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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Rain, Pain, Death and Life

It has been a hot, dry summer thus far, so when the forecast said rain in a reasonable quantity and the elements delivered, we did not fuss. Yesterday was one such day with nearly an inch of rain -- much more than what has usually come on days when it was forecast. Seems for some reason, as the storms move in from the west, they part as they approach our farm and the rain falls to the north and south, but less often here.

Despite the heat, we have been doing out best to continue on the things that demand our attention. For me that's been weeding, digging garlic and potatoes and for Tractor Guy... well his concerns have been on being called for jury duty this past week. Because of health and other issues, asking to be excused was not out of the question, even though his honor leads him to always try to be the best citizen he can be. "Democracy is a participation sport," he says. The timing of the receipt of the notification and the requirement for offering doctors' letters, and the time required to obtain such written opinions were not on his side and so he planned to be prepared to serve, despite having to travel nearly 2o miles, without having any personal transportation. I was prepared to clear my weekday schedule for the next two months to make this possible, but since his first meeting at the courthouse was only half a day, I planned to do our major shopping and run some other errands while he was occupied.

Little did we know that the clerk of the court, despite what was written in the letter from the count, was willing to accept requests to be excused on that half-day orientation day, and I had literally just barely dropped him off and left the area before he was excused. There is no place to wait at the count, and he had no way to contact me once I had left, so he -- on legs that barely work, in the bright sun of an uncomfortably hot day -- began walking to the only place in my afternoon errands that had both a location and a time. I was meeting an Internet friend for the first time, at a local restaurant, to hand her a share of vegetables. His only concern was to make it there before I left; in actuality he got there not long after we both arrived, after soaking up the shade of every struggling little street tree and lamp post (I have said that Tractor Guy is a BIG dude, haven't I... in more than one direction! The idea of there being enough shade from a lamp post to make a difference to his abundant body still blows my mind!) He made it, and by the time I got back out to the truck, he said he could finally feel his hands again and they were beginning to work, after swelling badly during the VERY long walk. But someone with his medical and physical issues cannot do that kind of exertion without having to pay the piper a very large fee, and I am pretty sure he's not all paid up yet, four days later.

This is what 8 fryers, cut into pieces and
chilling/aging in the fridge look like!
Nevertheless, and regardless of the rain -- which should have been the call for a low key, low activity day here in the house for both of us, since I got pretty well worked over by my massage therapist on Thursday and the physical therapist Friday -- I had set yesterday as the day to finish harvesting the meat birds. They have been ready for a couple of weeks, I have been "picking them off" a few at a time, but with the grower feed running short (turkey juveniles eat the same stuff, but there are only 2 of them so it will last much longer than feeding the gluttons in the meat bird pen) I said "today" for what I thought was the remaining 7 birds.

I had been processing outside, which I really like and which was one of the main reasons I picked up the free picnic table last year, but... rain. So my plan was to bring them in for skinning and gutting, and I asked TG to help, since he could do this at the kitchen table, sitting down. You may remember that this is not really his thing, but at the last "chicken plucking day" at our MOFGA chapter, he pitched in on the plucking and even had a go at gutting, which was much harder for him because large hands do not fit well into smaller fowl.

We skin most of our birds and cut them into pieces before freezing, and I have developed a method of processing in which I remove legs and wings and then cut the breast from the back, gently separating the halves. This leaves the innards right out in the open, laying on the back. You can not only easily see what you are doing, but it gives easy access to heart, liver (to avoid the gall bladder) and eventually the gizzard. I knew he could skin the birds and help cut them, and I have no issue with catching, hauling (two at a time), and the butchering, nor with any other part of the process... but I figured extra hands pulling on the skin would save my hands and energy enough to allow us to finish all 7 in one session. Normally I do 4 at a time.

Well... I miscounted. There were 8. LOL But we got them done, the last of that chore for this year. There will be turkeys though; the old hen will eventually be processed for ground meat, and of course Thanksgiving and NewYears -- the young turks -- have their appointed dates.

When I went out to collect fryers #5 and #6, I had the random idea to check in the chicken house, where a banty hen and a Langshan hen have been occupying a nest. There were originally 12 eggs; one got pushed out and was obviously bad (exploded when I threw it out into the field) but every couple of days an egg has disappeared with nothing to show for it. I have been wondering what's up. We do have a rat problem, so they are a concern, both for eggs and potentially for newly hatched babies.

When I disturbed the banty, who was on the eggs this time, I heard cheeping! Baby sounds... but no baby to be seen. I looked all over, inside and out, tried to peer into rat-carved depressions in between the slats of the pallet walls, but found nothing. I suspected that one might have hatched and fallen into a hole, but not been found by a rat, so I asked TG to go out with me and to bring a shovel to excavate next to the holes in hopes of liberating the chick, if we were still able to hear it. He did, and
New baby, under the heat
lamp, now dry.
Yep, it's a banty!
Though Tractor Guy's
hand are big!
we did hear the insistent calling even before I disturbed the hen, but he had barely got started digging outside when a little black chick bolted from under mama towards me and got pecked at by the little hen! The little one was not yet dry, so must have just gotten free of the egg.

I had been planning to move both banty mom and her nest into the house, away from rats, while she attempts to hatch the remaining half a dozen eggs, and now I was worried about the holes and whether the inexperienced young hen might injure the baby, so I handed it to TG to bring in and warm, while I collected the last of the chicken harvest.
Mama Banty on her nest, which I moved
inside, into a tote, currently in the
bathtub, curtain drawn for privacy.

I moved the nest and hen later in the evening, and left the little chick nestled in mulch hay, in a bucket, under the brooder lamp.

Before moving the hen, though a bath was in order, once the messy work was done.


Monday, August 13, 2018

A Harvest Season Monday

Oats, sacred wheat for harvest crafting
and flax hang to dry.
We are well into the beginning of the major harvest season here on the farm. The last few days, I have been delighted to be able to take advantage of some cooler -- though still seasonal, temperatures and spend more time in the garden. I like getting up early and I work with the seasons rather than the clock, but since "leveling up" to level 70, I find seemingly more challenges than upgrades. These long summer days, with late sunsets (which denote the time for me to put the animals away, wash the earth off my stiff, sore body and begin making supper) means bedtime gets pushed WAY back. I seem to need more rest than I used to, so I am not up at first light, or even sunrise, in the summer these days. And I do miss it. When I do manage to roll my stiff and aching bones out of bed, I always have lots in mind for the day.

First job today was heading out to pick up some hay. Even though we are conveying the goats and sheep to pasture these days, we need to have a stash of hay, in case of wet weather.  It may happen this week. If it (a) actually materializes and is (b) sufficient that the herd does not want to go out or needs to be brought in from pasture early, we need it. Four bales fit into the Subaru and that doesn't last a herd of 5 very long.

The forecast called for a chance rain this afternoon, but it did
Mulch pulled back, potato hill is revealed.
not materialize. I have mixed
Brushing off a bit of earth, more
potatoes appear in a close clump.
A bit of digging reveals the mass of spuds.
One hill, in the basket.
feelings. I am stiff and sore from the harvesting of late, but the garlic and 'taters won't harvest themselves. I manged to complete the garlic harvest and completed the first, 50' row of potatoes that I started yesterday. I definitely will be planting whole potatoes in the future, rather than cutting them into several pieces as is the custom these days. I got the idea to try the whole spud approach from watching a BBC historical farming program and like the results. I did not do a proper experiment, as there was no "control row" being planted the conventional way, but I lifted a full bushel of red spuds from my row, and the harvest was as easy as the planting! Each of the hills had a good lot to harvest, and all of the eyes having sent up spouts, I had no trouble finding and identifying the hills from the dried foliage. The potatoes were all in a tight clump, so often one spading and brushing the area by hand as I removed the potatoes that I could see was all the work that was required.

I also finished weeding the struggling onions, second planting of brassica tucked in amongst them, and the third planting of lettuce, which is also struggling and wanting to bolt. A sparse 4th planting will go into the ground tomorrow and I will start more seeds indoors as well.
  
I still have the second row of potatoes to dig, and the other experimental plants, that are growing from single sprouts, picked off some of the potatoes from the end of the storage season. They died back to the ground after an unexpected frost, but came back and unlike the plants from actual potatoes, are still green and fighting the potato bugs to grow; they will get harvested later, once they also die back.

Tomorrow is 28 days from the last weed control cultivation, so with a suitable working temperature and the prospect of rain on the morrow, Tractor Guy and Fergie knocked out that task for the month.

While TG was busy with that task, I attacked the backlog of hex sign orders and cut 3 of the 24" circles, two 12" and two 8" ones out of half inch plywood. I really need to pick up the painting pace and -- hoping for rain as a good excuse to stay inside -- I needed blanks to sand, prime and paint. I can bring them in from the garage in the rain, but have no location that is out of the
Custom colors on the familiar
Abundance and Prosperity sign.

weather for cutting them. With the most recent 48" sign on its
way to its new home, I am contemplating adding the custom paint job on this Abundance and Prosperity sign to my roster of standard offerings. I love the traditional, old timey feel of this version, which substitutes a delightful barn red for both the red and brown colors in my version of the sign. What do you think?


Saturday, August 4, 2018

Not Like a Maine Summer

I have friends all over the world, and all are reporting unusual weather. It's hot in Scandinavia, the UK, much of the USA and here in Maine for sure... along with humidity that I thought I left in North Carolina!

For those of us who do not do heat well -- this IS part of why we moved to Maine, after all -- it is a challenge. We have been relatively dry, as well, so weeding the garden has been hit or miss. Between not being able to pull weeds due to dry soil and the heat/humidity index, non-garden life interfering, and rain (YAY!! Finally!!) we are struggling.

Champion of
England peas
I pulled the main crop Champion of England peas and harvested seed from the Firenza petit pois peas before pulling them. I also harvested a bunch of very ripe Iona petit pois that I will process for use in soup (they get starchy as they age, which is ok in soup, less so as a side dish) but some of those vines are trying to come on with a bit more so I will hopefully have a couple of meals worth. Planted fall peas, again.. still have not got the timing right, but I keep trying.

I managed to weed and add weed block to the tomato plants, and some of them are setting fruit. The vine crops are finally taking
off; I needed to lay down some more cardboard and mulch for them, and fortunately scored some last week when I went to Dover, looking for packing material for the hex signs. I lucked out, really well, as the appliance store also had a half ton of floor tile -- the good kind with no texture that requires a commercial three-stage finish to look good -- for FREE! When I went back to get that (thankfully their fork lift dude was willing to load it into Artie!) they were hauling away the remainder of the cardboard. But I had hauled home enough to finish the vine crop area and package my wares as well.

36" Abundant Prosperity
This 36" Abundant Prosperity sign is on its way to Georgia, and I am on to the next sign in my rather large queue, an Abundance, Prosperity and Smooth Sailing through Life at 24". Orders just keep coming in, so I need to cut circles tomorrow, as well as attacking weeds, laundry and painting. It never ends, does it? But as a working artist, I am GLAD for the backlog of orders and especially glad for my very understanding and patient clients!

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Eyes, Sheep and Hexen

After first surgery,
eye protection in place.
New temporary
glasses
My journey in the world of cataract removal and
recovery continues. After the surgery for my right eye was completed last week, I fell into a world of the Impressionist school of art. Not as much fun as it might sound, even if you like that school of painting. Nothing beyond the reach of my arm was in focus, which is much more disconcerting, even, than it sounds. It is the stuff that makes a "long term variable periodic housekeeper" into a slob, turns a farmer paranoid (is that black spot in the back field a cat, hunting or is is a loose Langshan chicken or something else that might be hunting both of the above and all but drove me mad.  The good news was that, this week during my one week follow up visit to the doc, I was able to wring an eyeglass prescription out of them AND get they papers for my drivers license eye exam completed and signed! The bad news is that the pressure in my eyes (which leads to glaucoma) was high enough to generate a prescription for more eye drops and a follow up visit next week. The worse news is that apparently the "your vision may take months to stabilize" and/or "these drops can cause blurry vision" resulted in the glasses, that worked wonderfully the day they were prescribed, not working at all yesterday. LOL Fortunately today was better.

Major Tom, left, being carried to the truck by Tractor Guy
and Enterprise, center, in the arms of Dr. Jim Weber
accompanies by Ann Bryant, both of U of ME Orono.
On another happy note, this was the week in which we brought home two new lambs... wethers (former rams) from the University of Maine Icelandic flock. Enterprise and Major Tom (the University naming scheme this year, "stars," was loosely interpreted by the students, as you can see! 
Enterprise, front and Major Tom, back, enjoying a
sweet feed treat in their new home.
Enterprise has proven to be quite a loudmouth... every bit a match for Moose. Between his hollering and Moose's response last night, Tractor Guy did NOT get lots of sleep! I like to give new critters a bit of time to settle in and meet their new housemates through the fence before throwing anyone together, so they will converse with Ribgy though the fence until early next week, when the crazy round of away missions ends and we will be here to keep an eye on everyone.

In the hex world, I shipped out this lovey and hugs Protection from the Evil Eye sign -- a full 4 feet in diameter -- this week as well. It's gone to Indiana and I am hoping to see pictures of it in its new home soon!

Fortunately the mad week of away missions seems to be coming to and end. Sunday is "chicken plucking day" with friends and the local chapter of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association,
so after getting the sheep shelter set up, we prepped for fowl catching after dark tonight. We will head out early tomorrow, with all of the spare roosters, the single remaining meat chicken from our first lot of them and our tom turkey and join in a group effort to butcher, clean and package everyone's fowl. I will be very glad to have the extra roosters out of the way; there have been far too many rooster wars of late and with my vision being less than usual, it has been very stressful hearing their fuss and not necessarily having a clear view of what is going on.




Saturday, June 9, 2018

Finding the Flow

Sometimes a slow day is an "in the flow" day.

Since abbreviating Saturday's scheduled away day and passing totally on the event I had volunteered to attend on Sunday, I have been in a slow flow that seems to really be kicking butt in the productivity department.

It all started with Tractor Guy pushing himself to get the final bit of primary tillage done in the west (perennial) garden. He is a true northerner with a pale completion and knows he needs to stay out of the noonday sun... but like the "mad dogs and Englishmen" of the saying (though don't call him English!) he does it anyway. Then gets overly irradiated and suffers the next few days, which puts him off his flow.

Since I had previously made contact with the owners of the two solar powered homes that interested me (totally off grid, one running 120v AC and the other 12v DC) and plan to, some time in the future, get a chance to see their systems, I just took myself to the nearby home to help serve refreshments, and TG stayed home.

It's a BAG!
I still was not really wanting to spend a day away on Sunday, so I contacted the organizer of the event I was going to help with and found out that even without me, it would have sufficient volunteer support. As much as I had been looking forward to attending -- and had even taken part in a "knit along" project for the event -- I stayed at home.

We had much needed rain  Monday and Tuesday -- along with another unseasonable cold spell. At least the mercury only dropped to the 40s; I have heard of 30s this late in the year for a low, and after all, if mid-May is the average last frost date, there needs to be some much later than that, if my elementary school math is correct! It was not yet time to put the transplants out (and they are still on the porch, awaiting proper weather) but I did get the warm season crops seeds in the ground Sunday, in a whirlwind of gardening! I planted multiple rows of beans, corn, experimented with just throwing heads of wheat that I had used stalks from for crafting and transplanted the boc choy into gaps in the brassica rows.  This was the first day I had spent out in the garden all day long, and I was pleased and surprised that, while I was actually gardening, my back did not hurt!
Pea trellis... just in time. Last year's
sunflower stalks hold the plastic mesh.
I also got the pea trellis finally secured, or so it seems. I tightened up the plastic mesh where it attached to the sunflower stalks and used tent stakes and bailing twine to secure the dry sunflower tripods to the earth.

By the time rainy Monday and Tuesday came around, I was ready for slow indoor days. I planned a baking day for Monday and did it up right! Started off with a pound cake mix (strawberry shortcake!) followed by large batches of medicinal cookies for Tractor Guy and chocolate chip ones just for cookies. Even got all the dishes done... twice! And in between mixing and baking, I continued to sort and putter in the kitchen area, getting stuff sorted to appropriate locations.

9 yards of shirt fabric, blowin' in the
wind.
Tuesday, my organizing took to my work room, as I have to get ready for a big sewing project -- summer shirts for Tractor Guy! Getting the spinning and knitting stuff in a bit of order, kicking things that need to go to the garage out there liberated enough room to move the sewing machine to a more active location for a while and freed up enough space for the small "market table" (6' folding version) which I will use for cutting.

What amazes me in all this, is that on none of these days did I feel like I was working hard! They all, including garden Sunday, felt like "just loafing along, lazy days!" Heck, on Tuesday when I sat down for my morning coffee break, one of our kitties (Little Girl) hopped up in my lap for a pet-and-purr session and both she and I cat-napped off and on for almost 4 hours! If that's not a lazy day activity, I don't know what to call it -- unless it's "just in the flow" as it surely did not have a negative impact on getting stuff done.

Again, on Wednesday, the day started out slow. With his new edibles doing their job, TG slept even later than I did (those of you with chronic pain know how much it saps your energy. I hope those of you who have never been in that space never have to learn).

Some days start out with a burst of energy and then, just slide sideways into frustration.  After getting the hay burners out to their new pasture with LONG grass (picture very happy sheep and goats) I got busy with the next bit of outdoor projects before the rain, again. I cardboarded and mulched 4 more trees -- fruit trees this time, including two pear trees that got taken back quite a bit by the past winter. With the cardboard and mulch around them they no long blend quite as well into the almost equally long grass. Can I say we REALLY need to mow? LOL But between TG's health, needing to cultivate and rain, well the mower is still not on the tractor. I am thinking a walk-behind tiller will be in the future soon, or at least needs to be.

One of the latest hex signs
at its new home in
South Portland, Maine!
After dealing with the trees, and with Dump Day coming soon (new moon is on Wednesday next, but that is also eye surgery day, so dump run will have to be Saturday) and a need for an away mission on Friday to connect with turkey polts, I decided to empty and sort the contents of the old farm truck. It took a while but I have a bag of recycles, one of trash in the garage from behind the seal and all of the tie down straps are organized in an old, almost dead dishpan. I put my tie downs and ropes in their stash place, along with the jumper cables and we were ready to rock and roll Friday, off to the Maine coast to connect up with some baby turkeys and more meat chickens, all of which are now peeping like mad fools under lights in my work room.  Oh, the joys of being an artist/farmer.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Through the Mists, Dimly

I am celebrating the regaining of an hour plus each day, as I no longer have to endure 4 rounds of 4 eye drops a day. One round of non-medicated doesn't seem much bother, now. LOL

I had been concerned that my lack of vision was making me, as in my person, vulnerable. Now, I live in Maine and in the country at that, so this is hardly a serious issue, as it would be in many other places. But not having a clear view of potential issues here on the farm remains disturbing. I mistook a red milk crate in the neighbor's yard for a dead chicken, which is funny... but on the other hand all but 2 of our 14 meat birds have gone missing in the last two days with no sound from either the fowl or the LGD. This IS concerning. On the other hand, it appears my intuition is alive, well and taking up the slack, as I was confident enough in the "recognition" of a neighbor and her car (her from the back, car by color and general shape) when we passed them, with hood up alongside the road, that I had Tractor Guy, who was playing chauffeur, turn around and go back to offer aid.

48" Abundance, Prosperity and Smooth
Sailing through Life sign destined for
South Portland Maine.
 In the hex world, it has been a bit of challenge to get signs cut and painted around "no dusty environment" cautions from the doc and the impressionist painting that is how I currently see the world, with or without my glasses, but this big sign, a standard design with custom colors, was picked up by its new owner here at hex central this week, and I shipped out a 24" Welcome to Massachusetts early in the week. I have a 24" Protection sign in process, a 48" blank cut for the Protection from the Evil Eye which is next on the list and another 24" sign on order as well. With my next, and last surgery on June 13, I should be able to complete these two and get a good start on the third before then.

Pea trellis, using last year's sunflower stalks!
After the wet and cold early spring, late spring has turned bone dry. I thought for sure that the seeds I had soaked and planted the same time as the peas -- which germinated quickly -- had all given up the ghost, or that my vision at ground level near by feet was bad enough that I could not tell their spotty germination from the emerging weeds. I knew the peas could use a drink, so I had Tractor Guy haul the garden hoses (it takes two, 75' lengths, to reach the area of this year's garden) and added a 4 port hose manifold, with Y splitters on a couple of the ports, to try to maximize efficiency. With many soaker hoses to deploy, I attacked the watering issue and on that particular trip to the garden I was surprised -- and rewarded -- to see seedlings! Every row showed germination, even the spinach, though it is spottier than the beets, carrots and chard. My brassica is still struggling and I will either have to try to start more seedlings or buy some starts. Likely I will do both this coming week. We continue to have occasional lows in the 40s, with Sunday night's forecast low predicted to be 41F so I am loath to transplant the tomatoes and vine crops. Maybe next week. #hopeforagoodseason


Sunday, May 27, 2018

I Do Not Support Vulnerability

I do not support vulnerability.  The dictionary defines it as "the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally," and I honestly do not understand how folks can say that is a good thing.

I have heard or read discussions that suggest that it is necessary for compassion and empathy. I am really not sure about that, either. Now, I may not be the most people-oriented, touchy-feely human on the planet -- let me rephrase that, I know I am not the most people-oriented, touchy-feely human on the planet -- but from in here, it has always seemed to me that I have sufficient compassion and empathy to at least pass as a fair-to-middling example of a decent human being. And as far as I know, I have never been even close to having been mistaken for a sociopath or serial killer. Your mileage, of course, may vary. But I am writing here about myself and my experiences.
This is how I see the world at a distance right now
with or without my glasses.
 I come to this topic as a result of nearly two weeks of feeling, for the first time in my life, extremely vulnerable. This has been caused by my recent eye surgery and will become more extreme, most likely,  in another 2+ weeks, for some time after that. My eye surgeon did warn me that my vision would be negatively impacted for some time, but the emotional aspect went totally unaddressed. 

I suspect it is very different for those who choose the "distance vision" option for the implanted lens. My guess, considering how well my left eye works at the close vision distance at which the lens is designed to focus, is that -- had I chosen that option -- I would be able to cover one eye and have decent focus, though a lack of depth perception which would make some difficulty. Instead I see almost the entire world as an impressionist painting. 

I cannot quickly locate the source of a sound that may indicate a problem (where IS that dog the neighbor is shouting at, from the road in front of the house? Was that chicken picking on chicken or do we have a stupid one in the dog yard or a marauding domestic pet?)

I cannot quickly distinguish a potential threat unless it is moving quickly (in this case, bees in the dandelions and I realized the issue before I actually stepped on one) but -- sitting in the truck in a store parking lot in town a few days before a holiday weekend -- I felt like I needed to make sure I did all the necessary errands while K was with me. I was just that much off my game... me, who has never been afraid to walk or drive anywhere, in any city, by virtue of my ability to "read" people and react to defuse or avoid what might be dangerous situations. I guess I have to see them to read them; it seems my ESP is off its game as well

If emotional vulnerability is anything like the physical kind I am currently dealing with, all I have to say is "no wonder 'everyone' out there is terrified of everyone and everything!"

I am expecting to get decent functionality back as a result of all this... eventually. But I also know that one's senses often decline as we age. If that happens to me, I will likely become even more of a recluse than I am. So for those of you who are concerned about elderly friends and ccc
Even inside the house
things have an
impressionist
feel.
ccc relatives that seem to stay at home and not want to go out and about even if they used to enjoy it, perhaps this is why. And perhaps, even if they aren't comfortable "out and about" they might enjoy having the "out and about" brought to them from time to time... as a visit from a friend bearing take out from a favorite "greasy spoon" and a six pack of their favorite brew, or a skein of yarn in a favorite color from their local yarn shop, in the hands of a friend who also likes to sit and knit. Or even a small basket of tomatoes straight from the garden, or a pail of peas with the warmth of the sun still on them in the hands of a gardening friend for a session of "sittin' and shellin' " or just a swapping of "back in the day" stories of gardens and plants from the past.