August 29, 2011

Dear Hurricane Irene,

Thanks for NOTHING! Not a DROP of rain! Okay, so there were a couple of drops, but if I can count the number of individual drops, it doesn't count (no pun intended). So, I've just spend another hour or so carrying buckets of water to the remaining productive plants in my garden. I was going to plant lettuce, but I just can't bring myself to voluntarily bring another being that requires constant watering into this world. I did plant broccoli, kale and cabbage transplants the other day, and they are more than enough extra work at the moment.

Whereas my fall garden crops may be few and far between this year, we're making good use of the summer crops. We've been digging up the potatoes as we need them, which so far is working great. Of course, we'll have to get them out of the ground before it freezes, but it is nice to not have to figure out where to store them just yet. Joe and I cooked up this beautiful, straight from the garden, root vegetable medley to take to a back-to-school potluck hosted by one of Joe's new professors. Joe almost didn't want to take it because he didn't think they'd appreciate it. He was right, they didn't. In fact, they hardly touched it. But, it was a win-win situation because we got credit for bringing a dish and we got to bring it home and enjoy it for dinner last night and lunch today!
Photo courtesy of Joe, who's into the artsy, angled camera look. This photo was taken before the veggies went in the oven. When they came out, they were all bright red from the beets.
Speaking of professors, today is Joe's first day of classes at Radford!! He started his graduate assistantship job last week, but now the real adventure begins. It looks like between classes and work, he's going to have a packed schedule all day Monday through Thursday. He's hoping to have most of his Fridays free, but we'll see how it goes. He's pretty excited, and I'm very excited for him.  Now that Joe's back to school, he's gone through a complete wardrobe transformation. From somewhere deep under the bed came a tote of clothes that I didn't even know he had.  Five years of marriage, and I've never seen these outfits before. The Joe I know isn't completely gone, though, because he is talking about making a pair of nice duck pants, suitable for school. ;)

August 27, 2011

Sourdough Saga

On several occasions, I have done some petsitting/farm tending for our friends and neighbors, Greg and Robyn. So far, except for one dead horse and one dead chicken, my track record has been pretty good. This most recent time, in addition to the cats, the livestock and a couple houseplants, my list of charges included a sourdough starter. Now, Joe and I have had several sourdough starters over the years, and they've all done quite well for a time, but they've also all taken a turn for the worse and ended up quite foul and dead. I was a little bit nervous that we'd somehow jinx this sourdough, but what could really go wrong in a week, eh?

We transported the starter to our house for the week so we'd be sure to remember to feed and stir it daily. Things were a little iffy right from the start. On the first day they were gone, I was leaving our friends' house with the bowl full of starter when I tripped on the step from their kitchen down into the mudroom. It was one of those weird, slow motion falls, and after a couple of twists and turns, I miraculously ended up on my feet, up against a wall, tangled in a pile of shoes. I was still holding the bowl of starter and canister of flour and had managed to not drop or spill either one. Whew!

From there, things mostly went smoothly. Mid-week I noticed some small patches of mold growing on the upper edges of the starter bowl. I scraped them off, and Joe, our main sourdough expert, assured me it was fine.

Greg, Robyn and family were returning from their beach vacation this afternoon, so I had only to return the starter to their house and do the morning chores. I also needed to look up some directions to a baby shower I'm attending momentarily, so I grabbed the computer to make use of their internet connection while I was over there. So, with the computer bag over one shoulder, and the starter bowl and flour canister in my arms, I headed out the door. This time I tripped at the top of my own porch steps, and had another harrowing slow motion fall, from a much higher point than before. I screamed the whole way down with this one, but once again, with a couple of mid-air twists and hops, I miraculously managed to land on my feet. I even held on to the bowl of starter, although I definitely spilled some this time! The computer bag, the flour canister and myself were all covered in sticky sourdough starter. Although I was unharmed, I was definitely shaken. Joe had heard my screams and left his yoga session in the yurt to see what was wrong. When he found me sitting in the yard covered in globs of sticky white stuff, his first thought was that the guineas had flown over and dropped some serious poop on me.
Our computer bag does kinda look like a huge bird pooped on it. Smells pretty bad, too. :(
We managed to get most of the mess cleaned up, and there was even a substantial amount of the starter left in the now incredibly sticky bowl. I had planned to switch the starter to a fresh new bowl and wash out the old one, so it was just as well. Back in my friends' kitchen, I was just about to pour the starter into the new bowl when I noticed something moving around. Looking closer I could see that there were several dozen little fruit fly grubs happily swimming around in the starter. Yuck!! That was definitely the final straw. The whole batch was immediately dumped in the field and the bowl hosed and scrubbed clean.

When I called to explain why there'd be no sourdough starter waiting for them when they got home, Greg had to hang up quickly because their daughter had just tripped and fallen down some stairs. Hmmm…sounds like we were having similar mornings. Sorry Greg! As Joe said, there was definitely some bad joo-joo (sp?) around this sourdough, so maybe it is best to just start over.

August 25, 2011

When Chickens Attack

This is the gruesome scene I found in my boss' garden the other day. The chickens had a secret tunnel under the fence and had gone to town on one of the tomato plants! They weren't nice enough to just eat one tomato completely. No, they had to eat 1/3 of EVERY tomato. Oh well, guess they'll be laying red eggs for the next few days. :)

Speaking of tomatoes, today is the day that I finally am home and have time to can my own tomatoes. I've been stashing some in my cousin-in-laws freezer as they ripen, so I've got a 2-gallon bucket full of sliced tomatoes plus a big bowl full in the house and whatever comes off the plants. Joe's mom is bringing down her ripe tomatoes to add to the mix, so it should be a worthwhile canning venture. Time to go fire up the outdoor cookstove!

P.S. Chickens are sometimes the attacker, and sometimes the attacked. Sadly, Bebop has gone missing. Joe says that at least since Bebop and Rocksteady are both gone, and weren't with us long at all, that we can reuse their names. As fun as those "Top Hat" chickens were, I'm thinking their goofy head feathers put them at a serious disadvantag and make them more vulnerable to predators. The remaining young chicks, who are almost full chicken sized at this point, have made the move to the big house without a hitch. On the guinea front, Silver has been sitting on a nest for several weeks now. I wish I could say I'm excited, but experience has taught me this will be a brief moment of super cuteness followed by a relentless slaughter and if we're lucky we won't come out at the end with fewer guineas than we have now. I guess we'll find out soon enough.

August 17, 2011

Chicken Transition

Last night the little chicks (not going to be able to call them that much longer) got moved to the big house! Thanks to Ranger (or rather NO thanks), we had to do it the hard way. The easy way would have been to tempt all of the chickens, large and small, into the pen in the evening with some chicken scratch. Then, while everyone is happily pecking away, close the door and lock 'em in. I had this exact scenario going last night, but in addition to all the chickens, I managed to snag Ranger (the guinea) as well. There have been a few mild, seniority scuffles between the older and younger chickens, but nothing serious. Ranger, however, has been a menace to the younger chickens! He's always been at the bottom of the totem pole himself, chased away from the chicken scratch by the other guineas, and I've always shown mercy on him by giving him a separate pile of scratch out of sight of the rest of the birds. Rather than return the favor to those who are now farther down the totem pole than himself, Ranger has become the tyrant of the chicken scratch and seems to relish chasing all the young chickens as far away as possible. So, having him locked up in the chicken pen with the little chickens was nothing but mayhem! Since I couldn't figure out a way, on my own, to extricate just Ranger from the pen, I had to turn them all loose.

Back to plan B - The Hard Way. We waited until dusk, when all the birds were roosting in their preferred locations (luckily, Ranger's preferred location at the moment is the top of a locust tree). We then snagged the little chickens one by one off their perch in the old goat house and switched them to a perch in the chicken coop. There wasn't anything hard about this as far as Joe and I were concerned, but it was very traumatic for the chicks. Each one fought and screamed, convinced they were living out their final moments. But, a minute or two after the transfer was complete, everyone had settled down again and was quiet.

This morning when I turned the chickens out of the house, everything seemed fine. I observed the dynamics for a few minutes and all I noticed was a little bit of grouchiness from one of the hens about sharing the waterer with the little guys. I put an extra bowl of water and extra feeder in the pen/coop to hopefully diffuse any tensions. My goal is to leave everyone in the pen until at least Sunday so the little guys can learn where their new food, water and roosts are. Then, maybe on Sunday, we'll have a little Bible reading from Matthew 18:23-34, about the Unmerciful Servant, with mandatory attendance from Ranger.

August 13, 2011

"Why can't we come out and play?" these chickens are asking. The answer is "Because Joe, Wilson and I all have to be gone today and I don't want to come home this evening to find that more of you have vanished without a trace!" Sadly, on Wednesday Rocksteady and Ms. Peeps both vanished while Joe, Wilson and I were spending a day in town. The list of potential culprits is long, and we'll never know what happened. In addition to our recent bear visitor and the ever present threat of raccoons, there's been a Cooper's hawk hanging around the past few days. Plus, our neighbor's three dogs, bored of being completely ignored at home, have been roaming as far back as our place looking for some action. Given the lack of complete carnage, I'd put my money on the hawk. So for now, better to be a bored chicken than a dead chicken.

Between the summer's drought and the plethora of voracious bugs, I've at times been a very discouraged gardener this year. It doesn't help that I have two gardens I'm responsible for. The garden I get paid to tend has some definite advantages in that it usually gets first dibs on my gardening energy, has amazing soil and a ready supply of water. However, no amount of advantages could stop the onslaught of Mexican bean beetles, squash bugs and cucumber beetles in either garden. (Note: Those bronze-y lady bug looking things living alongside the spiny, squishy yellow bugs that are turning your green bean plants into crispy skeletons are NOT lady bugs that have gotten a little jaundiced from eating so many squishy yellow larvae. They are indeed the adult version of the squishy yellow bugs and are the reason you're in this mess to begin with. There seems to be some confusion about this amongst the general public.) However, I should focus on the positives, and there have been some serious successes in both gardens. In my boss' garden, one of the shining stars has been the black-eyed peas. They never seem to have anything bother them, and they're producing prolifically. In my own garden, I have some lush, healthy bell pepper plants with some huge red and orange peppers on them. The hard part is waiting for them to turn colors so I can pick them! I also harvested three 5-gallon buckets of decent sized onions from my garden the other day.   
Beautiful pepper patch!

And BEAUTIFUL peppers! :)
The squash bugs have left my butternut bed a little sparse looking,
but there's a decent amount of butternuts in there!

August 10, 2011

Art Imitates Life

On Sunday morning, I got up about 7 a.m., went to the outhouse and let out the chickens before heading back to spend a few more precious moments relaxing in bed. About 7:20 a.m., the guineas started screaming and squawking. Despite their reputation as reliable intruder alarms, I find that our guineas are more often crying wolf or just enjoying the sound of their own raucous vocal cords. Occasionally, their chatter will be announcing a surprise visit from our neighbor's dog, Hank. Something about this particular squawk fest seemed more urgent than usual, and when I look out my bedside window, the chickens in the yard were all standing at attention or scurrying for cover. I asked Joe, who was making breakfast, to check it out. He poked his head outside briefly, announced "I don't see Hank anywhere" and went back to what he'd been doing. But, a moment later he stepped back out onto the porch and, much to my surprise, said "Amanda, if you want to see a bear, come out here."

Well, that sure got me out of bed! Sure enough, there was a bear over by the chicken pen. He was just attempting to climb into the old goat house/new chick house when I realized we should probably quit gawking and start staking our territory! I was very close to the chicken pen, but still within the safety of the garden fence, when I told the bear to 'get on out of here!'. It was likely a young-ish black bear, but easily 200 pounds. He looked at me, startled, and ran a short distance into the edge of the woods. By this time, Joe and I were both through the other side of the garden and standing by the chicken coop where he'd just been. The bear had stopped, half hidden behind a tree, pretending to be interested in something at the base of said tree. Several times he peered around the tree to check if we were still there, interfering with his chicken feed breakfast plans. After a few minutes, he moseyed on down the hill, into the woods and out of sight.

The bear had made an unsuccessful attempt to break into our pickle-barrel chicken feed container (the noise of which had made Joe look again), but had managed to roll it into the edge of the woods. Wilson had been quietly observing the goings on from the safety of the garden. Once the bear was out of sight, we let him out of the garden, but he still was in no hurry to chase after the intruder. I appreciate a beagle with a healthy sense of caution.

This exciting wildlife encounter makes this handmade mug I bought at Steppin' Out from Kirstens Clay very appropriate! Yes, Steppin' Out has come and gone. While it is a depressing tale if you were to consider the full economic scope of the venture, on the bright side I can say that I at least covered my booth costs plus $23, which accounts for the gas to and from for two days in a row and parking garage fees.

Oh well, life goes back to normal. I'm happy to have the time to catch back up on everything that's been sliding by. After mostly taking Sunday to rest and recuperate, I hit the ground running on Monday with some outdoor tomato canning. It wasn't a huge batch, but the tomatoes are still going fairly strong, so there'll hopefully be more canning to do soon.

August 03, 2011

The summer is flying by, and as usual it feels like a marathon! Last weekend was FloydFest. I performed with the Hoorah Cloggers twice at the festival in what may well have been two of our hottest performances ever (in a sweaty sense, that is). Now that our biggest gig of the year is behind us, I'll be taking a break from weekly clogging practices for a little bit so I can catch up on my home life.

In addition to FF, last week was the week of the Laurens. We had not one, but two friends named Lauren visiting, at separate times but back to back. Since Joe and I have been sleeping primarily in the Starpod, our bed was available for guests. It was fun having friends stay overnight. All of our extra bedding/padding is currently in use in the Starpod, but once we get a bed set up in the yurt, we'll have even more guest space. Maybe we should open a hotel? ;) In addition to sleeping accommodations, we also had first class entertainment options for our guests. I had a spare ticket to FF, so one of the Laurens spent a day at the festival with us. And the other Lauren got to enjoy a potluck and puppet show hosted by Joe's cousin. All in all a very fun week. The fun continues the day after tomorrow with Steppin' Out in Blacksburg. I'm as prepared as I can be at this point, so here's hoping for a fun and profitable festival!

After all this fun is over, I'm definitely turning my attention back to my own little homestead. I'm way behind on the harvesting and preserving part of my garden duties. I'm pretty sure I missed the train on blackberry season, but we're still hoping to make the most of local peach harvests. I have managed to sneak in some quick tomato harvesting and chopping and have a two gallon bucket (half of which are from Joe's mom's garden) of tomatoes in the freezer up at Joe's cousin's house just waiting for me to have some canning time.

Here are a few more photos of the yurt, fully completed.