Ruffled Feathers and Spilled Milk

Farming with ducks and dairy goats, chickens and children.

Wait for it. Wait for it….

Posted on | March 18, 2015 | No Comments

I can’t wait any longer.  I really can’t.  Even though the 15 day forecast (Hah! Like they can predict the weather 15 days in advance!) is still calling for nights in the 30’s.  Even worse, a lot of the days are predicted to be cloudy or overcast.  Which means the passive solar heat in my greenhouse will be more passive and less heat.  But it’s the end of March!  End of March!  The summer transplants need 6 weeks of growing before they are set out in the garden.  Around here I can usually plant tomato, pepper, cucumber, eggplant, and squash seeds in the greenhouse in mid-February and put my plants in the garden at the end of March with a floating row cover to protect against a light frost.  But it’s already end of March!!  Did I mention end of March?!

None of the preferred lunar calendar planting days in March match up with planting weather.  The Farmers Almanac calls for continued cool and rain throughout March.  I should wait for April.  I cannot wait for April.  I cannot.

I tried to satisfy my planting urges by pruning the collards and the brussels sprouts.  I should pull up the brussels sprouts because the remaining sprouts have gotten moldy or leafy and conventional wisdom says the plants won’t regrow fresh sprouts if trimmed back to the main stem.  However, many of the plants became top heavy, leaned onto their sides, and wherever the sprouts touched the ground, they grew roots, and appear to be growing new plants.  Who am I to mess with a plant trying to defy conventional wisdom?

So I spent some time pulling off yellowed or moldy leaves and covering the remaining horizontal plants with sections of dirt to encourage rooting and divide them into separate offshoots.  I also broke some of the leafy sprouts off the main stem and planted them in the garden compost to see if they would root on their own.  I realize brussels sprout plants can be grown if a sprout is placed in water, allowed to root, and then transplanted.  These people are doing it.

I say dirt and rain in the garden are just as good as a windowsill of sprouts sitting in water bottles.  And easier considering brussels sprouts planted in the spring usually bolt before harvest in my climate.  Brussels sprouts make a better fall crop.  I don’t want sprouts on my windowsill for 6 weeks just so they can go in the garden, bolt, and attract cabbage moths before harvest.  But I don’t mind tucking them into the soil and seeing what happens.

I went ahead and started on the spring crops.  They can handle wet, cool temperatures.  I planted 2 types of lettuce by seed and 2 types of lettuce transplants.  Plus 2 rows of radishes.

Then I planted a long row of snap peas.  A very long row.

I weeded last year’s asparagus beds and then extended the bed with another 24 asparagus plants.  In order to kill time I actually dug a trough, filled it with compost, and gave the roots room to expand.  I know, desperate ridiculous fancy, right?

I did not make eye contact with the greenhouse as I walked up and down the driveway to the garden.  Wait, I told myself.  Wait.

The next day I put in the onions and potatoes.  I even mulched them with straw, which is not something I usually do until weeds start pushing up.

I planted beets, swiss chard, and kale.  I even meticulously planted carrot seeds into pots, taking the time to space out the teeny tiny seeds instead of just oversowing and pulling out extra seedlings later.  Wait, I said to myself.  Wait.

I weeded the herb beds and chopped back the oregano, thyme, and lemon balm.

I carried down extra wheel barrows of compost and let them just sit in the garden for later.  I pulled apart the decrepit chicken tractor and hauled it to the dump.  The kids helped me with that which added an extra 15 minutes of complaining and whining.  All that’s left of the chicken tractor now is a small portion of the roof to hold rocks as I find them.  Plus the feed can used to store shade cloth and floating row covers.

In an act of sheer time-killing desperation I got out the lawnmower and mowed the random tufts of rye grass between the rows.  When the neighbor heard the lawnmower running in March, he came out on his porch and looked at me.  He didn’t ask any questions.  The neighbors gave up asking questions a long time ago.

Wait, I thought over the roar of the mower.  Wait.  I did not look at the greenhouse as I returned the mower to the shed.

But I could feel it looking at me.

Having successfully passed my days off without sowing delicate heat-seeking summer seeds in cool conditions,  I went to my real job.  And spent my free time looking at dirty websites.  Very dirty websites.

Heating the seed trays with pallets over decomposing manure.  Eh.  Dirty and smelly.


Heating a greenhouse with a rocket stove made from pipes, bricks, and mortar.  Eh.  Dirty and sticky.

rocket stove

Heating a greenhouse with chickens.  Eh.  Dirty and crowded.

Wait a minute….hold on.  Aha!  Bless you internet.  These people are trying to warm themselves, not their greenhouses.  But if this contraption heats a small room it should do just fine for a greenhouse.


Thanks to a stockpile of clay pots, plus some tin pans from the dollar store, and tea candles in the cabinet I had my first prototypes up and running in a few minutes.  And they really did produce a fair amount of heat.  At least enough heat to keep the seed trays warm if I put 3 heaters on each side of the greenhouse, underneath the seedling trays, and lit them each night.

The only downfall was my cheap tea lights sputtered out in an hour.  Good thing amazon had 7 hour tea lights up for sale and Pretty had been patiently waiting to place a T-shirt order.  Around here the amazon cart sits quietly until we have enough items to get free shipping.  Because we’re cheap like that.  And if it sits long enough, we might even realize we didn’t need really it to begin with.  But Pretty lucked out.  I needed candles and she got some t-shirts.

While waiting for the tea lights, I killed some time in the barnyard.  Vanessa got a rather personal trim which will help to keep goat hairs out of the milk.  All the bucks got a hoof trim and sprinkle of DE.  Jeremy, our only buckling, got disbudded.

The bucks’ horn development is always ahead of the does, so we won’t have to do Carla or Tessa for another week or so.  This was Shana’s first year at disbudding and she did a great job.  She didn’t even scream.  Which I used to think was a prerequisite to pinning down a cute baby goat and pressing a hot iron into his skull amidst the smell of burning hair and billowing smoke.  But she didn’t scream.

Do not mess with that girl.  Do not.

I also started preparing for the big surprise.  Which will include a big reveal.  Which I cannot say anything more about.  But you’ll be the first to know.  As soon as I know….

Then I bleached out all the planting trays.

And I mean all the planting trays.

Because by the time I get back from celebrating my birthday at the beach, the candles should be here.  And those seeds are getting started.  Oh, yes, they are.

I’m comin’ for you, greenhouse.  The wait is almost over….

Rock Bottom.

Posted on | February 28, 2015 | 2 Comments

Well, the massive forced housecleaning killed a day.  And put an end to the sibling bickering for 8 hours.  Because nothing unites children like a common enemy: Mom.  Which was fine.  Since I ended up with clean windows and sills, sparkling bathrooms, fresh sheets on every bed in the house, and every last picture frame and knick knack dusted.  I’m not saying that I didn’t have to send them back 3 4 8 a few times to do the job right.  Or that I didn’t have to go behind them and touch up some of it.  But once the chores were finished, there was blessed quiet for the rest of the day.  Amen.

Then the snow arrived and sibling rivalry was left behind in the excitement, alliances were again forged in the creative process, friendships rekindled over the snow fire pit.  But with the power out, the wet laundry piled up, slushy mud spread across the floors, dirty dishes filled the sink, and electronic appliances lost their charge.  The generator roared into life and The Other Half alternated between yelling at us for opening the fridge door (letting the cold out) and yelling at us for opening the front door without immediately closing it behind us (letting the cold in).  I made lots of loud heavy sighs as wet boots traipsed through the family room and loud angry tsk tsk’s whenever I found a melted pile of muddy water upstairs in the den or on the staircase.

Roads were snowy, then cleared, then icy, then cleared, then snow was forecast again.  And school was delayed.  Then canceled.  Then make-up days were scheduled.  Then canceled.

Oh mah gawd. Read more


Posted on | February 27, 2015 | 3 Comments

I love the big barn.  Unlike most barns, it originally housed up to 300 ducks at a time.  So it was built with a wooden frame and only enclosed with hardware cloth.  Ducks are messy and smelly and the best way to keep their living conditions sanitary is to allow lots of sunlight and fresh air.

Ducklings returning to the barn, wet and dirty from a swim in the pond

Even then it’s a challenge.

Ducks "gargle" with their food in their water trough. Enough said.

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According To Plan.

Posted on | February 21, 2015 | 3 Comments

The Great Backyard Bird Count was a bust.  Sure, the blue jay arrived to hit up the the peanuts.

But most of the little birds were absent because a mockingbird arrived, too.  And that mockingbird spent all his time guarding the feeders, swooping on any bird that attempted to get to the seed.

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Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?

Posted on | February 5, 2015 | 3 Comments

Well, I’m not really sure.

Oh, the usual suspects are here.  Cardinals, sparrows,  juncos, titmouse (Titmouses? Titmice?  Why are tits even involved in this bird’s name?), finches, chickadees, wrens, and mourning doves.

We have several types of woodpeckers that visit our area.  We see a giant pileated woodpecker in the woods but never eating birdseed or suet.

Adult male

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Posted on | February 1, 2015 | 5 Comments

So I was at the local elementary school for Middle’s basketball practice.  When I went to the use the bathroom I discovered that kids are still writing on the bathroom stall doors.  Take that, social media!  The pen is still mightier than the smartphone.

But even more enjoyable than the triumph of old school graffiti over cyber-insults was the content of the comment:

“Ms. J—– is stuped!”

I laughed out loud.  Ms. J—– was probably making some poor kid double up on her spelling words.  Obviously, for good reason.

Although I did consider some kid testing out her skills of ironic humor.  Kids are more sophisticated nowadays.  Don’t think “Ms. J—– is stuped” qualifies as irony?  Well, The Oatmeal thinks it does, so there.

But the following week I was back at the elementary school for another occasion.  And I realized those words might have been written for an entirely different reason. Read more

I’m Cold.

Posted on | January 30, 2015 | 3 Comments

Winter arrived and it got cold.  Because that’s how that works.  I realize many of you live in areas of the country with much colder winter temperatures than we have here.  But I’ve heard that living in the South makes our blood thinner, so that we are more susceptible to cold.  I’ve also heard that we are just a bunch of weenies.  Hard to say for sure, but since this winter the schools decided to open 2 hours late due to temperatures in the 20’s it might be the latter.  In our defense, there was a wind chill.  Wind chill means it feels colder than it actually is because we are too inexperienced to cover the exposed surfaces of our skin.  I think.  Probably.  Maybe.

Luckily, we replaced our old leaky, broken, wood stove in November so we were prepared for the 20 degree nights.  Sort of.

The old wood stove was made of cast iron, which heated the house through radiant heat.  I mean, I didn’t know it was called radiant heat.  That was something I probably knew in fourth grade but forgot because I had to make room in my brain for the difference between igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic rock.  Which I forgot in order to learn the roles of apical bud, petiole, and node.  Which I forgot in order to understand the life cycle of a frog.  Which I still remember because the kids raise tadpoles on the deck almost very summer.  Sometimes the tadpoles grow up and hop out and sometimes the birds notice the aquarium and help themselves to a froglet buffet.

Anyway. Read more


Posted on | January 26, 2015 | 1 Comment

It’s still raining.  Which is better than all the snow they are forecasting for up north.  So I won’t complain.  Especially since The Other Half and Middle scrubbed the bathrooms this weekend, leaving me with just the usual vacuum and mop for today.  Obviously I won’t get to cutting back the asparagus ferns, weeding the creeping phlox, or cleaning under Harvey’s bunny cage on the deck.  Not in the pouring rain.  Good thing my house is loaded with unfinished projects.

I had 2 bags of carded fleece that I was saving to make these felted owls from Woolbuddy. Although I want to make mine with mostly natural colors and just a few bright touches.

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Three Sunny Days.

Posted on | January 23, 2015 | 4 Comments

Day One:  Are You Kidding Me?

I was shocked when I saw the sun.

But I wasn’t going to stand around waiting for it to disappear.  As soon as the morning cleaning was done, I hit the garden.  For weeks I haven’t made it to garden before dark.  Instead I show up with a flashlight, rummaging under the frost covers for kale, spinach, green onions, broccoli, or chard.  You know, all the ingredients I meant to pick before the sun set and before I started making dinner, but that I forgot until the olive oil was already sizzling in the pan, the soup was simmering and needed a bit of green to freshen it up, or I needed a side dish that didn’t come out of a box with a packet of powdered cheese.  Blindly cutting greens in the freezing dark is not really so bad.  Touching the slugs that you can’t see in the dark is bad.  Very bad. Read more

Fan Club.

Posted on | January 17, 2015 | 6 Comments

Look who stopped by.

That’s right.  One of my good friends left her 3 year old son, Luke, with me while she took care of some business in town.  Luckily, I still have one closet shelf and one drawer filled with toys for the Under 5 crowd.  The pickings were slim but even though the Rescue Heroes only got a quizzical glance, Thomas the Tank Engine and his cronies were instantly recognized.

“Got more Thomas?” Luke asked sweetly, pulling 3 little engines from the drawer.

I refrained from mentioning how the insipid Thomas the Tank Engine videos made me want to drive off a bridge and the merchandising made me want to either burn down the Mattel executive offices or just fill their every inch of workable space with expensive train tables covered with non-interchangeable track systems.

“No, honey, just those ones,” I said.  We burned the rest of them at the stake. Read more

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