Grackle & Sun

Archive for the category “rubber boots & coveralls”

Farm Skillz: Brush hogging

I did not learn how to drive a tractor when I was growing up on the farm. That omission seems strange to me now, although I must admit that as a kid I was incredibly relieved that it never came up. Driving the tractor was something my brothers did. I used a shovel. I pushed a wheelbarrow. I carried buckets. I didn’t drive the tractors. I was afraid of them. Still am, frankly. What with all the gears and levers and noise and…parts. I mean, really. What the hell is a clevis tongue? Who can even say ‘clevis tongue’ with a straight face?

Now here I am decades later, back on the farm, and it is my turn to drive the tractor. As my dad succinctly put it, I need to know how to do this. No arguing that point. It’s easy to think about things. This is where I must actualize.

Let me introduce you to the Kubota, vehicle of my burgeoning farm skills. Grab a drink, I’ll tell you what I’ve learned so far.kubotaWe have a larger tractor, simply called The Big Tractor. It’s a Ford, and it’s blue and has racing stripes like my tattoo.  I’m sure that’s a coincidence. He’s almost as old as I am.  I do not know how to drive The Big Tractor. Yet. That lesson is looming large around a nearby corner. The Kubota, however, is easy to drive once you get your hand-foot coordination going, and once all of the completely illogical knobs and levers have been thoroughly explained and their accompanying pictographs translated. It’s set up pretty much like any manual transmission: gas (in this case a throttle–both hand lever and foot pedal), brakes (left and right, independent or locked together), gear shift (forward, neutral, reverse), and a clutch.  It also has something called a Glide-shift which allows the driver to shift gears (ie, speeds) without engaging the clutch or braking. This is particularly important because the clutch also controls the PTO drive shaft for all the useful things that attach to the back end of the tractor. In this case, the brush hog. Which is also called a bush hog. Potato, tomahto.

A brush hog is used to mow down brush, heavy weeds, and tall grass. It’s pretty impressive what it will chop down. Like my nemesis, the multiflora rose. Die, multiflora, die! When the clutch is engaged, the drive shaft (which runs the mower), stops spinning. The Glide-shift allows the driver to switch gears clutchlessly on the fly while keeping the mower running. Handy.bushhogThe project for the day was brush hogging a pasture on the northern end of the property. As you can see below, it is madly grown up with broom sage, a native warm-season grass that, except in its early growth, is not very good forage. Broom sage grows well on poor soils, which is why it is found in lush abundance in southern Missouri–where the soil is nothing but clay and rocks on top of more clay and considerably more rocks. It is a clear indicator that this pasture is in need of nutrients–most likely phosphorus–and also a pH shift. We’ll find out more next month when I start sending in soil samples to the local extension.

This broom sage is very tall. FYI, it should never get this tall. This is what happens when you should have brush hogged two months ago, but roughly 80 other things were further up the master To-Do list. Nothing will eat this grass. It does have other uses. It provides cover for quail (I saw 6 of them) and other wildlife. The sheep LOVE to hide in it. And doesn’t that make finding them fun? They think so.viewfromthetractorOnce the engine is revved to the correct RPM to run the PTO (there’s a little unmarked arrow on the tachometer to let you know), you can engage the PTO (there’s a knob-thingie with hieroglyphics) and start mowing. Easy. You have to make sure to overlap just a little bit so that you don’t get a stripe of unmown grass between passes–especially since the giant back tires push quite a bit of it down. Then it’s just back and forth around the field. For hours and hours. Mowing down great swaths of tall grass. If you are like me, and you’ve learned to embrace your OCD, this is a rather pleasant job.swathOr it is until you hear a bad ruckus (as opposed to the good ruckus that indicates everything’s functioning properly) and look behind you to find the brush hog bumping along, listing badly to one side of the tractor. WTH? So you stop the tractor, engage the dual brake, put everything in neutral, disengage the PTO, throttle-down,  drop the front bucket, turn the tractor off. Go investigate… Ah. A bolt is missing. The important kind that holds parts together. In this case, a bolt that holds one whole side of the brush hog on the tractor. So you walk from the very top of the pasture–because that’s where tractors break down–to the barn to find your dad. Because he knows how to fix everything, and you don’t. Well, I don’t. So I got my dad, and he got replacement bolts (which he, of course, had on hand in an old coffee canister on his workbench) and a couple ginormous wrenches that looked like they came from an A-ha video, and we fixed the brush hog.

Below, you can see the kind of bolty-nutty-lock pin situation I’m talking about. It attaches the brush hog to the tractor. This one is the bolt that was still holding the brush hog on the left-side lift arm. 1) Quick-release lock pin which holds the bolt on one side 2) Lift arm ball joint from the tractor 3) Brush hog left-side bar 4) Nut holding the right side of the bolt. What probably happened is that the nut fell off, and the bolt jiggled loose and fell out somewhere in the field. Maybe someday someone will find it and ask themselves what it is and how it got there. I have found many rusted old things on the farm like that, and I wonder these things, too.20161001_161025Here is the newly replaced bolt/nut/quick-release lock pin. Exciting, isn’t it? It made my day, let me tell you. On a farm, fixed things that work right are fucking fantastic.  I am not upset that this broke. These are the lessons I need. And I am very fortunate to be able to learn so much from my dad now. I am constantly in awe of the fact that not only does he know what all this stuff is, but that he knows how to fix all of it. I feel the weight of that knowledge and know that my shoulders are not yet up to holding it. One lesson at a time.newboltAll fixed. Back to brush hogging. I had a moment while on the tractor, about 3 hours in, where I realized that I could happily do this for the rest of my life. Not brush hogging specifically, although I wouldn’t mind that, but rather this whole tending the land thing; having my days measured out not by the clock, but by what needs to be done on that day, in that season. This was a good realization to have, seeing as how it’s kind of what I’m here to do. Affirmation by actualization.

And look at this–my brush hogging skillz? Better than decent. Not only did I miss all the bigass rocks in the section I did, but I (softie that I am) was even able to save this baby goldenrod that really wanted to grow in this spot. Because tending the land means many kinds of actions for all the life there. That’s a lesson I’m learning, too.softie

Late blooming

Fall flora on the farm.

Feeling nostalgic for my childhood on said farm.

Days when the land and the sun and the wind held all the magic I needed.

Now I try to set aside the running list of things to get done,

and instead walk my old haunts

so that I may bring together the wild heart that beats both here

and in me.

lateboneset

late boneset (eupatorium serotinum)

purpleboneset

blue boneset (eupatorium coelestinum)

jewelweed

jewelweed (impatiens capensis)

perilla

perilla (perilla frutescens)

rhusaromatica

fragrant sumac (rhus aromatica)

goldenrod

goldenrod (solidago)

mushroomclusters

i really need to learn some mushroom id skills (fungus superfunkus)

thistle

thistle (either cirsium vulgare or cirsium altissimum)

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no idea. plant id book came up nil. and what does that mean for us to see without naming?

Guide to Spring

In Missouri, you can’t count on the weather to tell you what season it is. It might be 65 degrees in December; it might be 35 degrees in May. Strike that. At some point, it will be both of those things.  But despite the fact that I never seem to know when to pull my head out of the covers, the earth knows when to stretch. The flora and fauna know when to peek out and then get busy.  From one moment to the next there is a shift, the light turns white and crystalline bright, and suddenly you’re late for Spring! Here’s a lovely, quick little visual guide to my cues this time around the wheel…

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toad

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Lambing season is in full gear–31 and a few still due. No bottle babies this year, which was a major Phew! The garden has had a generous helping of sheepy compost and a tilling or two. And if it ever stops raining on my days off, I’ll plant some seeds… I have so many seeds to plant. So, so many.

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Super exciting things are in the works on the farm. And in my life. I don’t want to jinx anything, so we’ll wait to talk about it until the will-be becomes the is. I hope all your springs are pleasingly full of potential and the emergence of glorious creative goodness. And seeds. And if you’re very lucky, lambs. ;)

floral

live happy,

dre

 

 

Chickie-booms

Quick chicken update.

We (and by that I mean mostly my Husband of Awesomeness) fenced in the garden and a bigger, lusher chicken yard this spring.  They have a huge (you know, for a chicken) space to graze. And they do–with an intensity that is both mind-boggling and addictive to watch. It is strangely satisfying (and ridiculously easy) to make chickens happy.

Husband of Awesomeness, aka Fence Builder.

One of the Buff Orpies.

Doing their thing in the freshly tilled earth.

A very gentlemanly rooster.

Curious chicken. Or maybe she was helping to pick out seeds.

And then this one had to have a say.

No, they’re not dead. They take dust baths, then they take dust naps.

Hunkering down.

CHICKS!!!

They grow fast. And they’re a completely different colour and pattern than the hen or the rooser. See them in the back?

A blurry close-up–they are very skittish and won’t let me get close. Mama hen was protective in a way I didn’t care to test, lol.

Chickens eating lemon balm = happy (and very relaxed) chickens. :D

Sad news. One of the Buff Orpies disappeared. We are guessing a hawk. There is a pair of red-shouldered hawks that live in the woods behind the lake. Sad that she is gone, also know that it’s just how it goes on a farm. The pen attached to the chicken house is completely covered, but the only way to let them have the joy of the open pasture is to leave them somewhat vulnerable. Sigh. It’s a trade-off, but one that is worth it for the health of the flock, I think.

That’s all my chicken news for now. Next plan–building a chicken swing. Not even kidding. :D

Morning Meditation: Life As It Should Be

It really can be this simple.

Satisfaction.  Contentment.  Fulfilment.  Happiness.

And the measure of this?

All to be found in watching a flock of sheep graze in a green pasture.

In the light filtering through dogwood blossoms.

In the song of a red-shouldered hawk hiding in the canopy of great oak trees.

In the hum of bees in pear blossoms.

In the soft green of leaves unfurling.

In the warmth of the sun’s good medicine.

In belonging where you are.

Wait for It….

I missed the lunar eclipse. Would not really have been able to see it from here anyway. So I slept.

And then I woke up, and during the course of my day, saw all these other wonderful things instead!

Overnight, all the violets in the world bloomed.

The woods behind my house full of Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica.

A miniature field of grape hyacinths, which smell absolutely divine–from a close distance.

Always happy to see these sunny little lions.

Chickweed, Stellaria media. Of course, not a weed at all, but a medicinal soother.

May…

Apples…

Un…

Furling.

Maybe this year I’ll get to taste one…

A nibble-on Trillium.

Native American fishing net plummets. Who knew? I did not.

Thank you, local Conservation Center!

And, my friends, for the best part of the day.  I took a lovely afternoon drive–windows down, Bjork blasting her quirky Icelandic heart out on my speakers.  A drive which led to my knitting buddy’s alpaca farm. I feel that should be in all caps.

ALPACA FARM FIELD TRIP!

Aw, yeah. That’s right. All the fun enhappenated.

Oh, the squishy, springy, lustrous wonderfulness. I touched a lot of alpaca today.

 I got kissed by an alpaca. No joke. It’s how they say hi, things are cool. They have very soft noses. This is not the alpaca I bumped noses with. It’s hard to take a picture of an alpaca when her face is in your face, so Sweetums remains unseen.

They will be shorn next week. Ready for the heat of a Missouri summer. Their teeth will be filed (as the photo above shows, it’s time) and their toes trimmed. All in 8 minutes per animal, so I’m told. Professional shearers know their stuff, hunh?

Look at that coat! Practically begging to be spun. I’ve never wanted a wheel as much as I did today. I’ve got to start spinning.

The biggest surprise to me was how stout alpaca are. They are muscley little things under all that gorgeous, sproingy wool.

They are also very curious and personable. Really delightful souls.

Alpaca. Best field trip ever.

Favorite Fall Forest Fruit & other words that begin with F

When the frost nips and the trees are bare, a peek into the woods reveals a marvelous treat. Step a little closer…

Closer still…

Persimmons can be found all around the world, from Asia and India to Europe, Mexico, and North America. While similar, they all have their own unique qualities botanically, culinarily, medicinally, and even in folklore.  I will now refer you to a surprisingly comprehensive and thoroughly interesting Wikipedia page on persimmons. I’ll wait here while you read… Go on. It’ll only take a minute.

Fascinating, yes? Diospyros virginiana are the variety that grow here in Missouri and much of the Eastern United States. They differ in several key ways from the Asian persimmons often seen in grocery stores or fancy markets–mainly in signs of ripeness and number of seeds. Unlike Asian persimmons, this humble woodland variety is pretty seedy and not so pretty when ripe.

They look delicious, don’t they? But don’t be fooled by the gorgeousness. When they look like this–all lovely and plump and orange–they are total pucker-suckers. Seriously. I’m surprised dentists don’t use unripe persimmons to dry up saliva while they do dental work. They could retire “Mr. Thirsty” the spit vacuum entirely. The tannins in unripe persimmons are impressively effective.  It is really, really fun to give someone an unripe persimmon. But only if they deserve it.

So when are persimmons ready? I’ll show you.

1. Not even close. Feast your eyes and nothing else.

2. Now they are starting to soften up. Just a little. Just enough to encourage patience.

3. So close.

4. Perfect.

The cold frost has worked its magic, and now this wrinkly, darkening fruit is ready to eat. A quick shake of the tree will send ripe fruits plummeting to the earth where they can be gathered and taken back to the kitchen for making jams, wines, and breads. Or you can do like I do and stand under the tree and gorge your face with all the persimmons your belleh can hold. You know, either way.

I love the softness of the flavour, the way it is fruity without being overly sweet. I love that it is a source of wild fruit hanging ready and waiting when everything else is dying or going dormant for winter. I love that these trees grow wild wherever they please in our woods. As a child, when we first moved to the farm, I was always giddy and not a little bit in awe that this wonderful fruit was just there, in the woods, for the eating. No driving to the supermarket, no toiling in a garden or orchard. Just part of the woods. An invitation to also be part of the woods.  The most wonderful gift of the persimmon.

Commence the Squeeeee!!!

Three of my little hens are laying eggs! Awwwww! They are so sweet and friendly still… and a little late in getting going. I was starting to get a smidge worried that something was wrong and then ta-dah! Just like that they appeared. Now if only I knew which 3 of the six are laying…

The first eggs, which are called pullet eggs, are always smaller than normal. Below you can see the three new eggs on the left compared to a veteran layer egg on the right. The awesome Katie over at Katie: Normal Girl has a great little post about pullet eggs. I am eager to try these little beauties.  Om nom nom.

 

A Damn Good Day

This morning I awoke after interesting dreams. Dressed, and happily discovered a little more room in my pants than there has been for a few months.  Had enough time to clean the kitchen that I neglected last night and to pack a delicious lunchtime snack AND to walk the dogs.  Made the best chocolate chunk almond butter I’ve ever made.  Got to work early despite leaving late. Helped people, rocked out a few projects, and maybe encouraged some friendly mischief. (Twinkle)

Drove the 5 minute commute back home.  Hugged my kids hello, gathered up the dogs, and kissed my husband goodbye.  And then kissed him again because I hadn’t left yet.  And then kissed him one more time for good reasons. Loaded the dogs up in the car and drove out to the farm in a golden afternoon so glorious that it seemed otherworldly. The sky was clear blue, the air was that perfect temperature that hovers a little past warm but just before hot, and the breeze was a soft touch against the skin.  Sunlight that can only be described as blissful healing medicine. I think I actually felt my pineal gland wake up and kick in. Ronin rode with his head out the window the whole way. Giant dog grins are contagious.

The farm was peaceful and still. And full of good green smells. Gathered eggs and picked a radish that looks like an egg.  Many, many more radishes to pick. Should quit job and become a radish farmer.

The gate to the cow’s pasture broke and hung open, but no cows escaped. Fixed the gate. The bull let me pet him through the fence. Maybe he was sun-sleepy. The sheep let themselves back in the barn for the night, so all I had to do was close the barn gate.  Fed the ewes, fed the rams. Bottle-fed the two bottle lambs.

Found the horses that had been missing off adventuring in far pastures for a few days. They were happy and shiny-coated. 

Sang a harvesting song, for the harvest has begun!

And will continue for weeks. Hadn’t planned on picking poke, but when the poke’s ready, it doesn’t wait around. I swear it wasn’t ready yesterday… Found a new bucket to keep the poke in, and also found two gallons of vinegar in the pantry to do the steeping with. Sweet score!

Discovered a new type of flowering plant in a field.  It is surely some exotic invasive, but ridiculously beautiful, though out of place. 

Fed the farm dogs as the light disappeared quietly in the West. Watched bats do their sonar-guided acrobatics above me.

Left the farm as night fully sank in. Drove east straight into a moon rise that was like something out of a science fiction novel–humongous and yellow like cream. It out-shone my high beams and made driving difficult for all my gaping and staring and mad grinning. I like reminders that our earth is as magnificent as any fiction.

Sang harmony to Tori Amos, hit a note I can’t usually hit. Didn’t hit a raccoon that wandered onto the road. Relaxation: good for vocal chords and reflexes. Came home to family and curry and comfort.  And now I write to you, friends. It was a damn good day.

They grow up so fast.

Chicken update!

The chicks moved into their side of the big chicken house & coop several weeks ago, and they love it. They spend their days outside scratching and pecking and taking dust baths, and then like good little chickens, they go inside at night to sleep. It’s amazing to see how much they’ve grown over such a short time.  They are pretty fully feathered out and look like miniature hens. This week, the skin around their eyes and beaks has started to redden, and I imagine any time their combs will, too.  They are all, save one, very tame and happy to be hand-fed treats—although now that they’re getting bigger, it’s not so cute to get pecked too enthusiastically with those beaks. I wonder sometimes if I’m raising crows–these chicks love to peck at anything shiny–my wedding ring, the buttons on my pants, my shiny rubber boots.

We’ve only had one bit of chickie unhappiness this whole time. Several weeks ago, one of the Buff Orpies had an eye infection. One eye got all swollen and unhappy, but she showed no other symptoms. I treated her with a product called Vet Rx, which is a base with several essential oils in it, including the powerful antibiotic oregano oil. After a week, the infection seemed to come to a head, like a solid ball, under the nictitating membrane. And then, the next morning, it was gone. She scratched at it frequently, and I think it must have popped out. Her eyelid was a little wrinkly, but other than that, nothing. Within a few days, it was completely healed. Now I can’t tell which one she was. I’d name the Orpies, but they all look the same. I’m hoping that once their combs start filling out, they’ll be easier to tell apart.

 

One of the Delawares, Rouser, is a wild, wild thing and wants nothing to do with me. She is not like the other ladies who come running and clucking when I call them. “Hey, Chickabooms!” That’s how I call them. Nope. She runs as far from me as she can. Here she is giving me the crazy-eye. She’s always giving me the crazy-eye. It’s the only kind of eye she’s got.

Her “sister”, Rabble, is just obnoxious and rowdy. She doesn’t like me either, but she likes the treats, so she gives me the eye while she eats from my hand. Lol.

She’s fast, and the others have to work hard to get any treats before she hogs them all. They like all kinds of food. Favorites are dandelion greens, tomatoes, lemon balm, and grapes. Especially grapes.

Rabble is all business when it comes to grapes. She is not messing around. She demands ALL THE GRAPES.

Life with chickens. I like it.

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