Fall like a sparrow, fly like a dove

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I have a soft spot for pretty much all of God’s critters – although the spot for raccoons is growing more callous by the day. Ironically, while designing new defenses against the masked invaders that insist on using my barn as the world’s biggest toilet, I was able to help a distraught bird.

At first I thought a barn swallow was making a home in the garage. Unlike the coons, swallows are more than welcome in the barn. I love the way they dart around and the beat of their wings has a soft, comforting tone. However, as this bird started slamming into walls and doors, I realized it needed a help.

After exhausting itself I was able to simply bend down and pick it up. Upon further inspection, it was a little small for a swallow and lacked the forked tail. Furthermore, a barn swallow wouldn’t get trapped in a garage like that if their skills at navigating the barn are any indication. I think it was a Baird’s Sparrow.

Never the less, he stayed in my hand panting at first but seemed to relax after a bit. He was too exhausted to fly so I placed him on our wishing well. After a few minutes he regained his strength and took flight again. Godspeed little sparrow – leave the barn and garage exploration to the experts.

When the last rung isn’t high enough…

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When we first moved to the farm there were a lot of Do-It-Yourself type repairs by the previous owner. For example, the previous owner worked at the high school as a maintenance man, so when there were holes in the barn, he used old locker doors to patch them. He also must have drank a ton of coffee because there are flattened out coffee cans nailed to the barn. At first it caused giggles between us and our reaction was: “wow, what was this guy thinking.” However, the longer we are here, the more we find ourselves doing the same type of things. Yesterday was one of those days. Continue reading

Newly renovated bench cushion

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One of the last farm auctions of the season, and as Joe was off getting coffee, I bid $4 on a wooden bench and won. The bench came with a cushion with some very faded, well worn fabric that just had to go. Whippie! A new bench and a small project for me. Here is what I did:

Here is a before and after for ya.

And here is how I did it:

Supplies:

Laundry Line (for the piping)

Double sided sticky tape (made for sewing)

Fabric

Sewing machine and its necessities

Step 1: Make your piping. Measure the perimeter of the cushion and add a few extra inches. Cut your laundry line to that length. Then cut a 3inch strip of fabric to the necessary length. If you don’t have enough fabric, cut a few strips of fabric to make up the length. Next, lay your line in the center of your strips, fold over and pin. *Make sure you fold fabric over your line so the side you want to see is visible (not inside out).bench-6

Note: I originally made my piping with less than 2″ strip of fabric and regretted not having more fabric. You need a good lip on the fabric so you can sew it between the two pieces to make your cover.

Step 2: Cut two pieces of fabric to the size of your cushion, leaving at least an inch extra on each piece to account for the thickness of the cushion. This can easily vary depending on your cushion. My cushion was not very thick.

Step 3: Line up your two pieces of fabric with the pattern facing each other. Using your double sided tape, lay your piping along the edge of the fabric and pin. You want the flat part (the lip you left) to line up with the edge of your fabric so that the piping cord is inside your fabric sandwich.

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Step 4: Start sewing. Sew the perimeter of the the fabric (about an inch or so off  the edge), right up to the piping you placed. When you get about 6 inches from where you started, stop and turn your fabric inside out. You should have a big pillow sack.bench-4

Again, I left a fairly small opening and had to go back and tear out some stitches so I could get my cushion in.

Step 5: Roll up your cushion as tight as you can and insert it into your opening.

Step 6: Push the remaining piping in place and sew up the hole.

And there you have it. A revamped hallway bench for less than $10.

Bring back shop class

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We’ve sorely neglected our blog the past few weeks, mostly because we dove into renovating one of the upstairs bedrooms. The second story of our house has been basically closed off for two years, but with the family growing we’ve decided to start sprucing it up. It has had zero updates since the 1970’s – or at least nothing significant – so there is much to do.

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Like every project, one of the early steps was removing chains of florescent lights.

I will have a number of posts on this project when it’s done, but we’ve tackled too many different things to do one post. We’ve continued to struggle to find contractors, so even on the rare occasion when I realize a job is better left to the experts, calling one isn’t an option. In the meantime, the vast array of work we’ve taken on has had me thinking about a topic dear to my heart: the lack of skilled trades.

I think it’s certainly true that many in this country have come to view these once-sought-after jobs as the employment scraps leftover for those who can’t go to college. I know when I was growing up, that’s how middle-class suburban high schools pitched it.

That is a terrible shame because at the end of the day these jobs are often more important and even more complicated than many of the ones of college students end up with. Any successful economy needs men and women wearing blue and white collars, don’t get me wrong. What I take issue with is the notion that one is a better representation of success than the other.

Plumbers, electricians and carpenters provide the most essential work there is, and their jobs are no more likely to become automated than a CEOs. We need these people around and we should encourage ALL students to go after these jobs if they have an interest – even if they do score a 34 on their ACT. Shouldn’t your electrician be as smart as the guy deciding what Facebook ads you see? But, instead of listening to me on a soap box, just enjoy this curated content from AFV as proof we still need skilled tradesman. So far, our project is going better than these… so far.

Growing season is just around the corner

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As soon as the holidays ended it started…the influx of seed catalogs!! It was also negative temperatures with hardly any sun as we were being bombarded to jump start our spring planting. But hey, its better than Christmas in July. Continue reading

Mid winter buzz…

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The bees! I always forget about the bees when people ask what we have going on at the farm. Especially this time of year when they are hibernating. So here is an update on the bees.

As you may remember, we had a few fits of panic and unanswered questions this summer with our hive. We thought we lost our queen, then we got a new one, then we found hive beetles and mites… All said and done, our colony did not produce an excess amount of honey that we felt comfortable harvesting from them. Therefore, we left the hive as is and prepared it for winter.

Since we were still uncertain about our queen status, since we still didn’t see any new larva in the hive, we decided to do everything we could to keep this colony of bees alive through the winter and hope that come Spring, they will start thriving on their own. We started by feeding them extra sugar water as Fall approached. This is just a 1:1 ratio of sugar and water in a mason jar turned upside down with holes poked in it.jar

This is a great easy way to supply your bees with extra food, however, as the weather turned and the temperatures dropped, well water freezes. Therefore, we switched to hard candy. It takes only minutes to make this mixture up of sugar, vinegar and water to bring it to a boil, but it takes many weeks for the mixture to harden. I followed honeybeesuite.com’s how to, found here  on how to make the hard candy.

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So we put one plate full of hard candy in the hive stuffed the extra space with paper and covered it up for the winter. I wrapped the hive in roofing tar paper and stapled it to the hive to keep wind, moisture and drafts out of the hive. Done, hive is winterized.

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You really want to leave them bee for the winter as much as possible. Only check on them on the warmest days. They do a good job of producing heat and every time you open the hive up it releases all that heat they have spent generating.

Since we went the extra effort to feed them I wanted to make sure they still had something to munch on this winter and decided to check on them. I only lifted the lid took a quick peek to make sure they had enough food and quickly closed it. I saw a bunch of slow moving bees near the top and only a small chunk of the candy gone. Both of which I took as a good sign. They hadn’t munched through the hard candy much so that tells me they had enough honey in the hive to be satisfied. I could hear the bees, and see that they were alive, so again, a great sign. I did see one or two that decided to climb up the paper I stuffed in for insulation and met their fate with the cold temperatures of Wisconsin. I suppose a few casualties is alright, if they were dumb enough to leave their warm hive then we don’t want them in our colony.

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Good luck little honey bees! See you in a few months!

Spock and the honey bees

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Walking around the farm today, I saw a sorry sight. A honey bee in an icy tomb. Kate fed the bees the other day and I assume one felt the warmth of the sun and left the hive on a flight more doomed than that of Icarus. The air in Wisconsin in winter is no place for a honey bee.

honey bee in the snow

 

What struck me about the sadness of seeing the bee is that I’ll admit most my concern about their collective well being this winter is that bees are freakin’ expensive. They didn’t give us any honey this year and while I’m eager to try again, I want to do it with our current colony.

Upon seeing the bee I instantly thought of the wise and logical Spock from Star Trek. Let me change tack for a minute and add I’m not much of a Star Trek fan. I was always much more of a TNG fan and frankly I can’t stand William Shatner. However, we don’t have cable, and antenna TV nowadays is mostly MASH, Mary Tyler Moore and a host of other shows from the 60s and 70s. So, I’ve been watching some TOS lately when I find myself in front of the tube.

Last week I caught a bit of an episode where Spock has sensed the complete destruction of a Vulcan starship. McCoy accepts that Vulcans can sense the life force of someone they’ve been in close contact with, but he scoffs at the idea that Spock could “personally” feel the sorrow of such a large number of Vulcan dying.

 

Dr. McCoy: But, 400 Vulcans?

Mr. Spock: I’ve noticed that about your people, Doctor. You find it easier to understand the death of one than the death of a million. You speak about the objective hardness of the Vulcan heart, yet how little room there seems to be in yours.

Dr. McCoy: Suffer the death of thy neighbor, eh, Spock? Now, you wouldn’t wish that on us, would you?

Mr. Spock: It might have rendered your history a bit less bloody.

I hope this post was interesting… it made sense this afternoon but I’m a little loopy from a head cold. I know Spock was known for being logical – something I’m rarely guilty of. So, it’s possible I’ve totally confused what he was explaining to McCoy. Still, I guess when I talk cavalier about the life of our hive, I’ll remember the sadness of a single lost bee in a pile of snow.

 

 

Stalls in the barn

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We finally added some stalls to our goat barn. Kate came up with the basic design and I sort of pieced it together in late October. It’s two stalls and a corral, built with treated 4x6s and 2x8s for the sides. I’d say both stalls are big enough for a horse, although one is pushing the limits. It’d be fine for a large horse that’s lame and needs to be rested for a few days, but long term it might be cramped.

The sheep currently occupy the stalls and buying a horse is certainly not on our to-do list, so I think they’ll serve us well. Goats or pigs are more likely tenants than horses for now. I’m not sure this really requires a step-by-step. It’s two squares framed off of the barn walls so everyone’s would be slightly different depending on the dimensions of your pole barn.  But here’s a few tips and “how I did-its.”stalls

The labor was intensive… I set the posts using a hand auger. It went through the gravel bottom OK, but after drilling over 10 of them, I’ll admit I was pooped.

Things got a little tricky because of the concrete foundation, so I did get a little creative in a few spots. Personally, I’m most proud of the gates, which I built from scratch out of 2x4s. I used deck screws in pocket holes to frame them out and covered with 2x6s. They’re surprising light and function well. If I can find the photos, I will do a step-by-step on the gates. The design would work for fences, decks, etc.

I really enjoyed this project, as I always do when I get to try my hand at carpentry. I kick myself I didn’t pursue carpentry as a career, I enjoy it more than anything else in the world. Maybe someday. Luckily there is plenty of it to do around here for now. I finished the two 10’x10′ stalls and will finish the smaller pens this spring/summer. But for now, here is a glance at our new stalls and happy sheep!

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A Little Christmas Humor To You

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Every year I try to do a Christmas card that is a bit wacky and fun, since that’s what I consider us to be. It started with the first year we lived here with the chickens. I tried desperately to get tiny Santa hats on the chickens for their photo shoot, but as you can imagine, that did not go well. I managed to get one on and they just thought chasing that chicken around to pull the hat off was the best game ever. So I resorted to some very unskilled Photoshop and came up with the card below. It was a hit.file__storage_extsdcard_dcim_camera_20161222_081034 Continue reading