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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The Potting "Shed"

When Mother Nature hands you this...



in LATE Februrary, all you can do, besides swear at the ditch rat for getting it all wrong, is hope and plan for Spring.  Spring that you know will come, you just don't know when.

It's rather difficult to do when your garden, which you should be filling with grand heaps of compost is under this...

Yes, that's the path that Doc has been keeping open for us with the snowblower between the coop, barn, and workshop.  The garden is under all of that, and it's not a fluffy drift.  Most of it you can walk on top of, until you can't.  Which is why we've had to make a cut in it.  Walking on top of it hauling 8 gallons of water is fine, until you hit a soft pocket and the drift eats you for breakfast. 

We are still in the deep freeze, which we shouldn't be, but the temps should start warming up into the 30s.  That's still 20 degrees colder than we should be, but I'll take it.

It does hinder the garden work that should be going on this time of year.  But to keep on the gardening track I came up with a project.  Inspired by a post on the Old World Garden blog where she builds racks for seed starting.  She also sells the plans for them for those less hands on.

So where could I create this safe space for my seeds?  Previously I was sprouting seeds in the kitchen.  But the light source from the windows was too high and caused the plants to get leggy before their time.  I have plenty of room in the unfinished warm area of the basement, but really didn't relish having moisture laden seed racks down there in a part of the house that has no moisture issues. 

So where......

AH HA!


In front of Doc's car space in the garage is this odd little nook.  It forms the ceiling of the staircase below and I suppose was meant to be an awesome area for little used storage.  Although without shelving, it became a seasonal dumping ground that never got cleaned or emptied.  With the 18 inch step up, it also wasn't very convenient.  (Had I built the house, I would have enclosed it and put a door on that back wall and made it a walk in pantry for the kitchen.)

I was then able to get great measurements and take care of the hardest part, the planning and the list making to pull it all together. 



I already had a potting table that I was using for cooking in the outdoor brick oven, so I made sure it made it in the room. I figured out the best placement for shelves and made my list of supplies needed.  Then I was off and running.


Behr Tidal Blue in SemiGloss
I removed all the goodies in there and set them aside to find new homes for it all later.  I swept it clean and removed most of the cobwebs, and slapped on a coat of fresh paint. Of course, doing this made the rest of the garage look terrible. (project for another time)

Then came a scrap piece of vinyl flooring in a nice slate stone print.  It was that or looking like a wood plank floor.  Since it's a potting room, and one of my favorite movies is Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House, it had to be the slate.

I put back the trim after installing the floor and set to work building the shelves from 2x4s.

Several trips up and down the 18 inch step later, I decided I needed to build a step.  I used a pair of cinder blocks with a piece of plywood attached with construction adhesive and topped with another scrap of vinyl.  That made the work easier.

Plywood was secured to the frame tops and then covered in more scrap vinyl and rubber matting. 

I capped the end of the shelving unit with an opaque roofing panel to block the winds and cool drafts when Doc open his door, and also a curtain across the front on a rod for the same purpose.

The lights are full spectrum LED lights on a timer.  They are adjustable in height from the seedlings.  I also had room for a Blue/Red LED grow light on the potting table.  This one is for lettuce, the lights are color adjustable for seedlings, and the plant stages.

I am hoping to not only get seedlings started for the garden, but also perennial and self seeding annual seedlings for the pollinator beds.  I invested in a potting cube maker and am looking forward to seeing how they compare and stand up to use as compared to using commercial soil and plastic starter cells.

I also walked into a clearance sale at the local big box store.  They were discontinuing colors from last year's pots, so I took full advantage of that.  The long trays are extremely heavy duty plastic liners for window boxes.  I guess they no longer sell the boxes that they go into, or people just didn't want to spend 9$ on a tray.  But I'll spend less than 2$ for a home for rows of cherry seeds.

The large planters will start asparagus, and the squares are saddle belly planters for over bricks or railing.  Those I will fill with lettuce for the deck and maybe flowers for market.


Hopefully, in another week or so, we'll get everything going.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Mittens, Mittens, Who's Got The Mittens?

Otherwise known as "The Winter That Refuses To Die."

It's the third of March, and we are still deep in winter.  We shouldn't be. We SHOULD be in the forties, with pop up days in the 50s and 60s.  Of late our highs have been in the teens, with wind chills in the negative teens and 20s.

Isn't this mug adorable?!  It reminds
me of those S'Mores Christmas
ornaments.  What looks like a
coaster isn't, it's part of the mug.  It IS
a "chocolate square and graham cracker".
And SNOW.  Oh mercy, SNOW!  We normally manage, on average, about 25 inches of snow over the winter.  We are creeping up on 55 inches.  When the snow comes, it's not messing around.  We've been gifted with howling winds, ice, and 8 to 10 inches of snow at a go.  The drifting has been ridiculous, and necessitates Doc taking the snowblower to the yard and cutting paths from the plowed driveway to the chicken house and the barn through 2 foot drifts, so that we can more easily haul water, and walk.

The alpacas and chicken are being real sporting about the matter.  The alpacas can't read, so they don't know what month it is.  They are a tad annoyed that I have closed the gate to the drift laden pasture.  It's not that they could get out of the pasture.  The problem was they were finding ways from the corral INTO the pasture and then couldn't remember where the pass was to get back INTO the corral.  This forced me into my ranch bunny suit, to chase down giant furry rabbits, while my own movements were limited to something that looked like Frankenstein's revenge.  So confinement to the barn and corral it is.  They stood and looked at for a time. I'm quite sure they were discussing, between each other, what on earth this new construct was.  Sterling, of course, had to spend some time licking it.

The chickens, while they cannot read, know it is supposed to be Spring.  They can tell by the ever increasing number of hours of daylight they are exposed to.  This increases their need to lay eggs.  So while the sun isn't warming us, or them, they are popping out eggs right on schedule.  Even Mirida is finally laying.  The cold is hard on all of them.  But with the walls keeping them from the wind and warm meals twice a day, they'll be fine.
Freya was all ready for her photo shoot, when Princess pulled a photo-bomb.
I love the annoyed look on Freya.
As for the ranch, projects are at a standstill due to the weather.  The bees are on order and will be in at the end of April.  The guest bathroom remodel in the house is finally finished, but the ceiling in the lower level still needs repaired.  Much beyond that even the seed starting is at a standstill.   Every nook and every cranny has been cleaned and sorted, organized and purged.  Spring weather needs to come soon as I (and all my friends) have run out of things to clean and sort.

So that leaves me with writing and knitting.

Not only are three books in various stages of production and disarray, but now there is a forth in the mix.

As for the knitting, it's been going gang busters.  All manner of shawls, hats, and scarves have been managed since Christmas. 
For Valentines Day I made Doc a Tardis decorative scarf.
Then I got it in my head to make a pair of mittens for myself.  Everything on the market has too long of a space for the fingers and are too wide.  OR they do fit, but are dainty useless decorative things.

I found an easy pattern on Ravelry.com, but even with sticking to the pattern and the gauge they were giant floppy things.  The basics of the pattern were sound, but the sizing was off.  As I knit Portuguese style, purling is ridiculously fast, so the pattern also had to be re-written for that account.

Then I change the thickness of the yarn and it needed re-written for that account.

I eventually got it to where I wanted it and went to work.  I recently found out that I can now use some of the new, modern super washed wool yarns.  Not all of them, so it's still trial and error, but it's a start.  The pair was still a little too large. This led me to decide to Thrum them with an alpaca and silk lining.  I used a rug hooking needle to insert the afterthought thrums in each mitten.  They are magnificently warm, but smell to high heaven of wet dog.  I'm not sure I'll be wearing them.

The second pair was a super bulky yarn, so again the pattern needed tweaked.  The yarn is soft and wonderful, but had some weak spots in it that needed trimmed out. There was very little twist in places, and was little more than weak top/roving.  That was annoying.  This pair came out exactly the right size.  The yarn, however, has a tendency to loose strands of hair like bits. I am hoping this will stop with multiple wearings as little white hairs float around the car, get stuck to your nose, and generally attach themselves to pretty much everything.

The latest blast from the polar region had me knitting a third pair.  These are a thinner yarn, and I certainly wouldn't wear them in the deep cold, but to take the edge off, they're perfect.  The size is perfect, and the pair only took about 5 hours.  I like the yarn, even if the colorway didn't match through the ball.  One is a deep dark blue, the other a dirty medium blue.

I honestly cannot look at more yarn or my needles any more.  They've been put away for now.  Come ON SPRING!

Next is a temperature scarf.  I have all the yarns set up and ready for a spate of boredom later!


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!