Sunday, January 8, 2017

Catching Up #1

It's time to get started on these catch-up posts.  I'm going to do them by topic, so the first one is going to cover the saga of 'The birds'.  (With apologies to Alfred H.)

This year we added to, and later subtracted from, our chicken flock.  It all started when our one reliably broody hen went broody once again.  We were hoping it would happen and was glad when it did.  We carefully selected the eggs we wanted to her sit on and sit she did!

In the mean time, since she was sitting in a nest box some 18" off the floor of the coop, we set about building a nursery annex to the coop.  We ended up with a "nursery annex" box off the west side of the coop a little more then twice, in each dimension, the size of a nest box.  It could be opened to the coop or blocked off.  It had a separate pop door to an isolated yard space set up for chicks.  We still need to paint it, but we didn't want to paint and then drop the hen in, so we left it unpainted until next spring.
The "Nursery Annex" all ready to go.
When the nursery was done we moved our broody hen there and waited for the chicks to hatch.  18, 19, 20, 21 (OK, so maybe we counted wrong), 22, 23 (Umm - This isn't good), 24, 25.  A little candling action showed no chicks.  Not one.  In any egg.  From any hen.  It seems Ivan Crossbeak the Rooster had worse issues than just a crossbeak. 26, 27, 28.  So what's a flock owner (and a broody, expectant hen) to do?

The answer is, "We did what we could and, by the grace of God, got away with it."  We went to our favorite local farm store and bought 6 chicks.  Then, late in the evening but well before dark, we picked up the hen, pulled out the eggs, put in the chicks and hoped for the best.  Two of the chicks ran straight under the hen.  The other 4 essential mobbed her.  She immediately accepted them all. Whew!!  5 of the 6 survived and we had our replacements for some of our aging hens.
Six little ones: 3 ISA Browns and 3 Rhode Island Reds
Jumping forward to fall, production from our 11 older laying hens had dwindled to two or three eggs a day.  Most of the eggs were coming from the 4 Easter eggers.  The 4 Red Stars were generating a few eggs a weeks, and the 5 Buff Orpingtons were done.  A little internet work and a few phone calls later and we had located a place to process our birds.  We considered doing them ourselves, but decided we weren't going to butcher often enough to invest in the things we needed to do it right.  Ivan went too, and a couple of weeks later we had 10 whole "slow cooker" chickens in the freezer.

Just today, we got eggs from every one of the new additions.  We lost of the one of the Easter eggers to an accident and one to predators, so we now have a flock of seven hens.  We're considering added a few more in the spring.  We're also considering adding a rooster back into the flock.  One of my good friends from the 'day job' has one we could buy now if we decide we want one.

So that's the story on the birds!  All in all, we're in a pretty good place today with our flock.  Once again we blessed.

Col.1:9-12,

Mark





Sunday, December 18, 2016

Back in the saddle? I hope so!!

First post in 6 months!!  So I suppose I owe some answers.  Let me see if I can shed some light.

First up, I'd guess, is "So how are you doing?  Last we heard you were mostly confined to your recliner recovering from something or other."  In general, I'm doing pretty well, but there some things about 'the new me' I'm still coming to terms with.  Pretty much everything about eating and drinking has changed.  I essentially lost part of my stomach as part of a massive hernia repair surgery I had in May, and the valve that was supposed to be working away at the bottom of my esophagus was 'refurbed' to be a simple, snug little restriction.  That makes it harder to get things down, and means I'm now eating small, frequent meals with a set of restrictions on what I can eat to boot.  That being said, not having stomach acid constantly spritzing my esophagus, voice box, and bronchial piping has been a wonderful thing, and I haven't felt this good at this time of year in a number of years.  I'm getting some of my energy back - I will likely never get it all back - and (knock on wood) seem to be on track to avoid my annual pneumonia hospital stay.  All things considered, I'm coming out on top!

Perhaps next is, "Ok, so you haven't done ANYTHING useful or interesting in the last six months?"  Au contraire, my friends!! We had lots going on!  I'm planning on doing a (mercifully short) series of "What I did with my summer and fall" posts.  I took pictures of most of the interesting stuff, so it's not going to be 'essay only'.  The highlight reel goes something like:
  • We got most of want we wanted in the garden out before the surgery.  I couldn't do any weeding early in the year and not all that much in late summer, so we lost some of it.  But all in all we had a decent garden year.
  • I got none of the orchard, berry or grapes in.  They're on the docket for this year.
  • We did get a temporary fence around the garden later in the summer.  Hey!  Did you all know you end up with a LOT more tomatoes and green beans that way?
  • It was not, however, done as early as I would have liked.  We learned that chickens are fond enough of beets they will pull them out of the ground, quickly devour all the root part, and move on to the next one.  All this without an ounce of shame!  Tsk!  Tsk!
  • We built a nursery 'annex' on the coop and run, hoping one of the girls would go broody.
  • We found the same hen who went broody last year went broody this year. Yay!
  • We discovered Ivan Crossbeak the rooster is apparently infertile.  Our one broody hen came up with zilcho from the clutch of eggs (from several hens) she sat on.  Boo!
  • We discovered our one broody hen either has a big 'mama chicken' heart or a small chicken brain (or both) because when we clumsily replaced the eggs she was sitting on with six chicks from Rural King she rolled her chicken eyes, puffed up her chicken feathers, took them all in, and did a great job raising them.
  • We learned that the predictions on how long a chicken's productive laying life is pretty accurate.  By fall our flock of 10 old hens, one molting middle aged hen, 5 pullets (too young to lay) and one infertile rooster with a bad attitude were cranking out a grand sum of 2 eggs a day.  
  • After only a little hand ringing, we now have 1 old hen (the one that goes broody), 1 middle age hen, 5 pullets just about ready to lay, and no rooster (fertile or infertile).  
  • We also have a fair number of whole chickens in the freezer.  It was an interesting process I'll tell you all about later.
  • There were memories made with the granddaughters, the discovery of a grandson coming in February, and a bunch of other really good family times.
  • The latest is trying to help a (married) couple of really good friends from the 'day job' as they are starting their own journey with homesteading.  They moved out of the city onto about 5 acres and have a desire to live the whole homesteading life.  With that description, naturally the first thing I did was point them to Leigh's "Five Acres and Dream" blog, and recommend her books.
So what's coming in 2017? (Besides the promised string of catch-up posts).  Let's see - God willing: the aforementioned orchard, a half-dozen more chicks when it gets warm, some better fencing, a workbench in the barn, FINALLY getting my tower up, ...  Well that's probably enough.  I've also decided I'm going to spill at least some of the beans on what the 'day job' is I keep referring to, and what I do for a living when I'm not pulling weeds or pitching the chicken coop.

All in all, we're doing OK.  All the things we have been blessed with are still there and getting better.  I seem to be set for my health to continue to improve, and we have another grandchild on the way!  We are blessed!! 

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Musings from the Recliner: It's 'the fates', and they ain't kind!

Good morning to all!  I figured it was time to get another one of these out, so here it is! 

First the usual stuff:  I continue to get a little better every day, but still spend most of my time in the recliner.  As long as I'm active enough to keep all the internal processes running but not too active, a little bit of the liquid hydrocodone-acetaminophen concoction alternated with a big-boy dose of Children's Motrin keeps me comfortable but not drooling.  (I think, anyway - I haven't actually hit the sweet spot yet.)  If I cross the line on activity - as I have every day so far - I quickly get sore and worn out, which leads to more meds which leads to... well... drool.

As I ponder a host of things here from my recliner I have come to understand the fates are cruel.  This may be a blinding glimpse of the obvious, but I've seen it frequently.  Since I'm not a TV watcher my 'window to the world' these days is my personal laptop which seems to be, at least in part, controlled by the evil fates.  The 'gotchas' come most frequently from the pop-up adds:  Just as De delivers a hearty mug of beef broth for me to tuck into they pounce:  BOOM! - Up pops a 'Hebrew National' add with a perfectly grilled, all beef hot dog nestled under an exquisitely arranged bed of relish, onions and the appropriate condiments.  AHHH!  GO AWAY!  (Fates:1,  Mark: 0 - I'm not usually much of a hot dog eater, but that dog looked goooood and I was sorely tempted.)  I shunned my eyes.

Yesterday I thought I pretty much had the day planned out to get the right amount of activity without crossing the line.  (Yeah, I know, "The road to perdition is paved with good intentions.")  We had a young farm kid from church coming to mow the lawn since it was approaching knee level for De and she doesn't run the little tractor with the mower deck.  All I had to do was walk up and get the mower out.  BOOM! - It needed a jump-start.  GRRRRRR!!  (Guess I should have replaced that battery.  Fates:2, Mark: 0.)  I took it in stride. 

I haven't sharpened the blades yet this year since we're still in the 'wood mulch' phase of lawn care at our house (I'm not picking little sticks off 1-1/2 acres of lawn - don't judge).  The kid was mowing so the cut grass was blowing into the unmowed grass creating a growing pile-up for the dull blades to chew through, there was enough chaff generated to clog the radiator and BOOM! - The engine overheated - at the far edge of the property.  NOOOOOO!  (I should have been watching him a little closer, I suppose.  Fates: 3, Mark: 0)  Since I had some pecuniary interest in verifying I was looking at steam and not smoke I felt obligated to traipse down next to the road to check it out in my fashionable new look of sport shorts and barn boots.  I just "brushed it off".

After a cool-down period and a bit of advice on mowing tall grass, an attempted restart required BOOM! - another jump start.  HRRMPH!  (Unmotivated battery, hot diesel engine - I should have known.  Fates 4:  Mark: 0)   Yes, Virginia, there was drool.

I'm guessing my leash will be a bit shorter today.    Even so, the morning sun is promising a beautiful day and there's another mug that of savory beef broth in my future.  "Um.  De?  I don't suppose we have any onion powder?  Yeah?  Cool!  Um...  pickle... powder?  No?"  <sigh...>

Take care all,

Mark

Monday, May 30, 2016

Musings from the Recliner: Home again, Home again!

I survived!  It's not as though that was really something to worry about, but from my point of view here in the recliner, it's worth stating for the record none-the-less. 

First the little factoids:
  • The doctors were great.  The pre-surgery discussion was mostly the surgeon musing to De that he thought it was generally a good thing when the patient and surgeon had more-or-less the same surgery in mind and at least similar expectations for the outcome.
  • The reconstruction took about 2 hours, and I spent another 2-1/2 hours lounging about the recovery room where the nurses, on the phone with one of the docs, somewhat irritably worked to get my consciousness up and my blood pressure down.  I was apparently an unrepentant slacker on both counts.  "Senator, I have no recollection ..."  I do recall they were more-or-less polite, but it was clear I was holding up the pre-holiday preparations or something.
  • "More-or-less" was clearly the operative concept this time around.
    • I was thinking 3 or maybe 4 incisions would be fine for this job; 6 is apparently more-or-less the same.  (With 6 incisions and 4 bruises my mom, of all people, told me I look like a connect-the-dots puzzle.  For just a moment I was tempted to provide a pic as proof but I have nightmares of reoccurring shaved belly images with who-knows-what superimposed on and showing up at odd times for years.)
    • I was thinking a little bit of "belly inflation" so he could see what he was doing would work great; turning my midsection into a street carnival moon walk is apparently more-or-less just that.
    • I was thinking a few stitches in my diaphragm to keep my stomach where it belongs would be dandy; a circus tarp of medical mesh lashed into place is apparently more-or-less the same thing.
  • The nurses were great and it was clear some of them must have had an agricultural background since they knew just what is done for a mildly bloated cow and assumed that same technique would be fine for me.
  • I spent one rather undignified night in the hospital getting everything ‘restarted’ (I'll spare you all the details on that one) all the while waiting for my next round of pain meds to show up.
  • They yanked out my tubes (and more than a little arm hair) and De took me home to my recliner after noon on Saturday.
There is a bit of good news. The going-in plan was an all-liquid diet for two weeks.  It turns out a few things like yogurt, pudding, soft ice cream and thinly mixed cream of wheat are on the menu right from the git-go as long as no bite is larger than an M&M.  One M&M – and not the peanut kind.  Still, that’s good news.  Also, once I got the Moonwalk mostly deflated (Ah!  No details!), I’m pretty comfortable and have backed off on the pain meds already.  This is, of course, a two-edged sword and since I’m not supposed to be doing much of anything at all De has already had to wave said sword my direction more than once to keep my keester in the recliner.

I’ll call tomorrow and get my follow-up appointment in place for roughly two weeks in the future.  All restrictions apply, to the letter, until he says otherwise.

So, once again, I'm in the recliner, the musings have begun, and I’ll be sharing them.

Col. 1:9-12,
 
Mark

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sometimes it's just too much help...

I'm working up a post on all we've done in the garden, but worked in amongst pics of the quack grass, plantings, trellises and plant coverings are the chickens.  We like having them around but, as the title suggests, sometimes they can be a little TOO much help...

A few times a year I have an opportunity to work the "day job" from home.  With the work laptop home and the magic of "virtual private networks", it's almost like being at my desk.  It was a nice day and I decided to work outside for an hour or so, mostly to demonstrate to my co-workers I could ;-) and I sent them this pic to prove it .  One of  the 'girls' apparently decided I needed help.  I wouldn't let her, but she was itching to try her hand (or claws) at the keyboard.  (I blurred out the screen at bit so the day-job legal folks wouldn't get cranky.)



Garden work always means the 'helpers' are close.  When I was cleaning the quack grass out the beds (again), they were right there to lend a "claw".  A lot of "claw"...

The worms are directly under my fork, so that is where they want to be.
The "girls" and I (mostly "I") pulling out the quack grass roots.
I'm never alone in the garden.  Even if I would like to be.


We did manage to get into a bit (a weeeee bit) of helpful rhythm when we planting.  The 'girls' are always in the bed I'm working on, or the last one.  As long as I stayed two beds ahead of De planting it worked out OK.  I would have the "main" help in the bed I was digging, Ivan and the girls would be "leveling out" the last one I worked on, and De was (relatively) free to plant.
The production line at work!
 We have one hen, a white Easter-Egger named Esther, that has been something of an outcast since her last hard molt.  She gets picked on a bit and lately goes running for a safe-haven.
 
De got first 'dibs'.  Tank Top!  OUCH!


I got my turn.  At least the claws weren't an issue.
 
Funny, and I'm flattered I suppose, but it did slow down the work a bit.

Garden work is not the only thing that draws an audience.  This time it was replacing a headlamp bulb (accessed, on my Equinox, via the wheel well. Grrr!  What genius thought that was good idea?).

"Yes, I know the light is over there, but you get to the bulbs through here!"
"Hey!!  He's right!!  You really can't get to the bulbs from up here!"

You gotta see the fun in life where you can.  Hope you enjoy!

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark













Bad Luck or Disturbing Trend?

De and I went to get our garden plants yesterday and encountered some unpleasant surprises.  We went to our "go to" greenhouse, and discovered the garden plant section had been cut in half in favor of  flowers and landscaping plants.  The Sausage tomatoes we love instead of the traditional Romas were no where to be found and, we were told, would not be available this season.  We got some of what we needed and moved on hoping for better luck at another greenhouse.

After visiting four greenhouses we still are need of a few plants,mostly tomatoes.  In each case we found 1) the garden plant section had been reduced from the previous years allocation, and 2) the plants available were almost exclusively the same mass produced, factory, "brand name" varieties that we have found to be mediocre performers and yield an inferior product.

In our area there are a lot of small lakes with lots (and lots) of summer lake cottages.  It appears greenhouses may be getting a "bigger dollar" by selling to "lakers" getting their summer landscaping and flower gardens in order and folks who raise a small summer "salad" garden only,  than to persons putting in larger "country" gardens with a focus on varieties that preserve well. 

Since we are striving to have some degree of food independence and to generate a garden harvest of really good-and-good-for-you fruits and veggies, this is a disturbing trend.  Our next trip out will be further out to greenhouses in an area with a large population of Amish and Mennonite families (and fewer lakes) which, we hope, will have more freezing, canning and winter storage varieties available. 

So I'm curious.  Is the trend toward greenhouses offering more landscaping and flower garden items and less "country garden" plants a local phenomenon, or is it more wide-spread?   If you have this problem in your area, how are you coping?  What say you all?

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Big Family Weekend!!

It was a big Mother's Day weekend on the Hoosier Country Homestead!  Daughter #2, Son-in-Law and the granddaughters came Friday evening and stayed through early Sunday afternoon.  It had been four months since we had seen everyone, and Christmas since they had been here.  We all had a great time.

I got the lawn mowed (OK - I confess - for the first time this year) just as they were arriving, and then it was "off to the races" for the whole weekend.  I was too busy 'living' the weekend to 'document' everything we did, but I do have some highlights. Most of my pics, for some odd reason, focus on grandkids.  :-)

There was a little bit of garden work done. Another confession - I hadn't started on the garden work yet, but when little girls want to work in the garden, Papa makes sure at least a little work gets done.

Let the gardening begin!
As always, where is digging there are 'helpers'.  When the girls figured out the chickens were after worms and bugs the real fun began.  Bugs were out (of course - eww!), but they dug up a few worms and wanted to feed them to the chickens.  This, of course, requires actually touching the worms which brought on a great deal of city-girl consternation.  In the end, after a short exploratory session with Papa holding a worm and a little encouragement, worms were handled and the chickens were a little happier.  One more step from city-girls to country-girls!

Son-in-Law helped me finish the shelving in the hoop house.  I would have struggled in my 'normal' state to finish off the top shelf since it's almost 8 feet in the air.  In my current, somewhat degraded, state it would have been nigh impossible.

The bottom shelf is 10 feet wide by 4 feet deep.  The top shelf is 6 feet wide by 4 feet deep. Like everything else on the place its not very square and does the job nicely.

Stuff from the barn already moving in!
Simple as it seems, that shelf was one of my big spring projects. Getting it done, and barn cleared, is the gateway to a handful of other tasks.

Last year I got De a reel mower for her Mother's Day gift. (Ya gotta love a woman who asks for a reel mower for a gift)  The granddaughters have, of course, seen gas driven lawn mowers but had never seen a reel mower.  Both spent some time trying it out.  I love being able to offer them some new experiences, especially the 'homesteading' kind.  Both thought it was great fun.




One of the highlights of coming to the "farm" is helping to gather eggs.  De made both girls "egg aprons" - aprons with pockets for individual eggs - and, of course, they got a chance to try them out.

De and the girls gathering up the eggs.

There were of lots of other things that didn't get pics.  Steering the tractor and the truck around the homestead from Papa's lap as we hauled stuff out of the barn, countless rides rolling down the hill in the wagon and other kid's vehicles, chicken chores of feeding and adding bedding, playing ball, and the like.

Big days make for tired girls, and just a moment of 'downtime' was enough.
Naptime! - Pic doesn't show that Papa was snoozing away too, moments after taking this pic.

 More to come, but tomorrow is a 'day job' workday and morning comes early.  It was a wonderful weekend.  De and I are so blessed to have such a wonderful family and have them close enough to see them several times a year.

Col. 1:9-12,

Mark