Category Archives: Country living

Olio – July 25, 2014

Olio: a miscellaneous collection of things.

Phone saga continued. . . after numerous visits to the cell phone store, learning that they are retail outlets with zero authority to do anything but make a phone call; agreeing to accept a “Network Extender” refurbished with a monthly discount to help pay for the thing, knowing that it probably wouldn’t work since we don’t have high speed internet with our phone co-op, just DSL; receiving the extender (a new one 3X cost, not a refurbished one) 10 days ago; hooking it up to have service, maybe, if you were sitting right in front of it; receiving our bill (still no reliable service) and there being a charge for a new extender, no reduction of cost; we took both phones, the extender, and a major case of attitude back to the store yet again.  This time, the poor young man on whom we unloaded, was very sympathetic, knew what to say to customer service and finally got our contract cancelled without penalty.  Another couple of hours in the old provider’s store that we knew had service on our mountain and we have new phones, and amazingly, service.

Now reality, this was probably all my fault in the first place.  I wanted an Iphone, the provider we had didn’t have them;  my service with this provider was good here in the mountains, but spotty when I went to babysit in Northern Virginia a few times a year.  I didn’t get an Iphone when we switched, the service was better in Northern Virginia, but the two times we had a crisis here, we couldn’t even call each other within shouting distance if we had both been outdoors.  Back with the original provider, they do now have Iphones and I got one.  Hubby got the next generation of the phone he had and liked and we can make and receive calls on our property, up our road, and in our house.  I will suffer spotty service when I travel to have a phone at home.

Broody hen is still being difficult.  I put plastic buckets in her two preferred nesting boxes, there are still 4 others, so she is hunkered down just outside of the boxes.  She tried to peck me when I shooed her out the pop door and got a swat for doing so.  Our egg production is less than one a day right now.  I know that in a few weeks, we will be overrun with eggs once all 13 girls are laying.

On Tuesday, both pups had a new vet visit.  When we first got them, we took them to a vet in our county, but it was 18 miles in a direction we rarely go.  We tried to switch to a vet that was much nearer us, but they didn’t carry the Trifexis that we had the dogs on for heartworms and fleas, so we switched to one about 18 miles away in a direction we do travel, but he is nearing retirement and has a new younger vet part time in the office that we did not care for.  During the time we were using him, our pups decided that they wouldn’t willingly take Trifexis.  Surprisingly, the big guy, the English Mastiff would let me force feed his, the much smaller German Shepherd would have no part of it and nothing I did would trick her into taking it.  During this 14 months or so, the vet nearest us retired and the two vets that took over his practice, are great as well as doing house calls if necessary.  They switched the pups to Sentinel and Nextgard and both dogs will take them willingly.  Win/win!

The garden is more or less stalled due to the hot weather.  There are lots of tomatoes, but none of them are turning red yet.  There are some peppers and I will likely have to pickle another jar or two soon.  Chard is thriving, but grandson doesn’t like it.  Berries are done.  We don’t like the yellow wax beans and the green beans are just sprouting.  There are a few white scallop squash and an occasional lemon cucumber.  There will be dozens of small Seminole pumpkins come fall and it looks like a stellar crop of yellow and white sweet potatoes.  Two beds are awaiting some fall greens in another couple of weeks.  This fall, the raspberry bed is going to be dug out, a reasonable number of shoots moved to the orchard and that bed prepped to return to part of the vegetable garden, there just wasn’t quite enough space this year with blueberries, raspberries, and grapes occupying about half of the garden beds.  The huge multibin compost structure is coming down, it is actually falling down, so it will be pulled down, the compost spread and a compost pile initiated.  That area will continue to be utilized for the vegetables that spread so viciously throughout the garden.

Any photos that I had taken are on the SD card of the old phone and haven’t been transferred to the computer or the cloud to add to the new phone and blog, so just words today.

Broody Girl

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On July 3, Brown Dog, belonging to our neighbor feasted on two of my United Nations flock of cull chickens, after causing significant damage to the chicken tractor in which they were housed.  On July 4, eldest son and I killed the remainder of them and frozen them for stewing chickens plus 1 rooster, the Buff Orpington, the King of the Domain.  He had gotten too aggressive toward the hens and toward us.  Neither of the then 14 month old hens was showing any signs of broodiness though I really had wanted a self sustaining flock and hen set chicks.  The next day, Brown Dog managed to scare the teenagers enough that one flew out of the pen the dog couldn’t get in and he trotted home with a young Buff Orpington pullet in his mouth.  Brown Dog hasn’t been seen since then, and the Buffs are maturing to a point where I expect the 3 that are 22 weeks old to start laying very soon and the 20 week olds to begin within a couple more weeks.  Since July 4, we have averaged only 1 egg a day from the two adults.

Beginning night before last, when I went to check for eggs and lock up the girls, I found one of the mature hens sitting in the nesting box that they both use.  I chased her out, took the egg and closed them up for the night.  The next morning, she didn’t come out to eat with the rest of the girls and sure enough, she was on the box again and puffed herself all up at me.  I chased her out again and found her there again last night, this morning and this afternoon.  This evening, though there are no eggs to collect, I put an upside down bucket in that nesting box.  She is quite indignant with me, puffing up and trying to peck my hand when I shoo her away.  She probably won’t be too amused to find the bucket in her space, but now that Cogburn is in freezer camp, it is pointless to let her continue to be broody as there are no fertilized eggs for her to sit.  Silly chicken.

I have 15 Rainbow Ranger chicks due here the end of the first week of August to raise in the second pen and chicken tractor and I don’t need Buff Orpington chicks in the coop that won’t mature enough to put in the freezer this fall.  Perhaps next spring I will replace Cogburn with a new young rooster and let one or more of the hens go broody and see if we get chicks in the coop.  For now, I just need to break Buttercup’s heart and her broodiness.

It’s Finally Done

Last night as the sun went down and the evening cooled, the edge of the garden, the empty chicken pen, and between the T posts that son and I set two and a half weeks ago were mowed in preparation for finally finishing the job that he and I started, I worked on and quit.

We had a couple of places that we couldn’t pound a T post in but they were going to only hold polybraided electric fence wire.  I did get the fencing up on the second chicken pen, the one that will be used for meat birds and culls, surrounding the chicken tractor which is too heavy for me to move daily and will serve as the coop for those birds.  I still haven’t reinforced the hardware cloth that the dog tore free from the frame, but I won’t have chicks until mid August and even then, they will be in the brooder for 5 to 6 weeks, so I still have time.  A week or so ago, I started putting the insulators on the T posts outside the welded wire fence and realized that I needed longer ones for the posts that also had fencing on them and stopped.  Grandson and I bought the longer insulators, but they have just been sitting on the workbench taunting me each time I walked by.  Brown Dog hasn’t been back, so I wasn’t in too big a hurry.

During the time that we were setting posts, our haying neighbor came down with a half bale of hay that was in the baler and he was done haying for the season, so he dropped it outside my garden for me to use as mulch.  Grandson attacked it with a fiberglass stake and spread it over a rather wide section of back lawn.  This morning before it got too hot, I decided that I better put it in the garden where it would smother weeds instead of all over the yard where it was smothering grass.  That proved to be a hefty task, pulling it back into a usable stack with the pitchfork and hauling fork after fork into the garden.  I also finally installed the longer insulators and realized that the corners were going to be a problem as the insulators only fit in one direction on the posts.

A few step-in posts solved the problem, setting the electric off the corner post by a couple of inches and placing a less sturdy post where we couldn’t pound in the T posts.  Wire is strung, charge is set.  Our dogs were wary of the electric when it surrounded the entire orchard and garden, but have gotten used to going over to “check on” the chickens since it has been down.  They are in for a shock, literally though mild, when they venture over now.  Hopefully, it will keep Brown Dog out as well, should he decide to revisit us.

Let the Outings Begin

One week ago, right about now, we left Vienna, VA, grandson, son, daughter in law, and me.  We have had grandson solo since Sunday afternoon.  His daily routine here requires guitar practice, Kung Fu practice as he is missing those lessons this summer, a writing assignment and a math assignment as practice for weak skills and reinforcement for those skills that he does well.  I supervise those practices first thing each morning right after breakfast unless the writing requires a library visit.

We told him that he would have some basic chores to do here at the house each day and for that, we would give him an allowance so that he has some spending money.  He can earn extra money by going above and beyond his required chores.  He is only 9, so nothing is too onerous or too difficult.  We also told him that while he was here, we would do a series of outings and that with cooperation with his practices and chores, he could earn extra outings.  Some of the outings planned can be repeated such as the county pool, batting cage, movie date with granddad.  Others are ones that will only be done once, such as the one we did today.  We drove to Roanoke, the nearest city, about an hour from home, leaving to be there at lunch time.  The market square hosts a farmers market many days each week and we caught quite a number of farmers there today.  On the market square, there is a hot dog counter and we though it doesn’t stand up to our favorite one from Virginia Beach, it was a delicious unhealthy lunch, followed with healthy purchases of fresh corn, tomatoes, potatoes and a watermelon.  One stand had baked goods and we purchased a whole grain breakfast bread full of fruit, nuts, seeds and not too much real cane sugar.

After our lunch and the market we drove a few short blocks to the Virginia Transportation Museum.  This was a fun adventure, bringing back many memories for me as I used to ride a Norfolk and Western train from Norfolk to Farmville to and from college.  On display are locomotives, passenger cars, cabooses, old wagons, handpump firetrucks, and a trolley car.  Inside the museum is a huge O gauge train set up, displays on bus transportation, train history, and air travel.  It was a fun couple of hours spent with our grandson.

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Back home, the last of the peas were harvested and the vines pulled for the chooks.  The peas were shelled and cooked with the corn and some left over kabob beef and pork tenderloin for dinner.  Once the clean up was done, some garden weeding and harvest of 76 heads of garlic, now drying for a day or two outside before the stems are clipped and they are moved to the wire shelves of the root cellar to finish drying.

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That part of the bed will be cleaned up and planted with a second planting of bush beans within a day or two.

I love when the garden is producing and the local markets have produce that either we don’t grow or don’t have in ready in our garden yet.

I’m loving life on our mountain farm.

Pens, Dogs, and Chooks

Yesterday the sky grayed and the wind picked up, cooling the afternoon enough to tackle the outdoor chores.  We had purchased a 50 foot roll of welded wire fencing on our way home from errands.  One of our only town businesses is a hardware store.  When we moved here, it was really aimed at farmers and was more a farm store.  The owner sold it to return to farming and the new owner changed the focus to a more traditional hardware store, I guess to compete with Lowes and Home Depot two towns over in Genericia (our eldest son’s name for it).  Unfortunately, he couldn’t complete and as he no longer drew the farmers, they went to Tractor Supply or Southern States two smaller towns over the opposite direction, he is going out of business.  We got the fencing for a discount.

Once the day cooled, I pounded in the remainder of the T posts, strung the welded wire fence, securing the meat/cull chick pen.  The chicken tractor still needs repair.  I started installing the T post insulators to string the electric fence, but realized that the welded wire fencing wasn’t tight enough and the 2″ insulators were not long enough to hold the electric wire away from the welded wire fence.  This morning, we bought a bag of 5″ insulators but as soon as we got home, the rains  started so the installation will have to wait for another day.  The rain was very necessary, so I can’t complain.  We have had a high percentage chance of rain for weeks, but have gotten almost no rain.

Hopefully these measures will make the chooks secure from the 4 legged predator that got the 3 birds last week.  With the freezer camp event on Friday, our egg production is way down, getting only one or two eggs a day until the new girls start laying.

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A pen beside a pen and real gates.  “Got treats?”

Tough week for the chooks

This has been a tough couple of days for my flock.  Yesterday morning, a neighbor’s dog who is generally chained up slipped his chain and caused enough damage to the chicken tractor where the culls were for them to escape after which he caught and killed two of them.  This necessitated a change of day’s plan and eldest son and I went to work to make the coop pen more secure, start the work to make a more secure cull/meat bird pen with the chicken tractor inside of it, and to start planting posts to run the electric fence not just around the garden, but also around the two chicken pens.

Today was the day we had planned to kill and clean the cull birds, now down from 8 to the 6 we did get in the freezer.  They were the original chickens I bought last year before I settled on the Buff Orpingtons and I called them my U.N. flock as there were 6 different breeds represented.  We put 18.75 lbs of chicken away today.

After clean up and dinner, we decided to go into town for ice cream and while we were gone, the same dog again got loose and got one of my young Buff Orpingtons.  This is now a problem as the dog has discovered he likes chicken and they are easy to catch.  I don’t see any damage to the pen, so he can either jump a 4 foot fence or one of the young buffs got out and he caught it on the outside.  We hadn’t finished setting the posts for the electric fence yet, so that barrier wasn’t there to deter the dog.  The dog’s young owner is upset that his dog has killed 3 chickens in 2 day and I am perturbed about it but only to the extent that the dog isn’t secured well enough to not wander down the country road to our farm and get the chickens.  I had thought about some free range time, but can’t do that with the dog in the area.

I don’t know what to do now.  Son and I will see if we can figure out whether the dog can get in the pen and I guess I will have to cover more of the top with netting to try to keep the young buffs from flying over the top until they get too heavy to escape.

In our freezer camp event today, we also killed my rooster as he had gotten too aggressive with us and with the hens.  This also presents a dilemma as I wanted a self sustaining flock and though the hens lay eggs without a rooster, they obviously won’t hatch, so I will either have to buy another rooster and hope that he is less aggressive or buy fertilized eggs when a hen gets broody to let her sit to hatch.  I don’t want to have to keep buying chicks every few years and raise them in the brooder.  We already have to deal with the brooder for the meat birds once or twice a year.

We currently have only two mature birds to provide us with eggs.  Hopefully the 17 and 19 week old pullets will start laying soon, assuming I can keep Brown Dog out of their territory.

Wins and Losses

No, I’m not talking about FIFA Soccer, though that is on every public television in every place in town, including the grocer.

Ten months ago, we needed new phones and instead of dealing with the provider I had been with since moving to the mountains with no contract, we switched.  That was an epic fail.  Since our switch, my phone has had to be replaced because it wouldn’t hold a charge and would get so hot that I couldn’t put it in my pocket and we have had spotty to no service on our property and in our house.  About 3/4 of all calls do not ring, and we may or may not get a voicemail eventually.  To have any success making a call, we have to stand on our back deck. We have had two incidents in recent weeks where one of us tried to call the other from our land to our house or from the top of our driveway to the yard and the calls haven’t gone through.  Both times were emergency situations, not life threatening, but situations that required the other immediately.  We picked this service because of their advertisement about coverage.  This is what we have most of the time.

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Zero service, no bars, just the universal symbol for NO.  Today we decided we had had enough and returned to the place we bought the phones and signed the contract to complain and possibly get out of the two year contract 14 months early.  After dealing with a testy young man who finally after about 15 minutes of automated attempts to connect with a service tech, put Jim on the phone with the tech.  We don’t know if we got anywhere or not, but allegedly they are going to work on it.  As we don’t have a land line and as we are seniors working a small farm, and Jim riding a motorcycle and me traveling to babysit a few times a year, we need reliable cell service.  If they can’t make this right, we may have to take the hit and cancel the contract early to go back to the provider that works on this mountain.  This may be a loss.

The win is the soap.  It isn’t pretty, sure couldn’t sell it at a fair or the Farmers’ Market, but it lathers nicely and smells good.  There are 25 bars in two essential oil scents curing in the spare bedroom.

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We will have plenty of soap for our use for a while, and to share with any of our children that want some bars.  The two batches reinforced some lessons from my mentor.  I reformulated the lye solution concentrate for the preferred of the two recipes to make it more superfatted using a lye calculator and wrote the recipe down where I can find it again, along with reminders about measuring everything by weight next time.  I consider this a win.

Suds and Sweets

Nope, not beer, though I have been known to make it too.  I realized that my homecrafted soap was nearly gone and as it takes 3 to 4 weeks to cure, I knew that I was going to have to get brave and make a batch or two on my own without my mentor’s help.  I have made two batches in her kitchen and only one here alone.  I have been procrastinating but realized that if I didn’t get over my reluctance and accept that I am still a novice and it might not be perfect, we were going to run out.  Summer is not a good time to run out of soap.  Sure, I could go to the grocery or the Farmers’ Market and buy some, but that goes against my nature.

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Yesterday, the soap making box was hauled out.  I quickly realized that I didn’t have the exact oils that the recipe I selected called for, but know that you can substitute some.  I quickly forgot rule #1, that in soap making, everything is weighed and I measured out the water for the lye mix in liquid ounces.  I measured the oils by weight though.  The recipe that I selected only filled my good mold about halfway, but I covered it, wrapped it in old towels and put it aside to saponify.  Today, when I pulled it out, it was a bit softer than the soap I made with my mentor, but the 6 bars are curing for use in a month.  Since the recipe only made 6 bars, I resupplied on the oils that I was missing yesterday so that I wouldn’t substitute and followed a new recipe to the letter.  When I added the essential oils to scent it, the soap seized and it is crammed and packed in the molds, covered to saponify.  It won’t be pretty, but it will be soap.

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Batch one curing.

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Batch two about to go under cover to saponify.

Today’s raspberry harvest brought me up to the 4 cups I needed to make jam.  Mind you, I don’t need any more jam, still having blueberry and blackberry left from last year, peach that I made a week ago, but I grew these raspberries and I want to savor them all winter.  So down came the pots and jars, the berries mashed, the sugar added and jam making round two for the season begun.

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Jam cooking while the jars heat beside it.

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Six one cup jars ready to for canning.

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Six jars cooling on the counter, as I listen to the satisfying pop as they cool and seal.

The rest of this year’s harvest of raspberries can be eaten as I pick, put in yogurt, and frozen for treats during the winter.

Lovin’ life on our mountain farm.

The Harvest

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Yesterday just as they finished mowing the lower field, it started to rain.  We probably got two inches yesterday evening and last night.  This morning dawned thick and gray and it didn’t look good for finishing the hay.  Jeff unhooked the baler and added a second fork to the back of the tractor and started moving the already baled hay into trailer size loads around the fields.  The sun finally came out and the wind picked up, so they tettered the mowed field twice and let it sit for a couple of hours, raked it and finished baling it about an hour ago.  The total hay harvest this year is 96 big round bales.

While they were baling, I picked more raspberries.  I need less than a cup to make a batch of pure raspberry jam.  Another day or two and I will be set.  The peas are filling out faster than I can pick them and certainly faster than we can eat them, so tomorrow I will pick, shell and freeze at least a few packages for the winter.  There are tiny peppers on some of the plants, blossoms on the tomatillos, the cucumbers, squash and beans are continuing to grow.  I think there will be a handful of blueberries soon too.  The chickens are enjoying the over matured kale leaves.  I think a big armful of kale and chard will accompany me to Northern Virginia in a week when I babysit for 4 days and then bring our oldest grandson here for a few weeks of the summer to help his Mom and Dad out.

The 3 jars of mustard finished their ferment time yesterday and today and were completed and packaged in 8 oz jars for summer enjoyment and to share with our kids.

We started our morning at the Farmers’ Market and came home with radishes, turnips, carrots, spring onions, flowers, beef and pork.  We are set for a week of good eating.

Lovin’ life on our mountain farm.

Farm Life as Summer Approaches

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The 90 hp behemoth at work.  There are 47 bales done and they are working to beat the rain on the lower field.  He will bale by headlights tonight.  The hay is beautiful and thick.  That tractor always amazes me, our little tractor is only 28 hp.  It would pull the tetter or the hayrake, but the sickle bar and round baler require too much power.  We can easily mow with a 5 foot brush hog, power a post hole auger and if we could figure out how to use it, pull the small plow we store in the barn. I am not a short woman and my chin would rest on the top of the back tires of that beast.

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Bales in the morning sun.

Jeff has equipment that is modern with CD players and A/C and equipment that is older than my kids.  It is always fun when he is working here as he brings one tractor, then another, a hayrake, a tetter, generally he doesn’t trade out the equipment, he just changes tractors for the next job.

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In the midst of the chaos, today I found a new wildflower/weed in the front yard which is green, but seems to be more wildflowers/weeds than grass.

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This afternoon when I went to pick peas for dinner, I realized that there were still garlic scapes in the garden.  I harvested as many as I could hold with the egg basket full of eggs and peas.  I was able to make 7 half cup jars of garlic scape pesto and blended the other half of the scapes with olive oil to make a garlicky paste that I dropped in 2 Tbs. plops on foil to freeze for use as fresh garlic in sauces.

I was hoping to get some peas in the freezer for winter, but we are enjoying them fresh so much it is hard to put any away.  Peas picked, shelled and cooked within half an hour are a whole different vegetable than even “fresh” peas from the Farmers’ Market.

It has been a productive day on our mountain farm.