Say Hello To My Commercial Grade Friend

This past week my hummingbird sanctuary hasn’t been much of a sanctuary… more like a war zone, really. I’ve been faithfully refilling the feeders at least twice a day, and the black jacket wasps finally discovered them.

Bugs and I have a fairly broad “live and let live” agreement, so I initially let them be. The black jackets do have a purpose (beyond being nature’s jerks), and I hate killing anything when it’s outside. But then they started hogging the feeders and chasing the hummingbirds away, so Gene bought some wasp traps and set them out there. That seemed to control the problem… until today.

When I went out to do the evening refill – it was a literal population explosion. There were probably close to 100, fighting with the hummingbirds, fighting with each other, and when I stepped out onto the deck and recoiled in sheer horror once I noticed them all, they all stopped what they were doing to stare at me.

In what I honestly believe is my bravest moment to date, I snatched up the feeders one by one, which was hard to do given I’d pulled my hoody over my face. Then Gene refilled the wasp traps with nectar, but the wasps were too busy angrily buzzing around to notice them. And they were attacking the hummingbirds, which were doing the same thing. They say humans are 3 days from total societal breakdown when the food supply is disrupted… hummingbirds and wasps are apparently a mere 3 seconds.

I always feel bad when I take down the feeders to wash each week. All 12 hummingbirds buzz around in a panic where the sugar dispensers used to be, because god forbid they have to switch to the hundreds of actual flowers I grew just for them. Clearly they’d much rather pull up a chair to the buffet.

At any rate, I wasn’t going to deal with a porch full of upset hummingbirds and angry wasps, especially when Gene’s allergic and the internet said black jackets will “hunt you down” when they’re vexed. I decided sucking them out of the air with the shop vac would be the best solution, because that’s pretty much my solution to anything bad that happens outdoors.

Pictured: The moment right before things Got Real.

And it totally worked!!! Sure, I might have denuded one side of my Fuscia and skeletonized a few Salvia leaves. It also would have been really nice if I’d gotten to see that stem of my giant Nicotania bloom, because it probably would have been really beautiful and I’ve been waiting all month for it to finally do something cool.

And I learned the hard way that the shop vac will glom onto a feeder and suck out all the nectar if you’re not *really* careful where you’re waving it. But the important thing is the wasps either got Hoovered or moved on.

I also disturbed our giant Poplar moth, who was burrowed into his favorite petunias. He didn’t like the blow back from the shop vac motor, but as soon as we moved it to the other side of the porch he calmed down again.

The Hummingbird Sanctuary was worth every bit of the time and energy it took to grow everything from seed (plus adding all the ‘can’t live withouts’ Gene and I found at various nurseries.) All the flowers have drawn in all sorts of bees, dragonflies and moths of all kinds.

The farm critters are irked that we fenced it off, though. Every so often a guinea will fly up in the air and come crashing down on one of the pots, and the geese have taken to sitting right next to the fence on the porch stairs and complaining loudly to anyone who will listen.

It doesn’t help that Claire found an old pallet underneath the porch and decided to lay all her eggs where we couldn’t get to them. She’s now sitting on her nest, so I suppose at some point we (and by ‘we’ I mean Gene) will have to crawl under there to either retrieve some adorable goslings or some incredibly stinky eggs.

Guess I’m Not Quite Ready For The Big Leagues…

All things considered, it was a pretty incredible weekend around here. Not only did I see a few adorable baby animals (more on that in a minute!), I got to drive Craney!

I was tooling around on the lawn mower, since the grass was getting taller than Chupa. Gene went to move Craney from where he had parked it on the grass by the chicken coop so I could mow that section, and he waved me over and said he was going to take Craney for a spin. Then he asked if I wanted to try driving!

At first I said no, since history has shown that at times my lack of depth perception is rivaled only by lack of common sense. But I decided I’d at least go with him, since I’d never even sat in the cab while it was moving. After 10 miles or so of watching him change gears, and seeing as it was only 5 of them, I decided to give it a go.

I haven’t driven a standard transmission since around 2007, but it’s true what they say – once you’ve learned, you never forget. Gene stopped on a straight part of the highway, we changed spots, and I gave it a go! At one point I had a mini-freak out, since it felt like we were going way too fast. Then I looked down at the speedometer, and realized I was poking along at a grandmotherly 25 mph, a full 30 mph below the speed limit. But after awhile, I got a lot more comfortable, and even pulled it into our driveway! That part was a little terrifying, as there’s a ditch on both sides capable of swallowing a semi. For real – just ask the unfortunate fellow who drove the moving truck when we first got here.

At any rate, I was feeling pretty proud of myself, and started musing that perhaps the most important name had been left off the “Hunter’s Crane Service” business cards I had just ordered, and that from now on I could drive him to and from the work sites, but first we would need to install some sort of step ladder situation because the cab is a bit of a climb. Then I hopped back on the riding mower, and promptly ran it straight into the Geesie’s wading pool. The spigot we use to drain it got sheared in half, water started pouring everywhere, and I could practically hear my ego start to deflate. Then I managed to get the mower stuck on rocks no less than twice, which Gene had to come pull off and restart for me. The third time I bellowed, “Honeeeeeeeeey, something’s wrong with the mower!,” he suggested that perhaps I stick with writing, and leave the driving of 16,000 lb trucks to him.

In other news, my monarch eggs hatched! That of course necessitated a trip back to Jennifer’s so that I could dig up a larger milkweed plant for them to munch in the Sanctuary. Ironically, I ended up driving there at a stately speed of 25 mph even though I was in the Vermin Wagon, because drinking from a coffee cup is almost impossible given the state of our roads. But I wasn’t about to leave it behind.

Just as I turned onto the dirt road by their place, I spotted some movement in the tall grass. I stopped to see what it would turn out to be, and out waltzed a tiny baby skunk! It was only about 8 inches long, and beyond cute. Like stuffed animal/Disney movie level cute. I actually shut my hand in the car door, such was my haste to get out and shove a camera in its face.

He was actually fearless, surprising given his tiny size. He ran straight up to me, bounced around for a bit, and then started waddling off. Although his tail was straight up, he never turned his Southern end in my direction, so I figured he was just playing when he started jumping directly at my phone. And my shoes. All while making an adorable screeching noise. I was a little worried (but relieved at the same time) that mama skunk didn’t seem to be around. So I called Gene, and had barely even started to get out “So I found this baby skunk and there’s no mama anywhere – ” before he’s all, “No. Just no. No skunks! It’s mom will find him as soon as you walk away.” Sigh.

I Believe You’ve Made Your Point…

Apparently Mother Nature didn’t think yesterday’s global warming joke was funny, because it got down to a record-breaking 26 degrees last night – some serious frost. Thank goodness Gene checks the weather religiously!

We were outside at 10:30, hunting down tarps, covering plants, and moving as many flower pots as we could onto the porch where the space heater was running. Sigh. On the plus side, we only lost a single hot pepper plant. And it wasn’t due to the cold snap – it got demolished by 3 fat geese who managed to sneak up onto the back deck this morning. One of them stuck its head under the tarp and started snacking.

And I know it was them, because shortly after they did it, they started banging on the sliding door to the bedroom. Higgins still had clumps of potting soil stuck to his beak, and left a trail of pepper leaves in his wake. I fixed the baby gate, and now they’re back to pounding on the front door and leaving lots of evidence of their presence behind.

The hummingbirds weren’t too happy to find all their flowers covered either, and were only slightly consoled by the fact that I lined all their feeders up on the deck railing so they’d still get their 5 am sugar high. I figured it wouldn’t be back to the 40s until mid-morning, so I settled in at my desk to get some work done. I was shocked when I looked at the temperature gauge around 8 and saw it was already back to 70 degrees! So I had to rush around to get everything uncovered before they baked to death heating up under the tarp. Apparently Mother Nature careth not about calendars or my deadlines.

This afternoon, when I decided I needed an outside break (there’s only so long I can stare at a computer screen without getting twitchy), I figured I’d get a start on mucking out the barn. Not going to lie, that’s my least favorite of the spring chores. But I did come to the realization I’ve pretty much shed the last of my city girl vestiges. As I was hauling pitchforks loads of straw that were getting progressively heavier the deeper I dug, I was actually excited when one forkful weighed about 30 pounds and started to angrily buzz at me. Instead of being skeezed out, I told Gene we’d just struck compost gold!

So Many Distractions…

I know it’s been almost a month since I last posted (shameful), but believe me I’m full of good excuses! The issue isn’t my day job, although that’s been crazy busy. The problem is I usually set aside time in the early evening to devote to my blog, and tackle all my work deadlines during conventional office hours. But the problem is little emergencies keep popping up during the day, which means I’m finishing up work in the evening, and then… well, let’s face it. Law & Order isn’t going to watch itself. Plus Gene’s been calling me a computer hog lately, so I try not to be on it past 8.

What sort of emergencies you ask? Here’s a perfect example:

That right there is the first Monarch of the season, which I spotted out the window just a few days ago. We have plenty of flowers to offer them, about 75% of which are dandelions since the geese are seriously slacking off in the landscaping department. It doesn’t help that I can’t mow the lawn until Gene fixes the riding mower. I was stoked about the first mow of the year – if ever there was a sign summer has arrived, that’s it. I wasn’t even on it for 30 minutes before I managed to break it – a new record.

But back to the arrival of the Monarchs – it was an emergency because the milkweed I bought for them to deposit their eggs on was still in pots on the porch.

Being as committed to the plight of the Monarchs as I am, I figured I’d make my impending deadline Future Andie’s problem, and go out and plant the milkweed. And since I was already out there, I planted the rest of the flowers I’d brought back from the nursery by my parent’s house. I’m efficient like that.

Or here’s another emergency example, also Monarch related. Gene needed a ride over to Alan and Jennifer’s so he could pick up Craney – which, by the way, now has magnetic signage! It came in the mail today, and Gene insists on calling it “advertising” rather than “accessories”. Potato, Potahto. Craney looks amazing.

Jennifer and I got to talking, and we went over to check her milkweed for eggs – and found some!

So even though I had only anticipated a quick drop off/turn around/get back to work situation, we ended up harvesting eggs for the Monarch Sanctuary and digging up milkweed plants to grow in it. Then of course once I got home I had to get the eggs situated on the porch until they’re closer to hatching, plant the milkweed in pots, and set up the Sanctuary itself. Three hours later… back to work!

I am happy to report that so far the Hummingbird Sanctuary has been a success. The record is 8 so far, and they tend to swarm the feeders around dawn and dusk. I’ve been refilling the feeders at least twice a day, and they’re feasting on the flowers that have bloomed too. And we have at least one nest somewhere close! One of the hummingbirds was flying around with a huge wad of spider web, which is what they use as the ‘glue’ that holds their nests together. I can’t decide if that’s an incredible feat of ingenuity to marvel at or totally shady that they destroy a spider’s hard work to build their own house.

I’ve also managed to attract an assortment of Sphinx moths, which I’m super excited about.

The Big Poplar Sphinx Moth has been the largest so far – he was about the size of the palm of my hand and hung around for a few days. I can’t wait to see what the Nighttime Pollinator Station brings in once it starts blooming! It consists of all the moonflowers I started in the basement, then spent about an hour untangling all the vines so I could plant. There’s also a selection of white flowers that bloom in the evening, or will theoretically once it stops dropping into the 30s at night. (On a related note – it’s June, Mother Nature. Pay attention to the calendar. I’d also like to invite anyone who believes global warming is an imminent threat to come visit at night. Spoiler alert: pack your coat.)

The pigs are happy about the cooler temps though, it helps keeps the flies down. Once summer really kicks in gear – or I guess I should say “if,” we’ll move them further from the house. But for now, they absolutely love rampaging around the pasture. We up-sized both their food and water troughs, which they take full advantage of by lounging in.

So Much Momentous News!

All things considered, this has been an epic 10 days since I last posted. It finally stopped snowing (although apparently Gene’s weather app is taunting me with flurries in the forecast for Sunday), and the grass turned green basically overnight. After such a long winter, it almost doesn’t look natural – I still do a double take when I look out the window and see all that vibrant color.

But as awesome as an imminent need to break out the lawn mower is, that doesn’t even place in the top 5 cool things that have happened. Here they are, in no particular order:

#1: I saw a porcupine!

porcupine

Well, technically I’ve seen three of them in the last few days, but I only had my camera with me for one sighting. It was bumbling along the side of the ditch, so Gene stopped the truck and let me hop out to chase it. I discovered that even though I logically know they can’t launch their spines as a defense mechanism, no matter what I was told when I first moved here, it’s still an image I can’t get out of my head. So when it turned to glare at me, I instinctively jumped back about 5 feet and possibly screeched.

Despite the spiky demeanor, they actually have really cute faces. Plus, a mama and her babies are called a “Prickle,” and the babies themselves are called “Porcupettes”. How adorable is that?

#2: The hummingbirds have arrived!

Or at least two of them have. The first one showed up two days ago, and the second one yesterday. They’ve had a couple feeders out since May 1st, but actually seeing them was so exciting that I asked Gene to bring me some real flowers for them, since mine aren’t quite blooming yet. He brought back a fine selection of hummingbird favorites, like bright red Salvia and multi-colored petunias, which I promptly planted in pots that we now shuttle back onto the heated porch at night. Because despite the green grass, it’s still frosting at night, which is getting beyond old.

There’s another new arrival, too – a Baltimore Oriole. I saw a brilliant flash of orange up in the poplar trees, and ran to grab my bird book. Sure enough, that’s what he was – which necessitated another emergency trip into town so Gene could bring me some oranges. The Oriole has been happily camped out on the special citrus feeder we now have, going through orange halves at a somewhat astonishing rate.

oriole

#3: We need a bigger laundry basket!

Kitty

That’s not a small one, either. That’s the big, industrial, “we live on a farm and wreck pants with a quickness” sized hamper. Also pictured: Exhibit A for why literally everything we put on is covered in cat fur.

#4: We got up close to a wolf!

Granted it was while driving to Alan & Jennifer’s in the F150, and if Gene hadn’t been paying attention we would have splattered it all over the new brush guard. Good thing he’s got quick reflexes and dynamited the brakes. It must have been chasing something, because it didn’t even look at us when it dashed across the road. It was huge, and silver colored. It’s also likely the culprit for the ginormous pile of dookey I saw sitting in the exact middle of the end of the driveway a few days ago. Unfortunately I only noticed it literally as an older couple was turning into our driveway to buy some eggs, which I’m sure made a great first impression of our farm. When I say “ginormous”, I’m not exaggerating. It must have just eaten an entire deer or something. Quite frankly, I’m surprised their bumper cleared it, and they were driving an SUV. Gene said that’s the wolf’s way of claiming its territory, and basically taunting Ceri.

#5: The pigs are getting cuter!

Mario pig

And bigger, exponentially. We feed them four to five times a day, and pretty soon we’ll need to build them an actual trough. In a week or so we’ll be wrangling them down to the east pasture, as now that the weather is finally warming up we don’t want four pigs worth of flies that close to the house. Apparently I’m subconsciously fussing about it, because I had a nightmare that I was chasing flies around the house with the vacuum, and then when I went to throw the vacuum bag away it split open and all the flies came buzzing out again. But it was weird, because in real life I would have been racing out of the house while simultaneously screaming for Gene to get the shop vac, but in the dream I just stood there wondering why I bought a vacuum that still requires an actual bag.

It’s A Great Day For A Rampage

Yesterday we opened up the little side door so the pigs could venture outside for the first time in their lives, but all they would do is creep up to the opening, peek out, then scurry back to other side of the stall.

Not that I blame them, because it went from sleet to hail to snow all in the space of 5 minutes, despite the fact that it’s supposed to be SPRING. On the plus side, it got warm enough yesterday that none of it stuck around. And the passing storm made for a phenomenal sunset.

sunset

Today, it got just above 50, the sun was shining, and it was gorgeous. Gene and I decided the pigs needed to soak some of it up, so I held up a big sheet of plywood and he start to corral them toward the opening. It took some convincing, and a fair bit of squealing, but once one of them figured it out they all ventured outside. And it was glorious. Never have you seen happier pigs.

rampaging

They immediately started digging in the dirt, chomping on the grass that’s starting to come up, and chasing each other around. They introduced themselves to the goats, and seemed to genuinely enjoy following Ceri as she ran along the outside of the fence line. This was literally the first time they’d ever felt sunshine or wind, since they were raised inside, and it was really sweet to watch them experience it all.

goats

 

Mother Nature Missed A Memo

It should not snow, much less stick around all morning, in May. That’s so many kinds of wrong.

It’s spring! I’ve got flowers blooming in the basement that need warm air and sunshine with a quickness. While I admit perhaps I should have listened when Gene said, “Are you sure you should start those now – and start that many?” back in January, who would have thought it would still be snowing and 28 degrees in May???? Obviously not me.

So now I’ve got a guest bed turned planting station full of Moonflowers that are encircling the grow lights with vines, and we’re rapidly running out of space. Thank goodness we rarely have guests, because yes, right at this moment the plants that will be the stars of my night-time pollinator garden and attract the ultra-rare pink-banded Sphinx moths are more important and we’ve got a comfy barn if you’d like more space to stretch out.

Oh wait – there’s no room in the barn either! The sudden arrival of 4 pigs thanks to a screaming deal in Grand Rapids meant poor Gene had to undertake a massive renovation to the barn yesterday, despite fighting a bad cold. We moved all the goat’s belongings to one half, much to their annoyance, and installed the pigs in the slightly smaller side where they’ll get used to us and their new surroundings. In homage to the magnificent meals they’ll ultimately become, I’ve named them after celebrity chefs – Gordon, Mario, Paula and Giada.

Once it stops snowing, or raining, or both simultaneously, we’ll uncover the little door Gene cut in the side of the barn and they can roam around the enclosed pasture too. Then when summer finally comes, apparently around October, we’ll move them to the east pasture where they’ll have a few acres to till up.

Don’t worry – assuming the sun actually comes out tomorrow and we free the wee beasties to check out their temporary yard, lots more pictures will be forthcoming.