Sunday, December 4, 2011

I am still here

Thanks to everyone who keeps asking "when are you going to blog again!?"

There has certainly been plenty to blog about in the past two months. The problem is our computer which is so agonizingly slow and unresponsive, spending much time on it at all leads to melt-downs. I feel that soon, I really will grab the whole thing and pitch it out the window.
I was somehow relieved the other day when my sister-in-law came over to take a look at it and agreed that it really was horribly and awful. And she assured us we really do have a good computer (it's only two years old!) and it really shouldn't be acting this way. I think we're going to need a total back-up and reload the harddrive, etc, etc. But who has time for that!? Hopefully in January I will.

So, that's mostly why I haven't blogged - it is just too painful and takes 10 times longer than it should! The picture part is the worst, so this will be a picture-less update.

I was thinking about my to-do list for this year that I made back in April. We just had a lovely snowfall yesterday and it seems likely it will stick around now until spring arrives sometime next year. So most outdoor activity will cease (unless you're Jeremy who thinks nothing of working out of doors when it's only 16 degrees out!).

Here's the list, and what happened:

- build a retaining wall on the south side front lawn.  I got two-thirds of this wall done before I ran into raspberry canes that were growing in the dirt that was oozing out of the sidewalk. There were flowers and berries forming on the canes and I didn't want to transplant them then. So I stopped. I never got back to this project so I'll be finishing the last part of the wall next year.

- dig up one of the laundry line poles from the north side of the yard and move it to the south side. And then use it. For hanging laundry.  Okay, so we did manage to move the pole to the other side of the yard. But we never got the line up. Which means we never hung laundry on it. One step at a time! Next year, next year...

- move our back fence all the way back to the alley as far as it will go and expand the chicken run. We didn't get to this either. There are probably going to be issues with zoning or some stupid, pointless government intervention, so we're figuring out what to do. But I think it will happen. Someday...

- finish constructing the terrace. I did make a good effort on this and got a good portion of the west side done, but it's not finished yet. Through this growing season I started re-defining what the terrace would be for. It had lots of strawberries on it but the squirrels were getting those and I couldn't protect them. I moved a good portion of those to one of our raised beds and I'll move the rest next year. Then I plan to plant more herbs and things, tons of basil, lots of chives, parsley, and other things I'm pretty sure the squirrels don't care for, on the terrace.

- dig up the boulevard strip in front of our house, build a short raised bed, and plant stuff. I went back and forth on this project several times throughout the summer. Yes, I'll put a raised bed there. No, it's a bad idea.  Yes, it will be great! No, it's too much work. In the end of course it never got done. I think I've settled on a very low raised bed (for next year of course). I did dig up a lot of wild violets from that spot and moved them elsewhere. And I transplanted some of our rhubarb there. I hope they come up next year!

- I have visions of helping a bunch of people on our block also dig up their boulevard grass and plant flowers, etc. I did help a neighbor across the street with a part of their boulevard, donating lots of wild violets. We'll see how they do next spring. I think they'll need more to fill in the area.

- Plant something in the one garden bed Jeremy is leaving me, after he takes over most of the yard for mushrooms. I think we'll have room for a tomato plant and some lettuce or something. It's so funny reading this now. Jeremy changed his mind about mushrooms of course and I had all the garden beds to myself. But because of our other decision not to raise a lot of stuff from seed ourselves, we didn't have much to plant! Most of our plants came from friends and neighbors who had planted too much and couldn't fit the starts in their gardens. We ended up with 5 tomato plants from seed (and dozens more that sprouted up all over the yard all on their own), kale, spinach, leeks, spring onions, some broccoli that never made any actual broccoli, some turnips that never made it, and some beautiful parsley, sage, and rosemary.

- I want to plant a cucumber on our south fence so that it grows up the fence and then we have to use little slings to support the growing cucumbers. We did get cucumber from a neighbor which did well, but I had those in the raised beds. I put some squash of some sort on the south fence, but then it turned out that the crazy growth of weeds and flowers on the neighbors side blocked all light and nothing survived.
- After seeing a post about a giant pumpkin, I kind of want to grow a giant pumpkin. I'm not sure where to do it though... Nope, didn't do this either!

- I want to take out the ratty old dogwood in front of the house (it's in bad shape from bad pruning) and put in a fruit tree or two and espalier them. Did I even say that right? I have a lot to learn about this subject. Haven't taken out that tree yet, but I'm hoping to dig it out when the ground thaws and then look into those trees.

- and of course keep working 30 hours a week and sewing like a mad-woman to keep up with Farmers Market on Saturdays and various craft fairs and art shows! This I have certainly done! I suppose sewing like a mad woman has also taken me away from blogging. In fact, I have a big show next week - I'd better get back to sewing!

Hopefully we'll get this computer fixed soon and I can get back to blogging. I'm dying to tell more about our chickens, our brewing experiments, how the mushrooms are doing, and more!

Friday, September 30, 2011

There'll be no getting any work done now...

"It's not our fault we're so adorable!"

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


I've been reminiscing about our chickens this week.

remembering them as tiny peeping fluffballs, they were so cute!

teenagers - a bit more awkward, but still cute...

figuring out how and where to sleep...

always eating!

our first egg...

feeding them messy stuff like this, and them standing in the food and flinging it all over the coop...

chicken glamor shots...

chickens in the snow...

Why the reminiscing? Well... our chickens are all gone now.
Last Sunday we put them in boxes...

loaded them in the car...

and drove over to a friend's house who was having a chicken culling party.

They had the whole set-up. A cone (for doing the deed)...

a rented chicken plucker...

and a table with knives and cutting boards for processing.

This is NOT one of our chickens! There were 8 other birds meeting their fate that day; I didn't take pictures of our girls...till later.

Lest you think I am totally heartless (and you would certainly have reason to think that!), it was a very hard day. I was sad to see our girls go. I didn't kill any of them myself, but I did end up dressing two of them (such an innocent sounding euphemism!).

Several folks at the "party" had evisceratead a chicken before, but it had been at least a year for those who had and it's not something you just remember how to do. We had Gail Damerov's book out (which frankly isn't super helpful) and one person had been to a class and she still vaguely remembered the steps. I think the first chicken took at least 30-45 minutes from killing to putting on ice! We got much faster after that - we had to with 15 birds to deal with!

It was quite an experience I must say. One interesting thing was seeing the various levels of egg development inside the birds when we took out the innards.

And the plucker was amazing! Seemed too weird to take a video of it in action - but I'm sure you can find videos online.

At the end of the day we had a basket full of 2.5 to 3.5 pound chickens, chicken feet and necks for stock, and other innards (like liver) for...whatever Jeremy is going to do with those.

This was always the plan. The decision to do it now was prompted by two things. First, we had to buy eggs at the store for the first time in two years because the girls just haven't been laying much. (Eww, that's what we used to eat!?) And second, our friends were having a party and renting a plucker! Can't say no to that. =)

Plus it was really nice to do this as a group learning exercise instead of on our own.

The girls are in the freezer for now. I think we might can them later - I've heard that can really help the tough quality of old bird.

We've been chickenless for three days and it is very strange being out in the backyard and not seeing and hearing the girls. It's time to clean out the hen house, disinfect things, and get everything ready to go.

After all, our shipment of new baby chicks arrives in two days!! =)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


I'm on vacation this week! Or, for a few days anyway. I'm in Oregon visiting my family (here I am on the beach!) and tomorrow I'm heading up to Seattle for some meetings.
Jeremy is home managing the homestead all by himself. Poor guy - someone should go visit him and keep him company! =)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Toads and frogs and toads, oh my!

Part 1.

Out on the mushroom farm there are a lot of frogs and toads. Months ago they were tiny things, but they have gotten a bit bigger, especially the frogs. The toads are still pretty small. There are so many you have to look down while walking or you may end up stepping on them. Jeremy sees all kinds of frogs/toads when he goes out to work - sometimes they're on the logs, sometimes in one of his stock tanks full of water, always hopping all over the place.

It makes me feel like I'm way out of town, out in the country (instead of on an old nursery lot in the suburbs) to have all these frogs and toads around. I had to share some pictures. It gave me an excuse to run around catching toads - uh, not that I really needed one! No frog pictures here - those guys are way too fast and almost never out in the open.

It's very wet at the farm so the frogs love it.

Get me outta here!

So little!

It was hard to get a good face shot. For some reason the camera wanted to focus on the back legs instead of the head. Someone with an awesome camera could get some even better shots. I'd have to go back at night with a flashlight to get some frog shots. They seem to hunker down at night and not move as much, or not be as skittish anyway.

Part 2.

Yesterday I noticed the garden was looking dry. I grabbed my trusty red watering can, plunked it down under the rain barrel and turned on the tap. I filled it right up, then picked up the can and proceeded to tip it over the nearest garden bed.

Nothing came out.

Not a single drop of water. What the...!?

I tipped again; nothing. There must be debris, leaves or something, stuck in the can. I unscrewed the head of the can and didn't see anything there. Then I looked in spout part and was shocked to see this:

Sorry, that's the best I could get. It was a toad face looking back at me! I was stunned. How on earth...? It must have been in the watering can and when I filled up the can the toad must have climbed up into the spout to escape.

I figured I'd just have to push it back down the spout. I got a little stick and tried to carefully push on the toad. It closed it's eyes up tight and sort of hunched up, like it was going to hold on for it's life. I stuck my finger in there and pushed on its poor little face. I didn't want to hurt it, but how else to get it out!? And it wasn't budging.

Stubborn little bugger.

So I put the spout right under the rain barrel spigot and turned on the water. After a minute I checked and saw the toad had slid or at least backed down an inch or two. I turned up the flow of water, sat back, and waited.

Another minute or two later, and plop! Out he came:

Holy cow!! He was huge!

How the heck did he fit that far up in that tiny space!?

He seemed none the worse for wear, but was very sluggish and slow to move for about 15 minutes. I put him in a shady garden patch and checked on him every few minutes. And then - he was gone.

I have no idea where a frog that big would come from. We do have a lake nearby, but 6 or 7 blocks seems like a long distance to come. Perhaps our raingardens are wetter than we thought!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

We've been meaning to take that down...

Last week there was quite a storm over night. Lots of rain, not much lightning, and lots of wind. I remember the wind waking me up, and praying our roof wouldn't fly away!

In the morning, I looked out the back door to this view:

A large branch from one of the junk trees had come down!

Right into the rain garden.

Given that the branch had been growing over our roof, I was pretty happy that it blew down sideways instead of right down onto the roof.

Jeremy says it wasn't that big of a branch and our roof could have handled it, but I'm sure it would have at least mangled the gutters and maybe some of the standing seam of the metal roof.

Instead, it just smashed and ruined my whole Turtle Head Flower. Oh well, it will come back next year!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Progress, finally

It has been four months since I posted my wish list / to-do list for the summer. With such a late start to good weather, and then such miserable, hot, humid weather for so many weeks, it kind of cuts into what you feel like doing. Plus, I find my plans change on a daily basis if I don't just do what I plan to do. Of course, sometimes this is a good thing!

So, what has happend since that post four months ago? Not a whole lot until recently. I did 2/3 of the retaining wall out front and haven't continued with that. There are raspberry stalks growing right in the way and moving them would mean no raspberries on that stalk. So I'm going to finish that up in the fall.
I gave up on digging up the boulevard, but plan to continue that in September or October. I did some more work on the terrace (more on that later), but it's not done yet. We still haven't moved the back fence back, but that's because there were three other projects that had to be done before that!

One of them was moving that laundry line pole.

Can't see the bottom of that concrete footing? That's because it goes down really deep! I dug most of that out three months ago and that post has been sitting just so since then. That is a heavy duty, thick metal pipe and the concrete footing is maybe one and a half feet across and about 3 feet deep. (I never really got to the bottom, so don't know!) That much concrete and the pipe is very heavy. I was imagining a large group of people trying to move it...or trying to leverage it out with ropes attached to the tree above it...or swinging a mallet at it until some of the concrete came off...or explosives! just kidding.

Jeremy had to rent a mini jack-hammer for another project (more on that later!) so he was able to get off the lower couple feet of concrete.

You might think the thing would be easier to move after this, but no! This is when we discover there are these metal pieces sticking out perpendicular to the pipe, going off into the concrete still down below (which also has thick metal wire running through it!) which keeps the pipe from moving much at all now.

I'm afraid I don't have pictures between that one and this one, where the pole is safely in it's new home:

What happened!? Well, I dug out as much loose dirt and chunks of concrete as possible so we could move the pipe a little. Jeremy came out with a Sawsall and cut through the pipe. Wish I had a picture of him lying on the ground on the edge of the hole reaching down to the bottom to cut through the pipe. But I was holding onto the pipe with both hands to make sure it didn't fall in on Jeremy!

When it was cut through I was able to pull the pipe down to the ground so that huge chunk of concrete rose up out of the hole! Or close anyway. We grabbed some 2x4s to span the hole and hold up the pipe. Then, while Jeremy dug the new hole on the other side of the yard (which took about 5 minutes!) I raked and shoveled dirt into the enormous pit under the pipe - so if it decided to fall it wouldn't fall that far.

Thank goodness for leverage and fulcrums and hand trolleys for the rest of this. It was easy enough to pull the pipe upright but it was still quite heavy and not possible to carry. So we pulled it upright and laid it back down so the concrete base was facing the way we wanted it to go. Jeremy wheeled the hand trolley up to it and I just tilted the pipe up till it was on the trolley. Jeremy rolled it to the edge of the retaining wall and then he had to pick it up and rest it on a board (to protect the rocks from getting scratched. =)

Then we laid the pipe down and rolled it down that red piece of plywood; Jeremy picked up the pipe and we slid the hand trolley under it, then it was a piece of cake to roll it over to the other side of the yard.

I'm sure that all would have made much more sense with pictures, or a video! We'll have to remember that the next time we're moving some huge, heavy, awkward thing through our yard.

So I know you're asking why we did this in the first place. Why didn't we just buy a new laundry line pole from Home Depot! Well...we like to do things the hard way, that's why!
Actually, the old pipe/laundry line didn't work in its location and it was in the way of yet another project (more on that later!) so it had to go. We could have cut it off at the base and called it done, but then we would have had to buy a cheaper pipe from some store and set it in concrete and all that - when we had a perfectly good pipe already set in concrete! If we could only move it! And you all know how determined we are (er, I am!), so that's what we did.

Now for the hardest part: putting up the ropes so we can hang laundry. Maybe we'll get that done next year?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Feather Person

Once upon a time, in a CAFO far away, I became aware of myself.

"What the heck am I doing here in this wretched place!?" I bemoaned my wretched existence: crammed in a warehouse with thousands of other birds, our beaks chopped off so we couldn't peck at each other. I knew there must be something better.

One day I saw a light at the end of the tunnel - actually a hole in the warehouse. I peaked out. Sky! Grass! Bugs! Without a thought or a look back, I high-tailed it out of there.

I wandered outside soaking in my new freedom. But I couldn't wander around outside forever: surely someone would find me and put me in solitary confinement - or worse! So I hitched a ride out of there and ended up in the nearest city, Minneapolis.

Now, I know what you're thinking. Why would I go to the big city? I heard rumors that chickens are treated pretty well in the city and I wanted to check it out for myself.

I was milling around outside a tavern, trying to figure out what my next move would be, when a tall farmer-looking man came up and caught me. He was pretty good I must admit. Must have some experience chicken wrangling.

I was deposited into a large crate with lots of straw, water, and food. I didn't really like this captivity, but I guess it was better than where I came from.

After a few days, things changed. My crate was moved and the door was opened so I could get out and scratch in the dirt. I was now inside a bigger cage.

The best part was that there were others of my kind, right on the other side of my fence! Okay, so they tried to peck at me and tell me who was boss, but I ignored them. It was nice just having them around.

I missed my freedom though, so I kept finding ways to get out. One night I escaped and was trying to get comfy in a window well before I was found - and returned to my cage.

One day there was a really loud sound that kind of scared me so I escaped and ran for it! I was found a few yards away - and returned.

A couple nights in a row I escaped (and boy escaping is getting harder - they keep putting up more fencing, with smaller holes!) and I was trying to settle down way up high on top of the wood pile. But I was found - and returned.

I understand these folks are now calling me Houdini. That's fine with me - no one can keep me caged in for long! I've escaped seven times, and I'm just going to keep doing it.

I think these people are getting it. I escaped again last night and this time they didn't come looking for me. They let me stay out all night - to sleep where I wanted and rise with the sun to peck at bugs and scratch and eat greens.

But you know, I kind of missed my chicken friends, and the easy access to food and water. So I went back. And now I'm back in my cage again.

I'm sure this is only temporary. Some day I'll find a place to call my own and live happily ever after.

(with apologies to May Sarton, who wrote The Fur Person)