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Saturday, February 2, 2019

Knit, Knit, Purl. Knit, Knit, Brrrrrr.

The Arctic chill has come and gone.  We were on the western edge and our windchill made it down to -27 degrees.  The actual temperature was -9.  It honestly wasn't so bad.  We've been far worse, for far longer.  All the animals have places out of the wind, so it's not a factor for them.  It doesn't matter how cold or windy it gets.  They still want fed and watered twice a day.

The unfortunate human has to pick through the racks of drying winter clothes to find all the correct layers and then fight to get them on.  This is about the time you remember you forgot the warm chicken breakfast up on the stove, so the boots have to come off and you have to fight the stiff legged coverall legs up and down the steps and then wrestle the boots back on.  All this has to be done before you start to get hot.  Too late.  Unlock the door, and then remember you haven't turned off the alarm yet, which cannot be done with bulky gloves on.  Off come the gloves, and you dig into a deep pocket for your cell phone.  Sigh.  It's up on the coffee table.  Off come the boots, up the stairs, down the stairs, boots back on, alarm off, gloves on, and NOW you can trudge out to the workshop.  There, two 5 gallon buckets are filled with steaming water from the sink, the chicken bucket is filled with feed and scratch, and everything is balanced on the buckets.

The lower level takes on the look of a camp laundry, or the outerwear
section of Tractor Supply about October and stays that way until the
beginning of March.
Happy with their breakfast of chicken feed and warm
mixed veggies.
The trip to the hen house is downhill, but in the full blast of the wind.  The open area is notorious for ice and the journey must be taken carefully, made easier by the new lower center of gravity of carrying about 65 pounds of water.  The hens can hear you coming.  What was a quiet island in the field, now fills with the excited chatter of two dozen birds happy to hear your boots crunching through the ice topped snow.  When the door is opened, hopeful beady eyes look past you at the bleak landscape and then lock eyes with you.  They understand they aren't going outside today.  The ice has to be broken on their heated water dish.  It's too cold for the element to keep up.  The hens gather along the trough and you oblige and fill it high with feed and warm veggies.  Satisfied, they ignore you as you turn to leave, locking the door behind you.

"You're late." "We've had to amuse ourselves."
Next are the alpacas.  Warm and snug in their own vicuna coats, made all the better by their fleece lined winter coats, they wait, annoyed that they are taken second in line to the feathered blobs.  No matter when you go out to feed them, you're late.  Every feeding is treated like they haven't seen food for days and days.  Everyone has their favorite dish, but somehow Angus feels everyone is getting better food than he is and must sample from each and every one of them.  Growls and spitting follow, but it's all show.  Everyone lets the little guy in, and they know he'll move on after a mouthful.    Ice is broken, water is topped off, hay is thrown, and feed buckets are nibbled upon.

Our hearty human warrior, treads the whole path in reverse to make sure doors and gates are closed and locked and to put now empty buckets away, noting anything that needs accomplished outside during the day.  Upon entering the house, off come the countless layers of winter gear.  The whole routine is repeated about an hour before sunset.

It honestly isn't hard, too much time, or taxing, but adding the winter gear makes it suck more energy from you, and I swear it would take less time to manage to get ready for a space walk.

I usually have first breakfast before I go out to the barn in the morning.  When I get in I work on my Norwegian for a while, then it's time for second breakfast.  Yes, it's a real thing.  Not just for adventure seeking Hobbits.  You have a very small something - a piece of fruit, toast, or a yogurt; just too keep your growling stomach from freaking out the animals, and to keep you from eating one of them.  Then later, you have a real breakfast- cereal, grits, eggs, or the like.

If I'm not leaving the ranch for the day, this is where all the other adventures of the Ranch come into play; projects (I'm almost done with the bathroom remodel), art, Ranch management books, housework, planning notes, writing, or KNITTING!

I've been doing it a long time, but have had lapses in activity levels when we lived in warmer climates, and when I was constantly chasing a child around and juggling home schooling.  Now I can be found spending quiet downtime before bed, or the later half of my lunch break, perched on the sofa, my toes hooked on the edge of the coffee table tackling some new found pattern.

The 7000 stitch wrap. Done in Aran
weight yarn and #3 needles.
The Bubble Bauble Hat.  A
quick 5 hour knit on #8 Circs,
and with Pantone colorway skeins.
Go into any yarn or knitting shop and you will find a sign that says, "Knitting, it's cheaper than therapy."  Some days I wonder if it's the knitting that is driving me to insanity.  I recently finished a project that took a couple hours a night over the course of a month.  It's over 7000 stitches.  By the end of it I was sick of looking at the yarn, sick of counting, and ready to lock my needles away until next winter.  I took a two day break, found a new skein of yarn I LOVED and couldn't wait to tackle and I was off and running again.

I am a member of Ravelry, which just about every fiber artist knows about.  I've been on there for years, and after all this time JUST found the filing cabinet!  I had no idea I could track my yarns and needles!  How handy when you're out shopping to make sure you don't buy duplicates or if you come across a sale and only want to fill in the holes of your supply.  Since The Boy needed to go to Omaha for an exam, I visited a local shop, The Wooly Mammoth Yarn shop, as they carry my most favorite needles in the WHOLE WORLD, the Kollage Square needles.  She is discontinuing them, so I used my Ravelry account to identify the missing needles in my basket and stocked up!

Well of course I had to get my things on there.  I am a huge fan of organization.  Upon opening my basket, I realized I wasn't at all organized in this aspect of my hobby.  Everything had to be sorted and put in its proper place.  Certainly I could work faster if things were in their place!
The previously piled, junk cabinet, freshly cleaned, a new shelf and cubes added
for yarn sorting.  The new Knitting cabinet.  It's like having your own yarn shop
in the house.

I'm a Portuguese knitter, which means I use a pin on my shoulder to keep my tension and only have to move my left thumb to move the yarn.  It is much easier on my work tired hands.  If you suffer from arthritis or have trouble keeping your tension, I highly recommend it.  I use a magnetic pin/hook which I purchased from a great jewelry artist on etsy, who makes them from upcycled vintage broaches.

What's currently on the needles.  I wanted a nice looking utility hat
for around the Ranch.  It's a brushed cotton that, surprise, self stripes!  My
knitting pin is resting on top, waiting for me to stop typing for the night.


Thursday, January 31, 2019

Just Another Bee In Our Bonnet

With an orchard you need bees.  Last year, our early season fruit trees went into bloom due to a few weeks of warm weather that came far too early.  So early, in fact, that the pollinators weren't awake yet.  They were still tucked snugly in their little beds, hats on, sawing logs.  The blooms came and went, and with them the future fruit that would have been born of them.

The mid-season blossoms were sparse due to a late cold spell, which I'm sure was mother nature's revenge for those early weeks of warmth.

I only have two late season trees, and they tried so hard to set blooms, but just didn't quite get there.

So what is normally a field of white and pink blossoms abuzz with flies and bees doing their busy work, swimming through air sickeningly sweet with perfume was silent.

While I cannot control the effects of the weather on the fruit trees, or when the bees decide to pry themselves out of bed, I can increase the number of bees on the property.

We are a registered state pollinator habitat and are on the DriftWatch and BeeCheck registry.  We let as much native grasses and flowers grow on the property as we can and I have many areas where I have planted additional areas of flowering plants.

So after a great deal of research and decided that we would start by adding just one hive.  I have a friend about 8 miles away who has traditional square box hives for honey.  She grows fabulous flowers for the farmer's market, and she had a rough weather year too.

We decided we liked the eccentric look of the top bar hive.  I actually began looking at them sometime last winter, but after seeing the price tag, and then being saddled with the barn project, I put the hive on such a back burner, I forgot about it.  At the beginning of January, my renewal for the DriftWatch program popped up in my email.  Suddenly, the beehive elbowed its way back into not only my memory, but forced it's way to the front of the project line.  How long could building one take?  Besides, I could work on the hive in the workshop when I got sick of working on the bathroom remodel in the house.

A quick Google search for Top Bar Hive Plans brought me to the site of The Barefoot Beekeeper  .
He, in very plain English, explains not only beekeeping, but how the hives work.  While his plans online are quite easy to follow, I did decide to go ahead and order his books to have on hand for reference.  There a great resource for beekeeping for dummies.  Because honestly, I have NO idea on what I'm doing with bees.

He discusses three main methods for keeping bees.
*Keeping bees just to have bees.  Completely let them be and just give them a place to live.
*Being a mid-range keeper.  Give the bees a place to live.  Give them minimum maintenance, and take only the honey the bees won't themselves need for over wintering.
*Having bees for honey.  These bees work hard, hives are heavily maintained and checked, and honey is harvested and bees have food given to them to overwinter.

We decided to go with being mid-range keepers.  We'll care for them, but not hover.  Their main job is pollinating and any honey we get is just a bonus.

marking out the sliding boards
So on to the build!

The instructions are quite good and the build went quite well.  Like all projects I thought it would be a quick 2 or 3 hours.  Turns out those are football hours, but they were easy hours, not at all confusing or difficult.  The full instructions are online, so I won't go through them here.  I'll just post the photos and comments.


These pieces are critical.  They must match, and are
what the angles of the sides are based on.  Building
around them makes the sliding boards fit like a glove.

I painted all the pieces before cutting.  This is much easier than
painting all those little corners.  


The top boards are color coded for easy
selection.  Sliders are yellow, feeders are blue, wax starts are blue with a red dot, and
wood starts are plain blue.
The roof was far more complicated.  The instructions basically said, wing it.  Make the roof however you want, out of whatever you want.  LOL!  So it took me forever.  I really tried to keep to the scraps of lumber I had in the shop and then make it happen. It had to be high enough to allow for ventilation, and it had to fit snugly over the base frame, but not too tightly, but not enough to let in intruders.  It's trickier than it sounds.




The floor was also tricky.  It can be solid, it can be micro mesh less than 1/8 of an inch square (not found in US, but you can use gutter screening, or what I opted for, an ECO-floor.  An ECO-floor most closely resembles the litter floor of a tree stump or rotted log.  The tiny mesh floor is covered in small twigs and shavings.  It allows for the natural friends of the bees to move in and take care of dead bees and mites.  This requires an add on to the bottom the hive that has to custom designed.  It is made so that it is removable to be checked and cleaned.  It is filled in it's entirety, so that the litter comes to the bottom of the slider boards.  The litter is so thick that it is insulating and a barrier for those that would also like to move into the hive.
The ECO-floor frame shown here upside down.



The feeding station for sweet water for food drought season.

the new porch

Here she is all finished.  I also added a barn quilt square called Bee Hive.  End cap vents, which have screening on the inside
to inhibit other bees, wasps, and hornets.  We also added heavy duty handles on each side so we can carry it from location to location if needed.  I also removed the red porch and replaced it with a 3 inch wide, composite porch that is cut at an angle so when it is mounted to the side of the hive it is horizontal.  There are black rubber stoppers for entry holes not currently in use.  The paint color name escapes me, but it is Tiffany Box Blue.



The bees themselves will be ordered next week from Valhalla Bee Farm, they carry both Italian and Carniolan bee boxes, as well as a well stocked room of beekeeping supplies. (There is nothing more glamorous than a full beekeeping getup.)  While the Italians make more honey, the Carniolans are a "friendlier" bee.  Since our goal isn't honey production, we plan on getting the Carniolans.

So that's the buzz at the Ranch this week.




Saturday, December 22, 2018

Deep In The Yuletide


The past six months have been a whirlwind of work on the Ranch. My hopes to keep up to date on the blog were dashed by an endless parade of jobs and tasks.  Outdoor work took priority in fine weather, which bumped indoor work days that weren't so very nice.

So instead, please enjoy the following photos to catch you up.

Cornhusker Games in late July resulted in 4 Gold and 2 Bronze Medals
for the household.

The garden produced a crazy amount of cucumbers, tomatoes, and
peppers.  The corn, potatoes, and sweet potatoes were a bust, although
pretty while growing.








The first of the Alpacas arrive and join the pasture with the donkeys.
This is 10 year old Odin.

On a trip to the farm store for more feed....well, we heard peeping.
Yes, we remembered the feed.  We added 4 americanas all girls.
Or so we hoped. 


We had a large hay shed built and filled it with 75 bales of our own hay.

Gorgeous summer cicadas.

We added Angus Kissed by Starlight, a one year old True Black.

The chicks at two months old.  It was looking like one was
a boy.  He was huge, with feed to match.  SnowWhite, Cinderella,
Rapunzel, and Prince Charming.


Then came Sir William the Red, 5 year old Medium Brown.

The windmill purchased from a moving neighbor was fully restored.
I built a platform.  Doc helped me get the base up and I hired a tree guy with
a lift to get the blades on.  It looks great!

The ornaments for the Governor's
holiday tree at the Capitol Building were
designed, created, and delivered.

We sold Odin.  He didn't want to mix with the other animals.  He
had been kept inside so long at his other farm, he wanted nothing
to do with being OUTSIDE, but kept others from being inside.
  We added Nova, 7 year old Beige and rose. 

We added 3 year old Sterling.  Light Grey.

Here's Stormy, 1 year old fawn.

The snow storms began in the middle of October.

We sold the Donkeys as well.  They are missed, but they were making life
difficult with the alpacas.  They moved 8 miles straight down the road to a farm of 11 horses and one
very lonely Jack.  We can visit whenever we like.

The pasture is full of fluff. 

Prince Charming turned out to be a GIRL!
She's a large breed that got mixed in with the Americanas.
She is a Husky Red.  A dual breed meat or egg bird.
Meet Mirida.

It's been a good fall.  They boy is back in school.  Doc is back teaching at school.  I run the Ranch, tackling all the honey-do's, and the fix-its, project planning/execution, and errand running.  We had a bathroom pipe go, so I've been gutting and rebuilding a bathroom for what seems like forever instead of writing or painting like I had planned.  Christmas is upon us and I have managed some knitting, and to my credit the tree is UP. 

So there you have it.  Happy New Year!

Monday, July 9, 2018

Canning Season is Upon Us

We are dead smack in the middle of summer at the acreage.  The Spring rolled in and out again over a period of about two days, and fell head-long into Summer. There were no ifs, no buts, no coconuts.

The orchard suffered the most from our leap into the 90s.  The blossoms dropped on all of the early and mid-season varieties.  That means no pears and precious few apples.  On the upside, it gives the trees a year off from production and puts the energy into growth and root system.  We did manage 12 ounces of tart cherries from one tree, but I'm afraid that's it for the orchard this year.
The garden is back up and running full swing.  I opted for a new gardening method that is based on the composting in place method I used on the garden when we first moved here.  That garden now being under several feet of new barn floor.  This method is from a new book Raised Row Gardening. (not affiliated, nor do I profit from)

The garden walking spaces are a deep layer of mulch material, while the growing zones are mulching/composting in place.  The growing rows are then planted with a cover crop after harvest and allowed to over-winter.  The new season planting are then planted directly into the mowed cover crop, and then mulched again, providing moisture control and more organic material.  So far, so good.  The garden is going gang-busters, although due to the early heat, things were slow to get going as the ground went to cold to blazing hot and dry, and then hot and very wet.


It is currently surrounded by a 100 foot poultry net fence.  I do plan on installing a permanent wood and wire fence when the weather cools down.  So far we've harvested 4 pounds of new, red potatoes from one pound of seed potatoes from the potato towers.  I've canned 6 quarts of pickles and one quart of jalapenos and banana peppers over the past two days.




I planted a sacrificial patch of dill to spare the tomato plants from horn worms and swallowtails.  So far it is working, which doesn't mean I won't be vigilant on my hunt for those voracious plant munchers.






The BIG news is the DONKEYS ARE HERE!  Once I finished the barn, Poppy and Tulip arrived in a big silver stock trailer.  From the get-go, they were snuggly and loving giant puppies.  They love to be groomed and pet.  They love their giant green pasture and their fresh straw. (Yes, they eat straw, not hay.)  When the weather turned to scalding, we made the command decision to shear them down for the summer.  It was my first lesson in clipper or shearer purchasing, and I learned a LOT.

Wooly Tulip


Fresh Haircuts


After a week of blade purchases and fooling around with a very pricey, highly recommended clipper for all stock, I returned the clippers and invested in a professional set of shears.  I, with the help of Doc, sheared both mini-donkeys, or dinkies as we call them, in under 25 minutes. 
Not only is it a fast shear, but clean. 
Poppy is always looking for a cookie.
I invested in the alpaca blade, as we will need it in the Spring.  The alpacas start arriving this week.


such a ham




New solitary bee houses in the orchard.
Princess has decided that the straw bales are HER spot to make nests.
On the chicken coop side of the farm we have suffered the loss of Hyacinth to cocci.  A rapidly progressing illness, and I didn't catch it fast enough to save her or Rose in time.  The rest of the flock was treated for cocci, worms and mites (regular seasonal treatment) and then back on replacement vitamins.  They all seem to be doing just fine. We have plans for chicks in the Fall.  I still haven't decided if we'll hatch or purchase chicks.



Art-wise I am still producing photographic art and watercolors.
In fact, all five of my submissions for the Governor's Christmas tree were selected with a deadline of October 15th.

I also purchased a spinning wheel and am learning to spin fleece.  Hey, if you're going to have alpaca running around.... LOL.

I am also learning Norwegian.  So far, it's going well.  So wish me luck on that one.  Takk!

In June I earned my NRA Range Safety Officer Credentials.

And in two weeks we have the annual CornHusker Game competition.

So, as you can see the ranch is just as crazy as normal!  Thanks for visiting!