Monday, March 31, 2014

The Daily Drivel

One thing that I really enjoy about living on my homestead is waking up to a beautiful day. Really. Most mornings start out sunny and dry, not too hot or too cold, with the birds singing and a gentle breeze in the trees. Gosh, sounds like a fairy tale. What more can you ask for? 

This morning I was up and active by 5, not a big deal for me. I'm a morning person. Today I was treated to an incredibly stunning sky chuck full of stars and a brilliant milky way. Having lived most of my life with too much city lights or too much clouds, I lack that innate sense of the stars always being there above me head. So a sky with billions of stars still surprises me. It's magic! I went back into the house to grab a throw blanket off the sofa, spread it on the ground, laid in my back and proceeded to absorb the sky's magic for a while. Eventually the stars began to fade but by then I was satiated with a sense of being an infinitesimal small bit truly belonging in this universe. Such magic! 

Now I had a glowing sense that this would be a good day. Probably just fooling myself, but what the heck. I'll take the ride for as long as I can. The birds had begun to sing. A few flitted around. Yes, a good morning all in all.

Back in the house the animals were starting to stir. I couldn't help but smile to discover that one of the cats has been sleeping with the old collie. How cute! 
It wasn't long before all were awake and demanding breakfast. Me! Do me! Do me first! 

Before heading out to the community garden this morning, I noticed a few things I'd like to share with you. First of all I discovered that one of my ornamental pineapples is in bloom. 
This plant is viciously spiky but so pretty. It's a delight when it blooms, just don't touch without wearing full armor. Metal armor is best, but thick rawhide leather will work pretty well. 

The taro patch is responding to the recent rains. Just this past two weeks the plants are putting on height. Taro progressively grows taller over time then just as the corm begins to enlarge, the plant gets shorter. Actually it's the new leaf stems that are shorter, but the whole patch appears to shrink. I leaned a yard stick against one of the plants to show you how tall they suddenly got.

The only fertilizer they get is via the fruit and vegetative waste that rots down between the rows. The technique works real good. 
I cover the bio waste with a bit of soil or cinder, then grass clippings. 

And as a parting shot, this should make you smile. If not, you need to climb back into bed and try starting your day all over again. These are hubby's sock monkeys that reside in his car. Guaranteed to remind oneself not to take things too seriously. You've gotta smile! 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Living room Done ! ... Uh, almost

The livingroom is finally....almost...done. Close enough to count as done, as far as I'm concerned. It still needs three pieces of surbase trim plus one doorway to be trimmed. Oh yeah, the door between the livingroom and hallway needs to be replaced. While there's nothing functionally wrong with the current door, it looks more like a tool shed door than an interior home door. Hubby wants to put in a glass door of some sort. Something prettier. We want to keep a door here so that the livingroom can be closed in when we have a fire in the woodstove to heat up the place. The room heats up faster that way. 
This past week the tile floor got sealed. The last of the electrical outlets installed and functional. The room trimmed out except for a little bit. That trim is cut and ready to be nailed into place. We just ran out of time this week and will do it next. 
(Floor sealer just applied. It dries clear.)

Gosh, it feels great...... kitchen and livingroom completed. Yes, it's been a long time coming. 

Now it's time for the fun stuff. Decorating. Creating book and display shelves. Adding color and accents. Figuring out where to place a few pieces of furniture. And the ultimate most difficult decision-- where to place the trash basket. Don't ask me why, but we have differing opinions as to where the trash bin should be. The dogs think its best someplace on ground level. Easier to root through that way. Humans feel it should be high up off the floor, to the extreme disappointment of the dogs. Guess who rules? Sorry but I'm not into cleaning up the floor each morning. So the higher the trash basket the better. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Seed Farm Beautification

The seed farm is just in its infancy, but I'm already thinking about beautifying it. Oh that will be a long term project I know, but I've started taking the little baby steps towards that goal. I'd love to see flower beds full of marigolds, pansies, daffodils, but they are a poor choice...guaranteed failure. I need the match the flowers' needs to the environment. 
Being that the farm is dry, I'm looking at succulents and other flowering or colorful plants that can survive. The ice plant is a prime candidate. I've seen thick beds of this plant growing at the Costco parking lot where it gets zero attention, other than getting weedwacked back. It roots easily from cuttings, so I've just planted a few dozen segments. 
Bromeliads are a family that can grow right in the rocks. No soil required though a little is preferred. 
They come in a variety f colors, sizes, and shapes. So I'm adding a few here and there as I find interesting ones. 
Some prefer shade, some sun. So there are varieties that are suited for just about any spot on the seed farm. It's wonderful having a plant the even I can't kill !!!
Some succulents might not be colorful but they have interesting foliage or growth habits. As a plus most don't require fertile soil. Perfect for this piece of land. Next time I head to town I intend to pick up an assortment of baby cactus. The trouble will be that I won't know which varieties they are so I won't know how big they will grow. It will be a surprise! So I will give it my best guess in choosing where to place them on the farm. 
The plumaria grows like a tree and produces very colorful flowers. Whites. Yellows. Pinks. Reds. Bicolored. I've planted six small trees and I'm hoping that they're all different colors. I think that they are, it was my intention. Time will tell if they indeed are. This yellow one is the first to bloom. 


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Seed Farm Update

Mark from Georgia asked for an update. Good timing, Mark! I planned to visit the seed farm today.
Rather than load the 330 gallon tote into the truck, I opted to full the green jugs with water. The seed farm is dry, so I have to bring in my own water. Every time I go there I always bring whatever water I can fit on the truck. Currently the water reserves are down to 150 gallons, so I need the bring some water with me today.
By not using the 330 gallon tote, I have room to load grass clippings, buckets of soil, and plants. Three more trays of soil and I'm ready to go. 
The baby taro is growing. I've not grown taro here before so I'm not sure if the wind will hinder it. But so far, so good. I used the clippings that I brought to re-mulch the two rows on the right. Over the next few days I'll bring more to do the other four rows. While I'll eat some of this taro, I hope to be able to sell it to other gardeners. 
This is my first attempt at Lima beans on this farm. This variety is Black Knight. It's a pole type and I'll use the fence as its trellis. I'm growing it for a seed crop. Rather than devote a full row to it, I'm first trying out 10 plants to see how it does, 
The little bananas that I planted last month are all pushing new leaves. Bananas are a thirsty crop, so in order to conserve water for them I will build up a thick mulch around them. I've been cutting the tall grass, weeds, and other vegetation to use for mulch. It's coarse but effective. 

The next two projects for the seed farm are:
1- rebuild and replant the grow boxes
2- plant sweet potatoes as a living mulch around the taro

Mulching is a must on this farm. The wind and sun dry out things super in 24 hours after a rain. But I am finding that if I can keep the ground covered, what little soil there is between the rocks tends to stay moist for days. My goal is to have a thick and healthy enough mulch layer to keep the soil moisture in for weeks between rains. 

Kitchen Finished !

Wow, it's taken a long, long time but my kitchen is finally done. Wahoo! Now the only thing that I still want to do is add some hooks, little shelves, decorations, and little stuff like that. But the basics are all completed. 
These kitchen shelves weren't what I initially had in mind, but they're a good second choice. I had hoped to have snazzy burnished copper finished metal mesh drawers, but trying to get what I wanted shipped here to Hawaii never seemed to happen. Hubby couldn't stand it anymore and opted for simple open shelves. Drawers could always be added in the future, if they became available. 
I lined the main shelf with that black, rubbery shelf liner. Living in an active earthquake area, it made good sense. Help keep things from sliding off during a shaker. And though its hard to see, the trim had a 3/4" lip to help prevent stuff from rattling off. 
I plan to use some sort of rolling box for under the shelf on the floor. For right now I'm going to use cardboard boxes so that I can get an idea of exactly the sizes I want. I want to figure out if I want one big box per section or two smaller ones. I'll check the stores and internet to see if totes on wheels already exist or if I'll have to fashion my own. 

If you haven't been following the building of the kitchen, the absence of traditional kitchen cabinets is no mistake. It is simply too moist here to have closets. The more air movement the better. Otherwise everything quickly gets covered in mold. Open shelves make much better sense. It just looks odd to the uninitiated. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Daily Drivel

I very much needed a catch up day. I've the past couple of weeks I've gotten involved in lots of jobs that got 99% done, but not quite finished. I swear I inherited this tendency from my father. I swear! As a kid I remember that the linoleum tile never got laid inside my bedroom closet until the house went for sale. The basement floor got painted all except for under the utility sink. When dad painted my mom's storage room, he never got the part behind the storage shelves. I recall watching my mother painting that part after dad had called the job finished. And when he cleaned out the garage, there was always one corner or one shelf that he never got to. 

So today I had the opportunity to play hooky and do some beachcombing, but I felt that I really needed to tie up loose ends. Mentally I needed that. So I stayed home instead. All those unfinished jobs were cluttering up my brain and really dragging me down. Funny thing but I can deal with a disaster better than living with the idea of 100 unfinished jobs. 

I started out like a house on fire, knocking out one piddling task after another. Sew a button on hubby's shirt. Put the last of the cookbooks into the kitchen. Finish the trim edge on that last shelf in the pantry. Cart that last box of extra clothing down to the barn. Spray herbicide on that 100' of fenceline that I hadn't gotten to. Plant that poor rose bush that's been sitting there in a pot for the past month. And on and on and on. I was going along so well that I hated to stop for lunch. Ever experience that? Just on a roll and feeling good. Getting stuff accomplished. Man, I was good! 

Lunch was my downfall. As I headed south to my mother's house, so did my energy and motivation. Suddenly beachcombing sounded interesting. Back at the farm by 2 pm and I couldn't get back into gear. Being organized was no longer appealing. How is that? Blame it on lunch? Blessed rain finally came to my rescue. Now it was no longer my fault that I couldn't keep working, it was raining afterall! Funny, those mental games I play with myself. I could just shift the blame to the rain, then be just as "happy as a clam in mud" with myself. 

But the afternoon wasn't a total loss. After all, I couldn't just plop myself in front of a TV. Thank heavens I don't own one! But I did load the pick up truck with water, buckets of soil, bags of grass clippings, and plants for tomorrow morning at the seed farm. Before heading to a hot shower and dry clothes, I harvested a basket of assorted veggies from the garden. Tonight I plan to put together a few pots of soup fixins. Time to restock the soup reserves in the freezer.  Think I'll make one pot each of lamb, turkey, beef, and mouflon soup. 

Looking forward to tomorrow. Working at my seed farm is great. The view is wonderful, the constant breeze is uplifting. Tomorrow's morning goal is to water plants, spread more mulch, and plant sweet potatoes. My afternoon goals include finish sealing the livingroom floor and finish the kitchen shelves. I think that's all do-able. 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Hand Clearing Brush

Brush clearing is a major, almost never ending task on this homestead. Living in the tropics has its negatives. A job well done, especially when it comes to brush, just deserves to be done over and over again!  I'd be disheartened if I expected to just chop the brush down once and be done with it. So I have to look at it from a different point of view....I'm growing and harvesting biomass. Yeah! Ah, turn a negative into a positive. Makes me feel so much better! 
This brushy area has been cleared before, so I don't have to deal with big saplings, thorny bushes, vines, or other nasty stuff. The ferns all pull out easily but I find that I need to wear gloves. Those ferns can cut your hands. The brushy stuff is mainly Mexican elderberry, a noxious weed that I'm gradually ridding from the property. The stuff readily spreads, is tough to kill, grows back rapidly, and resprouts from any cutting you cast aside. Only the goat will eat it, and even then, not much at a time.I can't use the debris as bio-fill without seeing hundreds of new plants sprouting. As a result I have to either chip it then hot compost the chippings, or take it to the dump for green waste disposal. Today I ran all the debris through the chipper directly until a pit, adding horse manure in layers as the pit filled. Adding water then capping it with dirt, the pile should heat up pretty hot. I'll finish filling the pit two weeks from now with a three foot deep manure/grass clippings cap which should also get pretty hot, thus killing any sprouting elderberry. All that bio-fill should rot just nicely, filling the pit to the surrounding ground level. I have plenty of pits to fill in around here because the farm is on an old lava flow that's only partly degraded. 
So after a morning's effort, most of the brush overgrowth is gone. Chips are scattered about, but I'll leave them where they lay. This time around I plan to kill off as much of the Mexican elderberry as I can. I've successfully eliminated it in other places by applying a herbicide to the cut stems then a few weeks later having the goat graze down any small sprouts. If I bring the goat back to graze 3-4 times when the shoots are small, it seems to kill much of it off. That elderberry doesn't like being grazed down repeatedly. After Bucky has done his thing, I'll kill any stubborn resprouts with a herbicide. I'm not a big user of herbicide, but at times it has its place.

Tools of the trade today:
...a small chainsaw for anything thicker than 1/2"
...a hand sickle for the small stuff
...a chipper for shred everything up
...gloves to protect my hands goggles to protect my glasses

Last task to be done: apply the herbicide. I cut or yanked out all the small stuff by hand. What I couldn't yank out easily I cut with the chainsaw. I then used a small paintbrush to apply roundup to the cut stump. Covered the stump over with a plastic bag and secured it with a rubberband. Since its been drizzling almost every night, this will keep the herbicide from washing away. 
Lots of treated little stumps. 
A close up look. 

The Daily Drivel

Mondays are always busy days. Mornings are devoted to working at our community garden. What's not to enjoy about getting together with other gardeners, learning, sharing ideas, trying new things? It's a nice social gathering. Today I mowed grass for the clippings which were used to mulch the pineapples and potatoes. I pulled the rampant but non-productive sweet potato vines. Then made lunch for the group. Ah, a nice morning all in all. 
Somehow the rest of the day just slipped away. Fence fixing here, moving pallets there, putting tools away on one hand and gathering tools for tomorrow's project on the other. Man, what happened to the afternoon? Usually I have a good grip on my time, but something happened today. My schedule all went down the drain. By 4 o'clock I conceded it was a lost afternoon so I opted to take the dogs for a walk. They wholehearted approved as I lead them on a clandestine romp in the abandoned pastures in the national park. Crusty has put on some chub, so it's getting harder to hoist him over the fence. What gets me is that I know Crusty is quite capable of jumping a four foot fence, but he won't do it if I'm watching. So he leaves me to struggle hoisting him over the park fence. Thanks a lot, Crusty. By 5 all of us were exhausted, covered in weed seeds, and ready to call it a day.....a glorious nice kind of tired. A nice tired. By the way, I don't lift Crusty back over the fence on the way home. I simply walk away with the other dogs. Within two minutes Crusty joins us in walking the rest of the way home. Dang dog can jump it on the way home, can't he! 

Tomorrow is another day. I've told myself that I will tackle the driveway overgrowth tomorrow plus seal the new tile floor in the livingroom as compensation for today's lack of progress. But I know myself. I don't really expect to get both done. But hey, perhaps I will surprise myself. 
That overgrowth looks pretty thick. It's choking out the area and invading the driveway. That will be my morning target. And if I don't get too involved with it, I'll do the tile floor in the afternoon. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Daily Drivel

Uuuurrrrgggg, drat alarm clock wakes me at 4 am. It's dark out, cold, and way too early to be wanting to get out of bed. The cats don't budge. The old Border Collie never heard the alarm and still lies snoring by my side of the bed, right where I have to step out. Crusty walks over to the bed and looks at me rather quizzical as I slip on some clothes and force myself to leave the comfortable room. Why the early torture? Today is the spay/neuter clinic over in Keaau. I somehow got roped into "volunteering" for it, just because I'm not good at saying "no".

By flashlight, I care for the sheep, horse, goat, hens. Feed the pond fish. Feed the cats. Feed the dogs. Check all the fences and gates. I get the bare minimum daily chores done. Back in the house I put on the coffee and cut up some fruits and nuts for be eaten on the road. Next, load what I need into the car. Now wake up hubby. Once he's staggered out into the livingroom, prop a mug of coffee into his hand and steer him into the direction of the car. 
We're on the road by 5:30. The sun hasn't popped up above the horizon yet, but the dawn sky is still pretty. There are some lovey scenes on the way to Keaau. For a short way the road hugs the coast with a stunning coastal view. 

By 7 we pull into the parking lot, I unload my stuff, and hubby heads on to spend the day in Hilo. Veterinary stuff is not his "thing". He'd rather go shopping, which is actually way down on his list of desirable activities! But I head inside, greet today's crew, recognizing many familiar faces. But since there are plenty of new volunteers, the "boss" hands out name tags for everyone to wear. I can smell a pot of coffee....oh wonderful coffee! Once I'm labelled with my own identification, I'm right at the coffee urn. While the coffee smells pretty good (perhaps because I've gotten up at a god-awful hour), it isn't  long before I discover that my nose is failing me today. The coffee is pretty bad, but what the heck. It's caffeine, so I add extra milk and proceed to drink it. By lunch I've downed 4 mugfuls. Not too shabby considering it's pretty bad coffee. 
By the time I set up my station, the building is quickly filling up with cages of dogs of all sizes, breeds, and ages. Quite the motley crew. Most are fairly calm, but there's a few that bark, getting all the others on edge. Volunteers keep everything in order and watch the dogs. 
One by one the dogs are brought to the anesthesia table where one of the veterinarians administers the initial "knockout" drugs. Once "down", the surgical site is shaved, scrubbed, and disinfected. While one victim is prepped for surgery, another is already on the table getting ready to be spayed by another vet. 
My task in all this? I'm the anesthetist. It's my job the "gas 'em down" and maintain a safe plane of anesthesia during the surgery, then bring them back up in time to shift them off the table. I'm often working with two patients at once, so I need to stay focused on my task. No time to idly gaze around to see what others are doing. 
I'm normally too busy watching my patients to see what's going on behind me. But I'm fully aware that 
once the surgery is complete, our little patients head to recovery. This is where lots of volunteers help out. Every dog is watched. Many get held until awake. Thin dogs, like the one below, get special attention, thick blankets, medical fluids, oral glucose, and added warmth if needed to help in recovery. 
Once awake, the dogs go back into their cages until their owners arrive to take them home. 
If you've noticed, these events use a LOT of towels and blankets. Cases and cases of clean towels arrive in the morning. Just about every one of them has been used by day's end. How'd ja like to be the one who has the wash all those towels? 

Not everything goes smoothly at these clinics. After all, we're working with dogs that don't know us. WE are the enemy, not a friend. Most are suspicious of us. Some are fearful. A few plan on attacking! One of the volunteers today takes home evidence of how some dogs manage to score points against us via a well aimed bite. But in the end we are the winner. The dog gets anesthetized and neutered! 
 I've been volunteering with this group for a while now, so we work well together. The day ends between 5-6 pm. 50-55 dogs get neutered at each clinic, and although I'm not sure of today's count, I think we did 52. Usually no one gets hurt. Usually no dogs die. Oh, we've lost a few over the years, but almost all were no surprise. Sometimes we get dogs in questionable condition where the decision to take the risk has been made. Most of the time the high risk works out fine. Every once in a while it doesn't. 

Hubby arrives around 5 pm, hoping that we'll be done early. But today had three extra dogs tacked on at the end, so we're not done till 6. I'm still hyped at 6, running on adrenaline and caffeine. But on the long ride home (1 1/2 hours), I find myself nodding off from time to time. It's been a long day, full of activity and stress. Yes, giving anesthesia and not killing one's patient takes its toll. Try doing it 52 times in a row! Once I unwind, I'm exhausted. 

I suppose it's obvious to hubby that I enjoy volunteering for these spay/neuter clinics. Veterinary medicine is in my blood, so to say. I've been involved since I was 15 years old and would have started earlier if it hadn't been for those pesky child labor laws. And while I no longer work veterinary medicine full time, I do indeed like visiting the action every once in a while. 

New Daily Posts

Ok, ok. I'm gonna give in to the general requests to post something regularly about my daily life. So far to date I've just focused upon my homesteading journey, relating the progress, the failures and the fun, the how-to's. But so many of you shy readers have been asking for me to post something daily, something that I'm doing in my life even if it's not homestead how-I-did-that. At least it would stop the deluge of emails asking me if I'm ok when I miss a few days. 

So here it goes. I'll do it. I will make a daily post, but sometimes it will be about the homesteading adventure, and sometimes just photos or a story about my daily life. In order to differentiate the posts from homesteading info, I'll entitle them "The Daily Drivel". That way the people not interested in drivel can bypass these more personal posts. 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Chicken Feet - Uses

I gave a chicken butchering demo recently and someone asked what I do with the chicken feet. I had set them aside rather than throw them nto the slop bucket, so it peaked a person's curiosity. I do one of two things.....use them for chicken broth, or give them to the dogs as a treat. 

#1- Chicken broth. If I'm going to eat something made from chicken feet, then those feet need some good cleaning. Yup, they're pretty disgusting. The first thing I'll do us wash them well in soapy bleach water and give them a good rinsing. Use a brush. I prefer a toothbrush. Once visually clean, they get dipped into a pot of boiling water for 30-60 seconds. Cool them off in cold water then peel the skin off. It comes off easy by just rubbing or a little encouragement from a kitchen knife. Now clean, they are ready for cooking. 

I usually save the cleaned feet in the freezer until I have 10 or 12. To cook them I simmer them in a pot of water for a few hours. Yes, hours. So I usually put the pot on the woodstove in the morning when I'm taking the chill off the house. The feet will make a slightly gelatinous broth. I'll beat the cooled broth with a spoon or fork before discarding the feet, but I try not to handle the feet with my bare hands because the gelatin tends to stick to your skin. Sticky fingers are hard to clean up afterward. Of course you could use your hands if you don't mind. It's just that I don't like to. This broth makes a wonderful mouth texture when added to soups and sauces. 

My grandmother always used chicken feet in her chicken soup, so I grew up loving it. 

#2- Dog treats. My dogs love raw chicken feet. They'll eat them fresh or frozen. I don't cook them for the dogs, just give them raw. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Growing My Own Seed Potatoes

For years I would purchase seed potatoes from the mainland, assuming that since they were certified to be disease free that they actually were. But recently while investigating some USDA standards I came upon a document governing seed potato certification. To my disappointment I learned that fields with late blight and other problems will still be certified as disease free as long as the percentage is low. My, but that's not good enough for me. I come from a veterinary background, so that would be like saying it was ok for me to allow 1% of patients to deliberately die without taking any steps. Since  the practice about 10,000 patients, that means I could kill 100 dogs and cats a year and it would still be acceptable. No way! No way! 

So I am switching to growing my own seed, especially potatoes and sweet potatoes. 
My seed production area will be kept apart from the food production garden. This way I can carefully screen each individual plant, eliminating slow growers and less vigorous plants. When it comes to culling, I can be ruthless. As you can see in the photo below, I've already pulled out the less robust plants. 
Each row of plants is labelled. You can see the very visible yellow labels. I alternate varieties so that I don't accidentally mix things up. So a row of purples would be next to a white, next to a red skinned, next to a small fingerling, etc. Since I grow quite a variety it's no trouble alternately the color and types. 
Once the plants are growing well, I begin to mulch them. Initially the mulch is only two inches deep. But eventually I will apply mulch two more times making it 6-8 inches deep. Those 2x4 wood pieces in the photo below are 7 inches long, just to give you some perspective. 
Deep mulching works really well on potatoes. It not only keeps weeds out. More importantly it keeps soil moisture levels fairly constant and it keeps light away from the tubers. 

I've just harvested my first few varieties that are early types. It took just two months from the time they were planted to the time of harvest. Here in Hawaii the potato plants don't die back to indicate harvest time. Instead they look "old" and ratty. A variety called Dark Red Norland proved to be the fastest producer with Red Thumb right behind it. Guess the weather was just perfect for them this year. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Livingroom Floor Update

Wahoo! The floor is almost done. David finished laying the floor and immediately dived into applying the grout. I choose a dark brown ground called Tobacco, but as David pointed out, it strongly brings Hershey's chocolate to mind. Made me hungry just working with the grout. 
The room took 3 bags of grout, so it was done in thirds. Easier that way since the grout tended to dry quickly. 
The finished floor really turned out pretty, in my opinion. Now I need to wait at least three days before we can give the floor a good wash then start the sealing process. 
I stepped back into the lanai extension to take a better picture to show the room. There is still trim work that needs to be done. And I'd like a different door that leads out to the hallway. Or perhaps I'll just paint it for now and see if we like it that way. We could always replace it later. 

Getting to this point feels great. The livingroom and kitchen were big hurdles. Neither is quite done, but it feels so good to be getting close to being finished. 

Next on the agenda:
....finish the trim in the livingroom
....finish the kitchen storage shelves (in place of cabinets) 
....when the tile arrives, finish the lanai livingroom extension

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Typical Work Day

Barb from Georgia asked via email, "What's your typical work day like? How can you get everything done? I never have enough time in the day and you seem to be getting so much more done. Do you work from a to do list?" 

First of all Barb, please understand that I don't feel obligated to get everything done in my list each day. I left that sense of urgency and duty behind in New Jersey. Once upon a time I would work until 11 pm just in order to get everything accomplished, only to start up again at 5 am with another rat race day ahead of me. If I didn't get things done, then I couldn't sleep. Or worse, I'd have nightmares. You know, stress nightmares, like being back in school and running from classroom to classroom but never being able to find the one you're suppose to be in. Or dreaming of going out somewhere only to look down and discover you're missing your pants!  Part of changing to a homestead farming life was slowing down.....slowing down major bigtime! (No more nightmares.) That's not to say that I don't work. I do!  But I just work to a different schedule. And while I make a work list, I often don't adhere to it. The list is helpful but not mandatory. And most days I don't it all done, or even close to accomplished. So be it. I don't let it worry me.

I think that I already mentioned that I budget my time. 13 hours a week is dedicated to farming/ gardening, 13 hours to doing something on the house projects, 13 hours for caring for an elderly parent, and 13 hours general stuff (shopping, getting the car fixed, maintenance, house chores, etc). Now that 13 hour thing is just a guideline. Sometimes it's less, sometimes more. But it gives me a base to work from. 

Budgeting time during the day means that I don't focus on one particular job until it's completed. This method drives my husband nuts. His prefers to pick a job and just do that one job to its end before moving on to the next. I tell him that if I worked that way, he had better not expect lunch and dinner. I would be working on my one project all day long with no deviation or multi-tasking. I have to agree that if I followed his method the house would have been finished a couple of years ago. But then, the farm would never have gotten created, no food would have been grown, no eggs, no lamb, nothing else. I just tell him, "To each their own."

Monday thru Friday I operate from my own schedule since hubby is off doing his own thing. Saturday and Sunday the two of us are together all day, so we often work on a house project, relax, socialize, or do something touristy (hike, spend time at a beach, visit the volcano, drive around the island, etc). 

My typical day starts at 5 am during the summer, 6 am during the winter. One of my dogs is pretty much my alarm clock. Just before dawn, Crusty starts pacing around hoping for an early breakfast. 
(Crusty, the alarm clock dog. )
So I hobble out of bed, start a fire in the woodstove. First on the agenda is some gentle yoga and stretches. Got to keep this old body limber and in shape. Plus it is peaceful to connect with my body, listen to my breathing, get a sense of myself connecting with the awakening world around me. 
(Beautiful and peaceful view for doing yoga.)
By now the cats are demanding to be fed. And the dogs. Next - make coffee and breakfast, check the Internet. By then hubby has hobbled out of bed to join me. It's nice each morning watching the dawn, hearing the birds and bees get active. I usually put a pot of soup fixins on the woodstove to cook, or perhaps stew or ingredients for a stock. Whatever it is, its cool enough for the freezer by lunch. Another large pot contains meat scraps, veggies, and rice for mixing in the dogs' next day meal. After hubby leaves to do whatever his day has in store, I'll work around the house until 9 am getting chicken food ready, cleaning up, perhaps juicing some fruits, making meals for the freezer, that sort of thing. Today it was:  
     Juice a bucket of limes and get the juice into the freezer.
     Sort the sweet potatoes I harvested yesterday and get them into storage.
     Do the monthly maintenance on the solar system batteries
     Do the monthly maintenance on the water catchment system. 
     Comb out the dogs who are shedding buckets of fur right now.

9 am is the target for starting work on farm stuff. 
Weeding, watering, sowing, harvesting, collecting manure, spreading compost, tilling, pruning, etc. First thing on the list is tending to the livestock, checking the fence line, and collecting eggs. That's a must for every day. After that it's whatever I want to get accomplished that day. Today it was:
     Plant a bed of taro (20' x4').
     Plant a small block each of rice, barley, wheat, flax, oats, and sesame. A"block" is usually a 4'x4' section, or there abouts. (I had tilled the empty beds the day before so that they were ready for planting today.)
     Plant a block each of snap beans, snow peas, turnips, and beets. Between the grains and these veggies, that is two complete beds sown. 
     Harvest one bed of potatoes. 
     Spread grass mulch onto the garden aisle ways where it had become thin.
     Water the sweet potatoes. 
     Trash the driveway banana bed. That means, remove the dead or old leaves and clean everything up, remove excess keikis (baby sprouting trees). 
     I still had time before lunch to till compost into the bed where I harvested the potatoes. 
Some mornings are spent on the homestead farm, others at the seed farm. Today it was the homestead. 

11:30 is my target to clean up then get together lunch fixins, though its often closer to noon. Then I'm heading into town to my mother's house where I'll make lunch, make sure that her dinner is ready in the frig, do laundry, plus whatever else my mother needs done. 

2:00 sees me running my own errands in town then heading back to the homestead to work on a house oriented project for 2 hours. Today I :
     Collected a good sized pile of small rocks for my new upcoming walkways. 
     Moved a pile of sand up to the house for making concrete for the walkways.
     Finished caulking some windows.
     Drew out the design for finishing the kitchen - took measurements, decided where shelves and drawers would be. 
     Polyurethaned the new drawer dividers. 
Before making dinner, I finished reorganizing the pantry. Wednesday David had moved out the boxes of floor tiles which freed up a lot of space. Finally I could get things stored away in an orderly fashion (something I'm not very good at). While dinner was heating I restocked the firewood box, cleaned up the house since I was in the mood (boy, that mood doesn't happen too often, so when it does I take advantage of it). 

After dinner - time to check the Internet, check on my sprouting seeds, repair some holes in my work clothes, gather up some items for the local rummage sale. Now here I sit, writing my blog. Before heading for bed I'll most likely read some of the book I'm currently reading. 

Every day is different. I'm never bored. My mind is constantly toying with new experiments I'd like to try out in the garden, new ideas for farm projects or house projects. 

Some days I seem to accomplish more than others, but I suspect that's just an illusion. I enjoy working on my farm and on my house, so you won't find me playing hooky very often. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Don't Burn the House Down

Lets talk "ashes". Ashes, as in the by product of a wood fire.

As you know, I'm a wood burner. Hubby says that I have a fascination with burning things, but regardless, I've maintained a woodstove for most of my life.  Perhaps its in my blood since Granddad was a fire truck chaser. We have a small cast iron stove in the living area, a Morso Squirrel, that takes the chill off the house and helps keep the mold down. A bonus is that I can cook on it. I also run a small rocket stove for cooking livestock feed (roadkill, slaughter waste). And I also have a homemade TLUD stove for making biochar. 

All these stoves are carefully installed so that there are no burnable surfaces nearby and are set on nonflammable bases.  The rocket and TLUD stoves only run when I am present and on non-windy days. I keep a pile of soil and shovel handy plus a water source just in case a spark or ember should break loose. I have never needed either but it's good insurance to have both handy. 

All stoves are kept maintained, cleaned, and as safe as possible. Most stove owners see the sense in this but the one area that I have seen people make tragic mistakes is with handling the ashes. I know of a house fire, numerous lawn fires, and a garage that burnt.....all due to the ashes. Yes indeed! For real! 

My ash container is a metal garbage pail, with lid. I mention the lid because wind can blow ash and live embers right out of the pail on a windy day. I saw it happen to me once. So I'm careful now to get the lid on. If ash is kept indoor (no wind) then a simple metal bucket should suffice, as long as you don't have a toddler or dog........or clumsy spouse......who can knock the ash can over.

Some stories just to illustrate the danger of "cold ashes" and "dead fires". (Names are changed to protect my friends from being embarrassed yet again for their stupidity.)
1- First thing every chilly morning the ash was shoveled out of the stove and into a plastic bucket that "Jill" had been using for years. The bucket was then set outside the kitchen door while she went back to start a morning fire. One day coming into the kitchen to start breakfast, "Jill" noticed an odd smell. Thinking her neighbor was burning trash, she ignored it. 10 minutes later the smell was stronger, so stepping out the kitchen door to complain to her neighbor about the odor she discovered that the plastic ash bucket was melting and on fire. Thankfully it wasn't real close to the house and was sitting on concrete steps. 
2- Before starting the evening fire, "Jack" decided to run the chimney brush down the stove pipe. He then shoveled the soot, creosote, and ashes into a paper bag, taking it out to the garage. Back to starting the fire, making coffee, and watching a movie. When he smelled smoke he went to investigate only to find his garage on fire. 
3- "John" had forgot to empty is ash bucket that morning, so when he went to scoop the previous night's ashes out of the stove he had more than would fit in the bucket. Assuming the ashes were old and cold, he scooped the extra into a cardboard box. Yes, you can see where this is going. Yes, the ashes were set outside the front door. Yes, the cardboard box smoldered then ignited. The first the "John" knew about this was when his neighbor banged on his window to tell him that his door and porch were on fire. 

Then there are the multitude of grass fires. I know of lots of people who take their ashes outside and proceed the spread them about on their lawn and gardens. The ashes look dead, but tiny embers often lurk there just waiting for some fresh air. Ah-ha, another grass fire! Yes. It happens a lot, more than you think. 

I've rediscovered something that my ancestors were well aware of.....ash is a wonderful insulator. Embers can stay hot for hours, often a day or more under the right conditions. I've seen ash and embers sit in a bucket for a full day and still have some heat to them. Given some fresh air, and the tiny embers begin the heat up and glow. Something to think about. 
Back to my ash bucket. By the way, I have two. One in use, and the second to start using when the first one is full. It takes a week or more to fill a bucket, so it has plenty of time to really become dead before I spread the ashes. I also have an old metal frying pan with lid that I sometimes use. It comes in handy in the house. 

What do I do with the ashes once they're cold? I add them to compost. And I sprinkle them onto the pastures that need it. Ashes raise the soil pH rapidly plus provide some trace minerals and other nutrients. Ash is rich in potassium, a plant requirement. 

For these photos I set the ash containers on a garden rock wall. But that's not a safe place because of the dry litter from grass, trees, etc. Yes, I tend to be over cautious when it comes to burning my house down. Normally the cans set on a concrete pad outside the side door. 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Farm Security

Just recently our neighbor had an issue with an intruder. At 2:30 am the neighborhood dogs put out the alert--- stranger on the street! Several of the neighbors awoke, listening, looking. The strange vehicle disappeared up the road. Next thing we knew it was on our neighbor's property, a secluded property whose caretaker was out of town. How'd that happen? The gate was locked. Next morning we learned that the intruder cut the locked chain off, possibly knowing that the caretaker was absent. Hubby and I went out to chase the intruder out. Much shouting, gesturing, threatening ensued with the intruder finally leaving. Unknown to us at the time, he managed to grab two propane tanks as we chased him out. As the intruder drove off, one of the neighbors got the vehicle license plate number. By now neighbors were out on the front of their properties, armed for warfare. Yes, we're a serious bunch on this road and all believe in guns for property protection. This intruder obviously hadn't done his proper homework and he's lucky not to have gotten himself into a risky situation where he would have been shot. The next day, during the police investigation, we learned that our intruder was just recently released from prison and had a long criminal record of break-ins and robbery. 

By the next day everyone around had heard about the incident. Word was put out via the grapevine that just about every neighbor had awoke and came out armed with guns, ready to protect one another and their property. With luck the news will eventually make its way back to the intruder and his friends. 
Neighbors are asking themselves what more can we do to protect our area? A formal neighborhood watch? Some of us are more nervous than others about the incident. But this was a good test run to see if we all have adequate protection if society gets worse in the future. 

Just about everyone in our road has a chained, lock gate. 
Those who didn't have since put up barriers. Although this incident shows that a locked gate doesn't keep out a determined intruder, it is a good deterrent for the timid criminal or the hit-and-run type snatcher. Fences help but are not total protection either. Experience has shown that barbed wire atop fencing keeps out the walk-by intruders. 
One strand helps, two work better. But determined intruders can easily bypass fencing and barbed wire. Multiple fences also deter casual intruders. Most intruders are lazy enough not to want to go to the effort to breech multiple fences to get to your barn or house. Plus it makes it more difficult for a quick getaway, especially if lugging some loot. And a rock wall effectively keeps pickup trucks from doing a quick drive by snatch.
This eventful night it was the watchdogs that worked successfully. They sounded the first alarm. They awakened people enough that we all heard the strange vehicle drive by. So barking dogs definitely work. 
Driveway alarms and notion sensors also work, because we found out a few days later that the intruder first attempted to enter a property up the end of our road but got spooked away when detected. 

Neighbor were asking each other how can we know if there is an intruder walking on their place, someone who hopped the fence, if they don't have a dog? A motion sensing light indeed works. Many motion lights are linked to a system that gives a sound alert inside the house.  A driveway alarm is another. No light but they make a sound inside your house. A noisemaking deer chaser would help, as would a homemade noise boobytrap.......a stacked pile of old beer bottles atop sheets of old metal roofing, with a fish line tied to one of the bottom bottles in the stack. The fish line is run along the most apt access corridor and set up as a tripwire. Anyone hitting the wire will tumble the bottle pile, making a heck of a racket. Sure to awaken all the neighborhood dogs, then most the people, and scare the intruder s***less. This actually works great, but they are lots of other types of noise makers one can easily make. Deer chasers come in all sorts of forms and don't differentiate between deer and human trespassers. 

Instead of barbed wire some neighbors use a hotwire to contain livestock. Although a hotwire can startle an intruder, it is far easier to disable than barbed wire. Not much value for property protection. 

I have seen farm gates with warning signs that would make one thick twice about entering. "Loose Bulls. Call 000-0000 Before Entering". "Toxic Chemicals Sprayed on This Farm. Not Responsible For Illness Or Death." "Security Cameras With Automatic Satellite Uplink". Anything claiming auto police notification doesn't work around here because it can take a cop car an hour, two hours, even more to reach us, and the criminals know that. 

Making a farm look attractive just seems to invite thieves. But looking poor or hillbilly style isn't sure protection either. Around here thieves will hit poor looking areas because there most likely are no burglar alarms or security cameras to catch them. But regardless of how nice or poorly a place looks, thieves will still snoop into unlocked buildings and look for equipment and supplies located out of sight of the roadway. So just hiding something around the back of the barn is not a good idea. Buildings out of sight of the road are most vulnerable. Neighbors report that items are more apt to disappear from sheds that are well off the road or hidden down in hollows. Locked doors don't help with such buildings because thieves simple pry off the entire door! But locked doors can be made a bit more secure by having hinges mounted on the inside and having outside latches which can't be easily screwed off.
Commonsense says not to leave keys in motorized equipment, but people have a lazy habit of leaving the keys in ATVs, lawn tractors, etc. Makes things easy for thieves. And nothing like storing your loading ramps right with your lawn tractor! That's convenient for you but also for a thief. By the way, removing the battery on machinery helps when dealing with casual thieves, but I've seen big equipment like tractors and skidsteers disappear because the thief had plenty of time to scope out the situation unseen, then return with the appropriate battery. Bye bye equipment! 

Police will tell you to avoid sticking to a schedule, such as leaving or coming home at the same time every day. That's tough to do if you have a job to go to, but it's a good suggestion. Keep the thieves guessing. Our neighbor caretaker obviously made the mistake of telling someone that she was going to be out of town overnight. The info got to the wrong person, who took advantage of the situation. Announcements of funerals and weddings alert thieves that many houses will be unattended. Same with large community affairs such as bazaars, spaghetti dinners, festivals. 

Setting up some sort of a neighborhood watch isn't a bad idea. Our road is small, so we wouldn't have to have patrols. But having everybody whip out their cellphones and make an obvious show of photographing strange cars would send a message. If that strange car actually is casing the neighborhood, the driver is very aware that their picture has just been taken. 

Criminals often case a neighborhood prior to breaking in. So I'm wary of supposed broken down cars, people claiming to be looking for lost dogs, people claiming to have permission to be hunting on adjacent property, people claiming to be missionary types. I don't have yard sales. I hear of people having stuff stolen a week after their yard sale, most likely by somebody casing their property while at the sale. I don't invite strangers to my property for the same reason. If I have something for sale, they can check it out down at my gate, not up in my livingroom. Paranoid, am I? No, just cautious. With the economy doing poorly, there's been an increase in thieves casing out neighborhoods. 

Recently the thieves have been employing another trick. They answer ads about rooms or houses for rent by owner. They come view the room/ house as though they are interested in renting while actually looking around for juicy, steal able items. Learning when the house will be empty, they later return to rip it off. I've heard of this happening frequently lately. 

While I live in a rather safe area, it doesn't hurt to be a little paranoid.....or shall I say, prepared and cautious. 

Postscript: our scumbag intruder has been picked up by the police and is back in jail. Since he violated his probation, lets hope he'll be in jail for a while before we need to be worried about him again. 

Just a few more thoughts.........

1- I wouldn't suggest blabbing to the world that one lives alone, or has been robbed before. I think that's like putting up a neon sign....come rob me. 
2- Having more than one dog is better watchdog protection. I've heard of robbers taking on one dog but not multiple dogs. Plus multiple dogs protect and attack with pack mentality. Far more protective and aggressive. Someone told me a long time ago that I shouldn't say that my dog is protective or would bite. I'd get sued, I was told. In reality, I could get sued regardless of the dog's reputation, so what the heck. Let people think the dogs are 'bad". The reputation will keep most thieves off the property.