Snow Day!

We woke up this morning to almost a full foot of snow, and it was beautiful! It was still lightly falling, and undisturbed in all directions with blanketed pine and poplar trees as a backdrop. And then Ceri rampaged across it with her Jolly Ball for hours. So much for pristine, “cozy cabin in the woods” postcard views. I have to say she did create some decent walking trails though.

But not everyone appreciated the first real snow of winter. I opened the coop doors and the geese started running for the door like they always do, then came to a skidding stop just before the ramp and refused to go any further. It’s not the first winter rodeo for most of our chickens, but they wouldn’t come out until Gene plowed the driveway with the tractor and I shoveled a path from the coop door to the cleared area.

A sole guinea ventured out, found it distasteful, and promptly flew up to the very top of a poplar tree. And then proceeded to sit up there and screech non-stop for the next hour. The rest of the guineas were smart enough to stay in the coop, but they kept screeching back since they don’t like to be separated. Since another storm is supposed to come through tonight (and they were being that loud – some of us have to work, you know) I enlisted Gene to help me persuade him to leave the perch and go back to the coop, by way of launching snowballs at him until he decided to come down and do something about it. Gene had much better aim, but we still only managed to chase him higher up in the tree. He finally came down when I threw some scratch grains in the cleared area, and I was able to tuck everyone up safely for the night.

We weren’t really expecting this much snow so early on, so we spent part of the afternoon taking all the vegetable pots off the back deck so I could shovel, and unearthing the remaining hummingbird feeders. Next we’ve got to build the little warming area out of stray bales inside the barn for the goats, although I’m hoping we’ve got a little time before the temps plummet below zero. Cocoa and Mocha were thoroughly unimpressed by the snow, and only ventured out during the sun breaks. They also demanded extra hay to make up for the sudden lack of green grass.

The early onset of cold weather has also heralded my least favorite season of the year – Mouse Invasion. We’ve only caught a few in the basement so far, but I think that’s because they’re all hanging out in my car, now nicknamed the Vermin Wagon. (Heh, I can truthfully say I drive a VW!) I drove down to my parents the other day and Bess Bess was visiting at the same time. We were going to go grab a coffee (can’t do that around here!) and she visibly recoiled when she opened the passenger door, then wondered aloud why a stench that bad isn’t visible to the naked eye.

Ya, apparently that stupid Febreeze commercial is based in fact – “nose blind” is a thing. Sigh. I got independent confirmation from my friend Jennifer that yes, my car does indeed reek of mouse, and no, deploying an entire bottle of Febreeze inside it didn’t work. So now it’s stuffed with a full box of Bounce dryer sheets, both inside and under the hood, because the internet says mice hate that smell. And if the mice hate it, it’s my new favorite thing. As a result, the car now smells like a laundromat exploded – totally worth it. I figure I’ll know it worked if the mice don’t rebuild the nest I swept off the engine block. Shudder.

Hope you like squash!

Not going to lie… gardening in zone 3a has been a blow to my ego. Good thing my ego is massive, and can take the hit. But seriously… I know growing things here is possible, because my friend Jennifer’s garden is robust. Peppers, tomatoes, corn… hers grows. Ours, on the other hand, looks like the “before” picture for one of those Miracle Grow commercials where the take home message is anyone can grow stuff, even when your garden looks like this! [insert photo of ours]. Sigh. We’re basically pretending we never planted corn, and the only tomatoes I managed to get were cherry size, and had such thick skins they were displeasing to chew. Even the birds are leaving them alone, so you know they’re bad.

But there is a silver lining – I can grow squash! Gene helped me harvest it, all the while grumbling about where we’re supposed to store so many. Then he started saying things like, “Merry Christmas! Here’s a squash!” after I suggested we could clear out a space in his man cave. I also learned the hard way that cold weather apparently makes slugs gather on the bottom of squashes. Shudder.

The other veggie I managed to actually grow was a yellow type of zucchini. I’m sure it would have been absolutely delicious, if I’d picked it when you’re supposed to instead of waiting for it to magically turn into butternut squash. It got way too woody to eat, but the chickens love them so I’ve been stomping on one every afternoon.

I’ve also been dispensing peanuts every morning to the jay birds, a flock of which have moved back now that it’s getting cold again. There are also two gray jays hanging around, which are a slightly smaller, much more dignified variety. They have a very distinctive call, but I don’t get to hear it very often since they don’t sit in the trees and screech at me. They’re more into the “hang out and look starving” method of getting treats, which works out rather well for them as they now have two fully stocked suet cages to choose from.

 

 

Snow’s Flying!

stormToday was a momentous occasion – we got sunshine, snow, sleet, and hail!

Each weather pattern seemed to last approximately five minutes, and changed from one to the next with no discernible rhyme or reason all day.

Tonight it’s dropping into the 20s – not the first frost, but the first hard freeze where I can likely say goodbye to the last of my flowers.

I also bid adieu to the Pollies today. After doing quite a bit of research, I found out they can hibernate in the bottom of our garden pond all winter!

I spent an hour or so carefully draining their tank water through our second-best kitchen strainer (much to Gene’s abject horror), and once I was sure I got them all they were re-homed to the pond.

Getting them there was a bit of a hike, and I quickly regretted not taking Gene’s advice to wear my waders. Turns out dead cattails aren’t actually load bearing.

But squelchy shoes aside, the Polly experiment was a resounding success. All of the ones that had started to grow legs earlier in the month have turned into frogs! Only about 30 of the 150+ were still in full on tadpole stage – perfect for hibernating.

Gene has also been busy outside. He built a new, fully insulated door for the chicken coop, and added insulation around all the windows. Once it’s cured, we’ll cover it with trim. I had originally been tasked with shooting the foam into the gaps, so when I asked Gene how to do it, he’s all “read the can.”

Those instructions were hard core. Not only did it admonish me to “prepare and practice,” it also warned me to wear gloves, a mask, and insinuated that deploying the spray improperly would likely cause the entire planet to implode. Well, maybe not that last part, but it was seriously gloom and doom stuff. At any rate, by the time I gathered all my personal protective equipment, Gene was already done spraying it around all the windows. Minus any safety gear whatsoever, I should add.

He also installed a higher roosting bar for the guineas, in an effort to dissuade them from roosting in the pine tree. It works great, as long as I go outside just after dusk and shoo them inside. Occasionally one jumps into the tree as I’m herding them, and I’m not going to lie – few things in life are funnier than grabbing the branch the guinea is perched on, pulling it down, and launching him back up into the air. Great sport, that. No wonder they try to get as high as possible, as quickly as possible.

In other noteworthy September news, Bess Bess came for her annual visit and fell in love with the geese. She also turned them into bread-loving monsters, and thanks to her now I get honked at incessantly until I go back inside and come back out with a treat of some sort. They’re not shy about taking it, either. I’m surprised I haven’t lost a finger yet.

Whenever I have a project to do outside, I can count on three helpers tagging along. When I was getting the painted mountain corn tied into bundles to dry, they decided the cobs and shoe laces were what I brought for them to eat and went about trying to sneak them off the trailer. It was actually really funny watching Higgins trying to waddle off with a huge corn cob. Not so much when he untied my shoes for the 15th time. But he eventually figured out how to undo a double knot, so it was hard not to be impressed.

 

It’s officially Fall…

Well, not according to the calendar, but the weather has definitely turned around here. The last of the monarchs just hatched and flew off, bringing the count officially above 30. All but two hummingbirds have headed south, the leaves are turning yellow and red, and we’ve had our first frost already!

The frost actually touched off a mild panic on my part, since some of the Pollies don’t have their legs yet. They’re still in full on tadpole stage. The original group have all turned into the cutest frogs ever, but the new ones are rapidly running out of time before the snow starts flying. So we (and by “we” I mean I) figured it would be a good idea to heat the tank to speed up the process. There happened to be an extra fish tank heater lying around, so now it’s in the bucket and the Pollies are happily swimming around in 70+ degree water, even when it’s 32 outside. Plus, we still have the huge 150 gallon tank that Gene said is too big for this house, but it’s not to big for the shop! Worst case scenario, the Pollies can winter in there.

In other tank related news, I finally got to set up a tropical fish tank in my office! It’s just a 20 gallon, since Gene was adamant that 150 gallons of water is far too heavy to house on the first floor. I was lamenting that fact to my friend Jennifer, who sagely observed that I don’t fall into the basement every time I take a bath, and the tub holds *way* more water than that. I pointed that out to Gene, and he said I’ve just been lucky so far.

But a small tank is better than no tank, and it’s perfect for a school of neon tetras. I spent the evening setting it up and decorating it, and Gene had the brilliant idea of running the hose through the window so it was super easy to fill up. After the water has cycled, I’m going to drag him to World Of Fish in Duluth. It’s a two-hour drive, but so worth it.

Other than all that… the only other news of note is that the barn swallows have fledged. Now they’ve taken to sitting on the cable line that runs from the shop to the house, and shrieking for someone to bring them delicious snacks. (Not unlike the sounds that emanate from my office, come to think of it…)

They’re really cute to watch, but mama swallow is even more protective of them now that they’re out of the nest. Whenever I walk under the cable, which is often, she’ll fly directly at my face. Lucky for her I’ve got cat like reflexes and she’s only gotten my hair like four times, tops.

I can’t figure out why I don’t get more done…

I try not to let 3+ weeks pass in between posts, but in my defense I’ve been dealing with *a lot* of distractions lately. The weather has been so beautiful, it’s hard not to want to be outside. And that’s exactly where all the critters want me to be. It seems like whenever I get into a writing groove (since I can’t ignore deadlines for that long), I’m faced with this:

Puppy eyes are my kryptonite. Who could deny her a romp around the yard? Then I’ll come back inside, sit down and mentally steel myself to write something witty while simultaneously being informative, then decide I need a cup of coffee. (Or, in all honesty, yet another cup of coffee).

On the way to the coffee pot I’ll glance out the deck door, and have to rush back outside to save my potted veggie deck garden from 3 hungry geese. So much for the baby gate, apparently they’re smarter than your average toddler.

rampaging geese

Even Charlie is in on the “let’s keep mama from working” plan. Whenever I have a note I want to jot down on the legal pad by my keyboard, I’ll have to go hunt down a pen to write with. Not only does she flip them off the desk, she grabs them and runs off to cache them away somewhere. It’s also open season on paper and binder clips.

charlie pens

And don’t even get me started on the hummingbirds. They hover by the window and glare inside at me if the sugar water drops to what they consider to be an alarming level. You know what else has a powerful glare? Baby swallows. There’s a nest of 4 of them in the barn rafters, almost directly over where I milk Cocoa. Not only does mama swallow come flap in my face, she’s taught her babies how to creep me out:

gargoyle swallow

Seriously, some church in London is missing its gargoyle. They’re also experts at giving me the stank eye:

vexed swallow

So now I try to milk, hay, and water as quickly as humanly possible considering I’m outnumbered.

Of course, it never pays to be in *too much* of a hurry around here, since this is what happens if you do something like leave the truck door open because there’s more to unload:

truck

first PollyWhenever I need a few moments of Zen, I’ll head over and visit the Pollies. They’re in various stages of development, and just doubled in number since I acquired most of Jennifer’s remaining tadpole stash as well. They weren’t getting enough protein in the trough, so we made the executive decision to re-home them.

The ones I’ve had since the beginning are already starting to turn into frogs and find new homes in the garden! So that’s one mystery solved – they’re tree frogs. And super cute, the size of my pinky nail.

cocoonOf course, they’ll grow up to eat Monarchs, but that’s what the Sanctuary is for! I’ve lost count of how many adults we’ve released now, it’s more than 25.

There are 7 more chrysalises waiting to hatch, and then we’ll be done for the season. I’ve already got grand plans for expansion…

Speaking of rapid expansion, with Jennifer’s help I managed to solve another mystery. In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed whenever I go outside (as we’ve established is often), I rapidly start to sound like Darth Vader after running a lap around the Death Star.

Jennifer came over the other day, and asked what was growing underneath the bird feeders. I’d originally thought it was daisies, but when they never blossomed figured they were some kind of pretty weed. I left them alone (and occasionally even watered them) because the chickens LOVE spending the day nestled in their little forest. Plus it cracked me up watching the weeds sway back and forth as they ran around looking for dropped sunflower seeds – totally reminded me of the velociraptors in Jurassic Park.

At any rate, she broke a length off, took it home, and looked it up in her book. Turns out it’s ragweed. According to my allergy test, I’m allergic to its pollen. But they should have amended the results to Ragweed, Vicinity Of, because it hasn’t flowered yet. And when I went to yank it all out, I had to pop 2 extra Claritin just to stop wheezing. I was smart enough to wear gloves, but next time I should think about long sleeves as well. Sigh.

Pride Goeth Before The Fall…

As the resident lawn mower around here (by choice, there’s something that’s just meditative about it), I get in plenty of practice. I like the grass short as it keeps the ticks at bay, plus I keep trying (and failing) to mow those perfectly straight lines.

I was even getting more comfortable with mowing the steep hill part of the lawn! And therein lies the problem… I got so cocky I even drove the mower one handed, since the other was occupied with the sandwich Gene so thoughtfully surprised me with. I had literally just started to think that I could probably mow with my knees, and thus free up the other hand for an ice cold Gatorade, when disaster struck. Not of the “I tipped the mower over” variety, but it was definitely close. Hills seem a lot steeper when you’re sideways on them, with only half the mower making contact with the ground whenever you shift your weight.

On the plus side, by that time I had finished my sammy. On the down side, getting off the mower involved jumping over a bunch of thistles, and convincing Gene that he should be the one to extricate it. Which he did, but managed to lecture me about “respecting the laws of physics” while pulling it out. Sigh. Just once I’d like an entire week to pass without getting a power tool related lecture!

So that was a bit stressful, but luckily I’ve got a brand new place to meditate. As I mentioned before, I’m rearing up a frog army which currently is still in tadpole form. They’re doing great in their huge red bucket, and I check on them multiple times a day. Some people stare at the ocean or a beautiful water fountain to achieve a Zen-like state – I’ve found a bucket of tadpoles works just as well, if not better.

First off – they’re super cute. They’ve got beady eyes that follow you everywhere, and even when they’re just floating around they look fat and happy. They also seem to have their own individual personalities, which is pretty impressive, considering. Some of them like to lurk under the broccoli leaf pieces, calmly munching away while staring reflectively at the sky. Others like to breach the surface and blow bubbles at the clouds, only to sink back down into the depths to do some heavy thinking. And then there’s the handful that are straight jerks – and yes, those are my favorite.

I’ve watched them headbutt their siblings to get the choicest bites of food (insect wings are a favorite, shudder), submarine them from below, and assume ramming speed, seemingly just for the hell of it. Total, complete Zen.

Also Zen? Hummingbirds. Once I’ve catered to their every need (which involves refilling the selection of feeders *at least* twice a day), I love sitting on the deck and watching them defend what they perceive as theirs from incursions both foreign and domestic.

Seriously – those little guys are in it to win it. Each of the 9 or so that nest around here have “their” watering hold staked out, and woe to anyone else who tries to snack from it.

Including, oddly enough bumble bees. Not only do they grow them big in Northern Minnesota, they grow them greedy. I literally have to kick them off when it’s time to refill, and they’re so sugared up by that point they kind of just sit there and shake. Whoever said sugar couldn’t help you achieve Nirvana?

So much saving going on around here…

So far we’ve released 7 monarchs, and there are 13 more chrysalises in various stages – plus at least 10 caterpillars still munching! I’m pretty sure I saw some eggs on the leaves too.

I’ve added “build an addition” to Gene’s summer to do list. He can even work on it right under the carport, as the overly protective pair of robins have moved on after their last brood fledged.

But monarchs aren’t the only species we’re giving an assist to – thanks to the hundreds of tadpoles my friend Jennifer discovered in her cow’s stock tank yesterday, now I’ve got a Tadpole Nursery!

There were way too many to survive where they were, so we moved about half of them to our house, where they now reside in a huge plastic bucket filled with rain, creek, and well water – in addition to as many buckets of trough water as Gene would let me put in the truck.

Today I gave them a handful of chopped up chard as a treat, and it was a huge hit. So as I’m dining on chicken tenders washed down with a rum & Coke, they’re eating leafy greens. I think we can all learn a little something from nature.

In other news, the geese have found a new favorite basking spot – on the front deck, directly in front of the porch door. Every time I go back into the house, they want to follow me. So they end up just parked there, soaking up the sunshine. The highlight of their day is when I take Ceri and Chupi to check the mail. I end up rolling 5 deep – with a 3 geese escort.

At any rate, I think it’s super cute that they wait for me to come out of the house. Gene, not so much. Instead of letting their love for us melt his heart, he chooses to focus on what they leave behind. Which, in all honesty, is hard to miss. Literally. You have to open the door then try to jump over 3 steps to avoid stepping in it.

I’ve added “hose off deck” to my list of daily chores. Gene got me a professional grade water wand thing that has a really powerful jet on it, and you’d think since my favorite side gig is pressure washing cedar logs I’d be a lot better at cleaning the deck. But since I went nuts with the potted flowers, it’s kind of hard to get a good angle on the piles. I found that out the hard way, when to my horror I pressure washed a huge goose turd underneath the porch door. Shudder. I bet the next time the porch hits 90 degrees I’m going to wish I hadn’t done that…