And now, a bunny story

Unfortunately there’s no picture of this.

HW was walking along our path.  He spotted a bunny about 50 feet ahead of him, hopping towards him.

It’s very usual to see bunnies; we have a lot of rabbits around and see them every day.  They even have their usual spots.  There’s the beehive bunny, the chicken coop bunny, the other chicken coop bunny, the driveway bunny, the end of the road bunny….

This was the shop bunny, he’s already known for daily appearances and odd behaviour.  We’re not sure if all his screws are tight.

This bunny was running towards HW, not at running-away-from-something speed, but rabbit-on-his-way-somewhere speed.  Hop hop hop.  He was also drenched, his hair pasted down on his body by the rainwater on the long grass and weeds.

HW stopped on the trail and stood still, to watch this wet bunny approach.

The bunny ran right up to him, and came to a stop between his feet.  The bunny swung his head to one side, then the other, wiggling his nose to sniff each of HW’s boots.  Then without looking up (Huh.  That’s a bit different.   *shrug*), the bunny hopped between his feet and carried on down the path at the same speed!  Hop hop hop!

Eulogy for a dog

I have to just go ahead and post this…(this has sucked the life out of June/July)…

I wrote this the last day of May (but didn’t get round to posting it), after our best friend had been missing six weeks. As we were to learn later, May 31 was shortly after he would have actually died.  The awful circumstances of his death were far worse than I had imagined….(explained end of post).

Eulogy to the most beautiful Dog

I’m beginning to accept that he is gone for good.  Dead, somehow, somewhere.  Not just lost, misplaced, but lost, gone.

Devastating doesn’t really cover it.
It’s a terrible loss; he’s missing, everywhere, everything I do, since I used to do everything with him.
I haven’t really yet felt any grief.
I get to keep thinking, “but he’s so beautiful and friendly, maybe he’s ingratiated himself into someone else’s life and he’s fine. Someday he’ll escape and come back, or not.”  I want to believe that he’s fine, moving on to another phase of life that is hopefully comfortable for him.

So far his dog’s life was a hard, difficult life, thrice rescued/rejected as unmanageable, and  we did a good job with him, slowly. He was such a mental case at first that the first several, miserable (why did you want a dog?) months were just managing and controlling him, to establish his place as a dog.  At the end, it was getting interesting, once we were mutually attached and he was content and secure in his place, teachable and proud of learning.   We had come to a really good place with him.  He earned some trust by being obedient and predictable, and he was much much calmer.

The last few miserable weeks I’ve been working a public job and it seems like every person I see asks me about the dog (since the community knows he’s been missing).  I have to fight the instinct to burst into tears, and have cultivated a steely efficiency to deal with sympathy.

He was gone like this once before, last fall, for two weeks.  He left wearing a choke collar and leash and I had horrifying visions of him getting tangled up and unable to return.  So, I searched for him for days.  My neighbour “found” him 13 days later, emaciated, twitchy, and full of quills, but alive.  He recovered fast.  Knowing he survived for two weeks who knows where spawned a hope that lasted 3, 4 weeks… but six?

Unlike last time, I’m not feeling guilty this time.  I didn’t do anything wrong this time.  Last time there were extenuating circumstances- that he was under exercised that day, the choke collar he never should have been wearing, the fact that he had that collar on because we hadn’t invested enough time in him to make him manageable without it -the little escape artist. I was rigid with guilt.

Last time he made it back, giving me a second chance, and letting me realize he was important to me to take care of, whether or not I’d chosen him.

Huskies have an interesting nature, among the wildest of dogs, and one of only three talking dog breeds  (+Malamute and Samoyed) with vocal range like the wolf all dogs came from.  Huskies are a (challenging) combination of wilful (wildness) and desperate desire to please (dogness).  Ours had a nature that was simultaneously simple yet dazzlingly clever – porcupines gooooood!, yet in a few minutes HW taught him to “shake off!” before getting in the truck (even I was dazzled).

Some dogs are serenely wise, looking like they gaze into ancient secrets on the horizon.  This dog was not one of those.  He was like a perma-puppy, easily lost in pure delight.  He ran and played with floppy innocent rapture.

I remember: the two winter nights I spent sleeping on the floor rolled in a blanket, because he had flu-like symptoms.  We would simultaneously start up from sleep like a shot, leaping up.  Both of us would lunge for the door.  I’d throw it open and he’d burst out racing a few feet into the woods, then come miserably slinking back in, weary and nauseous.  He’d curl back up in his bed and sigh, settling his head or muzzle back on my hand so that we’d wake together again next time (time of the essence), and we’d fall back to sleep until the next urgency.  Repeat (hourly).  I know what it’s like to have diarrhea and the sick fever-shivers, so I would not put him out in his cold doghouse in that condition.  It was a bad couple nights, but I regret nothing.

I remember: parking him firmly on the sidewalk and going into the bank.  There was nowhere to tether him so I had to trust him, in the mall parking lot.  Passersby melted at the sight of him sitting raptly watching me use the atm through the window.

I had just let him in and let myself love him.  Before last year, I couldn’t let myself love him because I didn’t have it in me to fulfill his needs.  Initially he was all HW’s dog, but after his last disappearance he became thoroughly mine.

I committed to never leaving him alone, which is a very tall order- to integrate a rambunctious big needy animal into everything you do.  Lots of compromise, time and effort. I had to work with him to overcome his phobia of cars, so that I could take him everywhere with me.  This started off terribly; I would have to pick him up and deposit him into the vehicle, and he’d whine, writhe and drool miserably.  It progressed well though, and turned out very successful and wonderful for both of us, expanding his world and community.   I trained him to run with the vehicle up our road for a little exercise when we were coming or leaving, and get back in at the end.  I took him to work with me (he loved their cows, and digging treasures from the compost heap).  We found all the dog-friendly stores in town and he enthusiastically made friends. He got more activity once we were able to drive anywhere, and he would fall into bed every night. He really, really loved bed.  He would start to get testy with us when we stayed up too late, sighing and rolling his eyes at our making noise.

That one thing, always being with him, seemed to instantly resolve most of his personality disorders, so he quickly became a different dog, relaxed and flexible.  Now, there’s nowhere I can go where I’m not missing his presence, from the rearview mirror, to work, to the post office.  I took him to doggy daycare for other-dog exposure and made strides introducing him to other dogs and socializing him.  He was a star at it.  Everywhere people admired and gushed over his striking looks, then his manners.

He was such a special dog.  The idea that his voice, that terrific self-aware talking that he did, could be extinguished, breaks my heart.  I dread that he may have suffered, or was killed, or that he went through anything slow, painful or lonely.  He always had a phobia of being tangled, and in the early days would thrash irrationally if he got even a leash under his leg.

Besides losing him as a family member, it’s a loss to the farm- dogs provide numerous services, especially for us buried in the woods.  The presence of them puts bears, coyotes, coons, and weasels on notice.  It gives the rabbits regular exercise.  He slept outside with the weiners until they were big enough to not be threatened by coyotes.

I miss his breathing and sighing at night, sometimes some soft sleep-woofing.  We would always be aware of another soul in the house, all of us accounted for and safe, chickens locked up.  Now he is not accounted for.  His bed is disturbingly vacant.  I miss his velvet ears and morning cuddliness.  I haven’t seen you all night!  Poking his head under my hands No please keep petting.

I never did find a perfect name for him.  He came to us as Smokey, which I wasn’t a big fan of.  I wanted to rename him after his magical survival last fall, as our relationship was transformed then, and I wanted something to reflect his specialness and my realization of what a gift he was (to remind me daily, constantly, and during long nights of the flu). I never came up with the perfect name, although we played with Snowy, which he readily responded to.  We were going with syllabic similarity, for his ease of transition, not like it mattered.  A dog that can learn a hundred words can readily adjust to a name change. He already knew that several words, including “him”, and “the dog”, applied to him.  His eyebrows would lift at the sound of “dog” and the eyebrows would track our conversation like a tennis match until we moved to another topic. I never minded calling him “dog” because he was thoroughly, supremely Dog – all the good, wild, beautiful traits of dogness.  They are a remarkable species, and he was a fine representative of his kind.

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My last thought, the last time I saw him, was how much I loved him.  It was a sunny, perfect day.  He was run, fed, and full of a bone, apparently ready to lie down for a while.  His dog smile was beaming as he ran to catch up to me, loping next to me in the woods.  I was overcome with it, how much I loved him.  Then he snuffled off into some thicker brush, lured by the scent of a rabbit, and I never saw him again.

Discovery:

I searched a little bit for Smokey, but not with the intensity I did on his last disappearance.  I was confident this time he was a free agent.  He left wearing a loose nylon harness he could easily slip out of – he did it regularly, I knew he could, and I felt comfortable knowing he could never be trapped by it (exactly how I wanted it after the choke collar incident).  A dog can travel huge distances, making the potential area impractical to search.  I imagined the trouble he could get into- hit on the road, shot for a coyote, trapped in a forgotten snare, but knew that he could be anywhere, far away, getting into those troubles, and I would not be able to find him.  I walked locally, calling him, confident also that he could respond if he could hear me.  I walked part of my nearest neighbour’s property, knowing he’s a hunter and suspecting there may be snares, although he had assured me that all his snares were taken up in March.

On June 5 this neighbour (a hunting camp, not a residence) called to say he’d found our dog.  It had gotten “hung up on a branch” with his harness, and hadn’t been there very long, “maybe two weeks”.  He told me where I could find him, on his property, just a few hundred meters from our property line.  Smokey’s body was well into decomposition, but it was unquestionably him.  The decay was central to his neck, and his head was completely separated from his body, resting in an anatomically impossible position, while vertebrae were visible in his torso .  A small circle around him was cleared of vegetation or anything loose and the ground was packed down hard, with roots exposed and his hair ground into the dirt.  I noticed that while the small trees around him were rubbed smooth, the stick that his harness was looped around had bark on it.  Indeed, the bark was flaking off.  The stick was dead, about an inch and quarter diameter.  This was closely followed by the realization that the stick was only superficially poked into the ground, and (we matched up the broken piece) broken off of an adjacent tree.  Besides already knowing that he could have easily slipped out of his harness, now we knew for sure there was no chance at all that he had died as a result of this stick and his harness.

The hearsay, other circumstantial evidence that he was intentionally killed is even more damning, but… it’s hearsay and circumstantial so I won’t get into it here.

On June 6 we collected his body and buried it with his favorite squirrel toy.

My grief and guilt – knowing that my beautiful dog was so close, that I had not quite walked to the right place, that he held on to life for weeks waiting for help, and that he died such a cruel, miserable death – is gigantic.

 

Should anyone want to do their own analysis, photos of the scene are in the post that has been password protected.  The password is Smokey.  The pictures are gruesome.

 

crows roosting

Now I know where the crows roost in our nearest town.

I’ve never seen a crow roost before, but I’ve read about it.  Crows converge at night to sleep together in a huge social group, although they spend most of their days alone or in small family groups.  They have a designated place they gather.

They spend the evening before settling down socializing, sharing information, fighting, flirting.

Unexpectedly, while I waited in the parking lot for HW to come out of the grocery store, I discovered where the city crows sleep.  Right in the heart of town.

Just before dark, they were swirling around the treetops of these few tall trees, settling down and then skirling up again, putting on swooping chases and synchronized flight maneuvers, diving and landing and taking off again, shouting raucously all the while. The trees were dotted with them and the sky full of action.

They were loud!  A big crow social hour; a party before bed.

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Waiting for rain

It’s that kind of day.

It’s been so hot, for so long.  Everything is parched, tired, thirsty.  Fire risk is high.

Every day I haul water to keep the greenhouse and garden residents alive.

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My broccoli is thriving!  A surprise.  Cabbages utterly failed last year, so I thought cruciferae didn’t agree with my garden.

Also I have 5 asparagi! (yeah yeah, asparguses).  Asparagus is the first thing we ever planted, our first month here, but that attempt didn’t take.  The asparaguys wanted a more prepared bed.  Now they seem happy.

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A honeybee working a blackberry cane by the well.

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We’re standing on a pile of sticks. What’s it to ya?

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I tried to add my fingers for scale. didn’t really help

I found this enormous spider.

She was bigger than my cell phone is wide.

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Everywhere, snakes.  Snakes like it hot.

Today at work I fed the future layers some lettuce.

These birds have decided that people are terrifying, and jam themselves in a corner to hide.

They’re just past the awkward stage.

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They’re hiding. As hard as they can.

One intrepid bird always sticks their neck out first.

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Hmm. Is this worth coming out for?

I had to be outside, with the door closed, before they would emerge from hiding.

Chickens in a box- lockdown!

Since the most determined little brown hen got up off her eggs for the second time, right before they were due, toasting another clutch, I finally listened to HW and removed her from the coop and locked her up.  This is her third nearly-complete round, and that’s a long time for her to be sitting and mostly not eating.

Another brown hen went broody at the same time, and I got to them just in time, as each already had an eight egg horde- a little ambitious, but it’s summer, so I let them keep all eight.  Now they are boxed.

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HW and I went back and forth- I have had bad luck when I interfere with them, but it has also not gone well when I don’t interfere with them.  They find ways to screw up; it’s very frustrating.  He told me “just take them out of the coop entirely, then there’s no distractions, no more eggs to steal”.  This means I will have to reintroduce them to the flock, and learning how to go in and out of the coop may be that much harder, but we’ll cross that hurdle once we get some chicks, I suppose.

They are in ventilated boxes next to the door of the greenhouse.  I’m a bit paranoid of them getting too hot in there, and how secure are they in the GH at night?, but so far, so good.  There is always a healthy cooling  draft through the GH.  They each have a fount with their poultry vitamin supplement (chicken Gatorade), and a little bowl of food, which they both consume a little of every day, I’m glad, and I sometimes have to scoop their poop.

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There are four more sister hens and the original white hen (outside), who is a little old lady now.  She seems to have shrunk, so tiny when you pick her up.  Still cranky though.  If any more drop into the broody trance, I’m going to have a whole lineup of bird boxes.

Bumblebee nests

I’ve been suspecting that I had bumblebees nesting along our path through the woods.  I’ve heard and seen them flying low and sort of furtively in the area, since last year.

Then I learned more about bumblebees and that it’s sort of special to find a nest (they burrow in the ground), so I was keeping a more attentive eye out.   Yesterday I happened to be walking out in the morning and caught a medium sized bee in the act of  leaving her burrow, rather clumsily and noisily, bzzzZZzzz, like she hadn’t had her coffee yet.  I knew it!

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These are in a bank on the side of our daily walking path

I found four little holes in the area, two of which have perfectly clean entrances you can see into before the tunnel curves (so I’m sure those are in use).  What do they do in the rain?  They remind me of bank-dwelling swallows.  They seem to like the clayey soil and the compacted dirt of our path.

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This one is RIGHT in the middle of the path.
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Now we have it flagged to not step directly on it. I’m pretty sure this one belongs to a Bombus Ternarius that I run into VERY often flying low in the area and generally beehaving sneaky. I’m sure it’s her.

I must report to bumblebee watch.  It’s going to be awfully hard to figure out what kind of bumblebees live there.  It will be a long stakeout, or else I’ll have to set up a trail cam, ararar!

Lightning bugs and chicken feet under a full moon

The lightning bugs are out in force tonight over the blueberries and the moon is pink and bright.

I was bodysnatching chickens out of the coop under cover of moonlight to rub vaseline on their feet.  Yes, you read that correctly.  This is half of the anti-scaly leg mite procedure, which my Silkies seem to  always have, and a few of the layers have mildly.  Since their feet look remarkably better after a night of vaseline so I thought I’d experiment with the moisturizing treatment before the exfoliating scrub, what the hell.

I did the layers first and they were not into it.  Easy to catch, but the coop was a writhing mass of complaining murmurs in the background.  They were squawking and squirming around fighting for the corner.  It was like Playing Koi (Lumosity)- what birds have I done?

The Silkies are a different breed.  They all stay in place and I pick them up one at a time, spa their feet, and replace them.  Just a little bit of peeping protest (including the rooster-he emits the most unmasculine squeaks when he’s handled) and then they stretch out for the foot rubs.  They are so small and delicate and soft and fluffy like you think a dandelion should feel.

It must be very confusing, but they seem to sort of enjoy the massage part.

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Oh, are you going broody too? How committed are you?
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Pretty committed then. I’ve shifted her to the other clean side of coop, it’s coop cleaning day.

We got two hot days, finally, but could I open the hive?   No! We had rip-your-hat-off wind that would not take a break.  Too windy.  Someday I’ll get to see in the hive.

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HW is in a 600km randoneuring event this weekend.  He is almost finished the two day (!) ride, but the heat and wind must have been horrible.  He is having difficulty in the last hours.

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An interesting bug

I am pleased with my sweet potatoes.  i planted the “slips” that came, although they looked like ragged little stems (accompanying literature said ‘this is normal’)

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In a few days, they looked even worse. This is one of the better looking specimens

But then, overnight, stems standing up and new leaves a purply brown colour.  They live!

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These pictures don’t look like anything. It looks like two pictures of a pile of straw!

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Whoa!  This new build is on a low swinging branch of the apple tree.  Only a few feet off the ground.  But these wasps know what they’re doing.  There will be no commute at all to the windfall apple feasting that will come soon.

And this is a chicken path.  I’ve started to notice chicken ley lines where they move through the veg in single file.  Often they use our paths, but they also make their own trails.

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Ant attack!

The bees have been in a pitched battle with ants, and I didn’t realize it.

I had noticed they were rather testy lately, quite irritable when I go to close their door at night.  They had briskly seen me off a few times and I was even stung.  I thought that was odd because they used to be so mild.  Now I get it.

Once in awhile I’d seen an ant on the bottom board drawer, but no biggie, right, if they aren’t in the hive.  A couple days ago I pulled the drawer and there was a pile of sticks on it, the kind of collections ants like to build, and more ants.  Hmmm.

Looking in where the drawer goes, there were ants on the front wall, right underneath the bee entrance/ledge.  Well, I thought, the bees I’m sure are handling them.  A healthy hive can protect itself from ants.  I dumped out the antwork and replaced the drawer.

Last night I arrive to shut the bees at night (they don’t get shut in, I reduce the opening so they don’t have a big draft and can keep it warm more easily) and just as I got there, I saw a bee pop out on the ledge holding an ant, and take off.  I assume she went and dropped it somewhere.  Wow!  And hmmmm.

I checked the drawer and uhoh, there appeared to be a pitched battle taking place at the front of the hive.  There was also a high pitched bee distress buzz happening, but I couldn’t locate the distressed bee.

Rush to the internet.  Quickly learn that ants can be disastrous for a hive, in short order, especially the nasty red and black ants (my ants!).  I don’t love interacting with these ants. They pinch, or bite.  It stings.  Ant colonies abound here. The hens are using their mounds for La-Z-boys.

If it’s not one thing it’s another.  I blithely thought bees and ants got along just fine.  They are related.  These ants lived under the hive, dragged off the dead bees… but no, they wanted more!

The only solution on offer that was actionable immediately was powdered cinnamon.  I dredged the legs of the hive stand and the front of the bottom board drawer with cinnamon, and also kicked off the board covering the ant colony, to give them something else to focus on.  20160617_192622

Today – no ants!  I can’t believe it!  The cinnamon worked! (but I think I’ll moat the legs of the stand next since some people say cinnamon is only a temporary fix).

The bees are acting differently too, not all crowded along the ledge like they’ve been lately in the evening (instead, they’re filling the drone salon).  They’ve been cranky because they’ve been in a prolonged battle with a bunch of stupid ants! – in fight mode.  20160617_192637

The ceiling of this space, where the drawer slides in, is the mesh bottom surface of the hive, the main floor that they generally come and go from.  Debris and dropped pollen balls fall through it onto drawer.  You can see little bee legs poking through as they walk around on it. In the front and the right edge there’s a mysterious hanging garden of sticks and debris, and it seems to be glued or stuck in place (?).  Possibly the bees have been building a barrier, trying to block out the ants.  I read or heard about bees encasing a dead mouse that died in the hive in propolis, to protect the hive from side effects of the decomposition.

I can’t wait for a decent day to open the hive.  Maybe I’ll get to see what’s really going on.  I suspect they may already need another super!

 

New bee boxes

I’ve been assembling  bee supers and frames.  They look so nice, all fresh.

The idea is that if the bees are ready to swarm this year (so far they are thriving and vital, so I’m hoping for the best), that there will be a move-in-ready apartment conveniently right next door!

My idea is to leave the bottom super empty, maybe a couple frames in the top box, to be spacious like a swarm box.  Since I haven’t built a swarm box yet, I need to build supers anyway, and I want to have something ready in the event of a sudden swarm, then this is a better-than-nothing measure.

I was assembling frames in my tiny camper, and stocking them outside, when the robber bees arrived.  They were doing their nervous, zigzag robber bee thing, investigating the new wax frames with enthusiasm.

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More and more bees arrived (they were uncannily camera shy though).  I started to get nervous, and promptly put up a box in the field for them to inspect.

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Immediate investigation

They haven’t made any moves on it, but they know it’s there.

This has been such a drab, cold!, protracted spring, that there hasn’t been a day warm enough for me to make a full hive inspection.  I feel like I should.  I am heartened that it takes a long time to find a Varroa mite on the bottom board, they are sucking back the syrup I give them, and they have at least doubled last year’s numbers, judging by the comings and goings.  So far they seem to be caring for themselves quite well.  I hope I can give them a third super in time.

6 ways to rock National Dairy Goat Awareness Day (today)

Screen Shot 2016-06-03 at 11.33.45 PM1. Enjoy a reprise of the Lonely Goatherd

hero62. Build your goat a tower (Or at least read about goat towers around the world)

moroccostylegoat3. Have you seen goats in trees?  If not, you are really missing out.

from mountainviewfarms.webs.com
from mountainviewfarms.webs.com

4.  Learn all about fainting goats. It’s a thing.

screaming goat5.  There are also screaming goats.

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Nothing cuter than a baby goat!

6. Read about goat farming (meat goats, in case they’re feeling left out today) and the joys of goat feeding, and goat transport.

First strawberries of the year!

20160609_170155 20160609_172516And the chives are making a bid for world domination.

Life carries on, driven to grow.

In the background these days, we are coping with the discovery that our beautiful dog, missing since April, died a long horrible death.  He was a five minute walk away on our neighbour’s property, and I am in disbelief and pain that I did not find him while he was still alive.  He was a  good and sweet dog and deserved much better.  I cry every day.

And another turtle…

So soon after my first Blanding’s turtle sighting, here comes another!

 

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Let. GO. of me!
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Let GO!

 

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According to the plastron markings, this is actually the exact same turtle as the first (last) time.

1.4 km away from where we were last manhandling her, ten days ago.  She’s pretty over the shell modeling thing.

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Ok, are we done here? Can I go?
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I’m so outta here.

From toads to hens

I love toads.  I’ve always been crazy about them.   For some reason.   I used to build elaborate toad mansions under the back porch when I was young, hoping to entice the toads that got trapped in the window wells to stay.  Occasionally, they obliged.

Grown up, I’m happy to learn that toads eat slugs and are therefore a gardener’s best friend.  This is good, because I’m already friends with them.  I like their simple, clumsy toad ways.   And the grumpy faces.  I have to reprise some mansion-building in the garden to make it more comfortable there for them.

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I tossed out rhubarb leaves for the hens, expecting them to definitely not eat them.  Surprise!  Later on, the leaves were completely skeletonized.

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The Robin is not nesting in her usual spot.  We saw her earlier, and now she is conspicuously absent, so she is likely sitting on eggs at the moment.  When they hatch and she has to feed them, then we will know where her nest is.  She acts all sly and sneaky when she’s feeding her chicks but totally gives away where they are.

I’m hoping that she has finally moved out of the Robin Shed, so called since she has raised at least one clutch of chicks every year we’ve been here in a  nest above the door.  Perhaps she has finally deemed it unfit for avian habitation, and we will finally be able to tear it down.

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The Silkies are soooo pleased to be outside.  I feel guilty for not getting them outside much sooner (they stayed late in the greenhouse this spring).  Suddenly they spend all day outside poking around, and lounging in this corner where the grass is longer.  I see this photo makes it look like they are wistfully looking at the greener grass beyond their entrapment, but that’s not the case.   Someone must be passing by.  A nosy red chicken.

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I like the walnut trees with their early leaves on the tips of the branches.  They are exotic and kind of ornamental.

My first Blanding’s Turtle

I finally saw my first Blanding’s Turtle!  Blanding’s are an endangered species in Nova Scotia,  with only three small areas with known populations.  We just happen to live almost on top of one of those three areas.

Yet, I hadn’t seen one yet.  I’m always helping turtles cross the road, but they aren’t the special turtles.

This turtle, we saw passing through our neighbour’s yard, of all places.  We were just stopping by, and I noticed “Hey, a turtle”, as we parked.  It was marching past the garden.  I went and picked it up, and then we had to take pictures, to report the sighting.

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This turtle may appear to be smiling, but he/she was not happy about being picked up or diverted from his mission.   She may also appear to be limp, but he was very actively trying to push my fingers off.  She knew exactly what the problem was – my fingers on the side of his shell.  Let me go! They are strong.

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Also fast.  I don’t buy the tortoise and the hare thing.  Our rabbits loll around.  Turtles can move.  There’s a big snapping turtle that lives in the culvert at the end of our road that I’m dying to get a picture of (so tall, so armored dinosaur looking), but he/she’s way too fast, gone by the time I whip out my camera.

She did not stick around for canapés after the photo shoot.

 

 

 

Honeybee watering hole

Not satisfied with their own hiveside water bowl, the honey bees have taken over the chicken water dish (they line up along the perimeter drinking), and now they have settled on the top of the water barrels as a favorite watering hole.

So thirsty!  There are always about a dozen bees, often several dozen, drinking from the crease along the top of the water barrels.  It’s a nice safe place for them to drink without falling in, so I have to pour more water on the top every day as the water evaporates otherwise.

I can hear them humming around the barrels outside the window all day.

They are hard to perturb when they’re drinking, too.  You can nudge them, nudge nudge poke, and they’ll hold on tighter, keeping that tongue dipping in the water.  Serious business.

The bees are thriving

Everyone has been asking:  Are your bees ok?

Happily, they are doing very well.  Not bad, since I thought this hive sat on the edge of 50/50 winter survival chances.  They are vital and exploratory, polishing off a jar of syrup every few days, and making appearances at the neighbours’.  The pollen du jour is now bright orange.  Dandelions, perhaps?

Even though I can’t inspect them thoroughly yet, I gave them an empty super, sure that they were gonna bust their seams any moment.  All that pollen has to go somewhere.

H.W. has taken more of an interest in them, watching them every day, and reporting that the bees HATE the “door” (the entrance limiting stick).  We’ve been having warm days, and the inbound flights start bottlenecking at the entrance mid-morning.  Then he pulls out the stick and “the bees BOIL out!”. It takes a few minutes to rebalance, like traffic after an accident is cleared.  Then the bees come shooting in and out like a time lapse video of La Guardia at 16x speed.

The bees have decided to share the chickens’ canteen.  I don’t understand; they have their own perfectly good bowl.  But they line up on the edge, drinking.  Every night I have to go and fish out (usually three) soggy bees and deliver them to their doorstep.  In the day they can pull themselves out of the pool and dry off and warm up in the sun, but at night they are too chilled to fly home.  I hold my finger with three bedraggled bees by their door.  The evening arrivals are zooming in and they land on my hand on their way in.  I can feel the warm sweet air of the humming hive coming from the entrance, and the grateful swimmers perk up in the warm draft, drag themselves off my finger and indoors.

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Bees have pushed the stick open themselves

I tell H.W., who is sympathizing with bee frustration, that the stick still has to go back in at night.  “But they hate it!”  As it turns out, the bees are more than capable of opening the door themselves.  They just don’t shut it.

 

Manual sewing

It was a beautiful sunny day when I decided to finally sew the curtains.  Pretty soon, we’re gonna need them to help keep the house cool inside when it’s sunny out.

I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so much of a total body workout.    I’ve never associated sewing with ab and quad fatigue before.

The century-old treadle sewing machine sews like it plans to sew for another hundred years.  Even, serene, but determined stitches, marching in a resolute line.

Most electric sewing machines I’ve used have a delicacy about them.  If you look at them wrong, they might start pinching the fabric, the  stitches might get cramped and tight, or the thread on the underside might generate big loopy snarls while you confidently sew away!- because the top thread looks perfect.  You have to coddle them; create ideal conditions around the tension, bobbin, threading, lubrication, etc, etc.

This machine scoffs at your mysterious bobbin issues.   It’s not very delicate to stomp vigorously and repeatedly, and maintain the rhythm of a train, for the presser foot to lap the miles.

I didn’t plan to break a sweat sewing.  But curtains happen to be long straightaways of stitching, requiring maintained speed.  Also focused concentration, to fold and feed the fabric to the munching presser.

Who knew?  Off-grid sewing = exercise.

While I sew, I can’t help imagining Laura Ingalls and her mother, exercising their (fantastic new labour-saving) treadle machine, wearing floor length dresses and corsets!

Solar granola

We’ve been making a steady supply of granola in the wonderful Sun Oven.

This stems from a compound realization:  1. We both like granola.  A lot.  We eat it very often.  In spite of the risk of being called granolas.  2. It’s bloody expensive!  Analyzing monthly expenditures turned up an alarming number on bulk granola.  Oh, but it’s so good!  Can’t stop! (see #1).   3.  Rolled oats- not so much.  Very cheap, or relatively so for these days. Really, it beggars belief how much the price for an oat can inflate if you drip some sugar on it and toast it.

We can make it ourselves!

So we’ve been mixing up big batches of granola and toasting by the panful on sunny days, which have arrived in abundance in April.

Our granola kicks a** on the granola we used to buy, and HW even muses that what makes it really special is he can “taste the sun in it”.  We won’t be going back.  Making enough to last through the winter might be a challenge…hmmm.

Our recipe:

(we usu do twice this much at a time, and amounts are approximate, but this is the basic)

  • 3 cups oats
  • Cinnamon, and often the usual pumpkin pie culprits- nutmeg, ginger, and cloves.
  • Dash of salt
  • Optional 1/2 cup of some deluxe optional additions, like sliced almonds, pecan pieces, hazelnuts, flax seeds or pumpkin seeds; finely chopped dried pineapple, or candied ginger, or dried strawberries.  This is what adds the wow!

These are the dry ingredients.  Stir ’em up.

  • 1/3 cup coconut oil
  • Splash of maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 Tbsps brown sugar
  • 1 Tsp vanilla

These are the liquids.  Heat them, together, and drizzle them over the dry while rapidly tumbling the dry ingredients with a wooden spoon.

Bake.  Normally this might say 15 min at 350F? or some such.  It’s about twenty minutes in the sun oven, and then stir it up and leave it another 10-15.  Watch the oven!  If it gets to dark brown, it could be just fine with milk, but there might be too much sun in it.

 

 

When the rooster didn’t crow

HW just happened to remind me “remember when the rooster didn’t crow?  Because he was a beta rooster?”.  He’s right!  The big rooster learned to crow after he arrived here, when he suddenly had to “man up” to his promotion to big cock on the block.

Now, he is deafening!  He puts his whole considerable body into it, and throws his voice like a shotput.  When he hops up on top of the coop, perfectly ear level to me, and delivers a cannon while I’m in the greenhouse, oh it makes my head ring!  I can’t imagine sitting in a small, echoing box with him firing off multiple volleys, every morning.  Maybe all the hens are hearing impaired.

Actually, he was probably a  delta rooster, very low in his flock of origin, voiceless.  I’m a big fan of secondary roosters, and promoting them.  They’re so nice, appropriately frightened of people, and so appreciative of the job, it seems.  They take it seriously and do it well.

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I was commenting on the cocks of both flocks being both so good, it’s a shame they are aging and will soon need to be replaced.  The red rooster lost all his accent feathers from his tail last year and they haven’t come back.  Aging.  And rooster choosing is dicey.  A bad rooster can be a real dick.  We are blessed with good rooster fortune on both sides of the haybales at the moment.

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HW said “No… roosters can be really old and still be good roosters.  You know, like in Chicken Run, the rooster’s a beat up old veteran.”

Me: That’s an animated feature!  You can’t base your livestock knowledge on a cartoon!

HW:  Yeah, but it’s a cartoon based in truth!

This may have gone on a bit longer.  It is a very good movie.

Screen shot 2016-04-21 at 10.37.04 AM

This pic is overexpsed but it's so funny with the hen peeking out from behind his tail.
This pic is overexposed but it’s so funny with the hen peeking out from behind his tail.

 

Squirrel Wars

The squirrel is winning.

First there were skirmishes.   I tried a string to the bird feeder to yank on and eject the thieving squirrel.  The squirrel chewed its way into the bird seed bucket.

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I would jam a steel bucket upside down on top of this compromised bucket in order to keep them out. I mean jam it on, squeeze it down, not just rest it on.

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images.oheadpressSomehow, I don’t know how, but the squirrel would lift or pry that steel bucket off of the prize.  I like to imagine a little squirrel overhead press, lifting the bucket off with Olympian effort.

I’d be in the house and hear -CLANG!- and know that the squirrel conquered the bucket again.  Then I’d give him some minutes to enjoy it after all that work before I went out and put the bucket back on top.

Then one day:

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HW came inside with the bucket, and a squirrel still inside- worried and holding still.

These pictures are shot through the hole in the lid.

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But I’m so cute!
But I'm so cute!
Aren’t I cute?

…………….

Then for a little while I didn’t notice the squirrel so much.  I’d slowed down on feeding the birds, since it was warm. I figured he’d moved on along with the birds to the usual burgeoning springtime wildcrafted buffet.

I hadn’t refilled the seed bucket in the wood”shed”.  Little did I know, HW had.

So one day, I find this:

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In case you can’t tell, that’s about an inch of empty husks.

So that’s where the squirrel’s been.  Feasting and cavorting like a kid in a ball pit.

Oh yeah, squirrel?

I put a bucket full of dirt on top of the seed bucket.  That’ll fix ’em.

A few hours later….

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That’s what I get for using a plastic bucket.

I gave the remaining seed to the birds and gave up for this year.

Pollen baskets!

The bees were coming home loaded today with pollen baskets.  A soft snot-green colour- I wonder what is the source.  Bees at the end of their workday were zooming in every few seconds with payloads, as the sun ran out.

They are still in winter wraps, but are very lively with this warm early spring we’re having, already polishing off bottles of syrup within a week and thoroughly exploring, sometimes a little too adventurously.

I do a fair amount of bee rescue, returning bees who have got themselves in trouble to the hive.  I find them in buckets, or frantically lost in the house, raging at the windows.  Half drowned, half froze, half exhausted-  I run them back to the hive, transfer them from my finger to the doorstep, and watch as they wearily drag themselves back in the door, or are helped.

Today I had my face quite close watching a sodden bee (who could at first only wave one antenna to let me know she lived), pull herself back inside when a small black flying insect landed on the bee porch for a rest- just a little gnat.  A guard bee dashed out, snatched the insect up with her bee forelegs, and then seemed to throw it.  It flew away with alacrity, lucky to escape.  A beat after she chucked it she zoomed at me.  Hey git out of here!  You’re too close for comfort too.

 

It’s almost Earth Hour!

Since we live off grid now, that wonderful novelty of a power outage is rather quotidian for us.

However, I remember well the liberating thrill of the lights and various whirring hums powering down in an unexpected power failure.  Time to read by candlelight!

Earth hour is time to do it intentionally.

My favorite earth hour was years ago in B.C.  From my home with a view of half the town and the lake, I stood outside with my neighbours in front of our darkened houses and watched the lights around us wink out steadily.

A dozen  blazing sodium-vapour lights illuminating the grocery store parking lot down the hill from us stayed on.   Bright was an understatement, in contrast to the majority of homes darkened around them.

I ran inside and phoned them.  I got a manager on the line.  Was he aware of Earth Hour?  He was.

“Oh, no. ” he said immediately.   “Are we sticking out like a sore thumb?”

“Yes.”

In three or four minutes, we watched those piercing sodium lights pop and fade out, as we cheered.  Without that central feature blazing like an arena, the town looked like it might have historically, lit by gas lights, or candles.  A few windows were lit, some houses winked out a few minutes late, but the vast majority of houses were participating – an achievement of collective action.

A beautiful treat, to see the contrast between the usual and the possible, the present normal and probable past, and notice the volume of light pollution we generate together.

Lights out is fun!  And ever so quiet.  The peace is lovely.

 

This off-grid life

Off-grid is just the way we live, so I tend not to think about it at all, let alone how it’s different.

When I am struck by how living off-grid is different, however, is when I’m at someone’s else’s house, and I turn on the tap, and hot water comes out.  That startles me.  It’s that easy to just wash a dish?!  I’ve already forgotten.

Definitely, there are many ways to live off-grid that preserve many or most conveniences.   You can still have hot running water and plugs in the walls, but it has to be accomplished differently.  That’s not our way.  We prefer it to be really hard (joking).

We are on the very primitive end of the off-grid spectrum, partly because we are just getting started out here.

It’s a work-in-progress for us, trying to find a balance between livable convenience and dependence (on fuel/complex systems).

There’s a reason why ready electricity has become so pervasive it’s practically assumed to be a human right:

Electricity is damn convenient. 

Nearly everything runs on it.  Rarely does anyone think of having a home without electricity presumed to be part of it, just there, in the walls.  You’re really in trouble if you get so hard up they turn the power off- wow.

Other life supporting systems of the house depend on it – running water, heat, sump pumps.   And almost all the lifestyle supporting systems require power – fridge, stove, lights, freezer, telephone, tv, computer, tools.  Farm and industry absolutely depends on electricity, to water and milk livestock, run machines.

I had to sit here and think about that list just now – What are all the things assumed essential in modern life? – because we live without plugs in the walls and that presumption of electricity.   I forgot “lights” at first.

That means a compromise for every single thing.  It has to be done without or had from a  different source.

Different power sources:  

Mostly, batteries – stored potential electricity – are our number one alternative source.  Lights, phones, computers, the internet, all run off batteries.  These get charged off our solar panels, or the generator, or when they are plugged in other places in the world.  Rechargeable batteries are in constant rotation (Eneloops rock).

Tools other than cordless, like a table saw, need the amperage only the generator can supply.  Turning on the generator is a minor event.  It starts with one of us announcing the forthcoming use of the generator:  “I need to vacuum/charge my computer/make some cuts”.  Then all the things, and their associated wires, must be gathered up and plugged in in the charging area, to take advantage of the time that the generator is on.  Plans are made:  “Well if you’re going to have it on anyway, then I should vacuum, and transfer some files to my (AC dependent) external hard drive. ”  It’s not a bad thing, to have to turn on the genny once in awhile.  Every few days, it runs for an hour or two, maybe less.  We can go a long time without it during periods of sun.

So far so good.  We watch movies on our rechargeable laptops, don’t stint on the internet, use only cell phones and battery lowered lights.

Water and Electricity

Everything to do with water is where we get into the afore-mentioned primitive nature of our situation.  Water is heavy.  It takes a lot of energy to move it from place to place.  Exactly how much energy is quickly forgotten when it’s being done by cheap and readily available electricity, and quickly remembered once you start moving it around by hand.

First, pump it up out of the ground, an essential job usually done by friendly neighbourhood electrons.  Because lifting water through the air with a pump is an onerous job, rainfall is very abundant here, and the well usually goes dry briefly at the end of summer, I’ve become a nut about catching rainwater.  There are more elegant ways to do it, but I’m at stage 1- buckets and barrels.   This is not a good look. Buckets everywhere.  And it’s work- cleaning the buckets so the water stays clean, storing and readying them, filtering the water.  But less work, to catch water off a steel roof than carry it across a field.  In the winter, this turns to clean snow and ice collection, and melting.

We people use a lot of water.  Drinking, preparing food, washing the things, washing ourselves.  The chickens consume a lot of water.  Pigs, even more.  Cows drink huge quantities, transforming so much of it to milk.  When you are intimately involved with all the water that you use, because you catch, hold, transport, pump, heat, or melt every drop, you use one hell of a lot less than when it just flows past you from tap to drain while your mind wanders.

The other aspect of electricity and water is the hot water heater, which is generally forgotten in the basement until the bottom rusts out and it empties on the floor and you become glad you are renting, or wish you were.  Hot water an option with a flick of the wrist.  On-demand propane is an awesome alternative to that hot water heating behemoth, and the usual choice for the off-grid life.  We have an ideal one that we use for showers, but it is not yet integrated into daily life.  By that I mean, hanging it on a tree by the well, and one person showers while the other pumps, is not “well-integrated”.

I am definitely looking forward to moving up to stage 2 or 3 vis a vis water and hot water – more sophisticated water collection and supply – gravity feed, or solar, low volt pumps, and truly on-demand hot water.  It won’t be hard to get more sophisticated than buckets, but this bit of convenience requires an investment of work we have not yet had time for.

Doing without: 

At the moment we are doing without only the fridge and freezer.  While this means we have no problems with a superfluity of old half full condiment bottles cluttering a fridge, the lack of refrigeration in the summer is sort of tedious and I am very much looking forward to a root cellar. And a neighbour has given us a nook of space in his freezer.  That’s where the pesto is.

What are the costs of living like this?

Energy is a requirement for us furless people.  We need structures, warmth, to cook our food, and we’ve decided we like to communicate.   All of which require energy these days.  Our dependency on energy is immutable, but living off-grid, the dependency is shifted some from electricity to other.  Chiefly wood.  Our heat is 100% wood.  Next, propane, to cook, and to create electricity with the generator.

Our not-the-hydro-bill costs are fuel – a small amount of gasoline for the chainsaw to cut the firewood, infrastructure costs- the genny, the panels, charge controllers, batteries in the bank (these are all made elsewhere with energy from other sources), and propane.

Our propane costs, for cooking, water heating, and powering the generator, have averaged less than $35 a month.  I think that’s ok.

If we had to, we could live without these things too- go back to the axe and Swede saw, walk to someone’s house if we want to talk to them, but that would make life very, very different.  We would really no longer be living in the world the way it is now.  It would be hard to get a job, let alone show up to it, and communication with anyone outside of a 5 mile radius would be impossible, not least because you’d be too busy at home making candles.  That’s an extremity I’m really not interested in.  For a modest price, we can still mostly participate in the wide, evolving world.  Using less energy, from different sources, we still have the opportunity to get outraged at the Oscars and watch cat videos.

It’s amazing to think that not so long ago – all of that energy, for shelter, water, food, and communication, was ALL accomplished by the metabolism of food to physical energy.  Everything was made with hands – carried and chopped and hewn and grown and harvested, and communication was face to face.  First the harnessing of steam, then electricity and fossil fuels, and everything has changed, including the world, to the degree that the planet looks different from space.

Now, we think of the cost of physical movement and work as “time”.

Time is one of the costs of our off-grid life.  To do the dishes, I have to boil water first.  Every morning, I heat up water for the hens and move wood around.  I spend time messing around with things, daily, that many people never do.   That time is freed for them.  The electricity is in the wall and water in the tap.

There’s a lot of complexity behind the scenes required to deliver water to a tap- a different application of time, in my opinion.  Time to build and maintain the delivery system throughout house, property and municipality, time to build and maintain the grid that creates and  sends the energy from dam to meter, time spent working to pay the bill for both those things…

Comparing it, would some of us be better off to just carry the water?

The advantages are short and sweet.

No power bill.

The power never goes out.

No in the wall wiring, therefore zero risk of bad wiring, old wiring, or short circuits causing fires.

Quiet.  There is no ever present electric hum of appliances.

No poles, no wires looping through the scenery.

One less drop of energy consumed from coal or hydroelectric infrastructure.

Some might say there is no electromagnetic radiation from the constant movement of electrons through wires.

No power bill.  Ever.

Happy about living naturally

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