Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Fox and the ...Guardian

There are no pix for this entry, though I tried!

We had a visit from a marauding fox this past Saturday. Tractor Guy was up early, as he often is, though I was sleeping in a bit after a long, tiring end to the week, with a 10 hour day at the store on Thursday and a short day -- both spent on my feet running like a madwoman -- the following day.

I was vaguely awake when I heard the front door open and then, after a bit, shut. I got up, intending to visit the loo and thinking that the dog had got up early and had been wanting out, but when I arose, there she was, still sound asleep on her pillow by the door.

When I got out to the living room, my favorite tractor guy was holding our buff silkie hen, who was rather upset. Apparently she had been snatched from her perch on our front porch step by the fox, and the panic calls of the fowl alerted K, who rushed to the door to see the fox making off with Little Buff. He hollered at the fox, who paused. He hollered again and the fox dropped the hen and took off across the road. K waded through the deep snow out to the baby Christmas tree from a few years ago, where the little hen had been dropped and was wandering around in a daze.

A few hours in the security of the bathtub, with her buddy Blanco (another silkie hen) and she recovered completely. Amazingly, the fox had not injured her AT ALL!

Tractor Guy's alter ego is the Guardian, though, so next morning he was up and on duty -- after a somewhat restless night on account of the predator in the neighborhood -- well before I arose at 4 AM. We both spotted the glowing eyes by the light of his large flashlight when I went out to head to work at 5 AM. Staying vigilant, he warded off three attempts by the fox to raid the flock (currently living under the front porch). The last time, shortly before dawn, he raised up his hands in a classic "monster" pose, flashlight in hand, and emitted a serious growl in the direction of the fox, before it fled.

That was Sunday, February 23. We have not see it since, though the Guardian remains on duty each morning. We have also installed a motion sensitive light above the porch, to help illuminate the area.

I know friends who have had fox and flocks issues in past years and their foxes have not just gone away; they either got killed by the farmer or became road kill nearby. However, those foxes also successfully SCORED a meal, which ours did not, at this point.

We remain vigilant, shall complete construction of the hen house that was in process when winter overtook the project, and hopefully the flock will remain safe.

They have started laying again, with most of the eggs ending up under the "liar's bench" (aka old church pew) that sits in front of the porch. One hen insists on laying in amongst some old fencing leaning up against the garage (at least she does when the snow is hard packed enough that she can walk on it to get to that "nest"... she has been laying directly on the snow and not only do the eggs freeze, and crack, but they stick to the snow and ice where they land, warm, upon being laid! Today I carried some of the rabbit's hay out there, to hopefully give some insulation.) Another forces her way onto the porch, defeating the plastic chicken fence aimed an excluding them from the outside kitty feeding area and keeping the porch clean or their droppings, to lay in the plastic tote that protects the kitty bowl from the elements. Those eggs are easy to get.

The ones laid under the porch require me to scoot under the structure to collect them. I have recently decided that going in the west end -- moving the tarp that I added as a windbreak after the bags of leaves started compacting -- was the easiest way to get all the eggs. Once I am under the porch, I can pretty easily get to both the ones laid at the west and the east ends of the bench... and now I know to look IN the leaves in one of the bags before I get on my knees to scoot under the porch.

No, I did not break the egg, though I could easily have done so. I discovered it by accident when I put my hand on the leaves to crawl out this afternoon.

Egg hunting will become a mid-afternoon event, I think. Hopefully, then, the morning's eggs will not have time to freeze and all the eggs will be laid before I collect.

Oh, "life on the farm's kinda laid back... "  LOL

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Let there be.... Cloches?

I work part time in a "big box" type store and this week, we have had a crew in, replacing the old mercury-vapor lights, left, with more efficient fluorescent fixtures. It has been a big project, over three days with an unhappy crew (they were short one man due to illness.) Fortunately for everyone, the lighting crew worked overnight and were just cleaning up (after a fashion) and clearing out at 6AM when I arrive for my shift.

The first morning, as I was clocking in and chatting with one of the store managers and the head of the lighting crew, the manager -- a backyard gardener who has supplemented his home grown produce with purchases from me in the past, gave me a sidelong look and said "you know, those fixtures might have a good use in the garden!" I eyeballed one of the units, sitting nearby on the floor and realized that the "shades" were made of heavy glass and would indeed make interesting cloches for protecting some extra early tomatoes, peppers and giving the watermelons a head start.

After a bit of discussion, the deal was made: the lighting crew would set aside 20 or so unbroken shades and let the manager know, who would let me know when they had been set out back for me.

Well, like I said, they were not especially happy campers, running one man short and, as of my arrival this morning, seriously behind schedule. They were supposed to be about ready to clear out at that time. Instead they were still working, trying to get the sections that affected the actual store done before store opening, with the warehouse area still untouched! The crew chief said they would still set out lights for me, but they would be intact units, minus the bulbs of course which had to be properly disposed of as hazardous waste. Boy did THAT change my plans! I had hoped to be able to stack the shades at least double height, as I had only the Subaru for hauling them home.

When I began loading after work, around mid-morning, I found that I had underestimated the size of the fixtures and therefore could only haul 6 at a time in the car instead of the 10 I had hoped.

Silly me, I totally forgot about the trailer that we have, on winter loan from a friend! After we
unloaded the half dozen fixtures, the trailer got hitched up and back to town we went. Thanks to the help of my other half, we didn't need to load any into the car, and got the entire rest of the load into the tractor! With some of them sitting upside down, they were nestled in securely for the ride home... or so we thought.

Before we got around to the side of the store we heard and felt an ominous vibration... I guess I must have picked up a piece of a broken shade. Fortunately there is a tire store across from my work and a Pizza Hut next door to it! Even though the tire store had to get a wheel and tire from the warehouse, it didn't take much more time than our late lunch to get back on the road and unload them all at home.

There are only 3 bolts holding the heavy glass shades to the lamps, so getting to the end product is easy! I will over the course of the next month, though, disassemble the fixture as well, so I can properly recycle (or maybe even find a use for) the rest of the works. Being industrial lights, which require three phase power, they would not be useful on the homestead, even if I had the bulbs they require and was willing to pay for all those electrons!

My final product, though, will be fun to experiment with. I love the look of the things, as well. To me they have the look of  miniature art deco greenhouses! The shade is about a foot tall and 18 inches wide at the base. I am still considering if the 6" hole in the top will be an issue, and how to control the venting.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Spring Snow

Whether you call it Candlemas, Imbolc, Ground Hog Day, Brigit's day or as I do Spring Finding, the time around the first of February has been marked in many ways over the years. In the old days they used to say "Half your wood, half your hay" should still be left to make it to spring.

I know I will be running short of onions, and while I don't burn wood or feed hay, as yet, I do mark the cross quarter. It is, in my mind, time to being thinking and planning the garden... to do germination tests and have the first seed order in hand, to begin planting onion, leek and celery seeds. Those crops tolerate extra time under the lights without getting leggy; the celery just gets a better start and the onions and leeks can have their "hair cut" regularly without harm while they grow. I'll be making seed blocks and seeding them in the next few days.

Today, though, we had a "spring snow." No, I don't think there will necessarily be an early spring and here in Maine it is decidedly NOT just around the corner. We often get much of our snow in February and a good bit in March. What I am calling a spring snow is the several inches that fell in temperatures that hovered around the freezing point. After all of our BRRR weather, ice storms and seriously cold wind chills, it was a wonderful treat to be able to enjoy the gently falling snow on my drive home, last night, from a long day of interacting with people in town. And even nice to take off for my part time job this morning, at 5 AM, wearing only a light winter jacket and cotton dress pants. No long johns needed to apply. When I left work, I didn't even bother with the jacket!

Yes, it is melting and yes, the temperatures are dropping as I write... but whatever the prediction of the groundhog, Mother Nature has told me, spring will come.

I am, however, still glad for the relative solitude and quiet of winter.

After spending most of yesterday and the evening in town, giving a presentation on timing of garden planting and seed starting, visiting with friends and finally attending a wonderful "locovore" supper featuring Maine grown produce (much from the hostesses root cellar) and local wines, I am glad to have a protracted period back here on the farm. As much as I enjoy my time in town, I NEED the solitude. It feels a bit like I have met my social needs for the entire month in this one day!  LOL

I am in the beginning stages of planning my farm marketing approach for this year, did a bit of networking yesterday and am cautiously optimistic that I may be on to something. I have hemmed and hawed about continuing to supply produce to a buyers club in a nearby community. The group WAS larger (it is in a college town and tends to grow and shrink over the school year, as well as from year to year in general) in the past and while my sales were mostly adequate, there were weeks when I wondered "why bother." I don't really have the time to spend "babysitting a parking lot" as a friend calls the farmers market circuit nor can I afford -- were I interested in it -- to pay help, if I could find it.

Also, with my "Year of Transition" focus and looking ahead, I know that in the future having a weekly trip to town is not only quite likely to happen, it is quite likely to be the most often I head as far as Bangor. Now, there are good reasons I need to plan a "city trip" regularly... picking up medications and other necessities that are less expensive there or not easily available in our small town being main ones. I am already hauling produce to town every two weeks... and I have heard from folks who visited me at farmers markets, that it is not always easy for them to get there. Some have transportation issues, some have mobility issues, some work and don't have time off during the most convenient market and we all know in this era of two income families with active kids... time is always an issue. So I am forging ahead to offer free delivery for produce ordered online or by email. I will offer pay online or pay on delivery options and am considering offering an inexpensive cooler with a deposit for those who cannot be present to accept their order.

All of the kinks are not yet worked out, and I have not even begun setting it up on, though that is is the works.
3' outdoor Welcome hex, shipped to TX

Meanwhile, I continue to paint hexen, honor Frigga and look forward to my next sojourn amongst the masses on Feb 15 at the Spin-in in Newport, ME