November – A Chicken Play Pen

We’ve had mesh netting around the chicken coop for a year or so now. It gives “the girls” a safe place to roam during the day when they aren’t on their supervised excursions into the yard-at-large. We always have to be vigilant because the fox and hawks like our chickens as much as we do! Chris decided it is time to build something more substantial so that if we are away for part of the day, we don’t have to be concerned that something can get to them.

It’s been a big project – digging holes to sink the 4”x4” fence posts, building a supporting framework at the top, building a door – and last but not least – getting the fencing around the side and over the top.

But that wasn’t enough – we decided they need to have fresh grass. But anyone who has a pen full of chickens knows you can’t have fresh grass unless you move them every day before they peck, scratch and claw their way to the dirt. Not to be outsmarted by a bunch of chickens, Chris built a raised bed for grass, covered by hardware cloth that they can’t peck through. This way, the grass will grow up and out the top, the girls can keep their lawn “mowed” by chomping away each day, and the underlying grass plants are safe from their voracious appetites.

Now they have a nice, big, safe space – which should soon have green grass.  They should be quite content in their new playpen.

The mesh fencing worked well for a while, but the girls needed something more permanent.
And they needed fresh grass – all the time.
Finished Chicken Coop
So they got this beautiful, big chicken pen with a grass patio.
Chicken Coop with Chicken Grass Box
And everyone seems happy with their new chicken yard.

November – What IS this thing?

A cucumber? An out of control zucchini? Actually – it’s a sponge. A loofah sponge; and it’s growing in my garden!

It’s taken a bit of persistence. Loofah’s need a long growing season. I tried growing these last year and I got the tiniest little sponge that I harvested right before our first frost. This year, I started my loofah seeds in February, in the basement, under a grow light. They were soooo slow to germinate, and even slower to grow. I planted them outside in late May and they sat there for months, barely rising above the weeds around the edge of the garden fence. Slowly they started to climb the fence and I kept training their tendrils higher and higher. All of a sudden – they took off climbing over the six foot fence and FINALLY made some tiny loofahs. For as along as it took for the plants to grow, the loofahs seemed to double in size over night.

Our growing season is still barely long enough and frost was approaching; not all of them were ready to harvest. A few had turned yellow, they felt squishy and noticeably lighter than the dark green ones. I chopped them down, peeled one open and there it was – a perfect – sponge! Hopefully the others will dry a bit more so I can harvest a bathtub full of sponges.

It’s bigger than some of the zucchinis that grow in the garden!
Slowly it turns yellow and gets squishy-soft.
I peeled it open – and look! It’s a sponge!

Happy Halloween

I always enjoy this time of the year. The leaves are beautiful, the air is crisp and it’s fun to decorate with all the gourds I grew all summer long. This year, all the decorations were in place – but one extra one showed up – Yikes!  Guess which one isn’t one of my normal fall decorations?!?

My spooky houses
The fireplace with pumpkins, gourds and bittersweet.
Two of the cutest pumpkins around!
Scary Spider
It must be a ghost spider – the picture keeps disappearing off the blog!

September – Tomato Soup

It’s been an okay year for my tomatoes – not great – but okay. We’ve had plenty of fresh Big Beef tomatoes for bacon/tomato sandwiches and enough Amish Paste tomatoes to can enough sauce to get us through the winter. But, with only a few tomatoes each day or so, it makes it hard to get enough at one time for a big batch of canning. The other day I stopped at the local farm for some fresh corn.  Sitting there, right in front of the corn, calling my name – was a 30 pound box of tomatoes – for $3.50. I mean – you just can’t pass that up! I was so excited, I forgot to get the corn.

I hurried home, ran the tomatoes through my strainer contraption and simmered the juice for hours and hours. We ended up with 12 pints of tomato soup and ate one jar that night with grilled cheese sandwiches — because I couldn’t wait to try it. The others got canned for a cold winter’s night. I’m dreading winter – but I’m looking forward to more of that tomato soup.

A stock pot full of tomato soup!
Just waiting for the first snow storm.

September – An Unwelcome Home

We took a week of vacation and although we missed the farm and our furry and feathered friends and my gardens – sometimes you just need to get away. It was nice to come home – until we found we had squatters living in our house. Yes, they broke in while we were gone and took up residence. Yellow jackets had taken over our bedroom. Not just one or two – but a lot of dead ones on the window sills where they died in frustration trying to get out the windows, and several more flying frantically around looking for a way out. We do sometimes get the errant wasp that seems to come down from the attic, but I couldn’t figure out how this many yellow jackets were getting into the house. The next day there were more, and the day after – still more.  We checked the windows – the screens all seemed tight. We checked the attic for a lot of buzzing – but it was quiet. I sat quietly and watched the fan vent in the bathroom waiting for a yellow jacket to make it’s entrance – but nothing happened. And then we went to bed. Just as I was dozing off – I got stung, THREE times – on my leg – under the covers. And it HURT!

It was WAR!

In the light of the day I started ripping apart the bedroom – and then I noticed – saw dust, and dead yellow jackets on the roof of the porch – just to the left of  the window on my side of the bed. They definitely had a nest – but we have a stone house. Doesn’t one trump the other? You would think!

These nasty yellow jackets had burrowed into the wooden window sill, through two feet of wood and stone, and made an entrance into the bedroom behind my night stand. I put my ear against the window sill – and it was a-buzzin’!! After several doses of bug spray applied with one of those tiny wands into the entrance holes both in the bedroom and outside the window, all is quiet. Chris shoved some steel wool into the holes so there will be no more yellow jacket traffic in and out of our bedroom.

As for the pictures – when we were in the throes of trying to get rid of these things – I forgot to take pictures. I could show you a picture of my leg with a huge, red welt – but that’s not a good picture either.

The roof of the porch littered with sawdust, dead bees and a chunk of wood the yellow jackets somehow pulled out of the window ledge.
The little hole under the window sill where they were making their entrance into the house after eating their way through two feet of wooden window ledge and stone wall. It’s plugged with steel wool. We need to spray a big dose of Great Stuff in there to seal everything up and then patch the hole with some stucco and fresh paint. At least I sleep better now!


September – A Sweet Surprise

We’ve had bees for three years now. The first year – we got nothing, the second year – we got next to nothing (6 pounds of honey), the third year – we thought we got nothing. The beekeepers association said that if you don’t have honey by the end of July – you aren’t getting any, so pack up your hopes and dreams and wait another year. But… our bees are just late bloomers. They waited until mid August and in the span of about two weeks brought home nearly 70 pounds of dark, sweet honey.

We had used the extracting equipment last year – hardly worth the effort, but I guess it was a good “dry run” to process the amazing 6 pounds of honey. This year, we at least had a process in place and set to work early in the morning. Several hours later – we have CASES of the stuff. In fact, I need to go buy more honey jars! I guess that’s a good problem to have.

We had three shallow supers of frames to extract.
And they were packed to the corners with honey.
I got stung by a yellow jacket earlier in the week so I was taking NO chances. I don’t mind helping but those few bees that came in with the frames of honey weren’t going to get to me!
Straining the honey from the extractor to a bucket. We ended up with a full five gallon bucket plus a little more!
Honey Jars
The “fruits” of Chris’s persistence. He took classes, kept doing everything he was supposed to do – and here we are – with nearly six CASES of honey.

September – Our Labor Day Picnic

It’s hard to believe that summer is winding down already. It’s been hot and/or rainy all summer which meant every time I thought we’d eat outside on the patio, it was too hot, too wet or both. But the weather has changed already. Days are shorter, there’s a cool breeze and this weekend was one of the rare opportunities to eat dinner outside. Not just for us – but for “the herd” too.  Happy Labor Day!

A pet picnic – they do need better table manners though.
Our picnic – the weather is finally cooperating.

August – Paint and Rain Don’t Mix

We use our basement a lot. It’s not a typical basement. I can’t just go down the basement stairs into a nice, finished space. Instead I have to go outside, to the side of the house and unlock the exterior door that accesses the basement. It’s a bit dreary. It sometimes gets mice in the winter, and it definitely gets cobwebs and other creepy-crawly things.

But it stays fairly constant around 60-ish degrees which makes it a great choice for being my root cellar, wine cellar, cheese cave, and storage spot for all the canned goods from the garden and two freezers full of frozen meats and vegetables. It’s definitely an important part of our house – but it didn’t look like it.

I decided EVERYTHING needed to come out of the basement so we could really deep clean it, and then paint it. It looks so much brighter and I’ve reclaimed corners of the basement that I confess – I was a bit scared of what might be lurking in the shadows. Then we painted the floor with gray garage floor paint to keep the dust down.

And then we pulled out the shop vac. In the four weeks since we’ve painted the basement, we’ve sucked flood waters out of it three times. A gentle soaking rain is no problem – but an inch and a half in twenty minutes is more than the basement can manage. At least it sucks up easily off of the new painted floor, except for the few places where the rain has loosened the paint.

Hopefully we are now out of the rainy season (until next year) but I sure wish those people that built this house back in 1853 had thought to put in a French drain with a sump pump – or at least a hole for a sump pump so that when electricity and such mechanical devices were invented, we could have just plugged one in.

Old stone walls.
Dirty dusty corners.
It looks so much brighter with a fresh coat of paint.
And a gray painted floor to keep the dust down.
A perfect spot for a wine cellar and cheese cave.
And so much brighter for storing my canned goods, squash and potatoes!

August – Beams

At the end of every day when I finally curl up on the couch to watch a few minutes of TV before I fall asleep, my eyesight is always drawn to the eyesore on the ceiling. We have a bit of a vaulted ceiling and over time, it has cracked where the drywall seam is. It’s a normal thing that happens but it looks ugly.

Now when I climb on the couch, I have a new view. We’ve had box-beams installed to cover the seams. It looks amazing. They are stained dark to match the beams in the kitchen and give a natural flow from one room to the next. I think it gives the room a more complete look and maybe even makes it feel cozy – not that we need cozy as it hits 100 degrees outside – but this winter, I’ll appreciate cozy even more.

First a board got attached to the ceiling that covered the crack in the dry wall.
Then it got covered in a box-beam.
What a difference it makes, and the beams look like a continuation of the beams in the kitchen.

February – Throwing off the Blanket

We are finally starting to show some signs of warmth around here. The snow is melting, temperatures are flirting with the 40’s some days, and it’s almost time to start my garden!

The blanket of snow on the greenhouse roof was headed south, so I started seeds. It’s  too cold in the greenhouse to give them a good start, so this year we are starting them on a germinating mat under a grow light in the basement. Things are starting to pop already.  By the time they are ready to transplant to larger pots and harden off under some real sunlight – the greenhouse will have warmed up – I hope!

Another sure sign of spring are the blue hoses attached to two of our maple trees. They aren’t sugar maples, but they are maples – so that’s close enough. Last year we started too late and got about one cup of maple syrup by the time we boiled down all the sap. This year I may have jumped the gun, but so far I have three gallons of sap – and the whole month of March ahead of me. Maybe this year we’ll get two cups!

Greenhouse with snow
The blanket of snow is on the move – spring must be on the way.
If you look REALLY close, you can see some sprouts – spring MUST be almost here.
How much maple syrup will we get this year?