May 28, 2009

The Neighborhood

At first glance, it may seem like we have no close neighbors, but after living in the Shanty for over two years now, I am coming to realize that we have quite a few neighbors. There's the whip-poor-will who formally introduces himself by name right outside our window every warm evening but is too shy to let us catch a glimpse of him. The pair of great-horned owls are also shy about personal appearances but carry on frequent conversations in the woods. The ruby throated hummingbirds are not at all shy and are quite happy to take up our standing invitation for "dinner at our house". There have, of course, been no dinner invitations for the bears, but every neighborhood has those characters who like to show up uninvited.

Thanks to Lily, we've also been getting to know some of our human neighbors better. At least twice in the past week we've received the "I think I have your dog" phone call. One night we returned home too late to return the call, and so Lily had a slumber party on the neighbor's porch. It turns out they live within spitting distance of us, and if they had just let Lily go, she would have been home in no time. In fact, Joe and I are thinking of putting a tag on her that says "Please do NOT restrain me, I'm on my way home right now!". We had our first obvious confirmation that Wilson really does like Lily by the joyous reception he gave her when I brought her home from her sleep-over. Lily just spent another night away from home, but this time she was at the vet getting spayed. Even Foxy missed her this time. He spent the whole day she was gone sleeping in her bed, soaking up her scent and looking forward to all of the slobbery kisses he would get when she returned. :) We are all glad to have her back, and even happier that she's "fixed". That means she won't get in to any more trouble, right?

Can you guess what we had for dinner last night? Our garden is growing exponentially with the plethora of rain we've been having. All of the extra time and attention we put into the soil surely can't have hurt either. Already our garden is doing twice as good as last year. And to think that I ever complained about having giant piles of manure sitting everywhere. The garden is already saving us money! We came in $25 under on our monthly food budget. :)

May 23, 2009

Happy Birthday Jenny!!!

Happy Birthday to my favorite little sister!! :)

Not much else to say right now. The weather is GORGEOUS (although I'm already getting antsy about when it will rain again). Joe and I have a few days at home so we can hopefully get a lot done. It seems we've both been very busy lately. Joe substituted at the Floyd highschool the past three days, which he really enjoys. I was also in school yesterday dancing for an elementary school near Roanoke. The kids were all so good! It was a lot of fun dancing with them.

The Frontline (flea and tick poison) FINALLY came, but Lily and Wilson still seem to pick up their fair share of ticks. Yesterday Lily looked like she had stuck her face in a tick nest! Good thing they only share a bed with each other. :)

Okay, enough computer time. Gotta make hay while the sun shines! :)

May 17, 2009

Three years already!

Joe and I celebrated our third anniversary with a day of running errands. In honor of the special occasion, we spiced up our adventure with various yard sales, a visit to a pizza buffet and a new wheelbarrow. The new wheelbarrow part is very exciting as we have been squeezing every last drop of life out of a wobbly, duct-taped excuse of a wheelbarrow for a while now (I guess you can't ask for much more out of a dumpster find :).

We left the dogs at home and put Lily on her tie-out as the chickens were loose. She seems to have no culinary interests in the chickens any more, but we still weren't confident enough to put her to the test while we were gone, especially since the new "teenage" chicks are free-ranging as well. When we got home from our errand-running, however, Lily came running to greet us with a 2-foot section of cable hanging from her collar (she didn't chew it, the cable just had a weak spot). She had no blood or other signs of fowl-play on her, and a quick chicken head count showed none missing! In fact, we may have successfully converted her to vegetarianism as we found her munching away at the lettuce in the garden a short while later. (The half a groundhog she brought home the other day may negate that theory though.)

Speaking of chickens and predators, the bear has not made a reappearance, that I know of anyway. Joe is back on the premises exuding man-presence (apparently an effective bear deterrent) and Lily and Wilson are doing an excellent job of barking a lot. Our little tiny chicks have grown into small chickens. The big red hens are pretty nasty to them, and they split into two factions when free ranging, but they are all sharing the coop nicely at night. Joe has been forming a special bond with one of the chicks in particular (she was getting picked on a lot by the big hens) and has trained her to eat out of his hand and sit on his shoulder.

It really tickles to have little beaks pecking at your hand!

This was the greenhouse last week. Now that we are past the last expected frost date, most of these are in the garden. We were able to give away 57 tomatoes this year, and we planted 24 ourselves!! :)

May 05, 2009

Bear Attack

Sometime in the middle of the night, a bear went over the mountain to see what he could see....and he saw my chickens! Lily and Wilson, who were inside sleeping with me, must have heard what was going on because they started to bark last night. Disgruntled at being woken, I told them to hush and go back to sleep, and unfortunately, they listened. When I went to let the chickens out this morning, I was greeted with a very discouraging sight - one side of the chicken pen had been completely crunched, and the dog crate which had been keeping our new, teenage chickens safely confined within the chicken pen while the older chickens got used to having them around was turned upside down. Miraculously, all of the chickens, old and new, were alive and well. The youngsters had all fallen out the bottom of the crate during the turmoil and were huddled in one corner of the mangled pen while the rest of the chickens were eyeing them suspiciously from the other side of the pen. The plastic barrel that we keep the chicken feed in was down the hill a-ways with fresh puncture wounds but was apparently strong enough to keep the bear out.

After surveying the damage in disbelief, and thanking God that no lives had been lost, I herded the traumatized chicks back into their crate and repaired the fencing as best I could. I thought the worst was over, but then I turned around and noticed the bee hive! The hive was structurally undamaged, but the various parts and pieces were upside down and strewn about. Thank goodness for Joe's mom, Lisa, (did I mention Joe is out of town for a week!!) who maintained perfect calm and bravely helped me put the hive back together. We both bundled up like we were going on an Arctic expedition and went in to the fray singing softly, whether to calm ourselves or the bees I don't know, but it certainly seemed to help. I sustained several stings on the back of my hand, but all in all not too bad.

All this and I had barely eaten breakfast! What a morning! Tonight the dog door is staying open and the chicks are sleeping on the porch. I will certainly not grumble at the dogs if they bark tonight! I somehow feel that we may have made it through this battle relatively unscathed, but I'm afraid we might not have seen the last of the bear. Here's hoping...

May 01, 2009

'Tis the season

Salad season is here!! Our over-wintered spinach has done an excellent job of tiding us over until the spring greens start to take off, which is now. Everyday, at least one meal consists primarily of a giant salad so fresh you can almost feel the enzymes coursing through your body! (In honor of Phil :) In addition to our planted greens, we have also been utilizing wild plants as a regular part of our diet. Joe is quite the innovative cook and recently he's concocted some delicious dishes of sauteed mustard and chickweed greens. The young green briar shoots are starting to emerge, and the ramps we planted at the spring last year have been a delightful addition to potato soups. Eating wild food is all the excitement of gardening without the work! :)

'Tis also the season for hammocks. As delightful as hammock season is, it can be quite dangerous. Hammocks must be related to black holes, because large blocks of time have been known to disappear without a trace when hammocks are involved. It is all too easy to climb in a hammock for a "quick break" only to discover that an entire hour has gone by in what seemed like only a few minutes. The hummingbird feeder only adds to the temptation as the hammocks give you a front row seat to a mesmerizing show. Some serious battles are fought over that feeder. I'm almost thinking I need to put up a second one or else blood might be shed. As cute as they are, hummingbirds can be surprisingly vicious!

And now, a few random photos to celebrate the return of the camera. :)

Yum!!! Aren't you glad I found my camera? ;)

Foxy working on his tan.

Last month the hens laid 92 eggs!!! They have a morning ritual of gathering around the "water hole".