Sunday, December 23, 2018

Blog Binge - Picking Up Where We Left Off

Poor neglected blog.  Why haven't I posted?  No valid excuse like a long illness or sinister reason like being in jail.  Summer just got real busy and I fell out of the habit and so here we are - months of things to catch up on.  Although I didn't blog, I did take pictures so if I can remember what they are........

First up - Julie and I trekked to Kentucky to visit thecrazysheeplady at Equinox Farm.  It's a vacation for us although our 'men folk' back home have extra work with our various creatures.  Maybe the resultant peace and quiet is a good trade off for them.  ;-)

This was the maiden voyage for my new truck!  The big Dodge was retired and traded in on this new Toyota Tacoma.  This seems to be the only brand and model on the face of the Earth with a manual transmission, four wheel drive and a six foot bed.  We've never had a Toyota but was willing to try.  As I write this five months after the purchase I can say that we're hugely impressed and very happy with this vehicle.  And Andy was NOT happy with this picture - the angle makes him look like a bent old man and that ain't the case.  ;-)

Kentucky was plenty hot which suited me just fine.  One of the fun (for me) things we did was put on bee suits and check on the health of neighbor Stella's beehive.

Miss Stella, surveying the situation

Someone else was keeping a close eye on the goings-on, too.  You never can tell when something might need to be herded on a moment's notice.

Julie took pictures with my camera so there aren't any close-ups, but basically the hive was OK except for an infestation of tiny, tiny ants under the lid of the beehive and the bees were really angry about it.  

After Sara took the lid off we could see the ants and brushed off as many as we could find on the underside of the lid and the top edge of the frame.  They seemed to only be under the lid, not down inside the hive.  The bees calmed down a good bit after that.

We took the upper box off and set it aside as not much was going on there.  The next level down had some frames with honey.

The bees seemed busy and present in good quantity.  Sara felt things were going well in the hive and we put everything back together.  I found it very interesting and something that would be fun to do.....someday when I don't have fifty other fun things pending.  ;-)

We spent some time refining Sara's monarch butterfly nursery set up, collecting more caterpillars from the wild,  releasing butterflies that had hatched (The proper term for that is 'eclosed'.  There, that's a thing you know now.) and trying to take pictures of the stages along the way.  She put up several really good pictures on her blog.

Poor Kate found it dreadfully boring.

It did rain off and on most days so setting the adult butterflies free was dependent on when the sun came out.  The sheep didn't care for the rain either and most of the flock spent a lot of time in the barn under the big fans but Rocky and Jared, two retired (and neutered)  breeding rams originally from our farm, didn't care if they got wet and were often the only two sheep out grazing.

When we did get an opportunity to let butterflies go, they usually went up into a tree to rest and adjust to their new reality.  One has to wonder whether they remember being a caterpillar and have to wrap their mind around now being different than they were.  Or maybe they don't remember what happened to them two seconds ago and suffer no existential crisis over their changed condition.  They do remember how to get back to where they hatched after wintering in Mexico.....  Hmm, so many mysteries.

We had the good fortune to visit when Sara and Stella were celebrating their birthdays (momentous numbers for both) and so naturally there had to be a party.  And because the forecast was for rain it was planned for the barn.

"A party??  Gladys, that usually means cookies!"

"Did somebody say 'cookies' ?

 "Cookies?  Meh.  I do not care for cookies."

 "But Cheerios........if there were to be Cheerios..........  "

"Um, I like cookies AND Cheerios.  Just so you know."

 "I'm not really sure if I want you to throw me a party."

"Wait - what do you mean the party's NOT for me?  It should be."

The party was grand, with lots of food and friends and cake.  It did rain so being in the barn was smart although Gladys went to bed before it ended.

By the time Sara gave everyone a last scritch before bed the clouds had rolled back to show a full moon.

"I'm in bed and I'm not getting up, even for scritches."

"Us neither."

"Did somebody say 'scritches'?"

Everybody who wanted petting got some quality time.

Woody came from our farm and spent some time with me getting reacquainted.

Talk about leaving an impression on someone.  He was damp, leaned against me and left this pattern on my jeans.

Jared has revealed himself as a lover at heart and seeks attention when ever possible.  The photo is unfortunately blurry but it shows his sweet nature.  I'm so glad he and so many others have landed with Sara.

The next day was sunny.  And hot.  And humid.  These butterflies were 'mud-puddling' at the foot of Stella's driveway.  There's a monarch - maybe one that Sara raised.

And this pretty one was by itself.

We took Stella on a little tour in The Unit to check the cattle behind her property, look at some barn renovations and just see what the neighbors were up to.  ;-)

The neighbor's horse enjoyed some watermelon rind from Julie as a treat.

The cattle were about as comfortable as anyone could be.  All they lacked were beach chairs and a cooler of adult beverages.

On the way back Sara stopped to snap the farm from the perspective of Stella's yard.  We'll call this 'Girl with camera looking home'.

All too soon it was time to head back to New York.  One last breakfast on the porch with everyone.  (Dreadful picture through the screen door, but that's Tilly, Comby and Gladys companionably sharing kibble).

The flock was out grazing.......

..... and Betsy waited to say goodbye.

"So long, hoomans!"

So long, Betsy.  See you next year!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

More Livestock

It's that time of year around here - Monarch butterflies are in the air although not in the numbers I remember from years ago.  Their population has been in decline for some time and apparently there are people - legions of them - who work to help Nature by raising the caterpillars and releasing the adult butterflies.  My friend Amy the Fibergoddess from Stone Edge Fibers collects young ones and raises them every year and she inspired me to do the same.  (She also pointed me to a great facebook group - Raising Monarch Butterflies.)

We have an abundance of milkweed and it's actually an invasive weed that farmers try to keep out of their crops.  Not only does it spread by the pretty, fluffy parachute-like seeds that the wind carries but roots send up new shoots and can remain viable underground even after some herbicides have been used in an area.  We see it growing on the edges of fields and in fence rows and have several large islands of it that have sprung back with vigor in alfalfa that was cut in June.

Mortality in the caterpillars in the wild is pretty high.  Despite being nasty tasting, which is supposed to discourage birds, they are preyed on by other insects and are subject to viral and bacterial diseases just like all other living things.  Caterpillars fend for themselves so taking them from the wild and raising them to adulthood doesn't interfere with any family/pack/flock social structure.

I carried a small Tupperware container with me while walking Holly and found several to adopt!  The bigger ones were set up in an empty plastic dog biscuit container with the lid altered to have mesh on top.  I broke the tops out of some plants in the field and stood them upright in the container.  Everyone seemed very content.

I also found an egg on the underside of a milkweed leaf.  They are very small - the size of a grain of salt but smooth and barrel shaped.  I put the leaf and a couple very small caterpillars (cats, as the 'professionals' call them) in a Tupperware container with the lid snapped on.  Opening it a few times a day gives the littlest ones sufficient fresh air and also keeps the humidity up for them.  In just a couple of days the egg hatched.  That's the newly hatched 'cat', on the leaf below 'Liberty'.

I put the containers on the sill of a north facing window.  They need light but I didn't want to put them in direct sunlight.  At night they go into the breezeway which is a secure 'cat free' zone (Real cats!) so mayhem doesn't occur.  I put sticky notes on the lids to remind myself how many residents each container holds.

It didn't take but a couple of days and the largest ones were looking for a spot to make a chrysalis.  I moved them to a larger container with mesh over the top.  They promptly crawled up there and made the change.  Tactical error on my part - now it's hard to move the mesh top without disturbing them.  Live and learn.

As other cats matured and started looking for a place to make the change I let them stay in the container they were housed in until they picked a leaf to stick to.  Then I plucked the leaf and clipped it to a bare branch I had set in the big container.

Once they pick their spot and make a "J" I'm certain they will stay put and change.

By this morning I was up to ten chrysalis in the big tub and the very first, oldest one (about 2 weeks old at this point - note to self, keep better track of how many days the various stages take) had turned clear and I could see the black and orange of body and wings, albeit all scrunched up.  By afternoon the butterfly was out!

After letting it rest and stretch I moved it - him, it's a male - to a goldenglow blossom to finish his butterfly exercises.

At the moment I have nine more in chrysalis, three mid-sized cats and three eggs that I just found today.  Reading some of the facebook posts about things that can go wrong with them is dismaying but so far they all seem to be developing normally and it's satisfying to see the milkweed leaves being devoured and the caterpillars growing.  I can manage a seasonal increase in the livestock around here when there's a happy set-you-free ending!  And maybe it will help them recover just a little.

Sunday, July 22, 2018


The old locust tree by the front door has been a source of worry for some years and we considered having it topped a few years ago when the others around the house were done.  We I was too sad to think of all of them being reduced so much so we didn't trim that one.  This spring we revisited the idea.  The honey bees hadn't survived the winter and it seemed like a good time to bite the bullet and do it.  We called our tree guy but he didn't get back to us and we let is slide.  Then new bees moved in to the tree and we didn't press the matter. 

Last night a storm front came in with wind and rain.  Early this morning, after hearing a gawd-awful WHUMP we looked out the front door at this.

The rain system came in on an east wind which is unusual for the summer when the tree is fully leafed out.  Wind plus wet leaves plus age equals destruction.  How bad would it be when we really went out to look?

The broken section miraculously fell exactly in the only place it could and not cause major damage - squarely in the narrow area between the house and garage.

It did break a modest branch off the flowering crab next to the garage but it never touched the nice wind chimes that were a gift just recently.

Quite the mess.

It was literally half the tree and nothing we were going to clean up in a few minutes.

Also, a very large limb was teetering on the edge of the upper storey roof but we weren't about to try to get it off in the wind and rain.  You can just see the broken stub of it superimposed over the vertical trunk of the standing tree.

What about the bees?

The front of the tree looks pretty damaged but the crease where they fly in and out wasn't much affected.  There were a few bees walking on the trunk but it was raining and barely sixty degrees so one would hope the quiet normal behavior meant no big disturbance in their world.

Sometime during the morning while we were doing other things the big branch took itself off the roof and somehow rolled or twisted out and away from the house and windows.  Again, there was an amazing lack of damage.  Even my garden gargoyle suffered no harm despite the tree trunk coming to rest just nudging his wings.  I think he should have had his hands over his head at this point.

The afternoon brought sun and a chance to clean up.  We still marvel at how the tree missed everything important.

Andy nibbled away the leafy branches first with the chainsaw and I pulled them away into a big pile for removal later.  Once he could reach it, Andy got the tractor bucket under the broken trunk and lifted/pulled it off the porch railing and could cut it loose from the standing tree.

Once the sun came out and the air warmed up the bees became very active and worked busily going to and fro as though nothing had happened.

Our friend, Red, came over and helped and it really went very quickly.

The profile of the yard is quite different and it will likely change again soon.  Our tree trimmer got another call from us today and he was here this evening to look over the situation.  He doesn't see a problem with topping the remaining tree and will get to us as soon as possible.  For now the tree looks like this.

And we are counting our blessings!