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Spring!

Yesterday was the first day that really felt like spring.  There have been several warm-ish days recently, but most of them were really gloomy and overcast, or even raining.  Yesterday, there was sun, and it was lovely.  We all spent the afternoon puttering outside, in our shirtsleeves, finally!

Splashing in Shirtsleeves!

M enjoying the warm weather and puddles.

 

Spring is the dingiest time here on the acreage, though.  Between the mud on the kids and the mud on the dogs, the house is never clean.  Melting snow reveals all sorts of garbage that has somehow collected over the winter, as well as all the fallen and broken branches taken down by wind and snow.  Things need picking up and organizing.

Spring!

The sandbox, and a lot of leaves that need cleaning up!

 

I dug out my pruning shears and cut back several shrubs, while the kids picked up garbage, and Trevor (Hubby) cleaned up old leaves that had collected in the strawberry beds and strung fence around the grapes to keep the dogs from digging them up.   Cherry the mastiff passed away last spring, and we got another rescue mastiff about a month later; Brutus is a great pet, but it turns out he likes to dig, especially around the foundation of the house, which is a bit of a pain, and we need to figure out ways to discourage that.

Brutus

Our ‘new’ mastiff

Dog holes

Brutus’ digging is a bit of a problem.

On the bright side, my chives are up already!  In the south bed, they are up several inches, and very green; in the east bed, they are shorter and yellow-er, but they are up there, too.  We got these plants from my Mom, when she was dividing her own clumps; all three of them have thrived, which is great, because there’s something special about fresh chives in your scrambled eggs, and with the increased daylight, the hens will be kicking it into high gear soon, and we’ll be eating egg everything shortly.

Chives

The chives on the east side of the house – less growth, but more photogenic, out of the afternoon sun!

It’s kind of exciting to be thinking about planting things again.  I spent my evening planting my seed starts – we’ll plant them out in the garden in the last week of May and first week of June.  I am trying something new this year – I desperately want to grow melons, but in zone 2, it has proven difficult (impossible, so far).  I know some people here are growing cantaloupes in high tunnels, but I haven’t had any luck with any melon so far.  Part of the issue is the short season, and melons don’t appreciate transplanting; it is not generally recommended to start the seeds at all, and especially not more than a couple of weeks before planting out.  However, I don’t think that gives them enough hot days to set and ripen fruit.  This year, I’ve planted half a dozen melons in 2 liter (2 quart) pots, in the hopes that they won’t get root bound in the 6-8 weeks before our last frost date.   We’ll see if it works or not!

 

Meanwhile, we’ve got tons more pruning to do.

Valiant grape in need of pruning

This Valiant grape (still dormant) is desperately in need of pruning!

On Cats and Skunks

When we first moved to the acreage, we got cats.  Well, we had some indoor only cats that came with us from Alberta, but we got some barn cats right away, as there had been a lot of grain storage on this place, which meant there were plenty of mice.  We started out with three barn cats through an SPCA program – Stevie, Bobby, and Molly.

Stevie

Stevie, the (late) Barn Cat

Bobby

Bobby the (former) Barn Cat

Molly

Molly, the (former) Barn Cat (when she was much, much skinnier!)

The cats did a great job of keeping the rodent population in check, and were fun companions while we were doing outside work.

 

Unfortunately, Stevie had to be put down, after we found him, paralyzed, in the hay stack.  We never did figure out what happened, but our best guess is that he tried to jump between bale stacks and missed.  The vets did their best, but were unable to fix him up.  We were pretty cut up about that.  There’s really no such thing as ‘only’ a barn cat around here – they’re all pets.

 

When we sold the goats in late 2015, the barn, which was not heated, got to be pretty cold, and we worried about Molly and Bobby out there.   We had always figured that all three of the barn cats had been somebody’s pets at some point – they were just too tame and friendly to be anything else.  We ended up deciding to try them in the house, to see if it would work out okay with the other house pets.  In the end, it went well enough, and Molly and Bobby moved indoors for good.

 

We ran into some problems in the spring of 2016, though – a couple of skunks started hanging around, and ended up getting into the chicken coop, killing several hens.  We’d never had an issue with skunks before, and were kind of surprised by the whole thing.  Later, though, in speaking to local farmers, we were told that 2015 and 2016 were both crazy years for skunks – one neighbor had shot over a dozen skunks in a one-month period in 2015, and almost as many in the month prior to our chicken incident.

 

We talked it over, and realized that, besides the goats, the only difference between spring, 2015 and spring 2016, for us, was the cats.  So we went back to the SPCA, and brought home a couple more bundles of joy – Oscar and Millie:

Oscar

Oscar the Barn Cat, who thinks he’s a dog!

Milly

Milly the (occasionally psycho) Barn Cat

Our assessment appears to have been right – that barn cats keep skunks away.  We haven’t seen or smelled one since we brought these two home, and this is the time of year we would expect to really start seeing them.  My theory is that cats and skunks occupy the same ecological niche, and that the cats, being territorial, won’t tolerate skunks in their home territory.   Or maybe the skunks don’t like the competition, and stay away.  Regardless, we’re relieved not to have any more skunk problems, and Oscar and Millie are doing a good job of keeping rodents under control, as well.   If you are running into issues with skunks, you might consider a barn cat or two!

 

 

It’s been a while!

Not *quite* two years, but close enough – yikes!

 

It has been a somewhat…eventful…couple of years, too.  Hubby went back to school to get some education in web development, and we had to sell the goats in order to find the time for him to work school in around acreage maintenance and childcare, but he got his certificate with high honors, and we’re casually looking at goats again.  I’ve had some health challenges, and have been trying to keep my graphic design / illustration business afloat through the crazy time challenges we’ve had.

 

On the bright side, we’ve continued expanding our knowledge and refining our garden, and the orchard is coming along nicely – we harvested a 5-gallon bucket of apples last fall, as well as crabapples, chokecherries, black and red currants, highbush cranberries, sour cherries, grapes, strawberries, and raspberries; we’re expecting the plums and pears to start bearing in the next couple of years, too.  We end up drowning in squash every fall, and I’m getting pretty good at inventing ways to eat them.

 

We’ve kept the chickens, too, and have added a few breeds to the roster.  We got Cochins last year, and we’re hoping that we’ll get some broody hens out of the deal, who will raise our chicks for us, and save us all the fussing with heat lamps and such.

 

I’ve got (yet another) ambitious order of trees coming for spring, and we’re looking at plowing up another garden bed, as we’re running out of room in the smaller one by the barn; I ordered some roses, too, to prettify the place, now that we have most of the fruit trees we really wanted.  Perhaps I will find some time to post about our growing, picking, cooking, and preserving again this summer!  Meanwhile, here is a little photo of the kids, who are also growing like weeds:

The kids, reading

I can’t believe I’ve got a child old enough to read!

 

The West is Burning

The other day, I was out playing with the goats (and with 9 kids so far, I’ve been doing a lot of that).  I looked up and saw smoke.  Lots of smoke.  I went running to see what was burning, and it was the field just across the road from us!

just across the road from our house

just across the road from our house

Now I understand that burning stubble is a long-standing practice, and probably locally common.  We haven’t seen much of it (or any, really) since we’ve been here; thinking about it now, that was probably because the fields were more or less underwater until past the ideal planting time, so burning wasn’t really an option. This year, we had less snow and an earlier spring, and everyone is burning their fields.   People know what to do, and the fires have been controlled, but boy, there’s been a lot of smoke.

stubble burning

It’s still really disconcerting when it’s right at your mailbox, too!

a little too close for comfort

a little too close for comfort

I was out in the windbreak along the driveway the other day, trimming and sawing down windfallen trees, and thinking.  You get to do a fair bit of thinking when you’re doing work like that, because it’s mostly just repetitive motion, using your muscles and leaving your brain free to idle.   I had a lot of sawing to do, and I was worried that I’d work myself so hard that I’d have trouble brushing my hair the next morning.  I was feeling just the teensiest bit sorry for myself, and thinking that an acreage has to be just about the world’s most expensive gym membership.

 

A lot of work

A lot of work!

Then I heard some noise above me, and looked up to see not one or two, nit even five or ten, but fourteen cranes flying overhead.    I sat in the grass and watched them fly for a while.

 

It might be an expensive gym membership, but having an acreage is also cheap therapy!

Before we settled down on the acreage with the chickens and goats, Hubby and I traveled.  We backpacked, separately before we met, then together, and tried out an all-inclusive once, too.   Between us, we’ve been to over a dozen countries on four continents.   We both love checking out other climates and cultures, preferably for at least a few weeks at a stretch.

 

Egyptian monument

 

About a year after settling the goats and chickens in, it hit us:  we were stuck.  My sister was planning a wedding, and we had no idea if we were going to be able to go.  We couldn’t just leave the critters for a two weeks while we traveled to her destination wedding, but we didn’t feel we could ask any of our neighbors to watch them, as the average age around here is approximately 75, and we haul water from the house to the barn twice a day.  Uh-oh.

 

We eventually found a paid farm sitter who was willing to come out to our place…for a price.  A high price.  A very high price.  In fact, our farm sitting cost almost as much as the rest of that trip put together, and the sitter was not as reliable as we would have liked…up to and including ignoring some of our instructions!   It was not at all a viable option over the long term.   So we have been limited to day trips or, at most, overnighters for quite a while – a couple of years, now – which really sucks for a couple of wannabe globe trotters.

 

Camels in Wadi Rum

 

I would guess that is why the majority of people who get into hobby goats get out again –  in about three years, if the stats are to be believed.

 

Not us, though.  We’ve found a stellar farm sitter (two of them, actually), who live relatively close, are physically able to take care of the critters, and who are trustworthy and reliable.  We’ve had them watch the place for a couple of days here and there, but we recently went away on a vacation for a couple of weeks, and left them in charge.  They dealt with unexpected inclement weather and a mass goat escape, and kept their good humour through it all…and the place was in great shape when we got home.  What a relief to know that we can schedule a holiday, or even go to a wedding or a funeral in another province, without having to worry about how to get the goats fed and watered while we’re away!

 

We have our freedom back now.  I’ve signed us up for a couple of last-minute travel discount websites, since we all have our passports, and our super-fab farm sitters are willing to come by on short notice.  Yay for us!  I just can’t emphasize enough how much freedom we suddenly have, or what a relief it is.  If you (like us) love to travel, make sure you have a realistic plan for how you’re going to take care of your critters when emergencies come up, or when the travel bug bites – it’ll save you a lot of money and heartache, and help you keep your sanity while you work on your homesteading dreams.

 

Sea Turtles in Hawaii

(We went to Hawaii.  Took the kids and Hubby’s parents.  Had a great time.  Would love to share some pictures, but WordPress is having a bad day, so perhaps in another post…)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apparently I can’t do it all.  Or at least not at the same time.  I know, amazing, huh?  I can’t count the number of times I’ve set out to write a post, but then getting sidetracked with photo editing, business issues, crying babies, goats, or a diaper blowout.  Unfortunately, in all of that, Rural Dreams is getting short shrift.  I’ll get back at it, I promise…eventually!

Meanwhile, some cuteness:

cute kids

more cuteness