Tag Archives: winter

Greenhouse peace

I hope it means the guineas are happy to be in the GH, that they don’t spend half the day yelling anymore.  They are much quieter.

The GH is a chaotic scene littered with debris- just the way the birds like it.

The hens and guineas pretty much completely ignore each others’ existence.  They hop through the door right next to each other, graze, and show no sign of noticing each other.  All the chickens notice each other, all the time, though.

It’s colder now, so the layer hens, who still have their coop outside, drift inside, to where it’s warmer, while all the teenagers like to hang outside.

Four little chicks are alive and well.  Two guineas and two Silkies.  So cute.The two hens who were broody are sort of co-parenting the chicks. The one who seemed to stay broody changed her mind and is now the main Mom (after the other being the main Mom for at least a week).  Now they tend to hang out together with the chicks. 

Oh, just hanging out!
I don’t think I’m going to get my clothes rack back
What’s that, a box!? We love a good box.

 

Chicken Disneyland

Finally moved the layer hens into the fold, and surrounded them with fence, and draped them with bird netting, so the birds are all confined now, and all safe!  Ahhhhhhhhhh…hhhh….In the morning before opening we moved their coop (that’s a heavy coop full of birds) to the end of the greenhouse, made a yard with snow fence, and then let them out.  These birds have spent the whole summer, if not their whole lives, unconfined, so the first order of business was to keep them entertained and convince them that the party is inside the fence.  I need them to not be fixed on jailbreak, until I can get the bird netting in place too.  Pretty II and III were right away up on the coop, longnecking for a way out.Here you go!  Hay bales, kale, eggs, pumpkins!   They were entertained.  They didn’t know what to focus on.  Then I got the bird netting up, a string from the GH peak to the pine tree anchoring the bird yard, and the sides tied out to the fence. I got a “helper” wading around in the big clump of netting.  Not helping!  Bird netting requires the patience of a saint and is no fun at the best of times, without helpers with talons.Once we had full enclosure, then I could open the GH door and allow contact between the tribes.  The guineas and all the teens were already living in there.

Out come the guineas, right away up on the coop.  They can see the netting though, they know they can’t fly up in it.  No interest in “escape” though, just investigating.  They quickly made a game of running outside and jumping on the coop, and then running back inside the GH.  Last one on the coop’s a rotten egg!

The total peace was remarkable!  I was expecting some squabbling, some frantic fence running, but there was nothing.  The layers took a tour inside the GH and came back out, settling under the pine tree.  The teens came hopping out in their own time and milled around, the guineas found a pile of hay they liked… The great integration was notable for its complete lack of drama.  The layers decided they really like the pine tree, piling up under it in a lazy grooming and sunning bird pile. Inside, the birds are flaking out in their hay piles.  The teen Chantis are just impossibly cute. Both pairs of chicks are alive and well, phew!

Meanwhile, at the other end of the GH, there’s the other yard, but I don’t have netting for that yet.  These birds will be temporarily put inside the GH and this yard blocked off, until I get my netting.  Then there will be a three part chicken world- two covered yards and the GH between, until the snow limits them to only the GH.  That should give them plenty of space to organize themselves in.

The point of all this is to protect them from aerial predators, as I’ve learned the hard way that my chickens start getting struck in daylight in November.  So I have to have them “in” Nov 1, or else.  At night they are in their safe boxes, but the daytime threat has to be managed come November.

The guineas have been suffering already from night attacks, and that’s because they are half wild and roost outside, sometimes in ill advised locations.  I haven’t been able to help them without the GH.

Finally, I’ve got them all safe; I can sleep!It’s really funny how chickens can’t resist a hay bale.

They get so excited.  Stand on it, peck at it, lean on it.   The possibilities seem limited, but put a hay bale in with some birds, and immediately they’ll have it surrounded.

 

 

Livin’ in the greenhouse

Spent the day redoing the emergency windstorm work to rights (baseboard, bolts, adjusting all plastic- no small job), and installing everyone in the greenhouse.  Alas, one tiny guinea chick was found dead in the morning, possibly of exposure.  It was cold, but still – odd to keel over in the GH, mom right there.

The two broody Silkie hens co-hatched two chicks.  What with all the competition and apartment swapping, there is no apparent parentage of the two new chicks.  Even the hens don’t seem to be clear.  I installed both of them in the chickery with a broody box and new eggs.  This is for their comfort, for protection from the amorous roosters (How I have longed for you!), and the teenagers who pile in at night.  No one wants teenagers around, even your own.

Broody hens are so funny, they act like it’s Christmas when you give them eggs.  Eggs?!  You shouldn’t have!  Cluck cluck cluck, and they settle right on, like they’re slipping into a warm bath.She’s been sitting on eggs more than a month, and she’s still thrilled about it.

The cohabitation seems to be great for the chicks.  One mom seems pretty into mothering, but the chicks can go in the box anytime to second mom for a warming, which they do.   I think I’ll have a nap with you now.Especially when Mom A is getting down in the dirt bath.  We’ll leave you to it.  We’ll be in here.They all pile in the box at night.  TOO cute!

Before I took their box away, the teens were playing house in it:

A box? Let’s all get in!

The guinea chicks are so tiny, smaller than the Silkie chicks, perfectly camouflaged, and slippery.  After the morning death, I was keeping a close eye and an ear open for their car alarm cheeping, and sure enough, one slipped under the baseboard.  There it is outside on the wrong side of the plastic.  Mom tried to give me a good thumping through the plastic.

The greenhouse is chaotic and messy.  I strew hay bales around for them to distribute, make it less of a mud hole.  They love a good hay bale.

Here we have a guinea perching on the chickery, all the teens, Silkies and Chantis, chilling on the hay bales, and the Oreos, now big grown birds, visiting.
From the other direction. One teen perching, and the guineas, Hey, that’s OUR clothesrack.

It was a stressful day, because it was beautiful outside, and all the teens were determined to get outside in it, and were sneaky and extremely clever about slipping out behind me.  I’d herd two back in and three would come shooting out.  But there were no attacks, and I got everyone back in the GH eventually.

Late in the day, Mama got out with her chicks!  I didn’t see how.  The guineas all seemed to be fixing to roost at large, so it was time for another chicknapping.

Now with only two:(
Mom’s stopping for a snack on her way back in

Then all the other guineas trooped in.

Mama found a real nice spot in the corner of the bales to bed down.She has a very interested observer.

Almost all safe now.

Rare sighting: the bathing chicken

At the beginning of the winter when the chickens were first incarcerated in the greenhouse for the season, we prepared some bird baths.

Inspired by my neighbour, who brings warm (room temperature) sand from her house to the hen house (hot bath!), I put a bunch of mud on the woodstove to heat up.

I shoveled the mud out of a couple of popular summer-time hen bathing holes, where, when it wasn’t soaking wet, it was fine dust.  The old style metal crisper trays were perfect for heating on the wood stove.

It took days to dehydrate the dirt.  It cracked like the desert, made little popping volcano vents, and then we’d break it up and cook it some more.  HW stirred it assiduously,  raving about how much those lucky birds were going to enjoy these baths, and pronouncing it not yet ready, day after day.

Finally, the bird baths- heavy with warm, finely stirred, premium dirt- went out to the greenhouse.   I was looking forward to seeing the birds enjoy them, too, probably in the lazy, sunny, afternoon.  I expected to hear excited clucking, to find two hens and the oversized rooster jammed in one bin at once and overflowing the sides, legs sticking out in odd directions….

and I never saw them.  Not one single solitary sighting of a chicken getting her dirt bath on.

They were definitely using it.   They were using it with vigour.  There was a dirt radius around each bin.  Feathers in the dirt.  Week by week, the level in each bin went down.  Every time a chicken bathes, she covers herself thoroughly with dirt, then gets up, walks out, and shakes herself off like a dog, making a Pigpen puff of dust.  This slowly erodes the dirt capital.

Months passed.  Then last week, I caught a brown hen in the bath!  I crept back from the door, went for my camera, and of course, she was finished her ablutions  by the time I got back with it.  One sighting in months – the odds were poor that I’d ever catch another.

But I did!  I didn’t waste time going for my camera but used my damaged phone – a sighting!

Seen as though in a dream…

 

Nor’easter

A proper storm’s blowing up.  The kind where snow swirls in the door when you open it and the wind is biting.  Sleet is skittering on the steel roof and the white stuff is starting to accumulate.

The hens are conserving their energy.  Only two eggs today – two!  Today was a nice days, but obviously their inner barometers consider the future, and said to hold on to their egg energy.

We’re supposed to get 30-40cm (1ft), which will be cool in ways- it will be normal; feel like a proper Canadian winter.  The winter so far has been weird as heck, with yoyo-ing temperatures, and not very much snow.  It might be a snow day!  It’s fun to be snowed in.  It would be nice for the ground to get a blanket on it.

Not so cool – it’s bound to knock half the province out of power again and make it dangerous and miserable for anyone who can’t have a fun snow day.  Plus it will be mad drifted with the wind.

Shifting play structures

I moved the haybale play structure from its former location in the south corner of the greenhouse…

img_4760

…to the opposite side of the greenhouse.

img_5051
Long necks- everyone is curious

I have about 9 bales left, that are very dry and falling apart, that I am cycling through the coops as bedding and then to the garden for mulch.  img_4595While stored in the greenhouse, the bales  are providing caves, entertainment, and vantage points for the bored birds.  And carbon for the ground.

I dropped one unstrung bale into the middle of the room.  There’s little they like more than to take apart a bale of hay.  The normally uptight guineas, in a rare moment of repose, used it to cash out in the sunshine, and fell mercifully silent for a good hour.

img_5092

The haybale move –my every move closely monitored by short attendants – served two purposes.  The sitting haybales had kept a big patch of dirt wet and scratchable, so each bale I moved, the hens rushed in behind me to dig. It’s fun to work among the hens, them all up in my business, making interested noises, having their own dramas.

The new play structure was a novelty, therefore highly entertaining to explore.

You know when something is overwhelmingly interesting when ALL the birds fall silent.  They’re that busy.  Too absorbed to talk about it, to make announcements. Then little burbles of speculation.

All three of the resident breeds explored the new apparatus, hopping up and over it and sidestepping along the high poles, but – I didn’t anticipate this- the Silkies wholly claimed it as their own.

img_5067
Tentative inspection
img_5091
Heads down, butts up. At least three days worth of fascination in the former location.

Three dead mice were unearthed, precipitating the inevitable lively mouse run.

img_5064After a thorough inspection and finding it pleasing, the Silkie tribe moved in en masse… img_5057

and settled in for some hard lounging.

img_5056

I’m going to move the bales at least once more, and I expect similar excitement and results.  In return they will thoroughly distribute a mulch layer in the greenhouse for me.

 

 

Three nests

In the winter, all the nests become apparent.  img_5176

Completely hidden in plain sight when the leaves are on, exposed when they come off.  These well-made little nests are sewn right on to the branches, feats of micro engineering that stay whole, bowled, and upright in the storms.

The first is in an alder between the greenhouse and the beehive.  Well traveled spot.  They don’t seem to go to too much trouble to avoid us and our movements.  img_5175

The next is on a long arm of one of the big regal apple trees right by the farmhouse.  Also in the thick of activity.  This may have been a robin nest as the robin was acting furtive around the apple trees quite a bit.  But it seems so small.  Also precarious, but looks are deceiving.

img_5179

The third I found earlier in the winter when a guinea fowl was snatched in the middle of the day (ending the hens’ good-weather outdoor privileges).  There was no sign of foul play, and hopeful she was only lost, I mounted a search, walking in ever wider circles, becoming upset and resigned to the truth.

Thrashing through the brush, I ran into a knee-high nest, a precious little thing built by some grass-nester.  Two dead leaves that happened to fall into it curled up in it like they’re at rest.

img_4788

This is why we can’t get anything done in the spring.  If we’re not early enough, there are birds nesting everywhere we want to clear brush or trees.

It’s a big playground in the greenhouse now

I can’t believe it but I’m SO happy.  ALL MY BIRDS ARE GETTING ALONG!  The one silver lining to the loss of my big rooster is that I don’t have to segregate my birds.  Two winters I’ve attempted to divide the greenhouse into two territories, Silkieland and Layerland.  I say attempted because there were always breaches no matter what I tried.

img_4450
When they were small

img_4449 First there were the guineas, with the GH all to themselves.

img_4517
Hey can we come in there?

Then there were the two Silkie moms and their nine chicks between them, who got to stay in the greenhouse mostly because of inclement weather.

img_4604Then I moved in the layer coop, the day after the rooster was killed.  The Silkies had the yard outside for a week of lovely weather, from whence they could see inside through the screen door.

img_4578Next I opened the door dividing the flocks, and waited to see what would happen.  A few red hens popped out, looked around, ate some grass, and went back in.  Hey, the guineas came outside, flew over the fence, and were walking around the other door looking confused.  The Silkies did not drift into the greenhouse.

The next morning, the Silkie rooster came barrelling inside when I opened the layer coop.  The reason:  one of his hens is sleeping in the wrong coop.  He chased her a merry race and taught her a lesson, and then raced back outside, where the other rooster was taking advantage of his absence to get some.  Life’s hectic for Snowball.  He’s got a lot of responsibilities.

They did not integrate on their own until, due to a bad forecast, we lifted the Silkie coop into the GH.  These long-suffering coops (Oh, they’ll last a year) are still enduring, still doing their job.

And then, miracles!  they all just … got along.  The layers drink side by side with the guineas, and the chicks are all up in the middle of everything, as they always have been.  Infants of any species seem to get big tolerance passes.  They can poop anywhere they like and be grabby and no one pecks them.  The guineas are smaller than the layers right now, but they seem to know that’s a temporary state of affairs, and they face off.  Staredowns, with their necks stuck out.  I’m gonna be bigger than you real soon.

img_4706

The layers are a bit bossy to the Silkies, but I’ve also seen the rooster run off a rude big hen.  YES.  I’m so glad it’s working!

Often the guineas are up on the haybales, just watching everyone else.

img_4699

Or behind it
Or behind it

They still move as an inseparable unit, even if they’re doing different things.  Some will be drinking, or eating, and the others will be curled up resting, but right next to them, and then they will all shuffle along together to the next stop.

img_4613 img_4593

Now there are five.  One guinea disappeared as a very small chick, in the first few days.  Actually vanished – I’ve never found a body, and there were no signs of foul play.  In September, I found one hen dead in the morning, of unknown causes, like she died in her sleep.  All the others came shuffling out of their hay-cave, and one was left, still.  I believe there are now two guinea cocks and three guinea hens, judging by size – the differential is growing.

They look much like turkeys to me now, with bald-ish necks, sparse feathers, and they stick their heads out long.  So funny/cute!  They are “the Africans” or the “little clowns” because they do funny stuff.  They are starting to make their weird sounds, and 5pm is the time to practice, every day.  Can hear them ten acres away, shouting.

I “cleaned it up” some in the GH.  Made some chicken play structures, which they dutifully appreciate.

img_4590 img_4595 img_4596

All the vegetative debris and dead tomato/squash vines are just entertainment for them.  Places to run around and hide, and lose a pursuing rooster.  They pull down old tomatoes, eat any leftovers,  dig, and dirt bathe.  It’s a big party. The cardboard boxes too.  They always like standing up on things.img_4586

There’s still a truckload of wood chips in there that I pushed aside to plant in, and a great deal of hay, so lots of carbon, and I’ll bring in more if I need to.  It smells good, not like a chicken concentration camp.  My hens will lay all winter in the greenhouse.img_4574 img_4577

img_4607

At first the layers weren’t sure.  They weren’t allowed in the GH all summer, now they aren’t allowed out?  They like to slip out the door behind me when I carry something in.  Then five minutes later they’re outside standing on one foot in the frost, looking at me.  This was a bad idea!  All the food’s in there!

Soon I’m going to introduce a new rooster.  He’s a gorgeous young bird, a Copper Maran, big but gentle.  I’ve been telling my hens I’m about to set them up with him. I have a younger man for you to meet! I’m hoping that if he’s introduced to an unfamiliar room where the Silkie rooster already rules the roost, they won’t have a bloodbath fight.  Because the Silkie would lose.  This is why I’ve had to keep the flocks separate before.

I know that the space is too big for one rooster to rule, because the second rooster has started to crow!  The poor, put-upon, brown beta rooster, who’s molting with anxiety, has enough literal space now to figuratively spread his wings.  I hope to give them each a flock and enclosure of their own next year.

img_4565
The mother of seven sleeps in here, and lays in here

All the birds love salad.  I thought I was just being lazy, letting a patch of salad greens go to seed, the mizuna growing into beachball sized clouds, and mustard greens into stalks my height and as thick as my wrist that tipped over under their own weight, but I was actually being brilliantly foresightful.  I’m going to do it on purpose next year.  The chickens love a good salad.  I carry in an armload of greens, sprinkle it in a line along the open side of the GH, and all the birds move in, ripping and picking, all mixed up together in inter-avian harmony.  Makes it quiet real quick.

img_4687 img_4690

The Silkies especially think that the thing to do with turnip tops is to pick them up and whack! them on the ground. It’s not the usual chicken lift and drop, it’s very aggressive, like they’re flail threshing. What’s really funny is a chick trying to do it to a foot-long turnip frond.  That’s like a person taking a 30 foot pine tree and whacking it on the ground.  It works about as well for the chick, but they try.

I thought they might be into cold-hardy greens considering what they did to the volunteer kale.

img_4648

The incursion of the birds has pushed out the rodent population, as I hoped.  The numbers are now down to one very bold resident squirrel.   I hope he gets pecked.  Chipmunks are gone.

Now that the coops are in the greenhouse the first Silkie with aspirations above her station has told a friend.  Two Silkies are going into the layer hens’ coop to lay eggs!  The one is still sleeping in there. Her chicks are convinced they sleep in the cardboard box still, and every night have to be chucked into their coop.

In the morning, I let the Silkies out first while I do everything, to give them a little advantage, first beak in the trough, before opening the layers.  They know.  They can hear, and they grumble!  The rooster comes and waits at the bottom of the ramp for the Silkie hen to traipse out, then he pounces!  Every morning.  He knows she’s in there.

 

Chicken Vay Cay Day!

On warm days, I let the chickens out  to play.  Whoohoo!

They resent their incarceration in the greenhouse in the winter.  They  glare balefully.  We are bored out of our tiny skulls!  They do not buy that it’s for their own good.  We’ve got survival skills, yo!

Which they do.  They make themselves at home all day in the forest, scratching.  They can take care of themselves outside, even doing some winter camping, but I prefer them to have more protection against the raptors that are hungrier in the winter.  So they must mostly stay in.

2016-02-01 07.46.31

This winter has been weird.  Three times now, all the snow has been swept away in a big rain and warm spell.  It’s not a good look.  But the hens are happy.  They get periodic outings.  Not like last winter, when the snowpack stayed a meter thick, and no one came out of the greenhouse for the entire season.

2015-03-18 17.20.02

 

…with songs they have sung, for 1000 years

Whahoo!

My bees are alive!

(with the sound of buzz-ing)

We had an extreme cold snap (relative, very relative) here with a -20C night.  I didn’t think they’d made it.  I kind of had a feeling.  I’m really on the fence whether this hive will make it through their first winter.  Neither death nor survival will surprise me.

They had honey, but such small numbers….luck, chance, and the weather all have to weigh in before the winter’s out.

After that cold night – brrrr!  I couldn’t hear anything when I pressed my ear to the front of the box.  The wind was whistling hard, but still.

We’ve had a warm snap.  The kind where the above freezing temps suddenly expose all the old dog bones and buckets that blew away and random flagging tape on the ground, and you’re wishing for a snow asap to cover it all up again.

Today-lively humming.

The Mighty Vole Hunter

The snow is deep, but the voles should not feel relaxed.

The Mighty Vole Hunter rests not in the winter.2016-01-21 14.40.02 2016-01-21 14.39.23 2016-01-21 14.39.46

I don’t know if he hears them mousing around or smells them, but without warning, he will suddenly leap in the air off the path and come down, plunging his head into the snow and sometimes snuffle-plowing around for a while.

Depending on the surface of the snow, he may smack the crust with a paw to crack it, and then thrust his head in and burrow around.

If he’s lucky, he comes up masticating ostentatiously with disgusting crunching sounds, tails or feet hanging out the side of his mouth.  EWW!

If the vole’s lucky, he comes up only with a face full of snow.

He is really very good at hunting voles.  As good as a cat.  He gets one almost every day, sometimes two.   In the “grassy” wasteland adjoining the Walmart parking lot, of all places, he caught the vole of voles, a trophy the size of a squirrel!  Proving some things are flourishing around Walmart.

Sometimes the vole escapes.  Yesterday he flipped the tiniest of voles out of the snow next to the path.  Somehow, it escaped between his back legs, flopping around while he was looking under his front paws- Where’d it go?

Barely two inches long, it righted itself and darted to take refuge- under my boot, where I stood behind him.    I saw the tail slip in under my foot and was standing there thinking  Seriously?  Is it hiding?  Under my foot?  Yep.  I lifted my boot and it dashed away a second time, while Snowy snuffled around mystified.  It was right here.  I had it!

2016-01-21 14.28.432016-01-21 14.28.40

What we want to know is: Does he keep his eyes open under the snow?

Time to feed the birds!

It snowed last night, so it’s time to put out a birdfeeder for winter (I’ve cast some seeds out before on the cold November days, but now I’ll maintain this food source so the birds may become dependent).

This means, what’s in the recycling right now I can make a feeder from?  Rather than walking all the way to the shop for the one I made last year.

It’s always fun to see how long it takes for the birds to find it.  Under an hour for a full banditry of chickadees to show up.  Then song sparrows and a purple finch, just like that.

A troupe of Eastern Grosbeaks comes through periodically, every 3-4 days in the winter.  They must be making a circuit of local food sources.

Insulating the hive

November has been harsh.  We’ve had three hard freezes.  That’s not supposed to happen yet!  I’ve been throwing a duvet over the hive on the cold nights, hoping it helps some.

2016-02-17 11.59.40
We get serious wind. Dog “tie-out stakes”, or picket pins, that screw into the ground, are PERFECT.

I wrapped up the beehive for the winter, with 2 inches of rigid styrofoam and roofing felt.  I don’t love this.  What did people do before plastics and tarpaper?  There has to be another way.  But anyway, I made the tri-fold foam into a three-sided box (the front doesn’t get foam), using the lap joints and taping it up with Tuck tape.  Then I wrapped it all in the felt, stapling it on.

As I worked, a few sentry bees came rocketing out, angry.  It was cold though, so these were suicide missions.  They would come out, buzz around angrily, then land on something, and be too cold to get back into the hive.  I picked one still bee body up off where it was clinging to a branch and placed it on the upper hive doorstep.  Within a second, pffft!  The bees threw the body back out.  I guess that one was dead.  I put another motionless bee on the doorstep.  They pulled it into the hive!  Maybe for a little bee cpr.  I put two or three more bees back in when I finished, in case they weren’t dead yet.

I did the front last, because for a few minutes, the bees are entirely closed in, until you cut out their entrances out.  They may not like that.

When I cut out the upper entrance, there were two bees sitting inside, looking out.  Hello bees!

2016-01-06 15.23.12

2016-02-17 11.59.59

Look who I found crossing the path today

IMGP0167
Just trucking along.
Nothing but snow.
Nothing but snow.

I don’t know where s/he’s off to, but it’s still a world of snow out here.

I’m sad for all the animals; this weirdly long winter must be so hard on them.  The robins are in a high-profile crisis, and I’ve noticed the dwindling numbers and variety at my feeder, leaving the dauntless corps of constant chickadees and woodpeckers.  Even if the birds survive, will they be strong enough, and early enough, to lay eggs?  Will the young birds have time to grow up before the next winter sets in?

I will be watching for our robin who set two nests last year.  Maybe she was planning ahead for her species.

It’s never the greedy and careless or makers of bad laws that suffer first, it’s the innocent and delicate at the other end of the spectrum.

New greenhouse residents

The chickens are moved into the greenhouse.

We did night moves, transporting a couple surprisingly heavy boxes of birds (that’s a robust rooster) and setting those in the greenhouse to quiver and grumble.

Then we took the roofs off the coops (most of the weight is in the roof of each coop) and trudged the coops royal litter style across the field and into the GH.  Reassembled, refilled with straw, added disgruntled birds.

I rigged up a length of canvas to separate the big birds from Silkieland, clamping the ends of the fabric to the GH ribs.

In case they peck at the plastic, I filled all the gaps with feed sacks.  One fits perfectly between a pair of ribs.

I left the bale of straw, still banded, in the GH, thinking nothing of it.

I released the birds from their coops in the morning, then when I went to check on them a couple hours later, I found this.

IMGP8345That explains the worrisome silence, like ignored toddlers.

Birds are like “Oh, we were almost finished!  We just needed a little more time.  The bands slowed us down”.

Since the straw was supposed to last for a long time for refreshing the coops, not one morning’s entertainment for the birds, I bagged it up and dumped it on the Silkieland side, where I expected it would be much safer.  The Silkies don’t alter their environment much at all.

IMGP8365

Peeping hens

I was lying on the floor the other, day, probably making a list, when all the chickens came up to the window and started looking in at me.  Pecking on the sill and canting their heads to look out of one beady eye then the other, they peered in the window, eye to eye with me.  I only got awful pictures through the glass, but this one caught one rooster shaking out his big old mane, as he’s wont to do.

Do everyone’s free range chickens run around all winter?I was leaving their coop closed some days, because I thought it was too cold, but it seems no matter how cold it is (-10C), they come rolling out of the henhouse at 8am and spend all day outside trucking around being chickens.  Sometimes they stand on one leg like storks and get pretty puffy, but they definitely like it outside, trolling the compost heap and looking in the front door.

Surely they’ll start spending their days indoors when the snow gets too deep, though.

This is my garden.

If it would freeze properly, I could skate on it.  I tried once, but it wasn’t solid enough.  this really makes me wonder if my low-lying location was a good idea.  Are all the stewing nutrients of the soil going to drain away?   How on earth are the garlic cloves faring in this lake?  Maybe it will turn out be a good thing I planted them too deep.

If this means I have to start all over this spring from breaking sod, that’s just depressing.  Starting from scratch is a terrible idea.

One thing for sure- next year I’ll definitely take the tomato stakes out in the fall, so I can skate.  I left them because supposedly tomatoes enjoy growing in the same place year after year.

Well ok then, winter.

Just like that, winter announces that it’s really here.  A nice photogenic change of colour scheme is one thing, a sudden smackdown is another.

I was doing errands in Nelson and it was snowing all day but it was plus one, so nothing accumulated, but when I was on the boat home, it started to stick with a vengeance.  When the ferry landed and the ramp was coming down, loaded with 3” of snow, I thought, uhoh.  Made it off the ramp ok, but started swimming on the unplowed road a few hundred meters further and had to go to 4wd just to get up the hill. The snow was coming so thick and fast it made that blizzard tunnel effect on the windshield you can hardly see through- the technical term for snow like that is puking.  It felt like a mission to the ski hill on a really good day.  I crept home in a line of other creeping cars, I suspect most of them also still on summers; gratefully, made it home without misadventure at 20kph, and now I’m parked until the snow thaws or I manifest snow tires.   Trees down everywhere, semi-trailer stuck across the road, and the power flickering but only out for a few minutes.  Unbelievable for November.  Just past mid-November, even.

There’s nothing like a good big snow to make you feel isolated and wintered in.  As long as it’s cozy at home and you need nothing from the outside world, then being stuck at home in the snow is like being snuggled under a big white blanket.

First snow!

I've been terrible at pictures lately.  Technology: frustrating.

The first snow stuck today- a beautiful white carpet that makes even the broken overturned wheelbarrow look picturesque.  It’s always a surprise, the first time you glance outside and the view through the window is white instead of browns and greens.  Its not cold enough for the ground to be frozen underneath the snow so footprints squish through, and the snow is just light enough to make little caps on the top of the shovel handles and car antenna.

I got the camper tucked in in the nick of time.  Am I ready for winter?  Well, outside, I’m happy enough.  There’s some wood to be bucked up and a pile of boards I should have brought in, but mostly I’ve cleaned up everything that I will be unhappy to see poking out of the slush in the springtime.  Inside, well, hmmm.  No woodstove yet although the excessively expensive chimney bits are all sitting there ready to go.  Two windows that should really be done, ditto on the materials sitting there waiting.  But it’s not too cold yet.  I miss my cat.  If she were still alive I’d HAVE to move faster, because she wouldn’t stand for these conditions.

Snow tires- now there I’m seriously behind.  After this weekend, I’m going to have to have them to drive, and I do not.  I’m hoping to get Green Diamond Tires (patented in Iceland!  I’m so excited about these tires!!!) but no one has heard of them here and I have to do more research to see if I can make them appear here for me.

I sense a crusade coming.  I foresee putting my truck on blocks and taking the tires away to get changed just when the tire shop guys are starting to brush off their hands and take deep breaths at the end of the winter tire rush.  Me and  all the other procrastinators.

Winter driving

It’s starting to get cold.  The snow line is creeping down the mountains, making me think of snowboarding.  Temps are hovering between minus and plus 3 at night, and that means my relationship to driving will soon change.

At minus 10 and below, it’s too cold for biodiesel without a fuel tank heater, and the vegetable oil starts to gel.  So, it has to be blended with normal diesel.  Half and half even, in deep winter and going over passes.  Alberta is out of the question.

The other day I put in the first $10 of normal diesel since the summer, and that made me think about my driving habits again.  Driving biodiesel is not totally “clean”- driving at all has an impact, and the more miles you put on means petroleum products galore: oil changes and fluids and tires and maintenance – but it’s better, and for a little while I hardly thought twice about driving when I wanted to.  Putting nasty normal diesel in the tank means assessing the importance of every kilometer again and spending more energy hitchhiking and ridesharing.

Sigh.

It was fun while it lasted.  I swear, that must have been how it felt like 50 years ago, when gas was cheap and the road was fun to drive on, just to fly.  No one goes for Sunday drives anymore.  Gas matters.  It’s expensive and fraught with moral implications and we spend so much time driving because we have to that it’s ceased to be fun.

Bunches of onions

I finally winterized the garden,  plucking the last plucky tufts of grass, planting garlic, and pulling all the limp and slimy frozen plants- the dead squash plants like dirt-smelling octopi and the wiggly tomato root networks like Medusa wigs.  I took down the remaining trellises and spread still more hay.  For the second time this year the garden looks like an unkempt haypile.

It was very satisfying to have such a warm day in November, to be patiently separating grass shoots from the bunching onions in the warm sun while Mucky lay dozing near me, standing up in alarm when I knocked the dirt off my trowel.  I have a soft spot for bunching onions, since they produce endlessly like bamboo and return year after year, lasting well past frost.   I planted these from seed, so they won’t get firmly established until next year.  Now they’re delicate and spindly and faintly pungent, and the grass is trying to hide among them like cuckoo chicks, pretending “no, I’m an onion!”  It takes time to sort them all out.

I’m happy with the soil.  It can’t decide if it’s sandy or clayey in places, but it’s rich with worms pulling the straw down, and more loose and black than I had hoped for first year soil.  I’m looking forward to building it more with compost and leaf waste, and expect it to be very impressive a year from now.

I’m opting for not turning the dirt at all, at least in most of the garden, letting the worms and roots do the work, avoiding compacting it anywhere, and planning to topdress it liberally.

Regarding my choice to use old hay, which is abundant and available, for mulch instead of more highly recommended straw which has no seeds in it: this year at least I can report excellent results.  The hay is not seeding itself wildly.  It does seem to introduce grasses, but they are sparse and challenged and start out so fragile and weakly rooted that it is nearly effortless to stay on top of it.  Even neglecting it all for months at a time when I travelled; I have never weeded less.  Completely unlike trying to conquer grass when it grows up from beneath, when you can pull and struggle, and suspect that the grass has a vast sub-surface network rivalling the complexity of the London Underground and it plans to completely defeat you (it will).

Therefore, my field tests indicate: old hay as mulch is a success.

I drove to Ontario with my cat.  I was going to stay a month so I had to bring her.  I also brought two passengers from the rideshare board, to mitigate the environmental impact, maybe.  I just couldn’t be a single occupant vehicle for 3000 miles.

It was just during the coldest snap of the winter, when Regina was seeing -35C.  Almost miraculously, we didn’t see one speck of precipitation the whole transit.  And the coldest weather was scuttling away in front of us, or something, because the coldest my outdoor thermometer ever read was -22C. 

My right hand drive caused a bit of a frenzy at a truck stop in Northern Ontario.  A half dozen friendly natives were swarmed around, looking at everything inside, asking questions all at once and exclaiming in amazement.  They were just thrilled.

We drove the north route as one of my passengers was headed into Quebec.  After we left him, the girl and I were sitting up front talking when we passed a big billboard proclaiming “Book Store 75% off” .  We sighed together and looked at the time.  It was just after six, there wasn’t a chance that a small town book store would still be open.  Sigh, alas.

A half hour later, she bursts out, pointing to the right, “Hey that was it!  The lights are on!  And there’s cars.”  I screeched to a halt and whipped a Uey (or the transCanada equivalent), and we went back to it.  Open!  Until eight!  Oh frabjous day!

What. A. Bookstore.  Continue reading

Shift.

It seems like it’s been raining for ten days straight, but today, there’s a splash of sun on the mountains lightly sugared with snow.  I couldn’t for the life of me get a decent shot, even after climbing on the roof.  There’re power lines everywhere.  It’s been so gray for so long.  I’m grateful to be so busy.

It’s getting cold at night and I’m not sure how long camper life will last.  The colder it is, the more condensation occurs inside, and I’ve not yet learned what it will take to correct that.  Besides the dripping windows in the morning, I can take it much colder but can Kevin?  So far so good. I’m addicted to the bed-preheating electric blanket, which makes every bedtime audible-sigh-worthy, and she sinks into the duvet in the V of my legs and purrs herself to sleep.  Very very happy times.

Getting a little excited about having a farm to live on.  Loosely planning for veggies and trees and berries- more things to research than anything else.