Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 5-28

view from the office window

“You’re not the boss of me!”
                          ---imagined memo from the weather

Being self-employed is often seen as the penultimate work situation. You are in charge, making your own schedule and working your own plan.

Unless, of course, the weather is involved.

Then, the weather rules. No matter how many plans you make or how focused you may be on your schedule. You really are at the mercy of a force you cannot control and any sort of prediction is an iffy proposition at best.

The Boss had great plans for the week, we were going into a planting frenzy. Then there was tilling and mowing and bush-hogging and...we were gonna get back on track for sure...

Not so fast!

misty M'brook

The clouds hung low over the valley, bringing not only the damp mistiness that clings to every surface, but more than one torrential rain storm. We didn’t set any rainfall records, but the total for the week nudged the four-inch mark.
low hanging clouds

another wet day

soggy garden

SUPER soggy garden

So, every plan for the week was pretty much a total wash-out.

We have developed a new approach to scheduling work. I'm going to call it…triage-farming.

With a limited weather window for working, we know only the highest priority job will get done. and, sometimes even accomplishing that is going to be a challenge. We pick the one we think is the most urgent, try to get it done and attempt to overlook the great number of uncompleted tasks that are piling up. (they’re not going to go away, we’ll get to them eventually)

the tomato plants are still waiting to be transplanted

Look! tiny, well-watered tomatoes!

Even after it stops raining, there is mud to contend with. Any sort of traffic on the sodden ground can have far-reaching consequences, again limiting the possibility of progress.
wet grass means no spark on the electric fence
and stuck lambs

wet garden means no traction
and stuck lawnmower

the lamb feeders look more like water troughs

Although, I must admit, the mud provided us with the one bit of interest for the week.

In the mud out in the lamb corral, we found some tracks. Fox tracks. And, then, the Boss saw a fox in the back garden. Fox sightings are not unusual. There has been an active den down front for years. But, ordinarily they are not so close.
one of the baby foxes that live out front

My concern with the many foxes in the neighborhood is not that they will eat the chickens...although they will and that is just one reason the chickens are locked in their house at night time...but, in the past rabid foxes have been an issue in the neighborhood. Years ago, a small child was attacked by a rabid fox just across the road. Story had it that the fox tried to drag the child away as well. Yikes!There have been other incidents and animal control supports their disposal. However, the foxes do keep down the rodent population, so we don’t want to eradicate them completely.

But, short of vaccinating the lambs against rabies (which can be done, but it is expensive and generally not suggested by the vet) we need to protect them from exposure. So, I really don’t want foxes in with “my babies”.

After a short discussion with the Boss, I got the big trap out of the barn and baited it with a leftover grilled chicken leg. Surely that would interest the fox.
baited trap

Imagine our surprise when we found I had trapped a squirrel. A squirrel! And, he ate some of the chicken.  That seemed a little weird. Since when do squirrels eat meat? (I guess I need to do some research…and do squirrels get rabies?)  I released him and he scampered off toward the pines.
NOT a fox

Until very recently, we didn’t see squirrels here on the hill. Now, they seem to be everywhere. There is one that comes to eat the spilled sheep feed in the corral behind the barn. I spotted a nest in on of the pines out back.
protecting his/her nest

 There is another one I see up in the mulberry tree by the lane. And, there are a few that torment the dogs by staying just out of reach...  Despite the fact that I’ve heard squirrels described as rats in fancy coats, they don’t seem to do any noticeable damage...and they are kind of, we’ll just try to co-exist. (for now)

the barn squirrel

watching for a "nature" moment
see the cat? the cardinal? the squirrel?

WATCH OUT, squirrel!

Well, dang!
He got away!

By afternoon chores, I had captured another squirrel. This one scampered off in a different direction.

In the morning, we found a large, angry 'possum in the trap. Maybe this trap thing wasn’t such a good idea after all. The 'possum had eaten every little bit of the chicken leg...even the bone! (ugh...I don’t like 'possums one little bit)
he does NOT look friendly

Before the Boss could dispose of the 'possum, one of the little squirrels came back. I don’t know if he wanted the remaining morsel of meat or he was just really friendly. (again, I wondered…do squirrels get rabies?)  He sat on the big post by the lambs for the longest time, chattering and “cutting” at me. He let me get so close that I actually touched him with my camera case. (I wasn’t about to risk my fingers) Eventually, he ran back to the pines again.

well, hello!

he is pretty cute

I decided not to take any chances with angry 'possums or lost squirrel-babies and left the trap closed and un-baited in anticipation of Saturday’s Market. I will set it up again later and see what happens next.

With a short gap in the rain, we hoped to get the summer squash planted and mulched. That included the start of the daunting task of cleaning the barn.  All the hay left behind after the sheep winter in the barn is great for mulching. The waste hay is piled up at an all-time level, causing us both to wonder if the sheep actually eat anything during the winter or if we are just spending lots of money on mulch.
We got the job completed without a single raindrop...and while we were out there...and it wasn’t raining...we decided to get on that garlic scape harvest.
baby squash plants

Wow! That's a lot of mulch!
Do you think they ate any of the hay?

Hardneck garlic sends up a seedstalk from the center of the bulb. By cutting this off, the plant’s energy is forced back into bulb growth. Rather than throw away the scape, we bunch them for sale. They add a delicious, mild garlicky taste and a bit of color to soups, salads and stir-fry. You can also cook them like you would asparagus or green beans. You can read more about them HERE.
garlic scapes growing

garlic scapes at the Market

No sooner had we finished than it began raining. Again.

another storm

Since the rain precluded working outside, I did get some inside work done. Since, I’ve given up on waiting for the “house-cleaning elves”, I started in on the cleaning and filing and did even some rearranging in the cooler. Ordinarily, we take everything out of the cooler (even the shelving) and do a thorough cleaning prior to Market season. This year March did not go according to anyone’s plans, and the cleaning never happened. So, look what I discovered.  I would like to say that I meant to do this. You know, in the name of science or something. But, truth is, apparently this was a purple cabbage and it got forgotten for…six months? Gross. But, maybe I’m on to something new. Maybe there’s a market for “alien veggies”…?  Probably not, but it did make good chicken feed.
I couldn't decide if this was really cool or truly disgusting...
the hens thought it was delicious!

The Boss found one more gap in the weather and got his new bamboo planted in front of the reefer. The reefer is the box from a refrigerated truck that is used for long-term cold storage. Did you read that story? (the saga continues for several posts) It has been an eyesore for years because we have never come up with a good solution for camouflaging it. A paint job would just dry and peel in the hot afternoon sun. A mural? Nah, we’re not terribly artistic. A vine? No, that could compromise the structure.  A gigantic ghillie suit?  Cool idea, but completely impractical (and expensive).  But, when a market conversation turned to bamboo, a new idea was born.   The Boss has wanted a bamboo grove for ages. If he planted some by the reefer, it would screen the ugliness AND fulfill a dream. A big THANK-YOU shout-out to Oakley and Margaret! Now, it’s just a matter of waiting for it to grow.

Yes, the reefer really is ugly
But, those little sticks should grow into a great bamboo screen

there were a few little root shoots
that became my latest growing experiment.

All too soon it was time to prep for the Market again.
checking the garden before Market

 Thankfully, the weather cooperated and the market was incredibly busy. But, before suppertime, we had another tremendous thunderstorm that put down over a half an inch of rain in less than a half-hour!

Unfortunately, the ewes had no place to get out of the weather. While I felt really bad about the fact that they were getting drenched, I didn’t feel bad enough to brave the downpour to open the barn gate. When the rain ended, they were a sodden, soggy, somewhat grumpy mess.

torrential rain made the sky look white as the ewes headed to the barn

...and that will definitely affect the upcoming week.

Tomorrow is our annual ewe-shearing day...and I can only hope that they dry out some in the meantime. Otherwise, Blondie (#1 shearer) is going to be sodden, soggy and somewhat grumpy, too. Hmm, there may be a story brewing for next week!

soggy sheep

But, I'm afraid that’s all there was to our very wet and sadly uneventful week here on the hill.

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 
heading to Market

Thanks for stopping by! Come “visit” us again real soon.

Here's a link so you can take a "virtual tour" of this week's Market.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Walkabout 5-21

a sure sign of broiler week
white feathers in the backyard

Did you know that it was Broiler Week?

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t…the observance was pretty limited. As in, just here on the hill.

Once a month, we have a week that revolves around broilers.

Now, for those of you who may not know...a broiler is a type of chicken. A type of chicken bred specifically for quick growth and easy processing. If you’re interested, you can read more about them HERE.  You may want to read THIS one, too. 

There are other chickens bred specifically for egg-laying, those are referred to as layers (hens). For the record, the variety of egg-laying chickens is incredible. But, the vast majority of the chicken eaten in this country is of the cross-bred broiler type.

home-grown supper

I need to do  little “ag-vocating” here and then I will get back to my story.  Much of what you may have heard about the poultry industry in this country is wrong. All those concerns about chicken being “pumped full” of hormones are unfounded. Hormone use in poultry and pork is illegal in the US.  If you will read the fine print on the packages at the store, you will find that is precisely what it says. For the sake of brevity, I will not get into my aggravation at the term “hormone-free”. That will have to be a separate post sometime in the future. The rapid growth of the broilers is a matter of breeding and nutrition, not any sort of terrible manipulation on the part of the growers. It is indeed a good thing. (but, the discussion tends to get long and divisive, so I will leave it here)

time to harvest the broilers

Early Monday morning of broiler week has us out at the field pen catching the birds ready for processing. They are crated and brought up to the house for processing (butchering) in the backyard. Then on Tuesday, the brooder is cleaned in anticipation of the arrival of day-old chicks on Wednesday.
day-old chicks 

…the cycle continues through early November when we end broiler production for the winter months. 

It is satisfying work to produce delicious, nutritious food for ourselves and others.

But, there was far more to completing this particular batch of broilers than just putting food in the freezer or stocking the Market freezer with inventory…

Eight weeks ago, as these chicks hatched from their eggs, we were trying to wrap our heads around the fact that the Boss was headed over the mountain to UVA for surgery. Cancer surgery. The diagnosis had been shocking enough, but now we found ourselves headed to a place that conjures frightening memories as well as facing the Boss’ biggest fear…his worst nightmare was our reality. In less than two weeks he had gone from our local doctor’s office and diagnosis to the operating room.

Scary times.

It was too late to change the scheduled delivery. We would just have to muddle through, make the best of it and carry on. In some ways, our plan for this batch of broilers seemed to represent our life situation.   …muddling through and making the best of it…

The knowledge that the tiny birds would be arriving at the Post Office in the early morning meant that I had to leave him in the hospital hours after surgery and head back home at the very literal crack of dawn. I must admit, I had never driven over the mountain alone. And, the dark conjured memories of that horrible night back in ’10 when the Boss and I had to leave our gravely injured eldest daughter in the hands of a trauma team. I gave myself a serious little personal pep talk there in the parking lot, turned on the headlights, cranked the stereo and “hied meself” back to the Valley.
my early morning arrival took the dogs by surprise

It was bitterly cold, so I  tucked chicks into the chickie pool in the shop and returned to the Boss’ bedside. Then, it was a juggling act to check on him and attempt to keep the home fires burning until his return. Thankfully, his hospital stay was fairly short.

While the Boss continued to recover at home, I was responsible for chores. All the chores.

you just "do what you gotta do"

More than one person has asked me how I did it. To them it seemed like such hard work. To me, the work was the one thing that brought some sense of normalcy. Work (accompanied by loud music) has always been my therapy. Quite honestly, the work isn’t the hard part…the fear of the unknown is.

Incredibly, some good came from my time doing chores solo. Working alone, I had to come up with some new ways to do things. Because, as the old saying goes, “necessity is the mother of invention”. It turns out there is actually an easier, less stressful way to move the small broilers to the field pen. one bird.

We may have never known this if I hadn’t had to do this job by myself. And, I’m pretty proud of the fact that I was completely responsible for this batch, from start to finish…and I only lost ONE bird!

and only had one "escapee"!

So, this batch of broilers represents lessons learned, strengths recognized, new methods embraced and healing milestones. Not bad for a bunch of “bird-brains”!

We did get some help with processing...
THANKS, Blondie!

We even had time for some visitors this week...
Kman is totally ready to take over the mowing

MrB says
"I got this, Grandpa!"

The eight-week milestone means that the Boss is (in his words) back to 95% of his normal activities. We can put many of our cares and concerns behind us and go on with “normal” life. There are scans and tests scheduled for the future. (and honestly, the possibilities are more than a little worrisome) But, for right now, we can focus on the positive and go on with the growing season.

However, I must admit…our definition of “normal” may be a little skewed…

Case in point…

The Boss headed out to do morning chores before I did. By the time I got outside, he had the big, barn trash can out front and was digging through the contents with a pitchfork.

there has GOT to be a story to this one!

WHAT on earth are you doing?

There is something in this can!

(not anymore!   He was throwing stuff everywhere…but, I didn’t want to state the obvious)

As he continued to dig, I saw a rat wriggling through the handle-hole of the can.
see the rat down there at the bottom?

There he goes!

When I exclaimed, the dogs suddenly started paying attention. A free-for-all ensued as dogs and humans chased the rat through the grass. Yes, it looked just as ridiculous as you are imagining.

they got him cornered now

In the blink of an eye, Ellie grabbed that rat and shook it violently. The incident was over.

to the conqueror go the spoils

The Boss and I cheered…and laughed as Ellie proudly took her prize to the orchard to enjoy. (eww, blech)

…and then we wondered aloud just how many folks start their day with a rat-killing…and then cheer about it…?

On second thought…NORMAL should never be used to describe this place. Ever.

But, things have gotten back to the regular, the expected. We are actually back on track and working according to our plan, despite the unexpected turn of events eight weeks ago. (it hardly seems like EIGHT weeks…although in other ways, it seems like a lifetime)

 still needs a little help with the broiler pen

time to work the lambs

tractor tilling 
tilling the brassica garden

Personally, I’m all about the sameness…the mundane and monotonous.  There’s something to be said for the comfort of a routine.

Even Ellie looks nice under a beautiful sky at the end of a productive day

Hope you’re having a Happy Sunday! 

Thanks for stopping by. Come “visit” us again real soon.

Want to see the Boss’ Market shots? Click HERE.