Category Archives: Country living

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.

 

 

It is Hay Time

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It is that time of year.  We have been watching the fields mowed and baled around us for days.  Jeff has been waiting for hot dry days to do ours as we have really good hay this year and he didn’t want to spoil it.  There are currently two tractors with sickle bars mowing the upper fields.  Tomorrow they will be tettered and tomorrow evening probably baled.  The lower field will follow.

For the first bit they were here, both dogs were going nuts in the house, barking and looking out first one window, then the next.  They have gotten used to the noise now, but we wouldn’t dare let them outside right now.

The plus side of this is that we will be able to walk our entire property for a few weeks after they are done, and we will be able to see deer and turkey.  The negative side is that this will disrupt habitats and we will see more bunnies near the house and mice in the house for a few days.  It usually brings out a snake or two.

Life is good on our mountain farm.

Bambi in the Chicken Pen

Happy Father’s Day to my wonderful husband, my Dad who is an inspiration to us all, to my sons by birth and marriage and all of my readers.

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Our overnight guests departed for home half an hour ago, facing a 7-8 hour trip in Sunday traffic on Father’s Day, but he has his youngest son on break from college in Pennsylvania with him and his wife to help share the driving.

We were sitting on the front porch in the sun, it got quite chilly last night, watching them depart when Jim started pointing to the east and repeating, “Look, look.”  I didn’t see what he was excited about and ask and he said it was a solo fawn, probably only a month old tearing down the side of the driveway and around the house.  I jumped up and ran through the house to the back deck to see if I could spot it before it reached the tall still unmowed hay to be and realized that the little guy had somehow gotten itself through the fence to the chicken cull pen.  That fence is not very well set and he was terrified, bleating and slamming his little body against the more stable chicken run fence that makes up two sides of the cull pen.  This in turn had all 22 chickens upset.  The cull chickens and Cogburn hid in the chicken tractor squawking like they were being attacked.  The teenagers who were in the run were flapping and escaping over the 4 foot fence, others in hiding under the coop or in the coop.  Fearful that the little fellow was going to injure himself, we quickly pulled down the cull pen fences and stood back as the fawn took off across the back yard for the woods.  We don’t know where Mom is.  Perhaps our cousins leaving separated them on the road and the fawn ran down the driveway while Mom ran back into the woods.  Hopefully Mom wasn’t killed or injured last night and the little fellow is alone as it is much to young to survive.

The fences are back up, the escapees captured and put back in the pen, the chickens have settled, breakfast is cleaned up and the dishwasher is running so now we will just settle back and enjoy our morning before we figure out where to hang Jim’s Father’s Day gift.

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And later drive to “the big city,” Roanoke to buy him a Father’s Day meal at his favorite Mexican Restaurant.

No fawn rescue photos, it happened too quickly, but the little fellow was so cute and so afraid.