Country Living Series

Saturday, April 22, 2017

How to live "green"

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "Want to live 'green'? Grow some watermelons."

Some people celebrate "Earth Day." We celebrate "Live your regular life day."

Friday, April 21, 2017

Egg overload

Now that the chickens are no longer trapped in their coop by deep snow, they're happy as clams exploring the barn and scratching in the compost pile. Suddenly we're finding eggs. Lots and lots of eggs.

Yesterday in the chicken coop, I happened to glance at this old battered fire screen we keep tucked inside, in case we ever need to block the door without actually closing the door.

I don't know what inspired me to pull the screen away from the wall, but this is what I saw tucked behind:

Suddenly it seemed we had eggs everywhere.

(One of these is a fake wooden egg to encourage the ladies to lay in this spot.)

Lately I've been getting about a dozen eggs a day, but suddenly I had an additional three dozen. This was in addition to the five dozen I already had in the fridge.

There was dirt and grunge on many of them... I plopped the dirtiest in water to both wash and test them. (A bad egg floats; an old egg stands upright; a fresh eggs stays at the bottom of the water.)

All but four eggs passed the test.

I laid the rest out to dry; some on the dish drainer, the rest on a towel.

Fortunately we have neighbors who take eggs with great enthusiasm, and before the day was out I had distributed seven of the nine dozen eggs.

Grunt. It must be spring.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Building a better mousetrap

It's spring, which means mice in the house. We've been setting traps and getting rid of them before they can explode in population.

Younger Daughter found herself hosting a family of half-grown rodents in her bedroom. Oddly enough, they had apparently not yet developed the instinct to run away, so she's been able to catch them in ... a teacup.

That's all it took. Plop a teacup over the bewildered little beastie sitting in the middle of the floor, slide some cardboard underneath, and the mouse was caught.

She admits mice are cuuuuute -- but not in one's bedroom. Or any room, for that matter.

Using this same teacup, she managed to catch SIX half-grown mice over a period of 24 hours, which she released out by the woodpile (and yes, she washed the cup thoroughly). We caught five more mice in traps, and Lydia killed one more. So far so good: I think we won.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Building a bee yard

Yesterday -- a rare sunny day -- I mixed up some sugar syrup and went out to check the bees.

I thought I had put up a blog post earlier about our new bee yard, but I guess I hadn't; so here's a bit of catching up.

A few weeks ago, we knew we had to get the hive out of our barn, where we had tucked it for the winter.

Last summer we had the hive in the garden on the other side of the pond. The only problem with that location is we couldn't keep an hourly watch on the bees; so when yellow jackets started viciously attacking, it was some time before we noticed the war. The wasps devastated one hive and severely injured the other. In desperation, we moved the one remaining hive in the middle of the night to a new location next to our log pile in the driveway, in clear view of the house. The location worked so well (we walk past the hive all the time) we decided to make the location permanent.

However we needed to protect it from the cows, since once in awhile we let animals loose in the driveway. So a couple weeks ago, Don set some poles in a corner of the pasture...

...and we set up some cattle panels (some people call them hog panels) to make an enclosure.

Then, so the cattle wouldn't be tempted to push the panels from the bottom in an attempt to get at grass (which, as you know, is always greener on the other side), we moved two heavy railroad ties...

...and used them to brace the panels at the bottom so they can't be pushed.

Don also hung up and baited about ten yellow-jacket traps in a wide circle around the bee yard in an effort to catch any early queens.

Moving day was chilly enough that the bees were not yet out and about, so we closed the lid, plugged the wasp guard opening with a cotton ball...

...and strapped the hive to its base. Then we used the tractor to move the hive to the new bee yard.

The yard is spacious enough to accommodate the new incomes nucs which should arrive sometime within the next few weeks.

Anyway, as the weather reluctantly warms up, the bees can sometimes be seen outside their hive.

But because of the wet chilly spring we're having, we went to make sure the girls have enough to eat. So yesterday I mixed up a batch of sugar syrup and went out to fill the feeders.

The first thing I discovered is the syrup was entirely unneeded. There was lots of activity at the feeders, but both feeders were still mostly full, meaning the bees are finding enough to eat on their own (or using their own honey stores). A good sign.

There was also lots of housecleaning going on. One lady (upper left) was struggling to drag the carcass of a dead sister outside the hive.

Lots of activity everywhere I looked, though these photos were taken in the relatively sparse upper frames.

But most of the activity was taking place lower down, nearer the queen. I was tempted to disassemble the hive and look for the queen, but decided such an invasion wasn't necessary. Clearly she's doing her job.

What pleased me immeasurably is the sight of many bees with full pollen baskets.

Yellow pollen:

...white pollen:

...and pink pollen:

Then the question arose, where is the pollen coming from? Pickins' are still pretty slim this time of year, which is why we felt the bees still needed feeding.

But wildflowers are blooming, slowly. Here's white trillium:

Here are buttercups and avalanche lilies:

So I guess the bees are finding enough to forage. But wow, just wait until the orchard blooms, and the raspberries, and the strawberries, and the blueberries, and the lacy phacelia ... those will be some happy bees!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

He is risen!

Happy Resurrection Day, everyone!

Here's my WND column for this weekend entitled "Keep Your Eyes on the Prize."

So what's the significance of an empty tomb? Consider these words:
At the age of 64, after studying world religions, Sir Lionel Luckhoo became a Christian. Addressing audiences worldwide, including presidents, kings, parliaments, cabinets, bar associations, and the United Nations, Sir Lionel Luckhoo stated: "The bones of Muhammad are in Medina, the bones of Confucius are in Shantung, the cremated bones of Buddha are in Nepal. Thousands pay pilgrimages to worship at their tombs which contain their bones. But in Jerusalem there is a cave cut into the rock. This is the tomb of Jesus. It is empty! Yes, empty! Because he is risen! He died, physically and historically. He arose from the dead, and now sits at the right hand of God."
A blessed Resurrection Day to everyone.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Friday roundup

Goodness, I have been utterly scatterbrained this week. It's been busy, yes, but that's no excuse for the absolute blog silence. Apologies to all my loyal readers!

So here it is – Thursday – time for our "Friday" Roundup. These, as you recall, are so we can all check in on what steps we've taken, big or small, to inch us incrementally toward greater preparedness (regardless of what day it's posted).

Here's what we've done in the past couple of weeks:

• We butchered five animals last Wednesday.

We were getting way too crowded – not just at the feed boxes, but also too many for our property to easily support. Now we're down to ten animals, a far more manageable number. We're not expecting any calves this year either, since we currently don't have a bull.

• In anticipation of sorting out which animals to butcher, Don built another "airlock" gate. We're putting in fences and gates across critical pinch-points on our property to assist when we need to sort out animals.

We tested this latest "airlock" when shooing the animals not getting butchered down to the pasture for a couple of days. One of the targeted animals escaped, but since she couldn't get past the airlock, it was a simple matter to get her back where she needed to go. As Don and I lose our farmhands (the girls), we need to come up with ways to work smarter, not harder; and airlock gates serve that purpose.

• After the butchering was done, Don took advantage of the livestock being down in the pasture to clean up some more of the muck underneath the feedbox awning. We didn't want the livestock in the pasture for more than a day or two, since the grass is just starting to emerge and we don't want it trampled or eaten down too early; so after a couple hours of scooping poop, we closed the gate and brought the animals back up from the pasture.

• I planted seeds indoors:
  • 25 cayenne peppers
  • 25 basil
  • 10 Brussels sprouts
  • 10 broccoli
  • 18 tomatoes (6 large, 12 paste)
  • 10 red bell peppers

The broccoli and Brussels sprouts are just starting to come up.

It's always fun to watch an infant plant push upward.

• We picked up the four hazelnut trees we ordered and paid for last fall.

For some reason I expected these to be a lot smaller than they are, so I'm delighted they're already at such a height. Unlike the walnuts we planted last May (and may take as long as 15 years to produce), hazelnuts should bear a crop much more quickly.

Hazelnuts (sometimes called filberts) and walnuts are the two types of nuts which will successfully grow in our area. Having a permanent source of plant protein (nuts) is a valuable addition to our farm.

• It's been raining an awful lot, precluding much work in the garden, but I got a bit of a start at weeding some beds.

I noticed this little guy... the edge of the pond...

...keeping a sharp eye on Lydia.

• One of our pear trees, which bears prolifically, had two large branches growing out at awkward angles.

These would get so heavily-laden with fruit in the fall that we had to prop them up with tomato cages.

So I sawed off these two large branches, and nipped off a few smaller branches growing at odd angles. The result is a much nicer-looking tree.

• I've been admiring the birds we've been seeing:


Western kingbird:

Robin (possibly my favorite bird):


The spectacular mountain bluebird:

• We ordered two pounds (!!) of flower seeds, specifically a species called lacy phacelia.

These flowers were among the mixed seeds we planted in the orchard last year.

The bees went absolutely ballistic over them.

Come to find out they're extraordinarily heavy nectar-producers. They're also friendly to cows (some farmers even plant them for grazing). We're planning on sowing the mounded hillsides of nasty clay dirt that was piled when the pond was dug. This will not only stabilize the slopes, but provide endless food for the bees.

• I'm working on the talk I'm giving on May 6 at the Northwest Preparedness Expo in Prosser, Washington. This is put on by an nifty church-based group called the Lower Valley Assembly whose purpose is "to promote the advancement of self-reliance and security within the Lower Yakima Valley in accordance with the laws of nature and the commonly held Judeo-Christian principles by which the United States of America was founded." Hopefully if anyone's in the area, you can attend the expo.

That's what we've been doing around here. How has everyone else done as far as preparedness?