Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gratuitous crawdad shot

A dead one em found at the Elk Park. We also saw a live one, but it was harder to photograph.

And here's the long-toed salamander that's living in the greenhouse.

On the gopher trail

Annie has been really, really good lately. She hasn't killed a guinea hen for months. And she seems to be trying to tell me she is so over that bird-killing thing. So, when the birds are locked up in the chicken yard (we're not completely nuts), we've been letting Annie into the garden with us. She sniffs around, wanders off sometimes (ending up near the chicken yard, oh coincidence!) and then detects Evil Gophers.  Time to dig furiously, tail wagging. Time to bark a persistent, annoying bark. She'll dig for hours, eyes and nose and mouth full of dirt. It's what she was born to do. Eventually, I think she'll get that gopher. She'll eat half of it and leave the rest in the clean-laundry basket. And we'll be so proud.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Of tomatoes and mushrooms

Not so much the mushrooms.

I declared today Tomato Planting Day, and we spent some hours doing just that. I had grand visions of row upon row of neatly bedded plants. We got maybe 40 into the ground before I became thoroughly sick of planting tomato plants and ran away to work on the rabbit yard. Most work is best done in small installments.

Traditional garb for Tomato Planting Day – right shoe off, left glove off.
Kewpie, in the green mask, is helping.

Em and Richard came up yesterday, and we did a little mushrooming on Blanchard Creek Road, and worked in the garden. We didn't find any mushrooms, but there were some interesting rocks along the road. Lots of mica. And Em hunted for items for her Stone-Age Survival class. She found a rib bone for her bow drill, and some wood for spears.

When we got back, Em helped clean the rabbit room, and Richard wrestled a couple of big rocks out of the top bed. He heaved them out with sheer muscle – no walking them, or levering and shoring them up bit by bit. Weird.

Richard fixed the tiller – I'd managed to loosen a bolt and till it into the rocky parking area out north of the gym. I had done the tilling at the end of the day Thursday, and was plumb tired before I rattled my brain pan carving up that hard-packed ground. The missing bolt made the machine buck and wobble, and as the throttle stuck, the tiller and I slowly tilted to starboard, and went down, grandly, like an ocean liner. Far as I know there were no witnesses.

It works like a champ now, and before he went home Richard tilled some manure and old hay into the tomato bed for Tomato Planting Day.

Em assembled her bow drill, and worked on making fire. It was cool to watch – she had a shaft of yucca stem, a bone handle, and cattail fluff to catch the spark.

Em pushes and pulls the bone bow to make the cord spin the shaft, which sits in a hole in the board where the dry cattail fluff is ready to burn.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Two old women vs. The Rock

It took a few days, but we vanquished that damn boulder. By hand, with a spud bar and shovel.

I'm proud and tired, and no, I don't know why my shirt is inside out.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Pretty birds

If I looked like that, I'd be checking myself out all the time, too. Guineas love a mirror, and C. mounted this one in the chicken yard.

We love a four-day weekend

Even if some of the first day is spent at the vet. Pants, one of the goat twins, managed to get his leg caught in the fence. He was hanging there when passers-by saw him and told us. It looked horrible. Turned out OK, though – not even broken. We rushed him to Deer Park Veterinary Clinic (very nice folks who have seen way too much of us in the year we've lived here) and his X-ray showed no broken bones. So he got a pain shot and a treat, and is now limping around the pasture.

We've spent most of the day grubbing boulders out of the tomato bed.

I found another monster rock in the top bed while rooting out quack grass. 

Help me, Earl! This is C.s giant boulder in the tomato bed. It will be vanquished, even if Earl doesn't help.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Planting time

We worked on the garden this weekend, digging and terracing on new beds. C. planted Jarradale winter squash and the first of the tomatoes.

I dug up the two apple trees I planted last weekend, removed the wire-mesh baskets from their roots, and replanted them. The folks at my garden club said that the gophers aren't that bad here, and the wire would constrict or cut their roots as they grew. C. agreed. I'm a little sad, as the cages were a pain to make, and very symmetrical.

The spuds are up, as are the sunchokes and peas and lots of greens. And purple asparagus spears are erupting from their bed, but we're not supposed to eat any until next year. (I've cheated, but only a little.)

I expanded the big-animal pasture again. I buy a few T-posts, and bump the fencing out here and there. That's the best we can do until more rolls of wire fencing are in the budget – maybe next month.

Shearing, Part 2

The tragedy continues...

We finished up Savvy's shearing the other day. We caught her, put the halter on her knucklehead, and led/dragged her over to the big dog yard. There's grass to eat there, and no loose straw, so it seemed smart. Freaked her out, though, and Tricks ran back and forth in the pasture, mehing worriedly.

The sheep shears, sharpened again, were dull as ever. So we used the hair scissors. Again. It was unpleasant for all of us, took forever, and the mosquitos were out in force. And just as one side and her back were done, Savvy broke loose, knocked me on my can, and took off, dragging her big lovely loose fleece across the yard. Wisps of wool were strewn all over. It was my fault – I let go. I knew better. C. told me sheep psychology consists of two things: rattle grain in a can, and don't let go. Oh, and make yourself big when you herd them by holding your arms out. Three things.

So we eventually caught her and finished the job. The mosquitos were epic. I led/dragged her back to the barn. C. collected the fleece bits.

The sheep is still pissed, though I offer grain and sweet talk.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Seven eggs today

Roz seems to have laid two. Or one of the guineas is... big down there.

C. planted sunchokes, Lincoln peas, onions, two kinds of chinese cabbage, and red iceberg lettuce, and transplanted five big cabbages.

After work, I expanded the big animals' pasture with some new fenceposts. There is some succulent grass coming up on the north side of the hill behind the barn. There's also hounds tongue, an interesting plant with horrible little burrs. Have to pull all of it out before giving them access to that area.

Sheep shearing Part 1

Yes, we have sheared half a sheep. It took all weekend. The damn shears are crazy hard to sharpen. We resorted to the hair-cutting scissors.

Savvy has a mullet – short and businesslike underneath, and long and flowing in the back. Tragic. Tricks just has a little fuzz trimmed around her face. She busted out of our shearing chute.

We're regrouping for now.

Adventures in walking

And I don’t mean hiking or climbing mountains or power-walking through the suburb. I mean walking outside to the chicken house, or to the car. It’s sad, really.

I’ve always been fit, in a non-competitive way. Able to do what every Westerner can: Whatever needs to be done. Maybe not expertly or even well, but, basically, we git ‘er done (as my friend Barb says). Dig a hole, change a tire, build a fence, build a bookcase, plumb a sink, add an outlet, draw the pirate, catch a fish, cook a fish, grow a garden, can pickles, ride a horse, siphon gas, row a boat; that’s all in the Code of the West. It applies equally to men and women, gay and straight, punk kid and geezer.

But now that I’m 55, I’m screwed. Tough year, on top of 25 soft years at desk jobs and city living. I get tired and wobbly. I turn wrong, and my back spasms and I’m on the floor. Lifting things will hurt, sooner or later – or both. My arms and hands are weak. It’s pathetic. I think it’s getting better, though. I try to keep working at it, short of pushing the back too far. My doctor wants me to go to physical therapy, but I’ve wimped out. I think I can do it on my own, without exercises divorced from work and purpose, and without some stranger in my face. Anyway, I didn’t mean to get all old-person-whining-about-health-problems on you. I was just saying I’m a bit wobbly on my pins when I get tired. So the other day I was tired, tidying the south porch, hauling an armload of coils of bright blue and black plastic pipe up the steps and over to a hook on the wall. And I look down through the coils and I’m stepping onto the flimsy plastic grill over the crawl-space hole. “Not good,” I think – then in a weird mishmash of slow motion and fast motion I fall down and to the left, am extruded through the 14-by-28-inch hole in a flash of checkerboard red and black (the pipe?) and thinking “buffalo plaid!” I am suddenly hanging upside down by my right pants cuff, in the dark.

Everything is still.

I wonder if I’m hurt. I could be hurt. C. was inside – she wouldn’t have heard anything. She wouldn’t hear if I called. I could be hanging here for a long time. Worse, my foot could come loose and I’d fall on my head. In the powdery dirt. Under the house. This won’t do.  So I climb my own leg, get an arm up onto the floor and reef on that stuck cuff. It’s jammed pretty good but I get it loose and suddenly am right side up. A little shaky, but teakettle over ass. I climb out, wobbling a bit, and go inside. C. looks at me over her book. “I fell through the floor,” I say. “I thought I heard something,” she says, going back to her book.


Mondays are tough. Up with the alarm. Wearing shoes and socks. Missing my dogs. All these people around. It's a shock. I know I'm lucky to have a job that (almost) pays the bills – I'm just saying it's a shock.

So I went to the Lawyer's Nursery traveling tree sale Saturday, and bought Jonaprince and Northern Greening apple trees, and three shrubs. They are bare-root trees, and about six feet tall. Seemed like a great deal for $12. I hemmed and hawed and almost didn't go, thinking I could save money by ordering some root stock and grafting scions from our two apples at the Ancestral Home. I think apple root stock runs about $3 per tree. But I want fruit ASAP, and we're not getting any younger. So I'll get some root stock, too, and cover all bets. How could I have too many apples? There's cider and pies, and the animals would eat them, too.

I'm worried about gophers eating the roots and killing the trees, so I made cages out of half-inch hardware cloth for the roots. Damn nuisance. But the baskets should protect the roots until the trees are big enough to withstand some gopher pruning. And once the trees are that big (a couple of years) I'll worry about the charmingly named apple maggot. Not a problem if you use pesticides, but we don't, so it'll be a challenge.

Got the trees in the ground. C. planted four pounds of spuds that were lost but turned up after a month or so.

Em came up, as did KC and his friend Cullen. The boys worked on the truck, and helped me dismantle the hoop house over the spuds. Cullen rolled a very large rock into place in a garden terrace. C. and I dug it out of the ground (leverage is a wonderful thing) but it was great to have muscle to move it into line. KC is going to auto-mechanic school in the fall, and I am just going to let him have his way with the truck. It's not running now, and it's not the end of the world if never runs again. (breathe) He knows something about cars – not as much as he thinks, though. Yeah, it makes me nervous, but it's probably important to trust him to fix it.

Monday, May 5, 2014

How do you like your giant grubs?

Raw, of course. That's what Roz said.

C. dug up five of these huge wiggly things in the garden. Freaked her out. They're three or four inches long! Creepy and very cool. I admired them then fed them to the chickens. Really should have taken them to the restaurant called Grub 'n' More, down on the highway.

C. looked them up – California prionus beetle larva, or prionus root borers. We found a couple of dead adult beetles in the building last year. The grubs live in and eat the roots of trees like pines, plums, locust and others, and often kill the trees.

Imagine them washed up and fried in butter. Or not.

Indoor guinea

Found J-n-E in Nadine’s room this morning (that's the classroom south of ours, named for the big maroon cabinet that used to be in there). Earl told us there was a guinea in the house last night, but I was too tired to care. I caught him and carried him out. Should have handed him over to the chickens, who are all quite indignant about what he tried to do Henley, the big black hen, yesterday. Hormones are running pretty high in guinea land.

We should probably put a couple of the males on Craig's List. Four is too many. They are too busy fighting to eat grasshoppers.

Planted four plum trees yesterday. Apparently sheep are crazy about plum leaves. I'm still pissed at them. I'll tell you about it when it starts to seem funny.

I'm off to work. I wish I could stay home and get more of the garden beds ready to plant, but nooooo. Too busy to take time off. And the back could use a rest, anyway.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Johnny-and-Edgar takes a time out

Found him like this in the netting over the chicken yard this morning. He doesn't seem to be hurt. Look at those pretty white eyelashes.

Yesterday I did some tilling, including under the old hoop-house shelter for the big animals. C. planted spuds there, some sprouty ones from storage. Hauled over some bedding out of the barn for mulch. C. planted peas and basil. Worked on the tilled up area on the south side of the garden, picking out grass roots and adding terracing.

Since we're working on the old animal pasture in front of the building (the future orchard), I foolishly thought I could let the big animals back in to chomp some of the green grass, since their area is getting eaten down. Put hoops and chicken wire up over the raspberries. The crap apple has fencing around it. And I'm working right there, so I can keep an eye on things. None of it is fenced well enough for permanent grazing, but should be fine for short-term, right? Everybody will be interested in fresh grass.

Those little bastards the goats made right for the raspberries. I hollered and threw things, which they found amusing. So while I'm beefing up the berry fence, I turn around and there's Pants, finishing up the last of the crab apple's leaves. He jumped the four-foot fence into a tiny area and pulled the tree over and started munching. C. came and lured the goats away with grain, and I shut them back into their brown pasture. Shitheads. The other guys are still munching green grass, and behaving. I'd better go check on them.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Guinea fight!

Johnny-and-Edgar has been getting into it with the young dude who deposed him as lord of the guineas. The young guy doesn't have a name and I don't recognize him unless he and J-n-E are fighting. They go round and round and over and under, full-out running and flying at each other and biting. The rest of them go about their business, chirruping and buckWHEATing and eating bugs.