A bit of a scare – that ended well

Valentine’s Day was as nice as could be – until after dessert.  We’d had a fine day, Sarah had exchanged valentines at school, and Jason and I exchanged lovely cards.  Sarah even gave her current favorite boy a small bunch of roses (so cute!)  I finished sewing Sarah a dress she had asked me to make her – using the treadle sewing machine given to me by our neighbor.  Jason and I saw a coyote in the back yard, looking at our black cat.  After taking a couple of photos, we made our presence known and it ran away (and the cat ran inside).

We had a delicious osso buco and polenta dinner and for dessert homemade hand-dipped chocolate-covered strawberries.  Yum!

Then the trouble started.  Jason went outside to chop a little wood for the wood stove, and realized a cat was outside – in the dark!  We had forgotten to close the cat door!  So I went outside and wound up chasing our orange cat all the way around the house and finally getting him in.  Whew.  Closed the cat door and took a head count: one orange cat, one black cat, no calico.  Where was Sadie?

What followed was a frantic search both indoors and out for our favorite cat.  She was nowhere.  And this cat always comes when called, always stays near the house, never in a million years would run away or go exploring out of earshot.  We scoured the house, including closets, the attic, under beds, under covers, in the bathtub – everywhere.  Jason called and searched everywhere outside with a flashlight: around the house over and over, down the driveway, and up the hill behind the house where the coyote had been.

Where the coyote had been.

After half an hour, I lost hope.  She wasn’t inside.  If she had been outside while we called, she would have come.  The coyotes must have gotten her, and I felt I needed to get used to that reality.  And I felt I had to get Sarah used to that reality too.  I tearfully explained the situation to Sarah and then just sobbed.  Jason kept looking, outside and in, but I felt it was futile.  “She’s gone,” I told him.

I wasn’t in any shape to put Sarah to bed, so Jason took her up to her room.  Just before tucking her in, he made one last stab at looking for Sadie.  He looked into Sarah’s huge box of stuffed animals.  There she was, fast asleep, buried way underneath the stuffed animals.

What a joyful reunion – with many hugs and kisses for the groggy and confused cat, and tears of joy from me.  Why that cat slept through all our calling I will never know, but I am so relieved and grateful to have her with us, safe and sound.

Not half an hour later we heard the coyotes howl.  They sounded like they were right next to the house.  I double checked: all humans and cats inside, all doors closed and locked.  They got something else – this time.

– Lizzy

Burn Day

Hey guys – I’m back with a few more things that we forgot to post waaaaay back in late 2011.

We spent a couple of back-breaking months late last summer sawing down and dragging out scrub oak (and some mature trees) that made up a dense, impenetrable forest right where we planned to have the chicken yard. This was not fun; climbing up and down the hill in the sun, sawing off trees and branches, and hauling them down the hill by hand was quite a chore. I’m not exaggerating when I say that after only an hour or so of work I was barely able to crawl back to the truck. And this went on for weeks. Anyway, by the end of the summer we had staged enough brush to cover about a quarter acre down by the barn. Brush that, unless acted upon, would just sit there. Forever.

Which meant we were going to have to engage in one of rural America’s most time-honored traditions: Burn Day. I don’t know if you’ve ever done one of these things, but out here it’s a regular occurrence. Evidently no one can get through a year without removing vast patches of shrubbery and brush, piling it up somewhere on the property (preferably away from flammable matter like houses, people, and any trees that were lucky enough to escape the impending holocaust), and then lighting it on fire.

Burn season out here runs from around December to March, so we had a bit of waiting to do. Once the season started we called the Fire Department to confirm the day, settled on a location, grabbed a hose and some gasoline and matches, and got started.

As usual, Lizzy jumped at the opportunity to fire up the Kubota, so we tilled a ring around our carefully chosen spot…

…where we had arranged a modest mound of brush. We’d be feeding this small pile from our much larger brush pile located a couple dozen yards away, as apparently torching the entire thing at once is discouraged.

Once the tilling was completed and a source of water established, it was time to ignite!

I have to admit, though, that starting the damn thing wasn’t as easy as you’d expect. Judging by what I hear on the news I’d assumed that piles of brush go up at the merest suggestion of a spark. Not my pile of brush, though. I must have dropped seven or eight tall stick matches into the thing, along with several shots of gasoline, with barely a sustained flicker emanating from within. Embarrassing, really, when you think about the ease with which I used to light all manner of things on fire back in my youth. I guess that’s yet another skill that fades with age, like remembering the names of things and keeping off weight.

And maybe I don’t know much about this stuff, but pouring straight gasoline on a pile of dry leaves and branches, and then dropping a lit match into the mix, doesn’t seem to me to be what you would call a plan without a flaw.

But eventually we got it to catch without immolating ourselves or the surrounding landscape. After that it wasn’t but a few minutes before we had ourselves a nice blaze. And once that blaze got itself settled in, it wasn’t going anywhere.

We then spent the next eight hours or so tossing brush into the pile, inhaling toxic fumes and struggling to keep our eyeballs from melting from the blistering inferno.

We did this on a weekend, so Sarah was able to hang around and watch the fireworks. We even had a nice little lunch out at the back of the barn.

And of course we couldn’t have a big fire like that without toasting a marshmallow or two. Kill two birds with one stone, I say!

It was a pretty fun day, taken all in all. Still, it wasn’t as if we were able to relax in reclining deck chairs while the thing took care of itself. Having your main brush pile thirty-or-so feet removed from your burn pile may seem the wisest course of action, but it certainly forces you to do more physical labor. Dragging this stuff and tossing it on the pile was almost as exhausting as clearing the brush in the first place.

By the end of the day we had a nice, smoldering circle of charred earth. Sure, our lungs – and the lungs of countless wildlife unlucky enough to reside withing a half-mile radius of our land – may have been filled with enough smoke to equal a carton of unfiltered Camels, but we had no more brush!

At least, that is, until next year…..

Bye bye for now!

-J

Gaining Yardage

Sorry about the bad, football-related pun of a title, but the Super Bowl is only a few days away. Anyway, it’s time for some more catching up, though I have to warn you that, unless you happen to be one of those types who enjoy reading about someone else’s yard, you may find this one to be a bit of a snoozer. It’s not even very homesteady, when you really get down to it. Still, these things need documenting. They can’t all be about outrunning voracious wild animals or barely escaping death at the hands of heavy machinery (I know – machinery doesn’t, strictly speaking, have hands, but you know what I mean).

Still reading? Well good on you!

As you may remember from an earlier post, one of the first things we budgeted for when we moved up here was a new front deck. As useful and enjoyable as a deck is, fun wasn’t the only motivation behind the move. The front yard, as it was, was absolutely unfit for human life. You couldn’t go anywhere near it unless you were wearing knee-high boots and a body suit. It looked as if it hadn’t been maintained for a decade: packed dirt and thick, woody weeds shared space with tufts of painful thistle. Gopher holes were everywhere.  I mean, for God’s sake, a warren of rabbits were living there.

Here’s a pic:

While this may look to the average eye like a photo of a cat frolicking – okay, maybe not frolicking, but you get the point – by some arid patch of weeds by the side of a highway, in truth the terrible blight you see in the foreground is actually what passed for our front yard.

Putting a deck there took care of almost half of the square footage in front. The side, however, was even worse. In addition to the thistle and dirt, the ground here rose steadily to a heap in one corner where an unsightly, straggling Yew bush sat upon a mound of rust-colored volcanic gravel. It was horrible. And then, of course, we had a trench carved through it, which didn’t help.

I took this picture (at left) from the center of the side yard, looking over the ridge to the barn down below. You can’t tell how bad the yard was, because of the trench, but you get the idea. And see that exposed yellow pipe? That’s the gas line. Nice.

Once the deck was finished and the trench was filled (electricity having been run down the hill) we hired a landscaper to tear the whole mess of a yard up, grade it down, and till the thing to within an inch of its life. Add a layer of topsoil, rolls and rolls of gopher wire, a couple thousand square feet of sod and we’ve finally got a lawn!

Here it was post-trench and pre-grading and tilling…

…and now nice and flat…

…all the gopher wire is laid out, and the fence is shaping up…

…and finally, the sod!

Not bad, huh? Once the fence was completely installed we had a pretty nice yard. It’s a bit bare, of course, but we’ll be adding some shrubs and trees in the coming months.

That’s it for now! Well, now that I look at it this post wasn’t so boring after all – there was even mention of some wild animals. Just because they’re the cute, hoppy kind with twitchy noses and cottony tails doesn’t mean they’re any less exciting.

And they did seem voracious. Well, a bit.

Jason

Catching Up

Happy New Year, everybody! I know, I know – 2012 has been around for almost a month now. It’s been a while since we’ve posted, what with the holidays and all, so let me start by saying that I promise to update this blog more often. In fact, in the spirit of the New Year, I hereby resolve to not only post more often, but to make my posts consist of shorter, more day-to-day updates rather than the less frequent, wordier, general-state-of-things kind of post.

So I’ve got some catching up to do…

First of all, we finally finished the chicken fencing!

Don’t let the trench distract you – it’s long since been filled, which means that the coop now has electricity. This is important for a number of reasons, not least of which is to power the lamps that will provide controlled warmth to the chicks we’ll be ordering (newly-hatched chicks are unable to maintain their body temperatures and thus need to live in a controlled, warm environment for about seven weeks called a “brooder box”). Another reason is to power the electric fence, which should, in theory, keep the fowl from getting gobbled up prematurely.

I was also thinking I could pop the old Slow-Cooker in there,  just in case one of the little guys feels like hopping in and closing the lid himself. You know – cut out the middle man and all that. (Gotta check with Lizzy on that one…)

It’s a pretty good fence, notwithstanding all the trouble we went through to get it constructed to our liking. We still need to upgrade the electric wiring, though. It seems our verbose, frequently shirtless contractor installed something that produces a laughably benign, intermittent pulse. Now, I don’t know much about these kinds of things, but I expect that an electric fence is supposed to repel, via the infliction of some significant amount of pain, any medium-to-largish beast or bird of prey. Not this one, though. This thing wouldn’t even repel a small, blonde little girl. Trust me – I tried it.

It covers about a half an acre, which is more than enough space for the forty-or-so birds who’ll be interned there. They’ve got some oak and apple trees for cover, fresh grass to snack on, and, I’m sure, plenty of bugs and grubs. We’ve also planted an apricot, cherry, Snow Queen nectarine, and Asian pear tree. A regular Eden, I tell you!

There are three entrances, one of which is wide enough to accommodate our tractor, pickup truck, or me if I keep putting on weight the way I’ve been.

The fence was completed, more or less, before Halloween, which should give you an idea of how behind we are on this blog.

So that’s it for now. I’m afraid this post turned out a little longer than I had planned, but don’t hold it against me. I don’t know how these blogger types do it – being succinct isn’t easy!

I’ll post again later this afternoon or tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Jason

Lions, Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

I thought I’d pick up on Jason’s “Farm of Horrors” theme and write about the truly frightening animals that live out here.  And by “here” I mean our own land – sometimes very close to the house.  Luckily, we knew ahead of time about these creatures, and immediately upon moving we confined our house cats to the indoors every night from dusk till dawn.  Forever and ever, amen.

But I will start this list with the large, numerous animals that are not predators.  Our white-tailed deer.  Every evening (and occasionally during the day) we will have several deer in the apple orchard in front of the house:

These two bold ones didn’t even wait until dusk.  Here’s a closer photo:

And here’s a pretty good photo taken another day:

By now you’ve figured out that we’re not the best nature photographers.  In our defense, they usually come by at dusk and run away when they see us.  Just imagine three or four of these lovely creatures ambling about every evening right down the short bluff in front of the house.  Now that it has started raining more often, we can see the hoof prints EVERYWHERE on the property.  And the forested areas are criss-crossed with deer trails.

The only problem with that is, the more deer we have, the more predators come who’d like to eat them.

But I’ll work up to that slowly.  Next up on our list is Bobby the Bobcat.  This summer we saw it about every other day, mid-morning, also in the apple orchard.  Bobby did NOT run away when it saw us.  Bobby ambled.  It didn’t give a damn.  Very unnerving when one’s cats are outside.  After all, the sun was up and they theoretically should have been safe from predators.  Luckily the cats mostly stay close to the house.  I didn’t take this photo, but it shows a bobcat beautifully:

Next I’ll show you the creature who is going to eat our chickens, once we get them.  Well, I shouldn’t say that.  There are LOTS of creatures who will be trying to eat our chickens, and it will be an interesting experiment to see if we can keep any alive at all.  My (foolish?) hope is that the fence with electric wire around the top, plus the bomb-proof coop for nighttime will take care of all but one main predator.  But that predator lives on the property.  Not far from the coop.  The fence won’t help at all against:

The red-tailed hawk.  Since moving in we have seen it in its redwood tree, soaring across the property, or circling something on the property almost daily.  And we hear its cry, of course, that high descending note that I now associate with dread.  I have (again: foolishly?) decided that our chickens, when we have them, will be in a large, fenced, but uncovered yard during the day.  Their only defense against hawkie will be running under a nearby tree.  Wish us luck.

We have only seen this next friend once, but it was memorable.  It was 8:30 am on a sunny Summer morning, and we were in the driveway getting ready to take Sarah to school.  Jason saw a glimpse of something near the back of the house and I ran to take a look.  It was one of these:

Except ours was much skinnier, and skulking away quickly.  Again, the cats were out.  We have only heard coyotes howling at night three times in the five months we’ve lived here.  But just a few days ago two guys working on our land said they saw a big one down by the barn.  During the day.  We were down there today and there are HUGE paw prints in the mud.  How big do coyotes get, anyway?

The above shows one of the many huge paw prints down by our barn.  It isn’t the neighbor’s dog; I checked.

On a lighter note, here are two friends whose fates are intertwined.  Predator and prey:

Here is the gopher snake, one of which I actually saw and almost raked up while raking grass this summer.  I’m not afraid of snakes, but these guys are rather large and it was a bit of a shock.  I decided to leave him alone.  After all, he will hopefully eat lots and lots of gophers.

I think I need to explain about the gophers in this area.  There are GAZILLIONS of them! Everywhere!  I mean, you can’t walk two steps on any part of our land without twisting your ankle on a hole or bump of dirt caused by the digging of said hole.  And who did the digging?  Yes.  The gazillions of gophers.  And we foolishly think we’re going to grow a garden in the spring.  Similar to the chicken situation, we are going to find out that our garden will be almost completely at the mercy of these vegetable-killing creatures.  Sigh…

Last week a buck was hit by a car and killed, and it wound up on our property.  The coyotes had started chewing on it, and we heard from the neighbor that it was our responsibility to deal with the carcass, so we hauled it on to the back of the pickup and plopped it on the upper pasture.  The coyotes made short work of it for two nights, and then the next two days we got to see these guys cleaning off the bones (not my photo):

We had three turkey vultures, not four, but they were still really cool.  And really big!  When we got too close, they flew away over us and they flew really low so we got to take a good look.

Anyway, on to the coup de grace: the thing that can eat PEOPLE.  When I first heard these lived in our county I thought: “Oh not near us, surely.  Maybe farther into the protected forest lands, way up away from houses and such.  But not near here.”  Turns out I was wrong.  Someone working on our spring saw one in our upper pasture.  And then another day Jason, Sarah and I found and collected these:

Bones from a six-point buck.  The femurs are broken in half.  This buck met his fate some time ago, but still it’s an unmistakable sign.  Then last month Jason was walking to get the morning paper and he saw a killed and freshly EATEN fawn right by the driveway.  In fact, down by the road.  I will spare you the photo I made him take.  The consensus among the neighbors was that it was the work of this noble creature:

The mountain lion.  This is the biggie.  Forget about house cats, this one could eat ME.  I really hadn’t planned on having this guy on our land.  Luckily, there are plenty of deer around for it to eat, but hopefully it won’t make a habit of eating its dinner at our place.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually really love living in the country and seeing the native wildlife.  It’s still a thrill each time I see a deer even though I should be bored with them by now.  But I hope that I myself don’t become part of this wonderful “circle of life” I keep telling my daughter about!

– Lizzy

Wind Storm!

As you might have noticed in the news, we had a big wind storm here in California, and it made for some excitement up on the farm.  Sustained winds of 40 mph and gusts somewhere around 70.  I hate to admit it, but Jason and I had NO IDEA the storm was coming, and were quite surprised when, Gosh, it sure is windy today!  Once the neighbors clued us in (they actually have a TV) we thought we’d go for a walk and hear/see the branches falling down.  Which was fine, until we had to run to prevent being knocked on the head by them.  It was just like an action movie: we were walking up the driveway, through a beautiful stand of Redwoods, when Jason heard a crack and yelled, “Run!”  We all ran through, immediately followed by two huge branches falling where we had just been.

After the first night I had to have Jason help me clear the branches away enough for me to drive down the driveway to get to work.  Wish I’d had the sense to take a photo – it was crazy.  Huge branches knee deep.  When the storm finally blew itself out, we started cleaning up in earnest.  Here are a couple of pics:

Here we’re mostly done: this was truckload number four, I think, of the big green branches to bring down to the burn pile.  That didn’t include those I put away for future kindling:

Nor did it include the big dry branches we set aside for Jason to cut into firewood:

And that was JUST the branches that were on the driveway, at one group of Redwoods.  Here’s the burn pile we made that day, although it’s hard to tell how huge the branches are:

The other clump of Redwoods is, luckily, next to the driveway rather than surrounding it.  We haven’t dealt with all the branches in there.

This is usually just a stand of trees with a lovely carpet of pine needles on the ground.

That slanted thing in the middle is actually the top of a tree that came down.  We’re glad it didn’t go across the driveway.

Usually that’s a nice empty place for Sarah to play, with a ditch down the middle through which all the water from the upper pasture goes when it rains.  We have a little cleaning up to do in there.

One of our neighbors had a few trees down that used to be between their house and ours:

We used to not be able to see their house.  Now the downed trees block the little bridge which leads over the creek to their driveway.  Here’s a side view of some of their downed trees:

Sarah had fun hanging on them.  As of this writing they haven’t removed those trees yet, so we might have to clamber over them when delivering their Christmas cookies!

And lastly, our only structural damage: the half-burned, leaning over, illegal car port.

Hey!  Where’s the roof?

Oh THERE it is!

Anyway, we are safe and sound and very thankful to be so.  And we sure have a lot of kindling!

– Lizzy

Thanksgiving!

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving this year, our first at the new property. We invited two families (the most we could fit) from Long Beach, ordered a 26 lb turkey, and hoped for the best. The result was three of the best days we’ve had up here!

As you might imagine, we had plenty to do to prepare for the long weekend. Once Monday came I went about working on my shopping lists, recipes, menus, etc; Lizzy focused on the cleaning and preparation of the house (I think she got the short end of the stick on that one).

I managed to bang out three pies by Wednesday: key lime, apple and pumpkin. Nothing fancy, but we got to use our own apples, which was nice. We’re hoping to have our own pumpkins come next year, and maybe even our own limes someday. We’ll see…

As I said, Lizzy wound up doing most of the cleaning, which was a lot. I did my part by cleaning and organizing the guest bedroom, which had become somewhat of a “man cave” since football season started. It’s also where my desk is, along with the printer and shredder, so it’s ostensibly where I do my “writing.” Riiiiight….

Anyway, by the time the guests showed up on Wed. everything looked great. We even got the turkey in on time, though at 26 pounds it took some doing. Fortunately, we had found a nice recipe for an apple cider brine that would work perfectly for us (we’ve got gallons  of cider in the freezer).

Here are a few pics:

Sarah hadn’t seen her friends since July, but once they were reunited they didn’t miss a beat. Two and a half days – with minimal supervision – and no fighting, no crying, no hogging; no pushing, poking or whining …heaven!

Here’s the turkey in all its glory. You can see that it’s been roasted to perfection…what you can’t see is that, hours before, it had been dropped on the kitchen floor – twice – while Lizzy and I tried to squeeze it into a Reynolds 24 lb-capacity oven bag. Hey – I never said I was good at this stuff…

It looked great at the table, though, with Apple Rosemary Mashed Potatoes, Glazed Root Vegetables, Green Beans with Walnuts and Cranberries, stuffing and gravy.

Of course the kids had their own table…

We ate at a late-ish hour, so by the time we finished up the pies the kids were ready for bed. Getting them to fall asleep was another story altogether, but we figured they could lose a little sleep, just this once.

The next day we got out of Dodge and hit Santa Cruz for some boardwalk action, if only to stretch our legs and work off some of the meal…

New sunglasses for everyone!

Then back at home for one of our last apple-picking excursions of the season…

Which, of course, meant more fresh cider…

On the third and final day (Saturday) the kids got together to make a gingerbread house…

And we ended the holiday weekend with some tractor rides (naturally)…

What a great couple of days! The adults ate and drank wine like nobody’s business, and the kids had the time of their lives. And as far as I know, no one has gotten salmonella or e. coli…

…which, in my book, makes for a successful Thanksgiving!

Cheers!

– Jason

Little Farm of Horrors Part II

Alright, Halloween was over two weeks ago, so obviously this post isn’t going to be related to those kinds of horrors. This Farm of Horrors is about something far scarier.

Living in the country brings all sorts of danger. I fully accept that on any given day I could find myself in a Jack London-like struggle with some wild beast, most likely while on my way to get the paper wearing nothing but a robe and Hello Kitty boxers. Hey, I’ve seen “When Animals Attack.” I know all about the fauna we can expect to run into. What I didn’t expect was that we’d live in absolute fear of the flora.

That’s right – the damned plants. It turns out that there are enough of them out there to make anyone’s life pretty miserable. We have to live with the day-to-day realities of abrasions, rashes, splinters and puncture wounds – as well as other, more troubling threats.

Here are just a few of our leafy antagonists, starting with the most familiar:

Rubus fruticosus

Here’s your average Blackberry bush. Who wouldn’t want some of these? You could frolic through the fields, wicker basket in hand, happily gathering countless pints of this plump, sweet fruit! Let’s take a closer look:

Jesus God almighty! What the hell is this thing defending itself against? A Mongol invasion? I mean, Blackberries taste good and all, but is this really evolutionarily necessary? Bananas taste pretty good too, and you don’t see them arming themselves with horrific, flesh-tearing spikes. And like weeds, they swallow up every inch and every acre they come near, blanketing the land like that tangled barbed wire you see in old war movies. We’ve got them all over the place (the Blackberries, not the WW II-era barbed wire), and I’ve been stuck about a hundred times. I used to think these were neat. Now I want them all to die.

Next plant up:

Picris echioides L.

This one is known as Oxtongue, and if Oxen actually do have tongues similar to these leaves then it’s no wonder they avoid kissing each other on the mouth. Again – lots of spikes. Painful. The one pictured above is just starting its antagonistic life; eventually it’ll grow a couple of feet tall and flower, not unlike:

Onopordum acanthium

Ah, Thistle. Eeyore likes them, so how bad can they be? I seem to remember something in “A Visit from St. Nicholas” about their downy spores. The problem is that these babies have sharp prickles that cover almost every part of the plant – stem, leaf and flower. The point, it seems, is to discourage herbivorous animals from eating it. All it really does is discourage us from ever leaving the house in anything less than knee-high rubber boots. And those downy spores floating angelically through the air? Just creating more thistles. Even the sprouts hurt, and right now the little sprouts are everywhere.

Next:

Urtica dioica

This is the succinctly and unambiguously named Stinging Nettle. If you look closely at the picture above you’ll see that there are, again, more spikes to deal with, covering both the leaves and the stems, but there are two major differences here: one, the pointy bits are much smaller, cilia-like hairs (called trichomes), and two, they don’t poke you so much as they inject you with painful histamines. It stings, alright. Like crazy. And we have an actual field of it. Just brush past one of these and you’ll feel it for an hour.

Now we’re getting to the real painful stuff:

Toxicodendron diversilobum

Poison Oak, our Bete´noire´. Touch one of these for even a second and you’ll wind up with unbearable itching and numerous red spots all over your body. And it’ll last for weeks. For the first couple of months out here Lizzy and I, having spent many a day exploring the property, were pretty much covered with the stuff. Some days we hadn’t even been near it, but still managed to contact it. I swear it senses our presence and physically leaps out at us.

This is where it starts to get scary:

Datura stramonium

They call this one Jimson Weed. This isn’t the best picture I could have used, as it gives the reader the impression that, as with the Thistle, spikes are its only threat. If only. In truth this plant contains a powerful poison that, when ingested, causes delerium, hypothermia, photophobia, amnesia, and a bunch of other things I read on Wikipedia. A trip to the hospital would be pretty much guaranteed. This might sound like an average Saturday night for most young people, but for me – not so much.

And finally…

Conium maculatum L.

This is what is known as Poison Hemlock. Here, as with most of the other pictures, the plant is quite young. At maturity it will shoot upwards and produce tiny white flowers not unlike Queen Anne’s Lace. It’s rather pretty, actually, until you realize that this is the plant that killed Socrates. It contains a dreadful – and deadly – neurotoxin that will wreak havoc on your central nervous system and result in total respiratory collapse. In fact, it is so poisonous that if a full-grown adult were to ingest just a handful of leaves, that adult would probably die. I particularly like how it resembles carrot greens when it’s young. That’s convenient.

Oh, and see those cute, little green shoots around the Poison Hemlock in the picture above? Baby Thistle.

Nice.

-Jason

p.s. I’ve been haranguing Lizzy to post something soon, so stay tuned for something from her!

Little Farm of Horrors Part I

Happy Halloween, everyone! It’s our first real holiday here at the farm, and of course we just had to do a little decorating. Nothing too crazy, just a few old gravestones and some of Lizzy and Sarah’s homemade ghosties floating about…

Don’t let the “home-made” thing fool you, though – these suckers are pretty high-tech. There are literally no strings attached; not only do each of these benign-looking, unthreatening ghosts contain the latest in hovercraft technology – pairing ultra-cooled superconductors with powerful, permanent magnets in a process known as “magnetic pinning” – but they also house the tortured souls of actual drifters whom Lizzy has taken in and given our home-made elderberry wine as an act of “charity.”  Pretty neat!

The gravestones, of course, are those cheap, Styrofoam things one finds at any drug or department store. We’ve had these ones for a few years now, and it shows. Still, they get the job done, and are a fine addition to the landscape, at least until we get around to filling up our real graveyard. Time to get that “Room for Rent” sign back out!

Oh, and we carved pumpkins, of course. This is always my favorite part of the holiday, though I have to admit it’s a little tougher when you’ve got a kid involved. For one thing, there’s the potential danger of letting her handle a sharp knife – I mean, last year Sarah held one of our Henckels for barely five minutes before she snapped and went on an hour-long stabbing spree up and down the neighborhood. And that was on Easter. Imagine what troubles a holiday celebrating death could bring?

But we pulled it off, somehow. And the results were great!

That’s mine on the left, and Sarah’s on the right. So yep – that cubist beauty in the middle was actually carved by Lizzy.

We saved most of the seeds and Lizzy salted them and toasted them up nice. Next year, if we’re lucky, we plan on growing our own pumpkins – both for carving and for food. No more canned pumpkin pie mix for us…

Now our neighborhood is too sparse, and our house is way too far off the road (and uphill) to attract any trick-or-treaters, so come Halloween night we left our area and joined one of Sarah’s friends (and his parents) for some trick-or-treating in another neighborhood, this one well-known for the most foot traffic, the coolest decorations and the best treats. Sarah had a great time, and took in quite a haul. There was so much candy that I got nauseated just looking at it…

We ended the night back at home with steaming cups of fresh mulled cider – one of my annual traditions. Toss in a shot or two of spiced rum, settle in for a scary movie, and you’ve got yourself a night. I highly recommend it!

Just don’t forget to keep your kids away from the knives – and the Elderberry wine.

Trust me, that stuff’ll kill you!

– Jason

P.S. If you’re interested in some of the other scary things we deal with every day here, keep your eyes out for Little Farm of Horrors Part II, coming soon! Muaahahahahahahah……….

In The Trenches

Sorry we haven’t posted in a couple of weeks. A lot has gone on, as you would imagine, and it’s hard to keep track of everything. For the sake of this particular blog, though, I’ll stick to two projects…

First I’d like to ask you to join me in imagining a simple concept: digging a trench. Say you had to run electricity from your house to a barn about a hundred yards away. Shouldn’t be too big a deal, right? Sure, a hundred yards is kind of far, but according to the electrician the trench would only need to be 18 inches deep and a few inches wide. It turns out this is the sort of thing you could probably do yourself; walk-behind trenchers are easily rented and operated, and will dig a nice, clean, deep trench up to eight inches wide – perfect for laying electrical lines. Should be a snap, right?

Well, it would be, unless you were one of those lazy-types who let your next-door neighbor talk you into hiring one of his friends to do it. You know, the friend with the backhoe and no communication skills? Yeah, that guy.

Well that’s what we did, naturally, and this is what we got:

So much for eighteen inches. I’ve seen smaller trenches in WWII movies, for God’s sake. Here are some more pics, for perspective:

That’s Lizzy looking thrilled inside the trench. It’s also, we’ve since determined, Lizzy looking thrilled inside the trench surrounded by poison oak roots, but that’s a story for another blog….

The funny thing is, we payed the trench guy by the hour – which probably explains why he did such a…thorough job.

Anyway, the idea is that the electricity will run down from the house, past – and to – the chicken coop, connect to the (eventual) solar panels (which will be mounted on the ground near the chicken fence), continue straight down to the barn, then, after a sharp right turn, end at the small stables we like to call the “goat shed.”

As it is now, none of these areas has any power, so you can imagine how convenient it’ll be to finally hook up any number of modern electric-powered conveniences. Things like lights, heaters, power tools, a 65-inch flat screen t.v, amplifiers, strobe lights – you know, normal farm-type stuff.

The point is, having electricity around there will be a good thing, so I probably shouldn’t complain about the size of the trench. I guess I’m just bothered by the fact that not only did the trench guy waaay overdo it, but that digging this thing was something I could have done. Don’t get me wrong –  it would have been difficult, time-consuming, and I may have struck a gas line and blown up the whole house – but I could have done it. Oh well – live and learn!

Which reminds me – one of the other big projects that we wanted to brag about was the addition of a terrific deck at the front of the house. This is another example of something I had almost nothing to do with (other than having a hand in it’s design), only in this case I don’t feel the least bit guilty. I mean, let’s face it – I’m as likely to build a durable and attractive deck as I am to build a functioning teleporter. Which is to say, not bloody likely.

But the guy who did build the deck did an awesome job. Here’s a before & after:

And a couple more pictures…

This deck is one of our last big-ticket items, along with electric work, fencing, and the forthcoming solar panels.  After this, we’ll be rationing driveway purslane, malformed apples and parboiled nettle just to survive.

But it’ll all be worth it!

J.