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Monday, July 21, 2014

Hexen, Hummers, Peas Oh My!

24" Inspiration sign
I recently shipped two more hex signs and the customer for the Inspiration sign gladly shared a photo of it. While most are mounted at the peak of a building, that is not the ONLY place they can be hung, as this sign shows. It's mounted on the folks privacy fence!

On the garden side of things, Mother Nature definitely is doing her thing with the peas this year. They got planted late, but the main crop is coming on like gangbusters. This is my pickings of the morning today, and I see there is (likely a) final picking on the earlier row out there as well. The main crop row has at least as many pods still coming on, and many of the plants are still also in blossom. Thanks to the Sun and the Earth, the Wind and Water too for this abundant harvest. And thanks to the Electrons coursing through the fence keeping the deer at bay! I have already frozen over 5 lbs from previous smaller pickings. Looks like we might not have to buy peas in the store this year!

The Hummer's Tail

The Hummer's Tale

 We did have a bit of unexpected excitement the other day. We leave our front door open for circulation, and have not yet figured out how to do the screen door (it's a sliding door, second hand, and the track for the screen is missing. And we have a humming bird feeder hanging from a tiny shepherd's crook attached to a porch post. Several have hovered near the door looking in over the past few weeks, but as I was getting up from the computer,I heard a buzzing sound near the ceiling. I immediately looked up, thinking bumble bee but instead there was a hummer, trying to figure out why it couldn't get through the little window at the peak of the wall. It took us over an hour to get it out and quite a circus it was!

Takeoff!
It flew back and forth, right at ceiling height, and the sloped ceiling did not make it easy to put anything up to help direct it towards the door. And, of course, it soon figured out that the ceiling fan was "good cover" from whatever evil predator was down there trying to catch it So around and around it went, taking brief rests perched on the fan and then taking off just as we moved in with a net.

Eventually, though, my patient Dr. Dolittle, AKA Tractor Guy, was able to get it to sit on the rim of the fishing net we use for catching wayward fowl when needed. The mesh on this net was sufficiently large that the little bird just flew THOUGH it when we tried to catch it that way! On the second try with the little bird on the edge of the net, he was able to walk it slowly out of the computer room (I quickly shut the door behind us) and to the open front door.

The silly bird did not make a break for it, but rather flew off to explore the living room and kitchen for a while. Since the door was RIGHT THERE, and OPEN, Tractor Guy hung the tiny feeder above the open door and just outside. Eventually the little hummer spotted it, flew out to drink and then flew off. Whew!  Mission accomplished without damage to the bird, apparently not even to its psyche, as there were two of the small creatures visiting the feeder later in the day.






Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Year of Transition Coming to a Dramatic Conclusion

With little more than one week left in the slightly shortened Year of Transition, things may be moving to a much more dramatic conclusion than I had expected.

On the town job front,  I am once again amazed to discover that my intuition was spot on in the timing of my retirement... both the original timing and the current, shortened span that has me working my last day a week from Friday. The company announced in a conference call (that I was unable to take, on account of not being scheduled during the time of the call, and instead being on the road on errands... my boss summarized in an email to me after the fact) that our duties at Best Buy will be transitioning back to the Best Buy staff during the coming two months, while Anderson services to WalMart are on an increase. They apparently expect to hire more folks for that side of the business and transition existing staff currently assigned to BB to the Walmart team.

Thank you, but no thank you. I have DONE merchandising tasks (for other companies, on an ad hoc basis over the past few years) at WalMart and have zero desire to be assigned there. The only company lower on my list is Target.

So, once again, my kick ass survival instinct has kicked in and motivated me to jump ship before the waves swamp the boat and the decision was made much earlier and totally based on intuition. I did a similar thing many years ago, in TX, successfully leaving the apparently successful dot-com before it imploded and ended up housed back in the founders basement.


And on the hex sign front, I was contacted some time back by a "lifestyle specialist" media personality in MN who wanted to feature my art in the TV segment. Today it airs... Streaming live CST 9:15-ish... the program that will include my hex signs! http://www.myfoxtwincities.com/

The station's web site already shows what apparently will be the gist of the program http://www.myfoxtwincities.com/story/26025329/good-luck-charms-to-adorn-your-home

I am hoping for an increase in orders, but hopefully not something overwhelming. I am also thinking on how I can parlay this publicity into articles in print publications, hopefully some of the magazines that focus on the north east and Maine.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Real Life Gardening 002

I said I would publish updates, and so I shall.

Despite a comment that I received on Facebook, I did not just "plant it and walk away" but have been weeding in the rows by hand and between the rows have been worked with the tractor where possible. A spring tooth harrow does NOT remove every weed but does keep them down to what I consider a reasonable level and when I am in the row, I hand pull the big ones. Why don't I hoe, as the FB poster suggested? I suspect he has NO concept of the size of my garden. Would YOU attempt to hoe 1/3 of an American football field? I didn't think so...

At the end of last week I had time and a bit of weather that was not wet nor intolerably hot (over 80 degrees especially with direct sunshine, and I have to pack it in until later in the day) and I began knocking down weeds around the lettuces in preparation for a workshop behind held here.

Weeds knock down prior
to cultivation.
Because the weeds were tall and my tiller is tiny, I attacked between the rows with a string trimmer, until it bound up and then with my scythe. Scythe actually worked much better but unfortunately it can only be worked right handed; the string trimmer, while heavier and more awkward, I can use with either hand holding and the other one operating it which somewhat helps endurance.

Fowl enjoying the weeds.
The fowl enjoyed the green matter, which I pulled out of the garden so it wouldn't get tangled in the tiller.  There was a complete cart load of my medium size garden cart for them to work on.

Banty rooster tiller, left, and the work it has done, foreground.
Untilled rows at the top of pic.
The next morning I started working with the "banty rooster" tiller. As you can see, a pass up and back made short work of the weed stubs and grass... for now. These rows are too close together for the tractor to work them but wide enough apart to be two tiller-widths. The ground where the first crop lettuces are planted and where the onion are -- to the right -- was not worked up mechanically at all prior to planting, nor had it been until just this week. When I started planting, the rotary tiller for the tractor had been declared non-operational but not yet beyond hope, which is about where it is now. Anyway, I started planting what I could because it was necessary and since then we decided to use the harrow exclusively this year.

As you can see in this photo, taken by Yolanda at the workshop, the weeds that you can see as specks of green in the previous picture have pretty much bit the dust. The only drawback to having done this was that participants in the "More than the Tip of the Iceberg" workshop had to knock the dust off the leaves prior to our wandering taste session in the garden. Fortunately, most were gardeners and all were understanding that "a little bit of dirt won't hurt."

The workshop was sponsored by our newly formed chapter of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA). The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association was formed in 1971 and is the oldest and largest state organic organization in the country.



On other notes, it appears that we have a broody hen. We have had a roo on the loose for some months. Having two, who don't get along, they take turns being with the girls and having the run of the farm. Newton, the current bachelor roo, apparently has a hen who is sweet on him, so much so that she kept figuring out ways to "flee the coop" so to speak, regardless of my
Where she appeared to go to ground.
having clipped her wings and block up every hole I could spot. Since they stay out of the garden, I figured we might as well let her keep Newton company, which she did for some weeks.

Then, one day, there was Newton at morning chores but no sign of the hen we had taken to calling "the hussy." We figured she had been outwitted by a fox as we have seen them around. But apparently that was not the case, for she appeared for breakfast with her beau the next day. We continued to see her sporadically, and I began to think she had gone broody and was setting. I determined yesterday to watch her on the next morning that I did chores if it wasn't raining... and today was the day. She was cagey and it seemed to take forever but finally I saw her appear to go to ground. I let her be for a bit, then checked next time I was out and found her in one of the old nests someone (perhaps this very hen) had used when they were all at large. 

I won't disturb her again, but next time we see her off the nest and eating away from this area, I shall go check and count eggs.

On a totally different line of work, I had to make a trip to our little rural post office today to ship off this hex sign. This 24" diameter sign is for Inspiration and is on it way to Tennessee. 






Saturday, July 12, 2014

Real Life Gardening 001

I often don't take photos of my garden through the year, because, honestly, though it manages to provide us with lots of food, it looks like crap.

My main garden, for those of you readers who haven't been following, is approximately 100 foot square. Probably larger, though I haven't gotten a tape measure out there. Who has time for that.
I plant with VERY widely spaced rows, counter to my usual habit and preference, so that my other half will be able to help. Tractor Guy is officially disabled and cannot stand or walk for very long periods and so his help is from the seat of our current tractor... a Massey Ferguson we call Fergie. The tiller attachment we had for Fergie is in need of serious rebuilding, so our only cultivation tool at present is a spring tooth harrow.

This year I tried planting some of the rows closer together, with the idea that he could straddle them with Fergie and cultivate on each side. That sort of worked.

 I am going to write a series of articles with many, many pictures of the garden this year, regardless of how "pretty" -- or not so pretty -- it looks. Why? Because I got to thinking that all the pictures I see on the Internet of gardens, in the forums and groups that I frequent at least, show these beautiful, weed-free plots and I fear that folks who have not gardened may be scared off by the perfectness of it all and never even begin... or give up when their garden dissolves into weeds and never even try to look for a harvest.

My First Rule of Gardening is this: Plants WANT to grow. All plants. Yeah, the weeds are often the more successful competitors in the survival of the fittest, but that doesn't mean that the food plants give up. Quite to the contrary, they struggle on, in and under the weeds, trying their darnedest to do what all plants are driven to do... stay alive and make seed... and in the process make food for us. This was driven home to me very dramatically the first year here in Maine when I literally lost my row of carrots under the weeds all season long. When the frosts killed back the weeds, they revealed stunted but bright green fern like foliage that, when dug, provided us with a much larger harvest of carrots than I could have imagined existed under there even a couple of weeks earlier.

So here goes... My garden, early July 2014.


Starting at the west side of the garden and working west, here are the first two rows, the second planting of lettuce seedlings. The runner grass is coming along quickly after the rains, but hopefully a pass or two with the Banty Rooster tiller will fairly quickly define the rows and Tractor Guy will be able to work between them with Fergie.

 This is the onion and leek row. IN the row is fairly weed free, thanks to having planted them in my paper feed sack mulch. You can see that the general weed growth between the rows is nearly as tall as the onions, and will need to be knocked down somehow before I can even think about getting the Banty Rooster in there. It does not handle big weeds well.


 The first planting of lettuce is beginning to bolt, but many of them (as shown in the top photo) are happily still producing leaves for us and for market despite the weeds. Remember, plants WANT to grow! I have a "meet the lettuce" event happening here tomorrow and after that I will begin pulling some of the bolting plants for the poultry. I plan to let some of them go to seed and collect it, but probably from the LAST and not the first of the crop to bolt.

Bottom pic shows the abundant growth on the parsley that starts one of the two rows of first planting lettuce.

I have seedlings well along, ready to be put into the garden for the third planting as soon as I can figure out where they go.


 We have two full rows of peas this year, mostly English (or shelling) peas. The left picture shows a few feet of a snow pea (the tall ones) that is beginning to set pods; the remainder of that row, and the one in the bottom pic, are the shelling peas.

In the right hand pic, the variety that starts the row, up to where the sit-and-pick scooter is positioned, is producing food! The rest are well podded out and coming along nicely. I shall put the soaker hose on them today.

Most of the peas are climbing on the orange plastic snow fence, cut in half lengthwise. I ran out, though, and had some left over bird netting that was impossible to flatten and straighten out and used that for about 20 feet, but I will not do that again. Some of the plants have grown up into folds in the mesh, which is too small for them to grow through. they still keep trying to grow, though, and wad up into a useless mass of leaves.


Left pic shows a small section of the onion row that was planted to assorted brassica. the seeds got mixed but I planted them anyway and transplanted the seedlings into some of the feed sack mulch. There are cabbages, it appears, some broccoli and kohlrabi.

The right hand pic shows another section of a row (the head of one of the lettuce rows, actually) with some broccoli, also planted with the feed sack mulch.


 If you look VERY closely in the top pic you should be able to see the baby carrots fern-like leaves amongst the weeds. This is the row that I am currently first weeding, by hand, with a three tine cultivator and my mark one hands. this is what all the carrot rows looked like initially.

The bottom pic shows another carrot row in which I have completed the first weeding. You will note that it is not weed free, and likely will not ever be. My weeding goal is to remove most/enough of them to give the food plants a leg up in the fight for survival.

 Celery. Just a few feet of row which was rough weeded early on and needs to have the Banty Rooster run along side again and needs more manure and water. Soon. I promise.

 Can you tell what is in this row? Well, neither can I. LOL I could look back on my notes but most likely will begin weeding and see what I find. Most likely should be beets/chard in there somewhere.


Left hand photo shows my double row of potatoes. I am leaving the weeds to help confuse the potato bugs (yeah, that's my story and I am sticking to it!). It actually does need weeding and then hilling. IF I can find a source of cheap mulch hay, I shall mulch it. Know of anyone with spent or moldy hay in the Bangor area?

Right hand image shows the single row of potatoes. Tractor Guy has worked one side of the row, but the next row was planted too close for him to get in without damaging plants so I will need to weed that side.


 The single row of potatoes also includes a few sweet potato plants (lower photo) and a few feet of climbing beans (top photo.)

The sweet potatoes were nearly taken out by the tractor because I neglected to tell Tractor Guy that I had moved the glass cloches I had placed over them early on, but which were still sitting in the garden. He focused on the glass domes when cultivating and they were sitting next to, but not over, the growing plants. Oops.

Pole beans have some scrounged trellis material that I should get positioned for them soon!

 Poor bush beans! I am going to get some water on them today, I hope, and see how many survive. This was another case of "I planted too close together for Tractor Guy" and we need to work out a better and more accurate way of laying out rows.  I will be planting a second crop and crossing my fingers for a second harvest.

 Corn! Finally something we can see over the weeds!

 Tomatoes, with their cardboard mulch and fence section that will be raised and angled soon for support. And yes, I need to hand weed along the edges of the mulch, but that usually goes quickly once I get there because the adjacent tractor work really does loosen the soil around the weeds.

 Row left ... a sauce tomatoes at the far end with peppers. the fence sections with the sauce tomatoes will be raised but kept flat; on the peppers, they are just there to hold down the cardboard. That row ends with a section of feed sack mulch and a second planting of brassica.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Year of Transition -- Shortened

When I decided last fall that "retirement" from my town job needed to happen, and started on the path of the Year of Transition, the "year" part of the timing seemed very right. It echoed the traditional "year and a day" and a change at the autumn equinox seemed appropriate timing for the commencement of the autumn season of life.

However, as often happens, it seems that the Fates and the Gods and the Universe at Large often have other ideas.

All I can say (perhaps only in hindsight justification) is that it only takes 9 months to make a baby human, and that is a heck of a transition, so it seems like that will be a reasonable length of time for this transition as well.  LOL

Several threads in the tapestry of my life have recently come together to indicate to me that I need to take leave of the town rat race, the chase for the cheese or however one chooses to think of the pursuit of the paycheck.

Yes, I am short -- WAY short -- of my intended goal to hit the official Senior Years free of debt. However, I shall survive and still have a reasonable expectation of being able to pay off those debts sooner rather than later. And yes, this post is deliberately somewhat vague. There is a situation in play, beyond my control, that may soon present me with what may be a good opportunity as well as a bit of stress/stretching in use of my time and talents. I am hoping to know more this week, but with the holiday coming, I fear that the decision may not be passed down until the following week.

Meanwhile, I have given notice to my part time employer, that the last Saturday of July will be my official end of employment. No, I don't often have to work Saturdays (the preceding Friday will likely be my final day of actual work) but that is the end of the pay period. They had asked for a month of lead time, if possible, to allow for finding and properly training my replacement. I have told them that, should the above mentioned opportunity actually present itself, I would like it if they could pull off replacing me in under a month, but I am not holding my breath.

Freedom Rangers, getting big enough to be supper!
Regardless of what happens on the potential opportunity, there is plenty to do here at Fussing Duck Farm and Dutch Hex Sign Dot Com. There are house projects that need completion, a garden to tend, wool and alpaca fiber to spin, and this week, meat to be put in the freezer. One of the Red Rangers has been heard trying to crow and the one we dressed out for Solstice supper proved to weigh in at over 4 pounds. Plus, I am expecting the new crop of meat birds for fall "harvest" to arrive in a couple of weeks... so we need to get these not-so-little gluttons off to freezer camp.

We were minus birds in the house for only a few days. Tractor Guy has been wanting to try guinea fowl, so when I found a good deal on 9 nearby day old keets, I took it. Then a friend ended up getting some broad breasted white turkey poults free -- she was at the right place at the right time -- and we cooked up a trade of some of the chicks she was hatching for me, from my eggs, for a couple of the turkeys. Then I discovered that another friend has an abundance of  heritage turkey hens, laying and wanting to set but is down a tom; we ended up with no hens just toms... so a trade will be made today once I get my truck back from the shop!

Yes, it's true... I WILL once again have my Artie truck... with new (rebuilt) engine and clutch! Today, with luck...

And with that note, I had better get going on the day.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sweatin' With the Weeds

AAAAAND.... It's SUMMER!  In the blink of an eye, from a day that felt more like April to days that feel more like August within the same week.

the actual rows still need a first weeding but between is
getting under control thanks to Tractor Guy!
Pea trellises in place
So we are sweatin' with the weeds, trying to do as much in the garden in the early and late periods of less violent sunlight. Tractor Guy has set up the cultivator with all 6 blades on one side to work between the narrower rows (the tractor straddles a row of low growing crops and cultivates between that row and the one to the right).  IN the rows, with the seedlings finally big enough to see, weeding still needs doing. I attacked the spinach row today, hoping to actually coax them into not bolting, but with the temperatures, I am not holding my breath. I AM considering starting them in the house for a fall crop, if I can figure out the timing, and trying that in the spring next year.

You can see, in the picture above, a bit of the pea trellis that I finally got installed. Here is a better shot. There has been some very light predation, but one variety is beginning to bloom!  My trellis is make from several year old snow fence, cut in half lengthwise and some very fine black mesh bird netting that is on its last legs.

Double deer fence, along the front.
The first planting of lettuce is ready for market and eating; well started along just as we finished off the last of the accidentally over wintered stuff. And the second planting is in the gound. Now, I just need to make more tiny blocks and start the third round!

Double deer fence at the gate; outside is three strand electric, top
and bottom hot, middle ground.


The electric deer fence has been up for a few days, and appears to be working. We did have TWO places where the bottom line had been pushed up, so that the bottom and middle insulators were pushed right together, but I think the deer ended up shocking themselves as the middle is the ground. We fixed both of those places and have not seen any more issues. the inside fence that you can see better in the left picture is just a single strand of twine -- a visual barrier.

I have talked, I think, about the feed sack mulch strips that I made by taking paper feed sacks, opening them up along the sides and stapling them together to make a strip. Here are some broccoli plants that are happily using the home made weed block. In the end, it gets tilled in. Until then, it really does a great job of keeping the weeds away. I use this for any row crop that is an annual that will stand for most of the season (brassica, onions and kin, etc) and use cardboard for vine crops (pumpkins, cucumbers, etc) and perennials. Unfortunately for me, I have to weed the shorter season crops and those that get planted as seeds: lettuce, peas, beans, carrots...

On the hex sign front, I handed of a big custom sign recently to a local family that will mount it on their newly built camp! The robins represent the family's daughters, sitting on an olive branch for family harmony with love over all grounded in faith. The scalloped boarder represents smooth sailing through life.



Sunday, June 8, 2014

Summer is a Comin' In

... and it arrived, overnight, with a rise to highs in the 80s.  whew.

I am hoping that on days when I can get into the garden early, that I will be able to continue through the day through the heat.  That's what happened, yesterday, when I was able to get the last of the tomatoes, all of the peppers and the herbs that had been languishing on the porch out into the garden.

Fence over cardboard mulch
As an aside, the tomatoes and peppers are planted through cardboard mulch, with old fence sections currently holding the cardboard in place. As the table tomato plants grow, I will raise the top of the fence and stake it in place at about a 60 degree angle, for the plants to continue to grow through. And I will use the fence as a support, tying plants as needed to keep the fruit off the ground. I lost a LOT last year to ground rot and ground dwelling bugs. 
Close-up of baby tomato plant
The sauce tomatoes don't grow nearly as tall, but also need some sort of support. I am plotting to just raise the fence sections a bit off the ground, using pieces of 4x4, blocks, bricks or whatever I have on hand... just enough for the plants to drape their branches over the slats and keep the fruit up and dry. 
Peppers just need cardboard for
weed control

The peppers don't need support, but I had the fences there and need something to hold the cardboard down, so they got the same treatment. 
Today, though, coming home from my stint in town a mid-day and having to dig through the garage to find boxes of shorts, summer dresses and tank tops while wearing my work attire (the previous single tank top, pair of shorts... now with extra cooling via a rip in the butt... and summer dress that I brought in for "unexpected" warm days were all on the line) kinda kicked my butt. So no garden for me today.

Hex painting was the order of the day, with a custom 4' sign on the table.

I have signed up with an online farmers market out of the nearby town of Dover-Foxcroft and will be attending their physical market on  Saturdays for a bit, at least. I hear through the grapevine that eggs have been lacking at the market, but unlike the previous sales venue -- a buyers club -- I can specify how many I have in the online stock page and can set aside ones for us to put by for winter.

Hopefully I will have some lettuce to bag for them this week as well.

I am frustrated by the lack of seedlings in my beet and carrot rows, but have stock to replant, which I shall after giving them all a good soaker watering and waiting a few days. Peas, spinach, potatoes are up, the onions and leeks are hanging on (need side dressing) and it's time to get some blood meal on the garlic. I will see about picking some up on Tues as we have been unable to find that which I thought I had.

Corn and beans and the vine crops are not showing yet, and I am frustrated by the cardboard in the vine area, which refused to stay put (to its credit I must say we did have some higher than typical winds) so will need to be replaced -- with the holes in the board matched up with the emerging seedlings -- once they show themselves. Puzzle time...

Physically, I am feeling more pain than usual. Cutting cardboard holes hurt, walking to and from the gardens hurts, etc. but it is still better than not. I do need to take times inside in between projects to rest the knees though.

Red rangers meat birds have been allowed to forage much of the day and have, thus far, stayed away from the garden. I have more coming early in July, so these guys will begin going to freezer camp in a couple of weeks. The few remaining layer babies should be going out into a chicken tractor soon. I just need to make them one then we will be minus indoor fowl for a few weeks.

Next project is a good cleaning of the bunny cages (including burning off the excess crud and hair that I cannot easily remove by other means) and moving them into the back room. this is the first stage of turning the current "living room" into a studio and the current computer room into the den.
And, of course, there is the front door project that we need to complete. Pix should follow at some point.

And, so, all is well as we approach summer solstice and the turn of the wheel to shorter days.