It didn’t rain after all

Most of the day has been sunny, occasional cloud cover and a light mist once or twice, but no rain yet. The next 4 days look like there will really be rain, so after delivering the masks and some asparagus to daughter’s house, I tackled the chicken problem.

First part of the job was to remove the inside fence that they were getting under when they were in the garden run. It was rolled and tossed over the fence on the east of the garden, the stakes pulled and sorted. I have two sizes of the garden stakes, one is right at 4 feet when pounded in the depth you are supposed to pound them, the rest are about a foot shorter. The longer ones and some sturdier T posts that are 4 feet when pounded in were set 3 feet to the east of the sturdy garden fence. The wire that had been removed was fastened to those posts. The chickens lost about 4 square feet of pen, I gained 4 square feet of compost, and that fence was attached to the other piece to change the configuration of their pen to a smaller square with a long 3 foot wide run off of it. The second piece of wire that I had removed was then used to provide a cover to the new run so the hawk can’t catch a chicken in that area. It was a fair amount of work and I didn’t finish cleaning up because I was worn out and it was time to prep dinner. There are about 15 T posts laying in the grass that need to be gathered and stored and several sizable rocks that were inside the pen blocking holes that need to be returned to one of the many rock piles.

It won’t take them long to make it a barren wasteland, but I have been putting large sheets of the spoiled hay bale in there and using more of it in the garden so that when the hay men come, they can give me a fresh bale for the upcoming year. I usually get one that either didn’t get properly tied or one that wasn’t full sized for me to use in their run and in the garden as mulch.

About a dozen years ago, I planted this Dogwood on the hill by the driveway. It had to be protected year after year from the deer nipping off the new growth. All of the native Dogwoods have bloomed out, but this one is just beginning.

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Our kitchen window and French doors from the dining room face south to the depth of our property. When I went down to prep dinner, I spotted a bear in the lower hay field. This is zoomed as much as the camera would zoom, then the photo cropped so that you can actually see the bear. This one is much larger than the little one we saw a few weeks ago, probably 125 to 150 pounds. It was a couple football fields away and seemed totally unaware of me on the deck taking it’s picture. It finally moved closer to the house, but stayed on the other side of the lower hay field fence, the disappeared into the woods to the west. Some years we don’t see any, this year we have had three sightings, two on our property and one near the bottom of the road near the creek.

Ah, the rain has begun, the veggie starts and seeds will get watered, I will take a few days off to read, spin, and knit. After the storms end around weeks end, there is weeding to be done between the garden proper and the outer fence. The chickens did a pretty good job when they were allowed in there, but they don’t like Creeping Charlie and a plant I haven’t identified that has a similar shaped leaf but is larger, spreading out 360 degrees from a substantial stem. They will eat the catmint leaves, but where it grows right under the fence, it needs to be dug out. I’m sure after 4 days of rain, there will be more found mint to dig out as well. It is less each time I work that area, but man that stuff is tenacious. After a few days of rain, the soil will be softer and easier to rid the fence line of grass and the outer path of weeds. I need more cardboard to put down so I can pile spoiled hay on it, that helps too.

True Spring is Here

We are 3 days from our last average frost date. Now I know what average means and to get that date, there has had to be frosts later than May 5, but looking ahead 10 days in the forecast, it looks as though the arrival of the Ruby Throated Hummingbirds at the feeder and our last frost occurred on April 20. I will wait another week from tomorrow to plant the tomato and pepper starts in the garden, but I did put a few of the puny ones that I tried to start in pots on the south deck. Their primary leaves were red rather than green and they came from a packet of mixed hot peppers, so I am curious about what they might be. Because it is a truly gorgeous day, I took advantage of the alone time this morning to remove the barrier fence from in front of the Daylily bed as they are large enough now to discourage chicken scratching, and moved it around the back of the garage to protect the Calendula and Echinacea seedings there as well as taking a hoe and knocking down all of the Lambs quarters that have sprouted in those beds.

I need a part for the line trimmer, line and fuel so I can edge those beds. The Bearded Iris look like they need to be thinned this fall, so I will have to get busy on my garden inside the stone wall to have a place to put some of them. I need to trim the grass down in there again with the line trimmer, then put down a weed barrier and fill it with soil.

First thing after chores, I realized I hadn’t seen Mama Wren flitting in and out of her nest in a day or two, so I took a peek and the 5 tiny birds have fledged.

Bird’s nests fascinate me that such a tiny creature can locate, move, and construct a birthing house. After having had several chicken hatches here and seeing that within half a day they are up, moving around and looking for food, and comparing them to other birds whose eggs hatch into large mouthed, nearly naked creatures demanding food, caused me to look up incubation and fledging times. A song bird sits on her eggs about half as long as a chicken, then the newly hatched birds spend the next two weeks demanding food and growing into their head size and growing feathers before they fledge. Poultry type birds sit on their eggs longer and their young peck out of the eggs more fully developed. And I already have a broody mama-wanna-be Oliver Egger hen. Though I love their green eggs, they are such a broody variety that I will not get Auracana, Americana, or Oliver egger chicks in the future. I spend my spring and summer trying to discourage the natural behavior. Maybe I should just get some fertile eggs and let her sit. I think I want to return to a tried and true breed and only have one breed when these hens are replaced, perhaps in the fall. If I could get fertile pure Buff Orpington eggs, I would put them under Broody Mama. I need to mark her so I can see if she is the only one or if all of the Olive Eggers take turns.

Now that the Wren is gone, the day stellar, more gardening will be done and the overgrown Barberry bush pruned back.

Maintenance and Preparation

We live in rural SW Virginia on a gravel road and a gravel driveway. The gravel road is about 8/10 of a mile long from the paved road to the end of state maintenance, we are about 2/10 of a mile from the paved road, all downhill. Our driveway is another 2/10 of a mile from the state road to the house, also downhill. About twice a year, the 4 houses beyond us call in VDOT because heavy rain, tractor use, and the steep hill between them and us cause the road to deteriorate to a rutted mess. From the paved road to our driveway generally fairs better, but when VDOT comes, they start at the paved road and work to the end, many, many passes with this…

As you can see, this road isn’t very wide, a car coming in the opposite direction requires one of the vehicles to back up to a wide spot or driveway. This guy doesn’t go anywhere in a hurry and I got home from helping daughter this morning, just as he was starting another pass down. He was here just beginning to work as I left 4 hours earlier. I inched down behind him, giving him plenty of room. Our driveway is still ahead of him. They always do the swale in the wrong direction, all the ditches are on the left, the road is highest on the left. Bet they leave our ditch and culvert blocked again and I will have to call them back to come clear it. I’m not going out there with a shovel to do it.

Our couple of beautiful warm springlike days are about to come to an abrupt end. A front is coming through, the temperature is already starting a sudden drop with a wind advisory and rain and snow flurries expected to begin within the next half hour or so. The next few days will be seasonably cold. Tomorrow’s high is 30 degrees f colder than today’s high. The wind has already begun.

Since our property slopes downhill from the top of the driveway to the bottom of the hay field, there is no natural level spot on the farm. As a result, my chicken run and garden slope downhill too. The garden isn’t too much of a problem because I have boxed raised beds and just the aisles are sloped with the gate about halfway down the slope. The chicken run is another issue. The coop is raised about 18″ off the ground on the uphill side and an extra cinder block higher on the downhill side. The uphill side has the large clean out door, the downhill side has the pop door. The gate to the fence is on the uphill side. The chickens have scratched every blade of green from their run when they are confined. They get a lot of free range time, but not when the dogs are out or when the Red Tailed Hawks are active. Because of their scratching and this winter’s rain, going from the gate to the pop door is taking your safety in your hands as your slip and slide down the side of the coop. When I know it is going to rain or snow, I try to toss down a thick layer of spoiled hay from the gate to the pop door. This provide endless entertainment for the hens as they scratch through it looking for bugs and seeds and in the process, making great compost as they scratch it downhill. I beat the rain with about a foot or so of old hay and the chickens are working at moving it away from our safe path.

With winter drawing to a close and with the longer days, all 9 of the hens are laying again. On my way back to the house from forking hay, I gathered 7 beautiful eggs. That is the second time this late winter I have gotten so many. There are plenty of eggs to eat now.

Earlier in my spinning adventures, I subscribed to a monthly fiber club. Each month I received 4 ounces of the fiber/color of the month. When daughter and her family were living with us, each time a skein that I spun was green or had green in it, she would oooh and aaah over it and she was just learning to knit, so several of those skeins ended up in her stash. But she is a working mom of elementary and middle school children, a Taekwondo instructor and youth soccer coach on the side, so she doesn’t have much time to knit. I struck a deal with her to reclaim a couple of those skeins. She gets a scarf and a hat, I get to make a second hat for my shop from the larger skein. The colors are gorgeous, my spinning I see has improved significantly, but they are clearly doable for the projects in queue.

The spindles are to show how much finer and more consistent my spinning is now, both on spindles and on the wheel.

My car is packed with my wheel and fiber, my suitcase is awaiting the dryer to finish. Everything that won’t freeze if it gets as cold as predicted tonight is in the car. A final tote and my purse will leave with me in the morning to go to Tennessee for a weekend of fiber fun with friends, leaving hubby in charge of the house, the critters, and to fend for himself. I love him in general, but really appreciate being given the freedom to go away a couple times each year for these retreats.