archives for 12/2016
When I called Ken to ask
whether his lemon tree wanted
to star in Mark's film,
I was instantly intrigued by the tree's living accomodations. One of
Ken's garage doors was rotting out and would soon need to be replaced,
so he came up with an outside-the-box solution. He turned the zone into
a sunroom instead.
At first glance, I was
impressed by the kit sunroom Ken had purchased and put
together. I'm not so sure he would have been able to build something as
tight for the same cost from scratch.
From a gardener's
standpoint, the sunroom is also a perfect use of that thermal mass (aka
driveway), with the bonus that plants can be rolled inside if
temperatures drop too low.
This is the sunroom's
first winter, so Ken is watching it carefully to see how it fares in
the cold. So far, he reports that nighttime lows have been about twenty
degrees above exterior temperatures with the garage door open onto a
mostly unheated basement.
offering a 30,000 dollar bounty to the right idea that helps
mitigate human waste in space suits for 6 continuous days.
Maybe some genetically
modified Black Soldier Fly grubs could live in a backpack compartment
and convert body toxins into something more safe with the added bonus
of space compost.
Ken's green thumb isn't
limited to the contents of his
new sunroom. Walking
up to his front door, I was immediately taken by the braided redbuds
lining the walk.
"Did you sculpt them
yourself or buy them that way?" I asked.
He shrugged off the
beauty of the trees, explaining that the technique had merely been a
way of saving the redbuds from the ax. "My wife didn't like the way
they were hanging over the walk," he explained. "She wanted me to cut
them down...so I braided them instead."
When asked for tips on sculpting
trees, he suggested
trying redbud or beech. "The trunks will grow together as they mature,"
he noted. I wonder what the trees will look like fifty years after
Some recent high winds
whipped our longest quick hoop out of shape.
It just took a few minutes to
put it back to normal.
Some recent high winds whipped
our longest quick hoop out of shape.
It just took a few minutes
to put it back to normal.
August 28 to November 28
--- three months, four inches of rain.
November 29 to December
1 --- three days, three inches of rain.
Our weather changes on a
dime and abruptly we are wet once more.
It finally got cold enough
today for Lucy
to use her heat pad for nap time.
We won't know for sure
until she fails to go into heat Wednesday, but I'm already starting to
think of Artemesia as a second freshener. She's dried off (finally!)
and is starting to shine back up on unlimited fresh minerals and hay
combined with a daily dose of oats or honeysuckle.
has also taken to trying to pull me off my feet when I put on her leash
and open the gate to lead her out into the garden. I'm assuming this
abrupt leap from mild to headstrong is a result of the embryos swimming
around in her belly, but I may still have to resort to goat training
101. Even a Mini-Nubian can pull me off my feet if I'm not careful!
Despite the drought, our
garlic sprouted and grew.
mulch is keeping invaders down, but we may still need to hand weed
the beds once before spring.
We'd gotten so used to
this October-in-December that the chilly rain came as a bit of a shock.
No more halcyon afternoons lounging with the goats. Instead, it's a
delivery of wet honeysuckle then back to fighting the cats for the
prime spot in front of the wood stove.
The first day of wood chopping
means Winter is coming.
When I went on my usual
morning walk on Thanksgiving, the world delivered a gift right in front
of my bootsteps. My work gloves had been getting holey, but not so bad
I was willing to buy a new pair. So imagine my surprise to find a
nearly new set on the road, soggy from rain but otherwise intact. Score!
That said, if you hunt
along our road (which, no, I'm not going to name) and lost a
small pair of blue gloves with tree patterns on the back a couple of
weeks ago, please let me know. They're only lightly scuffed and still
quite ready to wear.
Eight years ago when Strider showed up
sick and wet in our barn, he would have been
diagnosed with PTSD had he been human. It took years of tiptoeing down
the hallway for Mark to prevent our younger cat from running away every
time the man of the house entered the room.
And yet...slowly but
surely our lost cat has begun to bloom. First he learned to raise a paw
on command when Mark offered a treat. He'd sit on my lap and pur more
deeply than any cat ever has before. And this year, he learned another
new trick --- catching voles.
In the past, Huckleberry has been the hunter
in the family. Where we live, this is actually a very good thing since
mice try to move into the house every fall and the garden is full of
rodents that nibble on our crops. But this year, Huckleberry didn't
kill his offerings. Instead, time after time, he brought them through
the cat door alive...and let them go.
I growled and
complained, but then I realized that our more complacent cat had merely
decided Strider was finally ready to expand his repertoire. Sure
enough, soon after that final chipmunk had been recaptured, Strider
began bringing in voles and consuming them down to the guts, including
one massive specimen bigger than any I'd ever seen before.
An online calculator
suggests Strider will be turning 48 shortly in human years, definitely
no spring chicken. The moral of the story? Whether or not you can teach
an old dog new tricks, that rule doesn't apply to cats. Cats, like
people, keep growing and changing with every day they spend on this
An upcoming cold front might make
these our last mushrooms of 2016.
The cheap dollar-store
clothespins we bought when we moved to the farm a decade ago are few
and far between at the moment. Some fell to the ground and were lost.
Others rotted or split. Suffice it to say, I mostly drape my clothes
nowadays rather than pinning them.
Why not just buy new
pins? I got stuck on what kind I wanted back when the Deliberate
Agrarian started producing high-quality clothespins. Maybe I should pay more for
a product that would last a lifetime?
Then, while clearing off
my desk in preparation for my painting spree, I found a dozen or so new
clothespins, presumably the last of the original batch that hadn't
originally fit on the line. Perhaps these will buy me another year or
two of indecisiveness?
Lucy likes to find plastic bottles
floating in the creek and chew them to death.
For the last two
winters, I've debated the pregnancy status of our goats at length. This
time around, though, I'm confident Artemesia is pregnant both because
her behavior changed markedly after being bred
and also because we passed the three-week mark with no signs of heat.
I'd like her to gain a
bit more weight before she hits the hard final months of her pregnancy,
so we're increasing rations --- more carrots, more alfalfa pellets, and
a daily head of sorghum. Good thing I've started being able to expand
my own dietary repertoire at long last or I would have been fighting my
pregnant goat for those precious carrots!
Winter is already a lot
easier this year thanks to the addition of the Kubota X900.
Topping off the fuel last week
with Winter diesel seems to help cold starting.
8 am is rush hour on the winter farm. Everybody needs to be in the nest
box at once!
This actually used to be two nest boxes, but our hens knocked down the
divider because they all wanted to lay in the box on the right. Now the
larger space is capable of seating four...as long as nobody needs
our little doeling likes to go her own way.
Mark and I dropped by
Maggie's new flat Friday for a mini apartment-warming party. But we
were the ones who came home with gifts.
Sorry, Daddy --- your
Christmas present has been usurped.
Mom also pulled together
an album of never-before-seen childhood photos of me. I'll be sure to
share excerpts here on the blog in the near future.
Thanks, guys! It was a
treat to hang out in such an airy, window-lit space.
Between the Kubota and the green
wagon, feed-store day is
easier than ever before.
The trouble with painting
two walls in vibrant colors is that the spruce-up makes
the remaining wall look pretty terrible. This is especially true if the
final wall was your very first building project with $0 budget and
involved cobbling together odds and ends of found materials in order to
close in the gaping hole in the side of your new home before winter
I'm generally oblivious
to clutter and interior ugliness, but I'm pretty sure Mark cringed
every time he walked into the room. Time to add
some texture to cover up the paneling and slap on a few coats of
The copious windows on
this wall made me feel like the surrounding area shouldn't be quite so
lumpy and bumpy. So once the joint compound dried, I sanded lightly to
bring the texture down to a dull roar. (I still kept some texture to
maintain the theme I have going in the space.)
Here's the area after
the first round of primer.
And after primer round
two. Now for color! Mark thinks we should go with the same light blue
that's on the opposite wall. What do you think?
Mark let me steal his
spot for a few days in the leadup to my birthday to show off early
family photos that Mom recently dug up. As you can see, I was a bit off
kilter as a child, but I loved to draw.
The right photo on the
bottom is the second to the last time anyone forced me into a skirt and
pointy shoes. And the left bottom shot showed what I'd much rather have
been doing --- swinging on one of the homemade contraptions on which I
spent so much of my childhood.
"I has been awhile since I have visited
your blog, Lucy is starting to look a little gray in the face, how old
is she now?"
Lucy is 12 years old, which is pretty old for a Chespeake Bay
Retriever. She's slowed down quite a bit, but she's still the first one
to ford a flooded creek and she keeps up easily on my two-mile morning
Mark would tell you that a dog couldn't have a more perfect life than
Lucy's. She has people around nearly 24-7, she can run as far as she
wants in every direction without worrying about cars, and she knows she
has a job to do. No wonder a few morning aches and pains aren't enough
to keep her on the couch, even on a frigid winter day.
photos are probably
boring for most of you, but I couldn't resist another collage. This one
shows the early farm years, when I thought wood stoves and wringer
washers and construction projects were nothing but fun.
consensus seemed to be
to play it safe by carrying over the light blue from the facing wall.
And I mostly stuck with that...but I couldn't quite resist adding some
orange on the wood around the window frames.
And now I've finally run
through my $200 stash of painting supplies. In case anyone's curious,
the three walls I played with this winter required four gallons of
joint compound (for texture), a gallon of primer, a gallon of white
(for mixing), most of a gallon of blue, and parts of two pints of
orange and yellow-orange. Not so bad for sprucing up about a third of
our trailer in one fell swoop.
For my final
begging-your-indulgence-with-family-photos post, I can't resist delving
into numerology. When I was born, my father was the exact age I am now,
and Mom was pretty close to my current age in the photo in the upper
left. Meanwhile, her mother was really close to Mom's current age when
the photo in the upper right was snapped.
So what do you think ---
do the Tirrell women breed true?
In a perfect world,
homesteaders go over our stores every time we dig into the cupboard in
search of a potato or onion. In my world, though, about midwinter I
generally stumble across some rot problems I didn't properly stave off
at the pass. In this case, the issue was that the low FODMAP diet
eschews onions and garlic...so I had some sprouts and decay in the
former category that I didn't notice in time.
Luckily, fifteen minutes
sorting the baskets of produce generally deals with the problem. And my
stomach has improved to the point where I can now start putting small
amounts of high FODMAP foods (yes, including onions and garlic!) back
onto my plate. So, hopefully the rest of the stores will be enjoyed
rather than pushed away into a dark corner to be ignored for another
We got a little help today
with bringing in carrots from the refrigerator
Our days are bookended
by animal chores. But every ounce of effort is worthwhile when
Artemesia greets me, waiting patiently by the gate.
Got some 2x10's to build a storage
Thursday, the weather
was just right to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary.
These droplets of dew-turned-ice resembled nothing so much as
snowflakes preserved in glass.
Along with turning a
year older, I always look forward to my birthday because it (nearly)
marks the turning point of the year, when the days begin to grow longer
once again. The time of contraction is nearly ended and soon life will
expand out in every direction as the sun gives us a little extra light
time every day.
Ever since I was a kid I've
had a burning question nobody could answer.
Why was the Death Star
designed with such a vulnerable weak spot?
We found out that nugget of
truth and more on Anna's recent Birthday movie day.
Those of you who read between
the lines are probably aware that five months of grumpy gut has been
hard on me on a mental and emotional level even more so than on a
physical level. I'm a total believer in the brain-gut connection now,
having charted my moods and bowel movements for months and found a
nearly perfect correlation between good and bad days on both ends of
the body spectrum.
On the plus side, this
realization has forced me to work harder than ever before to create
order out of the chaos within my own slightly flawed brain. I've found
easy pick-me-ups in the form of gratitude exercises, long baths,
Christmas lights, zumbaing to youtube videos, and doubling down on the
daily walk. 95% of the time, being aware of the early warning signs
saves me from long days in the outhouse and from long nights wandering
down dark mental alleys. But the other 5% of the time can be a doozy.
Which is where you come
in. One of the books I'm working through at the moment is Jonathan
Robinson's Find Happiness Now, a
series of exercises you can carry out in five minutes or less to boost
your mood short and long term. With my birthday just past, I decided to
follow Robinson's advice and beg for help from those who love me for a
project he calls "The Birthday/Funeral Gift."
To that end, I'm
collecting anecdotes and photos to go into a make-Anna-smile book for
rainy days of the soul. Want to join in? It's simple. Just think of a
favorite memory about your connection with me, write it
down, and mail or email it over. It's a bonus if the tale comes with a
but any kind memory is much appreciated. I'm looking for short, sweet
memories that I can read and look at when I'm down to remember how much
brightness there is in the world. Thanks in advance if you choose to
Picked up more paint today for
future shelf unit.
Our firewood supply is
holding up so nicely that we still haven't broken into this year's half
of the woodshed. I figure we'll start on the easy-to-split tulip trees
around the first of the year, which will remind us to start putting our
energy toward filling back up the emptied half of the shed in
preparation for next December.
Got all the boards cuts for the
new heavy duty storage shelf unit.
You know how the hotdogs
and the buns never come out even so you just have to keep buying more?
I seem to have that problem with paint and primer.
I still had some paint left from my wall projects, so I decided to
paint our bookcase-to-be.
But we'd run out of primer, so we had to get another
gallon of that.
I have a sinking suspicion that when the paint is gone, we'll still
have primer left, sending me in search of something else to paint and
more paint to do the job with. Tricky, tricky....
We learned the hard way that
painted boards need to be placed up right for drying.
It's a bit of a leap of
faith to do all this cutting
without first fitting everything together.
If my math is right,
we'll end up with two bookcases, each orange on the inside and blue on
the outside. To that end, we're painting some boards all the same
color, some boards half and half, and are carefully considering each
Assuming we don't need a
second color coat, Friday will be the day of reckoning. How's that for
a cliffhanger ending?
I've always felt like shaking
a can of paint saves that paint that would adhere to one of those
A month after finally
weaning her daughter, Artemesia is starting to put a little fat back on
It's handy to have weight
tape figures to
reassure me that my gut feeling is right --- our doe is a little fatter
now than she was in November.
Hopefully she'll be
fatter yet in January and February, ready to give body weight to the
next set of babies when they come to call this spring.
We finished up our 2x10 heavy duty
storage shelf unit this afternoon.
I'm really glad Mark decided
to make office shelving units rather than purchasing them new. Between
the lumber and paint, I figure one large and one small bookcase cost
right around $100. I call that cheap for two large pieces of furniture
that are color-coordinated and hefty too.
Hopefully Mark will
still think they're beautiful in a decade despite his ever-improving
skills. I know I'll continue to love them, but I'm an easy sell.
Moving my books and
office supplies back in was a slightly more bittersweet experience. I'd
already expunged over half of my clutter, but I found during the six
weeks I spent with the rest piled out of reach that I really only
missed 10% of what remained. Still, I put it all back anyway, not quite
brave enough to delete items I rarely look at but might need...someday.
The good news is, everything is now within easy reach and is instantly
Mark asked what I wanted
to do with the wall space above the longer bookcase. "More shelves?" he
found that stuff expands to fill the space allotted to it, so I decided
to go for something pretty instead --- a fish tank turned aquaponics
setup. Yes, I know I've
poo-pooed the sustainability of aquaponics in the past, but I originally just
wanted to put in a fish tank for pure soothing inspiration. If I'm
already committing to feeding ornamental fish and heating their water,
suddenly aquaponics made more sense.
So I used my Christmas
money from Rose Nell and Jayne (thank you two so much --- you rock!) to
order a premade unit that hopefully won't drip
onto the books below. Stay tuned for talk of ammonia, cycling, and
other technical terms once my present comes in the mail.
The trick to getting the
Solar Christmas lights to last longer was mounting the cell outside at
an angle with some gaffers tape.
As the light begins
shining back into the darkened world, I'm so grateful for beauty, love,
and resilience. Thank you all for your kind words on last week's post,
and thank you to the caring people who sent me photos, reminiscences,
and a stained-glass coloring book to raise my spirits.
No matter when or how
you celebrate, I hope this weekend is full of fun, food, and friends.
Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, and a Joyful Major Winter Holiday of
Huckleberry needs just the
right amount of pressure applied to his spine while he's being stroked.
of our readers asked why we'd bother to use primer since modern paints
are, at least to some degree, self-priming. I answered that, in my
limited experience, one coat of paint doesn't cut the mustard unless
you're painting over existing wall paint.
If I'm going to have to apply two coats anyway, why not start with a
can of cheaper primer for phase one?
To illustrate my point,
I pulled out our dinner table, which I painted with a
single coat of paint (no primer) a bit less than a year ago. Tables see relatively hard
wear, and eleven months was long enough to rough up the surface so bare
wood was showing through in spots. Time to paint again!
The big question will be
--- which surface looks better at this time next year, the table with
two coats of paint or our
bookcases with one coat of primer and one coat of paint? Let's see
if I remember to report back in January 2018.
Our latest firewood logs
turned out to be a real challenge for the Chopper
The problem was the axe
getting stuck more often than not.
The solution was to break out
the wedges and baby
The final living-room
zone slated for an upgrade this winter is our ancient futon. We got the
furniture used over a decade ago, and the mattress did a good job for
the first few years. By this point, though, no amount of flipping and
thumping keeps the cloth from sagging. Meanwhile, the bars are very
much evident underneath your bum.
I took a slumpfy before
photo without tidying to show the things I'd usually hide. Odds and
ends are stuffed underneath, coats have a tendency to get draped over
the edge, and there's a cinderblock replacing the middle leg. Mark
tells me we can do much better.
The idea is to create a
raised day bed/sofa with space underneath for seed starting, coat
hanging, and general storage. Trailer ceilings are low and Mark is
tall, though, so the structure won't be very raised --- just 28.5
inches from floor to the beginning of the bed supports. Stay tuned for
details as the project progresses...and Huckleberry's notes on whether
a raised day bed is as acceptable as an ancient futon for cat napping.
Artemesia gets an extra well
balanced breakfast when she's eating for two.
Acorns on the hillsides
kept deer away from our core homestead for most of the autumn and early
winter. But one doe has recently begun hanging around just beyond our
Rather than waiting for
her to eat up that tasty honeysuckle then move from there into the
garden, I'm taking a proactive approach...let the goats eat the wild
greenery instead. The deer-browse spots are harder to access, so I'd
ignored them earlier in the season. But our girls obediently followed
me through the briars and along the steep slope to do their duty when
Now that the easy
honeysuckle is filling goat bellies, I'm hopeful the deer will move
along to easier pickings for the rest of the winter. Fingers crossed
she'll do so before she learns about the tasty greenery still existing
in the garden proper....
Got enough lumber today to
finish the upcoming elevated day bed storage unit.
With my strength
rebounding to near-normal levels, I decided to embark on one of the big
garden projects that has been lingering on my to-do list for six months
--- moving the blueberries.
blueberry patch is
located quite a distance uphill from the trailer, but that was the only
spot where I could fit so many plants. Unfortunately, all
of the rabbiteyes died back during a particularly cold
winter, so I was left with three northern highbush blueberries plus two
gooseberry bushes spread out across a rather tremendous patch. The
result was a weed epidemic when I didn't have the energy to keep track
of a large area, only a very small percentage of which was actually
Rather than filling in
the gaps, I decided to contract our garden back closer to our trailer.
So I wheeled six barrows of acidified topsoil down to make a spot for
the blueberries, then dug everyone up and moved them in.
The transplants will
likely sulk through 2017. But I have a feeling we'll actually end up
with a lot more fruit soon after due to the sunnier location and the
dramatically higher likelihood they'll be weeded and mulched. Plus,
with only a few steps between door and berries, we're far more likely
to enjoy small harvests rather than leaving them for the birds.
Decided to use Anna's
stunning photo of a common green darner dragonfly to hide the
electrical wires needed for the light on the new aquaponics unit.
Our AquaSprouts premade aquaponic kit
came in the mail before we made it to the big city to buy an aquarium.
So we put together as much as we could
and are now in a holding pattern until the weekend.
While waiting, I figured
I'd dig some greenery out of the garden to fill the grow bed. Herbs are
a good fit for aquarium-size aquaponics setups because they handle low
light and nutrients while producing a crop that seems much larger than
it is --- a spring of fresh green onions goes a long way in sprucing up
an ordinary winter meal. To that end, I'll be transplanting celery,
chives, thyme, and Egyptian onions and will soon start some basil from
seed to round out the potential crop.
Here's one last
shot...just because I like seeing Mark backlit as he puts the finishing
touches on the grow bed. Next up --- getting the water flowing!
We got the last component to
the aquaponic system today.
The ten gallon glass aquarium
was 14 dollars.
A lot of the garden went
to weeds this past fall while I was doing the bare minimum required to
get by. So I didn't plant anything in our cold frame...although self-seeded
arugula filled nearly half the space.
With the lettuce under
our quick hoop starting to be damaged by winter cold, though, I figured
it was time to see if I could get some midwinter lettuce going in the
slightly warmer space under glass. Perhaps the cold frame will serve us
a salad by Groundhog's Day?
Putting together a plywood
rectangle with a 2x4 frame for the elevated bed unit.