Monday, January 26, 2015

Unseasonably Warm

So while the Northeast is gearing up for a good old Nor'easter, we're expecting sunshine and near 60 again today once the fog burns off. I don't know what to say about the weather anymore, except that if you haven't noticed that it's changing, then you need to pay closer attention. This time of year we should be somewhere in the high 30s to low 40s and drizzly. There should be snow in the mountains- lots of it. Our snowpack is not where it should be- statewide, we're around 50 percent of where we should be. If we don't get some significant snowfall up there soon, we're likely looking at water shortages this summer here in our area.

The other hazard with nice weather this time of year is that the plants are starting to break dormancy. There are green onions sprouting in the garden, and the rhubarb looks to be waking up from its nap as well. The hazelnuts are starting to flower, about a month early if I recall correctly. We do have a history of random late freezes here, which can spell disaster when it follows a warm stretch like this. For us, it spells trouble when the fruit trees get started too soon: if the flowers open before the pollinators are around, we'll have a reduced crop. Worse yet, if they open and a freeze hits, we can lose all of our fruit for a season.

It's also a challenge to remember where we are in the season when it's like this. With the sun shining it's tempting to head out and start poking around in the garden, but there are 11 weeks remaining until our last frost date, and a lot can happen in between now and then. The ground is still too wet for even the earliest risers, but it sure is hard to resist. My potatoes are even starting to sprout in storage already!

So, I'm going to content myself with a little light weeding out in the garden today, and then I'll sit down in the sun with a cup of tea and my catalogs, to get my list ready so I have seeds here to plant in a couple of weeks.

What about you? Have you noticed that the weather has been shifting where you are too?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Seed Companies

I have a few go-to seed companies that I've mentioned here in the past: Botanical Interests, Territorial, Cooks Garden and Baker Creek, just to name a few. I love getting the catalogs in the mail, they're one of the little signals for me that winter is on the way out and that there are brighter days ahead. Even as a kid, I remember daydreaming about the coming summer, once the Johnny's and Burpee catalogs showed up.

As much as I love perusing the catalogs, I probably only order about a quarter of the seeds I use. With limited exceptions most of these brands are available in my local feed store and unless it's a special variety that isn't stocked locally, I do like to buy local and support my hometown merchants.

This year, I've ordered two new catalogs- High Mowing Seeds and Seed Savers Exchange. Both are excellent sources of heirloom seeds and are going to make excellent additions to my resource library. I can't wait to see them!

What seed catalogs do you like the best? I'd love to compile a list of the top seed sources for future reference. Drop me a note here or over on Facebook and let me know who your go-to seed company is and why!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Project List

Sunnier Days
It seems that the blog world is crammed full of posts on new year's resolutions and lists of accomplishments from last year. I'm not a huge resolution maker, whether that's good, bad or otherwise, I have no idea. But, in keeping with the spirit of the list-making season, I do like to start penciling out ideas that I have for projects, to see which ones may or may not be reasonable for the coming year.

In no particular order, here's what I'm thinking these days:

  • Goats and/or Sheep. I'd really like to start looking seriously at how we could bring in some more animals. We'll have to spend some time looking around the property for a suitable site for a fenced off area and a shelter. Once that's nailed down, we can start thinking about specific breeds- since everyone here has a purpose, these will have to be fiber breeds, to keep my spinning habit supplied. 
  • Bees. I really enjoyed having my neighbor's bees around last summer. It seems that the cold snap we had a few months back killed them off, though. I believe he's looking at getting another hive set up, but I'd also like to have one of our own. The question is, what type of hive do we want to manage? More on that, to come. 
  • Ducks. I've been wanting to add ducks for a number of years, and since we don't need to add any chickens to the flock this spring, I believe it's time to get that ball rolling, so I'll be picking up some duck books on my next trip to the library. 
  • Broiler Chickens. Depending on the work situation, I think this is the year where we'll try our hand at raising broilers. (Heaven knows we have enough beef in the freezer, still.)
  • Rabbits. We need to overhaul the rabbit colony. The gals keep digging out and seem to be going through an excessive amount of food, with their current set up. We're going to have to completely move their enclosure and move a bit of dirt around, in order to fish out the concrete pavers that they managed to squeeze past, and back fill their dens.
  • Chicken Coop. This is going to require a major cleaning in the spring, so while I'm at it, I think I'll move their next boxes and roost bars around. Since the rat issue started, they won't use the next boxes any more, and roost all over the place. So, we need to fix that. I'd love to get rid of the greenhouse coop altogether, but that's probably not in the budget right now. We'll see. 
  • Veggie Garden. Last year was a good year in the garden, but there was room for improvement when it came to the rabbit damage. I'm going to need to either reinforce the perimeter fence with some chicken wire, or set up individual panels for the beds that need them. I'm leaning towards shoring up the perimeter. I'm also in the process of planning what we'll plant and where... but that's a totally stand-alone topic. 
I'm getting tired just thinking about this stuff. What about you? Do you have plans to add any livestock or garden areas this year? Do you have any projects that you want to take on, but aren't sure where to start? I'd love to know!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Tangled Up in Blue

(For the Bob Dylan tune, click here.)

One of the things that I've learned about myself over the years is that when things get rough- really rough- I have to learn something new and creative in order to break myself out of a funk. Interestingly, I seldom pick the thing I learn; rather, it finds its way to me and just works. 

One of my tangle pieces.
My newest favorite, Zentangle, is no exception. I was looking for ideas and inspiration for a tattoo, as a matter of fact, when I stumbled across some images that struck me as absolutely perfect. I set up a board on Pinterest to keep them all in one place, and as my collection grew I started to wonder if this type of art has a name. Fortunately, one of the pins was tagged "Zentangle", so I was able to Google it.

I'm not going to go into too much on the history, but if you're interested in seeing where it all began, click here for the Zentangle official site. The basic gist of it is that the artwork is based on a series of patterns, and the repetitive nature of the pattern puts one into a mindful meditative state. (It's the Zen, in Zentangle.) This type of thing is precisely how I've doodled my entire life, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

I'm hooked! I draw every single day, now. Call it mediation or call it escapism, I don't really care. All I know is that I love it as an outlet, and I really appreciate the fact that it calms me immensely. I highly recommend it if you're looking for a peaceful creative outlet.

If you're interested in learning more about it, here's another site to peek at, called TanglePatterns. It's basically an index of all of the "official" patterns and has links to all sorts of goodies. There are lots of other resources online, including FB and Pinterest...just Google it.

What about you? Do you find that art helps you through tough times?

Monday, January 5, 2015


Templeton the rat, from Charlotte's Web. Click for Source
We've been lucky so far, I suppose. In the four or five years that we've been keeping chickens and rabbits, we haven't had any real rodent issues. We keep our feed in bins, clean up any spills promptly, and in general keep as tidy a chicken coop as is possible (without being OCD about it.)
So, I'm a little surprised and disappointed that we're seeing a bit of a rat problem right now.

At first, I didn't know it was rats. The chickens started acting oddly, roosting as high up off the ground as they could possibly get. This meant off the roost bars and up onto my stacked cubbies, where I store some of my garden supplies and tools. Sleeping up there means poop in places that I can't easily clean up- I really need a dry day to pull everything out of the coop and do a deep clean. Usually I do one in the spring, but they're not leaving me much of a choice.  Egg production got a little off-kilter as well. They refuse to lay inside the coop now, instead preferring to make a nest in Steve's hutch. We've also had some really thin-shelled eggs, which in my experience are a really good indicator of disturbances in the coop.*

Initially, I thought it was a predator issue: we've seen some more coyotes on the game camera, the neighbors have a new dachshund, and I'm still seeing our eagle, hawk and owl on a regular basis.  So, I started paying a little more attention during the day, and that's when I saw it... the rat. Not the biggest one I've ever seen, thankfully, but a rather aggressive one. I watched as it chased more than one squirrel out of the chicken run, nipping at it's heels while it scrambled up a tree to escape. I went out with the pellet gun, but between the fencing, Steve and the girls, a clear shot just wasn't happening.

I don't like traps. I'll just put that out there right now. I got my hand caught in a mousetrap when I was maybe 4 or 5, and I can still picture it, clear as day. OUCH. However, I like poisons even less, so I do think that traps have their place. I went out and picked one up from Lowes; a molded plastic job with teeth and a really heavy spring. The thing gives me the willies just looking at it. I baited it with peanut butter and set it up outside one of their holes, and placed a plastic milk crate, upside down and weighted down with a couple of bricks over the top of it to keep Steve and the chickens out of trouble.

I didn't have to wait long, and we've probably caught one mouse and four rats total, so far. I say total, because we've had a few odds and ends in the trap, which were creepy as well as gross, so I'm not going into too much detail on that. Suffice it to say, I still don't like traps, and I sure as heck don't like rats. Not one bit. (Oddly, pet rats don't bother me. Also, Templeton up there was one of my favorites in Charlotte's Web... but let me see a rat outside and I go into full-blown home defense mode.)

In speaking with some of the other neighbors over the holidays, it seems that everyone on our "block" is seeing rats this year. We have at least two houses that I know of, within a quarter mile of us, that just started keeping chickens and/or other barnyard birds since this past spring, so I suspect that has something to do with it. On one hand, I'm relieved that it's not just my coop that's having problems, but on the other hand, this is a pretty widespread issue and we can't control what happens anywhere but here... so they're going to be tough to get rid of completely.

For now, we'll keep the trap baited and set, until the problem seems to dissipate, but I don't see that happening any time soon. Fortunately, we do have the hawk and owl in residence, who I'm sure will lend their talons to helping us get the problem under control. I'm also keeping an eye on feeders and our grain bins to make sure there aren't any rats getting a free meal.

What about you? Have you experienced rodent issues in your coop or barn? What did you do?

*Thin-shelled eggs are sometimes referred to as "fear eggs". If you feed your birds a well balanced layer feed plus whole grains, and have oyster shell always available for them, and you occasionally see thin shelled eggs, look for something bothering your birds.