Future pasture

Our neighbour surprised me by showing up in his tractor to till some of our pasture.

Our “pasture” is more a memory of a field.  Abandoned for a decade, there´s very little actual grass left in the former field.  It´s choked with goldenrod, berry canes, scrubby bushes I don´t know, and the local invading species scourge – glossy leaf buckthorn.  Plus the incursion of poplars from the edges.  If we hadn’t cut down 100’s of seedlings the last few years, the former field would be entirely closed.

As it is, we have about one third of the total former field cleared. The other two thirds are worse off.  Two summers ago, we moved the pigs around on this part, they dutifully rooted, and I followed with seed.  I got some clover established but that was about all.  So, our neighbor came and tilled for us.  He says that he will till once more to smooth it out some, I´ll seed, and then we´ll see how much of the “unwanted”s grow back from the roots.

 It always amazes me how much work can be accomplished with petroleum energy.  Massive change to the surface of the earth in a matter of hours. Now, the field is transformed.  For one thing, the view across it is uninterrupted by a bunch of twigs growing.  I look forward to the green mist of germination over it.

Eventually, we’ll get this pasture back to graze-able.

Guineas getting along

I thought this hen was about to expire.  She spent a couple days hunched up in the greenhouse (no neck), with her eyes half closed.     When hens get like that they aren´t feeling well.  Sometimes they pull through it, sometimes they die.  This hen is very old.  She could be six or seven years old.  She retired from doing eggs some time ago.  But it seems she´s pulling through, and has decided to camp at a higher altitude today.  Her neck is getting longer too.

I haven´t planted anything out in the GH yet, so the doors are open for the various fowl to come and go.  Mostly they don´t go in there unless it rains; they are reveling in playing outside and have had enough of the greenhouse.

A guinea update – on the first night of freedom the new pair came back to the greenhouse!  The second night, they were all up on the guinea house together- adorable!  They don´t spend the day together – they travel in two separate packs all day, but they´re cool.  They know where they live.  The three-pack has a favorite spot by the trail, where the hen nestles down into the leaves under a little tree.  I think she´s laying eggs, but not yet broody.  She didn´t pick a very secret spot.

 

 

The ticks came marching two by two

There are at least nine ticks in this picture.

I was out in the garden half the day, putting in some starts.  I go back to my pots of broccoli, and I find a mass of competing ticks playing king of the mountain on the popsicle stick (gross!).

Ticks climb up things, and then wait at the very tip of a branch or stick, reaching out their little legs like they want a hug, waiting for a mammal to walk by, and then they will drop  or grab as you go by.   The two on the right hand pot are in position.

Here, the popsicle stick must have been the highest point, so hot property.  They also like to sit in wait on the rim of buckets.  While I was taking the picture, and thinking how long is it going to take me to kill all these ticks?  a couple dropped and set off at a clip straight towards me.  They must have a great sense of smell.

We have lots of ticks.  Stand still anywhere, watch the ground, and you can find a  tick walking toward you.  This is not a fun feeling.

And where there are real ticks, there are phantom ticks.  There´s nothing like the first tick bite of the year to start up that feeling of ticks crawling all over you, all the time, even if it´s actually your hair or the tag in your shirt.  Less than ten percent of the time, it is a real tick, but ´tis the season to be on edge.

I need several platoons of guineas out here to mop them up.  Speaking of which, they all seem to be getting along.  This morning when I opened the greenhouse, the new ones led the charge out the door and flowed straight into the woods. 

I caught sight occasionally of the new ones in the woods, confused, squawking, but at the end of the day they were all together again, and standing around the greenhouse.  Hopefully the new ones will show them around.

 

Additions to the farmily

Two new guinea hens!  Delivered in a feed sack.

Birds in a bag

Of my remaining guineas (three died before maturity), I´ve been thinking I have only one hen.  Maybe.  They all have wattles.

I just got it explained to me though, that they do all have wattles, and the gender difference in guineas shows in the SIZE of the wattles.  And their overall size.  So yes, I have one hen (had).

Regardless, I wanted to even out the numbers some by adding a couple of hens.  That would make three hens and two cocks; a better ratio. They arrived this evening.

I carried the sacked birds to the greenhouse in my arms, their little feet holding on to my hands through the bag.

I set them down in the greenhouse.

Do NOT peck that bag, ladies!

My hens immediately showed an interest.

I brought in the chickery and placed it around the bag.

The screen doors are off their hinges at the moment, so I used one of those to rest on top of the chickery cage for a lid.  I tipped it up to reach in and slide them out of the bag.  They were peaceful in the bag, but after being back in the light came on like a couple of jumping beans.

They were not happy about being caged.  Not one bit.  Racing up and down the walls in agitation.

Uh oh.  One´s a guy!  That doesn´t help at all!

He´s quite a bit bigger than her, with much bigger wattles.

It took about a tenth of a second for my original guineas to discover the interlopers. They popped their heads in the GH before I turned around.

And then, sure enough, the males squared up at each other through the screen, vigorously pecking at the barrier.   Back and forth, like a typewriter.

The originals were quite worked up, and there was much scampering in and out of the greenhouse (Did you see them?  Take another look!), but not a lot of noise.

I left them to it.

My big plan was to wait until it got dark enough for the originals to head for bed, whereupon I would shut them in the greenhouse, release the newbies, and they would have overnight to work it out together in the confines of the greenhouse.   I was sorry about the zoo cage, but it was only for about an hour, and I didn´t want to risk the new ones taking off in fright and getting lost.

Maybe I shouldn´t have over thought it.  A little later, a little darker, I shut the greenhouse doors and  lifted the screen door/lid off the new arrivals who were ready to blast out.  Hen first, they burst out, flew across the room and skidded to a stop right into the group.    They came to a halt, silence fell (!), and all of them proceeded to stand there looking around suspiciously, like they always do.

What?  Oh, we know each other.  We´re cool.

In three seconds, the new birds are indistinguishable from the old ones.  They´re just hangin’ out like they´ve never spent a day apart.

I thought they were going to fight.  Maybe they were just excited.

Well, that was easy.

 

From farm to spa

Two lucky hens went for a long drive in a box.

I have a long-running ad on Kijiji to divest of Silkie roosters, rather than axe them, and sometimes I sell hens and eggs.  Keeping the flock manageable.

I think it´s simply hilarious to put them in EGGS boxes.  No one else thinks it’s quite so funny.  “It’s like the chicken and the eggs…which came first?  The eggs are going to come out of the box, but not right away?… Oh never mind”.  Also it´s like the Boxtrolls.

Grumpy chicken is not pleased with the box

Anyway, two hens went for a long drive (they made hardly a peep), and got a major lifestyle upgrade.  I got a text late in the day reporting that the hens  had loved every minute of a shampoo and warm blowdry (I bet they did.  I bet they’re simply gawgeous. ), and they also enjoy being held and petted. We’re not on the farm any more, Dorothy.  They’re probably hoping I forget to pick them up from this spa weekend.   It´s the bouff I´ve always dreamed of! I’ve always wanted a good blowout. I can´t even imagine how fluffy they got.

I did choose two of the shyest, most anxious and retiring chickens, because I had a feeling they were going somewhere to be pets, and they could appreciate the lifestyle upgrade.   I didn’t know it was going to be a spa package upgrade.

Coming soon to a neighbourhood near you: purse chickens.

Piglets First Wallow

I dumped the pigs’ muddy water out into a handy trench they´d dug right by their house.  I am so grateful that they have not yet learned how joyous it is to dump their water out themselves, at which point we have to take measures to prevent them from doing it.  So far they´ve been very restrained and let us do it for them. 

Each pig took a jubilant flop into the mud, one side, the other, and then Hey it´s my turn, the other pig.

They didn´t linger.  They came up evenly coated with mud, glistening except for one dry strip down the middle of the back, indistinguishable from the other.  No socks, no blazes. Just mud.

Mud pigs look exactly alike

By the time I got my camera, they had moved on to other activities, like scratching on  a cutoff tree.

Ummm, the ear. Yes!
Oh yeah, the neck. Oh yeah.  Other pig leaves….

 

Oh and the other ear, uh huh, yeah.
And for a good undercarriage scratch, you can drag your belly across the stick

Newspaper “pots” for tomatoes.

Another experiment.

I hate plastic; I might not have enough plastic pots anyway; they wouldn´t be deep cylinders.  So I tried making some pots out of newspaper to pot up my tomatoes into.

I rolled them around a bottle (half-sheet each), crunched in the paper on the bottom, slid the cylinder off the bottle,  and then turned over the half inch at the “brim” to the outside.  That´s what keeps them rolled.  Takes about 20 seconds each.  They kind of try to unroll anyway, but they hold together great once a little soil goes in them.

It remains to be seen how well they hold together once they have a plant in them and get watered.  But if all goes well, I can write the variety right on the paper with a Sharpie, and I suppose I can put them directly in the ground as is (that´s a lot of newspaer ink, though).

Ready to accept transplants.  We shall see.

So far, so good

Pigs

The piglets are settling in, and getting a little friendlier.

They are kind of like dogs in some ways.  They stretch out their back legs behind them when they first get up, wag their tails, enjoy a good sprint, even do some barking, which sounds like whooping cough.

These pigs are so dynamic, I can’t believe the difference from the 2014 pink pigs.  They are not lazy or laidback.  They express themselves with a good back and forth sprint the length of their fence, whenever we come out with their food, or a treat.  They´re deep into rooting already, and don´t sleep in.  They´re up with the chickens.

Plowing with your NOSE. I can´t get over it.
So cute!

AP  (“my pig”) is pushy (the one with a blaze).  AP is bolder.    Spots, or Spotty, has more white on her face – her blaze is patchy.  She also has white lower eyelashes on her right eye.

They have a big splashy go at the dog bowl.

They have a big wrestle over it, but it seems to come out equal, so we haven´t introduced a second bowl yet.

Joinup!  First contact, helped by the prospect of some milk:)

Cleaner Bees

I’ve got my bees at work cleaning up the frames that were centrifuged last year to get the honey out.

Since that whole event was a catastrophe of timing, FAR too late, I held these sticky frames over the winter in Rubbermaids, which worked really well.  Now it´s warm I set one out by the hive with the lid off for the cleanup crew.

The frames fit in there like they would in a super

The bees cleaned out this whole boxful in a couple days, except a couple spots.  Licked totally clean, no longer even sticky to touch.

Missed a spot. Bees concentrating on their work.
Bees hanging out at the hive upper entrance, still wrapped in tar paper.

The cleaning job is of an indescribably high quality.    The frames go from this:

Wet, sticky, leftover honey everywhere

to this:

Clear, clean, and dry

Pristine.  And a boxful in a couple days.  They get a snack out of it, too.

 

April summer

The mud season might be very short here in Nova Scotia this year.  Or  else we´re just being served an appetizer of summer in mid April.  20° C and sun sun sun.  I got a mild sunburn on my second garden day.  The ozone layer ain´t what it used to be.

The chipmunks are back!  Where DO chipmunks spend the winter? The birdsong has changed.  Sparrows are here rummaging under the feeder, and the birds that wintered over have moved on to the good wild food.  Swallows have been seen – the rumours are flying, the first tick bite reports are coming in, and the peepers started up yesterday morning.  That means bugs and buds are right behind.

The chickens are all being encouraged out of the greenhouse, although we haven´t lifted their coops out yet, and they are reveling.  Making fools of themselves in a group bath.

Unexpectedly, the Silkies are still hanging out with the layers.  

Or at least, hanging around nearby, like wannabes watching the cool kids.

As usual, the guineas are furtively skulking around in the bushes.  They march around systematically cleaning up (hopefully, vacuuming up ticks).  They look like rocks, with their heads down all the time. 

The pigs are reveling too.  They have dug themselves a nice hole and stretch out with extended hooves, basking in the sun and pig-snoring, but I haven´t been able to catch them at it on camera, they leap up as soon as they hear me, and they have good ears.

First Real Garden Day

I´m going to be so sore!

We were attacking the garden today, replacing fence posts; the old ones were rotten and broken (“these should last for a year” – three years ago!).  Shaping garden beds out of the remaining areas of our fenced space.  These spots have been covered with waste silage plastic (as seen in background) for a year or more, and the earth is awesomely root-free.

In other words, digging shallow trenches.  Which immediately filled with water.  Digging that is like wet concrete, clumping and dragging on the boots and shovel and resisting being dumped out of the wheelbarrow.  Especially since I´m digging to the clay layer, which will be filled in with wood chips.  Getting that topsoil off to pile on the beds, instead of supporting weeds in the aisles.

This…
…will look like this after an infusion of wood chips

But the bugs aren’t out yet!  So it´s all glorious.  Any day now, the bugs, the peepers, and the tree buds will all pop out at once, so it´s time to enjoy the peaceful working conditions.

Can you tell I´m really into mulch?  So nice, though, to just peel off the mulch blanket and sow.

My first planting!  Spinach, two weeks late, according to my planting calendar. I felt like I should start gardening like I mean it, so I put some brain work in in the winter planning the planting schedule for starts and direct sowing, and it sure feels good now to have a simple schedule to follow.

I mapped the garden in seven areas, for crop rotation, estimated how much of X thing I want to grow, and then calc’ed back/forward from frost date and made a calendar.  Now all I have to do is follow it.  Far less thinking.  It´s nice to not be mapping each little bed for “what was in here last year/previous two?”  Tedium.

Provided my last frost date projection (guess) of May 21 is not wildly off (actual date fluctuates between Apr 30 and Jun 1 in the last five years), the planting calendar will be a wild success.

Inside, the starts are thriving.  Again with the calendar, I shouldn’t have too-leggy tomatoes and too-late celery when it´s time to transplant out, thanks to my planned and staggered starting.  Yes, I´m just now figuring this out. 

Atlas melon sprout is pushing up a huge chunk of dirt on that tiny stem
All of them like to lift up a little dirt, but not that much!

First springy day.

I was in shorts all day today.  The snow earlier this week is all gone in the clear areas, and it was warm!  These are the loveliest days of spring. The (very few) days before all the bugs come out.  It would have been the first barefoot day of the year, but I cannot go barefoot here.  Thorns everywhere – berry brambles and hawthorn, and I’ve had a hawthorn in my foot before.  Alas, here I live in boots. The mud season is here. This year the robins are back long before the spring peepers.  The peepers will announce the bugs.

My bees obviously made it through the winter well, having a good fly today in the blessing of the sun.  It seems like all of them are facing the hive – the backwards flight, calibrating on the hive location.

The pigs are captive and content, so things are a whole lot less exciting around here lately- thankfully!

Tail wag – munching grass

They’re getting into rooting like old pros in the soft ground now.

This is Adventure Pig (A.P.), the great escape ringleader

And warming up to me.  They come snorting up the camera, and then scamper away.

The hens were having a good day in the mud world today.  I saw them slurping up worms like spaghetti.  The chickens don’t know it, but these are their last days sleeping in the greenhouse.  As soon as the rain is done, their coops are out!  I´m sure they can’t wait; there´s a week of sun coming, and they´ll be released outside at first light (as opposed to the past frosty interim days, where I keep them locked up until mid-morning when it warms up.  .  Summer chicken life – FREEdom!

Inside the chicken dome it was spa in the sun time.  They make divots all over to bathe in, today’s location (odd) was by the figs and feed sacks (oh well).

Knocked one over

I lone that I got this picture proof of how well they get along.  As a generality, they tend towards their own birds, but as individuals, the layers and bantams can get in the bath together.  I´m so grateful they’re successfully integrated, because I won’t have to surround the Silkies this year to protect them from the other chickens.  They can be free ranging too.  It will be interesting to see how much space they actually use now the flock is so much bigger.  Silkies barely “range” at all.

The pigs are coming around

They’ve mastered the art of “looking hungry”, learned that we are the food, and have made a new routine of excited oinking and running around when we come with the scoop.  They even approach!  I throw the food – (OMG, run away!) they sprint around, and then saunter back to eat. They no longer try to run through the fence, but pull up an inch away.

I was taking pictures through the fence and they came so close (Is that a snack?) I thought they’d touch it.  Cute!

They bury themselves in the hay in their palace, sometimes ears showing, sometimes a black back, sometimes nothing.

Is there even a pig in there?

Then when we come down the trail, they burst up out of bed, look out, and emerge with straw all over their face.  Or just the ears pop up, a sentry.  Early-warning  snack detector.

Got snacks?

Once I couldn’t see them at all from outside the fence, and sure they were gone, I started looking for a breach in the fence.  Then Boufff!  the hay exploded and two pig heads popped up.  I went in to fix up their bed (Run away!), but one pig couldn’t resist coming back to see what I was doing in their house.  Messing up their bed, obviously. We had it perfect!

They’ve started to tear apart the intact bales that form their windblock/bed.  It was a matter of time.  We go in and pile the hay back in bed that they’ve pushed out, they rearrange it again.  Long as they’re cozy.  It’s still cold at night.

Gotcha, pigs!

I recommend sheep/chicken mesh electric fence for pigs.

The night was stormy, a mini-blizzard.  In the dead dark and strong wind, we went outside and wrestled the fence into place and plugged it in, then extracted the so-very-successful two-strand, in a big snarl, naturally.  The pigs were willfully asleep.  There was shouting, yet they refused to wake up.  It was cold outside, they weren’t budging from the hay nest for nothing.

We caught them!  The mesh fence works.  In the morning, the pigs bolted away from the sight of us, ran into the fence at top speed ….and then sproing! bounced back.  They tried it again and again, but eventually concluded that A: they don’t fit through it, past the nose, and B: the fence bites back.

I wouldn’t put it past them to figure out that only the horizontal strands are hot and selectively chew their way to jailbreak, but until then, our piglets are under control.

They are SO different than the last pigs.  Besides being bigger when we got them, these pigs are feisty, and wild, with opinions.  The pink pigs were totally into cuddling, crazy for touch, until they got too big for that to be safe for me (perhaps because of being weaned earlier?).  We won’t be petting these guys anytime soon.

Most pertinently, the two-strand fence that failed so spectacularly this time  worked with the last pigs.  They screamed blue murder when they got shocked.  These pigs don’t peep at it.  We did have problems, but, the user-problem variety.  We got lax about keeping it hot- it’s easy to find excuses to not carry batteries around – serenely thinking they’ve learned what the fence does, we don’t need to keep it hot all the time. 

Pfft! The troublemaker noticed once, maybe by accident, that the fence wasn’t always hot.  After that seed was planted, sometimes it’s off!, he felt it was a reasonable risk to test the fence, and did, every single day.  The moment it wasn’t hot, grounded out by their rooting or a dead battery, he was out. Then, he would target the energizer, chewing and ripping the leads off and sometimes hiding them in the pig house.  This practice definitely delayed the restoration of power.

A very educational mistake on our part.  Won’t happen again (I’ve got a solar maintainer on the battery now – way cheaper than the admittedly awesome solar energizers).

This is the usual view of them.

Then they look back, balefully.

Is it gonna be the garbage can again?

They wait until we leave, to eat. I’m conditioning them to the sound of approaching food, but so far we mean flee!.

They’re super cute, with their upright ears,  long straight tails and white socks. Hopefully, they will come around and become friendly.  Eventually.

In fact, recovering the escapee(s) only took three days, better than I hoped for after my initial googling.

Round two, Piglets in the lead

Sure enough, the piglets went to bed in the pig house.  Excellent. 

We closed up the fence in the night.  We’ve so got these pigs now.

In the morning, HW went to feed them.  They both bolted, straight through the fence like it wasn’t there.

You’d think, maybe there’s something wrong with the fence.  They don´t even squeak when they go through it.  HW, having had the same thought, is checking the fence the hard way, every day, and it’s on.  He’s getting a good lift,  even with big boots (I will not check the fence that way).

On my way home from work, I met my pigs coming out the road.  This is disconcerting, to meet one’s livestock strolling up the road you’re driving down.  Oh hey!

They looked small from the driver’s seat, vulnerable, like a couple of toddlers confidently taking a walk together.

I chased them all the way home, although they kept pulling over to the shoulder for all the world to let me by, and they weren’t afraid of the truck.  They kept stopping on the side of the road, looking back at me.  Go aheadWhy aren’t you passing?  They were afraid of ME, though, when I stepped out of the truck and charged them.  Zoom!

That did it.  they’re expanding their territory now.  The pigs can’t be marching up the road visiting the neighbours.  That’s just embarrassing.  (This is all embarrassing, it’s just kind of funny too, and if it helps someone else-).

I extracted the stored chicken fence, schlepped it over and starting setting it up around pigland, knowing the piglets would be moseying over from the driveway, hungry after their big run home.  I was about half done when they showed up, and seeing me, hid themselves.  I finished anyways, rushing, leaving a big funnel open.  If they go to bed at night again, then we close the fence in the night, muhahaha!

I lurked.  I waited.  I furtively encouraged the pigs from the woods to pigland vicinity.  I watched from afar.  The pigs approached the sizable gap in the fence, did some sniffing, had a discussion, reached consensus, turned, and purposefully marched off into the woods.

Oh GOOD GOD!  I set off at a run, down our trail, and got in front of them.  It was a near thing.  They were headed somewhere, deliberately.  Now it was dusk, and I walked back and forth in front of them, and after they turned, kicked around making noise until they wandered back in the vicinity of pigland again.  This time, with dark falling in the woods, they were content to root around under the bird feeder, winding down.  I waited, for ages, until I saw them hesitantly take steps into the confines of the fence, and I retired.  NOW we’ve got them.

Spoiler:

Yes, now we’ve got them.  This works.  Two-strand electric fence for pigs?  No way!  Chicken/sheep mesh fence – yes.