Monday, February 29, 2016

Working Out

I'm having one of those days where you wake up, get dressed in grubby clothes, and spend 90% of the daylight hours working out.........side. I have dirt under my fingernails, a new hole in the knee of my workin' jeans, and possibly windburn on my lips and I want more.

I'm sure I've spent enough time feeling sorry for myself about not having a proper garden to kick off the season, but wallowing in all that self-pity almost made me miss out on all the things I can still be doing! How ridiculous of me. So today, as soon as laundry was started and animals were fed, I hit the dirt and got a partial fence laid out (and inventory done on what will be needed to complete it), I got my new compost bin built, I weeded flower beds and transplanted a few plants, I prepped an area I'm going to try and make our strawberry patch, and I even planted seeds! A packet of creeping thyme went down around my lone surviving Japanese maple to serve as ground cover.

What what? And it's not even time to go pick up the girl from school yet! I know!

So hmmmm... what's next on my list? I still haven't settled on where my bee yard will be... methinks it's time to head back out there... and so I shall!

Friday, February 26, 2016


Mimmy brought the kiddos each a packet of seeds from the Mother Earth News Fair- sunflowers and echinacea- since they are the only ones right now with a designated garden space! They each stashed their seeds for almost a week, waiting for the rain to stop and the temps to rise a bit, and in the afternoon yesterday they pulled out their seeds and shovels and spoons and headed out to dig!

I have no idea how the flowers will come up... I have a feeling there will be a few very dense clusters... but it was so beautiful and good to see them so intently working their little garden space together that I'm not worried about the final product.

Thanks for the seeds, Mimmy!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Last Time

There's a wet cold front moving through today that is probably part of the weather pattern that brought us some of the only snow we got last year. It's not cold enough for anything to freeze this time around, but upper 30's with a strong wind is still cold! It's been raining slow and constant since about midnight, and as predicted the winds are increasing as the day goes on.

We were supposed to get out to hunt and gather groceries today, but after dropping Sissy off at school Hen and I decided we'd much rather stay in, light a fire, bake banana bread, and read books. After the weird warm winter we've had, this will probably be the last time we fire up the wood stove anyway, so we're taking full advantage of this chilly day!

Monday, February 22, 2016

Revamping the Hen House (edited)

One of the best workshops I attended at the Mother Earth News Fair this past weekend was a one hour Q&A on troubleshooting poultry health. Aside from inspiring me to seek out a health-specific poultry book (I'm thinking I might go with The Chicken Health Handbook), I also was able to talk to a poultry management expert about some of the specific problems my flock has been having.

The biggest issue right now for just under half my girls is feather loss. I originally thought the feather loss was because of the bully bird we had in our flock a few weeks ago, but she's gone now and no one's feathers are growing back. Sadly, two of the girls look a little worse, and their raw skin is starting to look chapped.

The farm animal vet I spoke with at this workshop narrowed down the list of possible causes based on exactly where they were missing feathers on their bodies (base of tail, around rump, and under vent almost down to the thighs). I learned that my flock is most likely suffering from a two-fold issue concerning space; first, they are suffering from a lack of privacy in the nesting boxes, leading to the girls crowding in to lay eggs at the same time in the same box, which causes pecking and feather breakage/loss (especially if they are in a head-first position with their tails sticking out of the nesting box). Secondly, they are crowded on their roosting perches, leading some of the girls to sleep on the ground with their bums in direct contact with their droppings all night long... so basically they're getting diaper rash!

About the time the weather turned chilly I noticed droppings building up in the nesting boxes over night, and I figured a few of the girls were sleeping in the nesting boxes because they were warmer... nooooooooope. Apparently they were pushed into the nesting boxes by the girls higher up in the pecking order because they were too crowded on the perches I had provided them.


I am a fixer by nature, and it felt so good to come out of that workshop with a plan to fix my girls' feather issue! So this morning as soon as Audrey was off to school, I pulled on my workin' boots and headed out to the coop. Step one: deep clean the hen house and nesting boxes (no more ammonia!).

Step two: address the nesting box privacy issue. Both presenters in the poultry health workshop had agreed and reiterated that all nesting boxes should have curtains. I thought they were joking the first time they said it- picturing Pinterest-worthy polka-dot or plaid curtains pulled back with little tassels- but nope, they were serious. They explained that a hen will instinctively seek out the most private, secluded, and usually darkest spot to lay her egg, which curtains would facilitate, but also if there was an issue with other hens breaking the feathers of the layer while they waited their turn in the box, the curtains would protect her from attack.

So I grabbed a strip of heavy-duty black plastic drop cloth and the staple gun and went to work.

As soon as I had stapled the last corner of plastic over the boxes, the girls were all up in their freshened-up, private little spaces. They had no trouble pushing through the little slits in the plastic, and as an added bonus the plastic aided in keeping the straw in the box instead of it all spilling out as they nestled down in it to lay their eggs. (In the summer I may regret black plastic curtains, but if that ends up being the case I'll revamp again!)

Finally I addressed the roosting perches. They've always had natural branches from our woods secured to the studs and all on one plane (I'd read somewhere that if you keep the perches on one plane instead of graduating them it would temper the severity of the pecking order assertions... so much for that!).

For my perch revamp I turned to this website and decided to go with 2x4's this time. I think it's interesting that in this how-to they argue that chickens don't grasp perches when they sleep like wild birds, but that they prefer to sleep on a flat surface. I made my roost "ladder" 4 feet wide and 58 inches tall so it would utilize most of the space in the hen house but still be able to be removed for cleaning and repairs. I turned all the 2x4's with the 4" side facing up so if in fact they prefer to sleep on flat surfaces, they have the most surface area on which to perch.

It was a beast to maneuver up into their hen house because I barely gave myself enough room to clear the door when it's all the way open (sheesh), but I got it up there and secured, and finished the whole process with a fresh layer of straw (by the way the poultry experts at the fair workshop said the end-all be-all for chicken bedding is actually peat moss! hmmmmm...)

The last suggestion I was given in reference to my flock's feather problems was to try and force a molt. I had no idea you could manage molts, and since they didn't have time to elaborate on exactly how one forces a molt, I guess that'll be what I'm researching next!

For now, though, I'll be counting down to sunset so I can go sneak a peak in the hen house and see how they like their new perches!

At least I feel better about the whole feather-loss thing. Hopefully now my girls will start feeling better, too.

Post edit: I peeked in at the flock after they'd gone up to roost for the night, and alas not a single girl had figured out that the new structure in their house was for perching on! They were all sleeping down in the hay. So this morning I'm scouring the web to figure out how to train them up onto the larger, wider, higher roosts and get them off of the floor!

Sheesh. Featherbrains!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Visiting :: Mother Earth News Fair

I'm back from the Mother Earth News Fair full of inspiration and ideas... and completely exhausted! Two full days of thousands of like-minded people, interesting vendors, animals, workshops, and products have left me antsy to get out into the soil, the chicken coop, and the community... but fist, I must rest......... on my new bamboo memory foam pillow (the only prize I brought back for myself).

Wishing all a weekend as stimulating as mine! Nighty-night.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Finger Warmers

Henry outgrew a fairly new jacket (well, his arms did) and Audrey had a nightgown with elastic she felt was too tight around the wrists, so yesterday I sat down to try and fix up their stuff. Ever the curious observer Henry watched me for a bit then asked if he could have his own needle and thread for a try at hand sewing.

He gathered up the scraps from the sleeves of his jacket (I cut them off to turn the jacket into a vest) and sat with devotion for almost 30 minutes learning to make stitches.

He was frustrated at first but got the hang of it after a bit, and when we were done with our projects he'd made himself five new "finger warmers," which is something both kiddos always end up turning out when they're sewing. I have no clue what the inspiration is, but I think it's kinda funny.

He's actually kept track of all five and has worn them several times since making them. He's very proud of them... and I'm very proud of how he stuck with it despite his frustration and made something special.

Something special... like finger warmers.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Right Now

Right now, I'm...

...taking a break from all the drywall dust cleanup that's taken place today. This weekend we cut out all the water damage, sealed everything up with a mold killing/inhibiting primer, finally and completely fixed the actual water leak, and all without having to tear into the outside wall of the house (hallelujah!).
...itching to wrap up the house projects so I can get outside for the season(s) upcoming!
...wondering how many more loads of laundry there will be before everyone's undies, socks, and pjs are restocked (right now I've done 3 loads of clothes, two loads of sheets, and a load of towels and napkins... and yet there's more).
...marveling at the symphony of birdsong through the open windows... maybe we're skipping Real Winter this year for real, because it really feels like Spring is just around the corner. Really.
...getting excited about the Mother Earth News Fair coming up this weekend!
...planning casseroles, cookies, and maybe a coffee cake for when I leave my Littles and the hubs for two whole nights.
...loving that, when the opportunity arises, I am actually able to go and leave my fam for a couple days without (much) regret.

Right now our oaks are budding, there are robins in our yard almost every morning, and at least for the next week we'll have the heaters off and the windows open. C'mon to-do lists, let's get to the part where we all start working outside!

Happy spring-feverish Monday!

Friday, February 12, 2016


Tonight Daddy and Daughter will dance the night away, have "light refreshments," and (hopefully) take a few pictures at their first ever Daddy-Daughter dance. Audrey's been so excited about her date with Daddy. She told her whole class at school about going, she's told her dance class, she's made drawings and short stories about it... she's just really excited.

They headed off into the growing dusk together, Audrey with the biggest grin ever, and I can't wait to hear about Daddy's moves on the dance floor when they come home!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Little Orchard

We got our little fruit trees in the ground today. I'd only planned on budgeting the morning and maybe an hour or so after lunch to complete the project, but I was way off... it took me almost all day. I wrapped up and put tools and buckets away just in time to make dinner!

Henry was a great helper, with his own little gloves, shovel, and hammer. While we were prepping the holes I went a little Forest Gump/Bubba on him and started talking about all the things we'd do with our fruit once the trees were established- fresh frozen, preserves, pies, ciders, smoothies... When I asked him what he plans on doing with our future harvests, he just said, "I'm gonna eat 'em."

Well alrighty then. I guess we all have dreams for this little orchard of ours, and I know I'm not the only one excited about it!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Wouldya look at that? 13 fruit trees and a 3-gallon fig, plus my "Newton Ninja Turtle," all in my cozy little nameless Highlander. I finally got to pick up my fruit tree order! I'm soooooooo excited! This Mama has been itching to get her hands in the soil, and I was feeling like a hopeless case what with no garden at the moment. Trees to the rescue!

I ordered my fruit trees through a landscaping company who sells bare-root fruit trees this time of year to benefit the beekeeper's club I've joined. Most of the proceeds of the fruit tree sales will benefit their scholarship program, which I think rocks, and I plan on encouraging my little soon-to-be-beekeepers to take full advantage of it when they're old enough!

Anyho, I gots me a replacement Harvester peach for the one that died last year, two Methly plums, two Kieffer pears, a Mollie's Delicious apple, a Granny Smith apple, and a Texas Everbearing fig (the rest of the trees are for my mama).

I'll be using this bare-root tree planting tutorial as a guide to try and give them every chance to thrive.

My little tree babies are soaking in their terribly smelly fish emulsion water right now, and tomorrow we plant!

So excited.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Getting Out

There is a lot of good that we get done running errands, doing housework, and making artsy things inside... but sometimes the most good comes to us when we all just get out.

It's only Tuesday, but we've already made it to the point where we needed a little time in our woods, away from the drywall dust and upturned spaces and piling up 'usuals' that are to this point quite neglected.

And it's true, it really did do us some good.

Now back at it we go!