Sunday, January 1, 2017

It's a New Year-Welcome 2017

A cold rain is falling and the forecasters are warning that there will be snow later. I've put away the Christmas decorations, drug the tree outside, swept all the fallen pine needles up, got the kids down to naps/quiet chores, and now sit here reminiscing over 2016 and looking at the future.

The past three years have been full of changes. There were job losses, new jobs, deaths in the family, financial stress and worry; honestly the only thing that didn't happen (or threaten to happen) was severe illness *knocks on wood*. The last couple months have seen things settle down though, and I am looking forward to a calmer, less stressful year.

The homestead is quiet. The chickens are having a very late molt and have stopped laying. The young ducks are starting to hit teenhood and waddle around, flapping their wings and trying out their new voices. The rabbits are puffy with their winter coats. We lost the bees to varroa mites in the fall-something that still depresses me. After long discussions with my mentor I realized the warning signs that were there, and how the severe robbing that happened in September probably was the next to final blow. It has been a painful learning experience but we will go into next year knowing a bit more and can, hopefully, avoid this happening again.

The garden is buried under straw and bunny poop. The only winter plants I have left are a couple kale plants, a row of very damaged leeks (the ducks got loose and had a bit of a nibble) and the strawberry bed. We are struggling with a vole problem and I've yet to figure out a way to get rid of the nasty creatures without resorting to poison. If anyone has any advice I'd love to hear it.

January is the time for planning. The seed catalogs are starting to come in and my eyes get starry thinking of all the interesting things to grow. The lists of "must haves" is obscenely long. At some point I'll pull it together and focus on what the family eats and what can actually grow in my area but for now I'm dreaming of watermelons and cantaloupes.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Bee Obsessed

When I was accepted to the Apprentice Beekeeper section of Oregon State University's Master Beekeeper program I started saving up to buy equipment. While compared to say, scuba diving, bee keeping isn't that expensive of a hobby, it was still pushing my cookie jar budget to pick up all the gear needed to get started.

Fast forward through some job changes, income changes, and other boring adulty stuff, the cookie jar was rather empty but for a few crumbs down at the very bottom. All that responsibility was starting to get to me, some days I really hate being a grown-up. But today I went to Craigslist.

Oh yes, Craigslist. The never ending yard sale of everyone else's stuff just waiting to be found. I love used stuff, and re-using stuff, and up-cycling stuff and down-cycling stuff, and all the other turn-trash-into-treasure-ing stuff there is. In fact, as I look around my house, the majority of our stuff was found on Craigslist, including my car, the chickens, and most of the furniture. I love that site.

So, there I was, mindlessly surfing Craigslist while waiting for Tapdole to wake from her nap. Wait, I mean, I was constructively searching internet resources for miscellaneous random items to avoid manipulating laundered garments. Why can't socks just fold themselves?? Lo and behold, there in the Garden section were two bee hives. Someone had donated two full setups to the local Habitat REStore and the price for everything was well within my crumbly budget.

Queue panic attack.

See, I live in the next town over. The small town. The one that has a 20-30 minute drive, if the traffic is good and I don't get stopped by the train before getting to the Habitat REstore. And the ad had already been up for 40 minutes. And there's a town full of other hippy urban farmers who also want to have bees, who are also on a budget, who live a 10 minute bike ride away from the store. I know, I met them in bee class.

Also, Erik had the car.

Frantic texting followed with me forcefully telling my husband ignore Munchkin's martial arts class and rush over to the store, NOW, before someone snagged the hives. These texts were met with such replies as "LOL" and "no one is stealing your boxes" and "we'll go after class". Is there anything more stressful than a husband who does not understand that TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE?

Thankfully, right about the time I was going to start using the special characters keyboard, some friends of ours arrived and Erik was willing to let them supervise Munchkin's class while he went to the store. (I owe them some honey, assuming I have a harvest. I'm sure they think I'm totally bonkers, if they didn't already). 

We are now the proud owners of two sets of these:

Yes, one setup is in my front room just so I can oogle it.

Now I just need some bees. #beeobsessed

Friday, January 1, 2016

Merry 2016

May God grant thee
Enough sun to warm the earth,
Enough rain to make things grow,
A good strong back,
A wide brimmed hat,
And a good sharp goose-neck hoe,
Strength for a day of toil
And some quiet evening hours,
With a sip of tea
And a gentle breeze,
And may all your weeds be wildflowers.

~Ralph Emerson Purkhiser~

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Garden in July

After years of fighting the Willamette clay soil I've finally upgraded to raised beds. What a difference it has made! I got seed in late but everything has done spectacular!

Baby pumpkins are scattered all over the trellis that arches over the gate. These are from seeds I saved from a couple volunteer plants last year. Last year's pumpkins were beautiful miniatures with a bright orange flesh, the arch looked wonderful around October with tiny pumpkins hanging down like little lanterns. I had no idea what variety they were (most likely the original pumpkin was part of mix of decorative gourds) but this year's crop seems to be quite larger.

The arch is eight feet wide and the pumpkins take up the first four feet. The remaining four feet have much smaller watermelon plants. This is my first year attempting watermelons and I'm not quite sure what to expect. We've had several weeks of extreme heat which helped them grow but we're due for a few weeks of normal/cooler summer temps. There are tiny grape sized melons all over the vines, my fingers are crossed that they'll reach maturity before fall.

The tomatoes are growing up two cattle panels in the back of the garden. They were meant to provide western shade for the bunny hutches but, alas, I miscalculated the distance by two feet and the tomatoes spend most of the day in the dappled shade from the fir trees. The plants are growing well but slow to set fruit.

I may have gotten a late start on the summer sowing but I'm right on time for fall. Might be the first time that's ever happened! Here a couple broccoli seedlings are shooting up. My hope is to have something to nibble on all year long.

Not pictured in the INSANE potato bin, the bug-ridden turnips, or the forest of kale and beets. It is really amazing what these raised beds are doing. I chalk it up to the bunnies. I filled the beds with the best planting soil my local landscaping supply store had to offer but I think the real kicker has been the bunny poop I've been working into the boxes. The nutrient rich manure has done wonders, even to the older flower beds I haven't worked much.

Speaking of bunnies, here's Ruby with her latest litter:

The ducks we hatched out earlier this year have grown huge! They are spoiled and follow us around like puppies. I can't wait till next spring when they start laying. Meet Miss Pip (white) and Miss Ollie (barred blue). Not pictured is the drake, The Black Tulip (aka Too-Too).

Elsewhere in the garden the butterflies and bees are enjoying the flowers.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Exploring: Applegate

The last few weeks I've been obsessed with a new-to-me blog: And Here We Are. It is run by Ariana and details her, and her family's, lives as expats. They've lived in Germany, back in the US (almost in my backyard, maybe we passed each other at some point!), England, and just recently moved to Spain. They have a darling daughter a few years older than Munchkin, forage for edibles, homebrew like crazy, and love to be outdoors. My type of people!

Plus, she has this GIGANTIC smile-every time a picture of her smiling came up I had to grin as well. I mean, look at it!

Photo Copyright Ariana Mullins: And Here We Are
AND she learned how to break down an entire beef hind quarter (click the picture to be taken the post), something I would love to learn.

What I really like about her blog is how much she explores the area she is in. As a fellow introvert I really struggle to get out of the house and go somewhere strange and new. It is very intimidating and I constantly worry about every little thing possible, from the kids acting up (or being bored out of their minds) to getting lost to car accidents and axe murderers. Yes, axe murderers, I have a very active imagination.

After reading And Here We Are  I've been inspired to do something different. Erik (Hubby) has been applying for work outside of Oregon and the thought of moving fills me with dread and excitement. All the cities he's applied to are far from relatives and friends, we'd be starting over completely. Since no matter where we ended up it would be a major re-spawn event anyway I got to thinking of outside the US. So I brought up the idea of looking abroad. And, of course, this brought up Sweden.

Erik's family is mostly Scandinavian, he even has some distant cousins that still live in Sweden. It is the first place he'd like to go. Myself, I could go to Sweden, Ireland, England, Germany...anywhere that has a nice rural area with forests and farms sounds good to me. Since I've asked him about it the idea keeps popping up. We keep asking ourselves: would we be happy in a different country? Would the kids? How do you even go about it? Finding a job? Finding a place to live? What do we do with all the animals? And? And? And oh so many details!!

In the meantime I've started to push myself to get out and see our local area more. Its really silly that we've lived here for almost 7 years (always with the idea we'd be moving soon) and have hardly explored. So last weekend we packed up the kids and went to a local wildlife area to see what there was to see.

Why haven't we done this before?

The trail led to a canoe access to the Long Tom River and, while a little muddy, was nice and flat. We went early enough there was still a touch of mist amongst the ferns. Spring flowers were showing here and there but most of the trees hadn't leafed out yet. We were the only ones on the trail though we could hear traffic in the distance. Once we got closer to the river the sounds of civilization died out and all we could hear was birdsong, breeze, and rushing water.

I was mesmerized by a stand of Oregon Grape the bees were working over. The scent was heavenly, like a musky honey, and the bees were busy, busy, busy!
I would have stood there for hours watching them but Munchkin was insistent about finding the end of the trail. 
All along the trail were ferns and low story plants. My favorites were the Pacific Trilliums. I'd read about them but I hadn't seen one in person till now. Aren't they beautiful?
As they age the flowers turn from white to a deep rosy purple. I must come back and see this!

We watched a pair of bald eagles leave their perch in a tall pine and fly down the river (I wasn't able to catch them on film, darn it), listened to a flock of mourning doves coo as they fluttered around a huge fallen log mid-stream, found a couple mushrooms, stumbled on several fruit trees in full bloom, examined a beaver-chewed stump, and just enjoyed being outside.
It was a wonderful way to relax.

The next three weekends are super busy but I can't wait to explore some more!

Friday, April 3, 2015

Garden or Farm?

Back in January I mentioned that something we'd been working on for a while finally came through. Meet Ruby and Checkers:
 We'd been talking about getting rabbits for a while. While I would really love to get a cow or a pig those critters are a touch big and would probably raise problems with the neighbors but bunnies? Bunnies are quiet, clean, easy to care for, cheap to feed, and reproduce, well, like rabbits. Plus their poo is a gardener's dream! The perfect blend of nutrients that needs no composting to be used-you can take it straight from under their furry tails and side-dress a tomato plant for glorious results.

Yeah, I got them for the poop.

Rabbit is also quite tasty. The meat is lean, high in B vitamins and protein and, with how fast they reproduce, it is possible to fill a freezer with organic meat that you have raised, ensuring a "happy life and one bad day"for the animals harvested. That is important to me. I grew up helping to raise and care for most of the meat I ate. We had pigs and cattle (and chickens but they were mostly kept for eggs). We made sure the animals had the best care, good food, lots of space, and allowed to be themselves. That was just everyday life. It was rather a shock after I left home to taste store-bought feedlot beef. It just wasn't as rich or flavorful, even though we fed our stock grain as well, and I missed our 'pasture-raised and grain finished', 'free-range' beef. Who knew back then our way of ranching would be a big deal? Kinda funny now.

There are several wonderful farms in our area (my favorite is Winter Green Farm where we get our CSA produce) that provide the quality of care and product that I am looking for but I still want to be in more control. Rabbits fit the bill.

Of course, one needs a boy to...assist...with things. After Ruby and Checkers got used to us we added Lance to the mix.
I love this picture. Doesn't he look like a tough guy? He's actually super sweet and cuddly.
All three are purebred New Zealand rabbits. The New Zealand breed is a larger breed that excels at producing good fur and fast-growing kits. They, along with Californians, are one of the most common meat breeds. They are also gentle and calm, which is great since the kids love to feed and care for them. In the fall, when Munchkin starts 4-H, they will be part of her 4-H project.
In February Munchkin asked if we were going to hatch eggs again. I pulled out the incubator, cleaned it off, then went online to find some local fertile eggs. A nice lady on Facebook offered a dozen Muscovy duck eggs and in they went. Munchkin has spent the last 30 days glued to the incubator, watching for any wiggle or crack.

A couple weeks after I started the eggs I was chatting with a friend about ducks and she mentioned she had two drakes that were harassing her chickens, would I want them? Sure! I did warn her that they might turn into dinner and she was perfectly fine with that (in fact, she was going to do it herself but after harvesting her meat chickens she didn't want to pluck another feather).

So we brought these two home and they went right to work clearing my garden and greenhouse of slugs and snails. I've yet to lose a seedling since turning them loose in the garden.
Hubby has been excited about a roast duck dinner but I haven't gotten up the nerve yet. I may end up with more ducks than I'd planned.

With all this livestock, have we reached farmhood yet? And there are still eggs to hatch!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Welcome to the Garden

Spring is in full swing here in the Pacific Northwest. My neighbor's huge daffodil beds are already past their prime and yesterday I noticed my lily bulbs are starting to pop out of the ground. Today the sun is shining, the temperature is nearing 70 degrees and I can hear lawn mowers purring in the distance. It is insanely early for this type of weather. The practical side of me worries about a hot and dry summer but I can't help but love the early sunshine.

The flower beds are full of early spring bulbs: daffodils, primroses, tulips, hyacinths, and bluebells. The fruit trees have buds swelling and the lilacs are seconds away from exploding into flower. There are flowers everywhere! I've been buzzed by huge bumblebees (I think there may be a nest somewhere nearby, there have been so many!), the honeybees and wasps are fighting over the dandelions in the yards, and everywhere a filmy green is covering bare branches.

The greenhouse is full of seedlings, with more flats just waiting for seed. Every time I step inside I have to take several long breathes and really get the scent of warm, damp earth and growing things deep in my lungs. If there is a smell that signals spring that would be it.

The sugar and snap peas are doing extremely well.

Out in the garden...well, that's another story. For the past 6 years I've hauled in compost and manure trying to turn the native clay into a rich oasis. Last year I was lazy and didn't get any outside additions. I cleaned my compost heap down to the ground and spread it everywhere (resulting in a bazillion volunteer tomatoes and pumpkins-obviously I didn't get the heap hot enough). While we had an great growing season the garden didn't do nearly as well as it should have. This year I've put off getting anything, just to see what the ground would do.

Its basically cement.

While the flower beds have weeds coming up anywhere there's an open space the only thing growing in the garden are a few leftover onions, quite a bit of purple dead nettle (an edible weed) and a bit of grass. Its pretty sad. I'm tired of fighting a losing battle so this year we are going to put in raised beds. I'm rather excited at the idea and already have plans for hoop cloches and other season extenders. With the summer looking to be long and hot I'm betting I get an epic tomato harvest.
My entire spring crop. At least its an edible weed.