Thursday, January 31, 2013

Getting a Grip

I had a pair of Yaktrax for walking the dogs when we lived in town because you can't rely upon people to always shovel their icy sidewalks. I can  manage the little bit of ice we usually get on the farm, so I decided to give them to Israel, our new son-in-law from Mexico, who walks to classes and is not used to navigating snow, ice and frigid cold.

Yesterday I was carrying a stack of sofa  cushions (part of my big upholstery project) from the car, treading very gingerly across the  ice, thinking "If I were to fall, at least I have a pile of cushions to land on!" No sooner did I think that thought than my feet swooshed out  sideways from beneath me and I whomped to the ground,  landing on my hip and elbow, but not on the cushions. Ouch.

So, last night I purchased another pair of Yaktrax. This pair is glow green- and I discovered this morning that they actually do glow in the dark! Probably not enough to light my way in the barn, but bright enough that if one pops off during evening chores I will be able to find it easily.
Plus, they color-coordinate  perfectly with the beautiful muck boots Rog gave me for Christmas! I wore the Yaktrax this morning. Our farmyard still has an inch of hard ice coating everything, but now it is also dusted with snow so walking is even more treacherous. It was so nice to walk confidently.  I happily realized that chores take half the time if you don't have to take baby steps and hold onto gates and bushes to keep from sliding downhill! That was $20 well-spent. Especially if it prevents a broken elbow or a concussion.

Sad Day in the Coop

One of my favorite  hens, the Silver Lace Wyandotte, was dead in the coop this morning. When I  did the chores last night I noticed that she was on the ground, not a roost like the other hens,  but I didn't think too much of it because it wasn't getting dark yet. I suspect she was egg-bound, poor girl.

She was a friendly and clever hen. Whenever we worked in the flower beds or did any digging she followed us around to snatch up any worms or bugs we overturned. I couldn't find a good photo of her in my disorganized photo files, but she looked like the hen in the link above, very beautiful; people always exclaimed over her.These are a few of her remarkable feathers, white with a thick black outline that gave her a polka-dot  appearance.

I guess I better add a couple Silver Lace Wyandottes to my chick order this spring.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Skating Through Chores

Our farmyard is a 2-acre skating rink. I left for Superior, WI,  early Sunday morning  just before the freezing rain started and drove back last night just as freezing rain was starting in Duluth. The drive home was a bit slow, through sleet, rain, and dense fog, but the roads weren't bad until I arrived in our own driveway.
I think Rog was a bit happy I got home a couple days early so he didn't have to do chores today. Together we slip-slid the garbage and recycling bins down the driveway to the road for collection, then he headed out for work and I tackled chores.

Our farm is at the crest of a slight hill, so it is a downhill slide to the barn, coop and loafing shed to tend the critters.

My greatest concern is for the cows. They can't get much purchase on the ice with those little hooves. I worry that they will slip and wrench a leg out of joint. I wish there were yaktrax for cows.
The chickens, duck and goose have been sliding all over the place, too.  On the bright side,  it is easy to peck up all the chicken feed and grain when it is scattered on top of the hard ice.

The ice is thick and smooth enough that you actually could ice skate on it! Maybe I will try it later today, if I can find my skates. I haven't used them for decades but I think I still have a pair somewhere...

It is raining lightly now, but temperature is forecast to drop and then we will get snow. The only thing more treacherous than a thick layer of ice is ice covered with a light layer of snow. I  hope we get  substantial melting before the cold hits.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Bird Food Court

Chores were accomplished a bit early today because it is so cold out. As I came in, I noticed 12 cardinals at the birdefeeders, their evening visit, but there wasn't enough light for a photo. However, I took a bunch of bird shots this morning through the window, plastic and all, including this cardinal on the garden bench.
The  female cardinal is even prettier than the male, I think, if not so flashy.
On the west side of the house I have a bird food court set up with 16 assorted feeders (four hang right next to the windows for closeup viewing.) It is a pretty good feeder spot, with lots of large deciduous trees and a lilac hedge to the north for shelter, but when the fierce Canadian winter wind blows in from the northwest, it blasts right through here.
Yesterday we had one of those crazy days where it was unseasonably warm, 48 degrees(!) until  about 3 p.m. Then the arctic wind blew in and the temperature began to plummet. I had spent the warm afternoon preparing for the impending cold spell--cleaning up cowpies in the cow-feeding area and dog poops in the yard because I knew they would soon be frozen fast to the ground. I had chipped the ice out of the wading pool and filed it with clean water so the ducks and goose could take a rare midwinter bath. I secured a window in the coop that had blown loose and cleared away branches that had blown from trees and would be menacing if it snowed and we unwittingly snowblew over them. By the time I got to refilling all the birdfeeders,  the wind was blasting at over 40 mph and it was bitterly cold. I felt sorry for the poor songbirds, who could scarcely navigate in the wind, so I created a makeshift lean-to shelter between the feeders so they could access the food and easily take shelter. This morning I was pleased to see they were making use of it.
Chickadee at the window feeder.
Chickadees are so fast, flitting in to  snatch a seed and flying off to  eat it elsewhere.
Sparrows in the feeder on the east  side of the house.
I suspect these are some of the small flock of sparrows that have taken up residence in the chicken coop...
between the chicken feed and the birdfeeders they are extremely well-nourished.
Nuthatch --not the greatest shot, but one of my favorite  feeder frequenters.
I'm also very fond of the roly poly  little juncos--they are mostly ground feeders and are only here in winter.

We often see five different  kinds of woodpeckers in our yard; this is the downy, pecking at the suet feeder by the window where we sit to drink our morning coffee and watch the show.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sad Farewell

Our neighbors. Kay and Frank, had an old stretch of sidewalk in front of their house where pansies popped up in the cracks each spring. It was so  delightful.

Last night we attended the visitation for Kay, who passed away this week.  I always think of her like those pansies,  so sweet and gentle, yet darn tough, being a hardworking farmwife all her life.

Frank  showed us a little black and white photo of Kay as a young woman - the day she first caught his eye, and told us he had carried that photo in his pocket every single day since she gave it to him. I bet it is back in his wallet right now.
I took this photo of Kay and Frank the same day I  photographed their sidewalk pansies. They were embarrassed for being in their work clothes - they had been planting their garden all day. I like how it captures what honest, industrious, kind folks they are.  My heart goes out to the entire family, but especially to Frank. Losing the love of your life, your partner for over 50 years, must be like losing a part of yourself.

Last summer, Frank and Kay built a lovely 3-season porch over the sidewalk so they could relax in there and enjoy the beautiful farm vista. The sidewalk is gone, but I won't be surprised if those pansies still pop up around the edges of the porch this spring. Some sweet good things are irrepressible. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Little Garden Reading

I  just finished my book art project for the Rochester Public Library gala fundraiser, Wit Wisdom and Wine this weekend.  Artists were invited to transform a book into art for a silent auction, My book ("The Well-Tempered Garden") is more of a miniature garden than artwork, but that seemed fitting for a farmer.  On the tiny garden bench is a tiny book, also titled "The Well-Tempered Garden." The plants in the garden are  succulents, moss and a very small orchid.
The hardest part of making this piece was cutting out all the pages (I chose a very thick book, to provide room for the roots of the plants.)  I now have a big blister on my index finger. The book garden is pretty cute, though - I might have to make another one for me someday.  The  pages are sealed with acrylic varnish and the interior of the book lined with an aluminum tray, so the book shouldn't turn into compost for a long time.I can't wait to see what the other artists have come up with.

I think you can still get tickets to this fundraising event which has fun people, wonderful wine tasting and fabulous food.  I am honored to be one of the speakers again this year (shall I be witty, or wise?)
The library plays a more  important community role than ever in these tough economic times and needs our support!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Few Things

Rumor has it, winter is supposed to be the quiet, relaxing season on the farm.  So far, this winter is crazy busy.  Nevertheless, I intend to be a better blog-poster than I have  lately.

Last week it warmed up for a few days and the poultry enjoyed being outside.
The bees must have taken advantage of the warm weather to clean out the hive -I noticed quite a few dead bees scattered in the snow near the Langstroth hive. (They need a January thaw so they can carry out their dead and their waste.)   There weren't any bee remains near the Warre hives, however - I am afraid that might mean they have not survived.

We picked up another load of hay for the cows, from yet another farmer.  The cows are not any happier with this batch of hay than the last,  scattering much of it on the ground and then mooing at me for the good stuff.  That makes ME a bit crabby, at $5 a bale! It is a tough year to find yummy hay, and it sure is pricey.
The cows are enjoying a supplemental bowl of beet pulp and a scoop of grain with their hay, however.  I give Jitterbug her scoop of grain on the barn step because LaFonda budges her away from the feeder to gobble it all herself. Jitter generously shares her grain with the wild chickens (the 13 hardy chickens who  have chosen to live in the  loafing shed rather than the coop.)
We had a couple days of rain, so our snow mostly melted and then it got cold again.  But it was such a nice afternoon today that Orange went out hunting and caught a bit fat vole somewhere, which he proudly brought home and laid on the steps for me to admire. Zinny wanted that vole so badly!
Must post a Zinny photo - she is growing so fast, gaining on the big dogs.  Her ears are beginning to get tufty like  Nutmeg's...
and her tail is starting to get fluffy.  She has a little bit of collie butt fur now and the fringy beginnings of fetters on her legs.

The biggest news is that our son-in-law has arrived from Mexico! (Cadence has a very happy smile now).  Other than that, Rog has been intrepidly organizing the basement.  I have been sewing like crazy on the big upholstery project. Grant-writing.  Preparing a presentation and creating a book art work for this weekend's library fundraising event. And squeezing in a teeny bit of yoga.  I am a week behind on the 30-paintings in 30-days project, but the sewing must get done first.
Maybe February will offer that fabled winter rest for farmers.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Becoming a Wolf

I just let Zinnie out to pee and when I looked out the window a minute later she was devouring a rabbit.  I am sure either Nutmeg or Cocoa was the hunter, but Zinnie was devouring it fiercely. Now she thinks she is a wolf.

I am not too sad about the demise of the rabbit, however. A rabbit (or maybe a flock of rabbits)  has consumed all of the greens in our high tunnel greenhouse, despite them being covered by row covers, right down to the ground. No more Mr. Nice Guy to rabbits!

Wordless Wednesday: January Thaw

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A Woman, a Machine, a Plan and 50 Yards of Fabric...Amnicon!

Ready to dive into my most ambitious upholstery project yet!  I am sewing 45 cushions for 3 sofas and 16 chairs for the lodge at Camp Amnicon on Lake Superior. Many of the  cushions will be pieced, using 35 different fabric in a color scheme of predominantly plums, greens, deep teal, and bits of other colors for sparkle.  I have all the measurements,  fabric, zippers, thread, and cording, plans drawn out and I am ready to begin cutting.
Experimenting with fabric combinations...
Wish me luck!