Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Pruning the apple trees

Have you ever pruned a fruit tree? I haven't. Okay, hadn't because I can no longer say I've never done it. Previously I was too afraid to do it. You bring home a tree, carefully plant it, water the hell out of it  despite the fact that you have to carry the water by the bucket since you have no garden hose up there, and then hope that it makes it through the first year. 

And if it does, you're now supposed to cut it. And the advice on how to do that is extensive, full of dire warnings, and often contradictory. 

Getting stressed. Need a minute. Let's look at a tree in bloom.
My sour cherry in bloom. Ahhh.
Okay, so I found this advice and decided to follow it. Why? Because. So there.

It's based on the book "Grow a Little Tree" by Ann Ralph. Sounds good - I mean, I want little trees that produce good quantities of fruit, right? So I get the book from the library, see that she's based her pruning technique on lots of research, extensive field testing, and successful results. Great! And then she tells me to cut the tree off at the knees. My knees. I'm 5'2". That's quite a cut.

Need another break!
Oooh, butterfly!
So I girded my loins, grabbed my pruning shears and loppers, and did it.

OMG. OMG. After.
You guessed it: after.
The most dramatic (and traumatic) cut was the first one on the Golden Delicious. This is the tree that actually produced an apple last year. The only fruitful tree and I've now hacked it in half. But, if this actually works, I'll have trees that I can harvest without needing a ladder. Trees that are manageable, have fewer but larger apples, and that I can take care of by following some pretty simple guidelines. 

Assuming I haven't just killed them of course.

And since I really don't want to end on such a solemn note, here's Cooper and the new chickens, getting to know each other through the safety of the (new!) fence. Updates on the fence soon.


Monday, June 18, 2018

Bringing home cats

When we lost T'bd to a predator last summer we really struggled with the idea of getting another cat. But she was more than just a pet - she was an important part of the homestead. Specifically, she was an excellent mouser (and moler, and chipmunker, and unfortunately, birder). But since we didn't want to risk losing another cat, we held off. And then the mice moved in. Now, Cooper is an excellent mouse killer. But she doesn't have the patience of a cat. She's more a "see it move and kill it quick" kind of hunter. So we decided to get a couple kittens and have them be indoor only cats. Solve the mouse problem and solve the predator problem, right? Nope. Turns out Chris's allergies, which are fine with the indoor/outdoor variety of cat, went into hyper drive with permanently indoor cats. So we needed cats that were familiar with outdoor life but that we could train to come in at night. Enter a local shelter's barn cat program. 

After some discussion, two cats - a 1-year old gray male and a 3-year old spotted male - came to the house. Chris immediately renamed them.
Meet Cat King Kole
And Satchmo (and notice Cole in the background)
After a week of separation and gradual introduction to the dog (see the baby gate?) we integrated them into the household. This method worked beautifully. Of course, it helps enormously that Cooper is just a great dog.
After a couple weeks of being indoors so that they would imprint on us, we let them into the great outdoors.
On the porch, under the bed 
"It's scary out there"
It didn't take long for Satchmo to fully embrace the wild.
He's right in the middle of the photo.
And he also embraced the dog. He looks scared in the photo below, doesn't he? Nope, two seconds after the shutter clicked he was running full tilt after the dog. They play chase, and Satchmo is typically the one doing the chasing.
Fast dog
Cole, the older cat, isn't as sure about this whole "outdoor" thing. Best guess is that he was a city cat, not a woods cat. He was very offended by the grass and spent a lot of energy making sure none of it touched his paws. Porch to rock patio to rock path to landscape timbers, okay. Grass, no.

Their favorite place is definitely inside though. And they play with anything. Including baseballs and softballs. These are big cats! Cole weighs in at 13 pounds and Satchmo is nearly 11 (admittedly, his weight is a bit of fat). 

Killing slippers and baseballs, of course
 They are kings of all they survey.

I'm extremely happy to report that it has been easy to get them in at night (so far). They come in on their own around 7:30, have their 8 o'clock freak out, and go to bed at 9. They sleep in the laundry room and get a final meal to put them to bed each night. I'd had doubts that we'd be able to get them to come inside easily, but I'm hopeful this trend will continue. Oh! and I'm also happy to say that Satchmo is fulfilling expectations on the hunting front - he's already killed two chipmunks. And he and Cooper show signs of being willing to hunt together. Nice!

Friday, June 15, 2018

The new chickens

I brought home the new batch of chickens on April 21st. I purchased them at Tractor Supply and they were roughly a week old. Hard to tell since they just kinda jumble them all together, but that's the best estimate we got.

We set them up in our big dog kennel placed in the utility room so they'd be warm. April weather is always unpredictable and this year was very cold out so I didn't want to put them up in the coop yet despite the fact that it's got power for the heat lamp. I just felt more comfortable having them in the house where I could keep an eye on them. This only worked because we didn't have cats at this point. Not sure what I'll do next time...

Welcome home
Cooper is extremely good with chickens. Not quite as good with chicks - they move too much like prey. So she was carefully supervised as we introduced them to her.
One very interested dog
 They're so little! And apparently, tired.
Boom, asleep.
The heat lamp provides a hot spot of around 95 degrees week 1 then you keep adjusting it 5 degrees downward each week of age. The thermometer was critical for tracking temperature and I raised / lowered the lamp depending on what they needed.
Comfortable arrangement, not too piled up, not too scattered
 They were wonderfully active little buggers.
Time stamp: 09:03:39
Who fell asleep at the drop of a hat.
Time stamp: 09:03:50
The grew up so quick!
One week later
And it didn't take long before they were trying to jump out of the kennel. An old window screen solved that issue.
Just over 3 weeks old
With the planned arrival of the new cats (and with warmer weather) I moved them out to the coop at about 4 weeks of age. The heat lamp is still be available to create a hot spot and they have the whole coop to explore, a big improvement in space over the kennel.

Bravely leaving the box
Didn't take long for them to leave the box and start to explore the new area. Lots of running from one side of the coop to the other.
Definitely a flock
Settling right in
Several weeks later, they're much bigger and have totally claimed the coop. Unfortunately they also decided that the nest boxes were awesome places to nap. That's a no-no. I've since covered the nest box opening with fabric so they can't get in there. When they're closet to 25 weeks of age and getting ready to lay, I'll open the boxes back up and put the golf balls in there as a lure. Worked great last time.
But we like it in here.
Probably aught to mention what type of birds I got. Three are Buff Orpingtons and three are Black Sex-Linked defined as a cross between Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks. Both types of bird are known as dual-purpose birds which means they are good egg-layers while still maintaining size/weight for eating. The plan, just as with my last birds, is to keep them for egg production a couple years and then harvest for meat. This time avoiding the fox, obviously. 

The birds are now about 8 weeks old and I'm getting gorgeous color variation on the Blacks, as you can see above. Can't wait to see what they look like when fully grown.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The answer to the question "what to do with all the books?"

When I designed the house I made a rather large error - I forgot to build in space for our books. Now, for some folks that wouldn't be a big deal. For us? A pretty major oversight. Nowadays most of our books are purchased as e-books but we still have many, many physical books that we frequently re-read. So we needed a spot for them. Last fall when I installed the hardwood flooring and then trimmed the rooms, we also build some bookshelf molding in the studio. Now that the bathroom was finished and I was trying to get more of the books put away, I decided it would work in the bedroom too. So, another 20 linear feet of bookshelf went up. 

The shelf sits on a small sill that is screwed to studs. Then hooks are strategically spaced in studs and the shelf front is tied to the hooks with rope. Kinda cool really.

Attaching the rope (and look - slippers!)
The sill
Sections of shelf; see the rope supports?
Many, many books
And many more books
Yes, you need a step ladder to get down a book. I'm short - I need a step ladder to reach just about anything in the house anyway so this is no issue for me. And we now have all the books out where we can see the spines instead of stacked and stored in boxes. Much better.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Volunteering in Puerto Rico

There was a tremendous amount of devastation when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Many people sent donations of money, goods, and their own time to aid those effected. Unfortunately, there is still so very much that needs to be done. One of the blogs I follow, www.jennifermurch.com went down with her entire family to rebuild a house. I was so amazed at the energy and commitment required to take 4 months of their life (and all four of their kids) to restore the home of a person they'd never met.

And then she called for volunteers. I mentioned it to Chris on a Saturday, he thought about it for a day, filled out the application Monday, was accepted by Wednesday and BOOM! by the next Saturday he'd left for San Juan.

The reception he received was warm and energetic. Hopefully you followed the link to get the story about the woman whose home was to be rebuilt. Chris says she lost everything right down to the chickens.

I have no pictures to share as Chris was too busy doing stuff to take any. Fortunately Jennifer captured the energy, and the dirt, for us.

Energy boost

Chris is home now and sleeping off the travel fugue. He says it was an amazing experience.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Upstairs bathroom finished

The upstairs bathroom is finished! Actually, it's been finished for about a month but I've finally taken photos. Oh well, better late than never, right?

While finishing the bathroom we also finished the trim throughout the upstairs so lots got done all at once. Nice!

Racks in the shower
We bought an inexpensive hollow-core door and I painted it with an interesting blue / blue-gray wash effect. Love pocket doors since they take no swing-space but hate those little metal pull tabs that are typically installed. Anyone else have a terrible time with those? And I've got little fingers; I have no idea how people with large hands grasp those things. So I decided to forgo the pull tab and put on a leather strap instead. It's soft enough that it crushes when the door is fully closed but hangs out enough it's easy to grab. Win.
Using the leather punch to create a screw hole
And here are the finished photos:
Cabinet and trim (mirror temporary)
Window trim 
The "closet"
From the dressing room
Totally love the tile rug
Feels great to be finished and it's wonderful to have a functioning bathroom upstairs now. Plus this means we can finally install the soaking tub in the downstairs bath. Woot!