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Saturday, November 14, 2020

Fowl Deeds, Indeed!

 After a far-too-long hiatus (in my opinion, I have not asked the hens!) my young hens have begun to lay. They were all hen-hatched here except for 6, supplied by the Pajamas, Books and Chickens flock and one female bantam hen from my friend Yolanda. That flighty gray bantam was the only hen of the 6 she shared to help keep my first, single hatchling company. The 5 roosters now reside in the freezer, stand-ins for "cornish game hens" for future meals. We call these small, unexpected offerings Pullet-surprises ... the cognate of which I will never receive if I keep writing run-on sentences like I am inclined to do, no? LOL 

I am hoping that they will be happier in their new coop. Their old housing was a pallet and tarp construction which held up well for several years but was, among other things, hard to clean out and even harder for my 6' tall partner to deal with. You see, at its best, it was the height of a pallet and two pallets by two pallets in size. This aging camper trailer which was a gift from a friend, is just barely 6' tall, but even with the extra stuff on the floor to help keep the birds warm and absorb their droppings, he only has to duck his head, not crawl on hands and knees when searching for eggs.


In their new digs, the fowl have three layers of roosts and as you can see, they seem to want to go high. They have repurposed kitty litter packaging for nest boxes (photo above), which they have yet to use and the plywood and cement blocks at the back of the camper, when open, are the chicken door. 

I had everyone shut in the camper while I repaired and moved fence panel sections for their yard, and I can report they are VERY happy to be able to go back outside now. The ducks, as ducks are inclined to do, prefer to stay outside, even in most winter weather.



Monday, November 2, 2020

A Ritual for These Stressful Times


Are you feeling out of sorts? A bit off from the pandemic, the issues surrounding it? Is the election and all of the crazy uncertainty around that also coming to a head in your life? Let me offer a ritual that has helped me, today, to calm, ground and center myself.

I washed a window.

Now, when you stop scratching your head in confusion or laughing, hear me out.

First off, I am not talking about just washing it. And I am not talking about a major big deal house cleaning project. Just One Window. And if the weather is bad, don't fret about not being able to do the outside; that can easily be for another day.

Secondly, it does not matter what spiritual path you follow, which candidates have your vote (and if you haven't done so yet, please DO go and vote!) or whether your windows just got washed -- or by whom -- last week or even yesterday. This is a Ritual and while it involves cleaning and is, somewhat, about cleaning, it is about much more than that.

Ready?

First, select your favorite window. You do have one, right? And not the one with the interior decor and window treatment that you finally got just right. This is about the view that you see through this window, so it should be your favorite window because it has your favorite view. It doesn't have to be something the Realtor would tout in an ad and maybe no one else in the world would ever see what makes it your favorite. Maybe it shows you just the right bit of sunrise or sunset at a particular time in the year. Maybe it shows you a favorite plant in the garden, or if you live on the umteenth floor of a high rise, is the place you sit to watch the clouds roll by on a summer eve, while you share a beer with your partner. But make it your favorite one.

Select your cleaning tools (I use a blue window cleaning spray and newspaper to wipe. Sometimes I have steeped an herb or two in the solution, but that is not necessary, even if you are a witch. You see, the Intent is the thing.

Before you start washing, take a few minutes to look out, contemplating what you see, both on the window and beyond it. For me, the "long term variable periodic housekeeper" that I am, let's just say that my first priority was removing the unintentional Samhain/Halloween decorations. LOL My local spinners had been busy this fall, but were no longer being seen so away went the webs. Then I went to work on the actual dirt.

This is my favorite window because it not only looks North, it also gives me a good view of my poultry and sheep, as well as the guardian dog. I often stand here, when movement catches my eye, just watching the sheep in their pasture during the spring and summer, and the chickens and ducks busily doing chicken and duck things year round.

As I began washing, I was reminded that my house likes clean windows; she likes to have clear eyes with which to look out at the world. It is part of her way of protecting us, being able to see and seen and unseen challenges beyond the walls and beyond the gates. And she is ever so appreciative of the washing. She says so, in the squeaks of the newspaper against the clean glass.

So my Intent is partly nesting and partly strengthening the protections on the place; wiping away the clingy bits of detritus that seem unavoidable these days. It's symbolic, yes, but having reassembled the window, even I feel cleaner now.

Being a witch, I will mark a sigil on the panes, top and bottom, with my saliva-dampened finger and call it good. One could end it, as well, with Words of thanks, of prayer.

However you do it, I suggest you try. Maybe tomorrow, after you vote. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Has it really taken a year?

 I have been looking back on my posts on Facebook from last year, since Sept 27. I do wish it was easier to look back, on that platform, other than on the exact day in previous years, but as they say, it is what it is. On that day I was feeling great, looking forward to spinning with one of my favorite groups in the morning and then heading out to help officiate at a wedding in the afternoon. Or so I thought. I was less than a week out from my work at the Common Ground Fair, and while I was looking forward to some reenactment spinning the following weekend, I was also very much looking forward to a week on the farm. Common Ground was always a bottleneck in the farm work flow, as the three days away, plus the recovery time, always set me back some.

My plans went well awry, though, the next day when, sitting in the dooryard of the couple to be wed, I tried and failed to push through *something* that was beginning to wrack my body with fever and violent chills and sapped my strength to almost nothing. I never got out of the car in that dooryard and barely made it into the house when I got home.

A week later I posted *nothing* on FB, but the following day's entry indicates that I had gone to the doc and had been swabbed for the 'flu but they did nothing to alleviate any of my symptoms. Turned out I did not have the 'flu and neither did I have a diagnosis. For at least a week, all I can remember is sitting in my recliner, not wanting to eat much of the time but managing to take fluids and dozing on and off with kitty Smoke in my lap much of the time. FB shows that I did do some stuff... puttering about... but K took the brunt of life and chores, as the sheep were sheared, birds and beasts tended and so on.

Eventually I did feel like doing stuff, but the fever -- off and on -- and chills (strong enough shaking that it put my back, which had been hurting from spending 3 days spinning while tending my tent at the fair, got put back in!) persisted for much longer than expected. My stand out memory was one morning, accepting a piece of buttered toast to eat -- not the first and not the last -- the flavor hit me like I had never ever tasted anything before. Heaven in a bite of commercial bread and butter would satisfy a description! I had one more day of such enhanced taste and then my sense returned to normal. I have no explanation for this, other than to note that normally I have no sense of smell and I wonder if perhaps it kicked in for a bit then. Who knows.

I do know that, while I called myself "back to normal" after a bit, this entire past year has been a struggle, totally regardless of the pandemic. Everything from the garden, on seemed to be "behind schedule. Garlic did not get planted until spring... and it was even a late, very short spring this year and winter hung on, and summer came on hard and early. My energy reservoir is not as deep as it used to be, takes longer to refill and is depleted more quickly. And things have felt "off." I put it down to social changes due to the pandemic and my changing the routine a bit, with fewer, longer trips to town and a bit more "use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without" than usual. But honestly I do not know.

I do know that, a few weeks back, on a regular doc visit, I voiced a thought that had been floating around in my head, thinking back on my symptoms: could I have had a very early case of Covid 19 or something like it, a precursor? I expected the doc to gently disagree and turn the conversation elsewhere, but -- with my symptoms up on the screen before her at the time -- she not only agreed but allowed as how it sounded likely.

I also know that, planting garlic yesterday, in the freshly tilled soil where the multi-strand deer fence had been, somehow felt like a key to putting everything right again. I hope so.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

The Neglected Garden

Do you think your garden is looking a bit neglected? Has it got away from you on account of life getting in the way? Do you see pictures of perfect rows of bountiful produce, marching in unison across a lovely, weed-free ground and sigh, convinced that your garden will never be "good enough?"

Well, stop right there and let's take a virtual visit to my garden through photos I took today. 

We finally have had some rain, enough to make it not only possible but easy and actually FUN to pull weeds! And as you will see, I need to spend lots of time out there, doing just that! 
But, you know, life is still happening. I have a huge backlog of order for hex signs to complete, I am finally getting my act in gear and attempting -- with support and instruction from a neighbor -- to complete a project to put vinyl composite tile that I snagged for free a couple of years ago, on the back porch floor. I should hate to admit it, but the porch flooring project -- starting with adding 3/4" plywood over the original underlayment after removing the carpet that was originally there -- started 6 years ago. This year it WILL get done. But we still need to eat, so out to the garden we go.

This will give you a good idea of the status of the garden. Thanks to the paper feed sack weed block in the walkways, at least I DO know where the rows are supposed to be! You can't tell much from this image, left of the first two rows I began attempting to weed soon after the beginning of the rainy spell. The row on the left was seeded to lettuces (a few barely visible lower left) and carrots. The ones at the far end of the bed failed to germinate but as I weed toward the lettuces, I am beginning to find tiny carrot seedlings hidden in the much larger, dense grass. Fortunately, I do not mind "fine weeding" in this situation. It is
use time consuming and requires much care. A couple of hot days dried the soil enough that I had to let this bit go for a while and move on to other projects, as I was just pulling the tops off the grass plants. The bed on the right in the photo above was planted to beets with some germination, as you can see in the image on the right. I soaked the remainder of my beet seeds overnight and re-seeded the portion that I had managed to weed day before yesterday and will keep an eye on them, irrigating if needed. I have a friend who looks forward to my supplying her with beets each year, and with any luck we will both get some.

When I was out in the garage recently, I unearthed a mostly full bag of diatomaceous earth. I had read that one could dust potato plants "liberally" with the stuff to help with the potato bug problem. While I am not inclined to use chemical sprays, I am comfortable using DE, so I made a larger shaker, filled it up and
took to the potato beds last evening. I was a little short of the stuff to treat them all, so I have a "control group" of about 16 plants at the end of one bed that were not treated. As I walked the beds, dusting, I also squished any bugs (larvae) that I found. We had a wee bit of dampness last night and a brief shower while I was working in the garden today, but not enough to remove the stuff from the plants. I have not checked for bugs yet today, but I will this evening, as this is a once a day routine here in potato bug season.
Looking at these images , do you see a theme here?? No soil to be seen... and no, it is not especially deliberate. but I am not in panic mode either!
 When I got to the end of the first potato bed last evening, I continued down into the area where the vine crops are planted, doing some rough weeding to remove the taller hogweed and lambs quarters and once they were out, pulling the grasses that were up close to the hills. Eventually I will need to go back and work more on the grasses... or try to smother them some with spent hay. The vines like to have the soil kept moist.

The project of the day, though, was getting the tomato plants excavated from the sea of weeds (hogweed, lambs quarters
and grass) and securing them to the strings I added to their support system. I had to improvise a bit because, in the chaos from both the back porch project and the multiple signs I am painting, the
official tomato clips (left) have vanished. I looked in all the likely places in both house (where I think they are hiding) and garage, but it needed doing NOW, so I improvised with one of the
more useful and inexpensive homestead solutions: cable ties! I dislike using single use plastics, but in this case, it seemed a reasonable compromise. Look closely, they are GREEN. Not my favorite choice of color for things in the garden, especially things that I need to FIND again (like these things, to make sure I did not tighten them too much and to easily remove at the end of the season). I would have preferred red, or even blue... but green was what I found when I went hunting.

So now you know; my garden is far from weed-free and will remain so even once I get the "weeding" done. While I have no proof of this, it seems to me that having other plants in and around your target species (aka food) might help confuse some of the bugs or have other benfits that we have not noticed. I have, in the length of time we have been here (going on 12 years next month) declared war on bindweed (wild morning glory) as they are most invasive and do not play well with others. It has worked, and now I seldom see one! Of course it gets pulled immediately. I do wish I could figure as good a solution for the runner grasses, though.

Encouragement for Newish Gardeners


Every morning, I go out to the potato patch to hunt down potato bugs of all sizes -- from mature, potential egg layers to just hatched babies the size of a grain of sand and everyone in between, and search for the bright yellow egg clusters under the leaves, to pick and remove those leaves and eggs. I do not want to spray, even with products approved for use in organic gardens. I may be a fanatic, but in my world, manual control of pests and weeds is the best method all around.

While I was working, looking at my weedy, struggling garden and thinking about the crazy weather we have been having, my mind was also drawn to consider how many new gardeners have sprung up this year and how many folks have enlarged their garden plots, in attempts to become more resilient in the face of supply chain issues, among many reasons. And I have to say "Y'all picked a heck of a year to do this!"

I know we never have any control over the weather, but I am very glad this is not even close to my first rodeo. I am struggling and my garden is struggling and I have well over 50 years of growing stuff under my belt (and that does not even come close to counting the little toy chicks from an early Easter basket that I planted in my folks garden as a very young girl!). I have grown food in more states than many folks have even visited, and in conditions from optimal back yards to corners tucked in next to single level apartments to balconies and even just window sills when I was stuck in the city.  And I have never struggled like I am this year.

Our first lettuce
of 2020!
So my words of encouragement going out to you all are these: be thankful for whatever you manage to grow! And don't let failure get you down for long; certainly don't let it set you off trying to grow stuff. Keep trying, keep replanting. Talk to the gardeners around you, connect with the Master Gardeners associated with your county extension office (they all have one) and keep notes if you are at all organized.

Notes don't have to be detailed, but just writing when you plant, when you replant and why, maybe a bit about the weather and when you harvest -- or when your plants succumb to the fall frosts -- will help you build your personal knowledge base to move forward.

Here at hex central under the sign of the fussing duck, we had a very late "spring" so nothing got planted even close to when I usually do -- or when the charts based on "average last frost date" suggested. Yes, there were frosts, later than usual but the main issue was cold, wet soil. That means soil that cannot be turned properly and seeds that, if planted, lay there and rot.

So my peas and the other early crops were late. When done "right" (that is when the temperature and weather and soil and gardener are all in sync with the charts LOL) we have our first small picking of peas for July 4 here. This year, though I know a friend nearby who pulled it off, just barely, ours had to not only fight weather and timing, but got hit multiple times by hungry deer.

I put up three rows of electric fence wire around the garden. One at the actual garden perimeter has 3 strands. About 3' out from that is one that has 4 strands and the outermost one has 5. Unfortunately, rain and health issues slowed our work to electrify the outermost fence and the deer discovered almost immediately that they could just push it down/over and come in to eat. Repeatedly. They did not eat the plants down to the ground, but as they are growing back, I am not sure if I will end up needing the trellis for them to climb on this year! At least they *are* growing back, blossoming and now, in July, beginning to set pods! And, at this point, the fence is holding and our unseasonably high temperatures seem to have moderated into a cool, damp spell, which the peas like, so I am feeling positive about getting a crop.

At the same time, since my goal is to supply all of our year's vegetables (I actually produce about 95% of the fresh, canned and frozen veg that we use in a year) I am thankful that I still have some packages frozen from last year's bountiful crop.

If increasing your food resilience, to use the current parlance, is your goal as well, I also suggest that as you gain experience and skill, that you begin to plant more than you will use in a year. Not only does this hedge the bets against poor germination, predators and such on the fresh eating side, it also allows you to put by extra, or to have extra to share or trade with friends. I know the common wisdom is that home frozen produce lasts 8-10 months in the freezer. However, I have never personally had frozen vegetables become unsafe to use. And I can say that even when served plain, as a side dish, my partner with the more discerning palate has not (yet) complained about "freezer burn." Of course, he just might be holding his tongue so that he keeps getting fed! ;)


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Happy Earth Day!

Wednesday April 22

Earth Day and Mother Nature has gifted our corner of the world with another light blanket of snow. This seems to make many unhappy, but I still love the late season snows. I will have to change my plans to head up to Dover in search of cardboard to ship the continuing slow stream of hex sign orders, but I have time to do that yet. The one on the painting table is currently awaiting wood dough to fill voids in the edge of the plywood. I thought I still had plenty, but it had dried too much to be workable. So shortly – after breakfast and chores – I will head to the local hardware store to pick some up and then get some more hay for the sheep. They are looking longingly at the bits of green beginning to show in the back field, but it's not time to set up the electric pasture fence … yet. Soon, though!

I have decided to move the anti-deer electric fence in, closer to the fruit and vegetable areas, rather than continuing to try to maintain a longer boundary. Neither of us is young any more, and not having so much fence to maintain, as well as being able to use more strands for the outer fence as well as more string for the inner, visual barrier, will be a good thing. All of my fruit has been nibbled on by deer over the winter.

Miss Kitty, left and Firecat, on the laptop
enjoying the sunshine
Mostly, though, I have spent the day, once again, pushing pixels. I am making decent progress now on the Dutch hex Sign web site updates and with any luck I will be able to begin proof-clicking it tomorrow. It has been fun – and a challenge -- to work with our critters' “help.” Smoke, otherwise known these days as “wide load” has not really been a problem, other than when she gets grouchy and hisses at Firecat for getting too close. If I didn't know she was expecting, and soon, I would know that she was expecting – and soon – by her behavior. One moment she and Fire are sitting so close to each other at the food bowls that their hind quarters are touching and the next moment, though no one has moved, she hissed at Fire for being
too close! Any woman who has ever been pregnant is likely to resonate with that! Miss Kitty has finally really accepted Fire and they have been raising quite the rukkus today with their play and cat chases around the house.

My workstation for this redesign is set up literally right next to the chick's tote, so I have been working to the quiet calls and conversations of the chicks. And have been close at hand to convince Miss Kitty, especially, and the Firecat to a lesser degree, that they do not need to spend all day watching chickie-vision.


As I worked, I watched the snow all but disappear (as the sun set there were small bits clinging to life on the north sides of things) and was treated to another pretty flurry mid -afternoon, though none of it stayed around.

And, after over a year of having it on hold, today I figured out how to migrate the content from my Blogger blog to Wordpress! I have want6ed to do this for some time, as the Wordpress platform is much more robust and flexible, or so it seems to me though I have a long way to go to master it. But I was not going to change platforms until I could take all of the old entries along. When I abandoned LiveJournal a few years back, it was “cold turkey, and I was not going to do that again. 

The blog will be migrating to: https://hexsignhomestead.wordpress.com/

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Wind, cold front and pushing pixels.

The fucking wind is back again with a vengeance. The wind chimes are clanging up a storm (probably literally... we have forecast of more rain later this afternoon and evening though the mainstream media is threatening snow, again.) I have moved the laptop on which I work at the web edits into the living room to get away from the wind from K's fan (it is not even close to fan temperatures for me) only to feel the wind from outside blowing through the cracks. Grrrr! And to top things off, I worked in this wind, with my legs wrapped in a blanket, most of the afternoon.

It has been so long since I DID edits that I have been running around the mulberry bush to find the latest copy of the current site, and finally did, as well as got it onto the thumb drive so I can finally begin actual work! And work I did. I am feeling thoroughly in solidarity with those of you who are on the “work at home” track for this pandemic. It took a while, but I finally got back into the pixel-pushing groove and have been knocking out edits and additions to the Dutch Hex Sign web site today. I am hoping to have the most of it done tomorrow... but after resupplying filler for the actual hex signs, I will also have to do some filling and sanding, if not priming tomorrow. I know it's gonna be a strange day tomorrow: “computer neck” on top of a body full of muscles that don't like me much in general, and no LMT to fix me. But it is what it is and I can still moan, groan, cuss and fuss and “ignore” the pain to a large degree.

I did take the working woman's cop out and threw one of our commercial frozen lasagne packages in the oven for supper tonight, though I possibly redeemed myself with a side dish of home grown frozen peas. I will have to do some actual cooking tomorrow. Does “Mexican Wednesday” count even if I use store bought tortillas? Since I had 2 more ground beef patties than would fit into a gallon zip bag, that is where my mind is going at present. The larger stash is in a chest freezer now but the two oddballs are still in the fridge freezer.

I made a good call, disconnecting the hoses last night; everyone's buckets had more than just a skin of ice and I could feel it in the hoses as well. I won't have to disconnect them tonight, though, as our low is looking to be well above the freezing mark, especially as the wind has finally abated. We have not, thus far, had a lot of rain and though the temperature is not supposed to warm much above freezing tomorrow, it is not supposed to go much below tonight.

Now that I have logged out of “work” I am thinking about at least a short bit of a hot soak. I won't have a gale blowing through the bathroom and it will both relax me and my computer neck (or so I hope!) and give a little time for the bed heater to do its job. [Unheated bedroom, remember?]

Tomorrow will likely start with a quick trip to our little hardware store after chores though I will leave the “off farm” clothes washing until the evening. I have a replacement part for our fridge supposedly coming tomorrow (nothing mechanical..just the shelf that holds the crisper drawers, which is failing), a hex order to work on and another custom job likely coming. And with any luck, in a day or so K will cultivate so I can plant my garlic (late) and begin other gardening chores. I have lots of weed block made, and it is easiest to lay down when the soil has been recently cultivated and there is little to no wind. If necessary, I will deal with the latter to lay out rows and lay down mulch and then continue planting later.