So much for quiet!

Winters are usually a very quiet time on the farm. Not this one, though! We have had much happen since our vacation after Yule. We got a new rabbit, a New Zealand Red, laying the foundation for a new breeding program we have in the works. She is a sweet girl with extra soft fur. We have planned the garden extensively (which will be in another post), and gotten much done in the way of general maintenance.

This week in particular saw a thaw after weeks of negative temperatures. We actually temperatures reach 63*F at one point, allowing everything to melt into thick mud and deep puddles. My eternally-wet back lawn had a few inches of water across most of it. I have mentioned this before, but we often do not realize what an influence we humans have on the earth. The land my suburb is on was once a swampy wetland. When we get deep thaws and heavy rains, the lay of the land still dictates that the water run here, where our houses and lawns are. We have terraformed the land to try to prevent this, to dry the land out and build our box-houses, but nature does not listen. This is where the water goes, and where it tries to stop, just short of actually making it to our sewer grates, sitting thick upon the clay pack in our back lawns. Though I have desperately tried to manage it, there’s not very much to be done. Fighting mother nature is an endless task, and one that as a species we can hardly avoid any more. I live in this box, this is the land I have available to work.

So during the thaw we took the time to clean the animal pens. All of them. The coop, the outside and inside rabbit cages, and the pen that our “chicks” live in. They are adults at this point in truth, and we moved the ladies out with the flock. The boys will stay in and feed a bit longer before becoming soups. One in particular is large and pushy. He will make a good roast I believe.

We also bred some rabbits. Our bucks have been inactive lately, and our does somewhat unwilling. It is a challenge getting rabbits to breed sometimes. The boys try, the ladies lift, but I am not seeing consistent enough falls. I am concerned and digging into why.

And our bees are alive! They did a lot of removing corpses during the brief thaw. There were a LOT of dead bees. I cracked them open long enough to try to give them some extra food in the form of a candy board but my spray bottle stopped functioning. We got the board in, but all three of us got stung for our efforts. Dan is currently with a friend in an urgent care facility getting his treated. He got stung between the thumb and forefinger and his whole hand swelled up. The other stings were just tiny, like a bug bite, and swelled up to the size of a quarter, or even a half-dollar, but nothing to be afraid of. I hope he isn’t developing a bad allergy to bees. That happens sometimes to bee keepers who are exposed to too much bee proteins, but no venom. This is only his third sting in his life, but his father kept bees for years. I worry.

Still, despite that setback our compost pile grew substantially and the rabbits now sit in clean cages. And the bees were cared for. They have a better shot of making it through the winter now.

We also processed several too-old kits we kept around because of how busy we were in December and how cold it was in the first half of January. We now have rabbit in the freezer for the first time in a couple months, an unusual scenario. We pieced them out this time, pulling off legs, loins, backstraps, etc, and wrapping them then freezing them. All that’s left after this is a spine and rib cage with scraps and bits on it.

We took those bits and popped them in a pot with lots of water and a single teaspoon of salt, boiling them for hours and hours. At the end of it all we had some of the most intensely flavored stock I have ever had, and a meat and bone meal for the chickens… A warm high-protein snack that’s good for the middle of winter. The chickens had a blast during the thaw, especially with their new snacks.

Now we’re deep in an ice storm, but everyone is cozy and warm in their freshly cleaned homes, bellies full of good, fresh food. It’s been good work on the livestock front this week.

Later I will update you about the garden plans for spring. Much work has been done there as well!

Stay safe in the storms this week!

A Yule Prep Poem

Twas the week before Yule and all through the house
Every creature was stirring, even in the henhouse.
The stocking were hung o’er the chimney with care
In hopes they’d look nice when the guests were all there.

Only the dogs were nestled snug in their beds
While visions of raccoons danced in their heads
While Dan shook rugs outside with a flap,
We were all super busy, no time for a nap!

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
The dogs ran to the window to see what was the matter.
Scrambling about they barked and they bayed,
It was just UPS with stuff for which we had paid.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But the man who I had lived with all through the year!

Removing his coat, so lively and quick,
He took off his boots so the floor wouldn’t be slick.
The chores had built up, and home from work he had came,
He told me to list them all out by name.

“The bathroom. The hallways. The tables and kitchen. The basement, the couches, the windows and cookin’
From the floors and baseboards to the top of the walls. We have to clean it up, clean it up, clean it up, ALL!”

I was so happy to have help, I felt I could fly,
I was grateful for housemates who’d work while the moon’s in the sky.
So through some rooms of the house they flew,
cleaning the games shelf, and the basement too.

And with the spare time I was able to cook,
Following recipes from an old book.
The house would be full when the guests came around,
Some of them may even be from out of town.

We baked loaves of bread that were nearly a foot,
We swept out the fireplace of all it’s soot.
We did dishes and scrubbed despite our sore backs,
We tucked travel gear away into packs.

We had to be ready for the night of the faeries,
We even made pies, some out of berries.
We found some old things, lost arrows and bows,
It froze cold outside and continued to snow.

Despite all the work, we gritted our teeth,
We even found time to hang up the wreath!
We washed the dogs cause they were quite smelly,
And wrapped up our gifts, some jars full of jelly.

We tidied up games, put cards on the shelf,
I cooked us some dinner though I was tired, myself.
Laundry was done, and clothing stitched up with thread,
The fridge even got cleaned, though it was something to dread.

We spent days on it, it was tons of work.
And at times, though we acted like jerks,
We got it all done, as outside it froze.
By the end we ached from our head to our toes.

And even though it caused us to bristle,
We even made it outside to cut down dead thistles.
And finally we slept, our house shining and bright.
And we wished each other a happy Yule, and goodnight!

The garage; A fount of inspiration

It’s slowly getting cleaner. It can be hard to work in. The dust picks up with ease as the old hay gets moved around in the dry air. It gets into your airways and makes your mucus all kinds of interesting colors. Wearing a dust mask makes it hard to breathe while doing hard work and the combination of a mask and this heat can feel overwhelming. It’s a difficult choice to make.

The garage must be cleaned, largely because of the rats. They must, must, MUST be eliminated before winter. We’d prefer to eliminate them without poison but our options have been wearing slim. But we have one last plan for the elimination of the rats without poison. Through simple denial of resources, carefully laid traps, a clean open garage and some carefully timed dog releases we hope to see rapid results. We plan on putting our chicken and rabbit feed into large steel cans with a moisture absorber in the bottom. As the rats have been gnawing through our feed bags, this should keep them hungry. They have been drinking from a water jug that an isolated chicken inside a cage has been using. We will be returning the chicken to the flock shortly and will leave the water jug and even refill it… Surrounded by manual traps. As it goes dark we have learned the rats come out to play. We’ll be closing off the garage and setting the dogs out at night to hunt the rats while they feel safe and in the open. Our hope is to eliminate them swiftly. We have counted at least five. That means there are likely at least a dozen in the garage. We also know there are some nests outside. Those will be dug and removed as well to the best of our ability.

On Friday we will set off the bug bombs, in both the house and the garage, to eliminate the fleas. In addition to fleas we’ve battled several other kinds of bugs in our years here. House moths, biting black flies, cellar spiders, small ants, big ants, house centipedes and fruit flies to name a few. My hope is that by setting off the bug bombs we’ll defeat (or at least drastically reduce) them all with one blow. It seems like a good plan.

So the garage must be cleaned so that the bug bomb can reach everywhere possible. A layer of hay and dirt on the floor that must be cleaned later means a layer of compostable material that would be covered in an insecticide, and a floor that would be totally open for bugs to move across.

To that end I spent a chunk of the morning tidying a bit with Greg. but right as we started to get down to the heavy lifting he had to run to shower and then leave to work at his shop. I felt pretty morose for a while. It can be somewhat lonely feeling trying to homestead sometimes. I’m often left on my own to do things and I frequently just wish I had company.

Today especially I felt down about it. There were haybales that needed to be moved outside and wheelbarrows to cart around. I wanted Greg’s help with it, but to no avail. He had work to attend to and I was on my own. I moped about as I ate lunch. I was hoping one of my boys would be able to carry the heavy haybales outside for me. I felt so strangely sad and incapable of carrying them myself. I’ve been feeling this way a lot lately, as if all of the strength has been sapped out of me when faced with a task. Not just tasks with heavy lifting, something I have always been under confident about, but most any tasks that aren’t strict routine. I suspect it’s just that creeping, lingering depression that sneaks up every once in a while but I still felt pretty miserable as I ate lunch while watching a terrible series of nature documentaries.

After finishing my lunch and realizing how truly terrible the documentary I was watching was I realized that I was fairly unhappy sitting about doing nothing and that forcing myself to do work wasn’t going to make me feel any worse. I also gave myself a bit of mental pep talk. It’s not like I’d never carried a hay bale before. I hauled in 50lb bags of feed every time we went to the feed store and these were 50lb hay bales. It’s not as if I didn’t haul those very same hay bales into the garage myself when they were delivered, stacking them head-high. Of COURSE I was very capable of lifting those hay bales, and I really needed to just dig deep, find the grit in me and do it whether I liked it or not.

So I stepped forlornely into the garage and sized up the first haybale. I found the ropes and gave them a good tug to stand it on end. Then I bent my knees, wrapped my arms around the bale, and lifted. And I suddenly realized that hay bales are a lot lighter that I remembered them being. I got a surge of confidence as I carried out and stacked my last four hay bales outside. I then proceeded to tidy up several wheelbarrows of compostable litter (hay, old cardboard, etc) and remove some trash as well.

Some days I buy far too easily into the idea that I need other people to help me accomplish things, especially the men in my life, extra especially when it comes to laborious tasks. Today was a good day for me to find that grit in me again. Sometimes I need to remind myself that, regardless of the overwhelming message of society, I am hardly a waif just because I’ve got lady parts. I am 5’11” and have always been taller and broader in the shoulders than most of the men in my life. I am the one who started this, hauling buckets, throwing around hay baled, shoveling dirt and poop and slicing open animals. I’ve done every bit of it on my own at one point or another, often all at once. All because of my own convictions. I just need to be reminded sometimes to find those again.

I’m not there yet. This past year has led to some major blows in my sense of security and confidence. I’m not sure I’m secure enough to reach out into the ether and attempt to start fighting the dominant social structures that feed into that lack of confidence again yet. But think I can be secure enough to try to clean up my little corner of the world and make it a better, smoothly functioning place again.

Composition is Hard

I have a lot of things throughout the week I find myself wanting to write about but I never get around to doing so. Almost always this is because while I want to make updates and express my thoughts, the act of composing them into coherent posts is something I find challenging. I’m much more of a do-er and a talk-er than a writer. I always have this desire to bring my jumbled thoughts together into cohesive dissertations and highlight my life with lovely pictures at just the right times to emphasize what’s been happening in my days on my little farmy.

I wonder if I can just get away from that sometimes. I wonder if people would care or if it would motivate me to update things more frequently. I am considering a more regular format for my blog to simplify things. A format where I talk about my farmy, the progress and challenges of a short time period, and then put more personal notes and ponderings at the bottom. Then, once a month, I upload and post picture to the blog without any words at all.

This month has been tricky. We have managed to deter the garden pests only to be encountering the livestock ones. We lost a few birds to a metal grate that fell off of a window, some insufficiently secure broody pens, and some night-time marauders. But those issues were easily resolved and the birds replaced. A bigger problem is the rats.

Our garage has slowly devolved into severe disrepair over the years. Spiders have taken up every inch of it (and are now trying to spread into our house). A friend once brought me a small truckload of crumpled horse feed bags after I mentioned I was considering making feed bag totes, not realizing he’d brought me nothing but a cartload of trash that he expected me to store for future use. Cardboard boxes and packing materials of all kind just did not get taken care of and would be deposited into the garage unceremoniously, not even broken down. If it was my “farming stuff” and there was no immediately obvious location for it, people would just throw it into the garage without caring where it ended up (and I would wonder where it went!). Scrap wood, some with nails still sticking out, would fall from it’s location propped up against walls and take up residence on the floor behind cages where they were out-of-sight out-of-mind. And the hay bales have not been being used very quickly this year… I have a paranoia about how much I should/shouldn’t be using. I am not using nearly enough. Next year I need a stricter budget and schedule for hay use as I should be out right now (ordering fresh) and instead I have another 8 bales left. And as a result of the general neglect, the feed bags, the tall weeds we love to see the flowers on that feed local bees, the poorly maintained log piles, etc. we have developed a rat problem. A rat problem that turned 16 rabbit kits into 5 in two days without a shred of evidence and ate through 30lbs of wheat over 2-3 months, and may have nibbled holes into some parts of our garage and house. I do not feel like spending an extra $100 to feed that rats each year and need to cease the rampant destruction of my property.

So we are on a full offensive to destroy the rats. We tried traps for some time to no avail. We cannot poison them… It could kill our dogs or our chickens if either were to find a dead rat that was poisoned. But we have the dogs involved now. Remember waaay back when I was having a lot of trouble with Nukka¬†as she did her best to destroy every animal on the farm? That attitude has not gone away over the years, though it is now tempered greatly towards the chickens and rabbits. She now has a job, an important one on the homestead, a role I always hoped she’s someday grow into, as protector of the homestead. She’s been focusing on garden pests (specifically, baby groundhogs lately) but now she has a more important job; protecting the livestock.
Armed with vaccines, flea meds, sharp noses and sharper teeth, our hope is to drive the rats into the open where the dogs (ok, really, just Nukka) will ultimately kill them. We’ve been cleaning the garage for several hours every week, filling the trash and recycling bins with feed bags that became nesting material, and random farm things I’m uncovering that the rats have ripped apart. (All the while saying to myself “How did THAT get out here!? I know *I* didn’t throw these out here!”)

After driving them from the wood pile by tidying that location, we are now trying to drive them from the garage by tidying it as well. It’s much slower going. We’re only permitted so much trash space by our city in any given week. Right now we’re borrowing space in the garbage cans from next week to take care of this week’s cleaning. This is years of random buildup of stuff that just never gotten taken care of. The differences have been astonishing so far.

And so progress is being made. But it does seem sometimes that right as I get on-top of one problem, another one surfaces.

But at least the bees are doing well. We are feeding them and they are enjoying it. I hope the hive continues to grow. They’ll need all the workers they can get for when the Asters start to bloom and our lawns start to become covered in all kinds of bees for the fall nectar flows. They are the most docile bees I have ever met. I can handle the hive without gear if I take care and don’t do too much. I hope that doesn’t bode ill for their livability. Good luck, little bees! Keep on truckin’!