November 1st, 2011 §
Here’s a hint:
And man, what an indulgence to publish such a journalistically inept headline! All those sensationalist exclamation points, the hyperbole, and my favorite—the weak “update,” which belies semantic laziness.
My old editors are probably cringing at how low I’ve sunk now that I am alone out here in the country with no one to hold me accountable for decent reporting.
How I miss having anyone around who would call me out on this crap.
September 18th, 2011 §
In the past few weeks I’ve gotten a few major projects mostly crossed off my list. First up was the back porch ceiling, my personal bete noir thanks to an invasion of starlings (see here, and here). My dad and a couple of carpenters put it in, and it looks great. Now I just need to caulk and paint it, purchase and hang a ceiling fan, install the rope lights that will run in a tray around the ceiling, and reconnect my outdoor speakers.
Next the guys moved on to fixing the garage, which entailed cutting out and replacing some rotten trim. I used MiraTec again for the trim, to match the house.
Now I need to either pay a couple of thousand bucks to have the building power washed, scraped, sanded, windows reglazed, nail holes filled and joints caulked, and repainted, or I need to do it myself. The jury’s still out on this one. I also need to order new garage doors.
Last weekend my dad and a friend finally took care of the huge pile of black walnut that had been in my field for more than a year. My brother had milled some wood from a couple of storm-fallen trees, and this farm proved a good place to store the limb wood until it could be cut for firewood. So a day of fun with a neat little skid steer and a couple of chainsaws and I have a shed full of ready-to-burn limb wood, as well as a double-thick row of logs outside waiting for the wood splitter.
Finally, I took a day of work last week to knock out a project that’s been more than a year overdue: trimming out the chicken coop. Again my chainsawing friend helped as we drove over the mountain to pick up lumber and metal roofing, which we strapped to the top of the station wagon. Farm use tags, here I come!
Once home, we had the coop trimmed in no time, even with an intervening rainstorm. We also added a bit more metal roofing to create better overhangs on each end. Today I cleaned the interior of the coop, and filled nail holes. I ran out of steam while sanding them, but when I get geared up again I will finish sanding, and caulk and paint the building. The coop looks a lot better, and I am thrilled with the progress.
I am so happy to have these projects underway. They were all hanging over my head, bothering me in their various stages of incompleteness. I know I have a long way to go still, what with all the finish work and painting, but to have made this much progress is worth celebrating.
My goal for the rest of the fall, or at least until cold weather hits and outdoor work ceases, is to have the back porch ceiling painted and complete, have the garage fixed and repainted and sporting new doors, and to have the coop trimmed and repainted. If I can get these major projects accomplished, I will happily rest in front of the wood stove for the winter. All the while, of course, plotting next year’s improvements…
July 21st, 2011 §
A few weeks ago I ordered a HenPals chicken nest box for my hens. They were rapidly approaching laying age, and I wanted to be prepared. Other projects got in the way, though, and it was just last weekend that I could clean out the coop and install the nest box. I figured that since my hens turned twenty weeks old—pretty much the earliest they could start laying—on July 17, they had plenty of time to get used to the box before biology kicked in.
I am really pleased with this box. I ordered it online from a Georgia farmer who makes them by hand, and whose wife writes a great blog: Life on a Southern Farm. The nest box is well made and an incredibly good value compared with the commercially manufactured metal boxes. And I am proud to support an American farmer instead of a Chinese factory.
Anyway, I hung the box up last Saturday, and I know the hens were checking it out. And then last night I went in the coop, and this is what I found—on the floor of the coop, not in the box!
I first picked up that very dark egg, and I thought, hmmm…this doesn’t look like a guinea egg. So I rooted around the pine shavings and came up with four eggs! I had been getting two guinea eggs a day (on the far left above). Something was definitely up! Either both hens started laying on the same day, which would be amazing but not impossible, or I missed an egg that had already been laid.
The poor things picked a inopportune time for this development—we are stuck in a miserable heat wave with temps around 100 degrees. Despite the fan I have running on high through the coop 24-hours a day, all the birds are showing signs of stress. Some stress-induced feather picking is happening on some of the guineas and the hens, just like it did during the hottest days last summer.
I compared my first chicken eggs with mature chicken eggs (the three on the left above). I am really impressed that my girls didn’t start with little “peewee” eggs but produced some pretty good-size eggs on their first try. I am so proud of my little hens. Now if they will just realize they are not guineas and start laying in the nest box instead of the floor of the coop. All in good time, I suppose…Now I’m off to add some ice cubes to their waterer!
July 10th, 2011 §
Yesterday my dad and I finished a huge project—the crawlspace pit—a big job that had been lingering in various states since the house was completed two Mays ago. The pit is on the backside of the house between the chimney and the porch. When the house was nearing completion, we weren’t satisfied with the way my contractor proposed to finish its entryway. So we decided to take this job off his list of responsiblities and put it on ours. Where it sat, for more than a year. But now it’s done and here’s how it all went down.
My dad had visions of creating the mother off all pits—big enough to get in and out of relatively easily and that one could pass tools and equipment through (a lot of my house systems are in the crawlspace, including the interior HVAC unit, dehumidifier, and water heaters). The pit would also have to deflect water from the nearby downspout, and keep critters out of the crawlspace.
The unfinished pit shortly after moving in last June. Pretty, huh?
The base of the old air unit, propped up with a 2×4, made a temporary door that sufficed until a snake decided to make his home in the crawlspace and freak me out. And each time it rained, I had a red plunge pool that made a nice habitat for other local wildlife:
Last fall I’d had enough of the animals and Dad and I started the project. We poured a concrete footer underneath the opening, and he framed in and built a rock-solid door. We also poured the floor of the pit, and designed it to have a sunken drainage sump that was big enough to fit a pump into should we still have water collection problems when it was all done. This all was a bit tricky as we were trying to join our new concrete up to the jagged edges left when the builder made a hole in the original house foundation. We had to be meticulous in pouring the patch job that would join the old foundation to the new pit walls.
Dad formed the exterior pit wall last Thanksgiving, and got some of the rebar reinforcement tied into place. And then it got too cold to pour concrete, and the pit sat like this until last weekend. Man, it was ugly!
We took advantage of the long July 4 weekend to re-attack this project, prompted, in part, by the recent mousecapade. The area around the doorframe—which was to be filled with concrete—was perhaps letting the little guys inside. So Dad formed the interior wall, I learned how to tie steel and bend rebar using the tractor bucket . Here’s the completed form enclosing the rebar reinforcement, right after I got greasy up to my armpit painting the plywood with motor oil to help the finished concrete release.
We spent two almost-12-hour, 96-degree days transporting, breaking up, mixing and shoveling almost 1,000 pounds of concrete into the form. I spread most of it with my hands, and rodded down each batch. Hey, it just wouldn’t be a holiday weekend without a Stalag–like labor camp—just like last year!
Then came the worst part, chiseling out the nails on those 2×4 braces on top so we could remove them and finish the surface underneath. I say this is the worst part because it’s the only part where I hurt myself (other than general muscle strain), beating my hands up so that they still hurt. But this bunker is rock-solid!
The form sat a week until yesterday, when we removed it and finished the concrete off with a stone. I have to say I think it looks great, and the best part is the relief I feel at having this major undertaking completed. Here’s the pit once we backfilled with dirt around it. It’s got a great drain that’s embedded in the floor in a thick bed of gravel. Again, it will fit a sump pump should the need arise:
Now a nice, big, clean entry into the crawlspace! If this doesn’t raise my property value, I don’t know what will!
The crawlspace pit was a year-plus, torturous project for both my dad and me, but I am thrilled with the outcome. Thanks, Dad, for a great pit and for teaching me all about concrete—a new medium for me and one I find I rather enjoy!
June 20th, 2011 §
With the deer fencing hung, dig out perimeter of garden in preparation for small-critter protection:
Secure chicken wire to bottom of fencing, flaring it down into the trench about 10 inches to thwart digging pests. Secure bottom of deer fencing and chicken wire with landscape staples. I went through at least five, 75-count bags of staples on this project!
Next, line inside of garden with landscaping fabric to prevent hard-to-remove weeds from growing around fencing. Refill chicken-wire trench with dirt and secure landscaping fabric on the outside of garden to similarly thwart weeds:
Finally time for layout on May 15. Define walkways with landscaping fabric and stick in a few plants and seeds…
…before a hailstorm hits:
After the storm, keep planting…in the mud:
Tucker, go get the tractor…
…and help me mulch around the garden to make it look pretty!
And finally, kick back and wait for the plants to grow while enjoying a break from nearly three months of hard work!
June 19th, 2011 §
Let’s take a trip back in time, way back to winter—March 25! That’s when I started the project that was to consume much of the next three months. Without further ado, a high-speed photo tutorial on How to Make a (Critterproof) Garden from Scratch:
Find a nice piece of land, preferably fairly level, and stake out your corners. If you’re a redneck like me you’ll already have big dead patches of pasture from where your junk trailers had been parked for the past year:
Next, borrow the services of a family member with a pretty sweet new ride-on tiller!
Once the ground is broken up, add peat moss, sand, compost. Till that in.
Decide the garden looks too small. Repeat above process to increase area by a third:
Final garden: 20′ x 36′. Looking good!
Work stops to wait out the final snow of the year on March 27.
When not working on the garden, get acquainted with brand-new, eight-week old Bonafide Farmdog:
Next up: Deeproofing! Set posts and string tensioned wires to support 7′ deer fencing:
Puppy raising takes time away from the garden and in the meantime, spring has sprung! On April 23, begin hanging deer fencing, a slow process when done alone. This is heavy-duty polypropylene that should last a good number of years:
Stay tuned for the rest of the garden build, including all the essential critter-thwarting tricks!
June 14th, 2011 §
Was woken at 3:00 a.m. last night by a rodeo in my bedroom. Sadly it’s not what you think—there were no cowboys.
But there was one very proud kitty who laid her still-warm, bloodless kill at the foot of my bed and then pranced and purred around me as I praised her.
I really need to finish building my house and seal up all these open areas under the eaves and around the porches. That’d probably put an end to middle-of-the-night rodeos, but then again I know Kitty is loving her new job.
March 13th, 2011 §
Yesterday I had the guineas out of their house while I worked in the yard and made some minor coop modifications in response to last week’s entrapment:
I was taking a break on the front porch and enjoying some light weekend reading (The Basics of Shotgun Shooting) when I heard an unholy racket of screaming, alarm-sounding guineas. Because the birds were near the woods at the back of the property, out of eyesight, I figured Mr. Fox had returned to claim his lunch. I pulled my boots on and shot off the porch and toward the commotion.
When I arrived at the scene of the expected crime, I saw this:
The birds had discovered the final resting place of last week’s gold star balloon. And boy were they concerned to find something so amiss on their territory. They were hilarious to watch as they approached in a squawking clump, necks extended to shout at the offending piece of mylar. Then the balloon would move in the wind and the birds would jump back in fright before approaching again. This went on for a good ten minutes until I shooed them back up the hill toward the house. I am very proud of my birds for being such vigilant watchdogs. I hope they display the same reaction to snakes!
But the guinea excitement didn’t end there. Around four I tried to put the guineas in their coop so I could go into town. An overzealous relative was trying to help herd them but succeeded only in panicking the flock and creating the worst round-up experience I’ve had since last summer. We eventually got all but one guinea into the coop, and that holdout was so distressed she flew deep in the woods. After a half an hour of sprinting around the pastures and crawling through barbed-wire fence lines, I said let her go. So we did, and it was with heavy hearts that we went into town to cry in our beer.
I knew the odds weren’t good that at sundown the bird would make her way out of the woods alive. When it gets dark guineas can’t see and just hunker down wherever they are becoming, well, sitting ducks. So I left on all the lights outside of my house, and turned on the light in the coop in hopes that she’d be attracted toward the light and be lured out of the woods, and I also hoped that the birds in the coop would stay awake to help call her out with their cries. That was the best I could do.
But lo and behold, I got home after midnight and the missing guinea was perched outside of the coop window, pressed up against the wire to get as close to her family as possible. In the light of my car’s headlights I very slowly and calmly opened the outside coop door and walked around the coop with her in circles until she jumped in. Then I closed that door behind us, opened the interior door, and she quickly rejoined her flock. I shut off their light and went to bed.
There’s never a dull moment around here with these entertaining, beautiful, exasperating birds.
March 10th, 2011 §
I came home last night and unloaded my groceries on the front porch before pulling the car back to the garage. As I was getting out to open the garage door, I had the brilliant idea to feed the guineas at night instead of in the morning, when we were supposed to be experiencing a rainstorm strong enough to warrant flood warnings three days in advance. So I let myself into the outside coop door, and in through the interior coop door that separates the guineas’ living quarters from a tiny entry room where I store their food. I fed them their pellets, even adding a bit extra for good measure, and left their area. The interior door is secured by a simple hook and eye, and tonight I couldn’t get the door shut tight enough to latch it. I debated just leaving it, as it was practially pitch-black and starting to rain. But with visions of the winds to come blowing the door open and the guineas trashing the entry room, I kept at it, trying all my tricks to jimmy the hook into the eye.
It just wasn’t working, and it was dark enough that I couldn’t tell what was causing the problem. So, I opened the interior door and stepped into the guineas’ room. I pushed lightly on the bottom of the door, where it seemed to be getting stuck, and as I did, the door sucked tight into its frame, unmovable.
Now this wouldn’t be a problem except that I’d neglected to install any sort of handle on the inside of the door, which is just a smooth piece of plywood. And after listening to my entreaties for a “predator-proof coop,” my master coop builder father had made the door so well that it fit into the jam with nary a gap anywhere except for a tiny bit at the bottom which I realized, with a sinking feeling, had become stuffed with pine bedding and guinea dust in such a way that I was now effectively trapped in the coop.
In the past I’d been able to find a bit of give around the edges of the door and ease it open. But tonight nothing doing. The door was shut tight, glued in place by dust and pine.
I felt a wave of adrenaline-induced nausea. The guineas, disturbed by my unexpected presence, began to cry louder and pace back and forth, their squawks in such close quarters hurting my ears. I knew it was only a matter of minutes until they all exploded in a panic of dust and feathers, unleashing their prehistoric talons with no regard for my flesh or my soft, gelatinous eyeballs.
I switched on the light, that merciful light I’d installed a while back as a heat source during really cold nights. It sure came in handy as I scanned the inside of the coop, looking for ways to escape.
Both windows were covered with hardware cloth, which I’d thoroughtly stapled with a power stapler when I installed it to thwart even the tiniest intruder. And beyond the hardware cloth, each window was covered with a glass storm window I might have a hard time breaking through.
The poop door, though human size, was bolted closed in two places from the outside.
I eyed the chicken door. Even if I could have fit through it, which was doubtful, it too was bolted closed from the outside
I was in a tough spot. I’d pulled my car up to the garage and turned it off, so any passerby would think I’d gone inside. It was now dark and raining and my neighbors live far enough away that I doubt they would have heard me if I would have had to yell. I had the light. I could semaphore S.O.S. But would anybody see? And worst of all, my beer was on the porch.
I felt the pockets of my jacket, searching for a tool to free myself. Thank goodness, I had my keys on me. I could do anything with, keys, right? Even better, I carry a tiny knife on my keyring, just for emergencies such as this. At first I thought that if I could get the knife into the door well enough, it would create a handle that would let me pull it open. But after a few tries I realized the door was stuck too tight for that to work.
And then it came to me. One of my father’s favorite concepts: leverage! While making this farm I have seen him move all sorts of ridiculous things with the simple power of leverage, including a full-size stacked washer and dryer, and each time he told me that leverage was one of the keys to the universe. I rationalized that if I could get enough of the blade under the stuck door to lever it up, maybe I could get it to swing free.
And so I began. The door was stuck so tightly that even the tiny blade of my tiny knife was hard to wedge underneath. I kept at it, fighting panic as each attempt seemed to fail. The guineas roiled around me, screaming and churning up dust that thickened the air. I found my motions growing frantic and had to stop to remind myself that while being trapped in the coop was bad, being trapped in the coop while hemorrhaging from a knife wound to the wrist would be even worse. So I began again, more slowly, with a steadied mind, and eventually worked the blade into the stuck area between the door and the jam. I pried up with a delicate touch, so as not to snap the knife blade, and with my other hand worked my fingers around the edge of the door until I could grasp enough to swing it free.
And so I was. Free to step out of the melee of scrambling, squawling guineas. Free of the feather dust and soiled pine shavings and rising panic.
With my bare hands I clawed the door jamb free of the debris that had caused the jam, slammed the door shut, latched it, and fled. Into the dark, the fresh air, the rain. I was free.
P.S. Happy Birthday, Dad. Thanks for teaching me, among a million other things, about leverage. And you built a damn tight coop.
Image above, before adulteration, © Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment LLC. All Rights Reserved.
January 15th, 2011 §
After a year of playing landlord to generations of starlings, I’ve finally given them their notice. The birds took up residence among the rafters of the unfinished back porch, and though I love birds these particular birds are no friends of mine. Because they leave the porch looking like this:
And, when their nests are full of tasty eggs, they attract gigantic black snakes that try to crawl up my house and scare me to death.
I thought the starling residence was going to be seasonal in that they’d make their nests, raise their young and leave. But that didn’t turn out to be the case as even in the dead of winter they are having a racaus party on my back porch and trashing it in the process. Time for an intervention.
I got some of the deer netting I’d used around my young trees, trimmed it to size, climbed on a ladder and began the long process of stapling it to the ceiling and rafters in an attempt to seal out the birds. Midway through I went into the well house to grab a wad of old netting I’d stashed there after removing it from some trees. It wasn’t until I was back on the porch that I noticed a suspiciously familiar dark shadow deep in the black netting.
Last summer I had a rangy stray cat appear around my well house. He was wearing a collar, but wouldn’t let me get close to him. Even though I put out food, he stayed skittish and one day disappeared. Shortly thereafter I noticed a smell of rotten flesh in the well house. I figured the cat had climbed into the roof of the structure, got hung up on his collar, and died. It stunk to high heaven, and I fully expected to find a feline skeleton if I ever dismantled the well house. After a few months the smell abated and I figured whatever it was had decomposed.
But, after today’s discovery I am revising my story to say that the source of the stink was this black snake who had the bad luck to twist his way deep into the pile of netting and die. It was a sad discovery, but part of me is relieved to have figured out the mystery.
I cut away the part of the netting that wasn’t covered in dessicated rotten snake guts and with it finished finished sealing off the starling apartments.