Country Living Series

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A big, fatal OOPS

This is our pasture fence.

It follows the dirt road leading to our house.

Originally this fence was just a triple strand of barbed wire, which (we learned) was pretty useless to keep cows in. Later we reinforced it with sticks, which helped a great deal; but still, calves could slip through. So later, after salvaging some field fence, we reinforced the fence line and made it cow-tight.

On Tuesday afternoon Don and I took Lydia for a walk down the dirt road, following the fence line. After we got home, I jumped into the shower. When I emerged fifteen minutes later, Don said, "We have a dead deer in the pasture."

What? But we just walked past the pasture. It was empty.

It seems a lot happened in the fifteen minutes it took me to wash my hair. A neighbor called in tears. She was driving down the road in broad daylight (average speed on our road is about 10 mph) when a deer in our pasture decided to bolt in front of her. (This is a common habit with deer. I have no idea why they do it.) But it never made it to the road. Apparently it didn't see the fence at all -- despite the sticks and T-posts -- and crashed full-speed into it, bounced off, and lay struggling on the ground with a broken neck.

When the neighbor called, Don grabbed a firearm, jumped in the car, and raced over to put the poor animal out of its misery. Before he got there, however, the deer expired. So he came home. All this happened while I was in the shower.

I saw the deer the next morning, lying there with a pitifully twisted neck. By this point no one was inclined to harvest it for meat; so later in the afternoon, while I was in the city doing errands, Don took the tractor, chained up the deer, transported it to a remote spot, and left it for scavengers. We didn't want to leave it in our pasture lest it attract predators.

By the time I got back from the city (fully intending to take pictures of the animal), the only thing left were some bloodstained tufts of fur.

(Maybe it was a good thing I didn't get pictures.)

The damage to the fence is grimly impressive. It's hard to see in this photo, but there's an enormous bulge.

Here Lydia's sniffing at the ground in front of the fence. You can see the bulge a little better, in front of her.

The impact snapped the sticks in multiple places.

Why deer bolt in front of vehicles is anyone's guess. I suppose it was concentrating on crossing the road and simply didn't see the fence in its way. At any rate, it was a big, fatal OOPS -- but at least it was a quick death.


Thursday, February 11, 2016

Scratching the gardening itch

It's February. Let's face it, unless you're in a southern state -- which we patently are not -- then no one in their right mind can begin gardening this early in the season. But that doesn't keep the urge from striking

Gardening companies are clever at tapping into that urge. It's no accident catalogs start arriving in mailboxes in January, when the weather is bleakest. All it takes is a brief thumb-through of the beautifully-illustrated perfect fruits and vegetables, and wham. It hits. The urge.

Coincidentally our weather has been mild this week, with temps up in the unheard-of 50s. Except for berms and piles, the snow is mostly gone.

Don and I walked through the dead brown garden a couple days ago, planning spring's activities.

We could have a cold snap anytime, so I'm not going to risk planting anything outdoors, of course...but nothing keeps me from planting inside. I decided to scratch my gardening itch by getting some seedlings started early. Specifically I wanted to get cayenne peppers and Brussels sprouts planted.

We all love Brussels sprouts in our house, but I learned (too late) they need a very long growing season. I decided to start them indoors to see if I could get them successfully started early enough to enjoy the yummy results next summer.

A year and a half ago, I planted Brussels sprouts in the garden and they never matured. However they overwintered well...

...and (since they're biennials) they produced enormous numbers of seeds. I collected a goodly number. Incidentally, no fooling, these plants are descendants of the seeds I originally ordered from Victory Seeds several years ago.

So this afternoon I took some of the seeds...

...and rubbed them out of their pods.

I planted 36 seeds in pots large enough (I hope) to handle indoor growth for the next couple of months.

Next up, cayennes. These are last summer's ripe peppers. Again, they're the product of seed saving.

Last year I planted two flats (100 plants) and by the time I harvested the plants, only 15 or so had survived my clumsy gardening attempts. But those 15 plants yielded wonderful peppers. This time I again planted two flats' worth (100 seeds) and we'll see if I can improve my odds.

Cayennes take a long time to grow to maturity, especially by northern Idaho standards, so I like getting an early start.

Also, as an experiment, I planted ginger from a root I bought at the grocery store a few months ago, which has been sitting on the little shelf above the kitchen sink, waiting for my next broccoli-beef dish.

Instead, I noticed it was actually budding.

So, what the heck, I put it in a pot and we'll see what happens. My mother (who has a splendidly green thumb) has grown ginger many times as a house plant, so maybe this will work.

I thought about getting some red bell peppers started, but reined myself in. It's a little too soon for them.

So for the time being, my gardening itch is scratched. Let's see what grows.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Welcome to Victory Seeds

The coolest thing happened over the weekend! We were contacted by a company in Molalla, Oregon called Victory Seeds indicating they’d like to advertise with us, and were we interested?

You bet! I’ve been a customer of Victory Seeds for years. I first discovered them around 2009 (possibly earlier, I forget), and their prices and service were so excellent I ended up ordering nearly all my original garden stock from them.

Let me back up a bit. When we began to get serious about our garden as a factor of living a prepared lifestyle, we knew one thing was non-negotiable: we wanted non-hybrid (open-pollinated) seeds so we could save them from year to year. Open-pollinated plants, for those new to gardening, are not hybridized and can be bred “true.” (Hybrid seeds can also be saved, but the resulting offspring can be disappointing since they often don’t reproduce the desirable qualities of the parent plants.) The idea behind open-pollinated plants is to be able to save the seeds at the end of each season, rather than buying new seeds every spring. This, of course, increases our self-sufficiency.

There are endless non-hybrid seed companies online, and my choice of Victory Seeds was fairly random and mostly motivated by the fact that it was a Pacific Northwest company and thus presumably carried seeds more compatible with our growing conditions. As an extra bonus, I like giving my business to small family-owned companies.

For essentially a random selection, it was a happy choice. My first order was modest; my second order was larger; my third order was enormous; and over the years I’ve obtained an extremely thorough selection of open-pollinated fruit, vegetable, and herb seeds from them. I have yet to be disappointed.

My gardening education has been an uphill battle – I have something of a natural “black thumb” requiring a steep learning curve – and so I ordered a decent quantity of each kind of seed I wanted in order to see me through my failures. Even seeds that were several years old by the time I planted them have grown well. This past summer I planted some six-year-old carrot seeds and about 75% produced beautiful roots. Being biennials, these carrots have overwintered well and will produce seed by next summer.

It was through Victory Seeds that I found my beloved Yukon Chief corn. Because this variety isn’t well-known, and because I had my first outstanding success in growing corn in our short summers with this dwarf short-season variety, I left a review on their website two years ago.

So as you can see, my positive experiences with Victory Seeds goes back quite a ways. Now you can understand how tickled I was to be asked to advertise them!

I can add yet another bonus: Victory Seeds is a "prepper-friendly" business. They understand and support the needs and interests of people looking to achieve greater self-sufficiency and independence. Their website has advice on seed saving and storage, garden layout, and general tips on increasing food self-sufficiency.

In working out the details of their advertisement, we learned other things about Victory Seeds which reinforces our pleasure in having them as advertisers. It turns out the owners of the company, Mike and Denise, have a similar backstory to that of Don and myself; namely, they chucked big-city living and started a rural business doing something they love and believe in passionately. They work long hours, and pour their heart and soul into providing customers with the very best, while keeping overhead (and prices) low.

Victory Seeds has a coupon code available that will take 5% off seed orders. The code is 5off2016 and is a reusable code that customers can use as many times as they want, with no minimum order. The code can also be shared with gardening friends. The only conditions that apply are that the offer cannot be combined with other discounts, can only be used online (not valid with mail orders or after an order has been finalized), and it applies to the seed portion of the order only. This link provides instructions on how to properly redeem the code.

Bottom line, I want to extend the warmest possible welcome to Victory Seeds, and state how pleased we are to offer them an advertising platform.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

When feminism meets war

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled When Feminism Meets War.

Powerful beaks

Around here, we have a lot of red-shafted flickers, sometimes called Northern flickers.

They're lovely and showy birds, but man can they do a lot of damage in a hurry. With their powerful beaks, they can rip things to shreds. We still have holes in the side of our house from a few years ago where one decided to peck it apart to try and find bugs underneath. We have a tolerance for them as long as they leave our structures alone.

A couple weeks ago, we noticed some activity on our front porch, where have an enormous bald-faced hornet's nest still attached. This nest dates from 2012, and it's just been sitting there empty since then.

Finally it attracted the attention of a red-shafted flicker. Over a period of a few days, it systematically ripped the nest apart, searching (presumably) for any leftover larvae. (The photos were taken through the window, hence the reflections.)

In no time at all, the interior of the nest was exposed as the flicker probed for goodies.

The amazing symmetry of wasp and bee construction never fails to amaze me.

I'd been meaning to take down the old nest anyway, and dissect it, but I guess this flicker beat me to it. At least he was able to make a meal out of it. Me, I'd have just thrown it away.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Don't forget those skills!

Some time ago I read a truthful statement: Preparedness is a three legged stool. The first leg is supplies, the second leg is community, and the third leg is skills/knowledge.

Why three-legged? It's the classic geometry answer: three points define a plane. A three-legged stool doesn't wobble. Take away any one of the legs, and the stool topples.

Most novice preppers understand the need for supplies (food, gear, etc.). Endless businesses have sprung up to fill those needs.

Community is less appreciated but just as important. That's a whole 'nother blog post.

But what about skills? That's the part of the triune a lot of people either forget or dismiss as unimportant or unnecessary. After all, that's what supplies are all about, right? Who needs skills when we all have the latest whiz-bang nifty gizmo to provide us with what we need?

But remember, without that leg of skills/knowledge, the stool topples.

With that in mind, here's a link I got off SurvivalBlog from a website called Backdoor Survival entitled 12 Skills for Preppers That Money Just Can’t Buy.

"There comes a time when every prepper finally says, 'Enough with all of the food and enough with all of the gear!'" starts the article. "After years of seeking out the best stuff at the best prices, creating a stockpile, and purchasing equipment, you just might want to stop -- at least for awhile -- and focus on something else: the vital qualities and abilities that no amount of money can buy. ... The biggest stockpile in the county won’t be enough if you don’t learn the important skills that will carry you through when you’re faced with hard times. Likewise, there are certain personality traits that will enhance your ability to survive."

The article is well worth reading in its entirety; but in a nutshell, here are the skills listed:

Six vital skills for preppers
  • First aid skills
  • Gardening skills
  • Basic fix-it skills
  • Home-keeping skills
  • Defense skills
  • Outdoor skills

Essential traits of survivors
  • Perseverance
  • Frugality
  • Compassion for others
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Self-knowledge (with the interesting notation: "Some people really delude themselves with regard to their abilities...")

The author then invites readers to add to the list.

To my way of thinking, this list also underscores the need for community. No one can know it all (if they do, they're either super-human or -- ahem -- a know-it-all). But most people possess a few of these skills, either innately or by training. Ideally, within a community there is a good spread of people who can contribute to the overall skills level of the group.

But that added notation after "Self-knowledge" ("Some people really delude themselves with regard to their abilities...") is so so so true: Without exception, we all think we're more knowledgeable than we really are. None of us will know the limits of our knowledge until we're tested.

In other words, how "short" is that particular leg of your stool?

Good stuff to think about as we face an uncertain future. Meanwhile, feel free to add to the list. What are some other important skills for preppers to acquire?

Monday, February 1, 2016

Farm kid woes

Younger Daughter was baking something the other day when she made an exclamation of annoyance.

"I love how they specify one egg in the recipe," she groused, "but they never specify what size egg. Are they talking a Jersey Giant egg? A pullet egg? What?"

I doubt the recipe-writers ever think of such things, those inconsiderate simpletons.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The true definition of 'rights'

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled The True Definition of 'Rights.'

In response to the column, I got the loveliest email from a reader named Ray, who gave permission to reprint it here:
I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your weekly article.

I get up on Saturday morning and it is the first page that I read. Upon completion, I smile and then I ponder on how I can use it this week. This weeks article gave a different insight that I can share. I usually call it stealing, but now have a different frame of reference.

Thanks and if you start a daily article, you know I will be reading it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Situational awareness, rural style

Over many years of various outdoor work (field biologist, farmer, general animal-watcher) I've come to appreciate the sensitive responses animals have to their environment. A case in point: watch those tell-tale ears.

This morning, for example, I went out to feed the beasties. No one seemed alarmed or agitated (thus, no predators in the area) but I did notice these two calves with their ears twitched forward, watching something.

Sparky also had her ears tipped forward.

Notice everyone's posture: alert but not alarmed. I suspected a deer, though I couldn't see anything.

I stood quietly for awhile and just watched, and finally saw the deer. Can you see it?

Even though I knew where it was, I had a hard time spotting it until it moved, since it blended so well. (It's right smack in the middle of the photo enlargement below.)

This is just a small example of situational awareness in the wild. Animals have keen senses, and it behooves us to pay attention to the posture, attitudes, and ear positions of critters, both wild and domestic.

This hearkens back to last July when I released the chickens from their coop one morning, and they stood stock still because they saw a great blue heron up a pine tree. I'll copy over the same conclusion from that post, because it bears repeating:

These short and seemingly trivial incidents (cows watching deer, or chickens watching a heron) actually have some deeper implications for people.

Modern humans living in modern society with modern conveniences have learned to ignore the internal red flags that all creatures possess by instinct. In the kill-or-be-killed crucible of nature, to ignore a potential threat may be the last thing an animal ever does.

Yet people will do it all the time. In fact, most modern Americans have cultivated an amazing ability to disregard warning signs, both internal and external. We still have the instincts, but we're often too "civilized" to pay attention to them. But I figure instinct is there for a reason, and that reason might be very important.

This is some of the advice I gave Older Daughter as she prepared to leave the nest: to listen to that still, small voice inside you saying something is wrong. It may be saying something important. God gives us those little red flags now so we can avoid big problems later.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Amazing chainsaw art

I don't normally go for chainsaw art. While I recognize the skill behind the hewn-out bears and such that often characterizes western-style d├ęcor, it's just never been my "thing."

But this is amazing. A reader sent me this short YouTube clip showing a tree stump carving from start to finish.

Here's the "before" stump:

Here's the "after" product.

Pretty amazing, all right. The artist's webpage is here.