Category Archives: Homestead

Strawberry fields forever

Fifty strawberries out in the beds a few days ago. You’ll see nothing down the very center of the row: I’ll be putting sunflowers along that line. I have some mammoth gray seed that hopefully the bugs did not get to as it languished int he barn last year to use. Longtime readers of this here blog will have seen those before, towering nine or ten feet above the beds. They are truly impressive (both the longtime readers and the sunflowers, of course).

I cut down some of the cover crop in other rows and threw it into this row to act as a mulching agent. The sides will also be coming off this bed, as with all the others, to make it safe for the kidlets (and sometimes clumsy adults, aka, me, when I slice a finger or hand open on one because I’m not really paying attention).

I have another 25 strawberry crowns that arrived on Friday to put out, but they will go into the next bed (the one with the hoops at the top of the image). We are having a few days of “winter”, which to people in non-southern states might term “fall” or even “spring” because they live in weirdo land where stuff is frozen eight months of the year. I’m waiting for the temps to even out a bit so as to minimize transplant shock, even though strawberries seem not to care all that much. I care, and since it would be me out there in 50 degree temps doing it, what I say goes.

We went with June bearing varieties only in this order, as we like to be able to do the picking and processing all at once for efficiency reasons – because there is enough to pick on a daily basis when the season kicks in without having strawberries be part of that.  I do have some everbearing types still in the rows, so the kidlets – or adults who can eat – will have the chance to find a jewel  here or there and be able to taste a war strawberry, right from the plant.

I’m trying to determine a way to keep the strawberries off the ground that won’t involve spending a fortune on cutesy little plastic bowl type things and that will allow me to remove weeds that pop up. And they do pop up: the weeds had overrun this bed because I’d not gotten down any cover crop in it. Whatever I come up with, I’ll also be putting bird netting over the beds, to stop the birds – who literally have acres of other stuff to eat – from feasting on the berries.

I had the camera rolling while I put these in, but there were no incidents like me lopping off an appendage, so not posting it! All told, according to camera time, it took about half an hour to plant all fifty crowns, pick out the random weeds in the bed, and straighten the irrigation lines from the squirrels and birds walking/hopping through and disturbing the layout.

The above doesn’t look like much, but they now look like they’ve been there forever. Never fear: pics will follow. I didn’t have my phone on me (horrors!) when I was walking through the gardens with all the kidlets that were here the past couple days.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Asparagus

On one fine day, I went to plant, and carried with me six mesh bags,

Full of crowns, just slightly damp, of asparagus, and per their tags,

They were both green and purple, yes, these things exist.

The old ones failed, due to my illnesses, and yet I persist

In tilting at windmills season after season

And must, at times, seem bereft of reason.

 

OK, crappy The Raven homage pounded out in under five minutes aside, I did indeed finish putting out the new asparagus crowns today. I think there was a total of 80, in both green (Jersey) and purple (Pacific). A few of them had already started putting up tiny new stalks while I had them in a bowl, waiting for the weather to get better – we actually reached freezing the other overnight, just briefly. Yesterday,  I did a quarter of them, and today the remainder. The stuff in the row here is cover crop I cut and dropped, to act as mulch.

I worked around the asparagus still in this bed, including this wee asparagus stalk I found forming right at the next 18″ distance from the previous crown I had put in.

This is a purple variety, one of the survivors of two years of neglect while I was having my pneumonia festivities. In a couple of days, it should be big enough to snap off and let someone (mom!) eat it. Yes, we eat (well, they eat) raw asparagus here. Cooked, too, but there’s just something about stuff right out of the garden. Brush off a bit of dirt, and down it goes.

After this, I headed to the back garden to put in snap beans. Pics od that to come.

Tomorrow: 50 strawberry plants to put in beside those survivors, some of which are already putting out fruit. The blueberries started flowering about 10 days ago, so it won’t be wrong before we’re pulling off handfuls of berries from those.

Unless something changes drastically here, we’ve blown past “winter” with, I’d say, probably five overnights where the temps dipped to freeing or below for a significant period of time, and gone right into spring (and even summer, since tomorrow is forecasting a high of 87F).

Until next time, peeps: be well.

Learning by doing

For some of the things you do in life, it’s far easier to learn by doing than it is to learn by theory  by reading blog posts or by watching videos. This is not to say these things are not helpful, because they are, but sometimes you don’t get the little nuances unless you’ve done the Thing, whatever the Thing may be.

I think this is true of processing meat bird chickens. Raising them is quite easy, and that part can be learned by watching videos or reading instructables (note: I’ve no idea if there are instructables for raising meat bird chickens, but there are for just about everything else).

But videos of the processing  of chickens doesn’t always includes all the steps. Some people don’t put in the dispatching of the chickens, or the evisceration. I’m not sure why that is, really: people should know how their food gets to their table, and while people like me, who process far smaller numbers than the big ag providers, have a slightly different process,  our methods are – or should be – as humane as we can make them.

I took video last year as I was processing the meat birds I had raised. I did two batches: one in October and one in December. The first batch I did just to prove to myself that I could do it to feed my family. The second batch I did to feed my family and also see if I could trim some time off the processing of each bird, as I was going through the entire process by myself: none of the family wanted to be involved in it, although my mom did take the chickens out of their ice water bath I had plopped them in as I finished each one, weighed them, and got it into the fridge, ready to be broken down.

It took me about 19 minutes to go through the entire sequence of steps , from catching the live bird, to the processed bird resting in cold water.

All of this is just a big ol’ roundabout way to say I documented the chicken butchering process on video, and you can watch it if you want to. I put it after the fold, as I don’t want people showing up and then possibly being grossed out.

Continue reading Learning by doing

Hawking

We have known for awhile now that we have hawks in our area. “Our area” meant somewhere out here in the boonies, and we would occasionally see one flying around, or hear one flying around, as they are quite the chatty cathy birds.

Now, we can say we have hawks, plural, and they must be nesting somewhere very close to us, as we have a visit from one almost every day (and several days ago, I saw two). It/They like to hang around in the trees back by the beeyard. Sometimes, though, they come to the fence by the driveway and hang out for a bit.

I had seen some squirrels running about in the front this morning, and maybe that appealed to this hawk: the opportunity for an easy meal.

Or maybe they were taking a break. Either way, it stayed for quite some time, looking quite stern.

At one point, it hopped off the fence and into the grass.

It examined a clump of weeds I’d pulled out from the berry line along the fence on which it had been sitting. Disappointed that it was just dirt and plant matter, it jumped up back to the fence. A few minutes later, it took off, to go through whatever agenda it had for the day. I don’t think I will ever get tired of seeing the wildlife that has come to the property I have worked so hard to rehab over these years.

After those fifteen minutes with the hawk, the day went right to shit. I didn’t do anything on the list for today, as work beckoned. I got through it, but much of the day was over by then. I did, however, get a few things done: mowed the chicken yard and got their food and water done. Got their tote with sand and DE in it back in the coop so they can do their dust baths. Collected the eggs – we’re consistently getting at least half a dozen a day, and usually seven or eight. We are awash in eggs, and we even gave my accountant a dozen eggs when she came out to do her magic with Quickbooks so we can get my taxes in by March 15 (the filing deadline for biz people like me).

Previously when I’ve planted seed directly, I’ve waited until the entire row in clear of weeds. But last week, i took a chance, and planted green bean seed in the first area I cleared in the back garden. I took a look today, and half a dozen are up. Not bad, and I hope they make it through the weirdness that will be our weather over the next few days.

We’ve been having the best “winter” so far, with only two days below freezing here at the ranch. Tomorrow night through Thursday night, it’s supposed to be in the 30sF, near freezing. I hope it doesn’t, as I’d ate to lose the germination of the first directly sown seeds, but the upside of that is that the seed I’ve put in is cheap and can easily be resown. That “seed is cheap” think is also why I wind up buying a zillion varieties of tomatoes and corn and peppers and such. I refrained from that this year, I’m happy to report, and once I had put in my modest orders to the places from which I get my seed, I trashed all the seed catalogs, so as not to have the temptation in my face.

I still have the beeyard tale to tell, but this is getting long, so I’ll save it for another time. Until that time: be well, peeps.

 

 

 

 

Wabbit season

No, it is not wabbit season. Or duck season. It’s bee season!

Spring is a busy time for managing bees – especially if you’re in a place where winter has never really arrived. In cases like that, the bees start ramping up their numbers fairly quickly, and that means we beekeepers will spend quite a lot of time on management. You’ll forgive me, I hope, for often rattling on about bees here in the blog.

I find it quite relaxing to just sit and watch the bees go about their business. That also allows you to get shots like this:

Look at the bee in the very center of this. She has been rooting around in flowers so much, she has pollen all over her, in addition to the pollen she has in the pollen baskets on her legs. That is true dedication.

“So what about that project you mentioned yesterday, Captain?”

That was the reason I was whacking yesterday (and how I took a stinger to the face): I was clearing a lane to lay out weedblock and pavers so I could move hive stands to that lane. Keeping the weeds and grass down under the hives is important, as it helps stop small hive beetles from getting back into a hive when they have been ejected by the bees.

That meant whacking down a lane, rolling out weedblock, hauling pavers to weight it, and then pinning it with landscape staples. It looks like this:

I plan to cover the rest of the weedblock with river stones, with diatomaceous earth under those. That way, the small hive beetles that fall through to the bottom will have  a not so great experience, all around.

After I pulled the stands up where the grass and weeds had chained them down, I cleaned them off and did some minor repairs on a few of them. Once done, I moved them over to sit on top of the weedblock. This should make everyone happy. Especially me, since I won’t have to whack down weeds under their stands, something that inevitably pisses them off.

What it looked like before I got the weedblock  down:

 

Today I got this finished before the rain finally came and dumped a half inch on us. Working, suited up and crawling around, in the heat took its toll and I am exhausted. So I’ll end this one here, and bid everyone a good evening.

Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

4 w

To split or not to split

No, I am not handing out tiny eviction notices to the bees, although some days, they make it difficult to coexist.

That is a bee stinger in the bridge of my nose.  I’ve been stung plenty of times, including just under one of my eyes, but I have to say that having a sting where it’s primarily cartilage hurts quite a bit more than the others I’ve had.

It’s amazing that something this small can be so painful.  I feel like I’ve been punched in the face. Between the sting and the walk back in from the beeyard, my nose was already swelling, as you can see there, and it took a little work to get the stinger out of my face. It’s still swelling, and it won’t be long before I can’t breathe out of my nose. Fun times with bees!

How’d I get stung? I foolishly thought – on an overcast kind of day – that my using the whacker to cut grass, etc., down to the dirt (for reasons I’ll make clear) would be fine without a suit, as I was well away from them.

Wrong. Clearly.

This is how it looks right now.

My eye is not swollen shut (yet),  but the color is creeping into it and I would not be surprised to find it that way in the morning. Or maybe I’ll get lucky and the swelling will go down ovenrnight. Who can say?

So what was I doing? Sorry, that will have to wait until tomorrow when I complete the project.

Until then, peeps: be well.

 

 

“Violet, You’re turning violet, Violet”

Ah, yes. Violet the gum chewer who did something stupid at Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.

While I might not have a three course meal with blueberry pie in gum form, I do have blueberries here at the ranch. Well, potential blueberries.


One of the blueberry bushes is taller than me.

That’s fine, though. I’ll haul a ladder out to pick them if I have to.

We’ll be awash in berries in the very near future. They freeze extremely well, so we won’t lose any of the harvest. I need to prune these back in the fall. They’ve had a wee bit of lack of management over the past few years, for obvious reasons. The same goes for the blackberries and raspberries: their canes need to be cut back after this season. I also need to run another trellis wire on my posts to train those. one more thing on the todo list!

Speaking of todo lists, I have been putting a dent in mine. I transferred all the “work” work stuff into a journal, and I’m working on getting the other items transferred over.

The only thing on my lists I have not gotten to is the reading. By the time I finish doing the normal daily things and some of the items on the lists, I am dog tired. i’m falling asleep at my desk as I try to get this done, so time to wrap it up. Tomorrow is another day filled with possibility. Until next time, peeps: be well.

 

Spring cleaning

It is not yet spring here, if you go strictly by the calendar. If you go by the weather, however, Mother Nature is telling a far different tale.

This is not to say she won’t change her mind about bypassing winter entirely here. It’s possible she will bring some random freeze and drop it on our doorstep with the same pride a cat has when it brings a dead critter home. Our forecast for the next ten days, in fact, has a random evening with a forecast overnight temperature of 34F. This is mildly concerning to me, as I have directly sowed some things, and if they have germinated and are up, it is possible they could get zapped by a sustained freeze (or even frost, in at least one case).

I’m not going to worry about that, though – I can sow those same seeds again, as they are plentiful and cheap. I sowed them early because that allows me to get them out of the way of when transplant time comes. That’s a very busy time for me, both in the gardens and in the bees. Anything I can knock out of having to do then is a plus.

Right now that means weeding and cleaning out hives that are not in active use. I lost some colonies in 2018, and also have other gear that needs to be cleaned, so I got to it.

Hives to be tidied
Cleanup time!

 

One of the things that happens as you are recovering from a couple of years of constant pneumonia and being in and out of the hospital, and then a year of recovery from that,v is that some things miss the boat as far as getting done. This didn’t rank high on the list, and what happens is that wax moths will move in and start using brood comb for their grossness. I got a late start (in the afternoon, as the rain that was forecast never quite made it) and managed to get three stack done.

As part of that doneness, I picked out some of the larvae so the girls (and Sir) could have some nice extra (live!) protein in their diet.

They loved these. I’m sure I’ll have more for them as I move through the rest of the hives to clean them. The best thing is that when I give them food – this or other food – they transform it into eggs for my family.

The hive cleanup is one of the items on the bees section of attractions on Todo Lake, and while I did not get through all of them today, I got a start, and that is what matters. It isn’t always the doing that is the difficult part. The difficulty is in the starting. Then it’s just a matter of allowing momentum to take over to power through, as many of the things on my list are not things that can be done in one sitting.

Once I get the hives cleaned and the frames and foundation dealt with, I’ll need to repaint a few of these hive bodies. And then, these condos will be ready to be put back into service by some of the new bees I’m getting and from the splits I’m going to have to make from the existing hives, as they continue their population levels. Except for a few packages, the rest are varieties I’ve never had before: Russians, Buckfast, and Carniolan. It is going to be fun learning the traits of these newbees in my beeyard.

The other day, I pulled some weeds in the rear gardens as I continue the race against “No Winter”and schedule my transplants.

One row was infested with lesser swine cress. Nice rosette pattern. Deep taproot, though, so it’s a hard one to get out completely, and if you want it done well, you cannot half-ass it.

Even the baby ones have long roots.

 

Tomorrow – as long as the rain holds off, or at least whatever time I have before it arrives for a visit, I’ll be continuing my bee gear clean up adventure.

That’s it for today, peeps. Until next time:  be well.

Gearing up

Aaaaaannnnnnd we are back. Again.

When I finally got over having pneumonia all the time, I thought, great, now I’ll be able to get stuff done and also start writing. But it didn’t quite turn out that way, thanks to a number of things, one of which is the constant shuffling at the NOC. They’d like it very much if we moved over to Jax2, which is the shiny new area they’ve built out. I’m trying to stop saying “the only problem with that is…” because it sounds rather like I’m valuing problems more than solutions. So, the solution to that would be to physically move all the servers and assorted gear from Jax1 to Jax2. Our racks, the ones we own, cannot go there – we’d be using their racks (for free) and we’d still have a cage to ourselves, just as we do now. We’d remove our racks from the NOC entirely – they would join the ones already in my shed here at the ranch, and would be destined for craigslist, I imagine. The logistics need to be worked out on that.

Circling back to the main point: there are going to be some changes around here. I spent much of 2018 dealing with about a billion things that slipped into Todo Lake while I was busy being sick. That impacted other things, like the bees and the gardens: neither thrived. I also got virtually no writing done.

After this all bled into 2019, I made a decision: either I was going to write – which I’ve wanted to do since I was quite young – or I was not. And if I was not, I was going to stop talking about it and thinking about it, and just go on with the rest of my life. It is not an easy conversation to have with yourself, believe me. But I decided that yes, writing was something I really, really wanted to do: both prose and poetry, the latter of which sustained me through high school boredom.

How do we prioritize writing over everything else I have going on (except the business; that of course has to stay, as it’s what pays the bills)?

By brain dumping absolutely everything that needs to be done in all the non-writing areas of my life, no matter how large or small they are, no matter how much or little time each task will take. And then, going over the lists and knocking out items from Todo Lake. What do those dumps look like? Like this:

This is two pages, just for the biz, of two columns each. I have lists for other areas: bees, chickens, gardens, home. The idea is to run through the lists and start knocking things out: if I run across something that will take five or ten minutes, and I’m in a position to do that something, the goal is to go ahead and do it at the moment, instead of saying “I’ll do it at x time” or allowing that five or so second of decision making pass and allow the chore, whatever it is, to be punted along down the road.

Obviously, not everything will take just a few minutes to do. But if there is something I estimate will take 15 minutes or more, or is a multi-day item (rolling out some administrative scripts to all servers, for instance, would probably be a multi day activity), doing X numbers of servers each day until they are all completed.

I’ve given myself the month of February to cross off as much of this as I can. On March 1, the writing takes priority, regardless of how many items are still floating in Todo Lake. Those will then get done by and by.

There are some things, though, I’ve decided to start early.  One is that I deactivated my primary facebook account over two years ago, and have just a personal facebook profile that now manages my author facebook page (since publishers want you to have a “platform”, ugh) and the biz page. I’ve also kicked myself off my personal twitter account this week: no going on twitter for any reason, including to look at links other people send me.

Two is to post on this here blog every day. I’ve had streaks before, but this particular exercise is to do it regardless of how I feel, what else is going on, if I “don’t have time” (there is usually some kind of block of a few minutes or longer to put something up), or if I don’t have anything in particular to say. Even if I just type in the date and the time, that will be enough. The goal: to simply make sure I can commit to it. After all, writing novels takes that kind of commitment.

Three: read 100 pages of a book every day. Any book, any subject. The goal: to keep up my reading habits. Not terribly difficult, since i love to read. The danger of this is settling in to read and then not stopping to do the other things I want to get done.

Four: meditate for ten minutes a day. The goal: mindfulness and stress relief. The secondary goal for this is to bump that to twice a day. I plan to start small, for five minutes a day to begin, because I know it will take practice to get my brain to stop yammering away when it should be still.

I hope all of you are pursuing whatever it is you want badly to do. Until next time, peeps: be well.