Posted by: Michelle | April 24, 2010

Summer gardening!

This spring we added two more 7 x 3 square foot raised beds, so now we have 3. Here is my plan for those beds, many of the seeds I just planted today. The rest are either planted directly later or from the starts I have going in my downstairs bathroom.
garden plan

one bed almost full, but for the zucchini:
bed 3

Also on order – 4 new chicks! They should arrive any day now. Last year’s chick starter area is now a seed starting area so the chicks will need a new set up this time (i should probably get a start on that). I’ve been reading Eliot Coleman’s books and getting really ecited and hopeful about keeping greens going all winter in a cold frame! I’ve set it up so that bed number three will become a cold frame in October. I haven’t built it yet but I’m still researching glass and glass alternatives.

Last week we unexpectedly lost our male guinea, Terrance. They had been penned all day in the run and he most likely injured himself in there. I checked him over and he didn’t seem to have any marks on him at all. The same day, after I took his body away (I took him to the pet cemetery), I noticed something following the female guinea Patrice around the yard and when i went out I saw a little juvenile squirrel following her. He then began following me! I tried leaving him alone but he kept following me and the kids, and then the chickens. I quickly realized he would not last 5 minutes in my yard since the chickens immediately went into attack mode and sweet little Boots threw that squirrel right into the air. I led him into a cat carrier and took him deep into the state park and released him there where he would have at least a fighting chance.

Trevor

Today I purchased and planted my very first Srygia vulgaris (common lilac). Lilacs always been my favorite part of spring and my parents’ and grandparents’ yards were loaded with them. There are none here at this address and so I decided to start hoarding them. I plan to add at least one a year until they make a thick hedge along the north edge of my property and an independent bunching of them here and there as well. I plan to try Miss Kim, Pocohontas and Bloomerang varieties as well. I have a few other varieties coming to me in the mail as teensy seedlings and I’m going to try to raise them myself.

Gloria, the lilac bush

Also today I put in an experimental strawberry planting, around and under a tree! The branches of this tree start so high that the area gets full sun most of the day.
stawberry bed

These Everbearing are probably a little skimpy even though they spread; I might add a different variety towards the center.

FInally, I planted my two little blueberry bushes, the Northland and the Patriot

Northland blueberry

I have been reading lots of books about permaculture and planning how to turn my yard from a field of weak grass and sand into an edible paradise – for this year I have 3 apple trees planned, and at least two peach trees. Also on order: beach plum, maypops, guomi, Ken Aslet Tropaeolum (which is a relative of nasturtiums and has an edible root), lycopene berry, elderberry, and hardy kiwi! I plan to create a hedge of flowering and fruit trees surrounding the septic system “hump”, with an arbor in the middle (maypop or hardy kiwi trained to it) which will lead to the hill – this should obscure the fact that there is a slight hill and create another “garden room” for perennial sunflowers or another ornamental and a sitting area.

I have started reclaiming the paddock area, last year it was tall grasses and weeds covering a swampy marsh (ticks!!) but this year it has dried out a bit, and I can tell the straw has begun to rot down. I mowed the clumps of grasses short using the mulching function on my mower, than planted dutch white clover to stabilize the soil, add nitrogen and attract bees.

Posted by: Michelle | October 13, 2009

life going in and out

This past week we lost our little budgie, Lemon even after two vet trips to try and sort her out. Then when I was at class Sunday Vinnie got out and tried to cross the road. I didn’t look at him, I only transferred his remains to Angel View (pet crematory) but I was told he was not visibly injured. I can only hope he died quickly, my favorite little fuzzy peach of a kitty. On top of all of this, I lost my grandmother Arlene 3 weeks ago and we gathered to bury her ashes on Saturday. She was my mom’s mom and a grandmother I only saw every couple of years (more and more space between those visits as she got older) and who I last saw at my mom’s funeral but I felt/feel such an attachment to her. I miss the women in my family so much. I still have extended family, my mother’s sisters and nieces and what a bunch of strong women, every time I am with them they teach me grace. My aunt and her youngest son (my closest-age cousin) stayed with me for two nights before the funeral and I really enjoyed having them here. There were moments when my aunt looked so much like my mom I got confused but I feel thankful to have the reminder. I never thought I’d se my mother’s eyes again, but in a way she lives on in her sister (maybe some would say she lives on in me too though we don’t physically resemble each other much). It all just gives me so much to think about, so much to feel grateful for.

On the topic of my home, today I was surprised by two eggs in the chicken coop, one green and one pink. They were on the floor since we don’t have nest boxes built yet (a whole ‘nuther story!) I put a banker box out there with some bedding but I hope Adam can get the coop finished soon. It was planned, and framed for, n exterior flap door to lift and collect the eggs so that I don’t have to open the coop door (which always lets chickens loose). Just now as I searched for any overlooked eggs Little Nose got out and had a free period in the yard before I was able to get her back. I had to stop letting them loose in the yard during the day since they have gotten SO much more daring and wandersome. They just leave for the neighbors’ yards. The guineas, Terrance and Patrice, are LOUD. Loud when they are out loose, loud when they are in their pen. I don’t think I would get them again. Since I don’t let them loose that often (sometimes the last hour of the day) they probably won’t offer us much tick protection. Oh well, live and learn.

I finally finished the girls’ sweaters:

I should blog about that in the knitting blog, but they are Silk Garden and Taiyo, both yarns by Noro.

Posted by: Michelle | September 17, 2009

a real post later, I swear

I saw this on another blog I read regularly, and I don’t want to lose it. It is exactly what I have been trying to say – to counter the “absolute” that schools are necessary.

thanks, Jean!

Posted by: Michelle | June 24, 2009

No Grace in my heart, or home in this case

A little over 2 weeks ago, Grace slipped out of the house and has not been seen since. She had been outside before, the window in the basement has the sump pump line threaded out and she and Vinnie (her adult son) learned to nudge the window and get out. We let them get away with this for a while but Grace could not stop herself from bringing sometimes as many as four voles into the house a day. We then decided to seal the basement up and make them be once again indoor cats. About 2 days later she escaped and I suspect she thought she could get in again through the basement and couldn’t. The animal control officer was not hopeful “coyotes are all over massachusetts”, he said “they have their puppies now”. Still, his answer didn’t then and still doesn’t feel right – yes, a few people I know have lost cats to coyotes but they were elderly cats, slower and sometimes with health problems. Grace is in the prime of her life, fast as lightning and with long sharp claws that can climb up 20 feet of tree without breaking a sweat.

I kept looking, I put up signs, called all the local shelters and vets. No one has found her but they have my name and number if they do. I was listening to a song I keep on most of my mix tapes, Joni Mitchell’s “Man From Mars” (off the Grace of My Heart soundtrack, sung in this case by Kristen Vigard though Joni also released the track on her Taming the Tiger album). I remembered reading that she had written the song about a lost cat so I looked the story up and found it very inspiring:

“He was gone for 18 days, and like a method actor I took the pain of his absence and wrote the song ‘Man from Mars.’ Even in the mix you can hear it. I had been out there listening for him and my ear was hearing three miles away. It is the deepest mix that I ever did, with little sounds going way, way, way back into the mix…

“So I finished the song. It took me 7 days, and on the 18th day he came back. He stayed away just long enough for me to write.”

This gave me hope that 2 weeks was not too long for a cat to stay away, that she might still come back. I told Zella and she wrote her own song to try and bring Grace back. However, the magical 18 days have passed, and Grace is still nowhere to be found. I miss her so much. Read the lyrics to the song, Zella changed “Man from Mars” to “Kitty of Ours” in her version. I can’t listen to this song without bursting into tears:

Since I lost you
I can’t get through the day
Without at least one big boo-hoo
The pain won’t go away
What am I gonna do?
Man From Mars
This time you went too far

I fall apart
Everytime I think of you
Swallowed by the dark
There is no center to my life now
No grace in my heart
Man from Mars
This time you went too far

I call and call
The silence is so full of sounds
You’re in them all
I hear you in the water
And the wiring in the walls
Man from Mars
This time you went too far

Grace with baby Vinnie

Posted by: Michelle | June 21, 2009

batten down the hatches

I don’t know how this can be for real. I wonder if there will actually be some sun in there, the forecast is wrong so often. Unfortunately, we took the chickens’ run apart yesterday so they are coop-bound – and in wet weather like this I can’t exactly let them loose in the yard because no way am I going to stand out in the rain with them all afternoon AND then chase around trying to grab wet chickens in the evening. Plus, because it is raining Adam is unwilling to put the run back together. They might have to be locked in the coop until next Sunday! I also built a little coop-within-a-coop to keep the little chickens (Bootsy and Rocky, plus Pat and Terry the Guineas) separate from the pullets so they won’t get pecked to death. This way the big chickens can see them and hear them (get used to them) but not be able to abuse them the way they do. Also, it means all chickens are now out of my bathroom! If it wasn’t so cold, wet and gloomy out I would take a picture of the coop interior. There is a solid top to the kinder-coop and of course the pullets sit on it and poop all the time. When we put in the windows I am definitely going to make window seats since they love lounging on small ledges.

I hope we don’t a. go absolutely nuts during this week of rain and b. that our yard and basement don’t flood. Oh and my vegetables! I hope they don’t get moldy and bad. I picked a bunch of broccoli, two huge bowls of baby lettuces and some peas this week.

Well, here are some pictures from a recent SUNNY day:

IMG_0911
Girls in matching dresses!
IMG_0910

IMG_0909

Posted by: Michelle | June 17, 2009

video of Milly :^)

Milly in the chicken coop on the chickens’ first night there:

Ugh, I can’t embed it.

Go see it, it’s worth it!

Posted by: Michelle | June 15, 2009

pictures

I have been working hard on the yard and garden. I want to write a lot more about a lot of things, but I am so bushed every night I just pick up whatever disaster the kids made and go to bed. Here is the short version of what I’ve been up to.

The chicken coop is almost done, tonight is the first night the chickens are actually IN it (they are two months old!). They have trashed my downstairs bathroom for the past month while Adam has been working on the coop. It still needs its windows and other doors, etc. but it is almost finished:

IMG_0875
Exterior, still waiting for steps and windows…

chickens in the coop!
Chickens inside! They seem to really like it in there

Milly in the new coop!
Milly wanted to get in there too :^)

I have eaten some stuff from my garden, some broccoli and a radish! Still a long way to go for the onions, shallots, peas and beans and potatoes. Some of the lettuces I planted look a little mangy. The spinach doesn’t seem to be working well at all. This is my “learning year” anyway, I didn’t expect everything to grow well. The cauliflower looks awful, the curds are ricey and not too appetizing. Cauliflower is sooo hard to grow, in my opinion. Maybe that will be my goal; to get a good head of cauliflower.

We finally bought a lawnmower and I have really been enjoying mowing my hideously overgrown yard. We don’t have much of a lawn, there are a lot of sandy patches, pine needles and weeds galore but it is MY yard, and though I got badly sunburned, I enjoy taking care of it. Next year I will work more on the grass, and reclaiming the marshy, spongy paddock – for now we are really still settling in. I always plan more stuff than I can possibly do so I am trying to have a “five year plan” instead of a “do it all the first year” plan. Maybe next year we can get riding mower like we always had when I was a kid. Our yard is just a little too big to comfortably mow the whole thing in an afternoon (but I am not complaining about having a lot of yard, believe me).

girls drawing in the chicken coop
Here are the girls drawing in the chicken coop with carpenter’s pencils

radishes
Zella with our first radish! We are like fraggles with the radishes.

More later, I hope.

Posted by: Michelle | May 31, 2009

birds in the bathroom

So my 6 ameraucana chickens have been living in my downstairs bathroom for the past 5 weeks; first in a fish tank, then in a bigger fish tank and now a ferret pen on the floor. Then I added two more chicks last week so they needed their own space and I set up the smaller fish tank brooder again. Yesterday I got two guinea fowl keets (straight run) and I put them in with the small chicks but the bigger chick really pecks on the guineas so I then moved the two chicks (who are totally bonded to each other and cannot be separated) into the big fish tank. Today I had to go back to the Agway/garden center to get supplies for having two brooders. Now my bathroom is completely full to bursting of birds.

The outside pen is done including the chicken wire on top to keep hawks out so the older pullets can be outside all day while we work as quickly as possible to finish the coop. Adam is taking two vacation days this month to finish it. I don’t think it will be finished though, there is still so much to do. I think it will be another two weekends on top of this week.

Posted by: Michelle | May 26, 2009

a wee little suburban farm

So much going on, don’t you hate when you forget to update the blog and then there’s sooo much to catch up on it doesn’t seem possible?

We suffer from terminal busy-ness. There is believe it or not still some moving left to do (a railer full of heavy stuff we need to find a space for or drag to the side of the road) but mostly we have settled in. I absolutely love living here, in this house and in this area in general. I never get tired of taking the girls out to places in the South Shore, sometimes we just drive up or down 3A and enjoy the river or ocean views. I love watching the girls play in their own yard and Zella has made a friend next door! I finally have all the things I have wanted for so long.

In April we got our Ameraucana chicks, six little girls, and they are still living in the bathroom now at almost 5 weeks old because we aren’t done with the chicken coop yet. Adam has been delayed on it because he developed a hernia and had to take it easy until his surgery last week, and now he is recovering. He still managed to put up the foundation, floor and two of the walls and today we made a chicken run, or outdoor pen for them – only the roof wire is needed. I decided we should pause on the coop so that at least the chickens could be outside during the day while we are still working on the coop. I expect it will be at least a couple more weeks of working in the evenings and all day each weekend before the coop is ready. At night I bring them back to their bathroom pen.

here is a picture of the coop when there was just one wall framed:

Here are my chickens as they look now, over a month old:

While I was making a run to the feed store to get a bigger waterer for them (I was still using the chick waterer, and they can barely fit their beaks in it now) and there were a bunch of chicks there, a load of barred rocks and random brown egg layers and then this one lone “feathered leg layer”. I couldn’t stand it, so I asked them to box up the feather-leg and since I can’t have just one chick in there I picked out a barred plymouth rock since I’ve always liked those. If I didn’t have 4 guinea fowl on order I wouldn’t have gotten more chicks but I figure since I need to set up the brooder again this week I may as well fill it – in for a penny in for a pound I always say.

While I was making this post Adam shouted to me that a TOAD had hopped in through the back hallway. I have no idea where he came from or how he got in but we think he may have been in the basement since he had icky carpet fibers wrapped around his leg and wrists. I tried to keep him in a bowl while I untangled him but those toads can really jump! I let him loose in my garden but I am sure he hopped down. My garden is a raised bed:

I just read my last post from march and I am rather shocked to discover that most of the things I planned doing have actually been done – I didn’t get the lilacs (and now they are out of bloom :^( ) nor the apple trees yet but the summer is young. I need to dig a hole where I want an apple tree, bury Milly’s placenta (it has been in the freezer for almost 2 years now) and let it rot down a bit before I plant over it. We also need a lawn mower to mow down the… whatever it is out there, a mixture of grass and odd “weeds” and other plants. Maybe next year we can haul in some top soil to cover the sandy areas and grow more of a lawn but I am just not up to it this year. There is still so much to do.

Milly is talking more and more each day, making little sentences that we at least can understand (“little baby bike”, “Evie gone” etc) and she is such a clown. Zella is busy reading Bellairs books, and playing games on her Facebook. They love playing in the yard but I took away their little lake by having the driveway resurfaced – less fun for them but far less laundry and mopping up for me to do.

I have been experimenting with letting the cats outside in our fenced yard but Grace has been bringing literally dozens of dead voles, shrews and mice into the house (and some alive ones) and she almost emptied a nest of little robin hatchlings – one was alive so I warmed it in my hands then spent the night feeding it mushed up bird pellets. In the morning I took it to the New England Wildlife center in Weymouth and then we sealed up the broken areas in the basement where the cats have been sneaking in and out. Now only Evie is allowed outside and only because she neither catches stuff nor cares to use a litter box.

Posted by: Michelle | March 21, 2009

resting

Life has been a constant, nonstop whirlwind of busy-ness and activity despite getting almost nothing done each day. We have been sick a lot, certainly in no small part due to our frantic rushing around and stressed out behavior. When I *thought* we were done moving, back in December, I had stuff pretty well under control but it turns out we didn’t actually finish moving by christmas so stuff has been trickling in since then. Despite an almost constant culling and flow of items to various charities, the mess has gotten so far ahead of me I wonder at times if I can ever dig my way out. Tonight while cooking some “grass-fed beef” burgers I got so disgusted with the mess I just started chucking out anything on the floor or on the counters, including a chocolate cake and a beach pail among other things. Then I started vacuuming and the meal got away from me. It was terrible, I don’t think anyone finished their burger but me.

When I was 25 or so I was living by myself in a 2 floor condo with various pets (including free range rats), taking 16 credits at college and attending frequent play practice for a production I was in and I still had lots of time to knit and read and dawdle hours away on the internet. I don’t know what it is that makes us so terminally busy but Adam comes home quite late every night, both kids trash the house every day and our business is booming and it is all I can do to manage the accounts for that. I have put in an ad for a babysitter and as usual there are LOADS of responses yet it is very difficult to actually pin anyone down. I have tried this many times in the past and despite always getting lots of responses I have never successfully hired anyone. There is a lot of phone tag, email tag, people dropping off the face of the earth and even no-shows. I hope this time to be able to get someone for 8 hours a week even though it will be an expense we have to really juggle to fit in to the budget. I took so much for granted when I was a kid, my paternal grandparents lived next door and they cared for me pretty much every day – feeding me, driving me to school, picking me up from school when I was sick, taking me to work when I got jobs, taking me with them shopping just for fun, etc. My mother never had to take me to a doctor appointment with her and I don’t think she ever had to take me grocery shopping either, my grandparents were always there. I slept over there a lot too. My parents had a lot of help in that respect so I was spoiled too, thinking that was the norm. In our house, it is me 24/7. When Adam comes home from work he might watch them so I can go to a quick grocery trip now and then and sometimes I can get him to clean up the dinner dishes but I have never had a babysitter and I don’t think we have gone out together more than one time (when Z was 18 months old and my parents came over) since we had kids. If I have a doctor appointment, most of the time I have to bring the kids along. I have a standing appointment each week and my dad comes for that but Zella is getting frustrated with him because he won’t let them play outside and he sleeps sitting in a chair the whole hour and 1/2 I am gone. It is just this kind of thing that *really* makes me miss my mom. I know she would help me as much as she could, and be happy to have time with the kids. It is still very difficult for me to see moms with their moms, sometimes I have to actually look away. Sometimes it is all I can do when I see a grandmother walking along with a toddler, not to cry. All my kids have is me. And let me tell you, I am not enough!

Adam has been and will continue to be very busy with our home business so it will be a challenge to get the garden going this spring. I have been waiting my whole life to have a yard of my own so this is a huge deal for me and I have a lot of work to do on it by myself. I have a stack of seed catalogs and at this rate I will need to actually schedule in a time to look over them, there is just not time in the day to do anything that isn’t maintaining the status quo. My plan is this weekend to get the ties for the raised beds, and the 32 (roughly) cubic feet of soil and compost to fill them. Also in my garden plans this year:

    3 apple trees, variety undecided
    berry bushes, likely in Zella’s fenced off garden
    a lilac hedge for privacy but also for OMG lilacs
    6 day-old chicks on order – Ameraucanas*
    4 day-old guinea fowl on order – pearl*
    a perennial planting around our new street number sign
    trailing roses for Zella’s arbor and the planned arbor in the breezeway
    a half-barrel planter on the other side of the driveway from the street number sign to mark the other side of our very difficult to find driveway
    remove dead trees and haul away

A lot to do in the next 6 weeks or so. I still don’t know what to do about the *chicken coop, I might wall off a portion of the garage/barn like these folks did, or I might try to build (or worst case, purchase) a free standing unit. Either way the property fence will need to be fortified – the yard is totally fenced in now but there are plenty of weak spots and gaps so I need to go over the whole yard with a tool belt and a roll of poultry mesh. Maybe I can use the dead trees as the sides of the raised beds for the berry bushes (they need special soil). My long term yard plans include a brick patio, various garden rooms, a little plastic/rock pond for Indian Runner ducks, a play structure, more fruit trees, a new porch off the master bedroom (ours is unusable, it sways) with arbor, and some sort of solution to the need for a four season harvest, such as a greenhouse or greenhouse addition. We also need to do something about the driveway but I don’t know what. Paving sounds so sterile and unattractive but the dirt thing simply isn’t working out.

Despite my frustration with the lack of help and our terminal busy-ness I *am* happy. My kids are wonderful little people and I enjoy being with them, I absolutely love owning a house and all it entails. I also love living in this area so much – I regret nothing. Gah, I had to go back to the old neighborhood to make a deposit in the bank and I could barely stand the traffic and everything, I couldn’t wait to get home again. I can’t say there is a single thing I miss about our old neighborhood. We do need to think about changing some things in our lives however, such as possibly moving Adam to a new employment closer to home. Hopefully the economy will stabilize and he can look for something less than an hour away. I have gotten everything else I have wanted, I can probably have this too if I am patient.

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