Saturday, April 10, 2010

Ten Dollar Bathroom Sink

Ten Dollars can go a long way. My daughter Lesley and I were "barn saling" and we stumbled on a great sale where someone had literally cleaned out an old barn and wanted to get rid of a lot of stuff. I bought this black drop-leaf table for $10.00. Later, I got the sink from a nice family in East Lansing through the local Freecycle Yahoo Group. If you don't know about Freecycle, then you need to go and learn. The sink (circa 1920) came with a really cool pedestal, but our plumbing was so ridiculous that I decided I was in no mood to re-plumb everything. Ruth had the idea of cutting out the inside of the table and inserting the sink into it. Voila! We think it is really cool and will look perfect in our 100+ year old farmhouse. (are we delirious?)

The above photo was taken in the barn and NOT the bathroom!

The photo below is of one of the original faucets on the sink. It is probably original and we plan on re-building the insides and using it. Since the sink pre-dates modern bathroom plumbing fixtures, we will use the mix and match faucets that came on the sink, but try to find the ceramic handles like the one pictured below.

Duckies Update!

Don't they look cuddly?! They are really bonded and are never more than three inches apart. When one of them eats, they all eat. When one of them drinks, they all drink. When one of them... you get the idea. They are growing so fast.

You can see one of the chicks I hatched in my classroom about 6 weeks ago keeping watch over the flock of duckies by night. The eight little chickens I hatched think they are so tough and try to boss the duckies around. They usually succeed. I have a feeling a week or two will see some "changing of the guard" as the duckies gain a little confidence.

Hot Chicks
I bought 35 chicks the other day to replenish my layers and to fill some meat bird orders, and saw these bantam chicks and I just could not resist! I don't know what breeds they are, but I do know that they are pretty danged cute!! I am going to do some research and see if I can figure out what I have. Ruth took some photos for me.

Enjoy the pics!

I want geese!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Things Are Just Ducky

I have resisted getting ducks until now. I am not sure why I didn't get any before, maybe I didn't have the mental energy or something. I have a little woodland pond that I am sure they will discover and enjoy until it dries up in late August. I bought nine little ducklings, three each of Rouens, White Pekins and Indian Runners. My plans for them are mostly farmyard ambiance.

Now that is quite a face right there!

I have a one gallon waterer for them and they go through that twice a day. I think I am going to have to give them the five gallon container! It is amusing to sit and watch them in the brooder box go from thrusting their heads all the way under water and then waddle over to get a mouthful of food and then head back to the water.

This is the little "crate" in which they came home to the farm. They didn't want to stay in that for one minute longer than necessary. They spent their first two days in a 20 gallon aquarium in my third grade classroom and created quite a stir. We had lots of visits from other classrooms, and most of the younger kids at my school got a chance to hold one of the ducklings. After getting a chance to hold and cuddle with one of the ducklings, I had a little six year old tell me, "This baby needs a mommy and that mommy needs to be me!" I didn't point out to him the obvious, but that was a nice moment. My school is in a suburb, and most of the kids only have contact with dogs and cats, so a few moments watching chicks hatch, of holding and naming a duckling can be a good connection back to our roots; back to days when we had gardens and animals because we needed them in order to survive.

Sitting and watching these ducks is so fun! They have such little antics. I am going to let each of the students name a duckling. This will be interesting as some ducklings will have multiple names. However, I want to help them make a connection with a little life that is different from anything they have experienced. Maybe we will write in our Reflection Journals about how it feels to name a creature that will live forever in our memories.

"Take a good look," I told my class as they were leaving for the weekend. "These ducklings will be all feathered out and look very different the next time you see them."

After school on Friday, as I was getting the ducklings ready to go home, three 15 year-olds, whom I had in class 6 years ago, came into my classroom for a visit. I realized that the words I had told my class earlier takes place with people too.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Maple Syrup

Saturday was a beautiful day to be outside and boil sap. The temperature was in the mid-forties (F) and the sky was as blue as it could be. I put together a little outdoor sugar shack and boiled the ten gallons of sap I had collected last week.

First, I collected a good supply of firewood. Next, I took my bonfire ring and put it on the gravel driveway and set up some concrete blocks to make an outdoor stove. I have several sturdy grill tops that I set across the fire pit and put my trays of sap on them so the fire could get to work boiling away the sap.

And the sap cook looked upon what he had wrought and said, "it is good enough."

Now all I had to do was tend the fire, keep adding sap, and wait.

And wait...
And wait...

And wait...

(March is "Reading Month" and I got in several hours of reading Sherlock Holmes)

Ahhhh, but this is definitely worth the wait. I ended up with about 7 cups of pure maple syrup. I expected it to be a little darker, but I do like the nice light amber color. Depending on the sap flow, I will be out there for the next two Saturday mornings boiling and reading.

Come on over, and let's have a little book club while we watch the sap boil.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sugar Sugar

It is nice to have rather inexpensive resources like these bottles with lids to make my maple syrup look pretty cute.

Now, THAT is what I'm talking about!

The maple sap run has bogged down here in Michigan due to cold weather. I had a few gallons of sap collected and boiled it down Friday night. I was able to fill a few bottles with some very nice, light-colored syrup. The temperature is in the upper thirties (F) today, and the sap has started running again. I am hoping for a few weeks of weather like this so I can collect 30-40 gallons of sap. I am going to construct a temporary outdoor stove so I can boil five to ten gallons at a time in large, flat pans. I have a nice pile of firewood to use a heat source.
My next post will have photos of my outdoor Sugar Shack.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Sap is Running!

OK, I am not running in the photo below!

The sap in the maple trees is running and I spent some time today tapping my trees. Maple sap has been used for hundreds of years by Native Americans, and they taught the colonists how to do it. I find it incredible to read about how the Native Americans tapped trees, and found ways to use the slightly sweet liquid. I brought a small jar of sap in and passed around small samples. We toasted Mother Nature and swigged the clear liquid down. Hmmm, I'm not sure I would call the sap exactly sweet, but as Peter, (my son), just said, "There was a suggestion of sweetness."

Tapping a Maple

You want to make sure you are actually tapping a maple tree! I'm not sure what oak syrup tastes like, but it isn't exactly a popular item. I selected four large maples and drilled a 3/8" hole two inches deep, about four feet from the ground in each of them. Three of them immediately started dripping sap. The fourth one didn't drip at all, so I plugged the hole with a stick, and tapped a different tree, which began flowing immediately. I have seven large maple trees, and feel fortunate that someone had foresight over fifty years ago to plant them.

After drilling the hole, I gently tapped in a spile so it is nice and snug. Don't hit it in too far, or you will split the tree and cause a large opening that will lose a lot of sap and perhaps allow insects inside.

The sap immediately began to flow and drip into the bucket. I have lids for the buckets to keep out precipitation and other stuff. The drips were falling at approximately one per second. One of the trees was dripping at twice that rate.

Ruth captured all of these photos. I especially like the one below showing the sap in mid-flight. The sap is slightly sweetened water, chock full of minerals.

Watch the sap falling into the bucket! Each tap will produce about 10 gallons of sap. It takes between 30 and 40 gallons of sap to boil down into pure maple syrup.

I love the way this bucket looks on my maple tree. I am only putting out four taps, hoping to end up with about a gallon of syrup. I may add more, but I don't want to get overwhelmed!

Get to Work!
I politely asked the maple trees to share their sap with me. I will have to come up with a way to reward them for their gift.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Son of Khan

Changing of the Guard

This is Squanto. He is the son of Khan, my original rooster. Khan was a Cuckoo Maran who was the king of my barnyard for about two years. He overstayed his welcome by getting mean and aggressive. I have lots of kids roaming the farm from time to time and didn't want to worry about a ten pound rooster attacking little kids! I had to end his reign and did so in a dignified and painless way. Khan was buried in the woods. I named him Khan because of my deep interest in Central Asia and all the powerful leaders who controlled vast areas of Asia.

Ruth named Squanto today, after snapping this picture. His coloring reminded her of Native Americans and she wanted a solid name for him. Squanto was the Native American who helped the Pilgrims during their first few years in the New World. I'm sure we owe Squanto and his People much more than the naming of a rooster, but it is an honor to call him Squanto.

Squanto's mother is a Partridge Cochin, maybe Broody, the hen who hatched him! I want to believe that, so I will say that is true.

Thinning the Herd

I sold 19 hens and a rooster on Saturday. That leaves me with 23 hens and Squanto. I tend to dislike roosters, but I am taking a different tack with Squanto. I pick him up several times per week and walk around with him. He doesn't like that at all, but I want to see if he'll end up being less aggressive than his poppa.

I had 43 hens. That felt like too many to me. Each spring I hatch out a batch of chicks in my classroom and wanted to have the room for the newbies. A friend of mine let me know of a family that lost their whole flock recently and wanted to buy mature and productive hens, so I took the plunge and sold 19 hens and one rooster. It was really fun to watch the young boys race around the barn trying to catch chickens. If you have never tried to catch a chicken, you have got to put that on your life's to-do list.
Should I hatch out Green Barn chicks?, or should I order some interesting eggs from a hatchery?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Seven Month Itch

I'm not sure if the number seven is the right one, but it sounded close. I am ready to get the garden going right now! I have plans to add additional beds and improve the existing ones. I have a ton of nicely composted chicken coop litter that I mixed with some grass clippings and maple leaves. I plan to mix that into the beds as soon as the ground will let me. I put some "raw" chicken litter on the beds last fall and hopefully that will mix in nicely and not be too "hot."

Are you feeling the same as I am? I know many of you have kids still living at home and they can really keep your mind occupied with all of their busy-ness. However, for me, I have a 28-ish year old daughter living in New York City, and a 27-ish year old son performing on a Princess cruise ship bouncing around the Hawaiian Islands. That leaves my wife Ruth and me probably a little more time to goof off than those with children responsibilities.

Ruth bought me a Gardening magazine the other day and there are some nice articles on pairing plants together, bed rotation plans, ideas on what to grow and how to keep the garden relatively pest free without dousing it with Dow Chemical products.

I spent a few productive hours perusing the Johnny's seed catalogue and made a list which will require another farm! I will probably add and subtract from this list as the next few weeks go by. I want to grow a lot of vegetables this summer, especially green beans, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes. There are about twenty other vegetables, herbs, etc. on my list, but I don't want to bore you.

The Kitchen Garden in Winter

There are eight nice beds in this garden, which is between our house and the barn. I plan on extending all of them by four feet or more, and maybe adding two other 4' x 8' beds in-between some of the beds. This garden is surrounded by a circular driveway and a "still-not-completed" fence. I plan on covering the fence with climbing vegetables like beans, cukes and peas. It may end up looking a bit untidy, but hopefully it will yield lots of meals!

Like me, the garden needs a little bit of a slumber to get re-energized for another year of productivity. I am going to test the pH this year and see what exactly is going on out there.

Since I live in Michigan, and the "Three Fires" Native Americans lived in this vicinity, I am thrilled to use their way of gardening on land they once roamed. We have a little woodland, spring-fed pond and I want to believe that it was used by the Potawatomi and the Ojibwa. Ruth, Peter and I picked a lot sweet corn last summer and I am going to plant way more of it this year! The squash and beans did not do very well in here, but I plan on making a few changes this year to try to help them a little more. (2009 was a poor year in Michigan for all squashes!). I left most of the corn stalks in the ground. I couldn't bear to lose them last fall and they looked rather decorative for all of the Fall holidays.

When will you begin your garden planning? Maybe most of you are way ahead of me!!
Well, I'm off to find all the stuff I'll need to start seedlings in March and April. Hmmm, lighted Plant Cart, seeds, good starter mix, watering can. It was 2 degrees F (-17 C) last night and we have 7 inches of snow on the ground.
I may be just a tad early? Maybe you need to just come in for some hot coffee, or perhaps a spot o' tea?