Wednesday, April 30, 2014

May Day!! -- or May Eve at least...

The beginning of May is celebrated by various folk in various ways with different names.

I grew up knowing it as "May Day" when the actual awakening of the earth was celebrated (in Michigan where I grew up, it had actually awakened visibly in many ways; here in Maine it is a bit more subtle), in my family, with the making and distributing of May Baskets. These cute and quick baskets Mom and I crafted from Dixie cups and various other craft materials. i remember gathering crepe paper cut into strips to skirt the cups and braiding ribbon for handles and to cover the gathering thread when tied around the cup. this was before hot glue, so we used Elmers, or staples or sewed things together.

The idea was to make a basket that could hang from neighbors' door handles, containing a small bouquet of spring flowers --  forsythia sprigs and violets, I remember for sure...

The protocol was to sneak up to the house, hang the basket, ring the bell (or knock if needed) and then run and hide to make sure the basket was found and you were not discovered.

I don't do that now... couldn't run if I had to and have no neighbors who would understand, I fear... as well as there being a few, if any, growing things to fill the basket. The pussy willows have gone by, the forsythia is not yet blooming and only a few crocus grace my bulb bed.

Instead I celebrated the turning of the wheel today by cleaning runner grass from one of the asparagus beds and the walkway between the beds.
Doesn't look like much, I know... but the bed on the right shows what it all looked like yesterday morning. You can see some of the "weedblock" fabric rolled up, a roll of black stuff and "weed sod" and the runner grass, green and dead, that is choking the veggie despite the expensive stuff.

The yellow tipped rods mark the locations of the asparagus plants that were still showing above ground in the area I worked, BUT there are others hiding under the earth. I found this out the hard way; pulling on what I thought, by feel, was a rhizome from the grasses I unearthed an asparagus crown! I promptly re-planted it and changed my plans.

I had originally planned to lay the cardboard mulch as soon as I had the beds "weed free" but with the promise of hidden "fruit" I have decided to only mulch the walkways initially. I will manure the speargrass and wait until it has emerged, which will likely be a month or so from now, and then, once everyone has been found, I'll do a light cultivation to remove as many of the rhizomes that I have missed that I can, and then lay down the cardboard and hopefully some mulch hay.

I have another 25 plants to put in, which means another row or more; those will get cardboard as well between and a promise of more once they all emerge.

I'd like to complete renovation of the remaining bed tomorrow, but that will depend on the weather; there is rain in the forecast and for much of the week.

It is also, so the feel of the soil tells me, time to plant potatoes. And onions, but that will wait as I do not use sets and the seedlings just started getting hardened off today. But all in good time!

Any day I can get dirt under my fingernails and help something to grow is a good day and I think this a great way to celebrate the turning of the year.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Progress -- in a Temporary and Unplanned Direction

We have been having fox problems. At least one duck and a rooster have "disappeared" despite Tractor Guy's routine of arising well before dawn to stand/sit guard duty. At least several more "meals" have been moved off site, as both her, and I on one occasion, have chased off the predator before it got a chance to snag a bird.

Now, a serious poultry house project IS in the works -- actually more than one, as turkeys need separation from chickens and I'm sure the ducks will be happier in their own digs, as opposed to bedding down under chicken roosts. As they say, $!it does run ... and fall... down hill. 

And it is also the beginning of garden season, which means that either I need to clone myself or poultry housing will be put off a bit until the first round of crop work is done. It also means that SOMEHOW the fowl will need to be kept out of the garden.

Adding to the mix of issues, Tractor Guy has an appointment in town on Tuesday, scheduled to coincide with my work schedule to save gas. However that means that we will both be gone during the last half of the typical foxy breakfast time schedule.

We have been planning to set up the double electric deer fence around the entire perimeter of the front of the land, which will not only make it faster and easier for Tractor Guy to do his cultivation thing on Fergie, but also protect -- with one permanent run of fencing -- all of the annuals, perennials AND fruit trees. Which means that last year's baby trees -- which may not actually survive having been seriously gnawed under the snow cover by mice -- no longer need the three sided chicken wire enclosures I had built for them.

Thus, was born Tractor Guy's plan for a makeshift chicken yard to enclose the porch (under which the fowl shelter and lay).  Bonus points to the plan for keeping the fowl from roosting on -- and therefore fouling -- the steps and from defeating the chicken-exclusion fencing around the porch. Their ability to fly over or squeeze through has not allowed me to begin hardening off the early seedlings -- yet -- but once today's rain is done, I can now begin that process.

Temporary makeshift chicken run
The tree enclosures hold positions on three corners of the enclosure. Three of the tree panels, an enclosure disassembled, comprise the front face and part of the right side (out of view in this picture.)
Chicken wire is stretched between two of the tree enclosures on the left side of the new pen and one of the "chicken tents" AKA chicken tractors, made from two cattle panels covered with green plastic chicken mesh complete the right side of the pen. The door is a recycled wood framed and chicken wire covered rectangular panel from some previous project.

The fowl have access to shelter under the porch, from the left side and the right side and back of the porch support have been enclosed with green plastic chicken mesh.

As you can see, not ALL of the fowl have gone in... I counted three still at large and was hoping they would roost on the steps tonight to be captured and confined but am not sure of the plan at present, because of the rain.
Looking down from the porch into the chicken run
Looking down from the porch, you can see the tripod from which the feeder hangs -- a PVC and lashing quickie put together by Tractor Guy a few days ago. The white bleach bottles, visible in the top pic on the pew and in the lower right, above, are filled with water to help hold down the plastic tote lid which covers the hole I cut in the pew for easy access to the hens' favorite nesting place.

Hopefully, this will serve as a second line of defense against the foxes, and keep the fowl out of the garden and seedlings while their coop and larger yard is being built. The weather looks to be dry for our town trip day, so I am considering putting our Neufie, Stormy, in with the fowl while we are gone. She does not bother them. I would just let her stay out on the porch and be loose, except that I don't know what she would do when we drove away... most likely try to follow!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Slowly on toward Spring

It seems that autumn, for us, brings "car follies." Anything that might go wrong on our car or truck, does so. Pretty good timing, all told; better than the mid-winter (or, this year, STILL winter) Brake Job From Hell.

And spring, it seems, is the season of tractor follies. Actually, the root of this came to light last fall, but without heat in the garage, or it having a large enough space, really, to work in with the door closed, on anything as big as a car, truck or tractor, these things get put off until spring. When, of course, the tractor is needed.

Except maybe not so much so this year.

Our tractor is ok, this issue is with its tiller. It won't. Basically the "working guts" are at least half disintegrated. I am pretty sure no actual tractor implement mechanics will be reading my blog, so I will leave you with that, my non-tractor-guy understanding of the problem. Tractor Guy says it is fixable, likely, and will of course need parts, and therefore money.


Instead of fussing and cussing, I am taking a different route and planning to do my early planting pretty much directly into the garden. yeah, it has grown a good crop of fist- to walnut-size rocks, but plants can grow around them. The tilth is not bad, and where I need to incorporate some of the composted manure into the row, like for the spinach, there is the Banty Rooster baby tiller. I am planning to take it to the asparagus bed this weekend (after the rain and a bit of time for the soil to drain) while the old fronds are still in place, so I can work in some more manure, and replace the
Mulch cardboard
failing weed block cloth with my large cardboard pieces. I will likely need to use some of the recent crop of rocks to help hold the stuff down, as I don't have either a source for mulch hay or a way to haul it. But getting the cardboard (I currently have 2 good size trailer loads, hauled from a nearby factory) in place is the important thing. Hopefully I can hit the perennial section HARD and get the strawberries, asparagus, blueberries and cranberries done, including the area in between the rows, so the tractor won't be needed there this year.

After the rain (we have two much cooler days forecast starting tomorrow, with rain in the mix) I'll start hardening off the early seedlings... lettuce, onions, leeks, brassica. It's time to start the second round of lettuce seedlings, and there are tomatoes, peppers and herb soil cubes crowding the growing rack.

We also need to start setting fence posts for the electric anti-deer fence. Plan for the year is to enclose the entire front of the property, which will include both gardens, all the trees, the clotheslines and the fowl. Not that the latter items are in danger from the deer, but not having to go through fencing makes everything easier. We won't be having to take the fence down for the tractor work, either, which will save lots of time and energy! This, also, will require more posts, more wire... and therefore more $$.

Fortunately the hex orders are beginning to pick up. And I am crossing my fingers for some "free" publicity from a local TV personality in MN, of all places. The Lifestyle commentator messaged me on Facebook about a segment he is planning on "decorating for abundance and good fortune" and apparently immediately thought of hex signs. He seems like quite an interesting fellow with a good following and a career that is going places, as he leverages his charisma, wide interests and good taste with both TV and social media. We'll see what happens. I sent him a couple of signs.
A bird ON the hand is worth...

Red Rangers -- chicken dinner on the wing
Also adding to the chaos, and fun, are a dozen Red Ranger meat chicks which arrived the day before Easter. They are currently living in the living room, except when Tractor Guy snags one and brings it to me while I am trying to work on the computer!
Hopefully there will be a few new ducks soon too! With any luck I will soon trade a custom hex sign for several young replacements for our flock And as a result of this project, I now have a new line of "livestock protection" hex signs on the web site.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

The Garden Emerges!

Garden, February 6, 2014
It is hard to believe how quickly the snow is departing, now that it has finally decided that spring has come. Until just recently, the garden looked pretty much like it did in this picture from early February... though the snow pack did build up a lot after that date. We had a good 24" and much higher drifts.

Much of the snow pack was sufficiently dense and packed that I could walk on it without breaking through, though I often grabbed my snow shoes for traction and a bit of insurance against stepping into a weak place. Breaking through a 2' snow pack is no fun with short legs and wimpy knees! ... No, don't bother to ask me how I know that! ;) 

April 11, 2014 -- serious melt happened since yesterday!
Yesterday late afternoon, the picture was very different, as you can see! Over the past week, daytime temperatures above freezing, though it fell to freezing or a bit below over night, was gradually eating away at the ground cover. I could tell when hung the wash; at the peak of the snow cover, I was reaching DOWN to pin things onto the clotheslines and getting very creative when I needed to hang bed linens. Earlier this week, though, the lines were almost back to their regular height and where I broke through the snow, it wasn't even boot-high on my faux Uggs.

April 12, 2014 -- what a difference a day makes!
When I arrived home from the East Sangerville Grange today, after the Cultivating Community 2014 meeting, I was not terribly surprised to find that the garden had totally emerged from its winter blanket, as the temperatures were in the low 60s today! Mind you, it's still likely frozen just below the surface, and we still have Mud Season to deal with, but soon, very soon, we will be able to cultivate and plant! I'll start taking soil temperatures this week, twice a week to start, I think, since an accurate reading requires early and mid-day readings to be averaged. I'll take the thermometer down before I head into town for work in the early morning on Tuesdays and Fridays, and check it again mid-afternoon.

Grow rack today... some of these guys are getting anxious to go out!
The onions and leeks (top shelf) need to be trimmed again! The celery (middle left) and many of the other seedlings will be glad when it's time to go outdoors. And I'll be glad to get them out there; it's time to start the second batch of lettuces and all of the tomatoes!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Hanging the Wash and Other Domestic Rituals

I have been thinking of late about the common threads in blog and Facebook posts among friends and acquaintances and those I follow.

I have more than one friend who used to write extensively about her work and entrepreneurial adventures, but who have of late gone more silent or taken to writing almost entirely about recreational pursuits -- trips to Florida, visits with family and friends, sporting events and fitness goals.

I have other friends who write at length about movies and tv programs which they follow. It honestly baffles me how, as a mature person, one can go totally fangirl or fanboy over comic book super heros, whether on the printed page or on screen.

And in contemplating these posts, I realized that I must, to many, seem totally boring and devoid of "real" interests, as many of my writings mention doing the wash and hanging it out, cleaning and organizing the house and other similar domestic chores, along with stories of fowl antics and garden successes and frustrations. In the view of the common culture, I guess, I "have nothing to talk about" since I am not "into" movies or music in a fan sort of sense, nor TV... nor even books, though I do watch a movie from time to time, tune into a TV program once it hits Netflix and read -- and occasionally even buy -- books. For me, though, they are digressions. The important things are what happen during the rituals of "everyday life."

I am honestly not big on Ritual -- the one with the capital letter -- despite being a Pagan of many years. Lifting a glass of home made dandelion wine to the moon, recognizing the quarters and cross quarters with an appropriate meal and activity -- most likely one that fits in with the (lower case r) rituals of daily life suffices most often for me.

But the lower case r rituals... now THOSE are the ones, in my mind, that count. It is from their repetition that the warp and weft of daily life are woven. The fabric of everyday life, as it were, is built from hanging the laundry, hoeing the row, washing the dishes and sweeping the floor. It is built from them, that is, if such tasks are tended with Intent and Consciousness, with a reaching back to the energies of our ancestors as they washed and hung, planted, tended and harvested, cooked and cleaned and swept. And if we put out the energies of thanks and connectedness with the Universe and the future as we go about our chores.

I am not a natural homemaker. I'd rather be knee deep in the garden or wrangling fowl or four footed critters, or even turning the produce of the garden and increase of the flocks and herds into food to sustain us through the year. The laundry and cleaning and organizing -- as much as it must be done -- is not something to which I naturally gravitate. It was with some concern and a bit of dismay, I must admit, that I first greeted Frigga when she came to me. A HEARH Goddess? Yeah, right... a hearth Goddess wants ME to work with her.

But as I learned quickly, Frigga does not just stay at home and tend the fires. She is not, as I once quipped, "your mama's hearth Goddess," modestly staying at home. This Lady I could easily respect, follow and learn from...

And I am thankful that she forgives. I still tend to be much more of a "long term variable periodic housekeeper" than She would like, but She has not left and I keep at it.

And so, yes, I do talk a lot about laundry. And I don't always make the larger connections when I write, but they are there regardless. The Ancestors know. The Gods know. And now you do too.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Halfway point

The "Year of Transition" is at the halfway mark, and I can feel the tide turning.

Every fiber of my being has threads that pull it to stay on the farm. As I add to my new routines -- connecting more strongly to the natural cycles of sun and moon, of sun and storm -- it is slowly becoming less desirable to run life by the clock and the schedules of commerce.

Admittedly, I was never as strongly tied to the common culture markers of time. At times in my life I tried to learn to wear a watch but it never lasted for long. The ebb and flow of the sun and moon always had a stronger call, and even when living in the city and working a typical 9-5, 40 hour a week job, I could tell the time -- accurately enough for my purposes -- as well by the light levels and positions of the orbs as I needed. And once I was no longer responsible for the social obligations of a family living in the mundane world, most of the man-made holidays faded from my gaze.

It is not easy making progress with the things that require monetary income with the fewer hours on my town job schedule, but looking at the 3-day weeks coming, and the two day week I am in at present, the next two days (and the coming Wednesdays-Thursday off combinations) have a sense of growing familiarity. This is what life soon will be like! And I am liking it!

I have almost always had "many irons in the fire," but being able to juggle them with fewer constraints by artificial and imposed schedules allows me to pursue many interests and projects without stress.

Stress has been a BIG factor the last few days. There have been hangups with the repair of my truck (yes, yet again!) and the car had to be pulled from service for an emergency brake job. This is a big deal, as something made at least one of them begin to self-destruct. Big deal in the working and bigger deal in affording the parts and stressful because with no working car and no working truck and no third-level backup, and living way far from work... and needing to get to work... well I think you get the drift. It took time (which it didn't really feel like we had) and money (that it really didn't look like we had) and help from friends (which, thankfully we DO have some of... but, being me, yanno, I hate asking....) to get to where we can slowly begin moving forward again.

And the inevitable waiting, of course, when in this sort of pickle, just makes it hard to even try to move forward.

I had hoped to post the Love and Happy Home hex that I just completed, and had hoped to pick up plywood to cut the 4' sign that I have on order, but neither was to happen today. Despite having loads of cardboard in the garage, I did not have the gumption to fight my way back to it and drag it into the house through the rain, so I hauled the hex to town when I went to work in the borrowed truck, hoping (as is most often the case) to be able to grab a large piece of cardboard from the warehouse at the store... but as luck would have it today, of all days, there was none. And the parts payments might have left enough money for plywood since I didn't have to spend any on shipping today -- except that getting all the right stuff at the parts store (never my most favorite job) left me so frazzled that I didn't even think to stop at the big box lumber yard, where I could have got the wood cut in half so it would fit in the truck bed (full size pickup, but the bed contains a huge tool box and would not have easily carried an 8' sheet of plywood). I was thinking of "just picking it up" at my usual source for better quality wood, a local yard that is on a road near where i was returning the truck. Silly me, they only sell full pieces, which at least I remembered before stopping there.


Well, soon we will have wheels again, I CAN strap plywood on the roof of the Subaru, can post the hex from here in town after the brakes are done and I will have dry and warmer weather in which to extract the packing material from the garage.

Meanwhile, I have a 1' hex order, and am designing one in trade for some young ducks, as well as reworking one that got slightly damaged on the edge in transit and was returned for replacement. that sign, and several of my earlier works -- painted on barn boards and cheese boxes -- will go up on the web site this week, "available for immediate delivery." I have also started drawing my new design for the year, a Maine themed hex for sweetnees and smooth sailing in life, and the quiet strength to make it so.