City Life · Construction · Lazer Creek Apiary · Products and Vendors · Supplemental Feeding

A Mule for Christmas (and other distractions from grading).

During a job interview many years ago,  I was asked whether I’d rather be an art critic or an artist.  I’ve never figured out what that had to do with being a computer programmer, but I do finally know the answer — I want to be an artist — or at least be creative!   I only spent 90 minutes grading this morning before the urge to empty the compost pot became the most important thing in my life, and that led to seeing a bee flying, which led to visiting the bee yard, which led to taking pictures, which led me back to the computer and this blog!   To grade, one must be a critic, and I find it hard to “criticize” according the criteria on a rubric.  Yes, I agree that it’s a fair way to grade, and, yes, students knew what the expectations were for their oral exam, but the happy feelings that blue skies and sunshine evoke makes it hard to give a student a failing grade!   Never mind that my dominant learning style is hands-on activity, my second most dominant is visual, and my least dominant is listening — and here I sit with 17.5 hours of oral exams to listen to.   I should not have procrastinated, and I probably shouldn’t be blogging, but just like every other year I’ll get through it somehow.

Feeding pollen and sugar to bees
Feeding pollen and sugar to bees

It’s only 48 degrees out this morning, but the bees are foraging and we want them to have as much stored as possible going into the predicted 20 degree nights next week, so it wasn’t just procrastination that led me down to the bee yard.  Cold as it is, there were so many bees on the pollen feeder station that I couldn’t get to the trays and had to scatter the pollen-sugar mix where the bees can get to it but the dog can’t.   (Maggie climbed a stack of shipping pallets to get to a pollen tray yesterday — you’d think we didn’t feed her sometimes!)   I so enjoy standing there listening to the sound of happy bees, especially on a day as beautiful as today.   We are just so lucky to have this little piece of heaven to call our own.

Boots
Work boots

What does any of this have to do with a mule?   Not much, but our Christmas present to each other this year was a Mighty Mule gate opener.   Well, it was hubby’s Christmas to me, and my gift was to graciously concede that it is money well spent!    Even on a good day, having to get out of the car and walk across the gravel to unlock the gate becomes tedious.   If I’m wearing anything other than my trusty work boots, the likelihood of a twisted ankle increases with the height of the heel.   Rain makes the process even less fun.  Last week’s thunderstorm actually made it somewhat hilarious.   If we do end up moving here before retirement, we need to somehow be able to get out of the gate in all weather still looking presentable enough to show up at work.

It took hubby a while to install the gate opener, partly because of the instructions,  partly because of all the adjustments and settings, and partly because the dog and I were hibernating in the camper instead of helping for much of the time.   By the end of the day on Christmas Day, he had everything working, but then spent most of the next day trying to get it to work right!   The gate opens fine, and even closes after 30 seconds.  The problem was that it randomly re-opened.   That doesn’t offer much security and is likely to run the battery down.   I searched the Internet for answers on our way to the family dinner and found that many people have problems with the wand that detects when a car pulls up to the gate to leave.   Hubby spoke with tech support and tried many things, but the final solution was along the lines of Hotel California — guests who have the code can check in any time they like, but they can never leave!   The wand is going back for a refund and hubby will research other solutions.

Maggie - exhausted
Maggie – exhausted

Well, it’s time to listen to at least a couple more exams — 7 down, 30 to go!   It makes me want to curl up with the dog and just take a nap.

 

 

 

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Construction · Gardening · Lazer Creek Apiary

Smoke on the Water (a.k.a. burning wet wood)

The last of the wood pile
The final big burn!

Two years after having our trees thinned, we are down to one pile of waste wood to burn.   With last week’s rain and the cold, we spent two frustrating days trying to get a fire started.  Even when we got it going yesterday, it never really flamed up much, but the coals were so hot by the end of the day that even last night’s heavy rain wasn’t enough to extinguish the fire completely.  It is still smouldering from the inside out this evening, much like a compost pile.     If we can get a burn permit tomorrow, we may be able to get rid of the last of the big logs without having to spend hours coaxing a fire back into the wet wood.

While tending the fire, I’ve been box-blading the deck, getting it leveled out and distributing the ashes from previous burn piles.   I also redirected some of the water that comes down the driveway and flows onto the deck on one side and used to flow into the woods on the other.  Over time, more water has been encroaching onto parts of the driveway, and driving up during a thunderstorm the other day provided us a good opportunity to see where we could make some quick modifications.   Hubby needs to show me how to adjust the box-blade so that I can create real ditches, but what I’ve done so far is at least a temporary solution!

I’ve been having fun on the tractor and am gaining confidence.  As I have to extend my leg to reach the gas pedal, the onset of knee pain and the onset of over-confidence have so far coincided, so I haven’t managed to get myself into any questionable situations so far.   Backing up remains problematic if I’m wearing my bi-focals instead of my safety glasses, but I’ve managed to auger two holes in the right places!   I did, however, hand the tractor back over the hubby for the final holes this evening as I was becoming increasingly cross-eyed.

Compost bins
Compost bins

Talking of cross-eyed, hubby’s nose and the post-hole diggers somehow collided at the end the day yesterday, but he does not have black eyes!    He, of course, wanted to keep working on the compost bin, but his nose wouldn’t let him.     He was able to get the corner posts set today and we’ll put the walls up tomorrow, weather permitting.   We’re going to use shipping pallets to form the walls for now.  We know they’ll rot over time, but as the garden plans are every-changing, this may not be the permanent location for the compost.    We’ll keep the tumbler bin up by the house for kitchen waste, but that will be just a drop in the bucket once we start gardening for real.

Composting helped us create a fertile garden in central South Carolina’s sand, and now it will help us do the same to middle Georgia’s clay!   After box-blading yesterday, we see that between what has decomposed in the log piles and the ashes from the fires, we now have some really nice soil to at least get some cover crops growing early spring.   I’ve thrown out pounds of grass and clover seed over the past year, but without breaking the packed clay surface,  very little was able to germinate.   I have a bag of buckwheat ready to sow — it’s a great early cover crop that also provides nectar.   Buckwheat honey is supposed to taste really good, but we don’t have enough acreage to provide enough nectar of any one kind to be able to give our claim our honey is from any single plant type.  Still, the bees liked the trial batch we planted in fall and that’s good enough for us.

Arriving back from grocery shopping during the thunderstorm gave us the incentive to move another project up the to-do list — the gate opener!   But that story will have to wait until the next blog because the sun is shining and it’s just too nice to stay indoors typing!

Construction · Cooking · Lazer Creek Apiary

Oops – I did it again! Food processor woes.

At the end of July, I had 4 pounds of very ripe figs ready to process into jam and could not get the lid to my food processor to seat.  At first I thought it was too early in the morning, so I polished my glasses, took another gulp of coffee, and tried again.   After struggling with it for another five minutes and feeling like a fool, I looked at the top of the bowl and saw that it was no longer perfectly round!   With all those figs waiting and us trying to get ready to head back to the farm, I took the easy way out and headed to Target to buy a replacement for the food processor that had served me well for well over 10 years.   Why did this happen?   The answer to that lay in the booklet that came with the new one — don’t wash the bowl on a sani-rinse cycle.   I’d never done that before because I usually have my jars washing before I start slicing and dicing, but with the kitchen counter replacement, I was doing things out of order.

I made two batches of jam using my shiny new food processor and happily headed back to the woods and stayed there until a multi-day forecast of 80% rain!   I came home and harvested the last of the figs and got ready to make a new batch.   Once again I was dealing with a lid that didn’t fit and once again the bowl is no longer round.   However, this time I know that I did not wash the bowl on a sani-cycle, so I’m not very happy about my purchase.  I’m still waiting to hear back from the manufacturer about why replacement bowls are not available.

The jam I made with that batch of figs tastes good, but as I resorted to pureeing the figs in the blender before making fig and blueberry jam, it just doesn’t look as appetizing as when the figs are in chunks.   Now we’re at the point of the year where I look forward to having more pantry space so that we don’t have to store jam and honey in odd places around the kitchen and dining room.    Maybe next year we’ll be able to start the foundation for the new house….

New countertop and sink
New counter-top and sink

Still, it is a joy to cook in my kitchen with its shiny new counter tops and stain resistant sink.   Even the blackberry and blueberry juices wiped right off.    We painted the floors of the base cabinets when we replaced the counter tops, so much of this week was about putting shelf paper down and putting everything away.   Instead of just putting stuff back where it’s been for the past 15 years, I tried to put things away where they made more sense.  We’ll see how well that plan works as we try to find stuff over the next few weeks!

So, on Tuesday, Farmerella and her Prince Charming turn back into teachers, but we’re returning as relaxed, inspired, and excited teachers for our 8th year until retirement!   We have to get used to alarm clocks instead of sunrises and walking on the treadmill instead of walking down to unlock the gate in the mornings, but my recent reading and hubby’s two seminars this summer have us burgeoning with new ways to present material, and that is invigorating.    It’s going to be a good year!

 

RV rehab

Climbing out windows….

…and other adventures.

Let me first start with the good things about today:

  • Once again,  friends and family members took time out of their busy days to bail me out of a predicament — or two.  Or the same predicament twice…  you decide.
  • People at Taylor-Foster Hardware store also went out of their way to help  me and didn’t make me feel incompetent at all!
  • I have successfully learned how to use a screw extractor.
  • At 59 years old, I am still able to climb out of a window without any injuries.
  • I am not allergic to yellow jacket stings, although there is now a yellow-jacket on my hit list.
  • Half the “living room” of the RV is painted and redecorated.
  • Our loan for the tractor was approved, so we should be proud Kubota owners tomorrow.

So, back to climbing out of windows.

The last time I remember climbing in through or out of a window was at the first house I lived in.  I forgot my house key on a regular basis, and the bathroom window was just big enough for me to get through when there was no-one home.  By the time we moved when I was fourteen, it was becoming a tight fit, but as that window required me climbing up onto the window sill and then climbing in the small window that actually opened above the larger window pane, I felt pretty sure I could climb out of the RV window and step down to the bench below.  I was right, but I shouldn’t have had to do that in the first place.

It all started when I went to let the dog out this morning and the door wouldn’t open.  We had always wondered what the second lock on the RV door was for, and we’d lock it for good measure when we’d leave, but today we (I) found out that when that second lock is locked from outside with the key, it prevents anyone inside from unlocking the latch from inside.  Now, I see no reason for this as it could only possibly be of any help to kidnappers and I don’t see RV manufacturers intentionally aiding and abetting crimes, but the fact was that when hubby left in the morning, he unintentionally locked me in!

My first rescuer was our neighbor who seems to bail us out of something or other every time we are here.  He came over, unlocked the door, and I was free.  That is, I was free for a little while.   Before I sent him a text message and while I was waiting for him to arrive, I decided to remove the plate from the inside of the lock to see if there was anything I could jiggle or spray with WD-40 to get out.   That didn’t work, so I had everything half put back together when he arrived.   Silly me then decided to take it back apart and spray some more WD-40 into it for good luck …. and then I put it back together with the door latch part in the wrong position …. and I stripped the one screw that I put it while doing so.  Once again, I was inside with a dog that needed to go out and a door that didn’t open.

 

latch
Stripped screw

Now, asking a neighbor for help when hubby has unintentionally locked me in is very different from asking for help when I have very shortly afterwards unintentionally locked myself in.  (It’s a pride thing!)  I googled ways to remove a stripped screw and nothing that was inside the RV worked.  I decided my best bet was to get down to the shipping container to see if a smaller screw driver or anything else that might work was available.   So, out the window I went.   I don’t remember it being quite as difficult 45+ years ago, but I’m still quite proud that I made it out in one piece!  I came back with a hammer (Bob Villa recommended trying to hammer a screw driver a little deeper into the screw among other things), a crow bar (not practical, but it seemed like a good idea at the time), and a screw driver.   The door opened from the outside, so I let myself in and promptly shut the door again to keep the rain out!   The rain was out, I was in, and the screw wasn’t going anywhere.  I needed a screw extractor — something I’d never used before.

By this time, I’d spoken to hubby a couple of times and he was very much against me repeating my acrobatic out-the-window maneuver.    My second rescuer was my wonderful brother-in-law who stopped by long enough to open the door even though he was already running late to catch a flight.   The dog went out, I went out, and I DID NOT close the door again.  Eventually I got the dog back in (she was a little freaked out by my animated language while trying to get out of the window, especially when the window latch latched itself under the back of my bra strap, leaving me dangling with my toes barely touching the bench below the window) and made my way to Taylor-Foster.

I bought a set of screw drivers to leave in the RV for future emergencies and the screw extractor.   The directions were pretty straight forward and the only real problem I had was getting the extractor to turn once I had it firmly embedded, but finally I was back where I was when my neighbor left almost 3 hours before.    The door opens much easier now, thanks to all the WD-40 I sprayed in there, so I that’s another plus.  I don’t see any new bruises and nothing hurts, so I guess I’m in pretty good shape for someone who’s AARP eligible.  I have a new skill and increased confidence in my abilities.   Finally, despite the late start, I managed to get the portion of painting done that I had planned to do today.

I did forget to say how I know I’m not allergic to yellow jacket stings.  There’s one acting very territorially at the front gate and it stung me on the chin as I was leaving and on the hand when I came back.   As hornet stings give me asthma attacks, I’ll take knowing that my body handles yellow jacket stings as a positive.

It’s supposed to rain again all day tomorrow, but I’ll try to stay out of trouble.   Maybe I just need to sit on the couch a read a good book — or maybe I’ll try to teach the dog to at least appear concerned when there are mouse-like sounds in the cabinet under the sink!   But that’s a story for another day….

mouse
Mouse from cdn.isciencetimes.com

 

 

 

Construction

Water for the orchard

Trench for irrigation

One of my fig cuttings from last year is hanging on for dear life and I believe the other one just gave up.   We need irrigation down at the old loading deck, so hubby rented a Ditch Witch from Taylor-Foster on Saturday and started trenching the 400 feet to the orchard.   By the end of the day that Ditch Witch almost got stuck because it ran low on hydraulic fluid somewhere (when it comes to mechanical stuff, nothing makes sense to me).  Taylor-Foster brought another one out to the farm Sunday morning, so the trench is dug and hubby is over half way glueing pipe.

We needed some parts that weren’t available at Foster-Taylor, so we made two trips to Lowe’s.   Our new Lowe’s is the one in Griffin, Georgia.  Shopping there was such a pleasure today — great atmosphere, friendly and helpful staff, organized displays — I just wandered around looking at stuff while waiting for hubby to find all the right widgets and I felt totally relaxed.  Our trip to the other Lowe’s was the exact opposite, which is enough said about that!

I planted more cleome, sunflowers, poppies, and phlox for us and the bees to enjoy.   I get my cleome and bee tattoo next week, so that should tell you how much I like those particular flowers.  I also weed-eated to clear space around the red cedars I planted a couple of months ago and to clear the area around our memory bench.

We have one hive left to check, but all the others are doing great.   Well, one is looking a little iffy, but the rest are fantastic!   The iffy one has (had) and old queen that is no longer laying as much as she should be.  I still struggle with the concept of killing a failing queen, so we put her in a NUC to live out her life and made sure the other hive still had plenty of young brood with which to create a new queen.   It’s a compromise that I hope will go well.   The big hive we brought from the city has a fat and active queen now and the bees are no longer bad-tempered.   Hopefully hive 47 will go the same way.

I’m sitting in the sun blogging at the end of a very busy day and wondering why I have so much more energy here.  Is it the vitamin D or just the peace and quiet?  I think I need to sit outside during lunch at work to see if I can avoid the 3:00 p.m. slump that I get in the city.   It’s good to come to the farm and figure out that it’s not old age that makes us both want to fall asleep right after supper.   Hmmmm — maybe the absence of a TV is helping us stay awake!  After all, how many times can we watch the same epidsodes of “Last Man Standing?”   Here’s hoping I figure it out while sitting here waiting for the sun to set and the moon to rise.

Construction

Well house and other projects

One coat of stain
Two coats of stain

 

This time last year we were cold, miserable, and damp!  In contrast, today I was able to apply the final coat of stain to the well-house door well before lunch while wearing a tank top instead of several layers of flannel!  I’m torn between the look with one coat of stain and that with two coats.  I think somewhere in between would be perfect, but I suspect (hope) the wood grain will show through better by tomorrow.

Finished Door

The stain (Minwax White Pickling Stain) is easy to apply and clean up.  We’ve been able to keep the rustic look of the boards while having the door white enough to tie in with the trim.  I did not use the pre-stain treatment as one of the things it does it stop the wood fibers from curling up.  We’d want that on a kitchen cabinet, but not on this project.  We still have some trim work left, but the well house is almost done.  One more thing off the to-do list.

We spent most of the rest of the morning gathering rocks from around the property to build up the area below the old clay culvert that runs under an old road bed built around the early 1900s.  We cleared out some more brush around the area yesterday, and I planted some more daffodils and a weeping willow tree behind the bench.   Even though the Stratford-upon-Avon council cut down the willow trees  decades ago, I will always associate weeping willows with the banks of the River Avon.    Although the willow is still shorter than I am, our memory-bench is already the perfect place to sit and think about family members.   If the blue bells and daffodils flourish, it will almost be a little piece of England.

Clay culvert

Some of the stacked stone around the culvert has crumbled away and there was a deep erosion hole below the culvert.   In order to minimize additional damage,  we’ve raised the level in the hole by about 2 feet and cleared the stream bed to facilitate drainage.  Eventually we plan to have rock all the way to the small pool that naturally forms 90% of the year.  I hear hubby throwing rocks in the cart now, but I don’t plan on picking up even one more today.  We pulled some moss up from another part of the property and packed that around some of the stones further down than this picture shows, and I transplanted some ferns along the edge of the dry-stream.  We’ll throw some wild-flower seeds out in spring and make the place as inviting to humans and bees as possible.

Talking of bees — they too are enjoying a very warm Christmas day and the way the clover is growing bodes well for spring honey.    We’ll soon plant fruit and Sourwood trees for them (and us) — hubby used the auger on the Bobcat to make planting those a little easier once we manage to get the trees down here.  Even if the holes he dug collapse a little, digging them back out will be easier than digging hard-packed clay by hand.

So our non-traditional Christmas Day is drawing to a close.   The sky is turning shades of pale yellow and blue as the sun sinks behind the pines, and we couldn’t be happier.   We’ve had a low-stress day puttering around the farm and supper is bubbling away in the Crockpot.  When I think back to all the Christmases I was unhappy because I didn’t get the gift I wanted, I wish I learned earlier to look for happiness in other places.    Other than wishing we had enough money to retire now, everything we want is right here — and not being able to retire now gives us time to actually build a house!

Construction

Well, well, well…..

Well house

Well, it’s been a little over a year now since we purchased the farm, and it’s amazing to look back at photographs and Google Earth and realize just how much has changed.  Like so many other areas in life, we tend to focus on what we have left to do and thereby lose sight of what we have accomplished.   Then we think back to last winter break: the torrential rain, the leaky RV and getting stuck in the mud!   Now we have a driveway, the RV no longer leaks, we have indoor plumbing, and we are able to live on the land.

Now that we are heading back into winter, we have to protect the progress we’ve made.   One of our first projects is protecting the well.  Hubby and BIL framed the well-house in October, and we were able to get it dried in a couple of weekends ago.   We made it a little bigger than necessary so that we’d actually have room to work in there as the need arises!   BIL had to have the pump replaced on his well, so we were able to take his experience and plan for the possibility of needing to cut a hole in the roof!   Eventually we’ll place a cupola on the roof to allow for ventilation and for access to the pump from above, but that probably won’t happen until next summer.

Well house – enclosed

The cupola will be the finishing touch on what will be my little red schoolhouse.   Hubby was originally going to build a full sized shed in the style of a school house, but now that we’ve gone with the less costly and more secure shipping container, I get to downsize my decorating.   We already have the siding and the red paint, so maybe that step will be done by the end of Thanksgiving break.   After that, I’ll buy some of the curlicue decorative stuff from Lowes and jazz it up a little.

We’d seen Ondura roofing on HGTV some time ago, and had considered it for the house.   We decided to try it on the well-house first.  It was easy to install and we love the vibrant color.   However, we bumped into the end of one sheet with the ladder and damaged it.   It withstands pressure from above well, but we worry about how much would end up damaged during installation of a full roof.   The ridge cap is also a little wavy.    The sheets cut well with a circular saw.   Ondura is supposed to be resistant to hail damage, and I believe it will be because of its flexibility.   It’s a good product and attractive, but we think we’ll go with a metal roof when we build the house.