Tuesday, June 28, 2011

It's Summer! But the Livin' Is Anything But Easy

Everything seems to come at once on the farm, especially this time of year when the weather has finally warmed.

With the garden tilled... and retilled... and retilled... I wanted to plant on Sunday. But the peacock is at large and cannot be corralled because his pen is housing turkeys, with whom he will do battle. The peacock loves when I plant the garden. He goes right along behind unplanting it. Last year I eventually put netting over the entire garden to keep him out... after he'd eaten all the watermelon seeds and most of the squash.

We took the netting down over winter to keep snow from destroying it. This year, the garden is on the opposite side of our two-sided garden/chicken yard. (One year the chickens eat up all the insects and fertilize one side while we garden on the other side. Next year the situation is reversed.) So this year I needed to put net-fastening nails all along the top of the garden fence where no netting had been last year. I also had to prune back the over-exuberant apple tree and various ornamental vines that crawl over the chicken house and fig tree and hang into the garden. Then Johnny helped me stretch the netting over the whole thing. At last I was able to safely plant corn, beans, melons, and more.

A crow sat in a nearby tree and complained the entire time I planted my summer garden seeds. Numerous birds flew over the netting, circled, and then flew off. I'm sure they're all disgusted. I, on the other hand, am mightily pleased.

But I had no time to sit around and admire the planted rows, safe below the netting high above. A neighbor will soon be cutting two of our fields for hay. It's been many years since I've had few enough animals eating grass to allow some of it to be cut for hay. It will be nice to have our own hay again, full of birdsfoot trefoil which is the goats' favorite food. But the big flatbed hay trailer we need for hauling the bales out of the field has been full of barkdust for months, waiting for me to renew our barkdust paths with it.

It's a lot of work shoveling barkdust into a wheelbarrow and dumping it along our long, long paths from barn to house to shop. And I hate using a noisy, smelly tractor. So today I used the EZ-Go electric golf cart we bought used (very used) a few months ago. It is blissfully quiet. All I could hear were bird songs... and a baby goat crying because the others were out grazing and he didn't have the smarts to follow them. Then McCoy dog howled because the kid was crying. The goats eventually ran back into the barn, but later went out and the whole scenario happened again: kid cried/dog howled/goats ran back/goats wandered out/kid cried/dog howled/etc. But other than that, it was quiet.

That little golf cart has been a blessing for Johnny while he was unable to walk very far without pain. And I've used it to haul off my garden weedings. Unloading it is a snap. I put three empty feed sacks in the bottom, pile my weedings or barkdust or whatever on top, then pull the sacks out when I get to my destination. The sacks slip right out of the plastic bed with no effort at all.

Johnny took photos of me loading up the EZ-Go to prove he wasn't violating his post-surgery restrictions by doing it. So I took a photo of the new milk room cabinets he painted while I shoveled bark dust. The cabinet man is coming Thursday to install the counter top and cabinets. The trim needed to get painted before then. As I said, everything happens at once around here.

The paths are renewed but there is still a lot of bark dust on the hay trailer. The rest will get piled in a heap to be used for future goat pen renewals when I get around to cleaning goat pens. Hay can't be cut until we have four good days of no rain in the forecast so I still have time to unload the rest of the bark dust. And then will be the challenge of bringing in the hay. Never a dull moment on the farm.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Until last week, I thought a BLT was my favorite sandwich: bacon, lettuce and tomato. Now I've learned what anyone who has ever had spinal surgery knows, BLT stands for No Bending, Lifting or Twisting. Johnny is on BLT restrictions since his back surgery last Tuesday.

The instructions from the hospital say no lifting of anything over 5 pounds, but Dr. Tatsumi says lift nothing heavier than a coffee cup. Johnny jokes (I hope he's joking) that he can lift as many objects as he likes if they are no more than 5 pounds each. Wrong, dear. When he lifts something that I holler at him for, he insists that it weighs exactly 4.9 pounds. We seem to have an amazing number of objects around this farm that weigh exactly 4.9 pounds.

Johnny is having a hard time with BLT.

For one thing, he has never been able to (or so he says), bend his knees keeping his back straight as the illustrations in the hospital booklet insist he must. He's trying, but not often succeeding. Johnny is, however, learning to get into a car "the girly way": sitting and swinging one leg in, then the other, keeping back and butt aligned.

Although the pain is gone, Johnny has some numbness in his foot and tingling in his leg yet, and a lot of stiffness, which we understand is to be expected. What we didn't expect is the monumental bruise on his butt, far below the incision. I researched on the web and strange bruises seem to be common in spinal surgeries. "What do they do back there?" complained one bruised surgery survivor on a spinal forum. It does make one wonder. Apparently there are some little unhappy blood vessels at the base of Johnny's spine, but the bruise does seem to be dissipating and turning from purple to yellow. I think that's a good sign.

Since Johnny cannot see his incision or his bruised butt, I've been taking photos of them daily for him. No, I will not post a photo of his bruise here, but I can't resist posting my first attempt at rebandaging his incision after he showered. I think I did a heckuva good job. The second attempt was not quite so perfect. But after two weeks of this, I bet I'll be a pro.

I can't resist posting an incision photo, too. These staples are self-dissolving they say. (Amendment: the inside stitches were self-dissolving. These outer ones the doc pulled out at the two week post-op appointment.) The incision is only about 2 inches long. Johnny's first surgery in that same location, 40 plus years ago, was more like 6 inches long. Apparently, they ripped out more than disk pieces in that long-ago surgery as Dr. Tatsumi says they mangled the nerve in the process. So instead of taking out the whole disk and replacing it, as planned, Dr. Tatsumi just took out the half that was bulging in and pressing on the nerve. The other half was adhered to nerve fibers. It will have to stay put.

Once Johnny is off his BLT restrictions, we are going to have a BLT party... with bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. That seems an appropriate way to celebrate.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Johnny the Wunderkind

In an attempt to do everything possible before Johnny's back surgery next Tuesday, I have exhausted myself and apparently energized Johnny. He is out washing cars after our Breeding Bird Survey this weekend. I am too tired to do anything more than enter our data into the computer.

On Thursday last, we had a long day at the coast of monitoring Black Oystercatchers. Johnny stayed in the car, as usual since his back has been troublesome, while I hiked The Thumb at Road's End... and discovered that the Middle Nest has hatchlings in it. Cool! We then went to Neskowin and plunked ourselves down in the sun to wait for action on the offshore rock that I'd become convinced has nesting Black Oystercatchers, even if no one could find them. With the help of my new 60X spotting scope, Johnny found a BLOY, definitely on a nest, on top of the rock. As you can see from the photo he took with his new Father's Day camera, you'd need a good scope to see a little black bird on this rock.

After finding the nest, we called the surveyor for that area who joined us and will now monitor the nest weekly. Hooray! We then drove to Cape Kiwanda. Johnny waited at the car while I climbed the dune. Two pairs of BLOY were just foraging on either side of the dune and not doing anything productive, reproductively speaking.

After we arrived home, late, Johnny went out to the barn to feed hay and water, as he has been doing when his back allows. When I showed up to milk goats after feeding the horses, there was a note on the counter from Johnny: "Looks like Ginseng had a baby today." Ginseng is the doe I'd bred to freshen in June who had come back in heat so I figured wasn't pregnant. She did not look in the least pregnant, and I had been paying no attention to her. She had a single doe kid while we were at the coast. Both mother and daughter are doing just fine in spite of me.

That surprise led to more adjustments for the farm sitter for this weekend. Neighbor/friend Megan who has become a most wonderful farm sitter for us, took all my hurried and numerous email changes in stride... one llama escaped into the riding arena yesterday, somehow, so various gates and fences had to be adjusted; a chicken hatched two chicks who needed separate treatment; and Ginseng was now in the kidding pen, with her kid. Among other things.

Thanks to Megan doing chores last night while we drove to Valley of the Giants, we arrived in time to do something before going to bed. Johnny suggested we hike the Valley of the Giants trail. This is the guy who has barely been able to get out of his chair for months. But he was feeling good so we started off... He made it the whole way around the loop trail with no problem. And we have photos to prove it. With his new camera, Johnny took photos to prove I was there, too. I can never resist hugging big trees.

The next morning at 4 a.m., (this morning), Johnny hiked in to my first Breeding Bird Survey stop with me, a half mile of clambering over and under brush in the dark. That was a bit much, I think, but he survived to drive me to my other 49 stops on this Father's Day Sunday. Here he is at the end of our route, getting a Father's Day call from Steve and Munazza... which kept dropping because we were up in the mountains where cell phones are not happy.
And now, back home 2 1/2 hours of driving later, Johnny is out washing vehicles while I'm collapsed at the computer. Maybe he wants to make sure he has used his back up thoroughly before surgery day after tomorrow.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Wild Strawberrries

Johnny found them while following me on his bike through my mown arboretum paths... tiny red berries hiding under their leaves. We stopped to pick and eat them. Wild strawberries are delicious, but, as my mother always said, you could starve to death eating them.

Besides mowing, I've been trying to catch up on weeding (hopeless), hoof trimming and the thousand other tasks that need doing this time of year. Johnny, in the bits of time when he is not in too much pain from sciatica, has been working on the new goat barn, burning piles of accumulated tree trimmings, and trying to stay positive. The last is easier now that surgery is on the docket... exactly when we don't know, but soon. We have great hope that Johnny's disk replacement surgery will be as successful as it was for friend and neighbor Dennis.

Life continues with weekly trips to the coast to spot Black Oystercatchers. I couldn't resist this photo of a Pigeon Guillemot displaying its bright red legs on a rock at Cape Kiwanda. The pair of BLOY at this site are not yet nesting. They were foraging together at low tide on the opposite side of the cape from the Guillemot. Here is one preening and showing his bill to advantage.

Also at Cape Kiwanda was this handsome male House Finch. He and his mate were scolding me so I must have been close to their nest or perhaps newly fledged offspring.

The BLOY at Road's End are more ambitious than those at Cape Kiwanda, with three pairs nesting. It's a long look down but my scope, seen in the photo, helps. The two big rocks below have a BLOY nest on the one closest to shore and the partner of the setting bird on the oceanward rock. But it takes a lot of zooming in to spot the sentinel BLOY.

Back home, rhododendrons have loved our cool wet spring. The one in front of our house has outdone itself. I really need to prune it someday.

The first rose of summer to bloom is, as always, Zephrine Drouhin against the house. (I call her ZD.)

In the flower beds, flowers have to rise above the grass and weeds to be seen. Columbine and iris manage well. The snowball bush blooms above them all.

Besides flowers, there's food... in spite of the tilled but not-yet planted garden. I ate the first artichoke last night. Johnny doesn't like artichokes. Too bad for him. There will be plenty.

It's a bountiful and colorful spring ...with wild strawberry breaks amid all the work.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Scouting My BBS and Tilling the Garden

Once a year, Johnny and I run a Breeding Bird Survey starting from Valley of the Giants, an area of gigantic, old growth trees in the Coast Range. Marbled Murrelet seabirds fly in from the ocean to nest on the mossy limbs of these enormous trees. The tree tops pictured above are at Stop #1 of our route and traditional nesting sites for the robin-sized Marbled Murrelets.

Our assigned starting time is a bit before 5 a.m., since that's when the birds arrive to feed their nestlings, and stop #1 must be hiked into. It's a 2 1/2 hour drive from our farm to Valley of the Giants. So we camp overnight. But before we run the actual route, we scout it to make sure all roads are passable and the 50 stops where I count birds are findable.

Yesterday we made the scouting trip. It was great weather. The road was awful as usual. I hate potholes that you can't avoid. Passable just means the road isn't blocked by downed trees. But we made it to our campsite and I walked in to stop #1.

Every year, the salmonberry bushes grow thicker and more trees fall across the long-ago abandoned logging road that I hike. But there are some lovely stretches where nothing but yellow violets bloom. Too bad the whole route isn't like this.

On the way to Stop #1, I tried walking off the road, through the woods, to avoid the worst salmonberry thicket... and found my route blocked by fallen trees I had to clamber over. This would not be a safe route at 4 in the morning, in the dark. On the walk out, I tried going around the thicket on the other side of the old logging road. This way led through Devil's Club. Not a good option.

Looks like I'll have to plow through the salmonberry thicket and hope I don't fall into the crater made by an uprooted giant tree that I fell into last year. Above all, I want to do the actual route before the salmonberries have berries on them. They are flowering now. I do not want to run into any hungry bears snacking in the wee hours of the morning. I had my fill of hungry bear encounters last fall on our farm.

While checking out our 50 stops, one every half mile, we also looked for Dipper nests, now that I've become a bit of a Dipper fanatic. Under one bridge, I found four nests in various stages of construction or disrepair... it was hard to tell which. I suppose a pair of Dippers has used this bridge for many years, sometimes building a new nest when the old one became too dilapidated to repair. Also under one bridge was a bat house, put there by a bat conservation group. I don't know if any bats have taken up residence.

When we will run the actual route is uncertain. I have a goat due to kid this week, Johnny has a doctor appointment, and there are still Black Oystercatcher nests to be checked once a week on the coast. Plus the Dipper nests up Agency Creek.

And there is a garden to plant and tend. Today I mowed the garden site for the second time and then tilled for the first time. It will take several more tillings to make it plantable, but at least the weeds are gone for now. With the warm weather of the weekend (our thermometer registered 88.9F on Saturday), everything is growing like mad. My recently transplanted-into-tires tomatoes got sunburned. We're back down in the 60s today. Crazy weather.

It's a busy time of year on the farm with everything needing doing at once. So I figure we may as well take a break (or at least a change of pace) with yet another bird survey... definitely before the salmonberry flowers have turned to bear-tempting berries.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

On List Making and More

Once again, I accomplished everything on my list for today. That's because I don't make a list until the end of the day, when I list everything I accomplished. It's too depressing to make a list in the morning of all the things I should get done. Too often by evening I've done six other things but nothing on my list.

Today I had a hope of mowing the garden and weeding the rest of the rose bed. The garden must be mowed before it can be tilled. That's how sorry a state our garden patch is in. But when I climbed into the horse hay loft this morning, I noticed a bundle of white fence posts for an electric fence and remembered that I had planned to fence the horses away from the swamp months ago, before the water receded enough to lure them in, where they totally wreck the plants and upset the foraging and nesting wild things. Johnny must have bought the fence posts and put them in the loft for me, who knows how long ago. (I'm not terribly observant.)

The horses are now wrecking the swamp and I really needed to get on with that project today. But before I could do that, I had to fix the fence where a baby goat insists on going through, but does not have the brains to get back again and runs up and down the fence line screaming her head off. In the process of doing this, I moved the llamas and sheep to a new field which meant their dog guardian, Shirley, went with them, but also meant the goat guardian, McCoy, slipped through, too... to play with Shirley. This is not good because Shirley, in her efforts to get rid of McCoy, takes him through the fence and off the property. I think she hopes he'll not know how to get home.

This was starting out to be another Bad Dogs, Good Birds day, such as I mentioned that I was going to write about some time back. However there have been so many Bad Dogs, Good Birds days that I'm not sure which one I meant. It was probably the one when I was in a hurry to finish chores so we could drive to Tillamook and meet our birding buddies, John and Barbara Woodhouse. The dogs, sensing my hurry, managed to get themselves on the wrong side of every gate I opened while moving the horses to their day pasture. But we did eventually get to Tillamook and found all the Black Oystercatchers we had hoped to find.

Today's Bad Dogs day was only mildly bad because Shirley, smart dog that she is, knew if she tricked McCoy into going through the gate I was holding open, I would slam the gate shut after him, leaving her on the other side of the fence with her llamas and sheep... and freedom from the pest. And that's exactly what happened. They raced around playing until it was Shirley's turn to chase McCoy. She chased him toward the gate. He dashed through. I shut the gate. Shirley happily bounced off to her llamas and sheep who were on the far side of the field by now.

I suppose this was a Good Birds day, too, since every day is in spring. The Black-headed Grosbeaks sing their melodious song off and on all morning. Brilliantly rufous Rufous Hummingbirds visit the feeder outside our kitchen window and do their display dives over me whenever I invade their territory, which seems to be everywhere.The baby owl that fledged two days ago was back in the nest box today. The owlets often return to the box off and on for a week or two before leaving for good. We only had one owlet survive this year. I rather hate to see him go.

With morning chores done, I found a scrap of stock panel and stuffed it in the gap the baby goat has been getting through. Now I was ready for the horse fence project. I did not, however, have it very well planned out. When I'd first decided where to put the fence extension, nothing was leafed out and it looked fairly simple to clear a line to the creek. Not so now. I changed direction.

The fence that I created today heads through open country to the gate between our neighbors' horses and ours. Our horses and their horses like to commune across the gate and they'll still be able to. But my horses will not be able to go from there into the swamp. If my fence works. I am not too good with electricity. I tied the new fence to the old fence and hope the little electrons, or whatever it is that zaps you when you touch an electric fence, don't get too confused passing through the knots. There are, actually, quite a few knots. I used up two short stretches of old fence plus a stretch of new fence, tying each to the next so that my pretty white fence tape has little bows in several places along its length.

Then I mowed the garden. It will take several more mowings to tame that jungle.

At long last, I was ready to finish weeding the rose bed. I would have taken a before and after picture but it would be too embarrassing. There was nothing to be seen in the rose bed except very tall grass before the weeding, which has taken me three days. Now there are roses, peonies, lilies, and asters (in leaf, not flower). Hopefully, when they bloom we'll be able to see them.

The rest of the beds are a mess. But the iris and forget-me-nots and columbine are all blooming visibly in the midst of or above the grass and wild buttercups. I don't have flower beds: I have meadows.

My day would not be complete without a tour of the jungle room/greenhouse and photos taken of whatever is newly in bloom. May and June are orchid cactus months in the jungle room. Mornings and evenings are full of the fragrance of these lovely flowers. Many more colors are yet to open, giving a long season of flowers to enjoy... without grass and weeds.