Progress

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Jim has gotten the huge far hay field mowed.  We still have the east field and the near south field to do as well as mowing around the trees that we planted as a wind break, around the barn and up the small hill at the top of the driveway.  Between us, about half of the 30 acres has been mowed.

We will take turns riding the tractor to get it finished.  I do most of the close to the house and around the tree work, he likes to ride the long open areas.  One area, neither of us like to do as it has lots of rocks that are just high enough to cause the brush hog to clip them, just low enough to be hard to see when the grass is high.

Yesterday after the rain, I went out and weeded some in the garden, tossed pounds of spoiled and split tomatoes, overgrown cucumbers, and weeds to the chooks, hoping to lure them out into their new covered run.  I harvested somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 pounds of tomatoes, nearly 4 pounds of tomatillos, 2 1/2 pounds of mostly hot peppers.  The tomatillos have been husked, washed and bagged, and put in the freezer. The habañeros and Tabascos, along with a few tiny red jalapenos were added to the other hot peppers that I have been accumulating in the salted vinegar.  Since the jar was full and there were more peppers than space, I ground the mixture up together in the blender.  I will have to make a batch of hot sauce with it soon.  The jalapenos were pickled, adding two more pints for son and Jim to enjoy this winter.

jungle

This photo was taken standing in the jungle of tomatoes and peppers.  I can’t even find the path between them.  Last year the peppers stayed small, the tomatoes controllable.  The rain has changed that this year.  I need to go out, stake and tie up some of the peppers, trim some tomato branches, and cut down the dye seed sunflowers.  The Tabasco peppers are all red, so I am thinking about just pulling the plants to make some room.  They will dry nicely hanging upside down in the garage.

While out there to harvest, I got about half way down the row nearest the asparagus and met up with this critter.

spider

This was the biggest garden spider I have ever seen.  The spider’s body without the legs was about 2 inches long.  I am not a fan of spiders, but I also will not kill one outdoors unless it is a Black Widow (I have found and killed two of them this summer).  Though I won’t kill them, I also wasn’t going to try to reach around that critter and it’s web to pick tomatoes, so I took a stick and relocated the spider to the asparagus patch and continued to pick these.

tomatoes

 

I started the morning with more than 35 pounds of tomatoes.  I peeled and chopped the ones I froze a couple of weeks ago and dumped them in a huge pot.  Weighed out 18 pounds and set them aside and chopped the rest and cooked them just until they began to break down.  From that pot, I canned 9 pints and 4 quarts of diced plain tomatoes.  While the quarts were canning and the canner cooling down, I peeled and diced the 18 pounds, added them to a large chopped onion, some garlic, basil, oregano, and parsley and it is simmering in a huge pot on the stove waiting for the canner to fully de-pressurize so that it can be jarred and canned.

sauce

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This will be the routine several times a week for the next couple of months until we are threatened with a frost.  The Asian pears are ripe and Ginger Pear Conserve production is also in order.  The apples look like they are about ready too, though I haven’t tried eating one yet.  Applesauce production is also on the schedule.  Soon the basement shelves will begin to fill.

The basement refrigerator is filling with pickles, pickled jalapenos, and kraut.  The canning shelves being emptied of jars to be filled and replaced with filled jars of chutney, tomatoes, conserves, and spaghetti sauce.  Soon the applesauce will also begin to fill shelves.  Though the bunnies got all of my beans this year, there are peas in the freezer and still some squash from last summer.

Jim is out mowing the upper south field while I can.  Tomorrow, I will take over for a bit.

The chickens still won’t come out of their coop but for brief moments.  I have enticed them with split tomatoes, overripe cucumbers, and a whole bucket of compost veggies. Tonight after dark, B’rooster will be removed from the hens to the cull coop. He is tearing up the hens backs and I don’t want any more chicks this year.  There is one Buffy pullet and one Buffy cockerel in the cull coop that will be moved in with the hens. The cockerel will be next spring’s rooster. If I can figure out which of the half breeds are pullets, I may move one of them too.  With the loss of two of my layers this summer, egg production is down some, but we are still getting more than the family needs.   Soon it will be molting time and egg production will stop as I have no year old hens this year, but they will grow back their feathers and be clean and warm for the winter.

The Buffet Is Closed

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A good night’s sleep and clearer minds prevailed this morning.  A run to Home Depot for a 100′ roll of 15′ wide bird net, 3 long poles, and a roll of velcro plant tie up tape, total expenditure only $40 and my birds should be safe.  The hawk, if it dives into that net will require me to call my neighbor’s son, a licensed raptor handler.

My solution involved attaching a length of polycord to the top of the coop, half hitching it around the top of two of the tall poles, then anchoring it to a T post deeper in the run.  A length of 6′ tall plastic deer fencing that I already had was used to shorten the length of the run to just beyond the gate that the chickens use to get into the garden when they are allowed.  A thin flexible fiberglass pole that I also already had on hand was arched between the two sides of the run just above the new back fence line.  Using the polycord like a clothes line, I worked the bird netting over the top, draping it over the side fencing and anchoring it in place with strips of the velcro tape.  At the coop end, the netting was carried over the roof.  The only open space left was above the gate and that was closed in by draping another piece of netting to the top net and dangling it down a few inches lower than the top of the gate.  That piece not being anchored at the sides or bottom can be pushed out of our way when we open the gate and the net cage is about 7+ feet high down the center, so as long as I don’t have my hair up with clips or sticks to catch in the net, I can move about within the run.

netcage

I effectively created a cage that has wire sides and a net top that is tall enough to walk in.  Hopefully, it will protect the chickens if they ever get brave enough to go out again.  I removed their food and water from inside the coop and ran them out.  Each explored a bit, then went right back inside the coop instead of under it like they usually do during the day.  I guess when they get hungry or thirsty, they will venture out and eventually learn that they can again be outside.

After that run was finished, I began on a shorter version for the cull birds, however, it started raining a little, then a lot, so I quit for the time.

I did get the first harvest of tomatillos brought in and see many pounds of tomatoes that must be picked and processed pronto.  I will venture back out in a little while now that the afternoon storm seems to be passing and pick a bucket full.  There are many split ones, lots of overgrown, over ripe cucumbers to toss to the chickens, maybe that will entice them out.

A follow up on the old Opossum that visited while at my son’s house.

Opossum

He came back last Thursday, the day I left, cuddled up against their lawnmower under the porch and died.  Wildlife experts say they only live about 2 years in the wild, but he looked like a little shriveled old man.  Daughter in law took him away from the house and buried him.

First full day back

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I woke quite early again today and having convinced myself that the pullet and hen loss was from raccoons going after the birds that wouldn’t coop up at night, and given that most of today was going to be spent in close proximity to the coops, I let the chickens out, removed their food and water from their coops to the outside, and added new straw to give them clean bedding.

Grandson was awakened, fed, and transported to the bus, granddaughter was awakened, fed, and transported to her preschool Open House to reunite with some friends and make some new ones.  Once home, the tractor was driven out and the mowing commenced.  I tackled the thick tall grass that we consider our lawn and even with the tractor and brush hog, it was a challenge in some places.  I will have to go back over it in a couple of days to hopefully break up and disperse the clumps that formed.  Once I finished with that part, Jim took the tractor to the far hay field and began down there.  I had left him only about a quarter tank of diesel and told him, I was going to get some fuel and something to prepare for dinner.  Granddaughter and I got back up the mountain with just a few minutes before the afternoon school bus was due, so we waited.  Jim called to tell me he had run out of fuel before I got there and when he got back to the house on foot, he heard a ruckus in the chicken pen.  I was wrong about my predator.  It was a large hawk and it had my last pullet that I had put in the hen coop.  That means that I have lost all of my replacement hens and two older hens this summer.  I cooped them and the culls back up and I have to do something to prevent the opportunistic hawk from feeding in my chicken runs.  We live in the midst of 30 acres of woods and hay fields ripe with rabbits, squirrels, small birds, snakes, mice, voles, etc. but the hawk has found a food source that doesn’t require hunting and has a convenient large nut tree nearby to escape to.

Between us, we got about a quarter of the grass and fields mowed today with nice days due the rest of the week, so maybe we will get it finished.  Neighbors are mowing and some are second cut haying now also.

I didn’t get any harvest done today, nor did I figure out how I am going to protect the remaining chickens.  My run fences are 4 feet tall.  If I cover them, I can’t get in to change water, open the pop door, or close them up at night without duck walking under a 4 foot high net.  To raise the fence height to 6 feet tall, even if I cut the run size in half, will require taking down existing fencing, pulling up T posts, and starting over with 7 foot posts, new fence wire and then netting or tarping the top.  That would require another major investment in funds on top of the purchased coop, existing fencing, and labor building the two reclaimed coops, all for a handful of laying hens and a few meat chickens. So far, I have no sound ideas on how to create a tunnel fastened to the existing posts that would raise the cover without starting over.  Perhaps the existing T posts can support cattle panels bent to an arch then draped with netting, but still an expense.

It is too hot to keep the laying coop closed up all day for days on end.  I will lose them to illness or heat if I have to do that.

Tomorrow, there is no preschool, so maybe I can get some garden work done while Jim finishes the far field.  And maybe after sleeping on it, I will come up with at least a temporary inexpensive solution to protecting my laying hens and meat culls.  Life and death on a farm is expected, but I am getting very frustrated with my inability to keep my chickens safe.

Life on and off the farm

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The past 19 days have been a whirlwind of here and there, mostly there.  First we went away for the final interment of my Dad’s cremains and dedication of a memorial plaque at one of his favorite places in the world.  I started that trip by catching a bad cold from our live in grand daughter.  We were away 4 nights, 5 days.  We returned home for me to launder clothes, harvest and freeze some tomatoes, and pack to leave again in 4 days.

That trip took me north in the state to help out at eldest son’s house with the start of school week and to allow son and daughter in law to work.  I stayed there for a week, supervising the eleven year old grandson, getting him on the bus in the morning, off in the afternoon, and getting dinner for them.  Since there was a weekend incorporated in that week, some fun activities were included.  Grandson and I went to a local cavern and took their tour, we took a hike, I got a long walk in one morning, some spinning done, read a book, knitted a hat, and did a bit of laundry.

I left there at 5:30 a.m. Thursday morning, arrived home at 9:45 a.m., washed a load of laundry, did a bit of straightening, unpacked and repacked, this time to attend a fiber arts conference.  I was only home for less than 3 hours then loaded into a friend’s car and we rode for 4 more hours to Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee and checked into a great fully equipped cabin.

RoanCabin

This was a great weekend with a great group of folks, spinning, knitting, crocheting, teaching a class, taking a class, and vending as my Cabin Crafted Shop.  We enjoyed each other’s company, shared breakfast and lunch plus one dinner in our cabin.  One dinner in a local BBQ restaurant, and a group Pot Luck supper.  I finished spinning a few ounces of Romney fiber that I dyed, finished knitting another hat for my shop, generally was too tired at night to read, but learned a new fiber skill, met dozens of wonderful folks and had a great time.

I am finally home, just in time for the school year routine to begin tomorrow, getting grandson off to  his first day of school, granddaughter to Open House for her second year of preschool.

The farm is in dire shape.  The fields need to be mowed, the grass around the house is so tall that it may have to be mowed twice over two days to get it to lawn height without causing huge clumps to sit around, dry and kill and remaining grass.  The flower beds are full of weeds, the garden looks like a jungle and daughter says there are many tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers that need to be harvested and processed.  The chickens were not cooperative to Jim, daughter, and son in law, and as a result, we lost a hen and 3 of my spring pullets that wouldn’t coop up at night.  The one I found upon my return looked like perhaps it got attacked during the night by a raccoon or owl due to the remains.  They thought it was a hawk, but the bird was not carried off.  At any rate, I need to try to improve the security of their runs and try to put net over the top if the predator was a bird.  My layer flock is down two hens this summer, and three of the four pullets that I hoped to increase the flock are gone.

I have a month, minus 4 days to get things taken care of, to make more soap and a few salves before I leave for another fiber retreat, where I also will vend.  And I need to get my application in for the Holiday Markets.

Some summers allow me to stay on top of things, this one has not.  I only hope that I can still salvage enough tomatoes for some salsas and sauces.

Now, I am exhausted and must get up in 7 hours, so it is time for sleep.

Last Day on the Creek

Grandson has been put on the bus moments ago for the last time by me this week.  It is 7:30 a.m. and by this time tomorrow, I will be about a third of the way home, leaving in the early morning hours when son leaves for his commute to work.  Daughter-in-law resumes morning and household chores and getting into the schedule that they will follow for the year.  I will arrive home with just enough time to trade out some items from my suitcase, load up a cooler, my teaching supplies, my vending items, and my fiber toys to leave again for a few days at a fiber arts retreat.  Fortunately, I don’t have to drive those three hours, after having driven 3 1/2 to get home.

Yesterday, I took my own advice and just hung out around the house, enjoying the quiet, but not exactly idle.  I still did some laundry and prepared dinner, but my car never moved from it’s shady spot.

Creek

 

I wrote earlier this week about the burbling creek sounds.  This was taken from the front porch, outside the window where I am sleeping at night.  As you see, the creek is just in front of the house.  It flows downstream from right to left to the 5 port culvert system that serves as the driveway for the three houses.

Culvert

As fall is approaching with the leaves that will fall, I decided yesterday to make myself useful, putting on my Chacos and wading into the creek to remove the branches and debris that were accumulating in front of the ports.  I know that once the leaves begin to fall, that the branches would catch the floating leaves and quickly block up the flow of the creek, causing the potential for some flooding.  The small branches and some larger ones were tossed up on the deck and them moved to a burn pile away from the creek edge.  The larger log that you see, was totally across the left most port, but was too heavy for me to do more than pivot.  Son says he will take care of it on a non work day. The creek again flows unimpeded through the culverts until the next storm brings down more to block the flow.

After grandson got home yesterday, Ole Mr. Opossum paid a visit.  He hunkered down under the porch for a spell.

Opossum

He really is a skinny old critter, slow moving, and pretty unperturbed by my photo opportunity.  I still haven’t seen the raccoon family.

Once grandson had showed me his planner, done his afternoon duties, and had dinner, he pulled out his bow and had some target practice.  He developed an interest in archery at camp about three summers ago, and was given a nice bow, case, and arrows for Christmas last year.  He won the certificate for best archer at camp this summer.  I was impressed with his stance and his ability.

The archertarget

He clustered all 6 arrows on three sets of shots.

The morning load of laundry is on the line, my spinning wheel will be packed up shortly and I will spend the day reading and knitting.  Dinner will be prepared by me for one last time this visit and tomorrow morning, this stay will end until I am needed again.

 

Quiet on the creek

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The pastoral setting of son’s families house, is eerily quiet when they are at work and grandson is at school.  The road is not a busy one, with only a few vehicles passing each day.  Most of the land surrounding this scattered complex of 3 houses owned by the landlord is the holdings of one family.  On Sunday morning, I walked up the road more than a mile and all of the No Trespassing signs on both sides of the road, have the same family name on them.  Though they have cattle, the pastures are too far away to hear them calling to each other as we hear at home.  There are horses in the other direction, but I have not heard any whinnying from that direction either.  Mostly the sound is the burbling creek, the cicadas, and an occasional bird call.

Late last night, some critter got into the recycling on the back porch and rattled cans and bottles around for a bit, but it was chilly last night, so that noise was muted through the closed back door.

Other than daily household chores, such as dishes, and laundry, I have had quiet idle time to read (currently, A Brilliant Death, by Robin Yocum), knit (hats), or spin.  Yesterday, I finished a 208 yard skein of Shetland breed wool that I had dyed in Buttercup and Ripe Tomato color dyes.  It didn’t come out with the longer runs of singles colors that I expected, but it is bright and interesting.  It attracted a local hummingbird as it hung on the clothesline to dry.  My camera isn’t good enough to catch a hummingbird zipping around.

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This skein is dk weight, enough for a hat or cowl with interesting color mix, reds, yellows, salmons, and orange.

I can’t decide whether to spin more of the fiber that I brought, or finish knitting the hats with the yarn that I brought.

The old man Opossum finally showed up this morning.  He walked slowly down the hill across the road, wandered that side of the road for a bit in the sun, like an elder warming his bones.  He ambled across the road to this side and I lost sight of him, so my photo is zoomed on my phone.  He is a scruffy old character.

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I still have not seen the raccoon family.

Mostly, I want to be slow and lazy like Mr. Opossum.

 

Away and Chilling’

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I’m away from home for few days to help out with the new school routine and to allow eldest some time to prepare for his incoming college freshmen. Though we live in a log home in the mountains, we are in a large open field. Their house is a log home on a creek between two ridges. It is quiet when they are at work and grandson is at school. I have played in the creek, had my toes nibbled by a huge crawfish. In spite of being told of the Opossum, the raccoon family, bear sitings, and skinks, I have only seen one of the skinks.

Today to give son quiet work time, grandson and I went to a local cavern where he let me take one gratuitous photo of him. We saw the huge eagle formation, 15 by 15 feet; the rare Anthrodites that look like sea urchins growing from the ceiling, and other formations. We took a nature hike, walked down on the river bank, took a driving tour of the local town and his new school and arrived home sooner than son was ready, so we played in the creek together.

It is a pleasant respite, but by being away, I couldn’t celebrate Jim’s birthday with him today. Happy birthday love.

 

Garden and Crafting

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A few short days at home between the visit to Shrine Mont and leaving for a week of being Grandmom in charge for eldest grandson have been busy.  The first night back, when I went to lock up the chickens, my reluctant pullet managed to fly over the fence into the garden.  The lower un-planted part of the garden was literally chin high to my 5’8″ frame.  The lawnmower was fueled and with much effort, about half of that area was mowed down in an effort to remove the cover for the chick.  As it got too dark to see what I was doing, a decision was made to leave her to her fate, hoping that she would just find safe cover in the remaining weeds or up in the tomato jungle.  She did survive the night and greeted me the next morning outside the gate.  The mower was still in the garden, so in spite of the heat and threatening thunder storms, the rest of that area was mowed and hand weeding commenced on the area around the cucumbers, sweet potatoes, and the dozen or so volunteer tomatillo plants.  By the time I finished, my stamina was gone and I quit, tossing half a dozen overgrown, yellow cucumbers to the chickens.  No harvest had been done in our absence.

Today, with the temperatures only a few degrees lower, a determined effort was made to weed the upper garden, thin the tomatoes and sunflowers, and harvest as many tomatoes as I could.  A 4 gallon feed bucket was filled with mostly plum tomatoes, a dozen heirloom slicers, and peppers.

Haul

After a long cold shower to refresh and renew me, I tackled the haul.  There were 19 pounds of tomatoes, which I divided into 2 one gallon bags of diced tomatoes each almost 5 lbs.; 2 one gallon bags of whole paste tomatoes, several slicers to take with me tomorrow; 3 pints of jalapenos pickled, a pint of mixed hot peppers in salted vinegar that will be made into hot sauce once a quart has been gathered.  Another pint or so of jalapeños were too large to pickle whole, so they will be diced and frozen.  Another couple of dozen tomatoes were split and rotting and were tossed to the chickens.

I will be away from home for another 10 days, so I’m sure with the persistent heat and daily rain, a repeat of the past few days will be in order once I return.  Hopefully it will be a bit cooler by then.

Yesterday, in anticipation of my absence, I dyed a half pound of Shetland roving to spin.

colors

With these two braids, another that I did of Romney to learn the process, and my monthly installment of the Tailfeather’s Club from Unplanned Peacock, I will have plenty to spin while sitting on the porch while grandson is in school.  I will arrive home with about 2 to 3 hours to unpack and repack to leave for a few days at a spinning retreat.  I may have to spin all undyed fiber there and dye the yarn later.  I will also be teaching salve making and be a vendor at this event, so I have to be organized before I leave to babysit.

Tonight, Jim will be taken out to dinner and to buy a couple new pair of jeans as an early birthday.  I will not be here to celebrate with him on his actual birthday.

A Bitter Sweet End

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Sixty one years ago, when I was still a pre-adolescent, my family joined my aunt and uncle at the most beautiful place on earth for a week of vacation.  That turned into an annual tradition and as the families grew and met other families, it became a much anticipated gathering.  It is a place where many of the clan’s children and grandchildren were baptized and  weddings held.

Last year was the last year that my Dad made it to this lovely place alive, the last of the elders of that gathering.  The place is Shrine Mont.  This past week, many of us gathered in the same 8 room cottage to be together, commune in nature, and inter my Dad’s ashes in his favorite place on earth.  My stepmom, husband, and I are the oldest members of this surviving clan.  A daughter of one of the non related families came to visit for a day.  It was a gathering of my siblings, some of our children, and grandchildren, one cousin, and another daughter of yet another of the non related families.  As the elders of that group passed, the group fell away and we have not kept in touch with all of the other offspring as closely as we should, but many come back the first full week of August each year.  We all knew that last year would be the last time he saw Shrine Mont, though none of us wanted to accept that.  He even conceded to being driven down the hill to meals and back up to the cottage afterwards.  At 92, he was afraid to hike or walk the unpaved rough trails. Though his mind and wit stayed keen to the end, he needed some help playing cribbage, a game he loved and taught so many of us to play.

We visited, went through many envelopes of old photos, taking from them many memories, played cribbage and ping pong.  We had a toast to the elder fathers of the group that brought us together and who annually conducted a “scientific experiment” on which of the 7 springs had the best water as a mixer with a bottle of Jack Daniels Black label.  We held a teary memorial dedication for the bronze plaque permanently affixed to the stone wall around the memorial garden with his brother and sister-in-law and 5 of the other members of the elders clan, and we hiked to the top of the mountain to the cross on a tower to say our final goodbye.  This was a hike we had made dozens of times over the years with him.  Those that couldn’t hike it were taken up in a Gator and a Jeep.  Tears were shed, his favorite songs were sung, hugs were shared, and we said our goodbyes, leaving him in a beautiful spot he loved.

As my niece (who was unable to join us) stated in a post, we will smile and feel his presence as we cross the places where we share his memory.

Though it was miserably hot last week with hot humid days and no air conditioning, we were given permission to light the first fire in the new outdoor fireplace on the lawn, and we cooked hot dogs and roasted marshmallows as we have done for years in the cottage fireplace on cool evenings.  I’m sure he smiled down on us and asked for one cooked just right.

(I have deliberately not posted any photos from the week, as it was a personal, family time, but if you click the link above and linger on the site, you can see this wonderful spot.)

A Day in the Life

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Last Tuesday evening, son-in-law’s parents arrived by air, bringing Grandson A home from his 7 weeks in Florida.  With them was A’s eleven year old male cousin.  They got to have some quality time with the grandkids, enjoying some lunches out, a movie, laser tag, and the Children’s Museum.  This put 9 folks in the house for breakfast and 3 dinners.  They ate one dinner out with the kids and grands.  Yesterday afternoon, they left to return to Florida, of course leaving A here to get back on his routine prior to school beginning in a couple of weeks.

The bed and bath linens have been laundered, folded and put away until that guest room is needed again.  Last night, the kids rewarded us with a Mexican food meal out, freeing me from the meal prep, then we treated them all to ice cream out.  Tonight is a return to Taekwondo for A and is also the adult class for the kids, so dinner will just be Jim and me.

Once  home last night, I began spinning 4 ounces of over dyed Coopsworth wool.  I had hoped to use it with another skein that was left over from making the sweater last spring, however, the yarn weight is nowhere near the same gauge.  I will figure out what to do with them, perhaps make a hat and scarf set that can be used as a gift or go in my shop.

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This morning, I dyed the 278 yards of Leicester Longwool that I spun last week. It is destined for my use and it is luscious.

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In the midst of spinning, dyeing, cooking, laundry, and being grand-mom in charge, I worked on organizing my teaching materials, my product and labeling, and pulling out items that will be put in a reduced item basket to take to the fiber retreat toward the end of the month.

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This evening just before preparing dinner, I got the area above and inside the chicken runs mowed on a high setting and the jungle thicket that even the chickens wouldn’t enter, clipped and pulled down.  The cull chicks seem to prefer to stay inside their dry palace than to venture out in the wet to help keep the weeds at bay in their run.  Maybe when it dries out a bit, they will come outside more.  Tomorrow, I need to try to get two bales of straw to put fresh dry bedding in the coops.  The hay bale that was designated for the coops is so wet from this summer’s rains that it is growing mushrooms.  It will have to be broken up and used on the garden as mulch.