Mo Bloggin'

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Archive for the tag “mud”

March Mudness

It’s driving me mad.  Not to belabor the topic (see previous post) but I think I’ve reached the breaking point.  I woke up this morning to more snain (my term for the miserable combo of mixed snow and rain), this time the ground was white.  It was gone within the hour, as the snow quotient faded and the rain kept coming.  The ground is saturated, soaked, soggy, drenched, sopping, waterlogged, and whatever other word applies to the squelching, sloppy mess out there.  I spent the afternoon today vacuuming and washing the area rugs, and as soon as the dogs went out and came back in, it was as if I’d done nothing.  It’s enough to drive me over the edge.  When it was coming down in sideways sheets during one particularly schizophrenic day of weather last week I looked out the window at work and forgot to delete the expletive.  

I suppose it’s better than freaky tornados (in Michigan last week, an area that doesn’t get tornados historically), but the creepy 70s weather in Chicago (creepy because it’s March!) sounds much better than it should at this point.  A friend lamented with me about the weather and remarked that maybe we were in for another spring and summer like last year.  I didn’t even know how to respond to that.  The first thought is to drop the speed loader into the chamber.  The second is to pack up the farm and head out for drier territories, in a rig similar to the Clampitts’ but without the advantage of Texas tea to support the move.  

We did have a downpour-free day on Saturday (and Friday, too).  After the morning snain it actually cleared a bit and I even saw a weak shadow or two.  It was nice enough to let the sheep out to nibble on the early spring growth, which I do whenever we get a day like this.  It makes them happy and that makes me happy.  Their shearing went well two weeks ago.  I moved them into the shed with the panels up and they did well (thought there might be some freak-outs as they’d never been confined that way before).  When the shearer got here (10 minutes earlier than I expected) I was able to move them in the small holding area (so no rodeo chase, like last year’s circus) and it went smooth as buddah, with Eifion Morgan, shearer extraordinaire, zipping through them in less than 30 minutes (shearing all five, hoof trims, vaccines and worming).  They all felt tons better without a year’s growth of itchy wool, though the cold weather has been a bit of a trial.  In two weeks they’ve gained some fuzz and a little bit of cold tolerance (and they each have their own internal furnace with the rumen works), so I don’t see the girls shivering like I did that first week.  And the good news is that both of the girls look to be gestating!  Yes!  Nothing outwardly noticeable (still at least a month to go yet) aside from larger than normal teats.  No other mammary growth yet.  I’m making my list and slowly getting my lambing toolkit ready, and next month I’ll be putting the panels back up to exclude the boys from the shed and keep the girls (and the babies!) protected from them.

 Though it still feels like January, the days are getting longer and nature is slowly waking up.  The Indian Plum buds are nearly open, and of course the nettles are coming up all over the place.  I harvested a pound or so of nettle tops yesterday (wearing gloves of course) and had some with dinner (in a stir fry with some of my home grown chard from the freezer).  I have some more drying in the oven, and the rest are in the fridge.  I decided to try harvesting maple sap, too, after I read a great (cook)book by Jennifer Hahn called Pacific Feast: A Cook’s Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine.  Big leaf maple are not sugar maple, but the sap is usable, according to the book.  I ran to the hardware store to get some makeshift equipment to stand in for maple spiles and came home and drilled a couple trees.  I have to say the production was underwhelming, though without a covered bucket the rain kind of ruined my experiment anyway.  And when I read it takes 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make one gallon of syrup, well, that was the end of that experiment.  The sap I collected tasted like water, so I imagine it would take even more than a 40:1 ratio of big leaf maple sap to make enough to cover a pancake or two (a gallon of sap to make a half cup of syrup?).  Since I can’t remember the last time I had pancakes, much less maple syrup, my experiment was abandoned.  The buckets have been collecting mostly rain; the water is tinted yellowish brown, so who knows if that’s sap or tree dirt.  I’m now merely curious to see what kind of sap flow I might get; with all the rain the trees have plenty of water table to draw on.                                                   

With our semi-nice day yesterday the bees were out a bit, thought nothing like our spring tease in February, when they were out in force.  These cold wet days are hard on them.  I popped the lid to see what was going on and decided to give them some honey.  So the little bit of honey and comb I harvested last year mostly went right back to them.  I put it in there, in some Zip Loc baggies with a slit cut into it and closed the lid.  A short time later I took a peek and saw them belly up to the honey in a crowded line along the slit in the baggie.  Oh.  Hungry bees.  I put some local honey I purchased last fall in another bag and put it out there too.  Now I’m hoping for some warm weather so I can get out there and open things up to put the feeder in there.  It’s too cold to open the hive like I need to put the syrup feeder in there.  Fingers crossed they’ll make it and will thrive again this year. 

And last week I ordered my 2012 package of bees for my new hive.  I purchased a Warre hive from House of Bees, a vendor at the Country Living Expo last January and am excited to get it started.  It’s a top bar hive, which is the kind of hive I wanted from the very beginning.  This means there are no frames for the bees to use for honeycomb, just a bar (top bar) that they’ll build their own comb in the size and shape that they want.  Judging from my few foundationless frames in my Langstroth hive, the bees will love this.  They build gorgeous white comb in the foundationless frames, in preference to the frames with foundation (a pre-loaded honeycomb patterned board they use to draw out the comb).  I still need to paint the hive, but since the new bees won’t be here until mid-April, I’ve got time.


Mud and stuff

I suppose it’s just the time of year, but I’m reaching my limit for wet, cold, and mud.  That last item being the one that’s tipping me over the edge.  We’ve had oodles of rain in the past week or two, complete with localized flooding (creating commute havoc – 45 minutes to travel the last 2 ½ miles home as the entire north end of the valley is trying to use one road) and soggy animals.  And mud.  Lots of mud.  This porous little hillside I live on, with its many sinkholes and underground streams (both are more than a little creepy at times) and seasonal water flows, is literally oozing water where it’s not flowing outright.  Some of the underground streams are “repurposed” critter holes (mountain beaver and moles/voles, etc.) but I think most of it is just the water finding the path of least resistance, as water will.  It emerges out of nowhere to surface for an above-ground stretch, then goes underground, only  to bubble up like a spring dozens of yards down the hill.  And then there are the weird spongy spots, where the ground feels like it wants to give way, bouncing a little, sort of like a bog.  Except this is on a hillside.  I’m going to do some digging when the weather dries up a bit, to see if I can figure out these spots. 

Of course with all of this wet slop, the dogs are tracking in epic amounts of mud, and I’ve given up trying to keep the floors clean.  I have plenty of throw rugs, and wipe down paws as needed, but even then I have to follow behind with a towel on the floors, toweling up the worst of it.  Pal is often in need of a total hosedown, as he looks like a bi-colored dog after running the entire width and breadth of the property – the upper part of his body is mostly white, but his underside is black with mud, sometimes up to his mid-side.  He looks like he’s been dipped in a mud bath.  It requires a hosing, and I feel awful as I spray his small body with the cold hose water.  I mostly just do his legs and feet, and a little of the ‘undercarriage’ area.  When he’s not too filthy I’ll do him in the tub with warm water from the shower sprayer, but even then he leaves a layer of grit in the tub.  Daisy and Farley don’t run like Pal does, so they tend to only get muddy paws.  

The chicken run is a half inch of slop when the water isn’t running outright across it, so the eggs I’m getting (averaging 8 a day now; I got 11 today!) are covered with mud, as each hen steps on the previously laid eggs to add hers to the collection.  The last one or two eggs laid in each nest box are clean, but the rest require scrubbing.  During two of the worst rain days I found a new underground watercourse along the outside of their pen.  Probably one of those repurposed critter holes – moles or rats – but it was a pretty fierce flow, much stronger than what my hose produces on a fully open spigot.  The hens of course are miserable.  They tolerate the rain, but aren’t ducks and prefer dryer weather, where they can at least find some dry dirt under the eaves to enjoy a dust bath here and there.  There is zero dry dirt to be found right now as everything is saturated.  

On a positive note, I found a great home for one of the roosters today.  It was the extra-large boy, Junior – handsome and with a great crow, but too large for many of my hens.  And with two roosters it created too much stress in the coop (Junior was always after the other, who had his own little cadre of admirer hens), and my egg production was compromised.  I moved Junior out to the chicken tractor, which immediately removed the coop stress (and my egg production doubled in 24 hours!) but left Junior essentially in solitary confinement. Not good for a flock animal.  I considered butchering him but realized I have zero knowledge on the how to’s beyone the initial act of lopping his head off.  And no decent (sharp) knives.  I didn’t want to learn on him (will source this knowledge with area farmers) so a Craigslist ad was born.  Response was minimal.  Then I was checking my spam folder (looking for a note from my sheep shearer) and found a response from 4 days ago, right after the ad went live.  It included a photo of the sender’s chicken house (a palace!), with a few of the 19 hens in the chicken yard.  And, the people were just one town over!  Woohoo! I wrote back quickly, praying that the person didn’t go elsewhere in the ensuing four days, since I hadn’t responded.  Thankfully they were still interested and came by this evening.  It was great to meet them and fun to talk with like minded people.  And I nearly yelped with excitement when they told me they had two yaks!  I love yaks and have looked into them as an animal I’d like to raise.  They are a fiber animal, of course (my justification), but do I have room?  I’m going to go over to visit Junior sometime in the next month or so, and meet the yaks.  I can hardly wait.  

The sheep pen is holding up okay with the mud issue.  There are a few mucky spots just as it transitions from cover to the pen, but it’s not too bad.  I mucked the shed out a couple of weeks ago and it’s in pretty good shape overall.  I’ve been trying to let them out as much as possible, for a little bit of fresh forage and to stretch their legs a bit.  The ewes especially need to be moving more to stay fit so that when the lambs come they’ll have an easier birthing process.  The shearer is supposed to be here on Sunday, and it’s none too soon.  Ideally they would have been sheared a month ago – the fleeces are a mess on all but one, and basically a salvage job on little Pebbles (my favorite wool, of course).  She began pulling at her back a couple of months ago.  At first I thought it was a type of rooing, though rooing usually starts at the shoulders (where her wool is well rooted and not coming out at all), but then I realized it was mostly irritation from where the ram, ahem, serviced her and she’s been pulling at it so much she now has a reverse Mohawk along her back, from about mid-spine to her tail.  Of course with this there’s the secondary worry of her ingesting too much wool and getting a hairball impaction.  The shearer comes from Wales every year (his wife’s family is in the area and raise Black Welsh Mountain Sheep) and shears area flocks while he’s here.  He’s fast and efficient.  I was going to email him today to get a time frame, then realized he was probably en route, flying out today or tomorrow.  I’m sure I’ll hear from him by Friday and will get them all ready for their date with the clippers.  Even with the chilly weather we’ve had lately (snow showers!) I’m sure they’ll be much happier without all the itchy wool.  And I’ll probably do a mid-year shearing in early October, to hopefully keep them a little more comfortable during the winter months (a year’s worth of wool growth seems to be about two months too much).  I’m still learning!

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