached to the sides and as the pigs sank reaching sustenance became quite the chore. Speaking of the pigs, I’m not sure if I mentioned it but one of them got sick two weeks ago. We had to call the vet – a GREAT guy by the way and someone we will stick with – who prescribed some antibiotics and wormer to cover all bases. The change in the pig was nothing short of miraculous. I hope that the warranted concern over antibiotic abuse does not overshadow the legitimate good they do when used properly.

img_3543

I went out today and measured these guys and if my calculations are not too far off they weigh about 195 pounds. They always look so much smaller in pictures than in real life. How come the camera is never that kind to me?

They will be headed to the butcher on the 20th of next month so I’m guessing they will be around 210 pounds or so. We’re going to keep one, one half of the other is promised to my friend and coworker for all his help over this past year, and I’ve been trying to sell the remaining half. Thought I had it sold yesterday but the buyer flaked out today. I haven’t told Don yet but I’m thinking about trying to trade it for some geese. I’ve always wanted geese. Don’t know why. I guess if worse comes to worse we’ll eat a lot of pork. First world problems.

We put a second roof on the machine shed. Some people might call it another tarp. 🙂 It’s working though and it’s cheap and instant, which as I’ve mentioned, our current weather situation demands. We also completely embraced our white-trashiness and ran plastic down the back of said shed to divert water away from the walls. It looks like hell but for the first time since summer the floor is completely dry. I can’t tell you how happy that makes me!

The rabbits are growing and will have to be separated by sex tomorrow. They’ll soon be 10 weeks old and are capable of breeding around that age. In the span of a month we went from three rabbits to 16 so we definitely want to prevent any more if possible.

img_3548

This little guy joined the farm the day before yesterday when he just showed up. I went out to feed in the evening and he was standing in the breezeway. At first I thought one of our does was loose. Then I thought he might be wild but he didn’t scram as I got closer and he’s a pet breed, lion head I think. I keep saying he but it may be a doe, I haven’t checked. I put out ads on local Facebook pages and asked all the neighbors but no claims so far. He loves to have his head rubbed. I have a bad feeling that someone dumped him.

John Henry, our rooster, is still separated from the hens. Maybe not for much longer though. The hens’ feathers are growing back and we will need to start a new batch of layers soon. Our current flock will go through their first molt in a few months and then their laying will begin to slow. I’m thinking of trying a batch of Cornish Crosses this year for the freezer as well.

I ordered two more packages of bees today. They will be here April 15 and their Langstroth hives are waiting. I’m looking forward to trying again, this time with more standardized equipment.

That, my friends, is all the news fit to print here at Creating a Home(Stead).

 

Tough

img_3493

Neither of my colonies made it through the extreme low temps and sogginess we had a few weeks ago. When I finally convinced myself that they were gone I went out and took apart the final hive. I found what I think is evidence of foul-brood. I can’t prove that it is foul-brood but more importantly, I can’t prove that it’s not.

Foul-brood is a fungus. The spores are almost impossible to destroy and it’s extremely contagious. Basically your bees just rot. Not enjoyable.

I set the hive boxes in the barn for awhile until yesterday when I finally convinced myself that they had to go on the burn pile. A part of me feels despair. I built those boxes. I built them out of scrap wood that would have gone to the landfill. It was my determination alone that brought them into being. Now I have to burn them.

I have a William James quote taped up in my cubicle at work:

Be willing to have it so. Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.

I moved the boxes to the barn because I was not yet willing to have it so. I was still telling myself that it might not be foul-brood or that I might still be able to salvage my effort. But that was not true. And by refusing to acknowledge this reality I was blocking any chance of recovery. Now that I have settled into reality I can take action. I will burn the boxes and remove the main infection. I will use my weed burner to disinfect the hive stand. And I’ve already bought one Langstroth hive in preparation for the upcoming season.

Recovery is not without discomfort but it sure feels better than denial.

 

 

Consequences

  
John Henry was a steel driving man and now he’s in sexual harassment jail. We are right at the bottom end of the rooster to hen ratio and we have a young, very game rooster. I am looking for more hens but until they show up JH must live a cloistered life.