More of the Same

It was a quiet week on the homestead, except when we were putting the dogs back. It seems like we spent most of the week just doing that. Three times in one day nearly sent Ed and I both over the edge. However, we did agree that we could be thankful that the weather has stayed fairly warm, so we weren’t having to try and do all that with ice, snow, and frigid temperatures. On the other hand, if the ground had actually frozen this year, Libby wouldn’t be able to dig out!

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In the afternoon sun, resting up for tonight’s digging!

Ed’s pallet plan seems to be working. We just need to be able to get our hands on enough pallets. To do the whole fence line, will probably need about 75 pallets. How many do we have now? Nine. Yeah, it’s a work in progress, and basically damage control for now. We find  where she’s digging and block the hole with a pallet. For two days in a row, we went out in the morning and the dogs were still in. These days, that is a major victory!

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Pallets on the gate side of the pen

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Two more on the opposite side. This is where they’ve been working the most.

I had some concern that the chickens were taking lessons from the dogs, because Moony rooster has been leaving his pen three or four times a day. I think Hoppy rooster may be picking on him, and he just needs a break. When I mentioned moving him, Ed said something under his breath about putting a diaper on him and bringing him inside. Um…no. Not doing that. Katherine and I did notice that the hens seem to be a little protective of him though. It’s kind of cute. Oh, and they have started laying eggs again.

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Rooster on the loose!

Like I said, it was a quiet week, so I don’t have much to tell you. I need to start thinking about starting seeds for this spring’s garden, but I just haven’t been able to get much into it. To be honest, I’m just tired. I’m carrying too much weight and I’m still having some problems with my foot from last summer’s surgery. I’ve gone back to cutting sugar and other processed carbohydrates. I feel a lot better when I keep with a paleo type diet. The most exercise I’m getting is up and down the basement stairs, and back and forth to the dog pen. I need to work on that too.

This weekend, Katherine will start the dissecting part of biology. I’ll have to let you know how that goes.

Connie

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How Not To’s

When Connie suggested this blog to me, and we talked about a theme and such, I pictured a series of articles about how to do the wonderful things we were going to do on our homestead. There has been some of that, I admit. I have written a handful of articles on how to do this or that and sometimes, the other.

But it seems to me, that a larger number of my contributions have been “How Not To’s”, not how to’s. Why? To be honest, this is my first attempt at homesteading. My time as the live-in grandson of a farmer ended early, and there was little, if any, input from the grown men in my life about how to build and make things.

I told a local friend last week, that I envied people raised here because they took for granted things I had never been allowed to learn. I told him, “My basic skill sets are writing, cooking and thanks to the U. S. Army, breaking things and hurting people.” I have spent the last almost two decades trying to unlearn that last one.

Today’s entry will not be any different. The basic thrust is going to be: This is what I did wrong. Don’t do that.

Anyone who follows our blog knows that early last spring, I set up two bee hives and started keeping bees. Things went well, perhaps too well at first. We harvested honey from June until August, and sold more than I ever hoped to the first year, while keeping more than enough for our uses. Honey will keep indefinitely, as long as it is harvested from capped combs, so keeping extra is not a problem.

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This is a picture of me opening the nucs last spring to put the bees in their new homes.

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Same bees, a month later. Like I said, they just took off.

Late in August I began to notice my bees acting strangely. One hive was robbing the other. I knew from study, that his meant the hive being robbed was weakening. I blocked most of the entrance to that hive, to reduce the open space the weak hive had to defend, to try to save it, but the hive was too far gone.

What I did not know until too late, was that this hive was infested with small hive beetles, and the second hive was well on its way to being killed too. At that point, I bought Beetle Traps, but that was closing the barn door after the horse has got out. Both hives were lost that quickly.

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This is a small hive beetle.

I should have had beetle traps in place from the beginning. I should have taken more care to look in the bottoms and the upper corners of the hives for beetles. I should have been more aggressive in making certain the beetles did not get a foot hold in the first place.

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This is a beetle trap with not nearly enough beetles in it. Too little way too late.

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This is a ghost town, but it won’t be around May, Lord willing.

The bad news is, this course in practical bee keeping cost me about three hundred bucks in bees. The good news, finding the positives in the negatives, is that I sold enough honey to defray most of that cost. I have beetle traps for both hives and I will know better next time.

I tell young people I mentor and train the following: “Experience simply means any mistake you are going to make, I have already made, and learned how to overcome.”

So the beetles got me this time, but I will be ready next time. I have already frozen the hives to make certain I kill all the larva. So before spring I must:

1. Scrape the hives, clean them and prepare them for the new bees. This time I bought packages. Packages consist of a queen and her bees. They take a little longer to become established, but I already have everything else I need, so I want to start that way.

2. Set up bee traps in and around our property. I will use the boxes I have left from last year’s nucs for traps, and use lemon grass oil and bee’s wax for bait. Hopefully, if we have some swarming in the area, I can pick up some more bees.

3. Buy a couple more deep and a couple more medium hive boxes. One of my problems last year was that I was not prepared for the population explosion of bees I experienced.

Except for the traps, all must be completed and ready to go, along with cleaning out the bee yard and preparing it to receive the hives, by late March. The traps can wait another month, maybe six weeks because they depend on bees seeking new homes. That should be plenty of time, if the dogs stay home and the Creek don’t rise. This year, because we upgraded our blog, I can post you some videos of our progress. Maybe that will help you, and maybe you can help me by giving me some advice based on what you see me doing.

I said earlier, the Army only taught me how to break things and hurt people. That is simplistic. The Army taught me a lot more than that, and a lot of it has to do with dealing with set backs and failings. The best one is simply this, “The winner is the one who gets up one more time than his opponent.”

It’s gonna take a lot more than some beetles to beat Connie and I.

Ed

We Surrender!

Well, no we don’t , but those words did come from Ed’s mouth yesterday as we were leaving for a day trip to Independence.

As I walked out the back door, I looked out across our front pasture. None of the pastures were mowed last fall, and they are  overgrown. Something caught my attention, and I went back into the house for the camera. A plastic grocery bag, caught by the wind, was caught in a bare sapling. As Ed and Katherine turned to see what I was photographing, Ed laughed and said, “We surrender!”.  I had to admit, the bag did look like a white flag.

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See the white spot in the middle of the picture?

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Here’s  a closeup

We all had a giggle and got in the car.

Let me back up a minute. Night before last, late in the evening, we had a thunderstorm. Yes, that’s right. A thunderstorm in January, in northern Missouri. I didn’t see any lightning, but I did hear the thunder and the rain. It poured!  So, yesterday morning, everything was pretty soggy. On top of that, the weather must have remembered where it was, because it was windy and getting colder by the minute.

As we made our way along 116, Ed said that it looked like we might be going into some fog. We’ve had a lot of fog lately, so I really didn’t think that much about it until a few miles later. The air became cloudier and I had a moment when my mind had to make a small shift and remind me that fog does not blow across the road…no, snow does that.

Ed asked if I thought we should turn around. I didn’t, and we were out of it in a few miles.

The rest of the day went pretty much as planned, and we got home in the mid afternoon.

The dogs met Ed as he got out of the car. Then Meeko decided he should come across the driver’s seat to say hello to me. While Kat and I carried in groceries and other things, Ed went to plug the hole. It didn’t take long.  They have found a new place, but Ed will have to get more pallets before he can fix it permanently.

I think Ed is right about the free roaming dogs being the major catalyst behind the escapes, but I also think they might get a little bored. Let’s be honest, they have nothing but time when it comes to figuring out how to escape.

Kat and I have slowly eased back into school after the holidays, and this last week, in Biology, we looked at fungi.  We collected two different types from outside, as well as a mushroom from the fridge. She was able to get some spore samples and look at them under the microscope. Her overall takeaway is “Mushrooms are cool!” Next week, we move on to sea life. We’ll be starting some dissection soon. I’m not sure how well she will take to that.

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The three specimens

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Investigator Kat

Ed and I went to the monthly bee club meeting on Monday, and Ed was able to order new bees. They should be here in April.

Hope everyone enjoys their weekend!

Connie

But Why??????

The dogs keep escaping. Anyone who has read my blog entries, facebook postings, emails, letters, prayer lists, rants, and things casually written on out house walls, knows that my dogs keep escaping. It is a continuing theme, as it well should be, because my dogs keep escaping.

It used to be mostly Meeko.

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Hi, my name is Meeko, I am very good dog. Good at escaping, excellent at making an all around nuisance of myself and the world’s greatest licker of unsuspecting faces.

Meeko has been known to literally go through a welded wire fence. Push with the head, get a paw in there, heave and struggle, and BOBS YOUR UNCLE, you’re out. His favorite method, however, has always been up and over. If Sir Edmund Hillary had only had Meeko along, he would have made much shorter and easier work of Everest. Meeko was the ultimate climber. No fence was high enough to withstand his assault.On his way out, he was often able to press the fence down, so the more gentile Libby could step over and have a run with him. We will discuss the difference in capturing techniques for the two dogs shortly.

That continued from the time Meeko was with us (2010) until November 2015 when he, while trying to climb out, got his foot caught in the fence, dislocated his right hip, and spent six weeks inside wearing a lampshade The whole ordeal cost us about five hundred bucks, which we just recently paid off. The injury, which still gives him trouble, has slowed Meeko’s climbing to a near stop.

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Hi, Meeko again, just after doing a header without taking the footsie with me. OUCH! But it’s cool, I think my hat is much nicer than Ed’s don’t you?

Yet my dogs keep escaping.

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I was working and Connie wired this dog kennel into the outside of the fence as a temporary patch until I got a day off. The next day it looked like this.

These dogs have, plus or minus, half an acre of scrubby brush to play with. Birds, rabbits, and what not visit them. They have a house and all kinds of open ground to run in. These dogs are well fed and watered, yet they have worn a trail completely around the inside of the fence and, way too often, we find them out and running come evening or early morning.

Why do my dogs keep escaping?
Libby next took up the mantle of escape artist most excellent. Libby had shown a propensity for tunneling even way back when but, after Meeko’s accident, she developed into a tunneler that would make a Welsh coal miner blush from his inadequacies. I would hazard a guess that if you combined her tunnels end to end, you would have dug a decent WWI defensive trench.

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Hi, I am Libby, I do not stand for pictures well because I sense you want me to. I am an older lady but still have a lot of spunk. Also, if I keep digging any deeper, I am going to have to learn to ignore people calling me in Chinese.

She also, even though she is getting on, has no dental problems. She will get any fencing, or troubling chicken wire we put down, in her teeth and bend it out of her way. I cringe when I think about it. So, since Meeko’s over is blocked, Libby bet on the under, and has been beating the house fairly consistently.

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Please note the bent up welded wire fence. Libby did that with her teeth. You just touched your mouth didn’t you? Yeah, that looks like it would smart. I covered the whole mess with chicken wire, hooked in with pig clips and weighed down with pallets. So far so good but she still tries.

I have a word for you: Pallets. She, so far, has been stymied by pallets laid along the bottom of, and attached to, the fence. Note: I said so far, but I might want to go check before I go much further. She IS a resourceful old lady.
Still…. why? Libby was a town dog and had no run to speak of, and Meeko cares about nothing much more that Libby or us. As long as we all appear happy, he is delirious. When he does escape, he is so proud of himself he comes directly to show us how smart he is.

Let me take a moment and compare and contrast how, after an escape, you recapture each dog.

Meeko: Yell, “Hey Meeko, come here!” and he comes. I do not believe it really matters who yells. He might just come to anybody. I am certain that it really doesn’t matter what you yell. “Meeko” is just proforma. Yell whatever you want. He will come.

Libby: Forget about it. She will not come until she is ready and, when she does come, she is more likely to give you that lopsided Libby grin and bolt right or left at the last minute. You see, when she was young she got the message that playing chase was a fun game and, if you came when called, that was the end of the fun game.

Treats? Good luck with that. I have personally offered her everything from raw meat up to (but not including) a child. She will ignore you. There is always time for treats when the game is done. Live rabbit, squalling cat, or two pounds of ground round, are not worth the end of the game.

So the best way to catch her is to let her run herself out or, better yet, don’t lose her to begin with.
But WHY do my dogs keep escaping?????

For Christmas I got an infrared, motion activated, game camera . On the very first night we put it out, we got a hint of the answer to that question.

What I have not mentioned was that not only was there a beaten path around the inside of the fence, there was also one along the outside of the fence. Perhaps not as well worn as the inside path, but easily seen and followed.

Find below some pictures of our dog’s visitors:

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Hi, I am the big, unleashed Rot that is not supposed to be here, I guess I am busted.

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This is the other one. I have only seen him/her once in daylight and at a goodly distance.

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I have business elsewhere as you can see but, based on the fuzzy tail, Ed wonders if I might not be a Fox On the Run. (For Tom T Hall fans everywhere)

The Rottweiler is a dog that should not be on our land period. I am very certain he killed another dog last summer, even if by accident. He runs with a big yellow lab whose picture I did not get, but we did see both of them here, the other day during, daylight.

I took the opportunity of their daylight visit to do some target practice, with our 12 gauge, firing at a Juniper tree that was just to the Rot’s left. The remarkable thing is the beast not only seems to recognize a weapon. He seems to know something of calibers, gauges and sizes. He just moved away when I brought out my pellet gun, but I stepped out the door with the shotgun he suddenly remember a pressing engagement elsewhere!

There is another trespasser that we don’t see often. A black and white mixed mostly Border Collie I believe and we have a blurry vision of what probably is a fox.

Thinking back, we had the same thing happen at our old house. Meeko had quit attempting to get out until folks moved in with two little dogs which were allowed to run loose.

So, having finally got enough breathing space, I got a chance to write a blog post.

Thanks for reading.

Ed

Damage Control and Starting Over

That is how I would describe the last few months on the homestead. Kind of like one step forward and 250 steps back.

When we first started this blog, our thought was to chronicle our journey into homesteading while we deal with the challenges of getting older, as well as dealing with a teenager who has challenges of her own. The challenges seem to have taken over, and there hasn’t been much growth on the homestead. That includes keeping up the blog, and for that, we apologize.

When I started to write this post, I had to look over the pictures I did manage to take over the last four months to give me some perspective and see that there was some progress, albeit not nearly as much as I would have liked.

I’ve been scooter and crutch free since the end of October, but I still have a lot of pain and stiffness. I don’t have much stamina and tire easily. The doctor said it could be six months total before I am completely healed, so we are looking at another six weeks or so. The Lord must really think I need to work on my patience!

Ed’s work schedule leaves him unavailable four days a week, with the other three days for trying to catch up. It’s not working out all that great, especially since he has to spend at least part of the time finding and fixing the new dog escape route. That deserves its own blog post, but let’s just say that Meeko meets us at the back door nearly every morning now. Libby has got out several times too, but she insists on digging her way out and Meeko just finds new places to go over. Apparently, he has forgotten that is how he dislocated his hip last winter.

The garden was mostly a bust; and what wasn’t, mostly rotted on the vine. We did collect a few tomatoes, and I did manage to make some bread and butter pickles from the over sized cucumbers. I found the recipe here (You have to scroll down the page a little to get to the recipe). They were really good, and I am not a big fan of bread and butter pickles.

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Romas

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Lost in the jungle!

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Finished Pickles

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I know it’s hard to tell, but this is basil. I hope I get some volunteer next year.

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Awesome Elephant Ears. I think I was supposed to dig them up before it froze. Too late now.

The first week that I was able to get about without the crutches, I decided that Kat and I would harvest the sunflower seeds The same day Ed decided to start clearing the fence row between the yard and front pasture. We both worked about two hours and I pretty much wiped myself out. From Ed’s side of it, when he quit for the day, there was a spot where you could actually tell there is a pasture on the other side of the fence.

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Sunflowers off the front porch

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Sunflower heads

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Seeds and Chaff

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Ed in the fence row

The okra continued to grow into November. We had a super mild fall and only recently have had freezing temperatures. I decided to just let it dry on the vine in hopes of collecting seeds and using the dried pods for art projects…They are still out there.

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Okra “Fingers”

We collected quite a bit of honey, and even sold some locally, but then the hives were infested with hive beetles and the bees died. So, we are working on cleaning up the hives in hopes of getting new bees in the spring.

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Dead bees on the hive bottom

A few weeks ago, Ed, James, and Kat, built the new chicken coop. We officially have three roosters and two hens. The jury was out on Hoppy’s gender for quite a while, but his crowing made it official. Since we discovered that a single rooster’s amorous tendencies are more than one hen should handle, we decided to separate the girls from the boys, by building a split coop. The plan was to run fencing between the two sides, but the weather caught up with us. The first night the roosters all stayed in the same coop, Sunny attacked Moony and Hoppy. There was a LOT of blood. So now,  Sunny stays in “time out” in the old coop, while everyone else seems to be getting along fine, at present, in the new one. Yes, we know we still have one rooster too many with the hens, and that really, there needs to be more hens for the one rooster. We’re working on that. The girls, particularly Scarlet, did start laying eggs this fall, but they have stopped now. We got a couple dozen fresh eggs anyway.

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The New Coop. Notice there are two drop down doors. Only one is open.

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Shingles we found in the garage when we moved in. Just right for the chicken coop!

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Hoppy the Rooster

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Eggs!

So what else happened since July? In August, James had a relapse of sorts and is back on probation. Bam Bam got married in September. I turned 53 in October and Ed turned 66 last week. James and I have both had to deal with some Bi Polar issues and we’ve all dealt with a stomach bug that cost Ed a week’s work. That, of course, caused us some financial strain, but the Lord took care of us, just like He always does.

On a positive note, school is going pretty well this year. We finished a study of ancient Greece and have moved on to Rome. In American History we are finishing up the “Gilded Age”(1877-1912ish) and have formed strong opinions about Herman Melville’s writing.  Have you ever actually read Moby Dick?  Now, only morbid curiosity makes us keep reading.

Katherine has discovered a handicraft that actually sparks her interest: candle making! We did manage to get some bee’s wax, so we will be playing with some of that.

Although I plan to get back to consistent posting, I’m not sure if I’ll be able to keep up with it until after the holidays. If I can’t, Ed and I  both want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Blessed New Year.

Connie

 

Two Weeks Down

It’s been two weeks since my surgery, and I went back to see the surgeon today. He said I am healing well, took my stitches out, and put me in a boot. The great news was that I can take it off at night, and I can take a shower (seated, of course)! The not so great news, which I already knew, was that I’m still going to be off my foot for quite a while. Originally, he said three months. Last week, he said eight weeks. I go back in two weeks. I guess we’ll see what he says then. In the meanwhile, it’s either the bed, a chair, or the scooter. Maybe the Lord thinks I need to work on my patience!

All of our entrances have steps, so Ed built a ramp so I can get in and out of the house. It’s really kind of a work in progress. We use it, and then Ed works to make it better. He really takes very good care of me. He’s working on getting a wheel chair, so he can take me outside to look at the tomatoes and other things I planted last month.

He says we have a bunch of green tomatoes, but nothing turning yet. From what I’ve heard from some friends, it might not be the best year for tomatoes around here. We had one volunteer cucumber plant come up this year, and it had tiny cukes on it before my surgery. I reminded Ed about it and he checked them a few days ago. Kat took this picture tonight. I should have told her to put something with them to show scale, but I didn’t. They are huge; really too big to eat, so I’ll have to see what else I can do with them. I would appreciate any suggestions.We didn’t plant cucumbers this year, so  what ever we get is just an added blessing.

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Our neighbor’s cantaloupe patch took off and he’s already brought us three melons. We’ve only eaten the first one, but it was the sweetest I’ve had in a long time! Looking forward to the others! He said to let him know if I wanted more. He also brought me some of his ripe tomatoes. We gave him some honey.  Oh, Ed told me today that we have a volunteer watermelon coming out of the compost pile! There is at least one melon on it. We don’t know if it will be any good or not, but we didn’t expect it. So, again, anything we get is just  another added blessing!

That is kind of how we feel about this years honey harvest too. We weren’t expecting any this year, so the two gallons we have are just extra blessings. Ed checked the bees yesterday, but they are still working on the frames we took last time, so he is going to leave them alone and let them do their thing for awhile.

Katherine has taken over most of the kitchen duty. I still have to tell her specifically what to do when, but she does what I tell her, and she does a good job.  I have been able to get in there an do some cooking with her, and plan to do some more tomorrow. We can only eat so many sandwiches. She’s doing all the laundry too, as far a washing and drying goes. I can do some of the folding, but she and Ed are putting everything away. For the most part, everyone is doing a great job picking up the slack. It’s still hard for me to just sit and let them do it.

I’m looking at some projects I can do from this chair. I’ll let you know what I decide next time.

Have a great week.

Connie

Holding On (By the Skin of My Teeth)

Last Thursday, July 21, Connie had her heel and Achilles Tendon operated on. She will not be able to put weight on that leg for three months. That would be approximately 13 weeks, or 91 days. If you really want to know exactly what your partner does around the old place, put them off line for about a week.

Yeah, all that stuff.

So this last week I have worked 40 plus hours, put at least one real meal a day on the table, tried to make certain Connie was comfortable, did the minimums to keep the critters alive, had an occasional talk with the Lord God and slept. That would be about it. Had Katherine not enlisted to take care of her mother some of the time, I might not have been able to do that. On top of that, I am just not pleased when people start cutting on the love of my life. Makes me kinda want to punch them, but that does not seem appropriate in this case.

So the first week is about over. We have a follow-up with the doctor tomorrow, and Connie is beginning to get around a little better. After waking up early this morning to finish cutting my knee high lawn, and fighting back the rag weed and various poisonous prehistoric plants that are taking over my dog lot, I fell out for a nap. I woke up to find the dishes I had washed after dinner last night put up, the new dishes on there way to clean and a plate of French Toast and bacon courtesy of Connie and Katherine waiting for me. Thank you both.

Speaking about the lawn. Let me continue a little about things I would have done differently when I started this little experiment in Green Acres-ism. No matter how tough and resilient you might think you are, if you have an acre yard (plus or minus) you do need a riding lawn mower and a gas powered weed eater.

At least, if you are in your later years and have any intentions of doing things other than cut your lawn. If not a riding mower, I would suggest goats. That does not mean you need a high dollar rider. I bought mine used from a friend for $250.00. The gas trimmer I got at Lowes for about seventy bucks. (Lowes has a 10 percent discount for military veterans; bless their hearts.)

I set out on this adventure with my 5 HP push mower and an electric weed eater. From the closest outlet, which is just inside the front door, to the farthest point of my front yard is about 175 or so feet. I needed the gas weed eater. And I really got tired of taking two plus days to mow the lawn. Also, this next year I am planning to get a wagon I can pull behind the mower, to do some chores around the place.

Another answer that is a work in progress, is just getting rid of the lawn entirely. We are working on planting it in an edible garden, but that is Connie’s project and she is in no shape to work on it right now..

The bees are going like gang busters. We have harvest a gallon of honey from each hive and they are still full to overflowing. I am going to have to get at least one more super or rob them again this next week. Maybe both.

As I said, I am involved in a project to cut down and kill a very intimidating forest of weeds that are growing, well…. I guess like weeds. To supplement the physical labor of cutting down these monsters I wanted something that would kill the beggars while not poisoning my dogs, chickens, bees or land for a couple more generations.

I had heard of something and looked it up. This is the basic recipe that I am following.

Take one gallon of cheap old white vinegar, pour it in a bucket. Add one cup of table salt and stir it up well. To that add one tablespoon of dish washing liquid to make the stuff stick better and stir that in. Put your product in a closed, marked container and put some it in a spray bottle and spray your plants.

I cannot endorse this recipe yet and it is indiscriminate, it kills the good stuff with the bad if it works as advertised. Connie or I will report back to you on it, when we know how it works.

I will close this rambling post. I hope something in it is interesting and helpful in your walk. Any prayers for my lovely wife will be appreciated. Also, I will put all you folks on my prayer list. Don’t worry, I don’t mind if you don’t believe in God, He believes in you.

The night before they took my love in for the operation, I slept very little. At the hospital in Chilicothe, Mo. Just before the operation, Connie, Katherine and I joined hands and prayed. When I looked up the nursing staff and the Doctor were in prayer with us.

Next, after we had to go out, Kat and I went for breakfast in the cafeteria. At our table we joined hands and blessed our food. I have an old soldier’s awareness of what is around me, so I knew that the tables next to ours and the people walking by stopped while we prayed.

I love the country.

An Interesting Week

Last week, we were feeling a little bit of a financial pinch, and I really didn’t want to spend anything more than I absolutely had to. Well, we ran out of dish soap, and were on our way to being out of laundry soap. I didn’t want to use what little cash I had for that, in case we needed something really important, like feminine hygiene products or toilet paper. I draw the line at DIY’ing either of those!

I had, however, made laundry soap before with limited success, so I googled a recipe for that  and one for dish soap. I had everything I needed in one form or another, except for washing soda. I did have baking soda though, and I knew I had read somewhere that you could change one to the other, so I went back to Google.

Once I found what I needed, I decided to sneak in a chemistry lesson, so I told Kat to look up the difference between baking and washing soda, as well as how to change one to the other. Surprisingly, she did it without complaining.

Making washing soda is easy. You can learn how here. Basically, all you do is bake baking soda in the oven for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees. There is a slight change in color and a definite change in texture.

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Fresh baked washing soda

Then we used the newly formed washing soda in the recipes we found for laundry and dish soap. The dish soap recipe that I used did not work out well for me, so I will keep experimenting in that department and let you know what I find out.

The laundry soap, on the other hand, turned out great, and seems to work pretty well. I have not used it on Ed’s uniforms yet, but it did fine with the rest of the laundry. You can find the recipe here.  You grate soap (I used Ivory), and then mix it with Borax and washing soda, and put in the food processor until its a fine powder. I used about 2 tablespoons per load. It’s a lot easier and a lot less mess than trying to make liquid laundry soap.

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grated soap

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Before processing

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After. Notice the layer of dust. We let that settle for awhile before we opened it. Don’t need to breath soap dust.

Over the weekend, the dogs decided they would start playing “find the hole under the fence” again, giving Ed fits for about three days. Since they haven’t got out since Tuesday, I think he solved the problem.  He is still working on new living arrangements for the chickens, but I’ll let him tell you about that.

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Hanging out in the house while Ed fixes the fence . Notice the cats on the table above. Bookworm is annoyed, but think Captain is asleep

During all that, I discovered what I thought might be a spider bite on my back between my shoulder blades. I couldn’t see it with out mirror and I certainly couldn’t reach it. I enlisted Ed and Kat’s help for a few days, but finally gave in an went to the doctor on Monday. It’s an abscess..We don’t know how, and we don’t know why. She gave me a shot in the rear, put me on antibiotics, and told me to come back Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Ed planned to check the bee hives. He hadn’t had a chance to take a good look at them in about ten days, so he was kind of anxious to  check on them. When he went out just to look, the saw this.

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A ball of bees under the pallet the hive sits on. The usually don’t do that.

Then he came back in and called our friends at Crooked Hill. Tammie told him he needed to see what was going on inside the hive, which is what he already planned to do. So he donned his bee suit,  started his smoker and went to visit the bees. As I usually do, I went too, staying on the far side of the fence. From there, I can usually get pretty good pictures and stay off the bee’s radar. I said usually.

Since the Sparta hive had the strange activity, he started there first. All I can say is wow! The hive is crammed full of bees, brood, and honey!

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One frame from Sparta hive

Even with the smoke, they seemed especially agitated, and when I realized I was starting to get some attention, I walked away. When I got back to the chicken pens, they left me. A few minutes later, Ed walked over to the fence and asked me to bring him the camera. Big mistake. Suddenly I had a lot of bee attention. As I started moving away again I felt the first sting on my face, and knew I might be in trouble.  There is a an old metal washtub sitting out there near the black berries, and it was half full of rain water. I had noticed it earlier and decided that might be my best chance of freeing myself from the bees. I hit the ground and dunked my head in the tub, using my hands to splash water up on myself. Once I was pretty sure, was free of them, I went to the house and told Kat to get the plantain oil we made last fall. I know I had at least five stings. One on my face, two on my head and two (maybe three) on my arm. Ed came in a few minutes later to check on me. He got stung three times through the bee suit, but he doesn’t have the reaction I do to things like that. The plantain oil did it’s job, but I took some allergy medicine just in case.

The stings on my face and head swelled a little, but were nearly gone in a few hours. The ones on my head hurt the worst, but I think that was because they were right underneath where my glasses rest. The area on my arm got red and hot. You should have seen my doctor’s face when I went back to see her about the abscess and she saw my arm. Poor woman. She offered to give me a shot for that too, but I told her I thought I was ok. The abscess is nearly  gone.

Today, I had my pre-op appointment for my foot surgery next week. It will be an outpatient procedure so I’ll get to come home the same day. Ed’s kind of stressing about how he’s going to get me out of the car and into the house, but I think it will be fine. We went ahead and rented the knee scooter, so I could practice with it. I think I’ll be ok.

I told you it was an interesting week.

Things have calmed down a little now, although Ed is making plans for harvesting some honey. I’m sure he’ll be posting all about that next week.

Connie

 

The Art of Messing Up

 

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This is one of the earliest pictures of the house we have. She is a nice place, warm and snug, with enough land to keep this old fella busy until the Lord calls me home.

 

Doing things right is often overrated. Don’t get me wrong. It is truly wondrous to see a person with a high level of skill, attack a task with a speed and accuracy that leaves us all breathless with awe. Still, you have to ask yourself how they got that way don’t you?

Do you think B. B. King came out of the womb playing The Thrill is Gone? Was Mohamed Ali floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee when he was in diapers? Did Michelangelo design helicopters, and paint masterpieces in preschool? I doubt that very seriously.

In all things, there is a learning process. No matter how gifted you might be, there is that period of time when you hit yourself in the thumb with the hammer, trip over the shoelaces of your dancing shoes, and drop your musical instrument on your foot. For an old reprobate retired soldier turned fry cook, the learning curve for a homesteader is pretty steep. Picture the wall of the Grand Canyon; that kind of steep.

We are coming up on the end of our second year on our homestead. I want to look at some things we did well, some things we did badly, some things we did not do at all, and some things we should never have done.

It bears repeating, doing things right IS highly overrated. I am one of those people who improves his skills by getting dirt under my fingernails. I can read a book, listen to an instructor, watch a video, then pass a test with flying colors. However, until I am turning information into action I have not really been trained.

Learning is the assembly of facts; training changes behavior. You can read every possible book on horsemanship, but your really not a rider until you are sitting on your butt looking up into the eyes of the horse that just made a fool of you. THAT is lesson number one.

So the first thing I will tell you, is that I regret spending way too much time being afraid of failure. That does not just apply to the homestead; that applies to my life in general. However, we will narrow it down to the homestead and these last couple years.

A lot more would have happened around here, were I not afraid of looking like a fool in general, and incompetent in particular. If I had taken most of the time I spent figuring out what I did not have or know that kept me from doing something, and just did it, I would have accomplished a lot more.

So, my free advice, worth every penny you paid for it, is do not fear doing things wrong. Anything worth doing is worth screwing up a couple times. Do not judge yourself against others and particularly against those you believe to be expert. You are going to start any project with the skills you have now. Done right, you will finish it with more, better, and broader skills. Even if you fail completely, you will still have learned how not to do it and what you need to know to do it.

So what are my regrets? Sit back and relax this might take awhile:

When we were shopping for a home, I went in prayer to God and ask Him to close doors if I were heading in the wrong direction. Doors just flew open to getting this place. For that reason I believe this is the place the Good Lord wants Connie and I. However, my first thought on this matter, is that we bit off more than we were, and still are, able to chew.

We considered, what we thought was carefully, and decided on between five and ten acres. Seemed reasonable to us at the time. We are two years in, and have not fully used two acres. That two acres includes about a quarter acre dog run, inside which the dogs sometimes even stay. So my takeaway?

Really give thought to how much land you need, but, if you must err, err on more than less. I can always let three acres go wild, and let somebody hay it just to knock the stuff down, but I cannot figure out how to make more ground.

Before you buy it, know your place. Had I known everything I know now, I would have still chosen this farm but:

I should have noticed that most of the center east-west cross fence was simply trash, and a lot of the boundary fencing is going to need replacement.

I should have learned that if the gates were not hanging on the fences (they were in the lean-to on the barn), they were not considered part of the property. That little mistake is going to cost me a bit.

I should have asked more questions about the septic system, but the two year old roof dazzled me with its brilliance.

I should have stopped, and talked to Connie about the interior decoration of the house (every man reading this just went to sleep). Let me leave this next statement gender neutral: The fact one of you could care less about the Disco Ball in the Den, does not mean the other one feels that way.

So there are some examples of the things I intend to talk about during the month of July. August 1st we will have slept in our home for two years. If I had it to do all over again, and with all I have learned since then, I think this is right where we need to be.

A Cranberry Merchant

Reading over Ed’s post from last week, I decided I wanted to add my own two cents to what he said, as well as catching you up for this week.

Yes, we have been crazy busy. When he started saying all the things we were busier than, I could just hear grandma say, “Busier than a cranberry merchant”.  After Ed’s post last week, I decided to try and find the source of that saying.  Google gave me the answer in the first result. Subsequent results said the same thing. When you add the words “in November”, the phrase makes perfect sense. November is the time of Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is the time for cranberry sauce. As a matter of fact, you might be hard pressed to find cranberries at other times of the year. So, yes, a cranberry merchant might be very busy in November.

Ed truly loves the bees. It’s fun for me to watch him watching them. I am, however, looking forward to getting my own bee suit, so I can get a good look myself. As it is now, I can get about ten to fifteen feet away, and watch, without drawing the attention of the irritated bees.

I don’t think Ed mentioned it, but Kat has named the hives Sparta and Athens. Sparta was named first, when I pointed out to her that the bees would cast out those members who weren’t able to pull their own weight…kind of like the ancient Spartans that we were covering in school. Of course, the other hive had to be Athens. Interestingly, the hives’ behavior seems to mirror their respective namesakes. Athens is definitely more laid back than Sparta.

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Athens on the left and Sparta on the right.

Jim’s death took us all by surprise. I couldn’t have been more proud of how Ed stepped up to help, not only for my children and I, but for Jim’s family as well. Jim’s brother went so far as to tell Ed that he is “family now”. Katherine was definitely daddy’s girl (the only girl in a total of six children, and the baby), and she had him wrapped around her little finger. She was actually concerned that she wasn’t crying like Bam Bam, and I reassured her that everyone grieves differently and it was ok. She’s brought him up a time or two since then, but that was it. I was kind of waiting for something to break, but wasn’t sure if it would.

Then the dogs killed those two chickens. She fell to the ground and just screamed. I told Jim’s sister later that I thought some of that might have been for her dad too. In any case, it was hard to watch. My heart just broke for her. Then a few days ago, Moony came up missing. After looking and calling for a couple hours without locating the runaway rooster, Katherine just sat and cried. She told me she was a terrible chicken keeper. I told her it was not her fault, and we just had to pray that he was alright. The next morning, Ed and I had both gone out to the coop at different times hoping he had come back, but he hadn’t. At least, not where we expected him.

Ed was out near the other pen, also known as Sunny’s bachelor pad, when he heard a rooster crow nearby. He was looking right at Sunny and it wasn’t him. He heard it again, and it was coming from inside the garage. He came to get me and we both went back to try and find the source. Ed was checking the rafters and I was checking the corners. There was Moony, sticking his head out of a bunch of boxes in the back corner! He may have been there the whole time.

That very day, Ed and Kat worked together to cover the top of the chicken pen, so no one can fly out again.
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Hanging out after the work was done.

The rain finally stopped, and the sun came out with a vengeance. For about two or three weeks, we had 90 and hundred degree days. That is not June weather for Missouri; July or August maybe, but not June. Now, the weather people are saying we need to be prepared for the possibility of 4-6 inches of rain this weekend. I guess we’ll see. We had a little shower this evening. The clouds looked ominous, the temperature dropped and the wind picked up. It rained for about ten minutes and the sun came back out.

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Those clouds were rolling!

Like Ed said, we’ve both been dealing with health issues. That’s part of that whole “Old Folks” thing. I had an endoscopy yesterday. I do have some issues, but the doctor wasn’t overly concerned. I just need to watch what, how, and when I eat. He didn’t say so, but I know that losing some weight would solve a lot of the problem.

The foot surgery is another matter entirely. I have a bone spur, along with a “diseased” Achilles’ tendon. They are going saw off the bone spur and remove the diseased portion of the tendon. After the surgery, its “no weight bearing for three months”. The doctor told me it would be either a wheel chair or a knee scooter. I chose the knee scooter. I’ve been told twice now to get it early and practice. Yes, I have already apologized to Ed in advance, because I know it’s going to drive me crazy.

I started a bunch of tomato seeds back in April and just now got all of them in the ground. I think there are about 30 plants in all. I noticed blooms on a few plants today. I also planted sunflowers, okra, and a few other plants here and there. After I knew I was going to be out of commission for at least three months, I decided not to try and plant anything else this year.

We did get some nice lettuce in the cold frame, but the spinach never came up. The onions we planted last fall came up though, and we still have a couple in the ground.

In addition to the trees we planted in the back field, we also planted ten blackberry bushes. I think we have about eight left. A few of them are really coming along.

Ed went to his first regular shift at his new job tonight. He always did like working thirds. Kat is now calling him a bat, because he’s working nights.

Well that’s about it for now.

Connie