Monday, May 28, 2012

In the garden, guard down

Two of the raised beds in the vegetable garden have been completed.  Originally they were framed with 2x6 lumber.  My property, however, sits on a former wetland and while the ground has been drained, the water table remains very high.  Long time readers of this blog will know that I have had all sorts of water problems, months of flooded beds that turn to cement as their minerals stratify.  

So this year I resolved to add a second round of 2x6s in an effort to separate the planting level from the groundwater.  Have been having trouble with the garden tractor, so getting the surrounding grass mowed, and hauling the dirt from the driveway where it was dumped (way up front there, near the house!) back to the garden area has been a major challenge.

Last week the mower was returned to me in fully operational condition.  I have superstitiously decided that the way to keep it working is to run it every day.  Every single day.  Now there is progress to show for it!

This morning I planted tomatoes and peppers, despite the fact that we are expecting 92 degrees this afternoon.  Tomatoes and peppers live for heat, right?  I watered them in very well.  Then I decided to work on mowing back more of the grass in this area.

This particular tufty area has been bothering me for a while.  It was actually the very first raised bed I built here, my first summer.  I planted garlic here that autumn, and got a nice harvest the following July.  But I used "one-by" stock to frame it, rather than "two-by".  And the frame quickly fell apart.  Since by then I had other raised beds, this one became the tufty area I walked past to get to the vegetables.

Well not now that I'm on the Daily John Deere plan!  I gingerly removed the remaining wood, hyperventilating at the threat of snakes.  Don't misunderstand -- I am glad that snakes live in the garden.  They eat the bad guys.  But hard as I try, I am creeped out by the slithering.  And the silence.  

As it turned out, no snakes today.  So that was good.  I began going over the tufts, back and forth to remove them.  I was feeling pretty good about this morning's progress.  Not even 10 am and things were looking quite neat!  And apparently some garlic lingers in the bed -- the mowing was fragrant.

Until suddenly the blade stopped with a clunk.  That is never good.  I turned the mower off.  I rocked it back and forth to make sure it wasn't hung up on something stuck in the ground.  Then, after confirming that the blade was turned off, I turned the engine back on and drove it off the tufts.  And this came along.

It's a wad of chicken wire.  Caught in the blade.

That's why I'm inside blogging.  [Expletives deleted.]

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Around Busy Solitude Farm Today

A little surprise!

This beautiful iris was also a surprise -- it rode in on the Lenten roses back in March!  Lucky me, I hope it will be happy under Oskar's memorial tree.

And the Lenten roses continue to bloom -- over two months, and transplanted in full bloom.  Amazing!

 I think this robin is a baby -- doesn't it look like a baby face?

 One clematis is covered in buds and seems like it will explode into bloom in a week or two.

But this one has a single blossom on it.  How can it be unhappy when its partner is doing so well?

 After startling Ulani, Luke settled in on the lawn chair with me.  Love his color in this light!

And in the barn, the chicks are really feathering out now.   This little girl actually seemed to enjoy being held and interacting with me.

 At one point I wasn't sure I'd be able to safely grab her and put her back on the ground!

 She skittered across my shoulders, escaping my grasp.

Then she told me a secret, right up in my ear.  After that we were fine and she went back to the flock!

And the ducks?  They don't so much enjoy being picked up.

She tried to bite the camera!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Oskar's Jahrzeit

It's the anniversary of Oskar's death.  I took this photo of him enjoying a meaty raw bone from Local just two days before he died.  He was happy.

He lived a good long life.  He was loved, and cared for, and his needs were met.  So many dogs do not have lives like Oskar.  I made a contribution in his memory today, so that some unwanted dogs might be a little more comfortable.

I still watch his video sometimes.  I don't always cry now when I watch. 

 I still miss him. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012


I just love ducks.

Now that the terrorist raccoon has been taken away by Berrien County Animal Control and, sort of sadly, euthanized, things are more peaceful at Busy Solitude Farm.  We are on guard, don't be fooled, but without an immediate threat everyone is getting back on routine.

Today, in fact, it was so warm that I turned off the red heat lamp in the babies' pen.  They slept the day away, as did Luke, Barnard and Ulani.  My own nap was only half an hour, but a happier 30 minutes did not exist in my day.

A nap is a beautiful thing.  For girl and duck.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The 'Coon Caper

Just before midnight last night, Ulani stood on the bed and began to bark.  It is not entirely unusual behavior, but as it normally signals her awareness of a night critter, and as it was a night critter I was eagerly awaiting, I arose.

Once she quieted herself, I was able to hear the tinny sound of metal shaking.  Trap!  That's when I got dressed and went outside to take the photo I posted last night.  And now, the saga continues...

I did not sleep well last night, worrying about that damned raccoon.  It must be frightened.  Could it get itself out of the trap?  What if there are babies left somewhere?  Then I would remember finding Lacey's body behind the ladder, headless.

Nope, raccoons and chickens do not go together.

Finally I got out of bed just after 6.  (I don't say "I awoke" because, well, that's not when that happened.)  Now what to do?  The trapped raccoon was next to the barn, in the main morning traffic pattern for me, Ulani and the cats.  That would not do.

And how long will it take for Animal Control to come pick it up?  By 10 am it would be in full sun, which would also not do.

No, the 'coon must be moved.

Next question, where?  Up by the driveway would make sense for easy pick-up, but I want to take Ulani for a walk this morning and God knows I will not walk with her past a trapped raccoon!

I settled on inside the privacy fence up front.  At least when Ulani smells it, she won't have access to the cage and I can persuade her away with biscuits.

Next question, how?  A raccoon is not a lightweight like a chicken.  There is heft under that pelt.  And a trapped raccoon is not a happy critter.  They hiss.  And lunge.

I opted for the garden cart, pulled by the riding mower.  Except the riding mower, recently repaired for a not small amount of money, will not start.  So I opted for the garden cart, pushed by me.  Good enough.

Lifting the trap into the cart was, in a word, scary.  The 'coon hissed and moved around, plunging itself into the back of the trap.  As you can see in the photo, there's only protection from toenails and teeth right around the (rather inadequate) "carrying handle".  Otherwise you are on your own.  Luckily it was only from the ground up into the cart, and it landed softly.

Then we had a little talk.

I think the raccoon nodded its assent at the end of this video.  Don't burst my bubble.

I pushed the cart as carefully as I could, but let's face it, my yard is not exactly level.  I had to stop a couple of times, and realized that making the cart balance on its two wheels while the raccoon changed positions was a real challenge.

At last we arrived in the front garden.  My plan was to place the trap back on the grass, for more 'coon comfort, but at that point it was really stressed out and I decided the kindest thing was to simply park the cart, trap inside, and leave it alone.

Remember that old expression "if the van is rockin', don't come knockin'!"?  I'm leaving this 'coon alone.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


Ulani awoke me just before midnight.  This is why.  Good dog, Ulani.  Bad raccoon.  I'm sorry it will have to stay in that trap for the next nine hours or so until Animal Control picks it up.  But good riddance.  And good night!

Progress report 1

I've got that raccoon just where I want it.

Last night I set the trap right up against the barn on the path from the outside to the door.  It was baited with a full open can of "chicken shreds in gravy" cat food.  What raccoon doesn't like chicken shreds?  Then I turned off all the lights and waited.  Until I went to sleep.

This morning I discover this.  The trap is sprung, the cat food can is empty.  And nothing is in the trap.

Why?  Because I failed to check the safety latch.  It was safely on, so once the animal finished dining, it could simply push the flap back up and leave.

But the way I figure, I've got it in my sights now.  We're building trust.  The 'coon is thinking "what an idiot!  She puts out food but forgets to release the safety latch!  I can eat here every night!"  HA!

Wait until tonight!


In sweeter news, look how big my now week-old babies are!

Lots of wing feathers coming in.  They are very active, inquisitive chicks.  I am quite pleased with them.  And the ducks?

 They're getting really tall!!!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Terrorist Shows its Colors

Around 6:15 this morning I was awoken by the roosters' alarm calls, harmonizing with terrified hens clucking.  I leapt from bed, grabbed some pants and a sweatshirt, sent Ulani and the cats ahead of me.  Hey, I'm no fool.

Once decently attired and with duckie slippers to keep the dew from my toes, I raced to the barn.  Organized chaos greeted me.  While the alarms kept going off, all birds seemed to be in their places.  I turned on all the lights and talked gently to help things settle down.  Then all of a sudden there was a massive crescendo.  I turned around and saw it, there, climbing the wall to get to the second floor, squishing itself through the space between the floorboards and the siding.


Is anyone surprised?  Not me.  I made some loud cursing noises, threw a few things for good measure.  Then I left the barn for five minute to allow things to settle a bit.  And to plan my next steps.

I returned with a sharp pair of scissors.  And with them, I started cutting more of my green plastic mesh fencing to staple over all the spaces between the floorboards and the siding leading to the second floor of the barn.  Bang bang bang!  I stapled one section, then moved junk out of the way so I could relocate the ladder for the next section.  Bang bang bang!

Suddenly a loud Bang rang out behind me!  "G*d d#@n sh)^t f@$X!!!" I screamed.  Then I turned and saw Barnard, looking a little perplexed at my outburst.  Oops.  A bit trigger happy.  She sat on her ledge while I bang bang banged along.  Until...

She began hissing and screaming.  I turned around, and saw the raccoon exiting the upstairs of the barn through the spaces between the flooring and siding on Barnard's side, right by the door into the dog yard.  Apparently the raccoon was too busy looking over its left shoulder at Barnard, for it failed to see Ulani over its right shoulder until it was on the ground.  When her barking began.  Sending the 'coon climbing the barn right up to the soffit and back into the upstairs.  


So I finished the west side and now I'm taking a break in case the raccoon wants to come out this side.  Of course Ulani is staring at the barn.  I would welcome the opportunity for her to grab that sucker and shake it until its neck snaps.  But I don't think that's going to happen.

I will close up the east side spaces, then leave the chickens inside today.  It will be hot in the barn -- forecast high of 80 -- so I'll try to staple mesh over the open door to deter wayward raccoons.

Then I will plot my revenge.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

On Mothers Day

Saturday afternoon I discovered this birds nest has a direct exit to the outdoors.  I thought all the nests in the barn were accessed from indoors.  Using the telephoto lens, I explored a little further and discovered...

Someone always needs a mother!

Happy Mothers Day!

Friday, May 11, 2012


In which they get really close to their food.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

And then there were 19. Plus 2.

This morning I sat quietly, willing it to happen.  I had checked the tracking record and seen that my box was scanned in Kalamazoo at 2:49 am.  It must have gotten to this corner of the state by 7 am.   Or 7:30. 

I didn't dare get into the shower.  Ulani was denied a walk.  I could hear the clock in the bathroom ticking away the minutes; would I have to leave for work before the call came? 

At 7:59 am I picked up the phone.  Should I try calling, or leave the line open in case they called me?  Just as I was about to hang up, it finally rang.

"Hello?" says I.
"You have babies!" exclaims the postmistress.

And so the chicks came to Busy Solitude Farm.  Or rather, I raced two miles to the post office, where the happy postal worker explained that at first the box had seemed so quiet that she peeked inside, only to discover eight happy, peeping baby chicks.

"Good luck!" she called as I whisked my box out to the car for the ride home.

The babies were right at home on the passenger seat. 

I had worried that the hatchery would need to add "filler chicks" to the package to keep the body heat warm enough, but when we got into the barn I was relieved to discover that they now use a heat package so my eight babies could travel from Ohio to Michigan (a 36 hour trip via USPS) without aid of superfluous boys.  You can see the package in this photo just after I opened the box.

As soon as they were out of the box, the babies were full of peeping and walking around, eating and drinking and taking over the place.  I tried to keep the camera at ground level to get good photos of them, but they'd race over and peck at the lens!

It was a work morning, so I had to tear myself away from the girls to earn a living.  I didn't worry about them, though.

The hens were looking out for them.


After I got to work I started thinking.  Mr. Duck has been the only duck since last June's terrorist attacks.  Now I'm back to 17 hens and two roosters, shouldn't he have another duck or two to pal around with?  A quick phone call told me which store still had ducklings.  So after work I expanded my flock.

Hello!  We'll be your new ducks.  Just show us where to go.

They always send us to the back of the line.  Why are we in line, anyway?

How do you like it here?  Been here long?  Nice weather we've been having.

I think I'm going to really fit in here.

Monday, May 7, 2012


More of the story later, wanted to get these photos up fast.  I've been informed that the parents will do their best for the baby, and if it is strong enough and ready enough, they'll work things out.  If not, then nature will do what it does.

In any event, I am keeping Ulani tethered away from the willow tree until all owls are gone.

Update tomorrow.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Morning has broken, 16

A quiet Sunday morning here at Busy Solitude Farm.  Except for the birds.  They are madly building nests, then doing what's (ahem) necessary to fill those nests with eggs that will grow the next generation.  Quite a lively, quiet Sunday.

* * * * *

Around the place, anticipation builds for the arrival of eight new chicks on Tuesday!  There have been no further losses from the barn, so the babies will go into the isolation pen, under a heat lamp, to begin their lives of busy solitude.

And the grass is knee-high due to the old lawn tractor's ailing health.  If it doesn't get mowed soon, I'm going to lose Ulani out there.  Promised returns of last Tuesday and last Friday both fell through -- once because it was not fully fixed, and the second time because the repair place's delivery truck broke down.  If I didn't know it would make Ulani absolutely crazy to have something grazing inside the dog fence, I might break down and get a cow.  Or a couple of mini-donkeys.  I've always thought I would enjoy having mini-donks. 

Instead, I try to refer to the yard as my meadow and leave it at that.