Jacques and Little Pete

Today, after evening chores, Jacques, the adopted stray also known as “that dog”, broke his tether and ran off.  This was the tether that was preventing him from killing more poultry.  It was nearing dusk, so all the free range chickens were beginning to congregate by their tractor.  It was prime entertainment for a long confined dog.  Because he was a recent adopted stray, he had no reason to respond to his new name, nor the calls of Ariana and I as we labored after him when he ran down the driveway toward the field where the chickens graze.  He disappeared into the collapsed barn that was mostly roof and scrap, as the barn wood had been mostly salvaged for building shelves, or farm structures.  Ariana chased him in, and while I was heading across one of the upper paddocks to head him off, I heard one of the cows bellow.  Pausing in the search for Jacques, I looked north towards the new paddock I had set up this morning.  I could see that one of them was up in the corner, near the water.  They usually only bellow if there is a problem, so I wondered if one of them had gotten themselves stuck in the brambles.  Making note to check on them, I returned to watching for Jacques just in time to see a flock of chickens and two geese running north, away from their tractor, where they should soon be roosting.  Jacques ran across the field toward them, but then veered south, and stopped to lift his leg at the wooded edge of the field.  He disappeared into the woods heading south.

I knew it was pointless to continue the chase, as he had a 100 yard head start, and could easily navigate the woods.  So I sent Ariana back to the house and headed over to check on the cows.  The north most part of the pasture had a narrow strip between the electric fence and some wild rose, and the steer, Big Pete, was holding up the line to get through.  Nothing to worry about.  Eventually one of those nursing mothers would give him a good enough poke with their horns that he would get out of their way.  I stood and watched them for a short while, and the 3 week old bull calf, Little Pete, walked toward me and was watching me.  The calves are short enough to walk under the electric fence, but generally do not wander far from their mothers.  I turned to head back to the chickens to keep and eye out for Jacques, and was was halfway to the driveway when I heard hooves running my way.   I turned to see Little Pete running straight towards me, kicking up his heals as he ran.  I threw my hands wide and then clapped my hands and yelled “Hey! Hey!” and he stopped.  I chased him back to the paddock, and turned again to head back to the chickens.  I was almost to the driveway when I again heard Little Pete heading my way.  I again turned, clapped and shouted, and this time he slowed down, but veered around me and stopped in front of me for a split second before running toward the driveway.  I ran after him, thinking that he would get too far from his mother and turn around to head back.  He ran into the soy field, and then up and into the neighbors yard.  Last Friday after setting up a new pasture, but before electrifying it, the cows had gotten out, and ended up in the neighbor’s garen, tromping through the sweet corn and peppers.  We only knew this happened because the neighbor called and let us know that we would be paying for it.  We went round and herded them back, and quickly electrified the fence.  As soon as Little Pete leapt into their yard, I started picturing him prancing all over the rest of the garden, and braced myself for the looming conversation with the owners.  As I was finally able to see into their yard, I caught a glimpse of Little Pete running at top speed across their lawn, and around their house.  I started thinking about the conversation I would have, asking these recently offended neighbors to help me shoo the rambunctious calf from their yard.  He circled around and came back to the road and stopped.  I only momentarily considered my next move before I turned and started running down the road toward the farm.  It worked and he raced past me and headed back up the path to the pasture.  As I began to slowed my pace, relieved to have him back on our property, I noticed Jacques running up from behind.  I put on my best casual friendly voice and called him.  He slowed down enough to allow me to pick up his leash and lead him back.  I went and checked on the cows, confident that Little Pete would be unlikely to follow me again with Jacques by my side.  All was well, and I took Jacques back to the house and tied him up again.

I am thinking about taking Jacques with us on the morning and evening chores, so he can get familiar with what his masters think is important.  He could be a good farm dog, if he can learn to protect, rather than “play” with the livestock.  As for Little Pete, I wonder if this is an indication of his future personality.  A rambunctious and willful steer could be a real challenge when he is over 900 lbs.

Mid summer update

There has been a lot going on this summer, but not much motivation for writing about it. The garden is doing well, and producing a good amount of food for our table, but it is clearly too small. But then again, we have still not really hit the tomato season yet. We have had a few handfuls off the vines, but the cool June, and cool nights for the last month or so have slowed down production. This cooler weather trend has affected the curcubits as well, and so far we have had only two cukes off the vine. I can see that we may not end up with a very good harvest if the nights continue to be so mild. My dreams of pickles lining the walls of our basement are fading. On a positive note, the small chilies, Hungarian Hot Wax, and Jalepeños have produced well so far, and are drying, pickled, or frozen (respectively). The kale is continuing to produce, and we have harvested 3 cabbages, one of which was enormous at 10 1/2 inches across and I am guessing around 7 pounds. Bea found that she is allergic to the bean vines by harvesting several pounds last week. She will need to wear sleeves and maybe gloves for the next round of picking. The leeks are still getting taller, and are around 3 feet at the moment. While the last minute potato experiment seems to be doing alright, the corn experiment right next to it does not look too promising. We have ears and tassels, but everything looks stunted and yellow. The variety has bantam in the name, but I don’t think it means the entire plant stays under 6 feet tall. A fun surprise was the hops! We planted it and let it go where it wished this year, not knowing how well it would do. It has produced quite a few cones, and the first harvest is drying now. I am not exactly sure what I will do with them, but I know people who brew, so I might send them directions west.

On the animal front, we picked up 9 more chickens from a retiree that had too many bantams. He just loves birds, but was getting to old to move all the cages indoors in the winter, so he switched to the smallest bantams he could find. The population got a little out of hand, so he he asked my friend Jason at Tractor Supply if he knew anyone who would take some, and Jason gave him our number. These little Dutch Bantams are only 7-9 inches tall, and the 4 roosters were full-grown and feisty. They are slowly integrating with “the ladies”, who now seem like amazonian giants. We don’t think we will keep them all, but at the moment, they are producing eggs and entertainment, so they are earning their keep. Ah, eggs. Our ladies just started laying last week, and their eggs are the same size as those from the mature bantams, only brown. They will start laying larger eggs in a few months, but right now we have the novelty of feeling like giants eating 3-5 eggs in the morning with our toast. We also have the 3 rabbits, but I am leaning towards shipping them off. They may be soft, but they sure are not doing anything to pay for all the feed they eat. We have contact with a girl that raises meat rabbits, so maybe we will give away some that we have in favor of some that can “make meat”.

Our freezer is slowly filling with harvested produce and berries. When apple season comes around we will look for windfall apples for making applesauce and cider, and stock up on vegetables that can be stored. We have been drying chilies, chamomile, hibiscus, hops, mustard seeds, coriander, and oregano. Our perennial bunching onions have grown in nicely, so they may be next. The bulb onions are all pulled out and hanging in braids in the carport, thanks to Ariana. She already knew how to braid them! We have noticed that we are missing garlic, so we will be putting that in this fall for next year, along with lots more onions.

I could keep rambling on and on about the garden, and plans for the homestead… but I won’t. We will be pretty busy the next several weeks with family arriving back, and visiting, as well as some serious camping. Things won’t settle down again until near October, which is feeling too soon at the moment.

Spring thoughts

I did finally order seeds. But not from any of the listed companies. I forgot to mention that I also requested a catalog from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and when that catalog arrived, I was no longer interested in any of the others. All the seeds listed are open-pollinated, non-hybrid, heirloom seeds, collected from seed-savers and gardeners from around the world. So, what did we order? Having a very limited experience with gardening and the qualities of any varieties listed, we opted for the Medium Homestead package for northern climates that includes 25 vegetables and 60 varieties (60 seed packets total). So we really have no idea yet what we will be growing, and in a way, that will make our first year of gardening just that much more exciting. There are few, if any, items in the catalog that I would not want (most likely candidates are the summer squash and the beets), so chances are, we will be happy to have whatever pops up. What I don’t care for, Bea will probably love.

I have also brought the grow lights* into the kitchen and we are now waiting to see if the 6 basil plants and 2 cilantro will come up for some early fresh seasoning. At some point we may have to find a window for them, but first things first. I want to know how this grow light thing works, so I am experimenting with the seeds we have. It has only been a week, and not a peep. Other bloggers are reporting sprouts at 10 days for some of their seeds, so maybe we will see some green next week.

Next up is the chicken order. We will be getting 25 chicks, and I have picked out the breeds. It looks like we will mix it up with Rhode Island Reds, Silver/Gold Laced Wyandottes, Black Australorps, and Buff Orpingtons. We are planning on ordering straight runs of the Australorps, Orpingtons, and Wyandottes, but only ordering sexed pullets of the Reds. The reason for this is that we want to have a cock, but don’t want to be stuck with only one to pick from if we order it sexed. So we will order straight runs, cull the cockerels that don’t make the cut, and end up with the favorite cock to watch over the hens. Why no Red rooster? Reds tend to have quite aggressive cocks, and I prefer to keep my spurs at boot level. The next week or so will be spent preparing for the chicks (heat lamp, feeder, waterer, quarters), and plans for the coop and the run will kick into high gear after they arrive (in late March?). Each of the breeds is a good dual-purpose breed, so we should end up with 10-15 good layers, and 10-15 meaty frozen chickens in the freezer. We are hoping to let them run amok (I mean free range), but if it seems like they are getting into things (like the house, or the road), or easy prey for hawks and coyotes, they will be confined to their run.

It sounds like a lot. It is. Still not sure how it will all work out, but it will. Sun is out this weekend, so optimism levels are high.

If you happen to live in a (sub)urban area, the book Keep Chickens! by Barbara Kilarski might be helpful. Many towns allow for small numbers of chickens, and they require so little space, and take care of many table scraps. Oh yeah, and the eggs!

* Bea’s dad did some work for a couple and they asked if he had use for the grow stand and lights. He said he knew some one who did! They are a great couple and have also loaned us an awesome stereoscopic microscope (2 eyepieces = magnification with depth). Frito’s are pretty nasty up close. Anyway, we are very thankful and excited about the grow lights, and will be even more so once we see some sprouts.

Busy bees

Last weekend we were the glad recipients of 14 inches of snow! Our neghbor stopped by to let us know that we were not snowed in, and that he would plow out our driveway. Very nice! He has an old ford tractor with 4 ft. tires and snow chains. While he was telling us that he would release us from our welcome snowy bondage, he also mentioned that one of the trees that they cut down in the hedgerow a few fields over had some bees and honey, and that we should go have a look. So the kids and I bundled up, grabbed a sled, and trudged over to see. We pulled some of the comb out, and there were a lot of dead bees, many smashed from the tree falling. Once we pulled out the easily accessible pieces, we could see live bees, and hear their hum ans they worked to keep the hive warm. Off we slogged, back to the house with our harvest of wild honeycomb.

There was quite a bit of it:

And it was just oozing honey:

I wrapped sections of the comb in a piece of old tee-shirt, and squeeeeeeezed…

It was a rather sticky and messy affair (I felt like Winnie the Pooh), and my fingers made regular trips to my mouth.

But it did indeed work, and in the end we had around 2 quarts of raw wild honey and lots of beeswax that was made about 500 feet from our house!

Later in the afternoon, after all the squeezing and cleanup, I took a jar over to the neighbors. After all, it was their tree, fields, and bees that made the sweet stuff.

Fields get a haircut, family plays in droppings

Over the last few weeks, all the fields have been trimmed, and it was finally time for those around our place to have their turn. Fortunately is was during daylight, and we got to watch. It is not always during the day. In September a hay field across the road and down one field was mowed and bailed during the wee hours and I went out to get a few shots. They did not turn out so well. In any case, I would not want to be caught wandering through a corn field on a moonless fall night and meet a combine.

We watched from a safe distance.

It is a durn big machine. This combine is heading back to unload the corn in a truck.

I guess we did not always maintain a safe distance. These machines are crazy.

They are called combines because they combine the functions of a harvester, husker, sheller, and mulcher. You can see the disadvantage of being downwind of this beast. Is shoots all the non-corn out the back.

It leaves the air rather dirty.

It is also the time of year that our yard stops being green in the front, and instead is covered in tree droppings. Grandpa came over and helped put together a nice pile to play in.

Man I love fall.

Magic commute

Yesterday morning was foggy and beautiful. There is an intersection on my commute that is right next to a wandering stream. The morning fog just lifts off and obscures the sun on these cool fall mornings.

All the poor spiders will have to wait until the fog lifts and the sun dries out their webs

Busy weekend

Last weekend was an interesting one. We had our first “soft” frost! It was exciting, even if it only lasted until the sun shone on it.

We have several black walnut trees in our yard, one big, and 3 smaller. All produce walnuts, but the big one is full. It is scary to see the occasional hailstorm of almost baseball sized hard green walnuts pelting the earth. So far none of us have been caught under the tree at the time. The kids go out and collect the fallen nuts daily and put them in a large box for shucking later. On Sunday I shucked 130, about 1/6th of a box. I wore latex gloves to avoid getting stained hands, but I will wear something thicker next time.

I placed each nut on the side of a cement well house foundation, and then hit it repeatedly with a hammer until the nut came free of the husk. As I did this, the juice would splatter here and there. I may have a few temporary freckles…

It was a somewhat laborious process, but in the end I had a 5 gallon bucket 1/3 full with shucked walnuts. I let them soak, and cleaned them off. Once I was confident I was not going to get any more remaining husk off, I rinsed them and laid them out to dry.

Black walnuts look quite a bit different than the english walnut you might buy in the store. They are smaller, but have a very rough shell, and are usually husked by placing (or leaving) them in the driveway and rolling over them with your car. We have already collected 3 times as many as you see here, and the tree still looks full

In other news, we now have 2 rabbits, Ginger and Cottontail. The story behind them will be the next post, but for now, say “Awww!”