Tuesday, July 22, 2008

What to do About Bob?

That is the question. You see, Bob has some issues with social skills. Or the lack thereof. He's a friendly boy. He loves to sit in my lap and be petted. He's better behaved than my dogs. Certainly better than the cat.

He's a good enough looking fella, but he's not popular with the ladies. Presumably due to his um, how should I say this, um, approach? Yeah approach. You see, Bob's pretty clumsy. And well, he's young. And well, no one took all the boys in one room and the girls in the other and explained stuff. Stuff like, uh, what goes where and all that. So the poor boy is, uh, stumbling his way through it so to speak. And I must say doing it very, very badly.

So as you can imagine, the girls tend to react not so receptively. Which makes Hermie the Love Chicken angry. Because Hermie the Love Chicken is the all powerful protector of the flock, and nobody messes with his girls. So Hermie the Love Chicken doesn't care much for Bob either.

Which leaves only The Stew Brothers. When Bob was placed in the pen with The Stew Brothers it didn't last long. I don't know for sure which unwritten code of social chicken conduct Bob violated, but the feather's were flying and Bob's knees were nearly scratching his chin trying to get away from those guys. He ended up landing in the corner where he found a hole and buried his head. I don't think he planned to ever come out so I went in and got him.

I asked Blackbeard if Bob could stay with him and learn some pointers, but he said he's too busy taking care of his wenches and fighting off ol' Jack. He didn't think there was much hope for Bob anyway.

So we had to put together a place for Bob to live. A private bachelor pad. Where he can sit around and scratch himself or whatever unnoticed. Maybe once Bob matures a little more he can be reintroduced to society. If not, I may have to arrange conjugal visits. That is assuming he ever figures out what goes where. Anyone have a pamphlet I could slip under his cage?

Monday, July 21, 2008

So The Sky Really IS Falling

Five whole days without a complete deluge spurred us into action. We started construction on the East Wing of the "Holiday Inn for chickens" as my Aunt described it. The engineer quickly dug the holes for the posts and while the ground was still wet at least the holes didn't immediately fill with water. A significant improvement over last time.

That center section right in front of the south side of the coop below will be fenced as well. That's the isolation unit. Rooster Bob's already taken up residence there 'cause he has poor social skills. More on that later. But this gives you an idea what the "chicken compound" will look like. The original idea was to have chickens on one side, garden on the other and then rotate each season. It's starting to look like we may have chickens on both sides if they don't start getting along a little better.

I started priming the posts until it got too hot and the bugs started eating me alive. I made sure the birds had plenty of nice cool water and then proceeded to sit on my bum inside the nice air conditioned house. A pop up thunderstorm came rolling in so fast I didn't have time to chase all the chickens inside the coop, but figured they were surely smart enough to get out of the rain.

Evidently chickens are not smart enough to get out of the rain. So when the quarter size hail started coming down and I was watching the little idiots just stand there, I was just a little excited. Not enough to go running out there mind you, but enough to pace back and forth fraught with worry. Dumb birds! Why would they just stand out there?

Luckily for us the netting we installed on on top of the run to keep them in and predators out also prevented the hail from falling on them. It just bounced right off. It probably saved their lives. So we just ended up with soggy birds who seemed oblivious to their near death experience and a chicken momma who may have to take up drinking.

"What's your problem, Lady?"

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Taste of Summer

After spending all spring and most of the summer carefully tending the garden, it's finally time to begin the long, arduous task of raking in the harvest.

Okay, okay, so I threw a few tomato plants in the ground this spring and haven't looked back at 'em since. It's been raining the whole time, so I didn't even water them. Not once. And yeah, maybe there aren't enough to break out the canning equipment yet. But we did get to each have one on our salad tonight. I even sliced mine to prolong the joy of it.

Aren't they cute? I love grape tomatoes. My Bush Celebrity tomatoes look like they'll be the winner of the season. I have a nice healthy looking plant with loads of tomatoes. The Early Girl variety didn't do so well, only two tomatoes there. The Big Boys aren't very big yet, but I put those out late. I also put out both a red and green bell pepper and they are the same size as the day I planted them. Can't say I'm to happy about that, I really wanted peppers. The cherry tomatoes are plugging along, but look like they'll be late coming on.

My parents sweet corn should be ready sometime this week. They plant enough to feed a small army so I'm thinking I might get an ear or two. But the number one taste of summer for me is the cucumber. I picked some up at the farmers market and made some old fashioned cucumber salad. This to me screams summertime. Try it. You'll like it.

Old-Fashioned Cucumber Salad

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup vinegar
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 large cucumbers, peeled, thinly sliced
salt and pepper, to taste

Mix water, sugar and vinegar together until dissolved. Add onions and cucumbers. Salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate for three hours before serving.

When the onions and cucumbers are gone you can save the juice in the fridge and add more cucumbers and onions to it.

Friday, July 18, 2008

He's a Keeper

Blackbeard, the head honcho of Dad's chickens, was offended by my statements about how he treats One-Eyed Calico Jack. He thinks I portrayed him in a bad light. That I made him out to be some evil sort that only wanted to harm Jack. He said he wants equal opportunity air time.

In Blackbeard's defense, he is a rooster's rooster, a real ladies man. He would defend The Wenches to the death against any predator, which just happens to include Jack in his mind. He's a great provider too. When the treats are served he'll pick up the bread crumbs and pass them to the ladies, not even keeping any for himself. Isn't that sweet? He's even braved his life for them by approaching me and plucking the bread from my outstretched hand. And I tell ya, it took all the nerve that boy could muster for that gallant effort.

But I think the thing that is the biggest testament to his character is the nest fluffing. When one of the ladies starts her "I need to lay an egg NOW" cackling, Blackbeard enters to coop to secure the perimeter and then fluffs her nest! And continues to fluff until she's completely satisfied. Then he stands guard, providing sweet words of encouragement. I can only assume the conversation afterwords must be praise for a job well done. Can you imagine? What a great guy! I mean really, when was the last time someone fluffed your nest?

So, as you can see, Blackbeard's not so bad. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say he's a real catch!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

This Little Piggy Went to Market

We bought a pig. I've never seen the pig. I could have if I wanted to. The folks we bought it from just live around the corner. (Of course, just around the corner means several miles away out here.) But I decided I didn't want to see the pig. So I don't have to look it in the eye. Once I look 'em in the eye, they tend to become lifetime residents here. I didn't want to look it in the eye because today our little piggy went to the meat processor. He'll be delivered to us in nice neat little freezer packages.

The Stew Brothers (the roosters formerly known as Socrates, Hawkeye Jr. and Zorro) are a whole different matter though. They've bitten me enough times now that I gladly separated them into their own little pen and declared it Death Row. Part of raising any kind of livestock is being able to deal with the not so fun part of the job. The reason I chose the breeds that I did was for them to be dual purpose. Meaning they could provide both eggs or meat. So we've been doing research. I really should have paid more attention to what my Dad was doing when I was a kid, but I stayed as FAR away from the whole chicken plucking process as I possibly could. Because I had looked in their eyes. I still don't believe I can do the deed, but the engineer thinks he might be able to give it a go. Worse comes to worse, if we chicken out we can beg Aunt Martha to come help us. I believe Aunt Martha's wrangled a rooster or two in her day.

So now on our quest to eat locally all we really need is a cow. I can hear 'em. So maybe I'll just wander around the neighborhood knocking on doors asking if their cows are for sale. Or maybe I'll head out to the fair this weekend and ask around. There are cows everywhere around here, surely someone will want to sell me one. I just have to remember not to look it in the eye.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

You Don't Know Jack...

So I'll tell you about him. He's a wayward sort. The poor bugger. He spends half his day turning around. So he can see. Because he's only got one eye. Hence the name, One-eyed Calico Jack.

The other half of his day he lays in wait. Waiting for Blackbeard to allow him to eat. Or drink. And old Jack's always waiting for a chance to cavort with the wenches if ya know what I mean. But Blackbeard doesn't allow this. They're definitely Blackbeard's girls. Jack can only watch them wistfully, from a distance.

If Blackbeard is looking, Jack suddenly appears to be the casual observer minding his own business. Here he's inspecting the coop for structural integrity. With is bad eye no doubt.

It's a tough life Jack lives, with all the spinning around and waiting. But before we all go feeling too terribly sorry for him we should consider this...

notice any family resemblance in this Scallywag?

Blackbeard has to go to sleep sooner or later.

Reporting Live From the Rain Forest


This isn't the rain forest?

Are you sure? It certainly looks like the rain forest. There are all sorts of weird looking fungi. Some that look like little drink umbrellas. There are plants the size of small residential homes. Earthworms the size of snakes. And the bugs, oh the bugs!

No rain forest in the Midwest, huh?

Indianapolis is reporting that during a normal year they receive 22 inches of rain. They've already surpassed 35 inches of rain so far this year. We've had WAY more rain than Indianapolis. The ground is so wet I can't put clothes on the clothesline or else the posts start pulling inward and the weight of the clothes will bring the whole thing down.

No rain forest? Well then we must be in Seattle.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Way It Should Be

The town we live near is so small it's only three blocks long. In one of the old commercial buildings that line the street sits my favorite antique shop. The lower floors are well organized and nicely displayed. The upstairs has a bunch of stuff just piled everywhere. I think the hunt is part of why I like it so much.

This isn't a high traffic antique store, but there's always something new. I found this scrappy 1800s hand pieced quilt top yesterday. It's in remarkable condition and you wouldn't even believe how little I paid for it. I have big plans to finish it. By hand. You should check back in a couple of years and see if I have it done.

But it's not the quilt that I wanted to tell you about. Nope. It's the proprietor of that fine shop. Lenard is in his nineties but he runs a tight ship. He can and will tell you every thing you ever wanted to know about any piece in the store and a lot more you could have lived without. He can also tell you more than you wanted to know about this small town and all those living near it. He's a real character.

Lenard expects you to bargain with him. He'll ask you what the price is, his eyes aren't what they used to be. You tell him and then he tells you what he'll take for it. If that's acceptable to you he then hands you the receipt book so you can write your own receipt. Then if you can't figure out the tax, he'll hand you a calculator. All the while bending your ear with some tall tale. If you pay in cash and need change you'd best not be in a hurry. I usually just tell him to keep the change.

After living in a city for a few years where people barely make eye contact, it's nice to come back to small town life. If all the world could be a small town, it would be a better place.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Mutiny on the Prairie

It started out like any other day, this Forth of July did. Aye, but little be it known the adventures that awaited us. If you've been hanging out around here for a while you know the story about my Dad's chickens. And how we got started on this whole chicken escapade to begin with. If not you need to go read about it here.

Well, with the hen house finally finished I decided earlier in the week it was time to contact my Aunt and Uncle and arrange to pick up the remaining chickens. I didn't know how many they had, what breeds they were or whether they were hens or roosters. I just knew that they were Dad's chickens or at least the descendants of his birds.

We arrived home late Thursday night to a message on the machine from my Uncle saying they had the chickens ready to go. He had "five big ones and four little ones". I started to worry that I might not have enough room for them all, but we took off Friday morning to go fetch them.

My other Aunt had loaned us an antique chicken crate to carry them home in and my Uncle had the birds packed up and ready to go by the time we arrived. Then he also had a cardboard box with SIX not four baby chicks in it. I was shocked, I had thought he was talking about the bird's size when he said "little" not babies! We loaded them up babies and all and headed home. This is where the fun began.

It seems these are not your average domestic chickens. Nope, these are wild, free-range rapscallions. They're bantams, which for those readers not familiar are miniature chickens. Miniature chickens that can fly WAY better than regular chickens. When we opened that crate they came shooting out like fireworks! We had to take cover outside the pen leaving the crate and whatever else got in our way behind. After a few minutes, once my heart was no longer pounding out of my chest, I decided to go back in and get it. This is when I realized these chickens have some cunning street smarts. You leave a tiny little gap in the temporary fencing and they WILL find it and fly out. Luckily they only flew out into the other part of the run. The engineer tried to catch one and it few out of THAT pen into another one.

Somewhere around this time I'd gone into the house for body armor and while trying to exit the building the dogs, who had been watching the fiasco from the back porch, knocked me to the ground and escaped. There were birds panicking, dogs barking and jumping, feathers flying, fur raised and not a leash to be found. Finally, I managed to dig one out of the bottom of the kid's outdoor toy box, got the big dog and dragged him back to the house and locked him in the pantry while the engineer wrangled the little dog.

The mutiny continued for a time. Those little suckers are FAST. In an odd twist of luck the blimey buccaneers eventually flew back where they belonged. We reinforced that temporary fence so fast it would have made your head spin had you been here. It now resembles a stockade. Neither of us are going back in until they run completely out of food and water.

Meet Blackbeard,
One-eyed Calico Jack (with his good eye showing)

The Wenches
and the Scallywags.

The scallywags are indoors in a brooder where I hope to teach them some more refined chicken behavior than their parents can provide. Chicken charm school if you will. Today the pirates are settling down a little and accepting their sentence to the brig. I think they're trying to bribe their way out though. They left us the first little blue egg. Yes, blue. They're Easter Eggers!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Edible Landscaping

I tell ya, times are tough here on the old farmstead. I'm forced to make my own soap and forage for berries for crying out loud. Okay, I'm not forced. I'm doing it willingly. My urban friends look at me like I've plum lost my mind. But they didn't get a taste of that cobbler! I've managed to harvest a little over twelve cups of black raspberries so far. I've made the cobbler to die for, eight half pints of jam and the most amazing ice cream topping you can imagine.

Granted I wasn't too keen on venturing out into the woods to gather the berries at first. Out of genuine concern for the starving woodland creatures I left a lot of berries out there where I would have had to wade into the brush too far. That's until I tasted the cobbler. The next day I was out there loudly announcing "Oh merry woodland creatures, I've come to take your berries." On day three of berry picking we ran across this.

It's the fruit of the Red Mulberry tree. After looking it up it seems it's edible. Quite tasty in fact. I've decided to leave these for the merry woodland creatures for two reasons.

A. I've never heard of anyone around here eating mulberry pie.
B. I can't afford the hospital bills that would soon follow my foray up the ladder.

Of course I'd never heard of paw paws before we moved here either. But I made a pie last year. I think I"ll try something new with them this year. Not sure what yet.

The prehistoric apple tree in the back yard is overwhelmed with fruit this year. I'd say this is the eating apple of choice. Probably an old fashioned version of the golden delicious variety. Too bad it's 40 foot tall and my ladder is only ten. The chickens seem to like the ones that fall.

There's also the baking apple. Not much of this tree left after being here a million years then getting struck by lightning. I'm going to attempt to make a cutting of both apple trees and plant them somewhere. Won't provide me with any fruit in my lifetime, but maybe a future generation someday.

The cherry trees really performed this year. Too bad I don't like cherries. The birds did an amazing job of picking them. If I could only get them to then drop them in a little basket. Maybe next year.

But it's the persimmon trees that will someday drive me to drink. I really want to harvest them, but they're not even remotely convenient. And you have to wait until the first frost before they're ripe. Who the heck wants to be out in the cold perched precariously at the top of a frost laden ladder picking persimmons? I'd have to say this was not one of Mother Nature's finer moments.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Flashing Lights and a Babbling Brook

Oh, wait. No. That's not a brook. It's not a spring. It's the stinkin' outdoor hydrant we just paid the plumber a small fortune to install last Friday. The same plumber that destroyed our backyard. Since he already had everything torn up back there we decided to go ahead and add an outdoor hydrant while we were at it to supply the old barn and a planned orchard. It's been leaking since Friday. I don't think he enjoyed coming back today and digging up all that mud to fix it.

While we had everything torn up, and had an electrician out here for the pressure tank project anyway, we had him install a dawn to dusk security light out on the peak of the garage. You wouldn't believe how dark it gets out here in the boonies. Coming home after dark is an adventure to get from the car to the porch. But instead of dawn 'til dusk, this one just comes on whenever it darn well pleases. On for a while. Off for a while. No real rhyme or reason. The electrician showed up today to fix it. It's still not working. He'll be back again next week to replace it.

This my friends is why we are Do-It-Yourselfers. And this is why we will be working on this old place for the rest of our lives. Thinking we could hire someone to come in and just whip these little projects out really doesn't pay. I had much more important things to do today. Like picking berries to make my first ever batch of black raspberry jam.

It's a lot of work, but this fabulous homemade jam slathered on a toasted piece of homemade bread on a beautiful day like today can actually make you not care about all that other stuff.

Tag, You're It!

Jayne tagged me! I'll play along.

“The rules of the game get posted at the beginning. Each player answers the questions about themselves. At the end of the post, the player then tags 5 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know they’ve been tagged. Let the person who tagged you know when you’ve posted your answer.”

1) What were you doing 5 years ago? Living in the city, working as a Telecommunications Manager for one of the big-three auto makers. See, I told you I wasn't always a tree-huggin, chicken raisin', homesteading freak.

2) What are 5 things on your to-do list for today? Laundry, pick berries, make jam, eat berries and jam on toast, chase chickens.

3) What are 5 snacks you enjoy? Chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate and cocoa.

4) What are five things you would do if you were a billionaire? Buy an island. Move to it. Declare it my own country. Make the worlds largest No Trespassing sign. And buy some more chickens.

5) What are five jobs you’ve had? Accounting Clerk, Business Relations Manager, Politician, Project Manager, Telecommunications Manager.

I am tagging:
Renee at Hoosier Homeschoolers
Loren at All I Need Is A Pear Tree
Suzanne at Chickens In The Road
Jennifer at Tiny Old House
Laurie at Life-Force Vibrations